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Natasha doesn’t actually realise just how bad of an idea this is until she’s already in their kitchen. Then she skids to a halt on the tiles and swallows hard: Steve’s at the table, reading the newspaper with the morning sunlight limning his hair golden, all sleep-ruffled and sweet and slow as he lowers his coffee mug and blinks at her. James is leaning against the counter waiting for the kettle to boil, he’s scrolling through the music library on his phone apparently, because he hits the screen with his thumb just as he looks up at her and something she can’t be bothered to recognise starts playing. His hair’s sticking up all over the place and his eyes are heavy-lidded with tiredness and the deep v-neck of his thin shirt is showing off both the chain of his dog tags and an impressive hickey low on his throat.

Fuckety fuck fuck, such a bad idea. But, well, what’s she supposed to do, Clint and Laura are miles away and she’s not going near Nick and there’s no one – there’s no one else she trusts.

“You OK?” says Steve.

“Uh,” says Natasha intelligently and waits for the other shoe to drop.

“Nat?” James blinks at her. “You want some breakfast? There’s coffee?”

“There’s coffee,” says Natasha. “I have just come over here halfways to hysterics because the entire world is hitting on me and the only thing you’ve got is that there’s coffee?”

“Sorry what,” says Steve.

“Nat, we’ve just got home,” says James. “Less than seven hours ago.”

“Yes I know,” says Natasha. “But honestly, I have been hit on by people I didn’t even know existed –“

“New York’s a really big city,” says James, bemused.

“- been propositioned for six separate threesomes –“

What,” says Steve again, somehow managing to look both stunned and furious at the same time. James’ mouth is hanging open. It’s seriously cute.

“- one of which was from these two guys at the Tower whom I know for a fact are like the least bisexual gay people I have ever –“

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” says James, shaking off bemusement in preference of increasing hilarity. “You’re cute when you’re flustered.”

“Oh my god,” says Natasha. “Please don’t hit on me, please.” She falls into a chair despairingly and puts her head in her hands. Such a bad idea, Jesus Christ, if they do hit on her, if they both hit on her, if the words you don’t have to choose cross anybody’s lips –

Such a bad idea.

She hears Steve put the newspaper on the table; the kettle boils; then there’s silence. Finally James says solemnly, “Nobody’s going to hit on you in this house. By my Aunt Ida’s grave I swear it.”

“Everybody hated your Aunt Ida,” says Steve.

Natasha gives them both the finger. Then she sits up, groaning. “God, I’m sorry. We chased down this cache of 0-84s upstate that Kirsten from Statistics was auctioning off to a roomful of scumbags, and one was a kind of box with powder in it, and I got a faceful during the fight, and ever since then everyone I have come into contact with has hit on me. Helen propositioned me at HQ. Scott hit on me right in front of Hope and she just stood there looking proud, like he was doing something right for once. Sam asked me out. Sam! That’s against the bro code.”

“The what,” says Steve for the tenth time.

“The bro code,” says Natasha. “Bros don’t hit on their bro’s ex-girlfriends?”

They’re both staring at her like she’s speaking in tongues.

“In my defence,” she says, “Helen said the toxicology report looked a lot like I’d been smoking dope.”

“Before or after she propositioned you?” says James.

“Uh, after, actually, and then she apologised because I clearly wasn’t in my right mind.”

James says, “Christ.”

“I need somewhere to hide,” says Natasha. “I need somewhere to hide until this wears off and I stop feeling loopy and people stop hitting on me. For good. I mean can you imagine if I go near Nick now?” She shudders.

Steve and James are looking at each other: they’ve got their mindreading soulbond thing going on, all reading each other’s microexpressions and silent communicating. Fifty percent cute, fifty percent a reminder that –

“Of course you’re staying here,” says James. “We’ll call Helen and see if she can tell us something without you there to distract her.”

“Ha ha,” says Natasha.

“Didn’t you try to set me up with Kirsten from Statistics once?” says Steve, and Natasha groans again, but it makes James laugh.

+++

They’ve got a nice house. She likes it a lot – it’s big and old and creaking and filled with heavy wood furniture and books and old records. They only moved in a couple of months ago, but Natasha is impressed with how dedicated they are to making it cosy – homelike. Steve installs her in a room down the hall from their bedroom, with a ridiculously soft mattress and a big old wardrobe in the corner. He makes up the bed for her with military efficiency; she’s hopelessly charmed by the way he has to stop himself making military corners with the sheets.

“Thank you,” she says, curled up in the window seat.

“You’re welcome.” He straightens up. “Come on, try and sleep it off, yeah? We’ll tackle it this afternoon.”

“Good plan.” Natasha smiles at him till he leaves; she can’t even take her boots off while he’s in the room, she doesn’t trust herself, what the hell is she even doing here. It’s pathetic. She’s pathetic. She could just as easily sleep it off in her own apartment.

The sheets smell like them. Of course they do. They wash ‘em in the same detergent as their clothes. Duh. Natasha curls up into a ball of weary misery. What a nightmare, what a god-awful nightmare. Sure she’s attractive, she’s a Black Widow, all Black Widows are – were – conventionally attractive, but her teammates don’t usually hit on her and random strangers don’t usually hit on her. It makes her anxious – jumpy – it’s different for her: most people see a stranger approach them in the street and think they want directions; Natasha thinks they’re carrying a knife.

And not once did Steve or James even ogle her. She’s absurdly grateful, and yet oddly hurt. They aren’t that gay. She’s sure they aren’t. Steve had been in love with Director Carter, after all, and at one point Natasha had thought he was attracted to her, before James came back. And as for James himself, well, she’s the first to admit that her memory can be a little unreliable, but she doesn’t think there’s any faking that kind of passion.

Then again, what does she know about it. Natasha mashes her face into the pillow and tries not to think about anything, ever again.

+++

She dreams. People dream, that’s not unusual. It happens. Sometimes she even wants to remember them. There’s the dream about the mutant crocodiles in the East River, and the time they go water-skiing in the Hudson; there’s the dream about a room full of candy and a USB drive shaped like a piece of cake which HYDRA desperately wants; there’s – oh there’s all sorts of dreams, some madder than others, some frightening, some hilarious. They’re dreams… well, the way dreams are, which means that Natasha pays little to no attention to them and laughs at them when she does remember them.

They’re just dreams.

(This is just a dream: Steve inside her to the hilt, their fingers laced together above her head, every thrust rocking the bed, her legs locked tight over his hips.

This is a dream: both of them at once, stretched wide and filled up till she can’t bear it, strung out between them desperate and sobbing and wildly, ecstatically happy.

This is a dream: James’ face as he looks up at her, grey eyes blown so wide the iris has nearly vanished, mouth kiss-bitten-red and the familiar lines of his scars standing out strongly against his tan as she sinks down onto his cock.

This is a dream: lying clothed between them in that bed she’s never seen, trading kisses like the world will end if they stop, necking like horny teenagers, whispering secrets, teases, jokes, promises.

This is a dream: I love you. I love you. I love you.)

+++

Clint laughs so much she thinks, by the sound of it, that he’s fallen off his chair; after a few seconds there’s a tussle and a curse and then Laura comes on the line.

“Honey, are you OK?”

“Yeah, you know.” Natasha sighs. “Just – under a curse.”

Laura chuckles quietly. “And you’re – you’re staying at Steve’s and Bucky’s?”

“Yes,” says Natasha, bluffing it out.

“That’s not – they’re being –“

“They’re being perfect gentlemen,” says Natasha.

Laura’s silent for a moment.

“I think the serum probably makes them immune.” That’s plausible. Totally plausible. Totally better than we’re so uninterested in you that not even alien magic can change it. Of course, if the alien magic did make them interested and she gave up and let them – let herself – she would never forgive herself, afterwards, she would deserve to be shot; it would be rape, pure and simple. In light of which, her hurt feelings are just a tiny bit ridiculous.

“Oh, I’m glad,” says Laura. “I mean, that you’re not alone, it’s good to know.” She laughed quietly. “What messes you guys get yourselves into.”

“Don’t I know it,” says Natasha. “Is Clint still having hysterics?”

“Sadly, yes,” says Laura.

“Kick him for me.”

“LILA! Hit your father with that cushion for Auntie Nat.”

“Pics or it didn’t happen,” says Natasha, laughing helplessly herself.

+++

After she’s hung up with Laura James ambushes her in the living room, where she’s raiding their bookshelves. He puts a hand on her shoulder; Natasha holds herself still and steady and breathes slow and reminds herself not to turn into his arms, fit herself under his chin, take his wrist and press a kiss to the palm of his hand.

Sometimes it’s harder than others, and it’s always hardest when he’s concerned for her.

“Are you OK?”

“Of course,” she says, and glances up to smile at him.

“Don’t give me that.” He leans against the shelf, arms crossed over his chest, smiling crookedly. “I know you.”

Damn you anyway. Natasha shrugs. “It’s just people hitting on me. No one’s so much as tried to grope me.” Though that might only be a matter of time.

“And yet it’s thrown you for a loop.”

“People have always hit on me,” says Natasha. “I’m not made to be unattractive.”

“Getting hit on for the mission isn’t really the same.”

Natasha pokes him in the arm with a book. “What do you wanna hear from me, Soldier, that I’m taking this golden opportunity to fuck my way through all New York?”

James’ mouth tightens, but he’s amused, not angry. “Escalation tactics.”

“They serve me well.” She sniffs. “Now go away, I wanna read” – she has to look down at the book she’s picked up – “Robert Heinlein. No no no. This isn’t Steve’s, I forbade him from Heinlein. You’re a disgrace, Barnes.”

She’s made him laugh; it softens his whole face, makes him charming, happy, younger. He reaches out and tugs on her hair, hooks it behind her ear.

“I have a confession to make.”

“You like Piers Anthony?”

“Never heard of him,” says James. “No, I went through your duffle in LA the other week looking for my phone charger and found your secret stash of Star Trek novels, you nerd.” And then he pulls her in and kisses the top of her head before he wanders away, leaving her with Robert Heinlein in her hands and a pit in her stomach.

+++

She dreams again that night: drifts into their bed, sprawls beside them watching them fuck. Even dreaming the room is home-y, scattered with clothes and pine furniture and discarded books. The bed is big and the windows re wide and the light is warm and golden, a hot summer’s evening, and they’re fucking, sweaty and red-faced and beautiful, Steve’s arms raised above his head and clutching at the sheet on every thrust, head tilted back to expose his throat. She could kill him like this: she could kill him right now, a gesture and done. He’s moaning, low in his throat, James’ name, her own, and when they’ve both come and noticed her they draw her close and finger her until she nearly screams with it, until she lies languid and sated in their arms and knows she’ll never be happy anywhere else –

Natasha wakes up hot and bothered; she rubs one out, briskly efficient, fingers slipping in her own slick, and at breakfast she slides into a chair and takes the coffee that’s offered to her and hopes to god she’s not blushing, looking at those strong scarred fingers.

+++

“Well, based on the blood sample that Steve brought over the substance is out of your blood,” says Helen. The phone is sat on the kitchen table and Natasha’s leaning over it because the speaker is sort of shitty; she puts her chin in her hands and says, “But?” when Helen doesn’t say anything else.

“Well,” says Helen. “I mean I. The thing is.” She clears her throat. “Would you like to maybe go out with me –”

“Oh no you don’t.” James moves as fast as if he’s snatching away a live grenade, grabbing the phone and hanging up on her.

Steve says, “That’s professional, Helen, well done.” He’s glaring at the phone as if she can still hear him.

“Clint and Laura didn’t ask me out,” says Natasha, staring.

“No prior exposure?” Steve suggests.

“Good point.” She chews on her thumb thoughtfully. “Maybe I’ll – if it’s out of my blood, let’s go down the grocery store and see what happens.”

+++

The grocery store is a hellmouth. She thinks it’s actually worse than at HQ, or on the subway headed to the house; this time someone does grope her ass and it’s all she can do not to kill them when she pushes them away. The cashier – a gangly high schooler, for god’s sake – tries to start a fight with Steve because he’s not good enough for her, and the idea of Captain America not being good enough boyfriend material for someone like her nearly makes Natasha collapse in howls of mirth right there in the store.

When they get out of the store Steve says, “C’mere,” and flings his arm around her shoulders. “Public displays of affection make people very uncomfortable.”

“Funny,” she says, snuggling against his side. It deters the vast majority of advances – Natasha doesn’t look up at him, she can’t quite bear to, but she’s sure Steve is wearing his Captain America Disapproves Of You-face, which is a hell of a deterrent all on its own – but it doesn’t stop the looks, and her stomach’s turning cartwheels; she feels undressed and pawed over and unclean. She feels exposed. Beside her – around her – Steve is warm and steady and strong, his stride never faltering, and he tells her some silly story about a prank they played on their principal in high school, him and James, interwoven with talk about their mothers, and how George Barnes would come over to the Rogers household of a Sunday and ask Mrs Rogers if she needed anything doing – she’d be doing him a favour by getting him out of that house, so she would; how it was he who had taught Steve to shave…

“You’d look good in a beard,” says Natasha, smiling.

“Hah,” says Steve. “It grows in about three shades darker than my hair. Looks awful.”

“Oh!” She laughs to herself, glancing away; accidentally she catches the eye of a guy getting out of his car across the road, and he seems to take her smile as encouragement until her and Steve’s combined glares stop him in his tracks. “This is the most ridiculous thing to ever happen to me.”

“More ridiculous than aliens?”

“Yes.”

“Murderbots?”

“Yep.”

“Our bosses turning out to be Nazis?”

“Yes.”

“Both our dead best friends turning out to be the same guy?”

“OK,” she says. “Maybe that’s a tie.”

“Yeah.” He’s grinning.

“I vanish,” she says abruptly. “You know? That’s how I live, how I keep myself safe. How I do my job. I don’t know how to – how to move through a world that’s always watching me, always paying me attention.”

“Well,” says Steve, sighing. “I doubt you’ll find this comforting, but seventy years after the first time I put on a pair of tights, I still don’t, either. I can fake it pretty well, I’m a professional.” She laughs again, sudden and startled. “But I spent the first twenty-four years of my life moving through a world that always ignored me. I mean, it’s not the same, but – I understand.”

He looks down at her; she smiles up at him. “Yeah.”

+++

“So I talked to Helen while you were gone,” says James, “and, uh, the news… could be a lot worse.”

“Oh god.” Natasha sits down sharply.

“Don’t freak out. The main thing is that it does wear off. They had an accident with it back in the Seventies, when they were breakin’ up some of the old storage facilities and moving a load of things into the Triskelion for testing and whatnot. Anyway, three agents got a faceful and spent the next week being shamelessly hit on by all and sundry. According to the reports, it escalated for two of them and then there was a drop.” He makes a gesture with his pointer finger, a graph line peaking and then falling off sharply.

“What about the third?” Natasha bites the inside of her cheek worriedly.

“The third flatlined, in a manner of speaking,” says James. “Never had problems with it on anything like the scale the other two reported. It seems she went home that night after decontam released her and, uh, the reports are charmingly oblique, but reading between the lines she and her husband got very, very busy. Applied for maternity leave six months later, actually.”

Steve makes a strangled noise of amusement; James clears his throat and looks rueful.

Natasha says, “So either ride it out or rape someone?”

“Uh, what,” says James.

“Well, I’m –” She waves her hands. “It’s not normal, is it? It’s making people want me.”

“According to Helen it’s lowering everyone’s inhibitions to nil,” says James. “You’re very attractive. Now anyone who’s ever had a passing thought about it is acting on that thought.”

Except you two. Natasha squashes the thought angrily.

“It does make sense,” says Steve. “It’s not like literally everyone tried to hit on you. Just… most of them.”

Hmm. Natasha casts her mind back, but… he’s right actually. Wanda didn’t try to hit on her at HQ, and neither did Rhodey, or most of the lab techs and the support staff – Maria didn’t either, or the pilot who dropped her off at the Tower.

So they’re not immune; they’ve just got no inhibitions to lower, because there’s nothing there to hide. She wants to sob a little, to shut a door between herself and their easy companionship, their friendly concern; wants to wallow in her own misery for a little while, instead of always being brave and understanding and goddamn happy for them, the assholes.

“Anyway,” says James, “in… conclusion, chances are if you have sex you should cut off the effects much sooner, but even if you don’t they will wear off, OK? It took nine days, back in the Seventies.”

Then Steve says thoughtfully, “You know, that’s an Asgardian week.”

+++

“Oh yes, it’s a fertility rite,” says Thor. “To help the childless conceive. You burn the incense and inhale the ash – the powder you found in the box.”

“Like snorting cocaine!” says Natasha, desperately cheerful.

“Yes, I suppose,” says Thor. “I’ve never heard of it affecting anyone in the way you describe, Natasha – perhaps because you’re Midgardian.” Suddenly he looks amused. “I’m sorry it’s inconvenienced you like this, my friend, but you could have a bit of fun with it, if you wanted. It’s held to be a very enjoyable experience.”

Natasha glares at him until he goes away.

+++

She suggests going home to ride it out in her own apartment and James nearly chokes on his coffee.

“You must be joking.”

“Forget it,” says Steve. “What if it makes you ill? You’re already sleeping a lot more than usual, and it’s only been three days.”

+++

She’s dreaming a lot more than usual, too. She wishes she didn’t enjoy them so much, the dreams; wishes she didn’t cast her mind back to them in quiet moments to linger over imaginary caresses, kisses she’ll never have, unreal fantasies mingling with the old memories of her Soldier’s touch. She can’t close her eyes without sinking into that shadow-world where they both love her the way she wants them to, and she thinks that usually she would be embarrassed – feel that she’s invading their privacy somehow, violating their trust – but she can’t stop, can’t stop at all.

+++

“I mean you’ve got what, you’ve got six days left,” says Laura. “That’s not too bad.”

“That’s the worst,” says Natasha. “That’s terrible. That’s – I’m gonna be locked up in here for six days, Laura. Six days.”

“Or,” says Laura, “you could have fun with it.”

For a moment Natasha can’t even bring herself to answer. “Sure. Suuuuure. Let me break an eight year dry spell by going out and saying yes to the first likely-looking person who asks me for it just because that’s – that’s convenient. Or like the easy way out or something.” There’s a knife twisting in her gut that Laura – Laura! – could think she would do that, would ever do that.

Laura’s silent for a moment. Then she says quietly, “I thought there was someone.”

Oh. Natasha scrubs at her face with her free hand. “Bruce is vanished off the face of the earth,” she says. “And he – he never really – we never really.” She sighs. “He made me feel safe, and I wanted more of that, but he doesn’t know how to ask and he really doesn’t know how to accept.”

“No, I guess not.” Laura huffs. “But, sweetie – I didn’t mean Bruce.”

Long long silence.

“Is it that obvious?”

“You’re living in their house right now. They’re the first people you even thought to go to.”

“And they don’t want me, so it’s not an issue,” says Natasha sharply. “Laura – listen – I have to go – kiss the kids for me – tell them I’ll come home soon. I miss you guys.”

“Yes, all right – Nat, I –”

Natasha hangs up and drops the phone to the bed. Then she draws her knees up to her chest and wraps her arms around them and wallows for a little while, just as she’s been wanting to for weeks, feeling like the teenager she was never permitted to be, lovesick over pretty blue eyes, strong steady hands, an arm across her shoulders, a kiss to the top of her head.

+++

Six more days. Six days in this house with them, closeness and laughter and easy friendship; but nothing is easy, not underneath, not truly. When James touches her his fingers burn her skin and when Steve smiles at her she goes a little loopy. Private, wary, lonely Steve, always so controlled, always wearing a mask as impeccable as her own, with a force-field of personal space around him that only Sam, on very rare occasions, ever broke through: in this house he laughs, he smiles, he hugs her one-armed and guides her with a hand at the small of her back, he flops down on the couch next to her and leans against her shoulder, he starts a cushion fight and asks to draw her, he wears jeans and t-shirts with stains on the legs and the hem where he wipes his paint-smeared hands on his clothes when he’s pre-occupied and badgers her into reading plays with him, switching up the parts, while James is cooking; one night they tackle The Importance of Being Earnest and dinner is a disaster because everyone’s laughing so much.

And her Soldier, her lost Soldier who loved her when she was less human than she is now, has a name, a family, a history; an array of terrible jokes, a fondness for swing dance, a bookshelf groaning with pulp sci-fi; he cooks, and he’s learning to play the piano, and he can fix her hair up in three minutes with a paperclip and a bit of string because he always used to do his sisters’ for them, and he has a collection of three-piece suits that make her go a little weak at the knees when he wears them. (Which is often.) Who knew, who could possibly have known? Natasha knew they were a couple, knew they had both changed. She didn’t know how much, how completely, how beautiful it is.

She didn’t know how crazy it would drive her either. They’re uninterested and immune besides but she – she doesn’t know what she’s doing anymore. What reason does she have to stay here when she knows it’s just a matter of time before everything goes back to normal? And if, after all this time, she’s decided she’s incurably horny and needs to – to get laid, well, she can go pick someone up, when the creepy Asgardian sex magic has run its course. If she’s that desperate. Theoretically. She’s the Black Widow; she has cosied up to all sorts of people in all sorts of situations to get information; surely it won’t be hard, not for her. She won’t be asking questions, that’s all. She’ll just, you know, look at someone she likes the look of and dance with him and let him take her home and –

– and do whatever he wants to her body while she’s naked and vulnerable and –

No. She can’t have sex with a stranger. Although, maybe a woman? That’s… safer, illogically, but Natasha isn’t all that sure she’s anything but straight. And she doesn’t want –

“You silly little girl,” she says to her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Maybe she just needs to go out and get laid and damn her hang-ups and her insecurities and her fears and her privacy. Sex magic aside, maybe what she really needs is a nice deep dicking, and when it’s over her head will be free and clear of formerly-dead national icons and the way they smile at her.

She sniggers at herself, bitter and self-recriminating. “A dicking.” She rolls the word around on her tongue. “God. You haven’t gotten fucked in eight damn years.”

Call it that, call it fucking, make it something impersonal and necessary that she had let happen to her, instead of something precious, wanted; call it a casual screw, call it some fun, call it anything but what it was, because maybe if she lies about the past the present will be easier to bear.

+++

“What kind of effects are we talking?”

She can hear Thor breathing, somewhere in London; there’s a car horn and a distant voice calling out before he says quietly, “What are you experiencing?”

Natasha swallows hard. “It’s like – Look. Helen ran a blood test after the mission and she said the toxicology looked as if I were high. It feels like I’m – I don’t know. In withdrawal? I’ve never been in withdrawal from anything, not even coffee. I don’t really know how to explain it. But my head is all over the place. Everything’s – everything feels bigger than it is.”

“Natasha,” says Thor, and pauses. “It may make you irrational,” he says at last. “Natasha, the powder – it’s meant to make you – want – someone. It’s meant to make them want you back. You’re supposed to take it jointly, alone, in a secluded place – if you push through it on your own, I cannot discount it that it may make you – irrational.”

“Yes,” she says dully. “Well. We know what fixes it, don’t we?”

Thor says quietly, “If I could help at all – but it’s not a poison, you know. It will do you no lasting harm, I swear it, and if, in three more days, you see no change, I will go to Asgard and speak with our healers.”

“I appreciate that.”

“It’s no problem. Listen, I’ll return to New York when you’re well and take charge of the powder – and any similar artefacts – return them to Asgard.”

Natasha smiles in spite of everything. “Sounds like a plan. Thank you, Thor.”

+++

“Nat,” says Steve the next morning, “you’re looking – tired. Why don’t you go back to bed, ey?”

“Go on,” says James, and he puts his arm around her, hugs her close for a moment. “We’ll bring you breakfast up.” He grins at her.

“I think it’s my patriotic duty to not turn that down,” says Natasha, laughing, and if she leans against him a little longer than she needs to, if she smiles at Steve a little too brightly, if she squeezes his fingers a little too tight when he takes her hand –

Who’s to judge? She’s permanently high on Asgardian sex magic.

+++

Later that day, making her way to the bathroom, she hears them in the bedroom – the door’s ajar, and she wants to snoop but she’s not that far gone. It’s just a snatch of conversation:

“– driving me crazy.”

“God, don’t I know it. Look, after this – after this –”

“After this I’m letting you do all the talking.”

“You coward.” James is laughing.

“Yeah,” says Steve. “But I’ll only make a mess of it. You know me.”

“I won’t let you make a mess of it,” James promises. “Anyway, you never made a mess of us.”

“Apparently ninety-five years of friendship trumps even my inability to talk to someone I’m interested in.”

James is laughing; then there’s a noise and – they’re kissing, probably. Natasha rubs her hands over her face and goes to the bathroom.

+++

See, it’s so easy. Perhaps that’s what frightens her, what’s frightened her all along, how little effort it took, how far gone she already was when she first realised –

But she mustn’t be fantastical. It’s chemicals, that’s all, chemicals and physical effects and neurons firing off in your brain. All she needs to do – if she really can’t stand it, if it gets to be too much, if it’s killing her – is ask, and they – they love her that much at least, they would – it would be all right, if they agreed, if they’re not affected, if it’s a properly free choice. And then all she would need to do is lie back and – and get – and surely it won’t be difficult: Steve would be patient and thorough and embarrassed but calm, and James would be gentle and methodical and kind, and after, when her body and her mind have stopped trying to drive her crazy, when everything is over, she’ll thank them both and leave, and that will be that.

+++

It isn’t chemicals. It isn’t neurons and it isn’t getting fucked and it won’t be thorough or methodical or any other word that might imply a passionless, matter-of-fact coupling, easily endured and easily forgotten. Steve will never settle for that; James will never permit it; Natasha herself will never –

But she will, of course. That’s what makes her who she is: if it’s necessary she’ll do it and endure it and be fine with it after. She’s the Black Widow. It’s her job to make the monster’s choice and live with it afterwards.

+++

This isn’t a goddamn battlefield.

She keeps having to remind herself, thinks maybe she should write it across the wall opposite her bed, scrawl it on her hands and arms so she’ll always see. This isn’t a battlefield. There are no lives at stake. The world isn’t ending.

This is just about her.

+++

On the last day, the very last day, the ninth day, she wakes up hot and feverish and trembling a little in all her limbs, thirsty and tired though she’s just slept ten hours straight. Natasha stumbles to the bathroom, drinks a glass of water; then she stumbles downstairs, leaning on the bannister, one foot after the other, easy, easy.

They’re kissing in the dining room. Has she ever seen them kiss before? She can’t remember, but the sight sets her shaking; her stomach clenches hotly, her legs tremble, she’s – oh god – they’re leaning against the table and they’re fully dressed and it’s the most chaste and uninteresting kiss, comparatively speaking, and she’s wet and getting wetter just from looking at them.

Steve’s leaning against the table. His legs are spread, flung out wide, and James is standing between them, one hand cupping the back of his neck; Steve’s not even touching him, his hands are on the edge of the table next to his thighs, but his eyes are half-closed and there’s a pretty pink flush on his cheekbones and James is kissing him with teasing, cheerful intent, light and gentle, a kiss he had never, ever given to Natasha, never had time to give her. They’re so – it’s so comfortable, they’re smiling, they’re both smiling into it, and she wants, wants, wants: wants the only two men in all New York who don’t want her back, not even now, not ever.

She must make some noise or other. James jumps a little; Steve turns; they both smile at her like the sun coming up, and Steve takes his hand off the table and holds it out to her.

“Morning,” he says.

“Hey.” She’s a little hypnotised by those long fingers, their shadow lying on the table, the lines of his arm, the heavy shoulder, the neck she wants to press her face against –

“You OK?” James. Natasha’s there, she’s right next to them, her fingers are cradled tight and gentle in Steve’s, James’ hand falls to the small of her back, presses her close, she can smell the coffee on their breath, the shampoo in Steve’s damp hair, James’ aftershave. They’re both so warm, so –

“I don’t know,” she says, struggling to speak clearly past the Asgardian sex magic that’s fogging her mind and making her light-headed with desire. “I don’t know, I think I’m going crazy, Thor said it might make me irrational –“

“You didn’t say!” Instant worry. It warms her to the tips of her toes. Her bare toes. She’s barefoot and mostly barelegged in their dining room at eight in the morning, close enough to kiss, thin pyjama shorts and thinner top, outlining her breasts in glorious detail, scraps of fabric between her skin and their hands.

“I wasn’t thinking. I haven’t been thinking. Everything in my head is spinning and it’s making me want things, it’s making me think about things I would never think about, not like that, not… just not.” She fights through it, breathless. “I can’t get rid of it, it’s like a laser-guided – everything’s messed up in my head, everything’s – there’s only one thing I can think about.”

“You’re burning up,” says Steve. “Look, let’s get you to bed –“

Oh was that ever the wrong thing to say. Natasha makes a noise impossible to pass off as anything other than a moan, and then James catches hold of her.

“Sweetheart, listen,” he says. “I don’t know what’s going on in your head right now but you’re not leaving here, OK? We’ll make sure you’re all right.”

What’s left of her rational mind knows that he means they won’t let her go out and get fucked by the first likely-looking candidate to cross her path on the way to the subway station; the drugged-by-magic majority decides that he’s talking about something else entirely.

“Yes,” she says, “oh yes please,” and her mouth is running away with her against her will even though she can see the shock on Steve’s face, feel James moving away from her sharply, rejection buried under the, you know, Asgardian sex magic that apparently has the driver’s seat in her brain right now. “Please, you – I know you don’t want me but please, just this once, I can’t –”

“Don’t want,” says Steve, strangled with horror, and in spite of this she’s about to kiss him when the Soldier snaps, “Widow, eyes on me now,” and it’s not till she’s just about standing at attention that she realises he spoke in Russian.

“What did Thor say?”

“It’s meant to make me want someone,” she says. “It’s a two-way street.” It’s easier in Russian, more clinical, less emotional – all her emotions are tied up in English packages, these days.

“So you ride it out for twenty-four more hours and it will be fine.”

“Are you hungry?” says Steve, and his Russian’s quite passable, surprisingly. “Water?”

Natasha takes a step back, experimental; she just about manages to keep her feet. “I – I’m going upstairs, I –”

“We’ll bring you some breakfast.”

“Thank you.”

+++

She goes back to bed.

Fever dreams; she’s burning up, she’s restless and weak as a newborn kitten, she’s eaten up with want. It’s excruciating. She tries to get herself off but half the time she can’t focus for long enough to actually touch herself the way she likes. They make her drink: water, then juice, sweet with fruit sugar. Steve’s hands on her are – it’s not – she can’t – it’s unbearable. James is better: his left hand is cool and impersonal and comforting, touching her hot face, her hands.

“Not compos mentis,” she says once, in some lucid moment. “Asgardian sex magic. Promise not to tell anyone.”

He kisses her, a short warm peck on the mouth. “Of course not.”

“It’s personally offensive to me that you’re immune,” she says sternly. “You’ve got no business being immune. I can forgive Steve but you know exactly what you’re missing.”

“Sweetheart,” he says, “I’ve never been immune to you.”

“That’s a nice line.”

“It’s the god’s-honest truth. I’ve been practicing holding off on kissing you senseless at every turn for nearly ten years, you goose.”

Natasha laughs at him, because it’s such a sweet thing to say, and drifts away again into blurry dreams.

+++

The next morning Natasha wakes up early and her head is perfectly, blindingly, beautifully, humiliatingly clear.

“Oh no,” she says, staring up at the ceiling. “Oh no oh no oh no.” She threw herself at her best friends while she was high on Asgardian sex magic – OK, OK, plausible deniability, Romanov, so plausible, very very plausible, excellent, yes. At least there’s that. She stumbles around the room throwing her things into her duffle, she carries her boots in her hand as she sneaks out. The house is silent; they’re in bed still, they’re asleep. She’s not surprised, they must have sat with her, checked on her, half the night until she fell asleep at last. She’s been a terrible patient and a terrible friend.

For the first time she puts a hand to their bedroom door and pushes it open, just a fraction. It doesn’t creak, thank god. They’re asleep. James is sprawled out on his front, face half-hidden in the pillows, the duvet hanging off his hips; it’s cool in here, they have a window open, but apparently Steve’s unnaturally hot weight on him is keeping them both warm; he’s tucked all against James’ side, leg flung across James’, breathing slow and even. Her gaze catches on the scars that mar his back – a knife wound – and the other looks like shrapnel. Natasha wants to touch, to kiss the marks, to comfort him, to know the stories behind them.

She shuts the door silently, smiling to herself, and sneaks downstairs in her socks; she sits on the front porch to put her boots on and texts them thank you from the subway station.

+++

No one looks at her twice. No one talks to her. No one notices she’s even there.

It’s bliss.

+++

The first thing is a two-hour-long hot bath – she feels absolutely filthy – the second thing is to clean her apartment top to bottom, she’s been away for decades and it’s a mess. Natasha puts music on, dusts everything, moves the furniture around to vacuum underneath it, scrubs the kitchen floor, scrubs the bathroom, changes her sheets, takes a shower, orders pizza because she can’t be bothered to go grocery shopping and there’s nothing to cook, eats in front of the TV and then goes to bed.

Steve texts her – glad you’re OK – nothing else.

She sleeps for nearly fourteen hours.

+++

Everyone at work apologises, which Natasha is not grateful for. It just prolongs the weirdness, especially given that she arrives just as the staff are cleaning out the dead bouquets and the teddy bears and the sheaves of love letters that have piled up in her office; thank god no one knows her home address… Poor Helen can’t look her in the face at all. Even Sam stammers out an awkward it’ll never happen again. Only Scott teases her good-naturedly about all the orgies she should have instigated; she throws a balled-up sheet of paper at his head and laughs to herself helplessly when he’s left.

+++

Two days later her doorbell rings. It’s nearly six o’clock at night and she’s cooking pasta, whistling something as she stirs the sauce – it’s probably the landlord, or Mrs O’Malley from downstairs; the woman likes to come around to ‘borrow sugar’ and gossip at you, which Natasha tries to discourage but is really powerless to prevent unless she wants to be notorious as that awful woman who’s rude to everyone.

She flings the front door open and nearly has a heart attack.

“Evening,” says James, and grins at her, a crooked, enigmatic little grin with a distinct air of smugness. He’s wearing a dark grey suit and a navy shirt, his hair slicked perfectly into place. All that’s missing is the watch-chain and the hat, and he’s probably wearing the watch-chain; she knows for a fact that one of his nephews gave him his father’s months ago.

“Hi,” she says, rather stupidly, and Christ Steve’s in a suit as well, though his is navy and the shirt is white and he’s not wearing a tie; that doesn’t help, it just means she can see the hollow beneath his throat and the line of his collar bones, warm golden skin and a smell of aftershave that she hadn’t realised she had missed, the last two days.

“You’re not doing anything, are you?” he says. “This evening?”

Natasha is wearing jeans with holes in the knees and a Hawkeye t-shirt and she hasn’t brushed her hair in ten hours. Of course she’s not doing anything. She glowers at him, suspicious.

“Good,” says James. “We got tickets. You might wanna hurry up, it starts in two hours.”

“What does,” says Natasha. “What are you up to?”

“Well, you’ve had a hellish week, we thought you deserved it,” says Steve. “Come on. It’ll be fun.”

“Wear that green dress you had on at Pepper’s birthday party,” says James, “you know, the one that wraps around.” He gestures, tracing the line of the fold from her shoulder to her hip. She hates him. How dare he notice her dresses. How dare he have a favourite.

“I really like the blue one with the sleeves,” says Steve.

She hates Captain America too. That’s probably treasonous. They could arrest her.

“Where are we going?”

“Somewhere fancy. Pasta smells good.” James herds her back into her apartment, smiling down at her.

God, so do you. She side-steps him, all off-balance, and turns to Steve; he just slides his fingers around her elbow and takes over herding duty.

“Seriously, Nat, let us surprise you. C’mon.”

God. He’s biting his lip, and he’s smiling at her, and –

+++

They take her to the ballet. She’s wearing grey, very deliberately, the grey one with the red detailing and the low back; this has the drawback-slash-advantage that they keep touching her bare skin, guiding her through doors and around corners with their hands at her back. They take her out for drinks afterwards, and it’s nothing, it’s silly, the conversation is perfectly ordinary, they’re perfectly comfortable with her and each other, but Natasha is sure she’s never told Steve that she even likes the ballet – which means it must have been James – and the bar they take her to is a tiny little place with a pianist who plays jazz all night, and she loves jazz, and how do they know that?

They walk her to the door of her damn building.

“You’re up to something,” she says when James kisses her cheek goodnight.

“Yes,” he agrees.

“Don’t look so spooked,” says Steve. “I promise he’s in charge of everything that looks even remotely fancy.”

Natasha bites the inside of her cheek. “So what are you in charge of?”

“Oh, the ordinary stuff,” he says easily. “Good night, Tasha.”

“Good night,” she says. “Thank you – I – it – it was lovely.”

They smile at her like the sun coming up.

+++

Look, Natasha’s an agent and an Avenger and one of the most dangerous people on the planet; she didn’t get that way by being stupid. She knows what they’re doing.

They’re dating her.

It’s terrifying.

Baseball games; museums and art galleries; dinner and drinks; flowers keep turning up outside her front door, roses and heartsease and forget-me-nots – she laughs at that, a little hysterical – parks and tourist attractions and book readings and god alone knows what else: brunch, and concerts, and shows, and books they think she’ll like appearing mysteriously in her duffle bag, coffee brought to her desk. Sometimes it’s all three of them; sometimes Steve or James will ambush her by themselves.

It’s not – they’ve planned it carefully, they know her, they know exactly what she likes, and frankly she suspects them of colluding with Cooper and Lila because sometimes they know a little too exactly what she likes. But it’s – planned. Careful. Deliberate. Like she’s a – a battlefield, a fortress to be captured, a war to be won, a mission to be completed.

+++

They’re soldiers, what did she expect?

+++

Maybe not a battlefield, actually. Maybe – maybe more like a skittish horse, a kid who’s been hit too often, someone whose trust they have to earn in increments, slow, predictable, publicly-staged steps that never leave her comfort zone.

+++

Well that’s not condescending at all.

+++

Then again, she is the girl who threw herself at them while drugged out of her mind and then snuck out of their house in the wee hours of the next morning without so much as a thank you for sharing your house with me and seeing me through the most humiliating nine days of my life.

Not the sort of move that looks good on your romantic CV.

+++

She tried, see. That’s the thing, the worst thing. She tried. Bruce was sweet and funny and gentle and safe; she knew, from the start, that everything would be on her terms, every step would come from her, every initiative had been hers. Natasha felt so very safe with him. Bruce would never have asked for more from her, never have expected more than what she could give; that was what had made her want him, but, just as she said to Laura, he didn’t know how to ask and he definitely didn’t know how to receive.

And now, after that failure on top of all the others, she’s right back where she started, a heartbeat away from that first kiss in the dim armoury, gathering all her courage and her curiosity into her hands, all her growing hope that there might one day be more to her than the monster they had made her, and while it’s true that she still cannot help fearing, in the teeth of all the growing evidence, that Steve and James might turn her away, the growing certainty that they will not is even worse.

+++

Natasha’s messed up, is what she’s trying to say. She was perfectly capable of loving them when she thought they didn’t want her back, but now they’re offering her everything and she doesn’t know how to take it.

+++

Sometimes, apparently, life gives even monsters second chances.

+++

She gives up on a Friday morning at two-forty-six a.m. exactly. They went out for burgers that evening – cheeseburgers and beer and a pool game, nothing fancy.

“New shampoo?” Steve said in the elevator, headed down to the lobby of her building. His body was angled towards her and his smile was slow and secretive.

“Yes,” Natasha said, suddenly and acutely and overwhelmingly aware of how close he was. It isn’t a big elevator at the best of times. “Trying it out.”

“I like it.”

And James reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, fingertips brushing down her neck, setting her to shivering.

Anyway. Two-forty-six a.m. and she can’t sleep, can’t even settle long enough to go to bed, her mind's all over the place, her stomach is a hollowed-out pit. She can’t do this. She can’t take another minute of it.

There’s only one thing to do.

+++

The house is dark, quiet, cool with the breeze from the open windows. Beyond the light-smog of the city the stars will be out… Natasha takes her boots off in the front hall, draws her jacket off and hangs it up on the rack next to Steve’s leather jacket, James’ grey trenchcoat. Silently she climbs the stairs, the wooden floor slippery underneath her thin socks. The steps creak at her companionably, the bannister moulds itself to her hand, her reflection in the mirror at the end of the hall by the bathroom door glimmers in the dimness, grey shirt and pale face and forearms… there’s a light under the bedroom door.

Her hands are trembling when she touches the doorknob, pushes the door open. Half in a trance she shuts it behind her, her breathing quick and shallow. Steve’s head is pillowed on James’ chest, the silver-plated arm curled around his back, his thigh flung heavy over James’. Dim lamp in the far corner of the room, the light gold on their bodies, in Steve’s hair.

Barely moving, they both look at her. Such blue eyes, though James’ are paler. She should say something, but no words suggest themselves, not under that steady hot-eyed gaze of Steve’s, openly possessive. James is biting his mouth, tense and pale, and yet his eyes on her feel like a touch, her Soldier’s touch.

Natasha leans against the bedroom door and flattens her palms against it, forces herself still.

“I’m not very good at this,” she says. She has to make an effort to lower her voice, uncharacteristically loud with nervousness. “I’m anything but good at it. I really thought I was done with it, you know, I thought, I’ve tried, it always ends badly, it’s not worth it, why bother. But.” She draws a breath; they’ve not moved; they’ve made all the moves. This one is up to her. She has to – she has to say something, there have to be words, a promise, unequivocal. It takes her a few tries to get it out. “Don’t. Don’t let me run away again in the morning.”

She has to shut her eyes against the looks they both wear, all disbelief and joy. Part of her wants to cry, though for what she doesn’t know – the grief she’s put them through perhaps, the grief she’s put them all through, or the relief of having declared herself at last, of having locked the door behind herself. She’s smiling, giddy with it, and only opens her eyes when Steve touches her. James is sitting on the edge of the bed, duvet flung back, naked, half-hard.

Natasha puts her hand on Steve’s chest and leans up to kiss him for the first time in her waking life.

Well, that’s not right. But the first time that counts, that’s true. She moans a little when he cups her head in his hand, strong fingers sliding through her hair, and pushes close against him, soaking up his body heat through her clothes. Yes – yes. He pushes her back against the door, a single step, trapping her gently. It makes her shiver, groan: for the first time she lets herself focus on her body and realises she’s hot all over, her skin tight and sensitive and her legs trembling. She clings to him, unnatural hard muscle and inhuman high body temperature: no one else in the world feels like this, no one. No one else in the world has those eyes or that jawline or that adorable bump in their nose; that startled warm laugh and that unexpected grace of movement. He kisses her the same way her Soldier always had, and it makes her giggle suddenly, throat tight with tears, laughing at all the things they have in common.

“Please,” she says, not sure what she’s asking for until the next words tumble off her tongue. “Don’t let me leave, don’t – promise me, promise –“

Don’t let me leave; don’t let me be taken away. Don’t leave me. “Never,” he says, “never, sweetheart, love you, love you.” When he draws back she stumbles after him, trembling, and falls into James; his face is wet with hot salt tears. “You stupid,” he says, kissing her over and over. “How could you think, how could you ever think –“

“I never think,” Natasha says, “clearly I never think, how dare you blame me how dare you,” and then, ridiculously, she starts laughing, or dissolves into tears, she’s not sure, probably both at once, and they drag her onto the bed and hold her till it passes, she’s trapped between them, safe, wanted, loved. “God! I’m sorry. No, I’m not sorry. You’re assholes. How dare you date me.” She starts laughing again, properly this time, helpless fits of giggles as she wipes at her wet face. “Oh my god. You pumped Cooper and Lila for information, didn’t you.”

“Only about the flowers,” says Steve. “Well and the music you like, we got them to send us a list of the CDs you keep there.”

“Thought you were enjoying it,” says James, “being dated.” He sounds amused.

“Well I wasn’t,” says Natasha. “I mean I was I just couldn’t stand – I mean I get dosed with Asgardian sex magic and you don’t want to fuck me, but –”

“Stop right there,” says Steve, leaning up on one elbow and staring at her.

“Hey, I spent that week in a state of considerable sexual frustration,” says James indignantly. “I mean you were – you always are, but –”

“But that was something else,” Steve agrees.

“And yet!” Natasha laughs again. “You’re all gentlemanly and self-controlled, it destroyed my ego.”

“Well, you know, practice, with you,” says Steve.

That’s unbearably sweet. “No more practicing,” Natasha says firmly. “Take me to bed or lose me forever.”

What,” says James, and Steve falls onto his back and laughs himself stupid at the look on his face, all puzzled indignation

“You haven’t seen Top Gun,” says Natasha, “why not, it’s a cinematic masterpiece!”

“Please, the last thing you and Steve told me was a cinematic masterpiece was Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” says James, and by the time they’re halfways calm again it’s probably dawn. Natasha hides her face in the duvet, the occasional burst of laughter still shaking her; she’s tucked against James’ chest, his body wrapped around her, and Steve is lying facing her, playing with her hair.

It’s so easy, to be here, to have James’ arms around her, to reach out and touch Steve’s dear familiar face. She’s never seen him laugh so much before, never seen either of them laugh so much. James’ right hand is heavy on her waist, his legs tangled with hers. She’s trapped herself now. There’s no walking away from this, no easy way out. She doesn’t want an easy way out.

Suddenly she sniggers. “I think we missed an opportunity there. With the Asgardian sex magic.”

“God no, can you imagine,” says James. “We’d have fucked that up irretrievably.”

“Don’t knock the influence,” says Natasha. “I’m kinda grateful.” She wriggles about a little, pointedly. She might still be dressed but they aren’t. “I might’ve run forever if something hadn’t happened.”

“You talk like you think we would’ve let you,” says Steve. “Life’s too short, you know. Even mine.” He grins.

Natasha shivers. “One day I’ll try,” she says dreamily, “just so you can come after me...”

“Yeah?” James kisses her shoulder.

“It would be nice,” Natasha says, “not to have to think for myself for once. It’s fucking hard work.”

Both of them say, “Yeah,” rather gloomily, in near-perfect unison, and Natasha starts giggling again.

+++

“You were right,” Natasha says sleepily. It’s the middle of the afternoon; she’s lying in a pool of sunlight, bedclothes hopelessly tangled around her legs; Steve’s head is pillowed on her hip, and she’s nestled against James’ side – he’s sprawled on his front, the back of his right shoulder a pillow for her head.

“About what?”

“Skipping the Asgardian sex magic. I think if it got better than this I might actually die.”

“Yeah,” Steve agrees, half-asleep by the sound of him.

“The one thing I do wanna do is fuck you in that guest room,” says James in a muffled voice. “Call me fucked up, but god the way you looked in that bed, all twisted up with it and your hands between your legs…”

Natasha shivers. Oh yes. Just imagine: waking out of fever-hot dreams to find the hands on her are real, the bodies in the bed with her solid and strong, barely able to distinguish fantasy and reality, both equally ecstatic. She takes her hand out of Steve’s hair to pinch James’ ass. “Don’t start things you can’t finish, Soldier.” But it comes out low and husky and inviting; she bites her lip.

“Baby,” says James, dropping his voice an octave and putting a purr into it that lights her whole body up, “on the outside and frankly unlikely chance that I’m too wrung out to get it up again, I’ll eat you out till you beg me to stop. I promise.”

“Don’t dare him,” says Steve. “Don’t ever dare him. He’ll do it. You won’t walk straight for a week.”

“I don’t know where you get the balls from to say that to me,” says James, starting to laugh, “after that time in June,” and Natasha wriggles delightedly into the mattress and says, “Oh, tell me everything,” and, well, that takes care of the rest of the afternoon.

+++

“No, but now Captain America and Bucky Barnes are properly uncles,” says Cooper. “That’s pretty cool.”

“I did it just for you,” says Natasha, curling into her couch cushions and smiling.

“Nathaniel said ‘coop’ yesterday,” he confides. “Mom’s been crying all morning. Dad’s jealous. Lila’s trying to make him say her name too but it just comes out as ‘lala’. It’s only natural cause I’m the greatest big brother ever.”

“You’re full of yourself, kiddo.”

“You should come hoooooooome,” he says. “You’re on the news all the time and never here. Bring Captain America and Bucky Barnes with you. They can have sleeping bags in your room.”

“That’s tempting,” says Natasha, swallowing a giggle. “Listen, Coop” – but the doorbell rings. She sighs. “Coop, someone’s at the door. I’ll call tomorrow, OK? Kiss everyone for me.”

It’s James at the door. This suit’s black, the shirt dark red; not just impeccably dressed but impeccably dressed in her colours. That’s cheating.

Natasha leans against the doorjamb and crosses her arms. “What are you up to?”

“Tickets,” he says, flourishing them. “Now don’t look like that, you like surprises. We’ll go dancing after.”

She tilts her head, feeling unsettled. “Is this… not… overkill?”

He arches an eyebrow at her, confused.

“Superfluous?”

He blinks.

“The dating stage is… over?”

“Nobody told me,” he says. “Was I supposed to pass go and collect two hundred dollars? Da-yum. Go on, darling, wear the green for me? I wanna go out with you.”

“I –” says Natasha. Warm happiness unfolds in her stomach. “Yeah – OK.” She laughs. “Sounds good.”

+++

She cooks for them one evening, wanting to give something back, to take a little initiative of her own, and they get into an argument about Star Trek as the rice is cooking, drinking red wine and laughing and kissing to punctuate their sentences.

Natasha didn’t feel this permanently high when she was actually under the influence. She loves it.

+++

Thor comes to pick up the sex magic powder on a Sunday morning. Steve comes in to meet him and pretend to talk shop: in reality the three of them hang out in the mess for a few hours, laughing and reminiscing, other Avengers wandering in and out to chat. It’s not a lovely day, overcast and threatening rain; Steve came on his bike anyway, because he likes daring the world to mess with him.

“Come on,” he says, wheedling, laughing at her.

“No, look at the weather, it’ll turn nasty in half an hour and we’ll both be soaked.”

“So,” he says, “you know, get home, get out of those wet things, curl up in bed…”

Natasha crosses her arms over her chest, glancing away to hide her grin.

“Tasha. Come and ride with me, you love it.”

I love you. She sighs.

“Yes!” he says, delighted.

“If it does rain I’ll make you regret it,” she threatens, throwing a leg over the bike and wrapping her arms around his waist.

“Promises, promises,” Steve says cheerfully.

(It rains all the way back to New York.)