A series of vignettes about Clint Barton that exploded in my head yesterday morning.

All mistakes are, of course, my own.

As always, if you've got a second, I'd love to hear what you think!


1.

His mother died when he was eight, and Clint would never forgive his father for doing it to her, even if the bastard had died in the same crash. While it was a relief that his old man was dead, it felt like he lost the only good part of his life when she stopped breathing.

What they never told the police was that they knew it was going to happen, him and Barney. They knew that their father never let anything as simple as alcohol stop him from driving, that he'd go out stumbling drunk in that old truck of theirs (the one with the duct tape and zip ties and prayers holding it together). Everyone knew it.

Sometimes, Barney would get a look in his eye, one that meant, "Hey, we should call the cops", but the one time he actually went for the phone, their mother put her hand on top of Barney's and shook her head. At the time, Clint thought she was protecting her husband. Now, he's not so sure.

He didn't have the clearest memories of her, most of them nothing more than impressions, vague ghosts of the things she did for them like cooking and cleaning and all the things he thought moms were supposed to do.

(Since then, he'd met a lot of moms who did nothing of the sort and a lot of dads who did, and he'd learned not to judge a book by its socially-expected cover.)

It wasn't that she was the greatest mother in the world. He'd never thought that, not like other kids probably did because she was always there when his father would scream or slap him across his face or push his brother down.

His first memory is of his father holding his brother's head down on the table, making him eat the rest of his mashed potatoes without the benefit of a fork. His mother watched the whole thing. She hadn't said anything, just calmly worked her way through her own dinner.

So, yeah, sometimes, he hated his mother for that, hated her for marrying that asshole, hated her for staying with him, hated her for having the two of them, hated her so much it burned in the pit of his stomach and made him want to scream.

He hated himself, too, for feeling that way.

But no matter how conflicted he felt about her, the overriding emotion when he thought about her was guilt - guilt that he didn't stop her that night, guilt that he let her get into the truck next to their father, guilt that he didn't invent a fever or a cough or a headache or something, anything that would have let her stay home that night.

He hadn't because he was eight and he was used to that kind of thing and there was no way he could have expected it, except that he kind of did and no matter how often the shrinks told him differently, he was always going to blame himself a little bit for her death.

He wasn't a complete idiot, however, and he'd been old enough at eight to realize where the real blame lay, so even if he hated his mother for dying on him, he hated the piece of shit he got the other half of his genetics from even more.

When the red and blue lights showed up at his house, though, when they gathered him and Barney together and sat them down and told them the news quietly, with wide eyes, expecting that he might cry or Barney might scream, Clint just said, "Good."

Later, when they were at the group home, Barney had gotten on his case a little bit about the whole thing. He kept saying that they shouldn't let on about their father now that he was dead and he'd gotten his punishment. Barney thought they should keep the secret because it wasn't going to do them any good at this point anyhow.

Clint never told Barney that he was kind of glad that both of them were gone.

2.

The 'home' half of 'group home' just meant that he had a bed to sleep in, not that anyone there really cared about him or made sure that he was getting enough food or that his clothes fit. Clint had always been smaller than other kids his age, and while he could take a beating like no other, it turned out that he really didn't know too much about hitting back.

Oh, Barney had tried to teach him, had tried to show him how to throw a punch, how to go for the vulnerable spots on a person, how to take someone down who had 20 years and a hundred pounds on you.

He could, too, as proved when he'd lashed out at one of the older kids who'd tried to take his shoes, the first new ones he'd ever had, the ones from the charity that had come down from the city to "teach them the real meaning of Jesus." Clint had hauled off and socked that jackass in the nuts, and he'd kept his shoes for a whole week, wearing them even at night when he slept.

Then, of course, the kid had come back with three other boys, and knowing how to punch didn't do you any damn good when they had a hold of your arms.

It wasn't hard for Barney to convince him to bug out when the circus was in town.

The circus wasn't much that much different than the group home, except that he and Barney were the youngest ones there and that meant nobody hit them when they wanted to steal their stuff. No, they just took it and laughed if they tried to protest.

Some of the people were nice, though, and when the lion tamer made off with the comic books and the four packs of gum that he'd saved all his tip money to buy, the geek let him watch while he practiced and had let him pick what he'd eat in his next act.

That show had been such a success that the geek told him which of the woman didn't mind when you spied on them while they were dressing, and most of the time Clint didn't feel too dirty that the first time he'd seen a pair of tits up close was from between the slats of a bathhouse in Reno.

Life went on about as well as one could expect for a kid growing up in a slowly withering circus, but he didn't learn to like it there until Duquesne and Chisholm showed up and showed him how to throw knives and shoot and tumble.

Clint learned that he liked archery, loved archery, breathed archery, and even though Chisholm turned out to have the same temper and tendencies as their old man, Clint didn't mind when Chisholm smacked him around because at least this drunkard would fucking apologize in the morning.

It was as damn close to a home as he'd ever gotten - probably ever would get - so when he found out Duquesne was stealing and Chisholm was only broken up about it because no one bothered to cut him in, well, Clint was kinda pissed about it.

Old man Carson had kicked all of them to the curb afterward, and Clint understood why, he really did, but it still kinda smarted that no one believed him when he said he had no idea that his mentors were trying to rip everyone off. No one had believed him, not even the geek.

Duquesne ran off without as much as a wave, and Clint figured he ought to be grateful that Chisholm didn't do the same because they were in the middle of Oklahoma when everything went down, and neither he nor Barney knew how to hot wire a car yet.

Chisholm taught them that, eventually. He taught them other things, too - like how to hit a bullseye without even thinking about the target and how to make Tennessee white whiskey in the bathroom of the camper and how to rob old ladies blind yet keep them happy with the outcome. Clint learned a lot, but it wasn't home, not even before Barney left to do his own thing.

He'd kinda hated Chisholm, too, but it still hurt when the old bastard left him at the diner on the side of the road in Arizona the day he turned 17.

3.

The first time he dropped by a recruiter's office, they'd thrown him out laughing. After that, he learned that when they asked you where you went to high school, you'd better come up with something fast.

His entry into the armed forces had still been a near thing because he had a record and even though those files were sealed, he knew word got around anyway. The second time he'd tried, there'd been a long weekend coming up and the recruiter hadn't met his quota, so without much more preamble than that he was signed up and headed for boot camp.

Clint liked boot camp. He liked the schedule and the physical activity and unlike a lot of the guys, he'd never had it any better and appreciated three hots and a cot.

Powdered eggs were better than no eggs at all.

He made it through basic without letting on that he could shoot because he'd learned years ago that life was a hell of a lot easier when you blended in with the pack and a guy that could shoot the wings off a fly at a hundred yards was begging for some kind of attention.

That lasted right up until they were ambushed out in the desert in a country he wasn't even sure how to pronounce. Their sniper was killed in the opening salvo and they were pinned down with a broken radio and no chance of backup, so Clint had done the only thing he could do.

Sometimes SHIELD agents - the new ones, the kids who hadn't learned not to ask Hawkeye about his past - would ask him about that day. They asked him what had made him take up that rifle, asked him if he'd known he could shoot like that or if it had been the adrenaline that let him pick off the insurgents one by one, dropping them until the last two ran off screaming the way they came.

He never answered. What was the point?

He'd won a medal that day, one that he'd given to the widow of the man whose rifle he'd picked up, and he tried not to think too much about getting an award for being better at killing people better than a dead man. The rest of his unit was none too pleased about it either, and even if they never said it, he could tell they wondered why the fuck he hadn't been the damn sniper in the first place, why he hadn't spoken up and done the job he clearly was born to do and saved everyone a lot of heartache.

A few months later, a mild-looking man in a tidy black suit had come looking for him in a bar on the outskirts of town, and he'd offered Clint a job. This particular job was one where he got to pick his weapons and had a say in whether or not the target was eliminated. It was one where he was expected to have an opinion, for shit's sake. Clint hadn't even had to think about it because anything was better than looking the rest of his unit in the eye and seeing the hatred seethe there.

SHIELD was an upgrade not only in weapons, but the mess had real eggs and the coffee wasn't too bad if you put a couple packets of sugar in it. As promised, they explained why he was being sent after his targets. They gave him all the facts of the case even when he didn't want to know the gory details about what the slimeball of the week had done.

For the first time in his life, Clint Barton was making the world a better place.

Two years and twenty-one countries later, he was even starting to believe that.

4.

Just when he was starting to get used to the ebb and flow of an organization that didn't give a shit whether or not he could do high school math as long as he could calculate the trajectory of his projectiles, his brother turned up.

His brother, Barney Barton himself, was apparently a lackey for a low-level arms dealer in the southwest. In fairness, Fury probably hadn't known that Barney was part of the operation when he put Clint on the assignment.

Probably.

One thing led to another, though, and Clint found himself staking out a warehouse in the packing district on a sweltering Tuesday night in July. He was settling into his perch when he peered through his scope and caught sight of the familiar gait.

For a split second, he'd thought it was the old man come back to haunt him, that he'd been slipped something and now he was hallucinating or maybe he was dreaming all of this and he'd wake up in his bed in the back of Chisholm's camper.

But no, the familiar face that smiled as he demonstrated the weaponry was not a dream or a phantasm or any of the things he hoped, but instead was his flesh and blood brother, the guy who'd left him to rot before he was old enough to vote.

Clint had wondered from time to time what Barney had done with his life after he cut and run. He'd always thought that Barney had followed a similar path to him – the army or private security or something that didn't involve illegal activities that weren't sanctioned by a government. Barney had always seemed like the better of the two of them, the smarter one, the one who'd paid more attention in school (or, at least, had attended more of it), the one who knew everything about everything. No way Barney would end up working for these people. No way.

Except he had and he was on his way up and if appearances were anything to go on, it looked like he was having a hell of a good time doing it.

Rose colored glasses gone, Clint followed Barney home to a shitty little trailer park that reminded him of the shitty little trailer park where they'd spent the first years of their lives.

He knocked on the door, and Barney's immediate response had been a less than kind request for whoever it was to go do something that was technically physically impossible.

Clint knocked again.

Barney eventually dragged his ass out of bed (a couch, Clint had learned after he was let inside) to answer the door, and they'd spent a couple of hours sharing a bottle of whiskey and catching up on the years since they'd seen each other last. Barney was apparently not so dishonest as to not try his hand at military life, but apparently nobody wanted to keep a burgeoning alcoholic with anger management issues around, and he'd been discharged right around the time Clint was getting a medal pinned to his chest.

They kept talking, and Barney bragged about his new gig, letting his little brother know that he was finally on track, that he was moving up in the world.

Clint carefully avoided telling his brother what had brought him by, and Barney had been too drunk to notice.

Three days later, the arms dealer started to make good on offing his competition, and Fury ordered Clint to put an end to the whole matter.

Clint did, taking out the cadre one by one, playing cat and mouse with them not because he enjoyed toying with people but because assassination was just easier that way.

He saved Barney for last because he still hoped that his brother was different, that maybe he was just down on his luck and needed someone to pull him up out of his misery the way Fury and Coulson had done for him.

His brother had pulled a gun on him, and the only reason that Clint was the one who was still breathing was because he hadn't had a fifth of bourbon before he started shooting at his brother.

Clint didn't attend the funeral.

5.

He knocked his girlfriend up a couple of months after the Barney incident.

When Bobbi told him, the only thing he could think about was what a shitty set of role models he'd had, how badly he'd fuck up being a father, and how much he wanted to run away.

He was an adult, though, so he told her what she wanted to hear and said that he'd support whatever decision she made, all the while praying that she had other priorities than 2.5 kids and white picket fence.

She kept the baby because that was how she was raised and she'd always wanted a family, didn't he know? She went overboard, in retrospect, and she bought booties and onesies and all the recommended baby books before she even made it out of the first trimester.

They were filing the necessary paperwork when she keeled over, going to the ground on one knee and clutching her middle.

He rushed into the medical bay with her because that's what he was expected to do and because she looked so pale and scared and Bobbi had never been either one of those things. He held her hand until they pried him away and he sat in the waiting room until the nurse came out and told him that it was over and Bobbi would be okay and he could go in and see her if he really wanted to.

Bobbi turned her face to the window when he walked in.

She never said it, but he knew that she blamed him, that there was something inherently wrong with his genetic makeup that made her body reject the life growing inside of her, and maybe once upon a time they would have gotten married and gotten a dog and done all the things that people are supposed to do, but she wouldn't talk to him after the hospital. In the end, she wasn't even wrong. He knew it was a good thing that she hadn't carried the baby to term because he was who he was and nobody should have him as a father.

He kept one of the booties though, rescuing it from the trash before he dumpstered the rest, and whenever he got into a good funk, one of those ones that had him reaching for alcohol and reminding himself of where he came from and how far he hadn't fallen from the tree, he'd take it out and look at it and remind himself that every time there was a chance for something good in his life, it was taken away from him.

He didn't date after that.

+1.

Training an arrow on a person wasn't exactly the best way to make a first impression, but for the kind of people they were, he thought it was significantly better than any of the alternatives.

Given that the end result was finally having a partner that could keep up with him, one that he didn't have to keep an eye on to see if they were about to Darwin themselves, one that he could actually trust, of all things, well, he'd say that trying to kill her had been the way to go.

For him, at least. Pointing a loaded weapon at Natasha Romanoff was not something most people should try at home.

She'd turned out to be a good partner after she'd passed the endless rounds of psych evals and physicals and field tests that were really designed to see if she'd jump ship the moment the going got tough. She wouldn't though, he knew. Surer than he knew anything, he knew that Natasha was a kindred spirit, somebody who'd have his back because they were the same.

He liked her.

He liked her because she'd lost just as much as he had, probably more, and yet she was still here, fighting beside him and watching his back and pretending that they both couldn't check off the entire list of disorders in the DSM between them.

He liked her because she didn't hesitate to call him on his bullshit when the situation required it, and she'd do it in front of the lowliest newbie or the director himself.

He liked her because for all that she pretended to be fearless and unconcerned with the day to day necessities of the world, she really did care, cared too much, if such a thing were possible. When she'd admitted to him some of things she'd done in the name of the people who'd trained her, she hadn't cried but she'd looked like she'd wanted to and he knew how it felt to hate yourself.

People began to talk.

He wasn't stupid, and neither was she, so they both recognized the hush that fell over a room when one or the other entered had something to do with the idea that a man and a woman could never be just friends. Obviously, they were going at it like rabbits behind closed doors because there was no other reason that a person might want to hang out with the Black Widow other than to get into her pants, regardless of whether or not she lived up to that codename of hers.

Yeah, sure, she was hot, gorgeous, beautiful, sexy, stunning, alluring, and a thousand other adjectives that all amounted to the fact that very few people in her life had ever just wanted to be her friend.

After the whole shitshow that had been his life up to this point, he wasn't really interested in getting a leg over, maybe never would be again because look what happened every time he tried to hold on to something, every time he thought that maybe this time would be different and he wouldn't wind up ruining somebody's life.

He'd been lonely before Natasha, and he'd needed a friend, somebody to talk to at the end of the day, somebody to bitch about his latest mission with, someone who wouldn't mind being woken up at 4 in the morning on a Sunday to share a six-pack of beer and a few episodes of Dog Cops.

That friend turned out to be Natasha.

So he learned to ignore the talk, just like he'd learned to ignore the flashes of guilt in his father's eyes and the way his brother looked when he was about to do something stupid. He learned not to respond when people made suggestive faces as he and Natasha walked by in the hall because those people were idiots with little lives and had nothing better to do than make a mountain out of a molehill. Really, at the end of the day, none of that mattered.

He was certain that he'd do something stupid and fuck it up with Natasha, too; he was under no illusions about that. He'd say or do something unbelievably stupid at the most astronomically wrong moment because he was a kind of artist when it came to human interaction (albeit one whose palette was covered in shit.)

For now, though, she deigned to put up with him, and he sure as hell wasn't going to knock it, even if the vodka she bought might eat a hole through his stomach.

It was a small price to pay.