Clint can't help but be a little pleased when he gets home after a long day of meetings with PR people to find Phil camped out on their couch. He would be more pleased if this was a scheduled visit. As it is, Phil's surprise appearance means something went wrong on one of his new team's missions.
"Hey," Clint says as he puts his keys on the table by the door and shrugs out of his leather jacket. He waits for Phil to get up and greet him with a hug or a kiss. When Phil stays seated, his hands clasped between his knees and a solemn, serious look as the only expression on his face, Clint feels his stomach drop. "You know, sometimes I really hate that we're the kind of people who can never say 'who died' sarcastically."
"No one died," Phil says.
"Or, wait... Yes, someone did die." Phil grimaces. "Kind of. We're assuming that he's dead."
Clint nods. "Right. Okay. And that's an assumption that never, ever comes back to bite anyone in the ass."
Phil's expression manages to get a little bit more dour. It's quite a feat. "He was an asset. I killed him. It was unavoidable, unfortunately. The life of one sacrificed to save the lives of many."
"Ah." Clint thinks he gets the gist of the problem now. As pragmatic as Phil is, he's never dealt well with failure, especially when that failure includes someone dying by his hand. What Phil needs right now is comfort, even if he still seems incapable of asking for it. Clint moves slowly around the coffee table to join Phil on the couch. He expects Phil's eyes to drop to his chest or his hips - even after all these years together, Phil still loves the simple act of watching Clint move - but they stay locked on his face.
Clint feels a trickle of unease go through him. He leans in for a kiss, but Phil turns his head to the side. Clint recoils and manages to pull away just before his lips touch Phil's cheek. He backs up a few steps too, for good measure. Phil hasn't refused affection from him since they started their relationship.
Phil looks startled, which is an improvement from the dark expression he was wearing before. And Clint's pretty sure it means that Phil didn't consciously, knowingly decide to reject his kiss.
"I'm sorry," Phil says. "I didn't mean..." He shakes his head, then holds out one hand to Clint and uses the other to pat the cushion beside him. "Come back. Please."
Clint hesitates. "If you have a problem with me - with us - I think I'd rather stand, thanks."
The skin around Phil's eyes tighten, and the corners of his mouth tick downward. "No, God, it's not you, it's me."
"Seriously?! You seriously just said that."
"Clint, no, I didn't mean..." For a moment, Phil looks as lost as Clint's ever seen.
Even if Phil is about to break his heart, Clint would have to be made out of stone to resist a look like that. He sighs and moves back to the couch. As soon as he's within reach, Phil grabs his hands, and he keeps a hold on them as Clint sits.
"This isn't about us," Phil says again. "I love you. Never doubt that. Not for one second."
Clint tries to not show how relieved he is by that statement. "Okay."
"I'm going to ask you something, and I need you to be honest with me."
"Of course, Phil. I'm always honest with you. Well, except for SHIELD stuff, but you know that." Having the same clearance level didn't mean jack when an 'eyes only' mission came up. Phil would never be privy to everything Clint's done in SHIELD's name, and Clint is more than okay with that.
"Right. Okay." Phil takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "I need you to tell me if you've noticed anything strange about my behavior."
"You mean besides you freaking me the hell out right now?"
"No," Clint says. "I haven't-"
"Think," Phil orders. "Don't just give me a natural response. I want you to really think about the time we've spent together since... since I woke up. Think about not just my words, but my deeds. My actions. Really think, Clint."
"By 'woke up', I'm guessing you don't mean the last time we managed an entire night in the same bed." Clint wants to reach up and try and smooth away some of the strain he sees in Phil's face, but Phil's still got a good grip on his hands. "I don't know. I mean, I don't think so. You're you. You've been acting like you."
"Are you sure?"
"Phil, seriously, what the hell is this about?"
Phil releases Clint's hands and uses one his own to rub at the bridge of his nose. "Some things seem different. That's all."
"What things? Different how?"
"Simple things. Things I should be able to do with my eyes closed. Things I've been doing for years just feel... different." Phil shrugs. "I had trouble taking apart a gun."
Clint's not sure how he should react to that. "Okay."
"In the field."
Clint beats down the first five reactions that want to come out. He even manages to keep his voice steady as he says, "Alright."
Phil narrows his eyes. "In front of Ward."
Clint winces. "Ouch."
"Do you know how many years I've been handling firearms, Clint? How many... Jesus, how many decades?"
"Lots." Clint blinks. "Or a few. I meant a few. A couple. Not hardly any at all. 'Cause you're still young. Ish. So, wow, you forgot how take apart a gun, huh? That's weird."
Phil stares at him.
"I could have made an age joke just now," Clint says. "But I didn't. Because I love you."
"I shudder to think what you might say if you didn't."
"Well, you'll never have to worry about finding that out, will you?" Clint bumps their shoulders together, hoping for a smile. He doesn't get one.
"I couldn't get my hands to move the right way," Phil says softly. "I must have done that who knows how many times in my life. It's instinctual by now. Like a reflex. Or, it should be. But I couldn't... And it wasn't just then, either. I tried practicing later, on the plane." He lowers his voice even more. "I think something might be wrong."
"Nothing's wrong," Clint says quickly, almost more for his benefit than for Phil's.
Phil huffs out a breath. "I would appreciate it if you didn't automatically discount what I'm trying to tell you." His words are harsh and clipped in a way that Clint hasn't heard directed at him in years.
"Okay," Clint says slowly, "I'm not discounting what you're telling me."
"You're being dismissive."
"I was trying for reassuring."
"I didn't come here for reassurance; I came here for honesty."
"And I can't give you both?" Clint catches Phil's gaze and holds it. "I haven't noticed anything wrong with you. I swear."
"So you think this is all just in my head? That I'm imagining it?"
"Come on, Phil. I didn't say that. Did you hear me say that?"
"You didn't have to say it. I'm telling you something is wrong with me, and you're not listening to-"
"Fine. Fine! You're right," Clint says, not bothering to hide the hitch in his voice, "something is wrong. You died. You got stabbed in the heart. You fucking flatlined. You checked out for eight seconds, and I know that doesn't seem like a lot of time, but your heart stopped, and you stopped breathing, and your brain shut down, and, and-"
"You have no idea how hard people worked to bring you back, Phil. The fact that you're sitting here at all is just..." Clint trails off as Phil puts his arms around him. He presses his face to Phil's neck and just breaths in for a few moments as he calms himself.
"I'm sorry," Phil says. "I didn't mean to push you into that. I know you still don't like to talk about what happened."
"Understatement," Clint says, his voice muffled by Phil's suit. "I almost lost you. Forever. For good."
"But you didn't."
"No, I didn't."
"You got me back."
"Yeah, I did."
"I just... What if I didn't come back right?"
Clint pulls back so he can look Phil in his face. "Didn't come back right? What the hell, Phil? It's not like we used a monkey's paw, for God's sake."
"No, I know, but-"
Clint screws his mouth up, like he can almost taste what's about to come out of it. "What if I still have Loki in my head?"
"No, you want to go the 'what if' route? We can go the 'what if' route. What if Loki's still controlling me? What if I'm still his little puppet. What if-"
"You had a mental hiccup," Clint says. "It happens. If it keeps happening, or if you notice other things that you think aren't exactly right, then we'll go to the doctors. But you are still recovering from a traumatic event - from dying - and you have put yourself under a huge amount of stress lately."
"So you are saying it just all might be in my head."
Clint's about ready to groan from frustration when Phil chuckles. "Oh, you..." Clint shakes his head. "That's not nice."
"I know. I'm sorry." Phil, bless him, does try and look a little contrite
"Yeah, I can tell." Clint lets out a deep breath and tries to expel some tension along with it. "So, are you better now?"
Phil smiles ruefully. "Not really, no. I'm worried, Clint."
Clint reaches up and gently cups Phil's face. It's a little older, a little more worn, but still just as beloved. "Listen, there's no point in looking to borrow trouble. If you're right, and something is wrong with you, then we'll go back to the docs and get it figured out. If I'm right, then I'll get to gloat for a little bit." Clint grins and is relieved beyond words to see Phil grinning back. "Either way, one of us going to get to say 'I told you so', and isn't that the most important thing in a relationship?"
Phil snorts. "When did you become the voice of reason?"
"I don't know, and, quite frankly, I'm a little freaked out by it myself." Making sure to telegraph his actions, Clint slowly leans in for another kiss. When he's still a few inches away, one of Phil's hands comes up, settles on the back of his neck, and pulls him in the rest of the way. Even after all these months, Clint sill kisses Phil like the miracle he is. When he finally pulls back, he's nearly in Phil's lap. "Can you stay?" Clint asks, his voice rough.
"As long as a call doesn't come in," Phil says, not sounding much smoother.
"Then I guess you'll just have to turn off your phone." Clint winks, then pulls away completely, taking his previous place on the couch. "Why don't you grab a shower. I'll rustle up something for dinner."
"I do feel a little grimy." Phil grimaces.
"I wasn't going to mention it, but you kind of smell."
"But it's a virile, manly smell, right?"
"Sure. We can go with that." Clint launches himself off of the couch and away from a swat aimed at his shoulder. "Go. Get clean. Make yourself all pretty for me."
Phil shakes his head fondly, but he does as he's told. As he walks past, he swats at Clint again, but this one is aimed towards his ass, and Clint grins lasciviously as he accepts it.
Clint goes into the kitchen and makes a quick inventory of the fridge. He takes a few things out, and when he hears the water start running in the bathroom, he pulls his cell out of his pocket, and quickly dials a number that he's been using a lot over the past few months. It rings four times before someone picks up.
"He's starting to have suspicions," Clint says in lieu of a greeting. "No, nothing concrete, just... He said he thinks he may have come back wrong... How the fuck do you think I handled it?!" Clint frowns and gets control of his voice again. "I think I put him off track, but I don't know for how long. Phil's always been one of your brightest, Nick, do you honestly think we can keep him in the dark forever?" Clint shakes his head. "I know that... No, I know that... No, you listen. I am not losing him twice, do you understand me? This isn't about 'crossing bridges when we come to them', this about changing the path so he never gets to the right goddam bridge in the first place... Fine. Yes, fine. I'll keep you informed."
Clint ends the call, then leans his head against the freezer door, letting the coolness of the metal seep into his skin. No, Phil would never - could never - be privy to everything Clint's done in SHIELD's name, and Clint is more than okay with that.