Clint figured the one lucky break in his life was that his Words coiled around his upper thigh, which meant nobody would get even a casual glimpse under normal circumstances.
Because life at the Circus had suddenly gone downhill once his Words appeared and Clint, because he was young and stupid and stupidly proud that he now had Words scrawled across his skin which meant he was really and truly a grown up (at fourteen! Clint shook his head whenever he remembered his idiot younger self) had forgotten the basic rule of life: keep quiet and keep your head down.
He had watched for days as the thin smudged line of dark ink slowly formed scrawled letters and words. It was hard to read because it coiled around his leg and was designed to be read standing up, so Clint was left twisting and squinting to try and make out the scrappy script (it made him feel better that his soulmate couldn’t write too good either).
Eventually Clint gave up and went to Barney because, as had been said before, Clint was an idiot.
Barney yanked his pants down and shoved Clint around and around until he could read the whole thing. Then Barney started laughing.
“What,” Clint whined, “Barney, what’s it say?”
“It says,” Barney sputtered, still laughing, “it says, Oh shit, you gotta help me hide the body.”
“Oh.” Clint rubbed his hand over the words. That was kind of nice, being able to help his soulmate like that.
“Looks like my dumb little brother is going to meet someone who knows what he’s good for.”
“Barney,” Clint complained, because his soulmate was going to love him, that was what soulmate’s were for.
“Just wait til I tell Trickshot.”
But tangled up in his pants, Clint wasn’t in a position to stop him. He didn’t know who told the whole Circus but he liked to think it was Trickshot and not his brother. Even if Trickshot kept to himself while Barney prided himself on hanging out with everybody.
Not that Clint got what was so wrong with his Words. If his soulmate needed help, of course Clint would help them. Clint would do anything he could. Wouldn’t anybody?
Apparently they wouldn’t.
Mirielle, who was sweet and dainty, and somebody of importance as she was the only one who could launch herself to very top of the acrobat pyramid, was the nicest about it.
“I feel really sorry for Clint, can you imagine having a soulmate like that?” She shivered theatrically and Leon, her boyfriend and one of the acrobatic supports, put his arm around her shoulders,
“Just about suits Baby Barton. Little thug deserves somebody like that.”
“Oh Leon, you are awful,” Mirielle scolded as she snuggled closer.
“No seriously, he better be far away when he finds them. Somebody who’d grab a complete stranger to help them cover up a killing. We don’t want anyone like that around here.”
Tamas, the trapeze catcher, snorted. “You’re forgetting Baby Barton’s this psycho’s soulmate. We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t murder us all.”
Mirielle shrieked and the rest of the guys laughed.
“You afraid of Baby Barton, Tommy boy,” sneered Leon.
“He’s not going to be five foot nothing forever, Lenny, and he’s going to grow up into somebody who’s perfectly happy to hide a body.”
There was a round of snorts as if to dismiss the probability of Clint ever growing up, but from that day the looks that came Clint’s way were more wary than scornful. No longer was he at everyone’s beck and call to fetch and carry or risk a box on the ears, instead he was mostly blanked from existence.
He preferred a semi-regular box on the ears actually, not that anyone asked him, it was better than being ignored.
Trickshot was happy though, Clint had a lot more time to practice and his aim grew better and better, and as it turned out later Trickshot had a second reason for being happy. He figured that Clint’s Words meant Clint would be happy to join in on robbing the Circus blind.
As Trickshot broke Clint’s ribs with his boot he told him, “Better toughen up kid, or your soulmate’s going to leave your whiney ass in the dust.”
And as Clint lay abandoned in hospital – able to tell when the nurses had seen his Words by how the way they treated him changed, because suddenly he deserved having the shit kicked out of him – he decided no matter what it took he was going to find his soulmate and never be lonely again.
Obviously he wasn’t going to find his soulmate in respectable society (which was a bit of a relief really, because Clint didn’t exactly fit into respectable society) so Clint went looking for the unrespectable. His first dead body made him throw up, and nearly throw in the towel, but he thought of his soulmate out there somewhere needing his help, gritted his teeth, and kept going. He was not going to let his soulmate down.
Still, he couldn’t quite bring himself to sign up as a mercenary, that was a bit too much like signing back up to being ordered, shoved, and kicked around again. Fortunately his excellent aim was so prized by certain people they were more than willing to hire Clint on a case by case basis.
Clint didn’t choose his career to become rich, but somehow found it happening anyway. He carefully saved most of his funds because he now knew that running from a hidden dead body was likely to be expensive. He wished his soulmate had been slightly more explicit with his Words – whose body did he need Clint to hide, did his soulmate know them, or was it random, was it an accident. (Clint liked to think it was an accident but he was getting less and less bothered with that as the years went by. His soulmate was the one who mattered – if only the tricky bastard wasn’t so hard to find). But if Clint knew more of the details, he could really plan out how they should proceed and the emergency kit he schlepped everywhere could be pared down.
He took jobs on every continent (Antarctica was cold) and searched as best he could. As he got better and better at dealing with dead bodies (although he never quite lost the need to scour his hands clean after he touched one), he started to take on retrieval work too. Objects sometimes (people would pay crazy money for bits of metal or faded paintings that Clint wouldn’t give two bits for) and sometimes people.
He was always slightly nervous his soulmate would turn out to be a kidnapper he’d been sent after. Clint didn’t think he could not rescue the victim, not after taking the money and seeing the desperate friends and relatives. He liked the work though, seeing the victim reunited with their friends and relatives loosened the tight iron bands around his heart.
So when Tony Stark, of all people, disappeared he kept his eyes open. He was a little offended on a professional level that Stark’s people didn’t chose him for the retrieval, Clint was good at his job, damnit.
They hired the Rathbone boys instead, which Clint wouldn’t necessarily have recommended but they were ruthlessly efficient and Stark could no doubt afford their price gouging and was unlikely to end up owing a kidney or getting knee-capped. Clint had done three jobs where his mission was to rescue someone from Rathbone after they’d rescued the someone from their original kidnappers. The Rathbone boys played rough.
Clint kept paying attention though because Tony Stark.
And it rapidly became apparent that Rathbone were not actually looking for Stark but were doing their level best to make sure Stark was never found. That offended Clint’s professional ethics. You don’t take money to rescue a guy and then don’t rescue him.
So he asked some more questions (discretely, he liked his kneecaps in good working order, thank you very much) and found out the Rathbone boys business ethics were still in excellently vicious working order and they were in fact being paid in order not to find Stark.
Which gave Clint a whole new target to be pissed at. Obadiah Stane was planning to have Stark killed so he could take over the company. What the hell? At least Barney had only ever incidentally betrayed him. Mostly because Clint had never had anything he wanted to take. But whatever. His point still stood.
And it just wasn’t right to do it to Tony Stark. Who was straight up amazing. Brilliant and clever and sarcastic as hell. He was clearly a bit of a dick, but Clint was a bit of a dick himself, he could appreciate it other people.
So yeah, this was not on.