Melinda's new scarf was missing again. She'd worn it to HQ this morning and left it at her desk, thrown over the back of her chair with her coat. It ought to still be there.
She didn't have to think too long or hard about who the culprit who'd stolen it was, either. Natasha had gone on a coffee run about half an hour ago, and Melinda suspected she'd find her scarf, safe and sound, wrapped around her girlfriend's neck.
What a weird term.
Since they'd come out—for lack of a better term—at the Avenger's holiday karaoke party, Natasha had become... Well. More affectionate probably wasn't the right way to describe it, but she'd certainly, at the very least, become more open with Melinda. More tactile. Less likely to make up some ridiculous excuse to spend time with Melinda and more likely to just let it happen.
And that openness apparently stretched to borrowing her scarf whenever Melinda wasn't using it.
Which Melinda didn't mind, really. She liked having Nat in her space, and if her space needed to stretch as far as the space within the infinity loop of her scarf, well, so be it.
"Tea," Natasha said, coming around the corner and handing Melinda a steaming paper cup.
They were a few floors and security checks away from street level, but Nat had moved quickly enough that her cheeks were still flushed pink from the frosty weather outside. She'd bundled up against the cold—her hair burst scarlet out from beneath a thick, crocheted black hat, every button was done up on her wool peacoat, and she hadn't taken her gloves off yet.
The scarf sat nestled around her neck, half hidden under the lapels of her coat, and Melinda eyed it.
She got a flirty smile from Nat in return.
"Thank you," Melinda said, gesturing with the tea.
Natasha shrugged, putting her coffee down on the desk so she could pry her gloves off and shuck off her coat. "I asked them for the most heavily caffeinated tea they had. I think we're going to be here all night again."
She kept on both her hat and the scarf. "Shall we head back?"
Back to the briefing room, where they were working on a game plan for staking out the next area they thought the Advent Gang was going to hit. Melinda twisted her lips in distaste.
Natasha leaned in and pecked the edge of her mouth.
"I know," she said. "I'm sick of it, too." She grazed her fingers against Melinda's forearm and tilted her head toward the door.
She said she was tired of it, but Melinda thought Nat might be curious to see what the Advent Gang came up with next. Now that no one was trying to make their activities about her, Natasha had become a bit more engaged with finding and breaking up their mischief makers. Now that they'd found a pattern, the Advent Gang weren't ghosts.
Natasha didn't like fighting ghosts (neither did Melinda, for that matter) but real people, who left real trails—those she could hit, and those she could chase down.
Of course, now that Natasha's holiday spirit—or lack thereof—had been dropped out of the equation, she'd resumed the level of workaholism she'd exhibited before and Melinda thought if she hadn't been involved in the investigation as well, she stood a real chance of just not seeing Nat again until these guys were caught.
"Take tomorrow morning off?" Melinda asked.
Tomorrow was Saturday, anyway, but without knowing the gang's timeline, they'd been constantly, hyper vigilant. NYPD had increased patrols in the range of the next likely target area, and Natasha had been at HQ every. single. day. Melinda had been with her more often than not, working on the Administrative side of things and adding in field note suggestions when she had them.
She thought Natasha cringed, but she shut down whatever her instant reaction was quickly enough that she couldn't be certain.
"It's too long since the last event," Natasha said. "It's going to be today or tomorrow, or they'll run out of time before Christmas."
"We don't know for sure that there's an end date."
Natasha gave her a flat look.
"Three hours," Melinda said. "Stay over tonight, head to HQ for noon."
They'd started a rapid pace through the halls, headed back to the briefing room they were using as their base against the Advent Gang. It had only been her and Nat there today—they'd basically been boiled down to the only people working on this file, with Maria supervising—and no one would notice if they took off early tonight, but Nat's focus had become all encompassing. Everything for the mission.
"Just three?" Natasha asked, slowing her pace.
"I have something in mind. That's all it'll take."
Natasha looked curious. "Okay," she said. "Three hours."
Melinda smiled at her, and Natasha bumped her gently with her elbow.
Melinda's wishes came true and the Advent Gang held off attacking that night. Permanently, Melinda hoped, though she knew that wouldn't be the case. Still, she managed to get her three hour window the next morning without any interruptions.
Or the beginning of it, at least.
Natasha looked at the gift wrapped box like it might bite her, or contain a bomb wired to explode as soon as she tried to remove the lid. She even picked it up and ran her fingers across the wrapping paper as though looking for hidden wires.
"A gift," Melinda said, rolling her eyes at the dramatics.
Natasha lowered the gift enough to frown over it at her. "It's not Christmas yet."
"I suspect you'll be working on Christmas," Melinda said. "Or both of us might be." She nodded at the box. "Open it."
Natasha hesitated. She put the box back down on the table and pushed it away from her, in favour of picking up her coffee cup and taking a sip.
"I haven't gotten anything for you, yet."
"This isn't as thoughtful as you think it is," Melinda said. And, it wasn't. She'd decided to give Natasha her scarf, after all of the stealing of it she'd had to deal with. It wasn't as though she'd gone out to buy something extravagant and thoughtful. Re-gifting was easy.
Natasha's continued frown said she doubted the truth of that statement, but she started unwrapping the box anyway. She opened it like she was trying to preserve the wrapping paper, all careful lifting of the tape so that it didn't tear. It made the going slow, and Melinda's lips twisted, amused, as she looked on.
After a few minutes of working the paper off, Natasha slid the box out from inside it. She paused to fold the paper, smoothing it out flat—generally making the process more long and drawn out than it needed to be, as though testing whether Melinda was going to get fed up and revoke the gift. She remained standing where she was, carefully patient, enjoying watching Natasha act as though it was the first thing anyone had ever given her in her life (it would be less enjoyable if she bought the act, of course).
Making eye contact instead of looking down at what she was doing, Natasha lifted the lid off the gift box.
Melinda nodded down at the bundle of crocheted wool in the box, raising both her eyebrows.
Natasha glanced down and snorted with laughter, bowed her head and covered her mouth, shoulders shaking with silent chuckles.
“Thank you,” she said, after a moment, lifting the scarf out of the box and slipping it on over her head.
"You're welcome," Melinda said. She felt warm; Natasha wore a real smile and the twinkle in her eye suggested she was genuinely happy at being given the scarf she'd been coveting.
Nat stood and crossed the kitchen to her, lifting Melinda's tea from her hand and putting it down on the counter. She pressed her hips against Melinda's, leaning up against her, and kissed her, twinkle still in her eye.
"Really, I mean it," she said when she pulled back again. Her hands were on Melinda's waist, fingers hooked in her belt loops. There was a vulnerability in her eyes that suggested she’d been expecting something completely different to be in the box. Though what she might’ve thought Melinda was giving her, she couldn’t guess.
Melinda hummed in response. "I know," she said, and hooked her arms around Natasha's neck, drawing her in for another kiss.