For Tim’s fourth birthday his parents take him to the circus. It’s all lights and colors and people in costumes and Tim can’t possibly look at absolutely everything, but he gives it his best shot.
“He’s too young for this,” his mother worries. “He’s going to be scared.”
How could I ever be scared of this? Tim wonders, but even at four he’s learned to be quiet when his parents talk.
“There’s one of the performers,” his father says. “We’ll take a picture with him so Tim sees he’s just a person, how about that?”
The performer is a young marksman, with a bow and arrows and a colorful costume. He kneels down by Tim, grinning, and Tim smiles back.
“Watch carefully when I’m on,” the marksman says, ruffling Tim’s hair like he’s a normal boy. “I’ll hit the bullseye just for you, okay?”
Tim watches, enraptured, as the marksman hits his target time after time, and even though the stands are crowded and he can’t possibly pick Tim’s face out against the glare of the big top lights, Tim knows he looks.
Tim follows the marksman’s career carefully after that. He saves flyers and newspaper articles, learns that the marksman’s name is Clint Barton, and reads everything he can find on physics and engineering so he can understand exactly how arrows fly. For his tenth birthday he gets a toy bow and arrows of his own, for his thirteenth he gets a real one. In class, while other kids are drawing superheroes and cartoon characters in the margins of their notebooks, Tim designs a compound bow and figures out how to make tranquiliser arrows.
After Clint leaves the circus Tim follows him as far as the army. He learns to hack just so he can access Clint’s military records. He’s an exceptional sniper, and Tim’s just as proud of the commendations that get written up on Clint’s file as he would be of a favorite athlete’s MVP award.
When Clint joins the Avengers Tim is thrilled. Other kids wear t-shirts with Captain America and Iron Man on them, but Tim is loyal to Hawkeye and defends his reputation up to the point - and once past - an actual schoolyard fight (Tim wins; archery isn’t the only thing he’s been studying). He doesn’t care if Hawkeye isn’t a god or a genius or a national icon; he’s talented and that’s way cooler.
New York is a short train ride from Gotham, and there are plenty of museums and things for Tim to visit in between walking casually by Avengers Mansion and hoping to catch a glimpse of Hawkeye. He’s just leaving the Natural History Museum when there’s a massive explosion from a few blocks away, followed by the sounds of a serious fight.
Naturally, Tim runs towards it. He crouches down behind a mailbox and watches as the Avengers fight a giant beast thing. It’s doing a lot of damage - Thor and Iron Man are flying around, trying to contain it, while Captain America and the Black Widow try to hustle people out of the area. Tim assumes Hawkeye is somewhere up high, where he has a good vantage point. There’s no sign of the Hulk.
The beast flails, there’s a crash, and the next thing Tim knows Hawkeye’s tumbling to the ground on the other side of the street.
Clint’s bow hits the ground right in front of Tim.
Tim stares at it for a split second, then scoops it up and sprints towards Hawkeye. Their eyes meet, and Tim pulls his arm back to throw the bow to him, and then half of a building lands between them.
Tim hits the ground hard, choking on dust, still clutching the bow. There’s no way he can get it to Hawkeye now and the beast is headed his way.
A glint in the rubble catches Tim’s eye. It’s one of Hawkeye’s used arrows, and it’s scratched and the fletching is damaged but it’s still usable.
Before he can think twice, Tim nocks the arrow, pulls back the bowstring, breathes out, and fires.
The battle doesn’t last much longer. Tim’s arrow makes the beast pull back, which gives the Avengers the opportunity to corral it and get it under control. Hawkeye climbs over the rubble, sees that the fight is pretty much over, and comes to retrieve his bow.
“Nice shot, kid,” he says with a considering look.
“Thank you, Mr. Barton,” he says, and knows by the look of shock on Hawkeye’s face that he’s in.