A/N: So, last chapter. Thank to everyone who's been reading and reviewing, and I hope you all enjoyed it even though I spent a lot of time making Clint absolutely miserable.
Also, I forgot how long ago I wrote this, because I wrote the whole thing, edited it, then started posting, but a couple chapters ago there was a reference to the start of the football season and this chapter has a reference to the start of Dancing with the Stars and this project has been in the works for kind of a long time, and now it's come to an end which is both cool and kind of sad.
When Clint's next awake, he's in a white room. White rooms mean hospitals. He feels a moment of panic and then he looks to the right and there's Sitwell sitting there next to his bed.
He's safe, but he doesn't want to see Sitwell. If he's back at SHIELD then where's his team? Where's Coulson?
"Glad to see you're awake," Sitwell says. "You look less glad to see me."
The Avengers are probably on a mission. Or maybe they're busy. Do they know he's here? Coulson has to know he's here. Coulson knows everything. And Tony hacks everything. So they know he's here. But they're not here for him.
Sitwell rolls his eyes. "They're outside causing trouble. Fury won't them in until you're debriefed, and they won't leave until they're let in. So, let's debrief."
Clint sits up so fast his head spins. Sitwell laughs and hands him a bottle of water.
Clint debriefs with record speed, but it had been a long term op so by the time he's covered everything, his water bottle is empty, his throat is sore, and he's exhausted.
He can barely keep his eyes open, but he doesn't want to fall asleep. There are people he wants to see. People who are waiting to see him.
He sees Sitwell moving towards the button that controls the morphine, and Clint hisses a warning.
Sitwell pulls back, raising his hands in surrender. "I get it. You want to see them. If they agitate you," he trails off, trusting that Clint will understand that he'll be drugged and forbidden visitors until he's healed.
Clint nods and Sitwell's almost bowled over when he opens the doors. All the Avengers pile in before Sitwell can leave. Coulson's the last person to come through the door, and he closes it behind him.
Clint's tracking his movement, feeling a smile swell up inside of him, but a moment later, Tony fills his entire vision. "They said you went and got yourself shot and then you were stupid enough to let it get infected."
Clint grins, and it comes too easily. Damn drugs. "Can only have so many geniuses on the team."
Tony rolls his eyes, but there's a fondness in them that makes Clint uncomfortable. "Did you really all show up to gawk at me being bedridden?"
"Some people can pull off the hospital gown," Tony says.
Clint laughs because that is definitely a lie. No one looks good in hospital gowns. Clint pulls his sheet further up so it's tucked under his chin. But when the fabric brushes the underside of his chin he has a flashback to Aneta's basement. The shroud over his head, the dead body next to him.
His body jerks, and he throws the sheet off, and he's kicking at it as it gets tangled up in his legs, and he needs to get away. The stench of death of overwhelming, and the man has started to decay, and his face is right next to Clint's and-
Clint rolls over and throws up.
"Holy shit!" Tony says as he jumps out of the way.
Clint coughs and vomits again, even as the real world comes back to him. He's at SHIELD, not in a basement in Ukraine. He's surrounded by his team. No dead bodies.
He throws up one last time and then Coulson's at his side, offering him a bottle of water and a washcloth.
Clint wipes his forehead and them his mouth, and he swishes the water around in his mouth and spits into the sink next to his bed.
"Sorry," Clint says, because the room now smells like vomit, and he'd almost thrown up on his teammates, and that probably isn't the welcome they were hoping for. "I—"
"It's fine," Natasha says. She gives him a look that says don't talk unless you want to, you don't owe us explanations, I understand.
Clint, grateful, sinks back against his pillows. "Thanks for the recordings. It was nice to hear your voices."
"It was Steve's idea," Tony says. "The recording. Thor's the one who decided it was Shakespeare. We've started recording books for local libraries. Coulson's arranged for us to do all sorts community service type things. Oh, you're just in time. We're going to the local orphanage and playing with the kids at the end of the week. You think you'll be well enough for that? You should be. Your fever's broken and that was the worst. You might need a cane for a bit to walk, but I bet the kids will love that. Do you know what else they love? They—"
"I think Agent Barton's had enough excitement for now," Coulson interrupts and Clint's grateful, because all of Stark's words are starting to blur together, and Clint feels bad for not being able to hold onto all of them.
"Will you return home soon?" Thor asks.
Clint looks around the room, at each of the Avengers and then his gaze lands on Coulson, who's been edging closer and closer to Clint's bed. He thinks he's being subtle, but Clint's too well trained not to notice.
"I am home." Clint smiles and closes his eyes.
When he opens them again, his head is clearer, and his floor is clean, and the air smells faintly of lilacs.
Coulson holds up a can of Febreeze. "Thought you'd like it better than stale vomit."
"Thank you, sir." Clint looks around. The room is empty except for the two of them. His sheet is tucked around his waist and nowhere near his face. "You read the debrief?"
Coulson holds up the packet in front of him. "Lacey's going to want to talk to you."
"Because I killed people or because I spent a day lying next to a dead guy?"
"Probably both." The corners of Coulson's lips quirk up in a smile before it smoothes away, replaced with concern. "Are you okay?"
"I will be." Clint runs his hands over his sheet. "Probably won't be able to sleep next to anyone for a while." He gauges Coulson's face, waiting to see disappointment or repulsion or rejection, but he doesn't see any of them.
"Understandable." He pulls his laptop out and slides his chair next to Clint. "You missed the new season of Dancing with the Stars. It's the All-Star season. Pamela Anderson is back."
"Really?" Clint asks.
Coulson's eyes crinkle as he goes to Hulu and loads the first episode. "So's Bristol Palin. She's gotten better. Lost some weight too."
Coulson pulls over the bed tray so he can put his laptop on it, freeing up one of his hands to drape over the bed railing and hold Clint's. Clint laces his fingers through Coulson's and settles in for two hours of watching people he doesn't know dance poorly.
Clint doesn't go to play with the kids. It's his second day out of the hospital, and it hurts to move too much; plus, he's self-conscious about walking around with a cane. So he waves his teammates, promises he'll join them next time, and sinks down on the couch to relax.
He's glad to be back at the tower; he hates hospitals, and he has missed his team, but they're overwhelming, and they're a lot to handle while recovering. His body is happy to melt into the couch, and he picks up the remote and starts flipping channels.
He's watching Clean Sweep, because it always interests him to see what people choose to keep, what they assign sentimental value to, and the couple is sorting their possessions into Keep, Sell, and Trash piles when Coulson comes in with a paper bag full of takeout from Sabatini's.
"Momma is very worried about you," Coulson says, sitting down next to Clint. "You can tell because she added an extra order of garlic bread and a bowl of minestrone soup."
Clint raises his eyebrows. "What did you tell her?"
"That you got shot." Coulson smiles at Clint's look and hands him a plastic container full of pasta and chicken parm. "I told her you were in the wrong part of down, got yourself shot, and that I'm being a good boyfriend and taking care of you." Coulson hands Clint a plastic knife and fork and sets the garlic bread down between them before diving in for his chicken parm.
"Boyfriend? You chose to come out to Momma Sabatini?"
Coulson laughs and pops the top off his dinner. "She thought we were together the first time I brought you to my apartment. Should I go get wine? Are you feeling well enough for wine?"
"Water's fine for me," Clint says. He twirls some spaghetti around his fork and then spears a piece of chicken and pops it into his mouth.
Coulson gets up and he comes back with two glasses and a pitcher of water. "Italian food, water, and home improvement shows."
"Real quality date," Clint says, but his throat catches on his laugh, because this isn't a date. This is domestic. This is what two people do when they've been together for a long time and are comfortable with each other and their routines, and he supposes that he and Coulson have been together for a long time, but they hadn't been together together.
"You're thinking too much," Coulson says. He hands Clint a piece of garlic bread.
Clint eats it and leans in so he shoulder is brushing Coulson's. "I do that sometimes."
Clint makes dinner, tacos because they're easy, and he's amused at Thor's penchant for taco sauce, and because he can have a taco salad to make up for all the bread he ate at lunch.
Coulson has to go back to SHIELD after lunch, but he's back for dinner, and the two of them listen to the team's stories from the day. Bruce laughs at the kids who would poke him and throw things at him and try and provoke him into Hulking out. Natasha talks about the little girls that wanted to play dress up, but Clint's the only one who dares to laugh when she scowls about being put into a frilly pink tutu.
Thor apparently has little nieces and nephews back on Asgard so he had been a natural there, making himself into a human jungle gym, and he tells Clint about how he was able to walk even with a child clinging to each of his arms and legs. Steve had brought his old war uniform and played soldier, and Tony scoffs and claims that kids are stupid and he has more important things to do with his time, but Clint saw the folded up piece of paper in Tony's pocket when he came in. Someone's drawn him a picture, and he's kept it so for all his bullshit, he'd enjoyed at least part of the day.
"They hope you come next time," Thor says. "Natasha was regaling them with tales of your adventures from your youth, and they are eager to learn."
"I told them you were in the circus," Natasha says, and Clint laughs as he watches her try to delicately eat her taco. There's no way to delicately eat a hard shell taco. She takes a bite and the shell cracks down the bottom. She loses half of her taco.
"What do they want to learn?" Clint asks. "How to throw knives? Cheat at cards? Drink?"
"I doubt they'll let you do any of those," Coulson says. "Maybe you could teach them how to do makeup."
Clint shrugs and sprinkle some cheese on his salad. "That I could do. Face painting? It's been years since I've had to do that."
"You can face paint?" Steve asks. "Like they'd do at the carnivals? With the lion face and cats and clowns and everything?"
Clint nods, slowly, because he's worried that Steve's going to announce a team costume party or something.
"That's pretty nifty," Steve says and he digs back into his dinner.
Clint looks over at Coulson Nifty? he mouths, because who even says that. Coulson shrugs and gives the hard taco shells a pointed look. Clint wavers before picking one up and crumbling into his salad to give it a bit of a crunch.
"Movie night tonight?" Tony asks as he goes for round two of tacos.
Clint had been hoping to spend some time with Coulson after dinner, but he's already said no to one team thing today. He probably shouldn't ditch another.
"Only if we watch The Breakfast Club," Coulson says. "It's a classic, and Steve hasn't seen it yet."
"I like that one," Bruce says.
"It's settled then." Tony grins and takes another bite of his taco.
The movie is torture. Clint curls up on the couch, up against the edge of the arm rest, and Coulson sits down next to him, all unassuming and with a blanket and a, "I know you've been cold lately," and he lays the blanket across from them and when the lights go out Coulson slips his hand under the blanket and curls it around Clint's inner thigh.
Clint looks over him as if to say really? but Coulson just smiles and turns his attention to the movie.
Ten minutes in, Clint's wondering if he can flee to his room when his phone vibrates. It shocks him enough that he twitches, and Coulson pulls back, concerned. Clint digs his phone out of his pocket. It's Barney.
He shows the caller ID to Coulson and then slips out from under the blanket to head back to his room for some privacy.
He waits until he's in the hallway to answer the call. "Clint here."
"You bastard," Barney says. "What happened to telling me when you went on long ops?"
Clint freezes up. He had completely forgotten. He hadn't called Barney before he left. He was so busy with Coulson and making sure things were good with his team that he'd forgotten about Barney. His brother. The one person Clint was never supposed to forget.
"I called your phone, and when you didn't answer after the second time I called, I poked around SHIELD, and I found out they sent you to the Ukraine. To deal with the people who had killed another agent!"
He was worried, Clint realizes with a bit of shock. Barney was worried about him. Clint's always been the brother who worried, wondering where Barney was, if he was okay, if Clint would turn the news on one day and find out that Barney had been arrested or killed. And now he's put Barney in that position.
"And then I hear that you've come back, but that you've been shot, and you get locked up in medical for days, and no one hears anything, and are you going to say anything?"
Barney's talking enough for the both of them. He always does. And Clint doesn't know what to say. I'm sorry isn't enough, you're right is obvious and doesn't need to be said. "I'm almost healed."
"Oh. Great. You're almost healed. You almost died!"
"No need for melodramatics." Clint forces himself to keep his voice level, because they don't need two people shouting in this conversation. But he wants to shout. He wants to ask Barney how it feels to be the one worrying, the one who doesn't know, but he doesn't, because this isn't a form of revenge. Clint had honestly forgotten.
"I did but that happens often in my career. I survived and I'm doing better, and I can't tell you that I'm not going to get hurt again, because I will. I might even die. There's no use getting all worked up about it."
There's a moment of silence before Barney explodes. "Are you trying to rationalize at me? You could've died, and I'm upset about it, and you're not going to tell me to stop feeling. Some people actually have these things called emotions that they express towards other people!"
"I have emotions," Clint fires back. "I have always felt things. I just don't always talk about it. There was never exactly a lot of room for my voice when you were around."
Barney laughs, disbelievingly. "I call you to express concern, and you decide to fight about our childhood? Are you serious? Don't you have a shrink for these things?"
"I don't want to fight with you," Clint says, and he's tired now. So tired. He's been living under the weight of Barney and his reputation for Clint's whole life, even now when he's supposedly carved out a place for himself. He doesn't want to drag up their childhood demons and Clint's insecurities, and all the problems they've had, because Barney's right. Clint could've died in the Ukraine, and he has people who would miss him. That's not something to fight about.
"I'm sorry," Clint says and he drops down onto his bed. "I've had a rough few days."
"Days? Sounds like a rough mission."
"It wasn't all bad. Got fresh bread almost every day."
Barney laughs. "You've always liked bread. I know you can't tell me details, but everything go okay?"
Clint had gotten shot, had to leap across rooftops on a bum leg, had to get close with a dead body, and then had such a bad fever he'd hallucinated but other than that it was fine. "I was successful and I'm alive." And in the end, that's all the really matters. "I'm back with my team."
"Yeah, the super hero squad. You still working with Coulson?"
Clint thinks about Coulson's hand under the blanket, how it had slid up Clint's leg, and he blushes and is glad his phone doesn't have video. "Yeah. He's the team's handler."
"Still cooking for him?"
Clint's glad they're not fighting anymore. Not so glad they chose this to be the direction their conversation went in. "I cook for the whole team."
"Cook for them? You don't cook and they happen to show up?"
"You're a jerk sometimes," Clint says.
"Sometimes? I'm clearly not trying hard enough."
Clint laughs and the conversation meanders away from Clint and his team to Barney and his newest handler.
Clint stays in his room after the phone call ends. The Breakfast Club isn't his favorite movie, and he's feeling a bit emotionally drained after that conversation and not up for smiling or being around other people. He wants to be by himself so he can piece himself back together.
Barney does that to him sometimes. Strips away Agent Barton and leaves Clint the little boy who'd wanted to protect his brother or the angry teenager that wanted to be better than him. Clint's come a long way since then, so has Barney, but sometimes Clint forgets.
His phone buzzes, and he flips it open.
Natasha: Everything all right?
Clint shakes his head. He supposes it wasn't a large leap to realize that he'd taken a phone call, and there's really one person he talks to that isn't in the living room right now, but still. Sometimes Natasha's powers of observation worry him. At least he doesn't have any secrets he's keeping from her.
Clint: Fine. Not in the mood for the movie
Natasha: Neither am I. It's Bruce's favorite though so he doesn't want to leave
Clint: So you're going to text me?
Clint: You're one of the best spies in the business. Emoticons are beneath you
Natasha: The only thing I want beneath me is Bruce
Clint: Okay. We're done.
He sets his phone on his nightstand and ignores it even though it buzzes nine times in quick succession. He knows that Natasha and Bruce are together. They have been since she went to find him, and he knows they're sleeping together, but he doesn't need to know details. She's the one obsessed with knowing absolutely everything not him.
He gets up and brushes his teeth and washes his face and gets changed for bed. As he pulling his soft, worn shirt over his head, he's struck by how glad he's home. The op had been necessary, but he likes having his own bed and his own clothes. He likes being Clint, and he likes having a team to come back to and a brother to talk to. And he really likes-
"They're swapping stories of the drugs they've done," Coulson says coming into the room. "I figured it'd be best if I left."
"Don't you already know that?" Clint asks.
"I know it from reading it on paper, not hearing the stories of the experiences."
As Coulson gets closer, Clint realizes that he's in pajamas too, a pair of gray sweatpants and black t-shirt which means he went to his room before coming here. Which means he got ready for bed and came to Clint's room, and yeah, it was probably so he could brush his teeth and get comfortable, but he's ready for bed and in Clint's room, and Clint's reading way too much into this.
"You're thinking again," Coulson says and he hesitates at the edge of the bed, waiting for Clint to reach out and draw him in.
"It's a bad habit."
Coulson smiles. "We all have a couple of those. And I have an easy solution for this one."
Clint raises his eyebrows, curious, and Coulson grins and leans in for a kiss.
Oh, Clint thinks, and he slips his hands under Coulson's shirt, so his palms are pressing against warm skin, and he roams over Coulson's chest before slipping around to pull him on top of Clint.
Clint hasn't done this in a long time. He doesn't do relationships, probably because he's unknowingly been in a relationship with Coulson for years, and he doesn't do casual sex. But Coulson knows all of that. He knows about Clint's abandonment issues and his intimacy issues, and he probably knows the last time Clint had sex as well as who it was with.
That's actually kind of creepy, and Clint realizes that he's thinking too much again.
"You're not doing a very good job distracting me," Clint says.
Coulson blinks once which is almost an exclamation of surprise coming from him. "Is that a challenge?"
Clint's not sure what the right answer to that question is, and then Coulson is dropping his weight on top of Clint, kissing the last of Clint's breath out of his mouth and rocking his hips against Clint's.
Yes, Clint thinks as Coulson's teeth bite at his lower lip, as Coulson's hands push at the elastic of Clint's sweatpants.
"Yes," Clint breathes as Coulson lifts his hips long enough to get both their sweatpants down so he can fist both of them.
Coulson chuckles, his breath warm and wet against Clint's mouth, and Clint gasps and tilts his head back, and he thinks that maybe it's okay that he doesn't know what he's doing here. He's always been good at learning.