The night Clint was recruited to SHIELD—and by recruited, he meant slowed down enough that he couldn't actually run—it was below freezing, with a wind chill of two-seconds-to-frostbite. As Clint was made to understand later, the bullet was something of an accident, a junior agent being a little trigger happy, and Coulson was pissed. At the time, though, Clint really thought he'd ordered the shot himself, he seemed so completely unconcerned by it.
Coulson had said, "Let's start with what we can offer you, Mr. Barton."
Clint would never admit it, but it was the promise of a warm place to rest that was the real clincher.
Clint had grown accustomed to not being noticed once out of the center ring. At first he had cultivated the ability as a survival tactic, and by the time he had figured out that he did it unconsciously, it was too late to make himself matter, show up. As such, he was slow to understand that Coulson saw him. Oh, Clint knew Coulson saw his ability with a bow, his gift for climbing and hiding. But Clint hadn't realized Coulson also saw things about Clint nobody else had ever noticed, that even Clint rarely noticed anymore.
Clint figured it out after a mission in Kosovo during February, when he came back to the safehouse unable to feel his nose, and with a cough he'd suppressed so harshly, for so long that when he allowed himself to give into it, he coughed until he passed out from a lack of air.
He awoke to Coulson lifting him to his feet and half-carrying him to the bathroom, where a steaming bath had been drawn. Coulson left him to his own devices and Clint sank into the bath, letting the steam loosen up his lungs. When he managed to pull himself out and into the pair of sweats sitting on the toilet, he walked into the main area to find that Coulson had made tea and soup and set an extra blanket on the bed Clint would be using.
Clint ate the soup and drank the tea with a quiet, "Thank you," uncertain of how to respond to someone actually seeing to his needs, even ones that weren't life-threatening. He climbed into his bed, under the (two) layers of covers and passed out inside the blissful cocoon of heat.
Clint was from Iowa, where summers were too hot, winters too cold and springs and falls too short. He hadn't loved the extreme heat of summer, but a boy could escape his father's fist in the summer, could open a window to get a breeze, could sneak in and swim in the municipal pool.
There was no escaping winter. They could never afford good coats, the kind that truly kept the wind from pummeling through to their skin, and more than one winter the gas company had turned off the heat due to non-payment. It had still been legal in those days. He and Barney would cuddle together under what blankets they had, but it was never enough: the cold always sank down into Clint's bones, a punishing burn.
The Boy's Home had been no better: too much space to heat and never enough money from the county. The circus, of course, had been the worst. The only personnel who had heated cars were the top-billed performers, and it would be years before Clint would become Hawkeye. More often than not, in the winter, he'd risked being kicked by a horse or crushed by an elephant just to seek out some warmth in the middle of the night.
Coulson was the first person in Clint's life to even notice Clint had gotten cold.
In Norway, it wasn't even that things didn't go according to plan, so much as that the plan had significant issues nobody realized until they were in play, and by then it was too late. For Clint, this meant his escape route was bisected by a body of frozen water.
When he reported the problem, Coulson asked, "Still have enemies in pursuit?"
"Close enough for me to hear them," Clint said softly, looking around methodically for somewhere to hide, wait this out. Of course, the plan would have been a good plan if that was on offer, so obviously, it was not. "Okay, I'm gonna have to chance the water."
"We've got backup coming your way, moving to intercept. The longer you can—"
It was April, which was just stupid and unfortunate. February and Clint's concern about the ice being able to take his weight would have been almost nothing. April, though, was just warm enough for Clint to worry that his two hundred pounds of solid muscle, plus another thirty five of gear might be a problem. Fuck.
He didn't have time to go carefully. Another thirty seconds and he was going to have eyes on him, if that long. Clint moved. Paralyzation had never been his style. The ice took his weight. It creaked a bit, but stayed under his feet, and Clint slid rather than trying to walk.
It was less than twenty seconds before the first shot rang out. It grazed Clint along the hip, which hurt, but wasn't what worried Clint. No, that was how the shot buried itself in the ice ahead, and the way the ice was beginning to spider out beneath him. Ignoring the burn of his hip and the second shot that went just left of his ear—they were good, given how dark it was, thankfully, though, they weren't his level of good—Clint pitched himself forward as fast as he could.
A second bullet hit the ice. Clint had only a second to shout, "Water, sir!" before his walkway fell out from under his feet.
The cold was so frigid, that at first Clint didn't even feel it. It was like the time Trick had shot him, when he'd felt the impact of the arrow, but it took several moments for the agony to cut in, make itself known. Then, the temperature penetrated and Clint's body was overtaken by the feeling of being stabbed in every millimeter of his skin.
He managed to get his head above water, but not for long. The weight of his pack, which wasn't a big deal on land, was a considerably bigger problem with water soaking into everything. It was hard to think around the pervasive cold, but Clint tried to focus on getting out of the pack. It meant losing his bow, but he couldn't shoot if he was dead.
He knew it was taking too long. He slipped under the water twice, and if the temperature didn't kill him, his pursuers were going to catch up, finish the job.
Finally he managed to get the pack past his fingers, off, and then did his best to find purchase on the ice. He tried digging his fingers in, but they were too cold, and unwilling to follow his commands. He was quickly becoming unable to feel the rest of his body.
The sound of shots being fired stirred him a little, survival instinct once again kicking in, but he just didn't have the leverage. He tried one more time, lost his grip entirely and slid back into the water.
Clint woke up as he was coughing out straight ice, or what felt like it, at least. Coulson was saying, "Easy, Barton, that's it," and Clint tried to anchor himself in Coulson's voice, to not be scared out of his fucking mind that he couldn't really feel himself expelling the water, just had the faint sensation of doing it. Everything was burning and faintly numb and Clint couldn't say what was happening at all, but it was terrifying.
When the worst of the coughing had finished, Clint felt something touch his face. At first it was just pressure, but then the extreme heat of skin reached through to him and he wasn't certain if he wanted to lean into it, or yank himself away.
The touch was rescinded and Clint didn't mean to, but he made a noise, not even sure what he meant by it. Coulson said, "A moment, Barton."
Clint felt himself being jostled, heard the sounds of his tac-vest being pulled away and realized distantly that he was being undressed. He was too tired to really care. He was vaguely aware that should have bothered him, but he was too tired to care about that, either. He blinked at the sight of Coulson undoing his tie. He tried to frown, tried to joke about that being against mission protocol, but the sounds he was making didn't make sense even to him.
Before he could puzzle out what was happening, the touch was back, except it engulfed him this time, as Coulson wrapped himself around Clint, and pulled a sleeping bag around the both of them. Clint grunted. "Stings."
Everywhere he was being touched had erupted into knives of burning cold, bringing back the ache of the freeze settled in his bones. Coulson said, "I know, Agent. You need to warm up, though, and our ride had to be diverted."
Clint knew he was telling the truth, but it didn't make it any easier to stay still as the necessary warmth returned with the sensation of someone poking every inch of his skin with rapiers. After a bit, he started shivering, his teeth hitting each other so hard it compounded the soreness in his jaw. Coulson said, "Good, that's good, you're doing well."
Without realizing he was doing it, Clint brought his hands up to dig into the skin of Coulson's back, the action giving him something to focus on that wasn't the way everything hurt. Coulson just said, "Range of motion's returning, you're going to be fine."
Just when Clint was starting to think the cold had penetrated too deep to ever truly leave, the worst of the sharp pain began to recede, and his shivering lessened in violence. He could feel exhaustion creeping over him, no longer held at bay by adrenaline or pain. It was different than the desire to just drift away he'd been experiencing before. His eyes slipped closed and Coulson said, "Not yet, Agent."
Clint tried telling Coulson how tired he was, how even his bones ached with it, but only strange, nonsensical sounds came out. Coulson brought the arm wrapped over Clint up to where his fingers were massaging at Clint's jaw and throat. Clint was finally just aware enough to be bitter over the fact that this was how he was finally getting Coulson to touch him in the ways he'd thought about. Story of Clint's life, really. On the upside, he had absolutely no ability to embarrass himself at the moment, either.
Coulson said, "Helo's on the way. ETA is in six. Stay with me for long enough to have actual medical personnel on hand."
Clint scrunched up his face, or, well, tried. He was pretty sure it didn't go anywhere. Coulson seemed to understand. "I could make it an order."
But Clint actually made an effort not to make life harder on Coulson than it already was, so he just concentrated on keeping his eyes open, himself awake.
Coulson dressed shortly before the helo landed, and Clint, thank you very much, was an adult about it and did not make grabby hands after him or anything. Granted, he was still having trouble with mobility, but he also was making himself behave, like always. Being moved onto the helo sucked, and as soon as Coulson said, "You can rest now," Clint closed his eyes and ran with the permission.
Despite preferring to stay away from medical, Clint silently appreciated that SHIELD's medical wing used a different kind of disinfectant than most hospitals. According to R&D it was more earth-friendly and less likely to cause bacteria to become antibiotic resistant. Whether that was true or not, Clint had no idea, but the smell wasn't as sharp, even caustic as the standard chemicals were, and as much as he didn't like waking up in a hospital bed, it made it a little bit easier.
That said, the moment he opened his eyes in medical and got his bearings, Clint worked out where the call button was and went to reach for it. A hand over his stopped him. Coulson said, "They told me they'd let you go with supervision once they ran a few tests and reassured themselves you weren't going to lose limbs or anything of the sort."
The weight and warmth of Coulson's hand against his caused a wash of pure sense memory, and for a moment, Clint was very glad his body still wasn't quite up to speed, since the last thing he needed just then was to inappropriately come on to his direct supervisor. Fucking hypothermia. Only Clint would manage to get himself into a situation where the guy he jerked off thinking about was mostly naked and curled in a sleeping bag with him and he was too popsicle-like to even notice he was getting in the neighborhood of lucky.
Clint pushed the thoughts aside—drugs made him morose, another reason he hated being on them—and said, "Thanks, sir. I can stay on base. I'll draft one of the juniors into checking in on me."
"Mm," Coulson said, noncommittally. He didn't take his hand back. Clint, like the dreamer he was and always had been, closed his eyes and pretended it meant something.
Medical released Clint and he told Coulson, "Thanks for the whole saving my life thing. And staying, sir. You uh, well, yeah, thanks."
"I'd hate to have to train up another sniper," Coulson said, walking beside Clint, despite the fact that Clint was moving at the speed of molasses in the deep winter.
Clint smiled in acknowledgment and appreciated the fact that he was too tired to really let himself think about the remark. He began to turn down the corridor to get to his on-base quarters when Coulson very gently redirected him with an open hand to the base of Clint's back. Clint asked, "Sir?" not even bothering to hide the yawn that wanted to interrupt the question.
"I don't trust juniors to correctly fill out requisitions forms. Why would I trust them with the health of my best agent?"
Clint blinked. "Um."
"Unless you have an issue with it, you're going back to my place. Speak now or forever hold your peace."
Clint had one million issues, but none he was going to be able to explain in the frame of mind he was in. "You really don't have to."
"I'm aware of the perimeters of my job description."
"I can just—" but Clint was already being shepherded into Lola. For a moment, he was just grateful he wasn't bleeding. The thought of marking up Lola was genuinely terrifying.
"Sleep on the way there," Coulson said as he started the engine. He kept going, even though Clint had shut his mouth, given in to the other man's 'suggestion.' "I was thinking the same thing."
Coulson hauled Clint out of the car, past a doorman who had clearly seen it all, and into an elevator. Clint was cold again, just from the walk between Coulson's deeded space and his building. He knew it was mostly in his head, but his head didn't seem interested in warming him up, so the knowledge was pretty useless.
Coulson's apartment was on the nineteenth floor and, walking in, Clint remembered why he'd always pegged Coulson as someone who came from money. The unit wasn't pretentious, but it was subtly classy.
The ceilings were vaulted with simple but elegant light fixtures hanging down in well-planned spots. The layout was fairly open, with the kitchen—an area full of burnished copper and well-varnished wood—separated from the living room by only a sitting counter. Throughout the whole space there were black and white photos in minimalist frames. Clint thought he recognized some of the pictures, maybe from books, or something. The face of children and women from the dustbowl gave the space a haunting humanity, while the found object and landscape pictures kept it from becoming too somber.
Several of the walls had been converted into wooden shelving space, with books of every shape and size crammed into them. And surfaces throughout the area had random, interesting knick knacks, the kind Clint knew a person picked up when he was constantly pulling ops in far-off locales.
In the middle of the living space, across from a well appointed chocolate-brown sofa, was an old-fashioned fireplace, also copper-based. Clint wanted to hug it. He controlled himself. Coulson guided him to the sofa, though, and walked over to the fireplace, fiddling with the gas key until he'd gotten it turned on. Clint said, "You're my favorite, sir," glad he still had some ability to make it sound like a joke.
Coulson tousled his hair as he walked past him, into the kitchen, and Clint did not arch up into the touch and mewl, but it was a close call. He told himself, very firmly, to get some sleep.
Coulson woke Clint with the words, "I got you hot and sour."
Clint took a second to get his bearings. Coulson's couch was indecently comfortable. He forced himself into a sitting position, murmuring, "Thanks," when Coulson brought him a bowl and a spoon. Clint started slowly, but between all the energy he had expended over the few days of the op and how long it had been since he'd eaten, he was soon having to slow himself down. He took his time, but he finished.
The fire was burning, and there was a blanket around his shoulders. Add to that all the soup and Clint should have been sweating. Instead, he felt slightly chilled. Coulson must have noticed something, because he said, "I'll get another blanket."
Clint shook his head, pointing to his temple. "No, it's all up here." He did his best to smile ironically, all, yeah, I see the crazy, too.
"Hot chocolate?" Coulson suggested.
"Nah, I should just get more sleep. Your couch is great, much better than a base bed. I really appreciate the hospitality."
Clint blinked. "Sir?"
Coulson smiled, a little bit of light entering his eyes. "Let's at least try and get you warm, all right?"
"Why don’t you try a hot shower? I'll make the hot chocolate."
Clint scrubbed at his face for a moment and wondered if he could pull himself together in the shower. It was worth a shot.
"I added some whiskey." Coulson said, when Clint emerged from the bathroom. He had a feeling he'd been in there for quite a while, but he'd wanted to get fully dry before he came back out, give himself the best shot at seeming fine.
He was doing well until Coulson handed him the mug, their fingers brushing, and Clint dragged out the contact. He hadn't meant to, not consciously. But Coulson looked down at their hands and said, "I'd say you could've just asked, but given everything, I suppose that's not really true."
Coulson pulled away and grabbed his own mug. "Drink up."
The whiskey did help a little, Clint was pleased to find out. However, not nearly as much as Coulson maneuvering Clint into his bed and positioning them so Clint was cradled in his arms, supported by his chest. Clint closed his eyes and took a breath. "Sir, you really don't have to—"
"I wanted to the entire time you were in medical."
Clint was feeling particularly stupid, but all he had was, "Sir?"
"I wouldn't have done it if it hadn't been necessary, Clint, but I can't say that it was a chore, either, or that having you taken away didn't leave me feeling…" Coulson laughed a bit, "chilled."
"I—" Clint was pretty sure he was supposed to say something, but he was so warm and comfortable. He settled for wiggling to try and get impossibly closer, "Mm."
Coulson laughed again, and tightened his arms.