The YouTube video starts with a shot of the Stark Tower from afar. It was obviously taken by an amateur, the camera shaking as the owner can barely stop himself from whispering a litany of shit, shit, fuck as what seems to be an alien ship, casually parking itself on the helipad of the tower, smoke coming off from its various windows—
The scene cuts to what seems to be the local news feed about the incident. This time the tower is much closer to the camera, seen from an angle that can only be taken from a helicopter. The panicked voice of a reporter can be heard in the background as smoke is still coming out of both the building and the ship.
A second later, a part of the alien ship explodes after being hit by a small object. Not a bullet—an arrow. The camera quickly zooms in to one balcony above the helipad, where a man with a bow is standing, aiming his weapon to the alien ship below. A few seconds pass before the man’s eyes widen; in split seconds, he lowers his bow, spins to his side and jumps across the railings, down to the helipad.
He is shot midair.
He falls down headfirst and the camera is suddenly obscured by the thickening black smoke. The reporter continues to rant on before the screen goes dark. The video ends.
The video is titled “MORE ALIENS ATTACKING STARK TOWER???!!!!” and is uploaded by the user “AvengersFanz33”.
The video has five million hits and counting.
Good morning. How may I help you?
Oh, you’re lucky, the information’s just in—let me look it up for you for a second… ah. Here it is. Incident #2356, Invasion of Stark Tower, took place exactly three days ago on July 31st. The only agents present at the time were Agent Clint Barton and Agent Coulson. There were 56 civilian workers inside the building, all evacuated within the first ten minutes of the incident, while both agents stayed inside to contain the situation.
Agent Barton is now in medical, receiving treatment. I can give you his ward and room number, but I doubt you can visit him anytime soon. Injuries details are not in yet, but the file says he’s now in another surgery.
No, he’s not in office. I am not sure where Agent Coulson is.
I’m sorry, what’s your security clearance level again?
I’m afraid I cannot disclose any further information.
…the ‘nature of their relationship’? What do you mean by ‘the nature of their relationship’? Clint Barton has double statuses as both an Avenger and a SHIELD agent, while Phil Coulson is his permanent handler, as he has always been for the past six years. Is that what you’re asking?
Are you seriously asking me? Really? I mean, come on, bro, I know we’re friends and all, but I’ve only been here for, like, a year and a half? You have been here for three and I don’t think you know much about most of the things that are going on around here, much less about those at the top brass like Coulson and Barton. SHIELD could’ve changed our security clearance level to something like negative one and we wouldn’t have realized anything.
Okay, okay! Geez, you didn’t need to hit me, I was just joking.
Coulson. Agent Coulson. I don’t even know his first name, it could’ve been ‘Agent’ for all I care. I don’t know him, not really, but I can tell you what I know about him from all the office rumors: he’s a legend.
Yes, you hear that right. He’s a fucking legend around here. Fucking batshit, they say. Heard he subdued shotgun-carrying robbers with a bag of flour. Killed a mafia leader with a toothpick. Dated the Queen of England. He’s like the typical anti-hero of your least favorite fairy tale, except he's fucking real.
What do you mean it may have been ‘just rumors’? I met him once, you know. In fact, he was my recruiting officer, the one who briefed a whole bunch of new agents including me on our first day of work. From that experience alone? I can tell you this: he scared the shit out of me. His voice sent shivers down my spine, and the man was reading out the fucking menus of our cafeteria.
And Barton… well. I met Barton on my first day, too. Not because I was being introduced formally—huh, I wish that was the case—but no. It was because he fucking jumped out of the ceiling. In the middle of our briefing about arms safety. I almost shot him with the gun they use to demonstrate the arms safety before he dismantled it—can you please stop laughing? It’s not funny! He almost gave me a heart attack! Almost made me quit SHIELD then and there, and you know you couldn’t have done shit without me.
Yeah, I know that they’re close. Or at least I think so. They’ve been partners for a long time. Barton is the bane of every handler’s existence, and yet Coulson is willing to be his permanent handler, so that’s saying something, doesn’t it?
Well, actually, now that you mention it… it’s a funny thing, actually. That first day of my employment? I remember Coulson, despite being the strict, rules-abiding agent that he is… he didn’t get mad at all when Barton disrupted the briefing. I mean, he “scolded” him and all, but there was no venom in his voice. I’m even quite sure that the ends of his mouth twitched—that’s Coulson-equivalent for smiling, by the way—and there was a hint of amusement in his eyes. His posture relaxed, and there was an air of familiarity and comfort between them.
That’s all I know, really. Sorry can’t help you more on this. Anyways, there’s still time, up for some lunch?
Okay. Have fun with this little project of yours.
No can do, buddy, sadly, as much as I want to, Fury has warned me not to have photo-taking sessions in SHIELD compounds, he’s a certified killjoy and you know it, and also Bruce is waiting for me at the lab so how about you contact Pepper and—
Oh. You’re not asking for autographs?
No, I haven’t heard about that incident, it’s not like the tower is named after me or something. Oh, wait, it does. Of course I’ve heard about it! Where do you think I’ve been for the past three days, frozen in the Atlantic Ocean?
Please don’t tell Cap I said that. He’s, uh, exceptionally cranky when I make Capsicle jokes, even crankier than if I tell dirty jokes, though I think that may have something to do with the fact that double entendres take unscheduled flights over his head. I mean, he still asks “who is she” when people say “that’s what she said”. I still burst into tears just thinking about that.
Uh, I guess I can spare a few minutes? You’re not going to publish this, right? Because if you do it may become big and controversial and Pepper is going to scold me, and then Steve is going to scold me, and before you know it Rhodey is going to scold me too, so.
Okay, good. I’m going to continue walking, too, so if you’re not up for that—
Okay. It was… it was a total shitstorm, I say. For the Avengers, because our image as the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? Poof, gone, just like that, together with a whole chunk of my tower. For the Stark Industries, too. The incident is like putting up a gigantic flashing billboard saying "We Sell You Technology but Our Technology is Actually Not Good Enough to Create Security that Can Protect a Building", complete with demonstration. Pepper hasn’t been sleeping much over this.
No one saw it coming. No one. I was with Bruce at a research center out of the country. Thor was in Asgard. Steve was visiting the troops in an American military base in Japan. Natasha was on a mission, I think she may have to kill me if I find out where. None of us expected that anything would go wrong.
Clint stayed, he’d just finished a mission, and Coulson was also there, do you know he has his own floor there now—
Yes, I know what happened to Clint. I’m not—I—
I’m sorry, I’m going to get in here now, Bruce’s waiting, and I don’t think you can. So. Maybe next time.
Here, send your address to this number. That’s Pepper’s. She will send you an autographed picture of me. I’ll make sure of it.
I don’t think it’s about murder at all.
No, wait, listen to me first.
I mean, I know that it’s in the job description. They call it assassination, making it sound professional, emotionless; that maybe if it sounds like something you can talk about with that guy in the next cubicle in your office, it may have less consequences. It’s like the Fight Club. They don’t really talk about it here. But you have to understand, I’m not trying to downplay it when I say Barton doesn’t think about murder at all when he does his job.
Oh god, no, I never taught Barton a single thing. No. If anything, he should be the one teaching, though I think he’s more of a natural than the professional-due-to-training type.
SHIELD tried to make me, once. Teach him. He looked so scandalized, like I was going to teach him waltz-dancing or something, it was actually kind of funny. He turned to me and said, hey, buddy, listen. I know you might be from fucking expensive shooting schools, have a degree in shooting things or something, but I don’t give a shit about that. He wasn’t being rude, I don’t think he was; he was merely being honest and I appreciate that.
After that he immediately went to one of the stations, assembled the gun there in record speed and shot the target with unprecedented accuracy. I was in the army once, you know, he said. And before that, I was the Greatest Marksman in the World, he continued with a smirk, as if he was laughing to a joke only he understood.
How does that have anything to do with the incident? Well, it’s really difficult to explain, so how about this. Close your eyes. No, really. Yes. You’re now a sniper. You have your gun in your hand, a cold and firm presence. You can feel the cold metal pressed to your fingers, your heart beating steadily in your chest, your ears ringing in anticipation. You have your target, but you don’t pull the trigger, because you wait. You need to find yourself first, the one with the conviction, the choice, the energy. You will need conviction, for there’s no room for regrets. You need to make the choice. And you do not use that energy, the one you find inside of you, because you don’t intend to create force—you set it free. It’s not a rush, not a chase.
Now, you can feel the energy pooling inside starts to flow, from your body to your arms, to your hands, to your fingers. Remember, it’s a flow. Breathe. Wait until the energy is the only thing you can feel, the only thing you can sense, before you release it. That’s when you pull the trigger.
What I’m trying to say is—to be a good sniper, you don’t learn to shoot, or to kill. You learn to wait. Most of the times, it’s not the exciting game of cat and mouse as Hollywood makes it to be. You wait. And then you wait more.
I don’t know much about the incident. I don’t know anything about Phil Coulson, either, nor his relationship with Barton. But have you seen the footage? The one all over internet? Barton didn't wait. And when the best sniper in SHIELD, and probably the entire world, doesn’t wait? It must be something, or someone, very important. Very, very important.
Sure. Glad I can help. Feel free to come to the shooting range after hours, we offer free training for the first five hours.
Yes, I’m aware about the incident. It was all over the news, and when I saw it, I immediately flew back from Japan. The military was quite angry, told me that they could handle situation, that I disrupted an important proceeding. They almost didn’t allow me, and I almost flew a plane by myself, but the last time I was flying a plane… well. Everyone knows it didn’t go well.
…I knew it. Tony made that joke about sleeping in ice again, didn’t he?
Yes, I know what happened to Clint. Thank you for your concern. No, I haven’t visited him, only his medical proxy is allowed to be there. I could’ve requested a visit, of course, but the doctors say some things about “unstable condition” and “little disruption”, and Tony hasn’t tried barging into Clint’s room yet, so I think it’s really important to stay away right now.
Definitely no threats. SHIELD Medical is still under SHIELD’s watch, despite being on a different wing. Also, Phil is with Clint, so I’m sure he’s safe.
Uh, yes. Phil is Clint’s medical proxy. Clint doesn’t have any relatives as far as I know. He told me he had been an orphan since he was really young, and he never mentioned anything about any other relatives. Uhm, I’m not sure, not really familiar with the rules, but I guess handlers are allowed to be agents’ medical proxies.
Yeah, Phil has been there since Clint was admitted to the medical. I don’t think he left except to take a shower and get some food. I know, it’s made me concerned, too; I met him this morning, and he looked like he hadn’t slept at all since the day of the incident. I don’t think that’s good for his wound—Phil himself got shot on his life leg. Actually, lack of sleep is not good for his health in general. But I cannot do anything, at least for now. I’m planning to ask Natasha to help me later.
I can’t blame him. I know what it’s like to feel scared for losing someone close to you, especially when he’s trying to save your life. I know what it feels to stand, in regrets, wishing you’ve done something, anything to save his life, to maybe reach out a little bit further before he falls into his death—
Uh. I’m sorry. I—forget what I said. Just, Phil and Clint are really close. I don’t think anyone else notices, but they always sit side by side in any occasion. Even on team dinner.
You’re welcome. If there’s anything, I’m willing to help.
WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME ABOUT HIM I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HIM WHAT DO YOU MEAN—
Shit. Who told you that? I bet it’s Sitwell. It’s Sitwell, isn’t it?
Whatever, I’ll find out who it is, sooner or later. And remember, if you’re telling any of our colleagues about this, our friendship is over, you hear that? Over.
Well, since the cat is already out of the box… you’re going to the right person, buddy. Full name, Clinton Francis Barton, but preferred to be called Clint or Barton. Code name Hawkeye. Birthday September 15th. Favorite color is purple. His first handle is Sitwell, that lucky bastard, and he went through a series of handlers before Coulson was assigned to him. He has been stuck ever since.
No, really, you can ask me anything about him. I know all the answers, and if I don’t, I have the means to, or it’s classified to the point that it’s crucial to national security. But I know all those trivial things, you know? The things that make him a person, real. His least favorite place for holiday is Budapest. His favorite food is waffle. I know about the latter because he told Thor about it when they went for a breakfast at the SHIELD compound last time. No, I wasn’t there, but one of us was. We actually kind of have a schedule, you know. Or as much of a schedule as we could have here, with all the missions and everything.
What do you mean it’s stalking? No, no, just gathering information. If you google your favorite actor, is that considered stalking? I don’t think so. And you can’t blame someone for doing her job; We may be underground, but we’re a proper organization, alright. No, not a fan club, we’re way more professional than that. What do you think we are, fifteen-year-olds?
…I guess it really is a little childish, but. You see, I’ve been working under Coulson for years now, and he’s been Barton’s handler even before I started working under Coulson. So Barton has been a constant presence in my office, okay? He’d loiter around as he waits for Coulson. Initially, it was just occasionally after missions, and then it would become more often. And before I knew it, I’d see him everyday sitting at the same sofa, tapping his hand to the music from his iPod as he waits for Coulson to come home. He’d look just perfect, with that toned muscles and perfect face, and just, ugh. He’s the highlight of my day, okay, don’t judge me.
There was even one time when he was in a suit. It was a simple black suit, dark blue tie, but it hugged him at the right places and god did he look good. Even Coulson looked surprised when he went out of his office that day. Yes, they went out together. No, I don’t know where they went. Maybe it was some mission, I don’t know.
The incident. Oh, the Stark Tower Incident. Yes, Marie was there. She’s one of us, too—oh, god, don’t tell her I told you that—but yeah. She was one of the agents sent to evacuate the building.
It was devastating. Marie saw them with her own eyes, you know—Coulson limping out of the burning building, a half-conscious Clint Barton draped across his shoulder. There was blood everywhere, Marie couldn’t even see where the wounds actually were, and she’s quite sure one of Barton’s hands was broken. Coulson was so worried, he didn’t even let the medics tend to his gunshot wound on his leg, just kept saying check him first, I’m fine, check him first with a broken voice. He didn’t let go of Clint at all, and they went into the same ambulance.
It wasn’t the happiest time for our organization, but I’m sure Barton would make it. He always does. You may not understand this, but Hawkeye is our hero. And heroes don’t die easily.
Excuse me, who are you?
What’s your division, your clearance level? Is this a task given to you?
Don’t you think you’re sticking your nose into things you shouldn’t?
No, don’t mind me. This is a new gun that SHIELD has just issued for me. An exceptionally good one, I must say. Quiet, and subtle. I can shoot someone in a room and the people from the other room won’t be able to hear, especially with the steel walls like SHIELD’s.
Good to know.
You really have nothing better to do with your life, do you? Okay, fine, I’m the one playing old-school games during work, but I’m not the one being threatened to death by the Black Widow.
That kind of news travels fast, buddy. When the Black Widow asks you to come into a room together with her, it’s either something really, really important, or she’s going to threaten you. And you can’t be dealing with something important, so.
The incident, huh? No, I don’t know much about it, but I know a thing or two about Barton and Coulson. Well, actually not that much, don’t make that face—but I did see them in civilian clothes.
No, really, why would I lie? It was just a few weeks ago, actually. I was assigned at a post in Iowa, and it was lunch time, so naturally I went to the nearest diner I can find, and lo-and-behold, Barton and Coulson was sitting together at a table.
It was… jarring, really. I mean, try to picture this: Barton was in a shirt and short, and Coulson was wearing a large, baggy T-shirt that looked more like something Barton would own. The owner—an old, plump lady with a blinding smile—was ruffling Barton’s hair, and Barton let her. He actually looked embarrassed, for some reason, and Coulson—Coulson was smiling. Real, ear-to-ear grin.
I heard something along the lines of, he and his brother used to come hear a lot and still visited me regularly despite being in military. She might be his godmother or something, I don’t know. I don’t want to know, Jesus, they might kill me or something if I do.
What’s with that thoughtful look? This doesn’t explain anything, okay. And don’t tell anyone about this. I sprinted out of the diner as fast as I could before they noticed I was there. Unlike you, I value my life.
You’re welcome, buddy. Now stop having death wishes and have a round with me instead.
Seriously. I was caught once, and suddenly everyone thinks I always get caught. It was by Tony Stark, true, but still. I feel that my reputation has been tarnished.
Seriously, did you even do your research? When did Clint move to Stark Tower? 23rd February 2013. That’s one week after the fifth Stark Tower Renovation, the one that included the customization of one floor for Phil Coulson. Check the restaurant at this address, here. Show the chef a picture of Clint or Coulson—he would recognize them, although by different names. He would say that they are his loyal customers, and that they always come together every week.
And if you still have to ask me, well, I think you’re blind, sir. Clint waits for Coulson everyday after work in his office. Coulson is still a handler, Clint’s handler, despite his excellent track record that could’ve gotten him promotion eons ago.
I’ll make this simple. Have you watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith? You see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? They’re them. Except with less lying and a thousand times more badassery.
I can't believe Tony gave you my number, but I guess you sound sincere, so that's great. No, you're not disrupting me at all, but snooping around isn't good for you, especially considering who you're working for.
How about I give you one secret and you call it quits? Okay?
I helped Phil choose the ring.
You're welcome. Have a good day, too.