There is an ancient proverb that every SHIELD agent learns shortly after their recruitment to the program; magic fucking sucks. Most new agents take it as a joke, and they generally crash and burn when circumstances make it apparent that it is a very real warning to any and all employees of the agency.
So. Magic fucking sucks.
Phil’s been an agent of SHIELD for going on eleven years, and he’s had a couple of very unfortunate encounters with magic before. They can generally be hand-waved with mumbled things about radiation and atomic vibrations and a bunch of other nonsense about science that the world hasn’t quite figured out yet. It’s close enough to the truth.
This whole Swan Princess thing they’ve suddenly got going on, though, really takes the cake.
It starts, as an unfortunate percentage of their dealings with magic do, with the Enchantress. She has fewer lofty ideals than Loki and the same creepy love-hate obsession with Thor, so it’s really no surprise when she goes after the team. It isn’t even much of a surprise that she targets Phil, because Thor loudly declares him an excellent ally in public far too often for Phil’s comfort. That she targets Barton isn’t surprising, either, because Barton maybe lied and told Thor that it was Migardian tradition that gods flew all descended from the Noble Family of Barton around Midgard on request. And that was a huge maybe, because Phil does not want to deal with that mess of paperwork.
Technically, none of it is at all surprising, but it’s hard to shake the feeling of surprise as he curls up on the floor of his office in the shape of a wolf. He’ll have to report this as soon as he gets his opposable thumbs back and can actually open the door. That’s assuming he even gets his thumbs back—and the Enchantress’ such-and-such by day, such-and-such by night monologue hadn’t just been for dramatic purposes—or the rest of his human body. He wishes she’d at least been clear about who exactly she was cursing, so he could have been prepared.
Finally, after hours of boredom and an experience in learning an entirely new set of muscles necessary to hold it in in a canine body, he changes back. It must be dawn outside, which means that he needs coffee, then Fury, then paperwork. He shuffles back into the slightly wrecked suit and nearly makes it out of the door when some sort of obscene squawking noise issues from the ceiling tiles above him.
Phil sighs. There are days when he wishes this wasn’t his life. He pulls his chair out from its neat position behind his desk and climbs up, carefully removing one of the ceiling tiles close to the source of the noise. A very disgruntled-looking hawk flutters down and blinks up at him with an expression that is way too familiar.
“Got you too, huh?” he asks with a sigh, and the hawk screeches indignantly. It flutters its wings in a poor attempt at flight, and sort of scrambles sideways instead. Phil fights to hold in the urge to laugh, because that would just be cruel. “I was wondering if maybe she’d missed.”
The hawk glares up at him as if it knows what he’s thinking, and he reaches down to gently pick it up, mindful of its wings. It struggles for a moment and then, finally, seems to understand what he’s doing and settles, though its glare doesn’t fade in the slightest.
“This is going to be one hell of a briefing,” Phil informs him, and hopes belatedly that this really is shapeshifted Clint. He might not actually be able to live it down if it turns out to be some random hawk that found its way into the ventilation.
He appreciates a lot of things about SHIELD, but at this moment the most relevant is the fact that he can walk through the halls covered in wolf hair and a tattered suit with a very uncomfortable-looking hawk glaring at everyone from between his hands, and no one bats an eyelash. He finds Fury in the Director’s Office off the HQ command, takes a moment to be grateful that they’re not aboard the Helicarrier, and then walks in without knocking. Fury rotates in his chair and greets him with a raised eyebrow as he takes in the state of Phil’s suit and the bird in his hands.
“You can go ahead and report on what the fuck is going on here any time now,” Fury says, and Phil realizes that he hasn’t actually gotten around to saying anything yet.
“Sorry, Director. We seem to have a problem.”
Fury grimaces at him, a clear sign that he hasn’t had his caffeine yet and would like Phil to hurry the fuck up and explain. Fair enough; it’s not even fifteen past the asscrack of dawn.
“The Enchantress’ curse took, apparently. I was transformed into a wolf before I could leave my office yesterday evening, and spent the night there. When I prepared to leave this morning and report to you, I was interrupted by noises coming from my ceiling. I recovered a hawk that I am fairly confident is Agent Barton, transformed in a similar manner during the daylight hours.”
He sets Barton down on Fury’s desk, gently, and stands at attention. The hawk glares at Fury; Fury glares back.
“It’s definitely Barton,” Fury says with a grunt. “What the hell was he doing in your ceiling, anyway?”
Phil would like to know the answer to that himself, actually, but Fury continues speaking. “Fuck, it is way too early for this shit. Coulson, go get me coffee, and then call the team together. And get Strange on the line. Someone had better have some ideas about this.”
“Should I attempt to contact Barton as well, just in case?” Phil asks. This, at least, he is familiar with. It’s surprising, how calming it is to have actual orders on how they’re going to deal with the latest Really Weird Thing SHIELD has come across.
Fury waves a hand at him. “Yeah, yeah, now get out of my sight until I have had at least one and a half caramel mocha lattes.”
Phil nods, scoops the Barton hawk back up off the desk, and makes his way to the Starbucks across the street from the agency. They’re a government institution; they can’t afford to be picky about sources of caffeine, and besides, the Starbucks knows him. They won’t bat an eyelash at the hawk he’s cradling, either. He collects two caramel mocha lattes for Fury, an iced white mocha for himself, and straight black with a couple shots of espresso for the rest of the team to mix as they please, all arranged in a fairly elaborate configuration of drink holders. The barista looks at him nervously as he coordinates Barton the hawk and all the drinks, but he’s carried far larger, far more precarious loads in his time at SHIELD, and he manages. He weaves through pedestrian traffic with a grace born of practice and enters the SHIELD building. By the time he makes it back to Fury’s office, the Avengers have assembled. They frankly look a little twitchy at being together with no apparent threat in their vicinity, but at least no one’s punching anyone else yet.
He sets Barton on the desk once again. When he protests with a shriek that makes everyone but Romanoff wince, Phil relocates Barton to a chair of his very own with a roll of his eyes. Barton flaps his wings again, like he might try to fly, and nearly falls off the chair. Phil gives him a glare of his own, hoping it will persuade him to stay. put.
“Is that—” Natasha begins, but Fury interrupts.
“Coffee,” he insists, “Then debriefing.” He reaches for his own drinks, which Phil dutifully hands over before setting the drink carrier in the middle of the table. He just manages to swipe his drink before the rest disappear (with a start, he realizes he bought one too many, but it works out alright because Tony has already chugged his first and is well on his way to finishing the one Phil got for Barton).
Fury finishes off his second drink and finally allows the debriefing to begin by directing a nod at Phil. Phil coughs and stands, and then begins.
“As you may recall, we had an encounter with the Enchantress yesterday at oh-thirteen-hundred. She worked a number of spells which we were able to dodge or have removed by our resident specialist, but it would appear that we missed one. She monologued at considerable length about curses and sunrise and sunset—we’ll be needing the recordings from your suit on the incident, Mr. Stark, by the way—and it appears that she did indeed place a curse in the process. At night, I become a wolf, and during the day, Barton becomes a hawk. The changes appear to coincide with sunrise and sunset, precisely.”
For a moment, no one says anything. Natasha eyes the hawk very critically, and it shrugs its wings and winks at her.
“Definitely Clint,” she agrees, and the room erupts into chaos as the rest of the Avengers try to talk over each other.
Fury clears his throat, and it shouldn’t be possible to hear it over the din of superheroes competing to be heard, but somehow it is. That surprises exactly no one, and the talking quickly peters out.
“We’re making arrangements to have another member brought onto the team—” Fury holds up a hand to waylay the immediate protests “—temporarily, until we can restore Agent Barton to full working order. It goes without saying that he is welcome to join all of you on any night ops that might occur. In the meantime, Coulson, Barton, I expect the two of you to remain together. You will both be exceedingly vulnerable in your… altered… forms, so you will provide protection and companionship for each other. I’ll get a bed moved into your office, Coulson, I don’t want either of you off-base. Strange has apparently run off to some other dimension, so we’re going to have to wait until he turns up again to get a consult—we’ll have agents hunting down the Enchantress in the meantime. Anyone got any questions for me?”
The cacophony starts again. Fury glares them down, and gradually the conversation dies once again.
“Good, I’m glad we’ve got that all cleared up. Avengers, dismissed—and Coulson, get that bird out of my office before it starts shedding feathers on my furniture. He’s already clawed that chair to hell.”
Barton fluffs up his feathers, looking hilariously irritated for a bird.
Phil nods, picks up Barton, and follows the other Avengers as they file out of the room. Outside Fury’s office, they crowd around, staring at Barton.
“I’m going to have to remodel his floor,” Tony says, smirking.
“He’s still Clint, though, right, I mean, he can understand us?” Steve asks, looking concerned.
“—Possible that shapeshifting is a magic performed with wavelengths similar to gamma radiation, actually, I wonder if Strange will—” Banner manages to say before his rambling trails off into unintelligible muttering again.
“Mighty Clint, you make a most fetching bird of prey!” Thor declares.
Natasha reaches forward to pat Barton on the head, looking closer to laughter than Phil has ever seen her off an op.
“I’m pretty damn sure I dismissed all of you!” Fury shouts from his office, and the Avengers disperse. Natasha remains behind for just a moment, to pat Barton on the head again. Phil swears he hears her choke back a giggle, and she leans down to look the hawk in the eye.
“Call me when you’ve got the appropriate vocal cords for communication,” she says, and then she turns around to stride down the hall after her teammates, and Phil is left with a very, very unhappy hawk.
“This is going to mean so much paperwork,” he groans, and then, “I guess we ought to teach you to actually fly.”
He thinks Barton might actually perk up at a bit at that last offer.
Phil slips back into his office half an hour before sunset. It’s already been refitted; he could swear it’s about three feet wider, and they’ve shoved his desk to one side and added a human bed, a dog bed, and a perch of some sort for Barton the hawk. Hawking paraphernalia is scattered across the desk (including a hawking glove, which will make his life so much easier if he can just teach Barton to stand on it without falling off). Barton sees it and tries to fluff his wings; Phil sets him down on the perch, pulls on the glove, and offers his arm. Barton flutters his wings, hops on, and promptly falls off. He flaps his wings and manages to stay airborne just long enough for Phil to catch him, though Phil ends up with some nasty scratches in the process.
“We’ll work on that tomorrow,” Phil says with a sigh, setting Barton back on the desk. Someone knocks on the door and Phil opens it to receive a duffle bag that he recognizes as Barton’s, and a suitcase that belongs to him. He settles both of them neatly under the bed, locks the documents on his desk that are above Barton’s clearance in the safe behind his desk, and undresses, hanging his suit neatly from a rack protruding from one end of the bed. At least they managed to make the space functional. After a moment’s pause, he pulls three other suits out of his suitcase, smoothes out a wrinkle or two, and hangs them up as well.
Barton the hawk watches him with eerily judgmental eyes. Phil shrugs and glares back a little. The sun must set somewhere, because suddenly Barton is sprawled across his desk and Phil’s looking up at him from the floor.
“Uuugh,” Barton groans, rubbing his head and hoisting himself off his desk. He stares down at Phil for a moment, and then smirks.
Phil expected him to have more to say, but Barton seems more interested in sleeping. Barton shuffles out of his outer layer of clothing and burrows into the bed in his boxers, leaving one arm dangling over the side of the mattress.
Phil does not stroll over and lick Barton’s hand, but he wants to. Instead, he crawls over to the doggy bed on unsteady, spindly legs and tries to settle in for the night. He remembers that he forgot to leave a note requesting that a direct path to the bathroom be left clear for him, and whimpers a little.
Magic. Fucking. Sucks.