“Sometimes- sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero.”
It’s almost a whisper. He looks up from the paper he’s holding in his hand. His shaking hand. She’s met him before, but every single time that she has seen him, he’s always felt distant. Like he didn’t belong there, and she doesn’t wonder why. He was never like his brother - they were carved from the same rock, but they came out very different.
His words fade as she looks around. Most of them are wearing black - she recognizes Natasha, wearing a thin veil across her face. If she were to be honest, she’d say that she had expected her to cry, but not so openly. Maybe it’s because this all came as such a surprise - as such a terrible, terrible surprise.
Barney’s words fade back in, as she recognizes Melinda May, Hank Pym, Tony Stark and James Rhodes. There are others here, too, others that she knows come from SHIELD. Because that’s where Clint belonged. With them. As an agent, but also as a role model.
“Clint once told me that- that he wouldn’t let his work get the better of him.” Pause. “He told me that he knew what he was getting into - joining the secret service, like he called it back then. That he’d made a deal to keep Laura and Cooper secret- that he’d be keeping them secret forever. Nobody would ever give them up, to anyone, because that’s the secret service he joined. It was only much later that I learnt it was SHIELD. The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. We learnt about it at the FBI, they told us that it was a special task division, where they’d handle the cases we couldn’t. That Howard Stark and Peggy Carter had created it, in the hopes of creating a better future when they lost Steve Rogers to the icy North, when his Valkyrie went down.
He told me of the stories he heard there - of the heroes he learnt to admire. Nick Fury, Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, Alexander Pierce, Phil Coulson, Melinda May- all incredible people, of whom, only two still live and breathe. He told me that those were the people that he wanted to impress and be like - and if he could inspire just another rookie with an attitude to do something better, then he would have done a good enough job. Today, I see faces that I recognize from SHIELD. Young faces, whom I know knew Clint not as a young agent, but as the weathered and master assassin he became over the times.”
Barney finally pauses, and Maria realizes that her hands are shaking too.
She knew Clint well - ten years her senior, he was one of the youngest agents to go through the training before her. She beat his record by a month and a half - which never ceased to make him smile. He would tell her that if he hadn’t spent that month in isolation, he would still hold the record for youngest recruit into SHIELD’s ranks. She would laugh in his face and tell him that he should just have behaved back when he came in.
“We didn’t only lose Clint, though. We lost the Bartons,” Barney cuts in, and it feels like a knife to Maria’s heart - hearing him say it out loud, as flatly as he does, almost feels cruel. She still sees the smoke coming from their farmhouse, still hears the screaming from the horses in the barn and the creaking from the flames, still swallowing the last remnants of the woodwork.
Barney continues. “We lost Laura, the most valuable wife I could ever have wished for Clint. A childhood sweetheart that never wavered, that never faltered and never failed in her support in his mission in life. His steady rock, his safe place, his anchor. Without her, we wouldn’t be here. None of us. Laura was the kindest, warmest and friendliest soul I have ever had the pleasure to meet. And I knew her from our circus days. She was… the perfect match, for Clint.” He looks down at his hands again, and she notices a single tear rolling down his cheek, as he closes his eyes.
She wouldn’t have taken him for the crying kind, but then again- this isn’t a regular funeral. They lost an agent to a vicious personal attack, but they lost casualties.
They lost Laura too.
They lost the fucking kids .
Her hands ball into fists as the rage in her chest boils again, seething red and vicious at Thaddeus Ross, the one responsible for all this. In his quest to get revenge on the escape from the Raft, he’d cost them so much.
She takes a deep breath, as she focuses on Barney’s voice again. “Their three kids- Cooper, the one thing that scared Clint more shitless than being trapped in a collapsed building in Macau. How the hell was he supposed to be a father when he had no experience of one? When all the father figures he knew were distorted monsters, who beat and spat on him, turning him into something cold and cruel? He was- he was so afraid of failing. I’ve never seen him more scared than the night Cooper came into his life. He was terrified that he would be a bad parent! He was terrified that he would fail, that he would- that it would go wrong.” His voice is shaking, and she understands why.
“But it didn’t. Thanks to a kind soul, and their mutual love, Laura and Clint became the best fucking parents a kid could have. Then Lila came along, and she was their ray of sunshine - fuck-”
He takes a moment, looking up at the ceiling, looking up at the sky and she can’t take it anymore. It’s just a reception - a private reception where the people who knew Clint could come and pay their last respects. There had been some speeches, but she knew that Barney would want to say a few words. Nick had considered saying some of his own, but decided against it. Honoring Clint’s memory was best by remembering him instead of finding words that would feel too hollow to say.
“I’m sorry, I can’t finish this. I don’t know why I thought I could, but I can’t,” Barney finally says, and he leaves. Maria thinks that he storms out too dramatically, but then again that was always his ways. Drama. Barney Barton, the great bigger brother of Clint Barton, known to make the most of a situation. Seeing him like this?
She doesn’t know what she’s supposed to think.
So, instead, she remembers how Clint taught her to shoot. Noticed that she was a better aim with her left hand than her right, even though she was right handed. Taught her about the dominant eye - a trick her caught on from archery. She’d been unable to perform at top level for some time, in spite of the teaching. He’d told her to hold her arms out in front of her, eye level, palms facing away.
He’d told her to bring her hands together to form a small V shape, overlapping her thumb and fingers together, and while she laughed at the exercise, he’d told her to focus on a small object a couple of feet away. Told her to look at it with both eyes. And, while she smiled, unconvinced, he’d told her to bring her hands back, while keeping the object centered - and as he promised her, her hands did not come back in the middle of her face, but in front of her left eye.
‘ Trickshot taught me that, eventually ,’ he’d told her, with that smile of his. A cocky thing, at first. She always thought that he was too flirty, too reckless, too stubborn and too arrogant at the same time, until she was included in on his family secret. Then, it all started to make sense.
As she watches familiar faces leave around her, noticing Leopold Fitz following Melinda May out, she sighs.
Clint may have thought that he didn’t have a big impact on SHIELD, but he did.
More than he possibly could have imagined.
To have lost him - to have lost his family - because of a mistake?
It all seemed so futile.