Phil opened his eyes and tried to remember why his chest hurt. It took him long seconds to remember the gun, Loki and the sceptre that had apparently missed his heart. As his eyes finally focused, he noted the regulation SHIELD ceiling, then flicked his gaze to the left and right and assured himself that he was indeed in a standard SHIELD medical facility.
That made him wonder how long he had been unconscious and if anyone had won yet. Given that he was still alive and had not simply been left to die, he assumed Loki had not won. It would have surprised him greatly if the demi-god had managed to beat the Avengers, because it had been abundantly clear Loki had been throwing a tantrum rather than seriously trying to take over. It would have been embarrassing had Earth failed to stand up to it, even if the tantrum was of godly proportions.
Deciding to see how damaged he was, he carefully moved his arm. His chest ached, but it was nothing like he would have suspected had he only been recently out of surgery. With that ascertained, he decided he must have been healing for at least a couple of days. He always scolded Hawkeye for sneaking out of medical before being discharged, but he could in fact sympathise and chose to try and sit up. Not knowing his own state of health was unsettling.
He was surprised by how easy it was. There was a little pain, but nothing quite like he had been expecting. He put his estimate up a little more.
As the door opened, his eyes zeroed in on the medic coming through.
"Agent Coulson," the woman said as soon as she saw him, "you're awake."
He just about managed not to roll his eyes. Stating the obvious was something he liked to iron out of his agents as soon as possible, clearly no one did the same thing with the medical staff.
"It would appear so," he replied, his tone calm and not at all condescending thanks to years of training. "How long have I been here and what is the current situation of the Norse affair?"
"You have been unconscious for eight days and Loki was sent back to Asgard with his brother last week," the medic replied.
Not as accurate as he would have liked, but it was enough information for him.
"Thank you," he said and pushed the sheet covering him back so he could swing his legs off the bed. "I would like some clothes please."
The indignity of hospital gowns was not lost on him, so he pinned down the woman with one of his patented level stares. He saw the woman almost cave to his order, but then she seemed to remember she was the professional in the situation.
"I'll get your doctor, agent," she said and Phil mentally sighed as she turned and vanished.
Sometimes he wished things could just be straightforward.
It had taken him three hours to convince the medical staff he was well on his way to recovery. He would be the first to admit he felt better than he would have expected, but after some serious prodding, Dr Matherson had to agree with Phil's initial assessment. That didn't mean they were willing to let him go, but he did have clothes. Sweat pants and a t-shirt were not what he would have chosen, but it was better than a backless gown.
"Nice to see you back with us, Agent."
He turned from pulling the t-shirt on properly to find Fury in the doorway.
"Thank you, Sir," he replied. "Care to fill me in on what I've missed?"
Fury stepped into the room and closed the door.
"The Avengers came together and kicked alien butt," Fury said with a ghost of a smile.
"Just as we hoped," Phil replied and sat down on the bed.
He was still recovering and getting dressed had tired him.
"If you don't mind me asking, how did you pull that off?"
"I used you," Fury replied. "They needed a cause and you were it."
"Loki stabbing me was enough to galvanise the team?"
"Well I may have embellished and told them you were dead," Fury said, sounding quite pleased with himself.
Cold ran all the way up Phil's spine.
"With all due respect, Sir," he said, "you had no right to do that."
Fury looked shocked, Phil rarely disagreed with his superior, but on this he did.
"Have you told them I'm alive yet?"
He was pretty sure of the answer, Fury was unlikely to have undone such an advantage.
"Agent Coulson, what is your problem?"
Using his full title meant Fury was annoyed, but on this Phil was not backing down.
"Was Agent Barton returned to the fold successfully?" he countered with his own question.
"Yes," Fury said, apparently realising that this was very important to him, "and Stark somehow managed to convince the whole team to take up residence in his tower even though building work is still going on."
"Then, Sir, I respectfully request you get me there as quickly as possible."
"Agent, I want an explanation and I want one now," Fury said, glaring at him with the one good eye.
"You are not omnipotent, Sir," was his curt response.
That seemed to shock Fury even more and Phil had to admit his reaction was entirely out of character.
"Phil?" Nick asked, not so much boss as friend now.
Phil took a deep breath; overreacting would help no one. It was not often he lost his professional calm.
"Hawkeye and I," he said and he knew he needed to say no more.
It had not been going on long, it had not impinged on their professional working relationship and only Natasha had known, but he saw Nick catch on. The man was not Director of SHIELD for nothing.
"I'll have a car pick us up out front," Nick said and totally shocked him.
There was no challenge, no questions and Phil remembered why he trusted this man with far more than his life.
Clint was perched on the back of the sofa in what had turned into the communal gathering area in the one residential floor that was undamaged. He hadn't moved in two hours and he really didn't plan on doing anything unless someone wanted the room.
He still didn't remember everything from his time under Loki's power and the shrinks were pushing him to try. The fact was he didn't really want to think at all and he couldn't tell them the reason why. His relationship with Phil had been secret, the way both of them wanted it until they were sure of what they were getting into, and it felt wrong to bring that out into the open. The fact that he had finally realised he was in love with the other man after he was dead was a bitter pill to swallow.
Nat had tried to help him deal with his grief, but had eventually decided to give him space to deal with it himself. He knew she was there if he needed her, but he had to get his own head straight first.
"Visitors," Stark said, walking through the room towards what was their current entrance hall; "Papa Bear is coming to see the cubs and he specifically asked for you."
The way Stark assigned everyone nicknames had been annoying at first, but now it was kind of comforting. Standing from his crouch, Clint stepped off the back of the sofa, landed lightly on the floor and followed their billionaire landlord. If Fury was here, it was probably important.
The elevator door opened just as he walked into the entrance hall and the first thing he registered was that someone was standing behind Fury.
"Sir," he greeted.
"Welcome to our humble abode, Director Fury," Stark gave his own welcome with a wide grin.
"Nothing about you or anything you touch is humble, Stark," Fury replied and then Clint found his boss looking straight at him. "Agent Barton," Fury said and there seemed to be a weight to the man's words, "if I had been aware of the situation I would have not allowed it to go on so long."
Then Fury stepped to the left.
Clint's brain kind of just stopped as shock hit his system like a ton of ice.
"You lying bastard," Stark said, apparently angry.
"You can yell at me all you like, Stark," Fury said, stepping out of the elevator, "but not here."
Clint was just about compos mentis enough to notice the heavy look Fury sent at him and then back at Phil, who had not moved.
"Oh," Stark said, clearly catching up. "Then come this way so I can yell at you some more, actually, scrap that, come this way and I'll call up Pepper and she can yell at you. She's really good at yelling when she needs to be, you would not believe some of the big words she knows..."
Stark's voice disappeared as the billionaire and Fury headed down the corridor. Finally Phil stepped out of the elevator.
"I'm sorry," Phil said.
It was enough to break through the mixture of emotions holding him immobile and he abandoned all pretence of calm. He all but launched himself at Phil, grabbing the other man in an embrace and then stepping back so he could see and check it really was Phil, really in one piece. He needed to touch, to confirm what his eyes were telling him and Phil stood there, letting him run his hands over Phil's face, Phil's arms, Phil's chest.
His fingers finally stilled over the place Clint knew Phil had been stabbed. He'd seen the security footage, had made himself watch it from Stark's hacked files.
"Are you ..?" he wasn't sure what he was asking.
"Alive, healed?" Phil filled in for him. "Yes and almost. The doctors can't explain my sudden recovery. They think it might be magical."
"Well up until yesterday there was still extensive damage," Phil told him, placing a hand on top of his; "nothing wanted to heal right. Then today I'm well on the way to back to normal. I don't think they expected me to wake up."
Clint gave a tiny laugh and he knew it sounded slightly hysterical. He was not the type to let himself care, but Phil had managed to get under his skin. He was a fully trained agent who could take a shot, kill a target and then just walk away, but Phil reached inside to where his emotions lived. It was only now that he had Phil back, right there, that he realised quite how broken the loss had left him.
"It probably just took you this long to figure out Loki's magic," he said, voice cracking as he lifted his eyes back to Phil's face.
Phil smiled at him then, one of those rare, all encompassing smiles that Phil reserved for those he cared about. Clint was shaking as he put his hands either side of Phil's face and leaned forward to claim a kiss. It was the sweetest kiss of his life and he wanted it to go on forever.
"I love you," he said as he finally pulled back, because it felt like the most important thing that he had to say it out loud.
For a moment Phil just looked at him, assessing and then he was being kissed again.
"I love you too."