Coulson: Life has no meaning…
Clint stared at his phone, befuddled. What was his best friend on about now? It wasn’t like Phil to send such a cryptic -- not too mention worrisome -- text message at two in the morning. Pushing himself up off the floor, Clint dropped down onto his bed to respond.
Clint: ...huh? What’s wrong?
He’d only just barely let his hand drop down to his side when it buzzed again. At least he was expecting it this time; unlike when Phil first messaged him, surprising him and causing him to knock the phone to the floor. The screen flickered to life as he read the reply.
Coulson: Everything I’ve ever known and believed in is a lie. My entire life has been a lie.
The phone buzzed a second time.
Coulson: There’s no such thing as heroes anymore.
Without a second thought, Clint shoved up off the bed and slipped his shoes on as he thumbed off a quick reply, I’m coming over. Be there in 5.
No such thing as heroes anymore ? Something was definitely wrong. There was no way Phillip J. Coulson -- student body president, president of the senior class, and founding member of the first ever comic book club at their high school -- just said there was no such thing as heroes anymore. Phil, the boy who saw more time in the nurse’s office and principal’s office for fights against bullies, had always believed in heroes. Hell, to Clint, and probably three-quarters of their school, Phil was a hero!
Escaping out his bedroom window, Clint held tight to the drainpipe as he climbed down, his feet hitting the damp grass with a quiet thump. In just a few short steps, and one leap, he was up and over the fence that separated his yard from Phil’s. A hop, skip, and a jump later he was climbing the tree that lead up to Phil’s window, the dim glow of his desk lamp the only thing illuminating the way for him.
“Phil,” Clint hissed, tapping on the glass. He leaned in closer, hanging onto the branch above his head with one hand while the other worked to get the window open. “Phil, open the window, lemme in.”
A moment later the light from the desk lamp was blocked out, Phil’s lithe form coming to stand in front of it and let his best friend in. It wasn’t until Clint was tumbling into the dark room that the severity of the matter sunk in. Phil’s bed had been completely stripped of its sheets, posters were missing off the walls, his custom built bookcase stood bearen beside his window. Drawers were half opened and near empty in his dresser, and a trail of abandoned hangers led back to Phil’s dark closet. Worse, Phil was wearing green plaid boxers and a plain grey T-shirt.
Clint stumbled to his feet, brushed himself off, and turned his full attention back to Phil. “What’s wrong? What’s all this bullshit about there’s no such thing as heroes anymore? What’d you do with all your Captain America stuff?”
There was no light, no life really, to Phil’s grey eyes as he stood staring back at Clint. All emotions save for resigned despair were wiped from his every being.
“I threw it out,” answered Phil flatly, and with a shrug of his shoulders.
Shock raced through Clint’s brain. All he could do was stand there and stare dumbly at Phil.
“Threw it out,” Phil said again, voice just as flat and empty as before. “It’s all been a lie. One big, horrible, painful lie. There’s no such thing as heroes.”
Phil turned then, padding softly back to his laptop. Clint followed hot on his heels, still frantically looking around for even the smallest trace of Captain America memorabilia. There wasn’t one. Even the pictures of Phil and Clint together through the years were gone; the picture of them lighting the menorah for the first time together when they were ten years old was even missing from Phil’s bedside table. That picture had been there for almost eight years. Clint in a ratty old red flannel shirt and Phil in his brand new Captain America hoodie. It was gone.
All of it.
Anything that might have had the trademark red, white, and blue Vibranium shield was gone.
“Phil,” Clint started, shaking his head in confusion, “what are you...talking about…?” His voice faded off as he stared at Phil’s laptop screen.
The splash page of the latest Captain America comic. The one Phil had been so excited about being released, as it brought forth a revitalized Steve Rogers to once again take up his famous mantle. The comic Phil had been looking forward to enough that he was going to buy the digital copy, as well as have his comic shop pull a paper copy for him, just so he could put it with the rest of his collection.
There, backlit in a sinister red glow, stood Captain America looking out past the gagged and bound form of an innocent man, right into the reader’s eyes. The only speech bubble coming from Cap himself. The words, though. Oh the words sent a cold shiver down Clint’s spine and had a frozen lump twist in his stomach.
Two words were being uttered by Captain America.
Hail Hydra .
Suddenly the gaps in Phil’s bedroom decorations made perfect sense.
When Phil spoke again, his voice was barely more than a trembling whisper. “He’s Hydra, Clint. He’s Hydra and Marvel says he will continue to be. Says he always has been, and will continue to be.”
The frozen weight in Clint’s stomach twisted and knotted up more than before. Never in his life had he ever wanted to hunt someone down and hurt them as much as he did right then. He wanted to find whoever was responsible for turning his best friend’s icon into the very same villainous slime that had killed members of Phil’s family. Relatives on both sides of his family tree that he would never meet all because of their religion.
Phil turned his gaze from his laptop to Clint, and Clint saw the tears shimmering unshed in Phil’s eyes. Hurt and betrayal.
“Why?” Phil whimpered. “Why would they do this to Cap? He’s not, Hydra. He can’t be .”
Reaching out, Clint slapped the laptop shut and moved to stand in front of Phil. There was plenty Clint could say: It’s just a comic; maybe he’s a Skrull? Or an evil Life Model Decoy?; He was captured and brainwashed; It’s another ‘What If…’ arc; It’s just a horrible dream. None of that was right though. It would all sound trite and insulting to the underlying issue. His hands on Phil’s shoulders, Clint held firm as they locked eyes.
“He’s not Hydra, Phil,” Clint answered calmly, sincerely. Cap wasn’t Hydra because Clint was not going to allow him to be.
Phil sniffled as he shook his head, looking away. “He is, though. The editor said--”
“No.” Short, sharp, to the point. Clint gave Phil’s shoulders two soft shakes to draw his attention back. “ No , Phil. He’s not Hydra. You better than anyone should know that. How long has Captain America been around?”
Phil gave a half-assed shrug, not yet meeting Clint’s eyes.
“You do too know, Phil. You’ve probably forgotten more about Captain America than most people will ever know in their lifetimes. Now how long has Captain America been around? When was he created?”
“His first comic cover-dated was March 1941,” Phil finally mumbled, still staring down at his closed laptop.
“And what was he doing on the cover of that comic?”
“Punching out Adolf Hitler…”
Clint nodded once. “Exactly. He was punching out Adolf Hitler. And after he clobbered ol’ Adolf a few dozen times, who’d he go after? Who became the stand in for Hitler and his Nazi regime?”
Phil sniffed again, his hand coming up to wipe at his eyes. “Johann Schmidt, the Red Skull and leader of Hydra.”
“Right. How long has he been fighting the Red Skull?”
Silence filled the space between them for a moment before Phil finally answered, “Nearly since the beginning.”
The heartbreak and betrayal were still clear on Phil’s face, but that only served to egg Clint on. Clint knew the bone deep hurt that being betrayed by someone you cared for, someone you looked up to and hero-worshipped, could cause. He’d experienced it himself a number of times. It was a pain he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy, but especially not on Phil.
It took a moment for Clint to get his jumbled up thoughts in place before he could finally start talking again. When he did, he kept his voice soft, comforting but stern and certain.
“This idiot who’s been writing for Cap has been at it for how long? Only like two years or something, right?”
“You,” Clint paused to shove his finger into Phil’s sternum, “have been a Cap nut probably since the moment you were born. I mean, look around your room, Phil.”
Clint took a step back to wave his arms in a wide circle around him as Phil cautiously dared to look around.
“Your room is a shrine to Captain America. To the REAL Captain America. You probably own more merchandise and memorabilia for Cap than anyone at Marvel. Including Stan Lee. And do you know what that means?” Stepping up to put himself between Phil and the laptop again, Clint placed his hands on Phil’s shoulders once more, before slowly moving to cradle his face. “It means you own Captain America. Every little trading card and action figure, all the way down to your Cap boxers, means you have just as much a right to him as those nozzles. And guess what?”
“What?” Phil’s voice cracked faintly as his throat ticked.
Dipping his head a bit to regain eye contact, Clint continued. “Captain America was created by two Jewish guys. Two guys just like you. Which means, if anything, you have even more right to look this story arc right in the eye, call it bullshit, and ignore it. You can do that, Phil. You can ignore it. What one man writes is not nearly enough to erase what seventy plus years of character development created. What was that one quote that you had hanging up? The one about people saying something wrong is something right?”
Clint knew the quote by heart, he’d seen it enough times, read it enough and had Phil use it against him enough times, he just wanted Phil to remember it.
A tear snuck past Phil’s dark lashes and streaked down his cheek.
“It doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — "No, you move." “
“Who said that?” Clint asked, a small smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth as he pretended to think. “Was it Iron Man? Iron Fist? Captain Britain? Who was it?”
Phil huffed a weak laugh, shoving at Clint’s hips gently. They both knew who said it, of course.
“Captain America,” mumbled Phil.
Clint nodded. “Damn right. And that’s exactly what you’re going to do. You’re going to stand up for what you believe in. That Captain America was created to represent hope, freedom, and standing up for the little guys. He was created for inclusion. You’re gonna stand up and tell Marvel, and this dumbass writer, ‘ No. Not my Cap.’ First thing tomorrow, we’ll go down to the comic shop and tell them to take Cap off your pull list. We’ll do whatever it takes. I promise. We’re not going to let one jackass try to turn a symbol of hope into one of hatred. That’s not what Cap would want, and that’s sure as hell not what Simon and Kirby would want.”
Sniffling again and taking another swipe at his eyes, Phil nodded. The pain was still there, and probably always would be. The damage was already done. The author had sullied everything that seventy-five years worth of comic history had stood for with just two little words. Two little words that were seemingly innocent, but were stand-ins for two much darker, much more sinister and frightening words: Heil Hitler.
Two words that no fan, especially not a Jewish fan, should ever have to see come out of their heroes mouth.
Even with the pain still there, there was hope again. It may have been just a glimmer, but there was still hope.
“We’ll show them, Phil. Don’t worry.” Clint squeezed the back of Phil’s neck in reassurance. “All it takes is one voice. One voice that becomes a hundred, and then a thousand, unless it’s silenced. That’s gonna be us. We’ll scream until they have to haul us away in a cop car, if need be. Right?”
The corner of Phil’s mouth twitched once in an aborted smile, then again as Clint leaned in closer, until a quiet laugh bubbled up out of Phil and sent the twitch clear across to the other side of his mouth, too. With wet lashes and damp cheeks, Phil nodded, a slight smile back at Clint.
“Right,” he answered, voice only trembling a little. “We can maybe start a campaign or something? Get everyone in the comic club who reads Cap to take it off their pull lists, too. Even do a little presentation on why and how it’s so wrong and impossible for Cap to be Hydra, during one of our meetings? We could even try to get people to donate to a Holocaust memorial or something! Get the internet involved, even!”
Warmth spread from Clint’s chest as it swelled with pride, down to the pit of his stomach where that cold weight had been sitting. It melted away, leaving only the smallest trace of unease still behind. Phil was happy again, and planning ways to reclaim his Captain America, and that was good! Clint would ignore his own unease and try to analyze it later, for right now, he wanted to help Phil plan and watch his eyes brighten and that megawatt smile return to his face.
“Totally,” confirmed Clint with a nod. “First though, how about we go save all your Cap stuff from the garbage, and put any of your comics written by this jackass there instead?”
Grinning, Phil dropped his arms around Clint’s shoulders in a quick, tight hug, before starting for his bedroom door. “Most of the stuff is actually in the basement,” he confessed. “I couldn’t bring myself to quite throw everything out. Spencer’s comics can stay where they’re at right now, though. In the recycle bin.”
Clint followed Phil to the door, chuckling and shaking his head in fondness. He stumbled to a stop when Phil spun back around to face him and once again pull him in for a tight embrace.
“Thank you, Clint,” he murmured, holding the hug maybe just a little bit too long. “I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here.”
It was hard for Clint to swallow past the tightness in his throat as he buried his face in Phil’s shoulder for just the briefest moment. “What are friends for, huh?”
When Phil drew back and finally let go, he nodded and gently squeezed Clint’s shoulder. “C’mon. Let’s go save Cap.”
With a quiet, heavy sigh, Clint bobbed his head in a nod to himself as he followed Phil down the stairs. Just like when they were kids playing pretending in the backyard; they’d go save Captain America together one more time.