Chapter 1: an announcement
Hello alle Leute
I've been thinking about this for a good long time and I really don't think this is quite working like I meant it to. Mysteriously one chapter has gone missing, and separately of that the tone got a lot darker than I wanted it to a lot quicker than I meant it to...
so my thought is to just leave this as it is, sort of as a historical document of an attempt that failed, and come back to this universe on a different note entirely to do quite a different sequel very likely involving an arms race with respect to the general plot of the first Thor movie.
just FYI in case anyone is waiting for updates on this (which seems unlikely??)
all the people and key plot elements will still happen in this AAU I hope but not quite like this.
PS merry Christmas! and happy St Stephen's Day.
Chapter 2: an announcement
a lot of things go south at once.
“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.
When Tasha’s stomach growled loudly, she was forced to admit that skipping dinner just to avoid breathing the same air as Clint Barton had been short-sighted. It was a little after one by then, which meant Stark was sure to be up and about, and there was every chance Clint would be keeping him company. Steeling herself against both pleading looks and awkward sympathy, Tasha ran a brush half-heartedly through her hair before heading for the stairs. She made it about halfway down before she found her steps slowing almost against her will. Clint was still awake- and he was standing, spellbound, directly in her way.
“What’s the matter with you?”
That he barely reacted to her voice was Tasha’s first real clue that something was seriously wrong. She brushed past, impatient because Clint’s tense silence was making her nervous, only to freeze at the sight of a tableau she’d hoped never to see again.
Her trainer was curled up on the chaise longue, watching Stephanie with the trusting, earnest eyes of a frightened child. His wife, sitting next to him, traced a path from one of his temples to the other with her fingertips as she spoke with practised calm. It took Tasha a moment to realise that the reason Steph’s voice sounded a little off- which would also be why Clint looked so lost- was that she was speaking Russian.
“-our whole lives, dearest. Go to sleep, all right? I promise I’ll still be here when you wake up.”
“You won’t,” Yasha protested, so resigned that it made Tasha’s gut twist even though she knew full well that nothing on earth would stop Stephanie from keeping her word.
“My poor beautiful girl, of course you won’t.”
Seeing his wife’s face change, Yasha raised a hand to wrap his fingers around her wrist.
“It’s not your fault,” he assured her, contrite and forgiving at the same time.
“I know you’d stay if you could.”
As his gaze drifted towards Stephanie’s other hand, draped across the swell of her stomach so that her rings stood out against the dark fabric of her dress, his face grew so wistful that Tasha had to blink back unexpected tears.
“I wish this could be real, Anya.”
“Hush,” Stephanie ordered. She moved her hand to rest gently over her husband’s eyes, encouraging him to keep them closed long enough to relax. The first time Tasha had seen her do it they’d been in an awful, dingy apartment in Miskolc, and Tasha had been just about ready to demand what the hell Maria Stevens thought she was doing when Yasha had stopped struggling and settled against the American with a quiet, grateful sigh. This time, though, he caught her hand and lowered it gently, lacing their fingers together.
“Don’t. I want to see you while you’re here.”
“All right,” his wife agreed, keeping her voice steady mostly by force of will.
“As long as you rest, Yakov moy.”
He smiled at that, but made no promises. Stephanie leaned down to kiss him, which in her present state was awkward and probably uncomfortable for both of them, but neither seemed to mind.
“What the hell is going on?”
The barely-audible hiss made Tasha jump. She’d been so caught up in the scene in front of them that she’d clean forgotten Clint was there with her. Suddenly, she was furious with him for witnessing so private a moment, never mind that she’d done the same thing.
“Out,” she muttered, dragging him backwards until he understood where she was leading him and turned to jog up the stairs with her. They came to a halt in the corridor between the guest rooms upstairs, neither quite willing to be the first to offer more than the other would accept. Apparently realizing that they weren’t headed anywhere in particular, Clint jerked his head backwards as if Tasha might have forgotten the drama she’d force him to abandon.
“What was that about? Is everything okay?”
Any number of scathing comments rose to her lips at once, but Clint looked so honestly concerned that Tasha couldn’t bring herself to be deliberately cruel.
“He’ll be all right,” she allowed reluctantly. Suddenly, the whole situation felt very familiar- she’d been exactly this uncomfortable the first time Masha had sent her away to talk to Clint alone while she talked Yasha through another awful nightmare.
“She knows how to help him.”
Clint looked like he might throw up.
“Is this what it was like before?”
“It’s not actually hurting him.”
That had been the worst part by far- the physical withdrawal that had left her trainer crumpled in on himself, clawing at his face and struggling not to scream. Without the hellish cocktail of opiates Lukin had used to ensure that his best asset wouldn’t resist regular ‘treatment’, it was just another nightmare made more vivid by the precision of the captain’s serum-enhanced memory. Eventually he’d think of something that didn’t fit with Captain Kolchak’s fragmented personal history, though, and Masha would take his hand and talk him through the rest. The fact that she was eight months pregnant, Tasha thought wryly, would probably help to speed that process along once Yasha got over the initial shock of seeing his wife again.
“That’s…so much worse than I imagined. Tasha, I had no idea.”
“I know,” she muttered.
“I did try to tell you.”
“I’m sorry,” he murmured. He obviously didn’t mean just for his ignorance, and it was impossible to doubt that he meant it, but- Tasha nodded stiffly, saying nothing. They stood in uncertain silence for a moment.
“Is it- I mean. This doesn’t happen often, does it?”
Tasha shook her head helplessly. From time to time Yasha’s grasp on their present did seem to slip and shift a little, but so far it had always been small things- a shop Stephanie would have to tell him gently had been in Brooklyn in the 1930s instead of St Petersburg in the ‘70s, or the way he sometimes blinked at the stars and stripes like he couldn’t remember when the flag had got so bright. Talking to Anya about the life he should have given her, though- even before they’d left Moscow for the last time it had been months since Tasha had seen her trainer so far gone. Clint bit back something like a moan of frustrated sympathy.
“Could that explosion have set him off? You were right there for the second one, he said.”
It made sense- of course the blast would have recalled the fiery crash Yasha could recount in terrifying detail even though it had never actually occurred. This time, though, it hadn’t been just that.
“He thought they’d killed her.”
It wouldn’t have been for more than a minute or two- Tasha had barely had time to process what was happening before Fury had turned up- but even the suggestion of it would have been enough to rock her trainer’s already fragile defences.
“He’s been so worked up about hurting her, then he left her alone for the first time in days and they- of course he’s upset. I’m so- I should have-”
Clint caught Tasha’s wrists like he was trying to arrest her but had forgotten to bring the proper restraints.
“You couldn’t have known. He was fine this evening, wasn’t he?”
He’d certainly looked fine when Tasha had seen him last, murmuring nonsense at his daughter in that enraptured voice. On the other hand, he was better than anyone Tasha had ever known at keeping up just that kind of cheerful façade while everything he knew collapsed around him.
“He can’t stay here,” she realized. Yasha would throw himself completely into finding the people responsible, which even in the best case meant days on end effectively in government custody, and in almost every scenario Yasha seemed to find at all plausible would eventually involve going up against whatever vestiges of the Red Room had made it into the new regime. Tasha shuddered, suddenly very close to tears again.
“He’ll lose his mind trying to work with these people.”
Clint nodded like they were making plans for lunch.
“They should go now.”
Tasha blinked sluggishly, not quite following but feeling oddly aware that Clint had yet to release her hands. Taking her silence for disagreement, he defended his idea with growing urgency.
“Tonight’s the best time, isn’t it? No one’s going to look for them until morning. The car’s right there, they can just-”
“You really think they won’t have some way to track their own vehicles?”
“Someone can drive them to the train station, then, okay? Or the boatyard, I don’t know. I’m just saying- they don’t owe Fury shit after what he let happen. He needs out? He should get the hell out before they make everything worse than it needs to be.”
“There are people trying to kill him,” Tasha protested.
“Or her, or all of us.”
“That’s been true for years now, hasn’t it?”
Tasha had to admit that it had. Clint's gaze turned pleading as he realised Tasha was beginning to seriously consider it.
“They don’t have to do this part themselves. How much does he know that you don’t, anyway? That you’d want SHIELD to know, I mean.”
Tasha shut her eyes against a slightly hysterical giggle.
“She’s weeks away from delivery,” she reminded Clint.
“And he’s not even convinced she’s really here, never mind which side of the road to drive on-”
“So I’ll go get Stark. You know he’d love to-“
They’d only made that mistake once. Tasha had had no idea who he was or why Yasha kept calling him Howard when the man himself seemed quite sure his name was Tony, but she’d agreed wholeheartedly when Masha had slammed the door on the other man and decided never to let that happen again.
“He’s the only one your people talk to,” she pointed out instead of explaining. Clint looked faintly hurt at the way she’d painted him into the same corner as Coulson, Sitwell, and the long-derided Fury, but he had to concede the point.
“He’s the only one they know will screw them big-time if they make him mad. Steph could do it, right, but I guess they know she just wants them to leave us all the hell alone.”
Tasha rolled her eyes. In the end, it always came down to the same ugly tug-of-war between blackmail and bribery.
“Forty years of US versus USSR, and it turns out there’s not a shred of difference between them.”
“There is,” Clint shot back at once.
“We’ve got Michael Jackson, and Star Wars, and Coca-Cola. Those guys have… a lot of ice. And Rasputin, I guess he was kind of a bad-ass.”
Tasha chose not to try and handle any part of that.
“You’ll go with them?”
“I can do this,” he promised. She hadn’t thought he could possibly know what it cost her to let him take it on without her, but he seemed to see the gravity of the thing right away.
“You and Stark just worry about making sure you can all go home when this is over, yeah?”
It was the retraction she hadn’t let him offer earlier, and it came with a grin so genuine that Tasha found herself struggling to remember why she’d been so determined never to look at him again. She drew herself up, thinking of Yasha when he gave serious instructions and trying to sound half as stern.
“Look after my family, Barton.”
Clint finally let go of Tasha’s hands to offer her a formal salute.
“You know what to say to her?”
Tasha couldn’t be there when Clint asked Stephanie what she thought- in this state Yasha would never hear of leaving her in American custody no matter why she said she had to stay. Stephanie would understand that right away, and say whatever she had to in that vague, mostly-truthful way they’d laugh about when he was in a position to understand why it had been necessary. She nodded when Clint did.
“If he is wrong don’t let them name the child after that ‘nuclear wessels’ clown, all right?”
Clint just stared at her for a moment- he must not have realised she’d been paying that much attention to his video about the space crew looking for whales in San Francisco.
“You see,” he muttered,
“This is why I-”
Clint cut himself off, looking faintly panicked, then threw her a grin he’d obviously learnt from Tony Stark.
“There’s no way this takes you two a whole month to figure out,” he said instead.
“Come save the kid yourself.”
“It probably won’t make any difference. Of course it’s a girl- he’s almost never wrong when it counts.”
“He’s got damn good taste in women, anyway. Tasha, I-”
There were at least eight reasons why they couldn’t have that conversation yet. Tasha put her hand on Clint’s arm, recalling a more dramatic moment much earlier in their shared history.
“Come back in one piece, all right? Tell me then.”
It wasn’t quite accurate- she and Tony were much more likely to go to the others than wait around in Florida- but she knew from Clint’s incredulous grin that he knew exactly what she was thinking of.
“You’ll be all right with Stark and these guys?”
“I trained with the Winter Soldier,” Tasha reminded him loftily.
“I think you’ll find the question is whether Stark and ‘these guys’ will be all right with me.”
She watched him levelly, nodding seriously when he did, and listened from the landing as he made their proposal to the more than slightly startled pair below. Fifteen minutes later the car revved to life, and Tasha had no good reason not to fall backwards against someone else’s pillows and wonder what on earth she’d set in motion this time.
“I can do this,” she muttered, just like Clint had done. She had trained with the Winter Soldier, and with both James and Stephanie Barnes. Of course she knew how to keep their family safe.
She looked up at a tentative knock on her door. Tony stepped in without so much as ‘wondering out loud’ whether Tasha was decent. He wore the glazed expression that meant he’d been poring over data for too long, but his voice was alert and even faintly amused.
“It could be that I’ve fallen asleep or this is some kind of caffeine trip,” he offered,
“But I’m almost sure one or both of you just convinced those two to break the chains of duty and obligation before Fury finds a way to screw them over again.”
Stark took a full step backwards when Tasha laughed out loud.
“Okay,” he muttered.
“Definitely imagining things, then.”
“You’re not,” Tasha declared, suddenly feeling better than she had in days.
“That’s exactly what we did.”
She stared Tony down with defiant pride until he reached out and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Thank God for that. Well done, Agent Romanova.”
The restoration of that title, Tasha thought, was Tony’s way of saying that whoever had gone after their team had better damn well watch out. She answered with professional courtesy instead of the manic energy from before.
“Thank you, Mr. Stark.”
bullying is effective, but bribery is more so. poor lost fic I am reviving it because its benefactor draws excellent things and reminds me of how much we enjoyed this AAU when it was new and still enjoy it now that it isn't.
Clint wasn’t sure he’d ever felt more exposed in his life. He kept both hands on the steering wheel and his eyes firmly on the expressway, but it was hard to think straight with the Winter Soldier sitting directly behind him. For the first time, he thought how strange it was that Steph and Tasha between them had somehow managed to make sure he and Captain Barnes had never been alone together in all the time they’d known each other. They weren’t exactly alone as it was, but Steph was so fast asleep that she might as well have been unconscious. She didn’t look comfortable, exactly- she was eight months pregnant and crammed into the backseat of the little mini they had swapped the probably-bugged sedan for- but there was something peaceful about the way she was curled into her husband’s side with her head on his shoulder and one hand still wrapped possessively around his wrist.
“Relax, will you? I’m not going to shoot you if you take a wrong turn.”
Clint felt his mouth go dry, but made an effort to smile as he met the captain’s eyes in the rear-view mirror.
“I don’t think that.”
He didn’t think he was lying. Clint swallowed hard. “Are you, you know. Feeling better?”
The captain’s expression grew very slightly wry.
“Less Soviet, you mean?”
It would have been much, much easier to tell what Steph was thinking. That part of Clint’s evening had been a breeze- his mentor had been fully absorbed in talking her husband through the bizarre transition from Yasha back to Cap, but whenever she had happened to catch Clint’s eye it had always been with that softer look, not quite a smile, that he knew meant he was doing well. The captain, in contrast, gave nothing at all away without either of his girls to coax some kind of response out of him. Clint tried not to wonder whether Captain Barnes had always been like that or if he’d had to learn to keep his feelings off his face to survive in Moscow. He shrugged helplessly.
“Is that how it works?”
“Sometimes,” Cap offered, but Stephanie stirred restlessly before he could elaborate.
“Bucky,” she muttered, frowning as her hand tightened over his. “Yasha, please-“
“Don’t,” her husband protested, turning his head to kiss her cheek. “I’m right here, a Mháire.”
Steph smiled faintly in her sleep, apparently reassured. Cap eased his hand carefully out of her grip so he could support her neck as she lolled against him. He murmured something Clint couldn’t quite make out but which was probably Irish rather than Russian, and closed his own eyes for a moment. He looked truly, deeply exhausted, and way too young to have lived the lives he had.
“You were my age,” Clint faltered, sick to his stomach at the thought of it. “Or younger, even, right?”
The captain opened his eyes, blinked once, then nodded slowly.
“You’re- two years older than my Tasha?”
“Twenty-six this year,” Clint nodded, resisting the urge to flinch guiltily at her name- to say nothing of that easy, affectionate possessive. The captain shook his head, wondering or despairing or both.
“Twenty-six. I don’t really remember that year much.”
He gave bitter, still mostly expressionless chuckle. “Which may be for the best, I know.”
Clint knew, without knowing how he knew, that they were both thinking of Steph, aged six, clinging to her grown-up husband with pure terror on her face as she remembered the first year of their separation.
“Steph,” Cap muttered, pressing a fervent kind of kiss to her forehead. “Maire, for god’s sake.”
It may have been the real pain in his voice, Clint would muse later, but Steph was wide awake in a second, one hand on the captain’s cheek as the other tightened on his shoulder.
His lips quirked.
“Just me, Stephanín.”
Clint glanced away before their lips met, still tight-chested and uneasy at the thought that Steph and her husband had been younger than Tasha when they’d first gone to war. They hadn’t seemed like hardly more than teenagers when he’d been watching old SSR interviews in the darkened back-rooms of old-timey archives, but it was a whole different thing when his wartime idols were right there in the flesh, clinging to each other with the desperation of people who knew too well what it was like to be kept apart for weeks and months.
“Steph,” the captain started gently; his wife pulled away to glare at him.
“Bucky Barnes, I swear to god I’m going to punch you in the mouth if you try’n tell me any part of this is just fine.”
Clint thought his mouth might be hanging open. There was a single beat of silence, then the captain burst out laughing. It was unlike anything Clint had ever seen from Tasha’s so-stoic trainer- Bucky was gasping for breath already, drawing his wife closer so he could cover her face and neck with messy, exuberant kisses that had her giggling like a schoolgirl even as she leaned into his arms to give him better access.
“Crazy American,” the one-time winter soldier growled, close up against his opposite number’s lips. “There’s nothing and no one for me but you, Stephanie Maire.”
Steph had both hands in his hair by then, caressing but also, maybe, just hanging on.
“Tá mo chroí istigh ionat, my James Yasha Bucky boy.”
“Stealing my script,” her husband accused, but Clint thought he looked almost shy for a moment. “Now.”
Suddenly, he was making direct eye contact with Clint in the mirror. “Are you still awake up there, or should I take over for a bit?”
Clint let his gaze slide sideways, catching Steph’s eye instead of the captain’s.
“Are you going to punch me in the mouth too, or was that just for him?”
Stephanie scowled right away, but her husband was grinning like Clint had never made him grin before.
“Just for that you can stay right there,” she decided, making a show of leaning back in her husband’s arms. “This one’s got a job to do anyway.”
“Once a divan always a divan,” the captain sighed in a long-suffering voice. Steph turned her head to kiss his cheek.
“Hush,” she ordered tenderly. “Divans don’t talk, James.”
“I’m sorry,” Clint breathed before he realised he was speaking out loud. The captain looked surprised, he thought, but Steph’s eyes were knowing. Clint focused on her, beyond caring that his voice was trembling slightly. “I’m so sorry. I should never have said those things.”
“No,” his mentor agreed, but quite gently. “I don’t think you should have.”
Clint glanced away, still shamefaced but also relieved now that he’d apologized.
“I thought she was going to stab me,” he muttered, deeply regretful, then found himself glancing guiltily back up at Tasha’s trainer. “She hasn’t asked you to do it, has she?”
The captain raised one eyebrow.
“You really think you’d be in any state to drive if she had?”
His wife elbowed him reproachfully, but smiled and petted his cheek when he followed the movement through to bend and kiss her shoulder. “Don’t threaten my intern.”
“Junior Agent,” Bucky corrected her in a prim, faintly scolding voice which Clint recognised mostly because Tasha used it too. “Stark promoted him after last time, remember?”
“So he did.”
Clint was shocked to realize that he was very, very close to tears. Of course it was too much to hope that two sets of the sharpest eyes in America might miss a detail like that. Steph leaned forward to squeeze his shoulder, firm and reassuring like in the gun range back in the day.
“Relax,” she said quietly, sounding very like her husband had before. “You’re allowed to throw one fit in three years, Clint.”
Her husband nodded agreeably, studying his wife’s face in profile instead of embarrassing Clint with more direct attention than he could bear right then. Clint nodded gratefully, afraid to answer in case he choked up, and turned his attention back to the road for a while. When he was sure he could keep his voice steady, which was also about the time he decided that he might actually lose his mind if he didn’t get an answer either way, he raised his eyes again to meet the captain’s steady, mostly sympathetic gaze.
“D’you think she’s ever going to talk to me again?”
"Sure," Cap murmured, his whole expression softening the way it did when he was talking to Tasha. "She's-"
He cut himself off abruptly, leaning forward as his eyes narrowed.
"Hard left," he barked, already gathering Steph closer as if braced for some kind of impact. "Now, Barton."
Clint banked left with all his strength, sending the car veering way out of the lane he'd been in for miles already- and out of the path of the hail of bullets that would probably have plowed through all three of them if he'd hesitated a second longer.
"Drive," Stephanie snapped. "We've got this."