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An Endless Circle

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Trip woke up at five am every morning. He was told to take it easy since SHIELD was in the middle of being reconstructed, and except for the occasional mission he took with May, he was taking it easy. He just could not seem to knock the habit of waking up at the crack of dawn though.

His mother woke him up at five am to get ready for school. First, she would open the blinds, letting the sunlight hit him directly in the face. She gave him another ten seconds of sleep before throwing the sheets off the floor with a cheery “Rise and shine, mon cheri!” She would nudge him into the bathroom to shower, brush his teeth, and have a bowl of oatmeal and brown sugar with her and his father. They walked the mile from their brownstone to his elementary school; he skipping and running ahead while his mother walked behind him, smiling and singing old Josephine Baker and Ella Fitzgerald songs. Sometimes a man with a gruff voice would walk with them, he wore sunglasses all the time, but he always snuck him an action figure or cool Captain America trading card. His mom did not sing during those times.

Middle school began an hour after elementary school, and Trip still woke at 5am. He would walk out of his room, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and catch his mother in the kitchen talking with his dad while she tucked her weapon in the holster on her side. She would press a hand to his cheek, murmur “Be good” and turn to leave for work, her black heels clicking down the hallway. He would grab a bite of fruit before jogging around the block for two miles, he was conditioning for the baseball team, before coming back, showering, and eating a bowl of oatmeal with his dad.  This continued throughout middle and high school.

In college, after binging on cheap, questionably branded beer and a rainbow of shots, Trip would still wake up at five am. Mostly in order to run directly into the bathroom, past his roommate who lay underneath the breakfast table with a beer can fort surrounding him, and vomit what felt like half of his body weight. He would sleep till noon where a trek to the university cafeteria, half carrying aforementioned roommate, where dried toast eagerly awaited them. He ran later that evening, a bizarre sense of betrayal creaking in his bones.

SHIELD Academy woke him up at two am and kept him running, sparring, dodging, and fielding possible tactics until four am before they would let the students back into their bunks. 

Trip still woke up at five am.

He ran around the field five times for a grand total of fifteen miles – a protein shake for breakfast and SHIELD's field manual, volume seven, on his lap.

After he graduated from SHIELD Academy and became an active field agent, he still ran. 





Across the world, he ran.

Trip even ran, well, walked, when he was in the Sahara Desert amidst the dunes. He befriended a spiney-tailed lizard. One time, he got lost for half an hour before his contact found him lying on the sand a quarter mile away from camp, enjoying the sun and staring at the vultures flying overhead, wondering whether or not drinking their blood for hydration was advisable.

And now here he was, an agent within an officially defunct agency, essentially a vigilante slash hobo, until Coulson finalized the paperwork to raise SHIELD back from its unexpected demise. Rather than mull about his limbo state of employment, he ran around the base, learning its undiscovered or forgotten spaces until the rest of his team members awakened. 

Trip was on his final lap around the premises when he spotted a familiar mop of hair in the distance.

"I didn't even know five am existed until I met you people," huffed Skye as he neared. She was sitting on the stairs, her back against the wall, sleep still in her eyes and her pajamas still bed warm. On her face was an expression that was clearly traumatized by the wakening sun. She scrunched her face, "Well, I knew about six am,” she conceded at his disbelieving face. “Only when I was too busy coding and forgot to go to sleep and six am became my bedtime."

Trip laughed, pulling off his other ear bud, his gait slowly turning into a walk until he reached her. "I'm glad I could enlighten you about the many different hours of day."

He sat on the ground opposite of her and stretched his pleasantly sore muscles. He knew Skye was watching him, appreciating the view since he was in tight jogging pants and a thin grey tank top.

"Begrudgingly," she responded after a beat. She unscrewed the top of her thermos. "Want some?"

He shook his head with an apologetic grin, "Thank you, but I try not to drink coffee."

"Monster," Skye replied but poured anyway. It was oatmeal. "Eat. You only ever eat oatmeal bars or protein shakes for breakfast and even I'm starting to get bummed for you." She said with a wink, "I thought you were the cool agent. Even May eats perishable breakfasts,  although it consists of fruit and a single egg."

"Thanks." He accepted the proffered cup from the ground. In it was the oatmeal with the candy dinosaur eggs. “Huh.”

"It's fruit flavored," she said as she pulled out a spoon from her bag and placed it into the oatmeal. “Healthy.”

"I've only eaten oatmeal like this once," admitted Trip. "Back in seventh grade, I was staying over with a friend for the night because my parents had to go to a conference. I didn't know that oatmeal came any other way than brown sugar and dried fruit." He chuckled at the memory. "I got a box from my friend and finished all of it in one day. I also vomited it all up in one day,” he wiggled his eyebrows, “My puke was rainbow colored, I kid you not.” Skye shook her head in disbelief, an incredulous smile on her face. “Then I suddenly couldn't eat it anymore. Since now anyway." He took a bite, one with a dinosaur egg. He scrunched his face, tongue sticking out, "This is a lot sweeter than I remember."

"Excuse you, it's delicious." Skype spooned herself a mouthful, a satisfied grunt at the first taste. "Just like childhood." She smiled into the thermos, her voice soft, "It was a real treat at the orphanage."

Trip slowly stirred his oatmeal, watching the rest of the dinosaur eggs foam and dissolve into cartoon candy dinosaurs. "What did y’all eat?"

"The usual," shrugged Skye, eyes still focused in her bowl. "The industrial carton eggs, questionable slabs of meat, off-off-off brand cereal, and orange tang." She seemed smaller as she tucked her knees underneath her chin. He could imagine a Skye, young and courageous, curled in a ball and dreaming of better breakfasts and open skies.

"That interesting, huh?"

“When it was available,” shrugged Skye.

“It was that tough?” Trip remembered when Gramma Peggy retired during the beginning of his middle school years. His mom had taken her place. Eating most meals with only his dad had been an unusual change, but at least he still had his dad and food was always on the table. His mom made a meal once a week, and Gramma and Gramps would join, and he almost forgot what missing her felt like.

"It was home.” Skye awkwardly pushed two of the dinosaurs together next to a still dissolving egg. She smiled when it finally became a proper candy dinosaur rather than a delinquent candy egg.

"Sounds like you made the best of it." 

"We tried," Skye said, ending the subject. She stretched her arms, and suddenly she was back to Skye, the woman who carried on as if the world was hers. "I thought you were taking it easy since we’re not active duty right now. Running ten miles a day, everyday, is a little much, don't you think?"

Trip patted his stomach, "I gotta keep in shape. I'm still an agent after all."

"You look like the type of guy who could eat four meat lovers pizza and not gain a pound.” Skye shot him a flirty smile, looking him up and down.

Trip winked at her. Her cheeks brightened slightly, and he applauded himself for helping bringing back a little color to her face.

"I try to share my food," he said, finishing off the last of his oatmeal. "Besides, you’re one to talk.” He leaned forward and tapped her bicep, “Those workout sessions with May are clearly helping.”

Skye groaned, wigging her toes, “I can appreciate the yoga and taichi in the morning but the combat and defense lessons are heinous. I never knew some muscles existed, let alone get as sore as they do.”

“You’re getting hands on training with the Cavalry,” said Trip. “That’s pretty cool.”

“Yeah,” nodded Skye, a fond look on her face. “She really is, everything she does is pretty kickass.”

Trip almost regretted calling May a traitor. Almost. It was only proper protocol. If their situations had been reversed, she would have suspected him as well. She indirectly said as much last week during one of their ‘not completely authorized by Coulson because he doesn't really know but whatever, it’s May’ reconnaissance missions. She completely kicked his ass. He considered it an honor that she did not take him out in five moves. She held out her hand, he grasped it, and it was suddenly not unusual for May to sometimes join him for a jog. 

“By the way, what’s got you up earlier than usual and feeding me junk food?"

"I couldn't sleep.” The dark circles under her eyes were an obvious tell. He asked Simmons once; she and Skye were roommates, but she would only smile nervously. Night terrors, he deduced quickly.

"I thought I'd wake up a little earlier before my morning sessions with May and one day I saw you." She twiddled her fingers guiltily as she spoke. "You were running like you needed to get away from something."

She paused before holding his gaze. May was training her well. "It reminded me a little of…” she sighed, nervously running her hand through her hair, “It reminded me of myself.”

Running was a constant in his life, a way for him consolidate his emotions and decompress. He had forgotten that Skye, despite her talents and spitfire comebacks, just a few months ago, was a civilian with slightly more than an inkling of knowledge regarding espionage and combat.

"I'm done with my run." Trip stood up and held out his hand, "I was thinking about walking my last lap. Wanna join me?"

Skye's gaze narrowed, "Walking, like, walking-walking?”

Walking,” Trip said easily.

Her hands momentarily clenched against her thighs, uncertainty flickering across her face. He was about to lower his hand, “Only if you join me with May afterward."

"Deal," he grinned. She returned it while grasping his hand.

May stared.

She was usually the first one in the grassy field behind the Playground. Sometimes Skye would camp out, curled up in a sleeping back, nervously murmuring words that May pointedly tuned out. Instead, she would sit next to her, rest a hand on the younger woman’s head, and Skye would lull back into a less fitful sleep. Trip would run past them sometimes and he and her would share a look. Sometimes Trip was there, before Skye, and he would join her for a warm down from his run.

This morning.  

She expected Skye. Trip was unsurprising. They stood next to one another, postures relaxed and energy calm. Jemma and Fitz were making their first appearance to her morning sessions. They were standing, albeit groggily - Fitz more so than Jemma, and clearly dragged here by Trip and Skye. Coulson and Koening were present as well, wearing SHIELD standard issue gear, including the headband.

May took a deep breath and exhaled. The six of them followed suit.

“Well then, let’s begin.”