The low level junior agent had been an annoyance all day.
Harris had gotten used to ignoring the guy, but somehow, they ended up in the same training classes over and over and over and Harris was absolutely done with listening to his inane babble. Apparently, the idiot had been CIA before being recruited by SHIELD. Everyone knew this because he kept bringing it up. It appeared that he considered the SHIELD training courses to be an annoyance, after his long and proficient career in the field.
The only one impressed by his 'long and proficient career' up until this point appeared to be him. Harris was impressed only by his ability to continue talking long after everyone had ceased to listen to him.
And he wasn't terribly impressed by that, either.
This briefing session, and SHIELD called them briefing sessions instead of classes, not that anyone gave a damn what SHIELD called them, was about emerging issues with Canadian customs. Canadian customs, as it turned out, was not impressed by SHIELD's fancy footwork and weren't real eager to clear certain things across the border.
Basically, if it didn't appear on the periodic table of elements, Canada had a certain wariness about letting it enter the country. Harris considered this completely justified; SHIELD wasn't quite so forgiving. Harris approved of practicality on the part of customs agents, and national governments.
Maybe he could defect. Maybe that was still a thing.
Basically, Harris was bored out of his mind, and he wasn't the only one. The CIA reject actually had an audience, which was rare, but as annoying as he was, at least he was interesting. Annoying interesting beat competent boring any day, even with people as eager to impress as the average SHIELD Junior Agent.
“So, I was down in Columbia and-”
Harris gritted his teeth and kept his face forward, staring at the tall, broad shouldered woman with the neat black bun who was leading the course. She took her material very seriously, and it didn't seem to bother her overly much that no one else did.
“You would not believe what-”
Harris glanced over at the CIA reject. “Look,” he said, in an undertone, “I'm trying to pay attention here, so I'd really appreciate it if you could keep it down?”
CIA-Douche gave him a disdainful look. In a single flick, he took in Harris' lanky form, from the shock of wheat-blonde hair to his too-big feet, clad in battered sneakers. His face twisted in a smirk, and Harris resisted the urge to sigh. “I'm sorry,” Mr. Too-Cool-For-School said to Harris. “I thought I knew all the agents in this recruiting wave. Who are you, exactly?”
Harris stared him down, because he really did not care. “Summer intern,” he said.
One of the other agents actually choked back a laugh, and a few pitying glances were exchanged. “Wow,” CIA-Douche said, stretching the vowel out like overly-sweet taffy. “That's interesting.” With that, he dismissed Harris, leaning back in his chair and stretching his legs out in front of him. “So, as I was saying-”
Harris took a look at his flawless cowboy boots, made of something expensive and over-tooled, and had to move before he said something he'd regret. A faint wave of laughter followed him as he moved to the aisle and shifted forward a few rows, his stuff tucked under his arm in an untidy heap. He found an open seat near the front, because honestly? No one wanted to be at the front of this class. The woman in the next seat gave him a disinterested look before returning to her computer.
From where he was sitting, Harris was pretty sure she was drawing something obscene.
He turned his attention back to the instructor and tried to pretend that he cared. As the class droned on, and the faint hum of voices and laughter around the room only became more pronounced, he wanted to scream. If these people didn't want to bother paying attention, why were they still here?
As if on cue, he heard the rear door of the lecture hall open with a subdued bang. For an instant, he thought someone had finally left in a huff. But a moment later, footsteps came bouncing down the aisle, the gait quick and almost skipping. Harris' head came up from his notebook, because he could suddenly hear the instructor. The room was getting quieter and quieter, the footsteps now a rhythmic call of doom.
He didn't turn around. Because he was being paranoid. He was being paranoid, this wasn't happening, not everything was about him. He was unimportant, in the scheme of things. He was uninteresting and unnoticed, just another head in a sea of them, bent over a notebook because that felt more real than a tablet, that felt right. He was that unimportant. No one came looking for him. Ever.
That was the way he wanted it.
He flinched. He couldn't help it. It was like his brain recognized the danger and was desperately trying to escape. He kept his head down, his eyes locked on the notebook, on the increasingly irrational scribbles his pen was leaving in its wake.
“Harris. Hey, Harris.”
Behind his back, he made a shooing motion of his hand, a hard, sharp flick that he hoped communicated, “GO AWAY” in no uncertain terms. Preferably with some obscenities mixed in.
The CIA reject had finally shut up, and all idle chatter had died. With the exception of the ongoing list of the things that Canada most certainly DID NOT WANT, there was now dead silence in the lecture hall. Harris ignored everything.
Something bounced off the back of his head, and he squeezed his eyes shut.
The woman to his right kept stealing quick glances over her shoulder, her face incredulous. “Is that-” she whispered.
“Just ignore him. He'll lose interest and go away eventually,” Harris said, bending over his notes. His shoulders hunched, as if he could force his head down until his ears were actually covered.
There was a sharp poke on the inside of his shoulder blade, and he wanted to scream.
“Has ignoring him ever actually worked?” she whispered.
“No. But there's always hope for a first time,” Harris whispered back from between clenched teeth. It was a slim hope, but it was a hope.
“Haaaaaaaaaarris.” The word had taken on a distinctly whining tone. Harris wondered if he could get a plea deal if he killed the man and confessed. At this rate, SHIELD might help him cover it up.
“Any questions?” the instructor said, with all due gravity. “Yes, Mr. Stark?”
“I need to collect my minion,” Tony Stark said from behind Harris. “Official Avengers business.”
Harris let his head fall forward to his desktop without worrying about the contents of his skull. He was losing his mind already. A little concussion would probably just help things along.
“Of course,” the instructor said, polite and professional. “Mr. MacIntyre, you're dismissed.”
Harris spun around in his seat. Tony was smirking at him from behind a pair of golden tinted glasses. He kicked the back of Harris' seat. “Let's go.”
“You know,” Harris hissed, “I could stab you in the face right now and I would be fine with that. I would be so fine with that, there aren't even words.”
“Yeah, but I wouldn't be fine with it, and let's face it, what I want is more important.” Tony rolled to his feet, tucking his hands in the pockets of a suit that had to cost more than Harris' current car. His shoes, however, were battered Converse, and his hair was a wind-blown mess. “What I want is always more important. March.” He headed for the door, absolutely certain that Harris would be right behind him.
Harris kind of resented the fact that he was. The whole room watched, in utter silence, as Harris gathered his stuff and followed Stark to the door, resenting the man every step of the way. Though he did have a moment of pleasure when he glanced back and saw CIA-Douche's mouth hanging open. Harris gave him a tight smile and a little finger wiggle of a wave.
“You know,” he said as the door shut behind him, “when I was a kid, I could never figure out why the dumb companions on Doctor Who always seemed so eager to follow that moron whenever he showed up. I mean, clearly, all that was going to happen was he was going to get them killed.”
“I don't know, adventure, romance, fucking cool aliens?” Tony pointed out. He paused. “Both in the 'amazing' sense as well as the 'having sex with' sense.”
“All wonderful, until you're too dead to enjoy them,” Harris said, shifting his training materials under one arm. “What, exactly, do you want?”
“I'm sensing a certain lack of disrespect, here, a note, just a faint note of disdain that I'm not certain I approve of,” Tony told him.
“I'll try harder, any disdain in my voice should be obvious,” Harris said. “What do you want?”
“I'm not really hearing the proper amount of respect here,” Tony said, throwing an arm around Harris' shoulders. “I got you out of detention.” He waved his other hand in an expansive gesture. “What is your problem? You were bored out of your mind in that class.”
“Briefing,” Harris felt required to say. “And I don't get to skip things I find to be boring. What do you WANT, Tony?”
“No, you don't get to skip boring things, I need you to do boring things for me, so I don't have to do them. As it turns out, I DO get to skip things I find boring.”
“Why?” Harris asked.
“Because I'm rich. And because when I'm bored, things tend to get exploded, and Fury has put a strict limit on the number of things I'm allowed to explode,” Tony said, and he was grinning, wide and white and sharp, his eyes glinting as they walked.
“How strict a limit?” Harris asked, wary.
“Not so strict. I mean, obviously, he'd prefer none, but that's not going to happen,” Tony said, as if that was obvious.
Harris rubbed his forehead. “Tony, what is going on here? Really?”
“Really?” Tony threw an arm around Harris' shoulders. Harris resisted the urge to scream. “We have a job for you.”
Maybe she should've worn a looser t-shirt.
Not that it was likely to change anything. Darcy had long since resigned herself to the fact that her breasts were enough to mesmerize a certain subset of men. They weren't generally the brightest of men, which made it a little easier. It wasn't as if she really wanted to talk to these morons.
Darcy considered staring slack-jawed at her breasts her first warning sign of a major moron. It was like a giant flashing sign over a guy's head that said, “Don't even bother.” It was actually pretty convenient; as soon as the eyeballs fastened on her boobs she could write the guy off.
However, it was always kind of awkward to be forced to talk to the top of a co-worker's head because he couldn't be bothered to raise his eyes above her nipples. It didn't really inspire confidence that he was paying attention to a word that she was saying. The fact that he was supposed to be teaching her hand to hand combat, and wasn't was just what made this extra pleasant. Darcy didn't mind a little flirting, but if this guy tried one more lame pick up line on her, she was not going to be responsible for her actions.
Really. Not responsible at all.
“So,” Darcy said, drawing out the word, trying to bring his head up. It didn't work, so she just kept going with a mental sigh. “The back arm throw?”
His head jerked up at last, and he cleared his throat. “Really,” he said, and there was that note, that condescending note that made Darcy grit her teeth and brace her feet. “Really, you're, well, let's be honest. You're a summer intern, the fact that you're in this class at all is kind of just due to protocol. You're not an agent, you're not going into the field. You're going to be photocopying briefing packets, maybe, but that's pretty advanced. You know. For you.”
“For me,” Darcy said, and her voice was flat and dry.
“Yeah, I mean-” He shrugged, and his expression was pitying. “For you.”
All around her, there were junior agents and trainers practicing hand to hand combat, swinging and kicking, rolling and falling. Bodies hit the mats and people grunted and swore, and Darcy was standing there, in sweatpants and a too tight shirt and brand new sneakers being told that she wasn't worth training by a guy who couldn't be bothered to look away from her breasts.
“Yeah, well, I'm full of surprises,” Darcy said from gritted teeth. “Let's just pretend aliens are invading. Cause, like, that's a thing that happens around this place, I've seen it. So let's just assume that's what happening. Let's just assume that you're an alien invader, some crazy cryogenically frozen Nazi, a like shape-shifting badass, and if I don't know how to defend myself in hand to hand combat, I'm just going to have to fall back to my usual tactics, and that is tasering you until you're a jerking mess of misfiring synapses.”
“You have a taser,” he said, and his lips were twitching. She could almost see the 'aw, how cute' floating across his mind.
“I have a taser,” she said. “In my bag. Like, right now, I have a taser right now, let's get my taser, and maybe if I'm pointing that at you, you'll feel a little more inclined to teach me something useful?”
The agent let out a little chuckle, and Darcy very nearly took a swing at him.
“What do you really think you can do with a taser?” he asked, and there was that smirk again, that condescending, chauvinistic smirk, that one that just expected her to duck behind him and shriek like a banshee at the first sign of trouble.
Darcy just braced her feet, shifting her weight, setting her shoulders in place above her hips, finding her center. Finding the strength in her legs and her hips, rolling to the balls of her feet. The way Clint had taught her. The way he'd taught her, his eyes on hers, his hands on her hips, teaching her how to swing, how to do damage, how to use her environment and her strengths and what everyone assumed was her weaknesses.
Her leg snapped out, hard and fast, and the agent never saw her coming.
Her foot struck hard in the side of his knee, and it buckled, he stumbled forward, just a half step, but Darcy was there before he could recover, swinging a braced elbow into his solar plexus, letting his weight carry him into the blow, and followed it up with a knee to the groin.
He went down with a strangled shriek.
“That, but with more electricity,” Darcy said, scrambling backwards, out of reach, in case he recovered, in case she was fighting someone stronger than she anticipated. Hit, then get out of range, as fast as possible. Or, as Clint liked to say, it was safer to gloat at a distance.
There was a giggle behind her, high and feminine, and Darcy risked a look and found a couple of the female junior agents grinning at her, their eyes dancing. One of them gave her a thumbs up, and Darcy grinned back, giving her head a toss, letting her ponytail bounce around her shoulders.
She swung back, and it was almost too late, because she must not have connected with his balls the way she thought she had, because he was back on his feet and lunging. Darcy backpedaled, trying to get herself back into place, and her attacker was scruffed like a naughty kitten.
“You ought not to be so careless with an opponent,” Thor told her, holding the confused, struggling instructor a foot and a half off the floor. His arm bulged with muscle, but he didn't even glance at his prey. “If it still breathes, do not cease your attack.”
“Dude, I can't kill him,” Darcy pointed out, and her heart was going a little too fast, her breath a little too heavy. “He's the instructor. SHIELD's gonna notice that little hole in their roster.”
Thor turned the man so he was face to face with him, and nose to nose. “This cannot be true,” he said, and his voice was glacial. “A man so entrusted with the safety and well-being of his fellows would not be so callous in his treatment of them.”
The training room was very quiet, only the sound of a faint whimper breaking the silence.
Thor's eyes were narrowed tight. “I should think that such a man would be very careful with his students. As a weapons master, as a fighter who stands above others, he would understand the very real danger of being careless.” The final word was a snarl.
Darcy felt the hairs on her arm stand up, and she touched her head. “Whoa, Big an' Blonde,” she said, as static jumped to her fingers. “Okay, let's just take a deep breath and back up, just a step or two, huh? That would be good. 'Cause I've got a real frizzing problem going on here and that's usually the time when I break out the Pop Tarts, but right now I do not have my emergency 'you're annoying the Thunder God and you should reconsider that' supplies.”
Thor took a deep breath, and Thor taking a deep breath meant that Thor expanded. He was big to begin with. When he got annoyed, he was huge.
Left with no other options than filling out an 'incident' form, and she'd already done like seventeen of those so far, and she'd only been here for two weeks, and that was not a good ratio of days to forms, Coulson had made sure she understood that ratio was unacceptable, Darcy sighed. And hugged Thor around the waist.
He blinked and glanced down at her. Without dropping her instructor, he wrapped an easy arm around her waist and hugged her back. “You are well?”
“Right as rain, Sparky.” She looked at the SHIELD agent and cleared her throat. Thor frowned. Darcy raised her eyebrows. Thor sighed. Darcy gave him a stern nod.
“If you insist,” he said, and it was reluctant. He rolled his head back to the instructor. “This lady is under my protection,” he said, and that was regal, right there, that was the voice of a fucking King, Darcy had never heard a King in person, other than Thor, but she knew regal when she heard it, and that was goddamn fucking regal. “She is all but my kin, she is my sister of the heart if not the blood, she is Asgardian by edict of Odin All-Father. She is a citizen of my court. She is my beloved's heart mate, and she-” He lifted the agent another couple of inches off the ground. “Is not to be disrespected.”
“Actually, don't disrespect anyone, really, that's a dick move, you know that? I mean, just because we have boobs, you really don't need to spend ten minutes memorizing their exact size, shape and configuration,” Darcy said. “So what he just said about me? Can we just pretend he means it about everyone?”
“He did what?” Thor asked her.
“My breasts are really, really nice,” Darcy said, patting him on the back. “It's cool, you showed him, Thor, yay! You are the man, man, it is exactly what I needed today, so let's just forget the rest of it-”
The instructor went head first into the wall.
“I'm not filling out the forms on that,” Darcy said to the room at large. “Just to make this clear? That was him. That was... ALL him. One hundred percent him.” She held up both hands in a placating gesture. “No way I am taking the fall for you this time, big guy.”
“There is no fall,” Thor said, and he actually dusted his hands together, Darcy didn't think anyone actually DID that, but apparently, no one told Thor that no one did that. “Nor shall there be. Come. We have much work to do.”
“I, uh, I have class. See this? This is my class. I can't leave, Coulson did everything but issue me a tracking bracelet, you know, one of those electronic bracelets on your ankle? Yeah, he did everything but put one of those on me and I was told-” She lowered her voice and tried to wipe all emotion from it. “'Ms. Lewis, you have a schedule. Stick to it.'”
“Clearly, he needs to better consider those with whom he places your safety,” Thor said, and there was a lot of very enthusiastic nodding around the room. “I shall speak to him on this, at length.” He gave her a sunny sort of smile. “For now, however, we have need of you. Come along.”
Darcy considered arguing. Recognizing the futility of it, she shrugged. “Okay. Let's go. C'mon. Yeah. Team.” She gave her best cheerleader jump, and Thor chuckled. “Sorry, yeah, could someone mark me as absent or something?” she asked as Thor hustled her out of the room.
In the hallway, she gave him an annoyed look. “What is your problem?”
“Avengers business, little warrior. Come.”
“As often as possible,” she said, cheerful about it.
Agent Fromm stared at Drew with an expression of mingled confusion and consternation. It was an expression that Drew had experience with, so he wasn't very concerned.
“Is your shirt covered in... Little pink ponies?” Fromm asked.
Drew glanced down. “Yep! Pinkie Pie, to be precise.” He blinked at Fromm. “She's my absolute favorite. She has a party canon.”
There was a beat of silence, and someone behind him choked on laughter. Drew didn't even bother looking back at the junior agents that were clustered around, checking their weapons. Most of them were competent, but Drew had no desire to be standing in front of a couple of them. Not when the ammo was handed out.
Agent Fromm checked his roster. “You're... One of the summer interns?”
“Yep.” Drew stuck his hands in his hip pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels. “Do I get a gun?” he asked, making his eyes huge and sad.
“Why are you here?” Fromm asked, flicking through his pages, his brow knitting.
“I ask myself that every goddamn day, sir,” Drew confided. “Today, more than most.”
“Why does a summer intern need weapons training?”
“I really, really don't think I do, but my shift supervisor apparently has other ideas.”
Fromm shook his head. “Okay, then.” With a faint sigh, he waved Drew towards the agent who was issuing pistols to each of the junior agents in the class. “Sign out a gun and get in line. We'll be doing basic assembly and checks today.”
Drew looked at the guns, and he knew his disgust was showing on his face, and could not be fucking bothered to hide it. “Yes, sir.”
“You have a problem with this, Mr. Clark?” Fromm asked, not sounding like he cared.
Drew opened his mouth, considered, and shut it again. “No, sir,” he said, with a sigh, and headed for the table. A day of disassembling pistols. He was so excited for this, he might just scream. Or he might just scream for more concrete reasons.
The voice echoed down, and heads tipped back, all over the range. The solitary figure perched in the rafters stared back down at them. His arms folded on a pipe in front of him, he kicked out one leg, sending a loop of rope cascading out to the floor. “Fromm, you never pay attention, c'mon, man.”
Fromm rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, tucking his clipboard under his arm. “And what, exactly, should I be paying attention to, Agent Barton?”
“Callouses on his hands.” Clint Barton swung himself around to the rope and slid down, landing stable and solid on the floor, sending juniors scrambling out of his way. “Hands up, kid.”
Eyebrows arched, Drew held up his hands, palms out, and Hawkeye snorted. “Bolt action rifle. Competition grade. What're you firing, kid?”
“Anything long barreled,” Drew said, tucking his hands back in his pockets.
“What do you fire, kid, c'mon, you've got a weapon.”
Drew gave up. “Modified Springfield M1903A.”
There was a dead beat of silence, and Clint grinned at him. “.30 caliber, bolt action, what, modified scope?”
“Among other things.”
“Fuck,” Clint said, and he was laughing. “A service rifle. Retired service rifle?”
“My grandfather's, technically,” Drew said. “With some slight tampering. I like the weight, and the balance is good for my purposes.”
“Purposes?” Fromm asked, and he was reaching for his tablet.
“Competition shooting,” Clint said.
“I can't afford college in New York City,” Drew said, with a tight smile. “Or rather, I couldn't, if not for the fact that I've got nine years worth of NRA regional championship shooting titles under my belt. Nothing better than using NRA scholarships to escape rural Oklahoma.”
“You're that good?” Clint asked, and it wasn't an attack, it wasn't disbelieving, it was just curious.
Drew let himself grin. “Get me a gun.”
“Fromm's working on it,” Clint said. “No pistols?”
“I don't like them. I can shoot them. But I don't like them.” Drew shrugged.
Clint held out his hand, and Clint held his out, letting Clint take hold of his wrist and tilt his palm into the light. “Bow?”
“Compound or recurve,” Drew said. “I prefer compound. Less strain at holding weight.”
“What's your draw weight?”
“Sixty pounds,” he said, and Clint burst out laughing.
“Bullshit. Bull. Shit,” he said, and he was laughing as he said it. “You can't weigh a hundred and twenty-five pounds, your draw length can't be more than twenty-five inches, there is no way your weight is sixty, not even on a compound.”
Drew gave him a wide, sharp toothed smile. “Wanna lend me a bow and see what I can do?” he asked, all sweetness and light and fluttering eyelashes.
“Let's start you with a rifle, and go from there.”
Drew shrugged. “Your funeral.”
“Is it?” Clint asked as an agent from the gun cage appeared, a rifle in hand. “You a sniper?”
“Only in the original sense of the word.”
“What do you mean, original sense of the word?” one of the juniors asked, and Clint's lips kicked up on one side in a half-smile.
“He means that the word sniper was derived from a hunter good enough to pick off a snipe in flight,” Clint said. “Snipe are wetlands birds, good camouflage, not easily startled from cover. But if they took off, they'd fly in a zig-zag, staggered pattern that is almost impossible to predict. 'Sniper' was a title bestowed on a hunter that could still make the shot count, pick off a tiny, unpredictable target at a far distance.”
The training class was staring at Drew now, a mingled combination of confusion, disbelief, disdain, and outright pity. Drew didn't much care, he'd dealt with worse. He gave them a sweet smile. The weapons keeper handed over the rifle, and Fromm gave him a sideways glance. “Live weapon on the range,” he said, and Drew accepted the ammunition.
“Competition standard?” Clint asked Drew, who was checking the rifle.
“Ten slow standing, ten rapid kneeling, ten rapid prone?” Drew asked, and confirmed it with a nod. “Five rounds per load, and I'll have to adjust for distance.”
Clint was laughing. “And Agent Coulson knows things no one else has even bothered looking for, doesn't he?” he asked. “Agent Fromm?”
Fromm nodded, slowly. “Let's give this a try. Break down your rifle, Mr. Clark.”
Drew crossed to the nearby table and began his checks as a few of the junior agents clustered around, watching. One woman, still working with her own Sig Sauer pistol, gave him a look. “Can you really, you know, shoot?” she said at last. “I mean-” Her eyes trailed over him, and settled on his shirt. “Really?”
“Strangely enough, yes,” Drew said, his hands moving by rote, fast and efficient.
“So, what, this is a new gay empowerment thing?” she asked, and there was a note in her voice that made him want to laugh.
“So totally weird,” he said, giving it his most femme delivery. “But my desire to have sex with hot men does not in any way prevent me from pulling the trigger on a rifle.” He grinned at her. “It's almost like my ability to shoot a gnat off the ass of a deer at two hundred yards is completely unconnected to my talents in boy on boy action.” He leaned in. “Different skillset. But can I just say? I am so very, very good at both.” With a wink, he collected his weapon and his muffs, and headed over to Fromm and Clint. “Are we ready?”
“Whenever you are,” Clint said.
Drew took a deep breath, rotated his shoulders, and sucked in a slow easy breath. This was not the most hostile audience he'd ever faced with a gun in his hand. And he'd done this many, many times.
When it was all over, and Fromm had checked the rifle and called the range clear, Drew stripped off his muffs, watching as the crowd behind him did the same. Clint glanced down at the computerized results, and started to laugh. “I think you just beat three-quarters of SHIELD's active duty field agents.” He shook his head. “Guess who gets the rest of the day off?”
“Ooh, ooh, is it me?” Drew said, going through the motions of checking the rifle.
“Yeah, you don't need basic firearms course. Let's blow this joint.”
Drew threw his hands in the air. “Yay!” He scooped up the rifle and bounced along in Clint's wake. “Where're we going?”
“Do you care?”
“Not in the least,” Drew said.
Clint glanced at him as they left the range. “So, that was impressive.”
“Listen, where I come from? Liking boys is a bit worrying. Not being able to handle a gun? Now, that's just unnatural,” Drew said, his voice dry. “They didn't have to like me. But for the most part? They left me alone. And it taught me control and patience. Something I've sorely needed, since I was a strange little kid and some of my neighbors fell between 'redneck' and 'hillbilly.'
“Not all of them. A lot of good ol' boys where I come from, nice enough folks, but I got sick of the civilian version of 'don't ask, don't tell,' real fast. If they got problems with me, that's their problem.”
“You know, that shirt probably doesn't help.”
Drew glanced down at the pink shirt covered with pink ponies and balloons. “Too subtle?”
“Only if you're going by the Tony Stark school of subtlety,” Clint said.
“They're gonna talk about me anyway,” Drew said. “I might as well control what they say.” They paused at the gun cage and Drew turned in the gun. “And you have a problem with Pinkie Pie?”
“Nope, she's my favorite, too.” Clint waited Drew to finish signing the weapon back in. “C'mon, Coulson's waiting on us.”
“We got time to grab a coffee?”
“As long as we bring him one, sure.”
“This is mistranslated.”
“Great. It goes over there.”
Shawn scooped up another stack of file folders, tucking them under one arm as he frowned down at the pages in his hand. “No, there's-” His nose wrinkled. “Wow. This is amateur. I hope this guy is good with Urdu, because his Sindhi sucks. I mean-” He juggled his load and held the open file out to his work partner. “Look, see this? He's mistranslated this word here, and that changes-” He lost his grip on the rest of his files and they slipped out from under his arm. The files cascaded to the ground, splashing pages in all directions, and Shawn had to fumble to hold onto the one he was looking at.
His fingers gripping the pages hard, he glanced up. The junior agent was glaring at him, her jaw an angry line. “I'll pick that up,” Shawn said, the words almost tripping over each other in his rush to get them out of his mouth, because he was just that smooth.
“Well, I'm sure as hell not doing it,” she said, and there was a saccharine sweet note to her voice.
“Yeah.” Shawn placed the file down on a nearby table, and crouched down to start sweeping the pages back up. He glanced at them, wincing as he realized that the pages were mixed together now. Of course they were. When you dropped eighteen files on your own feet, they tended to, you know, co-mingle. “Sorry.”
“Look, we were supposed to be done with this an hour ago,” Agent Fitch said. With an audible sigh, she crouched down next to him, balanced carefully on the balls of her feet. Her high-heeled shoes, a deep, magenta kind of purple, did not look comfortable, but they didn't seem to bother her, even in that position. “Can you please just focus on what we're supposed to be doing, Shawn? I mean, I was hoping to get a better assignment than this.”
“Sorry,” he repeated, scooping up pages as fast as he could. With the mass of them pinned to his side with one arm, he straightened up, and held out his hand for the ones she had. One or two of his wiggled free, floating back down to the floor. “I just got distracted.”
“Like six times,” she said, rolling her eyes, but there was a smile around her broad lips. She snagged the fallen pages and rolled back to her feet. Her huge brown eyes hidden behind long black lashes, she leaned over the table to stack the pages with a brisk snap of her arms. “If you're not careful, they're going to stick you in archives, and you're never, ever going to get out,” she said.
“Promise?” Shawn dumped the pages in his arms onto the table. Okay, so he didn't have any clearance, so he couldn't see the good stuff, but man, the files here were fascinating. Maybe he was weird. Well, of course he was weird. But when Coulson had pulled the two of them from their training group and sent them down here with instructions about checking in and assisting the archival staff, he'd been ecstatic. Fitch, meanwhile, had squared her shoulders and plastered on a polite smile and obeyed orders. But it was clear this was not where she wanted to be.
“Why don't you go and get some coffee or something?” Shawn dropped into one of the chairs, pushing his sleeves up as he started sorting the pages. “I can get this back in order in just a couple of minutes, I promise, there's no reason for you to wait.”
Fitch glanced around, her close cropped black hair gleaming in the low light. They'd done half the files with the archivists standing over them, then had been left to their own devices. There were only a couple of stacks left. “Are you sure?” she asked, but she was already reaching for her chic little suit jacket from where she'd put it, on the back of another chair.
“Yeah, go ahead. I promise, I'll get this done in just a couple of minutes, let me just get this stuff back in order, and I'll put it all away.”
“Thanks, Shawn.” She grinned at him. “I need a cup of coffee so bad, you have no idea. Can I bring you back one?”
“No, thanks.” He bent over his work, sorting through the pages as her footsteps retreated from the file room. It didn't take long for him to glance at the translation again. He glanced up, but Fitch wasn't back yet, and he was still doing his work, right? Giving into the inevitable, he pushed the pages aside and turned his attention back to the translation.
The sound of a keycard unlocking the door should've brought his head up, because he'd been engrossed in the text for God only knows how long, and he definitely had not finished his work, but he was studying the script with narrowed eyes. Loathe to lose his place, he waved a hand in Fitch's direction.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, his fingers tracing the lines of text. “Look. Look at this. I don't think they ever caught this. See, the translation's fine for this part.” He tapped an index finger against the first block of text. “I think because it's a lot of, um, well, it's a lot of official language, very formal, almost put together by rote. Bet he's seen that block of text before. But it starts to fall apart here.”
Shawn braced his palms on the table, frowning down at the spread of pages. “And by the time we get to the meat of it, he's missed a couple of key points. It's like... Like a dyslexic, learning by rote and then filling in what he EXPECTS to find, not what's actually there. I mean, the errors are understandable, but they need to check this guy's stuff, he's missing the- I think he's focusing on the Lasi dialect, not the Lari, so that's something, but why would he make this mistake?”
He glanced up. “See?” he said, and the word died in his throat, because across the table, Steve Rogers was mimicking his pose, hands braced, shoulders back, head bent over the pages.
“No,” Steve said, and there was no mockery in the word. He frowned down at the pages. “Is this Arabic?”
Shawn gaped at him, his mouth hanging open, until Steve glanced up. Shawn forced his mouth closed with a very real effort. “Sorry?”
“The language. It looks familiar, but I don't know it. Is it Arabic?”
Shawn forced his eyes down towards the page. “Uh, it's a, well, a sort-” He cleared his throat. “It's a Persian alphabet system, so some of the letters are-” He swallowed. “There's a couple of different scripts used to produce it, this is most common in Pakistan.”
Steve studied the pages, and he seemed honestly curious. “You can read this?”
“What? Oh. Yes. A couple of different dialects, and Urdu. It was important to my mother, and I like languages.” Shawn managed a faint smile as he returned to putting the files back together. “Can I help you with something, Captain Rogers?”
“Your mother? Is she a linguist?” Steve asked, and without asking, or waiting to be asked, he reached for some of the files, his eyes sliding over the pages. In a couple of seconds, his eyes flared wide, and with a faint smile, he started to reassemble the files.
“No. Geneticist,” Shawn said. “Both she and my Dad. But she's Pakistani by birth. She came to the US as a little girl. She wants to make sure we don't lose that, that heritage.”
“Oh. Your last name-”
“My father's from Poland,” Shawn said, grinning. “Science. Meet interesting, brilliant people from foreign countries and, you know, hook up.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wished he could get them back. But Steve was chuckling. Shawn bent over the disordered files. “They met during their graduate studies. My dad said he fell in love with my mother when he read her thesis. He's weird, so that might be true.”
“At least he took her work seriously,” Steve said, handing him a couple of neatly reassembled folders.
“Considering that I'm not certain he knew she was a woman when reading her work, I think we can assume that intellectual prowess was pretty much what he was looking for in a partner.” He shoved the file shut, and he could feel his heart thudding behind his breast bone, too hard, too fast, and he swallowed hard. “Captain Rogers?” Steve glanced at him, a folder in his outstretched hand. “Thank you,” Shawn said.
Steve shook his head. “It's not a big deal,” he said, and his voice was kind.
“No, um, no. Not for this, though, thank you for your help here, too, but-” Shawn swallowed hard. “Thank you. From my grandfather.”
Steve sank into a chair, frowning just a little. “I don't understand,” he admitted after a moment.
“My father's a first generation immigrant. My grandfather and grandmother are still in Poland.” Shawn stacked up the folders. “My grandfather met you, once. During the war. He remembers you.”
Steve's head tipped to the side, his eyebrows knitting together. “Does he?”
“Yes.” Shawn moved to the cabinets, putting the folders away, his fingers flicking over the index tabs, sliding each one in place without really thinking about it. “He said, there was a small group of Allied soldiers, Russians, that came through his village, advancing the line. And the village elders were up in arms, and the people were scared. The soldiers were tired and angry, I guess, things were bad- Things were bad all over, with the Nazis in chaos and the Russians-” He broke off, embarrassment rolling over him. “Which, well, obviously, you know that. I mean, of course you know that.”
He stalked back to the table, wishing that he could talk like a normal person for once. “But the Russians, the Allied soldiers were upset, and the villagers were making things bad, and there was all this yelling. Grandpa said, he was afraid. He was young, but he was afraid, because, well, the Nazis would just shoot. When things got bad, if there was any sort of fuss at all, they'd just shoot people.
“But before things could get really bad, he said you showed up. You and a bunch of others. And you calmed everyone down.” Shawn kept his head ducked as he did his work, categorizing folders before he moved to the cabinets. “He said, you didn't know much Polish, but you knew a little. That you tried to talk to people. That you listened, and you talked to the elders, and you spoke to them with respect. Politely. And you were tired and battered and you'd obviously seen fighting, like, recently.
“But you spoke to them with respect. Quietly. Politely. And because you did, the soldiers followed your example, maybe because it was clear that you weren't going to let them shoot anyone, or because they were just as tired and afraid and battle wary as everyone else. But because you listened, because you and your squad were there at that moment, you made-” Shawn shut the last drawer, and it was loud, and he winced. “Grandpa said, because you listened, you made them someone worth listening to.”
He glanced at Steve. “He never forgot that. You. The shield. He didn't know who you were, didn't figure it out for a while, not until well after the war was over, but he remembered. That what could've been ugly and painful and more death on top of so much suffering, it wasn't. Because you listened, and you spoke quietly, and you knew the Polish words for please and thank you and excuse me.”
Steve's fingertip tapped on the tabletop, quick and light. “I don't remember,” he said at last. “I mean, there were quite a few places-” He stopped, shook his head. “I'm sorry. I don't remember your grandfather's village.”
Shawn gave him a smile, quick and wide, and it felt goofy and lopsided on his face, but well, he was goofy and lopsided himself. “It's okay. Actually, that's what makes you, well, you? That what you did changed his life. Maybe saved it. But you don't remember it, because there's no importance to it to you.”
“But it was important,” Steve said, leaning back in his chair with a sigh.
“It's more important that you did it, than you remember it, right?” Shawn asked. He sorted the files, fast and efficient. “Anyway, you did do it. There's no doubt in his mind. My father never believed him. What was an American soldier, an American group, doing in that part of Poland, at that time? There was no record of a group of Americans being on the Eastern front. By all accounts, you shouldn't have been there. But my grandfather was adamant.”
“He was right,” Steve said. “The commandos and I, we were a lot of places we weren't officially supposed to be, intercepting Hydra materials, dealing with-” He paused. “A lot of things.”
“My grandfather remembered you, and after, um, the thing, with the aliens? The Chitauri?” He glanced up. “When the pictures of you surfaced? He called my dad, and he was crying. He was crying so hard, because he was glad. He was so glad that you hadn't, well, died alone on some lost battlefield somewhere.”
Shawn felt his eyes burn, and he turned on his heel. Stalked to the cabinets, his shoulders back. “He always talked about you, when I was a kid. He'd gotten all your comics, and all the silly memorabilia. All the stuff they made about you, and I was, well, I got that all from him.” He could feel the heat in his cheeks. “I was born here, but I would talk to my grandfather all the time, and he would send me letters, and we would talk about you. About Captain America. I think I was the only one who believed him.
“But after the alien mess, after people knew you were alive? He said to me, he said, that now that I'm in New York, that if I ever saw you, if I ever got to see you, even from a distance, he wanted me to say thank you. Even if you were too far away to hear me, or even if you didn't know why I was saying it, he wanted me to say, well, thank you.”
Shawn finished his filing, and sucked in a slow, steadying breath. Then, he turned around, squaring his shoulders and crossing his arms, the gesture instinctive and hard to resist. “So, from my grandfather. Thank you. Because you went above the call of duty to save a bunch of scared civilians, and I'm sure you weren't supposed to get between them and a bunch of soldiers. Because you said thank you to him, and you did it in his own language.” He nodded, just once, quick and sharp. “Thank you. For listening to me, right now.”
Steve was sitting quietly, his face serious. There was a calm steadiness in his blue eyes, a faint pinch to the skin above his pale brows. The frown didn't show in his mouth, but it was there, around his eyes. “You're welcome,” he said. “Thank you. For telling me your grandfather's story.”
Shawn felt the grin twitch on his face. “Since I've already embarrassed myself horribly, and I won't have the guts to ask later? Can I get a photo with you?”
Steve smiled back. “Of course. You want me to get the uniform?”
“No! Oh, God, no, really, just-” Shawn pressed a hand over his eyes, knowing he sounded like an idiot. “I want my grandfather to know I really met you.”
“I understand.” Steve grinned, and it was a real one this time. “You going to use your phone?”
“If you don't mind.” Shawn fumbled for his suit jacket, only then did he realize his hands were shaking. With a real effort, he got hold of his phone and flicked it on, rolling his eyes as he cleared the about twenty text notifications from Drew. Steve stood up as Shawn called up the camera app and held up the phone. “Ready?” he asked Steve, who stepped behind him, leaning forward just a bit so his head was level with Shawn's.
“Go ahead,” Steve said, with a grin.
Shawn took the picture, grinning with real pleasure at the camera. “Thanks,” he said to Steve, who shrugged. “What're you doing down here, anyway?” he asked, putting his phone back.
“Coulson asked me to come and get you.” Steve glanced around at the table top. “Are you done?”
“I'm done. What does he want?”
“Guess we'll find out, soon enough.”
"Doesn't it defeat the purpose of having a 'Super Secret Speakeasy' if you post a sign on the door indicating that said Speakeasy is closed?" Shawn asked. "Hi, Mr. Fantastic," he added as the Roomba floated by his head. He got a light headbump in acknowledgment.
"It's really only secret in concept," Tony said, from behind the bar. He was leaning over what appeared to be a series of test tubes, and Bruce was behind him, balancing an armload of alcohol bottles in his arms. He held one up to the light, considering the liquid over the top of his glasses. Tony took it out of his hand without even looking and removed the cap. "Nick needs to maintain plausible deniablity for liability reasons."
"He was in here last night, stealing your private stock," Natasha said. She had a bottle of vodka on the bar next to her, and a tumbler in her hand.
"I know," Tony said, turning to a huge punch bowl. He started emptying test tubes into it. "That's why the expensive bottles are filled with rotgut."
"Tony," Steve said, laughter in his voice.
"What?" Tony grinned at him as he upended a bottle into the bowl. "His own fault for having burned out his tastebuds at some point. Why waste the good stuff on him?" He turned to Bruce. "Next!"
Bruce handed him a bottle. "Take my advice," he said to Shawn with a faint smile. "Skip the punch."
"This punch is fantastic, don't listen to him," Tony said, the grin on his face maniacal.
"It'll grow hair on your chest," Darcy agreed. She was leaning her elbows behind on the bar, legs kicking out in front of her. She had a swizzle stick clamped in her teeth and two more holding her hair in a loose bun. "If you're into that sort of thing."
"It'll strip the enamel off of your teeth," Harris corrected, taking the empty bottles from Tony with a roll of his eyes. "I'm waiting for it to spontaneously catch fire.” But he was peering around Tony's shoulder with a faint smile and a spark in his eyes. "Needs pineapple juice."
"Blasphemy," Clint said, from the other end of the bar, where he was rolling a dart between his fingers. "Besides, we've got an excellent dental plan. Drink the punch."
“Aren't you still on the clock?” Bruce asked him.
“All the more reason to chug the damn punch.”
Drew flicked a dart at the board, and neatly sidestepped as Clint threw his without even getting up. "I had some punch," he said, grinning at Shawn. "They won't give me any more punch."
"Your boy's a lightweight," Clint said, laughing, as Drew spun on his heel and tossed a dart with each hand. They didn't land dead center, but considering that he very nearly followed the second one forward into a faceplant, it was an impressive effort. Clint snagged him by the back of his shirt and hauled him back to his feet. "Very. Much. A lightweight."
"I know." Shawn tried to bite back a grin, but Drew was out of darts and aiming with a swizzle stick, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth, and that was hysterical. "How much did he drink?"
"Half a glass," Tony said, and he was reaching for a pair of lab goggles, that was probably not a good sign, was it? "Darcy finished it for him."
Darcy thrust a fist into the air. "I am many, many things," she said with a grin. "A cheap date? Not one of them. I can drink you under the table, boy!"
"That is not even in question," Shawn told her. He caught Drew around the waist and 'helped' him to a chair. "Let's sit down, babe."
"You are so adorable," Drew told him. With a grin, and hazy eyes, he reached up to press a firm finger against the tip of Shawn's nose. "Your nose is FUCKING adorable."
"Thank you. I guess." Grinning, trying not to laugh, he glanced over his shoulder. "Water? Or can someone watch him while I run to the vending machine? I think we need to get something to eat into him."
Clint handed over a plastic bottle of water. "Food's on its way."
"Did you give the underage intern alcohol, Tony?" Steve asked, rubbing his forehead. “At SHIELD headquarters?”
"Technically, good Captain, my Captain, I did not," Tony told him, his mouth kicking up on one side. "Thor did."
"It is naught but a simple drink of fruit juices and liquors," Thor said as he entered the bar from the mini-kitchen. He frowned, looking confused. He had a stack of pizza boxes in his hands. “What else is there that he should drink?”
“Not alcohol,” Steve said, with a faint sigh.
“His aim's still fucking excellent, even if he's soused,” Clint pointed out. “It's a good sign.”
“Coulson's going to strangle you,” Darcy said as she bounced to her feet to help with the pizza.
“Listen, he hasn't killed me yet, a drunk intern isn't even going to make it on his radar after some of the stunts I've pulled through the years,” Clint said.
“He's not kidding.” Natasha accepted a refill from Bruce, who seemed to be having fun playing bartender. “Holland alone.”
“We don't discuss Holland. We made that pact,” Clint told her.
“I was lying.” She blew him a kiss.
“Now that we're all here, and I'm assuming this is all of us,” Harris said, “why are we here?”
“I needed to test the punch on SOMEONE and there are strict rules about maiming my team mates,” Tony said, with a broad, maniacal grin.
“The punch works,” Shawn said, and he could say that because Drew was trying to figure out how to eat his pizza. He kept rotating it, staring at the edge in front of him, and rotating it again. “The punch works extremely well.” He caught Drew's hand and steadied the pizza, point facing his mouth. “Eat, goofball.”
“Pizza is awesome,” Drew said to Steve, who hid a smile behind a fake cough and a hand.
“That's true, it is.” He accepted a slice from Darcy with a polite thank you.
“Really,” Darcy said, grinning as she finished distributing plates. “Why are we here?”
“Initiation,” Natasha told her.
“Hazing,” Clint said.
“A polite welcome to the team,” Bruce said, and he was laughing when the SHIELD agents tossed balled up napkins at his head.
“We have much wisdom to impart!” Thor set out a covered tray and pulled the cloth away with the gesture of a showman. “First! We FEAST!”
“I am not eating jam from a jar with a spoon,” Darcy told him. “I have standards.”
“But it is a treat most pleasing to the palate, sweet lady!” He grinned as he handed it to her.
“What the hell is a loganberry?” Harris asked, taking his jar and sniffing it.
“I wanna eat jam,” Drew said. “An' have some punch.”
“No punch. No jam,” Shawn started, but Thor handed Drew a jar, who squealed with happiness before shoving a spoonful in his mouth. “If he throws up,” Shawn said to Thor, “I'm making you clean that up.”
“Later,” Clint said, half a slice of pizza in one cheek, “I'll give everyone a tour of the air ducts.”
“And I'll teach you how trick the locks into opening,” Tony said, stirring the punch. The ladle might've been hissing when he pulled it out.
“We're not doing any of this,” Steve said. But he was eating pizza and trying to sneak the ladle away from Tony. “Coulson is not going to be pleased when he shows up.”
“Why do you think that Coulson's coming?” Natasha asked.
“He asked me to get-” Steve stopped. Sighed. “Clint-”
“Yeah, I lied,” Clint said, holding up his glass in a mock toast. “He doesn't have a clue what we're up to. Now, there are three major access points-”
“Where's my ladle?” Tony asked.
“Think we can make it into the witness protection program?” Harris asked Darcy.
“Why would we want to?” she asked, grinning.
“Because we want to live?”
“Living's over rated,” she said. “Have some punch.”
“So, how're your newest acquisitions?”
“Good afternoon, Director. What brings you to the trenches today?” Coulson didn't even look up from his paperwork as his boss tossed himself into the best visitor's chair in his office.
“Wondering if you've realized your little baby ducklings have wandered off, in the full company of some very toothy coyotes,” Fury said, grinning as Coulson glanced up.
“Their lack of subtlety is a sticking point,” Coulson said. He handed over a file, and Fury flicked it open, considering the contents for a moment before he reached for a pen. “I don't object. It makes my job that much easier.”
Fury chuckled. “It does, doesn't it?” He slapped the file closed and tossed it back onto Phil's desk. “So?”
“So?” Coulson asked.
“C'mon, don't even try to play me. You've got a stack of these little possibilities half a mile high. But these are the first who've made it this far.”
“Lewis is not my fault,” Coulson said, pointing a pen at Fury. “I refuse to take responsibility for that coming disaster.”
“She's worth it to keep Thor and Foster happy.” Fury crossed his arms and arched his good eyebrow. “Well?”
“The operation is proceeding as intended, sir, but it'll take some time to determine just how successful this particular gambit will be.” Coulson glanced up with a faint smile. “I'm pleased with the preliminary results.”
“As well you should be. The newest training class could use the jolt.”
“I warned you not to troll the CIA, sir.”
“Eh.” Fury stood. “Let's get a drink.”
“They're downstairs in the Speakeasy.”
“All the more reason. C'mon, let's go crash the party.”
“Mature, sir. Very mature.”