Stark Towers illuminated the inky night, standing as physical evidence of Tony Stark’s spontaneous hell-why-not party. New York City was still a shambled mess of rubble; however the billionaire philanthropist felt that funds were better spent on celebration.
Conversation hummed like honeybees inside. People stood in tectonic formations, drinking and laughing the night away while a band played barely-appropriate tunes in the background.
Maria Hill hid at the backmost pocket of people. She was armed with cranberry juice, and several varying excuses as to why she wore her regulation S.H.I.E.L.D uniform. Her attendance was not debatable; Nick Fury had made that clear.
Maria wasn’t accustomed to direct confrontation with media, let alone all the ritz of a Stark party. Up here, technicolour light spilled from squinted slats in the ceiling, making Maria wince. Her eyes were accustomed to the practical lighting of the Helicarrier.
“Agent Hill,” the man himself greeted. Tony’s eyes were lamp-shaded by designer sunglasses, and he wore a custom smile. Maria stifled a comment regarding the practicality of wearing sunglasses at night. Instead, she smiled stiffly; professional and polite.
“Loving the cat suit- I see shield fashion agency chose your attire.”
Tony Stark disappeared in the swell of people, leaving on the note of his crude comment. It was alarming to see him blend into the crowd so seamlessly. Just a few weeks prior, Maria saw him save the world donned in colours of red and yellow; now, he was just another citizen. It was funny, how that worked out and all.
Maria exhaled, rippling the scarlet surface of her untouched drink.
“What does she think she’s doing?”
The rasped exclamation brought Maria to attention. Adrenaline replaced boredom as she surveyed the populated expanse surrounding her. Figurative crosshairs etched her eyes as she sought out the source of the noise.
The outburst came from a small-statured woman, whose eyes were cast to the window. The woman was in pristine condition, no longer dismayed. Her comment faded into the chatter. No injuries or assailants were in sight. No danger- beside that of Tony getting drunk and singing classic rock. Maria’s shoulders sank and she rolled her eyes.
She was a damn good agent. As a consequence, she was the type of person who let work transcend into casual life. Parties were not her scene. The shouting caused too much alarm, too much…paranoia. She laughed. Wow, yeah, paranoia. Maria let her eyes stray to the window. It wasn’t so much a window as it was a glass wall; the whole city visible through its panes.
Maria saw why the loud-mouthed woman had made such a ruckus.
Her eyebrows met her hairline. She blinked once, and then again.
Standing on Stark Towers’ flooded deck was a feminine figure of scarlet and velvet. Lights and a filter of moonshine outlined her. Maria didn’t need direct confirmation to know who the figure was. Natasha Romanoff was out in the rain.
Outside, Natasha looked small, like the city that she had saved swallowed her. Her damp dress draped her silhouette in tones of black and red.
Maria looked away, and proceeded to wipe the shock from her features. What on earth did Agent Romanoff think she was doing? Being an idiot, clearly. Whatever the reason, it was Maria’s responsibility as a fellow agent to assure the health of her co-worker was not compromised. Russians weren’t immune to rain. The last thing S.H.I.E.L.D. needed was a sick spider and unsurprisingly, common colds couldn’t be constrained within cages.
Duty and curiosity got the best of her; Maria walked to the doors that led outside. She pushed through flocks of people to get there, and became the victim of appalled stares. She saw Tony Stark from the corner of her eye and proceeded with caution, not in the mood for confrontation with anyone besides Agent Romanoff.
After reaching the doors, she braced for the outside onslaught. Chill hit her like a punch as rain pelted down. Maria’s hair was in disarray amongst the flooding downfall, and the taut skin at her cheeks was patterned by water-trails. She licked moisture from her lips as squinting. She eyed the Black Widow.
Natasha was transfixed, the soft flame of her hair haloed by the rain.
Maria exhaled sharply at the sight, before sniffling through the downpour,
Natasha turned. Her face was glossed with starlight, and defined by colour, eyes a shade of expectant green; a hue that did not need complimenting colours to stand out. And, of course, she was soaked to the bone.
“I was wondering when you’d come out, Agent Hill.”
“I didn’t exactly have a choice,” Maria chided. Her tone wavered and lost all its empowerment. The rain was unforgivably cold.
Natasha took a sip from a champagne flute, oblivious to the downpour. The air was the kind of cool it only ever is at night.
“So, mind telling me why you’re out here?” Maria prompted. She’d crossed her arms to shield herself from the cold.
“I’d rather hear you guess.”
“I—Really? Uh, you want hypothermia?”
Natasha chuckled. The sound was almost inaudible, but it caused a contagious smile to pull at Maria’s lips.
“First name basis? Maybe this party is worthwhile, Maria.”
Maria huffed. The chill and density of rain turned her breath into clouds of smoke.
“Agent Romanoff, stop skirting around the point- I asked you a question. What are you doing?”
Natasha looked back to the blurred horizon. Townhouse light bled into the City’s dark crevices, and ghosted the rubble.
“Taking in the view.”
“The rainy, foggy view?”
“It’s still a view.”
Maria pursed her lips into a tight line. Yeah, it was still a view. She’d seen it at its worse, when it wasn’t just some clean-cut business capitol, but a battleground for inhuman forces. The death toll was unassailable, and the damages would consume the government for years to come. Yet it still stood. It was a little chipped at the edges and worse for-ware, but good. Yeah, still good.
New York City still stood because a group of elite individuals chose to fight when others couldn’t. Maria Hill failed to truly understand that truth until now.
“It could have been worse. None of us were trained for this,” Natasha said aloud, speaking towards the skyline, “but this war is won. Now we’re left to wait for the next one.”
The Black Widow was a former target and current colleague of S.H.I.E.L.D., and so Maria respected her. She treated Natasha with professional dignity, whilst still clinging to distrust.
As an agent, Maria dedicated her full focus to work. She’d contributed to the Avengers Initiative, and aided in the surveillance of Dr. Banner. She’d completed paperwork for the excavation of Steve Rogers, and worked with the Tesseract.
After years of manpower, the Avengers concept seemed nothing more than a familiarity. Now, when S.H.I.E.L.D faced the very superheros that they had wished to utilize, they failed to see the people behind the names.
In a messy haze of rain, Maria saw more than just a codename in Natasha Romanoff. The downpour stripped away all the fame.
“Maria,” The Black Widow’s tone was ice smooth, though rippled by a suppressed accent.
Maria was abruptly pulled from her chain of thought. That was probably for the best; her chest nearly throbbed with some sort of sentimental empathy. Natasha’s lashes were webbed with raindrops, and her neck had an inquisitive tilt.
“You’re shivering. You do realize that you can go back inside? This isn’t a conference.”
The taller agent blinked. She hadn’t noticed that her teeth were chattering. Her senses were dulled by chill, and her brain was busy.
“You’re right,” Maria said, tone audibly affected by frost. “About the view. It’s good.”
Natasha’s lips quirked and a dull chuckle fogged the air around her lips.
“Of course it is.”
Silence stretched. Maria inhaled, and stared for a second longer. Her gaze settled upon the city, and then the vibrancy of Natasha’s mussy hair. On the exhale, she turned around.
The walk to the doors seemed shorter. Although she could barely breathe around the pulse in her throat, Maria felt an indulgent wave of adrenaline.
She entered the dry expanse of Stark Towers once more, where she was momentarily blinded by light. She adapted to the party glow, and then cut through the crowds with determination. After gravitating towards the make-shift bar at the back of the room, she grabbed a discarded coat from a bar stool. She then ventured outside once more.
Bone-deep chill enveloped her as foggy downpour sponged dry patches. Maria held the folded jacket to her chest, as if to keep it from the rain.
Natasha turned. Though her face remained deceptively neutral, the Russian did quirk an eyebrow at her comrade.
“Nice disappearing act,” she commented. There was no venom in her tone.
Maria shrugged and dismissed the comment. There was no need for minor details; she had momentarily retreated for a damn good reason. She watched Natasha’s eyes slide down Maria’s chest and to the jacket in her arms. A flush threatened to assault Maria’s cheeks. Natasha threw her an inquisitive expression.
Numbly, Maria hoped that Stark didn’t keep CT surveillance of the deck. If Fury saw his entrusted agent looking like this, he’d flip his lid. She worked to maintain professional dignity as she approached the smaller woman.
“Here,” she said, her arm stiffened as she offered the jacket to the Russian.
Maria braced herself, expecting a swift glare. It never came. Instead, Natasha’s eyes widened with what appeared to be genuine surprise. The phantom smirk on her lips was unmistakable. She turned away from the brunette, and her arms rose at her sides. She looked undeniably graceful as poised in the rain.
Maria stared for a long minute before understanding the cue. Oh. Stumbling, Maria hastily unfolded the jacket. She slid Natasha’s arms into the sleeves, and adjusted the collar. She was careful not to make physical contact with the creamy Russian skin before her. That would be ridiculously unprofessional. The fact that she was even standing in the rain with her co-worker would ruin her reputation.
Natasha rolled her shoulders. The jacket was seven sizes too big. It draped from her torso in shades of midnight. She turned to face Maria; their eyes met with mutual respect. Maria didn’t expect a thank you, but that was okay. She didn’t need it. God, she really didn’t need it.
“Don’t get sick. That’s an order.”
“I can look after myself,” Natasha interjected.
“No. You’re busy looking after the rest of us now. You can afford having some help. For our sakes.”
The undecided edge to Natasha’s expression was chilling. The city flowed behind her in pulses of blue and red.
“I’ve never needed it. Rain isn’t my worst enemy.”
“You’re not invincible.”
“I have to be.”
Maria bit the inside of her cheek. The words were inescapably true for both of them; they had to be strong.
The rain had witnessed them; two heroes at the top of New York. Maria reached forward with a wet hand to touch Natasha’s shoulder. She pulled her hand back before contact could be made. They were colleges, not friends. They were two women who worked with professional dignity.
“Leave that ledger out in the rain. Maybe the red will wash off.”