What, Not Who
10: What, Not Who
It was bugging her now.
Things had a way of doing that lately, of wheedling their way into Imogen's brain and setting up camp. Item 548 was just the latest in a long list. It was the one thing Will hadn't quite gotten to, the one thing that had seemed unimportant when she first read its name, but kept coming up. Which meant it was important after all, must be important, whatever it was.
She turned down the radio.
Clint's attention snapped to her instantly. It had become their ritual over the days – the radio began and ended all conversations, had plenty to say when they had run themselves dry. Both were loners by nature, neither especially talkative nor friendly for any long period of time, and certainly not used to being trapped in the close confines of a car together for days and days. There just wasn't enough to talk about to fill all those hours, so the radio filled it for them – sometimes with music, sometimes just with talk about nothing in particular.
"Have you ever heard of Item 548?" she asked.
Clint took a moment to think about it, and then shook his head. "Don't think so. Why?"
"It was in a report that I read, about Will. Didn't think it was that important, but he mentioned it earlier."
"Well, I've got nothing. Sorry kid."
"Not a kid." That made him smile.
Clint found an actual hotel, one with multiple stories and fancy rooms that were more like small apartments than hotel suites. He wasn't happy with it (he liked motels that were full of anonymous truck drivers and backpackers, Imogen had learnt – easier to be forgotten there). There weren't any places like that in this town though, or at least not from what they had seen of it. At 2am, Imogen refused to look any further when they had already found a perfectly acceptable place. "Pull in there, or find a comfortable abandoned building or something," she told him eventually, in no uncertain terms.
In her opinion, the best part of the hotel was the two bedrooms, meaning she wouldn't have to sleep on a lumpy old couch again. It was absolute heaven to stretch out on a bed for the first time in…a week? At least a week by now, surely. Clint just shrugged when she asked him, still unhappily focused on the balcony. He didn't want to be on the third floor. She was beyond caring, weary of the endless travel and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements of the past.
For a little while, she flicked through TV channels, ignoring Clint's endless muttering about Dog Cops (which wasn't even a good show anyway, so who knew why Barton was getting so worked up about it). Eventually, having proved there was absolutely nothing good on at 2 in the morning, she threw the remote at him, almost nailing him right in the forehead, and retreated to bed, dropping off to sleep almost immediately.
Shadows chased each other through her sleep and stunted dreams, just vague figures silhouetted every now and then by flickered lights, never substantial enough to really catch her attention. She floated in the middle of it all, calm despite the strangeness of the almost-dreaming.
A solid thud echoing up the hall outside pilled her from the shadows, melting them away into the back of her mind for her to forget about. Blearily, she sat up and pushed messy curls out of her eyes, glancing at the clock up on the wall. She could just make out the hands, pointing out something like four thirty.
Groaning, she flopped back down again, rubbing her eyes and wondering why she'd woken. The thudding noise came again, accompanied with the sound of splintering wood, deafening in the still of predawn. She waited a moment, listening for any sign of life from Clint next door. There was nothing. He was a quiet sleeper, as all good agents were. With an exaggerated sigh, she dragged herself out of bed and padded out to Clint's room. What the hell was going on out there anyway? Was this what usually happened early in the morning in nice hotels?
Clint was fast asleep, just as she'd thought. Quiet aside, he was a heavier sleeper than you'd expect. She threw a boot at him from the doorway, catching him square in the stomach, and he woke with a start, gun in hand as always. He relaxed when he saw her, dropping the weapon onto the bed beside him.
"What the hell," he mumbled blearily, rubbing at his eyes. His head landed back on his pillow a moment later, as if he expected to go back to sleep again any time soon.
"There's something going on outside." Another thud accentuated her words.
Clint moaned. "This is already the worst day ever," he complained. "And it's not even five in the morning."
"Clint, focus. Weird noises in the hallway."
He blinked at her a few times, and then sat up abruptly at the next thud. "Now that you mention it, that is kind of weird," he said through a muffled yawn. "Kind of spooky."
"Probably-" Another yawn cut him off entirely. "Probably HYDRA."
"How'd you figure that?"
He stared at her like she was the biggest idiot he'd ever met. "They traced that call you made you yesterday."
"Don't blame this on me," she said, instantly defensive.
"Well it's your fault." He swung out of bed, pulling on his boots.
"Seriously? He was ringing me!"
"And you answered. Shut up, I'm trying to figure out an escape route."
"We're on the third floor with HYDRA knocking on the door, where are we going to escape to?"
He huffed a sigh as he circled the room. "See, this is why I didn't want to stop here."
She rolled her eyes in return. "Don't even start."
The lights of the town outside the window drew her eye, shining through the glass doors of the balcony. Well, good thing they had one of those. That would be so handy. "Well, if nothing else, we can always throw ourselves off the balcony," she commented, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Clint followed her gaze, the spark of an idea lighting in his eyes. Before she knew it, he had opened the doors wide and stepped out, slipping out into the shadows to the railing. "I was kidding!" she hissed from the safety of the room, watching with wide eyes as he poked his head out and looked both up and down, assessing something. "Clint-" He was steadfastly ignoring her, returning to the room and passing her by, heading back to the bedroom. The heavy sound of a foot hitting a door came from close by, too close for comfort. They were only one or two doors away now, and not losing any time.
Clint returned with his bow in hand, bag and quiver on his back. He stalked back out onto the balcony, throwing her own boots at her as he passed. "Oh my god," she near whispered in disbelief, watching him as she pulled on the shoes. "Clint Barton, if you jump off this damn building, I swear-"
"We're not jumping all the way," he said, peering up again and drawing an arrow. "Come and keep an eye on the idiots down there. Don't want bullets in my head while I'm trying to do this."
"But we are jumping?" She swallowed hard and darted out to join him, her heart quickening at the dizzying drop and HYDRA agents below. None of them had thought to look up yet; all eyes were in the front doors of the hotel. For now.
There was a heavy thud right next door, the sound of a door slamming open. Imogen glanced at their own door without really meaning to; it was sturdy and silent, of course, not yet disturbed. She looked back at Clint, who looked completely unconcerned at the impending invasion, and checked on the agents down below again. "Hurry up!" she hissed at him. Grunting in response, he took his shot, the arrow clanging against the railing of the balcony above theirs, and then ducked down, dragging her with him out of sight just as several of the agents on the ground looked upwards at the unexpected noise.
"What are you doing?" she asked as Clint crept forward again.
"Getting us out of here," he murmured in reply. One strong hand gripped her elbow, pulling her to her feet and shoving her towards the railing. "Climb," he instructed, doing just that. She followed him over, clinging to the railing like a limpet until he grabbed her arm again, pulling it free. "Hold onto me." She hesitated, eyes falling towards the ground. There was a thud at the door behind them, a splintering noise that spurred her into action; in the blink of an eye, her hands had left the railing and she was clinging to him instead, trying not to think about just how close to falling she was.
HYDRA charged through the door and Clint leapt. For a moment she thought they were falling but no, the ground had only grown a little closer – they were swinging, down to the next balcony and in. She glanced up, saw a silvery length of something akin to rope reaching from his bow up to the fourth floor balcony, like a human-sized spider web.
"Grappling hook arrow," he said smugly as he swung into the second floor. One, two, three bullets glanced off the metal railing, leaving it ringing in their ears, more shots zinging past their heads, all fired just a moment too late. Imogen felt her feet touch the ground and stumbled, letting go of Clint as she lost her balance and fell into a roll. The hawk didn't even land on his feet, just freed his bow and came crashing down, cracking his head on the concrete floor.
With little sympathy, she found her own feet and then hauled him up as well, grabbing his bow as she did. "Alright, nice trick, now get moving," she told him, and gave him another shove.
"Aw, head," he muttered as he did as he was told, moving through the room and an already busted front door to an empty hallway beyond. There was a shout from above, a corresponding one from below, and she grit her teeth, trying to think.
"Stairs," Clint said, recovered enough to pull her along and down. Their steps echoed loudly up and down the spiraling stairwell, but even over the din their own feet made, Imogen could hear at least two others heading down with them. At the bottom of the stairs, Clint paused to jam the heavy door shut as best he could and then directed her to the left, darting down dark and empty halls until they reached a bar of sorts, closed for the night. One whole wall was made of glass; he didn't hesitate to put a round of bullets through one pane, not even blinking as the whole thing shattered and fell in a million tiny pieces that crunched and cracked under the thick tread of their boots.
They emerged into a cold, moonless night, an empty road stretching left and right. "Now what?" she whispered, stepping out onto the road and looking around.
"Need a car," Clint muttered in response, his eyes alighting on one parked just a few metres away – not as good as the one they'd been driving a few hours ago, she noticed, but serviceable. "That'll do."
There was a click behind them.
Imogen whirled around, almost as quickly as Clint, and found herself staring straight into the cold blue eyes of her brother – eyes that she shared, she remembered suddenly. His gun was pointed at Clint, keeping the bigger threat from drawing any kind of weapon. The bow was still in her grasp, she realised, her fingers clenched so tight around it that her knuckles had turned white. Her heart leapt into her throat as Clint grew still, hands well away from any of his weapons. "Drop the bow," Will instructed, glancing at her with the look he always had when he was about to snap. She glanced at the archer next to her who shrugged, and then back at Will, who caught her eye with fierce purpose.
The bow didn't move.
"Imogen," Will said through gritted teeth, the way he did when she had done something especially stupid, when he was about at the end of his tether. As always, she faced him with a spark of rebellion in her eyes, in the way she stood, drifting into the air she breathed. "Drop the bow," he repeated.
"No," she said, mentally cringing at how child-like the simple refusal sounded.
"Drop it, or I'll kill him." He gestured wildly at Clint with the gun, never straying from a killing shot.
"Imogen," Clint interrupted quietly, just as her mouth opened to hurl some cutting reply that she'd probably regret later. His voice was calmer at steady, calmer than most people would be when staring down the barrel of a gun, their life placed in her hands. It meant he had a plan. Hopefully. A plan he'd need to be alive to execute.
The bow slipped through her fingers and clattered to the ground by her feet, cracking open the quiet that had settled over them. Will smiled but it didn't reach his eyes, and the gun didn't drop an inch. There was no relieved sigh, no forgiveness or attempts to heal the rift that had opened between them. This Will was cold and hard and logical, so grown on the lies of HYDRA that he wouldn't ever be able to see past them, to see the truth. This Will had no siblings to care for; he had HYDRA, and nothing more.
Their fight was between SHIELD and HYDRA now. As it always had been.
"Did you really think you could just run away?" he asked her. "Just leave your whole life, without any kind of retribution?"
"No," she replied. "Didn't think I'd be worth this much trouble though. How'd you get so much support for a personal mission?"
"It's not personal," he snarled, the finger on the trigger of his gun twitching.
"Isn't it?" She could hear herself getting flustered, anger making her face hot. "What do I know that's so important that a broken HYDRA can afford to send this kind of force to hunt me down?"
"It's not what you know." Another agent came into the restaurant, picking his way through the broken glass to join Will. A gun trained on her, though just from looking at the man who held it she could tell his skills weren't up to par, his mind not quite suited to field work. Out of the corner of her eye, Imogen saw Clint's hand slowly moving towards his belt, unnoticed by their enemies, who had their attention trained solely on her.
"You think I took something then? Or saboutaged something?" She laughed. "Or are you not here for me at all?"
"Oh, we're here for both of you," Will affirmed.
"Why? I mean, I get why you'd want Clint, but you make it sound like you came here for me."
"She doesn't know," the second agent observed quietly, pushing his glasses up his nose with his free hand.
"No," her brother confirmed. "She doesn't."
"Doesn't know?" Her eyes flicked from one to the other, a deep scowl lining her face. "Doesn't know what?"
"We came here for Item 548," Will said.
"I have no idea what that is," she spat. "Or why you think I'd have it."
The two HYDRA agents shared a look. "548," the one with glasses said finally. "It's you."
Something hard and heavy hit Will in the side of the head, sending him spinning, his gun dropping. Clint sprang forward to disarm him, leaving her with the second one.
Their eyes met, both frozen in surprise. His hands were shaking. She knew how that felt. For a second, she didn't move, still working through what he had said; then her training kicked in, screaming at her to duck for cover (not that she actually had any cover, out here in the middle of the street), just before he pulled the trigger. A bullet whizzed over her head as she dropped to the ground, scrambling for the bow that she'd dropped just a few minutes earlier.
Two large steps took her within striking range of the man, who was still fumbling with the gun. Face grim, she didn't hesitate to deliver a swift roundhouse blow to his head with the bow, catching him with full force just behind the ear. He dropped like a stone. Will and Clint were engaged in an all-out fist fight, as she'd expected. She took a moment to kick away the weapons that the two HYDRA agents had dropped, pulling out her own gun.
The man who'd collapsed at her strike stirred again, and she put a bullet in his leg – painful and debilitating, but not life-threatening. "You done?" said Clint behind her and she turned. Will was on the ground, gasping for breath and only semi-conscious. She met his eye for a second, and abruptly turned again. Clint looked about as she'd expected, with a split lip and a black eye, and bruises starting to form on his arm and cheekbone. "I was finished five minutes ago," she snapped back.
Shadows loomed around the corner of the hotel and lights flicked on upstairs. "We need to go," Clint said unnecessarily. His hand found her wrist as he passed, pulling her along, and then they were running around a corner of their own and into the night.