Day 3

Title: Day 3
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Marvel
Rating: PG
Pairing: None
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: Agents Clint and Coulson work a case at a hockey rink.
Notes: Written during my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2015 project for smokeycat_430

“I’m pretty sure this form of torture has been outlawed. Ever heard of the Geneva Convention?”

Through their open communications link, Coulson replied, “S.H.I.E.L.D. operates outside that, and you know it, Agent Barton. Besides, this wasn’t meant to be torturous. I think Fury thought this assignment would be enjoyable for us.”

“Enjoyable? Babysitting a couple dozen guys, all with Peter Pan complexes, and freezing my ass off when I already have a raging head cold? Enjoyable is not the first word that comes to mind, Sir. I mean, I know you’re probably mad at me for giving you my cold, but you could have thought of a better way of torturing me. Something involving actual torture devices, maybe? I’ll take a hot poker and a sharp knife over a cold ice rink and a sharp hockey skate blade any day.” Clint coughed. “Essentially, every one of these guys is skating around with two deadly weapons. How the hell am I supposed to secure this area?”

There was a pause. It went on for so long that Clint started to think he might be right in this, that this might actually be an argument he got to win for a chance. But then he heard a sharp inhalation followed by a resounding “ihh-Dghtshxxxxx!” It sounded like Coulson had tried to hold it back, tried to stifle it, and failed gloriously at it.

“Uh, bless you.”

“Thank you.” Above all else, the niceties had to be maintained. That was the first rule Clint had learned about working with Agent Coulson. Or, rather, the second rule. The first rule was to never say anything bad about the man’s suits—not even if one was slightly wrinkled or more than slightly covered in blood. 

Clint's breath caught. Instinctively, he fought the urge to sneeze, grinding a knuckle at his tickling nostrils. It helped for a second or two. But, inevitably, he sneezed. “ehhhftshoooo!” The player on the bench to his right gave him a look and then scooted over half an inch. That was a pretty clear message. And it wasn't like Clint wanted them to catch his cold. He didn't even want it in the first place. But he couldn't stop sneezing, no matter how hard he tried. “ehhhhKFshhhuhhh!

This was all the Chinese attache’s fault. Well, not the hockey part; that was the fault of this arm of the Russkaya Mafiya.  But the head colds? That was all due to one sniffly, sneezy Chinese attache Clint had needed to escort to a summit. There had been no fewer than eighteen varied attempts on his life, and Clint stopped every single one of them. And just when Clint was about to resign as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, insisting that he was not a glorified bodyguard, up came this mission.

There was a player on the opposing team who was working for them, targeting a player on the other team. Problem was that no one was sure sure which players were involved and there were twenty players on each team. S.H.I.E.L.D. had needed someone who could play hockey if called to do so and be down there on ice level. So Hawkeye had traded his vest for a sweater, his leather pants for hockey uniform pants, his boots for skates, and his bow for a stick. Of course, he wasn't good enough to do anything but sit on the bench during the game itself, but it still afforded him good access to the players while Coulson was stationed up in one of the expensive paid boxes, looking down from high above.

Coulson couldn't see him well from up there, as the screen coverage and jumbotron tended to focus on the action happening on the ice. So Coulson didn't see how often Clint had to rub his nose, but Coulson could hear him sniffle over their open com line, and Clint could hear Coulson. This was one hell of a cold, though not as bad as the one he'd had a year ago in Prague.

There was a line change and Clint looked up, watching the players interact. That would be a good opportunity to commit murder or at least seriously injure. There was chaos and boards to block what was going on, and most eyes were on the people leaving the bench rather than coming in. But, just like the bazillion line changes before, nothing happened.

Except for Clint sneezing. “ehhfftshooo!” All the other players had Gatorade bottles and towels by their feet, but Clint, on the end, had a tissue box. Ugh. He lifted his goalie mask just a little and wiped a Kleenex at his nose, hoping that at least would make the tickle go. It didn't. “ehhhhHifshooo!” He felt like the worst hockey player ever. Thank goodness it wasn't his actual profession.

“You all right, Agent?”

“Sure.” Clint answered. “Just dying here, that's all.” He coughed and wiped a tissue at his nose. “You see anything at all from up there? 'Cause I don't have anything down here.”

“Nothing yet.”

But just as Coulson said it, something caught Clint's eye. The glint made him hyper-aware—or maybe that was his fever—and he was halfway over the side of the box with one skate blade on the blissfully recently-zambonied ice when he realized it was just the lights bouncing strangely against one of the payer's face masks when he had taken off his helmet unexpectedly. “Never mind,” Clint muttered, climbing back in.

At least he had an amazing view of the game. Players sailed past, just a foot away from his face. The slap of stick against puck or thump of body against board or Plexiglas were so loud they made him jump. And he not only got to watch plays develop but he got to hear and see them straight from the coaching staff. As a lover of the sport, this was definitely a cool mission. He just wished it wasn't quite so cool temperature-wise. Clint hadn't stopped shivering for the past half an hour. He had to clench his jaw to keep it from chattering. And his damn nose absolutely refused to stop running no matter how much he rubbed or blew or wiped it.

This was torture, whether it was meant to be or not. Never before had he been so eager to have someone try to commit murder in front of him. Because as soon as the assassin exposed himself, and as soon as Clint expertly stopped him, then Clint would be free to collect his handler, go back to their swanky S.H.I.E.L.D.-funded hotel room, and sleep. And probably sneeze, there would be a lot of that of course. And maybe some sex. But, really, just sleeping and blowing his nose sounded excellent right now.

The buzzer signaling the end of period one sounded and relief flooded through Clint. He would finally get to do something now. The players would head to the locker room, which would probably be nice and warm as well as safe from the other team. But, first, Clint had to check it for sneaky mafia operatives or planted explosives. Clint darted off the bench ahead of the other players, hoping he wasn't ruining any of their “first off the bench” superstitions. That probably only applied to real team members. Clint had to sort of waddle in his skates down the short hallway, but the home team's locker rooms were the closest to the ice. The team's coaching staff and trainers knew he wasn't there just to play, that he was undercover in their alternate goalie's uniform with the mask to hide his identity from the other team, and the coaches managed to delay the team just enough to give Clint the time he needed to do his real work.

The locker room was too big to check thoroughly before the entire team spilled in. He wished Nat was on this mission with him, so she could have kept this room secure when he was out there freezing his ass off. But she was off on the other side of the country doing something in Washington, D.C., that required a much different set of skills, so Clint did the best he could with the S.H.I.E.L.D. device he'd brought along and nothing sent the little hand-held unit off beeping. There was obviously no one in there, either. waiting for the team to appear and then mow them right down with a semi-automatic. The place seemed about as safe as it could be.

Not a moment later, the team filed in. Most of the players gave Clint a wide berth. Clint retreated into a corner in order to let them. He knew they resented him; he could see it in their eyes. They were down by one and one of their valuable roster positions was occupied by a man who wasn't pulling his weight and who might make them all sick. Clint felt terrible about both of those things.

He watched the players as the head coach gave them a run-down of what they were doing well and what they needed to work on for the next period. The two teams were pretty evenly matched as far as skilled players, but they had much different playing techniques. And the beauty of hockey was that on any given day, any team might win. Sometimes it came down to lucky bounce or a man advantage just as your team was gaining momentum. With a score of one-zero, it was still anyone's game with forty minutes left to play.

Assuming no one died. That tended to put a halt to a game pretty quickly.

Clint had a hard time believing any of these players capable of being a mafia target. They were good, but not that good. And not one of them was Russian, which made Clint and Coulson's job of guessing infinitely more difficult. They had spent the previous night in their hotel room going through file after file and tissue after tissue, trying to figure out who the target might be. Around two in the morning, after Coulson's most spectacular sneezing fit yet, Clint had persuaded his handler to contact S.H.I.E.L.D. to be absolutely sure that the intel about the hit was sound. It had been. They'd both downed disgusting green medicine not long after that and had been pretty well dead to the world until the next morning, when they had been depressed to find their colds were somehow worse instead of better.

ihhh-DIHGsshhhtttt! H'Tshhhhttttt!” Knowing Coulson's sneezing patterns far too well by now, he held off saying anything until he was sure there wouldn't be more. “ihh-ih hihhhhh... ihhh-DGshhhhhh!

“Bless you, Sir. You sitting down and resting between periods?”

“Nngh,” Coulson replied, and Clint wasn't entirely sure how to interpret that sound without seeing the man's face. He could just picture his handler and lover now, face long and slack and tired. They needed rest. They needed medicine. They needed a bed. They needed a jumbo-sized box of Kleenex. They needed each other.

They needed to catch a potential murderer.

“Hang in there, Sir.”

Coulson's voice was thick with congestion, deep, and tired, “You too, Agedt Bartod.”

The second period soared right by. Sitting back on the bench again had Clint shivering again. Repeatedly he glanced up at the paid boxed seats to see what was up with Coulson, but he couldn't get a good look at the man from down here and Coulson would reprimand him anyway, telling him to keep his eyes on the players. But nothing happened apart from a tie score, Clint's team pulling ahead by one, and then the other team battling back to tie it up again. Tensions were high and nerves were frayed during a tied game. The coach barked commands and plays. The players kept trying to make things happen, to make opportunities, and got blocked at every turn. And they returned, demoralized and worried, to the locker room at the next intermission.

After sweeping the room, and finding it clean again, Clint retreated to the bathroom area and blew his nose into toilet paper for nearly fifteen minutes straight. Coulson was quiet through their com link, sniffling or coughing at random intervals, but generally not saying anything. There wasn't anything they could do until someone made a move, and there was only one period of the game left for that to happen. Clint wished he felt more alert. And he wished he could breathe through his damn stuffed-up nose.

As the players took their seats on the bench for the third period, he tried to be on high alert. Like a hawk, he watched every movement of the players, looking for something suspicious. He examined every check, looking for something more than just the drive to win. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen any second now, probably with no warning, and he had to be ready.

Play after play. Scoring attempt after scoring attempt. The teams might have significantly different strategies, but both teams had goalies who were walls in front of their nets.

ehhhhKTchhphhhh!” Clint sneezed, squeezing the tissue in under his goalie mask so that he could sneeze into it. He tried to blow his nose with one hand, but he wasn't too good at it. Also, his nose was feeling pretty raw from so much attention from his scrubbing nostrils and these tissues. He longed for one good wipe and blow into one of Coulson's extra soft hankies.

Because the score was tied, the players were starting to take chances on the ice and trying to take advantage of plays. Neither wanted to risk a causing a penalty, but enforcers on both teams looked frustrated and ready to drop the gloves at a moment's notice if needed. Clint watched these players especially closely, and told Coulson to do the same. A fight at center ice or in one of the corners on the far side of the rink might easily evolve into something more violent before Clint could reach them.

One of the referees blew a whistle to indicate icing and instead of going straight to a face-off, they had a television time-out. These usually killed any momentum a team might be developing. In this case, that wasn't the only thing in jeopardy. Because as the break from the ice began and the ice bunnies came out with shovels and trashcans to clean up the ice mid-period, the jumbotron lit up with the words KISS CAM. The video displayed swung around widely, searching for two people who looked like they were together and could be forced to kiss.

Just then, a player from the opposite team broke away from his teammates on the bench and hit the ice. It was only a quick skate from one bench to the other, probably no more than four seconds, but it was all the time Clint needed to react.

He lept over the wall in front of the bench and threw himself at the other player. In that moment, he still felt sick and miserable, but adrenaline and training completely took over. He managed to take the player down onto the ice just as a gun was coming out. Clint saw the black barrel and threw himself on top of it before it could reach its mark, which appeared to be the team's captain, a dynamic American player by the name of Rick Russell. Clint grabbed for the gun.

Clint had dropped his goalie waffle glove just before his jump, and his mask had come off at some point as well. But he still had the rest of his equipment on. This turned out to be a good thing as the gun went off in the struggle for control of it. Clint managed to wrench it out of the player's hand and sat down on the man's middle, pinning him down on the ice.

There was yelling from both benches and the crowd of thousands in the enclosed arena were screaming and pushing and shoving and they tried to flee what they perceived as danger. The noise was deafening, making Clint's aching head hurt tremendously, but the only thing he could hear clearly was the voice in his ear, rough and stuffy, but complimentary. “Good work, Agedt. Are you hurt?”

Clint looked down to see that the bullet had struck him but was embedded in one of the goalie's leg pads. It was so thick and so well made that the bullet hadn't even gotten close to his leg. He knew hockey equipment was well made, but he hadn't guessed that something capable of stopping a puck going more than a hundred miles an hour might actually be able to also stop a bullet going more than a thousand. “Fine, Agent Coulson. I'm fine.”

He turned his attention toward the man beneath him who was looking up toward the ceiling of the facility as he lay flat on his back. No, not toward the ceiling exactly. He was looking at the jumbotron. The words “Kiss  Cam” were frozen there, all the fun having been paused in all the chaos. “Kill Russell,” the player mouthed. “Have to kill Russell now.”

He was out of his mind, not sure of anything but what his mission was. Clint had seen it a half dozen times in the field. He was a sleeper agent, activated at a specific time to carry out a specific job. Even now that he'd failed, he was fixated on what he had been programmed by the Russian mafia to do. His dark brown eyes were fixed on the jumbotron.

“Coulson,” Clint said, hoping that if he could hear Coulson so clearly through their com, that Coulson would be able to do likewise. “Get them to turn off the jumbotron screen immediately.”

Not twenty seconds later, the screen went dark. The man's dark eyes went wide, suddenly registering who he was and also where he was. He looked up at Clint, frowning. “What the fuck?” Then he saw the gun in Clint's hand and tensed up with fear. “Don't do it, Man. I didn't do anything! I'm just a hockey player!”

Coulson had apparently also called arena security to take the hockey player into custody to be turned into S.H.I.E.L.D., because several uniformed guards walked and skidded along the ice to where Clint sat with the assassin beneath him. “Let hib go, Agedt,” was the voice in his ear. And even though the man had no idea what was going on, Clint released him to security. He'd need to go through a pretty rough course of deprogramming, but he'd be all right in the end, especially without the guilt of killing a man and fellow player. With any luck, S.H.I.E.L.D. would be able to dive into his mind and figure out who had programmed him, though the reason behind it might take a little longer to figure out.

Clint's part in all of this, however was over. He got up and skated down to the door that led back to the players' bench. There was probably no saving the game at this point, but at least he'd saved this team's captain. And even though he was sick and just wanted to slip away to somewhere warm and safe, instead he endured more than two dozen hockey players and staff jumping on him with their elation and congratulations. They slapped his butt and knocked their gloves on the top of his head and Rick Russell even pulled him into a large, sweaty hug.

After taking off his skates, he noted that the volume in the venue had significantly decreased. He let people congratulate him until everyone had thanked him at least twice, a couple fans included as he walked out into the main hallway surrounding the arena to check on the situation. This was the last game before the short Christmas break, and every fan of the home team seemed to be in attendance. The full arena emptied out slowly but security was taking over the scene. Clint wasn't sure if anyone had been hurt in the stamped to evacuate, but he hoped any injuries had been minor. That part really couldn't have been helped.

“Coulson?” he tried as he slumped against a wall, suddenly feeling dizzy. He should have gone back to the locker room to ditch his uniform and pads. The one with the bullet hole would probably need to be examined by S.H.I.E.L.D.'s agents.

“Right here,” came a voice behind him, echoed strangely in his ear through the com. Clint turned and found Coulson standing there. “You all right?”

Clint shrugged. On one hand, he was unharmed. The shot hadn't hit him. No one had been killed. The mission had been a success.  But on the other hand, he felt like he was about to pass out. He fell forward into Coulson's waiting arms. “The freakin' Kiss Cam was the trigger?” Clint said with a weak laugh. “You've got to be kidding me. These Russians have a sick sense of hu.. hu-mor-hehh-ehhhPTkshhooo! EhhhKSchooo!

And then Coulson said the words that Clint had been longing to hear all night, “Bissiod accoblished, Agedt. Let's go back to the hotel add get idto bed.”

“Hell yeah.” Clint nodded his head against Coulson's chest and felt a little less dizzy with Coulson at his side to catch him if he were to pass out.

Of course he didn't, but he definitely came close on the ride up to their floor of the hotel. Something about the pressure in his ears as the elevator rose quickly or the sound of the elevator whirring made him feel so light-headed. He clung to Coulson, who held him tight, though sniffling the whole time because he didn't have a spare hand to wipe his nose with a handkerchief.

When they got to their room, Coulson threw the deadbolt lock and drew the chain across the door. Being in a hotel was a rare experience; they were usually in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s safe houses, which were normally well-equipped technologically but not the most comfortable of places to rest one's head. This hotel room had two giant beds, one of which held their equipment, files, and extra weaponry. A tiny burst of relief hit Clint as he saw that his bow and arrows were waiting for him just as he had left them. He'd felt a bit naked out there on the ice without them. When something had started to go down, his instinct had been to go for his weapon, but he'd still managed to do his job without his weapon of choice. The other bed was nothing but piles of pillows, thick blankets and comforters, and the files they'd been going over the night before as they'd fallen asleep.

Clint pushed those off the bed now, but he did not crawl in right away. He was still wearing the hockey uniform, after all.

He unhooked the jersey and then pulled it over his head. “Should have made you do this for me,” Clint joked, imaging the two of them in a scuffle where Coulson would pull it up the way players did out on the ice when having a fight. It wasn't until then he realized how cold it felt in the room, but Coulson was already over at the thermostat, adjusting it. So Clint clenched his jaw yet again to keep it from chattering as he stripped off the rest of the uniform. When he was just down to his underwear, and shaking now with shivers, he turned to see Coulson still fully dressed. “Phil?” he said to his lover softly, kindly, in a very off duty sort of way. “Phil, you can take that suit off and join me in bed. We c-can keep each other warm.” He wrapped his arms across his chest.

It was only then that he realized how bad off Coulson really was. Coulson shook his head, shivering and sniffling. He didn't look out of it in the same way that player had when his programming had kicked in, but it was kind of close. They were both running fevers, but from the look of Coulson's eyes, his was really getting ti him now that the situation didn't require him to be in charge. “I don't feel good,” he confessed. “Really, really don't.”

“I know,” Clint said, walking over. “I don't either. Ehhh-ehhhHitchhhhhh! Sniff! But once we get into bed, you'll feel better. I'll hold you and you'll hold me and we'll get through this. We're a team, right?” Coulson nodded. “Good. Now, let's get your suit off, and—“ Coulson shook his head adamantly again.

Clint sighed. He'd just stopped a murder. That was supposed to have been the hardest part of his day. This was supposed to be the part where he got to snuggle under a pile of blankets with the man he loved and sleep properly until he felt better. “Just take your suit off. Here, I'll help,” he went for Coulson's tie, but Coulson stepped back before Clint could even loosen the knot a little bit. He looked... not just reluctant but scared. And cold. And sick. Poor Coulson.

Clint tried a different tactic. “You trust me, right?” After a pause, Coulson nodded. “Good. Then let me help you. I promise you'll feel better.” This time when he reached for the tie, Coulson did not flinch or pull back, out of reach. He lifted his head a little, giving Clint better access to his neck.

Then his head snapped downward. “IhhhKxxtttt!” He half stifled the sneeze, but it still sprayed against Clint's hand and part of his face. Clint barely flinched and didn't care. Like so much else tonight, that too was beyond his control.

“Luckily, I've already got this cold. So...” He removed the tie and then began unbuttoning Coulson's light blue dress shirt. “Sneeze if you gotta.”

Coulson sniffed and coughed and shivered as Clint undid another button. “No,” Coulson said weakly as Clint ran a hand up Coulson's chest and started to ease both the shirt and suit jacket off at the same time, sliding both off his shoulder.

“Yes,” Clint said, doing the same on the other side. Little by little, the suit slipped off him until it pooled on the floor and he was literally shaking with cold. Clint moved in even closer, providing his own fevered body's body heat as he reached down between their pressed bodies to undo Coulson's slacks. Those fell to the floor more quickly.

Then, before Coulson knew what was happening, Clint swept him off his feet and carried him to the bed. “No!” Coulson whimpered, reaching back as if he might be able to get to his suit, but Clint kept going.

Once he had Coulson on the bed, he pulled off the man's shoes, socks, and pants quickly. Then he jumped onto the bed as well, grabbed the covers, and pulled them over both of them. It was Coulson's turn to cling to Clint, though he kept objecting and trying to look back toward his suit. Clint held him tight, arms wrapped around him tight, his body pressed against his lover's.

Huddled together, under the covers, the shivers finally stopped for them both. But then Coulson shook again. “ihhh... ihhh-Duhgtxxxxxttt!” Coulson sneezed then threw a look over his shoulder. “Suit...”

“You don't need it, Phil. You've got me to keep you warm now.”

Coulson shook his head yet again and, finally, explained.”Handkerchiefs... ih ih ihh-Dhtshhuhhh! Sniff! Id by bockets.”

Clint laughed, burying his face in Coulson's shoulder. “You should have said before.” But, of course, Coulson wasn't up to explaining right now. And Clint really should have known. And now he had to pay the price. “You did that on purpose because I gave you this cold, didn't you?” Coulson, even out of it and miserable, gave a tiny smile. Clint shook his head with another laugh. “Okay. I'll be right back.” Reluctantly, Clint ventured out on his new mission, with his handler watching on. He emerged from the warm blankets and ventured out toward the discarded suit. He fumbled at the pockets, grabbing what he could find, before retreating back to bed.

He held a handkerchief to Coulson's nose as soon as he got back under the covers and the senior agent took advantage of the situation presented to him and blew all he needed to. Which of course led to more sneezing. “ih ih ihhhDmphh! IhhDxxphhh! Ihh-ihhhDihxxmphh!” And then more nose blowing. So much more.

Clint felt himself starting to fall asleep, even as he held the hankie in place. He managed to stay awake just long enough to down a good gulp of the green medicine and force the bottle on Coulson as well. Then he snuggled up against Coulson and coughed and sneezed into Coulson's handkerchief until he passed out next to the man he loved cuddling with and working with and even being miserable with. Maybe today hadn't been quite so torturous after all.