All of these things...none of these things... some of these things could be true. Clint likes high places, but he'll never tell you why.
When Clint is 6, his parents die. The police come to the door and he knows something's wrong. His brother grabs his hand and they run through the garden and climb the old apple tree that's over near the fence. The babysitter shouts at them, and Barney is crying and the police go and get a ladder, but for a while he's safe. He can pretend it's not happening.
But it is.
When Clint is 8, he's running as fast as he can and he doesn't look back. Barney isn't there, he was at baseball practice. Barney was his safety, and Clint was all alone.
They were going to get him.
"That's right Barton, run home to Mommy! Oh wait, you can't. She's dead!"
Faster and faster, through the streets...
A fire escape, old and rusty. He twists to the left and grabs the end of the ladder and starts to climb. The metal creaks ominously, but he doesn't care. He just keeps climbing. The bullies are gathered underneath him, throwing rocks, but they're scared. They won't climb. Besides, their aim stinks. He just has to get high enough. Then he'll be safe.
When Clint is 10, he holds his breath, crouched on top of the wardrobe. He's invisible up here. Safe. They never look up. Never. His new roommate is a bad person. He wanted Clint to do bad things. Clint didn't want to. He'd told Barney, and Barney had beaten the bad kid up. Which was very nice of him, but it had just made it worse. Now they didn't just want to make him do bad things with them. Now the bad kid and his friends wanted revenge. And they weren't going to try and beat up Barney. Barney was big.
Which meant that Clint was screwed. But, at least he'd learned an important lesson. He was never going to tell anyone anything important again.
He wished that they'd let him share with his brother.
When Clint is 12 he gets put in a foster home. He's been through a few, but he keeps getting sent back to the group home. Which was fine. he didn't want to be adopted. He wanted to stay with Barney, and they'd stopped placing them together back when Clint was seven. Said Barney was a bad influence.
Most of the homes have been okay though. But not this one. Mr Harris drank, and Mrs Harris was mean. They were in it for the money and the power. Clint hated how they acted like he was nothing, nobody. He made it worse, more violent, when he talked back. But talking back gave him some control. It let him have a little bit of power.
He gets good at hiding. Climbing. Getting out of the way.
Mr Harris tries to get into Clint's room one night. He can hear him shouting, knows he's drunk. He already has cracked ribs. He can't take another beating. He does what any self respecting kid would do. He climbs out the bedroom window and climbs up the clinging ivy to the roof and perches in the shadow of the chimney.
Mr Harris doesn't find him, but Clint's real tired, and it's cold up there. He loses his grip, falls. For the seconds before he hits the ground, he feels alive.
After he hits the ground, he doesn't feel much of anything till he wakes up in the hospital.
When Clint is also 12, he is rescued (or kidnapped, depending on who you ask) by Barney. They run away to join the circus, and even then it was a cliché. But they don't care, because they're together.
That's where Clint learns to shoot, to aim, to show off. He thrives.
Yeah, okay, so sometimes Swordsman and Trick Shot are a little harsh with him. But he's playing with knives. He has to learn to be more careful. He deserves every punch, every slap. He can't afford to make mistakes. Even Barney says he needs to stop messing around. Knives are dangerous.
When he's done training for the day, he goes up to the tightrope platform, or sits on the trapeze. While he's up there, he reads. He reads stories, he reads text books, anything he can get his hands on. He knows he's just a stupid orphan kid, and he knows he's only good for throwing things and shooting bows, but he wants to learn. He thinks he might need to be clever one day.
When Clint is 17, he finds out that Swordsman has betrayed the Circus. His first loyalty is to Barney, but it's been drilled into him since he was twelve that the Circus is family too. That you never betray the Circus. That he should put the Circus first. And he always has. He actually can't understand how Swordsman could do this.
He doesn't see them coming. He should have kept his mouth shut. He learned that as a kid. He was trapped on low ground. The kill box.
He wakes up in hospital, and Barney isn't there.
If he'd been up in the tree he would have seen them coming and he wouldn't have been hurt.
When Clint is 22 he is being chased. She's fierce and beautiful and he may have fallen in love with her the moment he saw her. She's also deadly. He runs faster, sprinting across the rooftops, before flinging himself off the edge, trusting that he'll reach the next one. And she doesn't flinch. She follows him right off the edge into madness. Yeah. He's in love. They met on a roof top.
When Clint is 24 a man he knows only as Agent shoots him in the leg. They're on a rooftop too. He's been told it's strange that this is a fond memory for him. He falls a little bit in love again.
"I gave you a choice, Mr Barton. And a warning."
"Yes, sir. But I don't really want to join a shadowy government organisation today. Thanks." He pressed his hands into the wound, knowing it wasn't anywhere near as serious as it could be, that the Agent had avoided all the major veins and arteries.
"What are you going to do then? Are you going to carry on chasing her across the globe? Carry on stealing and killing to try and get her attention again?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Okay. Maybe it's not about her. But you can't carry on like this. You have a choice."
"Join us or die? I've been given this speech before."The Agent rolls his eyes. He's wearing a suit and looks completely unruffled, despite their chase across the rooftops.
"No. Join us or rot in jail for the rest of your life. In jail where there are no roofs for you to run across, where you're trapped in a little room, where you won't have a bow."
Clint just stares. How does this man know him so well? When Agent offers him a hand up, Clint takes it.
When Clint is 25 he makes nests in the air vents all throughout SHIELD. And Coulson lets him. Fury tries to stop him at first, tries to tie him down. The other agents make fun of him, they mutter behind his back. But Coulson shuts them all down. He hasn't had anyone do that for him since he was a kid and Barney was still talking to him. Coulson even goes to Fury and explains that Clint works best like this so Fury had better back the fuck off. He'd actually used those words (Clint had been above, listening).
When Clint is 28, he brings in Black Widow. Roofs were involved. And Budapest. But we don't talk about that.
When Clint is 32 he perches in the rafters, slowly bleeding out. He can't go down there. They'd see him. And his earpiece was knocked out at some point during the fight. He just has to sit and wait. He's safe up here.
He closes his eyes.
When he opens them, there's a hand on his arm and another over his mouth and he tries to fight before he realises that's Coulson's voice hissing in his ear.
"It's okay, I've got you. Stand down, Barton."
He blinks a couple of times and then Natasha comes into focus gracefully crouched in front of him, leaning in to put pressure on the wound.
"The medics are inbound," she says, "but we have to meet them outside."
"We'll head up. We can get out through the roof," Coulson replies, and Clint lets everything fade away again.
When Clint is 36, Tony Stark invites him to live at Stark Tower. Avenger's Tower now. Tony invites them all. When he shows Clint his room, he's charmingly nervous and Clint can't help the smirk. It's perfect. On the top floor of the building, with roof access and a balcony. Tony had reinforced the mansize vents throughout the Tower specifically with Clint in mind. The nest at the top of the Tower was soon where Clint thought of when he thought of home.
Clint feels safe up high. Wouldn't you?