He'd gotten back from an overseas operation with a minor cold. Really, that's all it was. Barely even worth thinking of. Of course, it was routine that all agents returning from missions out of the country get a full medical workup once they got back. They were all up to date on their vaccines, but things did end up slipping through, and the last thing an agency like SHIELD needed was a serious illness sweeping through the ranks.
Coulson understood the rationale, but when it was discovered that his minor cold was actually a new strain of potentially lethal avian flu, leading him to have to be strictly quarantined and, thus, kept away from most of his work, he wasn't what anyone would actually call thrilled. It wasn't as if avian flu was usually all that contagious. Severe, yes. Contagious, no.
Of course, his work had an impressive ability to come to him.
She had a face mask on, but even so, he could tell, just from the set of her eyebrows, that she wasn't exactly pleased to be doing this. Not from any fear of catching anything from him, of course. It was just the task at hand. However, they'd worked together long enough that she knew that if she didn't make this particular delivery, he'd get someone else to. And he'd probably have them bring more. It was a finely honed compromise. So she entered and set the thick file folder on his lap. "There. Oldest third of your inbox, just like usual."
He managed to repress a rather undignified coughing outbreak and nodded. "Thank you. I appreciate it."
"You should be resting."
"I'm in a bed. I fail to understand how you can get more restful."
She wasn't impressed. "Probably by using it for its intended purpose instead of doing paperwork in it."
"Paperwork can be restful. It's very soothing, really."
She just shook her head. "Don't overdo it, Coulson. You're going to be laid up for a while and you're not getting more than that third."
He did start coughing, then, and looked down at the folder after it cleared up. "Thank you, Agent."
He didn't look up again until she was gone.
It was always something. Even when the fatigue hit the point when even he had no choice but to settle down to rest, there was a degree of commotion that would certainly wake him up.
He really wondered if someone had taken leave of their senses when they let the new intern's first crack at HAZMAT-suited phlebotomy take place on Dr. Banner.
One advantage of being laid up was that someone else was going to have to end up writing the incident report for the hole in the wall of the medical wing. Depending on the timeline, though, he'd probably be involved in the requisition process for repairs. Fun.
He'd had a feeling that his illness was going to get worse before it gets better. So it was imperative that he get through as much of the paperwork that Agent Romanoff had thoughtfully salvaged for him before he lost the presence of mind to do it properly. Especially since he could sense it getting progressively worse as time went on. He was going through a mission report when the door to his room enthusiastically pounded open, and his head pounded with it.
Who on earth would--
"Son of Coul!"
... Ah. That would explain it.
"Thor, I'm under quarantine, you probably shouldn't be here."
"Oh, don't worry, my friend. I am not susceptible to Midgardian diseases."
Phil scrubbed a hand down his face and closed the file folder. "Well, thank you, that's quite comforting."
"Your concern for others over yourself is very admirable."
Phil settled back into his pillow, his skull starting to throb. "I do what I can."
"And that is a great deal. But at any rate, I'm sure you would like to know the reason for my visit."
He closed his eyes. "Nothing would make me happier, Thor."
The god chuckled. "I truly doubt that that is the case. But I shall be brief, as I'm sure you need your rest."
"All right. Go ahead."
What followed was a string of questions about how to complete paperwork that he was fairly sure two thirds of the Initiative had contributed to.
He managed not to fall asleep until it was over.
Coulson woke up slowly, opening one eye to see a very large flower arrangement sitting on a table he was sure had not previously been there. He opened the other, and blinked a couple times to try to reassure himself that he was not, in fact, hallucinating.
"I heard you're ill."
That voice. He pushed himself to a seated position despite the fact that he was aching and it made his head swim. Loki was calmly sitting on a chair at the foot of his bed. Now he wished he was hallucinating. It just figured that the trickster would show up on site when Phil was wearing nothing but an annoying paper hospital gown. "What--"
"Am I doing here? Really, agent, you should save your strength. Who else can wrangle my brother and his friends so well?"
He remained sitting up despite every part of his body screaming at him to lie back down. "That wasn't an answer."
"I'm simply checking on you. Nothing particularly insidious about that, is there?"
Other than possibly everything. "Well, here I am."
"So you are." The god stood and walked closer, leaning in close. It took that much more effort to stay upright. "I just want to wholeheartedly encourage you to recover."
This made no sense. "Why?"
"Because you're surprisingly integral to the proper functioning of my brother's team."
Even less sense. "And so you want me around?"
Loki's smile was unsettlingly sharklike. "Agent. It's no fun without a challenge."
And before Phil could respond, the god was gone. After a long moment making sure he wouldn't come back, he finally let himself lie down again.
5: Stark and Rogers
His paperwork had finally been reluctantly set aside once all the words started to swim. He knew better than to think he could be productive. It would just be a setback if he tried. And it was quiet. The rest would do him good. He closed his eyes, and then, of course, came the pounding on the window.
Obviously the things that could ultimately free him from Tony Stark were distressingly low. He wondered if faking being asleep would work.
Bang. Bang. Bang. "Wake up, Sleeping Beauty, we've got a question."
Phil slowly opened his eyes, and when he turned to look at the window, he made sure his face was fixed in his best possible 'I will taze you with the force of my glare alone so help me God' expression. Stark was there, of course, but Captain Rogers was next to him, already looking mortified. "What do you need, Stark?"
"For you, the safest rule of thumb would be to look at whatever you want to do and assume the rules are the opposite of that."
"No, really. What are the regulations on fraternization around here?"
There was not enough aspirin in the world to account for Tony Stark. "What?"
"I mean it!" His voice got just a bit louder. "Say a couple of dashing Avengers were considering... how do I put this... christening every room in a certain government agency's headquarters, would that be against any specific regulations?" The billionaire grinned. Rogers, on the other hand, was about as red as his own boots and had started tugging on Stark's sleeve almost urgently.
"And if it is, which rooms exactly are out of bounds? You know, so we could mmmph." Steve's hand promptly clamped over Tony's mouth.
"Really really sorry about that, Agent Coulson. You need your rest, I'll get him out of here."
Rogers escorted Stark away over the billionaire's protests. Really, there had to be an upper limit to the level of ridiculous one life could have, didn't there?
Not that he was sure he'd ever actually find it.
Phil was in the worst of it. He knew it beyond the shadow of a doubt. He was curled up under the thin blanket provided to him, joints hurting so much he didn't want to so much as move.
Between the Avengers and the medical staff and the staggered stream of junior agents, he expected the next interruption to come at any time. Instead, all that came was silence and an actual chance to rest. Deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth, he took the opportunity to sleep while it lasted.
Nothing woke him up. When his eyes carefully drifted open, he noticed two things. First, although he was still ridiculously sore, his fever had apparently broken. Second, there was a piece of scrap paper on his pillow, folded in half as many times as possible.. He grabbed it and opened it to read the note that was left in absolutely unmistakable handwriting.
Hope you're feeling a little better by the time you read this. I know you're good enough at keeping yourself from resting so I got sick of everyone else trying to help. You don't need that if you're going to get better.
So I spent today in the ceiling, keeping everyone away by arrowpoint. (Don't worry, I didn't actually hit anyone. Just grazed them.)
Don't worry. I cleared it with Fury. Kind of.
Seriously, get better. Everyone else needs you back out here, and I need you even more.
P.S. I'm totally giving myself guard duty until you're out of here. I promise to write a report.
Phil read the note three times. He then chuckled a little, almost despite himself. He meticulously refolded it along the creases, tucked it under his pillow, and closed his eyes, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth.
He'd be okay.