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New Routine (I Missed You)

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February 19th, 2014

Clint leaned against the wall and hit it with his fist. Hard. For the tenth time now. Or was it more? He had lost count. He didn’t even have his hearing aids in. He was aware that his knuckles were bloody and he was leaving equally bloody marks on the wall of his apartment, but it didn’t matter at the time. The almost empty apartment he moved to when each Avenger kind of went their own way usually felt small but not uncomfortable, but now for some reason Clint felt as if he was lost in it and it was making him even more irritated. The apartment might have been cheap and unassuming, but it just wasn’t… his, if it made any sense. He slept there and it was somewhere to get back to, but it wasn’t anything special. But he got used to it after some time, and it could have been worse. As long as he paid for it he still could ruin it all he wanted, right? Not like anyone would hear it.

Especially since after this evening he really needed to hit something.

The apartment was usually pretty quiet unless Clint was watching something, so it wasn’t anything new. Natasha visited him from time to time to crash or just simply to hang out, but since she had gone on a mission with Steve, no one else was around. Clint was all alone, not counting Lucky, the dog that kind of stuck around after Clint had found him. He loved eating, sleeping on Clint’s bed and knew how to use his puppy eyes to get Clint to let him get away with almost everything.

One night, after Clint had gotten back home and had taken out one hearing aid, he had started preparing spaghetti for himself and some chicken for the dog. He had gone shopping and decided they both deserved something nice for supper. Cooking was not only relaxing, but Clint was actually quite good at it. For a moment he considered taking both hearing aids out, but it was always better to be prepared, just in case. He had found out it was a good decision, when he had heard the door to the apartment opening quietly. It was strange, since Clint was pretty sure he had locked it after he got back. He remembered, because Lucky tried to steal potatoes from the bag when Clint had told him to wait for Clint to lock everything first.

Besides, no one had ever tried to break into his apartment before. Most of his neighbors probably weren’t even aware that he’s been living there, since he rarely talked to any of them and avoided contact, keeping himself off the radar as much as he could. Even more surprising was the fact that he hadn’t heard anything until the door opened. Not even Lucky had reacted to the uninvited visitor. Clint had left being angry at himself for not paying attention for later and quietly put the plate down.

He stepped closer to the door, hiding one kitchen knife in the pocket of his pants before entering the living room. After snagging the gun from the nearby drawer and taking the safety off , he moved to the door quietly, keeping the gun ready. He was looking around when he had heard a voice he thought he would never hear again. Maybe there was something wrong with his hearing aid, because this was the voice he should have never hear again…

“Clint.”

Clint turned around, pointing the gun at the visitor.

Phil Coulson was standing there, looking a bit tense. He was wearing a dark grey suit that was pretty similar to the one Clint had bought for him a few years ago. Phil’s eyes were focused on Clint, but there was something else in his look, something that was difficult to read, and Clint hadn’t liked it at all. But he hadn’t been thinking about it, lowering his gun instead.

Before he realized he was moving, his fist connected with Phil’s body. Three times.

The first one was aimed at his face, because Clint was furious. Phil stumbled back and leaned against a chair for support, but had not reacted otherwise. The second time because Clint was scared; scared that it was all a trick that someone was playing on him. Phil just closed his eyes after the second blow to the jaw, still not saying anything, only closing his eyes, even as blood started to run down his face. The third blow was the weakest and aimed at Phil’s arm. Honestly? Clint had no idea why. He had no idea how else to react, so he just kept hitting. But Phil was still there, still looking at him, tightening his grip on the back of the chair a bit, as if waiting for Clint to get everything out of his system.

Clint couldn’t control his breathing right then. He wanted to say something, anything, but when he had opened his mouth no sound came out, so he just gave up talking. He looked at the other man’s face, trying not to blink, just in case Phil had disappeared again.

They were standing face to face, so close that he could hear Phil's breathing, which was as uneven as his. Only then Clint touched him. He was aware he’d hit the man, which meant he had touched him already, but now that he had slowly placed his hand on Phil’s chest, over his heart, that was when he felt like collapsing.

Phil’s heart was beating steadily.

He looked at his hand on Phil’s chest.

“I wanted to let you know,” Phil said quietly, barely above a whisper and Clint probably wouldn’t have heard him if he weren’t standing so close. “I had no idea how, but now I do and…” Phil’s voice, usually composed, was breaking. Somewhere deep down Clint was glad that he wasn’t the only one who was affected. “…and I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m not fucking okay. I am so far from okay that I don’t even know what I’m even feeling right now,” Clint looked up from Phil’s chest to look into his eyes. “You’re really here, you stupid asshole.”

“I’m sorry, Clint.”

Clint let his hand fall as he exhaled. He sat down on the couch, tiredly, and closed his eyes as he leaned back. Controlling his breathing was harder than he had expected.

“Do you want me to go?”

“I don’t know,” Clint answered after a while, opening his eyes again. “Shit, I really have no idea. I should, I think. I should hit you in the face one more time, break your nose again and just… throw you out of here.”

At least he hadn’t lied. He really had no idea what to do or how to react to all of this. Phil was there. After everything that had happened, after all the mourning, distancing and blaming himself… Phil was really there. With him. He was still standing in the middle of Clint’s living room, a streak of blood running down from his nose, but he made no move to wipe it off.

Clint had been imagining this moment. When he had tried to fall asleep he sometimes imagined what it would have been like, what he would have said or done if he knew Phil was alive. He had prepared speeches trying to think of something to say, to do. But now that Phil was really there, he had forgotten almost all of it. He couldn’t bring himself to voice anything.

Right then he had remembered the last time Phil had touched his arm, as he pressed their lips together in a good morning kiss, when Clint was making pancakes. Sometimes when he closed his eyes he could hear him in his ear during an op, making plans about dinner, teasing Phil, Phil telling him to focus on the job… and now that Phil was there, all of this came back to him.

“You can sit down, you know,” Clint said some time later. He had no idea how much time had passed actually, but since Phil hadn’t moved from his spot, he felt like he should say something at some point. And nothing else had come to his mind right then.

“Thank you.”

Phil sat down slowly, keeping his distance, but close enough for Clint to be aware of his presence there. Not that he needed any more reminders of the other man’s presence. He was startled when he felt a wet tongue on his fingers and Lucky leaning against his hand, but he opened his eyes and scratched the dog’s head gently. Lucky seemed to always sense when Clint was upset or unsettled and at first it was a bit strange, but soon he started to really appreciate it.

“Hey, dog,” he murmured.

Lucky continued to nuzzle against his hand, and suddenly he turned his head to look at Phil. Clint noticed they were looking at each other for a while, before Lucky just ignored the other man and gone back to leaning against Clint.

“What’s his name?” Phil asked quietly, still looking at the dog.

“Lucky. He’s weird, but a total goof ball,” Clint replied and Lucky waggled his tail then, which made Clint want to smile. The dog was a sucker for compliments and scratching behind the ear. “Wait. Shit. I forgot to give you your food, didn’t I. Come on.”

Clint stood up right away, patting Lucky’s head and went to the kitchen, appreciating the momentary diversion. It had given him time to try to collect his thoughts. He still felt uneasy, but as he knelt down and put the food into the bowl and set it on the floor, right next to the fridge, he managed to pull himself together. Lucky snuck up on him and managed to lick his face, which made Clint roll his eyes at him, but he scratched the dog’s head again.

“Thanks, buddy. I really needed it,” he said quietly, leaving Lucky to his bowl and after taking a deep breath he went back to the living room.

Phil was still there, sitting right where Clint left him, the only difference was that he had wiped the blood from his face, though Clint noticed a few red spots on the front of Phil’s light blue shirt. He had been looking around the room, thoughtful, but at the same time a bit lost, and Clint, even after everything that had happened, still hated seeing this look on the other man’s face. Their eyes had met when Clint had stepped closer. He had sat down, regretting not drinking anything before facing Phil again. His throat felt dry.

He had wondered what to do next. The silence had been slowly killing him, but on the other hand, he still had no idea what to say to his… to Phil. With the corner of his eye he had noticed Phil’s hand moving closer to his, but still not touching it. What Phil had been thinking? Suddenly Clint had felt tired. So tired. But he knew sleep was out of the question for that day.

“If I tell you to go right now,” he started, turning to look at the other man, “would you come back here tomorrow?”

“If that’s what you want, then yes, I will,” Phil answered right away, and Clint could see it in his eyes that he meant it. He was still afraid, but he didn’t want to lose it in front of Phil. He really needed some time to think about… everything, really. “Just tell me when.”

“Come back tomorrow evening, but only if you plan to tell me everything. The truth, this time,” he said and Phil nodded shortly. “I need to know what had really happened, Phil. And don’t… don’t lie to me again. If you want to lie then just… don’t come back. Because, honestly, I have no fucking idea what to do now and I need some time. Shit, Phil, I mourned and I thought I was losing my damn mind. And now you’re here and I am so fucking furious right now. All of this is seriously messed up, okay? I just need...”

“I understand.”

“I need time,” he repeated. “And I think I need to hit something again.”

As he had leaned back against the back of the couch he noticed that Phil seemed to want to say something, but for some reason decided against it. It looked like he wasn’t the only one affected by this meeting. There was something comforting in the way Phil had let himself be open around Clint once again, especially since he knew that, considering everything, all of this must have been difficult for the other man as well. Phil had been looking at his hands, the pain evident in his eyes. Clint had let himself put one hand on the couch, right next to Phil’s.

Phil sighed and stood up slowly.

“I’ll come back tomorrow,” he said. “I’m sorry, Clint. For everything. You don’t even know how sorry I am.”

Right after Phil had left the apartment, Clint leaned against the wall, closing his eyes. He lost it. He totally lost it. He started punching the wall, one, two, three, four times. He kept hitting until he felt his eyes burning and the blood dripping down his hand on the floor.

As he opened his eyes, he noticed Lucky looking at him, tilting his head slightly. Maybe taking a walk with Lucky would help him clear his head.

***

April 11th, 2014

Since Phil had told him about what had happened to S.H.I.E.L.D. Clint couldn’t stop thinking about it. Nat had briefly mentioned that something was wrong and S.H.I.E.L.D. had more problems than they were aware of, but she couldn’t tell him much when she was still on the assignment. When Clint heard what Phil knew about it and confirming what Nat suspected, Clint couldn’t believe that there were people who had betrayed them, people he had talked to, who could have been HYDRA agents this whole time and he had never noticed anything. What kind of agent had that made him? And how much had Natasha known? It had been some time since she had sent him last message, but he knew she would contact him as soon as she could. But if she knew much more and she didn’t mention it to him… this was not what he wanted to think about right then.

Clint was sitting on the couch, Lucky lying with his head on Clint’s lap, demanding petting. Clint was scratching the soft fur, but he kept thinking, wondering if he could have known or found out that something was apparently wrong? Could he have done anything, fought against the HYDRA agents, if he were there with the others? He had no idea. His mind was completely blank.

The first thing Clint had done after Phil had left his apartment after he told him about the HYDRA agents, was to find a computer and do something he knew was good at, something he had realized he should have done a long, long time ago. He needed more information. He found his laptop and that night he had ended up reading everything he could find about what had happened to other agents. His hacking skills were never as good as others, but he knew enough to find clues about the attacks and the traces of deleted files. He needed answers as soon as possible.

The only good thing about the current situation was that he knew Phil was alive. After telling Clint he was more or less okay, the other man actually stayed in touch as much as he could just as he promised, calling Clint and updating about his status. It helped a lot to take Clint’s mind off most of what was bothering him. Yes, it was still difficult to come to terms with the fact that Phil hadn’t contacted him for so long, but he tried to understand. He really did. And now, with both Phil and Natasha keeping in touch with him, he wasn’t as nervous anymore, even if he really hated sitting in his apartment when they were out there, fighting. But he knew they needed him to stay there, just in case they needed backup.

He wondered if Phil had told Nat that he was alive. He had considered contacting her at some point, but in the end decided to leave it for Phil, and he knew it would be better for all of them this way.

Suddenly Lucky sneezed, jumping off his lap so abruptly that Clint got up as well. When Lucky only looked at him, waggling his tail as if he was proud of himself, Clint rubbed his eyes.

“Seriously, dog? You scared me,” he said, but Lucky just padded to the kitchen

Clint sat back on the couch, sighing. When he felt his phone vibrating on the table, he answered right away without looking at the screen.

“Yeah?”

“Clint, can I come up?”

Clint opened his eyes when he heard how at the strange tone of Phil’s voice. He sounded worried and there was definitely something off about the situation.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“I would prefer not to talk about it over the phone. Are you in the apartment?”

“Yeah, I am. Come on up.”

When Phil entered the apartment a few minutes later, Clint was more surprised by the blood stains he saw on the sleeve of Phil’s shirt, barely hidden by his suit jacket, than by the fact that the man wasn’t alone. Not saying anything, he looked outside the corridor to see if the two were followed and after he locked up the door, he went to the living room.

Phil and Melinda May looked at him, the expressions on their faces confirming his feeling that something was very, very wrong. He did not like that look at all.

“Barton,” May said in greeting and Clint nodded at her.

“May.”

Phil must have noticed his slight uneasiness at their presence in his apartment and stepped closer to him. Only then Clint saw how tired the older man looked. His tie was slightly crooked, and Clint guessed that he hadn’t slept for a day or two. He fought the need to wrap his arms around Phil, like he would have done in the past, because it was definitely not the time for that. And he really didn’t need it right now, doesn’t matter how much he wished he could just embrace the other man.

They stood there for a while, completely silent, save for the sounds of Lucky eating in the kitchen. Clint looked at the blood stained shirt and Phil made a move adjust his jacket, so that it covered the dark spots.

“It’s not mine. Not all of it at least,” he explained quietly, looking down briefly. “There was an… accident, and I had no time to change.”

“Do you need me to get the first aid kit or something? Or something for the pain?” Clint pointed at the bathroom door, but Phil only shook his head.

“No. No, thank you. I took care of it already,” Phil replied. “But… do you maybe have a spare shirt? Anything would be good.”

He sounded really uncertain, as if he wasn’t sure if Clint would actually say yes. But he just nodded and left the room. He hadn’t done laundry yet, but he had some clean t-shirts and considered getting one for Phil, but then he remembered a shirt laying in the back of the drawer. One he had hid there after… he sighed. He took out the shirt, looked at it briefly, and went back to the living room. He had heard May whispering something to Phil after he had left, but now they were both silent.

“Here,” he said, handing Phil the shirt.

Phil’s eyes widened slightly as he looked at it, his mouth opening slightly. “It’s mine. You kept it?” he asked quietly, looking up at Clint.

“Yeah,” Clint shrugged. “I couldn’t just leave it at your place after you… left. I have your cufflinks, too, if…”

Phil didn't say anything to that.

After Phil changed his shirt, Clint brought water for the three of them, wondering what the other man wanted to talk to him about. And why May was even there.

Phil had mentioned his new team when they had talked before, which at first made Clint angry. Why wouldn’t it? These were people who knew Phil was alive when Clint had been oblivious as he had been sitting in his apartment and taking his dog for walks. And now May was here, letting them talk while observing the whole apartment.

Clint knew how she operated, even if they hadn’t worked together before, save for occasional consulting on the same ops. He had heard enough, though. She was a person anyone should be wary around and she knew how to gain the advantage over her opponents. He realized right away that May knew much more than she let on, and from the way she kept an eye on Clint when Phil stepped closer to him, she did not trust him at all. The feeling was mutual.

“I believe Natasha has informed you of at least some details about what she’s working on, am I right?” Phil said and only then Clint looked away from May to nod.

“Some, yeah. It’s been some time since she contacted me, though. Why?”

“Has she told you about suspected HYDRA agents?”

Clint shook his head to that, leaning against the table. “No. She just mentioned working with Falcon and Steve on getting to them, but not much else. She’s been busy.”

May and Phil exchanged glances. Well, that was definitely not good.

“They believe Sitwell was HYDRA.”

Clint blinked, surprised.

“What?” he looked first at Phil then at May. “But that’s not possible. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t have…”

“He… disappeared,” Phil sighed. “After encountering Natasha and Captain Rogers. Everyone assumed he had died because of the height he fell from, but when we had checked for his body, we couldn’t find anything. Not even a sign of him even being there.”

“What we had managed to find was that Sitwell met with Fury, but it was mentioned only briefly, without any records from the meeting. They wanted to keep it low profile,” added May.

“So, what, you think Fury knew about Sitwell?”

“It is a possibility,” May nodded, but other than that she had not said anything else.

Clint ran a hand through his hair and sat down on the couch. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, but as he felt Lucky’s cold nose on his fingers, he put a hand on the dog’s head and scratched behind one ear.

“Jasper wouldn’t do that, would he?” he asked finally, looking up at Phil.

“We want to find him,” May reached into her pocket slowly, taking something out. It was a comm. link.

“Would you help?” Phil’s eyes were focused on his right then and Clint saw the shadow of insecurity that was still there. He understood. Things between them were still… rocky, but did Phil really think Clint would say no? Probably. After everything, Clint understood. But still…

Phil exhaled as Clint took the earpiece from May’s hand and looked at it. They were standing close to each other, and he took comfort in the sound of Phil’s slow but steady breathing.

“Just tell me what to do, Boss,” he finally said, closing his fingers around the device. How could he not?

Phil nodded in answer, a small smile tugging at his lips.

Clint let himself smile, too. However, right then he couldn’t stop thinking about Sitwell, and what they’d been through when they worked together…

***

September 21th, 2007

“Shit, Sitwell, you better wake up soon,” Clint murmured quietly and looked around. When he saw no trace of anybody following him he exhaled quietly and put a currently unconscious Jasper Sitwell on the ground and maneuvered him in a sitting position against the biggest tree. He knelt in front of him and unbuttoned the first three buttons of Sitwell’s shirt. Just as he expected, the bruise was clearly visible, red and purple and Clint winced. He couldn’t do anything about that now. At least Sitwell was breathing.

He stood up and regretted it right away, as he felt a sharp pain in his right leg, right below his knee. Sitting down he cut off the pants leg to check the wound. It wasn’t very deep, but it was bleeding heavily. Too heavily. He shook his head.

“Just great,” he groaned. He took the pant leg and cut it in half, wrapping one around his leg. The piece of material was not enough to make it stop bleeding, he knew, but he really hoped it will be enough until could think of something to save them. Or until Sitwell woke up.

Clint sat on the ground next to Sitwell.

It was supposed to be an easy mission. His target was a drug dealer who was also selling information about the double agents from various organizations, and could have blow covers of various S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Williams was leading the op, but it was Sitwell, who agreed to go undercover for the mission, was to give Clint a sign after got the information Fury wanted from the guy. Clint was there just to shoot. But, just as Clint thought, it all looked too easy right from the beginning.

Everything went well until Sitwell asked for the flashdrive. Two thugs caught Sitwell by his shoulders while the third one had hit him in the stomach. Clint reacted right away, shooting their target right in the eye. Three other men left Sitwell on the ground, kicking him in the ribs, as they had no weapon on them (a part of their deal), and Clint left his nest and run to check on Sitwell. He had hoped the rest of the team could handle everything else.

He knelt down and checked for pulse. Sitwell was alive. He sighed, relieved. Suddenly something in his comm link started to click and he had realized the line went suddenly dead. He gritted his teeth, his head starting to hurt as he took the earpiece out. At least he still had the second hearing aid with him. Before he could do anything else there was a loud explosion and the ceiling was falling on them. One big piece fell near them, shattering into smaller pieces, hitting Sitwell in the chest. When he felt pain in the back of his neck, he screamed. They had to get out of there.

Clint grabbed Sitwell and as quickly as possible left the building. He didn’t even notice when he’d gotten hurt, only after they left the building he’d felt sting and had to kneel down, nearly dropping Sitwell. He couldn’t stop. He stood up, and focused on walking towards the nearby forest. There wasn’t much else he could do now. He tried to focus on walking instead of on his leg or the pain in the neck where one of the pieces of the ceiling must have hit him. He didn’t turn around even when he heard the building falling down behind them.

Clint shook his head and looked at the unconscious agent, trying to think of anything that would explain their current situation, but his head was hurting too much. He checked his comm. link again, but nothing. They were alone. At least they weren’t followed. It was better than the alternative, that’s for sure. He put his bow next to him, his head falling back against the tree. Shit. Opening his backpack, he took out his half-empty water bottle. He took a sip.

He patted Sitwell on the cheek, but when it didn’t work he poured some water on his hand and wiped it across Sitwell’s forehead . “Come on, wake up,” he said quietly. “Damn it, Sitwell, we have to get out of here and you’re sleeping. Not cool. Wake up…”

There was still no reaction. He leaned against the tree. There was nothing he could do now… in his current condition he wouldn’t be able to support Sitwell’s weight for long enough to get out of the forest and leaving the other agent here was out of question. And he had a feeling he’d start feeling the effects of the hit to the head. Just great. It wasn’t how he had planned to spend this Friday.

He had no idea how much time had passed. He shook Sitwell gently.

“If you don’t wake up soon, Sitwell, I promise you, I’m going to tell Coulson that it was you who ruined his expensive, awesome pen and…”

“…shut up, Barton…”

The answer was very quiet, but Clint let out a relieved sigh as he helped Sitwell sit up more comfortably against the tree. The long groan escaped his lips as the Clint gently touched the bruise on his collarbone to check how bad it was.

“Next time choose a better time for a nap, asshole,” Clint said, sighing in relief as Sitwell swore quietly, but sat up more comfortably against the tree, but using his own strength this time. “How are your ribs?”

“Hurt, so it means they are still there,” Sitwell took the bottle from the ground and took a sip. “Why the hell are we here? What happened?”

Clint closed his eyes for a moment. “You were hit on the head and kicked in the ribs. I shot the target and went inside. The comm link went dead, the ceiling almost fell on us and I had to carry you out. You have bruised ribs and collarbone.”

“And you?”

Clint shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“Barton, I can see you clenching your teeth.”

“I’ve been worse. Better think of how to get out of here. What the hell happened there anyway?”

Sitwell sighed. “It was a trap. I noticed some kind of wire coming out from the pocket of the guy’s jacket and heard beeping. I pretended not to notice and asked for the info. I moved my hand and I guess they thought I was reaching into to my pocket…”

“Did you have something in that pocket?” When Sitwell shook his head Clint cursed again. “So it means they were prepared better than we were and just assumed we were up to something… shit, I knew something wasn’t right. It was too easy. But who could have… you know what? It doesn’t matter right now. Let’s focus on getting out of here.”

Sitwell checked his comm. link but no such luck. It was out as well. Somebody must have know how to jam the signal. It was all a part of the plan, apparently. Somebody from their team must have worked for their target, there was no other explanation for it. But they could take care of it later. After they both are safely back on the helicarrier.

Sitwell, took off his jacket, which was now ruined, and groaned as he tried to stand up. “I managed to send a signal to Coulson. Right after I noticed the wire… I just hope they were able to trace it. Come on, help me stand up. We don’t know if they’re gone or not, better not stay in the open for too long.”

Clint nodded and stood up, turning from Sitwell so the other agent wouldn’t see him wince in pain. Damn, maybe the wound wasn’t as superficial as he had thought. He could feel he was bleeding, but there was no time to waste. He has been telling the truth, he'd gotten out of tougher situations with worse damages. He could handle a wounded leg and a small headache. He bit his lip to keep himself from groaning in pain, took his backpack and his bow and caught up with Sitwell who already headed towards their original rendezvous point. Maybe someone from their team had managed to trace the signal and get there somehow.

Sitwell walked slowly, still on shaky legs and obviously weak. He was probably still feeling the pain from the blow to the head, but kept looking around, making sure they’re alone. Clint had his bow ready. They were walking quietly for about five minutes and Clint had to do something to distract himself from the sudden tiredness that overcame him.

“Fuck,” he murmured and stopped to lean against the nearest tree. Sitwell must have noticed, because he turned around.

“What are you… Barton!” He was next to Clint right away, brow furrowed. “I asked you, you said you are fine enough to walk.”

“I am. Just… I may be a bit dizzy?”

“Dizzy? Why?”

Clint closed his eyes briefly, hoping that everything would stop spinning so they could get out of here. “It’s really nothing. I’ll be fine in a minute,” he made a move to walk away, but Sitwell’s hand held him in place firmly. His hands were still shaking.

“Damn it, Barton, you tell me now, what is wrong! Is it your hearing aids? Your head? What?”

Clint sighed. “I still have one hearing aid. A piece of the ceiling may have hit me on the back of my head when I picked you up in the building.”

“A piece of… shit! Fuck! You shouldn’t be moving right now,” Sitwell said, but winced as he blinked a couple of times as if trying to focus. He must still have feel pretty weak, he had been unconscious about a half hour before, after all. He also shouldn’t be moving right now, but they couldn’t afford that. They both knew that.

“We can’t waste time Sitwell. I’ll be fine.”

“And how will I explain to Coulson that a ceiling fell on you?” Clint only looked down breathing heavily and soon he was sitting by the tree, Sitwell looking into his eyes. “You have a concussion. I have no idea how you managed to walk for as long as we did and feeling dizzy only now… it would be easier if you weren’t wearing pants.”

“You know I’m already taken, right?” Clint tried to joke, but Sitwell only rolled his eyes.

“Oh, believe me, I do. Though I still have no idea why Coulson puts up with you.”

“My cooking skills.”

“And your conversation skills as well, I’m sure.”

Clint laughed, but groaned as Sitwell unwrapped the material from around his leg, trying to be gentle, but he couldn’t really do much more at the moment.

“Fuck, Barton! This is not ‘nothing’! You shouldn’t be walking at all! That’s it, we’re staying here and I’m going to wrap that properly. Shit, you lost a lot of blood…”

Clint sighed, already feeling sleepy. He could feel his eyes closing. Shit. “Jasper, we need to find a more secure location, you said so yourself.”

“Changed my mind. Right now we have a higher chances of surviving by staying here. The trees and the bushes shelter us and I think we’re deep enough to be able to hide if we need to,” Sitwell said, looking around, but it was obvious he felt nervous as well.

“I’m not…”

“I don’t care, Barton,” Sitwell interrupted him and put his head in his hands for a while, leaning against Clint a little bit. “We’re staying here. Sit still or I’ll tie you up, got it?”

“Hm, kinky.”

Sitwell shook his head, but got back to wrapping Clint’s wound.

“Jasper, I think I’m going to pass out…” Clint murmured after a while, just as the other agent finished wrapping his leg again. “Tell Phil I’m sorry?”

Sitwell blinked, shocked. “What? Come on, Clint, don’t pass out now. Tell Phil what? Talk to me.”

“It was my turn to cook… wanted to make salmon for him. With lots of vegetables and all…”

“Don’t worry, you’ll cook it for him when you get back. Because if I don’t get you back to Phil in one piece, he will kill me.”

“Nah, he won’t… too messy. He’ll just make you do paperwork forever.”

“That is exactly what I meant. So stay awake, okay?” Clint blinked and saw the worried look on Sitwell’s face. He wanted to stay awake, he really did.

“Shit, sorry, Jasper…”

“Clint. Come on. Clint!”

Clint didn’t even have strength to reply as his eyes closed.

***

September 25th, 2007

When Clint woke up, his head hurt. It was a throbbing pain that always ended up making him even more tired than usual, and he couldn’t even open his eyes without feeling like his head might explode when he moves it. And his leg hurt as well, but at least it meant it was still there. Other than that it wasn’t too bad. At least he thought so.

Only when his fingers tightened on a comforter he realized he was in a bed. Yes, he felt the soft sheets, and when he exhaled deeply, the familiar, clinical smell of rooms in S.H.I.E.L.D. medical filled his nose, which was actually much more comforting than he expected. It was something. He let himself relax against the warm bed and the pillow, sighing quietly.

He mostly remembered what happened before he passed out - explosions, collapsing building, Sitwell getting hurt, trees, leaning against the tree - but if he was in a bed, he must have been okay. Or at least okay-ish. Where was Sitwell anyway? And Phil? How did he get to medical in the first place? And where were his hearing aids?

He had no idea how much time had passed since he woke up. It was hard to tell when he kept his eyes closed all the time, but at least the headache seemed to pass a bit. He tried to open his eyes again, but the light was quite overwhelming. As soon as his eyes got used to the bright room he noticed two familiar figures outside of the room, which made him sigh in relief.

They were talking, Sitwell’s brows furrowed as Phil put a hand on his shoulder. Clint squinted and focused on their lips to read what they were saying. Phil was the only one who was standing in a position that allowed Clint to actually read parts of what he was saying, but it was better than nothing.

“… get some sleep…will stay with him now.”

Clint had no idea what Sitwell’s answer was, but it looked like Sitwell was clenching his fists.

“Jasper… you have a week off…” Phil said, shaking his head, looking pretty much as if he were talking the junior agents. “…should be staying in bed… the next two days, at least… don’t look at me like that… doctor’s report sooner or later… go.”

Sitwell raised his hand slightly, but Phil shook his head.

“Don’t… I know that?” Phil snapped at Sitwell, looking very tired right then. Clint hated it. He blinked and focused on Phil once again. “…already dealt with everything pressing… coming here and schedule... Maria and Blake can handle everything ... will let you know when he wakes up...”

Sitwell must have said something then, because he turned rapidly and left, leaving Phil standing in the corridor, looking worried. Clint closed his eyes again, still feeling slightly tired. Shit. He hated headaches.

When he opened his eyes again, Phil was sitting right next to his bed, one hand on the sheet next to Clint’s. Clint wanted to say something, but then he felt a piercing pain in his chest and a sudden coughing fit made it impossible for him to breathe. His throat was dry and irritated and he couldn’t stop coughing, damnit!

“Clint!”

Phil’s warm hand was on his back, helping him sit up a bit. He had no idea what the man was saying, but he could guess, judging by the way warm fingers wrapped around his wrist gently.

Clint took a few deep breaths and he finally could lie back against the pillow more comfortably. Phil helped him drink some water and told him to lie down again, his hand not leaving Clint’s shoulder. But Clint didn’t feel like lying down, so Phil sat down right on the edge of the bed, next to Clint’s hip, then wrapped his fingers around Clint’s, squeezing gently.

“How long were you awake,” Phil signed after a while, making sure Clint had a clear view on his hands.

“Not long. Ten minutes. Not sure. My hearing aids.”

Clint glanced at Phil quickly and seeing the worry in the other man’s eyes made him feel bad, even if technically, none of it was his fault, really. Still, he hated being the reason Phil felt bad. Phil reached into the pocket of his jacket and took out Clint’s spare pair of hearing aids, which meant the other one was ruined.

After he put one in, Clint cleared his throat and took a sip of water Phil offered him again.

“How are you feeling?” Phil asked quietly, as always making sure not to be too loud after Clint put the hearing aids in.

“Could have been worse. My head still hurts a bit. How is Sitwell?” he asked, remembering more of what had happened. “He carried me for while, but was unconscious before that. They had been prepared, Phil. They beat him up. He was dizzy but…”

“We know. He stayed in bed for a while and took a couple of days off. He was here just now. Sometimes he can be as stubborn as you.”

“Yeah, I saw you talking,” Clint smiled, but soon he groaned. The whole op went wrong. “Fuck, Phil, someone had to tell them about our plan or something. They must have been prepared. The building was cleared, like they had wanted it to collapse, or to trap us. I dunno. We haven’t seen anyone after we got out and lost contact with Williams…”

“Jasper told us. We had managed to track the signal Jasper had sent, but we had to check the area first. Apparently they had left right after the building collapsed, which means they probably had assumed you’ll stay in the building. Williams had made sure to get you out as soon as possible,” Phil said quietly and moved to press a gentle kiss to Clint’s lips, making sure not to lean against him too much. “You should get back to sleep, Clint.”

“Hm, later.”

“Okay. Let’s call the doctor first, and then we’ll talk.”

Clint still didn’t feel too good, but nodded. Better to get all of this over with. His leg felt less numb, but doctor Lance told him he’d have to stay in bed for at least a month to let the leg heal anyway and gave Phil instructions to keep Clint off his feet as long as possible. Clint knew there was no arguing with Phil about that, a habit developed over the years of working together and Clint trying his best to get himself out of medical. Fortunately Clint also managed to find a few ways to persuade Phil to at least let him go to the range from time to time. Though from the stern look on the other man’s face, this time getting out of bed earlier might not be as easy.

As soon as the doctor left, Clint told Phil everything he remembered from what had happened, waiting for the other man to write everything down. A couple of minutes later Hill was there, too. The sooner he told them everything, the sooner the asshole that sold them out would be caught, right? For the whole time as Clint was talking Hill was going through something in her phone, looking at him occasionally, but it was obvious she had been alarmed by what she’d heard.

After she left to decide what to do next, Phil stayed by Clint’s bedside. Apparently he sent a text to Sitwell to let him know Clint woke up. Doctor Lance brought Clint pain medication and Clint wanted to tell him that he was fine and a bruised leg is nothing, really, but then Phil, as always, promised the doctor he would keep an eye on Clint, silencing all his protests. When he said it, he also squeezed Clint’s knee, and okay, Clint could not complain about a couple of days off if Phil would be there with him. Besides, his head was still killing him and sleeping it off did not sound so bad. He sighed quietly, trying not to think about the killer headache.

“Hill will be working on this, right?” Clint asked, when Phil handed him a glass of water again. “I could help.”

“Yes. She got authorization from Nick to take over from Williams. We need to find out who is responsible for all of this and Maria has analysts on it already, and Blake was assigned to help her as well. You’re staying off your feet.”

Clint rolled his eyes at that. “When can I leave?”

“Clint, you only woke up about two hours ago,” Phil stated, putting the glass on the bedside table, then turning to look at Clint again. “And judging by the look on your face, your head must still hurt. You should get more sleep.”

“Oh, come on, Phil… you know I sleep better in your bed,” he smirked when he said it and glanced at Phil, who shook his head, but it was obvious he was trying not to smile. “I promise to try to stay in bed. But you have to admit, it would be much easier if you were there with me. To make sure I’m okay, you know.”

“If you don’t take him with you, he’ll just keep complaining until someone throws him out of here. How about you just save everyone time and nerves?”

Sitwell entered the room and Clint grinned at the amusement in the man’s tone. Phil snorted at that, but did not argue.

Overall, Sitwell looked much better than a few days ago, that much was sure. It was obvious he still must have been a bit exhausted, but other than dark rings rounding his eyes Clint saw no other signs that would indicate he was attacked days before.

“How are you?” Sitwell asked, signing the words at the same time. Clint smiled at him then. Sitwell’s signing skills were a bit… rusty, but it was a nice gesture nevertheless.

“Fine. I will get better when Phil gets me out if here, though. You?”

“I got a couple of days off. Go, Coulson, I’ll babysit him until you get his clothes.”

“Thanks, Sitwell,” Clint winked at the man when Phil promised to bring him clothes and something to eat after he finished Clint’s paperwork.

“You’re welcome, Barton.”

***

June 2nd, 2014

Clint rarely thought about his future. More than once it proved to be more distracting than anything else. And, really, how far in the future could he think in his line of work? It didn't give much time and nor space to plan, so Clint usually focused on the present. And when he felt like feeling sorry for himself, he thought of the past far too much anyway, as there were many people who still liked to remind him of it from time to time, under various circumstances.

Now, however, when he was lying on the couch in the Bus, looking at the ceiling and occasionally out of the window, he couldn't help wondering what would he do after they got back. What would Phil do. Clint wanted to be mad at himself, because it looked like his traitorous brain just kept adjusting his plans to fit Phil's purely theoretical future actions that might or might have not included him. Damn it all, why? After such a long time Clint finally had gotten used to being by himself once again, he thought he was okay, and now Phil was back and everything had changed. Again.

He still hadn't decided what to do, or what to think, but one thing he knew for sure. He was relieved Phil was back. And Clint was angry at how he had treated the other man.

When Clint had heard about what had happened to Phil for the first time, when Phil visited him and brought take out from one of Clint's favorite Italian places, Clint couldn't believe all of it actually had happened. Which sounded pretty stupid now when he thought about it, considering everything Clint had seen in his life, including fighting aliens and being on friendly terms with an Asgardian. The way Phil had sounded when he had been talking about what had he found out almost broke Clint's heart. Not knowing what else to do, he had put his hand on Phil's then and squeezed gently, letting Phil talk. Yeah, the fact that someone else besides him knew that Phil was alive still pissed him off, but in the end, he was thankful the other man had people who were there for him and that he didn't have to go through all of this alone.

Clint also wondered how Lucky was doing. He had left him with Koening, who seemed to be taken with him right from the moment he saw the dog, but it was difficult not to worry. It was the first time Clint had left Lucky for so long, and he already missed the furry dork.

"Agent Barton?"

"Yeah?"

Clint opened his eyes and looked at Jemma Simmons, who looked a bit nervous as she stepped a bit closer to the couch. She was holding a plate with a big burger on it, fries, and a cup. Phil's ugly red cup with purple dots on it. "Agent Coulson thinks you should probably eat something, so I made you this. I mean, I heated it up. I can’t really cook. We usually buy a lot of them when we can. You do like burgers, right?"

Clint sat up and stretched his arms above his head. She seemed to be uncomfortable, which, okay, did not surprise him all that much, considering she had access to majority of S.H.I.E.L.D. files and must have read about him long before Phil and May had brought him on the Bus. Skye, the girl he had met after he had arrived, had told him right away that they had an access to them, before she left to “complete her own mission,” whatever that meant.

"What's this?" Clint asked, pointing at the cup in her hand and only then she smiled at him.

"Oh, that's grape juice. Apparently it’s your favorite? If you’d prefer something else, I could…"

“No, it’s fine,” Clint interrupted her, not really wanting to cause trouble. “Thanks.”

Simmons smiled and Clint nodded as she handed him the plate and the cup, then sat down on the opposite side, still looking at him curiously. He decided not to think about it much. Only when he looked down at the burger, he realized that he hadn't eaten anything since the morning the day before. And the burger did look good. He took a bite, and leaned back, trying to relax. And Simmons just kept looking at him.

“What? Is there something on my face?” he asked finally, still chewing, and he raised one hand to wipe his face off, just in case. Simmons blinked a few times and glanced down on her hands.

She did not have time to answer, because as the door opened again Leopold Fitz walked in, looking at the screen of something that looked like a communicator, or a tablet with some additional parts attached to it. Clint didn’t think he’d seen anything like that among S.H.I.E.L.D. equipment before, but he didn’t ask. The man bit his lip and his brows furrowed as he typed something in without looking at any of them.

“I thought I could find something that would help us with synchronization of the signal from the new version of the analyzer with the watch and the new communicator and I thought it would help to calibrate the…” only then he looked up and when he noticed that Clint and Simmons were watching him, he blinked, surprised. “Oh. Hello, Agent Barton. I mean, Hawkeye. I mean… Sorry, I thought you were still sleeping. I just wanted to…” he pointed with one finger to the tablet. “Right. Sorry. How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Clint answered, taking a sip from the cup. “You know, you don’t have to babysit me if you have something important to do. I know where everything is by now.”

He did realize they had been keeping an eye on him, he just wasn’t sure if it was because they didn’t trust him or because they were afraid something might happen to him. He didn’t like either version, though he did understand they hadn’t known him for long, after all, and they didn’t have much reason to trust him, even if Phil had told them about him. After everything that had happened since they were recruited, after what had happened to S.H.I.E.L.D., they could still be cautious about anyone new joining the team. It still didn’t make him much more comfortable, though.

“Oh, no, Agent Barton, we’re not babysi… we’re not here for that. We just… well. You’re Hawkeye,” said Fitz, sitting down next to Simmons, holding the tablet against his chest protectively and looking at Clint with some sort of… wonder. Or something similar.

Clint didn’t remember the last time anyone had said his codename quite like that. With admiration. He didn’t know how to react to that, but from the way the two scientists were looking at him, he guessed that it was his turn to say something.

“You know, you can call me Clint if we’re going to work together.”

“Really?” Fitz sounded surprised, but pleased at the same time.

“Sure, why not,” Clint shrugged, finishing the burger and the juice. Fitz was still looking at him and Clint smiled back, which might have come off as anxious. “Phil said you two are in charge of all the equipment here? All the hardware, software and fixing stuff?”

“Yes,” Simmons nodded. “Well, mostly Fitz, when it comes to actual fixing of the equipment. I am a biochemist, but yes, we do work together on everything here. Why?”

“So, you are the ones who worked on the aid?” he pointed to his right ear and Simmons nodded.

“Yes. We thought it could come in handy if you’re going to be here with us. Working with us, I mean.”

“Why? Is something wrong with it? Do you need us to change something?” Fitz asked, curious.

“No, it’s okay. I was just asking. But I think I might need more arrows,” Clint replied, leaning back against the headrest again. “We don’t really know how much time we’ll have for all this, and I have some of the ones I usually use with me, but I could use more of the grappling hooks and maybe some sort of a hacker? Most of the ones I took are explosives and I kind of doubt they would help much this time.”

“Yes, of course,” Fitz nodded right away, and he started to type something on his tablet quickly, as if he already started planning what to do. “If I could borrow some of your arrows I could adjust them and maybe upgrade them or work on new models. With yours and Agent Coulson’s authorization, of course. But I think if we looked at the mechanism of your taser arrows or at least adjusted the timers, they could be useful. If you have any hackers with you I could maybe reprogram the software or…”

“I have them all in my bag,” Clint interrupted him. It looked like Phil wasn’t joking when he said FitzSimmons really liked their job. “They’re in Phil’s office. I will talk to him about it and let you know. You seemed really into whatever you were talking about when you walked in, so I will wait until you finish that.”

“Oh, right. Yes,” Fitz was typing once again. “I managed to find the code that would help us upgrade the analyzer, I was just thinking about adding some sort of protection codes, just like Agent May suggested, I’m just not entirely sure what kind would work best here. She seems to be really focused on finding what had happened to Agent Sitwell and…”

After a few minutes Clint just closed his eyes and laid down, wondering how will all of this would work. He found out that FitzSimmons’ chatter was a welcome background noise as he put one hand under his head and sighed quietly.

Phil and May were spending a lot of time on working out a plan and checking possibilities based on everything they had managed to find out. Clint was helping them at first, but Phil told Clint he looked like he needed some sleep and promised they would call for him when they needed his expertise, so Clint listened, but he couldn’t stop thinking. And May seemed to be affected by the situation as well, even if she was keeping it in check, Clint noticed how much time she had been spending either in her quarters or in front of the computer.

Clint was never sure how May and Sitwell’s acquaintance had worked before everything blew up, and not even rumors had managed to make it clearer back then, much less now. Clint had teased Sitwell enough times about it, just as Sitwell had been teasing Phil and Clint and their relationship, but he actually never asked about it and if Phil knew anything, he never confirmed it.

***

March 11th, 2009

Clint was lying on the couch in Phil’s office, throwing a small ball at the wall, watching it bounce off, then catching it again, making sure not to hit a box of cupcakes sitting on the desk.

It was Phil’s bright pink stress ball, he had gotten it from Fury on his birthday, and when he had seen it for the first time he definitely had not been impressed. He had cast Fury a look that the junior agents, if they ever saw it, would definitely have adapted to fit the theory that Phil is the king of vampires and his look alone could knock somebody down. Clint had to admit it was one of his favorites. He helped create it, after all.

He just gotten back from the range about a half hour ago and Phil’s office was much more comfortable than his bunk. Not to mention offered a much better company.

Clint was used to spending time in Phil’s office after training. Both Clint and Natasha liked to hang out there and Phil never minded. This office made Clint feel… secure. He could relax there and knew that it wouldn’t be a problem if he fell asleep, even if he forgot to take off his boots, because Phil was there. Ever since the other man had let him crash on his couch for the first time, about a year after he recruited Clint, it became kind of a habit to just go there whenever he needed it. At first Clint had expected Phil to throw him out at some point, tell him that he spent too much time in the office and withdraw the invitation, but it never came. Even when Phil wasn’t there for some reason, he gave Clint permission to enter and make himself comfortable, as long as he did not touch any paperwork. Phil trusted him that much and it was pretty special.

After they had started dating and Clint haven’t needed an excuse to visit Phil anymore, this office became his second most visited place, right after the shooting range. Natasha was very glad she didn’t have to listen to Clint’s attempts to come up with new reasons to talk to Phil, and Clint could focus on trying new ways of distracting Phil from work. It was a lot of fun, too.

So now he was sitting on the couch, waiting for Phil to get back. Before they left for work Phil had mentioned meeting Fury and having a busy day overall, so Clint decided to do something nice for him and make the day a bit more bearable. He had finished his duties earlier (training with the new snipers was not very demanding, but someone had to show them how everything is done), and with Fury’s approval and bribing Hill with pastry, he had sneaked out to bake Phil’s favorite raspberry and chocolate cupcakes, hoping to get back before Phil did.

When he heard the door opening he turned to see Phil entering the office, Sitwell, Blake and Hill following him. The looks on their faces meant the meeting might not have been as easy, but at least they seemed to have accomplished whatever they were working on.

“We will need to prepare the extraction point,” Hill said, just as Blake closed the door after them. “Blake could lead a team of Level 5 agents and they most likely will need a sniper or two as well. It shouldn’t take more than a few days, considering everything our analysts have found out.”

Phil went to his desk and took a couple of folders from his drawer and started looking through them. “I believe Agent Jacobs is currently free,” he said after a while, pulling one file and handing it to Blake. “She hasn’t been on a Level 5 mission yet, but I’ve heard she did well on the previous assignments and her latest scores prove it. Agent Barton, what do you think?”

They all turned to look at him just then.

“She’s good,” Clint said, throwing the ball at the wall again. “The best from her team. Not the best at undercover work or analysis maybe, but if it’s only shooting, just give her some light equipment and she should do fine.”

“How about hand-to-hand combat?” Blake asked, closing the file.

“Not bad. She’s quick and knows how to use it to her advantage. If you need back up, you could take Thompson as well. They work well together.”

Clint caught the ball as Hill nodded and turned to Phil again. “Alright. I’ll talk to Nick and keep you informed. You’ll get the copies of reports after they get back.”

Hill and Blake left, nodding at Clint before closing the door. Sitwell stayed in place, as if waiting for the rest to leave, clenching and unclenching one hand. He seemed nervous. Interesting. Clint decided to keep an eye on him.

“So, will you talk to her?” Sitwell asked after a while, rolling his eyes when Phil hid the rest of the folders in the drawer, his eyes bright, an amused expression on his face. “That’s not funny, you asshole, so keep that smug look off your face, please.”

“You have to admit, Jasper…”

“You still owe me for making reservations at that Italian restaurant for your anniversary last year, you know. Do you know how difficult it was to get those?”

Clint grinned when Phil glanced at him momentarily, a hint of embarrassment visible on his face. So that was how Phil had gotten the reservations after Clint had mentioned he had never eaten ravioli before. He’ll definitely have to remember to tease both of them for that one, since Phil mentioned it was difficult to get them.

“Who does Sitwell want to talk to?” Clint asked, looking at the other agents. Sitwell’s features seemed a bit tense when he leaned against Phil’s desk. “I assume she is working here. Do I know her?”

“Barton…”

“Sitwell,” Clint replied with the same tone and Sitwell groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“We were talking about Agent May,” Phil said. He stepped closer to Clint and snatched the ball in the air just as Clint threw it at the wall again, completely ignoring Clint’s protests. He hid the ball in his desk, turning to look at Sitwell. “Jasper is thinking about consulting with her on a mission Director Fury assigned him.”

“Okay. Cool. So what’s the problem?” Clint turned to lie down, stretching his legs more comfortably on the couch and putting hands under his head, exhaling loudly.

“There is absolutely no problem,” Sitwell sounded irritated, however. Phil only sat behind his desk, taking a sheet of paper from his desk, writing something at the bottom of the page, before looking at the screen of his computer.

“Come on, Sitwell. What’s up?”

Sitwell didn’t even acknowledge him. “So?”

“I will talk to her. I can’t promise anything, though. She is supposed to be here tomorrow. Will that be okay?”

“Good. Great.”

“Hey, I could talk to her, too,” Clint said, smiling brightly when Sitwell and Phil turned to look at him. “She’ll be meeting with Hill tomorrow, right?”

The corner of Phil’s mouth raised up in a half-smile at that, while Sitwell seemed to be fighting the urge to leave the office, or at least that’s how it looked like from where Clint was sitting. “Thank you, but I think I will manage.”

“Just call me later,” Sitwell left and just after the door closed Clint got up and sat on Phil’s desk, putting one leg on Phil’s chair.

“Okay, what was all that about?” he asked as Phil noted something down and started to organize his desk. “Is Jasper in trouble or something? He looked like he wanted to bite my head off. Or possibly hide somewhere in his office. Maybe both. Or no, wait. That’s not how he behaves when he’s in trouble. He wouldn’t bribe anyone, and he definitely wouldn’t get nervous like that if he were in some kind of danger, that’s just not him… wait. Shit! Does he like her? I mean likes likes her?”

Phil’s eyes moved from the computer to linger at Clint’s thigh, which was conveniently situated right next to Phil’s reports, to look him in the eye. Clint waggled his eyebrows when he saw the expression on Phil’s face.

“I will not comment on how that sounded coming from you,” he focused back at the screen of his computer. “Jasper asked me to talk to Agent May because he still owes her for the mission in Morocco.”

“Okay. But still, why was he so nervous about it? I mean, I get it, it’s May, but you have to know something.”

“What makes you say so?” Phil typed something in and only then moved to open the box sitting on the desk. A smile appeared on his face when he looked inside, taking out one cupcake with purple frosting. Taking a bite he sat back in the chair and closed his eyes. Clint really liked putting that blissed out smile on his lover’s face.

“I went home and made you pastry, with your favorite frosting, I might add. I deserve a treat for being an awesome and thoughtful boyfriend,” Clint snagged one blank sheet of paper, crumpled it into a ball. “Oh, and don’t eat everything, I promised to take one to Hill.”

“These are amazing,” Phil said and after finishing the first cupcake and licking the frosting from his fingers, he got back to work on his computer.

“Oh, come on, Phil!”

“Have you handed me your last report yet?”

“You suck, you know that?” Clint threw the paper ball into the trash. Phil only smiled at him.

“No, not yet. It will have to wait until we get home. You deserve a treat for being a thoughtful boyfriend, after all.”

***

June 15th, 2014

Clint wiped his forehead quickly and looked around the dark room. It was quiet, not counting the random sounds of various factory machines located inside the building they were in. He glanced outside only when he made sure the three guards that were there only a few minutes ago have been sent away.

There was only one door at the end of the corridor, so he assumed that was where Jasper must have been. And there was only one guard left standing by the door. It was difficult to stay unnoticed in a rather narrow corridor, but he was used to worse situations. He managed to shoot a dart at the guard, hitting the man in the hand. The guard turned in his direction, raising the gun in his direction, and for a few seconds Clint was afraid he would manage to raise the alarm, but after taking a few steps forward, he fell down.

Clint looked around quickly, and sticking close to the wall, moved forward. He kneeled by the unconscious guard and dislodged the dart from his body, checking the watch each guard seemed to have. It wasn’t flashing and there was no trace of any kind of raised alarm on it, so Clint just tied the guards hands and legs quickly and left him by the wall. The man, if he survived, would be unconscious for the next few days, and shouldn’t remember anything, hopefully. Clint looked around once again, breathing calmly, but noticing no sign of movement or anything that would mean they were found out, moved to stand in front of the door.

He touched the earpiece. “I found the door. Everything‘s clear.”

“Are you okay?” Phil asked and Clint couldn’t stop thinking about how good it felt to hear the other man’s voice in his ear again. He really missed it.

“Fine. It looks like not many people know about this place, just like May said.”

“Or they actually assumed that no one would go there to look,” May added. “Stay there, Barton. We’re coming your way.”

“Got it.”

He sighed, and turned around to have a clear look of the whole corridor, but he focusing most on the metal door.

What would they do if Sitwell wasn’t even there? And what if he were? What would they say? Would he be conscious? If he really was a HYDRA agent and lying to them all this time, if he were alive after all that had happened…. Clint still had no idea what to think about all of it. Only now when he was standing by the door everything caught up with him. Could Clint really fuck up that much and not notice anything? Would someone he had spent so much time with betray them like that? It wasn’t as surprising, really, it had happened more than a few times in his lifetime, but…

He tightened a hand on his bow and kept the other ready to reach for an arrow, if needed. Fitz and Simmons had arrows prepared for him, and they were good.

He had time to test them, and every time he had shot at the targets prepared by Fitz, Clint couldn’t stop imagine how this whole “mission” would work. Those moments had been constantly interrupted by Fitz and Simmons, as the scientists still seemed excited to see him and he had to tell them at least two more times that they really don’t have to call him “Agent Barton” all the time. Watching how they had worked together to improve the equipment, and how they had tried to make everything work, he understood why Phil had developed a soft spot for them.

The new arrows were a bit lighter than he was used to, which had taken him some time to get used to, but they worked just as well. He already planned to talk to Fitz and Simmons about taking some with him after they were done… but he honestly didn’t want to think about that. About what comes “after.”

Suddenly he heard quiet footsteps of two people coming from the end of the corridor. He kept his bow ready, but when Phil and May emerged, Clint sighed, relieved.

“These are the door from the map,” he said. “I briefly checked the other corridors, but this one was guarded better than the others, so I assume it’s here.”

“Move back,” May stepped closer to the scanner to open the door. First she tried simple passwords. She found out that each of the soldiers working in the building had ascribed a set of certain numbers, but each was different, and none of those she had managed to find out seemed to work. Brow furrowed, she took a small device from the pocket of her jacket. She quickly connected it to the scanner by a thin cable and began to type something in.

Clint looked away from May to keep an eye on the rest of the corridor, his bow ready. Phil stood there, focused on the door, too, but Clint saw how tense he was, and how his hand seemed to hover right above his gun. Not ready to shoot, exactly, but prepared for something, just in case. Clint knew what he must have thought right then. They had been gathering information on Sitwell’s status and possible location even before they had contacted Clint, and they all ended up in a building stylized to look like it was abandoned, as if it was ready to be demolished any second. Overall is wasn’t suspicious if someone had looked at it from the outside. But once they entered, Clint knew they were in the right place. It was difficult to predict what could be behind the door, and Phil knew that, too.

He heard the lock of the door click and May unplugged the device, stepped back, and took out her gun right away.

“They put a lot of security codes on that door,” she said and punched in some command on the console. “I hope you’re ready.”

Just as the door slid open, Clint heard beeping coming from the room. It was dark inside, but not enough to not notice the hospital bed standing by the wall, various machines surrounding it. It looked like they were in the right place after all.

Various tubes were connected to body and to the bed itself and only then Clint looked on the figure laying there in silence.

“Jasper,” Clint murmured and Phil stepped closer to the bed, his brows furrowed. May gently pushed Clint towards the bed as well, letting him know that she’d stand guard. Clint nodded briefly and moved to stand next to Phil by the bed.

The figure laying in the bed was indeed Jasper Sitwell. There were two tubes attached to his arm, one to his hand, one was in his mouth, most likely helping him breathe, the rest of wires seemed to be connected to the bed. It looked like for some reason his condition was monitored all the time, they just had no idea if any of the machines was in any way connected to the alarm in the building. Clint quickly send a short message to FitzSimmons to check it out, and only then he focused on Sitwell.

His arms and chest were bruised and he had two big scars on the side of his head, one smaller one near his chin, the other one going from the middle of his cheek right to the ear. He looked like he had not only fallen from a height, which would definitely leave marks and bruises, but was tortured as well, since some of the bruises were precise, and some of the marks looked like knife cuts. Clint clenched one hand in a fist. Phil must have been thinking something similar, because his line of sight was on Sitwell’s bruises as well.

And then Sitwell opened his eyes slowly and looked right at them. The look he cast them was something between relieved and scared at the same time, and Clint had no idea how to react, what to think. Sitwell must have been exhausted, but he still slowly raised one shaking hand and pointed to the tube in his mouth. Phil glanced briefly at Clint, then looked at his watch, probably reading a message from FitzSimmons, before moving to remove the object gently, trying not to injure the man further by accident.

Sitwell coughed a couple of times, desperately gasping for breath, and then looked between them again, his eyes a bit watery.

“… how did you… they said they had…”

“You know we have our ways,” Phil said, not looking away from Sitwell. “We found out what had happened. And we know who the HYDRA agents were.”

Sitwell’s eyes focused on Phil’s at that.

“We know what you did,” May added, not looking away from the corridor.

Clint, clenched his teeth, observing Jasper’s reaction quietly. They had wondered how Sitwell would react to the news, if he knew what had happened. Sitwell only looked down, to where May was standing, and their eyes crossed. He seemed to be thinking about something before he sighed.

“Fury was prepared for that,” he said, with a rasping voice.

“This was what he talked to you about at the meeting?” Phil asked, and Sitwell nodded.

He must have noticed the suspicion on their faces before he coughed one more time. “Chip in my glasses, somewhere in the building. Don’t know where they took my clothes.”

“What are they planning next?” Phil asked.

“There were orders… didn’t get them. They transported me here. Don’t know anythin’ else.”

“We should get out of here now,” May finally said, when the Sitwell and Phil went silent. “We don’t know if the guards called someone, but we shouldn’t risk it. Fitz and Simmons prepared transport already.”

“Come on,” Clint said and turned to Phil. “I’ll go and check if we’re clear, you stay here with him.”

May moved to walk into the room, while Clint left.

“Clint?” Phil called after him and Clint turned his hand. “Be careful, please,” he said and there was a vulnerability there. Clint nodded.

“Let’s get out of here.”

He left the room just as Phil and May started to get rid of the tubes and wires carefully.

***

June 17th, 2014

They managed to retrieve Sitwell, along with some clothes and his glasses, but not without problems. While the darts assured some of the guards would stay asleep, they were not prepared for double security in one of the corridors, since nothing was marked on the maps they had. There was no way people who had kept Sitwell in the building wouldn’t have heard about all this, but that didn’t matter.

Phil was shot in the arm, May did not say anything, but by the way she was trying not to wince Clint assumed she would have a few bruises as well, and Clint almost broke his leg when he jumped to kick one of the guards to divert the attention from May, Sitwell and Phil. His ankle would be bruised and Phil would probably make him stay off his feet, but it could have been much, much worse. Clint didn’t have to think about it.

They did what they had to do. Sitwell was safe. Safe-ish. Simmons found traces of some unknown substance in his system and apparently the bruises still were dangerous enough to keep him monitored, but now they could all keep an eye on him. Phil and May insisted Sitwell should get some sleep, but the man refused, saying he should tell them everything.

He said Fury was aware of everything, that it was a part of the plan to find out who had been a mole. Sitwell admitted he agreed to do everything because no one would suspect him. Not many people paid attention to him anyway, so it worked. Only he and Fury knew about everything, they kept everything low-profile, and that was a part of the plan, to make sure no one would meddle.

Sitwell had been aware of the risk of that approach. He had been alone with all of this, but he had to do it. Even if it had meant confrontation with the Black Widow, Falcon and Captain America. The outcome of that confrontation was the part that he had not expected at all, but even then he couldn’t back out, couldn’t abort the mission. And the next time he had woken up he was already in the warehouse, under surveillance, strapped to the bed.

Just as he had said there was a chip in his glasses, and as soon as they retrieved it, they had started working on decrypting it.

Two days after they got Sitwell back, Clint felt exhausted.

After he left the quarters in which they put Sitwell, he went to Phil’s office, as always. Phil and May apparently had more questions to ask, but Clint wasn’t needed there. And he really felt like he should sit down before the throbbing pain in his leg got even worse.

As soon as he sat down, he sighed, relieved. He stretched his leg , put a pillow under his ankle, and laid down, closing his eyes.

Because… what would happen next? The job was done, just as they had planned. More or less. They hadn’t been planning anything for after and Clint had no idea what to do about that. What to think.

Would Clint just go back to his apartment? Just like that? Neither he or Phil had talked about this, they focused on Sitwell too much, but it had been on Clint’s mind even since they got out of the building. He had no idea what Phil would want, if he had anything planned. What if all of this was… just a mission? It’s been so long since…

“Clint?”

Clint opened his eyes slowly, just as Phil stepped closer to the couch and sat down on the edge, making sure not to move Clint’s leg from its position.

“How are you feeling?” He asked quietly, surprisingly quietly, looking at the bandaged leg. “Berlin being one and Budapest being ten, how bad is it?”

“Oslo,” Clint replied, and Phil snorted. It was difficult not to grin slightly, especially since he really missed this sound. “I just needed to lie down for a bit, honest. It could have been worse. At least it doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall off if I move, so I can’t really complain. How is Sitwell?”

Phil turned to look at the door, concern written all over his face. Once again Clint felt the urge to comfort him somehow, put his hand on Phil’s, anything, but he didn’t.

“May stayed with him,” he finally replied. “I have a feeling they really needed to talk, so I just left. There’s only so much I can take.”

“Okay. Now you just have to tell me, are they…? Were they…?”

“Honestly? I never really asked. What I do know is that they were friends for a long time, and I wanted to give them time to talk.”

They both fell silent, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. Clint remembered how even before they got together, they would have just sit in Phil’s office in silence, Phil filling out paperwork and Clint, sometimes even with Natasha there as well, would just sit there, eating, or just enjoying the time-off. This time was similar, but Clint noticed Phil was tense. He wasn’t surprised, the whole op had left them all nervous and tense, but at some point Phil’s brows furrowed slightly, as if he was still worried about something.

“I know that look on your face.” Clint asked after a while, breaking the silence.

He didn’t mean to say the that, but it was true. Even after all this time, it was difficult for Clint to forget things like that. Things about Phil. At least this time remembering them didn’t make him feel… lost.

“Come on, boss. What is it? Did FitzSimmons do something? Did we forget something? I seriously hope you won’t tell me we’ll have to get back there and…”

“Will you stay?”

Clint blinked, surprised, mouth still slightly open. He might have sat there a bit too long, because Phil’s frown deepened as he turned to look down at his hands.

“I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have asked that,” he murmured and Clint stayed seated, still minding his leg. “Damn it. I missed you. I missed you so much, Clint.”

“Phil…”

“I know I have no right to ask anything of you after… after everything. But the last months, seeing you, I’m sorry, Clint. I know you need time, but I just had to ask. Melinda already told me I’m an idiot.”

“I miss you, too, you know,” Clint replied quietly. “I just don’t know what to do now. It wasn’t even your fault, you didn’t know about all of this. I believe you, but, fuck, Phil. All of this, it’s a lot, okay?”

They fell silent again. Phil was still looking at his hands and Clint still wasn’t sure what to think. But damn it, Phil was there, he was alright, they both were. He sighed and reached for Phil’s hand gently, lacing their fingers together. Phil glanced down at their hands, then looked up.

The brief kiss Clint pressed to Phil’s lips felt natural. He really missed it.

“I should go to my apartment first, check for messages from Nat. And get all the important stuff, I guess. It’d be better to keep an eye on the apartment, just in case, I guess,” Clint said. “And I should go to Lucky. He’s not used to me not being there for so long.”

“Right. Of course. You can contact Koening if you want.”

Clint nodded, exhaling quietly.

He squeezed Phil’s fingers slightly, feeling Phil relax a bit, leaning against Clint’s bent leg more comfortably, just before squeezing Clint’s hand back. There was a small, relieved smile on his face and Clint returned it.

They still had to talk about many things, like the fact that it took Phil so long to actually contact him. It still hurt, and Clint was still pissed off about that and Phil knew that. But they still made a good team. They worked together, the two of them, and to be able to just be there, next to Phil, it was comforting. It was something he had thought he’d lost. And holding Phil’s hand, Phil leaning against him, it still felt right. He still wanted it. So much. He just needed time.

Clint made Phil promise that he would never lie to him, wouldn't ever hide anything from him again, no matter how how much it would hurt him. That was the only condition Clint had for him, and Phil squeezed his hand and nodded. Apparently May seemed to agree with the whole idea, because she said she would be there to make sure Phil won’t do anything stupid. It made Phil groan, and he pinched the bridge of his nose, slightly embarrassed, but Clint just smirked at May. The corner of her lips raised in a smirk as well, and as she nodded, Clint felt like it was a start of a pretty good team.

He would have to get used to the new routine, get used to new people, but he was still an agent. He was good at what he did and that hadn't changed. At some point he’d just have to inform Natasha of the new development and the new arrangements, since he assumed she would be done with her mission by then. Well, that would be one hell of a conversation, but he could handle it.

According to data from Sitwell, the team still had a lot to do, and Clint had a feeling Nat might have to join them, maybe Falcon and Steve would, too. He knew Phil would be there, next to him, and it was a great motivation. It looked like they were ready to kick some ass.