"So... Can I keep him?"
"What?" Nat turned to look at her, brow twitching.
Barbara grinned, swinging her legs idly. People in suits had swarmed the center of Columbus's base, leaving the two Russians to stand by the side. Well, Nat was still standing, leaning against the railing. Barbara had hopped up and was balanced on the top rail like it was a bench. She had gotten more than her fair share of looks, and each one had made Nat's frown get deeper and deeper. And as the little sister, it was Barbara's job to be the distraction.
That, and her core personality that Nat had oh-so-willingly helped Barbara protect was inherently cheerful and a little flirty...and Hawkeye--now known to the sisters as Agent Clint Barton--had made an impression.
"Can I keep him?" Barbara repeated, keeping the conversation in Russian. "I promise to take care of him." She fluttered her eyelashes.
Natasha--as Nat had explained her new name back on the jet when Barbara first woke up--rolled her eyes and didn't say anything.
Like that was going to stop Barbara. She leaned closer to her sister and kept pressing. "Please, Nat!" she begged. "I mean, he's so cute and, okay, he has those pain-in-the-ass things called morals that keep getting in the way of everything. They actually make him a little more adorable." She glanced over at Barton, and couldn't help snickering. He was just standing around, talking to one of the handful of female agents, but he was posing while he did it, demanding everyone look at him and see how good-looking and fit he was. "And okay, he has that stupid ego that needs beaten down with a rolled up newspaper." Her eyelashes half-lowered in a very come-hither glance. "I could give him cuddles and kisses after."
"Barbara!" Nat finally broke and snapped, sounding like she was almost--almost--laughing.
In response, the blonde smoothed her expression into the picture of wide-eyed, innocence that just asked, "Who, me?" without her even having to say a word.
Her big sister, of course, knew better and pointed a finger at her. "You are a dirty bird."
Barbara pouted, but that didn't last long, since that little phrase just gave her more ideas. She flashed a wicked smile at her sister and then looked at her little crush again. "I am," she agreed. "Think I can get Barton to wash my feathers?"
The woman with Barton started coughing, and he leaned into her, concerned. Nat wasn't much better, giving a brief cough to cover her own urge to laugh before she collected herself. "Starting to wish you were a rabbit," she said.
"What, why?" Barbara tilted her head, confused.
"Because they're quieter...and more obedient."
Rolling her eyes, Barbara laughed. "That's dogs, Nat, and I'm not one at all."
Nat looked up at her, seeming a little more cheerful. "Well, how about duckling, since you keep imprinting on the first person you meet in strange situations?"
"Nat!" Barbara whined, dragging Nat's name out. That got the redhead to laugh, making Bobbi grin. Finally. She looked back at Barton, who was walking up a ramp to where a couple people were standing, and sighed. "I'm fine with being a mockingbird. Birds of a feather flock together and all..."
Seeing where she was looking, the smile fell from Natasha's face, and she turned serious again. "Hawks and mockingbirds aren't the same feather at all. In fact, hawks tend to attack and kill smaller birds. It's best if they are kept separated."
Bobbi cringed, raising her shoulders closer to her ears. It was a warning, albeit not a very subtle one. But still... "What if... What if I pretended to be a hawk, for a little while?" she asked, quietly. "That's what mockingbirds are good at, right? Imitating other birds?"
Natasha was quiet for a second, and then asked, equally soft, "But it would be just that. An imitation. Another mask. Do you really want to live like that?"
No, she didn't. Bobbi stared down at her feet, feeling like her stomach was with them. But he seemed so nice... She needed to stand up and walk around a little bit, to try and get her emotions under control. It was harder than usual this time, for some reason. She quickly jumped down, leaving Nat behind, and paced along the control room, people watching mostly.
She climbed to the base of the ramp that Barton had taken by accident, rather than intentional. Honestly. She listened, curious as to what was going on up there.
"--I don't care how helpful they were on this mission, Barton!" an angry male voice said, intense rather than loud. "One is an enemy agent, and the other is a minor!"
"But, sir, we never would have found Columbus without Romanoff's help," Barton argued.
"Fine. Minor, Barton!" the man surrendered one point to focus on the other. "She's a child, and you brought her into a battlefield."
"She handled herself just fine." Barbara refrained, barely, from giggling at the agent's almost petulant tone. Well, Nat had tried to warn him...
"Be that as it may, she shouldn't be here. Take her back where you found her. Immediately."
Everything froze, sound turning to white noise. She didn't hear Barton's response. Take her back? To the RRA? Her hands came up to rest over her stomach. Where her womb was, still functioning and capable of--someday--giving her a child of her own. She was only sixteen, but being a mother was something she was determined to be one day, no matter what.
Barbara wasn't going to let anyone take that from her.
She was moving before she was aware of it, at a dead run. She ducked around startled agents, bolting for the door she knew led out. Loud footsteps were behind her, but they just made her run that much faster. The jet she took here would be an obstacle, since it was locked down, but these people had to have gotten here somehow. Someone would have been careless to leave a vehicle operable--
Strong arms grabbed her from behind, lunging her back due to the momentum. She kicked out, trying to wiggle free, but her captor wasn't having any of it. Barbara recognized the bracers on his arms--archer's bracers. "No, no, no!" she shouted, trying to get the leverage she needed to dig an elbow into his ribs, slam her foot into his instep, anything to get free. But he had too much height on her and was prepared for her to fight back. He managed to neatly fold her up in his arms, sitting down on a nearby desk so her feet couldn't get traction on the floor.
She choked down a sob, and instead focused on her anger. "I won't go back, I won't!" she almost growled, furiously trying to get free despite the uselessness of the action. "I'll die first!"
"Barbara," Nat's voice cut through her panic. Barbara paused, panting for breath, and Nat came into view, reaching out to hold the blonde's face in the palms of her hands.
But it was only a temporary relief. "You can't let them take me back," Barbara pleaded, forgetting to switch to Russian. "I can't graduate. Please, Nat."
"No one is going to make you," Nat said, and then glared at Barton. "Let her go."
"Not until someone explains," he said, sounding surprisingly calm and not nearly as out of breath as Barbara would have liked. She needed to get faster. "What's so bad about graduating from that school?"
Barbara's laugh was a tinge hysterical, and Natasha's face was a thundercloud. But since Natasha wasn't answering, Barbara felt like she had to. "Those that survive the training are ready for the world," she said, repeating an English translation of Madame's little speech that she'd given Barbara before they'd drugged her. "Except there is the potential for one final distraction from the mission. It must be removed. The graduation ceremony."
"Distraction?" Clint said, sounding confused.
"Sterilization," Natasha said, quiet and fierce. "So there is never a family to be more worried about than the goal, since the girls are either abandoned by their family or orphaned."
"Or sent there because their mothers are too weak to take it themselves and too scared to die," Barbara spat, some of her rage that was directed at her mother coming out. She had more than her fair share, built up over the years.
Clint was quiet, but his grip on her got a little bit tighter. "No one is going to do that to you, alright?" he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "We'll figure out something. But you aren't going back to that place."
"But... But that man said you had to take me back where you found me," she said, cringing even thinking about it.
Barbara tried to twist her head to see the newcomer, but it was impossible over Barton's shoulder. The tall black man had to walk into her view. Instantly, she noted that he was blind in one eye, or at least wore a patch over it, and he had at least three guns on him. He was meant to be intimidating...and despite all her experience, it worked. She stopped fighting Clint's hold and instead sunk closer to him, wanting to feel protected at least a little. Curse him, Clint actually loosened his hold a little bit, making her want to pout. Barbara kept her face a smooth mask though.
This strange man stared her down, taking in everything about her, and then looked to Natasha. "You aren't blood siblings, but I take it you're a package deal?"
Natasha stiffly nodded and glared daggers at Barton. "Though if he doesn't let my sister go, you are going to be short a hawk."
He rolled his eye, and didn't even look. "Barton, let the girl go. Go get some food, and feed her too while you're at it, while I hammer out details with Romanoff here."
"I'm not holding her in place," Clint complained, but shifted so Barbara had no choice but to stand up. He clapped Barbara on the shoulder as she crossed her arms and pouted. "Come on, kid. I know a place where even you won't stand out."
Barbara snorted and refused to move an inch. "I'm not a kid," she said, sticking her nose up in the air. "And you're the one with the quiver, not me."
He eyed her. "Are you going to make me carry you? Cause we're going whether you like it or not, Fury's orders."
Oh, temptation... But she supposed she could behave a little. "Piggy back ride?" she offered as a compromise.
He gave her an affronted look. She pouted. He sighed and shrugged out of his quiver, setting it nearby. "Alright, brat," he said, turning his back to her. With a cheeky grin at her shocked sister and the stoic man she had to assume was Fury, Barbara jumped up on Barton's back, wrapping her arms around his neck and letting him grab her by the knees to balance her better. He set off at a walk like she weighed nothing.
Seeing the device hooked around his right ear and set inside, she assumed it was a hearing aid and moved so her chin was resting on his left shoulder. "So... What's going to happen to me?" she asked quietly.
"Fury is going to talk to your sister about that," he said factually, and then sighed. "He'll want to find your parents."
Barbara stiffened, making Clint turn to look at her. She refused to meet his eyes. "If I see my mother, I'll kill her," she said, also working to make sure she sounded factual. "And won't that be peachy to explain to my father? 'Here's the daughter who's been missing for ten years, your wife turned her over to a school that made her into an assassin as payment to be allowed to live a normal life, sorry!'"
"Payment?" he asked.
"My mother was the first Klavdiya," she said with a sigh. "Too stubborn to die, too weak to survive. She was let out to breed a better one." She gave him a bitter smile. "Me." She bit her lower lip and added, "Not that I know her name, beyond that it was Klavdiya at some point... I only remember mine because Nat reminded me all the time. I don't even remember my birthday--"
"How cute. You're babbling," he said, bouncing her on his back and making her squeal and then laugh. He grinned up at her, his eyes full of sympathy but not pity. "Let's let Fury and Nat sort it out. What do you want to eat?"
"I thought you knew a place!" she protested, and they playfully bickered the rest of the way out of the complex.