My alarm isn’t going off. Why wasn’t Jarvis waking me up?
“Jarvis?” I mumble into my pillow, not fully coherent yet.
Still no answer. I finally pry my head up to be greeted by a dark, unfamiliar room, smelling of Lysol and dust. The room itself had two beds, only one of which was currently occupied, and looked vaguely hotel-like.
Everything from last night comes rushing back at once as I jerk upright with a gasp.
Everyone is okay. My brain assured me. Everyone made it out.
I take a deep breath, calming myself down and inhaling yet more Lysol-smelling, dusty air, this time covering a slight scent of…waffles?
“Rise and shine Sleeping Beauty!” My dad joyously – too joyously for this hour of the morning – crows as he pokes his head around the door.
Once he sees I’m awake, he opens the door fully to make his way across the room to me, holding a platter of, yes, waffles.
I take the plate as it is offered to me, and once the first bite is in my mouth, my dad fills me in after I essentially passed out last night.
“I went to bed not long after you. We all did – even Steve and Thor were drained. I woke up about an hour ago, and Steve texted me saying the team was going down for breakfast. I considered waking you, but you were still dead to the world, deep in dreamland, so I just went down and grabbed you a plate on my way back up. You probably want to shower and get dressed, we’re going over what data we did manage collect off those things last night to see what we were fighting, and then we fly back via jet around noon.”
I just nod, as my mouth is full and I’m currently focusing all attention of chasing the last piece of waffle around the plate with my fork.
My dad stands and starts rooting around in his bag, over on his bed, most likely for a tablet or device with the data from last night.
I set my plate aside as I find my bag, some clothes – still militaristic camo – and head for the bathroom.
Once I’m finally clean, I walk out of the bathroom to be greeted by the rest of the team spread across the hotel room.
Well thank god I wore my pants, I chuckle softly.
“Hey guys. Dad, thanks for the warning, what if I had walked out without pants?”
“That would have been awkward.”
“My point exactly! Knock on the door next time or something.”
Someone clears there throat, drawing my attention to the rest of the team, whom I had forgotten were still there.
“Oh. Right, data. So…what’d we get?”
“Well they’re not from here.” Steve supplies. “Not genetics experiments, no previous civilian sightings. Their descriptions match those of the S.H.I.E.L.D. profile for Zygones, from what little they could gather.”
Natasha picks up the story from her spot by the window. “There are no recognizable marks or symbols, no branding patterns, if you will, to tell whose command they are under. We still have no idea who ‘the Master’ is.”
I sigh as I run my hand through my still damp hair. ”It’s better than nothing, right? We won, everyone’s okay, no emotional scarring like that time tin Berlin, so we’re fine for now. We can try to find out more when we’re back at the tower, with full equipment at our disposal.” I direct the last part at Bruce and my dad, and they nod, probably running the same amount of situations that currently race through my head.
They don’t call us geniuses for nothing.
Steve stands and claps his hands to reel everyone back to the main conversation.
“The jet should be here in,” he checks his watch, “forty-five minutes. We have nothing do until then, so just make sure you’re fully packed and ready to go on time, and try not to burn down, trash, or ‘modify’,” pointed glance towards me and my dad, ”the hotel in the process. I will be in the gym or my room if you need me.”
With that, we all scatter either into vents (Clint), out the door (Thor, Bruce, and Steve), or simply into the shadows (Natasha – and I have no idea how.)
I turn to my dad, who had walked over to his bag and was currently packing gadget after gadget.
“Have you checked on your suit since last night? How is it doing?”
“Not much beyond my initial assessment – how’d that get there? – last night. The legs need superficial reconstruction – where is that…ah! – and I wouldn’t trust it to fly, but it’s not a junk pile yet. You checked yours?” He asks as he places the last item in and zips up his bag, depositing it by the door, next to his suitcase-Mark V.
“Last night? Yes. This morning? Not yet, but I don’t see it as completely necessary. Nothing last night revealed anything paintbrush can’t fix.”
“Make that two paintbrushes. Both suits could currently be shinier.”
“Oh yeah,” I snort,” ‘cause it’s not like we just fought off about one hundred semi-sized lizard dogs or anything. Why on earth would they be dull?”
My dad laughs, and a little bit of tension is lifted off my shoulders.
An hour later, after an uneventful flight home, I’m sitting at a work station down in the lab when I hear the squeaky hiss of the door opening.
I currently have my hands elbow-deep in a hologram, so I figured my dad would deal with whoever needed whatever.
“Hey Birdbrain, you need something?”
Clint? What’s he doing down here?
“Actually Tony, I was wondering if I could borrow your daughter for a combat lesson I promised her.”
“I’m sure she’d be glad to.”
“She,” I interject, pushing the hologram away, “has ears, and she is standing not five feet away. And, sure, Clint, I’d love to, I’ll meet you down in the gym in five, okay?”
Clint walks out, apparently satisfied.
I can feel my dad’s curious gaze as I gather my tools and dismiss the holograms I was surrounded by.
“What’s the combat training for? You’re surrounded by 2.57 inches of titanium alloy when you ride into battle.”
“Yeah, but what if my suit breaks, like now? I want to be able to take down bad guys and not rely 100% on my suit. That means being a decent shot and holding my own in a fight.”
“Okay, I see your logic. Why Clint, why not Natasha?”
I shrug. “He was there and Natasha was flying a jet at the time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get changed and meet him down in the gym.”
I head towards the door, his well wishes fading as I get further away.
Two minutes later, I race into the gym, dressed in a tank top and workout shorts, to find Clint dressed similarly standing in the middle of the mats.
“I was thinking hand-to-hand and then shooting. Sound good?”
“Yeah. And please don’t go easy on me because I’m fifteen, or because you’re scared of my dad.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.” He assures me, adopting a fighting stance and motioning for me to do the same, “And me, scared of Stark? Yeah, not likely.”
“Okay, first off, if I were to come at you like this,” he says, jabbing at my shoulder, “what would you do?”
“I would reach for your elbow and use my weight to throw you off balance.”
“Good theory, but here’s the issue with that: you don’t weigh all that much, which means I could push back and do this.”
Faster than I can blink, I’m flat on the ground, Clint lying practically on top of me, his face inches from mine, his big, blue-green-gray, bottomless, eyes staring into mine like-
I shake my head and blink. ”Sorry, what?”
“I just called your name ten times. You need to focus. Where was your head?”
“I, ah, it was…”
He sighs, pushing off of me, and for some reason, I miss the warmth instantly.
“Alright, I’ll run that move again. This time, keep your head in the gym…”
Half an hour and three more embarrassing tackles later, we’re both sweating, because as it turns out – and I quote – “I’m not half bad.”
Coming from Hawkeye, master S.H.I.E.L.D. assassin and experienced Avenger, these words carry a lot more weight than normal.
As we’re over at the bench, rehydrating and wiping the copious amounts of sweat off our faces, he proposes the next step of my training regimen.
“I figured we’d go down to the shooting range Nat and I use for training, and we can use my arsenal of bows and arrows – speaking of, you’ll most likely stick to target arrows, duller – and test your aim, arm strength, things like that.”
I nod with a small smile. “I expected nothing less.”
“Good to see you knew what you were in for.”
“That’s new, being Tony’s daughter and all.”
This draws a laugh from the assassin. “I’d imagine it is.”
Once we are four floors down, in the ranges, he hands me six dull-pointed arrows and a bow, similar to his but smaller, and walks me over to a table set up at one end of the range, where a huddled mass of straps and Velcro awaits.
“Protective gear.” He says, seeing my confused expression. ”This is an arm brace, prevents your arm from being mauled by the string. This one, a finger guard, keeps your fingers from the same fate.”
Once I am fully strapped, snapped, and buckled in protectiveness, I pick up the bow again.
“Show me how you would hold it.”
I hold it out in front of me and pull my arm back.
“Okay,” he says, moving around behind me, close, ”move your elbow up, let those fingers touch your cheek,” his fingers brush over my cheek, and I can’t help but shiver because it feels so good for some reason, “and keep both eyes open. Good! Now pull back slowly.”
Deep breath in…
“Keep your eye on the target…get ready…”
Deep breath out…
“Let it go.”
Fwip...I watch it fly until…thwack!
“Hey, look, I actually hit the target!” I cheer.
“That you did, and not too bad at all. A little to the left, but I think that’s the bow. Hold on a second…”
He walks over to his pile and roots around for a bit before selecting one again, this one smaller, sleeker, and more gently curved.
“Try this one instead. It’s more flexible, should be easier to control.”
I take the bow from him, and I instantly notice how much more comfortable, more natural, it feels in my grip.
“Lift it up when you’re ready.”
I notch an arrow, pull it back, plant my feet, and fix my gaze on the target.
Deep breath in…
Deep breath out…
“Whenever you’re ready.”
Let it go…
My jaw drops.
And a quick observation of Clint’s face shows I’m not the only one.
I had just hit dead-center, Robin-hood style, bull’s-eye!
On my second shot, ever!
“Wow…I am seriously scared for my title of Hawkeye.”
“Really. Now notch another one, let’s do that again!”
I chuckle and comply.
Fifty arrows and fifty bull’s-eyes later, Clint has a permanent look of shock etched on his face that got there around shot twenty.
“So…still scared for your title, Hawkeye?”
“More than scared, try petrified!”
“Are you sure this isn’t beginner’s luck or something?”
He shakes his head. “I don’t believe in beginner’s luck, and even if I did, this is way past that. This…this is true talent, Taylor.”
Hawkeye – the Hawkeye, the best sniper in the entire world – told me I have talent. True talent.
Said sniper must have noticed my expression, because he chuckles slightly.
“You want to come back tomorrow and do some more?”
“If my dad and I aren’t busy and we’re not saving the world, I’d love to!”
“Sure, now I heard someone upstairs ordered pizza, and we do need to show them we still exist. I’m going up, you coming?”
“I’ll be right behind you, just give me a minute to, um, de-strap and stuff.”
He nods and jogs up the stairs.
I head the other direction, lean back against the wall, and let myself slide down like a ragdoll.
My head my split in fifty different directions, all a fuzzy haze.
Clint tackling me on the mats.
Clint’s eyes staring into mine, making me want to melt.
Clint’s fingers brushing my cheek.
The need to see him okay.
The want to be around him.
What was going on? Did I have a fever?
No, my subconscious laughed harshly, who are you kidding? Just admit it.
Don’t play dumb, genius.
Guess what I just realized?
I have a crush on Clint-freaking-Barton.
Yeah, I’m screwed.