Title: Lucky Charm
Fandom: Marvel CMU
Disclaimer: Not my characters! Definitely not! No money made!
Summary: Clint’s on the S.H.I.E.L.D. hockey team and needs some luck today. But Coulson’s got a cold, and an ice rink isn’t the best place for him.
Author’s Notes: Written for my 2016 comment fic meme
Growing up in the circus, you learned to be versatile. One day you’d be swinging from a trapeze, the next mucking out the horses’ stalls. The day after you’d be juggling with the sword swallower, and the next taking tickets at the door. So as long as Clint got to be out there on the ice during a hockey game, he didn’t much care what position he played.
Playing on the S.H.I.E.L.D. hockey team hadn’t been his idea. And he hadn’t even wanted to join at first. It had been Coulson, actually, who had pushed him to sign up for it. Coulson knew he needed to let off steam from time to time, especially when missions went bad, and what better way to get out his emotions than to kick some butt in a hockey rink?
Besides, the team really needed him. They started him out as a defenseman, but when Agent Mason joined, Clint was moved to center. When Agent Oliver was killed in the Inhuman attack, Clint happily made the transition to playing goalie. Today, however, he was playing his favorite position: left wing. While every position had its merits, being a winger meant hanging out on the edges of the rink, watching plays develop, making passes and assists, and then taking hard shots on net seemingly from out of nowhere. For someone who spent a large portion of his life hiding in the shadows and hitting a target with arrows, left wing suited him best.
He fell into a natural rhythm with the other S.H.I.E.L.D. players, too. Before S.H.I.E.L.D., his only experience working on a team had been the circus. And playing hockey brought back all that comradery and passion and excitement he’d loved growing up. It was even better when they were up against a good team and Agent Coulson was there to watch him play.
To watch them play, that is. Though Clint liked to imagine his handler showed up to the games just to cheer him on, hundreds of S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel came out to watch the games and support the team in general and likely Coulson was just one of that group. But Coulson was his lucky charm. He always did well when Coulson was up there in the seats, watching.
Coulson probably wasn’t going to show up to today’s game, though. He had been away working a mission in one of the -stans—Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan… one of those—and he hadn’t had time to contact Clint with an ETA on his return. So Clint would have to win this game without his inspiration present. Luckily, they were playing the NSA, which had a terrible record. Even MI5 had beaten them earlier this year.
So why was S.H.I.E.L.D. three goals behind going into the third? Clint sighed, looking up at the score board, hoping it might have changed. There was nothing more painful than a shutout. The score hadn’t changed. It was still 0-3. But there was something new. Someone new, to be precise. Agent Phil Coulson walked across the row of seats and settled into his usual one.
For one brief moment, Clint felt elation at seeing him. This might very well be the motivation he needed to turn the game around. But then he looked closer. The rink wasn’t so big, and Clint was used to looking down, not up, but his vision was as good as it ever was and he could definitely see that the seat was the only normal thing about Coulson’s presence. The man’s suit was rumpled. That alone set up red flags. There were wrinkles and folds all over and the white collar of his shirt stuck up on one side and not the other. There was a tear in his slacks at his knee and his hair stuck out and up on each side of his head. But the worst part was how tired he looked. And the red of his nose that Clint could see even from the bench. And the way he slumped, exhausted, in his seat as though he were too tired to hold himself up properly.
Actually, everything about him screamed that he shouldn’t be here. And, yet, there he was, sitting in his usual seat, waiting to watch the final period of a game S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to lose. The man had a sense of loyalty that any S.H.I.E.L.D. agent should aspire to.
He also had a head cold. A bad one, by the look of it. Not five seconds in his seat and already he was pulling a handkerchief out of his suit pocket and holding it to his face. His whole body tightened, tensed, pulled back, then pitched forward with what was unmistakably a strong sneeze. He looked pained as he wiped his nose. Then his whole body gave a great shiver.
What did Phil Coulson think he was doing being out of bed with a cold this bad? What did Phil Coulson think he was doing being out of bed at a hockey rink with a cold this bad? A hockey arena was not the warmest place he could have chosen to nurse his cold, and he had to have known it because he never missed a game if he could help it. But there he was, up in the seats, snuffling and coughing and sneezing into a handkerchief.
Hunched over, sneezing into a handkerchief.
Hunched over, sneezing nonstop into a handkerchief.
Clint watched in amazement as a sneezing fit took hold of Coulson and didn’t let go. It took a nudge from the coach to get him to realize his line was up and then a tug from another player to realize his line wasn’t supposed to go out just yet. Clint scolded himself. The last thing they needed right now was to draw a penalty for having too many men on the ice. With one final glance up and Coulson, who was still sneezing, Clint resolved to keep his mind on the game.
And it worked. He didn’t play particularly well. In fact, he missed a good assist and gave the puck up twice. But he managed to think about the game.
For about two minutes.
Then he glanced up and saw Coulson gripping the arm of his seat and leaning to the side. The man needed to lie down. The man needed to be in bed. The man needed someone to tell him to go the hell home. S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to lose this game anyway. What was the point in sticking around to watch that?
But how to tell Coulson this, Clint wasn’t sure. He tried getting the agent’s attention from the bench. If he could just make eye contact with him, maybe he could gesture toward the door emphatically enough that Coulson would get the hint? Problem was, Coulson wasn’t looking this way. He wasn’t even really watching the game. He was tending to his nose, rubbing it back and forth with his handkerchief or blowing into his handkerchief or sneezing into his handkerchief. Sometimes he sat there, open-mouthed and eyes closed, just waiting for the sneeze to make its way out of him. And sometimes he sat hunched over, rubbing at his forehead miserably or shaking with coughs.
It was then that Clint realized something else: Agent Coulson was a fantastic S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and a handler he trusted with his life. But Agent Coulson was also pretty stupid. He was going to need more than Clint pointing toward an exit.
All right then. If he needed more, Clint would just have to give him more. Clint spent the rest of his shift on autopilot, working through the mechanics of the thing. And then he sat on the bench, hearing the swish of skates on ice and slap of sticks against puck but not paying any attention. Once he thought Coulson might have looked up from his handkerchief and in his direction. But the look was fleeting and Coulson seemed to slump down further in his seat with embarrassment. As if he had anything significant to be embarrassed about. What were a few sneezes compared to losing a hockey game to the NSA 0-3?
Make that 0-4. The red light behind the goal lit and rotated as a siren sounded. Most of Clint’s teammates either swore or hung their heads in premature defeat. There was still half a period left and already they’d thrown in the towel. Not that Clint could blame them. It would be pretty hard for even the best team to come back with five or even just four goals in a little over ten minutes. And tonight they were playing pretty shitty.
Though not quite as shitty as Coulson looked. His face was flushed red as he leaned against an arm rest, hacking and coughing into a hankie that had to be soaking and useless by now. But Phil Coulson was the type who’d cover his nose and mouth anyway. As if there were anyone else sitting up there in the seats around him. As if there were anyone watching him instead of the game.
Clint readied himself to take the ice this time. He straddled the wall, timing the moment perfectly. Now all he had to do was get possession of the puck and get it across the blue line. Easier said than done, considering the NSA’s little game of keep away they had going mid-ice. Real grown-up, guys. No wonder S.H.I.E.L.D.’s losing to you; they thought you were going to be playing like adults.
Finally, Clint got his stick on the puck and was immediately checked against the boards. It didn’t hurt, physically, but something inside him twisted with annoyance as he watched one of the NSA players skate away with the puck afterward.
It took two more shifts for Clint to get hold of the puck long enough to do what he’d intended. By now, the game was almost over and it probably didn’t even matter. But Clint was determined. And the two other S.H.I.E.L.D. traits he had in abundance right now were heart and compassion. So he took the puck, swiveled around on the ice, pulled back, and hit the hardest slapshot he could manage.
And he aimed it not for the NSA’s goal but toward the stands. Clint’s usual accuracy won out, of course. The puck sailed over the Plexiglas and row after row. It struck the seat just beside Agent Phil Coulson.
Coulson jumped with a start, and Clint felt bad. For a second. Because this time their eyes definitely met. And over the expanse of the arena, across the distance of cold and ice, something of Clint’s annoyance and concern must have shown through. Because Coulson gave a nod, stood up, and headed for the exit. He shivered and sneezed a couple times as he went, but he went.
Clint didn’t mind taking the delay of game penalty for it. He didn’t mind that the NSA scored thirty-two seconds into their man advantage. He didn’t mind the telling off his coach gave him when he got back to the bench. He didn’t even mind that they lost the game 0-5 because of his little stunt. All he cared about was that Coulson was somewhere warm, hopefully on his way home by now where he should have been all along.
Except he wasn’t. There was silence in the locker room as the defeated players stripped out of their gear. Clint took a quick shower and tried to ignore all the looks his teammates gave him. Sure, the last goal had been his fault, but they’d all played like shit tonight; they couldn’t pin the loss completely on him. Clint was still overheated—both from playing and anger—when he got out of the shower. But he put on all the layers, expecting a cold blast to hit him once he stepped out of the facility. He wasn’t expecting to feel it before that.
In the hallway, just outside the door to the locker room, stood Agent Phil Coulson. Not in bed yet. Definitely not in bed yet. “What the hell was that?” Coulson asked immediately.
“What the hell was that?” Clint parroted right back, gesturing in the direction of the entrances to the arena seating. “You shouldn’t be here if you’re sick. How many times have you scrubbed a mission or dropped me completely because I was fighting off a little cold or flu? And you think it’s fine if you sit in a freezing cold arena making your own cold worse? For a brilliant agent, Coulson, you are such an idiot sometimes.”
Coulson looked… well, dumbfounded was not a work typically applied to him, but it was accurate in this case. At first, it looked as though he couldn’t decide how to reply to Clint. Then a sneeze snuck up on him and he actually couldn’t reply to Clint. He pulled out what was definitely a sodden, useless handkerchief and pressed it to his nose. The touch of cool, wet cloth against his sore, red nose made him shudder, but it couldn’t be helped.
Except it could. Clint dug around in his bag and found a handkerchief. It was one Coulson had given him ages ago when they were on a mission in the Ukraine or Brazil or Samoa or somewhere—that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he always carried it now, just in case. Like his bow and quiver, it was part of him now. But he knocked Coulson’s hand out of the way and held it to his handler’s nose instead.
Coulson didn’t say thank you, because he couldn’t say anything. But the way he nuzzled his nose into the warm, dry fabric was thanks enough. “huhhshoo! Huh-huh-h’ktshoooo!”
He kept his eyes closed afterward, and Clint couldn’t tell at first if another sneeze was coming or if Coulson just didn’t want to look him in the eye now. But then Coulson swayed with fatigue and Clint quickly put an arm around his shoulders to steady him. “Home,” Clint demanded. “And straight into bed with you. If you need things—groceries, laundry, post-mission reports—I’ll get them for you. But you’re staying in bed until you kick the worst of this. No more freezing cold arenas. Got it?”
Coulson moved closer to Clint, perhaps more for warmth, as he nodded in agreement.
“Good,” He turned with the man and started walking him to the door. Clint braced himself for the cold temperatures outside, and held Coulson right up against his side to try to keep him warm. “Next time, don’t make me shoot a puck at you to get some common sense into your head.”
“huhhhhhhhhh-H’gshoooo!” Coulson had reclaimed the handkerchief and kept it pressed to his nose, in case more sneezes came at any second. Lucky he had. “It’s my fault for telling you the hockey rink was a good place to get your emotions out. I… huhhh! Huhh-Huhschooooo! Sniff!” He massaged his nose through the folds of the handkerchief. “Next time, play better so I don’t feel so bad about missing a game and causing you to lose. Sniff! It’s like if I’m not sitting there, you forget that the point of the game’s to get that little black thing in the other team’s net. That game was really pathetic. Sniff sniff! And from a guy so pathetic he can’t even keep his own nose from running, you know that’s saying something.”
Clint led them outside, into the biting wind and snow-covered suburb. The helicarrier hovered just above, blocking out the sun but also the snow. “Hey, at least we’ve got better toys than they do.”
Coulson chuckled and sniffled and let Clint lead him to the pickup location.