"Meet and Miss"
"Target has entered building," Phil Coulson, twenty-six, murmured into his concealed communicator. He couldn't wait for the day people would be able to walk around, talking to someone with their hands free. It would make him stand out less as a potential crazy-person, seemingly muttering to himself.
"Got a fix on him?"
"Good. The meeting's not for another half hour. Sitwell's at your four o'clock."
Phil rolled his eyes when he noticed his fellow junior handling a tray of drinks like a pro. He'd have to tease the younger man about etiquette lessons after the debrief. Or maybe just before. It would depend upon the length of the mission.
He'd only been working in the field for a couple of years, but his immediate superior, Nick Fury, was expecting great things for both of them. All three of them, if Sitwell could handle this mission as well as a tray of a dozen full glasses of Shiraz.
Phil made his way around the room, helping himself to the occasional hors d'oeuvres, and making brief eye contact with Jasper when he took a glass from the tray.
"Thank you," Phil murmured.
"You're welcome, sir," Jasper said, and his lips twitched. Phil arched his eyebrow a quarter of an inch, then continued on his way. He adjusted the dark red tie with silver pinstripe on loan from SHIELD wardrobe, and wondered whether he could claim that he'd spilled wine on it, and get to keep the tie. He only had a couple of suits and a few dress shirts, and the one tie. A little variety would be nice.
No. The cheapskates in wardrobe would just insist that he pay for cleaning, and forbid him from wearing any more of their outfits.
This promotion was necessary, and not just so that Phil could buy a new tie. His father needed more expensive medical care than they'd originally thought, and Phil's lazy half-brother still didn't have a job. He lived off welfare, and sent very little to his mother and Phil's father. He seemed to forget that, when Phil's step-mother was in an accident, Phil footed half the bill, and his father the other half. Damian just claimed that the job market was in a slump. The same slump it had been five years before that, and five years since.
If the mission went well, Phil would get a bonus to go with his new salary, a bonus which would cover the life-saving procedure and ICU bills, since money was still tight after the accident last year. Phil couldn't afford to screw this up. At least Nick and Jasper both knew this, and were there to support him.
Distractions would be dangerous. Distractions such as…
"Coulson? What're you staring at? You've got ten minutes `til you have to be at that meeting. Coulson?"
Twenty minutes had passed too quickly while Phil circulated the room. He snapped back to reality when someone bumped into him. He recognised Jasper after about three seconds, and put his now-empty glass back on the tray.
"What's up?" Jasper murmured. He could've made a real career for himself in ventriloquism.
"N-nothing," Phil said. His gaze darted around the room, drawn like a magnet to… yes.
"Now's not the time to be checking out strangers, Phil," Nick said. Jasper had to drift away; hanging around the one person too long would look suspicious. "Keep your head in the game."
Phil just nodded slowly. He fought desperately against the feelings welling up inside him, fought to keep his feet from wandering in completely the wrong direction. He succeeded when he noticed his mark beginning to move towards a secluded doorway.
But then someone touched his arm, and he knew.
"Hey," the man said softly. Phil melted inside when he heard that raspy voice, and turned.
The stranger was about the same height as him, had shaggy, dark brown hair, and was wearing wire-rimmed, half-moon glasses. He looked uncomfortable in his suit, but the green in his tie complemented his hair and eyes perfectly, and contrasted with the red of the rose in his pocket. His smile was small, but warm, and his eyes bored straight into Phil's.
He was hopelessly smitten; but that was to be expected when someone met their soul-mate.
"Hello," he said, and he swallowed. "Uh, how are you?"
The man's smile widened. "Better than I've ever been. And glad my mentor forced me to come along tonight."
"So am I," Phil said earnestly, the breath nearly stolen from his lungs with the gentle curve of the stranger's lips. "God, am I ever glad, too."
There was a buzz in his ear, a rude reminder that he was here to do a job.
"Target's opening door. Stop with the flirting, and get. Going!" Nick hissed.
"What's the matter?" the stranger asked when Phil's smile faded.
"I have to go," Phil said. He stepped away, then looked back. "I'll find you. I promise. This shouldn't take long. But I really have to go now." He could see the target going through the door, followed by someone else.
He thought his soul-mate said something else; but unless they Bonded, there was no way they could communicate telepathically. He'd just have to hope that…
"Get Jasper to keep tabs on him," he said quietly.
"Any reason why?"
Phil scowled. "About to go in, sir. Have to turn off the communicator. Just tell Sitwell, okay?"
Without waiting for a reply, he surreptitiously turned off the surveillance equipment on his person, and sneaked through the door when no one was looking.
Bruce Banner watched as the stranger with the light-brown hair and blue eyes walked away. Was it something he'd said? The bathrooms weren't that way, after all, and he couldn't think of any other reason for him to go.
He stared down into his glass of lemon, lime and bitters. He hoped his soul-mate would come back soon and find him, just like he'd promised. If he didn't… if he didn't want Bruce after all… he had no idea what he'd do. Soul-mates rarely rejected each other. To have it happen would be a devastating blow.
No. He couldn't think negatively. The stranger must have had good reason to leave. He said he would be back, so Bruce would just have to trust that he would return.
"How's your thesis going, Bruce?" Dr. Strange asked, sneaking up behind him. He nearly jumped out of his skin, and spun around.
"Fine, sir," he said. "Only the conclusion and bibliography left to do. And I'll have to check all the in-text citations. After that, proofreading and editing, and then…" He shrugged. "Well, you know how it goes."
"You've already begun to receive recruitment offers." Strange sipped his martini (at least Bruce thought it was a martini). "And at such a young age. Are we witnessing the birth of another Tony Stark?"
Bruce laughed. This was a good distraction. "I don't think so," he said. "I'm not a genius."
"Don't underestimate yourself," Strange said, pointing at Bruce with his glass. "I do not take just anyone beneath my wing."
He knew that. Boy, did Bruce know what a huge honour it was. He laughed again, nervously, and suddenly wished that his soul-mate was there.
"Thanks," he said.
"The man with whom you were conversing. Did you know him?"
"Not yet," Bruce said. "Hope I will, though."
Bruce untied his tongue. "Yeah."
"Good. Do not allow any distractions until after the conclusion. No Bonding, no Bonding ceremony. Nothing. It will be worth the wait. Trust me."
"I still want to learn his name."
"Ah." Strange nodded, and took another sip. "That is an important part of the Bonding process. You go ahead and do that when he comes back."
"You think he'll come back?" Bruce looked over his shoulder, but there was no sign of the stranger.
"I am convinced of it. He certainly seemed invested in the conversation, from where I was standing. He looked reluctant to leave."
Bruce nodded. "Thank you, sir. I'm glad you think so."
Strange patted him on the shoulder, then left.
And Bruce waited.
In the end, everything began to fall apart.
On one hand, there was an unauthorised SHIELD agent at the meeting of several crime lords, who appeared to be collaborating with them. The more that Phil heard, the more he was convinced the guy – who they'd all trusted – was a mole. He was spilling certain information that no one with his level of clearance should have known about, and would never be authorised to be used to gain trust. Pieces began to click into place.
On the other hand, this mission had been so secret that only Nick, Jasper, Phil, and the director knew about it. Which meant that they not only had the drop on Phil's target, but on the mole as well.
Seven traffickers and a mole for the price of one? Who was going to pass up that deal?
"And they'll definitely take out the three musketeers?" the mole – Connors – asked.
"The drinks server has been identified, and will be – ah," the target said, looking at a screen in front of him. "He is currently engaging in combat with one of my men."
Just then, Phil noticed the screams outside. He hoped Nick would hear what was going on through Jasper's communicator.
"The black man's van has been sighted around the corner, and a bomb is due to go off in thirty seconds."
Phil had to switch his communicator on. It would blow his cover, but—
"And the other one?"
"Tracking him now. Hmm… It would appear that he followed us in."
"What?" Connors said, jumping to his feet. "Phil Coulson is in this room?"
"Nick, there's a bomb in your van," Phil hissed into his communicator. "Get out of there now." He heard a whispered curse, the bang of metal, and Nick's 'all clear' just seconds later. "Jasper needs help. Get everyone out of the building, then come find me."
"Well, well, well," Travers, his target, said. Phil had shimmied up the back of a column when he entered the room, with spikes attached to the toes of his shoes. He removed the spikes and shoved them back into his inner jacket pocket. "Would you care to join us, Phil Coulson?"
"Love to," Phil snarked. He shot the chain of the chandelier in the middle of the room, briefly thanking the bad guys' lack of common sense. Their table was right beneath the over-sized ornamental chandelier. He winced at the sound of the explosion through his communicator, then leapt from the column. The chain was slithering around loops, but he only had seconds. The force of his jump caused the chandelier to swing, and he angled his body to make the ornamental light fitting go around in circles, shooting at any and all limbs in his line of sight. He felt a couple of bullets clip his skin, but the mass of crystals protected him.
Sure enough, seconds later the chandelier dropped further, and it hit several of the men in passing. Before it could hit the table, Phil leapt off, grabbing the edge of a chair as he tumbled away, and used it as a shield as he continued to fire, disabling the rest of the men and women.
Jasper burst into the room, followed by Nick, and the security guards who weren't herding the gala guests out of the convention centre. Phil dropped the chair, now that he was covered.
"They knew we were coming," he said, holstering his gun. Then the earlier events of the evening came back, and he swivelled to face Jasper. "Did you watch the man I was talking to?"
"The one you were flirting with?" Jasper asked. Phil nodded frantically. "There wasn't much time. I did see him being ushered out with the others, even though he kept trying to get back in. Why? Is he a suspect—"
"We've been called into HQ, right now," Fury said, all business. He brushed off his leather duster. "Is that Connors?"
"He won't be much longer," Jasper said, glaring at the SHIELD mole. Out of the three, he'd been closest to Connors, swapping videos and cassette tapes every so often, since they shared the same tastes in movies and music.
"Come on," Nick said. The police had arrived with the paramedics. Phil began to leave the room, when his friend grabbed him. "Where do you think you're going? We're returning to base."
"I have to find him," Phil said, pulling away. He dodged between the police and guards streaming through the ballroom, ignoring Jasper's calls.
When he reached the outside, he gazed around the crowds of people, searching for his soul-mate. So many men were in the same kind of suits, and it was dark outside. Phil hurried down the stairs, and was nearly run over by a car screeching to a halt in front of him.
"Come on," Jasper said, grasping Phil's shoulder.
"No," Phil said, shaking him off.
"Look, do you want that promotion or—"
"Coulson." It was the director, stepping out of the car which had just arrived. Phil gulped. "Debrief back at quarters. Due to this… unexpected development," he glanced at the doorway, "not to mention your excessive use of gunfire within civilian hearing range, if you want any hope of promotion within the next ten years you will come with me. Now."
Phil glanced backwards. He had to find—
"Phil!" Jasper pulled him towards the car. "C'mon. Forget about him. Think about your—"
"Jasper, I need to—"
"You need this promotion. Your father needs you to have this promotion."
Phil looked at Jasper, then back to the crowds. His soul-mate was somewhere over there.
"All right," he whispered, forcing his father's pained face into his mind. "But, Jasper. Find him for me. Okay?" He grabbed Jasper's elbows. "You have to find him."
"What's he done?"
"Coulson," the director said warningly.
"Please," Phil said. "Jasper, you have to. He's my soul-mate."
Sitwell's eyes widened, and he nodded briskly. Phil mouthed 'thank you', then climbed into the car after the director.
From a distance, Bruce noticed his soul-mate climbing into a dark car, after talking with the waiter. His heart constricted painfully as the car drove away, taking… taking…
Either the guy never intended to come back, or he simply forgot about Bruce.
Which meant that he didn't care. At all.
Bruce turned away, blinking back the moisture threatening to blind him. He struggled for breath, torn between being heartbroken and being unbelievably furious. To have the one person he was meant for dangled in front of him, handsome, gently-spoken, well-dressed, with kind eyes, only to take him away half a minute later. Never to return.
Giving in to his rage, he kicked the tyre of a nearby police car, then stalked away. Soon, he broke into a trot, then a run, until he was beside his car. He rested against it, arms crossed on the roof and head touching the cold metal. The tears chose to fall, and he wiped them away fiercely. Finally, he fished out his keys, unlocked the car door, and slid in.
He had had offers, from a number of quarters. He wanted to continue studying, maybe do another PHD. It was addictive, and he adored the labs he was using.
But he had to get away. The army would help fund his research. They were interested in his articles on gamma radiation, and said that they'd wait as long as it took for him to finish his education. Then they could guarantee him a job.
Yes. The army was the best place he could go.
So he'd go.
Bruce shoved the key into the ignition. He twisted it, and the engine roared into life. He drove past ambulances, police cars, random party-goers and wait staff. Eventually, he remembered to switch on the car lights, when he realised that running over someone would be bad.
At least no one would've seen his license plate. And he never learned his soul-mate's name. Barely even talked to him. Certainly never revealed his own name. So they couldn't find each other. There was no temptation to go after someone who would just break his heart all over again.
Soul-mate fic! Love, love, love.
And angst. Love me some angst.
This story was inspired by my own fan fic 'Rejection', when I re-read it.
Okay, for people who read 'What Daylight Brings' and asked about my aunt who was in hospital, she died not longer after 4pm on the tenth of May, Brisbane time. I think she was in ICU until the very end.
Oddly enough, ICU features in the next couple of chapters. Or maybe not all that oddly?