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Errant Knight

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Clint Barton had a list. A constant, thrumming mantra that pounded in his head and reverberated through his arms as slashed and shot. A list of reasons that he had to keep going. Wanda. Barney. Laura. Cooper. Lila. Nate. Clint knew what it was like to have no one. Drifted out of a family that didn’t want him, into a circus that was only interested in how they could use him. At least SHIELD was honest about their intent, barring the ones that ended up being secret nazis anyway. Decades of isolation, but Clint finally found where he belonged- a woman that loved him, three beautiful children, a surrogate daughter figure even managed to reconnect to his roots and bury the hatchet with his blood brother. And they were gone, every one.

With a snap of a finger.

Barton wasn’t thinking about the man in front of him, half his age with a fraction of his reaction time as he twisted his blade and severed an arm. Wasn’t thinking about the man behind the counter, grabbing for a concealed shotgun with all the panic and clumsiness of some dumb kid who spent more years getting comfortable with threatening to use a gun than the reality of a fight. Hawkeye would have had a clever quip for the thug, and some cute trick arrow to take him out and leave him time to re-evaluate his life choices in a cell. But Barton wasn’t thinking about what Hawkeye might have done- Hawkeye died with his family.

Wanda. Barney. Laura. Cooper. Lila. Nate.

A throwing knife found itself embedded in the man’s throat before he could even draw his concealed weapon. As he stumbled backwards, with a sickening gurgling sound and clutching at the gashing wound, Clint briefly made eye contact- he couldn’t have been older than 18, 19 tops. Clint told himself it didn’t matter. Billions of people were gone, and this piece of shit was old enough to make his bed. Instead, he returned his focus to the man in front of him; losing a limb seemed to take the fight out of him. He might have been pleading for mercy. Clint told himself that didn’t matter either. He could only hear one sound. Could only feel the shaking of his sword-arm. He answered the man’s pleas the only way he knew how.

Wanda. Barney. Laura. Cooper. Lila. Nate.

There was a word for people like him. A samurai without a master. A killer without a cause. The broken shell of a man who has lost his purpose. The feel of the word left a bitter taste in his mouth as he chewed on it, but what didn't anymore? This is what the world was now. The only way to make any sense of it, to find any reason to keep going, was to carve it out with his own two hands. Hawkeye had died with his family, all that remained was Ronin.

Clint had been tracking the Cartel’s movements for the last six months. After The Snap, the already horrific sex trade market spiraled out of control; even with half the population gone, there would always be degenerates and monsters in places of affluence- now there were just fewer people competing for the resources, and for the people. The Cartel had been getting bolder, but they were mostly targeting people that no one would notice disappearing. An easy feat when the world is in the middle of a panic trying to coordinate a census for a 50% missing population. They preyed on anyone young and left without a family or a home, and did so as if no one was watching.

A single trip to a small, somewhat notorious bar not far from the US border was all it took for Barton to have picked up the trail. As it turns out, cocksure cartel kidnappers could be chatty drunks, and he wouldn’t have even needed the years of SHIELD stealth ops training to tail him to the warehouse that Clint was now cleaning out. With the last of the thugs dealt with, finding what he was looking for took a matter of seconds- after all, he had been trained to fight para-military threats to the security of the nation; finding information on over confident gang movements was comparatively effortless. A jailbroken Starktech laptop, not even password protected, sitting next to a bilingual human anatomy text book and a man’s weight in cocaine. After a cursory scan, he found an address about three days south, and information about “an exchange of goods”. 12 children, specifically. Each child had an individual dossier on their health and treatment. Pictures, even. A crude note indicated that the kidnappers wanted to assure their prospects of what they were buying.

Clint committed every detail to memory, to the sentence. His grip tightened around the hilt of his sword, knuckles going white where they weren’t already bloodied red, and as he read, Clint Barton knew a lot more people were going to die.