A/N: So…I have a lengthy Hawkeye series that I'm currently working on, which includes a detailed back story for Clint and several novel-length stories about his life in the circus, in SHIELD, meeting Laura, meeting Natasha, picking fights with Kate Bishop, joining and later getting kicked out of the Avengers, going on the run with his kids, the works.
This story happened the other day, and it literally has nothing to do with any of that. I credit inspiration for this story to Aggie2011, who is a brilliant writer with lots of amazing Hawkeye stories. Her Vantage Point Universe includes a scene similar to this, with Clint's brother Barney stabbing him as an act of betrayal, so that's where the concept comes from. Go check out her stories when you're done with this!
Meanwhile, thanks for reading, and pleeeeeease review! It helps me grow as a writer :D
"Pick a Day to Die"
Splatters of mud splashed up on Clint's ankles. Thunder rolled ominously overhead.
"Buck!" he screamed, running at a terrified sprint, slipping and dodging around the trees as he zeroed in on Trick Shot's personal trailer, just on the other side of the woods. He dared a glance behind him, seeing the flash of a light and two bodies charging straight toward him, and picked up his pace to a full-on sprint.
He could barely see where he was going. Suddenly, his ankle wrenched to the side, plunging into a mud-filled hollow. Clint gasped and reached out for a branch to steady himself. Groaning in pain, he heaved himself up and out of the hollow, stumbling against the tree for support. Just as quickly, he took off, running at a hobbling pace, heart pounding straight out of his chest, when Bucky's trailer finally came in sight.
Just a little further.
He'd done this a thousand times. Just—before, he'd run to his and Barney's trailer for protection. This time, unexpectedly, he was running from Barney.
"Buck!" he hollered again, scrambling from out of the treeline, yanking himself up against Trick's front door and pounding on it as hard as he could. His ankle throbbed, even with the adrenaline he had coursing through his veins. "Buck, let me in! Lemme in! They're gonna kill me!"
Clint nearly fell over the door as Trick pulled it open wide, his lanky, wizened form standing silhouetted by the yellow lamplight inside the trailer. "Get in here, kid!" Trick yanked him forward by his collar, shutting and bolting the door behind him. "Shoes off. Now!"
Clint felt tears prick his eyes and his whole body burned with pain as Trick grabbed his first boot, coated with mud, and pulled it off of him like he was a three-year-old needing undressed. "You can cry later," Trick growled, yanking off the other boot as Clint fell sideways on the wooden floor. "Get in the bathroom. Don't let anyone in after ya!"
He shoved Clint's boots into his open arms and physically dragged him into the tiny bathroom, disappearing after he shut the door.
Clint lay on the linoleum, clutching his boots and gasping for air that didn't seem to be anywhere near enough for the fear he was feeling grip at his chest. Don't do this, he tried to tell himself. Don't breathe so fast. Breathe slowly. You're not a helpless rag doll lying here with not enough oxygen. You're fine! You can do this.
He took a deeper, slower, shuddering breath, propping himself up on his elbows to look around.
First of all, now that he was across Trick's fancy wooden floors, not making tracks everywhere, he needed his boots back on. The first one, despite the mud, wriggled on fine; it was the second Clint didn't even want to touch.
Fifteen years. He and Barney had managed to be the best of friends for fifteen years. Clint should've known it wouldn't last. He should've seen this coming. He hadn't, and now he was more terrified than he'd ever been in his life. What ally did a kid have, if not his own big brother?
He could hear pounding on the door outside, so loud it even shook the trailer a little. Clint froze. He didn't dare try the other boot now. If he made too much noise, it would give him away much faster than a little mud.
"Chisholm!" Barney's voice rang out, thick with rage. Clint pressed his ear against the door, determined to hear everything, even though his hearing aids really didn't like it when he tried to eavesdrop through solid surfaces. "Chisholm, open this door!"
"The boy is with you, Trickster, so if I were you I would not attempt to hide it," Duquesne's voice, smooth and heavily accented, echoed after Barney's.
Clint's blood chilled. He hated Duquesne, more and more as he grew older and could see what kinds of evil the man caused behind Carson's and everybody's back. He hated him for teaching him to steal, and making it seem like it was a game. Since he was six years old, Clint had been taught to pickpocket his way through the crowds during performances and, later, break in and out of their cars with valuables while they sat empty in the parking lot.
Most of all, however, he hated Duquesne for turning his brother into a monster.
"Get off my property, Frenchie," Trick growled, and Clint heard the slam of a door.
He hauled himself, painfully, to his feet, bracing against the sink in case they came barreling in. At least he'd have the back side of the door for some protection.
"Give us the boy," Duquesne insisted calmly. "He has gone too far this time. We will not injure him. We will teach him a lesson."
"Yeah, by injuring him," Trick's voice was rough from cigarette smoke. And other kinds of smoke. "Kid needs his bow arm or he won't be ready to take my place when I'm gone. You goin' after him is a personal offense to me, Duke. If he needs his hide whipped, I'll be more than happy to do it for ya. Now get out."
Clint blew out a slow breath.
A loud "BANG" made him jump, startled, as the front door swung back against its hinges.
Clint winced and crawled deeper into the corner.
Barney's voice shouted unintelligibly, thunder cracked from overhead, the 'ching' of a sword being unleashed, thumps and groans and crashes from the fight definitely being waged against Trick by both Barney and the Swordsman.
"CRASH!" Trick's prized table lamp fell. His poor mother, to whom it had belonged, was probably turning in her grave.
Then a thump came against the door he was hiding behind. Clint's breath caught in his throat. He didn't move. He didn't even blink, just stayed as still as he ever had in his life.
The door knob turned and it swung open. It snapped backward against Clint's forehead, leaving a nasty bruise. Clint growled and heaved his whole body weight against it, trying to force it shut, but Barney was heavier and he burst through, cornering Clint and sending him sprawling to the ground with a jaw strike from a meaty fist.
"Don't you dare ever try anything like that again!" Barney shouted in his face, hauling him up by the front of his T-shirt, nearly ripping it from his chest.
Clint gnashed his teeth, punching frantically at Barney's bigger arms and stomach, but nothing he did made any difference. His brother dragged him, furious, over to the bathtub and sent him careening over the edge with Clint's face under the faucet. The water came hard and fast, cold rushing over Clint's mouth and nose and not letting him draw a single breath.
He changed tactics and lunged forward, sinking his teeth into Barney's hand. His brother howled and pulled away, releasing his grip, and Clint leaped upward, gasping for breath, just as his ankle hit the floor and gave out. He grabbed Barney around the neck and took him with him to the ground. The two of them wrestled in a sloshing puddle of mud and cold water on the floor, angrily clawing at any part of each other's face, head, arms, chest—any part Clint could get in his hands, he grabbed and tore at with all his might. He was vaguely aware of tears running down his face. Hate coursed through him like nothing he'd ever felt before.
Then the door slammed open once again. The boys froze, Duquesne standing over them, dark and imposing, with his broadsword drawn.
"Get up," his voice was cold.
Clint could feel Barney's dark eyes fixing on him, but kept his own gaze straight ahead at the man in front of them.
The Swordsman's mouth twisted into a cruel smile. He looked at Clint, straight into his eyes, as though he were piercing through his very soul. As they stared at each other, something in the air, something dark, made Clint's heart thud almost audibly through his chest. His ears rang and a faint trickle of something warmer than the bathwater rolled down his cheek. "You know what to do, Barney."
Barney heaved himself up, shaking water out of his ears. He swallowed and glanced at their mentor. "He's just a punk," he said in a rough voice, indicating his brother. "What am I supposed to do?"
Clint winced, dragging his ankle out from underneath of him and standing up, cautiously, leaning on one leg.
Duquesne licked his lips. "You remember the phrase, 'Am I my brother's keeper?'" he asked Barney, still fixating on Clint and no one else.
Clint grabbed the edge of the sink to keep his hand from trembling. He still didn't dare take his eyes off Duquesne. From back in the now-darkened main area of the trailer, he could see a faint shadow of a beat, limping Trick Shot getting slowly to his feet.
"That part was a fairy tale. The first part, however—" he handed Barney one of his knives.
Clint's eyes, if it were possible, grew wider and he shrank back slightly, finally tearing himself away from Duquesne and snatching a glance at his brother instead.
"Hey!" Trick's voice barked out in the background.
It was so fast Clint barely saw it coming. One second, the knife was in Barney's hand, balanced perfectly the way they'd—both of them—trained to do for nearly as long as Clint could remember.
It was familiar, Barney getting ready to throw a knife. Clint had done it himself thousands of times.
And then there was red-hot pain in his right shoulder, a knife hilt sticking out of it, and Barney staring back at HIM, empty-handed. Clint's mouth opened and he screamed, just as a shot rang out, echoing through the whole trailer.
Duquesne's head snapped around as Clint, his knees giving out, slid down against the door and landed in a heap, panting open-mouthed like a fish out of water. He could feel the blood draining from his face, pooling in the wound, trickling out, down his side—swelling up the muscle until it screamed to be freed of whatever was blocking its exit. Clint heaved the next breath, Barney's face and Duquesne's swimming in and out of his vision. One second Barney was there, then he was falling on his face, and another shot rang out. A sword flashed in front of him, Trick was yelling—
"You don't use guns," Clint gasped out as he saw him, heard the door slam—Trick Shot bending down beside him. Maybe not in that order, but he couldn't tell—"Aa—ahhh!" Clint screamed, and felt his head thud on the wood floor as Trick moved him, jostling the knife with every inch. He'd lost half of what had happened over the last few seconds, so he wasn't completely sure what was happening. Where was Barney? Had he really left so quickly? And blood was on the floor, but was it his or someone else's? Was Duquesne gone, too?
Somehow he ended up being lifted in Trick's arms, then there was the sickening yellow light again and he was on the couch, not knowing how he got there. The knife was still there, unmoving. Terrifying him.
"Barney?" came Trick's rough voice, from a nearby corner of the room. "I shot him in the leg. He'll live," he reassured Clint. "You, on the other hand…"
Clint's breathing started to get faster, just making the knife hurt worse with every time his chest buckled and heaved.
"Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!" Trick barked authoritatively. "Cut it out! You'll live, too, it's just your arm I'm worried about. If you don't calm down, you'll go into shock and we'll have another problem, so settle it down, right now!"
Clint rescued a baby bird once, with a broken wing. His mamma had helped him put it in a box and hide it from dad, so he didn't get angry and kill it or throw it out. It had made little pained, strangled chirps as it tried to pull through and survive whatever had happened to it.
Clint felt like that baby bird. He was also pretty sure the noises he was making sounded a lot like that baby bird, too.
"Slow down!" Trick roared in his face, but it only made it worse.
What he was terrified of, Clint didn't know, but he couldn't stop. His heart was hammering in his chest like a jack tearing up an old street, a fuzzy feeling was creeping up over his skin, light floaty oxygen soaked into him, dulling the pain—
That baby bird had died.
Trick slapped him in the face, bringing him momentarily back to reality. "Pick a date," he commanded, in a low, dark voice. "Not today. Pick a date in your future. Do it!"
"A d—date—?" Clint stammered out, his lips shaking too hard to form the words properly. He was confused.
"Today is April three, nineteen eighty-six," Trick ground out. "Pick another date than that, and say it out loud to me!"
Clint stared, trying to get his brain to work, to focus. "Oct—October one?" he gasped out.
Trick raised his eyebrows, and Clint closed his eyes to keep his head from swimming. "Year?" he demanded.
"2015," Clint swallowed hard. The pain came back, pulsing through his whole arm, setting his body on fire.
Any day. He wanted to think of any day that was NOT this one. One that was so far in the future he would almost hope, if he was still alive then, that his life would have NOTHING to remind him of what it was like right now.
"You're picking a day to die," Trick continued to speak to him, from the side. "October one, 2015? That's the day you want?"
Clint nodded shakily, still keeping his eyes squeezed shut. It was as good as any. What the heck was he talking about, anyway?
"October one, 2015," Trick mused again. "Is today October one, 2015?"
Clint shook his head.
"Then are you allowed to die today, Clint Barton?"
He shook his head again.
A moment later, a soft 'clunk' came from behind his ear as something hit the side table. Clint heard water pouring, and struggled to keep his heart from accelerating again as he thought of how Barney had tried to drown him. Then he tried not to think of Barney. And he tried not to think of the knife, and throwing, and Barney stabbing him in the—
"Guys like you and me," Trick's voice broke through his frenzy of thoughts, calming him slightly, "we're too stubborn to do anything else. I've seen your stubbornness, kid, and I know you can't deny it. We'll fight and fight to the very end, but we hit the final round and give up right there. Me, I've backed down at the last moment more times than I can count, and I hate it. I hate what it's done to me."
Clint tried to speak, but a moan was all that made it past his lips. Trick grabbed his left hand and shoved a glass of water in it, forcing him to drink it on his own. He gave him the Advil when he was done, and Clint downed them, trying to think about whether or not swallowing a few pills were going to instantly make him feel better or if he should expect to feel just as bad for a while. Knowing how pain medication worked was half the comfort in it, for whatever reason.
Trick made quick and surprisingly gentle business of wrapping his ankle, also cutting the rest of Clint's tattered-up T-shirt off with a spare arrowhead lying on the table, and using it to sling his arm before he turned to the tricky part, which was, of course, removing the knife.
Knowing Trick, he'd do it as soon as he thought Clint wasn't paying attention, which meant Clint instinctively went on high alert, watching his every movement.
He knew well enough by now that they weren't going to a hospital. Doing so would only get both of them in more trouble with Barney and Duquesne. It could uncover their whole criminal operation, which would get Trick and Clint both a huge price on their heads and a whole lot of bad publicity in the underworld.
"Why—" Clint's voice caught in his throat and he tried again, "why do I have to pick a day if I'm not dying?"
"Shock," Trick shrugged, bringing a handful of bandages and cloths from his bathroom and dumping them on Clint's lap. "Also infection. Could happen, you never know. And catch me trying to reason with you after you're delirious. That ain't gonna happen."
"So—I could die," Clint finished for him, gulping.
"Nope. Because you don't get to until October one, 2015. You said so yourself. Breaking your word already?"
Clint huffed weakly. "Sounds like you've heard another one of Duquesne's 'fairy tales'."
Trick didn't answer, sticking another cigarette in his mouth and continuing to go back and forth for more first aid supplies.
Clint didn't know he had so many in such a small trailer. Trick had cleaned him up from a thousand cuts, scrapes, and other injuries before, just like his mother used to do when she was alive (but with considerably less gentleness, obviously). It almost seemed, however, like his mentor had been—preparing—for an incident like this. He shuddered, and winced in pain again as it pulled at his shoulder. He leaned his head back against the armrest and felt his eyelids starting to get droopy.
"You and me," he vaguely heard Trick say, taking a seat beside him and puffing out a cloud of smoke, "we're always a couple of mules. More on each other, and not on ourselves, though. Which is why I just gave you sleeping pills—"
"Whaa—!" Clint reacted with a jolt, alarmed at how groggy his voice sounded, and how hard it was to still keep his eyes open waiting for that sudden yank on the knife hilt. "You dr-gged me?" his lips wouldn't even cooperate. How strong was this stuff?
"Easy, there," Trick hummed between puffs of smoke. "You don't want to be awake for this, trust me."
"The he'," Clint mumbled, his head dropping onto his chest, the throbbing in both of his joints starting to relax a little.
… … … … …
When the knife did come out, it was dark and white, blind and screaming, but it all seemed far away to Clint, like he wasn't even with himself but was somewhere else where it couldn't touch him.
… … … … …
He woke up the next day, however, feeling like he was being eaten alive. "Trick!" he screamed, writhing away from his arm, only to discover it was strapped to his chest in a giant, several-layered bandage. "TRICK!"
"Hang on, don't act like I'm your waiter, hand and foot," the man grumbled, emerging from outside and wiping his boots on the step, already on his first cigarette of the day. "I'll get you the real Advil this time."
"I don't want the real Advil. I want the fake Advil again, it was better," Clint moaned, squeezing his eyes shut to try and drown out the pain for a moment. "Gawd, it hurts so bad!"
"If it's any consolation, your brother's got a couple of Carson's fingers clawing around in his thigh to fish out the bullet I put in him," Trick called from the back.
Clint gawked. "He's still here?"
"Right next door."
"Does he know I'm alive?!" panic started to rise in his chest.
"Not unless you keep screamin' like you were a moment ago."
"Fine, I'll be quiet," Clint gasped, anger flaring up in his eyes.
Who was he even angry at? Barney? Trick? Duquesne? Himself? He almost growled in frustration, but stopped himself just as he remembered he was supposed to be quiet.
"Trick?" he groaned weakly, suddenly feeling exhausted, "am I infected yet?"
Trick came out twirling the cigarette and gave him a look like he was an idiot. "How would I know? Do I look like a field-dresser?"
"What's that?" Clint grunted, trying to use his good arm to shift himself up. Being at an angle on the edge of the couch for so long had given him an awful crick in his neck, and he rolled it, trying to get it to loosen up.
"I don't know, do I look like an encyclopedia?"
"Gosh, Trick, I hurt!"
"Yeah, you said so already! Gimme a sec so you don't choke yourself swallowing 'em dry." Trick clunked the pills down on the table next to another glass, grabbing his bow and arrows and heading out the door. "I'll be out here, facing your music, if you care to join me. I don't recommend it, though. Duquesne's spittin' mad that I put a bullet hole through his favorite ceremonial sword. I've been aiming to do that for years!"
Clint suddenly wanted that sword. He made a mental promise to himself that, one day, he'd get it and repay Duquesne for trying to kill one of his own students.
"We'll be training tomorrow," Trick announced. "From now on, I'm pretty sure you're going to be left-handed."
"Left-handed? Forever?" Clint's hand shook and he almost dropped the Advil.
"Maybe," Trick shrugged, slowly grinding his cigarette butt into the ashtray by the door. "I reckon it won't slow you down too much, though."
The screen part of the door, dented in dramatically from the fight, slammed shut from the lack of a spring, leaving Clint alone with his thoughts. He heaved a sigh and settled back to process everything.
Eventually he looked down and swallowed the pills, inspecting them closely to be sure they were real beforehand, and thirstily drained the cup Trick had left him. Then he settled in under the couch throw to try and get some more rest. As much as he could get up if he really wanted to, he figured training could hold off another day or two.
His eyes slid shut.
He dreamed that the baby bird had lived, and hopped out of the box to fly another day.
October 1, 2015
If it hadn't been for the infection, Clint probably wouldn't have remembered the day Trick had made him pick for his own death. As it was, he remembered it all too well.
Thirty years later, Clint was, sure enough, running through a snowy Sokovian forest with a team of superheroes at his back, trying to lock his sights on a blur of bratty teenaged speed-demon as he literally raced around the trees in circles, laughing at him.
He had a wife and kids at home, waiting for him to get there, too. Trick Shot was gone, although in all fairness he'd come back out of nowhere before, so Clint honestly wouldn't put it past him to pull a stunt like that again. The man must be in his nineties by now, but since when did Clint keep track of these things? So long as he didn't show up one day and decide to kick them out of the old farm he'd given them, Clint figured he'd let Trick fare for himself however he wanted.
Duquesne was dead. Barney was dead, though not from the wound Trick had given him. He'd stuck around for a good eighteen years too long, yet for some reason Clint still missed him.
He was right. His life had turned out totally different from how it began.
He scarcely recognized himself in the mirror, some days.
But he remembered this day, the day he'd given himself to die. He remembered it because he had chanted it with Trick, through broken, chapped lips and a swollen throat, for four long, feverish nightmare days and nights. He remembered it, because knowing THIS day was the day he was going to die had kept THAT day from claiming him like it could have. It had kept him— and Trick, too—from giving up on him in the final round. The fever had eventually taken its kill shot and Clint gotten back up again, training left-handed for year after year, with or without Trick, until he basically WAS left-handed.
Of course the day itself was a fairy tale, like he'd told Trick in the first place. He wasn't going to die today just because he'd said it once, long ago. So why was Trick getting at something so important when he'd made him choose this day?
He growled in frustration as the brat in the blue running shoes sped by him again. He couldn't get a straight shot with all these stupid trees in the way. Stepping back, he spun on his heel, knowing he was exposed now but keeping an eye out in all directions for wherever the kid would come from next.
All of a sudden, it went eerily silent.
Was the kid gone?
A shot rang out behind him, hitting him in the side and sending him, sprawling, into the snow. He tried to get up and gasped, unable to move as he felt the stick of blood and charred flesh through his now-melted against his side mission suit.
"Hawkeye's down!" he heard Nat call from just ahead of him, as her footsteps pounded through the snow, coming toward him as fast as humanly possible.
He opened his mouth to tell her to go on ahead, but a groan came out instead.
Nat turned him on his side, making it nearly impossible to bite back a scream.
He was too old for this.
Heck, he was too human for this. What was wrong with him? Why was he with the Avengers? He was just a dude with a bow, for crying out loud—!
"I need a med evac," Nat's orders dragged his focus back to the blinding explosions off in the distance and the cold snow seeping into both of their suits. The pain in his side grew unbearable, a patch of fire that wouldn't stop burning—why didn't Nat use the snow, stop the burning—?
"You're not gonna die, Clint." All of a sudden, her voice was in his ear.
What was it Trick had said about dying? He would probably live? Clint shifted slightly, groaning again and leaning his head back against Natasha's arms as he waited for the med evac to get there.
He could still die, from several things, just like he almost did when he was fifteen. Infection was always a risk. So was shock, although he was better at keeping a handle on it now after over thirty not-always-pain-free years of experience. So was dehydration, though Nat would obviously never let that become a life-threatening issue.
Nope, infection was the biggie.
"Pick a day to die."
"January," he said aloud.
"What?" Natasha looked at him like he was crazy. "What are you talking about?"
"Just January," he stifled a gasp, shifting again against her arm. "January 27, 2018."
He wouldn't pick a date too far into the future this time, because honestly life had JUST started to get good, and he didn't want that to change.
"Clint, are you delirious, or are you just being weird again?" she huffed.
"Long story," he forced a smile, focusing on her teasing instead of the stabbing heat coming out of his side where his skin used to be. If he was lucky, all his organs would still be present when he woke up later. "And the battle's that way," he pointed, in a direction probably nowhere near where the battle was.
"Hey, stay conscious," Nat slapped his face.
For a second, he wondered if it was really her, or if it was Trick, his fifteen-year-old-self emerging from a dream—a dream where he was older, on the day he'd picked to die, and his life was totally different from what it had been.
"M' always conscious."
"Not as often as I'm comfortable having to tell a 'certain someone' about whenever I'm at her house," Natasha replied dryly, smacking him again as he started to drift off.
Gosh, he really was getting too old for this. He was falling asleep on the job.
"Forget it, Barton, the medics are here."
"So what? I can die now?" his grin dissolved into a grimace as he clutched his side, trying to avoid touching the actual wound.
"Something tells me you're too stubborn to let that happen," Natasha's mouth quirked up in a smile as she helped them trudge his body through the snow and load him into the jet.
"Yep," he grinned again, just as his vision started to blacken. She may have been gone by then, but he couldn't tell. "Jan'ry 27. 2018. M' not dying today."