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In Clear Terrain

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“There is no reply, in clear terrain, to an archer in cover.”

--Dorothy Dunnett (attributed by Annie Dillard)

 

 

 1.

 

Prior to becoming a Young Avenger, Kate Bishop had not had a favourite superhero. She had not grown up as the kind of girl who picked favourite superheroes or – to be honest – held a real opinion related to the broad category of superheroes. “Yeah, sure, superheroes, the Avengers are cool.” Tony Stark made an appearence in her dad's vicinity, from time to time, and once told Kate she was growing up just like her mother, whose name he failed to land on after repeated attempts. Her sister said later he’d patted her butt and made like it was an accident.

Then Kate became a superhero, or more to the point took to hanging out socially with people like Billy Kaplan, who would claim with intense seriousness over burgers and a strawberry malted at Shake Shack that his favourite superhero as a pre-teen had been the Scarlet Witch. The Scarlet Witch! Because she was a glamorous tragic diva with all-surpassing powers, the Judy Garland of the Avengers as it were, and Billy Caplan was a gay Jewish fanboy. Though, Kate supposed, that made Billy literally the Liza Minelli of the Avengers.

The reserve Avengers, anyway.

She had always held opinions about Clint Barton, as an archer. But that was something else altogether.

 

2.

 

In April America came to visit. It was early morning, just after sun-up, and Kate was doing tree stance on the trailer roof, watching joggers pound by on the beach. The sea blurred hazily into the sky; the sand was the colour of the inside of a conch shell.

“Hey, chico. Who’s a good boy?”

Lucky barked, once, then subsided into panting.

Kate looked down. America waved summarily, like a dashed-off salute. She wore her perennial hoodie, and new boots. Lucky gamboled around her knees, tail beating like a fan.

“This dog belong to you, princess?”

“He’s a friend,” she said. “Needed to get out of New York as much as I did.”

“I’ll bet.” They grinned at each other. America said, “Want to get food?”

The logistics had to be sorted out ("So when you said you 'biked,' in LA--" "I go from point A to point B using this bicycle." "Yeah, no."), but eventually they settled in a diner, not so far from the beach. Kate dissected her egg white omelette and said, "Any reason you're in town?"

America took a bite of pancake. "Maybe," she said.

"That's... non-committal." 

"Maybe I wanted to check in on you," America said. She had, in fact, been noticeably watching Kate: the same wary, intelligent observation she turned on her surroundings after any dimensional hop into the unknown. In Kate's experience, America would watch and wait until she came to some unspoken conclusion, at which point she would pursue either swift violence or a good breakfast with single-minded intensity. The fact that they were currently at breakfast was encouraging.

"I'm fine," Kate said, a little discombobulated. No one ever checked in on her; she checked in on other people. "I'm having a blast. You should meet my friends -- Marcus and Finch -- they're this adorable gay couple, I helped them with the flower arrangements at their wedding. Um, not in a decorative sense. In a detective sense. That's my current job: detection." She frowned. "Did Billy put you up to this?"

"No," said America.

"Okay. I really am fine, though. I just... needed to take off. Had to figure things out on my own. You know?"

"Yeah, I do," said America, and it sounded like a sincere answer to Kate's rhetorical question. "Come on, I want to show you a thing."

They paid and went out back and America kicked down a door in space-time: into what seemed like an endless, rolling plain. The sky was still blue, the sun bright and Earth-like. The air smelt dry. There were mountains in the distance.

The ground was covered with a haze of riotous colour -- green-yellow, yellow-gold, golden-orange, orange-red. Kate took off her sunglasses. Spotted a bit of violet, too, and then her eyes made sense of it: they were flowers, sparse and not tall but everywhere, extending as far as she could see.

A butterfly fluttered past. Lucky barked at it, ran a few steps, then stopped, glancing back at them.

"Where are we?" Expecting an euphonic planet, an ideal dimension.

"Antelope Valley," said America, "just outside the California poppy reserve. It's a couple of hours' drive from downtown. You know, for people who have cars. Keep your friend on the trail, he's not technically allowed."

"Oh."

"Also there are snakes."

Kate hooked the leash back on and shortened it. Lucky looked at her reproachfully.

"It's beautiful, though," she said. "I had no idea this was here."

"They only last a couple of weeks, in the spring," America said. She was gazing into the distance, hands shoved into the pockets of her hoodie. "Days, really. ...We have something like this, back -- where I come from."

"Yeah?" Kate glanced at her. America didn't talk about where she came from. Kate had thought it best not to press: her moms were dead, a priori, so something must have happened.

"Yeah. It's the colours, mostly. Just that, here, but where I come from there would be music too, perfumes, feelings, thought-voices. That golden orange, there, would sound like bells when you looked at it, and it would tell you stories. The whole place was that way: it was a fairytale. Like someone's beautiful forever dream."

Then someone woke up, Kate thought. 

Maybe it had been America. Actually, maybe America was the princess. It would explain a lot.

"You ever think about going back?"

America looked back at her, eyebrows raised. As if the question had been genuinely surprising.

"Do you?"

Kate didn't.

Once loosed, an arrow only flew one way. Kate Bishop was a superhero, and so was America Chavez. That was never going back to the shop.

 

3.

 

KATE BISHOP’S MID TO LATE ADOLESCENCE EXPRESSED AS A SERIES OF ALBUM REVIEW BLURBS AND RANKED IN ORDER OF SUBJECTIVE QUALITY

18: THIRD ALBUM GOES POP. Style over substance as knowingly adopted stance when the gang is against the world and your backs are against the wall. Adventures in the home city and ten dimensional jumps away. Ungaro and hurricanes and vintage alien bows. Hooking up, breaking up, growing up; unexpected collaborations; wielding the power you had all along and making it look easy. Parents suck, but breakfast is awesome when you've been dancing all night. 9/10

16: BEST NEW ARTIST. The breakout hit; the "bands to watch out for" medley clip; bitter old-school fans still hold to it as their "canon" "sound". New friends, cool weaponry, awkward high school non-relationships, dramatic wedding sideshows. Everything that had been bubbling under comes together in a moment of clarity and intense commitment. The course is set (despite some retroactively embarrassing aesthetic choices). 8/10

19: GOING SOLO. The new, stripped-down, bicoastal direction. Not breaking up the band (or bands), but needing to get away and find your own voice. Sixties-inspired acoustic Hell-A haze might disconcert those expecting more handclaps and laser beams on the dance floor, but on the right paradise beach with the right furry friend... 7/10

17: THE DIFFICULT FOLLOW-UP. Stepping up as the leader when the rest of the world is going to shit. Young enough to know the simple answers to complicated questions, but -- you can admit it in retrospect -- too young to fully execute. Find your Clint Barton, find your Bucky Barnes (these are not the same flavour of mentor). Make noise; make more noise. Make sure the grownups hear you. Terrible things happen to people you love, but maybe you get to prove something. Maybe you get to prove yourself. 6/10

15: THE SHELVED DEBUT ALBUM. Contains such unmissable cuts as "Dead Mom," "The Bullshit Event Horizon," and "Lots Of Talk Therapy." You want to forget about this year, and so do the fans -- usual rarity hounds aside. You can't really, though; you wouldn't be who you are otherwise. There was no way past, only through. 3/10

 

4.

 

Immediately after The Bullshit Event Horizon she’d thought about... superheroes. Not seriously; just, weird mental processes take hold of you. Like what if you could rewind time and not take that shortcut through Central Park. What if you’d had your bow (which at the time had been somewhere in the back of a storage closet with the rest of her summer camp stuff; and still was, because she had several better ones now). Or, what if Spider-Man or Captain America had been around. But that last idea – she told her therapist – had struck her as ludicrous. What if Spider-Man had been around? To rescue her? To rescue her? Like a nameless, hapless girl in an action movie?

It had happened really fast. She had barely had time to scream. Had never seen his face – it was classic. But the shortcut hadn’t been a random shortcut: she’d taken that walk every Wednesday and Friday, because she’d been volunteering after school at a homeless shelter and hadn’t wanted to be picked up and dropped off in Daddy’s Lincoln Continental like some rock star spawn who’d scored an internship at Vogue. (All of this was pluperfect. After The Event Horizon these relative insecurities ceased to matter.) It had literally never occurred to her that anything bad could happen. The fucker had probably been watching her routine.

Long afterward she thought that the fire that had powered her through it, at first, was the rich white girl princess-dom she’d never wanted to admit she possessed: her offense at the way her unthinking fearlessness had been arbitrarily revoked. When she realized she wouldn’t be able to stomach that spot anymore she felt only anger. How dare anyone keep her off any square foot of Manhattan? Of Central Park? How dare anyone say, as she had understood immediately they would have, as her lovely, wise, anxious mess of a sister would have – that she shouldn’t have been there in the first place?

The fact that some women – some people – felt like this from the start, felt like this all the time, assumed it was normal to feel like this, lived in a world that they understood to function like this. And in Kate Bishop’s insignificant, unexamined past life, she’d deigned to volunteer her time after school--

If it needed doing, she had to do it with her own eyes and mind, her own hands and body. She would be the superhero, if that was what the word meant.

Her therapist said it was a good thing: that a restored sense of agency meant she’d progressed. Kate had never told her what she did. 

 

5.

 

She didn’t think about it much anymore. Once every few weeks, say. The fear and anger were gone. But it was like a marker, hammered down into the ground, and every once in a while she glanced back: checking to see where the path began.

It wasn't important that anyone knew, or didn't know. But someday, Kate was beginning to realize, she would meet someone who would need to hear the story. Another girl, probably. Someone even younger than the Young Avengers, depressing as that thought was -- even as Black Widow, Mockingbird, and even Madame freaking Masque made Kate feel cripplingly young on a regular basis.

She figured that when the time came, she would know.

 

6.

 

In the end, it was Jessica Jones who called her about Cassie. She’d heard from Luke – Victor Von Doom had pulled off some scheme or other, involving the Scarlet Witch, to reverse some or possibly even all of his bullshit life choices to date – and remembered the Young Avengers. Remembered that Kate would want to know.

Kate took the day off. She sat in the park and called Billy, didn’t get him, left a message, texted Teddy instead, got his call back, talked for a minute, then Teddy rang off to go find Billy. Called Tommy, got bounced to an overflowing voice mail box, texted instead, didn’t get a text back.

Texted Eli, finally, at his last known number, thumb hovering over the send button in hesitation. But Eli would want to know. Cassie had been – Cassie was a friend.

There was no immediate response.

She thought about posting on Yamblr – what? A cryptic text post? For Loki to thumbs up? (He still did that every once in a while, even though he’d physically disappeared off the map.) Loki, as far as she knew, had never met Cassie. Neither had America, or David, or (good grief) Noh-Varr. Cassie had died before they all registered their freaking Yamblr accounts.

Kate had never mentioned her. There was no point. It was like after her mother died: you picked up and kept moving. Arrow only flies one way, blah de blah.

What other choice was there?

Clint must have known Cassie, she realized suddenly. Clint – it would be like Clint to find out, maybe even to see her, and not clue in that he had a phone call to make. But maybe he didn’t know yet.

She'd started walking, without consciousness of having made a decision.

"Are we going to watch a movie?" Cassie said. She was lying on Kate's bed. "Please no more Clint Barton."

"Shut up," Kate said absently. Clicked into another video. "It's a technique thing. Visualization."

"Uhuh."

"It is." Kate was a cellist: she watched videos of Rostropovich, Jacqueline du Pré, Yo-Yo Ma. Kate was an archer: she watched videos of Clint Barton. "See? Look at the way he did that, from cover. It's perfect."

Cassie scooted over. "You would never say that to his face."

"If you're in the clear," Kate said, "an archer can take you. As long as I can see you."

When she found him, Clint - ludicrously - was trying to pull a long-sleeved tee over his head without having both legs all the way into his jeans yet. In the middle of his living room, so this was not on her. Lucky barked, then sat back and tapped Clint on the knee with a paw. Clint looked up, startled.

"Katie," he said. And the way he said it, she knew he knew.

"Iron Lad said he would find a way to change it," she said. It came out too fast, tumbling, and she wanted to slow down, wanted to sign. Couldn't remember how. "I knew he couldn't, though. That that would be the thing to eat him up inside. You can't change the past. The arrow only flies one way. It's unfair but--"

Clint's face had grown increasingly blurred, and with muted surprise she realized she was crying. 

"Kate," Clint said. Hobbled up, one hand hitching his jeans into position, the other pulling her into a hug. The little she'd managed to learn came back to her, then, and she signed against his chest: time -- forward -- don't believe. C-A-S--

"Yeah, I know," Clint said. "But if you keep getting up when you fall down, sometimes you catch a break from the universe. It's not more unbelievable than the other bullshit, in the long run. Trust me."

"Yeah, sure," Kate said. "You're a real comfort." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, realized she was smiling too.

"Let's get out of here. She's at the Tower. We'll grab a taxi or something."

"Hell," said Kate. "I'm calling an Ooper car."