Steve had always liked that Agent Coulson was calm in a crisis situation. Not that the team didn’t pull together and do what needed to be done, but they all had their flaws and all of them were new to superheroics in their own way. It was nice to have someone around who didn’t groan or make a smart-assed comment. But on the topic of asses...
While Natasha had one of Coulson’s arms slung around her shoulders, the man had clearly been limping into the base under his own steam. She had the tail half of an arrow in her free hand, and Coulson’s taser was in his. Clint wobbled along behind them, his bow in two pieces.
“Do I want to know what happened?” Bruce asked, looking up from his tablet as the three of them marched into the medical bay with Steve trailing along behind.
“Just a training accident,” Coulson replied tightly.
“I’m sorry,” Clint slurred. “I am so, so sorry.”
“It’s fine, Clint,” Coulson returned in the same tight, controlled voice.
“Really. So sorry.”
“Well,” Bruce said, clearing the examination table, “if you just hop up – wait, no, okay, don’t hop up there. Um.”
“Is the arrow barbed?” Steve asked.
“Yes,” Coulson replied.
“Huh,” Bruce said. “Well. This’ll be fun.” Steve and Natasha gave Bruce nearly identical glares of disapproval, though Natasha was quickly distracted by the sound of Clint retching. She left Coulson’s side and started digging through the cupboards for a bucket, and Steve stepped into the place she left behind, placing a hand on Coulson’s shoulder to keep him steady. Not that Coulson needed it. Steve got the impression that Coulson could stand upright under force of will alone, but he was also aware that if Coulson tumbled over and landed on his ass everyone’s day was going to get a lot worse.
“Let’s get you onto the table,” Steve said.
“Put the taser down,” Bruce countered. And, yes, that was an excellent point there. Steve had forgotten that it was still clenched in Coulson’s hand. There was a silent communication between Coulson and Natasha, with Clint loudly vomiting into a bucket between them. She nodded her head just slightly, and Coulson passed the taser to Steve.
“Looks like you kids had fun today,” Steve commented over the soft sounds of Coulson unbuckling his belt and sliding the black leather away from his charcoal slacks.
“We always have fun,” Clint replied, though his voice was rough and wrecked.
“Lots of fun,” Natasha confirmed with a sweet smile that let Steve know that he will never, ever want to join in.
“More fun than we can handle,” Coulson said drily, and that set Clint off apologising again.
Coulson got up onto the table with minimal difficulty and one small boost. Bruce snapped gloves on and Steve followed suit. “I’ve helped patch a few people up in my time,” he said in response to the dubious look Bruce gave him. “And this time there aren’t even Nazis around to distract me.”
“If any turn up,” Coulson commented, stretched out on his stomach, “I’m leaving you all here and walking to the nearest emergency room.” Steve huffed a laugh and gave Coulson a reassuring pat on his calf.
“If it helps,” Bruce said in his laid back take on a cheerful voice, “this isn’t the first butt I’ve gone digging around in.”
“I knew several soldiers who got shot in the ass,” Steve added. “And one of them managed to shoot his own ass. So this isn’t the most embarrassing injury I’ve seen.”
Coulson snorted. “This isn’t even the most embarrassing injury I’ve received from Barton,” he replied.
“I said ‘I’m sorry’,” Clint wailed into his bucket. He was swaying back and forth on the chair, but Natasha had her hand on the back of his neck, keeping his face aimed at the bucket. She had already made it clear to Clint that she would not be the one cleaning up any accidents.
Bruce laid out a pan, dropped some sterile pads of gauze in it, and covered them with green antiseptic fluid. While they soaked, he set about organising a suture kit, butterfly bandages, and – worryingly – wiped down a pair of pliers with ethanol. It intrigued Steve so much that he had woken up in a world with flying boats and electricity generators small enough to fit in a man’s chest and computers that were smarter than whole universities but smaller than a single book, and yet surgeons still just wiped people down and stitched them up like dolls. He’d been disappointed when Agent Hill had confirmed that there were no ways to heal broken bones overnight or grow replacement organs in jars yet. Howard’s flying car had never really gotten off the ground either.
Bruce handed Steve a pair of scissors and indicated the agent’s posterior. “Could you?” he asked, and then turned his attention to Clint. Bruce took the bucket and Natasha grabbed the archer, and the combination was relocated to the hallway. Which left Steve to prep Coulson for the fun time ahead.
Steve looked down to the part of the arrow still embedded in Coulson’s butt, and then carefully hooked two fingers in the waistband of Coulson’s slacks. “I want you to know that I’m not usually so forward,” he joked as he started cutting through the wool.
Of all of the team, Coulson was probably the person that Steve knew the least. Tony Stark had next to no filter, right up until you realised that it was all a bright and antagonising distraction from the things he did filter. Bruce and Clint were probably the two Steve related to the most – the quiet guy and the soldier with a colourful history respectively. Thor was friends with everyone, and Natasha was a surprisingly warm and open person for a highly skilled assassin who occasionally terrified Steve. Even Fury had a sarcastic bluntness to him that reminded Steve of the best men he had served with, and Hill had a determined air to the way she performed her duties that reminded Steve of the first military woman he’d known.
But Coulson, despite his initial giddy warmth, had been an elusive personality. During his recovery he’d been worn and understandably withdrawn. Once he had been cleared fit for light duties he’d had an aura of patient overachievement, pushing in neat but noticeable ways back towards the position he had held before he’d been stabbed through the chest and forced to take a few days off.
Steve got the impression that Fury had made Coulson the liaison for the Avengers as a way to keep Coulson from overworking himself. Which said an awful lot about the workload he had managed before.
“This was a nice suit,” Steve said conversationally as he sliced his way down the back of Coulson’s thigh.
“That’s a high compliment, from you,” Coulson replied. Steve looked down at himself, at the tan sweats and the white t-shirt he was wearing. He gave Coulson’s back a suspicious look, uncertain as to whether the agent was poking fun at him. That said, Steve was pushing Coulson’s shirt up the agent’s back, trying to get as much material away from the injury site as possible. He could understand the guy needing a distraction.
“Maybe you could design some spangles onto your next one?” Steve returned. “Brighten it up with some primary colours.”
“I’ll take that idea under advisement,” Coulson replied.
“It’s just that I know you’re a fan of such things,” Steve said, finally setting to work with the scissors. “And that you’re a snappy dresser. I’d just hate for you to feel drab in the workplace.”
“A monotonous wardrobe does tend to fray my nerves,” Coulson admitted.
Steve paused, his hand resting on the elastic of Coulson’s underwear. “It seems like it would go against every fibre of your being,” he replied seriously.
Bruce returned then, pulling his gloves off with loud snaps of latex. “I think Clint is going to be fine, once he finished puking out whatever’s in his system.”
“What makes you sew sure?” Steve asked, and Coulson huffed a laugh. Bruce looked back and forth between the pair of them, and then pulled on a new pair of sterile gloves. Steve finished cutting the bloody material away from the shaft of the arrow in silence.
In all honesty, the injury didn’t look too bad. The arrow had come from above, at a shallow angle. Whoever had snapped the shaft had left enough for the pliers to grasp. There wasn’t a great deal of blood and the arrow had gone in cleanly.
“I’ve got some local around here somewhere,” Bruce said, turning away from the table.
“I’d prefer to get this over with,” Coulson replied.
“Are you sure?” Bruce asked.
“It’s not the worst thing I’ve been speared with,” Coulson answered. And, well, that was certainly true. Steve met Bruce’s eye, and nodded.
“Okay then,” Bruce said, picking up the pliers and handing them to Steve. “Let’s give this a shot.”
Steve got the job of gripping the arrow with the pliers and easing it out. Bruce had the task of making sure Steve pulled in the right angle and avoided twisting the barbed arrow head embedded in Coulson’s flesh. The agent had the joy of gripping the sides of the table with loose hands and waiting for it to be over. He hissed when Bruce slapped a pad of gauze, sodden with antiseptic, onto the wound. Steve dropped the arrow head into a stainless steel tray, and put it by Coulson’s shoulder.
“Souvenir for you,” he said cheerfully.
“Oh Captain,” Coulson deadpanned. “You shouldn’t have.”
“I couldn’t find a postcard that really summed up the event,” Steve returned. Bruce shook his head, a silent smile in place as he started stitching up the tear in Coulson’s butt cheek.
Injury aside, it was a pretty good ass. And general standoffishness aside, Coulson was a pretty good guy.
“You going to join us in the rec room tonight?” Steve asked as Bruce snipped the thread for the first suture. “We have a rule that the most recently injured person gets to pick the movie.”
“Given Clint’s condition, The Exorcist seems appropriate,” Coulson replied. Steve laughed, because there were enough references to pea soup in popular culture for him to get the reference.
“Don’t sell your own injury short,” Steve said. “We can watch Braveheart.”
“I’m so glad to hear your cultural education has been proceeding nicely,” Coulson said, and Steve could detect a hint of sarcasm in the agent’s voice. That said, Bruce was on his third suture by then, and Steve could appreciate that Coulson might have grown weary of the experience.
“Clint is determined to get Steve and I up to date,” Bruce said. His tone was slightly distracted as he pierced Coulson’s skin once more with the large, curved needle.
“Clint’s also determined to eat his weight in ice cream sandwiches before he dies,” Steve said, because that was one he’d never been able to understand.
“Clint finds it useful to have goals to pursue,” Coulson explained.
“Marksman, targets,” Bruce said. “Makes sense.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Coulson replied, and Steve huffed a small laugh at that. He felt Coulson’s thigh twitch under his hand and realised he hadn’t moved his palm from where he’d placed it comfortingly when Bruce had started stitching. Bruce was nearly done, and Steve busied himself lining up the sheets of a clear, elasticised bandage that would cover the wound and tidying away the wrapper of the suture kit.
“Pants,” he said at last. “You’re going to need pants.”
“Pants would be appreciated,” Coulson replied.
“There’s scrubs in the supply room,” Bruce contributed, snipping the thread of the last suture.
Steve left before Bruce stared bandaging Coulson up, pausing by the door to peel off his latex gloves. Steve had been shot a few times, before the ice, and while he’d handled himself with stoic silence as bullets were fished out of him, he’d never managed to achieve actual good humour. Agent Coulson had a number of admirable qualities, Steve reflected as he opened the supply room and searched for the pile of neatly folded scrubs. If Coulson had one flaw, it would be that those qualities were often so strongly apparent that it made him unapproachable.
When Steve had first met Agent Coulson the other man had been full of excited wonder at meeting Captain America, superhero and national icon. When the dust had settled Steve had never found the time or the words to tell Coulson that it takes one to know one.
Steve should work on that.
Coulson was all patched up by the time Steve returned, seated gingerly upright with a green drop sheet over his lap. Steve spotted Coulson’s pants in the yellow bin marked for autoclaving and incineration, and there was a small pile of pocket-related detritus on the examination table by Coulson. A thin wallet, a mobile phone, a small flick knife. The usual.
“I thought blue would go best with your tie,” Steve said, handing the cotton pants over. Blue was also the only colour scrubs SHIELD medical stocked, but Coulson nodded seriously as he took the pants, as if thanking Steve for taking such details into consideration.
“You should probably see a real doctor about that at some point,” Bruce said, wiping down the pliers with ethanol. “I feel like I should give you more care instructions than that. Maybe don’t use your ass too much for the next week?”
“Don’t sit on my ass all day,” Phil replied. “Got it.”
“I hardly think that was a risk for you anyway,” Steve said as Bruce made his way out of the medical centre.
“There’s always the risk of a surprise day off,” Coulson said seriously, and Steve smiled.
“You should take some time off. Come to the movie night.” Coulson gave him a dubious look. “It’s team bonding,” Steve replied. “It’s good for morale.”
“My annual review assured me that my morale is excellent.”
“It’ll be fun,” Steve countered. Coulson looked unconvinced, so Steve pulled out the big guns. He gave Coulson an earnest, heartfelt look. “Please?”
Coulson stared Steve down for a long moment, long enough that Steve became mildly concerned that he’d met his match, and then sighed. “Fine,” he said, before gesturing to the pants on his lap. “Do you mind?”
“Right,” Steve said, turning his back. “Of course. I’ll just... in case you fall or. Not that I think you’ll fall.”
Steve heard the sound of besocked feet touching the clean linoleum floor, then the soft noises of fabric shifting. He wondered if Coulson would put his shoes back on and head out to finish overseeing whatever Clint and Natasha had been up to. He wondered if Coulson would actually show up to the team night, or if he would disappear into the shadows once Steve’s attention shifted.
“Thank you, Captain,” Coulson said from behind Steve’s back. “For your assistance today.”
Steve turned around, watching as Coulson toed his shoes back on. Steve crouched down to tie the laces before Coulson could, aware that bending and stretching might not be the best idea. “Back in my day, Agent Coulson” Steve said, looking up from the double knot he was tying, “touching another guy’s ass usually meant that you were on a first name basis. Call me Steve.”
Coulson held his hand out to Steve. “Phil,” he said in return. Steve grinned up at Phil, and shook his hand.
And if that was how Natasha found them, Steve on his knees and Phil holding a pair of thin cotton pants up, their hands entwined and smiling warmly at one another. Well, it wasn’t what it looked like.
But it was something good all of its own.