Title: A Head Cold, Exhaustion, and a Complicated Washing Machine
Fandom: Marvel MCU
Summary: Coulson has a cold. Clint does laundry. It’s all super exciting.
Prompt: "Wow. How many
times have you sneezed today?"
"I don't know, I lost count."
A Head Cold, Exhaustion, and a Complicated Washing Machine
Clint Barton took the stairs two at a time, bounding up the eight flights steadily without getting winded at all. Visiting Phil Coulson's apartment was as good a workout as anything Clint could have dreamed up at the gym or at Tony's fancy workout space at the tower. His eagerness gave him all the extra energy he needed to choose the stairs over the elevator. The fact that Coulson's building's elevator was notoriously unreliable might have had a little to do with it, too.
By the time he got to Coulson's place, his anticipation was at an all-time high. He had plenty of plans for the night, starting with drinks at this little hole in the wall place Steve had recommended (he'd said he couldn't imagine New York without the place). Following that, they had dinner reservations at a place he never would have been able to swing without Tony's generous intervention (though Clint suspected it had been Pepper who actually managed to make the reservations). Then there would be dancing at this club Nat had told him about (the fact that she was known to take Bruce there made it even more desirable, as Clint would pay good money just to see Bruce try to dance). Drinks, dinner, and dancing might seem like it lacked creativity, but considering how out of the ordinary things usually were for them, doing something painfully normal was just what Clint craved. No aliens trying to take over the city. No undercover Hydra agents. No government challenging their ability to save the world.
Though pulsing with excitement, Clint's hands were steady as always as he fit the key Phil had given him into the lock. He headed inside, ready to call out a hello, when his gaze fell on the couch. Every other time they'd met up to go out, Coulson had been in the bedroom or bathroom, still getting ready. Picking out the perfect suit and tie for a night out apparently took every special skill Agent Phil Coulson possessed. This time, though, Coulson sat on his living room couch wearing S.H.I.E.L.D.-issued sweats. He had a well-used handkerchief in his hand, held up at the ready. His eyes were closed, his chest puffed up with a deep breath, and his mouth hanging open. “hah hahh-IHPTShooo!”
With a sniff and a wipe to his nose, Coulson lifted his head and blinked at Clint. “Sorry. I'b sniff dot feelig so well.”
Clint nodded. “Yeah, I kind of gathered. You look pretty rough there.”
“Gee, thadks.” He was trying to sound like his normal self, trying to lighten the situation a little. But he just sounded tired and worn out. “I... I... cahhh...” He held his handkerchief up again. “Ahh... ahhhhhh... hahhhh... Hah-DIHSHHHH! HAH-KIHSHHHH! HAHTChooo! Hehtshooo! Hahhh-EHPTSHOO!”
Eyes wide, Clint couldn't help his brutal honesty. “Wow. That was something. Wow. How many times have you sneezed today?”
Coulson shrugged. “I dod't dow, I lost coudt.”
“That's too many, then.” Clint took a seat on the couch, keeping a little distance between the two of them so he didn't give Coulson the wrong idea about where tonight might be headed.
Coulson, too, seemed to have the need to make that clear. “I, ah, I dod't thidk I'll be able to go out with you todight.”
Coulson gave a self-pittying kind of laugh, and Clint reached over, putting a hand on his upper back, the only exposed spot. Coulson usually sat up straight with impeccable posture, but just now he was hunched forward, clinging to that damp handkerchief like it was the only thing that mattered.
“Thing is, I don't think I want to go anywhere without you.”
Coulson looked over at him now, eyes a little wetter than they probably ought to have been. Clint wasn't sure if that was from the sneezes or the sentiment, but it hardly mattered. “I should have called. I'b sorry. But I thought... baybe I could get it together add clead byself ub well edough. I just... hahhhh I just cad't stahhhhh hahhhh stob sdeezig. Ahhh-ahhhh-DIHshhhhhhhhh!”
Clint was touched that Coulson would even think about going out when he felt this bad. And though he was disappointed to miss out on what would probably would have been the best meal of his life, he didn't even hesitate in asking, “You got an extra pair of sweats I could borrow? If I'm staying in and snuggling with you on the couch, I want to be comfortable doing it.”
After hesitating a few moments, Coulson finally gave a nod. “Yeah, uh, check... chehh... hehhh ode sec...”
Obviously. Clint waited.
“hahhh-HEHSchhuhhh! HAHShooo!” Coulson blew his nose again and wiped it, wincing a little as he did so. Then he cleared his throat. “By dresser. There should be adother bair of sweatbants id there.”
“I assume you still keep your hankies in there as well?”
Coulson nodded yes, but he looked a bit embarrassed as he did so. He'd been sneezing at his his handkerchief, catching the sneeze but not burying his nose in it. Clint knew from experience that this meant he needed a clean, dry one.
“All right. I'll be back in a few,” he promised. “You sit tight and just—”
“hahhEHHSHooo! HEHSHOO! Hah hah h'shooo!” he sneezed in the direction of his handkerchief again.
“And just do that, I guess.” Before going into the other room, Clint walked around to the back of the couch, leaned over, and dropped a kiss to the top of Coulson's head. He squeezed the man's tight shoulders in what he hoped was a reassuring way as well.
The first thing he saw when he went to the bedroom was that Coulson hadn't made the bed. Honestly, if Clint hadn't seen anything else tonight, that alone would have told him there was something wrong with Phil. Making the bed was a kind of compulsion for the man. Once, after spending the night, Clint had pulled the blanket and comforter up to make the bed, and Coulson had winced. He had taken the blankets back, pulled them down, then made the bed himself. Clint had only kept from laughing by covering his mouth with his hand and ducking out to the bathroom.
The bed was a mess of sheets and blankets and pillows strewn everywhere. There was a hot water bottle peeking out from under one blanket and a pair of undies lying atop one of the pillows. There were also a few balled up hankies peppering the sheets. Clint glanced over at the laundry hamper and saw a trail of clothes across the floor and, again, more hankies. It looked like Coulson had shed his suit as he made his way to bed and had left the items of clothing right where they had fallen. There was also a white, cotton, drawstring bag beside the wicker hamper. Clint knew that was where Coulson usually put his used handkerchiefs so he could take them all to the laundry room in one batch. But the bag was overflowing and was tilting to the side, ready to topple completely. Clint couldn't help but wonder again how many times Coulson had sneezed today. This was an impressive number of handkerchiefs to go through.
Picking up items from the floor and tossing them in the right places, Clint made his way to the dresser. He checked the bottom drawer first and found a pair of black sweatpants with a white S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on them. He looked around for a sweatshirt or hoodie and didn't see one. So Clint stripped off his sweater and purple turtleneck and ended up just in sweatpants and a soft, white undershirt.
Then he finished tidying up. He refilled the hot water bottle. He made the bed. And he stuffed the white bag full to bursting with used handkerchiefs before slinging it over his shoulder. He checked the top drawer of the dresser and saw only one handkerchief there, folded into a neat square and resting in the far, back corner. Clint had arrived just in the nick of time, it seemed.
Clint headed back out to the living room and attempted to swap handkerchiefs with Coulson, but Coulson pulled away, pressing his damp handkerchief to his chest. “Clidt, dod't touch...full of gerbs... codtageous.”
“Far too late for that.” He tilted his head toward the bag, and Coulson's eyes widened.
“Doe. Clidt, doe. Absolutely dot. You are dot going to do by laundry.”
“You worried I'll use too much bleach or starch or something?”
Coulson looked exhausted and like he didn't have the energy to argue or properly articulate his embarrassment at Clint touching his snotty handkerchiefs. “Clidt...” he pleaded half-heartedly.
But it was too late. There was no way Clint wasn't going to do this. Clint leaned over and placed another kiss to the top of his head. “Relax, Sir.” he placed the hot water bottle in Coulson's lap. “You hang on to this and stay warm. I'll be right back after I pop these in the washer.”
But Coulson gathered his energy and tried to get up anyway. “I should helb. The bachides are codfusidg.”
Just one hand on the man's shoulder was enough pressure to keep him down on the couch. Coulson tried to shake it off, but he was too weak. And Clint was used to having his skills and strength underestimated. He smirked, “If I can hit a bullseye from 100 yards away, I can manage one load of laundry.” Not wanting to hear any more protesting from Coulson, Clint turned around and headed back to the bedroom, where he pulled a lightweight but soft-to-the-touch blanket out of the tangle there. He pulled the rest of the blankets up to give the bed a neater appearance.
He laid the blanket over Coulson's front and tucked it around the man. Then Clint went on a search for the remote control. After finding it and clicking around to get to the device menu, Star Wars started playing. “I'll be back before they even get to the cantina, I promise.”
Taking the stairs down to the basement level was easier than walking up them had been, so he made good time getting there. But when he saw the multiple, stacked washers and dryers, he froze. They looked like something used to control a rocket in a bad science fiction movie. None of the dials or buttons were labeled, as labels would have taken away from the aesthetic.
He had no idea how to work this. But he also didn't want Coulson to come all the way down. Instinctively. He reached for his cell phone in order to google the model; someone had to have put together a usage video for it. Instead of a phone in his back pocket, his hand met the curve of his ass in soft sweatpants. Of course he had left his phone back in Coulson's apartment. He supposed he could start knocking on random doors, asking strangers how the machine worked, but his face had been on the news too often recently, and he really didn't want to have to answer questions about what he was doing there.
With a sigh, Coulson resigned himsef to the only other option he could think of. He touched his finger to one of the hearing aids Tony had fashioned for him. Having to wear both a hearing aid and a bluetooth earpiece communicator for S.H.I.E.L.D. had been difficult, so Tony had integrated the two devices and improved them both. Clint knew that, even sick, Coulson would have his earpiece nearby. “Sir, are you there?”
It was almost a minute before Coulson responded, but he did respond. “Havidg trouble with the washidg bachide, Agedt Bartod?”
Oh, he sounded so smug. “How'd you know?”
He heard Coulson chuckle and clear his throat. “I'll be right dowd.”
“Oh no you won't. You stay right there. Can you just walk me through this?”
“I'll try.” He gave a sort of breathy exhale Clint wasn't sure about. Then he heard a muffled, restrained “h'IPTshhh!” come through the connection.
Coulson sniffed, and there was still a minute or so of nothingness. Then he said, softly. “Thadks. I'b sorry, by the way, for cobidg dowd with this cold. I dow you had a whole evedidg that brobably did't idvolve washidg by dirty hadkerchiefs.”
Clint chuckled. “Let's just get these in the washer. Once I get back upstairs and get you in my arms, we can talk about what kind of an evening to have. So please explain what kind of a washing machine this is. I don't even know where to start with it.”
After coughing and sniffling a little more, Coulson explained. Coulson had him press buttons Clint had thought were merely decorative and had him spring open a hidden compartment on the side where the detergent and tiny bit of bleach were to go. More complicated than any S.H.I.E.L.D. technology Clint had ever worked with, there was a sense of accomplishment when he finally had the bunch of handkerchiefs swirling in hot water.
The walk back up all the flights of stairs was more tiring this time. By the time he hit the sixth floor, he was climbing more slowly and felt just a little winded. When he got back inside Coulson's apartment, he collapsed onto the couch. “Fifty minutes until I have to go back down and figure out how to work that dryer.” Coulson scooted close, meaning to snuggle up, but Clint pulled back. “Oh, don't. I'm hot and a bit sweaty.” He plucked at his t-shirt.
Coulson snuggled anyway. “Heat is just what I deed right dow. Add eved if you stidk, which you dever do, I cad't sbell a thidg right now.”
Actually, this was a good point. He let Coulson snuggle close, putting an arm around him, rubbing his shoulder and upper arm as Coulson laid his cheek on Clint's chest. They sat that way through several scenes, several sniffles, and several dozen sneezes.
“Ahhhh... Hahhhh-HUHSHOO! HAHHHKSHHHH!” The sneezes seemed to be taking a lot out of Coulson, and they didn't seem to want to end any time soon.
After a few especially strong ones, Clint winced sypathetically. “How are you feeling, Phil? Be honest with me here.”
There was a pause, as if Coulson were actually considering lying. He didn't, however. “Bretty shitty, actually. This codgestiod add sidus bressure just wod't quit, add by dose wod't stob ticklidg. I dod't thidg I've ever sdeezed as buch as I have today.”
“Not even that time we were in Canada in the spring and the tree blossoms kept setting you off?”
Coulson shook his head.
“Not even that time in the Ukraine when we both had the sniffles and were snowed in at the safe house and lost power so our noses wouldn't quit running?”
Again, Coulson shook his head.
“Not even that time in Peru when I had that super sneezy cold and accidentally gave it to you?”
This time, Coulson gave up a laugh. “Accidedtally? Clidt, we could't stob bakidg out.” It had been early in their relationship; good times indeed. “We were like teedagers. You had your tongue id by mouth bore thad out of it. I thidk it was bretty safe to say I was goidg to catch your cold.”
“Yeah, but you didn't mind, did you?” Clint's fingers trailed from Coulson's arm to his chest, teasing in little swirls.
“Course I did't.” Coulson coughed and closed his eyes.
Clint leaned forward a little, grabbing the remote control and pausing the movie, as if he might be worried that Coulson would miss something good in a movie they'd both seen dozens of times, if not more. “Are you tired, Sir? Do you want to try to get a little sleep? I could carry you to bed, if you want.”
The corners of Coulson's mouth turned up in a slight smile. He never got tired of Clint calling him 'Sir' when they were alone together and off the clock. Clint might be the Avenger, but Coulson was always going to be the one in charge. And Clint knew that when Coulson wasn't feeling well, sometimes he needed a little reminder of that.
“Thadgs, but I'b fide right here,” Coulson whispered. “Excebt... I have to sdeeze agaid.”
“I'm not surprised. You got that handkerchief still?”
“Yeah I... I... hahh... hahhhIKSHOOO! Hah-hah... hahhhhhh.... hahh HAH-KHSHHHH!” Again, he sneeze toward the handkerchief rather than covering his nose and mouth with it.
Clint rubbed Coulson's upper arm again. “You trying to make that last until the laundry's done?” Sniffling, Coulson nodded a bit shyly.
“Just so sneezy...” he muttered. “hihhh... hahhhh HEHKUShhhhhh!” Coulson settled back against Clint, took control of the remote again, and resumed the movie.
“Bless you.” Clint murmured, kissing the top of Coulson's head. “You know, you don't need to use the handkerchief at all, if you're worried.” He felt Coulson tense up against him, even though his intention had been to offer reassurance. Quickly, he tried to relax Coulson again. “All right. Forget I said anything.”
But the damage had been done. Coulson pulled away, retreating to the far corner of the couch. Hanging his head, sniffling some more. “Baybe you'd better go. I'b dot such good cobady like this.”
“You're the company I want,” Clint insisted. He checked his wristwatch. “Washer cycle's almost done. I'm going to go back down into the fray. Will you be all right 'til I get back?”
Coulson gave a slight smile and reached over to the earpiece on the side table and dangled it in mid-air. “I'll contact you if there's ad alied idvasiod id by abartbedt id the ted bidutes you're gode. But I'll be... I'll be... be... fih-fide hihhh hahhhh HAHSCHHH! HEHschuhhhhh!” Instinctively, he went to wipe his nose with the handkerchief, but realized it was too wet to do anything but make him more uncomfortable.
Clint sighed and reached into his pocket. “You'd better just take mine. Or, well, take yours back, I guess.”
Coulson looked mildly confused as Clint handed him a familiar handkerchief. “What... wait. Is this frob that tibe id Buldavia?” The time Clint had to infiltrate a compound in the middle of winter and his nose just would not stop running. They hadn't known Clint was coming down with the flu; they just knew they had to make it through this mission. Coulson had stuffed it into Clint's hand before sending the archer in. “You kebt it all this tibe?”
“Of course. You never know when you might need a handkerchief. It's come in handy plenty of times when I feel a sneeze coming on or I spill something or eat a sloppy shawarma or I know a particularly handsome gentleman who stole my heart and is in need of it.” He bent at the waist and placed a kiss on Coulson's cheek. “That's you, by the way.”
“I figured. Sniff!”
“Go on and wipe your nose, Sir.”
Coulson did, snuffling a little into the fresh handkerchief, still warm from Clint's body heat.
Clint headed back down the stairs to find the washer just finishing its cycle. After feeling around a bit, Clint figured out how to open the futuristic, front-loading dryer. He transferred all the sopping handkerchiefs into it, closed the door, and then stared at what purported to be controls. He pressed a few things that looked like buttons and, apparently, were not. He looked around for a hidden access panel and wondered not for the first time if just shooting an arrow into it might cause it to start up.
“Sir? How does this turn on?”
There were a few moments of silence through his earpiece, and then a stuffy, weak, “There's a buttod od the right side, agedt.”
That seemed highly unlikely, as the washer and dryer were side-by-side and there was pretty much no way to access the right. But the moment Clint looked, he felt silly. The controls were indeed hiding out right there on the side so as not to ruin the aesthetics. He selected the setting he wanted and pressed start. With a rumble, the handkerchiefs began to spin.
This time, Clint looked a little more longingly at the elevator. On one hand, he could be back up at Coulson's side within seconds if he took it. On the other, he could get stuck between floors in a broken elevator and have to wait hours until to see Coulson again. It wasn't as though he had his bow and arrows on him to rescue himself, and Coulson was too sick to rescue him.
So up the stairs he went again. The first few flights were no problem, and he went at a steady pace. But then he began to slow. And trudge. And then pull himself up the last flight with help from the hand rail.
Coulson seemed absorbed in the movie by the time Clint returned, panting a little more this time. He hovered just inside the doorway, catching his breath. He spoke breathlessly, “I'm... going to... get... drink...” Clint gestured in the direction of the kitchen. “Do you want something?” Coulson, his eyes trained on the screen and handkerchief rubbing repeatedly at his nose, did not answer. A jolt of panic rushed through Clint. “Phil?”
Phil's head jerked up; he looked startled. “What?”
Clint narrowed his eyes. “I was just thinking about Tahiti.”
“It's a bagical blace. Dabb it! How lodg is that coditiodig goig to hold? Sniff! What'd you do that for?”
Clint shook his head. “Just... had to make sure you were you.”
“hahhh HIHSChhhhhh! HEHChahhh! HEHSHahhhh!”
He felt great relief just hearing those sneezes. “Yeah, you're definitely still you. Hey, I'm going for a beer. You want anything? Water? Juice?”
“Tea with lebod?”
“Tea with... lemon?” Coulson nodded. “Uh, yeah, all right.” Clint had no clue about tea. Coffee, sure. He could definitely do coffee. But he was almost a complete stranger to tea. The only tea he drank was the stuff Nat had given him once when he'd lost his voice and his throat had been itching and burning and he'd been desperate for relief. It had helped, though only for the few minutes during which he'd been drinking. After that, his throat had somehow been worse than before, and he had regretted drinking every drop. “You're sure you want tea?”
Coulson nodded and stuffed both hands into the big front pocket of his hoodie, shivering a little. Clint decided he could figure this out. He'd just need to be quick about it.
Ten minutes later, Clint emerged from the kitchen. The faint buzz from the chilled beer and a half he'd downed hadn't relaxed him as much as he had hoped. “Um, how do you make tea?”
Laughing and coughing, Coulson started to get up and stopped. “Do you wadt be to do it, or do you just wadt be walkig you through it od the earbiece?”
Clint put a hand on Coulson's shoulder, squeezing. “Your call, Sir.”
In the end, Coulson made his own tea, and Clint watched closely, learning but hoping to not need the information any time soon. He watched even more closely as Coulson blew into his mug and took a cautious, tiny sip. It was still too hot to drink, but he nursed the rim of the mug, breathing deep as the steam caressed his face. “Tea isd't about all about dridkig,” he said as Clint couldn't stand the distance between them any longer and moved in close, arm around Coulson's waist, front pressed against Coulson's back, lips at the spot where Coulson's neck and hair met. “We're bissing the bovie,” Coulson whispered.
Clint kissed and chuckled. “I have a feeling that Luke Skywalker fellow will pull off a victory.”
“Just like you do, Hawkeye.”
Clint set the virtually drained beer bottle down on the counter and wrapped a second arm around Coulson's waist. “Hey now, you've saved the world a number of times yourself, Agent Coulson.”
Coulson bobbed his head up and down a few times. “Thed I guess I deserve a good cub of tea.” He took a sip, swallowed, and quickly set the mug down on the counter as well. “hahh!” He pinched his nose closed, but it fought against him, his whole face contorting with the need to sneeze that couldn't be driven away or held back. Resignedly, he pulled Clint's handkerchief out from the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirt and held it up in front of his face. “hahhh Hah-KIHSHOO!”
“You deserve everything. Including some clean hankies.” He kissed the back of Coulson's head. “By the time you finish your tea, the load should be dry. And then you can sneeze all you need to.” Coulson tried to act casual about that news, but Clint could feel him tense with excitement. “I can go check on them now, if you want. That way I can bring them to you the second they're dry.”
Coulson picked up his tea and took a sip or two. That was all he managed to get in before putting it back down again. “Hahh! Hahhh-SCHOO! Hehhh-Tschoooo! Hahhh hnnnn hahhh hah-ahhh... huhnnnn hahhh-AHSHUhHH! Yeah... sniff! Sniff! That would... be good.”
“Okay, grab your tea. Let me get you settled on the couch before I go... unless you want to get in bed?”
Coulson turned considering the two directions, looking toward the living room then the bedroom and back again. “Bed souds good, actually. I'b tired.”
Clint could tell. He could see it in Coulson's face, but he could also see it in his body language.
“Mmmm. Then Luke Skywalker in the bedroom is exactly what you need.” Clint led the way, getting to the bed first and pulling the blankets down.
Coulson set the mug down on the nightstand, then he collapsed in bed. As his head sunk into the pillow, Clint pulled the covers back up, tucking them around. “Feeling okay?”
Coulson nodded. “Dot eved goig to be adgry that you bade the bed.” He curled up beneath the covers, sniffling.
Clint set up the laptop, synced the streaming service, and Rubbing Coulson's arm through the covers, Clint leaned over and kissed him. Then he grabbed the empty laundry basket from the walk-in closet filled with suits. “I'll be right back, Sir.”
This time, walking down the nine flights of stairs was a little tiring. By the time he got back up, he knew he would be ready to collapse into bed right beside Coulson.
Clint arrived at the dryer when it had just two minutes to go, which was excellent timing as far as he was concerned. He spent the time catching his breath and watching the handkerchiefs tumble round and round and round again. He thought about all the times Coulson had taken care of him when he was sick or hurt or brainwashed by a god and decided that washing a load of handkerchiefs wasn't much to make them even, but it was a start.
When the buzzer sounded and the handkerchiefs skilled, Clint pulled open the door and dumped the whole load into the laundry basket. They were light and not a problem to carry, but he was moving slowly even as he hit the second and third flights. He felt like he was moving in slow motion when he got to the sixth floor. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time. He cursed the broken elevator and the exhausting week he'd had that made him especially tired tonight.
It seemed to take an hour for him to make it back up and into Coulson's apartment. But the relief he felt at reaching the apartment was only eclipsed by the smile Coulson gave him from the bed. As the familiar John Williams music accompanied the ending credits, Coulson wriggled and pulled out his arm, extending it and flexing his fingers.
Clint set the laundry basket on the end of the bed and tossed one of the handkerchiefs at Coulson. Deftly, Coulson caught it, and then he immediately held it to his face and blew his nose into it. Repeatedly.
Meanwhile, Clint plucked out each handkerchief, folded it into fourths, and formed a neat pile. There were dozens of handkerchiefs. Maybe three dozen. Maybe more. “How long have you been feeling so sneezy?” It simply wasn't possible for anyone to go through so many handkerchiefs in just a day.
Coulson avoided the question by blowing his nose again, but the sound wasn't nearly as desperately wet and full as before.
In any case, Clint wasn't about to leave the question hanging out there like that. “Sir?”
“I... thidk...” He hid his face in the folds of the handkerchief. “I... ahhhh... thidk I'b ahhhhh... godda sdeeze agaid.”
In one stride, Clint was within range and pushed his hands down, snatching the handkerchief away from him. “No you're not. You think I don't know by now how you sound when you have to sneeze? Out with it. C'mon. How long have you actually had this cold?”
Coulson shook his head, not meeting Clint's fixed gaze. “I should have called this off. I dow. I really was hobig I'd feel better by todight,” he replied softly. “I've beed feelig a little off all week. Bit of a sore throat. Bit of a ruddy dose. Sniff! Bit of a headache. But thed the sdeezes started, add I cobletely lost track of tibe.”
Clint still stared. Unblinkingly. If it was one thing Clint Barton was good at, it was watching a target like, well, a hawk.
He didn't have to say anything. In the silence that followed, Coulson risked glancing up, and that penetrating stare did all the work. Coulson dropped his gaze and closed his eyes. “I'b sorry. I... ahhhhh!” This time, he really was going to sneeze.
With a sigh, Clint held the handkerchief right up to his face for him, muffling the sneezes.
“hahhhhh hahhh-Ihmmphhh! Hshmmmfffff! Ah...”
He knew all of Coulson's sounds, but he also knew those facial expressions. And the one right now was full of discomfort and uncertainty. “Go on,” Clint said, rolling his eyes. “Blow your nose.”
Coulson did as he needed to and blew his nose heavily into the thick handkerchief. Clint wiped his nose for him and sat down on the bed. Coulson sniffled, and Clint carefully maneuvered himself over and around until he was curled up under the covers with his strong arm around Coulson. “If you wanted me to come over and take care of you, all you had to do was ask. I'd have dropped everything and been here in an instant.”
“You had a lot to deal with this week. The accords... add I saw that dews about—”
“In an instant,” Clint repeated. “Without hesitation.” Coulson's nose was running a little so he wiped it dry. “And I would have brought you more handkerchiefs.”
Coulson gave a little snort of laughter, which made him cough and sniffle and cough again. “I like by hadkerchiefs.”
“Yeah.” Clint wiped again. “I like 'em too. But I love you.” His heart raced, and he couldn't catch his breath. It was worse than when he'd been climbing the stairs. He had said it, said what was in his heart. Out loud. For the first time. He couldn't take it back, but he didn't want to either.
There was silence for a few moments while the words hung there, obvious, unavoidable. His voice weak and soft and terribly congested, Coulson squeaked out “Clidt...”
“No,” Clint said, shaking his head, burying his face against the side of Coulson's head. His heart was ready to break free from his chest, but the rest of him held back. “You don't have to say anything back. We'll talk about it when you're feeling better. It was just—”
“I love you, too.” Soft, yes, but clear as anything, the words came at him. They filled Clint up. They calmed his nerves. They warmed his heart.
“You're not just saying that because you feel extra sneezy and you need someone to wash your handkerchiefs for you?”
Coulson laugh-coughed again. “Cad't it be both?”
Hugging Coulson to him, Clint whispered back, “Yeah, it can.” He kissed Coulson's cheek and snuggled in to enjoy the feel of the man's skin and warm body against his. He didn't even care when Coulson had to sneeze again, and it shook the whole bed.