“Bree, don’t punch him. I don't want to scare them off.”
“Aww! You say that all the time.”
“Because you punch so far outside of your weight class it isn’t even funny.”
“It’s kinda funny,” Bree said.
“…Yeah it is,” Clint conceded with a grin.
“I like him though. He’s chon and maroot. Pretty!”
“Chon and maroot? I thought you said those two didn’t go together.”
“It’s sort of a prally-chon, with some blue. Pretty!” Bree said, eyes twitching as she watched the sleek sable slink along the balance beam in Natasha’s wake.
Clint chuckled, a joke he’d end up spending an hour explaining if Natasha or her daemon Alexi heard him. Clint had good eyes, perfect eyes. He saw far and close with perfect accuracy. And sometimes he saw hints of colors he wasn’t able to explain until Bree and him had figured it out together. Bree’s eyes were even better than his. And that was going some.
He was here to take out the Black Widow, but he was in the middle of making a different call. There was something he could see in her, that Bree could see in her and Alexi both, that went beyond their reputation. And Clint had learned to trust his eyes.
“What’s that color?” Clint asked. Mrs. Howell looked at whom she had said was her most difficult kindergartner (Clint had overheard her say it) and didn’t quite sigh.
“White,” she said patiently.
Clint stared at the happy paper girl holding up the white bubble, just like her sisters held up blue, green, orange, red, and other colors. But this white wasn’t the same as the white paper, the white chalk, the white dress Sonya Martinez was wearing, none were the same “white,” not even the same sort of shade. Not at all.
“But that’s different than the white clouds,” he tried to explain again.
“Way, way different,” Bree said. She had been a bird yesterday, and today she’d been a butterly, but more and more in school she was a shelled sea creature, maybe a foot long, with big eyes, punching front limbs, and brightly colored all over.
“What’s Bree today?” Mrs. Howell asked, clearly looking for something to say than what she’d tried to explain the other ten times Clint had asked about color.
“Mantis shrimp,” Bree said haughtily. Clint put a finger on her back in warning before she tried to punch the teacher, or her little songbird daemon. Bree had a wicked-fast punch, fast as Clint was practicing, or even faster.
“I think I should have a talk with your guardian,” Mrs. Howell said, pulling her daemon back instinctively.
Clint shrugged. Barney had been hearing complaints about him off and on every time the circus wintered over enough for him to go to school. Mostly they shrugged them off. Still… Clint found someplace near the door where he and Bree could eavesdrop when Mrs. Howell got Barney in her office.
“His eyes are fine,” Barney was saying. “And he’s not just being stubborn. Talk to the school nurse, she’ll tell you. I took him to the doctor three months ago. Kid’s got the best damn eyes he’d ever seen. We’re teaching him archery for the acts and he’s even better than I was at that age. So what if he sees more colors than you?”
“Mr. Barton, he either can’t seem to differentiate between different shades of white, or he just wants attention.”
Barney snorted. “You mean you can’t see those colors, and he can. Clint’s fine, Bree’s fine, and he doesn’t bother people for fun. He lives with lion tamers and sword-swallowers, annoying them is likely to get you in a world of trouble, and Clint’s no fool. We gotta get back.”
The door open and Apetma, Barney’s hawk daemon, stared down at Clint and Bree with as much self-satisfaction in her eyes as Barney had. Clint grinned, and Barney looked mock-stern as he took them home.
“They’re so pretty!” Bree’s voice was two pitches higher than normal in her excitement as looked at all the different samples of white paint Steve had put on a canvas for them. Well, it looked white to anyone else. “Chon, maroot, pral, suvi, kas, valem, eeeee!” She punched the air in her enthusiasm, scuttling forward to point at one, then another. “So perfect! Warko, then chon, suvi, kas-“
“I speak a lot of languages, but this one’s new even to me.”
Clint looked up to see Natasha and Alexi in the doorway. The door had been closed before, but not locked. Not that that would stop her. The sable reared up to eye Bree more closely, and Bree made another too-fast-to-follow punch in his direction. Out of principle. It had been going on seven years since they'd first met, and Bree never failed to start a conversation with a punch.
“They’re Bree’s words. We went with Steve and Astrid when they went out to get art supplies and Bree nearly flipped out over the paint.”
Natasha eyed the bland canvases, seeming statements of modern art. “The white paint,” she said slowly.
“The really not white paint.”
Natasha sat down next to Clint, Alexi climbing up to drape himself over her shoulder. “Your colors,” she said. He’d mentioned them once or twice over the years, mostly in passing. It was a little difficult to explain, and easier to just go with what most people knew. But now they weren't running at SHIELD's command. They could take the time to slow down, to explain, to explore.
“Bree sees a lot more than me,” he demurred.
“And you see a lot more than me,” Natasha said, cocking her head in a show of curiosity, Alexi imitating her. Clint’s heart beat just a little faster.
“Do you want to see them?” he asked.
She raised an eyebrow. “How?”
Clint looked over at Bree, and she covered her eyes with her claws. “Close your eyes. We’ll show you.”
Natasha complied, slightly wary, but that was more reflexive than anything at this point. Clint reached over for a jacket of thick, soft fleece draped over a chair, and drew it across her hand. “Maroot.” He set aside the jacket and drew one of his knives, letting Alexi see he was bringing it down very slowly against Natasha’s skin, pressing the edge in without cutting. “Chon.” He put the knife away and ran his fingernail across her skin. “Pale chon.”
She nodded in understanding, her skin pebbling slightly.
“That, what you just did there? That’s suvi.” Clint pressed his thumb into her palm, hard. “Kas.” He leaned forward, very aware of Alexi’s eyes on him, and kissed her palm with the lightest of pressure and a hint of moisture. “Pral.” He paused, and she finally spoke.
“And the others?”
Clint’s voice went more quiet. “I can’t show you thalan, mysocry, or unthal with clothes on.”
A smiled creased her lips. “Apparently I need to get my next evening dress in those colors.”
“Oh my!” Bree said, eyes twitching.
Alexi looked at Bree as Natasha opened her eyes, then padded over to Bree’s stool and stared straight at her. Bree scuttled forward, within punching range, and Natasha looked up at Clint. She twined her hand with his as Bree climbed on Alexi’s back and settled down in his thick fur.
“Maroot,” Bree said with satisfaction. Natasha smoothed her own fingers through Clint’s hair as he tangled his own fingers into her fiery locks.
“Very maroot,” Nashata said, their smiles finally meeting in a kiss.