"Christ, not again. I can't deal with Asgard more than twice in a month." Coulson squeezed the bridge of his nose in a way that made me want to pull him into my arms, and rub his back and make the bad, bad feelings go away. He slipped his phone back into his jacket.
"I don't know, if Thor's going to be popping by, I wouldn't say no to that." I waggled my eyebrows, hoping to get a smile out of him. Coulson rarely bit though, and this wasn't going to be one of those times either, it seemed. He just scowled at me.
"He's got a girlfriend, you know." He reminded me.
"So does Captain America. Doesn't seem to put you off him." I wasn't up for taking sass today, no matter how adorable I thought Coulson was. His jaw dropped and he went back to rubbing the bridge of his nose with a heavy sigh.
"Really? Is that what you think? That I'm suffering from unrequited love for the captain?" He asked.
"Agent Coulson, it's a new world. SHIELD supports a whole rainbow of diversity. It's okay if you have a crush on Captain Rogers." I shrugged.
"I am straight, Ms. Ellis." He ground out. "Not that it should be anyone's business."
"So you're just a fangirl?" I was surprised, and frankly, a little turned on. Coulson didn't have many imperfections, so far as I'd been able to deduce.
"Says the woman who keeps a Thor scrapbook." His response was wry. I blushed.
"How did you know –"
"I make it my business to know about the people I work with." He interrupted.
"Which brings us back to why you are in my office this morning. Personnel files? I need a list, and I need your clearance." I got back to business. Coulson just did not seem to be in a flirting mood. A shame, really. The guy needed to lighten up. He slid the list across my desk, and handed me his ID. I scanned everything quickly, registered his ID and handed it back.
"Those files will be waiting when you get back to your office, Agent Coulson. You could have just forwarded the request by email, you know." I keyed in the release on the files so they would come up on his workstation. He finally smiled.
"What, and miss an opportunity to see your pretty face, Ms. Ellis?" He shook his head. "Never."
He turned and walked away from my desk, leaving me slack jawed. I looked over at Erin, my office-mate.
"Did that just happen?" I asked, stunned.
"Did you need to submit a Tony Stark?" She confirmed. Despite SHIELD having a serious and rigorous method of notation for all paperwork, those of us in Human Resources had come up with our own shorthand after getting confused between an A2-336B (Short Term Disability; Hulk Related Incidents) and an A2-336E (Sexual Harassment Report.) The 336B we referred to as the 'Hulk Smash' and the 336E, unsurprisingly, was the 'Tony Stark', as there seemed to be more of that form submitted when he was consulting than at any other time. I laughed.
"I hardly think being called pretty is harassment. If it were, every time Stark came near any of us, we'd be filling out multiples." I responded.
"Remember the time he pinched Jenkins' ass?" Erin dissolved into giggles.
"Was that before or during the sexual harassment in the workplace seminar she was teaching?" I tried not to laugh, but it came out as a snort. It took a certain twisted sense of humour to work in HR, and you had to see the funny side of things when it was appropriate. And laughing at Tony Stark pinching someone's ass during a sexual harassment seminar was definitely appropriate.
"Did it happen before too?" Erin asked, fighting the giggles valiantly.
"Why do you think he was in the seminar?" I retorted. We both fell apart. Maybe you needed to know Jenkins. She was probably Stark's age, but she hadn't aged as gloriously as he had. She looked worn thin. She was a brilliant Human Resources manager, but after a while, it can be too much, and she took a lot of work home. So she was uptight, neurotic and ran a tight ship. She tolerated absolutely no shenanigans, and was quick to write-up even her most favoured employees. In short, no one cared for her. And she dressed to suit the part, looking like an 80-year-old librarian, her mousy hair drawn back in a severe bun at the nape of her neck. I think her glasses might have been from the 80's, as they hadn't come back in style yet. It was generally bad. And when I thought of sexual harassment, regardless of how forward-minded I liked to think of myself, I never would have pegged Jenkins as the one who would become a victim.
Of course, I wouldn't have filed a Tony Stark on Tony Stark for pinching my bum either. I would have broken his fingers and called us square. But I've been told my 'new generation' training made me, and other recent hires like me, significantly different than my older counterparts in HR. They were wedded to the forms. We were trained to think on our feet and respond accordingly, to keep paperwork to a minimum.
"Is that why she took leave, Annie?" Erin asked, gasping for breath. We weren't usually so quick to descend into hysteria, but there was truly something about Jenkins that killed us both.
"Either that or because she just loved me so much she wanted me stuck with the seminars." I complained. I hated running the seminars. The only interesting one was SHIELD orientation. The sexual harassment seminar was only interesting when Stark was forced by Fury to attend, again. And the benefits plan and retirement fund seminar was about as exciting as it sounded. I'd been trying to make it more interesting but I feared that was impossible.
I went for a refill on my coffee to get away from the contagion of Erin's laughter. I knew if I didn't remove myself for at least a few minutes, we would spend the rest of the morning casting sidelong glances at one another and then falling into fits of the giggles again. I was too busy to be so unproductive.
I was making a new pot, silently cursing the jackass who'd taken the last of the coffee, when Agent Jack Jackson walked in and handed me a schedule. I put it down beside the coffee maker and turned to face him, squaring my shoulders. Jack and I had a history, and it wasn't one filled with fluffy bunnies and long-eared puppies, rainbows, kitties, or unicorn farts. We'd dated, with disastrous results, the first year after I'd been hired. He was a good guy, but just too physical and intense. Being with him was like skydiving without knowing if your chute would open. Amazing, and thrilling, and then suddenly terrifying and panic inducing. Our break-up had been harder on me, I think, but even though I was completely over him, we still had a hard time making friendly.
"You should probably look at that, Anna." He pointed at the page. I nodded and finished pouring the water into the coffee maker, turning it on.
"Looks like some sort of schedule. I'll look at it when I get back to my desk." I agreed. He put his hand on my arm.
"You haven't read Fury's memo, have you?" He asked. I quirked an eyebrow, waiting for him to fill me in. He didn't, and instead stared at me in silence.
"Okay, no, I haven't." I admitted.
"You know memos from the director are priority one, Anna." He chastised me.
"Alright, I admit, I'm a terrible employee. Jesus, Jack. Just tell me what the fuck it said if it's so goddamn important that I look at your schedule right now." I snapped. I really needed that coffee.
"Due to the circumstances of the Battle of New York, all SHIELD personnel are required to meet basic field competencies, effective immediately." He read from his clipboard. "That includes non-agent personnel in medical, research and development, and administration."
I dropped my coffee cup. It shattered on the floor between us. Neither of us reacted. I suddenly realized what I'd done and squatted to pick up the shards and toss them in the bin. I retrieved a fresh cup from above the coffee maker, and stared at the coffee maker, willing it to brew faster. I fingered the piece of paper he'd handed me.
"So this schedule?"
"Your training schedule for the following month. We'll be pulling employees from various areas on a weekly basis. You come to us next week, then return for 2 weeks while we train other HR employees. The usual six-week intake training will be condensed into three weeks over the course of two and half months. You might want to buy a good pair of running shoes." He winked. I looked at the schedule and my heart sunk. Running every morning. Target practice. Hand-to-hand training. The classes blurred and I closed my eyes and sighed.
"Why are you delivering the news, Jack?" I asked. He chuckled.
"Well, if you'd read the memo, you would have seen I've been promoted to training specialist for this glorious project. I've forwarded your travel details via email. Please make sure you read it." Jack smirked and walked away. I smothered a frustrated scream and stared at the schedule again, wishing it weren't true.
Erin was just as upset when I returned to the office. She was pacing behind her desk, barefoot, deeply involved in an argument on her blue-tooth headset. I only needed to listen for a minute to know she was trying to get out of the assignment. I sat down and checked my email. Sure enough, as Jack had said, there was a memo from Fury detailing the training plan, and outlining how it was to be administered for least effect on personnel and staffing. I clicked open Jack's email, and opened the attachments. There was a travel manifest, authorizations for travel, medical records request and a request for physical assessment. I sighed and called the medical division.
"Hi, I need to book a physical for today?" I asked when the nurse answered.
"Yeah, you and half the Triskelion, honey. We're booked solid for today unless you are flying out on Monday to the Academy." She sounded stressed.
"I am." I answered, trying to keep my tone light.
"Okay, we have a couple extra docs flying in right now. If you come down in 45 minutes, I'll prioritize you." She offered. "Your name?"
"Anna Ellis, from HR."
"Awesome. See you in a while." She hung up, leaving me reeling. I looked over to Erin, who'd finally sat down. She was rubbing her temples.
"I can't fucking believe this." Erin mumbled.
"When are you headed out?" I asked, wondering if we'd get to flounder together.
"Week after next. You?" She asked, glaring at the schedule on her desk. I sighed.
"Monday. I'm getting my physical in 45 minutes, and then I'm going to have to knock off for the day because I have no clothes suitable for training, and my runners are about a hundred years old." I complained. "I don't even know if I can run, and it's on this damn schedule twice a day."
"Yay." Erin's tone was so dry, I couldn't help but smile. "I love running so much, I could puke. Let me know where you decide to get your shoes. I'm going to need a pair too."
I finished my coffee and powered down my computer so I could head to medical. It was pandemonium, and I was glad I'd decided to go down early, as it took twenty minutes before I could even find a nurse to say I was there. There were easily sixty people milling about in the waiting room of the infirmary, and I deduced quickly that most of them hadn't thought to call ahead for an appointment, but rather were hoping that if they showed up, they'd get squeezed in. And every single person there was grumbling.
"Ellis!" A woman in a lab coat and black scrub pants called my name. She was holding a tablet, and had a stethoscope slung across the back of her neck. Her hair was piled up in a loose topknot, and she had a pair of dark framed sunglasses holding some loose curly strands off her face. As I approached, I saw that her t-shirt had Captain America's shield on it. I smirked.
"Anna Ellis?" She asked when I was close enough to hear. I nodded.
"Dr. Lex Richmond. Let's get you done and ready. I'm sure you've got loads on your plate this afternoon. If you want to step behind that curtain and put on the attractive paper designer gown that is on the exam table, I will be with you in a moment." She smiled, giving me a thorough once over. I opened the curtain to the exam bay and quickly stripped, hopping up on the table when I was ready. Dr. Richmond peeked in and when she saw I was ready, slipped between the break in the curtains.
"Nice shirt." I commented. She flushed.
"Yeah, I wore it this morning to tease Steve. I didn't realize I'd be pulled from New York to run physicals." She admitted.
"Oh! You must be the captain's girlfriend. We were talking about you this morning." I laughed. She gave me a confused look.
"Really? All my HR stuff should be in order. I filed that last form, the 960-4A16, last week." She said.
"No, you came up when I was talking to Agent –" I stopped, realizing she would not have clearance to know Coulson was alive, "Uh, Smith. I don't recall seeing a Pinky and the Brain come through."
"A Pinky and the Brain?" She asked, eyebrow raised. I laughed and shook my head.
"We have special names for the forms. That one is for damages incurred when Dr. Banner and Mr. Stark get up to no good. Pinky and the Brain. Stark would be Pinky. We quite like Bruce in HR. What happened? They blow up your car?" I asked. Dr. Richmond laughed, and pulled the stethoscope from her neck.
"No, it was significantly milder than that, and involved my laundry. Anyhow, as much as I think you would be very fun to spend time chatting with, we have 361 physicals to get done before Monday, so I should get started. This will be pretty basic, it's just to make sure you're healthy." She placed the stethoscope on my back and made me breathe in and out a few times, and then listened to my heart, and made me stand. I let my mind wander as she ran through the exam, until she gestured back at the table.
"Are we done?" I didn't think I'd be daydreaming that long.
"No. Bloodwork and a gyne exam, and then we're done."
"Oh, I can hardly contain myself! You saved the best for last!" It was snarky, I admit.
"Good times, eh?" She asked, and snapped on a pair of gloves.
Oh, a couple of familiar faces from Vital Signs are back, in supporting roles! I fully intended to take some time away from fanfic to work on some original stuff, but then I thought Coulson needed his own tale. Might be a slower update schedule though, as the daily thing was killing me. Okay, so... as usual, please read and review, and let me know if this is even worthy carrying on. Thanks!