For something a little bit new and different. Here's Riley's point of view from when he first met Kari. This takes place over the first few chapters of Crystallize.


Riley grumpily threw his bag in his locker, ignoring the chatter going on around him. Another day of still being on medical leave. He felt like it was never going to end. His arm ached with a new level of pain this morning. It was such a simple injury, yet it was a constant nagging ache keeping him out of the field.

What's worse is the medical was making him do the bullshit morning PT. He could get through it with his eyes shut. He really hated being surrounded by office workers, especially the giggling females who hounded the STRIKE members like it was a contest to see how many they could sleep with. The actual office duties weren't too bad, except today he'd be joined by infamous Jared Lyngley. The rumour was he'd killed a suspect out of anger instead of bringing him in for questioning. Riley didn't mind being stuck with Jared, but he had a nagging suspicion that he wouldn't exactly be helpful for their office duties either. With Bravo team gone for the next few weeks, Riley was feeling very out of place with himself right now. While he didn't envy his team slogging through the August heat in Baghdad, he'd give anything to be there bitching about it himself.

Riley had been so grouchy this morning he hadn't bothered to shave. He rolled out of bed, got dressed and came straight to work. That was one thing he enjoyed about being in SHIELD. No one cared that his hair was seriously unruly at the moment and he could go a few days without shaving without being told off for it. As long as he showed up to work, no one actually cared what anyone looked like.

He fought back an irritable sigh. Standing here contemplating about how scruffy he looked wasn't getting his ass down to PT. Rumlow might be his friend, but he'd still make him do chin ups and push ups until Riley's arms dropped off if he was late. The way his arm was feeling this morning, it would be an embarrassingly small amount of either of those two. Riley kicked his locked shut, almost feeling satisfied when it closed with a loud bang. Almost.

The walk to the outside exercise oval passed quickly and Riley found himself on the edge of the group, feeling out of sorts still. Besides Rumlow, he was the only STRIKE member attending the PT sessions at the moment. Riley briefly cursed his own shyness that stopped him heading over to the main group and joining in the lively conversation going on there. Though he did pick up a few bits and pieces of the conversation happening. Apparently some mutant had caused a problem on the weekend, which SHIELD was all over right now. Riley fought back a sigh and went back to ignoring the conversation. Whoever it was that got into trouble was probably sitting in the Fridge right now. He didn't feel the need to stand there and gossip about the poor person who's life was probably in ruins right now.

"You look fucking grumpy this morning," a semi familiar voice snapped Riley out of his thoughts.

As he looked up, Jackson, one of the guys from Charlie team was standing in front of him, looking as irritable as Riley was feeling.

"Hey man," Riley said, with a small rush of relief of having someone to talk to. "What happened to you?"

"Fell out of a Quinjet while rappelling down," Jackson replied with a frown and wince. "Landed on my back and screwed it up enough that I'm off duty for 4 weeks. This is the only thing I'm allowed to do. Hows your arm feeling?"

"Ouch." Riley winced in sympathy. He'd done that once as well, except he'd landed on his shoulder instead of back. "Arm is still sore as fuck, it's driving me mad."

Jackson opened his mouth to reply, but he frowned and quirked an eyebrow up instead. Before Riley could ask him what he was looking at, someone tapped him on the shoulder. Riley gritted his teeth, ready to avoid whoever it was that had just bothered him. Knowing his luck, it was the very persistent analyst who'd hadn't been shy about her attraction over the last few weeks.

The snap that was on Riley's lips died as soon as he turned to face the person who'd tapped him on the shoulder. It definitely wasn't the analyst. Instead it was a tall and very fit looking blonde female looking at him uncertainly. She had a vague familiarity about her, but Riley couldn't place it at all. She had dark blue eyes, high cheekbones and very kissable lips. Riley found himself lost for words staring at the very attractive woman in front of him.

"Hi, I'm Kari," the blonde said in a rush. "First day, Rumlow told me to keep up with you and not complain."

Riley found himself very awkwardly checking out the female in front of him. He couldn't stop himself and he inwardly cringed at how obvious he'd just been. Then another thought popped into his head. He was looking seriously scruffy right now. He couldn't even remember if he'd brushed his teeth this morning or not.

"Ummm, Hi," Riley managed to blurt out before the silence got too awkward. He unconsciously reached up, scrubbing a hand over the stubble that was starting to be a borderline beard. "Sorry I'm not normally this scruffy looking."

As soon as the words left his mouth, Riley wanted to smack himself in the face. Not only did he look like a mess, he felt like he sounded like a complete moron.

"Suits you," Kari said, smiling nervously.

Riley felt a hot blush start to crawl up his neck at her compliment. He was suddenly very grateful for his scruffy facial hair. It might cover the embarrassment he was currently feeling.

"Smooth man, real smooth," Jackson didn't hold back his amusement, or keep his voice down. Riley wanted to dig a hole and crawl into it. The first woman who'd caught his eye in months and he'd make a complete dick of himself in the first 5 minutes. The blush crawling up his neck quickly worked his way right up to his ears. His only saving grace was Kari giving him a sympathetic look. She looked vaguely embarrassed as well and very out of place.

"All right everyone, lets move out."

Riley was never so grateful to hear Rumlow's voice calling out across the crowd. Everyone around them picked up into a jog without another word. Riley did the same, with Kari falling into step beside him. Riley couldn't help but to watch her out of the corner of his eye, trying to place where he knew her face from. Her name wasn't very common and he swore he'd heard it from someone a few times. But other than that, she was a bit of a mystery. An attractive mystery. He forced himself not to stare as they jogged along. She kept up with him easily, barely breaking into a sweat and she didn't look at all winded by the time they finished the jog. It was obvious she was fit by just looking at her. But Riley was impressed by how easily she kept up and there wasn't even a murmur of complaint after the one mile run.

Wiping the sweat off his own face, Riley went to the chin up bar first. It was going to hurt the most, so he wanted to get it out of the way. Kari was standing there, looking at the chin up bar with a look of mild disgust on her face.

"Need a hand up?" Riley had no idea where the offer came from. His mouth activated without any thought process behind it at all. It wasn't like she couldn't reach. She was tall enough to easily get up onto the bars. His offer felt like it'd come across as being creepy instead of friendly.

"Please," Kari said, looking relieved.

Riley felt a rush of his own relief at her words. He gave her what he hoped to be a smile before stepping up and grabbing her by the hips. Riley was mildly surprised at how light she actually was she he boosted her onto the bar. He nearly threw her up too high but managed to control himself. He tried to squash down the thought that came roaring through his head. Having her very nicely formed ass right near his face wasn't helping those thoughts either. Riley quickly distracted himself before by jumping onto the bar next to her, purposely only using one arm so he didn't strain his bad arm. His other arm was his fucked shoulder, so it didn't make too much difference to his pain levels. Riley didn't want to admit, he may have felt like showing off a little as well. He wasn't the only one watching the newcomer of the group. She was strong as well as fit, pumping out the chin ups with ease. She was also doing her chin ups in a very similar style to most USAF people Riley knew. It only increased his curiosity about Kari.

"2 hands for beginners." Rumlow's smart ass comment snapped Riley back to reality.

Riley gave Rumlow a disgruntled expression, before swinging up his other arm and gripping the bar. The pain in his arm flared from its minor ache to a dull throb. Riley instantly shifted the weight off it.

"Come on, you won't get past your medical if you don't work that arm," Rumlow said firmly, catching onto what he was doing right away.

Riley grunted in acknowledgement and put his weight back onto his arm. It hurt, but he got through his chin ups and dropped to the ground. Kari was nearly finished hers, but Rumlow challenged her with a raised eyebrow.

"No, you can keep going," Rumlow said to Kari. He crossed his arms and made no room for arguments in his voice. "Until I say stop."

Riley bit back a smile at the look Kari shot at Rumlow. She may as well have announced to him 'Challenge accepted.' Rumlow wouldn't let her back down now until her arms fell off. Riley went over where he could do the rest of his workout while keeping an eye on her. As Riley went to drop to do his push ups, he caught a flash of red hair standing by the sidelines. Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow herself was watching what was going on in the PT session with great interest. Another curious piece of the puzzle about the newcomer.

As much as his arm hated him for it, Riley plowed through his push ups but took his time with the sit ups so he could keep watching Kari. She was on the push up matt with Rumlow standing over her keeping a close eye on what she was doing. Despite the sweat pouring off her and shaking arms, she never backed down until Rumlow said stop and called an end to the PT session. Kari got up, wiped her face off and sauntered off like she didn't have a care in the world about what just happened.

Without thinking about what he was doing, Riley followed her at a more sedate pace. Kari had stopped to talk to Jared Lyngley who'd appeared out of thin air, as he was known for doing. Natasha was gone, as far as Riley could tell. Not that he'd have the balls to go up and ask her why she was watching Kari. It wasn't any of his business either. He slowed down, pondering whether he should say something or not. Jared was standing there, so Riley thought he should at least say hello to him considering they'd be working together for the next few weeks. Then again, he was having a conversation with Kari and Riley thought he probably shouldn't interrupt. He went to walk past but found his feet slowing and mouth moving instead of going past them.

"Hey Jared," Riley found himself saying, mentally cringing at himself.

"Hey," Jared said instantly, looking over with a small smile, surprising the hell out of Riley. "Hows the arm feeling?"

"Better now there isn't a hole in it," Riley replied with a quiet laugh, resisting the urge to rub his now sore arm. "Do you two know each other?"

Riley mentally smacked himself at his question. He couldn't find his brain to mouth filter at all today. Standing next to each other, Kari and Jared looked nearly identical. Anyone with one working eye could easily tell they were related. His life would be so much better this morning if he was tongue tied and quiet, like he normally was around people he didn't know.

"My twin sister, Kari," Jared said, nodded his head in the direction of his sister. An almost sinister smirk appeared on his face, making Riley cringe for real this time. "Be nice, otherwise she'll have your balls as a trophy."

Riley didn't doubt that in the slightest. Despite looking embarrassed at what her brother had just said, she did look like she could inflict some serious damage if she wanted to.

"Ah," Riley fumbled for something else to say, shooting Kari what he hoped to be a genuine smile. The way it felt on his face was more like a grimace though. "No wonder you look alike. I better head in anyways, I'm still stuck on office duties."

Riley fought to keep a neutral expression on his face. He couldn't believe the dumb shit that was spewing out of his mouth. Jared would know he was on office duties with him. Riley knew Jared was put with him because he was the least likely person to smack Jared in the face if he lived up to his usual arrogant son of a bitch reputation.

"So am I." Jared pulled an expression of disgust. "I'll see you in there."

Riley turned to say something to Kari but found himself completely tongue tied. He wanted to say something witty and clever about her kicking ass in PT this morning. But nothing would come out.

"Have fun," was the only thing Riley could force out of his mouth. Feeling a little mortified at his lack of ability to come up with something witty or clever, he walked off.

"If you're going to go with a STRIKE guy, him I don't have a problem with," Jared's teasing words reached Riley's ears. Judging by the volume of Jared's voice, it was meant for him to hear it. Riley quickened his pace so he wouldn't have to hear Kari's reply. Riley didn't doubt she'd think he was an idiot and there'd be a very harsh rejection in there. He didn't have to heart to hear it this morning. Instead he went straight to the STRIKE locker room and into the first available shower. It was noisy with conversation, as was normal for this time of morning. Riley wasn't surprised that his jogging partner was the main gossip this morning.

"Did you see Jared's sister? She is fucking hot."

Riley couldn't place the voice, but he rolled his eyes as he started to lather himself up. He didn't want to stand in here and listen to the tasteless locker room talk. STRIKE had the highest population is single men within SHIELD. So there was a lot of tasteless locker room talk that went on.

"Pretty face, but I like my woman to have some kind of chest," someone else laughed. "The ass wasn't too bad though."

With a grunt to himself, Riley could concur to the ass comment. Kari did have a nice ass. If he was any less of a gentleman, he may have thought about having a grope while he lifted her onto the chin up bar.

"And lets not forget," Barton's voice rang out clearly across the bathroom. As soon as Barton spoke the entire bathroom went silent. It was a well known fact Jared and Barton were friends. "She's Jared little sister, so be very careful what you say about her. He wouldn't hesitate in making any of you disappear if he hears about it. She was also a F-22 pilot, so I wouldn't be surprised if she could kick most of your asses for the bullshit comments I'm hearing."

The topic immediately got changed to the baseball game from the weekend. Riley chuckled quietly under his breath, filing away the little tidbit of information about Kari. There were plenty of ex military in SHIELD and it was always a good conversation starter. He could ask her about her time in the military tomorrow during PT. There was a very specific mindset in specialised military branches, especially ones at the top of their game. Being an ex SEAL, Riley knew that mindset very well. He knew they could definitely have a good conversation. Feeling refreshed and determined about his plan for PT tomorrow, Riley got out of the shower and got dressed for the day. With a plan in mind to talk to the first woman to grab his attention in many months, Riley walked out of the locker room and onto his boring office duties with a bounce in his step.

The second Riley saw Kari in PT the next morning, all thoughts of the conversations he'd kept running through his head vanished. The effort of shaving, brushing his hair and taking a little bit of extra time to throw some cologne on was completely lost. He barely managed to mumbled a good morning before they started jogging. During the mile jog, Riley's mind kept screaming at him to say something. But he was completely tongue tied. By the time they both made it to the chin up bars, Riley finally managed to speak.

"Need a lift?"

"Sure."

Riley wasn't sure if it was his imagination, but he swore he saw a faint tinge of pink appear on her cheeks at her easy acceptance of his offer. It gave him a small sliver of courage to be able to smile at Kari and gather his thoughts for what to do next. As he jumped up on the chin up bar, he made sure that he was working both arms properly this time. His arm wasn't feeling as bad this morning. It didn't hurt that he was also showing off a little bit. Rumlow seemed to be slightly more merciful to Kari this morning. This time he made her switch to pull ups halfway through her set. Riley could hear the muttered Russian curses under her breath, giving him yet another surprise. Her Russian sounded flawless. Whoever had taught her had done a magnificent job.

The rest of the work out went smoothly and again, Riley found himself hanging back completely unsure of something to say. It wasn't until Kari stood on the edge of the field, biting her lip looking completely lost he gathered his courage.

"Lost already?" Riley asked, coming to stand beside her. His stomach wound itself into knots with nerves as he stood there waiting for her reply.

"I have no idea where the gym is," Kari's reply came out in a breathless laugh. She looked just as uncertain as Riley was feeling. "And I have to be there in 10 minutes for a hand to hand combat class. Which I'm going to suck at so this morning is going to be terrible."

Her words came out in such a rush, Riley only barely caught onto the sentence. Despite the forced laugh, she looked as embarrassed as Riley was feeling. Jared was nowhere to be seen. Riley was sure he'd seen Romanoff out of the corner of his eye earlier, but she was long gone now too. This was his perfect opportunity.

"I'll walk you there if you'd like?" Riley found himself asking before he could overthink the situation. "I'm in no hurry to sit at a desk all day"

"Thanks," Kari said with a smile, the relief obvious in her face.

Riley knew the feeling too well of how overwhelming the Triskelion could be. It'd taken him 2 months not to get lost on a daily basis when he first joined SHIELD. As they walked off in silence, Riley tried to think of something clever to say to her. He'd thought of a few million things yesterday, but right now his mind was a complete blank.

"So what happened to your arm?" Kari broke the silence first, much to Riley's relief.

"I got shot through my bicep." Riley tried not to pull a disgusted face at himself, or rub his arm. It'd been a really unlucky situation that had led him to getting shot. "Pretty stupid injury, but it's taking ages to heal up."

"Ouch," Kari said sympathetically, wrinkling her nose a little. Riley forced himself not to smile at the expression on her face. It was very cute. "How did that happen?"

"I put my arm up to fire at someone," Riley explained, going for the condensed version of the events. His hand absently went to his arm, rubbing the scar. "Didn't see the enemy on that side and he got me through the arm."

The truth was, Riley's nest had been compromised and he'd gotten pinned down without any backup. Riley barely remembered how everything exactly happened, but it'd been one hell of a fire fight and he was lucky to escape with nothing more than a bullet in the bicep. Even his team has expected to find a corpse, instead of Riley staggering down the slope with something that was little more than a flesh wound.

"I've never been shot so you've got one up on me," Kari looked like she was regretting her words as soon as they left her mouth. The expression of embarrassment and nerves on her face put Riley at ease a little bit more.

"I'd hope not," Riley said with a genuine smile on his face. "After all, weren't you a Raptor pilot?"

"That was me." Kari smiled back, though it didn't quite reach her eyes. She looked sad though she did well to hide it. "Not exactly a skill set I needed to learn, dodging bullets."

Riley wanted to comment about how she dodging bullets in a fighter jet sounded a hell of a lot more complicated than dodging bullets on the ground. But Kari looked upset when talking about her old career. Riley had the strangest feeling of never wanting to see that expression on her face again. It was such an odd and sudden feeling, he felt a little taken back for a few seconds. He could only give her a small chuckle, and a smile in her direction. They'd arrived at the gym, stopping at the double doors in front of them. Riley had barely noticed the walk here. The pretty blonde by his side was far more exciting than focusing on his surroundings.

"Have fun," Riley found himself lost for words again. He didn't want their conversation to end so suddenly. Right now he'd give anything for another 10 minutes to talk to her. Though she was smiling, she still looked sad. As if she was lost in her thoughts about her old job.

"I'll try," Kari said with a grimace, the good humour completely falling off her face. She turned and put her hand on the door, hesitating before pushing it open.

"Hey Kari?" Riley said quickly, making her pause and turn back around. Despite feeling like an idiot, he felt like he needed another few seconds with her otherwise his whole day would be ruined. He'd do anything to put a smile back on her pretty face. "If you need a hand with anything just let me know. I'm bored out of my mind at the moment and don't mind helping."

Riley knew he was babbling. He hated himself for letting his mouth run away on him and sounding like an idiot. But like the smile that came onto Kari's face was worth every second of embarrassment he was feeling. The genuine smile was like seeing the sun come out after a thunderstorm.

"Thanks."

Such a simple word and Riley found himself hopelessly hooked on the smile on the woman in front of him. After such a long time with all the bullshit that had happened with his ex, he'd finally found a woman that had more the piqued his interest. He could feel his own smile playing across his face as they looked at each other in comfortable silence. It was broken as quickly as it came by Kari clearing her throat.

"I better get in there," Kari said, a dusting of pink spread across her cheeks. Despite her words, she looked like she was having a hard time moving.

"Yeah, sorry." Riley rushed out. He needed to get to the office too. "See you at PT tomorrow."

The smile Kari flashed at him before stepping in the doors made Riley feel a little giddy. He knew she was way above his league. But that smile made him feel like the luckiest man in the world to have her attention, even if it was only for a few seconds.

Riley really hoped he'd catch a glimpse of Kari before PT tomorrow. Otherwise tomorrow morning was going to feel like an eternity away. He was so caught up in watching her disappear into the gym, he nearly ran straight into Natasha Romanoff. It was only Natasha's quick reflexes that stopped them from colliding.

"Sorry Romanoff," Riley said instantly, taking another step around her.

Natasha said nothing, but the quirk of her eyebrow and know it all smirk on her face said more than words could. She slipped into the gym silently, making Riley curious about what the hell she was actually doing. But it wasn't his business. Feeling lighter than he had in ages, Riley bounced back to the locker room to get changed for another boring day of office duties.

Jared was already in the office when Riley finally got there. Unlike yesterday, where Jared spent most of his morning idly tapping on the computer and constantly looking at his phone, he was actually typing this morning. Riley greeting him and poured himself a cup of coffee before settling down in front of his own computer. As soon as his ass hit the seat, his cell chimed as a text message came through. See the sender was Abby, Riley quickly opened the message.

I will give you anything you want if you can come over and get Alexi to sleep. Please?

"Jared, do you mind if I duck out for a few hours?" Riley asked. He didn't care what Jared's response was going to be, he'd go whether he liked it or not. He just didn't want to cause any friction so early on in their professional relationship.

"Nah, go for it," Jared said quickly, not bothering to look up from his computer screen. "I need a favour though."

Of course he did. Riley fought back the sigh of irritation that wanted to escape from him. He didn't know Jared that well, but he knew nothing would ever be simple around him.

"Sure." Riley gave in quickly.

"If anyone talks shit about Kari, just drop a subtle hint to Nat or Barton so the people talking shit can find themselves in a very unpleasant situation." The dead panned tone of Jared's voice made it hard to tell if he was joking or not. But when he looked up at Riley, his face was deadly serious. "The real reason she got kicked out of the Air Force and came over to SHIELD was because 2 fucking asshole in her squadron thought it'd be a fantastic idea to slip her a roofie and she lost control of her powers killing both of them when they tried to drag her off and rape her."

Riley felt his stomach turn at the harsh words spewing from Jared's mouth. He'd heard plenty of rumours in the short time Kari had been there. SHIELD was terrible for it. But the truth of why all of a sudden SHIELD snapped up a fighter pilot was a lot worse than he ever expected. Riley hadn't been paying attention the newest gossip, but he could only imagine what shit would be flying around right now. Being young and attractive, Kari would definitely be getting the worst kinds of rumours about her right now too.

"Are the two guys definitely dead?" Riley felt a surge of protectiveness. No one deserved that in their life. Riley hadn't thought about it much, but a female fighter pilot was a rarity. Kari would have worked her ass off to get where she was. Riley didn't doubt the offer to join SHIELD would have been a forced one. A few things started to fall into place about the mystery of Kari Lyngley at Jared's explanation.

"Very dead," Jared said, his tone and face both very neutral.

"Shame, I know some really good hiding places in the Mojave desert we could have spread their body parts around," Riley mused. He didn't even need to consider what he would have done if they weren't. People like that didn't deserve to live. His moral compass may have been compromised a few times in his Navy and SHIELD career. But getting rid of someone like two men who did that to Kari, wouldn't have made him lose a wink of sleep.

Jared didn't say anything for a good half a minute. Riley thought he may have stepped over the boundaries as the silence stretched on.

"Take all the time you need," Jared broke the silence with a smile. "I ducked off early yesterday so don't feel pressured to come back if you don't want to. Family problems?"

"No, just my god daughter not wanting to sleep," Riley said with a small chuckle, relief spreading throughout him. He felt like he'd just passed some sort of major test. Jared had just trusted him with something big and he wasn't going to let him down.

"Have fun with Alexi," Jared chuckled, the tension from before had disappeared completely.

"Always do," Riley chuckled with him, getting up and grabbing his phone and wallet. He was only mildly surprised to know that Jared knew that about him. But then again, nothing was ever a secret in SHIELD.

The drive to the Evans resident went quickly. As Riley pulled into the driveway, he could hear Alexi's wails before he turned his car off. Abby met him at the front door with a red faced and exhausted looking Alexi.

"Hey baby girl," Riley crooned, reaching out to take her into his arms. "What's all this fuss about?"

Alexi's wails immediately quietened down to quiet sobs at Riley's touch. She buried her face into Riley's shoulder, her fists bunching in his shirt.

"I hate you and love you all at the same time right now," Abby said with a sniff. She looked red eyed and teary herself. "Come inside and I'll make you a coffee."

"Come here," Riley said, pulling Abby into a hug before she could protest. Abby's body stiffened, like she was going to protest. But a second later she burst into tears herself, burying her face into Riley's chest.

"She wouldn't sleep and I couldn't do anything right to settle her down," Abby choked out between her sobs. "Why am I such a bad mother?"

"You aren't a bad mother," Riley soothed her, rubbing her back with his spare hand. Alexi's sobs had died down and he was able to shift her without fear of setting off another tantrum. "You just gave birth to a little demon who follows her father because he never sleeps either."

Abby chuckled wearily, her sobs quietening down as quickly as they had come on. Riley hugged her a little tighter. Evans had mentioned Abby had been diagnosed with post natal depression a month ago. But Abby being the stubborn woman she was refused to tell anyone or get any help for it. Riley was glad Abby trusted him enough to ring whenever it got rough. He might not be able to fix all her problems, but being there when she needed it was something he could definitely do.

"How about I make you some breakfast and a coffee?" Riley suggested gently. "I don't have to go back to work today. I'll watch Alexi for a few hours and you can have a nap."

Abby nodded, much to Riley's relief. He expected Abby to put up more of a fight or at least make some sort of fuss. By the time Riley made it into the kitchen, Alexi was fast asleep on his shoulder. Abby sat down at the kitchen table while Riley busied himself with coffee and scrambled eggs. Judging by the clean state of the kitchen, it looked like Abby had been living off whatever she could grab out of the cupboard.

"When was the last time you had a proper meal?" Riley asked as gently as he could, hoping Abby wouldn't take it as him being judgemental.

"Mum dropped a lasagne around yesterday," Abby explained, slumping down in her seat. "I've been eating it out of the container, so stop judging me."

Riley hid his smile by turning back to the scrambled eggs. He wouldn't ever judge Abby for eating food straight from a container. He did it more often than enough. Especially since he'd been injured. The accumulation of Chinese takeaway containers in his fridge was getting to the point of embarrassing. With Evans away on an extended mission, Abby needed all the help she could get. Riley came over nearly every other day of the week to make sure she had everything she needed.

The kitchen was quiet while Riley finished the scrambled eggs and coffee. Abby was barely awake until he put the coffee and scrambled eggs down in front of her. The smile on her face was nothing short of beaming. It reminded Riley a little of Kari's smile this morning. He couldn't help but remember that smile and how it made him feel earlier.

"What?" Abby's demanding question snapped him out of his little day dream.

"Nothing," Riley said quickly, sliding into his chair, being mindful not to jolt Alexi too much. It was a good thing she was small, otherwise it'd be quite a handful to juggle.

"Oh no way Riley, you don't get to sit there with a dreamy smile on your face and telling me its nothing, spill right this very second," Abby demanded, looking the most awake Riley had seen her in weeks.

"There's a new girl at work, she's cute," Riley tried to be as nonchalant as possible as he stirred his coffee.

"She's cute." Abby gave Riley a disbelieving look. "So because she's cute you're sitting there with a goofy smile on your face and that's the only reason?"

"Something like that," Riley said with a shrug. "She's Jared Lyngley's sister."

"Thats the hot teleporting guy isn't it?" Abby asked. Riley nodded in confirmation. "So, she's cute and you've said more than 5 words to her?"

"I walked her to the gym this morning," Riley supplied, feeling a little proud of himself. Very few people knew about everything that happened with Sarah and how Riley had crawled right back into his shell afterwards. Abby was one of those people who understood how hard it was for Riley to speak to women. Despite feeling like an idiot in front of Kari, having some sort of conversation with her was a huge step for him.

"What's her name?" Abby prodded. Her breakfast and coffee were forgotten as she grinned over at Riley.

"Kari." Riley felt his cheeks warm at the thought of her. He felt like a teenager with a silly crush. "She was a fighter pilot. Jared told me something bad happened and she lost control of her powers, so now she's with SHIELD."

"Poor kid," Abby said sympathetically, taking a sip of her coffee. "That's never a pretty situation."

Riley nodded in agreement. Abby would know, she and Troy had been together for a long time. She'd been with him throughout Evans' entire SHIELD career. There were plenty of stories about situations like Kari's that hadn't ended well for anyone involved.

"So, are you going to be brave and ask her out for a coffee?" Abby prodded gently. "Or a beer? She sounds like she'd be a beer type of girl."

"I wouldn't know." Riley felt his fragile confidence start to crack at the mere thought of it. Even if she didn't reject him, there was a myriad of problems that came with it. "What if she didn't like coffee? Her brother walks around in Armani suits, so maybe she has super expensive taste and taking her to JoJo's for a beer would offend her. I don't even know if she's single or not."

"Stop right there," Abby cut in while Riley took a breath. She was trying hard not to laugh at him. "How about baby steps first. Keep talking to her, see what you can find out. You don't need to jump into anything right away."

Riley took a deep breath and stopped the train of thought that was currently trying to derail his good mood.

"Her whole world was just turned upside down," Abby continued more gently. "Be her friend first. She'll probably appreciate that more than anything else right now."

"Good plan," Riley sighed quietly. He knew Abby was right. She always gave the best relationship advice. Riley hated himself for not listening to Abby when all the drama was Sarah was going on. Things might not have gotten as messy as they had if he'd listened to Abby.

As Riley scooped up his first forkful of scrambled eggs, Alexi started to stir with a whimper. Before Riley could say anything, a familiar bad smell wafted up to his nose. Riley wrinkled his nose and shifted his god daughter a little. He could feel the mess in her diaper against his arm. It was going to be one disgusting diaper change.

"Whoever is holding her, changes her," Abby said instantly, with a small smirk as she started to eat.

"I hate that rule," Riley grumbled in good nature as he got up. Truthfully, he didn't mind that much. Any chance to be with Alexi was worth whatever she threw at him. Or on him. "Eat your breakfast and then go get some sleep. I've got this under control for a few hours."

Riley ignored Abby's protests and made his way up to the nursery. Alexi had made such a mess in her diaper, Riley seriously considered taking her outside and hosing her down. She was happy and babbling away to Riley throughout the entire diaper change. By the time she was clean and they went back downstairs, Riley found Abby fast asleep in her recliner.

"I guess it's just you and me Munchkin," Riley said, shifting Alexi around so he could see he a little better. Alexi grinned up at him, reaching up to tug on Riley's messy hair. He managed to avoid her grabbing fingers as he settled down on the couch, turning the TV on and down low. There were definitely worse ways to spend his day. Riley kissed the top of Alexi's head, feeling happier than he had in months. Maybe getting shot wasn't such a bad thing after all. Both Abby and Alexi slept on and off during the day. Riley even got Alexi to bed at a reasonable hour and was able to get a hair cut on his way home.

The next morning Riley was 15 minutes early for PT. There was only a few people scattered around the field. Riley was surprised to find Kari lying on the ground near the chin up bars with her arm thrown over her eyes. He couldn't help himself but to take a few seconds to appreciate the woman lying on the ground. Her shirt had ridden up a little, exposing a flat and toned stomach. The skin tight compression pants hugged her legs, showing off the lithe muscular definition. Riley couldn't help but enjoy the view. He was an ass and leg man, he wasn't ashamed to admit that.

"Should I kick you if you start snoring?" Riley surprised himself with how easily the gentle tease came out.

"Only if it's loud or we have to move," Kari chuckled, taking her arm off her face, looking at up Riley. She looked tired, but positively giddy about whatever she'd been doing. "I'm dying. I had a night flight and I haven't been to bed yet. I was too excited to sleep."

Riley knew that feeling well. He'd done the same thing himself numerous times before missions, or during training. He dropped down to the ground next to Kari, hoping to get more about her flight. It was obviously something she loved doing, so Riley wanted to hear everything about it. She pulled herself up into a sitting position, close enough that their knees were nearly touching.

"How did it go?" Riley asked, looking over to Kari. Despite looking tired, she looked as gorgeous as ever.

"I only made one person throw up which was disappointing," Kari said with a cheeky laugh, the grin on her face growing at the memory. "Rumlow's team came with us and did a night parachute drop. I decided it'd be fun, so I jumped first."

It took Riley a few moments to process that he had indeed heard correctly on what she just said. He wasn't sure how he'd gotten so damn lucky to be sitting next to a woman like her and actually having a conversation.

"Has anyone told you that you're really cool?" Riley managed to get out, feeling a goofy lopsided grin spreading on his face. She was like a dream come true. "Like seriously cool. Next thing you'll be telling me is you know how to shoot and you drink beer."

It wasn't the smoothest thing he'd ever said to a woman. But Riley knew he wasn't dealing with the women he generally dated. Without even trying, he realised he'd just asked in a roundabout way one of the questions he needed to know.

"And pizza," Kari added with a brilliant smile. "You have to have pizza with beer. Heineken or Coronoa. Yeah I have to admit I'm not a flower and chocolate girl. It's more come over naked with beer and pizza type girl. I know how to shoot well enough not to embarrass myself."

Riley had to squash down the sudden mental image of Kari naked very quickly. His shorts were far too tight to be getting an inappropriate boner. He nearly didn't catch onto her saying she could shoot well enough not to embarrass herself. Riley had seen how well her twin could shoot, he didn't doubt it in the slightest that Kari could be a good shot too. The morning was working in his favour so well. He couldn't believe his luck. He finally found his balls and decided to prod for an answer to another question playing on his mind.

"Your boyfriend is a lucky man," Riley said with a small laugh, hoping it didn't come out like he was being a jerk. To cover any backlash that might come from that statement, he quickly added. "Have you been able to hit the range yet?"

It was a stupid question in Riley's mind. She'd only been in SHIELD a few days. Thankfully Kari didn't seem to mind either question.

"I don't have a boyfriend," Kari's reply was instant. "Chronically single here. Most guys found what I did for a job really intimidating. And no, hopefully they'll give me some range time soon."

Riley sent a mental thank you out to the universe for putting this perfect women next to him and having her single as well. He wanted to say all the men who were intimated by her job were losers and didn't deserve such an amazing woman. But he felt like that might be overstepping the boundaries a little too early right now. Abby was right that she needed a friend right now. Not him looking like he wanted to get into her pants.

"Chronically single," Riley couldn't help but laugh a little. It was a good term. "I like that, suits me as well. At least you'll fit in here at Operations. I think we have the highest rate of single people in any workplace in the world."

Riley had no idea what Kari would end up doing in SHIELD. Being a Quinjet pilot seemed like it was going to be a waste of her flying skills.

"So, I heard you were Navy before you joined SHIELD," Kari said, sounding a little nervous about the abrupt change in conversation. "What did you do?"

"Fucking Rumlow and his big mouth," Riley muttered quietly, hoping Kari wouldn't hear him. It was typical of Brock to meddle in his love life. For once, he may have been a little bit glad for it. He cleared his throat, trying to find a way to put this into words without sounding like he was bragging. "I was a SEAL. Spent 6 years in the Navy and then SHIELD decided I was good enough to show up on their radar. Made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and well here I am."

By the impressed look on Kari's face, Riley felt like he'd done a good enough job at being humble. The mission that Riley had done which caught SHIELD's eye had been nightmare inducing. He hated the fuss everyone had made over him after it. The Silver Star he'd earned out of that mission was locked away in a drawer at his Mom's place so he'd never have to see it.

"How so?" Kari asked curiously.

"I'm a good shot," Riley said with a small shrug and decided to steer this conversation away from him. "Besides, the money in SHIELD is heaps better."

"After seeing all the nice cars Rumlow's team was driving this morning, I don't doubt that in the slightest," Kari said, still smiling. Riley's mind instantly drifted to his own nice BMW sports car. It was kind of the norm to have a flashy vehicle if you were in STRIKE. "I can't wait to get my own pay, my car didn't come with me and there is no way I'm begging Jared to keep driving his."

"Like Jared drives anywhere," Riley couldn't help but snort in amusement. "I didn't even know he had a license until I saw him pull up in the garage the other day. What kind of a car are you thinking of getting?" Riley was surprised at how easily the conversation was flowing between them. Kari seemed relaxed and completely at ease next to him.

"Kawasaki Ninja motorbike." Kari's entire face lit up at the mention of her transport choice. "Brand new, I've been eyeing it off for months but I never went through with actually buying it. I had a motorbike before I joined the Air Force and then decided a car was a bit more practical, much to my Mom's relief. Now I don't care about practical and just want a fast bike"

"And in red so it goes faster?" Riley joked, but couldn't help the laughter bubbling out of him. Kari looked so happy and excited to be buying a crazy sports bike. Riley was trying really hard to get the mental picture of her in skin tight leather motorbike pants out of his head as well.

"Blue, my favourite colour," Kari corrected him, but was still grinning. "Red is Jared's thing. It's bad enough we're twins sometimes, we don't have to act exactly the same."

And the world thanks you for that," Riley laughed again. It seemed sibling rivalry was well and truly alive in the Lyngley family. Kari seemed like she didn't take her twin's shit at all and wouldn't be offended by much said about him. "Your brother is crazy. He's always in trouble for the stunts he pulls. He's nearly as bad as Hawkeye and Romanoff. Probably why they all get on so well."

Kari didn't get a chance to reply. Rumlow's voice rang out across the field, calling everyone to get up and moving. Riley sprung to his feet and before he could overthink himself, he offered his hand to Kari to help pull her up. To his surprise, she gratefully took it and let Riley pull her to her feet. Riley couldn't help but let his fingers linger against her hand a little bit longer than necessary as Kari got up. Riley hung back and jogged besides Kari, not wanting the conversation to stop. She seemed to be stiff and sore, taking a few moments to get into the swing of things. But Riley was happy to wait.

"So, what do you have planned for the rest of the day?" Riley asked as soon as they both found a rhythm to jogging. Maybe if she wasn't busy, he could ask her out for a beer.

"Sleep," Kari said, with a wry grin over towards him. Riley's plan of asking her out for a beer quickly faded, but he wasn't too disappointed. She did look really tired. "After my hand to hand class which is going to suck. Rollins doesn't like me at all."

Riley didn't like Jack Rollins either. He was a nasty shit when he wanted to be. It wasn't often Riley would speak badly of someone. But Rollins was one person who could really grate on his nerves.

"Rollins doesn't like anyone," Riley pointed out. A memory suddenly flashed into his head about why Rollins would have such a problem with Kari too. He nearly groaned in disgust but managed to hold it in. "Jared kind of slept with his girlfriend last year."

Riley had to give it to Kari. She didn't look at all surprised by his comment. So he kept going with the story.

"When Rollins found out, well it was a bit messy. Lets just say Jared was fucking lucky he had Barton and Romanoff with him and he can teleport to get his ass out of trouble."

Riley had been at the bar that night as well. As tough as Jared was, Rollins was also a mean son of a bitch and was very crafty. Some of the Echo team boys had joined in the fight as well. There had been a good amount of blood shed from both parties before the police arrived to break it up.

"Why am I not surprised?" Kari groaned with a look of defeat on her face. "Great, not only am I dealing with a fucking annoyed instructor. My slut of a brother just happened to steal his girlfriend too. I'm going to die."

"I find it hard to believe you can't hold your own," Riley cringed at his choice of words. It had meant to come out as a compliment, but ended up being very backhanded.

"That's the problem, I've never had to," Kari said, looking very frustrated with herself. "I mean, I'm skinny and I have no power behind me. And according to Rollins I can't even get a basic fighting stance down right let alone swing a good punch."

Riley knew her frustration too well. He wasn't a big, muscular guy and it'd taken him a long time to adapt at being good at hand to hand. He was about to open his mouth to give Kari some pointers before he was suddenly shoved out of the way. It took all of Riley's coordination not to fall flat on his ass at the sudden movement. Riley looked up with a scowl to see Jared in the middle of the track, causing a pile up of joggers around him. He'd grabbed Kari by the arm and looked very pissed off.

"Kari, if you ever touch my car again I'll break both your legs," Jared snapped at his twin sister. "Seriously, if you need a lift. Ask. Don't just touch my stuff."

Riley was about to jump in and defend Kari from her obnoxious brother. But Kari beat him to it. With a hard shove, she sent Jared reeling backwards. Riley saw her stick her foot out at the last second, causing Jared to trip over it and end up sprawled on his ass in the middle of the track. The silence from everyone was near deafening. Everyone that was on the field stopped to gape at the sight of Jared Lyngley on his ass.

"Just remember I know what you're afraid of, be nice," Kari said in perfect Russian, scowling down at her twin. Riley had to cover his face to his the grin on his face. It wasn't often someone like Jared got put in his place when he was being an asshole.

"You're so on," Jared's rapid Russian was nearly too quick for Riley to understand. The evil smirk on his face could only mean trouble though. "Check your bed tonight. Bring my car back in one piece, or else."

In an instant Jared was gone. Riley blinked at the space where he'd been, shaking his head a little. No matter how many time he saw it, he'd never get used to things like that. But he couldn't help but give Kari a triumphant smirk. The look of annoyance fell off Kari's face and she looked very pleased with herself. Riley waited for her to start jogging again before falling into step next to her.

"My Russian teacher would have been very proud of your accent," Riley switched to his own inferior Russian. Though he could speak it nearly fluently, he could never perfect the accent and always sounded like a tourist. Kari and Jared both spoke it like native speakers. "Probably not the best language to speak around here. It's the most spoken foreign language in SHIELD."

Kari's look of surprise before she burst out laughing made Riley grin like a fool. She had a pretty laugh and Riley suddenly found himself wanting to be the one who made her laugh. He couldn't help but to laugh with her.

"Right," Kari said around her laughter and back in English. "Remind me next time to choose another language to yell at him in. Something nice and obscure like Icelandic."

"Or Latin," Riley got his own laughter under control. He knew Romanoff was found of spewing off shit in Latin to piss people off. "Nobody speaks Latin. Then again, why Icelandic? Obscure doesn't quite cover that."

Their run was nearly over. Riley felt a stab of disappointment that their morning conversation was about to be cut off again. Kari's smile and laughter throughout their conversation had made him feel more alive than he had been in months.

"Because its long, complicated and sounds awesome when you swear in it," Kari explained with a bright smile. "I can teach you a few phrases if you'd like."

There is was. Riley's perfect opening to asking her out for a beer or coffee. But his mouth wouldn't form the words to ask. Riley mentally smacked himself, but kept smiling on the outside. Maybe it was a sign to not ask right now. If every morning was going to be like this for PT, he wasn't going to complain.

"I don't know if my brain can handle another language," Riley admitted with a small laugh. Despite his disappointment in himself for not asking, what he said wasn't a lie. "My brain is bad enough for mixing English and Russian together on a bad day."

Before Kari could reply, their run was over. Riley looked around in disappointment. But Kari went straight for the chin up bar and he couldn't help but to follow. He noticed Rumlow watching him out of the corner of his eye with a very pleased smirk on his face.

"Want a lift?" Riley found himself asking, hoping the answer would be the same as the last 2 days.

"Yes please," Kari's reply was a little too quick to be normal. Riley forced himself not to grin like an idiot as he gripped her hips and effortlessly lifted her up. As his hands left her hips, Riley had a realisation hit him as hard as a freight train.

He'd just fallen head over heels for possibly the most unobtainable girl he could ever meet. But judging by the way Kari was watching him out of the corner of her eye, with the dusting of pink hue across her cheeks, Riley had hope it was definitely being returned.

His arm didn't hurt at all as he jumped up onto the chin up bar. He could be patient and take Abby's advice. Abby hadn't been wrong before, so Riley would be patient and hope for the best. Maybe the universe was finally paying him back after all the bad shit that had happened in his life over the last few years.

Edited to add, I accidentally deleted this chapter when I was updating a few typos I'd missed. Sorry everyone for thinking it was a new one!

Authors Note

So, its been a year since Riley died and I was feeling nostalgic. I hope everyone enjoyed this longer than I expected insight into Riley.

I promise the next update to Crystallize is coming within the next few days. I've been unwell again and I only have enough energy to do Uni work or write, so sorry guys, Uni is a little bit more important right now. I have my specialist appointments coming up soon, so hopefully get to the bottom of my problems and give me some energy back!

As always, please review. Your reviews mean the world to me and I love every single one of them. See you all in a few days when the next update for Crystallize comes out!