Clint can't really remember a time when he wasn't in trouble with the law, in some sort of capacity. Whether for stealing, trespassing, assault, and one memorable public indecency charge; he seemed to always be stuck on the wrong side of the law, though most of his 'crimes' were in pursuit of justice, well maybe not justice per say, but he didn't do any of that shit just to spite authorities. Most of the time. The stealing was so that he and Barney could eat, it had been right after they'd run away from the orphanage, but before the circus; the trespassing was for a place to sleep, the assault was because he interrupted a beat-down on some poor scrawny kid. The public indecency had been after the broken up beat-down, after the gang had decided that beating Clint up was just as satisfying as beating the kid up, and when they were done they'd stolen his clothes and left him for dead in the middle of the Chicago winter; Clint had stumbled his way into the first door that opened, that door just happened to lead into a church where a youth group was meeting, not his finest moment.
After he had explained what had happened and the police found the kid that Clint had saved, and he'd confirmed Clint's story; the police had let Clint go, telling him sternly to call them if something like this were to happen in the future. He had only been 18 at the time, already had a laundry list of petty crimes, and already held the (self proclaimed) title of the world's greatest marksman. Barney had just betrayed him, left him to the 'mercy' of the Swordsman and Trickshot. Clint had nowhere to go, he was a nobody teenager with a lot of attitude and no patience. He didn't have a formal education, couldn't read, and he couldn't sit still long enough to try to learn.
All he had was his skill with the bow, and maybe he could count determination as a skill; he had been told by lady Althea (the fortune reader) that being called stubborn was just someone acknowledging his determination to accomplish his goals. She had always been his favourite, aside from Barney, but Clint thinks that she may have moved to the top of his list after the fiasco with Barney and his 'mentors'.
Clint was now in New York, in the Adirondack park. He is honing his skills by hunting, albeit illegally, in the woods. The trees were providing quite the challenge as Clint tried to hit salamanders 100m away. He is 19, as surly as ever, and he is living off the land while staying off the grid. This land is rich, beautiful and vast; unforgiving, but a perfect place for Clint. He's into his fifth month living in these woods and he has yet to run into anyone; for a place that gets so much tourism for its trails and natural beauty, it is surprisingly easy to keep to himself.
Until today, just a random day in September, when his run in with a stranger would change his life forever.
Phil Coulson is unflappable.
Phil Coulson is a mild mannered government agent.
Phil Coulson is former military.
Phil Coulson is the highest ranking senior agent in SHIELD.
Phil Coulson is also the youngest senior agent, at age 26. He is damn good at his job, he also maybe, perhaps lied to get into the marines at age 15.
In short Phil Coulson is a cold stone badass who gets his job done. And right now Phil Coulson's job is pissing him off, because Phil's job is to assess and then determine a course of action for one Clinton Barton. Barton is nowhere to be found, and Phil has been looking, oh has he ever been looking. A whole year he's been looking, Phil Coulson is not a very patient man, no matter what his façade has lead people to believe. The reason he advanced so quickly through SHIELD's ranks was because he is not patient, he hates waiting; he gets shit done and he gets shit done fast, his first two years at SHIELD he averaged a case every week and a half (a record by the way, Phil Coulson doesn't do shit by halves).
He's been at SHIELD for 4 years, and he has spent the entirety of one year searching for; a run away orphan, circus performing teenager. When Phil had graduated early from high school, with an offer to attend Harvard; he had been a teenager, a smart teenager from a middle class family with 5 kids and two hard working parents and no way to afford school. So he'd come up with a plan, join the military and have them pay for school in return for his committing his life to them. In order to accomplish this plan, he'd had to lie to the United States government, the very people he'd committed to; when his C.O had found out (Phil had told him) that Phil was only 15 when he'd enlisted, he was 'dishonourably' discharged. He says 'dishonourably' because it never actually went on his file, he was head hunted by Director Fury himself. And so at age 19, with an undergrad is psychology from Harvard, and 4 years of military training; Phil Coulson had landed himself in one of the most secret government agencies: SHIELD.
Barton's last confirmed location was Chicago, 10 months ago, where he'd been brought in on public indecency charges and let go the same night, as his state of dress had been due to extenuating circumstances; apparently Barton had 'appeared out of nowhere, and started beating the crap out the guy hitting me' the kid (Peter) said, 'He kept them bullies distracted long enough for me to run away', he was reading this direct quote from the station's report. A very poorly written report at that, Phil hated badly done paperwork, it made is job so much more difficult.
Shortly after the incident, 4 hours to be precise, Phil had arrived in Chicago to pick Barton up. Unfortunately Barton had made himself very scarce, hadn't left even a single clue. Now Phil was chasing down half-assed leads all over the country; he's in Vegas, looking into this new act, the supposedly 'World's Best Marksman' whose only apparent skill was slight of hand and flashy lights. Phil had yet to see a single arrow even hit the target, nevermind the bullseye. Phil really wanted to take a paper clip to the guy's eyes, since he clearly wasn't using them.
It was back to square one, not looking for what was there but rather for what was not.
Phil Coulson may not be a patient man, but he doesn't rush.
Clint knows that something is wrong the moment he wakes up, but he isn't sure what. He listens intently, hearing again the noise that woke him; someone or something bumbling through the woods, most likely a someone. Animals, even bumbling ones, aren't as clumsy sounding as this noise. Clint climbs down from his nest and carefully, quietly, makes his way toward the noise. The source seems to be close to the river, Clint is hoping the person isn't some lost hiker who needs help getting back down the mountain; he really doesn't want to be this mysterious mountain man who saves lost mountaineers. As he approaches the river Clint slows to a stop, he crouches behind some brush at the tree line and watches; the moon is high and bright and makes seeing very easy outside of the woods.
He was right, a figure is stumbling in his direction, following the river. This person seems to be carrying a small bundle of something, and keeps shooting worried looking glances behind and around him; the person is not very good at seeing for all of his looking. The person's mouth seems to be moving and Clint strains to hear what's being said.
"Damn, no good freak. Breaking shit every time you cry." Clint is taken aback, the person is talking to the bundle, and he concludes that the bundle is a child. A small child. "Have to get rid of this this, no one gun find anythin all the way up here." Clint had an arrow drawn and sighted before he even realised what was happening, by the time he figured it out the arrow had flown true and was now sticking out of the man's eye socket. His feet had carried him all the way to the now falling man before he hit the ground, Clint caught the small bundle deftly and was holding it tightly to his chest.
"Shit, what did I-" Clint's breathing was laboured, adrenaline making his blood sing. He had no idea what had just happened, he couldn't even remember bringing his bow with him, how had he just killed someone? And shit, he had killed the man, because no one walks away from an arrow through the eye; well maybe not no one, but this guy certainly hadn't survived. "What the fuck, what did I do. Oh my God. I killed him, holy fuck, oh shit." Clint clumsily yanked the arrow out of the guy's eye and he made his way to the tree line, where he put the bundle and his bow and arrows down; before being violently ill. Clint was trembling, his breathing stuttered; he was so fucked. He was shaking so badly that he couldn't think, it was all he could do to avoid collapsing into his own vomit.
The bundle moved, and a small cry escaped the blanket. Clint took a deep breath and bent slowly to pick up the bundle, he cradled it to his chest offering what little comfort he could. He didn't know how, but he knew what he had to do. There was no way he could have let the man carry out his plan, no way he could let an innocent child be abandoned/killed in the woods and let the man responsible get away. Clint knew that he had to care for this child, knew that he had to make his way towards civilisation, somewhere he could leave the child where it would be safe. He didn't know how he would do that without getting himself caught, but he would figure it out.
First things first though, and that was sleep. He would clear out camp as soon as day dawned, he would make sure there was no trace of him. He wouldn't touch the body, couldn't touch the body. But from his experience, the more you tried to cover it up, the more suspicious people tended to be. Erasing his presence in the woods would be easy, but erasing himself off of a body, He didn't think he'd be able to do that so he wasn't going to try.
Tucking the child close to his chest, Clint gathered his bow and arrows and made his way back to his camp.
"There's been another incident sir." Phil Coulson looked up from his coffee, his sacred coffee which people know not to interrupt, his sacred coffee which has just been interrupted.
"An incident?" Phil raised a brow slightly, the junior agent in front of him took a small step back, Phil raised victory arms in his head. He liked having a reputation.
"Yes, sir." The agent fidgeted with the report in his hand before passing over the desk to Phil, who had to put down his sacred coffee to take the papers from the kid. He waved a hand in dismissal waiting for the door to click shut before he opened the report.
A murder, a murder in the woods. In the woods in New York, with an arrow apparently. And one Clinton Barton was being accused, the current bane of his career who had never once started a fight with anyone; whose crimes tended to be tame and mostly done out of a need to survive. This same Barton was implicated in murder, oh and kidnapping. Wonderful. Phil read the report twice, just to make sure he wasn't imagining it, the report was shoddy at best; the man, a Hector Burns, had been shot through the eye with an arrow (apparently, but there was no arrow, nor evidence of any other sort of weapon or projectile). Hector had been on a night time hike with his 16 month old son, according to his wife; when he hadn't returned she had called the local sherrif, who had in turn called the Feds for help in the investigation. A sherrif Tubbs had written the work of fiction, no doubt spoon fed to him by the feds; there was no way this was an actual investigation.
Phil sighed, closed the report and picked his coffee back up. He would need this coffee to be civil to all of the incompetent people he would be interacting with today. Running through a mental checklist; Phil decided that talking to Director Fury was his top priority, followed by calling Washington and the J Edgar Hoover building which housed the FBI (oh joy), then heading out to the woods in New York to see for himself this supposed crime scene. Coffee first, always coffee first.
The call to Fury had gone as planned, Phil now had jurisdiction on the case and the authority to court marshall and disgrace as many FBI agents as possible; so long as he kept his unflappable air about him, along with a belt full of paperclips (it's badass, seriously).
The call to the FBI had also gone as planned, unfortunately, there was whining and denying and more whining; there was refusal, more whining and eventually begging. But damn if Phil wasn't fantastic at inter-agency cooperation, his agency got their cooperation or their agency would cease to be, simple and efficient.
Flying from Vegas to the backwoods of New York, was not Phil's idea of a great afternoon; but it certainly was better than his morning had been. He spent the flight looking at the crime scene photos, a child with a pen could have done a better job; there were so many footprints littering the scene that it looked like central park instead of an isolated mountain trail, Phil cannot even begin to understand how Barton was the FBI's first and only suspect.
His arrival in New York, was with very little fanfare, and it was about 150 yards from the body in a clearing, across the river. Seriously, across the river. What the actual-, Phil was a resourceful man he would find a way across the stupid river without getting his Dolce ruined. Getting across the river was both easier and a lot more fun than he'd anticipated; apparently standing silently aloof and occasionally looking mildly disgusted at the river got people moving, there was a makeshift bridge and several agents willing to lie down in the water in front of Phil in less than 10 minutes. Fantastic.
"Sherrif Tubbs," the junior agent in front of him pointed toward an older, balding man who had a slight beer gut a hard time breathing and what appeared to be sweat gland problem. Phil knows things. Phil approached the man, hoping that his poker face would serve him well once more, his disdain at the complete incompetence of every person on the scene was threatening to overcome decorum completely. Phil had never been happier to have his belt of paperclips.
"Agent Coulson," Tubbs' voice had a nasal quality to it, annoying. The man didn't seem to know whether he was supposed to salute or not and his hand went up and got stuck somewhere between awkward and hilarious.
"Tubbs, report." Phil didn't shout, cuss or insult. Sometimes Phil had mercy on people, sometimes.
"43 year old male, named Hector Burns, was reported missing 3 days past. His wife said that their son, Reggie, had trouble sleeping at night and that Hetor would take him on hikes to help him fall asleep. She said that he went out last Thursday night and when he didn't return she called up her sherrif, and then he called us."
"How did the victim die?" Phil looked around, this area seemed too far for a late night hike. If Phil didn't already believe that Barton wasn't to blame for this, then he sure would be doubting his guilt now; who hikes 15 miles from their home after dark, with a baby? Someone who wants to hide something, that's who.
"He appears to have been murdered." a muscle in Phil's jaw clenched, or course he'd been murdered, Phil wanted to know how. God, but people are so inept.
"How did he get that way?"
"Them Feds say he was shot with an arrow." Again with the ineptitude, Phil was now contemplating the many ways through which he would make this man's existence hell once he got back to headquarters.
"You were first on scene, yea?"
"No, sir, Tommy was; he's a ranger, you know those guys that patrol these trails and make sure the tourists are safe and all." Right, this was definitely the wrong tree.
"Where is Tommy then?"
"It's his week off, he's probably at home sir." Which was definitely not here.
"Can you leave his address with agent Smith over there, and I'll take over from here." Phil turned and walked away, to the place where the body had been found. Smith would handle sheriff inept, and Phil could do his job; confirm whether this was Barton's doing, or deny it. That he could do, because that was his job, and was damned good at it.
A baby. A real, breathing, tiny little baby. Clint didn't think the child could be more than a few months old, but the kid also looked to be underfed; so there was really no way for him to know how old the baby was. Clint didn't know what to do, not yet, but he wasn't panicking any more, so there was that at least. He'd cleared camp a few hours ago, left it so no one and nothing would be able to say he'd been there. He was now a good 40km away; far, but not quite as far as he'd like. There was no real way of telling when a ranger would happen by that trail, it could have been that very morning or it could be a week from then. So no head start was enough for Clint to feel at ease.
He was carrying the baby in his backpack, with makeshift leg holes and his extra sweater for warmth; that wouldn't be enough soon, the baby would need food, and diapers? Yes, or something to catch its shit, so plastic bag or diapers. Clint figured he'd look less suspicious if he had diapers on the baby.
"What's your name kid? I can't keep calling you kid, or baby. How about Taylor?" The baby kicked him, and sort of grunted, which Clint assumed wasn't a positive. The man had been muttering about the kid breaking stuff when he cried, maybe the kid was a mutant; if that were the case, then Clint didn't know how much the baby understood, so he was going to talk to it like it was a real person instead of a miniature one.
"What about Colin?" Another kick, "Stan?" Another kick, "Brian?" The kid definitely understood more than the average baby. "How's about Franklin, or Frank, or Frankie?" Clint thought the kid may giggled, or gurgled he couldn't really decide which, but there was no kick so he figured that meant the kid was happy.
"So Frankie, I'm sorry about, y'know, killing your dad and all." He wasn't, not really, Frankie's dad was going to kill him; and that shit just isn't cool. Sure Clint's dad had been awful, he'd hit Clint and Barney and their mom, but he'd never even once threatened to kill any of them. Even though being with his dad had sucked, not being with his dad had sucked more, being an orphan really sucked; and that was the lot that Clint had now given to this baby.
Clint sighed, now was not really the time to be stumbling down memory lane, now was the time to make himself very scarce very quickly.
The sun was starting to set, Frank was crying, Clint was starving; and he'd been hiking the entire day, he really just needed to catch a break.
"I was in the circus you know, had the best act ever; I am the world's greatest marksman, or at least that's what all the posters said. It wasn't the best life but it was mine you know, something I got for myself; sure Barney got us to the circus, but I'm the one who got myself apprenticed to-" Clint still had a hard time saying their names out loud, afraid maybe that they'd hear him or something, he didn't really know, he just didn't like saying them. "Anyway, it was me that got us a trailer to sleep in, instead of sleeping with the animals; though I kind wanted to stay with the animals, they left me alone."
Clint had been talking idly to the baby for the better part of 2 hours, his throat was dry and he'd given the last of the water to Frank. His voice seemed to help keep the kid calm, like he didn't cry so forcefully or something. Clint didn't know, he didn't know a lot of things and it was starting to grate on him; he didn't like being in the dark.
He finally got to a road, the sun was just dipping below the horizon. He'd come from the south, he mentally called up his map of the area; with how far he figured he'd gotten, he should be about 5km from a town called Speculator, hopefully they had food.
As he trudged down the road he started to hum, a quiet little tune under his breath; loud enough for Frank to hear, but softly enough so as not to draw attention. He crested a hill and saw the dim lights of a small town, he could have cried for the relief he felt. Clint took a quick inventory of himself; dirty, sweaty, baby in a backpack, no food, no tent, no feasible reason to be in this state. Unless, yes, that crazy idea would have to work. He stopped and bent to remove his shoe, where he kept any and all of the money he'd ever earned in his life; he had 100$, he hoped it was enough.
When he got into the town he realised it was more of a village, it didn't even have a real traffic light, just a stop sign with a flashing light. There was a corner store which was thankfully still open, an ice cream place, some sort of 'Italian' joint and what seemed to be a gym. Store first; diapers and baby food were the most important, then water, then food for Clint and then maybe a baby carrier. He slowed his walk a little, then decided better of it; if he wasn't rushing after the story he planned in telling, well then he wouldn't be considered a normal person.
He entered the corner store in a rush, taking deep heaving breaths; the eyes of every patron were fixed on him. A kindly looking lady came over to him.
"Are you alright young man?" Time to spin some epic yarn.
"No ma'am, I was camping with my uncle and a bear attacked our site an' I've been running for an hour trying to find somewhere safe. And I got lost, and my baby cousin was heavy so I had to fit him in my bag. And we don't have food, or diapers and I don't even know if my uncle is alive. And-" The woman laid a hand on his arm, and she looked at him and her eyes we sad.
"I lost my Doug to a bear that gone mad, about 20 miles from here; not too long ago neither. No one caught that damn bear yet either, they'll double their efforts now, don't you worry." She gave him a hug, he tensed; no one had ever hugged him, it was weird. Frank seemed to sense his discomfort because he was getting restless and little cries were coming over Clint's shoulder. "You come with me dear, I'll make sure you get fed and you'll be staying with me tonight, you can use my phone if you like."
"I couldn't bother you like that ma'am, I don't want to be a burden I jus-" The woman tsk-ed at him, and proceeded to lead him further into the store; she took him down an aisle that seemed to be dedicated to babies.
"Its no bother, you need a place to stay and a motel ain't no place for a baby. I have a room you can use, and I have one of those little travel cribs that my son uses for my gran kids when he visits. Now come on, we have to get you some diapers and some formula for your little cousin; then you're coming with me and eating some food, then I'll let you sleep."
"I- thank you." Clint didn't really know what else to say, no one had ever shown him this much kindness before. It was overwhelming.
"What's your name son?"
"Will Brandt ma'am, and this is my cousin Franklin." She smiled at him.
"My name is Gertrude, but I like to be called Trudy." Trudy was quickly making a case for herself to be at the top of Clint's list, he wished he could have met her under different circumstances. Maybe a circumstance where he wasn't lying to her.
Phil couldn't find any evidence of another person having been in the area, aside from the 'police' and the Feds; there was what appeared to be vomit near the tree line, but there was so little of it left that he couldn't know how long it had been there or to whom it belonged. There were a lot of little things that pointed to a person maybe having been in the area recently, but nothing big; there were notches in trees where arrows could have been lodged, there were a few snares and some noise traps, but those all appeared old. Nothing concrete. Phil didn't like dead ends, and he disliked open-ended ends even less, they left too much to the interpretation of the person who found them.
Tommy had been much more useful than sheriff Tubbs, and he even spoke properly; Phil's day was looking up.
"When you found Mr. Burns, he was dead, is that correct?" Phil had his own report in front of him on the table, a report which he filling out in his own neat and concise handwriting.
"Yes sir, I didn't even know that he was missing, I was just doing my rounds of the trails out there. From what I could see he was long dead, the animals had scavenged a lot of him; I thought that was maybe how he'd died. But the FBI thinks he was shot with an arrow." Phil wrote this all down, making a note to have this ranger promoted to sheriff, he was way more observant and competent than Tubbs.
"Was there an arrow anywhere near Mr. Burns?"
"No sir, there was nothing near him, except for the animal tracks. I looked around, but I didn't see anything else. I ran back to my truck and radioed it in. I can't imagine how the FBI decided this was a murder." Pure, unadulterated conjecture, that's how.
"And there was no sign of a child anywhere?" The look of shock on Tommy's face was genuine, the FBI had really kept a tight lid on this one.
"No! There was a kid with him? Shit, no I didn't see a kid. I hope the animals didn't get him."
"The animals didn't get him, the Feds believe that Mr. Burns was murdered and that his son was taken from him by the murderer."
"Are you going to catch this guy?"
"Yes." Because he is Phil Coulson, and he has a belt of deadly paperclips and he is damned good at his job.
"Good, ain't nothing good that ever comes from kidnapping." And isn't that the truth.
"Thank you for your time Tommy," and Phil meant it.
"Yes sir, good luck." Phil left with a small smile on his lips, he thought it was amusing when people in their 50's called him sir; he also knew that there was something amuck with the FBI's investigation. Someone was feeding them some bull, and that someone seemed to have it out for Barton; and since Barton is Phil's job, Phil knows that there are only three people who would go this far to get Barton. Well Phil wouldn't let them have him, Barton was his job and no one was going to interfere with that.