Nothing's Biting but the Circumstances

September 25, 2018:

Peggy and Phil talk after his violent and confusing revival.

Phil's Cabin in Wisconsin

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Seneschal

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

SHIELD has turned Phil Coulson's Wisconsin vacation cabin into a safehouse. Which is to say there are armed men patroling the perimeter, and the gates have people checking badges. People have to be cleared ahead of time.

At the center of the property, in the eye of the storm, Phil…fishes. That's what he's done for several days. He sits on the pier, he fishes. It's a far cry from suddenly attacking medical personnel, sure that they're enemy spies or any number of things. Sometimes he has lost time or place. Sometimes he thinks he's somewhen else, or somewhere else. Sometimes the things he's see in the Veil have clearly left their mark.

The higher-ups decided a Hellscape in New York really wasn't a good thing to keep the Agent around. They've given him some little blue pills to try to stabilize his mind. They've sent for Emma Frost to try to stabilize his mind more directly. And anyone they think he might trust? Anyone at all? They're being given clearance to go see him.

Needless to say there's a bit of distress that the Lazarus project isn't going quite so smoothly as they'd hoped.

*

There's demons raining from the sky in New York City. It's not a metaphor or a song lyric, it is the actual truth of reality. While she has been generally coordinating and helping with civilian evacuation and rescues and diverting what resources she can find to try and put some sort of order to New York while also sending others to find the source of that conflict, there is a short phone call.

Despite the invasion, despite the demons, Peggy is quick to take a Quinjet to Wisconsin when she hears that Coulson is needing help after his awakening. The guards know her and let her pass through as she arrives. Quickly, she's directed to the pier. While she is a deft spy and a woman well trained to not be noticed or heard until she wishes, her heels click audibly on the wood of the pier as she approaches Phil Coulson. She's dressed casually for Peggy Carter: heels, a long skirt that might be considered flawy and a sweater for the colder Wisconsin. It's a clear statement for Phil…she's here as Peggy Carter and not Agent Carter.

"What are you hoping to catch?" she asks, wind slowly tousling her curled hair.

*

Phil certainly doesn't look much like an agent. Not in his jeans, construction boots, plaid shirt and white t-shirt. He looks up at her, and as Mad as a Hatter as he may be, seems to catch the intent behind the look. Some level of guardedness drops from his face, not quite as well-concealed as it might have been once, and he says, "Bass. Or trout. You're welcome to take up a pole if you'd like one. It's been ages since I got to do this. I find I'm appreciating the chance to do it again."

A pause, and he says, "It's good to see you." And this hea means. Though he suddenly frowns.

"Did I…attack you?"

He genuinely doesn't remember if she was the one. It's some vague bit of memory, some piece floating to the surface. It might not even have been her.

*

Heels click as she expertly walks down the pier toward Coulson. Her heels miss every gap in the planks though she does not seem to be watching or carefully placing her feet anywhere. Only when she's standing almost over top of him does she carefully pull off her heels and then set them down. Then, she sits down right next to him, caring little for the wrinkling of her skirt or otherwise.

"I can't say I have much experience with this," she tells him. However, she takes the pole up and starts to inspect it. "Did you fish often before joining SHIELD?" This is not fishing for information or humoring him, it's a genuine interest. She only knows Phil through SHIELD and his SHIELD file. While she knows him personally, she knows very little of his personal backstory. The facts? Yes. The statistics? Definitely. Things like he enjoyed fishing off a pier? Those are not included in his background check.

His question of whether he attacked her is met with a pause. She could lie, she could protect him. That is practically the SHIELD way. However, she respects Phil and respect deserves the truth. "Yes. You did. It was right after you woke up. You were confused and thinking yourself in danger."

*

"I'm sorry, Peggy," Phil says, looking away for a moment. "I hope I didn't hurt you too much."

But he exhales. On to more pleasant topics. "Indeed. This was my family's vacation cabin. Before Dad died he took me out here and taught me. As, I suppose, I'm about to teach you."

He offers out a live cricket. "I use live bait," he says apologetically. "I've never liked the artificial stuff much. Not everyone has the stomach for it, but as tranquil as fishing looks there's a bit of a darker side to it, I suppose. You need to thread the hook right through the back and into the fleshy part. Then we'll work on your cast."

Adding to the narrative he says, "I've gotten back here once or twice since becoming an Agent, but…vacations are few and far between for all of us. Still, that's the nice thing about a lake, and a well-built house. They're always there, patiently waiting for you, here when you're ready for them again."

*

"It's alright. I would like to say I gave as good as I got, however you completely caught me by surprise." There is no malice, no seeming held animosity for being attacked by Coulson while he regained his senses. "I'm no more worse for wear, though."

The apologetic look given for using a live cricket is met with a bit of a tilted head and then a smile. "I know something about darker sides and violence," she assures him. She - in her timeline - recently survived a very bloody war in which her hands were certainly bloodied. The cricket is taken and she presses the hook through the cricket as instructed.

"It's a lovely spot. I don't think I've ever been to Wisconsin. I'm more familiar with the opposite coasts to America. The in between bits are little more mysterious."

As she waits for Coulson to help her with her cast, she gives a look about before her gaze rests on the man beside her. "You know I must ask the inevitable question. How are you feeling?"

*

"No, you certainly are not," Phil says with a flash of a smile. In regards to being a stranger to violence. "And no doubt you did, though I barely remember." In regards to giving as good as she got. "Alright. You want to squeeze the trigger here. Pull back, and then when you flick your wrist, release. Like this."

His own newly baited pole is ready to go, and he demonstrates the cast. The line lands in the water with a plop, the little bobber settling cheerfully on the surface. "The bobber, in addition to what you'll feel, tells you when you've got a bite."

As for Wisconsin being more mysterious, he chuckles. "Flyover country, they call this, but they couldn't be more wrong. The Midwest is home to some gorgeous spots, plenty of beautiful places to play in nature, even lots of landmarks, monuments, art, culture. Great festivals and friendly people."

But then there is the inevitable question.

He's quiet for a moment, watching his line in the water. He could lie. Demurre. He's good at it.

He could make a joke.

Instead he says, "I'm still disoriented. I'm still not sure what to do about all the people who went to my funeral. What to say to them. And…I've been confronted with something. An incident from my past. I'm not sure what to do about it, either."

*

Zatanna Zatara arrives from The Sound Stages.

*

Zatanna Zatara heads out to The Sound Stages.

*

A quick study, Peggy watches as Coulson casts his line. Then, she bobs her own pole for a few moments to get the weight and the feel of it and then she follows his lead. It's certainly not as good a cast as his, however it's passable. With a soft plop against the water, her bobber lands a good ways away from them. Keeping a hold onto it, she lets her bare feet dangle slightly, tips of her toes cresting against the water as the drift back and forth idly.

"There's always more to every place than one may think," she agrees with a smile. There has never been a city or town she has been in that doesn't have its own ins and outs and mysteries. "If you have the time to show me about for the next day or so, I'd appreciate that." There is, of course, always the press to get back to New York, to the job and the demon invasion that remains there that needs to be taken care of.

"That's understandable," she tells him about being disoriented. She didn't attend her counterpart's funeral, but this is one of the very few places where she feels as if she can give advice. It's a strange club to be a part of. "I know our situations are different, however, from my own experience? When you are ready, come let people know you are here and willing to talk to them. And from there? Just allow things to happen. People will feel happy, but they may also feel betrayed and confused. They may not trust you are who you are. Just allow them to work through it and focus on what you must do."

As for being confronted with something, she gives a look. "Do you want to talk about it?" She won't press him if he doesn't wish to speak about it.

*

"I would be honored to show you about," Coulson says with a quirk of a smile. "There are quite a few little downtown areas nearby you might enjoy. Save for Milwaukee this part of the state is all these lovely little tiny towns, each with their own character and fun things. It will be nice to show them off to someone who'll appreciate them."

Does he want to talk about them? He frowns, unsure. Then he shakes his head.

"It's my duty to talk about them," he says. "It's…about an incident in 1993."

*

Peggy certainly knows about duty and what is one's duty to bring forward and what to do.

For a moment, she looks out against the water. Her bobber does exactly what its name suggests, gently rising and sinking against the ripples of the lake. Then, she looks over to Phil. "I understand that it is your duty. However, if you do not wish to talk about it, that is alright." She is attempting to tell him she understands the difference and she is not pressing him.

However, after that clarification, she does not stop him, nor does she urge him to speak. If he wishes to do so, she is clearly willing to listen. If he does not, they can continue to fish and discuss other things.

*

"That night, I shot an Agent because I thought she was a traitor. Benjamin Palmer and I found her standing over the body of another Agent, whom she'd just shot. I found her apparently trying to destroy some evidence, and I did not hesitate."

He watches the bobber. Up and down and up and down. The fish aren't biting today.

"But at some point I…"

Did he dream it? See it while he was dead? he doesn't even know anymore.

"I realized. She wasn't a traitor at all. She was hunting traitors. She shot one, and was looking for the other. Trying to figure out whether it was Benjamin, or me. She died thinking it was me. And if I'd just…stopped. Talked to her for just a minute. She might have said something that would have tipped me off. Instead, a good woman died. And I ended up…close. Really close. To a man who would ultimately betray SHIELD and…"

And kill him, but he leaves that part unsaid.

*

Their circle of shared experience has infinitely become smaller. Benjamin Palmer might have killed the other Peggy Carter as well. And yet they are both still alive. Peggy listens to Coulson as she confesses the story of killing another agent in the line of duty, of thinking her a traitor and making a judgement call.

This murdered Agent was both before and after her time at SHIELD. She has no idea about her demeanor, her work ethic…but she does think she know something about Phil Coulson. "From what we can tell of Palmer, he has been tugging at strings for years. I looked into his files. He supposedly died on a mission in 1998. He's on the Wall, Phil." That is, the Wall of Valor to commemorate fallen SHIELD agents that is in the Triskelion. She's attempting to tell him that he fooled everyone - the entire organization.

"You were doing what you thought was good for SHIELD at the time." Frowning, she pauses and tugs a bit on her line. "Who was the agent? What was she like?"

*

"Her name was Petronoff. Laura Petronoff. She was a good woman. Older agent. Mentored me a bit." Phil says quietly. He is on the wall, and he frowns down at the fishing pole.

Hopefully they didn't get around to shoving Phil's name on it. That would be really awkward.

"That artifact has apparently fascinated him for years too. The one I destroyed. That mission, that day? That was the day we retrieved it from Kuwait. Item 444."

Having Peggy Carter's understanding, of all people's, seems to have eased some of the tension out of Phil's shoulders. He still greatly admires her and looks up to her, and if she thinks he acted in good faith than maybe he can stop tormenting himself. Hopefully Laura has had a calmer afterlife than he did, at any rate.

"It was a weird item. A bracelet that made you move fast, made senses sharper. It probably could do other things, but that was all I personally ever made it do. I used it to advantage when I got my hands on it, but I didn't play with it. It's why I went for it at the warehouse. It might have made me a match for Pietro Maximoff."

*

All of this is met with another few moments of silence while Peggy processes. Things start to link back to the past. It all seems to link back to things she was not in this time period for or that even extend to when she was an SSR agent. This, though, has other SHIELD history and one she is not familiar with.

The talk of Petronoff is met with a wan smile. "If you are not against it, we could petition to put her on the Wall." She did, after all, die in the line of duty, no matter the circumstances.

Then, she moves on to the other subject. "You wore them?" she looks a bit surprised. "And they enhanced your senses? Do we know anything more about it before you sterilized the container?" That is something and she doesn't seem to be blaming him for destroying the bracelet. Between the bracelet being destroyed and being in Palmer's hands? She would much prefer it destroyed. "So, you're saying that Palmer saw you use those bracelets and then made it is mission to attempt to retrieve them, despite them being designated to Warehouse 13?" Peggy frowns. "Did you work other missions with him? And did they also involve artifacts?"

*

"I'm not against it. I'm all for it," Phil says.

He nods briefly. "I wore them, but after we gave them to the scientists for remand to Warehouse 13 I never saw them again. If someone else did any experimentation on them I never found out about it."

She asks a salient question. "I…worked a lot of missions with him. Like I said, we were…close. Not just partners. More. When I thought he was dead I was devastated. When I learned he was alive and a traitor, I was furious. Not that I had much time to process it, of course."

He frowns at the water, trying to remember. Apparently it's one of those things that has become scrambled. But at last he says, "Not all of them. A few of them did. I…I will try to remember. The doctor says when I start to remember things I should journal them. A lot of things are scrambled. Not gone, just…not right anymore either."

He gives her an apologetic smile. "But if any relevant memories surface," and don't send him into a paroxysm of trying to live the memory in a way that endangers his security team or something, "I'll let you know right away."

*

They were not just partners, they were more. Peggy understands that. There's something of a look to Phil. She keeps one hand on her fishing pole and then the other one, hesitantly, reaches out and rests on his shoulder for a gesture of comfort.

"I saw nothing in the file for it. It's possible we still don't know what they could have done. It's probably best he did not get his hands on them." Especially as that is something he seemed to specifically intent on in the raid on the Warehouse.

"If you can think of anything, it would be helpful. If not? We will find it out. We're looking into quite a lot of what is going on in SHIELD now. I'm assembling a team."

With a smile, the hand squeezes on his shoulder. "Honestly? I am simply glad you're awake and fishing. If you need any help or wish to talk, you know how to reach me."

*

"I feel odd," Phil admits. "Part of me says I should return to work. Hit the ground running. Get your full briefing on everything that's transpired over this past six months. Get right on your team. But…I also know I'm not quite there yet. And it would be more detrimental than helpful for me to try. I appreciate you coming out all this way to see me, Peggy. I hope you'll enjoy the guest room tonight so we can go see a few sights tomorrow. I don't know if we'll successfully catch dinner, but if we don't I have some steaks in the fridge ready to hit the grill."

Phil has been notorious for being part of the I'm Fine club in the past. Always wanting to get back to work. But right now his rueful gaze says he's not got the energy to play that game right now.

*

Peggy knows something about that. Pulling her hand from his shoulder, she puts it back to the fishing pole. While the fish are not exactly biting, they may at some point and it is always good to be ready. "You were in a coma for six months. Taking a bit of time is not only a good idea, but I think necessary for you. Though I certainly understand the desire to dive yourself back into work as soon as the opportunity presents itself."

Everything has been rather polite and easy, however at this juncture, Peggy can't help herself. She presses onward. "I'm glad to partake in either steaks or dinner. However, I'm here for you, Phil. I'm here to try and find out how you are doing and help. You've been through a lot. I hope you know that I'm here to help you not only for Palmer, but to talk to if you need it. For more than just mission briefs. I consider you a friend and an ally."

*

"Thank you, Peggy." He reaches over to squeeze her shoulder in turn. "You've always been a good friend to me."

His lips twitched in a sort of sardonic fashion over being told he was in a coma. He knows better.

But neither does he challenge it. That's going to be the official line now, and he knows it. And it might be for the best. 'Coma' is easier to explain than 'dead.'

He hesitates and says, "I am not trying to hold out on you," he adds. He's been honest throughout this conversation.

But his lips twitch again. "As I'm sure you know, sometimes finding the words to say is harder than just…pushing through." Stiff upper lip. It may mostly be a British thing, but Phil subscribes to it.

He sighs at his pole and adds, "I think they're not biting. Let's go see about that steak. I'll grill some vegetables too. Bust out the wine. It will be good."

*

While Peggy does know it is different, she says the company line out loud. It's something of a habit.

"I know you're not." She tells him this very honestly. "I'm not trying to imply you are." She certainly knows how things can be between your reality and the world you find yourself in. And, even more than that, she knows even more about ignoring your personal feelings and pushing through. She will not be the one to tell him how to process his emotions or feelings. Instead, she will just offer her hand to help.

"Perhaps not." He has the experience in this matter. She'll reel back in her bobber and the wet, dead cricket that still remains on the end of her hook. Deftly, she plucks it off and looks at it for a brief but intense moment. Then tosses the cricket back into the lake for the bass or the trout to eat while they are not watching. Perhaps they are shy.

Turning to Phil she gives him a smile. "Yes. It will be good. Steak and wine sound like a lovely evening."

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