Someday, emerging at last from the violent insight,
let me sing out jubilation and praise to assenting angels.
Let not even one of the clearly-struck hammers of my heart
fail to sound because of a slack, a doubtful,
or a broken string. Let my joyfully streaming face
make me more radiant; let my hidden weeping arise
and blossom. How dear you will be to me then, you nights
of anguish. Why didn't I kneel more deeply to accept you,
inconsolable sisters, and, surrendering, lose myself
in your loosened hair. How we squander our hours of pain.
How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
to see if they have an end. Though they are really
our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen,
one season in our inner year-, not only a season
in time-, but are place and settlement, foundation and soil
What Clint doesn’t tell anyone through the entirety of shawarma is that all conversation has been reduced to a constant buzzing in his ears.
It isn’t that his hearing aids have been thrown out of whack by his impromptu leap from the top of a tall building, although this is also true. He can no longer register words or voices and his eyes are too tired to interpret the stereotyped choreography of lips. So he stares at the same page of a discarded book that he claimed as own as he waded through streets of detritus and purchased his meal. His leg rests on the back of Natasha’s chair and it is an anchor and a comfort; it is a warning combined with a message that he is lost and at sea and of not to get too close and that the island of warm flesh that presses against his ankle has already been claimed. It is a shorthand for I can’t hear shit.
He leaves first and the high pitch of Natasha’s chair as it shifts over dust and through breadcrumbs and scrapes against linoleum that might once have been red but is now bled dry is enough to tell him that she leaves too. They walk paces apart past the uncountable and now unrecognizable blocks to his apartment and he stops at the bottom of the stoop as she takes the step above him. She turns and she meets his eyes and her lips curve upwards as his eyes draw invisible lines over her face.
“What do you think?” she says and Clint thinks nothing.
His hand curves around the smooth angle of her cheek and there is the minutest shift of her head against his palm before he closes the distance and answers her smile with a wordless mouth. When he pulls back, he pulls on the short length of her hair and it is the only thing that he can remember; the pull and the shock and the knowledge that she looked different as she pulled him back, pulled back her fist and pulled no more punches.
She cut it for me, he thinks. “I preferred it longer,” he says.
Natasha is still smiling as he walks past her and she follows him in.
Natasha looks out of the window of Clint’s apartment and surveys a diorama of the city. Today she did battle with an alien race and outwitted a god and saved the world, which should all mean something except for the fact that it means nothing at all. Her body aches and she knows that Clint has caught her limp and whether he thinks that it was all him or wonders what other demons she has fought against does not matter either. She is tied to him, she thinks and she smiles. She is tied to him in more ways than just the lines about her wrists.
“That smile,” he says and she can feel him come to stand behind her, even though he is still several feet away. “You could put the Mona Lisa to shame.”
“Typical American. You want everything spelled out for you.”
“I like to spell it out for you,” he says and her breath catches as a memory briefly overtakes her.
When she turns around, he is sitting on the couch, legs spread wide and arms thrown back. His body language is open but his eyes are set in a challenge. It is Clint in there and she knows it is her Clint; he has always been the most dangerous.
Where are your ropes? she thinks and bends over like a curtsy in order to remove her boots.
Her legs wobble. Clint just watches. She draws down the zipper of her suit and her skin is raw underneath. She peels back the arms and exposes her breasts. She slides the leather down over her hips and catches the edge of her panties in the process. She sheds one skin and exposes the ruddy pink flesh of another, all for him.
Clint watches and he says nothing and she moves towards him slowly, unsteadily, her ankle twisted and her body half broken and her heart thumping rhythmically against her ribs. She curls by his side and rests her head against his knee, eyes half closed as he reaches for her hair. He lets his fingers thread through her locks, testing and tugging before letting the shorter ends casually drop from between his fingertips. She cut it off with a pair of kitchen scissors over a rust stained sink in a safe house in Moscow. She burnt what was lost and the smell seemed unnatural. Burnt hair smells like nothing else. She closes her eyes fully and fully thinks, I would do it all over again.
He takes her by the wrist, his grip not ungentle, and pulls her onto his lap. Natasha fits her head into the hollow of his throat and she can feel his stubble bristle and smell his blood, his sweat mixed with leather and dust and the scent of the Chitauri. Like burnt hair, he smells like nothing else.
“Will you let it grow?” he says.
Fingers twined about her wrist, he laughs, placing a kiss where her pulse flutters gently.
“For me?” he says against her skin.
Yes, she thinks. Yes.
Her answer is always the same.