I Heart Hawkeye
13: I Heart Hawkeye
Imogen was stiff and sore from the archery when she woke up, not that she'd let it stop her. Dressing quickly, she crept softly down the stairs, her last conversation with Clint fresh in her mind. She could hear him and Natasha talking softly in the front room, too soft for her to hear. The bow and quiver were set out carefully at the bottom of the stairs. She got the message.
Though she'd told herself she wouldn't be mad at Clint for mistrusting her (she was, after all, some HYDRA kid who tried to kill him, even if her intentions from that point onward had been anything but), she felt a guilty kind of relief at not having to face him or Natasha. Lucky followed her as she ghosted down the hall and out the back door, flopping down in the grass when they reached the other side of the barn to watch her shoot.
Her muscles stretched and loosened as she practiced, making each pull more fluid, easier to accomplish, though she knew she was still a long way from Clint's effortless shooting. At least her arrows were (mostly) hitting the hay now.
Just as the thought crossed her mind, her shot flew well clear of the hay and disappeared into the grass. An irritable sigh escaped her, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw the look Lucky gave her. He wasn't impressed.
"Afternoon kid," Clint said. His smile was strained.
"Not a kid," she mumbled halfheartedly, taking her snack and escaping.
Yeah, she was doing a great job at not being mad at him.
"Sit," she told Blackie firmly, pointing at the ground. The dog barked happily. Sighing, Imogen flopped down on the stairs and let the kelpie climb all over her, glancing at the ever-present collie. He was slowly creeping closer. No matter how hard she tried though, how long she forced herself to sit still and wait for him, he never came within reach.
While she wasn't paying attention, Blackie reached up and licked her cheek. "Ew," she told the dog, shoving her well away and wiping her cheek with the back of her hand. Blackie barked again. So did the pup.
An old red pick-up pulled up outside the house, not ten minutes after Nat and Clint left for some reason or other. Man climbed out, idle-aged with a crop of violently orange hair and a cheerful spark in his eye that immediately made her feel weary.
"Hi there," he said, with the friendliest smile she'd ever seen.
"Hi," she replied, climbing out of the rocking chair and down the stairs, Lucky at her heels.
"Heard Brian was back in town," he said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
For a moment, she was confused. Brian? Who was Brian?
Clint, she realised a second later; of course, he wasn't that big of an idiot that he would use his real name.
"He's gone into town," she said.
"Oh, right." The man waved it off like it was no problem. "Just wanted to see if it was true. Name's Aaron, by the way. I live down the road; come up here and look after things when no one's home."
He was expecting a name back, of course. She searched hastily for one that wasn't hers. "Ruby," she blurted out suddenly; she'd known a Ruby, back in school what, eight years ago? She'd been the only person in the class willing to have anything to do with Imogen by the end of the year, and the only person Imogen hadn't wanted to punch. They'd almost been friends, until that one day when she'd found herself once again without any parents to speak of and been handed off to Will, never to see Ruby again.
"Nice to meet you," Aaron said. "Are you related to Brian?"
"Yeah." Daughter? No, not daughter; that was believable, but way too weird. Anything but daughter. "I'm his niece. Came to stay for a few weeks." The lies tasted sour as they rolled off her tongue. Lying was becoming increasingly unpleasant, the more she found out how it felt to uncover long-hidden truths. She didn't really want to lie to anyone ever again.
"Well, I'm sure you'll love it out here." He looked at her for a moment, as if judging her. "I've got a son about your age. He's usually the one who comes out and looks after things 'round here."
"That's nice," she said.
He ran his eyes over the farmyard once more. "Might send him over with some firewood later. It's gonna be cold the next few nights. Let your uncle know, will you?"
"Sure." She shrugged. And finally, he climbed back into his truck, lifting a hand in farewell as he drove away.
"Hi Imogen," Clint said later, leaning out the front door. She gave him a small wave in greeting, but kept her eyes firmly fixed on Lucky. "Anything interesting happening?"
She shrugged. "Your neighbour was here earlier."
Clint frowned. "What did he want?"
"Just to know if you were back in town and stuff. Said his son might be out later with firewood?"
"And what did you tell him?"
For the first time since their conversation began, she looked up and caught his eye. "Told him I'm your nice Ruby, and that you're back in town for a couple weeks."
He nodded. "Good thinking kid." She just shrugged again.
A whole day passed before the red pick-up appeared again. Clint was nowhere to be seen (again; out shoot, she deduced from the absence of his bow), and Natasha was hidden away somewhere in the house, reluctant to be found. Which left Imogen to answer the loud knock at the door.
"Hi," a young man greeted her, with the same cheerful smile and obnoxious hair as Clint's neighbour (speaking of Clint, there he was now, disappearing back around the barn and leaving her to suffer alone).
"Hello," she said carefully.
"You're Ruby right?" he asked, to which she nodded. "I'm Jack. I live down the road a bit."
"Yeah, I met your dad yesterday."
"Oh – right." He glanced back at his truck. "I've got some firewood for your uncle."
"He's out by the barn," she told him, gesturing.
"Oh, that's alright. I'll just unload it."
"Okay then." He looked like he was about to say something more, then thought better of it and turned to go with one last, easy smile. She'd never been so relieved to close a door.
Five minutes later, she was bored enough to be out on the porch with a cup of coffee in hand, watching him stack firewood and talk to Clint, who had finally decided to put in an appearance. Lucky sat in the grass below the porch, looking up at her with one judgmental eye. "What?" she asked him, rolling her eyes when he didn't move. "Why am I being judged by so many dogs lately?" she said, as much to the dog as herself. "Am I turning into Barton?" What a nightmare.
"Nice meeting you Ruby!" Jack called as he left, reminding her that she'd lied to him too. Clint sauntered over and plucked her half-finished coffee right out of her hands, drinking deeply and almost spilling half of it down his shirt.
"I think he likes you," the archer joked with a shit-eating grin. She gave him a withering look and went back inside.
Nock, draw. Arm straight, fingers touching cheek, eyes on target. Take a deep breath. Shoot.
She blinked, looked again. Her eyes hadn't been playing tricks on her. The arrow was really there right in the centre of the bale, in that area that Clint had already torn up with perfect shot after perfect shot. Except this was her arrow, her shot, and it was there alone, because none of her other shots had ever made it to their mark, despite her best efforts.
"Nice shot." Natasha's voice behind her made her jump – she hadn't even noticed the spy's approach.
"Thanks," she said, squashing the 'I know' that was her initial response. No one liked a know-it-all. "You'd be used to it though, wouldn't you?"
Imogen shrugged. "You seem like you spend a lot of time with Clint."
"Yes," Natasha said with a gracious smile.
"He doesn't get anything but bullseye," Imogen said, half to herself, going about collecting arrows.
"You've been pretty cold to him the last few days."
She glanced at the red-head. "Yeah," she admitted, fiddling with an arrow absently. "I, uh…"
"He told me what happened," Natasha said bluntly, filling the silence Imogen left as she trailed off.
"Oh." Shoving the arrow in her quiver, she fished one more out of the grass and then moved to her bullseye, eyeing it one more time before working it out of the hay. "What about it?"
"Barton does trust you, you know."
Imogen paused for a moment. "Could have sworn he told me otherwise," she said, tugging at the arrow again.
"He trusts you more than he should. I tried to tell him that; I didn't think he'd actually listen to me."
The arrow came out of the hay, and Imogen turned to face her again. "So it's really you that doesn't trust me?" she asked casually. Natasha nodded. "You know, if I was still going to kill him, I think I'd have done it by now. And in case he didn't fill you in, I'm apparently just a possession of HYDRA's. I do enjoy being, you know, respected as an actual human being."
"Just don't take it out on Clint," Natasha said. "He's terrible when he sulks." She gave Imogen one last, long look, and then went back to the house.
That evening, Imogen found a note and a messily folded t-shirt on her bed. Sorry, the note read. (Natasha made me). A smile crept onto her face. She dropped the note and unfolded the shirt – white, with a target design in purple on the front and a Hawkeye tag inside the collar. He'd done it again – vaguely, she wondered if Clint really did just find Hawkeye merchandise on his adventures, or if he actively sought it out just to annoy her.
Well, sort of annoy her. She'd never admit it to him, but maybe she liked the shirts a little more than she let on.