Phil walked shakily into the apartment behind Nick, determinedly upright and mobile despite the web of pained lines the effort drew around his mouth, despite the whiteness it drew through an already pale face. Nick watched him, one hand still cautiously on his gun after sweeping the place. Nick watched the stiff, defiant determination as Phil walked back into their life, and gingerly lowered himself into their best chair.
There'd been a reason Nick had sent him for Stark. One of them, two of them. If anyone was going to match Howard Stark's son on pure stubborn, it was going to be Phil.
"I can feel you glaring from here, you know," Phil said, grinning faintly, his eyes squeezed shut while he waited for the pain to subside a bit. "Should I bother saying something about winds changing and faces?"
Nick grunted around the involuntary twitch of a smile. "You're about forty years too late," he commented mildly, but came around to Phil's side, leaning on the back of the chair to smirk down at him. "Should I bother saying something about stubborn-ass pride, or your current resemblence to Tony Stark?"
Phil grimaced pointedly. "Only if you want me to break stitches attempting to tase you in response."
He opened his eyes, blinking a little and casting a quick grin up at Nick, before casting a rapid and professional glance around the safe house. It wasn't that he didn't trust Nick's judgement, or his recon skills. Nick knew that, resting his arms placidly on Phil's chair while he waited for his partner to finish. It was simply that, so many years on, neither of them were capable of not doing their own quick check on any surroundings that had been left unwatched for more than half a day. Or, to be honest, more than half an hour.
And this house hadn't been used since before the first incident with Stark. Neither of them had had time or space for Portland, in the cluster of shitstorms that followed the billionaire going down in Afghanistan. It was as much a rapid relearning of surroundings as it was a check for threats, what Phil was doing now.
Not that this particular place took much relearning. It looked ... pretty much exactly the same as it had fifteen years ago, when they'd first acquired it, and quietly slipped it off every radar in every agency going. Still warm, plain, slightly barren, smelling too much of gun-oil and echoing too much with soundproofing to be completely normal. Still perfect. Their private retreat.
More or less, anyway. Nick was still wondering exactly what it meant, that Phil had trusted even the existence of a connection to Portland, to Miss Potts. It was ... more than they'd ever given anyone, and said volumes for how much the woman had impressed Phil.
But that ... wasn't the point, right now.
"Satisfied?" he asked softly, looking down at the top of Phil's head. His partner relaxed back into his chair, the brief tension flooding back out of him, and reached up to grope vaguely in the air for Nick's hand, catching and holding as Nick uncurled an arm to answer.
"Mmm," Phil agreed, tugging Nick's hand down to drop his cheek tiredly onto it. "Home sweet home, eh?"
Nick felt his mouth spread into a grin, a tangle of things, relief and pain and dark, desperate joy, and leaned down to press that grin to Phil's forehead in agreement.
"Hell yeah," he rasped, lightly on the bright-dark rush, and leaned down all the way to kiss his partner welcome back.