To Absent Friends

April 11, 2018:

S.H.I.E.L.D. associates and friends gather to lay Phil Coulson to rest.

St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Phil Coulson

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Someone has gone all out.

St. Patrick's doesn't need much decoration to make it look elegant. The flowers are perhaps gilding the lily. The black bunting on the pews darkens the aspect, at least at the human level, but white stone gothic arches rise up and up and up into faintly sunlit windows.

Faintly sunlit is correct, as well. It's cloudy outside like one would expect from springtime in New York. Nevertheless, the faint light streams through, gently illuminating the cathedral.

And it is a remarkable place. Anyone who has never been in a cathedral may find the acoustics astonishing. No recording studio, no ordinary concert hall can match the way the sound simply envelops the people within. The stones themselves seem to sing.

There is singing: the choir is dressed in tidy black and white, not unlike most of the attendants. The singing and music continue as people file in and take their places.

As is also traditional, there is a photograph on an easel near the casket. They had choices, of course. There were stern-looking ID photos, but the one chosen has a gentler aspect. Coulson is looking slightly up, his eyes bright, his face clearly just about to break into a smile.

It's a stark contrast to the man lying in the simple yet elegant coffin before the altar. The body appears to have been well prepared, wearing a tidy suit and lying with hands folded over his chest. It never looks like they're really asleep, though. People say that to be kind, but the stillness in the man lying before them is too unsettling to be mistaken for anything other than what it is.

At the doors to the cathedral, attendants pass out pamphlets with an outline of the service. Not everyone coming is Catholic, after all. Some of them are from other planets. Some of them are even (gasp) Episcopalians. It does note there will be a place in the service for people to speak of the deceased.

For her own part, Sharon Carter sits at one of the front pews. Coulson didn't have a spouse. He didn't have children and his parents had predeceased him. For family, he had his team, and his XO takes the place another would for lack of anyone else to take it.

*

This is the last place one would expect to find Rocket. It's the last place he'd expect himself to be, and truthfully, he nearly hadn't come. In the end he's here, slipped into one of the pews in the back. Everything about this setting is a complete contrast to the scenes of the raccoonoid's preferences, and right now the peacefulness makes him feel almost claustrophobic. The singing from the choir is just part of the background and may as well be silence for how unobtrusive it is to him. And it feels entirely wrong.

He'd made the effort to dress a little nicely. He'd even neglected to bring any obvious weapons. Maybe people might find a raccoon-creature sitting there in black slacks and blazer thrown over a white shirt an odd sight, even out of place, but those who are familiar with him have probably never seen him more mellow, his head bowed as he cradles his cellphone in his humanlike hands, turning down the volume, the homescreen featuring a picture of Phil "Deadeye" Coulson with a homemade baby sling made of cargo netting and a tiny Groot strapped across his chest.

Rocket sniffles noisily. Aw dammit he's gonna cry again and he's sober. Damn you, Phil Coulson.

*

There are few on Midgard that had made a mark on Atli Wodendottir quite like Phil, Son of Coul. When she had first arrived, she made due with circumstance and buried her rage and regret in drink and random bouts of combat that made her feel alive again. It was not until Phil shared a sandwich with her and helped her understand how the people of Midgard might view her should she live up to the title of Goddess that she tried in earnest to be a hero.

To hear he had fallen had put into sharp focus how fragile such mortals are, and how great their sacrifice in the things they believe in. How could she not come now, to pay tribute? While it can be said that she usually does not bother with making sure her clothing is spotless or her armor free of dents or crapes, today is much different. Vibrant red and polished silver line the frame of the Girl of Thunder, and even her goat, usually a beast of ill disposition, seems to understand the gravity of the situation. Mind, he did not understand the gravity when she had asked Rocket and Groot to help wash the beast, the last great adventure they all took in Phil's honor.

Toothbender sits at the end of the isle, like the loyal beast he should be, dressed in armor to fit the station of an honor guard, his attention towards the door. As Rocket sniffles, a hand finds his neck, cradling it with the calming attention of a friend who knows that he needs her, until finally the arm slips around his shoulders and she pulls him close.

For Atli, there are no tears. For her, it is a solemn weight that strikes the fire of her spirit to a slow burn, on fixed only on paying respect, here and now. "Do not worry, Fair Rocket. His fire yet still burns in the Halls of the Honored, and even now he fights on. We will honor his memory today, and avenge it tomorrow."

*

Tony Stark doesn't do funerals.

The man has been to exactly four funerals sober. He doesn't remember how many drunk, but only four sober. This makes five and he resents Phil Coulson for it till the end of time.

When he shows up its not in his Iron Man suit, or even a fancy out of character suit, it's in a bespoken (because of course it is) suit of black. Possibly the most somber that anyone has ever seen a man like Stark.

Of course he's still wearing sunglasses because of course he is.

Though at least the tint quickly fades away to nothing as he steps in, leaving him with a pair of odd half-rim glasses that somehow fit him just fine.

Even those though are pulled off, slipped away in a jacket pocket as he starts off towards the seats. Though he does pause as he glances towards Atli and her companion.

"Asgardian and a raccoon. Right. You know. Not even surprised."

He drawls out as he strolls by to find a seat, looking up at the picture and the man lying in the coffin.

And he frowns again.

And wants to blow something up.

*

Sitting at Atli's other side: Merrow, Sloane L. Albright, or Child of the Serpent depending on who you ask. Though she's recovered from the worst of her injuries faster than any human should have right to, there's still marks from the battle that have yet to heal; scales missing from the girl's cheek, arm, and side— though growing fresh and new.

It took a lot for her to actually make it out of bed, get dressed, get to the car, and even get to the church, and as soon as she sat down it was like her legs forgot how to work. Her knees were about as strong as straw, and her legs felt like bags of sand. She's dressed fairly simply, hair worn loose and wearing a lightweight jacket over a dark dress.

For her, Coulson was more than just a boss.

Sloane's hands wring a bit, fingers tight and mouth drawn in a line. She keeps replaying that moment in her head, over and over.

And over.

Every training scenario, every possible path. Every outcome. Everything she could have done, everything she should have done, and everything the Inhuman didn't do, all of it reeling and rolling around like one big disgusting knot in the bottom of her stomach.

She's been silent since arriving, and her hands are clutching a small plastic pack of tissues— but she isn't crying. That's probably what bothers her the most: She isn't crying.

*

Rin is doing great.

Since the attack she is still incorporeal, unable to interact physically with the world. All hopes that it would be a temporary thing faded after the first week and so far there isn't an end in sight. If that wasn't frustrating enough she has trouble using her abilities so she's feeling nearly useless. She's spend a lot of time in R&D trying to convince them to do something. She can't stop, if she stops then everything she's trying to bottle up and shove down into an emotion box she never wishes to open will catch up with her.

That's not to say that she's having a lot of trouble deleting the last voice message she received from Phil. It's nothing personal, it's in code, it means nothing but every time she goes to erase it, she replays it. She'd really like to go shoot some things, anything. Something to burn off this endless frustration. The urge to bury herself in anything to distract herself is the only thing keeping her going. That and finding the bastard that caused all of this.

Rin looks like shit. Normally she would have put in an effort to wear something appropriate to this evening. However since the accident, she can't even change her clothing. She's dressed just as she was for the last mission; tactical gear, with hearty boots, her hair a mess and the sleeve of her left arm burned away exposing blackened flesh around the implant that was damaged.

The funeral is making it all too real, it took her a while to walk through the front door, and when she did, she lingered in the back. It's too peaceful for the rage that is bubbling with in her, but she isn't going to disrespect Phil by not being here. Since sitting in a pew is out of the question, she's standing off to the side, arms folded and looking at the ceiling. Despite being not real, her body still seems to know how to cry and she's determined not to do it in front of a whole church.

*

Prior to this month, it had been a long time since James Barnes stepped foot in a church for the normal reasons for which one would enter a church. After this month, he's been in one twice… both times, for the last reason anyone would ever wish to be in a church.

Peggy's death had felt like a personal failure. Phil Coulson's feels like a senseless waste. Of course, there can be no death sweeter than a death in the line of one's duty, and so on and so forth — that's what gets said over every fallen soldier — but Bucky Barnes never found that a particularly comforting line to swallow, and it's not any more comforting now.

He and Jane are seated towards the middle of the rows of pews. Bucky has said almost nothing since they arrived; his expression, which might as well be graven from stone, says it all.

If he does find anything heartening, it's how many have turned out for Phil. "You know," he finally mentions, "if Phil were here, he'd probably smile at all the singing."

*

One such Episcopalian - or at least one who had attempted to be such in some past iteration of herself - slips through the small side backdoor and Emma Frost tries her very level best to remain unnoticed. Of course, it's harder to do that when you're wrapped in a fitted charcoal-grey number from some designer or another. It's got asymmetrical lapels, traced by black velvet ribbon, and it matches the grey hat on her head. Black patent leather wraps her waist in a skinny belt, the crown of her hat with a thin band, and her feet in scrappy numbers from Alexander McQueen.

She, like Tony Stark, hates being here. Hates it more than she has words for. The church, and it's oppressive symbolism. The finality of final things. She, however, did not even pretend that sobriety was an option. She's not drunk, because that would be classless and base, but she's certainly gotten a few fingers of whiskey down to help bolster her against sentiment. Her features are set so as to be vaguely disapproving in appearance, an impression not alleviated by the staunch chignon that binds her hair beneath her hat's downward sloped brim, save for one dying spark of an overtly fake and empty attempt at a smile for the usher who lets her slide in to a back row. Because back rows? Are prime real estate for any good Episcopalian. And anyone who attempts to jeopardize her exit-ready seat is getting another seat "suggested." And the sunglasses stay on, thank you.

*

Family. It comes in many forms. Blood relations, work relations, and everyone else. There are times, however, that all of those three things intertwine and SHIELD and the SHIELD family is very much like that. As such, soon enough Danielle Moonstar enters the Church to pay her respects. She's dressed in black slacks, a similarly colored blouse and boots. With solemn expression the black-haired woman allows her eyes to take everything in; the pews, the people, the weight of the spirit that mills about.

Offering something of a silent prayer to the ether, the Cheyenne woman steps further into this sacred space.

As she passes Emma, Rocket and Atli, Tony, Rin and Sloane, the woman gives those that look at her a nod of greeting. It's the best she can do even as she finds a pew to sit within - the same one that Jane and Bucky find themselves in. A greeting is offered to the stony faced soldier and the scientist, as Dani says quietly, "James. Jane."

*

Famous in SHIELD is Dr. Foster's eminently adversarial relationship with Agent Coulson.

A one-sided sort of war, really, to witness: the unstoppable force of Jane's fierce, loud, coffee mug-breaking temper tantrums meeting the immovable object of Phil's kung fu master patience and xanax'd smiles. He confiscated her work for a day, once. She never, ever, ever, ever let it go.

Of course, then, one day, Jane Foster mysteriously gentled around him. She didn't surrender by any definition, didn't officially warm to him in the way many others did — but there seemed to be a cease fire among the battalions of Dr. Foster. A grudging something that softened her, perhaps only to maintain her reputation of not "fulling selling out to the g-men."

But something changed.

And that same something brings her here, perhaps one of the few people Coulson's colleagues would not think would be in attendance at his funeral. At Bucky's side, and quietly dressed in black, Jane's sleepless eyes are bleak and her expression is smithed from steel.

She can barely look at the casket, and see the man's face — different now, muscles loosened and smooth, like a mask sharing likeness to the man she knows. Man she knew. Death is not something she can face easily, or well, not since her father, not since before. Her eyes stay averted, anywhere but forward, as she thinks.

He was there for her once — there for her, a moment she was at her weakest. He was murdered.

Bucky's words turn her eyes, and Jane covers his right hand with hers. She's furious, furious as he is, but she still says, "Or probably pissed he's not being buried in his car."

*

The singing ends, and that's the cue for the priest to start presiding over the ceremony.

Things start in the usual way. The call-and-answer parts of the Funeral Mass are in the program, and those who have been to these things will notice that whoever organized this kept it as brief as possible. At least, the Mass parts are brief. There's nothing to be done about speeding up Communion, though there is a note that the non-Catholic are welcome to come up for blessings and can signal their preference by, and this is true, crossing their arms across their chests in a gesture any Wakandan would recognize.

Off in the back, her head covered, a little Pakistani-American girl sits with tears streaming down her face. Kamala Khan doesn't know most of the people here, but she knew Coulson, and she's apparently not remotely shy about letting people see her cry for him. She's not in costume; that would be ridiculous. But she is clutching a little packet in her hands and, if anything, trying to keep the tears from turning into sobs. She only met him once, but he'd inspired her, and she'd saved his life, and she'd only saved it for a few extra days.

When the priest completes the first reading, the choir will sing the first hymn; when the second reading is over, the priest begins the homily. He is a man not much older than Phil, and though he carries that same solemnity that any other clergyman would in the circumstances, it's clear from his eyes that he knew the man.

He speaks well of Phil. Of course he does. He speaks of the man he knew, who was gentle and warm, and of the virtues he had. That he was one of those who walked the walk, that he believed in the connections between people and the highest ideals of his organization. Who exemplified them.

"I know there are many friends and colleagues of Phil Coulson here today," he finishes. "Funerals are not for the dead. Their bodies are as dust, and their souls are in the hands of the everlasting God, but on Earth we grieve for their absence. I would ask you to take this time, therefore, to come and say a few words in his memory."

*

There was a brief silence when the news was broken to Captain America of Coulson's death. Disbelief was the first emotion: after all, death in the superhero world is rather… laughable at times. There are a lot faked deaths, swift resurrections, and near escapes; it makes it hard to tell when final goodbyes are just that. Cap offered condolences to follow SHIELD agents, waiting for Fury or someone else to come out with the 'don't let anyone know this but…' and Cap would give a wry smile with a 'Coulson, you shy dog'

But it never came.

Dazed and seemingly out of touch of this funeral, a man comes in dressed in his military dress attire, though Cap moves to make sure that there is little fanfare.

Perhaps having taken lessons from Peggy, the Man Out of Time slides in mere seconds before the service had begun, making every effort to remain as distant from others as possible and keep to the shadows. But there isn't a brooding bone in Steve's body, just a sad calm that comes the painful repetition of the death of one's friends and allies. At the inital invite for others to come and speak, there is nothing from Steve at first, perhaps the man with so many words waiting for others to speak… Or perhaps for one of the few times in his life that great loss makes him silent.

*

The small Guardian tenses briefly under Atli's hand, dragging in another wet sniff before he sags unyielding as she draws him closer with an arm, deflating like a soggy paper bag.

There's no comment spared in return of Tony's, but Rocket might not even have heard it. He might be regretting not having a drink or several before coming, although he knew he'd only be a worse mess. After all this, however…

He's only half paying attention to the proceedings, their significance lost on him although he's at least some vague idea that it's for some Terran religion or another. Slightly lifting his head as things move on, Rocket slowly straightens in his seat once he feels he's got a better handle of himself, running a sleeve across his eyes because he's not crying, you're crying.

*

Stark? No he is not moving up towards the front. He's not one to talk, mostly because he knows if he talks than he'll say something that someone might regret. Maybe him. Maybe Phil. Maybe someone he hasn't even met yet, but he'll say something and it won't be pretty.

So instead he listens, slumped forwards in the pew near Emma of all people. Elbows balanced on his knees as he leans his head into his hands. Taking a deep sigh. Thankful that the music is over, the engineer raises his eyes towards the silent and still figure of the man laid in state.

…and imagines what he's going to do to the people that did this. It makes him feel a little better.

*

Jane's comment turns Bucky's head and, blasphemy of blasphemies, gets a muted laugh out of him. Though perhaps being able to remember a man with laughter isn't the worst thing. "He probably would have put it in his will if he'd thought of it."

He sobers again, however, as Jane covers his hand with hers with mute promise. The look in his eyes darkens, as his hand turns to take hers. If they could not protect, then they can avenge. Sometimes he feels his hands have forgotten how to preserve… but at least destruction is something the world can equally use, at times. It is all his hands know how to do anymore.

He glances up as Danielle approaches, recognition softening the hard lines of his face. A nod follows her greeting, though there's something about Moonstar's bearing that tilts his head. "Danielle," he says. "You want a seat? I'll shove over. Though — actually — "

Some sixth sense gets him to turn his head, spying Steve in the back. Hidden in the dark corners, as he knew he would be. "Excuse me." He rests his hand on Jane's knee, then gets up and moves quietly down the pews. He tries to draw as little attention to himself as possible as he makes his way to Steve's side.

Once there, he doesn't say much. He only leans his back against the wall, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"Least you don't need a ride from me after, anymore," he eventually says. "Though you never took them, anyway."

*

It takes a long time, but eventually - eventually - Emma casts a glance to the inventor nearby, heaves a long breath, and then deigns to take her sunglasses off to bare her pale, kohl-framed crystalline eyes to light. They're tucked into her purse, and then her lips tighten as the invitation is opened. She's actually somewhat sad that the music's done. It's better than people who might talk, and their messy feelings. It's a horrible thing, both to desperately hope no one talks and hope someone else does.

*

As the ceremony proceeds, Atli looks to the Child of Whersweir, otherwise known as Sloane, and squeeze her hand with the tender touch of a friend who knows the weight of loss. It is a brief thing, for soon there is a call to speak on behalf of the Son of Coul. When it is her turn, Atli gives Rocket one last pat on the back and then rises, leaving Toothbender to move in and dip his head in against Fair Rocket, to keep him company in his grief. The red of her cape sways behind her in her walk forward, until finally she can move behind the podium and look out along those gathered to honor him.

When she speaks, she channels her lineage, every word brought from the Realm Eternal to honor a fallen friend. "I see the many comrades in arms of the mighty Son of Coul have come to bid him to the Halls of Honor, and it swells my heart with pride."

There is a pause and her gaze locks onto each of those closest to Phil, to those she has shared the field of battle with, then she continues. "When I met him… I was the worst. Stumbling through the streets of your greatest city, unable to tend even my goat. Misery gripped me, and I saw this place only as a punishment for some deed not completed. That is, until I met Phil."

Another pause, and she looks down slightly. "..and he threatened to bite my hindquarters."

There is a slow nod then, as if that should explain quite a bit. "It was not the first time I had encountered him, not the first time he had told me how important it was that I live up to my legacy on this world. It was not until he spoke as an Asgardian might that he put in perspective how very dangerous I could be, or how very helpful I could be. He gave me shelter. Gave me the strength of his very spirit. Finally, he gave me great purpose. In all that time, I did not nearly give enough back to Midgard for the strength he helped impart upon me. But now I know, I will spend the rest of eternity trying. I thank the Son of Coul, for his sacrifice for all of us. I thank all of you, for honoring it."

Atli then departs the podium, giving room for another to speak.

*

The priest doesn't go jostling people to get up there; he knows that most of them don't feel much like talking. Sharon knows the same. It's with some gratitude that she (and probably others) regard Atli when she stands. Her speech is… very slightly unorthodox, but it's heartfelt and it's. Well. Just right. And when it's finished, Sharon takes the podium.

Unsurprisingly, she's in black. She's even dressed in black, and warmly. This is the second time she's had to pull out the same nubbly-textured black long-sleeved turtleneck dress. Veterans of Peggy Carter's funeral will probably recognize it.

"I went over what I was going to say… too many times. I kept writing and rewriting, and I couldn't think of what Phil would want said. Then I realized what he'd have told me if he were there. 'Don't worry about it,' he'd say. 'In the moment, you'll know what to say.'"

She takes a deep breath. It takes her a moment to continue. "There's this myth about wolves. They say that there's an alpha male, an alpha female, and they lead the pack. It's not like that. Packs are family groups, and when one member of the pack leaps, so do they all. They're not getting orders. They all decide to leap at the same time. That's what we were."

Sharon shakes her head. "I don't have the words for this. I can only say that he was the finest man I've ever known. He had the heart and the mind to know right from wrong. He knew that if he bent to the world, it would bend him until he was bowed down. So he set his roots into the rock and faced the wind, though it blew away all his leaves."

One more deep breath. "So I ask you to do what I do every day and ask myself what Phil would do if he were here. And if you do that… if you do that, he always will be."

And with that, she trudges back to her seat.

*

Her thumb moves to touch Atli's hand when it's taken, but that's more or less all the Inhuman musters at first.

It takes a lot for her to move; her muscles feel tight and legs leadened. Sloane's weight wobbles a little, looking unsteady before she finds her footing, rising up from her seat. The Inhuman's eyes stay cast downward, expression flat and tired as she slips past both Atli and Rocket and making her way to the front of those gathered.

Sloane stands at the podium, her hands falling to rest on the angle. It takes a lot for her to not just keep looking down; sorrow, guilt, anger, and a whole lot of other emotions sit at rest on her shoulders, letting her head slant to one side and simply standing there. Her fingers clench the packet of tissues a little tighter, the crinkle of the wrapper deafening by contrast to her own silence.

"Phil Coulson…"

She hesitates, pulling in a breath past clenched teeth. "Phil Coulson…"

Slipping a finger behind one of her large, pointed ears, Sloane scratches at the side of her neck before trying to find her voice a third time. "I was a college student. This kind of life was never in the cards for someone like me. Then I changed, and … Coulson was there for me. He helped me get on my feet. He showed me a way forward." Swallowing, her head tilts, lifting her gaze just beyond the edge of the podium.

"I haven't talked to my Dad in a long time, but Coulson," Sloane starts, then chokes back the words. "Coulson—"

Finally, the tears come; her shoulders wrack and her head tilts forward while she tries — unsuccessfully — to keep it back. She tries to stand her ground, but shakes her head and moves back to the pew, sitting down and putting her head down against the top of the back of the pew just ahead. Set in that pose, her hands slip over her face, and she just starts letting it all out.

*

"Thanks. Appreciate it." Is Danielle's immediate response to Bucky's offer to move on over and when he rises to step toward the back, Dani simply settles herself into the pew.

Then comes the singing and the prayers, and the general proceedings of this particular tradition, and through it all Dani's expression was closed off. It's only as the priest asks for anyone to speak, that Dani takes a minute to glance over to Jane. "How're you doing?" She asks quietly, automatically striving for those polite things people ask and talk during emotionally charged times.

As people move to the podium and speak, the Cheyenne woman moves her focus to them, listening to what they have to say as they speak. It's only as Atli mentions the Halls of Honor, that Dani's expression shifts - her lips thin out into a tight tense line, and then when Atli finishes, Sharon steps up.

The 'don't worry about it' pulls forth an unbidden smile of agreement from Dani; he would totally say that. The rest of Sharon's words bring back the solemn expression of Dani's and then, when Sharon finishes and Sloane rises to speak and tries to finish her speech, but can't quite make it Moonstar's expression shifts to something close to sympathy.

*

As the singing dies down, and the guiding priest's words echo the marbled ceilings of the cathedral, Jane lets her eyes wander.

She listens, though in truth, her mind is on the sea of faces among the pews. So many faces she knows: if not already famous, are definitely familiar. Her eyes linger on Tony, who on the surface looks no worse for wear, though Jane's perceptive eye can catch the frays between the seams.

Even beyond her guilt towards the man, her heart goes out for him. For Tony to be here… they must have been close. She recognizes Sharon, if even they've not spoken considerably in person: recognizes her from Peggy's funeral. The elder Peggy's family. Again, having to stand firm and strong through another death, and speak for her lost people.

Rocket is another face Jane recognizes. Another entire well of guilt where her strained heart is concerned. And the way he quietly cries —

Jane's eyes sting. She looks away again before it's too much, more than liable to join him. It doesn't feel right, in so many ways, to see others in the private moments of pain, much as it frightens her to have them see her so — open. Exposed. So much of this is taking her back years, back as a child at her grandmother's interment. Back as a young woman at her father's funeral. She looks down at her hand covering Bucky's.

Dani's familiar voice eventually draws up Jane's eyes, and she smiles a quiet hello. Then, as Bucky excuses himself — Jane's eyebrows lift in question, though his touch on her knee seems to communicate a silent answer.

She squeezes his hand, then lets him go, looking after Bucky's back with gentled eyes. Then, with a motion to Dani, invites the woman to take the free spot. She squeezes her hand.

"Dani," she greets, voice quiet, respectful to the stories being told. "I'm so sorry. We're fine. Dealing. How are you?—"

Her attention rivets back up, drawn when Sloane's words begin to unravel, lost into weeping. Jane's eyes tighten with sympathy, heartbreak, and discomfort all, staring down at her own lap. She reminds herself again: she hates death.

*

Sadness. It's a word describing a feeling that has its foreign moments whenever it arrives. It is one that grasps onto the hearts of all who have gathered for one man, and it seems no one is immune to its effect.

But somewhere, in the inner pocket of Rocket's suit jacket, a small twiggy hand emerges. It attempts to grab at the end of it once, twice before pulling it back. The sleepy visage of Groot appears, black eyes blinking groggily from a nap that shouldn't have occurred. After stretching out his limbs, he rubs at his eyes, shutting them tightly before opening them again.

Unfortunately, the sadness doesn't leave him alone.

Groot is too young to understand. It's more like he should already know why this is happening, but at the same time he keeps thinking Coulson will come back. Coulson, standing tall as he always does, returning the next day to drop in and visit the Guardians. Smiling that smile. Having that particular look in his eye, sharp and aware of what he's doing.

Coulson is here, however. He's among them. Just not in the way any of them would have expected.

The same little hand tugs at Rocket's shirt. Big, black eyes look up at him with concern. "…I am Groot?" he asks in his tiniest voice, his pitch barely breaking the barrier of the somber atmosphere.

*

Rin is as still as a stature during the service. She understands that funeral mass might bring comfort to some people, but it's never something that settled well with her. She's too logical, and all this talk of an afterlife does not compute in her brain. Than again if someone says 'He's in a better place.' to her one more time she'll scream.

However when people get up and start talking about him, sharing stories and Rin feels a pull in her stomach. She should say something, she really feels like she should say something. After all if the roles were reversed, he would say something at her funeral. Granted, he would probably be the only attendee, but he would speak.

She waits her turn, watching as some lose their composure, and others remain in their seats. Taking a steadying breath, she finally walks up and gets behind the podium. She clears her throat, and gives one glance at the lifeless body in the casket. She can't say what she wants to say, too much of their work lives are tied up in confidential situations, but she finally settles on something.

"Phil understood people in a way I never will. He saw potential, he knew where to place them, who would work well together and how to guide someone as stubborn as me in a direction that wasn't reckless or aimless. He literally gave his life for his job, and it's a ff—reeaking cosmic joke that this is how is rewarded. This whole planet is sh- crr-worse without him." With that, she leaves the stage, feeling that she fulfilled her obligation.

It takes a lot of effort to keep herself from crying, but even more to keep herself from swearing in a church. She can almost feel the disappointed Dad face he would have given had she done it.

*

A half-hearted pat on Toothbender's head is all he offers the goat. Sniffles continue to betray him as Rocket watches and listens as those that wish to speak of Coulson go up to do so. The words only feel like further weight added to his shoulders, and more than a few times he has to bite down a sob, seeing Sloane break down up at the podium nearly doing him in.

It's Groot who drops the final blow as the raccoonoid glances down, feeling the little tree tike stir. He carefully helps his tiny pal out of his pocket to sit him on his lap, meeting those big brown eyes with all too moist brown-red ones.

The question is more so innocuous for the limitation of its three words, but they say so much more, even if it's meaning is in just as many. Swallowing, he drapes his arms around Groot and the sob that escapes him is embarrassingly loud, but he ducks his head against his chest, muffling the rest to follow.

*

Dani returns the squeeze of Jane's hand, "Similar." She states honestly enough, before continuing quietly, "Though when you both have a minute to chat - outside of this - we should touch base. I've a bit of information -"

On Phil's death, but Dani doesn't quite finish that statement. Especially not as she continues to keep some of her attention upon those that speak and those around. For Dani, herself, she stays seated. While she could speak to the honor of the death, the knowledge of just where the man's soul really is causes her to hold her tongue.

Whether Groot's quiet question is heard or not, Rocket's cries are. That brings Dani's attention over her shoulder and over to the Raccoon and the young tree-like Groot. Again sympathy turns the Cheyenne woman's expression downward.

*

Slowly, Steve takes in the words of all those honoring the great man: Atli speaking as a Phil as a guide of a stranger as he introduced her to a strange world while also working his all to protect it, Sharon speaking of the power of family to fight as one and the unity he worked to create, the simple emotion and outpouring of grief by Sloane over losing a trusted father figure, the insight of Rin speaking of Coulson's skill and character that made him who he was.

Calmly, Steve moves toward the podium, his soft blue eyes looking straight ahead, as if worried that a mere glance to the left or the right would spell disaster.

Finally, Rogers makes his way toward the podium, his hand moving to grasp it slowly.

"I was told that Agent Coulson was a man who looked up to heroes. I know he had told me the ones he had admired and for those that knew him, it was little surprise what influences were on his life." Steve, ever the one to give a proper speech, offers a brief silence and a small smile. "While I wish I got to know him more than I did, it was clear that he was fascinated with heroes; in love with the struggle of noble hearts against dark intentions, of idealism triumphing over pragmatic controls, of people rising up from who they were to be something more. He was a bright man, gifted and talented. He could have been in the military, government, or corporate. He would have been a pioneer of character wherever he chose. And he chose to be where he would be seen the least and lose the most; because he understood a hero must be willing to sacrifice for what he believes in."

The eyes look out, seeking both to encourage despite the grief, to inspire despite the pain. While the eyes water, Cap keeps the composure, because like many here, he's been done this road before, even if it seems longer and darker than it has been in times past.

"Coulson's final sacrifice is the one that concluded his tale, but I know it was far from the first. He sacrificed his future, eschewing all the opportunities life could give him to serve within his proud organization. He sacrificed his time, willing to lend an ear to all willing to listen. His sacrificed his heart, willing to care about those that people would soon discard or abandon. While Coulson was inspired by good men and women becoming superheroes, he was perhaps better than any that he worked with. He made as much of a impact if not more than most heroes and he didn't need the strength of a god, the speed of lightning, nor gifts of magic fantastic. All he had was the power to give of himself and inspire others to do the same. But I'm glad that here and now, he will be counted by us here as the hero he sought to become and lived a life of service and integrity. Thank you, Coulson, for showing us the best of humanity and its heroes."

Slowly, Steve moves toward the casket. First, the woman that loved him. Now the man that idolized him. A moment of silence is given before Steve gives the sign of the cross before he pulls out two items. First is the one of faith, a small cross hanging from his necklace which is draped slowly inside. The second takes a moment to secure, slightly shaking hands moving to unpin one of the dressings of war, the odd award Cap was awarded twice: once when he 'gave his life' to crash a weapon overseas and twice when he revealed to be alive.

It's not a signed set of baseball cards, but it'll do.

Having paid all the tribute and respect possible to the simple man from SHIELD, Rogers takes his seat in the back once more.

*

Rejoining Rocket, Groot, and Sloane, an arm goes around the fish girl, another around the Not-Raccoon, and she squeezes them all together in a hug, content to help them through this trying time. Even Toothbender helps, laying his head against one of Sloane's knees, the creature often of such terrible temper and awful taste, and yet today the goat wishes he could shed tears. The words of the others pour in, heartfelt. Thankful. Beyond sad. Sloane's still ring in her ear, drenched with emotion.

But it is not until the Shieldmaiden of Midgard speaks that her eyes do draw upward, listening with rapt attention to the words of a man who holds the honor of an entire world in his heart. Here she understands the stories her grandfather told of him, for while she had seen him in battle, she never understood what Old King Thor had meant when he had said Steven Rogers had a heart that could give and give.

But she understands now.

As Steve gives his final tribute, Atli hugs her friends close once more, giving them each a pat on the back. Except for Groot. Who is too smol.

*

People are doing speeches. People are crying. The greatest engineer of the age sits there for a moment as he stares up at the podium like it is a living thing. Set up there to devour him, or confound him, or something to that effect. Tony Stark glowers at that podium as people march up and back. Saying words both with and without tears.

He has no tears. Mostly because if he started, he isn't sure just when he would stop.

Slowly, against his own better judgement he starts to move. To stand, a smirk given towards Emma that has volumes of 'don't judge' in it as he slips past her to make his own way towards the podium. A hand is rested on Kamala's shoulder for a moment as he passes, then again on Sloane's as he stalks up towards the microphone and the podium.

He takes his place, slipping his glasses back on as he does so. He might have has JARVIS prepare some words for him or something? Its hard to tell with Stark.

"Phil." He starts slowly. "Was a pain in my ass." Coming on the heels of Steve's moving. Calming words of heroes. Of hope and light and liberty. Of how a Hero went down fighting to the end and how he deserves to be respected and remembered. This might seem the height of disrespect.

But this is Tony Stark, and anyone who actually knows him would know its just about the opposite.

"But he was a bigger pain for all the people he was stacked up against. And he was stacked up against a lot of them." Stark draws a deep breath. "He never gave up. He never surrendered. He was the best of all of us and…"

He turns then to look at the man in the casket and pauses. Perhaps overcome by the loss of his friend. Perhaps the link to JARVIS' speech just hiccuped. It could be quite a few things, its hard to tell with Tony Stark.

*

He asks. He's naive. Just like a child to ask a question that would break a full-grown raccoon alien's heart into smaller pieces.

Rocket sobbing isn't the response Groot expects. Nor one that he wants.

It startles him. And from where he sits, he just stares - upward for a while longer, then out toward the others in attendance. He cannot see everyone from his perspective, but he can hear them. He can see Atli draw both him and Rocket in closer, patted and left wondering why she isn't the cheerful Atli he's used to being around.

The others, they're also hurting. Hurting on different levels, but still hurting. Because Coulson is here.

Because Coulson isn't back.

…And his eyes begin to well up.

A tiny, groot-like noise chokes, teetering between gasps. One giant tear escapes. Another follows. And another. A drawn-out wail erupts from the plant alien, rising up as Tony trails off, echoing within the church's interior.

*

The words of others, the reactions of others, move Sharon toward tears more than once. But she holds it back. She's got to hold it together. She's got to…

…it's hard to hold it together when Sloane dissolves. Even harder when she sees what Steve does. The grief in this room is palpable.

And when Tony hesitates…

Sharon takes a deep breath. It's audible, as is a faint throatclear, and hopefully those will be enough to catch Tony's attention, or at least his glance. When she has it? A minute nod.

Maybe she's just sympathizing. She sure is staring intensely for sympathy, though. Raising both hands, she runs them over her cheeks, then brings them together at her lips. Her fingers rest at her lips for just a moment, as if in a double-librarian-hush gesture, then fall into her lap.

*

She's been listening to tributes from those who knew Coulson better. Blocking the rush of grief, but it creeps around the edges for a telepath in palpable and uncomfortable waves. When Tony moves to get up, however, Emma looks surprised. Genuinely so. And then her eyes narrow into suspicious slits. SO judging. That's… kinda what she does. And Tony Stark is not the boss of her.

Phil was a pain the ass.

The words as they reverberate through the Catholic church see Emma Frost's head dip down, her hand lift, and she pinches the bridge of her nose. 'Good grief,' says all of the blonde's body language, and then - as Stark begins to trail off - it changes.

Then her eyes settle on Stark with what is perhaps a surprising… Okay, it's really not a surprising firmness at all to anyone who knows the woman's heartless reputation. But it's stony and cold and unblinking.

*

Atli provides a comfort that's still a little foreign to Rocket, but it's not unwelcome as she once again brings an arm about him and even Sloane. It's not enough to stave off sadness, but it's a reminder that he's not alone in his grief. People wouldn't be here if the death of Phil Coulson hadn't touched them in some way.

Rocket watches as Tony goes up, and his opening words draw a snort of a laugh, a rueful smile. "He totally was a pain in the ass," he says fondly. But even so, he tried to make right, tried to be supportive. Tried to make things work for them.

When Groot begins to wail, Rocket brings his hand over the little guy's head. Maybe he understands. Maybe he doesn't quite. The small Guardian draws the even smaller into a hug like one would normally do in attempts to soothe a crying toddler.

*

Tony start stand there for a moment. Still overcome by something or other. He draws a very deep breath as he slowly turns and catches Sharon's eye. That look. That twitch. And Stark's eyebrow twitches for just a second before he blows out a long sigh.

"He was a great guy that Phil."

Yup. He's just so overcome he can't say more than that. Instead he sets the microphone down carefully and starts to stalk back to his seat. Stalk. Eyes slightly narrowed, annoyance radiating from him and he hasn't even taken his glasses off.

He'll thumb back into his seat, peering at the back of Sharon's head.

And listening to the echo is the White Queen's words in his skull.

"JARVIS." His voice hardly above a whisper. "Get me an appointment with Fury."

A longer pause as JARVIS responds. "Then hack something to get his attention. Yesterday." The engineer growls as he either fumes, or sulks, or maybe a combination of the two. Once more its hard to tell with Tony Stark.

*

With this, the ceremony continues. Finishes, even.

There is the Holy Communion, and for the non-Catholic, the blessings given instead of the Body and Blood. There is more singing.

And then the final words from the priest, intoned with feeling and, perhaps, extra meaning to some.

"In peace let us take our brother to his final rest." He pauses for a moment: "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death shall be no more. And neither mourning, nor crying out, nor grief shall be anymore. For the first things have passed away."

At that, the recessional music begins and people begin to rise and file out. Kamala reaches out to give Stark's shoulder a squeeze before joining Sloane and the others. And Sharon…

Sharon pauses first by Rin, murmuring: "I have no idea where to begin with bringing you back as you should be. But we will. To start with, I'm going to catch us an inventor." She'd give her a shoulder-squeeze except… well, that's the problem, isn't it? She breaks away then, clearly making a beeline for Stark. Her face is resolute, for all that it looks a little pale and drawn.

*

Rin wants to tune all of this out, and she manages to do just that while everyone goes up for their blessings and people starts mingling and passing condolences. Rin stays where she is, nearly feeling like a ghost herself, and part of her wonders if he is dead, but so far she appears to be alive. When Sharon pauses by Rin and lowers her voice, the Agent tilts her head. "I have ideas, but I don't know if I trust our employer to go with it." Since she has very little else to think about. When Sharon says she's going after an inventor, Rin nods. "I'll come with you. He dislikes me, but maybe we can pull the grief card."

It's a distraction, and it's better than listening to other people cry.

*

Gathering up Groot, Rocket waits for the crowds to thin a little before he hops down from the bench. "You wanna see 'im?" he quietly asks the little tree tyke, gesturing with a nod towards the front.

He starts to edge around towards the side aisle to make his way towards the casket, finally really letting himself have a look at the others around as they may mill about or be on their way out of the cathedral. Just a quick look and a final good-bye. They owed Deadeye at least that much.

*

Consolation from a friend helps. Groot quiets down, his gulping sobs turning into a brief set of hiccups as he buries his face into Rocket's shirt. A muffled "I am Groot" is barely audible among the shirtfolds, but it isn't anything pressing.

But there's a nod. Clinging to Rocket, Groot inhales, thin rivulets of tears still spilling down his bark-covered face. "I am Groot."

Good-bye. It's not something he wants to say, but it's about all he and Rocket can do for the agent. The feelings will stay with him, and the memory of having ice cream with Coulson will linger in the back of his mind.

*

Even if Sloane's a Boston-born Catholic, there's little comfort in the ceremonies and the rituals; she cries into Atli's shoulder, letting it out like a busted dam, even feeling the fuzzy little mitt of Rocket join in on the moment.

As the ceremonies finish, wiping her eyes and shuffling up out of the seat, there's at least a little less weight, stiffness, and pain showing — but that's the key word, 'showing.' She even gives Toothbender a friendly little scratch behind the ears.

She didn't see Kamala come in, but knowing that the other Inhuman was here for the service is welcoming and warm. Sloane looks a little rough around the edges still, what with the near-healed dings and the missing scales and the days-old bruises. Stepping in to hug her friend, she puts her head down to Kamala's shoulder for a moment. "It's good to see you."

It is good. It's good. But … it doesn't get any easier. She learned that lesson from Phil a long time ago, and tried to warn Ms. Marvel about it once. Now, she has to face that truth a whole lot closer to home than she ever thought possible.

*

Tony is still sitting. Still in the back on the same row with Emma, and there is a slow look towards the Agent as she walks hurriedly up the isle towards him. He just sits, arms still folded, watching her approach and not looking at the coffin or the podium in the least.

Nope.

He's just watching her with this 'I'm so judging' you look on his face.

…he's been hanging around Emma too long.

*

She is so not going to say that Emma is a bad influence. This is not the time or the place. Sharon looks to her first, inclining her head: "Ms. Frost, I presume. Agent Coulson spoke very highly of you. We have things to discuss. The four of us. …Tony, unless you happen to have brought a self-driving car, I recommend we take mine."

Because no part of the oncoming conversation will surprise her, while someone else might get a little distracted, and Distracted Driving Kills.

She looks to Rin, then: "This is Agent Nakano. She saw what happened. She needs the help of someone thoroughly brilliant to bring her back into the physical world. Please, don't say 'no' until you hear what I have to say."

*

The two Guardians reach the casket, Rocket only realizing the slight problem as they draw near. He eyes the edge of it, looks around and then back up again. "Groot, stay there," he says as he lifts the little guy up to the side of the casket. Because no one's certainly going to panic at a fancy-dressed raccoon clambering up the side of the thing, right?

Hauling himself up so he can drape his elbows over the edge, Rocket peers at the lifeless form of their unusual Terran friend. He feels another sniffle coming on, and then pauses abruptly, brows furrowing. He leans in a little more and sniffs more deliberately.

"…what the hell?!"

*

They're not disrespecting the body. Groot is being good, balancing on the edge of the casket where Rocket places him. It's totally fine.

But in the middle of sniffling from a non-existent nose, Groot blinks. Rapidly. His tearful expression immediately changes to one of confusion at his friend's outburst.

*

Tony just angles a glance up towards Sharon, a quirked eyebrow. "Six of us." He drawls out as he nods back towards the body laid out in state. "Unless you want what I'm going to assume an irate raccoon shouting in the church." A pause. "Where did SHIELD find one of—you know what. Never mind. Not important. What is important is we head out soon. You explain before I lock your entirely group out of the Helicarrier, and don't think I can't, and that yes. I do have a self driving car."

…because of course he does. He's Tony Stark.

*

Keen ears catch the sound of Rocket's sudden bafflement. Sharon… winces. "Then I'll meet you at your car," she says. It's not going to be hard to find, goodness knows. "Rin, this is Tony Stark; Tony, Rin. One minute, please."

Seconds later, she's standing behind Rocket with a polite smile. "I'm Sharon Carter," she says softly. "I'm — I was — Agent Coulson's XO. You must be Rocket, and this must be Groot. I've heard a lot about you. There's something important we should really talk about. Just not in here."

*

Sharon has good timing, as it looks like Rocket is about to reach over and start doing some poking. His ears perk at the sound of footsteps approaching, and he glances over his shoulder at the woman before dropping back down to the floor, arms folding.

"That right…" His nose wrinkles, but he starts to nod slowly at her. "Okay, you've got my attention. This better be good, jus' sayin'."

Turning, he lifts his hands up for Groot to hop down again, another nod given towards Sharon. Lead the way, lady.

*

"We've met." Rin says to Stark and Sharon. It was through Coulson of course and he was always scolding her not to touch all of Tony's shiny bits of technology. Granted, Phil is gone now so maybe her promise is fulfilled? Than again, with how everyone's acting right now, there is something how everyone is acting right now, and of course the tree and the raccoon on Phil's casket is causing the confusion to grow.

"Yeah it sounds like we have a lot of talking to do. I'm guessing SHIELD is doing one of it's SHIELD things again."

*

As Sharon approaches, Groot stands there, still on the casket, small hands lightly clasping and tapping in the space in front of his gnarly torso. But there isn't any hesitation in his hopping into Rocket's hands, clinging to the furry Guardian once more as they go to discuss things in a more appropriate setting.

*

"'Good' is a matter of opinion." Sharon leads Rocket and Groot back to the rest, taking a deep breath. Not really how she'd planned on doing this. But at least the funeral went off more or less without a hitch, and. Well.

Phil Coulson is dead. People don't survive getting their hearts carved up like that.

It's just that apparently, someone doesn't think that means he gets more than a few days off.

"For what it's worth," Sharon says when she reaches Rin and Tony again, "it wasn't my idea."

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