[personal profile] concertigrossi
Title:  Second Fiddles
Author: ConcertiGrossi
Fandom:  Avengers (Earth-199999, movieverse)
Characters: Phil Coulson, The Cellist, Pepper Potts, Natasha Romanoff, Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Bruce Banner
Pairing:  Phil Coulson/The Cellist
Rating:  PG-13
Disclaimer:  So very not mine, more's the pity.

Summary:

Chapter One:  In which a convention is attended, the unconventional is met, suspicions are raised and a disappointing loss turns into a significant win.

Chapter Two: In which the season starts, discoveries are made, a friend gets hurt and space is shared.

Chapter Three:  In which worries surface,  the other shoe drops, communication becomes an issue and news comes in from the West.

Chapter Four:  In which what was lost is found, preparations are made, caffeine is abused, and two people each get their heart's desire:



It was Fury that brought Coulson the news, on what turned out to be the best, most unbelievable day of his life.

As soon as the search team radioed in that they’d found the plane, Fury had ordered the Helicarrier north, and Coulson got himself on the very first flight to the base camp in Greenland. He'd harried the pilot and crew to get every ounce of speed out of the Quinjet, and, as a result, they were on-site before the excavation crew got their equipment unpacked.

He rappelled down into the flying wing (Schmidt's plane! This was really Schmidt's plane!) and joined the crew working to extract the frozen body from the ice.

There he was.

He'd tried to keep his hopes from getting up too high on the way over – thinking that there might have been a mistake, but no, there could be no mistaking that face, that uniform...

...that shield.

A few more steps, and he was standing at the side of Captain Steven Grant Rogers, United States Army, leader of the Howling Commandos, the world's first superhero, and an inspiration to millions - not just a great man, but the cause of greatness in other people. Coulson's heart leapt in his chest.

We found him, Dad.

Coulson was so very glad for the balaclava he was wearing: it would have done enormous damage to his stoic reputation had anyone else been able to see his face right now. Once he was able to compose himself, he pulled down the mouth covering and took off the goggles. “Status report.”

Agent Tadeshi came up to him. “Per Director Fury's orders, sir, we're cutting out the ice around him as well, and we'll ship him back to HQ in cold storage. Estimating another two to three hours before we have him completely free.”

So that they could thaw him out under completely controlled conditions. Good. He was glad to see the recovery plans running smoothly. “Excellent. Keep me updated. And detail two agents to stand guard – at no point is he to be left alone.”

Sir?”

An honor guard, Agent Tadeshi.”

Tadeshi smiled, understanding. “Yes, sir. Right away.”

Coulson nodded as Tadeshi hurried off, and, for as long as he possibly could, watched the workers cutting the ice away.

He couldn't wait to tell Alys.

Gambling on duty was officially against SHIELD field regs, but the rule was very rarely enforced (as long as no one in the upper echelons was forced to notice it), and the bookmakers with the appropriate clearance levels would be busy tonight. Was he still alive? Would he wake up? When would he wake up? Coulson was having none of it. Obviously, he wanted to meet the man he’d idolized his whole life, but if that wasn’t possible, bringing him home to rest in his native soil was the next best outcome.

What to do once they found Steve Rogers had been a favorite thought experiment for R&D for decades, and they'd written any number of contingency plans – Coulson had reviewed all of them, and authored more than a few of them - but, as everyone knows, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. As meticulously researched as they all had been, the closest they had to anything resembling a primary source were a couple of stolen, incomplete Soviet reports on the initial revival of the Winter Soldier, and those were less than illuminating. Nobody really knew what would happen next.

They flew Rogers back to New York, and put him, (still under guard) in one of the cold room labs until all the necessary experts could be brought to the facility. Coulson took advantage of the short break in the frenetic activity: he needed a couple of changes of clothing – he'd be staying at SHIELD HQ for at the very least the next few days – and though he could have more easily gotten them from his own apartment, he desperately wanted to see Alys. He made it to her place in record time.

She was there, for once.  She came out of her practice room at his precipitous entrance, and squawked as he swept her into his arms and whirled around.  “Good Lord!  What’s gotten into you?”  she asked, laughing.

You’re not going to believe what happened!   We -“ he stopped short. Time froze, and his stomach turned as cold as the Arctic ice. “Oh my God!” It was classified! What the hell was he thinking!? Level Seven Classified, and he’d nearly blurted it right out! Good God, what was wrong with him?! He dropped his head to her shoulder.

You can’t tell me, can you.” she said with a sympathetic smile. 

No!” he moaned into her neck.

But it's good, I'm gathering?” She ran her hand through the hair on the back of his head.

He straightened up and looked down into her eyes. “Have you ever had a day that justified everything? Every sacrifice you've ever made, every hardship you've ever endured? That happened this week.”

She looked up at him with shining eyes and a delighted smile on her face. “That good?”

He nodded. “It's wonderful.”

Well, then, congratulations to you on your Unnameable Triumph.” She kissed him. He wrapped his arms around her, and they held each other tightly.

'Unnameable Triumph.' God, Alys, I swear to you, if I could talk about it, I would.”

I know you would. It's all right.” She kissed his cheek. “I'm happy for you, Phil. Should we go out to celebrate?”

I can't right now. I have to get back. Soon, though, I promise.”

Absolutely.” She helped him pack a bag, and he rushed back to SHIELD.

----

They watched over the medbay in shifts.  Coulson could barely believe it, no matter how long he stared at the body on the gurney and, when Fury woke him up to tell him there were signs of life, he’d been rendered speechless.

You ok, Coulson?  You going to faint on me, here?” teased Fury as he headed in to brief the Council on the latest developments.

He just damn well might.

Coulson rushed down to the lab to hear what the doctors had to say. They were hedging quite a bit, as fit the situation, but their assessments were generally optimistic. “The Serum is working to fix what little damage was done by the frost. Now, let me reemphasize the preliminary nature of this, but if the repair trends continue as they have been, he should regain consciousness sometime in the next two to three weeks,” said Dr. Horowitz, SHIELD's cryogenics specialist.

Will there be brain damage?”

Again, it's way too early to tell, but at this point, I would hazard a guess that there will not.”

The elevator door opened, and Fury stalked out. “Keep us informed, Doctor. Coulson, with me,” said Fury, beckoning the agent to his office. Coulson followed.

Sit down.”

Coulson complied, suddenly wary. This was never a good beginning.

Fury templed his fingers and eyed Coulson. He sighed. “They want to bring in their own expert for Rogers' resuscitation.”

What?”

He'll be here in two hours, and we're to provide all possible cooperation. Here are his requirements, and an overview of his general plan.” Fury handed a tablet over to Coulson.

A wave of sickening disappointment washed through him. “May I ask why I'm being pulled off this?”

They feel that you're too close, that your first loyalty will be to Captain Rogers and not to SHIELD.”

How is it that they expect him to trust us if he believes its the other way around?”

Believe me when I say this was an argument I had with them. An argument I lost.”

Coulson swallowed hard. “And what is my role to be, in this project?”

The want you to upgrade the uniform.”

The uniform.” This wasn't happening. Coulson bit down on the angry words that fought to come out of his mouth. “I see. I'll get it done. Thank you, sir,” he replied, in a tone that obviously meant no such thing. He stood up and headed for the door.

Fury pinched the bridge of his nose. “Phil, just start reading it. It'll save you the trip of running back here to yell at me some more.”

Still seething, Coulson raised an eyebrow and started to skim through the files. His jaw dropped. “You have got to be fucking kidding me.

I know.”

This is ridiculous! This is never going to work – hell, this is going to do more harm than good!”

Their man feels that this would be the easiest way to break it to him.”

There is no easy way to break this to him! And a pathetic charade of a reenactment isn't going to help!”

I know.”

Look, let me talk to their 'expert' when he gets here. He can have the credit, for all I care, but -”

Phil, I'm sorry, I really am, but I need to pick my battles. I can't win this one, so I'm going to keep my powder dry.”

This is going to fail.”

Your opinion has been noted. Do I need to make this an order?”

Coulson hissed an indrawn breath. “No. Sir. You do not.” He turned on his heel and stalked out of Fury's office in a quiet rage that radiated out from him like a force field, causing underlings to scatter before him like a herd of gazelles at the appearance of a predator.

Ok, get all the shit done, get it done now, and get ahead on the rest of the work. And tell Watkins that if he so much as thinks of launching Galaga, I'll beat the crap out of him myself,” whispered Mullaney to the agent at the workstation next to him.

Being a bit paranoid, aren't you?” replied Cho, without moving her lips.

Mullaney shook his head. “When elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers.”

----

This was wrong. This couldn't be more wrong. Steve Rogers was a brilliant man – had always been a brilliant man, the Serum hadn't altered that aspect of him at all – and he'd see through this like tissue paper. The very last thing they should try to do would be to fake anything in any way. The reality of Rogers' situation would be too overwhelming as it was: the man needed to believe that everything they were telling him was the absolute truth.

Rereading through the rest of the WSC's plan only made things worse. They wanted to confine Rogers to SHIELD HQ or the Helicarrier and limit his contacts to the outside world, “for his own good.” They weren't even planning to fight the DoD to get all the back pay Rogers was entitled to. Every step of this seemed designed to make the man dependent on SHIELD - Coulson could not imagine a worse way of going about gaining the Captain's loyalty. And, once that loyalty was lost, did they honestly think they'd have a chance in hell of making the Super Soldier do anything or stay anywhere he didn't want to?

This was ludicrous.

He read through it once more. There wasn't even a plan B! Was this amateur hour? He'd have the job of any subordinate of his who presented him with an action plan like this! It was going to fail and then they'd be scrambling to...

He stopped, and took a mental step back. He stared at the tablet for a time, tapping his fingers on the table.

This would fail.

This would fail badly.

This would fail badly and the gormless idiot who wrote it hadn't written in any contingency plans.

Meaning that, when this did fail, as badly as it was going to, they were going to be scrambling to come up with a plan of action.

Unless, of course, someone had one all ready written, and all ready to go...

----

He knocked on Sitwell's office door. “Come!”

Coulson walked in and closed the door behind him. “I need you to take a look at this.” He offered the tablet as he sat down.

Sitwell took it. “This is their plan for Rogers? Yeah, they were all saying you came out of that meeting looking like you were ready to kill someone. Actually, could you do that more often? Because I swear, the grunts have gotten more done in the last hour than they have...” He looked up at Coulson. “This is their plan? Is this a joke?”

Keep going.”

Sitwell complied. He rolled his eyes. A lot. “Oh, hell no. Here in New York? Why not on neutral ground? What are they thinking?”

Keep going.”

Sitwell swiped his finger along the tablet screen, and then swiped it again, like he was expecting the screen to scroll further. “Where's the rest of it?”

That's it.”

You're kidding me. This is what they want to run with?”

They've given the Director his marching orders. But, naturally, in the interests of being prepared, we should have something in place in the event this doesn't play out, don't you think?”

Sitwell's mouth formed a slow smile. “Just in case, oh, absolutely. As an academic exercise.”

Precisely.” Coulson nodded. “I need you to take point on this.”

Why me?”

The Council doubts my objectivity.” Sitwell snorted at that, but Coulson shrugged. “There will be a lot less resistance to any deviation from the their plan if I'm not seen to be involved. I'll stick with what they've assigned me, and nominally report to you.”

You'll be reporting to me? Does this mean I get to make you bring me coffee?” Sitwell grinned.

Don't push your luck.”

A man's gotta try.” Sitwell nodded at the tablet. “It's bullshit that it has to come to this, but I'm in. What's the play?”

The play was a modified version of one of Coulson's original resuscitation plans. He and Sitwell went over it – it would take quite a bit of setup (it was just astonishing how something effective would take a great deal more time and effort), so they divided the tasks between them, and set to work.

The legal department was Coulson's first stop: Captain Rogers' status with the Army would determine a great deal of how they would proceed. He took the casefile to their most vicious barracuda – their lawyers had to wrangle the multijurisdictional imbroglios that came with SHIELD's less successfully covert activities, so SHIELD had made a habit of hiring any lawyer that beat them too egregiously. The results were astonishing. It was said that even Nick Fury was scared of SHIELD's legal department.

(Coulson knew this not to be true. Nick Fury wasn't scared, he was terrified of SHIELD's legal department. Legal's budget was inviolate.)

They're only trying to claim pay for the duration plus six months? That's insane. He was MIA, he's owed much more than that!” exclaimed McCarty.

So there is precedent on his side?”

My God, all the precedent is on his side. Bell alone would be enough -” He caught Coulson's inquiring look, and explained. “Otho G. Bell et al. vs. United States. Out of all the US soldiers captured during the active years of the Korean war, a small group of them defected to the enemy and refused repatriation during the mass POW exchanges in 1953. They were all formally discharged in 1954. A couple of years after the war, they re-defected, returned to the US and sued for their back pay from their initial dates of capture to the dates of their formal discharges. And eventually won! And they weren't just resisting insufficiently, they were doing propaganda work for the enemy! If they're eligible, surely Captain Rogers is! This is ludicrous!”

Can you give me an estimated timeframe?”

He shook his head. “Not an accurate one, I'm afraid. The DoD is glacial at the best of times, and, these days, they're pinching their pennies. It's going to take a while.”

But you can do this?”

Are you kidding? Not only can I do this, Agent Coulson, but this is going to be fun.”

Coulson nodded, amused. “Start prepping what you need, but wait for my word before you file anything.”

Yes, sir.”

Next was a stop at Psych – apart from Internal Affairs, the least popular division in all of SHIELD. SHIELD tended not to look for ordinary skill sets when hiring, and while there might not actually be a causal relationship between exceptional abilities and mental health issues, there was a definite correlation. The Psychiatric Department also had SHIELD's highest turnover rate, despite their top-notch compensation packages. In this respect, Coulson was no different than his coworkers, and a bit of a hypocrite: he would lecture his subordinates on the importance of attending their mandatory after-action therapeutic sessions, but the fact that he dodged his own appointments as assiduously as his underlings did was information only available to his superiors.

God bless HIPAA.

Nevertheless, there were some doctors he was more inclined to work with than others, and Dr. Anne Jepsen was one of them.

I wanted to ask: would you consider taking on Captain Rogers as a patient?”

She shot him a surprised look. “I thought the WSC was running that show.”

They are. This is, at this point, strictly hypothetical.”

Her face took on a bland expression. “In the hypothetical? Of course I would. But you understand I 'hypothetically' wouldn't treat him any differently than I would my regular patients – I would give you my recommendations, but I wouldn't break confidentiality.”

I'm counting on that, Doctor.” He quirked a half-smile. “In the hypothetical, of course.”

Uh-huh. Let me know when you 'hypothetically' need me to start.”

And after that, it was housing, and after that, security, and so on and so forth and onward - there was no way to accurately predict when Rogers would wake up, so it all had to be set up and ready to go as soon as humanly possible, and the days started to blend together. Not for the first time, sadly, Coulson was running on caffeine, commissary food and what sleep he could snatch on the sofa in his office.

It was in the midst of this chaos that he got a text from Alys:

When you get a chance, I need to talk to you.”

It took his mind a second to switch gears. If she was being that direct, then something was up, and he had a pretty good idea what it was. It just remained to be seen whether it was good news or bad news.

And, honestly, he wasn't really sure which was which.

He looked over his schedule again, and, once he'd managed to squeeze out a free half-hour, texted her back a where and when.

Where” was the coffee shop a couple of blocks down from the main SHIELD office – they'd met up there many times before when time had been short. She was already waiting at their regular table in the back, and had ordered them both coffee. She waved him over. He kissed her cheek and squeezed her hand – neither of them could abide public displays of affection – and, after he sat down, she merely said, “I got word.” She held a letter out to him. He took it and read, “Dear Ms. Simon, We are pleased to be able to offer you…”

This is the part where you have to smile.  “I never had any doubt at all.  Congratulations, Alys.”  I thought she’d look happier.  He re-folded the letter and handed it back to her.

Thank you,” she said tonelessly. “Between this and your Unnameable Triumph, we’ve both had a pretty good couple of weeks.”

We have,” he replied. Except for the fact that it really, really didn't feel like it. “When do you need to be there?”

In six weeks.”

That's not a lot of time.”

No.”

Are you going to sublet?”

No. The market's recovered enough, I'm going to sell. I have a meeting with the real estate agent this afternoon.”

You should stay at my place, once you put yours on the market. It'll make things easier.” And maybe I'll have a snowball's chance in hell of actually seeing you before you go.

It will. Thank you. I appreciate it.” She toyed with her coffee cup. Phil, come with me to Portland,” she blurted out. He looked up at her, surprised, and she amended, “To help me pick out an apartment. I'm flying out on Monday. Come with me. It'll be fun.”

I can't.”

She nodded, her face blank.

I swear to you, Alys, someday I'll be able to explain all this, and you'll understand.”

I believe you. I trust you.” She started to turn pink. “Phil, I l-”

*BZZZZT* The message alert on the SHIELD cell phone interrupted her. He fought the burning urge to pick up a rock and smash the thing to pieces.  He looked at the screen.  No, really, a rock was too good for it.  He was going to go get some thermite from the weapons locker, take it out to the range and - 

Your wife is very demanding,” she said softly.

So are yours,” he quietly snapped back.

She didn't argue. “I know.”

I have to go.”

She nodded. He stood up, leaned over and kissed her cheek again. “Goodbye. Call me when you get back.”

I will,” she said.

He left.

----

Neither Alys nor Phil noticed, but the old, white-haired man sitting next to them had been watching this quietly dramatic scene go down, and had rolled his eyes several times behind his darkened glasses. Kids today! Couldn't pour water out of a boot if there were instructions printed on the heel! He discreetly looked over at the woman as she sat watching the black-clad man hurry off. He thought about saying something to her, but before he could, he heard her speak:

Phil, I love you,” she said, and then put her face in her hands. “Christ JESUS I am such a fucking idiot.” She snatched up her purse and stormed out.

The old man shrugged. Honestly, it was a wonder the species perpetuated itself at all.

----

He got back in time to put out the latest fire. Stanley Harris, the WSC's chosen man, was rubbing just about everyone the wrong way, and keeping the peace had somehow fallen to Coulson's lot. The worst jobs usually do, he thought bitterly. Did the man not realize he was pissing off an entire building of extremely lethal people?

He slumped down on the sofa in his office and pinched the bridge of his nose. It's not like she was leaving him, she was just... leaving New York. Which had him in it, unfortunately, and would, for the forseeable future. He pulled out his personal phone. He should text her... something. He'd been brusque. He was happy for her, he really was. He wanted her to have this. He just couldn't think of anything to say that he thought she'd want to hear, anything that didn't sound ridiculous when he tried to put it into words.

He put the phone back in his pocket, and rubbed his face with his hands.

Honestly, he'd had better weeks. He'd had worse weeks, too, but at least, during most of those, he'd been able to return fire. Everything just seemed to be twisting the wrong way right now.

He took a deep breath and straightened up. He'd deal with all of this later. He'd hate it all later. Right now, he had a job to do.

Several jobs, in fact.

----

He headed down to R&D to work with them on the Captain's new uniform. The old one was in tatters (another casualty of the long-term exposure) and had been cut off him when they'd transferred his body to medical. The meeting was a long one – discussions of how modern to make the design (not very), and how armored it should be (as much as possible while still allowing movement – cost no object, so the techs were drooling at a chance to show off), but it was entirely unanimous that the shield needed no updating at all. He dismissed the team to their tasks.

The shield had been left on the table; he walked over and picked it up. It was, not surprisingly, lighter than he expected. He examined it closely – they'd have to have the paint redone, certainly. Captain America might have gone through seventy years in the ice unscathed, but the straps and the guige on the shield sure hadn't – the leather was cracked and brittle. He'd have them replaced with kevlar strapping that would answer much better; they could always change it back if Captain Rogers didn't like it. He'd bring it to the uniform crew to get the leather swapped out.

The impulse to put it on his arm struck him like a tidal wave.

No. He wasn't going to do that. It was silly, and juvenile, and hadn't he just gotten into enough trouble for being a fanboy?

He started to set the thing down, but couldn't quite manage it. It's Captain America's shield! My God, I'm holding Captain America's shield!

He glanced over at the mirrored wall of the conference room, and then again to the shield. His resolve wavered. He glanced to the door – it was shut, and there wasn't anyone else around, and he could always erase the surveillance recordings.

To hell with it. He slipped his arm carefully through the fragile leather, hefted the shield into position and turned to see his reflection. The red, white and blue metal shone brightly against the dark black wool of his suit. Oh, fuck yes. He fought the smile, but the smile won. He allowed himself a long moment to drink in the sight. For a minute, he thought about taking a picture, but it wasn't like he was ever going to forget this moment, and the one person he would want to show it to wasn't cleared to see it anyway.

He eventually did manage to take the shield off his arm and get back to work, but that mental image went a long way towards making him feel a bit better.

----

Alys got back into New York a little over a week later, lease in hand. She'd signed an agreement for a three-bedroom apartment near the symphony's rehearsal space – three bedrooms struck him as a lot of space for one person, but Portland rents were so phenomenally low when compared to Manhattan that he wasn't that surprised. (She'd texted him the address while she was still in Oregon. He'd looked up the crime statistics: it was a reasonably safe neighborhood, but he still wondered if she would let him upgrade the security system.)

He managed to arrange for the night off. (After repeated reassurances from the doctors that Rogers was unlikely to awaken and after working for two days straight to get his schedule cleared before she got back. He thought he was going to have bribe Sitwell to hold down the fort alone for the night, but Sitwell had just looked at him over top of his glasses and said, “Jesus God, Coulson, if anyone in this building needs to get laid, it's you. Go on, get out, and good luck.”) It wasn't nearly as much time as he would have liked, but it was enough for dinner, and to get her settled in at his place. She told him about meeting some of her new coworkers, the sights she'd seen, the lousy weather, and they both ignored the enormous elephant in the room.

They spooned together that night, afterwards, skin-to-skin, as if even pyjamas were too much of a separation. Without even thinking, he blurted out, “What would it take to get you to stay here in New York?”

She stiffened in his arms. “What would it take to get you to come with me to Portland?”

He sighed and rested his forehead on the nape of her neck. After a beat, she rolled over and pulled his hands to her hips. “The Philharmonic offers me a job, and I'll be on the next plane. I don't plan on being there forever.” She placed her hands on his chest. “My home is here.”

He smiled. “You can take the woman out of New York...”

Her expression turned unreadable for just a second, but she then smiled back. “Just so.”

----

The doctors called them all to the observation bay as soon as Rogers' brainwave activity seemed to indicate that he was returning to consciousness, about twelve days after he'd first started showing signs of life.

This is a mistake,” whispered Coulson to Fury.

Really, Coulson?” Fury whispered back. “You think so?  Because I completely didn’t understand that the first thousand times you told me.  Now it’s really beginning to sink in.”

Sitwell's going to want to talk to you about this afterwards.”

Is he.”

Yes, sir.” Coulson returned the stare blandly.

I look forward to it.

Sir? He's coming out of REM sleep,” said Horowitz.

Make sure Agent Carter is at the ready,” said Harris.

On the bed, Steve Rogers opened his eyes.

Despite everything, Coulson broke out into a big smile. I'll be damned.

And then it all went horribly wrong.


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