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Greek Food in Present Tense

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Turns out that Ton Stark's not kidding about them going out after the fighting ends. The guy doesn’t even let them change – except for Bruce, because no one wants the Hulk in a restaurant – before he drags them down the street to find out what shawarma actually is. About a hundred paces into their hike through the city blocks they destroyed less than an hour ago, Clint's brain decides that enough is more than enough and calls it a day.

It's not the first time this has happened to him, has happened to anyone with as much combat trauma as he has, so he's not surprised that he loses time. Tasha gently checks him with her shoulder and he feels it. He figures that means so he's not that far gone, not in too deep, although he's probably not that great a judge anymore. When a trickster god mind-rapes you, Clint figures you stop being the best judge of your own mental state. It's hard to be sure as there's not a lot of precedent but Clint would lay pretty decent money on it.

A very small part of Clint wishes he weren't part of the group as they walk into the small restaurant and instead was sitting in a table watching. Six costumed superheros walk into a kebab shop... That is the start of a great joke if he ever heard one, only nothing's funny. Nothing feels like anything really.

During the fight, everything in Clint was lit up like Manhattan at night. He felt with every nerve and every emotion times a hundred thousand. His fight reflexes were amplified relief at being free mixed with the pain and confusion of his newly liberated brain, the thrum of enjoyment that always comes from fighting side by side with Tasha even when things are at their worst, the burn of fury towards Loki that kept him moving at top speed, and the beginnings of grief because Phil, fuck, Phil.

The arrow he still wants to put through Loki's skull is so much more for Phil than for anything else Loki did to him. The lives he took under Loki's control weren't his kills. He doesn't doubt that for an instant, so his guilt is manageable. His mind would heal too, probably. All that Clint can rebound from. He's bouncy by nature, but the bastard took Phil Coulson from all of them. There's no coming back from that, because Phil is his.

Was.

Past tense.

Phil was his, even if Clint didn’t always take the best care of him. Phil was shared showers, watching bad reality TV with his head on a muscled thigh and sometimes with a hand on the nape of his neck, a warm bed after an ugly night, patience that Clint didn’t deserve after making the same mistakes over and over. Phil was all that, more, and Loki murdered him.

That's red in Clint's books, as Tasha likes to say. So much red that even through his current haze it's bleeding through the pages and all over Clint's fingers because it is (was, past tense) Phil. In the fray, he'd allowed himself the first taste of what that loss is going to feel like. What hit Clint was so huge that it scared him more than the Chitauri and their monsters.

Now, though, his battered brain has declared them officially done. It placed Clint's order for a gyro and fries at the counter and then left the building, just like Elvis. There's nothing going on but the autonomic function of his body feeding itself.

The SHIELD head shrinkers call it dissociation. Clint calls it checking out. They're all so burnt out that no one on talks, so no one notices that he's not in the room with them anymore, that he's somewhere else – a place where the pieces of himself that matter are safe and can rest before reality kicks the shit out of him again.

Fine by him. Clint thinks that being in that place is infinitely better this. This is the one where Loki the Lie Smith, that alien piece of shit pseudo-god, gets to keep breathing while Phil (who puts up with his shit, who has his back, who has a sense of humor so dry sometimes it cuts like a knife, who has always kissed like Clint is bulletproof and breakable, who has the stones to talk to Nick Fury about their freaking sex life to get them a pass around fraternization mandates because he wanted them to be together because he loved Clint even if they never fucking said it, who has – no had, had past tense fuck, past tense) isn't. He doesn't want to try living in there, thanks.

He's going to eat this fucking gyro and chase stray tzatziki sauce with his tongue because this is something he can do right now. He can chew, taste, and swallow in silence with his new team.

Only the quiet leaves him with enough room to realize that he's forgotten whether or not Phil likes Middle Eastern food. Liked. Past tense. Once the thought occurs he has to find the answer, except checked out like this Clint realizes that it's not there for him. There are files with the answer in his head but it's like they're out of reach.

His jaw muscles slow as his entire body focuses on searching for the answer. He's trying to remember. He is. They spent enough time in the Middle East together. More than a dozen ops in the first two years after 9/11 alone. Only Clint can't remember what Phil ate in Kandahar, Tehran, or Islamabad. Things like the way he managed to look comfortable in those suits in the middle of a desert so hot that it felt like they were baking from the ground up were far clearer.

He doesn't realize he's staring at his food like it personally offended him until Tasha says, "It's Greek." She's the first one to speak in a geologic age and she's looking straight at him as she does so. She can always read him. She's in his head and she knows exactly what he's thinking. "Like this, in gyros, it's Greek not Arabic."

It's a sign of how tired they all are that no one says anything. Even Tony just lifts an eyebrow.

Tasha gives him a little smile. Her mouth doesn't even move, just a muscle in her neck but Clint sees it. This is why she's his best friend. She knows what he's thinking and he knows what she's doing, what she's trying to say.

Greece was life altering. Greece was six furlough days (post Budapest, scraped all to shit but alive, debriefing in a luxury hotel thanks to Phil's expertise at pulling strings) and first time he ever saw Phil out of a suit. Even this fried, Clint can see Phil in that blue SHIELD t-shirt and jeans and bare feet in the sand of a private beach at the edge of the Mediterranean, sunglasses on. He'd smiled, caught Clint by the wrist and-

Clint takes another bite. Taste. Chew. Swallow. Feel the table under his elbows, the chair against his back and under his ass, floor against his boots. Things that are here right now are all he's got room for in his remade-unmade-fucked up brain. Everything else boils down to the fact that the battle is over. Loki is alive. Phil isn't.

None of those things are changing here. Now. Present tense. So Clint's going to take another bite, chew, swallow, and sit with his team because there's nothing to hurry to. Not anymore.