"Hawaii," Sam says for what must be the hundredth time since they landed. "Of course you have a safe house in freaking Hawaii."
Natasha simply beams at them, trying not to laugh at Scott's open-mouthed wonder as he looks around.
"When you said you were going to switch it up from the cold, you weren't kidding," Steve grins, hefting a rather large suitcase up out of the van's trunk like it weighs ten pounds instead of nearly a hundred. He is dressed in a blue Hawaiian shirt at her insistence, a pair of shades on beneath a straw hat, and he's a camera and sunburn short of looking like the stereotype tourist.
Wanda ducks past Steve to snatch up her own bag, practically bouncing in place as the rest of them mull about, unloading the car. She's in a white sundress, a pair of Clint's sunglasses worn like a headband to keep her hair back, and has somehow obtained a flower lei somewhere between disembarking the private jet and their arrival at the house.
Natasha isn't going to explicitly accuse Wanda of using mind control to get it, but she has her suspicions. Mainly because no one had given her a lei.
Natasha grabs her bag from the passenger seat and makes a final sweep of the van before closing the door. They had needed to rent a vehicle to get to her safehouse from the little private landing strip they'd touched down on, and Scott had somehow managed to swing an elderly discount on a green minivan for the next two weeks by using Steve's license.
None of them plan to let that drop anytime soon.
The house is set a ways back in the woods, so they have a little walk to get there, but the others are looking around with such wonder that Natasha rather doubts they mind. It's on a rather unpopulated corner of the island, shielded from curious eyes by the forest, and only a ten minute drive from the nearest store. The perfect little hideout in paradise.
"This way," she calls, closing the trunk and nodding to Clint to lock the van. She turns to lead the way with a little smile as Clint fumbles for the keys, Bucky and Steve falling into step on either side of her.
"How did you manage to get us that jet?" Wanda asks in wonder, and the assassin shoots a grin back over her shoulder.
"Let's just say that I have a few pictures that a rather wealthy CEO will pay just about anything to keep off the internet."
"Holy shit, Nat," Clint laughs, jogging to catch up.
She flashes him a troublemaking smile before turning her attention to Steve and Bucky. The Winter Soldier is trying to carry both a shoulder bag and a large suitcase one-armed, and she debates asking if he would like a hand, but decides that that joke is better left for someone like Clint or Scott and simply snatches the shoulder bag from him before he can protest.
Bucky sticks his tongue out at her at the same time that Steve gives her a grateful smile, and she takes a second to glance over the baggage load that the other super soldier is carrying. Steve's got a bag under his left arm, another in his left hand, and his right arm is lifted up as he holds the biggest, heaviest suitcase out of the lot of them - the one with all of their gear.
However, he's carrying it like it weighs nothing.
"You could at least pretend that you're having trouble lifting that, like a normal human being," Natasha teases Steve, and the super soldier immediately adopts a mask of strain as he tenses the muscles in his arm enough to fully flex his rather impressive bicep.
Natasha's appreciative raised eyebrow is matched by Wanda's.
Bucky snorts, muttering "showoff," as Sam rolls his eyes and Clint smirks.
Scott just about has to pick his jaw off the ground.
The path through the woods takes them right to the front door of the little house, a small dark blue building that isn't that much to look at from the outside. Natasha is the first to climb up the front steps, pausing on the third step up to hook her finger through a knot in the wood and lift up the false board, blowing away a cobweb and some leaf debris before grabbing the key to the front door. She lets the board fall back into place and ascends the remaining stairs as heavy footsteps echo up the wood behind her, shifting the bags in her holds as she fits the key into the deadbolt.
Natasha bites back a grin and waits for a long second to build anticipation before she twists the key in the lock and opens the front door, stepping in and moving to one side so that everyone else can follow.
It is - in a word - airy.
The walls are white with pastel blue accents on all of the trim, the matte, wood-patterned tile floors offsetting the high ceilings and large windows to give it a rustic, homey look that still feels clean and calming. Gauzy white curtains are draped over every sill and across the sliding glass door that leads onto the back porch. There is a little living room just inside on the right, with a flat screen television on the wall and a display-box coffee table full of sand and shells and preserved starfish. The furniture is arranged around the edges of the room to give the little house a more open feel, the cushions slightly worn but still looking new. A little stairway is tucked along the back wall of the living room, leading to the second story where Natasha knows there are three bedrooms, each with a glass sliding door that leads to a little balcony.
To the left there is a small kitchen, the dining area slipped between it and the living room. The table just barely seats five, thanks to a two-person bench that has replaced a chair along one side. A glass jar filled with frosted blue beach glass sits in the center of the table. The kitchen is separated by a bar counter, three little stools lined up along it, and a few bottles of liquor are sitting unopened on a little shelf within reach.
The back yard consists of a sand bar and sparse shrubbery, with the island's dark lava rock poking through in patches. A seagull is preening its feathers on the corner post of the little boardwalk that leads from their back porch to the shore, waves crashing barely a dozen yards from the house.
A soft gasp from behind her lets Natasha know that the others have stepped inside as well, and she turns around with a grin to see the stunned looks on their faces.
"We may need to air it out a bit," she shrugs, "but here's my little island getaway."
"So is this where you come to hide out whenever you piss Fury off?" Clint asks, slipping past her to peer out of the back windows at the ocean.
"Something like that," she hums, stepping to one side as Steve works his two large suitcases through the doorway. She deftly hooks a foot through the strap on Wanda's deserted bag before the super soldier can trip over it, and tugs it off to the side, looking around for the little witch. She finds her climbing the stairs with a beautiful mix of wonder and curiosity on her face, wide eyes taking everything in.
"Wanda, you forgot your bag," she laughs.
The girl's call of "I'll come get it in a minute" is almost drowned out by the excited chatter from Scott and Sam as they rush to the sliding door, jostling each other for the best view.
A low whistle draws her attention back to the door as Bucky steps inside, looking around in wonder.
"Damn, you've got a nice place."
And Natasha beams because yes, she absolutely does.
"Sofa's mine!" Sam calls, dropping his bags in a corner of the living room.
"You're volunteering for the sofa?" Steve asks, and Sam turns to him with a lopsided grin.
"Man, you even looking at that view? Hell yeah I'm taking sofa. Wake up to the ocean every morning."
"Guess I'm rooming with Bug Boy," Clint says, leaning to grab Wanda's bag as he makes his way across the living room.
"What? No way! He snores! I want to bunk with Steve!" Scott protests.
"You think Steve doesn't snore?" Clint mutters as he passes her, and Natasha can't help her smile.
"Oh come on, the rest of you have gotten a chance to bunk with him!"
"Not all of us. What if I want to room with Rogers this time?" Natasha teases, and Scott turns to her with a very serious expression.
"I will fight you."
"You will lose," she corrects him.
"Probably. But I will still try."
"Scott can bunk with me if he wants to," Steve says, and Natasha bites back a laugh as Scott pumps a fist in the air with a whoop.
Clint vanishes upstairs after Wanda, shaking his head the whole way, and she watches Steve tuck their gear into a corner before doubling back for his own bag.
Once everyone is inside Natasha closes over the front door, wiping the back of a hand across her forehead as she feels a sheen of sweat starting to form. The cooling system had been shut down while she was away to keep anything from freezing up or overheating, and would need to be turned back on soon to give the place time to cool down before the real afternoon heat struck.
"Scott, you think you could get the AC running?" she calls, crossing the room to poke at the thermostat.
"Have a screwdriver?" he replies like it's rhetorical, grinning, and follows her when she leads the way to the storage closet to dig out a little toolbox. "Give me ten minutes."
"Hey, Nat, where are the spare pillows?" Clint's voice calls from upstairs, and she shouts "linen closet" back before snatching up her suitcase and heading upstairs.
Wanda has already chosen their room, her sunglasses (actually Clint's sunglasses, not that he's ever getting them back) hooked over the door handle, and Natasha steps into the bedroom to look for her. The girl is out on the little balcony that overlooks the ocean, the breeze tugging her dark hair out like a banner behind her. Natasha leaves her bags beside the bed and slides open the door, stepping out into the fresh air.
"It's so pretty..." Wanda breathes. "I've never been anywhere like this before."
"It's a hell of a sight at sunset," she smiles, leaning on the railing beside the little witch. "Sometimes you can even see the fireworks they light at the hotel, way down the coast there."
Wanda stands on her tiptoes to look, and Natasha chuckles.
"It's behind the tree line, you can't see the building."
There is silence for a moment, save for the rustle of the breeze through the trees and the hiss of the ocean against the shore. A little hint of cloying sweetness drifts through the air around them from the blooming flowers nearby.
"What do people come here to do?" Wanda asks at length.
"Mostly sight-see. Sometimes shop, or visit cultural centers. Lounge about on the beach, go snorkeling, surf...and I need to take you all to a luau," she muses."They're a blast."
"Hey Natasha, check the AC!" Scott's voice calls up to her from the back deck, and she glances down to find him fanning himself with a giant, wilted Colocasia leaf that he's picked out of the garden as he looks up at them expectantly. She ducks back inside, crossing to the little thermostat box in the hallway, and switches it to "on" before stepping under the nearest vent.
Air conditioning hits her in a cool, dry, dusty wave, and Natasha can't help her grin.
"You're brilliant, Scott!" she calls.
"Hey Nat, how long till this really kicks in?" Clint asks, standing beneath the vent in his and Bucky's room with his shirt collar pulled away from his neck to let the cool air beneath it.
"Probably a couple hours. I'd suggest we throw something together for lunch and then hang out on the beach for a while to give it a chance to knock the house down to a reasonable temperature before we unpack."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Bucky mutters, slipping past them with his suitcase in hand. "Dibs on top bunk."
"You son of a bitch, I already called top bunk."
"But I'm missing an arm."
"Which is why you should be on ground level," Clint growls.
"I don't need two arms to climb."
"I'd like to see you freaking try..."
"Natasha! There's a dolphin!" Wanda cries suddenly before the boys can really get into it, and Natasha steps quickly out of the doorway as Clint and Bucky both race to see, trying not to laugh at them.
Oh, yes. This is going to be fun.
Clink. Clink. Clink.
Natasha drops three ice cubes into her glass, reaching for the bottle of vodka as she uses the other hand to hold her phone, slowly scrolling down the page of tropical cocktails, reading the mixing instructions.
She pours a couple shots worth of vodka into the glass, eyeballs another two shots of Curacao liqueur, and then fills it the rest of the way with the extra lemonade from lunch, dropping a maraschino cherry on top of the mix because she's in Hawaii and why the hell not.
The beach house is quiet save for the rushing hiss of the waves and the occasional seagull, everyone having gone back outside now that the heat of the day is starting to ebb. Glass in hand, Natasha paces over to the living room. The windows and the sliding glass door leading to the porch have all been left open, a stiff breeze cleaning out the last lingering traces of mustiness from the little building as well as giving the AC system a break, and she stands for a moment with her eyes closed in content, breathing in the salt air.
"You are terrible at this," Wanda's lilting accent comes from the balcony in a laugh, and Natasha makes her way to the open door where the thin white curtains are billowing in the evening breeze.
"Shut up," Clint growls in reply, a smile in his voice. "You moved your head."
Natasha brushes the curtains aside to find the pair sitting cross-legged on the old wooden boardwalk, Clint awkwardly trying to separate a handful of Wanda's hair into sections. There are a few messy braids tangled in the flow of her dark tresses, the ends slowly unwinding, and Natasha bites back a smile.
"Okay, walk me through this again. So once I've got the three, then what?"
"Outside to middle. One side, then the other," the girl instructs calmly, eyes closed and hands resting palm-up on her knees as if meditating. Clint squints down at the hair he holds with a skepticism usually reserved for tacky gift store knick-knacks.
"Okay but one's already in the middle. How do I know which side to start on?"
"Clint, just pick one..." Wanda laughs as the archer blows out a breath and begins to awkwardly weave a braid into her hair.
Natasha lets him get a few inches down before calling "it's crooked," and biting back a snicker as the pair of them startle.
"Natasha, help him," Wanda pleads with a grin. "I am already volunteering my poor hair to the cause."
"Your hair is fine," Clint mutters, trying to keep the scattering strands separated into even thirds and slowly failing.
"Now I see why Lila won't let you do her braids," Natasha teases, stepping outside and tracing her fingers over Clint's scalp gently. He hums out an appreciative noise, his brow furrowing in concentration as his tongue peeks out of the corner of his mouth.
She allows him to struggle for another moment, then hands her drink to Wanda with a sigh.
The girl apparently translates that as "help yourself" and Natasha gives Wanda a mock glare as she steals a sip with a devious little smile. Clint holds out the attempted braid to her, and Natasha quickly teases the tangled weave loose.
She combs her fingers through the selection of hair to straighten it, then separates it into three parts before handing them carefully to Clint.
"Keep these two in your hands, pinch this one between your fingers. Twist your wrist to weave it, and don't let any of them hang loose if you can help it," she instructs, her hands over top of his, leading him through the motions. Outside to inside. Outside to inside. Outside to inside.
Clint's fingers slip, letting one section fall, and she gathers the hair back up for him.
Ice clinks as Wanda takes another sip of her drink.
She repeats the motions with his hands until he seems to have it down, then slowly draws away, watching him weave it to the bottom. She can tell exactly where she let go, the pattern twisting a bit where the tension is thrown off, but it's a braid.
Clint has a smug look of self-satisfaction on his face, and Natasha mimes applause as he reaches the bottom, letting the braid fall back among soft, dark locks.
"One more," Clint murmurs, tilting Wanda's head as he looks for an untouched chunk of hair. "One more, then I'll have it."
"The cherry is mine, kid," Natasha threatens as she sees Wanda lift the glass again. Wanda just smiles at her sweetly and takes another drink.
Natasha separates the hair into thirds for Clint when he finally finds a loose handful, and hands him the sections before stepping back. The archer falters slightly, his fingers wanting to be everywhere at once, but he manages to get the first few motions right and from there it's smooth sailing.
She steals her drink back from Wanda, muttering about half-empty glasses and entitled little witches with a smile. Wanda shrugs unrepentantly and licks her lips.
The assassin glances down the boardwalk as she sips her drink, to where Sam is nonchalantly trying to drown Scott in the surf as the thief threatens to use a shrinking disk on his unmentionables and Steve scolds the pair of them in exasperation from the shore. At least, until Bucky charges up behind the Captain, catches him around the waist, and with a mighty heave sends them both tumbling into the waves.
She shakes her head with a snort, turning back to Clint as the shouts from the boys drift up to them. The archer has nearly completed the braid, this one looking rather like it's supposed to, and she pats him on the shoulder.
"I think you got it this time."
Clint grunts out a reply as Natasha kicks back the last bit of her drink, catching the cherry between her teeth. She pops it in her mouth and rolls it around her tongue for a moment, glancing again to where most of her boys are splashing in the tide like children, hollering and laughing.
In two bites the cherry is gone.
With a little smirk, Natasha hands her empty glass back to Wanda and strips off her sun-dress. Beneath is a simple black bikini, her scars be damned, and she tosses her head to fix her hair as Clint shoots her a raised eyebrow.
"Knew there was a reason I put this on earlier," she grins, handing Wanda her dress and cell phone for safekeeping as Clint curses, his attention drawn back to the unraveling braid in his hands.
Natasha takes only another second to kick off her shoes before she's heading down the boardwalk at a dead run, eyes fixed on Sam as he staggers up toward the shore. He has only a second to react and catch her as she leaps into his hold, wrapping an arm around his neck and throwing her body weight to the side, sending them both tumbling back into the warm water.
When they surface Sam is gasping in surprise, the other three men laughing and clapping and whistling, and Natasha sketches a bow like she's just performed some trapeze feat, pushing wet hair back out of her face. Sam attempts to catch her ankle, to pull her under the next wave that rushes toward them, but she dodges back in the nick of time and he gets a faceful of surf.
Natasha turns to find herself face to face with Steve, an odd, fond expression on his face, and crosses her arms expectantly as she looks up at him.
"I thought it was 'bye-bye bikinis' for you," Steve murmurs teasingly, gently flicking the pale scar tissue near her hip, his eyes soft with affection. "I told you that you'd still look good in them."
"Figured I'd make Bucky kiss it better," she quips in return, warmth threading up through her chest as a smile threatens to escape her control.
"If that's what you'd like," a voice says from over her shoulder, and Natasha glances back as the Winter Soldier wades over, a grin playing at his lips.
And of course, she's got to call that bluff immediately.
"Yes, actually," she shrugs as she turns to face him, bracing her hands on her lower back and canting her hips expectantly, even though she anticipates him backing out.
Bucky calls her bluff, however, stepping close and meeting her eyes for a long second before he drops his gaze to the scar from the bullet he put through her side years ago.
The super soldier leans down, expression nearly reverent, and for a moment Natasha thinks he's actually going to do it. But at the last second he winds his arm around her waist to hold her still and blows a raspberry against her stomach like she's a toddler, and it's so fucking absurd that she can't help but burst out laughing, squirming to get away as Bucky tries to give her another.
Steve can't seem to hold back his laugh either, which means as soon as Natasha frees herself from Bucky's hold - dunking the man beneath an approaching wave in revenge - she has to tackle Steve into the water as well to save her dignity.
The three of them come up gasping and laughing, and for just a moment, she thinks about how weird it is that the American poster-boy for good is playing in the surf with HYDRA's greatest weapon and Russia's greatest spy. Or that an ex-Air Force member and one of his country's best thieves are laughing and chatting like old friends barely ten feet away as they dodge the splashing. Or even that an orphaned boy from the circus and an orphaned girl from a lab have found friendship and family in one another, half a globe and nearly two decades apart, sitting up on the boardwalk watching the rest of them with tender smiles as Clint finally gets a proper braid into Wanda's hair all on his own.
It's weird...but it's perfect. It fits, and it feels right.
Steve and Bucky take off into the deeper water, stumbling through the waves in as close an approximation to a run as they can manage, until Steve trips and face-plants, and Bucky whoops that he's still the champion. Sam demands to be given a chance to overthrow him, Scott demanding a go at it as well, and Wanda calls for them to wait for her as the girl tugs off her own sundress to reveal a red swim suit. Without her having to ask, Clint already has Natasha's cell phone out, recording, and she wades back to shore with a grin that she can't seem to shake or suppress as the others line up to race.
I love you guys, Natasha thinks as she looks around at her teammates, her family.
And for once, she truly means it.