She makes quite the picture, a red-haired girl in a white-and-red dress leaning against a red Cadillac, lighting up a cigarette with tension disguised as poise. She's pretty as a summer day's con, and about as reliable. Still, Clint regards her with something that's best described as fondness.
“Nice car,” he says. He doesn't ask, is it yours.
“The old owner said, too big a car for a little girl like me,” Natasha says, accent New Jersey shot through with Russian. By now he can hear the places she's recently left in her voice; when she leaves again, she'll have a Mid-western twang, just from listening to him.
“He gonna come looking for it?”
“Maybe.” She shrugs, careless. “But I won her, 'fair and square'. Americans are shit at poker.”
Particularly the kind who would look at her and see a little girl. She's short and she's young, but Clint had spent too long in the circus with all of its cons to think even for a moment this makes her helpless.
She's also wearing her wedding ring, so he asks, “Why are you here, Nat?”
Natasha slants him an annoyed look. “I came home to make dinner,” which is something that only makes sense if you don't know that she doesn't actually live in his house.
And yet one of the first things he'd done up when he got this faded beauty of a house was fix up the kitchen, just in case she'd decided to keep on coming back. This is, he tells himself when he thinks about it (which isn't often), because he's a damn fool.
What he says is, “Sure,” and what he asks is, “You want help with the bags?”
She says that she does.
Inside, he puts the groceries on the table as she goes upstairs to unpack. This is what she will do, because this is what she always does: hang up her dresses, line up her shoes, put her vanity case in the bathroom, put her gun in the bedside table.
And this is what he will do: disappear by the time she comes back down, go back to working on the back patio because that's what he does now. He builds, he repairs, he crafts things with his hands instead of using them to kill. He uses his eyesight to measure and assess lengths and beams instead of feeling a shot. There's no crowd, no applause (and no screams, no gunshots, no marching in the mud), just a steady pay-cheque and a house all of his own.
Working on the patio doesn't help, because he can see her moving through the window. She reminds him of being a carnie; constantly moving about, live in the here and now and never mind about tomorrow. She reminds him of cons and crowds and whims, and it always gets a little hard to breathe when she's around.
Let's go back to the circus, doll, he thinks. I'll shoot arrows and you'll throw knives and-
She calls him in for dinner, like they are both regular folk who know how to stay still.
Dinner is something Russian, with sliced beef and fried potatoes and cream sauce. Dinner is mostly quiet, a candlelit affair in a dark, run-down room that he hasn't fixed yet. He'd changed shirts, scrubbed his nails; she's still looking as pressed and clean as she did when she arrived, although the candles are turning the red flowers on her dress dark and brown.
“Are you going to sleep on the couch?” Natasha asks, and he nods without thinking about it. He also nods without looking up, but they've had this conversation enough that he can picture her flickered expression in his mind.
“You don't have to,” she says.
“Keeps me honest.”
“I'm your wife.”
She snorts, the sound somehow elegant. “Are you disappointed?”
This is off-script, so he looks up at her. She's all poise and coiled energy, classy and dangerous as her Cadillac.
“How do you mean?” he asks, carefully.
“When you agreed to marry me, you said you wanted to see what I'd do. Do I disappoint you?”
The first time he saw her was in Europe wearing clothes she'd stolen from dead men, with blood and mud under her fingernails, baring her teeth like an alley cat. He'd looked at her and saw potential, and a fierce will to survive and thrive.
“No,” he says, honestly. She's sitting here, whole and healthy and thriving. “You don't.”
Natasha eyes him for a moment and nods. Then, abruptly, “Come away with me.”
She's smiling now, just a little. “When I go in my shiny car, come with me.”
“This a trick question?”
Natasha reaches into one of her pockets, tosses her keys onto the table. “No.”
He doesn't move. “This why you came back?”
Her smile widens. “I came to see what you would do.”