The Type of Guy Who Will Never Settle Down
“Does your father know what you do for a living?” Rosie Harper looked up from her BLT with extra ‘b’ and squinted up at the man standing beside her patio table. She had twenty-seven minutes before she needed to be on the road to Langely and this sudden appearance did not bode well for that timeline or Western civilization as a whole.
“How has no one shot you yet?” she asked and sensed rather than saw the man-shaped silhouette smile down on her like a benevolent saint.
“That would be a ‘yes’, then.” The silhouette said and slipped into the seat across from her, dropping his hat beside the place setting. The server appeared promptly (even though Rosie had been trying to get him to refill her lemonade for the last five minutes) and she watched with mild irritation as Raymond Reddington—quite possibly the most wanted man in the entire world—ordered a caprese salad and a greyhound.
With a shake of her head, she turned back to the files she’d been looking over before the interruption. The look that was leveled on the side of her face not twenty seconds later was not unexpected and Rosie lasted for exactly thirty-four seconds of pretending she was alone before that unnerving stare worked its magic.
“In case you were wondering, your FBI babysitters aren’t enough of a deterrent to keep me from stabbing you with the butter knife.” Rosie muttered and very firmly turned the page of the folder by her plate. It made absolutely no difference that she hadn’t read a single word on the page; it was all about maintaing a calm front.
Her guest said nothing, just continued to stare even as the waiter slipped his drink onto the table at his elbow. Twenty more seconds of silent staring and Rosie finally gave in with a groan and reached for the cocktail, dragging it into her personal bubble and biting down viciously on the little green straw.
Over the rim of the glass, Red’s stare morphed into an approving grin and with a supercilious lift of his hand, he summoned the waiter again, ordering a whiskey this time. Irritable with the ease in which he manipulated her, Rosie took a pull of her drink and promptly coughed, the alcohol burning its way into the pit of her stomach.
“You know,” Red said conversationally, hand curled around his drink, those brown eyes still as intense as ever. “You were a lot more fun to be around when you were six.” Rosie glared at him from watery eyes.
“To be fair,” she rasped, reaching for water to soothe her throat. “I believed in unicorns when I was six, so I was generally an all around good time back then.” Red smiled in a way that had been far more believable when she’d worn pink jelly sandals and hadn’t known that the Tooth Fairy was her dad.
In the silence that followed, Rosie clocked the standard issue FBI agent hovering around the entrance to the outdoor patio. The man’s unassuming black suit and carefully combed blonde hair were as much of a calling card as the earpiece and telltale bulge under his left arm. Red seemed unconcerned with the intensity of the surveillance, sipping his whiskey as he stared out across the small square before them.
“Is he one of yours?” Rosie asked, lifting the cocktail to her lips to cover the words.
“Tall, blonde, and irritated?” Red asked without turning around. Rosie nodded and her tablemate’s mouth pursed ever so slightly.
“What Donald lacks in imagination, he makes up for in sheer tenacity.” The FBI agent made eye contact with Rosie and scowled. He glanced away, speaking rapidly into the mike tucked into his sleeve and she sighed.
“They’re going to run me.” Rosie told Red with reproach, a scolding that soared right over the man’s head.
“Probably.” was his unconcerned reply.
“And then they’re going to want to talk to me about it.”
“I hate you.” Rosie muttered and drained the rest of her cocktail, gesturing at the waiter. “You’re buying me lunch.” Red just smiled and tilted his face up to the sun that streamed down over them.
The next morning there were raised voices coming from Malcolm’s office, familiar and loud and irritated, one far more so than the others. Rosie paused in the doorway to the suite of offices that she shared with the rest of the NID agents that had been swept up under the loose umbrella of ‘International Security Operations’ and seriously debated turning around and calling in sick.
Goddamn Raymond Reddington and goddamn her inability to say no to the man.
Harvey was slouched at his desk, poking at his keyboard with a morose expression that got even more morose when he noticed her standing there. Contrary to popular belief, the man’s nickname ‘Hound Dog’ had absolutely nothing to do with a strong affection for Elvis.
“Oh good… you’re here.” He said flatly and turned back to his computer screen without telling her why her presence was a good thing. Rosie rolled her eyes and then winced as her hangover banged against the inside of her skull, reminding her why that was a very bad idea.
“Hi, Dembe,” Rosie grinned up at the tall black man, two drinks past buzzed and feeling very relaxed even with the stereotypical G-man glaring at her from across the street.
“Miss Rosie,” the man said and hoisted her to her feet with ease, one thick arm wrapping around her waist.
“Oh, so you’re happy to see him?” Red said with amusement making the corner of his lips twitch.
“I’m always happy to see Dembe. You on the other hand are a whole ‘nother story.” Rosie leaned into Dembe and tried to glare at Red, but her heart just wasn’t in it, so she let the two men manhandle her out of the restaurant and into the large black town car and thought that this was all really going to suck when it blew up in her face.
“Here,” Red pushed a bottle of water into her face and she sighed but took it, cracking the cap and taking a healthy swig. “I need you at least halfway sober for this.” The words bounced around in her head for a few seconds before they connected and she lifted her head off Red’s shoulder.
“You couldn’t have just asked for help? You had to get me wasted and then kidnap me?” she asked, proud of herself for the lack of the slurring. Although judging by the look on Red’s face she wasn’t entirely successful. Rosie mumbled under her breath and put her head back on Red’s shoulder.
“What was that?” he murmured, his attention drifting to the tablet in his hands. With what now seemed like Herculean effort, Rosie lifted her head again and even though there were two Red’s, she tried to focus on the one that seemed the least blurry.
“Does my dad know you’re here?” Red arched an eyebrow, but didn’t look like he was in a sharing mood. In fact, he smiled and patted her on the head, gently easing her back onto the pillow of his shoulder.
“Despite our past, I think I’ve used up all my get-out-of-jail-free cards with your father, Rosie-Cakes. Don’t you think so?” He said and Rosie squeezed her eyes shut tight as her world abruptly spun.
“Shut up," Rosie murmured and focused on thinking sober thoughts, trying not to think instead about a cold dark room or a familiar voice in the darkness.
“Who’s in there?” Rosie asked, finally working up the courage to go to her desk and all but collapse into her chair, hugging her biggest-size-possible to-go cup tightly to her chest, wishing there were a quicker way to get caffeine into her system to handle this.
“Director of the FBI, a suit from Homeland Security. General O’Neill. Some blonde FBI agent who looks like a real jerk.” Harvey paused in his hunt-and-peck typing to look at her. “They keep saying something about a security breach and a BLT?”
Rosie’s reach for the phone—because if Homeland Security had red-flagged her impromptu mission with Red there were other, far more important people who needed to be reassured of her continuing allegiance to the United States—was cut short when the inner office door opened and Special Agent in Charge Malcolm Barrett stuck his head out, eyes narrowed.
“Why is an internationally wanted fugitive getting you drunk at 2 in the afternoon and then whisking you away to the Hotel Monaco?” Harvey arched an eyebrow, the first sign of life out of the man in nearly a month and Rosie sighed, knowing the forthcoming explanation was not going to be satisfactory or comforting.
“Because he bought me a purple My Little Pony tea set for my sixth birthday?” If at all possible, Malcolm’s gaze narrowed even further. The door behind her superior opened wide and General Jack O’Neill stepped into the doorway, a fairly bland smile on his face.
“Oh, please…” O’Neill said, deadpan although the scowl on his face told the entire story. “Do come in.”
Hangover banging down on her with every step, Rosie sighed and followed her superiors into the office.
Despite Red having handed over two flash drives full of information about rogue Trust operatives in a variety of Asian countries and someone off-loading a half a dozen crates of Goa’uld weaponry to a Los Angeles gang and Rosie in turn handing those over to Malcolm, the fact that an international criminal had “compromised” her had been a large stumbling block during the debrief. Malcolm had read her the riot act, punctuated by General O’Neill’s sarcasm-laden commentary and then she’d had to sit and answer questions for two hours with the blonde FBI agent who was sorely in need of a personality transplant.
The headache had mostly settled to a dull throb behind her eyes by the time Rosie pushed open the door to her apartment and found Captain America sitting on her couch.
She could tell the difference because he was still in uniform minus the cowl and that ‘you have disappointed Captain America and therefore small children and puppies’ expression—the one that even Tony Stark cowered before—was plastered firmly on his face.
Plus, there was no sign of the specialty chocolate from that tiny store in Brooklyn that he almost always brought when he came for a visit. Rosie dropped her duffel bag on the floor, kicked off her shoes, and waited for the lecture, not that she thought he had anything to say that she hadn’t already heard during the day.
He was silent, his massive arms folded across his chest, silently shaming her.
Rosie squeezed her eyes shut and pinched the bridge of her nose in an attempt to fight off the headache, which was trying to make a comeback in the last inning of the game despite a lot of Ibuprofen. It didn’t help.
“Look, Steve-“ she started and a knock at the door interrupted what was probably going to end up being a very pitiful apology and Rosie’s quiet ‘oh, thank god’ was audible enough to make Steve’s frown even deeper.
“Hold that thought,” she said and all but lunged for the door.
“Hi. Rosie Harper?” the pretty petite brunette on the other side of the door wore a sheepish grin and carried a six-pack of beer. Rosie liked her immediately. “I’m Special Agent Elizabeth Keene with the FBI. I was wondering if I could talk to you about Raymond Reddington.”
Rosie could all but feel Steve’s gaze burning a hole in her back.
“Please come in,” she murmured as politely as possible while she mentally kissed her plans for sleep goodbye. “I’ll order pizza and we’ll drink all of your beer… and possibly some of mine.” Keene smiled and followed her inside, only to stop short at the sight of Steve sitting on the couch, still the physical picture of disapproval.
“Elizabeth Keene, Steve Rogers. Steve, Elizabeth Keene; we just met, so... be nice.” Rosie introduced them as she headed for the kitchen and the bottle opener and takeout menu hanging on the fridge. Five minutes and a call to Nico’s later, she emerged from the kitchen to find her visitors sitting awkwardly on opposite ends of the couch, neither one looking at each other.
Rosie’s frustration—the stuff she’d been holding in since Red sat down at her table the day before—finally boiled over.
“You would think with as much money as the federal government poured into making you, they would have set some aside to give you etiquette lessons.” Rosie muttered and slapped the bottle opener down on the coffee table. Steve didn’t even so much as blink while Keene looked vaguely horrified at the sight of someone being rude to Captain America.
“Primrose Harper,” The new voice came from the hallway that led to her bedroom and Rosie froze instinctually. It was too difficult to keep the abashed expression off her face as she slowly turned to face the newest arrival.
It was the ‘Dad’ face that stared back at her, not ‘Agent Coulson’s’ and Rosie heaved a sigh that lifted her shoulders almost to her ears because that was in so many ways.
“Elizabeth Keene, meet my dad, Agent Phil Coulson. Dad, meet Elizabeth Keene.” Her father’s eyes flicked to Keene, sizing her up in one glance and then turned back to Rosie, his jaw tight.
This time there would be no escape from the lecture.
“I would ask you why Raymond Reddington is coercing you into his criminal enterprises while the FBI watches from the sidelines, but I already spoke to General O’Neill this afternoon and I think that Agent Keene is the one with the answers I’m looking for.” Rosie could only stare as the ‘Dad’ face was redirected at the young woman sitting on the end of the couch.
Keene blinked, her arms tightening around the beer that she cradled in her lap like a small child, shoulders rounding forward in a hunch. It was a perfectly understandable response. Rosie had been defenseless against that expression from the age of 3, even going so far as to confess to other children’s crimes so long as her father would stop looking at her like that.
“Reddington mentioned something about having lunch with an old friend today. And when he met up with her, they seemed so familiar with each other, it raised some flags with the surveillance team.” Keene explained, still half-cradling the beer. A muscle jumped in her father’s jaw.
“To be fair, until I turned seven, he was Uncle Red, not international criminal Raymond Reddington.” Rosie piped up and then promptly snapped her mouth shut when both Dad and Steve’s twin glares were leveled on her. She pantomimed zipping her lips and stared at the floor.
The story unfolded in her living room, interrupted only once by Rosie cracking the tops on two bottles of beer and handing one to Keene, keeping the other for herself. Her father demurred the offer and she knew better than to ask Steve who finally changed out of his uniform, instantly reducing the tension in the room by fifteen degrees.
Red’s sudden resurfacing was suspicious in ways that bore looking into that was for sure, but since Rosie hunted down aliens and alien technology for a living, it was someone else’s problem. She settled more comfortably against the couch, and closed her eyes for a moment, glad that someone else was in the hot seat for once.
The questions came after the story, hard and fast from both sides: Keene wanted to know more about Red, how to handle him (or at the very least, how to work with him without putting a bullet in his leg), and what the possible reasons for his arrival were. Dad was just as quick to make queries: the type of people on the list, if there had been any connection to the Ten Rings organization or Hydra, what Keene thought about the possible motives behind Red's sudden magnanimity.
A knock at the door flashed Rosie’s eyes open and she levered herself off the couch with help from Steve's shoulder, nearly tripping over the edge of the coffee table on her way to the door. She glared at the solitary beer in her hand and put it on the sideboard before flipping the locks on the door and pulling it open.
“Delivery.” Clint Barton grinned over the three steaming pizza boxes, his blue eyes twinkling. “That’ll be $45 dollars, not including what I’m sure will be an overly exorbitant tip because I’m just so handsome and charming.”
Rosie took the pizza and shut the door in his face, the automatic lock on the handle engaging with a click. She was halfway to the kitchen when the tumblers clicked and the door opened again, Clint casually strolling through. He snagged her half-empty beer from the sideboard and took a swig as he kicked the door shut behind him.
“Gotta try a little harder than that, Ring-Around-the-Rosie.” Clint said with another grin and flopped himself into the armchair closest to the door, putting his feet up on the coffee table. Without turning away from Keene, Dad reached over and batted Clint’s feet down.
“I hate all of you except Keene. She’s still all right.” Rosie said and went to get plates and napkins. Steve’s disapproving glare had mostly melted by the time dinner was over and this time when she leaned into him, he raised his arm and firmly tucked her into his side, pressing a kiss to her temple. Keene had turned into Elizabeth by the second slice of pizza and the young agent had accepted the presence of one-third of the Avengers rather well and was busy trading information with Phil and Clint about the FBI’s recent captures and missions involving Red’s “Blacklist”.
Rosie’s phone abruptly chirped from across the living room and she glared at it until it stopped making noise. The silence lasted for all of three seconds before it rang again and muttering under her breathe about how this had better not be anything that required her to put on real pants, Rosie went to retrieve it.
“Hello, darling. How’s Lizzie?” Rosie cut her gaze to the small group crowded around her coffee table and slipped off to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her.
“She’s gonna be mad if you’re following her.” Rosie said, crossing to her window seat and staring down at the street below on the off chance that her caller was waiting down there. He wasn’t, but Dembe’s impossibly large frame was folded behind the wheel of a beige sedan on the corner and she knew he’d seen her watching him. Rosie finger waved at him.
“I would never violate Agent Keene’s trust.” Red didn’t even bother trying to make the words sound convincing.
“What kind of game are you playing, Red?” Rosie asked, folding herself onto the window seat, propping her chin on her knee. “Even when you played for the other side, you weren’t cruel.” There was a long pause, broken only by the sound of ice-cubes clinking against glass that told her the man who had once told the best bedtime stories was experiencing a moment of self-introspection.
“There are a lot of details that I can’t talk about, some promises that I made at a particularly weak period of my life.” He finally spoke. “But, Rosie, I think if anyone could possibly understand, it would be you.”
Rosie didn’t understand, couldn’t even begin to comprehend Red’s reasons for anything, but she remained silent and waited.
“Just keep an eye on her, all right?” there was another pause. “For me?”
The last time that Raymond Reddington had asked Rosie to do anything, she had been six years old, wearing torn Snow White pajamas as he carried her out of the underground bunker, taking care not to jostle her broken arm. He’d asked her to be a brave little girl and keep her eyes closed as tight as she could while he took her to her father.
It hadn’t been until Rosie was much older that she’d realized the awkward halting steps he’d taken had been because of the bullet wound in his leg and the dead bodies of the HYDRA agents who had snatched her from her bed in the middle of the night. It wasn’t really the My Little Pony tea set that she’d told General O’Neill about before, but everyone deserved to keep some secrets close to the vest.
“You rescuing another scared little girl, Red?” Rosie asked with a shiver, suddenly cold as memory assaulted her.
“I’m doing what I promised. I’m sure you understand how that is.” There was no reproach in the words, only something that a lifetime ago might have been fondness.
“Just… be careful,” Rosie said, dragging a hand through her hair as she stared down at the empty street, at Dembe in his ever-present role of protector.
“Your concern for Agent Keene is admirable.” This time there was a slight edge to his voice and Rosie blew out a heavy sigh.
“I wasn’t talking about her, Uncle Red,” When there was no response, she realized he’d hung up and she dropped her forehead onto her knees, tears pricking the backs of her eyes.
“I think in his own twisted way he’s protecting her.” Rosie said as Steve and Dad helped her clean up, Clint having offered to drive Agent Keene home. They were already in a spirited conversation about the merits of Hydra versus the Triad when the door shut behind them.
“Ray doesn’t protect anyone without there being something in it for himself.” Dad muttered as he gathered up a handful of clinking beer bottles. Rosie stopped picking up the extra napkins and put her hands on her hips with a glare, feeling oddly protective of the man who had manipulated his way into her life from a very young age. Dad seemed to recognize the warning signs and stilled his motions, meeting her gaze head-on.
“So when I was six, there was something in it for him?” her father’s jaw clenched tightly and he looked away. Steve hovered at the edges of the conversation, cognizant of the fact that the incident in question had occurred long before he had come into their lives. His handsome face was twisted with concern, blue gaze darting back and forth between the two of them.
“As a federal agent, I don’t trust Red at all. But he saved me when I was little because you asked him too, because you broke the rules and went outside the law. Yes, he manipulated me this afternoon, but he’s never done anything to really hurt me. If he wants me to keep an eye out for Lizzie, I will.” Rosie said, defiant even though she knew if it came down to it, parental disapproval would completely nullify her bravery. Her dad looked like he wanted to argue, his mouth opening to unleash what would probably be a lecture of untold proportions when Steve spoke.
“Phil,” it was one word, but all the fight seemed to drain from the older man and his shoulders slumped. The expression on his face wasn’t defeat, but something closer to resignation and Rosie tossed the napkins back onto the table before she threw her arms around her father, burying her face in the side of his neck. His arms wrapped tightly around her in return and she knew that most everything was forgiven. Steve’s hand settled on the back of her neck, squeezing gently as a reminder that he was there too.
"Oh, sweetheart. What did they do to you?" the words halfway registered as Rosie stared up at her Uncle Red--a man that she hadn't seen in a very long time--but it was hard to think because her arm hurt so badly. She tried to not to cry as he carefully picked her up, settling her on his hip like Daddy sometimes still did when she was tired. The whimper came out anyway and she saw his jaw clench tightly.
"Here," Red gently pressed her head against his chest, his heartbeat racing under her ear. "I need you to close your eyes for me, Rosie. Close them really tight and keep them closed, all right?" she nodded and squeezed her eyes shut so tightly that her whole face wrinkled. A big hand gently patted her head, lingering for a moment and then gone.
The next time Rosie opened her eyes, it was her father who held her in his arms.
“Aw, sweet! Group hug!” the somber mood cracked like ice on a melting lake. Rosie lifted her head with a glare as a familiar red and blue hooded head poked through the living room window, upside down. It was difficult to tell, but she was pretty sure Peter was smiling.
The idea of transferring to the satellite office in Colorado Springs suddenly held far more appeal than it had when she’d woken up that morning.
“Is there pizza?” the teenage superhero asked, his head cocked to the side. “Clint said there was pizza.”
Rosie dropped her head back onto her father’s shoulder with a groan.