Warnings: There are references to child abuse, torture in this chapter
A/N: I've been reading pretty much every Phlint story in the tag, and I thought I'd give their story a shot and what was supposed to be a fluffy 5-9k piece turned into a 60k epic in 10 days. And now I'm scrambling to get the story tied up for NaNo. But, I did get to write my Phlint perspective, and obviously I had a great time with it, so I hope you all enjoy it.
Clint learns from an early age that it's best to be quiet, because if you're quiet then you go unnoticed and unnoticed means safe.
He tucks himself into cupboards and in the space between the fridge and the wall, wedging himself anywhere he can so he doesn't draw his dad's attention. He stays quiet and still, and he watches his mother and his brother, and he learns what not to do.
He learns to make sure that dinner is always on time and never burned. He learns that bad behavior or bad grade notes should never be delivered. He learns not to get caught fighting and to certainly never come home showing wounds. But what he learns most of all is how to stay quiet, how to stay hidden, how to wriggle out of tight grips. He learns how to evade, because he can't always stay hidden which means finding new ways to stay safe.
He learns, a little later, once his body is stronger and more resilient, how to take blame for things. He learns how to block out pain, how to bite back groans and screams. He learns how to hold back tears, how to hang his head and appear contrite. He learns how to fool his mother and fool his father.
It isn't until the circus that Clint learns how to fight. He'd never fought back against dad, because that was a way to earn more beatings, but at the circus, he has to adjust his approach to certain things. Fighting back is a way to dissuade future attacks. It's a new way to protect himself, and Clint takes to it as easily as he'd taken to hiding.
He still hides, though. And he still watches. He finds new perches, sometimes up in trees or in the rigging of tents. Sometimes in the folds of clothes inside a woman's closet or amongst the props in the storage tent.
Here, Clint learns how to shoot arrows with deadly accuracy. He learns how to throw knives. He learns how to entertain, how to cast illusions. He learns to be useful, because only useful boys are allowed to stay. He'd be a burden otherwise, and he knows better than to be a burden.
He cooks dinner sometimes, careful never to burn anything, except for the time that the strongman sneers at Clint and calls him a woman. Clint burns dinner the next night and shoves the strongman's face into his plate.
He gets a black eye and fractured arm for his efforts, but no one mocks his cooking ever again. Clint also learns how to throw knives as well with his right arm as with his left. After the cast comes off, he teaches himself how to use a bow and arrow right handed. He's not quite as good that way as with his left, but he's good enough that he can add ambidextrous shooting to his act.
At the circus, Clint learns when to be noticed, when to fade to shadow. He learns the value of balance, of moderation, and he tucks these lessons alongside others. He collects them, certain they'll be useful one day, he's just not sure when or for what.
Barney teaches Clint the pain of being left. One day Barney is there, the next he's gone. It isn't like their parents. Mother had never been dependable and secretly Clint had always wanted dad gone.
Barney has been Clint's constant, the one person with him from place to place, the one person that's familiar, that Clint can fall back on, rely on. And then he's gone, and Clint realizes that the only person who will always be with him is himself.
Clint pulls into himself after that. He laughs less, observes more. He talks less, saves his money. He's planning to do something, go somewhere, he just doesn't know what or where. He's never been good at planning. He survives, he adapts, but he has no concept of the future. He doesn't know where to start looking.
He doesn't have to look far.
Clint meets Trick one time when the circus is passing through a small town in Iowa. Trick is tall and loud and handsome, and he laughs like he hasn't got a care in the world. He's smart and well-traveled, and he's impressed with Clint even though Clint's just a kid struggling to make it through life.
He watches Clint shoot for hours, tests the limits of Clint's flexibility, runs Clint through obstacle courses and tests his tactical knowledge. He tells Clint that Clint's meant for more, that he has a purpose, and Clint has suspected, but he's never known, what that purpose is.
Trick offers to show him.
Clint spends a couple years partnered with Trick, breaking into banks, into rich people's homes. They take what they want, laugh at the people who think they're clever enough to keep them out.
Petty theft turns more serious. At some point Clint kills his first person, but he's seen Trick kill enough people to know how to react. Cool, calm, like it's nothing. Clint wipes the blood off on the man's shirt, pulls his arrow out of the man's chest (no sense in wasting ammunition) and goes to meet up with Trick.
Later that night, when Clint lies down to sleep, his shoulders shake, but he ignores it and eventually he falls asleep.
The second kill is easier than the first.
One day, Clint wakes up and he's 18. He spends the day playing poker with Trick and trying to get some intel on a target. That night he finds himself running for his life.
When Clint is nineteen and a half, with a reputation as The World's Greatest Marksman (Trick's choice, not Clint's), he runs into Barney again. Trick wants Barney on their team. Clint doesn't know how to say no so he shrugs and pretends he's not disappointed when Barney seamlessly become a part of the team.
Trick likes Barney better. Barney's funny and clever, and he talks and talks, and life is never boring with Barney around. Clint gets better at his job to compensate. He also gets more daring. He waits until the last second to take a shot or he lets a tree or a telephone pole obstruct his view of his target.
He swipes trophies, nothing he intends on selling or pawning or even keeping. He takes small things and he usually puts them in the victim's mailbox. Sometimes he drops them off on the doorstep of the local PD.
He's reckless and it's stupid, and he knows it'll catch up to him eventually, but he needs to be noticed, appreciated.
Trick isn't impressed with him anymore. Not now that Barney's around. Barney does things that Clint won't. He cuts off people's fingers and peels back the skin on their arms. He twists knives into sensitive areas. He taunts and tortures and makes people scream and beg and cry.
Trick loves it.
It twists Clint's stomach, but it's what's expected so he watches. He watches and he learns, but he only uses his new knowledge when he has to. He never does it for fun.
A hit goes wrong. Trick isn't where he's supposed to. Barney's not giving the 'go' signal. Clint's stranded, alone on the top of a roof, and he doesn't know what to do. There's no one to tell him what to do. No one to tell him to take the shot, to pull back, to search for the team. He doesn't know what to do, and he's lost, and it's why he doesn't notice that someone's come up behind him until it's too late.
He hears the crunch of gravel and he spins to see a man in a full suit pointing a gun at him. Clint pulls his bow, but the man is faster and a moment later, Clint registers a burn in his thigh and he looks down to see that he's been shot.
He nocks an arrow and lets it loose, but the man, expecting it, ducks and then he's on Clint, knocking aside his weapon, pinning his wrists at his sides.
"Stop struggling or you're going to bleed out," the man orders.
The tone brooks no room for argument. Clint hesitates. The man rips off his tie and uses it to tie a tourniquet. Clint doesn't understand. This man just shot him. Why is he going to save his life now?
"We should get you to medical," the man says. "I'm sorry for shooting you, but I've seen the reports on you. You would've killed me if I hadn't, and I didn't feel like dying tonight."
Clint doesn't say anything. He watches, observes, searches for his cue.
The man's name is Phil Coulson. He's an agent in SHIELD which Clint thinks is long for an acronym but compared to the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division he supposes that it's short. Apparently, SHIELD wants Clint to come work for them.
Clint's been asked to work for people before. It's how he ended up with Trick. Trick had wanted him, offered him the world. Clint had been given kill orders and then replaced when someone better came along.
Besides, SHIELD's recruiting policy was shooting him.
Clint says he'd rather be on his own.
Agent Coulson had nodded, not looking disappointed, not looking pleased, nothing on his face that Clint could read, and told Clint that he'd like it if Clint stayed until he healed.
Clint agrees, because he knows he'll be an easy target if he's on the street with a busted leg. He can walk with the use of a cane, but he's slow, and if he can stay here, safe and fed, then why leave?
He gets bored two days in. He's not allowed out of his room except to walk down the hallway and it's more like hobbling with the pace he's going at.
They don't let him through the double doors, because his clearance isn't high enough which means that Clint has about fifty feet of hallway to roam. There are hospital rooms on both sides of the hallway, but most of them are empty, and when he pokes his head in, all he sees is a single cot resting against the wall, bed perfectly made, and looking eerily expectant in the dim lighting.
Clint stops poking his head into empty rooms. There are two other rooms with patients, but he's not allowed in them. He's not allowed anywhere. He can understand why they don't trust him, but it doesn't stop him from being frustrated with his imprisonment.
Day three, Clint's staring at the double doors, contemplating whether or not he's going to go through. He's watched the doctors come in and out. He knows the pass code. He could slip out and explore.
He swipes two puddings from the food cart and disappears through the doors.
Agent Coulson finds Clint in an empty meeting room. Clint's sitting on the table, swinging his legs as he eats the pudding, squeezing the bottom of the cup, because he doesn't have any spoons.
"You were told not to leave medical," Coulson says.
He's in a suit that could be identical to the one he'd been wearing when he shot Clint. Clint wonders if the pay is so bad that the man can only afford one suit. He takes a closer look at the suit, noting the fabric, the cut, the lining. Coulson doesn't seem like the kind of person to spend all of his money on one good suit, especially in a job where he goes out on rooftops and shoots unsuspecting people. That means a decent salary and more than one suit, they just happen to all look the same.
Because it's easier to wear the same thing every day? That suggests laziness and difficulty with style. Or possibly efficiency and the knowledge of what looks good, because the suit does look good. Clint doesn't have enough information to make his decision yet. Also, Coulson looks like he's expecting a response.
"I got bored."
Coulson's expression doesn't change. It's the same blank mask he always wears. Clint wonders how he does it. "Your clearance isn't high enough to be outside the civilian medical wing."
"I got bored," Clint repeats. He doesn't point out that this facility isn't very complex. Clint could be almost anywhere if he wanted to be. Almost, because his leg is still giving him a bit of trouble. If he was fully healed then he's confident that there's no room that would be off limits to him.
"Then join up," Coulson says. "You'll get enough clearance for the first floor. Plenty to occupy you there." Coulson notices the shift in Clint's posture, the one that says 'I'm interested, but I'm not sold'. "We have a shooting range. Moving targets. Experimental arrows. You're good, but you could be better."
Clint knows he could be better, because Trick wouldn't have left him if Clint was good enough to keep. He had always told Clint that he was great and incredible and the best, but those were lies. You don't leave your best behind. You don't abandon greatness.
Clint has a lot of room for improvement. He knows this. He's always known this. He's never liked school, but he's always loved to learn, and his fingers have been itching to hold his bow again. He thinks that if he could get to the shooting range then he wouldn't feel the need to go exploring where he's not welcome.
There's only one problem. "Do I have to join?" Clint asks. He doesn't know these people. He doesn't want to trust people he doesn't know. But he'd thought he'd known Trick and Barney, and they'd left him. They'd left him to get captured. Clint looked up their op the other day. Successful theft of some high end jewelry. Thieves still at large. They'd left Clint and finished the job, and they haven't come to get him.
Maybe they're waiting. Maybe they can't reach SHIELD. Maybe Clint just needs to step out of the doors, and they'll find him. He doesn't want to make any other commitments, doesn't want to sign his life away to this man and become a permanent part of this building, because there are people waiting for him on the outside.
Barney and Trick will understand that he stayed to get healed. It'll be even better if he gets some training in. He can walk out of these doors soon, and he'll be rested, and healthy, and better than he's been before, and Trick will see that, and he'll clap a hand on Clint's shoulder and tell him he's the best.
"I'll see about getting you a temporary pass," Coulson says. "How's the leg?"
He doesn't seem fazed that he's the one who shot Clint, that he's the reason Clint's using a cane and has to have his bandages changed every couple of hours. Clint likes that. The man is professional which makes him predictable. Clint likes predictable. It's safe.
Clint gets permission to go to the range the next day. Agent Coulson arrives to supervise him, and they go to a sectioned off area where it's only Clint, Agent Coulson, and the targets.
"They don't trust me," Clint says. He nocks an arrow, draws back the string and releases. It lands dead center.
"Do you blame them?"
Clint draws another arrow. "No."
He lets it fly. He shoots another three before he changes his angle, shoots again. He spares a look at Agent Coulson. He's relaxed, filling out some paperwork, unconcerned that Clint is standing ten feet away from him with the means to kill him in his hands.
"Do you trust me?" Clint asks after he fires another arrow. He rolls his shoulder, stretches his arm, nocks another arrow.
"I trust that you're not going to kill me right now, but I'm sure you've already deduced that." The pen doesn't stop moving. Clint follows the motion, notes that Agent Coulson has nice handwriting. Small, neat, easy to read. It doesn't crowd the lines, and he leaves enough space between periods and the next word to easily tell when a sentence ends.
"I have." Clint shoots the target furthest away from him. His arrow lands a touch off center, but it's still a kill shot. "I don't know why though."
"Does that bother you?" The pen continues to scratch. Clint's not sure if he should be angry that he's being given only part of the man's attention or impressed at how well Agent Coulson can multi-task.
"I like being informed."
The corners of Agent Coulson's lips twitch like he's trying not to smile. "That's a good quality."
"Are you evaluating me?"
Coulson's definitely smiling now. "Already did. It's why I shot you to wound not to kill. It's why I brought you in."
Clint doesn't like that he's been watched without his knowledge. He's the one who watches, who observes.
"I'm done for the day."
Clint gives his weapons to Agent Coulson to lock up and disappears. He stays in medical, not violating his clearance, but he hides in the drop ceiling until he feels calm enough to climb down and sleep. He doesn't tell the doctors where he's been and eventually they stop asking.
Clint has to do some physical therapy for his leg. It lasts two weeks and then he's finally cleared to leave. As soon as he's signed his discharge papers, Agent Coulson appears with his bow.
Clint takes it and the implications that come with it. "Where do you need me?"
Agent Coulson's eyes widen a fraction of an inch, the closest to surprise Clint's ever seen him express. It's an involuntary emotion, one Clint's sure he hadn't meant to show, and Clint takes pride in the fact that he's elicited it.
"You've decided to join?"
Clint shakes his head. "You provided me with medical treatment, food, lodging, and rehab. You delivered my bow personally. You expect payment, and we both know what I'm good for."
"Ah." Coulson's face smoothes out again. "We shot you, it's our responsibility to patch you up. You owe SHIELD nothing."
Clint's offered, and Coulson's rejected and as far as Clint's concerned they're even. Clint smiles and heads out.
He ignores the voice in the back of his mind that tells him that he should stay. There was a roof over his head and there was always food available when he was hungry, and he'd been able to sleep even though there were people around, because he was safe. He shouldn't give it up, but he needs to find Barney and Trick.
He needs to put himself out in the open so they can come to him, so he can
tell them that he's okay. He'll hook up with them again, they'll get back to work, and everything will be fine.
Clint goes to all their old haunts, but there's no sign of them. He leaves messages at each, and he's disappointed with every hour that passes without hearing from them.
He stays at a cheap motel and scours newspapers for any sign of them or where they're going to strike next.
He finds an article that sounds like their work. It's in Manhattan. It's local. They're in town. They have to know he's out. Why haven't they come for him or let him know where to find them?
A week after Clint leaves SHIELD he finds two ticket stubs for a Greyhound bus. He knows they've been left on purpose. Trick and Barney's way to say that they've left and to stop looking.
Clint collapses on the motel bed in the room he'd tracked them to. They've left him, and he's alone now.
Clint doesn't know what to do so he gets up and showers. As he's stripping he notices the pink scar on his thigh. He touches the raised skin, runs his fingers over the mark. He'd been shot by a man in a suit, but he'd been shot non-fatally, because the man wanted him alive.
Clint's index finger circles the edge of the scar, and he presses his thumb against proof that someone wants him. Clint pulls his jeans back on and heads out the door.
It takes six hours before Agent Coulson comes up to Clint's perch.
"Any reason you have a sniper rifle trained on the entrance to SHIELD?" Agent Coulson asks.
Clint pops the rifle open to show that there are no bullets inside. "Your security is shit. I could've killed several important people in your agency in the time it took you to realize I was here."
Agent Coulson crouches down next to Clint, ignoring the fact that he's wrinkling his suit and probably getting roof dust on it. "You're right. Does this mean you've rethought joining our agency?"
"Do you still want me?"
The corners of Agent Coulson's eyes crinkle in a smile, and he reaches out a hand. "Welcome to SHIELD."