But Keep the Old

May 12, 2017:

Melinda May finds Phil Coulson in a rare funk. Their long friendship gives her everything she needs to pull him right back out again.

The Triskelion, New York, NY

Be sure to try that trail mix!

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers, Jane Foster, Natasha Romanova, Isa Reichert, Darcy Lewis, Darkedge, Logan

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Phil Coulson is usually a whirlwind of activity. At any given moment he's checking in here, getting reports there, traveling hither,thither, and yon; he can't help but juggle knives and spin plates. It's not just a function of his clearance level or his responsibilities. It's a function of who he is and what he thrives on. SHIELD is his family, his purpose. It makes sense for him to roll up his sleeves and dive in wherever and whenever he can, and truly there are never any shortage of short-term crises points to distract from larger, longer projects.

So when he finally stops? And when finally stopping is not to just grab a bite, or to sleep? It usually means there are things on his mind.

This evening will find him sitting at the very top of the Triskelion, where an observation lounge that might be gorgeous if not tricked out in a neverending monotone of SHIELD-logo grey allows a fantastic view of the city lights. He sits with a long-cold half-cup of coffee (in yet another SHIELD-logo cup), a group of anachronistic paper files at his elbow and a distant expression on his face. This is a popular and mostly unrestricted spot, but something in his mien has certainly kept most of the younger agents away…few people have seen Coulson angry, and those who don't think he is some sort of accountant usually feel they probably don't want to.

—-

The observation lounge is one of the few public-ish places May goes to decompress, and upon entering and seeing Coulson, she figures decompressing will have to happen later. She's very familiar with his current posture, and she knows it does not bode well. But really, when does anything bode well anymore?

Filling a mug similar to Coulson's with cold water, she steps over near-silently and claims a seat at the man's table. And then she takes a sip from her mug and simply waits for him to either speak up and share what's on his mind, or shut down and seemingly dismiss his troubles to avoid sharing.

—-

It's a dance well-established between the two friends, who have carried out entire conversations whereupon he speaks, and whereupon she gives him long, significant looks that he either makes up an interpretation for or interprets correctly, depending upon how one wants to look at it. Perhaps both.

Today, though, he turns to face her fully. The rueful smile that crosses his feature suggests some verbal input from her will soon be required, and he stands up to lock the door behind them, claiming the prettier room for their use.

He drains the cold coffee with a grimace, then sets it down, and sits back down.

"What do you want to hear about first? Hitherto unknown and dangerous foreign corporate aerospace interests that have created a three-way conflict between themselves, the Russian government, and Hydra that all centers around the husband of one of our agents who was supposed to be dead, but is not, or about the American Hero who doesn't listen to advice very well and is going to be in deep trouble we can't stop probably in…oh…five days or less."

—-

As eloquently as ever, May's initial reply is a single raised eyebrow.

"Let's start with the juiciest gossip. Which American Hero — though I'm pretty sure you mean Rogers — and what's he doing now?"

Her own mug is pushed across the table to replace the one Coulson just shoved aside, though she suspects he'll not touch it since the beverage contained within has no caffeine.

—-

"Close."

Coulson considers the water. It is an inferior beverage. He drinks it anyway, in one long gulp.

"Barnes," he elaborates.

"I've been in closed door meetings in Washington off and on all week, mostly with the US Secretary of State, the Vice President, and the US Attorney. The problem is lots and lots of nations have caught on to the fact that he was the Winter Soldier. Is. In their eyes. The Winter Soldier. They started threatening war if the United States didn't agree to extradite him. Thanks to some masterful work on Secretary Grey's part, that's not going to happen…but the deal she cut is one I can barely stomach. They're going to arrest him, and they're going to put him on trial, and if we try to stop it we might spark a war, lose SHIELD's international support, tank our funding and threaten our mission. The only reason they haven't done it yet is they haven't figured out a way to do it that doesn't end with a lot of collateral damage, but the strategy is being hammered out as we speak. I think they'll figure it out."

Restless, he takes both cups, washes May's, fills it with water. He moves to the coffee pot, fixing himself another coffee, a concoction of cream and sugar that's practically a poorly-executed cafe au lait. He returns and says, "I told him there were undercurrents. I implored him to put his best face forward. He's damn near broken that deal and sparked war with one of our allies, all because the Germans suspect he's in their nation right now. Moreover, I think they're right. He's got upwards of 27 kill orders in those borders alone."

—-

May sighs. An audible sigh from her that typically encompasses all of the harshest curse words in four languages. "And I'm the one that extended him amnesty from SHIELD." It goes unsaid but it's as clear as the water in her mug: THIS is how he's repaying her trust.

"If I need to, I will fly out to Germany myself and drag him back here by the ear. Where's Foster during all of this?" Because last she saw, those two were practically joined at the hip, though she couldn't have imagined a more unlikely pair.

—-

"My intel says you might as well wait," Phil says, holding up a hand. "Nobody knows you extended that trust. I've kept that sealed and classified. I know, Barnes knows, you know, Foster knows. It can remain that way for all of me."

She asks where Foster is, and Phil quirks an eyebrow. "Berlin, of course, along with several of his other known associates, and two unidentified men. Since one of those unidentified men ripped an SUV in half and shot a metal dragon with a rocket launcher, I'm going to go ahead and go out on a limb and say that was Barnes. They ought to have disguised the entire party or none at all, but its likely they didn't realize just how much is known about Barnes' new circle of associates. I think some of them would be rather surprised to learn they have started to ping on international intelligence radars."

Then, he responds to her unspoken unhappiness, saying gently, "I wouldn't take his actions personally. No doubt he does what he does because he feels he must."

—-

"But he's forgetting — again — to take into account the bigger picture. That his actions have repercussions beyond just him and his little band of vigilantes." She toys with the mug in front of her, turning it slowly on the table. "The whole thing just makes me want to slap him upside the head he wakes up next Thursday."

With a deep breath she straightens in her chair and looks at Phil. "Okay, now what's this about a aerospace pissing contest?"

—-

Phil's smile is sympathetic, and faint. She moves on, and this tells him that slapping him is probably not the action she'll take. The lesson is going to be driven home soon anyway, but he says, "If he makes it out the other side, what I'd like to do is find a way to channel all that energy in a way that is more productive, but…a problem for another day."

He pulls a file, and looks for a succinct way to tell a convoluted story. "Isa's husband, Makarov, is alive," he begins. "And on the run. The corporation is one of three chasing them, but it's a Russian aerospace concern called Icarus."

At this, he slides a file over and removes a satellite photo, sliding it across the table with her. "That's one of their facilities. I'm thinking of taking a 4-man team down there, including myself, Reichart, you, and anyone you choose."

He gives her a knowing smile. "That is. If you have any interest at all at raiding a facility that is sure to be full of juicy experimental airplane prototypes."

—-

"Reichert's husband?" May mutters a faint curse in Mandrin, one that Coulson has no doubt heard many times before. "Does she know yet?" Because that is going to be a REAL mess when the woman finds out.

Her eyes follow the satellite image and she studies the details contained in its pixels. Without her saying a word, it's clear in her posture and sudden alertness that her answer to the interest question is 'oh hell yes'.

"Logan, if we can get him. Or Romanova. In a pinch I'll settle for Allen from SciTech or Lewis, but neither of them is trained for this kind of mission." Hell, for this she'd be willing to put up with Rogers tagging along.

—-

"She knows," Coulson replies. "I've been keeping a close eye on her, don't worry."

His hazel eyes twinkle at the change in her posture. "Not Romanova," Phil says, shaking his head. "Reichart hates her, and Romanova just gleefully pours gasoline on the flames. I spent 25 hours in a plane with the both of them recently. Never. Again."

He contemplates that. "We have a little time— I don't think we can launch this before next week. What would it take for you to pull Lewis aside and give her some skill updates? I feel like we're underutilizing her potential, really, and she might be a good wildcard."

—-

With a nod, May agrees to Coulson's choice of Darcy for the last person on the team. "I'll pull her aside. You have seen her on field ops with those roller skates of hers, right?" It takes a LOT to impress May, but watching the normally rather clumsy Lewis suddenly become a viable combatant simply by strapping wheels to her feet managed it. "I know her range certifications are up to date." For a brief moment she almost considers tossing the name Darkedge out instead of having to force Darcy through more physical training, even if only to see Coulson's reaction to one of her more recent 'Weird-Ass Nasty Division' things.

—-

May knows Coulson well enough to know he'd give it some thought, especially if the man came with her recommendation. This name has not, however, crossed his desk yet.

His eyebrows quirk. Now it's his turn for something a bit more non-verbal. Roller skates?

But his skeptical look fades into something a bit more speculative. "If that's what it takes, let's have our engineering team put together some special boots. Take roller skates to the next level, add some anti-grav capability so she can roller-skate on walls and ceilings, put surprise on her side."

The key to leadership has always been, in Coulson's opinion, capitalizing on strength. And they're SHIELD. It's not like they can't manage this feat.

—-

"I suspect that Lewis has already sweet-talked someone in R&D into working on something of that sort. But I'll check to be sure, and take them along to the training sessions." She finally takes another sip from the refilled mug of water.

"BUT, if I feel Lewis isn't ready, I already have another person in mind. We'd have to sign him in as an asset, and there would have to be a good number of special considerations." It's entirely possible that Coulson has already heard about May's failed request to have a darkened entrance into the Triskelion.

—-

"Is this the darkened entrance thing?"

That's the only special consideration Phil can think of right off the top of his head.

He drains his coffee and goes for a third cup. The act of planning and talking things through has already returned him to center, cleared clouds from his brow. It's something he does quickly and naturally anyway, but May's presence and ear always helps, just going over it, back and forth just as they have so many times in the past. He's all interest now as she speaks of this contact.

—-

Of course he's heard of that already. "Yes," May says, leaning back in her chair. It's a gesture of both annoyance and amusement and it's easy to tell where each emotion is aimed. "The potential new asset is extremely light-sensitive, to the point that a normal forty-watt light bulb completely blinds him. He can see in nearly complete darkness, and has blade skills that I suspect exceed everyone in SHIELD. Combined."

Now that she's likely lured Coulson in to ask, she waits. Because she's not shared the kicker. Yet.

—-

"Utterly useless on day missions," Coulson observes.

But she's clearly waiting for something out of him. His lips quirk, his hazel eyes twinkle.

He'll let her have her fun.

"I'll bite. Where did you dig up this guy? What's his story?"

He folds his hands; a movement which signals complete attention and a willingness to be surprised…he's got a notion that she more than expects him to have to double take at this one. He might even be willing to do so, if the story is good enough. He might have to do so, if the story is good enough.

—-

"He sought me out," May offers the small reveal first. Then, the big one. "He's Fae. As in, pointy eared elf that has lived longer than Thor, supposedly. He's painfully allergic to anything even adjacent to iron, and his weapons are made from precious gems."

That surprising enough?

—-

Phil's eyebrows do shoot clear up into his receeding hairline.

""Just at the mirk and midnight hour, the fairy folk will ride, and they that would their true-love win, at Miles Cross they must bide."

The quote is from the ballad of Tam Lin; which seems altogether fitting to Phil.

He steeples his fingers though, letting his romantic streak go back to sleep as he turns his attention to far more practical concerns. "Hard to vet and background check one of the Fair Folk," he points out, inviting her to expand upon why she would trust the faerie enough to bring him along on SHIELD missions, and even to try to make alterations to the Triskelion to accommodate him.

—-

May knew that that would be one of Phil's hesitations about Darkedge. "He's no less difficult to check than most of my WAND assets, and you know that." After all, how does one verify the resume of an Aussie Clever Man, or a hedge witch from an easy-bake coven? "He's had multiple chances to put a blade in my spine, and he hasn't. He let himself be blindfolded and walked into the Triskelion through the front door like Stevie Wonder." May pauses there and looks at Phil squarely.

"Do you want to talk to him before deciding?"

—-

Phil drums his fingers against the table lightly.

"Your word," he says, "is enough for me. I want to talk to him, but only to get to know him. If you feel he is the right choice for the mission, May, well— I trust you to know your assets. I'll approve the special entrance. Fury will have a fit, but what else is new?" Phil will no doubt stand placidly saying 'Yes sir' while Fury yells, and then the next thing they know they'll have their entrance. Of course, Phil may also do a bunch of paper-fu to make sure it escapes Fury's notice until Darkedge has proven himself invauable.

It's not, after all, like he enjoys getting yelled at.

—-

"I'll see if I can arrange for you to talk to him. Probably out somewhere, though. This whole building is too brightly lit and has too much metal in it." And she will totally help with the paper-fu even though she hates paperwork with the fiery passion of a thousand supergiant stars.

"There anything else going on I need to know about?"

—-

"Everything else I've been involved with is resolved," Phil says, shaking his head…one-off things that were taken care of in a day or three, already filed away for her to read if she so chooses. With a mountain of such missions being executed every day he can't imagine she'd want to, but the information is nevertheless there.

He pauses. Then gives a genuine smile.

"I'm glad to be back," he says. Nobody else helps her get his head sorted like May.

He has not, of course, shared every last thing.

But. Of course. He never does.

—-

May actually smiles back. Of course, Coulson is one of the few people who has regularly seen her genuinely smile. "Glad to have you back. Now, when was the last time you ate something other than vending machine food?"

—-

"Ahhhh…"

He rubs the back of his neck. He actually has to bring up the AR display on his watch, poking at the holograms to bring up his calendar.

Sheepishly, he says, "Tues-day?" He draws the word out as if he'd like to be able to edge it into Wednesday or even Thursday.

"The trail mix in the vending machine is pretty yummy," he adds, as if that could somehow mitigate his deplorable habits when it comes to taking care of himself in this regard. But lest she take that as him not wanting to eat, he adds, "But I could go for a little something that's more substantial."

—-

May tosses back the last of the water in her mug, then stands. "Good. Because I'm starving. Let's go." Of course, if Phil lets her choose the place, they'll end up in a little hole-in-the-wall Asian diner where Phil would be literally the only person for whom English is their first language. But she's never known him to not be adventurous about food.

The vending machines are proof enough of that.

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