"I have been to a zoo, you know.”
Clint has his hand on her elbow, steering her as if she might duck and run any moment. She's not thinking about it, unless they both think the chase would be part of the fun. She'll wait and see. "Tagging your target in the reptile house in Madrid," Clint says, "does not count as 'a trip to the zoo.'"
Natasha quirks an eyebrow. "I never told you about Madrid.”
Clint's eyes are hidden behind his sunglasses. "Nope, you never did, how about that. Making it look like anaphylaxis from rattler venom was maybe a little cliché, but, can't argue with results. Now eat your nice peanuts."
Natasha glances at the contents of her grease-stained paper bag as if the shapes inside resemble something obscene. "I thought these were to feed the elephants."
Clint shakes his head, a slow sober back-and-forth pivot. "Gotta set you straight. A, feeding the animals in the zoo--"
"There's a list?"
"There's a list. Which I will now start over. A, random feeding of the animals in the zoo is now an activity that's pretty much in the 'nostalgia' category. Not allowed. Not that you and I care all that much about what's allowed and what's not, but we both hate the idea of those cute little prairie dogs getting too fat to wiggle out of their holes, right?" Clint's lips quirk, though from this angle his eyes behind his shades are still unreadable. "B, you're imagining a trip to the circus, not a zoo. We're not doing a circus."
"Are we ever doing a circus?"
Natasha teases him with her own smile. "That's selfish of you. I thought your agenda was 'everything Natasha missed out because she spent her childhood learning to murder things.' How can that not possibly include a circus?"
"You asked if 'we' are ever doing a circus. 'We' are not. Thor's taking you to the circus next week."
Literal-minded wriggler. But the idea that he's set up a circus trip with Thor tickles her unreasonably. It must be the day; the fog's burnt off in the sun and the zoo's full of children, families, and a few couples that she thinks must resemble the two of them a little, even if neither she nor Clint would be caught dead in velcro earth sandals. "And you're not going with us?" she singsongs. She could leave it, but what fun would that be? "Afraid you'll leap up in the middle of the trapeze act and start screaming about how you could do everything so much better?"
"The smell of sawdust makes me heave." He steals one of her peanuts, cracks it and tosses the innards into his mouth. "C," he continues as he crunches, "no elephants in the San Francisco zoo."
She stops in her tracks. "No elephants?" she repeats.
"Nope," he says again.
"You brought me to a zoo without elephants? What kind of villain are you?"
He tilts his head to peer at her over his sunglasses. He knows what that does to her, the brute. "This is a great zoo, it has meerkats and everything; don't be a killjoy this early in the date."
She cocks her head. "Is this a date, or a chance to relive my lost childhood? Because it seems a little creepy if it's both."
"I expect you to grow up rapidly through the day. Childhood, then adolescence."
"Ah. So then it'll be a date."
"I'm so good to you. I let you skip the whole lethal acne stage."
"If I don't get elephants today--" she pushes the bag of peanuts at him-- "then buy me popcorn instead."
He doesn't let her give him the bag, pushes it right back. "No popcorn yet. Popcorn's for later."
"When it's a date, you mean?"
He draws an imaginary zipper over his mouth. "You're getting nothing out of me."
"Did you want me to try? I might enjoy that. Almost as much as you will."
Hand on her elbow again, he turns her to the left path. "C'mon, Princess Shuriken, let's go find the koalas."
"The smell of sawdust nauseates you, but this place doesn't?" Natasha asks, peeling a clump of pink fluff off the massive ball of cotton candy Clint's bought her. Two girls in black hoodies and flip-flops tear across their path, heading for the spinning barrel entrance to the funhouse.
Clint ambles beside her, hands in his back pockets. "Nah. Carnivals give you that whiff of actual vomit from time to time. Once you're used to that it's no big deal."
Natasha's mouth is full of dissolving sugar. She snorts, "Lovely," managing none of the consonants.
"That's why we're hitting the rides first. The games come after that, and then I get you sick on corn dogs."
Shrieks from a whirring tower of metal and orange plastic that names itself The Octopus draw Natasha's attention; she'd like to scamper into its line this very minute but she doesn't want to give Clint the satisfaction that easily. "We don't get to do the games first?" she bluffs.
Another of those smug headshakes. He's having so much fun; she bites back her grin. "Can't do the games first. No one to hold our stuff."
"We're actually going to win stuff? I thought you said all the games were crooked."
“All the games are crooked. That doesn't mean we aren't going to win stuff. We stay away from the basketball hoops and the shooting gallery, because even if we can beat those shitty motherfuckers we don't want to raise the hopes of the rugrats watching. But on the dart throws and the baseball tosses I'm going to win you a stuffed Hello Kitty knock-off the size of a pony."
"I don't get to play?"
"Hell, yes, you get to play. I've got my eye on a giant plush Spongebob at the bottle cap throw that you're going to win for me and then I'm going to prop it up in Tony's lab next to the Mark Eight. See how long it takes him to notice."
"Under one condition: you go on that with me." She points beyond a swinging pirate ship and a purple-and-black spinning UFO to a ride meant for the toddlers, a tiny carousel featuring ducks and a quacking soundtrack. "And you let me take pictures."
He doesn't hesitate. "Whatever the lady wants."
"You're one serious Spongebob fan."
"I'm one serious fan of pranking Tony's lab." He takes her hand in his. "C'mon, ducks it is. Throw that away; I'll buy you another later."
"Do I get popcorn too?"
"Not time for popcorn yet."
She throws a longing look back over her shoulder at The Octopus as Clint pulls her along. Later. After she gets pictures.
"It's a superhero movie."
"You should feel right at home." Clint is tuning the portable radio he's propped on the dashboard--the car's built-in radio, which looks to be the original, doesn't even have FM. Theme music featuring horns and strings blares from the speakers as he hits the correct station.
"But we can't even have the 3D glasses here."
"Natasha, it's a gorgeous summer night and we're at a drive-in movie in a 1964 Falcon convertible. Not only that--" he points to the immense tub on her lap-- "you have popcorn. Not another word, my girl."
"Can't I make fun of the movie?"
"I certainly will. Another advantage to being in the car." He slings his arm over her shoulder; she settles in closer to him on the long bench seat, a few pieces of greasy popcorn making an escape for it as their shoulders nestle together. Along with the tub he's bought her a frozen Coke the size of a missile; she sucks up a mouthful and feels a small pang of pain bloom and fade between her eyebrows.
The movie's barely past the credits when she notices how his hand has drifted off her shoulder. Is he--? She looks at his face, which is fixed on the giant movie screen. "I can tell what you're doing, you know."
He doesn't look at her. "'Course you can."
She smiles, even lets herself snort a little. Well, if that's acceptable behavior in a drive-in movie, who is she to think ill of it? She slides her arm behind her to assist him, the hem of her top already rucked up her back by Clint's hand.
"No, don't," he says, still not taking his eyes from the screen. "Don't help me. Pretend you haven't noticed."
She stops. "But I already said something. You already said something."
"Yeah, but you pretend you can't tell what I'm doing. That's what nice girls do."
Above the small of her back, he's got the clasp of her bra between his fingers; she feels the catch slip, the tension on the elastic ease. "Girls who go to drive-in movies are nice girls?"
"All girls who go to drive-ins are nice girls. Yes."
"Even those who go just to make out?"
"Especially those." His hand has drifted to the space under her released bra strap, sliding along her ribs, fingertips curving around the swell of her breast.
In the years they've known each other, he has touched nearly every part of her body with nearly every part of his; he slept in her bed two nights ago and the two of them were a satisfied sweaty wreck by the time they went to sleep. But feeling his hand on her like this, just fitting into the crease under her breast, cupping it with his palm so that onlookers won't notice what he's doing...she finds her mouth is suddenly dry. She sucks down another sip of her frozen Coke.
His other hand touches under her jaw and he turns towards her. “Let me taste." He doesn't go for the straw, but kisses her mouth instead. "Mm, cold," he murmurs. "Nice." He kisses her again as if to soothe the coldness from her lips. She lets him.
"Am I allowed to kiss back?" she says when he lets her breathe. "Or is that not part of being a nice girl?"
"Oh, you can definitely kiss back." He draws her closer. "It's a drive-in, after all."
"I'm guessing the point of a drive-in is not to watch the movie?"
"Not so much, no."
"Aren't people going to notice us necking like two teenagers?"
"What part of, 'I'm in a classic convertible with a gorgeous redhead' did you fail to recognize was going to get us noticed?" He kisses her again. "That's the fun, see. All we can do in the open like this is neck." His hand, still at the curve of her breast, squeezes a little. "Plus a few carefully copped feels. And I get to be one knot of blue-balled longing all the way through this crappy superhero movie."
"This is your idea of fun?"
"Isn't it yours?"
She considers. "Okay, kinda. You sold me on imagining your blue-balled longing."
"My vicious baby."
"I thought I was your nice girl."
He picks up the tub of popcorn from her lap, reaches over the windshield and sets it on the hood of the car. Hands on her waist, he leans in towards her mouth again. "Always that, Tash. Always that."
They're five minutes out of the drive-in, Natasha snuggled into Clint's side in a fashion which breaks seat belt laws but which he assures her is also traditional, when Natasha speaks up. "Hey. Where's my popcorn?"
"I put the car in gear and drove off before I remembered it was on the hood."
"You were just determined to deprive me of popcorn today, weren't you." But she's chuckling as she says it.
She knows what she wants him to say. He does: "I guess that means we'll just have to have another day like this one, won't we."
She stays nestled into the curve of his right arm and lets the night's silence stand for her answer, knowing that's all the language they need.