Disclaimer: During a misspent week in September 2012 I mainlined the Avengers and Doctor Who until my brain managed to superimpose River Song and Natasha Romanoff and fuse them into one character. Then she started dictating. Before I knew it, Clint Barton and Phil Coulson had elbowed their way in. That's how this AU 'verse came to be. It's involved some tweaked timelines, altered plot points, a ton of original back story for River, and a lot of fun on my part. I'm having a ball playing in Marvel's and Moffat's sandboxes (and making no money).

Spoiler Note: This series contains spoilers of a vague, AU sort for A Good Man Goes To War and Let's Kill Hitler.

This is a series of vignettes which take place from 2005-2009 and can be read concurrently with a similar set of vignettes, Don't Travel Alone, which will be posted in a few weeks. Some vignettes will be spun off into their own full-length fics.

Again, massive thanks to like-a-raven-14 for her amazing betaing skills.

Part 2: The Marvelous Tale of an Agent, an Archer, and an Assassin

Chapter 1

Work Text:

October 2005
One month after River Song's recruitment

The sound of a body hitting a sparring mat distracted Coulson from his paperwork, but only for half a second. That had been Clint. He could tell without even looking up.

There were some scuffles, and then the sound of two pairs of feet dancing across the mats. There was the sound of another body, lighter this time, hitting the mat, rolling, and bouncing back up. Song apparently liked to get back on her feet as quickly as possible, even if she had no bearings.

Up above, from the observation platform, Coulson kept half an ear on the sparring session as he worked on his reports. He needed to get back in the training rooms himself. To stay active in the field he had to pass evaluations like everyone else, but there was no time at the moment. He had a small mountain range of paperwork to deal with regarding his new probationary agent.

In the meantime, Clint could keep her busy. Song had been cleared by Medical to start physical training and the psychologists agreed that she was unlikely to violently snap, so Coulson had been reasonably comfortable about letting the two of them face off for a little sparring practice. Even if Song did try anything, there were plenty of people in the training room who would be able to intervene in the highly unlikely event that Clint couldn't handle the situation himself.

Though, Coulson conceded, Song could probably give Clint a run for his money in the hand-to-hand department.

Coulson didn't know who had taught River Song to fight. She was still being very closed-mouthed about where and how she had received her training. But she seemed to have been taught three cardinal rules.

Fight dirty. Don't pull your punches. Think in at least three different directions at once.

They could work with that.

The results of Song's evaluations had been coming back to Coulson over the last couple of weeks. I.Q. tests. Psychological evaluations. Assessments in math, linguistics, physical condition, weapons proficiency, survival skills, hand-to-hand combat, technical skills. Coulson had half a dozen folders that he'd only had a chance to skim through, but the results were more than a little daunting. Good for SHIELD, but daunting.

Where the hell had this girl come from?

Phil Coulson liked a puzzle. It was one of the reasons he enjoyed working in Intelligence.

As puzzles went, River Song was the Gordian Knot. They just had to find a better way of solving her than the ancient myth did. Leaving her in pieces wouldn't do anyone any favors. Coulson had decided that he was willing to put in however much time it would take to get the kid untangled.

He'd had to take a similar approach with Clint during his early days with SHIELD. Getting to know his agent, learning what made the younger man tick, building up trust—it had all taken time. Clint had tended to withdraw and deflect or outright snarl whenever Coulson had gotten too close to subjects he didn't want to discuss. It had taken him months to start being more forthcoming, and even now, occasionally, Coulson learned something new about his friend.

River Song seemed to be a similar, if more extreme case. Coulson got the impression that the young woman had secrets buried so deep it would take an offshore drilling platform to reach them. Occasionally she'd offer up a bit of information, but if pressed would simply give him a level look and then do the equivalent of shutting and locking a door in his face.

It would be months before they got to anti-interrogation training, but when they did, Coulson would lay odds that she'd prove next to impossible to crack.

Two bodies hit the mat with a loud smack. Coulson looked down from the platform to see Song sitting on Clint's back, her arm wrapped around his throat in a stranglehold. Clint was turning red in the face, but Coulson saw him impatiently wave off two other agents who were making moves to come pull the Reaper off of him. To tell the truth, Coulson wished that Clint were slightly less sanguine about his safety around River Song just given her record. Still, within a few seconds, he was able to reach around and toss her off.

Coulson checked his watch.

"Okay, you two," he called. "Ten minute break, then hit the track."

He watched the two of them wander off to the sideline where their bottles of water were waiting. Song had deliberately placed hers as far from Clint's as possible. She did that, Coulson had noticed. She kept her distance from people both physically and emotionally. That was not necessarily an uncommon character trait in covert agents, but one that Psych did not like to see go unchecked, especially in a new (and therefore largely unknown) recruit. The psychologists were mildly concerned, but acknowledged that it was early days yet.

Coulson smiled and shook his head slightly as Clint simply plopped down beside Song on the bench. Clint had apparently decided that Song needed a friend, and God knew no one else on the SHIELD base seemed eager to step up to that plate. He wasn't too obnoxious about it. Coulson was sure that if he were, then Fury's warning or no, Song would have broken something on his person by now. But he didn't let her push him away too easily. And that, Coulson thought, might be exactly what she needed.

Even if it didn't seem to be having any discernible effect yet.

Still, all told, Song was settling in at SHIELD better than Coulson had thought she would. She had fallen into the routine of pseudo-military strictures and order with something that almost looked like relief. Coulson had expected problems on that front. This was a person who had been, according to her, on her own since adolescence without even a wolf or two to raise her. He had expected her to chafe at the lack of complete freedom.

Instead she was doing the opposite.

He'd said something to her about it last week. Song had just shrugged. "If you've lived on one military base, you've lived on them all. The routine is pretty much the same anywhere you go."

"What military bases have you lived on?" he'd asked.

She'd just looked at him, and firmly closed that door.

So, yes, figuring River Song out was going to take a while. She was a puzzle. A spilled puzzle with an indeterminate number of pieces that were all the same color as the carpet and might or might not be capable of independent movement.

But that was all right, Phil thought.

They had time.