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Not A Hero

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Lila Barton is five when her baby brother Nate is born. Cooper's eight. By the time she's his age she notices how her father spends more time out in public being a hero then at home being a dad. And when he does come home he's got another broken bone and another empty promise about hanging up his bow.

 

It doesn't bother her until she's nine and her first ballet recital happens. Her father had sworn he'd be there for her, sitting next to her mother with Nate on his lap and Cooper by his side but when the time comes it's her mother behind the wheel of the family car because her father's out in the world stopping some crazy scientist.

He says he's sorry and takes her out for ice cream with Aunt Nat. She watches them bicker and realizes it's different from the way he and her mother go at each other when they think her and Cooper are asleep. That their tones are light and there's a sparkle in his eyes that's only ever there when the other Avengers are around.

 

When she's ten he misses both her and Cooper's birthdays. He takes them out separately after making sure they'd liked the gifts he and the others picked out. He always says others, like the word Avenger was something dirty. Maybe it was.

Her parents are always fighting. At least, now they are. Maybe they always did and she just didn't know it. When he's home and they think both her and Cooper are sleeping they go to war in the kitchen. They don't know that her and Cooper sit on the top of stairs listening in agreeing silently that their mother was right, he was being a shitty dad and Avenging was going to kill him.

 

When she's eleven he makes Nate's birthday, but just barely. He comes home at ten at night, knee blown out and four new scars littering his right arm. She doesn't jump up to greet him anymore, but she does say hi to him from the couch. He ends up wordlessly passing her by. She's a living human being but when her dad's home Lila can't help but feel like a ghost.

That same year she sees her dad on television being reviewed by a reporter. He's asked if he has a special someone in his life and he says 'no, that there's no time for a family when you're a hero'. She doesn't forget it but by the time he comes home three months later she much rather have a hug from her dad then a screaming match with him.

 

When she's twelve Cooper is fifteen and nearly died. He'd gone to a party and drank too much. The doctors, after pumping his stomach, tell her mother that he'll be fine but he'll need to stay in the hospital for a while. Her dad rushes into the hospital three days later with Captain America on his heels. It may have worked when they were five and eight but to the Barton kids now Captain America is just a man who asks too much of their family.

 

Lila is fourteen when she has her first boyfriend. His name is Jake and he's only a year younger than Cooper. She doesn't bother to take him home because by this time in her life no one is ever home anymore. Laura, her mother takes extra hours at the clinic and Cooper and Nate are always with a friends house and her father is still out there fighting bad guys and pretending that they don't exist.

 

Clint comes home when Cooper joins the army. She's fifteen. Nate's ten and when Clint drags Cooper out to celebrate he asks her why their dad's never home. She shrugs her shoulders and tells him 'he has better things to do than have a family'. Laura doesn't disagree with her but grounds her anyway because Nate's ten and it was a fucked up thing to say to a ten year old. Even if it was true.

 

When she's fifteen and gets arrested for underage drinking she calls Tony Stark. She tells him that the least he and Rodgers can do for constantly whisking her father away on dangerous missions is to pay her bail and expunge her record if it gets that far. Tony's head spins while he listens to her. He has a flashback to four years prior to when Cooper was arrested for beating another teen and had called him for bail money and an expunged recorded if convicted. Tony made sure that there wasn't a trail and that Clint was home two days later. And while he's texting his lawyer to poster her bail he wonders if Nate Barton will call him one day in five or so years and ask for the same thing.

 

When she's sixteen she doesn't bother to have a party. Instead she takes Nate, with their mother's permission and visits Cooper in DC. He's nineteen and living in a small apartment after serving a single tour in the middle East. Her father's they're waiting for them when her and Nate arrive home. Their mother isn't. She's at her lawyer's, something Lila can't blame her for. And when her father tells her this she can tell he doesn't blame her mother either.

Clint doesn't fight for the kids or the house or anything really. Instead he packed up his things and had it all moved to New York. He ends up leaving behind a handful of old arrows and broken bows. Lila makes sure to use it as kindling at the next bonfire she and her friends have.

 

She's seventeen now. Clint comes to town for a week and wants to help her with the whole college application process but he's a dumb kid from the circus who went into the army instead of school so he isn't much help. After asking what she wants to be- Biochemical Engineer -he makes the mistake of joking around and saying that how as a little kid she'd run around the house saying that she wanted to be a hero just like him.

“Please,” she scoffed, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes at him, “I only said that because I was too dumb to realize you aren't a real hero.” Clint looked at her with wide eyes and a frown. Lila is looking down at the large stack of college panthlets. The University of Utah looked pretty nice.

“What do you mean I'm not a hero?” He was an Avenger, he was hero.

“I mean,” she sighed, “You're not a hero dad, you're a coward. You much rather fight aliens at sixty then come to Cooper's graduation because coming home makes you realize you're not like Thor or Natasha or Steve, that you won't live forever. That you're mortal and you're going to die."

Clint stairs at his daughter, silently, for a good moment. He doesn't bother to open his mouth to try to speak, he's to in shock that his little girl would ever say this to him. Instead he moves his chair away from the table and gets up, and leaves the room.

Lila knows she should feel bad, she does, but truth is she feels great. She takes a deep breath in and for the first time since she was eight there isn't a heavy weight there pressing down on her lungs. Lila smiles to herself, her mother was right her whole life-the truth could set you free.