Title: The wise are mightier than the strong.
Characters-Pairings: Pretty much all the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters & inspiration from other Marvel Comic Verse characters – Clint/Natasha, and a wee-bit Tony/Pepper.
Summary: “Maybe training is all I’m good for anymore: passing on my wisdom to the newer generation.”
Rating: PG-13 (I think... I suck, with ratings... Well to cover my bases, Fair Warning: there is mild language and some injuries imagery if you can’t handle it.)
Authors Note: This is completely un-beta’d so all mistakes (humongous and/or minor) just credit them to that.
Disclaimer: I obviously DO NOT own anything... I’m just a fan expressing some love.
“We could get into serious trouble over this you know!”
“Kate, seriously stop being a party pooper!” Cassie whines as she’s timing the security camera.
“Yeah, I mean we’ve made this far, haven’t triggered any alarms yet, I think we’re good,” Nate whispers as he’s crouched down over the security pad working on it with his makeshift decoder.
“It’s more than that. This is intrusive and I’m also pretty sure it is illegal,” Kate insists.
“I really can’t listen to this again,” Wyatt groans from his stakeout position at the other end of the corridor. He waves Kevin over, when Cassie signals him about the camera.
“Look, the way I see it, it’s a fair trade,” Eli says standing at the other side of the door. “They all have access to our files. Why shouldn’t we know a couple more things about these people too? If we’re to learn from them and be like them, then the more we know the better.”
There seems to be a consensus that there is logic in that line of thinking, from everyone, even Kate.
Nate’s device makes a noise and the door clicks.
“But...” she starts again.
“You tell me you are not at all curious and we scrap this thing right now,” Kevin says matter of fact as he rounds up the corner and walks up to face her.
They have a stare down for a good minute before she concedes. “Fine: I am. I’m very curious. Happy?”
“Actually, yes, I am. So, milady shall we?” he says as he smiles at her wickedly, and smoothly pushes the door open.
“Oh after you... dude.” She waves towards the entrance and doesn’t move. He shrugs.
“Just trying to be courteous,” he says and walks in.
“Save it. It doesn’t become you,” she says back and follows him in; so do the rest.
It’s not a huge room, but the walls are lined floor to ceiling with servers. There is a table in the centre, a sturdy metallic thing, with thick legs supporting a thick block of glass on top. It doesn’t look particularly special at first glance, but Nate’s eyes grow comically wider at the sight of it, and he looks around ecstatic like he’s a kid in a candy store.
“Holographic interactive technology? Thank you, Mr Stark!” he gleefully cheers.
“Shush!!!” Wyatt silences him.
“Sorry that was a little loud but in my defence: holographic interactive technology,” and he enunciates every word by excitedly pointing at the table.
“Which you know how to use...?” Eli suggests hopefully.
“Well ‘know’ is an overstatement but I can figure it out. No biggie... just gimme a... if I can find where...” He sounds a little lost, as he’s circling the table and ends up practically lying flat over its surface, like he might absorb an answer directly from the computer.
“How about, we press this?” Cassie points at what looks like the power button, that’s on the right leg of the table, facing the door.
“Ah yes! Excellent starting point,” he says as he slides off the computer and turns it on.
After that, it’s pretty clear that it was the excitement of being so close to this sort of a machine, which reduced Nate to mumbling idiot, because he handles himself very effectively once he gets started. But even with his hacking skills he can’t get passed this level of security. Definitely not without the right equipment and certainly not in the amount of time they have.
Everything is encrypted, and needs double passwords with different clearances and such. The whole enterprise is beginning to look a little futile.
“Really we should have expected something like this, right? It’s not like SHIELD would leave personnel files just lying around,” Cassie comments.
“Exactly!” Kate agrees.
“Oh will you just shut up...!” Eli begins.
“She’s allowed to say it but I’m not?”
“She’s been on board from the get go. You have been nothing but negative all...”
“Whoa! Wait! Go back,” Kevin tells Nate as he’s scrolling by another folder and his interjection breaks up the argument.
“Just I think I saw something. There! That one. Is it locked?”
Nate tries to open the directory, and score! It’s accessible.
“Medical histories?” Wyatt questions.
“There might be some information about injuries and by extension missions. It’s worth the shot and better than nothing,” Kevin insists. It’s not a perfect argument, but it’s convincing enough under the circumstances.
“Okay... so do I look under B or H?” Nate enquires.
H gets a unanimous vote, and it turns out to be a good bet.
They open the file and Nate begins to recite its contents.
“... broken ribs & concussion, dislocated shoulder, ankle sprain & first degree burns, multiple stab wounds, broken leg & multiple GSWs, broken ribs, broken ribs & dehydration, hypothermia & infection, GSWs, broken ribs...”
“Ew!!” is Cassie’s reaction to that last ‘broken ribs’, because besides a picture of the X-Ray (as most of the previous ones) this has an actual picture too, and it seems like that time the ribs actually pierced through skin. Ew is quite astute.
Much to their disappointment, Kevin’s theory of mission details in relation to the injuries hasn’t held up. There is an odd comment here and there, but nothing too enlightening or interesting.
“Man this is long and boring,” Eli finally says.
“But not a total bust: now we know we can consider a walker for his Christmas present,” Wyatt cracks.
“He might actually need it. Check it out.” Eli is pointing to a line that says hip replacement surgery. “My gran had one of those a few years back hasn’t managed to walk straight since.”
“Maybe that’s where he got the limp,” Kevin chimes in and winks around at them.
“Oh come on,” Cassie says, but she smiles anyway. “You keep on mentioning but it’s not so bad.”
“Yeah I agree,” Nate offers. “I bet if we didn’t know about it we wouldn’t even notice.”
“... 27 story drop...” Kate reads the comment of the hip replacement entry. “That probably means he flung himself off a building.”
“And...?” Wyatt asks.
“If he did, only needing to have his hip replaced would be getting off easy.”
“You’re just saying that because you have a crush on him,” Kevin accuses her.
“That is so not... I’m... it’s not about that!”
“Then what is it about?” Cassie sounds genuinely confused.
“He’s a legend,” she argues.
“Evidently,” Eli counters, pointing at his file, “he’s a fossil.”
Suddenly the computer shuts down and, seeing as it was offering the only light in the room, the world goes black. Their eyes don’t adjust to the dark so fast, but they hear commotion by the door and their hearts drop.
“Somebody hit the alarm,” Kevin says. Screw getting caught. If anybody else has broken in...
Thank heavens someone, somewhere, has hit an alarm because he’s not done saying it before a smooth voice comes through the PA system. “Emergency personnel, report to area R564. I repeat: Emergency personnel, area R564.” The lights outside the door start to flicker and they vaguely make out the form of someone, a man looks like, blocking the exit.
Eli moves swiftly and throws a set of punches that get deflected. He goes in for a kick, and ends up with his leg trapped between a strong arm and well built chest. He is practically dragged around in a circle, on one leg, and being tossed across the room. He takes Cassie down with him as she’s making her way to help.
Nate throws his old iPad/current decoder towards the assailant, but it gets caught midair. Instead it gets thrown at Kevin and lands on his face. The force of the hit has him falling on his back, by the computer, yelping in pain and clutching his forehead.
Nate has made his way to the attacker in the meantime, and as he is about to land his knee to the guy’s chest, he bends away backwards on his back, and Nate gets punched hard in the face instead.
“Ouch!!!” he says as he grabs his nose, stumbles back and falls on his ass.
“Dude, sorry! I...” Wyatt starts, but he doesn’t finish the sentence.
A hand fists the collar of his shirt, and another grabs the waistband of his pants, and he’s being thrown across the room. He lands face down on top of Kevin.
Kate takes a graceful twirl towards him, and aims a high kick to the head. However he ducks, twists low and sweeps her off her feet. She lands with a painful “oomph” escaping her lips.
All six of them are left lying around the floor wincing and groaning and trying to catch their breath.
“Fuck,” Kevin quietly curses as his eyes focus on something not too far above his face.
Wyatt twists his head around as far back as he can, and he sees it to.
An arrow, with a suction cup on its tip, is stuck on the computer’s power button. They all look back up, towards the only exit, and see his figure, with his bow and quiver hanging across his back, outlined clearly in the doorframe by the, now fully, illuminated corridor.
“Fuck is an understatement,” they hear him say, and boy do they believe it.
A group of the facility’s security detail, and some junior agents, show up at the door as Agent Barton hits the lights.
“Took you long enough,” he says, talking with his back to the new arrivals. His stern eyes chose to not leave the heaps he’s made of their own bodies on the floor.
“We got here as soon as the alarm went off sir...”
“And this was your response time? I’m surprised we even had a security breach with you all so on top of your game.” His words reek of sarcasm, the mean kind.
Somewhere, in the back of their minds, it registers he raised the alarm.
“Get up,” he orders them.
When they’ve stopped crawling around, and picked their pieces off the floor, he points a gloved finger to the door, indicating they should wait outside. They stack themselves, one next to the other, in the hallway, by the wall, waiting for hell to rain on them, while he stays in the records room and barks orders at the late-to-the-party agents.
Lieutenant Hill shows up a few minutes later, to take over clean up and control the security breach. She takes a long look along the line of cadets, and spares them a pitying glance.
If she’s being nice, then holly hell, they are in some really deep shit...
“Barton?” she says as she crosses the threshold.
“You need me to spell it for you, or did you figure it out?”
“I think I’m up to speed. I can read the details when you’re done with the official report.”
“Great. Now if you’ll excuse me.”
“Barton,” she says again, and he pauses to look at her. They seem to be having a wordless debate. It doesn’t seem to go in their favour though, because she turns her head in defeat taking a deep breath, and he begins to make his way out into the hallway with such determination and a darkness in his eyes, his trainees have never seen before.
The minute he sets his foot out the door they all stand up straight in attention, because it’s clear, by the way their whole bodies are aching, fun time is so over.
He looks them up and down a few times before he begins pacing the length of the line they’ve formed, saying nothing.
Without even a warning sign, he stops in front of Eli and takes a step closer, invading his personal space with a glare drawn on his face that could kill a man.
“Word of advice kid: You don’t come off looking great if a fossil gets to kick your ass when he’s alone and you have back up.”
Eli swallows very, very, hard. “Understood sir.”
“Did I give you permission to speak?”
That is new.
He’s never discouraged them from speaking up, or back. He’s known to be the talker and the smartass himself. He’s known to be a lot of things, and hypocrite is not on the list, so, yes, he lets them have their say. Then proceeds to get the last word in, of course, but he’s never prohibited a retort to something he said... Ever!
He resumes his pacing.
“I want you all up, and in line, for a full report of this mess you’ve made, at Director Fury’s office at 0600 hours. That gives you, approximately, 194 minutes to drag your smartass, self righteous, pathetic, little selves all the way to your beds and get some shut eye before you get a new one ripped in you. I suggest you enjoy the nap, because, I can guarantee you, it will be the last thing you will enjoy for quite some time. Am I clear?”
They’ve silently agreed to avoid making eye contact with their, very pissed off, Training Officer. Plus with the whole “permission to speak thing” they don’t want to risk saying the wrong thing, or anything at all, for that matter.
Yet, somehow, they’ve managed to make him even angrier.
“The question was NOT rhetorical: AM I, CLEAR?!”
“Yes sir,” they say in unison.
“Wonderful. Now get the hell out of my face.”
“Sir we...” Kate begins.
“I SAID NOW!”
They don’t need to be told a third time, and they scatter, as fast as their feet can take them, away from him, and back to the dormitory.
~ * ~
He watches them, as they walk away standing, ramrod straight, until they’re passed the fourth glass door and are out of the wing.
When they, finally, take the left turn at the end of corridor, to make way for the staircase to the dorms and are out of sight, he loosens his posture with difficulty. His muscles protest at the change of their status. He lifts his left arm over his shoulder, and behind his head, to roughly rub his neck. He winces in pain at the movement, and sucks a deep breath through his teeth as he cracks his head once to the left and once to the right.
He turns to head back to his room and after two steps leans against the wall. He closes his eyes and hangs his head, to catch a breath and work down the tingling ache going through his body.
“Are you okay sir?” one of the junior agents who just walked out of the records room asks.
“Yeah I just need a minute.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“No, thanks, I’ll be fine. As you were,” he dismisses the younger agent.
He’s not rough or harsh mostly because A) she’s not being patronising and taking pity on the old guy and B) he’s too tired to take offence even if she was.
“Yes sir,” she says, and continues on with her work.
He stands there a while longer, not doing anything else but breathing. He convinces himself to start moving, by remembering that he has a bed he’d be more comfortable in and a warm body to lie next to. That, pretty much, does the trick and he puts one foot in front of the other and lets his legs lead him back to his quarters.
He opens the door to their room, and finds her tucked under the covers, with her back against the headboard, reading the leather bound first edition Anna Karenina he tricked Tony into buying for her 20th anniversary as a US citizen. (It cost him a fortune and he still bitches about that, and the irony of buying her something so very Russian for that occasion, when he gets a chance). She shuts the book closed when the sliding door locks behind him, and he heads to the wall that serves for his private armoury to hang up his bow and quiver.
“What was the commotion? Did you have to fight off any rookies, who tried to cut in your after-midnight target shooting time?” she says with some humour in her voice.
“Nope... just a security breach,” he deadpans.
“What?” she straightens from her semi-lying position in the bed, all traces of humour gone, and begins to get up. He motions her to stop.
“It’s all taken care of Agent Romanoff. There is no need to get riled up,” he says, as he’s done putting his gear away, and takes his gloves off, while walking to the dresser and tossing them on it.
“What happened?” she insists.
“It was just the kids.” He unzips and takes off his jacket then proceeds to throw it on the chair by the dresser.
“What kids?” she quirks an eyebrow at him.
“My kids.” It’s out his mouth before he can stop himself, and he shuts his eyes tight in regret the same instant. He turns around bracing himself, and the vacant stare she’s giving him is all the verification he needs.
“Don’t,” he warns and points a finger at her, to make sure he’s serious. Sometimes he really hates Phil for teaching her that. “You know what I mean, and let’s just leave it at that.”
She doesn’t pursue that line of questioning, but she begins sliding to the edge of the bed and waves him over. She has obviously noticed that his movements are a little slower and more calculated. He grabs the hem of his T-shirt, as he makes his way towards the bed, pulls it over his head with one swift motion and lets it fall to the floor. He makes a grumbling sound, when his head is free, indicating the discomfort of the tension, which is braided across his shoulders and neck, is causing him.
He grunts as he drops to sit, at the end of the bed, right in front of her. She sits up on her knees, hovers over his back and places her hands on his shoulders. She begins to rub his upper back, shoulders and neck methodically, with purpose of untying all the knots there. He hangs his head back and closes his eyes, in relief, as she works her magic.
They’ve done this enough times that he knows, when she starts to press her fingers and her knuckles down his spine, he needs to lean his elbows on his knees and arch his back to give her more access. He doesn’t have to also hunch his shoulders and hang down his head to his chest, but lately, he does that too.
“Better?” she murmurs in his ear, when his breathing is deep and comes easily.
“Perfect.” He turns his head to her and grabs her lips in his, for a chaste kiss.
“Want to tell me what happened with ‘your kids’?” she asks casually, as she settles to a more comfortable position, behind him, to continue rubbing his shoulders.
He knows the tone is in reality ‘faux-casual’, and he rolls his eyes at her and at her ‘your kids’ comment.
“You think I don’t know you’re using a ‘Black Widow-wiles’ and ‘Coulson-manoeuvre’ combo? So I really don’t think you’re leaving me much of a choice,” he accuses her, as he leans down, to unlace his boots, while she keeps on with her massage.
“You know me well,” she admits, with a smile in her voice. “So what did the apples of your eye do?”
“They broke into the records room.”
“That was stupid. They should have known they’d get caught mid action.”
“They didn’t.” One boot thuds as it hits the floor.
She leans over to face him, looking a bit confused.
“Get caught mid action, I mean,” he clarifies, as he toes the second boot off. “They actually did it. They broke in. They didn’t manage to hack into the computer security and the files obviously, but the breaking in? No problem. I got wind that something was off on my way back from the range. I swear, if I hadn’t passed by a nearby hallway, and heard their, very distinct, fussing and arguing, and beaten the crap out of them they would have gotten away with it.” He’s on a spiel and doesn’t really register the look she’s giving him, until he’s finished and realises her hands have stopped moving.
“What?” It’s his turn to be confused.
“Nice work Agent Barton.”
“Okay so I don’t have a good handle on them. There is no need to rub it in. I feel crap about it enough on my own,” he defends and she shakes her head.
“I’m serious. Nicely done.” She squeezes his shoulders lightly in encouragement.
“For being such an amazing teacher, that your students actually managed to outsmart the security, of a SHIELD facility.”
He scoffs at that.
“I actually think that has more to do with the incompetence of our in-house security team, and less with my teaching skills.”
“Stop it. You’re a great T.O.”
“They don’t seem to think so...” he mumbles to himself.
“What was that?”
“Nothing... Never mind...”
“I said it’s nothing, okay?” He knows he sounds resigned and defeated, and he’s just glad that’s enough to stop her from pushing.
He exhales loudly, as she resumes her massage. His body is relaxed enough, and he is bothered enough by the incident to finally let it go, and voice the thought that’s been eating at him since Fury charged him with this bunch of recruits.
“Maybe training is all I’m good for anymore: passing on my wisdom to the newer generation. God help us all.”
“God help us over the ‘your wisdom’ bit, or because of the new generation?”
“Both, and that wasn’t funny.”
“You got the point, so I’m counting it. And it’s not all you’re good for,” she assures him.
“Oh yeah? You know that? That’s what you know?” He turns his face just a fraction towards her, to spare her a small, self deprecating, glare.
“Did you wipe the grins off their faces and mop the floor with their asses?” She stops moving her hands, while she’s waiting for him to answer.
“I’m getting old, Tasha, not incompetent,” he says indignantly.
“Exactly.” She begins circularly moving her thumbs over his shoulder blades, again. “As long as you can still beat the crap of young little brats, who think they are better than you, and do have more stamina, then you’re good.”
“So my fishing for a ‘you’re not old babe’ kinda flew right over your head, didn’t it?” he says a little sheepishly, hoping she might bite the bait and offer the compliment, if he covertly begs for it.
She doesn’t let him get away with being desperate though (and he loves her for that.)
“What I’m trying to say is, we do the best we can with what we’re given. And trust me, you, Clinton Francis Barton, do way more than just your share. Not everyone can keep up with scientifically, genetically, enhanced, super soldiers, or big green monsters, or demigods, or mega geniuses who can build super suits to help them out with all the heavy lifting...”
“You mean not everyone besides a master assassin, who’s gone through an intensive, brainwashing, Soviet, spy program?” He turns his body around and bends his leg up, to lay it on the bed by her side. He smirks, as she pulls her hands away from his back and sets her palms flat down on the mattress.
“You keep up just fine,” she scolds him. “And I bruise and bleed just as easily as you do. We both know these are not, entirely, mine...” she reminds him, as she runs a finger across the bridge of her nose and then taps it on her right cheekbone.
He gives her a coy smile, cups her face with one hand and places a soft kiss at the tip of her nose.
“Have I apologised about that recently?” he asks, with flirty and fake innocence.
“You’ve never apologised for it,” she points out.
“I haven’t?” he says absently, as he kisses the formerly broken cheekbone.
“Not even when you actually slammed your boot in my face, 23 odd years ago.” She’s holding onto the bicep attached to the hand gently cupping her face.
“Well you were trying to kill me... no time to be polite...” He’s tracing kisses across her face, and then focuses his attention at that spot behind her ear, right at the end of her jaw line.
“Yeah, well you really messed up my game with that. Have you any idea how hard it was those first few weeks, to convince anyone of the notorious Black Widow seductive skills, when my face was twice its size and purple?” He chuckles into her shoulder and then pulls back to look at her.
“Now see that was funny.”
“Not when you’re the new kid and everybody hates you. My reputation was all I had going for me, and you took that away.” She narrows her eyes at him, but she’s also trying to fight down a smile so it’s not nearly as menacing as she’s probably hoping.
“Aw Nat... haven’t you figured it out yet? I wanted you all to myself.” He suggestively raises his eyebrows.
“So you smashed my face in? How romantic...” she says but it gets drowned by his kiss while he pushes her back to the mattress.
~ * ~
He is sitting behind his desk, fingers interlocked, and looking at the line of mischievous recruits standing in front of him. The man, responsible for training them, is standing sideways, with his feet apart and his hands clasped low, behind his back, looking over his charges with utter disappointment and anger. What he finds discomforting, is that he knows Clint directs the anger to himself and writes this down as his own failure.
He’s seen the footage, personally interviewed the agents that arrived on scene, read Lt. Hill’s report, heard Barton’s version of the story, has been promised owed paperwork by the end of the day, has gotten a moment to miss Coulson (because since he passed, Barton and paperwork are two words that just don’t go together) and he’s also heard out all six of the cadets in question.
So after a very long morning, he’s just in time, before breakfast is served, to pass on sentencing.
“Effective immediately, wakeup call is pulled up to 0500 hours, for the foreseeable future. Because this agency is not a totalitarian establishment and it is inhumane to deprive you of sleep, curfew is also pulled up to 2000 hours, for the foreseeable future. Weekend exit privileges are stripped, for the foreseeable future. Lastly, all your free time, from now on, will be spent at the AHUS. If you are not training, not in class, not eating or not in bed that is where you will be, under Agent Barton’s supervision. Any questions?” he finishes.
Nate raises his hand. He nods giving him permission to continue.
“What is the ‘AHUS’ sir?”
“Archive Heavy Unit Storage,” Barton answers, and they all turn their heads to him.
“And what exactly is that sir?” Kate asks him.
“It’s a big warehouse, where we keep all the big, old, rusty and outdated crap we don’t use anymore. The fossils if you will,” Clint explains, curtly. They can’t look away from him fast enough, and he takes pity on them by speaking, to give them something to look at.
“And you will be in charge of vehicle maintenance, building maintenance, janitorial duties and anything else Agent Barton sees fit. For example: if there is a bird nest up on the ceiling railings, and mama bird is missing, and Agent Barton believes one of you, or all of you, should go up there and hatch the eggs, then that is what you will do.”
“...for the foreseeable future,” Barton reminds them.
“Yes sir,” they chant, rather miserably.
“Any other questions?” he asks and waits a beat. “Very well then. Agent Barton, before you escort these cadets to breakfast, could you give us a minute?”
“Director.” He nods and walks out of the office, closing the door behind him.
He gets up from his chair, walks around his desk and leans to sit on the edge facing the possible, future agents.
“I need all of you to be aware, I am very disappointed in you,” he says solemnly and they have the decency to look ashamed, “but not for the reasons you think,” he continues. That part seems to confuse them.
“You are assuming that I’m upset over the protocol breach and because you broke into a restricted, and secure section of the facility. That is not the issue. The lot of you managing to bypass security, and breaking in the records room was, actually, impressive – NOT in a way that should make you think this behaviour will be tolerated,” he adds when he notices them straightening up to a cocky composure. “But it does show potential. If you manage to hone those skills, and use them right, then that will be an accomplishment for you, the agency and an asset to the world. No, that is not why I’m disappointed. That man,” he points to the door, but speaks about Barton, “once, walked three days, through the snowy Alps, carrying his partner - who was, might I add, all but scalped and bleeding out from three different bullet wounds - with a rusty rod impaled in his thigh. Agent Romanoff almost died, and he nearly lost the leg.”
They try to stay composed, he gives them that much credit. But he knows it’s hard with this information, and feels vindicated when they don’t manage a very good job at it. “The fact that he walked away from that with just a mild limp and a nasty scar is nothing short of a miracle.” At the far end of his peripheral vision, he notices, with satisfaction, that Kevin shifts uncomfortably in his spot.
“The injuries, Agent Barton has sustained in his lifetime, would have broken any other, lesser man beyond repair, physically and mentally.” He chooses the word lifetime instead of career deliberately, for reasons these children are not privy to; and, despite what they might believe, they are not entitled to know.
“But he is still here. And he still one of the best. And you have no idea how lucky you are that he is, and that he is willing to show you how this job is done. Replaced granny hip, or not.” He looks at Eli straight in the eye, and it’s a gaze the kid is not able to hold for more than one second, before he lowers his eyes to the ground.
“I suggest you think, long and hard, the next time you even consider of disrespecting your Training Officer in that manner again. You are dismissed.”
They walk out of his office with their heads hanging. Barton is waiting for them, arms crossed in front of his chest. They don’t dare look at him and he doesn’t say anything. He just looks on for a beat, then turns on his heal and begins walking towards the cafeteria. They follow him in complete silence and shame.
He might not be able to stop Clint from accusing himself of anything, but he’ll be damned if he will let these kids walk around without shouldering their part of the blame.