She'll never work undercover again. The footage of the battle loops on the news networks for weeks; each demolition of a building made unsafe by the fighting, or visit by dignitaries to inspect the damage, revives flagging media interest. None of it is high resolution, but in the shaky cell phone footage and black-and-white security camera video, Natasha sees the end of her life as she knows it. She could grow her hair out or bleach it blonde, change her walk or her accent without difficulty, but nothing short of cosmetic surgery would stop targets from identifying her now, and Natasha's had enough of being reshaped by others to suit their purposes.
Clint sits with her as she reviews the footage on one of SHIELD's banks of monitors. They talk angles and timing, ways of working on their responses in order to match Rogers' enhanced reflexes, and Natasha thinks that no one else would notice just how tense Clint is right now. His tone is focused, mild—he's got one foot propped up on the table in front of them—but the fine lines around his eyes and the set of his shoulders gives him away. Clint has always seen better from a distance, but now he's got half the world looking at him up close and he's bearing it with all the grace of a cat caught in a rainstorm.
"Your foot's twitching," she says after a while. "It's a tell."
"It's not twitching," Clint says. He's right; his foot hasn't moved, but the fact that he looked down at it and then over at her before speaking tells her everything she needs to know about his state of mind.
Natasha stares at him, slow and unblinking, until he turns to look back at the screens.
"It's a liability," he says eventually. "Being known."
"Yes," Natasha says, because that is true. Clint's had Loki inside his head; there's nothing Natasha can say to lessen the effects of that. Yet there are other truths that Clint doesn't seem to recognize and that Natasha doesn't care to voice—because worse than the fact that so many people know their faces is the fact that so many people now seem to trust them. She's muted the sound on the TV screens, but that doesn't make the news tickers disappear. CAPTAIN AMERICA RETURNS? … PRESIDENT LAUDS HEROES … NEW QUINNIPIAC POLL: 89% APPROVAL RATING FOR HEROIC TEAM … CONGRESSIONAL MEDALS OF HONOR TO BE AWARDED…
Natasha has very few tells. She's worked very hard to make that so. She's pretty sure that even if Clint can tell she's uncomfortable he has no idea of the cause. It's not because they've been outed. People will try to kill them now, but people have always been trying to kill her; she has no particular attachment to undercover work, beyond a quiet appreciation for the ways in which it allows her to exercise some of her more esoteric skills.
What she does not like, what makes her have to consciously work to control her breathing, is being held up as an ideal, being spoken of as a good person. Natasha has snapped necks and severed arteries and felt neither sorrow nor satisfaction; she has been the voice telling so many that they were about to die. ROLE MODELS FOR AMERICA'S YOUTH? one of the tickers asks, and Natasha thinks she could never be remade so thoroughly that she could answer that with a yes. Loki had listed some of the things she'd done as if he thought she worked to forget them, but Natasha's has always been a true and painful reckoning. She doesn't want to be a role model; she does not strive to be worthy of the plaudits which others thoughtlessly bestow on her; she simply wants for no one else to have to follow in her footsteps.
She also wants to minimize the amount of time which she spends in maudlin self-pity. Natasha nudges Clint's foot under the table. "Do you want to spar?"
Clint turns off the monitors and looks over at her. He can let people underestimate his intelligence when he wants, but she doesn't think that's why he says "Sure" without prevarication or condition, despite his healing ribs and the yellowing bruising that Natasha knows still mottles his back.
He doesn't offer Natasha his hand to steady her as she stands, but he does match his stride to hers as they walk down the hallway. They pass Captain Rogers and Ms Potts on the way; both smile and nod at her. Natasha will never work undercover again, but perhaps there will be compensations to coming out into the light.
"Okay, Nat," Clint says when they enter the gym and he swings himself up into the ring, waiting for her. "Show me what you got."
Natasha grins, and follows, and makes a mark in the left-hand column of her ledger.