What he expects is a mixture of Robocop and Gangs of New York in a run-down shed in the suburbs of Miami. There should have been unintelligible shouting and sharp objects.
What Michael finds when he sneaks in through the backdoor is a cabin full of dozing New Age pirates scattered over the floor with their weapons neatly arranged on the couch.
As much of a surprise as this is it is nothing compared to the middle-aged man in a suit standing amongst the mess, smiling as if he’s learned it at school.
“Good afternoon, Mister Westen. We’ve been expecting you.”
“I wish I could say the same.” Michael keeps his gun levelled at the stranger’s head, swiftly assessing the possibility of concealed weapons.
“You have nothing to fear from me, Mister Westen, I assure you.” The guy’s appearance screams government agent but somehow lacks the usual superiority of ’I know something you don’t’. Other than that he doesn’t seem particularly dangerous. But Michael knows only too well that the ones who truly are seldom do.
“Yeah, sorry,” Michael shrugs, “I’ve heard that a little too often to get all warm and fuzzy.”
The stranger nods, “Understandable. However, hurting you in any way would be counterproductive so believe me when I say that you have nothing to worry about.”
“Like these guys?” Michael nods towards the snoring gangsters.
“Oh, that.” The man adjusts his tie - needlessly so because if impeccable were a person it would be him, “We thought we would take care of it for you. As a sign of good faith, if you will.”
“Your sniper’s pretty good then.” Michael ascertains because people don’t just fall over and go to sleep.
The man’s lips twitch and it gives his smile a vague air of approval, “He doesn’t like to be called that. I believe he prefers the term archer. But yes, he is.”
The shot is timed perfectly. An arrow longer than Michael’s arm veers through the window, knocks the gun clean out of his hand and buries itself in the wall on the other side of the room. This wouldn’t be half as impressive if Michael’s gun didn’t end up dangling from the arrow by its trigger.
In his mind Michael rescinds his statement. Whoever is out there isn’t just good - they’re giving Fi a run for her money and that’s saying something.
The suit, however, doesn’t even flinch, “Can we talk now, Mister Westen? I’m afraid we don’t have all day. The sleeping agent wears off after thirty minutes.”
Michael contemplates retrieving his weapon but stepping into the line of fire of someone who can shoot through an opening literally not much bigger than a finger does not seem like a grand idea.
So, he cautiously circumnavigates the window and sits down on the wobbly stool because it provides the best angle to keep an eye on Mr Proper and evade whatever else Robin Hood might choose to aim at him.
“Agent Coulson.” The suit introduces himself as he sits back down in sync with Michael, “I’m with S.H.I.E.L.D..”
“Never heard of it.” Michael eyes the trees outside and begins to wonder if this is some sort of prank.
“Few people have.” Agent Coulson nods, “We like to keep a low profile.”
“Let me guess, now that you’ve told me you have to kill me, my family, my friends, and whoever else I socialise with if I ever tell anyone?”
Agent Coulson looks almost offended, “Not at all. As I said, this would defeat the purpose of this meeting.”
“Speaking of which...,” Michael gestures for Coulson to get a move on. One of the punks stirs in his sleep. He’s drooling.
“We would like to have you on our team, Mister Westen.”
“I already have a team, thanks.” True enough. Although, Fi would probably object to being mentioned in the same breath as Sam. And yet they work well enough together to at least merit an honorary team stamp.
Once again, Coulson nods as if Michael is telling him the end of a book he’s already read, “Ah, yes. Our offer also extends to your... colleagues.”
Michael smirks, “You do know one of them is perpetually in trouble. And the other one is Fiona Glenanne.”
“We are aware of their-,” Coulson pauses for a moment, “personal agendas.”
“If I were you I wouldn’t be worried about their personal agendas so much as their personalities.”
“You appear to work well with them.”
“If by ‘well’ you mean that they haven’t gotten me killed yet...” It’s a bit unfair because when either of them get him into trouble they usually get him out of it too. Or Fi just blows shit up which is sometimes one and the same.
Coulson merely smiles and quirks his eyebrows as if he wants to say ’There you go.’.
Since he doesn’t say anything else Michael probes further, “Okay, fine. So what is it exactly that you guys do? Do you hunt aliens? Or escaped souls from Hell?”
For a second the agent looks downright uncomfortable, tugging at the lapels of his suit but the moment passes and the textbook smile is back, “Yes.”
“All of the above.” He shrugs, “And more. Does The Avengers Initiative mean anything to you?”
Michael snorts. Superheroes - pretty much the last thing the world needs, in his opinion. So far, he hasn’t seen a superhero get an old lady her savings back from an embezzlement scheme or help a mother extract her five-year-old daughter from the clutches of an obsessed father with mafia ties.
“They’re kind of hard to miss. Didn’t they like... destroy San Francisco the other day?”
Coulson shifts almost unnoticeably, “Most of it is still standing.”
“My point is, it would be gone entirely if it weren’t for them. Along with the greater part of the West Coast, by the way.”
Michael smiles and leans back to present even less of a target for William Tell out there, “Then what do you need me for? I’m not a superhero. I’m not even particularly fond of comic books.”
It could be Michael’s imagination but there might be a vague suggestion of I Am Judging You in Coulson’s expression. It’s gone the instant Michael thinks about it though.
“We like your style.” Coulson concludes after a moment’s thought.
“I wasn’t aware I had a style.”
Coulson’s smile grows a tad fonder than Michael is comfortable with given that this man shouldn’t know the first thing about him but is nevertheless scarily well-informed, “More than you know.”
“You know,” Michael straightens up, minuting Coulson’s every move, “the thing is I really try to avoid killing people. I’ve done that half my life so I’d like to keep the other half a kill-free zone.”
Coulson looks as if Michael has just made an argument in his favour, “That’s fine with us. We are, after all, an organisation dedicated to keeping the death toll to an absolute minimum.”
Michael arches one eyebrow, “Doesn’t look like that on TV.”
“Our enemies don’t always agree.” Coulson slowly gets up and Michael appreciates the way he makes all his movements clearly visible - he just doesn’t know if it’s for the archer outside or for the nervous ex-spy in here, “So, Mister Westen. Can we count you and your friends in?”
Michael wiggles his hand, smiling too broadly to mean it, “Ah, I haven’t had the best of experiences with shady organisations recruiting me out of nowhere. I’m gonna have to think about it.”
“Of course.” Coulson adjusts his suit even though it couldn’t look more spotless if it came off the rack at the store and hands Michael a business card. It’s black with a stylised eagle on it. It just says ’Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division’ and ’Phillip J. Coulson’, along with a phone number. No title, no official position, no address, just a name.
’Intervention and Enforcement’. Well, that sounds exactly like the things Michael tries to avoid. And whatever lurks behind ’Logistics’ probably isn’t a keenly priced moving company either. Strangely, it’s also exactly what he does for a living these days. He just doesn’t bring down governments anymore. At least not on purpose.
“Give me a call.” Coulson says as he leaves, “Just don’t take too long.”
“Why?” Michael inspects the card and grins, “You got a recruitment quota to fill?”
“No.” Coulson returns his smile with a genuine one, “But the world might end before you’ve decided.”
“Does that happen often?”
Coulson shrugs, “About five times since you got here.”
Michael points at their surroundings, “Still here. Are you really sure you need me for anything?”
“Who’s to say we’re not still here because of men like you?” Coulson makes an absent-minded gesture that Michael knows from painful experience signals a sniper to stand down, “Don’t you think it would be a shame if the world ended while you had the chance to do something about it?”
“I can’t save entire cities.” Michael warns, “I used to be a spy. Not sure what I am now.”
“Join us and figure it out.” Coulson sends another smile his way before he turns to the car that suddenly rounds the corner. It sports the same insignia as his card. So much for low-key. “You wouldn’t be the first. There are more people like you out there than you know.”
“Let’s hope not.” Michael frowns but it doesn’t deter Coulson.
“If I don’t get a call by Friday I’ll assume you have declined our offer.” He says as he rounds the car to get in on the passenger side, “In this case we’ll never bother you again.”
“Pinky promise?” Michael flashes him a toothy grin.
It does not chase the knowing smile from Coulson’s face which is either unnerving or terribly soothing, “Whatever you require. Good day, Mister Westen. And watch your six. I think they’re waking up.”
The car leaves in a cloud of dust and the fuzzy impression of a hallucination. However, reality catches up in the form of a bunch of disgruntled, disoriented make-believe mobsters with a headache and only Michael to blame.
“Oh, well.” Michael sighs and slides Coulson’s card into his pocket before smiling at the first assailant and kicking him in the guts.