Actions

Work Header

The Stranger At The Door

Chapter Text

Version 1 - Podfic by Port

MP3 | 00:53:41 | 49.15 MB

Version 2 - Podfic by lattice_frames

MP3 |00:50:24| 40MB

In the two years they’d been married, and the three years they’d been together before then, Laura had gotten used to a lot of things about Clint’s life — the assortment of arrows all over their living room floor (and sometimes hidden in the couch), the days or weeks or sometimes months they often spent apart (too many of them with her being unable to even call him on a regular basis), the too-frequent-to-be-comfortable calls from Director Fury giving her an update on the latest injury or mishap that had befallen her husband (and all of them things that always sent her heart leaping into her throat) — but the last thing she expected to find on that sunny Saturday morning in May after her husband had told her he would be there in an hour was opening the front door to find said husband covered in dirt and blood and holding an unconscious redhead in his arms.

She didn’t ask questions, at least not at first. Instead, she met his eyes, pecked him on the cheek and then went to work, helping Clint bandage the wound on the young woman’s head and stopping the bleeding on the huge gash to her side and wrapping the very obviously sprained ankle that was already turning blue and purple and then stripping her out of her bloodied uniform (and moving the way-too-many weapons they found tucked within hems and wrapped around limbs far, far away from where the young woman could ever find them) and tucking her in bed in the spare room they had downstairs.

Then she asked questions. A lot of questions.

“Things went bad,” Clint said, avoiding Laura’s eyes as they both stood in the master bathroom, Clint washing the dirt and the blood — mostly the young woman’s, not his — off his hands and his face and his chest.

“I can see that.”

“I thought it was faster to bring her here.”

“Faster?” Laura quirked a brow at him. Five years together and she knew the truth from embellishments.

“Safer,” Clint amended.

“Than a hospital?”

“For her? Yes. She doesn’t trust anyone.”

Laura sighed. Clint had told her all about his new partner, the young girl he had saved instead of killed, the Russian assassin who’d left a trail of death in her past, who was deadly and efficient and, as far as SHIELD was concerned, ruthless. But Clint had seen something in her, and even though Laura trusted Clint more than anyone in the world, even she couldn’t pretend that the idea of a girl who could kill her without blinking an eye unconscious and injured in her guest room wasn't slightly unsettling.

Clint seemed to sense her hesitation. Slowly he turned off the water, dried his hands, then turned to his wife, placing his hands gently on her shoulders.

“She’s just a kid,” he said, “She never had a chance. I think being here for a few days could help her.”

Laura tried to keep her expression neutral, but Clint smiled at her, in that way that he had that said he knew exactly what she was thinking and he understood but he needed her to trust him, then twirled a piece of her hair around his finger and tucked it behind her ear, and they both knew she wouldn’t argue anymore.

“You’re sure it’s safe?” she asked.

“She trusts me.” A slight pause. “I promise. I wouldn’t have brought her here if I thought there was even a slight chance …”

Laura leaned up on her toes, pressed her lips to her husband’s before he could continue.

“Okay,” she said. “I trust you.”

•••

It was Laura who Natasha spotted first when she finally woke up. Clint had gotten off relatively unscathed, apart from a few nasty bruises and one long gash on his arm that should have required stitches if Clint actually got things checked out like one should, but the mission — whatever it was — and getting Natasha away had taken its toll on him in other ways. Laura had sent him off to bed with the promise that she would keep an eye on things and would shout if there were a problem.

She was in the kitchen, mixing flour into the sugar and butter that was eventually going to become cookies, when she became aware of a strange tingling sensation, like the hairs on the back of her neck were standing at attention. Slowly, she placed the spoon in the bowl and turned around as cautiously and as slowly as she could.

Natasha, still wearing one of Clint’s old t-shirts that they had put her in before tucking her in bed, was standing in the doorway to the room, fists clenched by her sides, her eyes narrowed, her whole body taut.

Laura had never been so relieved that all the knives were in the drawer in front of where she was standing and nowhere near Natasha than she was at the moment.

“Natasha,” she said slowly, keeping her voice steady. “Is it okay if I call you that? I’m Laura, Clint’s wife. Everything is okay. You’re okay. You’re safe.”

Natasha’s posture didn’t change; if anything, Laura noticed her hands clenched a little tighter.

“Clint doesn’t have a wife.” Her voice was raspy, like she hadn’t talked in awhile, and Laura could just make out the small hints of a Russian accent.

“He does actually,” Laura said. “But no one at SHIELD knows that except Director Fury and Agent Coulson.”

“I don’t believe you.” Laura watched as Natasha’s eyes darted around the room, taking everything in. Her expression, though, remained almost carefully blank. “Where am I?”

“Clint brought you home with him. You were hurt.”

“I don’t see him.”

“He’s upstairs sleeping.”

“I want to see him.” Natasha’s tone came off as demanding, but Laura caught the slight waver in her voice. She was still standing in the exact same position, looking like she was ready for a fight, but wearing Clint’s shirt, with the wrap on her ankle and the bandage on her head and her long red hair tangled in knots, she looked more like a scared young girl than a deadly killer. Laura felt her heart break just slightly at the sight, and she made her decision.

“I’ll take you to him, but you have to be quiet.”

“Okay.” Her agreement came much easier than Laura expected.

“And you don’t touch anything unless I say you do. I’m not above strip searching you to make sure you’re not hiding a weapon.”

Natasha’s lips turned down just slightly at that, and the flicker in her eyes let Laura know she was considering the situation, probably weighing how long it would take her to knock Laura out and make her escape and how far she could get on a bad ankle. But then she nodded, just slightly.

“Show me,” she said.

Laura nodded, and pointed to Natasha. “The stairs are behind you, so I need to pass you.”

Again Natasha’s eyes flickered over her, once more probably assessing her situation, but then she took a step to the side, leaving Laura plenty of room to pass.

Clint and Laura’s bedroom was up the stairs and at the end of the long hallway. It wasn’t far at all in their relatively modest-sized farmhouse, but Laura figured Natasha’s ankle had to be bothering her, even if she would never show it. Laura walked slower than usual, careful not to turn around and make Natasha more uncomfortable than she probably already was.

When they reached the door to the bedroom, Laura turned and held a finger to her lips before she pushed the door open, even though the sound of Clint’s deep breathing had been heard long before then. But seeing the familiar form under the lump of covers seemed to calm Natasha’s nerves. For the first time since Laura had seen her watching her, she saw Natasha fists unclench just slightly.

Natasha gazed at Laura as Laura shut the door behind them, her eyes a little softer this time.

“You’re really his wife?” Natasha whispered. She sounded unsure, but Laura could tell she wanted to believe her.

Laura gestured at Natasha to follow her again, and she led the way back down the hallway, stopping just beyond the staircase. On the wall in front of them was a collection of photos, the center photo clearly showing a tuxedo-clad Clint holding hands in front of an altar with Laura, dressed all in white.

Natasha stared at it for a while, her eyes darting to all the other photos in turn. Laura and Clint’s vacations together, their reception, their engagement photo.

“He didn’t tell me,” Natasha finally said.

“He doesn’t tell anyone,” Laura said. “Just Fury and Coulson. No one else. No partners, no friends, no one.”

“But he brought me here?”

“Yes, he did.”

“But why? Why would he do that?”

“Because he trusts you.”

Laura saw a slight frown pass across Natasha’s face at that, but she reeled it back in almost immediately. Laura wondered, with a pang in her heart, what it must be like to have spent one’s whole life never being able to trust anyone.

“Come on,” Laura said quietly when Natasha didn’t say anything else. “You must be hungry. Let’s go get you something to eat.”

“Okay,” Natasha answered, and Laura saw her take one last long look at the photos on the wall before following Laura down the stairs.

•••

Natasha was far from the best houseguest the Bartons had ever had. She was wary, reserved, defensive, and if Laura was honest, there were moments when the thought of Natasha staying with them was a bit unnerving. It was hard to not think about the fact that she was one of the world’s most deadly assassins and that if she wanted to, she could kill her and disappear without a trace, probably making sure her body would never be found.

But there were other moments — moments that happened more frequently than the former — where Laura thought Natasha was actually more scared of Laura than Laura was of her, and she ached to find common ground with her, to help her feel comfortable.

For the first few days, Natasha kept mostly to herself, holed up in the room they were letting her use, just sitting by the window and staring out at the fields in the distance.

“You can watch TV if you want,” Laura said to her the first full day she was there, when she came to bring her some clothes she thought might fit. Natasha was smaller than her, but she couldn’t very well go around in her torn uniform or Clint’s shirts the whole time. “We have a lot of movies. Or books you can read.”

“It’s okay,” Natasha answered. “I don’t need entertainment.”

“You might not need it, but it’s okay to have it.”

Natasha tilted her head just slightly at that, like it was something she had never considered before, but a moment later, she shook her head again.

“I’m fine,” she said, and turned back to the window.

Laura mostly left her alone after that. Clint would check on her, make sure she was okay, and occasionally persuade her to go outside with him while he tinkered with something or other, but Laura really only saw Natasha at mealtimes, when they all ate together.

Natasha was mostly silent during those times, but she would watch Clint and Laura carefully and she listened intently to everything they said. They told stories of how they met and of their life together, and even though Natasha didn’t actively participate in any of those conversations, Laura could tell she was interested in them. Although Laura often wondered if it was hard for her to hear them.

She asked Clint about it one night. She had known since before she met her that Natasha guarded her past fiercely, and Laura didn’t blame her. Clint had told her the basics — Natasha had been trained by the Russian government since she was a little girl to be an assassin. She was raised in a world where you trusted no one, you relied on no one, you were friends with no one, you cared about no one and, most of all, you loved no one. Every word of truth that left your lips was an opportunity for someone to use it against you later.

But for Laura, it was an awkward line to walk. She wanted to give Natasha her space, but how do you get to know someone if you can’t ask them anything personal?

“Do you think it bothers her?” she said to Clint the fourth night Natasha was there.

“What?” he asked.

“Us talking about our lives together when hers has never been anything normal.”

Clint seemed to think about that, then he shook his head. “She doesn’t know anything different. To her, we’re the strange ones.”

“You don’t think that’s sad?”

“Sad?” The expression on Clint’s face turned grim. “I think it’s horrifying, what they did to her. And I’m pretty sure what I know doesn’t even skim the surface. But I can’t tell her that. She’s not ready to hear it.”

“I just wish I knew how to talk to her.”

Clint reached over, took Laura’s hand and squeezed it. “You’re doing fine. Natasha will talk when she’s ready.”

She was ready a week later. Laura was in the kitchen again, this time baking brownies. She enjoyed the precision and the details that went into baking, and Clint enjoyed eating the final product. This time, Laura was so invested in her work she didn’t realize Natasha had snuck into the room until she looked up into a pair of green eyes peering back at her.

She was so startled, she actually jumped backward and dropped the spoon, an audible gasp leaving her mouth.

“I’m sorry,” Natasha said quickly, as soon as she saw Laura’s reaction. “I scared you.”

Laura reached down to pick up the spoon. “I can see why you’re a good spy.”

“I’m sorry,” Natasha said again. Laura noticed she backed up a couple of steps. “Coulson told me not to do that anymore. I forget sometimes.”

Despite her normal neutral expression, she looked almost anxious, like maybe she was worried Laura was going to report her.

Laura smiled at her, tried to ease her concerns. “I imagine that must be a hard habit to break.”

Natasha hesitated before she answered, like she wasn’t sure if she should reveal anything. “It is,” she finally said, then she pointed to the bowl Laura had on the counter. “What are you making?”

“Brownies for Clint.”

Natasha frowned. “But ….”

“But what?”

“Clint always gives me his desserts. I didn’t think …” Natasha trailed off, shaking her head. “Can I … watch?”

“You can help, if you want.”

For a second, a surprised look crossed Natasha’s face before it vanished. “Really?” she asked.

“Of course. Come here.”

Natasha was a fast learner. Laura wasn’t really surprised; she suspected picking up new skills quickly and easily was something that came naturally to her. But Natasha looked almost proud when the brownies came out of the oven, looking exactly like they were supposed to.

“Where did you learn to bake?” Natasha asked as Laura handed her one to try.

“My grandmother.” Laura smiled at the memory. “Her house always smelled like cinnamon and gingerbread, and she was always in the kitchen, making cakes or cookies or brownies.”

Natasha tilted her head just so to the side, like she was thinking. “I wasn’t allowed to have sweets,” she finally said. “When I was younger.” She shrugged. “It was forbidden. …Oh.” Her eyes widened just slightly. “I told Clint that once. That’s why he gives me his dessert.”

Laura smiled at her. “Yeah,” she said. “That’s probably why.”

A week later — after more afternoons and sometimes mornings spent baking together and picking vegetables from the garden — Laura said goodbye to Natasha and Clint. Natasha’s wounds were healed, and she could walk on her ankle, and it was time to go back.

Laura handed Natasha a paper bag before she left.

“Look at it when you get on the plane,” she told her, before touching her briefly on the hand. She didn’t think Natasha was ready for a hug, but she didn’t pull away at the small contact.

“Thank you, for everything,” Natasha said, before turning to go.

Clint raised his eyebrow at his wife, looking pointedly at the bag in Natasha’s hand.

“Brownies,” Laura said. “And cookies. And a note telling her she can call me anytime she wants.”

“You sure that’s a good idea?”

“She’s going to need friends, Clint. You can’t be her only one.”

“I’m stealing those brownies from her, though.”

“Yeah,” Laura grinned. “Good luck with that,” and she kissed her husband goodbye, before closing the door behind him.