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The Early World

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"I'm not flattered," he said.

The tension in his voice was just enough of a warning. If the conversation continued, it could turn unpleasant.

They were standing in his Director office in the Playground, she'd come to give him a report on weapon acquisitions. They were going to outfit the new SHIELD with Nite-Nite technology as standard issue. That was a tall order to get the materials together covertly and he had tasked that to May.

When she had walked in, she could sense his mood. Frustrated. Seeking. And he wore the face he did when he wanted answers and knew they were probably located outside of his immediate grasp.

"You've spent your whole life dedicated to SHIELD," May continued. "You care more than anyone. He knew you were the only..."

Coulson chuckled, but, not in a funny way.

"He knew I was the only one who would do it. Maria Hill is at Stark Industries, but her job, really, at the moment, is being subpoenaed."

May acknowledged this with a tilt of her head.

"Everyone else is captured, dead, or in hiding, just like us."

He walked around and sat behind the desk. Looked up at her a moment, considered.

"Do you think I'm different, May?"

"You know I do," she said sternly, but, her face got a little soft.

He was thinking about all the decisions he'd made to this point conscious and unconscious. Fury putting him on the Bus with a new team, giving him free reign, setting him on the fringes of operations, analyzing it all. He couldn't stop. All this time, he'd thought it was because he wanted to cut him a break after New York.

Well, not now.

Now he realized it was because he wanted him there. He'd been positioned. Fury had known what was coming. Or, had strongly suspected it and wanted a contingency. How long had he known?

Coulson stared at the small black box on his desk.

"How long do you think he knew?"

"About what?"

"HYDRA inside SHIELD."

"I don't know," said May, frowning. She crossed her arms and shifted her weight. "We never talked about that."

"Maria vetted Ward," he said.

"They wanted to know how you came back," she replied. "It was that simple."

"No," he said, looking up at her. "They were onto Fury."

"What are you suggesting?"

"Garrett wanted to know how I came back for personal reasons. So, of course he took the opportunity. He suggested Ward, had Maria vet him. But, someone above Garrett approved it."

"Pierce?" asked May.

"I'm just wondering," he asked. "If this is all really over."

He turned the cube around in his hand.

He was tired of playing defense.

****

May came into the lab and put the crate down roughly onto the counter.

"Hello to you, too," said Simmons wearing her lab glasses.

May just sighed.

"New batch of components for you and Fitz to test with the with Nite-Nite tech. If we get a good fit mark it, and I'll begin negotiations."

"Fitz will be thrilled," said Simmons. "Gives him something to do with the hands, kind of his preference at the moment," she added softly.

"Sometimes using muscle memory helps other things snap back into place," May suggested kindly.

"Oh, he still remembers lots of things," Simmons said. "Mostly."

She took a moment, steadied her hand to continue working.

"He just needs time," May said, comforting.

Simmons nodded and looked back down at her work.

"And we've plenty of that," she muttered.

May turned to leave.

"Guys," Skye said, walking in, head in her holodpad. "I think I've tracked down another Fridge breakout."

"Trip is still working on our containment facilities, Skye," May started.

"These are hardcore criminals. Out there among normal people."

"Where do you think we should put people who can control darkforce or spit acid," May asked, pointedly.

"This one doesn't have powers of darkness, or gross acid hygiene...this one has lion paws for hands."

"So much better," chimed in Simmons.

"You should talk to the Director about it," said May, smiling, but, not really.

Skye picked up just enough of a hint to knot her brows. "Why? What's up?"

"He's having one of those days," May said, pursing her lips.

Skye nodded.

"I'll go talk to Trip, find out where we're at in our containment process," May said. "Make sure our facilities can withstand a pair of lion paws," May made a mocking motion with her hands.

"Oh, and maybe a spiked tail?" Skye added with a shrug.

May stopped and rolled her eyes.

"Maybe. Not sure."

May sighed and walked out.

****

Coulson looked up at the gentle knock on his open door.

Skye was leaning against the door, her knuckle still touching it.

"Hey," she said, smiling.

"Kinda busy," he said, looking back down, with a frown, back to his holodesk.

"Yeah, I can see," she said, letting herself in his office and quietly walking towards the desk. She looked down as he swept the digital files closed. But she'd already glimpsed them. One was her redacted file, the other was his.

"What part of I'm busy didn't you understand?" he asked rudely, standing.

"I tracked down one of the Fridge breakouts," she started.

"Is that really why you came here, Skye?"

"No," she said. She put her holopad down on his desk. "May said you were having a bad day."

"Is that what May said," his eyes widened a little and he walked around behind her and shut the door to his office.

She turned around to face him. "What is it?"

"The Clairvoyant," he said.

"Was Garrett," she replied. "Who's dead."

"You really think so?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at her.

"I want it to be Garrett," she admitted.

"Yeah, me too," he said.

He flopped down on the couch, loosened his tie. Stared at the tropical scene on the wall.

"Is it too much to ask," he said, pointing to it, "For a window that doesn't look like I'm staring at Tahiti?"

Skye sat down, amused, on the edge of the couch next to him. Joking was a good sign.

"A force beyond our comprehension is coming for us," Coulson said, repeating Nash's words. He tipped his head back, pinched the bridge of his nose. "I mean HYDRA are a bunch of arrogant pricks and all, but that sounds really big and enormous and scary."

"Are you scared, Phil?"

He opened his eyes to look over at her.

"Yes," he said, animated. "I'm terrified. Did you just call me by my first name?"

She smiled and curled her legs under her on the couch, leaned her face against her hand, elbow propped against the cushion back.

"What about them?" she asked.

"Who?"

"All the people out there, with normal everyday lives, who don't have time for big and enormous and scary?"

"Maybe it's better if they just know," he said. "Maybe we have no right to hide the truth from them."

"We're not hiding we're protecting," she said.

"We are hiding," he said. "We are in a secret base and we are fugitives."

"It's temporary!" she said, laughing at him. "Stop being so negative."

His eyes roved over her face, searching.

"Did Fury just give this to me because he'd run out of options?" he finally asked.

Skye's eyebrows went up, her lower lip protruding slightly. She hadn't thought about that.

"Maybe."

Coulson clenched his jaw. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you for your honesty."

He meant it, he stood up and began walking back to his desk, stopping when he felt her hand on his arm.

"Phil," she started. He turned back over his shoulder toward her, a pained expression on his face.

"Who cares?"

"You can't keep calling me that," he interrupted.

"What?"

"Not right now, not while I'm like...this..."

Well, then, all the more reason. She walked around to face him.

"Who cares why Fury gave it to you. There could be a dozen reasons, and you may never know them all. The point is, it's yours, not his, and not his reasons for doing it. You can do anything you want with it. Anything. Go for it."

"Is that why you're still here?" he asked, tiredly.

"We just got to the beginning of everything," she said. "And I want that badge to mean something. I did earn it."

"Yes, you did," he replied fondly and headed towards his desk.

"So when I call you 'Phil' it makes you weak in the knees?" she teased, watching him walk. He froze.

"It makes me feel...vulnerable," he answered, turning back toward her. "I don't have a lot of defenses, and when it comes to you, I didn't start with very many, in case you haven't noticed. Which, I'm sure, you have. In fact, I know you have, because you're using it now."

"Talky," she replied, looking over at him. He noticed her hand was on the back of the chair and she was leaning into it. She straightened back up as he walked back over to her.

"And by that, I'm to assume you mean, what? Less talking, more talking....?"

She felt her breath hitch. Sure, he seemed frustrated and testier than usual, under a lot of emotional stress, but there were his eyes which always gave everything about him away and then there was the state of his trousers. He watched where her eyes went, seemed moderately embarrassed, but held his ground.

"Do you want to....kiss me, Phil?" she asked slowly, narrowing her eyes, looking back at him, calling his tough guy routine.

"I've thought about it," he said, releasing a hushed breath.

"Really?" she was kind of surprised. "A lot?"

He nodded.

"Maybe you should stop thinking so much," she said, leaning back on the chair's armrest. "And talking so much, and..."

He leaned over and grabbed the back of her head, kissed her, felt her hands on his arms and pulled her up off the chair with his hand around her waist, deepening, touching.

"How was that?" he asked looking at her mouth.

She just nodded. A little senseless at the moment.

"You okay?" he asked.

"I think your defenses are about to be demolished," she smiled at him, ran her fingertips across his mouth.

"Alright," he said.

"And that kind of excites me," she blushed, looking up at his eyes, then kissing him softly.

"That doesn't sound terrifying or anything," he smirked between kisses.

"I promise to be very careful," she answered. Of this new thing. It was all new.

"Me too."