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Nocking Point

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Clint watched as Thor tore into his fourth shawarma. This one was beef, he was pretty sure, although he thought the last one had been chicken. Whatever kind it was, he was eating it with as much gusto as he'd tackled the first two or three.

The rest of them had all stopped. Even Rogers ("Call me Steve," he'd said; Phil was going to be so jealous) was barely picking at his pita bread, but Thor just kept going. It was kind of hypnotic.

He blinked, realizing he'd actually closed his eyes for a moment, all the adrenaline that had kept him going gone from his system, and a belly full of food besides. He hadn't really slept when--not since before. There'd been times when Loki hadn't needed him fully conscious, when he'd been left to watch without any other orders, but his eyes had always been open, his body on alert. He hadn't eaten much, either, so it wasn't surprising he'd put away a couple shish-tawooks himself.

"We should get something to go," he said, as much to keep himself awake as anything else. "Phil won't have eaten anything; I'll order him something," he added, forcing himself to stand up.

Every single one of them stared at him, even Thor. At first he thought it was because he'd said "Phil" instead of "Coulson," an indication of just how tired he really was. But then he looked at Natasha's face and sank back into his chair, shaking his head in denial before she could open her perfect mouth and say the words.

"You didn't tell him?" Stark said, his voice shockingly loud in the quiet restaurant.

"I was ordered not to," she said, and that hit him like a punch in the gut. He couldn't breathe for a moment.

"Exactly what were you ordered not to tell me, Nat?" he forced himself to ask, hoping that maybe, just maybe, it was that Phil was injured. Badly injured, even. He'd quietly bitch and moan, he'd go back to work too soon, but that was okay, that was fine.

It was Stark who said it, just two words: "Coulson's dead."

Clint swallowed hard. He continued to look at Natasha as he said, "Was it one of mine?"

"No," she said firmly, shaking her head. "Clint, no. It was Loki."

"Still my fault," Clint muttered. "You're sure?" he asked, holding onto hope by his fingernails. "Did you see it?"

"I did," Thor said, in a surprisingly quiet voice. "My brother stabbed him through the chest, from behind."

"You saw him die?" Clint asked, turning to Thor. "Did he say anything?" Not that Phil was the type for dying declarations or anything, but knowing his last words… No, it wouldn't bring any comfort. He'd still like to know, though.

Thor shook his head. "Loki released the cage and sent me towards the earth just after. I did not see the Son of Coul's death, but it was a mortal wound."

"I'm sorry, Clint," Natasha said softly, putting her hand on his arm, and that was what put him over the edge, got him up and out of his chair and barely through the door before he was puking up every bit of the two shish-tawooks onto the sidewalk outside.

He stayed there after he'd brought up everything in his stomach, kneeling on the debris and broken glass. There were tears in his eyes he could pretend to blame on upchucking, and every muscle in his body ached. He couldn't move, couldn't face going back into the restaurant. After a while, someone came through the door and stood next to him. Whoever it was didn't say anything, just clasped his shoulder with a large, warm hand.

So, either Steve or Thor. Knowing which one was something he couldn't find a reason to care about.

Steve--of course it was Steve--cleared his throat after a few minutes and said, "I know Agent Coulson…I know he was the one with the trading cards and everything, but do you know anything about Bucky Barnes?"

It was unexpected enough that it got him up off the ground. He stood and faced Steve, who moved with him so that his hand stayed resting on Clint's shoulder.

"He was the sniper on your team," Clint said, his voice rough.

Steve nodded. "You remind me of him. He would have liked you."

Clint wasn't sure why they were having this conversation, but he couldn't think of any way to stop it.

"Bucky always had my back, even when we were kids," Steve said.

It pissed Clint off, because what the fuck did he care about some guy who died seventy years ago when the person who'd kept him whole and human had died that very day, and he hadn't even known?

Then he remembered that it hadn't exactly been seventy years for Steve Rogers. Shit. "He was your best friend, right?" he asked, because Phil would have wanted him to. He tensed, ready to pull away, but the warmth of Steve's hand kept him rooted in place.

"That's what people thought, yeah," Steve said, looking into his eyes. His grief was so palpable it hurt (hurt even worse) to look at. "Like Coulson and his cellist, I suppose."

Clint didn't get the connection and turned away in frustration; Steve lifted his hand slightly, moving with him until he was at Clint's side again, his hand back on Clint's shoulder, solid and warm. "There was no cellist, Steve," he said brusquely, forcing himself to endure the contact. The guy grew up decades ago; Clint couldn't blame him for not understanding.

"I know that," Steve said sharply, his fingers digging in, then took a slow breath, his hand relaxing. "You were the cellist, or near enough, with your bow. The story was just a cover. Agent Romanoff said you and Coulson had been together for a few years."

So Nat had given away their secret like it was nothing. He supposed it didn't really matter anymore. "Did she tell you we were married?" Clint asked bluntly, turning enough to see Steve's face, hoping Steve would be so offended he'd let go.

"Men can do that now?" Steve asked instead, his eyes widening in what looked an awful lot like wonder, his hand tightening painfully on Clint's shoulder for a second before it relaxed again.

Okay, so maybe he'd been reading things wrong.

"Women, too," Clint confirmed, watching him. "Not everywhere, not yet, but here in New York, yeah."

"That's amazing," Steve said softly, almost reverently.

"Some things have changed," Clint said with a shrug. "Other things haven't."

"Yeah, I know that, too," Steve said wryly. He finally let go, patting Clint's back once before dropping his hand to his side.

On another day, Clint might have wondered what Steve was thinking about. But it wasn't another day, so he just shrugged again and looked down the street to see if he could tell where the destruction ended and the city was still normal. Everything was a mess, as far as he could see: cars flipped over and smoldering, entire floors of buildings tumbled down to the ground, dead or inactive Chitauri scattered among the wreckage.

"So, you and Bucky Barnes, " Clint said when it seemed clear Steve wasn't going to say anything else. His shoulder still felt warm.

Steve nodded, flushing a little.

"I thought you were in love with that English woman, what was her name?" Phil would know, he thought, consciously controlling his breathing the way he did before he let an arrow fly.

"Peggy Carter," Steve answered, looking down. "I…I cared for her. I was probably going to marry her, if I survived. It was a story, like Coulson and the cellist, but after..."

"She understood about you and Bucky?" Clint asked when he trailed off, and Steve nodded again.

"I didn't think she would, but she said she knew some girls in the WACs who were that way."

Clint didn't know what he was supposed to say to that.

"We were on a mission in 1944 when Bucky fell off the side of a Hydra train," Steve said abruptly. "I couldn't save him. It was just a couple months ago. For me, I mean."

"I'm sorry," Clint said, because that's what you said when someone lost someone they loved. He put his hand on Steve's arm, absently noting the truly impressive state of his muscles.

Steve said, "I'm so sorry about Phil." His eyes were red, moisture beading his lashes, his arm solid under Clint's palm. Clint nearly threw up again.

"I can't," he said, dropping his hand and moving away. "I have to," only he didn't know what he had to do, other than get away.

"I understand," Steve said, and that was almost worse, because how could he?

Clint looked around, trying to decide where to go. He wondered if the subway was running, or if he could catch a cab, but the thought of going home to their apartment was another punch in the stomach. He almost dropped to the ground again, part of him wishing he were back where nothing mattered.

The door to the restaurant opened behind him before he could figure out what to do.

"Listen, I'm done," Stark announced as he came outside, the rest of them trailing after him. "Natasha's exhausted, you're exhausted. We all need some down time, even the super soldier and the god. Right, Thor?"

"I would appreciate the opportunity to rest," Thor agreed.

"So here's the plan," Stark went on. "We're all going to my place, where there are plenty of showers and beds, and we're going to wash the dust out of our hair and get some sleep. Yes, even you, Hawkeye," he added.

Clint wanted to argue, but Natasha was looking at him like she would tie him to the bed if he tried anything, and he was pretty sure she'd succeed. He was exhausted, had been even before. Besides, if he could fall asleep for an hour or two, that would be an hour or two where he wouldn't have to remember.

He deliberately didn't think about what might happen if he dreamed.

Instead, he followed Stark down the street, back into the tower, and up the elevator, until he was ushered into an opulently furnished "guest suite" a few floors down from the penthouse. He took a long shower, and after he'd dried himself off with the thickest towel he'd ever used, he pulled on the pajamas embroidered with the Stark Industries emblem that were folded neatly on the couch. Then he climbed into the enormous bed, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.


In his dream, everything was tinged in blue and slightly chilly, and he wanted nothing, needed nothing. He tumbled without grace or control through the sky, and he didn't care. It was a relief to wake up to a voice coming out of the wall above the bed saying his name.

"Agent Barton, I'm sorry to wake you, but I have an urgent call for you from Agent Hill," said the voice. It was polite, with an English accent.

He rubbed his eyes, trying to make his brain work. "JARVIS, right?" It felt like he'd been asleep for no more than a couple of hours.

"That's correct, sir. Shall I put the call through?"

"No," he said. "I don't want to talk to her." She was probably just calling to give him the official notification, and he wasn't sure he was ready to hear it. Besides, he'd tried to kill her, and he'd nearly succeeded. There was nothing he could say to her to make up for that, for everything he'd done.

A few seconds later, the voice apologetically said, "Agent Hill is very insistent, Agent Barton. She says to tell you it concerns Agent Coulson."

"Put her through," Clint said wearily, sitting upright. Might as well get it over with; knowing Hill, she wouldn't give up until he talked to her.

"Barton, you need to come in," Hill said, her voice managing to sound exhausted, authoritative, and agitated all at the same time.

"Why, exactly?" he answered, biting back his instinctive response to tell her to fuck off.

There was a pause, then, "Look, I don't know anything, not for sure. But there's something off about what happened. Some of what the director said to Stark and Captain Rogers wasn't true, and I'm not sure the rest of it was, either. I'm looking into it, as much as I can, anyway, with everything else--"

"Can you send transport, or do we need to use one of Stark's?" he interrupted, already grabbing his suit, which had been miraculously cleaned while he slept, probably by one of Stark's robots. "JARVIS, wake everybody up, tell them, I don't know, tell them something. Is there a place we can meet?" His hand started to shake as he pulled on his vest, but he clenched his fist and it stopped.

"I'll tell everyone to meet on the top floor, sir," JARVIS answered smoothly. "I've already informed Mr. Stark. Agent Hill, one of Mr. Stark's helicopters can be here in five minutes."

"Send JARVIS the coordinates," Clint told Hill, heading for the elevator. "Is the carrier still airborne, or is she back in the water?"

"We're about sixty miles out in the Atlantic," Hill said. "Southeast of your position. Radio me when you're on the way and I'll give you the heading." Clint snorted--it wasn't like JARVIS wouldn't hear the radio transmission, but Hill was Hill.


Natasha was standing next to Stark, waiting for him, when the elevator doors opened. "Can I tell her?" Stark asked him the second he stepped into the room, bouncing on his toes.

"Tell me what?" Natasha asked coolly, only her eyes revealing her curiosity.

"No," Clint said firmly. "I'll tell everyone once they're all here." For once Stark actually listened, although he insisted on miming sealing his lips with his finger and thumb.

"We're here now," Steve said as he, Bruce, and Thor stepped off the elevator. "What's going on? The computer said it was urgent."

"Hill thinks Coulson may not be dead after all," Clint said. The relief he felt at saying the words was astonishing.

"The blood on the cards was fake, but I figured it was just Fury trying to manipulate us," Steve said, frowning. Clint didn't have any idea what he was talking about, but Fury manipulating people was nothing new.

"I know, right? It was way too bright," Stark said, gesturing energetically. "Shoulda known better, Capsicle."

"Hey, I didn't hear you making any noise about it," Steve said. His frown deepened and his hands balled into fists. "I know Fury lies, but I never thought he'd lie about something like this," he added. Wow, Captain America was pissed. It was kind of awesome; Fury'd better watch out.

"Mortal wound, my ass," Stark told Thor gleefully, and then everyone was talking at once, the room filling with anger and excitement and hope. Steve came over and gave Clint a hug, and Clint thought again, Phil's going to be so jealous, making himself believe it.

Bruce wasn't saying anything, though, at least not until there was a lull in the conversation. "Listen, everyone, I want this to be true as much as the rest of you, but we have to consider the possibility that it's not," he said, taking off his glasses.

"I'll consider the possibility when and if I see his body," Clint responded bluntly. He was saved from Bruce's reply by the arrival of the Stark Industries helicopter, which was big and unusually quiet, and no doubt luxurious inside. As long as it was fast, Clint didn't give a fuck what it looked like.

Clint got into the cockpit as soon as the door opened. "Move," he told the pilot, who looked to Stark for confirmation.

"Yeah, sorry, Mac, Barton's got the stick for this one," Stark said. The guy nodded and got out without complaint.

Bruce looked like he was going to stay behind, but Stark grabbed him by the arm. "Don't be a wuss," he said.

"I'm not sure it's a good idea for me to go back there so soon," Bruce said, frowning.

"The other guy's had enough play time for today," Stark said, waving his hand. "He won't come out again. Besides, this is a team thing, and you're part of the team."

Bruce looked like he was going to protest further, but instead he shook his head and climbed in.

"JARVIS, you got a location on the helicarrier?" Stark asked as they left the roof, and the heading appeared on the screen in the cockpit.

"Got it," Clint said, banking the chopper towards New Jersey. "How about Agent Coulson, JARVIS, you found him yet?"

"I regret that I have no knowledge of his current location, Agent Barton," JARVIS said. "I can, however, confirm that his body has not been logged into the morgue."

"Keep looking until you find him," Stark said.

"Of course, sir," came the response. "Finding Agent Coulson is my top priority."

"Thank you, JARVIS," Clint said after a second, with more sincerity than he'd have ever thought he could feel for a fucking computer program. Phil wasn't in the morgue. There was no way that wasn't good news.

"You know that doesn't necessarily mean anything, Clint," Natasha said, her hand on the same shoulder where Rogers had rested his. It was like she read his mind or something, damn it. "Loki got a virus in the system, and there was a lot of chaos. It'll take them a while to get back up to speed."

"I know, Nat," Clint said tightly. "I'm the one who caused all the chaos." Not to mention whatever bodies were in the morgue.

"Not you, Clint," she replied, sounding as confident as she always did. "Loki."

"Let's just get there, okay?" he asked, wincing internally at how plaintive he sounded. "Get there and find Phil. Everything else can wait."

"Sure," she answered, kissing his cheek.

He sucked in a breath through his teeth when he saw the carrier listing in the water. He and Loki's crew had really done a number on her; he could smell the smoke hanging in the air around them. "Fuck," he muttered under his breath, and this time Natasha stayed silent.

They got a lot of attention when they walked onto the bridge. Some people started cheering, but a few of them visibly shied away from Clint, and even more from Bruce. He expected that Maria Hill would be a little squirrely around him, but instead she walked up and greeted him without hesitation.

"I'm afraid I don't have any additional information, Agent Barton," she told him. She had a bandage near her hairline, and she was limping, but she sounded the same as always, not agitated like she had earlier.

"Where's Fury?" Steve asked from behind Clint.

Hill shrugged. "I don't know. Last time I saw him he was defending his decision to tell Stark about the nuke. Figured he deserved a break after that." She paused. "Thanks for that, by the way," she told Stark.

"Any time," he answered, smirking.

"Thank you as well, Agent Barton," she said next.

He stared at her. "What are you thanking me for?" he asked bitterly. "I shot at you! More than once!"

"You missed," she said simply, meeting his eyes. "More than once. And you hit Fury in the chest when you could have taken a head shot. You knew he was wearing armor."

His jaw dropped. "Holy shit; I missed," he said with an astonished grin. "You're right! Nat, did you hear that? I fucking missed!"

"Yay, you missed, can we please get back to the point of this excursion?" Stark said. "JARVIS, any progress on finding Coulson?"

"Not in finding Agent Coulson, but I have located Director Fury," JARVIS announced.

"Where is he?" Steve demanded.

"Director Fury is currently in sector 29B," JARVIS answered.

"Sector 29B it is," Stark said. "Which way, JARVIS?"

"Wait," Hill said, holding up her hand as she listened to her comm. "Yes, sir. Yes, all of them. Yes, sir." She turned to Clint. "Agent Barton, the director would like you to meet him in corridor Delta Three, sector 29 Bravo."

"What, just Barton? Yeah, like that's gonna happen," Stark retorted, gesturing for Clint to lead the way. "What's in sector 29 Bravo, Clint?"

"Storage," Clint answered, moving towards the stairs, his heart speeding up. At least it wasn't the morgue.

Hill stepped in front of him, and he moved to brush her aside. "You think you're the only people who care about this?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "Phil Coulson recruited me. Come on, this is the fastest way down there."

Clint knew at least half a dozen ways that were faster, but Thor and Steve were too big, he didn't like the idea of Bruce in tight spaces, Stark wasn't flexible enough, and Nat hated getting dirty if she didn't need to. Besides, as they made their way down the corridors, passing repair crews already at work, he couldn't help fearing what Fury would actually tell him. Phil might still be dead. Worse yet, knowing SHIELD, he might be presented with some sort of life model decoy of his husband and expected to be satisfied. He slowed his steps as they turned the corner from Delta Two to Delta Three and saw Fury waiting for them.

"I thought I told you to send Barton alone, Agent Hill," Fury said, but he didn't look surprised. Then again, he never did. It was the eye-patch. "In here," Fury added, opening a door and gesturing for them to follow him inside a generic set of office cubicles.

Natasha took his hand when they got inside. Clint gripped it gratefully and asked, "Is Phil dead?"

"No," Fury said, shaking his head.

Clint closed his eyes and locked his knees to keep from falling down.

"Oh, thank God," Steve said. Nat put her arm around Clint's waist and her head on his shoulder. He took a shaky breath and hugged her with everything he had.

Stark whooped and high-fived Bruce. When Clint looked up, Hill was actually smiling.

"Where is he?" Clint said when he could talk again.

"He's just out of surgery; the doctor's in with him right now," Fury replied, holding a hand up. "I'll take you to him in a minute, Barton, but there are things you need to know--all of you."

"Take me to him now," Clint said, fingers flexing and releasing, but Fury talked over him.

"I never meant for you to think he was dead, Barton," he said, which, how stupid did Fury think he was? "When it happened, you were, well, let's just say you weren't yourself. After Agent Romanoff captured you we were a little busy, so I told her not to tell you anything; I wanted to talk to you personally. But Captain Rogers got to you before I could give you the news."

"I don't really give a fuck about that right now, sir," Clint ground out.

"I sure as hell do," Steve muttered.

"Where is he?" If Fury stalled much longer, Clint was just going to go up into the ducts and start searching. Medical was a few sectors away, but he could get there within a few minutes.

"Agent Barton, I said I'd take you to him, and I will," Fury said forcefully. "But I need you to know that Coulson isn't out of the woods yet. The doctors tell me Loki's spear went through his left lung, nicked his heart, and took a chunk out of the top of his stomach. He was in a full arrest when the medics got there, and they had to resuscitate him twice before they could take him into surgery. He coded once more while he was on the table. He's got a bunch of tubes coming out of him draining his heart and his lung and whatever else, and he hasn't regained consciousness. He might very well have brain damage. He might never wake up at all. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

"Yes, sir, I understand," Clint said tightly. "Now take me to him."

Fury looked at him and nodded. "Okay. The rest of you, stay here. I'll come back with any updates."

Clint followed Fury through the cubicles to a recessed door and into a featureless corridor. A hundred yards down the corridor was another door, this one with a retinal scanner. Clint suppressed a flinch when Fury put his eye up to it. When the door opened, Fury said, "This section is technically above your security clearance, Barton. We'll see about getting Coulson moved over to the general medical area once he's stable."

Fury seemed to expect some sort of response, so Clint nodded. "Last door on your right." Clint was most of the way down the hall before he finished speaking.

The set-up was similar to the critical area in general medical, with floor-to-ceiling windows in place of regular walls, and a long nurses' station along the left side. The rooms he passed were dark and empty, as was most of the space on the left, but the lights were on at the end of the hall, a few nurses sitting on desk chairs and staring at screens opposite the last room. As he got closer he could see equipment surrounding a hospital bed, but it wasn't until he was nearly at the door that he could see who was in it.

The head of the bed was cranked up high; it almost looked like Phil was getting ready to do some paperwork on a weekend morning in bed. Except he was pale and his eyes were closed, and he had a tube in his nose and a bunch more tubes and lines draping across various parts of the bed rails. There was dried blood at the corner of his mouth, more crusted around his nostrils, and he could see surgical tape and dressings peeking out from underneath the hospital gown Phil was wearing.

There were a bunch of monitors showing things Clint didn't understand, but one he understood well enough. It showed Phil's heart was still beating, the tracing crossing the screen familiar and reassuring from countless trips he'd made to Medical to visit Natasha, Phil, and other injured agents. Clint stood outside and watched the slow rise and fall of Phil's chest for a moment, then moved to the door and walked through it when it opened.

A nurse followed him through--he hadn't even noticed the guy, although he looked familiar--and rolled a stool up to the bed, gesturing for him to sit. "It's okay to talk to him, Agent Barton," the nurse said. "Even if he's not awake, he might still be able to hear you."

"Thanks," Clint said, dropping onto the stool and rolling it a little closer. Once the nurse left, he reached for Phil's hand. It was warm, the fingers lax in his grip, a monitor strapped around the tip of his index finger. "Phil, I'm so sorry," he said, bringing it to his lips. "I'm so fucking sorry."

It all hit him at once, everything he'd been pushing away since he woke up in restraints with Natasha at his side. He put his free hand on the top of Phil's head and let his body fall forward, his face landing in the junction of Phil's neck and shoulder. He could feel Phil's steady pulse against his cheek, could smell antiseptic and sweat and the faint tang of blood. Phil's neck was warm against his lips.

He stayed like that for a while, his fingers stroking gently through Phil's hair, listening to the intermittent noises from the IV pump and the wall suction, the wheeze of the blood pressure pump as it inflated, deflated and beeped once to indicate it was done. He was getting tears on the pillow, but at least his face was hidden from view.

The cord from the finger monitor was twisted up underneath him, so he carefully moved their hands out and to the side. He thought he imagined the twitch in Phil's fingers at first, but then his hand came up to cup the back of Clint's neck, and his head turned, the stubble on his chin scratching against Clint's scalp. Clint could feel Phil's throat work as he swallowed and then murmured, "Clint?" in a voice full of disbelief.

"Yeah," he answered, lifting his head. Phil's eyes were open, looking at him with the same kind of wonder Steve had on his face earlier. Clint figured his expression was probably pretty similar; nothing had ever looked as good to him as Phil, looking back at him.

"You're okay?" Phil asked hoarsely, searching his face.

"Yeah," he said again, resting his forehead against Phil's, his hand on Phil's cheek, dizzy with relief. "I'm fine, babe. Just me, no more crazy god fucking around in my head."

"Best news I've heard all day," Phil said, and close as he was, Clint could still see the corners of his eyes crinkling up when he said it.

Then he started coughing. Clint sat back, his hands on Phil's shoulders, supporting him as he struggled to sit up. He coughed and coughed, his face turning red, until it finally stopped and he lay back against the pillow, paler than he'd been before, grimacing in pain and gasping for breath. Alarms were going off all over the place.

The nurse came in, pushed a bunch of buttons to silence the alarms, and moved Clint to the side so he could listen to Phil's chest. "Slow breaths, Agent Coulson, nice and easy," he said, his voice calm and professional. Clint met Phil's eyes and breathed slowly with him, holding his hand tightly, trying not to let on how scared he was.

"That's it, sir, you're doing great," the nurse went on, smiling reassuringly at both of them. "It's good to see you awake and alert. Keep breathing for me, in and out, nice and slow. It's probably the NG tube irritating the back of your throat. Try not to talk. I'll get you some ice chips, okay?" Phil nodded, the lines on his face softening a little.

"How's your pain? I can get you some morphine," the nurse offered. Phil shook his head, but his face was still pale, and he was sweating.

"Phil, take the morphine," Clint said, brushing his thumb over Phil's forehead.

Phil shook his head again. "Not until you report, Agent Barton," he croaked, visibly restraining himself from coughing again.

"Stubborn ass," Clint said fondly, leaning in to kiss his cheek and staying there, his lips close to Phil's ear. "Breathe for me, babe, nice and easy," he murmured.

Phil breathed in slowly, then let it out, his fingers tracing the line of Clint's jaw. "Love you," he whispered.

Clint kissed him again, very gently, on the lips. "Love you too."

The nurse put a cup of ice in Clint's hand. "Go ahead and draw up that morphine," Clint said, pulling back enough to spoon some into Phil's mouth. "He'll take it in a couple minutes."

Phil gave him the stink-eye, but Clint was immune. When he opened his mouth to say something, Clint gave him more ice. Phil swallowed it and said, "Barton," his voice sounding a little less raw. Clint nodded in acknowledgement.

He handed Phil the cup and spoon in case he wanted any more and sat back in his chair, frowning in concentration. "Here's the sitrep," he said, organizing his thoughts as best he could.

"Loki and the tesseract are safely contained at headquarters, although I'm really wishing I'd put an arrow through his eye instead, considering what he did to you. Thor's got Loki bound and gagged with some sort of Asgardian bondage gear he swears Loki can't get out of."

He looked at Phil, who nodded, frowning. He was pretty sure Phil would be as happy as he would if Loki were dead, but they both knew why that was a bad idea.

"Fury fucking lied to everyone and told them you were dead to give Stark and Rogers some sort of push, and they're pretty pissed off about it, especially Steve," Clint continued. Phil looked completely unsurprised by that revelation. "So am I, for that matter, but I'm willing to let it go considering you're actually alive, which, by the way, I'm really glad about. Nat gave me what she's calling a cognitive recalibration and I'm calling a kick in the head, but it worked to get Loki out, so that's okay too." Phil put down the cup of ice and reached up to touch the bruise developing at his temple. Clint smiled at him reassuringly.

"The team worked well together, just like you hoped. A lot of Manhattan is rubble, but I think casualties were fairly low, considering. Hill would know." Phil nodded again, looking relieved.

"I think Stark wants us all to move into Stark Tower and have team slumber parties," Clint went on, smirking a little. He had to take a breath before he could say the next thing. "I didn't find out you were dead until after, because Fury ordered Nat not to tell me. She did, however, tell everyone we were together, so you can forget that whole cellist cover story." He gave Phil a stern look. "Captain America and I bonded over losing the people we loved most in the world. I have to tell you, sir, if you ever pull something like this again, I will end you."

"I won't," Phil promised, his hand on Clint's face.

"Good," Clint said, taking Phil's hand back in both of his, brushing a kiss over Phil's fingers. "Hill called me at Stark's when she figured out Fury might be lying. We all came back here to find you. Hill thanked me for missing when I shot at her and then fucking smiled at me when Fury told us you weren't dead; it was disconcerting. Now take the damned morphine already."

"Okay," Phil answered him, the corners of his eyes crinkling again.

The nurse came back with the morphine, and a few minutes later Phil was asleep. When Clint rolled the stool around so he could get his back against the wall, he saw Fury standing in the hallway, watching them through the glass. He was holding a manila envelope.

When Clint nodded at him, Fury came inside and gave him the envelope. "From his locker," he said quietly.

Clint frowned, but he took the envelope with his free hand and emptied the contents onto the table. Out came Phil's trading cards, pristine in their plastic protectors, and two rings, one of them on a chain.

"Thanks," he murmured, putting Phil's ring carefully back on his finger, and hanging the other around his own neck, under his vest. Fury nodded once and left.

Clint leaned his head back, held Phil's hand, and closed his eyes, listening to the wheeze of the blood pressure cuff as it went off again. He was asleep before it finished inflating.