When he feels the warmth of the morning sunlight on his face, streaming through the blinds, and feels the weight next to him, he sighs deeply, grateful for the peace.
It’s the first time in a week that he’s slept properly, meaning more than 2 hours at a time and without waking up in a cold sweat.
His mind is fuzzy, only half awake, so when he tries to remember just why he’s been sleeping so terribly it doesn’t come; it’s there, floating in the back of his mind, somewhere, but he is all too aware of how euphorically comfortable he is, how relaxed his muscles are, how perfect the temperature is, and he decides to table it for now.
A small breeze filters into the room, moving gently across his bare chest and face; it feels incredible and refreshing and soothes the unusual burning in his eyelids.
There’s something about the moment that feels so familiar; the breeze, the warmth. It’s so much like déjà vu. Or would it be déjà senti? He hasn’t even opened his eyes yet and already he knows …
The bed shifts, the mass next to him taking notice of his newfound consciousness; he always seemed to know the second he awoke.
He feels a ghostly caress, running down his bicep and stopping at his elbow and then the soft touch of lips against his own. He can feel the man smiling through the gesture before he pulls away.
“Good morning, Agent.”
Clint breathes in, a response ready on his lips and the words that begin to form feel so familiar.
“Funny seeing you here.” It’s an old joke, worn and tired by now, but his brow furrows as he speaks the familiar words.
In just the manner his brain tells him it will happen, Phil exhales, exasperated by the old corny joke Clint refuses to put to rest and Clint sighs. He breathes in the fresh smelling air that is filtering through the cracked window; it’s so he can’t remember a time in which he felt more refreshed.
He pulls himself into a stretch; he aches, though he doesn’t remember why. It still does him good, stretching his spine, his legs and arms, and he lets loose a contented groan.
He can feel the feather-light touch of Phil’s lips
He doesn’t open his eyes. Not yet. Instead, he speaks.
“Is this really happening, Phil?” He asks in a moment of complete vulnerability because God, how he wants reassurance, to know that he can and always will have this because everything else is chaos and bullshit and the past week – the past week has been too much – he can feel how empty he is, how drained he is; he doesn’t remember why.
“Yes.” He doesn’t open his eyes yet, even though he wants so badly to see Phil’s expression.
“How long will it last?” Clint asks; another moment of vulnerability. If he’s learned anything in his somewhat fucked life, it’s that nothing lasts.
But – there’s something about this, something inside him that is so hopeful this might be different.
He’s afraid of the answer but knows he shouldn’t be because a hand wraps around his own.
Clint laughs at the corniness of it all.
“You didn’t just say that.” Clint chuckles as he wipes a hand across his face and there’s that huff of exasperation again.
“Don’t ruin it, Barton.” Clint smiles as Phil’s hand migrates upwards and he can feel fingers along his collarbone and up to his face, through his hair.
Only he can’t feel it at all. Not really.
His stomach sinks as the veil of sleep is pulled softly from his mind and he slowly begins to realize that something is not quite right.
Clint moves his arm, reaching out towards the other side of the bed, the side that feels heavy – but does it? - with Phil’s weight.
His arm lands, finds empty space; nothing but the furrows of the blanket, warmed by the sun. He bunches the fabric in his hand as sleep continues to disintegrate, his mind trying to remind him of something, his body stirring with anxiety of unknown origins.
“Clint.” The voice is far away, now; sounds distorted and unusual.
He can fucking feel Phil runs his fingers through his hair, nails teasing his scalp and he know he is to open his eyes. He hasn’t even done it yet, but he knows this.
His mind tells him that, when he does, he will be greeted by a pair of deep blue orbs edged by the beginnings of crow’s feet, something Clint finds terribly attractive.
Only, when he finally does, when he opens his eyes, he doesn’t see this.
He sees an empty side of the bed, cold from its non-occupation.
“Phil?” He sits up and realizes for the first time that the room is actually rather cold, that it’s raining and the window is cracked.
The blinds bang uselessly against the sill and it’s the only sound in the room, save for his now quickening breathing.
His throat tightens as he realizes what is happening.
No. Not a dream; a memory. A memory he had held close to his being because when you grew up the way he had most memories were not worth saving and the ones that were, you held in a death grip and you knew them intimately.
He stares at the empty space beside him, eyes moving back and forth as he tries to remember the present; and it’s hard, the past is so much more comfortable.
It isn’t warm, there is no sun – it’s grey and humid, cold - and he certainly isn’t sharing a bed with Phil Coulson. It isn’t the morning after that first time - that first night in which they decided to stop dancing around each other, to stop pretending and get on with it.
Phil isn’t there.
The dream, the memory, collapses and the events of the past week come flooding back, relentless and painful and he begins to breathe in short gasps, his throat constricting further as his eyes begin to burn.
Phil isn’t there because Phil Coulson was killed exactly one week ago.
“No, no, no –“ he whispers as though refusing to accept it will render it void.
He chokes as he arrives at full consciousness and hands rise to meet his face.
It had been nothing but a trick of the mind. A four-year-old memory brought to the surface by the cruel ministrations of shock and denial, neural synapses, coming down from Loki’s mind-fuck and time spent in REM sleep.
A low hitched exhale bubbles past his lips followed by a moan and had he not felt the vibrations in his throat, the agonized sound sounded far and foreign and not like him at all.
His hands are shaking and he takes a moment to look at them wondering if this is real, hoping it is not.
The blinds continue to knock against the sill and it’s enough to make him feel on edge; it splits the silence like a knife, enough to make him feel as though his eardrums are going to burst.
It is real.
He knows this because the room is in shades of gray and it no longer smells like Phil; the air is heavy and stagnant and dead, every corner is closing in on him.
His chest feels heavy; the constriction in his throat extending all the way down into his lungs making breathing feel like an absolute impossibility as his mind finally forms the truth.
Phil Coulson is dead and a week’s worth of repression has done him no favors.
It comes back in a slow rush that he tries to will away, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes as though he could extend his repression another week.
He can remember Natasha delivering the news and the way his body had become cold and empty, how he’d lost his entire stomach’s contents into his bathroom sink.
He can remember the debriefing; can remember Fury pulling him aside and telling him that Phil’s things would be returned to him once all the paperwork – the fucking paperwork – was completed.
He remembers the concerned, confused, looks from Steve and Bruce. Remembers that Tony had been, still is, keeping tabs on him through Jarvis and that Thor suspects something.
They hadn’t known, couldn’t have known, about him and Phil, because hell, they had never even seen them interact.
And really, he can’t bring himself to explain it to them; he’s hardly a part of the team as is, he reminds himself. He is fairly certain he’s only here because they don’t fully know what to do with him.
“Phil –“ He manages, his voice hoarse, and there’s a small part of him, an admittedly childish and desperate part, that hopes the words alone will be enough to rewrite the past.
But the world around him is still and unresponsive.
Now, there is nothing but the steady knocking of the blinds to keep him company.
A week of numbness gives way to grief and he feels like he’s being torn apart, like everything he is, is collapsing, dissolving.
He inhales a ragged breath as his grip tightens around a wad of blanket. He curls in on himself, his knees extending upwards as the pain in his chest tightens. His eyes burn as they swell until their contents finally spill over, staining his hands, the blanket that no longer smells like Phil.
He wants so badly for Phil to come back; for a week he had told himself he could do this, that he could move on if he just worked harder, if he just lost himself in the initiative, but clearly, it hadn’t worked.
He had thought he could avoid this pain; he had always been so good at avoiding.
He chokes and rubs furiously at the wetness on his face, shame rising to the surface along with anger and so much self hate.
He feels pathetic but can’t stop the quiet plea that escapes his lips.
“Please –“ there’s so much more to it but he can’t allow anything else past his faltering mental walls.
Internally, though, he begs for things to be different; begs for him to take Phil’s place, begs to see him walk through that door, begs for this all to stop.
But of course, it does not; can not.
No matter how hard he tries to bury himself, to get away from everything he’s been avoiding since the Tesseract, Phil’s voice still rings clearly in his mind.
Outside, the wind howls and the blinds continue to bang against the sill.