There are perks to being temporarily dead.
Not many, granted. A lot of the time Phil is bored, or spends his time watching the Avengers on the news and pretending the twinge he feels whenever he sees Clint is just his wound in the final stages of healing.
Once a week, though, on a Tuesday night, he takes a walk to Horse Brass which is an English-style pub not far from where SHIELD has got him stashed until he doesn’t need to be dead anymore. It serves good beer, good food, and the fact that no one knows he’s alive means he’s not going to get called away in the middle of his meal. He’s already decided he’s going to bring Clint here some time.
Tonight, though, things are different. As soon as he walks in the door he gets that prickling feeling at the back of his neck that always signals trouble. The bar is unusually crowded and Phil has to wait a few minutes for a table to become available.
“Look, as I’ve already explained, I didn’t spill your drink and I most certainly was not looking at your girlfriend.”
The man standing a few feet away is well dressed and surrounded by five men who are forming an imposing wall that prevents the man moving anywhere.
“Well, maybe we just don’t want your kind in here.”
Out of the corner of one eye, Phil sees the guy behind the bar reaching for the phone, presumably to call the cops. It won’t matter. This will be over long before they get here.
The guy in the middle of the wall, presumably the ringleader raises a fist and Phil moves before the guy can even swing. His intended target, however, ducks and Phil has to dodge just to avoid being on the receiving end of the punch instead.
“I really would hate to disturb the other patrons while they’re trying to enjoy a nice dinner. Perhaps we could take this disagreement outside?”
“How about I disagree with your face?”
Phil dodges another blow aimed at his face. These men were so slow and unskilled that fighting them was almost an embarrassment. Clint would be laughing if he could see this, Phil was quite sure of that.
The men’s intended target was at Phil’s side now, wielding what appeared to be the broken leg of a bar stool as though it were a sword.
“Thank you for your assistance,” he said to Phil, “but I believe I can handle these men alone.”
One of the thugs swung a large fist and received a blow to the arm and then the head in return, both dealt swiftly and precisely by the man Phil had come to ‘rescue’. The thug dropped and didn’t get up again.
For a moment Phil thought that might be enough to get the others to stop, but apparently he was crediting them with too much intelligence. Instead they surged forward and, to Phil’s surprise, he didn’t actually need to do anything. The other man swung his makeshift sword like he was born with it in his hands, knocking down all of his assailants in less than a minute.
Naturally, that was when the cops arrived.
* * *
Phil’s cover was deep and thorough enough that after providing a statement no further questions were asked. A discreet phone call to Fury had the cops taking some contact details from the man Phil assisted and leaving them alone for now.
Which was good because Phil wants to talk to him.
“Thank you for your assistance,” the man smiles when Phil ordered two beers and passes one down to him. “But your intervention was not necessary.”
Phil shrugs. “You can obviously handle yourself but sometimes it’s better to have someone at your back.”
“Agreed,” the man says with a soft smile. “Permit me to introduce myself. My name is Elyan.”
“James,” Phil replies, providing the name of his alias as easily as if it was his real name.
They shake hands and move into a booth that was vacated during the fight.
“You have an interesting fighting style,” Phil comments once they are sat down. Someone who didn’t know better would assume that Elyan had studied fencing. Phil does know better, and what he’s seen Elyan do with his ‘sword’ is nothing like fencing.
The smile fades from Elyan’s lips. “It’s not something I can easily explain.”
Well, now things really are getting interesting.
“I’m a good listener,” Phil replies. “And I’ve seen and heard some pretty strange things.”
Elyan looks at him, really looks as though he is determining whether he can trust Phil just by staring into his eyes. Phil, however, is practiced at getting people to trust him when he needs to. It’s part of the reason Clint joined SHIELD in the first place.
Finally, Elyan nods.
“Sometimes I have these dreams, and they are so vivid that when I wake up for a while this feels like the dream while the other place is reality.”
“And these dreams are connected to what happened tonight?” Phil asks.
“I dream that I am a warrior, a knight. I have friends who are closer to me than brothers, and I serve a king who is the greatest of men. Truth be told I have never fought another man in my life before tonight, yet wielding that weapon felt like the most natural thing in the world. I think, perhaps I might be insane.”
“No,” Phil replies almost immediately. “What you are experiencing doesn’t sound like insanity to me. What do you do for a living, Elyan?”
Elyan shrugs. “I make computer components for Intel.”
“And how would you feel about a change in career?”
Elyan frowns. “I don’t-“
Phil slides a card across the table. “You don’t need to answer right away. But if you do decide on a change call the number on that card and tell them James Mallory sent you.”
Elyan looks at the card. It’s one of the ones Phil uses when he’s on mission and can’t break cover but wants to bring someone in. Nothing on the card but a number. No logo, no name, just the digits.
“Who do you work for?” Elyan asks as he turns the card over in his hands, apparently hoping that looking at it from another angle will yield some answers.
Phil smiles. “I work for people who are used to dealing with experiences that are... a little out of the ordinary.”
He finishes his beer and rises to his feet. “It was nice to meet you, Elyan. Perhaps we’ll cross paths again sometime in the future.”
Phil nods and heads for the door. Elyan will call, Phil is sure of it. It might not be today, and it might not even be next week but he will call.
Maybe by then Phil will be back on the helicarrier where he belongs.