"No! No, no, no, no, nnnn—” and Steve was laughing and screaming in an oddly high-pitched voice as Barnes splashed through the surf and, catching up with him, grabbed him and lifted him and threw him into an incoming wave. Natasha sipped her pina colada through a straw as she watched them: Barnes smirking, Rogers staggering to his feet, hair wetly plastered to his face. It was really the Howling Commandos’ fault, she judged; or maybe it was the way that history had always positioned Rogers and Barnes against the backdrop of those five other men. It had camouflaged the link between them, the strength of their coupling, their dyad—and made invisible the hole that Barnes’s death left in Rogers, who had, for most of the time Natasha had known him, been practically half a person.
But no more. Now Barnes was back, and Steve Rogers had turned out to be...well, someone she almost didn’t recognize. She wasn’t the only one either. Tony had wandered over to stand beside her beach chair. He was practically unrecognizable in his sunhat, sunglasses and floppy, long-sleeved shirt. His drink had a cheerful yellow umbrella in it. "Who is that, screaming like a girl?"
“I know, right?" Natasha said, wry and incredulous. "Barnes has been beating on him for the last half an hour."
"Oooh, let's get popcorn." Tony sat down in the chair next to her and dug his feet into the sand.
Out in the surf, Steve went into a crouch and tried a low, barreling run, but Barnes saw him coming, and twisted and got him into a headlock— "Oh!" Natasha and Tony shouted as one, as they both crashed down hard and disappeared under a passing wave. "Ow, that's gotta hurt!" Tony shouted approvingly. "You know, I would watch a whole goddamned channel of this."
"Hey if you make a TV channel," Sam said, wandering over, "I want a cut, because I suggested this to Steve years ago. Supersoldier wrestling—"
"...shirtless...naked, maybe...on the beach..." Natasha murmured, and then, "Oh come on: what ?"
"Oh come on, nothing," Tony replied earnestly. "I'm down for this; you're hired. Director of programming."
"She's hired?" Sam demanded. "I just told you that I was the one who—"
"Okay, okay, you're hired too," Tony said. "But she's the face of the network, cause she's prettier."
"No accounting for taste," Sam said.
"I need another pina colada," Natasha said, shaking her empty cup.
Rogers was staggering up again, water streaming over his broad shoulders. He slicked his wet hair back over his head with both hands, then looked around for Barnes...who hadn't come up yet. "Oh, this is bad, this is gonna be bad," Tony murmured, then hummed the theme from Jaws.
"This suspense is terrible," Natasha said softly. "I hope it will last," and it happened in a flash, Barnes springing up from nowhere and taking Steve down hard again. Steve's high-pitched laughter was carried to their ears by the ocean breeze. It sounded like seagulls.