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Time For A Sign

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Natasha swatted Clint's arm, telling him to move aside without a word because he'd forgotten to put his hearing aids back on. They'd had the house to themselves all afternoon, and who could blame them for taking advantage?

You're in my way, she told him.

Well excuse me, he replied, grinning, but shifted over so she could get into the cabinet that he'd been standing in front of. It still seemed strange to him sometimes how she'd settled in to this place, how she acted as if she belonged here, as if this was her home.

But it was, wasn't it? Yeah, it was still the principal's house, but she'd lived here for months now, and Mr. Fury had helped her through a pretty rough couple of weeks over the summer, so it made sense that she would be at least a little more comfortable here than she had been at first.

Even so, home was still a word that Clint associated more with people than with places. He watched her as she dumped flour into the mixing bowl, and yeast, and whatever else went into pizza dough, and set it to mixing. She kept an eye on it as she cleaned up the counter, tidily efficient as always... until he distracted her, and she let herself be distracted.

A second later she broke the kiss, shoving him back harder than she'd meant to (he hoped) and taking half a step in front of him like she meant to put herself between him and something else. He touched her arm, but she didn't turn to look at him.

"What's happening?" he asked, remembering that he could talk even if he couldn't hear her response.

Two cars in the driveway, and voices. She edged toward the door, moving like she wanted to see without being seen, and Clint had certainly done the same thing before but it felt wrong watching her do it in her own house, in the space that she'd seemed to own only moments before.

"Fury?" he asked, dropping his voice to a whisper.

Maybe. She took another step, her hand held out behind her but he wasn't sure if it was meant to caution him to stay back or whether she was reaching for him to follow. He decided it was the latter and moved with her, wishing he could hear what was happening, or at least see, but the angle was impossible and there were shades on the windows that obstructed the view.

I can't see, he told her.

Neither can I. But whatever she heard was enough to have her shove into him, pushing him back into the kitchen. She reached for a knife and had it half out of the block before she stopped herself. Her hand was still on it, though, when Mr. Fury came around the corner.

His eyebrows went up, and he said something to her. She let go of the knife, and Clint tapped her arm, looking for some kind of explanation.

Sorry, Natasha signed. "I hear voices. I not know who is there," Natasha said, signing it at the same time so that Clint wasn't shut out of the conversation anymore.

"You didn't look?" Mr. Fury asked, and she signed that too.

"If I look, maybe who is there sees. If is not you..." She shrugged.

Mr. Fury pinched the bridge of his nose like he was fighting off a headache. "All right, Natasha. I think your dough—"

But Clint didn't know what he thought the dough was, because Natasha stopped signing, turning away to go switch off the mixer. 'Done' must have been the missing piece. She peeled the dough from the hook and put it in a bowl with oil so it wouldn't stick, then put it in the oven to rise. She reset the timer, keeping her back to the rest of the kitchen even after it started ticking down.

Clint came up beside her and touched her elbow. She flinched away, and then looked at him with an apologetic frown. I'm going to go get my hearing aids, he told her.

I'll come with you.

When they turned to go to her room, they both noticed what they'd somehow missed before: they weren't alone. Standing in the kitchen doorway, half-hidden in the shadows of the hall, was a girl, watching them with what seemed to be a mix of suspicion and... well, mostly suspicion. Whatever else was in her dark eyes, Clint couldn't read.

"Natasha, Clint, this is Jessica," Mr. Fury said, and Natasha signed. "Jessica... you can come in."

She took another step into the room. She had long dark hair, and she was dressed in a blouse and skirt that looked like they belonged in some kind of western movie or something. She clutched the straps of a bag so hard her knuckles were white.

"Jessica, this is Natasha and Clint. Natasha lives here. Clint doesn't, although it may seem like he does a lot of the time."

"Hey," Clint said, figuring someone ought to say something and the girls were just looking past each other. "Uh, nice to meet you."

Jessica looked at him then, her eyes narrowing, but she said nothing. Mr. Fury looked like his headache was intensifying. He said something that Natasha didn't interpret, and then gestured toward the stairs. Jessica turned and headed for them, so whatever it was must have been aimed at her.

Who is that?, Clint asked.

I don't know, Natasha replied. You know as much as I do.

It bothered her, not knowing, and Clint couldn't really blame her. He couldn't imagine suddenly having someone new show up at the Sullivans; he knew that it had thrown all of the younger boys for a loop when he'd shown up, although he'd been too caught up in his own stuff to really care.
Do you think she's staying?

Natasha shrugged. I don't know why she would be here if she's not.

I'm sorry, Clint said.

Why? It's not your fault.

I know. But you were getting used to how things are and now they've changed and that sucks.

She shrugged again, but Clint could see the tension all through her. He held out his hand, not sure if she wanted to be touched or not and not willing to get it wrong when she was already stressed. She looked at it, then at him, and shook her head. He let his hand drop.

Mr. Fury came back into the room. "Thank you for getting dinner started," he said, and Natasha remembered to interpret without prompting. "I'm sorry that I couldn't give you more warning about Jessica, but I didn't have any either. It was an... unexpected situation that came up."

"Like with Natasha?" Clint asked.

"Something like that," Mr. Fury said.

"How long is she staying?" Natasha asked.

"As long as she needs to." He looked at her, then at Clint, then back at Natasha. "I hope that you'll make her feel welcome." Although Clint couldn't hear the tone of his voice, there was something in the set of his jaw that made him believe that it was... not a threat, but a very strong suggestion.

"He's still staying," Natasha said, jerking her chin in Clint's direction, and her jaw was set too, like she was getting ready to do battle.

"I didn't say he couldn't," Mr. Fury said, looking like the headache that was brewing had finally sunk its claws into his brain. "Why don't you two go upstairs for a little bit?" Another very strong suggestion.

They didn't argue or ask any more questions. They just retreated to Natasha's room. She shut and locked the door behind her, and this time when Clint held out his hand she slid into his arms and held on. He stroked her back, trying to soothe the tension away. "It's okay," he told her, even though he didn't really know if it would be or not.

She let go of him and went over to the bed, flopping down on it. I knew things were going too smoothly.

He sat down next to her. It could be worse, he pointed out. It could be Devon. Or Kevin. Or Connor.

Her mouth quirked. They're not that bad.

You don't live with them! He caught her hand and squeezed it, and she tugged him down and kissed him hard. At least she was smiling again; he counted that as a win. By the time they were called back downstairs to finish making dinner, she was mostly calm again, although there was still something a little careful, a little brittle in the way that she moved, and he didn't like seeing it when he'd thought they were past all of that.

Clint saw that Jessica's door was cracked open, and he saw that she was watching them as they passed. A few minutes later, she followed them down. He looked up from where he was stretching the dough while Natasha got out the sauce and cheese. "Hey," he said. Mr. Fury had told them to be nice, after all.

"Hey," she replied. Her eyebrows drew together as she watched him. She stayed at the opposite end of the table, leaning against it. "What are you doing?"

"Stretching the pizza dough," he said. "Usually Natasha does it, but I guess she's feeling magnet... magma... shit, what's the word?"

"Magnanimous," Natasha supplied. "Or maybe I just lose mind."

Clint stuck out his tongue at her. "I've never messed up pizza!" He flashed a grin at Jessica. "She doesn't trust me in the kitchen."

"You forget what happen when we make cupcake?" Natasha asked.

"It said medium speed! The mixer goes to ten, and five is halfway to ten! How was I supposed to know that medium is, like, two?!"

"I think is still chocolate on ceiling."

"There's not really," Clint said when he saw Jessica glance up. "She made sure I cleaned it."

"Why were you..." Jessica started to ask, then stopped herself.

"It was for a friend's birthday," Clint said, assuming that she'd been going to ask why they'd been making cupcakes. "I'm great at frosting." Natasha screwed up her face and Clint laughed. "She doesn't agree. Good?" He lifted the edge of the pizza pan to show her.

"Good," she agreed. "Maybe old dog can learn new trick."

"Are you calling me old?" he asked, reaching out to poke her. She dodged and pulled the pizza pan over to her side of the table, spooning sauce onto the crust and spreading it around.

"What are you?" Jessica asked, looking at Natasha, almost staring.

Natasha looked up sharply. "What I am?" she asked. "What you mean, what I am?"

"I mean—" But Jessica didn't seem sure what she meant under Natasha's glare, and Clint could see her starting to bristle back rather than backing down. He didn't know her well enough (read: at all) to have an idea how far she would go, but he knew Natasha, and she was tense enough that she might not just let this one go.

He rapped his knuckles on the edge of the table, drawing her attention. Your accent, he signed. Maybe.

Natasha's eyes narrowed. "You mean where I am from?" she asked Jessica.

"Yes," Jessica said.

"Russia. I am from Russia."

"Oh." If that meant anything to Jessica, if it gave her any ideas of who or what Natasha was, she gave no indication.

"Why? What you are?"

Jessica shrugged. "Nothing anymore."

Clint looked at her, saw Natasha studying her, and the conversation ended there. Not because they weren't still curious about the new arrival, but because her answer was the kind of answer that begged two things: to be pried into, and to be left alone. And they weren't prying types.

"You want more than cheese on your pizza?" Clint asked. Mr. Fury must have mixed up a second batch of dough while they were upstairs, because there was enough for two pans. Good thinking, he had to concede, because with three teenagers in the house one pizza wasn't going to be enough.

Jessica shrugged. "I don't care."

"You can have anything you find," Natasha said, pointing towards the refrigerator, then reached without looking and swatted Clint's hand as he stole a pinch of cheese from the bag. "Stop."

"Too late," he said, dumping it into his mouth.

"Don't mind him," Natasha said, rolling her eyes. "He is raise in barn."

"Not in a barn," Clint said. "Come on, give me some credit. I was raised in the circus!"

Natasha snorted a laugh. It was funny because it was true, but Jessica didn't know that.

"What's—" But the dark-haired girl stopped herself again, crossing her arms as if to hold something in. She watched them without seeming to watch, and the silence in the room was awkward. Normally he and Natasha would have been talking, out loud or signing depending on whether they had their hands full, but conversation was awkward when there was a third person involved that they didn't know how to include, and signing would have excluded her completely, and probably seemed deliberate.

"What grade are you in?" Clint asked, just to have something to say.

"I'll be a junior, I guess," Jessica replied. "Why?"

"Just curious. We're juniors, too."

"Where you go to school before?" Natasha asked.

"I was homeschooled," Jessica told her.

Clint smirked. "Homeschooled for real or quote-unquote homeschooled?"

"I don't know what you mean," Jessica replied, pulling her arms in tighter against her chest.

"Don't worry about it," Clint said. "I was trying to make a joke. I guess. I was quote-unquote homeschooled – meaning I learned to read, write, add and subtract and that's about it, but my parents got papers saying that they were teaching me shit." He shrugged. "Makes life interesting when suddenly you're stuck in a classroom with a bunch of people who know how to do all this kind of thing and you're like, 'Yeah, but do you know how to rig a trapeze?'"

She just stared at him blankly, and Clint shrugged. "School sucks, but you get used to it," he summed up.

They ate dinner in the living room in front of the TV like they normally did, which drew a look of complete consternation from Jessica. Clint wasn't sure why, but he wasn't going to ask. Afterward, there was ice cream, and the fact that there were different choices of flavor seemed to throw her, too.

But he didn't ask. No one asked. Maybe Mr. Fury knew, but he wasn't talking (and they wouldn't have wanted him too, no matter how curious they were, because they wouldn't want him spilling their secrets to anyone).

And then it was time for bed (or at least they'd all had enough togetherness for the evening) and Clint followed Natasha upstairs. He could practically feel Jessica's eyes boring into his back as he went, and yeah, okay, he could get that, but he wasn't about to try and explain.

They didn't talk about her, even when the door was closed and even when there was no possible way for her to overhear. They didn't need to talk about it to know that they were thinking the same thing: something was strange about this girl. But who were they to talk about strange? They would figure her out eventually, or they wouldn't, and what was it to them one way or another?

Later, Natasha got up to brush her teeth, and when she came back she was frowning. She didn't know she could lock her door, she told him. She didn't know how.

How...? He didn't even know how to ask the question, or what the question he wanted to ask was.

She asked me if it was safe. I told her yes. Then she asked 'what if' but didn't finish. She was looking towards the stairs, whispering. I told her never, but said she could lock her door if it would make her feel better. She didn't know how.

Which told them something about Jessica and where she'd come from, but Clint wasn't going to try and puzzle out exactly what tonight. Because what he mostly heard in the unspoken words, in all of the spaces in between them, was Natasha remembering a time that was still too close for comfort, when there was no way to lock out the things that made her feel unsafe.

It would be a long night for both of them. At least they weren't alone.