Steve loves his wood shop. It’s in the Stark Tower basement, and it has always been there, but Steve moved into it first, and spends so much time in it, so it’s his now. It has new tools, with fancy safety features that Steve doesn’t really need, but appreciates, and lots of old tools, which Steve loves and uses every chance he can get, even if sometimes they’re not quite as efficient as the newer ones. They’ll last longer, he knows, even if the iron and steel rusts quicker and needs more oiling than the stainless steel and plastic. The wood racks are large and filled with lots of white oak boards(Steve’s preferred lumber choice), and a smaller selection of more exotic woods that Tony keeps on buying for Steve. It smells like sawdust and wood glue and and honey and home. Steve spends hours in it carefully sanding furniture that takes months to complete, and he is happy.
Natasha’s last mission went horribly. Clint is in a coma for five days after falling off a building, which he should know better not to do because this was not an Avengers mission, and SHIELD does not have flying people on payroll to catch him. Clint is a goddamn idiot sometimes, Natasha thinks, but she loves him anyway. They lose two agents, and a civilian is caught in the crossfire. Natasha gets the information they were sent to retrieve, so - yay, mission successful - but this time, the cost feels far too high.
She stays for those five days in the hospital with Clint, and everyone stays clear of her because she is pissed as all hell, and everyone already thinks she’s scary even when she’s not angry at all. She holds Clint’s hand when he wakes up, and ruffles his hair and steps outside to see the Avengers crowded around the door, and they hurry to get out of the way when she walks out, which annoys her. She’s not going to hit them or anything, really.
It might be a bit more believable if that was actually true. And if she didn’t take her anger out on Steve Rogers while at their regular sparring date. He is stronger, but she is faster, and she hits him many, many times. A lesser man(or one with lesser healing properties) would have several broken ribs by now.
“Stop looking at me like I’m not fine! I’m fine.” Natasha snaps.
“Ow.” Steve says.
Natasha has feelings, goddammit, and she is a goddamn person. She likes tea. She likes ferns. She likes Dostoevsky, Steinbeck, and Wilde, and hates Tolstoy, Bukowski, Keats and Yeats. She likes Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and she hates The Walking Dead. She likes cinnamon. She hates cilantro.
The Black Widow is a refined machine, made to interrogate the hell out of anything and anyone, and she’ll kick your ass so hard if you look at her the wrong way.
But Natasha? Natasha likes cats and salted caramel ice cream.
It starts with an offhand comment. Bruce makes dinner for everyone, just a simple salad and a delicious pot roast, and Natasha notices the wood bowl the salad is served in.
“Wow, that’s a really lovely bowl.” Natasha says.
“I made it,” Steve says. “Do you want one? I made fourteen of them."
“You made it?” She brushes her hand across the smooth lip, fingering a natural knot in the wood.
The dinner passes peacefully, except for Clint bouncing tomatoes off the edge of the salad bowl, which Steve eats, because vegetables are really good for you anyway. But Steve notices the way Natasha dwells on the salad bowl, especially the tiny flaws in the wood, and how she rubs her hand appreciatively over the small marks left by the lathe, that he didn’t want to sand down. He thinks the small imperfections of handmade objects are beautiful, and maybe Natasha does too.
The next day, after sparring practice(she goes easier on him this time), he invites her to come down to the wood shop.
“It’s in the basement, it’s kind of sawdust-y and smells like glue. I’d recommend going to see it before you clean up.” Steve shrugs nonchalantly, unwrapping the cloth from his hands.
Natasha follows Steve down to the room by the garage, and raises an eyebrow when Steve opens the door with a honest-to-goodness key he fishes out of his sweatpants. No one has a real key in Stark Tower, they just have access codes and biometric signatures and JARVIS. The key has one of those tacky metal lacquered Captain America shield keychains they sell in souvenir shops and it is pretty obvious that Tony Stark picked that keychain and Steve just never bothered to change it.
“It didn’t even use to have a lock,” Steve explains, “Tony put one in because he thought a key would make me feel more comfortable. I guess it’s symbolic. We can make a key for you, if you want to work down here.”
Natasha grins at the offer, “I can pick that lock in under three seconds, Steve.”
Steve shows her all the basic hand tools, which she already knows how to use, although perhaps not for their intended purpose. “Hmm,” she says, looking thoughtfully at an awl, “I put something like this through someone’s eyeball once,” and Steve gently takes the chisel she’s holding out of her hands, because he doesn’t really want to hear about it being driven against someone’s kneecap.
“So basic safety things,” Steve explains. “Wear eyes and ears if you’re working with power tools,” he points to a rack of ear muffs and safety goggles, “Keep your hair tied up, don’t wear loose clothing that could get caught on anything, and the fire extinguishers are next to the sink and by the door, next to the first aid kit.” Steve shows Natasha how to use all the basic saws, the compound miter saw, the table saw, the band saw, the scroll saw, the jigsaw - there are many of them, but they all operate on a similar principle of cutting things up, which Natasha is pretty familiar with. She picks up several drills, and finds that an old school, bright yellow, 12v DeWalt cordless drill is well balanced and rests nicely in her hand.
Natasha seems comfortable in the wood shop, so Steve returns to his project(a breadbox, for the kitchen) and explains what he’s doing as Natasha works. He is a good teacher, and Natasha watches quietly as he routes the edges of the breadbox and turns them to pleasant rounded curves. The smell of sawdust fills her lungs and she exhales contently. Natasha feels like a little girl watching her father work, and she treasures that feeling, because she’s never had a father, and she’s never been a little girl.
Natasha starts coming down to the wood shop every day after sparring practice, and insists on helping, so Steve sets her to sanding his projects and teaches her how to make simple wood joints with the router. They don’t talk much when they work, but sometimes Steve hums along to the old songs he likes to play over the speakers, and Natasha laughs when she notices that she’s been rasping her sandpaper over another one of Steve’s bowls to the rhythm of an old Glenn Miller.
After a few weeks, she claims a tiny piece of wood, and a chisel, and scrunches herself into a corner and works at it intently. She bats Steve away when he tries to take a peek, and soon she picks up a few new projects, but occasionally, Steve looks over and sees her still chiselling away at the small piece of wood that fits into her palm.
Steve makes practical things. Coffee tables, bowls, utilitarian boxes. Steve’s furniture has found its way into everyone’s quarters, a chair here, a side table there. They all look simple, but they’re quality. Steve’s wood joints are perfect, and there is no need for nails to keep his work together.
Natasha, surprisingly, does not make anything practical at all.
Steve makes a shoe rack for the living room. Natasha works on the band saw and produces a set of Christmas ornaments that look like candy canes and chisels rough edges into them and stains them to look rustic and everyone seems a bit appalled that the Black Widow’s personal aesthetic appears to be shabby chic.
Steve makes a magazine rack. Natasha learns how to use the lathe and makes a three foot tall egg that she paints yellow and plops on the kitchen counter. It stays there until Bruce gets tired of it taking up counter space. It moves to the living room and Clint leans up on it during movie nights and then complains that it is awfully uncomfortable.
Steve makes a large bowl to hold fruit. Natasha makes a box harp. No one plays the box harp.
What happens is that everyone starts loosening up around Natasha. Maybe it’s because they notice that she has appalling taste in home decor, which means she must certainly be human.
And then, they have a different Natasha problem on their hands.
Natasha makes Bruce a Hulk marionette. It is two feet tall, carved out of basswood, and leather jointed. She gleefully presents it to him before movie night, with a bag of blocks painted to look like buildings.
“See, you can set the blocks up, like a city, and he can go ‘HULK SMASH’ and smash it all down, ” Natasha demonstrates, skillfully bashing the marionette on the city blocks set up on the coffee table.
“That’s very interesting,” says Clint.
“Wow.” says Tony.
“Er. Thanks, Natasha. This is...really neat.” says Bruce, picking up the lime green Hulk-marionette carefully.
Steve, who’d seen the project progress over the past week, looks pointedly at his hands, and not at Natasha or Bruce or the awkward Hulk-Marionette.
“Tasha, I’m sorry, but this is really fucking hideous.” Tony finally declares.
Natasha grins the widest grin any of them has ever seen.
Then, she makes the rest of them horribly impractical gifts.
Tony gets a clock made out of a used sawblade that runs on two AA batteries. He hangs it up in his workshop, over Dummy’s charging station. JARVIS hates it because it’s analog, and he doesn’t have access to calibrate it correctly, and it is always several minutes off the official time. Tony thinks it’s hilarious.
Clint gets a toothpick holder that looks like a tiny quiver. The wood is stained ebony and polished to a shine. He attaches it to his belt and it “accidentally falls off” during a particularly rough mission. Natasha makes him another.
Thor gets a Pop-Tart holder, which surprisingly, does not confuse him at all - “Ah! This will guard my hands from the lasting embers of the Toaster Heating Elements!” So, maybe that one is actually a success.
The Black Widow takes things. She destroys things, burns them to ash and bone, and spits on the remains.
But Natasha? Natasha makes things. Little misfit creations. Ugly, awkward, tasteless things - but she makes them with her own two hands and it turns out that that really does matters a lot.
She saves Steve’s gift for last. They walk down to the wood shop together after practice, and Steve doesn’t lock the door anymore because Natasha’s down there all the time now, but he still instinctively fishes around for the key in his sweatpants. The weight of it feels different, so he pulls it out to look.
Natasha has replaced the tacky metal Captain America shield keyring with another, a small wooden one. It is still the shape of the shield, round and slightly domed. The rings are stained a light pine and a dark cherry, and the star is inlaid in a different wood, maybe poplar. There’s a tiny little chisel mark on the left, where it looks like her hand slipped a bit, but it just looks like shield battle damage and Steve loves little imperfections anyway. It is a small project, but it’s perfect, and delicate, and actually quite pretty, and Natasha smiles shyly while he’s examining it.
“It’s my first woodworking project.”
“It’s lovely. It’s really good work, Tasha. I’m honored.”
“Thanks, Steve,” Natasha gestures towards the room. “For letting me play in your shop.”
“I made you something too. The first one was actually a lot more elegant, a nice, polished, hourglass shape, and I stained it red...but I thought maybe you’d like this one better after all.” Steve reaches behind the door, fumbles in a drawer, and pulls out another key. A bright keychain is attached to it, with not particularly uniform letters that spell out T-A-S-H-A, each letter in a different, garishly contrasting, colour. “I know you can just pick the lock anyway, but I think you get the idea.”
Natasha gets the idea, and if it surprises Steve when she throws her arms around his waist and hugs him tightly, he tries not to show it.
Steve and Natasha love their wood shop. It smells like sawdust and glue and honey and home. Steve is usually with the lathe, spinning table legs and bowls, or making wood joints with the router. Natasha prefers to work mostly with hand tools, and she expands the shop’s collection of chisels and other carving tools. There is a growing pile of soft basswood in a corner, the kind she likes to carve. They take turns picking music, but they both like sad songs - Steve’s ballads from the ‘40s and Natasha’s yearning Russian tunes.
They collaborate on a frame for a mirror in Natasha’s room, a large piece of white oak that Steve cuts and shapes and Natasha works at with her chisels for a two months, adding a border of ferns and vines and flowers. They hang it up together, after it’s oiled, and the woodgrain jumps out beautifully and the light reflects off the wood and it glows.
The Black Widow looks in that mirror every morning, and she sees Natasha, and she is happy.