Tony sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to stave off the headache that was building behind his eyes from the lack of sleep and eye strain. He wasn’t getting any younger and couldn’t keep pushing himself like he did when he was seventeen and the new head of Stark Industries.
“You want me to get something for that headache you’re trying to ignore?” Clint inquired as he walked up to Tony and casually placed a hand on the genius’ shoulder giving it a tiny squeeze.
“It’s kinda scary how much like Pepper you sound,” Tony lightly quipped secretly glad that somebody cared about his well-being even if he didn’t at times.
“Didn’t sign up with the Avengers to be your personal assistant, Stark,” Clint snarked in return.
Tony chuckled as he turned to lean against the workbench and face Clint. “That’s unfortunate, Barton.”
“You’re more personable then Romanoff.”
“I’m just as deadly.”
“True, but I don’t have to worry about you wanting to cut out my tongue for an ill-timed comment.”
“Are you certain about that?”
“About as certain as I am that I’ll die young and leave a good looking corpse,” Tony retorted.
“Essentially a snowball’s chance in hell.”
It was Clint’s turn to chuckle. “I’m going to go raid the kitchen. You want me to bring you back something?”
Tony heard his stomach rumble and knew that Clint had to have heard it as well.
“I’m going to take that as a yes,” Clint dryly observed.
“Please,” Tony mock pleaded with his hands clasped in prayer. “Save me from Dummy’s protein shakes.” The last one he had had tasted like motor oil and sawdust.
“Why did you ever program him to make them in the first place?”
“It was a good idea at the time,” Tony declared even though he didn’t believe that particular line of reasoning.
“Seriously?” Clint sighed. “You’re going with that?”
“I do stupid things when I’m drunk,” Tony argued.
“Everybody does stupid things when they’re drunk,” Clint countered. “You, on the other hand, do epically stupid things when you’re drunk.”
“I’m so not living down that birthday party, am I?”
“Nope,” Clint said with a twinkle of amusement in his eye. “I love ragging Nat about it.”
“Shit,” Tony grumbled.
“Fury has Hill use the video from it to train new agents on how not to lose control of an asset.”
“Always nice to be used as an example of what not to do.”
“I’m sure it warms the cockles of your heart.”
“Fuck off, Barton.”
“Love you, too, Stark,” Clint tossed over his shoulder as he left the lab.
* & *
Phil Coulson watched the live video from Tony Stark’s lab and felt sick at heart. He had known that agreeing to Fury’s plan to die from the wound Loki had inflicted on him would mean the end of his relationship with Clint, but he never considered how much it would hurt to watch his lover move on without him.
He turned the monitor off and went in search of his physical therapist.
* & *
“Yes, Jarvis,” Tony replied not bothering to look up from the gauntlet he was soldering.
“I found the information you’ve been searching for.”
Tony grimaced. Jarvis had earlier in the week discovered that somebody was accessing him and the tower with Phil Coulson’s access codes. It made him think that maybe Fury had lied about Coulson’s death, so he had Jarvis go searching through the SHIELD database to prove or disprove this theory.
He put down the soldering gun and said, “Show me.”
Jarvis downloaded the information onto to Tony’s PADD. He quickly scanned it and then started swearing.
“Who’s the fucking, lying asshole?” Clint asked as he returned with leftover Chinese take-out.
“Well, duh!” Clint remarked barely refraining from rolling his eyes at Tony. “He’s a spy. Lying is second nature to him.”
“I know that,” Tony grumped as he set the PADD down.
“I’d like to be proven wrong every once in awhile.”
“Sure you do,” Clint said trying to sound reassuring and knowing he failed when Tony cocked an eyebrow in his direction. “Don’t we all?”
“What did you get us?” Tony inquired quickly changing the subject. He didn’t have it in him to destroy Clint’s freshly rebuilt world.
“Moo shu pork and General Tso’s chicken.”
“Dibs on the pork,” Tony said making give me motions with his hands like a spoiled toddler.
“This is why you haven’t been laid in months, Stark,” Clint commented as he handed Tony the carton that held the pork.
Tony accepted it without a thought since he trusted Clint implicitly. “Is that an offer, Barton?”
“No,” Clint quickly answered. “Now, shut up and eat your pork.”
* & *
Fury sighed and flipped off the video monitor he had found in Coulson’s room. It explained why his senior agent was going through physical therapists like they were water.
He had known that Coulson and Barton had become more than just handler and agent, but it took seeing Barton refuse Tony Stark’s offer of sex to open his eye to what really had been going on between Coulson and Barton.
Fury left Coulson’s room and returned to his office where he began drawing up the paperwork to officially bring one Special Agent Philip J. Coulson back to life.
* & *
Tony took a few bites of the pork before he put the carton down to apologize. He didn’t want to make Clint feel uncomfortable since the archer was still mourning his lover. “I’m sorry.”
“For suggesting that we have sex.”
“It’s okay,” Clint answered with a wry grin. “I’m not going to break from a little teasing.”
“Sometimes, I cross a line and don’t realize it,” Tony admitted having learned that hard lesson once he and Pepper had stopped dating.
“What brought this on?”
“I’m learning that self-awareness is a bitch.”
“It can be, but I’m not buying that as your raison d’etre,” Clint countered.
“I’m trying to be a better human being,” Tony hedged as he quickly came up with a full proof explanation. “Something, I apparently should have learned in kindergarten.”
“Not a lot of us graduate from kindergarten and remember what we learned there,” Clint theorized. “So why don’t you tell me what you found hacking the SHIELD database today.”
“What makes you think I did that?”
“Because you’ve been looking at your PADD as if it’s going to grow legs, stand up and kick you in the ass.”
Tony picked up the PADD and held it out to Clint. “Just remember not to kill the messenger.”
Clint took the PADD, glanced down at it and immediately looked back up his face a mask of barely control anger. “Is this some kind of a prank?”
“Do I look like I’m laughing?” Tony softly countered not wanting to set Clint off because he was well aware how deadly the archer could be when pushed.
“How can Phil be alive?”
“I don’t know, but it’s something we can ask Fury about.”
“Damn right, we will,” Clint vowed.
* & *
“Is there something I can help you with?” Fury calmly inquired as he leaned back in his chair as he faced four very angry Avengers.
“You lied to us,” Steve sternly declared.
“Way to state the obvious, Cap,” Tony quipped sarcastically.
“Shut up, Tony,” Clint growled. “I want to hear what the man has to say for himself.”
“Probably more lies,” Tony retorted.
Natasha smacked in the back of the head.
Tony rubbed his head and glared at her, but otherwise kept his mouth shut.
Fury cleared his throat drawing their attention back to him. “Do I get to speak now?”
“By all means, Director,” Natasha said.
“What exactly did I lie to you about?” Fury asked knowing what they were referring to.
“Phil Coulson’s death,” Steve replied.
“At the time, the Avenger’s Initiative was falling to pieces before it got off the ground,” Fury began to explain. “You needed a push to come together and Phil’s death was that push.”
“But, he’s not dead,” Clint stipulated trying not to give into the anger he was feeling. He still couldn’t believe Phil would go along with such an asinine idea.
“No, I’m not,” Phil quietly stated from where he stood leaning against the closed door having snuck in at the beginning of the confrontation.
* & *
Awkward silence filled the limo as Happy drove them from SHIELD headquarters back to Stark Tower.
No one seemed to be inclined to start a conversation, so Phil tried to relax back in his seat, but he was too aware of sitting so close to Steve that his stomach was tied in knots.
It wasn’t everyday that one got to be so close to their childhood idol. It was understandable for him to be nervous and he did his best to ignore the knowing look Tony gave him every time he glanced up from studying the tips of his shoes.
* & *
Tony showed Phil around the newly redesigned top floors of the tower since everybody else had made themselves scarce as soon as Happy pulled the limo into the tower’s parking garage.
“This area is the common room,” Tony explained. “We use it for movie nights, and we’ve got one planned tonight, if you would like to join us.”
Phil nodded and gave Tony a tight smile. “I think I should pass on that for now since I doubt I’ll be very welcome.”
“Don’t worry about them. It’ll take them a few days, but they’ll get over being angry,” Tony replied. “They are still dealing with the fact that you’ve been alive and doing well the past few months.”
“Why are you being so accommodating?”
“Let’s just say I understand making bad decisions while dying and leave it at that,” Tony answered with a grimace remembering how suicidal he had been while slowly dying from paladium poisoning.
“I’m beginning to realize how bad of a decision it really was to go along with Fury in the first place.”
“He was desperate and desperate people do unspeakable things.”
Phil opened his mouth to reply and yawned instead.
“I think you’ve had too much excitement for one day, Agent,” Tony gently teased as he led Phil over to a room off of the common room. He opened the door and inside was a bed. “Go ahead take a nap and we’ll see you for movie night.”
“Thank you for this,” Phil said happier than he had been in months.
“You’re welcome,” Tony replied and closed the door behind him.
* & *
Clint slouched in the chair next to Phil’s bed pretending to be thoroughly engrossed in the well-loved paperback novel he had brought in with him. His glasses were precariously perched on the tip of his nose.
“Push your glasses up,” Phil quietly said. “You look like a grumpy owl when you let them sit on the tip of your nose.”
Clint set the paperback on the nightstand and Phil saw that it was one of his favorite mystery novels. Clint then removed his glasses hooking one of the arms into the neck of his t-shirt before leaning forward to study his former lover. “Welcome back,” he said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
“Thank you,” Phil quietly replied. He leaned back against the headboard and let Clint look his fill. He had gotten accustomed to being studied in the months since his non-death.
“Where do we go from here, Phil?”
“I don’t know,” Phil admitted. “I should apologize and let you get on with your life with Stark.”
“Jesus,” Clint snorted in derision and sat back in his seat. “What is it with everybody thinking that Tony and I are screwing around?”
“No,” Clint drawled.
“You two look like you’re living in each others pockets.”
“Tony is a good friend,” Clint explained. “He’s been a shoulder to cry on and someone I can do crazy shit with no questions asked. He’s made it possible for me to forgive myself for the stuff I did while under Loki’s control.”
“I’m glad you had somebody when I couldn’t be there,” Phil admitted even though he was jealous of what Clint had with Tony.
“But you should have been there,” Clint retorted biting back on the sudden surge of the anger he had felt earlier.
“I know and I’m sorry.”
“I’m not certain that I want to accept your apology.”
“Will you consider it?”
“Yes,” Clint answered with a sigh before standing up. “Get some more rest and I’ll come get you for dinner.”
“Okay,” Phil replied and watched Clint leave.
* & *
Clint wandered down to Tony’s lab and settled onto the empty stool next to the genius and watched him fiddle with some abstract hologram.
Tony heard him sigh and looked up from the hologram. “Why so glum, Legolas?”
“How would you feel if your lover suddenly returned from the dead?” Clint countered.
“At first, extremely pissed off, but once I calmed down I would be relieved that I got a second chance,’ Tony honestly answered. “So what happened?”
“We talked,” Clint explained. “Phil apologized.”
“Did you accept it?”
“I’m thinking about it.”
“What’s stopping you from accepting it?”
“What if he pulls this kind of stunt again?”
“I understand your hesitation,” Tony softly commented. “But, if it were me, I’d grab on with both hands and never let go.”
Clint nodded. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome, and don’t get so caught up in your thinky thoughts that you forget that it’s your turn to cook tonight.”
“Why do I put up with you again?”
“I make you really cool toys.”
Clint laughed before standing up and leaving.
* & *
Clint knocked on the door to Phil’s room and stuck his head inside when Phil told him to come in. “You up to helping me cook?”
“Yes,” Phil answered as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. “Does this mean that you’re going to accept my apology?”
“I’m still considering it.”
“Okay,” Phil said trying to sound hopeful.
“I think we need to start from the beginning and rebuild our relationship,” Clint explained.
“I was thinking the same thing.”
Clint softly laughed.
“What’s so amusing?” Phil inquired happy to have made Clint laugh.
“Great minds think alike.”
“Yeah,” Phil quietly chuckled.
“So let’s go feed the hungry hoard,” Clint tossed over his shoulder as he turned and walked back to the communal kitchen.
Phil followed Clint feeling hopeful for the first time in months.
* & *
Clint pulled Phil toward the sprig of mistletoe Tony had hung in the doorway of the common room. He pointed upward and told Phil, “Your apology is accepted,” before drawing him into a softly tentative kiss.
Phil returned the kiss while the rest of the Avengers whistled and made snide remarks, but he didn’t care because he had Clint back in his life.