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Part 1 or Fic on Ao3.



Saturday morning came with hangovers. Most of the agents dragged themselves out of bed late, Clint included. He slowly crawled down the corridor and into the dining area to eat or drink something that wasn't going to make him feel worse. Clint slumped down into a seat opposite Phil who was wearing his sunglasses.

"I didn't think you even drank that much last night," Clint said, clutching the giant mug of coffee he'd commandeered and trying to decide if he could risk adding toast to his stomach.

"I didn't," Phil said flipping his sunglasses up onto his head; eyes bright and far too alert for Clint to be happy with him. "I just wanted to wear sunglasses. There's sun."

Clint sighed and tried to drown himself in his coffee.

"Do you know what's on the cards for today?" he managed after a minute. His hand strayed to rest against his stomach as he tried to settle it. Just watching as Phil tucked into his cereal caused a new bout of nausea to make itself known. Milk. Urgh. No.

"No idea." Phil's sunglasses were down over his eyes once more. "You want some?" He offered his bowl to Clint, who felt as though he'd turned green at the offer and Phil smirked a little at his discomfort. Smug bastard. "You only have yourself to blame."

"I don't know why I put up with you," Clint grouched. "Besides, it was Natasha's fault. I don't think she even bought any spare clothes in her hold all. Just vodka. Lots and lots of vodka. Who does that?"

"Natasha. Clearly."

Clint just hummed, tipping his coffee mug back as far as he could, waiting patiently for the last few sweet drops of caffeine to roll towards his tongue so he could savor them. He loved coffee. And gravity. Especially when they were working together in his favor.

Natasha walked in looking fresher than Phil, and Clint sort of hated her right now. He should never have tried to keep up with her. At least he assumed that was what he'd been doing. She grabbed herself some breakfast before taking a seat next to Phil.

"You kick in your sleep," she accused jabbing her fork in Clint's direction.

"Oh, sorry," he mumbled, trying to work out when exactly he'd kicked her because he certainly hadn't woken up in bed with her.

"It's ok," she shrugged as she shoveled a food into her mouth, "you only did it twice before I kicked you out of the bed."

"That explains why I woke up on the floor at least." He had been wondering about that, but at the time the fact he was waking up naked was the more pressing concern to address.

"I can't let you out of my sight, can I?" Phil chuckled as Clint rubbed his fingers over his forehead.

"Apparently not. I remember getting into my own bed though. I remember the climbing."

"You got cold at about four this morning and decided that instead of putting clothes on like I suggested, that you wanted snuggles and Phil was too far away to provide them for you. That and a lot of talk about how he wouldn't let you get in bed with him with him if Fury was around anyway, because he doesn't know. So, unfortunately, I was your next choice and had the displeasure of your cold feet everywhere until you fell to sleep and decided that you were going to be a mule and kick the hell out of me. There was only one thing for it really." She placed her fork down and lifted both of her hands up in a pushing motion. "Off you went."

"Why do I put up with either of you?" Clint moaned and pushed himself to his feet to go and gather more coffee. "You are both evil." He gestured wildly with his coffee mug. "I'm going now; see if I spend time in your company again."

He trudged back over to their table a minute later when he had coffee again, starting to feel at least half human by this stage. They had been joined by Claire and her boyfriend who were squabbling amicably over breakfast; it went on like that for a while. Phil was quieter now, observing all of them from underneath his sunglasses and composing new files from his gathered intel in his head. Natasha was praising Claire's level of alcohol tolerance compared to Clint the lightweight. Lies. He could hold his alcohol fine. Just not around Natasha. Claire hadn't even drunk as much as they had from what Clint could remember of the evening. So it was definitely unfair to compare the two of them.

After breakfast, they cleared away their things and moved into the hall as directed. Most people seemed to be there already, grouped into smaller parties of five or six people. Clint just followed along with Phil and Natasha when they joined up with Hill, Fury and Jasper; all greeting each other with varying levels of alertness and enthusiasm.

The director of the program got up on a small stage at the front of the room and asked for everyone's attention before explaining to them what the upcoming day would involve. Clint was only half listening, and Natasha appeared to be doing some stretching exercises just for the hell of it. Phil was of course paying rapt attention, nodding along with the instructions even though he occasionally turned to Jasper to add a comment or two. Fury stared off into the distance looking like there were a million places in the world, or off it, that he'd rather be. Clint didn't blame him.

"You were listening, weren't you?" Phil asked when their instructions were over.

"Yes, sir," Clint said with a roll of his eyes. "Trust exercises. In here all morning. Looking and touching and it all sounds wonderful."

He started slightly when Fury came to stand in front of him, arms crossed against his broad chest looking even more like he didn't want to be here than before.

"Barton."

"Us together first then? Just for sixty seconds. This is going to be simple."

Head up, Clint stared determinedly into Fury's eyes. Well, eye and eye patch, he supposed. Four seconds in, he wondered who the others were paired up with and looked away to find out. Hill and Tasha were locked in what appeared to be a battle of wills, taking it a step above being able to look each other in the eye for sixty seconds and instead looking like they were dueling it out for supreme ruler of the universe if only the other one blinked first. Clint chuckled and Fury sighed at his inattention, but didn't say anything. Clint watched them for a few seconds before turning back to Fury. He could do this. They started again, this time making it to twelve seconds of continuous eye contact before Clint wondered if Phil and Jasper were finding it as easy as he expected. Of course they were, just standing there having a conversation like he'd seen them do a million times before.

"Oh, come on! That's not exactly a challenge for them!" Clint completed. "Sixty seconds is nothing. I've seen them not break eye contact for an hour when they talk in the mornings. I don't think they even blink then."

"Barton," Fury warned and Clint turned back to him with a huff. Maybe this wasn't as easy as he thought. He could do it though. No problem.

They started again. Fifteen seconds and Clint wondered whether it was best to be looking at both eyes. It's not like the eye patch needed the contact. In fact, surely they should only have to do it for half the time, or maybe just forty-five seconds. They only had three eyes between them after all. Now he was just thinking about the eye patch, maybe he should ignore it and just look at Fury's good eye. So he did and then everything just seemed too focused and was it rude to ignore the eye patch? He'd never really thought about it before. He probably shouldn't. Then somehow, forty-two seconds in, he realized he'd started staring at just the eye patch and that was probably a whole lot worse.

Fury cleared his throat not so subtly. "I wouldn't have thought such a simple task would be causing you problems, Barton."

"It isn't," Clint snapped. "I'm just used to taking everything in." He gestured around the room. "Not used to having to concentrate on something so close all the time."

They started again, this time Clint firmly making sure his eyes were focused not just on Fury's good or bad eye but both, and eventually managed to make it to the full sixty seconds.

When Natasha was his partner for the second task, Clint knew it was going to be easier. He took her small, deadly hands in his without a second thought and made it to sixty seconds of easy eye contact the first time through, chatting about how stupid it all was. Since they finished easily and before most of the others, they moved on to critiquing everyone else. Unlike the last round, Phil seemed to be having more trouble keeping Fury in his line of sight when holding his hands. It made Clint rather happy that he wasn't the only one struggling with how to deal with looking into Fury's eyes. The biggest surprise was how unnerved Hill was. Her hands gripped onto Jasper's as she stared into his eyes, his expression perfectly calm and neutral even though she seemed to be trying her hardest to make him break.

When everyone else finished, they switched partners once more. Clint was actually looking forward to this one. He wasn't entirely sure if it was playing by the rules, but a comfortable distance between him and Phil was probably a lot closer than most people would consider appropriate for co-workers to stand. So, when they were asked to move closer and position themselves to their satisfaction, Clint may have been a little overeager. By the time they were pressed together the full length of their bodies, Phil was starting to look a little curious about just how far Clint would go.

"Clint," he said, his voice rough around the edges. "I don't think this is exactly what they had in mind by stand a comfortable distance apart and then move closer."

"Are you not comfortable?" Clint asked, leaning his head in closer so that his breath brushed against Phil's ear, his hand itching to settle on Phil's hip.

"You know I have no problem being this close to you," Phil replied, breathing controlled, but a lot shallower than normal, "in private, but the point of this exercise isn't to turn me on." He moved his hands up so that they gripped loosely around Clint's biceps for a moment; Clint enjoyed the touch up until Phil gave him a slight push backward to separate them. "So, maybe we should move onto the next part of the exercise and move further apart and compare how the different distances feel."

"I already know the answer to that," Clint said, taking a step away. "Not half as fun," he grinned devilishly. "Don't say you disagree with me."

"With this many co-workers around," Phil said keeping his voice low enough to just cover the few footsteps between them, "then this is perfectly acceptable distance. Exhibitionist," he joked.

"You know it," Clint shot back with a smile of his own. It wasn't as though Clint wanted to do anything with Fury looking on anyway. Fury, who was standing a perfectly respectful distance away from Hill as they discussed their feelings on the matter, whilst Nat looked to be trying to unnerve Jasper by seeing how close she could get to him before he was forced to take a step backward. Her approach was seemingly a lot more successful than that of Hill's staring contest, as Jasper actually looked uncomfortable.

"Love you too," Phil said, his tone jocular, but the words still made Clint freeze as he heard them. Was it just something Phil said? A joke? Because they hadn't said anything like that before. It was probably best to ignore it, brush it off, but Clint's head still jerked back from where he had been looking at Natasha, silently encouraging her, and looked at Phil who was relaxed and happy, only frowning when he caught sight of the look on Clint's face. "What?" Phil asked.

"Nothing," Clint said forcing a smile. "Nothing at all."

A loud clap drew their attention back to the man from the training centre.

"Well now that we've done that, and you've all proven that you can trust each other in your personal space, some more than others, we're going to up the level of trust needed for the exercises. Next, you need to trust that person to catch you when you fall." He called up a member of his trust squad or whatever they called themselves, and showed how to safely fall back into the arms of someone else so that they wouldn't hurt themselves - as though SHIELD agents weren't capable of working that one out for themselves and hadn't done worse in the field anyway. It wasn't as though it was as dangerous as Hulk catching Tony from space or anything.

Clint admitted it. Maria Hill was actually rather scary. He was best friends with Natasha, who could kill him as soon as look at him, but Hill was the one he truly feared. It was something about the eyes; he just couldn't trust what was going on behind them. Now, apparently, he had to trust her to catch him. She had told the World Security Council about him, he knew that. If there was one thing it took to get where she was, it was balls and boy did she have them. If a rogue agent, even if it was due to mind control and even if there was a chance they were completely gone, were to have the opportunity to undermine all that Clint had worked for, then he would have fought with everything he could to get them back before reporting the incident. A person came before a job, especially when there was a life on the line. However, he did begrudgingly understand her position, even though it didn't mean he was going to just fall into her arms willingly.

"Clint," Hill complained after the third time of him trying to turn around and look to see if she was going to catch him if he did fall back. "You jump off buildings on a regular basis with either the trust that someone will catch you before you fall, or that you can manage to shoot an arrow at the right thing at the right time to slow your descent. How is trusting me to catch you when you lean backwards worse than that?"

"Because I'm good at what I do!" He complained, turning to face her properly. "I know that whatever I do, I'm going to save myself somehow. How do I know you won't just let me hit my head on the floor?"

Anger flashed through her eyes. "Fine, you don't trust me. You just stand there and hold your arms out for me to fall into them. Can you do that?"

"Of course I can!" He stuck his arms out and watched mutely as she turned around and crossed her arms over her chest like they'd been shown. She fell back with no hesitation and he caught her straight away, helping her back up to her feet. "You trusted me?" He asked, not meaning to voice it, but the words flew out of his mouth anyway.

"Of, course I do, Barton. Why wouldn't I?"

"Loki," he said simply. "Like everyone else."

"That wasn't you," she said with a sigh. "You know that. I don't hold it against you. Now," she gestured over in the direction of Phil and Tasha who seemed to be doing progressively more dangerous catches as though they were just having a nice quiet stroll down the beach, "are you going to catch me, or am I going to catch you? I'm not letting them win when I have the fool who throws himself off skyscrapers as a partner."

Clint took one more look at them and turned back to Hill. "Oh, it's so on!"
...

After a quick break for lunch, the atmosphere in the canteen a lot rowdier than it had been in the morning, they were split into smaller groups as they had been the day before. It allowed them to rotate through a number of different activities without having to stand around waiting for everyone to finish. As well as promoting further team bonding, of course. Couldn't forget the bonding, after all; very important.

Clint's group was the first to do the spider web exercise. He wasn't suicidal enough to make any jokes about its name to Natasha or imply that they clearly had this one in the bag because of it. So, the first part of the afternoon involved their newly formed group of six traipsing across the open ground to a sparsely populated section of the forest. In the small clearing, there was a structure that was apparently the spider's web that they had to contend with. Their challenge was to work out the best way to get all of them through holes in a rope web suspended between two vertical wooden poles. It sounded easy enough, but since there were additional rules in place where they couldn't touch the ropes or use the same hole twice it was actually more difficult than one would first suspect. On top of that, they then had to get back through the web, still not able to use a gaps multiples times. The holes were all different sizes and shapes, so moving too quickly and just having people go through whichever one they wanted would result in them making a mistake and having to start again.

Clint held his tongue against just saying it would be so much easier to walk around it, or just climb over the top. Even if that was what he wanted to do and save on the hassle. Doing that hardly counted as teamwork though, which is what they were supposed to be improving, even though there was nothing wrong with how Clint worked in a team, in any position. Ask him to lead it, fine. Ask him to take orders, also fine. Just being tasked with things that felt like they didn't have much of a purpose was irritating. When he had gone to Phil earlier in the week to try and get out of coming, it had mainly been because it all just seemed like a waste of time. Still, since he was here, he might as well go through with it; nothing could be worse than the tree thing.

It was easy enough for them to get through to the other side. There were more than enough spaces for them to be able to simply step through the web, or even crawl through some of the smaller holes. However, now that they were on the far side of the obstacle, getting back was going to be more complicated and involve using the higher holes. Some of the gaps they still had left to use didn't touch the ground at all, or weren't near it enough to step through, and so they had to plan out a way to effectively get one person across so that they could then lift the other people through. Obviously with whoever was left at the end needing to get through by themselves as well.

Clint volunteered to go through first. There was one hole that was large enough for him to get through at a jump and not touch anything, it was a close thing, but soon enough, he was on the side they had started on. The rest of the group was transferred through with varying stages of difficulty until only Natasha was left. She gave the gap she had chosen an appraising look, before stepping forward, and Clint saw her draw a deep breath. At the last second, she exhaled slowly, in a controlled manner, as she dived through. Her body moved in a graceful arc as she passed through the web, standing elegantly from the crouched position her tumble had landed her in.

They had all made it though. Clint was actually rather proud of it. It didn't make sense.

"I don't see how that was all that difficult," Natasha said to him as they moved on to the next challenge, keeping step with each other and letting the rest of the group move on slightly ahead of them.

"I think the point is that we work together, not that they try to make us do really difficult things, Nat. Regular mortals have to do these exercises too, not just SHIELD agents."

She looked a little put out at that fact but shrugged after a moment of quiet contemplation, accepting that Clint was right for once. Defending the place to Natasha felt strange. He hadn't even wanted to come. However, it wasn't as interesting as how much he could feel his attitude changing towards the other people. Maybe by the end of this, he'd actually consider letting them in a bit.
...

Fury didn't look too pleased to be paired up with Clint again. Clint didn't let the glaring affect him too much though. It wasn't as though they needed to stare at each other this time. Thankfully, because it would have just been awkward to have to do that again, but at least he knew he could do it now. Instead, their task this time involved blindfolds once more, and Clint had to verbally direct Fury across a minefield. Unfortunately, it wasn't actually a minefield; nothing so challenging. However, they had been warned when receiving their instructions that a few of the so-called mines dotted across the field did have some extra added effects were they to stand on them. Nothing harmful, but from the look that Fury gave Clint, it was clear that were he to stand on one when Clint was directing him through the obstacle course, then Clint would find himself getting any and all arctic condition missions SHIELD had to offer for the next year. Fortunately for Fury, seeing him drenched in green slime or something as equally delightful wasn't enough of a draw when the alternative was freezing his balls off.

Clint surveyed the field and decided on the optimum position for seeing everything he needed to and settled himself there, waiting for Fury put a blindfold on. He still looked disgruntled, but did reluctantly do as the instructor asked. His eyes scanning over the field, Clint plotted out the quickest route, rapidly discarding anything that would result in a dead end or would be difficult to navigate around. A couple of sections, while looking to be plausible options at first, soon turned into an area dense with mines.

"Any time now, Agent Barton," Fury said his arm across his chest. "We've not got all day."

"I thought you'd appreciate some forward planning, sir. My mistake."

Despite his grouching, Fury did as he was told as soon as Clint gave his first direction. Clint fired off move after move, Fury responding almost as fast as Clint gave the commands, their actions combined working like Swiss clockwork. Even Clint was impressed with how well they were working together, he noticed that Fury seemed more relaxed and there was even a smile or two as Clint threw in unrelated banter as they undertook the task. It was sort of like being on a mission, but this time he was the omniscient person in everyone's ears. Take that, Phil!

Everything went smoothly and they only had one very small near miss with one mine. With Fury following his instructions with no complaint at all, Clint may have been purposefully seeing just how close he could get him to the mines. It felt like more of a skill than simply giving them a wide berth.
...

The last thing of the afternoon was actually something that Clint had been looking forward to doing. He finally just got to let go and throw himself off something. Okay, so there was a rope involved as well, meaning that it wasn't just a jump like he was used to. However, at least it was something that was a standard thing for him to do and have to trust someone with instead of the other aspects of the trip.

As much as he wanted to abseil down the little wooden structure built specifically for people doing it, he was left for last, watching as Natasha took it all in her stride, walking down the tower as though it was a simple case of walking backward on the flat ground instead of perpendicular to it. Fury seemed almost as comfortable doing it, but the new agents who had been placed on their team all seemed rather nervous as they backed cautiously to the edge and then over it. All of them managed it, with a little encouragement from the instructors, but it did make Clint doubt them since how could they ever handle working on the Helicarrier if they couldn't deal with not being apprehensive only thirty feet up in the air?

Clint was the only one to jump as he repelled. Pushing himself off and out away from the tower as far as he could go as soon as he was given the signal by the person in charge of the safety of his descent at the top. He made it down in four jumps, the exhilaration of it all thrumming through his veins and wishing he could have held onto the fleeting feeling of flying for longer. If they'd have let him, he would have been up the top of the tower again in a heartbeat.

The chance to do it again.

The chance to fly.

Unfortunately, Clint didn't get another chance. Instead, they were all ushered off for an evening meal and then settled down like sleepy children in the common room once more. This time a large screen had been pulled in, and a selection of DVDs produced so that they could keep themselves entertained without resorting to games that made people want to tear their hair out. Natasha secured herself, Phil and Clint a few chairs, which Clint pulled together for them all to sit on, along with a blanket to cover them. Hidden from view, Clint snaked out a hand to Phil who turned and smiled at him before entwining their fingers and settling down to watch whatever got put on.
...

Clint was happy to be leaving. A little sad though. At the end, he'd actually been enjoying himself a lot more than he thought he would. What was the most surprising though, was that he wasn't missing his bow. He hadn't even snuck out to find the ones he knew were on site here. It was one of the options they could have done; Clint had seen it in the pictures of smiley, happy people dotted around the common area for people who had visited in the past. Fury had most likely vetoed it. Either it was to mess with Clint, or to make sure that it wasn't too much like work. As much as he hated to admit it, Clint was actually going to miss how relaxing this place was in comparison to SHIELD. Not having people around looking at him as though he was about to stab him in the back was refreshing. Everyone here seemed to be used to his presence now, maybe even happy to see him, and that was something he hadn't had in a long time unless he was off hiding out in Stark's tower. At least when Tony acted like he didn't want Clint around, Clint knew it was just because Tony had his own issues with people and it wasn't anything to do with Clint. The fact that Jarvis let him in was more than enough to let Clint know how Tony actually felt about him visiting.

The whole mood seemed to be darker at breakfast. They didn't linger in the dining hall, and were all soon lined up for their last trust exercise. They had to stand on a tall pole and jump out for a swing similar to that one would find in a circus for trapeze acts. In a harness though, of course.

They took turns and everyone succeeded, all sporting large smiles on their faces when they came down. Clint was the last to go and stubbornly refused to wear the harness. Or rather, he got to the top and took it off, launching himself from the platform before they could think about what he was doing and get him to stop. Health and safety for the place were probably having a coronary, but Clint didn't care. The feeling of being free and falling in a controlled manner towards the swing felt wonderful and liberating and just everything he wanted.

His hands stretched out just a little bit further. One more inch. Fingers grasped securely onto the swing. He was there. He was safe. Clint let his momentum allow him to swing for a moment before he flipped himself up onto the top of the trapeze with ease. Steadying himself, he got back onto the pole and clambered back down. Now on solid ground, his feet were not happy to be there.

Fury looked like he was trying to not laugh at how stressed out the people from the center were and Natasha just looked as though she expected nothing less from him. Phil looked livid.

Clint tried to look contrite. Really, he did. Okay, maybe not that much. Phil approached him and pulled him to one side.

"What do you think you're doing? I'm used to this behavior on the field. I expect it from you, but you don't need to make stupid risks like that when you aren't in a life or death situation!"

"It wasn't that bad. I did more in the circus," Clint grouched. He hated it when Phil chewed him out. Especially when it was over nothing. "Besides, I was in no danger. I knew you wouldn't let anything happen to me."

Phil raised an eyebrow. "How could you possibly know that? What could I have done?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Phil. There were about five things you're thinking of right now that you could have done and you know it."

Phil's silence and the knowing look on his face said it all.

"Exactly."
...

It was actually quiet on the bus going back to HQ. Nick hadn't expected it to be. Somehow, the events seemed to have completely worn out even his agents. He sat next to Maria, who also looked to be dropping off to sleep, his own head against the headrest, turned so that he could stare out of the window at the flickering scenery as they rolled ever forward.

Maria cleared her throat next to him and he rolled his head towards her. She nodded back down the bus to where Clint and Phil were sat. Both had fallen to sleep. Whether consciously or subconsciously, Phil's head now rested on Clint's shoulder, his breathing deep and even. However, what was likely not as subconscious, was that Clint's hand was placed on Phil's knee, Phil's own hand covering it protectively their little fingers crossed over each other. Clint stirred in his sleep, and without lifting his head, Phil nuzzled at his shoulder, turning his head to press a kiss to it. Phil murmured something that was too slight for Nick to be able to lip read, but whatever it was soothed Clint back to sleep and he quieted once more.

Nick couldn't help but smile; a small smile, very small, just in case Maria saw it. As much as he had hated going on the retreat that weekend, as well as Phil's hand in the schedule, he couldn't really hold a grudge against his right hand man. He definitely didn't begrudge Phil the happiness he'd clearly found. Phil could certainly do a lot worse than Clint. Although, Nick suspected that Clint would argue it wasn't the case. Not that he'd ever voice it, but Nick thought they were a pretty good match.

"You owe me twenty bucks," Maria yawned, stretching her arms above her head to stave off the battle with sleep. "Whenever you're ready."



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