Coulson had always been a constant in Barton’s adult life; a calming voice in his ear during ops, a reassuring presence by his bedside when he was injured, a bright light leading him home to safety. He always seemed to know what was required and when. It was his superpower.
And now he was gone.
The Battle of New York had taken so much from so many. It had left Clint with a gaping hole in his chest; a metaphorical representation of the injury that had taken Coulson from him. And not just him. Anyone who had ever needed the Senior Agent and there were scores of those. But it was he who needed him most. It was he who was lost without him.
Until the day he felt his presence again.
He was bleeding out in the snow. He was cold and alone. With the last of his energy, he managed to drag himself to the shelter of a small cave. He didn’t have the strength to light a fire but at least it was dry and out of the worst of the storm. He pulled himself into a sitting position and waited. He regretted the trail of blood he’d left but he still had his weapons. He’d use them if he had to. Keep one bullet to the end.
“Barton, talk to me.”
He jolted awake, gasping at the pain. Coulson! Coulson was talking to him. But that meant Coulson was alive. Not dead. And that the last few months have just been a nightmare - some kind of vivid, shitty one – but a nightmare nonetheless.
“Ffffuck, sir. I’ve missed you,” he stammered, the cold biting into him nipping at his skin.
“I missed you too, Barton.” There was a teasing note to his voice. The bastard! Clint could imagine him with the corner of his mouth turned up in a smirk, his eyes crinkled at the corners. It made him smile too.
“But where the ffffuck have you been? Why didn’t you tell me you were back?” His words were slurred. He was so cold, so tired.
“Later. Talk to me. Tell me what’s been happening with you.”
“Cold, ssssir. Ssssso cold.”
His handler’s voice was soft but firm. “I know, Hawk. But stay with me. Here. Is this better?”
And suddenly it was. Clint had no idea what Coulson had done or how he had done it but he felt warmer, like being wrapped in a feather comforter. And the stone wasn’t so cold or hard behind him either. Perhaps he was closer to the end than he thought. But it was a nice way to go wrapped up in Coulson’s arms.
“You’re not going anywhere, Barton. Talk to me.”
“Always tttthought you were a mind-reader, boss. But that’s fucking spooky even ffffor you.”
But somehow he did. For five hours he talked and cursed and laughed, with Coulson telling him how proud he was of his Hawk.
The next time he woke he was in a S.H.I.E.L.D. hospital. His injuries had been treated and he was on a drip but he was alive. He looked over to the chair half expecting Coulson to be sitting there and although he was disappointed he wasn’t surprised to find himself alone. Alone but for a few feathers. Soft and downy, a beautiful dove grey colour like his favourite Coulson suit.