“If you crush my rosemary plants Coulson,” the words startled Phil a little-she was facing away from him wearing a large straw hat to keep the sun off but really he shouldn’t have been surprised “I will be very upset, and you will reimburse me the cost of new plants.” Marina murmured this to him quietly and evenly not bothering to look up as she continued attacking the rows she’d dedicated to blue tansy and lavender with a hoe. “Spare gardening gloves are in my work bucket, there’s a trowel on the rock wall by the gate, the onions, the tomatoes, and the potatoes need to be weeded. You can take your pick.”
“I am in a three piece suit.” Was the incredulous response as he stared her down, one hand shading his eyes from the bright sun. Marina neither slowed nor turned to face him. She was dressed sensibly for garden work in a worn, light colored three quarter sleeve button down, faded jeans, and ratty work boots. A pair of brightly colored sensible work gloves covered her hands. Her long hair was tightly braided away from her face and the tail was coiled and tucked into a soft pink kerchief to keep it out of the way. She wasn’t even paying him true attention, more focused on getting the weeds out from around the tender herbs than whatever he wanted.
She didn’t even bother replying with words and she rolled her eyes even though she knew he couldn’t see them as she kept right on hacking at the stubborn crabgrass and dandelions in the row with vicious fervor. Clearly he wanted something from her but she wouldn’t be worth her salt as a shaman if she couldn’t act appropriately contrary and mysterious in the face of blatant inquiry. Really, what other fun in life was there if she couldn’t torment her fair few share of SHEILD Agents?
The sun was warm on Marina’s back and the bits of her exposed forearms between the cuffs of her shirt and the edges of the gloves, the soil was damp and yielding, the smells coming off the tansy and lavender were bright and relaxing, and there was a gentle caressing breeze to cool her face. She loved being out in the gardens taking in all the smells and textures and sounds. There were only two things wrong with her previously perfect afternoon. Phil Coulson was attempting to bore holes in her back with his eyeballs and the weeds were annoying the crap out of her.
Marina hated dandelions in general, but with a burning passion when they were in her garden beds. Dandelions were inevitable in cleared land, but they were a downright murderous nuisance in a garden bed. They had strong, flat laying, ground hugging leaves, flimsy stalks and deep, deep roots. Perfect victims for her rage and displeasure, nobody got upset if she caused carnage to a bunch of nuisance flora. If she imagined the heads and hearts of her enemies while wielding dangerous garden tools, nobody was the wiser.
She heard him sigh when the laser beams of his ‘I am a serious shadowy Agent’ expression did absolutely nothing, and his ‘there are serious matters to discuss’ weighty silence failed to cow her into submission. Was he really that naive? Coulson was not unintelligent, the man had watched her face off against the tyrannical toddler with a ‘tude that was Nicholas Fury, did he expect those weak attempts to floor her? Did he expect her to yield to his pressures like a well-trained, trusting horse on her home turf? Not going to happen.
Phil gave it up- he’d known the usual Agent bravado wouldn’t work, but it seemed to be his default mask when nervous- and decided to go for full blown disclosure with this formidable woman. He was uncomfortable with and tired of Lynn disappearing every time he entered the tower, while he could totally understand her fear of the Agent Coulson side of him, he felt a need for her to see and perhaps get to know the softer, more approachable Phil side of him too. The side Natasha and Clint enjoyed when they were just hanging out and reminiscing. He couldn’t even show her that side of himself if she refused to be present when he was around. Phil also felt the need to apologize to her, but he didn’t know how and she was more contrary than a cat when it came to any type of interaction.
“How can I get Lynn to talk to me? I want to get to know her and have her get to know me, maybe help repair the damage that SHIELD has done to her. I feel bad about everything Nick put her through, besides which, she’s soul bonded to both of my best agents and she is absolutely terrified of me.” He finally just blurted it out into the soft summer air. She went absolutely still. He flinched when the hoe was violently thrust through the root cluster of a bunch of crabgrass and Mem whirled to face him.
The look on her face was alarming, fierce and hot. She fisted her hands on her hips, glaring up at him past the floppy brim of her huge sun hat. It should have made her look ridiculous, but she was a terror to behold.
“What?” The word was bitten out viciously, like it left a horrible taste in her mouth and she had to rid herself of it.
“Lynn doesn’t stay on the same floor of the Tower as I am when I visit, she’s still extremely avoidant of all people, but especially of myself, Thor, Bruce, and Tony. I expected this, though her avoiding Thor confuses me a little. Anyway, I would like to get to know her and have her get to know us, I figured you were the best person to ask about how to go about trying to accomplish that without hurting her.” His expression turned softer, more open, more like Phil instead of Agent Coulson, but Mem was not soothed.
“You have no idea what you are asking. I thought you were an intelligent SHEILD Agent, but you really have no idea what you’re doing. None.” The sorrow in her eyes was a deep, fathomless well. Phil had trouble meeting that gaze head on. There was rage like an icy film at the forefront yes, but a depth of sorrow and pain and suffering he cannot even begin to guess at beneath that. It freezes him to his spot between the rows of rosemary plants and the parsley. She pins him for a while longer- an age, an eternity, a second. Time seems irrelevant in that space with her and the immense weight of ghosts and the secrets whispered in the dead of darkest night that she carries before she sighs inaudibly through her nose and whirls away. Phil is left speechless and stunned for a few moments as he remembers how to breathe.
While Phil was still reeling, Mem grabbed her hoe out of the crabgrass and began walking away, hips swinging as she danced slowly and carefully through the rows of herbs and flowers. She’d come to the garden to relax, bleed off the energy and stress and heaviness of being the ear for the clan. They knew to leave her in peace and silence if they came to help her with the plants- the garden was her place of joy, of reconnection, a haven. Her sanctuary had been invaded and she needed to cool down.
Marina was no stranger to pain and trauma none of the clan were. It was a fact that no shaman escaped working through the endless slubs, tangles and unholy knotted messes in the tapestry of threads unscathed- humans were complicated and contrary creatures prone to wrapping in and around each other and tugging the warp and weft of the world too tight. Often. And repeatedly. Sometimes a few of the pluckier daredevils or crazy fanatics would try going so far as to rend tiny little tears in the fabric - when people managed that it was not a good day. Coulson was heading into territory that could very well rip Lynn apart past the point of repair and he was doing so without realizing it like nearly every other non-shaman before him barring those Lynn worked with at the Bakery. If her soulmates didn’t do it first. Lovely.
Marina did not want to deal with this today. She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose to stave off the inevitable tension headache that she had JUST managed to shed (damn you Agent Coulson) as she came up to the far gate that led out into the back pasture and the woods beyond. Her hand was on the latch and the gate halfway open when Coulson seemed to shake himself from the near- trance she’d put him into.
“Wait. Please. Listen to me.” The words were not an order, not a demand said in his Agent tone of voice, nor were they a desperate plea. Phil Coulson was as always, calm cool and collected and his words were no less now. He continued talking when she paused in the gateway.
“We need your help now, if you don’t help, Lynn is going to get hurt. People are going to hurt and be hurt if you don’t help, not just Lynn but the other members of the Tower. You’re her family and you know her better than anyone else on the planet, if you don’t help, some of the responsibility for her pain will rest with you.” Marina stiffened and growled a little under her breath. Smarter than she’d first thought. Damn him.
“This is not a talk for the garden Agent, this is NEVER a talk for the garden. I still don’t trust you- not by any stretch of the imagination.” She sent a pulse out to Aksel a wave of need-worry-need wrapped in a dusky red that got his attention immediately, she felt it in the sudden taut pull of their bond and she knew he’d be waiting at the house. She pushed through the gate and stalked toward the outer edge of the pasture that led to the house. Hansel and Gretel- the pair of their most friendly goats came up to nibble at the edges of her button down while the rest of the small herd hung back and eyed her suspiciously.
She heard Coulson start to follow.
“If you trample the plants in my garden Agent, you’re buying me new ones and you’re putting them in the ground with your own two hands!” She cried as she moved, gritting her teeth until they squeaked in protest and shooing Gretel and Hansel back to the herd as she moved through the pasture. She slammed the far gate out of sheer frustration, starling the goats. The tension headache was working its way up to migraine status. Fan-freaking-tastic.
A soothing, cool wash of calm-peace-husssssssh pulsing and swirling in easy blues and minty green-greys breezed over her from Aksel. It eased the tension she was carrying enough that the threat of a migraine receded into the distance and she stopped feeling her heartbeat behind her eyeballs. Bless her heart’s heart, steady as an oak where she was flighty as a sparrow, she was so rich in her family-clan. She felt the others send inquiring, soothing slants through the weft of their tapestry and smiled, feeling the sharpest edges of her anger start to smooth away under their quiet presence. She was not alone, none of them ever had to be alone to shoulder their burdens again. It was a great feeling.
He caught up with her at the river stone path that wound through the back yard past the dye plant garden, the grazing area for the chickens and rabbits, the rabbit hutches, and the large chicken coop to the kitchen door, thankfully he didn’t pull a cliché shoulder grab maneuver as she would have yanked on his fate string hard enough to wind him had he attempted it. Usually she didn’t meddle with fate threads like that unless it was unavoidable or an emergency, but he had pissed her off and she would have delighted in jerking him around a little.
“Please help.” Coulson said again, a sheen of perspiration beginning to cover his upper lip and sparkle at his temples from stress and walking under the midday sun in a dark wool suit. Mem was quiet for a long while as they walked, grateful he let her think.
The sight of the cabin with the open kitchen door and the increasing steady warmth of Aksel at the end of their soul string had her breathing deeper and relaxing a bit once more. The flagstones of the path broadened out at the kitchen door creating a rough patio space ringed in pots of her favorite herbs and vegetables, her largest spinning wheel was sitting off to the side in the sunshine, a pair of Fred’s dirty work boots were tossed at the edge of the stones and there was a half covered basket of Jeannine’s tatting on the chair next to the wheel. Home.
Marina moved around the patio checking over her herbs then snagged a basket from the ground beside the threshold and started pulling some scallions and clipping sprigs of mint to go with lunch.
Coulson twitched. Right. She looked at him askance over her shoulder as she moved along settling the basket against her hip as she pulled garlic and onions out of half-finished braided strands, she finally settled in the doorway to the kitchen and spoke to him. Her voice was cool and her eyes hard as she leveled a look at him.
“What shall you do if I cannot help you? What is your plan should I be unwilling or unable Agent? Would you of SHIELD and of the Tower take it upon yourselves to ‘snap Lynn out of it’ or force her into therapy?” At the shift in his expression, Mem snorted and stomped her foot, her mouth twisted into a moue of disgust and anger bordering on contempt.
“Will you really be so callous as to rip her apart again to soothe yourselves? Typical.”
“Hey now, something needs to be done. Lynn’s not functioning right now, and I can assure you that nobody in the Tower or at SHIELD wishes to harm Lynn or for that matter any of your family in any way. We certainly would not ‘rip her apart’”
Both brows shot into her hairline as Mem moved into the kitchen. She fluttered around like a whirling dervish- dropping her loaded basket onto a prep surface while hooking a foot around a three legged stool as she passed by, she shoved it out from under the worktable for Coulson. Gesturing to it abruptly as she crossed to the sink to fill the tea kettle with water. When the kettle was over a flame and a large bowl was next to her basket and a second bowl filled with other vegetables on her work space, she whipped around to face him once more. Pulling a knife from the butcher block and beginning to assemble a salad. She said nothing, only kept him pinned with a murderous expression as she dissected tomatoes and carrots and ripped into lettuce and herbs.
Aksel came in through an arched brick doorway past which Phil could just see a landing and a half dozen warm toned wood stairs. He was dusting wood shavings off of his clothing and there were flecks of yellow and green paint in his graying amber hair. He was a tall, broad, weathered, leathery tree of a man with skin tanned and conditioned by sun and wind and large, work gnarled, calloused hands.
“Explain something to me please, Agent Coulson.” He said as he walked over and slung an arm around Marina in a quick hug- he was swatted away with an admonishment to stop sprinkling treelets on the food and wash- he moved to the sink to comply before turning to help his wife and face the Agent across the counter.
“If I can, I will.” Phil replied. Leaning slightly to settle more comfortably on the stool, watching the pair of them setting up for a plentiful, light lunch of salad soup and sandwiches…it looked like the other members of the family would be joining them shortly.
“Why should we expect you, or anyone else connected to SHIELD for that matter, to handle this situation with Lynn gently now when it has been handled so roughly and badly up till this point. With axes and sledgehammers, with threats and intimidation – with men in tactical suits brandishing guns and badges in the dead of night- with lies and fear?” the question was put calmly, Aksel’s tone cordial and polite, though there was a core of steel to his words.
“Trampled my best bed of Melissa plants, the riotous thugs!” Mem snapped under her breath as she viciously crushed and minced garlic and set it to steeping in warmed olive oil. Her knife made a great deal more noise than strictly necessary against the cutting board. Aksel soothed a hand over the bunched curve of one of her shoulders as he stared Phil down. Phil met their gazes with quiet determination, relaxed in his seat on the stool in the comfortable kitchen.
Inside he was far from relaxed- in the privacy of his own mind, Agent Coulson was riotously cursing Director Nicholas Fury in every language he knew. Exactly how did Nick expect him to mend this situation to have any favorable outcomes for SHIELD? He was seriously wondering why he had even been allowed on their property, why they were cordially having a discussion instead of attempting to harm him in any number of seriously painful ways in retaliation for their brutal handling by SHIELD. He was beginning to wonder what their intentions towards his person actually were.
Two shamans staring down an Agent with intensity and perseverance are going to win that contest any day of the week. Agent Coulson eventually averted his gaze, his eyes sweeping over everything in the large kitchen. Phil had been a trained spy and handler for a very long time and that sort of training bled over into what was broadcast over a person’s fate strings. Nevertheless, the shamans were attuned to the changes. He was throwing off quiet distress colors, the subtle shift in his normal patterns and variances of color and tension were similar to ones that both Aksel and Marina were extremely familiar with – same story different book as Marina’s grandma Fran used to say. Marina and Aksel looked at each other for a long moment before Marina quirked an eyebrow and Aksel gave a short nod.
“Nothing to say Agent? No answer to give?” Marina asked, Aksel gave her a look but she didn’t care, she couldn’t resist needling him just a little bit. It was petty and immature and she knew it but it was worth it to see Agent Coulson flinch a bit at the words. To see a glimpse of flesh beneath the suit he wore as effectively as any armor- it being SHIELD issue the suit probably was armored.
Phil Coulson sighed and did something neither shaman expected, he seemed to wilt slightly as he put his head in his hands and scrubbed briskly at his face for a moment before turning his eyes back to the two of them. There was a mix of emotions so complex in his face that they were not identifiable, but the small gesture of vulnerability immediately gave away his distress.
“I wasn’t aware that a team was sent to your home in such a manner. I apologize for the extremely unnecessary behavior on behalf of SHIELD, the STRIKE teams, and Director Fury.” Marina snorted and rolled her eyes.
“You of all people, Agent, should be aware that you cannot apologize on another person’s behalf. That tactic is especially unhelpful when the people you are apologizing to are aware that the ones you are apologizing for are neither repentant nor remorseful about their actions.” Her head was tilted slightly to the side as she looked him over, her hands busy with finishing soup preparation. She dusted her hands off and then turned to set the pot on the stove to heat. The tea kettle was rumbling a little now, and slight wisps of steam were beginning to trail out of the spout. Aksel moved the kettle off the heat and set it on a trivet before taking down a delicate cream colored porcelain teapot decorated with songbirds.
“Which blend today hovenisbeit?” He asked, his voice a pleasant rumble as he turned to a row of metal canisters on a low shelf by the stove, each hand labeled. Jeannine came in to the kitchen through the outside door, she froze for a moment upon spying Coulson sitting at the worktable, but collected herself and stepped over to Marina. After a brief lean on Marina’s shoulder which earned her a gentle pat on the shoulder, Jeannine moved the large salad bowl over to the table then took a loaf of bread out of a drawer to place in the bread warmer before beginning to set the table. Mem nodded at herin approval, pointed to a canister labeled ‘invigoration’ for Aksel and turned to Coulson as though no interruption had taken place.
“Fury would attempt such a maneuver again if he thought it would sway us to his way of thinking. Nobody on that team believed they were doing wrong and they were not remorseful. Well you know it to be true. Don’t think any of us are so naïve as to believe anything else is the truth.” She pointed out blandly as she carried a tray filled with earthenware dishes of infused oils, sandwich fixings, and salad dressings to the table.
Aksel moved to the door that led to the outside and gave an ear splitting whistle. “It will take the boys a few minutes to come in dear,” he pointed out mildly when Marina smacked him, “They will be on time for the soup to come to the table.” He turned and leaned against the corner of the work table facing Coulson.
“If we trust you so little is it any wonder Lynn trusts you less than that?” He asked, his face open and relaxed though the atmosphere of tension still hung about the room like a shroud.
“No, it is not. I do not blame her for mistrusting any of us. How do we begin to repair the damage done though? Neither of you has given insight into that yet.” Phil pointed out mildly.
“There is nothing to explain! Have you not been listening?” Marina snapped, glaring at him from over her shoulder as she washed dishes.
“There is nothing to explain, because there is nothing to be done.” Aksel ground out, for all the world looking like a frustrated professor explaining the same information to a student for the thousandth time, “Some hurts in this world can be solved by action, some injustices repaired with words, still others with a kind and gentle presence and a listening ear. There are some hurts in this world Agent for which none of those salves have any effect. Hurts so grievous and deep that there are no bandages big enough to cover them. You and your SHEILD Agents and your Avengers are not unfamiliar with these wounds, why is it so hard to believe that others may experience them?”
“Much as you may think otherwise, you lot do not have the corner market on world shaking suffering and pain. The great white whale of trauma is not one that you should ever attempt to hunt down and catch. Let it be, let Lynn be. I thought you were all much more intelligent than this Agent Coulson- that is what Fury seems to think.” Marina’s words were bitter and mocking, they flayed against him like physical lashes and he mused that Lynn was not the only one in this family to experience trauma and pain.
Aksel turned to look at his wife, a slow, sweeping assessment in which a silent conversation took place. He walked over and took Marina’s face in his hands, kissing her forehead once, he leaned back to look her in the eyes. He sighed gustily and looped an arm around her shoulders as he looked back to Coulson.
“What have you to say now Agent, what more could we give? You have not laid your weapons down, nor taken your armor off, yet you come speaking of peace and healing. Neither has anyone at SHIELD or in the Tower bothered to have done so, and yet you expect us to come quietly and cooperate, to become your weapons and to share all of our secrets. You expect Lynn to not only let you see the ragged and raw edges of herself, but to let you close enough to do more damage and somehow trust that you will not. Forgive me if that seems recklessly foolish. Why should any of us dare to do so? Least of all the one with the most recent of traumas to work through! You have not given us any answers. Why should we give you ours?”
“Thought you said you had hope for this one Aksel?” Fred remarked as he came in, trailed by Mates and David.
“I did my boy, I did. Don’t underestimate anything.” Aksel rumbled with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. The whole family chuckled softly at this and moved to sit around the laden table. Phil rose to join them when Marina motioned to him.
“Please don’t talk about me like I am not quite capable of understanding you while I am in the room. It irks me.” Phil replied pleasantly as he sat at the table, his eyes hard.
“Don’t mind the boys Phillip, everyone is on edge today. Now eat and let us know when Lynn is going to be allowed to leave that blasted Tower Stark likes to hide in so very much.”
At this questioning statement, Phil’s brows shot upwards and his posture went stiff in a jerk. He looked around the table at the serious, alert, curious faces in surprise.
“Lynn can leave Avengers Tower whenever she feels like it. Nobody is mandating that she stay there, she is not a prisoner!” he said, genuinely shocked as he realized that the people arranged before him genuinely believed that Lynn was being held against her will.
“Do you see Lynn among our number? Are any of our family missing besides her? If what you say is true, why is it that she is not here and that whenever we visit that blasted Tower, people start bandying about Psychobabble words like ‘enmeshment’ and ‘unhealthy relationships’ and ‘dynamic imbalance’ and attempt to monitor and ‘adjust’ our interactions until we feel as though it is best for us to leave? And they do this and feel justified in their actions based on footage taken from Lynn’s hospital room during an intense and complex situation, and closely observed, awkward encounters at the bloody Tower that in no way reflects our day to day existence or relationship! What the fuck is wrong with you people!” David roared, slamming his hands down on the table, as he shot daggers at Phil, Mates had to put a calming hand against his shoulder to ensure peace at the table.
Phil sighed, it was going to be a long day.