Sparrow

The New Order

18: The New Order

A blur of red and gold passed over their heads, and then came down to land before them; Iron Man, the armour shining in the street lights. The woman was transfixed, her gun falling away from Clint's head as all her attention turned to this new hero – and the repulsor aimed right for her chest.

"Two Avengers," she said, not at all daunted by the armour. "It is my lucky day."

"Well you sound crazy already," Stark said.

She laughed. "Not crazy. Just ambitious."

"Right." He stepped closer. "How about we keep this nice and easy; let them go, and I won't shoot you and all of your…henchmen." The armour whirred, loud and threatening.

Their captor looked like fighting for a moment…and then thought better of it and holstered her gun, signalling for her men to do the same. They stepped away reluctantly, rallying to her – Imogen resisted the urge to punch one as they passed.

"I know when I'm outmatched," she said as they retreated. "But I won't be forever. Your day will come, just like Barton and the girl's will." Stark didn't even turn, just let them go.

"Shouldn't we go after them?" Imogen asked, glancing between the two Avengers.

"Do you feel like chasing her down?" Clint asked pointedly. Reluctantly, she shook her head.

"I'm running facial recognition now," Stark interjected. "Trying to find out who they are, what they wanted. In the meantime…" As he trailed off, a car pulled up behind them, sleek and expensive-looking.

Clint glanced over it appreciatively. "Much better than our ride." Looking between it and their wrecked car, Imogen had to agree. She took a step towards it, lurched, and almost crashed into Clint, grabbing his arm to steady herself as her leg gave out underneath her. With a grunt, he took her weight and helped her into the car, sliding in after her. Imogen pulled herself across to the other side of the car, trying not to touch anything once she realised one hand had been cut by the glass and was covered in half-dried blood. Both her hands were shaking, adrenaline fading from her system now that it was all over. She pressed her hands into her knees and looked out the window for the drive into the heart of New York, willing them to stop shaking.

The communal area of Avenger's Tower was huge, not that Imogen cared about anything except the couch that she collapsed on as soon as she reached it, relieved to finally get off of her sore leg. Clint stood in front of her with arms crossed, eyeing her.

"What?" she asked him grumpily, not in the mood for staring.

"You kook terrible," he told her.

"So do you," she replied, leaning back to stare at the ceiling.

"So, Clint." Tony Stark appeared in the corner of her eye, sans armour. She couldn't find the energy to care enough to lift her head and actually look at him as he headed for the bar and out of her sight. "What brings you out of hiding and back into the real world? And who's the girl?"

"This is Imogen," Clint said with a wave in her direction. "She uh…we've be hanging out. Since SHIELD collapsed and everything."

Imogen pulled the chip out from her sleeve and held it up for Stark to see. "We need your help figuring out what this is..."

He was there in an instant, plucking it from her fingers and examining it, wandering back to the bar. "Looks kind of like a microchip," he commented, mainly to himself. "Any ideas, Jarvis?"

"The device does appear to be used to store some kind of data," a polite British voice said from nowhere in particular. Surprised, Imogen sat up fast, and regretted it a minute later as ever part of her body complained.

"What was that?" she asked, wincing her way through various pains.

"Tony's AI butler," Clint said, eyeing her again.

"His name's Jarvis," Tony added in a distracted voice. "He runs the house and…other stuff…" He was wandering away, drink in one hand and chip in the other. "Be right back," he threw over his shoulder at the last minute, before disappearing.

Imogen slumped back into the couch again, moving carefully this time, easing herself back. "You okay, kid?" Clint asked; she could feel his eyes in her still, judging her.

"I'm fine," she replied with a roll of her eyes. "You?'

He stifled a yawn. "Tired."

"Yeah."

A pause. "Your neck's bleeding again."

She reached up and touched it, feeling fresh blood soaking into her shirt. "So?"

"Dangerous place to be bleeding."

"It's not that bad."

"Still. Jarvis, you got any doctors in this place?"

"I have already alerted Doctor Cho," the polite voice said.

"That is so weird," Imogen sighed. "Like having Siri in your ceiling."

"Don't let Tony hear you say that." She could tell he was smiling from his voice. "He's convinced his tech is miles better than anyone else's."

"That's because it is."

A set of fast-moving footsteps alerted them to a new arrival; a tall Chinese woman in a lab coat, carrying all the medical supplies you could ever wish for. "Hello," she said, with a gracious smile. "I'm Helen Cho. I'm a biologist and medical doctor; I've been working with Mr Stark on a few projects."

"Nice to meet you Helen," Clint said without much enthusiasm.

"Do you mind if I patch you up?" she asked, hovering nearby.

Clint hesitated, and immediately Imogen rolled her head to one side to glare at him, daring him to send to woman over to her first. She had no logical reason to dislike or mistrust Doctor Cho, who was obviously trusted by Stark and whom she had only just met, but she wasn't in the mood for logic, and she never really liked people anyway. Clint sighed when he saw the look on her face.

"I'll go first then," he said, gesturing for the doctor to sit down. Imogen didn't bother watching as she patched him up, just stared at the ceiling and resisted the urge to fall asleep. It was more difficult than she'd thought it would be – apparently, she was exhausted.

Doctor Cho entered her line of sight.

Sighing, she pulled herself up again, not caring if she being rude or unfriendly. "Really?" she said reluctantly, already knowing what was coming.

"You've got a head would, multiple cuts, and a swollen ankle at the very least," Doctor Cho said calmly. "You need medical attention."

"Can't I just sleep it off?"

"If I have to be all bandaged up, so do you," Clint interjected as the doctor shook her head, smiling. Imogen sighed again, but let her near, gritting her teeth through each ministration. Turned out she'd cut her head open, right up by her hairline – there was blood matted in her hair, she realised then with disgust. She'd popped stitched on her neck, bruised and cut up her entire body on impacts and glass, cracked a couple of ribs, and messed up her ankle for a few days. Apparently all she could do for it was ice it and stop walking, neither of which were favourable options in her opinion but by then, she couldn't be bothered arguing her point.

"Here you go." Stark returned, dropping a tablet into Imogen's lap. The screen was displaying a number of files; she picked it up and scrolled through them all quickly, before choosing the very first one.

"There's some interesting stuff on there," the genius, commented, pouring himself another drink. "I'd like to meet whoever designed that chip."

"She's dead," Imogen replied flatly, busy skimming through something about cryogenics – vital signs and brain activity.

"You know who built it?" Stark asked, wandering down to the seating area.

"My mother built it." She exited the file and scrolled through them again, waiting for something to catch her eye.

"Oh. Well that's…unfortunate." She shrugged, kept scrolling. Most of the files looked like either reports or experiments for HYDRA, though some were less formal, more like personal notes than anything else. There were formulas and equations too, attached to the experiments. Different versions of something her mother had been working on, Imogen guessed, though she wasn't one for science and barely understood some of the reports she was reading.

A hand pulled the tablet out of her grip. Clint. She chased after it half-heartedly, until he held it up in the air and reaching it would require standing up. "Give it back," she protested with a light scowl.

He shook his head. "Go and sleep."

"Why?"

"You haven't slept in two days. You've been in a car crash. Reading all of that in one night will turn your brain into mush." He glanced at what was on the screen, and raised an eyebrow at what he was reading. "Reading all of that would turn your brain to mush without sleep deprivation."

"Anything else?"

He shrugged, his face darkening. "Got a feeling this isn't over yet."

Slowly, she stood up, careful to keep the weight off of her bad foot. "What, because that woman almost blew your brains out?"

"She did not."

"She so did."

"Don't sound so smug about it. Where would you be without me?"

Nowhere. She elbowed him and grinned.

It was the sound of engines that woke her, coming from somewhere far below – maybe one or two stories. With a growing sense of dread, she slipped out of bed and pulled on boots and a coat, padding softly down the hall. There were two shiny elevators waiting quietly for someone to need them but she ignored them both, instead pushing through the door that indicated a stairwell and limping slowly downward.

Two floors later, she pushed through a door and found herself in a large aircraft hangar, roughly underneath the lounge area they had gathered in only a few hours ago. It was mostly dark, just strips of soft blue light here and there to mark safe passage between quinjets and other things that she couldn't name. She followed them towards the noise, now more the sound of fighting than the quiet thrum of engines.

The path led her straight out to a landing pad, an enemy quinjet, and a firefight against a stunning backdrop of predawn New York, skyscrapers peeking out of a layer of light fog and bright lights everywhere. She recognised Clint on the other side, dangerously close to the edge and an eighty or so storey drop to the street far, far below, firing arrows one after another in quick succession, bringing down invader after invader. He didn't even see her. Stark was nowhere to be seen.

A meaty hand clamped over her mouth, cutting off any noise she might have made. She struggled to release his grip, to open her mouth enough to bite him, but he was strong and powerful and fighting against him was a lost cause. Her heart sped up, too fast, she thought. Maybe she was panicking. She wasn't usually one for panicking, but then again, she was still bone tired. Maybe she was panicking.

Something pricked her neck, and pretty soon it didn't matter if she was panicking or not, because everything was spinning and blurring and falling away.

When she stirred again, she was lying on a thin mattress in the corner of an otherwise empty room. As her head slowly cleared, she hauled herself upright, the ache in her body reminding her of the crash and the Tower and Stark and – how had she gotten here? She'd fallen asleep in a room full of rich furniture in Avenger's Tower, with a wall of glass that afforded a stunning view of the whole city. This place didn't even have a window, let alone furniture. What was she doing here?

Abruptly, she remembered the brief moment of firefight she had seen, right on the edge of the world; the hand on her mouth, the moment of panic after a useless struggle. It told her nothing, other than that someone was clever enough to get past Stark's security systems.

There was a staircase across the room. Somehow, she got to her feet and limped towards it; only to be stopped some three metres back by a previously invisible wall. She touched it – cold and hard, hexagons rippling out from under her fingertips. She rolled her eyes and returned to the mattress.

Only a few minutes passed between her waking and Will descending those stairs with a storm in his eyes.

"Oh, of course it's you," she said in a scythe-like voice. "How the hell did you find me?"

"A…friend of mine tipped me off," Will replied smoothly. "She's been hunting Barton. You might have met her."

"What, that woman on the freeway? Yeah, she seemed real charming. Where's Clint?"

"Barton?" Will eyed her speculatively. "You haven't actually made a friend have you, Imogen?"

"Where is he?"

"Still in Stark's tower." Will waved a hand, like it was old news. "Your friends from the freeway payed good money for the privilege of killing him themselves."

"What do you want from me then?"

Will came right up to the wall then, so that the faint shapes of hexagons faded in and out in the space between them. "Quite a lot, actually. But for now, just a question. Where'd you find all those files?"

Her blood ran cold. Had he gotten a copy of her mother's things? Was everything her parents had tried to hide now in the hands of HYDRA?

How had he gotten them anyway?

"Files?" she asked, feigning confusion.

He sighed. The storm swirled. "Yes, files. Gigabytes of them, all written by Kathleen Haylock. Where did you get them?"

"Why do you care? You never cared before."

His fist hit the wall. "Because things like this don't just appear. Especially not files that disappeared eighteen years ago."

"I'm not telling you where I got them." She stared him down defiantly, daring him to hurt her. For a moment, he looked like he was considering it. And then, he just turned and left.

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