The door slams downstairs, jolting Natasha out of the sleep she’s just started to welcome. It takes her a moment to get her bearings; she’s still not used to feeling like the farmhouse is somewhere she can relax and rest and feel, well...like she belongs anywhere that’s considered normal. As much as she appreciates it, she’s almost sick of Laura’s constant sweet gestures and Clint’s easy nature, and the fact that they don’t seem to care who they’re letting into their house and around their kids.
The problem is, when she is at the farm, she also wants to be nowhere else than Clint’s house, pretending like she belongs here alongside in his wife, in some way that’s more than part-time.
Clint enters the bedroom, striding across the floor and throwing a towel onto the bed. “Nothing.”
“Not nothing,” Natasha prods, sitting up. “You disturbed my nap and you look like you’re going to shoot an arrow through my head. What’s wrong?”
Clint massages his face, rubbing his eyes for a long time. “Laura. It was nothing. She just asked me to pick something up from the store and I forgot, and now she’s mad, and --” He stops, shaking his head. “Forget it. It’s dumb married stuff. You --”
“I wouldn’t understand?” Natasha asks a little more sharply than she means to. She gets up off the bed to walk towards him, and Clint immediately drops his gaze, looking guilty.
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“No, you meant it exactly like that,” Natasha replies, trying not to let her voice betray how hurt she is by his words. It’s stupid, she knows that it is, but she’s tired and out of sorts and she already feels like she’s struggling to fit in here, even with Cooper’s butterfly kisses and Laura’s gentle touch.
“I didn’t,” Clint repeats, moving forward and taking her by the shoulders. Natasha wrenches away.
“You just assume I’m not going to understand anything because I don’t know this life,” she says angrily. “When all I’ve done before now is pretended to live a life like this. Why? How is that even fair?”
Clint, to his credit, looks entirely confused at the amount of vitriol being thrown his way, and Natasha knows why. For as much as she’s expressed her trepidation at being a part of this family, she’s never lashed out quite so harshly about things like this before -- at least, not to him. She decides to continue anyway.
“Is that why you didn’t tell me that you want to have another kid?”
“What?” Clint’s eyebrows shoot up as if he’s been electrocuted. “Who…”
“I had to hear it from Cooper,” Natasha says shortly. “From your son, Clint. Your four-year-old son!”
Clint closes his eyes. “Look, I don’t even know if it’s going to happen, okay? And if I did know if it was going to happen, of course I would tell you. But he overheard us talking about it by accident, so we had to open the conversation somehow, otherwise he would ask questions --”
“To him, and not to me!” She doesn’t understand where all this hurt is unfurling from; she’s never been one to care about someone else’s life so strongly before, and certainly not someone who lived a life so full and perfect and domestic and foreign. But right now, she doesn’t care. “If you can’t tell me things like this, then what the hell am I even doing here? Do you even want me here?”
“That’s stupid,” Clint scoffs, picking up an afghan from the back of Laura’s desk chair and dropping it on the floor. “Of course I do. And you come here all the time. I wouldn’t ask you to come home with me if I didn’t want you here.”
“I’ve spent a lifetime learning that generosity is not the same as wanting,” Natasha responds pointedly, turning on her heel. She hears Clint groan audibly behind her, sounding half-annoyed and half-upset.
“Nat, come on!”
She walks swiftly out of the room and down the stairs, marching directly into the kitchen where Laura is leaning over the table, sorting bills. Laura looks up as Natasha enters, dark hair falling around her face and into her eyes as she removes her glasses, clearly attuned to the fact that something is wrong.
The front door bursts open suddenly and Natasha’s head snaps up. Cooper drops his bag in the entryway, speeding forward and locking his tiny hands around her legs as he barrels into the kitchen. Laura’s gaze shifts, her eyes narrowing at her son, and she raises an eyebrow.
“Mommy wants to hug you, too,” she says pointedly. Cooper looks up and grins with a gap-toothed smile.
“Nah. Just Nat.”
Laura shakes her head. “Nevermind.” She leaves her papers on the table and walks into the living room, and Natasha can vaguely make out a conversation between Laura and another woman who, when she peeks around the corner, she recognizes as Laura’s mother. Something sharp coils in her stomach; Laura’s mother is the last person she wants to see right now after fighting with Clint and feeling like she doesn’t know her place here.
“Coop, go back to your grandma,” she manages, prying small fingers off of her jeans. Cooper doesn’t budge, and Natasha risks the urge to shake him off in any kind of violent manner.
“Seriously, Coop. I’ve gotta go do grown-up things. I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Okay, but you promise,” Cooper warns, the “r” in his sentence morphing into a “w.” Natasha doesn’t bother to correct him, smiling as she pushes him lightly towards the living room. She backs up quickly towards the door that leads to the backyard and manages to get outside, safely escaping into the soft twilight right when Laura’s voice starts to enter the kitchen, along with her mother’s.
Natasha walks as quickly as she can, barely registering the fact that wet grass is seeping through her thin shoes and soaking her toes in cold chill. She doesn’t worry about being followed; Laura’s too invested with her mom and Clint will know to leave her alone after her outburst, if he knows what’s good for him.
Most of the land surrounding the farm is open and wide, and the house stands alone as a solitary figure save for the accessories that surround it to make it feel less lonesome -- the fence, the barn, the driveway, the tire swing and trees, the car. There’s a stretch of woods behind the house, however, a little ways back. It’s not too dense, but it’s dense enough that Laura has mandated a strict watch on Cooper when he’s running around the yard because it’s possible for him to get lost among the branches and moss and dry ground.
Natasha steps under the canopy of trees and immediately feels like she’s entered another world. In reality, she hasn’t even stepped five feet from the farm, which is still visible behind her, down to the wind chimes that she can see swinging easily in the breeze; she can even still hear them trilling from her vantage point. But being encased in some kind of physical armor, something more than borrowed jeans and a college sorority sweatshirt, makes her feel safe. The woods remind her of her life before she came to SHIELD, the kind of place she would hide when she was looking for an escape or for shelter and had to improvise on little notice.
She walks deeper into the woods until she finds an old log that looks clean enough for her to not feel bad about getting some measure of mud and dirt on her loaned clothes. Natasha sits down and realizes her legs are heavy, like she still has Cooper’s arms attached to her, phantom child hands hugging her tightly and in a way that suggests Clint and Laura’s son has actually taken to her as more than just someone who hangs around the house and attempts to help cook dinner. Natasha shivers in the wind as it picks up, and wraps her arms around her legs to stave off the feeling.
“Why are you out here?”
Natasha doesn’t look up, fixating her gaze on the ground. “Free woods, right?”
“Of course,” Laura says, stepping closer. “But it’s cold. And I’m making hot chocolate if you want some.”
Natasha tries not to shy away as Laura approaches, because she doesn’t want to give off the impression that something is wrong, even though she knows that secret has probably already been blown given that she’s sitting out here by herself. She swallows hard, finally meeting Laura’s eyes. “Where’s your mom?”
“She left,” Laura says with a shrug. “Normally she’d stay a little longer and spend time with us, but I told her I was busy and that I’d visit her later this week. And Clint’s got Cooper for a bit, so…” She sits down next to Natasha, and bumps her shoulder. “Want some company?”
Natasha tries to smile. “You don’t need to stay out here with me.”
“I don’t, but I want to,” Laura replies simply. “A girl I like is out here all alone, and I feel like I should be doing something more than paying bills.”
Natasha suddenly feels vulnerable, and she hates that Laura can pull that feeling out of her so easily. “I yelled at Clint.”
“Oh.” Laura looks nonplussed, and pulls dark hair over one shoulder. “That’s okay. I yell at him all the time. I figured you’ve heard, since he’s always with you.”
Something about Laura’s light tone makes Natasha angry, because it just doesn’t seem right that she can sit here and joke about things like fighting about her sense of belonging, or her place when it came to this family, or the feelings that she couldn’t even figure out if she deserved or even wanted. Laura was nice and forgiving and open, but not that nice and forgiving and open.
“You know, I think you got to know Clint a lot faster than I did,” Laura says softly, when Natasha doesn’t speak. She sounds a little sad, but Natasha doesn’t bother to call her out on it. “It took me awhile to get him to open up. Sometimes, I feel like I’m still learning things about him. But with you, he had to be an open book almost immediately, right?”
Natasha nods, she’s never thought about their relationship in that way, but then again, she’s never thought of herself as anything specific as it pertained to Clint and Laura, both individually and together. Like so many things, they just were.
“I guess. Because I didn’t trust him.”
“I didn’t understand it, at first,” Laura says. “I didn’t get why he would open up to someone like that just to get them to trust him. I was angry. But I’ve learned to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I think you were worth it.”
Natasha shakes her head, staring straight ahead. She can see the farm clearly, the warm light shining in the windows of the kitchen, which face the backyard. “I don’t know if I’m worth the trouble.”
Laura reaches for Natasha’s hand, taking her fingers and squeezing them gently. “That’s not a question you need answered right now.”
Then what do I need right now? Natasha asks herself, lungs burning as if she’s run a marathon. When she had left the house, she just wanted space -- space from the cozy lifestyle she was trying to figure out how to belong in, space from Laura and Clint, space from Cooper. If Laura hadn’t come out here as quickly as she did, Natasha knows she would’ve eventually contemplated leaving and going back to New York early, so as not to screw up anything else between them -- whatever was happening that they couldn’t control and didn’t know how to talk about.
And she knows if she did that, she would probably be miserable, sitting alone in her room at SHIELD while knowing Clint was here with Laura.
“Do you mind if I stay for a few days?”
“Of course not,” Laura says, putting a hand on her cheek. “Why would I mind?”
Natasha breathes out slowly, thinking of the earlier argument. “I just...I don’t want to impose.”
“You’re not imposing,” Laura promises, leaning over. Her lips brush Natasha’s cheek gently and softly. “You never are.”
Natasha closes her as as Laura’s mouth continues move across her skin. “I just like being here,” she admits, letting herself lean into Laura, the warmth that had been so elusive finally starting to creep into her bones as the chill around them grows more intense, the sun dropping swiftly behind the clouds. Natasha feels Laura smile.
“I like you being here, too.”