It's No Tahiti

October 16, 2018:

Rocket and Groot find their way to Phil Coulson's safehouse. Absolutely nobody cried. Not even a little bit.

Fox Point, Wisconsin

The location of Coulson's fishing cabin/safehouse.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Emma Frost, Tony Stark, Agent 13

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's no Tahiti.

But the friendly little cabin on the lake in Fox Point, Wisconsin has a charm all its own. And if that charm is somewhat broken up by SHIELD agents on the perimeter, keeping the man within safe, and, well, also within until he is safe, at least they do stick to the perimeter.

Inside, Phil Coulson is starting to get bored. He lamented, in his first life, that he never got out here to fish enough. Well now he has fished every day for three weeks, and he is getting antsy. This has led to him rigging up an old HAM radio found in the dusty back of a closet so he can listen in on police scanners just for the hell of it. In a tiny town whose main claim to fame is being a Tree City, USA, Award Winner, there is not much to hear. But it makes him feel like he's at least putting his mind to work.

Thanks to certain (Redacted, Classified) measures being taken reports in the SHIELD system say that he's made a great deal of progress, and has not had too many more incidents where he (Redacted, Classified). His threat level has been brought down from "Extremely Dangerous," to just "Potentially Dangerous."

But he's still not cleared for duty.

Still, if Rocket and Groot want to find him…or any of this information…it can flow right to their fingertips eventually.

*

Keep your ears perked or low to the ground or falling asleep in the right crates at the right times, one tends to hear things. Silly things. Stupid things. Interesting things. Usually it's more of the former, but it only takes a few key words to draw Rocket's interests- fewer still when they don't involve weapons of mass destruction or getting paid.

He's poked more than prodded, but that's only because he doesn't know who you can really trust around Suitsville, Triskelion. He's one of a select few even aware that even though there had been a funeral held for Phil Coulson, the higher-ups weren't prepard to lay him to rest for good that they'd gone and buried a robot in his place. Who does that?? But since then, Rocket's been waiting for word, an announcement (which he started to really doubt would ever happen because what would someone even say??), or something.

And then demons happened and New York City pretty much went nuts.

But sometimes patience pays off. A little fancy keyboard slinging, some sneaking into places that he probably wouldn't have been allowed for his minimal security clearance. Rocket excelled at breaking out of things. Breaking into things was pretty much the same thing, just that you started on the opposite end. Information was as good as property, and anyone that knew Rocket knew that if he considered that he wanted something more than someone else, it was free game to take. The trick's always to avoid getting caught.

"Hey Groot, how about we blow Demonsville and take us a road trip?"

So went the proposal. With S.H.I.E.L.D. busy trying to figure out how demons got into their headquarters, Rocket decided not to 'bother' anyone with formal requests for taking leave, not that he ever bothered, really. He doesn't need to sneak out in the Milano anyway. He doesn't even need to use a Quinjet.

You never show everyone all your cards, even when they're trying to make good in keeping you out of trouble and happy at the same time. Which is why Rocket hasn't told very many people about the modded out necrocraft he's been hiding. It's nothing pretty, but it had started out that way. But now it has cloaking and that makes a world of difference.

Like…for instance, flying under the radar into the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin.

"…why would anyone ever wanna live out in a place like this?" the small Guardian mutters as he sets down in the woods, trying to avoid brushing up against trees. Invisible didn't mean intangible.

*

For what it's worth, the demon invasion of New York City upped the ante in making things more interesting on a day-to-day basis. Initially, Groot's surprise transitioned into excitement up until the few close encounters of being eaten by demons shotputted him back into the reality of the situation. From there, it became controlled panic coating the surface of counter-violence whenever secure areas free of demons were suddenly not so safe anymore.

Since then, Groot has been slightly oblivious where Rocket has been keeping himself busy. And his answer, as with any answer Groot gives in response to anyone asking him a question, is predictable.

"I am Groot."

He's not done with New York. In fact, he doesn't mind a change in scenery once in a while. He just has a lot of faith in the SHIELD agents to take care of some of the demon problems while they're away.

So now Groot sits, little feet rocking back and forth on the edge of his seat in the cloaked necrocraft as he peers out at the trees. His eyes are practically shining at the wilderness Rocket questions and navigates through with his piloting expertise. "I am Groot!"

*

A deer hears the necrocraft, even though she can't see it. She starts, then goes bounding off into the trees. An owl softly hoots at them. Like Groot, the owl has a limited vocabulary.

And in his cabin, Phil Coulson frowns as it briefly sends a burst of interference across his radio waves. He tinkers with it, then, on instinct, goes for one of his gun lockboxes. Only to remember…SHIELD isn't letting him have guns right now. SHIELD searched his cabin and found even his hidden ones. He sighs, then shrugs, and goes walking outside anyway, hands in the pockets of a sleeveless hunting vest. He wears this over a plaid shirt, and jeans, looking not at all like the Suit he was once and may or may not become again. SHIELD certainly invested in him becoming one again, but whether or not Phil himself feels like complying is a question that's deeply up in the air for the first time in his life.

Though, perhaps, by certain standards, everything he's doing right now is being done for the first time in his life.

So it is that Phil wanders into the trees not far from where the pair land their ship, ambling, perhaps not really convinced there's anything out there, perhaps content that his talk-fu still functions at least. Or his ability to take a gun away from an assailant and turn it back on them. Or all of the above.

*

"You would say that," Rocket snorts, glancing at the tree tyke who probably would have plastered himself against the cockpit viewport if he could reach it. Unfortunately the windows on this thing aren't as generous as the Milano's.

He sets the ship down gently, whatever grass and underbrush about beneath and in the near vicinity of the cloaked ship flattening briefly with the gust expelled from its exhaust ports. Then all is still again, but the local wildlife knows better. Animal senses have always been sharper than that of humans.

Rocket eases himself out of his seat, tucking his weapons into place before scooping up Groot to take him to the rear where he punches the button to lower the ramp as the hatch opens, setting Groot down again then. "And don't go runnin' off."

*

Wiggling against his restraints, Groot bounces, craning his head back to catch a few more glimpses of tree branches and sky. One last grunt and he collapses back into the seat, frowning at the lack of height he doesn't have at present, maybe even silently wishing that one day he'll just shoot up and be tall again in no time. But at least there's some leeway in Rocket's landing that reveals more greenery on the desent, allowing Groot to take in a bit more before they touch down.

Small arms automatically lift up toward the not-raccoon as he's scooped up, hugging onto fur and suit for a short ride to the ramp button. From there, he strains a bit, eager to set foot outside of the ship. "I am Groot," he nods, hopping a little as he toddles down the way, rolling on the last few feet into the grass with gusto.

So he's a bit distracted. It's no big deal.

*

It's not until the ramp falls open that Phil Coulson can see them of course, despite the flattening of the grass and underbrush. And then he steps out, offering a soft, "Rocket? Groot?"

Before he'd died, he was often exasperated with them, if affectionate towards them. Now he just sounds hopeful. He's missed them, and the fact that he's missed them hits him with the force of a punch as soon as he spots them.

But why the question in his voice? It's not like they've got doubles running all over or anything. But there is a slight one.

*

Too peaceful. Too pleasant. The scenery tickles too many memories and some of them he would have preferred to leave buried. A heavily modded pistol in one humanlike hand, Rocket steps down quietly after Groot, red-brown eyes flicking this way and that as though to try discerning anything beyond the greenery surrounding them.

He hears something, his gun swung up in reflex, teeth revealed in an unreleased snarl of warning—

"…Deadeye?" The weapon wavers, lowering away from the man that Rocket all but gapes at. Sure, here is the guy they'd intended to seek out, and yet seeing him's something else entirely. The dead don't usually come back. And yet…

There's uncertainty in his own tone, but the name he calls is by default the nickname Quill had assigned the agent, the one that stuck instantly. The sniff the raccoonoid takes isn't from an errant bout of emotion (honest! He's not crying!) and more out of the need to verify that they're not being duped by another robo-organic body.

"…it's really you?"

*

Groot thrives, writhing about in the grass without hesitation, without any of the wariness Rocket possesses when scoping out the area. He loves the green, loves the scent of it, loves the ambiance that comes with a forest setting.

All of it is set on pause when he watches the raccoonoid swing the gun upward into shooting position. Large eyes flicker, then fall in the direction of where Coulson now stands.

Several rapid blinks follow as he sits up, his expression uncertain as he sees the man he saw pale and cold and lying in a casket all those months ago. A quick scramble to his feet and he's trotting closer, still unsure like Rocket, still not believing that the man is alive.

Not until he tries hugging onto Coulson's leg. Not until he can actually touch him to know it's not a lie.

*

He smells like Coulson. Alive and human. Not at all a robot. Though there is something new in his smell. Something odd. Something extra. Something vaguely familiar and not at all from this world. It's so faint it's easy to dismiss, but it's there.

"It's me," he says, in response to the nickname.

And then there's a Groot on his leg, and Coulson has some tears in his own eyes. "Hey, Groot," he says, reaching down to pat pat his back a little bit. "Hey, Rocket. I've missed you guys a lot. I'm sorry you…I'm sorry they…"

It's hard to finish the sentence. How do you say 'I'm told you attended my funeral and that sucks and I'm sorry but I didn't have a lot of say in it seeing as I was dead at the time?'

There's no easy way to do it. So he just trails off a little bit.

*

Rocket doesn't even try stopping Groot as the little one runs off to intercept the man who looks and smells very much like one Phil "Deadeye" Coulson, previously known to be dead.

His mouth works a few times but no words are forthcoming, not immediately. He can hardly believe what he sees, but it's even more incredulous hearing what Coulson is saying to them then. Apologizing. His brow lowers, a frown pulling his mouth down at the corners.

"You're not the one who should be apologizing. You… have nothin' to be apologizin' for."

*

The confirmation is all Groot needs to be pushed into ugly crying territory. The corners of his mouth twist downward as his face scrunches up, those big eyes producing all the liquid that has been absent between tantrums.

And he stuffs his face into Coulson's pant leg, accepting the patting as he cries. "I amf Grooooth!"

*

"Thanks," he tells Rocket hoarsely. "I'm glad you came. I'm glad to see you." And he is. The meeting is emotional, especially for little Groot. After a moment of hesitation he scoops Groot up much like he's done in the past, resting him on his shoulder so he can pat pat from a less awkward position. "It's okay," he soothes. "I'm okay."

He clears his throat and adds, "I'm being an awful host. Do you guys want to come in? There's ice cream," for Groot, "and booze." For Rocket. The day when he might have avoided giving Rocket any booze has passed. This is a great time for booze. They're all feeling emotional. That's what booze is for.

*

His pistol shoved forcefully into its holster, Rocket mutters under his breath as he runs a fist and forearm across his eyes. Because he is so not crying. And if anyone says that he was an absolute sobbing mess at the funeral he will deny it completely and ask for names so he knows whose pillowcase to hide turds in.

"Yeah, I'm glad tooâ¦" he says quietly, almost but not quite begrudgingly. What had he expected, coming out here? He still doesn't know, and he's still soaking things in.

Coulson's attempt for some sort of normality in all this is almost laughable, or it would be were it anyone else. "Sure. Yeah, booze. I will drink all the booze. I think I'll need it."

He waves the man holding the tree tyke ahead, following after he's hit the button to shut the ramp of the ship back up behind him.

"So what the hell is this? Some sorta retirement home? Guess it's nicer out here than the city is of late."

*

A lot more muffled tree sobbing goes into Coulson's shoulder, dampening it rather quickly. Groot does catch his breath eventually, though, hiccupping as he does.

"I am Groot," he sniffs (without a nose), rubbing the palm of his hand against his eye. Any time is a good time for ice cream, and he's good with heading inside for it. With that, he rests his head against Coulson, feeling a little tired now that he's spent his emotional energy.

*

Coulson just leads the way and carries Groot the whole way inside. The cabin is your typical hunter's cabin, complete with rustic decor. He sets Groot down at the table and pulls out a bottle of Scotch, which he just hands to Rocket. He then digs out a carton of chocolate ice cream. "Safe house," he says. "Or, more accurately, my fishing cabin turned safehouse."

Suddenly tired of all the secrecy, he admits, "When they revived me I was barking crazy. A friend's been helping me with that, but I'm not cleared to do much more than go shopping, and even then I get escorted."

The police radio hums away, and he reaches to turn it down. It makes a sort of pleasant droning chatter in the background, just some noise to fill the space. Then he sets Groot's bowl of ice cream down in front of him.

He hitches a shrug as he takes out a second bottle and opens it right up, apparently meaning to drink it right out of the bottle. He salutes them both with it, a silent 'cheers,' and drinks right out of it. 75-year old Scotch, both bottles. It doesn't look or smell like he's been drinking inordinately or anything though. "Are both of you okay? I have no idea what's going on back home. There is also a ban on me reading or watching the news."

*

No objections or even a second glance as he's handed a full bottle of Scotch. Rocket pulls his eyes away from looking about the cabin for all that it is, taking a sniff at the liquor as he then watches Coulson get ice cream for the smallest of their current trio. At mention of the cabin's conversion to a safehouse, the raccoonoid looks around again at the place in a whole new light.

The agent gains his attention soon enough once the words spill out. Rocket hadn't asked although he'd meant to, but he wasn't sure where one even begins. Sure, he can be rude to a fault, but this is coming back from death they're talking about here. That ain't exactly coffee table conversation.

He wears a sour look as he hears how things have gone for Coulson, the reason for his being isolated. When everyone's been served and that second bottle raised, Rocket lifts his own Scotch in toast and then upturns it to his own mouth, taking a few good gulps.

"Okay is such a vague word," he says after breathing out a sigh, relishing the lingering burn as he throws himself into the first available seat. "All in all, we've been doin' all right. Probably better yer out here and not in New York. It's a flarkin' mess out there. There's been… Well where do I even start? I can't even remember how long it's been- feels like forever since…" He grimaces, lowering his eyes to the bottle again before he takes another swig as though it would erase the thought.

*

He almost doesn't want to let go Coulson when the man moves to set him down, pulling lightly at the plaid fabric before resigning himself to sitting on the edge of the table. One leg slowly swings back and forth as he quietly waits for the promise of ice cream, carefully watching the off-duty agent go about the cabin the same way he looks whenever something is playing on Netflix. He then brightens up a few degrees once the bowl of chocolate ice cream is there right in front of him.

As the grownups talk, Groot tentatively digs at his ice cream, sticking the spoon into his mouth with each scoop taken. He may not look like it at first, but he is listening, letting his gaze periodically shift between Coulson, Rocket, and his dessert. When he tries to join the toasting, the spoon is empty, chocolate streaks running down its curved head.

But as things go from Coulson's status to what they've been up to of late, Groot also sighs, mimicking the way Rocket does it. "I am Groot," comes his reply - the same three words as it's always been assigned a different vocal tone this time around. He may have added onto the New York part about the demons, but…well. That's there and not exactly translated.

*

Coulson offers a smile when Groot toasts with the runny ice cream spoon. It's not his spy's Cheshire Cat smile or his pained Dad smile. It's a genuine one. He listens closely to what they have to say, hazel eyes sharp and alert. "8 months," he supplies, "Since we spoke last." He just supplies that as the point of reference, instead of the other. And it's as good a point as any. "I don't remember what we talked about or what happened," he adds apologetically. "I'm missing some things. But I'm clear enough on the date. So a mess in New York. Well that explains why they decided I couldn't sit around the Triskelion. Were you given a hard time after? I left some instructions with Sharon just in case, but SHIELD being what it is that was no guarantee. Things shift too quickly over there sometimes."

*

Rocket removes his lips from his bottle with a glassy pop, nodding at Groot. "I was getting to that. Eventually. Give him a break!"

He glances back at Coulson, staring a moment. Eight months? Damn. So it wasn't just him feeling like it had been a long time. He forces a laugh, wincing at the sound of it. "Yeah. It's fine. Honestly I can't remember either but it was probably something stupid. —oh wait…" He snaps his fingers a couple of times as he jogs his memory. "It was about pickin' up Groot, right? He snuck along for the ride with you somewhere." His chuckle's more genuine there, a fond look cast in the twig's direction.

"Nah, we've been doin' all right I guess. Got roped into a couple of mission-sorta things but nothin' we couldn't handle." He drums his fingers along the armrest, grimacing a little. "But the Triskelion ain't no place to be right now. Sorta glad that you weren't caught up in stuff there at least. Look, there's no easy way around it. New York City's crawlin' with demons right now. Portals dumping them everywhere in the city, every day's cloudy with a chance of demons."

*

The smile is different. Warmer. Groot likes it. It makes Coulson's face friendlier, even if his eyes still stay sharp. But a mild groan is cast Rockey's way, the spoon waving at the raccoonoid before delving back into his ice cream.

Eight months? Groot feels like it's been longer than that. He does laugh to himself, however, remembering the pick-up as if it happened yesterday. "I am Groot," he says in a tone like it's the best story told around bonfires.

Some sobering takes place afterward, nodding as Rocket explains what happened at the Triskelion and New York City. It's not fun trying to do things when demons are constantly trying to eat your face.

*

For a moment Coulson just stares at them like he has no idea what to even do with that. Whether to jump up and go try and help or just…

Take another swig of Scotch, which is what he does. He rubs his arms slowly as if covered in goosebumps, but the thought behind this reaction remains unshared. He may have a warmer smile, but his tendency to play his cards close to his chest remains. Even if in this case the only cards he's holding are about his own thoughts and feelings.

"Do they know what caused it?" Phil asks. As if anyone will let him near it. As if he should be near it. As if it isn't really and truly the worst possible place for a man freshly back from the dead. That smile twists into one of his more sardonic ones. The meaning of that one is clear. It has just become obvious why he has been forbidden newscasts. But whatever SHIELD thinks is going to happen when he learns of New York's unfortunate transformation into Hell doesn't happen. There's no foaming at the mouth, nor does he immediately demand to jump in their space ship so he can go back and help.

Instead? A fonder smile at Groot as he and Rocket talk about that day in Africa. Thus, he crosses to get the ice cream back out, just so he can add another scoop to his bowl. Growing Groots need ice cream, don'tcha know.

*

Too much and Groot will grow sideways. Actually Rocket hasn't really cared about the kid's intake so long as he gets plenty of sun, water and (blech) fertilizer on the side. Trees can't get fat on people foods, can they?

Rocket looks a little reluctant to go into details, but he's opened that can of worms, and he feels Coulson has a right to know what's happening back at work. Sort of. He's not sure if he'll mention how suspicious it was that demons managed to get into the Trisket. Not just yet, anyway.

"Not that I've heard. I'm thinkin' the hugemungous dragon parked up on Stark's roof is part of it though." That thing's kind of hard to miss, all the more so when it isn't up on what used to be Stark Industries, now terribly warped by whatever demonic forces. Which just makes Rocket all sorts of anxious to wonder just where something that big goes.

"'s weird though. We come out here an' you wouldn't know that New York City looks like hell. More so than usual. City's hardly come to a standstill because of it though. It just makes it more of a challenge goin' out for beer and pizza, although it gives me an excuse to shoot things that no one'll complain about."

*

Either way, Groot would be growing! Because ice cream is one of the main food groups for Groots. And because he sure isn't saying no to another helping of ice cream, no sir.

As Rocket continues, Groot eats almost noiselessly. The tinkering of the spoon ocassionally tapping the inside of the bowl adds to the background, pausing at times so that Groot can concur with what Rocket has observed of their current circumstances in and outside of New York City.

*

A moment of worry passes over his face. He never admits to caring about Tony Stark, but he does. And his whole former team. But his lips quirk as Rocket boils it down to what it really is. A giant shooting gallery for the Guardians of the Galaxy. And some other people. "Well, as long as you're on the job, blowing them up," he says, with that mild humor that is just 100% Phil Coulson. "I'll trust New York is in good hands for now. But if it can survive you guys not being there to thin out the ranks a little bit, you're welcome to stay awhile. There are guest rooms. I can cook breakfast. We can watch some TV."

From the man who was constantly turning off their TV shows to try to bring them to some semblance of order.

*

Rocket watches the man carefully. He knows it can't be easy hearing this and not being there to do anything about it, not knowing how others are faring. Coulson gives him an in inch for the positive and he absolutely runs with it.

"It's a tough city full'a tougher people, Deadeye. A demon invasion ain't gonna tear that place down. It's survived us, hasn't it?" He grins toothily.

"But…yeah, plenty of people holdin' down the fort. And as much as I like mass destruction, I gotta give my trigger fingers a rest now an' then."

That's his way of saying that yes, he would be delighted to stick around and hang out with a long-time thought-to-be-dead-friend without exactly saying so. Who's he kidding though? All the demon crap is still a big headache, and he's not the type to wait and see when someone will make the run to the citadel and try cutting off the heads of the whole operation, if it's even that simple.

"Hear that, Groot? Poor guy here's desperate for company that he's inviting us for a sleep over." He laughs, but there's no edge to it, even with the jest made.

*

Halfway through scraping at the bottom of the bowl, Groot glances up at Rocket. "I am Groot?"

He sort of caught something about things blowing up and New York being in good hands, but to hear that they were both welcome to kick back was a nice thought.

And he is always down to stay over at a not-quite-dead friend's place. They don't get to do that all the time.

Licking at the chocolate ice cream that rims his mouth, the little tree person smiles at Coulson. "I am Groot!" He says it in a way that makes him sound thrilled at the idea among the giggles at the jest.

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