“You know I’m bad at communication, it’s the hardest things for me to do.”
He heard the soft footsteps almost as soon as they began trailing behind him and winced inwardly as he realized which hallway he had just passed.
“You know... you would make a better geisha than a ninja in those heels.”
Her singular delight was evident in the prompt acceleration of her pace. Phil was apparently in a mood to spar and he almost never was, to his junior agent’s chagrin. Or, he never let himself. There is a difference.
He immediately regretted acknowledging her presence, much less baiting her with a cheeky remark. He was better than this. Or rather- he wasn’t, which was why he found himself in need of strict boundaries around this one. Big ones.
Finding himself wholly contemptible, he began walking faster and even brushed past an agent headed in the same direction as they turned a corner, but it was no use- he could already feel the fabric of her skirt tap against his pants leg, up above his knee. Likely the short, kicky green one he had seen on her a few times before. Maybe even remembered the feel of, right there on the side of his thigh. He tightened his placid expression as he ever so slightly lifted his chin in a physical cue to himself- he should not be looking down in the next few minutes.
Just as subtly, his eyes ticked to the right, caught by those eyes of mirth and a careful grin.
Or ever. Probably never. He had seen enough clothes in his life. His fingers twitched as he resisted an impulse to tighten the knot of his tie as he walked.
He was already losing this engagement and she had yet to utter a word. A first. Phil practiced a look of serene boredom as a string of curses began to float behind his teeth- all directed inward.
Darcy reached up to brush invisible lint off of his shoulder as they walked, her grin stretching wider as they approached the elevator at the end of the hall and her silence floated around them. Phil needed to un-entangle himself from this with haste. He was outmatched today and she could smell it. Hell, she was practically rolling around in it like a bulldog on a grassy lawn.
His mind was screaming out as his index finger connected to the call button and it lit up- representing the minute they would spend waiting for it. It was late, almost midnight, and he took pleasure in the mercy that it would come faster than when the building was at full capacity. Bolting up the stairs to his left was now the coward’s option, so he willed himself to do the opposite. He tilted his head to the left. Grasped one arm with the other. Waited.
She was still looking at him, at the side of his face. It didn’t bother him.
Darcy opened her mouth slightly as if to speak, he heard the soft click of it and turned his head- caught. She let her mouth fall shut, locking eyes with him. Mirroring his smile. He had taken the bait so easily.
Phil suddenly felt very tired. He had been in the desert for a week. With very little sleep. Problems with Saudi arms funds. Had to wipe the memory of a fairly nice looking army private, most assuredly taking a chunk of the kid’s senior year of college out along with the botched mission. Between a memory wipe and binge drinking at parties, that private probably thought he skipped a year all together.
He had forgotten his mother’s birthday, he just realized.
He was a nice person, once, and yet life was being particularly cruel to Phil Coulson in this moment. Even the elevator doors sliding open sounded less merciful than he had imagined they would, mere seconds ago. He stepped across the threshold, realizing it essentially became a very cozy interrogation room for the next 3 minutes and that he was already sweating under the light bulb, as it were. Turning to face the operating buttons, he noted that Darcy had not moved. He continued to gaze down at those little round dots, casually, as if surveying his options on a menu. He finally steeled himself and met her eye line.
Green. He could see in his peripheral vision now that it was, indeed, the emerald green skirt. Didn’t matter.
He straightened his spine. Darcy straightened hers with a lopsided smile- the slightest mock. Almost imperceptible. In anyone else in her rank, he would have taken it as a sign of intimidation, of mirroring a superior’s posture to win favor. Groveling. Submission. This wasn’t that. He still could choose to ignore it; just let the doors close on her grinning face.
His hand flew out to stop them, on reflex. She hadn’t even flinched.
“Are you getting on or not, Agent Lewis?”
An edge of irritation had crept into his voice, a fact clearly not lost on her as he saw her eyes spark. She smirked and stepped in slowly, as the doors bounced against his hand again. Agent Lewis pivoted on one heel and crossed her arms, stopping halfway and thereby boxing him into the corner, her hip jutting out to one side casually and her chest nearly grazing his arm. He felt her gaze slowly sweep up his body and return to his face. He is aware that his eye crinkles a bit as he ignores it. Just- all of it. He’s above it.
Phil pressed the button for floor 64 twice, an illogical behavior that would bring them to that destination no sooner. He could press it a dozen times and he would still be trapped behind the doors of the elevator with his shield compromised and Darcy looking like an animal in front of its prey. Natasha had been a terrible influence. For a moment he imagines the word ‘schmuck’ scrolling across his forehead.
He clears his throat once and turns to face his opponent, as it were. The elevator jostles them slightly and he notices her sway a little on her heels. She had never before worn this outfit with a black turtleneck. It looked regal, offsetting the deep green of the skirt and... her skin. Usually it was a cream-colored button-up blouse. With a tie at the waist. Sometimes. He didn’t really recall.
“Unless you are just roaming the halls for fun this evening, perhaps you’d also like to select a floor, Ms. Lewis?”
Phil was shooting for an icily disinterested tone and it came across as more peevish than he intended, a clear sign of weakness. He was a little boy with a stick in his hand who was desperately trying to carve a line in the sand, as it eroded. It had become his default around her, of late. But his sudden inability to draw out a response from her had magnified it. He was at the bottom of the sandpit tonight.
Darcy looked back into his eyes and frowned slightly, as if she were considering something. She reached out next to him to slide her finger slowly up a row. He heard each button click quietly, his every nerve focused on not blinking. She blinked slowly, and tilted her head as she reached out to start on another row and the doors popped open at the first of what would apparently be many stops.
“Damn it, Darcy!” Fuck. He had pulled the pin in his own grenade and would now have to white-knuckle it before it blew up in his face.
He heard the blood thrumming in his eardrums as the doors slid closed once more and her face was all sweet innocence, gazing up at him, close enough to hear him breathing. Peevish Phil. Her little button to push.
Without thinking, his hand flew out to clasp her wrist and twist her thumb up onto the emergency stop reader at the top.
Letting go, he leaned forward into her space. His heart skipped a small beat when she was forced to step back slightly, the thrill of small victories. Grappling for control of a hill when you’ve already lost the war. The elevator bounced to a stop as he braced his left arm against the door, palm spread flat trapping her against it, his nose almost touching hers.
Startled. It was a look he hadn’t seen on her before. She quickly covered it with a lazy smile, as if she had planned it this way. His rattling; her victory. A game she invented moments ago in the hallway, already tweaking the rules in her favor.
Darcy leaned back completely against the shiny metal doors and huffed. Narrowing her eyes slightly, but never looking away. Her lips were clamped shut and stretched wide, defiantly. The faint beep in the corner reminded him there were eyes watching, always. There would be someone momentarily assessing the nature of the ‘emergency stop’. He tilted his head down and ran the flat of his hand from his forehead down over his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, rubbing his chin.
Darcy giggled. A little, but it was there. A tiny squeak and a pink hue in her cheeks when he looked up.
He brought his hand quickly up near the other side of her face, both arms encircling her now as he leaned onto his forearms and brought his face in close. His cheek just missed hers as he curved his mouth around to her ear, her hair tickling his nose as he spoke. The scent of her shampoo crept into his senses, something warm. He took a beat and suddenly his voice came out in a low whisper.
“Ms. Lewis, I indulge you because you are well-liked. You amuse people.”
He could feel her swallow against his right ear, soft and hesitant. He took a shuddering breath that he hoped but did not believe she wouldn’t hear.
“I know you like to toy with me, but I’m asking you... to not. Not with me.”
He felt her go completely still. With one swift motion he pressed away from the door and thumbed across the operations panel to reengage the elevator. He concentrated on the floor as the elevator began to move again, adjusting his cuff and sleeves, his stance wide until he felt the floor hitch to a stop again. One arm shot out in front of him, snaring Darcy around the waist just as the doors she leaned against began to open.
He looked back up into her face then, searching for a sign of surrender in her inscrutable expression. As he released her she stumbled back into the hallway. She stood there a moment, staring back at him.
The doors closed. And opened again to an empty hallway. And 14 more like it. Plenty of time for Phil to slip the pin back in the grenade that was his usual façade. On the 56th floor an intern started to get on, then looked up at the passenger and stepped back, mumbling an apology. It was something that had mostly stopped happening since he had returned from the dead. ‘From the dead’ echoed in his head as he tiredly closed his eyes and let out a ragged sigh. Perhaps a few extra floors were necessary tonight, after all.
When he finally stepped off on the 64th he was all calm composure once more. Barely a crease near his eye would indicate his real thought at the moment.
‘Returned to what, exactly?’
Also he hadn’t a clue what he came up there for.
With a heavy sigh, he admitted defeat for the day and quietly pressed the call button to bring the elevator back... to ride down to his office, where he would remove his jacket and sleep at his desk, a penance for his faltering. Peevish Phil’s punishment. A night like many others, he would press his fingers against his temples and begin forgetting how good it feels to sometimes slip up.