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Secrets Unburdened

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What measure is nonhuman?

It was a question that often plagued Maggie after Coulson had gotten her back from those that had created her. She stared at her hands as she clenched and unclenched them. Her hands folded like everyone else's. There were muscles and bones, and they were exactly like the any other hand, essentially. She rolled her hands around on the wrists and she stretched, rolling her head, before she went back to staring at her hands.

If she was built like any other human, why had those who had created her never addressed her with any gender identification syntax? Why had they always referred to her as 'it' or 'subject'?

Was there something inside her that wasn't human?

"Maggie, what are you doing?"

The girl blinked and turned around to stare at Clint. "I'm trying to solve a riddle," she answered and Clint raised an eyebrow.

"What riddle involves you staring at your hands like you've never seen them before?" Clint asked.

"What makes a human," she responded.

"Did someone show you Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame? Because, if someone did, I'm siccing Phil on them," he stated.

Maggie grinned a bit and shoved her hands into the pockets of the hoodie Clint got her shortly after she was declared healthy by everyone. "Not yet. Tony said something about how I needed to see it to 'understand the meaning of Mood Whiplash', whatever he meant by that," she explained and Clint grinned.

"I'll sic Phil on him. You should probably go to breakfast. Bruce is making something up from some country he's wandered into," Clint stated, carefully pushing her toward the kitchen. She laughed as she stumbled forward, and she hurried to breakfast. She grinned at Bruce as she entered the room and the man looked up, smiling gently at her. "Clint found you?" he asked

"Phil, I think we have a problem," Clint stated.

"Yep!"

"What is it?" Coulson responded.

"Did he tell you what I was making?" Bruce asked.

"She is wondering about what it means to be human," Clint stated.

"No, he said it was 'something from some country you visited', or similar," she explained.

"What?"

Maggie smiled as Bruce answered, "How does he not remember that I am making empanadas?"

She perked up. "How do you make them?" she asked.

"She was clenching and unclenching her hands and wondering what it was to be human," Clint explained.

"Wash your hands, and I'll show you," Bruce stated and Maggie grinned, bouncing over to the sink to obey, letting the discussion about her fade into white noise as Bruce taught her how to make empanadas.

Chapter Text

Maggie grinned as she finished her history test, sure that she had done better this time around.

“Maggie?” Coulson called and she looked up and over at him.

“Yes Coulson?” she answered, shifting to get up when he shook his head.

“No, it’s okay, stay sitting,” he stated and she settled back on the ground, watching him.

He sighed and walked over, muttering something about being too old for this as he seated himself on the ground next to her. “Maggie, Clint said you were wondering about what it meant to be human,” Coulson stated and she leaned back slightly and nodded.

“Well, yes. It is a great philosophical question. What makes a human? Is it bones and blood and muscle? Or is it how we think? Or is it a thirst for vengeance or the capacity to forgive?” she responded calmly, though that was not it.

Why did they call her ‘it’ and Coulson and everyone else didn’t?

If one group thought her subhuman, why didn’t another?

Were they wrong or was Coulson?

“Is this because the man and scientist called you ‘it’ and ‘subject’?” Coulson asked, even though he, and the rest of the team, were trying to puzzle that out.

“Oh no. He always did that when he was my trainer the first time around. It was ‘Subject, do fifty pushups!’ or whatever else he was going to have me do until I literally dropped. No, I’m used to that. The scientist was new, and she scared me far more than him, because they worse he could do was break bones, which he did. But her calling me ‘it’ or ‘05-05Y000D/AGM-SCSY/LA03FRGRRU-LR-WS/AUDXEMGTOPST/1000F’ or the shortened ’05-05Y000D/1000F’ wasn’t any different from what everyone else called me before you called me ‘Maggie’,” she answered, drawing her knees up so she could rest her cheek on them.

“Oh, well…” Coulson began, only to pause.

He stared at her searchingly and asked, “What do you mean ‘when he was my trainer the first time around’?” he asked.

Maggie blinked in surprise and answered, “Before you found me…he was my trainer in that first month, but the scientists said he was doing more damage and I was their only success and they would rather he didn’t ‘break me beyond all recognition’, so I got someone new. I have no idea why he was wearing the guard’s symbol now. I guess he got demoted.”

Coulson stared at her. “Guard symbol?” he asked and she nodded a bit.

She pulled up a hover screen and drew the head with the tentacles coming from it. “The guard symbol. I find it rather ironic that the bottom two tentacles make an upside down heart, since they are anything but kind and merciful. Or is it really laconic?” she explained.

Coulson stared at the symbol and then looked at her. “Maggie, why did the scientists say all of that in front of you and why didn’t you tell me before?” he asked and Maggie froze.

She forgot.

Oh, that wasn’t good.

She shrunk down slightly and deleted the symbol off. “Um…they didn’t, exactly. I overheard them. And you didn’t ask. And…and if you don’t ask, I don’t say anything, because every time I revealed information without being prompted, it usually resulted in pain, and I know you won’t hurt me, not on purpose, but it’s hard to distance everything from before and now, and…it is better to be cautious,” she explained, shrinking down slightly as she began to pluck at her jeans.

“Maggie, how, exactly, did you overhear them? Everything in there was soundproofed to an almost insane degree,” he asked.

“I still heard them,” she muttered.

Coulson leaned forward, calmly, and gently. “Maggie, I couldn’t hear you,” he said softly and she buried her face into her knees.

“I could still hear them. They kept moving me to different rooms and each one it was harder and harder to hear the outside of, sort-of, and I realized that if they thought I couldn’t hear them, they said a bunch of stuff, and so I just pretended like I couldn’t, but I could, so I overheard a lot and I just kept quiet, but that’s how I knew when subjects got terminated and that bad things were going to happen, so I was prepared, but I didn’t know why I was a success and I didn’t get most of it, because usually they just talked in some sort-of code or referenced my serial and I didn’t know what any of that meant, but that’s how I knew that I was in Series Five, and one of their success, because they were complaining about having to half the subject pool in half for the other thing, whatever SN was, and I didn’t want to tell you because I was scared you’d get mad once I realized that I could trust you and I didn’t want you to get mad, but I could hear everything, like JARVIS humming in the walls and when Pepper and Tony got mad and argued, or maybe just when Pepper got mad and Tony got defensive and his glow heart hums and has a pretty song, and what songs Darcy is listening to on her iPod, and how Jane gets all excited and happy the minute Thor enters the room, and how I always know when Thor is coming back, though he’s much quieter now, which I am really thankful, and when Steve is sketching something, and how Clint’s heartbeat sounds across the room, or that Bruce makes Natasha nervous, because  I can hear it and I was scared you’d get mad and I didn’t want you to get mad, and sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I just find everyone’s heartbeats and make sure everyone is okay, and try not to decipher any other sounds and I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Maggie explained, unable to stop herself from panicking and she began to hyperventilate.

She was shaking and clutching tightly at her legs. She heard him moving and she tensed, scared he was going to leave, that he was going to get mad, and suddenly he was hugging her. She relaxed into the now familiar gesture, but she still couldn’t get her breathing under control.

“Breathe Maggie. Follow my breathing, come on, you can do it. Breathe in, breathe out, good, good, easy, deep breaths, deep breaths, good,” he soothed gently and she slowly got her breathing regulated again, relaxing in the now familiar back rubbing. “I’m not mad,” he stated and she knew he was telling the truth because his heartbeat didn’t change.

“I’m just a little upset that you didn’t tell me. The city must have made you miserable and I can’t help if I don’t know everything, which I am beginning to suspect you never did tell me everything,” he explained softly and she clung to his suit jacket.

“You asked about my training. I told you that,” she responded and he nodded a bit.

“Okay then. We’ll talk about all of this, later. We’re going to talk about your first memory and move up from there, all right? But later. First, I have to talk with the team. And I’d say for you to be there, but I have a feeling they might shout and that might not be best to have near your obviously enhanced hearing. Which explains why you were trying to get to Stark’s workshop when that black Rubik’s cube was causing all those problems, because you could hear it, and were following the sound,” he stated.

“Bruce’s alter ego could hear it to. I could tell because Bruce would occasionally shake his head,” Maggie responded calmly and he nodded a bit.

“Okay then,” he stated, still hugging her close and Maggie clung to him, shaking a little.

Because in the back of her mind, she was terrified that Coulson was going to be taken from her, and she wasn’t sure if she could handle that.

Chapter Text

Coulson sighed a bit as he collected everything to be as concise as he could before he went to go explain it to Avengers that...well, Maggie was certainly special in more than just being a severely socially deprived child. And this completely destroyed their theory she was a kidnapped child and conditioned. Well, maybe not entirely. Maybe she was kidnapped and conditioned and enhanced.

Then there were the tubes of people in the lab above where she had been held. Maybe that had been for the conditioning, or to suspend them or…

It was pointless speculating, as they never did get one of those things for the SHIELD scientists to get their hands on to even figure out what the liquid was. And so long as they had no idea what the liquid was, it was pointless to speculate. For, so long as one speculated, they would make the facts fit the speculations instead of the other way around and Coulson didn’t have time to make speculations before he had the facts.

He finished pulling together the report and stood up.

Time to face the music.

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

“What?” Tony shouted and Clint flinched back, even if he was thinking the same thing.

“Maggie has enhanced hearing. She could hear everything since we first got her. Also, the place we got her from was run by Hydra. She knew Fredrick Wolfe, as her first ‘trainer.’ She also revealed quite a bit of knowledge from her time as their test subject, before she…came into SHIELD custody. She could hear through sound-proofing, which truly makes sense, as it is only sound proofing if someone has normal hearing. She never told anyone, at first because she had learned under previous caretakers, and I use that term very loosely, not to so she could learn what they were keeping from her. After, she was scared we were going to hate her. She, obviously, never told anyone what she heard or acted on what she heard, to my knowledge,” Phil continued.

“That is correct Agent Coulson. The only person she ever shared the knowledge of…certain arguments was with me, most likely because I had stopped her from intervening on one such argument, the one time she would have noticeably responded to something she should not have heard. But since she mostly huddled down and covered her ears and tried to pretend that she wasn’t hearing them,” JARVIS cut in and Clint glared up at the ceiling.

“Why didn’t you share that piece of information with us?” Tony asked.

“You never asked sir,” JARVIS responded.

Phil bit the inside of his cheek, an action Clint was vastly familiar with, and Bruce put a calming hand on Tony’s shoulder, causing the insufferable genius to back down. “True, no one did. But it would have helped. And she’s probably hearing this all now, isn’t she?” Steve cut in.

“She’s involved in reading The Hobbit, so it is quite possible that she is not. Since discovering fantasy novels, she has often become involved in the words on the page and has been startled out of bed with me speaking to her, despite the fact she can, in fact, hear me shortly before I speak,” JARVIS responded and Clint beamed.

“I gave her that book!” he exclaimed.

“You gave everyone that book,” Natasha pointed out and Thor beamed.

“It was a great book, filled with quests and bravery! I found it on par with an epic recited in the great halls of Asgard, along with the sequel series, The Lord of the Rings, though truthfully, I found the sequel series vastly greater, for it had more battles and less trickery then the first,” Thor cut in.

Natasha hummed a bit and focused on filing her nails. “Everything JARVIS?” she questioned.

“Quite,” JARVIS answered and Clint was ready to swear up and down that, if he had been human, he would have winced.

And then it registered in Clint’s brain.

He groaned and smacked his head on the table. Natasha immediately pet his head and JARVIS said, “On the bright side Agent Barton, she never questioned what she was hearing. And everyone is used to being…quiet.”

There was that sigh when Phil registered what he was being told, followed by Tony going, “Well, Bruce, Cap, and I are the only ones who haven’t been corrupting our little mime then.”

“Stop calling her that,” Clint answered, while Thor made a curious sound.

“Don’t tell Jane,” Natasha warned.

“Or Darcy,” Clint added as he sat up.

“I was not considering it,” Thor responded, sounding a little hurt that they thought he would say anything.

“Luckily, I had the Talk with her, so we’re good,” Natasha answered and Clint hugged her.

She pat his arm and said, “Remove your arms or I shall remove them for you.”

Even threat of bodily harm could not scare Clint and he released her. He then frowned a bit and Natasha answered, “My Talk talk involved serious bodily harm and not serious bodily harm. She understands that threats between friends are different. I am sure she can even hear the inflection difference. Which means I vote for the right to start training her.”

Phil gave her a look. “That won’t be for a while Agent Romanov. We need to review everything that you brought back from your Latevarian investigation. Agent Barton, I leave you in charge of Maggie. Captain Rogers, please make sure Clint doesn’t just feed her pancakes and bacon while I’m gone. She needs fruit and vegetables. You as well Dr. Banner. She also needs a checkup and, as Agent Romanov will be with me, I need you to take Maggie with Miss Lewis this Friday, as I highly doubt we will have returned by then and Miss Lewis is always eager to tazer people and she has written permission from me to tazer anyone who starts to treat Maggie like a lab experiment, mostly due to the fact she has, somehow, become such good friends with you, though I do hope you’ll keep her from going through with the threat. Stark, don’t blow anything up while we’re gone. We’ll be back in time for the team building camping excursion,” Phil rattled off.

“Why don’t we just bring her with us?” Natasha asked, even as she stood.

“Because I don’t want her within Fury’s reach when we file those changes to the file,” Coulson responded, voice devoid of emotion, before he shut the file he had been reading out of and left with a simple, “Avengers dismissed,” over his shoulder.

Clint was immediately on his feet and following.

Chapter Text

Tony frowned as he worked on the Iron Man upgrade.

Maggie had heard everything.

Maggie had heard everything and all that it entails.

She had heard the arguments and the biting words and he hissed as he hurt his hand.

What if everything had been pity?

What if her reaching out, curious and staring, had been because she pitied him?

It would be another thing, another false lead.

Steve, who only put up with him for the connection to his past (he was sure). Natasha because he got her pretty toys to play with and Clint, who stayed around for someone to snark with and who had a good supply of booze. Thor…well, he was sure Thor just expected it, since what he knew of Asgard was that it was all touchy-feely-sharey land.

Phil…Phil stayed because he was ordered to and not because he liked Tony or anything. Because no one liked Tony Stark without being bribed.

He muttered curses as he began to focus on the upgrade when JARVIS called out, “Sir, Dr. Banner wishes for entry.”

“He’s got his own code,” Tony shot back.

“Sir, he wants to be invited in,” JARVIS stated and Tony looked up in surprise.

Science bro, bribed with pretty labs.

“Sure,” he called and Bruce entered as the door opened with a soft hiss.

“It’s almost lunchtime,” Bruce greeted and Tony waved, forgetting it was his injured hand.

Before he could say anything, however, Bruce was just…there.

It was like he had teleported and he had Tony’s hand in a gentle grip on his wrist, and he was glaring at the hand. “What did you do?” Bruce demanded.

“Um…I don’t actually remember. I think I got it shortly before you knocked. It happens, often, and it’s not that big of a deal. It happens all the time, as I said, really, no need to get upset about it and…Bruce, science bro, buddy, stop dragging me across the floor towards my completely empty First Aid kit with the aid of my wheelie chair. It is just not digni…whoa!” Tony explained, only to get cut off as Bruce actually picked him up and out of the chair.

“Yes, Tony, it is a big deal,” Bruce answered easily and carried him out in a fireman’s carry.

He glared at the back of Bruce’s head. “Bruce, put me down. Seriously Jolly Green, I’m fine. It is just a minor burn!” he argued and Bruce shook his head.

“It doesn’t matter. And why isn’t your First Aid kit, in your lab, filled and up to date?” Bruce returned and deposited Tony, oil and all, onto the sofa.

“Um…because I spilled it when I was looking for something to clean out cuts,” Tony admitted.

“You…spilled it…what cuts?” Bruce responded, sounding as if he couldn’t believe that Tony was really a genius.

“The ones on my arms when…I sort-of, maybe…accidentally, of course, sliced them up when yanking out a piece of scrap from the middleish of the pile,” Tony answered not looking at Bruce.

“Accidently…the middleish of the pile? Why do you even…never mind. I am going to be right back. If you even think of moving, I will send out Maggie with her wide eyes and have her staring at you like you just shot her kitten and her puppy and then booted their dead bodies into a wood chipper. And I have, apparently, been spending far too much time with Clint to have had that threat just come out of my mouth,” Bruce answered and left the room.

Tony stared after him.

Rhodie, once upon a time, would have done just what Bruce had done. Out of all his friends, there had been no reason for Rhodie to have done what he had done. Befriend Tony Stark, the idiotic brat who graduated MIT far too young. There had been nothing in it for Rhodie the first time it had come through.

Bruce…had Bruce really come for the labs?

 

Or had he come for Tony?

Tony stared at his hand and jumped when Bruce’s hand came into his field of vision. He looked up and found that Bruce had brought more than just a First Aid kit.

He had brought Steve too.

“Hey Cap!” he greeted and Steve frowned at him.

“Bruce said you injured yourself?” Steve questioned.

“Um…just a bit. Nothing OW! OW OW OW! What are you doing to my hand?” Tony shouted and stared back down at Bruce, who didn’t even look up from his work.

“I had to clean it off,” Bruce answered.

Tony glared. “You used alcohol, didn’t you?” he accused, but Bruce didn’t answer and he nearly jumped when Steve suddenly appeared too, leaning over.

“How did you burn your hand?” Steve asked.

“Updating the armor,” he answered and Steve stared up at him with his ‘why aren’t you being more careful Tony, really, this could have been your entire hand, with blood and bone showing through’ look.

“It happens, on occasion. Sometimes. Often. Most of the time,” Tony responded, getting more and more honest with each ramble before he forced himself to shut up.

Now they were both staring at him.

“Gloves. There have to be gloves for this sort of thing,” Bruce retorted.

“Well, yeah, but in fine detail work, they get in the way,” Tony answered.

“And yet you can make me gloves that allow me to feel the arrow and keep my hands warm for missions that involve the cold,” Clint stated from somewhere above him and Tony let out a very manly yelp of surprise.

It in no way, shape, or form sounded like a little two year old girl’s shriek of fear.

“What the hell ceiling cat?” Tony snapped, leaning back to glare at Clint, who was…supporting himself in looking over Tony’s head and at the hand.

“Shield Brothers, why are we all conjugating in the living room?” Thor asked, in a moderately indoor level, even as Darcy skipped over (and, really, the woman, skipping, could probably hypnotize every straight man and probably a few gay men as well) to the couch, flopped down, and then leaned into his personal space to stare at his hand.

“How did you do that?” Darcy asked.

“Why do I let you in my house?” Tony responded.

“Cause you love me and I make Thor happy?” Darcy answered innocently, batting her eyelashes at him.

Tony stared at her a little longer and she added, “Because I can drink three shakers of kamikazes and not feel it?”

Tony grinned.

“I remember that night. That night was fun. You remember that night Clint?” Tony responded and Clint laughed.

“No, but I’m sure Phil has the blackmail material to help me remember. Didn’t we end up in jail?” Clint responded.

“Nah. That was just you. Tony and I totally bailed you out…and somehow managed not to get into the drunk tank. How did we manage that?” Darcy answered, ignoring Jane’s groaned out, “Darcy.”

“Happy. He was stone-cold sober,” Tony responded cheerfully, earning a sigh that reminded Tony of Steve’s ‘why me’ sighs.

“Why’s everyone out here? Oh, did Tony get burned again?” Maggie asked, settling half on Darcy to look over.

“Yeah, Brucie, did Tony get burned again?” Darcy asked cheerfully.

“Yes, Tony got burned again. But thanks to this very informative trip down memory lane, I got done with minimal fuss from him,” Bruce answered as he stood up, causing Tony to look down at his hand, which had a bandage.

He let out a whine when he got smacked upside the head.

“Idiot,” Natasha muttered in Russian.

Tony had long decided not to tell anyone he was fluent in Russian.

It would take the fun out of his day when Natasha said nice things to him.

However…

“Why are you guys here? Isn’t it lunchtime?” he asked.

“Bruce said you were hurt. We wanted to make sure you were okay,” Maggie answered, still half lying on Darcy, who was undisturbed by this.

“I thought you had already left Natasha,” Clint stated.

“I almost did, but Phil got a call from Fury and he said he’d call me when he needed me,” Natasha answered and Maggie looked up at that, and then back down at Tony.

Her head twitched to the side, and she smiled. “Well, you’re fixed. Food!” she answered and flopped back before she ran off.

“Socks! Why are you bare foot? Why is she bare foot? I swear to God, I yanked socks on her earlier,” Clint muttered and tore off after her.

Natasha sighed and bopped Tony on the head, again, but this time with her knuckles. “Stop being so stupid,” she stated and walked off.

Darcy nodded a bit. “Yeah. If you damage your hands, you’ll be on pain meds and be all bitchy when you have to go dry for the duration, because we both know that Brucie will never let you drink if you are on pain meds,” Darcy answered and skipped off.

Steve was frowning at him and Thor gave a nod before he returned to the dining room and Bruce tugged on Tony’s arm.

“Come on. Lunchtime. And Thor wants to play Trivial Pursuit, again,” Bruce answered.

“No, no, and no! We agreed that, after last time, and the ruined table, we would never play that again,” Tony argued, even as he followed the tug.

“You agreed. We didn’t,” Steve answered and, for a moment, Tony could believe they were there for him.

“Does Maggie even know what ‘pity’ means?” he asked, not meaning to, not out loud at least and Bruce shot him a look.

The look that said, ‘I know what you are thinking and you are wrong and one day, I will prove it.’

But why Bruce gives Tony that look, he has no idea.

“I don’t think so,” Steve answered, oblivious.

Seemingly anyway.

“Lunchtime,” Bruce reiterated and hauled Tony into the dining room.

Chapter Text

Coulson tapped his fingers on Maggie's file.

A side-project.

He sighed and pulled out a picture of Maggie, dressed as the people down in 'costuming' had put her in and flipped it over.

05-05Y000D/AGM-SCSY/LA03FRGRRU-LR-WS/AUDXEMGTOPST/1000F, Maggie Yarnell was written across the back in his hand.

He had seen something like this before. He sighed and tapped the writing before he put it back and focused on what Fury wanted him to fix. The amount of mess that a few people could make when they tried to fix something they had no understanding of was astonishing, and yet, less then what the Avengers did in an attempting to do their paperwork.

Coulson contiuned to write up the paperwork, going on autopilot as he worked, mulling over what he had learned about Maggie.

Series Five.

Okay, there were two fives in Maggie's serial.

Series five was, most likely, the first number. He remembered, distantly, that Natasha had said they were all like that.

He let out a sigh as he heard Fury approaching his office and he focused entirely on the forms, pleased to note that none of his thoughts were on the page.

Though, Fury would know something was up due to the fact that, for some reason, his writing was always neater when he wasn't entirely paying attention to what it was he was writing. He glanced up as Fury walked in before he focused back down on the paperwork. "Is there something you need Director?" Coulson inquired.

"Not at the moment. Have you got the paperwork finished?" Fury responded.

"Not entirely, but it should be cleaned up in a moment," Coulson responded, handing him the public explanation for the mess.

Fury took it and nodded at it before he sat down across from Coulson and Coulson set aside his pen. "Director, I am not in the mood to play your fishing game. Please, state what you want or let me clean up this mess the Junior Agents made," Coulson responded.

Fury smiled a bit and said, "Your Maggie certainly cut through those Hydra agents."

Coulson let out a sigh and put the paperwork to the side. "Sir, if you wanted to talk about that, you should have just said. You know correcting other's mistakes gives me a headache,” Coulson responded and Fury gave him an unimpressed look.

“And I don’t have time for your word games, so let’s both cut to the chase. What happened?” Fury stated.

“Hydra created her. In a moment of brilliance, they conditioned her to defend her home no matter what condition she was in. It nearly killed her. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I taught her that ‘home is where the heart is’, so when one of the Hydra officers ordered our deaths, that conditioning activated and she went on a killing rampage that the Avengers stopped with no need to take her down physically. Not that I think that would have ended well, but it shows that she’s more than what they set out to create, which I believe is a living weapon, of some sort. However, I wish to review her serial. Hydra rarely does anything without a purpose. She has mentioned that she was in the fifth series. The scientists were careless around her, something that I should have realized,” Coulson explained and Fury nodded slowly, staring at the cover-up story Coulson had written.

“That what has you so distracted?” Fury questioned.

“Partially. Most of my brain is devoted to wondering how the Junior Agents managed to weave such a tangled web,” Coulson responded, eyeing the paperwork he was still wading through.

“Coulson, do you see Maggie as a threat?” Fury questioned.

“I need specificity or I cannot give an answer, Director.”

“Is Maggie a threat to SHIELD?” Fury questioned.

Coulson stared at him and answered, “No.”

“Clint’s no or Natasha’s no?” Fury asked.

“Clint’s no,” Coulson responded and Fury nodded as he stood.

“Well, once you and Agent Romanov have deciphered her serial, please keep me informed,” Fury stated and stood up.

He began to walk out and Coulson stared at his back. “Sir?” he called and Fury paused.

“How much did you orchestrate and how much did you just go with?” Coulson questioned.

“When the scientists failed, I knew you wouldn’t Phil. And we can’t afford to have someone like her be a free-agent. Same situation as Clint and Natasha once more,” Fury responded and left.

Coulson was surprised he got an answer.

Fury was notorious for playing it close to the chest.

Coulson wondered if it was because Fury didn't think dodging the question was worth the gamble or if the answer he had been told was a lie.

He hated Fury's fishing games.

Chapter Text

Maggie sat down next to Phil and seemed intent on staring at the wall instead of looking at either Phil or Natasha. They shared a look over her head and Phil sighed. “Maggie, I need you to tell me what you can remember,” he stated and she chewed on her lip.

“The scientists weren’t expecting me to wake up that day. I was supposed to wake up in the lab, like the rest.” Her fingers tensed and flexed before she clasped them together and her eyes were boring into the wall.

“What do you mean supposed to?” Phil questioned softly.

“I woke up in the tube. I woke up alone and trapped in liquid oxygen, breathing in and stuck all over with tubes and needles and I panicked. How could I not? I had opened my eyes and I was trapped in a tube, knowing I was underwater, but somehow able to breathe, and it scared me. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, I was supposed to be in the air, outside of this tube, but I wasn’t. I…I was supposed to be drowning, my instincts were telling me that, and…I hurt myself, on accident, in my panic. Some of the tubing got ripped out. They opened the tube, and I remember hacking out all the liquid and breathing for the first time, air. But…it stays with me. The water is fine, when it isn’t above my head. I panic otherwise. Only the scientists figured that out,” she explained.

“What about before?” Natasha asked, but Maggie shook her head.

“There is just the Waking. There’s nothing before that.”

Phil stared at her. “Maggie, what do you mean…there’s nothing before?”

She shrugged. “We wake up. We’re supposed to wake up in a lab. I surprised them. But they were relieved too. I was their success. I kept them safe. So long as I was there and kept being a success, they would like me. If I surprised them, either good or bad, they didn’t. They didn’t like being surprised. They wanted me to be on a course.”

She refused to look at them.

“You had to come from somewhere,” Natasha stated.

“There is no before! We grow in the tube, we wake up, and we get trained! We behave, we do not lie, we do as we are told, we follow the schedule, and we hope and pray that we do everything right so they don’t get mad, because if they get mad, bad things happen and you never know why, not even if you can hear them coming and hear their anger.”

The fear and rage poured out in that moment. Her eyes glanced at Natasha and Phil shot Natasha a look before moving over to rest a hand on Maggie’s shoulder. She flinched away and then stilled.

Phil immediately moved over and knelt down in front of her, slowly resting his hands on her shoulders. She was shaking under them and he carefully pulled her into a hug, pressing her head into his shoulder.

Natasha watched, her body neutral, face black, and eyes unfeeling.

The unnatural stillness told Phil how uncomfortable this made her.

For now, however, he focused on Maggie.

He had to deal with one crisis at a time.