Imogen woke to the smell of bacon frying, the hissing and sputtering filtering through the wall between her and the kitchen, accompanied by the quiet murmur of a TV. Groaning, she rolled over and buried her face back into her pillow, not ready to face the day or the man she was supposed to get rid of, and soon. She had no idea how she was going to pull it off; she still knew next to nothing about him, save that he was about to kick her out and she was going to have to do something to convince him not to.
Of course, she could just slink away and forget about it all. Unfortunately that wasn't in her nature, and if she did she'd have HYDRA chasing after her day and night looking for revenge. It'd be worse than deserting from the army.
The smells of fresh breakfast persisted, until she could stand it no longer and forced herself to rise, dressing as slowly as she could. Her stomach growling, she chased the promise of bacon and coffee out into the kitchen, sliding into a seat along the breakfast bar. Clint stood on the other side, gulping down coffee like it was air. "Morning kid," he greeted her between swigs, offering her an easy grin.
"Not a kid," she reminded him, helping herself to the bacon and eggs already heaped onto a plate for her. His own plate sat next to the coffee pot, a great deal more breakfast left than there was coffee. It wasn't hard to see where his priorities were.
"Sure." His reply was nonchalant and easy-going, and just a little bit annoying.
"You know, you never told me your name," she said between mouthfuls, looking for a new subject.
His easy, joking grin disappeared, turning guarded and just a little uncomfortable as he weighed his options. "Clint," he said finally.
"That's it?" she asked. "Just Clint?"
He nodded. "That's all you need to know."
They fell silent. Imogen took the chance to focus in on the TV perched up on top of the fridge, showing one of those typical morning talk shows that usually could never catch her attention for more than a few seconds. This morning was different. They were in the middle of a segment about SHIELD, showing footage of three helicarriers firing on each other and crashing into what she recognised as the Triskellion. She'd totally missed it the day before, but she had a hunch that it had something to do with the rise of HYDRA. Both organisations had fallen apart, she learnt now. Pockets of SHIELD and HYDRA both were scattered all over the globe, covers and networks blown.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, just once, indicating a text. She pulled it out with her free hand and opened up her messages. Who's your mark? It was Will, getting just a little too far into her business as usual. She dismissed it, tucking the phone back into her pocket and resolving to deal with it later. Feeling eyes on her, she looked up and found herself caught in the stormy grey gaze of Clint, unable to look away. His level, calculating gaze was enough to make her feel nervous – could he see right through her, to the imposter beyond?
"You still look to young to be in this business," he said finally, looking away a moment and releasing her.
"I'm twenty three," she pointed out, not one to beat around the bush. "That's old enough."
"Still pretty young."
"Yeah well, I'm good at what I do."
"What clearance level?"
She hesitated. None, was really the answer. Technically, she wasn't even an agent – never even been given a chance out on a mission. "Three," she lied. Her phone buzzed again, muffled by her pocket.
"Get out in the field much?" he asked.
"No." Text message number three. "I'm mostly on extraction." Four. Silence fell over the kitchen for a minute. "So I guess you want me to leave soon," she said finally, remembering his deal the night before.
Clint hesitated, looking like he might just be reconsidering. "It's for the best," he replied, face falling into a frown. "Safer for you. And for me. Sorry kid."
Her phone was ringing now. Sighing heavily, she gave in and answered, walking back to her room to escape Clint's curious eyes and listening ears. "What?" she asked harshly.
"Imogen, who is your mark?" Will's voice was desperate and insistent, like he was on the edge of panicking. It irked her – she could take care of herself, and he knew it.
"I don't know," she said, dropping her voice so that there would be no chance of being overheard. "Just some guy. Said his name's Clint."
A string of curses filtered through from the other end, surprising her. It didn't sound like her brother at all. "Immy, get out of there," he said gravely. "Get out and wait for me." She could feel anger swelling in her gut as he spoke, getting more and more vicious.
"What?!" she hissed down the line. "Why? I can't believe you. I can do this without you, Will."
"No you can't," he insisted. Her free hand clenched into a fist at her side. "This is a suicide mission, Imogen. That guy is Hawkeye. You go after him, you might as well just shoot yourself now." She stayed silent, barely believing him. She'd heard of Hawkeye, of course. Who hadn't? These days, all anyone talked about was the Avengers and the whole New York incident. The idea of facing someone like Hawkeye was daunting, but the guy in her kitchen? Surely Will was mistaken. There was nothing intimidating about a man who chugged coffee and let strange people into his safe house.
"Yeah," she said, taking a deep breath in an effort to stay calm. "Yeah, I'm here."
"I'm coming to help you. Just-just get out, okay?"
For a moment, she was sorely tempted to listen to him, just in case. But then she remembered just what she was here to prove, remembered Ferson's sneering face giving her this mission. If she left this house and waited for Will, who as far as she knew was halfway across the country…she'd lose every advantage she had. "Alright," she lied. She heard his sigh of relief.
"Thankyou. I'll be there soon."
"Bye." And the line went dead. Imogen dropped her phone on her bed, following it a minute later and staring at the ceiling light. It was pretty dingy, fogged over and yellowed with age, giving out a warm glow that just barely lit up the room. Honestly, she wasn't entirely convinced that it was giving out more light than the gaps in the heavy curtains.
Groaning, she pulled herself up into a sitting position, eyeing Clint. He stood in the doorway, arms crossed and leaning on the wall as if nothing could ever bother him. She shrugged.
"Just my brother," she replied carefully.
"What did he want?"
"To know that I'm safe." She rolled her eyes. "He worries too much."
"Maybe you should meet up with him somewhere."
"Yeah, maybe," she mumbled, her brain still working overtime. "I was thinking; I'll leave tonight, after it gets dark. It'll be easier to leave without being seen." That would buy her a little time, at least.
He offered her a nod, and then disappeared again. He was stiff, she noticed as he left. On guard. Not as trusting as he could be, but his guard had slipped enough to let her in.
Now she just had to kill him.
There was a gun on the coffee table.
It had been there all day, sitting in front of her, mocking her. Imogen wasn't really sure why there was a gun on the coffee table, but she assumed it had something to do with Clint. Superhero not-so-secret identity aside, he was far from the most organised person she'd ever met – she'd call him scatterbrained if she didn't know better. If she hadn't seen footage of him in action in New York, when he'd been fighting aliens (if that was even him – she still wasn't completely convinced that Will was right about him).
It occurred to her that that should have been enough of a reason to convince her to drop this stupid plan, but all it did was tighten the nasty knot that had squeezed and pushed its way into her stomach uninvited. Besides, running away now would be stupid. She was in the perfect position to take out her target, who also happened to trust her (even if that trust didn't extend much further than the distance he could throw her) and wasn't expecting any of what was coming his way (well, he was, but not from her). Any other agent would take the chance, and they'd be praised for it when they returned.
All she really wanted was a bit of that praise. Just enough to prove she wasn't a complete screw-up.
The knot tightened.
Steeling herself and pushing away what she guessed was just nerves (it was her first mission, after all, her first kill), Imogen set down the phone and picked up the weapon instead. It was already loaded, just waiting for someone to aim and fire, and fit comfortably into her hand. She'd done this a hundred times in the firing range, training for this one moment, but she couldn't stop her hands from shaking as she flicked the safety and rose from the couch, creeping out and down the hall. Clint's voice sounded from the kitchen, muttering into his phone; he'd been covertly trying to get a call through all day, she knew. She paused again at the very edge of the shadows, peering into the kitchen, then taking aim at his exposed back. It was an easy shot; Clint was out in the open, at close range, and completely distracted…yet as she pulled the trigger, she already knew that she'd missed. True enough, the bullet flew straight past him and buried itself in the wall instead, offset by shaking hands that she hadn't been able to steady. Clint dropped immediately, phone conversation forgotten in the face of a more immediate danger, and she cursed herself silently. Without that shot, this mission was about to become a whole lot harder.
"Imogen?" his voice called out from behind the kitchen bench.
"Clint." Her hands were shaking again, her voice barely kept even. Not good. What was this feeling of unease that was throwing her off? Missions like this were the whole reason she was in training – if she couldn't handle this one, how could she handle any in the future?
"What are you doing?" He was confused, that much she could tell. Confused, and perhaps slightly hurt.
"Following orders." Her voice became cold and icy as she spoke, in an attempt to keep herself together.
"Whose orders?" The room fell quiet for a few seconds. "HYDRA's?"
"You don't understand Clint." And there it was, that slight wobble in her voice, a testament to her fraying nerves.
"No, I don't." She could hear it in his voice now, that note of betrayal and hurt, feeding the knot in her stomach and making it tighter. "You want to explain it to me?" His head showed above the bench, and she fired before she could stop herself, bullet biting into the counter-top as he ducked back down again.
"It's complicated." There was a beat, and then, to her amazement, he stepped out into the open – was he stupid? – facing the gun without any protection to speak of. She didn't fire though, not immediately, eyeing him just as he did her.
"You don't have to do this Imogen," he told her, eyes on the gun.
"Yes, I do," she replied, more for her own benefit than his. "I'm sorry Clint, but I have to." He moved then, faster than she could, suddenly up in her face and twisting the gun out of her hand before she could aim or fire. He threw it to the side; it skittered away across the kitchen floor, coming to rest well out of reach. Forgetting the gun, she jumped into action, throwing a fist in towards his stomach. He moved out of the way, the hit just glancing off his ribcage, and she turned with him, employing all of her training just to keep up. Clint fought her off easily, was hardly trying, making her more and more frustrated until her defense became sloppy and her attacks vicious and random.
His chance came easily after that, and in one flowing move, he tripped and pinned her to the ground. "Stop," he told her firmly, voice filled with more authority than most of her trainers. She'd never listened in the academy though, and she wouldn't listen now, pulling one arm free and snatching up the gun again, pressing it to his forehead.
"Are you really going to pull that trigger?" he asked calmly, looking her right in the eye and refusing to let her turn away.
"That's the idea," she replied through clenched teeth.
"I don't think you will."
"Yeah? Why not?"
He cracked just the slightest of smiles, not at all phased by the gun at his head. "You don't really seem like the type to follow orders for no good reason." She froze, his words repeating themselves in her head. He was right; she didn't follow orders. Not unless it was in her best interests.
This was in her best interests. She'd kill him, and Ferson would be forced to give her missions, to treat her like any other agent under his command. Maybe even to let her join Will and his team. "I have a good enough reason," she said finally.
"A reason to kill a man in cold blood?" He looked her right in the eye, unblinking. "Well whatever it is, I hope it's good enough to let you sleep at night."
She froze again, hand shaking as she struggled to keep the gun steady. Seeing his chance, Clint grabbed the gun again, shoving it away from his face just before her finger squeezed the trigger one last time, the bullet burying itself in the wall behind him. Barely blinking, he ripped the weapon out of her hand and threw it out of reach again, blocking her swing at his head with his other hand. "Sorry about this," he muttered, confusing her for a moment before he delivered one final, solid knock to her own head, making her dazed and dizzy, drifting away into unconsciousness.