AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, I know I should be updating "Highway of Diamonds" and "Proof of Life," and I am – I am. Look for new chapters for both within the next ten or so days. In the meantime, to tide you over, here's a collection of profoundly shallow little things (comment fics, minifics) that I've committed in the last three months, mostly for reasons of angst relief. They're all based on prompts and challenges from fellow writers on be_compromised, and usually were banged out on a Friday night over a glass of wine or two. (If you're a member of be_compromised or have visited my LJ page, you may have seen some of these before.)

Expect no substance here - it's a fluff collection, loosely clipped together with the implements of the title.

Disclaimer: Still don't own 'em, although given what I just paid to see Ironman #3 , I should be entitled to shares.

Things To Do With Paperclips

By Alpha Flyer


1. Prompt: "Highwire" (Franztastisch)

"There has to be a better way to get across to that other roof."

"Relax, I'll be fine - circus boy, remember?"

"Just do me a favour, Barton, and don't step on the fuse box again."


2. Prompt: "Budapest" (aka "it had to be done") (Frea_O)

She's right; the whistling of ammunition around their heads, the adrenaline rush of picking off hostiles like a bloody game of whack-a-mole, the rubble and smoke and the panicking civilians - in all those ways, it really is like Budapest all over again.

But what she seems to have forgotten is that in Budapest, they were fighting on opposite sides.

He hopes that when this is all over they will both have the chance to re-learn the difference.


3. Prompt: "He's always had a thing for redheads" (Crazy4Orcas)

The first time he kisses her they're on a job, in a bar that fronts for a human trafficking ring; he's playing the piano and she's writhing on top, wearing a black-bob wig like that "All that Jazz" chick from Chicago - kind of fitting, really, as she'll be killing the owner and his mistress later that evening.

The second time she's a bottle blonde in a crowded state ballroom in Moscow; she devours his mouth with hers, leaving nothing to the imagination and a data chip under his tongue.

It is in a cheap, un-airconditioned motel in Texas, though - as he is kissing his way down her sweat-drenched body to the soft whispers of his name on her lips - that she finally lets him see her true colours; she must have known that there never was anything for him but red.


4. Prompt: "Twenty things an assassin can do with paper clips" (lar_laughs)

So Coulson left this box of coloured paper clips on his desk with a note: "Twenty Things An Assassin Can Do With Paperclips" - obviously a hint to use the fucking things to finally put the twenty mission expense reports he owes the bureaucracy into some semblance of order, maybe even submit them.

But the more Clint stares at those clips, the more their cheery colours turn into a swirling rainbow of resentment, and so he starts making a list - of twenty ways they could be used to kill the guy who audited his last expense report (twenty-one missions ago) and had disallowed his claim for the t-shirt with the bullet holes: he starts with dip in kurare, moves on to clamp over oxygen tube while scuba-diving, and ends with straighten, sharpen and bundle them together to create an arrowhead with twenty little pointy bits.

Okay, so that last one was a bit lame, but he folds the list into a little origami QuinJet anyway and hooks the clips into two strings; they turn into colourful contrails when he fires the thing into Coulson's office, where it lands with a satisfying thud.


II. SUPERHEROISM IN THE INFORMATION AGE (me, hosting a Friday gab fest on that theme)

1. Intercept

Babs: OMG- i think one of the ACTUAL AVENGERS touched me! he pulled me from a bus just before it got blown up!

Tammi: WHAT! Was it Captain America? He's such a babe ... :P

Babs: no, smaller than cap… spiky hair, sweaty, smelled a bit, but damn good - like leather and gun powder. weird thing though – he had a bow not a gun

Tammi: Oh, oh - that's the one they call Hawkeye, The Archer. There are NO GOOD PHOTOS of him out there! I NEED DETAILS! Was he cute? ;D

Babs: cute? no. totally hot? OMFG those arms? i swear i almost died in those arms right there! DIED, i tell ya!

Tammi: Rumour has it he's with BW though. Those guns you smelled on him must've been hers. Better watch out – you may die for realz … :)


(Prompt: "It would be so much fun for someone (a reporter, maybe, or someone else somehow connected with the Avengers) to try to figure out what the secret is with the two "normal" Avengers" - laughtersmelody)


2. News of the World

"Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome to another edition of News of the World, brought to you by Fox News, your source of accurate, unbiased, up-to-the-minute information.

"I'm Charles Weston, reporting to you from New York where the rubble is still smoking. It's been two days after an alien attack laid waste to some of the country's most valuable real estate; two days since alien ships poured from a hole in the sky – a hole apparently opened up by a device right on top of Stark Tower.

"Two days, and the world is still looking for answers. What happened here, and why did it happen? And – most importantly for New Yorkers – who are these so-called Avengers? Some say we owe them our survival. Others are not so sure. Simon?"

{Cue: Visual switches to image of two elderly chess players; one turns to the camera and says "Superheroes in New York? Gimme a break."}

"Is he right? Do we have magical beings to thank for the fact that the casualties in Manhattan numbered only in the hundreds, not in the thousands?"

"Let's take stock. We begin with footage captured by a security camera in front of Barnes and Noble on East 17th Street; it was serendipitously twisted upwards when Ironman himself careened through the streets, pursued by several of those ships. Here it is now, Ladies and Gentlemen, and our apologies for the poor quality of the images."

{A flash of red and gold comes straight at the camera, apparently hits it; it shakes, and the lens swoops upwards in a dizzying move. Grainy video shows a beam of light emanating from the silhouette of what is clearly Stark Tower; one of the alien whale ships comes twisting through like a giant shadow. Lightning strikes at the vessel, followed by a streak of red; more lightning.}

"And we'll freeze on this shot. Thanks, Simon. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the Avenger they call Thor, after the ancient Norse God of Thunder. And yes, it appears he can fly, doubtless thanks to the same technology utilized by Tony Stark when he straps on his Ironman suit. The light weapon he uses must be the latest in Stark technology – the things the arms dealing billionaire claims not to be making anymore. You will recall his sarcastic sparring with Republican Senator Stern – his true colours are revealed right here, Ladies and Gentleman. This man's word is not to be trusted.

But back to this so-called Thor. There must be Stark repulsors hidden under that cape; judging by his dress, though, this man clearly has a sense of humour and a boyhood fascination with certain comic books.

"We don't need to go far to show you pictures of the Hulk. No need for capes here. In fact, we seem to be lucky that he's wearing clothes at all."

{A series of iPhone shots of the Hulk, clinging to the side of skyscrapers, throwing Chitauri warriors into the streets.}

"First seen rampaging through Harlem in 2008, this genetically engineered monstrosity returned to the city to wreak even more havoc than before. If the government is to be believed, he did it on our behalf this time. Of course, this is the same government that created the twisted creature he fought the last time he laid waste to our streets. The same government that probably created the Hulk himself.

"And finally, another camera picks up the story on 38th street. Here is Captain America, or I should say, an admittedly physically impressive specimen who modeled his eye-catching outfit after the hero of the Second World War, now widely regarded as fictional. Of course, he didn't get it quite right."

{Side-by-side shots of Captain America, as seen on the streets of Manhattan and on the cover of a vintage comic book. The differences in the suit are subtle, but obvious.}

"Captain America served as a flashy distraction for soldiers in the War; he seems to be doing a decent enough job of it now. Because now, Ladies and Gentlemen, it gets truly mysterious. Let's sum things up. Here are the four so-called superheroes of Manhattan, Ironman, Thor, Hulk and Captain America. Whoever they are in real life – of course we all know Tony Stark – they have names, and they have faces, and they were very visible in New York two days ago."

{Camera does a quadruple shot, zooming in on the four faces, one in each quarter.}

"But. They had help. Female help. Here's a shot of Captain America, next to a mysterious figure in black. Very clearly, a woman."

{Camera switches to the silhouette of a woman in a cat suit, her hands raised, firing weapons at something off-screen.}

"No one has bothered to explain just who this mysterious shooter is. One moment she is there, on the street, beside the man in red, white and blue – the next she is seen on one of the alien sleds, in friendly embrace with one of the aliens."

{Still photo of Black Widow, from behind, face obscured, clinging to the back of a Chitauri Warrior.}

"And then this little mystery. Watch closely."

{The sky-bound camera shows three Chitauri sleds, their pilots apparently struck by missiles, crashing into a tall building at the edge of the screen.}

"Where did these arrows come from? And yes, you heard me. Arrows."

{A sudden, grainy enlargement shows a fletched projectile protruding from one of the aliens' eye sockets.}

"Their trajectory, our experts say, suggests they come from very high up, and some reports suggest a man in black standing on a ledge at the top of the ManuLife building. But who would expose themselves like that in the middle of an aerial battle unless they knew they weren't at risk?

"We now go to a special guest in our studio today. He's an expert in international security and defence and weapons technology. Professor Gideon Murphy, welcome to the News of the World. What do you make of all of this?"

"Thank you, Charles, and it's a pleasure to be back on the show. Yes, you said it - arrows, that most ancient of human weapons. And I say human advisedly. There is no magic, nothing super about them, or about the pistols your mysterious woman uses."

"Professor, some survivors tell a story about a man in black, with a quiver strung across his back, helping them out of a bus that was about to burst into flames. They believe him to be one of the Avengers. A hero, they say. Could he be the same as the one alleged to have been seen on top of that building?"

"Well, Charles, the jury is still out on that. Those are two very different places. But I would note that arrows were found most recently in an attack on a top-secret research facility in Stuttgart, Germany. So either the bow is making a comeback as a weapon of war, or the highly mobile bowman in question is not as squeaky-clean a hero as the Government would have us believe. Avenging what, exactly?"

"Thank you, Professor; my question precisely. Let's have another, closer look at our mysterious Lady In Black as well. Here she is, Ladies and Gentlemen, on top of Stark Tower, at the very source of the alien problem."

{Camera shows still of a woman silhouetted against the portal, holding a long object, poking straight into the beam of light that points into the sky.}

"So let's take stock. You have a bunch of what appears to be aliens, with hundreds of ships of differing sizes, dropping from a hole in the sky. You have four recognizable larger-than-life characters {camera flashes to Thor, Hulk, Ironman and Captain America}, comic-book-like figures whom the Government would have us believe are magical, super-powered beings who saved New York from destruction, using some very sophisticated weaponry indeed. Including, in the case of the Hulk, being a weapon, genetically engineered in secret experiments carried out by the government."

"But then you have these two mysterious, shadowy characters, dressed in black, armed with mere pistols and a bow, for crying out loud – by all evidence very, very human - who turn up not only in the middle of the battle for Manhattan, but also in some other, extremely questionable places.

"Coincidence? You be the judge. As for me, I am wondering just who these two were fighting for, and how they got to be in the middle of all this. Somewhere, there is an explanation about the human connection to this day of magic and monsters, and we will find it."

"This is Charles Weston, signing off. Good day, and keep asking those question. I will."



All Quiet on the Northern Front

"I didn't know people actually lived in places like this."

"They don't. They come to go to university and as soon as they're done, they get the fuck out."

"No Clint, someone must live here. Just not, maybe, on Sundays? Or in the summer?"

Natasha looked down the empty street with its pretty boutiques and restaurants, the dark theatre and the carefully manicured park. The only place where there was any discernible life – apart from the road, where well-washed cars proceeded in a mannerly way – was in the Starbucks they had just left.

It had been a surprise, rather, to find that the assignment in London – the one that had Clint practically drooling with delight (Daunt's books on the Marylebone High Street!) and Natasha checking her bank account (July sales!) – was actually in London, Ontario. Canada. Not quite the same thing, as had become obvious when they stepped off the plane and stood in front of the single luggage carousel at the airport. Heathrow it wasn't.

But there was a major university here, and it did have a professor whose writings on genetic mutations had started to acquire a, as their S.H.I.E.L.D. briefing notes put it, rather ominous quality.

So here they were, on the banks of the River Thames (no, not that Thames), trying to get the adrenaline going for their assignment.

"Maybe there won't be anyone on campus, either."

Clint held open the door of their rental car for Natasha, manfully ignoring her scornful snort at the unaccustomed chivalry.

"Hey, we're in Canada. Just being polite, eh?"

She snorted again and buckled up her seatbelt.

"See? It's definitely catching."

Clint drove the way the GPS told him to go at a sedate pace, along a pleasant, wide street, lined with more and more impressive houses as they approached the university. Natasha rolled her eyes as Clint read out the signs on the ambitiously named little cross streets.

"Seriously. Regent Street? Oxford Street? Pall fucking Mall?"

A nostalgic sigh escaped her lips. Where was Selfridge's, when you needed a good designer fix?

They found the lab easily; not only was the campus of Western University leafy, pretty and tidily landscaped, it was also exceedingly well signed. And, this being Sunday, there was parking, and the street leading up to the Biological and Geological Sciences Building and its various adjuncts were … deserted. Fuck, it was hot. Wasn't Canada supposed to be, like, covered in snow at all time?

"Exactly what does a grad student act like?" Clint asked conversationally as they walked towards their target, shifting the duffle with his bow and the explosives from one shoulder to the other.

The truth was that while the archer could more than hold his own when discussing the relationship between wind speed, gravitational pull and the trajectory of a projectile, the history of strategy or points of vulnerability in architecture, military hardware or the human anatomy, universities and colleges to him always had the whiff of alternate universes. As a result, he had no idea just what kind of an image he was supposed to project.

"On Sundays? Most students would be pissed off to have to go in the lab and checking on experiments, I should think," Natasha answered. "Just use your resting face."

It was Clint's turn to snort.


Professor Elton-Smythe's office, once he'd been disposed of, was deadly quiet too. His genetic blueprint for a mosquito that could carry a variety of lethal diseases at the same time appeared to have been almost complete; pictures of the DNA helix were littering his desk. ("Why are transmissions limited to West Nile, or Malaria?" his latest paper had asked, not unreasonably. "What is it that prevents mosquitoes from effecting greater lethality in the human species?")

No one bothered them while Natasha wiped the hard drive. Clint methodically set the explosives that would ensure the utter destruction of the good professor's work, while permitting the post-doc next door to continue his seminal study on the migration patterns of the Monarch butterfly, as extrapolated from their annual sojourn on the outskirts of Sarnia, Ontario.

"We should take assignments in Canada more often," Natasha observed a couple of hours later, while they were sitting in the jaccuzzi at the Armouries Hotel. (No waiting for exfil, no QuinJet - just a straight flight back to New York. The next day.)

"In and out. No muss, no fuss. Textbook, really."

Clint's response was a quiet snore.



Prompt: Write a fic based on these words: "ocean, mummy, skylight, magician, gutter" and this sentence,"Use your enemy's hand to catch a snake." - Persian proverb (Crazy4Orcas)

Encounter at Al-Karak

"Is the ocean supposed to be this colour? I thought that Red Sea thing was just a figure of speech."

"It's not an ocean. It's just a body of water, Clint. Besides, this is the Dead Sea, not the Red Sea."

But her partner sounds genuinely concerned despite his evident geographical lapses, and so Natasha gets up off the bed. She's been trying – for hours now - to make sense of the strange script on the scroll their contact managed to drop in her lap before collapsing on the patio, eyes rolling up into his head. She had just figured the language for ancient Persian rather than Aramaic, and the meaning had become clear almost immediately. (Well, the words, anyway.)

But suddenly, there are other priorities.

"Bozhe moi," she hisses as she takes in the deep red waves. The flakes of reddish foam on the rocks resemble the foam that flaked off Kalil's lips as he gurgled his last breath.

Clint reaches for the duffle with his bow, and she is just about to make a snarky remark about the idiocy of wanting to shoot an ocean … sea … with arrows, when she sees what his heightened vision has moments earlier: the sea foam is starting to coalesce into a man-shaped figure.

The thing – whatever it is – detaches itself from the water and starts shuffling towards the beach house in a gait not unlike that of Boris Karloff in TheMummy.

"Venus emerging from the foam he sure ain't," Clint mutters as he nocks an arrow.

Natasha debates for a second whether she should tell him to hold his fire, but all things considered, the thing doesn't look like the sort S.H.I.E.L.D. would lose sleep over if he turned up as a corpse.

"Let's see what it does," he says, and lets fly.

The arrow goes right through the creature, which screams in rage and starts lumbering towards the beach house at twice its original speed.

"That worked well," Natasha observes conversationally. "I think we better get out of here."

She rolls up the scroll and sticks it down the front of her cat suit (Clint tries very hard not to look, and fails) and heads for the door. Moments later, she curses in Russian – again, a bit more colourfully this time.

A small army of jeeps and SUVs has pulled up in front of the little guesthouse.

"Fucking Hydra," Clint curses under his breath. "Didn't waste any time, did they. Guess the front door is out."

"Skylight?" Natasha asks crisply, and he's on it before she finishes speaking, climbing on a chair and cracking the window.

She doesn't wait for his invitation and jumps, knowing he'll give her the boost she'll need to pull herself up and out onto the roof. He follows seconds later.

In light of recent experiences, when faced with a choice between a couple of dozen well-armed Hydra agents and a mysterious … thing that's just emerged from water that vaguely looks like blood, Clint is inclined to take his chances with the former, and says so.

Unfortunately, the gutter Natasha is balancing on at present chooses this moment to give way and she tumbles off the roof.

"Shit," Clint mutters as he drops off the roof beside his partner, marginally more elegantly, and pulls her back on her feet.

Together they try to get as far away as they can from the guesthouse and its invasion of armed thugs, only to find themselves right in the path of the Karloff thing which had temporarily disappeared among the rocks. It stops in its tracks and turns towards Natasha, sniffing the salty air.

Unimpressed by either Clint's arrows or Natasha's Widow's Bite (the Glocks would attract the attention of their other pursuers rather sooner than desirable), the thing reaches out with a dripping hand, mouthing something unintelligible.

The mummy raises a hand, and with a dripping finger points at Natasha's chest and growls, no, howls what to all intents and purposes sounds like a magician's incantation. Behind him, the waters churn and start to build up like a ruby wall.

"Thanks, buddy," Clint snarls – no way those Hydra types aren't hearing this, and drawing their own conclusions. He takes out one of his knives; if projectiles are useless, maybe an old-fashioned edged weapon will do the trick?

"Wait!" Natasha hisses. "The scroll."


"A hunch. Bear with me here. I figured out what it says, and I think we can get our friend here to lend us a hand with Schmidt's goons. Keep that knife of yours handy."

She pulls the scroll out from its hiding place and holds it out, in a slightly disconcerting version of here, kitty kitty. With an inarticulate snarl the mummy thing grabs the ancient roll.

"Chop it off!" Natasha commands, and it's lucky that they are long past arguing with each other or asking time-consuming questions at times like this. With an explosive scream Clint brings down the knife and the hand goes flying in the sand – surprisingly solid for something that should be nothing but water.

Before the … thing can do anything else, Natasha hurls the scroll at it. The apparition clutches the papyrus to its chest with its remaining appendage and a triumphant cry, and appears to be sucked right back into the water which returns to its normal colour almost immediately.

At this moment, the backdoor of the guesthouse opens and the first Hydra agents pour out, guns drawn.

"Toss that hand at them!" Natasha hisses as she dives for cover behind a rock.

Clint does, with a strong arc and true aim, as always. His eyes widen as the red fingers splay out and stretch – stretch into tendrils of light that wrap themselves around their pursuers before pulling tight. Red lightning shoots off, briefly illuminating the white-washed walls of the guest house, the pale rocks and the dark waters of the Dead Sea.

Seconds later, the starlit shore is empty again, safe for two slightly breathless S.H.I.E.L.D. agents - one of whom is demanding an explanation. More than one, actually.

"Will you tell me just what the fuck that was all about, Tasha? Dead Sea, wanting one of its scrolls back?"

Natasha shrugs.

"Who knows. I doubt even Thor would recognize it. Another of those magic things we've never really trained for. But I do think it wanted that scroll more than Nick Fury does, and given we were stuck between - how do you put it? The devil and the deep … red … sea - I wasn't about to argue. As for the rest? Once I figured out the inscription was Persian …"

"They call it Iran now, you know. Don't tell me Hydra is arming the Ayatollahs with ancient artifacts?"

Natasha rolls her eyes at the interruption.

"Ancient Persian, you dolt. It was some sort of proverb. Cliché really, but when we're dealing with monsters and magic, I thought it would be worth a try."

Now he knows she's holding back, especially when she starts giggling. The Black Widow never giggles. Clint nudges her with his bow.

"Dish, Romanoff. What did the bloody thing say?"

"Use your enemy's hand to catch a snake."