There’s a long pause on the other end of the line.
“You know, I was almost finished with this workspace for Laura.”
She doesn’t promise that he’ll be home again soon. They have never lied about the size of the debts they owe each other.
He sighs. “I suppose this is karma biting me in the ass for going off-script with you in Budapest. What do you need me to do?”
Tony is wrong. No organization can be trusted to do right with so much power. Steve is wrong. No one person can be.
She should know.
Later, Tony will call her a double agent. As though she has ever, since breaking the Red Room’s hold, been anyone’s agent. For a while, perhaps, she let herself think she was S.H.I.E.L.D.’s, and then she learned that she had really been Hydra’s. She will not tell herself those lies again.
Tony hopes that obedience will wash his ledger clean. Steve hopes he can always do the right thing.
Natasha’s found that giving up on absolutes allows her to get a lot more done.
“If we have one hand on the wheel, we can still steer,” she had said. Tony thought she was agreeing with him, but she wasn’t only talking about the UN.
The Winter Soldier has been reactivated. Steve will not stop, neither will Tony, and neither T’Challa. Someone has organized this, and meanwhile Ross is pushing them headlong into catastrophe.
She needs clear eyes and a good right hand. Eight minutes into the thirty-six hours Ross has given them, she makes a call.
“Steve needs help. He’s going to call you, and I need you to say yes.”
"What do you need me to do?”
“Barnes’s conditioning was triggered.”
“And you want me to infiltrate Steve’s team and take him out.”
“His conditioning makes him a threat. It would be the smart thing to do.”
“Neither of us would be here if we were smart.”
“No. You were a fool in Budapest, and I took a risk on the Helicarrier.”
“You literally blackmailed me into attending those endless damn sessions on not blaming myself, and you want me to kill Barnes because some Nazi pulled his strings?”
“Save the fake outrage, Clint. This isn’t about guilt or innocence, and you know it. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because I’m not going to ask you to take him out. If he’s still the soldat, you couldn’t. And even if you could, it would destroy Steve. We’ll bring him in or we’ll let them go, but we have to keep Barnes alive.
You can assess him and find out whatever they’ve figured out about who organized this and why. And then I need you to even out this fight.
T’Challa’s strong and fast and smart and he wants Barnes dead. I can make sure that he’s with us, so I can keep an eye on him and intervene if it comes to that. But Steve’s badly outmatched now. I need you to even the odds. You can bring in Wanda; she’ll do everything she can to minimize damage. Guilt’s useful that way.”
She lets that hang in the air, almost apologetic, before she spells it out. “Clint… I know you’ve thought about it, after Loki. I saw how you watched training before you left. You’ve thought about how much damage you could do, and exactly how you could do it. I’m not asking you to do that, just to slow them down.
With your help, I can control this."
“Well, I can hardly pass up a chance to fuck with Tony. Just don’t hit me too hard--retirement’s made me soft. And Laura’s not going to be amused if I end up in some cell somewhere and miss Nathaniel’s birthday. You make sure I get out, you hear me?”
Steve is wrong. Her hands are not the safest, but she cannot let go. She has to keep hold, and steer as well as she can.