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The west coast is a beautiful place.

Maggie decided this from the minute she got to see the ocean and hear it wish against the shore. She isn't sure if that is the correct way to say it, but it sounds right to her. However, the place is quiet, especially in comparison to the sirens and the people far below, their voices and sounds rising up to echo through her ears until they were like white noise that she could tune out, but always searched for those that were close.

Listened for their heartbeats, sorting through the noise, and always searching through the sounds.

However, it wasn't till her wild run through the streets that she had gotten good at it, but now her head was always aching, taking in everything around her. She had broken down more times than she should have.

She was waiting for a punishment of some sort for collapsing in Tony's lab, or sobbing from pain in the darkness of the building they had lived in once they had discovered what had caused all of the problems they had had for a while. She had noticed a sound, but had not attributed it to anything and she had giggled when one of the four legged spiders crawls up her, one leg darker than the rest.

But that was then and here she is now, listening.

Listening to the soft hum in the walls of Jarvis (she isn't sure why everyone capitalizes the name, but she accepts and moves on, much like everything else she does in this new world that is scheduleless and confusing and where what they call food looks nothing like the food she has known for the entirety of her awakened state before now, or why the knives are not sharp on both edges and only one and doesn’t that make them ineffective weapons?) as he keeps a constant watch on all of those within the mansion.

However, it just reminds her that she’s not supposed to be hearing that.

Just like she’s not supposed to hear Tony’s mumblings about how either his Malibu mansion is either going to become the Avengers’ Mansion or maybe he’ll just buy a new one and call that one the Avengers’ Mansion.

Like how she shouldn’t hear the soft gasps against something, maybe skin, or muffled cries. Just like she’s not supposed to hear the soft wishing of the ocean against the shore, relentless and soothing that makes the ache in her head ease off a bit.

Like how she shouldn’t be hearing the screaming match between Tony and Pepper in his lab, which she thinks has stemmed from said lab, and how Tony is getting defensive, has been defensive since the beginning, and the confusion in his tone, and the soft continuous humming sound of the spot in his chest that is beautifully crafted and constantly singing a type of lullaby, if only he would stop and listen.

She winces as Pepper lets out a frustrated growl and she unfolds from the bed, deciding that staying any longer is going to irritate her.

Tony is frustrated and sad and the screaming hurts her head more.

So she opens the door and leaves her room, wondering what she should do.

The cold floor makes her feet sting and her hands are still bandaged, though she doesn’t understand why since they don’t hurt anymore.

Maybe she can get Steve to take them off, because she doesn’t want to.

And chewing on them makes the gauze stick in her teeth, so she won’t try that again.

That was icky.

Maggie continues to make her way and now the screaming is louder. She hesitates, for a moment, and then touches the device on the wall.

“You are not authorized at this time to enter this area,” Jarvis stated.

“Is it because Tony and Pepper are screaming at each other? Well, Pepper screaming and Tony shouting. Her voice is very shrill right now. Should we stop them?” Maggie asked.

The silence is heavy for a moment before Jarvis answers, “They will sort it out in their own time, Miss Yarnell.”

“They haven’t sorted it out since we got here. They scream all the time. I don’t think their ‘sorting’ is working,” Maggie muttered, but let it go, heading for the living room, still in her nightgown. She sat on the sofa and curled up, their shouts echoing in her ears.

Today was going to be a long day.

Chapter Text

Maggie hears Coulson get up long before he's ready to join the world of the living.

It is in his nature, it is his habit, to get up, even as Clint whines and asks for Phil to stay with him for five more minutes. She notes that that is Coulson's first name, even if she's not going to be using it or even asking to use it.

She has only received a few rules and they seem to be made up when they are needed.

Don't go out on your own.

That is the first one she gets that is told to her.

She memorizes it and doesn't leave the area without permission, or alone. As she was allowed to go places alone within the house (mansion, she automatically corrects), she felt that would not extend to outside of it.

There is the whisper of silk on...cotton? She's not sure, but it is not silk on silk and she is not versed enough in cloth names to pinpoint them all by sound yet. She could probably tell by touch, but she's not up for pushing boundaries. She was punished with the removal of the bed, the books, the table and forced to stay on her feet, unmoving, for hours on end in the very center of her room and...

Well, Maggie never disobeyed again, to say the least.

She never had the mind for it anyway. It wasn't in her nature.

Well, they had said 'conditioning', but she doesn't like the word, and prefers thinking it was something like genetics that makes her want to obey commands.

She turns and looks at Coulson as he enters, already dressed for the day and she immediately unfolds off of the sofa and walks over to him. Her head twitches to the side and seems to consider his surprised face. "Have you seen Captain Rogers this morning, Maggie?" Coulson asks and Maggie shakes her head.

He asks no more questions and she offers no more information, though she follows him as he walks into the kitchen, the coffee starting with a low hum and burble (that she thinks everyone can hear) while he opens the fridge (that constant hum is white noise and easily so), and he considers whatever is in there.

A part of her wonders if she's still just 05-05Y000D/AGM-SCSY/LA03FRGRRU-LR-WS/AUDXEMGTOPST/1000F, just with a different name. She wishes she could ask, but questions show that you know more then you should and she's already offered up more information today then she should have, but Jarvis never pushes and he's always nice, so she has to give him something, because nothing in life is free.

Every book she ever got was hard earned through learning.

And training.

And evolving to people in unarmed combat.

Her hands twitched lightly at her sides. "Coulson?" she calls, her voice still odd, because she's not talking much because if they don't ask questions, she doesn't talk, but she needs Coulson's approval.

He's her handler, he's the one who watches out for her, and she needs him to tell her what to do.

Coulson focuses on her and she hesitates.

She hesitates because she's not supposed to ask. She's just supposed to absorb and respond with commands.

"When will we pick up training?" she asked.

He shuts the fridge at that, nothing in his hands.

She wonders if he's going to get mad at her, except Coulson doesn't get mad.

"Training?" he questions.

"Yes. If I don't get back at it, I'll get rusty. Slow. I mean, I won't forget, but gun handling is more then just knowing what goes where, and if the knives don't feel right, you have to know right away, and...I just got to people in unarmed. Before you collected me. I...I...I just...wanted...to know," she answers, her voice trailing off, because now her throat hurts, and Clint is up, his feet hitting the floor.

She should work on talking more, even if it is just to herself.

And she needs to work on her cartography, because what good is she if she can't make a good map?

Her memory is never the problem. Her memory will keep everything there for her to open up and pluck apart when she needs it.

Maybe she'll reread Little Woman. She likes the ending.

Everyone gathered around the piano.

Maybe she could learn piano.

It might be a reward.

"People?" Coulson asks, pulling her from her thoughts.

"Yes. People," she responds, confused.

He sounds oddly flat.

He never sounds flat. (Clint is now dressed and heading out of his room, his and Coulson’s room, she's not sure and Natasha is wandering in from where she wandered out earlier. Bruce is meditating and there is the sound of Thor, far too loud Thor, getting up. She must have missed Steve, but she finds him after a moment, and he's now running up the front half of the mansion and Tony and Pepper are still screaming, and she's wondering if she's tracking them all because she's scared they'll hurt her or if because she cares, but she doesn't know what it means to care about someone.)

Is this what 'mad' sounds like?

She hopes not.

She doesn't think she can handle a mad Coulson.

"Explain," he orders.

"There are levels in each part. They said that once I passed, I would learn more. In gun work, I am still on paper targets, knife work I am on dummies, but hand to hand or unarmed, they changed the name often, I am on people. I get a reward every time I execute this one move correctly," she explained.

"Which move?" Coulson asks.

"It makes a cracking sound. And then they drop down asleep," Maggie answered with a tiny shrug.

Clint is behind her when she says that. So is Natasha and she can hear the way their heartbeats speed up.

And...Maggie involuntarily takes a step back from Coulson.

Yes, he's mad now. Her hand twitches and she doesn't know what to do.

"I'm sorry," flies out of her mouth before she can stop it, knowing before that it would have earned her a punishment (she wasn't supposed to talk at the time though, so maybe it was punishment for that; they were never clear), but it is all she can think of, because he wasn’t like this before she started talking.

This new world has no rules or schedules and she doesn’t know what to do with a world like this. Before her world was her four walls, corridors lined with doors, and a big round room where she was pushed until she was ready to drop, or until she did, shivering in a corner because she hurt all over and her handler then, her trainer they called him, would just leave her there if she couldn’t get up on her own.

“I’m not mad at you,” Coulson states and Maggie realizes she’s taken more then one step back.

She’s almost to where Clint and Natasha are at the door and she stops dead, because they aren’t telling her what to do and she’s hungry, but she’s always hungry now, because there is no schedule and no food she recognizes, so she doesn’t know what to do with it.

And watching doesn’t help when everyone does it differently.

“Maggie, come here,” Coulson orders and she obeys, walking over to where he’s waiting.

“Maggie, what does ‘blood’ mean?” he asked.

Her forehead furrows a bit. She knows the word. “Womanly, once a month, stuff,” she responded.

“Anything else about it?” he asked.

“Is there anything else I should know?” she answers.

Clint and Natasha’s heartbeats are both picking up. They are angry, maybe. Or possibly upset.

“Maggie, what does ‘dead’ mean?” Coulson questions.

She just stares, the silence spreading through the kitchen. She looks around, trying to find an escape, but Coulson demands an answer, again, and she can’t, because she doesn’t know the answer.

“I don’t know,” she responded, faintly.

Chapter Text

“Shit,” Clint breathes out and Natasha walks off, a bare whisper of movement.

Maggie is standing there, shaking a bit and he stares at the way Phil is just struggling to comprehend that they have someone who has killed in their kitchen, multiple times, and doesn’t even know that blood is something you need…

Clint’s eyes dart to her hands and he remembers the bloody handprints and can’t even comprehend someone wondering what is going on, sitting there and wondering, maybe, where it was all coming from. What was going on and he wants to throw up, or shoot whoever thought it was a good idea to keep her so far in the dark that she was scarily innocent, despite the murdering of people, and he realizes that, suddenly, Phil has a whole new slew of problems when it comes to their little guest.

“Okay, okay,” Phil answered softly and ran his hand over his face.

Maggie is watching him and Clint wonders how much she’s hidden. She looks like hell, however and Clint shoulders Phil out of the way of the fridge, gently, and lets him focus on that while he makes breakfast.

“Maggie, after breakfast, we are going to go to my room. We are going to sit down and, in detail, you are going to go over your time with them. We are going to go over schedules and what you learned and how you learned it. We will stop only for necessary breaks. Because we obviously have gaps in your file,” Coulson stated.

Maggie just nodded slowly at that and then said, “You never asked.”

Her voice is cracking and rasping and Clint, in the middle of making crepes, settles a kettle on the back burner of the stove to boil.

She needs tea with honey. “JARVIS, can you prepare a chamomile set up?” he asked.

“Of course Agent Barton,” JARVIS answers and Coulson guides her to stool and has her sit.

He doesn’t ask what she wants, because they are trying to comprehend this.

Trying to figure out how anyone could just create someone like this.

Clint feels eyes on his back and he shifts to notice that she’s staring at him in confusion.

He wonders how many other things have left her confused and lost, trying to grasp at what is going on.

At this distance, he can see her clearer.

God, she looks so young.

However old she is.

He hopes they find out soon. He keeps thinking she’s a tiny kid, but she might as well be.

What, two?

At what age do kids learn about death anyway?

He remembers Dumbo movie night and remembers her tears, her face.

She had been devastated by it all and had left quickly.

What had they done to her?

Clint blinks when he realizes that he’s already got the crepes mostly done (they are fast and his thoughts wander within his mind) and he serves her first. She stares and then slowly begins to roll them up.

She bites into it and her entire being brightens.

“Glad you like them,” he states and he turns back around.

He thinks on nothing else but food for the rest of the cooking time.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Coulson sits next to her, not stopping her from eating with her fingers.

The Avengers had been hit hard after she had been forced into the Tower by Fury. He wonders how much of her life has been governed and if he gave her too much freedom at once.

Probably.

He wants to kick himself, but guilt will get him nowhere.

When Natasha enters the kitchen, after Bruce but before Steve, she does not sit near Maggie.

He doesn’t blame her.

Being forced to face one’s demons so early in the morning is difficult.

Natasha probably sees too much of herself in Maggie right now, or maybe not enough, or maybe it is just too similar for her to be comfortable right now, but Coulson is sure that Natasha will either dive headfirst into his plan (training her on how to spar without intent) or she will avoid.

Talk starts up and when Barton sets a mug of tea with honey in front of her, Coulson realizes that she’s not had anything to drink.

He’s going to have to give her more rules, break old habits, and make new ones for her.

She needs order and schedules. She needs structure.

Coulson thought he had given her enough, but he sees he was wrong.

It is not often that he is, but when he is, it is usually bad.

At least this time it doesn’t result in the deaths of fifteen Junior Agents in his care.

Chapter Text

Maggie holds onto the mug, an exhaustion she has never felt before settling into her bones.

She hadn’t thought talking about what had happened, in detail, would be so exhausting. She sort-of just wants to collapse against her bed and sleep, but her throat still hurts and she has this ‘tea’ and she loves it. So, instead, she curls up on a sofa closest to the window, ignores the way Pepper’s heart rate is picking up as she gets frustrated with Tony in the room over because he’s being a pain, but he’s just defensive and scared, and she hears Natasha walk into the room.

Maggie looks over at her and then back out the window.

Coulson gave her a schedule.

She liked that and she glances up when Natasha settles across from her.

“Jarvis, leave us,” Natasha orders, but it is in a language Maggie hasn’t spoken for awhile, or heard, but it is Russian, her mind supplies quickly and easily.

(They just tested her languages, that first day, and that was it. Coulson sort-of just writes everything up that she says, as she explains the tests she had to run, similar to those in the lab at SHIELD.)

She watches Natasha, who watches her.

“As you wish, Agent Romanov,” Jarvis answers and she heard the sound of the hum leaving the walls.

Well, their side of the walls.

Huh.

That was interesting.

“Talk to me,” Natasha ordered.

Maggie’s fingers twitched around the mug and she pulled it closer to her chest, though she wasn’t sure why.

She remembers curling around books, or her pillow, and wonders if it is the same, for the same strange reason she can’t understand.

However, the order…she can’t comply.

Her throat hurts and she doesn’t know what to say.

“I speak Russian, she manages to get out, even if it hurts her throat, because it was an order and everyone is above her in the pecking order.

And she’s spent too long obeying orders to stop now.

“If it hurts, don’t talk,” Natasha stated and Maggie just drank her tea.

It felt nice.

And this felt nice to.

Her bare toes curled a bit and she slumped into the sofa, just staring out the window.

And despite wanting to go down to where the waves wish against the shore, she doesn’t ask.

Because it doesn’t matter how much Coulson wants her to, she refuses to ask.

She doesn’t want to know what happens when she asks the wrong question.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Coulson is still filling out reports that night when they decide to have a barbeque outside.

Maggie has no idea what a barbeque is, but the path down to the ocean is open and she is already heading for the path when Steve orders her back.

Despite wanting nothing more then to ‘give him the bird’ (Jarvis helped her with that one; he was nice and it was his job to be asked questions, so he was the exception to her no-questions rule) for ordering her back, she obeys and slips into a seat next to Natasha.

The red-headed woman pats her head, which is something Coulson did before the meeting today and she leans into it, without thinking.

It makes Natasha stop, however, and Maggie scrunches down slightly.

However, then they have plates, and they are asking ‘rare, medium, or well-done’ and she has no clue what they are talking about, or why they are giving her an option.

Clint says that ‘it isn’t a steak if its not rare’, which starts and argument, and Natasha makes sure it is ‘medium’ for her and…

Maggie just wants to curl up in her room and cry, but he asked, didn’t order but asked, for her to have dinner with the Avengers before going to deal with paperwork, and it is a simple request, and one that she can give, because he carried her out and he was nice.

Because he did try to give her a schedule, but then the bunnies happened and the noise and the building that wasn’t nearly as isolated where everything was a symphony of noise against her skull and made her want to scream and she thinks she might have once.

Because he did give her a schedule for one week that kept her from being overwhelmed and then the box came to the Tower and that messed everything up.

The…thing is set in front of her and she stares at it. She looks around, at people chattering and tries to hold the knife, but she always automatically begins to hold it like a weapon and she puts it back down again.

There is soda in bottles on a table a little ways away, but she’s never had soda and isn’t sure if she would like it.

She tries to pick up the three pronged metal thing, but it feels awkward in her hand.

She has no idea what these are.

Not one clue.

Never seen them before in her life, her eyes taking them in.

She always ate with her hands, but for this that wasn’t right, that would be wrong.

Maggie tries to use the strange knife and three-pronged thing again, but gives up, settling them back down.

The smell is too odd to be appetizing, but she’s hungry, and that is enough to make her want some. She sees Clint stand up and go to get himself more to drink and she realizes then she doesn’t have anything to drink and she shakes a little because she’s not used to this.

They are chatting around her, Natasha having moved down once she was fed. Tony has pulled Bruce into conversation and she’s just sort-of trying to figure out how to do this, gripping at the strange knife and three-pronged thing again to try again (and fails, again), when she feels Barton come up.

He’s suddenly in her space and she freezes.

“This is a fork,” he explains and the relief of knowing what the three pronged thing is, is enough to get her to relax.

He has her pick it up and then forms his own hand over, insuring she has it and then shows her how to hold the knife.

It feels odd, whatever this is. “Have you ever had red meat before?” he questioned.

The confusion has her tensing again and he continues, “Beef?”

“Yes. Those were the sandwiches they made the most often. Roast beef,” she answered and he nods.

He then shows her how to cut it by guiding her hand, once, and then she’s got it.

It still feels weird, in her hands, and Clint gets her something to drink (it is clear, but not fizzy, so water).

But she eats it and it is hard for her to chew, but she’s eating.

And when Clint pats her head, it is still passing and quiet.

She doesn’t lean into the feeling, even if she desperately wants to.

Despite the wishing of the waves against the shore below, and the chattering around her, she feels very alone.

Chapter Text

Maggie hates the sounds of the mansion after Pepper leaves.

Tony is angry and blaring his music. She can’t leave the mansion, the order pounding against the back of her head every time she gets close and she just wants to run to where the water meets the shore, the order rings sharp in the back of her head. She’s spent too long obeying to break the few rules, orders, whatever, she’s been given.

She feels exhausted and presses her forehead against the cold glass.

Maggie wonders if she walked down now, Tony would explain the mechanics of whatever machine to her.

She’s supposed to be sleeping and the music is so loud it makes her teeth ache.

He only listens to music that loud when he’s scared.

She finds it frightening how reliable he is, even when he tears himself in drunken rants that only she hears, or maybe Bruce, because Bruce comes out.

Her schedule, new though it is, has been in effect for two weeks and it keeps her away from the others, for the most part.

In fact, aside from Coulson, Clint, and Natasha, she hasn’t seen much of the others at all, only hears them.

Thor is loud and booming, echoing easily as he does right after returning from Asgard, so she always hears him.

Bruce is always at the edges of her hearing, rooting out Tony, urging him out from the bottle, or away from it, and Tony is in his lab, or maybe he’s arguing with Pepper in quiet whispers that, even to the trained eyes of the agents (or maybe they are just being ‘courteous’ and not saying anything about a relationship that is crashing and burning faster than it can be repaired because both parties are clinging to something not there and it is going to get messy, even she can see it) looks like two lovers catching a moment alone.

New people have come, a cheerful woman with dark hair that Maggie hasn’t met and a petite woman who Thor pulls into a hug so strong that Maggie hears the dangerous hitch of her breathing that suggests Thor is hugging just a tad too tightly.

Steve finds her in the early mornings, when she’s pretending she’s up, but turns down offers of breakfast, because it is too early, and goodness she’s exhausted and she wants to collapse, but there is too much.

With a tired body and a busy mind, she wanders over to the door. She presses her fingers to the door and Jarvis lets her in.

The music is so loud that it makes the glass vibrate.

She has her ears covered and suddenly it is lowered (it is loud enough to make it hurt, but low enough that she can ignore it if she just, internally, grits her teeth) and Maggie knocks on the window, pretending that she doesn’t have Bruce’s code (each number when pushed sounds different and beautifully exhilarating, because it is a song, and Maggie has loved songs since she heard the woman singing three floors up until they silenced her with a muffled cry of pain).

Tony looks up and stares, but allows her in. She walks over, ignoring his tut at the fact that she’s not wearing shoes.

“I have hot things in here. You need to wear shoes,” he stated.

“Is it a rule?” she questions.

He does not say ‘must have’. “Yes,” Tony responds.

“Do you have shoes I can borrow then?” she returns and he hesitates before nodding.

An odd, one armed, bot with a three-fingered hand helps her and she laughs, the first time she has and she jumps at the sound, surprise on her features and she clicks her jaw shut, even as she scratches at the odd robot’s joint, right behind the…head she guesses.

“That’s Dummy,” Tony introduced and Maggie grins then.

“Hi Dummy,” she greets and it beeps at her.

No, he.

She rests her head against that spot behind his hand/head and then goes to put on the shoes, noting that the music is background noise now, just a soft pulsing…if she were normally.

It is still pretty loud for her.

She makes a face (not sure if it is for the shoes that she hates or the music that still hurts her head) and then wanders over to where Tony is. She is uncaring that her jeans are probably ruined and Tony glances up at that as she leans forward, an odd liquid feeling on the seat she’s perched on, and she glances down to note that black is staining everywhere and Dummy wheels over to look over her shoulder at Tony.

She just watches, for a while but Tony, being Tony, begins to show her how to help.

Her hands are steady (they can be steady when she’s shivering from dehydration, sleep exhaustion, and lack of food all at once, and that hadn’t been a fun three days under the cruelest of the trainers of the three she had) and when she begins to sway a bit, he shoves her toward the couch.

She passes out the minute she flops onto it.

Hours later, when the sun has long since entered the sky, Coulson enters Tony’s workshop to find Maggie sleeping on the couch, a blanket over her (haphazard, so Dummy) and Tony fiddling away on whatever he’s working on.

“She can stay,” Tony states, as if he has a choice, but Coulson can read between the lines.

For the first time, the music is just background noise and he’s not getting defensive. “Is she wearing Barton’s steel toed boots?” Coulson asks.

“They were the only shoes down here. I work with liquid metal, she wasn’t wandering around her in bare feet so if her feet get damaged and can’t walk and I get gutted by you or Natasha the minute after it happens,” Tony retorts.

“It wouldn’t be the minute after. It would be less,” Coulson answers, but is already striding across the room. He carefully removes the boots.

Maggie whines and shifts, and then Coulson has her in his arms, leaving behind the blanket.

“Clint will kill you if he sees you carrying her again,” Tony states.

Coulson just gives a one-shouldered shrug and heads back. He places her in her room, bare and watches as she curls up tight in the fetal position.

And he wonders what they did to her, what she didn’t say because he didn’t ask the right questions.

She doesn’t give answers willingly and he hopes that lesson was just picked up, not learned.

He notes that one of her pillows has made it into her arms and decides that he’s going to go buy something today.

He corners Clint, and trusts him to take care of Maggie while he’s gone, and drives off.

If Coulson is going to help Maggie adjust, he’s going to give her something to hold onto.

Chapter Text

Maggie let her fingers fly across the screen, concentrating on the math.

Angles had always been what she was best at; able to define how tall something was by looking at the way it angled from her position, knew how to do it from different angles, even if they hadn’t tested her on that yet.

It was like instinct, only heavier in her mind, settling there like the memories she could never forget. Her head twitched to the side and she continued to work, humming softly some tune she had heard a long time ago.

Well, it felt that way.

Months were long.

Her fingers paused in what she was working on and as she heard the sound of Coulson’s car park outside. She continues to listen as he opens his driver’s side door and the sound of him picking something up.

She had slept late and had woken up in her bed. Jarvis, without her asking, informed her that ‘Agent Coulson’ had taken her to her room, then left after putting ‘Agent Barton’ and ‘Agent Romanov’ in charge of her.

Maggie had not left her room since, just messing around with equations that Jarvis kept giving her, after she had opened the math program on the smart glass of her room.

Her fingers went back to work, even as she heard Clint and Coulson talking.

“She hasn’t left her room since waking up.”

“Not even for lunch?”

“No. JARVIS says that she’s doing math.”

“You didn’t drag her out for lunch?”

“No. This is the first time she’s actively done anything not on the schedule. She’s getting a personality that isn’t cultivated. She’s stubborn, or embarrassed, and I wasn’t going to stop her from sulking in her room.”

“Barton, she needs to eat.”

“Last names Phil? After all we’ve been through?”

The conversation has turned to a soft argument (this is different than Pepper/Tony arguments, gentler and more like trying to talk it out without it exploding) and she tries not to make sense of the word, but eight months from now, if she ever gets curious, she knows she’ll be able to pick it up.

She remembers everything, whether she wants to or not.

Coulson is moving up and he knocks on the door. “It is open,” she calls and he enters, holding a big bag.

Jarvis has turned the smart glass next to the smart glass she’s working on into a mirror. She turns around, curious, but she doesn’t stand.

“I got you something,” he stated.

Her hands twitch on her lap and she fully faces him, not getting up, even as the mirror leaves, though the equations remain. Coulson sits across from her on the floor and settles the bag in front of her.

It is red (she doesn’t like red, but she doesn’t say a thing, because she doesn’t like eggs either, but they are healthy and she has no choice but to eat them) and has white handles. She reaches out for it, before her hand pulls back, cradling against her chest.

“You can touch it, open it, look at it, do whatever you want with it,” Coulson states and she reaches for it.

Maggie carefully pulls the bag over to her and peers in, only to find fine white paper, see-through, there. She begins to pull it out, folding it and setting it to the side until she reveals an odd…thing.

She reaches in and grabs it, puling it out and letting the bag flip back onto its base.

She stared at the odd thing and squeezed it, noting that it had a head with two rounded ears on top, with a nose that protruded, and two arms with stitched hands that were…too rounded to be that, along with legs, the entire thing odd. She would hazard to guess that it was and.

She stared at it in confusion. The ‘hair’ is soft under her fingers, the color of the honey that Clint had put in her tea.

“It is a teddy bear,” Coulson explained softly and she looked up at him, relieved that it had a name, of a sort.

She settled the bear in her lap and began to investigate it.

She ran her fingers over the fur, and the glass eyes. She marveled at the texture (even as Clint and Natasha discussed training regimes, and Bruce coaxed Tony out of the lab, and Steve talked with “Darcy” about something and Thor had gone off with “Dr. Foster” some time ago) and she looked up at Coulson.

Her fingers convulsed around the bear in her lap and her mouth opened. “Mine?” she asked, unable to stop herself.

“Yours,” he confirmed.

Maggie immediately folded it into her arms and wondered as she pulled it close to her chest and rubbed her cheek against the soft fur.

She wasn’t sure what to do, what to say and she stared at Coulson, her lips stuttering over words, her brain supplying a word.

“Merci beaucoup,” she stated.

“Vous êtes les bienvenus,” Coulson responded calmly with a hint of a smile on his face.

She beamed and went back to being fascinated over the bear and how she felt.

“What are you going to name the teddy bear?” Coulson asked, surprising her.

She thought ‘teddy bear’ had been the name, but if that wasn’t the case…

“Marianne,” she murmured softly and fell silent, the equations remaining unsolved on her smart glass and the silence settling over them.

Coulson’s heartbeat, a strong beat despite the injury that had healed, and she didn’t even realize she had moved until she found herself hovering near Coulson, hand already reaching out.

It was like the lab, when she had reached out, wanting to touch the person that had pulled her out of a scary place twice.

Wanting to seek something she didn’t understand.

Approval, she understands (she has always wanted the approval of her trainers, because that meant her life didn’t get disrupted, for the most part), but not this, what she felt, when he had been gentle and kind, carrying her out of the shouting and orders that weren’t for her the first time, and the second time just walking her out of the room where she could not escape the constant observation, not ever; she could not describe that feeling. It was not love, she had heard descriptions of love, in her books, and this is not that, but she doesn’t know what this feeling is when Coulson is close and…it feels like he could keep her protected.

Her hand is twitching in the air, between them and she lets it drop, still clinging to Marianne.

Coulson looks at her thoughtfully and then stands up, slowly.

He is grumbling about he’s too old to be sitting on the floor and motions a little.

She stands herself, unfolding off the ground and he sighs quietly at that.

He also mutters something about her being a ‘show off’, whatever that means.

“I am going to put my arms around you, all right? It is not a fighting move, it is not a reason to attack. If you feel the need to escape, you can, easily, by just pulling back. Is this course of action okay with you?” Coulson asked.

She stared, confused, her arms clasping tighter to Marianne.

Coulson was waiting for an answer and she tries several times before she manages to say, “That’s okay.”

He immediately steps forward and wraps his arms around her, pulling her, arms still wrapped tight around Marianne, against him. He has one arm wrapped around her upper back and his hand guides her head to rest against his shoulder, his heartbeat pounding in her hearing, distracting her away from the wishing at the shore and the hum in the walls that is Jarvis.

She isn’t sure what to do, not able to fully relax even if it feels…nice is understated and her mind struggles to supply the word to match the feeling, but it is too strange and her body is screaming at her to disengage, to get him away, make the cracking sounds and get across the room, but it is Coulson, and she has a feeling that saves him (oh, he makes her feel safe) and she pulls back. He lets her go easily and she sits on the bed, shaking.

“Okay, okay. Too much, too fast. Easy, easy, Maggie, you’re okay. I promise, you’re okay,” Coulson soothed, his words pouring over her.

She wasn’t hearing them all (she could replay it in her mind later), but he’s standing like she did when her world first shattered around her, out of reach, hands up in a nonthreatening manner.

And in a world that makes no sense, it is the first time she thinks that everything will turn out okay in the end.

Chapter Text

Maggie is curled up in the corner, Marianne hugging her chest. She can hear the whisper of paper being turned and she closes her eyes. Thor is laughing and talking with Jane. Darcy is chatting with Steve; she’s helping him find music that he recognizes and have it compared to ‘modern’ versions of it. Maggie listens a bit, but none of it is appealing, so she forgets focusing on it, though she knows she’ll remember it.

There is the hum of Jarvis, always there, always guarding, and she hears Natasha in the gym, and there is Bruce’s constant  ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump   of his heart, but maybe Natasha will talk him into sparring tonight.

She knows Bruce can, she’s heard him, working out when he thinks no one will know it is him, regulating his heartbeat and breathing.

She thinks that, outside of Natasha, he’s the best fighter.

However, she doesn’t know.

Not really.

She just has what she hears to go off of, and it is not conclusive.

She finds Clint and Coulson nearby and pauses when she hears the sound of paper being turned.

“You’ve been pouring over those ever since Maggie told you everything. What is it?”

Coulson sighs softly and Maggie tenses slightly.  “I feel as if she is withholding information from me.”

She heard Clint lean closer to Coulson, the sound of fabric touching and shifting; the cotton of Clint’s t-shirt in comparison to the dress shirt Coulson was wearing.  “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. I asked about her routines and she gave me that.”

Maggie clung tighter to Marianne.

Before she could hear the rest, however, she heard a screech from below.

“No! No more Tony! Just…I can’t take this! You   never   think of me, never think about how I feel! You never pay more than one minute’s attention to me! I’m tired of this Tony! I’m going back to New York and I’m going to stay there for a while. But this, what we have between us, romantic wise? I don’t think I can do that anymore,”   Pepper shouted.

Maggie tensed and leaned forward, hand bracing against the floor.

“Wait, Pepper! What do you want? I…I’ll get out of the lab more! I’m already being more careful on the field, but…but I’ll be more careful, promise! I’ll take less risks! I’ll make you an omelet!”

Maggie winced and pulled away, focusing on the shore, trembling lightly. She shoved her face into the teddy bear and clung tighter.

She didn’t like the way Tony’s humming (he didn’t have a heartbeat unless she focused, but his heartbeat scared her and she preferred the humming) was going up a pitch.

He was confused and hurt and scared.

And she knew that that hurt.

It hurt worse when people knew that you were all those things.

Maggie shoved herself farther in her corner and tried to hide away, wincing when she heard the front door shut sharply.

She pretended she didn’t hear the cry of raged pain and the sound of things scattering and breaking in the lab as every project Tony was working on was shoved off whatever surface and smashed onto floor.

Maggie winces and tries not to cry.

She doesn’t fly down there, however, because she can’t. She just rocks and listens to Tony berate himself for his stupidity, snarl and eventually, it falls silent.

It just scares Maggie more, until Jarvis tells her that Tony is fine.

In the shouting and the breaking, Maggie missed Bruce entering the lab.

She hears the sounds of Bruce talking Tony down and forces herself to not listen to them.

“Shh, shh, Tony, I’ve got you.”

Maggie just buries her face into Marianne’s fur and doesn’t sleep.

When Coulson comes to wake her up the next morning, she is fully dressed and sitting in the corner, staring out her windows, and trying to pretend the world doesn’t exist.

The last time she did that, it was with the people that had taken her from Coulson.

Of course, it was after they had strapped her down to a medical bed, pumped her full of drugs, and watched her go through withdrawal.

She stopped talking to them after that.

“Maggie?” Coulson calls softly, but she doesn’t react.

He walks closer and kneels down, in arm’s reach and her eyes flicker to him, before they go back to the view. “Maggie, are you hungry?” he questioned softly.

Her eyes flicker back to him and she slowly uncurls. She doesn’t reach out, but begins to lean towards him. Coulson reacts instantly and reaches up, gently running his fingers through her hair and she sags, shifting so she can collapse against him.

He immediately wraps an arm around her and she twists until he pulls her into a ‘hug’ again. She buries her head against his shoulder and keeps clinging to Marianne, but he doesn’t let go until she pulls away and answers, “Yes, I’m hungry. Can…can I have bacon?”

Her voice cracks and breaks over the question and she’s not looking at him. She refuses to look at him, and terrified of something that she isn’t sure will happen.

“You’ll have to eat more than just bacon, but yes, you can have bacon,” Coulson answers.

She glances at him and doesn’t understand why he’s smiling so…brightly.

It isn’t the right word, but it works.

Chapter Text

Maggie grins as she begins to wrap her bacon up in the pancakes that Clint made that morning. They were thin and she enjoys wrapping the bacon in them before she eats them, drinking her milk like a civilized person. Marianne is sitting on the table, staring at where Clint was sitting and he was staring back at the bear.

“I am highly disturbed by the fact she managed to have it sitting so it looks right into my eyes,” Clint stated.

“You sit in the same place. I am not stupid and I notice. And angles are what I’m best at,” she responded easily, before she continued on her meal of pancakes and bacon.

She ignored the looks she was getting, grinning gleefully when Jarvis gave her the equations she had been working on and she began to play with them, still eating.

“I wonder where Miss Potts is. She’s usually here for breakfast by now,” Coulson stated.

“Miss Potts left in the night, Agent Coulson,” Jarvis answered before Maggie could open her mouth to answer and she quickly placed another bacon wrapped in pancake in her mouth before Clint realized she was going to speak, fingers working furiously over the equations.

Right.

No giving people more information than they ask for.

Bad, bad, bad.

So very bad.

“Miss Potts left? Did someone go with her?” Coulson asked, immediately on alert.

“Agent Sitwell went with her, sir. He was the highest level on duty, and he left Agent Preston behind. He’s already traded out for Agent Simle and Agent Carson,” Jarvis reported.

“That means she went to the airport. Barton, watch Maggie,” Coulson ordered and left quickly.

Clint immediately turned to stare at her, but she didn’t twitch.

She was used to stares. She didn’t like them, but she was used to them.

“You have completed the last of the angle trials, Miss Maggie,” Jarvis stated and she let out a low sigh and Clint stared at the smart glass.

“You…you have only been doing those for what? Two days?” he inquired.

Maggie shrugged a bit.

“Do you wish to start the multiplication trials?” Jarvis inquired.

“Okay,” Maggie answered.

Immediately, the smart glass flickered and she began to work on it, even as she finished off the last of her food.

“You’re not going to comment on me staring at you?” he inquired.

She wishes she could tell him about what it was like before (“I was stared at through mirrored glass for a few months and then for another month I was in a glass room with no privacy except when I went to the bathroom and even then I had a guard, so…no, I’m not. Having two months without staring was odd, but having it return is nothing of consequence,”) and she wonders how he would react to that.

However, that gives too much of herself away and instead, fingers flickering, she answered, “No.”

Clint raised an eyebrow, still staring, while Marianne stared at him. “Doesn’t it bother you?” he questioned.

“Being stared it always bothers me,” she answered, eyes not leaving the smart glass.

These were simple and she gleefully clawed her way through the multiplication trials, though she didn’t show it.

Being stared at did that.

“You could ask me to stop,” he stated and she glanced over at him.

Her eyes flickered around his face, but she noticed that he was closed off. “You’re antagonizing me,” she stated.

“Yes.”

Her eyes turned back to the smart glass and she flicked the correct answer into place. “It doesn’t work,” she responded calmly and paused in the trial to put her dishes away in the sink before she turned back to the smart glass. She continued to work on the trials and Clint sighed before he turned and began to put his own dishes away. When he turned, he let out a startled sound to find she had moved the bear to her head so it could still be at eye level.

“Angles, Clint. Angles,” she stated, sounding almost cheerful before she ducked her head, caught the bear, and walked out of the room, her skirt billowing around her as she did.

“At least it wasn’t a Talks-a-lot Doll,” Clint muttered and followed Maggie out.

He had to start on literature lessons anyway. 

Chapter Text

Clint has been training her in ‘gym things’ since that first day she got a schedule Coulson promised they would keep, barring ‘apocalyptic catastrophes’.

That first day, he teaches her how to fall.

She had never learned how to fall from such a great height, and he even teaches her how to fake a broken ankle, or worse, shows her how to move and put the right infliction on it, and then shows her how to freak out captors by suddenly attacking.

That she understands, even as he explains, “You want to seem more than human to them. You want to make them to be scared.”

Yes, she knows that lesson well.

And for the next two weeks, he taught her…childish things, really. He called it ‘gymnastics’ and it was…fun. If she fell, they laughed and he showed her how to balance better, even on the balance beam, though he explained “guys don’t do the balance beam, but I was always so very disobedient.”

She’s doing that now, doing front flips like he showed her, her hands easily finding a place on the beam as she begins to pick up speed, moving faster until her toes touch the beam and, without thinking she begins to do back flips, and, when she gets to the end, instead of going forward again, backflips off the end and lands on her feet, facing away from the beam to where Clint is watching.

“Where did you learn that?” he asked.

Maggie shrugged and walked over to him, her bare feet pattering until she is settled next to him.

By his request, Marianne is in her room, mostly because he was tired of her setting Marianne up so the bear could stare at him. “Huh,” Clint answered.

“What are you teaching her?” Natasha asked and Maggie looked over from where she was sitting next to Clint.

“Gymnastics,” Clint answered and gently nudged Maggie’s thigh.

“We’re going to see how far you can climb up a rope using only your arms. If you get to the top, we’ll start going through the ventilation system,” he stated and Maggie stood up from where she was sitting. The rope is usually against the ceiling, but it drops easily before Clint can ask Jarvis to let it down.

It is checked daily, by Clint and Natasha, and he nods to the rope.

He doesn’t expect Maggie to start climbing, stilling the rope with her hand and she begins to climb, wrapping her legs loosely around the rope, crossing her ankles, even if she never paused in carefully pulling herself up. When she gets to the top, Clint wonders how she’s going to get into the vent. He’s not expecting her to lift her legs up, wrap one leg in the rope so she’s anchored and curl up, pushing the vent out of the way and she’s in, freeing her leg with a few kicks.

“I’m teaching her how to pull the rope up with her after this,” Clint stated, following Maggie up.

They forget the schedule in Maggie’s enthusiasm in exploring the ducts, twisting her way up to places Clint has trouble getting to, and she is smothering her giggles by shoving her hands over her mouth, eyes shining.

Clint thinks it is the first time she’s ever been really happy and when Coulson finds them some hours later, Maggie hanging upside down next to Clint, her hair stretching towards the floor in its braid. “How did today go?” Coulson asked, staring up at them as Maggie swings lightly.

“Good,” Clint answered with a grin.

Maggie just smothers more giggles and Coulson smiles. “Should we make Tuesdays play days?” he asks and Maggie nods.

Clint falls a bit more in love with Coulson over that.

And he thought it was impossible to love Coulson more.

Chapter Text

Maggie rolled easily as she avoided Natasha's kick, popping back up onto her feet as she dodged Natasha’s attacks. “You’re supposed to attack me,” Natasha stated and Maggie snapped her hand up to hit Natasha’s hand away, twitching her head to the side so she wasn’t struck.

Not that she was getting out of this without bruises; she could feel one running up her back where Natasha had slammed her down, twice, and she could feel others popping up where Natasha had kicked or punched her.

She wondered, even as Natasha swept her legs out from under her, which prompted her to hit the mat again, if Coulson would let her snuggle against him, because this sucked. So, she couldn’t really be held accountable that she hadn’t fully realized that Natasha was closer and as Maggie swung up, she felt her foot catch on someone’s chin.

She followed through, but that was because her back hurt and she didn’t want to crash on it and was standing to find she had kicked Natasha in the chin.

For a brief moment, Maggie froze before every memory of every trainer she had rushed through her head.

Every moment she had struck them, all of them an accident, and Maggie tore out of there, her heart rate slamming through the roof. Without thinking about it, she climbed up into the ventilation system, and was through before she had time to process, hiding out near the vent in the kitchen.

Only there did she curl up as tight as she could, despite protesting muscles and the way the bruises stretched painfully, the arm under her body, right, curling over her head to pin cover both her ears, poorly, with her left arm wrapped around her knees.

And there, she was determined to stay, because she wasn’t going to come out.

No matter how much she wanted to run to Coulson and hide.

So, shuddering in the vent and wincing at Thor’s booming voice (it was just the way he was; a lifetime of halls, because she remembered Norse from history lessons Coulson gave her due to Thor and showed her architecture and how, most likely, this was what he was used to speaking in) along with muscles that were beginning to cramp.

Her heart was pounding up into her throat, and she curled up tighter, trying to pretend like she didn’t exist, ignoring the way the cold air rushed over her as the A/C kicked on.

She shivered violently, but didn’t move.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Words ran over her ears like water.

“Agent Coulson, Miss Maggie is in the vent above the kitchen,” Jarvis reported.

“How is she?” Coulson asked.

“Her vitals are, despite being blasted with cold air for the past two hours, strong. And, her heart rate is no longer alarmingly fast. She’s calmed down somewhat, it seems,” Jarvis answered.

She heard Coulson’s soft sigh and the sound of someone climbing.

She twitched her head, ignoring how it made her entire body ache and blinked drowsily up at where Coulson was now looking through the vent and she wondered how he got there.

“Maggie, do you feel like coming out now?” he asked softly.

“No,” she answered, her voice raspy from the cold.

“Will you come out anyway?” he asked gently.

“Only if you order me,” she answered.

Her voice echoed around her and she heard Coulson let out a low sigh. “Maggie, it is not healthy for you to be in the A/C ventilation system. How did you get in there anyway? Not even Clint can fit into the one above the kitchen,” Coulson asked.

“I’m smaller then Clint,” she answered, and Coulson nodded in agreement.

“Do you want to tell me why you are hiding in the ventilation system?”

“No.”

“Will you anyway?”

“I kicked Natasha in the chin,” she answered.

“The bruise was her own fault,” Coulson stated gently, but she scrambled backwards slightly.

“There was a bruise?” Maggie whined lowly and Coulson made a soothing sound.

“It wasn’t your fault. Maggie, please come out of the vent,” Coulson said and she shook her head.

“No. I didn’t mean it, but that doesn’t mean anything. I don’t want to come out if it means bad things happen,” Maggie answered, scuttling forward when she heard Clint’s soft tread as he made his way to her position.

“Maggie, what do you mean?” Coulson asked.

“That’s what happens, when you mess up. You get moved, things changes, everything goes away. And if I stay here, that won’t happen,” she answered and moved forward more as Clint’s fingers came within inches of grabbing her ankle.

“Clint back off. Maggie, nothing is going to change except Steve is going to be your new sparring partner. Since Natasha taught you how not to do the cracking noises, we’re going to be expanding in who you work out with and that’s all that is going to change. We’re alternating between Steve and Natasha,” Coulson explained and she shook her head.

“Everything changes when I mess up,” she whimpered.

“Maggie, have you ever heard the expression ‘home is where the heart is’?” he questioned.

“I heard it now,” she responded.

Coulson let out a low chuckle. “Do you want to guess what it means?”

“I don’t think the answer is ‘me’ because I don’t think you mean the literal heart.”

Coulson nods. “I don’t mean the literal heart. It means home is where your family is, where the people who keep you safe are,” he explained.

She stared at him through the grate, her mind feeling blank, as if something was sliding into place. “Does that mean you and Clint and Tony and Bruce and Natasha and Steve and everybody are home?” she asked.

“I’d like you to think so, yes,” he responded and she curled up more.

“Does that mean if I come out, it’ll be okay?” she asked.

“It’ll be okay,” Coulson reassured.

Maggie nodded and, with fingers that shook and hurt to move, removed the vent covering. Coulson backed off and she noted he was standing on a ladder, before she pulled herself out, twisting oddly and snapping the vent back into place once she was balanced on the ladder herself.

She was shivering and Coulson carefully pulled her down so she was on the ground, feet planted and suddenly he’s hugging her.

He usually doesn’t but, instead of protesting or pulling away, she nuzzles against his shoulder and doesn’t move because she’s fine and she’s safe.

She’s home.