For Services Rendered

by Tenshi

(NB: I'm sure there's some Marvel person that might suffice here, but making it someone specific would kind of muddy my point, because then it would be about the other person, not Coulson. And it really is about Coulson. Also, my Marvel comics knowledge is pretty much limited to about five issues of Uncanny X-Men from 1991.)

"...Avenge," Agent Phil Coulson said, and then blinked around him in confusion. What had he been saying? It had seemed pretty dire at the time. Only now he couldn't quite recall what it was about, just that he had been talking to Nick Fury. There was no sign of the S.H.E.I.L.D. commander now; Agent Coulson was alone down in the belly of the hellicarrier, looking at the empty cage where Loki had been imprisoned.

Loki! That was part of it, wasn't it? Coulson wracked his brain, but no, the fleeting glance of recollection was gone. "Damn!" he said, with mild irritation. "I hate that feeling."

"What feeling is that?"

Coulson jumped. He was not alone in the room after all. A young female agent was standing on the stairs to the corridor, her uniform and hair and eyes all black in the shadows of the corridor door. For a split second Coulson thought it was Agent Hill, or maybe even Natasha. But as she took another step towards him, the raven color of her hair and eyes remained, and Coulson had to admit he didn't know her by name. She was familiar, though. Maybe she'd been on site with them in New Mexico.

You're slipping, Phil, he told himself. Time was you'd even know the janitors by name.

"Just--- forgot what I was going to say," he said, out loud.

She nodded in complete understanding. "That can happen when it's fast," she said. "It'll come back to you."

"Sorry," Coulson said, cocking his head at her warily. "When what is fast, exactly?"

"You're needed on the bridge," she replied, as though it was in answer to his question. "I've been sent to fetch you. Please come with me."

Coulson's instincts hummed with warning. It hit him suddenly that the only female agents in New Mexico had been either blond or redheads, that he had last seen not Loki but Thor inside the Hulk's contingency cage, and that there was a warm Phase II assault rifle in his hands. The weapon powered up with a shrill little whine as he brought it level with the strange woman's collarbone. "I think before that you'd better tell me who you really are."

She showed no signs of fear, or of intimidation. She only looked at the weapon and then at Coulson's face, and in the silence of her gaze the full memory of Phillip Coulson's life and death rushed back at him. Loki's spear sliced through blood and bone, Thor fell like a stone from the sky, Nick Fury's good eye blurred with grief, and Coulson remembered that he was dead. The gun fell away from his suddenly slack grip, and ceased to exist before it even hit the floor. Everything around him was a construct of his own thought and memory, even the woman's familiar S.H.E.I.L.D. uniform. It dissolved away in fluttering shadows, scattering like startled crows to the sky. In its place was armor and a mantle of Asgardian make, and a helmet framed in black wings.

"Agent Phillip Coulson," she said, and her black scale-mail shivered with terrible iridescence, though her face was kind. "You have been deemed worthy by your services and your sacrifice, and a place waits for you among the honored dead."

"Oh," Coulson said, not really sure what else to say to that. "Right."

"I am a Valkyrie," she continued. "I am not normally sent for your kind."

"No," Coulson agreed, patting his jacket in the hopes of finding his sunglasses. It was very bright where they were, and featureless. "No, I wouldn't think so."

"Are you ready?"

Coulson found his sunglasses just as soon as he stopped looking for them and just decided to have them, instead. He slid them onto his face, took a deep breath, and nodded. "I'm good."

The Valkyrie laid one hand on his shoulder. Eternity arched up and around them, and they were gone.


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