“Nick, don’t.” Phil glared at his boss. “There is no story there.”
“You damn well know there is a story there, you just want to take a nap.”
“Naps are great.” Phil countered. “I’ve written several lovely articles about them.”
“I’ve read them.” Nick rolled his eye. “I have a Pulitzer award winning writer who wants to cover the mayor’s office, little league and the advice column.”
“I would write a great advice column.”
“What advice can you give Phil? How to survive a big ass explosion that sends rebar through your chest?”
“I also know how to get stains out of anything, and like how to deal with family who nag at holidays.”
Nick was unimpressed. He handed a folder to Phil. “Someone might be stealing nuclear waste.”
“Put Sitwell on it.”
“Sitwell got fired for feeding information to reporters at the Mail.”
“Hand is busy with that corruption story.”
“Pause and reflect on what you just said.”
“Why can’t I write movie reviews?” Phil whined.
“Look into these rumours and tell me that nothing is there and then I’ll give you the fucking advice column.”
“There is nothing there Nick.” Phil promised but he took the files and went to his desk. He read all the notes that Sitwell had gathered before he had defected and sighed. Shit, there might be something there. It was the tingle in his spine that let him know something was up. Or that could just be the dead nerves doing phantom twitches. But it looked like he was doing a stakeout. He hated stakeouts. He wasn’t a cop.
It smelled like piss and rotten fish and garbage by the old docks. And seagulls. They carried their own special scent of hell. It was his third night here and nothing. The only good thing about the stench was that it meant Nick had been wrong and soon he’d get to sit at his desk and answer letters about how to deal with dear old bigoted aunt gertrude. The quiet sounded nice. He didn’t want anymore adventures.
Maybe he should just switched to straight editing, or work on a book. Get his masters and teach writing in Con Ed classes. Die of boredom. Dying of boredom sounded better than the last time he died.
He was about to back it up, so of course that is when he saw the flashlights. “Great,” he muttered to himself, “Nick is going to gloat.” He still had the option to not go and see what was happening. He could pretend he didn’t see it and go home and put on pajamas and think about getting a pet, maybe a fish. He grabbed his camera and tazer and got out of the car and climbed the fence.
Phil moved quietly, years of following soldiers, teaching him a great deal about stealth. Please just let these guys have moonshine, or illegal chinchillas.
But no, no they had barrels with nuclear symbols on the side. Lovely. He took photos of the barrels and the men, who didn’t even have ski masks on. He ducked away from them and tried to find their car, see if he could get plates. And he found a car all right, one with government tags. He took some more photos and there was the governor’s aide.
Fuck, this tied into what Hand was researching.
He was never going to get to write that advice column now.
Phil followed the aide to where he was meeting the rent by the hour goons and hit record on his phone, glad it was Stark, they had the best audio features. Right now it was really standard though, bribes, blackmail, make this stuff disappear, don’t care what your boss wants to use it for. Blah, blah, blah. He took some more photos and heard a small noise behind him and ducked.
The goon was huge and Phil managed to fight smart and knocked the guy out but there was enough of a scuffle that it alerted everyone. The other goons came after him and Phil ran for the fences. He heard a car squeal away, sure it was the aide. Phil heard the pounding feet behind him and tried to hurry but it was dark and he tripped and one of the guys kicked him in the ribs hard.
They dragged him back to where the barrels were and he figured the one in the kicky hat was Goon #1.
“Hey fellas, you taking part in the scavenger hunt too?” Phil asked cheerfully.
“Who sent you?”
“Team leader.” Phil answered quickly. “We needed a ship wheel, what better place than this derelict dock?” His arm was twisted hard behind his back. He sighs. Amateur torture time, yay.
“So want to go on record on the deal you and the governor’s office has?” Phil asked. “I’ll keep you as an anonymous source.”
Goon #1 took his coat off and rolled his sleeves.
“You’re right, it is warm out tonight. Being a goon, has to be sweaty work too.” The guy grabbed a crowbar and pried a lid off and oh shit that stuff did sort of glow green. “This is taking a turn I don’t really care for.” Phil said. Goon #1 pulled out a syringe and added some red stuff and then pulled some nuclear waste into the syringe as well. “Really, really don’t care for.” Phil had no idea which scared him more, the goon injecting it into himself or Phil.
The man smiled and started to move.
Look like the stuff was going into Phil. “Please.”
“I like it when people beg.” The guy said.
“Please, go fuck yourself.” Phil answered.
The guy holding him dislocated his shoulder. Phil screamed in pain, because yeah that fucking hurt. His head was yanked to the side and Phil resigned himself to become some sort of monstrous creature.
Only there was a sharp sound and a blue bullet hit Goon #1 in the forehead and he rocked back and hit the ground. There was a blast and the goon guarding the parameter was knocked back. He blinked and all of a sudden there was a woman in front of him.
All in black, red mask over her eyes and nose. Military boots, hard posture.
“Hi.” Phil smiled. “How’s your night going?” And he learned you can see a person roll their eyes even in a mask. She swung out and the guy on his one side was gone. Three came around the corner and she ran to meet them. Phil grabbed his camera and started taking photos.
“Let me help you.” A sweet voice said to him. He looked over and it was a girl, in a similar outfit, though her mask was green. “We need to get your shoulder back in place and you need to run.”
“Huh?” He heard swearing and turned and watched what he was certain was the leader beat the crap of the goons. He took another photo and then swore and his shoulder was forced back into his socket. “Who are you people?”
“Shield.” she said, “And you need to get away call the cops.” The woman looked up at the quiet.
“They’re out. Quake tie them up.” The woman in the red mask had a hard voice. Firm.
“Sure Red Wing.” Another girl, her mask black, went over and tied the goons up with the help of the one guy. His mask matched the girl who helped him.
Phil ignored the attempts to tug him away. “Red Wing is it? Care to make a comment? How did you know to be here? Are you a superhero, new to the scene here in Portland? Favourite donut shop?”
The whole team looked at him.
“Favourite donut shop?” the girl beside him asked. British, young, he thought, trying to catalogue everything.
“Look, I’m trying to get onto the fluff beat. Advice column, movie reviews. God, I’d love to cover a dog show. So, asking you guys about donuts seems reasonable.”
“I like Voodoo.” The lone man offered.
“Overrated.” from beside him.
Red Wing held up a hand, and there was quiet. “Call the cops. And I hope you get that job. You seem like trouble.” She bent her knees a little and was gone up into the air.
“Ahhh, explains the name. For the record there is Red Wing, Quake, and ?” he asked.
“Icer and I don’t actually have a name yet, nothing has felt quite right.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” Phil offered sympathetically.
“Thank you.” she smiled a little. “Remember to ice that shoulder.” she gave a little wave and the three hurried off. Phil watched after them and then took a few photos of the goons before calling the cops.
He noticed the syringe was gone.
Phil woke up a week later and stumbled to the coffee pot and stared at it until there was enough in to pull it off and fill a cup. He drank desperately and sat at his computer.
That...that was a lot of emails.
Oh hell, Nick put up the expose he and Hand had ended up writing.
He went to the newspapers web page and had to blink a few times.
Where the fuck had Nick even found that photo of him in camo?
An hour later he was pacing in Nick’s office. “Front page Nick? I thought we were giving all the credit to Hand?”
“No, you said that. Hand and I agreed, you broke a key component to the story. It wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been there.”
“I look like a tool in that photo.”
“You look ‘rugged’ and ‘intriguing’ and ‘daddy af’.” Nick looked at him. “Darcy picked the photo and those were her selling words.”
“Of course they were.”
“I don’t find you that attractive, but according to the comments, several people agree with Darcy.” Nick spun his computer around to show Phil the comments and Phil spun it right around again.
“I didn’t want this much awareness Nick. You promised when you hired me, I could be fairly low key.”
“Well then you shouldn’t have gotten your ass grabbed by the bad guys and then saved by the superheros and managed to document the whole bloody thing.” Nick pointed. “You know as well as I do, superheros are news. Good news. Selling news. Your article got us 50 new online subscriptions. I like that sort of money Phil.”
“I just want to write reviews of the latest local theatre revival of the Music Man.” Phil said forlornly.
“Don’t worry. I’m not putting you on features.” Nick leaned back in his chair and Phil was terrified. “You are getting the superhero beat.”
“You aren’t.” Phil’s jaw dropped. “No fucking way, Fury.”
“Find out everything you can about this group called Shield, Phil. Get me the goods, and I’ll let you write that column on bundt cakes you want to do.”
“I hate you.”
“Good luck, Coulson.”
Phil went to his desk and sat and just lay his head on the small bit of open space.
“Hey boss, uber boss man assigned me to be your assistant.” Darcy plopped down next to him. “Where do we start?”
“Coffee. All the coffee. Enough to make me forget the job Nick just gave me.” Phil said without looking.
“I think it will be fun.” Darcy said. “Superheros are big news these days.”
“I don’t want big news, I want little news.”
“I started my period this morning. That’s little news.”
Phil slid out of his chair and curled under his desk.
“I’ll get you that coffee. And maybe a donut.”
He watched Darcy’s feet walk away and wondered if maybe returning to war zones might not be the sanest option left to him.
Jemma was organzing the tins on the wall of May's Tea and Cozies when the bell rang over the door. She opened her mouth to call a greeting and snapped it shut.
It was the man from the dock and if she spoke, he was likely to recognize her voice from the get go. She put on her best smile and hit the minor panic button under the counter.
"Hello, there." the guy said with a smile as he scanned their hand written board. "I admit, I don't drink a lot of tea. What would you recommend?"
Her smile got even more brilliant and she shrugged. She pointed at her throat and shook her head.
"Oh, I'm sorry." the man started to sign as he spoke. "My friend is deaf, my signing is a little rusty but should get us through. So what has the best jolt?"
"Why not get coffee if you want a jolt?" Melinda said as she opened the swinging door. "I've got this Jemma, you are due your break." Jemma gave her a grateful look, waved at the guy, and scurried to the back. "This is my shop."
"May's Tea and Cozies is a cute name."
"Not my idea but apparently you can't just name a place Tea and be done with it. I'm the owner. And seriously, you look like the type of guy who wants a spoon to stand up straight in his coffee." She crossed her arms and looked at him carefully. He looked good, well recovered from the incident from two weeks ago.
"Usually am, but my new assistant cut me off, said she was scared I'd vibrate right through time and space. But tea has caffeine and this place is on my way home, figured I'd try it."
"More work tonight Mr. Coulson?"
"You know who I am?" Phil paused a little and looked at the woman.
"I have a subscription to the paper, your article caused a bit of a flurry." she smiled as he groaned. "Plus, I was a captain in the air force. Is there anyone in the military who doesn't know who you are?"
"Plenty I'm sure."
"You were good. You didn't get too poetic or sensational. Your writing felt real, felt like what it was like."
"Thank you." Phil said quietly. He didn't encounter a lot of people here in Portland who knew about his war correspondent writing. He generally liked it that way. But her simple compliment felt good.
Melinda reached under the counter and pulled a box out. "Are you staying or do you want it to go?"
"To go. Though those chairs look really comfy."
"They are." Melinda turned a quick boil kettle on put various items on the counter. She then made up a tea bag herself with the loose leaf she pulled out. "This is a gunpowder tea. Middle range caffeine, it will have a nice steady rise for you, rather than the jolt of a cup of sludge." she placed it into a travel mug and then poured the water over. "Don't steep it too long or it will choke you when you drink. Throw the tea bag out in the garbage at the corner."
"How much is the reusable mug?"
"On the house." Melinda said simply. "2.50 for the tea."
He handed her five and waved away the change. "Thanks, May."
"I know. Have a good day Phil." Melinda put the money in the register and Phil recognized the dismissal and left the shop.
Melinda put away the tea leaves as Jemma and Skye ran into the shop.
"What the hell was that May?" Skye asked.
"That was helping a customer." Melinda tidied around herself.
"That was flirting." Skye looked to Jemma for confirmation.
"It was rather cheery for you. I think you almost smiled." Jemma suggested. "I had theories that you had those muscles frozen."
"I admire his work."
"You were admiring more than his work." Skye snarked. "Which by the way should we be admiring his work? Because I think his work might be about us? And he doesn't look like an idiot."
"A one time customer is no threat." Melinda dismissed.
"I still say their was a smile." Jemma was dragged into the back by Skye.
Melinda had not smiled. Not a little. Or noticed how nice his face looked in the glasses.
Two nights later the team went out and managed to stop a mugging team that had been getting increasingly violent.
And somehow Phil managed to be in the right place at the right time.
Melinda ignored him while she fought the last guy and the others died the unconscious men together. Phil approached right as she put the man into the wall.
"Hi Redwing, remember me?"
Melinda dipped her voice a bit lower, she'd had seen Christian Bale's Batman, "Shouldn't you be covering a dog show?"
"God if only. The SPCA was having a wonderful little buy a kitten get a cat thing going on, sent a college intern to cover it. Would have loved to have gone to do that."
"And gotten a cat for yourself?" Her voice was dry and she kicked the guy on the ground when he tried to move.
"I've been thinking a fish." Phil said. He put out his phone and opened the audio recorder. "Can I get a comment. Who are you and your team? Why have you settled in Portland, are you part of a larger group beyond the four of you? Are you affiliated with the Defenders in New York?"
"If you want your questions answered, you should leave time for someone to answer them."
"Will you answer any of those?"
"All done here Red Wing, the cops have been called."
Phil watched Red Wing make a gesture and the other three just sort of faded into the shadows. "That's a neat trick. So you are the leader then."
"How about you go cover a PTA bake sale, and leave us alone."
"God, I would love to. Last one, a woman made carob brownies there was a public shaming." Phil laughed. "Your mask doesn't hide when you roll your eyes."
"Go home, Mr. Coulson." Redwing flew up into the air and into the night.
The next day when Phil stopped in with the travel mug and his glasses on Melinda absolutely did not flirt or smile as she brewed him a different tea and they chatted vaguely about the weather.
She ignored the STOP FLIRTING WITH THE ENEMY sign that Skye held up behind Phil's head.
He wasn't an enemy and he wasn't a problem.
"So how do we find superheroes, boss?" Darcy sat in Phil's chair, her feet on his desk. "Because since you ran into them at that mugging, hasn't been a sighting and been what 3 weeks. Boss of bosses looks cranky."
"Nick has resting bitch face that puts everyone to shame." Phil tapped her boots and she put her feet down, but didn't get out of his chair. Phil stole the chair from Victoria's table. "We interview people."
"By people do you mean criminals?" Darcy perked up a little. "Do I get to go to jail? I haven't been since I was 19."
"Do I want to know?"
Phil thought about it. "Dammit now I'm curious and it will bug me. Hit me."
"Actually that's what I was there for, assault with a dildo."
Phil nodded. "About what I expected."
"Awww, boss, are we starting to be sympatico?" Darcy grinned. "We gonna mind meld soon?"
"What am I thinking right now?" Phil asked.
Darcy put her fingers to her temples. "Hmmmm, Darcy is wonderful, clever, attractive, not defined by her luscious rack..."
"I would never use the word 'rack'."
"Right, those are the words Boss of boss thinks."
"Oh god, I'm going to throw up." The thought of Nick checking out Darcy was just...ugh. "Try again."
"Hmmmm, read the police reports on those captured by Redwing and Shield, look into their backgrounds, see if there is a cousin or coworker to interview. And get you a coffee, two sugars." Darcy opened her eyes. "How'd I do?"
"Not bad." Phil grinned. "Working with you, isn't the worst thing ever."
"I'll put that front and centre on my resume." Darcy got up and returned with coffee for both of them and they settled in to do some research. A few hours later they had a ton of notes and eyes that couldn't focus. "I know you are going to ask for another cup of coffee and you hit the cut off point two cups ago."
"We need to stretch our legs, come on I'll buy you a cup of tea." Phil stood up and stretched and his plaid shirt shifted.
Darcy stared at his hip. "Hey, boss, are you cut?"
"I have a bunch of scars."
She rolled her eyes. "No, are you ripped under your dork clothes?"
"My clothes aren't dorky."
"You have cufflinks with the chemical breakdown of caffeine on them."
"I got them on Etsy - they are hip."
"Sure." Darcy grabbed her purse and they bickered the whole way to the tea shop.
Phil opened the door for her and Darcy laughed at him a little and then stumbled to a stop. "Boss, can I drink him all the way up?" she stared at the large man behind the counter. "Please buy him for me. Please."
The man laughed a little. "Sorry, but only the tea is for sale. Well that and the earl grey cookies I made."
Darcy whimpered. "I can haz? I'll take you for walkies and everything."
"My boyfriend makes sure I get plenty of exercise." the man said.
"Darcy! Stop sexually harassing the man." Phil glared at her.
"It's okay Mr Coulson, made the day more interesting. Don't usually do this, but Fitz and Simmons are both out sick, so I took his shift to help Melinda out. I'm Mack." he held out a hand. He looked at Darcy and winked. "And sorry, no threesomes, boyfriend is the possessive sort."
"I absolutely don't blame him. Wait, you come here enough that the staff know you?" Darcy looked at him. "You hate tea."
"No I don't." Phil said quickly. "Is Melinda in?" he tried for casual.
Darcy looked at Phil suspiciously.
"She's on the phone, making an order. I'll get you guys going and then tell her you are here if you like."
"No, no, if she's busy, it's okay. We just needed a break." Phil looked at the wall. "I...don't know what to order."
"If you come here regular, how do you not know what to order?" Darcy poked him a little. "You hate tea."
"Melinda always picks and haven't hated it yet." Phil could feel his ears turning red.
"Not another word." Phil warned. "We'll just take whatever and a couple of the cookies. To go."
"To stay." Darcy countered quickly. "And you are so getting this Melinda lady out here."
Mack laughed a little. "Sure. I know a nice citrus herbal tea that should suit, Fitz always likes it when he's too wired from work." His hands looked huge against the teacups as he began to prepare everything. "So what brings you in this time of day?"
"Spent the day reading police reports tied to the superhero group SHIELD, needed a break." Darcy said easily. She watched Phil, watch the side door.
"Still trying to track them down?" Mack asked casually.
"Don't have a choice." Phil explained. "Have to do what the boss demands. And if I pull this off, I get to pick what I do. There is a pumpkin fair in a few months, that story is mine."
Darcy rolled her eyes. He kept saying he wanted to take it easy, but she agreed with Fury and Hill - it was bullshit.
They took their tea and snack to one of the small tables and Darcy moaned at how comfy the sofa was.
"Yo, Skye! Mind the front while I go talk to May." Mack said as the front door opened.
Skye didn't look up from her tablet, just moved behind the counter.
"Does this place only hire cute people, what the hell?" Darcy looked at Skye. "Yo! Am I creep if I hit on you at work?" Darcy shouted. Phil sank down onto the chair to hide as much as he could.
"Yup." Skye answered without looking up.
"Can I hit on you after you are done work?"
"Awesome. I'll leave my phone number on the table." Darcy grabbed a coaster and wrote her number on it.
"Phil stop hiding behind your daughter." Skye finally looked up from the tablet.
"Ewww." Darcy and Phil said at the same time.
Skye snorted. "Okay then."
"We work together." Phil said quickly. "She's my..." he looked at Darcy. "What's your official job title?"
"Technically I'm an intern." Darcy shrugged. "Only Nick pays me decent and does weird paperwork so that my job placement never ends?" Darcy thought about it. "Honestly, I'm not even sure I'm registered in college anymore. I should probably look that up. But calling me your Jimmy Olsen could work."
"I haven't seen you once hold a camera."
"Wanna see my snapchat?"
"Are your boobs on there?"
"What do you think?"
"Don't give me your screen name."
The all heard the door swing and Phil sat up fast and smiled.
"Ohhh, boss man has a crush." Darcy whispered and she turned her head to check it out. "Nice taste Coulson."
Coulson ignored her. "Hi Melinda."
"Phil, did Mack make you a good tea?"
"You haven't even drunk it yet." Darcy looked at him.
"Go proposition Melinda's staff more. Show them that thing you can do with your tongue." Phil pushed Darcy a little Darcy went up to the counter and smiled at Skye.
Melinda came over and sat beside Phil. "You should at least eat a cookie, Mack makes great ones. I would hire him to bake if he wasn't so happy as a mechanic." She smiled when Phil handed her a cookie and she took a small bite. Phil fiddled with a different cookie. "You look tired."
"Nick is pushing us on the Shield superhero story." Phil sighed. "We have leads, but it is a slog."
"No." Phil admitted. "But we're lining up some interviews, a trail might appear."
"You are good at your job, you'll find what you are looking for. Or perhaps you'll find something more interesting along the way."
Phil and Melinda chatted quietly for a few minutes and Darcy split her time between flirting with Skye, ogling Mack, and willing her boss to pick up the signals. Finally when Melinda touched her hand to Phil's and he bit his lip but didn't do anything, she had it. "Oh my god boss, ask the nice tea lady out."
Skye laughed. "You think this is bad, last week he tried 5 different teas that I know he loathed because Melinda said he might like them. He was choking, actually choking on one just to make her happy and like him and she didn't notice."
Melinda gave a sharp glance to Skye. "And since when do you match make?"
"Since his puppy eyes went to threat level 5." Skye shrugged. "It is painful."
"So there is a nice little bistro thing that seems like a good first date for old people. How about you two go there?"
"How about I have Nick fire you?" Phil countered.
"Like that's going to happen. You know I'm the glue that holds the place together. Plus I run the newspaper's twitter feed." she smiled. "Any of you know or care to do that?" Phil was quiet. "I didn't think so."
Phil looked at Melinda who wasn't smiling, but her eyes were dancing with mirth. "Would you like -" his phone rang. "Dammit. What, Hill?" he paused. "Shit, we're on the way. Darcy, three of the goons who roughed me up on the docks broke out of their prison transfer. Hand is already at the mayor's office, we need to get to the driver, see if he has anything." He got up. "Another time?"
"Of course. Go chase your story." Melinda smiled. "Sounds at least as exciting as that new bench story at the park you wanted to cover."
Phil made a face and he and Darcy hurried out of the shop.
Skye looked at Melinda who nodded and they put up a be back in 15 sign on the door. They went through the back and Melinda hit the secret button and went downstairs. Mack was already sitting at a table with Fitz and rubbing that hand that went stiff sometimes. Jemma was staring at something in her microscope.
"Seems some people broke out of prison." Melinda said quietly. Skye was searching reports and found some video. She put it up on the big screen. The transport van jolted to a stop.
"Vans break down, but there is smoke or stuttering, it isn't like hitting a brick wall." Mack pointed out. The back doors flew open even though no one was there. The men aboard all broke free and ran.
"This is a problem." Fitz said. "Play it again." Skye did and Fitz pointed. "There in the corner, that distortion that isn't from the street cameras."
"Invisibility?" Jemma asked peering at the feed.
"Maybe." Fitz looked at it. "We need to get to the site do readings."
"No." They all looked at Melinda. "Phil's on his way there right now. Not good for us to show up too. We need to be careful, he's the sort who could figure us out."
"You know, dating him could actually be useful." Skye said. "It would help keep us up to date on what he knows."
"Then you should date Darcy." Melinda suggested.
"Oh I'm gonna. Girl is fine."
"That the girl who asked if me and Fitz do threesomes?" Mack looked up. "She was hot, you should totally tap that Skye."
Fitz pinched Mack's ear.
Melinda ignored all of this. "Mack you go, you can pretend you are there to pick up the broken down prisoner van. See if you notice anything."
"Yes ma'am." Mack kissed Fitz's head and headed back up.
"Skye dig into these men more, why is it these three of the group that got rescued."
"Bet Phil and Darcy have plenty of intel on them."
"And I trust you'll find even more." Melinda looked at her. "I'm going back upstairs. Jemma, any progress on those samples?"
"No. I'm sorry."
"It's okay, keep working." Melinda nodded and left them be.
Two hours later a bouquet was delivered.
Bistro tomorrow 7pm?
No name, but it didn't need one.
Melinda wouldn't date Phil to keep track of him.
She'd date him because he was all sorts of interesting.
Keeping track would just be an added benefit.
Melinda had gone for a late night flight out over the forest outside the city, needing to think. She and Phil had gone on three dates now, and this last one he had kissed her. He had smiled, done puppy eyes, and kissed her.
He had a nice mouth.
And nice eyes.
Really appalling sense of humour.
But she didn't do relationships. The last had been Ward, and that was just fuck buddies at most. And they had all agreed they didn't talk about him anyways. And now here she was mooning over a guy who could destroy everything the team had been trying to build in Portland. They didn't want to be super high profile, they weren't looking to compare to the Defenders or god forbid the Fantastic Four, they just wanted to do some good while living their lives. She sighed and knew she hadn't settled anything in her mind. Melinda glided to the ground and got in her car and drove into the city. She parked behind the shop and went downstairs to the command centre, figuring everyone was at their various homes.
But of course not, because her team had no concept of time. Or desire to be apart.
Skye was on the couch, earbuds in and typing like mad, Mack was making some tea, Fitz was buried in some machine, and Jemma was asleep at her computer, which was playing some videos.
Melinda went over to her, she caught the videos and paused to watch for a moment. She gently touched Jemma's shoulder.
"I'm awake Professor, the genetic -" Jemma blinked and realized she was at the home base and not in university. "Sorry, Melinda. Research."
"American Sign Language? I didn't know you had an interest." Melinda shrugged, it wasn't a bad skill for someone on their team to have.
"It wasn't. But your boyfriend thinks I'm mute and keeps trying to sign at me and I run away. Eventually he'll realize I can't sign and get confused. And a confused reporter is a suspicious writer."
"Can't you just fake an American accent like Fitz?"
"I offered to help her, but apparently my midwest dialect is too difficult for her, dont'cha know." Fitz said.
Mack smiled. "You got that from watching Fargo didn't you?"
Fitz grinned. "You betcha."
"Yes well," Jemma sniffed a little. "I don't have that particular talent, so I'm learning ASL."
Melinda nodded and the realized something. "He's not my boyfriend."
"Aye, he is." Fitz looked up. "Three dates means boyfriend. Mack was my boyfriend by date three."
Mack put a cup of tea in front of Fitz and kissed his head. "Have to admit May, three is a lot for you."
"He's writing emails about you to his friends in Afghanistan." Skye added.
Melinda glared at her. "You did not hack his emails."
"Nope." Skye grinned. "Darcy figured out his password on the third try. BuckyBarnesLives1944."
"And are you dating Darcy now?" Melinda asked.
"Do you define the things we do in the back of her Fiat as dating?"
Skye looked up. "Huh, I might be dating a hot newspaper intern, who is really good at snapchat. Neat." Skye typed a little more. "Anyways, she cracked his email with is 60% Nick Fury yelling at him, 20% him working on stories, 10% his mom trying to get him to date, and is he sure he doesn't want Meghan O'Neil's number, and 10% to some people called Strike Team Delta, which have been focused on you recently."
Melinda and Mack looked at each other. "Strike Team Delta?" They said.
Skye sat up, in unison questions was never good. "Yeah? He mostly calls the Clint, Natasha, The Asshole, Sweet Scientist, and The Retro Twins, but Strike Team Delta has been said enough." Skye looked at them. "Is this bad?"
Mack whistled. "That's who he shadowed during his reporting, fucking Delta?"
Melinda was stunned. "They are the best."
"Well yeah sure, but -"
"No Skye, they are the best. They are talked about in whispers, even awe. Even Danvers mentions them with reverence." Melinda thought to all the articles she had read. "He never said who he was with, which makes sense, since 80% of their missions you need a Congressional Medal of Jesus to look at. They never fail. Never."
"Wow, so is like the reporter who constantly talks about wanting to cover people's 100th birthday, actually a badass?" Skye was a little impressed and had a lot of questions to ask Darcy now. If they remembered to talk.
"He might be." Melinda sighed. "Crap, I think I have to stop seeing him."
"NO!" Everyone shouted.
"If he's good enough to have kept up with them, he's good enough to figure us all out." Melinda countered. "It's not like I'm invested."
"You named a tea blend that has coffee beans in it - The Coulson." Jemma pointed out. She tried finger spelling Coulson and almost had it down.
"Plus it will seem weird if you give him the brush off. You see him almost every day, he'll notice you don't come out to say hi." Skye added. "You don't want to seem suspicious."
"I can fly, that is pretty suspicious."
"He don't know that yet." Mack shrugged. "I say we read him in." He was used to them all laughing at him. "Consider it."
"It would cause too many problems." Melinda shook her head. "Fine no brush off, but this just proves we have to be extra careful around him." Melinda rubbed her next. "It is 1am, we should all be in bed." She watched as everyone pulled out their cots and sleeping bags. "I meant in your homes, the apartments I know you all have?" They all just looked at her. "Fine, but I'm not cooking breakfast." She kicked Skye off the sofa and settled in.
"I found some video." Skye whispered. "Of him in Afghanistan."
"I'll forward it to you."
"Sure." Melinda didn't care. Really didn't care until the next morning in her shop office. Where she watched it half a dozen times. Phil looked really good in camo.
"We got kidnapped."
"We did." Phil looked around the room, trying to figure out a plan, an exit, a weapon. "I don't suppose you have a bobby pin on you?"
Darcy shook her hair hard. "Nope the girl with her hair down does not have a bobby pin."
"It could have been a spare in your pocket."
"Oh. Fair point." Darcy checked her pockets. "I have a gum wrapper. Can you use a gum wrapper?"
"Only if it had the gum."
"You can really make a weapon out of that?" Darcy was impressed.
"No, but my mouth feels gross from the drugs." Phil shook his head. No window, no furniture, nothing that could help them. "How loud can you scream?"
"I can break glass." Darcy promised. "But who would hear us?"
"Hopefully the guys who dragged us here." Phil began to untuck his shirt.
"They have guns. And mean faces. And I know they copped a grope while we were knocked out." Darcy crossed her arms around herself. "Why do we want them to come in here, boss?"
"Because they have guns and mean faces."
"I don't get it." Darcy watched him undo the top four buttons of his shirt. "Also? Not for nothing, enjoying the peep show, but why am I getting a peep show?"
"You'll see." Phil sat on the floor. "First though we wait to see if they check on us." He held out an arm and Darcy curled under it. He hugged her tight. "Won't let them hurt you."
Skye walked into the tea shop, pissed as hell. "So Darcy stood me up."
"Maybe she just forgot the time." Melinda offered, tidying up the counter for close.
"An hour and a half, May." Skye shook her head. "Darcy seems flighty but she loathes people being late, so she stood me up."
"I'll text Phil, he had a dinner meeting with a coworker about those escaped goons, maybe Darcy got swept up in that." 20 minutes later though, Phil hadn't responded. Melinda closed up and counted the till while Skye ranted. Her phone eventually dinged.
"If that is her, she owes me a huge apology. Like flowers and a bunch of new usb cords." Skye looked at her phone. "It's a video, took time to process. Well a dirty video not helping her case any."
Both women froze as they heard Darcy shout, "Let him go you jerks." Skye's hand was shaking as she showed Melinda the video. There wasn't much, Darcy probably hated even realized she turned the camera on.
"Call the others in." Melinda said.
"We'll get them back." Melinda slammed the register shut and went downstairs.
"You know, I have a charity they do a Christmas pagent, maybe you should audition." Darcy said once they were alone again.
"A friend gave me some tips one and dealing with being kidnapped. Chief among them was make them underestimate you."
"You looked close to a heart attack."
"That was the idea." Phil did some stretching. "Get ready to scream." He opened his shirt a little more.
"Boss." Darcy stared at the scar on his chest.
"Oh that, try not to be near a landmine when it goes. You might get some rebar through your chest." Phil shrugged.
Darcy blinked. "Hardcore, much?"
"You know, my friends are going to like you." Phil lay down, sprawling himself. "Hands here, pretend to compress. When they get close, roll to the other side of me." Phil smiled. "Doubt they'll shoot right away."
"And what if they do, I use you as a human shield?"
"What the hell!"
"Be brave and when we get out of this, I'll buy you a toy surprise."
"I need a new ipod."
"We'll see." Phil nodded at her. "Get ready to scream."
They both took a few breaths and Phil closed his eyes. Darcy let out a blood curdling cry.
It had taken them longer than they would have liked but Skye was able to trace Darcy's phone to a building. They all suited up, Mack staying home, to monitor police channels like usual.
"Orders, Redwing?" Fitz asked as Skye drove like mad. Melinda already had the hatch on the roof open.
"We don't kill." Melinda sounded like she was regretting that. "But feel free to kick them after they are down."
Fitz, and Simmons checked the NightNight guns and smoke bombs they had. Melinda nodded at them and pulled herself up onto the roof and was off.
Darcy tried to stay focused as two men burst into the room, guns out. "Help me!" She tried to start crying. "He just collapsed and grabbing his chest. Oh god, oh god, ohgodohgod." She gave her boobs an extra jiggle in case the fake heart attack wasn't distracting enough.
The one guy stayed back, gun out but dropped to his side and the other came closer. "Move." he growled and he pushed Darcy back.
Phil opened his eyes and rolled, surprising the man. He hit sharply to the man's elbow and grabbed his gun. He knocked the man out and didn't hesitate to put a bullet in the thigh of the other. He held out the gun to Darcy.
"Boss, I can't use that." Darcy looked at him. "I can't."
"Can you carry it for me so I can switch to it, if I need to?" Phil was at the other guard and grabbing the gun and knife he had on him.
"Yeah." Darcy swallowed. "If we find a tazer, I have mad skills with those."
Phil smiled. "So do I." he looked out the door and used army hand signals before remembering it was Darcy with him. "Let's go."
"Fury is giving me a raise. Kidnapping equals raise." Darcy muttered. "And I missed a date."
"Hey I missed a meeting with Hand."
"Ouch." Darcy laughed and it was a little manic. "Okay okay breakdown later, escape now."
"You can do this."
Phil ran down the hall. Darcy gulped and followed him.
Melinda soared past a window and saw some men running. She turned and then crashed through feet first. They shot at her but she was able to dodge and the couple that nicked her bounced off the flexible armour Fitz had designed. She took out two men easily as the rest of the team stormed the door. "Find them!"
The team was about to search when they heard a gun. They looked up to see a man fall off the walkway.
And Phil lean over, gun ready, stance perfect, and eyes hard.
"Not now." Melinda bent her knees and flew up to them. "Are you okay?" She tried not to be distracted by Phil's open shirt.
Nice chest was being added to the nice list though.
"We got kidnapped." Darcy offered. "I missed a date, and chipped a nail. Phil's been killing bad guys."
"None of them are dead."
"Guy just fell after you shot him boss, probably dead."
"No he's alive, there's a pulse." Jemma called up after checking the body.
"See? Not dead."
"I'll throw a parade." Darcy held out the spare gun. Melinda gently took it from her. "I want to go home and cry."
"We'll get you home." Melinda promised, making sure to change her voice a bit. She could hear a ruckus. "Go down to Icer and The Doctor," Melinda frowned, another name that didn't work for Jemma, they really had to figure that out. "Quake, with me!" Melinda shouted.
Quake ran up the steps as Phil and Darcy hurried down.
Darcy noticed brown hair and a familiar scent and then it was gone.
Fitz and Jemma hurried them out and put them in the van and drove off.
"Are you two alright?" Jemma was looking them over.
"The Doctor?" Phil asked with a quirked brow.
"Yes, I know, I know." she sighed. "It's hard picking a name, when you are helpful but not powered like Redwing and Quake." she felt the small goose egg on the back of Phil's head. "Bit of a bang there, any concussion signs?"
"No, and I've had a couple to know." He tilted his head to Darcy and Jemma nodded.
"Hello there, sweetie. Can I give you a quick look over?" Jemma asked.
Darcy realized she was safe and began to hyperventilate. Jemma pushed her head down and rubbed her back and spoke soothingly. They pulled up to the ER of a hospital and Phil helped Darcy out of the van. By the time they were standing properly the van was already gone.
"Is that what all superhero encounters are like?"
"No, usually I get a few more questions in that no one answers."
Darcy nodded and they walked into the ER.
"You were kidnapped and didn't think to search for any evidence?" Nick was pacing and Phil was reading their competitor's paper just to piss the man off. He drew an ugly goatee on Jasper's face.
"I was busy being kidnapped."
"You could have multi-tasked." Nick grumbled.
"I'm sorry I was more concerned about Darcy than a story."
Nick quieted a bit at that. "How is she?"
"Taking a couple days, but then I'm guessing, she's going to want to know why it happened."
"Why did it happen, Phil?" Nick sat behind his desk.
"Don't know." Phil looked up from the paper. "But now? Now I actually care about all of this. And I'm going to find out."
"Shit, you remember you are actually good at this?"
Phil just threw the paper at him.
Nick smiled, because the look on Phil's face, determination, and slightly pissed with a sheen of calm, that look was the real Phil.
Darcy had a wild flower bouquet with her as she walked into the Tea Shop. "Hi, Skye."
"Hey loser." Skye hated playing at pissed off, she had been so worried about Darcy.
"I'm sorry, I have like a super good story. And even a police report." Darcy held out the flowers. "i was honest to god kidnapped."
"What?" Skye shouted. She hurried around the counter and tossed the flowers on top of it. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah between my boss and those Shield superheroes, barely a bruise." Darcy breathed in and it was Skye's scent. The scent that had been on the woman who had brushed by her. "If I could, I would thank that group." she said slowly.
"Well I mean superheroes, that's what they do, right?" Skye fussed at Darcy a little.
Melinda poked her head in and asked, "Everything okay?"
Darcy's eyes widened.
She had pitched her voice, but not enough, not when she had shouted.
Darcy blinked, it was crazy though. Had to be her imagination. No way was she dating a superhero. Skye had zero coordination. Just the trauma making her think things.
"Yeah, Melinda, I'm good, but boss man could use a check on." Darcy suggested. "Need to know where he lives?"
Phil was on the phone with his friend Clint who was yelling at him for getting kidnapped when there was a knock at the door. He opened it. "Got to go. Yell at me next time." He hung up. "Hi, Melinda."
"I thought you might be out of The Coulson." Melinda held up a small bag of tea.
"I am, just about." Phil opened the door wider and grinned at her.
Melinda had such nice hair.
Horrible people skills.
He kissed her very nice cheek. "Want to share a cup with me?"
"I would love to." Melinda looked at him. "And you can tell me why you are babying your side."
"Sure, it is a thrilling tale." Phil promised as he ushered her into the house. "They'll be optioning it for a movie soon enough."
"I just bet." Melinda smiled a little. "Tell me."
Phil lead her to the couch and told the story while making them tea.
Clint stood in the tent and looked at the team. "So, he got kidnapped and has a girlfriend. Who else is curious?" The whole team raised their hand. "Who else wants to find out more?" The hands shot up again.
Well most did.
"Shut up." Tony was furiously typing. "You cock blocking son of a whore. Let me in!" More typing. More swearing. "Why can't I get at her files. JARVIS cracks the air force security like it is a pistachio usually." He slammed the computer closed. "Melinda May's files are sealed tighter than I can get into. I want to blow whoever did that and maybe also offer them a job, because that is some of the sexiest coding I've ever seen."
"Danvers spoke of May with a good deal of respect. It was an honourable discharge." Natasha was sharpening knives. "A mission was considered a success by superiors, less so by the boots on the ground. May and a ground engineer Mackenzie both left over it. She owns a tea shop that has 3 part time employees and Mackenzie works at a garage."
"How do you know that and I don't?" Tony frowned.
"Because I called and asked Rhodey to connect me to Danvers."
"You used my own friend against me?" Tony nodded. "Good work."
Steve raised his hand and Clint groaned. "Steve not school, you can just talk."
"It would be rude." Various things were thrown at him. "I talked to Nick, seems like Phil is Phil-ing and though he said he wanted to be super civilian has ended up mixed up in toxic waste and government graft and superhero situations."
The whole team sighed. "Of course he has." Bucky mutters something in Russian and Natasha laughs a little.
Bruce looked up from his journal. "Are we more concerned about the kidnapping or the fact that he has a girlfriend? Because one is less common than the other." He wasn't referring to kidnapping.
"Last few girlfriends weren't right for him." Tony said casually. "They wanted the civilian mask to be the real Phil."
"Agreed." Clint nodded. "We need to check all of this out. It's for his own good. Phil's crap at running his own life."
Steve raised his hand again. "Ummmm, we all kind of are crap at relationships."
Clint made sad face. "Aww, babe, no. We're great together."
"When's my birthday."
"Ha July 4th." Clint smiled, preened.
Steve was unimpressed. "If we can see Natasha's lips moving when she feeds you an answer it doesn't count."
Clint deflated a little. "Okay, but we have been dating for like 8 months, and frankly that's a record."
"9." Steve mentioned.
"And me and Bucky have been together since the dawn of time." Natasha offered.
"How many break ups in that span?" Tony reminded.
Bucky started counting on his fingers until Natasha punched him.
"Oh shut up, like you and Bruce can talk with all the pining." Natasha muttered.
Tony spluttered and Bruce blushed.
"Yes, yes, we are a weird little incestuous group of hormones." Clint dismissed. "But focus, we need to make sure this Melinda May is worthy of Phil. We're all going to Portland."
Steve raised his hand again and Bucky pushed it down. "Are we all allowed to just up and leave? Aren't we in the middle of a mission?"
They all look around their tent at the massive amount of guns and C4, the orders that had to be carried out.
"Oh yeah." Clint made a face. "Okay, stop the traffickers and then we all fly to Portland, I think we all have like 5 months of vacation and sick time we can use."
"I also have a private plane." Tony smiled. "Handy being a contractor and not military like some of you."
"Awesome." Clint clapped. "Let's go be heroes."
"10 dollars he gets blown up again." Natasha muttered to Bucky.
"An additional 5 if Steve does a motivational speech."
Phil was at his computer typing as he was on hold with the mayor's office. They were giving him the runaround but underestimated his patience. He had worked with Stark for two years. There was nothing they could throw at him that he couldn't handle. Eventually after 4 transfers and over an hour on hold he finally got through to an intern who stammered. Phil ran circles around them and made them think that he had lost by not getting a meeting with the mayor and being pawned of to the head of finance. Which was exactly where he wanted. It was set for tomorrow.
He and Victoria coordinated a plan of attack as she had several meetings as well and he decided he could reward himself with a nice cup of tea.
"Darcy, I'm off to Tea Cozies, want anything?"
"Yeah, to come along."
"Did you finish that list I gave you?"
"Of course boss." Darcy smiled. "Like it's hard."
"Remind me to make Nick give you some of your own stories."
Darcy's eyes widened. "Really? Can I write restaurant reviews?"
"That job sucks." Phil said.
"Yeah but food." Darcy smiled. "I might already have a review of Tea Cozies written."
That made Phil pause. He held out a hand and Darcy handed him the pages. He sat at his desk and grabbed a pen. He made a lot of notes over it.
"Really happy you don't have a red pen right now." Darcy muttered. Phil handed it back to her and waited. Darcy looked at it. "Did you draw a dick on this boss?" She looked at everything on the page and 80% of it was just childish graffitti.
"It's good, you need to focus in a little more, to the one thing that would make people want to go there. Give them one reason to go." Phil grinned. "Little more polish and I'll make sure Nick publishes it."
"I'm buying you a cookie." Darcy said.
They walked to the shop and Darcy rambled about her ideas for other stories. Phil automatically held the door open for her and they walked in.
"Busy today." Darcy said. There was a row of guys and one woman standing at the counter.
"Nope." Phil said, looking at them. "Nope nope nope nope nope." He turned around and walked out. Everyone watched him pace outside.
Darcy looked at the group who were kind of smiling evilly. Skye looked worried behind the counter. Darcy didn't think, just grabbed her taser, the new nice Stark one that Phil had bought her after the kidnapping. "Get away from my girlfriend."
Skye grinned a little. "Girlfriend?"
"Well duh, I've gone down on you in an actual bed, that equals girlfriend." Darcy's hand didn't waver as she tried to stare the group down.
"Why don't you ever say things that romantic to me?" Clint asked Steve.
"I told you that you have the most beautiful eyes and that I worship every inch of you." Steve was offended.
Clint rolled his eyes. "No that is sappy, what she said is downright romantic."
"Jesus, focus Clint." Natasha poked him.
"You're Clint?" Darcy lowered the taser a little.
Clint smiled. "You know who I am?"
"Phil has a photo of you two as his screensaver at work, didn't recognize you because you know, you aren't covered in mud and boss man sitting on you." Darcy looked at them all. "Holy shit you are all his team. Like The Team." she put the taser away. "So Natasha, Banner, Stark, which by the way your taser is bitching, Rogers and Barnes. Damn. Boss man doesn't talk about you guys at all, so you must be important."
"How do you figure that?"
"Because boss man, he plays close to his vest. But he got drunk with Fury and Hill one night and I was their DD. He talked. Plus he has that Delta symbol tattoo. Your initials all ring around it."
Skye stared at them. "Stark, like Stark Stark?"
"Your processor is amazing." Skye started to babble about circuit boards and Tony broke away from the line to chat.
"Well, I've lost my girl." Darcy shrugged. "Shouldn't all of you be saving the world?"
"Holiday." Clint's eyes were tracking Phil. There was a noise behind and everyone but Clint turned. Darcy remembered. She tried signing a little and Clint smiled. "You sign?"
"Jemma who works here is mute, so Phil's been teaching me."
"Incoming." Clint said. Phil was hurrying back in. Clint turned and saw that another woman had appeared. Older, a bit stern looking. "Ah that's why he's coming back in."
Sure enough Phil ran in and moved in front of Melinda. "Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope." he said over and over.
Clint made sad puppy face. "You got kidnapped and we were worried." He looked at everyone who was smiling and waving at Phil. He coughed pointedly and everyone quickly made sad and concerned faces.
"Do you have the Sherlock Holmes tea?" Bucky asked staring at the wall.
"We totally do, god the hipsters love it." Skye said reaching for a canister.
"No, he'll prefer the blend two to the left." Melinda said from behind Phil. Skye's hand moved over and she prepped the tea. It had gone oddly silent in the shop as that was done, like they were all waiting for something. Bucky took the offered cup and blew on it a little before taking a sip.
He gave everyone a small nod and they all were scanning the board more.
"My girlfriend wasn't going to poison you." Phil yelled at them. Bucky just shrugged. "If anyone is going to poison all of you, it would be me."
They all ignored the threat.
"Do you have a frequent buyer card?" Steve asked. He loved those sorts of things.
"You can have the Phil discount." Melinda said. She looked at the group and started to pull jars down. "Jemma, I need a number 4 from back there. Knock twice to let me know you got that." There were two thumps. Melinda set to work.
"I get a discount?" Phil asked. He turned to Darcy. "You get a discount?"
"No, but my frequent buyer reward works a little differently." Darcy grinned and Skye blushed.
"Are there tiers, I love tiers." Steve said happily.
"Sorry, you're beautiful, but if we were to throw anyone into the mix, it'd be the redhead." Skye said.
Clint hugged Steve's arm. "They mean sex sweetie."
"I figured that out." Steve muttered.
Phil just kept glaring at everyone trying to block them from seeing Melinda. Jemma came out with a cup and held to Melinda who handed it to Tony.
"You don't seem the tea sort."
Tony took a sip. "What the hell is that?"
"Coffee that my one employee makes himself. He does some science, basically makes the caffeine 20x more potent. Add then adds condensed milk."
"My heart hurts." Tony said in awe before taking another sip.
"Don't give Stark special treatment, he'll never leave then." Phil hissed.
Skye lit up. "He's The Asshole in your emails isn't he?" Darcy made a throat slashing motion. "Oh crap."
Tony looked at her sharply. "You're the one who fire walled her service record. Want a job?"
"Yeah, not a soldier."
Jemma snorted a little.
"Oh shit, we're jackasses." Clint said he began to sign rapidly to Jemma.
Jemma sort of smiled and curtsied before running to the back room.
Clint and Natasha exchanged a look.
Phil looked at Darcy and Skye who tried to appear innocent. "Have you read all my emails?"
"Trust me after the first, we have absolutely not looked at any you send Melinda." Skye swore.
Phil turned bright red and Bucky grinned maniacally. "You sending dirty messages? Do you sext now?"
"No." Phil looked at Natasha. "Hit him for me." Natasha obliged.
Everyone was bickering and drinking tea and Phil kept trying to cover Melinda.
Melinda just hopped over the counter and stood in front of Phil. "You each get one question." Strike Team Delta did a very elaborate rock paper scissors.
"Why is your file so protected?" Tony blurted out.
"For the same reason so many of your files are protected." He opened his mouth but Melinda shook her head. "I answered, next person."
"Are you planning to move away from Portland anytime soon?" Bruce asked.
"No, I like the city, and the company." Melinda moved her hands behind her back and Phil hooked a finger over her pinkie.
"Are you okay with the fact that Phil is a weirdo who lies to himself a lot?" was Bucky's question. Natasha hit him again.
"What the hell?" Phil asked.
Melinda just laughed. "He isn't so weird."
Bucky gave her an are you serious look. She just shrugged.
"He also though has a quiet romantic streak, have you bought him flowers?" Clint sighed at Steve's question, the man was such a dope.
"I bought him a rose cupcake, does that count?"
Steve nodded happily.
"Could you take me in a fight?" Natasha asked.
The two women just stared at each other. "I'd say it would be even money, we can find out later if you like."
Clint looked at her. "How do you feel about paintball?"
Phil could be heard whispering ohgodnoohgodnoohgodnononononono.
"We'll destroy you." Melinda answered.
"We meet at dawn." Clint said ominously.
Strike Team Delta moved out.
"So did we pass?" Skye asked confused.
"I like them." Darcy hopped on the counter. "How much dirt do they have on you boss man?"
Phil put his head on Melinda's shoulder. "I hate them."
"Did you what?" Phil kept his head down.
"Pass?" Melinda asked.
"Depends how tomorrow goes."
"Can I paintball too?" Darcy asked.
"If we are six on six, no offense Darcy I'll want Mack riding with us."
"Yeah, I'd pick him over me too."
"You don't understand how seriously they take paintball."
Skye laughed a little. "Yeah, not a problem."
"Are you wearing tactical gear over a shirt and tie?" Melinda stared at Phil. "For paintball. At dawn. With your friends."
"I like to look professional."
"Again, for paintball?"
"He thinks he looks good like that, and is trying to impress you." Clint explained as he walked by.
Phil glared at him. "I am disappointed in you right now."
"No you aren't, you're relieved I haven't told her about the underwear rock incident." Clint kept walking.
Melinda looked at Phil. "Impress me?"
"No." Phil checked his paintball gun. "So, you taking point?"
Melinda smiled. "No that will be you and Mack. You make handy targets. Don't worry about Skye and I. Fitz and Jemma will give you solid backup."
"We're going to lose." Phil said. "If we take two of them down, I'll be happy."
Melinda pulled Phil down into a deep kiss and ignored all the cheers and whistles around them. "You do look good like that." she grabbed her gun and went over to their teams starting line.
"Go Phil!" Bucky shouted.
Phil flipped them all off and went to stand with his new team. It was odd to face off against Delta, he had spent years shadowing them. When he thought he was dead, Clint's face had been the last thing he had seen. When he woke up 2 weeks later, it was Clint there too. He would never tell them that he appreciated them coming to check on him.
Darcy blew a whistle and both teams were off. She watched the military guys and damn but they moved impressively even the scientist and Stark who were contractors, not soldiers. It was kind of hot. She turned and watched her team. She knew Phil would kick ass, and that May and Mack had a background but Skye wrote code and sold tea and Fitz and Jemma did...whatever they did when they weren't at the shop.
Only they moved just as swiftly and surely as the people who spent their lives in war zones. She watched Mack and Phil provide cover and then May just leaped over the barrier and slammed a paintball onto Tony's chest before rolling to safety. Darcy had lot sight of Skye and turned her head at the ratatat of one of the guns and realized that her girl had sniped Steve. Skye ran and Darcy blinked.
She had seen that run before.
She hadn't been making it up.
Darcy didn't even really see the rest of the battle. Strike Team Delta won, but only just and when they all came over Darcy tried to act normal. How come Phil couldn't see it, why wasn't he putting the pieces together. She had to get out of their before she flipped out. She made some lame excuses and left.
"What's that about?" Melinda asked concerned.
"Maybe after the kidnapping the guns got to her a bit. I'll call her later, she probably just needs some space." Phil smiled at Melinda. "You have green in your hair. It looks cute."
"Okay, didn't expect it to be that close." Clint admitted. "I mean giving you Phil was a bit of an advantage, he knows our moves, but still."
Melinda smirked a bit. "You didn't give him to me, I took him. And kept him."
Bucky whistled and held up a fist to Phil for a bump. Phil shook his head but the second Melinda wasn't looking took the bump.
"I have donuts. Voodoo, they're the best." Fitz said in his flat voice.
Jemma opened her mouth to yell at him, but closed it quickly. She then carefully spelled out Blue Star.
"I agree Jemma." Phil spoke and signed at the same time. "Blue Star is better."
Mack came in, "either way not going to object to my guy bringing me sustenance."
"How do you fuck with that height difference?" Tony blurted out. Everyone looked at him. "Oh come on, we are all wondering here." Bruce stuffed a donut in his mouth.
Phil sat on a picnic table and was surprised when Melinda slid beside him and tucked into him. This was more public affection than he expected.
"I like them." Melinda watched as Clint tackled Steve for the Boston Cream. "They suit you." she paused. "Did Natasha just steal Tony's nose and he's now chasing her to get it back?"
"They are the most dangerous five year olds on the planet." Phil sighed. "40% of my time with them was stopping pranks and anything you can do I can do better competitions."
"And the other 60%?"
"20% writing, 20% being bored or sleeping, 10% shadowing them, and 10% being scared shitless."
"Do you miss it?"
Phil looked at his old group. "I miss them." he touched the scar on his chest. "But I don't think that I could go back to a desert again."
"Hey we've had some jobs in rainforests recently." Bucky offered.
"And I have an equivalent done the block. I'm good here."
"He doesn't want to leave his girllllfriend." Clint drew out the word.
Phil threw a spare paintball pellet at him and was pleased when it hit Clint's hair.
"That's it." Clint ran over and grabbed Phil. "We'll return him in one piece." Delta swarmed and all carried off Phil. When he called for help, Melinda settled in with a donut.
Skye had just finished washing all the paint out of her hair and heard the knocking at the door. "Hey, babe. You doing okay? You ran out of there in a hurry."
Darcy held up her phone which had photos from the story of when Phil first met Shield. "Tell me that isn't you." Darcy flicked the screen. "Tell me that Quake isn't you."
"Darcy." Skye gripped the door handle tight. She couldn't lose control, not right now. "Darcy I can explain?"
"Explain?" Darcy laughed and pushed her way into the apartment. "Explain that you have superpowers, that my boss's girl has superpowers. Do the others?"
"No. Just the two of us."
"Jemma's not mute. She's British."
"Phil would hear her voice and it would all be over in a second."
"He's going to figure it out." Darcy warned. "It's a miracle he hasn't yet."
"Are you going to tell him?" Skye bit her lip. "Are you going to out us?"
"No." Darcy was pacing. "But, like, what happens now? You saved my life and then pretend you were mad that I missed a date."
"I know, I'm sorry." Skye reached out a hand and pulled it back.
"And how do I date a superhero? Like what do I offer someone who saves the day?"
Skye blinked. Usually people ran the other other way when they realized she could bring buildings down. "What do you offer?"
"I'm an intern! I own the worst car ever, and can't even throw a decent punch."
Skye moved closer and cupped Darcy's face. "You are kind and fiercely clever and even more loyal. You were ready to taze 6 strangers to protect me."
"Yeah, well, I like your face." Darcy pouted a bit.
"I like your face too."
"Fine then. Good." Darcy looked at Skye.
"Just put on netflix." Darcy pushed Skye away a little to settle on the couch and held out a hand. Skye breathed slowly and took it.
Melinda yawned and stumbled into her kitchen to make some tea.
She heard a soft thwap and spun and settled into a fighting position. She hadn't left that window open. And she certainly hadn't put an arrow in her couch.
Melinda unfurled the paper on the shaft.
Your secret lair needs a little more security.
If you don't tell Phil, we will.
She crumpled the note and threw it across the room.
Phil ate his cereal and drank his coffee, Stark barely awake across from him.
"So Clint and Natasha scaring Melinda off?"
Tony yawned. "Don't know what you mean."
"Sure. I can run my own life you know." Phil ate another mouthful.
"We run it better."
"Flagpole in Kuwait."
"We mostly run it better." Tony looked at Phil. "You know she's lying to you."
"You know that if her files are buried that deep, there is a reason."
"You know this is all totally connected."
"So why aren't you doing something?" Tony frowned, confused.
Phil finished chewing. "Because I think I'm falling in love with her. So we'll see what happens."
"Ask Bruce out Tony. Taking a leap isn't always a bad thing."
"Last time you leapt you got rebar through your chest."
"And it lead me here." Phil got them more coffee. "So looking like it might have been a good leap."
"I'm telling everyone you've gone insane." Tony warned. Phil just smiled some more.
Like they'd be able to tell a difference anyways.
"Red Wing aren't we going to rescue him?" Quake asked.
"No." she started to tap her foot.
"Sort of our job isn't it?" Icer pointed out.
"He does look quite sorry." Simmons offered. "What do we think of Blaze?"
Phil shook his head. Quake went over and ungagged him. "I'm sorry, but you seem to be randomly picking names, what are the strengths you bring to the team?"
"I'm a biologist." she offered enthusiastically. "I helped design the bullets we used but he shouted out I'm Icer and well lost that."
"Well what else do you do?" Phil asked.
"A lot of research." she admitted. "Did you know we stopped a woman once who if she touched you would just disintegrate? Studying her DNA was fascinating and I was able to develop -"
"Helix." Phil said, interrupting.
Phil smiled as everyone stared at him. "Well if she is a scientist and biology, Helix for the strands of DNA."
Jemma couldn't stop herself and ran over and hugged him. "It's perfect, thank you."
"Words are kind of my thing."
"So is getting your ass kidnapped." Melinda yelled in her superhero voice. The whole team flinched a bit but Phil just smiled.
"At least Darcy was safe this time. Victoria borrowed her and they are hunting down an aspect of this story that doesn't involved skulking through warehouses."
"How do you borrow people?" Skye asked. She wasn't jealous.
"You mostly offer free food to go through five paper boxes of phone conversations." Phil said. "Plus I think Darcy wanted some tips how to do classy pink or purple streaks like Victoria has. Really quite a gorgeous woman." He paused as everyone gave him a death glare. "What? I'm not allowed to notice the attractive coworker who has an understanding of a sexual nature with my friend and boss? He notices that my girlfriend is crazy attractive."
"And how would he notice that?" Melinda asked.
"Okay, bit of a weird question considering the circumstances, but I might show a photo or 30 of her to people. Delta have blocked my email for a week, I got a little invested in her changing the menu board at her store." Phil blushed a little. "Can we get back to rescuing me now? I actually have a date with her and don't want to be late."
Skye laughed at the poor guy a little. "Awww, our damsel in distress is in love." she went over and started untying him.
"Not a damsel in distress."
"Third rescue." she said as she finished with the ropes.
"Okay sure, that looks bad, but these guys talked more. I have a name. Whitehall."
Melinda's eyes widened and she moved in front of Phil. "You drop this story right now. You cover those fluff stories and you don't go near this anymore." her voice was harsh.
Phil stood up and glared at her. "You don't tell me how to do my job. These guys are either poisoning the city or trying to create super villains and near as I can tell Victoria and I have gotten closer to figuring it out than the cops and your little band of misfits. So we're going to keep pushing and break the damn story and all of you can bat cleanup for us."
"And what happens when we don't get to you in time and these guys actually kill you for nosing about?" she yelled. "Whitehall is not someone to trifle with."
"How do you know that? What do you know about him? Is he connected to the Mayor's office?" Phil hammered the questions out.
"HYDRA isn't in the Mayor's office that we can tell." Fitz said. "Shit."
"And now I have another thing to look into. Thanks Icer." Phil stared Melinda down. "I'm going to do my job. You do yours, and we'll see how it all shakes out." He started to walk out of the warehouse.
"You're bleeding a little." Melinda said after him.
"My girl will kiss it better." he walked out of the warehouse.
Melinda kicked one of the knocked out goons. "Dammit, dammit, dammit. What the hell is Whitehall doing in Portland?"
"I don't know, but we'll all head to the base and start looking." Skye promised. "We'll get him this time."
"Preferably before my crazy boyfriend gets himself killed." Melinda said. She stormed off.
"I really do like the name Helix." Jemma said into the silence.
"It's a great name." Fitz agreed.
"Let's call the cops and head to the shop. He gets seriously hurt, I don't want to deal with the fallout." Skye said.
Fitz and Jemma nodded in agreement.
Phil walked into the restaurant and saw Melinda sitting at a table. It had taken longer than he expected to get home, shower, call Victoria to give her what he learned and dress the rope burn on his wrist. He went over to the table and kissed Melinda's cheek. "I'm so sorry, I'm late."
"It's okay, I was a bit too, got involved in unloading a new shipment." Melinda smiled at him. He looked okay. There was the shadow of a bruise on his jaw and she could see the bandage on his wrist, but he looked fairly composed. "What's your reason?"
"Got kidnapped again." he said cheerfully as he sat down. The waiter came over and he ordered a beer. "I was thinking we could split an appetizer platter? I feel like finger food. Deep fried pickles are calling to me."
"Yes fine. And kidnapped again?" she asked, concerned. She hated faking like this.
"Oh yeah. It happens. Clint said I had a glowing sign above my head that said kidnap me please. Happened...four, no five times while I shadowed them."
"Over how many years?"
"About 7, I guess." Phil said after a moment.
"And how many in the last 6 months?"
He paused and realized he needed to tone it down. "You know? Only one was actually a kidnapping. Because kidnapping implies you are taken from one location to another. The other two are really more I was caught snooping at the wrong place at the wrong time." He smiled. "So, not so bad right?"
Melinda just looked at him.
"I got leads for the two major stories I'm working on."
"Two?" Melinda asked. She smiled at the waiter as he refilled her water.
"Hmmm?" Phil took a sip of his beer. "The bad guys and the good guys. Have leads on both."
"I thought you dropped trying to figure out who Shield was?"
"Back burner but not dropped. Picked up a couple things tonight to run with, at least I think. Need to make some calls." Phil was happy. "This was a really productive hostage situation."
Melinda looked at him. "Did you get yourself beat up on purpose?"
"Oh look deep friend pickles." Phil said as the waiter put down a large platter.
"We're talking about your reckless streak." Melinda warned him, ignoring the food.
"It's only a little reckless. Barely any reck at all." he promised. He tried his most charming smile, the one he copied of off Clint.
"I don't like you hurt." she shrugged a little. "You mean a lot to me."
Phil's smile softened and he reached for her hand. It exposed the bandage a little. Melinda took his hand and brought it up so she could kiss the bandage. "There all better." she said.
"All better." he agreed.
They ate and talked about easier things and Phil paid their bill. "Want to go for a walk?" he asked.
Melinda looked at him. "Depends. Does the walk lead to my place?"
Phil blinked. "It absolutely can." he paused. "How long a walk are we expecting it to be?"
"A long walk, until morning." Melinda looked at him.
"We uh, might need to make a stop on the walk then." Phil said. "I don't have walking shoes."
Melinda started to laugh. "Darcy and Skye would be yelling at us right about now." They walked out of the restaurant. "I have a spare toothbrush, an unopened deodorant if you don't mind citrus breeze, and condoms."
"I guess we don't need to stop then." Phil held out his hand and they went to Melinda's place. They climbed the steps to her apartment and when inside Melinda turned the lamps on. It was a tidy space, completely open other than a couple closets and the bathroom. It was mostly practical, but touches of elegance and comfort in pillows and blankets piled everyone, the bed large for one person, with an intricately carved wood headboard. He liked it in here, it was different that his place of controlled chaos and bits and bobs he had collected in his travels. He had difficulty letting go.
"So do we put on music, drink a glass of wine?" Phil felt awkward. He had no idea what to do with his hands. "Should we talk sexual history?"
"I'm clean, haven't slept with anyone since we all moved to Portland."
"All moved?" Phil asked, confused.
Melinda moved closer, into his space to distract him. "You?"
"Clean, been since before the landmine for me." Phil looked at her. "How do we get from here to there?"
Melinda leaned up and kissed him gently. Phil remembered what to do with his hands and one slid into her hair and held her tight. He tilted his head for a better angle and pulled her in just a little closer, to make the kiss a little deeper. When the broke apart, Phil ran a finger down her cheek.
"Are you going to pull a gun on me?" he whispered.
"No?" Melinda frowned a bit. "Is this a common reaction to your kisses?"
"Not as uncommon as you would think." he smiled and kissed her again, pressing his tongue into her mouth. It was her turn to wrap a hand around his neck. They stood there and kissed until Phil's neck got a little sore from tilting his head down. "It is a very nice bed over there."
"Even more comfortable than it looks." Melinda agreed. She stepped back and around the couch. "Please tell me we aren't going to make getting undressed a thing."
"First one naked gets to be on top?" Phil asked.
Melinda looked at him and they both moved fast for the bed stripping down and Phil tripped trying to get his socks off. Melinda knelt naked on the bed as Phil thumped on the ground. His head appeared over the foot of the bed. "Please feel free to call me Fred Astaire." He looked at her. "Wow."
"Haven't been wow in 20 years." she said, but she smiled.
Phil shook his head. "Trust me. Wow is the accurate word here." He crawled up onto the bed.
"Phil." Melinda's voice was low, seductive.
He cupped her cheek. "Yes?"
"You missed a sock."
His forehead fell against hers. "Kill me now." He reached back and pulled the sock off. "Can we just pretend I was suave and swept you off your feet and you swooned from my passionate embrace?"
"This is better." she promised. They started to kiss again and pushed until they were lying down and Melinda rolled on top of Phil. "Hello."
"Hi." Phil reached his head up a bit and kissed her collarbone. "How do you feel about teeth?"
"Good." Phil gently bit and Melinda's head fell down, hair pouring onto his face. She settled more fully on top of him and their kisses grew desperate and sloppy as Phil ran his hands up and down her body. Melinda nudged down a little to start kissing his neck and moved a little more down. She stopped at his heart.
"I know it's not the prettiest." he said quietly. "I can put my undershirt back on."
Melinda traced her fingers over the scar. The skin was raised, smooth but jagged. "So close."
"I was only dead a minute or so."
She rested her head just above the scar. She kissed it and softly dragged her tongue along it from bottom to top. "No more dead for only a minute or so." Another kiss right in the middle. "All better."
"All better." he agreed. He pulled her and twisted so that he was the big spoon around her. He bit her ear and then sucked. She squirmed against him.
"My neck is pretty sensitive." she said and he began to kiss and nibble what he could reach. Melinda sighed, warmth filling her stomach. It tickled but also felt good as he ran his nails up her thigh and sides stopping a few inches from her breast before his hand drags back down. He kept getting closer but it wasn't enough. "Stop teasing." Melinda said.
Phil bit the crux of her neck and his hand cupped and squeezed her breast. His thumb brushed her nipple until it peaked under the touch and then he pulled and twisted a little. Melinda moaned and pressed back against him where he was getting thicker against her ass. She began to grind against him and when he moaned she turned in his grip so they were facing each other.
Their kisses were messy at this point and all over the place as thinking got harder. Melinda put her thigh over top his and they pressed against each other. His fingers dug into her ass and his chest hair was making her nipples so sensitive.
Phil pulled away. "You said you had -"
Melinda nodded rolled on top of him again to reach into the night table.
"Melinda?" Phil asked.
"Hmm?" Melinda looked at him after she found what she was looking for.
"Didn't have to get all the way off did you?"
"i -" didn't, Melinda finished in her head as she realized that she had floated a little off of Phil without noticing. She had been so involved in the feelings and the moment her powers had taken over she concentrated and pressed her weight into his again. She opened the condom and rolled it on to him. Melinda then slid off him and was on her back.
"I thought you were on top."
"I am." Melinda pulled him to her. "And I'm telling you to get on top."
"Yes ma'am." Phil pushed down a little and kissed her nipple, pulled it into his mouth and sucked. He then did it to the other side, laving the nipple after he sucked. He moved a hand down her stomach and lower until he slid a finger into her folds and brushed her clit.
"That is the general idea."
"If you make dad jokes right now, I will end you." she warned.
His finger moved a bit lower and dragged her wetness up to her clit and touched a little harder. "Noted." He went back to kissing her neck even as he moved his fingers.
"Little lower, strokes not circles." Melinda said as she stroked her hands down his back. It was awkward they were so close but she was able to put a hand between them to stroke his cock a bit, though the angle wasn't quite perfect. None of it was perfect, but it was fantastic.
Phil adjusted his touch and soon she was moaning and her hips were rocking against him. He pulled his hand away and grabbed his dick, giving it a couple strokes before carefully pushing into her. They both stilled, adjusting to the feeling, to the newness of each other. Melinda pulled her knees up so that Phil sank into her a little more.
"Hard." she said.
Phil nodded and after a couple soft strokes to adjust began to rock in and out of her hard. They weren't loud but their breath was rough, quiet moans and grunts as the pressure rolled through them. "Touch yourself." Phil said and Melinda slid her hand down and worked her clit as he fucked her. He sat up a bit so he could get a hand under her ass to angle her a little more.
Melinda's hand was moving fast and he found the right angle. She arched her head back as she came, the feeling making her tingly and sensitive from head to knees. Phil was a few more grunts before he swore and froze above her. Melinda pressed up into him and held him tight. He moved to roll over and she shook her head. "One more second."
Phil kissed her gently. "Melinda." he then rolled over but made sure to pull her against him and kept nuzzling her head.
"Knew you would be a cuddler."
"Yes, yes, I'm a sap." Phil said. They stayed like that for another couple minutes before Phil went to the bathroom. Melinda heard the shower and just lay back in the bed. When he came back she took her turn in the bathroom.
She crawled into the bed. "No sleep snuggling." she ordered. "I don't like being touched in my sleep."
"I figured. I know enough soldiers." he settled into the pillow next to her. "You are so beautiful."
"You are wonderful. And handsome." she moved his hair which was still damp from his shower. "Did that hurt your wrist?" The bandage had come off and she could see the rope marks.
"Endorphins. I'm fine." his face grew serious. "Melinda, this is really important and I need you to be utterly truthful with me. It will affect the rest of our relationship."
Shit, shit, shit, she thought. "Of course."
"Tell me there is coffee for the morning, because I love you but I cannot handle tea when I wake up."
Melinda laughed. "I have french press, I can make you." she refused to think about the words that had been in the middle of the sentence.
Phil sighed in relief. "We're going to be okay then."
"I want us to be."
Phil touched her lips. "We're going to be, I have a good feeling."
Melinda went down to the shop at 7:30 and Skye was counting the til. "So did I see Phill sneaking out the back?"
"He wasn't sneaking. He has a breakfast meeting with Fury."
"And not hiding the hickeys, bold choice." Skye grinned. "High five boss lady."
Melinda left her hanging as she readied some of the kettles. They worked in silence, getting ready for the morning crowd.
"Have you ever had problems with your powers in bed?" Melinda was carefully organizing tea pots.
"I mean I've used my powers when a vibe's batteries died." Skye said.
"No I mean caught up in the moment enough that you sort of forgot and things happened."
"First G-spot orgasm, knocked all the pictures off the wall." Skye put her measuring spoon down. "Oh you are so spilling all the details."
"I only floated a little."
"Phil's got game." Skye grinned. "Who knew reporters had mad skills? Is he as good with his tongue as Darcy is?"
"Based on your stories no one would be."
"Did he notice?" Skye asked.
"I don't think so. I need to be more careful." Melinda said.
"No, you need to follow your heart." Skye hugged her. "And he's worth it, I just know it."
Melinda hugged back and then went to flip the sign to open.
"Oh god, I don't have to be awake for another hour. What?" Darcy said as she opened her door. "Hey boss, did we have a thing? I know you have a thing, but did we have a thing?"
"My girlfriend flies." Phil said. "And I think I have to pretend I don't know that." he looked so dejected.
Darcy wrapped the blanket more tightly around herself, it was so not the time to flash the poor guy. "My girlfriend does vibrating earth quakey stuff."
Phil nodded. "I should go, I have a meeting with Victoria in an hour."
"I have chocolate chip Eggo waffles, we can figure it out." Darcy offered.
"I stupid love her Darcy." Phil said as he walked in. "And you need to place the flowers more strategically with your blanket." he collapsed onto a chair.
"Oh Fury seriously needs to get that raise for me going. This is so above my pay grade." Darcy muttered to herself as she closed the door. She adjust the blanket and got the waffles out of the freezer. She tossed them to Phil and then went to get some clothes. This was going to take a while.
Victoria was hurrying to her car, she was due to meet Phil soon, he had said he had some information that would help.
She turned and saw a man, probably in his early thirties, dark hair. "Yes?"
"Grant Ward. Mr Whitehall regrets that you will no longer be able to work on the story you are trying to break."
"Oh and why is that?" Victoria reached into her pocket for her pepper spray.
She flinched and looked down. It took a moment for the pain to register and by the time it did she was dropping to the ground. The last thing she saw before she died was the man looking down at her. "I really enjoyed your story on bribery at Portland State, really excellent work." he said before he walked away.
Melinda kept staring at the police reports. She pretty much had them memorized. She had watched the grainy video a dozen times. He never looked at the camera but she didn't need him to, to know who he was.
"It's not your fault you know," Skye said. She sat beside her and stared at the footage. "He's not your fault."
"He's my something," Melinda said.
"Him going dark side and working for Whitehall, he chose that. Just like you chose your path," Skye turned the video off. "Now all we can do is stop them."
"I thought we had."
"Yeah well, we all did. Only turns out these assholes are slippery. He pulled the trigger, but you know Whitehall made the call," Skye looked at her. "So we know who to hunt."
"Last time we did it by the book, and somehow people walked." Melinda knew there was no somehow about it. Bribes, blackmail, and a hell of a lot of luck of the devil.
"What are you saying, May?" Skye asked.
"I'm saying that you and I? Are stake in the fight is different this time." Melinda ran the video again. "I won't execute him, but if it comes down to killing him to keep Phil or Darcy safe, my choice is easy."
Skye nodded. "Me too."
"The others won't approve."
"They'll deal." Skye looked at the clock. "Funeral soon. I offered to go with her. She said no."
"I didn't offer, he didn't want me to."
Skye nodded and they sat there and reviewed all their files on HYDRA.
It was a small service, dignified, somber as befitted the Victoria most of the world had known. The small group of reports kept themselves separate from the family and personal friends.
"This...this has no edge, she had a great edge," Darcy whispered to Phil.
Phil tucked her hand into his arm as they walked out of the church to make way to the graveyard. "We'll give her our send off later," he promised. "A proper reporter's send off."
Maria came up beside them. "Getting utterly and completely wrecked so much that you pre call the ambulance you know you are going to need."
"I can get behind that." Darcy looked at Nick. "He okay?"
"No," Phil said. "But he'll survive, it's what he does." Phil pulled a flask out and raised it to the grave out of sight of the mourners. The four of them passed it around. They skipped the sandwiches and weak coffee after and went to the bar.
"So I've gotten drunk with you before, how is this going to be different?" Darcy asked once they were settled in a corner booth in a rather shabby bar. "And dude, smoking laws," she said when Fury pulled out a cigar.
"This place is technically a private club, and all members and staff have all signed an agreement and the owner bribed the right people. Precisely 10 cigars or cigarettes can be smoked inside in a one month period. This here is number 8." Fury lit the cigar.
"Darcy, when you've seen us all before, that was tipsy," Phil explained. "We are about to do the sort of drinking to forget you took rebar through the chest."
"The sort you do to forget you've got a dead eye," Fury added. "And a dead lover."
Darcy looked at Maria who said, "The kind you do when you've seen mass graves."
"Fuck," she breathed out looking at them. "You guys are all like super hardcore."
"We were, once upon a time," Phil agreed.
The bartender brought over 4 whiskeys and 4 beers. Darcy watched the other three drop the whiskey glass into the beer and and chug all of it down. "Oh holy crap. I'm texting my girlfriend a pregame apology."
Maria snorted a bit. "Probably a good idea." She signaled for a round of whiskeys. "Victoria."
"Victoria," the two men said.
"Can I just honour her by getting hair streaks?" Darcy asked hopefully. They looked at her and she drank the boilermaker.
"Well, okay then," Skye said after looking at her messages.
"Skye?" Jemma looked up from her microscope.
"Darcy just texted, forgive whatever happens in the next few hours please." Skye plugged her phone in and traced where the message came from. "Bar. Bet the people from the paper are having a bit of a drink."
Mack looked up from the gun he was dismantling to clean. "Shit, reporter's wake? Don't even look at whatever she texts you, Skye."
"What's that then?" Fitz asked.
"Sort of like a cop's wake. If they are doing it right, someone's stomach is getting pumped." Mack smiled. "Most of the reporter's I've known had livers of steel."
"Phil Coulson - he double knots his shoe laces," Skye laughed a little bit.
"Yeah and he hung around with Tony Stark and soldiers and mercs for years," Mack explained. "He might not do it a lot, but guessing he's holding his own."
"Phil's not like that," Melinda didn't look up from her notes.
"Boss man that's your fifth whiskey, after two boilers," Darcy stared at the glass just strewn over the table. And the ledge behind them. "I can't feel my fingers." Phil was helpful and pinched one.
"The young ones are cute," Maria grinned. She had stripped down to a wife beater and was smoking a cigar. "So was Hand good with her hands, Nick?"
Nick moved his whiskey glass around, swirling the dregs. "Magic touch. You ever sleep with a woman sharper than you?"
"Yes." the other three all said.
"Damn good feeling ain't it? Have that cleverness, that power, about you, surrounding you."
Darcy opened her mouth and Phil wrapped his hand around it. Right boss of bosses and Maria didn't know. Couldn't know.
"You all got that new coffee maker in the breakroom because of the circles she ran around me," Nick shook his head. "And those little computers you can take home."
"To Victoria," Maria cheered. "Love those laptops."
"That coffeemaker...I would marry that coffeemaker," Phil said in awe. "To Victoria."
"How long did you know her?" Darcy asked Nick. She knew all of them had some sort of past, but it was all murky.
"Damn, since she was a cub like you," Nick said finally.
"Oh like you were that seasoned compared to her, you barely had a dozen years on her," Phil muttered. "They were what you call ships in the night. Nick had always been freelance, hated being tied down until he could run the show. So if they saw each other in Cairo, in Paris, in Des Moines, they'd bunk together and that would be that until the next city."
"We were all like that," Maria said. She looked at Darcy. "War reporting, it's...incestuous and you need solace, reminders of the more out there. So you fuck each other, or a soldier who's taken off their wedding band. And you come home and date someone who is a accountant and doesn't understand that we get ptsd too. That we get shot and held captive and bleed, and never carry anything more dangerous than a pen."
"That almost sounded romantic," Darcy said.
"It's also bullshit. I know damn well you carried a gun Hill," Nick muttered. "And we won't talk about Phil here."
"Phil here?" Darcy looked at him. "You mean mister good shot, mister breaks himself out of being kidnapped, mister secret badass? I want to talk about him." Phil gave her a look. "Or we can talk about my boobs," she quickly added.
"You have fantastic tits," Maria raised a glass.
"Thanks my girlfriend is quite appreciative," Darcy finished her whiskey. "I should go to the bathroom and send her a pic of them." She got up and swayed as she went to the head.
"Victoria wanted to steal Darcy from you, you know," Nick said. "Said the girl had so much potential."
"She does, but she would have become a Victoria clone, and that would chafe eventually," Phil held up a hand. "It wouldn't have been Victoria's fault, that Darcy would have worshipped her. But with me, she'll find her own way."
"Long as it stays on my payroll, we're good."
"Should have hit on her when I had the chance," Maria sighed. "You wanna throw down, Phil? You know what funerals do to me."
"I can see if Melinda wants a threesome, but I doubt it and I don't land my plane anywhere but on her airport," Phil said seriously.
"Jesus how the fuck have you ever won a Pulitzer?" Nick groaned. "We need more drinks."
Darcy made it back to the table, buttons done wrong. "So, what do we talk about at this point? Sex, war stories, best place to get food poisoning?"
"We talk about all of those and how we all know she didn't die in a damn mugging," Phil said. "And we figure out how to get the sons of bitches responsible."
"Now that, I'll drink to," Nick said.
"Oh god, I'm seeing double," Darcy stared at the approaching tray.
"No, sweetie it just has that many drinks," Maria grinned. "Let's tell you about Victoria, Nick, and a thieving lemur in Mozambique."
"Ummm, I think maybe we should get eyes on our people," Skye said from her corner.
Melinda watched as Fitz physically counted everyone in the room. He looked so confused, but that was his usual state when pulled out of new tech he was designing. She watched him count again.
"She means Darcy and Phil," Melinda explained. "And what are they on their third glass of wine?"
"Yeah, I think they've drunk a distillery dry." Skye put up a photo Darcy had sent.
"Good lord, they'll get alcohol poisoning," Jemma said in concern. "Even if those are split evenly between all four of them -"
"Nope, Darcy is two rounds behind the rest of them, though 'don't worry she's puked up the potato skins so made room for another boilermaker yipee' so she's gonna be catching up." Skye turned the photos off. "Also got a blurry pic of boobs. Phil been sending you anything?"
"No, he seems smart enough not to drunk text," Melinda offered.
"3, 2, 1," Mack joked and sure enough Melinda's phone buzzed. "Shit, didn't expect that to work. Turbo remind me to pick us up a lotto ticket on the way home."
Melinda looked at her phone, "Don't worry I have secrets too?"
"That's his version of a drunk text? Boring," Skye went back to the messages she was getting. "At least I'm getting play by play of reporter sex lives. We are trying some of this, though I think we'll skip the lemur."
Melinda froze. "Tell me that isn't about Phil." Her phone buzzed again. "Don't worry, the lemur story isn't me," she quoted, relieved. But still she was getting concerned about the group. "Mack go there and say someone called about a flat tire."
"Yes ma'am," he agreed.
Melinda phone buzzed again and this one she didn't read out loud.
How many lies would be too many for us to move past.
I hope Maria doesn't tell them about the nipple ring I got in Tokyo.
Melinda had no idea which of those sentences scared her more.
"How are you still wording?" Darcy moaned, her head on the table.
"Because we have a couple more decades experience than you," Maria explained. "Well, two for me, three for them," she joked, words slurring together a bit.
"Don't ask me to move," Phil said. "Wording I can do, because it isn't making the floor spin."
"Her story killed her, just like that damn story in the Sudan killed my eye," Nick shouted. "And I wanna kill whoever did this."
"Killing people is bad," Darcy said. "And like bossman would break you out and I'd help him and they'd we'd all be on the lam being like a weird reporter A-Team, and I'd have to leave my girl behind. She uses superpowers while going down, I'm never finding that again." She began to cry. "I can't give that up."
"I hear you, a lover who knows how to use their tongue is a gift from the gods," Maria agreed. "I'm better with fingers and strap-ons but still."
"No, you don't understand," Darcy began.
Phil pushed her off her chair. "Whoops, you fell over, imagine if you had gotten your feet in your mouth."
Darcy thought about getting up but the floor was nice and cool so she stayed down and started humming something none of them recognized.
Phil figured she wasn't paying any attention. "It was a trigger man, smart enough to know where the cameras were. Report with how her body was, they talked and he executed her. You never execute someone yourself."
"Those names you had from your latest kidnap and from SHIELD," Nick said.
"Whitefish, Bluehall,...Whitehall," Phil said trying to focus. "And HYDRA."
"Tomorrow, that is our only priority," Nick ordered. He thought about it. "Day after, none of us are going to be sober yet tomorrow."
Phil raised a glass that had something in it. "To Victoria, a woman fierce enough to kidney punch me to get a drop on a story."
"To Victoria, a woman who I once watched make a dictator cry when she cast majestic shade on his command capabilities."
"To Victoria, a goddamn warrior of the highest caliber," Nick said.
"To Victoria, who had the best hair of anyone I've ever seen. Also I watched her get out of a parking ticket by saying NO in a firm voice. That was cool too," Darcy said from the floor.
"Maria, your place or mine. No flying solo tonight in case someone chokes on vomit," Nick said. He burped and swallowed the back splash like a veteran.
"I have leftover 4 day old pizza," Maria said as she crawled out of their booth.
"You win." Nick hauled her up and they stumbled out the door.
"Darcy," Phil answered.
"I think my soul just left my body,"
"Yeah the fourth boilermaker does that," he agreed.
"You had five."
"Lost my soul a long time ago," Phil explained. He looked at the door blearily. "We know that giant."
"I'm scared of giants, I don't want to be stepped on," Darcy tried to get up. "Nevermind squish away giant man." She flopped back to the almost clean floor.
Mack made his way over to them. "Oh hey you two, this is a surprise. Got a call about a car, but they must have given the wrong address."
Phil straightened his tie and almost strangled himself. "Mack, Mackie, Mack, Sir Mackington, we are drunk, painfully, stupidly drunk. But not in fact stupid."
"I am, I forgot the names of half the states I think."
Mack smiled a bit. "Your girlfriends are worried about you."
"Awww, she liked my boob photo."
"Okay, let's get you upright," Mack said, easily picking Darcy up.
Phil watched Mack and tried to get his brain to work. "You are never with them, but you know. You have to know, it doesn't make sense if you don't know."
"Know what man?" Mack asked. Phil was slurring his words.
"Right we can't talk about what we know, not yet," Phil mouthed some words before vocalizing them. "But we know, you know. And we know you know. Wait I said that. Does knowing hurt you too?"
"Sorry, Phil, but you are making no sense." Mack threw Darcy over his shoulder and held out a hand. "Come on, let's get you two some water and painkillers. It's going to be rough."
Phil stood up. "I can't let her know I know, because if I say I know, then I have to say I know. It's my job to know and to say that I know."
"Sure, man." Mack agreed, still clueless.
Once outside, Darcy smacked his ass and yelled incoming and Mack got her off in time to puke and Phil kept muttering about knowing stuff. "Melinda owes me goddamn huge for this," Mack muttered and he got the two into the tow truck and dropped Darcy off at Skye's and hauled Phil to Melinda.
"Oh Phil," Melinda said when Mack pretty much threw him into her apartment.
"Helllllllllooooooo," Phil said. "I held it together until now. Now I stop the together, the together is gone gone, bubye gone." Phil looked around. "You had a couch."
"I still do, but maybe the bathroom," Melinda suggested.
"Why'd you put it in there, it will get mildew."
"Will you drown if I put you in a shower?
Phil thought about it. "Nooooo." He thought about it some more. "Nope doubtful, plus when I throw up, easy clean up."
"That was sort of the idea." She lead him to the bathroom.
"You lied, no couch in here," he pouted. "You lie a lot, but I love you anyways. And I lie too."
"Everybody lies, Phil, sort of the human thing to do." Melinda turned the water on. "Shower, some sports drink and pain killers and we pray you don't die."
"I know." Melinda stripped him out of his now rather gross smelling suit. "I'm so sorry about that."
"You didn't kill her."
"I'm sorry that you and your friends are hurting. And I'm sorry whenever anyone is killed in a mugging."
"We both know it wasn't a mugging." Phil got under the spray. "Me, Nick, and Maria, we're going to finish this. Find the truth."
"Phil, you have to let it go."
"Nope, can't. But it will be okay, I have like a million guardian angels," Phil grinned at her. "Don't I?"
Melinda was helpless to him. "They can't be there all the time."
"Always have been so far."
"That's a lot of pressure to put on them, don't you think?" Melinda wanted to wrap him up and put him somewhere safe, before this all went any further.
Phil leaned against the tile. "She deserved better, and I am going to make sure she gets it." He didn't open his eyes.
"Let me take care of it," Melinda begged.
"I can't. Because if I say yes, that means you'll know I know and then we can't be us, the who we are right now. Don't know who we'll be if we both know we both know."
"Phil?" Melinda's brain was trying to parse what that meant, but it was stuck.
"I'm going to puke now, you probably want to wait outside."
Melinda left him alone until he came out and she took care of him best she could.
In the morning, he was ridiculously sick and she rubbed his neck and made him tea.
Phil checked on the other three, who he were relieved to find out survived the night.
"Can we watch movies and eat tacos all day?" he asked.
"Jemma and Fitz have the shop all day," Melinda promised.
"Oh good." Phil snuggled down into her couch. "Let's watch Superman, I always did like Margot Kidder," he smiled at her innocently.
Melinda wondered what, if anything, she was supposed to read into that.
But she always did enjoy Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor.
I do believe the phrase that needs to be used is "this shit is getting real"
Phil sat at his breakfast nook and read the paper. Nick’s piece on Victoria was heart breakingly beautiful. The man seldom wrote anymore but when he did, sales and hits on the webpage were always high.
His phone rang and he hit speaker. “Hey Clint.”
“I know,” Phil drank some coffee. “Rough.”
“Rough? Steve’s crying. Great heaving gulps,” Clint held up his phone so it would catch the sound.
“Sorry about that,” Phil looked at the picture of Victoria, “you guys ever heard of anything called HYDRA?”
Clint was silent.
“Phil, you need to drop that. Like drop it yesterday,” Clint warned.
“What about the name Whitehall?”
“Really, really drop it.”
“That’s what Red Wing and her team suggested. But pretty sure they are at the centre of all this,” Phil said. “And since when do I drop anything?”
“When you decided to go work for Nick, because we all agreed you weren’t going to do anything dangerous anymore. What happened to covering the dog park and 100th birthdays like you said you wanted?”
“I fell into a massive cover up and superheroes and shit that even you guys don’t deal with,” Phil answered. “Had to put the fluff stories on the back burner.”
“And we both know you’re going to keep them there,” Clint muttered. “But this? We’ve hunted HYDRA across continents Phil, they...these were jobs we didn’t let you near.”
“Those three weeks I was in Casablanca,”
“Yeah,” Clint agreed. “If Red Wing tells you to stay away, I think you ought to.”
They were both quiet.
But Phil could recognize Clint’s was a tense quiet. “Don’t worry I figured it out.”
“She told you?” Clint sounded relieved.
“Nope, but floating during sex kind of gave it away. Plus her sex voice kind of similar to her superhero voice.”
“One, woot for banging the hot superhero. Two, how did she handle it when you told her you knew?” Phil was quiet. “Phil, tell me you guys have talked this out?”
“Goddammit, Phil. This isn’t Rosalind, you need to fucking talk to her.”
“If I tell her I know, I’m obligated to write the story about SHIELD for the paper, Clint. If I play dumb, I can play dumb.”
“Why would you be obligated?” Clint asked. “You can write about SHIELD without exposing who they are.”
“Superheroes are supposed to be indexed, and I don’t know that they are," Phil said.
“You don’t know that they aren’t, not with how buried she has her files,” Clint countered. “And you, of all people, know that indexing doesn’t catch everyone. Talk to Melinda and drop the HYDRA story.”
“Sure, right on it,” Phil hung up and finished getting ready for the office.
He checked his email before he left and saw he had several secured files from Natasha. Phil could always count on her.
Phil also knew that they were in the middle of an op, so he had about four days before the whole of Strike Team Delta rained down upon Portland to deal with the issue personally.
One day later, Phil sat in Nick’s office, the door closed and locked.
Nick read the files. “Shit, genetic modification.”
“Yup, seems this HYDRA is trying to build super people. In rather classic ways. Toxic waste, experimentation. Whitehall seems to be their guy for that. He’s not in charge, but he’s the guy trying to make it happen.” Phil rubbed a hand over his face. “Red Wing and Clint and crew have all said we can’t break this story, that this is too dangerous a group.”
Nick and Phil looked at each other.
“Write it,” Nick said.
“Already have a draft. Article one in a series, mostly the history of the group that is known. Next will be everything that Victoria had found. She had her files timed, they were sent to me after -,” Phil swallowed a little. “After.” He handed Nick some pages.
“Smart woman,” Nick said. He read in silence and made some notes. He handed it back to Phil who looked it over and nodded.
“I can get this to you in an hour,” Phil said. “Putting it in tomorrow?”
Nick shook his head. “Friday. I want people thinking it over on the weekend.”
Phil stood up. “I’ll keep digging in the meantime.” He paused. “Darcy should go on vacation.”
“And where is safe do you think?”
“Pepper. Tony’s place? No one is getting in there,” Phil suggested.
“You convince her to go, I’ll pay for it, but she’s stubborn,” Nick smiled a little. “Wonder where she’s picking that up from?”
“Har har.” Phil left the office. He made the changes and sent the finalized copy off to Nick. He then went to Darcy. “Let’s go to Tea and Cozies.”
“Sure, boss,” Darcy agreed easily. The walked in silence and ordered off Jemma who was still doing horrible signing for them.
They settled into the corner and ate their cookies. “Darcy, you thought about a vacation?”
“Practically everyday. I bet Skye looks so good in a bikini,” Darcy sighed.
“Just you, leaving tonight.”
Darcy looked at him, “What’s going on, boss?”
“On Friday Nick will be publishing a story I wrote. It is the start of an expose on HYDRA and what’s been going on between them and the Mayor’s office. They are...a not good group, and there are some concerns that go along with publishing this story,” Phil explained carefully.
“You guys are poking the bear? These people killed Victoria, what do you think they’ll do to you for actually publishing something?” Darcy whispered angrily.
“They’ll probably try similar. But there is a certain amount of safety in publishing the story, me going missing would be noticeable.”
“I’m not leaving you, boss,” Darcy crossed her arms. “You guys have been having me research and interview and, and, do all sorts of work on this. And I have a tazer. I’m in, until the end.”
“Tony Stark’s place in Malibu is yours for two weeks, all expenses paid. With the company of Pepper Potts, who has agreed to give you an exclusive, interview about her personal life, not just the company.”
Darcy’s eyes widened. “She never does those.”
“She owed me a favour.”
“One of the 10 most powerful women in the world owes you a favour and you waste it on me?” Darcy asked.
“Nothing involving you is a waste, Darcy,” Phil said simply. “And I know how strong you are, but we need to take you off the table. If this goes south, the people who...take care of us might be spread thin. Removing one worry from their lives is a helpful thing.”
“You should run too,” Darcy said.
“Still more work to do. Miles to go and all that,” Phil said. “Darcy, please.”
Darcy looked to where Skye had come in and was smiling. She thought about how she would worry about Darcy and Phil was going to need a lot more protection when this blew up. “Yeah, okay. I hate it, but okay.”
“Good. Your ticket is already bought, you don’t even need to pack, Pepper will have everything you need.”
“That sure of me?”
“You are a badass, Darcy Lewis, but haven’t yet graduated to an insane one. Figured I had a good shot of getting you to agree with me.”
“I’m going to talk to Skye, tell her travelling for work, last minute, golden opportunity,” Darcy looked at him. And punched him hard in the shoulder. “You die, I’m going to be really pissed.”
“I would be too,” Phil kissed her head. He watched her go over to Skye and they ducked out the back. He looked at Jemma who kept watching him out of the corner of her eye. “It cool if I go back to her office?”
Jemma nodded and pointed.
“Thanks, Jem,” he said. He walked into the back and saw Melinda typing away. “Hey, you.”
“Phil, save me from quarterly taxes,” Melinda begged.
“I have a front page article on Friday about HYDRA being published. It is going to cause waves at the very least,” Phil began. “Serious problems, possibly.”
He watched her carefully. Damn but his girl had a hell of a poker face.
“HYDRA?” Melinda asked.
“Scary men, behind all the stuff that I’ve been working on since we met,” Phil explained. “They are likely behind Victoria’s death.”
“That was a mugging,” Melinda said. “That’s what the cops told all of you.”
“Yes well, HYDRA seems to have deep pockets. And Victoria had done some incredible digging before they took her out.”
“Phil, are you going to be in trouble?” Melinda stood up and went to him. “How bad is this going to be?”
“I don’t know,” Phil admitted. “Darcy is going away, to keep her safe. Maria and Nick are joking about bulletproof vests.”
“Maybe it shouldn’t be a joke. Maybe you should go away too?”
“No, but I’ll be staying at a different apartment. One the newspaper owns, under an alias for when a reporter needs to hide out a bit. So I’ll be a bit out of communication for a few days once the story breaks, just to be safe.” Phil looked at her. “I want you to be careful. Do you understand me?”
“I’m always careful,” Melinda answered.
Phil cupped her face. “No. Melinda, you be very, very careful for me.”
“Of course,” she promised.
“Good, I need to go, help Darcy and look into a couple other things,” Phil kissed her. “You...just…” He didn’t finished the sentence, and headed out of the office.
Melinda gave it a few minutes and went down to the basement where Fitz was working away. “The paper is running a HYDRA. We need to find them and end them before they can go after Phil.”
Fitz sat up quickly. “What is Skye hacks and destroys the story?”
Melinda shook her head. “They’ll have back ups of back ups. We need to find something, anything tonight.”
“Of course,” Fitz said. He began to get to work.
Skye hurried in a little later. “Darcy is -”
“Phil told me,” Melinda said. “He also said that he’ll be staying at a different apartment as a precaution. Find it.”
Skye sat at a computer.
They all worked through the night, but no matter how they hunted, they couldn’t find out where HYDRA and Whitehall were working from.
They slept and worked in shifts and kept the tea shop closed, putting up a sign about family emergency.
Friday the story broke and they still hadn’t found any leads.
Skye had the news on and everyone in town was going insane over the story. It had even been picked up by the national news. “This is not good.”
Melinda’s phone rang. “Hello?”
“Your ass better be guarding Phil!” Clint yelled.
“He’s gone to ground,” Melinda assured Clint. “He’s at the paper’s safehouse.”
“No he isn’t, Natasha and Tony have been monitoring. He’s going to be at the fucking press conference the mayor is having in an hour.” Clint’s voice was panicked. “We can’t get there for a couple more days at the very least.”
“Daylight, public, we can’t go in our SHIELD gear, it will cause too much chaos.”
“So you all go in your civvies and keep his dumb ass safe. One of these times, his luck is going to run out,” Clint roared into the phone. “If you two would just talk to each other, I wouldn’t have to be this worried right now.”
“Clint, I can’t tell him, it’s too -” Melinda began.
“You think, I’m just talking about your secrets? Fucking hell. Just get there and guard his ass.” Clint hung up.
Melinda told the team about the phone call and Skye hacked Phil’s phone’s GPS. “Yeah he’s on the move.”
“Shit, let’s go,” she ordered. Everyone hid icers under their jackets, which had flexible armor in them.
Mack drove them to the city centre where microphones and a platform had been put up. Melinda searched the crowd. “There’s Maria, Fitz and Jemma shadow her.” She looked around the crowd. “Where’s Phil?”
Skye was turning in circles. The crowd had grown a fair bit. “I can’t see him.”
If Melinda could just get a couple feet in the air it would make a difference. But she couldn't, not right now.
“Melinda!” Skye was staring at the mayor walking down the steps. “Melinda, look!”
“Ward,” Melinda said. He was there in a suit, sporting a beard now, looking like a bodyguard. “Shit.”
They both began to cut through the crowd, desperate to find Phil.
The mayor was at the platform and Ward moved a few steps lower than him. He was scanning the crowd too.
“Thank you for coming,” The mayor began. “I have a prepared statement and will not be taking any questions.”
“Not even one? Like how is it that you have received over 1 million dollars into various shell accounts all from the same source, HYDRA?” Phil shouted.
“He’s right at the front, Ward’s only a few steps away from him,” Skye began to elbow people out of they way.
“Mr. Coulson, your accusations towards our office are spurious and trust me we are looking into litigation,” The mayor said.
“Mr. Mayor, you expect me to believe -” Phil began.
Grant saw Melinda in the crowd, just a few feet away from Phil. Close, but not close enough. He smiled. And then he made his face look panicked. “He’s reaching into his coat. Weapon!” Grant yelled. He pulled out a gun and shot Phil right in the chest.
“NOOOOO!” Melinda screamed.
Skye didn’t give a damn and flung out her hand, her powers sending Grant and the mayor flying. The crowd ran away, though Maria and Fitz and Jemma were running towards them.
Melinda ran the last few feet and hit the ground. “Phil, Phil!”
He coughed. “Ouch,”
Melinda tore open his suit jacket and shirt. He had been wearing a vest underneath. She sighed in relief. But he kept coughing and she realized that the dark fabric was changing colour to even darker. She grabbed a knife and cut at the fabric at the seams.
“Jemma, one of the bullets went through. He was using piercing bullets,” Melinda said. Maria was already calling 911 and Jemma was putting pressure on the wound.
“We need to slow the bleeding,” Jemma said.
Skye heard a noise and saw Grant get up and run. “Fitz with me!” Skye shouted and they bolted after him.
Jemma and Melinda kept trying to stop the bleeding and Maria stood there making phone call after phone call and cursing.
“Pretty Melinda May,” Phil said. His breath was so harsh, his face twisted in pain. “I still sort of hate tea.”
“Phil just keep talking, stay with me,” Melinda begged.
He smiled. “Don’t worry Red Wing, you aren’t the only one with superpowers,” he coughed some more and his eyes were sliding shut. “Oops, spoiler alert.”
Phil passed out just as sirens could be heard coming down the street.
Melinda sat beside Phil's bed and held his hand. The doctor's weren't telling her much as she wasn't next of kin, but they had at least let her stay with him. She didn't talk much, just looked at him, willed him to survive.
"Sorry, even with a private plane takes a while to get back stateside," Clint said from the door. He went around to the other side of the bed. "You were supposed to keep him safe."
"Yes, well he's a dumb ass with no sense of self preservation," Melinda answered.
Clint snorted. "Ain't that the goddamn truth," he agreed. "Talked to the doctors. He'll probably need another surgery but he's going to pull through. The bullet tore through plenty but missed his heart and arteries by millimeters."
"They told you that?"
"I'm listed as his next of kin," Clint explained. "Not the first time. Though the rebar went through lower. And when that knife got his femoral artery, that wasn't fun."
"Plus all those kidnappings," Melinda said quietly. "How much danger has he been in?"
"Over the years?" Clint asked. "More than he should. Way more than he should. There was a time when Natasha and Steve were taken. He was supposed to stay back. He went in with us. Phil kicked ass. Said no one hurt his family."
"And how hurt was he?"
"Concussion, broken ribs," Clint said. "For a three story fall, that's pretty good."
"Is he immortal?" Melinda whispered.
Clint laughed. "What? No." He laughed some more.
"Right before he passed out, he said don't worry I wasn't the only one with superpowers." Melinda looked at Clint. "So, is he immortal?"
"You could be lying," she said. "Protecting him."
"I'm always protecting him, we all are," Clint answered. "But trust me he's not immortal. Not going to tell you more than that."
Phil twitched a little on the blanket and they both leaned forward a bit. But that was all that happened.
"Natasha and Bucky are with your people, trying to find Ward. Bruce is down in the labs making sure no one notices any differences in Phil. Tony went to Malibu to keep Darcy safe."
"What about Steve?"
"Steve, has food. Phil will be pissed if you waste away," Steve said from the door.
"I'm not hungry," Melinda dismissed him.
"Oh but really, you'll feel better. I have tea. And crackers. And a bit of cheese. Some grapes too. I went to the market, not the cafeteria. Organic," Steve made the saddest face ever.
"Good lord, that's intense," Melinda said in awe.
"Yup. You should see him when I have some injuries," Clint said.
"Please, eat," Steve came closer. "You don't want Phil to be worried when he wakes up."
"If he wakes up."
"He'll wake up," both men said.
"I want to cause a great deal of pain to Ward, and HYDRA," Melinda said. "I want to break bones and put bullets in heads until there is no one left to weep over their corpses."
"Oh I like you," Clint grinned. "Technically we aren't allowed to operate on U.S. soil. Well Tony and Bruce can, they are contractors, but not us."
Melinda looked at Clint.
He smiled. "So we all took emergency leave of absence. As long as we don't get caught on video, or finger prints or something, we are here to help."
"Good." Melinda smoothed Phil's hair and then sat back.
Steve nudged her and she ate a grape.
Phil hated being shot. It was bad. Not rebar bad, but pretty close. He could hear people talking around him. Clint. Of course when he woke up in a hospital, Clint was there.
But there was a new voice.
A good voice.
His favourite voice.
"Cup of tea?" he asked.
"Ice chips," Melinda said. She picked one out of a cup and rubbed it over his lips and slipped it into his mouth. She leaned over and her mouth felt so warm against the chill.
"You fly," Phil said when she pulled away. "Oops."
"Clint is the only one in here and they regularly scan for bugs."
"Good. So you fly, that's cool. Could you take me flying?"
"In a plane sure," Melinda agreed. "I have my pilot's licence."
"No like Red Wing flying," Phil asked.
Melinda smiled. "I can fly, I don't have super strength. Not sure we'd get more than a couple feet of the ground before crashing. You're fit, but you aren't light."
"I'm light as a feather," Phil countered.
"That'd be the morphine, Phil," Clint said dryly.
"Aren't you supposed to be at a redacted sort of location?" Phil asked Clint.
"Aren't you supposed to be taking it easy?" Clint countered.
"I'm still here."
"It was stupid to go to the press conference, Phil," Clint said. "You knew it was likely dangerous."
"Danger is my middle name."
"Your middle name is James you dumbass," Clint poked his shoulder. "We all told you to back off of HYDRA."
"I don't back off. I don't back down until the story is done, until my friends are safe, until Melinda comes at least twice." Phil blinked. "Wait that belongs on a different list."
"And once you can have a beer, we are so exploring that list," Clint promised. He ignored the death glare Melinda gave him. "Now you trust us to bat clean up on this, get it all taken care of while you are stuck in here?"
"Take Nick along, the story needs to be told."
"Phil, we're going to be doing things that really shouldn't be on the record," Clint said.
"He knows what to tell and what not to. And you know he's good with a shotgun." Phil yawned. The conversation was exhausting. "Go with them Melinda."
"I'm staying with you."
"You know the guy who shot me, you can help them," he voice was thin with exhaustion. "Bruce will keep me company. Go be a badass hero."
Melinda kissed him. "I'm not the only hero in here."
"Clint is great," Phil agreed.
"You, you great moron, are one too."
"Oh, neat." Phil passed out shortly after.
Clint sent a text to Bruce and they waited until the doctor showed up before they left.
They drove to Melinda's shop and went into the basement where everyone was working hard.
Skye looked at her. "How is he?"
"High on drugs, a long road to recovery, but he'll recover," Melinda said.
Natasha smiled a little, like it was a private joke.
"Of course he will," Bucky said easily. "Haven't seen him ever not survive."
"He's enhanced too," Jemma said. "He said so, but I've checked the lab work at the hospital, nothing different. And he's not on the index."
"He's difficult to properly classify," was all Natasha said. Before Melinda could press, Natasha pulled up a map. "We have a lead. There."
"That's the old dock, where we first met Phil," Melinda said.
"Yeah and it has more underground it than it should," Natasha explained. She showed photos. "We've tracked everything Phil's done, places he's found himself in trouble, and heat signatures suggest there is more there. A team should go check it out."
"Is that the only lead we have?" Fitz asked.
"Nope," Bucky grinned. "We also know the mayor is in this up to his neck. A couple people could pay him a visit and have an interesting conversation. I vote Tasha, no one talks better than her."
"No torture," Melinda said. "SHIELD doesn't condone torture."
Her team all nodded but Mack smiled a little. "I mean in a fight you get a couple extra digs in, well it's just to make sure they stay down."
"I won't even have to lay a finger on him," Natasha promised. "Steve, Bucky, and I will deal with that. Clint go with SHIELD to check out the underground situation."
"Aren't I usually in charge?" Steve asked.
"Her turn, plus Phil was always ours first," Clint said. He squeezed Steve's hand and Steve nodded in agreement. "Tonight?" he asked Natasha.
"2200," Natasha agreed.
The teams headed out in the dark, armed impressively, focused. Nick had been told the plans and he was in the basement coordinating with Mack.
"So, superheroes," Nick said.
"Just a couple. Though I have a sweet touch with engines," Mack said. "Wish I was out there with Turbo, but two groups need monitoring." Mack looked at Nick. "You know about Phil?"
"Sure, he didn't like talking about it," Nick said. "I listen to a friend when he says it's private."
"Total. But I know enough. I'm good." Nick watched through Natasha's body cam. "They're in the Mayor's house."
"My team's about to hit the underground levels." Mack said watching his own monitors.
They watched the two teams work. It was going perfectly. "This seem to smooth to you, for such everything we know about HYDRA?" Nick asked.
Mack nodded. "Hey Red Wing, something feels wrong," Mack said into his comm.
Nick watched as Natasha opened the door to the bedroom. The explosion knocked out her camera. He started shouting into the comms.
Mack yelled into his, "The Mayor's house was a trap, get the hell out of there."
Clint and SHIELD began to run and bars slammed down blocking the exit. They moved to go the other way and it closed off as well they were trapped.
"Shit, shit, shit." Mack yelled. "Guys? Guys?" The team's comms and cameras blinked out as well.
Phil woke up when he was being rolled down the hall. "Bruce?" he whispered. There were four orderlies pushing him along. The scrubs didn't hide the scrubs very well.
"Bruce!" he shouted. A mask was slipped over his mouth.
"I do apologize Mister Coulson, but he is unable to help you. He'll wake up in a few hours." The man was maybe of an age with Phil. "You have caused me a great deal of trouble."
"Whitehall," Phil tried to say but his voice was muffled by the mask. And whatever drug they were pumping in was taking affect.
"Yes, Mister Coulson," Whitehall agreed. "You know you intrigue me, Ward never misses and even with a vest, you should be dead. We need to have a talk."
Phil shook his head.
Whitehall smiled. "Well, if you don't, I'll discover your secrets anyways. Discovery, Mister Coulson, requires experimentation. Rest until we reach our destination."
Phil tried to fight it but he was still too weak, and went under.
Quake had no impact on the bars, and it was too close quarters to blow them up. Jemma and Fitz kept trying to reach back to base. Melinda and Clint just waited.
They heard footsteps and everyone stood, backs to each other, weapons ready.
Ten armed guards approached them from each direction. One the one side they parted and a man walked through.
"Hello, Melinda," Grant said.
"Ward," her mouth was tight, and her fingers clenched.
Clint looked at them. "You've banged him haven't you?" he asked. "Man, your taste has really improved."
Jemma coughed a little. "I'm not sure, now is the time for that," she said politely.
"Just saying, Phil's a vast improvement. I mean maybe not in looks, pretty boy is pretty, but you know, everything else Phil has to be better than him. I mean he said Melinda always gets multiple orgasms, no way did this guy do that. The pretty ones are usually selfish in bed. Well except my pretty one," Clint explained.
"Who are you?" Ward asked.
"Friend of Phil's," Clint said.
"Phil. Sorry about that," Ward lied.
"You aren't sorry about shooting him," Melinda said.
"No, but he lived, when he shouldn't have. That made Whitehall interested. And I am sorry for what Whitehall is going to be doing to him. Perhaps even right now," Ward looked at his watch. "We just need Melinda and Skye, kill the rest."
The guards approached and readied their guns.
"Now." Clint yelled and the world went blindingly white.
Melinda groaned a little. "More warning, than 'Now' would be great, you dumbass."
"Meh, had to think fast," Clint stood up straight. "And see we all ducked in time."
"What was that?" Fitz asked. He approached the rod that Clint had slammed into the ground.
"Dunno?" Clint shrugged. "Tony gave it to me said to hit it down and duck."
"A light grenade," Jemma said in awe. "So powerful, or on a frequency that those who saw the white light were blinded to such an intensity that it knocked them out."
"That's just great," Melinda said but we need to get out of this and to Phil before he's tortured and killed." She pulled off her belt and held out a hand and soon Quake's was in her hand as well. She made a loop and with a couple throws got it around Ward's ankle and slowly dragged him closer.
"Phil has a good chance of being fine, until we do a badass rescue," Clint helped her pull and when they got Ward close enough, Clint grabbed both his legs and yanked them hard, ramming Ward's junk into the metal bars. Skye snorted a bit.
They fished a remote out of his pocket and the bars moved out of the way.
"Tie up all the rest," Melinda said and Fitz and Jemma got to work. Melinda looked at the remote a bit and realized it was jamming their signal. She hit a button and Mack's voice filled her ears. "Mack. Mack, calm down. We're out and we have Ward."
"That's great Red Wing, but right now we're down a team, the Mayor's office was a trap and there was a bomb."
"Is that team okay?" she watched Clint grow tense beside her.
"Don't know," Mack admitted. "Nick is hauling ass over there."
"And you need to haul ass to the hospital. Ward said Whitehall has taken Phil," Melinda refused to let her terror creep into her voice. Mack started to swear. "Later, Mack. Get there and find out what is going on."
Melinda hung up and couldn't stop herself from kicking Ward.
"No. Stop. Bad," Clint said leaning against the wall. His calm was clearly an act.
"The rest are bound and a signal to FBI will go off once we are a distance away," Jemma said.
"We need to go to the Mayor's house," Melinda said.
For a moment Clint's eyes flashed relief. But then his shoulders squared. "Phil is a civilian and would have been taken alive for experimentation. He is our priority."
"But your -" Jemma began.
"The other team are soldiers who know the price. Phil knows the price, but I'll be damned if he pays it," Clint said. He looked down at Ward. "I'm guessing we need him."
"If we want to find Whitehall," Melinda helped Clint haul up Ward's prone body. "How do you know we'll find Phil alive?"
"Because he's really hard to kill."
Phil woke up and looked around. The room was actually quite lovely. There was a nurse checking his i.v. and it looked more like a guest room than a prison. "20 bucks and a coupon for Subway to break me out," Phil offered weakly.
"I'm sorry sir, but I am loyal to HYDRA. And I prefer Chipotle," she said as she made some notes. "You seem to have come through the transport just fine."
"You all are most considerate kidnappers and terrorists," Phil said.
"We are visionaries," she said.
"You are lunatics," Phil countered. He looked at the window but knew he couldn't even get out of bed, let alone attempt an escape. He was stuck. "When my rescue comes, you'll probably want to stay out of their way. Just a suggestion."
"Even if they find you, getting through security will be difficult," she nodded to him. "You need rest. You aren't healing quickly," she frowned a little.
"I am a middle age man, who is decently fit, but was shot through the chest. What did you expect?" Phil asked.
"It was suggested that you might have enhanced healing. That would explain a lot."
"Sorry," Phil said. He looked at the door to where Whitehall was entering carrying a food tray. "I mean if it helps I heal well, but just at the high end of the regular spectrum. I have very healthy white blood cells. But really at most I'd say I heal 5, maybe 10% better than the average person. Even that is just a guess."
Whitehall put the tray down. He reached over and pull Phil's hand closer and sliced his arm with a pocket knife. Shallow, only 3 inches long. All three of them watched as it didn't heal. "Make a note, nurse. We'll check it again in the morning."
She quickly disinfected the wound and wrapped it up before leaving the two men alone.
Phil looked at the tray. Broth, water, jello. Hospital food.
"I promise, not poisoned. That would be counterproductive," Whitehall assured him. He went so far as to eat a little before moving the food closer to Phil and raising his bed.
Phil ate a bit, but didn't even get through a third of it. He rested against his pillows. "So...you're the face of evil."
"I am the face of possibility," Whitehall said. He sat next to Phil. "And you are intriguing. So to are Red Wing and Quake."
"You won't catch them," Phil said.
"They'll come for you. Ward was very clear, Melinda is a sentimental sort under her gruff exterior."
"Under her gruff exterior is a woman who is going to kick your ass," Phil said easily. "And was I supposed to be intimidated that you know who she is?"
"Perhaps, I was hoping a little impressed."
"You are a part of a large operation. Of course you know things. But you didn't have an easy way to her. For a woman who plays at casual in her 'normal' life, she has a crazy amount of fail safes in place." Phil smiled a bit. "Do you know one time in bed, I reached for the headboard and hit a panic button. Three of her team ran in," Phil paused. "Still on the good morphine I see. Wanna know about the freckle on her ass?"
Whitehall shook his head. "That is a conversation for another time. Just tell me Mister Coulson, if you are enhanced, why didn't you join their team?"
"I'm a reporter."
"Were you a reporter when you helped Delta with that raid?"
"That was about getting my friends back, that was it. Being a soldier, those sort of fights not for me? I like the ones that come with pens at dawn, not pistols. She has a pistol in her night table you know. Beside the dildos and condoms. What are your thoughts on pegging?"
"We'll talk again tomorrow," Whitehall stood up.
"Yay, we can talk pornhub versus x-tube." Phil was perversely pleased that Whitehall shuddered just a little before walking away. He really hoped his rescue came before then.
Because as much as he wished it, he couldn't rescue himself.
He wondered if Melinda would steal them a horse to escape on. He'd be happy to be her Buttercup.
These were very nice drugs.
Nick hurried to the Mayor's house but the cops and firemen were already there. He scanned and saw the ambulance and hurried over. Natasha was sitting on the back, an oxygen mask over her face. A man tried to stop Nick. "That's my daughter."
The cop looked at Nick and then Natasha.
"You wanna say something?" Nick glared at him and the cop flushed and let him pass. "Hey sweetie, you okay?" Nick asked.
Natasha yanked the mask off. "Get me out of here."
"Bastard Bucky managed to cover me and get himself knocked out, other ambulance already took him away. Going to kick his ass when he wakes up. Steve is over there bullshitting the cops."
"The other team it was a trap too," Nick said quietly. "We need to get you and Steve back to the base. Now."
Natasha looked around. "Go get your car around that block south. We'll be there in 8."
Nick did as she said and wasn't surprised when they were in the back seat in 7 minutes. He listened as they spit ball ideas and they made their way back to the shop and into the basement, where Mack was cleaning up the blood from the back of Bruce's head.
Mack filled them in and Natasha swore in a few languages. Steve picked up the comms and contacted Clint. They chatted briefly and mostly in code.
"They have Ward and hope to extract information as to Whitehall's location," Steve explained.
"Why take Phil?" Natasha asked.
"They must have realized he's enhanced. Whitehall will want to figure out how."
"Anybody will to fill me in on that?" Mack asked.
"It isn't our place," Bruce said. "That's Phil's secret."
"Fine. Next question, any of Delta enhanced?" Mack asked. "Because a little extra juice right now would be handy."
"Sorry just the best there is, but no real powers," Steve said. "It's why we found it funny that the only one of us with something extra was in theory the person who needed it least."
"Downside to his power though," Bruce explained. "Made him a magnet for bad shit. Just the luckiest and unluckiest man ever."
"That's Phil," Natasha smiled. "Whitehall won't experiment until Phil is pristine, and that's going to take a while."
"So we have time," Bruce was so relieved. He was devastated that Phil had been taken on his watch.
"Unless you know Phil is Phil and does something Phil like," Natasha reminded him. "Remember that one kidnapping where he sung Katy Perry's Fireworks so much they broke his jaw?"
"Jesus, no wonder Melinda fell for him, he's as insane as she is," Mack grinned a bit.
Steve got a beep. "Ward is coming too, Clint is going to let us listen, see if we can't pick anything out. Put some pieces together."
"I'm not going to talk," Ward said. He tested the ropes that tied him to the chair. It was hard to tell where they had taken him. Bare room, no windows, one door. The group surrounded him and he did his best to read any tells off of them. Not that he had ever been fantastic at reading May. "You should have come with me May."
"This was your great opportunity?" Melinda asked. "Butchering people, stealing toxic waste? Does it even come with a dental plan?"
"Good one actually," Ward said. "And I knew. I knew you were enhanced. Sure you tried to hide it, but it just boils under your surface." He felt something inside him, it was like all the blood stopped moving in his veins. The pain was excruciating and over in a moment.
"Quake," Melinda said firmly.
"I wasn't going to kill him," Quake said. "But needed him to know we are serious."
"And I thought Melinda was the power," Ward smiled at Quake. "Hello there."
"Go fuck yourself, I don't even ride stick."
"Faith, season 4 of Buffy," Fitz said automatically. He was scanning Ward's vitals and Jemma was preparing a vial.
"Clint, his arm, please," Jemma requested and Clint went over and held him still.
"Truth serum?" Ward laughed. "Really, that stuff doesn't work."
"HYDRA's might not," Melinda smiled. "But you guys don't have Helix."
"I really do like the name," Jemma whispered.
"It's nice," Clint agreed. He looked at Ward. He could see the military on the man, but his eyes were empty. He didn't care. Clint could never understand people who didn't care. "Just so you know, the other trap, didn't work. One of them is in the hospital but is going to be fine and the other two are itching for revenge. Bet they'd like to get their hands on you."
"There won't be anything left to take," Melinda said.
"Come on May, you aren't going to kill me," Ward replied.
Melinda just smiled. "How many times were you on top?"
"Who can count that sort of thing?" Ward tried to shrug but the ropes were too tight.
Everyone just watched each other for a few minutes.
"How many times were you on top?" Melinda asked again.
Ward kept his mouth closed, but he wanted to answer, he wanted to answer so badly. Answers were great the best thing every. Answers would make them happy with him. He knew it was the drug but it was just dancing in his mind, begging him to answer. "Never. I was never on top," he blurted out.
Fitz snickered in the background.
"Bet the answer is hella different for Phil," Clint told him.
"Don't say hella," Melinda said. She pulled up a chair across from Ward. "Now, let's talk about Whitehall."
Ward began to sweat.
The nurse checked on Phil three times during the night and it was on the third that he finally noticed the needle drop by the door. It wasn't even twenty feet. He could make it. But not quite yet. Her fourth visit she brought him breakfast.
"Do you think we could have the catheter out?" Phil asked.
"I was planning to remove it this afternoon," she said. "We could take it out this morning."
"Good, always are uncomfortable things," Phil smiled as best he could. Of course she had also dialed back the pain meds a bit. He was damn aware he had been shot in the chest.
"Let's see your arm," she said. She unwound the bandage and they both saw the cut, the scab maybe a little more dried out than it might be for another person. His chest stitches looked the same as they would for anyone else really. She changed everything and removed the catheter. "You really don't heal any more than slightly better than average do you?"
"Sorry, I really don't."
"Your medical file is astounding, though, how did you survive?"
"I'm hard to kill," he said.
"Another person will return in an hour with a bed pan and help you bathe a little. Whitehall wants you treated like a guest."
"Until i'm better enough to experiment on," Phil said. "I'm not a lab rat."
"Whatever you have, you could save millions."
"I really couldn't."
"I'll leave you be." the nurse left.
Phil had one hour to go to the needle box and get back in bed and look like he hadn't moved.
He sat up and pulled at the i.v. stand. Which wasn't on wheels.
Clint and Melinda worked in tandem for hours. Skye stood guard even as Fitz and Jemma fell asleep.
"There. Keep pressing about how the place looks, not the actual location. That is where he can't circle around the drug," Steve said into Clint's ear.
Clint whispered thank fucking christ, and began to press at Ward who had been working hard not to give them information. It was another two hours before the team at the base was able to put together just enough to figure out the tower downtown where Whitehall must be. Natasha and Steve started to prepare for a raid. Bruce put together a medical bag, ready to help Phil how he could.
"You think you'll get him back?" Ward asked May. "He'll be broken, twisted. And that's the best case scenario. You'll have failed him. All this time to question me and it gave them time to cut him open and -" Ward's voice was cut off as Melinda slammed her hand into his throat.
"Oops," Melinda said. She added a hard punch to the nose and then the jaw. She pulled her hand back again but Clint stopped her.
"We have a man to rescue," he reminded her.
Melinda nodded and Clint let go. One last punch knocked Ward out cold.
"Another FBI locator?" Jemma asked.
Melinda shook her head and walked a few feet away and made a phone call. She came back a couple minutes later. "He'll be seen to." Melinda looked at them. "Let's go get Phil."
They all packed up and went to the van.
"Red Wing, I'm sure he'll be okay," Quake offered. The team were putting on their SHIELD masks. They weren't used to operating in daylight like this. But didn't care. It was for Phil.
"Don't worry he's hard to kill," Clint repeated.
Melinda looked at him. "So he is immortal."
"Nope," Clint put a hat and sunglasses on. "As he says, can't be immortal and keep losing hair."
"Super advanced healing then," Jemma suggested.
Melinda went very still. "You mean it literally."
Clint grinned. "Knew you would figure it out."
"I don't understand," Fitz said.
Melinda looked at Clint. "He's hard to kill."
"Yup," Clint was really too cheerful about it.
"That's his super power - he's hard to kill." Her voice was flat.
"Yeah. I mean we all kind of debate it, is he just lucky? But we experimented. Vegas - a bust. Can't even win a free ticket on the lotto. Rains when he doesn't have an umbrella. Tony did a whole chart. It isn't luck, unless you mean streak of bad luck in terms of all the kidnappings." Clint sort of shrugged. "His superpower is really just that he's hard to kill."
Quake began to laugh. "That's a joke right?"
"Can you survive a landmine going off a few feet from you and being impaled mid-torso with rebar?" Clint asked. "Armor piercing bullet tearing through your vest and missing your heart from a man who is a crack shot and only 20 feet away?" Clint looked at them all. "Three story fall and a concussion. Doesn't heal quick, gets the flu, ages. But if you try to kill him? He won't. He is just really, really hard to kill."
"How is that even a thing?" Jemma asked.
"Don't know, but pretty cool right? I mean behead him, he'll be down for the count, we're pretty sure anyways. But who really does that these days?" Clint looked at the GPS. "Almost there. Natasha, Bruce, and Steve are on route."
"He's hard to kill," Melinda repeated. "That's it?"
"That's it," Clint agreed.
"Hard to kill," Melinda shook her head. "That would actually annoy the hell out of him."
"He'll rant about it sometimes. There's this British reporter who's also enhanced. Has the ability to find the best coffee and metabolize it better than anyone. Phil dreams of having that superpower." Clint laughed. "One time, when the man found a -" Clint looked at everyone's faces. "Right story time, after the rescue."
"Hard to kill," Melinda whispered to herself. She shook her head.
They pulled up to the back of the building into the alley. Another car met them and they all stood there.
"I think again, two teams," Steve began.
"Three," Melinda said and she bent her knees and shot up into the sky.
"Guess she's going high and we're going low," Quake said. "Let's go kick some ass."
"Good hunting," Natasha replied and readied her widow bites.
Clint smiled as Steve tossed him his bow. His boyfriend thought of everything. They all went into the building and split in two directions.
Phil's hand was shaking as he attempted to put the i.v. back in. He was praying he hadn't opened any stitches during the crawl to the door. He mopped his face on the sheet and lay back and pretended to nap. He was desperate to even his breathing.
"Sir, are you okay?" the new nurse asked.
"Just really need to pee," Phil explained. Shit the heart monitor was going mad.
But she ignored it, figuring it was tied to the other bodily needs. "Of course, sir, here's a bedpan and then we'll give you a nice sponge bath,"
Phil's grip tightened on the needle he had fished out.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered. "I really am."
Before he could move, alarms started to ring.
He smiled and sank back grateful.
When Whitehall and four guards came in, he was far less grateful.
And tightened his grip on the needle under the blanket.
Their information suggested that Whitehall had purchased the entirety of floors 18-22. Ward had told them that Phil was likely to be in the top two or three of those. Melinda had flown to the top of the building, 30 floors. She wiped the blood away from her nose. She had gone too high, too fast to get to the roof 30 stories up. She had guessed there wouldn't be any guards there and she was right. She had to lay a small charge to open the roof door but then she was in. Melinda looked at the stairwell and took a breath gliding down and grabbing a rail at the 23rd floor. She went quietly down the last flight and eased open the door.
An alarm immediately started blaring. So much for an element of surprise. She ducked into a room, looked like a standard manager's space. With a standard manager in it.
"Where's Coulson?" she asked.
"I don't know who that is," he said, holding up his hands. "I'm just an accountant."
"Where do they keep people for medical experimentation?"
"We don't do that!"
She pulled out her icer and pointed it at him. He began to cry a little. "Our guests are on the 20th. Please don't kill me."
Melinda iced him, not needing him to call even more security. She moved swiftly but carefully and managed to duck a few guards and it only took a bit of fighting to get down to the 20th. She went into a hallway and saw Natasha and Quake working together on a security team.
"He's on this floor!" she shouted to them.
Natasha nodded and ducked out of the fight to tap her comms. Melinda swung in and took out three men. Melinda fought back to back with Skye until the whole team was down.
"Clint and Steve are still dealing with a situation a floor down," Natasha said.
"What sort of situation?" Melinda asked.
"The sort where they found a room with compounds that HYDRA was planning to use to create enhanced people or a plague. Hard to tell. They are trying to secure the space so that shit can be contained. Your two are with them, to help, and Bruce is on his way up."
"Do we split up?" Skye asked. "I'm betting they've got a lot around Phil."
Melinda shook her head. "We move together."
They heard a noise and all spun ready. Bruce stumbled to a halt. "Hi, don't shoot me."
A man at Bruce's feet started to stir and before Melinda could shoot, Bruce stepped on his neck and snapped it.
"Oh," Skye said surprised.
Natasha smiled a little. "When his blood is racing, he gets a little agro."
"We sweep outer corridors and work our way in," Melinda ordered. She took point and the others fell in line.
"Looks like trouble has arrived," Phil said to Whitehall. "Do you know, I don't know Melinda's middle name? I wonder if it is trouble. Or badass. Or BAMF. Or like Jennifer."
Whitehall moved closer, and his face was cold, angry. "Do you know what this is?" he held up a vial.
"A vial. Full of scary liquid," Phil answered immediately. "You want to wave it around and threaten me, but what is the point right now? Rescue is right out the door."
Whitehall filled a needle with it. Tapped to get the air bubbles out. "This is my work, all my study, all my experimentation. You'll make a good test subject." He held the needle against Phil's neck and waited.
Phil made sure not to move. Neon yellow liquids were never a good thing.
"Hawkeye a little help here," Steve shouted as he punched some guards.
In a blink the four coming down the hall had arrows in them.
"Thanks," Steve called out and the last he was dealing with fell.
They went back into the room where Fitz and Jemma were trying to figure out what to do with everything they found.
"Well?" Clint asked.
Jemma held up her hands helplessly. "I don't have the resources to deal with all this." She pointed at the tanks along the wall, all filled with a rather bright liquid. "It...it needs to be contained."
"The feds?" Steve asked.
"Nae," Fitz looked at them. "No offense but do you really trust them with something like this?"
"We have that number Red Wing called," Jemma said finally. "We don't know exactly who it is, but she used it to have Ward taken care of, and has said we are to use it in an extreme emergency."
Clint and Steve exchanged a look. "Call it," Steve said.
Jemma pulled out her secure phone and hit number three.
"Hello," it was a british voice.
"I'm Helix. I work with Red Wing and SHIELD. We have a situation with HYDRA and a bunch of scary liquids."
"We are just collecting Ward. Keep the location secure and we will be along directly. Protect the liquids and you will only stand down upon my arrival."
"And you are?"
"Peggy Carter." The woman hung up without another word.
"We stay put," Jemma said.
Clint nodded. "Damn, we'll miss Phil's 'I don't need a rescue rant' it's always fun."
"It is," Steve agreed. "But we'll be busy." More HYDRA security came down the hall.
"Awww honey, it's just like our six month anniversary," Clint fired an arrow that exploded in smoke.
"Yeah but you aren't naked." Steve winked and ran down the hall.
Phil smiled as Melinda kicked the door in. "Hi honey, thank god, I absolutely need a rescue. Also I told them about wanting you to tie me up and role play the bad guy seeking information. Sorry," Phil grinned. "Also they dialed up the pain meds a couple minutes ago."
"I can tell," Melinda said dryly.
"Hi Nat and Bruce, you guys are here to rescue me too, that's nice. I like Natasha rescues they involve Russian yelling and then a cookie."
"I see those meds were dialed way up," Bruce muttered.
One of the guards cocked his gun and Skye sent out a ripple.
"You Quaked his ass," Phil said cheerfully.
"Phil. Stop talking," Melinda ordered.
Phil's teeth audibly clicked.
"Melinda May, it is a pleasure," Whitehall said. "Ward spoke a great deal about you."
"He does like to talk," Melinda agreed. "Said all sorts of interesting things about you."
"I'll rebuild. I did before, and I will again."
"You won't get away, Whitehall," Melinda swore. "This time HYDRA is done."
"We're never done," he replied. He saw Quake's fingers twitch. "You can knock me of course, but not in time to stop me from depressing this." He put the needle into Phil's neck. "In theory this will enhance a person. But in one already enhanced? The results could be interesting. Do you know, he still hasn't disclosed his ability. I was looking forward to more conversations with him -"
Phil rolled his eyes. He was bored with this. He wanted his rescue cookie, dammit. He reached up and jammed his dirty needle into Whitehall's hand. Whitehall shouted and spasmed and a bit of his concoction went into Phil. Phil shouted and Melinda leapt, her power giving her a an extra push. She crashed into Whitehall and started punching. Quake and Natasha dealt with the guards in the room and Bruce hurried to Phil's side.
"Phil, talk to me. Tell me what you are feeling," Bruce said. He was checking Phil's eyes, the injection site, keeping an eye on the heart monitor.
Phil didn't say a word. Bruce shouted at him, but Phil didn't say anything.
And then he remembered drugged Phil was very literal. "Red Wing, tell him he can talk."
Melinda kept punching. "Talk away Phil."
"Tingles," he said immediately. "Like an itch under my skin. Red Wing, are you trying to remove dental options for identifying the body?"
"Something like that."
It took both Natasha and Skye to pull Melinda off of Whitehall.
Bruce looked at Phil. "You are sort of turning blue."
"Violet you're turning Violet," Phil said. "Oompa Loompa, doopidee doo. I have a lot of drugs for you."
Bruce looked at the i.v. stand and realized the valve got knocked to full open. "Shit, I don't even want to know how much morphine is in him right now." He dialed it back. "We need to get him back to a proper medical facility."
"What are the risks of what was put in him?" Melinda asked. She stepped hard and broke Whitehall's ankle.
"We have most of the liquid here. We'll analyze," Bruce said.
"Don't worry, pretty bird," Phil said. "I'm hard to kill."
"I've heard that," Melinda pushed forward and Natasha let go. She went to Phil's side. "Let's get you safe. You fucking moron."
"That's not my rescue cookie, that's mean." Phil began to cry a little.
"She calls people names, when she is really scared for them. The worse it sounds, means the more she loves," Skye explained.
"And I have your cookie," Natasha opened a pouch on her hip and pulled out an oreo 2 pack.
"You actually have a cookie for him." Skye was a little stunned.
"Just easier," Natasha said. "What do we do with Whitehall?"
Melinda kicked him again. "I don't care so long as he can't come after Phil again."
"Fair enough," Natasha said and put three bullets in Whitehall's head.
"She meant, like super prison!" Skye yelled. She looked at Melinda, "Right? You meant super prison?"
Melinda ignored it to smooth Phil's hair. "You aren't that blue," she reassured him.
"Do you like blue?"
"I do," Melinda promised. She kissed his forehead. "Let's get you out of here."
Bruce nodded to Natasha. "You in back, Quake in lead." The two women moved and Bruce and Melinda got Phil's bed moving. They went into the hallway but no guards came after them. They reached the elevator and it opened to show the other team.
"You left the chemicals?" Melinda asked.
Jemma was a little flushed. "Ms Carter and her Commandos arrived, we were relieved of duty."
"Helix stuttered," Fitz tattled.
"Well that was a rather magnificent entrance," Jemma said.
"Peggy does that," Melinda agreed. "This is no longer our concern. We need to get Phil to a hospital."
"He get his rescue cookie?" Clint asked as he moved beside Melinda to help wheel him.
"Of course he did," Natasha answered. "When don't I have his reward cookie?"
"Budapest," all of Delta said in unison.
"One time! And if you recall, I was a little on fire at the time."
Melinda ignored all the banter and just looked at Phil.
Phil looked back at her. "I knew you'd rescue me."
"How were you so sure?"
"I've seen the movies. The damsel is always rescued by the hero," Phil smiled at her. "I'm happy to be your Buttercup."
Everyone aww'ed at that. And then stared at Melinda.
"Say the line," Clint nudged her. "Say it."
"Say it. Say it. Say it," Everyone chanted.
She ignored them and leaned into Phil. "As you wish," she whispered to him.
"I like being your damsel in distress." Phil said before passing out from the drugs and adrenaline.
Clint stole his rescue cookies.
Melinda didn't let go of his hand.
Phil opened his eyes and was relieved to see a perfectly normal hospital. He tried to sit up and it hurt like hell. So much for all that lovely extra morphine.
"Sorry, you are back to normal pain medication levels," Bruce whispered. "Plus side you aren't blue anymore, that faded in a couple hours."
"Why are you whispering?" Phil asked.
Bruce pointed and there was Melinda asleep in a chair. "She had a long night."
"I think you all did," Phil waved his hand and Bruce raised the bed a bit. "I bet you all have to get the hell out of dodge?"
"We were never here," Bruce agreed. "Tony is picking us all up soon. But we figure you are in good hands."
"The best," Phil said. "Thank you."
Bruce closed a gentle hand around his ankle. "Once Delta, always Delta. "
Clint stole my cookie didn't he?"
"Heal well. We'll call in a couple weeks." Bruce gave him another pat and left.
Phil looked at Melinda. She looked so fragile when asleep, it made him realize how tiny she was. And if he ever said that he figured five broken bones at least.
"I can feel you staring you know," Melinda said, eyes still closed.
"You're my hero," Phil replied.
Melinda opened her eyes and stretched a little. "So, hard to kill."
"So, flying," Phil answered.
"When did you figure it out?"
"Knew something was up early, but the whole floating during sex was hard to miss."
"Why didn't say anything?" Melinda asked.
"Why didn't you?"
Melinda nodded. "I was scared."
Phil looked at her. "Scared?"
"Phil, you are a reporter, one who was trying to find out the truth about SHIELD, if I had told you, oh by the way I'm a superhero and so is everyone in my shop, what would you have done? You would have broken the story." She shrugged a little. "I started dating you because I liked you, and to keep an eye on you."
"Which one was the one that won out?" Phil asked.
"The liking you," Melinda said. "You are so very, very likable."
"I won't expose you guys," Phil promised. "Darcy and Nick won't either. Once I heal and finish my HYDRA stories, I'm back on dog shows and local school board elections. There is a miniature pony show coming up. Have you seen baby miniature ponies, they are adorable."
"So, no more kidnappings?" Melinda asked.
"Nope, back to boring Phil, fluff piece stories Phil," he swore. "I am getting really tired of chest injuries."
"Not even a tiny kidnapping, to see if I can make you spill all your secrets?" Melinda sat on the edge of his bed and kissed him. "I have a cat suit and thigh high boots in the back of my closet."
"I took a bullet to the chest, you can't say things like that for a month or two," Phil whimpered.
"No fast healing huh?" Melinda asked. Her fingers hovered over where the bullet tore through him.
"Heal almost normal," he said. "I just happen to be -"
"Really hard to kill," Melinda finished for him. "Well, when you are released from the hospital, you'll not want to be alone."
"No," he agreed. "I'll need some monitoring."
"If you'd like, I can help with that," Melinda offered.
Melinda kissed him gently.
When Darcy saw him in the hospital, she slapped him up the head and made him sit through all the photos of the shopping spree Pepper had taken her on.
Phil worked on stories from the hospital and Nick made sure to help cover up anything that needed covering up - he was a man with a lot of contacts.
When Phil was checked out of the hospital the whole team welcomed him to Melinda's apartment and had a quiet party. Delta sent condoms and a fruit bouquet.
Phil did his PT and slowly recovered and even managed to write a few of those fluff stories he wanted for the paper. He ignored Maria's emails about this story that was right up his alley once he stopped being a wimp.
And eventually a doctor gave him an all clear and he cooked a romantic dinner and even made a playlist after the one he requested Clint help with started with the song "I Want to Fuck You Like an Animal"
Only Melinda didn't lead him to the bed, but up to the roof and it wasn't exactly toasty out.
"The stars are nice," Phil said.
"Shut up, I need to concentrate," Melinda said and she was doing some deep meditative breathing.
"I was cleared for moderate sex, and this is scaring me a little bit," Phil said.
"Just put your arms around my neck and hold tight," she answered.
Phil did as she said, he always happily did as she said. And within a moment they were hovering a few feet in the air. Melinda took him flying. It only lasted a minute before she touched down again. She groaned a little as they landed.
"Right, don't expect that again," Melinda said.
Phil cupped her face and kissed her softly, lips grazing hers again and again until they settled and his tongue slid into her mouth. When they let go he smiled. "That was better than I imagined."
"This weekend, I'll take you in a plane and fly us somewhere nice," Melinda said.
"I'll move back into my place soon, give you your space," Phil promised.
"I don't need that much space." Melinda took his hand and lead him back downstairs and showed him just how little space she wanted between them.
6 months later
Red Wing and the team broke into the school and handily avoided the traps that were set. They strode through the halls to the auditorium where the hostage was on the stage, tied up and under a spotlight.
Phil smiled at them. "Hi guys, I can absolutely explain how this happened."
"Oh you bet your ass you will," Melinda said in her superhero voice. She flew onto the stage and attacked the person waiting in the curtains.
Phil hadn't expected the kidnapping, he was here for a story on the falling apart school. Didn't meant to stumble into graft and connections to the Yakuza.
But he did so love to watch his girlfriend work.