I would like to start this by addressing the Guest who left the review about Steve speaking French...
Shit. You're right. I'd totally forgotten that. Damnit.
(This is why you need to do your research before writing, kiddos. Learn from my mistakes.)
Now I'm not sure whether to go fix it or just leave it the way it is...
Anyhow, here's chapter three:
"Tasha. Hey, Tasha. Check it out."
Clint loads the floppy little rubber fish he's got in his hand into the tiny slingshot that he had picked up near the toy aisle, turning to aim at Steve. The dear Captain is oblivious to what's about to happen, bent over a stack of patriotic t-shirts, and Clint shoots a glance to the front counter of the gift shop to make sure no one's looking before letting the fish fly.
It makes a perfect arc, soaring over two shelves and between a hanging display to land in the open hood of Steve's sweatshirt with a little bounce. The super soldier perks up when he feels it, looking around in confusion, but shrugs and goes back to browsing a second later when he doesn't see anyone nearby.
"Smooth. How many do you have in there?" Natasha asks, sidling up to him casually as she runs her fingers through the dangling ends of some wind chimes.
"Three in Steve's hood. Five in Scott's. One in the pocket on the front of Bucky's, and I almost got one down the front of Wanda's dress but she caught it and threatened to give me nightmares for a week if I tried again."
"Glad to see I'm rubbing off on her."
"You know, and here I thought that it was me she got that from," he grins, picking up another fish and turning to see if he can spot where Sam has gotten off to. Natasha snorts, plucking up a little shot glass to turn over in her hand.
"No, threatening is all me. You can claim responsibility for the bad taste in music."
"Oi!" he says in mock offense, shooting the fish back over his shoulder before glancing to see if he made his shot.
Yep. Right on the brim of his hat. Though if Sam keeps whipping his head around like that to look for whatever hit him-
"Oh, this is cute," Natasha muses, picking up a little teddy bear with a plastic surf board. "I think I'll get it for Nathaniel."
"You'll have to get something for the other two as well, or none of us will hear the end of it," he cautions. Natasha shoots him a grin.
"Already done. Getting Lila one of those snow globes, and Cooper is getting a shark jaw. I just need to find something for Laura."
"Bribery. No wonder they like you better," Clint accuses with a smile, and Natasha bumps his shoulder affectionately as she slides past him.
One aisle over Scott is playing with a little toy gun, and when Clint raises an eyebrow in question the man grins and says "it's a lighter!" before pointing it in his direction.
Clint lets him have a rubber fish to the forehead.
Two aisles over there is a little spinning display with postcards - pictures of beaches and sunsets and bridges with "San Francisco" scribbled in looping cursive on the top corner - and he picks up a few to send to his kids.
He's missing them terribly, the nightly two-minute phone calls he allows himself hardly enough to convey how much he loves them and how much he can't wait to see them again, but he doesn't dare keep a line for longer than that, not when Ross now knows that he has a family somewhere and might have his goons tapping phone lines. All the conversations are very generic, anything important passed in code.
His kids think it's a game. He and Laura are glad to let them believe that.
"The dogs are doing fine," is his code for "the team is okay." "Went out for a walk" means changing locations. "Nothing on TV tonight" means that there's no trouble on his end. "Your stupid cat was meowing for you again," usually followed by a specification of the tabby or the calico, means that Wanda or Natasha had asked how the family were doing and sent their love.
Laura has her own code, of course.
"Weather's supposed to be good tomorrow," means that everything is calm at home base. "How are my kitties," is her asking how Natasha and Wanda are doing. "Hear back from the landlord yet?" means "has there been any change to the Accords?" And "the cows tried to break the fence down again" means that someone tried to find them.
Clint prays every time he presses call that he won't hear Laura say that.
A pretty blue sundress catches his eye, and he checks the size briefly before taking it off the hanger and draping it over an arm. Laura likes blue.
It's a little pricier than he would normally be willing to pay for that kind of thing, but at the moment they're all out treating themselves after a hard few weeks, and he figures that this one can slip his conscience, all things considered.
Buying groceries in Hawaii had turned out to be a lot more expensive than anyone had figured it would be, and the tax rate on the island was ridiculous, so by the time they'd headed back to the mainland they'd been a little short on cash.
Spring was starting to warm into summer and the weather was nice, so Wanda had found them an abandoned building to crash in for the time being - what looked like an old school of some sort, with a sturdy structure and an upstairs that could be barred off to keep them from being found. Scott had even managed to rig together an alarm system with some old computer parts out of a nearby dumpster.
Sam had reorganized their remaining money into pre-planned shopping trips and specific rations in order to make the most of it.
When the funds had started looking a bit slim again after a few weeks, Steve had offered to go see if he could find a job doing heavy labor or contracted work to garnish their account, but Scott had suggested an alternative.
He did, after all, have some connections.
The man had spent most of the afternoon on the phone, sounding like he was on the receiving end of a very long lecture, but in the end he'd apparently gotten whatever message through that he'd needed to.
Hank freaking Pym had wired a couple million into Scott's bank account that evening, for "keeping your ass off the streets."
They'd all decided to enjoy a nice dinner out, and had gone with a luxury hotel stay for their final week in California. They would be on the road again soon enough, but for now a little relaxing in comfort was in order.
Thus, a souvenir trip.
Clint glances over a shoulder in time to see Wanda holding a red floral sundress up against her chest as she spins to see how much the skirt flares out. The smile that tugs at the corner of his lips only widens when Scott and Sam both mock approving whistles in her direction and she waves them off with a blush.
"You should go try it on," he calls to her as Bucky ducks into his aisle, the man's nose buried in a "History of San Francisco" book. Clint turns to the soldier, an eyebrow raised. "Anything interesting?"
Bucky looks up in mild surprise, blinking at Clint for a second before glancing at his book again.
"Did you know that San Francisco was originally named Yerba Buena? It's apparently Spanish for 'good herb,' and the city was renamed to San Francisco in eighteen forty six."
"Cool," Clint says, unsure how he's supposed to react, but Bucky isn't finished.
"It is also the location where Joseph B. Friedman invented the first bendy straw. He patented it in nineteen thirty-seven."
Clint nods, trying not to grin at the man's stoic expression and slowly failing. Hearing the words "bendy straw" come out of Bucky's mouth while he's giving the Winter Soldier stare is comedy gold.
Thankfully, Clint is saved before he makes an idiot of himself by giggling at the super soldier.
"Dude, they have an ice cream stand outside," Sam relays, stepping into the aisle with them, and Clint and Bucky both lean in opposite directions to see around the man.
There is, in fact, a little ice cream cart down by the road, but that's not what catches the Winter Soldier's attention.
"Ooh, fruit," Bucky says, pressing his book into Sam's hands with the command to "hold this for me" before slipping between them in the aisle and making his way for the side door of the beach shop, where there is a little farmer's stand set up outside, selling fresh produce and jams.
Sam watches him go for a second before turning to Clint with a shrug.
"Guess I'll put this up at the register for him."
"While you're at it," Clint says with the most winning smile he can muster, and Wilson shoots him an exasperated look when he holds out the blue dress he's getting for Laura, but the man takes it from him to bring up to the front of the store. "Thanks, Sam. You're the best."
Clint turns to the shelves once again, searching for something to send his kids, and is making his way toward the toy aisle when he spots Wanda standing near one of the displays.
"What is this?" she asks when he gets near, toying with the little gun-shaped lighter Scott had been messing around with earlier. She points it at him with a smile, her finger curled gently around the trigger, and Clint tilts his head as he finally gets a good look at it. It's not metal, by any means, and he wonders for a moment why a lighter would be made of a cheap, reflective plastic instead of something sturdier. It looks more like a child's toy.
And then Clint realizes that's exactly what it is.
"Wanda, wait-" he tries to warn her, but he's too late. The witch pulls the trigger back, connecting the little metal parts inside of the prank toy she holds, and it delivers an electric shock to her palm where her hand is wrapped around it.
She jerks back with a yelp, her power flaring in defense and tossing the toy away from her as she staggers a pace back, eyes wild. Clint doesn't waste a second, rushing to her side.
Her pupils are blown wide with fright, a bright corona of scarlet blazing around them, and Clint feels terror course through his veins as her power thrums, tinting the air red around her.
She's panicking, the shock having set her off, and he tastes bile in his throat as he remembers the thick black collar at the Raft, the little flashing light just waiting for her to try her luck.
Clint clutches her to his chest in a bear hug before anyone in the store gets too nosy, cradling her head to his shoulder.
"It's okay, I've got you. You're okay, Wanda," he breathes desperately, stroking a hand through her hair and praying that she can stay calm. "You're okay, sweetheart, I've got you. You're safe. It's just a toy, you're okay." He continues to repeat that to her, his eyes darting around the little shop to find one of the others.
Natasha and Steve are bent over some display case, their backs to him, and Sam is just ducking into a changing room with an armful of t-shirts. Bucky is still outside, poking through the little farmer's stand.
Scott, however, is two aisles over, peering through a children's kaleidoscope at the picture of a busty woman on a t-shirt, and a soft whistle is enough to catch the man's attention. Clint jerks his head to motion him over, arms occupied with crushing Wanda to his chest as she trembles, gasping in ragged little breaths.
Scott spends all of one second taking in the scene before rushing over and stepping close, shielding Wanda's other side from prying eyes.
"What happened?" he asks, a hand straying to rest on the girl's shoulder comfortingly.
"Prank toy set her off. Help me get her outside."
They each move in synch, Clint wrapping an arm around her shoulders and shifting to her side while Scott steps up on her left, a pace behind her, his hand hovering at her lower back. Clint leads the way to the nearest door, holding it open as he ushers her into the fresh air, murmuring reassurances to her softly the entire way.
Wanda is keeping an iron grip on her magic, her teeth sunk into her lower lip in concentration and her fingers trembling as she takes slow, uneven breaths, her eyes brimming with tears.
Clint steers them over to a little picnic table nearby, shaded by a brightly colored beach umbrella with tattered edges, and nods at the bench as he eases Wanda away from his chest.
"Stay with her, I'm going to get her some water," he murmurs, and Scott nods, sitting down at the table and drawing Wanda into his arms. Clint leans down, cupping her cheek in a hand and giving her a gentle smile when she looks up at him. "Deep breaths, kiddo, it's okay."
She nods once, a little jerk of the head, and he strokes her hair once more before leaving her with Scott.
Clint forces himself to walk calmly back into the store, digging out his wallet as he makes his way toward the counter. He grabs a bottle of water out of the humming little cooler by the register and pays for it, his foot tapping impatiently as the lady counts out his change one coin at a time.
He ducks back outside about a minute later to find Scott still sitting with Wanda at the little picnic table, the man cradling her head to his shoulder with an arm wrapped around her protectively. He is murmuring "you're all right, you're okay," over and over, in time to his fingers carding through her hair.
Wanda seems to have calmed considerably. Her cheeks have matching lines of wetness, and her breathing is still a bit shaky, but her eyes are no longer glowing red.
"Hey, kiddo," he murmurs, kneeling in front of her and offering her the bottle. "Here, drink this. You okay?"
Wanda nods a little, taking the bottle from him with trembling hands. Scott helps her sit up straight so she can take a few deep gulps of the cool water, and Clint takes the bottle back when she's done, setting it aside on the bench.
Clint catches her hands in his, rubbing his thumbs over her knuckles.
"Hey, look at me," he coaxes, cupping her cheek in his palm as he looks into her eyes. He can't see the glow of her magic anymore, and he offers her a little smile as he strokes his thumb over her soft skin. "Yeah, you've got this. You're okay, sweetheart."
Wanda manages a weak little quirk of the lips in return, her eyelashes tickling his palm as she nuzzles into his touch.
"I'm sorry," she murmurs, and Clint ducks in close to press a kiss to her forehead.
"It's fine. It's not your fault," he tells her, and Scott nods, rubbing a hand up and down her back comfortingly.
Wanda lets out a little huff, the tension draining out of her muscles slowly as she takes another deep, slow breath, blinking her eyes hard to clear them.
"Hey, what did I miss?"
Clint glances up as Bucky walks over, a grocery bag full of produce over his arm, and Wanda shifts a little closer to Scott to make room for him on the bench.
"Some idiot decided to hide unlabeled shock toys throughout the store," Clint says, and although Bucky's eyes flash in comprehension, he simply gives a little shrug as he brings the bag up into his lap to begin digging through it.
"Dumbasses. Warning labels are required for a reason... Anyone want a peach? Plum?"
"Peach," Wanda murmurs, a fragile little smile of gratitude on her lips, and Bucky produces the requested fruit with a flourish before handing it to her.
"Not sure I've ever had a plum before," Scott admits, and Bucky's offended look is enough to choke a laugh out of Clint's tight throat.
A small smile makes its way slowly across Wanda's face as Bucky starts to interrogate Scott about how he has somehow never eaten a plum before, and she takes a bite of her peach as a few accusations of living under rocks are thrown back and forth between the two.
Clint mostly tunes them out, concentrating instead on the little tremble in Wanda's hands that has yet to go away.
"You sure you're okay?" he asks her gently, and Wanda nods.
"It took me by surprise, is all. If I'd known what to expect, I think I wouldn't have reacted as badly."
Clint pats her knee before pushing himself to his feet.
"Well, I've got some souvenirs to go purchase. If you need anything, let me know. Got it?"
She nods, and he leans in to give her a one-armed hug - infinitely grateful that he feels her arms snake around his waist to return it. "You're okay, kiddo," he whispers affectionately, stroking her hair.
Clint ducks back into the store once again, his eyes wandering. Sam has finally decided on a shirt, and Natasha seems to have talked Steve into buying a hat. They're at the register, checking out, and he weaves his way in their direction as he digs out his wallet.
Something red in one of the aisles catches his eye as he passes, however, and when he pauses to check he realizes that it's the sundress Wanda had been looking at earlier.
He stops to snatch it up, grabbing his abandoned slingshot while he's at it, and makes his way to the front desk.
"Everything okay?" Natasha asks him cautiously, darting a glance to where the other three are sitting outside.
"Wanda nearly had a panic attack. It's been handled," he adds before Steve can ask. He doesn't manage to stop the guilty look that flashes across the man's features, however, and the remainder of their checkout takes place in silence as the super soldier broods.
Sam finishes his purchase and goes to wait with the others.
Steve buys Bucky's book for him.
Natasha gets her souvenirs.
Clint buys his slingshot and two sundresses, and tells Natasha to go pick a dress as well when the cashier tells him there's a buy-two-get-one-free deal going.
Once Natasha's dress is safely in the bag with the others - a gift for each of the three most important women in his life - he makes his way out to the picnic tables to join the rest of the gang.
"-fine now, I promise," Wanda is reassuring Steve as the super soldier hovers like an over-protective big brother. "It just took me by surprise, is all."
"I just wish I'd been able to keep you all from being locked up like that in the first place," Steve says gently, regret shining in his eyes. "You shouldn't have to be worrying about little things setting you off like that."
The girl puts on a brave face and gives a modest shrug, attempting a smile.
"You came back for us, and saved us. There's no point in letting myself be afraid that little things might bring up bad memories. In fact, I have half a mind to buy that stupid toy and mail it to Secretary Ross," Wanda chokes out in a laugh.
Sam snorts, and Bucky cracks a grin, and Natasha gives her a proud smile.
But Clint just pulls out his wallet.
After today's excitement, he kinda feels like giving Ross a metaphorical middle finger, and Wanda is definitely on the right track.
"You know what, kiddo?" he grins. "I think that's a great idea."
Wanda glances up at him, a wicked little smile on her lips, and Clint helps her to her feet.
"We'll send him one hell of a present for locking us up like criminals, and hope that some security camera somewhere catches the expression on his face when he opens it. How does that sound?"
Wanda opens her mouth to reply, but Steve beats her to it.
"What the hell...?"
They both look up to find the captain holding one of the little rubber fish Clint had been shooting around earlier, and the archer feels a hot flush creeping up his neck.
"Ah. Whoops. Almost forgot. I'd better go pay for those..."
Natasha snorts out a laugh, and Wanda bites back a smile, and the other guys' hands all dart to the hoods of their sweatshirts in sync as Clint ducks back into the store, searching through his wallet for a twenty.
He tries not to smile too much when he hears their reactions all the way from the register.
"Your friends sent a message."
It's the first thing Thaddeus Ross says to him when Tony opens the door to find the man standing there, holding a little cardboard box with a shipping label on it; and he does so before Tony can even get in a quip about Ross not wearing a postman uniform, the killjoy.
"Did they?" he asks instead, with all the innocence he can muster.
Ross invites himself in without permission, and Tony scowls at his back.
"You are aware that you are technically trespassing?"
"You are aware that I am your superior officer according to the Sokovia Accords - which you signed - and that you only have a right to privacy at my discretion?" Ross snaps in reply, and Tony lets his scowl deepen. He didn't remember that particular line. He was going to have to actually read that document.
And then sue Ross for everything he was worth.
"So what's in the mystery package?" he asks, following Ross to the common area where the man sets the box down on the table. Tony leans in close to read the address.
"That's what you're going to be finding out, Mr. Stark."
"It's addressed to you," Tony says, his comment sounding a bit more jealous than he is okay with.
"You are going to open it, Mr. Stark," Ross says, stepping back. "If your friends have decided to mail me something less than pleasant, you will be the one to find out."
"Glad to be your guinea pig," Tony mutters. "Though I really don't see Captain America as the 'subterfuge through the mail' type. That's a bit out of his league. Natasha, on the other hand-"
"Just open the damn package, Stark."
"Fine. Pushy," he accuses lightly as he approaches the box.
It looks innocuous enough, simple cardboard with a sharpie address on the front in Steve's script, and for a second Tony wonders if perhaps Natasha can mimic handwriting. But Ross is tapping his foot impatiently in the background, so Tony snatches a screwdriver off the coffee table and stabs carefully through the packing tape.
The box doesn't give any indication of being a trap as Tony carefully peels the flaps back and peers over the edge. The inside is packed with old newspapers from San Francisco, and something slides around inside when he tilts it.
Tony discards the padding, revealing a few small items, but nothing more. However, Ross grabs the box from him before he can really see what it is.
The first thing the general pulls out of the box is a framed photo, and the man studies it for a few seconds with a slowly growing scowl before holding it out to Tony.
"Your friends, I believe?"
Tony takes the picture, having to bite his tongue to keep from smiling when he looks down.
In the center of the frame is Captain America himself, looking very stoic despite the enormous plushie shark hat that seems to be taking a bite of his head and the "America: F**k yeah!" t-shirt he's wearing. Positioned around him, and hanging off of him, and peeking out from under his arm or over his shoulder are the rest of the team, all making faces at the camera.
Clint and Wanda and Natasha are wearing matching slatted pink shades. Clint's getup is accompanied by a "Check out my six-pack" t-shirt featuring a case of beer, and he is wielding a little slingshot loaded with a rubber fish that is aimed to launch at Sam. Natasha is sporting a "Vodka is the answer. What the hell was the question?" t-shirt, holding a little plastic rake like a dagger at Steve's throat and with one eye covered by a cheesy pirate eyepatch. Wanda has found herself a shirt with a kitten in sunglasses lounging on a beach chair captioned "Purr-adise", has her arms wrapped around the biggest tiger stuffed toy that Tony's ever seen in his life, and has managed to find matching neon snap-backs for herself and the plushie. Scott is sporting a straw hat and has sunscreen painted in white stripes on his cheeks as he wields a plastic shovel and beach pail like weapons, a tacky Hawaiian shirt tied around his waist. Bucky is all but pole-dancing with a beach umbrella in the background, his lips pursed at the camera and wearing a coconut bra. Sam is sporting a "Zombie Apocalypse running team" tank top, has on a pair of sunglasses with a plastic mustache on a chain, is holding a margarita glass full of shells in one hand, and has a fish net in the other hand, poised to scoop up the campy shark that is eating Steve's head.
It takes all of Tony's willpower to keep a straight face as he hands the photo over to Ross.
"Yeah, that looks like them."
Ross' scowl is worth it.
Tony steps close to peer over Ross' shoulder as the man examines the remaining items with a frown.
In the box there is a little surfboard keychain with "Ross" customized on the side, and what looks like a toy gun.
The man picks up the keychain first, turning the surfboard over to read where it was sold.
Tony doesn't bother telling him that the others are far too smart to get themselves caught over something dumb like a practical joke. They probably mailed the box the day they left the city.
"Is this a threat?" Ross asks, discarding the keychain after a few seconds and picking up the gun.
"No, Sir, I think it's a lighter," Tony mutters, tilting his head to read the hanging label.
Ross grumbles something that Tony doesn't catch, and the billionaire feels his smile vanish as the general snatches up the picture, taking it from the frame.
For a second his stomach drops as Ross holds the muzzle of the gun to the picture, prepared to burn it.
And then he pulls the trigger.
Tony has the fleeting thought that he'll have to check FRIDAY's surveillance for the audio recording of this conversation because the sound Ross makes is practically a shriek.
The man jerks his arm back in surprise, dropping the gun and shaking his hand hard, and when Tony finally realizes exactly what happened that left Ross cursing like a sailor, he can no longer hold back his laughter.
Leave it to Steve.
Ross leaves in a huff shortly after that, and Tony collects the picture from the floor, carefully slipping it back into the frame before tucking it into his desk drawer.
It will be safe there until Steve and the others can come in person to retrieve it.