First off, thank you for all of your support for CWIACS (hey, it has an acronym now!). It's really appreciated on this front.
When a rock'n roll song woke Natasha up from her late afternoon nap, she irritably realized that Clint had changed her ringtone… again. After blinking several times, her eyes pieced together the image of Steve on her phone, and she automatically smiled and picked up.
"I was having a lovely nap, and you just ruined it," she told him dryly.
"Good, Lazy Pants," Steve retorted. "Dress in something you don't mind getting dirty and come outside."
Natasha sat up. "What?"
"Nice bed head by the way."
Natasha's gaze swung to the window next to her bed, and sure enough Steve was waving at her from outside. His cheeky grin was somehow both irritating and endearing.
"You really should keep the blinds closed if you don't want anyone seeing inside," Steve informed her lightly.
"Got that right," Natasha replied as she closed the blinds. "Who knows what kind of creep could be looking through my window right now?"
"I know right? Be ready in five."
Natasha was dressed in gray sweatpants that she had cut into shorts, and a black T-shirt that she had forgotten she even had. Steve, who was as casually dressed, nodded in approval and gestured for her to walk next to him.
"So what's this about, Rogers?" Natasha inquired.
"I need your help with an assignment," answered Steve.
"What kind of assignment?"
"It's an art project. I'm supposed to teach a complete novice in art how to do a self-portrait."
"What? I can't draw!"
"That's the point, Nat."
"Yeah, but… I'm not good at drawing."
"The best way for me to learn art is to teach it. At least that's what my professor says. Will you please do this for me? We can do anything you want afterward."
"How long is this going to take?"
"I don't know. It depends on if you're as terrible as you say you are."
Natasha rolled her eyes and elbowed Steve in the ribs. "Okay, I'll do it."
Throughout the drawing session, Natasha was reminded of the time when she was in elementary school and an artist guided the class through a similar project. Her finished work was actually more than decent for a kid her age, but when she had taken it home, the man who was her father took no notice. If it were Ivan, he would have put it on the Refrigerator Door of Fame, regardless of whether the artwork was a jumble of scribbles. That was the good thing about Ivan raising Natasha instead of her "real" father. Unfortunately though, the lack of attention of her then-father had induced Natasha to give up any form of drawing - even random doodles on the margins of her notes.
Steve had now given Natasha an excuse to hold a drawing pencil in her hand again, but she wasn't sure if she was grateful or not. The experience was reminding her of unpleasant memories from her childhood, after all. Yet, the patience and gentleness Steve had been showing her as he gave her pointers could not be ignored either. He told her it helped to have the photograph she was copying and the self-portrait upside down and side-by-side. He was right about that, so she was able to make adjustments accordingly. After what seemed like hours, Natasha had gray from the graphite on her fingertips and on the sides of her palms. The basic gist of the self-portrait was finished, although there were a lot of shading and adjustments that still needed to be done.
At the end, Steve showed her the pictures and short videos he had taken with his camera to document her progress. This way he could prove to his professor that he was actually guiding her along the way rather than doing it himself. It was after Steve told her that he would be showing the photos and videos to his class as part of the project that Natasha regretted coming so sloppily dressed.
"Why did you tell me to come in something I didn't mind dirtying?" Natasha inquired.
"Oh yes, do you see that wall behind you?" Steve asked.
Steve pointed to the wall behind them, which had a roughly done mural of the faces of several U.S. Presidents with a red "X" crossed over them. Clearly a political message.
"Every week someone volunteers to paint that wall according to whichever unit we're on in class," Steve explained. "This week is my turn, and we are doing the freedom unit."
"Freedom unit?" Natasha echoed confusedly.
Steve grinned. "It involves us doing anything we want. We're going to learn some stuff about abstract art, but the professor didn't want to put that kind of label on it. She wants us to break all the rules that we've been learning so far. Everyone wanted to do the wall this week, but my hand shot up first."
"So what do you need me to do?"
Steve began opening closet doors and pulling out paint bottles. "I asked Professor Mann if I could ask for your help on the wall, since you're already my trainee for the drawing project. She said it was all right."
"Okay, cool. So what's the plan?"
Steve smirked. "This is the freedom unit. There is no plan."
"Thicker strokes, Nat."
"This is the freedom unit," Natasha responded mockingly. "Leave me to paint in peace."
Despite her sass, Natasha did as Steve told her, which didn't go by unnoticed.
"Abstract artist Kandinsky thought that colors provoked emotions," Steve said, as he swiped a wide stroke of blue across the wall. "Red was confident, green was peaceful, blue was deep and supernatural, yellow was warm, exciting, or totally crazy. White was quiet, but it was full of possibilities."
"Interesting," murmured Natasha, who was listening but also concentrating hard on the exact shape of red she wanted to create with her paintbrush.
"He also assigned instrument sounds to every color," Steve continued. "Red: a trumpet. Green: middle-position violin. Light blue: a flute. Dark blue: a cello. Yellow: a fanfare of trumpets. White: a pause in the melody."
"I don't know how colors can sound like anything."
"Really? I totally can. I can hear the trumpet even as you're painting right now."
Natasha scoffed. "Get out."
"No, really. You don't get what Kandinsky is talking about?"
"Nope, but that's okay. It must be an artist thing."
"Hm." After a pause, Steve looked at Natasha. "Thinner strokes."
By the time they had covered almost half the wall with differently colored strokes, Natasha and Steve may or may not have gotten into a paint fight. They seemed to get into fights like that a lot. It didn't matter, though, since it was better than getting into any real arguments. Steve offered Natasha a chance to use his washing machine (free of charge), as well as eat leftover pizza at his apartment. Natasha couldn't resist accepting, so she went with him to his apartment after they had cleaned up the art classroom they had been working in. While her and Steve's clothes were being rolled around in the washing machine, Natasha borrowed one of Steve's T-shirts and a pair of gym shorts. The shirt was so big on her that she couldn't see the bottoms of her shorts, but she knew she had them on and that was enough. The sight of Natasha in his burgundy Harvard T-shirt, with her messy red curls springing out of her bun, was almost too much for Steve (1). Natasha sat next to Steve on the couch, and to distract himself he scrolled through suggestions from Netflix as he tried to pick a movie.
"Anything in particular you want to see?" Steve asked.
Steve ended up picking a random Indie film that he had never seen before, and, hoping for the best, laid back on the couch. Natasha leaned slightly against him, and Steve did a marvelous job chewing down his smile. The first ten minutes were going by very slowly, so Natasha decided to strike up conversation until the movie got more interesting.
"How are you doing, Rogers?" she asked before she bit her pizza slice.
"Fine," he answered easily.
"No, really," insisted Natasha. "I know you were really upset after you and Kate broke up."
"Oh… that. Actually, I've already kind of forgotten about it."
"What? Didn't you like her?"
"I did, but I didn't know her for very long. And you've done a really good job of distracting me since then."
"Me?" If it were anyone else, Natasha's tone would have been considered nervous.
"Yeah, you and Tony with that laser tag thing, and then hanging out with me and Clint a lot since then."
"Oh, I see."
Natasha cleared her throat and focused her green eyes on the computer screen, even though the movie wasn't getting much better. Steve watched her with intrigue for a minute or so, trying to see if she would say anything else. She ignored him.
"Have you ever been hurt in a relationship, Natasha?" he asked quietly.
"Haven't you heard that the Black Widow is the one who breaks hearts?"
"Yes, but I was just wondering… if that ever happened to you." Natasha didn't respond for a while, and Steve felt embarrassed for asking at all. "Never mind, you don't have to tell me."
Natasha closed her eyes and sighed.
"I know I'm going to regret this," she thought, before saying out loud, "I'll tell you."
Steve paused the movie and nodded for her to continue.
"His name was Alexi," Natasha said (2). "I met him when I was in high school, and he was a few years older than me. I loved him and I thought he loved me too, but in the end I realized that love just wasn't in the cards for me."
"What happened?" questioned Steve.
"He cheated on me," Natasha answered with a snarl. "I dumped that good-for-nothing so fast, he was hardly aware the break-up even happened. I didn't have the heart to tell Dad for a month, especially since he loved Alexi."
"What did he say when you told him?"
Natasha lowered her voice an octave when she responded in an imitation of Ivan, "'Oh, I knew I never liked that guy.'"
Steve and Natasha snorted in amusement.
"I'm sorry that happened to you," Steve said sincerely.
Natasha nodded. "Me too. At least I figured out early on that the kind of love I dreamed about as a kid didn't exist - not for me anyway."
Steve shook his head, looking like he was about to protest, but Natasha wasn't inclined to hear it.
"I don't want to talk about this anymore," she stated. "Play the movie again."
"Okay," Steve agreed readily, tapping the space key to resume playing the movie. "Nat?"
"Thanks for sharing that with me."
"Yeah, well, I figured you deserved to hear it, especially after I made you tell me about Peggy."
Steve's murmur and the indistinguishable sounds buzzing from his computer were the last things Natasha remembered hearing before she fell… (3)
"Oh sure, it's a big deal when I have someone sleep over without giving you a heads up, but it's totally okay when you do it."
This was Tony's greeting when Steve's eyes opened early the next morning, while Tony was trying to zip the zipper of an overly stuffed backpack. Tony had considered leaving without waking the two people sleeping on the couch, just to mess with them; however, he knew well that Steve needed his job at the coffee shop, and that his boss would be ticked if he were late. Therefore Tony's (very tiny) conscience won out in the end.
At first, Steve frowned in confusion at the curiously staring Tony, but he inhaled in surprise and understanding when he realized he felt a weight his chest. It was Natasha, freely snoozing precious minutes away and cuddling into his torso. He hadn't been cuddling any less, much to his embarrassment, as he realized his hand rested on her shoulder. Natasha mumbled indistinctly, and she readjusted herself in her sleep. Her hand slid down Steve's chest, causing a rash of goosebumps to rise all across his skin - which wasn't unpleasant, of course, but given the fact that his roommate was staring with an amused smirk, it wasn't a good thing.
"What do I do?" Steve whispered desperately.
"Sorry, you are on your own," grinned Tony, before he quietly went out the door.
Steve sighed. He supposed the only course of action was to try to escape Natasha's gentle grasp without waking her up.
When Natasha became aware of herself, she felt the shift of something warm underneath her. She didn't know what this something was, but she did know that she felt very comfortable and safe there, and that she didn't want to let it go. Natasha grumbled in protest and clutched the fabric underneath her hands to try to catch hold of whatever was trying to escape her. She heard a grunt of frustration, and since she knew it didn't come from her, she opened her eyes. When Natasha looked up, she found herself touching noses with Steve, whose eyes were wide with guilt and whose lips were sealed in a tight, nervous line. It didn't register right away that she was actually in such a compromising position with Steve, since it felt so unreal that she was confident it had to be a dream.
This notion, however, was broken when Steve stammered, "Um… hi."
Natasha gasped and scrambled off of the couch and off of Steve, before the feeling of his arms could be burned forever on her skin. Unfortunately, Steve was sometimes in the habit of wearing his father's dog tags instead of his usual Catholic cross; it was in this mass of dog tags that Natasha's own arrow necklace got tangled, and during the struggle it snapped off. Neither she nor Steve would notice this until it was too late. She fled with a hasty "See you at work, gotta go!" before Steve could squeeze in a word to remind her that she was still wearing his clothes. Steve banged his forehead with his hand once the door shut, wondering at how stupid he could be. Meanwhile, Natasha shivered slightly in the chilly morning air as she ran down the steps in front of Steve's apartment and dialed Clint's number.
"Yes?" Clint said groggily when he picked up.
"I'm at Steve's apartment," Natasha informed him hastily. "I need you to pick me up."
"Wha-?" Clint stopped and gasped. "Nat, you didn't - "
"No, I didn't," Natasha hissed. "It's complicated, just get over here!"
When Clint showed up, he cocked his eyebrows at what he easily recognized as Steve's shirt.
"Uh - "
"Not. One. Word."
Clint sighed and shook his head. "Fine. Hey, where's your necklace?"
Natasha's hand landed on her chest with a thud, and with horror she realized what must have happened.
"I must have left it at his apartment," she murmured.
"Ah well, that's okay. You can always get it back later…"
As Clint's car rolled away, Natasha looked back at the window to Steve's apartment and thought worriedly, "I'm not sure that I can." (4)
Steve, in his usual sweet way, later offered to buy Natasha a replacement necklace, but Natasha couldn't bring herself to accept. Unknowingly, unintentionally, and unalterably, he had taken something from her far more significant than a piece of metal on a chain, and it couldn't be bought back at a jeweler's. For so long Natasha had placed block after block between herself and him, but now she had begun to accept the truth - despite the fact that she still refused to voice it even to herself. For the sake of Steve - dear, stalwart, irritatingly moralistic Steve - she hoped that he would never know it. Clint knowing it, however, might have been unavoidable given the strange looks he had thrown her way ever since the incident. She could live with that, though. Clint was her unofficial brother, and she had always known him for pretty much staying off her back. Why would he start acting any differently now? Oh, if only he would have never given her that stupid necklace!
(1) The Harvard T-shirt is a nod to Chris Evans' Harvard Hottie character in The Nanny Diaries, even though Steve doesn't go to Harvard. :D
(2) Alexi Shostakov is Natasha's ex-husband in the comics, or so I've heard. I don't know too much about him, but I used his name for Natasha's ex-boyfriend in this fic.
(3) No, I did not forget to put the word "sleep" here. Can you reviewers guess why? :P
(4) I feel like Natasha means so many things by that, don't you?