Summary: They were six damaged and hurting individuals but when they were together they were something amazing. They were more than a team, they were a family.
Pairings: ambiguous Clintasha and mentioned Peppernony
Warnings: Just general spoilers for the movie… but everyone should've seen it already by now so no worries!
Disclaimer: If I owned anything having to with the Avengers I would be a rich, happy woman. Instead I am a broke, happy woman. One out of two isn't that bad.
Author's Note: Hello there! I'm starting a new series. Just some fluffy little one-shots set after my other story Savior, examining the growing bonds between the members of the Avenger family. Hope you enjoy. Ciao for now.
From the Mind of Nick Fury
As far as Nick Fury was concerned, Phil Coulson was the very definition of a SHIELD agent should be. When the Director trained new employees, he used Coulson as an example of quality leadership and impeccable instincts. The man was able to make decisions in the field on the drop of a dime. He also had a flawless track record of recruiting the best talent. Nick Fury never questioned the man's judgment. That is until Phil dropped a file on Nick's desk one day out of the blue a little over ten years ago. Nick remembered raising an eyebrow at the potential recruit's age and full on glaring at the kid's current location. Some minimum security setting in the middle of nowhere America. When his questioning glare didn't result in Phil immediately removing the file, Nick glanced at the rap sheet. Just a few days away from turning nineteen. Orphan. Caught for armed robbery. Police suspected that he wasn't the mastermind behind the job but the kid refused to talk. So he was doing a twenty five year bid.
At first, Nick thought he was kidding. There was no way he was seriously considering taking some unruly carnie delinquent with authority issues into SHIELD. He didn't care what the kid's marksmanship scores looked like. He saw the footage of the Amazing Hawkeye and yes, it was impressive. But no, they didn't need a circus freak. They needed a quality agent. But Coulson was relentless. He even went so far as to promise to train the kid himself. After awhile, Nick gave in. He let Coulson spring the kid from jail a week after his nineteenth birthday. Clint Barton was every bit the troublemaker that Nick thought he would be… at first. But gradually, he started to relax. He scowled a little less. He was less defensive and actually started listening to orders. He trusted Phil and then later Nick. And though he was still a mouthy little bastard, he consistently demonstrated that he was a great agent and asset to SHIELD.
Clint proved that Coulson was right about him just two short years after he joined the agency. He was tasked with taking down a cold blooded assassin. Instead of putting an arrow through her heart as he was ordered, he held a hand out to her and brought her in. Eight years later, Nick couldn't help but be happy for Clint's consistent insubordination when he felt that he was right. Nick saw the footage from the hellicarrier. He watched Hawkeye and Black Widow facing down things he never prepared them for. He watched as they worked together with four individuals with incredible skills and abilities and more than held than own. In that moment, he was proud of them. Of both of them. He knew that Coulson would be as well… once he woke up. And man, did he catch hell for letting them believe that lie. Months later and Natasha is still a little frosty around him because of that.
Despite all that Nick was still proud of them. He knew what their files held. Hell, he was the one that helped to create those files. He knew that being a team player was never expected of either of them and yet they worked well together. Surprisingly, they worked even better with other Avengers. Nick knew it was a bit of a struggle with Clint but the team was nothing if not persistent. Eventually they managed to break through the archer's walls. To this day, Nick wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.
On the bright side, the archer was smiling again. He was eating regularly and starting to gain back the muscle mass he lost in the months following the Manhattan invasion. On the other hand, he still felt uncomfortable around people that were not members of the Avengers (or loosely affiliated with them). This meant that whenever he was in SHIELD HQ, he almost always had another Avenger with him to block out the wary, uncertain gazes from the other agents. It seemed to help. Clint spent less time in the vents when there was another Avenger present. He was learning to tune out the mistrusting looks and negative comments about his continued employment with SHIELD. That was good. Now if only he could teach that to the rest of the team. Because they weren't tuning it out. On the contrary, they listened to every word and plotted accordingly.
The revenge against these agents varied, depending on the Avenger present in that moment, but there was always some form of retaliation. Nick found that he liked it best when it was Thor or Natasha. They settled for straight forward threats of physical violence and pain. Steve enjoyed giving lectures about morals and values that ultimately led to sobbing agents who called their mothers to apologize for their transgressions. Surprisingly, Banner was the worst. Stark just took to hacking emails and Facebook accounts and sharing embarrassing personal information with the whole agency. Banner was a lot more devious and creative than that. He once actually made a virus with symptoms similar to Ebola that fortunately for the agent only lasted a few hours. When questioned about it, the bastard had the nerve to whistle and shrug innocently. Nick was starting to wonder just who was the bad influence out of the so called Science Bros.
Still despite their bordering on psychotic defenses, Nick was quietly grateful for their intervention. He would deny it until he was blue in the face but he had a soft spot for Clint and Natasha (though according to Maria and Phil, it was obvious to everyone but Clint and Natasha). Of all the agents that came through during Fury's tenure as director, they were the ones that stood out the most. They weren't like the other agents, plucked out of academies and training programs around the world. Their talents and assets came as a result of a need to survive. They were both trying to atone for something. It made their work more genuine. They knew what was at stake and they never took it for granted. Nick could appreciate that. But they were both broken because of their pasts. With Natasha, it was harder to see. She wore a mask for so long that she became the mask. But Nick was starting to notice the cracks. Clint was a different creature altogether. He wore his heart for the world to see if they would only take the time.
When Loki took Clint and brainwashed, Nick was worried that even if they got him back physically, he wouldn't be the same man that he was before. And in a way, he was right. But then the Avengers happened. They didn't give him a choice in the matter. They were infuriating and determined to see Clint healthy and whole again. Most importantly, they were there every single day proving that they didn't give a damn about what Loki made him do. They knew it wasn't his fault and none of them blamed him. They also wouldn't let Clint keep blaming himself. Slowly but surely under the team's careful and patient watch, Clint started to wake up. The smiles returned. The snarky comments during staff meetings started up again. Nick never thought he actually missed the kid's more bizarre habits until the week before when he dropped out of an air vent over Nick's office and into the empty armchair. Instead of apologizing for interrupting Nick and Phil's debriefing session, he merely grinned brightly, handed them both cookies he most likely stole from one of the agents and began regaling them with the daily dramas of the agents in training. Nick couldn't help but shake his head and laugh. He missed these moments the most. He simply missed Clint. But now he was back. For that he was willing to put up with almost anything the Avengers could and would dole out in their free time.
Too bad he was one of the few (besides Coulson) who felt that way.
Nick repressed the sigh that threatened to burst when he heard the clipped tones of his second in command. Maria Hill was a more than competent agent. She was deadly and professional. But she also lacked the patience necessary to deal with the diverse personalities that made up The Avengers. This was obvious by the fact that the woman was currently purple. Seeing as he had a meeting with her just two hours before, he was at a loss as to why she was suddenly a completely different color that definitely didn't run in nature. Well that wasn't entirely true. He had a pretty good idea of why. He just wondered how she managed to piss them off this badly.
"Handling the team not going well?" he asked, instead of laughing. Apparently, Maria was as fluent at reading all the things he didn't say as she was glaring. Or at least he assumed she was trying to glare. The effect was ruined by the fact that she was purple and her hair was a stunningly violent shade of pink. "Should I even ask?"
"When you requested that I play babysitter for the team while Phil is on vacation, I agreed because I know that they're a special response team and they pretty much need constant adult supervision. But honestly, sir, they're volatile and dangerous at best. I think that Rogers might be the only salvageable one. And they're corrupting him every day."
Nick's lips twisted as he put down the pen he was writing with. "What happened?"
"A few of the other agents have been complaining about rustling sounds coming from the air vents all day. We all know there is only one person in this place insane enough to get his kicks crawling around up there. I managed to track him and Stark down. I told him that he can't be in the air vents unless it's related to a mission because it freaks out the junior agents. They think we have rats. Or are haunted. Or both. Whatever. I told him and that's when Stark decided to intervene."
"He told me that neither of them had to listen to me because I'm not their real mother," she ground out through clenched teeth. "Apparently this was enough to send Barton into hysterics."
Nick remained quiet on that one because he kind of agreed. He could almost imagine Tony yelling that she wasn't their real mother. He knew that they all referred to Hill as their evil stepmother. He hated to break it to her but she often fit the role.
"I'm still not seeing how this ended with you looking like a rejected anime character."
She flushed and it was interesting to see against her light purple skin. "I may have had some words in response to that. After Banner found out and almost turned into the Hulk, I was ordered away from the team. Then one of them caught me with some kind of spray approximately an hour later. Ten minutes ago, I started turning into this."
Nick nodded at the concise report. The too concise report. She was leaving something out. "So what exactly did you say to or about Barton to get them this riled up? This reeks of the Banner so it was definitely Barton." While it was common knowledge that Bruce Banner was not a pushover (see his alter ego) many forgot that it wasn't the Hulk that made him formidable. It was that the man was smart as hell and crazy protective over those he called his. Clint was most definitely his.
Maria exhaled slowly. "I asked what either of them even remembered about their real mothers."
And that explained that. Mothers were a sore point for both Tony and Clint, though it was a particularly painful memory for Clint. Though it was never easy to lose a parent, Tony was much older than Clint when his parents died in a car crash. Clint was six. He was six and living in a household with a physically abusive father. Fury knew that Clint struggled to remember anything other than his father when thinking about his childhood. But the truth was his father overrode most, if not all, of his few and far between pleasant moments. Nick was actually surprised that the Avengers seemed to know about that. Aside from him, Phil and Natasha, there were a handful of people who knew about Clint's past. Nick was sad to say that Maria was one of them. He supposed that disappointment was reflected in his gaze as she lowered her head.
"It was an admittedly low and unnecessary blow. I am genuinely sorry for stooping to that level. I tried to apologize to Stark but obviously," she held up her arms, gesturing to her body. "I have no idea where Barton is. He disappeared and if they know, no member of the Avengers is telling me. Not even Rogers."
Nick put a point in the captain's book. He was finally grasping the dynamics of the team. Good for him. "Agent Hill, I suggest you take the rest of the afternoon off. Perhaps by the morning, either that will have worn off or you may find them in a more hospitable mood." Good luck with either of those. Nick knew the team well. They were some vengeful bastards. And she was lucky that it was only Banner and Stark. If Natasha was involved, Maria would be lucky if there was enough of her to dye purple after the assassin got done.
"Yes, sir," Maria replied. She paused. "I truly am sorry. They're pains in the ass but I crossed the line."
"Yes, you did," was all he would say on the matter. It was all that really needed to be said. She nodded before walking out the door. Nick sighed, sitting back at his desk. Truth be told, he was concerned now. He was getting used to Barton again. He didn't want to go back to the distant archer he was forced to deal with for the past few months. Regretting that he had to do this, but knowing there was no other way, Nick picked up his phone to dial the only person with the experience to get them past this potential setback.
"Please tell me you need me for something, boss."
Nick's lips curved into a wry smile. "Vacation not agreeing with you, Phil?"
"Vacation is boring," Phil sighed into the phone. "I never thought I'd actually miss the crazy. Audrey's great but her family is boring as hell. I keep hoping for an alien invasion or Eco terrorist mutants or something remotely interesting. Please tell me something interesting is happening."
"I wouldn't say it was interesting but we might have a bit of a situation," Nick replied. He relayed the story to Phil, trusting that the younger agent would have an answer. When he was done, Nick sighed. "The worst part is I don't even know if Clint is even still in the building. I also don't know if I have to worry about Natasha sneaking into Maria's apartment tonight."
"Well the second one is a legitimate concern and you should plan accordingly. But about the first one, have you looked up lately?"
Look up…. Nick did precisely that and found a pair of slate blue eyes staring back at him. A hand moved up to wave at him and he found himself returning the gesture. He motioned for the agent to join him and watched as Clint loosened a metal piece enough to slip through the grate.
"Now we know why you're their handler," he said, watching as the archer sat in what was just decided upon as his chair.
"I'm their handler because I'm the only one that doesn't run screaming when they do what they do best. Tell Stark he's grounded until he undoes what he just did. I have the override codes to JARVIS and I will use them. As for Banner, let him know it's unfair to bring biological weapons to a knife fight. Tell Clint, breakfast is on me when he picks me up from the airport in the morning."
Nick glanced at Clint, who was clearly hearing the conversation judging by the small smile on the man's lips. "You know you have another week, Phil." Clint scowled a little.
"I can take the week just as well at home. Sounds like the kids just need some nice quality time without the wicked stepmother." Nick grinned.
"Spoken like a true mother."
Phil snorted. "And who exactly do you think they've made the dad in this twisted family of theirs, boss? Try not to let them do anything too stupid. See you tomorrow."
Nick didn't have a chance to reply as the line was disconnected. He looked up again at Clint, who was sitting with his legs folded underneath him in the chair staring at one of his arrows which dangled from his hand idly. Nick was struck by how the young the archer looked in that moment. For a minute, he was reminded of the hurting but defiant young man they met ten years ago. Nick never thought they would ever find anything worth saving in Clint. He was never prouder to be so very wrong.
"So I assume you were up there for awhile."
"Since the whole wicked stepmother incident," Clint confirmed with his eyes still locked on the arrow head.
"Then you heard Agent Hill's apology."
"Yeah. The dye will wear off later tonight. And don't worry Nat isn't going anywhere near her. Tony found enough personal info hacking into Hill's email and Facebook that Nat has blackmail for years. She doesn't kill her sources of entertainment."
That should've been disturbing but sadly it wasn't. Nick shrugged. His moral compass was all but gone since working with SHIELD. It got a little more imaginary working with the Avengers. "Clint, are you okay?"
Clint's eyes widened as he finally met Fury's gaze. "Yeah, I'm fine. I mean that was screwed up but it's not the worst thing anyone has ever said to me. Bruce is just overprotective and taking this family thing way too seriously."
Nick didn't blame him or any of the others but he also knew better than to voice that particular opinion out loud. "I wasn't asking you about this. I'm asking if you're okay, period. We didn't really get a chance to talk much after the whole Loki thing."
Clint let out a breathy sigh. "Yeah… I'm okay…. I mean… I'm getting there." The arrow danced over his fingers with practiced ease. "It really wasn't my fault... was it?" One day he'd be able to say that without question but Nick was just happy that he was able to say it at all.
"No, Clint, it wasn't. The only person I blame is Loki. And if those other agents had half your common sense they wouldn't blame you either."
A soft smile spread across Clint's face and Fury could almost see some of the weight lifting off his shoulders. They had a long road ahead of them but Nick was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It looked good. And that's when he heard the banging and rustling sounds coming from the same air vents that Clint was hiding in just minutes before. Only Clint was sitting in his office also staring up at the vents with a confused expression.
"You're completely certain he went this way?"
"Yes, I'm sure for the hundredth freaking time! Wait, why did it seriously take two of us to do this anyway?"
"Just shut up and move!"
"You shut up and move, Anastasia!"
"Oh, that's original, Iron Ass!"
"Hey! Only Clint gets to call me that!"
Nick rolled his eye at the continued bickering and shoving that occurred as they moved closer to his office. He knew he was going to regret making the ducts wide enough to fit more than one person but Phil insisted. He worried since the first day Clint pulled his disappearing act into one of the vents that they would never be able to get him back out. It was a fear with some basis of truth. Once after a mission gone south, the archer escaped from medical and practically lived in the air vents for almost a week, only coming down for the occasional bathroom breaks, and living off food that Nick knew Natasha and Phil were smuggling to him. After that Fury made the order to have the ducts renovated and widened enough to always be able to drag the kid out when he was being stubborn. But apparently that meant that everyone was exercising that option.
"Look, the grate is moved over there. Told you he went this way!"
"Lucky guess… wait, whose office is that?"
"How should I know? I'm not Clint I don't have the whole building memorized."
"Yes, you do."
"Yeah. Yeah, I do. So I'm pretty sure that we're over…" the voice trailed off as Tony and Natasha came into view. Their wide eyes were the only visible part of their faces over the edge of the open grate. "Oh, hey, it's Fury's office."
"No shit," Natasha hissed, kicking him in the thigh. She pulled herself a little further up to see better. "Good afternoon, Director Fury. I can explain."
"I know," Nick cut her off, smiling internally. "Lost someone?"
"How'd you know?"
"Hey guys," Clint laughed, moving over to where his two friends were still hovering. "What the hell are you two doing up there?"
"Obviously looking for you," Natasha replied. "Steve is calling for more of his beloved team bonding exercises at the movies. Apparently it offends his delicate sensibilities that we never see movies at the actual movie theater. So he wants to pay to see them legally. Whatever."
Clint raised an eyebrow. "Steve wants us to go to the movies? Together? In public? Without responsible or sane adult supervision?"
"I know, right!" Tony actually giggled. "It's like Christmas came early! For the record, I can make that happen if you want."
"No, thanks," Clint shook his head. "I'm good. My room is overflowing with the twenty years of birthday presents that you insisted upon giving me for what I'm sure was a really good reason."
"We had a lot of catch up."
"I still don't know what I'm supposed to do with that pony."
"Don't all kids want a pony?" Tony asked, confused.
"That would generally be a wish for female children," Natasha sighed. "In case your ego is starting to block out your eyesight, Clint is male and very much an adult."
"You would know all about that huh, Natasha," Tony smirked before grunting in pain at the elbow Natasha jabbed in his stomach. Clint was simply shaking his head. "Did you have to hit me so hard?"
"Do you have to fail so hard?" Natasha shot back.
"Children," Fury called out. They both blinked at him in surprise before grins formed on their faces. Oh brother. "Aren't you supposed to be going somewhere?"
"Oh, right!" Tony nodded. "Let's get a move on, Legolas. If we hurry, we can raid the concession stand. I've always wondered what Thor on a sugar high would look like."
There as so much wrong in this conversation that Nick didn't know where to start. The rational part of him knew he needed to put a stop to this because seriously his team wasn't all together there mentally. Steve was the closest they got to sane but he was starting to find humor in the team's antics. Banner used to be at least a controllable kind of crazy but then he met Tony and Clint. Sanity went out the window right about then. Thor was like a hyperactive puppy on crack. There was no telling what the god would get into when left to his own devices. And when left with Tony and Clint (and the overly indulgent Banner and amused Steve) there was only going to be mayhem. Natasha wasn't overtly insane but she was devious and enjoyed chaos as much as the rest of them. There was no way that sending them out to a crowded public venue on a weekend afternoon was going to end any other way than horrible.
Despite his well-informed concerns, another part won out. The part that felt warmed by the smiling trio. Each of them had gone through hell and back. But it was hard to tell when they were giggling about going to see a movie and bickering about ponies. They brought out the light in each other and for that, Nick couldn't find it in him to stop them. He watched as Clint took the hands offered and jumped up to join the pair in the vents. Nick shook his head with a fond smile that they couldn't see.
"You do know I have this thing called a door, right?"
"Doors are highly overrated!" was the last thing he heard as the trio moved away, still giggling and pushing each other.
Nick didn't bother to fight the urge to laugh this time around. Their first meeting was a disaster. Tony and Steve were at each other's throats. Thor pretty much did actually attempt to kill both of them at one point. Banner was running scared. Natasha was grieving her lost partner and everything that he represented. And Clint... Clint was unmade. Then Phil "died" and that was enough to spur them into action. They made a team. Saving Clint from himself was enough to make them more than just a team. They were a family. A terrifying family composed of six of the most random individuals he knew. It was pretty amazing.
That being said, he really hoped Phil's flight got in on time for him to bail them out of jail. There was no way that a public outing was not going to end with one or all of them getting locked up. He turned to his computer with the intent of sending an email to the SHIELD PR department (hired specifically to damage control for whenever an Avenger stepped foot out the tower) in hopes that they would be able to get a jump start on finding a positive spin for six people no doubt terrorizing an entire movie theater. That was the intent. That all faded as he opened an email from Tony that lacked a subject. There was simply a link.
He closed his eye, sighing heavily as the video footage from their last holiday party played on the screen. Specifically the part where his second in command decided to jump on a table singing I Will Always Love You to a hilariously horrified Sitwell. Nick knew that Tony must've dug deep to find that footage. All videos were deleted once Maria finished her Walk of Shame from Sitwell's quarters to her own. But here it was again. Nick glanced at the top of the email to read the other recipients. As he suspected pretty much everyone received the video. Even agents that were stationed in other parts of the world. Tony was nothing if not a giver.
It was then that he realized this was probably what Phil was referring to having Tony undo. He contemplated calling Stark back and yelling at him but was it really worth the headache he'd receive in the end? To say that they were Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and in the habit of consistently saving the world, Nick couldn't help but think of them as a bunch of unruly children (ranging from the ages of 30 to 3000). He closed the video and shook his head.
Phil was never allowed to take another vacation again. Or if he did, he'd have to take them all with him.
*For the record, I don't really have anything against Maria Hill. But she so is their Evil Stepmother.