Although Natasha knew that Banner was still in New York, there was a definite difference between knowing that for tactical and intelligence reasons and finding him browsing at her local yarn shop.
She had only stopped in to pick up another set of double-pointed needles when she saw him by the chunky yarns, holding two balls in his hands, matching the colours together.
She moved next to him, not close enough to startle. "Doctor Banner," she said softly.
He flinched, just a bit, nearly losing his grip on one of the balls. "Ms. Romanov," he said, his voice just as soft. He looked down at the yarn held tightly in his hands. "Here for the other guy?"
She looked at him evenly. "No."
He sighed, relaxing his grip. "Here for me?"
She reached over and picked up a skein of handspun, running her thumb over it to gauge its softness. "I believe we're here for the same reasons," she said, putting the skein back and looking up at him.
He blinked, taken aback, then chuckled. "You..." He gestured towards the wall of yarn with one of the balls still in his hands. "Really."
She picked up another skein, this one a delicate silk laceweight the colour of antique gold. "Handbags, mostly. For hand-eye coordination and dexterity," she said, slipping the laceweight into the small shopping basket she carried. "You?"
He held up the two balls. "Blankets and scarves." He looked at the balls again, and put one back, replacing it with another shade that complemented the first ball more. "It's just the process, y'know? Calming."
Natasha smiled widely and nodded. "I do."
Fury called them all in for a meeting, ostensibly to discuss potential threats, but primarily to make sure that the US Army wasn't sniffing around Banner or Rogers.
It had been snowing outside, and Bruce was wrapped up in a long garter-stitch scarf made of alternating muted grey and purple stripes.
Afterwards, Natasha moved next to him and picked up the end of the scarf, studying the pattern. "Fibonacci sequence?" she asked.
Bruce smiled. "Yeah..."
"Nice colour selection." She rubbed the scarf between her fingers. "Merino?"
"And a bit of cashmere." He smiled sheepishly. "Stark Enterprises hired me. First time I've been able to make anything nicer than second-hand unraveled sweaters."
She smiled and dropped the scarf, looking around her before reaching into her coat pocket. "Seacell and milk protein," she said, pulling out a delicate tangle of steel double-pointed needles and pale blue laceweight yarn. She adjusted the needles and held up the fine lace tube. "Feather and fan gloves."
"Wow..." he said, leaning in closer to look at the pattern. "That's really nice..." He touched the fabric delicately. "When I started, I thought that really complicated patterns would be a distraction, help keep me calm, but..." He straightened up and shrugged. "One missed stitch, y'know."
Natasha raised an eyebrow, and was going to say something else when someone came up to them.
"Are you making that?" Steve came over, pointing at the bag.
Natasha carefully secured the needles and handed it to Steve. "Yes."
Steve traced over the pattern, then looked closely at Bruce's scarf. "And that?" he said, pointing at the scarf.
"This is mine," Bruce said.
Steve looked at Bruce, then the scarf, then the bag, and then at Natasha. "Could, um," he swallowed. "Could you show me where you buy your wool?"
"I learned when I was a kid," Steve said, his eyes wide as they stepped into the shop. "Spent one summer in bed with the measles while all the other kids were out playing." He chuckled. "Bucky's moth—a neighbor lady, she used to watch me while my mother was at work, and I spent two whole months holding her yarn before she finally taught me." He reached out and stroked a sample swatch next to a matching ball. "Never anything as nice as this, though."
"It's a bit more focused on style and individuality rather than practicality now," Natasha said, crouching down to examine a shelf of pure wool.
"Yeah..." Steve looked towards one of the brighter displays. "You're not kidding." He frowned and stepped forward, looking at a series of sample socks tacked to the wall. "How do they...?" He gestured towards them.
"What, knit socks?"
Steve laughed. "No, no, I can do that." He pointed at a particularly vivid rainbow striped sock. "How do they get the stripes like that?"
Natasha looked at the sock, then smiled softly. "Captain, let me introduce you to yarn that stripes itself."
"Wait, seriously? This is happening? In my living room?"
Tony looked at the four people sitting. "You guys know I can whip up a machine that'll knit automatically in like an hour, right?"
Pepper looked up at him. "Be nice..." she said.
"There are people trying to turn back the Industrial Revolution in my living room, Pepper, how can I —" He stopped and pointed at her. "You're not knitting me a sweater, are you?"
She laughed and held up her empty hands. "Just talking." She smiled. "No knitting."
Tony nodded. "Good, good." He climbed over the back of the couch and sat down next to Pepper. "I look terrible in sweaters, you know."
Tony wrapped an arm around Pepper and looked at the other three. "I gotta say, Bruce, I'm kinda disappointed. Here I was hoping for midnight nude bongo playing or finding your secret Quaalude stash, but knitting? Seriously?"
Bruce shrugged as he reached the end of a row. "It's nice," he said, switching colours.
"And are you actually striping that scarf to match Euler's Constant?"
Bruce looked down and blushed slightly. "Counting's nice too."
"Oh my God, I don't know whether to be horrified or delighted. And you —" He turned and pointed at Natasha. "This is some undercover thing, right? You're sneaking into my house to steal something and you thought if you came knitting, no one would suspect you, right? Because if you actually knit, then Nick Fury has an entire kennel of puppies waiting for him at home."
Natasha looked up for a second, eyes narrowed, and Tony felt a slight whoosh next to his ear. He looked behind him. A thin double-pointed needle stuck out of the wall, apparently a good two inches in.
He turned back to Natasha. "Really?"
She continued knitting with the four remaining double-pointed needles in her hands, raising an eyebrow and not saying a word.
"Right, okay, I'm not really surprised you've turned them into weapons — that's staying there, by the way, you're not getting it back." He looked at the tiny thing in her hands. "Is that a bootie? Oh my God, you're not pregnant, are you? Do I need to have a talk with Barton?"
Natasha didn't look up and Pepper sighed. "It's for Tanya in Legal, Tony. She told me about her pregnancy last week, and Natasha offered to make some booties for me to give as a gift."
"Wow, really? She, uh...Who is she again?"
"You've been working with her for the past year getting all the clearances for the tower..." At his blank look, Pepper sighed. "Never mind."
"Surely you should be impressed that I didn't notice her — I'm committed, remember?"
"Oh, of course. Naturally."
Tony blinked a few times, then looked at Steve. "And what are you doing — socks? Doesn't Fury pay you enough to buy your own?"
Steve kept knitting. "Good socks help win battles, Stark," he said.
"I'll remember that the next time SHIELD asks for new body armor..."
Everyone was silent for a few minutes, then Tony cracked. "Okay, what. Seriously. Is this the Avengers Stitch & Bitch Club? Is that what's going on?"
Bruce exchanged looks with Steve and Natasha, then smiled. "You know what...I think it is."