Phil wakes up first. He never used to; Clint used to say it was the only way he knew Phil wasn’t a robot, because he did need sleep and he hated mornings. But these days it’s like he can’t rest, something pulling him out of sleep like it scares him to not be aware. Some nights he doesn’t sleep at all, roaming the corridors of the Avengers Mansion like he’s the ghost they thought he was when he crawled his way out of SHIELD Medical and ran into Clint and Stark in the hall.
Clint caught him before he could fall over, hands steady as he propped Phil up against the wall. His face was white as a sheet, or as the hospital pyjamas Phil was wearing.
”Oh, hey, Coulson,” Stark said. ”Agent Coulson. Phil. Did you know we saved the world because we thought you were dead?” He looked angry but relieved at the same time.
”I didn’t,” Phil said. ”I thought I was dead. Felt like it.” He couldn’t get up enough energy to explain that he’d been sedated for days while SHIELD knitted him back together, and that for all intents and purposes he’d been dead.
”You don’t ever get to do that again,” Clint said, and Phil realized.
”You’re back,” he said, pleased. He'd hoped Natasha would manage to get Clint back; that had been the last thing he thought of, really, while Fury was telling him he wasn’t allowed to die.
”Oh, they’ve got you on the good drugs,” Stark said, glancing at Clint quickly, then back to Phil. ”And—Fury lied, then. Again. Asshole.”
”He does that,” Clint said, grip tightening on Phil’s shoulder.
”For the greater good,” Phil said, because that was important, but the way Clint’s voice sounded shattered was more important, he felt, even through the blurriness of morphine.
“Yeah, well, the ends and the means,” Stark said. “I think our Captain will have something to say about that. Hey, in fact, why don’t we bring him along?”
“I think we’d better take him back to medical,” Clint said. “He looks—“
“Peaky, yes,” Stark said. “But Coulson can tough it out, can’t you? There are some people who will be pleased to see you.”
Phil agreed to come along, because he owed them, he owed them so much for stopping Loki, as did the rest of the world and SHIELD; Phil fully planned on seeing those debts paid as soon as he could breathe without feeling like it might tear him apart from the inside. (Besides, he only left Medical in the first place because he wanted to find them. The nurse who was there when he woke up told him that Captain America had saved New York along with two SHIELD agents, Tony Stark and that monster.
“Bruce Banner,” Phil said, correcting her, and he just had to see them.)
The whole room quieted when they walked in, then exploded in noise. Phil couldn’t really make out what anyone was saying, but once it quieted down a little he cleared his throat.
“I hear you saved the world,” he said. “I’m not surprised.” He was about to add an apology but he was cut off by Natasha flinging herself across the table and hugging him. Very uncharacteristically, but he couldn’t say he minded much.
She let him go when he made a pained noise, touching his shoulder lightly. “You do that again and I’ll kill you myself,” she said.
“I’m going to kill Fury,” Clint offered.
“I’ll help,” she said, like it was obvious (which, of course it was), and then she gave him a stern look. “But I taught you better than that.”
“No revealing assassination plans in a room where there’s a state-of-the-art surveillance system,” Clint rattled off, impressively fast. Phil couldn’t breathe with how familiar this was. Mission after mission, they’d done this, trading strategies and teaching each other moves. He’d been there for so many of those missions, and he was going to get to be there for more of them.
He had to sit down.
He did, and then he had to look Captain America in the eye as Steve told him he was really glad to see him alive, and then asked how long he’d been awake.
“Two hours or so,” Phil said ruefully, knowing the reaction this would garner. “No,” he said, turning to Clint who was about to call him a moron, “I know, but I had to get to you, to all of you.”
“I understand that,” Steve said, and perhaps he did, yes.
“I’m glad you’re not dead,” Banner said, speaking up for the first time. He looked more settled than before.
Stark cleared his throat. “Hey, you’re going to need somewhere—Coulson, want to move in with us? We’re going to steal him from SHIELD, right, guys, because I for one don’t relish the thought of breaking him out of SHIELD again if Fury decides to hide him from us, and Pepper will want to see you, for sure, you know she calls you Phil, what’s that about?”
“He means move into the Avengers Mansion,” Natasha said. At Phil’s look, she smiled crookedly. “We have a mansion. Courtesy of Stark. There’s room for you.”
“Yeah there is,” Clint said quietly, looking at Phil.
So he moved in. He didn’t come along when the Avengers went to yell at Fury; he made the strategic decision to retire to Medical (or as Clint put it, “You went and pulled your IV out when you went to go find us and now you need more meds, are you stupid or—“). But Fury apologized to Phil as well, afterwards. None of the Avengers would tell him what they said.
But he moved into the mansion, and for the most part, it is less insane than he originally thought it would be. There aren’t really any escaped robots roaming the halls, Stark keeps them in his workshops (except the one that stalked Clint through the ventilation system and cornered him in a tight spot, resulting in an impressively loud scuffle; Natasha had to go in and untangle them); Steve is remarkably easy to live with for the most part; Banner hasn’t Hulked out yet, though he has multiple arguments with Stark over experiments; Clint set up a chores list the third day in, apparently, which Natasha told Phil about, smiling while Clint huffed and said something about Phil rubbing off on him, which resulted in Natasha making a filthy joke in Russian and the two of them having an impromptu sparring session in the living room that destroyed two plants and a very ugly vase.
On the whole, it’s less structured than SHIELD headquarters, but it’s nice. And no one has brought down the building yet, even though Phil knows the rest of SHIELD are laying bets on when that will happen.
It’s been good, really, except for the insomnia. Which has less to do with the mansion and more to do with, well. He doesn’t know what to call it, this restless creeping fear he wakes up with.
He finds Steve in the kitchen one such morning. Or night, really: it’s 3 AM.
“Can’t sleep?” he says.
Steve shrugs. “It’s mostly that I don’t want to. Brain’s still going, you know how it is.”
“I do,” Phil says. He really does. He wakes up fearing Clint is no longer next to him and he keeps needing to go make sure Natasha is still asleep next door (he doesn’t like to do that unless he’s really worried, even though she told him it was fine if he needed to, because it inevitably wakes her up). He’s aware that it’s not an entirely rational fear, but his brain doesn’t seem to care.
“There’s tea,” Steve says, nodding at the teapot.
Steve makes tea when he can’t sleep, because that’s what his mother used to do in Brooklyn when her son was kept awake by his asthma. Steve told Phil that on their third night of shared insomnia. Phil almost regretted asking about the tea, because the last thing he wants is to bring up hard memories, except Steve smiled while telling the story so Phil thinks it might be okay.
“Thanks,” Phil says, filling a mug. Stark got it for him: it says “Drinking from this mug will make you gay,” and when Phil gave him an unimpressed look, Stark grinned and pointed out that it was fine to both ask and tell now, and anyway, now Phil had a valid excuse if anyone did mind, since it wouldn’t have been at all out of character for Loki to enchant mugs.
“He didn’t really need to enchant mugs to make you do anything,” Clint said at that, and walked out of the room. Tony looked contrite.
“Dammit,” he said, and walked out after him. “Clint,” he yelled. “Clint, asshole, wait up, I have to tell you about the bow I’m making you—“
“He really has matured,” Phil said.
“A lot,” Natasha said. “I’d have recommended him for the Avengers if, you know. I was assessing him now.” She smiled at Phil, squeezing his arm lightly. “I like the mug,” she said. “I might get myself one of those.”
“Last I heard you weren’t gay,” Phil said, raising an eyebrow. She and Clint had been together for a good long while, for example.
“Eh,” Natasha said. “I’ve never cared about gender much. It’s not like there are a lot of people I’d trust, to, you know.”
“Yeah,” Phil said. Him and Clint had taken a long time; Clint doesn’t trust easy. He hasn’t kissed Phil since Phil came back, for example.
“Love is for children, anyway,” Natasha said absently, then shuddered a little. Phil wished she hadn’t had to do the interrogation with Loki; Natasha uses truth like a weapon to get people to reveal themselves, it’s what makes her so gifted at interrogation (well, that and the way people underestimate her), but Loki got to her in a way the job usually doesn’t.
Phil shook his head. “Love is—a home. Or trust. Something like that. It’s not a simple emotion; I don’t think it’s childish at all.”
She looked at him, something naked in her eyes for a second. “Then I really am screwed, aren’t I?”
Phil touched her arm. “You love already,” he said. “But you know that, I don’t have to tell you.”
“Coulson knows best,” she murmured.
“I’m as much of an idiot as you are,” he said. “I just, you know.” He’d call her warm-hearted but she might punch him, even though it’s true.
She laughed, a little shakily. “Then I will tell you that you ought to kiss your boyfriend and tell him you’ll do your best not to leave him again. Don’t promise, because that won’t help, but tell him you’ll do your best. Your best is very good.”
“Will do,” Phil said, even though the thought of actually having that conversation was terrifying. But she was right.
However, he still hasn’t done it.
Staring into the teacup, he tries to figure out how to say that to Clint without making him run. He just started sleeping next to Phil again (without saying anything about it, Phil just woke up in the middle of the night and there Clint was, asleep) and Phil doesn’t want to do anything to make this harder.
Steve wanders off after a while, probably heading down to the gym. Stark made him a sandbag that takes a little more heat than the SHIELD-issue ones. It’s been a month and Steve hasn’t broken it yet.
Phil ends up on one of the balconies, watching the sun rise. Clint finds him there, holding out a cup of coffee.
“You need it more than me,” Phil says, shaking his head. Clint does, he’s more than a little addicted.
“Already had some,” Clint says, moving to stand next to Phil.
“I woke up and you were gone,” he says after a while.
“It’s not the first time this week,” Phil says, though he knows what Clint means. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Clint says, even though it’s manifestly not.
Phil swallows. “I keep dreaming you’re dead,” he says, not looking at Clint and closing his eyes into the glare of the morning sun. “You and Natasha, all of you.”
“That Loki won,” Clint fills in.
“Yeah,” Phil says.
Clint nods. “He didn’t,” he says. “Win, I mean.” His hands are shaking a little.
“I know,” Phil says. He does know. He’s seen the footage, he’s helped supervise some of the rebuilding efforts. Loki didn’t win. The Avengers saved New York.
“I keep thinking you’re still dead,” Clint admits. “If we’re sharing.”
“I’m not,” Phil says, and maybe this is when he can say it. He nudges at Clint with the hand not holding the coffee, pulls him close and kisses him softly. “I’m not dead, Clint, and I’m going to work so damned hard to stay that way.”
“You’d better,” Clint says, voice hoarse, and kisses him back, bathed in light.