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Clint falls off the couch as they all troop into his apartment. “I wasn’t asleep! I was just – Jesus, Katie, what did you do to your face?”

“Aliens,” America says shortly, crouching down to make a fuss of Lucky, accompanying this with a glare that will ensure nobody will ever call it cute; not aloud, at least.

“I’ll get the first aid box,” Clint offers.

“Don’t bother,” Kate says thickly, sitting down at his breakfast bar and tipping her head back; that’s meant to help with bleeding, right? God, her face hurts. “Your first aid box just contains Jolly Ranchers and three kinds of painkillers that aren’t legal in this country.”

She remembers this from the last time Clint’s place was closest after a fight and he offered to bandage her leg with the pillowcase straight off his bed and a roll of duct tape. Someone should really complain to Tony Stark about how the younger Avengers generation don’t have healthcare: not everyone’s got bags full of money under their bed like certain people Kate could side-eye if the left half of her face weren’t swelling up.

“You can make some coffee,” America offers, where she’s stopping Lucky from bounding over to Kate; now isn’t the moment for affectionate dogs. “Cassie’s got this.”

Cassie does, actually; somehow, while the rest of them are still staggering around ripping their uniforms and getting pulped on a semi-regular basis, Cassie manages to keep a purse nearby, filled with Tic Tacs and tampons and medical gauze and all those things that are actually really useful to keep on hand. It’s possible that Cassie has extra powers; it’s also possible that she’s just somehow better at this than the rest of them.

“I can do coffee,” Clint agrees; he’s wearing the same sweatpants that he was wearing when Kate last saw him, four days ago, and a black eye, and he’s forgotten to switch off the TV and its current Real Housewives marathon. Kate will be merciless about that, when her head isn’t exploding and her hands aren’t sticky with her own blood; she pokes tentatively at her teeth with her tongue, relieved when everything feels intact and no more loose than usual. Emergency dental care’s a bitch; she should really bring that up with Tony Stark too. They really all need benefits with this saving-the-world job that doesn’t pay them in the first place anyway.

“This is going to sting,” Cassie warns her, and Kate scrunches her eyes shut when Cassie presses an antiseptic wipe against the grazes currently covering her cheeks: asphalt and bad purple guys is a shitty combination, who knew? Cassie is firm but gentle, and Kate digs her nails into her knees and wonders why the hell Wolverine bitched so much: healing immediately is presumably better than this bit, and the unattractive yellow-green bruising she’ll be carrying around for the rest of the month. If Kate had powers that meant didn’t have to spend half her income on various kinds of bandages and extra-strong foundation, she wouldn’t be that sulky.

“Mmmmmfff,” Kate manages, because there’s something about keeping yourself G-rated, hero in the public eye, something like that. A handful of newspapers still insist on thinking she’s about seventeen, which sometimes seems preferable. Sometimes not, though: there’s only so many zits a domino mask can hide.

“Hang in there,” Cassie says, dropping a hand to squeeze one of Kate’s for a moment, and Kate squeezes back.

+

As it turns out, there are only so many diners in the entirety of New York that they can go into where Loki hasn’t somehow gotten them banned. America grinds her teeth every time another manager rushes out into the main restaurant, hands flapping: not again, I’m not having you costumed idiots running up a tab again.

They could maybe change their clothes before going for post-ass-kicking pancakes, sure, but at least when you’re in a semi-shredded uniform, it makes people look less at the surgical tape holding bits of your face together, and maybe Kate needs to consider being less reckless with herself, given that her powers amount to being The One With The Archery And The Ideas That Are Slightly Less Bad Than The Other One With The Archery.

Not the snappiest of names, but she’s currently sharing a codename and a signature colour with a certain dummy who makes even more of a mess of his face/life than she does. Somehow.

Anyway, the world is saved, or at least less screwed than it was three hours ago, and Billy and Teddy have vanished off for Date Night – their superpowers making them both capable of smartening up enough to go to a cinema and make out in the back row without anyone recoiling, anyway – and David has an Actual Job somewhere now that none of them are allowed to know about, and Tommy vanished between one blink and the next, so it’s just the three of them hogging a corner booth and taking advantage of the coffee refills while the waitresses pretend they’re not snapchatting pictures of them from behind the counter. Kate wouldn’t mind, but her hair is singed and she’s all but faceplanting into her pancakes; she’s been prettier, basically.

Cassie has a hole in the sleeve of her costume, and a black eye, and she’s sitting to Kate’s left, stirring sugar into her coffee. Kate’s grateful for her in ways she can’t articulate, for being there when they were all idiot kids ripping off existing Avengers like that would never end badly, for being there now they’re adults and kids at the same time, too much and not enough and struggling to carve a place for themselves in the world. Kate’s lost a lot, and Cassie’s lost more, but Kate can lean her head against her shoulder while she eats her pancakes with teeth that hurt maybe a little more than they should do, and Cassie doesn’t need to say anything at all to be the centre of Kate’s universe.

Opposite them, America’s hair is frizzing out of her ponytail, and there’s petrol splashed across her too-bright sweater, though the rest of her is fine: it must be nice to be invulnerable, Kate muses, poking at her teeth again. How many impacts can a human jaw take before everything rattles loose, anyway? She never misses her trust fund more than at moments like this, when she wants to pay people to whisk her off somewhere peaceful and cleanly white and pamper her and make sure nothing important in her physiology’s going to crack or fall off anytime soon.

Maybe she should find out whether Billy can do medical check-ups, though there’s every possibility that could end badly too.

America’s ankle is resting between Kate’s feet; her legs are stretched out across the distance between them, bare perfect skin sliding against Kate’s ragged leggings. There’s a possibility that America doesn’t know, that this is an accident; but Kate has met America before, and it isn’t. Neither of them are acknowledging this, because they need this diner to keep liking them, and Kate’s scraped up her elbows worse than even Cassie’s emergency band-aids can fix, and it’s easier to sit here and bitch about the radio choices and eat carbs and let this tick by than push and break something that isn’t ready to break just yet.

+

Billy’s the nerd, really, the one mouthing a hysterical OH MY GOD every time they run into a new superhero and/or supervillain, the more obscure the better, and it’s probably just as well they’re usually too busy fighting people to ask for autographs.

Still, there are times when Kate gets a little starstruck, unable to help herself. Like when she’s schlepping up to Clint’s apartment and she passes a statuesque blonde on the stairs, who tosses her a wink and a smirk and is gone before Kate can so much as say that’s a really nice coat or who does your hair or can I just stand here with my anime eyes for a long moment?

“Was that Bobbi?” she asks, once she’s let herself in and kicked off her shoes.

The relationship between Clint and his ex-wife is deep and complicated and Kate doesn’t want to get too enmeshed in it; she just wants to gaze adoringly at Bobbi and maybe one day ask her how to do the thing with the sticks, because, woah.

“It was,” Clint agrees. He’s wearing a t-shirt Kate is maybe ninety percent sure belonged to Teddy at one point in time – she doesn’t even ask anymore – and his eyebrow is being held together with butterfly stitches. Kate has a bandaid across the bridge of her nose, though, so she can’t exactly start pointing fingers.

“It’s a pity you missed her,” Natasha says from the kitchen, and Kate jumps, because she didn’t even see her. She’s not scared of Natasha in the way she was when she first met her, but she’s obviously still scared of her, because anyone who isn’t clearly has no self-preservation instincts.

It’s why Clint adores her, obviously.

Natasha appears to be giving herself a manicure with the help of a wicked-looking knife, while Lucky prowls around her feet, like he’s not sure whether he loves her or wants to try and hide under the couch again (he doesn’t fit, and gets stuck, and it’s a whole saga every time).

“Three people with bird codenames in the same apartment,” Natasha adds, lifting her head, her smirk soft and still terrifying. “You could start calling this place The Aviary.”

“Hey,” Clint protests, “when you, Peter and Jess are all in the same place, I don’t start calling it the… whatever you keep spiders in.”

“Bathtub?” Kate suggests, going over to help herself to coffee. It’s like Starbucks here, though the coffee is usually of a shitty quality that nobody in their right mind would drink, unless Tony’s come over and made a fuss about it again.

“Batman called his place The Bat Cave,” Natasha says, neutral, and Kate desperately wants to ask her why she knows that when she hasn’t spent several years with Billy, and doesn’t dare.

Lucky creeps closer to Natasha, and then leaps back again. It’s possible that he can smell Natasha’s cat on her, but it’s also possible that he’s just reacting like a sensible person.

(Kate brought up the pet thing once, because she had to.

“Clint’s got a dog,” she said, “you’ve got a cat… you guys are kind of the worst secret agents.”

“Only I’m a secret agent.”

“I’m a carnie,” Clint agreed, and ruffled Lucky’s fur, and then they got to sit through a half-hour lecture on how Liho wasn’t a pet, she just happened to be around when Natasha sometimes was, didn’t they know anything?)

“Yeah,” Clint allows, turning to Natasha, “but Superman called his the Fortress of Leave Me The Fuck Alone.”

“That’s not what he called it,” Kate says into her coffee mug.

“It’s what I’m calling mine,” Clint says, arms folded firmly, and Kate manages not to laugh at him for all of about fifteen seconds.

“Clint, you would die if we didn’t come in with groceries and fuses and… whatever it is Natasha’s doing right now,” she explains.

“Ask him about the time he got scurvy in Ulan Bator,” Natasha says without looking up, blowing across the tips of her perfectly buffed nails.

“Could’ve happened to anyone!” Clint protests.

To be honest, Kate can’t believe Clint doesn’t have scurvy now, and says as much.

“You can talk, Little Miss Cup Noodle,” Clint snips back, and, yeah. The Hawkeyes are kind of a collective disaster zone, when you stop and think about it.

“…why don’t we have cool powers like being able to communicate with birds?” Kate asks miserably. This coffee really is terrible; she hopes Clint’s not reusing the grounds again. “Falcon can do it.”

“What would you do if you could communicate with hawks?” Clint asks, frowning. “Actually, are there even hawks in New York?”

“Your ornithological knowledge is abysmal,” Natasha says. Lucky his has chin resting on her knee; for now, there seems to be an impasse of sorts, anyway.

“Yeah, ‘cause you have a degree in arachnology,” Clint responds, screwing up his face and then looking like he regrets it. That eyebrow thing looks painful; Kate should ask how he did that sometime.

“Male spiders don’t have penises,” Natasha says. “They deposit sperm onto the web, then gather it into appendages near their mouths called pedipalps, which have sperm ducts for storage.”

She’s saying this casually but she’s still holding the knife, and Kate can’t even be castrated but she still finds herself crossing her legs tightly anyway. How does Clint hang out with Natasha on a regular basis?

“So,” she says, “kind of like snowballing, then?”

Clint blinks at her a handful of times and then says: “hey, remember when you guys were innocent loser kids?”

“…no,” Kate says.

Clint sighs. “Nah, neither do I.”

+

There was a point when Kate was pretty sure kick-ass boots were welded onto America’s feet, or maybe were just a part of anatomical make-up on… whatever plane of reality it is America actually comes from.

It turns out, no, America has feet, and they’re… well, normal-looking person feet, Kate’s never had any kind of foot fetish and doesn’t intend to start now, but they’re weirdly delicate without America’s usual angry footwear. Dimension-kicking abilities or not, they’re… well, Kate doesn’t know what she’s thinking now, and decides to maybe not think about this anymore anyway.

Natasha rolled her eyes and recommended this place as somewhere she and Jess sometimes go when smashing faces stops being soothing, and Kate can’t remember the last time she got a pedicure. Maybe it was back before she was anything much, her sister insisting on pearly French toes for the wedding.

Now, Cassie is choosing between shades of glittery gold and Kate’s feet are immersed in soothing lukewarm water and nobody is trying to kill anyone in here; it’s lovely. Maybe they can make Team Pedicure Day a thing, though Kate can picture the look on Tommy’s face right now, and it’s kind of glorious.

Kate’s almost gotten used to America’s hotpants – unless she turns her head too fast, anyway, and then there’s all this thigh and curves and damn – but seeing America barefoot and slumped in a chair to Kate’s right is making her oddly flustered; maybe it’s the suggestion that something about America can be softer, less spiky than it usually is, and Kate doesn’t know what to do with that and knows exactly what to do with that.

“Would it hurt if you kicked through dimensions with no shoes on?” Cassie asks, because, unlike Kate, she’s not winding herself up over nothing. Cassie’s already much better at Team Pedicure Day than Kate may ever be.

Their pedicurists are cheerfully acting like they can’t hear a word they’re saying; Natasha says that they’re very discreet, though one of them must have the world’s best twitter feed tucked away somewhere.

“It’s the intent, not the force,” America responds on a shrug, and when Kate risks a glance down she sees that, oh yes, America is having perfect little stars-and-stripes painted into each toenail. Of course she is. Kate still can’t work out whether America’s just showing real dedication to a colour scheme, or something else completely; if America even knows herself. “I don’t need the boots, I just really like them.” She flicks a look at Cassie, and adds: “your uniform could use more stompy boots, I’m just saying.”

“Hey,” Cassie says, “this evolution of my costume is the best one, it doesn’t need any adjusting. Talk to Kate.”

“The hip panels are excellent,” Kate says, because yeah, her costume’s done a bunch of things over the years, some of them better than others, and she did finally learn that her gay teammates didn’t necessarily have impeccable fashion advice; not all the stereotypes are true. “You love the hip panels.”

America smirks, which helps nothing, and Kate says: “it’s not like you don’t have terrible costume choices in the past.”

That knocks America’s smirk off quickly enough, because, yeah, they all know about the tiny little top that looked like one good stamp or a breeze would make it fall off.

America’s eyes narrow. “Loki,” she says, and, well, yeah. God of Mischief, and possessor of all the incriminating photos from their not-so-distant pasts, apparently.

Not that being a teenager is always enough of an excuse for poor superhero uniform choices: Clint tried mocking Kate’s look with the tiny top and the shiny purple, but she shut him down quick enough with: “didn’t you spend most of the nineties dressing like Wolverine and wearing douchebag shades?”

Really, everyone’s got some shameful choices shoved in the back of their closets, falling apart and acid-splashed and held together with increasingly bad stitching and tape: it comes with the superhero territory.

“I’m pretty sure Loki thought he was matchmaking,” Cassie says in a deliberately innocent voice, taking a sip of her iced tea and not blinking.

Kate was mostly non-plussed at the time of receiving a snapchat from Loki, wherever he’s holed up these days, featuring a photo of America and a HEY KATE LOOK AT ALL THESE BOOBS, but it’s possible that in Loki’s brain that’s what matchmaking is.

America’s looking thoughtful, and Kate resorts to facepalming, because until she sees a dentist tooth-grinding is out. She really needs to do some basic medical self-care one of these days before she actually turns into Clint; one of them’s got to be just about standing.

“He’s going to get smushed,” America says cheerfully, and for a moment Kate connects some dots and wonders what the hell Loki sent to America about her.

Cassie laughs, bright and light and warm and all the things Kate loves most about her best friend, and sometimes their world is full of pain and dirt and tears and picking bits of gravel out of your grazed arms, and sometimes… well, sometimes it’s this, people you love and nowhere pressing to be and if they’re lucky New York might not fall in before Kate’s had her toenails painted purple. Hey: she’s committed to this colour scheme, after all.

“Well, not until your pedicure dries,” Cassie says.

America winks at Kate and Kate smirks and America agrees: “no, not ‘til then, anyway.”