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Kate’s first bow is an Olympic recurve, sleek and black with a matching leather quiver that slings over her back. Say what you want about her father – he doesn’t skimp. He thinks her newfound obsession with self-defense is an odd phase for a teenage girl to have, but he throws his money at it anyway, to keep from feeling too guilty about only seeing her every month or so. Kate doesn’t complain. She takes the bow to the gym every day after school and slots arrow after arrow into place on the bowstring. She shoots and misses. Shoots. Misses. Shoots. Misses.

Shoot. Miss. Breathe.

Shoot. Miss. Breathe.

Collect arrows. Begin again.

When Susan comes to visit, she does yoga a few feet away and chatters to Kate about her wedding plans, even though she knows Kate probably isn’t listening. More often, it’s just Kate and the bow. She tries not to let the target morph into the faces of the men who hurt her, but sometimes it happens anyway. They leer out of the shadows of the room, made giant and ferocious in her memory. She looses arrow after arrow until they disappear.

Shoot. Miss. Breathe.

Shoot. Miss.

Breathe.

A man puts his hand on her ass at one of Susan’s parties and she twists his fingers until he hisses.

“What the hell is wrong with your sister?” the man – some friend of Susan’s fiancé’s – mutters to Susan. Kate absentmindedly rubs the calluses that have started to form on the first two fingers of her right hand. They curve to tug on a bowstring that isn’t there.

“Oh, don’t worry about her,” Susan says, “She’s just a bit of a brat.”

Kate learns to use a katana and throw knives. She advances in mixed martial arts “faster than any student I’ve ever had,” according to her teacher. Her body gets hard and flexible, changes shape so much that she has to get her bridesmaid’s dress let out in places and taken in in others.

Still, with the bow, she shoots and misses.

She watches video footage of great archers. Kim Kyung-Wook, Justin Huish, Clint Barton, Doreen Wilber. She takes notes on the way their bodies move and how they hold the bow. At the gym, she tries to imitate each of their techniques in turn.

Shoot. Miss. Breathe.

Her friends give up on getting her to hang out with them. She blasts pop music and drives aimlessly with the top down, her sunglasses perched on the top of her head. When she gets three speeding tickets in a month, her father pays for them and doesn’t ask why. There’s worse trouble a teenage heiress could be getting into. Kate’s therapist calls it “self-destructive behavior.”

“What are you planning to use all this for?” asks the boy across from her in the boxing ring. She responds by giving him a bloody nose.

There’s a documentary on the Avengers in Kate’s DVR. She eats ice cream as she watches Hawkeye hit a moving target at 200 yards. It looks elegant when he does it, easy. She slows down the picture and watches his muscles flex as he pulls the bowstring back behind his ear and lets an arrow whistle towards its target. I want to do that, Kate thinks.

"You can’t be the best at everything," Susan tells her when Kate arrives at the rehearsal dinner straight from the gym, her bow sticking out of her backpack.

"Says who?" Kate replies. Her fingers twitch.

After the dinner, she texts Susan to say she’ll see her later and starts walking uptown back towards the gym. It’ll be closed this time of night, but the janitor, Wallace, knows her and will let her in. That’s the sign of a pathetic obsession, Kate n’ Barrel, she tells herself.

"Shut up!"

Kate hears the voice coming from the other side of the street and ducks behind a trashcan. This part of town is fine during the day, but at night it can be empty and dangerous. Kate knows (hopes) she can take care of herself, but that doesn’t mean everybody can. She peeks out from behind the trashcan (ew), and can just make out in the darkness two figures in the alley on the other side of the street. One is a woman, backed up against the wall as far as she can go. The other is a man, hulking and nervous with a gun in his hand. The woman is saying something, but Kate can’t make it out from this distance.

Kate remembers faces leering in the shadows, and, before she can think, she’s reaching in her bag for her bow and arrows. She navigates more by touch than sight, feeling the tight flexibility of the bow against her fingers.

It’s dark.

The man is dangerously close to the woman.

If Kate lets herself think about this, she’s not going to do it.

Kate Bishop breathes in.

Shoot.

Hit.

The man cries out and drops the gun on the ground as the arrow buries itself in his hand. He sinks to the ground in pain, and the woman sprints away up the street, hugging her bag to her chest.

"Attagirl, arrow," Kate whispers. She dials 911 on her cell phone, gives them the location and says there’s been shots fired. It’s all taken less than 30 seconds. Kate finishes her walk to the gym.

She knocks on the window and waves at Wallace, who’s doing the floors. He rolls his eyes, but lets her in.

"You training for some kind of competition, kid?" he asks.

"Yeah," Kate says, "Something like that."

She goes up to the archery range and flips the lights on. The target at the end of the room is just a target, mottled with holes and scuffs where arrows have collided with it. Kate takes out her bow and feels the weight of it in her hands. Her father had thought she’d use it maybe once or twice before getting bored and asking for something else.

She takes a solid stance, slips an arrow out of the quiver.

Breathe.

Shoot.

Hit.

Begin again.