There comes a point when even a sniper, conditioned for hours of waiting and watching, must sleep.
Imogen had lost count of how many towns they'd skirted around, how many long highways they'd followed. Night had come and gone twice (or thereabouts), but somehow, Clint was still driving, only stopping when he was about to run out of fuel. If she felt tired and stiff, despite dozing her way through a good part of the trip, she couldn't imagine how weary he must be.
"You need to stop," she said eventually, as the lights of another town came into view, drawing closer and closer.
"I'm fine," he insisted. "Just…just gotta-" A yawn cut him off. Imogen rolled her eyes.
"I can drive, you know," she said.
He laughed. "I brought you along, sure, but don't start thinking that means I trust you."
"That's not what I'm thinking."
"Well…good. Because I don't."
"I'd like to live through the day though."
"What d'you mean?"
She huffed impatiently. "I mean, you're going to crash this car and kill us both if you don't stop driving." Finally, she saw him take a minute to think about it, eyes fixed to the road. They were drawing closer and closer to civilization; he'd have to find a way around the town soon, if he wanted to avoid it like he had every other place they'd passed. For the first time in two days though, he showed no signs of turning off.
The faintest semblance of hope rose in her chest. Maybe he'd finally seen the light. He definitely needed to rest. Surely he could see that too.
"Fine," he relented with a sigh. Satisfied, she nodded, turned back to the road, and slid lower in her seat, curling up like a cat. Ten minutes later, he finally pulled into a hotel. She waited patiently as he organised a room, and stealthily moved his bow and a bag full of god-knows-what inside, before freeing her from the cuffs. Aware of his careful gaze on her, she stepped out of the car into a dark, cold morning, stretching out her stiff muscles. Her eyes drifted towards the motel entrance, towards the numerous escape routes around the place, all open paths to freedom now that she was unbound, but her feet followed Clint, her escapes left untouched.
The room was dark and dank, with a lingering smell of mildew, but it was clean, with fresh linen and sturdy furniture. There was an old radiator in the corner, marking just how old the building was; Clint put the cuffs down on top of it. "Go and have a shower, clean yourself up," he told her, pointing at the small adjoining bathroom. "I'll put those back on when you're done." She didn't argue, just took the clothes he threw at her from his bag of mysteries and went, closing the door behind her. There was a mirror directly opposite, throwing her reflection in her face right as she turned around. For the first time, she realised just how dirty she really was, just how much she really did need new clothes (her shirt alone was pockmarked with tears from numerous thorny bushes, dirt practically ingrained in the material from her adventures. She screwed up her nose and turned away from it again.
Her whole body melted under the hot water of the shower, muscles that had been stiff and sore since the fight loosening and relaxing for the first time in days, feeling almost normal. There was soap in there, the usual little tube that comes in hotel rooms, and she used all of it, scrubbing herself all over and watching dirt from gardens and ditches and streets wash away in cloudy bubbles.
The clothes turned out to be another matter entirely. Clint apparently had very little fashion sense; the pair of soft black track pants were all well and good, but the bright purple shirt just about hurt to look at…not to mention the loud 'I Heart Hawkeye' emblazoned across the front. She assumed it was Clint's idea of a joke. It wasn't very funny. He could have done better.
Imogen glanced at her old shirt. Dirty, ripped, and stiff with sweat, it wasn't the most inviting piece of clothing. A loud sigh escaped her. He could have at least bought her a normal shirt. Reluctantly, she pulled on the shirt and left the bathroom, preparing a speech with which to chew Clint out about his idea of good clothing choice.
The plan didn't get much further. Barton, it turned out, had really needed that rest – he was stretched out on the bed, fast asleep. Hadn't even lasted the time it took for her to shower, after all that, she thought with amusement. She glanced at the cuffs, lying forgotten on the radiation. Should she do it herself? The idea wasn't one of her favourites, and the couch across the room looked much more inviting. Besides, it wasn't like Clint was waking up any time soon.
The choice was easy, then. She drew the curtains closed, shutting out the morning sun, and then settled down in the couch to wait.
It was still morning when Clint began to toss and turn, drawing her attention. At first, it was just the occasional twitch, disturbing her from her own attempts to fall asleep, a muttered word here and there that she had no hope of making out. His distress built as the morning wore on, movement becoming more violent, incoherent mumbling growing louder. For a while, she just sat and watched, not sure what to do – as he grew more frantic though, it became increasingly apparent that she'd have to do something, if only to keep anyone from coming to see what was going on.
Were you supposed to wake people who were caught in a nightmare? She had a feeling she'd read something once that said no, waking him would be dangerous (and not just for her, what with the weapon that was undoubtedly hidden under his pillow) – but she also saw no other solution to the problem.
He'd better not kill her, she thought. She hadn't come all this way just to end up dead.
Standing behind him, she reached out and gave him a solid shove, then ducked for cover. He shot up, wide-eyed and breathing heavily, a gun pointed at the spot where her head had been just seconds before. She peeked out at him from over the mattress, having dropped to a crouch next to the bed, waiting for a sign that it was safe to stand again.
Only once he had run his eyes over the entire room did he slowly lower the gun and regain control of his breathing. She stood and then perched on the end of the bed, staring at the floral curtains Clint had nearly put a bullet through. In the corner of her eye, she saw him glance between her and the cuffs several times. "Didn't I, uh…" He gestured uselessly, but she got what he was trying to say and shook her head.
"You fell asleep," she told him bluntly.
"Right." Silence. "Why'd you wake me up?"
Imogen shrugged. "You were moving around a lot, and muttering. Figured I should wake you up before someone next door complained or something."
"Nightmares?" she asked casually. He eyed her suspiciously, and didn't answer. She rolled her eyes. "Obviously nightmares."
"Everyone has nightmares," Clint replied defensively.
"Not me," she replied. He raised an eyebrow in disbelief. She shrugged. "Never had a dream in my life."
"Right." It wasn't hard to tell that he didn't believe her. "Stay here," he instructed unnecessarily, standing and stumbling into the bathroom. Rolling her eyes once more, she returned to the couch.
They didn't speak another word to each other until they were back on the road again, Clint with his second cup of coffee in hand. "Nice shirt," he commented as he turned onto the highway.
Imogen felt the urge to punch him, and reeled it back in fast. "I hate you," she muttered instead, glancing down at the item of clothing in question.
"A lot of people say that," he informed her cheerfully.
"I'm not surprised. No one likes a guy who buys his own shirt."
He glanced at the 'I Heart Hawkeye' on her shirt again, looking amused. "I thought it might inspire you."
"To do what?!"
"Refrain from killing me."
"Are you ever going to get over that?"
"Are you handcuffed to the door?"
She glanced down at her arm (now free), and sullenly accepted his point. "You gonna let me drive so you can sleep?" she asked instead.
He shook his head. "I got plenty of sleep."
"You got like, four hours. If that."
"Four hours is plenty."
"You know you're not superhuman, right?" She fixed him with a look of contempt as she said it, making him shift uncomfortably.
"Says who?" he shot back, pretending to be unfazed. "I am a superhero you know."
"A regular one. You're the most regular superhero there is."
"And you're really mean."
"No." She dropped her gaze, looking down at her hands instead, folded neatly in her lap. "I'm just honest. It's not my fault if what's true hurts."
Clint reached up to rub the back of his neck, and then grabbed at his coffee again. "Dunno kid. Still think you might just be mean."
"Think what you want," Imogen replied with a shrug. "Everyone else does. And I'm not a kid." Without giving him a chance to reply, she reached out and turned the radio on, flicking it to the first station that she could find. He got the point, and left it alone, letting unfamiliar music filter through the dusty speakers and fill up the car as they drove on.
Sleep didn't come to either that day, just hours of staring down road after road. Clint didn't need any prompting to turn into a motel as dusk drew on, much to Imogen's satisfaction. This one wasn't much better than the last place they'd visited – small and cheap, but clean at least, just a bed and a bathroom and not much else (there was a TV here at least, almost making up for the armchair she'd have to curl up in).
It was a warm night, despite the intermittent breeze that picked up every now and then to provide a few seconds of sweet relief before the heat pressed in again. There was no air conditioner, so they threw the window wide open to catch what wind there was, snipers across the way be damned. Clint claimed the bed, leaving her with the armchair, as she'd expected. For a couple hours, she curled up there and tried to sleep, but dangerous things came swirling through her head, keeping her awake, thoughts she hadn't entertained in days. She'd been deliberately keeping herself busy with other thoughts, focusing in on the concussion that had disappeared in the last day or so and driving far, far away from all her troubles.
HYDRA. Item 548. Her parents. Will.
Lies and liars. All of them. She hated liars.
It was too much, too much to push away and fall asleep in peace. Throwing off any impressions of sleep, she stood and padded quietly across the room, footsteps muffled by the carpet, easing the door open just enough for her to slip through, closing it just as carefully.
She glanced back through the window. Clint still appeared to be sleeping. Nodding to herself, she buried her hands in her pockets and wandered away towards the motel entrance. The pavement was warm beneath her bare feet, just cool enough not to burn them, the stone holding desperately onto the warmth of the sun that had beat down on it all day. She stopped at the entrance, considering the quiet road beyond, but still she felt no urge to run. What would be the point anyway? Clint would find her, or HYDRA would find her, or she'd just get settled in some kind of life and everything would catch up to her. Running away never worked; once you started, you couldn't stop. Things always caught up to you in the end.
Imogen wasn't the running away type anyway. That was half her trouble – she never backed down or turned away (the other half of her trouble was her brutal honesty, probably. People didn't like seeing the truth).
Turning away from the road, she circled around the long row of motel rooms and parked cars to the back of the building. Everything was more scattered here; there was what looked like a laundromat, still awake even in the middle of the night, a dark barbeque area, and a playground. Down the back and surrounded by a fence was a pool, the whole area illuminated by the soft glow of underwater lights. She drifted towards it, soon finding herself sitting cross-legged at the very edge of the pool, staring down into its depths.
Clint found her there too. She heard his light footsteps, heard him open and close the gate. "Thought you were asleep," she said casually as his feet stopped beside her, clad as every in a pair of heavy black combat boots.
"Woke up when you left," his voice replied from somewhere above her. Grunting, she turned her attention back to the pool. "What are you doing out here anyway?"
She shrugged, pulling her jacket closer around her. "Couldn't sleep," she admitted in an unusually quiet voice.
"So you decided to hang out by the pool?"
"You got any better ideas?" she snapped back.
"Well," he drawled lazily. "There's a nice playground back there…" She didn't even deign to answer. Eventually, he sighed and lowered himself down to the pavers as well, a careful distance from the water.
"Any idea where you're driving to yet?" she asked, just to break the silence.
"Maybe," he replied, trying his best to be mysterious.
"So no, not really then," she said with a roll of her eyes.
Clint almost looked offended. "I know where I'm going!"
"But you're not going to tell me."
"Nope." His voice was smug, just like his face when she glanced at him. Rolling her eyes once more, she returned her gaze to the water. Silence fell over them both, reclaiming the warm night – in the absence of the wind, nothing moved, the world dark and still and quiet under the watchful eye of the moon.
Imogen didn't like it, didn't trust the quiet. All too often, silence came before action, before an attack, before danger. "Clint?" she asked, just to break it. He hummed in reply. "What would you do? If you weren't a SHIELD agent? If you left right now?"
He paused, deep in thought. "I dunno," he replied. "Teach archery maybe. Or be a farmer."
"Yeah." He was nodding along now, growing more enthusiastic about the idea by the second. "With like, cows and chickens and stuff."
"Why?" Wrinkling her nose, she tried to imagine being a farmer. It wasn't an appealing idea to her – she'd never been a fan of animals, farm or otherwise.
Clint shrugged. "Nice and peaceful out in the country, miles from anywhere." A wicked grin dawned. "No crazy kids coming to kill me."
"Not a kid," she reminded him, but she smiled anyway.
"Yeah, just keep telling yourself that. Maybe one day I'll believe you."
He ignored her. "So kid," he said. "What would you do?"
Imogen froze. In truth, she hadn't ever really thought about it – and when she had, she'd never come up with an answer. Her knowledge of the world was stunted, much as she hated to admit it. "I don't know," she replied after a beat. "Go and study something, I guess? That's what people do, isn't it?" She laughed. "End up in jail probably."
Wordlessly, Clint stood and offered her a hand up, which she took. They walked back to the room in silence. There was a buzzing noise when they got back, coming from Clint's bag. Imogen had thought it was just weapons and questionably obtained cash, but now, as he rifled through its contents and produced her phone (which she'd been sure she'd lost), it became apparent that there was a whole lot more secreted away in there.
She forgot about the rest as soon as she saw the phone though. "Why do you have that?" she demanded, storming across the room to stand face-to-face with him.
Alarmed, his eyes widened, his first instinct to raise the phone above his head to where she couldn't reach it. "How does this thing even have battery still?" he asked, backing away from her and looking up at the screen.
"It's a Starkphone," she snapped, stalking after him. "They can run for a week between charges."
"Your brother's calling," Clint hit the wall with a grunt, eyes still turned upwards. "Why's he calling?" The buzzing stopped, the call unanswered. Clint's eyebrows shot up. "That's a lot of calls."
She stood in front of him, arms crossed. "Maybe you should answer him," she said impetuously. "See what he wants."
"No way." His eyes finally tore away from the phone above his head. "Phone call from the enemy? Obviously a trap. Are you stupid?"
"I'm not stupid," she argued. "Give me my phone back."
"No." Before she could as much as blink, he whipped the phone down and into his pocket. "Stay. Away." He poked her hard twice in the shoulder, making her flinch away, rubbing her shoulder. Taking his chance, he slipped past her and collapsed on the bed, closing his eyes and feigning sleep.