*cringes at 9 year old me*
*cringes at 13 year old me*
*cringes at year ago me*
*cringes at day ago me*
Natasha had honestly doubted that it would work, but Maria had been confident and Pepper had been game. Pepper Potts and the Black Widow aren’t low profile people, especially after Natasha’s little info dump back in the final moments of SHIELD. But Natasha looks different with blonde hair and Pepper is nearly unrecognisable as a brunette.
With a pair of running shoes instead of Louboutins and jeans instead of pencil skirts, Pepper looks like a very different type of woman. Pepper knows plenty about presenting an image, about how style and body language communicate so much about her person. When she drapes her arm around Natasha’s shoulders and nibbles playfully on Natasha’s ear as they walk down the street, it occurs to Natasha that the spy community would have done well with Pepper Potts on their side.
But Pepper Potts has a side of her own, and Natasha is happy to align herself there for a moment. An undercover mission playing the hot young thing to Pepper’s tomboy sugar mama until they can hack their way to the intel Maria needs? It’s not exactly a hardship.
Phil holds the thing for maybe four minutes before he decides that Will is far better suited for childcare. Mainly because Phil really isn’t suited to having tiny humans vomiting milk and apple-sauce down his back. Phil has been involved in a great many gross and challenging situations; he doesn’t feel to bad at hand-balling this particular one to another agency.
And William Brandt, damn him, makes it look easy. He walks around their apartment in jeans and a t-shirt and bare feet with a baby seated against his hip. Settles back in the recliner with his feet up and a bottle in one hand and a suckling baby in the crook of his elbow. It annoys Phil, for reasons he can’t quite articulate.
"You’re disgustingly domestic," he tells Will, once the baby is asleep and they’re sharing a hot shower.
"Yeah," Will agrees with a small smile, as though he doesn’t mind at all.
90’s boyband era
Clint checked his reflection in the large front window of the agency for the tenth time. His clothes were fine - green cargo pants fastened low enough to catch on the curve of his ass, a slide-lock belt holding them in place with the extra length of the belt hanging loose and curling around his thigh. He had white underpants with a thick, red band of elastic covering up his pubic hair at the front. (He was more than willing to go without, but Clint was a pretty smart cookie. He’d see what the audition group was like before throwing himself too enthusiastically into the ‘bad boy’ role.) He had a black mesh singlet on, a bubble watch with some gum stowed inside the face, and a baby blue sweat band halfway up his forearm. His outfit was basically perfect.
It was the neck up that worried him. His tips were newly frosted and he’d ironed his hair that morning to make it hang around his face. But maybe long hair was a risk? His agent, Natasha, had assured him that long hair could be cut and that it was better to be malleable than to go in with a look that was hard to compromise. They’d talked on and off for HOURS over whether he should wear earrings to show that his ears were pierced, to use a head shot with earrings and go without to the audition or vice-versa. Natasha’s uncertainty had started showing through, and Clint had been a mess of nerves inside since then. He fished a tube of cherry chap-stick out of one of his many pockets and applied a liberal coat. There were three other people ahead of him in the line; he was going to be in the next cluster for auditions. His stomach squirmed.
Five of them were ushered into the waiting area, and then shown through to the audition space. There were four people sitting at a folding table, with cups of coffee and sheets of paper in front of them. Choreographer, composer, marketing head, and a representative from the record label. There was a fifth seat sitting empty, a suit jacket slung over the back, and the butt that belonged to it strode through the door a moment later.
The man wore grey slacks and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He had both a beeper and a mobile phone clipped to his belt, and a shining diamond stud in one ear. Clint knew who he was even before the introduction - Phil Coulson, band manager. Natasha had primed Clint on Phil’s history the night before, but she had neglected to mention that he was hot.
Apparently telling May that she makes a good dude doesn’t count as a compliment, and telling Fitz that he makes a very pretty girl gets a scowl in response. It’s enough to make Skye throw up her hands and abandon the project altogether, but Simmons drags her back with wide eyes and a pleading voice.
"Oh please,” she says, tugging at Skye’s wrist. “You’re better with clothes than I am. I’ll just end up making him look like me.”
Which would certainly be the simplest way to go about it. Simmons is a slender little thing and Fitz isn’t too bulky - he could probably fit into a lot of her clothes. But while Simmons looks cute in boyish attire, they’re trying to achieve the opposite with Fitz, so Skye gives him a companionable smile and one of her bras and ignores his put-upon sighs and she and Simmons try to wad up enough tissue to give him a girlish figure.
May has it easier, Skye thinks. She’s got a lean figure and the kind of arrogant posture that seems more masculine than feminine. With a sports bra on and a pair of Ward’s jeans, she can pass from the neck down. She’d probably pass from the neck up if she cut her hair, but for whatever reason that’s not an option, and she has too much of it for it to be tucked up under a short wig. It’s Skye’s idea to put it into a messy, greasy ponytail and pair it with some tattoos and chunky boots, to put enough other signs of dude-ness on her body that the long hair adds to it. May gives her a small, proud smile as she looks over the final result,and Skye feels pleased to have pleased her.
Of course, the real test is still ahead of them.
"Shit, Cheese," Nick says, and the use of an old nickname has Phil’s stomach dropping. Nick pushes himself to sit upright and pressing a hand to his forehead. "What the hell happened?" And then his fingers find the band of his eye-patch, follow it around and feel the scars cutting across his face. "The hell-" he starts, and then he finally sees Phil. They stare at each other for a long, silent moment.
"You got old," Nick finally observes.
"Yeah," Phil says faintly. "So did you."
The director of SHIELD a good twenty years of his memory missing? SHIELD does in fact have a protocol for that. Director Fury should be locked down and kept under observation, and Deputy Director Hill gets the task of stepping into Nick’s shoes during the chaos. Except Nick doesn’t want to be locked down. Nick doesn’t want to let Phil out of his sight. Nick doesn’t even know why he’s going by ‘Nick’ now instead of Marcus, and when Phil tries to brush the question to one side he gets a wounded look at brings him up short
Because there had been a time when they’d had each other’s backs and had sworn that it would always be that way. That had been why they’d both joined SHIELD - Phil wasn’t going to let Marcus join SHIELD without someone along to look after him, and Marcus wasn’t going to join if Phil wasn’t allowed to come too.
That’s how they’d been. Dedicated friends and casual lovers and too sharp and too cocky by far. And they’d climbed the ranks and found their niches, they’d grown up and grown apart, fought and simmered and fought again and Director Fury trusted Agent Coulson and maybe even favoured him a little, but things had changed and things were always going to change and that was okay. They’d learned to be okay with that.
Except now Phil has Marcus in the passenger seat of a little red car, watching him for cues and clues, and Phil has that thrilling sinking feeling (that used to be so thrilling when they were both younger men) that he is about to find himself in one terrible mess.
9. forced to share a bed
Barton was one of the better people to have to share a bed with. He didn’t snore, didn’t steal the covers, and he kept his drool to himself. Compared to the many times Phil had shared a bed with Garret, Clint was a complete gentleman.
He was also, well. Nick had chided Phil about it in the past, but he maybe had a special kind of enjoyment for working with people who had unique talents. He liked hearing Clint talk about his past. He liked asking about previous missions and seeing Clint’s face take on an expression of shy pride as he insisted that it had been no big deal.
It wasn’t exactly that Phil had a crush, because Phil was too old for crushes and had no interest in indulging such inconveniences. But he enjoyed working with Clint and he had no complaints spending downtime with him, and feeling Clint’s warm, solid body at his back during the night was… pleasant. It was maybe worth considering a similar situation, but without the tactical suits and maybe with a nice dinner beforehand.
And, ideally, without Sitwell and Cale and Delancey packed around them to make a stinky, sweaty, awkward nest of SHIELD agents.
Sharing a bed could be a real pain sometimes.
Steve was halfway though putting a request over the comms for an agent with baby-handling experience when Tony raised his face place, smirked, and then pointedly looked over Steve’s shoulder. Steve turned around and paused and he took in the sight of Phil bundling the baby up in his jacket and then scooping it up. Steve knew that there were tricks and techniques to holding babies (he’d been given a crash course on how to avoid dropping or squishing them for the USO tour, back in the day) but Phil made it seem effortless, the way he held the baby close to his body as he picked his way over the rubble.
"You look like you have some experience there," Steve observed with a smile. Phil’s face was bland and businesslike, and not the response that Steve was expecting.
"Is the area secure?" Phil asked, directing the question more to Tony than Steve.
"I’ll do another flyby, but it all looks quiet," Tony replied, before lowering his faceplate and taking off. "Let me know when you two are going to have the baby shower," he called back over the comms.
Steve frowned after him, and felt strangely glad that Phil’s comm had been damaged earlier. Somehow, he got the impression that Phil wouldn’t appreciate jokes on the matter. The baby in Phil’s arms began to fuss and whimper.
"Well," Phil said, sagging against the van. "We got out of that by the skin of our teeth."
"I’ve never understood that saying," Simmons replied cheerfully as she swung the side door open. "Teeth don’t have skin."
"No," Phil agreed tightly, and the tone of his voice made her glance over, observe the way one of his hands disappeared under his jacket to press firmly against his side. "They don’t."
That was, she realised, rather the point of the phrase.
Phil’s face fell when he read the flyer Nick had shoved into his hand.
"It was knitting classes or watercolours," Nick said bluntly. "And you already own enough ugly sweaters." Phil looked up at Nick and grimaced. "Don’t make that face at me. You’re signed up and paid for." Nick crouched down beside Phil’s armchair, and Phil braced himself for the ‘I’m worried about you’ talk.
"I know you’re a grumpy asshole at the best of times," Nick said bluntly. "But I’m worried about you. You spend all your time sulking around and watching Super Nanny. It’s so sad you’re getting me depressed, Cheese."
Phil gave Nick a pointed look, and Nick sighed heavily through his nose. “If I could have you back at work, I would. Get you working through some of the damn persnickety paperwork your accident generated. So consider this the first step to making both our lives easier. Painting involves arms and sitting up and shit.”
Phil studied the flyer again, and wrinkled his nose. He didn’t talk a lot, but he doled a pair quiet and creaky words to express his feelings on the matter. “Pastel landscapes,” he said, and the twist of his mouth made the assessment seem completely scathing. But Nick laughed at him, his white teeth easily the brightest thing in Phil’s dim and drab apartment.
"Not even," he assured Phil. "I asked. I was actually hoping it’d be taught by some old wrinkle who smells like that flower stuff and only paints cats. But they got a young graduate student taking this semester while he works on his thesis." Nick gave Phil a look that was pointed and smug. "He does comics.”
Phil rolled his eyes and sighed heavily, but he handed the flyer to Nick, and Nick stuck it to Phil’s fridge with a tarnished magnet advertising some tourist trap, and they parted on the unspoken agreement that Nick would be by the following night to prise Phil out of his armchair and drag him along to the class.
(But Phil was not one to suffer alone. He e-mailed the coordinator of the evening classes, and signed Nick up for the Intermediate Knitting Techniques course. One could never have too many ugly jumpers, after all.)