They shouldn't work, is the thing. Their lives are too similar: two agents with security clearance so high that they could root around in the President's underwear drawer with impunity; two agents running one secret government-sponsored military agency on the side and another slightly-less-than government-sanctioned agency; two agents who spend as much time kicking ass and shooting people as they do recovering from getting their asses kicked and getting shot.
Well. Phil, anyway. Nick hasn't taken a hit in years, damn him.
They shouldn't work. They have too much in common, spend too much time together, carry too much of the same emotional damage. But they do, and it's great, it's exactly what they need, and Phil’s never been more content. Hell, he doesn’t even panic anymore when he wakes up alone in their bed in the middle of the night. Instead he gets out of bed, grabs his gun off the nightstand just in case, and pads to the kitchen.
Nick is standing in front of the world map that takes up a full wall of their kitchen. He has a plastic cup of leftovers in one hand, a dry erase marker in the other. They bought the map initially so they would be able to chart each other’s movements and figure out rendezvous points, whether official or not, but of course it’s turned into a map that tracks SHIELD agents across the globe. Their dry erase board lies on the table behind him and Phil winces. They bought it, when they first moved in together, for making lists of groceries and ways to punish Stark, but increasingly it’s being used to jot down the phone numbers of diplomats and foreign heads of state. Right now, all the diplomats from China and Southeast Asia are circled.
Nick grumbles to himself as he draws, erasing an x in Norway with the heel of his hand. Phil finds the scene stupidly endearing.
He leans against the doorway and taps the barrel of his gun against the doorframe. "Nick," he says. "Come back to bed."
Nick doesn't even turn. "I'm gonna kill them," he says, tapping the pen against the map. "Every single one of them."
"New agents?" The newest recruits to SHIELD are so green that they seem to have sprouted only yesterday. The recruits are usually the ones that have Nick murderous and out of bed at two o'clock in the morning. Phil used enjoy breaking the new agents in; that was before he moved in with Nick. Now he loves breaking them in.
"No," says Nick, waving his bowl in the air. "Them."
Nick is predictable in ways that he himself is probably not even aware of. Some people eat their feelings when they're stressed -- Nick eats his agents. Wherever they are in the world, that's what ends up in his hands when he can't sleep. He and Phil have a healthy and international takeout habit. In their fridge, it's not hard to find the cuisine of the country that corresponds to the location of whatever pain-in-the-ass agent has Nick out of bed at two in the morning. Tonight, it looks like quorma, from that Afghan restaurant two blocks down from their apartment. Phil frowns. He'd been wondering where Barton had gotten off to.
Nick mutters something else to himself and wipes half the map clean. It's then that Phil notices the rest of the leftover boxes that are lined up on the counter next to the fridge. He counts. Four boxes, which meant Barton and Romanoff are on assignment together. Sichuan kung pao chicken means Stark is in China. The Japanese sashimi is for Rogers, who’s been in Japan for a week now, and the Norwegian kjøttkaker is for Thor, who was sent on some ill-advised tour in Norway again.
Phil tries not to sigh and says, with some resignation, "and they can't wait until morning?"
Nick sets the bowl on the table and says, "Phil, come here. Check my coordinates. We’re sending in a ground team if we don’t make contact by morning."
It's then that Phil notices the rest of the leftover boxes have been emptied. He gives into the urge to sigh and walks into the kitchen, setting his gun on the table. "We sent Captain America and Thor to join Iron Man in China?” he says.
"No," says Nick, turning to face him. He looks tired in a way that he only does at home and Phil wants to drag him back to bed, Avengers be damned. "Captain America sent himself to China to help out Iron Man for reasons he didn’t clear with SHIELD. Thor apparently felt left out and went to join the party and somewhere along the way, our spies decided to join them. Banner went off the grid when Stark entered China. Unsurprisingly, we've lost contact with the entire team."
"Christ," says Phil, scanning the map and nodding at each set of coordinates. "I'm gonna kill them."
Nick nods and picks up the bowl. "Hungry?"
A piece of sashimi floats to the surface of the stew. Phil picks it out with his fingers and bumps his shoulder against Nick's. Nick grimaces and Phil puts a hand in the small of his back, licking his fingers clean. Nick growls and Phil smirks at him. “Phil. Stop that.”
"Nick, forced retirement is in twenty years," says Phil lightly, "or I can hack the system, change our birthdates, and we retire in ten."
Nick chuckles. Phil picks out another piece of sushi from the stew and watches Nick write another string of numbers on the map.