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Seasonal Marvels

Making the Best of It, for duskdog717

Seasonal Marvels

Making the Best of It, for duskdog717

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TITLE: Making the Best of It
AUTHOR: elspethdixon
WRITTEN FOR: duskdog717
CHARACTERS/PAIRING: Hank Pym/Jan Van Dyne (Goliath/the Wasp), Clint Barton/Natasha Romanoff (Hawkeye/Black Widow)
SUMMARY: The Avengers are critically undermanned, the KGB is after the Black Widow, and Hank Pym still hasn't managed to fix his damaged powers.
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Stan Lee and Marvel Comics. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Many thanks to seanchai for beta reading for me!
NOTES: Set during Volume 1 avengers, after Steve and Hercules have left, when the team consists of Hank, Jan, and Clint. This story takes place immediately after Hercules has taken off, when Hank can't grow to Goliath height. Like crimsonquills, I've used the telescoping timeline in comics to set this in the 1990's instead of the late 60's, when the canon I'm using was published. Um, except for how it's a 1990s where the Soviet Union still magically exists, because otherwise the Black Widow makes no sense.

Making the Best of It

This is Cherry Tree to Uncle Vanya. I have picked up your basket of fruit at LaGuardia luggage claim.

Vanya to Cherry Tree. Please bring my fruit into the city. Make sure you tell me where it is being stored.

Yes sir. Cherry Tree out.

* * *

Clint's back was broad, powerfully muscled from all of that archery practice, and the feel of it under her hands, of Clint's mouth on hers, should have occupied Natasha's full attention, especially after two weeks of separation.

But she had seen the same car in her rear view mirror three times while driving back from the airport, each time several streets and turns away from the last, too far apart for it to be a coincidence. If it happened again tomorrow, she would know for certain that they had found her.

It had been inevitable, really, especially now that she'd started working for Fury again, but it made focusing solely on physical pleasure impossible, knowing that she would have to leave soon.

She hadn't told Clint yet. While she'd healed from the injuries she'd sustained in China, she'd been inactive, just an ordinary young woman, and it had all felt like a façade, like playacting. She had never been ordinary, save for those few months married to Alexi, before his supposed death gave the Red Room the chance to suck her back in again.

All a façade, and Clint had known it, too. He'd taken her out to dinner and out shopping, told her she looked beautiful, but he'd fallen in love with the Black Widow, not with an ordinary woman. Still, it had been nice to pretend for a while, to imagine that she was free of her past, making a fresh start with her American lover.

Her American lover who was currently kissing her for all he was worth, with more enthusiasm than experience, one warm hand curving around her jaw and digging fingers into her hair, completely destroying her carefully curled and styled hairdo.

Natasha kept her eyes open as she returned the kiss, fingernails digging ever-so-slightly into the fabric of Clint's shirt. The KGB's agents had finally tracked her down, and they no longer had the luxury of pretending.

Clint slid one hand around her waist, pulling her against him, and then hesitated, breaking the kiss. "What is it, babe? Didn't you miss me?" He cocked his head to the left, smiling hopefully. "I know I was acting like a heel before you took off for Florida, but I said I was sorry, right? The Avengers are under-strength with Cap, Pietro, and the Scarlet Witch gone, and I was kinda worrying about it."

Yet another reason this couldn't last. Without Captain America to lead them, or a powerhouse like Hercules or Goliath at full strength, the Avengers were vulnerable to whatever vengeance Natasha's former employers decided to send after them. And there would be vengeance, so long as she remained associated with them. The KGB did not appreciate being made fools of by capitalist propaganda symbols like Captain America.

"I missed you," she admitted, and staring up into Clint's blue eyes, it was almost the truth, "but there's something I need to tell you. I wasn't in Florida. I was posing as the mistress of a Navy Captain at Guantanamo Bay in order to make contact with a defecting KGB operative in Havana."

Clint blinked, his expression cycling from startled to confused to angry almost too quickly to follow, finally settling on a narrow-eyed irritation. "You're working for SHIELD again? The last mission you went on for them almost got you killed!"

"And the next one might, and so might a runaway bus or the two men in a blue sedan who tried to follow me home." Natasha stepped back, out of the circle of Clint's arms, and went on, "I'm an intelligence operative; risk is something I live with. My life is just one more chess piece for the West to use." As she had once been Russia's chess piece, though Nick Fury at least would not have her terminated if she failed.

"Hey, I think I have some kind of claim on it, too." Clint raised his eyebrows, grinning. He was trying to be funny, or maybe he actually believed it. He was terribly naïve sometimes, for all that he was only a few years younger than she was.

"The KGB wouldn't agree with you," she reminded him. "I'd be safer if I hadn't taken that job, yes, but Fury needed someone who could speak Spanish and Russian, and I do. And Moscow was going to find me anyway eventually, even if I stayed in the apartment all the time and was your good little housewife."

"Okay, you've convinced me." Clint held up his hands, palm out. "I don't like to argue with a lady. Just point me at these guys in the sedan, and I'll deal with them. A couple of welcome to New York arrows'll convince them to head back to Mother Russia before you know it."

Natasha arched an eyebrow at him. "You know better than that. I need to drop out of sight for a few weeks, long enough to handle this on my own." And remove the operatives from the picture without Clint's bright-and-shiny Avengers' morals getting in the way. Even when the two of them had been operating on the wrong side of the law, he'd always refused to kill anyone. "I'll come back, as you Americans say, when the coast is clear."

Clint shook his head, leaning one shoulder against the bedroom wall and folding his arms across his chest. "Hey, I very broad-mindedly didn't complain about you playing kissy-face with some sailor in the name of SHIELD, but a guy's got to draw the line at his girlfriend taking off again less than a day after getting back."

"Draw all the lines you want, Hawkeye, but I was the Black Widow when you were still doing trick shots in a carnival act, and I know when a cover identity is compromised." Clint opened his mouth to speak and she held up a hand, over-riding him. "Until I've resolved this, it's too dangerous for me to be around you, or the rest of the Avengers. You've admitted yourself that you're under-strength. If I draw the KGB's attention to you, that's a weakness just waiting for them to exploit it. I'll be back in another few weeks." Until the next time, she added silently. And the next.

"I should have known something was up when you didn't bother to unpack," he said, nodding at the suitcase that still sat, unopened, on the bed. "I think you're over-reacting, babe. Let us help." Clint offered this last with his head cocked slightly to one side, waiting for a response like a hopeful puppy. He really was too naïve to stay mixed up in all of this, she thought. The previous men in Natasha's life -- Alexi and the Winter Soldier -- had been older than her, more experienced in every sense of the word. Clint was barely old enough to drink, and had been so easy to manipulate back when she'd still been working for the Soviet Union, willing to believe anything she said to him. A year fighting supervillains as Hawkeye had done away with some of that innocence, but not all of it.

"This is my fight, moy luchnik." She stepped towards him again, letting her hips sway, and laid one finger across his lips. "I have already compromised you by coming here in the first place; I won't do it further."

He tried to argue, of course, but Natasha resolved that by simply walking out. A lot of bother and risk for a hello and goodbye kiss, but some risks were worth it.

It was starting to drizzle as she left the apartment building by a side door, carefully scanning the street for unfamiliar cars or faces. She had left her hat behind, lying on the floor where Clint had tossed it after snatching it off her head and leaning in to kiss her hello, but going back to fetch it would be bad luck - and though she had little use for superstition, ducking back into Clint's apartment to get it would give him one more chance to decide that he was going to do something foolish, like follow her, and that was more trouble than she needed right now.

If it rained when you left a place, it was supposed to be a sign that you would return. She wasn't sure whether that counted as a good omen, or a bad one.


This is Cherry Tree to Uncle Vanya. Regret to report I have dropped the basket of fruit.

Vanya to Cherry Tree, what is the basket's last known location?

The traffic circle at Broadway, West 57th, and 8th avenue. Sorry, Vanya. We picked her up again coming out of the Midtown tunnel after we lost her in Queens, but--

I am not interested in excuses, Cherry Tree. Recommend you visit the orchard and ask the other workers if they have seen her.

The, um, orchard has very large guard dogs.

Then bring reinforcements, Cherry Tree. You have been warned of the consequences for disappointing me.

* * *

Hank adjusted one of the controls on the helmet slightly, altering the wavelength of one signal by small increments. Broadcasting the signal on several wavelengths at once seemed to increase its strength over long ranges, and with the other new modifications, he could now receive communications from ants as well as transmit them -- that is, as long as he was within a few feet of the ant. Their signals were transmitted via pheromones, which the helmet's onboard processor then translated into electrical impulses.

It was genius, honestly, a scientific breakthrough nearly on level with the Pym particles themselves. Using electronic circuitry to flawlessly mimic the chemical impulses of the brain… further refined and more widely applied, you could potentially use the same principles to create artificial intelligence. Tony Stark was going to be green with envy.

And that and a dollar would buy him a cup of coffee, because all the electronic communication breakthroughs in the world were less than useless when it came to restoring the Avengers' lost man-power. Or, more correctly, their lost Giant-Man power.

Everything he'd tried thus far to restore his lost powers had produced exactly zero results, and he'd been trying almost non-stop for two weeks. Jan was starting to make sarcastic comments about how nice it was to see him ("Hello, stranger, long time no see.") every time he emerged from the Mansion's lab. She thought he was ignoring her, he knew. She'd even accused him of "shutting her out," and "pushing her away," the last time she'd come down to the lab to try and get him to go out on the town with her.

Bill Foster, watching her leave, had shaken his head and told Hank that he was an idiot. Hank had shrugged and told him to come take a look at the latest batch of chemical tests he'd done; he'd called Bill in for a second opinion on the lab results, not romantic advice.

He had to fix this. If he couldn't, if his full powers weren't restored… Hank was a joke these days, really. First getting trapped at twelve feet tall, stuck as an over-sized freak for weeks, then losing his growing powers entirely. Back to being a two-inch superhero, when the team needed him to be a powerhouse.

Dr. Henry Pym, the Incredible Shrinking Man. A joke. The Avengers went up against incredibly powerful criminals like the Collector and Kang, against alien warlords and super-strong mutants and the most dangerous men the underworld or the Russian and Chinese military had to offer, and right now, Hank was barely able to pull his weight.

He was doing this for Jan and Clint, not just for himself. They needed Goliath's fists, or the next supervillain who came along was going to mop the floor with them, and he'd already carried a dying Jan to the hospital once.

And that had been when he was still Giant-Man, when his powers had no limit at all.

Hank donned the modified helmet and transmitted the signal for "stand still and listen," on the altered double-wavelength, watching as the red ant colony he kept in the larger terrarium all froze in place, antennae quivering. *We hear and obey, master* crackled in the helmet's internal speakers.

In spite of everything, Hank found himself smiling slightly. Last time, it had been, "prepare to be challenged, invader-of-the-nest." It had taken an hour of fine-tuning, but he'd finally gotten the new, stronger frequencies to match the pheromone signatures of a queen ant.

*Thank you, my subjects,* Hank transmitted back. *No action is necessary. I was merely testing your loyalty.*

*We are your loyal subjects, master,* the ants replied. *We acknowledge you as colony-ruler.*

It was entirely instinct and pheromones, Hank knew -- he'd written his undergraduate thesis on insect social structures -- but it was nice to hear support from someone.

Eventually, if he couldn't come up with a solution to this mess, find a way to be useful again, Jan was going to realize that he wasn't good enough for her. Especially not now that she'd inherited all that money.

If he couldn't contribute something to their partnership, he'd be kissing her goodbye anyway, shutting her out or no shutting her out.

A knock on the doorframe interrupted Hank's thoughts, and he looked up to see the woman of his dreams standing in the doorway, one hand resting on a cocked hip. "There you are. I decided that if my handsome Hank won't come out to see me, I'd just have to go to him. Shut off the Bunsen burners and put down the test tubes; you're coming out to dinner with me."

She was wearing a short, closely fitted dress made from squares of black and white fabric, and high-heeled shoes with straps around the ankle, and was carrying one of those miniature purses women took with them to fancy occasions. On most women, the checkerboard dress would have looked ridiculous, but on Jan, it somehow emphasized her slim torso and drew your eye to the slight curves of her breasts.

She looked gorgeous. She also looked like she was dressed to go somewhere fancy and expensive, and Hank didn't have time for that right now.

"Sorry, honey. I'm a little busy now," Hank said, shaking his head. There would be plenty of time to go out and celebrate after he'd cracked this size-limit thing.

"You've been a little busy for the past three days," Jan said. "No lab experiment is this important. Come outside and relax a little before you go stir crazy in here; whatever you're working on will still be around tomorrow."

Well, yes, obviously. "That's right. If I can't make some kind of breakthrough, my defunct growing powers will still be useless tomorrow." Hank took the helmet off and set it aside, then picked up the print-outs from the latest round of test on his body chemistry that he and Bill had performed.

His body could transfer mass into transdimensional space when he shrank. It should still be able to pull extra mass out of it. If he could shrink, he could grow; the scientific principle was the same. Except that his damn cells weren't co-operating.

"Then you can get back to fixing them tomorrow," Jan went on, relentless.

"And if some superhuman attacks tomorrow?"

"Then we handle that tomorrow. I think the two of us managed pretty well together back when you were Ant-Man."

Hank was about to point out that the Avengers handled a more powerful class of villain, but his response was cut off by a sharp bang from elsewhere in the mansion.

"That was a gunshot," he said, dropping the test results and racing for the door. Jan was already in the air, having shrunk down the moment the shot rang out, the black and white dress left in a crumpled heap on the floor.

The two of them reached the front hall together, in time to see Jarvis hitting a heavyset man in nondescript clothes over the head with a silver platter. "Get out of this house, if you know what's good for you!" he shouted, as the platter connected with a loud thud. The man collapsed to the floor, but his four friends, all armed with handguns, were still standing.

"What's going on?" Jan yelled, as she dived straight at the nearest intruder's eyes, blasting him in the face with her sting before he could bring his gun to bear on Jarvis -- whose silver platter already bore one tell-tale round dent.

"I have absolutely no idea," Jarvis admitted, and threw the platter at a second man, who flung up an arm to catch the blow just in time.

"Tell us where the Black Widow is, and we will let you live," he said, tossing the platter aside. "We know she is associated with the Avengers; she was seen in China in the company of the American propaganda tool, Captain America."

Hank ignored him; he had already begun moving in on the other two intruders, the ones neither talking, nor rubbing futilely at their eyes. "Attacking the Avengers Mansion with guns?" he said, keeping a wary eye on the two pistols pointed straight at him. If they fired, he might be able to shrink quickly enough to avoid a bullet, but it wasn't likely. "Well, they're optimistic, you have to give them that."

He smiled at the two men, both of whom were approximately the size of Cap or Hercules, wearing ordinary-looking business suits. One was balding, with a moustache that reminded him of Tony Stark; the other had blond hair cut very short and a nose that had obviously been broken at least once. On the scale of weaponry Hank had had aimed at him before, their guns were relatively small, but they looked more than willing to use them. "All I have to do is whistle," he said, "and an entire colony of red ants will come swarming through that door to sting you to death." Or they would, if Hank had remembered to grab his helmet on his way out of the lab. As he spoke, Hank flung his arm out to point at the door he and Jan had just come through, and as the one with the moustache turned his head slightly to look, Hank punched him on the jaw, putting all of his weight into it.

If he'd still been twelve feet tall, the man would have gone down like a ton of bricks. Instead, he staggered back a step, then smashed the butt of his gun into the side of Hank's head.

There was a numb impact that blanked out his vision for a second, and then Hank's knees folded as his sight returned and a dull pain began to pound inside his head. Before he could collect his thoughts enough to shrink down and get away, he felt the hard barrel of a gun jabbed into his ribs.

"I will not feel any sorrow if I have to shoot you," the blond intruder warned, his English fluent but distorted by a heavy Russian accent. "You, little flying woman. Land and stop your attempts to fight us or I will kill this one, and my comrade over there will shoot the old man."

The man Jarvis had thrown the platter at grinned, and thumbed back the hammer on his revolver.

Then he staggered, a harsh, choked-off noise coming from his throat, as a blue-and-purple-fletched arrow suddenly sprouted from his shoulder.

Hank spared half a thought to wonder where the hell Hawkeye had come from, but the rest of his attention was still on not getting himself or anyone else shot. "Jan, get their guns," he yelled, as he triggered the Pym particles in his body and shrank down -- and away from the gun digging into his side. There was an ear-shattering bang as something hot tore across his back, over his left shoulder blade, but it didn't feel serious.

He grew back to full size right behind the blond man, using the momentum of his growth upwards to increase the impact of his fist as he punched the men behind the ear. Again, it wasn't as effective as Goliath's punch would have been, but the man staggered, knocked off balance enough for Jan to swoop down and snatch the gun from his hand.

The man who'd been preparing to shoot Jarvis was on his knees on the floor now, left hand clutching at the arrow embedded in his right shoulder. Beyond him, the man Jan had blasted in the face let out a yell and charged forward, his eyes still streaming tears -- and promptly tripped over his fallen accomplice, who was still lying in a heap on the floor, where Jarvis's platter-over-the-head had felled him.

The one with the moustache, now the only attacker in possession of a gun, looked around the entrance hall wildly, his weapon swinging from Hank, to Jarvis, to the front doorway, where Hawkeye stood with his feet braced and a new arrow nocked, his arm drawn back to loose it. He didn't seem to know what to do with Jan, his eyes frantically tracking her flight path while his gun settled on Hawkeye.

"You," he snarled. "Tell us where your lover has gone to ground, and my superiors will reward you handsomely." Unsurprisingly, he had a Russian accent, too.

"I've got a better idea," Hawkeye said, his voice low and angry. "Hows about you put down the gun, before you end up a pincushion like your friend there?"

"You don't understand," Moustache protested. "Do you know what they'll do to us if we fail?"

"Probably no more than you deserve," Hank muttered, as Jan dropped the blond's gun into his hands. His shoulder blade stung fiercely where the man's bullet had grazed him, and he could feel a trickle of blood running down his back, under his shirt. It tickled irritatingly, but he didn't want to risk looking away from the five Russians in order to poke at it.

Jan landed beside the blinded man, who was on his knees groping for his gun. She resumed her full height, the wings on her back melting away as she did so, and kicked the weapon out of his reach.

Jarvis stepped forward and calmly plucked the gun from the wounded man's lax grip, and raised his arm in a perfect firing stance. "I would suggest that you take his advice, young man," he said. "Drop your gun and surrender, so I can have the police remove you from my foyer."

After that, the situation resolved itself fairly quickly.

"It's lucky you showed up when you did, Clint," Jan commented several minutes later, as they all watched the NYPD escort the five handcuffed men out of the Mansion and into waiting squad cars.

"Yes," Hank agreed. He turned away from the sight to rub at his abused head, which ached dully from the crack Moustache had dealt it. "Lucky." His head hurt, his shoulder hurt, and even more painful was the knowledge that he'd been the next thing to useless in that fight.

Accomplishments for today, he thought wryly: fail utterly to determine what was wrong with his powers, make a useless scientific breakthrough, add improvements to Ant-Man helmet and then leave it behind when the Avengers Mansion is attacked, and, to cap it all off, get held at gunpoint and rescued by Hawkeye. The archer's gloating was going to go on for weeks.

"Natasha had no use for me, so I thought I might as well come here." Hawkeye shrugged, then grinned. "Looks like my timing was just about perfect. I always was good at making an entrance."

Jan frowned, and pushed a wayward strand of hair back into place. She was barefoot, in the Wasp costume she'd been wearing underneath her dress, but her hair and make-up were still intact; the stiffly styled hair, ends carefully flipped under to match the retro-sixties miniskirt on the dress, made an odd combination with the tight, red and black costume, but like everything, it looked wonderful on her. "Where is Natasha? Those goons were looking for her. Which probably makes them KGB." She leaned over and poked at Hank's injured shoulder, sending a hot flare of pain through the bullet graze.

Hank hissed through his teeth and pulled away. "Or mercenaries hired to avenge General Brushov," he said. "They were pretty ineffective for KGB agents."

"Natasha got back from her vacation this morning and then took off again." Hawkeye's shoulders slumped ever-so-slightly as he spoke, and he began studying the polished wooden floor very closely. "Said the Reds had caught up with her, and she didn't want to bring trouble down on us."

"Well, that worked just wonderfully," Hank said, edging further away from Jan as she made a second attempt to poke at his shoulder. The comment came out sounding snider than he'd meant it to, but he decided to let it stand. "Honey, it's just a scrape. Stop picking at it."

"It's a scrape that's bleeding all over your shirt," she informed him. "Jarvis, help me get Blue Eyes here into the infirmary for a couple of band-aids." Then, to Hank, "I want to make sure we have you good as new before we head out to dinner. We wouldn't want to shock the maitre de."

"Fine." Hank allowed himself to be dragged off, Jan on one side and Jarvis on the other, with Hawkeye trailing behind them, loudly worrying about Natasha (were there more KGB out there? Had they caught up to her? Why was she so goddamned stubborn about letting him tag along, and so on and so forth). His shoulder truly did hurt, and he hadn't been accomplishing anything down in the lab anyway.

He might as well go along with Jan's plans for the evening; after all, it would make her happy.

* * *

After they got Pym patched up, he and Jan went out to some swank restaurant, and Clint was left alone with Jarvis, holding down the fort in the communications room.

The place was filled with complicated and expensive computer equipment, most of it designed and built by Tony Stark, who was apparently some kind of mechanical genius on top of being rich enough to single-handedly fund the Avengers. Clint didn't even know how half the things in the room worked, though, admittedly, that was partly because he hadn't always paid attention when Cap had explained them.

Cap had always been lecturing about something, and after a while, Clint just started naturally tuning the words out. He'd never expected to end up missing Mr. I-Give-the-Orders-Around-Here Steve Rogers, but Clint had always been honest with himself even if he wasn't necessarily so with others, and he could honestly admit that, without Cap to lead them, the Avengers were screwed. Quicksilver and the Witch had damn well better shake off whatever brainwashing Magneto had put them under and come back, because the team was desperately shorthanded with only three, and Clint was getting tired of taking orders from old Man Mountain Goliath.

If Natasha wanted to get back into the adventuring game, why didn't she just join the Avengers, instead of racing off around the globe for Nick Fury? It wouldn't necessarily be any safer, but at least that way, if something happened to her, Clint would know about it right away. And they'd have one more Avenger at their backs in a fight.

Clint set his bow on top of some no-doubt priceless piece of recording equipment, slung his quiver over the back of the monitor chair, and then dropped into the seat with a heavy sigh. 'Tasha could take care of herself. She was fine, he was sure she was fine.

Well, mostly sure. The Soviets had caught up to her once before, had captured her and brainwashed her right back into the obedient, ruthless KGB spy she'd been when he'd first met her. She'd broken free of that, but that didn't change that fact that they had captured her and done it.

And if the KGB had sent men to the Avengers' mansion, what said they hadn't sent yet more goons after Natasha herself?

He knew he should have followed her. She probably would have spotted him, yeah, but after a few hours of Clint tailing her, Natasha would probably have agreed to let him come along and watch her back.

Now, he was stuck watching the phone lines and email, and half a dozen other forms of incoming communiqués that he'd never even heard of before signing on as an Avengers. If anything came up while Hank and Jan were out, Clint was hoping like hell that it would be a single supervillain, or at least one with only one or two accomplices, and no earthshakingly powerful superpowers.

When the chime announcing an incoming datafeed went off a few minutes later, Clint jumped slightly, nearly knocking his bow off the recording equipment/computer tower/whatever-it-was, and hurriedly typed in the code to access the transmission. The encoded frequency the message was being transmitted on was one of SHIELD's.

"Please don't be Doom, please don't be Doom," Clint muttered to himself, and then the main monitor screen came to life with Natasha's face, half-hidden under the Black Widow's dark mask.

Clint felt almost weak-kneed with relief for a moment, sagging back in the chair and closing his eyes as Natasha began,

"This is the Black Widow calling Avengers HQ. This is a one-sided transmission on a high-security SHIELD frequency, Avengers; my pursuers won't be able to track it."

"Natasha!" Clint cried into the microphone, finally finding his voice again. "Are you all right? Those KGB guys haven't given you any trouble, have they?"

"I wanted to offer my apologies for the attack on your headquarters today," Natasha went on, as if Clint hadn't spoken, and he belatedly realized that she couldn't hear him. 'One way transmission' meant he might very well be listening to a tapped message.

"I had already taken steps to ensure that my pursuers would not interfere with your team, but obviously, my precautions have failed." She sounded completely calm, professional, as if speaking to a total stranger -- but then, Clint reasoned, she couldn't have known that he would be the one receiving her transmission. "Rest assured, SHIELD has taken over custody of the men who attacked you, and they are being carefully interrogated. We will see to it that they, and whomever gave them their orders, will not bother you again. I will cut off my contact with Avengers member Hawkeye until the situation has been resolved, to avoid drawing their attention to his civilian identity. Black Widow out."

Damn. Clint stared at the now-blank screen and sighed heavily. And just like that, he was right back where he'd been this morning. Staying away from him to keep the Reds from figuring out that Hawkeye the Avengers lived in Clint Barton's apartment made sense, but it would have been nice if she'd listened to his opinion on the whole thing, which was that it was a risk he was more than willing to take.

Still, maybe he'd better exercise a little extra caution to make sure nobody was tracking him when he went home tonight. Or possibly stay in the Mansion for a few days.

Clint reached out and brushed the screen with his fingertips, ignoring the fact that he was going to leave finger-print smears on the LCD display for Hank to bitch about. "Come home soon, babe. I'll be waiting for you." And maybe if we're lucky, he added silently, the Avengers won't get the living daylights kicked out of us by some heavyweight in the meantime.

* * *

As Hank had expected, the restaurant was both fancy and expensive -- at least, he assumed it was expensive. It was impossible to be sure, because none of the prices were listed on the menu. He let Jan order for both of them; she was going to be paying, after all.

They talked about nothing in particular while the waiter filled their glasses -- red wine, something Australian and very dry -- the news over the past few days, none of which Hank had heard, absorbed in his lab work as he had been, the abstract print that hung on the wall near their table, Jan's dress and the heads it had turned, the modifications he'd made to his helmet. It had been too long since he'd had a chance to just sit around and talk to her, not about life-or-death superhero business, but just about everyday things, the sort of conversations every couple had.

Maybe Bill had been right. Maybe he did need to make more of an effort to spend time with Jan.

Eventually, the conversation turned to the Russian thugs the Black Widow had brought to their doorstep.

"Now you see what I'm talking about when I say I need my full powers back," Hank said, waving first at his shoulder, where a gauze bandage lay hidden under his shirt and dinner jacket, and then at his head. "I was next to useless in that fight, and you know it."

Jan shook her head, smiling slightly. "I think you were very brave, walking right up to those men and their guns."

"Maybe, but I wasn't very effective." Brave didn't count for much when it failed to get results.

Jan sighed, and began examining her salad intently. "Hank, I've been thinking… maybe these problems with your powers aren't entirely a bad thing." She looked up at his sharply indrawn breath, holding up one hand. "No, hear me out. First we found out that growing and shrinking was putting to high a strain on your body, then you were stuck at twelve feet for all those weeks, and now... your growing powers have caused you so much trouble. You might be better off without them."

"Better off?" Hank shook his head, not sure whether to be amused or offended. He managed a smile and a sort of half-laughing sound anyway. "I'm a joke without them, Janet. At least you've got your wings and stingers when you shrink down. I have nothing. What kind of an Avenger can I be if I can't hold my own in a fight?"

Jan was frowning, still staring down at her barely-touched salad. She poked tentatively at a pile of field greens with her fork, then sighed, and looked back up at Hank, directly into his eyes. "Maybe we ought to take a break from the Avengers for a while."

Take a… Hank stared at her blankly, taken utterly by surprise. Jan loved being a superhero, possibly more than he did. "But-" he began.

"Not now, obviously," she said, overriding him. "We couldn't hang Hawkeye out to dry like that, but once the team's got some new members to take our places. I could use some time to enjoy my new money; crime-fighting does cut into a girl's spare time, you know?" She gestured with the fork, smiling now, and Hank was abruptly reminded, as he was at least once day, of how pretty she was. The soft curve of her lips, the delicate, rounded contours of her face, the snub nose she hated because it made her look 'too cute for anyone to take seriously.' He never got why she spent so long worrying about which outfit or which shade of lipstick to wear; she had to know how lovely she was, so why worry so much about it? "I've shown one or two of my clothing designs to a friend of mine in the fashion industry, and he thinks I might have a shot at selling them. And think how much more time you'd have to spend on your research. Now that I've finally gotten my inheritance, funding won't be a problem anymore, and-"

Wait, funding? Hank was abruptly snapped out of his reverie, looking away from Jan's face and down at his own plate as he felt his ears heat. "I don't need your money to fund my research," he interrupted. "I- You're my partner and my friend, not my wife. It would be-"

"An investment. And a profitable one at that. You were nearly nominated for a Nobel prize over the Pym particles."

"Yeah. Nearly." He shook his head, then winced, resisting the urge to reach up and rub at the bruise the KGB agent's gun had left. "The things we do as Avengers really matter, more than anything I've ever done in a lab. We've saved so many people…" He hadn't been able to save Maria, his first wife, from being murdered, but he had at least been able to stop that kind of thing from happening to a few other people. He was sure that had to count for something. And people respected him as an Avenger, more than anyone had ever respected Dr. Henry Pym.

"Look," Hank said, trying hard not to sound as embarrassed as he felt, or, worse, like he was making excuses for himself, "the things I'm working on right now; they're not that expensive anyway. The helmet and the Pym particles are Avengers business, and Tony's labs are better set up for handling them than the one I've got out in Staten Island." Though, come to think of it, the Staten Island lab would be the perfect place to do some more exploration on transferring biochemical signals into electrical impulses. If he combined the principles he'd used in the new helmet mods with some of the robotics technology he'd observed at work in Dragon Man…

"Fine, fine." Jan shook her head, smiling again. "Be stubborn and don't take my money. But at least think about what I said. We haven't had much time lately to just be us."

"Sorry," Hank apologized. She was right; he hadn't been spending much time with her lately, but fixing his powers was vital. Even Jan had just agreed that he wasn't worth much as an Avengers without them, though she'd tried to spare his feelings by saying it nicely, covering the real meaning of "you're a failure, Hank" up with excuses about research projects and having more time to shop (more time to shop; as if he'd fall for the scatterbrained "girly" act). "You're right about one thing; I probably do need to get away from the lab once in a while." Because otherwise, he might get so frustrated at his lack of any real solutions that he'd start smashing things.

"I'm not going to say 'I told you so,'" Jan said, as the waiter approached with two plates of whatever-it-was-they-were-having, "but don't think I'm not thinking it."

"But not saying it."

"No, never." This with another smile.

Hank smiled back, and took a bite of his dinner, which turned out to be braised veal with mushroom and absolutely wonderful. "Seriously, though, hon, we can't leave the team. Not while it's just the two of us and Hawkeye."

"No, you're right." She shook her head, hair swaying slightly with the motion. "Poor Clint; can you imagine him trying to hold down the fort by himself?"

"He'd be about as successful as the two of us holding it down by ourselves this afternoon," Hank said. He didn't mean it as a slur on Hawkeye's abilities; it was just too big a job for one man, especially a twenty-two-year-old kid with half their experience. "I think Jarvis gave a better accounting of himself than either of us. Well, than I did. You were great." She always was.

"Of course I was." Jan grinned, arching her eyebrows mischievously, then added, "But you were the one who got wounded defending our honor, so you're the one who deserves to be rewarded. How about we go home for desert?"

Hank had never been very good at making the first move, but he also knew when he'd be an idiot to say 'no.' "What kind of desert?" he asked, raising his eyebrows suggestively, He might never be good enough for Jan, but damned if he was going to stop trying to be.

* * *

And complimentary Bad 60s Art icon:
Hank & Jan

  • This is lovely. I've wanted good Hank/Jan for a long time, and also good Natasha, and here it is! *enjoys!*
    • *grins* Glad you're enjoying. I think this is the first and only Avengers thing I've written that didn't have either Steve or Tony in it (and no slash!).

      Natasha has always been made of awesome, first in Daredevil, and now in Captain America; it's nice to have a female character who's so completely competant at and confident in what she does.
  • It really is good to read a story with sweet Jan/Hank interaction without someone whipping out the abuse card >_<

    Poor Hank has such a poor view of himself. I love that dinner at the end.

    • Jan and Hank are one of my favorite Marvel het ships, after Rogue and Gambit. They're so cute together (when they're not being terribly dysfunctional, that is).

      Poor Hank has such a poor view of himself.

      He sort of swings back and forth between low self-esteem and over-confidence -- and when he's over-confident, he makes mistakes, and that furthers the low self-esteem. It's kind of a vicious cycle.

      He's doing much better since some of his issues got straightened out in volume three, though.
  • FINALLY. I've been meaning to make time to sit down and read this properly forever!

    I absolutely adored it :) So much love for Clint and Natasha :) I loved their dynamic like woah!

    Hank's frustration was just so vivid - and his little competitive mental digs at Tony were spot on :)


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