“Come on. I thought you were faster than this, Barton!” Dick called over his shoulder, and Clint glared at his friend's back as Dick laughed, darting through the crowds. He always did that, ran through the circus without a care in the world. He never looked at where he was going, even if he was crossing the busiest section of the fair. Clint bet he'd do that crossing the street, too. Dick was fearless. The circus was his home, though, and he didn't have to worry when he was here. He was different from Clint, he'd been born here, and it showed. Everyone knew him, looked out for him, liked him.
Clint was the outsider, even after being taken in by Swordsman. The man had taught him things, and Clint performed in his act, but that didn't make him family, not like Dick. He was like a little prince here, and Clint knew that was part of the reason why Barney and Dick didn't get along.
It was why Swordsman hated him, too, though Dick getting involved in Clint's business and telling his mentor not to hurt him didn't help things.
And this? Well, this was going to get them in a lot of trouble.
Dick was a trapeze artist, but he'd been fascinated by Swordman's eskrima sticks for a while now, and Clint didn't know if he was brave or stupid for “borrowing” them. Clint hadn't done much training because Swordsman and Trickshot were spending most of their time drinking. Barney had been using the opportunity to sneak off, never telling Clint what he was doing, and Clint didn't like it, but Dick was good at distracting him.
Like now, when he borrowed some of Swordsman's weapons and wanted to fight.
“You know he'll be angry, right?”
“If you're so scared, come join our act,” Dick said. “My parents won't mind, and you spend most of your time with me anyway.”
“I'm gonna train with Trickshot, remember? Your idea.”
“Yeah, sure, if either of them ever comes out of the bottle. If you want to train, train with me.”
“I thought we were training.”
“Swordplay later. More important things now,” Dick said, grinning at the look his friend gave him. He knew that Clint was frustrated, but if they were going to teach each other anything, Dick needed to start with what he knew best.
“I am not putting on tights and joining your act, okay? Forget it.”
“This isn't about an act.” Dick looked back over his shoulder. “Are you afraid of heights? Is that why you're not following me?”
“I am not scared,” Clint called up, taking the ladder two rungs at a time. “You're just insane, Grayson. I don't care what you say. You've got to be wrong in the head to go up there and do that without a net.”
Dick laughed. “It feels like flying, Clint. One day, when you stop being so stubborn, you'll see that. I'm not asking you to do that today. I just think you'll like this part of it,” Dick said as he climbed up onto the platform. “You remember telling me how you used to find a high spot in the orphanage so you could keep watch? And that way you felt safe even if Barney talking in his sleep wasn't keeping the bad away?”
“Yeah,” Clint said, joining him on the platform. He went to the edge and looked down. “This is the perfect perch. From up here, you can see every seat in the audience. You could find anyone. Trickshot could hit anyone from here.”
Dick frowned. Did Clint actually admire that? Did he want someone... dead? “That's not the answer to Swordsman.”
“Then why did you steal his sticks?”
“Borrowed them, and that's for later. I think I can use them, and you already know some of the Swordsman's act. You can use his blades. I'd rather use sticks. I don't want to cut anyone. That's too bloody,” Dick said. He pulled one out it and looked at it. Clint looked over and frowned at him. “I wonder if you could add shock things to these like tasers. That would be cool.”
Clint shook his head, going back to studying angles. He mimed firing an arrow like Trickshot would. Dick put the eskrima stick away and reached for the trapeze bar.
“You brave, Barton? I mean, if you are a chicken, the net is down there, so you don't have to be a baby and start crying or anything.”
“You are such a dick.”
“Like I've never heard that before,” Dick muttered, but they both laughed, and Clint took hold of the other side of the bar with a determined expression on his face. “Ready?”
“My parents wouldn't want us doing this without supervision.”
“Now who's chicken?”
Dick pushed them off, sending the swing forward, and they went into the air, flying. He loved this, loved being in the air. He didn't know anything else that felt like this. It was perfect. Wonderful. He could do this for hours and never get tired of it.
“Who needs to look both ways crossing the street when you can do this?”
Dick didn't know what Clint meant by that, but he laughed anyway.
They practiced on the ground and in the air. Clint didn't pick up on the aerial stuff, that was still Dick's thing, not his, but he loved that platform his family used. It was the perfect perch, a great little nest to settle into and watch everything that was going on. When they weren't borrowing Swordsman's stuff for training, they were up top, watching the others practice their routines. When the big top was empty, Dick would set up targets in the stands and Clint would use the bow Trickshot had given him to shoot them. His aim was getting better, and he was working on distance, too.
“You have the eyes of a hawk,” Dick said, pouting a little. “I didn't think you were going to find that one. I could have sworn I hid it better.”
Clint smiled, lining up another arrow. “It would be harder if they blended in with the seats more. They stick out like a sore thumb. What's with the color choices, anyway?”
“Like you can talk. You wear purple.”
“There's nothing wrong with purple.”
Dick rolled his eyes. Clint almost shoved him, but they were up high and the net was down. Even Dick wasn't supposed to work without it unless his parents were there.
“Robin!” Mary Grayson called, and Dick waved down at his mother. She motioned for him to come down, and he swung himself off the platform, flipping down onto the lower one. Every time Clint saw him do it, he worried. Dick was good, but it wouldn't take much for any of the Graysons to fall, and Clint didn't know what he'd do if Dick got hurt or worse, died.
Clint gathered up his bow and climbed down the ladder. He wasn't as good at acrobatics as Dick, not yet, or he could try that flip thing himself, though he'd scare everyone in the circus with it, he thought.
“You need to stop hanging around that kid.”
Clint tried not to jump at the sound of his brother's voice. “Dick's my friend, Barney. You haven't been around to know that, I guess, but he is. We're learning from each other. I've taught him some of what Swordsman taught me, and he helps me practice what Trickshot's been showing me. I would have asked you, but you're never here.”
“I've been working.”
“Working?” Clint shook his head. “The circus is our work. Our home.”
“We need more than we make here. I'm going to make enough to get us away from this place and you away from that kid.”
“Dick hasn't done anything wrong,” Clint said. “You're just mad because you can't give him noogies now that he can fight back.”
“You're my brother. Not his. I take care of you. No one else does. Not him and not his parents.”
Clint swallowed. “Did the Graysons offer to take me in again?”
“Forget it, Clint. It's not happening.”
With a nod, Clint turned to head back to the trailer he shared with Swordsman. He hadn't really thought he'd ever leave Barney, and he still didn't want to, but he did envy Dick. The other boy had so much freedom. Clint just felt more and more trapped, between his brother, his mentors, and the ones that would open up their home to him.
Dick could cross any road without looking twice. Clint had to walk so carefully, like he was on a tightwire and could fall off at any second.