The Value of Strength

An Avengers fiction by Lywinis

There was so much good in Captain Rogers, and whether that was modified by the serum, or if it were just natural, Phil could never say. Either way, Steve Rogers was a magnifying glass for the soul, reflecting exactly what he wanted you to be — nothing more, and nothing less.

Which was why, when HYDRA kidnapped them both, Phil was the one who stepped in front of the Captain and spat in the face of Baron Von Strucker. He drew away their attention on the Captain, both to give him a chance to size up the opposing force, but also to draw attention to himself. If he could buy Steve time, they would be out of here before lunch.

It earned him a hefty backhand, sending him spinning up against Steve's broad chest as the super soldier shifted to catch him. Phil blinked the stars from his eyes, and spat blood onto the floor. Steve's hands were tied behind his back, as were Phil's, and so Steve's chest flexed as he tried to move his hands to steady Phil.

"I see you care for this one too, Captain," Strucker said, his voice cold and calculating. "Seems too old for a sidekick, however. I seem to remember you preferring them younger."

"I'm not a sidekick. My name is Phillip J. Coulson, badge ID 7-348-23-9153. I am a senior SHIELD agent." His eyes narrowed as he struggled to stand upright without his hands for balance.

"Ah, SHIELD," Strucker said. He tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Then I should send a message to your Nicholas Fury, ja? I should send him his lackey in a body bag."

"You can try." Phil's voice was mocking.

"What are you doing?" Steve murmured. "Strucker will kill you."

"Buying you time. Get yourself free, get the distress call out." Phil's voice was pitched low, but he had every confidence the Captain could hear him. "That's an order."

Steve's head jerked once in a nod. He was good at following orders, at least the ones he knew were right.

"Besides, Strucker, you're too arrogant just to kill me," Phil said. "You like breaking your toys. You wouldn't outright kill an agent of SHIELD without at least trying to pump me for information. It's not in your usual MO."

"So confident," Strucker said. He smiled, teeth absurdly white in the hollow of his mouth. "Very well, you wish to stand up to HYDRA interrogation? So be it."

They grabbed him beneath his arms, dragging him from the room. He caught Steve's eye and saw the resolve there.

"Should I place you in the next cell over, Captain, so you can hear him screaming?" The doors shut, and Phil couldn't hear the Captain's answer.

Phil's whole body was a raw nerve. He was bloodied, black and blue, the fingers of his right hand a twisted mass of pain. Fingers dislocated, then broken, his shoulder wrenched from his socket, his lungs on fire with the busted ribs on his left side. His eye was swollen shut, a cut above his brow bled into his good eye, and he'd been bolted to the chair for what felt like hours.

The room shook.

"What the hell was that?" Someone asked; the room quaked again, a death knell.

"That," Phil said, coughing, "that sounds like my team coming for me."

A large green hand opened a hole in the concrete of the bunker, snatching one of his torturers out with a roar. He had never been so happy to see Bree in his life. Flowers. Flowers were in order.

Steve stepped through the hole, his eyes narrowed against the dust settling in the air. He blocked the swing from one of the goons, backhanding him with the shield.

If Phil weren't in so much pain, he might have swooned in joy.

"Phil," Steve said, pulling the straps off his arm and letting him loose. He untied Phil's legs, his hands gentle. "Come on, I need you to stay with me. Can you stand?"

"Broke my tibia. Left one." Phil could feel the grind of bone in his leg.

"All right. This is going to hurt." He lifted Phil, and Phil almost shrieked with the white-hot bolt of agony that shot through him. His hurts combined made him shudder. "Easy now, easy."

Steve cradled him close, holding Phil as though he were a child. Phil wrapped his arms around Steve's neck, his legs supported by Steve's hands as he carried the agent from the room. Medical was waiting outside the building, and they fussed over him, filling him full of the good stuff before they worked on popping his shoulder back into place.

And there, Phil counted his blessings, because he did pass out.

It wasn't until later, much later, that he woke to the beeping of the heart monitor in the hospital (and how he hated that sound now) to find Steve Rogers watching him. He opened his eyes, concern knitting his brow.


"Bree's gone to get some coffee. I said I would keep watch," Steve said.

Phil was…gratified.

"Why?" Steve asked. "You didn't have to do that."

"I did. You know you were the one best suited to making an escape. In the long run, my life doesn't matter. Yours does. Tactically, it makes sense."

"I'm not talking about tactics," Steve spat, his hands knotted on his thighs. "You could have died!"

"Wouldn't be the first time." Phil's eyes rolled to the ceiling. "I was doing my job, Captain. You know I still have to, no matter how much you think of me as a friend. If it means I make the sacrifice play, then I will. You'll have to accept that."

Steve shook his head. "I don't."

"Then we'll agree to disagree." Phil winced, his jaw aching. "Strucker took the bait. That's what matters. We stopped him, again."

"You got hurt." Steve's jaw was set in a stubborn line. "Every damn time."

"Steve," Phil said, and it surprised him, because he'd never actually called him by his first name. "This wasn't your fault. Neither was the helicarrier."

"I should be able to fix these things. I should be able to protect the people I care about."

"Why do you think I volunteered?"

Steve's head snapped up, his eyes meeting Phil's. Phil smiled, as much as it hurt to do so.

"You're my friend, Steve. There's not much I wouldn't do for my friends, or the agents under my care. If we could do the scenario over, even knowing what was coming, I'd have done it again."

"Phil —"

"Dammit, Rogers, let me talk." Phil's voice was sharp, and he could hear the click as Steve snapped his jaw shut. "We do what we have to, even when we're afraid. You taught me that. Never think that you don't have friends who wouldn't fight just as hard as you do for them, because it's not true."

Steve met Phil's eyes, and the blue was stark with pain. Phil's heart clenched. Steve reached out, one hand covering Phil's non-injured one.

"You're not alone anymore, Steve. Trust us, and trust that we know what we're doing." Phil thought about that piece of advice for a moment. "Except Stark. Never trust Stark."

Steve's laughter was genuine, and Phil closed his eyes. The drip was kicking in again.

"Thank you," Steve said.

"My job," Phil murmured, and slipped back into healing slumber.

A/N: I love Phil and Steve's dynamic that we've cultivated. Steve is amazing, just, everything I've hoped for in an RP partner. He and Phil share a mutual admiration and respect that are refreshing as all hell to watch. There was drama when Phil found out that Steve had a relationship with a reformed!Loki (irl I still can't wrap my head around that ship, but there you go), enough so that Phil almost sold all of his merchandise. I'll post that flash here after a while, once I find it again. Phil and Steve are working things out, and Phil knows Steve will do his best, no matter what.

I should also note the name Bree attached to the Hulk there. That's another of my partners, my lovely Sunshine. She roleplays as one Doctor Bree Banner, a genderbent version of Bruce, who's also in a longstanding relationship with my Phil. They are, in fact, getting married soon. (Seriously don't follow my RP unless you want the mother of all crack ships with me at the helm. Phreedom forever, baby.)

There will be fic for that as well. I love Marvel for multiverses. Everything is so FLEXIBLE.

Thanks for joining me, Constant Readers. More next time!

- Lywinis