Hand to Hand, Hand to Mouth

Chapter One

There are moments when I really wish I'd chosen a different line of work.

I mean, I'm smart girl. And you're supposed to be able to do anything, if you really put your mind to it, right? I could have been any number of things. An infinite number of things. I could have been a waitress or a hairstylist or a rock star. In these moments of longing, I think about what I could have been doing at that very moment, if I was a waitress or a hairstylist or a rock star. I could have been pouring coffee or adding bottle blonde to some socialite's very dark roots or playing a gig at the Whiskey.

Or I could have been sleeping. I'd have to say that's definitely in the top five on my "List of Things That I Could Be Doing That Would Suck Less Than What I'm Actually Doing". I have a sleep fetish. I have sleep fantasies. I have fantasies in which I am lying in a shaded hammock or on a sunny, sandy Caribbean beach or under a huge, fluffy down comforter in bed. And in those fantasies, I am blissfully, dreamlessly napping. That is the stuff that my wildest dreams are made of. Naps.

I'm a simple girl.

That moment was totally one of those moments. One of those magical, mystical flashes when I wished that I could have sold shoes or taught second grade or greeted people at Wal-Mart. I wished that I could have had a nice, normal occupation. Because people with nice, normal occupations did not find themselves in the kind of situations I found myself in. For example, people with nice, normal occupations did not spend six hours in a backless hospital gown, lying on the least comfortable bed in the entire universe, hooked up to an IV and wires and tubes and beeping things, while getting poked and prodded by the world's foremost medical staff.

Did I mention that I had this super-fun party of a day because I was shot with a poison dart? Because I was. I was shot with a dart – a fucking dart! – that had been tipped with a slow-acting poison.

Wait. Let me break it down so that you'll understand the full magnitude of the sitch.

I had been poisoned.

With a dart.

That was shot at me.

On purpose.

People with normal occupations are not poisoned with darts on purpose. Normal people would be horrified by the getting stabbed in the neck and the beeping and the butt-flashing garb. Normal people have normal job and normal jobs do not require that level of dedication. But I'm not a normal person; I don't have a normal job and that kind of stuff happened to me all the time. I think the med lab saw me naked more than my boyfriend did.

Of course, I never really, truly had a whole hell of a lot of options. When the only skills you've ever really learned are subterfuge, tactics, information gathering and ass-kicking, your career choices are pretty much either law enforcement or one of the exciting opportunities in professional crime. I chose the former. Not that SHIELD was really law enforcement, per se, but whatever. That was what was on the letterhead; that was the story I stuck to. Though I can't say that I'd never been tempted to put "Super Secret Spy" on my tax return. That would have been fun in so many different ways, including the level of gasket that Accounting would have blown. I might have even gotten a call from the Finance Director again. That's right: again! See, this one time I had to ditch all of my gear and blew up a transport and had to buy off a mid-level officer in the PLAAF. That was a really expensive vacation.

And another story altogether.

On the day of the poison dart, I hadn't even been on assignment. I was coming out of a Starbucks in Brooklyn, the Borough I currently call home, when I felt a sharp pain in my neck. That turned out to be how it feels when you get shot with a dart. Aren't new experiences just the best? I, for one, sure am glad that I can now safely say that I know exactly what getting pierced with a high velocity metal spike feels like. And, hey, the next time it happens, I'll be way less confused.

Okay, let me now repeat that I was shot with a poison dart in front of a Starbucks on a street in Brooklyn while holding a venti-non-fat-caramel-macchiato-with-extra-caramel. And then I woke up on the Helicarrier with the doctors and the beeping and no macchiato. I think I may have been more pissed about that than anything else. So, I shut my eyes and thought about normal people and how they could drink their six dollar coffee beverages without being interrupted by assassination attempts.

I willed myself to suddenly be waiting tables at a Denny's in Des Moines.

"Dead yet?" A crisply non-specific European accent broke through my funk.

"No such luck." I said without opening my eyes. "Your evil scheming has been foiled again."


I opened my eyes and squinted in the harsh light at the woman before me. Sashenka Grachev was tall, blonde and gorgeous. I totally would have hated her for it had she not been my closest friend. The Human Resources liaison for my usual team, Sasha and I had bonded over our similar status as all-alone-in-the-world-orphans and relative social misfits. SHIELD was overwhelmingly heartland America. It annoyed the hell out of both of us.

"So, what's the good word, Sash?" I asked.

"They say Jesus died for our sins," she replied. "It must have been a truly spectacular death to make up for you."

"Not that good word. What's the word on me?"

Sasha sat gingerly on the edge of my bed. She was perfectly put together in a pencil-skirted power suit and flawless makeup, her hair long, smooth and shiny. I hadn't seen a mirror lately, but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be winning any beauty pageants.

Great. Poisoned and insecure.

I must have looked totally miserable because Sasha patted my arm reassuringly. "I have spoken with Doctor Makris. She said that if you're a really good girl, you can get out of here within the hour."

"Oh, joy," I replied. "After a million hours of tests, they throw me a good behavior bribe."

Sasha frowned and, instead of patting my arm, pinched it. Hard.

"Ow! Hey!" I complained and tried to rub my arm with my IV hand. "That hurt, you whore!"

"You very well could have died," Sasha scolded me. "The least you can do it try to be a little bit nice to the staff. They make a living saving your life."

I snorted. "And a helluva good one, too. What with the amount of almost-dead this place seems to offer. They should include that in the benefits package. Agent of SHIELD: Now with even more near-death experiences!"

"Well you could always quit," Sasha said.

"Yes, I really could."

"Oh God, you've been thinking about Des Moines again, haven't you?" Sasha asked me, her eyes practically rolling out of her head. "Jubilation, I give you ten minutes in a civilian job before you're dying of boredom and begging to come back."

It was a conversation we had often. Usually after an especially traumatic day and a particularly large bottle of wine, we would talk about our hopes and dreams and what we would do if we could do anything at all. Sashenka had a degree from Columbia in Management and mid-level position in SHIELD's Human Resources department. She wanted to get her PH.D from Yale University in Renaissance Studies. She wanted to be a curator at a museum. She wanted to find a nice, wealthy man and have two spoiled children. She wanted things that were much more complicated than the things that I wanted. Complicated, but still much more attainable.

I wanted to sit on my couch and watch VH-1 for an entire Sunday. I wanted to spend more than two waking hours a week with my boyfriend. I wanted to be thirteen-years-old again, rollerblading inside the mansion even though the Professor had asked me not to. I wanted White Day to have never happened.

It's been almost three years since White Day.