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Step Between the Shadows

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Who’s Who: The Thunderbolts

-Clint Barton/Ronin- The Masterless Samurai

-Kate Bishop/Hawkeye II- World’s Greatest Marksman

-Melissa Gold/Songbird- The One-Person Opera

-Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird- Getting people to ask about her feminist agenda.

-Eugene “Flash” Thompson/Agent Venom- Dealing with His Other Half

“You’re not Spider-Man. You know that, right?”

Nothing. He knew that it wasn’t worth responding to. The rain slicked everything up. Clothes, weapons, the floor; it all drained into the sewer eventually, but for now it chose to make its home with him and his target. A pair of headphones dangled from her hoodie, which hid a sopping mess of raven-black hair and a pair of sunglasses. Even without his hearing aids, Ronin was certain he would be able to hear The Weeknd blasting through her headphones. He prayed that one day she’d stop if she wanted to still have her hearing when she was his age.

Normally, a person wearing sunglasses at night would raise eyebrows.

Of course, there was nobody normal in New York anymore.

“I mean, with the whole ‘perched on a windowsill’ schlock. That doesn’t make you—”

He shifted his foot, to compensate for his weight. The friction made a scuffing noise that, in the dead silence of Hell’s Kitchen, gave him dead away. Clint cursed to himself. That was damn sloppy of him.

“There you are.” In a split second, Kate Bishop whipped around; her compound bow started expanding as she drew it from the thigh holster she had secured it on. It took half a second for her to pull an arrow from her quiver, activate the infrared sensor on her glasses, and let said arrow fly into the air.

The other half of the second was dedicated to the arrow screeching through the air and slicing through the left side of Clint’s mask. A speck of blood gripped to the head as it landed with a solid THUNK in the wall behind him.

“You’re definitely not Spider-Man.” Kate smirked cockily as an infrared reading shaped so very much like a person showed up in her glasses. “Spider-Man would have dodged that shot. And that was just a warning.”

Clint narrowed his eyes, debating what weapon to draw. Here was where he shined; improvising to buy himself time. “You really think you could hit Spider-Man? Unless you have a Spider-Sense jammer, I personally contest that claim.”

Sword would require him to make the distance in what he assumed would take Kate the same amount of time to send three arrows digging into him. Shurikens he was still working on; he didn’t want to waste a weapon he was still uncomfortable with. (Just because a samurai was masterless didn’t mean they didn’t have to learn.) So, he went with an oldie but a goodie.

She was gonna love this one.

All Kate could see was a man in black and yellow draw a wooden bow, which looked vaguely familiar to anybody who watched the Avengers on TV, and an infrared reading that blurred her regular vision. She panicked. She had been played. As she drew another arrow, she knew it had to count; she wouldn’t get another shot.

With the same speed she had displayed, perhaps more, an arrow was loaded and released from the bow.

The only difference was the hand reaching out from the darkness and grabbing it, as the other hand readied the bow.

Kate’s blood ran cold.“Holy!...”

“You missed.” The voice rang through the alley as a pair of stark-white eyes pierced through the darkness. “Hawkeye doesn’t miss.” The bow groaned from the pressure. “I don’t miss.”

A crack rang through the night as the arrow flew. Kate winced, expecting to open her eyes and see an arrow stuck in her abdomen and blood to be flowing.

Instead, when she managed to pry them open, she looked to the side to see half of her bow in her hand. The other was cleanly cut off, dangling by a string and resting in a puddle. Instead of shock, or relief, Kate instead felt something else: anger.

“You #%@$! I spent a fortune on that bow! It’s custom-tuned and!...”

“You can afford to replace it.” The eyes vanished, and in the darkness of the alley, Kate heard a splash of water. “Can’t you, Kate?”

“I can, Clint.” Kate huffed as she tossed what remained of her bow to the ground. “Yeah, I can read off your secret identity too. You’re supposed to be dead; it’s a good thing we’re alone here.”

“I got better. And how is none of your damn business.” As Ronin stepped out of the shadows, his eyes reappeared. Towering over Kate, a normal person would have been terrified. Kate wasn’t normal. “Welcome back to New York, Hawkingbird. Or is it just Hawkeye now?”

“Depends. Are you still using the name?” Pulling off her shades, Kate glared Ronin right in the eyes. (Lenses? She didn’t know what kind of tech he had in his suit.) “The spies announcing themselves, now?”

Ronin tensed up, raising an eye at her snark. “Cute.” He gestured to her broken bow, now drowning in a small puddle behind them. “But being cute and spoiled rotten doesn’t make you a superhero. It didn’t make Iron Man.” Kate huffed again, and Clint relented, taking off his mask so she could see his real face. “Look, kid, you have talent. Not gonna lie. That first shot? It took me by surprise, and I think only my wife has done that before.”

Kate looked up in surprise. She was expecting a complete dressing-down, but here he was giving her praise. “That’s a good thing, right? I think it’s a good thing.”

“Make of it what you will.” Clint sheathed his bow, putting it away without taking his eyes off Kate. “Who knows? One day you might be as good as me.”

“One day?” A snort came out of Kate, very unlike her usual demeanor. “I’m already better.” Clint raised the other eyebrow. “It’s not a lie if it’s true.”

“I want to put that talent to use. And yeah, I’m talking about the “talent” you used to pull off that crap off in LA. Or those two years you spent running around as Punisher’s sidekick.” Kate’s eyes widened, hands hovering over the Bowie knife holstered on her other thigh. “Relax. I’m not here to bring you in.” Her hand relaxed; the new Hawkeye kind of had to take the old one at his word. “Though given that you ran around with Punisher, at all, the people sponsoring my program would ask me why I’m not.”

Kate raised an eyebrow, visible behind the giant pieces of polarized glass covering them. This read like something off-the-books. Shadow ops. Perfect.

“But I want to let you become a hero. On your own terms. Where your old Young Avengers teammates won’t be raising any eyebrows; not to mention that new program that Captain Marvel and Cyclops are touting around. But… you’re gonna want a team, especially given your… questionable methods. And frankly, we’re not avenging anybody right now.”

At that cue, three other figures slunk out of the darkness.

The first was essentially Spider-Man but covered in black and wearing tactical gear. A black web line protruded from his back, and retracting into him as soon as he landed. The one big difference Kate noticed immediately? The strangely and, frankly, disturbingly large number of guns all over his body.

The other two were women. One leapt down from a fire escape, sticking the landing with clear practice. A pair of battle staves on her back indicated a well-toned combat record, and the black-and-white costume blended in with the background too well to be a coincidence. Probably stealth tech. What really stuck out? The wedding band on her right hand, outside the glove. Either she was cocky or wanted to prove that she was married. (And given her admittedly attractive physique, the ring was probably a very effective man-repellent.)

The final woman, however, stuck out like a sore thumb. Wearing an outfit of black and white, complete with shining gold shoulder plating and wearing a pair of translucent, light pink wings that vanished as she touched the ground. Kate assumed that’d be as good as they got as far as heavy hitters went.

As soon as the wing-lady landed, Clint held out a hand, holding within it his old bow. “Don’t worry, we’ll be making some upgrades. Perks of government funding.” Kate took it, examining the worn wooden structure and gripping it. Solid workmanship. Until she got a new custom one? This would do.

“So, Hawkeye? How does the name ‘Thunderbolts’ sound to you?”