Natasha’s hands are tight fists where they’re buried in the pockets of her tac suit. The multiple sharp blooms of pain soak into her like a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. This she could handle. Unlike the rest. There hasn’t been time to deal with everything else. No time to grab a change of civilian clothes from a go bag or a nearby safe house. No simple luxury like that. While her suit’s just as much a piece of personal clothing as anything else would be, it doesn’t let her put enough distance between the events of then and the now. It’s all too present. Her throat feels clogged, caging something that twists and struggles. She steals a deep breath that’s steadier than she is inside. She tilts her head up from her unseeing stare at the floor and gazes at her dulled reflection in the elevator doors. Surprisingly still steel despite the absurd penchant for glass and opulent views that’s started engulfing the more modern hospitals.
She should be resting. Steve had ordered her out of the recovery efforts and this wasn’t the rest he had in mind but she knows full well this is where he’d gone when he’d taken his own brief respite. They were alike in that way. Different in so many others. She rolls her eyes at herself. Thinking about Steve when there were more pressing concerns. Like the fact she can still taste the gritty earth and familiar blood on her tongue. She couldn’t wash it away despite all the water she’d been given.
Again she’d had to listen to yet another false god and pretend she was weaker than she was. It was a ploy. One she hadn’t had time to clue the rest of her team to, but they weren’t idiots. She trusted Clint to eventually trace her and they had. There hadn’t been time to explain. Just time to pour their energy into defeating Ultron and sway the twins to their side. They can attribute that to Clint. He always had a habit of picking up dangerous strays. And despite how she might protest, she was included in that category. Without Clint she wouldn’t be here at all.
Natasha brushes her hair out of her face and takes a deep breath. Her pulse is still racing. She’s unsettled down to her bones and the last thing she wants is to stay in a hospital surrounded by the beep beep of too many heart monitors or the too sterile absence of smells aside from hand sanitizer and plastic. The elevator doors ding open and she walks briskly toward the room where the twins are. Only one of them fell during the battle but isn’t that the peculiar nature of twins? Always at the other’s side. Where one goes so does the other. Natasha shies away from the rest of that thought.
The odds of the boy surviving were slim but more hopeful than they had the right to be. They were being afforded the best care the Stark name could provide. As distracting as having Tony’s name attached to their endeavors, the benefits of Tony’s resources had pulled them out of more tight situations than she wanted to admit. SHIELD’s fall would have hamstring any further efforts without Tony. Natasha pulls her mind away from that train of thought too. Yet another sign she clearly needed a reprieve that wouldn’t be coming any time soon.
The room’s in a tucked away corner. Not easily accessible to prying media eyes, not truly, without having to pass a multitude of security and nurses’ stations. It’s all an illusion, but one appreciated nonetheless. The less attention drawn to them the better right now. The whole world was focused on Sokovia’s devastation and the damage wrought in the wake of the Avengers’ misguided attempts of emergency and counter-emergency plans. There will be fallout once the immediate pieces are picked up. There always is when organizations that should stay hidden in the shadows step into the spotlight. The Avengers aren’t SHIELD but are still too high profile for her liking.
Natasha pauses outside the room to watch Wanda watch Pietro. It’s a sight that’s become more familiar after she joined SHIELD. Usually it was Clint in the bed, aware and conscious, moaning and complaining about when he could be discharged. The few times Natasha had ended up there, she’d woken to Clint’s anxious face or his messy mop of hair asleep at her beside. Initially the worry had chafed at her, dug under her skin, made her want to bring out the sharp points of her knives and scrape it free of her bones. Natasha had been the best of the best. Support teams were one thing. Relying on them to save her life was another.
Something about seeing this now tugged at her. Her already off kilter equilibrium was tilting further. She watches Tony rise and walk toward the door. They exchange glances as he passes. His contemplative look and arched eyebrow the only commentary for now. He returns shortly with two cups of coffee. She takes it in surprise, sipping it as Tony walks back into the room and sets the other cup down on the tray beside Wanda. She doesn’t drink hers.
Natasha watches them a moment longer before she turns away and moves to the small waiting area down the hallway. It’s barely twice the size of the room she just left but it has couches and armchairs. Muted greens and blacks with wood accented armrests. Nondescript, unobtrusive in this place where families have learned news that brought them to their knees or clung to hope that would either devastate them or provide a new lease on life. It was a room of mixed emotions much like Natasha felt herself.
There’s even a television tucked away into the corner. Another grab at a slice of normalcy. It’s turned down low. The images flickering on typical talk show drivel and the annoying ads no one ever paid attention to. She continues to sip absently at her coffee as she moves to one side of the room. The window curtains are pulled back and she can look out onto the skyscraper landscape. They’re sixteen floors up with horrendous sight lines and emergency escapes worth little without a helicopter in the mix. It’s the low level chatter in the back of her mind that lets her know she’ll be okay in the end. Some things she can’t turn off and the comfort of their familiarity lets her know this will pass like everything else in her life has.
The footsteps that pause at the doorway before coming to join her in her surveillance of the outside world are familiar. It’s Tony’s polished trend. His hands are tucked into his pockets and he rocks on his heels for a moment. She wonders what he has to say. He’s never quiet, not for long. For Tony Stark silence is a thing to be broken. Remade in the form of words or arguments or anything in between. She lets it go on longer. She’s not in the right frame of mind to be unspooling the tangle of his quicksilver thoughts.
He’s quiet for longer than she expects. Impeccably dressed as always. High end dark grey slacks paired well with a deep blue button up shirt then topped with a suit jacket that matches his slacks. Aside from the rimless gold framed sunglasses that’re currently tucked into his breast pocket, and she knows are a personal gift from a friend, Tony’s rather sedately dressed for the day. She glances at him out of the corner of her eye. He smiles slightly.
“Unsurprising. I doubt either of them slept much, if at all in the preceding days.”
Tony hmms in response. “And what about you?”
“What about me?” Natasha focuses her gaze back out the window.
“You have to resort to that plan often? Or is it something about the Avengers?”
Natasha goes still with the cup of coffee pressed to her lips. It’s unsurprising Tony would figure it out. It’d be more surprising if he hadn’t. She expects the others have already figured it out or will in time. She shrugs and finally takes her sip.
“Ah, back to not talking to me, are we?” At the lack of a response, he continues. “That’s okay. I’m used to filling in the silences. I’ve had plenty of practice.”
Natasha lets the corner of her mouth curl up into a smirk. Ah yes, that revelation about Tony’s surprisingly long lived, long distance romantic entanglement had delighted her for days.
“Of course talking about him earns me a reaction out of you.” She can hear the affront in his voice. “He wants me to remind you to stay out of his city, by the way.”
“He can tell me himself if he’s that concerned.” Her coffee’s nearly empty. She hadn’t tasted much of it. Just something for her hands to do while her mind was distracted. She shifts so she’s facing him, one hip pressed to the low wall under the window. “Didn’t figure you for a messenger boy, Tony.”
He grins at her. “It’s refreshing to not be the source of his exasperation every once in a while.”
Natasha shakes her head but doesn’t stop the quirk of a smile. She arches an eyebrow at him. There’s more to this little conversation of Tony’s than simply that. There always is. The idiot asshole routine is merely a deflection. A facade to draw people in and get their guard down. And even if it wasn’t, Tony’s far too perceptive to not use that to his advantage.
“So, I know we’ve only been doing this Avengers thing for a little while, but you have any other backup plans that involve you going MIA?” He pierces her with a look. “’Cause I’d like to state for the record that I’d prefer we never have to use any of them again.”
She blinks at him and earns herself a grim smile in return. He reaches for his sunglasses and puts them on, tipping his head down to look at her over their rims.
“I don’t need more than one person in my life disappearing in the middle of some grand battle because they think it’s the best method of achieving an end. I know Barton’s usually got your back in shit like this but it took even him a while to figure out where you were. Not the best feeling in the world when the world’s threatening to end around you because of something you created.”
She lays a hand on his arm then and squeezes gently. “I’m okay, Tony. None the worse for wear and the world’s still standing around us.”
He doesn’t look anywhere close to appeased. He holds her gaze. It’s a little less readable behind the glasses but Natasha isn’t who she is without good reason. She can still see the worry and the exhaustion tugging at him. She wonders if he’s had a moment to himself or the time to reach out to everyone important in his life. Unlikely even with the wonders of all of Tony’s technological acumen.
He gives in and finally scowls at her. She bites her lip to stop the smirk from breaking out again. She knows exactly who Tony learned that from. It’s far less effective than the original.
“I’m being serious here, Ms. Tony-Stark-no-Iron-Man-yes. I don’t need that on my conscience at the end of the day either.”
“Easy there, Tony.” She lifts her hand and punches him in the shoulder. “I’ll talk it over with Clint. See why it took him so long to catch on and if we want to start developing a less ad hoc playbook.”
She’s never needed an extraction plan, not with Clint having her back. They hadn’t at SHIELD and she’d assumed that would carry over into the Avengers. Then again the sheer scale of the attacks they were dealing with might necessitate a more thorough approach to things than they’d operated under before.
Tony squints at her, head tilted slightly, mouth pursed. Whatever he sees on Natasha’s face settles him enough for now. But she doubts that’s the last she’ll hear about it. He eyes the empty cup she’s still holding in her hand.
“C’mon, lets get you some more of that dirty water that passes as coffee around here.”
Natasha trails after him with a bemused look on her face. Yes, she does need more coffee but they’ve also spent long enough away from the twins. It’s her turn to sit vigil after all.