This fic despite its cracky subject turned out surprisingly serious and fluffy. The whole nightshirt thing came up in my fic In the Company of Friends. It was just a random silly thing my brain came up with. My brain also fortunately provided the story behind it and this is me finally getting that story down.
Title: Friendship Magic
Characters: Clint and Natasha with cameos from various Avengers and Coulson
Genre: Friendship, Fluff, Humour
Word Count: 2148
Summary: The tale of Clint Barton, Natasha Romanov, and the My Little Pony nightshirt.
It starts off as a solution to a problem.
The problem is this: what do you get Black Widow, spy, assassin, seductress, gymnast extraordinaire, lady of mystery, for her birthday?
Clint Barton first contemplates this while wandering around a colourful street market in Beijing. It’s a year since he was first partnered with Natasha, a year since he made the decision to bring her into the fold rather than kill her, a year since Nick Fury looked at him with that one eye of his and told him she was his responsibility now.
A long, hard year.
He doesn’t really need to get Natasha a birthday present. It’s not expected of him, but he wants to.
Of course, the present buying proves to be a lot harder than he thought it would be and he starts to wish he were on a mission stealing secret plans from under the noses of a hundred terrorists armed with heat seeking missiles instead. That would have been easier.
The real problem is this: while he’s come to know her over the past year, he doesn’t know her. He knows Black Widow but Natasha Romanov for the most part remains a mystery.
He knows how fast she can run, how high she can jump. He knows how long it takes her to get through a locked door, undo handcuffs, hack into a secure system, take down ten armed men. He knows which weapons she knows how to use and which she likes best, knows she prefers fighting in close quarters and hand to hand if possible. They’ve been working together so much that all it takes is a twist of her head and a flick of her eye for him to know exactly what she is trying to say.
But he doesn’t know her favourite colour. (Black doesn’t count.) He doesn’t know what food she likes best or what music or what flower or if she even likes flowers. She often spends missions wearing the fanciest clothes and the most expensive jewellery, attending the finest parties as she seduces secrets out of the rich and powerful, but for all he knows, she might prefer wearing sweatpants and slouching on a couch with a beer watching football.
Natasha doesn’t let much of her true self slip past the mask she wears and she keeps her secrets closer than anyone else in SHIELD, except maybe Fury. It’s only by chance that he learned about her birthday and even then she may have been lying.
He wanders around the market for hours. He wanders past booths filled with trays of traditional foods, past booths with cheap tourist knickknacks and bootleg knockoffs. He wanders until his eyes hurt and his brain feels like it’s starting to melt, and after all that time the only present he can think of getting her is a skewer covered in deep fried scorpions.
And then an idea hits him, an idea so perfect he can’t believe he didn’t think of it before, an idea that only someone with his bizarre sense of humour could have come up with.
The solution is simple: if he can’t find an appropriate gift for Natasha, then the only answer is to get the most inappropriate thing he can find.
A grin spreads across his face as he renews his search.
It’s only his years of experience as a sniper that keep him calm and steady instead of bouncing with anticipation as he gives her the gift. He offhandedly passes it across the small kitchen table of the apartment they’ve been sharing while on their latest mission and says “Happy birthday” as if it were something he did every day; then he leans back, takes a sip of his morning coffee, and waits for her reaction.
For a brief moment, Natasha’s eyes actually widen with surprise before her face returns to its normal neutral expression. She opens the bag carefully (he hasn’t bothered with wrapping paper deciding they are both above such gimmicks) as if expecting a bomb or a poisonous snake, and pulls out the shirt.
Clint found the nightshirt among a collection of similarly silk-screened nightwear all decorated with various cartoon characters. The one he chose is mainly purple and pink, made of cotton, and long enough to hang down to mid-thigh. On the front there are three smiling ponies, blue, purple, and pink. Two have wings. One has a horn. Scattered among them are various hearts, stars, and rainbows.
In short, it is cute. It is girly. It is exactly the sort of thing Black Widow would never ever wear.
He’s not exactly sure what to expect. He doesn’t know whether she’ll be confused or annoyed, laugh or use the shirt to strangle him, and he doesn’t care. All he wants is to see the look on her face when she realizes what he got her.
What he gets is nothing, no reaction at all. Her expression remains completely blank as she looks over the nightshirt.
“You shouldn’t have,” she says without an ounce of insincerity or sarcasm.
Getting up, she kisses him lightly on the cheek and says thank you before leaving the room with her gift.
Clint is left with the strange feeling he has just missed something.
A few months later they are in Cape Town on another mission sharing another apartment. Clint has almost forgotten about the nightshirt.
And then on the morning of the second day, while he is watching their mark through the window waiting for Natasha to wake up and take her turn, she enters clad in nothing but the pink and purple nightshirt.
Frozen, he stares as she walks into the room. She still holds the same shadows of ancient mystery in her eyes, still moves with the same powerful grace he knows could take down a fully-armed soldier in less than five seconds, but she is wearing a My Little Pony nightshirt and the ponies are smiling at him.
He blinks twice to make sure he isn’t hallucinating.
The ponies are still smiling, bright and shiny, rainbows, hearts, and all.
Her right eyebrow rises slightly and he knows she’s caught him staring. Taking a breath, he starts to say something. (He has no idea what. The whole world seems to have tilted sideways and his mouth is barely responding.) But then he is hit by a flash of insight. That is exactly what she wants. She’s planned this. She’s waiting to see his reaction just like he had.
And the old prankster in him has no intention of letting her win.
“Good morning,” he says nonchalantly before returning his gaze to the window.
“Morning,” she replies and goes to pour herself a cup of coffee.
Neither of them mentions the nightshirt that day or any of the following days of the mission even though every morning Natasha pads into the kitchen in her bare feet with the ponies on her shirt smiling.
The nightshirt comes with them on several other missions after that appearing randomly.
(Sometimes it doesn’t come. Some missions you don’t bring what you can’t stand to leave behind. Some missions you only travel with your weapons and the clothes you have on your backs.)
Another year passes. Clint learns more about Natasha. He learns that she prefers tulips rather than roses. He learns she loves to read long old fashioned novels. He learns she has a weakness for Turkish delight and a fondness for classic Russian ballet though watching it makes her sad. He learns that she enjoys the simple things and calm quiet moments like holding a warm cup of tea in her hands as she watches the rain fall outside.
One day she is wearing the nightshirt when Coulson comes by. They are in another shared apartment, this time in Rio, having just finished their latest assignment. They are seated at the kitchen table eating breakfast when the agent appears unannounced top secret documents in his hands ready to give them the information needed for their next mission.
It takes him a moment to notice and when he does it stops him in midsentence.
“Fury wanted me to ensure that you both have…”
His eyes widen and his jaw actually drops.
Seeing their normally unflappable controller so taken aback, Clint is forced to hide his smile in a spoonful of cereal as he fights back the urge to laugh.
“Are those…?” Coulson begins.
“Yes,” Natasha replies with a calmness Clint envies.
“Ponies?” he finishes.
“Yes,” she says again.
“My Little Pony ponies?” he asks
“Yes,” she says a third time.
“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic ponies?” His voice is starting to sound strained.
“Their names are Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, and Pinkie Pie.” She points to each pony in turn.
Clint almost chokes on his cereal at this point. He has no idea when or where she learned the names.
“Uh huh,” Coulson says. He opens and closes his mouth several times; then seems to recover his sanity. “Well, Fury said you need…”
He continues to explain the mission but every so often Clint catches his eyes straying back to the shirt.
After he leaves, Clint and Natasha share a smile.
“Do you think Fury knows?” Clint asks.
“Fury knows everything,” she replies.
Clint grins wondering what Nick Fury thinks about one of the world’s top assassins wearing a My Little Pony nightshirt.
Several years later when they move into Avengers Tower, formerly Stark Tower, the nightshirt starts to come out more often. They have a home base now, somewhere safe. They grow comfortable there.
Their housemates’ reactions to the nightshirt vary.
Stark’s eyes threaten to pop out of his head as he points at the shirt.
“Those are…” he tries to say.
Natasha glares at him.
“You’re wearing…” he tries again with a grin.
She continues to glare
“Well, I must admit they do make you look…” he tries a third time as his grin becomes a leer.
Natasha’s glare would have made the Hulk think twice.
Tony wisely closes his mouth and quickly hurries away.
Steve becomes tongue-tied when he sees her and gives the shirt the same confused stare he gives all modern things he can’t quite understand.
“Um,” he says blushing slightly when he realizes she’s noticed him staring. “Nice, ah, dress?”
Clint pats him sympathetically on the shoulder. “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.”
Frowning, Steve nods and goes back to his morning newspaper.
Bruce actually drops the mug he’s holding. It shatters on the floor spilling tea everywhere as he gapes at her; then suddenly, he laughs.
“You’re doing that on purpose, aren’t you?” he says with a grin.
Natasha smiles back, kisses him on the cheek, and makes him a new cup of tea.
Of all of them only Thor and Pepper show no reaction.
For Thor it’s understandable. He’s from another world. Everything he sees is equally strange to him.
And Pepper has been around Tony Stark too long to be surprised by such things.
Clint and Natasha keep doing missions for SHIELD even after moving into the tower. Sometimes they do them together. Sometimes they do them alone.
At one point Natasha goes on a deep undercover mission for six weeks. When she gets back, she has a badly sprained wrist, four broken ribs, multiple contusions and lacerations, and the beginnings of a bad case of pneumonia.
Clint takes one look at her curled up under the white hospital sheet and knows the mission didn’t go well.
“Hey,” he says sitting down beside her.
“Hey,” she replies staring vacantly into the distance.
“I brought you something.”
Her eyes flicker to a table at the side of the room where an assortment of gifts have collected: tulips from Steve, Turkish delight from Thor, tea from Bruce, a Starkpad filled with dozens of old novels and hours of ballet from Tony.
“Yeah, well, I’ve got something better,” Clint says.
He pulls the nightshirt out from his bag and hands it to her.
By now the cotton has become worn and the colours have faded from their bright shades into soft pastels.
Her fingers curl tightly around the fabric as she takes it from him.
Clint knows her better now, but more importantly he knows what it’s like to live this life, what it does to you, how deep down you have to bury yourself in order to stay sane. He more than anyone knows how easy it is for bits of you to slip away if you don’t have something to hang on to.
“You know you never did tell me why you kept wearing it after that first time,” he says. “A bit far to go for a joke, don’t you think?”
She just clutches the shirt tighter and smiles.
“It reminds me of you,” she says