A/N: I should be working on my marvel_bang, but then I remembered CloudAtlas' prompt for a fic in which it is Melinda May who recruits Clint into S.H.I.E.L.D. Welcome, procrastination!
Unbeta'd; all glitches are mine.
Five Times S.H.I.E.L.D. Tried To Recruit Clint Barton
(And One Time He Said "Yes")
By Alpha Flyer
The first time Clint Barton comes to the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. (then still called the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate – before the Council decided that Homeland and Enforcement made for better PR, and that Directorate sounded too fascist), his face is on fliers, advertising him as The Amazing Hawkeye, The World's Greatest Marksman.
There's a heated debate in the recruitment office over whether the minimum educational requirement – two years of college – can be waived on the grounds of Exceptional Talent.
Fury has views.
"That kid survived stuff that would have had any one of you curl up in a fetal ball, and came out of it with skills our top agents can only dream of," he snarls. "I don't give a shit whether he can spell utilitarianism. And may I remind you, policy also requires agents to have two eyes."
But when Sitwell makes it to Carson's Carnival of Travelling Wonders, pitch in hand, the Amazing Hawkeye is nowhere to be found.
"There was a fight," the acrobat girl whispers after Sitwell slips her a crisp hundred, her Romanian accent gone at the sight of the bill. "I heard his brother tell the Swordsman that he'd fixed the Hawkeye problem, and that Clint was dead. We're all in mourning."
Sitwell looks at the bottle of cheap moonshine on the filthy table in her trailer, and utters glib condolences.
"Did you see the body?" Fury growls when Sitwell comes back to report. When the latter shakes his head, the Director huffs his exasperation.
"Then as far as I'm concerned, that kid is not dead. Keep your eyes open."
Robin Hood Foiled! blares the headline in The Herald Times Union, and underneath, Masked robber using bow and arrow arrested by local sheriff.
"Sir. Is hiring a criminal really in the best interest of the Organization?"
Coulson's voice betrays nothing. He could be indignant, insubordinate, or merely curious, willing to learn – you'd never know. Fury fixes him with a baleful eye.
"How much did he steal, Coulson?"
"Twenty dollars, sir."
"And how much was in the bank?"
"Several hundred thousand." When Fury says nothing, just continues to stare, Coulson nods and adds, "I see your point, sir."
"Damn right you do," Fury says. "All that kid needs is a job."
When Coulson shows up at the Court House, an army recruiter has already been there for an hour, at the request of a judge who seems to agree with Fury. A court reporter tells him there's been a deal with the DA, and all charges against young Barton were dropped.
Coulson watches his mission objective disappear into a vehicle with military plates, and silently wishes him well.
When the name Clinton Francis Barton pops up in the Special Forces roster, Victoria Hand writes a letter. In hindsight, it may have been perhaps a bit too … imperious? The response is a concise, military "fuck you":
Pfc Barton has enlisted for a minimum of three years and is currently serving his country at a classified location. There is no provision in his contract for transfer to another government agency. We regret that we cannot be of further assistance at this time.
"He's in Afghanistan, sir," Hand tells Fury. (It's not rocket science, given that that's where Barton's unit is deployed, and there being no other war - yet - where the army could use a sniper who doesn't miss.)
"And why, exactly, should I be happy about having to wait for the guy for three years?" Fury growls.
Hand doesn't skip a beat.
"He's getting discipline, field training and combat experience, without S.H.I.E.L.D. having to pay for it."
A week before the images of an Iraqi family allegedly killed by American soldiers appear on the internet, Barton's name shows up on another list: AWOL. Also, charged with refusal of superior orders. (Those charges are quietly dropped when the nature of the orders is revealed.)
S.H.I.E.L.D. is better at tracing people coming out of war zones than it is tracking foreign fighters going in, and so Fury dispatches John Garrett to the Middle East to find Specialist C. F. Barton before the military police does. The man specializes in picking up troubled drifters and turning them into assets; he seems tailor-made for the job.
Garrett returns to Headquarters with a broken nose, an odd wound in his right arm, and no story that he is willing to tell.
A year on, and a new assassin is starting to build a reputation, both for his successes and for the type of people he is prepared to kill – organized crime figures, war criminals, corrupt politicians. He seems less picky about who hires him to do the killing or why, as long as the targets are people the world is generally better off without. One hit on the Number Two of one of Mexico's drug cartels ignites a gang war on the Yucatan peninsula that is still burning: Thirty-seven for the price of one.
The name being whispered is Hawkeye.
Fury wants him more than ever, and Hill gets it; she totally does.
S.H.I.E.L.D.'s behavioural scientists have an idea. They concoct a story about a dead politician's wife seeking to avenge his death, and to clear the path so she can take his place as protector of oppressed minorities and the poor. It seems to work: Hill makes contact, and he agrees to meet her in Istanbul. She suppresses the desire to feel smug though - her father used to take her fishing, and Maria knows the difference between a nibble and a strike.
The courtyard restaurant in the Four Seasons shows little of the hotel's previous life as a Turkish jail. It's filled with the scent of flowers, tranquil and charming, and the mezze is to die for. At any other time Hill might be enjoying herself, but an hour after the appointed time no one resembling Barton's service photo has turned up; the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents at various entrance points concur, when she checks over the comm.
Maybe he has changed his looks?
Then the waiter brings her a note. The handwriting is barely legible, but the message is clear: "Ethnic minorities, and they send a fucking WASP? Oh, and next time, lose the goons. H."
Hill crumples up the note and picks up her Turkish coffee. She watches a dark figure scaling the yellow-painted former guard tower as if it had rungs, and lifts her cup in silent salute.
By the time the body count has reached double digits, Fury figures the subtle approach has done sweet fuck-all and he might as well send in the cavalry.
Melinda May has been given Barton's service photo, of course, but she knows those things only show so much, and always seem to cause their subjects to drop 40 IQ points. Besides, Hill's experience speaks for itself.
So she does her own research.
Here is what she finds: The majority of Hawkeye's targets died from a single projectile embedded in the eye socket and driven in with enough force to penetrate into the brain; arrows are never left behind; the victims are all of the sort the world is better off without. And this is what she concludes: Cocksure to the point of arrogance; superior upper body strength; poor background (nothing gets wasted); hates bullies.
A man Melinda May might not mind having a drink with.
She follows the intel chatter to Pristina, where the sudden, silent death of Enver Bojaxhiu, the head of one of the Kosovar Albanian mafias, confirms the assassin's presence. There are no more flights out that night; she herself would hide in plain sight and simply assumes he will do the same.
May spots him the moment she walks into one of the bars favoured by expats: short-cropped, sandy hair; attractive (if not conventionally so), and knows it. An impressive set of biceps, pectoral and abdominal muscles that are clearly visible under a t-shirt so tight that she would, under other circumstances, happily peel it off his chest with her teeth. He's cradling a cheap local beer, rather than one of the expensive scotches lined up behind the bar.
The evidence never lies.
She slides onto the bar stool beside him, making no effort to hide the athletic grace with which she moves; she's fairly certain that the strangely coloured eyes raking her body have noted exactly where her weapons are hidden. She motions to the bartender: What he's having.
"I admire your work," she says without introduction. "A bit sloppy in the exit, but nice, clean execution."
The hand with the half-filled glass that had been travelling towards his mouth stops in mid-air, and May belatedly considers that his fingers are probably strong enough to propel the glass into her face without any wind-up from his shoulders. (At least he's stopped looking at her boobs.)
His words surprise her, though.
"You're not a cop."
"Nope. Three weeks with the FBI Academy and the sexist, racist morons in my class was enough. Should have listened to my mother."
His lips quirk a smile that fails to reach his eyes.
"What do you want?"
"To offer you a job."
He snorts, but his voice sounds almost disappointed when he answers.
"I'm a busy man."
She slides over one of Fury's business cards. He picks it up with his left hand, looks at it briefly and then runs it through his fingers like a magician would, just before he'd make it disappear. He doesn't look at it while he does that. She watches the card dance for a minute or so, but he doesn't give it back or throw it out.
Finally, he speaks.
"Why should I want to work for this outfit?"
May frowns. This is where she should be talking about job security, expunging of his record, health benefits, training, pension plan, the Greater Good. Right.
"All the scum you care to kill."
She drains her glass and stalks out of the bar to the sound of his laughter.