Fandom: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Characters: Natasha Romanov, Lila Barton
Summary: Peace and self-forgiveness can start on a country verandah, especially if you have the right guide. Aunt Natasha Romanov discovers she has an excellent one.
Author's notes: I wrote this for such_heights for the 2016 fandom_stocking fun; she is a fan of the Marvel Cinematic universe, as I am. Although she didn’t mention it, I think — I hope — she would enjoy my interpretation of one of the two relationships mentioned in this story. I hope she also enjoys the other relationship. Chronologically, this takes place between the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and "Captain America: Civil War.” One further note: the two bits of Russian I include roughly map out to "dangerous beloved," and "Oh, my God." I apologize to Russian speakers for my Google Translate imperfections.
Edited by: the most excellent dr_whuh. Thank you, beloved.
Disclaimer: No characters are mine. They are the sole property of Marvel, Marvel Studios, Paramount Studios, ABC, and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement and take no coin.
The view from Clint’s and Laura’s front verandah was restful; all gold and rust-red leaves crowning gold and dun fields, the mists encircling the base of the old, low rounded hills in the distance thinning to crisp clarity closer to home —
Natasha’s hard-won sense of peace cracked. She took a deep breath and willed herself back to the internal silence she’d had before that sharp, dark part of her had balked at the thought of home.
No home for him, she thought. I have this place of shelter, these people willing to take me in and even care about me, but he is like the fox in the field, with only a stone for his head and grass to draw around his nakedness —
She cursed silently, as the thought of his body reminded her of its heat below hers, of his brown eyes trusting her to trust him, and of her doing so. But she wasn’t worthy of that trust. You should never have believed in me, opasnnye vozlyublennyye, she thought, giving way to the Russian she tried not to use, even inside her own head.
Natasha turned to see Lila, standing next to her. She was a stealthy little seven-year-old, a fact Nat had teased Laura and Clint about — their own little secret agent, she’d often deadpanned, to her friends’ easily viewed consternation — but she shouldn’t have been able creep up on Aunt Natasha. Aunt Natasha was getting careless … then she tilted her head and considered Laura’s daughter.
Lila rarely called her Aunt Natasha. She was “Auntie Nat,” and she was always approachable, not requiring a sneak attack. Natasha evaluated the sober little face. “What’s up, creature?”
Usually, that nickname engendered a delighted frown on Lila’s face, followed by giggles, and often by an excellent bout of storytelling, tickling, or both. Today, Lila just looked more serious. Natasha took her cue from that, patting the swing seat.
“I’m sorry, Lila. Come, sit with me. What’s bothering you?”
The little girl clambered up beside Natasha, and held out one of her hands. Natasha took it in both of hers, waiting.
“Are you sad now that Mr. Banner’s missing?”
Bozhe moy. Was the child a mind-reader?
No, just her mother’s daughter, Natasha decided. She paid attention — what was it Clint always said about little pitchers having big ears? This little one had been listening in on grown-up conversations, had connected a few dots, and had decided she needed more answers. Her father’s child too, then, with his bluntly direct approach to life. Empathic, but without Laura’s diplomacy.
Natasha thought a moment. She’d always been honest with Clint and Laura. Lila deserved as much respect; as much honesty as a very smart, very empathic and blunt seven-year-old could handle.
Besides, it helped to talk.
“I am sad, a little bit,” she said. “But Mr. Banner is OK, I am sure, so he will be back. I think.”
Lila looked dubious. “You only think he’ll be back?”
Natasha breathed in, then out. “I hope he’ll be back. I … did something I promised I wouldn’t do, and he may be mad at me.”
“Oh.” Lila was silent for a moment, processing. Then she said, carefully, “Well, breaking a promise is pretty bad.”
“Yes.” Trust a child not to sugarcoat anything.
“But I’ve broken promises before. Only a couple, but I did. Like, uhm … I promised Mom yesterday I’d finish my homework before I went out to the barn to play with the goats, and I went out to see the goats instead of finishing the homework.
“And I promised I wouldn’t go into Cooper’s room unless he let me. And I go in. All the time. To get my stuff back, because he’s always hiding my books and my compass.” Lila’s apparent shame over broken promises was subsumed into her indignation over her brother’s wrong-doing. Natasha repressed a smile.
“I wouldn’t worry so much about going into Cooper’s room. He probably promised not to take your books and compass, right?”
“Then perhaps two broken promises balance the ledger,” Natasha said, aware that her suggestion might not fit her friends’ ethics, and equally sure it was the right thing to tell Lila. Then she bent her head so she could look Lila directly in the face. “But breaking your promise to your mother … that’s another thing.”
The little girl grimaced, looking abruptly so much like her father that Natasha felt her heart squeeze with unexpected love for her young companion. “You’re right. I’ll tell her. Right after supper. Will you come with me when I do?”
“I will,” Natasha said. Laura undoubtedly already knew, but for Lila to tell her; that was the right thing for her to do.
Lila smiled, but the smile disappeared as she returned to her original concern.
“Is your promise to Mr. Banner like mine to Mom, or like mine to Cooper?”
Oh, child, you have no idea, and I am so very glad you don’t. “I think it’s more like the promise you made to your Mom.”
“Then you should apologize,” Lila said. “Then he’ll say it’s OK, and you don’t have to worry any more.”
It was such a trusting, childish thing to say. “First, I have to find him to speak with him,” she equivocated.
“You could text him,” Lila said promptly.
“He doesn’t have a cell phone,” Natasha hedged, wishing her almost-niece wasn’t quite so practical. “Just like here. You don’t have cell phones.” Clint had one landline, under a false name and routed through enough electronic mazery that no one could trace it.
“You’re wrong. Daddy has one that he uses to text Mom when you’re all on your adventure-jobs.” Lila grinned, plainly happy to have outwitted her aunt.
Adventure-jobs? That’s an interesting description. Clint, did you think that one up, or was it Lila herself?
“Well, Mr. Banner doesn’t have one,” Natasha said firmly. When she saw Lila’s face fall, she squeezed her hand slightly, before adding, “I do need to apologize to him, though. You’re right about that. I just don’t know when I can.”
“When he comes back here,” the little girl said. “He liked it here, I heard him say that the last time you visited, so he’ll come back here because of that.
“Plus, he loves you, so he’ll come back to tell you that.”
Natasha stared at Lila. She couldn’t think of a single thing to say.
Lila mistook her silence for disagreement. “He does love you! I heard Mom tell Daddy, and besides, he looks at you like Usagi looks at Tuxedo Mask!” Natasha was still silent, and now Lila was getting a little impatient. “You know, like Sailor Moon.”
“Ah,” Natasha managed.
Now it was Lila’s turn to squeeze Natasha’s hand. “So he’ll come back. And then you can apologize to him.”
She didn’t say anything more. The two of them sat in silent companionship long after afternoon shadows began to stretch across the gold and dun fields. It gave Natasha time to think.
Love? She’d told Loki that love was for children. She looked down at Lila. The girl looked up, and smiled, perfectly happy to stay there. She patted Natasha’s hand. Inside the house, Clint and Laura laughed as they got supper ready.
Perhaps not childish. Just childlike, Natasha thought, feeling something painful and tight let loose in her heart, at least for this short, precious time. And perhaps children know the truth after all.