Welcome to the small acts verse
Written by workerbee73 and bob5fic with an epilogue from sugar_fey. You can find the Master List for the series HERE.
‘Words are weapons like anything else,’ Clint points out in softly she carries me and in bait it’s said that ‘they never talk about it’, what they do with each other. In the small acts verse it’s not about what’s said but the actions that people take. In between shadow and soul Clint and Natasha communicate with notes, not the spoken word, and when Clint writes that he has a message for her he ‘writes the rest with fingertips on her skin’. It is not the words that are important, but the acts and the marks left behind, both visible and otherwise.
The rope, Natasha, and trust
Natasha is tied up at the start in someone else’s song, but whilst she’s bleeding out she’s not yet unconscious and Clint still treats her as being dangerous. I have to ask, how did he manage then to tie her up? Because he’s on his own. We know he brings her in against orders. He wouldn’t have been able to keep a weapon trained on her and tie her up at the same time, unless she helped him or he knocked her out, and this is Natasha, who is damn good at what she does. We know that she can overpower him because she does so later to rid him of Loki, unless she’s unable to do that yet, but still. I have to wonder if she let him tie up.
In my earliest comment, on bait, I said that it was like one of them needed to be tied to be still, for them to catch up to each other and to end the dance of advance and retreat. I said that at the end Natasha seems to be the one that stops, is tied down, even though she’s the one that starts off in bait thinking of dangers. There’s almost an ongoing refrain of her wanting to see how far Clint will go and what he will do next, that she wants to stop so that she can see that. That’s interesting in the light of the rest of the series, especially if I think that Natasha let Clint tie her up right from the beginning.
In softly she carries me Clint thinks that she’s doing this mission because she’s ‘eager to prove that they’re right to trust her’ and trust is a theme for Natasha. In switch Clint asks her ‘do you trust me?’ There is always an ask and an answer in this series, always consent, always Natasha agreeing. In our dark evergreen towards the end of the series he asks her if she will let her hair grow, even though he knows that she has cut it for him. Also we get the line her answer is always the same, always ‘yes’. There’s a taste of danger here, because Natasha should be able to say ‘no’, but it always walks the line, because Clint does ask and Natasha choses yes.
Bee told me that the series is not strictly D/S and I believe it isn’t, but there is an emphasis on trust and Natasha seeming to need a physicality that brings BDSM to mind. There’s a line in switch: She feels the knot of arousal come loose inside of herself and unravel into nothing. That without the edge of pain, without someone else 'tainted' that sex is just, almost, a chore for her. There are other instances of Natasha needing some form of physical grounding as well. Not that Clint doesn’t need grounding, but he appears to require it in a less physical manner. In it’s a long way down there’s a dance of domesticity, with Natasha bringing Clint food, but she has to leave, because it seems that whilst it’s okay by this point for her to be gentle with him, she can’t yet stand him being gentle with her. Tied in with how she refers to herself as a monster and doesn’t believe she deserves someone like Clint. She goes back though, which is a huge thing, and then they do a domestic dance that is more them, that turns (playfully) violent. There she is stroking his fingers ‘softly’ but she needs him to add pressure, to be firmer, and thinking back to bait I think this is another case of Natasha agreeing to be the one that stops, that stays, but needing to be held, tied, to it.
Then at the end, in lost inside this forest, we come full circle. Clint does not need to tie Natasha own to end the advance and retreat, because she volunteers to stop, raising her wrists herself, maybe not to be tied, but they are in a position to be. Agreement and stopping and we don’t actually see a rope, so it’s agreement and stopping without it, without the prop. Once he caught her and tied her down. Once she offered him a rope for him to tie her down in a different way. Now she offers him her bare wrists.
I think perhaps BDSM seems to be a thing because of the emphasis on trust and Natasha needing physicality, but also because it appears to be a way that Natasha can frame her thoughts and emotions (in the early days). I said to Bee that in the earlier fics hers recalled BDSM and Bob’s recalled relgion, but I think that might be because Natasha’s viewpoint early on recalls BDSM and Clint’s recalls religion, then as the series progresses relgion and ritual becomes more of a thing that they have in common.
Religion, Clint, and rituals
There are religious references, themes, and tones throughout the series, but the two that most obviously contain them are your killing floor and my skin is not my own.
your killing floor flat out has Clint thinking of Natasha ‘you are a religion to me’. In this series it seems that Clint falls in love with Natasha in a way of devotion and worship, whilst she negotiates their encounters in a BSDM sort of mindset, and as the series progresses Clint becomes not less obsessive as such but reaches a middle ground, worshipping what is between them, where Natasha, after reclaiming herself, comes to find him.
your killing floor has Natasha with a ‘monster within’ and Clint taking it from her, with her permission, her blessing, reminiscent of the serpent that eats it’s own tail and the Hindu religion, with the cycle of destruction followed by creation once more and destruction not considered bad as such. ‘Carried you under my skin’ and the blood is like ‘consumption’ in Christian religions, the whole ‘body and blood’ and literally partaking. There’s also the idea of gods bringing both pleasure and pain, that those elements are not separate, and Clint says ‘do I frighten you’ which raises the thought that yes, both gods and those devoted to them with a level of fixation can be frightening indeed. And Clint is devoted, single minded, in this. Natasha is his everything and ‘the only thing he knows how to do’, almost his reason for being, and let me take a moment to point to Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods here and the idea that what brings gods into being is belief. In this case, Natasha’s belief and trust in Clint, laying herself out like an offering. This recalls one of the first comments I made on the series, in bait, where I questioned who was dangerous or where the danger lies in this series – in one of them, both of them, the space between them? Perhaps in their acts.
my skin is not my own introduces a specific ritual of Clint ‘bringing Natasha back to herself’ by washing and he says that their usual can’t happen here, ‘it can’t work like that’, as if this time and space is sacrosanct. Natasha thinks that ‘sometimes the blood is the only thing can wash it off’, it being the other roles, her other selves, and it’s interesting in light of this that in someone else’s song, right at the very beginning, we have Natasha covered in blood and again in softly she carries me we have her covered in blood then giving ‘a real smile’. Also, it makes me think of ritual murder, sacrifice as cleansing, blood on the altar (or in a ledger).
Clint is almost showing her a new form of religion. Both of them by this point could be said to be worshipping the trust that is between them, but he’s also been worshipping her and she hasn’t been worshipping him, not in the same way. It’s like she’s from one religion that’s this harsher thing from an old time, an old world, and here he shows her another, not asking her to convert, but worships her in the way of his religion, and it’s not a language she really understands. When she translates it though it doesn’t translate to the old religion but back to the rope and the trust, the middle ground. At the end of my skin is not my own Natasha kisses him, with (holy) water on her lips like a blessing, which isn’t part of his ritual, which was not about contact like this, and isn’t her ritual either, but that middle ground and THAT is what becomes ‘a habit’. They create something new between them.
Natasha reclaiming herself
The theme of Natasha reclaiming herself runs throughout the series. For instance, in bait, early on, they each show independence and ‘put themselves back together’. It first become apparent to me though in my skin is not my own and I feel that this is where Natasha starts to, perhaps not be aware of it herself, but where she starts to take control.
In my skin is not my own we have the line you can’t remember if this shade of lipstick is yours or meant for someone else and Clint being able to tell when Natasha is herself again – that he has that power, that she gives him the power to be able to bring her back to herself (and to him, but to herself).
Following that, in after hours, Natasha is entrenched in a role once more, considering what her cover persona would and wouldn’t do. She states that she wants to forget every other woman she’s ever been except the one who’s always been his. She refers to it as having been other women, not playing them or pretending to be them, and we know it effects her, to the extent that she’s used blood and Clint’s cleansing rituals to bring herself back. Until she forgets every other woman she’s ever been except the one who’s always been his. That the self that matters is the one that loves Clint and that she’s not implying that she’s always loved him, but that that particularly self, that woman out of the many women she’s been, is the one that she wants to be. Like she has lots of selves, but there’s one that’s capable of loving Clint, of always loving Clint, and that’s the one that matters. The self that loves, not the one that’s best at weapons or fighting or anything else.
Then in some of your scars are mind Natasha choses to keep her scars, claiming them, and they’re ‘distinctive’ scare we’re told, distinctly and identifiable hers. I also think that it’s important that she doesn’t just keep the scar that Clint gave her, on her wrist. It’s not just about him.
In our dark evergreen I think we get the peak of the reclamation theme as a Natasha without Clint looked different as she pulled him back, pulled back her fist and pulled no more punches. She’s ‘different’, she’s changed, and however much she’s come to rely on Clint she’s not incapable without him, instead beats him, doesn’t hold back, and knocks Loki out of him. She is herself reclaimed and reclaims him. She’s also physically different, having cut her hair, which she’s done for him, but not because he’s asked her to. In fact, Clint tells her that he ‘preferred it longer’ and asks her if she’s going to let it grow. He always asks. And Natasha sheds one skin and exposes the ruddy pink flesh of another.
our dark evergreen brings the series to a close with a depth of communication and trust between Natasha and Clint, but it also brings to a close Natasha’s transformation. It’s not that she’s done it for him so much as he has allowed her to change, given her a focal point for it, and because of that she can stand alone without him, take missions and take on Loki without him, but can also chose to do things and change for Clint because she wants to.
I see it as Clint having been in a devoted kind of love and Natasha existing within that, a space for her to learn to trust and be trusted, that then allows her to change and reclaim herself. Then the two of them meet in a middle ground where with Natasha being in command of herself, as it where, and him trusting in her then he no longer need to be so obsessive although she remains his focus and she can admit to a love for him, not in his worshipping style but not in the terms she first thought of it either.
Fairy tales and stories
In lost inside this forest sugar_fey uses a fairy tale to tie things up and I loved that and I think it was a great choice. The ‘here is a story, here has been a story’ vibe and also that it’s a fairy tale in tone and style, because fairy tales at the origin are dark and then often toned down and prettied up for children. It can be said that Clint and Natasha in this verse have been the dark fairy tale, but seen as outsiders as something else, something prettied up - in love, when love is for children. At the end of sweet days of sugar Coulson sums up Clint’s long document and rambling as ‘Agent Barton is in love’ and I know my automatic reaction to that has become ‘love is for children’ and that Coulson is a succinct kind of person, but he makes it sound less than what it is. It’s an outsiders viewpoint, like when Loki says ‘is this love?’ and Natasha takes it as an insult, which is what Loki intended.
I know I’m not getting all the story/fairy tale elements, but we get plenty throughout the series: in someone else’s song we have Clint referring to Natasha as a ‘kid who grew up too hard and too fast’, so no soft fairy tales for her. In softly she carries me we get almost a macabre sleeping beauty (woken by Clint) and a reference to Alice in Wonderland. In bait Natasha ‘performs’ for Clint, it’s a story and a lie that she does with her marks. switch references the Bible with ‘serpent’s tongue’ which goes under religion, but is also references the story of original sin; what knowledge can lead to and being cast out of innocence. your killing floor has Natasha as the ‘monster’, referring back to someone else’s song where she asks Clint if he’s the Prince come to rescue her from the monsters and that she is one of the monsters. it’s a long way down, trying to fit into a domestic story and they can’t; after hours, she is the roles that she plays; some of your scars are mine has a reference to a ‘serpent’ again as well as ‘hunting and taming wild creatures’ and there’s that line ‘it is what it is’ – not a story and it doesn’t ‘add up to something more’ as Clint says it should, add up to some kind of legend or fairy tale, that it’s a reality and reality is what it is. And there’s a rhythm and vibe throughout the whole thing of stories, of fairy tales. Monsters and shedding you skin, transforming into something else, sacrifice and rituals.
A thing fairy tales often have in common is a good girl who gets told what to do and what not to do – don’t talk to strangers, don’t stray from the path – and if they’re bad then bad things happen. And there’s a Prince and love and a rescue. Here the story is twisted out of true, because Natasha is referred to as the monster and Clint cannot be a Prince that saves her. The idea that sugar_fey puts forward is a demon King and a rescuing Prince and that perhaps Clint is both and/or that Natasha needs both.
So we finish with the ritual of a story, and a style of story that is in and of itself ritualistic, for a series that has been about rituals, religion, worshipping, devotion, trust.
I have no idea what thinky thought chats Bee, Bob, and Sugar have been having about this verse, but those are some of things that have been running through my brain. What about everyone else?