1. Agent Coulson

I twisted my key in the stiff door and shoved down on the handle. One more kick and it opened, sticking halfway as always.

‘…damn door, need to oil that hinge…’

“Hi Jake!” I called, dumping my bag in the hallway to shrug off my coat.

“Heya Ev, good day?” came the response, along with the background noise of his computer game and his thoughts, focused now on the boss battle he was fighting.

“Fine… guy on the train had a song stuck in his head and now of course it’s stuck in my head,” I moaned, tripping over to lean into the room where Jake sat, surrounded by crap as always. “Do you know the one that goes na na naa na na, na naaa…”

‘If you could sing it would help.’ “Nah don’t know that one.”

I rolled my eyes and stomped off to my room. His mind was back on the game. That was the easy thing about living with Jake. I had to put up with his mess and the constant sound of violence from the computer but his thoughts were relatively easy to handle. Nicely mundane and often occupied with games.

I lay on my bed for a while staring at the ceiling. The couple at number 2 were mad at each other again. They rarely vocalised it but they always were. The constant stress buzzed at my mind, giving me the beginnings of a migraine. Outside the birds were calling to each other, perched in the only tree outside the block of flats, which my mum called the ‘bird hotel’ because it was always full of them.

‘danger. food. bright. sticky. peck. food. not food. soar. branch. others. danger. peck.’

Their minds were simplistic and soothed the ache in my temple from next door.

“You bring any food home?” Jack called. He’d lost his boss fight and his mind had turned to dinner.

I sighed and rolled off my bed again. Lazy sod, couldn’t he go to the shop for once?

“Yeah, there’s a pizza in my bag!” I called before shutting the door to change.

When I entered the kitchen the smell of BBQ pizza was nicely distracting. My stomach grumbled.

“You skip lunch again?” Jake asked, barely looking up from his comic. He was leaning up against the kitchen counter, a coke in his hand.

“You reading my mind now?” I smirked then scowled. “Yeah that guy’s still working there and I don’t wanna have to walk a mile to the shop for something.”

“Can’t you just not read his mind?” ‘…Spiderman’s so kickass….’

“You know it doesn’t work like that…” I mumbled, getting my own can from the fridge.

For someone so obsessed with comics and superheroes, Jake found my own talents kinda unimpressive. I was just constantly relieved that it didn’t bother him, to the extent that he often just forgot that I could hear him. It was wonderful to be able to talk to someone openly about it though, in a way I hadn’t really been able to do with anyone before I’d applied to be his flatmate. In return, I just had to deal with his smelly underwear everywhere and all the burping and farting. Honestly, it was like living with a cave troll.

“So he’s still fantasising about you?” ‘…I’d fantasise about Wonder Woman, those thighs, that whip, what she could do to-‘

“Yeah, sort of, it’s all just a bit graphic and gross,” not to mention super creepy, but I tried not to judge too hard. It wasn’t that guy’s fault I could read his mind after all and it wasn’t like he knew I could hear everything.

The downstairs door buzzed just as the first slice of pizza was heading towards my mouth.

‘Eurgh what now?’ Jake had just been getting comfortable. Our round dinner table stood between the door to the lounge and the open plan kitchenette, not far from the intercom in the hall.

“It’s your place man,” I smiled, biting off the tip of the pizza and grinned smugly.

‘Fine, whatever…’ “Yes, yes, I’ll get it.” He pushed the mic button and raised his voice to a falsetto, “Who iiiis iiiit?” he sang shrilly.

I snorted into my coke.

“My name is Agent Coulson, I’m with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. Can I come in?”

We stared at each other. ‘Huh?’

“Well I don’t know!” I shrugged.

Jake pushed the button again and slipped back into his normal voice, “Err, who now?”

“I would like to meet your flatmate, Miss Bellinger. We have something important to discuss.”

‘Shiiit…’ Jake turned to me, face aghast.

“What? Jake, chill!”

“He knows, he knows you’re a weirdo!”

Real nice. I roll my eyes. This isn’t the first time someone’s suspected I have a power and have called the FBI or someone on me. Probably those stressy neighbours… But my pulse sped up and I knew I’d have to work to hide my nerves, let alone my abilities.

I trot over to the intercom and push the button myself, “This is Miss Bellinger. We can talk like this.”

“Are you sure you want me to discuss your powers on the street where anyone can hear?” the disembodied voice asked.

“He’s got a point you know,” Jake moaned. He started pacing the room, flapping his arms. “Oh my lord, they’re going to take you away. They’ve probably got a straight jacket and everything.”

“My power’s not in my hands, what would a straight jacket do?” I hissed back at him.

“Nah, they’d chuck you in a loonie bin and tell them you hear voices.” I stared at him but he just stared back, “Well you do!

“Oh shut up!” I strode over to the window and stuck my head out to look down at the street. Three faces stared back up at me, men in identical black suits with sunglasses on. They looked like extras from Men in Black.

“What do you want?” I called out the window.

“We just need to talk to you,” the one called Coulson called back. ‘We need to know the extent of her powers.’ ‘…this isn’t safe…’ ‘nice neighbourhood….’ ‘…freaks like this cropping up everywhere now…’ ‘…need to prove to her that we’re the good guys, and we need someone like her now more than ever…’ ‘don’t trust her…’ ‘…just like Director Fury said, just show her we’re honest, prove that we can be trusted…’

Their thoughts raced over each other but I was used to listening to several voices at once. I pointed at Agent Coulson, “You can come up. Leave the heavies.”

They were the ones who were afraid of me. I bristled at the accusations in their minds. They had clearly met a lot of gifted people in their time and it had not always gone well.

“What are you doing?” Jake demanded, as I walked over and yanked open the stubborn front door.

“Well it’s not like they’ll just go away by themselves… plus I’m curious.”

And I was. Last time, it was just some kid wanting to make me a feature in his student newspaper. Ha, like I’d ever agree to that. This was clearly more serious, but there was something about this guy that seemed trustworthy… As a telepath, I guess you could say that I had a bit of an advantage when it came to being intuitive about types of people. Being able to hear everything they were thinking doesn’t hurt.

Agent Coulson appeared in the doorway. The two flights of stairs hadn’t winded him at all. He smiled briefly and held out a hand.

“Good to meet you Miss Bellinger.” ‘Interesting choice of flatmate, or maybe a boyfriend…’

I shook his hand, “You might as well come in. This is Jake.” I left it at that, no need to give anything away.

He strode in and gestured if it was okay to sit down at the table. I just shrugged but Jake stepped forward quickly and whisked the plate of pizza away. He paced over to the window with it wrapped protectively in one arm, the other hand already bringing a piece to his mouth, and I could hear his suspicious thoughts as he peered down at the other men, still standing by the lobby. I just rolled my eyes and slumped down in the other chair in what I hoped was a careless fashion. I couldn’t help but be rattled when strangers found out about me; it wasn’t like I spread it around that I was different.

“How can I help you Mr Coulson?”

He smiled, but I saw so much more, ‘…member of SHIELD, how do you get information out of someone with no tongue, just like Director Fury said, bringing in a telepath isn’t the easiest job, lucky he knew of one living in the city…’ His mind worked strangely and I tipped my head unconsciously to one side as I listened. It was almost like a machine, regular, clipped, stacked information falling like tetris to make up a whole picture. I saw the image of the man who couldn’t speak and understood that he was their prisoner.

“Well, we need a telepath,” he smiled calmly. Not a second had passed but my mood had shifted. This was way over my head.

“Why would you think I could help you? Who are SHIELD?” I asked, hoping my questions didn’t give away too much. Usually people didn’t guess straight away that I could hear everything- they thought I’d have to concentrate and rub my temples or something stupid.

“We are an intelligence organisation designed to manage the operations of gifted individuals with the aim to protect the population.” Images of databases, spy wear, secret missions, gun fights and paperwork shuffled rapidly through his mind. I saw the man with the eye patch repeated, Director Fury, and a woman with cropped red hair.

He smiled kindly at me, “If you have never used your powers for good before, we can offer you that chance.”

“Sounds dangerous.”

“Life generally is when you’re as talented as someone like you.”

“What do you know about people like me?”

“More than you would think.” ‘After speaking to gods like Loki and Thor and seeing the Hulk come to life why does she scare me a little? Guess it’s just creepy thinking someone can read you like a book…’

I stared down at the table to hide the immediate widening of my eyes. Those mysterious figures you heard about on the news, Thor, the Hulk, and he deals with them. What the hell would he want with me?

Jake reappeared in the room; he’d psyched himself up. “Do you want to take her with you? Cos I won’t let you.”

Coulson smiled benignly up at him, “We wouldn’t take her anywhere without her consent.” He turned to me, “you’ve done nothing wrong. We just need the help of a telepath.”

“Just the once.” I press him.

“Sure.” But his mind said no. Once they’ve seen what I can do there would be no going back.

“I’ll have to think about it.” I stood and held the door open for him.

“Don’t you want to know what we need you for?” he asked, eyebrows raised, then smiled wryly and pulled a business card out of his jacket pocket, handing it to me. “Of course, I forgot who I’m speaking to. Call us when you decide.”

“Sure…”

“But Miss Bellinger,” he paused at the door. “Don’t wait too long.”

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