“Red—next time this happens,” Bucky groans over the racket, running hard with his astrorifle in one hand and Natasha’s hand in the other. “I reckon I just make it Cactoid Steve’s problem. I did not enlist in the Marshal Academy for this here kinda mess.”
“You mean to say,” Natasha drawls, firing her laser pistol at the oncoming herd with impressive accuracy despite their zig-zagging away from the stampede. “If’n that Stark the Bot fella ever gets the notion to workin’ his science gun on Doc Banner’s hypercattle again, and that science gun takes to turnin’ them hypercattle into bilgesnipe-hypercattle hybrids, with them horns and the jumpin’ and all—if’n that happens again?”
“Yeah, I mean to say!”
Clint gestures wildly from behind a rocky outcropping with both arms and both antennae, and Bucky and Natasha dive behind it. Just in the nick of time, too—a blast of fire flies overhead from where they’d been half a breath earlier.
“Bucky Barnes and the human designated as the Red Plains Rider—are you unharmed?”
“Fine for now, Clint.” Natasha says, fanning herself with the wide brim of her hat. “And I told you to call me by my proper name, now that I got one.”
“Clint, you got them rounds for the guns?” Bucky says. “We’re runnin’ real low, there’s way more o’ them than there are o’ us, and my robot fists ain’t gonna do much good on a twenty-footer with claws bigger ’n my head.”
Clint’s antennae droop. “Bucky Barnes, you know that I am designated Clint the Fletcher, not—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, but I was kinda hopin’ you’d make an exception, what with the impendin’ doom…and the flyin’ hypercattle that apparently breathe fire now?” As if to prove his point, another blast flares over their heads, and one of the transmogrified creatures hums in a manner that would have left a lesser Marshal shaking in his boots. As is, Bucky is not especially amused.
“Okay, almost outta laser bullets, Clint’s Techno Arrows ain’t gonna do a lick o’ good if’n them bilgesnipes keep breathin’ fire—think, Barnes!” Natasha hisses. “I don’t wanna die just ‘cause Stark the Bot can’t keep them science guns well to hisself!”
Bucky shoots his second-to-last round of astrobullets at the closest pair of hypercows, which are getting dangerously closer to their rocky outcropping. “Red, you reckon Doc Banner still keeps that Quinjet o’ his local, case he goes space crazy again and wants to get the hell off-planet?”
“Dr. Banner’s spacecraft is in that barn, directly behind those three bilgesnipe-hypercattle hybrids…which appear to have learned how to use their newly-bestowed wings,” Clint supplies. “However—”
Natasha jumps up, shoots all three hypercattle square between the eyes, and crouches back down in between Bucky and Clint. “Them’s taken care of. Clint, can you fly that thing while we shoot what we got left? I know you’re designated the Fletcher and all, but I thought you might be able to do at least one other thing…”
Clint nods proudly, antennae twitching. “Yes, the Red Plains Rider! My brother was designated Barney the Pilot, and—”
“Shut up, shut up, just go get the jet and fly us the hell outta here!” Bucky interrupts him. “You can tell us all about your flyin’ brother once we’re firin’ on this whole damn herd from a healthy altitude.”
He gets a despairing look from the native Martian, but Clint scuttles on all fours to Banner’s shed, avoiding the herd’s notice. Bucky and Natasha peer out over the rocks and pick off the nearest hypercattle where they can.
“Hey, Red,” Bucky says after a couple of minutes. “If’n I don’t make it outta here, well…I know you said you weren’t quite right enough with the law to be my deputy, but I’d want you to be the next Marshal anyway. Roger that?”
Natasha glares at him, which doesn’t prevent her from dropping another hypercow. “No, sir, Barnes. If’n you don’t make it outta here, it’ll be ‘cause I’m dead first, you damn idiot. I ain’t leavin’ ya here.”
“That right?” Bucky asks, but she cuts off any further line of questioning by kissing him hard on the mouth. “Good to know, Red.”
“Yeah, thought that’d need sayin’ sooner or later,” she says, casting aside her now-empty laser pistol and kissing him again.
The Quinjet whirls up a storm of red dust just then, close enough for both to rush onboard, and they join Clint in the cockpit as he lifts off, muttering about human mating habits.
“Back off, buddy, I was at your wedding, that was so gross—”
Clint gasps. “The G'loot Praktaw nuptial ritual is a glorious tradition!”
“The egg-sack thing is actually real sweet if’n you know the history,” Natasha supplies.
“Thank you…Natasha,” Clint allows.
Once they’ve put enough space between the Quinjet and the ground, Bucky and Natasha station themselves behind each of the craft’s mounted guns and start firing.
“Still ain’t gonna be your deputy, though!” she hollers over the sound of squelching hypercattle, but she’s grinning as she says it.