A/N: Sort of a sequel to 'Cracked Edges'. This time inspired by the two scenes Marvel released the other day.
I don't own Marvel, or the Avengers.
"We should just live on a farm forever," Tony says suddenly.
"You'd hate it," both Bruce and Natasha reply.
Natasha will never admit it, but she can see the appeal. The simplicity of living off the land, isolated from the rest of the world. Your only responsibility is your crops, maybe your family. In theory it could work - they're all about as close of a family as any of them are going to have. Apart from Thor, and even he's in doubt about how much of his family is left.
But it's the worst kind of idealism, the kind that Natasha hates. That the world is going to just leave them alone if they try to settle down in a place like this. That Ultron's minions won't eventually find them, hiding out here like cowards while they reel from the Maximoff girl's attack. That any of them can use this place as a shield from what she showed them.
"Yeah, you're probably right," Tony remarks, flopping down on the moth-eaten sofa. "Even now I want french fries. Nobody has french fries when they live on a farm."
"Nah," says Clint, collapsing next to him. "But they do make their own potato chips. Except we kind of don't have potatoes."
"Guess we'll have to subsist off of canned soup." Natasha exchanges a glance with Tony. "So much for 'living off the land'."
"Don't underestimate what a blessing canned soup can be," says Steve, not looking up from the book he'd found in the attic upstairs. "At least we're not stuck with ramen."
Bruce makes a face. Clint pretends to gag.
"I like ramen," Tony says.
"Of course you do," Natasha mutters, rolling her eyes.
It's like an off-kilter, bad parody of their get-together at Stark Tower, only a week earlier. An outsider looking in wouldn't recognize them as the same group of people, even though they're still joking around and carrying casual conversation. There's an unshakable dread, like they're all groping blindly in the dark.
Natasha's never been afraid of the dark. This is the norm for her - it was last week's gathering that was the exception.
The windows of the house are open, so they can hear crickets chirping. There's a fire going because Clint had warned them all that the place was drafty, and could get cold even during warmer months. Natasha's sitting next to Bruce with her feet tucked under her. She's all but pinned next to him (the couch is tiny), but she doesn't mind.
Of all of them, he looks the least on edge. Maybe it's because he faces his inner demons every time the Hulk comes out, while the rest of them had theirs thrown in their face. He still won't speak about what Maximoff showed him, but Natasha's willing to bet it isn't something he hasn't dwelt on before.
Clint gets an ugly look on his face when he's silent for too long. Tony's hands shake more than usual. That could be attributed to his injuries, but Natasha doubts it. Steve is acting a little too much like her for her to be comfortable with his current frame of mind.
Natasha's… Natasha is. She punches Clint in the arm, teases Steve, has short but intense discussions with Bruce, and beats down Tony's ego. She tells herself it's nothing she hasn't had to live with before.
She has control. That's what matters.
They end up playing poker, because if they don't do something with themselves they'll all lose it. Her and Bruce end up sharing a hand because they keep sneaking glances at each other's cards (proximity is a disadvantage when it comes to card games). Naturally, they win.
"Not cool," says Tony accusingly. "You two are not allowed to team up. Not ever."
"We're kind of… on the same team," replies Bruce.
"Uh-huh." Tony leans back, his stare suddenly unnerving. "So you two cuddling earlier was a team building exercise?"
"Yes," Natasha deadpans. Tony is absolutely the last person she is having this discussion with. Clint and Steve wisely say nothing. Bruce just gives a little shrug next to her, which is a way of telling Tony to mind his own business. She gives his shoulder a friendly bump in return.
(Had there been a maybe at the tower last week? She still isn't sure. Either way it's all shot to hell now.)
"I'll take first watch tonight," Clint announces. When Steve perks up, he shakes his head. "Nuh-uh. You haven't slept in at least two days."
Steve looks mildly offended, but doesn't protest.
Natasha catches Clint's eye as he leaves, and receives a small nod in return. It's bad, but not on the scale of post-Loki. He'll be fine.
Tony is forced to go to bed by a stern Steve, who wordlessly points at the large bruise on Tony's temple as the reason. The super-soldier himself follows after that, and inwardly Natasha's glad.
She's aware that she needs to talk to Steve, at some point. They came too far together at S.H.I.E.L.D. to just go back to being strangers, but for now he's been so far in his own mind that she's left him alone. Besides, she does want to talk to Bruce.
He seems to sense that, because he waits for her to speak first.
"It's like an itch I can't scratch." She shifts slightly. "I know that something's there, under the surface, and sometimes it comes out when I don't want it to. Maximoff was a bit of an unfortunate reminder. You know how you can tell if a good liar, Bruce? You start to believe the lies you tell yourself."
She remembers dancing, and then she remembers Bruce's voice, coming to her as though through water. She remembers cradling his face in her hands, and how it had taken every ounce of her self-control not to break his neck. She remembers the echoes of her handlers distorting his voice. She remembers feeling nothing.
Natasha finds it ironic that the first emotion to return to her had been anger.
"So," Bruce says. "A farm?"
"Must be nice."
"You'd hate it too," he remarks. "You'd be bored."
"Probably," she acknowledges. "Getting my hands dirty literally instead of figuratively. Where's the fun in that?"
Even without looking at him, she can tell that he's watching her with not-quite-sympathy in his gaze. It's the sort of life he had in Kolkata, where he lived his life by helping other people, no matter how much he insists (these days) that he's not that kind of doctor. A quick glance at his eyes confirms her suspicion.
They might be similar, but they have different skill sets. His might suit that kind of life, but hers? There's only one life that puts her skills to use. Currently, said life seems to mostly involve running.
It gets tiring, after a while.
Natasha's mind starts to backpedal a bit, at that. She can't handle delving too deep right now.
"Just admit it," she teases. "You like your shiny Stark Tower lab."
"Probably," he replies, echoing her. There's a glint in his eye that says that her deflection is not lost on him, but he doesn't press her.
Natasha finds herself thinking of that maybe, again.
The fire eventually lulls them both to sleep.