Chapter Fifteen: Russian Spies
"Does he know that I'm his Father?"
The words hung there for a minute, and Natasha stubbornly refused to acknowledge them. "Natalia!?" Bucky's voice raised slightly but carried far on the still morning air.
"Does he know-"
"You're not!" She hissed, still refusing to turn around.
"For someone famous for espionage, that was a terrible lie!" Bucky scoffed, and Natasha could hear him begin to pace back and forth behind her. "I deserve to know my son. You don't get to keep him from me!" He said, voice still raised and echoing off the walls.
Natasha's head snapped around to glare at him. "Lower your fucking voice!" She hissed in a hushed tone; their eyes locked together, and Natasha's lip twitched with agitation. "Maybe you would IF he was your son, which he's NOT!" Natasha, who was usually quite good at lying, knew there was no way she could convince Bucky that Peter wasn't his.
Bucky put his hands on his hips and tried to reign in his emotions. "It doesn't need to be like this," Natasha turned away from him again, letting a scoff out into the winter air. "We could-"
"We could WHAT...!?" She cut him off. "Pretend that our one night together meant something? Act like we can all be a family?" They both reflected on that night in November as they stood silently. Natasha wasn't sure she regretted it; after all, it gave her Peter. But all the pain and shame she'd been made to endure for it tainted whatever pleasant feelings she'd had. Bucky only vaguely remembered it at all. Hydra had done their best to scrub his mind of it. "I just got him back; you can't ask me to risk that for you and whatever you think you deserve." Bucky took that in for a moment before responding.
"And what happens when he finds out? Do you think he wouldn't hold that against you?" Natasha wasn't sure if that was a threat or not, but it sure as hell felt like one. Rage bubbled up into her chest, and it blocked out the pain she was in. She spun around and walked toward the Winter Soldier until they were nose to nose. He saw the rage in those green eyes, staring into his soul.
Inside the house, Peter woke to a chill running up his spine. He glanced at where Natasha had been sleeping and found her spot empty. "Mom?" He called out softly into the quiet house, and he was surprised how easily the name was beginning to roll off his tongue. Nothing. Then the chill ran up his spine again; he didn't sense danger, just that Natasha needed him. Peter stood from the couch and followed his instincts.
The teen opened the door and found Natasha, where he knew he would. The person he wasn't expecting, however, was Bucky. The two broke their staring contest as soon as the boy was outside. Natasha took a few steps back and turned away, and Bucky just averted his eyes to the deck beneath his boots.
Peter's eyes darted between the two. "Everything okay, Mom?" He recognized anger when he saw it, but there was something else on her face that he couldn't place.
Natasha just barely held back a sigh, though her shoulders rose and fell. "Everything's fine, baby," Another terrible lie.
Peter wasn't sure he believed her, and it didn't take him long to deduce what was bothering her. "It's him; it has to be him," Peter stepped outside fully, his eyes fixed on the back of the head of long brown hair before him. "Mr. Barnes, I think you should go," Natasha almost protested; she didn't like the idea of Peter feeling the need to protect her.
"Protective of your Mom. Good boy." Bucky couldn't help the little smile of pride that tugged at his lips. "You can call me Bucky, son," Natasha grimaced at the word. Peter said nothing in response, and his eyes were still fixed on Bucky. "Alright... I'm going," He sighed and started down the porch stairs; he didn't want to kick off their relationship with a confrontation. "Hey, kid?" Bucky stopped and turned to face the teen, who was doing his best to look intimidating. "Steve and I are going to be training later if you want to join us," The Widow glared daggers at him, but he pretended not to notice.
Peter's mouth dropped open a bit, stunned by his invitation. "I'll... think about it," Bucky gave him a slight smile and nodded, his eyes lingering on him for a moment before he headed off toward the barn. Peter joined Natasha at the railing. "What was that all about?" Peter asked when he assumed Bucky was out of earshot.
"It's..." She didn't want to lie to him. "Complicated..." Peter looked at her quizzically.
"More complicated than us?" He chuckled a bit.
"Believe it or not, yes," Peter made a small 'hmm' but didn't press the issue, which Natasha was immeasurably grateful for. "I had that handled, by the way. You don't need to look after-" Natasha turned as she spoke, and the sudden weight on her injured hip made it give out. Peter caught her before she could hit the floor.
"You were saying?" He teased her.
Natasha breathed as the sharp pain subsided, but she didn't resist the smile. Once she was back on her feet, she continued. "I don't need you to protect me, baby; I'm YOUR Mother, after all," She said.
Peter shrugged. "I know you don't," He smiled because, of course, she didn't. His mother may have been one of the most dangerous people on the face of the planet. "But it won't stop me from trying!"
Bucky stepped out of the cold and into the warmth of the barn. "That could have gone better," Natasha's reaction hadn't been unexpected, but Peter's appearance had been. Bucky couldn't help but wonder what had brought the kid outside. Had he heard them? "But I suppose it could have gone worse, too," The kid, while protective, wasn't aggressive, and Bucky hadn't done anything to provoke him.
Steve entered the common area of the barn that doubled as their training space. Bucky didn't turn around, but he knew Steve was there. "You wanna tell me what's going on between you and Natasha?" Steve questioned his friend. Steve had watched him and Natasha from the barn as they spoke on the porch, and while he couldn't hear what they were saying, he could see it was tense.
Bucky slipped his jacket off as he thought of how to go forward and not just how to tell his friend. "He's mine," The words hung there for a moment, and Bucky wasn't sure he should have said them at all. Behind him, Cap's face shifted from confusion to realization to shock in just seconds.
"How...?" It was the only word he could get out, still stunned by the revelation.
Bucky smirked to himself for a moment and resisted the 'birds and the bees' comment that went through his mind. "We were on a mission together. It was just one night..." His voice trailed off, recalling it now felt strange.
It was early November in 2000, and he'd been tasked with assisting a young Widow with eliminating a CIA operative working in Moscow. Many of the details of the mission had been lost to his many mind wipes, but he remembered Natasha clear as day.
Bucky's memories of the night were fuzzy, but they were there. He and the Widow had tracked their target for hours without speaking more than two words to each other. After all, this is what they were both best at. They waited till midnight before they entered the man's room. The widow had picked the lock before he could even realize she was doing it. She stepped back, allowing Bucky to push the door open, and BOOM!
He vaguely recalled being carried, then dragged, all the while Natasha was exchanging gunfire with their target. They'd escaped, and Natasha had gotten them to a safe house. "She saved me," He admitted, but that's not what he remembered most about that night. It wasn't even her beauty or how for a brief moment, he hadn't felt so lonely. It was how young she'd been, not much older than Peter was now. Recalling it made him feel a bit nauseous; it didn't matter that he didn't know that at the time. Bucky was staring into space, only speaking intermittently, and Steve watched him intently.
"How do you tell him?" Steve asked, and Bucky finally turned to look at him.
"I don't," He couldn't be the one to tell him, no matter how much he wanted to. "Natasha has to be the one to do it. The kid won't accept it unless he hears it from her," He said. "Not 'the kid,' Bucky. OUR kid,"
Peter and Natasha spent the morning together, which they both enjoyed. Natasha took the time to clean and rebandage the cuts on Peter's knuckles. Briefly marveling at how fast he healed and how durable his body was. "Anybody else would have shattered every bone in their hand," She commented.
Laura made everyone breakfast as she had the day before; the same as the day before, Peter found that he wasn't hungry. There was an ever-present feeling of uneasiness in the pit of the teen's stomach. He wasn't sure what it was or why it was there, and it made his stomach churn with every bite of food he forced down.
"I'm gonna shower," Natasha said, leaving him at the table. Peter held back from asking her to stay; he wasn't a child. But still, Peter felt vaguely uncomfortable when he wasn't with her, as if he didn't belong there.
Peter felt rude for not finishing anything Laura cooked, but he was physically incapable of it. So that left him sitting with just Laura and Clint and a plate of food he couldn't finish. Clint noticed the kid staring at the plate. "Not hungry, Pete?" Clint asked without thinking and immediately regretted it; of course, the kid wasn't hungry. Laura kicked his leg beneath the table for good measure.
"It's okay if you aren't," Laura said, and Peter's eyes darted to her, and she gave him a soft smile.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Barton, just kind of nauseous is all," He explained, even if he knew he didn't need to.
"I know," She thought silently. "Just Laura, honey, and don't worry about it," Peter paused but smiled and took his plate to the sink. Still riddled with anxiety, Peter thought of ways to distract himself when his eyes went to the barn outside. He wasn't sure what was going on between Natasha and Bucky, and the thought of training with Captain America and the Winter Soldier made him a little nervous. But he went anyway.
"But maybe it'd be good to train with someone besides my mom," He told himself as he walked across the snow-covered ground. His hand hesitated before he pulled the door open.
Steve and Bucky were already well into the workout when the kid opened the barn door. "Mornin'," Steve greeted, surprised to see the kid. Bucky had told him he'd invited him to their morning training session, but neither of them expected him to accept the invitation. Steve glanced back to Bucky, who was fighting off a smile, making Steve smile, too. "You joining?" Peter swallowed and nodded as he stepped inside the barn.
They didn't start right away as he had with Natasha; instead, Bucky took the time to wrap his hands. "I know it probably doesn't seem like it, but hand wraps are essential," Bucky said as he wrapped the teen's hands.
"But yours aren't wrapped?" Peter couldn't help but point out. "And Natasha didn't wrap hers or mine," He kept that part to himself, still unsure of what was going on between them.
Bucky chuckled a little but didn't falter. "Well, I only have the one hand that needs to be taped," He held up his left hand and waggled his fingers. Truth be told, he didn't think Peter needed to wrap his hands, but it gave him those extra moments with him. "What's your name anyway, kid?" He obviously knew Peter's first name, but he was desperate to learn everything he could about him.
Bucky did falter then, his hands stopped for a split second, and a cold sweat washed over him. "Just a coincidence," He thought, swallowing hard. It didn't take him long to finish, but Peter could feel him sneaking in glances as he worked. "All done," Bucky announced.
Peter squeezed his hands a few times, unsure what the difference was but too shy to ask. "Thanks," Peter said quietly, giving his hands another squeeze.
Natasha came hobbling down the stairs an hour later, figuring she'd find Peter waiting for her. "Pete?" She waited a few moments for a response before limping into the living room "Clint?" The archer was playing with Nathaniel when he looked up at her. "Where's Peter?" Her heart rate picked up, and she barely managed to control her breathing. "Please don't be where I think you are..." She thought to herself.
"He's out in the barn training with Cap," Her heart dropped into her stomach. Clint frowned. "What's wrong, Nat?" Natasha didn't respond; she just turned and rushed to the door. Jamming her feet into her boots was painful, and she nearly fell as she scrambled down the steps. Clint was behind her, calling her name as he chased her down the steps, but she ignored him. "Natasha, what the hell has gotten into you!?" Clint finally caught her by the arm and forced her to look at him.
"I do not need Barnes anywhere near my kid!" She yanked her arm free from Clint's grasp. Clint stopped and watched her for a moment as she continued toward the barn. He hadn't said anything about Bucky. Something clicked in his head.
"It's him, isn't it?" Natasha slowed but didn't stop, nor did she turn toward her friend and deny it. Clint knew he was right. "Trying to keep them apart is wrong, Nat," She did come to a complete stop at that, but still, she didn't turn to look at him. "You know it is," Natasha wanted to tell him he was wrong, that she knew what was best for her son, not him. But she couldn't. She swallowed hard and started to the barn again, and this time Clint didn't try to stop her.
Peter was in the middle of a light sparring session with the Bucky and didn't even hear the door open. He found himself having trouble landing anything but was constantly getting tagged on his way in and out of engagements. None of them hurt, and he knew Bucky was taking it easy on him. "God damn it, what's wrong with me? I didn't have this problem the last time we fought. And I DEFINITELY didn't have this problem against Batroc," Peter thought as he grew increasingly frustrated.
Natasha stopped herself from ending the match and instead joined Steve, her arms folded over her chest. Peter jumped forward and swung at Bucky, only to have him slip under it. A swift jab to the center of his chest backed him up. They all heard a frustrated growl escape Peter's throat. "Peter, you're thinking too much," Steve coached while Bucky circled away from the spiderling. Peter dropped his hands as he slowly pursued him and tried to catch his breath.
"Hands up!" Natasha shouted just before Bucky sprang forward and threw a barrage of punches. Peter got his guard back up just in time to block the blows. "You need to have your guard up when you're in tight like this," Peter took another breath and nodded his head in understanding. He did most of his best work out in the open, where he could use his speed and agility.
"Do you remember what you were thinking when you fought Batroc?" Bucky asked, retreating again.
"No, I mean-" He thought back on the fight, if it could be called that. "I wasn't thinking; I was angry..." He could only recall thinking that Georges Batroc needed to be dead. And that he needed to be the one who did it.
"That's right! You weren't thinking! That's what you need to do!" Bucky was smiling as he spoke.
Peter frowned and turned to Natasha and Steve, who nodded in agreement. "He's right," She said, even if she hated to admit it.
"Okay, hang on," Peter waved his hands, ending the match. "NOT thinking is supposed to help me? That doesn't make any sense." It didn't, at least not to him.
"Follow your instincts, baby," Natasha said with a shrug of her shoulder. "That's all you gotta do," Peter breathed out through his nose. They made it sound so simple.
"Your Mom's right," Bucky continued, ignoring the way Natasha stared at him while he spoke to Peter. "You learn to do that, and I doubt there will be many people that can match you," Natasha knew he was right, but still, she winced, unsure of how she felt about that. The barn fell into a tense silence that Peter didn't understand.
"I think that's enough training for one day," Steve said, clapping his hands together and breaking the silence. He could tell by the glances Bucky and Natasha exchanged that any more time in the same room would turn it into a powder keg. "No blow-ups in front of the kid, please..."
The compound had been swarmed with federal agents since the attack, and Tony was convinced he'd be put into handcuffs and taken to the Raft at any moment. But, for now, they'd left him alone in his workshop. "Friday, any updates on the government getting a warrant for Hammer's phone?" Tony asked his AI, spinning in aimless circles in his chair.
"Nothing yet, boss," She answered back. Tony rocked back in his chair, arms stretched above his head, and glanced through the large glass windows. No agents were in sight, and he highly doubted they'd know what Friday was doing even if they were.
"Well, how about you and I get on that in the meantime?" Tony rolled himself back to the desk. "And let me know if any agents come down here," He added, just in case.
"Got it, boss," The workshop fell silent again while Friday worked to get through Hammer's security. Admittedly, it wouldn't be a challenge, but it needed to be done without the justice department finding out he'd done it, so it would take a bit longer than usual.
"Mr. Stark, I don't mean to intrude-"
"AH!" Tony jumped and nearly came out of his chair. "Vision! God damn it...!" He breathed, his right hand resting over his heart, and he pulled himself back into the seat.
"I apologize. I didn't mean to startle you," The synthezoid apologized, his eyes drifting to Tony's monitor. It only took him a split second to realize what Friday was doing. "I wasn't aware the FBI had obtained a warrant for Mr. Hammer's cell phone," Vision was well aware that Tony didn't have one; he was trying to be polite. Tony didn't answer, which in itself was an answer. "I don't believe that to be legal, sir," Vision stated.
"And neither is sneaking off to rut with a wanted woman every time my back is turned," Tony snapped and immediately sighed, rubbing his tired eyes. Vision didn't snap back the way Tony would have, or anyone probably would have, which only made him feel worse. After all, he'd known Vision was doing it all along; it wasn't fair to throw it in his face now. "That was uncalled for. I'm..." He sighed. "I'm sorry, long couple of days," Tony apologized.
"How can I be of assistance?" Vision asked, accepting the apology and moving on. It was something that came naturally to him.
Tony turned back to him and smiled a little. There was something Vison could do, but it didn't have anything to do with the terrorist. "There's a press conference tomorrow night to announce the newest member of the Avengers, and since there aren't many of us left, I'd like you to be there," Tony was still apprehensive about revealing Peter's identity to the world, but that ship had sailed.
"The boy from the fundraiser. Spider-Man, I presume," Vision had seen the video, and it hadn't taken him long to deduce that it was Spider-Man.
"Yeah, Peter, he's-uh-" Tony doubted it was something they'd share with the public, but he saw no reason to keep it from the team. Not anymore, at least. "He's Natasha's boy," Tony expected to see shock or maybe confusion on Vision's face, but instead, he saw a smile.
"Marvelous," The excitement was evident in Vision's voice. "Agent Romanoff did find her son after all,"
Another day and night passed, another night where Peter had barely slept and barely eaten. Natasha was packing her and Peter's belongings downstairs, preparing herself mentally for the press conference. She spotted the Quinjet through the window as it descended toward the property. "Peter?" She yelled up to him.
Her voice carried up the stairs and into the bathroom, where Peter sat on the toilet, muffling sobs into his hands. He wasn't sure why he was crying exactly; he just was. He could hear the Quinjet outside the house and tried to straighten himself out. "Peter?" She called to him again. "You ready? We gotta go," Her voice was firm, very much a Mom voice.
Peter tried again to pull himself together, swallowing hard and wiping his eyes. "Coming!" He forced the shakiness out of his voice as best he could. He flushed the toilet, splashed his face with water, and headed down the stairs. Natasha was looking at her phone, with their bags at her feet. "Grab the bags and go. If you look at her, she'll know," But Natasha looked up from the second his foot hit the hardwood floor.
"There you are," Natasha smiled, but it quickly faded when she saw him. Peter's face was red, and his eyes were puffy. "Crying..." Peter didn't say anything as he grabbed the two duffle bags with one hand. "Hey," She caught his free hand, her grip light enough to pull away if he wanted to. "Everything okay?" Natasha asked, even though she knew it wasn't. That brought Peter's eyes to hers. She watched her spiderling swallow, averting his eyes briefly before giving her a nod and a smile. "Do you wanna talk about it?" Peter shook his head. "Okay," Natasha said. "I'll be right here to lean on when you're ready," She thought, squeezing his hand.
They stepped out onto the porch where Clint and Laura were waiting. They began saying their goodbyes, but Peter couldn't seem to focus on that. The teen was beyond exhausted and barely managed to hold himself together; he didn't have the energy to focus on anything else. He managed a few words of gratitude when Laura hugged him, but that was about it. Clint's hands on his shoulder brought him briefly out of his fog. "There's always room for you here, kid," The archer smiled warmly at him. "You have more family than you realize," He pulled the teen into a hug, and Natasha kept her wince on the inside.
The pair boarded the Quinjet, and the Barton's watched it disappear into the clouds. Laura interlocked her arm with Clint's, leaning into his shoulder. "Do you think she'll tell him?" She asked.
Clint smiled a little. "Maybe not right now," As much as they would have liked for Nat to come clean immediately, they knew she wouldn't. "But she will," He said confidently.
Batroc watched the small border crossing as he waited for the sun to set. This was where he would slip into Canada and make his way north to either Newfoundland or Nova Scotia. From there, he could barter passage on a ship to Europe and begin making his way to Russia. The inside of his jacket was lined with enough money to take him that far, at least.
He had no doubt the Avengers would come hunting for him, and doubted borders deter them. But that was a problem for another day. For now, he needed to focus on the hundreds of miles of unforgiving terrain that stood between him and his destination.
Most of the flight to the compound was silent, not because Natasha didn't want to talk but because Natasha didn't know what to say. Or if she should say anything at all. She could hear Peter take in a hard breath every so often and hold it in, accompanied by the constant tapping of his foot against the metal floor. "SAY something! DO something!" Natasha heard a different kind of tapping against the side of the aircraft, forcing her to turn around in her seat. Peter would occasionally smack the back of his head on the headrest as if he could knock the thoughts out of his mind.
She looked at their location and knew she needed to do something now. Soon they'd be at the compound with reporters, Feds, and God knew who else.
Peter heard her sigh as she climbed from the seat. As well as the steady whirring of the engine and air rushing by, and his heartbeat in his ears. It probably would have been easier for him to list what he COULDN'T hear at that moment. "Pete?" He made a slight noise but said nothing; eyes sealed shut, and his arms locked over his chest. "You don't have to talk, but..." Natasha's hand took a light hold of his wrist and pulled. "Can you look at me?" It took him a moment, but Peter's eyes eventually opened, and he allowed her to pull his arm free.
Without a word, she pressed two fingers against the inside of his wrist and began to take his pulse. Natasha looked at her watch, even if she didn't need to; his heart was racing, as she knew it would be. "Give me a few big deep breaths," Her voice was gentle and calm. "Five seconds in," He did. "Seven seconds out," They did another one together, and their eyes locked on the third. Peter couldn't help the little laugh that came out as they did the breathing exercise. "What're you laughing about?" Natasha asked with a smile, her eyes returning to her watch and retaking his pulse. It was dropping steadily.
"Just... Still getting used to you being my Mom, I guess," Where they were when they first reunited and where they were now was light years apart. And it was something Peter didn't want to take for granted.
"Well, I hope I'm not doing too bad!" The pair laughed, but the moment was interrupted.
"We're approaching the compound, Ms. Romanoff," Friday announced.
"Thank you, Friday," She gave Peter a closed-lip smile, quietly wishing they weren't about to do what they were about to do.
Peter could tell what she was thinking without her having to say it. Now it was his chance to try and comfort her. "Everything's gonna be fine,"
Author's Note: I'll leave it off here! So this will probably be the last 'Fluff' chapter for a while if it can be called that. I'm likely focusing on the pursuit of Batroc more and getting toward the final act of this story. Which feels sort of strange to think about, considering how long I've been working on this story for so long. Expect Bucky and Natasha to need to have more conversations in the future because obviously they have things that need to be worked out! And I had a viewer point out that Wanda and Vision have been decidedly absent from the story aside from the very beginning. I wanted to have Wanda at the farm but just couldn't seem to find a good place for it and I didn't want to shoehorn her in for one scene to never be seen again. But I hope at least Vision not being around for the fundraiser at least made sense!
As always, please read and review and thank you so much for reading!