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Phil is five years old, and he can’t find his parents.

He’s looked all over for them. His father had gone out last night to pick his mother up from the bus station. Phil hadn’t been able to come because he’d thrown up in the kitchen after dinner. He’d tried to explain that he felt much better now, that all the sick was out of him, but his father had wanted him to stay home and rest.

“Mrs. Crisp is right next door if you need anything,” he’d said. “I’ll only be gone for a few minutes. You can put on Captain America until I get back.”

Phil had maybe still been feeling a little sick, so he’d laid down on the couch and had fallen asleep before Captain America had even thrown his shield.

By the time he woke up, the television was showing static and his parents still weren’t home. Phil was a brave boy, so once he’d figured out that they were still gone he went and got his Captain America shield and built himself an encampment behind the couch and was not frightened at all, except for the part where he cried for a little bit.

It’s a long time later but still dark when the front door opens. Phil trips over his fort and bangs his knee but he doesn’t cry, because his parents are home and everything’s okay now.

It’s not his parents, though. It’s Granddad. Phil loves his Granddad, but he hangs back uncertainly because this is all very strange.

Granddad comes over and picks him up.

“Phil, I need to talk to you for a moment, man-to-man,” he says. Phil nods solemnly. “You’re going to come and live with me and Grandpa for a while, okay?”

“What about Mom and Dad?” Phil asks.

“There was an accident,” Granddad says. “I’m sorry, kiddo. They’re not coming home.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Phil is eight years old, and he still has nightmares.

Grandpa tells him it’s okay to still have nightmares because it shows his brain is working. Phil kind of wishes it wasn’t working so well, though. He can’t help but feel that he should be too old to wake up crying and panicked in the middle of the night, convinced that everyone’s dead just because they’re not right next to him.

Grandpa and Granddad are really good about it when Phil comes running into their room in the middle of the night, though. They never make him feel bad - they make room for him on the bed and then tell him stories about the characters in his favorite books or television programs until he falls asleep again.

Tonight’s no different from the rest. Phil snuggles down between them, heart still pounding a little, and Grandpa strokes his hair until the tears have dried up.

“What kind of story do you want to hear?” Granddad asks.

Phil ponders the issue. Granddad tells the best Doctor stories, and his Dragnet stories are very exciting, but Grandpa’s Captain America stories are pretty good too. Grandpa actually fought with the Captain as one of his Howling Commandos, although Phil’s not allowed to tell anyone that.

“Doctor story,” he decides finally. Grandpa’s Captain America stories are a little too real sometimes.

Granddad laughs. “Sure thing. Let’s see... ‘The Doctor was in his TARDIS when all of a sudden -’”

Phil closes his eyes and lets Granddad’s voice wash over him. Granddad doesn’t do the voices and accents like Grandpa does, but he’s a very good storyteller. There are even some stories that he says he’s saving for when Phil gets older, which is so exciting that Phil wants to get older right now.

Beside him, Grandpa laughs as Granddad gets to the part where the Doctor breaks science (again). Phil smiles. His grandfathers are the best.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Phil is ten years old, and he’s in the middle of his first fight.

Ricky Finch-Smith has been bugging Phil for a while. He likes to trip Phil up, knock his books off his desk, say mean things behind his back just loudly enough for Phil to hear. Phil’s grandfathers have talked to him about when it’s okay to fight and when it’s best to keep your head, and Phil’s pretty good at it.

But then Ricky calls Phil’s Grandpa a nigger and Granddad a faggot, and everybody snickers, and Phil decides it’s an okay time to fight.

Ricky’s a lot bigger than Phil, which works out perfectly because Phil can duck under his first swing, jab him hard in the solar plexus, and then knee him in the face as he doubles over. After that it’s just a question of getting him in an arm lock and sitting on him until he cries uncle, and takes back what he said about Phil’s grandfathers, and promises to never say it again, and swears up and down that the only reason he’d said it was because he was jealous and obviously Phil’s grandfathers are the best people on the planet.

As it turns out, that last part might have been overkill because it gives the teachers enough time to grab them both.

Granddad comes to get him from the principal’s office, where Phil is sitting in a mixture of pride and apprehension. He goes in and talks to the Principal and then collects Phil and takes him outside.

“Did you get hit?” he asks when they’re sitting in the car.

“No,” Phil says, smart enough not to gloat even though it’s totally warranted.

“Did you start this because he insulted me and Gabe?”

Phil cocks his head to the side. “Yes, but also because he’s been needling me for a while.”

Granddad hums thoughtfully. “Okay. Let’s go over it.”

By the time Grandpa gets home that night, Phil and Granddad have gone over the reasons for the fight, the results, and figured out how Phil could have handled it better - less obviously, without getting caught, and with the same lesson delivered to the offending party.

Grandpa shakes his head. “You’re going to turn out to be an agent like your Granddad if you keep this up,” he says, smiling.

“The Howling Commandos were smart fighters, too,” Granddad points out.

“More old-fashioned, though,” Grandpa says. “These days old-fashioned doesn’t work so well. When we were kids, having a scrap was just what kids did. Now you have to outthink everybody. It’s not better or worse, I guess, just different.”

“I used that arm lock you showed me,” Phil offers, because Grandpa looks kind of sad. “It worked really well.”

Grandpa smiles. “I bet it did. Now, who wants dinner?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Phil is fifteen years old, and his grandfathers are teaching him everything they know.

Both of Phil’s grandfathers are agents, although they work for different branches. Granddad works for the FBI, although he tends to get fired and then taken back a lot, and Grandpa works for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, like a lot of the Howling Commandos.

From Grandpa, Phil learns how to sweet-talk someone, the value of playing innocent and harmless and letting the other guy do all the work. He learns to always have a knife handy, to know where his exits are, and to check every weapon he’s handed no matter how much he trusts the person who gave it to him.

From Granddad, Phil learns to stay calm no matter what, and that accurate intelligence and the ability to bluff will get him out of trouble more times than not. He learns how to slip a pair of cuffs, six ways to make an emergency set of lockpicks, and to dress neatly at all times because slobs have to prove they’re trustworthy.

From both of them he learns the power of being a man who chooses his convictions and then keeps to them. Heroes might be a thing for World Wars and fairy tales and fantastic time-and-space adventures, but good men still exist as long as there are stories to inspire them. He learns to listen before he speaks, and consider what he says, and to uphold his standards no matter how everything else might try to drag him down.

He also learns that ‘good’ can still mean ‘ruthless’. A few days after Phil’s fifteenth birthday, some of Granddad’s old enemies try to get to him through Phil. Phil plays young and scared, and ten minutes after they leave him alone in the kitchen for a moment to make himself some hot chocolate one of them is nursing a cracked skull and the other one’s been electrocuted.

Phil’s grandfathers are furious. They’ve also been in the business a long time, and they know how to get things moving. By the next morning, the threat has been so neutralized it’s sterilized.

“They say all it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing,” Grandpa always says. “Being a good man’s only half the battle. You’ve got to stand up and prove it, every minute of every day.”

Phil knows all about good men. He’s related to two of them. They may never get trading cards or television shows, but probably the most important thing Phil learns from his grandfathers is that some heroes are the ones in the background, quietly making sure everything gets done.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Phil is eighteen years old, and he’s having an argument with his grandfathers.

“Statistically, you know we’re right,” Grandpa says reasonably.

“But I know what I want to do,” Phil says, frustration damaging his calm a little. “Granddad went into the army and then straight into the agency. That’s what I want to do.”

“And your Grandpa went to college first,” Granddad points out. “With a college degree you’ll get promoted faster, you’ll have more options available when you go into whatever agency you end up with, and you’ll have something to fall back on if you need it.”

Phil sighs. Logically, of course it makes sense to go to college first, but Phil knows he’s smart. He picks things up faster than anyone his age and he thinks well on his feet. He could make it to where he wants to be years faster if he skipped college.

“And it wouldn’t do you any harm to practice your patience a little bit,” Grandpa says, smiling at him over the edge of his coffee mug.

Phil scowls.

He goes to college. He double-majors in political science and criminal psychology and graduates a full term early, which his grandfathers agree is a reasonable compromise between haste and diligence. Phil actually winds up enjoying college quite a bit, and Grandpa is so proud at his graduation that he cries. Phil can’t really regret it after that.

Next stop, the military, Phil thinks as he poses for a picture in his graduation cap with his grandfathers. And then I’ll finally have my chance to do the kinds of things my grandfathers did.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Phil is twenty-nine years old, and he’s about to get his head shot off.

“I’m really sorry,” he says, projecting innocence and harmlessness. “I had no idea this warehouse was occupied. Honestly, I was just looking around - I’m thinking of opening up a little cafe down here, you know the waterfront’s pretty good property - “

The arms dealer pointing a gun at him scowls and lowers the gun. “Oh, for - fine, just shut up.” He grabs Phil by the arm. “Americans. You just gonna have to stay here for a while. You didn’t see anything, you don’t know anything, yes?”

“Oh, yes,” Phil says earnestly. “I really didn’t see anything. Especially not that shipment of M49s over there from Yugoslavia.”

“What?” the arms dealer says, but before he can get his gun back up Phil’s dislocated his elbow, broken his nose, and hit the ground yelling “Move in! Move in!” over his wire.

Several very crowded minutes later half the bad guys are dead, Phil’s fellow soldiers are in possession of a very nice selection of contraband weapons, and Phil’s leaning against an army truck in the scruffy parking lot outside the warehouse and seriously considering burning his undercover clothes. Honestly, this suit is hideous.

“Kinda jumped the gun a little in there, didn’t you?” his CO says.

“My apologies, sir,” Phil says. “I was concerned that we would go overbudget on overtime and have our coffee fund slashed again.”

His CO snorts. “If you do it again I’ll have you reassigned to Siberia, waste of talent be damned. I don’t care if it is seven o’clock on a Monday.”

Phil nods. “Thank you, sir. May I - “

“Get lost.”

Phil makes his way over to one of the trucks and commandeers a satellite phone, checking his garish undercover watch as he goes. Seven fifteen - not too bad.

“Hello?”

Phil smiles. “Hi, Grandpa. How are you doing?”

Phil’s job is unpredictable, exciting, and more than a little dangerous, but he always tries to be free and near a phone at seven o’clock on Mondays. His grandfathers, in their turn, try not to nag him too much when they see distressing things on the news, and have mostly managed to resist pulling strings on his behalf. Phil loves his grandfathers and he’s more proud of them than he is of anything else, but he knows that this is something he has to do on his own merits. No matter how tempting it sometimes is to turn to someone giving him grief and say, ‘Do you have any idea who my grandfathers are?’ he holds his tongue. Above all other things, Phil is a patient man, a lesson he learned well from his grandfathers and Grandpa in particular.

Besides, the looks on people’s faces are much funnier when he does something competent after they’ve completely written him off. It’s well-hidden, but Phil has quite the sense of humor. He learned that from his grandfathers, too, though most noticeably from Granddad.

“Oh, ticking along, kiddo, you know how it is. The Bridge Club met on Saturday.”

Phil grins. His grandfathers’ version of Bridge involves plenty of alcohol and boastful stories about The Good Old Days, in which they spent time blowing up bridges, among other things. It had been very educational for a young Phil to eavesdrop on. Cards rarely play a part in the evening, though, because Poker Night is on Thursdays.

Granddad’s voice is audible in the background, demanding to know what the hell Phil is up to in Bulgaria and whether or not he’s remembered to wear his backup gun. Grandpa starts up the tired old argument about how things are classified for a reason and it’s not okay to use old agency contacts to spy on one’s children.

Phil just sits back and listens, a faint smile on his face.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Phil is thirty-four years old and his heart is breaking.

He’d managed to hold it together when Graddad called him at work. He was okay at the hospital, and the funeral home, and he made it through the service.

Now he and Granddad are standing over a fresh grave, and everyone else has walked away to give them some space, and Granddad finally starts to cry and that’s it. Phil’s gone.

They stand there for a while, shoulders pressed tightly together because any more contact would be too much to take, and cry silently. Finally the silence gets to be unbearable and Granddad starts to talk. It’s rambling, disjointed, but Phil’s heard most of it before and a coherent narrative isn’t the point anyway. He listens while Granddad remembers the first time he and Grandpa met, the flak they got for being together, the three times Granddad got fired for it and the one time the Howling Commandos had to make an example of someone before people stopped harassing Grandpa. He talks about having Phil come to live with them and how much it hurt to lose Phil’s parents.

“Remember the stories we used to tell you?” he asks, and Phil nods. “Captain America, cops, and a time-travelling Doctor. It’s no wonder you grew up thinking you had to save the world. He was so proud of you, kiddo. I’m so proud of you, too.”

“I want to do it because of the two of you, not because of them,” Phil croaks.

Granddad gives him a wobbly smile and bumps his shoulder. “Regardless,” he says. He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a small envelope. “Gabe wanted to give you these. He was trying to get a full set, but there were a few he hadn’t managed to get his hands on yet.”

Puzzled, Phil opens the envelope. A small stack of original Captain America trading cards slide out into his hand.

“I thought maybe you could find the rest yourself.”

“Yes,” Phil says, blinking back fresh tears. “Yes, I’d like that.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Phil is forty-two years old, and he’s hit the jackpot.

He’s in Paris, tying up loose ends after a successful operation, when he finally gets a few hours to himself. He makes sure his operatives are safely tucked away and heads out into the city.

It takes him a few blocks to realise he’s being followed, and a few more to figure out that it’s Barton and Romanov doing the following. As he waits for the light to change, he spends a moment debating whether to continue or turn around and make it clear that he knows what’s going on. Blowing his pursuers’ cover will help cement his reputation as unflappable and eerily perceptive. Continuing on and revealing his mission could be taken as a gesture of trust if he plays it right.

What would my grandfathers do?

Granddad would play the all-knowing badass card, unquestionably. Grandpa would have advocated trust. Phil frowns. Granddad’s time at the FBI was characterised by suspicion and repeated firings. Grandpa’s tenure with the Strategic Scientific Reserve had been all about comradeship and family.

He keeps going. The Howling Commandos had worked as a seamless unit, loyal and dedicated. Hands down, that’s better than the FBI.

When he’s completed his errand, he stops in an alleyway, puts his hands on his hips, and says loudly, “Okay, Barton, playtime’s over. You too, Romanov.”

The silence gets a tiny bit more silent with surprise, and then Barton and Romanov drop to the pavement next to him.

“When did you realise we were following you?” Barton says, sheepish and a hint defiant.

“Rue Lamarck,” Phil says. “Not bad.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Romanov asks, tense and watchful.

Phil shrugs. “I like having backup.”

Her eyes flick over to the store he just left. “Were you meeting an informant?”

“Personal errand.” Phil allows a real smile to slip through and proudly holds out his purchase.

They stare. “A trading card?” Barton asks, baffled.

“Does it contain a secret message of some kind?” Romanov asks.

“Oh, no,” Phil says. “I collect them. This one’s a little foxed around the edges, but the 1943 Howling Commandos Limited Edition Victory Card is really hard to find.”

“A trading card,” Barton repeats.

“It’s vintage,” Phil says, tucking it carefully away. “Once I get my hands on the Kirby version of the 1946 Captain America Memorial card I’ll have a full set.”

“You’re... you’re a fanboy,” Barton says, poleaxed.

“Certainly,” Phil says briskly. “Shall we head back to the hotel?”

They fall in behind him. “Fanboy,” Barton repeats, and starts to giggle. “That’s awesome! You know, I had Captain America pjs when I was a kid. They were stylin’.”

“I had a Pozhar action figure for a short time when I was a child,” Romanov volunteers.

“I don’t even know who that is,” Barton admits.

“He controlled fire,” Romanov explains. “Sometimes he wore a colorful costume, sometimes armor. It depended.”

“He worked with the Red Shadows, didn’t he?” Phil says.

Romanov’s face relaxes into her version of a smile. “Yes, after the accident in the nuclear plant.”

Six months later, after Phil and his operatives have nearly gotten killed twice trying to bring down one of Doom’s illegal arms operations, Phil wakes up in the infirmary to find a mysterious envelope on his bedside table. There’s no note and the envelope is a plain, standard-issue one, easily available from any supply closet. The Kirby 1946 Captain America Memorial card inside is a pretty dead giveaway, though.

Phil leans back against his pillows, ignoring the pull of stitches in his side and the dull throb of broken ribs, and smiles.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Phil is forty-six years old, and he just met his first superhero.

“ - and he’s an ass.”

Granddad bursts out laughing. Phil scowls. “It’s not funny! He just blew a very carefully crafted cover story for the sake of his vanity!” Long practice had allowed him to keep his composure during that disastrous press conference and Director Fury’s impassioned diatribe immediately afterwards, and most importantly had kept him from wiping that smug smile off Stark’s face in front of Pepper Potts and representatives from damn near every press outfit in the country. It had been a close thing, though.

Granddad’s still laughing. “Sorry, kid. I’m just remembering some of your Grandpa’s interactions with Stark Senior and I’m having a little bit of deja vu right now.”

Phil sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. Given Director Fury’s enthusiasm for the Avengers Initiative - and Phil’s behind that, he really is - it’s a fair bet he’s going to wind up dealing with Stark a lot in the future. He’s going to have to ask Director Fury for approval to use his taser as the situation warrants.

“Yes, I remember those too. I think bringing them up to Tony Stark would be a spectacularly bad idea, though.”

Granddad’s laughter quiets. “Yeah, I think you’re right. Gabe never had too much to do with the kid, but he always felt bad about how much time Howard spent at work instead of at home.”

Phil grimaces. That’s only a fraction of the problem, from what he’s seen. His own grandfathers were frequently busy with work, but they still always managed to make him feel valued. Wanted.

“We didn’t ever - I know Gabe and I were preoccupied sometimes, but - “

“No,” Phil says firmly. “You were both great. I never felt like you didn’t want me around.”

Granddad breathes out. “Good. You try your hardest, as a parent, but it always seems like you never know how well you’re doing until years later and then it’s too late to fix it.”

Later that night, when nightmares of huge armor-clad behemoths chasing him through endless hallways have left him breathless and shaking, Phil barely hesitates before calling Granddad. It’s late at night - early in the morning - but Granddad doesn’t say anything about the time when he answers.

“Doctor, Dragnet, or Captain America?” he asks instead, voice roughened by sleep.

“Doctor,” Phil says, struggling to get his breathing under control. “I’m pretty sure I remember you telling me there were some stories you were holding back until I was older.”

“You know that’s because they were pretty scary,” Granddad says conversationally.

“I’m okay with scary,” Phil says. Scary stories don’t hold a candle to an actual homicidal person-shaped tank and an exploding experimental arc reactor.

“Doctor story it is, then,” Granddad says.

Phil leans back against the headboard of his bed and lets his grandfather’s voice wash over him. The world is changing quickly around him - between Tony Stark’s Iron Man and some of the rumors Director Fury’s had him chasing down, it seems clear that they’re standing on the precipice of something huge. Whether it turns out to be a good thing or a bad thing, of course, remains to be seen.

Phil closes his eyes. For now, just for tonight, he’ll let himself stop worrying about that and enjoy the stories from his childhood. He has a feeling it’s an escape that he won’t be able to take advantage of for too much longer.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Phil is forty-nine years old, and he just nearly had his first heart attack.

“He did what?”

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Coulson. He seemed fine at breakfast and then when he didn’t come to lunch I got worried and went to check on him. There was just the note.” The nurse on the other end of the phone doesn’t sound much calmer. Phil makes a conscious effort to smooth out his voice.

“It’s okay, Scott. It wasn’t your fault. Can you read me the note again?”

“‘Running an errand. Be back in a few days.’”

“And that’s it? No other markings on the page?”

“No?” Scott says. “No. Just writing.”

Phil rubs the bridge of his nose. “Okay. Hang on to the note in case I need it later. I’ll take care of this and call you back.”

One hour and a moderate misuse of federal resources for personal matters later finds Phil walking through the front door of a retro diner in rural Utah. Granddad is seated at the counter, eating peacefully. He raises an eyebrow as Phil approaches.

“That was faster than I expected.”

“Scott ratted you out,” Phil says, claiming the stool next to him.

Granddad sighs. “Knew I should have bribed him instead of Evie.”

Phil pauses. “Evie? Really?”

“She’s a sucker for war stories,” Granddad says fondly. “I said I’d teach her how to shoot. Sweet kid.”

Phil nods and steals one of Granddad’s fries, letting the conversation lapse. Granddad has adapted to the limitations of getting older with more equanimity than Phil had expected, given his past and personality, but he’s still a little prickly about it. The assisted living facility was only acceptable to him as long as everyone referred to it as an apartment building, and Phil’s still pretty sure that he’d only agreed to it because he suspected the assistant manager of laundering money through the hospice charity. (He isn’t. Phil put him under surveillance just in case.)

“Did you track me down because you thought I’d fall and break my hip?” Granddad says, and his tone is jovial but his body language disagrees.

“Says the man who once broke into an NSA monitoring facility because I missed a phone call,” Phil says dryly. “No, I came because I thought you might need backup.”

Granddad’s posture relaxes just slightly. He probably knows he’s being handled, but he’s self-aware enough to take the comment at face value. “It was nothing to worry about. Just some old business that needed to be seen through to the end.”

He falls silent, his gaze going unfocused and distant.

“Grandpa?” Phil guesses quietly, when Granddad shows no sign of returning to the present.

“No,” Granddad says. “No. A funeral, for an old friend.” He straightens, pinning Phil with a look that’s a mix of stern and sad. “Times are changing, kiddo. There’s some big stuff on the horizon for you, if I don’t miss my guess. You need to be on your guard.”

Phil goes still, senses automatically kicking into overdrive. One of the cooks is out of sight in the kitchen and the two people who’d gone into the bathroom as he entered still haven’t come out, the man in the far booth is wearing an unseasonably heavy coat... “Have you heard something?”

Granddad shakes his head. “Nothing concrete. Just... remember what we taught you, okay, kid?”

“Of course,” Phil says slowly. He waits for a moment, but Granddad doesn’t volunteer any more information.

“Speaking of change,” he says finally, “Guess what I was doing before you went walkabout?”

Granddad looks amused. “Terrorizing junior agents?”

“Watching Captain America defrost,” Phil says nonchalantly, and is gratified when Granddad nearly drops his water glass.

“You found him? Is he alive?”

“Unconscious, but alive and intact,” Phil confirms. “Still in uniform. We even found the shield.” Phil had gotten to hold it. Fortunately there hadn’t been anyone else around at the time, or his hard-earned reputation as a coldly collected and preternaturally unflappable agent would have taken a severe hit.

Granddad shakes his head. “Well, I’ll be. I didn’t see that one coming. Gabe would be pissed as hell that he’d missed it.”

Phil smiles. Grandpa had been a pretty even-tempered guy, but yeah. He’d have been disappointed.

“Phil...” Granddad says slowly. “You might not want to tell him Gabe was your grandfather until you’ve sussed him out a little.”

Phil blinks, surprised. “You think he would have disapproved of the two of you?”

Granddad shrugs. “Gabe always said he was fair-minded, and a lot more accepting than most people back then. He’s still a man out of time, though. You just might want to take it slow.”

Phil nods, a little disappointed. He’d been looking forward to hearing the Captain’s side of some of Grandpa’s old stories and the temptation to be able to prove his close connection to his boyhood idol was pretty hard to back away from. Granddad was probably right, though. Reawakening after seventy years in the ice would be enough of a shock as it was.

Granddad smiles abruptly and slides off the stool. “Well, then. Guess we’d better get back before Scott has a coronary.”

Six months later, with the helicarrier and the Avengers coming apart around him, Phil stares up at Loki and remembers this conversation. He remembers the value of staying calm, and checking his weapon, and six ways to make his own lockpicks. He remembers Captain America trading cards sliding out of a nondescript envelope and Grandpa’s voice saying Being a good man’s only half the battle. You’ve got to stand up and prove it, every minute of every day.

“You’re going to lose,” he says, tasting blood in every word. “It’s in your nature. You lack conviction.”

He waits for the rage to settle on Loki’s face, and then he pulls the trigger.

The experimental gun works quite well, which is a nice surprise.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Phil is fifty years old, and he’s standing on top of a building.

He’d woken up in the infirmary a few hours earlier to be greeted by two pieces of news: the world had been saved, and his mint-condition vintage Captain America cards had been sacrificed for the cause.

“Blood?” he’d said faintly. “Really, sir, wasn’t that a little dramatic?” In his head, in the special, deep-down place he reserves for thoughts his superiors would find distressing, he’d been thinking about the horrible chemical things that blood does to delicate 1940s-era paper. Granted, the cards might now have their own special place in the Captain America mythos, and Grandpa would probably approve of them being used to get his old friend back in fighting form, but... they were mint. And his.

Fury shrugged. “It got them going. You were right, they needed a push.”

Phil had sighed. “Of course, sir. I understand.”

“Also, they think you’re dead. I’ll tell them the truth but I’d like to wait for the right moment.”

Phil had understood the necessity of that, unfortunately. “Yes, sir.”

It had taken a while to liberate himself from the infirmary, and getting to the roof of Stark Tower through the chaos of downtown hadn’t been much of a treat. He’s made it in time, though, and that’s the important part.

He eyes the rooftop for a moment, and then carefully picks a spot to stand. Selvig’s device has been cleared away, with only a few scuffmarks left in the gravel to show where it had been. Phil adjusts his sling, leans slightly to one side to take the pressure off his aching shoulder, and musters his patience.

He doesn’t have long to wait. In only a few moments there’s a wheezing noise, a protracted crunch, and a bright blue British police box materialises in midair and skids across the gravel, coming to a stop two feet from where Phil’s standing. The doors fly open to reveal a man with wild hair and a bowtie, backed by a red-haired woman and a thin man with a large nose.

“Hello, Doctor,” Phil says pleasantly, sternly suppressing the delighted, childish flutter of excitement in his chest and the strong impulse to say anything along the lines of oh my god you’re real this is so cool. He’d learned that lesson from meeting Captain America, at least. “Mr. and Mrs. Pond. Welcome back to Earth. I’m Agent Phil Coulson of the Strategic Homeworld Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division.”

“Yes, hello,” the Doctor says, brushing past him to go stare down over the edge of the roof. “Well this is quite a mess. What on Earth, oh Earth, have you been up to now? Is that antigravity residue? And who’s responsible for the gamma radiation? I met a very nice young man who was working on gamma radiation once, Flag or Pennant or something, I can’t remember. The things he could do with a crossword!”

It takes all of Phil’s training and experience to keep his usual polite smile from turning into a giant, embarrassing grin. ‘Mind going a million miles an hour and a mouth to match,’ Granddad had always said, and he was right. He’d been spot on about the unfortunate hair, too.

“It is, but the threat has passed,” Phil says, forcing himself to focus. He holds out a thick manila folder. “I have the report on the incident, if you’d like to look at it.” He’d used up more favors than he strictly liked to get it from Sitwell, but it was worth it.

The Doctor blinks at him for a moment, distracted, and then takes it. Phil turns his attention to the Doctor’s companions.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he says, holding out his good hand hand to shake. Bemused, Mr. Pond - Rory - takes it. “I’ve heard quite a lot about you both.” Most of it from them, as well. It’s strange and a little bittersweet to see them like this, young and sharp instead of the wiser and more seasoned veterans who used to come to his grandfathers’ Bridge Club drinking nights.

“This is actually fairly thorough,” the Doctor interrupts before Rory can respond. He sounds disappointed.

“Thank you,” Phil says, honestly flattered. “That’s quite a compliment coming from you.”

“I’m sorry,” Mrs. Pond - Amy - says, frowning suspiciously at him. “But how do you know who we are?”

“It’s my job to know,” Phil says automatically, and takes a deep breath. “But I also have the advantage of having Canton Everett Delaware the Third for a grandfather. You may remember that he worked with you to end the threat from the Silence.”

“That explains a lot,” Rory says faintly, goggling at him. Phil allows his smile to become more real.

“Really? Canton Everett?” The Doctor says happily, discarding the report in a heartbeat and bouncing over to study Phil’s face from a distance of about an inch. “Hmm, yes. Very similar neural structure. How are your granddads?”

“The one you met is doing just fine,” Phil says, fighting the urge to lean back. “The other one passed away several years ago, but they were together all the way through.”

The Doctor beams at him. “Good old Canton, good for him! Well, then, no surprise you turned up in the middle of everything like this. Come to think of it, how did you know to turn up in the middle of everything like this?”

Phil shrugs with his good shoulder. “Well, an event with planet-wide implications culminating in a massive release of non-Earthly energy did seem like something that would catch your attention. The probability of the event being a fixed point in time was high, so it struck me as most logical to wait for you after the event was over in the place the energy originated.” He gives the Doctor his blandest company smile. “So here I am.”

The Doctor stares at him for a moment, and then bursts out laughing. “Well, I think everything seems to be under control here,” he says, sticking his hands in his pockets with an air of satisfaction that manages to indicate that he was personally responsible for the whole endeavor. Amy gives him a fondly exasperated look that Phil distinctly remembers her levelling at his Granddad once upon a time. “We were just on our way to the 61st century - would you like to come? You look like you could use a holiday. All of space and time - it would be quite a thing to tell your old Granddad about, wouldn’t it?” He grins invitingly.

Phil cocks his head to the side, considering. Granddad is safe in his retirement community, and Phil had been allowed to contact him and let him know he’d be dead for a while. Grandpa’s old friend the Captain is back on his feet and well on his way to being part of a whole new group of Howling Commandos. The Avengers are a reality now instead of a pipe dream, and Phil wouldn’t be allowed to take part in the cleanup operations anyway.

“Okay,” he says slowly, “But we have to swing by the forties at some point. I need to replace some trading cards.”

“We haven’t done the forties yet,” Rory says. “Well. Except for that time I punched Hitler.”

“That’s okay,” Amy says, herding him back into the TARDIS. “We’ll go back, you can punch him again.”

Phil pauses for just a moment in the doorway of the impossible spaceship, one foot in the world of Grandpa and superheroes and one in the world of Granddad and time-and-space.

He’s seen to the superheroes. Maybe now it’s time to sort out time and space.