Ubi Amor, Ibi Dolor*
An Avengers Fiction by Lywinis
We spend every day together.
He's a heavy sleeper. I never thought that would be the case, what with getting used to the fighting, but he is. He sleeps long and hard, and that's when he sleeps. Most of the time he drops, then wakes in the middle of the night. I do my best to soothe him, but I know there's only so much I can do to help quell the nightmares.
I'm an early riser, so I'm usually up before he is, bustling about the kitchen. It's nice to see him shuffle in, past me toward the coffee pot. His hair is always a mess, sticking up in tufts and tousles. It's endearing. He drinks his coffee black, which is strange, because he has such a sweet tooth otherwise.
We have breakfast, and we go over his schedule. He has a lot to do during the day; unsurprising, considering who his public persona is. I'm ashamed to admit that his public persona was all I saw when I first met him. Now, though, I know a lot about him. He started opening up more when we became roommates.
Now, I can tell the difference between Captain America and Steve Rogers. Let me tell you, I liked Captain America. I fell in love with Steve Rogers. He's so much more than the persona, and I'm grateful for that.
He always tells me goodbye and wishes me a good day at work. It's sweet. I busy myself with forms, paperwork and research, while he's gone. He needs all the help he can get, and I'm happy to provide. He's a good man, and I'm lucky to be in his life.
He comes home right at sundown, when he can. It's not always clockwork, but it's damn close, and I make sure he has something to take the edge off. We don't watch much TV, but he likes the radio. Big band music is my favorite, but we listen to soft jazz too, especially when he wants to unwind.
We eat dinner, and he tells me about his day. He's ready for bed almost immediately, and I make sure to tuck him in. I'm glad that he's trying to sleep more normally. I get ready to sleep too, and slide under the blankets next to him. He's beautiful, in a lot of ways, but I like this part the best – the muted glow from the street lamp, his eyes closing as he hums a goodnight to me right as sleep takes him.
I always think to myself, Phil Coulson, you are a very lucky man. I really couldn't be happier.
"I'm worried about Steve," said Bruce, looking at Tony over the reports. It wasn't a sudden admission; the whole team had been worried about Steve for a while.
Clint made time for their titular leader, dragging him to the gym for sparring with Natasha or to the range to brush up on his accuracy. Thor asked Steve for help with Midgardian custom, something someone more modern would be much more adept at, but somehow teaching the Norse god of thunder about 1940's manners was endearing. Bruce and Tony, however, were much more adept at waiting and plotting.
"Capsicle?" Tony replied, the absent note in his voice a facade – Bruce could always tell. Tony was worried, too. "He's doing better, you know? He seems to come out more. It's a slow process. The guy lost everyone."
"Everyone," Bruce agreed. "Still, though, you're one of his closer acquaintances, if not one of his friends. I think you should have a word with him."
"When did I get elected the Team Captain of this merry band of misfits?" Tony asked, his voice petulant.
"When you offered us the tower to live in, Tony." Bruce quirked an eyebrow at his lab partner. "You're not the cold-hearted bastard you like to think you are, Mister Stark."
"Aw, puddin', you're breakin' my heart over here." Tony shook his head when Bruce opened his mouth for a furious retort, waving a hand. "All right, all right, I'll go have a talk with Steve."
And that was how Tony Stark found himself outside of an apartment in Brooklyn, looking up at the numbers on the door that read "4-F". He snorted at the irony of the apartment number, tapping the knocker.
When Steve opened the door, his eyes were tired. Tony could see the bags beneath them, read the set of the Captain's shoulders, and that was the reason he breezed by Steve and into the little apartment.
"Tony, what –" Steve started, and then stopped, because they weren't exactly friends, but Tony liked to think they might have been, outside the shadow of Howard Stark. Steve Rogers wasn't a hard man to like, not by a long shot, and Tony Stark wasn't an easy man to get along with. It made for an interesting dynamic, to say the least.
"Thought I'd drop by, see what this apartment has that I don't," he said, his tone light. "You've got your own floor at the tower, you know."
"I know," said Steve, his voice tight. "This is homier."
"How so? I mean, it's a matchbox, sure, and I'm sure in the forties this was considered the penthouse, but Jesus, Spangles, live a little, man." Tony spun around the room, taking in the pictures on the wall and the lived in look of the apartment.
"I'm fine, Tony." Steve went back to his chair, where a sketchpad and a stick of charcoal sat. He resumed his drawing.
"Your eyes and the way you tried to get yourself killed last week by flinging yourself straight at MODOK's deathbeam are telling me the opposite." Steve gave a visible flinch, and Tony's voice softened. "Look, Steve, I'm not one for lecturing on safety, but whatever's eating at you, it's going to kill you one way or another. Talk to me. Pretend you believe I care, because I actually do."
"It's nothing," Steve said. "It's just something that needs time."
"Is that why you're sitting in his apartment, in his armchair, with his cards next to you?"
Another visible flinch.
"SHIELD needed someone to take over the lease. I had nowhere else to go."
Tony shook his head. "You had the tower."
"Did I?" Steve looked over, blue eyes brittle. "We didn't get along then, Tony."
"We still don't, but that doesn't mean I'd have left you in the cold."
Steve huffed a quiet laugh. "I wonder."
"Who was he to you, Steve?" Tony asked. "You met him twenty minutes before the world went to hell."
"Sometimes," Steve said, his voice low. "Sometimes that's all it takes."
Steve Rogers, a romantic by nature. It figured; someone with those ideals couldn't be a pragmatist at heart and survive.
"I knew him for five years, Steve." Tony pulled a chair over and straddled it, his arms crossed over the back. "He was a giant pain in my ass at first, until I realized he did have my best interests at heart. I didn't trust SHIELD – still don't, and for a good reason – but he and I? We got along, in that weird sort of way where you're not sure if he's going to tase you or offer you coffee."
Steve gave a soft snort. "You have that effect on people."
Tony grinned, well aware of his penchant for annoying the everloving mess out of people. "Yeah, I do. Doesn't mean I still didn't bother to get to know the guy, at least a little."
"I remember you said something about a cellist." Steve looked up.
"Yeah, Holly is her name. She's a sweet lady. Pepper likes her a lot." Tony rubbed the side of his nose with his thumb. "If you want, we can fly out to Portland, and you can meet her, get to know him a little better, too."
Steve looked down at the sketchbook, where a face, unremarkable yet much beloved and oft-drawn, was half blocked out. He gave a heavy sigh, folding the tracing paper there to protect the next page and closed the book. Tony's eyes were soft, concerned, and he coughed, unused to dealing with the human side of things. Something told him that this was worth it, though.
He cleared his throat. "If it makes you feel any better, I think he would have liked you when he got to know you under the mask, Steve. It's kind of hard not to like you."
"I'd have liked to at least become his friend," said Steve. "I mean, I don't...do this. I don't tangle with people's lives like this."
"Phil wouldn't have minded, I think," said Tony. "You were his hero, in every sense of the word. If he were going to let anyone in, it would be you."
"You say that now."
"Come on, Steve, he had a full on high school crush on you. We all saw it."
Steve had the grace to blush to the roots of his hair. Tony grinned, all good humor and no teeth in his teasing. He reached out and clapped Steve on the shoulder.
"Look, if you want to stay out here, so be it. But you have a room in the tower, if you need it. And you have a team that cares about how you're feeling. So come and hang out with us more. You have friends, even if that might seem strange."
Steve nodded. "Thanks, Tony. I'll keep it in mind."
Tony stood, returning the chair to its place under the kitchen table. "We all miss him, Steve. It's not just you in mourning."
Steve stood up to show him out, his smile not as haunted, or so Tony wanted to believe. "I know. I've always been a kind of private person, that's all."
"Well, it's not good for you, which is why I'm dragging your ass out for dinner once a week."
Steve laughed as Tony breezed out the door. "I look forward to it."
"Pizza this Friday, I mean it." Tony paused on the landing. "We have a lot of ghosts between all of us, Capsicle. You don't have to be one more. Come and live a little."
Steve nodded. "I'll give it a shot."
The door marked "Coulson – 4F" closed, and Tony trotted down the stairs, feeling accomplished. If nothing else, it was a start, and that was enough.
Steve leaned against the door, breathing out in a low rasp. His eyes prickled, but he knew Tony was right – it wasn't fair to the rest of them for him to wallow like this. He picked up the deck of cards, foxed at the edges and stained red.
"I wish I could have been there, Phil," he said, his voice low. "I don't even know you well enough to warrant missing you like this. I wish we'd had more time."
In the end, though, Phil Coulson was one more ghost in a sea of many for Steve. He crawled into bed that night, pulling the blanket over his shoulders, and curled in on himself, alone.
We spend every day together. I couldn't be happier.
A/N: The mods at Cap/Coulson are heartless bastards. I also can't help but read their tags:
#CAPSICOUL #HE GOT BETTER #BUT WHAT IF THIS IS PHIL'S GHOST? #WHAT IF STEVE IS BEING HAUNTED BY THIS LOVE THAT NEVER GOT A CHANCE #AND IT'S THE MEMORY OF PHIL #FEELING SO REAL AND SO TANGIBLE #FEELING SO SWEET AND STABLE AND PERFECT #THAT KEEPS HIM FROM MOVING ON? #SAD TAGS ARE SAD #I REALLY JUST WANT GHOST!PHIL/STEVE FIC OKAY #AND I WILL KEEP SPRINGING GHOST FIC IDEAS AT YOU UNTIL SOMEONE WRITES ONE FOR ME
You sons of bitches.
You got your wish.
[*Latin for "Where there is love, there is pain".]