"COME HERE OFTEN, COWBOY?"
Chris glanced over at the woman, before returning his attention to his drink. "Did you just call me cowboy?"
"Why? Is that a problem?" She slipped onto the barstool next to him, leaning back against the bar, elbows propped on the edge.
"Just might be," he replied, looking at her again.
"That's too bad." She snaked out a hand, sliding his shot glass towards her. "It really is." Her eyes glinted as she drained what was left of his whisky.
Raising an eyebrow Chris signaled the bartender, two fingers raised. "You really are something else."
"So I've been told," she said with a saucy grin.
The bartender put two shots of whisky down on the bar, Chris nodding his thanks as he pushed one in front of his uninvited companion. "Thought you might like your own."
"Thoughtful," she said, winking.
"So I've been told," he repeated her earlier words.
"I just bet you have." Running her eyes over him, she returned to her earlier words. "Seriously, you might as well be a gunslinger from the 19th century. Living over a saloon, the boots, your fondness for black; all that’s missing are the spurs."
"Who says they're missing?" His voice held a rasp smoothed with whisky.
The woman held her palms up with a little shrug. "My mistake."
"Could show 'em to you." A wolfish grin settled on his lips.
"Best offer I've had all day."
"SO WHAT BRINGS YOU TO MY DOORSTEP, MELINDA?" Chris asked, pushing back a strand of damp black hair from her face. It had been nearly a year since he had seen Agent Melinda May, during a mission that their two teams had been assigned.
Rolling onto her side, she propped herself up on one elbow. "On my way from somewhere to someplace else—you know the drill." She slipped her hand up his bare chest to lie against the back of his neck, pulling him towards her and kissing him. Smiling, she added, "And maybe I missed you, just a little bit."
"Only a little?" he asked with mock indignation. "I'll have to rectify that."
"Yeah, you will," she agreed, laughing. More seriously, she said, "I read the briefings on what happened here. If I didn't do this for a living, I'd never believe it."
"That makes two of us." He wrapped an arm around her as she laid her head against his shoulder. "We live in crazy times, Melinda."
"And how have you been, Chris, really?"
Chin on her hand, she tilted her head to look at him. "Are you sure? You grew up not far from here; you have a lot of history, a lot of memories."
Chris sighed. "That's the past, Melinda."
"Is it?" She looked at the photo on the nightstand, Chris and a boy that seemed to be about 12, sitting on an ATV. "How often do you see Adam?"
Sitting up against the headboard, he scrubbed at his hair. She followed suit, leaning against him. "I get my head shrunk enough by command, Melinda, don't need it from you too."
"You know damn well that wasn't my intention! I care about you, Chris. Sometimes I think if I hadn't recruited you into SHIELD, after you left the Marines, that maybe you'd have a real life, one you'd spend with your son."
"That was never going to happen, Melinda. You know that." He kissed the top of her head.
"Adam was 4 when I was deployed that last time, he was nearly 6 when I was captured, and 7 by the time I got out of that hellhole. Almost another 6 months before I got to go home. But the home I left, the family, they were gone. You know all this," he said harshly.
"I'm sorry, Chris, I am."
"Know that too. I see Adam when I can. It's better for him the way it is. He has a family, the only one he's ever really known." As she embraced him, he whispered, "It's for the best."
"Yes, sir," Josiah Sanchez replied.
JD looked at him sharply, thinking the older man was humouring him, but all he saw on Sanchez's face was satisfaction. Apparently, the man didn't think it was beneath him to be schlepping gear for Doctor Foster, under the command of man young enough to be his son. This was good. Chris had told him he was in charge, and that he wanted a full report of JD's opinion of both Sanchez and Standish.
"Standish," JD called out. "You need to actually pick up the sensors to place them." Ezra Standish looked at JD from where he leaned against the Humvee, not seeming inclined to the task to which he had been set. Chris had sent Ezra along with the rest of the party, wanting to observe him outside the holding cell he'd inhabited the last several days. "Get moving, Standish, or you can go back to your cell," he ordered, doing his best imitation of his CO.
Ezra sighed long-sufferingly, glancing down at the tracking anklet that Vin Tanner had attached before he'd been released from the compound. "I have always abhorred work details."
"Now why doesn't that surprise me?" Nathan Jackson said, as he planted a sensor into the rocky ground.
Ezra looked balefully at the other man. "Some of us were not meant for menial labour, Nurse Jackson."
Nathan turned to Ezra angrily. "No, some us were made for punching out obnoxious ex-cons!"
Ezra merely rolled his eyes at Nathan's threat, still showing no inclination to follow JD's order.
Before Nathan could respond, JD barked, "Now, Standish!"
"Very well," Ezra replied, making it sound as if he were doing JD a favour.
"That's better," JD said as Ezra headed for the stack of sensors.
"I love it when you're all bossy, JD," Darcy said admiringly from where she stood next to Nathan, holding what looked like a tablet computer, that beeped and hummed as she pointed it at the sensor Nathan had set. "It's very sexy."
JD blushed bright red. "Thank you, Darcy…Ma'am…Miss Lewis." He stumbled over his words. The other men laughed. Annoyed, JD said, "Everyone, get back to work!"
"Yes, sir!" all three men said in unison, followed by more good-natured laughter.
"Chris makes it seem so easy," JD muttered to himself, picking up a sensor and joining his crew.
"Entirely my fault, Agent Wilmington—I wanted to make sure the perimeter was secure," May said innocently.
Next to Buck, Vin snickered as Larabee's glare deepened.
"And is the perimeter secure, Agent May?" Buck asked with equal innocence.
"Oh, absolutely." She nodded, poking Chris in the ribs with her elbow. "Isn't that right, Agent Larabee?"
Chris closed his eyes and hung his head, as if looking for strength. Then he ran his eyes across the others. "You're all very funny, so if we're done here? This isn't a coffee klatch, agents."
Ignoring him, Buck said, "Why you are a sight for sore eyes, Agent May."
"It's nice to be missed." She stepped closer to Buck. "By the way, Wilmington, I hear you make a real nice cup of coffee. How about you get me one?"
Now it was Chris' turn to laugh, Vin joining in, at the look on their teammate's face.
"Does everyone in the agency know about me and that thing with Romanoff?" Buck exclaimed.
"Not everyone," May replied, a twinkle in her eye. "Just Level Seven agents and above."
"Aw, there now, Buckling, you're famous!" Vin crowed, slapping the big man on the back.
"Perfect," Buck muttered.
"Old enough," he snapped defensively.
Ezra raised his hands in a placating gesture. "I meant no disrespect, Agent Dunne. I am merely curious as to how such a seemingly competent agent could be so young."
Mollified, JD shrugged. "Sorry." He made a pattern in the sandy ground with the toe of his boot. "My mom got sick when I was about 13. We lived in Boston, and the doctors said that maybe the country would help, so we moved to Iowa, where she had some family. A cousin took me on at his farm. Money was tight, and mom couldn't work much," he explained.
"And from Iowa, you ended up as a secret agent?"
"Sorta." JD grinned. "See, I was good with mechanical things: cars, crop dusters, tractors, combines. You name it; I can break it down and put it back together again. They used to call me 'MacGyver'. And I'm a good pilot—crop-dusting, barnstorming. If it can fly, I'm your guy."
"A prodigy," Ezra commented with no mockery.
He shrugged. "Some of my teachers said that. One of them put my name in for a Stark Industries scholarship to MIT when I was 16."
"A laudable accomplishment."
"I got it, the scholarship, but mom took a turn for the worse, and I couldn't leave her. So I turned it down." JD fell silent, and Ezra squeezed his shoulder. Swallowing, JD whispered, "She died a year later."
"I am sorry."
JD visibly gathered himself. A part of him wondered why he was sharing such personal details of his life with a man who was being detained by SHIELD, an ex-con, but he continued with his story. "Not long after mom died, a man came through; his fancy car broke down just outside of town. I'd never seen anything like it, had to order parts from Des Moines, but I fixed it for him. A few weeks later I got contacted, with an offer to attend SHIELD's academy. They told me later the guy was an agent, Coulson, and he'd recommended me. That broken down fancy car changed my life."
"God works in mysterious ways," Josiah intoned , having joined them unnoticed.
"I suppose he does," JD said. "Never planned on being a secret agent, but it sure as heck ain't boring." He grinned.
"I wouldn't suppose it would be," Josiah said with a matching grin. "And it gives me hope, young Agent Dunne."
"What about you, Ezra? What's your story?" JD asked.
Ezra never responded, throwing JD to the ground as a blue flash of light exploded from in front of them. "Everyone down!" he shouted, as the Humvee behind them exploded in a brilliant ball of orange flame.