7: Flight Risk
Warm arms wrapped around her. Lifting. Carrying. Drowning? No, that was just the rain. Footsteps, crunching and splashing.
The arms left, letting cold embrace her. She slumped sideways, they caught her again. Words blurred together, her aching wrist turning cold and heavy. Something slammed. Pain split her head open.
The quiet mutter of machinery waking up lulled her back to sleep.
Sunlight reached for her, burning at her eyes, turning all her dreams red and asking her to wake. She chanced a look, but the world was too bright, so she turned away and buried her head into the cushion behind her, falling again.
No, not silence. There was the wind, pushing against the window in wild gusts, twisting the trees across the way. There was the sound of traffic rumbling on past, somewhere behind her. There was her breathing, just barely a whisper as she pulled each breath in and out.
There was her heart, trying to climb its way out of her chest as it realised she was waking.
She had a crick in her neck, an ache that nagged at her until finally she shifted and relieved it. Her head ached, centered on the right side. No shifting would relieve it. In fact, as she moved it flared, like knives poking at her brain, and then settled into a dull ache again. She stopped moving.
Her eyes drifted open, slowly, slowly. There was no sun to burn at them this time, if that really had happened; the world was overcast and filled with the long shadows of a late afternoon. She was in a car, parked outside of a…convenience store? She turned her head as far as she dared, looking down the street each way. There was nothing familiar about this place at all. How had she gotten here? How had she forgotten?
Imogen frowned in confusion, thinking back. A café. She'd met Clint there, in the rain, and then…Will had shown up. Her head pounded. The rest was a blur. Had she been fighting? She'd probably been fighting. Headaches were usually a result of fighting.
But now she was here, and it wasn't raining. She'd never seen a fight end like this. Even if she'd been knocked out, she'd always wake in the same place she'd fallen, or (god forbid) a hospital bed. Not in a strange car, in a strange place, for no immediately apparent reason.
She shifted in her seat, trying to find a more comfortable position. Something tugged at her wrist, sending white-hot pain shooting up her arm, and she froze. Well, she could remember that part all too clearly now. Chancing a look down, she winced at the swelling, and the handcuff pressing against it. The other end of the cuffs was fastened securely to the door handle – to stop her escaping, she supposed.
Now she really wanted to know what was going on.
Whoever had been driving this car would be back soon, her mind registered, throwing years of training at her like it would help. Out, it told her. She had to get out, get away. Assess the situation. Her eyes went to the glove box in front of her – with her good, free arm, she opened it, searching for something she could use to pick the lock on the cuffs or as a weapon against this other person, but there was nothing in there but the car manual and a few miscellaneous bits of paper. The console compartment was the same. She shoved them both closed and leaned back with a huff, resigning herself to her fate. This person was smart enough to keep anything dangerous out of reach, obviously.
The doors to the convenience store (or whatever kind of shop it was; she didn't care for the specifics) opened, catching her eye. She recognised the man as soon as he walked out. Clint. Of course. She found herself relaxing at the sight of him, like he was no big threat at all (he could kill her in a split second if he wanted to, but apparently she hadn't quite digested that piece of information). She should have guessed it really, would have guessed it if her head didn't feel like it was tearing itself apart from the inside out. Half-baked kidnappings weren't really HYDRA's style – if it were them, she'd wake up in a cell, or not at all. They were Clint Barton's style though, without doubt.
"Hey kid," Clint greeted her as he climbed into the car, throwing a shopping bag into her lap.
"Not a kid," Imogen mumbled back automatically, opening the bag with one hand and peeing inside. Clothing, mainly, maybe some food underneath it all. Most importantly, a box of headache tablets and a bottle of water. She grabbed those immediately, shoving the rest of it off her lap and down to the floor by her feet.
"Knew you'd need those," he said smugly, pulling out of the car park and grinning as she downed two tablets in quick succession.
"What the hell happened?" she asked, capping the bottle and dropping it down with the rest of the stuff. "And why am I handcuffed inside a car with you?"
"Well I wasn't going to leave you to die, was I?" He sounded way too upbeat for her liking. "Not after I went to all the trouble of not killing you in the first place." Imogen almost wished he would kill her, if only to spare her all this confusion.
"Will wouldn't have killed me," she argued half-heartedly.
"Maybe not, but someone else would have," Clint replied. "You're a flight risk. Which is also why you're handcuffed to the car, by the way. Didn't want you wandering off before we could talk."
"Great," she muttered, leaning back and staring down the long highway ahead of them, following it far into the distance. "How'd you get away from them?"
He shrugged. "Put a few arrows in people and they usually decide to leave you alone."
"You put one in Will?"
"Shot him in the shoulder," Clint confirmed with a nod. "Didn't think you'd be very happy if I killed him." She nodded in turn. Though she wouldn't openly admit it, she felt a rush of pleasure at the idea of Will with an arrow through his arm. He deserved it, after everything that had happened, after the web of lies he'd tangled her up in. Maybe it would keep him off her trail for a few days too; yes, that'd be nice. She needed room to breathe, to untangle the web, before she faced him again.
The fight came to mind again, more of it piecing together as she remembered. Like her handing Clint the bow, choosing SHIELD (or whatever side he was on now) over her family and HYDRA. She glanced at the backseat; sure enough, the bow and quiver were there. A few arrows sat loose, tossed in almost like a second thought, blood dripping down their shafts and from the tips to stain the car seat below. Clint didn't seem overly concerned by this, not that he should be. There was no doubt that he'd stolen the car.
Was she on the right path now? She turned back to face the road. For a moment, gnawing anxiety crept into her gut, twisting cold fingers of fear around her heart, but she squished it like a bug, watching it crawl away back into its dark corner. Worrying would do nothing for her. She could take back words, but actions were final and definite; there was no way to pretend she hadn't handed over that bow.
Clint was right. Someone would kill her for that. She had made herself a risk now, one that HYDRA could not afford to take. She was worth nothing but the bullet they'd bury between her eyes.
She was a risk Clint couldn't afford either, really, but she would address that at some other point. She already knew he'd decided he wasn't going to kill her, decided that he was going to turn her into a proper SHIELD agent or something.
"So where are we going?" Imogen sighed, pushing it all out of her mind. Just the act of thinking was making her brain hurt.
"Don't know yet," he replied, much too upbeat for her liking. She screwed up her nose at his cheer. "Just away from here."
"You going to let me out of this thing any time soon?" She gestured at the cuff with her free hand.
"I'm not going to run away, or rat you out, or anything," she said sullenly.
"No, but you'll come up with something equally stupid and get yourself killed."
"Out of the two of us, you are way more likely to be the one doing something stupid," she argued.
"What makes you say that?"
She rolled her eyes. "Well for a start, you put yourself right in the middle of six HYDRA agents, without weapons or a proper plan."
He thought about it for a moment, and then agreed with a reluctant sigh. "I can get myself out of trouble though," he defended. "Your escape plan was literally to fire arrows around them while they beat you up."
"Around them? I would have hit them," she replied haughtily.
"Your whole form is terrible," he informed her gleefully. "You wouldn't hit the side of a mountain."
"I think I could hit them at least once when they're that close."
"Yeah?" He laughed at her. "Well you just keep telling yourself that. Next time I might just watch."
Huffing a sigh, she gave up on arguing with him and sunk lower in her seat instead, moving carefully to avoid jostling her bad arm. Her head hurt too much to be bothered with him; she'd come back to it later, when she had an actual comeback.
Reveling in his win, Clint reached over and switched on the radio, tuning into some fresh mix station playing trashy pop music. They kept driving.
"Man, he got you good."
Will hissed as Murphy pressed down on the arrow wound in his shoulder, trying to stop the bleeding. "Can you just stich it up already?" he asked, a little more forcefully than he probably should have (but damn manners or anything of the sort; he'd just had an arrowhead dug out of his shoulder, he was entitled to a snap every now and then).
The techie looked alarmed for a minute, then slowly peeled away the wad of material he had in his hand to peer at the wound. "Hey, it's not like they go over 'arrow wounds' in the basic med course," he replied, pressing down again.
"It's the same as getting shot with a bullet, just stitch it up already."
Murphy rolled his eyes. "Hold this then," he instructed, leaving Will to press down on the wound and reaching for the medical kit beside him, searching out a needle and thread. "You better not hit me," he muttered as he prepared. "Last time I stitched up John, he gave me a black eye."
"I'm not going to hit you," Will replied through clenched teeth.
Murphy grunted, and pried his hand away from his shoulder, swabbing it with something that made it twice as painful. Will grit his teeth. No wonder John had punched him.
A shadow loomed over the both of them, distracting Will from the pain in his shoulder. He glanced up, and found himself staring straight into the eyes of his commanding officer. Not exactly the person he'd been hoping to see while seated at the back of a van half-dressed in tac gear, while blood slowly trickled down his arm.
The man waved a piece of paper at him. "This report better not be a joke, Haylock," he said, his gaze unwavering. "If you filed this just because you want your sister back-"
Will shook his head. "You really think I'd do that, Agent Morrell?" he asked.
"Your record is outstanding," Morrell replied. "Which is why I'm inclined to believe you." He handed the report back to Will. "You're in charge of this mission. Find her, bring her back."
"Oh, and Haylock?" Will looked up again. "She's not one of us. Remember that. HYDRA don't show mercy to the people who work against us." He swallowed hard, and nodded. Morrell left.
"What was that about?" Murphy asked a moment later, turning to wash his hands and grab a clean bandage.
"This," Will replied, holding out the report for him to read. Not for the first time that day, Murphy's eyes widened. "I'm going to need your help with this, Murph."
"Of course," he replied, setting about bandaging. "I'll find her. This is the biggest mission we've ever been given; there is no way I'm sitting out."
"There's no way I'd let you sit out. Can't have you getting slack."
"Done," Murphy announced, snapping the med kit closed. "I'm guessing you want to get to work straight away."
Will touched the bandages on his shoulder, and then reached for his shirt. "Of course," he replied easily, pulling the shirt on. "We need to find her fast. Before Barton can take her out of range."
"Any idea what he wants with her?" The techie shoved his medical supplies into a corner and climbed further into the van, waking up a bank of computers.
"Not yet." Will followed him in, watching the screens blink to life. They were already searching for the two runaways, but had yet to find anything, much to his contempt. "I'll find out soon enough though."
Murphy had no doubt of it.