Clint wouldn't go see Phil after he woke up from the coma induced by Loki's spear. Phil didn't ask to see Clint.
"Clint," Natasha said, opening the door to the archery row at Stark Tower. She was dressed for sparring and Clint had lost track of the time. He turned after emptying his quiver and looked at her. She looked upset, which, for Natasha, meant a bit more raise of the eyebrow and a tad stiffer posture. Not a lot, but enough.
"Yeah, what's wrong?" he said, moving to put his bow back in the case; he'd been down there long enough for now.
"Come with me, okay?"
"Nat, what's going on?" he said, following her out the door.
She didn't answer, but not long after they left the archery row he figured out where she was going and he stopped. "No," he said, turning on his heel and going the other way.
"Dammit, Clint—he's asking for you," she said, stepping in front of him and blocking him.
He was tempted to shove her, but knew that he was already pushing his luck here. "No, he's not, Natasha," he said, dropping his voice, "And I don't appreciate you trying to make me think he is."
She paused, tilting her head and sighing, but not denying his claim. "It's been three days, Clint. He's been awake for three days and you've seen him once."
He narrowed his eyes and stepped around her. She let him. "When he actually does want to see me he'll find a way to let me know," he said, and he went back to the range to shoot some more.
He shot until his arms just wouldn't take any more, and then he showered, and grabbed a couple of protein bars and some chocolate milk from the kitchen. Then he rode the elevator all the way down to the basement and made his way up into the rafters. Goddamned tower didn't have rafters anywhere else.
He climbed for about ten minutes and finally settled down in a far corner and ate his snack and drank the milk. Then he wrapped his arms around his knees and felt himself start to rock back and forth with his head on his arms.
"Clint," Phil said, putting his hand on Clint's cheek. "It's going to work out. We can do this if we want."
Clint laughed a little hysterically. "Yeah? Fury's gonna love this."
"I don't give a damn about what Fury thinks," Phil said. He leaned in and kissed Clint, slow. Clint pushed his tongue into Phil's mouth and felt Phil smile through the kiss, and he ran his tongue around Phil's mouth, tasting as much of Phil as he could.
They explored each other thoroughly that night, and in the morning, after the shower they took together, Phil drove them back to headquarters and neither of them could wipe the smiles off their faces that day.
Clint carried the key to Phil's apartment on his key ring for two years until Loki showed up. It sat on Clint's dresser in Stark Tower now.
Two days after Natasha confronted him he was sparring with Steve, something that was a true act of self-flagellation, when Bruce came in and asked him to get cleaned up and come down to his lab.
"Why?" Clint asked, wiping his face with a towel.
Bruce shrugged. "Something Fury wanted me to do. I'll tell you about when you come down."
Clint got a serious sense of foreboding in his gut, but he trusted Bruce. Of anyone on the team he knew Bruce understood Clint's post-Loki issues. Not being in control of yourself was common ground for them. So he showered and made his way down to Bruce's lab.
He heard the door shut behind him and Bruce came around a corner with a nervous smile on his face.
"Hey, Clint, thanks. I really want to get this out of the way," Bruce said, gesturing for Clint to sit down on a stool near a clean table.
"Get what out of the way, Bruce?"
"Um, yeah." Bruce ran his hand over his face. "So a while back, Fury asked me to design a couple of tests and he wants me to run them on you. It took some time to get them right, but now I need to do this."
He handed over two forms on a clipboard, and when Clint took them with a leery glare at Bruce, he read them and sighed, signing his name immediately and throwing the clipboard back at Bruce, not caring about whether Bruce would catch it or not. He did.
"Sorry, Clint," he said, "I really just want to get it over with. I don't necessarily agree with it."
"Yeah," Clint said. "But you sorta do, and I don't blame you. Go on."
Bruce sighed and rolled a cart over to Clint. He put some electrodes on Clint's forehead and temples and then leaned over with a dropper full of liquid. He held it up. "I have to dilate your eyes for this one, okay?"
Clint just sucked a breath through his clenched teeth and nodded. Bruce pushed Clint's chin back, and dropped the liquid into Clint's eyes. They both ignored the way Clint had started to tremble. He felt his pupils dilate and tried desperately to distance himself from what Bruce was doing.
Twenty minutes later the tests were finished.
"Okay, thanks," Bruce said, quietly. "Don't drive for a while and I'd recommend staying away from bright lights."
When Clint left the lab he practically ran to the elevator, and he rode down to the basement again, climbed into the rafters, and wrapped his knees in his arms and rocked some more.
Loki's spear touched his chest and it emptied him. Thoughts fled, loyalty disappeared, love evaporated, memory changed purpose. What was left of him shrunk into a corner of his mind, leaving only Loki's thoughts, commands, and anger, and that drove him for days. Jealous rage filled his chest, turning his eyes ice blue and forcing him to kill.
He woke in a sterile room with Natasha standing over him and he was still empty, but without Loki's thoughts, commands, and anger. What was left of him was still cowering in the corners of his mind, and he followed Natasha and Steve because following was all he knew how to do at that point.
After the battle Natasha helped him back to his room at SHIELD and helped him clean up, forced him to lie down, and told him that Coulson was dead. He curled into a ball on his bed and she wrapped her arms around him, holding him as he trembled, finally slipping into the first real sleep he'd had since Loki compromised him.
When SHIELD put him on psychiatric leave the next day, he left headquarters and wandered the city, walking, climbing to the rooftops of buildings, exploring alleyways and dingy parts of town, looking at the people others called 'bad' and seeing better men than he was. All of them were dangerous people, but he was empty, and they were not.
Natasha came looking for him two days later and dragged him to Stark Tower to clean him up again. She wouldn't let him leave this time, so he just sat in the chair in the common room and watched the others talk. She insisted that he come with her to SHIELD and so he did, keeping his eyes on the floor as they walked through the halls, avoiding the accusatory or searching looks the other agents were sure to give him.
He played along with the psychiatrists, giving them only what he had to – no, he didn't remember anything between when Loki took him and when Natasha hit him. Yes, he knew it wasn't his fault what had happened. No, he didn't blame himself for killing those agents. Yes, he missed Agent Coulson and wished it hadn't happened. Only one of those claims was true, but they didn't need to know that. Three days of psych evals and they told Fury he needed some time to process everything but he wasn't a threat.
Fury obviously didn't believe them, thank god. He kept Clint on suspension with pay and Clint wandered back to Stark Tower. Steve challenged him to spar, Tony handed him new arrow designs, and Bruce exchanged cooking tips with him in the kitchen. He filled some of the empty bits with the Avengers, and after about a month he got better at considering himself whole.
And then they found Coulson and he visited him once and then shattered into pieces again.
Natasha filled him in about Phil when he came down from the rafters that night after Bruce's tests – five days after Phil's emergence from his coma – about Phil's progress and healing. The doctors were pleased, Phil was sitting up on his own, and he had even had Natasha sneak some paperwork in for him to work on. She thought he might start physical therapy in another couple of days.
Clint nodded politely, asked a few questions, and finished cooking his meal that he took back to his own quarters and ate alone. He sat and picked at his food for a while and then picked up the key to Phil's apartment, fingering it and then slipping it into his pants pocket.
He slipped out of the tower unnoticed, and then flagged down a cab, slouching into the back seat. He gave an address two blocks away from Phil's apartment and walked those blocks quickly after getting out of the cab and he let himself into the apartment and took a deep breath.
He paused in the entranceway for a few moments and then he made his way back to the bedroom. He stood in the doorway, taking in the sky blue walls, the king bed with white headboard, and the white dresser and white bookshelves along the wall. The two nightstands on either side of the bed still had the books Clint and Phil had been working on the day everything went to hell. He thought for a moment about taking Phil's book and giving it to Natasha to pass along, but that thought made his heart clench, and so he dismissed it quickly. Instead he went to Phil's dresser and bent down to the bottom drawer. He opened it and saw a couple of hooded sweatshirts and a few t-shirts of his own and chose one of the sweatshirts. He needed something familiar.
He stood to go, but then closed his eyes for a moment and turned back to the dresser. He opened a middle drawer and ran his fingers along Phil's sweaters, finally finding the one he needed. It was his favorite of Phil's, a deep blue crew-neck, and he picked it up and gathered it into his arms and sat down on the bed, curling around the sweater, inhaling deeply, and then laying back. He fell into a restless sleep clutching the blue fabric.
He woke with a start a few hours later, and, before he broke down completely, he left the apartment, locking it behind him. He made his way back to Stark Tower and managed to avoid everyone before locking his own quarters' door behind him. He stripped out of his clothes and crawled into his own bed, still clutching the sweater.
Three days later Fury called him down to SHIELD. Natasha wasn't around, so he pulled on his black SHIELD jacket over his t-shirt and rode his motorcycle over to headquarters. He made it to Fury's office without seeing anyone and entered the office when Fury's secretary nodded at him. He stepped in and Fury waved him to sit down.
"Agent Barton," he said, simply.
Clint nodded. "Sir."
"Agent, Dr. Banner sent me the results of the tests he ran and I wanted to discuss them with you."
Clint nodded mutely. He supposed one reason he hadn't run into anyone he knew on the way in was because they were waiting to kill him on Fury's word.
"The results were negative, Agent. He could find no evidence that Loki or any outside party was at all affecting you now."
"I didn't think they were, Sir, but I understand the need to check," Clint said.
"Yes, well, I have to say I'm glad you came back clean, and I trust Banner's tests. I'm ready to reinstate you with your previous Senior Agent status, Barton."
Clint was surprised for some reason. He really hadn't thought about working again, and the idea that he could get thrown back in the field tomorrow shocked him just a little. "Thank you, Sir," was all he could say.
Fury stared at him for over a minute. Clint had been victim of his stares before, and stood up well to them, but he was glad when Fury finally cleared his throat and spoke again. "Agent Barton, you are aware that Agent Coulson is undergoing physical therapy at Stark Tower right now?"
Clint swallowed and felt his face flush. He hadn't expected this conversation. "Yes, Sir."
Fury stared some more. "He's progressing well. We moved him to the Tower on Stark's insistence and it's turned out to be a good idea. He's got good staff there and it's more comfortable. They let him get in a wheelchair yesterday and Stark insisted on taking him on a full tour of the Tower. He did well."
Clint didn't know what to say. He'd spent the whole day on the archery row working with some new tech Tony had given him. "Good, Sir. I'm glad to hear it."
Fury raised his eyebrow. "Right. Well, Barton, you should get back there. I have some files for you to take since you're here, okay? Give them to Captain Rogers. You all are heading out in a couple of days for a mission and you need to start planning." He paused. "You're part of the Avengers Initiative, Barton. We'll only use you here at SHIELD if necessary, understand?"
"Yes, Sir," Clint said. He reached out and took the files. "Thank you again."
Fury nodded and Clint headed for the door. As he turned the handle to leave, Fury stood and stopped him. 'Barton," he said.
Clint turned. "Sir?"
He watched as Fury just stared for a moment, obviously unsure of whether he should speak his mind – something that absolutely astounded Clint.
"Glad to have you back, Agent."
Clint just nodded and left quietly.
He went back to Stark Tower and found Steve, handing him the folders and explaining what Fury said. Steve told him to give him an hour and then gather the others. Clint took the hour and made his way to the rafters again.
It was a month after the Loki situation when Tony barreled into the common room and shouted, "Coulson's alive, goddammit!"
Clint dropped the cup of coffee he was drinking and it crashed to the floor. Steve stood quickly and Natasha and Bruce both followed.
"Fury's been hiding him at SHIELD headquarters, but JARVIS has been hacking their systems for a while now and he found him," Tony said, quickly.
"Why the hell would Fury 'hide' him, Tony?" Natasha asked.
Tony paused and looked directly at Clint. The team had figured out the relationship between Phil and Clint when Clint crashed at the news of Phil's death. "They weren't sure he was going to make it. Fury's orders that JARVIS found have telling us as a step only to be taken upon the affirmation of Coulson's recovery."
Clint spoke softly. "Is he going to?"
"What?" Tony asked.
"Recover. JARVIS hacked the system. They haven't told us about him yet. Will he recover?"
Tony nodded. "Looks like they just adjusted his status today. They're probably going to tell us soon anyway."
Clint stood and ignored the others. He headed out the door, heading for SHIELD medical and hearing Natasha follow him.
Clint climbed down from the rafters and gathered the Avengers team as Steve had asked him to do. Steve shared the mission objectives, explaining that a HYDRA base had been found out west. They were being ordered to shut it down. Steve handed out a folder to everyone and told them to memorize their own mission objectives and to report back the next morning for coordination. They'd be departing the following day.
Planning went well the next day, and Clint found himself excited at the prospect of a trip and mission. It was the perfect distraction.
Late in the afternoon after the strategy session had closed, Tony asked Clint to come down to his lab. He wanted to make sure they were in agreement about which of the new arrows Clint would use on the mission. Clint grabbed a little lunch and headed down.
They were putting the finishing touches on the list of arrows Clint would need when Tony said, casually, "So, are you going to see Coulson before we go?"
Clint looked up and glared. "What the hell, Tony?" and then, after a pause, "No."
Tony sighed. "Dammit, Barton. He's probably going to get cleared for light desk duty by the time we get back. They're letting him go home tomorrow. It's been two weeks since he woke up."
"Get to the point or shut the hell up, Tony," Clint said.
"The point is you guys were together two years before all of this shit happened and you've seen him for five minutes once since he woke up."
"Did he ask you to talk to me?" Clint said.
"Holy hell, Clint. No. But he has asked how you're doing, and you know none of us are pulling any punches with him," Tony said.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I told him you're being an idiot, Steve told him you're just going through the motions, Bruce told him you're hiding in the rafters more often than not, and Romanov told him you're sneaking back and forth between here and his apartment. I think he's got a pretty good idea of how you're doing."
Clint stood up and smiled at Tony. "And has he asked to see me? Has he begged you guys to drag me down there to comfort him?"
Tony cocked his head at Clint and said, "No."
Clint nodded. "You wanna know why he hasn't?"
Tony sighed. "Do you know?"
Clint nodded. "Yeah."
"Do you know what happened when I did go to see him the first day, Tony?"
Tony shook his head. "No."
Clint walked over to stand closer to Tony. "He flinched."
Tony closed his eyes.
"You know why he flinched, Tony?" Clint said, taking another step closer.
Tony shook his head.
"Because he's smart." Clint sucked a breath in through clenched teeth. "And I'm not going to go see him if I scare him. When he figures out that I'm not going to hurt him and decides to ask to see me, I'll go. Not before."
Tony ran a hand across his face. "Barton," he said, quietly, and gestured toward the door to the lab.
Clint turned to see Natasha there, pushing Coulson in his wheelchair. He was dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans and he was thinner than he should be, and his eyes looked tired. When he saw Clint turn, his eyes went to Clint's hands, which were holding the bow he'd been cleaning while he talked to Tony. Clint just stared at him for a moment, and when Phil didn't say anything, Clint stormed past them all, blindly making his way back to his own room and slamming the door behind him.
Natasha knocked about an hour later, calling to Clint, but when he ignored her she went away, leaving him alone.
The mission began the next day. It was difficult. HYDRA always made things difficult, and at the end of the fight Clint found himself being dragged back to the Quinjet by Tony, hardly aware of what was going on.
He'd taken a bullet to the shoulder and had fallen ten feet to the ground on the impact.
"Goddammit, Barton!" he heard, as he lay on the floor of the jet and pain coursed through his shoulder and his vision kept greying out. He tried to keep his eyes focused, but they refused, the white hot searing pain shoving everything else to the background. He heard the others, though.
"He fell off the fucking building," Tony said.
"It wasn't that tall, Tony," Natasha said. Clint felt her hands running through his hair and stopping on the back of his head where he'd hit the ground. He hissed in pain. "Shit," she said as her hands came away from his head bloody, "He's got a head wound."
Nausea rose in Clint's throat at her touch and he groaned, trying to turn to his side. He couldn't stop himself from vomiting, though, and he felt her pull him away from it and into her lap. "Tony, get us the hell out of here and back to base," she said, and after some shouting that Steve and Bruce were back on board, he felt the engines of the plane roar to life. When the jet ascended, though, the motion made him sick again.
As the plane carried them back to headquarters, he felt Steve's strong hands pushing down on his shoulder wound, sending daggers through his body. He took sharp breaths through clenched teeth and tried his hardest to stay awake. Finally, though, he resigned to passing out in Natasha's lap as she gently rubbed the side of his face.
It was quiet when he woke. He could hear the monitors beeping, he could feel the tight bandage around his shoulder and the IV in his hand, and he could feel the bandage on his head. He opened his eyes and looked around. He was in SHIELD medical, and it looked like they gave him a private room. He glanced toward the door and drew a sharp breath.
Phil was sitting next to Clint's bed dozing in his wheelchair and wearing the blue sweater Clint had taken from the apartment. Clint watched him sleep for a few minutes, taking in his thinner face and the sling around his shoulder, and then Phil woke, opening his eyes and catching Clint's stare.
Neither spoke, but Phil sat up a bit and reached for Clint's hand. Clint just stared; his thoughts felt sluggish, like he couldn't reconcile the past few weeks and Phil sitting here at his bedside.
Phil smiled at Clint and just said, "Hey, I'm glad you're awake," moving to just cover Clint's hand with his own.
Clint looked down at their hands and then laced his fingers through Phil's and just nodded, causing shooting pain to go through his head. He winced and Phil chuckled.
"Be careful. You've got a nasty concussion on top of that bullet wound. You've been out for a while." He paused and added quietly , "You scared us."
"I scared you?" Clint said. His voice was shaky.
Phil winced this time. "Not like that, Clint."
They both just stared at each other for a minute.
Phil squeezed Clint's hand. "I'm not afraid of you. Not anymore."
Clint sighed. "It's okay that you were. I'm sorry."
"Not your fault, and I'm not afraid of you now."
"Okay," Clint said.
Phil pulled Clint's hand to his lips and kissed it. "Sleep. They want you to rest."
"I want to stay awake with you," Clint said, his voice sounding a little bit desperate in his own ears.
Phil chuckled. "I won't be awake much longer. It seems all I do is sleep."
Clint swallowed and locked eyes with Phil. "I'm glad you're awake now."
Phil nodded and he leaned back in his chair, and soon they both drifted off to sleep.