The Fix-It Man
16: The Fix-It Man
If nothing else, she was determined. Clint would give her that. Now that he thought about it, he should probably give her 'stubborn', 'short' and 'easily underestimated' as well, but none of those things mattered at that very moment, so he discarded them and continued hammering nails into fence rails instead.
He was good at hammering nails in, better than you'd expect from someone as comedically disastrous as himself. Everything else he did (except his impeccable shooting, of course), was prone to end in a situation straight out of a cartoon, and liable to have people laughing or shaking their heads or turning away, but never would he have a throbbing thumb or band aids on every finger from one too many unfortunate accidents.
Determined, right. Imogen arrived just as he drove the nail home. She'd ditched the sling, he noticed, and somehow made her way over two fences and across a paddock to find him, well out of sight of the house. He was suitably impressed, even if she was the last person he wanted to see right then. He'd planned to talk to her in a few hours, when he'd finally exhausted his list of odd jobs and returned to the house to collapse.
"What are you doing?" she asked, in a voice that was milder than any he had ever herd come out of her mouth before.
"Fixing fences," he replied shortly, reaching for another nail.
"Oh," Imogen said, picking at the bandage that was visible on her upper arm. She'd worn the 'I Heart Hawkeye' shirt, fresh and clean for the first time in its short life with her. "Why are you fixing fences?"
At the strength that was returning to her voice, he raised his eyes, pausing in his painstaking placement of the nail. "I like fixing stuff around her. Keeps me busy. Gives me time to think. Or not think."
"You must have a lot of broken fences," she said dryly.
This time he did smile, just a bit. "It's not always fences. I started out with the barn. And the house."
He started hammering. She fell silent until the nail was in.
"Do you think…I could fix something?"
He snorted. "Not with your arm like that. Trust me, I've tried."
She shrugged. "You seem to have it all under control anyway." Her eyes were on the hammer, he realised, swinging it experimentally. "You ever asked Thor to help you fix your fences?"
"No," he replied thoughtfully. "Maybe I should."
"He'd probably be better at it than you."
"I'm better at archery than he is."
"Wonder what it'd be like to use a weapon like that."
"Maybe you should ask him."
Imogen shot him a withering look. "Why don't you? You and Thor would be best friends, wouldn't you? Being Avengers and all."
Clint couldn't tell if she was joking or not. "I know him," he said with a shrug. "Wouldn't say we're best friends. Hardly even a team, really."
"The Avengers don't get along? I'm shocked."
"You don't look shocked." She punched him in the arm. "Alright, alright," he grumbled under his breath. She grinned, but fell silent, gazing out at the endless green of the hills around them. The sun was just setting, throwing golden light and weird shadows across the land and painting the sky with every colour imaginable. It was oddly peaceful, after the events of the past few days. The fight, the feeling of a bullet slamming into her arm, had been playing over and over in her mind since they'd gotten back, but she was no closer to understanding it than she had been as it all happened.
"You don't look like an Avenger, you know," she continued, pushing everything else from her mind.
"I know," Clint replied. "I wasn't even supposed to be an Avenger at first. Neither was Nat."
"So, what, they just let you on the team at the last minute?"
He shook his head. "We all took matters into our own hands after the helicarrier almost went down. Cap and Nat needed me to fly a quinjet, and I kind of just stuck around and helped out." He shrugged, like saving the world was no big deal.
Imogen frowned. "You make it sound like you're not an Avenger," she said carefully.
"I'm just a guy with a bow," he replied. "Not a god or a genius or a super soldier. I can't even keep one stubborn kid safe." He laughed, but it was raw and emotionless.
She punched him, harder than before, putting all her strength behind it, angry. He pulled away before she could hit him again, rubbing at his arm. "You're a superhero," she told him, more aggressively than she'd meant to. "They don't make shirts about 'guys with bows' who 'just help out'. And this?" She pointed to her arm. "This has nothing to do with you. I left, and I didn't tell you, and I got shot because I wanted information. Nothing to do with you. And yeah," she continued after a breath, cutting him off before he could say anything. "Maybe Captain America or whoever would have stopped me from even going, instead of letting me sneak out, but I'm not friends with Captain America, and if that's his idea of protection, I don't want to be. I'd much rather stick with Hawkeye and the bullet hole in my arm, thanks."
He was staring at her, and suddenly she realised just how much she'd said, and just how much he wasn't saying in return. "I'm sorry, by the way," she spat out, much milder now that her anger had dissipated. "For leaving. And getting shot. And making you worry. But I don't regret it."
Before she could pull away or avoid it, he stepped forward and gathered her into his arms, enveloping her in a warm hug. She fit easily into his chest, being much smaller than him, and his arms trapped her against him, holding her tight. For a moment, she was frozen, almost fearful – then, slowly, her one good arm wrapped around his waist in response, returning the affection.
"Are we good?" he asked.
"Yeah," she replied quietly, voice muffled by his shirt. He smelled like sweat and dirt and Lucky, but she buried her face in it anyway, breathing deeply – it was more like home than any SHIELD base she'd ever lived in.
"What did you find out?" he asked her finally, as he let her go.
"Plenty," she sighed. "Apparently, all this 548 stuff is about my mum's research. She was working on cryogenics and memory when she died, and HYDRA think she left all of it with me. Plus, she uh…" Imogen shifted from one foot to the other, uncomfortable. "She used me as a lab rat for something. Don't know what."
Clint swept over the last part, to her relief. "Any idea where that research is?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I don't have anything of my parents'. It was all taken by the woman who adopted us."
"Maybe she has it then," he suggested.
"She's dead," Imogen said flatly. "Besides, she was HYDRA too. There's no way she would have let it slip through her fingers."
"Do you remember anything?"
"Just them dying."
He didn't say anything more, just gave her a long, indecipherable look, and then led her back to the house with one hand thrown across her shoulders. She knew what the silence meant though. It was time to start remembering.
There was a noise, a quiet scraping that broke the silence of the night. It didn't belong to this house, a place that creaked and cracked and whispered but never scraped. Of all people, she would know. Slowly, her eyes opened and she surveyed the small room, dimly lit by the street light outside. Nothing moved, because the noise hadn't come from in here.
A truck rattled past outside as Imogen sat up and pulled her coat on, startling her. With shaking fingers, she pulled the coat close and slid carefully out of bed so that the mattress didn't make a sound. It was notorious for creaking at the most inopportune moments, but this time, blessedly, it was silent.
There was lego on the floor, and a doll or to, but she avoided it with the practised ease of someone who'd spent many days navigating that particular mess and crept into the dark hallway. Her parents slept peacefully across the hall, not bothered by the noise; she went to check closer anyway, standing in the doorway to their room and watching as her father rolled over in his sleep. He'd been gone for weeks now, and come back with half his face coloured purple and blue and a distinct limp to his stride. The colours were kind of pretty, she thought, except that they didn't belong on his skin.
She went back to her room then, congratulating herself on how quiet she'd been. Neither had even looked like waking the whole time she'd watched them! It wasn't often that she got away with sneaking around after dark.
A hand covered her mouth, effectively cutting off any noise she would have made. As she tried to pull away, a strong arm wrapped around her stomach, pinning her against the broad chest of her attack. She writhed and fought back, tried to bite his hand but to no effect – his hold on her was much too strong for someone that small to break.
There was a voice by her ear then, whispering nonsense as he dragged her from the room. The hall was alive, full of shadows passing back and forth, whispering to each other. Six shadows came struggling out of her parents' room, two of them thrown to the floor. The hallway light flicked on, flooding the house with bright light. She blinked rapidly, her eyes trying desperately to adjust. Something cold and hard found her throat, pressed against it. She recognised the faces of her parents on the people before her, forced to their knees before a small army of black-clad invaders.
Her father looked even wearier than he had when he'd dragged himself through the door a day and a half ago, sagging to the ground more than being forced. There was a spark of determination in her mother's eyes, despite the fear that swirled their too. She would not stand down. Not for anything.
"Where is it?" one of the people around them asked. Kathleen said nothing.
There was a glint of silver at the edge of Imogen's vision, drawing her eyes downward. She could just see the edge of a silver blade at her throat; like the ones used to cut food, the ones she never touched, except that she had a feeling this knife's purpose was a little more sinister. Her heart started pounding in her chest, leaping towards her throat. She swallowed hard and forced it and all the fear it brought with it back down, back to her chest where the knife couldn't get it, told herself to breathe like her dad had taught her once.
"Give us the files!" their leader demanded again. Kathleen spat in her face. "Your children will die," she added, wiping the spittle from her face.
"I only have one child," her mother replied.
The leader laughed. "You have two. We may not know where William is, but rest assured we will find him, and he will suffer if you don't hand over the files."
"I won't ask again."
Imogen's frightened eyes searched for her mother's, but the woman was all steel and ice and held nothing of comfort for the girl, still pretending not to care. She turned to her father instead, and his warm brown gaze that was trying to tell her it was okay, it would all be okay…
The blade pressed harder against her neck, drawing blood. Someone's hot breath passed by her ear. Unable to stop herself, she let out a strangled, frightened sob. Her father answered with a shout of his own, leaping at the man with the knife. They both fell behind her, the blade carving its own course as they did, down across her collarbone all the way to her shoulder, setting it on fire. Not quite understanding, she reached up to touch the flames. Her fingers came away dripping red.
There was a grunt, and a guttural, choked sound of surprise behind her. "Imogen," her mother called. "Imogen, don't look honey. Don't turn around." Her begging was too late though; she was already turning, just in time to see the knife meant for her buried deep in her father's body two, three, four more times. They dropped him then, and by the time he hit the ground he had already grown limp, eyes staring at her like the glass eyes of some stuffed animal. She shivered, but kept on staring, not sure what else to do, not sure what it meant.
A siren sounded outside, quiet for now but growing louder with every minute that passed. There was a hushed conversation, one she didn't pay any mind to, and then two gun shots and a surprised gasp. Her eyes moved then, to see her mother looking down at her own stomach, one hand trying desperately to cover the rapidly spreading patch of red. The other hand reached for Imogen as she swayed, and the girl went, her head starting to spin and eyes beginning to blur with every step that she took. She crouched by her mother, let the woman touch her face with bloody fingers as the other hand fumbled with something.
"Stay safe," Kathleen whispered to her daughter. Without warning, her fingers pressed against the deep cut on her neck, sending fresh, hot pain shooting through her shoulder and up into her head. The girl swayed, and then flinched away out of reach. "No," her mother said firmly, pulling her back, holding her tight and pressing down again. It was the last of her strength; with that, she couldn't hold herself up anymore.
Imogen woke with a start. And found she knew what to do.