Day 11

Title: Day 11
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Marvel MCU-ish
Rating: PG
Pairing: Clint/Coulson
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: Overall, Coulson's just having an awful day.
Notes: Written during my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2018-19 project project for Smokeycat_430.

Phil Coulson couldn’t win. All day long, he had been thinking fondly of being able to get back to his hotel room, take a shower hot enough to unstuff his nose, and then crawl into bed. But working for S.H.I.E.L.D. was not a nine-to-five job. You couldn’t just clock out at the end of the day, not even when you were battling a raging head cold. Saving the world didn’t have a convenient timetable.

It would have been better, though, if Hawkeye were around. The agent was supposed to be back by now, but he’d been out of communication for a day and a half. It wasn’t entirely unlike him to drop out, especially when he was en route somewhere. Still, it put Coulson on edge. He liked knowing where his agents were every second of the day, especially when he was in a relationship with one. He found himself checking his phone and tablets constantly, refreshing screens, hoping for notifications.

Of course, there were things on his mind other than Hawkeye. He cleared his throat as he massaged his nose through a handkerchief. His head was thick with congestion that just wouldn’t loosen. He’d tried blowing his nose about a hundred times, but the painful honks had not been at all productive. In fact, he had a feeling they were making his situation worse. Irritating his sore nose. He’d tried tea, but that just meant more bathroom breaks, which wasn’t a good thing when you were stuck in a van for hours. He had even tried teasing his nose into sneezing, but everything was stuck in place, including his sneezes. His head and nose both throbbed, and the pressure in his ears was painful, especially when he swallowed. He had taken cold medicine and painkillers on top of that, hoping at least to decrease the symptoms. But feeling only slightly less miserable still meant feeling pretty damn miserable, overall.

But missing Clint and putting up with a cold both would have been bearable if everything else had been running smoothly. The truth was: nothing was going right today. First, the suspect Agent Bryce had been tailing gave her the slip. Then Agent Jones was attacked and robbed by an unusually strong mob of teens, and he wound up in an ER in Amsterdam with no ID until Coulson could get replacement fake papers drawn up and a S.H.I.E.L.D.-approved doctor assigned (because the marks the devices the teens had used of course reeked of alien technology). Then the train Agent Romanoff was supposed to take to get to her next location was cancelled and the next one out was hijacked; she was more than a match for the hijackers in the end, but it still took a considerable amount of Phil’s concentration to send her the play by play of where every hijacker was, according to drone, satellite, and security camera feeds. And now he was struggling to stay awake and alert and not turn into a Philsicle in the back of a drafty, sketchy public utilities van, monitoring a garbage can drop-off site for activity.

It was the most cliché, most obvious disguise ever, which was why it was perfect. It wasn’t often these days that Coulson handled field work himself, but what with Agent Jones down for the count and Agent Barton still unreachable, they were short on agents… and they needed target. Even with a horrible head cold, Coulson could manage being a sitting duck for a few hours. And a few hours was all it was supposed to take.

Coulson felt a light urge to sneeze take hold of him, but he didn’t even make a move toward his handkerchief. He knew it wasn’t going to amount to anything. It was ironic, but he was far too stuffed up from his cold to actually sneeze. It didn’t stop his nose from tickling a few times an hour, though. The only thing worse than a bad head cold was a bad head cold that teased him relentlessly. It was exhausting to keep needing to sneeze and not be able to.

He checked his tablet again. It was coming up on one-thirty in the morning, and the temperature outside was several degrees below zero. “Several hours by ass,” Coulson muttered. He’d been here since a little after eight in the evening. He resisted the urge to close his eyes and indulge in a short nap. He needed to be alert, on guard, prepared.

Finally, at a quarter past two in the morning, someone in a black hoodie, hands stuffed in the front kangaroo pouch pocket, came down the sidewalk. He paused in front of the trash can, rocked onto his toes to look inside, and then looked around to see if anyone was watching him. He spotted the van almost immediately.

Coulson straightened up, staring intently at the figure in the live feed on his tablet. The man on the screen marched right up to the van and stood there for a second, evaluating the words and designs on the side. After much internal debate he walked around to the back of the van, took hold of the door handles, and yanked them open. “Ah-ha!” he exclaimed to find Coulson.

Though his heart was pounding, Coulson’s voice remained quite calm. “Looks like you found be,” he said, his voice thick with congestion but clear enough to make its point just the same.

The man’s triumph shined on his face as Coulson snapped several clear shots of it with the camera on his tablet. As he sent the photos off to S.H.I.E.L.D. so they could run it through the software and generate what was needed in order to fool the scanners with facial recognition technology, Agent Bryce came from out of nowhere and clocked the man on the back of the head. The man went down at once, crumpling onto the street, unconscious.

“Thadk you, Agedt,” Coulson said.

“Of course,” she bent down and picked up the body, lifting it into the van. “You okay to drive?”

He nodded. Not being able to sneeze had its benefits after all, though his fatigue was mildly compromising. Luckily, there were few people on the road at this time of the morning.

“Good. I'll keep an eye on this one, then.” She settled down next to the man with her weapon trained on him for when he regained consciousness.

After dropping them off at an air strip just outside of town, Coulson drove back to his hotel. The nearest safe house had been compromised, but the security checks they'd run on the hotel owners and staff had presented no red flags. There was no reason to believe he wouldn't be as safe here as in his own home. Still, he would have preferred if Clint had been there. He had actually been hoping that he might open his hotel room door and find the man sitting on the bed, waiting for him.

But the tiny, dingy room was empty apart from the bed with its loud bedspread, the chest of drawers, and Coulson's bag. He just couldn't win today.

First, Coulson secured his weapon. Then, with a heavy sigh, he reached for his belt buckle. Slowly, he undid his pants and slid them off, draping them over the foot of the bed so he could put them back on tomorrow. He did the same with his suit jacket and his tie; he had packed a number of shirts but only two suits. The first had been ruined a few days ago in a dye pack mishap, and he hadn't exactly had the time or energy to find a tailor and get a new suit made. Coulson ran his hand over his suit jacket, pressing out a few wrinkles probably only he would notice anyway. He would just have to make do with this tomorrow.

Wearing nothing but charcoal gray boxers and a white undershirt, he grabbed his dopp kit and his hotel room key and hurried off down the hallway to the bathroom.

This shower had been at the forefront of his mind for longer than he cared to admit, and he ran the water as soon as he got into the bathroom. A nice, hot, steamy shower should be all it would take to relieve the pressure in his sinuses and get him sneezing again. He never thought he'd actually anticipate a badly running nose and sneezes, but this stuffiness was just so  uncomfortable, he was ready for a change.

As the water in the shower heated up, Coulson brushed his teeth. Then he stripped down completely and climbed into the shower. With a yelp, he jumped, nearly slipping in the tub and having to grab hold of the metal towel rack to steady himself. The water was cool, not even lukewarm. Pressing himself against the cold, tile wall in the stall, he reached out to feel the drops. They were cold. He waited for the shower to get warmer.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Realizing finally that it was never going to get any warmer and his nose wasn't going to get any relief tonight, Coulson grabbed the soap and a washcloth off the towel rack and cleaned himself as best he could.

He was shaking with chills by the time he stepped out, toweled off, and put his underwear back on. He just couldn't catch a break today. Shivering, he walked back to his room, unlocked his hotel room door, and jumped again.

With his hand pressed to his chest, he could feel his heart absolutely racing. “Dab it, Clidt! You albost scared be to death!” 

Clint Barton lay sideways across the bed, a pillow hugged to his chest, his head resting on the shoulder of Coulson's suit. He lifted his head then propped himself up on his elbow. “Sorry. You were taking so long in the bathroom, I decided to just let myself in. Started to drift off.” He narrowed his eyes at Coulson. “Sounds like you came down with that cold after all. Didn't I tell you that you would?”

“Yes. You're brilliadt.” Coulson cleared his throat and sat down on one side of the bed. He saw Clint’s bag sitting right next to his. He saw Hawkeye’s bow and arrow leaning up against the lock box where Coulson had secured his gun. The last thing he needed right now is an ‘I told you so’ from someone who could breathe through his nose as if it were the easiest thing to do in the world.

Clint reached over, his fingertips just able to graze Coulson's arm, and Coulson shivered again. “Hey, you all right?” Clint’s voice was soft with concern.

Not looking at him, Coulson shrugged. “I just feel sick.”

“Yeah. Bet you've been sneezing your head off all day, haven't you? You always get so sneezy when you've got a cold.”

Coulson flushed slightly but shook his head. “By dose is too stuffed ub. The odly decodgestadt I could fide id the stores around here doesd't seeb to work od be.” He tried to sniff to demonstrate, and Clint winced at the result.

“Damn, you must be miserable. You've been like this all day?”

Coulson nodded. Then he shivered again.

“Okay.” He sat up and scrubbed a hand over his face, forcing himself into a state of semi-alertness. “Let's fix this.”

“Cad't,” Coulson said with a cough. “I'd hobed sobe steab frob a shower would help, but there's doe bore hot water id this blace.”

Clint got up and rummaged through his duffle bag. He pulled out a purple sweater and gray sweatpants. He tossed both at Coulson then rooted around for something else. As Coulson pulled on the extra items of clothing, he let himself hope that Clint might have some Nyquil or Mucinex or some other American brand cold medicine stashed away in his bag.

“Any warmer?” Clint asked over his shoulder.

The sweatpants were a little short and the sleeves of the sweater were baggy, used to fitting over Clint's muscular arms. But Coulson did feel warmer in them. He was still shivering a little, though. “A little bit.”

Finally, Clint pulled out a small, orange pack of hand warmers. He left his bag on the floor and pulled the covers down on the bed. He climbed in and held his arm out. “Grab one of your hankies and get over here, Sir.”

Smiling momentarily at the term, Coulson did as he was told, only slightly disappointed by the lack of medicine. Still, being stuffed up and warm in Clint's arms was better than being stuffed up and shivering. So he climbed into bed and snuggled against Clint's chest. Clint pulled the covers up and tucked the sheet and blankets around the two of them. Then he put his arm around Coulson, holding him tight, rubbing his warm hand up and down Coulson's chest to generate some extra heat. They sat like that for a few seconds, settling in together, readjusting the blankets and pillows until they were both comfortable and Coulson had at least stopped shivering.

Then Clint pulled out the heat pack and ripped open one side. It was small, the kind you put inside your shoes to keep your toes warm or gloves to keep your hands warm. Coulson lifted his hand to take it, but Clint didn't intend to hand it to him. Instead, he pressed it to the bridge of Coulson's nose, practically covering the entirety of Coulson's nose except for his nostrils. “What are you doidg?”

“Patience, Sir,” Clint said, craning his neck, kissing Coulson's cheek. “Give it a chance to work.”

It took a few minutes for the pack to fully activate, and Coulson could feel it getting gradually warmer and warmer, but not hot enough to hurt. When his nose was sufficiently warm, Clint pulled it away. His fingers, so adept at grabbing arrows and pulling back bow strings, began massaging Coulson's nose. At first, it felt strange, even a little awkward. But after a few minutes he gave an involuntary sniff. A wet one.

“Clidt!” Coulson whispered. “I thidk by dose snffff is actually startidg to rud.”

Clint stopped massaging and pressed the heat pack there again. “Good,” Clint said softly, into Coulson's ear. “That's good. Just relax and get that hankie ready.”

Coulson did, though sneezes were almost too much to hope for right now. Just being able to get a little air through his nose and feel the pressure decrease was bliss. “Snrffff! Ah... SNFFF!” Oh, it felt so good. “Clidt sniff! I wadt to sdfff! Wadt to try blowig by dose just a little.”

“Yeah, all right,” Clint agreed. He lowered the heat pack and tucked it and his hand under the covers so its heat could warm their bodies before it went back to helping loosen the congestion in Coulson's nose. “But be gentle. It's been through a lot today.”

Coulson nodded and pressed the handkerchief to his nose with both hands. He took a deep breath and found his throat tickle terribly at this. His sinuses were draining and tickling him all over. He coughed, expelling his breath, snuffling into the handkerchief, snapping forward. Clint held him and rubbed his back while Coulson coughed. Coulson tried again and this time managed to blow his nose with a soft but steady wet gurgle. “Ohh...” He very nearly moaned.

Clint chuckled and caught his ear with a small reassuring nibble and kiss. “Just think how good it's going to feel when you finally sneeze.” His hand, hot now, reached up and massaged again.

The warmth and the touch combined made Coulson's nose begin to run fiercely. And the dull sneezy feeling he'd had off and on all day intensified to a sharp, urgent prickle. “hup!” Coulson pressed the handkerchief to his nose. “I'b huh! I'b godda sdee-Uhpp! Godda sdeeze! Huhhhh HUH!” And, for the briefest of moments, Coulson was scared the sneeze might not actually strike. It wavered there, teetering on the brink. His whole body was tense, lugs filled, nose tickling madly. Then he pitched forward, nose drowning in the thick, white cloth. “HEHHShuuuuuuuu!

“Nice one,” Clint chuckled. “Don't stop now.”

Coulson couldn't even if he'd wanted to—which he didn't. “HEH-UHSHooo! Herr-EHSHHHuhhhhh! HEPTDSHHHH!

“Bless. Finally.”

“Thaahhhh thadks hah huhh huhh-DJShuuuu! HEHPTshuuuu!” Coulson blew his nose, marveling at how much clearer it felt, how easy it was to blow. “Heyyy-YEHShooo! HEHChoo! Uhhh uhhh HUHSchkkkkkkk!”  He refolded the handkerchief to get at a dry spot and blew again. The ticklish, sneezy pricking had died down for the moment, but they both knew it would be back. This wasn't the first time Clint had seen him with a head cold, and it probably wasn't going to be the last. Coulson closed his eyes, leaning back against Clint.

“Feeling better now?”

“Buch better,” Coulson confirmed.

“Glad to hear it.” Clint placed the heat pack back over Coulson's nose.

Coulson coughed and sniffled into his handkerchief. “Where'd you leard this trick?”

“Siberia. Years ago. Nat and I both had the flu. There was far less snuggling involved that time.”

They both laughed.

They didn't talk again for a while; there wasn't anything they needed to say. Coulson wiped or blew his nose almost constantly. His instincts told him to sniff to prevent his nose from running, but he didn’t want to get stuffed up again from congestion, so he just let it run and tickle. He sneezed dozens of times, managing to catch every one of them in his handkerchief except for one that snuck up on him that he only managed to cover with his sleeve. “H'IMPFttttt!” The soft yarn of Clint's well broken-in sweater felt so soft against his nose that Coulson considered making that move more often. After every small bout of sneezing, Clint kissed his ear or his cheek or the back of his head reassuringly to prove he didn't mind one bit. It was significantly better than bless yous.

At one point, Coulson gave a start, sitting straight up and then leaning over with coughs. “What's wrong?” Clint asked, rubbing his back until the coughing subsided.

“I... thidk I feel asleeb for a secod.”

“Not seeing the problem. You're probably exhausted.”

“We should get you a sebarate roob.”

“Like hell we should.”

Coulson shook his head. “I'll sdeeze add cough add brobably sdore. I dod't wad to keeb you ub todight.”

Clint checked his watch. “It's almost five in the morning, I think that ship has sailed, Sir.” He wrapped both arms around Coulson's middle and hugged him tight with affection and to prove he was absolutely comfortable where he was. “Besides, when I'm ready to fall asleep, I'll just take my hearing aids out.”

Coulson pulled away, sniffling and wiping his nose on the cuff of the sweater, which he knew he shouldn't be doing, but it was just so damn soft and anyway he'd dropped his handkerchief somewhere in bed when he’d nodded off. “You sniff! Sniff! You odly do that when we're at hobe.” The state-of-the-art hearing aids Tony Stark had made for Clint could be worn through anything—rain storms and showers, tossing and turning in bed, aliens attacking New York City. And Clint always kept them on unless they were safe at Phil's place or Avenger's Tower, where he felt protected by the security systems. He never, ever took them off when they were away, especially when they were out of the country on S.H.I.E.L.D. business.

“Then you'll just have to wake me up if something happens, or if you need me for something.” He put a hand on Coulson's shoulder and pulled him back, letting the man nestle against his chest again. “You will wake me up if you need me, right?”

Coulson nodded. “uhhh... I... I... hhuhhh Huhh-HEPTShkkkkk!” He sneezed into his sleeve again. Then he felt a clean, dry, folded handkerchief being pushed in-between his nose and the sweater. Coulson wasn't sure where Clint had gotten it, but he was glad to have it now. Immediately, he blew his nose. And then the tickle flared back up again in his nose, as insistent as ever. “hehhh-HEHH...

“Even if all you need is someone to hold you when you sneeze, you wake me up, okay? You don't ever have to suffer alone as long as I'm here.”

Coulson gave him a wide, happy smile before nodding. “Brobise. Huhhh? Snrff! Huhhh-hold be tighter? Dose tickles... snff! Snffff! I snrfff! I have to sdeeze agaid.”

Clint wrapped his arms all the way around Coulson, hugging him tighter and tucking the man's head under his chin.

Coulson readied his fresh handkerchief, pressing it to his face expectantly. “ahh-HEHHHhhhhhhh...” His body tried to rock with the powerful gasp, but Clint held him tight. “Hehhh-HIPTShhuuu! HEHDshuuuu! Hehhh hehhhhshuuuu! Sniff! Ha-ha-hahh-HIPTSHHHHHHHHH!

Clint gave him a 'bless you' kiss.  Coulson smiled. When he woke up, he was still going to have this raging head cold. He was still going to be halfway across the world from home. He was probably going to be advised by S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors not to get on a plane until he was a whole lot less congested. But he was going to be in this warm bed wrapped in Clint's warm arms. And that was a win in his books.

Besides, those hand-held heat packs came in pairs.