"I'm assigning you to Rogers." And that’s all Fury has to say on the matter.
Natasha’s a professional; she doesn't let slip her surprise. Of course she'd be assigned other missions, with other teams; SHIELD won't wait forever for Clint to collect all his marbles and get back in the game.
She's seen Cap in action already, but she hadn't had time to notice his grace, his fluidity of motion, each jab and thrust at the heavy bag a controlled release of the energy coiled in his shoulders. Precise but impatient too.
He's not Hawkeye, she thinks as she leaves the gym, but what he has, she can work with.
They spar and she calls him for holding back against her, like she's made of bone china and he doesn't trust her not to break. He’s under no illusion about her fragility, he says, but the shadows around his eyes admit it's himself he doesn't yet trust.
Steve leans toward the cockpit glass. Natasha wouldn't call the expression reflected back sad; wistful, maybe, and a little lost. He’s trying, she knows, but integration isn't easy when you come from a place the world has moved on from. This she knows too. “I've heard the tapes,” she offers as she adjusts course to keep Greenland on their 2 o’clock.
There’s a hesitation. “I’m glad my last moments are a matter of public record.” It’s wry and a little bit raw.
“I never said the recordings were public.” He straightens in her peripheral vision as he considers all this implies.
They spar and still it feels like they’re missing something. There’s no connection. It’s professional, impersonal. Natasha trusts Cap to do his job; she can’t get Steve to trust her to do hers.
They’re assigned other missions. They work well together. They come back in one piece.
Or two pieces.
But not from the same whole.
This isn't going to work, this so-called partnership, she thinks, not if they keep on like this. On her way home she passes a pawn shop with a storefront full of dusty cathode ray televisions tuned to yet another monochrome WWII epic. Abbott and Costello are tearing up the dance floor.
A flicker of memory - stifling darkness and the whir of 8mm film sliding from one reel to the next spinning cold war propaganda makes her stop and watch.
Natasha meets him at his apartment wearing Keds and something vintage; flared skirt and cap sleeved.
“I thought I was supposed to meet you at the gym tonight.” He recovers quickly, even though it’s clear she’s the last person he expected on his doorstep. Maybe there’s hope for Captain America The Spy yet.
“Change of plans.” She spins on her heel, polka-dotted skirt twirling around her knees, and doesn't bother to check if he’s following her down the hall.
The dance studio on Bedford has wood floors almost as old as Cap himself; pitted and polished, and acres of open space. A half dozen couples share the room, but Steve keeps his eyes fixed on their feet.
“You can count out loud if it’ll help.”
“Hey, I never said I could dance.” The music stops and his words are suddenly too loud between them.
The music starts up around them again, the instructor calling out the count. Steve stays still, waiting for something more from her. Waiting for her to admit this might have been a bad idea.
“Look, you’re never going to be Barton,” she says. “And this isn't a waltz.” She grabs his chin and makes him look at her, makes him understand she’s not trying to take her place. Maybe if she doesn't look away he might finally believe her. “Just friends.”
“Friends who Jitterbug?” A raised eyebrow, and finally a hint of a grin. Benny Goodman strikes a riff on the scratchy studio speakers. Natasha takes his hand and rolls toward him, wraps herself in his arms as she finds the beat. She spins out and away, just at arms length.
Steve pulls her back in, lips still moving...one…two...three…four. He dips her low, strong hand in the small of her back as the instructor circles and makes words of encouragement.
Natasha spares him a wink. “That’s next week’s lesson, Rogers.”