All Fun and Games until Someone Gets Hurt (2,971 words) by LokiOfSassgaard
Fandom: The Avengers (Marvel Movies), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (TV), Marvel
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Clint Barton, Phil Coulson, Jasper Sitwell, Agent Blake (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Natasha Romanov, Grant Ward
Summary: Coulson promised Clint a lot of things when he recruited him to SHIELD. What he didn’t mention was that half of training would be an exercise in enduring an endless stream of practical jokes.
Clint had no idea what he was doing there. Not really. Just that he ‘fit the profile,’ whatever that was supposed to mean. His first day at the academy pretty much told him there was no profile. Unless no people skills, short tempers, and a complete lack of patience was a profile.
In which case, yeah; Clint did kind of fit that profile, actually. He really hoped that wasn’t the profile, because he didn’t like what it said about him or these people he’d agreed to sign his live over to. And he still wasn’t sure why he’d done that, either. “Steady pay-cheque,” Coulson had said. Clint had that already. It wasn’t always a good pay-cheque, but it was surprisingly steady. “Free travel,” Coulson had said. What the hell did he think travelling carnivals did? “Good dental,” he’d said. And just like that, Clint gave up everything he knew to join a completely different travelling freak show.
Half the guys there were ex-military, special forces. It was obvious. Some of the women, too. But there were more people there who were like him — rocky past, couldn’t tell you their social security number if it was stamped on the back of their hands, but the absolute best at whatever niche skill they had. Cat burglars, get away drivers; Clint was pretty sure a few of them were defected spies. He didn’t want to ask though. Even he had a sense of self-preservation. The one thing that put Clint at ease was that none of them seemed to know why they were there. Even the military guys were confused, and it didn’t take a lifetime of knowing how to read people to spot it.
They trained in teams of eight. And they were very adamant on that. Teams. Not groups. Not squads. Teams. But training together was all they did. They were also, surprisingly, afforded a lot of time on their own. Most of that time was also spent training, learning hand-to-hand combat with one of the trainers, or studying for the written exams, of which there were many. Who knew that a government organisation would have reams upon reams of protocol? There were nights Clint thought his eyeballs were going to bleed from reading so much.
For the first month, they were kept off to their own little corner of the facility. After that, when everyone who was going to wash out had already done so, things changed. They were divided up by skill level and sent off to train according to their specialities. And not everybody there was new. Apparently it was another protocol that every couple of years, agents had to go back and learn the new things that might have popped up. And new developments were always popping up.
There had been new developments in maps technology. Apparently. Clint wasn’t sure how developed a map could possibly get, but it required calling a lot of people back in for training. Clint walked into the room, surprised to find almost two dozen other people all waiting around to learn about these new maps. Some of them weren’t even from Operations, as far as Clint could tell. A couple of the people there looked like they’d be more at home in the back of some library somewhere.
He walked in and took a seat toward the back of the room, almost curious. The guy in the seat next to him leaned in close, looking concerned.
“Hey, did you bring your grid squares?” he asked.
Clint wasn’t sure he’d heard right. “My what?” he asked.
The guy held up a black leather folder. “Your grid squares. You didn’t leave them in your bunk, did you?”
Clint looked around, seeing an awful lot of those leather folders. “I don’t have any grid squares,” he said.
“You better go get some,” the guy told him.
A few of the newer recruits looked back in alarm. “What do we need?” one of them asked.
“You guys need your grid squares for a maps class.”
Clint wasn’t sure if he should believe this guy or not. Grid squares didn’t sound like anything actually real, but neither did half the stuff that got talked about around the facility. When the woman in front of him got up and left the room, Clint decided he’d probably better go as well. One other guy trailed them out of the room.
“Have you heard of these grid square things?” Clint asked them.
They both shook their heads.
“Do you think they forgot to give them to us?” Clint was pretty sure her name was Rebecca. But anti-social to a fault seemed to also be part of SHIELD’s profile, because few people ever seemed to want to just hang out when they weren’t in training.
“Who the hell even knows around here?” Clint grumbled.
They turned a corner, nearly running into the first familiar face Clint had spotted since being shipped off to learn how to be a secret agent. Despite being nearly railroaded by three people, Coulson managed to side-step them and avoid spilling a single drop of his coffee.
“Don’t you have a maps class to be in?” he asked.
Clint knew he was working for spies now, but that sort of thing would never not be creepy.
But Coulson just smiled that fake little smile of his. “I’m in the same class. I saw your name on the list.”
“Right,” Clint said. “Do you know where we’re supposed to pick up grid squares?” he asked. And somehow, just asking the question made him feel like he’d been had. The look on Coulson’s face only confirmed it.
“Grid squares?” he asked. “You don’t need them. Come on, we’re gonna be late.”
“That bastard,” Rebecca said. They turned round and walked behind Coulson, back to the classroom. “I’m going to kick him in his shiny, bald head.”
Clint had seen her in training, and he did not doubt that she’d be able to make good on that promise. He was almost curious enough to ask what she’d been doing before she was recruited.
Almost. Not quite.
They walked back into the room and quickly retook their seats before anyone else had noticed they’d left.
“Find your grid squares?”
Clint glared daggers at the asshole next to him. “Fuck off,” he said.
“Jasper, enough,” Coulson warned from a few seats over. “Just because you spent twenty minutes looking for grid squares doesn’t mean you get to pull the same prank on someone else.”
Jasper grinned. “Course it does. That’s how it works.”
Clint sat up a little bit straighter and looked over at Coulson. “Permission to punch him, sir?” he asked, only a little be facetiously.
“Denied,” Coulson said, just as dryly as ever.
Maybe next time. Clint shrugged and settled back into his seat, no longer curious about new maps technology. Maps were maps, as far as he was concerned.
For reasons nobody understood, they needed to learn things that even their instructors agreed they would probably never actually do. Like surveillance. Surveillance was an entirely different department altogether, but Operations had to learn how it worked anyway. And the guy Clint got stuck with was so god-awful boring, he wanted to stab himself in the hand with a pen just to add some excitement to his day.
At least this was only half of the day, with the rest free to do as he wanted. Clint was pretty sure the free time was to make up for the psychological torture that was watching Agent Blake spool through reel after reel of uneventful video footage.
They weren’t even doing anything mission-related. It was all just Blake, droning on and on about what to look for, and how to use the equipment. As far as Clint could tell, it was like a giant VCR on steroids. And truth be told, VCRs and Clint had never got along, so he was more than a little reluctant to even try to use the thing. His luck, it would explode or melt or launch a nuclear missile at China or something.
Clint did not want to launch a nuclear missile at China.
Finally, blessedly, Blake decided that he wanted a break.
“I’m gonna go get some coffee,” he declared, apropos of nothing. As he got up and stretched his back, he turned to give Clint a considering look. “Hey could you do me a favour?” he asked.
It was so random, Clint wasn’t sure what to make of the request. “Sure?” he said. Maybe it was a trap. Or maybe he was paranoid.
Or maybe SHIELD wanted him to be paranoid.
Or maybe that was one level of paranoia too deep for any sane person.
“Go down and requisition me a stack of ID ten-T forms,” Blake said.
It sounded harmless enough that Clint didn’t even question it. “Okay. Sure.”
Blake smiled. “Great. Thanks.”
Clint followed him out of the strange little acoustically-barren room, but instead of turning left to head to one of the break rooms, he went right. The forms office was on the same level, and was mercifully without any lines when Clint got there. He walked up to the guy at the desk and gave him his most benign smile. He’d even been practising it.
“Yeah, Agent Blake sent me down here for a stack of ID ten-Ts,” he said.
“ID ten-T?” the guy behind the desk asked.
“Yeah, he wants a stack of them, he said,” Clint told him.
“There’s no such thing,” the guy said tiredly.
“No, that’s what he said.” Either this guy was jerking him around, or Blake was, but he couldn’t quite find it in him to just walk away. “ID ten-T. That is exactly what he said.”
“And I said there is no ID ten-T form.”
Clint glared at him. Maybe he’d stab a pen through this guy’s hand instead.
“Well, that’s what he told me,” Clint said, refusing to let it go despite his better judgement. “I. D. Ten. T.”
The guy behind the desk sighed deeply and grabbed a sheet of paper from his printer and wrote in very large letters ID10T. Biting his tongue so hard he could taste blood, Clint snatched up the paper and stomped out of the room. He didn’t know why he’d taken the paper. Maybe he’d shove it down Blake’s throat.
Or maybe… He stopped and looked over at a nearby copy machine. Five minutes later, he strolled into Blake’s weird little TV dungeon and dropped two reams’ worth of ID10T copies down in front of him.
“I used your badge number,” Clint told him as he sat down. “Because, you know. You’re the one who wanted them.”
Blake glared at the stack of papers, and then down at the badge clipped to his lapel. Grinning to himself, Clint picked up the cup of coffee that was probably meant as an apology for the practical joke. He shouldn’t have bothered. The look on Blake’s face was all the apology he needed.
Clint had been in the field for two years when SHIELD got the Quinjets. They were Harrier jump jet turned up to eleven, and Clint only had to see them in action once before deciding that he absolutely needed to learn to fly those things. It meant he was back to the academy for about a year and a half, back in classrooms and very much not travelling. But before he even started, he knew it would be worth it. The hours were long, the classes were mind-numbing, and he ended each day worried that his brain was going to leak out of his ears, but then he got his first pilot license, and everything felt right in a way it hadn’t for a very long time.
And then he got to actually start learning his way around the military jets. There were two other people in the group who hadn’t flown for SHIELD before, and it was like swimming in a tank full of sharks after cutting themselves shaving. Clint at least had the advantage of having worked with a few of the people there, but the other two ‘new’ guys were still at academy, and hadn’t been made official SHIELD agents yet.
They were standing around in the hangar, because there were nine people in the group, and only one Quinjet SHIELD were willing to risk in the hands of their trainee pilots. It was Agent May’s turn in the cockpit, doing her two dozen passes, taking off and landing each time. Rumour had it she was qualified to fly every single bird SHIELD had, and even though the Quinjets were squirrelly bastards, she already seemed like she was right at home. If they were there to learn from one another’s mistakes, they’d have to wait for someone else to get their turn. Someone who was bound to make a lot of mistakes. Hell, Clint was expecting to be that guy, and put on a show when he got up there.
“Hey, it looks like the runway’s getting a little sticky,” Agent Walters said. He tapped his knuckles against one of the new guys’ chest and pointed. “That look sticky to you?”
“I… don’t know?” the rookie said. Clint thought his name might have been Simon, or something.
“Why don’t you go out there and check.”
Simon-or-something looked warily out toward the runway, but before he could take a step in that direction, Clint stopped him.
“Woah, woah. What the hell?” he asked. Not of Simon, but of Walters.
“Oh, come on, Barton. Don’t be that guy,” Walters said.
“No. This isn’t sending someone out to go measure a light with a stick, or telling them they have latrine guard duty. This is gonna get someone killed.” Clint let go of Simon-or-something to face Walters properly. Walters had been around longer than Clint, and really ought to have known better. “How many stupid-ass things have you done because someone who outranked you told you to do it?”
Walters didn’t say anything, but Clint could tell he’d struck a nerve.
“You think the runway’s so damn sticky, why don’t you go check it?” Clint told him.
For a second, he thought Walters was going to throw a punch, but he just sneered and stepped back instead. “Fuck you, Barton. It was just a joke.”
“Oh, yeah. Ha ha. Real funny, you fucking asshole.” The two of them stalked off in opposite directions, leaving an awkward silence in their wake.
Clint wasn’t sure if he’d over-reacted or not — if it was just years of doing very dangerous things as safely as possible that made wanton recklessness seem worse than it was. He was so busy trying to figure how how big of an asshole Walters actually was that he almost didn’t notice Simon-or-something wander over with a confused look on his face.
“Wait, sir. Are you saying that I was lied to about having guard duty tonight?” he asked.
Clint raised his eyebrows at the question. “If you were told to report somewhere, you report there,” he said. “You know that.”
Simon-or-something gave him a dubious look, but said nothing as he walked away. Clint almost felt bad for the guy.
Stark Industries had a standing contract with just about every branch of the American military, as well as about a dozen paramilitary operation. And Tony Stark’s latest gift to some of those contract holders was a holographic scene re-creation device. Not so useful to the Marines or the Army, but the top of the SHIELD totem pole saw untold uses for the technology. From what little Clint had already gleaned about it, you could feed the device ordinary two-dimensional photographs, and it would spit out a life-size, three-dimensional wire-frame version.
It was another fancy-pants map, which meant another maps course. He managed to pull a few strings on this one and got into the class his latest recruit was in. When he walked into the room, Romanoff was already there, waiting patiently for the course to begin, and ignoring Agent Ward’s awkward attempts at trying to draw her into a conversation.
“This seat taken?” Clint asked casually, pointing at the empty chair next to Romanoff.
“No,” she said. Clint still couldn’t tell if she liked him, but the fact that she spoke to him at all said she probably didn’t hate him at least.
Clint settled into his seat and dropped his folder on the table in front of him. People were still shuffling in, and these classes always started later than they were supposed to, so he’d made sure to have plenty of paper to doodle on when he inevitably got bored.
“Oh, hey. Did you remember your grid squares?” Ward asked suddenly.
Clint and Romanoff both looked over at him, him curious and her unimpressed.
“My grid squares?” she asked without even a hint of any Russian to her accent.
“Yeah,” Ward said, holding up his own folder. “It’s a maps class. You gotta have your grid squares.”
Romanoff smiled sweetly at him, with just a hint of worry. Clint had seen her work before, but it seemed like she never actually stopped. “I don’t,” she said. She bit her lip and let her eyes fall to the folder in Ward’s hand. “But you’ll let me borrow yours when we get to that point, won’t you?”
“Uh. Yeah,” Ward faltered, apparently having never had someone ask him that before.
Clint looked away and laughed into the back of his hand. When he glanced back at Romanoff, she wore a smug little smirk.
“We had that one too,” she told him.
Clint didn’t know why he found that as funny as he did, but he laughed out loud at it. He could already tell Romanoff was going to fit right in with SHIELD.