Tony woke up with a groan, his head pounding. The lights were already dimmed and he watched the blurred image before him for a long moment before he was able to force his hand to take the offered bottle of water. He took it and rinsed away the thick taste of blood filling his mouth.
“How long was I out?” he asked sipping the cold water to see if his stomach was going to protest.
“About ten hours,” Clint said digging out a protein bar and opening it for him. “I was going to wake you up in another two to get you to eat something.”
“Yeah, post research bender standard procedure.” Tony said taking a bit of the bar and making a face, “Works rather well for hangovers too.”
“Or post mission collapse, been there often enough myself.” Clint said with a shrug, “Drink the rest of that and I’ll order us some real food.”
“Jarvis, order us something hot and simple, nothing heavy.” Tony said stuffing the rest of the bar in his mouth as he hauled himself off the couch with a suppressed whimper and tottered to the bathroom.
Clint watched him make his slow way out of the room but didn’t offer to help which Tony appreciated. He cleaned himself up a bit and used the facilities before shuffling back to the couch. Half the muscles in his body were protesting the abuse he’d put it under while the rest were protesting the lack of sustenance he hadn’t bothered to provide while trying to find the base.
“Ramen and fried rice for carbs and protein,” Clint offered once he was settled, “Should get here in about twenty minutes. Did you want a shower or anything?”
“Nah, I’m probably going to sleep right here after I eat. Aren’t you supposed to be on base or something?”
“Figured someone had to keep an eye out to make sure you didn’t chock on your own drool or anything.” Clint said with a shrug going back to his pallet and digging out a book. “Natasha’s keeping an eye on the rest of the team.”
“Is this a thing you two do?”
“We’re used to working on small teams;” He said with a shrug, “you keep watch when someone’s injured or not able to protect themselves, keeps the rest of the team alive long enough to become a good team.”
“So this is in-house service via assassin twins? You do know that Jarvis could have kept watch, right?”
“Jarvis is watching the rest of the house, team, and your company.” Clint said with a snort, “He’s doing enough without having to make sure you eat too.”
“So, what’s the rumor around Shield now? Are they waiting to dissect my brain next time I show up for a mission?”
“The current rumor around Shield is that you’ve integrated some mind link through surgical implants and that’s why you can hack machines so easily and without a direct interface or keyboard,” Clint said getting up to retrieve the box of food that a loading dock robot brought to the door, “but that’s been going around the watercooler for years. They also think I have bionic eyes and that Phil once killed three assassins with a tin pin and two rubber bands which is actually close to the truth, it was a stapler and coffee cup.”
“I looked through some of the mission files for you and Agent. You worked with him a long time.” Tony said moving stiffly to his desk and setting the rice to one side.
“Yeah, ten years,” Clint agreed handing Tony a packet of silverware and a tub of soup. “Jarvis mentioned that you had some research you wanted to run past me and maybe Natasha eventually.”
“I was waiting to find solid proof. I might have found that right before the mission got called out.” Tony said starting to spoon up some rice, once he started eating he realized just how starved he was one hand still fiddling with the documents Jarvis pulled up.
“Do I need to call Natasha and get her to come in?”
“No, I think we’re going to need to call the entire team in for the big reveal. We need to decide how the team is going to handle it.”
“That why you were so pissed off with Fury the last few days?”
“He’s a lying liar who lies and he made Pepper cry. If you and the Widow don’t kill him then she might.”
“Alright, I’ll call Natasha and see when they can get here.” He said pulling out his phone and moving to the other side of the room to make the call.
Tony kept eating absently noting that Jarvis added a meeting with the team in four hours to his schedule. He spent the time getting the documents in order and loaded onto a few tablets for the ones who wanted to review things themselves. Clint settled back on his pallet and started cleaning and prepping his weapons keeping one eye on the door.
Over the next few hours the rest of the team slowly trickled in. Natasha was the last the join them, right at the appointed time for the meeting. Thor was back off world so they at least didn’t have to wait on him. Bruce was already fiddling with a tablet while Steve waited on the couch near Clint watching him work on his bow. They’d all settled back to wait when Tony said he wasn’t going to explain until everyone arrived.
“Sorry for the short notice but I found something that I think the team needs to know.” Tony said handing out the tablets.
“These are medical expense reports.” Bruce said slowly paging through the electronic document.
“Yeah, I had Jarvis tracking everything that Shield had attached to the Avenger’s Initiative and its members. Somehow a lot of what I thought was random things got added. Medical records, expense reports for surgeries that don’t appear in any of our files, I couldn’t figure out what was going on until I realized exactly what was missing. Who’s the one person attached to the project outside of Fury and Thor who isn’t here?”
“Agent Coulson,” Steve said slowly shifting forward in his seat.
“Fury said the medics called it but he never said he was dead.” Tony pointed out, leaning back and watching as the rest of the team processed that.
“When are we breaking him out?” Natasha asked, moving to lean against the couch next to Clint, who was silent, hands flexing around his bow.
“It’s been a year; do we know how he’s doing?” Bruce asked, fiddling with his tablet and glancing around the room, “If he was stabbed through the chest then that’s not something you get over quickly.”
“All of the surgeries were in the first six month, the last few months the bills are just rehab and room billing. I need to do some deeper digging to see if I can find more about the hospital and his mobility. I’ll need your help with the medical records, Bruce.”
“What do you need us to do?” Clint asked, glancing up at Natasha before turning back to face Tony.
“Right now I need you to help us plan the extraction if that’s what we’re going with.”
“You think we should leave him?” Steve snapped standing and moving to pace to one side of the room.
“I’m just listing options. Right now it looks like Shield is treating him as a patient, not a prisoner, they’re lying to us but we don’t know what he knows. For all we know he thinks his team is dead too.” Tony said holding up his hands, “We need more information and I’m going to need everyone’s help to get it because I’m thinking a lot of it’s under an alias.”
“I’ll get you a list of the aliases he used. Clint might know more, he worked with him longer.” Natasha said, Clint nodding agreement.
“You think Shield told him me and Natasha were dead?” Clint asked fiddling with something under his shirt.
“I don’t see Agent leaving his team behind without at least saying goodbye. If Fury said you were dead or lost on a mission he might believe it and let the treatment playout without fighting it.” Tony said softly trying to gauge what was going on in the archer’s head.
“Steve, we’ll need you to help plan how we’re getting in and out of the building with the assassin twins. Jarvis, pull up the blueprints for him.” Steve flexed his arms and moved with a frown to where the diagrams hovered, grateful at least to be doing something. “I think Bruce can sit this one out and help prep the tower for our arrival, can you figure out what medical equipment we might need?”
“Sure, as long as he’s up and moving it shouldn’t be much. Mostly we’ll need a physical therapist to come in and a cardiologist to check him out once we get his full records.”
“Jarvis call Pepper and ask for the list of SI doctors we have confidentiality documents on. Get it to Bruce.”
“We could always do this the easy way.” Natasha pointed out, touching Clint’s hair for a long moment before over to scan the blueprints.
“Care to share with the class?”
“We go straight in. Fury hid it from us but now that we know we have no reason to hid that fact. He’ll know as soon as Coulson leaves the hospital anyway.”
“Just walk him out the front door?”
“Why not? It’s not like the security there is going to be able to stop us.” Natasha said with a shrug, glancing at Clint who was still crouched, mind whirling.
“We get him out in the morning.” Clint said quietly setting his bow down and starting to peel out of his gear, “We need to make sure he’s able to travel first. We put Jarvis piloting the suit to harass the helicarrier when we go in as a distraction. Tony takes the suitcase suit with us; Steve gets Phil in a wheelchair and moving while Natasha distracts the guards. Bruce will have a car outside waiting, in and out fast before the alarm gets set off.”
“And I can make sure that doesn’t happen.” Tony said with a firm nod.
“Good, I’m going to clean up and order some food in. It’s probably going to be a long night.” He said, his face a mask of concentration. He left a pile of Kevlar and weapons on the couch before stalking out the lab.
“Jarvis, keep an eye on the Hawk.” Tony said quietly so that Natasha would hear the order.
“Yes, sir, I’ve taken the liberty of placing the team’s general order for Chinese. It should arrive in half an hour.”
“Good, thanks, Jay.” Tony said absently as he started working on hacking the full medical records for their missing agent.
“Why the hell is it a hospital in New Jersey?” Tony muttered as they made their way inside.
“It’s in range of the Quinjets or even by car from New York and no one would think we would house our wounded in a non-military hospital.” Clint said flatly over the com, he was working his way inside using the back entrance.
“Hello, we’re here to visit Phillip Barnes.” Natasha said at the front desk Steve at her side as the dutiful flower carrying boyfriend, they knew it would probably mean a call to the Director but at this point they didn’t care if he knew or not, by the time he reacted it would be too late.
Tony sauntered past them to the elevators, working on the systems he passed to try and find the correct alarm system to bypass. He’d already looped the camera feeds as each of his team mates passed and was monitoring all chatter on the security lines. The room they wanted was on an upper floor which would mean more time needed to get out.
“Hey, Hawk, think you could cover the roof if we have issues?”
“Yeah, what are you thinking?”
“If we can’t get him down the elevators then heading up is still an option.”
“Got it, I’ll make sure I’m mobile just in case.”
“Good.” Tony hummed as he made his way down the hall disabling locks and other things as he went. The blueprints had shown that Phil was the only resident on the floor so it wouldn’t hurt anyone else to kill the nonessentials for a short while.
“At the first door,” Tony muttered while working on persuading the door to let him in.
“Right behind you,” Steve said easing out of the stairwell with Natasha a step behind.
Clint watched as they got his former handler into a chair with only a bit of prompting and headed out. He watched from the roof as they loaded him into the white beat up van before moving to follow at a distance. He wanted to vault down the side of the building and make his way back to the tower at a run but he forced himself to move at a steady ground eating walk. He’d waited two years, another ten minutes shouldn’t matter.
It was a long walk back to his bike that was stashed several blocks away. He just had to get to the landing pad before the rest of the team, he thought with a smirk gunning the engine and pushing the bike for more speed once he hit the highway. Ten minutes later he’d stashed the bike in the cargo bay and settled into the pilot’s seat, he didn’t trust anyone else to get Phil home right now.
He hung back once he landed the mutated Quinjet that Tony had “Improved” with only a slight bump and started the landing checklist. Natasha ducked into the copilot’s seat and helped speed things up. She ambled next to him as they made their way to the floor none of them had been on before, an executive guest apartment that was rarely used.
“He asked for you.” She said quietly, “They told him you were dead, gave him a copy of your ring.”
He didn’t trust himself to answer, waiting in silence as the elevator took them higher. As the doors opened and she pointed him towards the bedroom he hesitated not sure if he wanted to see how badly Phil had been hurt. Taking a deep breath he forced his legs to move, he was alive, that was all that mattered.
Phil gave him a smile as he settled into a corner where he could watch the rest of the room. He wanted to rush over and check on the man but Bruce was already checking his vitals and helping him get comfortable in bed. Steve worked with Jarvis to order in lunch for everyone and Tony was babbling his normal nonstop reel as he stood to one side fiddling with his phone.
“Just so you know, Fury’s already tried to call each of us at least once.” Tony said with a grin, “Jarvis is blocking all calls from Shield for the next twenty four hours. If they really need us they can send someone in person.”
“He might just deserve it.” Phil said flicking a look to where Clint was standing, “Thank you everyone for the rescue.”
“We couldn’t exactly leave you there, Coulson.” Natasha said, moving to the bed and placing a kiss on one cheek. “Who would keep our Hawk grounded without you there?”
Clint thankfully was saved from commenting by the food arriving. He helped Steve unpack everything and served Phil a plate making sure it was only the things he liked. He settled back against the wall with a glass of water but ignored the food for now, he could eat later, right now he wanted to memorize the way Phil’s too long hair fell in his eyes and the changes to his body from the weight he’d lost.
He was too used to playing it straight for Shield to break the routine now even with Tony giving him funny looks. They’d hidden their relationship from everyone but a few close friends so that no one could say they were acting unprofessional. If it had been common knowledge Clint would have had to change handlers and teams and he couldn’t have done that and stayed sane with the job they did.
Bruce helped Phil to the bathroom after a while, Phil protesting that he wasn’t that much of a cripple even if he was wheezing a bit when he got back to the bed. Clint tugged out his phone to start looking up how to rehab from a lung injury. He needed more information, he mused sending a text to Natasha that she vet the doctor and physical therapist, knowing her she was already on it.
He had a bit of a limp thanks to the staff nicking several nerves near the spine but overall didn’t look like he’d been essentially dead just one year ago. When the others began to excuse themselves once Phil began looking tired Clint stayed to clean up until Steve excused himself leaving just Strike Team Delta.
“Get in here, Hawk.” Natasha called out over the quiet sound of the TV when he was starting to run out of things to clean. Phil beckoned him to the bed and Clint gratefully let himself be pulled down to curl against the older man.
“Thought I lost you;” Phil said softly pressing a kiss to the top of his head.
“Me too,” Clint said shifting closer, “You’re not allowed to do that again.”
“Not sure I can agree not to die ever again but I’ll do my best.” Phil said with his normal mildly amused tone, it made Clint shiver to hear it after so long.
“A year, Phil;” Clint said his voice breaking.
“I know. I’m sorry it went on that long. Some of the nurses talked about the Avengers but I never heard anything about you.”
“Shield had me grounded for a while, took about six months before I was doing missions again.” Phil tugged him up for a chaste kiss while Clint fought the burning in his eyes. He tucked his face against the too narrow chest and tried to not put too much weight against his injured husband.
“We have a meeting tomorrow to decide how the team is going to deal with Fury and Shield after this.” Natasha said, “Jarvis will put it on your calendar. I’ll be in the spare bedroom if you need me. It’s good to have you back, Coulson.”
“Thank you, Natasha.” Phil said with a sad smile, glancing down at the shaking archer in his arms, “Thank you for keeping him safe for me.”
“So has Tony come out with his abilities to the team yet?” Phil asked once Clint had cried himself out and they’d exchanged several more kisses.
“No, I kind of had to force the issue to get him to talk to me about it. I told Jarvis about the note in his file.”
“Good, he needs all the support he can get. We all will in the coming years, I think.”
“Says the Team Dad.” Clint said with a snort.
“If I’m the Team Dad, who’s the Mother?”
“Oh, that’s just mean.” Phil said with a soft chuckle.
“You haven’t seen him in full Captain America, ‘I can fix this’ mode yet. It’s kind of scary. He’s probably going to give you the puppy dog eyes at some point for pushing yourself too hard in the gym.”
“I look forward to it.”