“So, who’s your favorite superhero?”
There are three kinds of first-date questions, Kate Bishop thinks as she smiles emptily and raises her coffee cup to her lips: okay ones, bad ones, and jesus christ why did I decide to do this? ones. Her seven-dollar latte tastes like McDonalds coffee when she swallows.
She really hates first dates.
“Sorry, what?” she asks the man across from her. The very attractive art student with the abs, which is the only reason she’s on this date in the first place. Because he strode up to her in the gym, all glistening and six-packed, and—
Sometimes, you need to be shallow, okay?
“Your favorite superhero,” he says. He leans his elbows on the table and grins. His teeth are perfectly white and perfectly straight. Not for the first time, she wonders if the whole year in Africa helping starving children learn to read story was a lie. “C’mon. The city’s lousy with the guys—”
“People still use ‘lousy’ in that context?”
“—and there’s no way you’re not into them.” Kate rolls her eyes, and he nudges her ankle under the table. “See? Into. Them.”
He punctuates each word with another nudge. He’s lousy with casual touch. Kate wants to tick down the number of weeks it’s been since . . . She wants to remind herself this all is a good idea, let’s put it that way. “Not everyone,” she returns smoothly, “is into superheroes.”
His eyebrows shoot up. They’re dark, like his hair. His please run your fingers through me when we make out later hair. “Not at all?” he questions. Interrogates, really. It’s absolutely clear he doesn’t believe her.
She shrugs and sips her coffee again. This is the problem, she thinks, with being eighteen and dating in New York City. Not the stupid questions about superheroes, but the weird twist in the bottom of her stomach when the topic inevitably comes up in conversation. She’s bounced around clubs on superhero theme nights, snuck in the back entrances of bars with drinks named after each of the Avengers, and eaten one very awkward dinner in a restaurant where the servers all dressed as off-brand versions of the Fantastic Four. The city crawls—literally—with stronger-faster-bigger-better people. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that action?
Or a piece of Mr. Abs’s action, because he’s staring at her across the table. She sighs and sets down her coffee cup. “I guess,” she says with a flippant hand gesture, like it doesn’t really matter, “it’d be Hawkeye.”
His face lights up in this ridiculous, all-teeth grin again, and Kate’s just grateful he’s attractive. Not just because it makes the next ankle-prod less obnoxious, but because it helps stave off the spike of ire she feels at the next question:
“Hawkeye-Hawkeye, or Lady Hawkeye?”
Kate grinds her teeth together. “What?”
“There’re two of them, right?” he asks, still grinning like an asshole. “There’s the guy Hawkeye—the real one—and then that second one. Lady Hawkeye.”
“She is not Lady Hawkeye,” Kate challenges. At least, she hopes it’s challenging. Defensive might land her in Captain America’s office, duly chastened about secret identities and personal protection. You know, the things Clint is currently not teaching her (god bless that messed-up man).
Her fingers are way too tight around her coffee mug. She releases it and flexes her hands.
He rolls his eyes. “No, she’s gotta be.”
“Pretty sure she’s not.” It’s worse, she decides, to be empty-handed. Empty-handed means she’s clenching her hands into fists and leaving fingernail half-moons in her skin. “They’re both just Hawkeye.”
And fists are the absolute worst, because when he laughs—not a chuckle, but a full-blown, head-back guffaw—she very seriously considers punching him in the nose.
“That’s not how it works.”
“Not how it works,” she deadpans.
“Right.” He leans back in his chair. “Think about it. Every time a girl superhero follows a guy one, she ends up with some variation on his name.”
Kate’s hands are starting to hurt. “Uh, last time I checked, we were down to zero Hawkeyes before the girl Hawkeye popped up.” She knows full well that she is, at the very least, proving to Mr. Nice-Abs-No-Self-Preservation across the table that she is actually “into” superheroes. He’ll just never realize it’s a very discreet set limited to a handful of Avengers, her own team (shut up, they’re hers), and Clint. “But anyway, it’s not like with Spider-man, where there’s a gender attached to it. Hawkeye’s just a name. It’s not masculine on its own.”
“Sounds pretty butch to me.”
“Well, it’s not. And anyway, Lady Hawkeye sounds stupid.”
He shrugs. “Okay, then. Miss Hawkeye. I don’t know, I don’t follow her.”
“So she’s single, too?”
“No, I don’t mean that, I just— Look.” And he’s ticking things off on his fingers now. Great. “There’s Spider-man and Spidergirl—”
“Spider Woman,” Kate corrects.
“—Captain Marvel and Miss Marvel—”
“She’s Captain Marvel now, too.”
“—the Hulk and the She-Hulk . . . ” He shrugs again. Kate barely resists pointing out that there’s technically a Hulkling, too, who isn’t a Hulk but still breaks his (stupid) naming conventions. “It has to be Miss Hawkeye. Or Hawkgirl, I guess.”
And that, that right there, is precisely when Kate can’t take it anymore. She pushes back her chair with some force and throws her napkin on the table.
“I have to go.”
Credit where credit is due: Mr. Abs has the humanity to look shocked, even embarrassed. If he’s got the prerequisite number of brain cells to feel embarrassment, of course. “What? Why?”
Kate wants, in that second, to tell him the truth wrapped up in a lie, say that she’s going to the practice range to shoot until her fingers are bloody and all their straw targets are riddled with arrows—but then, it’s not enough. She feels it in her bones, the ignition that pumps fire through her veins with her blood, and she suddenly wants to show him, instead. She wants to stand him on the sidelines and let him watch as she shoots four arrows at once and, from 100 paces, lines them up perfectly. She wants to show him blind shots, moving targets, and a dozen different (stupid) trick arrows. She wants him to eat crow—eat Hawkgirl—and laugh when he feels like an asshole, because she’s a fucking superhero in her own right and not Miss anything.
In short, she’s really fucking pissed off.
“I have to wash my dog’s hair,” she tells him, and leaves.
In the cab, she rattles off the first address that pops into her head, and isn’t completely surprised when the car rumbles into Billy’s neighborhood. Nothing says fuck off to a persistent would-be suitor like a man-witch who can convince you that you’re a life-long nudist. She stands on the sidewalk outside the Kaplans’ building for a couple minutes, makes sure nobody followed, and then hails a second cab.
Clint’s sprawled out on his couch when she pushes through the door, and there’s a rerun of Dog Cops on the TV. Lucky greets her with a lazy tail-wag and then sits next to the island in the kitchen until she feeds him a pizza crust out of an otherwise empty box.
Kate dumps coffee grounds into a filter, flicks on the machine, and watches the pot fill up with cheap-as-shit coffee. She knows it’ll taste like bitter ash going down.
She likes getting what she pays for.
Clint wanders into the kitchen as she’s filling her mug, tatty ends of his jeans trailing on the floor. “Thought you had a date,” he says.
She finishes pouring her cup and then hands him the pot. “It ended.”
“No details?” He raises his eyebrows and elbows her. She rolls her eyes. “C’mon. You can’t hold out on me for too long.”
She sighs. “He thought there was a Miss Hawkeye.” Clint sputters halfway through his mouthful of coffee and nearly spills the pot as he sets it down on the counter. There’s laughter in his eyes—dancing, evil laughter—and she turns on him. “What?”
“Nothing,” he replies. He wipes his mouth on the back of his wrist. “But you gotta remember, Katie-Kate, we went from having a me-Hawkeye to no Hawkeye to you-Hawkeye to two Hawkeyes all pretty fast. It’s probably—”
“Are you defending him?” Kate demands. She pretends that there is absolutely no shrillness to her voice, just cool authority. She has some lingering self-respect, after all. “Are you seriously defending the muscular douchebag who just called me Hawkgirl to my face?”
Clint shakes his head and promptly drops his eyes to the floor. “Nope,” he lies, but at least he has the decency to lie. Stupid asshole of a man. “Defending you. Defending that there is not and has never been a Miss Hawkeye.”
She nods. “Good.” God, she loves his shitty coffee. “Dog Cops?” she suggests.
“Dog Cops,” he confirms, and tops up her mug on their way to the couch.