“Don’t have a fit,” Tasha said to Tony instead of ‘hello.’ She smiled at Clint when he kissed her cheek in greeting, but it was clear just from the way she held herself that her money was on Tony having a fit anyway. Clint squeezed her hand and let her tug him into Steph’s living room.
“Woke my soldier too quick,” Steph answered for herself; her back was to them as she fiddled with the coffee-maker. Her tone was just a shade too casual; she, too, was anticipating trouble.
“Forgot to get out of the way when he came up still fighting.”
Tony winced, but when he shot a worried look at Tasha she just shrugged noncommittally.
“Let’s see the damage, Stevie.”
As soon as Stephanie lifted her head, Clint shot out of the chair he’d let Tasha lead him towards.
“What the hell? Did he punch you in the face?”
He was dimly aware of Tasha pulling away stiffly, but it didn’t seem that important in light of the cruel marks that mottled half his mentor’s face. Before he’d thought about it, Clint had stepped forward and put his hands on Steph’s shoulders, gentle but imploring.
“Why didn’t you call us? Or, you know, the cops?”
Steph rolled her eyes as if Clint was the one being unreasonable, waving a dismissive hand as she pulled away.
“It was an accident, Clint.”
“An accident involving his fist and your face? Isn’t he supposed to have, like, precision reflexes or something? You’re like fourteen months pregnant, he should have-“
“What? Gone to sleep in a strait jacket?”
In the two-and-a-bit years he’d known her, Clint had seen Natasha in every stage of anger from mildly frustrated to inches-away-from-shanking-someone, but he was sure she’d never raised her voice like that before. He looked over at her, still more bewildered than angry himself, only to recoil from the unmixed derision on her face.
“Told her it doesn’t matter how often she wakes up screaming when he isn’t there because you’ll feel better with a locked door between them? Taken those damn sedatives even though they make him-”
It had been more than a year since Clint had heard Steph use her Agent Stevens voice. He looked over hopefully, but she still wasn’t smiling.
“From you, too.”
She sighed, exasperated with both of them.
“I’m fine, the baby’s fine. Bucky’s fine, or he will be. What else do you need to know?”
“How you and the red menace convinced him not to sign himself over to the nearest salt mine, for one.”
Tasha turned her scowl on Tony, who raised both hands in not-quite-mock surrender.
“I’m just saying- I know what he’s like when he thinks it’s his fault.”
The hard lines of her mouth faded into the not-a-smile of Tasha Romanova deciding not to disdain America completely after all.
“He’s okay,” Steph said to Tony, smiling wryly.
“Should be able to look me in the eye by tomorrow, even.”
Clint noticed that his hands were balling into fists, but he wasn’t sure he could do much about it.
“He tried to knock your face off and you’re telling us he’s okay like that’s what matters here? You guys do remember that he tried to kill her, right?”
“It’s not that bad,” Tony objected, meaning Steph’s present injury; Clint shook his head fiercely and glared first at Tasha and Tony and then at Steph herself.
“Maybe you’d all like to pretend that stuff never happened, okay, but I was there when you were begging him to listen, and he wouldn’t even-”
His shoulders met the wall behind him with enough force to bruise. Tasha’s eyes were colder than Clint had ever seen them; for one awful second he wondered if she still wore her knife where she’d always be able to reach it.
“Shut your mouth or I’ll do it for you. You don’t know the first thing about any of this.”
Only because no one had ever bothered to tell him, Clint wanted to protest. He’d known almost as much as Stark- and still more than Tasha, he was sure of that- about James and Stephanie Barnes before the ice, but even now he knew only what he’d managed to put together for himself about Cap’s years behind the Iron Curtain. Which wasn’t his fault, he thought resentfully, and more than that wasn’t his point at all.
“I know that if you hadn’t been there he would have killed her, and then where would we be?”
Steph left the room without a word, shutting the door to her bedroom very firmly behind her. Clint tried very hard to tell himself that the sharp intake of breath he could sort of hear was Steph convincing herself not to slap anyone rather than his idol trying not to cry over something he had said. Tasha, apparently, disagreed with that assessment: she returned her attention to Clint with a whole new level of righteous fury.
“You see what you did?”
At first, Clint was too insulted to speak. Fortunately, three years of hanging around with Tony Stark meant that that only slowed him down for a second.
“What I- did you see what he did? To her face?”
He cut her off impatiently.
“I’m not saying it’s his fault, Tasha. I’m saying he’s at least twice as strong as Steph is. If he can’t get a handle on it there’s no way it’s safe to bring a-”
Tasha didn’t go for her knife, but the way she looked at him Clint thought she might have if Steph hadn’t been just one room away, and already upset.
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence.”
“Or what, you’ll let him hit me too? I bet that’ll be my fault as well, huh.”
“You have no right,” Tasha hissed.
“How dare you come into our home and-”
“Your home? You’re not even really-“
She rolled her eyes more dismissively than even Tony ever had.
“What, American? If that counted for anything Lukin would never have-“
“His family,” Clint interrupted poisonously, taking a vicious pleasure in the way Natasha faltered at that.
“You just see whether you’re still Yasha’s little princess when he has his own kid to think about.”
Tasha turned her back on him and walked quite calmly out of the apartment and down the stairs with neither a word nor a backward glance.
“Shit,” Clint muttered, not at all sure how exactly things had gone so badly wrong so fast.
“Tasha! Natasha, stop.”
Tasha had no idea how long she’d been running or even in what direction, but years of practice saw her obey her trainer’s command almost before she recognized his voice.
“What on earth is going on?”
Captain Barnes had already leapt off his motorcycle and was striding towards her, unbuttoning the dark wool coat Steph had got him just that Christmas as he went. For the first time, Natasha realized what she must look like running through the snow in just her fleece and jeans.
“She’s okay,” she blurted at him before he could say anything else. Of course he would wonder whether her total dissolution meant worse things for…his real family.
“They’re okay. Yasha, I-”
Her voice broke on the name that wasn’t really his. Slamming her eyes shut so she wouldn’t have to see his quiet sympathy did nothing to stem the tide of hot, humiliating tears; the warm, woolen embrace in which she was quickly enfolded only made it worse.
“There’s something about you and late winter,” her trainer muttered darkly; she felt his cheek rest against her hair, just for a moment. His voice was warm and deliberately light, just like Steph’s when she was fighting anger.
“Has someone tried to marry you again? It wasn’t Tony, was it?”
The image was absurd enough to make Natasha smile, but she shook her head urgently.
“I’m never going to marry him.”
She felt the captain still for a moment before his arms tightened around her.
“Is that what this is about?”
Tasha wasn’t sure she’d known that for sure when she’d turned her back on Clint in the apartment he didn’t seem to think she deserved to call home, but surely there was no other way to interpret the outcome of that argument?
“He said- Yasha, I don’t know if I can-“
She cut herself off, frustrated and upset. Yasha- who still hadn’t objected to being called that- rubbed small circles in her back with one gloved hand. His smile was gentle, but also teasing.
“I’ll hold him so you can use both hands when you hit him, okay? Steph won’t even be that mad, probably, as long as we make sure he can still walk after.”
Tasha tried to laugh; it only made her cry harder, because she was sure she’d never love anyone the way she loved Yasha Kolchak, even if he wasn’t really Yasha Kolchak, and it hurt in ways she couldn’t articulate that someone else who was meant to love her couldn’t seem to see it.
“Hush,” her hero muttered, warm and sure, and Tasha knew with precious certainty that Clint was wrong- she’d always have a place here. She rested her head on his shoulder and shut her eyes, wondering how it was possible that this one man could always make her feel so safe.
“I’d have no home without you,” she whispered.
“That's fine,” Yasha answered seriously.
“God knows we’ve got no plans to ever give you up, Tasha.”
She wondered aloud how he always knew exactly what to say and laughed in spite of herself when Yasha came back with an answer she’d heard many times before.
“I keep telling you: I’m the Winter Soldier.”
“Of course,” Natasha drawled; the captain grinned.
By this time he’d wrapped her in his jacket, which made Tasha very conscious that she was keeping him out in the street wearing only his shirt and slacks.
“Come on,” she murmured, tugging him back towards his bike. He let her tow him over, but paused with his hands already on the handlebars.
“You sure you’re okay going back there? We could go get coffee or something, wait for them to get out of there.”
It was as tempting an offer as Tasha had ever heard, and not only because they’d had so little time for just the two of them recently. But on the other hand- she shook her head reluctantly.
“She’ll want to see you.”
“Did he just show up and mouth off at everyone?”
Tasha shook her head, feeling exhausted. It seemed so long ago already, and so hard to explain to anyone who hadn’t been there. On top of which she’d never, ever, repeat some of the awful things Clint had said. She waved a hand to show that it didn’t matter all that much.
“He said some things he shouldn’t have, that’s all.”
Yasha scowled, taking Natasha’s side without even asking for details.
“What does that kid know, anyway?”
“That’s what I said,” she murmured, because she had. Yasha smiled like she’d done something much more impressive than shout at his wife’s favourite student.
“That’s my volchok. All right, then. Let’s-”
There was no mistaking the sound of an explosion on that scale, and no need to wonder who might want someone in their corner of Brooklyn dead, or why. The captain swore under his breath; Tasha clenched her hands on his shoulders as they picked up speed. A crowd was already gathering- they clattered to a halt just in time to see the windows shatter as a second blast rocked the building.
“Bozhe moi,” Tasha whispered; one of her trainer’s hands came up to cover hers on his shoulder. They staggered off the bike together, but Tasha had barely registered that there was someone coming up behind her when Yasha put himself between them with a snarl, switchknife already in hand. It wasn't the ex-Soviet grudge-bearer Tasha had been half-expecting, however, but a burly African American with an eyepatch and leather trenchcoat.
“Captain Barnes,” Nick Fury said smoothly, even respectfully.
“It’s an honour to meet you at last.”
Yasha didn’t lower his knife.
“If you offer me the chance to avenge her by fighting your fight I will kill you right here."
“I believe you,” Fury said solemnly. To Tasha’s immense surprise, he smiled briefly.
“There were no casualties. We were able to evacuate the building in good time.”
His voice dropped lower, leaving out anyone who might have been paying attention around them.
“Mrs. Barnes and your friends are en route to a secure facility. She made it very clear that she was cooperating on the condition that you both made it there in time for dinner.”
Yasha’s face barely changed, but Tasha had spent enough time watching him like a hawk to see the way his shoulders dropped as he relaxed.
“Thank you,” he said quietly; Nick Fury- who did look quite like a pirate, Tasha thought, thinking of Steph- waved over a waiting attendant. Agent Sitwell would escort them to the airfield, they were told; Yasha looked round incredulously.
“Where exactly is this facility of yours?”
It was in Coral Gables, apparently; before Tasha had a chance to ask where that was, Yasha had grabbed Fury by his collar and looked quite prepared to choke him if he had to.
“What the hell are you playing at?”
The underling started forward nervously.
Yasha, of course, ignored him completely.
“You have fifty states to put between them and the Russians, so you take them within shouting distance of Havana? Are you using them as bait?”
To be fair, Fury took the Winter Soldier’s wrath with as much grace as Tasha had seen anyone show.
“They’ll be very well protected,” he assured them, not quite denying Yasha’s accusation.
“Even more so once you get there. We would, of course, appreciate your involvement in the investigation.”
It wasn’t actually a threat, Tasha thought, but SHIELD did have them painted into a corner- with his wife already out there, Yasha had very little choice but to go along with things in the meantime. The way his jaw was clenched said he’d realized that as well.
“If anything happens to her-”
“We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,” Fury announced. Tasha, seeing her trainer's frustration, put a hand on his arm the way she’d sometimes done when she was afraid he was going to say more than he should in front of their superiors.
“We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,” she corrected Fury coldly. Yasha looped his arm around her shoulders in gratitude, but didn't say anything right away.
“Goddamn politicians,” he muttered as they slid sullenly into the back of some unmarked sedan.
“I really thought we were done with this, you know?”
Clint had been sitting on the too-white, too-plush sofa, watching Stephanie stare vacantly at the glass of water she had neither drunk from nor considered setting down since Tony had pressed it into her hands, for what felt like hours. The room was painfully quiet- Stark couldn't bring himself to leave them on their own, but he'd long since given up trying to make conversation with a kid who’d done irreparable harm to one- maybe three- of the four relationships he really cared about and a woman whose childhood home had been reduced to rubble as she looked on. All three of them looked up as a pale sedan much like the one Tony had been offered at the airport pulled up.
Steph was on her feet in a moment, moving too quickly but growling at Tony when he tried to slow her down. The newcomers entered together: Sitwell cast Clint a curious glance before nodding formally at Tony- whom SHIELD seemed to have decided was in charge of the rest of them- and leaving the way he’d come. Tasha hugged first Steph then Tony before settling into a chair without so much as looking Clint's way. Given what he'd heard of their earlier reunions, Clint was half expecting some kind of show-stopping kiss- but Steph only stuck out both of her hands and smiled when her husband reached to take them. They stood like that for a moment, just staring at each other, then he moved over to lean against the bar so she could settle into his arms like she belonged there. They stayed that way for a long while, not even speaking until Steph swiped angrily at her eyes.
“It’s all gone,” she murmured, somewhere between grief-stricken and outraged; her husband smiled sadly and reminded her that they already knew there were plans to rebuild and restore as much as possible. The rest was just stuff, he said gently; Steph sighed.
“So reasonable,” she grumbled, but smiled when her husband kissed her ear.
“What d’you want me to say? Everything I need from there is here, Steph.”
“That's good,” she decided, sounding almost like herself at last.
“You should always say that when people ask you things.”
“Sometimes you make no sense at all,” he complained, but kissed her very sweetly all the same.
“Thank God you're okay, Stephanie.”
Before she could answer, he knelt carefully in front of her and kissed the front of her dress with a quiet devotion Clint wasn’t sure he had any right to witness. Glancing away he found Tony suddenly perusing the magazine he'd been failing to read for hours as though it held the secrets of the universe.
“You too, baby girl.”
Tasha was smiling softly, her eyes on Steph's hand lingering at her husband's cheek.
“What’m I gonna do with you if it’s a boy, Bucky, huh?”
“Hush your mouth, of course she’s not a boy.”
He’d already pressed his hands to the sides of the baby bump as if it might have ears; now, Cap looked back down uncertainly as though expecting it to speak for itself too.
“You’re not, are you?”
Stephanie laughed for the first time since Clint had ruined her day (which was before the presumed Russian terrorists had ruined it a second time, and worse). She tapped her husband’s cheek with playful sharpness.
“We’re not naming him Sarah Rosalyn if you’re wrong, all right?”
“No,” Cap agreed cheerfully.
“If it’s a boy we can name him Pavel Anton, then if he grows up a mad genius like his namesake at least we’ll still all match, and Tasha will have her Pasha even if we never set foot in Moscow again.”
Tasha snorted from her seat behind Clint. He dared to look her way, but wished he hadn’t caught her eye when she drew herself up the way she did when they were sparring and she knew she was one move from victory.
“Look,” he muttered awkwardly.
“You were right,” she said icily, jerking her head back to indicate her trainer, who was still on his knees and chatting excitedly to his unborn child while Stephanie combed her fingers through his hair with the most indulgent smile they’d ever seen on her face.
“I don’t know what we were thinking. Of course he’s too dangerous to be trusted with either of them alone. Thank God you’re here, Barton.”
She turned away for the second time that day. Clint opened his mouth to try and stop her, but then glanced back at the quiet scene he could only spoil by crying out and let Tasha leave in peace. As she climbed the stairs with her usual poise, moving steadily up and away from him, Clint had the sinking feeling that he’d broken something he didn’t have the first idea how to fix.