Harris leaned forward in his chair, squinting at the screen. “Goddamn Marty fucking Nichols,” he muttered under his breath, hitting his keyboard with just a little more force than was strictly necessary.
“That’s a hell of a name.”
Harris’ fingers stilled on the keys. He took a slow, deep breath. He looked up. Nick Fury was leaning on the top of his cubicle wall, a tin in one hand, an oatmeal cookie in the other. His eyebrow arched. “I’m guessing Marty’s parents didn’t like him much.” He took a bite from the cookie, making a considering sound under his breath as he chewed. “Or is ‘Fucking’ an old family name? I knew a kid, he got stuck with Hooker, and really? If I was a parent?”
He gestured with the cookie. “I’d let that one die.”
Harris stared at him. Fury opened the tin, and held it out. “Cookie?”
Harris looked at the cookies. Back up at him. “I know it probably doesn’t look like it, but I”m working on something kind of important here,” he said.
Fury tipped his head forward, peering at his screen with a narrowed eye. “You’re right,” he said. “It doesn’t look important at all.”
“And despite that, it is,” Harris said with a wide smile. “And I’m on kind of a deadline, so I think that I should probably-”
Fury smiled back. “Son?” He gave the tin a wiggle, making the cookies bounce. “Take the cookie.”
Harris took the cookie. He did not eat it. “Has anyone ever told you that you bear a striking resemblance to the head of a national government security agency?”
Fury’s lips twitched. “Every damn day.” He selected a cookie, and put the lid back on. “What’s Agent Nichols done to draw your ire, Agent MacIntyre?”
“Nothing,” Harris said, and Fury gave him a look. “I was just, you know, having a day, and I know I’m going to be missing lunch, so-”
“The longer you lie to me, the longer I’m gonna be standing here,” Fury pointed out.
“He watches YouTube tutorials on the weekends to learn Excel tips and tricks, which is, you know, that’s cool, and I appreciate his dedication to his craft, but he’s just overcomplicating things,” Harris said. He rubbed his forehead. “LIke, it’s good to have a wide variety of tools at your disposal, sir, but you need to choose your tool based on your task. And this?”
Harris gestured at the computer screen. “This is a bagel. And I asked for cream cheese for my bagel. Just, you know. Cream cheese on a bagel.”
Fury took another bite of his cookie. “What kind of bagel?”
Harris stopped. Squinted at him. “What do you mean, what kind of bagel?”
Fury shrugged. “You can tell a lot about a man by his choice of bagel.”
“What, exactly? Other than he’s probably not gluten-intolerant?”Harris leaned back in his chair, ignoring how it squeaked. “I don’t know?”
“You know,” Fury said.
“Fine, it’s-” Harris looked down at the cookie in his hand. “Cinnamon raisin.”
Fury chuckled. “I’m starting to see why Cheese spends so much time down here.”
“Cheese?” Harris asked.
“Cream cheese,” Fury said. “And your cinnamon raisin bagel?”
“Right,” Harris said, taking a bite of the cookie without thinking. It melted on his tongue, crisp and perfectly seasoned. He gave the cookie a suspicious look. “Tools. Use the right tool for the job. I have a bagel, and I need to spread cream cheese on it, and every time I ask Nichols for a butter knife, he gives me a broad sword.”
With a sigh, Harris took another bite. “And so instead of having my lunch, I’m down here, trying to stab a container of Philadelphia’s finest with goddamn Excalibur.”
Fury considered him, an unreadable expression on his face. “You have a way with words, anyone ever tell you that?”
Harris thought about that. “No, but most people stop talking to me,” he said. Then, hopefully, he added, “Don’t suppose that you-”
“Nope,” Fury said.
“Of course not,” Harris sighed. He went to take another bite of his cookie and realized it was gone. He dusted off his fingers. “So. This was. This was a nice chat. I should just-” He pointed at his computer. “I should get back to work.”
Fury nodded. “Yeah, I hear the boss is a hardass.”
Harris wasn’t sure if it was smarter to agree or disagree with that. He just sat there, smiling.
Fury grinned. “Aren’t you going to ask why I’m down here?”
“No,” Harris said, his smile not budging.
The tin of cookies thumped against the cubicle wall. “No?” Fury asked. He sounded amused. Harris didn’t know if that was a good sign or not. “Why not?”
“Honestly, I’m terrified of the answer, so, no, not asking that question,” Harris said. He paused. “You’re going to tell me anyway, aren’t you?”
“I mean, I can’t resist, now.” Fury opened the tin. “How long you been working for us, son?”
“Long enough to be very frightened of having you show up at my desk,” Harris said, “but to be honest, that I was pretty much at that point a day after I signed the contract.”
“Right.” Fury was taking a lot of time selecting his cookie. “I only ask, because one of the first urban legends that get passed around to the newbies is the one about the poker games where the heads of the various agencies get together and trade assets.”
Harris nodded. “You… Don’t seem the gambling type, sir.”
“You keep telling yourself that,” Fury said. “So do you believe it?”
“Believe what? That you gamble the employment contracts of agents at a secret underground poker game?” Harris asked. Fury nodded, his attention still focused on the cookies. “That seems both illegal and morally questionable, sir.”
“And many of my actions have been called just that,” Fury said with an easy smile.
Harris’ foot tapped against the the base of his chair, a rapid, sharp tattoo. “Why are you bringing this up, sir?”
“Because we don’t play poker, but we do occasionally share resources,” Fury said. “Intel and personnel and systems.” He glanced up. “When it’s mutually beneficial.”
Harris did not like where this was going. “I don’t benefit much, sir.”
Fury grinned. “Yeah, that’s fine. I didn’t get much for you.” His head tipped up the aisle towards the elevators. “C’mon, Agent McIntyre. You’ve got a temporary reassignment.”
Harris nodded. “I’m kind of busy here, sir.”
“Yeah, the-” Fury looked at his computer screen. “Bagel stuck on a broad sword, right?”
“I’m starting to regret that metaphor,” Harris admitted.
“I mean, I would, but it’s a matter of personal preference,” Fury told him. “Pack it up.”
Harris saved his work with a couple of keystrokes and shut down the programs, one after another. “I’m on a deadline here, sir.”
“Yeah, but your boss owes me a life debt, so I think I can get you an extension.” Fury stepped aside, waving Harris out ahead of him. “Let’s go, Agent, time to serve your country.”
“Right.” Harris nodded, then nodded again. He reached for his jacket and tried to ignore the heads that were peeking up over the cube walls all over the floor, bouncing up and down like prairie dogs checking for danger. He smiled despite himself. Self-preservation was the mark of his people.
“Ready?” Fury asked, and Harris nodded. “I do like a man who travels light.”
“It makes the cowardly fleeing for my life a lot easier,” Harris explained, and Fury laughed, loud and full, and every single member of the computer analytics department of SHIELD stood up as one. Harris, not knowing what else to do, waved.
Bob the intern waved back. Everyone else just sat down.
“Well, I was popular for a moment,” Harris said.
“You’re welcome,” Fury said, tapping him lightly on the head with the tin. “Let’s go.”
It was a short trip to the elevator, and an even shorter trip to the lobby. Harris stared straight ahead, his hands limp at his sides. “Director Fury?” Next to him, Fury made a ‘yes’ kind of a noise, and Harris took a deep breath. “Why me?”
“Let’s just say your reputation proceeds you,” Fury said, as the elevator door opened. He tipped his head forward. “This way.”
The lobby was bustling, people coming and going, SHIELD suits mixing with field agents, politicians and civilians, everyone moving with purpose and intent. Everyone except one.
The woman was slim, of average height, her silver-white hair cut in a sleek, clean bob that framed the hard line of her jaw. She was wearing a beige tench coat, belted neatly at her narrow waist, her eyes hidden behind massive sunglasses, the kind that seemed straight out of the sixties, or at least an Audrey Hepburn movie.
If she wasn’t standing in the middle of a spy agency, Harris would’ve thought she was one. As it was, the outfit, from neat, polished black boots to her gloves, seemed oddly like a costume.
She looked over as Fury approached, her lips curling up in a smile. “Well?”
Fury gestured at Harris. “He’s all yours.” He looked back at Harris. “Agent MacIntyre? Consider yourself on loan to a friendly embassy. She’ll bring you back when she’s done with you.”
Harris nodded. “What, exactly, did you get in exchange for me?” he asked, not really wanting the answer but not being able to resist. Fury held up the tin. “Cookies? You… Traded me for cookies.” Fury nodded. Harris sighed. “I don’t know if I’m flattered or insulted by that.”
“They’re very good cookies,” the woman said. She reached up, sliding her glasses off her her nose. She smiled at Harris, very familiar eyes in an unfamiliar face. “Hello, Haris. I’m Shirley Coulson.”
Harris took a deep breath. “Of course you are.”
“She’s Agent Coulson’s mother,” Fury said, his voice bright. Harris looked at him, and he grinned, wide and bright. “You remember Agent Coulson, don’t you?”
Harris looked at him. Fury just waited patiently, still grinning. “Yes,” Harris said at last.
“I had to ask, because, you know, he’s rather forgettable,” Fury said. He glanced at Mrs. Coulson. “No offense intended, of course, for the spy biz, being forgettable is top tier.”
“Oh, no, I’m quite proud of just how forgettable he is,” Mrs. Coulson said, sliding her sunglasses into her purse. “He was less than pleased with it, when he was younger, which probably explains that unfortunate mohawk when he was seventeen, but he seems to have made his peace with it.”
“Wait, the what?” Harris asked.
Fury’s head tipped in his direction. “Kid’s confused.”
“Hmmm.” Mrs. Coulson tapped a finger against her cheek. “Why do I think that you did the bare minimum to explain the situation to him?”
“Occupational hazard,” Fury said, and Mrs. Coulson laughed. He smiled down at her, his eye twinkling. “How’d you survive so long in the service, giving information away?”
“It’s a need to know world, Director,” Mrs. Coulson agreed. She patted Harris lightly on the shoulder. “Enjoy the cookies, I’ll have him back in a day or so.”
“Wait, a day or so?” Harris asked. Neither of them paid any attention to him.
“What, no hug?” Fury asked her, and Harris wondered if he’d wondered into an alternate dimension this morning. The elevator had hit that weird hitch between the sixth and seventh floors.
“What?” Mrs. Coulson pressed her free hand to her chest, her eyes wide. “Right here? In the lobby of your own agency? I’m shocked by your lack of decorum, Director!”
“Look, if the junior agents don’t have something to gossip about, they start making shit up, and while that’s hysterical, it’s also just too much work to keep a lid on them,” Fury pointed out, rocking back and forth on his heels. “Help a director out here.”
Laughing, she reached out, bracing a hand on his shoulder and brushing a kiss across his cheek. “Let me know, I haven’t participated in a scandalous affair rumor in years, I’m honestly nostalgic for it.”
“I think I’m too old to be hitting on my best friend’s mom,” Fury said. He looked at Harris. “Good luck, Agent.”
“Do I need to be lucky here?” Harris asked. “Because, as it turns out, I’m generally not.”
“Not?” Mrs. Coulson asked with a smile.
“Lucky,” Harris told her. “Like. At all.”
“Luckily for you, I’m lucky enough for both of us,” she said. To Fury, she added, “Don’t tell Phil, all right?”
“Phil knew the moment you walked into this building, you realize that, right?” Fury asked.
“Yes, but I still don’t want you to tell him, that ruins the fun,” Mrs. Coulson said. She looked at Harris. “Let’s get a coffee.” She gave him a bright smile, and Harris did his best to smile back. “My treat.”
“Right, I should just-” Harris looked over, and Fury was gone. “He’s… Gone.”
“He’s very good at that, the best I’ve ever seen, really,” she said, looping her arm through Harris’ and steering him towards the door. “Now, where can we get a decent cup of coffee around here?”
“Please call me Shirley,” she said, patting his arm. “Unless you’d like me to call you Mr. MacIntyre.”
“Absolutely not,” Harris said, and she laughed. “There’s a pretty decent place, just-” He gestured towards the left. “I can show you?”
The coffee shop had been there since the eighties, surviving the onslaught of chain after chain by virtue of the quality of its product and the discretion of its employees. From the outside, it appeared perpetually closed, with no operating hours on the door and no welcome sign. Inside, a handful of battered tables lined dark wood walls, and all of them were crooked, listing slightly to one side or another. There were no ‘to stay’ cups, just unremarkable, unmarked paper ones, in three sizes. No one with any sense ordered any of the pastries on display. The menu board was out of date and missing half of the prices.
The coffee, though, was amazing. And refills were free.
Shirley didn’t even blink as they entered, and even though she let Harris take the lead, he got the impression that she’d been here before. She took her coffee black, no room for cream, stopping at the counter for two sugar packets.
She used them to level the table and settled down into a chair with an easy smile.
Harris got a large cocoa. Extra whipped cream. He deserved it.
“So.” Harris shifted in his seat, feeling like a kid sitting outside of the principal’s office. “You’re… Agent Coulson’s mother.”
“Not really.” Shirley took a sip of her coffee. “I’m just the latest in a long line of government operatives assigned to act as his ‘mother’ to provide a semi-plausible cover story for the general public.” She paused, holding Harris’ gaze without blinking. “They learned a few decades ago that providing him with a family-” She made finger quotes around the word. “Went a long way into convincing people he was human.”
Harris stared at her. “The thing is, I kind of believe you,” he said.
Shirley smiled. “I know.”
Harris went back to his cocoa. “Really not happy that I kind of believe you.”
“I know,” she repeated with a slight smile. “Let me guess. On at least one occasion, listening to Phil has kept you alive.”
Harris opened his mouth. Closed it. “Might be more than one occasion,” he admitted.
“Good, that means you’re highly susceptible to the Coulson Tone of Authority,” she said. “That makes things easier.” Her handbag started ringing, and she held her coffee out to Harris. “Hold this, please?” Harris took it, and she fished in her bag, pulling out her phone. She stabbed it with a firm fingertip. “Hello, Phil.”
“Hello, Mom.” Phil sounded tired. “How are you?”
She took her coffee back. “Oh, I’m fine, darling, taking a quick vacation. Having a wonderful time.”
“So I’ve heard. Didn’t bring Dad, I hear.”
“No, he had some things to do.” Shirley smiled. “If there’s nothing you need, Phil, I really should be-”
“Is there any particular reason you’ve borrowed McIntyre?”
“I want grandchildren,” Shirley said, and Harris choked on his cocoa.
“You HAVE grandchildren,” Phil said.
“Yes, and only one of my children has given me any. Get to work, Philip.”
There was a sigh. “Hold please.” There was a quick click, and then SHIELD hold music echoed from the phone speaker. Shirley hummed along. Harris wondered if he could make it to the door before she could take him down. Or take him out. He gave her a sidewards glance.
He was pretty sure he wouldn’t make it.
The phone clicked. “Sorry, Mom, I’ve passed on your demands and Clint immediately put his finger on is nose and said ‘Not it,’ so I’m afraid the answer’s no.”
“Fine.” Shirley smiled down at the phone. “Well, then, I’ll be keeping Mr. McIntrye for the time being.”
Another pause. “Why.”
“Have a good day, Phil.” Shirley disconnected the line, and she dropped her phone back into the pocket of her coat. She took a sip of her coffee, and met Harris’ eyes. “Now. Get me Ms. Lewis.”
Harris took a deep breath. “That seems like a very bad idea,” he said.
“Oh, it’s a terrible idea, and that’s why we’re doing it.” Shirley smiled. “Call her.”
Harris downed the rest of his cocoa in a long gulp, and tossed it towards the trashcan. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Ryan, while I appreciate your efforts here, if you give me another invoice that sets off the office geiger counter, I’m going to make you eat it,” Darcy said.
“It was only MINORLY radioactive,” Ryan said, and Darcy gave him a look over the top of her computer screen. He rubbed the back of his neck. “It wasn’t dangerous.”
“I think we have different definitions of ‘dangerous,’’ Darcy said, the top of her pen tapping against the desktop. “Really, I wouldn’t even question it if it was one of the receipts, shit happens around here, I know that.” She set the pen against the paper and pushed it away from her. “But the invoice? You printed this off. In the lab. At your desk. Where there should be zero radiation, Ryan.”
He adjusted his glasses, his nose wrinkling up. “Shit happens,” he agreed.
“Right.” Darcy folded her hands in front of her. “I’m gonna send health and safety over to your lab now, Ryan.”
He nodded. “Let me just-” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “I gotta check on some stuff before they get here.”
“Why?” Darcy asked, her voice dire.
“No reason,” he said, and he was already backing out of her office, nearly tripping over his feet as he bounced off of the doorframe. “Look, just, just give me fifteen minutes, then we can totally-”
“WHY?” Darcy yelled after him, but he was already sprinting up the hallway. Darcy took off her glasses, dropping them to her desktop and pinching the bridge of her nose. “If my hair falls out or turns green or gains sentience, I swear I’m taking a personal day.”
Her phone rang, and she gave it a suspicious look. Harris’ cell phone number flashes across the display, and she reached for it. “SHIELD Science,” she said in her best perky 50’s receptionist voice. “Where we decided just because we could, we absolutely should.” She leaned back in her chair, spinning the cord around her fingertip. “How may I accelerate your apocalypse today?”
“Hi, Darce,” Harris said. “How much to, you know, stop the apocalypse instead?”
“Ooooooh,” she said, drawing that out. Her head fell back, and she grinned up at her office ceiling. “Sorry, that’s another department. We make problems, we don’t solve them.”
“You could do both,” Harris said.
“I could, but I don’t get paid enough,” she said. “What’s up, hack n’ slash?”
He paused. “Is that a DnD reference or a computer reference?”
“Neeeeeeeeeerd,” she sing-songed. “What’s-”
“How’s your knee?”
Darcy stopped. “Fine?” She rocked forward, looking down at her legs. “What, did I run into something in the middle of the night or something? I don’t remember waking up, but-”
“No, how’s your knee?” Harris asked.
Darcy’s fingers rattled against her desk. “Sorry, I’ve got another call, I’ve got to take this, one sec,” she said, and before Harris could respond, she put him on hold. She picked up another line, playing the phone cord.
It connected in two rings. “Not now,” Coulson said.
“You don’t have to pick up, you know,” Darcy said.
“Yes, I do, because if I don’t pick up, you call Clint. And if Clint doesn’t pick up, you call Thor. And the situation continues to snowball until somehow, Tony Stark is in my business, and that is absolutely not what I want to deal with today,” Coulson said, his voice dry. “I could’ve sworn you still had a job, why are you not doing it?”
“Because it’s boring,” Darcy said, and before he could respond to that, she rushed on. “What’s Harris’ emergency ‘I’ve been kidnapped’ code phrase?”
He sighed. “It’s the same as yours.”
Darcy’s lips pursed. “Right,” she said, drawing the word out. “And just to test you, what’s mine?”
“No, wait!” She huffed out a breath. “Don’t you want to know why I’m asking for-”
“He hasn’t been kidnapped, it is under control.” She could hear laughter in the background. Coulson, for his part, didn’t seem amused. “Do not get involved.”
“Involved?” Darcy braced her chin on her knuckles, her eyebrows arching. “Involved in… What, exactly? Because I’m asking about kidnapping phrases here, and you seem, well-” She hummed to herself. “Unconcerned?”
“Because there is nothing to be concerned about.”
“Uh-huh,” Darcy said. “Please hold.” And she hated to be predictable, but when he was right, he was right. She stabbed the button on her phone to put him on hold, then with the same gesture, picked up another line. Humming to herself, she dialed.
Clint picked up on the first ring. “Really? Really, you’re fucking calling me right now?” he asked, and she could hear the laughter bubbling between the words. “He’s right in front of me. And he has a gun, Darcy, you know he has a gun.”
“Yeah, but you’re wily and quick,” Darcy said. “What-”
“Harris is with Phil’s mom,” Clint said.
Darcy nearly dropped the phone. “What.”
“What do you want me to tell her?” Clint asked, and it was clear that he wasn’t talking to her, and couldn’t be bothered to mute the line. “You’ve already proven that lying to Lewis is never going to work out for us, and you’re yelling at me, she’s calling me, and your mom is texting me, my phone is supposed to be for pictures of cool dogs I saw and Tony doing dumb shit that I can sell to the tabloids under various assumed names, not handling-” He sputtered for a second. “FAMILY PROBLEMS.”
“You’re having a day, aren’t you?” Darcy asked, chewing on her pen cap.
“I’m having a day!” Clint said.
“Why is my boyfriend with your boyfriend’s mom?” Darcy asked.
“Fucked if I know,” Clint said.
“Cool, we’re on the same page,” Darcy said. “Thanks, boss.” She hung up the line and picked up another. “Hey, Coulson.”
“What?” said Harris.
“I swear this phone just does whatever it wants, one sec,” Darcy said, putting him back on hold. She picked up the other line. “Hey, Coulson.”
“I mean, I wish,” Clint said.
She looked at her phone. “I hung up on you.”
“Yeah. He gave me his phone,” Clint said. “He’s got mine. He’s texting his mom while pretending to be me, which, I think we can agree is just rude.”
“Yeah, and you’re the height of manners,” Darcy said with a grin. She reached for her purse. “Hold on.” She pulled out her cell phone, ignoring the way half of the contents went bouncing across her desk.
‘Hi,’ she texted to Clint’s number. ‘Can I have your mom’s number, philbert?!’
“He says no,” Clint said via Phil’s phone. “Why didn’t you ask me?”
“I figured you’d lie,” she said.
“Yeah, but Phil’s mom is texting THIS phone asking for your number, so I can-”
“Give it to her, thank you, daaaaaaahrling,” Darcy sing-songed. She made kissy noises at him as the line went dead. She wasn’t sure if he’d hung up or if Coulson had taken him out with the closest piece of office furniture. She also wasn’t sure it mattered.
She poked the last remaining lit line on the phone, and swung her chair around so she could straddle it. “So you’ve been kidnapped.”
There was a long pause. Then, Harris sighed. “I was trying to be subtle,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s not a good idea with me, and I think Clint and Coulson are having a fight to the death,” Darcy said, refreshing her texts with a flick of her thumb. “Either that or having sex.”
“I… I think both of those are against the HR guidelines,” Harris said.
“Yeah, but most of HR avoids talking to them at all times, so…” Her cell beeped, and Darcy grinned as a new text popped up.
‘Hello, Darcy! I’m Shirley Coulson. Phil’s mother. Harris is having coffee with me at the place on the corner. Any chance you’re free to join us?’
“Are you cheating on me?” Darcy asked Harris as she typed back, ‘Are we going to fight over him? Because I have zero idea where my sidearm is.’
Harris sighed. “Yes, Darcy, I’m cheating on you, that’s why I’m calling you.” She heard a voice in the background, and he sighed again. “You weren’t issued a sidearm, Darce. For very obvious reasons.”
“Yeah, honestly, that was probably for the best,” Darcy said. Another beep, and she looked at her texts. ‘As much as I do love a public brawl, Phil’s a bit upset with me right now. I don’t risk getting arrested unless I’ve already arranged for bail.’
Darcy grinned. “I love you, but I’m actively considering leaving you for Coulson’s mom.”
“Honestly, I wouldn’t blame you.” She heard chair legs scraping against the floor. “I’ll get you a mocha.”
“I’ll be down in ten, let me just lock up,” Darcy said, standing up. She paused in the act of reaching for her purse. “Are you okay?”
“I had a brief fantasy of escape, which is now dashed, but that was unlikely from the beginning,” he admitted. “At this point, I’d welcome any distraction that takes attention off of me.”
“Show her cat pics until I get there,” Darcy said, already texting, ‘Is it okay if I bring the rest of the crew?’
‘I was hoping you’d offer. Saves me the trouble of calling in a favor from Jasper or Natasha. Drinks are on me.’
Darcy nodded, tossing her phone into her purse. She was grabbing her coat when someone knocked on her door. “I swear if your receipts are glowing, I’m calling OSHA, Ryan,” she said, shrugging into it.
“Ah, is it ‘last chance for reimbursement’ season again? Already?” Drew asked, poking his head into Darcy’s office. “God, that’s my favorite.”
“It is my least favorite,” Darcy said.
“Yeah, that’s why I love it,” Drew said, and Darcy flipped him off. Laughing, he did a little softshoe in her doorway. “C’mon, your stories of incompetence and laziness are amazing.”
“They are, aren’t they?” Darcy asked. “Where’s Shawn?”
“They let him into the archives again, we’ll be lucky to see him this week,” Drew said. “I’ll grab him a sandwich from the cafeteria, chuck it at him on my way back to my department.”
“Change of plans,” Darcy said. “Harris is down the street having coffee with a mysterious, beautiful woman, and we need to go run reconnaissance on him.”
Drew gave her a distinctly unimpressed look. “It’s going to be, like, a nun he rescued from a fire or something like that, you know that, right?”
“That’s ridiculous,” Darcy said, as they started up the hallway together. “It’s Agent Coulson’s mother.”
“The nun thing is more realistic, you realize that, right?” Drew asked. Darcy looked at him, her eyebrows arched, and Drew came to a stop. “No.”
“Yes,” she said, the word a cackle. “Let’s get Shawn and get down there before Coulson ruins everything.”
“Now, I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called you here today.
Harris raised his hand. Shirley acknowledged him with a tip of her head. “I’m wondering, but I’m also scared of the answer.”
“Coward,” Darcy said, offering him her mocha. He took it with a sigh. Darcy folded her hands on top of the table. “I would like to know, ma’am.”
“I had some free time, and I’ve always wanted to visit New York,” Shirley said.
“You always wanted to visit New York,” Harris repeated. She nodded. “New York. Where one of your children lives.” She nodded again. “You’ve never visited New York before.”
“Well, it’s been so long,” she said, neatly sidestepping the question. “And I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Let me guess,” Darcy said, playing with a sugar packet. “From Clint, not Phil.”
“Let’s just say they both had information that I found very useful,” Shirley said. “And I had hoped such lovely young people could show me around the city.”
“We’d make lousy tour guides, ma’am,” Shawn said, shrugging. “I mean, we can, but we’re not exactly locals.”
“We know the gay bars and where college students can eat for cheap,” Drew said, playing with a straw. “And for someone from a town without a street light, I think I do pretty damn well with the subway, but that’s not exactly-” He made finger quotes. “Tourist time fun.”
“Well, then, let’s be tourists,” Shirley said. “After all, you have an excuse. A nice lady from out of town who wants to see the sights. The sort of sights that maybe you’ve wanted to see but you can’t admit to, because, well, you’re New Yorkers now.”
“I mean, I don’t think-” Harris started.
“I want to go to Times Square and pay to have my picture taken with every single bad Avengers impersonator,” Darcy said, and everyone looked at her.
“Oh. My. God,” Drew said, his eyes huge. “I mean. We-” His eyes darted towards Shirley. “You don’t want to do that, do you?”
“More than anything on earth,” Shirley said, and Harris’ eyes closed.
“Okay, so, okay,” Drew leaned forward, his voice taking on an urgent note. “Can we go to that terrible restaurant by that guy from the Food Network? Where everything has twelve adjectives in the menu and they don’t use plates, just a bizarre collection of weird, like, tiny picnic tables and bowls shaped like a deflated basketball?”
Shirley took a sip of her coffee. “My treat. Order the onion rings that come on a tinker toy ferris wheel.”
“Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to Serendipity,” Shawn said.
“What?” Darcy asked, laughing.
“I saw it in a rom com once,” he said, shrugging. “And it was… I want to go eat a ridiculous ice cream sundae.”
“I love ice cream,” Shirley said with a bright smile.
“This is probably more than-” Harris started, but it was very, very clear that he’d lost control of the situation, if he’d ever had any control at all.
“And I want to go see the Statue of Liberty,” Shawn rushed out.
“I want to get one of those foam Statue of Liberty crowns,” Darcy said, making a halo around her head with her hands.
“Oh, I should bring some home for the kids,” Shirley said, nodding.
Harris stared at her. “Ma’am,” he said, his voice quiet. “Is this going to cause… Problems with Agent Coulson?”
She covered her mouth with one hand, but her eyes were dancing. “No. He’ll get me back for it, don’t get me wrong, but if this was something that would really upset him, then Director Fury wouldn’t have helped me.” She braced a fingertip against her cheek. “He’s still texting me from Clint’s phone pretending to be Clint, which is a pathetic display because I could tell Clint’s texts from the emoji usage alone.”
She straightened up. “Every family has inside jokes, including the spooky ones.”
Harris nodded. “Even so. I’m not… Really comfortable… With this, and would like to be excused,” he said.
“Of course,” Shirley said, picking up her purse. “It’s fine. No reason to stay if you don’t want to.” She slipped a familiar looking envelope from the depths of her handbag, setting it delicately on the table between them. “No. Reason. At all.”
Harris stared down at the envelope, stamped with the logo of a same day ticket agency. He shouldn’t ask. He knew better than to ask. It was better not to know. As long as he didn’t know, he could get up and walk away and not-
“Oh, what show?” Darcy asked, and Harris’ head hit the tabletop.
“Li’l Abner,” Shirley said, her voice bright.
“No,” Harris said.
“I’m sorry, what?” Shawn asked. “Li’l what?”
“No,” Harris repeated.
“The what, what?” Drew asked.
Harris’ head shot up. “It’s a horrible show based on a 1940’s comic strip making fun of hillbillies, which is just a problem on its own, but there’s a subplot about the main character not wanting to get married but there’s a race and if a woman catches a man, then he has to marry her, and the government is going ot bomb the town because it’s the most useless place in the United States, and it turns out that moonshine made from special berries makes the men all specimens of physical perfection but at the same time it makes them lose interest in women, and they end up not getting bombed because the local general was so incompetent that he directly assisted in the Union army winning the Civil War, despite the fact that he was fighting for the Confederacy.”
There was a very, very long moment of silence. “That’s… That’s a lot,” Shawn admitted.
“It’s terrible,” Harris said, his throat hurting with the force of that. “Like. The original show is terrible.” His head snapped up. “Terrible.”
“No one’s arguing with you, Harris,” Darcy said.
“But the new, the revival that’s playing now, they’ve made it into a THING,” Harris said, “About conservative fears of reasonable scientific advancement and government oversight, and feminism and the idea that things can MAKE people gay.”
“Wait.” Drew held up his hands. “Wait. Did they make this a ‘Captain America, but make it GAY’ kind of thing?”
“I mean, I have good slash bad news for you about the actual Captain America,” Darcy said.
“Yes, the good news is that he’s gay, the bad news is that he’s taken?” Drew asked. Darcy nodded. “I’m over it. I cried. A lot. But I have a very lovely boyfriend and he’s just as good at punching Nazis.”
Everyone looked at Shawn. He shrugged. “It was one time,” he said. He sounded apologetic.
“Hottest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.” Drew slapped the table, making the cups jump. “Anyway, back to the bad musical. Like, they drink this ‘magic moonshine’ and then they’re hot, but they’re gay?”
“Yes,” Harris said, nodding hard.
“Wow,” Drew said.
“Yeah, you see what I mean?” Harris asked.
“I want to see the gay backwoods Captain America musical, please,” Drew said to Shirley.
“And luckily, I have tickets,” she said.
“No, it’s terrible. Before the revival, it was terrible.” Harris spread his hands. “Now it’s terrible. But for different reasons.”
Darcy stared at him. “You want to see it, don’t you?”
“No,” Harris said, trying to sound like he meant it. He cleared his throat again. “No.”
Shirley hummed to herself. “But what if a foolish out of towner got tricked into buying tickets to it?” she asked, her voice brimming with innocence. “Nice boy like you. You wouldn’t waste the money. That the foolish old lady who just wanted to see a real Broadway show spent?”
Harris’ eyes narrowed. “How’s your Russian?” he asked, a suspicion dawning.
The smile that curled her lips held a hint of deviousness. “Oh, just terrible,” she said. “Why? Do you know a good translator?”
“I know a vicious old woman who wants me dead so she can have my cat,” Harris said. “Maybe you know her.”
“Oh, I know a lot of people. But she sounds lovely.” Shirley scooped up the envelope, holding it between two fingers in front of them. “So, what will it be, Agent? A quick and painless retreat? Or a guilt free evening of truly terrible theater?”
He took a deep breath. “No matter which option I take, I’m going to regret it, aren’t I?”
Shirley just smiled. “Orchestra seats,” she said, and that caused Harris almost physical pain.
Darcy leaned in. “Regret it with bad theater and me in a foam Statue of Liberty crown,” she whispered, and he reached out, taking the envelope.
“I’m renaming this place to Midnight at the Crossroads,” he said. “And I’m not coming here anymore.”
“Probably for the best,” Shirley agreed. She stood. “Well. Shall we go? We have a grand day ahead of us.”