It's little more than a scrap by now, a roughly three-by-four inch piece of faded yellow fuzz with a small bit of satin binding hanging on for dear life. He can't remember not having it; it's with him in his earliest memories, and he takes it to the orphanage and carries it into the circus. He gets made fun of, and beat up a lot, but he hangs onto it anyway. Secrets it away under a loose floorboard under his bed (orphanage) and hides it behind a false panel in his trunk (circus).
Somewhere along the way it gets a small hole - which he worries bigger with his fingers - then it tears, and then he loses a piece of it in Biloxi. It tatters further in that shitty laundromat in Hannibal Missouri. He mends it as best he can each time, but it still gets smaller as the years pass, until he gives up and trims it to an easy-to-carry size.
When he's in the ring he keeps it tucked between his costume and his skin, where the feel of the soft fabric at first calms him and helps his focus until tucking it into place simply becomes part of his pre-show routine.
He manages to sneak it into the Army, carries it across multiple continents, takes the ribbing from his unit with good humor when it's inevitably discovered. After all, they each carry something that reminds them of home, and a small piece of worn blanket is no different than a picture or a small token.
When he gets
coerced into joining recruited by SHIELD it comes with him, hidden in the depths of his battered duffel. He spends the next few months going through secret-government-agency boot-camp (which is a whole different kind of boot-camp) and sleeping with yellow fuzz pressed against his cheek, something he hasn't done in years.
He makes it through and is sent on his first mission which, in the tradition of first missions everywhere, goes totally sideways. Still, he manages to pull it off anyway and keep hold of his blanket in the process so he's not too upset. Feels pretty good actually. He finds that underneath all the subterfuge and debriefings and endless paperwork, SHIELD’s not too different than the army. Cooler toys and a better paycheck, but still, not all that different.
Coulson knows about his blanket, of course, because Coulson's his handler and if you can't trust your handler who can you trust. Fury knows, because Fury knows everything, and the sooner you accept that Agent Barton the easier your life will be here at SHIELD. Medical knows because they've had to cut him out of his uniform more than once (which is why the yellow fabric is as small as it is now, and why he always keeps it tucked into the same spot between his vest and his skin, and why they're much more careful about how they go about removing his uniform after the first time and his subsequent shit-fit).
Natasha knows, because of course Natasha knows.
After Loki, he starts sleeping with it again, worrying the threadbare material and rubbing the tiny patch of satin binding against his chin until he falls asleep or the sun rises, whichever happens first.
After Loki, he starts to keep it in his front pants pocket when he's not in uniform, so he can touch it and rub it between his fingers when he needs to.
After Loki, he spends several hours tearing apart the Tower because he can't find it, and he can tell the others are starting to think he's lost his mind (again), because they don't know about his blanket, but he doesn't care because he needs to find it where is it he had when he fell asleep that afternoon.
He's in the main living room in the common area, feverishly digging into the couch cushions after having checked all the DVD and game cases and emptied all the drawers in the entertainment center, while Bruce and Steve watch, worry writ large on their faces as they offer to help him find whatever it is he’s looking for, when Natasha appears in the doorway. She takes a moment to survey the wreckage, then crosses the room and puts a hand on his arm.
"Clint," she says, quiet but firm, and he looks up from his frantic search of the couch. She has his blanket in her other hand, and he sees that she's sewn a new binding to one side of it. He opens his mouth to yell, then realizes that the silky piece of fabric is from Coulson's favorite tie, and his throat nearly closes up as the adrenaline rushes from his veins.
"Oh, 'Tasha," he chokes out, before collapsing onto the couch. She goes down with him, wraps her arms around him and holds him as he clutches the scrap of his woobie to his chest. He doesn't know if Bruce and Steve stay or leave, doesn't care. Later he'll sit down with the others and explain, tell them everything, but right now all he can do is run the new silk binding through his fingers, against his lips, and let it comfort him.