I know this will come as a shock to all of you, but I am actually alive. I am unbelievably sorry for how long this took; I wanted to have it up by Christmas, but that obviously didn't happen. The problem was that I didn't have any time at all to write, and this is a chapter I really wanted to do justice. So, I went for quality over speed.
Please don't hate me.
This chapter is taken up by a vast majority of dialogue, or reasons you'll see once you start reading, but I did my best to break it up a bit so hopefully it's not too monotonous. It's also shorter than I would have liked, but I found a good ending that I actually liked, so I stuck with it.
Thank you to everyone that has stuck with this, and continues to stick with me, despite my less than normal updates lately.
Other than that, I think I'll save all my other announcements for the end of chapter AN, so if your interested in knowing more about Glass, and when it will be coming to your computer screen, don't skip that one. Please (finally) enjoy.
As Always, I Own Nothing
Clint precariously grabbed the handles of three coffee mugs in each hand, walking out of the kitchen and moving towards where the rest of the team was seated around the couches, bickering with each other as they tried to decide what movie they wanted to watch. Pepper had just left about a half hour ago to take her parents to the airport.
The rest of Jack and Marie's visit passed by quickly and uneventfully, but seeing how 'eventful' it'd been initially, no one minded that particular fact. Tony, Natasha, Thor, Bruce and Steve had been relieved as it became apparent that Clint wasn't going to return to the air ducts in the near future, the archer's personality returning to as normal as they could expect.
"What do you think, Legolas?" Tony asked loudly, cutting through Thor and Bruce's long-winded debate about something or another that the archer hadn't quite caught.
"Me?" Clint asked teasingly, eyes flashing as he sat all the cups down on the coffee table that was in the middle of their group. The only light currently came from the Christmas lights draped across the ceiling and wound around the now completely decorated tree. As a result of that, and the heat coming off the mug of hot chocolate that he had kept for himself, he found himself more content than he had been in a long time, sitting back onto a couch and smiling as Natasha leaned into his side, already having retrieved her own mug.
"Yes, you. You're the only one that hasn't chimed into this lovely debate. What's your preference on the movie?" Tony demanded, the others having fallen silent to wait for his response, leaning forward to grab mugs as well.
"Actually, I think I've got a different idea." Clint said lightly, meeting Natasha's gaze as her eyes stared into him sharply, her question clear. He gave her a nearly invisible nod in response, which just made her straighten, though her free hand stayed where it had been resting on his thigh. "Presuming Tony decides to not protest by getting up and walking out this time."
Almost as one, the others seemed to understand his implication and stiffened, leaning forward slightly.
"Clint, Tony was right, you don't have to-," Steve started, shaking his head, but Clint just gave him a small smirk.
"I know, Cap. As much as it pains me to say, he was right." the archer said, making Tony give an insulted huff. "But… I want to tell you. I trust you all to know, and it not come back to bite me. You've all trusted me, and not pushed, and I'm unbelievably grateful for that. But it's not fair, after everything, for you to find out about my past from someone else, which could possibly happen again, who knows." he gave a slight shrug, looking over them, taking a sip from his mug, and steeling his resolve. "That alright for you?" he directed the teasing question to Tony, who gave a slight roll of his eyes, before sobering.
"Clint, as long as you're comfortable, you damn well know how curious I am." he said dryly, and Clint snorted and nodded before leaning back into the couch and settling into a comfortable position.
"Like I started before, my parents… they were killed by a drunk driver when I was six and a half. My brother, Barney, was four years older than me, ten at the time. We weren't in the car; they had gone out, I can't remember why. We didn't have any grandparents, our only living family was our uncle on my father's side, but he was unmarried and overseas in the Marines. I was close to him, but he didn't have the means to care for two kids. Thought we'd be better off in a foster home or something. No family friends to take us either, so we ended up in an orphanage. I was smaller than most of the other kids. Quiet. Liked to climb things. Neither Barney nor I had much going for us, adoption wise. Mostly because he got into fights with the others trying to protect me when they started picking on me." Clint paused there, taking another sip of his hot chocolate into the complete and utter silence in the room as the others listened attentively. "Our uncle came to visit us while he was on leave just after I turned seven. I remember begging him to take us with him. I didn't understand then; do now, of course, but not then. That was the last time I saw him. He didn't die or anything, not that I know of at any rate, but Barney and I actually got adopted.
"Middle-aged couple. Heather and Lenny Fisher. She was nice, kind of withdrawn. She wanted kids; couldn't have any. He was hell-spawn. Shouldn't have been let within 500 yards of any kid, ever. Didn't know that in the beginning though, and we went home with them, thinking at least we'd have a home, wouldn't have to share everything with twenty other kids. Turned out that we were better off at the orphanage." Clint paused again, looking up to gauge the expressions of his teammates so far. Thor was watching him with a slight frown, Steve's eyes were narrowed slightly, Tony's were widened as if surprised, while Bruce's expression was a mixture of being knowing and sympathetic. Natasha was just watching him calmly, offering support through their continued contact if he wanted it. The archer sucked in a breath and shook his head slightly as he continued. "It wasn't even that he was drunk. He wasn't. He just threw us around and beat us for the hell of it."
At that, Thor made an angry sound under his breath of rumbling disbelief. Outside, the sky seemed to almost echo him, and without even getting up to look, Clint knew that dark clouds would be building around them. The fact that the demi-god had been the first to react didn't escape him, nor did it surprise him. Clint waited a few moments, warring with himself about just how much he wanted to tell them. When he finally did continue, he kept his voice as light as possible, ignoring the memories that resurfaced as he talked about his adoptive father.
"Barney tried to protect me as much as he could, purposefully did things to make him angry to get his attention away from me. It worked for a while, but then he caught on, hit me when Barney pissed him off and vice versa. Left scars on both of us; a majority of which I've still got. It got to the point when I was nine that they pulled us both out of school so no one got suspicious. Said we were being home-schooled, but that didn't really happen. Heather… she hated what she had brought us into, but she was just as afraid of him as we were. We didn't know what to do, we were scared, we were kids. When I was ten, Heather convinced Lenny to take us to a carnival that was in town. Barney just disappeared for almost an hour while we were there, and when he got back… I'll never forget the grin he had on his face. We ran away that night. Barney had talked to the man who ran the carnival, explained our situation. Old man Carson had some reservations; seeing as Barney hadn't told him he was bringing along his ten year old little brother, but he didn't turn us away.
"Carson… he's one of those zany old men with a heart of gold and always up for anything. He gave us food, shelter, and let us travel with the carnival, earning our keep through working with some of the props and vendors. I made friends, for pretty much the first time in my life. I took to acrobatics like the proverbial fish to water. And when I was twelve, I found my first bow in the prop tent." Clint paused there, giving a small smile into his mug as he remembered the simple, smooth wooden recurve bow he had learned on. He didn't look up to the others, grateful for their silence while he spoke. "I was a natural, obviously. A few nights of secret practice, and I was hitting pretty damn close to the bullseye every time. When Carson found me, I was sure that he was going to kick me out or beat me, or something. Instead, he watched me shoot for a bit, told me the bow was mine, and introduced me to my new mentor. The Swordsman, aka Jacques Duquesne; another marksman with a main act in the carnival. His main thing was throwing knives though. Amazing at what he did, less than amazing human being. He was rude, arrogant and greedy. But, I learned a lot from him. By the time I was fourteen, I could do trapeze and high wire with the best of them, outshoot anyone on the circuit blindfolded, and I had earned the nickname 'Hawkeye' for my act.
"I was happy. I probably could have stayed there the rest of my life and been perfectly content. Looking back, I should have noticed Barney pulling away from me, becoming more distant." Clint gave a small shake of his head, eyes narrowing before he looked up sharply when Natasha's hand lightly moved to his and squeezed. Her expression was outwardly blank, but he could see the subtle warning disbelief in her eyes, telling him that he should in no way blame himself for Barney's actions. He sighed and gave her a half shrug, squeezing her hand back before he looked up to the others again and continued. "Barney never really found his niche like I did. He just did whatever someone needed him to. He was great with the machinery, could get anything up and running, which was good, because Carson didn't have the most versatile budget. One night when I was sixteen, I was sitting above the animals' cages after I was strictly supposed to be there, when I heard Barney talking with the Swordsman. Arguing, really. They were skimming profits, stealing from Old man Carson. They didn't see me, obviously, didn't know I was listening. I couldn't believe that Barney would do something like that to the man that had all but saved our lives; giving us a way to get away from our adoptive father."
Clint had visibly stiffened at that point, one hand clenched tightly around his mug while the other held Natasha's. The others' eyes were fixed on him intently, curious but also wary to an extent, knowing that something had to have happened between the archer and his brother.
"There were others in on the scam too, but I never found out exactly who. I waited a few days, didn't say anything and watched them both closely. After two days, I confronted them both in the middle of the night, while everyone else was asleep. Barney had been working on one of the rides, and they were talking. Needless to say, they weren't exactly happy that I found out. They tried to reason, offered to cut me in, but I wasn't buying any of their bull. Told them I was going to tell Carson if they didn't stop. It was stupid, I know, and maybe I should have taken Barney's side, after everything he had done for me. But Carson… I just couldn't. Barney was pissed, but the Swordsman… he was livid. Started beating the crap out of me right then and there. Barney just watched." Clint paused, fighting to keep his voice level. Even after nearly a decade, it still hurt like hell to even think about the night Barney betrayed him. He vaguely heard someone mutter something under their breath, but he ignored it, forcing himself to continue instead, eyes staring at nothing. "After I managed to get over the shock of what the Swordsman was doing, and what Barney wasn't, I fought back. Couldn't fight then like I can now, though, and I just barely managed to break the bastard's nose and send him reeling for a bit. I started running, because I knew he was going to get back up and just be even angrier. Barney caught me by the shoulder, asked me why in the hell I couldn't have just done something for him for once, and put a knife in my back."
Clint desperately wanted to finish this part of the story as quickly as possible, but the shocked exclamations of the others cut him off for the moment. The thunder, which had calmed outside, redoubled in an instant. Without even realizing what he was doing, still more caught up in the memory than paying attention, Clint flinched slightly and pulled back into the couch, lowering his eyes.
Almost at once the team noticed and quieted, even without Natasha's hiss of warning.
"Clint?" Natasha asked quietly after a handful of heartbeats, and the archer looked up to her sharply, meeting her gaze before letting out a long sigh, pushing down the phantom pains from the wound-turned-scar on his back. He gave a short nod to her as he collected his emotions, berating himself for letting them overwhelm him.
"Your brother… stabbed you in the back." Tony's words were more statement than question, the billionaire's tone short but purposefully empty.
Clint just looked to him and gave a small nod, looking to the rest of the group as well. Steve's expression was plainly horrified, though an undertone of realization sparked in his eyes as well. Thor was simply furious, as the quickly brewing thunderstorm outside could attest to. Bruce… Clint couldn't help a wince of apology when he saw the jaded tinge to the doctor's usually brown gaze. To his credit, though, Bruce just gave him a quick nod of reassurance, forcing himself to relax. Returning his eyes to Tony, Clint faltered slightly when he saw that Stark's expression was completely devoid of any emotion, something he had never seen, but knew could mean nothing good.
"I was lucky that the way he angled the blade got it caught between two ribs before it could get anywhere near my heart like he meant it to." Clint explained, his voice even quieter than it had been before, not bothering to mask the pain and hurt that he still felt, almost a decade later. "As it was, it still nicked my lung, and bled and hurt like hell. Barney and the Swordsman walked away and left me there. I was doubly lucky that the prop master heard the commotion and came to check on what was going on. He found me before I could bleed out, got me to the hospital. By the time I woke up, there wasn't a single trace of either Barney or Duquesne. They had taken the money they'd skimmed so far and ran. I did end up telling Carson what had happened, though I only ever told anyone that it was Duquesne that had stabbed me. Telling them that my own brother had tried to kill me… Something about that had absolutely no appeal. One thing I can say about Carson, was that he didn't so much as move that carnival until I was ready to leave the hospital. He didn't care that he missed two stops by doing that, on top of what he'd already lost from Barney and Duquesne.
"But, as you can probably guess, therein lies the major root of my trust issues." Clint paused there, giving a dark smirk and receiving equally dark and unamused snorts in response. "Barney had been the one person I could lean on, had been the only one looking out for me and protecting me since I was six years old. And then he tried and nearly succeeded in killing me. To put it plainly, it shattered me into a couple million pieces, and I'm still not sure I've found the all. I stayed with the carnival while I healed, but it was different; darker somehow. I couldn't bring myself to trust a single one of them. As soon as I was strong enough, I left too. Didn't really have anywhere to go, or anyone to go to. I was sixteen, a runaway, barely educated, and the one thing I knew I could do was shoot. So I figured what the hell, knew a guy who could get me fake papers, and joined the Army.
"Now, I may not be the biggest guy, but I've always been able to pass off for older than I actually am. And once they saw me shoot, they wouldn't have given a damn how old I was. It was grueling and wasn't always fun, seeing as I may have a small problem with authority, but I had a purpose and that was leaps and bounds better than before. I got through basic training, sniper school, and was overseas in a little less than six months. Served for another seven before shit hit the fan."
"Hasn't that happened enough already?" Steve interjected, sounding uncharacteristically aggravated, making Clint glance up to him with a raised eyebrow.
"Oh, I definitely thought so, but apparently life didn't agree with us on that Cap. I got into it with my CO over a shot I had been ordered to make and refused. It was bad, I knew that. Bad vantage point, strong winds, and a mess of civilians between me and my target. I wasn't willing to risk it. My CO had somehow found out about my age; I still don't know how. Told me that I was there to follow orders, and that if I so much as stepped out of line again, he was reporting me. We didn't get along on the best of days, and military prison definitely didn't appeal." Clint paused there, giving a slight shake of his head and a sigh. "I deserted; ran off. I'm not proud of it, at all, and I still don't know if it was the right decision, but at the time I didn't see much else choice. I did a lot of running when I was a kid, then included. I was stupid, cocky, alone, and beneath it all, I was afraid. What happened with Barney… made it pretty damn clear that the only one I should trust was myself. Even so, I had no damn clue what I was doing, and it wasn't long before the wrong crowd recognized an American deserter. It was simple; I killed who they wanted and they didn't turn me in, and then they paid me so I didn't come back and kill them." Clint snorted and gave a small shrug, looking back up to the others again, expression hard. "And, well, you can pretty much guess what happened from there. I couldn't go back to the States, I didn't have anyone or anywhere to go back to anyway. I bought a new bow with that first paycheck, I took up the name Hawkeye again, and I didn't look back. I killed 143 people on contract. I'm not going to pretend they were all innocent, but I didn't know or care at that point either way. It's not like with SHIELD. Most contracts get you a name, a picture, and a possible location. Not much other than that, which I was perfectly fine with. The less I knew, the better."
Clint sighed and shook his head, swirling his mostly cooled hot chocolate in the mug before taking a sip.
"I mostly stayed in Europe, ventured in to Asia and Africa from time to time. Picked up a couple languages here and there, saw the world, got paid like crazy… If you looked past the killing innocent people part, it wasn't a bad gig." Despite the try at a joke, Clint's voice was hard and cold. For that reason, the others didn't react, patiently waiting for him to continue. "It was almost a year before I dared to even try to go back to the States. I was pretty sure I was wanted, seeing as the Army isn't exactly fond of deserters. It just figures that I only managed about four months before I screwed something up and got caught. I assume Jack told you about the hit that got me put away?"
Natasha was the first to nod an affirmative, the others following suit just as silently. Clint gave a quiet chuckle, actually rolling his eyes which made Steve and Bruce shoot him confused expressions, though neither actually voiced a question.
"I was a lot more cocky back then than I am now; had that whole 'nothing can touch me' attitude. Considering I was eighteen, I guess it's not that surprising. Anyway, I got convicted on murder, sent to federal prison. I probably could have escaped if I had wanted to; I toyed with the idea a few times; but I guess I always thought on some level that I deserved to be there. So, a little less than four months pass before Phil shows up in my cell, offers me a job. Of course, the first thing he tells me is that he's surprised he got to me before I could escape and get back to Europe. I told him I was done running, and to go screw himself."
Clint glanced up as a bolt of disbelieving laughter escaped from Tony, who looked vaguely apologetic, but still overly amused. Clint just gave a slight grin of his own before continuing.
"Yeah, he thought that was pretty funny too. He then proceeded to tell me that through SHIELD, I could get my record expunged, get out of jail, and go back to doing what I was good at, only this time doing it to help people. He fought dirty; played the guilt card, told me he'd been watching me for a while and that he didn't think I was as hardened and cold as I made out to be. He gave a laundry list of examples that had me down-right horrified at the time, and I'm pretty sure I repeated the 'go screw yourself' remark at least once. So then I just started ignoring him. I didn't trust him, I thought he was playing me. So you know what the bastard did? He just sat there and stared at me. For like two hours. I eventually asked what he was doing, and he told me he wasn't going anywhere until he got my answer. Then he said I wasn't as patient as he had expected, and I told him there was probably a lot he didn't know about me.
"Still don't know how, but he convinced me to at least try SHIELD. After we'd left the prison and gotten on the jet bound for base, he gave me my bow back. Said that SHIELD needed me at my best so they might as well give me my best weapon. I went through training with flying colors, but I didn't relax around any of them. Took on Coulson as my handler, which I am sure he regretted at least a few times. My only vague acceptance of protocol isn't anything new. He stayed with me, though, didn't stop trying to convince me to trust him. Of course, he didn't manage to get it through my thick skull until the idiot took a bullet for me." Clint gave an exasperated shake of his head, eyes flashing with slight amusement as he looked up to see the only somewhat surprised expressions of the others.
"Really? You made the poor guy go that far?" Tony asked, clearly joking. Despite that, both Bruce and Steve sent him disapproving expressions, which Clint noticed before he responded.
"Well, Tony, it'd been a really long time since anyone had cared, and the ones that I had trusted stabbed me in the back. In one case literally. Being an assassin in itself doesn't exactly breed trust either. So forgive me for thinking that Phil just wanted something from me and would toss me out as soon as he got it." the archer said lightly, raising a single eyebrow.
To Tony's credit, he hid his wince expertly, and simply gave a small shrug of reluctant agreement.
"What happened, if you don't mind me asking." Bruce spoke up curiously, and Clint's eyes turned to him, giving a quiet snort.
"I was gathering information. I hadn't been with SHIELD long enough for word to get around, so Fury had me out checking with some of my old contacts for information about a man SHIELD was interested in. I was supposed to see if I could get a meeting. One of this guy's friends happened to know someone I had taken out for SHIELD, and, well, nothing went nicely after that. I got into a fight, I mostly kicked their asses, but then a guy about the size of Thor through me out of a third story window. Suffice it to say that I was lucky to be getting up at all, and quickly just wasn't happening. Next thing I knew, Phil was throwing himself in front of me and getting shot in the left side of his back. By that time I had regained the ability to breathe, and I shot the man that had shot him, as well as his overly large friend that had tossed me out the window as they came out into the alley." Clint recounted simply, making Bruce shake his head slowly, while Steve tilted his head to the side questioningly.
"So you trusted him fine after that?" the Captain asked, and Clint just snorted.
"We had a good long talk after that." he corrected. "I won't say that I was automatically perfectly alright with him and SHIELD, but I was more… willing to pay attention as he kept trying to prove that I could trust him. Which is pretty sad, seeing as he did get shot and save my life." he then gave a small shrug, before looking back up. "You all pretty much know the basics from there. Four years after my recruitment, I was sent to kill Tasha, brought her in to SHIELD instead. We became partners. Another three years and we're teaming up with all you crazy asses to fight aliens in New York."
"Seriously, Featherhead, you should have a lot more issues than you do." Tony said matter of factly, giving a slightly disbelieving shake of his head.
"Probably." Clint agreed with a smirk, before he sobered and looked around at all of them again. "Look, I know that was probably more than you ever really wanted to know, but I'm done keeping secrets from you guys. So you know everything. I've only ever told two other people that entire story, and one is already in this room, and the other is dead. I'd kinda prefer to keep it that way."
"Of course, my friend." Thor spoke up first, voice somber. "We will gladly keep your secrets, you have naught to worry about."
"I didn't really think I did." Clint pointed out with a grin to the demi-god who returned it brightly. "So, do we still want to watch a movie?"
"I think we need to after that rather enlightening story." the billionaire spoke up again, lightly falling back into a more relaxed position on the couch. "Has anyone ever compared your life to a horror movie? If not, let me be the first."
"It wasn't all bad." Clint protested, leaning back as well and looking around the room at his rather unlikely group of friends illuminated by nothing but twinkling Christmas lights, before wrapping an arm around Natasha's shoulders, smiling down at her. She returned it easily, meeting and holding his gaze reassuringly. "It landed me here, after all."
So. That's my take on Clint's past, now shared with all the Avengers. I hope you enjoyed it. Please definitely feel free to tell me what you thought about that, and how Ties That Bind wrapped up as a whole. I just felt, with the mindset Clint was in after his realization in the last chapter, that this conversation definitely needed to take place.
Moving on to what else you all probably (hopefully) want to know about. I am going to be starting on Glass as soon as I possibly can. Which means tomorrow. But, to hopefully try to avoid the type of disaster like this one, I'm going to try to get a few chapters in before I start posting it. That being said, I will not let it go more than a month before I post the first chapter. So if by February 10th, you haven't seen it, feel free to send me angry messages demanding where it is.
I've got a couple one-shots that I have already written that I may or may not post during that wait, so be on the look-out for those too.
On a related note, I'm curious to see if any of you would be interested in a one-shot with Clint's uncle? Or any other one-shot ideas. If so, give them to me, and I'll see what I can do.
Until Glass, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this story and thank you all for your awesome reviews, favorites and alerts.
P.S. If you want the summary for Glass, it's on my profile page.