In retrospect, getting a dog when she knew she was about to go off on a mission might not have been the greatest plan, but in her defense, the dog was adorable, she needed somewhere to go, and she had always wanted a dog.
So Yelena took in this scrawny dog and named her Fanny, nursing her back to health and bringing her around wherever she went, hiding her in safe houses while she was out fighting and using her as a means to blend in when trying to act as a civilian for recon or intelligence gathering. Those long lonely nights staring up at the ceiling in the dark weren’t so lonely anymore with a giant lump of fur and warmth curled against her side, and when she was moving from place to place, looking for lost widows who needed freeing, Fanny was her one constant.
But this new job, Yelena knew she couldn’t risk hauling a dog around and keeping her out of sight and safe while working, which is why she was taking extra precautions with Fanny.
She had been working with Val for long enough that she thinks she should probably trust her, but she’s also been around enough horrible people in her life to know when she is being manipulated. And everything about this assignment just felt wrong. But Val told her that the best way to wipe her ledger was through the assignments she was handed, and that the only way she would ever have access to the resources she needed to help the rest of the widows was by working for Valentina.
She liked to think that Natasha would cut the same, shady deal for the greater good, to help the other girls Drakov kept enslaved. But her sister was gone, and it was like the night they were separated all over again, continuous underlying ache of knowing Natasha is completely out of her reach. And yes, this newest assignment to avenge her avenger of a sister felt so wrong deep in her gut, but Yelena didn’t know what else to do, how else to cope.
So she agreed to the job, and called in some favors to get Fanny someplace safe. Mason told her that he knew just the guy to take care of her, but was cagey about the details, saying that for this man’s privacy he couldn’t say his name, only that he had plenty of land, a golden retriever who was great with other dogs, a few animal loving kids, and that her sister had trusted him with her life.
Well if Natasha trusted him, that was good enough for her. So she kissed the top of Fanny’s head and let the dog lick her cheek once before handing the leash over to Mason for him to take her away.
Yelena hated this mission. It was too close, too personal. She missed the safety of detachment, she missed her dog, and she missed her sister. By the time she had followed Valentina’s intel to a farm in just about the middle of nowhere, she just wanted it all to be over with. She would go in, shoot this man, and leave. No strings attached and no emotions in the way.
That was the plan, until she arrived at the property her target and saw the kids playing with two dogs out in the yard. Val had never mentioned that this guy had kids. This just kept getting worse. She tried to sneak around the back of the house and out of sight of the children, but she was spotted by one of the dogs, who gave out an excited bark and ran to greet her. By now the element of surprise was lost, and all three kids were watching her from across the yard. Yelena dropped to her knees when she saw Fanny, her Fanny, run toward her, wagging her tail happily all the way.
This couldn’t be. Mason had said that Natasha had trusted this man with her life, but Val claimed he was responsible for for her losing it. Red Room widows were trained in distrust; Natasha never would have given her’s if it weren’t earned. None of this was making sense. But this was her mission, whether it was personal or not. Eliminate the target. Vengeance was supposed to be just an added bonus.
The spy looked up from her dog and laid eyes on the man from Val’s picture, the man who killed her sister, and immediately stood and drew her gun. Clint Barton held his hands up to show he was unarmed.
“Daddy?” a little girl’s frightened voice called from across the yard. “What’s happening?”
“Everything’s okay honey, you and your brothers go inside and tell mommy everything is fine out here. And bring the dogs inside too,” Clint answered calmly and evenly, hands still in the air. The three kids and the dogs quickly and quietly entered the house and closed the door behind them, leaving the two adults alone.
“How do you know who I am?” Yelena asked warily, the gun still aimed at her target.
“Because Tasha told me about you, how else?” he answered, almost exasperated. “Can you put the gun down? You scared my kids.”
Yelena didn’t move a muscle.
“Alright, we’re doing it this way,” Clint sighed. “I know why you’re—“
“You killed my sister,” Yelena interrupted him bluntly.
“I know,” was all he said, dropping his hands in defeat and sitting down on one of the porch rocking chairs. Yelena gripped her gun a little firmer.
“What happened?” she asked, torn between screaming, crying, and just shooting him without waiting for a reply.
“You and half the world population were turned to dust, Natasha was determined to bring you back,” Clint started, his face growing sadder with each word. “We have to find these damn magic stones or whatever, she and I got sent to retrieve the one where you had to sacrifice someone you loved by throwing them over a cliff to get it.”
“You threw her over a cliff?” Yelena knew that even if he was a fellow avenger, Natasha could have beaten Clint hands down.
“No,” Clint tried to continue the story, but the tears threatening to spill over where too much to get out much. “I—“
That’s when it dawned on Yelena. This was Natasha’s partner. Her best friend. She trusted him with her life, and he trusted her with his. Neither of them ever would have allowed the other to be the one to die.
“She jumped,” Yelena slowly lowered her gun and dropped it to the grass.
“I jumped,” Clint corrected, taking a shuddering breath to begin his explanation. “We sat there for hours arguing, even physically fought over who was going over. I got her down long enough to pull away and jump, but she dove over the cliff after me, hooked a rappel line from my belt to the mountain. I grabbed her hand, but she pushed off and she—“
He broke off, dropping his head in his hands for a moment before doing his best to compose himself and make eye contact with his best friend’s little sister.
“It’s my fault,” was all he could make out.
Yelena said nothing. Instead she slowly, silently walked to the porch and sat on the rocking chair beside Clint, staring straight ahead as she processed. They sat there for several minutes in the silence, before Yelena finally said quietly, “It was not your fault.”
“What?” Clint turned to her in shock.
Yelena stood up sharply and wandered to the edge of the porch, looking out at the property.
“Val tried to convince me that you killed her, but I knew this felt wrong. Natasha always talked about you like you were her best friend,” she said, her back still to him, but she could sense him stand up and slowly approach to join her by the railing. “You got her out. Out of the Red Room, out of that hell of a life.”
Yelena finally turned to look Clint in the eyes to see tears glimmering at the edges, matching her own.
“Thank you for giving her the family the Red Room never allowed for us to have.”
It only took a few more seconds before Yelena finally let out the sob that she had been holding back for what seemed like ages, and Clint immediately moved forward to wrap his arms around the young woman. She melted into his side and allowed him to hold while they both cried. When they were finally finished and there was nothing left for either of them to give, they separated and stood awkwardly on the porch for a few minutes, looking out at the farmland.
“Do you wanna come in?” Clint finally asked, but Yelena hesitated.
“No, I couldn’t—“
“Oh c’mon, it’s not like the kids have never seen a gun before, they won’t be that upset about earlier. And my wife always makes more than enough food for the five of us, we have enough to give you dinner while you’re out here,” Clint insisted. “Besides, your dog is here anyway, so you’ll at least have to get her stuff.”
“Okay fine,” Yelena agreed reluctantly. He did have a point about getting Fanny’s stuff. And now that the topic of food had been brought up, she realized how hungry she really was. She followed the archer into the house, and was greeted by Fanny, once again running up to her person.
The three kids had been spread around the living room, the girl coloring in a notebook and the boys playing with legos on the ground, but they looked up at the sound of the door opening.
“Daddy who is that?” The youngest boy asked, clearly apprehensive at the presence of the woman who twenty minutes earlier had been pointing a gun at his dad.
“This is Auntie Nat’s sister. Her name is Yelena, you don’t have to be scared, she is very nice. We were watching Fanny for her while she was away for work,” Clint explained, flawlessly child-proofing the story.
Auntie Nat stuck out in Yelena’s mind. This was Natasha’s family.
“If she’s Auntie Nat’s sister does that make her our Aunt too?” The girl asked sweetly.
“If she wants to be,” Clint answered, looking at Yelena to gauge her reaction.
Yelena ducked her head, unsure what to say. They were being too nice, too open to her invading their home. This was Natasha’s second family, not hers.
“Give it some thought,” Clint told her, and Yelena nodded her appreciation for the small bit of space.
“Clint, what stray have you brought in this time?” A woman said jokingly as she turned a corner into the living room, but stopped when she saw the woman in the living room.
“This is my wife, Laura,” Clint introduced the woman.
“Yelena, I know, I’m so glad to finally meet you,” Laura said, crossing the living room surprising the other woman with a hug, which she awkwardly returned after a moment of shock. “Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes, come on in.”
Yelena followed Laura into the kitchen, Clint and the kids following behind. The kids immediately began helping their mother set the table, and Clint got out drinks and filled glasses at each place. Yelena was struck by the calm, natural domesticity of it all, something she had not experienced since with her fake-real family in Ohio.
Everyone sat down at the table and began passing food around, and Yelena spent a good majority of the meal quietly observing the family that had taken in her big sister.
After dinner Yelena thanked them for their hospitality, and began to gather Fanny’s things, feeling both too close to her lost sister and yet too far away and needing to get out. Clint walked her out, stopping her on the porch once again. He produced a loosely wrapped package from behind his back and handed it to Yelena, who looked at him questioningly.
“Nat said if anything ever happened that this was to go to you,” he supplied with a sad shrug. “Up until now you’ve been hard to find.”
Yelena gently unwrapped the paper, and her heart dropped, grief washing over her all over again.
Her jacket, her first purchase as a free woman, her gift to her big sister the second time they had to say goodbye, was neatly folded and wrapped up. The kicker was the torn photo booth strip, the other half of what Yelena herself had held onto all those years, resting on top of the rough fabric.
“I know this was a confusing day, and I know this can’t be easy,” Clint said softly, breaking through Yelena’s trance. “Nothing has been easy without her.”
Yelena nodded her understanding and let him continue talking.
“But you can have a family here, if you want it, our arms are open wide. We’re not replacing her for you, and you aren’t replacing her for us if that’s what you’re worried about. Families always have room to grow.”
Yelena looked down at the photo clutched tightly in her hand, thinking.
“Thank you,” she finally whispered, unsure what else to say. “I think— I think I’ll be in touch.”
“Well, you know where to find us.”
Clint smiled and waved as Yelena turned and made her way down the path to exit the property, Fanny trotting faithfully beside her. Once they were out of sight he went back inside, settling on the couch beside Laura, who was there waiting for him.
“What stray have I brought in this time?” He asked, almost laughing. “Really? That’s how we greet our guests now?”
“It does seem to be happening rather frequently,” Laura said with a shrug.
“It was only a few times!”
“Nat, Lucky, all the Avengers, Wanda, Kate, now Yelena?” Laura supplied.
Clint sighed. That was kind of a lot of people. “Fair enough,” he mumbled. “I’m worried about her out there. I know she still has their parents, but without Nat I can tell she feels trapped and alone. And whoever she is working for now doesn’t seem to have her best interests in mind. Or even her worst interests. She sounds like trouble.”
“Keep a watch out from here, if she needs help go to her, but just give her time. She’ll come home when she’s ready.”
Clint nodded his understanding. She’ll come home when she’s ready. Home. Because that’s what their family would become for her. Just like they pulled in Natasha and gave her a new family when she was alone and scared, they would bring her baby sister into the fold.
That’s what Nat would have wanted.