- *No Site Warnings Apply
- Canon Divergence
- Fix It
20 July 2009
Tony stared at his email in disbelief. The week away spent hanging out with Kuryakin was apparently long enough to make the professional interest in him level up. He hadn’t actually thought that was possible.
He bit the bullet and clicked the top of the pile. Stark Industries sounded cool, but what the hell could they have for him?
Personal bodyguard for Mr. Stane, apparently. That was a hard pass. He was not interested in taking responsibility for some thoughtless big shot’s personal security—Director Shepard taught him that.
He wrote a polite enough hell no to Miss Amanda Gaines, Personal Assistant to the Office of Mr. Stane and moved on.
The next two were varying degrees of nope, followed by a maybe, and a check-in email from Jimmy. Good ole Black Lung, reminding him to take it easy. Okay, not exactly, but it was in the subtext of Jimmy’s shock about him traveling so much. It totally counted.
And he decided Black Lung was right. A night like this was made for a beer and some music. Jazz was the order of the night; he got up to grab his keys.
The drive to his favorite bar was quick and easy, the place way busy but not packed.
“Hey.” Tony nodded to Rich behind the bar.
Ruch grinned and poured his usual before sliding it onto the bar in front of him. “Long time no see, Tony. Big case?”
“Job hunting, actually.”
Rich winced. “Don’t envy you that.”
“Yeah, it’s proving to be a bit of a job.” They chatted easily until Rich had to wander off and take some orders.
Tony turned around and was observing the room, looking for something a little more relaxing than just a beer and music, when he caught an eye full of what was working the dartboard. The guy was gorgeous in that rough and tumble kind of way. He had shoulders you could park a barge on and an ass just didn’t quit.
Even better, Glorious Arms kept looking his way like he was trying to build up the nerve to approach.
Not quite as good, he kept glancing at someone else at the bar, too.
Tony followed his gaze to a red head seated around the bar at his two o’clock. She was rocking some big, nostalgic curls and a black and white dress like she was waiting for the paps that would show up at any minute. The look she shot Tony when she caught his gaze was pure sex kitten. The looks she shot Glorious Arms, though, was less threesome incoming and more mother on child’s first day of school.
Aw, fuck. Tony looked back at Glorious Arms.
To the untrained eye, he might have looked like a man looking for a hookup but Tony knew better.
Now that he was paying attention to more than the possibility of funtimes, he could set his watch by the guy’s visual check-ins with his partner, Sex Kitten.
Tony bit back a sigh. Funtimes would have to wait for whatever disaster was about to drop in his lap. At least if it was anything like the other recent offers he’d gotten so far, it should be entertaining enough—if a little hair raising—to justify an evening’s attention.
Unless it was CIA. The CIA could still go fuck themselves, regardless of entertainment value.
“Come here often?” Glorious Arms shot him a grin that was breezy and reckless, yet confident of his poor decisions. It was a good look on him.
“Good band.” Tony gave him a tight smile.
And it was a good band; they played there on the regular. Two men and a woman that played a whole slew of instruments and traded off depending on the song. They did a few covers he actually liked better than the originals. Two men singing Quando Quando Quando together did unexpected but fascinating things to the song.
“They seem flexible,” Arms agreed.
Tony hummed. There was a joke in there but he wasn’t actually interested in making it. Instead, he took a drink of his beer and looked the guy in the face. “So, you gonna just sling your pitch or you gonna keep faking it?”
“What?” The guy jerked. Whoever let him out in the field to play at undercover needed to be taken out and shot. Or at least arrested. And preferably fired.
Unless they sent him as a test for Tony in which case, this was definitely CIA shenanigans, and whoever thought of it should definitely be shot. Twice.
“Can you at least tell me who you’re recruiting for?” Because he deserved to know that at the very least. “Preferably before we spend all night dancing around and not hooking up?”
“How’d you make me?” The guy had the gall to actually look surprised that Tony had.
“Do you want the list alphabetically or chronologically?” he asked, and Arms just continued to boggle at him. Well, okay then. “Your clothes were the first clue. Shirt should be smaller, jacket bigger. Good fit on the jeans but they could use an artful rip ot two, and those are clearly real combat boots, not civilian wanna bes. You have dried mud on your left heel, it’s a little red. Most hipsters—like you’re trying to be—don’t actually run around with blood on their boots.”
Arms checked his heel and nodded because, yeah, there was blood in the mud. Not much, but that wasn’t exactly the kind of thing a civilian would dismiss so casually.
“How about your back up? Red head, classic curls—a nice touch. Gorgeous dress, but a little over done for this bar, and she can’t seem to decide if she’s working me, you, or the entire room. And you check in way too often to even hope not to blow her cover or your own.”
Arms looked over Tony’s shoulder, had a silent conversation with his partner, and looked back at Tony. “I’m Clint, she’s Nat. Our boss wants to meet you, make that pitch.”
“Your boss?” Tony asked skeptically.
“Agent Phil Coulson of Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division?” Clint scratched at the back of his head. Now that he wasn’t trying for manufactured-smooth, he was adorably awkward. Like a puppy that didn’t quite know how big he was. “You’ve probably never heard of us.”
“Chimera,” he said shortly, referring to the USNS Chimera and the disease-ridden disaster his team had endured there.
Ostensibly, it had been a top-secret Naval research ship. That’s how the reports read—and how they were written—but parts of it had not been Navy at all. The crew—or, more likely, the crews—had worked very hard to blend the two sections together, but just over a third of the ship had been ever-so slightly wrong. The ship’s secrets had secrets and Tony still wasn’t sure he had gotten through all of them.
“Wow.” Clint blinked at him, wide-eyed. He looked back to his partner and jerked his chip up.
Moments later they were joined by the beautiful Nat. She leaned on Clint all slinky-like with a flirty smile on her lips. “Evening, fellas.”
“Coulson is headed to the steakhouse down the street. Reserved a table for four,” Clint offered, focused on his partner. Nat smirked at him and nodded. They both look at Tony. “Want a steak on SHIELD’s dime?”
Tony shrugged. “I could eat.”
He told Rich where he was going and that he’d be back.
The not-undercover twins smiled and nodded in approval. They even went so far as to give Rich their full names before the three of them left the bar, which was unexpectedly decent of them.
Assuming Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff were their real names.
Nat took the lead down the sidewalk to the steakhouse because people automatically made way for her. She exuded the kind of threat that spoke directly to the hindbrain, like a shark cutting through a school of fish. He wasn’t sure she could turn her threat aura off, but she could definitely kick it up to 11 without advanced notice.
Clint and Tony flanked from a step behind, watching her back, not that she needed it. It was nice, almost felt like he was part of a team again.
The positioning also allowed him to keep an eye on both of them. Which he did because they were spies. Not the sneakiest of spies, maybe, but they’d already shown themselves prone to CIA-esque antics. They needed all the watching.
* * *
Agent Phil Coulson was a plain looking guy. Boring, nondescript… in a suit by Tom Ford. Stoic to the point of ridiculous. If it weren’t for the flashes of humor he gave his agents at random intervals, Tony would think he were a robot.
“The position,” Tony prodded as they waited for dessert to be served.
“SHIELD has been experiencing a dramatic increase in loss of undercover assets in the last six months. This has led to one of the teams I lead reviewing not just individual operations but the training process our people complete. The conclusion we’ve come to is that our training for undercover operatives is inadequate.” Coulson waited as his cheesecake was placed in front of him and the waitstaff left before moving on. “According to my sources, you are one of the best undercover operators in federal service, and now you’re looking for a job. We want you to consider taking over training and supervision of our UC operations.”
Tony was still on the fence about supervising people but teaching could be cool. He’d be a better master than Yoda, that’s for sure. And don’t even get him started Obi-Wan’s failings as a teacher.
But… “Field work?”
“In a training capacity,” Coulson assured him, and that was what he was afraid of. “Unless something extengient comes up and you’re our only option.”
“Can’t really predict the spy business,” Tony mused.
“Not always no,” Coulson agreed over Clint’s chocolate despair.
“Aw, chocolate sauce, no.” The man was less puppy dog and more human disaster, but strangely charming for it.
“Give us a week,” Coulson offered. “You can use our facilities, review our training manuals, and evaluate your first prospective class.”
“All for the small price of signing an NDA,” Tony guessed because he’d done this dance before, but at least Stargate Command came with some serious eye candy.
“You will be compensated, of course.”
Eh, why not? Maybe he’d get a sandwich once he completed his spy agency punch card. “I’ll give you three days.”
“That works,” Coulson agreed, “I’ll drive you in tomorrow.”
“Nine AM, bring coffee.”
* * *
“Your opinion,” Agent Coulson prompted, pointedly taking a sip of the coffee he filched from the machine in Tony’s temporary office.
“Four no’s. One yes with conditions.”
Coulson blinked twice. “The yes?”
“Sharon Carter. Well rounded, stable. Grounded with a solid support network to pull her back if she gets lost in a cover. I wouldn’t put her down for honeytraps, she’s just not that kind of agent, but that doesn’t actually limit her all that much, and women can get away with a lot because of the patriarchal belief that a woman cannot be an actual threat. Playing up her wholesome all-American image could exaggerate that in any number of cases.”
“Barton?” the agent asked as he pulled a pad and pen from him an inner pocket.
“His strongest skills are best at long distances. He’s wasted engaging close enough to go undercover, and he can’t lie to save his life or anyone else’s. Stonewall, sure, and his file indicated he holds up damn well under torture, but he’s not a fabricator, not an actor, and that’s not something you can successfully force on someone.
“Rumlow is a serial killer waiting to happen,” Tony offered rather than waiting. “In fact, if he doesn’t have non-work-related bodies buried, I’d be surprised. His work kills already go above and beyond mission parameters in quantity and brutality.”
“Sitwell?” Coulson asked, not arguing, just moving on.
“He’d be great at undercover,” Tony agreed, “if he wasn’t already undercover.”
That made Coulson pause. “What?”
“I don’t have any solid evidence to point to, a gut feeling and circumstance mostly, but he’s involved in something.
“Your evidence?” Coulson asked, pen ready.
“I find it questionable that while he’s a senior agent and has been first on the scene for a number of important SHIELD operations, he’s never the guy in charge. He always makes sure whatever’s going on is someone else’s fault.” Tony was pretty sure Sitwell was the devil whispering in at least a few people’s ears. Not that he’d seen it, but he fit the type. “And the mismatch between his psych profile and his responses to different stimuli is troubling.”
“I’ll look into it,” Coulson promised. “Romanoff?”
“No. Just no. She should not be going undercover at all.”
“That’s what she does,” Coulson countered, looking disturbed for the first time. “She’s been trained in UC operations since she was a girl.”
“No, she’s been trained to honeypot since she was a girl,” Tony corrected. “Her Marks are all older males that she controls and manipulates with the sex. Anytime she ends up in a situation where the Mark doesn’t fall for her physical wiles, she immediately resorts to her fists and beats whatever she needs out of them.
“She’s advancing SHIELD’s goals on her back. If you think that’s best for her and the Agency, knowing the costs to her personally, that’s your call—but that’s not undercover. That’s a much older profession.”
Momentarily, Coulson looked suitably stricken.
Hopefully, he was as horrified as he should be. Hopefully, he cared enough about Romanoff to get her out of the field and into therapy, but Tony wasn’t going to hold his breath on it.
“And the position?” Coulson asked.
“I’ll think about it,” he promised. The same promise he’d given pretty much everyone so far. “It’s an interesting challenge, training UC’s. Though, you might be better served poaching practiced agents from other agencies rather than training your own. Especially if you need people field ready quickly.
“If I were you, I would either hire a female agent to mentor Carter, or at least set her up with some sort of ride along for a few weeks. In most situations, a woman’s bag of tricks is different from a man’s. How I, a man at 6’2”, would get underestimated is different from how she, a woman at 5’8”, would be underestimated. They’re two completely different scenarios, that’s just reality, and that has to be accounted for in training.”
“So you’d need a partner anyway,” was Coulson’s conclusion.
“Or you could hire an already established team. I can’t think of any in a federal agency but…” Tony shrugged. He couldn’t quite decide if it was a strike against them or not, but SHIELD had a habit of taking criminals and turning them around. Case in point, Natasha Romanoff.
“We’ll consider it,” Coulson promised.
“And I’ll consider you.” Not very hard, probably, but still.
Coulson took the hint, stood, and offered his hand. “Allow me walk you out.”