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My Tale of Woe

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Clint was confused, he was always confused or scared these days. Mommy and Daddy and Barney and all the grown ups were using words he didn’t know like ‘dyslexia’ and ‘retarded’ and other words that he did know, like ‘stupid’. When they got home from meeting the teachers, daddy got mad and shouted and when he ran and hid he heard crashing noises and crying. He huddled tighter into a ball under his bed. The door creaked open and Clint scooted backwards away from the now bright doorway. “Clint?” whispered Barney. “Where are you hiding?” Clint shuffled out from under the bed, peeking out from under the slats. “Barney?” he whispered back. “Why is daddy so mad? What do they mean about dyslexsica? Why is mommy so sad?”
“You ask too many questions,” Barney muttered as he wiggled to get under the bed with Clint. It was a tight squeeze for the now 9 year old boy, still plenty of room for Clint, but he’d always been small for his age. “Dads mad because everything is different now he’s back from the army. I dunno what dyslexsica is, but don’t worry, you may be stupid but I’m gonna look after you. Mom is sad because dad is mad, you know that, stupid,” he affectionately ruffled his brother’s hair as Clint processed his words. As the words registered he shoved his brother. “’m not stupid,” he mumbled. “Jus’ that sometimes the letters get all messed up and the words are weird…” he trailed off to silence with a large yawn. Barney wrapped an arm around Clint’s shoulder causing Clint to snuggle in and use his brother’s shoulder as a pillow. “Will you wake me up when they’ve stopped shouting?” he asked innocently enough. Barney snorted. “In that case, I’ll wake you up after dad’s gone to sleep, or when he dies,”
“No! Don’t say that!” Clint shouted, covering his ears. “Don’t say that, God might hear you and if he does and he kills daddy what are we gonna do? You can’t kill daddy!” Clint began wailing as he struggled to pull out of Barney’s grasp. “Shhhh!” he whispered in earnest, trying to quiet his distraught younger brother. “Do you want him to come up here and smack you? Because if you keep your yelling he-“ he cut himself off as they heard a loud stomping of boots on wood.
“Which one of you brats was screaming?” he slurred, throwing open the door as he staggered into their room. He saw a foot sticking out from under the bed and lunged for it, grabbing it and dragging Clint out from his little hidey hole. Clint went quiet when his father held him up by his collar in front of his face, his breath stank like whiskey and his eyes were bloodshot. He raised a fist, blood spattered and bruised, and shook it in front of Clint’s face, he squirmed and whimpered, trying to get out of the iron grip his father had him in. “It was you weren’t it?” he demanded, shaking him roughly. “No more screaming, no more shouting, and no more hiding under the bed. Boys don’t hide, they fight! I didn’t raise no coward. Then again, I didn’t think I raised an idiot and that’s what you are,” he dropped Clint hard onto the floor with distain. “Can’t even read or write properly,” he scoffed, swaying where he stood. “Now fuck off and go grab your mamas apron strings or something just as babyish,” he turned and stumbled out. Clint sat up from where he was dumped on the floor, watching as Barney crawl out from under the bed. He looked solemnly at his brother. “You were right Barney, I shouldn’t have cried. I’ll try not to cry as much because it makes daddy mad. I’ll never cry again,” he swore with determination, wiping tears and snot onto his shirt, looking older than his 5 year old face should. And little did he know that he’d keep that promise for years and years to come until one day a man with an eye patch told him his husband was dead. And on that day, Clint broke his promise never to cry again as his floor was ripped from under him and he fell into the abyss of loneliness. But that’s not a story for now. Now we focus on the past, the distant past when Clint still thought people were generally pretty decent and if you were nice to folks they’d be nice back. So, let’s look at the story as it unfolds, let’s look at the next few years…

Chapter Text

Clint was in the tree out the back of their house, hiding from his dad. He knew he was only little but he was always climbing trees despite his mother’s warnings not to. He knew all the best places to hide and most of them were up in the branches where big people couldn’t get to. He’d had lots of practice at finding the best spots that were out of sight and tucked away, they were his safe places and he never felt safer than he did up high. He’d gotten better at hiding other things too, good at hiding the flinches and the bruises and the sniffles. Good at hiding how hungry he was, how much he hurt and how scared he was. But his mother, he never hid from her. She protected him from his father’s flying fists and Barney’s cruel words, she was his saviour, his saving grace from his daddy’s temper and Barney’s scorn. “Clint,” she called quietly from the base of the tree. “Clint baby, it’s all right to come down now, your daddy’s asleep and Barney is out at a friend’s house. It’s just you and me tonight sweetheart,” she murmured, reaching her arms up to catch him. “Come down now baby,” she whispered. She was always quiet these days, it was her way of hiding from her husbands temper. Barney stayed away from the house as often as he could, Clint climbed up high and sat quietly for hours, and she, well, she just shrunk into herself, creating a smaller and silent target for his rage. As she caught her youngest son round his waist and propped him on one bony hip, she thought about her boys’ personalities. Clint was so much like her, but Barney, she could see so much of Harold in Barney and that frightened her somewhat. But Barney was hers and she wouldn’t let Harold take them away, no matter how much vitriol he poured into their ears, she was there with soothing caresses and kind words, trying to stem the anger and resentment she so feared they would start to harbour. She loved both her boys so much she would do anything for them, even protect them with her life if necessary and she had on many occasions had to do so, Harold often lashed out a heavy-booted foot in their direction and Edith always made sure he hit nothing but her. She wrapped her arms tighter around Clint as he clung to her like a little monkey, clutching him to her chest as she walked back to their small house. Clint cuddled into her, folding his small 6 year old body impossibly closer, his ma always brought out the softer, more vulnerable side he kept hidden at school and home. “What’s for dinner ma?” he asked, not looking up from her shoulder, as if he were hiding from the world. He was curled so small he didn’t see how his mother’s face fell when she thought of the empty cupboards and how the fridge didn’t have anything except beer in it. “PB&J sandwich again tonight Clint,” she mumbled into his soft hair, glad that Barney was being fed well at his friend’s house, it meant that Clint could have a bit more food compared to other nights. She made it back inside the house without having to take a break to rest her ribs or leg, despite the injuries screaming at her with every step carrying Clint, though by the end of the short trip she was limping and breathing heavily. She put him down on the counter when they arrived in the kitchen. She got the makings of the sandwich out of the cupboards and bread bin and proceeded to make a single sandwich with what was left. “Ma, where’s your dinner?” Clint asked inquisitively. “Are you not hungry again?”
“No baby,” she said quietly. “I’m not hungry, but it means a lot that you asked sweetheart, never lose that kindness you have inside ok?” she placed a thin finger under his chin, gently guiding him to meet her eyes. “You may not be the smartest person in the world, but the size of your heart more than makes up for it. You keep loving as much as you do and you’ll be ok, yeah?”
“Yeah,” he replied before launching himself into a bearhug. “I love you mama,”
“And I love you too Clint,” she wheezed back at him. “Now, it’s time to eat!” she picked up Clint again and placed him at the table, leaving for a moment to return carrying his sandwich and a glass of water. “Here you are baby,” she gave him the plate and cup and sat down next to him, glad to be off her bad leg and resting her ribs by breathing shallowly. “After dinner I’ll help you with your homework and then it’s bed time. What’s tonight’s homework?” she asked.
“Spelling,” Clint replied, his cheeks stuffed like a hamster. “And math but I already did that on the bus,” he took another giant bite of his dinner, swallowing the first easily though it looked like he might choke at any moment.
“Clint, I told you not to take the calculator out the house,” his mother admonished. “We’ve only got one and I need it for our taxes and Barney needs it for his homework too, it’s not fair of you to take it to school, what if you lost it?”
“But ma!” he objected. “I didn’t take it to school! I swear I didn’t! I did it in my head I promise!” he continued, getting louder and more upset as he felt accused of stealing. His mother hushed him quickly, fearing to wake her husband.
“Shhh, ok Clint, I believe you. Did you also manage to do your spellings?” she asked, trying to change the subject. Clint shifted sulkily. “No, reading and spellings and stuff is hard,” he mumbled, pushing the last of his dinner around on his plate before offering it to his mother. “I know you said you’re not hungry ma, but I’m full,” he lied. “Do you want the rest of my sandwich?” he asked, pushing the plate to where she sat. “Oh Clint, thank you so much sweetheart but I’m ok really-“ she was cut off by her stomach making a rumbling noise. “Are you sure you’re full baby?” she asked, practically salivating at the thought of less than half a sandwich, but not willing to starve her youngest son even if she was starving herself. “I’m full I promise,” he replied, crossing small fingers under the table. “You can have it ma,” he hopped down from the table and scampered off to his school bag, dragging a sheet of paper out from the depths. He brought it and a pencil back to the table and sat down again, sticking his tongue out as he tried to read the words without them jumbling up as he read. Eventually he got fed up and angrily threw his pencil across the room. It was only poor luck which sent the pencil careening towards an old china lamp balanced on a side table. Both Clint and his mother froze as the lamp teetered for a second before falling to the floor with an almighty crash of broken china and glass. They sat there in stunned silence before hearing movement from upstairs and then footsteps on the stair case. “Run,” whispered his mother. “Run outside and hide you hear me Clint? Don’t come back until I find you ok?” she pushed him towards the back door. Sadly, Harold Barton had descended the stairs faster than either of them thought and caught Clint in one meaty fist. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he roared. “Breaking shit in my house and then running away like a coward? Stay and face the consequences like a real man, not some stupid kid!”
“I’m sorry Harold I broke the lamp, I slipped and knocked into it,” Edith babbled as she ran closer to her husband. “Shut up you whore!” he shouted in her face, backhanding her hard and sending her staggering into a wall. He lifted Clint up by the front of his shirt and shook him enough to make his teeth rattle, he expected tears, he always expected tears and was angered by not seeing any in his son’s eyes. “What the fuck is wrong with you?!” he bellowed, shaking him again. “Can’t even fucking cry, you’re so stupid you can’t even cry. Stupid fuck,” and with his last swear he threw the boy to the ground, uncaring that Clint hit his head hard on a stool as he fell. Little did anyone know that those words would be the last Clint would ever hear clearly without the help of hearing aids.

Chapter Text

Shortly after Clint’s eighth birthday they came. The tall people in scary suits. For Clint though, everyone was much taller than him, some people who drove them to the new place threw around words like ‘malnourished’ and ‘underdeveloped’. He didn’t really know what they meant, he still didn’t know what the word ‘dyslexic’ meant, but it was being said with the other scary sounding words. But he didn’t go there anymore, not since mommy and daddy died and the suit people moved them to a foster home away from Waverly. Clint had prayed to the angels and God that mommy had told him existed in the sky, he prayed for his daddy to go away and never come back, he never thought God would take his mommy too. They were sitting in the living room, watching some cartoons through the fuzzy static of their ancient TV when lights swung into their drive. Both Clint and Barney scrambled to their shared room, fighting each other to press as far under the bed as they could. They could hear footsteps and murmuring voices approaching the door through the paper thin walls and the broken open window. “You sure this is the place?” asked one lady to the man she was with. “This isn’t exactly the best place for children…” she trailed off at her companions frown.
“I know,” he muttered angrily. “But it’s just about suitable according to the council and neither the kids nor Mrs Barton said anything so we could never put the kids into the system even though they used to be regulars at the clinic apparently,” he rubbed the sweat off his forehead under the setting August sun. He raised his hand and rapped sharply on the door, the blows ringing out through the small house. Neither of the boys moved from their position under the bed. “Be extra quiet dummy,” whispered Barney. “If they find us they’re gonna take us away from mom and dad. Dad gets mad now, imagine what he’d be like if they took us away,” he shoved Clint closer to the wall, stopping him from moving to answer the door. “Hello? Anyone at home?” called out the male voice. “My name is Sergeant Babb and this is Ms Beade from the CPS, is there anyone in?” he questioned again.
“Barney it sounds important,” murmured Clint from behind his brothers form. “What if they bust in here?” he asked, afraid. Barney scrambled out from under the bed and quietly crawled out of their room and upstairs. He grabbed their fathers gun from his bedside draw and ran downstairs, holding the gun out in front of him, held tightly in thin, small arms. “Go away! We don’t want nothing to do with the police! We ain’t done anything wrong!” he called out, waving the old revolver at the front door which had swung open on old and broken hinges. “Whoa, look kid, we just want a word ok? Why don’t you put the gun down and we can have a proper chat ok?” asked the cop, looking a little nervously at the gun wavering between knee and head height. Clint came out their room and ran to the newcomers, causing him to drop the empty gun to catch him before he could get to the door. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he whispered angrily, shaking his younger brother by the neck of his shirt as the cop scooped up the gun and checked it was empty. “You never go running to strangers, you know that! Dad’d have your hide if he saw you doing that!”
“Actually boys,” interrupted the cop gravely. “Its your momma and dad we want to talk to you about. I’m afraid to say they passed away when your daddy crashed the car early tonight,” he winced as Jane Beade from CPS elbowed him in the side with a scowl. “What? I broke it as easily as I could!”
“How would you boys like to have a sleepover with one of your family? Do you have any grandparents? Any cousins?” Barney shook his head mutely while Clint stared with round eyes at the 2 people filling the doorway. The lady and Barney carried on talking while he stood in shock, the words washing over him like the surf on a beach. He allowed Barney to force his feet into his too small shoes after he thrust a garbage sack of clothes into his arms. He let the lady take him by the hand and lead him to the car, a cop car. He hesitated at this, his daddy hated the cops, he always sneered when he saw them go by, he’d be real mad if he saw him and Barney in a cop car. Except, he wouldn’t be mad, because he was dead. He prayed that daddy would go away and die. He never thought he’d take mommy with him. As Clint sat down and distantly heard the door slam next to him, he curled up, hugging his knees and burying his face in the garbage sack. While they drove, Clint looked out the window at the town he knew whizzing by. He felt numb, unhearing of the words being tossed around in the car, uncaring of the hurried and whispered conversations of the cop and social worker in the front. He just sat there and watched the world spin by in a blur of sunset hues.