“Let me get this straight.” Sitwell pushed up his visor and panted a couple of times. Sweat was dripping down his forehead from the exercises they’d just run through. “You’re complaining because a woman likes you and respects you enough to make you something with nothing but yarn and her bare hands.”
“Duck,” Clint said, and fired off two shots. There was a ripe curse as the rookie stalked out, yellow paint splattered on his shoulder. “It’s not…it’s not that, exactly.”
“Then what is it? You don’t like knitting?”
“Knitting’s fine!” Though it was a little bit weird that Natasha had such a domestic hobby, in Clint’s opinion. She claimed it calmed her nerves, which puzzled him. He’d never actually seen her nervous or hyper.
Sitwell scoffed. “Know what? You should be glad the Black Widow has a hobby that doesn’t involve grand theft auto or garrote wires.”
Clint wanted to hunch his shoulders as they moved to the next checkpoint, creeping along slowly. He’d participated in the Agents vs. Rookies Paintball Instant Death Showdown every time he was actually stateside during the event. The engineering team in charge of designing the course considered the match a matter of pride. Clint didn’t have the heart to tell them that all of their obstacle courses were the same when you got down to the base level. And none of them were as difficult as a busy street full of pedestrians. But the engineering team was proud and it confused the rookies, so that was all that mattered.
“It’s just…she’s going to make a sweater,” he said after they’d climbed a half-wall and had dropped lightly to the other side.
“Oh, a sweater. That’s terrifying, that is.”
“Anybody ever tell you you’re an ass?”
“Every damned day. Three o’clock.”
“I see ’em.” But since Sitwell had spotted the rookies—a pair of them, actually managing to be somewhat stealthy—Clint let his teammate take both down. Their muffled oaths made the experienced agents grin behind their visors. “I don’t want that obligation. I don’t want people making things for me.”
“Yeah, homemade knitted things are the worst.” Sitwell’s snort would make horses jealous.
“Shut up,” Clint said.
“So you don’t want a sweater?”
“Do I look like the type that wears sweaters?”
“I think you’re more afraid of looking like the type that wears sweaters that his terrifying girlfriend made him for Christmas.” They were pinned down by enemy fire for a brief, furious melee that ended with three rookies covered in yellow paint and Clint and Sitwell clean as choirboys. “That’s too much commitment for a guy like Hawkeye.”
“It’s not that,” Clint said, shaking his head.
“You’re not worried the sweater will be crap, are you?”
“Maria’s teaching her, so no. Remember that reindeer sweater she made for Fury that one time?”
“Ah, yes.” Sitwell sighed fondly. “It was so nice, he wore it for almost twelve hours and for the SHIELD company party pictures. I have those pictures saved in a very special file.”
“You know, Jasper, I don’t need to know what you jack off to,” Clint said.
Sitwell gagged and punched him in the arm. Clint figured he deserved that.
“I think you’re just a commitment-phobe,” Sitwell said before they were too busy dodging a rookie in a sniper’s vest that Clint couldn’t help but respect. He earmarked that rookie for specialist training with him and went on throughout the game, mulling Sitwell’s words over in his mind. Natasha knitting, that was okay, but he did not want a sweater. Did that make him a commitment-phobe? Were some deep-seated neurosis coming out in a form of sweater-aversion? The experienced agents won the game in record time, but it didn’t stop Clint’s brain from whirling double-time, especially when he headed back to his quarters and saw Natasha sitting on his bed with knitting needles, brow furrowed as she studied some kind of mauve…thing.
Christmas was two months away. The mauve thing gave him chills.
By the time the holidays rolled around, he still hadn’t sorted out his unease with the idea of a sweater, but he was determined to enthuse over whatever pattern of sweater Natasha had chosen for him. He would be a good boyfriend, dammit.
He was so worked up over it that when she handed him a wrapped box, much too small to hold a sweater, he blinked. Tearing open the wrapping paper revealed hand-knitted fingerless gloves, the kind he liked, with the special resin Engineering designed for him already on the palms. They were even black, to go with his uniform. When he pulled one on, it was perfectly fitted to his hand. “Holy crap, these are amazing!”
Natasha chuckled. “You look really surprised by that.”
“Well, yes, when you started knitting, I kind of expected, like…”
“A scarf? You’d strangle yourself with it.”
“That, or a sweater,” Clint said in a rush.
Natasha blinked at him for a moment before she tilted her head back and burst out laughing. She laughed until she tilted sideways, catching herself with one elbow as she continued to giggle, tears streaming down her face. Dressed in the reindeer-patterned sleeping pants she wore on Christmas and one of his ancient bullseye shirts, she looked the absolute model of relaxed as she sat up and wiped at her eyes. “Oh, that’s a good one,” she said. “Clint, I would never give you a sweater.”
Clint wasn’t sure if he was more perturbed by the laughter or the fondness in her voice. “Why not?”
“Because.” Natasha leaned forward and kissed the tip of his nose as he goggled at her. “I would never give you something with sleeves.”
It was Clint’s turn to blink and then burst out laughing. “You know what?” he said, and all of his unease with the past couple of months finally made sense. Sitwell, he thought, could suck it. “You’re completely right.”
“I should be offended that you always sound surprised when you say that,” Natasha said, but her grin was mischievous as she reached for her next gift.
Clint grinned and wrapped an arm around her, placing a smacking kiss on the side of her head. “Thank you for the gloves.”