When Phil wakes up dead, it seems like he's in a hospital room, maybe a bedroom, just somewhere with a bed. There's a woman in white who's floating around the room; she's hazy, just like everything else, everything wrapped up in the pink, scratchy insulation he used to have in his attic. "Angel of mercy, I'm alive or am I dead," he says, because it's hilarious right now; he's stuck in the opposite of that song, going to his death rather than coming back up from it. Except that it's not even that- he's dead already, and this is what's after- maybe not the afterlife, but something after life.
He tries to laugh, but it only comes out as a wheezing cough. That's annoying. This whole thing is annoying. He drifts out again.
He feels better when he comes back in, turned up like a radio. He can't actually feel anything at all, but it's still better this time. Being dead is a little better, a little more enjoyable.
"There used to be a Captain America TV show," Phil says to the woman; she's an angel or a nurse, but probably both, some kind, soothing person he's made up to hang out with him. He's not sure why he's saying anything; it just feels good to be talking, and there's not anything else to do when you're dead, not that he knows of, not when he can't feel his body to move- if his body's still there at all. "There were a couple of 'em. The serials were in the forties, then there was some stuff in the fifties, but that was before my time. But the TV show, that was on when I was a kid.
"And it played back to back with that fucking awful Adam West Batman show. As soon as Captain America ended I'd run to the TV to turn it off, because I hated Batman so much. Batman had all those talents and all those resources, but every week he fought the same four assholes." If he could he'd bang on something for emphasis, maybe take off his shoe and do it with that, that'd be appropriate. "Sometimes he'd save Gotham City, but most of the time he was just saving Robin and Batgirl, and they should have saved themselves, or at least given Batman a hand now and again.
"You watch that Captain America stuff now and it hurts a little, seeing how narrow-minded and jingoistic and political some of it was, but at least Cap protected people. Half the time he was off fighting against the fake Captain America or Electro or Cold Warrior and their plans to take over the world, but the rest of it he was helping people. The Commies would have somebody cornered in an alleyway, and Captain America would be right there to save them." He waves his hand weakly. "I dunno why Communists would mug people, but those were just the times we lived in.
"And then he'd go home to his girlfriend Sharon- she would get into trouble too, but she knew how to kick bad guys in the face and stuff, but she was good, not like Catwoman, who never could decide what she was anyway, which was really stupid to me. And he and Sharon would kiss, but I didn't like her very much." He yawns. He isn't supposed to be tired from being dead- maybe the whole "I'll sleep when I'm dead" thing wasn't true, but who is he going to tell?
"This other girl on the show, Night Nurse, I liked her better. She was always fixing Cap up after the battles. She was prettier." His voice is slurring, the room fading out around him, blending into gray; if Night Nurse was the last thing he ever thought of, it wasn't that bad of a way to go out. "I liked her cape," he manages, just before he goes down, not knowing if he'd come back up.
He's there again, the place where there's light; there might even be sound, but all he can hear is the sound of his own voice, muffled and strange but still there. "I loved them all," he's saying. "I even loved that son of a bitch Tony Stark, or I wouldn't have done any of what I did. I wouldn't be dead now if I didn't love them. I think that's okay. I think it was worth it." Phil thinks about that statement. "Yeah, I'm sure it was. I wouldn't do it again. That's stupid. I'd do it better- just because it was worth dying for doesn't mean I wanted to die.
"I loved Steve the best," he says. "I don't know if I told you about that. There used to be this Captain America TV show, but Batman sucks." He's kind of tired of talking about that, for some reason, makes him hurt a little when he thinks about it. "I loved Steve since I was a little kid. There were times I loved Steve better than anybody else on the planet, which is a sad thing to say about a guy who was dead at the time." He thinks about it. "Maybe it's less sad coming from somebody who's dead too, I dunno." He thinks he shrugs; no telling if he gets there or not or if he even has shoulders, not when he still can't feel much of anything.
"But I'm in love with Barton," he says, and it feels good, the words feeling heavy, warm; he's never said them out loud, of course he's never fucking said them out loud. It was different when he was military, really military, but not even the military would give a damn now. "I give a damn, though," he says, not sure which of this is in his head and which of it he's saying out loud- not that it matters, because this is all in his head, when it comes down to it. "I can't tell anybody. Don't even know if I wish I could. It'd change everything too much. It might ruin everything, and I'm not taking the chance." He turns to look at her, the spot where he thinks she is. "He's a fuck-up and he's perfect. He's my fuck-up. I don't want him to fuck up anybody else. I'm already fucked up."
Phil shuts his eyes. "He's so smart though, smart as a whip, and you haven't seen his ass but it's great," he assures her; his throat is getting scratchy now, and his eyes feel like they're watering. "I just want to stay close to him, that's it." Everything goes out for half a second, but then he's back. "I can say it now. I can say it because this is Owl Creek, isn't it? Nick is standing over me and all my blood is on the floor. Stab wounds, they hit nothing or they kill you, that's how they work." He tosses his head, which makes him feel a little sick, dizzy. "I dunno how long I get to pretend. I don't know if this is any better than dying all at once, but I'll take it." He looks up; she's getting clearer, less fuzzy, and he knows time is running out. He's read the story many times, and he's pretty sure that the closer you get, the harder you fall.
"I know you're a hallucination, but I'm glad you're here," he tells her. "I can't see you, but you look a little like her- like Night Nurse. All nurses look like Night Nurse, but they don't all deserve to wear capes. I'm not sure, but I think you do. You can have one for taking care of me," he says, shutting his eyes; he tries to smile, but he's not sure if he's doing it or not. "I'm selfish."
She says something to him then, but he can't catch onto it, can't hold it, sees it slip away as he falls.
He wakes up, because everything hurts really fucking badly. His chest is on fire, his back might be worse, and everything else is just so sore, like it's been tense for a really long time.
He really is in the hospital, like he thinks he thought, and he looks up at the woman who's checking his IV. Her crisp white uniform is stark against her brown skin; she's got the kind of scars that fighters have, not nurses, calluses on her fingers.
She's wearing a cape.
"So I'm really dead then, aren't I," Phil says hoarsely.
"Not this time around, Agent Coulson," she says; she finishes what she's doing and picks up the cup from his bedside tray, carefully putting the straw in his mouth and letting him take a few sips of water that are the best thing that ever happened to him.
"Officially, I don't know what happened," she tells him. "You're in the kind of place they usually refer to as an 'undisclosed location,' and all I know is that they brought you in half-dead and I've been in here making sure you didn't actually die. It's been a month. You were in a coma for part of it."
"Unofficially," she murmurs, quietly enough that she can at least pretend the inevitable bugs won't pick it up. "The spear wound was one thing, but the magic really fucked your shit up. Doctor Strange only just left. Yes, there's a real guy named Doctor Strange. He doesn't play well with SHIELD, so he's usually impossible to find, but you don't run around using dangerous magic on Earth without the Sorcerer Supreme getting after you. And that's the News of the World."
"I know they called Night Nurse Linda on the show," Phil says, loudly enough that the bugs are supposed to hear. "But if you're her and you're real, you look as good for your age as Steve Rogers does."
She gives him a look. "I also wouldn't be black if I was her."
"There's that, too."
"You can call me Georgia," she says. "There've been four of us since the show, give or take. If you want you can just call me Night Nurse." She grins. "Sounded like you might get a kick out of it."
Phil grimaces. "Was I actually saying everything I think I might remember having said?"
"Maybe more," Georgia admits. "That's between you and God, as far as I'm concerned, but I'm going to tell you two things," she says. "One, talk to Barton, because the likelihood of this happening again is high, and if one of you dies on the other one, Jesus Christ that's going to be sad." She sighs. "If nothing else, do it for me, because the idea makes me depressed, and I barely even know Barton."
"I'll think about it," he says; she shakes her head, but she looks like that's about the answer she was expecting anyway.
"Two," she says, looking at him fondly, and he's not sure what she's going to say; it looks uncomfortably like she's going to say something emotional and touching about the experience they've shared, everything she's learned about him. "There's this place in Harlem called Crisis Comics, total hole in the wall, but they can get you anything in the world you need, and spend more than ten minutes and ten bucks in there and they'll give you the friend price on everything."
"Oh," Phil says, blinking. "Thanks."
"Tell them I sent you," Georgia says with a wink. "Self-interested, they give me more off TPBs when I refer people."
"Will do," Phil tells her, smiling as well as he can, which is not very well at the moment.
"You're gonna hate to hear this," she says, "but you need to get more sleep. I'm not going to sedate you right this minute, and there's not going to be much else to do until you're ready to go, but it's what you've gotta do right now, okay?"
Phil groans. "I'm not sure if I want to sleep forever or never sleep again."
"Yeah, that's the hospital," she says. "I'll come back, but hopefully you'll be out of it when I do."
"No promises," he tells her.
"There never are," she says, smiling. "Now go to bed, Coulson."
Phil shuts his eyes, and whatever happens, happens.