A man in a business suit slides into the seat across from Clint and smiles blandly. He pushes a piece of paper across the table. Every person in this diner is a SHIELD agent. We've swept the building for bugs. Do you have any audio feeds on you?
Clint raises an eyebrow. He doesn't move, doesn't even let his muscles tense, but he's already mentally reviewing the best escape routes for when he finds out what the hell is going on. "If you did your homework that well, why aren't we having this conversation in a SHIELD holding cell?"
The man meets his eyes. "I'm not here to arrest you, though I suppose it is an option on the table. I'm here to recruit you for the good guys."
He can't help it; Clint actually laughs at that, hard and sharp. "Mister, I don't even know where to start with what a fucking stupid idea that is. I don't want to work for SHIELD, my pay rate's way too high for a government agency to afford, and a mirrored holding cell is nothing compared to what my current employers would do to me if I broke my contract." He picks up a slice of bacon deliberately and bites into it with a crunch. "Also, I hate wearing suits."
Another thin smile, as if the man expected exactly that response. "I said we were the good guys, not the government. If you don't walk out of here working for us, a 'mirrored holding cell' will be the least of your worries."
"Awesome," Clint grins. "We've moved on to the 'deliberately ambiguous threats' part of the conversation. But I've gotta say, you're shit at them, so how about we get to the part where I piss you off enough to knock me out, and then I wait for my employers to break me out of your super-secret jail cell?"
"You're not going to make me angry," the man says, with calm steel in his voice. It's probably the first interesting thing about him. "Clint, I've seen you in action. A beautiful weapon shouldn't be broken; it's a shame and a waste. I really don't want to see you in that cell, and I'm prepared to let you name your price to avoid that happening."
"I'm already getting fuck-you money from my employers. Doubling it wouldn't actually make me a happier man."
"I didn't say the price had to be limited to money."
A smile curves across Clint's lips before he can stop it. He's pretty sure that this guy meant "political favors" or "covert connections" or "shiny new high-tech bows," but damn if it didn't sound like a come-on. "So I can name my price from you, huh?" he asks, letting his voice go husky and linger on the phrase from you. "SHIELD must be pretty interested in this 'beautiful weapon.'"
"We are," the man says seriously. "I'll be frank with you, Clint. We know that HYDRA's planning something that will result in a lot of people dying, and we know that it's so important that they're refusing to bring on new hires or promote the ones they have until it's rolled out. We need someone on the inside, someone they trust already."
"And why am I that somebody?"
"You're a smart mercenary, and everyone knows that. You get your jobs done on time, and you never double-cross your employers. You've worked with HYDRA often enough to build their trust, even though you've never pretended to believe in their cultic ideals, and that makes you particularly interesting to us. Fanatics don't have a price, but you do."
"You're not going to try to appeal to my humanitarian nature? I'm disappointed."
The man smiles confidentially. "Even assassins can work for the side of the angels. Your amorality is your strength, and I wouldn't try to change it. I want you to choose us freely, and I'm prepared to offer whatever price and protection that requires."
"So how do you know I won't walk right back to my employers, tell them about this conversation, and ask for twice your price?"
"Because if they could pay what I offer you, you'd have it already. It's my job to figure out what we can give you that HYDRA can't, and to promise it upon successful completion of your mission."
"Yeah, and how's that job working out for you?"
The man tilts his head slightly. "Are you sure you want to know? You're a man who appreciates honesty, so I'm always going to be honest with you if you ask me a question."
The reply makes Clint hesitate. Clearly this guy isn't just a random SHIELD representative; he's talking about the two of them as if they have some kind of ongoing relationship. Shame they couldn't send someone younger and hotter for that, he thinks, and then it's as if a switch flips in his head, because his brain's suddenly cataloguing every way in which this guy is, in fact, damn sexy. A primly wrapped gift, ready for Clint to tug at the ribbons. Well, fuck. All he says aloud is, "Sure. Blow my mind."
"Your parents were the first people to abandon you," the man says, and Clint's hand clenches automatically.
"They died, asshole, they didn't --"
"Do you think that distinction matters to a seven-year-old boy? They abandoned you, and then each of your foster parents abandoned you, and all along, your brother kept abandoning you for every new get-rich scheme. Then you joined the circus, where your mentors not only abandoned you but abused you. Ever since then, you've fought tooth and nail to create your own stability. You wrote yourself an inviolable code of behavior, you established a sterling reputation, and you hoarded away enough money and identities that you could drop off the radar and never work again if you wanted."
"Congratulations, you can write my biography," Clint says, but his voice feels half caught in his throat. It's not fear, not exactly, even though he probably should be afraid of someone who knows all those things. It's the traitorous pleasure that somebody cared enough to discover them.
"That's just the easy part," the man shrugs. "A lot of people would look at your history and say that what I should offer you is that stability. SHIELD won't abandon you, and we'll make it possible for you to live in one place without looking over your shoulder. You'll be expected to do your job well, but the occasional screw-up won't make us throw you out. That's a luxury you haven't really had before."
"But you sound like you disagree."
"I think that's accurate but insufficient."
"Okaaay," Clint says, drawing out the word. He can't decide if this guy's arrogance is infuriating or hot. (Or, honestly, he knows that it’s both.)
"I watched the footage of you in Romania," the man says. "Not only did you hit your target with a perfect kill shot, you took out a rival sniper whom we hadn't even spotted, you incapacitated all the agents we sent after you with carefully non-lethal shots, and you did it all with a cheap sporting-goods bow that you bought after your weapons contact didn't show."
Clint's learned to listen to the tone of someone's voice rather than their words, and if he had to pick a word to describe this man's tone, it would be "giddy." He sounds like he's telling a story about Captain America, not an average day in Clint's life. His eyes glitter with delight, and it's goddamn endearing.
"You're amazing, Clint," the man finishes. "And I think you realize it, but it's not something you've ever had someone tell you, let alone tell you as often as you needed to hear it, simply because you deserved to know. What I'm offering you is the chance to be appreciated. To be kept as that beautiful weapon, polished to a shine and brought into play for situations worthy of your potential."
Fuck. Clint's gut is churning, and he wants desperately to feel an anger that just isn't there. He forces a laugh. "So do you objectify all your recruits like this?"
He tilts his head, thoughtful. "I'll stop, if that's what you want."
Clint can't make himself lie, but he can't make himself admit the truth either, so he just keeps his mouth shut. It's enough of an answer to bring a tiny smile to the man's lips.
"So," he says calmly, as if he hasn't just laid Clint's deepest-buried secrets on the table. "For now, we're looking for a simple information exchange: you pass along details about the project. But once we've got what we need, or once it looks like you might be compromised, we'll extract you and use you for what you do best."
Clint lets his voice lower to a purr. "And what is it that I do best, sir?"
The man doesn't break his gaze or change his tone. "You slide your smooth, long arrows into the wet body cavities of your targets. And you're going to do it with my voice murmuring in your ear."
Clint can't breathe for a moment. His one and only comfort right now is that the diner table is hiding how embarrassingly turned on he is. (He's getting the sense that this guy knows anyway.)
The man stands up, smooth and swift, and pulls an envelope out of his jacket. He sets it in front of Clint. "Our objectives and methods of contact are all in there. You might not meet me again until this is over, but I'll be watching you. Oh, and Clint?" He leans down, until Clint can feel the man's breath warm against his ear. "I take workplace ethics seriously. I can be your handler, or I can be your Sir -- not both. That's something for you to decide. But I promise you, I'll take pleasure in either."
He straightens up again, with a squeeze to Clint's shoulder. "See you soon, Agent Barton."
The man's left the diner before Clint even thinks to ask what his name is, but it's on the cover page of his information packet, right below a hilariously ominous eagle symbol. "Supervising Agent: Phil Coulson."