"I gotta ask, sir," Agent Coulson said as he drove under the dark October sky, "What exactly are you supposed to be?"
Nick Fury was currently wearing a 17th century duster and tricorn hat along with an eyepatch and a fake beard with unlit matches glued to it. He responded by saying, "Can't you tell, Coulson. I'm Blackbeard. Didn't the eyepatch not make that obvious?"
"With all due respect, Director, you wear that eyepatch to work everyday..."
"No I don't. This is my holiday eyepatch," Fury corrected, "You must be confusing it for my work and formal eyepatches. It's a hard spot, but if you look closer at the leather it'd be plain as day."
"Regardless...", Coulson continued tactly as if his job depended on it, which it did, "I don't think Blackbeard ever wore an eyepatch. Also, what's up with the matches under your beard."
"First of all, my bad eye is very sensitive, so I rather have the eyepatch on. Second, Mr. History Buff, Blackbeard used to set these on fire to intimidate people. You know, make himself look scary as hell like a sea demon, or a movie slasher, or Undersecretary Pierce without his morning coffee," Fury said defensively before eyeing Coulson's own Halloween costume, "Speaking of bad costumes, what the hell are you supposed to be?"
Coulson was wearing some kind of pulp hero outfit. He wore a red jumpsuit with an orange-gold logo on his chest of an open flame. He also wore a utility belt, combat boots, and orange gloves to complete his rather retro superhero suit.
"I'm the Human Torch," Coulson said nonchalantly as he kept his eyes on the road.
"The What Torch?"
"You know... the Human Torch? Comic book character from the 1940s?", Coulson said before making a quick peek at Fury to see that he had no idea what he was talking about, "He's an android that shoots fire. Teamed up with Captain America in a couple issues... nothing?"
Fury let the thought settle on his mind a bit before he realized, "Oh yeah! Jim Hammond. Howard Stark's synthetic man."
Coulson nodded. "Yup, that's right. He's my second favorite superhero."
"You don't say," Fury said in a wry tone that was difficult to read.
After that, there was awkward silence between the two.
Coulson let out a nervous cough and said, "It's a shame that the real-life Human Torch malfunctioned and got scrapped. It would've really cool to see some stock footage of him and Captain America fighting Nazis."
"A damn shame, yeah," Fury said in that same wry tone.
"You know... some of the younger agents think that the SSR faked the Human Torch's decommission. They even say that ol' Jim Hammond is still kicking ass for the USA to this day. Isn't that just ridiculous?"
Fury was silent.
Fury took a look back at his subordinate and said, "Oh, yeah. That's just... ridiculous."
"Yeah...", Coulson hummed. He let the silence hang for a few seconds before saying, "You were kinda late to respond, sir. It's almost as if you're helping cover up Human Torch's existence."
Fury just nodded along rather unconvincingly.
Coulson squinted at him and said, "Sir... is the Human Torch..."
"I'm afraid that information is above your pay grade, Coulson," Fury stated firmly.
"Understood sir. Sorry," Coulson said before looking back on the road. Apparently, the Human Torch has been around all this time. Good to know. "Perhaps I can get an autograph from him one day...", Coulson thought.
Another awkward silence filled the cramped air of Coulson's vintage 1962 Corvette.
With the radio broken for the night, the silence just grew to be too unbearable for the two men.
Fury spoke up, "So... thanks for giving me a ride to Rambeau's place."
Coulson nodded humbly. "Any time, sir. Sorry about your car. I hear it got trashed by a giant blob man?"
"Right," Coulson simply nodded.
They had just entered the subdivision where Maria Rambeau's house was located. With Monica and her friends spending their Halloween trick-or-treating in the mall and sleeping over in Zee's place, Maria decided to throw a Halloween party for her friends and family. Coulson and Fury happen to have an invitation.
Coulson eagerly accepted his coworker's invitation a couple days back. If Maria didn't have a hundred other things to do that day, she would've noticed how eager Coulson was to accept the invitation. Not in a creepy way, of course. It's not like Coulson had been hiding a crush on the SHIELD pilot for over a year now.
Fury asked him, "So... are finally planning to make a move on Agent Rambeau, Coulson?"
"Maybe...", Coulson muttered before realizing what he just said. He panicked. "I mean... what makes you think that? There is nothing going on between us, sir. We're just coworkers. Friends. Perhaps even best friends, but that's the pretty much the extent I want our relationship to go, you know?"
"Uh huh, is that why you wrote her all those love letters you stuffed inside your locker?"
This startled Coulson. "I, uh... I didn't... ah, how did you know about that?"
"I know everything," Fury remarked casually, "You never sent any of them."
He stammered, "Yeah, well, I wanted to for a while now. I poured my heart and soul into those things. I wasted hours of my life practicing poetry. Each time I wrote a letter, I wanna mark them from a secret admirer and leave them around our workspace in plain sight. Real romantic nonsense. Then I realized how creepy all of that was, so I just shoved them into my locker and forgot about it."
"Yeah, that does sound very stalkerish," Fury nodded, "So why didn't you just ask her out?"
"No offense, but you keep me really busy. Also, I'm pretty sure there are rules against fraternization."
"While you're on the clock, yes, but you guys can do whatever the hell you want outside of work. You should ask Maria out. God knows you need a life outside of SHIELD."
Coulson chuckled nervously. "I have a life..."
"You live alone with a bunch of antiques and Captain America merchandise," Fury deadpanned, "The only way you could be more lonely is if you lived in someone's basement."
"That is... not untrue," Coulson relented, "Does she have a secret boyfriend?"
"No boyfriend," Fury said before reminding him, "She does have a daughter, though, and a short-tempered roommate."
Coulson nodded. "I can work with that."
The two parked on the road right next to the Rambeau residence's driveway. There weren't as many cars parked along the immediate vicinity like Coulson expected. Most of the guests must have called a taxi to get here. Fury explained that Maria's guest list are mostly people that she and Carol were close with and that they came from all over. That might explain the lack of cars.
Butterflies then fluttered inside of Coulson's stomach.
Does he really count as a person Maria is close to? They often talk to each other at work, and they go on missions together, but it's not like they're anything more than coworkers, right?
Coulson took a deep breath as he and Fury walked over to the front door of the lit up house. He thought to himself, "Stay calm, Phil. Don't make such a big deal about this and embarrass yourself. Just walk in and ask Maria out. If she says no, then no big deal. There are other fish in the sea. I mean, I got a lot going on for me, right? I'm field agent for SHIELD! I'm a real life James Bond! Sure, I'm only a Level 2 agent, and I don't have a sexy British accent, and I'm not that suave or charming... or that handsome for that matter. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm starting to lose my hair. My hairline receded like a good few centimeters since last year. So yeah, she'll probably say that she isn't interested. I have a lot of good stuff to fall back to. Like my collection of antiques, and Lola, and my Captain America trading cards, and... nothing else. I mean, I don't have any family anymore, and I'm not really that close to any my other coworkers, except for May but she's more of a comrade if anything. So I'll be alone... with just my collection and no one else. Yay..."
"Don't worry, Coulson. You won't die alone. You could always go to game night at the Triskelion if you need some human connection," Fury said with a subtly supportive tone.
Coulson looked at his boss perplexed as he asked, "Did you just read my mind, sir?"
"Maybe I have magic eyeball in my pocket that lets me read people's thoughts," Fury teased.
"Right...", Coulson hummed as he and Fury stopped in front of the door, which reverberated the bass of the classic rock song playing inside. David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure", Coulson believed. Either that or it was Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby".
Fury rang the doorbell and waited for a reply. The two men waited for a good minute before Carol Danvers unlocked the door and greeted her new guests. With the door opened, Coulson can official confirm that the Rambeau household was indeed playing "Under Pressure", a fact that Coulson appreciated due to his personal disdain for Vanilla Ice's music after an unfortunate incident involving a broken elevator and an obnoxious fan with a boombox.
Carol was wearing a blue and gold tunic underneath a white, long sleeved shirt along with purple pantaloons and boots. She actually looked like a nobleman from Renaissance Italy only... female.
Carol smiled as she hugged her old friend. "Fury! Glad you can make it!"
"Glad to be here Captain," Fury said as they pulled away, "That outfit is... what are you supposed to be?"
"Romeo," Carol answered, "I was torn between the traditional outfit and that Hawaiian shirt Leonardo DiCaprio wore in the remake, but I think I look better with the former. Can't go wrong with a classic, right?"
Fury shook his head. "That is not what you said about my record player during game night last week."
"It's 1997, Fury! There are more efficient ways to play music," Carol snarked back.
"'Efficient' is not the same as 'good', Danvers. You'd know once you hear Frank Sinatra in my vintage 1963 brass record player," Fury bragged.
"At least until your old ass record gets scratched and your old ass record player glitches out the song," Carol remarked before looking at her other guest, "Who's your friend?"
Coulson answered, "I'm Phil Coulson. We actually met a couple years back. I was the agent who pointed a gun at you in the stairwell but then let you go."
Carol gasped as she remembered who he was. "Oh yeah, you did. It's a good thing you put down that gun. I would've blasted you through the wall if you didn't."
"Well, mama always said that I was good judge of character."
"You were also there when I crashed into that Blockbuster," Carol added, "You still look great by the way. Like William Shatner in his prime."
"Thanks, and that was a Skrull actually," Coulson said with slight embarrassment on his face, "I never left the Blockbuster. I just... stood there. Awkwardly."
"Really?", Carol hummed to herself before motioning at the two men, "Well, let's not let the cold in. Come on, get inside."
The two agents complied as they followed their host inside the Rambeau house. As Carol closed the door behind them, Coulson and Fury looked around her home... and at all the weirdos that were currently up and about.
Some normal people are there, of course. Maria's parents were sitting at the dinner table with a couple other fellow SHIELD agents, but most the guests inside the building were just... weird. For instance, there were Skrulls walking about in their true forms. There was a couple sitting next to Maria's parents, a few sitting around the couch watching baseball, and there's even one fat Skrull sitting on a corner smoking her race's equivalent to weed. But that's not all.
There was also a short humanoid duck in a business suit chatting with a Labrador in a Soviet spacesuit near the stairs, a golden robot lady knight sharing a drink with a caped woman wearing special armbands, a brunette man wearing a yellow cape and a grey outfit competing with a silver robot man knight on some kind of weightlifting contest, and overall a diverse collection of aliens and weirdos mingling together. The entire scene looked like a more domestic version of the cantina scene from A New Hope, Coulson thought.
Carol told them, "Well, enjoy the party. Don't go into the bedrooms without our permission, but otherwise, have fun."
She then left the SHIELD agents to mingle with her crowd.
Coulson looked over at his boss and said, "That's... a lot of aliens, sir."
"Indeed it is," Fury said more unfazed by the surreal sight, "Most of these guys are friends of Carol. Fun bunch. Wish I could invite them to game night more often."
"They're just... out there. In the open," Coulson said cautiously, "Shouldn't we be worried about them being exposed? I thought we're supposed to make sure the public doesn't know about aliens. You know, to prevent a panic."
"Relax, it's Halloween. It's the one night where looking weird is normal," Fury said reassuringly, "Danvers vouches for everyone here, and they're leaving by tomorrow anyway."
"How did they even get here in the first... wait, let me guess," Coulson then blankly said at the same time as his boss, "That's classified."
Fury patted his subordinate in the back. "Seriously, Coulson, relax. Mingle a little. Try the famous Danvers family meatloaf. Maybe play some beer pong with that tree man over there. Or better yet, find Maria. Enjoy the night while you still can."
Fury then walked away to sit on the couch to watch some baseball with the Skrulls. By the end of the night, he would end up having a one night stand with the Skrull woman in a Mets jersey yelling at the TV. For an alien, she's a more fanatical Mets fan than someone actually from New York, and that turned Fury on for some reason. Either that, or he just finds bald green reptile ladies attractive. That works too.
Back in the present, Coulson stood in place for a moment as he thought about his next move. Parties with large crowds weren't usually his scene. He much preferred a more intimate and personal setting with people he knows. With a party like this with many weird aliens and strangers, Coulson felt like a fish out of water. His friends list in this party is just Fury, Maria, and maybe Carol Danvers if you really stretch it. At this point, the list of things that he could see himself enjoying was to try the meatloaf and grab a drink.
"And I could've stayed home if I wanted that," Coulson hummed to himself, "I should just look for Maria. Perhaps she has something fun to do around here. And maybe I can even ask her to go out on a date with me this weekend..."
With that, Coulson began roaming around the first floor of the house. He navigated through this hall of misfits as he tried to look for the object of his affections. He walked all over this floor, politely walking through the generally good mannered aliens and trying not to stare for too long. However, after several minutes of searching, no sign of Maria Rambeau could be found.
"Damn, she must be outside or upstairs. Or perhaps I overlooked an area," Coulson said to himself now standing in the middle of the kitchen, "Looks like I gotta ask around."
He looked to the person closest to him, a blonde man wearing a cardboard robot outfit. Coulson walked over to him and tapped his shoulder saying, "Excuse me, I'm looking for Maria Rambeau. Have you seen her?"
The man politely excused himself from a conversation he was having with a young woman with brunette and white striped hair, who left to get more food. The blonde man turned to Coulson and said, "You want Maria? Sorry, but I haven't seen her."
"Oh, okay. Thanks for...", Coulson then squinted as he realized that he recognized this man from somewhere. Then he remembered an old Stark Expo photo in the 40s and his mind immediately clicked. With an enthusiastic smile, he said, "Oh my... you're Jim Hammond! The Human Torch!"
Jim looked at Coulson cautiously and responded, "Maybe, maybe not. Who are you?"
"My name is Phil Coulson. I'm an agent of SHIELD and your biggest fan!"
"You're a SHIELD agent?", Jim said nodding, "Okay, no need for secrecy then. Yes, I am the Human Torch."
"Oh my God, sir! Thank you! Thank you!", Coulson said as he shook his (still living) idol's hand, "I really mean it, Mr. Hammond. It is such an honor to meet you."
"I'm flattered, Phil. But please, call me Jim."
"Okay... Jim," Coulson said giggling like a starstruck fangirl.
"You're a fan of my work?"
"Not your real-life work, obviously. But I love your runs on both Timely and Marvel comics! I also collected the VHS and DVDs from all your cartoons, action figures, trading cards, everything! I just... love how you shoot fire at the bad guys!"
A little creeped out, Jim politely said, "I'm glad you do. Good to see that my life rights haven't gone to waste."
"Yeah, you were like my idol growing up next to Captain America. Your comics really helped me become the man I am today!"
"A SHIELD agent?"
"That too, but just in general. I wasn't all that popular in school... or that well liked. But your stories really helped get through it, especially that story arc where you got brainwashed and fought the Terrifics before you made a heroic sacrifice and saved the day. Oh, your last words about being true to yourself were just... poetry!", Coulson said before becoming self-conscious, "But, um... I'm guessing you really didn't die and come back to life, huh?"
Warming up to him, Jim smiled and said, "Actually, that story arc was based on one of my missions. I really did get brainwashed by the Mad Thinker, and I was deactivated for a time. But I obviously didn't fight the Terrifics. I actually fought Ant-Man and the Wasp. Wanna know the rest of the story, Phil?"
Coulson smiled back. "I would be honored, sir."
Jim let out a nostalgic chuckle as he explained, "Okay then. As I remember, it started out like any other morning. Howard just finished my weekly maintenance when SHIELD sent me an alert about a theft of a nuclear missile in Nevada..."
"... then Ant-Man was forced to shrink inside my chest unit and expand, tearing me in half!", Jim said with the tone of an exuberant storyteller, "Thankfully my central processing unit was left undamaged, otherwise I would've actually died!"
"Perks of being a robot, I guess," Coulson commented with eyes still fixed on his #2 idol as he told his tale.
"Indeed. Sure, I was out of commission for a couple years while Howard repaired me, but that sure hell is better than the alternative! However, I did have to face an evil copy of myself almost immediately after I recovered. Being more vulnerable to replication is admittedly a downside of being a robot."
"Yeah, I totally got that. I think I can go my entire life without having a duplicate of myself running around," said the man who definitely won't have a robot clone or an evil alternate universe counterpart present in about twenty years, "From what I read, that must've been insane for you."
"It sure was," Jim nodded, "You want to hear the second time that happened to me?"
"There was a second time?!", Coulson yelled happily.
Jim took that response as a 'yes' as he said, "Yes, you see, my first evil copy managed to survive the wallop I gave him in Upstate New York. He actually faked his death and acquired an underground laboratory to plot his revenge like most villains do. He ended up creating a more powerful and noticeably more female version of me..."
"... and then I finally ended my evil clone by sending that bastard into the sun! My female clone, who would later take on the name Ann, would have a change of heart and marry my sidekick, Toro. They actually still live together in New York in peaceful retirement."
"Sounds like you lived quite the life, sir," Coulson complimented.
"I sure did," Jim said before looking down somberly, "But... despite the adventure and the second-hand fame, all I really want out of my synthetic life is to retire like Thomas did with someone I love. But I guess such things are not in the cards for someone like me, huh?"
Coulson sympathized with his idol's feelings. He consoled him by patting his shoulder and saying, "Don't say that. You're a great guy, a living legend! You of all people deserve to find a happy ending after everything you did for this country. You being a robot shouldn't stop you from finding it."
Jim smiled. "Thanks Agent Coulson."
"Any time," Coulson then asked, "How do you know Carol Danvers anyway?"
"I'm actually only mildly acquainted with Ms. Danvers. I actually know her housemate, Maria, better. You see, I did a few missions with her in..."
"Maria!", Coulson exclaimed as he suddenly remembered what he's supposed to be doing, "Sorry sir, but I forgot that I wanted to talk to her about something. Something important."
"Something like a date, I imagine?", Jim said teasingly.
"How did you..."
"I've been around humans for over sixty years. I know the signs. And if you want to find Ms. Rambeau, I suggest you talk to that green fellow over at the game table. Talos, I believe his name was. He seems to know the ladies of the house the best."
"Thanks Mr. Tor... Jim. Thank you," Coulson said nodding respectfully.
"Don't mention it," Jim said before Coulson turned to leave, "But before you go, I wanna say something."
Coulson stopped. "Yeah?"
"Don't forget your own advice. You and your big heart deserves love too. Even if things don't work out with Maria, don't ever stop looking for love. You'll find the right person eventually. I just know it."
"Thanks for the pep talk... Jim," Coulson said before walking out. Feeling rather positive about the situation, he passed through the crowd to find a spot near the garage where the game table was set up. There, he found Talos sitting down playing a game of Uno of all things with Carol's mother, Marie, who was dressed as a fairy godmother.
They were both down to their last cards when Talos placed his card, a wild plus four, on top of the yellow five with a cocky smile. "I win."
Marie groaned in frustration as she set down her yellow one. "Ending on a wild card is a cheap move Talos!"
"All is fair in love and war," he said teasingly, "And I believe you mentioned a certain tradition when one finishes on a plus card."
"Please don't...", Marie whined.
"Your rules, not mine."
Marie let out a grunt as she picked up her yellow one and drew four more cards from the deck. She then slammed her now useless hand on the table as she narrowed her eyes on Talos. "Happy?"
"Not until you give me my winnings," Talos said with a self-satisfied smirked and put out his hand towards Marie.
Marie reluctantly gave Talos the agreed twenty bucks as he let out a laugh and placed his money on his pocket. She asked him, "Why do you even want Earth money anyway? You're leaving the planet tomorrow."
"Yes, but I'll be getting some snacks before I leave. After all, there is no other place in the universe that has slushies. Mmm... I can taste its cold, fruity goodness even now."
Coulson chose this moment to enter their conversation. "Excuse me, Mr... Talos, was it? I need to find Maria Rambeau. I was told you know where she is?"
"Perhaps," he responded as he squinted at Coulson's face, "You look familiar. Have we met?"
"I... don't believe we did," Coulson said hesitantly while feeling something eerily familiar about this Skrull, "I'm just looking for Maria. Have you seen her?"
"Perhaps...", Talos said raising his eyebrow, "Tell you what, how about we make a bet out of this. Do you have any Earth money on you?"
"Uh, yeah. Why?"
Marie sighed and said under her breath, "This guy has no shame..."
Talos continued, "You see, I have a craving for your planet's snack foods. The chips and soft drinks are miles ahead of almost every other civilization in the galaxy. Can't get enough of them. The thing is, I need money to get them, which you have. And I know where the lady of the house is, so I propose a bet."
"A bet?", Coulson asked looking at Talos incredulously.
"How about we play a round of this 'Uno' game. I'll bet the location of Maria Rambeau if you win, and you'll bet say... ten dollars if I win. Don't worry about losing, though, cause we can play as many games as you want until you win. Sound fun?"
"Why can't you just tell me where she is?"
"I could, but it's a party!", Talos said with a jolly aura, "It's more fun this way. And besides, I just got into this game. As an Earthling you probably played this since you were but an ankle biter, so your chances of winning the first time should be good!"
"I haven't played Uno since I was sixteen..."
"And I just learned Uno thirty minutes ago. Again, complete novice," Talos goaded, "Come on, where's the harm in an easy win?"
Marie silently mouthed to Coulson not to fall for Talos' schmoozing, but unfortunately for the Earthling, he wasn't looking at her when he said, "Okay then."
He looked at Marie and asked, "May I..."
Marie rolled her eyes and got out of her seat to let this doomed human get played by the tactical (and underhanded) genius of Talos. Once Coulson is on the seat, Talos gathered up the cards on the table into a deck and shuffled them before handing out a starting hand of seven random cards for himself and his opponent.
Talos said with a faux meek tone, "I'm a little new at this. May I go first?"
"Okay. Sure," Coulson responded like a good sport... and a gullible sap.
Talos then put down a red cancel card, effectively giving himself another turn. "Oh, lucky me," Talos said in a surprised tone that is unconvincing for Marie Danvers but not as much to Phil Coulson.
"Beginner's luck," Coulson said as Talos put down a red reverse card, giving himself another turn again, "Well... beginner's streak."
"Uno!", Coulson yelled happily as he placed down a green two. Talos was down to two cards now, but since Coulson last card was also green, his victory is practically assured by his next turn.
"Oh man, I'm in trouble now," Talos lied, "Here's hoping I get this right. Uno!"
He put down a wild card, making Coulson grit his teeth anxiously. Looks like victory was still not in sight it seems.
"I choose the color... green," Talos said in a methodical manner akin to a predator toying with his prey.
Coulson immediately smiled. "Ha! Rookie mistake, Talos! Because I..."
"Win," Talos said as he jumped in with another wild card. With his hand gone, Talos had just won the game. Coulson's jaw hung from his mouth as he processed what just happened to him. Talos laughed. "Thank the gods for beginner's luck. Now, I believe you owe me ten bucks."
Coulson snapped out of his daze and gave the Skrull his money. "Uh... here. Good... good game."
"Good game," Talos repeated with an amicable smile before saying under his breath, "Sucker."
Coulson cleared his throat before asking, "Um... I would like another game."
Talos nodded. "As you wish. How about you deal the cards this time? You can even get the first turn."
"Sure," Coulson said as he placed all the Uno cards together in a deck before shuffling it and distributing the starting hand.
After getting his starting seven cards, Talos said amusingly, "I'm sure you'll nail it this time. After all, lightning doesn't strike twice yeah? Is that the right expression?"
"Close enough," Coulson said as he laid down a green seven.
"Oh, nice move. Got no greens," Talos said as he drew a card, "And still got no greens. Looks like my luck's run out."
Marie looked on and muttered, "Liar."
"Uno!", Coulson said laying down a blue five. Talos had two cards left, and Coulson's last card is a blue one so his odds are good.
"Oooh! We're getting close to the finish here! How could I ever recover?", Talos snarked before saying, "Uno."
He laid down a blue plus two.
"Oh come on!", Coulson yelled as he reluctantly picked up two cards.
Talos, with a smug grin still etched to his face, hummed and said, "If you think that's bad..."
He then finished the game with a plus four.
Coulson threw his hand into the table as he leaned into his seat with a loud sigh. "This is getting expensive!"
Talos held out his hand again. "A deal's a deal."
Coulson handed him another ten bucks. Marie facepalmed at this sad scene and said to herself, "This is just a glorified robbery at this point."
"You still want another go for that info, mate?"
Coulson grimaced as he weighed his options. He was really worried about losing more money to this guy. Sure, SHIELD gave him a good salary, but he had this sneaking feeling that this alien might milk his wallet dry if he continued playing. He might even be lying about knowing where Maria is now that he thought about it. It would be more financially efficient to just look for Maria himself at this point.
Coulson was ready to deliver his answer when Talos said, "By the way, we could make this wager a little more interesting. In addition to my info, I'll also give back all the money I won from you if you win. I'll even be willing to lower your stake to about five dollars? What do you say? Sounds good, right?"
It would be nice to win those twenty bucks back, and it is only a five buck bet.
Coulson nodded reluctantly. "Deal me in," he said as Marie shook her head disapprovingly in the corner.
"That's my boy," Talos said as he gathered the deck.
What could go wrong?
Talos honored the deal he had made... as he hoarded the thirty bucks he had made off of Coulson from the past six games. Somehow Coulson didn't seem to wisen up in that time as he continually tried to take back everything Talos had took from him and get the information he wanted.
The two men were both at Uno now. Marie observed the nerve-wracking sweat off of Coulson's brow and his labored breath. She was actually starting to feel pity for the desperate man, likening him to Sisyphus in how torturously impossible his task was.
"This... this should not be legal," she bemoaned.
It was Coulson's turn. There was a yellow six on the pile, but he only had a blue four. He had to draw.
As he reached for the deck, Coulson muttered a quiet prayer, "Please God, have mercy on me. Let me win this game. Please don't make me pay any more money to this man."
He drew a plus four from the deck. Coulson felt a weight rise off his chest as he looked at this divine gift.
"Thank you!", he muttered as he set down the card with a confident smile on his face, "Uno! I pick blue. Now start drawing green Grimace."
Talos' smirk didn't leave his face, however, as he said, "I would, but..."
He then jumped in with a plus four of his own.
"Oh, fuck my life...", Coulson moaned as his hopes and dreams were crushed at that moment without mercy.
"I'll take that...", Talos said as he took the five bucks Coulson laid down earlier, "I have to admit, you almost got me there."
"Like the last six games," Marie muttered.
"But the offer is still up," Talos said encouragingly, "You can still win it all..."
Marie interrupted, "This has gone on long enough. Talos, you have eighty five bucks. You don't need to cheat any more money out of the poor guy."
"Marie... you wound me. This is just a little sport..."
"Well, I think you had enough 'sport' for one night," she then turned to Coulson, "I bumped into Maria after I went to the bathroom on your latest game. She said she's meeting Carol in her room. Do whatever business you need with her. Just knock first, okay?"
Coulson let out a grateful sigh. He was finally released from this torture. "Thank you."
He then got up and left before Talos could tempt him further.
Talos shrugged. "I was gonna let him win next game. Honest."
"I can see your fingers crossed behind your back," Marie pointed out.
"Oops," he said chuckling.
"This crap is why people distrust Skrulls."
As Coulson walked through the upper hall of the Rambeau home, a million thoughts began springing in his head as he questioned himself and his next move.
"I should probably wait for Maria to finish up her own business with Carol. Don't want to come off as rude. But when I finally talk to her... then what? 'Hey Maria, it's me Coulson. Wanna go out on a date with me tomorrow?' No, that's too direct. I don't wanna pressure her. 'Hey Maria, you look very pretty tonight. Your eyes are... just beautiful. They're all I think about.' No, no! Too creepy. Come on, Phil! You can do better than that! 'Hey Maria, I'm in love with you. Wanna go out...'. Damn it, brain! You weren't even trying that time!"
Coulson really didn't want to mess things up with Maria Rambeau. The two of them are... Coulson would like to think that they know each other well. They're definitely friends. The two hung out in the break room, made a few in-jokes about their missions together, and Coulson even showed off his pride and joy, Lola, to her once. And there is something about Maria's steadfastness, her devotion to her job and to her duty as a SHIELD pilot, that drew Coulson to her. Out in the field, Maria was utterly fearless and driven when on a Quinjet or any plane. She was fierce during a fight, yet cared for the agents she carried. She always made every effort to bring her comrades out of the fire safely.
Coulson knew this during their second or third mission together in Latveria a year ago.
Fury sent him, Melinda May, and a few others to confirm the presence of the terrorist group, Scimitar, on the Eastern European nation. Many intelligence agencies suspected the Latverian government of harboring and aiding Scimitar, so Fury wanted Coulson's team to gather evidence of Latveria's complicity before any action could be taken against the nation.
The mission was a success. Latveria indeed harbored Scimitar, and Coulson managed to acquire several files and incriminating photos that made their relationship crystal clear. However, the extraction out of the country was less than smooth. Long story short, Coulson had to take a bullet for Agent May before Maria managed to get them out of the country despite the director's instructions. Fury had told her to bug out if Coulson's team had been made. He didn't want this operation to cause an incident through the presence of a SHIELD Quinjet, and he trusted the team to find their own way out of the country in that scenario.
However, Maria couldn't leave anyone behind. When she heard that Coulson had been shot, Maria flew in and extracted the team out of the hot zone despite the soldiers firing at her. She knew Coulson would've died if she did what she was told. While this got her in a bit of trouble with Fury, the director did managed calm down the political circus that came out of this incident. After some maneuvering and the calling in of favors, Fury made sure that the mission wasn't a waste and that his superiors managed to take action against Latveria.
Coulson passed out on the trip back due to blood loss, but when he woke up, he saw Maria standing by his hospital bed with a relieved look on her face. On the following days, the two grew close as friends.
Coulson owed her his life, and he wanted to be closer to her. That and she was one of the few people to genuinely laugh at his jokes.
Coulson was now right in front of the door to Maria's room. He took a deep breath. "You can do this, Phil. Just be yourself and speak from the heart. You know Maria. She'll be cool whatever she decides."
Coulson raised his hand to knock on the door. Just as he was about to do that, however, he heard Maria's voice echoing faintly off the door.
"O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?", Maria said jovially.
Coulson then heard another voice coming off of the room. It was Carol's. "I am here, Juliet. And I came to take your sexy bod to bed!"
Maria laughed. "That's definitely not how that line is suppose to go."
"Does it matter?", Carol teased.
"Absolutely not," Maria said as a soft moan and some shuffling noises came out the door. Coulson was stunned by this turn of events. After a moment, Maria said, "Damn, you're so beautiful."
"You don't look so bad in that dress. You're rocking that Renaissance look, honey."
"Thanks," Maria said before sighing happily. "I love you, Carol Danvers."
"And I love you... Juliet," Carol said before staying silent for another moment, presumably to kiss her beloved again. She then spoke more somberly, "I wish we didn't have to hide."
Maria sighed. "Me too. But hey, at least our families know and support us. And we have each other, right Carol?"
Coulson backed away from the door and walked back to the stairs. He had heard a lot more than he should've.
To say that he was disappointed would be... not totally inaccurate. However, as Coulson processed what he had heard, he accepted that Maria was never gonna be his. At the very least, he understood that Maria's heart belonged to someone else. Someone who, admittedly, was objectively more awesome than he was. He also understood why Maria never told him her secret relationship.
Despite Fury's more progressive leanings, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was still the policy in this government. Maria could lose her job or more if people ever found out about her sexuality, and Coulson was her friend, so he obviously doesn't want that to happen.
This didn't make this situation any less easy for Coulson, but Maria saved his life once. Letting his crush go and keeping her secret was the least he could do.
Once he reached down the stairs, Fury walked up to him and asked, "I heard you finally found your girl. So... what did she say?"
Coulson winced at Fury mentioning 'his girl'. After thinking about his response for a moment, Coulson realized that it was for the best that no one knew that he knew about Maria's secret. He sighed. "I... decided that we are better off as just friends."
"She turned you down?"
"You can say that, yeah. It's probably for the best. A workplace romance would just make things... complicated."
"I get you. Sorry that things didn't work out," Fury said softly.
"Thanks boss," Coulson said before reflecting about what he was told tonight, "There are other fish in the sea, so I'm sure I'll find somebody. Some day."
"That's a good attitude."
"I'd... appreciate it if you kept this to yourself, sir. No need to make things awkward right?"
Fury nodded. "Agreed. Also, I got you something."
He handed Coulson a bundle of ten and five dollar bills. Coulson looked at it confused and asked, "Charity for the clinically lonely, sir?"
Fury laughed. "More like I got back what Talos stole from you. Carol's mom told me about how he used your desperation to milk money off you. I made him a bet, and I beat the head Skrull at his own game."
Coulson smiled as he took his money. "How did you beat him, sir?"
"Classified," Fury said more playfully this time, "But let's just say that it has something to do with Mrs. Danvers catching our alien friend with cards up the sleeve and me knowing when to stoop to his level."
Coulson laughed as he put his money back in his wallet.
With Coulson's financial future secure at the moment, Fury said, "Your boy, Jim Hammond, is offering you a spot for an Uno game. Marie and I are playing along with that crazy, Mets-loving Skrull chick. No stakes, just some fun between friends."
Coulson nodded. "I'd like that," he said as he followed his boss to the game table.
Phil Coulson may not have the most luck when it comes to his romantic life, but he always had the uncanny ability to make good friends. And fate would smile down on this man a couple days later when Fury sent him on a mission to Portland, where he met a very talented cellist.