Series I Through a Father's Eyes | Chapter 3: Confluence
The weekend was woefully short. He had to go to work on Monday and Phil realized he would have to report back to the Triskelion for reports and mind-numbing meetings. Evelyn laid on the bed, babbling a little song to herself as he fretted picking out clothing for her. There were little dresses and shoes in every color of the rainbow. He had panicked in the clothing section of Walmart and bought whatever looked like it would fit without really planning anything. Eventually he settled on a little blue dress that looked like it was made for a doll and small, pink slippers and slipped a thick pink head band on her head in attempt to tame her fluffy tufts of hair.
He knew it wasn’t proper for him to bring the infant into work but until he could work out a babysitter or a nanny or somebody to watch after her during the day, it was what needed to be done. He had been unlucky in finding anyone advertizing in the local paper.
“Come on,” he picked her up, smiling as she laughed a little, “We gotta go to work, Evelyn.”
She cooed and reached out for his silky black tie. He had taken to wearing a suit to work a long time ago. There was something just inherently cool about wearing a suit with the dark sunglasses. It was the look of super spies. It was James Bond suave with a touch of unabashed awesomeness. That is to say it was suave and badass until a baby started chewing on the end of the tie, leaving a long sticky line of drool behind.
"No!" Phil wrestled his tie back, "No, Evelyn. We don't chew. Besides I fed you earlier."
She giggled and continued to reach for things to chew on as he rushed through breakfast and raced out the door. He was already late.
The Triskelion was an imposing figure located right on the intersection of the Anacostia and Potomac River within spitting distance of the Navy Yard in Washington DC. To the public face, it was just another government building in a city almost entirely made up of government buildings full of government people in a city whose population was largely government people. The blueprints said it was a regular 50-some-odd-story building with mostly offices, a private air strip, and rooftop helicopter landing pad. Then again, if you asked people what SHIELD was, they would probably say it had something to do with an international police force or else national security something or another. Which wasn’t wrong, technically.
What the blueprints (from way back in 1968) didn’t show was the additional five stories built downward under the ground and spreading out under the river and the subterranean levels of Washington DC for something like a total of seven miles (if Phil recalled correctly). Part doomsday bunker, part training ground, and part top-secret laboratories populated with investigation offices, the Triskelion was actually the beating heart of not just world security but, as of late, intergalactic security for SHIELD.
The front entrance had recently been remodeled. When Phil first walked in all those years ago as a cadet, the whole place reminded him very much of his high school principal’s office. There was dark, heavy wood paneling everywhere with steel fixtures that stood stark in the harsh industrial lighting. It was so dated and stuffy, one could practically smell the mothballs. The new entrance replaced the wood paneling with glass, opening it up to the sky and the trees. With daylight streaming in, the whole place seemed to sparkle with new life. He had never really paid attention to the floor until now. They kept the old floor but re-finished it. The rich, forest green marble looked like a work of art in and of itself with veins of sparkling white marble and threads of shiny gold rock. Steel was replaced with a shiny chrome, so polished you could almost see your own reflection it it. The giant SHIELD insignia statue in the center of the floor was backlit by the rising sun, making it seem like the eagle was soaring into the clouds.
As Phil walked in today, he still found himself marvelling at everything. Sure, the glossiness of the new fixture was somewhat diminished. All new things eventually become old. But he couldn’t help but feel uplifted seeing the sun one last time before he disappeared into the shadowy offices at Level 5. He couldn’t take too much time to bask in the sun because he was running late. His indecisiveness on how to dress Evelyn for her first day out had cost him a good twenty minutes of his morning routine, which in turn meant that he got stuck in the heat of DC rush hour. Now he had to go directly to the meeting, Evelyn in tow.
Of course babies being babies, she cried most of the way through the meeting. She needed her bottle one minute and then the next minute she needed a diaper change. A debrief meeting that was only supposed to take an hour ended up being nearly three because Phil had to run around and gather the information independently while taking care of a wriggling infant. Most of the staff didn’t complain that he had a baby in tow. However, when her screams reached the higher octaves people began finding subtle ways of plugging their ears or making excuses to leave the room.
By the time he collapsed into his chair at lunch, he was exhausted. His brain felt fuzzy and empty and his arms hurt from holding Evelyn all day long. He pondered how much of a blow to his dignity it would be to use the baby harness and just let Evelyn dangle off his back all day. While deep in his mire, he missed Maria and Agent Parker sliding in around him with their styrofoam takeaway containers.
“How is your first weekend of being a father?” asked Maria dropping an extra container of food on his desk, startling him out of his rest.
“Uh,” Phil shook his head to dispel the Monday cobwebs. Evelyn looked up irritably at him as she had become quite content in the silence, chewing on his tie, “Fine. I guess. It’s an adjustment.”
Parker snorted and then dug into the cafeteria macaroni and cheese. Phil shrugged and adjusted Evelyn in his arms before continuing.
"I like it,” he elaborated, “But things are just different."
No sooner did the words escape his mouth that he caught a glimpse of a strange expression passed over Maria's face. It was only for a second, so Phil disregarded it. Evelyn fussed but settled as Phil adjusted her in his arms. She reached up to try to grab the end of his tie and stick it In her mouth.
"She sounds fussy," commented Parker between bites of macaroni.
"Maybe," conceded Phil, "she could just be adjusting to a new place. Or teething."
Parker frowned, "Isn't she a bit young to be teething?"
“I don't know. Maybe. I know she chews on everything.” muttered Phil as he wiggled his tie out of her grasp and flung it back over his shoulder. Baby drool splattered along the ground. Evelyn let out a little grunt of frustration and then proceeded to pout and fuss all while Phil dug around in her diaper bag for her binkie. “I don’t think... I don’t know. My books say that she starts teething at six to eight months. I think she is a bit younger than that, but I actually don’t know.”
Evelyn babbled something incoherent and reached back toward his tie. Her little fingers fell just short. Phil finally located her binkie and after a short struggle, managed to get Evelyn to reluctantly suck on it. She shot a betrayed look up at Phil.
It was absolutely perplexing to Maria that even though Evelyn was just an infant, she seemed to be able to communicate nearly perfectly without words. Her fussing, babbling, and even crying all seemed to portray what she wanted or needed. While Maria never took much stock in maternal instinct (having seen far too many mothers drop their babies and run for their lives during a crisis), but she began to wonder if that was the reason for her ease around the infant.
“You’ll never believe this,” said Phil, resting Evelyn against his shoulder so he could rub her back, “But yesterday morning, I set her on the kitchen table in her little car seat carrier. I turned my back for two seconds to put the milk in the fridge and she was digging around in a box of doughnuts.”
Maria raised an eyebrow curiously, “Really?”
“Swear to God,” he said, raising one hand while supporting Evelyn with the other, “I turn around and she has powdered sugar all over her face. She’s just kind of teething it, not really eating it. But I was so bemused that she could reach into the little box and pull it out.”
Unbeknownst to Phil, as he relayed the story, Evelyn had managed to spit her binkie out and grab the end of his tie. Contentedly, she chewed on the silky black material and left a long, slimy trail of drool down the back of his nice black suit jacket.
“Did anyone get a chance to drop by the Olympics while we were out California way?” asked Agent Parker.
Maria looked up from her coffee, “Nobody could have gotten over to California in time.”
“Still,” Parker sighed, “I would have given my left arm to be a part of the security detail. It would have been great to see that Carl Lewis run.”
“Oh yeah,” said Phil, looking up from Evelyn and her bottle, “You ran track in college, didn’t you?”
Parker nodded, "For two years.”
"Why'd you quit?" asked Phil
"Uh," Parker looked uneasy, "Not by choice. Doc was concerned about my gait. Thought my tread wasn't balanced and I would end up hurting myself something fierce."
"So, you end up taking on one of the most physically demanding jobs on the planet?" noted Maria.
"I guess it's hard for me to say no to a challenge."
Phil found himself nodding unintentionally. He straightened up quickly and pretended he had been just playing with Evelyn.
“Agent Coulson, your tie!”
Agent Morse had somehow snuck up behind him on her silent ballerina feet and began to reach out to wipe something slimy off his jacket. He stopped her hand halfway over and pushed it back, “Don’t. Seriously, don’t.”
She blinked, “Excuse me?”
“Don’t touch unless you want baby cooties,” he warned while adjusting the baby girl in his arms.
Agent Morse drew her hand back, “Cooties?”
Maria rolled her eyes and took Evelyn from Phil so he could clean up, “He means drool.”
“Ah, thank you,” said Phil as he pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed the drool off his tie, “I swear she puts her mouth on everything.”
“Oh,” Morse chuckled, “Well, I was looking for you. Legal wanted me to give you this file.”
She handed over a manila folder. Phil curiously opened it up. Documents spilled out in a torrent. “What’s this?”
“Evelyn’s legal documents,” she explained, “Birth certificate, Social Security card, and the paperwork you need to start the adoption process.”
“Closed adoption. I suppose it’s the only way,” muttered Phil as he rocked Evelyn with one arm and sifted through papers with the other, “I know she is going to ask someday. She’ll have questions.”
Parker and Maria looked at each other and then dug into their lunches. Phil’s question was obvious to the both of them but there was no good answer. Conversation floundered after that. Maria lingered, considering her coffee mug for a few minutes. Phil handed off baby Evelyn for her to rock while he read the papers and attempted to eat his pasta. She babbled a little sing-song tune, amusing herself by playing with the ends of Maria’s hair. She was gentle, never daring to pull even though it was obvious there was a good deal of strength in little hands. Morse and Parker talked for a little while before leaving. The words rested on her tongue but she dared not to speak them until they were alone. Phil looked tired already and it wasn’t going to get any easier for him.
She took a deep breath, “Have you considered…?”
It took her a moment to recover from Phil’s interjection but continued, “That’s not what I was going to say, but have you considered it?”
“Yeah,” he admitted in between mouthfuls, “I mean… she’s a lot of work. An awful lot of work. I understand why there are so many stay at home moms now.”
“So, are you quitting?” whispered Maria across the table, trying not to alarm the fellow agents around them.
Phil shrugged one shoulder, “I don’t know. Maybe. I’d rather just take a leave for a bit until I sort of… get things figured out. I don’t know how I would do it. I don’t have nearly enough vacation time for this sort of thing and… if I leave, will I be able to come back?”
It was Maria’s turn to shrug as Evelyn fussed a bit, eager to get back into her father’s arms. Maria handed her over and Phil nestled her in the crook of his arm. She pondered it for a moment over another sip of coffee.
“What about a transfer to another post? Is there anything opening soon that might allow you to spend more time with her?”
“I haven’t heard of anything but I guess that is something to keep an ear open for,” he sighed, “I knew I was going to have to ask Fury about options regarding Evelyn. Daycare or something.”
“Hand told me Fury is heading out of town,” she dropped, “Libyan elections.”
“Oh,” Phil anxiously, “When he’s leaving?”
Maria gave him a look. Fury never went in depth about his travel plans. If he spoke of them at all, they were so vague that they didn’t actually mean anything. It was for his safety and also to keep the public somewhat blind to SHIELD’s activities. There was also a healthy dose of Fury’s own paranoia in there.
“I think you are best off trying to meet with him before he leaves.”
Phil was gone barely after she finished the sentence, his lunch uneaten. He hurried upstairs to the director’s office, a spacious area near the top floor. You could look out through the giant, glass windows and see the National Mall and White House on a good day. Fury alway said he wanted that office in particular so if anything went wrong, he would be the first to see it.
A secretary waved Phil in but not before saying, “Director Fury will need to leave as soon as he is done with his phone call.”
Phil nodded. There were some benefits from knowing Nick from back when they were both enlisted Army boys. Anyone else would be stopped at the door and likely told Nick had already left.
“I know what he said and I have no idea why anyone is taking it seriously because that is just stupid,” snapped Fury, “We’re not bombing Russia. Nobody is bombing Russia. If you stopped being such a tight-ass and actually listened to what he said you would know that. It was intended to be funny. You do know how to be funny, don’t you Admiral?”
Someone said something unintelligible on the other end of the line, eliciting an eye-roll from Fury cold enough to cause snow in the Sahara. He eventually glanced down at his watch, lacking the patience to continue.
“You worry about your job and I’m going to worry about mine. It’s all a big, fat coincidence and we have no intel gathered on the matter. Not a peep. Now, if you don’t mind, I needed to be in Libya five minutes ago.”
Nick hung up the phone quickly before the Admiral could respond. Phil shifted his feet nervously as he tried to piece together what he wanted to ask. Fury didn’t give him time to dally.
“Speak quickly, Coulson, my plane is waiting.”
“Director,” he stated, standing nervously in Fury’s office with his tie dripping with baby slobber. She was starting to fuss and the vague smell of used diaper was beginning to reach Phil’s nose, “This sounds ridiculous to ask but, how do I apply for some kind of… maternity leave?”
Fury looked up and blinked once, slowly, and then closed his eye like a man who had already dealt with too much crazy in one day, “I would probably laugh, Coulson, if I didn’t know you were being dead serious.”
“Yeah,’ Phil found himself shifting sheepishly from foot to foot while Evelyn babbled something and then put her fingers in her mouth, “I need help, Nick.”
“Regretting your decision?” frowned Fury, crossing his arms.
“Not regretting,” clarified Phil, “Just… floundering, sir. I can’t quit but I can’t handle balancing her needs and what needs done here.”
Nick nodded for a long moment as the sun started to head downward over the Potomac River. He looked up at Phil finally, “Take the week off to get yourself situated with the girl. File adoption papers and stuff. Make it official. We will talk when I get back regarding what to do from there. We’ll figure something out for you.”
“Thank you,” whispered Phil, “Nick, Thank you so much.”
“I gotta go,” said Nick, as he gathered up papers, “I’ll call when I get back.”
“Alright, Nick,” said Phil, “Thanks again.”
He couldn’t run to the bathroom fast enough after his meeting with Nick to change Evelyn’s diaper. Later on, he hurried out to his Ford escort hatchback and tucked Evelyn into her little car seat, fastening it in place. She giggled at him and showed him her feet, having kicked off her shoes hours ago. Phil tickled her toes so she squealed with joy before he shut the door and went around to the front of the car.
He was tired. The last time he was this tired was after his first day of boot camp all those years ago. Was parenting always this exhausting? If that was true, he could understand why his mother always looked exhausted, especially after his father died. He sighed and started the car. It was seventeen years ago when his father died. That was too strange to consider but he found himself lingering on it throughout the long commute back to his home in Arlington.
“What would Dad do?” muttered Phil, looking back at Evelyn through the car mirror. He pondered it all the way home, until he stood in the front door of his little apartment.
He sat up dinner for himself by tossing leftover meatloaf into the microwave and pulling out a jar of applesauce for Evelyn. The little girl contently sucked her thumb in the middle of the living room floor while Phil scooped applesauce into a dish. Hopefully there would only be a short time longer of the baby food diet. But she needed teeth before she could move on.
“Okay,” he smiled, sitting on the ground in front of the television with Evelyn on his lap, “Dinnertime. Let’s watch the news. See what’s going on in the world today.”
She babbled contentedly as Phil spooned applesauce into her mouth. In between bites, she was very talkative, so talkative that Phil was continually distracted from the television.
“I don’t know what you are saying,” he chuckled, “But you seem excited about it.”
“Yea,” she seemed to say among her babbles. Phil did a double-take. There was no way that she actually spoke. He had to have just interpreted her babbles as a word he recognized. It seemed weird, but more plausible.
The news was full of trouble. There were problems seemingly all over the world. Phil held Evelyn closer as he settled on the couch. Suddenly the news seemed so much bigger than it was. The future seemed more important. His hand traced through the fluff atop her head while she babbled and chewed the edge of her blanket. Phil sighed and pushed the blanket out of the way. It desperately needed to be cleaned as the fluffy fabric had become matted and sticky.
“Evelyn, don’t chew,” he said, more sternly than he intended. The girl whimpered and started to cry again once the blanket was out of her grasp. Phil turned her around so he could look at her properly and try burping her. As he patted the little girl on the back, the screams didn’t stop. His ears rang, pain shooting up and rattling around in his brain like loose change.
He surveyed the screaming girl for a moment, trying to find anything that might indicate while she was crying. He just changed her diaper, she was eating applesauce happily moments before, all he did was take the blanket away.
The little gums inside her mouth were red and inflamed. Phil looked a bit closer, avoiding her tiny fists as they punched the air. The finest line of little pearly white baby teeth were just starting to push through the gum line. He held her close to his chest and reluctantly handed the blanket back to her.
No sooner was she wrapped back into the folds of the fluffy, well-loved sherpa blanket then she quieted down and began to chew only the edge once again. Phil sighed, “I guess you do what works…”