Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers. They belong to Marvel/Disney.
Flying commercial. Agent Phillip Coulson hated it, but he had to keep up appearances. Flying into Cleveland (the flight was late, of course), then the brief discussion with Steve Rogers AKA Captain America, about their rental car. He pointed out he should pick something fun, since they were on vacation. Coulson wasn't going to give in, but the look on Rogers' face made him do it. He couldn't refuse, and Rogers wanted the Mustang GT. He also let Rogers drive. One speeding ticket he was going to have to clean up later.
Now they were pulling up in front of his mother's house in Alliance. Coulson got out of the car, stepping up on the curb, pulling off his sunglasses when a small body hurtled down the front steps and sidewalk nearly knocking him over.
"Hi Emily," he said, hugging the girl. "How's my favorite niece?"
"Fine," she said. "Mom said you probably wouldn't show again this time."
"Your mother and I are going to have another talk," he said.
"Can it wait 'til later?" Emily asked, looking past her uncle at the man climbing out of the car by the curb. "Is that who you said you were bringing with you?"
"Emily, this is Steve," Coulson said as the other man walked up beside him. Emily shook his hand, and walked up to the porch ahead of them.
Rogers noticed the girl was wearing a blue t-shirt with his shield on it, along with baggy khaki cargo shorts and Converse all-stars. He caught Coulson's eye.
"Not related to you at all," he said.
Coulson actually blushed. Then his sister Rachel was at the door, letting them in, trying not to stare at his companion. Tall. Blond. Muscled. Oh so very polite and handsome. Khaki pants, a button-down plaid shirt and a beaten leather jacket. Her brother in his usual black suit, white shirt and tie. (His niece was convinced he was a man in black, and he did not correct her, despite her protests.)
"You were supposed to be here hours ago," Rachel said. "Mom's gone, and I have to be at work in an hour."
"Where's Mom?" Coulson asked, concerned.
"Mom'll be back in a day or two," Rachel said. "I thought you knew. Aunt Hattie had a heart attack, and she went to stay for a couple of days. Mom and I both posted it on Facebook. Didn't you see it?"
"Is she all right?" Coulson asked. "Remember—I do not have an account on Facebook. You could've e-mailed me or called."
"I got busy," Rachel said, "Aunt Hattie's fine. They heart-cathed her two days ago, and she's back home today."
"What about the bakery?"
"The manager and his daughter are taking care of things until Mom comes back, and me and Em have been helping out. I still work two nights at the hospital and two days at the shop," Rachel said. "You and I need to talk."
He followed her into the kitchen, wondering where Rogers and his niece disappeared to, but Rachel started in.
"I hope you didn't get Em anything extravagant for her birthday," she said. "She just turned 12, and doesn't need anything fancy or expensive. The laptop at Christmas was enough. And don't you dare disappoint her again, because I will hurt you in ways you have yet to imagine."
"How many times do I have to apologize?" he asked. Several months before, he'd broken a promise to his niece about coming to visit. At the time, he was recuperating at SHIELD's main medical facility from his wounds received from Loki. "Emily understands, so why can't you?"
"I know you're just a paper-pusher, some low-level government bureaucrat with a chip on his shoulder, but Em thinks you're out saving the world everyday, and I'm not going to ruin it for her," Rachel said. "Next time can you at least call and say you're not coming?"
"I think this has more to do with your disappointment over your ex-husband not meeting your expectations and less to do with Em and what she thinks," he said. "I have responsibilities and I can't just walk away from them."
"I have responsibilities, not like yours, but you don't see me skipping on mine just because it's convenient," Ratchel said.
"Rachel, I get. I'm sorry," Coulson said, hoping he could end the old argument.
She wasn't paying attention to him—she was looking out in the backyard. He peered out, seeing Rogers and Emily throwing a baseball back and forth.
"Great. I assume he likes baseball?" Rachel asked, pointing outside.
"He does," Coulson said. "Looks like he and Em are hitting it off."
"They should—he's probably not much older than she is," Rachel said. "My God Phil, where did you find him? He's what, 21, 22?"
He couldn't tell her Rogers' actual chronological age was 92, but physically, he appeared 25, the same age as when he was put on ice.
She opened the cabinet, reaching up to get something down, and he noticed the visible bump of her belly, and a baseball came flying through the glass on the back door. Rogers picked that moment to walk in. Rachel caught Phil staring at her mid-section, her eyes wide, knowing he'd figured it out.
"When did this happen? Were you going to tell me?" Coulson asked.
"I was, but when were going to tell us you were shacked up with the hottie here, and one half your age?"
Emily stood beside Rogers, listening to the two argue.
"He's gorgeous in every way imaginable," Rachel said. "And get that look off your face. I'm fine with it. Just surprised. What happened with the cellist?"
"She moved back to Portland," Coulson said.
Rachel snorted. As if that explained anything.
"Does this happen often?" Rogers asked Emily.
"Only when he comes to visit, and it's almost over," she said.
"I can hardly wait to see the look on Mom's face," Rachel said. "Seriously—where did you find him?"
Coulson didn't answer, giving her his best stern we're going to talk later look. The one that usually cowed people like Thor and Stark. Rachel ignored it.
"You can watch Em tonight, can't you, or do you and loverboy have plans?" she asked.
"I would love to watch Emily," Coulson said.
"I figured as much," Rachel said. "Don't keep her up too late."
"I won't," he said.
Rachel gave him a quick hug. "I have to go, or I'll be late for work. See you tomorrow."
Coulson went upstairs and changed into jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. He was off-duty for two weeks. Home. With his family. Might as well relax. Rogers was downstairs in the kitchen, looking for something to eat, and probably giving the rest of the house a look. With Rachel gone, he'd have a little peace, and a chance to apologize to Emily. He let himself into his niece's room, taking a look around. She was lounging on her bed with a book, but she set it down.
"This was my old room," he said.
"I know. It's why I wanted it," Emily said.
"Pizza, Chinese, or we can grill burgers," he said. "Movies here or the theater?"
"Chinese, movies here," she said, standing, following her uncle downstairs.
"'Men in Black'," Emily said.
Her favorite movie. Rogers hadn't seen it yet, so it was going to be an interesting evening. They walked into the living room, where Rogers was sitting on the couch, staring at something on the coffee table.
The SHIELD agent recognized the source of his friends' distress.
"What is this doing here?" Coulson asked, picking up the hefty book.
"It was one of my birthday presents from Mom," Emily said. "She said I should read something 'normal.' She was a little angry when she caught me reading 'I Am Legend.' The real one, not the one they wrote with Will Smith in it."
"What did she get you for your birthday?" Coulson said.
"Books and clothes," Emily answered.
"Some decent books, I hope," he said.
Unfortunately, he was familiar with the book series. Agents Hill, Barton and Romanoff had read the Twilight books. Hill and Barton couldn't get enough of them. Romanoff preferred the movies to the books. He couldn't stand the books, but he'd only read the first one while recuperating. He was humoring his fellow agents, but God, it was awful. Then Rogers got a hold of it, read the first few chapters and well, Coulson wasn't supposed to know about what happened next. Rogers, along with Banner and Stark, had a nice little bonfire going in the lab until the fire suppression system kicked in.
Coulson and Romanoff had spent an evening together a few days later, eating popcorn and watching the surveillance tape over and over again while he was recuperating. The footage of Barton screaming "no," pounding on the lab door as his books burned and sliding down the wall while sobbing was still a fond memory.
But reality snapped back into focus from the warm fuzzies when Rogers snatched the book from his hand, started rummaging around on the bookshelves for more by the same author. Emily grinned when she figured out what he was doing. She ran upstairs, returning a few minutes later with the rest of her copies of the series, and her mother's. Rogers had her grandmother's copies in his arms. She followed him outside, across the backyard and into the alley. He tossed the books into the dumpster, and she threw hers in. He produced some matches from his pocket and threw them in after the books.
"Hardly appropriate for a kid your age," Rogers said. "C'mon. We got you some books I hope you'll like."
Coulson had gone a little extravagant with the gifts—an Ipad and a new cell phone just because he could. And Em seemed to appreciate the books from Rogers. He'd given her "The Hunger Games," "Tom Sawyer," and a book each by Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne.
"Mom's gonna flip when she sees the new phone," Emily said, "She took away my old one."
She didn't tell him it was because her mom caught her answering her phone just like her uncle-"Coulson here." Her last name was hyphenated, Tyler-Coulson, a gift from her absent father, but she didn't like it. She was a Coulson, so she was going to call herself a Coulson. Besides, Emily was convinced her Uncle Phillip was a real-life man in black. His suit, the way he talked and acted, how he didn't talk about his work, he was away all the time, and sometimes didn't make it when he said he would. She figured he had an important job, and couldn't come.
"What about the Ipad?" he asked.
"It'll keep me from stealing her Kindle," Emily said, settling in on the couch next to her uncle to watch movies.
Everything was fine. Going well. Peaceful. Rogers wasn't hiding behind the couch like he figured he would because of the movies. He'd faced combat in World War II, stood up to Fury, Stark, the Hulk, fought the Chitauri and a god from another realm, but some modern movies creeped him out. Instead, Rogers was enjoying himself. Coulson was too, until his cell phone rang.
"Coulson here," he said, checking the number. Banner. What the hell did he want?
"It's Loki," Banner said.
"What about Loki?" Coulson asked. Rogers blanched.
"She's not eating. I was wondering if you want me to take her to the vet?"
"Do whatever is necessary," Coulson said through gritted teeth. Emily was looking at him, biting her lip. She wasn't stupid.
"Loki, huh?" she asked as he pocketed his phone.
"Loki is my cat," he said.
Loki, or as Fury called her, "that damn ball of fuzz," was a gift from Stark. The cat was a black Scottish Fold. She didn't come with a name, but Thor started calling her "Loki" because he thought she was a trickster after the kitten ran up Fury's leg more than once, and the name stuck. Ironic, considering. Technically, the animal was his, but she was Avengers communal property, their four-legged mascot. The damn thing even had a collar with a tag emblazoned with the SHIELD logo, a gift from Hill. Loke split her time between Potts (when he or Rogers weren't around), the lab, and the helicarrier.
"You have a cat, named Loki. Like the guy who tore up New York earlier this year," Emily said. "I thought you didn't like cats."
"It's not like I had any choice in the matter," Coulson muttered.
The color was coming back to Rogers' face, and Coulson was counting backward from 10. He hoped the call about the cat was not a precursor to any events involving the cat's Asgardian namesake.
Author's note: I don't really dislike "Twilight." I could just see certain of the members of the Avengers having a violent reaction to the books.