Title: Why SHIELD Has No Fraternization Policy by amanuensis1
Pairing, Characters: Clint Barton/Phil Coulson; Nick Fury, Natasha Romanov
Categories: Humor, Fix-It Fic, Sober Dénouement
Summary: Nick Fury's orientation for new recruits has a feature that's kept under wraps. (Fury's good at burying other secrets, too.)
A/N: Dear xsnarkasaurus, I hope you enjoy this! Went with your fondness for smart-ass banter. Many thanks to wonderbeta cluegirl.
Read "Why SHIELD Has No Fraternization Policy" on AO3
"You cannot still be in bed."
"Go away, Tasha."
"Is my ringtone still the Powerpuff Girls Theme?"
"Changed it to Hawaii 5-0 just to confuse. Tash, it's Thursday. 'M fucking sleeping in."
"It's Thursday the tenth."
"...shit. I'm up! What time--oh, you bitch, it's quarter six, I've got hours."
"You're welcome, early bird."
"Ha ha. Changing your ringtone to Copacabana just for that."
"I just love hearing that panic in your voice. Best part of my week."
"Fuck you too, gorgeous. I gotta shower. You gonna be there today?"
"Watching every second of it from the back as usual. Taking video."
"Like Fury would let a camera in that room."
"Fury knows better than to try to search me."
"I want video of that when he does."
"Go shower, hot buns. You should skip shaving, though. You're even better-looking stubbly."
"Hey, SHIELD's got some regulations."
Kaminsky stood on Clint's left, while Delacruz was on his right. Clint had tried to find out if there was a lottery, a rotation, or a favors list that dictated which two agents got to come with him to Fury's quarterly orientation for recruits, but his team had way too much fun keeping Clint in the dark on that one. Coulson said the same thing about the selection of the two senior agents who flanked him for this meeting--his peers wouldn't tell him, so he didn't know either--but Clint was pretty sure that had to be bullshit. Even the combined forces of SHIELD couldn't keep a secret from Agent Phil Coulson.
Natasha claimed she knew both systems, but she wasn't giving that knowledge up without some damn good compensation. Maybe he'd ply her with the gingersnaps this Christmas, the kind he made with bacon grease. She went nuts for those.
And there was Natasha now, slipping into the back of the room as promised, just at the same time Fury himself strode straight up the middle aisle of the room, in what was not-so-privately called Fury's Bridezilla of Badass entrance. Reaching the front, Fury pivoted to fix every recruit in the room with a glare from his single eye, his arms akimbo and his black leather duster hanging in a perfect frame around him--Clint happened to know the hem of the thing was weighted with lead pellets to get that effect.
Twenty-seven raw recruits, not two weeks into their training probation with SHIELD, stared straight back at Fury. Clint knew that the ones with that little trace of sweat on their upper lips right now were the ones you bet on to make it through.
Those were the smart ones.
Across the room from Clint, Coulson was flanked by--okay, whatever method Coulson's buddies were using to choose, it wasn't a rotation system, because that was goddamn Sitwell on Phil's right three times in a row now. He couldn't be pulling rank to get it; Coulson would have had him by the balls if he'd tried that. Which left Clint to wonder what kind of favors Sitwell had been trading. Not gingersnaps. And with the season the Jets were having, Sitwell's usual bribe of game tickets wasn't going to be cutting it this year.
Clint allowed himself another glance Coulson's way. Through two layers of nonreflective antiglare shades--his and Coulson's--Clint wasn't going to catch his eye, but he could still see the twitch at the corner of Phil's mouth, the one that screamed Behave your ass, Barton. That same twitch was the closest thing Phil was going to give him to a smile right now. He gave his own right back at Phil, too small for anyone but the other agents to catch it: a cocky Don't I always, sir? for those who knew to look. Then Clint shifted his eyes back where they belonged: following Fury, to watch the fun.
"For those of you who have not met me," Fury was using that slow deliberate cadence of his, the one that said I am not even using contractions right now because experience has taught me how completely I am surrounded by morons, "I am Director Fury. That would be all of you in the cheap seats here--" his glare got even flintier-- "because if you had met me in the past two weeks it would be because you had done something so supremely stupid that you have already been dropped. The alternative would be that you did something exceptionally well and got my notice because of it. The latter--" another pause, daring the assembled to remember the distinction between former and latter in their director's presence-- "has not happened in four years of new recruits. I expect that pattern to continue."
Clint's expression didn't change, of course, but he let his inner quota of smug glut itself a little. He'd joined SHIELD five years ago and, yes, he'd met Director Fury within three days of starting his own probationary course, thank you very much. Not for doing anything stupid--well, not for the stupid things he'd done in addition to what had actually drawn Fury's notice.
Fury's face had dropped the glare in favor of an old-fashioned, pure drill sergeant funk of god-help-us-all exasperation. "I am not here to waste my time intimidating you, pep talking you, insulting you, or coddling you. I have people to do that." Fury folded his arms. "Those people have been using those tactics on you since you arrived. You know these tactics, you have had them thrown at you minute by minute, and you have managed to get this far in your probationary period without dropping dead from unbearable emotional distress." Each of those last three words got their own zip code, they were pronounced with such contempt. "Some of you may have wet yourselves in fear during this time, but I do not hold this against anyone. Everyone's laundry gets mixed in with everyone else's; we do not need to know."
Contrary to what was popular belief, only a small subset of SHIELD's recruits had military backgrounds. Still, you didn't get this far only to crack in the first minutes of Fury's speech; everyone in the room was doing a fair job of keeping their version of a stony face. Some actually looked relaxed, though others were keeping their expressions still by way of a set tightness to their mouths that probably resembled the assholes of their owners as well.
Fury stepped forward; Clint was pretty sure the recruits on that side of the room had no idea that every one of them flinched away visibly. Christ, this was fun. "I am here at this stage of your orientation," Fury continued, "for one particular reason: to make very, very plain SHIELD's unorthodox lack of a fraternization policy." The asshole-tightening in the room was nearly audible.
"When you joined," Fury's single-pupilled death glare had returned, and it traveled around the room, fixing on half a dozen sets of eyes, all of which got a little more black with fear, "you were told that SHIELD does not adhere to the United States military's former Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. That is not the full truth." Clint watched for any distressed tells on the faces in the room, but Fury wasn't pausing. "If Don't Ask, Don't Tell were a euphemism for mind your own goddamn business, SHIELD would support it as a policy. SHIELD prefers a code of Don't See, Don't Hear, Don't Care.
"SHIELD by now almost certainly knows your sexual orientation, sexual history, record of STDs, gender identity, list of perversions, and lubricant flavor of choice even better than you do at this moment." There went a couple of cracks in the stone faces, panic or snicker pretty well divided. "Do not doubt that we will use this information as much as it will benefit your maximum potential as an asset of SHIELD. However, SHIELD cannot be said to care, if by care you mean assign penalties. There are none. It doesn't matter if your partner of preference clicks the male, female, both, or other tickybox on the What Harry Potter House Do You Belong In web quiz; I do not care what's under your Hufflepuff boyfriend's skirt.
"We also do not care if the person you call lovemuffin is even human. Alien, Atlantean, ameboid, amphibian, arthropod, arachnid, astral projection--" hey, that one was new in the list, Clint noted; was that based on anything recent he hadn't heard about?-- "or artificial intelligence in an android body--look, I'm still on the goddamn As, and I am personally telling you that I do not give a shit." Fury had his hands on his hips again. "We find the specification of appendage/orifice interface--" the words got the same distinct enunciation as unbearable emotional distress had, but managed to sound like Fury had personally invented and was deadly serious about the term-- "to be a joke these days, and not remotely, distantly, vaguely relevant to your ability to do your fucking job. Is. That. CLEAR."
It wasn't pretty enough to be called a chorus, or neat enough to be called unison, but the twenty-seven Yes, sirs sounded pretty damn heartfelt to Clint.
Fury gave one nod of his head that managed to communicate his lack of faith all the same. "Onward. Some of you probably came to SHIELD thinking it didn't matter what you jerk off to in your heads, because SHIELD was gonna make sure you never had time to get at it anyway. Wrong." Fury's face shifted again, to a look of patience that was probably going to scare the shit out of everyone even more than the death glare had. "SHIELD recognizes that it is the nature of people to form attachments. Sometimes those attachments take the form of places, like a sweet little two-bedroom two-bath cottage in Ogunquit. Sometimes it's things, like a vintage near-mint set of Captain America trading cards." Near-mint his ass; Coulson was lucky if that set netted a Very Good rating, whatever Phil protested. Clint couldn't get a rise out of him any more with his taunts of You got scaaaamed!, though. "And a significant percentage of the time, no big surprise, those attachments are other people. SHIELD is not so stupid to think it can change human nature, not if it wants to keep you anything like human. You know what? We do. And we took you as you are. If you are one of those who functions better, heals better, and does your job better because you have someone to buy you roses and blow you on your birthday, then by all fucking means, do whatever it takes to do your job better.
"Which leads me to the corollary," Fury said in that same please tell me everyone here is not too dumb to live singsong that sounded nothing like a math teacher talking about corollaries. "Fraternization with other SHIELD agents, which includes bar-hopping, tea parties, Tupperware parties--" Clint thought a few of the newbies were young enough to have no idea what those were or what Tupperware was-- "swapping spit, swapping other bodily fluids, and the aforementioned appendage/orifice interfacing--" the man could make that sound even dirtier than "fucking"; Clint thought Phil probably could too; he'd have to ask him to try that phrase on for size sometime-- "again, we do not care. Knock yourselves out. Literally, if erotic aphyxiation's your goddamn thing. People form attachments, see previous rule. Those attachments are likely to result with people you're spending six-sevenths, and a helluva lot of time seven-sevenths, of your waking hours with. And a helluva lot of time your sleeping hours. So we expect this. We know that it happens by preference because bedpartners like to share, and there will be days when you want that bedpartner to be someone who understands exactly what the fuck you do every day to keep the free world free." Fury folded his arms again in a way that looked like a full-body sigh. "We are saying that we know that most of you are gonna fuck a fellow agent someday, and we would damn well rather you fuck them and not waste your energy trying to hide the damn come stains. How y'all doing understanding that one? You good?"
The Yes, sirs were a little late in coming this time, as most of the recruits were nodding their heads instead, momentarily forgetting how the fuck to talk. Yeah, that was about par for the course at this point, Clint thought.
"Okay. Then try this one. There are also no restrictions regarding the pay grade, clearance level, authority level, or subordinate or superior level of the agent you wanna fuck, fraternize, or have that goddamn tea party with. We decided this because restricting that's always had such a stellar track record of organizational success in the past. And yeah, for those of you who are waiting for me to laugh and yell 'April Fool, motherfuckers,' that right there was the one piece of sarcasm I'm actually springing on you. It doesn't fucking work, so we let that one go by too. Not gonna work any more than the idea we can turn you all into soulless, sexless little drones and still get useful agents out of you. Does that present potential other problems, if we've got two agents of different rank wanting to get freaky with each other at the Hanukkah party? Hell yeah. So let's focus on that instead."
Fury reached into the breast of his duster and extracted a smartphone identical to the reduced-tech versions-- well, reduced for SHIELD levels of tech-- issued to the recruits. He held it up like a villain's doomsday device remote and pressed a single button. Twenty-seven queeps chirped through the room, along with twenty-seven varieties of guilty flinches; "phones on silent" was a universal requirement outside of personal quarters. Fury's demonstration was deliberately programmed to override the setting, of course.
"Your contact lists," Fury pronounced, "have just been updated with a new number. The number is mine. The listing is 'Lemon Cream Fajita,' because my colleague Agent Coulson has a bizarre sense of humor, which you will all discover soon enough.
"You have all been given my personal number on your contact lists because I think it's the simplest way to show you all that despite all of our non-policies on whom you can bang, we do have a policy that prohibits inter-rank abuse of your fellow agents, and that I take it with a fuckload of seriousness. If at any time in your careers it is offered, implied, suggested, innuendo'ed, et cetera--" Fury gave the Latin every one of its four syllables-- "that your company, your friendliness, your participation in non-SHIELD leisure time, your affections, your wardrobe or lack of it, the proximity of your goodies to another person's, et cetera again, may be beneficial to your rise through the ranks of SHIELD, then your assignment is this. You take that phone of yours, you speak the words 'Lemon Cream Fajita' into it, and you wait for me to pick up. And I will promise you a much faster rise through the ranks than anyone else ever could, because I will fire the sonuvabitch who pulls that shit in my organization, and I will give you their job. Assuming you want it." Yeah, Clint thought; not always the favorite outcome.
Fury continued: "Nobody gets talked into so much as a nip slip for favors at SHIELD, goddammit. It should also go without saying, but I am not naive enough to think that it will, that any false accusations of this kind of behavior, believe me, I will know--" and that was easy enough for Fury to promise; recruits' phones had constant audio and video recording even if you took the batteries out, disassembled the fuckers, and even broke 'em into pieces, not to mention the surveillance gadgetry the newbies didn't even know about-- "will get your ass busted so fast and so hard and so goddamn literally, you'll spend the rest of your functional lives in a fucking nursing home staring at reality TV and trying to suck down your meals though a bendy straw. Same ass-busting goes for any of you who think it's funny to prank dial me at three a.m. and fuck up my beauty sleep, so do not say you weren't fucking warned."
And if any one of the recruits doubted Fury meant it, they really were just too stupid to live. Of course, that hadn't prevented the particularly clever ones--yeah, Clint was counting himself, but, so what the fuck, it was true--from making funnier and, most importantly, non-traceable three a.m. pranks on their director over the years. Hell, even Fury knew that saying that aloud was asking for it to happen. Clint still grinned when he remembered the bioluminescent airborne turtles; he hoped someone had found the little guys good homes.
Whoa, not the time to let his mind wander. His part was coming up.
"Now I said earlier," Fury was continuing, "that I figure some of you are still waiting for the other goddamn shoe to drop, or for me to do a little pirouette and say, 'Nope, just kidding, don't tell me you special little sunflowers actually fell for all that touchy-feely bullshit.'" Hands on his hips again, Fury looked as far from a pirouette as you could get. "Not gonna happen. Feel free to fraternize, fondle, frot, fornicate...do I need to go to the most obvious 'F' word?" A couple of jerky head-shakes "no" from the recruits. "What you do, you do, and what other people do, you pay no goddamn attention." Fury's face tilted skyward in the eyeroll of all eyerolls. "Because of the mandatory sessions on education that some hand-holding, spoon-feeding, pearl-clutching government asshole thought was a good idea to institute at all levels of tax-funded organizations, I have learned, goodness me, that you precious sweet peas learn best with the use of visual aids. Therefore for those of you still might not get it, I have enlisted two of SHIELD's finest to illustrate today's lesson. Enjoy, if you will, this little play. Agent Coulson."
"Director." Clint knew he was imagining the extra burr in Coulson's usual husky voice, but it got to him all the same.
Clint barked it: "Sir." The recruits' eyes traveled back and forth from him to Coulson like a tennis match.
"If you would, gentlemen." Fury took a step back and instantly faded into the background like someone had set up a goddamn invisibility field. How Fury managed that was something Clint still hadn't been quite able to copy.
Didn't matter. Center stage time for him now. Coulson stepped forward; Clint did the same a deliberate moment after.
They met in the middle. Clint imagined he could smell Coulson's anticipation sweat already; Clint himself was hard-pressed to keep the eager spring out of his step, not to mention the other eager spring already threatening to make him grin and mess up the act. Wasn't as if you could blame him.
Phil had turned to face the recruits, hands folded, expression still its usual rock behind his shades. Clint was holding position a few feet away, and pulled his own shades off. Natasha had told him how much fun it was to watch his eyes during this, even if she said he couldn't act for shit.
The script never stayed entirely the same, partly because it was so much fun to try to make Phil break character. Coulson by agreement got to speak first. "Barton."
"Sir," Clint said, neutral as possible.
"Didn't expect to see you still here," Phil said without turning, or changing expression. "Debrief's over."
"Yeah, well," Clint shrugged. "I didn't have anywhere else to be."
Phil harrumphed softly in an I am bitterly disappointed in you sniff that would make a lesser man fall sobbing and beg for forgiveness. "Wouldn't know it, from the way you try to slip out of debriefing as soon as you can."
Coulson always managed to get the "taming the rebellious junior agent" element into this. Said it upped the hotness factor; Clint figured Natasha had put him up to it. Clint, good boy at heart that he was, obliged. "I like to take care of my gear myself, sir. Weapons dispatch always messes up my ordering system."
"There's a reason for the ordering system set in place by Weapons, agent. You might have to work with another agent's gear in the field."
"I have, sir. I know how to manage."
"I'm aware that you do." Oh, Clint wasn't imagining that; that was throatier than normal. Yeah, he'd just bet Phil's folded hands were concealing a matching eager spring, fuck yeah.
Clint cleared his own throat. "This isn't turning into a scolding, is it, sir?"
"It is not, agent." The throatiness receded in just a hint of a regretful sigh.
"Well, that's good. Or this could get awkward."
The smallest pause. "What would be awkward?"
"I thought it was a good opportunity to tell you how very attractive I find you, sir."
This time Coulson's pause had a head tilt to go with it, and a little bit of brow-furrow. Clint wondered if any of the riveted recruits found that as sexy as he did. Christ, he was so fucking lucky. "Is that true, Barton?" asked Phil.
"Yes, sir. Director Fury'd have my balls if I was making a joke at your expense. Wouldn't be funny at all. I like my balls."
Clint knew he could trust Phil not to go for the obvious joke. Might be fun one day if he did.
Today wasn't that day. Phil nodded slowly. "Maybe you'd better be a little more specific. You wouldn't want to be responsible for a misunderstanding."
"Well, sir." Clint cocked his own head. "I've been thinking for some time that I'd really like to get my tongue down your throat, and my hands all over that gorgeous ass of yours, and if you'd like to return the favor I wouldn't mind seeing where a little less clothing could take the two of us." An exaggerated shrug. "That pretty clear?"
Phil inhaled slowly through his nose; it was the only sound in the room. "I'd say that's going a long way to removing any chance of a misunderstanding."
"That's a relief, sir." Nope, no smirks at all on the faces of the recruits. Wide eyes, hell yes.
And Natasha said he couldn't act.
Phil pulled his own shades off, folded them and tucked them into his breast pocket even as he took a step closer. "Barton, I've been harboring what I thought was an unhealthy fascination with your mouth for months. I think we ought to give this a try."
"You've made my day, sir."
Phil put out a hand, caught Clint's chin in his fingers. "Think you'd better drop the sir for the next little while."
Clint grinned and then opened his mouth as he let Phil do the leaning in. Phil tugged on his chin, pulling him forward into the slow suck of their mouths together, and, yeah, that tight ache in Clint's groin popped into a full-fledged hard-on just like that. Yeah, so, he'd never pegged himself as an exhibitionist like this, but, thirty-three pairs of eyes, twenty-seven of them fresh and minty, on him and Phil sucking face and groping like two teenagers in a parking lot...guess that kind of kink had a real low threshhold for awesome.
Clint shoved one gloved hand into Phil's hair, and the other curled around Phil's hip to clutch at that aforementioned gorgeous, compact ass of his. That earned him a groan from Phil. They had a rule that neither one of them got to give in to making noise unless it was real; nothing worse than ruining Fury's fucked-up demonstration with cheap-ass porno noises. Clint huffed through his nose in satisfaction, felt Phil's hand move over his butt in return and pull him in so that his dick bumped against the answering bulge of Phil's; the leather of Clint's glove creaked and nearly crushed its handful of skullbone beneath it.
Once, Clint knew, Phil had asked Fury if he wanted some alternates for his sweet little freakshow of a display, like a little girl-on-girl liplock once in a while? Which--even though losing the chance to perform with Phil like this would have earned Clint's protests if he'd known Phil was asking--Clint had to admit would have been pretty sweet to watch. According to Phil, Fury had just muttered something about fucking lipstick smears and mess. Clint was pretty sure that had nothing to do with it, though. Fury needed to shake up expectations and he wasn't going to get that in the same way by asking Natasha and Agent Hill to go at it in mascara and catsuits. (What? He could dream.)
They were under Fury's orders to keep it short--in Fury's words, give the greenies a break; don't make them think you're gonna whip out the mango-flavored condoms and go at it right there. Clint let Phil choose the moment to break it off, and Phil took his time all the same--nothing like knowing your boyfriend's a show-off sicko just like you, hooray--planting a smaller, gentler promise of a kiss on Clint's lips just after; damn if that didn't have Clint's prick jumping even more, making it forget it wasn't actually going to be getting any just yet. Probably wasn't going to have to wait all the way until they hit their apartment tonight, though; Phil was sometimes willing to break their "not on base" rules on Fury's orientation days. Nice to have a cheat like this once in a while. "I'd call that a successful try," Phil said.
"Yyyeah. Sounds right." He let himself sag a little against Phil, because he could so hell yeah.
"That part about less clothing..." Phil said, his hands taking a solid hold of Clint's biceps, "...let's see if we get that far tonight." Phil pushed him back just far enough so that they could look at each other. "Dinner, my place? I'll cook."
"Depends," Clint drawled. "What are you cooking?"
Phil's mouth quirked. "Pasta's quick."
"Quick is good."
Fury, who knew an And, scene! line when he heard one, cut in. "Gentlemen, thank you."
Deceptively quick, Clint and Phil separated, taking a moment to groom: Phil adjusted his tie and lapels, shot his cuffs; Clint just ran his fingers through his hair. (Fury might be making excuses, but he was right that it was a lot neater without lipstick.) A moment after that, both of them had their shades firmly in place, standing completely still with their hands (Phil) and arms (Clint) folded as if they weren't both willing their erections down with superhuman strength. Natasha, in back, wasn't even trying to hide her grin.
Fury strode forward again, and Clint saw every eye shift back to him as he shoved that posture of unobtrusive away from him like it offended. His gaze traveled over the recruits again. "Laskowitz," he said.
One of the recruits answered, "Yes, sir." His voice almost didn't even crack.
"Can you please tell me what it was you just witnessed in this room?"
Clint waited. Laskowitz looked as though he'd pop if you poked him with a pin, but at last the newbie swallowed and said, "I...not a thing, sir."
Fury's grin at this moment was probably more frightening than his previous scowl. "Well, bleach me blond and call me Marilyn, we actually have some quick goddamn learners in this group. Good for you, Laskowitz." Laskowitz's face was instantly covered in a visible sheen of sweat. Fury's praise was not an easy thing to survive, Clint knew.
"Sir?" A hand had gone up in the front row, a dark-haired girl whose black horn rims didn't disguise the fact that she was pretty cute. "Is it possible that we could not see that one more time?"
Fury's smile didn't falter in the scattered sputters of laughter. Clint was going to have to find out that one's name. He'd just bet she'd be one of the 3 a.m. pranksters.
Six months later
He'd saved the world.
That was what they were calling it. Him and Tasha, fighting alongside Stark in his suit, Banner in green...frozen Captain fucking America and an alien they were calling a thunder god, could it possibly get any more fucked up than that?
Except that it could. Except that the thunder god's brother had picked apart Clint's brain like macaroni, mind-fucked him in two seconds flat like you couldn't do to the rankest amateur with a month of beatings, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. Turned him like a motherfucking pancake, and Clint had been the one trying to fuck up the world in the first place, a one-man tactical taskforce bent on destroying SHIELD and everything he'd fought alongside for five fucking years. All because of an alien bastard named Loki.
And Fury had let him go and save the world, after Natasha had knocked the son of a bitch out of him.
By all rights Clint knew he should be in the Helicarrier brig, awaiting transfer without trial to the deepest shitpit of a prison Fury could find for traitors. Instead, for nearly thirty-six hours after the battle over Manhattan, he'd been walking around a free man. He could have bolted. Should have bolted. But couldn't. Not just because of that tidbit of top secret Fury had sent to him and Natasha, while aliens still lay cooling in the streets and Stark was trying to drag the five of them off to his greasy diner find. Clint was damn well going to own up to his fuckups, just like he'd been trained.
That didn't stop his palms and his feet from being pure ice blocks, dripping cold sweat down his fingers, into his shoes, as he went where he'd been commanded: to Fury's office--they hadn't even put an escort on him--leaving him to puzzle out if Fury was going to be satisfied with his resignation, or if Clint was going to get a reassignment that make him wish to God it had been the prison shitpit after all.
It wouldn't be Antarctica. Shit, the base at Antarctica was way too dangerous to reassign former hostiles, and way too cushy.
The door beeped to admit him. Fury was alone, his back to Clint, hands clasped behind him as he studied a readout that had Agent Krester's face on it. Krester, who'd been stolen by Loki at the same time he'd taken Clint and Selvig...except Krester hadn't been lucky enough to get knocked on the head and cured. They'd found him at the base of Stark Tower, dead in wreckage where he'd been defending the Tesseract on Loki's orders.
Clint knew that posture of Fury's; he'd seen it make agents and civilians alike tremble. Clint wasn't trembling--no point, when you already knew the outcome wasn't going to be good--but the thought did have him wondering which of the two groups he'd find himself in at the end of this.
Maybe neither. Felon wasn't either one.
No point in prolonging this. Clint swallowed, then spoke. "My resignation will be in your hands in an hour if that's how you want this to go, sir. Half an hour if that's too long."
Fury turned his head to give Clint The Profile. The Profile was always the left one, so that you got the side with the eyepatch and still couldn't read shit off him. "But you know that's too good for you, don't you, agent."
Clint didn't bother to swallow this time. "Yes, sir. I'm ready to surrender myself quietly, as well."
Fury snorted. Clint couldn't tell if that was a good sign or not.
Fury turned to face Clint, still with his hands folded behind him. The single eye, hard as diamond, fixed him like a heartshot. "I would like to congratulate you, agent."
The tone wasn't quite as grim as it could have been, and Fury wasn't one to make fun of you just before he consigned you to life imprisonment, so, Clint found the tiniest stirrings of hope somewhere in his gut as he waited. Then Fury said, "Your deep cover assignment was successful. Per protocol, you're ordered to the standard three weeks of psych before you will be cleared for active duty again."
He could not be serious. Clint licked his lips. "Sir..."
"Three weeks, agent." Fury's grin was a rictus. "Tax-funded government organization and its regs; you know it, I hate it, but I ain't fighting it today. Pick your goddamn battles, I always say."
"Sir, you can't."
"Oh, I motherfucking can." The diamond eye crushed him with its weight. "You were in deep cover, agent, assigned to go with Loki at my orders. That's what the record will reflect, and all it will reflect. Selvig's dossier will say the same, and no one will give a fuck what a civilian babbles if he does break silence. Especially one whose name's been linked to conspiracy theory science for years. Agent Krester got the same in his file, and his silence is no longer an issue. You gonna keep protesting, Barton? Make Krester a traitor? Deny his widow and his kid his posthumous benefits? Never thought you were that kind of asshole."
Only Fury could choke Clint's words off in his throat like that. God damn him.
Fury had a glass globe paperweight on his desk; he picked it up now and rolled it about in his hand like he was fucking Captain Queeg. Not the thought Clint needed right then. "I need you, Barton. Looks to me like Stark's little band of ragtag misfits could use your eyes, too." The corner of Fury's mouth turned up. "I get the impression Stark and Rogers are gonna be head-butting over just whose band it is. Wouldn't mind having you and Romanov onsite to give me intel on that particular dick-measuring. Not to mention video of the good parts."
"Sir, you don't even know if--"
"If they'll work together again? Rogers will, and Stark won't be able to back down if Rogers shows up. The Avengers Initiative is no longer just a go, it's a done deal. All we gotta do is wait for the next fruitcake with good hair and a spear to crawl out of a wormhole and start making speeches in a goddamn English accent. You gonna be there to meet him when he does, agent?"
That was all it took to narrow down Clint's vision to a single, cross-hair point. "Yes, sir," Clint found himself saying, and finding himself meaning it.
"Thought so." Fury set down the globe. "We kept you and Romanov out of the public aftermath as much as we could. Don't know how long that's gonna last. When the first action figure with a bow and arrow shows up at Wal-Mart...I guess we deal with that when it does."
Clint had come in prepared to be thrown out or thrown away, and Fury was talking about action figures. It was too fucked.
"So." Fury folded his arms. "Let me hear the story you'll be telling that ever-so-understanding government-appointed civil servant psychiatrist next week."
Clint's stomach was a sick knot. Fury would take it all on himself. The anger, the betrayed looks...all of it would go to Fury, for putting Barton to an assignment so deadly it cost the lives of agents and civilians alike, damage that was pushing its way to the trillion mark, and had nearly nuked fucking New York. Clint, instead, would get the handholding, the eggshell-walking, the sympathetic looks, and probably when enough time had passed, the admiration and the jokes: man, Fury's idea of deep cover is fucked; that Barton is one stone-cold son of a bitch. The complete opposite of what he deserved, and Clint would have to let it happen.
Yeah, ain't life a pisser. Cry harder, Clint told himself. Natasha's survived worse, you sad fuck.
Clint took a breath. "I tell psych I'm recovering...from what my assignment made me do."
Fury nodded slowly, the way he did at new recruits. "Good man. See that you do."
Clint couldn't stop himself from shaking his head in return. "They won't buy it, sir." Fury knew he wasn't talking about psych.
"People will buy what I tell them they will buy. If I call it deep cover, it was deep cover."
"The way you called Coulson's death deep cover?" And there was the trap, wasn't it. Clint couldn't accept the one and fight the other. Motherfuck.
"Hell to the fucking yes, agent," Fury shot back. "I look at my success rate and I lose no sleep at night."
Clint's face hardened, fighting the instinct the rest of his body was giving him to just deflate already. "Goddammit, sir, you need to tell the rest of them, now. If you ever want to get them on your side again. Stark's CEO was crying. Stark's pretty damn protective of her; he's going to remember every minute you kept them both in the dark on this. So will the others."
Fury's mouth quirked. "I save your ass from the court martial of all court martials, and you're gonna chew me out because I'm waiting to spring Coulson's miraculous recovery on them until the man's out of the ICU?"
"I called you sir," Clint retorted.
Fury gave what sounded and looked like a heartfelt sigh. The man's posture even sagged a little, and Clint found himself resisting the sudden urge to reach out and touch his commander's sleeve in sympathy. How does he even do that, Clint wondered for the millionth time. Fury shook his head. "I have calls to make. And a super-soldier, a Hulk, a god, and a Stark to placate after I tell their asses. Think the Stark's gonna be the worst of them, somehow." He set his hands on the desk, still not bothering to hide the weariness from Clint. "Go see your damn boyfriend, Agent Barton. And tell him..."
"Fury sent a message," Clint said, his fingers threaded through Phil's, careful of the IV in the back of his hand and the little clip of the oxygen monitor on his finger.
Beneath the plastic nasal cannula, Phil's mouth quirked like Fury's had. "What's our articulate director have to say?"
Clint let his chin sink down to rest on the side rail of the ICU bed, content to watch Phil's smile. "That you have to hurry the hell up and get back to duty, because no way in hell is he losing his favorite part of his quarterly orientation."
Phil nodded. "Sounds like him," he said, and shut his eyes to sleep under Clint's unfailing watch.