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Upon meeting Kate Bishop, Natasha finds herself stuck in a bit of deja-vu.

She should have expected it, what with the shared mantle and the whole what's-in-a-name thing that, somehow, always seems to be proven when there are superheroes with passed on or similar names. Like all the spiders: so different, and yet miraculously cut from the same cloth.

Kate and Clint together, viewed from the outside by someone who'd known Clint at Kate's age, it's... eerie, almost, how alike they are. The defiance, the loyalty, the sass, the chafing against every authority figure in sight, the steadfast belief that they'll have to fight their way towards everything in this world that's worth having, and the will to do just that. The compassion, bordering on stupidity.

Natasha isn't sure if she wants to congratulate them both for having found their mirror, or tell Kate to run for the hills and get as far from anything Hawkeye as she possibly can.

 

***

 

Natasha's just gotten home from one of her missions when the call comes, curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine -- an attempt to make sleep easier to conjure. She fixes her phone with a glare, but Clint's number is one of the handful that never gets rejected, and so she answers it.

The voice on the other end of the line isn't his. “Oh god, I'm so glad you answered. I don't know what to do.”

“Kate,” Natasha says. She doesn't bother asking why Kate is using Clint's phone, the haunted echo to her voice is telling enough. “What's wrong?”

“We've been investigating a disappearance in the neighborhood, one of the tenants in Clint's building asked him to, and it led to some thug who's been blackmailing people. We went to confront him, but...” Natasha can hear Kate take a deep breath, then another. “They outnumbered us. We weren't prepared, thought it wouldn't be a big deal. It was stupid. They knocked us both out, and now he's gone. I'm sorry. I didn't know who else to call.”

It might say something profound about Clint's life that Natasha's less surprised that he went after said thug on his own, or that he took his barely-out-of-her-teens sidekick with him, than she is about the fact that he got himself captured. He's no amateur. Even without costume and backup he usually knows how to handle himself. That's also what worries her; if they managed to take him out, they're dangerous. And, yes, indeed, not something Kate should face alone.

“Enable the phone's GPS so I can pick up your position,” she tells Kate. “Find somewhere to hide, and wait for me. I'll be there as soon as I can.”

 

***

 

The rescue itself isn't a terribly complicated affair. A little looking around, two impromptu interrogations, and there they are. He's tied to a chair – familiar sight to Natasha, new to Kate, judging from the gasp she gives when they find him – a little out of it, bruised and muttering in a low, slurred voice, but otherwise unharmed. By sunrise, he's safely ensconced in his bed, the dog curled up by his feet, and Kate and Natasha are each nursing a fading adrenaline high and a cup of coffee.

“So,” says Kate. “Pretty much a standard Tuesday night for you, huh?”

Natasha sips from her cup, gives a nod upstairs, towards Clint’s room. “With friends like that?”

“Okay, good point.” Kate smiles, a little sheepish. “Though it wasn't just his idea. I didn't exactly try to talk him out of it. I wanted to go. Quite honestly, I miss it.”

It's deceptively easy to keep thinking of Kate as Clint's sidekick even though they both keep insisting that's not what she is. And they're right; Kate's been part of a group of kids that picked up the whole superhero gig when it was illegal and dangerous to do so, fought beside the official Avengers when it counted. She's no one's sidekick. “Don't you have your own team?”

“Yeah, but we keep going back and forth.“ She makes a face, leans forward to prop her chin up on her arm. “And I get that. So did I, for a while. But I want to keep doing this, I want to make a difference. This isn't something you try out and then go back on, right?”

Natasha's reasons for doing this are entirely different, she was never offered a choice, not until it was way too late to find her way out. Maybe that makes what these kids are doing, Kate especially, even more impressive. They chose to do this, and for all the right reasons.

She makes a decision. “I can show you some things. I mean, Clint's a good leader, if he wants to be, and a good teacher. But in this line of work, more than one –“

“Yes,” Kate interrupts her. “Yes, I'd like that.”

 

***

 

Natasha starts her on the simple things: hand to hand, a few tricks Clint can't teach her because he's tall and heavy and a guy and he doesn't know how to make an advantage of smaller size and a different center of gravity. Kate is an eager student, fast on the uptake too. She listens, and she watches. She pays attention.

Reading people is the next item on their lesson plan; micro expressions, body language, basic psychology. Subtle ways to manipulate someone into telling you what you need to know without having to resort to force. They keep meeting once a week, right until Kate does grow tired of Clint's bullshit and runs off to California. She sends a text from on the road, simple and concise, no ranting or laying blame. She'll be back. Natasha doesn't doubt that. But there's no one who would understand the need to get away better than her, and that's exactly what she texts back.

A little while later she's on the run herself, a friend in the hospital and a bunch more trying to figure out how to handle a Black Widow that's gone a little more rogue that any of them are strictly comfortable with. She's in a nondescript, cheap hotel room with nothing but a broken TV and a worn bible for entertainment when her phone buzzes with another text message. You won't believe the things that happen when you talk to random strangers in the cat food aisle, it says.

Did no one ever teach you not to talk to strangers? Natasha replies. I have a vivid imagination, try me.

By sunrise, she knows all about cat-sitting and stolen orchids and washed-out pop singers held captive by their brothers, and she doesn't quite feel so alone anymore.

 

***

 

Kate returns from L.A., Natasha finishes off Chaos and clears her name, and, bit by bit, things go back to normal for both of them. It's another Tuesday when Kate strolls into the gym at the Avengers Tower, casually and like she belongs there, the way Natasha taught her. She smiles at Natasha, relaxed and a little bit smug, and Natasha smiles back.

“So if my gig as a PI taught me anything,” Kate says, arms crossed in front of her chest, purple sunglasses lowered just enough that she can peer at Natasha over their rim, “it's that there's a lot I've yet to learn.”

Natasha walks up to the target she was throwing knives at, pulls one out, and offers it to her. “Then let's get to work.”