It's pretty lame, Kate decides as she trudges back up towards the High Street station for the fourth time that week, that she can't manage to track down one man. Especially since she knows where he lives, who his friends are, and what hours he generally keeps. She's been trying to catch Bucky Barnes for five days now, and so far has had no luck at all. Lord knows he's been on the news enough, so it's not like he's skipped town again.
Random visits to the Avengers base, appearances at crime scenes, bribing the Vision into monitoring H.A.M.M.E.R. communications, and stalking Clint Barton hasn't turned up a hair of the man. She's decided that, for whatever reason, the new Captain America doesn't want to talk to her. Or possibly anyone, which she doesn't really have any basis for, but labelling him as generally anti-social feels better than the idea of being shunned.
Now it's late and cold, and Kate hasn't got classes in the morning, but she did promise to cover Lupe's shift on the Anti-Violence Project hotline, so it's not like she can sleep in. If it wasn't for the team, she'd be seriously considering giving up on this whole endeavour. However...
She'll never be unaware of her surroundings again, not in New York at night, but she still doesn't see the man ahead of her until he separates himself from the shadows under the trees. He's not wearing the flag, but even so Kate only tenses for a moment before she recognises the way he moves.
"You're not going to let this go, are you?" Bucky asks. He's got his hands shoved in the pockets of his grey windbreaker, but Kate knows he he'd have them free and her down before she could even finish thinking about taking a swing at him.
"I wasn't planning to, no," she tells him.
He sighs. "All right, fine. What do you want?"
Finally. "I need you to talk to Patriot."
"I've already done that," Bucky replies. "Last summer, when you slapped a tracker on my bike and helped him break into my house."
Kate had been holding out some small hope that he wouldn't bring that up. Oh well. She steps closer so they're both half in the shadows now, close enough to touch if either of them reached out. "I need you to talk to him again."
"I knew it was going to be something like this," Bucky mutters, but loudly enough that he has to know she can hear him. "I don't do sidekicks."
Kate figures that he must get enough flack on that one, so she doesn't point out the obvious counter to that argument. "None of us want to tag around after the grown ups and get strategically taken hostage and murdered all the time." Okay, maybe she is rubbing it in a little bit, but there isn't really much she can say to that one that's not. "I just want you to talk to him. You really seemed to help him out last time, and I think he needs..." She pauses, not actually sure what the hell is up with Eli these days. He's never been much for sharing what he's feeling with the rest of the team, except maybe her, and they're not exactly talking right now. "He needs a little help."
Bucky steps away, widening the space between them. "I not mentor material," he says. "Why can't you ask Luke Cage or Ms Marvel or someone?"
"I will if I have to," she admits, though it feels like giving up, "but Patriot doesn't look up to them the way he does with you. Everyone else has someone: Statue and the Vision are on Wasp's team; Wiccan follows Doctor Strange around like puppy. I'm still working on something for Speed and Hulkling," Finding benevolent shape-shifters is hard. "But Ronin's really been helping me out a lot."
From the curl of his lip, she can tell that Bucky knows that by "help" she means "ninja attacks at the most inopportune times ever, and randomly challenging her to shooting contests of ridiculousness." Clint seems to have decided not to mess with a system that he feels works, and Kate can't bring herself to disagree. It's not dinner at Stark Tower with history lessons from Jarvis, but it's probably as good as anyone gets these days.
"Look," she tries again, when it becomes clear that he isn't planning to respond. "I'm not asking for your life here, just go spar with him a few times, do something manly together."
"I'm not..." he starts to say, then he stops. "Steve used to do that, didn't he?"
"Cap was more likely to help Patriot with his English homework, but yeah."
Another silence stretches between them, then he sighs, and straightens, hands at his sides. He almost looks like he's come to attention. "I'll think about it." And she knows she's won this one.
She probably would have used the "Steve Rogers would have wanted you to" way earlier, only it kind of feels like using the Lord's Name in vain. Grandma Vi would totally have whacked her knuckles for something like this. It's something Kate's father would pull, and Granny had never thought much of her son-in-law. "Well, thanks, I appreciate it," she says, which sounds amazingly lame, but she blunders on anyway. "You thinking about it, I mean, and um... Patriot doesn't know what I'm doing, obviously, so..."
"He won't hear it from me."
"Okay, great." They stand for a moment, and she's doesn't think he knows how to wrap this up any better than she does. Which is funny, because usually he's pretty good at dramatic exits. "I need to be in bed an hour ago," she finally says. "Have a good what's left of the night." She steps around him and heads for the station.
She's almost too far away to hear him say, "You too, Hawkeye," but she does.
Her heart does this little flutter thing, even though she tells it not to.
Bucky doesn't bother stalking her. He just shows up at her French doors one night and asks for what he wants. Kate's caught between feeling relieved that she sleeps in cut off sweats and a t-shirt, and wishing just a little bit that for once she'd worn some of that lacy stuff her sister keeps giving her.
After that, there's a flurry of planning, and then she's dressed to the nines at a party she hadn't planned to go to, in honour of some rich Russian guy she's barely heard of. Thence follows larceny, and a rather daring escape -- if she does say so herself. It's all even more impressive in that no one seems to suspect the simpering teenager in lavender has the slightest thing to do with the commotion. She stays another hour to make sure they never do, then says she's tired and splits.
"That was reckless," Bucky tells her later. They're on her balcony again, and he's got the flag on but with the cowl pushed back. She's given him the data chip and a report, and really, he should be off intercepting human traffickers right now instead of lecturing her.
However, Kate's still on too much of an adrenalin/too-many-glasses-of-non-alcoholic-champagne high to care that she's apparently worried the hell out of him. "It wasn't my plan that went all..." she waves her hand vaguely towards the sky, "all flooey."
"Flooey?" he asks dryly.
"Yes. Flooey," she confirms. "So it was either let the bastard get away, or improvise."
He leans against the railing, folding his arms across his chest. Kate wonders again how he knows that she made sure that the Bishop security system has a blind spot between her room and the walls. "I told you to abort if it looked sticky," he insists. "Black Widow had Plan B in the works."
She tugs her school jacket more tightly around her and tries not to roll her eyes too hard. "Take it easy. I planted the tracker and got the goods, and other than having to dance with the creep, no harm done. Besides, if you didn't want reckless, you shouldn't have asked someone named Hawkeye for help."
"This is true," he says, almost under his breath, and she hears leather creak as he clenches his fists. "If you're 'the sensible one,' I'm beginning to worry about the rest of your team."
Kate blinks. "Who says I'm sensible?" She must be coming off the high a bit, because irritation is starting to creep in. She remembers how he'd shut them out of the fight before because -- she thought at the time -- he cared too much about her and Eli to put them in danger. Only he had put her in danger tonight, so does that mean he cares about her more or less?
Bucky shrugs slightly to indicate that he can't really remember, he'd just heard it around. Rather, in a way that indicates he does know and is pretending innocence because he sure as hell isn't going to rat someone out. Kate's money's on Eli. Someone's going to get the shit beat out of them in training, super soldier or not.
"Well, I guess you know better now," she says smugly. She's not quite sure why it's so important that he thinks she's daring and adventurous. Besides the part where she's apparently nursing a crush of what's beginning to look like epic proportions, but she's doing her best to ignore that.
Bucky's chance to reply is cut off by her sister's voice outside her room. "Are you in there, Kate?"
Kate turns to yell that she's outside, and when she looks back, Bucky, of course, is gone.
So maybe it isn't really her mission anymore, if it ever had been, but that's not going to keep Kate from keeping an eye on things. She's not really interfering, she tells herself, just swinging by to check on things every so often. Okay, maybe these particular docks are a little bit out of the way, but there are crazy Russian people smugglers, so...
There's not a lot happening tonight. She's been watching the main warehouse mentioned the files she lifted for Bucky -- why yes, she did keep a copy -- for half an hour now, and there really hasn't been much activity. About a quarter of an hour ago, a car of the shiny, expensive variety rolled in, and it hasn't left yet. She's seen it before, and assumes it's some kind of chief minion doing an inspection or something, but doesn't want to get too close. There's no way she's blowing Captain America's op.
Kate shivers and wonders why she's even bothering. She's already done her bit, and it's not like Bucky wants her help anymore. Which is probably it; bruised pride from getting told off, and, well, it is her city too.
"You should consider something with sleeves," Bucky says from behind her. She hadn't heard him coming, of course, and jumps half a foot.
"Hawkeye has no sleeves," she announces as she puts the staves away again. "Hawkeye needs no sleeves." She doesn't add that people wearing flags should not hand out fashion advice, no matter how much she wants to. "What's a guy like you doing in a place like this?" she asks instead.
She can only see his mouth and chin, but that's enough for a disapproving frown. "Checking up on my op." He doesn't sound nearly as pissed off as she'd imagined he would, slightly irritated and territorial, resigned maybe, but not really mad at her.
"Oh, me too," she says, acting like they both think she's supposed to be there. "On your op, that is. It's pretty quiet tonight though, just that silver Lincoln Town Car again." She gets up, carefully stretching out while staying low and out of sight. "I'm going to bed, so she's all yours, Cap, and welcome to it."
Bucky's scowling so deeply now that she can see the lines around his eyes under the mask and in the dark. "The Town Car?" he demands. "When was this?"
Kate shrugs. "About twenty minutes ago."
Not speaking much Russian, Kate doesn't get the exact meaning of what Bucky says then, but the emotion behind it is clear. She loosens her bow on her shoulder before asking, "What's wrong?"
Cap jerkily slings his shield off his back and crouches to peer down over the edge. "Black Widow was in that car," he snaps, as if Kate should know. "She's hours early. I'm supposed to be her back up, but she doesn't know..." he breaks off into another stream of foreign profanity.
"Right." Kate tries to see what he's looking at, but the building appears the same as before. "You're going in, then?" He doesn't answer, just drops off the roof. Kate follows. She rolls out of the landing, and darts after him, stopping behind a stack of containers. "I'm coming too," she whispers.
"Fine. Stopping you would waste too much time." Which isn't precisely true because he could take her down like that. Kate can't help glowing a little, no matter how cool and hard he makes his voice. Keeping low, Bucky eyes up the entrance for a long, silent moment. "You better blow the door off," he concludes. "Fire some smoke in too. I'll go in low; you go high."
It's not a trick shot, not by Hawkeye standards, but Kate takes a certain amount of pride in landing neat little packets of explosives next to each of the latches and hinges. Her hands don't shake at all, and her timing is spot on. They all go off within half a second of each other, the explosion kicking her heart rate into overdrive. Kate grins savagely. Here we go.
Only Bucky's already gone, not even waiting for her to finish notching the smoke arrow before springing forward towards the door.
Kate stays low and behind him for the worst of the smoke. She doesn't have the visibility for shooting, but the bad guys don't seem to care about that, and Cap's the one with the everything-proof shield. Eyes stinging, she blinks back tears and tries to find who to hit next by the cries of alarm. They don't seem to have any idea of who's after them, let alone how many or why.
Then Bucky breaks through the smoke, and Kate bounds up on a stack of shipping containers, and the pitch changes from angry and confused to angry and afraid. They've just realised that they're about to get totally owned by Hawkeye and Captain America. Well, probably mostly by Cap, but that doesn't stop them from shooting at her too. It takes a lot fine manoeuvring to not fall or take a hit while still picking off the bastards coming up on Bucky's back.
Cap's charging forward hard and fast, not really pausing to engage any one thug, just waving past them and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Leaping between the containers above him, Kate remembers when she knew him as the Winter Solder, and he didn't hesitate to kill. He does now though, so far as she can tell, but there are still a lot of dudes with physiotherapy in their futures.
Most of the resistance had come to them near the door, and it thins out for a while, letting her keep pace. Then the shooting starts up again as they get in range of the group that's fallen back to the centre. Bucky leaps up next to her when they make to the end of the main warehouse, throwing the shield into the guards clustering on the catwalk and leaping after it. Kate almost misses that jump as she follows, but just manages to catch the rail. They're too close for archery here, and she shoulders her bow while flipping the staves into her hands.
That seems to be the last line of goons between Bucky and the upper level of offices, and Bucky doesn't even break stride. He just puts his weight behind the shield and ploughs straight through the door.
They've been in motion for less than five minutes, but blood's pounding in Kate's ears. It takes her a moment to realise that there's more carnage inside than the splintered wood and plaster can account for. For example, she's pretty sure that the flying door hadn't taken out all seven people strewn on the floor.
That would probably go to the Black Widow, who looks remarkably poised for someone supposedly in need of rescue. The Black Widow is, in fact, perched on an office chair, calmly typing on the sole surviving computer. She has one leg tucked under her, and a boot heel on the neck of the man in the most expensive suit. Aside from herself, Kate, and Bucky, he's the only conscious person in the room. She glances back at them in an entirely unsurprised manner. "Hawkeye," she acknowledges before she even looks at Bucky. Kate gets the usual little thrill from hearing someone new call her that. "You're late," is all she says to him.
Bucky frowns, but he really looks more like he wants to grin madly. "No, I'm on time; you're early." He pokes a guard with his toe. "Also, your cover's blown, but I guess you already figured that one out."
Her lip twitches up slightly, and Kate has to wonder if the Black Widow ever smiles. The faint lines in her face suggest that she doesn't do it very much if at all. "I got the impression that they wanted to kill me, yes." She turns back to the computer and strikes a few more keys. The screen goes blank, and she pulls out a flash drive, sliding it into a belt pouch. "I'm done."
"Right," Bucky says, and his voice still sounds tightly controlled, but Kate hears something else there too. There's a banding machine on the desk, and he throws a couple loops around the chief minion's wrists and ankles before tying him to the desk for good measure. "Okay, let's get out of here before the cops show up."
The Black Widow nods and glides out of the room. Kate almost misses that way she touches Bucky's arm as she passes, the contact is so brief. Brief maybe, but also pretty damn clear.
Oh, Kate thinks, trying to jam down an irrational flood of disappointment. There's that then.
His breath is hot on her ear as he snarls, "Hold it, Hawkeye! I didn't say you could let go yet."
"Piss off." Sweat's running down Kate's neck and soaking into her sports bra in a sort of sub-cleavage lake, but she doesn't need Bucky's goading to know not drop back to the floor. For one thing, it's twenty feet, and she's not sure she could make that landing, not with her right arm in a sling (there were inexplicably-teal robot ninjas, and slime, and Kate doesn't want to think about it). More importantly, there's no way in hell she's going to let go before he does.
He's a good hundred pounds heavier than she is, maybe a little less since he's taken the arm off, so it should be something like a fair match. Or, you know, not, but a girl can dream.
They hang there from that ridiculous jungle gym that Steve used for training, Bucky watching placidly -- he's not smirking at her, he's not! -- while Kate glares back at him. After approximately a year, she's starting to feel like her good arm's about come off at the shoulder, and she decides to try to find her Zen Place. Which is fun, because she doesn't think Clint's serious about half the shit he used to "teach" her, and she may not have been giving him a hundred percent of her attention when he explained about Zen Places. Mostly, she just sucks it up.
Bucky lets go so suddenly that she almost misses it. His course is almost straight down, except he's not falling, but dropping from one rung to the next. His arm and legs connect with the metal only long enough to slightly break his momentum, before letting go and reaching for the next bar. It looks less like climbing down, and more like plummeting in slow motion. He hits the ground without any sound she can hear, and looks up expectantly.
Kate sighs and follows, sort of. There's no way she's either limber or macho enough to try that, so instead she just catches a crossbar about ten feet down, and another near the ground. She can't quite resist putting an arc and flip into her dismount though, and sticks the landing, too. "I don't see how this fits into teaching me to fight with a broken arm," she complains. "It's not like that was practical strength training."
"Just testing your limits," he tells her evenly, though he's at least had the grace to break a sweat through all that. It makes his white undershirt stick to the contours of his chest. It feels more polite to look at that than the way one strap is sliding off the metal implant where his shoulder should be. "And it makes just as much sense as saying it will only be fair if I take off my prosthesis. How many one-armed villains to you think you're going to fight?"
"None if you don't show me how!" Her voice raises with exasperation. It doesn't seem like that complicated a concept, and she's really starting to feel like Bucky's making things more difficult than they need to be.
"Fine!" He tosses Kate one of her staves, which she just manages to snatch before it hits the floor. "Copy me. I'll start out slow." He stands in front of her, a stave in his own hand, and demonstrates a set of attacks and counters at about one-eighth speed.
Kate does her best to mirror him, but she still isn't used to her new balance. She seems to spend more time catching herself trying to use her right arm than actually following the lesson. He has to run through the set three times before she gets it, even though this is kid's stuff, and she knows it. On the fourth repetition, he speeds up, and then again on the fifth.
She's tiring fast, faster than she should. By the time they get close to fighting speed, her arm is starting to ache again, and the stave feels like it's made of lead. Zen place, she tells herself, gritting her teeth and pulling her lips back into a grimace. Zen place, and fuck this sadistic bastard.
It's then that Kate finally gets what Bucky's doing to her: why he pulled that nonsense with the bars, and why he's trying to make her keep up without showing her the basics. He's deliberately trying to grind her down. It's not that she hasn't trained hard before. They used to train with the Avengers as a team, and Steve Rogers didn't believe in going easy on people. This feels different. For some reason he's not just testing her limits, he's trying to push her past them. Hard.
She's not even surprised when his stave flashes forward and knocks hers to the floor. She's not nearly fast enough to counter it either. "What if I was a Skrull right now?" he demands, stepping into her space.
There's not much she can do here: He's armed, and she's not; he's fast, and she's just too damn slow. Still, Kate's pretty sure he's not actually going to hurt her right now -- he's already put her down hard enough -- so she puts her hand on her hip and snarls, "One of my best friends is a Skrull, so what's your point?"
"My point, Kate, is that you're in no condition to go out in the field." He drops the stave and rests his hand on her good shoulder. "I can't train you up in a day, or even a month. You're just not going to be able to cut it out there while you're still injured."
"Well maybe you're just a lousy teacher, then." Kate tries to shrug him off. He keeps a hold of her just long enough to show her that she can't, then lets his hand drop. "I should have gone to Ronin; he would have actully helped me."
Bucky snorts and turns away, shaking his head slightly. Obviously he knows how realistic that is. Clint's been so amazingly tightly wound these last few weeks, that he seems to have forgotten Kate exists. Which is why she's here, doing this.
"I guess I'll train on my own then," she says, and starts towards the showers. This has been a waste of time. Everything hurts, and she really wants to cry. Not in front of him! She clenches her jaw even tighter.
"You're not doing your team any favours."
It's a low blow, and it hurts all the more for being true.
Cassie and Eli seem have got in some kind of competition to see who can send Kate the most deeply concerned looks, and it's a tight race. Also, there's lecturing. Billy and Teddy don't actually say anything to her, but they keep exchanging meaningful glances and whispering. The Vision is always going to tell Cassie what's going on, and Tommy is straight up impossible to concentrate around. Kate can't work out at home, not like this, and starting to drive her stark raving mad.
So she learns to pick her times to hang out at their base. She's got everyone's schedule pretty much down, and knows that right now she's got a good hour and a half before she has to pretend to be resting like a good little girl.
Only apparently she can't do that either, because Bucky seems to think that other people's security systems are for... well, other people. Kate gives up on her one-armed push ups when a pair of unfamiliar running shows shows up in her field of vision.
She looks up and blinks. The sun's streaming through the tall south windows, highlighting his hair in red and gold. Kate realises this is the first time she's seen his face in daylight. She'll have to tell Tommy; it'll be the end of his vampire theory.
"What now?" she asks, scrambling to her feet in a way too lopsided and hasty to look anything like dignified. "Am I not allowed to train in my own damn base either?" If that's the case, she's surprised he's let it go as long as two days to tell her so, still, he probably has better things to do than police teenagers.
Bucky's got his hands behind his back, head down, and looking like he's doing his best to seem inoffensive. It's amazing how much a six-foot-tall man can look like a puppy. "Actually, I, uh..." he starts, and Kate's struck by how much he reminds her of Steve right then. If he says "Aw shucks" next, it won't feel a bit out of place. "I brought you something." He produces a slightly soggy brown paper bag and extracts a pair of chocolate shakes from Junior's.
Kate wants to ask if he's joking, but he really looks like he isn't, and chocolate's chocolate. She pushes a few loose hairs back into her sweaty ponytail and takes one. "Thanks."
They end up sitting on the steps, shoulders not quite touching, but close enough that she can feel the warmth off his real arm. The milkshake's three-quarters melted, and a little watery by now, but still tastes pretty good. Kate's really wondering if this is some kind of apology or what, but feels sure that she couldn't handle the embarrassment if she asks and it's not. So she doesn't say anything, and hopes that he'll explain in his own time. It's funny how that, now that she's pretty much over the crush thing, what he thinks seems to matter even more than it used to.
"So..." he says eventually. "How's your team?"
"Still driving me crazy, but mostly okay," she tells him, though he probably knows that, because she's pretty sure he was over at Eli's last night.
"They want what's best for you." Bucky keeps his eyes fixed on the plastic cup in his hands. "We all do, you know."
"Right." She watches him out of the corner of her eye. "It's to be death by mother henning. Except in your case, when it's just death."
"Hey. I wasn't--"
"Yeah, sure." Kate sighs, feeling unbelievably tired. Her arm hurts; her volunteer stuff is cancelled because of the only-one-usable-hand thing; all her friends are too worried about her to be much good; her mentor's obsessed and not training her; an eighty-year-old young man is feeding her mixed messages and ice cream, and that's not even touching on current politics. "Whatever," she adds for good measure.
"I didn't used to handle being injured very well either," he offers after another long, awkward moment. "Steve pretty much had to tie me to my bunk. The one time when he didn't, I went tearing after him a week after I got out of surgery for a gut wound. Good thing too, because Red Skull had Cap locked in a dungeon." He smiles, faintly but with real warmth. "Then everything got infected, and I spent a month flat on my back after that. Steve came and visited me every day he could, which I figure was mostly to make sure I didn't get up again."
Kate almost tells him how much he sounds like Captain America right then, the way his eyes go soft with nostalgia and his words fall into the pattern of an old story. But then, he probably gets told that all the time, doesn't he? What with wearing the flag and all. Everyone in America had known Steve, or thought they had. They all must compare the new Cap to the old. Bucky probably doesn't need her adding to it.
"I'm not completely stupid," she tells him instead. "I'm not planning on going on patrols, or even regular missions. Just if something big happens, and my team really needs me... I don't want to be useless, okay?"
"Okay, Hawkeye." He sucks up the last of his milkshake, making an appalling slurping sound as he does. Then he sets the empty cup on the step and gets up, holding out a hand to her. "The first thing we need to work on is your balance."
Kate reaches out, flesh gripping metal, and lets him pull her to her feet.