Author's Note:

Prompts from lithiumlaughter: And I guess I just wanted to tell you, as the light starts to fade, That you are the reason that I am not afraid. OR... All of this is a consequence brought on by our own hands, if you believe in that kind of thing. As usual, I took 'or' to mean 'challenge yourself and do all.'

There is a good chance I screwed up minor things about spies, assassins, and this whole type of work, but I did the best I could without turning to a beta. Didn't want to ask the moon of anyone to read the entire series before checking all the technical details. So please accept my occasional handwaves and hopefully enjoy the fic.

Here you go, m'dear. Happy very belated birthday!

Chapter 1: As the Light Starts to Fade

Collen "Hawkeye" Barton preferred the simple jobs. Put an arrow in an enemy, a terrorist, the bad guy stopped in his or her tracks. She didn't care for the solo mission complicated stuff where she couldn't shunt off any of the legwork or paperwork.

Third hotel in a chain of them. The first, a plush but quiet room in Italy. The second, a dive the German cockroaches were above entering. The third here in Russia and the fact that this was Nikolai's home ground made Collie feel that much less comfortable.

Russian snow—she still had to snap Niko out of the Red Room in his mind whenever they worked on Russian snow—outside on the ground and more of it falling from a stone-grey sky. Her leg was propped up on a chair, her crossbow completing her arm at one side. The other hand filled out paperwork. She'd been hunting this trail for weeks now. This wasn't a simple job, put an arrow in an enemy or a terrorist and stop the bad guy in his or her tracks. She preferred the simple jobs. You're just a girl with a bow. This wasn't what she'd signed up for.

Mother and daughter traveling on the train, in cars, over the national borders, seeking asylum, refuge, what? It didn't matter. One of them was Collie's target and the only complication was which.

Not an orphan-maker, not a destroyer of families, not a blind assassin—Hawkeye only took legitimate targets from SHIELD. Phil had told her this was legitimate: a sleeper agent wired into her very genes to kill when triggered. But this was anything but simple and Collie was still just a girl with a bow. But Hawkeye wasn't.

She shoved back the papers, stretched out the kinks in her leg from "catching" the train outside of Russia. She hadn't missed the targets only because she hadn't shot. Mother. Daughter. Sleeper agent. Which one was it? Niko would have killed them both, which is why Hawkeye and not Atrax was given the assignment.

Orphaned. Childless. Who was she kidding that it mattered which?

Collie glanced about for the things she would need. It took her a moment to realize she hadn't set down her bow. Outside the window, Russian snow was falling. Under her skin, her muscles were too tense.

They were holing up in a cabin beyond the edge of thin forest. The nearest town was a few miles away and far too far to save a fugitive.

Hawkeye (because that was who she had to be) stayed well out of view as she took in the thin wisp of smoke rising upward into the air, the silence.

Snow under her boots. Quiet, in the moment. It's what she did. Find a perch and hit her mark. You will make this shot because you have to. She nocked her arrow, completed her arm, bow in position, string held taut. She breathed her scars and didn't even feel the itch.

Wait for it. Wait for it.

The door to the cabin opened. You will make this shot because you have to. A calculated risk, the woman saw her because Hawkeye needed her to and turned back into the cabin, back toward her daughter.

D— it. The sleeper was eight years old. This wasn't what she'd signed up for.

Hawkeye let fly the arrow, watching to see if it hit its mark. You have made the shot—

A crack of pain. The mantra unfinished.

When she woke up, the completion of her arm was missing. No bows. No arrows. She opened her eyes and all she saw was red.

Hell is blood on Iraqi sands and seeing the dead and dying bodies of friends through the scope of your rifle. Hell is blood on a frozen wasteland and the dead bodies of men and women you don't know why you killed.

Belonging is red hair falling into Niko's eyes as he waltzes with her. One, two, three, and one, two, three… Belonging is the red of an arrow-split bullseye during target practice. Everything's red. Everything's blood.

She knew what happened in this room, but all that Collie could think was, You will make the shot because you have to.