Six months after the invasion, Coulson was allowed to go back to work.
He couldn’t have been more relieved. He hadn’t had much to do during the time he’d been ordered to take off. He hadn’t even been able to go to the firing range the first four months! He’d tried a week after he was discharged, and Fury had shown up personally to tell him to go home.
He didn’t have many visitors, either. Stark sent flowers and a card when he was in the hospital, Pepper showed up a few times to chat. Natasha, surprisingly, was his most common visitor, alongside Cap, who stopped by frequently.
He saw more of them after he was discharged. Even if he wasn’t classified as active, the Avengers considered him a friend, so he was frequently invited to the tower for movie nights and barbecues.
But even with all of those visits and whatnot, there was one Avenger who was always conspicuously missing. He’d actually asked Natasha about it at one point, after Hawkeye skipped the fifth movie night (Cap was trying to make them a weekly thing).
She’d just shrugged and kept her eyes glued to the screen (they were watching Brave, upon Thor’s insistence, as he’d taken quite a liking to animated films) though Phil could tell that she knew more than she was letting on.
Eventually, he gave up trying to see Clint. He figured he’d see him eventually. He couldn’t be kept on inactive duty forever (and Fury had pretty much promised him that he’d be the Avengers’ handler again as soon as he was cleared by medical) and Clint would be forced to, at least, be in the same room as him eventually.
And yet, for months, the Hawk succeeded in eluding Phil, and it was getting to be a bit insulting.
After six months, he went in for a physical, and he was finally, finally cleared for field duty, thank god. If he had to sit through one more episode of The West Wing, he was pretty sure he was going to throw himself out the window.
But anyway, he was cleared for field duty, and Thor had immediately declared that they were going to have a “mighty feast” to celebrate (which apparently translated into a pizza party at the tower with the Avengers).
This time, all six of them were there, including Agent Barton (especially including Agent Barton. He later discovered that Steve had threatened to tie him to a chair and Tony had threatened to force feed him meat loaf if he skipped. Clint really hated meat loaf.)
But even though Clint was there, he was clearly avoiding Coulson, sitting far away from him and eating his mushroom and pineapple pizza (they’d ordered one special for him) without talking to anyone, contributing the minimum necessary to any and all conversations, and staying quite far away from Coulson in general.
Eventually, Phil realized that Clint had settled on the couch in the next room, while the everyone else was now sitting around the dining table, drinking their beers and, from the sounds of it, making fun of Tony and Bruce for something.
Phil slipped away as inconspicuously as he could, wandering into the next room and immediately sinking down onto the cushion next to him, and if he was sitting a bit too close to call it casual (and if it was close enough for him to feel the heat radiating off of the other man’s body) then he definitely wasn’t going to do anything to change that.
“Evening, sir,” Clint said, lifting his beer to his lips to take a swig.
“Do we have a problem, Barton?” Phil asked in lieu of a greeting.
“Don’t know what you mean, sir.”
Phil rolled his eyes. “I mean that you’ve clearly been running avoidance for the past six months, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because of that one conversation that we were going to have, but never did because you got brainwashed and then there was that whole invasion thing...”
Clint lifted his beer to take a drink, but Coulson could see the hesitation on the motion. “I have absolutely no idea what you mean.” No sir this time.
“So you haven’t been avoiding me then?”
“Don’t know why I’d have any reason to.”
Clint’s voice was even, but he could hear the ever-so-slight waver in it, and Phil winced, knowing exactly why he’d have a reason to. Clint had been compromised, and Coulson had gotten hurt because of that, he’d nearly died. Phil knew Clint, he had worked with him for years, even before the Avengers (because Clint pretty much refused to work with any other handler, and if he wasn’t so goddamned good at his job, SHIELD definitely would have dropped his insubordinate ass years ago). He could read Clint like no other, the set of his eyes, the tension in his shoulders, the way his thumb kept running over the peeling corner of the label on the beer bottle.
But he could also tell that Clint didn’t want to talk about it. The apology was there, in the way his eyes were focused on the bottle in his hand, instead of looking at Phil with all the cocky self-confidence that had made him the thorn in the side of pretty much every agent he’d ever worked with.
Clint wasn’t good at talking, Coulson knew that. Well, he was good at talking, and sometimes they couldn’t get him to stop, but he wasn't good at talking about anything that really mattered. He was exceptionally good at shutting people out and avoiding the topic.
Clint took another drink of his beer, and Phil could tell how tense he was, squeezing the bottle tightly in an attempt not to run. Because that was another thing Clint was exceptionally good at, running. But Clint didn’t want to run this time.
He didn’t want to be there, that much was obvious, but he didn’t want to run either.
He supposed Phil deserved some answers.
Coulson waited another moment, then said, “So, we never did have that conversation...”
Clint chewed on his lower lip. “What conversation would that be, sir?”
“The conversation where we talk about how I walked in on you jacking off and moaning my name. The one where we address the fact that you’re obviously in love with me and we agreed that we’d talk after the whole mess with the tesseract got sorted out? Because it’s been sorted out for six months now, and I can’t help but feel like you just don’t want to see me.”
Clint stilled, and he considered denying it, letting Coulson know that he’d moved on, that everything that had happened had driven pretty much every thought of being with Phil from his mind.
The guy had been stabbed because of him, for fuck’s sake!
Instead, Clint looked down, using the beer as an excuse to clench his hands together. He studied the label, peeling at the corner with one of his thumbs. “Don’t know why you’d want me, especially after I got you stabbed, sir.”
Phil’s nostrils flared and he reached out to pull the beer from Clint’s grasp, setting it on the end table beside him so that Clint couldn’t get it back without reaching across him for it. “Specialist Barton,” Coulson said, addressing him more formally than he ever did, even when they were working, “if you’re still blaming yourself for what you did while you were being mind controlled by a lunatic, then I’ll take you off of field duty right now, because I won’t have someone wallowing in self pity and compromising every other member of my team.”
Clint looked up, eyes wide. When Phil continued, his tone was kinder, and he wanted to reach out for him, but he didn’t. He kept his hands fisted at his sides. “It wasn’t your fault, Clint.” The man’s eyes softened at the use of his first name. There weren’t many people who called him Clint on a regular basis. It was a sign of trust. His friends called him Barton, his co-workers called him Hawkeye. His family...they called him Clint.
“I can remember it, sir. All of it. I...I enjoyed it. Killing those guards in Germany, disabling the helicarrier, all of it.”
“It wasn’t you,” Phil insisted. “You had no choice.” Clint looked away, and Phil finally reached out for him, grabbing his chin and forcing him to look at him. “It. Wasn’t. Your. Fault.”
Phil and Clint stared at each other for a long moment, the only sound the noise of their breathing and Tony laughing a bit too loud in the next room. Then Clint breached the distance, kissing him, hard and desperate. Phil didn’t even hesitate, receiving Clint enthusiastically, wrapping his arms around the man and pulling him to him. Clint pulled himself into Phil’s lap to get a better angle and kiss him harder, deeper. When Phil finally pulled out of the kiss, they were both breathing hard, and Clint gave Phil a cocky grin, reaching for his beer and taking a triumphant swig.
“‘Bout that conversation sir,” he said. “Are we agreed?”
Phil fisted his hand in Clint’s purple t-shirt. “I believe we’re agreed.”
He pulled Clint down to kiss him again, looping his arms around Clint’s waist while Clint’s arms wrapped around his neck. It was easier than he’d expecting, kissing Hawkeye. He was entirely open to him, giving as much as Phil was willing to give him in return. And they fit together well. Phil ran his hands up Clint’s back while one of Clint’s hands found a comfortable resting spot at the back of Phil’s neck, running his thumb through the soft hair there. It was easy and relaxed and right.
And that’s how Captain America found them a few minutes later. Steve had noticed their absence (and well, so had everyone else, but no one really wanted to tell Cap why he shouldn’t wander out and find them) and went to see what they were up to. He walked in on Phil and Clint making out on the couch like teenagers and let out a squeak, returning to the table in the kitchen with a deep blush, simply shaking his head when Tony asked how they were doing.
Phil pulled back to watch Cap’s back recede. “I think we just scarred Steve...”
Clint shook his head. “This is nothing on what Tony’s done. The other day, he told Steve that he wanted to show him a movie and turned on a porno. Oh, it was great!” Phil laughed along with him, then quieted, smiling up at him. “What? Do I have a hickey or something? God, Phil, did you give me a hickey?!”
Phil laughed again, shaking his head. “No, nothing like that, I’m just happy. Can’t I smile at you? I mean, it’s not like I’ve been trying to make this happen for six months or anything...”
Clint smiled sheepishly. “Sorry ‘bout that...”
Phil grinned, clasping his hands behind Clint’s neck and pulling him down. “No worries, I’ve got you now, don’t I?”
Clint grinned back, kissing him lightly, happier than Phil had ever seen him. “Mmm, I’d say you do. Whatcha gonna do about it?”
Phil pulled him close and let him know exactly what he was going to do about it.
Years later, Tony would tell the story about how they got together, and every time he told it, it got wilder, with one notable instance when he said that Steve had walked in on them wildly fucking on the couch. Phil and Clint alway just shook their heads and looked at each other, but they were grinning, glancing down at their matching wedding bands, and knew that Tony would continue to embellish the story, Steve would continue to blush every time he heard it related, and they’d continue to have each other.
But then again, when had they not?