Clint is bored.
Bored, bored, bored, bored, boooooored. Boredboredbored. Seriously, this has got to be the stupidest assignment he’s ever gotten, and he once had to hide out in in aviary for four days straight. There hadn’t even been any real birds in there—oh no, the very pretentious owner just told her guests that the birds were a very shy, very nervous type, so the guests might not spot them between the plants (over half of which were fake). Hell, she even put a badly stuffed budgie in there when she needed to liven things up a little.
He should’ve just stuck to Cap Watch when Fury benched him after his little mishap. The car didn’t even hit him that hard, the concussion went away after like, two days. Okay, so maybe he’s was still a bit nauseous when he first started begging for something to do. Whatever. He could still do his job. He’s worked through much worse.
Thoroughly off-put by Clint’s tendency to climb the walls when he got restless, a habit especially exacerbated when Nat wasn’t around to keep a lid on it, Fury first assigned him to the newly defrosted Captain America, aka Steve Rogers. To begin with, Clint had been overjoyed; he got to see a living legend find his footing in the modern world; a man, whom even Clint—whose fucked up childhood hadn’t lent itself to much, if any, hero worship—had had a slight competency crush on during his formative years.
To say that it had been a let down wouldn’t be quite accurate. Nor would it be entirely fair to the captain, but damn. If Clint wanted to wallow, he’d go sit in his own shithole apartment and stare at the walls while leaving progressively whinier voicemails for Nat. Seriously, he’s pretty sure he was in danger of getting second-hand depression from following the guy around (that’s totally a thing).
Rogers rarely went outside. Mostly, he just sat in his cramped dorm room at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base in Manhattan and read through encyclopedias. If he felt particularly daring, he might even look up stuff on Wikipedia (Clint wouldn’t have thought he’d take to technology, but Rogers got around search engines easily enough and seemed pretty comfortable with using a computer. He wasn’t a pro by any means but compared to other folks his (chronological) age, he did pretty okay).
Rogers might even take a trip down to the gym on nights when he couldn’t sleep, or he'll go sit at a little café down near the nearly-finished Stark Tower and Grand Central Station.
Clint had held out for a week, then promptly run figuratively crying to Fury when Rogers, on a long, slow day in which he hadn’t even come out of his room, had suddenly opened the door, looked up and down the hall, gaze passing by Clint without pinning him (he’d been in the vent across the hallway), and left a cup of strong, tar-like coffee on the floor and softly said, “figured you could use this.”
Clint can’t spy on a man that sad, okay. It’s got to be against the Geneva conventions or something, at least that’s what he tried to convince Fury. Also, Rogers offered him coffee; as far as Clint’s concerned, they’re practically friends now. Work friends. Acquaintances. You know.
Fury had stared him down, said ‘that’s sad, I don’t care’ (okay, maybe not those exact words, but the sentiment was there), and reassigned him to preemptively avoid anymore whining. That, or he, too, figured Rogers probably wouldn’t run off and get himself into any kind of mess that’d need an operative like Clint to get him out. Or he’d figured that Clint might try to talk to the man, and they Fury’d end up with two people bothering him.
So, here Clint is: in a S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker somewhere slightly south of the Pennsylvania state line, watching over a bunch of rocket scientists (maybe? Kinda. A lot of them were on loan from NASA) while they fiddle about with a blue glow-cube. He knows what it’s called, okay. ‘Tesseract’ is just a stupid name. S.H.I.E.L.D. has had the thing lying about in a dusty cupboard for years but now all of a sudden, they want to try and harness its energy or something. Privately, Clint thinks it’s the higher-ups personal fuck you to Tony Stark for refusing them access to his robot suit.
But fuck, is it boring.
Booooooring. Boring. If you say it quick enough, it starts to sound like ‘boing’. Boringboringboringboingboingboing. Boiiiiing.
Last year, Clint nearly put an arrow through a literal god’s shoulder. No, he’s not kidding. A giant, muscled, god of thunder. No, he doesn’t have a crush, he can just appreciate a fine example of masculinity, Nat, stop judging, you didn’t see his biceps. They put Captain America’s to shame—and Clint can even say that for certain now!
Normally, they wouldn’t even send someone like him to look after the facilities. The scientists have all been thoroughly vetted, there’s more than enough security, and besides, no one fucking knows what they’re tinkering with out here. Ah, the joys of working for an organization of spies. But one of the lead scientists, (who is not even an engineer, he’s an astrophysicist) Dr. Erik Selvig, had been worried about some weird readouts from the machine they’re housing the Tesseract in, and Fury needed Clint out of his (non-existent) hair, so off to Maryland Clint went.
It could’ve been fun; Selvig had been worried about all sorts of things, one of which was the fact that the Tesseract’s readouts hinted at the cube could activate a wormhole in spacetime, a doorway of sorts. He wasn’t basing that theory on his own research, but that of Dr. Jane Foster, whom S.H.I.E.L.D. had, surprisingly, left alone. Possibly because she told them to go fuck themselves (and she has a fucking god on her speed-dial, never mind that said god hasn’t actually been seen on Earth since last year). Sleeping dogs and all that.
If anyone asked him—and they didn’t, but he wrote it in his reports anyway—he’d say that maybe they should just… not mess with the Tesseract until they found a way to block whatever it is that makes it function as a doorway. Back in World War II, the Nazis had thought it was magic (and Clint’s a bit more inclined to believe that now than he was a year ago) and had wanted to use it to invite something or other to Earth. No one listens to him, though. Never mind that doors open from both sides, no one else knows where the cube even is, Clint, everything is under control.
He should’ve just stayed at his apartment and watched Dog Cops and pigged out on pizza. Fuuuck, he could’ve been eating so much pizza. They don’t deliver out here. Or, well, they probably do, but he’s not allowed to order pizza to ‘that super-secret lab just by the state line’. Not that he’s ever done anything like that to know, of course (he had had it delivered to an empty house down the street and then walked back).
Instead, he has a nice, hard perch up in the scaffolding from which he can keep an eye on everything. He’d tried following Selvig around for a few days, but the man had quickly started looking frazzled whenever Clint stood too close to any of the equipment (so he broke a thingie, so what, it hadn’t been that important, the nice science lady told him so).
He’s not even allowed to use the empty energy drink cans for target practice to while away the hours. Something about ‘scaring the squints’. Whatever.
Down on the floor, Selvig and a minion (okay, probably not a minion) are studiously writing on a clipboard. “It’s spiking again,” Selvig notes, his voice barely carrying far enough for Clint’s hearing aids to pick it up. The right one has started to whine a little; he needs to change the batteries, but he keeps forgetting.
Just then, the Tesseract flashes. It’s no cause to worry, it’s done that a few times already. But this time, it sends a shudder through the building, making his perch sway back and forth. Clint slips down quickly, pulling his sidearm and approaching carefully.
A beam of light blind them all, lighting up the whole building. A groaning noise, so deep and rough it nearly wrecks every single electronic device in this place, makes more than a few of the scientists clap their hands over their ears with a pained wince. In the center of the blinding light, a dark hole takes shape, something emerging.
Then it’s over. A tall, slender man kneels before them. His strange clothes—black-and-green leather and metal buckles—smolder softly. His black hair is long and unwashed. He lifts his head slowly, eerie blue eyes flickering about. There’s a long, wicked-looking spear in his hand.
“Sir, please put down the spear,” Clint orders, drawing the stranger’s attention.
In response, the man looks down at the spear, almost wonderingly. As if he hadn’t been quite aware of holding it.
The confusion fades quickly, leaving his face devoid of any expression. Something beastly takes its place instead, lifting the corners of his mouth into a wide, snarling grin.
No time for negotiating; Clint fires.
The man moves just in time, every bullet missing him. The other security guards have no luck either, even when the guy seems to be standing right in front of them. Clint can get a hit; he hasn’t had so many missed shots since before he started training back in the circus.
Suddenly, the smiling stranger appears before him. Up close, the heavy, angry pouches beneath the man’s eyes appear much sicklier, and fear-sweat stains his skin. There’s blood between his teeth, little stains. He grasps Clint’s gun-hand, bends his wrist back sharply, and sets the sharp point of the spear against his chest. In a silky-soft voice, the stranger says: “You have heart.”
And the world narrows.