"5 Valentines and 1 Truth"
The first time it happened, Phil Coulson was a junior. The school hallways were dressed to impress, decked out in red, white, and pink. It was so tempting to go through and replace the pink with blue; but the logistics involved were ridiculous, and he didn't want any trouble. Besides, to what end? Just because he didn't have a girl- or boy-friend? It's not long he was the only single junior.
Unfortunately, the average single junior was someone with brains, pimples, and a huge collection of comic books. And he fell into the category. No, he wasn't bullied. Phil was good at keeping on the down-low, even at the age of nearly-fourteen. But he was overlooked. An advantage in some respects; downright lonely and disheartening in others.
So he picked a name; one of the artists from the old Captain America comics. Two of the artists, actually: Lucy Wright and Gerald Marlowe. He was pretty good at art, too (or at least faking hand-writing), and it's not like anyone would notice that he had a Valentine.
The first one that he wrote for himself was from a fictional girl called Lucy Marlowe.
Senior year, only a few months until prom, Phil used the same girl, now referred to as his pen pal from Portland. She was the lead cellist in her school orchestra, and already had an offer from an inter-state music college. This time, he used a more mature card; still kind of romantic, but… sedate. The kind of image that he preferred to cultivate. Just because he was making it up didn't mean that he had to use something tacky.
Of course, there was no way 'Lucy' could come to his prom. He seriously considered going to Portland so that he could pretend that he was her date. But he was saving up for college, even if he intended to go into the military after graduation.
But it was good to have back-up. That's why he had Lucy.
First year in the army, he used her again. It had become a regular thing whenever there was a chance he'd be near people on Valentine's Day. It was simply a matter of arranging it beforehand. The card arrived, everyone thought he had a sweetheart back home, and he instead spent his night thinking about Captain America, and the girl he'd left behind. At least Phil didn't really have a sweetheart.
It was stupid, but he kept every Valentine he'd ever made, under his bed back home. Heck, if anyone found them, they still wouldn't be able to connect the dots; Phil was just that good at hiding his tracks. Even his parents never knew; his father was a workaholic, and his mother was busy enough with Phil's sister, and all her boy troubles. There was no way he was going to burden his mom with something as silly as a lonely heart.
"I hope you're happy together, sir," he whispered into the night air. "You know, if the rumours were true about you having a girl. Kind of gives hope to the rest of us. Bet you never did anything as pathetic as this." He ducked his head, and glanced one more time at the stars. They always reminded him of the shield. "Good night, captain. Sweet dreams, wherever you are."
In his fourth year at SHIELD, Phil was called into the director's office, and told to sit down.
"You don't have a girlfriend," Fury said. Phil tried to kick-start his brain.
"The Valentines. I tried to work out why you would be happy to work here, rather than at our Portland base, where those Valentines you get every year happen to come from. It didn't take much effort to find out that, hey, cello-playing Lucy Marlowe doesn't even exist."
Phil's gaze dropped to the floor.
"Was there a point to this? Because hell, Coulson, you're one of my best agents, and you're gonna go far. I would've been willing to help you get together with this woman, maybe even waive some of the privacy regs. You don't have any kind of life outside of SHIELD, except for this pen pal of yours. And now I find out that she's a fake?"
This Valentine was expensive; now that Phil and Lucy were both (supposed to be) grown-up, they could afford to send classier cards.
"Sir, there's very good reason for this."
"There better be, Agent Coulson."
"Well, the thing is…" Phil paused. "Actually, you're right. There is no good reason. I just felt lonely. And I guess I was filling in the time until I found someone who would write me Valentines. Someone who would make sure that I wasn't filling up a box under my bed with cards I wrote myself." He shrugged. "Not a good reason. But it just became habit over twenty-something years."
"I was a teenager when I started, sir."
Fury shook his head. "I'll do what I can to help you, if you want to continue this. But you might want to come up with someone else. How many times have you changed the name?" Phil didn't speak. "It's been the same person all along?"
"I think we've established that she's not real, director."
"Mother…" He sighed. "Okay. Keep it up. Whatever. If anyone tries to interfere, I'll stop it. But, Phil?" Phil's eyebrows shot up at the name. "Just… try to find that someone who'll put a stop to the creepy collection of self-Valentines."
No one ever found out his secret; not in all three decades of his deception.
Phil thought he wouldn't make it, after he woke up in hospital. He'd been there for three months already, yet he still wasn't allowed out to go shopping. There was no way he'd be able to get a card sent in time for Valentine's Day—
"I don't wanna do this, but it seems I owe you one," Fury said, plonking into the chair beside Phil's bed. "I got you something; seemed consistent with your tastes." He handed Phil a blank card, this one with… Oh dear God.
"Sir," he said, nearly choking on air, "this is a Captain America card."
"I'm sure Lucy would know that you admire him," he said dryly.
"The shield is heart-shaped."
"That it is."
"…And the words are dripping with patriotic sentimentality."
"Then it's the perfect fit for you."
Phil glared at his boss half-heartedly. "Thank you."
"Not at all. Now write your card. Do you know how hard it is to get something like this without anyone knowing about it?"
"I've had plenty of experience with that, sir."
Fury chuckled, and patted his shoulder. "Need a pen?"
"Got one here. It came with the last lot of puzzle books Captain Rogers bought for me."
He was just about to uncap the pen when Fury spoke again.
"Still gonna use Lucy? Or are you finally gonna swap names? Say, Gerald Wright?"
Phil snorted delicately. "What makes you think I haven't been using him for a couple of years?"
"No idea, agent."
Valentine's Day, flowers (tied with red, white, and blue ribbons, damn Fury) were delivered to Phil's room, along with the card. There were lovey-dovey stickers on the back of the envelope; Phil sure as hell hadn't put them there. They were all Avengers-themed, thanks to the post-Manhattan marketing madness; but the largest one, bang in the centre, was another shield, this one with a heart – instead of a star – in the middle.
His team arrived seconds later, while he was re-reading the words he'd scribbled inside the card, pretending it was from someone else. Tony was cracking jokes within seconds, Natasha and Clint were asking about Gerald, Thor was expressing his admiration of the stickers and the flower arrangement, and Steve was fidgeting in the corner. He held himself stiffly, and Phil hoped that the idea of a same-sex relationship wasn't making the conservative young man uncomfortable.
The Avengers had been a team for over a year. The anniversary extravaganza had come and gone, just like the villains before and since. Now Tony wanted to throw a party to celebrate the coming together of (almost) all of the Avengers' sweethearts. He and Pepper were already engaged, Thor was planning to take Jane back to Asgard, Clint and Natasha were still keeping quiet about their relationship, and Tony had employed Betty Ross so that she and Bruce could be together.
That just left the captain. And Phil; but Phil still had Gerald. Or, if he wanted a change, he could go back to Lucy. He knew her hand-writing as well as he knew his own.
"Is your boyfriend coming to the party tonight?" Steve asked.
"The what?" Phil was busy mapping out the usual security measures in the case of a formal superhero gathering. Plans had to change every time, because of Stark's continued adjustments to the mansion's structure.
"The Valentine's Day party."
"Oh." Phil processed the question. "That's right. Uh, no. He won't be coming."
"Why not? You haven't… haven't broken up, have you?"
"I know people don't stay together long nowadays; but you've been in some kind of… epistolary relationship with this man we don't even know for… for years, according to Clint. And there was a woman before that."
"It doesn't make you uncomfortable, does it? Homosexuality or bisexuality?"
Steve blushed. "Of course not. These things weren't talked about in the forties, but it doesn't mean they never existed then."
"That's good." Phil nodded. "Why do you ask?"
"Are you bringing anyone?"
"N-no." Steve shook his head slowly. "Not yet, anyway."
"Got your eye on someone, then?" Phil asked, turning back to his notes. He didn't want to give anything away, and tried not to fiddle with his seventy-five dollar pen even as his heart sank.
"Actually, I was kind of hoping to take you."
The nib of the pen went straight through the paper. Phil didn't even notice the spreading ink.
"Me?" he said. Yeah, way to go, Phil, he thought. That was elegant.
"Only if Gerard doesn't mind."
"Gerald. And no, he won't mind. He won't mind at all."
"Only… I kind of didn't want to go as just friends." He winced. "He might have a problem with that."
Phil was known for thinking on his feet.
"He isn't real," he blurted out.
But he did have his 'moments'.
"What?" Steve just stared at him.
"I made him up," Phil explained. "And Lucy before him. When I was a teenager… It was stupid, but I wanted to pretend that I had someone, because it was always the opposite. So that when my family forgot that I existed because of their own dramas, I could pretend that I wasn't alone. And when I was in the army, and then working for SHIELD, I knew that I didn't really have someone back home to be heartbroken when I died."
"So… there isn't anyone else?"
"Just some people I made up using the names of a couple of Captain America comic book artists." Phil blushed. "Kept thinking about you anyway. Last year's card was… oddly appropriate."
Steve stood up quickly. "I'll be back."
Phil noticed the ink stain while the captain was out of the room, and began to mop it up with his handkerchief. He'd have to look up instructions on how to clean ink properly. He'd known how to clean up blood for years.
He was finished by the time he heard the thumping of Steve's footsteps as he ran back down the stairs. Phil's brain had finally caught up to his ears, and now knew precisely what his answer was.
"Yes," he said, and Steve stopped short in front of him. "I'd like to go to the party with you tonight."
Steve beamed. "Great. But, uh, I want to show you this first."
He held out an envelope. It was pink, and Steve had written his name on it in glittery silver gel pen. Inside, Phil found a hand-made card, with a sketch of the two of them under a flowered arch, wearing matching American flag ties. It said 'To my Valentine' on the front, and there was a simple, sweet message inside, signed 'Steve'.
"This is great," Phil said, and he smiled up at the hero. "Thanks."
"I was gonna give you another one tonight, but I didn't even know if you'd want to go with me."
Steve chewed his lower lip. "This… this was last year's card. B-but then you got flowers and cards from… well, I guess yourself. If I'd known it was fake, I would've done things differently." He shrugged again. "Better late than never, right?"
Phil decided to go for it, and stroked Steve's cheek softly. "I was going to pretend that this year's card was from you, even if I wrote Gerald's name, but I haven't written in it yet." Steve leaned into the touch with a quiet moan. "Now I know what I'm going to write. To my first Valentine…"
And finally – finally – he kissed his very own, very real, Valentine.
I don't know how I came up with this, nor why. But let's say that it's a Valentine's Day present for the people at AskCapsicoul. Okay, and Cap-Coulson. Whatever. Apparently, my first love is Capsicoul. So this is… I guess, like a Valentine to my favourite boys.
Meanwhile, I'll be doing what I usually do on Valentine's Day; nothing special whatsoever. Or maybe Mum and I will get some strawberry cupcakes. I've done too much baking lately to justify making pink jam drops, no matter how awesome they may look.