sam_storyteller: (Slash Fic)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2013-12-03 10:30 am

Avengers/AoS: The Best Bad Ideas 2/3

Title: The Best Bad Ideas 2/3
Notes: See header in Ch1 for rating/warnings.

Chapter One

***

Phil honestly couldn't have said, if asked, why he put the team on two-day leave. It had been instinct, mainly, and he knew to trust those. Part of him had been hoping they could catch some genuine downtime at the wrap of a particularly intense mission. Most of him had just been thinking Christ, I need a break.

It was to be expected, after the wound. He tired easily, but at least in the same way he always had -- he pushed until the mission was done and then crashed. This time was no different; as soon as he got to his hotel room (his apartment had been packed up and placed in SHIELD storage as part of the Dead Man Avenging situation, and he'd never bothered to unpack) he felt the crash coming.

His scar hurt, like it usually did when he was exhausted. He was sore from the mission followed by an Avengers fielding. He'd washed the worst of the dirt off and caught a few hours of sleep on a barracks cot on the Carrier, and now his mind was wired, unwilling to rest.

Food; food and a beer would help.

It was late, but the restaurant in the hotel lobby wouldn't close for a good half hour, and a waiter ushered him inside immediately like he wasn't That Guest, the pain in the ass who made everyone late getting home. The waiter left to bring him some water and when he came back, Phil was rubbing his eyes.

"You look like you've had a day," the guy said.

"Something like that," Phil answered. "Whatever's reasonably fresh and fast and whatever's on tap."

"Thanks for making my life easy," the man said with a smile, heading over to the bar. Phil turned his head to watch him; the guy was young, dirty-blond, cute in a college senior kind of way. And he flicked his eyes over to check Phil out at least twice as he spoke through the service window to the chef.

Phil leaned back and watched a little more appreciatively as the waiter accepted a salad and a plate of fries, carrying them across the room with a little swagger, beer in his other hand.

"Fresh and fast," he said, sliding them onto the table. "And a Shiner."

"I'll take it," Phil said, smiling warmly. He'd actually worked on this smile when he was younger. Very few people resisted the smile by now.

"Anything else?"

Phil flicked his eyes down and back up. "Not for now," he said.

"You sure?" the man asked, and with breathtaking chutzpah said, "I could package some dessert to take back to your room. Hot and easy."

Phil almost gave the kid his spare keycard. He was close. Young, eager, cute -- and a line like that really did sort of deserve a reward. Phil liked audacity.

But then the kid smiled, and the smile was just slightly wrong -- perfectly fine objectively, but it was the wrong shape, the wrong…

Well, it wasn't Clint. He hadn't been saving himself or anything, but he'd been about to pick up someone too far from Clint for delusion and much too close for comfort. He tried to avoid indulging his crush.

"Any other night," he said to the boy, whose face fell slightly. "It's a great-looking dessert, but I'm eating light."

That got a shy grin from him. "Well, if you change your mind, leave your room number on your receipt."

Phil ate quickly, the waiter having retired to the kitchen, downed his beer, left cash on the table with a generous tip (and no room number), and went back to his room.

Two days to get his head on straight. Piece of cake.

***

Clint hadn't had a chance to meet Coulson's newest team yet, though he knew May from way back. He thought he'd possibly once consulted FitzSimmons about a biometric bow, but it could have been someone else. He found most of the SHIELD nerds pretty interchangeable, and he was sure they found the SHIELD field-agent jocks about the same. He'd heard about Ward from Hill, and from various other agents who thought he was either extraordinarily talented or a blue-flamer with an attitude. The woman, Skye, was new, and apparently some kind of felon.

He might have done a little surveillance.

Skye had on one of the new generation of restraint bracelets for "contractors". It looked a lot more comfortable than the one they'd put Natasha in when she first arrived. It also looked more effective on Skye than it had been on Tash. Then again, Natasha was a special person.

He'd had a word with Hill about a favor she owed him from way back; she'd looked amused, but hadn't said anything as she assigned him to the team for their new mission. Now he lurked in the rafters of the hangar where the Bus was parked, watching them gather. He was pretty sure May knew he was there, but if so she was playing along.

There went FitzSimmons, quarreling along, dragging bags of equipment between them. Skye the Felon had an overnight bag and a laptop case; woman traveled light. Grant Ward was skulking behind her, not that Clint disapproved. Skulking was an important skill.

Clint felt a little flicker of envy. Ward was a good looking guy; all of these people were extraordinarily, perhaps suspiciously, pretty men and women.

The Bus itself was typical Coulson: big and sleek and old-fashioned the way Coulson liked things, full of sharp spiky bits inside -- classic design concealing top-notch tech. He wondered if Coulson had shown Lola off to any of them yet. Well, May knew about Lola, of course, but the others were...unseasoned. Even Ward was young.

"Agent Coulson," Ward called, as Coulson walked into the hangar. "How was your pass, sir?"

"Fine, Ward, thank you," Coulson replied. "Skye, staying out of trouble?"

"Not like I had a choice," she answered, holding up her bracelet.

"Well, you did, you just made it a while ago," Coulson said.

Snap, Clint mouthed to himself.

"Everyone loaded? May, what's the hold up?" Coulson said, as Melinda May came down the cargo ramp.

"Waiting on a team member," she said. Clint licked his lips.

"Okay, I'm the last one in. Let's go," Coulson said, sounding perplexed.

"Not this time," she said, and Clint took his cue flawlessly, sliding down the ripline he'd used to get up into the rafters in the first place. He knew she'd noticed him.

"Hey, boss," he said, as Coulson blinked at him. "Hill said you needed a sniper for this one."

Everyone but May was staring at him. Awkward.

"Hi," he said, holding up a hand and taking them all in. "Clint Barton. Coulson will vouch for me."

"Don't push your luck," Coulson managed.

"Codename Hawkeye," Ward said. He hurried forward and grabbed Clint's hand in a firm shake. "Pleasure to meet you, sir."

"Hawkeye like, the Avenger?" Simmons asked.

"Yeah, that'd be me," Clint said. "I'm the one with the arrows."

He thought he heard Skye murmur Christ, another one as she passed them; Ward hadn't let go of his hand, and his smile had turned slightly stiff and panicky. That had happened a few times lately; it seemed to happen most to SHIELD agents who were inexplicably trying to impress him. Clint clasped Ward's fingers with his other hand, then released gently, which usually helped disengage.

"Okay, we can play hello-my-name-is inside," Coulson said, shepherding them up the cargo ramp. Clint kissed his fingers and tapped them to Lola's hood as he passed, for luck.

"Hey, this is nice," he said, following the others up to a lounge in the heart of the Bus.

"Your tax dollars at work," Skye replied.

"There aren't any bunks left," Fitz said. He looked a little suspicious of the interloper.

"You can take mine, sir," Ward said. "I'm used to sleeping where I can."

Clint actually saw him wince at his own awkwardness. He wanted to sit the kid down and tell him it would be okay, Clint wasn't anyone special he needed to impress -- but honestly, it was too much fun to fuck with him.

"Nah, I usually find my own roost," he replied, settling on the couch. Ward dropped down into one of the chairs. Skye rolled her eyes and sat next to Ward.

"Wheels up in two," May's voice called, over the comm.

"Ward?" Coulson said, coming into the room. "Briefing packets?"

"Wasn't given any, sir, I thought you had them," Ward replied.

"I was told my team had -- " Coulson stopped as Clint grinned and held up a thick envelope. "Would you like to lead the briefing too?" he asked, flicking one eyebrow upward.

"I'd like nothing better, sir," Clint replied, handing around packets from the envelope. "We're on a subdue and intake. Subdue is going to have to be long range, for reasons that will become obvious momentarily."

"Quentin Quire," Skye read, studying the photograph under the cover page. "He looks like fun."

The photo was a high-definition mug shot: a young man with a thatch of short pink hair, shorn into a stripe down the middle of his head, doing the Billy Idol sneer.

"He can probably hear you," Coulson said, already skimming the report. "Are they serious, an omega-level telepath?"

"SHIELD has an idea of his range," Clint said. SHIELD had known his range for months, and mostly left the kid alone, but Clint needed something impressive and anyway Quire was starting to get dangerous. "You can get about twenty-five hundred yards away before either he runs, or you wake up a few hours later with a headache."

"This report says someone came within thirty feet of him," Simmons said.

"Yeah, we think he got bored and decided to get everyone's hopes up," Clint replied.

"He doesn't appear to be lethal," Coulson observed.

"Which is why we're treating it non-lethally. Telepath and telekinetic, yes; resistant to SHIELD-grade sedatives, not so much."

"Wait," Skye said. "Is this mug shot recent? How old is -- oooooooh you're going to get in so much trouble when this inevitably leaks," she finished, checking Quire's birthdate.

"Can they just not hear it when I say Non Lethal?" Clint asked Coulson.

"They're new, their filters aren't calibrated yet," Coulson replied.

"Hey!" Skye said, at the same time Ward said, "I'm not new."

"They're fucking adorable," Clint said.

"I'm aware. So, you have an ethical objection to SHIELD subduing and reallocating a fifteen year old boy. Let's address this," Coulson said to her.

"I -- without his parents present? Yes, I do have an ethical objection. What does reallocating even -- "

"Well, we can pick up his parents before we question him. But seeing as they put him out of the house when he was twelve, thinking maybe they're not his best advocates."

"How do you put a telepath out of the house?" Fitz asked.

"Is that the start of a joke?" Ward asked uncertainly.

"No, I'm genuinely curious. If he can influence other people and move things around telekinetically, why didn't he just enslave his parents with the power of his mind? It's what I would have done," Fitz said.

"Good to know," Coulson said into the awkward silence that followed.

"The point is, this is a child, and he has no-one, and SHIELD can provide a support network now that he's back on the map," Clint said. "He hasn't killed anyone yet, at least that we know of, and we'd like to keep it that way. And with his sensory range -- "

"Twenty-five hundred yards, probably a crowded urban area," Coulson said. "We need you just to make the shot to sedate him."

"Yes you do."

"So we're escort," Skye said. She waggled a finger in the air. "Fun."

"No, you're bait," Clint replied.

***

"Why do you think he chose Tokyo?" Coulson asked, once they'd finished haggling over the ethics of darting, bagging, and imprisoning, at least for some length of time, a teenage boy. They were in Coulson's very swanky onboard office now, Coulson studying a map of Tokyo while Clint inspected the room. "He falls off-grid for two years, gets arrested in New York, walks out of jail on a Jedi-mind-trick pass, and then hops a plane to Japan? Why Tokyo?"

"Easy access to hentai," Clint said. This was going to be so much easier than he imagined.

His three point plan had been to bring up sex in a general kind of way, then reveal his secret weapon, and then -- well okay, it was a two point plan, but he wasn't sure how Coulson was going to react to the secret weapon, that would influence point three.

Also somewhere in here he was bagging SHIELD an omega-level telepath, but that was mostly gravy.

"Do I want to know what hentai is?" Coulson asked.

"Do you seriously not already?" Clint asked incredulously. Surely everyone knew what hentai was. Especially suave globetrotting fuckers like Coulson.

"I'm going to assume it's either intoxicant or pornographic," Coulson said, leaning back in his chair.

Clint wandered over and propped his ass on Coulson's desk, so that his thigh was brushing the arm of Coulson's chair.

"It's variously used to refer to drawn pornography or erotica, a specific artistic genre of same, or in a separate sense a perverse sexual act," Clint said. "Tentacles, absurdly oversized phalluses, that kind of thing. Hot stuff if you're fifteen and you've spent your whole life in the Puritan commonwealth of the United States."

"Are we decrying the loss of the traditional stealing of one's father's Playboys, or are we embracing something new and hip?" Coulson asked. He hadn't missed a beat when Clint got a little dirty, but Clint thought he might have seen his grip on the computer stylus tighten.

"I don't really have an opinion," Clint shrugged. "I'm just saying, at his age sex and pissing everyone off are the only things people enjoy."

"We sound old," Coulson said.

"Grown-up, maybe," Clint replied. He let the implication hang in the air between them -- I'm not a kid, don't handle me like one -- and then pushed off the desk.

"Anyhow, the kid's gonna stick out like a sore thumb," Clint said. "We might be old but he's just not that bright. We'll bag him. Meantime, I'm gonna go make nice with your people. The Clint Barton Goodwill Tour."

"Don't make Ward pee submissively," Coulson said.

"Harsh, boss!" Clint said over his shoulder as he left. He almost ran into May, who was heading for the lounge.

"We're thirteen hours out from final descent," she said. "If you sleep now, you might end up on Tokyo time, or at least in the general ballpark."

"What's the challenge in that?" he asked, but he was grinning. "Did you use that line to get the others to clear out?"

"FitzSimmons is doing the calculations to see if that's even physically possible. Skye and Ward like excuses to be solitary and antisocial. Keeps them all quiet and out of our hair."

"Are you sleeping?" he asked.

"Nope -- I'm in the cockpit the whole way there, just taking a two-minute break to put the kids to bed and grab a soda," she said, opening the fridge in the lounge.

"Shame. I was going to challenge you to some sparring after we all take a jet lag nap," Clint said. "Think Ward would take me up on it?"

"Sure. Call me before you do, I'll tune in on the security monitor."

"Don't drive distracted," he said with a grin. "Hey, May," he added, as she settled back into the pilot's seat. "How's he doing? For real?"

"For real?" she asked, twisting around.

"Yeah. You know. None of this code of silence bullshit. How is he? One lieutenant to another."

"Recovering," she said quietly.

"But not there yet."

"Don't put on any kid gloves. He won't appreciate that."

"Gimme a little credit, May."

"As little as possible, Barton, you still owe me ten bucks."

Clint made an outraged noise as she turned back to her instruments. "Two bucks!"

"I charge interest."

"Ruthless!"

"Pay up and I'll drop it. Do you even remember why you owe me two bucks?"

"No, and at this point I won't pay on principle," Clint said. "Goodnight to you, Agent May."

"'Night, welcher," she replied, and he shut the cabin door.

***

By the time Clint made it down to FitzSimmon's lab, they had begun building a machine that would disrupt the part of the brain that controlled the internal clock, thus eradicating jet lag. They explained to him, in a flurry of excitement that he sensed had little to do with him and more to do with a sympathetic ear, that if it didn't end up doing permanent brain damage or causing a stroke, it might be very useful on transglobal missions like this one.

Listening to the pair of them was like listening to Bruce and Tony on one of their science jags, only with nicer accents and less sexual harassment. Clint didn't mind that he didn't follow everything; he just enjoyed sitting on the end of a lab bench and watching them go. FitzSimmons: definitely a keeper.

Skye was a little pricklier. When he ambled away from the lab and back up to the living quarters, she'd migrated out to the lounge and had a loose, apocalyptic-looking assemblage of computers spread out on the coffee table.

"Needed more room," she said as he sat down across from her, eyeing the machines. "And unlike technology and biology, I don't get a lab, since hacking is something people assume I can do anywhere, with an Apple IIe and that good old fighting neo-anarchist spirit."

"You mean Independence Day lied to me?" he asked.

"Wow, classic film reference for the win," she said, and yeah, now Clint did feel old. "So do you do this a lot?"

"What's that?"

"Hitch rides to exotic foreign locales, commit acts of child endangerment and kidnapping, flirt with everyone."

"Not flirting," he said. "Making nice."

"Mmhm."

"Anyway, you see which way Ward went?" Clint asked.

"If he's not in quarters he's probably in the gym," she replied. "I think he likes the heavy bag more than he likes most people."

"Heavy bag's got a lot fewer expectations of him," Clint replied. "Thanks, I'll go find him. Good luck with whatever it is you're doing there. If the computer asks you if you want to play a game, say no."

"Whatever," he heard her mutter, but she respectfully didn't say it very loudly.

Ward was in one of the bunks in the sleeping quarters, sitting crosslegged on his bed. He was reading a book with the obnoxiously large title splayed on the front cover: SOCIAL ENGINEERING. He looked up, then actually stood to attention when Clint slouched in the doorway.

"At ease," Clint said with a grin. "I came to ask you a favor."

"Of course, sir," Ward replied. Clint was sometimes called sir by the lower echelon SHIELD grunts, but usually other specialists -- well, they called him a lot of names depending on his past history with them, but they rarely called him sir. He was finding it novel and entertaining.

"I'd like to do a little sparring to limber up, say in about eight hours, before we land. May's got to fly the Bus, and I don't think any of the others have your level of training."

"I'd be honored, Agent Barton."

"Thanks, Ward. I'll set the alarm."

"Sir…." Ward said, as Clint turned to go. "Can I ask a favor?"

"Sure," Clint said, turning back. "What do you need?"

"I was hoping to have a look at the piece you're using for the op," Ward said. "I was trying to decide if I'd use a McMillan Tac-50 or an M24."

"Straight up, an M24?" Clint asked, surprised. "I wouldn't take an M24 out over two thousand yards. I mean, not if I had another option."

"So it's the Tac-50."

"Well, it used to be one," Clint said. "I've had to do some pretty heavy mods. Come on, have a look."

When Coulson wandered through the sleeping deck an hour or two later, headed for his own bed (probably at May's urging), Clint and Ward were sitting on the floor outside Ward's room, surrounded by pieces of rifle, discussing Clint's mods.

"Hey boss," Clint said. "Ward and I are sparring tomorrow morning. Well, 'tomorrow', time zones. Want to come down and cheer?"

"Put me on the alarm," Coulson said, sounding wearier than he normally allowed himself, and disappeared into his slightly-larger, slightly-more-private room at the end.

"Okay, I'm gonna get some sleep," Clint said, packing the rifle away neatly. "See you for sparring."

"I can't wait," Ward replied, and Clint patted his shoulder. "Seriously, though, do you want my bunk tonight?"

"No, I'll find somewhere to curl up," Clint said.

He ended up bunking on Lola's bench seat, because it was comfortable and because he loved Lola. Coulson used Lola to recruit Clint, dangling flying cars and legitimate employment in front of a very young, very poor stunt shooter who hadn't been convicted of any felonies only because he hadn't been caught yet. Later, Coulson and Clint took Natasha driving in it while they ironed out how an ex-Russian-spy, mercenary assassin, and general national security risk regardless of nation was going to join the ultimate authority in global peacekeeping.

Lot of good memories of Lola. He wondered if Coulson had given any of the new kids his Strangest Show on Earth speech.

***

Clint deployed the secret weapon at sparring practice.

Ward was already doing stretches in the little gym when he arrived, looking like he was psyching himself up for the match. Clint shuffled past him in his uniform pants and a baggy sweatshirt, taking up a clear area of the workout pads in which to do his own warm-ups. By the time he felt ready, FitzSimmons had showed up with a bowl of gummy bears and Skye was there with her nose buried in a computer. Coulson was leaning in the doorway, for once out of his customary suit, in clothes that said he was probably going to hit the gym once they were done.

"Ready for this?" Ward asked as he wrapped his hands.

"Oh, sure," Clint replied. "Hang on, I gotta -- "

He tugged the sweatshirt over his head, setting it aside, and reached out to accept the tape from Ward. "Best two out of three pins?"

"And a step outside the line's a forfeit," Ward offers.

Clint risked a glance at Coulson. It was hard to tell, but he thought he saw spots of color on his cheeks. "Sure, sounds fair," he said, stretching again. The t-shirt he'd been wearing under the sweatshirt rode up a little, the red and white stripes gapping over the waistband to show some skin. When he came down from the stretch, Coulson was avoiding looking at him.

It hadn't been hard to find a Captain America uniform t-shirt. Bootlegs had sprung up all over, and Stark Industries had licensed legal ones, too. He'd bought this one, based on Coulson's Cap-suit design -- vertical stripes under the blue chest with the white star -- in a midtown department store. It was about a size too small, a trick Clint had picked up from Steve, who he was pretty sure wasn't doing it on purpose. When shopping, Steve appeared to forget he no longer had the chest of an adolescent boy and that the too-small, painted-on shirts he wore could cut a swathe of lust through any crowd.

At any rate, the shirt was tight enough to flatter without being so tight he couldn't move. And the reaction it was getting from Coulson, once he'd stopped pointedly not looking at Clint, was worth the price of the shirt. Every time a grapple with Ward turned Clint around and gave him a view of his audience, Coulson's eyes were on him; he was certain Coulson had been watching him when he backflipped off the ground and used Natasha's choke-you-with-my-thighs technique to bring Ward down with him.

The fighting was entertaining enough that soon Clint forgot even to look, focusing on learning Ward's style and how to beat it. He fought a little like Natasha; maybe she'd done some training work with him. Ward was kind of wiry, but when he wasn't trying out moves Clint had seen done better by Tash he did tend to sort of bull his way along. He'd learned finesse but hadn't internalized it.

Eventually he managed to get Ward pinned for a second time, and they broke apart; Ward bounded up, no hard feelings, and offered to shake, looking like getting his ass kicked by Clint Barton had been a boyhood dream. He tottered off towards the showers, and Clint had to admit he knew how the guy felt. It had been a long session, and Ward got a few good hits in. He was sweaty, too, and…

He stopped in the middle of drying his face with the hem of his shirt, looking up at the others. FitzSimmons looked traumatized. Skye looked kinda turned on.

"Well, that was...graphic," Coulson said. He was staring at Clint's throat, at least now that he'd lowered his shirt again. "Thank you for reminding his teammates how Grant Ward could kill them all if they ever pushed him over the edge."

"Hey, you hired him," Clint said. He turned his face up to the camera in the gym. "May, how'd you like that?"

"I need a cigarette," May replied over the intercom.

"You all should see the boss fight some time," Clint said, peeling the tape off his hands and casually drifting towards Coulson. "Care to try the mats, sir?"

"Not anymore," Coulson said, but Clint could sniff out the note of regret in the even-tempered tone. "I leave that to the level sevens."

"Uh-huh," Clint said, grinning at him. "You just don't want to scare anyone."

"I find fear is a very poor motivator in a team environment," Coulson said. His eyes flicked down Clint's body, and Clint felt distinctly checked out. "Nice shirt. Very discreet."

"I missed the big white target on my chest," Clint said, tapping the star. "But I can ditch it if you want."

He peeled the shirt off, mopping his forehead with it. Skye's eyes went a little glassy. So, interestingly, did Fitz's.

"We're touching down at noon, local time," Coulson said, instead of responding to the taunt (or the tease). "Have your weapons check completed. Ward will be spotting you; we'd like to try to hit Quire as soon as possible, but take the time you need."

"No problem, sir," Clint said. "I have individualized orders for the team once we land, and an idea of where to set my blind."

"Understood. Once you're in position, this op is your command. If there are any issues I can call it, but otherwise you're the boss."

"Oh, the heady power," Clint said, grinning. "Reconvene at landing minus one hour, I'll brief everyone on their assignments then," he added, turning to the others. "I'm going to go clean up. Try not to treat Ward like an unexploded grenade when he gets out."

***

Clint actually had Natasha do up the plan for the op. It was a theoretical exercise they'd played around with a few months previous: how do you safely bag a telepath, who could work out what you were up to by reading your intentions? When the Quire job came up, he gave her a quick call to ask if he could implement her model op, and she seemed amused but said yes.

The model called for the sniper to run the op, because he wouldn't be in range of the telepath until the last possible moment. There was one person acting as direct bait, in this case May, who only had to wander around a certain geographic area, carrying a specially prepared bag. She wasn't told that inside the bag was a device which synthesized a telepathic presence, broadcasting the sensation of a telepath nearby. Its developers called it a spook machine, because it had the secondary effect of unnerving ordinary people.

The rest of the team, except Ward, were told only to protect May at all costs, and to be as obvious and loud as they wanted about it. Their focus on the mission of protecting her would mask anything they knew about the actual operation.

Clint briefed Ward on the plan once they were in place in the blind. May would lure Quire into the area, and while he was distracted with trying to find the other telepath, Clint would dart him.

"Simple, low-risk. I like it," Ward said. "I've studied Romanoff's ops. She's got a great tactical mind."

"Tell me about it. I've been in prank wars with her before," Clint said, getting his rifle into place.

"What's it like? Being an Avenger?" Ward asked.

"Why, is that where you're looking to end up?" Clint asked, curious. "A super-team?"

Ward shook his head. "I don't do teams very well," he said. "Pretty sure I've already put myself off the candidate list. Just curious."

"Don't sell yourself short, no label is forever," Clint replied. "What kind of wind speed are you seeing?"

"Low. Want me to take a measurement?"

"Just wanted to make sure there wasn't anything I wasn't seeing; no urgency." Clint sighted through the scope, finding May without too much difficulty. "I've got eyes on bait. You keep a general sweep going. Let me know the minute you have eyes on target."

"Yes, sir," Ward said.

"Anyhow, if you're so shitty at teams, why are you on this one?"

"Agent Coulson requested me. He didn't really give me a specific reason."

"Hm." Clint kept his eye on May as she window-shopped her way down the street, escorted by Coulson. "So despite your poor people skills -- and wow, you really are an awkward little turtle, Ward, no offense -- one of the top agents in SHIELD, Fury's right-hand guy that was, requested you for one of the slots on his elite investigation and recovery team. It makes a certain amount of sense, I guess."

He could hear the tension in Ward's voice. "Because?"

"Well, other people who are super-duper poor at joining teams, and I know this from personal experience, include Tony Stark, the Hulk, and Nick Fury."

"...I'm enjoying being compared to one of those," Ward said cautiously.

"My point is that extraordinary people are usually shitty at teams. They not only think they're special snowflakes, they actually are special snowflakes," Clint said. "But if you can crowbar them into a team who will squash their bullshit for long enough to get something done, they discover that their special snowflake status does not exempt them from learning how to play well with others. Coulson knows that. Fury definitely does. It's the prevailing theory that drove the Avengers Initiative to begin with."

Ward was silent for a moment.

"How does this apply to Hulk?" he asked finally.

"Oh, it doesn't. But if a semi-verbal, eight hundred pound wrecking ball of rage can be accepted as an Avenger, trust me, you can learn to be a team player too."

"Coulson said you had a knack for providing perspective," Ward said.

"He mentioned me?"

"He says you're a big-picture guy."

"I do see better from a distance," Clint agreed. "Hush now, before this gets awkward."

"You never answered my question," Ward said.

"What it's like to be an Avenger? Fame without empathy and family without blood," Clint replied. "Everyone knows who you are but nobody really understands what you do. You got five other people who'd die for you, and now you have to learn what kind of movies they like and what they get on their pizza. It's exhausting. Rather have it than not. Now be quiet."

"Thank you, sir," Ward said, and fell silent.

***

"So," Phil said, as they strolled down a street in a major Tokyo shopping district, "I may have to murder Clint Barton. Be my alibi?"

Melinda, arm in arm with him, smiled faintly. "What's he done now?"

"He's acting erratically. I'm not even sure he's him. And that's only half-joking. I checked his biometrics before we deplaned, just to be sure."

"He's flirting with you," she said. "Is that erratic? He always flirts with me."

"Clint does that to everyone. This is a step up."

"The t-shirt was a nice touch."

"The t-shirt is the sort of behavior that I'm finding worrying and frustrating in equal amounts," he said.

"Are you into him?"

"I'm his superior, Melinda. At the moment, he is on all three of the teams I supervise. I am more responsible for him than I am for any other person on the planet. I'm not allowed to be into him."

"I can remember at least three instances in the past where that didn't stop you," she said. "For a while there you cut a line of broken hearts through SHIELD."

"Never a direct report, never someone who might have felt coerced. Lower security clearances, maybe, a few, but not anyone who couldn't freely say no. And I didn't break any hearts. SHIELD agents don't break that easily." He stopped when she did, pretending to examine a display of shoes in a window.

"I'm reasonably certain he is not feeling coerced," Melinda said. "I'm beginning to worry you might be."

"I can handle him. But we're going to have to have a little come-to-Jesus after this op is over."

FitzSimmons, who were in character as a pair of tourists and were leading them around based on a map of Clint's sightlines, turned left. Phil and May followed at a leisurely pace. He saw May check their six after a few feet, to make sure Skye was still trailing them.

"But are you?" she asked. "Into him?"

"Something tells me you already know the answer to that," he replied.

"How long?"

"I'd have to check his records, see when I recruited him. It was about six months after whenever that was."

"Wow."

"It's been a traumatic decade," he said calmly. "Look, I'm not the grand-passions guy, Melinda. I'm capable of being attracted to someone, not acting on it, and having a perfectly full life in the meantime."

"Still. Shame never to hit that."

"Somehow I'll survive," he said drily. She stopped, and instead of looking at the store window, she looked at him.

"This hurts you, doesn't it?" she asked. "That he's making a pass. It's like being taunted."

"A little. Like I said, I'll handle it when the op is done. And now I'm changing the subject," he added, continuing on. "FitzSimmons say they want to go to a Butler Cafe after the op is over. I was trying to think of a way to get Ward to go with them, but I think Skye's reaction might actually be funnier."

"We might get a thirty minute lecture on the economic advantages of dismantling the class system and the perils of oppression nostalgia," Melinda said.

"She's certainly educational," Phil replied.

His phone rang, and when he brought up the lock screen, the call was a temporary number they'd assigned to Ward.

"Unless the next words out of your mouth are 'we bagged him' you'd better not be calling me," he said.

"We bagged him," Ward said. "Slight problem."

"Slight problem?"

"Some good samaritans saw the kid pass out, they're pretty clearly calling the cops and ambulance services."

"Dammit. How far are we?"

"Five, six blocks. Got him on your GPS now," Ward said, and Coulson hung up, bringing up GPS.

"Skye, FitzSimmons, back to HQ, collect Ward and Barton on your way," he called, and the others took off running. "May, you're with me."

They heard the commotion long before they saw it; the wail of an ambulance siren, the red flash of police lights. He let May shove a path through interested onlookers, following close, and then came roaring out of the crowd like a crazy man when she sidestepped.

"Quentin!" he yelled, as EMTs worked over the unconscious boy. He couldn't see the dart; hopefully it had sprung back, as they were intended to do, and fallen somewhere that wasn't incriminatingly close. "Quentin! Hey, that's my son -- that's my SON!" he yelled, as the police tried to push him back. "Do you speak English? My son!"

The police were all talking over him and one another, trying to calm him down, and he had to admit that he did enjoy a little street theater now and then. By the time he established his paternity of the boy, mainly by shouting MY SON a lot like an idiot American, the most dangerous telepath in the hemisphere was backboarded and being loaded into an ambulance. Once he was inside with the kid and two paramedics, they closed the door and he held up his badge. The men looked at each other, worried.

"My name is Phil Coulson," he said in Japanese, hoping his accent hadn't slipped, hoping they understood him. "I'm an agent of SHIELD."

"The guys who fought the Chitauri with the Avengers," one of them said.

"Yes. This man is a danger to himself and the population, and we're taking him into custody. He's not sick; he's been sedated on our orders."

"You should have told the driver, ma -- " the other one started, and just then the ambulance swerved roughly.

"I have an agent discussing it with him now," Phil said.

"It's your show," the first one said.

There was a long moment of silence.

"So, do you know Tony Stark?" one of them asked.

Chapter Three

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