Phil Coulson’s eyes opened slowly, his body taunt, and swallowed thickly. His tongue was thick and heavy in his mouth, made all the worse from the nasty after tang of whiskey. It took only a few moments to recall where he was (his room), and what had happened the night previously to make his head ache (for once, the problem was not wholly on the Avengers, but also, alcohol).
The parts where he was talking to Steve were slightly hazy, but not hazy enough to forget that he had gushed—Phil mentally twitched at having to use the word, but honestly there was no way around it—about getting to work with his hero, to his hero. It was almost as bad as the time he had first talked to Steve one on one, and came across as a stalker who liked to watch him sleep.
He made a decision then and there to play it cool and pretend that portion of the night had never happened.
They had talked a while longer, and Phil remembered feeling proud because Captain America was spilling his secrets to him. Not Tony, whom he seemed to be the closest to, but him. It was the ultimate childhood dream come true.
Phil furrowed his brow just a little, as he tried to conjure up exactly what it was Steve had confessed to him. He had told him something, and Phil remembered that it was important, and he had said he would look into…something.
After that, everything was blank. But it was obvious that Steve, who had been their “safe driver” (he was responsible for making sure Tony and Clint didn’t get themselves poisoned from too much alcohol consumption), had carried everyone off to their respected beds, and, most likely, cleaned up their mess as well. It wouldn’t be the first time it had happened.
A tiny, very childish part of him felt thrilled. He got carried to bed by Captain America. His feelings regarding the man were, of course, platonic, but it was the principle of the matter. It was a pity he didn’t remember it.
Arms tightened around his middle, reminding him of another observation he had made when he first woke up. At some point during the night, someone had decided to get into his bed. The person lying next to Phil pressed their face closer to his collarbone. He could feel the wet spot on his shirt from where they had drooled, and one of his legs was held between their two. He felt not unlike a tree.
Phil frowned and tried to extract himself from Clint’s grasp. It didn’t work very well.
“Barton,” he said again, voice firm, “if you don’t stop treating me like your own personal life-sized plush toy immediately, I will make sure you never have the ability to copulate again.”
“I love it when you talk dirty,” Clint yawned, and then he slowly untangled his legs from Phil’s. “My pants are on.”
Phil raised a brow at the observation, which seemed to convey what he had been thinking because Clint made a face and said, “We both have our pants on, and there’s no whipped cream. That means we didn’t have exciting, drunk sex last night.”
“And don’t expect me to. You know I never engage in food play,” Phil responded, briefly wondering when it had become the norm for his subordinates (and by that, he means Clint) to try and get into his pants or pretend they were in a relationship (they weren’t, at least, not at the moment), then pulled away from Clint to climb out of bed. “Now get out. You overstayed your welcome the moment you stepped in this room.”
“I’d say I’m hurt, but your early morning snark is kinda sexy,” Clint said. He made no move to leave the room, but he did sit up to watch Phil as he walked around.
As he picked out a suit from his closet, Phil attempted to recall what Steve had asked him to do. Nothing came to mind, however, and just as he was contemplating if Jarvis had an audio or video track he could run for him to watch, Clint spoke again.
“So, Tony definitely has the hots for America.”
The words cause Phil to pause; although the pause was so brief one could hardly tell he had done it at all.
“And what makes you think that, Barton?” He asked. He closed the closet door and turned to face Clint. He looked serious, which was a rare thing; at least it was when he was off duty. “I wasn’t aware you were suddenly an expert on relationships.”
“I’m not,” Clint stated, with a shrug, “you know that, but Tony all but told me so. You should have seen his face when you were all cozied up next to Steve last night, on the couch. Oh, and then heard his rant afterwards. I’ve never heard insults like those before, especially the one regarding you and the…” He trailed off at the look on Phil’s face. “Well, that’s not important. But it was still great.”
If Steve was under the impression the Phil had forgotten his request, he wouldn’t be too far from wrong. After that night, Fury had decided it would be a good idea to send him and Natasha on a few missions, mainly because Natasha was starting to get bored and when she was bored, people got hurt.
When he finally had the chance to sit down and think about the first thing that didn’t have to do with killing, vantage points, and murderous can openers (Tony), three months had already passed.
He was sitting on the couch, reading, thinking, and watching everyone—except for Steve and Bruce—play vicious cards, while they snacked on chips and poptarts. It was vicious, mostly because Natasha, Clint, Tony, and Thor didn’t know how to play things any other way. He sighed and turned a page in his book, thinking again about how good his pay was for someone who was basically a glorified superhero babysitter.
“Suck on it, Barton! Suck. On. IT!” Tony cackled and pulled the pile of poptarts, action figures, and dollar bills towards him.
He saw Steve frown disapprovingly. “Tony, don’t say things like that. It’s rude.”
“Yeah, Stark,” Clint sneered.
“Man of Iron, even in Asgard where victory is highly sought and won, we are so not boastful such as this at the finish of each conquest,” Thor said morosely, which was slightly hypocritical, considering he’d been doing something similar not too long ago. It was a little like listening to Shakespeare boasting about his “virtuoso card playing talents”.
Tony made a face and said, “Jarvis! Jarvis, my sweet love, save me! These sore losers are trying to gang up on me. I need backup. Call Pepper. No, call Rhodey!”
At the mention of Jarvis, Phil remembered his plan.
He got up and left the children behind, to someplace he could talk with Jarvis quietly. He went back to his room, shutting the door behind him in case someone got any funny ideas about sneaking in (Clint).
“Yes, Agent Coulson?”
“Are you capable of replaying audio tracks from the video recordings in the living room?” Phil asked, undoing the buttons at his wrists and rolling his sleeves up.
“Of course, sir,” Jarvis answered, sounding slightly offended that there might have been a doubt that he could.
“I need a playback of mine and Steve’s conversation about two and a half or three months ago, the day Thor arrived.”
“Right away, sir.”
There was a pause, and while Phil sat on the edge of the bed, he pretended not to notice his door opening just wide enough for someone to slip through, before it closed again. It was less easy to pretend Clint wasn’t there when he climbed on the bed and rested his back against Phil’s. When the audio began to play, they sat very still and listened.
“…Jarvis tells me they’re the best thing I’ve ever done,” Tony was saying, somewhere in the background, “but he has to say that about everything I do.”
There were a few seconds of Thor bellowing about mighty steeds and curvaceous women, before there came the sound of someone clearing their throat.
“If I want to find someone,” they heard Steve ask hesitantly, “who wasn’t from around here, could you do it?”
“How ‘not from around here’ are we talking about?” Audio-Phil asked curiously, no hint of a slur in his voice, despite being drunk. The real Phil listened intently.
“Her name is Margaret Carter, well, it was before she was married. Now, her name is Margaret Parker.”
“Peggy Carter? The main love interest of Captain America?” Audio-Phil pressed, voice brimming with enough eagerness to make Phil wince.
Behind him, he heard Clint let out a snicker. “Really, Coulson? I think we all know who your favourite is, now.”
Phil made a move towards Clint, who rolled off the bed and settled on the floor.
“Yes,” Steve coughed awkwardly. “That’s Peggy. She…I want to find her. During the war, I promised her that we…she was important to me. And when I woke up, the only thing I wanted to do was find the people I knew; find out what happened to them after I…went under. If they were happy, and if they were still alive. I’ve already found the gravesites of the Howling Commandos, but I wasn’t sure if Peggy would still be over here, in America, especially if she was…dead. That’s why I need your help. For some reason, SHIELD didn’t detail that information in any of the files I was given, but I’m sure that if anyone can find her, you can.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
The audio track cut off.
“Alright, Coulson,” Natasha strolled up, a folder in her hands. She slapped it down on his desk and sat in the chair in front of his desk, next to Clint. “I checked all the databases, and then moved on to the hard copies going all the way back to nineteen twenty-seven, when SHIELD was still a geeky club in someone’s basement.”
“And?” Clint, who was slouched in his chair, threw a balled up piece of paper at Natasha. She raised a hand without even looking, and hit it back, getting him straight in the eye. “Ow! Shit, Nat, I think you just gave me a papercut…”
“Shut it, Barton,” Phil said. “These were all the files you could find on Margaret Carter?”
“This is everything SHIELD has on her.” Phil flipped the cover open and began scanning the pages. “After the war, apparently, she returned to England for a short time before moving back and taking up residence in Brooklyn. She met George Parker there while he was in the city conducting some sort of research, and they moved around New England for years, after they got married.”
“It seems they dropped off the charts for a while,” Phil noted mildly, still scanning the sheets. “But they reappeared in the early nineties when they decided to settle in Amherst, New York.”
“Wow, I’d like to meet these guys,” Clint interjected. He had gotten up to read over Phil’s shoulder, and Phil was trying to ignore how unnecessarily close he was. Distractions like that were never good in the workplace. “They sound pretty badass, especially if they were able to hide from even SHIELD’s eye for a while.”
“Yes, well, that might be easier than you think.”
Phil and Clint raised their heads simultaneously.
“A Mr. and Mrs. Parker were checked into Oakley Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, in the town where they live, about nine years ago, by their son Benjamin,” Natasha continued. “Mr. Parker has since died, but Mrs. Parker is apparently still going strong.”
“But,” Clint frowned, and thought for a moment, “isn’t Oakley one of the homes for retired SHIELD agents?”
They both looked towards Phil. He wasn’t too close with the head of the retirees department of SHIELD, but he knew a little. There were fifty locations in America, and another thirty-five scattered around Europe. As far as he knew, most, if not all, former agents opted to check into a SHIELD retirement facility, so it wasn’t that unusual.
Natasha’s pager beeped, and she stood after giving it a cursory glance. “I’ll leave the rest to you, then. Let me know if you need me to frighten any more of the junior agents for information.”
After she was gone, Clint crossed his arms and asked, “What’s with the face?”
“I’m not doing anything with my face,” Phil replied absently. He was…well, he was a bit angry, to be honest. Looking over Peggy’s later files was nothing short of depressing. She had given up everything to move on from Steve, and when she finally built a family, they seemed to be ashamed of her; after all she had been through they had left her to die in a nursing home.
“That’s what you said that one time, when we were Ipswich, and then you blew up an airplane.”
“Barton, you were unconscious for most of Ipswich.”
Phil made sure his sunglasses were on straight before stepping from his car. They weren’t cheap, and they were made to make him look more official and intimidating. If it worked on the Avengers to make them attend debriefs—Tony, in particular—it should work on a handful of elderly people who threw their backs out whenever they yawned.
He approached the building, observing its boring white paint job and wide glass windows. If anything, the décor was what really gave its SHIELD origins away. When he came up to the doors, Phil paused, giving the doors time to slide open automatically. He stood there for a beat, then realised that the doors weren’t automatic. He reached out, swung one open, and stepped inside.
The receptionist behind the desk smiled at him. He didn’t smile back.
“Good-afternoon, sir. How can I help you this morning?” The woman asked brightly.
“My name is Agent Coulson.” Phil pulled out his badge in a swift, practised move, opened it quickly, and stowed it away just as fast. “I’m here to see former Agent Carter.”
The woman’s lips pursed.
“I don’t think I should let you back, Sir,” she said, doing a complete one-eighty from her attitude from just a few moments ago. It reminded him of Natasha.
“Let’s not play games here, Ms. Pond. As a junior agent, I’m aware you know all about me, and I can assure you, the stories are true. If you don’t let me back, you’ll find yourself out of here and flipping burgers at a second rate fast food joint, quicker than you can say ‘shield’,” Phil replied smoothly.
Ms. Pond’s expression went blank. “Of course, Agent Coulson. Ms. Carter should be sitting out front.”
Feeling a bit smug, Phil turned and pushed through the doors to the other side.
This was not how Phil had imagined things going.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but I must insist you remove your hand immediately.” Years of training was the only thing keeping him steady and calm.
“I haven’t seen a piece of ass this fine since my husband keeled over twenty years ago!”
“What? Don’t sound so scandalized. I saw you cope a quick one just now!”
“And look at those hands? You know what they say about large hands!”
The scent of makeup products and cheap perfume invaded his nostrils. This was almost worse than the mutated bunny attack a few weeks ago.
“Let me just feel these round cheeks!”
Before another old woman could place her wrinkled hands on his person, Phil extricated himself from the small crowd of woman that had swarmed on him as soon as he had entered. He had tried being nice, and in return he had been groped. It was harder than it seemed, getting out of their clutches, but, retired or not, SHIELD agents always knew how to make use of what they had, and they sure knew how to maneuver their wheelchairs in creative ways. It reminded him of Natasha, if she was a saggy, old pervert with lumpy makeup.
Were all the women here just older versions of her?
Phil shook the thought off—disturbing thoughts were never entertained during missions, or ever, if he could help it (then again, he was the handler of not only Clint Barton, but Tony Stark as well, so that plan had been shot to dust for a while now)—and made his way over to a hunched figure near the window in a corner.
She turned to face him, and he could tell that, in her youth, she had been quite beautiful. Despite her slightly sagging skin, her jaw was still strong and defined, her makeup had been done perfectly, and so had her hair. She looked ready to take tea with the Queen.
“Who are you, and what do you want?” Margaret demanded, voice strong despite her feeble appearance.
Phil liked her immediately.
He sat down across from her, flashed his badge quickly.
“Phil Coulson, I’m one of the agents for SHIELD,” he said. “I’ve come to deliver you some news.”
“This is the first direct contact anyone has had with me in years,” she replied, her British accent clipped and short. “Why show up now?”
“With all due respect Mrs. Parker,” Phil allowed himself a tiny smile, “we thought this might be news you would be interested in. It may also come as a shock.”
Her milky brown eyes narrowed at his words. “I’ve seen more than you can imagine, young man. I’m sure whatever you have to tell me is nothing that will shock me more than I already have been in the past.”
Phil and Margaret stared at each other. She met his gaze confidently, and didn’t look away, and Phil could see why Steve had fallen for her; she was brave, she was intelligent, she was strong. Despite it being his request, Phil had had doubts about finding Margaret for Steve, mainly because he wasn’t sure how she would take it, but now that he was here, he knew she would take it in stride. She would handle it appropriately, and she wouldn’t have heart attack right in front of him in the middle of a nursing home.
“Mrs. Parker, how much do you know about Howard Stark’s attempts to find Captain America?” Phil asked.
“Everything,” Margaret answered immediately. “We never found him, of course, and after Howard died, I had been told any attempts to continue the search stopped.”
“But that’s where you’re wrong,” Phil said, lowering his vice slightly. “The search never stopped. It continued up until a few months ago, when a discovery was made. We found Captain America’s shield.”
Margaret looked hopeful, then her face contorted. Now, she looked angry.
“Is this the ‘news’ you had to deliver? Do you think that after all this time, all I wanted found was his shield? He was never just Captain America to me. He was Steven Rogers, a man who wanted nothing more than to fight for his country. Even though Steven is long dead, I still want his body to be found. It was the only result I ever wanted from the search, and Howard agreed.”
“What if I told you that we found the frozen body of one Captain Steven Rogers, as well?”
“Then I would say that you are lying.”
“Well then, I’m about to be the biggest liar you’ve ever met. Not only did we find Captain Rogers encased in ice, we were able to melt him from it. He’s alive, Mrs. Parker, and he wants to see you.”
She didn’t cry.
Phil was a little surprised, and then he wasn’t. She had agreed to meet with Steve the following day, insisted on tomorrow for some odd reason, before leaving.
He had told Margaret everything he knew to date, from his stand point. He hadn’t been on the actual recovery mission when Steve had been found, Phil had told her, but he did watch over him while he was in the process of being defrosted. She had been more than a little disbelieving, and with good reason. Then, Phil had informed her about The Avengers Initiative, had showed her newspaper clippings of interviews and photos as proof. She pressed a hand over her red mouth as she gently picked up one picture of Steve at a press conference, taken not even a week previously. Still, she was strong; she didn’t even tear up.
“He looks exactly the same,” Margaret murmured.
Phil allowed her to take a few of the clippings when she asked for them (he had laminated copies at home, so he could spare those).
“I want to meet with him tomorrow,” she announced, and Phil raised a brow.
“So soon?” He questioned.
“Yes,” Margaret lightly traced the shape of Steve’s face on the picture she clutched. She cleared her throat softly before continuing. “After thinking he was dead, and now I know all this time he was out there waiting for…yes. I want to see him tomorrow.”
Phil reached for his phone, “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind coming down now, if you’d like.”
“No!” For the first time, Margaret raised her voice. She moved quickly, for someone so old, and grabbed his wrist in a surprisingly tight grip. “Tomorrow. There is something I need to take care of. Now that I know he’s alive…” She withdrew and sighed softly, suddenly looking every inch of the ninety-something woman she was. “This changes quite a few things.”
“If I may ask, what kind of things?” Phil asked, wearily. Whatever “things” she was talking about, sounded like it might end with him doing more paperwork.
Margaret leveled him with a cool gaze. “Things.”
When Phil got back to town, it was late afternoon. That was plenty of time, he thought, to contact Steve, meet up somewhere (meaning, meet up somewhere that wasn’t Stark Tower), and fill him in. He decided to stop at the tiny coffee shop a few blocks away and get a drink.
He dialed Steve’s StarkPhone.
“Did it beep? It did? Oh! Okay, um, hi, this is the cellular phone of Steven Rogers—which is me—and I can’t answer the phone right now—”
“—probably because he doesn’t know how to open it without someone showing him every time!”
“That’s not true, Clint. Right, sorry. As I said, I can’t answer right now, so if you’ll leave your name, contact details, and reasons for calling—”
“Christ, Rogers! Just tell them to leave you a message. Don’t make a sonnet out of this.”
“—and I’ll return your call as soon as I can. Thank you—”
“What is this miniature device? I have never seen one like it!”
“It’s a phone. You talk to people far away on it. Wait, why am I even—Thor, you own one of these. Tony—”
“Fantastic! This phone, I like it! Another!”
“No, Thor, wait—!”
Phil hung up without leaving a message. Since it went straight to voicemail, it was likely that Steve’s phone was dead. Again. Also, he really had to convince Steve to sit down and rerecord his voicemail at some point.
He dialed 527847 on his phone, and Jarvis’ voice automatically spoke on the other side of the line.
“What can I do for you this afternoon, Agent Coulson?” The AI asked.
“I need you to get a message to Steve,” Phil said. “I need him to meet me at the coffee shop down the street as soon as he can. Tell him I’ve come across the results of what I’ve been researching, and that he may be interested in what I found.”
“Right away, sir,” Jarvis answered. “If you would please hold for a moment.”
There was a tiny click, and, as Phil waited, he took a sip of his drink. There was about a ninety percent possible chance that Jarvis would tell Tony that he was meeting up with Steve privately. If that was the case, there was a hundred percent definite chance that Tony would show up once he was told. Frankly, Phil figured it that would probably be the case.
When Jarvis clicked back on, Phil knew the amount of time that had gone past was too long for the short message he had conveyed to Steve. (“Captain Rogers has informed me that he will be along in fifteen minutes. Will that be all, Agent Coulson?”) With a sigh, Phil signaled for two more coffees: one small coffee with everything in it, and another very large one with nothing in it.
Steve walked in exactly fifteen minutes later, cheeks slightly flushed and eyes wide. He saw Phil immediately and headed over. After sliding into the chair across from his, Phil pushed the small coffee cup closer to Steve, who thanked him and took a deep sip. After he set the cup down, Phil began to talk.
“I’m sorry it took so long, but,” Phil reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of folded up paper that had the name of the nursing home Margaret was staying at written on it, and slid it across the table, “here it is.”
He watched as Steve cautiously opened the slip. Never before had he seen that expression on his face, as if he were anxious to open it, but also afraid to read it. Phil wanted to reassure him that Margaret was alive, that she had insisted upon seeing him the next day, but figured a few more seconds to find out on his own couldn’t hurt. When he did finally open it, Steve’s eyes widened and his cheeks reddened further.
“Is this…Peggy, she’s…” Steve managed to get out, and his eyes—dammit, here he was, sitting in front of Captain America, and the man was about to cry because of something Phil did.
Phil was unsure how to feel about that, especially when he saw Tony attempt to casually walk through the door. No, Tony wouldn’t take it well if he thought Phil had broken his stuff (but in his defense, he was born first, so he got first dibs).
“I located her position and approached her myself,” Phil explained, wanting to get the important facts out of the way quickly. When a few of the tears in Steve’s eyes threatened to spill over, he bit the proverbial bullet and pulled his Captain America handkerchief out. He offered it to Steve, who took it and wiped his eyes. “It took some convincing, but I finally got her to listen to my story. Well, your story. I showed her a few pictures of you, and she’s agreed to see you tomorrow.”
Out the corner of his eye, he watched as Tony spotted them and began making his way over. Phil’s time was, for the most part, up.
Steve sucked in a breath at the word and looked up quickly. “Tomorrow? But, that’s too soon. I don’t have time to—have time to—” He seemed to have forgotten how to breathe.
Phil was about to reassure him, when Tony finally reached their table. He glared at Phil, as he put a hand on Steve’s shoulder.
“Breathe, Steve,” Tony reminded in a soft voice.
Steve visibly started, but relaxed under Tony’s hand.
“What are you doing here, Stark?” He asked, tone more than a bit short.
“Jarvis,” Tony shrugged. Just as Phil had predicted, of course. If only he could play lottery numbers as good. “If you want to keep a secret, the last thing you should have done was tell my personal AI that you wanted to meet up someplace to gossip like a bunch of girls. So what’s this all about?”
Phil said nothing. This was Steve’s story, and he was strongly of the opinion that he should be the one to tell it. After Tony gave him an inquisitive look, Steve began to explain from the beginning and Phil sat back to listen. It wasn’t his first time hearing the story, obviously, but it would never get old, at least, not to him. To share quarters with, to be one of the confidants of the man he had practically worshiped since childhood was truly remarkable.
After Steve finished his story, Phil watched Tony closely. Phil knew from the past six months of being around him, even before The Avengers, that Tony was very possessive. He took things seriously when he wanted to, especially if he thought it had to do with him. But most of all, he was like a child; one who didn’t like sharing, and couldn’t really understand why the people he liked could ever associate with anybody else because they had him. Tony was like this with Steve, and more. It was obvious to Phil and everybody else in the tower. Except, perhaps, Steve himself. So when Tony asked, in his own snarky Stark-y manner, making a jab at Phil along the way, why Steve had kept the whole thing “hush hush”, he really seemed it be asking, “What? Am I not good enough? You can’t trust me, so instead you go to someone that’s not me?”
Steve gave him a look. “Don’t be an idiot, Tony.”
“If I say I’m sorry I called you a dog,” Tony turned to Phil, “would you just accept it, even though you know I don’t mean it?”
“Don’t be jealous, Stark,” Phil said coolly, seeing Steve shoot Tony another of his disapproving looks. They weighed heavily on the mind if one got the full force of it. He didn’t know how Tony could brush it off so easily. “It doesn’t suit you.”
“You’re mom’s jealous,” was Tony’s lame retort.
Phil didn’t know whether to roll his eyes or sigh. He really was dealing with a bunch of kids.
Phil returned to examining the two men. It was amazing, really, how much both of them missed when dealing with the other. Clint had always said he had an eye for hidden things, and if Tony Stark was the king of masks and hidden meanings, then Phil was the king of uncovering each one.
“She said she wanted to meet tomorrow, right?” Tony asked. “I’ll arrange to have someone take you over in the morning, so you can have a few hours to talk.”
“I don’t share.”
Steve placed a hand on Tony’s arm and squeezed gently.
“Thanks, you don’t know how much this means to me,” he said, and Tony’s eyes widened in horror when Steve had to use the handkerchief again.
You don’t have to.”
And when Steve turned to smile at him before looking back at Tony, Phil knew that everything would be fine. Tomorrow would be a good day.
“We have to stop meeting like this.”
Clint grinned up at him, and waggled his eyebrows.
“What?” He asked innocently. “Do you not like waking up in the morning and finding me in your bed?”
“No,” Phil said flatly.
“That’s not the tone you were singing a few weeks ago. Well then, I guess you don’t know how many guys would like to be in your place right now.” Clint attempted to wiggle himself closer, forcibly moving Phil’s arm from where it had been resting against his side, to drape over his waist.
“If they knew about the stink bomb you carry around in your mouth in the mornings, I’d say less than none,” Phil replied, holding back a tiny smile when Clint looked miffed at the mention of his morning breath.
“Why don’t you appreciate me?” Clint grumbled.
“Because you’re a sixteen year old kid in the body of a twenty-six year old man. You and Stark both.”
Phil rolled over onto his back—Clint’s breath really didn’t smell that bad. He’d the misfortune of smelling worse—and gazed up at the ceiling. “Jarvis, can I get morning stats, please?”
“Certainly, sir,” Jarvis answered immediately, pulling up various live cam pictures of the streets of New York. “The time is now eight forty-five, and the weather outside is currently seventy-seven degrees. Clear skies throughout the afternoon, although the twenty percent probability of rain this evening will likely heighten to eighty percent. You have no missed calls from Director Fury or Agent Hill. Dr. Banner left the house approximately three minutes ago for the park, Ms. Romanoff is currently still asleep, as is Mr. Odinson, and Captain Rogers left with Master Stark this morning at eight, for Amherst.”
“Shit,” Clint sounded impressed. “I usually just get him to pull up the comics, and Archer’s Digest for me.”
“Like I said, you’re a child.” Phil replied, and no, that wasn’t affection of any kind in his tone.
They both fell silent.
For a few minutes Jarvis broadcasted various images on the wall of the outside weather. When that finished, it was followed by a few camera shots of Steve and Tony outside Stark Tower, and two of Clint emerging from his room and going down the hall to Phil’s. Finally, the wall went black.
“So, Steve finally went to face her?”
Clint eased closer. He rested his head so that it was almost resting on Phil’s shoulder. With close to no room to escape, Phil decided to stay where he was. It was rare that he got the have a lie in during the weekday, or any day at all, and he would enjoy it no matter what.
“Yes. I suspect they’ll be back sometime this afternoon,” Phil said.
“As long as Tony keeps his mouth shut, everything should be fine,” Clint responded with a snort.
Phil, for a moment, honestly considered his comment. He knew without a doubt that Steve and Margaret would have a lot of pent-up feelings and history to sort through, and that Tony’s presence would act as something of a buffer. Steve was just learning to let go of the past, to accept the fact that he had truly slept through the end of one millennium and woke up in the next; to let go of all the love he’d held for Margaret.
As much as Tony would like to think so, Phil wasn’t an android or an autobot, or anything else of the mechanical variety. He didn’t want to see Tony or Steve hurt, and if Tony was present while he talked with Margaret, that’s exactly what would happen. He looked too much like his father for it not to be brought up at one point or another, and whenever Howard Stark’s name was mentioned, Tony shut down. He hoped, for Steve and Margaret’s sake, as well as the budding relationship between Steve and Tony, that everything would go well.
Phil had a bet to win, after all.
“Hey.” The sound of Clint’s voice broke his thoughts, and Phil felt him tug gently on his ear. “I have a question.”
“What?” He was weary.
Clint lowered his voice and pressed closer, as if he didn’t want anyone to overhear. “What’s your bet with Nat?”
“That’s classified,” Phil answered, even though it really wasn’t. He just didn’t want Clint in on the deal, in case the stakes were lowered to include him.
“Oh come on,” Clint propped himself up on an elbow and looked down at Phil, face skeptic. “You can’t honestly tell me that some bet between the two of you is—”
“Why did you change your cover information?”
At the question, Clint drew back slightly and narrowed his eyes.
“How did you know I changed my profile?” He asked. “I only did it last night.”
“I’m your handler, Barton,” Phil reminded him, tone dry. “It’s my job to know everything about you, and more. That includes knowing you prefer cinnamon flavoured toothpaste, to knowing the reason behind your sudden change as a cellist from Portland, to a circus performer from Miami.”
As a response, Clint grumbled under his breath and flopped back down. He turned his back to Phil, gave the pillow a punch as if it had personally offended him.
“I didn’t like the stupid cover identity SHIELD provided,” he mumbled begrudgingly, at last. “I wanted…something to be true, even if was just my occupation. The rest of the profile was shit anyway.”
And Phil could understand that. Only…
He rolled out of bed, and dressed quickly in casual slacks and a button-down. He wasn’t expected at SHIELD, but there was still work that needed to be done. He would eat, maybe go out for a while, then come back to work.
“That complicates things,” Phil said to Clint, who was still rolled up, as he did up the last button on his shirt. “It’ll be difficult to secure a marriage certificate in Florida. I’m going to make grilled cheese for breakfast. If you want one, show up before Thor does.”
“This is why your codename is ‘Cheese’!”
Phil’s eyes swept through his locker one last time to make sure everything was in place. His signed Captain America trading cards were displayed proudly—but carefully—on the top shelf, and he did a check twice a day to make sure the vintage cards stayed pristine. After Fury’s little stint at the beginning of The Avengers Initiative, he had added three locks to his locker, and made sure the cards Tony had gifted to him were kept out of reach.
A satisfied feeling came over him as he eyed Steve’s signature once more, then closed the door. He didn’t jump when he saw Natasha standing on the other side. Her left eyebrow dipped minutely; she was disappointed.
“Here.” Natasha thrust an envelope towards him.
Phil smiled. It was the paperwork for the week regarding The Avengers, and their lack of missions during the week. Utterly hated by all, but something that had to be done (usually by him). Fortunately, Natasha was slotted for doing the paperwork for the rest of the month.
“That’s what happens when you bet against a clear win, Agent Romanoff,” Phil took the envelope, and looked down at her.
She narrowed her eyes.
“Betting that Steve and Tony would get together before the end of this week, as opposed to next week, wasn’t specific enough.” Natasha crossed her arms. “Tony said this Saturday and I said Tuesday, so you better get things moving with Clint. I’m not losing another bet.”
Phil closed another file on his desk and turned back to his computer. Director Fury had assigned him to monitor the sky and any ground-level activity, for any signs of villainous activity. For once, both were clear. Phil was automatically suspicious.
He made a point to check the surveillance around Stark Tower, before pulling up an empty document to start the day’s report, not that there was much to tell.
“Excuse me, Agent Coulson.”
Phil didn’t look up, but the junior agent who had knocked entered anyway. She approached his desk quietly and waited for him to finish typing. When he looked stopped and sat back at last, she placed a thin, sealed manila envelope on his desk.
“I’ve been asked to deliver this directly to you, sir,” she told him.
“By whom?” Phil slid it across to him and flipped it over. As curious as he was, he would wait until she was gone to break the seal.
“Director Fury,” she answered. She hesitated, then said, “I’m not strictly allowed to say any of the details, but it’s connected with former Agent Carter.”
That made Phil’s head snap back up, sharply. He took the junior agent in—blonde, medium height, pale skin, strong bone structure—and searched his mental database for a name to match the face. When he found it, he felt a terrible sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Junior Agent Sharon Carter, is that correct?” Phil asked, and she nodded. “Recently stationed at a flower shop in Amherst, New York to investigate a series of gamma radiation inflations around the city?”
Sharon nodded again.
“She…” Sharon pursed her lips, lowered her voice slightly, “She was the eldest sister of my mother, apparently. I’ve never met her.”
“Shame. She’s a wonderful woman,” Phil murmured. “Thank you Junior Agent Carter. You are dismissed.”
Sharon left briskly, the door closing behind her with a soft click. Phil’s eyes strayed back to the envelope. Whatever news it was, it couldn’t be good. The coincidences were too great—them researching her, Steve finally meeting her again the day previously, and now this—and as a SHIELD agent, Phil had learned early on that there were no such thing as coincidences.
“Like ripping off a Band-Aid,” Phil said to himself. Already, he could feel a headache forming, which was never a good sign. He took a sharp breath, and opened the envelope. The contents of it were taken out, each paper scanned quickly, but thoroughly. With each passing word, Phil could feel his headache grow.
After he took a few minutes to think over how he was going to go about breaking the news, he finally decided to call. He was sure Steve would want to know as soon as possible. It would be problematic if he heard it from elsewhere first. He dialed the number for Steve’s mobile, and waited while it rang.
Finally it clicked. “Did it beep? It did? Oh! Okay, um, hi, this is the cellular phone of Steven Rogers—which is me—and I can’t answer the phone right now—”
Phil hung up. As grim as the situation was, listening to that voicemail would never fail to make him smile, at hearing Captain America on the other end, and knowing he had, more than likely, forgotten how to charge his phone. Again.
He dialed Clint next, knowing he would pick up. Clint did, with a firm, “What? I’m about to beat Tony’s high score, so this better be important.”
“Put Steve on the phone.”
His formal, stiff tone must have keyed Clint in to the fact that something was wrong. The background noises, which had been filled with the sounds of explosions and guns shooting, immediately ceased.
“What is it?” Clint asked, lowly. His voice wobbled slightly, most likely climbing down from whatever he had been perched on, to go find Steve.
“It has to do with Margaret.”
Not for the first time, he was glad Clint knew him so well. In just those few words, he was able to convey what he wasn’t quite yet ready to say. That Margaret was dead, that she had done something, something big. That it would affect all of them. And Clint understood. He knew Phil had always had problems when it came to delivering the news of an agent’s death to their family. (The eye patch and overall creepy demeanor tended to put a person off, which was why Fury had assigned the task to him.) He was an agent, yes, but he was also a human being. He knew the pain of losing a loved one.
“Should I come in?” Clint asked at last.
Phil found himself shaking his head, even though he knew Clint couldn’t see him. “Today’s your day off. Enjoy it.”
“I always do,” Clint answered, and Phil could hear the smile in his voice. “Here.”
There was a muffled sound, and Phil could vaguely make out the deep tenor of Steve, and the slightly higher pitched tone of Tony’s. They seemed to be discussing something that made Tony give a shout of indignation, and then he heard Steve ask, “For me?”
Tony said something, most likely chastising Steve for forgetting to charge his phone again, and then Steve was on the line. Phil decided to jump right into it. Steve would be crushed, but he was a solider. He was strong, not just physically, but mentally. Phil was confident he could handle the news.
“Captain, it’s Peggy.”
There was a loud exhale from the other end.
“What’s wrong?” Steve asked urgently. He sounded panicked, and that only made Phil feel worse about telling him what he had to say next. “Is she okay?”
“Captain, I…Steve, she passed away last night. Not too soon after six.”
There was a funeral a few days later. It was small, with only the seven of them in attendance. There was no use attempting to get in contact with the rest of Margaret’s family. Though Steve had asked him to, there was no one that could come. Her husband and youngest son were dead, her oldest son had been shot and was apparently in the hospital, and her sister had passed away a few years ago. The only one left was Sharon, and Phil had been none too pleased to find out that she had no interest in attending.
Out the corner of his eye, he saw Tony slide his hand into Steve’s and squeeze it tightly. Steve wiped his eyes, as the service came to a close, and stepped forward to shake the priest’s hand.
Clint shifted. He had planted himself by Phil’s side the moment they got to the cemetery, and had stood so close, Phil could tell what brand of soap he was wearing just from the smell. The presence was comforting, however. Peaceful, even. Something which, living in a huge tower with a band of superheroes and assassins, was a rarity.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Clint asked, under his breath, and they both turned to watch Steve and Tony.
“He’ll be fine.” Phil was confidant this was true.
“We should drink to the fair maiden’s departure from this world!” Thor boomed, and in the quiet cemetery, the loud declaration echoed terribly.
As the others began arguing, Phil observed. To them, this was one their quiet moments. It was almost relaxing, even if Bruce was trying to explain Migardian ways to Thor without getting too annoyed, and Clint and Natasha were acting like bickering five year-olds, and Steve and Tony were making moony eyes at each other. They were comfortable, just like this, arguing and laughing.
For a split second, as Clint tugged on his arm to drag him towards the car (“It’s shawarma-time! Would you hurry up?”), Phil wished that the feeling could last.
T W O D A Y S L A T E R
The Last Will and Testament of Margaret Carter Parker
I. I, Margaret Carter Parker of Amherst, Erie County, New York, being of sound mind and disposing memory, do hereby make and publish this to be my Last Will and Testament. I hereby evoke all wills and codicils made by me either jointly or separately.
II. I declare that I am the widowed wife of George Parker, and that I have one child living currently whose name is Benjamin Parker, born February 27th 1950, currently residing in Forest Hills, Queens County, New York.
I have one deceased child.
III. According to the second article, I give, devise, and bequeath to my son Benjamin Parker all real property. All personal property which has been kept in SFRS110281 I give, devise, and bequeath to Steven Rogers, currently residing in Manhattan, New York County, New York.
IV. In the event said Benjamin Parker should predecease me, or fail to survive for a period of three months following the date of my death, then and in such an event, the devise and bequeath to him will fall unto Peter Parker, who currently resides in Forest Hills, Queens County, New York. Any devices left to me from Benjamin Parker, in the event of his passing, if it should proceed my own, I bequeath to Steven Rogers.
I subscribe my name to this will this 17th day of August, 2012, at Amherst, Erie County, New York.
Margaret Carter Parker
The Last Will and Testament of Benjamin Parker
I. I, Benjamin Parker, of Forest Hills, Queens County, New York, being of sound mind and disposing memory, do hereby make and publish this to be my Last Will and Testament. I hereby evoke all wills and codicils made by me either jointly or separately.
II. I declare that I am the husband of May Reilly Parker-Jameson, of Forest Hills, Queens County, New York, and that I have one child whom I am the legal guardian of, whose name is Peter Parker, who has been in my care since August 1st, 2005, currently residing in Forest Hills, Queens County, New York.
III. According to the second article, I do hereby devise and bequeath each and everything of value which I may die possessed, including real property, personal property, and mixed properties to May Reilly Parker-Jameson.
IV. In the event said May Reilly Parker-Jameson should predecease me, or fail to survive for a period of three months following the date of my death, then and in such an event, the devise and bequeath to her, as well as legal custody of Peter Parker, will pass to Margaret Parker, who currently resides in Amherst, Erie County, New York.
I subscribe my name to this will this 15h day of July, 2007, at Queens, Queens County, New York.
Phil lowered the papers, one slightly musty smelling from having been hidden away for so long, and the other fresh, the paper still folded awkwardly from when it had been hastily written and shoved away. If he thought he was taking care of children now, he could wait to see how everyone would react when they heard the news. (And while he’s waiting, he’d like a nice cold Super Big Gulp.) He loosened his tie, stretching a little in the chair he was sitting on.
He hadn’t been entirely sure what to expect when Fury said there was a “problem” regarding Margaret Carter’s death, but this certainly wasn’t it.
According to their records, May Reilly Parker-Jameson had died a few years after the writing of Benjamin Parker’s will. Since he had passed away the day before from a fatal bullet wound, everything he owned was supposed to go to May when he died, but seeing as he hadn’t taken the time to update his will, everything went to Margaret instead. This was more than potentially problematic, seeing as everything she had left to Benjamin, was now going to be passed to Steve. And everything Benjamin had left, would also, indirectly, be passed to Steve.
Including the custody of one underage teen, Peter Parker.
“Come back here, Rogers!” Tony shouted, voice growing closer to the kitchen where Phil had his work spread out. Phil discreetly turned the more obvious papers over and shuffled them around. “You said you were going to help me test out that new toy—”
Steve suddenly appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, looking very tired, but also very happy.
“Not right now, Tony,” he called back. Steve raised a hand. “Good evening, Agent Coulson.”
“Evening,” Phil inclined his head in Steve’s direction.
“You doing okay, there?”
Phil resisted the urge to smile.
“I’m fine, thank you.” His eyes drifted back to the wills of Margaret and Benjamin, both of which had been overturned to hide the print on the other side. Maybe, if somehow, miraculously, both documents did push through as legal and binding, and Steve did because the legal guardian of Peter Parker, everything would turn out fine. After all, his dad would be the Captain America—
“Steve, your stamina is amazing, so you shouldn’t keep running from sex after only three times!”
A few seconds later, Tony burst in the kitchen, a short, but irritated tornado of words and wild motions. (Not that Phil had too much to talk about; he was only five foot seven himself, though the SHIELD regulated shoes did give him an extra inch.)
“Hey!” He thrust a finger in Steve’s direction. “I told you not to go away, because there are some more things we haven’t tried with—”
“Tony.” Steve interrupted him with a blush, and looked over at Phil. Phil stared back, unblinkingly. “You shouldn’t talk about our…private matters in public like this.”
Phil looked around Steve’s shoulder over at Tony who looked back, and for a while it was a staring contest, until Phil made a motion towards the inside of his suit jacket and Tony’s face twitched.
“Who the hell cares?” Tony demanded at last. “It’s just Coulson, and I don’t see what the problem is, especially after all the time I’ve had to spend listening to Clint boast about Coulson’s raging hard long—”
“—eggplant,” he finished.
Steve’s expression was horrified, only to turn to deeper shade of red from embarrassment when Phil said, “Better to have an eggplant, than a baby corn.”
Tony’s eye narrowed, but before he could open his mouth to retort, Steve clapped a hand across it, with a hasty, “Excuse us,” before dragging him out of the room.
In the silence that followed, Phil turned his gaze back towards the pile of papers in front of him. It was inevitable, really, when he thought:
And Stark would be his other father.
Phil got up to make himself a drink.