Katie starts her War With Glitter when she is eleven, much to Phil’s horror. Up until then she had been, for all intents and purposes, a well adjusted, sweet kid. Sure, Michelle likes to yell that a kid doesn’t need to know two different martial arts and the finer points of gun control, but Phil just pulls out the statistics on bullying and violence and self-inflicted gunshot wounds and accidents in the house. Michelle usually stomps away at this point yelling, “It’s shit like this. This is exactly why we got divorced,” which Phil thinks it ridiculous because Katie was five then and Phil had only just begun taking her to father-daughter aikido lessons.
Anyways, Katie is eleven when she comes home from the mall with a pair of jeans, butterflies encrusted in hot pink sequins up the sides.
“Looking good, kiddo,” Clint says, ruffling Katie’s hair and entirely unhelpful.
Phil wants to say, “You grew up in the circus,” and maybe even, “This coming from the man who just put in a petition for his uniform to be more purple,” but the issue here isn’t really Clint’s lack of taste and more his daughter’s. “Where’d you get those?” Phil asks instead, and it’s only because he’s made a career for himself battling the forces of evil that he manages to keep the judgment out of his voice.
Katie, though, Katie is Phil’s daughter. “Mom said I needed jeans,” Phil can already hear the accusatory tone of all teenage girls creeping into his daughter's voice. “We went to Limited Too,” she adds, dumping the rest of her shopping bag onto the kitchen counter, t-shirts and jeans covered in sequins and rhinestones spilling everywhere.
To this day, Phil swears that it was at this moment that he started losing his hair.
Katie begins slow, with sequin jeans and rhinestone tees, but she’s a Coulson through and through and Phil knows the shirts covered in a cacophony of colors and a rainbow of sequins are just the beginning. She moves onto school supplies next, buying glitter gel pens and those damn glitter pencils that never sharpen properly and have an eraser that smears the graphite all over important documents, coating them in what has to be some sort of clear, plasticized adamantium. She adds in notebooks and binders and a backpack next, to her mother’s delight: “She’s a girl, Phil. It’s normal.”
Phil is not so convinced, as he vacuums the living room for the umpteenth time since Katie left from her weekend over, glitter seemingly permanently ingrained into carpeting.
Natasha says, “You’ve got glitter on you, boss.”
And Phil just sighs, resigned to it, “I’m raising an eleven year old girl. These things happen.”
Natasha doesn’t look like she’s so sure about that, but she lets it go.
(She’s the only one who mentions it though. Fury has nieces of his own, and everyone else is scared of him. Phil’s okay with it.)
One night, folding laundry and valiantly trying and failing to ignore the stink eye Phil is giving to Katie’s socks with the little rhinestone hearts on them, Clint says, “I don’t know what your problem is.”
“Aikido was never my idea, you know,” Phil confesses instead of answering, and Clint gives him a look that says both bullshit and go on, so Phil goes on, “We had originally signed her up for ballroom dance classes, but when her teacher tried to give her one of those dresses to put on, she bit him.”
“You must have been proud,” Clint muses, and Phil agrees, fond, “I was.”
“Buck up soldier,” Clint holds up a t-shirt emblazoned with a unicorn with a glitter mane and gives Phil his best shit-eating grin, “it’s just a little rebellion. By her age, I’d already run away from home.”
Phil tries to be cheered, but really, he can’t get Karen Carpenter out of his head, crooning it’s only just begun.
(This begins a brief period where Phil forbids The Carpenters in his house and Clint mocks him for his paranoia until the end of days. Clint still likes to give Phil glittery cards for inane holidays and write in them things like before the rising sun, we fly / so many roads to choose / we’ll start out walking and learn to run / and yes, we’ve only just begun, because he is both an asshole and a complete and total sap.)
In what has to be self-sabotage, Katie manages to destroy her comforter in an unfortunate accident with some scissors, acrylic paint, and feathers. Katie has a black belt in both Aikido and Jujitsu so Phil kind of thinks, as he drives to the nearest Bed Bath and Beyond with a gaggle of pubescent girls in the company car, that either Katie has stepped up her game or Maisy is more of a terror than Phil had previously realized.
Not that it matters, really, when Katie has hijacked his cell phone and is saying to Clint, “Dad says that the sequins are going to be impossible to wash,” while she clutches a bedspread with whorls of orange and fuchsia that is going to clash terribly in the room she insisted on painting robin’s egg blue just last summer.
Phil hears Clint laughing over the line, “You tell your dad that I can wash anything, I grew up in the circus,” and he knows that he’s done for.
(The comforter looks terrible, but Katie’s happy and Phil’s never been able to resist her when she smiles like that, cheeks dimpling. She looks so much like her mother in those moments, and Phil’s just happy that his little girl gets to smile like that, like all the world needs to be okay is sequins and down lining.)
A detente is reached around Katie’s twelfth birthday, Michelle and her new boyfriend Roy taking Katie to the beach and Katie returning with pockets full of shells and stories about seagulls and sand and the boardwalk. She doesn’t talk about Roy, just says, “He’s an accountant,” like he’s morally offended her, and she doesn’t bring home anything that sparkles. For that, Phil is extraordinarily happy.
(“All quiet on the western front,” Clint teases one night, voice a whisper, as Phil peaks into Katie’s room before going to bed, and Phil does his best not to think, Coulson’s just don’t quit.)
The detente doesn’t last for long, and before Phil knows it, he’s been called away to wrangle a drunk billionaire genius, and when he comes back, it’s to Clint making waffles as Katie and Natasha sit at the kitchen table and bedazzle all of Phil’s ties.
Natasha reassures him, “We only did the ugly ones, she needed something to practice on,” while Katie adds, eyes wide and guileless (and Phil knows that look, Phil’s the one who taught her that look), “Clint said we could buy you new ones.”
Which is how Phil ends up going to work for a month without wearing a tie, sending a handful of SHIELD’s flightier interns into a panic.
Phil tries talking to Katie about it, really, he does. He’s not as much as an emotionally repressed stick in the mud as people seem to think. And even if he is, this is his daughter, and he’s never really had a problem talking with her.
But when Phil says, “What’s up?” and “Anything you want to talk about?” Katie just whines in that shockingly horrific new way of hers, “Daaaaad,” before locking herself in her room where she is no doubt rolling around in the kiddy pool full of glitter Phil suspects she keeps under her bed.
(He knows, objectively, that she doesn’t. Phil works for SHIELD, after all, he checks these things. But Phil also lives with Clint, and Phil wouldn’t put it past him to sneak even more glitter into the house.)
Phil reaches his breaking point a year into the Great Glitter Feud, as Clint called it, tacking Katie’s entirely non-glittery school projects to the fridge.
(Phil had had to call up Michelle and ask her for some pieces, because he knows they exist, and he wants something of his daughter’s, not these monstrosities dripping in neon paints and sequins, things he knows Katie, in her heart of hearts, hates.)
Clint and Phil get sent out to an undisclosed location and as Phil rifles through his emergency bag he finds that all of his things have been neatly bejeweled with his initials, PJC shining back at him from his emergency underwear and backup holster like an accusation.
“She won’t tell me,” Clint says, examining the lining of Phil’s favorite jacket, “but, man, she is good. Look at that technique.”
“She’s a Coulson,” Phil mutters glumly, “We don’t do anything by halves.”
Clint nods, “Well, at least pink’s your color. We can talk to Natasha when we get back.”
It’s not really the color Phil’s worried about, and so he spends a night in a shitty motel with Clint, painting black nail polish over all the rhinestones, minimizing the damage he can.
“You’re an idiot,” Natasha tells him, “No wonder she’s pissed.” Which is exactly what Phil’s mother had said in the early days of his divorce and is absolutely no help at all.
Phil’s a little more willing to humble himself than he was in back in those days, however, so he feels no shame in saying, “Please, Natasha, I just want my daughter back.” Phil had said the exact same thing to Michelle that morning, but she had just yelled something about Phil needing to learn a thing or two about teenage girls.
It seems to have a better effect on Natasha, though: “She’s just a preteen who’s pissed that her parents are divorced and that her dad was out of town for her recital.”
And Phil doesn’t say, “I was working, I couldn’t help it,” because it’s one thing to say it to Michelle, who signed up for it, but Natasha’s not doing anything but helping, and Katie’s his daughter, she deserves better than that.
Katie’s War With Glitter ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. Phil buys her a coolatta on the way home from work and sends Clint out with Natasha so he can have father-daughter night uninterrupted. Katie’s in her room doing her homework because she is, despite the passive-aggressive warfare by means of glitter, a perfect child.
“You know, I met Tony Stark. I bet he could upgrade your bedazzler if you wanted. Maybe use real diamonds.” Phil says, handing Katie her drink and purposefully sitting on her sequined duvet, something he’s resisted in the past.
Katie rolls her eyes, “Dad, I think Tony Stark might be a little busy to be upgrading bedazzlers.”
“When’s your next recital?” Phil asks, electing not to educate his daughter on the finer points of Tony Stark’s immeasurable boredom.
And Katie just shrugs, all teenage indifference, “I don’t know, November sometime,” but Phil knows that tone of voice, he taught her that tone of voice, and he knows that she has the date circled on her calendar. And he knows that when she says, “Whatever,” to Phil promising to write the date down, even though he already blacked out of his work calendar, that she’s forgiven him.
(If her comforter happens to suffer another tragic accident the next day, and Phil and Katie spend a lazy afternoon in Bed Bath and Beyond picking out sheets and playing with all the kitchen gadgets they’re both secretly addicted to, then so be it.)