Sniffling loudly, Emily Harthorn dabbed at her eyes and watched as the uniformed man approached. Her mother, who was sitting behind her, reached forward and grabbed her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. The last notes of 'Taps' faded away.
"On behalf of the President of the United States and the people of a grateful nation, may I present this flag as a token of appreciation for the honorable and faithful service your loved one rendered this nation," the Army honor guard said, kneeling and handing the folded flag to the woman sitting next to her.
"Thank you," the older woman whispered, taking the triangle and clutching it to her chest. Emily sniffled and dabbed her eyes again. After a moment the man to her left stood and walked to the casket. Wiping his eyes, the man kissed his fingertip before placing them on the wood. The woman let out a strangled cry before following his actions and placing a white rose on the coffin. Emily stood slowly and went to stand with them before leaning down and kissing the casket.
"I love you," she whispered.
Two years later
"Emily Rose Harthorn, Doctor of History, hooded by Dr. Collins." Emily beamed as she strode across the stage and handed the material to the woman who grinned back. After spinning to face the crowd, Em knelt slightly and watched as the white material was draped around her neck.
"Congratulations," Dr. Collins said as they hugged.
"Thank you," she replied before walking to shake the Dean's hand. After returning to her seat, Emily looked to where her family was sitting and saw them glowing with pride. When the ceremony ended, she struggled to meet with them outside of the hall.
"Congrats!" her mother yelled, emerging from the crowd and throwing her arms around her only daughter. "We're so proud of you."
"Thanks Mom," she laughed, catching her father's eye. He blinked away tears as he took his wife's place.
"I'm so proud of you, Dr. Harthorn," he said before kissing the top of her head. She laughed as her brother flung himself at her.
"So now you've gotta grow up," he teased, "no more hiding in school for you!"
"Hey, I could always go back and get another Masters," she warned, dodging his attempt to place her in a headlock. After taking the obligatory family photos, the Harthorns moved away from the building towards the parking garage. Once she'd checked that her family knew the way to the restaurant they had reservations for, she walked to the top floor and towards her car.
Only someone was standing by it. And it was too late; he'd seen her.
"Dr. Harthorn," he said, walking towards her. Emily wished that she hadn't stowed her purse in the trunk because now she didn't have her pepper spray.
"Erm, yes?" she replied, a question in her tone. She was subtly threading her keys through her fingers, ready to gouge his eyes out if anything were to happen.
"I'm Agent Coulson from the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division," he flashed a badge, but she was barely able to glimpse it. "I was wondering if I could have you look at something." Em eyed the folder in his hand.
"Now's not actually a good time. My family's waiting for me-"
"We're interested in your doctoral thesis," he paused and opened the folder, apparently looking for something. "Selling War: Politics, Propaganda, and Profits in World War II."
"I'd be more than happy to discuss this over the phone or e-mail-"
"If you would just look at this," he offered her the folder. Hesitantly, Emily reached for it and flipped it open.
"This is from the Captain America project, right?" she asked, flipping through photos of the iconic World War II character. She glanced up and saw him nodding; her eyebrows furrowed as she delved deeper into the file. "Where did you find these? I looked everywhere for information like this."
"It's classified," Coulson stated before reaching over and taking it from her. She watched as he tucked the information under his arm, her curiosity piqued.
"Well thanks for that," she said, wishing she'd had time to be more thorough in her examination. "I really have to-"
"What if I were to tell you that Captain America wasn't a propaganda?"
"I'd say maybe you've had a little to much to drink," she said before clapping a hand over her mouth. "That was rude." A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth before disappearing. "And I'm sorry, but all evidence points to the Captain America being a tool created by the US government, particularly Senator Brandt, to sell war bonds."
"I can prove you wrong." Emily scrutinized him, and jumped as a door slammed. A loud group of new graduates trooped towards their cars, barely pausing to glance at them. "My boss would like to meet you to discuss this."
"I don't have time, honestly. My parents have probably already beaten me to the restaurant."
"Tomorrow. Think of it as a consultation." He reached into his internal jacket pocket and withdrew a white business card. "Think it over."
Emily took the card and looked at it. "S.H.I.E.L.D.?" Coulson didn't reply as he walked away and clambered into a black car. She could vaguely see the outline of another person sitting in the passengers seat. Shaking her head, Emily unlocked her car and opened the door before unzipping her black robes.
A picture was safety pinned to the inside of the robe, where it had rested against her heart. Sighing, she undid the fastening and looked at image of the man. "I did it, babe," she whispered before tossing the material into the passenger's seat and sitting down. After running a hand through her short, dirty-blonde bob, Dr. Emily Harthorn looked at the picture in her hand, tossed in into the center console, and drove to her waiting family.