“If you do that one more time, I will beat your ass through the floor,” a woman's voice growled.
“What?” This voice had an accent, yet there was a cocky confidence in the sound. “You do not like my jokes, (Name)?”
“I don't have a sense of humor, asshole, and especially not when I'm the one the joke's about,” she barked, glaring. “I don't appreciate it, Pietro, and you're going to keep doing that and one day I'll lay you flat and you'll eat your words.”
He stared at her, for a long time, as though considering it. Then, he grinned at her, wickedly, “You're not strong enough for that.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she stared at him, hard. “You better pray you heal as fast as you run.” She growled the words, walking out on him with a heavy scowl, muttering under her breath angrily.
“(Name)!” It was Steve's voice, and she whirled on him, fire in her eyes. “Training's not over. Get back in there.”
She glared at him, “Unless you want to put Pietro back together, Rogers, don't pair me with him to spar,” she growled. “Guy hasn't stopped making jokes about how weak I look since I set foot in this building and if he says one more thing to me, he'll be a smear on the floor.”
Steve watched her, for a long time, clearly thinking. “You're both here to learn. Both here, new recruits. If you have a problem with him, you need to work it out, because you'll have to work together one day.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she let out a low, slow breath. “Then tell him to stop making jokes. He does that, I'll stop making threats,” she said, turning on her heel.
Steve watched her walk to the end of the hallway, folding his arms over his chest, only to be surprised by a voice, “Should put her in there tomorrow. Lock her in. One of them will learn a lesson,” the voice advised.
“I'm not too keen on putting one of them in the med ward for a few days, Natasha,” he returned, turning to face her—she was sauntering toward him with her usual smirk on her face.
“Do you really think she could put him down like that?” her tone was a little more serious now, a little more curious and questioning.
“I think she hasn't shown us what she can do, and I think he can get under the skin of any one of us with those jokes he makes.” The tone he used was wary, cautious. Thoughtful.
Natasha—Black Widow—stared at him for a moment, and then shifted her weight to one leg, seeming to think for a time. “You stay in there with them. You knocked him out once, right?”
“It's not him I'm thinking I'll have to deal with,” he muttered. “But fine...if you'll be in there, too.”
She tilted her head at him, that oh-so-subtle movement she always made, and the corner of her lips quirked up a fraction, “Okay, Rogers.”
As she walked away, Steve stood there, shaking his head, breathing deeply. He'd have to get (Name) in to the ring somehow, and as much darkness as he'd done in his time, he didn't like lying.
Morning came, and (Name) had breakfast as usual, and Natasha told her she'd be training with the Widow that day, when to arrive. Pietro was told he was training with Cap.
When the four were inside, Steve shut the door firmly, looking at the two new recruits who were, at the moment, standing on opposite sides of the room. He took a deep breath, thinking for some moments, before he spoke. “I'm under the impression that you two have some...issues to work out. Is that impression correct?”
“Is nothing wrong with me,” Pietro said, quickly, folding his arms over his chest, glancing at (Name). “She just does not understand my...humor,” he suggested.
“No, he's just an asshole who doesn't know the difference between a joke and being an asshole,” she fired back, eyes narrowed. “Dad did the same thing. Poke and poke and poke until you break. Mom beat the shit out of him for it. I'm thinking I might do the same.”
Steve and Natasha both watched her, looking between the two, and Pietro unfolded his arms, looking uncomfortable, but defiant, “You'd have to be able to hit me...and I am not sure you'd manage.”
Natasha stepped in, quickly, “(Name), don't put him down as long as he was after Ultron. I don't think the nurses want to see that much of him, either.”
(Name) looked at her, eyes narrowing, and then she stepped forward. “Tell you what, Pietro. You get to keep joking...if you make it out that door without injury,” she said, voice low.
He laughed, giving her a wicked grin, and he darted for the door.
He didn't make it.
Water washed between the tiles and he slid, hitting the floor hard, and then he hit the door at full speed. While he groaned, a small tide washed him back to the middle of the room. “Good luck, hotshot. You really pissed me off.”
When he rushed her, this time, she didn't budge, even though he was a blur by the second step—instead, a wall of water slammed in to him and threw him across the room, in to the wall, and even when he tried again, and she flooded the room with water—water up to his knees, then his waist, and every step, no matter the speed, took effort, took his breath, sent him splashing, giving him away, creating wakes that slammed in to him. The size of the room didn't allow him to even get the speed to run on the water.
He nearly defeated himself in the effort, and one last burst...
Well, she actually punched him in the nose, square on, hard as she could, dunking him under the water for the effort.
A moment later, the water drained and he coughed and spluttered, drowned as could be, soaking wet from head to toe. He laid there, not even trying to get up as he caught his breath, and she stepped in to his line of vision, hands on her hips. “Speed gets you nothing if you've not got tactics behind it, asshole. Now, I'd appreciate it if you stop picking on me.”
She didn't give him a chance to reply—she turned on her heel and sauntered out of the room, anger in her step, but a confident sway in her hips as she walked away. Natasha looked down at him, letting out a low whistling noise, “Or, you could tell her you've got a crush on her and stop doing exactly the wrong thing to get her attention,” she advised.
Pietro's cheeks turned a faint pink color, but his eyes narrowed, “I don't have a 'crush' on her, I just...didn't think she was very strong,” he defended.
Steve was the next to walk in to his line of sight, shaking his head, “Buddy, you've got a crush, or you're a real asshole, and I would like to believe it's the former,” he said, slowly. “Give her some time to cool off, quit picking on her, and talk to her for a bit. Might find out a little about her,” he advised.
Pietro continued to lie there for a moment, somewhere between flustered and embarrassed, but, at last, he stood, sighing, and Steve and Natasha, now at the door, finally nodded at him, leaving him in the room alone, dripping. Somehow, however, they weren't very wet...
He walked to the room he'd been given in the facility, peeling off his wet clothing, hanging them over the shower to dry. They were wet beyond reason. He'd take a shower if he wasn't aware that he was about as clean he could be, even with his exertion, and changed clothes, thinking about how long was “some time” to an angry woman.
He wasn't certain he had a 'crush,' as they called it, but he didn't pick on her out of spite. He knew that much.
Still, he should...probably...apologize.
He didn't like the thought, he'd admit. Maybe it was childish, but he didn't want to apologize.
She'd told him, well enough, that she wasn't happy he was picking on her, but that was his personality. Joking around, poking a bit of fun...after what he'd endured, he had to go on the lighter side of things. He'd go mental if he didn't. Heck, he'd just gotten out of the hospital—his heart, after he'd been riddled with bullets, had sped up to a speed that felt like he didn't have a heartbeat, trying to speed his healing. When he'd awoken below a wounded Clint, gasping, swearing, the archer had nearly deafened the lot of them with the scream he let out.
He'd been rushed to the med bay, thought dead, but then, after the exertion, he'd been unconscious for days, still healing recovering, struggling.
Wanda had been delighted, of course...after she'd hit him in the arm with a light smack and fought down her tears.
Clint had, perhaps, been delighted, too, but when Pietro uttered a half-slurred “You did not see that coming?” he'd only rolled his eyes and left the half-dead hero's room.
And now, as he recovered, being treated a bit more gingerly to get him back to strength, he'd been tossed in with the newest of the new. (Name) was among them—she'd showed up on their doorstep, a miniscule figure. She was shorter than Natasha, a lithe and pretty girl, looking like she didn't have an ounce of fat or muscle on her body. In perfect truth, she didn't look much like she had much health, either.
Pietro had figured she came from the same ragged beginnings he and his sister had...so of course he'd joked around with her.
But the few weeks in the training facility had done her wonders. The young woman had gained weight—he heard one of the doctors muttering about malnourishment at some point—and she'd endured training by both Natasha and Steve. Other recruits, brought in around the same time, hadn't fared as well, yet. They were still in the earlier stages, learning basic fighting, basic tactics.
In truth, Pietro figured he probably should've been with them, after the defeat he'd just suffered. She'd literally turned his strength against him, not just making the floor slick—she'd made it impossible for him to run.
And, he allowed himself to think, in the privacy of his room, she'd turned his cocky confidence on its head and thrown him for an utter loop.
He debated, again, how long “some time” was.
Pietro was...not patient. Since the experiment, with his speed, of course he was used to getting things fast.
So of course, half a second later, he was at her room, knocking on her door. At least Stark hadn't made every door automatic. But she didn't answer, and his impatience won out—he tested it. It was unlocked.
She was inside, sitting at a little desk they'd all been given, a book open, “If you're here for a rematch, I'll just drown you here and now. I hope you haven't changed clothes yet,” she snapped.
“No, no,” he said, holding his hands up, even though she wasn't looking at him. He paused, and it prompted her to look at him, putting the book down on the desk. He struggled for a moment, “I...should apologize.”
“Then apologize,” she bit out, eyes narrowed. “Or, better yet, apologize, swallow your pride, and leave. I told you I didn't like you picking on me.”
He watched her in surprise, wondering at this viciousness. She'd seemed shy and timid, at first. Had he pissed her off that much? He paused again, thinking, and then sighed. “I'm sorry,” he finally said.
Some of the tension fell out of her shoulders, but she still looked angry. Still, she took a deep breath. “Thank you,” she said, her voice much gentler.
He didn't know what to do. His eyes darted around her room. No photos, no memories. The shelves were bare and the desk held only a small assortment of books—he suspected Steve or Natasha had given them to her. She had no personal belongings that he could see. The only thing he'd seen, consistently, was the necklace she wore—she never removed it.
But he didn't get to speak.
“Wondering why I'm so mad?”
Her words surprised him, and his eyes darted back to her. A little more tension was gone, but she still looked upset. He tested his words, this time, a little humor in there, but there was a genuine question, too, “Would it piss you off, if I said yes?”
For the first time, he heard her chuckle quietly. “No.” She rolled her shoulders back a little bit, and he waited. “Come on. Story time. I'm gonna be cliché. I need some air, so we're heading for the roof.”
Pietro, surprised, only nodded. She led him out of the facility, and when they passed Steve talking to Sam, she told them they were heading to the roof—Steve's eyebrows furrowed, but she waved him off and he, reluctantly, nodded.
Further puzzled, the young man followed (Name) through stairwells and up through the exit on to the roof, and she perched on its edge, legs dangling over the side, arms crossed over a little chunk of railing. “Get comfy, bud. It's a bit of a story.”
He debated, but he finally decided to join her. He didn't sit too near, but he was invested, now, and he wanted her to know he wasn't going to just leave.
She was silent for a little while, but at last, she gave a sigh. “Always been a bit weird, you know,” she finally said, her voice quiet. “I liked swimming a bit too much and I didn't get cold easy...but my parents just sort of shrugged it off.” She hesitated, and then took a deep breath. “Mom was sweet. Stressed out, all the time...think she probably had problems. I'm not certain Dad wasn't part of them, but she was a little...twitchy. Very skittish, always nervous, easy to startle...but she was sweet.”
She stopped here, and Pietro saw, suddenly, a little ring of water, moving around the railing, steady and consistent. Her eyes were staring at it. “Dad was nice. I guess. Always working. Don't remember seeing him much...but I remember he was always making jokes. Always picking. Scared the shit out of my mother, and just laughed about it. Thought it was the funniest thing.” He was watching the water, too, and he saw little ice crystals in it, now. “Never serious, unless it was about his job. Could never tell if he was telling the truth or having a go at someone. And anger issues. But of course, he never hit us...” The water disappeared, not even a drop or a ring left to say it had been there. “But the joking was bad enough. Didn't know it was abuse until later. Still not sure it is...in some ways, I know he did it out of love, but that's a hell of a way to show your love,” she muttered.
Pietro watched her now, and she was staring out at nothing. “Anyway...he...well, he was always scaring Mom. He'd be in the car when she'd go in somewhere, he'd fire the horn...always scared her. He did it one time and when she got back in, she beat on his arm, screaming at him until he had a bruise,” she murmured. “I don't blame her. But me...I was skittish for a long time. Figure I got it from Mom,” she added, and the water was back. “He decided to scare me one day. I had just gotten out of the shower—I think he heard the water turn off—and he banged on my bathroom door. I screamed and then burst in to tears, sobbing. I'd had a bad day already. I always got picked on at school, and I'd had a bad week, and it just all piled up...”
This time, when she stopped, he saw her eyes turn blue. But not normal—they glowed, and her breath frosted against the warm air when she began to speak, “Looking back, it wasn't a big deal. But then...that day, it was too much...and I flooded the room. I don't know how. It ran under the door and then broke it open. House was flooded.” Her lips had shaded, too, very faintly. “I couldn't control it. It was the first time. Destroyed the whole house...all the water damage...well, you can imagine...Dad was pissed.” The glow of her eyes turned nearly purple, it was so dark, but it was unnatural. Pietro was holding his breath. “Mom made me get dressed. All our things were wet. But I did it...and my clothes dried. My hair was dry.”
The water cut through the metal, suddenly, and Pietro's eyes snapped to the clean, narrow cut in the railing. His eyes went wide, and he looked back to her. “Called me a demon. He got some rope out of the garage. Tied me up...taped my mouth, bound my mother, too. She tried to tell him he was being silly...but she was scared of me, too,” she muttered. “Threw me in the trunk. Drove forever...and threw me in the ocean.”
She was silent, but Pietro didn't speak. He didn't know what he'd say, even if he wanted to find words. “I was still young. Maybe twelve. But this...this...water, no one would take me. So I wandered the streets. Imagine my surprise, seeing these people...these people, inhuman, but applauded. Loved, for their strength, for protecting people...” She began to laugh, her breath puffing and frosting in the air. “Of course I started walking. Of course I headed for Stark tower...and when Maria Hill saw me, she brought me here,” she muttered, head sinking on to her arms. “Imagine not being feared for the first time. Imagine having real food for the first time in years. A bed...clothes to fit you.” She rubbed her chin over her arms, and he saw the little tears at the corner of her eyes. “Natasha took me first. You were still waking up. You saw me come in...but you didn't see her coaxing me to talk. Getting my story.” She paused, eyes glancing at him, and the glow faded, the natural color coming back. “Telling me I could eat.”
Her eyes were staring at nothing again, a thousand miles away. “Steve told me he wasn't afraid of me. He saw me fill a room with water in a few minutes and he told me he wasn't afraid of me. He told me he knew how to swim.” She took a deep, shuddering breath, the tears finally escaping, racing each other down her cheek. “And Natasha keeps telling me I've got nothing to prove, even though I'm new. She says I'm learning fast.”
Pietro wanted to stop her, now, but he knew he shouldn't. He could gather, now, why she hadn't liked his jokes. It was a sore spot. A wound, even. Her father had been the joker. Had abused her that way. And then he'd thrown her away. But he wouldn't stop her, when she clearly had more to say, so he waited for her to let the tears dry up. “But I worked hard...because I don't want to lose this. First home I've had in...years. Years unending,” she said, her voice meek and quiet. He could see, now, that she was anything but weak. “And then you start poking me. Of course I looked weak. I hadn't eaten real food in years. A shelter once in a while, when I could pretend I was normal. I got a cup of soup once in a while. Most of the time, it was trash,” she muttered. “Teased and picked on all my life, from my dad to my school mates...of course you pissed me off,” she said, and there was anger in the tone, but no water appeared, no ice encased him, and her breath wasn't visible anymore.
“I'm sorry,” he finally said, and though he'd said it before, he really meant it. He wasn't sure he'd meant it more in his life. And it wasn't pity. He really was sorry. He hesitated, and then, slowly, he reached out toward her, and although she flinched, at first, she let his hand sit on her shoulder, glancing at it warily. He hesitated, and then, finally, he spoke. “Do you want to know why I joke?”
It was her turn to pause. She hesitated, looking at him, and to Pietro, she looked exhausted. He suspected that was why she wanted to come to the roof. That was...a hell of a story. But, though she looked tired, she finally, slowly, nodded. “...Sure.”
He nodded, too, and he leaned against the railing, but he didn't look away from her. “Wanda and I were ten.” He paused, and she watched him go back to that time. She could see it on his face. “Bombs. We were having dinner with our parents.” Another pause, and she turned toward him, a little. “The first one hit two floors below us. Opened a hole. Enormous.”
She watched him again, and he didn't look away from her. He was steady. “Our parents go in. I take Wanda, hide under the bed with her. The whole building is falling apart,” he said, slowly, but she could see a little sign of his nerves, the pulse in his neck a little harder than before. “Another shell hits...but it never went off. 'STARK' on its side...we wait for it to kill us, for two days.” He paused again, his shoulders tense.
But he didn't shift the way she did; he didn't twitch and fidget. He just told the story. “Lost my parents. All I had was Wanda. Have to make light of things.”
It was her turn to think on what he said. She hesitated, but finally, she pulled her legs back from the edge of the building, turning toward him. “We both have our reasons, then,” she offered, but the tone wasn't angry—just understanding. “Guess it means I can't tell you to stop joking.”
He paused, but he chuckled. “I'll pick on your hair, instead.” It was the first thing he could name. “Is that safe?”
She smiled a little, a faint, barely-there thing, but he still glimpsed it before she spoke. “Just...no prods about weakness. Still finding my strength, hotshot,” she said, slowly, but he recognized the effort there. A compromise. Maybe even the beginnings of trust—or, at least, the chance for it.
“Deal,” he said, quickly.
She paused, but a little smile cracked at her lips again. “Want some ice for your nose?”
He stared at her, for a moment, before his hand reached up. He hadn't noticed, with all his thinking, all his listening, even his own story-telling...but she'd hit him pretty hard. It was tender. Not bad enough to break it, but the girl had a heck of a punch, and a part of him suspected she was holding back when she'd hit him. Or, perhaps, she'd just hit him in the right spot not to break his nose...or his cheekbone. “I can get it later,” he said, but his fingers were rubbing the area tenderly already.
She laughed, a real one, this time, and though, perhaps, he should've been offended by it, he took pleasure in the little sound. He watched her bring her fingers to her lips, and her eyes glowed again—she blew against her fingertips, and he saw the digits turn a faint gray. She used her free hand to pull his out of the way, and then, gently, she pressed her fingers on what she could see of the bruise. “Or you could sit still for a bit.”
A wry smile found his face, “I think you might enjoy this a bit too much.”
She grinned, “Just a little payback for all the pain you've caused. Besides, I could really be mean, if I wanted; I could take a photo for Clint.”
He groaned loudly, and she felt his face barely shake with the sound. “Right,” he said, his accent thicker with exaggeration. “I think I'll take this.”
“Mm,” she hummed. “Thought you would,” she teased, and he felt himself smile.
Maybe...eating his words wasn't so bad. Well, as long as no one got a photo of this, anyway.