S.H.I.E.L.D. collects guides.
They make excellent handlers for assets, even for those who supposedly don't have the Sentinel gene set. They are easier to manage than un-bonded sentinels; less territorial and more inclined to cooperate with each other. That the stronger individuals among them have other gifts is useful, but that wasn't Fury's original rationale.
He won't argue however that the somewhat prescient guide down in R&D is worth her weight in gold (or possibly vibranium) and that the two guides in the medical wing who can "see" pain are an absolute godsend when dealing with certain agents.
He never set out to recruit guides; the WSC would prefer it if he stopped – he throws them into the line of fire far too often for most people's comfort (he doesn't understand why they are so convinced that guides should be coddled and pampered), and they tend to forget that every single guide he gives a weapon to volunteered.
When he started to staff his agency with guides it wasn't intentional – Phil Coulson was the first he acquired (standard protocols – the S.H.I.E.L.D. tactical team had pulled the then Lieutenant Phil Coulson, barely breathing and still spitting profanities out of a HYDRA base in a dull and nasty part of Yugoslavia - he was M.I.A and certainly hadn't been a Guide when he was captured) and Phil had brought in the next two. These days, most months, at least one of the guides who is already employed by S.H.I.E.L.D. brings in a possible candidate.
Most of the guides he employs don't want a sentinel. He's fairly sure at least one of the unofficial criteria used for recruiting them to S.H.I.E.L.D. is an adamant refusal to bond (there's a portion of the discretionary budget that he has mentally tagged as for Sentinels' medical bills – both Phil Coulson and Maria Hill have been known to shoot or tase sentinels that weren't listening when they said no), though some of them do end up finding a sentinel after they join S.H.I.E.L.D.
The recruitment pitch for sentinels (they do have a few after all), therefore seems to go like this:
He sends a guide out on a mission. They don't have all the information they require. The agent completes the mission (all too frequently by the skin of their teeth) and then one of two things happens. The bill for a Sentinel's medical treatment crosses his desk to be signed, or a slightly battered looking agent drags someone who shouldn't be in the building in by a handy body part. There is normally a shouting match that attracts the attention of everyone else in the facility until Phil or Maria shows up and herds the new pair into medical. Then he has a jurisdictional fight with whoever the Sentinel used to belong to.
He invariably wins.
Cliched, I know. Any suggestions for Phil?
He has six agents currently deployed off the Helicarrier that feature in the unofficial pool being run by the assistant engineer (guide(s) most likely to bring home a sentinel); he wouldn't normally send more than five of them out simultaneously, because he has learnt the hard way that more than that is practically guarantee that he'll need to have an argument with some fucker and he has more important things to deal with. Necessity, however is an unholy bitch and almost everyone with field clearance is out. Too many of them solo.
With the absence of so many of the strong guides from the Helicarrier even he is aware of the increasing levels of tension - he's half a step away from ordering Medical to hand out a round of Xanax and he's never letting Phil and Maria off the carrier at the same time again unless the world is trying to end. Or until they find or train him another alpha guide.
“Director Fury, –"
"Yes?" He's tempted to bite the head off the junior agent who just interrupted his lunch but he takes pity on the man, when he sees the video clip someone's sent from one of the transport craft. He has just won one of the assistant engineer's other pools after all (pick the next date Agent Coulson is seen in his field suit without being ordered into it), and on top of that, the man who is currently his senior field commander has a younger man plastered to him in what he has learnt to recognise as crashed Sentinel mode. Which was a sight he'd never thought he'd see.
He'd be more amused at the fact that no one had Phil in the current iteration of the "Next Guide to drag a Sentinel home" pool if it wasn't for the uniform the currently unnamed Sentinel was wearing. The Commandant of the Marine Corps was a contrary bastard and would probably attempt to recall his agent to active service. Again.
"How far out is his transport, agent?"
“About ten minutes, Sir."
“Has anyone warned medical?" The junior agent fled and he pushed his lunch away. Jesus fucking Christ, Phil always did have to do things the difficult way.
"I didn't expect you to find a Sentinel that you'd want to keep, Agent Coulson."
"Director Fury, –"
"Medical, now. You wrote the damn protocols, Coulson."
"He's bleeding on my carrier."
His lips quirk into something resembling a smile as his best agent – one of the guides he would have laid money on never finding a sentinel that he would actually like to keep – accepts the medics help to drag his new Sentinel off towards the medical bay. Once he has had the requisite discussions with certain individuals, he will be amused to see the unredacted report from this incident, and the profile on S.H.I.E.L.D's newest acquisition should be just as interesting.
He wakes up with a comfortable weight curled up on his feet, and his wrists wrapped in cuffs - the room is dark, and there’s a white noise machine whirring and clicking in the background, but he can hear the steady, slow heart beat of the agent/guide he’d been roped into helping complete his mission and there are stitches itching in the shrapnel wound in his side.
He should be freaking out at the restraints.
He should still be in Afghanistan with his unit.
His muscles ache, and there’s got to be a little of the fog he associates with a crash still lingering in his head, because there’s no fucking way he should have a Badger curled up on his feet. This could be the field hospital at Bastion (the one the Brits are running; the bedding is wrong for the US one), but that doesn’t explain the unfamiliar spirit animal. His uniform (or at least a facsimile of it) is folded neatly on what he assumes is supposed to be the visitor’s chair.
He sighs and twitches his foot enough to gain a glare from the Badger.
“Go tell whoever you belong to I’m awake?”
It looks disapproving and he bites back a laugh. Christ - he knows who the damn thing belongs to, and the fact it’s apparently been guarding him as he’s slept, means he’s fucked. He’s on the good meds; that should make escaping the restraints easier.
The hawk is perched on top of his computer screen, and he’d be willing to swear that the wretched thing disapproved of either the suit he was now wearing, or the pile of paperwork he was currently trying to slog through (or of course, it could be both). He’s not surprised; most of the Guides he’s met would be pacing somewhere near their injured Sentinel rather than planning another mission, but there’s nothing he can do until the man wakes up (and he trusts the medical staff on the Helicarrier not to accidentally poison an active Sentinel, which is another consideration). What he needs to do is write down as much of what happened as possible for the Director; what he wants to do is watch trash TV.
What he has is the hawk fluttering down on top of the paperwork (and it had to be a hawk - the cocky bastard had introduced himself as Hawkeye), and the headache that is now forming is exactly why he tased the last two Sentinels who tried to insist he should be theirs. He’s still not entirely sure why he dragged this one home - oh, he was a crack shot, even for a Sentinel and he’d kept up with him while they cleared the Ten Rings base, but he didn’t want one.
“Agent Coulson to the medical bay.”
When he reaches the locked, private room his Sentinel is still supposed to be sedated in, it's empty and the hawk on his shoulder is making a sound suspiciously close to a cackle. His headache blooms into full effect and he's got a suspicion it's going to be permanent.
He’s going to kill Hawkeye. Slowly.
“Agent Coulson is my senior field commander, Colonel; his employment by this agency is not up for negotiation. Therefore the sniper - his chosen Sentinel - is staying here.” The man splutters and he cuts the feed. He resists the temptation to massage his temples.
“Hill. Get me the dossier on Coulson’s new Sentinel - apparently he’s stolen someone’s favourite toy and we’re inconveniencing the Recon Marines.” He turns his head as a movement on the screen he has monitoring Coulson's records catches his attention, and watches the recall order pop up on the file he has flagged. “And get me a line to their Commandant before this clusterfuck gets any worse. ”
The air ducts are all wrong – the air in them feels too thin – and the other sensory feedback he is receiving is more akin to that which he would expect on a transport copter (though some of it is also reminding him of the last time he had the misfortune to be stuck on the aircraft carrier for any length of time). The damn badger is still on his tail, and he has no idea how it followed him into the ceiling. If his guide's spirit guide was any indication, then the man himself was incredibly stubborn (there was something else he should be remembering about badgers, but he had ignored that section of his training, as the kind of things he'd wanted to specialise in were not open to paired sentinels).
There was, of all things a grid and a numeric keypad at the first junction that he reached – that had him raising his eyebrows. It was the kind of precaution that he would normally appreciate in a location he was supposed to defend, but given that he had no idea where he was, or who he was supposed to be in the custody of (other than the fact that they employed the guide he had found himself attached to) it simply made him nervous – his fingers itched for a weapon and he could already feel his senses reaching (fruitlessly) for his guide.
He hates that instinctive reaction. It blunts his combat readiness. Makes him vulnerable - if he gets caught up in the search, then he'll zone out. The knowledge that he has a guide makes it all the more difficult and he barely avoids the slip - he's going to have to work at not zoning out - and that is one of the reasons he didn't want a guide.
He lets his eyesight sharpen and ratchets up his sense of touch, breathing carefully to stay in the here and now. The code is easy to pick out and he punches it in and slides beneath the grill. The badger pushes past him and he is tempted to ignore it, but he can also smell his guide and his guide's territory in the direction that the badger is heading. He'd be able to give him answers as to what was going on, so he gives in and follows it.
He swings down out of the ceiling at the point the badger indicates and settles into the office chair that smells like his guide. The door is locked, and he can hear a low, comforting level of bustle in the surrounding area - his disappearance from the room he'd been in hasn't been noticed yet. In the second drawer of the desk, there's a P229 and he allows his hands to curl round the butt briefly, before putting it down and drifting into the meditation he prefers.
He's going to wring the Hawk's neck if it doesn't stop cackling. All the non-Guide agents are giving him odd looks in the corridors (even if the Hawk is incorporeal, his mind insists it isn't, and he's compensating for the perch it's chosen on his shoulder) and very few of the Guides can see it as well (most, but not all of them, are high ranking; he makes a mental note of the two juniors who make eye contact with his Sentinel's spirit guide - they need accelerated training).
His Sentinel has disappeared into the ducts of the Helicarrier and Maria had laughed when he informed her (he's got an idea for revenge - there's a female Sentinel running free lance in the former USSR that he's been keeping an eye on and the only Guide S.H.I.E.L.D has that is any sort of match for what they know about her is Maria), but she had at least shut down the lethal security measures. He'd been tempted to leave them active, but he has a good idea of where his Sentinel is probably heading and the last time something in the ducts got fried by the security systems it stank for weeks (and oh god, he was referring to the annoyance as his - he needed time on the range - lots of time - or a pile of essential but mind-numbing paperwork).
He opened the door to his office and smiled almost involuntarily as his suspicion about where his Sentinel had headed was confirmed; the man was curled up in his chair. If they were a normal pair, then he would probably have found 'Clint' asleep (no, he was meditating, and deeply, unless he was mistaken) in or on his bed, but this was some how more fitting. He sighed and shut the door behind him.
Maria handed the Director $10.
"How did you know -"
"His CO warned me."
His Sentinel jerks up, out of the meditation, with a slightly glazed expression.
“Sir, -” his Sentinel tilts his head and takes a deep breath, “- Guide. My guide?”
“Yes.” His Sentinel - Clint - rises gracefully from his curled up position in his chair, and stalks across the room (he’ll give in gracefully - he’s promised himself he will).
“Can I, sir?” His hands hover over the buttons of his shirt. “Will you let me have it all?” There’s a degree of wistfulness in Clint’s voice as if the other man expected to be denied (it makes him ache in ways that are unfamiliar - forces an unexpected reaction from him - he’s never wanted a Sentinel).
“All of it.”
Clint takes one last step into his personal space and touches him. Without the cushion of adrenaline and the focus of a mission, he’s wide open and he has an idea of why he brought Clint home with him now. He's needier than he’s felt in years and its so easy to surrender to him.
His Sentinel’s hands are dexterous. The callouses on his fingers are unfamiliar (some of them he recognises, mirrors of his own, but there’s another set) and fuck, he's good with them, driving almost everything from his mind. The kiss, deep and messy steals the rest.
“Clint, -” his Sentinel’s pupils are blown wide open, the grey around them barely visible “- I’ve got a remarkably comfortable couch.” (That’s not what he meant to say; they need to move this somewhere else - Clint needs the all clear from the medics - he needs - oh god he needs, but there’s a flicker of pain underneath it all, pain that isn’t his, and that means Clint’s already slithered underneath his shields.)
His suit jacket and shirt have been unbuttoned somewhere along the way (though his shoulder holster is still in place) and Clint’s got his nose buried in the crook of his neck - and that’s going to be a bruise, but it feels good and he can’t bring himself to care.
His Sentinel’s hands are everywhere, and he’s forgotten for the moment why he didn’t want this, swept up in his Sentinel’s craving.
“Can I taste you, sir?” The words pull him up for a moment, and he nods, pulling his Sentinel over towards the couch.
He’s been hard since Clint reached out to touch him. His Sentinel’s mouth is hot and wet and perfect and god, he’s doomed. There’s a finger brushing softly against his perineum and he needs.
She doesn’t begrudge Phil time to bond with his Sentinel (Clinton Barton, Recon, Sniper … and of all things an Olympic-grade archer - a better match for him would have been challenging to find) and she has the perfect bonding gift for him in mind (she’s been holding that trading card hostage for a while), but did it have to be this week? The Black Widow’s apparently hunting HYDRA and knocking out any SHIELD agents she comes across, her own spirit guide is somewhere past antsy and into pissed off and the crew of the Helicarrier are unbalanced (and wasn’t it just Phil that his territory = his office?).
She’s not working for anyone at the moment. There’s a guide that she keeps catching glimpses of, on missions of her own, that has her curious, so she’s stalking HYDRA, waiting for an opportunity to see her again.