Percy O'Leary (lithiumlaughter) wrote,
Percy O'Leary
lithiumlaughter

Then I might cast you a spell, look at what came in the mail.

TITLE: Too Low To Dig
FANDOM: Avengers 919
CHARACTERS: Nikolai "Atrax" Romanoff,  Colleen "Hawkeye" Barton, Brenda "Bee" Barnes
RATING: All Audiences
SUMMARY: When your past invites you for a cup of tea, do you answer?
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Why yes, it HAS been a while. Should probably have left a forwarding address -- I'm on tumblr under lithiumlaughter should you care to come visit.
A couple notes:
1) 'Stella' actually was a popular name for girls in the 1920s/30s, before you ask, so Stella Rogers is totally an okay name here for Cap.
2) While it's only obliquely referenced, my headcanon involving a hearing impaired, CIC hearing aid using Hawkeye is in play. Then again, a hearing impaired Hawkeye is straight up canon in the comics, so take it how you'd like.
3) All translations of the Iraqi Arabic are at the bottom. My apologies for any mistranslations.
4) I generally write Avengers stuff (MCU or 919) from Hawkeye's viewpoint...or at least find it easier. This is my first proper foray in to the mind of Atrax, so you must forgive me any trespasses.
5) Happy (extremely, extremely belated) birthday to scribble_myname...and holy crap girl, this really holds no candle to what you're doing with Nikolai.


He wore the leather jacket as though it were armour, which she found almost amusing. The man was long past the need for such a thing, if he'd ever needed it at all. Which he hadn't. As long as she had known him, he'd been vicious and fearless. Perfect.

Then again, the Nikolai she was observing wasn't precisely the Nikolai she once knew. It had been some time. While certain things would never change (there was no question he was still a weapon, and always would be), she knew many things were significantly different (a different set of hands wielded  him, a new finger on his trigger). The trick would be determining precisely what changes had come to pass, and what they meant.

The woman with him bore watching too.


***


"We're being followed," Nikolai announced, cagey.

"Yup."

"We should do something about that."

"Probably."

"I'm open to suggestions."

Colleen continued to press through the marketplace, sparing him a quick glance. "I've got this."

That was really all that needed to be said on the matter. It didn't relieve his discomfort entirely, but this was Baghdad, and Collie's domain. He'd worked missions in the Middle East before, and even in Baghdad itself, but she moved with the confidence of a local. Given her past -- while no-one save Fury, Coulson, and Nikolai knew her official former military rank, rumours circulated throughout SHIELD about Colleen being a veteran of Fallujah, potentially even Al-Karmah when it had been at its worse -- it was near enough the truth.

"Just stay close," Colleen said. "Soon."

Moving towards one of the stands, she picked up an orange from the display and chatted good-naturedly with the merchant in a language Niko could neither speak nor understand. While her dark sunglasses hid the movement of her eyes from anyone else, he could tell exactly where Colleen was looking. Behind the stand was a slip of a girl, peeking out and watching the two of them carefully: their tracker.  The girl stole away into an alley behind the stand. Niko remained stationary, turning his attention back to Colleen to wait for a cue. There was no way that she'd have missed the girl's disappearing, and no question that Colleen would respond to it.

Colleen made a show of pretending to examine the orange, and ended up replacing it with a smile and a short bow. Her voice took on the inflection of question as she jutted her chin towards where the girl had been. She nodded at the response she was given, gave the briefest of bows once more, and then walked around the stand and into the alley. Nikolai followed, scanning all the while.

There, in the alley, was the girl.

"Hello, little shadow," Colleen smiled, voice gentle as she removed her sunglasses. "Marhaba."

The girl observed the two of them anxiously, clearly taken aback at being followed, but she didn't move a muscle. This struck Niko as a little odd; he'd have expected a little more fear from a teenage Iraqi girl all but ambushed by two American-looking types in an alleyway. She seemed to relax a little as Colleen lifted up her hands in a gesture of peace.

"Ismi Colleen," she said. She gestured towards Nikolai. "Akhooya Niko. Shismich?"

"Sabeen," the girl replied quietly, and Nikolai could gather enough to understand that she'd just given her name. Sabeen's eyes darted back and forth, finally settling on Niko. She approached Colleen, warily, and beckoned her close. Leaning forwards, Sabeen whispered into Colleen's ear without taking her eyes off of Nikolai.

Colleen's face went stony once Sabeen pulled away. "Wen?"

Sabeen pointed down another alleyway across the street, then jerked her thumb to the left.

"Shukran teslami," Colleen said, smile now tight. Digging in to her side pack, she withdrew a small wad of dinar and pressed it in to the girl's hand. "Utla, wakhir." Sabeen's eyes widened, but she clutched the money close to her chest. Bobbing her head, she disappeared.

"What was that?" It was partially a question of what had just happened, and what warning Sabeen had given.

"We got ourselves an invitation." Colleen blew out a breath . "Well. You do, anyhow."


***


With Sabeen off to complete her assigned task, it was time to wait. There was no question that he would show, of course. The name that Sabeen would invoke alongside the request for his presence ensured that much. The wait itself would be short. Nikolai would not ignore the name 'Barnes', even after all this time. He would respond with speed and unerring caution as he had always done. Sitting back in her chair, she sipped delicately at her tea, enjoying the scent of cardamom emanating from it.

Soon. Very soon.


***


Anyone else would have expressed all kinds of disapproval of the plan Nikolai had set out -- a lot of incredulity or frustration, and even some accusations of perfect idiocy. Colleen, however, was not anyone else. She was Colleen, and she'd played along without question seeing as the situation had gone from being in her comfort zone to his.

The invitation was to a restaurant on the fringes of the market, just a couple blocks away, and as they'd made their way there, they'd worked out a few details with regards to how the whole thing would be approached.

They paused about half a block from the place, and he noted Colleen's fingers grazing her bag as she passed her hand over it. A small, yet incredibly powerful, compact, collapsible rifle and scope were tucked in there, and Colleen's brief action spoke to her desire to set up with it sooner rather than later.

Niko wanted to thank her for her understanding, for her willingness to follow his lead, to help him. He knew he didn't need to -- it was Colleen, she already knew -- but he wanted to. He glanced down the street towards the restaurant, then back to Colleen. The weight of what was about to happen and of who he was about to meet was settling on his shoulders.

Her mouth quirked in to the smallest of grins, and she reached over to squeeze his upper arm. "I got eyes on you. Go." The phrase was reassurance in two ways: one, that she would literally have eyes on him throughout this little adventure, and two, a reminder that she would always look out for him in general.

With that, she vanished to wherever she would set up her little sniper's nest and he walked the last little way to the restaurant.


***


Still most definitely a masterpiece, she determined as he walked through the door of the restaurant. Still absolutely everything the Room had made him. Of course he would be. Both she and Nikolai of all people knew that the Room broke you and built you back up in its image. Nikolai appeared to have smashed himself back in to pieces and attempted to glue them all back together.

Foolish.

Glue or no, there was no way to fully hide the cracks. She'd known he'd spent his time with SHIELD trying to, but seeing him close up like this made those fault lines all the more clear. He might be trying to change his shape, but it would always be the same material.


***


Taking a seat across from her, Nikolai locked eyes with the woman he'd once known as Brenda. His muscles melted to liquid, a response he recognized as his fight or flight instinct settling firmly on fight.

"Bee," he said, the syllable impassive. Her dark hair was cut short, her clothing was practical, and there was a sharpness to her eyes that he wished he didn't recognize so clearly. Every time he thought he'd managed to push the Red Room further away --

--he shut down those thoughts, and forced himself to focus on the woman before him rather than what she represented. She merely nodded to the waiter, and a hot cup of tea was placed before him.

"How have you been, Nikolai?" she asked. "It's been too long."

The words he wanted to say were not long enough. He chose silence instead, and Bee raised an eyebrow in amusement.

"Your new better half is out there watching us, isn't she?" she observed, running a casual finger around the rim of her glass.

"I wouldn't call her that."

"A pet of yours, then?"

Bee was clearly expecting some kind of reaction to this; likely some sort of variation of 'leave her out of this', or a 'don't call her that'. He refused to grant her such a response because it was not needed. Colleen was involved simply by virtue of her presence, and didn't need Nikolai's defense. If Bee wanted to trade barbs though, by all means. He would oblige.

"Stella still misses you," he said. "She still blames herself for your 'death'." Bee pursed her lips momentarily, the smallest of chinks in her armor revealed. He couldn't help the touch of acid that seeped in to his smile. "You think she doesn't know you're still alive?"

She gave a conceding bob of her head, the moment of possible weakness over and gone. "I don't suppose I should be surprised. That SHIELD group of yours would be on top of that sort of thing."

"We just didn't know where you were. I'm curious to know why you've decided to show up like this, and why now."

She laughed, and the sound was nearly painful in its familiarity. "Come on now. We both know you're curious about more than that."

Right on target, yes, but he was not about to give words to what that 'more' might be. That was dangerous ground best avoided. "Maybe. But that's not what I want to know about."

"The Room misses you."

The statement had come out of nowhere, not really a response to what he'd said, and managed to set him spinning. By her expression, she knew it too. Finding his mental feet again, forcing himself to stand, he answered her charge.

"The Red Room," he said, pointedly using the place's full name rather than the almost affectionate shorthand Bee employed, "misses a lost tool."

"I miss you."

While mention of the Red Room had sent him reeling, those three words were three sharp needles pushed just below the skin. Back in the Red Room, the two of them had been partners. They'd run missions together, a veritable extermination squad of two sent in as a scalpel or a sledgehammer, situation dependant. They had been good. Better than. The best.

There had even been something between them. Well, as much of a something as could exist between two carefully programmed weapons. Touches, moments, more...whether simply further programming or something genuine, they had happened.

Then Colleen had made that different call, and things changed.

"I think," he replied, words measured, "you don't quite know what that word means."

"Is that what you think?" If the words had wounded, there was no sign. "I thought you knew me better than that."

"I knew my programming. I'm not sure what else."

And there was the crux of it. Much of what he had been, what he remembered, who he was, was wrapped up in Red: lines of code and constant mental coercion. He still fought to differentiate between the fact and fiction of his past sometimes.

Bee nodded slowly, her head tilting slightly as if seeing him in some kind of new light.

"You should know that I'm coming then," she said, eerily casual for the amount of danger in the words. She took a shallow sip of her tea. "For all of you. Your Avengers, SHIELD..."

Nikolai could all but feel Colleen's finger curling a little more tightly around the trigger at the threat. He tapped his left index finger four times against the table as a cue: all clear; hold off.

Bee smiled at the motion. "Calling off your attack dog?" She tsked. "You've grown soft."

"I'm growing sane," he fired back. I don't work like that anymore.

"That's not an option for people like us, Nikolai." To any other ear, the words might have sounded gentle, but to Nikolai (who knew better) they were nothing more than a calculated shot. If it had hit or missed, he couldn't yet say.

Bee looked upwards and out of the restaurant, scanning roofs of buildings.

"If you wanted me dead, Nikolai, the sniper rifle out there would already have put a bullet in my head. We both--" She paused, her gaze settling on one building in particular. "All three of us know I'm walking out of here without a scratch."

Sipping back the last of her tea, she set the cup down and rose from her seat. "Consider this entire meeting a courtesy call, one old friend to another. Expect me."

She paused as she walked past him, taking a moment to tilt his head up and run her fingers along his jaw line. Her expression was placid, but nearly bordering on soft.

"Whatever it might be worth," she said, voice steady albeit lower in volume. "Whatever you might believe, I do miss you."

And then she was gone.


***


As she walked out in to the street, she gave a quick salute to the rooftop she'd concluded Nikolai's sniper was settled on. She allowed herself to wonder just how much of her former place the woman had taken. Did the sniper know him as well as she did?

He was ours first, she mouthed at the roof, all but certain that Nikolai's pet was watching her closely enough to make the words out. He was *mine* first.

Not bothering to wait for a response -- a wolf does not wait on the pleasure of a leashed dog -- she walked on.

There was a short, sharp, snapping noise, and the purse at her hip suddenly sported a hole in the side. The message was clear: know that I could have ended you and didn't.

Perhaps not as tight a leash as she'd assumed.


***


Nikolai was still seated at the table when Colleen came in and sat down next to him.

"Hey," she said. She sounded concerned: the sort of concerned she got just before threading a needle to suture a particularly bad wound. There was no gash here, no blood, but she was obviously seeing an injury.

Between her scope and her lip reading, of course she'd have picked up on every word.

She looked at him, taking off her sunglasses and waiting for him to meet her eyes directly. He knew that look. That was her assessing look, her taking stock face. "Niko," she said carefully, using her personal nickname for him. "You with me here?"

He nodded, imperceptibly at first, but it grew more assured. "I'm with you. This is just--" He floundered for words. "My old life generally doesn't show up and invite me out for tea."

"Fair enough."

The two of them left the restaurant, and headed back through the streets to the market.

"So what's this about me not being your better half?" Colleen said in what was a try for levity that fell just short, jamming an elbow in to Nikolai's rib in an attempt to ease the mood.

She'd overlooked Brenda calling her a pet and a dog in a handful of different ways, the Red Room and all that meant, the new menace facing everything that was important to the two of them...and had settled on that.

He saw what she was doing, and he found himself thankful.

Niko shook his head. When he spoke, his tone matched hers. "You're more like my better three eighths, I think. Not enough of a good influence to be a half."

"Specificity. Nice." She looked up towards the sky and exhaled heavily. "So my vote is we head back to HQ with these new developments right the hell now."

"Seconded."

With that, they made for their hotel.

It was a short walk that passed in quiet, presumably because they were focused on their own thoughts about what had just passed. It occurred to him to perhaps ask her what was on her mind, but the idea was quickly scrapped. If she felt the need to say or ask something, she would, and if he felt the need to reply or answer, he would. It was how they worked.

The silence was companionable anyways.

-Fin-



Marhaba = Hi (informal greeting, typically used by younger Iraqis)
Ismi Colleen = My name's Colleen
Akhooya Niko =My brother Niko
Shismich? = What's your name? (feminine)
Wen? = Where?
Shukran teslami = Thank you very much (feminine)
Utla, wakhir = Get out, get away
Tags: avengers 919, fanfic, gift, with friends like these
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