"You want me to what?"
Coulson pinched the bridge of his nose and screwed his eyes shut, hoping that when he opened them Fury’s face would be gone from the screen of his phone and the conversation would be well and truly over.
"The Avengers need to learn to work together," Fury said, perfectly evenly, and Phil felt his stomach drop because it was beginning to look like Fury was actually being serious. "Preferably before the next world-threatening crisis. Some team-building exercises would be a good place to start."
Phil opened his eyes and dropped his hand from his face, looking flatly at the screen. "No offense Sir, but that sounds like either a bad joke or a terrible, terrible idea."
"The world is depending on this team, Coulson. Your job is to make that less of a bad joke."
"How you do it is up to you," Fury said loudly, talking over him with as much glee in his voice as he ever permitted himself. "I'll expect a report next week."
Phil stared at him. "I did not come back from the dead for this."
Fury raised his eyebrow. "Well, what else did you come back for?"
"Requesting permission for a mission in Siberia, Sir."
"Denied," Fury replied lazily. "I seem to remember you being very keen to work the Avengers, once upon a time."
"Yes," Phil said. "And then I actually worked with the Avengers."
Fury just smiled. "One week, Agent. One week and no bloodshed or damage to Manhattan. And no passing this off onto any other Agents."
The call cut out, and Phil was left staring at the blank screen, wondering what in the universe he had done to deserve this. he sighed, twisting around to open the bottom drawer of his desk, liberating a packet of prescription-strength painkillers, some antacids and finally a bottle of scotch that he had been saving for either a celebration or an emergency.
He had a funny feeling he might need all three by the time the week was through.
"You want us to what?"
Phil pretended that he hadn't heard that. "It is in all your best interests if you are familiar with each others' strengths and weaknesses if you are going to continue working as a team."
Clint sat up very straight, suddenly grinning. "Are we going to do SHIELD Team-Building Exercise Number 42?" he asked, practically bouncing with excitement. "Because if we are, then I vote that Thor is the Big Bad Wolf, and Stark is the--"
"No," Phil interrupted hastily, because there was no way that was going to end well. "I'm not putting you all through the SHIELD exercises." Natasha almost relaxed, until Phil added, "Yet. I thought we'd start out with something a little simpler."
"Like what?" Steve asked. His arms weren't crossed yet, so luckily he was still on board. Phil was a little afraid to look at either Clint or Tony for their reactions.
"Resumes," Phil said. "You've got a general idea of what you're all capable of, after the Chitauri, but let's get it all down in black and white." He smiled thinly at Steve. "That should be of tactical use to you, if nothing else."
"I already gave Steve my resume, back in DC," Sam pointed out.
"That wasn't a resume, that was the technical specs for the wings and a couple of photographs," Phil said.
"If it was good enough for Captain America," Sam shot back, "it should be good enough for anybody."
Stark snorted. "You're missing the point. SHIELD already has dossiers on each of us that would fill whole hard drives. Is there anything we can put on our CVs that SHIELD doesn't already know?"
"In fact," Thor interjected, to everyone's surprise, "a warrior's own estimation of his capabilities, distinct from that of his comrades or superiors, reveals much for one who is canny enough to read between the lines. This is a worthy undertaking, Agent Coulson."
Clint stared at Thor in affront. "Whose side are you on?"
Thor smiled at Clint. "Coulson is correct that it is to our good that we work as a unit. Come, this small task should not be the cause of much trouble to any of us."
Bruce cocked his head at Clint. "Don't you have something already written you could just tweak a little? It's what I used to do whenever I had to submit a resume for research grant proposals... before."
Clint snorted. "What part of 'black ops specialist' is unclear, here? SHIELD has gone out of its way to discourage the writing down of any of my job history up to this point."
"Not doing it," Tony said simply, leaning back into the couch. He had his phone in hand, thumbs tapping away at the screen. "Too busy."
"You’re playing Angry Birds," Steve said from behind him, tone matter of fact.
Tony groaned, dropping the phone into his lap. "Yes, but you weren’t supposed to say that. I was trying to get us out of doing this dumb task-"
"No, you were trying to get you out of having to do this dumb task."
"It would have extended to all of the rest of you!" Tony protested, twisting around to glare at Steve, who simply raised an eyebrow in reply.
"Anyway," Phil called before the bickering could get out of hand. "You are all doing it, otherwise I am going to remove all the caffeine from the building and will then accidentally set the Avengers alarm off at a random time every night. And yes, it will be just at the moment that you think I’ve forgotten and are about to sleep."
He paused. "And then I will invite Deadpool to join the Initiative."
There was an outcry at his words, protests and exclamations and more than one pair of hands held up in surrender.
"Fuck, you were right," Bucky muttered from next to Steve, scowling as he pushed away from the wall he’d been leaning on. "This guy means business."
"A threat from Coulson is not a threat to be taken lightly," Natasha said with a sigh. "Fine. I’ll do your resume."
"Will you do mine, too?" Clint asked brightly. He almost managed to dodge the smack to the back of his head she delivered in response.
"No, she won’t," Phil said. "You are to do your own, Hawkeye."
Clint pulled a face. "Fine," he grouched, with more petulance than Phil often saw in teenagers. "You are a cruel man, Phil Coulson."
Phil smiled grimly. "You have no idea."
It was no surprise that the first resume in belonged to Bruce. It appeared on Phil’s desk the very next morning, dropped off by a harried looking junior agent. With no small amount of trepidation, Phil slid it out of the envelope-
His shoulders slumped as he looked down at the paper in front of him. It appeared that Bruce had been completely serious in his advice to Clint. What Phil held was Bruce’s resume all right -- from 2007, and his last place of employment was listed as Culver University in Virginia. On the front page, he’d drawn a line through the year and scrawled "2015" in its place. The rest of it was completely unedited, entirely omitting the last five years of research he'd conducted, except for the last page, where under the heading of "Additional Skills" he’d written "can turn into an enormous green rage monster."
"Not exactly what I was looking for," Phil said aloud, tossing the paper onto the desk with a shake of his head. Though he supposed that it probably could have been a lot worse.
Thor hand-delivered his resume to Phil's office personally. It was written on an honest-to-god scroll, but that was not the strangest thing to have happened to Phil even that day, so he accepted it with a bland smile of thanks.
It wasn't until he'd opened the scroll and begun reading that he realized it was an epic poem -- complete with perfectly scanning meter and overblown descriptions of the many gory battles which Thor had led to glorious triumph... and an eight-stanza-long recitation of his lineage.
Natasha's resume appeared out of nowhere on his desk, a sealed case with a thumbprint lock. Phil put one hand on his emergency poison control kit and cautiously opened the case. Nothing immediately terrible happened, which only served to make Phil more nervous. He carefully lifted the sheet of paper within.
"Washington, DC., 2014. Classified.
Marrakech, 2014. Classified.
New York, 2012. Classified."
It went on like that, down the page. Phil recognized all of the locations and dates; he'd been present for most of them. He scanned a bit further down, noting "Budapest, 2009. Classified." with a wry twist of fond amusement.
"You do know that everyone knows what happened in New York in 2012?" Phil observed, knowing she was there without having to look.
"I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss it," Natasha said, her mouth twitching. "It's-"
"Don't you say it-"
Surprisingly, Bucky’s resume arrived via email. The subject line was blank, the actual email was blank and it held a single attachment.
"I didn’t want to be a fucking Avenger anyway so leave me out of this.
I’m pretty good at stabbing things.
In all fairness, it was more than Phil had expected from him anyway.
Sam's resume was an 8-by-10 glossy photograph of Steve Rogers in full Captain America regalia, signed, with a sticky-note on top that read, "I'm like this guy, but better looking."
"Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool.
I love Clint Barton. Please let me be an Avenger."
Phil massaged his temples. Please, he thought desperately, please let this be a prank from Clint.
It wasn't a prank from Clint. Clint's resume showed up later, smeared with what Phil could only assume was pizza grease. He assumed it was pizza grease, anyway, because the entirety of Clint's resume read:
"Eating pizza and shooting things."
He hadn't even bothered to put his name at the top.
"Are you actually kidding me right now."
Steve looked at Phil earnestly, hands behind his back in an unconscious (or conscious, Phil wasn’t above second guessing his motives after what he’d just read) mimicry of parade rest. "What do you mean? That’s my resume," he said, all politeness and calm, easy tone of voice.
"Seventy year gap in employment due to time spent as an ice-cube," Phil read aloud from the paper held in his hands.
"I thought I should explain myself, Sir," Steve said innocently. "I was advised that employers don’t look too favorably on large, unexplained gaps in employment."
Phil resisted the urge to bang his head against the desk. "I don’t think employers would look too favorably on your top skill being listed as kicking ass and taking names."
"I think it’s a vital skill considering my field and area of expertise," Steve said.
"Led a counter-attack against Nazi forces, including a battalion of deceased individuals which had retained base instincts and gross motor function-" He broke off, wondering if he could get away with throwing Captain America out of his office. "Are you seriously trying to tell me you led a counter-attack against Nazi zombies?"
"It was a very important mission, Sir. You can ask Bucky. He was there."
"Additional skills. Hand to hand-combat, leading tactical maneuvers, punching Hitler in the face and winding up Tony Stark."
Steve nodded. "It’s a gift."
Phil braced his elbow on the table, covering his eyes with his palm. "Captain, you know I have the utmost respect for you?"
Phil looked up from under his hand. "Get the hell out of my office."
Steve smiled brightly, clicked his heels together and saluted Phil before turning around and walking out of the room, hands in his pockets and humming tunelessly.
Tony's resume arrived via email. Phil stared at the file for a long five minutes without opening it. Then he reached for his desk drawer again, dry-swallowing three painkillers and five antacid tablets before clicking on it.
Breath half-held in anticipation of pain, Phil read the four-page file.
Then he read it again.
Education. Major accomplishments of the past five years (he'd described himself as "part of the team" that had taken down Killian and thwarted the plot against President Ellis). A succinct, declassified description of the capabilities of the Iron Man armor. Further summaries of the improvements made to the team's gear, transport, and living quarters.
It was... It was a normal, perfectly reasonable resume. It was what Phil had been rather hoping the rest of the team would produce. The fact that this one had come from Tony Stark was... worrisome.
Phil closed the file and re-opened it, half-expecting something else to appear. But no, it was the same innocuous listing.
Wondering what he'd missed, Phil ran a decryption algorithm against the file. Nothing.
Then he put it through a code-breaker. Still nothing.
He was waiting for the results of a deep scan for microdot text when Tony called. "I sent that email two hours ago, Coulson," he said. "I need you to acknowledge that you got it so everyone will stop hounding me about it."
"I got it," Phil said warily. "I'm just not sure I got it."
"I wrote it in English!" Tony protested. "I double-checked!"
"Yes, it's very readable," Coulson said. "I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop."
Tony snorted. "Do you have any idea how many resumes I have to put together every year for Stark Industries' bids on government contracts? I don't even make Pepper do them for me any more, they're so routine. I just turned on the latest episode of SuperNanny -- thanks so much for getting me hooked on that, by the way, really -- and threw it together."
"So there's nothing... strange hidden in here?"
"No. Why would there be?" Tony sounded perfectly innocent, and Phil couldn't decide if that should reassure him, or make him even more suspicious. "Have you been overworking again, Agent?"
This team, Phil decided, deserved each other. And it was high time they found that out.
Phil walked into the Avengers' lounge, where he had called them all together, a sheaf of photocopies and printouts tucked under his arm. They were all there, waiting for him, drinks in hand, talk slowly dying away as they realized he'd arrived. Phil waited until all eyes were on him, and then he dropped the stack of papers on the table.
The Avengers all looked at the stack, and then, as one, looked back at him. Phil gave them all a very small, tight, unamused smile, and then, without a word, turned on his heel and made for the exit.
He was just reaching for the door when a shock of laughter made him pause.
"‘Don’t want to be a fucking Avenger anyway?’" Steve’s voice said, full of barely restrained laughter. "You handed that in?"
"Oh my god, Thor, what even is this-"
"Someone give me Steve’s, come on, hand it over-"
Slowly, the room filled with noise as the rest of the Avengers picked through each other's resumes.
"--most fearful wail the foe did let," Clint read, in a surprisingly dramatic tone, "and echo'd yet whilst fair maid recovered-- Thor, does Jane know about this fair maid?"
"I keep no secrets from my lady," Thor said. Phil could practically feel the others staring at him until he relented, "...but I may have spared her the tedious recitation of events a thousand years gone." Several of the Avengers -- Phil picked out Clint's and Tony's voices easily, but they weren't the only ones -- hooted with glee.
"Wilson," Bucky rasped. "Wilson, you didn't."
"Damn right I did."
"I'm not saying Steve's not a good-looking man. I'm just saying, the boy has no ass. Have you seen my ass? It's a work of art."
"Wilson." Bucky was laughing helplessly, and that was a rare enough sound that Phil permitted himself a genuine smile of pleasure.
"God was putting in some serious overtime on this ass, is what I am saying to you right now."
Bucky was wheezing for breath now. "Oh my god, stop. You're going to make Steve spontaneously combust. Steve. Stevie, it's okay, we're going to stop talking about asses now, I promise."
"I'm not promising anything of the sort," Natasha put in, and Phil could hear her slow smile.
"Eating pizza and shooting things," Bruce read. "Really, Clint? Not even a name?"
"You knew it was me, didn't you?" Clint said.
"Well, you're not wrong," Bruce admitted with a chuckle.
"Steve. Oh my god. Steven Grant Rogers, you are a troll," Tony’s voice said, sounding strangled for a moment before bursting into howling laughter.
"What? Let me see!" Natasha demanded. There was a scuffle of feet and Natasha's voice made a sound that might have been a hiccup. "Wow. I didn't know you had it in you, Steve."
Steve didn't respond, and Phil stuck his head around the corner to see Steve rubbing at the blush on the back of his neck (possibly left over from the ass discussion), grinning widely at Tony.
"Nazi zombies," Tony crowed, and descended into fits of laughter again, keeling over sideways on the couch. "This is brilliant. I may be in love."
"Well played," Thor said as he looked over Natasha’s shoulder, toasting Steve with his drink. "I admit defeat."
Steve’s grin got brighter, eyes dancing. "Alright, alright," he said, turning back to the table and nudging Tony with his knee. "Where's yours? Let's see what you did to try to traumatize Agent--" He fell silent as he read. "H-uh. This is. This is actually really impressive, Tony. Is this all-- this is all real, isn't it? You've really done all this stuff. For us."
"Well, yeah," Tony said. He was trying for offhandedly casual, but Phil doubted anyone in the room was fooled.
Sam leaned in to look over Steve's arm, and let out a low whistle. "I didn't know this one was you," he said, pointing.
"I did," Natasha put in, "but I didn't realize it had been at the same time as those upgrades."
Bucky's eyes narrowed as he studied Tony. "Did you prank Coulson by not pranking him?" he demanded.
Tony grinned and clapped Bucky on the shoulder. "At last, someone who appreciates my true genius."
Satisfied, Phil turned back toward the door and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw Clint blocking his path, idly twirling an arrow. "Barton," he said, barely managing to make it snappish instead of startled. "What is it?"
Clint smirked. "Resumes, my ass. You got us to bond over trolling you."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Phil said, even though he was pretty sure Clint wouldn't believe him.
"Yeah, okay," Clint agreed, and stepped aside to let Phil pass. "But I still say when we get to Exercise 42, you've got to make Stark the damsel in distress."
"I'll give your advice all due consideration," Phil said. "In the meantime, I have a report to write, and you need to leave me alone for at least a month."
Clint grinned. "Was it Thor that tipped you off? No, it was Steve, right? Taken for a ride by Captain America - hey, you and Tony could start a club-"
"Barton," Phil interjected loudly, because there was a line somewhere there. Maybe the line was already receding into the distance, but he figured he might as well try and save what was left of his sanity.
"Shut up. And go back to your team."
"Sir yes sir," Clint grinned, and then paused. "Oh, hey. You missed a resume, by the way."
Phil frowned as Clint dug into his pocket, pulling out several folded over sheets of paper. "I already got one extra," he said, shaking his head. "Which reminds me, I need to file a restraining order-"
He trailed off as he looked down at the pages Clint had pushed into his hand, because across the top were the words "Philip J. Coulson."
"First off, how do you know my middle initial?" he asked, successfully managing to hide the way his stomach seemed to have turned over. He flipped the page and looked up at Clint, exasperated. "And secondly, how the hell did you get hold of all this?"
He tapped his finger against what was a pretty comprehensive list of missions Phil had either run, organized, or participated in. It wasn't complete by any means, but it included more missions than Phil had been aware that Clint, or even Natasha, had known about, which was both interesting and worrying.
"I know a guy who knows a guy," Clint said with a grin.
Phil shook his head. "You know Stark," he said wearily as he flipped to the last page. "I’m going to kill him. If Fury catches him in the SHIELD servers again-"
He abruptly stopped as he got to the bottom of the page, and the section labelled "Memberships". Listed under that heading were some organizations Phil expected to see there -- SHIELD, the Captain America Fan Club (and after the last few days he didn’t know whether to blame Barton or Captain America himself for that one) -- and a couple that made him smile -- the Lions Club, Supporters of the Portland Philharmonic Orchestra -- and then, at the very bottom, an entry that took Phil's breath away:
Avengers Initiative, Member.
"Welcome to the team, Agent," Clint said, and Phil looked up at him, oscillating between overjoyed and utterly dismayed.
"Not on your life," Phil replied, wondering if there were actually enough painkillers, antacids and scotch in the world to get him through this. "I neither have enough sanity or patience left to deal with you people on a daily basis."
"Too late," Clint said, and his grin got fractionally wider. "We already mailed a copy to Fury."