For the first time in an age, there was silence.
Clint hadn't realized just how chaotic his life had been for the last week. If he hadn't had Loki's poisonous words dripping through his mind infecting him, then there had been the violent cacophony of gunfire and grenades exploding around him. SHIELD agents had suffered all around him, but Clint had been blind to it all. Nothing had mattered except for Loki's twisted goal. Not that Clint was entirely convinced that the relative calm and quiet he was experiencing now was an improvement. Especially since it meant being left alone, where dark thoughts had a chance to spread malignantly through his mind and try to take root.
The room was small, cold and dark. Fury had wanted everyone where he could keep his eye on them. All SHIELD agents involved directly in the Loki incident had been called to headquarters in New York to undergo evaluation and debriefing. That meant no home comforts and just the basics, as they all piled into the sparse rooms on a site far too small to house them all. With the Helicarrier most certainly out of action, everything of vital importance was being moved to the ground so that Fury could attempt to run rings around the World Security Council in comfort and not a building site.
Exhausted, Clint flopped down onto the bed, wincing slightly when the springs of the flimsy mattress groaned in protest at the sudden addition of his weight. The overwhelming feeling of finally being able to relax spread throughout his body, and he shut his eyes, blocking out the weak light cast by the bulb hanging from the ceiling. His limbs felt heavy and disconnected as though they were no longer part of him, and when Camelai jumped up onto the cot next to him, Clint couldn't summon the energy to move a muscle to reach out for her.
Camelai paused for a moment before her familiar weight settled down at his right side. Clint kept his eyes closed. He concentrated on his breathing as though the simple process of letting air into his lungs would hold him together. Even when her small, skilled fingers reached up to stroke through Clint's hair, he refused to do so little as open his eyes. At least this way he didn't have to actually see just how desolate everything was.
The room he was in was not his own. It wasn't the one that he'd gotten used to sharing with Phil. To open his eyes would betray the fact that Phil's shoes weren't placed carefully near the door, that the bed he was on wasn't the one they shared when they managed to be in the same place at the same time, that there was no window looking out over the city where at night lights danced through the sky. No, this place was nothing like home. It was a cell just large enough for one person. Clint wasn't even sure anywhere would feel like home again. How could it?
He knew he had to snap out of it. Clint could feel Camelai's pain twisting through him as sharply as his own, yet she still tried to comfort him. The familiar gesture of her grooming him made something deep within him contract painfully. After his troubled childhood had passed and he had moved on to SHIELD, he'd had Phil too, of course; a steady rudder to his life now fallen, leaving him floating adrift in a sea of his own making. Camelai sensed his fresh wave of distress immediately, and her hand stilled, uncertain.
There had never been a time when they hadn't known how to comfort the other. Especially not since they joined SHIELD and had started forming better lives for themselves. This new hurdle, that their other constants were lost to them, had undermined their usual level of familiarity and caused a fresh lance of pain through Clint's gut. Camelai should never have cause to doubt herself.
"Things will be okay," Camelai whispered, her breath warm and soothing against his skin, but her reassurances rang hollow to Clint's ears. As much as she wanted to comfort him, he wasn't even sure if she believed that herself.
Still, he scrounged together the wherewithal to actually move and shifted position on the bed so that they could get more comfortable. Once they were cradled together, one of Clint's arms pulling her close to his chest, he used his free hand to stroke through her soft fur. With his fingers walking the familiar path of her back, a sense of comfort washed over him. It was more than when her hands had been on him, and a small part of his tension was soothed.
"I know," he muttered, and deep down, beneath the pain and fear and anger, there was a small part that knew that it was true, or at least that the two of them would have to go on even if things felt like they wouldn't be okay. There were things they had seen together, been through together that were worse than this. They'd lost people before. Many people. Many friends. Never had they lost someone so close though. Not like this. Not when this time it was Phil and Cyrilla.
Clint couldn't bring himself to think about Cyrilla. At least with Phil, there was a body. Something real and tangible, there was a physical part that they would be able to bury and could say goodbye to one last time. Cyrilla was just gone. As far as Clint knew, no one had even been with her when Phil had died.
SHIELD offered its agents the choice to go through a process that allowed them to travel further from their dæmons than was customary. No one was forced to do it, of course, but given the dangerous situations, especially with beings sometimes not even being from Earth, it was becoming a regular occurrence for people on the front lines to go through with the procedure. After all, no one wanted to take the risk of dæmons getting in the line of fire or being manhandled by someone with no understanding of their importance.
Phil and Cyrilla had been one of the early success stories. She had loved that she could soar far above Phil's head when he was out in the field and not be bound by the short tether to which most bird dæmons were restricted. Clint and Camelai had been reluctant. It wasn't something either of them particularly wanted to undergo. Their time in the circus had left them wary of people claiming new and unusual things that dæmons could experience. Even though they both trusted SHIELD with their lives, the whole idea ultimately just didn't appeal enough and so they'd decided to remain how they were.
"We'll be fine," Clint said, his words as heavy as his heart.
Camelai wrapped her arms around Clint's neck as he pulled her closer and finally let the weariness of the last week wash over them completely and lull them into a fitful slumber.
Clint startled awake as soon as Camelai moved.
The swirl of conflicting emotions Camelai was feeling made Clint dizzy in his half-awake state as he attempted to process where he was and what was happening. She pulled herself free from his embrace and leapt to the floor. Her body language tense, one hand raised from the ground, hovering uncertainly as to whether to slap down on the cold tile or more gently in silence. Camelai being primed and ready to attack at a moment's notice was familiar to Clint if she thought they were being threatened, but this time there was a hesitance to her stance that Clint rarely saw.
Then Clint heard the knock.
Well, it was less of a knock and more of a tap. It was coming from the door. The sound was familiar.
Moving quickly, Camelai sprang for the handle of the door, using the chair nearby to brace herself as she pulled it down and towards her so that she could drag it open. On the other side was someone Clint thought he'd never see again. His hands strayed to his eyes to rub at them. Surely he was hallucinating. It couldn't be Cyrilla. It just couldn't.
When he brought his hands down, she was still there. Camelai was chattering away and smoothing out Cyrilla's feathers. They were looking a little the worse for wear, but unless this was a cruel, far too realistic dream, actually real.
Clint pushed himself up in bed, and rolled over the side so that he could crouch on the floor and get closer to the two dæmons. Hope fluttered in his chest for the first time since he had been informed of Phil's death, and he wanted to hold on to it as long as possible, but he had to know that it really was Cyrilla.
"Cyrilla," Clint choked out. His voice caught in his throat as the name forced its way from deep within his being.
"Phil's hurt," she said, and even though she was on edge and being rather enthusiastically groomed by Camelai, her shiny black feathers now neatly back in place and looking as regal as ever, her voice came out strong and determined, even slightly accusatory. "Phil's hurt, and you aren't with him."
"I was told he was dead," Clint said with a shake of his head, breath coming quickly, too quickly, with his heart pounding in his chest and in his ears at the realization that this was real, it was actually happening, that Phil was alive and not dead, that he could deal with whatever and whoever had caused the misinformation later, because now all that mattered was getting to Phil and seeing it with his own eyes. "I didn't know. You know I'd have been there if I'd known."
Cyrilla hopped free of Camelai's hold. "We should get back to him."
"Yes," Clint said, and was surprised when Cyrilla with a flap of her wings flew up and landed on his shoulder, leaning into him, and ran her beak through his hair, seeking comfort. It was testament to how distressed she was that she allowed herself the contact. Clint could count the number of times on both hands that he'd touched Phil's dæmon. Despite being together for years and trusting each other with everything, it was still rare for Cyrilla to want anyone to touch her unless it was Phil, not that Camelai was that much more likely to seek out touch from Phil. Cautiously he stroked at the feathers on her neck and she sighed at the touch. Clint couldn't imagine the pain she must be suffering; his and Camelai's paled in comparison.
"Everything's going to be all right," Camelai said, one hand resting on Clint's leg. This time he believed her.
The trip to the infirmary didn't take long. After everything, Phil wasn't even that far away from him. Still, Clint wasn't entirely sure how Cyrilla had managed her journey to them, but if any dæmon could have managed it, Clint expected it to be her.
Camelai trotted along in front of them. Despite her small stature, she certainly was a force to be reckoned with, not that they encountered any SHIELD agents on the way. The corridors were deserted. Cyrilla stayed on Clint's shoulder. He certainly didn't object to having her close or to the feeling of contentment that she inspired.
They slipped onto the ward where Phil was being kept. He had been given a room of his own, a glass wall fitted with blinds open just enough for Clint to peer through before pushing experimentally on the door. It opened easily, no one had even bothered locking it after all of the lies, and Clint had his first proper glimpse of Phil since Loki had invaded.
Phil was pale. His skin nearly the same color as the pillow on which his head lay. There were tubes and monitors everywhere. A rhythmic beeping filled the room, soothing Clint. He didn't know much about medicine, but a steady heartbeat could hardly be a bad sign. The air smelt entirely too fresh and fake, something that usually made Clint's stomach turn, but he couldn't bring himself to care when he could see Phil's chest rising and falling steadily.
As soon as they were close enough to the bed, Cyrilla launched herself off Clint's shoulder and settled herself as best she could on the bed while avoiding all of the wires coming from Phil. There was a nurse on the other side of the room who looked at Clint warily, her eyes taking in the scene before her for a moment before asking whether he had the clearance to be in here.
"I'm his husband," Clint told her. "If Fury has a problem with me being here, then he can come and remove me himself."
She nodded, told him that she would send the doctor in to speak with him and left the room, her Dalmatian dæmon following closely behind her.
Clint dragged a seat next to Phil. He settled down and let Camelai clamber onto his lap awkwardly. The small plastic chair wasn't practical for both of them, but he held her securely in place as she reached over and wrapped her fingers around one of Phil's on the hand closest to them.
Clint laid his own hand on top of their joined ones.
There was no magic opening of Phil's eyes as their hands touched. There was no sudden change in anything. In fact, everything stayed exactly the same.
When he'd believed Phil was dead not an hour ago, Clint could hardly bring himself to worry.
He could wait for Phil to wake up.
He had all the time Phil needed.