((I know. It’s so overdue that it’s embarrassing. I’m TRYING, okay? Previous parts are linked here: http://scifigrl47.tumblr.com/fic ))
“You do realize that we live in the most exciting city in the Western world,” Phil said. “New York. The Big Apple. The city of cities.” He leaned back, arms crossed over his chest, a faint half smile on his face. “I love my city. Best city in the world.”
“I don’t know,” Shirley said, her lips pursed. “I’ve always liked Paris.”
“I like Paris,” Clint said. He leaned forward, bracing his hands on either side of his legs, his body canted forward. “I really like Paris.”
“Phil speaks French,” Shirley said.
“Fluently,” Clint agreed. “Why do you think I like Paris?”
Phil glanced in their direction just in time to see them exchange a smile. “Yes, well,” he said, not sure just how worried he should be about this new partnership, “we live in New York. People all over the world flock to New York. Culture, history, entertainment, everything you could want.”
“Is there a point to this, Phil?” his mother asked.
“Why are we in the basement playing with the vacuum cleaner?” Phil glared at Mr. Fantastic, who was hovering in what he considered a threatening manner directly in front of him.
“Excuse me,” Tony yelled from across the workshop. “People would sell their firstborn to get into my workshop.”
“What people?” Steve asked.
“I don’t know. People.” Tony waved a hand. “I don’t want their first born anyway. The point is, this is not a basement. And I resent the implication.”
“Museums. Statue of Liberty. Broadway. Rockefeller Center,” Phil said, ignoring Stark because he was good at that by now. “And we’re in the basement. Playing with the vacuum cleaner.”
Clint reached out and coaxed the floating Roomba away from Phil. “C’mere, baby, no, don’t bother the mean man, it’s not his fault that he doesn’t see you for the special little treasure that you are.”
“I will shoot that thing one of these days,” Phil said. He wasn’t quite sure that he was exaggerating. He was pretty sure he wasn’t.
“Don’t worry,” Clint told Shirley, “Tony made him bulletproof.”
“Imagine my relief,” Shirley said. She patted Mr. Fantastic on his casing. The Roomba whirred happily and bumped up to nudge her hand.
“Don’t get attached to that thing, Mom,” Phil said.
“Grandma, Grandma!” Sam came running up, clutching a Roomba to his chest. “Tony said I could have one! He said I could have one because it needs a challenge!”
“Well, that was very nice of him,” Shirley said.
“Absolutely not,” Phil said, glaring at it. The Roomba hummed cheerfully along. “Mom. No. Sam, put it back where you got it before it maims you.. ”
“I beg your pardon,” Jarvis said, his voice frosty. “The Roombas are under control at all times, Agent Coulson. I would not allow them to harm the children.”
“Of course you wouldn’t,” Shirley soothed. “Phil’s just a bit grouchy today.”
Phil resisted the urge to say something that she, or Jarvis, would make him regret later.
“It’s a nice Roomba,” Sam said, holding it up, his eyes huge. Phil took the robot away from him. “C’mon, Uncle Phil!”
“Stark, do not try to pawn your failed experiments off on my family,” Phil said, setting the Roomba on a workbench. It immediately set about checking for anything it could consume.
“Do you know how much these things are worth?” Tony asked. He was sitting on the workbench, a cup of coffee in one hand and a muffin in the other. He was putting up with the invasion pretty well; it helped that he was completely sleep deprived and somewhere between ‘exhausted’ and ‘zombie.’ He yawned, and almost dumped the coffee into his lap as he tried to cover it with the hand that held the cup. “Seriously, Phil. Unclench. It’s fine. They’re practical.”
“They’re pretty useful,” Steve agreed. Bradley was clinging to his back like a monkey, an empty Iron Man helmet prototype rattling around on his head.
“Steeeeeeeeeeeeeve,” one of the Roombas said, setting off a wave of greetings all over the room. To his credit, Steve barely flinched.
“And friendly,” Shirley said.
“They’re monstrous little metal locusts,” Phil said. He gave Mr. Fantastic a dirty look. The vacuum, which had no sense of self-preservation, tried to float back over to him, whirring cheerfully. Clint caught his pet and dragged it back with a grin.
“I wouldn’t mind one, I tell you what,” Jason said. One of the Roombas rolled by his feet and he scooped it up. He flipped it on its back, making the wheels whirr in a panicked manner. “What? You’re not a turtle, relax, I’m just taking a look,” he said, his voice stern.
“How is it that everyone seems comfortable with talking to the mechanical horrors?” Phil asked.
“They’re AWESOME!” Bradley said, his voice muffled by the helmet.
“I like the toaster,” Shirley said.
“I can’t believe you got a toasted raisin bagel,” Tony said, frowning. “I don’t… I am confused by that.” A Roomba floated by, and he set his empty coffee cup on it. Phil frowned, not liking that precedent. He did not want to see an Avengers party with the Roombas standing in for waitstaff.
Roombas carrying champagne flutes just seemed like asking for broken crystal and spilled Dom Perignon.
“Parenting is all about making your expectations known and following through with the proper support,” Shirley said. “And if that fails, a good smack with a wooden spoon on his little metal casing seems to do the trick.”
“This is toaster specific advice, then?” Clint asked.
“If she picks up the spoon, duck,” Phil told him. His mother smacked him lightly on the shoulder with the back of her hand. “What? It’s the truth.”
“It is not, stop telling horrid lies,” she said, shaking her head.
Sam shuffled over to Clint’s side, his eyes huge. “Can’t I take one home?” he asked.
“Sorry, buddy, it’s not up to me,” Clint said, grinning.
“Pleeeeeeeeeease, Uncle Clint?” Sam asked, patting Mr. Fantastic. “I can take care of one!”
“It’s a vacuum cleaner,” Phil said. “And don’t beg, Sam. It’s rude. And Clint doesn’t know you well enough to resist it.”
“I’m a highly trained government agent,” Clint said, an odd note to his voice.
“You think that means you can resist him?” Phil asked, doubtful.
“No, it means that Uncle Clint’s really good at sneaking things past the border guards,” Clint said. He held out a hand, and Sam gave him a high five, laughing as he jumped to make contact.
“I really need you to not undermine me here,” Phil said.
“I’m not teaching them to ride them, Phil, that’s about all I can-”
“You can RIDE THEM?” Bradley shrieked.
“Oops,” Clint said, his smile far too innocent to be real.
“What kind of lift can these things get?” Jason asked. He set a foot on one of the Roombas, his eyebrows arching over the frames of his glasses. It immediately tried to take off, nearly sending Jason crashing onto his ass.
“Far more than is safe,” Steve said, even as he swung a wriggling Sam down to the ground. “It takes a whole bunch of them to lift Thor, but he’s heavier than the average human.”
“I miss that ironing board,” Phil said. It wasn’t so much the ironing board that he missed, if he was being honest with himself. He’d gotten the damn thing at IKEA; it wasn’t like it was a family heirloom. It was more what the ironing board represented. Some element of control over his damn life, mostly.
Which had gone right out the window right around the time when a Norse God and a Russian Assassin had co-opted his ironing board and used it to surf on a mad scientist’s vain attempt to get out of doing his fair share of the chores.
If Phil really had to pick a single moment at which his life went horribly, horribly wrong, he was pretty sure he’d choose that one.
Now, of course, as he watched as his nephews, his father, and his lover all discussed ways to use floating robotic vacuum cleaners as jousting ponies, he didn’t even question it any longer. There was no point. Besides, Steve was there, looking like he was starting to develop a headache, and that meant he was going to keep Tony from encouraging this.
“Can’t you control them, Mom?” Phil asked his mother.
“Youthful high spirits, darling,” she said, sipping her tea.
“That explains my nephews, how about your husband?”
“Why is he ‘my husband’ when you’re annoyed with him?”
“I didn’t have a choice about this,” Phil said. “You did.”
Her eyes slid in his direction, dark and glittering. Despite the years that had passed since he was a teenager, she was still just as sharp. “We all make choices, Phil. I choose to continue acknowledging you,” she said with a faint smile, and Phil bit back a grin.
“You’ve made some poor choices before, this is just another one,” Phil said. “And your grandsons are holy terrors.”
“I don’t think you’ve got room to talk, what with your juvie record,” Shirley said, and the world came to a sudden and abrupt stop.
Steve scooped Bradley off of a Roomba and placed back on the ground. “Okay, boys, what do you think, let’s go upstairs and Tony and I will show you the Quinjet-” Steve started as he wrapped an arm around Tony’s back and half pushing, half lifting him off the workbench. Tony cut him off.
“No, wait, did she say-” Tony said, even as Steve all but shoved him towards the elevator. “Steve, did she just-”
“What kinda speed do you get outta that thing?” Jason asked, as the boys took off running, both of them whooping as they crashed across the workshop. He gave Phil and Shirley a look, but he headed after the boys. “That’s an impressive piece of work, there, have you considered the fuel usage if you could alter the engine output?”
Tony was immediately distracted. “Well, I already have-”
The elevator doors closed behind them, and Phil concentrated on not killing his mother. Maybe Clint would ignore that.
“Excuse me,” Clint said, his voice faint. “Excuse me. Did you say-”
“No. She didn’t,” Phil said, glaring at his mother.
Her eyebrows arched. “Oh, dear,” she said, with a faint, sweet smile, a completely put on smile, a completely fake smile that spoke of retribution and revenge and a wealth of comeuppance, “did you not know? Oh, dear, Phil, you should have-”
“No, I shouldn’t have,” Phil said,and it was very, very close to a snap.
“Did you say ‘juvie record?’” Clint managed. He looked like he was having a stroke. He clutched his forehead. “Wait. Did you-”
“No. She didn’t,” Phil said.
“You have a juvie record?” Clint asked, his voice beatific, his eyes huge.
“I am so turned on right now,” Clint said, making Shirley laugh. “I am not going to apologize for that,” he told her.
“And neither should you,” she said, her voice firm. She folded her hands on her lap. “A good sex life is important for-”
“Mom, really?” Phil said, groaning.
“Philip,” she said, her voice taking on a certain steel core that he knew so well, “you must understand. This is entirely your own fault. Had you just been honest with everyone involved with this situation, we would not be in this position. I would’ve had years of Christmas dinners, Thanksgivings, birthdays, meet-ups and getaways to share all the family gossip. For heaven’s sake, Phil, you actually chose a man who has the clearance to hear the family gossip.”
She took one step forward, face to face with Phil, her chin up, her eyes narrowed. “Instead, I have been left to seethe about the situation for years. Years, Philip, this has been going on for years. And worse than that, I was left to seethe every time you were hurt in the line of duty. Every time you went missing. Every time I had to wonder where you were and what you were doing, and then to get a call from you about your supposed occupation, well, that was just an insult.
“And mostly? I was left to seethe when I had to call in some very old favors to contact Director Fury to find out what had happened to you during the Chitauri invasion. I was left to seethe without being able to sit with my son as he died, because you couldn’t be bothered to tell me what you did for a living. I was left to seethe when I had to choke on that ridiculous cover story, really, Philip, really? Exposure to alien tech? How did you even keep a straight face when you had to parrot that?”
She took a deep breath, slow and careful, composing herself. “So, son of mine, if I want to tell Clint, in excruciating detail, about your arrest record, and it is an extensive arrest record, well, then, that is entirely my prerogative. Isn’t it.” It wasn’t a question.
Phil studied her without flinching. It took a lot of effort. “I’m not going to win this one, am I?” he said.
“You,” Shirley said, her voice gentle, “are going to take your father, and your nephews, who adore you beyond all reason, and you are going to take them out into the city. I will be remaining here. With Clint. And my photo albums.” Her smile was as sweet as spun sugar. “And your paperwork. All of your paperwork.”
“Just so we’re clear, ma’am,” Clint said, “I want to have your babies.”
“That’s very sweet, Clint,” she said without missing a beat, “but I’m too old to raise another one like him.”
“You’re really supposed to be on my side,” Phil said to Clint. He didn’t really believe it, but he felt a token protest was in order.
“Phil, you should be grateful that I’m not going to leave you for your mother at this point,” Clint said, grinning. “I’m sorry.” He held up his hands, gesturing at Shirley. “Your mom. Just saying. Your mom.”
“Thank you, dear,” Shirley said, patting him on the shoulder. She smiled at Phil. “Go. We’ll meet up for dinner somewhere, how’s that?”
Phil considered her. “You talked to Fury?”
Her smile died. “I love you, Phil,” she said. She reached up and cupped his face between her palms. “I love you, very, very much. I would move hell and earth to find you.” Her grin was quick and impish. “Even taking that into account, Nick Fury was a moderate challenge.”
“He should be proud of that.” Phil paused. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be.” She gave him a quick hug. “Now, apologize to Clint, and go find your father before he ends up with a welding torch and the guts of your plane all over the place.”
“It wouldn’t take much encouragement to get Tony to spend the day disassembling something,” Phil agreed. He wrapped his arms around his mother and held on, just for a moment. “Mom?”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
She sighed, the sort of long-suffering sigh that Phil had heard his entire life. “Why,” she said, her voice gentle, “didn’t you?”
He nodded. “I didn’t want you to worry,” he said.
“I’m your mother, Phil. I will always worry.” She kissed his cheek. “Say good-bye, Phil, and go entertain your nephews.”
Phil glanced at Clint. “Promise you’ll still love me when she gets done humiliating me.”
“You have a juvie record,” Clint said. “I didn’t think it was possible, but I think I’ll love you more.” Phil’s mother headed for the elevator, chuckling under her breath, and Clint slipped a hand around his waist. “You okay with this?” he asked in an undertone.
Phil leaned his forehead against Clint’s. “I think this is my penance,” he said.
“No, spending the day at Coney Island with Thor is your penance,” Clint said, and Phil groaned. Clint patted him lightly on the back. “I’m just going to stay here. With your mother. And her copious scrapbooks.”
“I’m in hell,” Phil said.