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From the Ashes

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Clint Barton has the best eyesight in the world, enhanced or otherwise, but he never sees Phil Coulson coming.

Yes, he knew who Coulson was, everyone did. Long before his days at SHIELD, during his early days as a mercenary, the whispers of Phil Coulson were always there. If the threat of SHIELD hovered over all of their heads like the afterlife, then Coulson was the Boogie Man incarnate. “Be careful,” the mercenary mother hens would say - the ones who bothered to actually train and develop the next line of blood thirsty criminals - “get too big for you britches and SHIELD will come after you. Get cocky and they’ll send Coulson, then not even God can help you.”

But that’s not the important part.

Maybe it’s best to start at the beginning.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Contrary to most of the SHIELD rumor mills, it’s Fury, not Coulson who recruits Hawkeye into SHIELD. Coulson didn’t chase Clint down a dirty alley, shoot him in the thigh, and then stand over him in the pouring rain with a gun to his forehead - although that variation ends up being Clint’s favorite. What actually happens is a lot less dramatic.

Clint does have a gunshot wound in his thigh, but it's long since healed and he's near the end of his self-guided physiotherapy, relaxing in one of his favorite pubs on the outskirts of Edinburgh. He has been carrying on a strange sort of correspondence with SHIELD over the last year - information scattered across the world in the form of dead bodies and whispered rumors. Clint is only slightly surprised when Fury walks in wearing jeans and a thick sweater, looking for all the world like a tourist seeking out a drink and not there to meet an assassin-for-hire.

"Heya Nick!" Clint greets the SHIELD director warmly and signals the waitress for a round of drinks. "Love what you've done with the patch."

Fury grunts and waits for the waitress to drop off their pints before speaking. "We got your message. You in?"

"Assuming you agree to my exit terms, I'm your man," Clint responds.

Fury nods and they spend the rest of the night drinking beer and watching rugby. The next morning, Clint is on his way to SHIELD's New York HQ as a level 4 Specialist.

It probably doesn't make sense to most people why Hawkeye, one of the highest paid and most sought after assassins in the world, would throw his lot in with SHIELD. Clint honestly doesn't care what most people think of him. He's always prided himself in being self aware and he knows he's not cut out to be a loner. Clint willingly admits that joining the army had been a mistake - too restrictive and hypocritical with its claims of no man left behind - but he'd enjoyed the camaraderie with his fellow soldiers and is hoping SHIELD can provide the fit he's looking for.

Clint finally meets the infamous Phil Coulson about an hour after arriving at HQ. It doesn't go well.

They have Clint stashed away in an interrogation room to read over manuals while they process his entry paperwork. He's leaning back in a chair with his feet propped comfortably up on the table when Fury sweeps in dramatically, followed closely by a suit - a very attractive suit. Clint takes in the trim musculature hidden underneath the formal clothing, the man's precise way of moving, piercing blue eyes, and chiseled facial features and initially thinks he's in trouble. Then Clint looks back at the suit's eyes and sees the disdain he is barely attempting to conceal. It’s an expression Clint is well familiar with.

It’s the expression of someone who’s done nothing but read his baseline file - abusive childhood, orphan, circus freak, no formal education, desertion from the Rangers, mercenary, assassin - and has decided that Clint is irredeemable without digging deeper. Someone who takes the worn combat boots, scruffy clothes, and laid back attitude at face value and sees only a discipline problem waiting to happen.

If they did bother to dig deeper, they’d find that Clint earned his GED at 16 while still with the circus and has several degrees under an assumed name, including a doctorate in Applied Mathematics from Cornell. Digging deeper would also reveal that, at the urging of his entire unit and the British forces they’d saved, Clint’s actions prior to his desertion had been re-reviewed and there is a medal of valor somewhere in the Pentagon with his name on it. As for the clothes, they’re comfortable and Clint doesn’t like advertising the millions of dollars he has stashed away in various accounts and investments.

The suit’s eyes narrow when Clint doesn’t sit up or stand at their entrance. Clint sighs inwardly, while outwardly slouching further in his seat and smirking at the two men. Sometimes, it’s best to give people exactly what they’re expecting.

“Fury,” Clint says with a nod before turning to the suit. “Let me guess, you must be the famous Agent Coulson. You’re...” Clint drawls, letting his eyes sweep meaningfully up and down the suit’s body, “smaller than I expected.”

Clint sees Fury’s lips twitch as the suit drops his nonchalant mask and scowls.

“Barton, this is Phil Coulson,” Fury confirms. “Agent Coulson is going to take you through the intake process and show you to your quarters. You’ll meet your handler, Agent Gutierrez, in the morning.”

“Welcome to SHIELD, Specialist Barton,” Coulson says and Clint wants to laugh at the not-so-subtle reminder of his rank within the organization.

“Where to first?” Clint asks, jumping lightly to his feet and stretching. “Medical or the range?”

“It’s nice to see you’ve made use of your time actually reading the manuals,” Coulson says, voice dripping with condescension.

Clint really wants to know what put the burr up Coulson’s ass and can’t help firing back with the biggest mid-western accent he can manage. “Well, aw shucks, sir. There be some big words in them books, but I got through ‘em without needin’ a dictionary or nothin’. Nuns would’a been proud.”

Coulson glares at Clint, who glares right back until Fury breaks in. “Barton, stop fucking with Coulson and get your ass down to Medical. You’ll hit the range with Gutierrez tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir,” Clint responds automatically and walks out the door, not bothering to check if Coulson is following him.

Clint has already memorized the layout of the building thanks to the maps provided in the manuals and doesn’t need help finding his way to Medical. He ignores Coulson’s presence in the corner of the room during his physical exam and follows the agent silently to Clint’s assigned quarters afterward. Coulson hands Clint his ID badge at the door, holding onto to it a little longer than necessary- as if wishing he could take it back. Clint pulls the badge out of the agent’s fingers with a smirk, shutting the door in Coulson’s face before flopping onto his new bed. He tells himself that one day and one unyielding agent is not enough for Clint to second-guess his decision to join SHIELD, but can’t help the apprehension now sitting heavily in his gut.