Burned – Ch. 9
Clint woke slowly. He knew he was in a hospital from the aseptic smell and the rough sheets pressing against him. It might even be Shield medical, he mused for a while, letting the drugs lull him back into a doze. He eventually surfaced when he heard several voices murmuring to one side. While he tried to convince his eyes to open, a door clicked open and several sets of feet left while a near silent stride settled back into a nearby chair. Natasha.
“Tasha?” Clint managed, a faint thread of sound, but she was already pressing a hand lightly against his arm and leaning forward so he could see her face.
“There you are. Everyone’s been worried, Hawk.”
She gave him a piece of ice and let him suck on that for a long moment while she fussed with something out of his line of sight. He was content to watch her fidget, even if it was not normal for her to do so.
“Found Phil.” He murmured, needing to make sure she knew.
“Yes, you did. The team is very angry at him right now but they will get over it eventually.”
“Fury.” He said with a sigh, accepting another small spoonful of ice chips.
“They are angry with him as well since it seems it was mostly his idea.”
“Yes, they are learning that. Once you’re well we will have to decide what to do.” Clint hummed softly in confusion, why would they need to do anything? Phil was back.
“Phil is talking about leaving Shield, Clint. He wants to retire. We need to decide if we are going to follow him or not.”
Clint frowned trying to make sense of that. Phil was Shield, just like Shield was Phil. There was no separation. If one fell, the other would not last long. Fury had to know that. He opened his mouth to start asking questions only for a yawn to smother the words.
“Rest, Hawk. Phil will be back in a bit and you want to be strong enough to see him. We can discuss everything later.”
“Alright.” Clint said with another small yawn. He sent a small glare to the IV in the back of his hand as he settled back against the pillows.
“You scared everyone this time, Clint. You need to rest and heal before any major decisions are made. Leave it for now.”
“Okay. Damage?” he asked, remembering his arm. It was currently sporting a rather nice purple cast, he noted.
“They placed a stent, a drain, to relieve pressure on your brain and cauterized the blood vessels that hemorrhaged. You have been out for eight days. The doctors were starting to worry you wouldn’t wake up.” She said stroking a hand along an unmarked spot of skin on his neck. “You have a broken right wrist, torn tendons in your shoulder, and three cracked ribs.”
“How long until you can leave?” she asked, a small smile twitching her lips. He knew she was running through the many times he had been benched by medical. He always wanted to know when he could leave first thing. “Probably once they take the drain out.”
“Okay.” Clint hummed, blinking as he fought to keep his eyes open.
“Sleep, Hawk.” Natasha reminded him gently, brushing a feather light touch across his cheek. Clint gave into the pull of the drugs with a small grumble, closing his eyes to the worried gaze of his partner.
The next time Clint surfaced, Phil was sitting to one side working on a Stark Pad.
“Stayin’?” he coughed out, fighting against how dry his throat was.
“Say that again.” Phil murmured, giving him slow sips of icy water.
“You’re staying this time?”
“If you want me to, yes.” Phil offered with a small smile. “You had us worried, Barton.”
“You found me.” he murmured sleepily watching as Phil hit a button to call for the nurse.
“Stay awake for a bit. The doctor’s wanted to check you out once you woke.”
Clint lay there fuzzily watching the doctors swarm the room and start poking at him. He tried to answer their questions but he could feel his energy slipping away. After his fifth smothered yawn, Phil herded the physicians out of the room, Natasha slipping past them with a bag of take out.
“Eat.” she said, thrusting the bag at Phil. “The rest of the team is going to come over this afternoon for a visit so that you can shower and change.”
“Of course.” Phil agreed with a small sigh, setting his things aside and moving to a chair further away from the bed to eat the sandwich and coffee she’d brought.
“Hey, Tasha.” Clint murmured as Natasha took Phil’s chair next to the bed.
“Hawk,” she said with a small smile, touching the back of his arm for a moment. “How are you feeling?”
“Just tired.” Clint said with a small hum, taking in how worn the others were looking. Phil looked the worst, like he had not slept since Clint arrived at the hospital.
“No.” Clint said giving her a small smile. “Go get some sleep, Phil. You look awful.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“No. Tasha, make him sleep. Take him to my floor at the tower.”
“I’m fine, Clint.”
“No, Tasha.” Clint started to argue back but was stopped by a coughing fit that left him hunched in on himself and gasping through the pain.
“I’ll make sure he rests, Barton. Relax.” Clint nodded stiffly, fighting to slow his breathing, wincing as his ribs protested every cough. Natasha disappeared for a moment while he got his breath back, returning a moment later, and a nurse following behind her.
“Don’t need any drugs, Tasha.”
“You’re in pain. You will take the meds so that I can take Phil to the tower.” Clint blinked at her rubbing at his face with his good hand.
“You’re so mean.”
“Completely evil.” She agreed as the nurse injected the syringe into his IV. “Get some sleep, Hawk.”
“That was a bit mean.” Phil pointed out, gathering up the wrappers from his lunch. He glanced over at the bed but Clint was already limp with sleep.
“This way he’ll sleep for at least two hours. We can go to the tower. You can sleep until six and then stay the night here.”
“The other Avengers don’t want to stay?”
“They are going to visit around four. If things stay calm Steve wants to arrange shifts so there is always someone here for him. They’re going to discuss it later today.”
“I thought they were already doing that.”
“They wanted to allow both of us more time with him so they backed off.”
“Really?” Phil asked with skepticism.
“They knew he meant something to you. You were willing to quit Shield in order to see him, Phil.”
“Fury’s still arguing with me over that. He wants me to become a consultant and work out of the tower now.”
“It’s not the worst idea.” She said, gathering up his garment bag for him. “You would be near Clint as he recovers and could work as a liaison between Shield and the team.”
“I was envisioning more of a clean break.”
“If Clint stays with the Avengers or Shield you would be doing the same job. You just might not get paid for it.”
“You may have a point.” Phil said with a sigh. “It really depends on what Clint decides once he’s better. I could do either but at this point I am retiring from Shield. I might consult or work for Stark or somewhere else but Shield is going to have to learn do without me.”
Clint fought with himself not to follow after Phil when he left the room to go clean up. They were back at the tower now with everyone slowly settling back into their normal rhythms, or as normal as the team ever got. Clint just wasn’t sure how to slot Phil back into his life now that he’d spent the last year getting over his loss.
Phil had tried to retire only for Fury to put him on indefinite administrative leave with pay. Tony had his legal team coming up with contracts and scenarios if Phil decided to force the issue but for now he was letting it be. For now he was working with Miss Potts and the other Avengers to help manage their media presence and as a liaison with Shield, since none of the others was willing to step foot on base with how often they had been lied to.
Clint wasn’t sure what to do. Natasha and him were on leave until his injuries healed but did they really want to leave Shield? He’d said several times that it just wasn’t home anymore with Coulson dead and now that he was alive and leaving Shield could it really be a safe place for them?
He wanted to corner both of them and force everyone to talk but now that they were all in the same building Phil seemed to be avoiding him. Phil watched him with this strange blank expression whenever they were in the same room before fleeing on any and every excuse. Clint was ready to grab him and start shaking until answers fell out if it kept up.
Natasha had returned to work as Miss Potts assistant until things settled down letting Tony relax and start rebuilding his company knowing that the Black Widow would keep her safe. Steve was taking college courses at several of the Universities in town and Bruce was back to being eternally holed up in one of SI’s labs working on cures for radiation exposure. Clint was the only one at loose ends while he did his physical therapy and waited for his arm to heal.
He finally managed to corner Natasha and Phil on his floor by having Jarvis invite them to a late dinner one night and sealing his floor once everyone arrived. Chinese takeout was waiting on the table with plates and silverware ready since Clint wasn’t up to chopsticks yet. Natasha merely raised an eyebrow at him when he punched in the lockdown code but he thought Phil looked a bit pale.
“I take it there was a reason you wanted us to have dinner together?” Natasha prompted as they each took a seat and started serving themselves.
“We need to talk.” Clint said simply, fighting with a fork to cut a piece of broccoli.
“What did you need to talk about?” Phil asked his mild mannered mask back up in full.
“After dinner, if we talk now no one’s going to eat.”
“Very well,” Natasha said dishing herself some fried rice and vegetables, “After dinner we will have drinks and talk.”
They ate in silence for most of the meal, each small attempt at conversation quickly falling flat. The cleanup went smoothly with years of practice from staying in safe houses together and sharing duties. They moved around each other without a hint of hesitation until the drinks were poured and seats taken in the living room.
“You wanted us to talk, Hawk.” Natasha said pointedly when the silence had gone on too long.
“Yeah,” Clint said with a huff taking a last sip of his beer and setting the bottle down, “I want to know what you want to do, Phil. You came and got me when I was captured, you sat with me when I was injured but now it’s like you’re hiding from me when we both live in the same building.”
“I’m not hiding.” Phil said grabbing the wine bottle and refilling his glass ignoring the frown the action caused from his former assets, he normally didn’t drink around them since nether had good memories when it came to drunks.
“Well, it sure feels like it since I can’t ever seem to have two seconds alone with you before you’re bombing out the door on some crazy errand. We need to decide if Nat and I are leaving Shield and I can’t get you to stand still long enough to even say hello.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to avoid both of you, I just needed some time to think things through. Whenever I thought about coming back I never imagined it would be because one of you were injured.”
“So you wanted to come back?” “I wanted you informed from the first but Fury overruled me and since I was recovering myself I let it stand. Then I was so busy with the new team he started and you both seemed to be adjusting that I let things stand. I should have refused the assignment but it was a good idea to have a mobile command unit working outside of Shield’s immediate jurisdiction.”
“So you were too busy to tell us you were alive.” “I trusted the system.” Phil said with a huff, pushing out of the chair and starting to pace to one side after draining his wine glass, “Shield was everything to me and then suddenly I found out I was part of an experimental regeneration project that I had advised Fury to scrap years ago. A program that I thought was too barbaric to be used safely was used on me without my consent by a man who I thought was my friend.”
“So you ran away.” Natasha said with a frown watching their former handler pace like was in the middle of a mental breakdown.
“Yes, I… I didn’t want you to get hurt any more then I already had. People were guaranteed to come after me once they realized I was alive. Especially if they realized what had been done to me.”
“But you’re here now.” Clint said softly. “We’re in just as much danger as we ever were; we just have more people in our corner now, Phil.”
“It’s not safe, Clint.”
“No, the team could have tossed me to the curb at any time and they didn’t. You left us and we had to keep going. We kept moving and kept fighting just like you did. I don’t want you to run from us again if it means you’re in danger where we can’t reach you.”
“I don’t even fully understand what was done to me, Clint. I could hurt you.”
“Then you hurt me but I’m not letting you leave without one hell of a better reason then you don’t want to hurt me, Phil. Everyone I’ve ever loved has left me. I want you to stay.”
“You love me?” Phil said coming to a stop in shock. “You can’t love me.”
“I’ve loved you for years, Phil; I just figured that you were too good for me to ever get close enough for it to mean anything. It doesn’t have to mean anything but don’t say you’re leaving so I won’t get hurt because I will be hurt if you leave, I was gutted when I thought you were dead, Phil. I’m not doing that again.”
“You never said anything.” Phil said taking a seat next to Clint on the couch.
“Alright, you two hash out the relationship issues and call me when you want to start talking employment options.” Natasha said with a huff getting up and heading toward the door.
“I’ll catch you after your shift with Pepper tomorrow.” Clint said not bothering to watch her leave, his eyes never leaving Phil’s as the elevator pinged closed behind her.
“I never thought you would have wanted me, I mean, look at me.”
“What do you mean? You’re prefect. You’re the most bad ass agent I know, the only one Natasha and I trust at our back in a fight. Why the hell wouldn’t I want you?”
“I’m a middle aged man with no hair, soon to be no job, and I made a lifestyle of being average. Why would anyone as amazing as you want me?”
“I’m not amazing.” Clint said blinking. “But you are.” Phil insisted.
“Then so are you.” Clint said stubbornly, “If you can think that an uneducated high school dropout ex-carney assassin is amazing then I can think you are too.”
“We’ve talked about you bad mouthing yourself before, you’re wonderful.”
“And so are you so why can’t I love you?”
“Give me one good reason and it can’t because you’ll put me in danger. We’re always going to be in danger, Phil. It’s the only way we know how to live at this point.”
“You might be right.” Phil conceded with a sigh, collapsing into couch next to Clint.
“So, do you want to be in a relationship with me?” Clint asked hesitantly feeling like he was twelve again asking the daughter of the trapeze act out for cotton candy.
“If you’re willing to have me.”
“Can I kiss you?”
“Any time you want.”
Two years later.
“About time you two stopped living in sin.” Tony said with a smirk, toasting them with his champagne flute.
“Glad we had you vote of approval, Stark.” Phil said deadpan waiting until Pepper came by to tug Tony away to turn back to the man in his arms.
“Never, Husband. I told you that first night I’d take whatever you would give me. This is just a bonus.”
“So you don’t mind us making it official? I know you never had the best view of marriage.”
“People just don’t take it seriously enough. I’m willing to work on keeping you for the rest of my life, ring or not.”
“Want to ditch the party and make out like teenagers?” “You always come up with the best plans, sir.”
“Keep up the sass and I’ll reserve the rest of my plan for the next night.”
“Shutting up, sir.” Clint said with a smirk grinning up at his new husband.
“Brat.” Phil said fondly pressing a kiss against one corner of his mouth.
“Your brat.” Clint agreed nipping at Phil’s bottom lip.
“Till death do us part,” Phil muttered before pushing Clint up against the wall and losing himself in the taste of his partner, asset, friend, and husband.