It started off as Sitwell’s idea of a joke. Maybe it wasn’t fair to blame him, but it was inarguably his fault, so petty or not, Phil was determined to blame Sitwell. It had been a kind of welcome back thank fuck you’re not dead joke, the kind of joke that was only half kidding around and half honest thankfulness.
For Phil, it started when he moved back into his office after months of intensive physical therapy, glad to be back in the familiar suit and doing something useful again, to find that his office had been taken over.
On close inspection, the mass of debris (fountain pens, cheap Captain America memorabilia, packets of powdered donuts, and far too many post-its) turned out to be some sort of shrine. To him.
Phil looked at it. He wasn’t sure he wanted to dismantle the thing (sentiment aside, the degree of work involved just in rediscovering the surface of his desk made Phil want to fall to his knees and ask why?!) but on the other hand, he was actually going to require the use of his desk for its intended purpose.
He decided to find Sitwell, because something like this could only have been orchestrated by him or Barton, and anything done by Barton would have involved more purple.
Sitwell turned out to be at his desk. Phil stare at him silently and implacably and without blinking.
“…for fuck’s sake, stop staring at me,” Sitwell snapped, his composure breaking under the pressure of Phil’s stare. This was why Phil was the senior agent: Phil had sat through far worse eyeballings from Fury without cracking. “No wonder there’s always those rumours about you being an android, Jesus.”
“Jasper,” said Phil, evenly and deliberately. “Why.”
Because Sitwell had been working with Phil for years, he immediately knew what Phil was talking about.
“You are Agent Philip Coulson,” he intoned seriously, “God of the Badass Secret Agents. All hail Agent Coulson.”
Phil blinked once.
Sitwell finally cracked a grin. It was more of a smirk, really.
“Agent Coulson, man’s man, man about town, agent among agents,” he droned. “Most badass agent SHIELD has ever seen. Once killed a man armed only with his favourite pen. Stopped a robbery with nothing more than a well-aimed bag of flour, and bought donuts immediately afterwards. Has memorised every contingency in the SHIELD handbook no matter how unlikely, and knows every single form our twisted bureaucracy has come up with. Went up against a freaking Norse god of chaos and lived.”
Sitwell gestured at Phil to prove his point, and assumed a deeper, more impressive tone.
“Some say that Agent Coulson was trained as an agent from birth. Some say he has a genuine shoephone, because he thought it was cool. Some say that the only time he has ever been seen without his tie was when he used it to take down an entire HYDRA unit at once. Some say that he has secretly won the regional ballroom dancing championships fifteen years in a row. Some say that he finds the sound of violence more soothing than hold music. Some say that he is the reason Fury is missing an eye… and Fury hired him on that basis.” Sitwell lost the impressive voice. “So clearly, you are a god among secret agents,” he finished reasonably.
“It was a nice pen,” said Phil, because he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Stabbing that arms dealer in the neck with it had ruined the nib forever. “Did you steal that last bit from Top Gear?”
“It seemed to fit,” Sitwell admitted. “Also, Coulson? Move on from the fucking pen, I don’t care if it was a limited edition Parker that you fell in love with on sight, it was three years ago. It perished in the line of duty. Let the pen go.”
There was a short silence.
“My office is a shrine,” Phil pointed out, when Sitwell didn’t say anything more. Sitwell shrugged uncomfortably, and avoided Phil’s eyes. Phil, reading the subtext there, decided that he was touched, but that didn’t solve the problem of what to do about his desk. “I can’t work with all that stuff there.”
“So find some junior agents and make them move it,” Sitwell shrugged. “Tell them you’ll offer them your blessing.”
“Funny,” Phil told him dryly, but went and hunted down some junior agents foolish enough to be hanging around the coffee machine instead of at least pretending to be busy.
He didn’t offer them a blessing.
Most of the stuff that had been on Phil’s desk ended up in boxes stacked against the wall next to the filing cabinet, although someone had left Coulson one of the brand-new collectible Avengers mugs, the one with Captain America and Thor on it, and Phil decided to use it for his cups of coffee from now on.
Phil figured that now he was back, that would be the end of the whole shrine business, and everyone would move on.
The first sign that he was wrong about this came when his coffee started refilling itself every time Phil attended a meeting or went to the bathroom.
Phil eyed his coffee mug suspiciously. As pleasing as it was to find fresh, hot coffee sitting on his desk waiting for him, it wasn’t as though there were magical coffee fairies dedicated to bringing fresh coffee to the deserving.
It transpired that there were helpful new interns suffering from an excess of hero-worship, however.
“…and then you died, but you came back,” the intern explained, pinking with a mixture of embarrassment and awe. “And my whole family lives in New York, and they wouldn’t be here if the Avengers hadn’t kicked alien ass, and it was all thanks to you. So I guess I just wanted to do something to say thank you, sir.”
The genuine gratitude and sincerity was a little startling, and Phil wasn’t entirely sure how to respond.
“I see,” he settled on. “Thank you, Mr Mitchell.”
The intern flushed in delight surprise at that fact that Phil knew his name, and stammered out a demur.
Phil wondered, briefly, if this was how Captain Rogers sometimes felt. He felt vaguely embarrassed.
The second sign came when Phil was working at his desk, trying to decipher an incident report that by been written by Thor Odinsson. It was written in a flourishing, careful script, and appeared to have been recorded in the form of an epic poem.
While Phil was wondering if it would be unprofessional to show The Grand Tale of The Many Tentacled Horrors to Sitwell, and telling himself that staging a dramatic reading of it next poker night would definitely be unprofessional, one of the junior agents opened the door to his office. Without acknowledging Phil’s presence (or his raised eyebrows) she tiptoed across to the stack of boxes near the filing cabinet and stuck a post-it note to one of them, with an air of carefully attempting not to cause a disturbance. Then she tiptoed back the way she came, and quietly closed the door behind her.
Well. That had never happened before.
Phil temporarily abandoned Thor’s incident report (he should use the phrase ‘literally epic’ when he showed it to Sitwell, he decided) in order to investigate the post-it.
Dear Agent Coulson, it read, even though I’ve been practicing, my firearms training is going horribly, and I can barely hit the targets. Please help me shoot better. Sincerely, Agent Alicia McDowell.
Phil considered the note. On the one hand, given the shrine, it was worryingly close to a prayer, and if he answered it Phil might find himself deluged with similar petitions for help, which would be both inconvenient and disturbing. On the other hand, he’d seen McDowell at the range, and if she could just relax, lower her shoulders, and remember to breathe a little, it would do wonders for her ability to shoot.
Sighing, Phil grabbed his own stack of post-its off his desk and wrote a note to that effect. Peeling the top post-it off the stack, he opened his office door and flagged down the intern, with instructions to stick the post-it to the top of Agent McDowell’s desk.
In retrospect, this would prove to be a poor decision.
The shrine activity redoubled.
Phil arrived on Monday after an unexceptional weekend to find his desk littered with offerings again, and a new set of post-its. They were all similar in nature to the one that McDowell had left.
Phil texted Sitwell to join him in his office immediately.
“What?” Sitwell demanded sullenly when he turned up a few minutes later.
Phil gestured at his desk. Sitwell blinked blearily, and took a closer look.
“This isn’t funny,” Phil said, when Sitwell burst out laughing.
“It really is,” Sitwell cackled, and left Phil’s office still giggling to himself.
The thing was, Phil was still barred from undertaking any strenuous duties, so most of his time was spent doing paperwork, an activity which was both time-consuming, and yet incredibly boring. Phil knew that he should put a stop to the damn shrine and the little cult that was apparently building, but the truth was he couldn’t help but find it privately amusing, and the little requests for help gave him something entertaining to do in between the endless reports and forms.
He realised that he was genuinely in trouble somewhere around the time that Barton walked in saying, “Hey boss, O great god of secret agents everywhere, accept my offering and grant me good fortune and badassery on my next mission,” and presented him with a shit-eating grin and a box that contained a pair of custom-made SHIELD cufflinks.
That was about the time things started to get weird.
Agent Coulson’s suits are always perfectly pressed and immaculate, even after 38 hours in a warzone without sleep. Agent Coulson has badass ninja moves. No one outsnarks Agent Coulson, although Hawkeye is his snarking soulmate. Agent Coulson is the most skilled, sneaky, and experienced agent SHIELD has. Agent Coulson is like the Terminator: nothing will stop him from achieving his mission objectives. Agent Coulson has Jedi reflexes and perfect aim. Agent Coulson is what every agent should aspire to be.
The only people who are a match for Agent Coulson for dedication to the people are Director Fury and Captain America himself. Captain America used to be Agent Coulson’s hero… now Agent Coulson is his. There are agents, and then there are Agents, and Agent Coulson is a better Agent than anyone could ever hope to be. Agent Coulson is The Agent’s Agent...
The first weird thing that happened – although it was only obviously one of the weird things in retrospect – was that Phil was allowed to return to normal duties far earlier than expected. His fast healing rate baffled Medical, but given that they could find no negative reason for it nor any detrimental effects, Phil was reluctantly allowed to get back to doing his proper job.
He immediately took over as the Avengers’ handler from Sitwell, who insisted in praising The Great God Agent Coulson for delivering him from such a thankless task.
“Shut up, unless you want me to try actually cursing you,” Phil told him. Sitwell just sniggered, and gladly sent over all the Avengers-related paperwork.
The second weird thing happened not long after. The Avengers had been fighting some sort of possibly-amphibious monster that had been oozing its way across Manhattan when Barton, unfortunately, had the bright idea of using some of his explosive arrows on the creature.
They worked perfectly. The downside to this was that they also succeeded in making the creature explode, sending monster slime and viscera everywhere.
Phil blinked, and slowly took in the sight of the Avengers, the sidewalk, every car, every building, and every other SHIELD agent within a hundred metres covered in foul-smelling slime.
He looked down at himself. He was perfectly clean, and his suit was spotless.
“Huh,” he said to himself.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Iron Man yelled angrily into the comms. “How is it that we’re all covered in fugly monster slime – thanks for that by the way, Merida – and Coulson’s standing there looking impeccable?”
“Well, he is the God of Badass Secret Agents,” Barton joked back. A thrill of apprehension went down Phil’s spine.
After that, things became even stranger. There was always a pair of sleek black sunglasses in Phil’s size available nearby if Phil needed them. Phil’s suits were always perfectly pressed and clean no matter what he went through. He had always been stealthy, but now if he wanted to go unseen and heard, no one noticed him, not even veteran field agents.
And then one morning Phil woke with the awareness that he was a god.
The knowledge was disorienting. Phil’s awareness had widened exponentially, to include peripheral awareness of every secret agent everywhere. Every time Phil passed a SHIELD agent his mind filled with details about them and their every mission, the ways in which they were a good agent and the areas where they needed to improve.
He didn’t tell anyone what was going on – who would have believed him? – but simply made for his desk where, yes, a fresh mug of coffee was waiting for him.
Phil didn’t need to look at the shrine. His brain was already stuffed full of every prayer of agents all over the world.
It all should have been too much for him, but somehow, it wasn’t. In his head Phil carefully sorted through all the data, mentally granting or dismissing prayers, even as he went about his job. It was a little like juggling cats, but somehow, Phil’s mental balance and timing was perfect.
Far worse, for Phil, was the way that if he didn’t concentrate, the moment he walked into a room with a radio it started playing thematically appropriate music: so far Phil had heard Second-Best Secret Agent In the World by Sammy Davis Jr., Secret Agent Man by Devo, and Men In Black by Will Smith. Phil didn’t want to find out what other theme music the universe could find for him.
He wondered, with a sense of foreboding, what was going to happen next.
The next time that Thor was due back on Earth, Phil was sent to meet him. They had a designated arrival point by now, so Phil stood nearby and waited as the Bifrost deposited the God of Thunder. When the light show cleared, Thor was standing there, as tall and disconcertingly muscular as always.
Phil stared at Thor. His eyes were sending him the same information they always did about the Norse god – tall, broad-shouldered, blonde-haired, with placid blue eyes and a warm grin – but other senses he wasn’t used to having also told him: ancient, the smell of ozone and the static charge of electricity building in the air, something massive and incomprehensible.
Phil blinked. He shook away the strange impressions to find Thor regarding him gravely out of serious, unexpectedly sharp blue eyes.
“I see that you have been through a great transformation since last we met,” said Thor solemnly. “It has been a long time indeed since I have met a true god of Midgard, Agent Coulson.”
Phil gazed blandly back at him.
“I think that we should find somewhere private, and you should explain to me the meaning of that statement.”
“Aye,” Thor agreed heavily. “It is not information to be shared with outsiders.”
They found an empty conference room whose monitoring devices were inexplicably broken, and sat down to discuss what Phil had become.
“It is not uncommon,” said Thor, “for people of great renown to become foci of some kind – avatars, if you will, of the qualities or concepts which they are believed to embody. But to become a god is a far greater step. Indeed, your worshippers must have great faith.”
“I don’t quite understand,” Phil admitted.
“On Asgard,” Thor explained, “we have believed ourselves gods for so long that our belief is reality. Belief itself is a force within the universe, capable of reshaping the way that things are.”
“That sounds very Terry Pratchett,” Phil said pleasantly, in lieu of openly expressing disbelief.
Thor chuckled slightly.
“I know not what that means, but I see that you find the idea difficult to fathom,” he said kindly. “I assure you, as you see more of the world, you will find it easier to believe.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” said Phil. He hesitated. “Do you ever find it… difficult, being a god?”
Thor shook his head slowly.
“I do not. Do you?”
“Not really,” Phil confessed. “But I’m fairly sure I should.”
Thor only smiled.
“It does not work that way, my friend.”
Phil had to admit that he seemed to be right.
“So what’s it like being the God of Thunder?” he asked. Thor grinned broadly.
“It is most enlivening!” he declared loudly, and Phil found himself smiling back. There was something irresistible about Thor’s boundless good-humour. Even he wasn’t immune.
“I see. Thank you,” he added sincerely. Thor clapped him on the shoulder.
“Any time, Agent Coulson. If you have any more queries–”
“I’ll come to you,” Phil assured him. “Now, I believe that Dr Foster is currently in Stark Tower…”
“Excellent!” Thor boomed. “I shall visit my Jane!”
And that was that.
It was Nick Fury who figured it out.
Maybe it was the way that Phil simply rolled with everything now, or the way he was always in the right place at the right time. Or maybe it was simply the fact that Phil and Fury had known each other for so long that Fury was bound to notice that something was up.
Phil, being what he was, knew the moment that Fury decided that he wanted to talk to Phil. Phil made his way up to Fury’s office without waiting to be notified that Fury wanted him, and knocked on Fury’s door.
“Come in,” said Fury’s voice, and so Phil opened the door and walked in, closing it behind him.
“You wanted to see me, boss?”
Fury stared at him.
“…Coulson, how the hell did you know I wanted to see you when I only just decided to?” Fury asked slowly, suspicion in his face.
“About that,” said Phil, and Fury groaned.
“Dammit, Phil, what the hell have you gotten yourself into?”
“It’s nothing bad,” Phil assured him. “It’s just… well…” He decided to cut to the chase. It was like pulling off a band-aid, he told himself. “I’m the God of Badass Secret Agents.”
“You’re the what, now?” Fury asked.
“The God of Badass Secret Agents.” Phil remained calm in the face of Fury’s confused disbelief.
“The God of Badass Secret Agents,” Fury repeated.
“That’s correct, sir.”
Fury eyed him doubtfully.
Phil sighed. He hated to do it, but some things were necessary.
The two-way radio on Fury’s desk began blaring Spies Like Us by Paul McCartney. Phil frowned.
The song was abruptly replaced with Secret Agent Man, which, while hardly a favourite of Phil’s, was at least more tolerable.
Fury tried to turn the two-way radio off by hitting the off-switch. That failed.
“Coulson, what the hell…?”
Phil smiled pleasantly.
“See what happens when you take the batteries out.”
His eyebrows rising, Fury did.
The music continued playing from the speaker.
Fury stared from the two-way radio to Phil.
“Apparently I get thematically-appropriate pop music,” Phil said in explanation. “It takes a little bit of concentration to suppress it. It’s easier to just let it play.”
Fury continued staring.
Phil took a seat in the chair in front of Fury’s desk.
“Your office is bugged, by the way,” Phil added, because he was just naturally aware of these things, now. “Judging by the tech, I’d say Stark.”
“Goddammit,” Fury said feelingly, and sat back in his chair. “The God of Badass Secret Agents? I thought that was just a joke.”
“Apparently too many people took it seriously,” said Phil. “According to Thor, belief is a force capable of shaping reality. The way he explained it, my sudden ascent to godhood is a direct result of people believing for some time that I’m a god.”
“You’re telling me,” Fury said slowly, “that because one of my agents started calling you a god as a joke, people started to believe it, and that was enough to make you become a god in reality?”
Phil nodded once. Fury sighed, and covered his face with his hand.
“Goddammit,” he said again, and then, “Where exactly is Stark’s bug?”
“Bugs,” Phil corrected, pointing. “There and there. They mysteriously stopped operating at about the same moment as I walked into the room.” The corners of his mouth twitched up in a faint smile.
Fury gave Phil a look.
“Another godly power?”
Fury shook his head.
“Can you at least turn off the damn theme music?” he asked, and Phil had never heard Fury’s voice sound plaintive before.
Phil laughed, mostly out of surprise. The music playing from the radio abruptly cut off.
“Thank you.” Fury was back to staring at Phil. “So what happens now?”
“Nothing,” said Phil. “I keep on being an agent, this organisation keeps on ticking over, and everything goes as planned.”
Fury sat forward with a jerk at that, not missing the hidden meaning in Phil’s words.
“You’re the reason so few of our ops have gone FUBAR lately?” he demanded.
“I help out where I can. And a lot of the agents have been praying to me, whether they realise it or not. It’s easier for me to assist if someone prays to me.”
“Prays to you,” Fury said flatly.
Fury was silent for a long moment.
“What do you expect me to do with this information?” he said finally.
“Nothing,” said Phil. “I just thought you ought to know.”
“Get out of my office, Coulson.” Fury sounded tired.
Phil smiled, and stood.
“Remember, boss, you ever need me in a hurry, prayer works,” he offered, and left Fury’s office to the sound of the other man swearing.