Options on the Table

October 16, 2017:

Sloane Albright has demonstrated she's ready to make some decisions. Phil Coulson shows up to tell her so.

The Triskelion

They even put the SHIELD logo on the sprinkler heads.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Rusalka Stojespal

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

In the blink of an eye, it's been a few months.

Sloane has made some connections in her school again; touched base with old friends from her old life, and started getting a few things sorted, flirting with the idea of returning to Columbia, and now she gets to see Sally on a fairly regular basis… at least not when the Agent (Junior Agent? It's hard to keep track these days) isn't off on some jet-setting adventure across the world.

Ultimately, from the psych evals and talking to the shrinks, the physical training as well as training in how to use her powers, it all leads to one place: She's doing rather well. She was nothing but chipper and radiant the day weeks ago she took a dive into the East River to save people from sea-monsters and mutants, and even if she was worried, she came out of the rescue of Rusalka Stojespal with only a few bumps and scrapes.

A few missing scales, too, but those are growing back in quite nicely.

Unfortunately, there's no good earphones that fit the long, pointed, tapered-out ears she has now even *remotely* comfortably, so the professional-grade audio equipment sits around her neck with the padding up against the sides of her chin, dressed in a plain t-shirt and shorts while strumming out a slow-tempo 'Everlong.'

The news is on, but she's barely paying attention.


There is a knock on the door of her apartment, quiet and understated.

On the other side waits Phil Coulson.

For the most part, the senior Agent has left her to the care of her liason, and her trainers. Much as he'd love to touch base with every single recruit, agent, or Inhuman personally, it is impossible: duty calls, always, and it often calls him to do far more than this. Still, some events warrant him making the room as his schedule allows. The East River Debacle was almost one of those things, but not quite. It was quietly noted, little more.

Sally's rescue, now. That warrants a conversation, a check-in, from the man who whisked the water dragon into SHIELD's perhaps still-dubious embrace months ago. He can hear some of the music coming through, but if that makes him question his timing, it never shows on his face.

Then again.

What does show on his face, most of the time, save for the smile of the Cheshire Cat, amiable and utterly obscure?


A … knock?

It's rare that anyone really knocks on her door; Sally will practically jump-kick through when she comes to visit, and Isa… well, Agent Reichert conducts herself in a fairly calm, restrained way, but Sloane always knows when the pilot is coming. — There was one night when the music was way too loud, sure, but … there's no way it's too loud *this* time, right?

Propping her guitar up on a rack, setting down her headphones and clicking the amp off, she shoots a fond glance to the black and blue sleeveless wetsuit that she wore out on the waves— she's worn it for her training— on the hanger of the open bathroom door.

Cracking it open, she looks up and blinks before it clicks, leading to a big, fangy grin. "Oh! Hey! Agent Coulson! Twice in a month. Hi, sorry, come on in!" she exclaims, standing aside for the man.

Sloane keeps the small apartment clean, but this is most definitely the living space of a college student. "Sally didn't get in trouble *again*, did she?"


The question makes Coulson chuckle. "No. She's fine, as far as I know. Though it's only a matter of time. Did she ever tell you about the time she decided to jump out of a moving space ship on a zip line to grab some kind of beacon?"

He comes in, though not terribly far, his eyes sweeping about the orderly apartment with approval before coming to rest on Sloane herself. "I actually came to check in with you," he says. "You did really well during the rescue, and I wanted to see how you felt about it all."

Though big fangy grins and enthusiastic welcomes are— well. Welcome! When they first met, after all, she'd been a little more leery of him, of SHIELD, of the intentions of both.

Settling in well, indeed, it seems.


Moving further inside, Sloane crosses over to the kitchenette, cracking open the fridge and getting a bottle of water to set on the counter. "Yeah, she did. God, I… well, okay, so, first it was like, 'ARE YOU SERIOUS,' and then it was, 'DID YOU GET SELFIES?' — 'Cause that's the kind of thing you gotta put in the scrapbook and show your grandkids."

But how does *she* feel?

The ginger dragonfish considers it for a moment, fiery orange eyes shifting one way before giving a thoughtful nod. "Good. It felt… pretty good, I think. I mean Sals was in trouble, so it wasn't like I *wasn't* going to go, but … all that training you guys have set up for me definitely didn't go to waste. And I figured out I'm *kind of* bulletproof," she adds, glancing at her arm.

"I liked it. I mean even if my reasons were a little bit selfish, I helped people, right? I mean I don't know what the guys in that other boat were up to, but that didn't matter. … I mean, getting shot at sucked."


"Getting shot at always does," Phil agrees, with a hint of wryness dancing on the edges of his tone. "Though it sucks less when you're bulletproof."

He's silent for a moment, really regarding her, taking in the nuances of body language and expression. He doesn't respond to all this selfie talk, either because he assumes it's a joke or because he just can't even. At last he says, "Being able to stay cool under pressure the way you did, that's a rare gift. As much of a gift as being bulletproof is, really. Being able to take enjoyment in that sort of thing is rare as well. It takes a special sort of person." He reaches for the water bottle with a nod of thanks for her hospitality, and unscrews the top, taking a sip. But those hazel eyes never leave her face.


She's standing tall— as close as she can, anyway— rather than being slouched and scared. Casual clothes, rather than burying herself in layers or a drawn-up hood. No sunglasses to hide her eyes even while indoors, no hesitation to grin or smile.

It takes a special kind of person, eh? The ginger's head slants one way, then another with a small shrug. "I don't think I am. I mean all this— of me, I mean— is pretty cool, but I think I'd be a bit of a mess right now if I didn't have all this training. I mean, you said it yourself back then, right? You wanted to make sure I was safe, and that I could take care of myself. So… thanks for that."

Arms straight, she leans on her side of the counter, eyebrows raised and squinting at the Agent. "So c'mon. What brings you alllll the way up here? I mean don't you spy guys read files if you want to catch up on someone?"


"Not always. Sometimes we have real live conversations with people. There's no substitute for seeing someone face to face." And there isn't. Without that, Phil would not have seen these markers of confidence, of someone who is at peace with herself.

His lips quirk, though, at her demurral that takes it all back to her training. "What do you think the purpose of all that training is? And even so, some people get the training and find they can't cut it in the field."

But despite all of his quips, he will get to the point eventually. "I wonder, Sloane, if after all this training and even field experience you've given any thought to where you'd like to take things from here. Your powers are under control now. You can, as you've pointed out, defend yourself. If you wished, you could be graduated out of the asylum program now, sent to pursue, well— whatever you wished. So."

He spreads his hands.

"I came to talk options."


Sloane can't help but grin again. She's relaxed, but … there's still a bit of nervous anticipation hanging in the edges. It's like she took an exam, and she's sitting on the edge of her seat to find out if she passed or not while the teacher is just … enjoying himself, way too much. "I bet."


"I'm all sorted with school right now. I mean— not going back right now, but I'm not going to lose any credits or anything. Officially, I'm taking a year off. My parents aren't really an issue right now. Dad was … Dad… but Mom took all this pretty hard. Christmas might be weird."

"What's on the table?" It's not quite detachment, but … trying to push through one of the more awkward parts of her life.


"Recruitment as a SHIELD Agent yourself, for starters," Phil says quietly, letting that one sit between them. She would not in fact be the first Inhuman they've ever recruited, or the first mutant, or the first anything else, after all. "You've already shown you've got the chops. You wouldn't be much of a spy candidate, conspicuous as you are, but as a battle operative I think you could eventually become one of the best we've got, and that's a fact."

And then, "Otherwise, I can write letters of recommendation to just about anything you want, or give you some time to transition out of the program. Find a place to live, or a job, or anything you like. I even have some suggestions in that direction, if you decide to take that route. We're not going to throw you out on your ear or anything, we're here for you, but neither can we hold on to you forever."

A quirk of a smile.

"You also don't have to decide tonight."


She had a feeling it was coming, but … having it put on the table that directly, that forwardly, she didn't entirely expect out of him. Sloane taps her hand on the counter while shifting back from her lean, seeming to chew on the thought. Not a spy, but on the ground for sure. Her head tips back, then one more nod, jaw set to one side.

Or, other jobs.

"Aquarium tour guide?" she asks in jest. Someone's probably made the offer to her before.

"I don't have a lot of friends in New York anymore, Agent Coulson. And my family's … well, like I said. If I can go out there and help people, like you guys helped me, I'd be okay with that. Maybe I'll find out more about my kind out there, too. I mean… SHIELD is kind of a 'weird' magnet. I'm liable to run into more Inhumans."


Sometimes being obscure serves a purpose. Sometimes being direct is the right tool in the toolbox. He quirks a smile at the aquarium tour guide comment, saying dryly, "I think you could have done better than that, but fortunately it sounds like we don't have to worry about it."

And then: "As a bonus, you get to keep the apartment."

It seems like he's not too surprised by the decision. He produces a badge. SHIELD Agent, Level 3, same as Stojespal, a working recruit. Level 1s and 2s are mostly support staff, admin, stuff like that, and raw recruits. But she's not a raw recruit anymore; she's been in training for months. And more importantly, Phil has seen what she can do in the field, and has reason to trust her.

"If you feel like you're making a weird face in this photo we can take another one," Phil adds. "I always feel like I'm making a weird face in mine no matter what though."


Taking the badge, Sloane studies it— less like the way she did when she moved in here originally, less like the confused girl with the guest pass and a very un-fancy lanyard and trying to avoid being seen by anyone other than Coulson and her handlers. There's a hint of pride, of confidence.

She remembers when the photo was originally taken— she felt like a mess, even if her expression was pretty neutral. "It's fine. … It's a good reminder."

Of where she was, and where she is.

Tapping the pass against the heel of her hand, the Inhuman looks up at Coulson. "Thanks. For everything."


"Sloane. I didn't do anything you need to thank me for," Phil says gently. "All the things you're thanking me for? They're the result of your hard work. You taking the opportunity and running with it. You working through all the tough bits in your head.

And then: "If you want to thank me though—" He takes a long swig of his water. "Ask Sally about hunting. She's getting quite adept at it. And it's the right season for it."

Sally has not, of course, been shooting deer and gutting them or anything like that. The cryptic smile says that even as an operative, there might be a bit of cloak and dagger in Sloane's life anyway.

"Don't be late for advanced combat training. New schedule's in your e-mail."

When did he have time to send that?

But maybe it just comes down to being pretty sure of her decision.


The look on Sloane's face is quizzical, at best. *Hunting*? The most she knows the Sokovian for is being a fencer and a motorhead. … And the 'Tony Stark's intern' thing. Hunting… Hunting? … Hunting.

Hunting. What?

Within a few moments, the buzz of a phone set to vibrate goes off, and the Inhuman fishes the phone out of her pocket to give it a look. Damn, Coulson's timing is … impeccable. That, or he's got everything figured out right off the bat.

Advanced combat training, and then … lord knows what.

Two fingers tap the corner of her temple. "Roger that, sir."

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