I stared deeply into my mug of tea, watching the amber liquid lap against the cracked ceramic as I swirled it in my hands. It was cold now and the only warmth remaining came from my fingers which were wrapped so tightly about the circumference that my knuckles were white. My knee bounced like a live thing and a few dark flakes floated to the surface of the liquid and stuck to the stained ceramic. I frowned; it seemed it was time to get a new tea strainer. My frown deepened; my favorite tea store had gone out of business a few weeks ago. I'd probably have to drive into Richmond, which meant I'd probably have to finally get around to fixing my truck. Unless… perhaps I could bike there…
"Ms. Crowe?" A voice tempered with discipline and training broke through my scrambled thoughts and pulling me back into the cramped and cluttered disaster that was my living room. My eyes drifted over the boxes that lay strewn about, their contents scrawled on the side in my illegible scribble; they were left over from the move, things I simply hadn't found the time to put away yet. I'd lived in the apartment two years next Thursday.
"Ms. Crowe," prodded the voice, "This really is a matter of the utmost importance. It is critical that you listen to what I'm saying." My eyes flicked towards the owner of the voice, running from his gently worn leather shoes, up the impeccable crease in the charcoal pant leg of his suit and the sleek blue silk of his tie before finally resting on the even more intense blue of his gaze. It was only in his gaze that this man revealed his impatience; he was far too professional for it to show anywhere else. "Ms. Crowe-"
"It's Sophie, Agent Coulson. And I am not deaf," I stated, softening my clipped tone with a warm smile. There was the rough whisper of trouser legs rubbing together as the second agent shifted. I glanced briefly at his face and fought back a shiver; even though the sun had long since set he still wore sunglasses. It unnerved me that I couldn't see his eyes. Agent Coulson chuckled dryly, leaning back into the overstuffed cushions of my couch, allowing his arm to rest on a stack of clean laundry I had yet to transfer to my dresser.
"No, you're not, Sophie. Forgive me. And thank you once again for agreeing to meet with us this late." I glanced at the clock on the wall. Two thirty in the morning. They were damn lucky I was out of my sleeping pills; once I was under I was out for eight hours solid. "We thought that with your schedule and condition, this would possibly be more acceptable." I pursed my lips and took a brief sip of cold tea. It bothered me that some government agency was keeping tabs on my insomnia. It made me wonder what else they kept tabs on. "Sophie, we really need your help."
My brow furrowed. "And I'm afraid this is where you lost me. I'm a writer. I don't really know what use I could be to the Strategic Homeland… what was it again?"
"Just call us SHIELD," replied Coulson with a quirk of his lips, "It's less of a mouthful. And it's not your expertise that we're interested in."
"Then what's this about?" I asked, my eyes narrowing in suspicion. The teasing light in Coulson's eyes dimmed.
"Sophie, we've found Bruce Banner." The mug slipped from my slackened fingers and fell to the floor with a thud, washing my toes in chai. My brain seemed to slow down as I processed this information. They'd found Bruce. Bruce; who I hadn't had so much as a postcard from in over a year. And then I got angry.
"Fuck you," I spat, standing quickly so that I towered over Coulson who seemed a bit surprised, "Can't the government just leave him alone? He's been through enough. The man is not just some toy that big brother can manipulate!" I was pissed and it showed in my aggressive body language and the flush racing up my neck. Coulson easily got over his surprise at my vulgar choice of words.
"Please calm down, Sophie," he stated in his aggravatingly even tone, "I promise you Dr. Banner is with us of his own free will."
"Like hell he is," I growled, intimidating even in a t-shirt and boxers, "I'm sure he's completely fine with being caged up in some hole in the ground!" A smile twitched at Coulson's lips.
"In the sky, actually," he corrected me, smiling wider at the blank look that passed over my face, "And it's a lab. We'd like very much if you could join him. To keep him calm." I sank back down onto the cardboard box full of old manuscripts I was using as a chair.
"Not saying I believe you, Agent Coulson, because I don't, but haven't you tried Betty Ross? I'm sure she'd be far more effective at 'keeping him calm'." My lips pursed a bit at the mention of Professor Ross and my fingers interlaced almost of their own volition. Agent Coulson relaxed a bit as I sat down, the tension visibly fleeing his shoulders.
"We did, actually," replied Coulson with a small smile, "But that chapter of her life has closed down. She's Dr. Betty Ross-Johnson now and I am afraid that knowledge alone would have the opposite effect on Dr. Banner." I blinked, surprised. That was something I had not expected. I was sure she would spend the rest of her life pining away for the enigmatic Bruce Banner; like I was. "Sophie," Coulson entreated, "please. We really need your help in this." There was something about Coulson's eyes that almost made me agree; there was a certain openness, an honesty that drew me in and erased my suspicions. But one more look at the mountain of muscle standing stoically behind him and they returned tout de suite.
"I'm sorry, I can't," I said slowly. The opportunity to see Bruce again was tempting, but I was no fool. Maybe they didn't actually have Bruce and were planning on using me as leverage of some sort. The whole thing simply seemed fishy. "I'll escort you out." I stood and moved toward the door but Agent Coulson didn't so much as budge.
"That is not an option," he said slowly, his voice almost sad, "We have permission to use whatever means necessary to get you back to SHIELD." In other words: force. There was a moment where nobody moved and then it ended. Adrenaline raced through my veins as I sprinted towards my front door, my fingers clumsily fumbling with the lock in my haste. I managed to turn the stupid thing and open the door when I felt massive arms, like bands of iron, encircle my waist, pulling me back into the house.
"Gotcha!" the meathead chuckled, lifting me into the air.
"No!" I shrieked, thrashing and scratching at his arms with desperation to rival a drowning cat. Coulson was abruptly beside us, trying to calm me down.
"Please stop struggling," he pleaded, "You're only making this harder for yourself." I stared at him with wild eyes and let loose and enraged scream, sinking my teeth into meathead's forearm. He roared with pain and dropped me. I scrambled on the wood floor, practically hurling myself towards the door, when I felt something cool and metallic press against my neck. "I'm sorry," said Coulson, his tone genuine. There was a soft click and I gasped as I felt the familiar bite of a syringe.
"What-" But that was all I managed to get out before my vision was swallowed by blackness.