“I was glad it was you. When I thought I was dying, I was so thankful you were there.”
A/N: For the sake of my head-canon, this is between Captain America: The First Avenger and the new Avengers movie. So Cap is thawed out and occasionally goes on missions with Shield, but it’s before everyone else.
The first thing Clint Barton noticed was not the pain. At least not pain as he knew it. The edges were the initial thing to go soft, and he blinked trying to refocus his vision. But the blurriness remained, so he rested his eyes for a moment.
The next thing he heard was Steve calling his name over the comm, and Clint knew he wasn’t imagining the hint of urgency running through it. And then came the pain, unexpected lances of it and he screamed, sure that if he hadn’t already been on the ground, he would have collapsed. The chatter in his ear was just frantic nonsense, a vague jumble of something and Focus! You need to stay awake, Barton! A rattling cough hit him as he tried to even his breathing. The pain blossomed.
“Shit, stay with us Clint.” Hands. Hands are grabbing him, pulling him into a rough sitting position and there are voices he should know but can’t place. And then there is a hand across the bullet hole and it’s pushing down to try to stop the bleeding, and he is screaming again, a bubbling half-drowned scream and everything is clear again. And it’s Agent Coulson leaning over him, a devastated look right below his mask of slightly concerned detachment.
“I need you to focus on me right now, ok?” A vaguely affirmative sound comes out of Clint’s mouth, making Coulson’s mouth tighten slightly. “Talk to me, Barton.”
“I—“ The words won’t come out right, and Clint is struggling to breathe. He can still sort of hear the wail of battle, and he knows it will be almost impossible to get help to him in time. He feels like he is drowning, his lungs heavy and aching and he can’t inhale through the heavy taste of blood on his lips and in his mouth and coating his throat and then Coulson is leaning over him, a gentle hand on the back of his neck, and he is being lifted upright. It hurts at first, hurts a lot, but he can breathe again, just a little bit better, and the spots in his vision are fading just a little.
“You are going to make it Clint, just stay with me.” Clint started, leaning into Coulson’s shoulder, even though his hands are pressing too hard and it hurts. Agent Coulson had never called him by his first name, not ever, and Clint coughs weakly as his mouth sluggishly forms around words.
“First…Names?” There must be some vague joke in Clint’s question, because Coulson smiles for an instant.
“It’s Phil, Barton.” There is the clack of a chopper, so loud that even Clint can hear it, and something in Coulson’s grip on his back loosens just a fraction. Clint falls back into that slight give, letting his eyes close. Coulson—Phil—rests his cheek gently to the unmarked side of Clint’s face and the darkness slips over him like silk, even when other hands move to take him away.
Clint woke up to white walls and even whiter lights. The whole right side of his body throbbed fiercely, and there was a faint pull across his chest that he knew was from too many stitches. The second blink cleared the last of the blurriness from his eyes and allowed him to take in the room, and the hunched figure by his bed. Agent Coulson lay slumped uncomfortably in a high backed wooden chair maybe 6 inches from the edge of Clint’s bedside. He was fast asleep.
Clint just lay there, taking everything in. He had been quietly carrying a torch for his handler for over a year now, and in the darkness, when he thought he was going to die, he thought it was fitting that Coulson’s face was the last thing he would ever see. There are others things that he remembers more vaguely, like the devastated look on Coulson’s face when he found Clint, but he’s trying not to think about that, so he takes in Coulson instead.
Coulson—Phil, Clint reminded himself—looked exhausted. There were faint bags under his eyes and his skin was drawn tightly over the bones in his face. He looked old, Clint realized.
Coulson’s age, 8 years older than Clint, had been the first reason Clint had made up to convince himself not to say anything, and then, well, it was Agent Coulson. He heaved a sigh, fighting to pull himself into a sitting position.
Coulson was awake in an instant,, pressing a hand to Clint’s shoulder as he murmured something Clint didn’t quite catch.
“Take it easy, Barton,” he said as Clint continued to struggle. “You were hurt badly.” There was something behind Coulson’s order, something behind the calm exterior that made Clint’s ears perk up. “You almost died.
Clint’s body was in no shape to resist, and he flopped back down against the mattress, boneless and in pain. All the color seemed to leach out of his vision for a moment, but he closed his eyes, and when he opened them, everything was clear again.
“You called me Clint,” he said after the pain receded somewhat. “You’ve never been on a first name basis with me.” There was a flicker of what looked distinctly like embarrassment on Coulson’s face, and he even ducked his head for a moment.
“I—I didn’t want to lose you.” The admission seemed pulled out of him. Coulson looked intensely uncomfortable, and he couldn’t hold Clint’s gaze for more than a moment. A giddy flush, completely unrelated to his injury, crept across Clint’s chest and up his neck. Could Phil possibly like him back?
“Come here,” Clint said, almost unable to hold his composure as he patted the side of his bed with his good hand. Coulson sat, looking like he was about to bolt out the door at any second.
“Phil,” Clint continued, enjoying the startled look on Coulson’s face at the use of his first name. “I was glad it was you. When I thought I was dying, I was so thankful you were there.” Phil ducked his head and cleared his throat nervously. “I don’t want to die without you knowing that I care about you.” He pulled Coulson to him with his good arm, ignoring the flash of pain.
This kiss that followed was the best kiss of Clint’s life. Phil was warm and gentle against him, taking care to jostle or hurt him, and when Clint pulled away, Phil’s face was filled with equal parts pain and deep love and affection.
“You flatlined twice Clint,” Phil said, his voice thick. “I had to watch them take paddles to you twice, and then when you didn’t wake up for two days and they started throwing words around like ‘coma’ and ‘permanent brain damage’—“
“Phil,” Clint interrupted before he could really get going. “I am going to be ok.” Coulson gave a shaky little smile and squeezed Clint’s hand before standing to leave.
“Get some rest, Barton.”
“You too.” Coulson turned to the door and smiled.