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06 December 2012 @ 05:41 pm
Holding the Light - Chapter Two  




Chapter Two



Phil found Reese in the mess for breakfast, alone. He had his back to the corner, and Phil wondered if he had any idea that he was in one of the most desirable seats in the entire mess. He probably did, but he sat there with an untouchable confidence that no one could make him move if he choose not to go. Given he'd been drinking himself to death just a day ago, it was a pretty impressive change. Phil wondered how much of it was real, and how much was bravado or simple willpower. He hoped the latter - whatever his emotional issues, John deserved better. His military record, even the redacted parts, listed a Purple Heart and other commendations of bravery and skill, and Phil knew he had re-enlisted after 9/11 to put his skills back to work in an area of the world he'd already fought in once.

So the problem wasn't that he doubted his skills, because he didn't. He was out of practice, but as last night's sparring with Romanoff had shown, he wasn't all that rusty. So it was something else that had struck him such a blow - certainly he was sick of the dark projects the Agency gave him, but Phil didn't know if that was enough.

John was drinking coffee and peeling a banana, while watching the news feed on the tv. He was wearing his camouflage BDU's and the SHIELD jacket, and seemed more casual than dangerous. But it seemed even other highly trained agents were giving him the wide berth they gave to Romanoff, perhaps on the strength of her association.

Phil glanced at the tv coverage, but it was something about hockey. He set down his tray on John's table. "May I join you?"

John's free hand waved him to take a seat. "Sure. You're the boss, right?"

Phil shook his head. "Not at all. Fury, he's the boss. But yes, I'm your liaison. Handler. In the field I'll be your main connection to SHIELD. Just like I am for Agent Romanoff. And right now it's my job to get you up to speed." He sat down and leaned forward. "Now I know and you know that you have no shortage of military and CIA experience - hell, you could probably teach me - so I'm not going to insult your intelligence with basic training crap. We'll run a few evaluations to see where you're at now, get you caught up to SHIELD policies on ROE and the like, and give you some background on what we do."

"Sounds like what I expected."

But Phil noticed he was still watching the t.v. and Phil turned to see what he found so intriguing. "You like hockey?"

John shook his head. "No. The crawl. Kidnappings in Mazatlan. Calderon, I bet. He's a thug. I took a team after him in 2008, but he was tipped off and got away. Took down a facility of his."

"You have a lot of experience with the cartels, don't you?"

John nodded and finished his banana. "Mostly in the Army. But some later."

"That'll be useful; I'll have the section debrief you on the current situation. But the cartels are not our main area of focus."

"Right. Space aliens."

Phil was impressed with the sheer weight of dry sarcasm John could put into two blandly spoken words and a glance from his pale blue eyes.

"You want to see?" Phil asked, impulsively and stood up. "Come."

John returned his tray and dumped his trash, military instincts requiring him to clean up, even while Phil waited for him. Then Phil took him to the research level and used his keycard to open the heavy door. They went through and into another broad passage, this one with impact-proof windows lining it.

On the left hand side, suited scientists were in the same room as a large thing on a table. It was some kind of robot, and although it was inert and nothing they'd done to it could spark it back to function, the bright lights in the room shone down on something which was very definitely not of this Earth.

At his side, John looked at it. "What the hell is that?"

"It's not from this planet. It came through an interdimensional portal and attacked Puente Antiguo in New Mexico two months ago."

Phil liked how John didn't seem either confused or too awed by that, he just was interested in the practicalities. "How'd you kill it?"

"We didn't. That was… someone else who came through with it." That was one of those things Coulson didn't really want to think about. Whether classed as an alien or demigod, Thor's power had been beyond anything SHIELD knew how to handle. Thankfully he seemed like a good guy, but still, that much power in one being was anxiety provoking. At least he was gone, leaving behind only this thing. "It could fire a plasma blast from its head, walk, and was impervious to all projectile weaponry. Even a 50mm shell."

"Damn."

"You think it's impressive in there, it was more impressive destroying tanks. Director Fury wants to access the power source, but so far, no luck."

John snorted his disapproval of that plan. "I'd find the remote control, before I risked waking it up."

"Is that your professional assessment?" Coulson asked, meaning it as a joke, but John took him seriously turning away from the window to face him.

"My professional assessment is that a weapon you don't know how to use and could turn against you is worse than no weapon at all."

"You're not the first to say that," Coulson admitted. He didn't much like having it on board either; it should go with the other Phase II stuff in the bunker with the tesseract, not here. But that had been Fury's decision, given the lab here and the potential for hooking it up as a power source for the helicarrier. "Come on. I'll show you the shooting range where you can show off."

"I haven't fired a gun in awhile," John warned. "I'm not going to be showing off anything."

Coulson scoffed as he led the way out of the labs. "I've read your file. Your out-of-practice is going to beat most of the people on this boat."

"Not Natasha."

"I did say 'most'." Coulson almost smiled, thinking of Barton who had gotten his recall and was due tomorrow.

At the range, which was double-armor plated all around as well as sound-proofed, he checked out a Glock for John for target shooting, to check his status. Then he stood at the back to watch, wearing earmuffs, as John emptied a clip at the paper target.

When they brought the target forward, he saw that John had put a golf ball-sized hole through the center. Phil looked at it and glanced at John. "If this is out of practice, what the hell do you do when you're in practice?"

John didn't look impressed by his grouping, sticking a finger through the hole and wiggling it around. "The same hole."

Phil nodded slowly. "That's why they were so convinced you missed on purpose with Agent Romanoff. Did you pull your shot?" he asked, knowing John had because he'd admitted as much to her, but curious what John would say.

"No. It was windy, and she was too quick for me to get a second shot in," John answered flatly, echoing his report by rote.

"Did you actually pass a lie detector with that answer?" Phil asked curiously, letting John know that Phil didn't buy the story any more than his previous employers had.

John glanced at him, and then smiled ever so faintly - it was a highly dangerous look - and it was a definite warning when he answered, "I pass all of them, Agent Coulson."

Then he picked up another clip to reload and the conversation was over. Romanoff wandered in to watch the practice session, her cool eyes watching, and Coulson waved her to join him outside to talk.

"So?" Phil asked her. "Your evaluation?"

"He's about sixty percent, maybe seventy." She glanced through the glass. "It's been months since he used any of his skills. It'll take time to get back."

"You think he can."

"Yes. The sooner you can send us on a mission the better."

He lifted his eyebrows at that. "Together? Even though he's not back, you'd risk that?"

"He'll recover better on a mission, not here. What's wrong is not a lack of practice." She hesitated. "They misused him, Phil. As Red Room did to me."

"But you trust him to work with you?"

"I do," she answered, and he was shocked. There were few people she would pick as a partner. Barton was the only one she actually asked for, and this amount of trust on short amount of acquaintance was a surprise. Her gaze flicked to the window where they could see just the shoulder of John still firing his weapon at the target. "There was an American airstrike in China, near the desert."

Phil nodded, frowning, wondering what she was getting at. "The chemical weapons plant. Last year." At least that had been the justification and China had been embarrassed enough about whatever they had been doing there, that they hadn't made a big stink about it.

"John was there."

Phil had no idea how she knew that, but there was no reason to doubt her. He thought back to the file and realized that was when the CIA had officially declared him KIA. They'd been so sure he was dead because they'd set him up themselves. Some of those bastards made the KGB and the Taliban look like fluffy bunnies. "Fury knows about this. That's why he knew they'd want John dead." Then he realized what else it meant. "John knows something; something they were trying to kill." And Fury wanted that information. Whatever John knew, that was the real reason Fury had wanted to save him.

Natasha watched John, frowning, and her voice softened. "He deserves better, Phil."

"I'll watch out for him," Phil promised, meaning it, remembering the soft confession he'd heard last night.

So, a mission. Some sort of caretaking mission. Something important, but not something that required John at full capacity yet.



Chapter Three