A/N: Thanks to dysprositos for her usual mad beta skills. This came from a love of camping, a love of Keane (title), and a love of these crazy boys.
"You're leaving, aren't you?" Bruce asked, looking at Clint across the chess board. He watched as Clint ducked his head, stared at his pieces for a minute, and then nodded.
"Yes," he said, looking up at Bruce. His eyes were still shadowed from the last few weeks of mourning and recovering, and he looked at Bruce with a raw sadness. "I have to, I think."
Bruce nodded and stood, using the tea on the stove as an excuse to step away. He poured himself a fresh cup of water, stirring the tea ball around his cup. He hadn't known Clint long, but he liked him. He was a nice change from Tony and his lab. Bruce liked Tony a lot, but when he came back to his apartment to find the archer waiting to have some tea and play some chess, it was calming. Tony was frantic, while Clint was calm, and Tony's energy was amazing and his intellect was inspiring, but Bruce liked the contrast of playing chess with Clint after hours in the lab. He even lost a few times.
Clint leaned back in his chair and rubbed his hand over his face.
"You want to sleep on the couch here tonight?" Bruce asked gently. He knew Clint was tired; that was one of the first things he realized over the last weeks. Exhaustion was a constant with Clint. It was actually what drew the two men toward friendship the day after the invasion in New York was over.
Bruce recalled finding Clint slumped in a corner of the common room the day after the debrief session with Fury.
All of them had watched as Clint entered the conference room Tony had led them to after the battle. Bruce hadn't officially met Barton, but he recognized the fearful caution in his eyes, the way his eyes roamed the room looking for exits, the way he kept himself at a careful distance from the other people. He could see that Barton was nervous about himself after being controlled by Loki for those few days, and Bruce understood not trusting your own body around other people.
Bruce crossed the room and introduced himself, shaking Clint's hand, trying to be assuring, to make it clear that he didn't hold anything Clint had done under Loki's control against him. He noticed the sunken look on Clint's face, his red-rimmed eyes, and the way his hand subtly shook as he pulled away from Bruce's grip. His blond hair was tousled and he was wearing a crumpled black t-shirt and torn jeans to complement his general rumpled look of exhaustion. The weak smile he offered to Bruce was clearly forced.
Bruce stepped back and looked toward the door as Steve, Tony, and Thor settled themselves at the table and Nick Fury entered the room. Barton turned to Natasha, spoke quietly to her for a moment, and suddenly slammed his fist down on the table in front of him. Fury stopped in his tracks and everyone stared as Clint flat-out shouted at Natasha, "Where the hell is Coulson?" Natasha looked coolly at Clint and then stared pointedly at Fury. Everyone's gaze shifted to the SHIELD leader.
"Barton, no one told you?" Fury asked, looking at the others.
Clint pulled himself up straight and backed up against the wall, as if he were trying to get away from the news. "Told me what? Where. Is. Phil?" he growled.
"I'm sorry, but Agent Coulson was killed by Loki aboard the Helicarrier."
Bruce had seen people hear about the death of someone they worked with before, and he had seen people hear about the death of a friend. When he saw Clint Barton's whole body go still at these words, saw his eyes close slowly and saw him draw a trembling breath inward, he knew that Agent Coulson had been more than a colleague and more than a friend. Fury crossed to Barton and held something out to him, which Barton accepted and then quickly pocketed. He stared at Fury for a moment, and then he stepped around him, crossed the room, and left.
"What the hell," Tony said, looking up at Fury. "Where's he going?"
"I'll debrief Agent Barton individually, later," Fury said, offering no other explanation. Then he moved to the front of the room and started asking questions.
Natasha sat through the debrief session tense as a bowstring, and as soon as they were dismissed she disappeared down the hall. No one saw her or Barton all night. Bruce went back to the apartment Tony had labeled as his and slept. The next day he kept to himself and worked on making his apartment more of his own. It was important to him. He knew he wouldn't be able to stay indefinitely, but he liked Stark enough that he hoped this might be a place he could return to after his needed hiatuses from the human population.
He was busy all day, and marveled at the fact that he mentioned to Tony (half-joking) in passing that the apartment would be nicer if it were painted in earth tones and had at least a big poofy couch to sink into and two hours later there were painters in his living room. Two hours after that, there was a couch being delivered.
It was a few hours later that day when Bruce found Clint slumped in a corner on the floor, his knees drawn up close to his chest. Bruce approached him slowly, knowing that he didn't have enough information about what was going on to be anything but cautious. Clint was still wearing the same clothes he'd been in at the debrief session, and he clearly hadn't slept. He was staring vacantly ahead, but Bruce knew Clint recognized his presence. Bruce knelt down a few feet away from Clint and tried to catch his eye. "Agent Barton? Are you going to be all right?"
A slow, hollow smile crept over Barton's face, and he nodded slowly. "Eventually, I suppose," he said, his voice raw.
"Do you need anything?" Bruce said quietly.
"Agent Coulson to be back," Barton said with a strangled laugh. "That'd be nice."
Bruce noticed something clenched in Barton's hand that was propped up on his knee. "You two were close, weren't you?" he asked, settling himself down on the floor.
"Yeah," Barton whispered, fingering the item in his hand.
Bruce sighed. "I'm sorry," and Clint just nodded, his eyes going vacant again. "Are you staying here at the Tower?" he asked, changing the subject. He thought.
Clint looked up at him and shrugged. "Can't go home, so I guess I am for now."
Bruce met his gaze. "Do you want some tea?" Clint just looked at him blankly. "Come on, have some tea and then we'll go from there." He stood, holding his hand out. Clint stared at it for a moment and then grabbed it and let Bruce help him up. They walked silently back to Bruce's apartment and he apologized for the fresh paint smell and gestured to the couch. "I'll get us some tea."
When he returned with two cups of chamomile tea, Clint had practically melted into the couch; his legs were sprawled out in front of him, and he was sound asleep.
Bruce chuckled. He set the tea down on the coffee table and noticed that something had fallen from Clint's outstretched hand onto the floor. He leaned over and picked it up. It was a set of dog tags, and when he brought them closer and read them, he shook his head and sighed. They were Phil Coulson's tags.
Clint woke screaming a couple hours later, and Bruce simply sat nearby and told him he could stay if he wanted, but Clint shook his head, thanked him quietly, and left.
They'd formed a fast friendship after that night; Bruce didn't push him for information, but Clint showed up in the kitchen and told everyone that he and Coulson had been partners for years, that they'd had an apartment together, and that he had been planning to ask Coulson to marry him on their next vacation together. He shared all of this tiredly a few nights after the New York incident, and he said he only told them because Natasha thought it would help him to tell them, and that they deserved to know since they were all a team now. He got up quickly from the table after that announcement and disappeared.
Natasha sighed and Tony said, "I think he hides in the vents."
She looked back at him and said, "He does. Get used to it." And she stood and went after him.
Later that night, there was a knock on Bruce's door and he opened it to find Clint leaning in his doorway. "Can I come in for a bit?" He looked awful, still exhausted and shaky and pale, and Bruce motioned him in and asked if he'd eaten that day. He hadn't, so Bruce fixed a quick dinner that they ate on his couch. After Clint helped him clean up, they made their way back to the couch.
"You like it here?" Bruce asked, cautiously. He was just curious.
"It's calm," Clint said, rubbing his hand across his face. "It's relaxing. I can't figure out how to relax anywhere else. Everywhere I turn I see Phil and feel Loki," he said softly.
Bruce nodded and fixed them more tea, and they sat in silence and drank it together. Clint fell asleep again, although, just like the first time, he was ripped from sleep by a nightmare a few hours later.
Now, almost three weeks after that, Bruce looked across the chess board at his friend.
"I need to go back to my place tonight," Clint said, "But thanks."
"Does Natasha know you're leaving?" Bruce asked.
"Yeah. She's not happy about it, but I didn't expect her to be. She thinks I'm giving up."
Clint looked at him thoughtfully. "No. I'm taking a leave of absence – even filled out the right paperwork. Phil would be proud," he said with a small smile.
It was the first time Bruce had heard him joke about Phil, and it brought a smile to his face. "Do you know where you're going?"
Clint drew a sharp breath. "Yeah. For a bit, anyway. Not sure for how long."
They played quietly for a few more minutes and as soon as Bruce managed to win the game, Clint shoved his chair back from the table and stood. "I need to go."
"Clint," Bruce said. "Where are you going?"
Clint just shrugged and offered another quiet smile. "Phil would know where I'll be. He'd know."
And Bruce knew that was all he was going to get. He held out his hand and Clint stared at it, surprised. He reached out and shook it, though, and Bruce just said, "Be careful with yourself. Come back when you can." Clint nodded, looked around the apartment, and left.
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Clint packed carefully. It was important to pack carefully for this trip, and it required careful planning. The last time he'd planned this particular trip he'd relied on Phil for most of it. Phil was the one who had been an Eagle Scout as a teenager, and even as unconventional as Clint's childhood had been, he had never been camping before then. He'd fallen in love with it, though, the whole thing. He'd sat with Phil while he made their list of supplies, Phil put him in charge of cooking and meal planning (with a little help from Internet research), and the day Phil took him to the REI store was one of the best of his life. They spent four hours there and it made up for most of the Christmases he'd never gotten to celebrate as a kid.
Now he went back to the apartment he'd shared with Phil for the first time in three weeks. Phil was dead and Clint had tried to recover, but he'd failed in general and coming back to the apartment wasn't something he managed. Natasha had even come back and gathered Clint's clothes and a few things for him, because she'd found him standing next to his car shaking, pale and sweaty the day after they all convened at the Tower. She'd asked what he was doing and he'd answered, "I was going to go home." He looked up at her and shook his head, "I can't." She nodded, took his keys, and told him to go back to the room Tony had for him. She came back an hour later with a suitcase of things for him and found him curled in a ball on top of his bed.
He and Natasha agreed that he had to go back at the end of the month, but here he was, a week early. They'd not actually had a funeral for Phil; Fury said he'd do it when things settled down on the Helicarrier, and Clint didn't really protest. It wasn't anything he was looking forward to. This idea, really, had come to him as a way to try and find some closure. His shrink at SHIELD had been saying that things were too loose, that Clint needed to tie some ends up to make himself feel better, and this was the only thing Clint could think of doing. It came to him one night in Bruce's apartment.
He likes Bruce. He really likes Bruce's apartment and quiet company. He kept finding himself knocking on Bruce's door an hour or two after a mission or at the end of a rough day. He could walk into the room and feel like his blood pressure dropped ten points immediately. The lighting is soft, there's always quiet instrumental music playing in the background, a candle or two is always lit and visible, and Clint swears that Bruce feng shui'd his furniture, though Bruce adamantly denies it. At any rate, it's the most calming place Clint could find, so he found himself making excuses to be there.
One night the two of them were talking about the most beautiful places they'd each been, and Clint realized what he wanted to do for the closure he needed. Now, he was digging through the big walk-in closet in the master bedroom and pulling out his hiking backpack, boots, sleeping bag, and the two-man tent he and Phil had agreed upon after much research. After he pulled a slew of things out onto the floor of the closet, he went to the computer on the mahogany desk in the corner of the bedroom. He waited patiently while it booted up, and then he dug around in the documents folder, scrolling past the 'grocery list' folder, the 'budget' folder, and the 'movies to see' folder until he got to the 'travel plans' folder and grinned as he found the list of camping supplies.
Phil was so good at lists.
Tears threatened as he scanned it, chuckling at the precision and at the little notes Phil had written to himself: "Don't forget liner socks – Clint doesn't understand their necessity" and "Yes, we need two pairs of gloves each, one might get wet and then where would we be?" It was as if he were writing the list as Clint was sitting there questioning him-which he probably had been doing.
Clint printed the list off, took a black Sharpie and, biting his lip until it bled a little, he pared the list down for one person and went back to the closet with the pen in hand. Two hours later, he had everything packed into his backpack and into his truck, and he had a new list for the grocery store. He took a deep breath and texted Natasha. "I'll call you in a month or so." A few moments later he got one back. "Tell me where you're going?" He shot back, "No. Sorry." "Be careful," was the only reply.
He shrugged into a faded green sweatshirt, made sure he had liner socks on before pulling wool ones over them and then pulled on his boots. He dug into the closet again to find his grey Ducks Unlimited ball cap that Phil had bought for him before their first trip. After a long trip to the store and another hour packing his cooler, he headed out. It was a five hour drive to the forest and then another hour to hike into the spot, and it was already eleven in the morning.
Clint drove with the windows cracked, the early summer air making the truck cab smell clean. He drove in silence for a while, and then he plugged in his iPod and scrolled through the list of music. He tried Led Zeppelin, an old stand-by, but something wasn't right about it. So he scrolled again, and took a shaky breath and hit play. It was a Count Basie record that Phil had loved, and Clint turned it up so that it would cover up the sound of his hitching breaths.
He spent the rest of the drive indulging himself by playing all of Phil's records and letting the tears run down his cheeks as he drove further upstate, watching the lush green summer colors spread before him, letting the memory of the last time he drove here with Phil wash over him and carry him up the road.
He finally arrived at the state forest, checked in at the ranger's station and paid for his campsite, and drove to the parking area. He climbed out of the truck and began loading the small cooler to carry into his tent site. He'd hike back out in a few days to restock from the big one. He straightened up and pulled on his hiking backpack, and grabbed the cooler, locked the car up, and headed into the forest.
The woods were quiet and Clint walked with his head up, taking in the green of the trees and the colorful wildflowers peppering the forest floor and keeping his eye out for deer or other wildlife. He thought about the drive up and the flood of emotion he'd felt, and as his boots crunched on the forest litter at his feet, he felt a focus he'd not felt in weeks.
When he wasn't working on a mission with the team he was completely scattered. He'd spar with Natasha and she kicked his ass every time like it was his first time trying to take her down, or he would sit in a planning session with Steve and the others and Tony would have to snap his fingers in Clint's face to get him back on track. When he'd try to sleep, the room he had at the tower would take on a blue tint. He could focus and the color was gone in Bruce's apartment over a chess game, but that was the only place.
Here, though, he didn't have to focus on anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. He let the breeze brush across his face and finally he came to a spot that looked good. It was level and clear for a few feet, and it was only about an eighth of a mile from the creek bed. He set down his pack and cooler and then proceeded to overprotect himself, taking a roll of wire from his pack and setting up trip wires around the clearing. After he was satisfied, he wandered down to the creek to refill his water bottle and drop an iodine tablet in. When he got back, he set up his tent carefully, unloaded his pack, and headed out to look for firewood.
An hour later, he had a fire blazing in a small ring of stones he'd brought from the creek, and he sat on the ground fixing a sandwich and eating an apple. Night fell slowly, the green of the trees fading into black and Clint stared at the flames of the fire, letting his mind blank out and feeling safe as the flames chased away the blue that sat on the edge of his mind every time darkness fell. He pulled the green flannel blanket with a gold hawk embroidered on it out of his pack and wrapped it around his shoulders as the temperature dropped for the night.
He remembered Phil sitting next to the fire fiddling with it and remembered chiding him for being a twelve-year-old boy at heart. Phil had just smiled and moved to their packs, pulling out a bag of marshmallows and his whittling knife. Tonight, Clint just sat and stared at the fire, though, without marshmallows, and he could feel his body relax. He surprised himself by putting out the fire before midnight and crawling into the sleeping bag in his tent and falling into the first dreamless sleep he'd had in three weeks.
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Bruce felt rage and confusion fighting to break the surface as he stood in the common room looking between Nick Fury and Phil Coulson. Natasha was standing stock still, her face unreadable. It had been two weeks since Clint left town, and no one had heard from him. Bruce had finally cornered Natasha to ask if she knew where he was and she said no, but promised to let him know when he finally checked in with her. Now Bruce watched her try to control herself.
Tony had no such qualms.
"Care to explain, Agent Agent?" Tony asked, pouring himself a double bourbon from the bar.
"It's not Agent Coulson's position to explain anything, Mr. Stark," Fury said, crossing the room to the bar. "Agent Coulson's only been conscious for a week and a half, benefiting from some new medical technology that we weren't certain was going to work."
Natasha moved to Coulson's side and put her hand on his arm. "Coulson? Are you all right?" He was looking around the room with a pale scowl.
"Where's Agent Barton?" he asked Natasha. "Director Fury said he took a leave of absence. I thought he'd be with you." Natasha shook her head.
"He left," Bruce interjected. "We don't know where he went."
They all watched as Coulson blanched a little, clearly struggling to keep the usual calm that Tony had fondly described when he reminisced about the presumed dead agent.
"Phil," Fury said, his voice low, as he crossed back to Coulson. He reached out for Coulson's arm, but the agent yanked his arm away.
"You should have told him," Coulson practically growled. "When he requested leave you should have told him."
Bruce felt his own rage begin to simmer, and Natasha moved in between Fury and Coulson.
Fury stepped back. "I didn't tell him, Agent, because it was clear he was not handling anything particularly well outside of missions. I barely managed to convince him to take leave instead of resigning. If I had told him that you had died, but were being kept alive artificially and most likely wouldn't pull through, he would have crashed even harder if we'd lost you for good. You know that."
Bruce watched Steve enter the discussion from the side, trying to calm everyone. "Agent Coulson, I'm sure he's all right," Steve said gently.
"But he's not here," Coulson said, and then he turned to Tony. "Could I please borrow a car so that I can get back to our apartment on my own?"
Fury shook his head. "Phil, you need to come back to base. I brought you over so you could see everyone under the condition that you come back to base."
"With no due respect, screw your conditions." Tony said. "If Agent wants to go home, he can go home. You are looking a little pale, though, sir. I'd prefer to have Happy drive you."
Fury looked at everyone in the room carefully. Bruce wasn't sure what to expect from him, but it probably wasn't what he said next.
"All right. Go find Agent Barton and then come back to base." He looked directly at Tony. "You all keep an eye on him. Get Barton and get them both back to base." Then he turned on his heel and left.
Bruce watched as Coulson stood, unmoored, in the center of the room after Fury's departure.
"I'd like you to drive me to our apartment, Mr. Stark," he said quietly.
Natasha stepped forward and put her hand on Coulson's arm. "He's not there, Phil."
He looked at her sharply. "You know that?"
She nodded. "He wouldn't tell me where he was going, but I've checked everywhere I know to look. I haven't been able to find him."
Suddenly Bruce remembered something Clint had said. "He said you'd know where he was going," he said, stepping forward, feeling the rage simmer down into concern.
Coulson looked at him with an eyebrow raised.
"I asked where he was going and he said, 'Phil would know where I'd be.'"
"That's it?" Tony asked. "Really? 'Phil would know'?"
Bruce nodded and crossed the room to Natasha and Coulson. "He spent some time in my apartment before he left, said it was a calm place. I asked him just as he was leaving and that's what he said. So I figure it would be a calm place that only you knew about."
They all watched as Coulson ran a hand over his face and sighed. "Stark, can you take me home?"
"Do you know where he is?" Natasha asked quietly.
He looked at her and smiled. "I need to see if a few things are missing from the apartment. But yeah. I think I know where he is."
Bruce felt relief settle in as he watched him leave.
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Clint doused his campfire and packed up his cooler, zipping it into the tent before he sat down and laced up his boots, grabbed his camera from where he'd set it on the overturned tree trunk he'd dragged over near the fire ring when he'd first arrived. He pulled the map he'd been making out of his daypack and spread it on the ground, looking over the notes he'd made yesterday.
He'd started a map the second day he went out, deciding to map out his paths and keep track of where he'd been over the last few weeks. He had spent most of the last two weeks in the woods, only heading into town once to wash his clothes in a local Laundromat, grab a hot meal and a couple of beers at some forgettable chain restaurant, and to buy a camera. He'd found a good digital one, and he splurged. He bought himself a Canon EOS Rebel and didn't blink at the 600.00 price tag. He plugged it in at the restaurant to charge while he ate and then had spent the last week mapping the park and taking pictures.
He pulled on his daypack and slung his camera around his neck, and fitted his ball cap on before leaving for the day. The weather had been kind to him over his stay, only raining a few times and staying pleasantly cool during the day. Nights had been cool as well, but he had a good sleeping bag (Phil had insisted). Today was gorgeous. The sky was a stark blue and the sun glittered on the green trees. He had stripped off his watch his second day there, so he had no idea of what time he left precisely, but he had been spending all day walking and taking pictures and today was no different. He finally felt rested, he'd only seen a blue tint a few times during his stay, and the hiking was the perfect Zen. He had to keep alert to stay on his feet and to keep an eye out for photo ops, but he didn't have to think.
So he didn't.
He hiked, took pictures, stopped for a lot of water and granola bar breaks, and simply let time pass. He had a fleeting thought of maybe doing this forever, but he finally headed back to his camp. As he got closer, his senses went on alert. Someone was there and they'd started a fire. Clint knelt down quietly and pulled his bow out of his daypack and carefully unfolded it. He shoved his camera in the pack and pulled a few arrows out of the small quiver he had tucked inside. He turned his hat backwards and slowly advanced on the camp.
Whoever it was wasn't being subtle, Clint supposed. As he drew closer he saw a figure sitting on the overturned tree, watching the fire. He inched closer with his bow drawn and took in a slight man in jeans, a green t-shirt, and green hiking boots. Clint's breath hitched and he lowered the bow slowly. Those boots. Those were Phil's boots. He looked at the guy again. He was wearing Phil's favorite shirt, a concert shirt from college. Clint walked slowly into camp, stepping over the trip wire. When he got in the line of sight of the man sitting on the log, he dropped his bow and heard it clatter to the ground.
Clint unconsciously took a step backward as Phil stood up, his heart racing in his chest. He didn't dare say anything, and he didn't know what to do. Part of him wanted to run, part of him wanted to yell, part of him wanted crumple to the ground and cry. So he didn't do anything. He stood rooted to the spot.
Phil took a step forward. "Clint," he said gently, and Clint closed his eyes, savoring the memory of Phil saying his name.
"Clint, I'm sorry."
Clint opened his eyes again and took a deep breath. He still couldn't speak, though, so he stepped a little closer to Phil and stared. He saw light in Phil's eyes, he saw hesitance and want. He saw pallor, a thin frame, and a slight tremor in Phil's hands. He'd lost weight and didn't really look like he should be traipsing into the woods.
"Are you all right?" Clint asked softly.
Phil nodded. "I am now," he whispered.
Clint stepped closer and so did Phil, and suddenly he had Phil in an embrace. He ran his hands down Phil's back and through his hair and felt Phil doing the same to him. He didn't know how long they stood there, but finally he pulled back and covered Phil's lips in a deep, long kiss filled with longing and reassurance.
Finally, they broke apart and Clint grinned stupidly at Phil.
"You've been here the whole time?" Phil asked, running his fingers down Clint's cheek and then through his hair again.
Clint nodded. "A couple of weeks." He pulled Phil down to sit on the log again, scraped his boots through the dirt at his feet. "I tried, Phil," he said. "I really tried to work with them and do a good job and be an Avenger, but –I just couldn't. I couldn't focus. I saw you everywhere, and so much was tinted blue. It was when I was with Natasha or with Bruce in his apartment that the blue and the visions went away, but that wasn't enough. I had to get out."
"I know. It's all right, Clint. It really is. Fury is holding your spot. You're still an Avenger. They'll wait for you," Phil assured him.
"Phil…oh God, Phil. What happened? You died."
Phil nodded. "I did. For a few minutes, and then they put me in an induced coma and pulled some medical magic on me. But I wasn't conscious until just after you left. Nick says he didn't tell you because he didn't want you to crash even harder if I didn't pull through, but that's bullshit."
Clint could hear bitterness in Phil's voice, something he wasn't used to when Phil talked about Nick Fury. "Phil?" he asked, settling his hand on Phil's thigh.
"Fury just didn't think. He doesn't think. He knew we were together, that you'd lose it if something happened to me, but it didn't occur to him to let you in. He tried to cover it up, but I don't think it crossed his mind to let you in until he saw how livid I was at him."
"You were livid?" Clint asked, nudging Phil's shoulder with a grin.
Phil sighed. "Yeah. The team saw some of it, too. But he deserved it. Idiot."
Clint just looked at him. Clint's center had been lost when Loki killed Phil. His touchstone was gone, his anchor point destroyed. But here he was, sitting next to him on a log in the woods, back again.
When he'd sat there silently for a few minutes, Phil wrapped his arm around Clint's shoulder and pulled him close. "Are you all right?" he asked.
Clint pulled him in for a slow kiss and then replied, "I am now."
Later that night, after Clint left Phil sitting in the camp to hike back out to the parking area to grab the backpack that Phil just wasn't strong enough to carry yet, they crawled into the tent and zipped their sleeping bags together and kissed each other languidly, running hands over their bodies, reassuring each other of their existence, murmuring assurances. Phil assured Clint he was alive and really here; Clint assured Phil that he was himself, that he was back.
As they drifted toward sleep, Clint pulled Phil close and whispered in his ear. "How did you know where I'd be?"
He felt Phil chuckle, a warm and gentle feeling against Clint's chest, and heard him reply, "Bruce said I'd know where you were and Natasha couldn't find you. So I thought, and remembered somewhere only we know."
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They stayed together in the woods for a few days more, sleeping, walking, talking, and reassuring each other, and then decided to head back home, together. As they were packing up their bags, Clint reached into his daypack and felt around for something, grinning as he found it. He'd intended to lob it into the nearby lake on one of his hikes, but hadn't been able to bring himself to do it. He was grateful now.
He pulled Phil over to the log and pushed him down to sitting. He sat down next to him and held out his hand. Phil looked down at the silver band sitting on his palm and then looked up at him and grinned.
"Will you marry me?" Clint asked sheepishly. He wasn't sure of Phil's reaction before, but this time he wasn't about to let the opportunity to at least ask pass him by again.
Phil laughed a laugh reserved only for Clint, and then said, "Yes. If you'll say yes, too." And he pulled a silver band from his own pocket and held it out to Clint. "You beat me by two minutes." Clint laughed, too, and knew that his center was back.
They each took a ring and put it on, and then they packed up and left, arriving back at the Tower in time for dinner with the team.
Clint pulled Natasha into a long embrace, and then he reached for Bruce, shaking his hand and pointing to Phil's hand. "I told you I was going to. I may need the solace of your place again, though, if all of this is as crazy as it might get."
Bruce laughed, pulling Clint into a hug, and said, "Door's always open. Chess board is set up and waiting."
The truly funny thing was that it was Phil who took Bruce up on his offer of a calm place first, upon realizing what a dangerous and sanity-challenging combination Tony and Clint really were.
But they were home, and Clint relearned trust and focus and friendship. Every once in a while, though, he'd lean over to Phil after a meeting or a mission and whisper, "Can we go?" And Phil would give him a grin and nod, and then he'd come home to find Clint packing their backpacks, and they'd leave for a few days, going somewhere only they knew.