Leo purposefully didn't look up when he heard Agent Coulson's footsteps on the floor. The floors of the lab in the Mobile Command Unit had a thick rubbery coating, designed to stop things - and people - from sliding around while they were in the air. Coulson's footsteps were slightly muffled, but more pronounced than Agent Ward's footsteps. Leo knew Jemma had already gone to sleep for the night and Agent May was up in the cockpit. That left Agent Coulson as the odd man out.
"Good work today," Coulson said as he stopped a few feet away.
"Yeah, well, it was a team effort," Leo said, not looking up from the pieces of the half disassembled data-bot he had spread out in front of him. Dopey had given him some problems in the field. Jemma insisted it was because they'd named the bot Dopey that it was constantly the one giving them a headache, but Leo was of the opinion - the right opinion - that it was because Dopey was tasked with modeling four dimensional spaces with a system that simply wasn't designed for that sort of input. Complex tasks lead to complex errors, or that's what Leo's favorite professor had often said. Leo preferred to think of it as complex tasks lead to ingenious solutions.
Coulson set his hand down on the counter, the metal ringing slightly in the enclosed space. "We've got a briefing at 0700 tomorrow, shortly after we touchdown."
"I'll be there with bells on," Leo replied as he eased one of the tiny lenses out of the data-bot casing. If he didn't know any better he'd say they were on solid ground, or beneath solid ground, as that's where his and Jemma's last lab had been. Agent May knew what she was doing, though he hadn't expected any less from her. She was legendary in SHIELD.
"I'm sure you will be. I'm going to turn in. Goodnight, Agent Fitz," Coulson said, remaining for a solid minute before he walked out of the lab.
Leo had got that the first had been Coulson's subtle way of telling him that he should turn in for the night, and the second was his unsubtle way of telling him the same thing just in case Leo was one of those scientists that completely missed social cues. Out of the two of them, Leo thought that Jemma was more likely to miss a social cue than he was, though they both could do it when they got involved in a completely consuming project. And Coulson was right. It was late. They'd had a long day of stopping people from blowing up. They were on their way to possibly confirm a 084.
And there was no way Leo was going to go climb in his little bed pod and go to sleep. Not tonight at least.
So this was the first time he'd been assigned to a field team. That wasn't really a big deal. Even though seeing the charred remains of what had once been a person wasn't on his list of things he loved to do, it wasn't going to keep him awake at night either. Especially since they'd stopped a whole bunch of people ending up the exact same way. In fact, if Leo was to sit down in a somewhat comfortable chair and shut his eyes, he'd probably go to sleep without a problem.
Getting to sleep wasn't the problem. The problem was those bed pod things that they'd been assigned. Personal space was at a premium and the Mobile Command Unit certainly wasn't designed with long term living in mind, and even the quarters on the Helicarrier were a little tight. When he had first come aboard he'd stowed his bag in his assigned pod and went straight for the lab, just like Jemma, and he hadn't thought it would be an issue. It wasn't like he was going to spend more time in there than it took to sleep.
Now that it came down to getting into the pod, Leo knew exactly what would happen. He would get inside, try to pretend he didn't feel like the walls were closing in around him, and stumble out maybe ten minutes later soaked in sweat and possibly starting to hyperventilate. And that just wasn't going to happen, because Leo knew how these things worked. No matter that everyone except Agent May was presumably asleep. Somehow, someone would witness his terrified stumble out of his bed pod.
Jemma already knew that he had a touch of claustrophobia. Not even enough for it to be properly termed claustrophobia and certainly not enough to show up on any of SHIELD's psychological profiles. Just enough that he felt a little bit uncomfortable in elevators and to be more than a little concerned about the idea of being stuck in an elevator when it broke down. It hadn't happened yet, but Leo was sure that one day it would.
But Jemma knew because they'd worked together long enough that they knew most everything about each other. Leo knew that Jemma's favorite animal was an iguana, that she'd never had a pet but liked the idea of having one, and that she was afraid that if she had one, she'd forget to feed it and it would die. The row of dead and dying plants that used to line one edge of Jemma's desk back in their former lab was not particularly promising in that regard, and Leo also knew that Jemma would apologize to her dead plants before taking them to one of the compost containers. Leo knew that Jemma's favorite color was lavender, that she was an only child, and that she had nearly failed her athletics requirement in school because she'd refused to change into the athletic uniform for her entire last year of schooling.
It was a strange place, knowing so much about someone and knowing that they knew you just as well in return. A funny double-edged sword, because they knew each other's weaknesses, but most of the time they could trust each other not to ever use them in a way that would really hurt. If Jemma saw him after he'd nearly panicked from his mild claustrophobia, she would get him a cup of water and coach him into taking deep breaths. He wouldn't mind if Jemma saw him like that, not really.
It would be different if it was Agent Coulson though, or Agent May. Agent May would undoubtably see it as something she had to tell Coulson, as it was definitely an exploitable weakness in the field. Leo didn't really imagine that he would be in the middle of the action all that often, let alone in a position that his claustrophobia could be used against him, but it was something that SHIELD would want on paper if they knew about it. It was something that they would want to document and analyze and poke and prod at until Leo wasn't claustrophobia any longer. If they couldn't fix him, maybe they would even make him leave SHIELD.
Agent May would probably be at least somewhat sympathetic, if she were to find him in that messy state of near panic, and if it was Coulson, he would be calm and centered as he always was. Coulson was the epitome of the unflappable agent that they were all supposed to strive to be, everyone said so. Coulson would probably try to talk to him, make sense of it, nod knowingly just like he had with Mike Peterson in the train station. Leo thought the worst of it would be sitting there under Coulson's gaze while the man mentally took him apart and read him like one of their case files.
No, Leo knew what the worst of it would be. The worst of it would be if Agent Ward found him. Leo didn't know if Ward was callow enough to actually laugh at him, but Leo thought he might. Ward had been okay so far, but Leo was smart enough to see that Ward didn't want to be there. In particular, he didn't want to be there with them. Ward didn't seem as rash or cocky as some of the agents Leo had encountered, but he certainly couldn't be called personable either. In any case, Ward was definitely not someone Leo would want to see while he was in the midst of panicking.
Leo frowned down at Dopey and blinked as he realized that his hands had been working steadily without his mindful presence. That wasn't actually unusual for him; he had actually solved quite a few problems by letting his mind wander while his hands tinkered, but this was actually a rather elegant solution to Dopey's problem. If it worked, that was. Leo finished making the adjustments to the lenses and sensors and put Dopey's casing back together. By the time he was finished more than an hour had passed and he slipped Dopey back into the case with the others. Testing could wait until another day.
With Dopey taken care of, Leo realized that he had another solution to his problem as well. He headed toward the main living space in the Mobile Command Unit, grabbing the nearest charged tablet on his way - a Stark Tablet, naturally. Most of SHIELD's computers and technology were purchased directly from Stark Industries at a moderately discounted rate.
Settling into the most comfortable of the chairs, Leo opened up all of the information SHIELD had on 084 and started to skim through the files. If he slumped down in the chair and tipped his head to the side, he was in the perfect position to fall asleep. Falling asleep in the sitting area wasn't exactly professional, but Leo knew he'd wake as soon as everyone else started moving around. This way he'd get a couple hours of sleep and no one - except maybe Jemma - would think anything other than he'd fallen asleep while prepping for their next assignment.
As Leo's eyes started to close, he had a flash of realization as to why his claustrophobia was suddenly bothering him more than usual, and then immediately wished he hadn't had the realization at all. Coulson had been particularly intense about them finding a solution that wouldn't wind up with Mike Peterson dead. That wasn't a problem, SHIELD was all about intense situations. Jemma had been elated that their plan had worked - as she should have been since the modifications to the contents of their somewhat useless night-night gun were mostly hers. Leo had been elated as well, but over the course of the evening that relief had worn down to a low grade anxiety. And now he knew why.
They had come up with a solution in time, this time. And they possibly would the next time they were working against the clock. Maybe even the next time as well. But sooner or later they would fail and it would be a lot worse than receiving a failing mark on an exam. This was on them, Coulson had said. And it would be on them when they failed to do whatever it took to save the day. Leo's eyes opened, unable to keep them closed against the driving need to see that the walls hadn't crept closer, and he started to doubt whether he would ever be comfortable climbing into his bed pod and sliding the door closed behind him.