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Inviting Arrays of Masks

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Natasha first noticed the woman at a charity event that Tony Stark had decided to make the Avengers a part of. As Black Widow’s face, like Hawkeye’s, was being carefully kept lesser-known than the flashier boys in their shining armor, she was stalking the edges of the crowd: gauging reactions, spotting allies and potentially troublesome personality clashes. She was always good at reading crowds, and reading individuals when they were in a crowd. Crowds were where people were at once most false in their actions, most obvious in trying to hide their fears, and most open in displaying their displeasure.

Tony Stark, of course, tended to focus more on his own pleasure, regardless of whether there was a crowd or not. The tall woman with long black hair, legs for miles, and a smile of pure mischief suited those purposes well enough, but that wasn’t what first really caught Natasha’s attention about the lady.

Super-spy though she was, on observational reconnaissance as she was, Natasha hadn’t noticed the woman before she appeared at Tony’s side at the bar, her back to the crowd while he faced it, leaning back in his seat with one arm on the bar. That alone was enough to make the Black Widow examine her a little closer. And what she examined was certainly easy on the eyes.

Backless, long black dress, sleekly fitted, with an asymmetrical hem slit to mid-thigh on the longer side. The silken inner lining, the trim, and shimmering intricate embroidery were darkest green with thinner gold highlights. High collar in the back, but open in the front above an artfully exposed triangle of pale skin left visible from her throat to the very tops of her breasts. She wore a thick, elegantly styled band of gold around her neck, draped over her otherwise bare collarbones, down two-thirds of the way to the teasing hint of cleavage shown off by that low neckline. The ensemble was caught between oriental and futuristic, but suited her long, slender figure well. Natasha both appreciated the display of style, and was pleased to note the strange woman was hiding no concealed weapons under all that elegance.

Natasha had been caught off-guard enough by the sudden appearance, but was still more surprised by Tony Stark’s reaction, once the woman said something in response to his muttered-under-his-breath bit of inner monologue and he turned his head to meet the dark-haired lady’s gaze. She smiled at him, wide and bright and a bit uncommonly fierce. And Tony recognized her, and smiled back, surprised and interested, angling his body toward her and looking her over from head to toe with a mixture of surprise and something like awe as he replied. She rested a hand over his heart––or rather, that arc reactor––and he curled a hand around her wrist, but made no effort to remove or dissuade her: quite the opposite, in fact.

That, Natasha noted, is something new. Tony hadn’t treated any past flings like that, and since the breakup with Pepper he hadn’t even been half so cordial with old flames he still might have harbored a bit more feelings for: not even Maya, even before she turned out to have released that programmable virus in the first place.

Now, with the way his fingers moved along the woman’s wrist, the way his smile came a bit easier and the subtly predatory way that they regarded each other, they read like a pair of lovers not so new that they were nervous, but not so established that Tony wasn’t still caught a bit off-guard by her somehow. They had gotten under each other’s skin, and that much was clear, but there was still an air of power-struggle and of wariness about them.

Then he reached up and pushed her hair back, tucking it behind her ear, and said something that he doubtlessly considered a show of wit to make the meaning of his words sound more light-hearted than it truly was, and whatever the woman said in response threw him off, but not in a way that he seemed to mind. For a moment, his expression was open, surprised, pleased, and something more. He slid off his tall bar stool to press closer, bringing them eye to eye, and he kissed her in a way that distinctly did not say “fling” at all.

So Natasha noted it: Tony had a new flame, and she was gorgeous.

She made a mental note to have S.H.I.E.L.D. get some of the security footage later, and see if they could get her identity from a few image scans, and returned to her regularly scheduled reconnaissance rounds without otherwise giving it much more thought. Well, not until those image scans couldn’t find any record of the woman in any known databases world-wide, and some that technically weren’t known.

 

~~

 

Natasha didn’t appear at another Tony Stark formal event for another few months. In that time, she did notice Tony had a tendency to vanish from the face of the earth for a night or three at a time every two or three weeks, such that even S.H.I.E.L.D. had more than the usual trouble managing to reach him; twice, they failed to find him until his return to Avengers Tower. He had a few colorful love-bites on his neck, and not a bit of shame, to show for it after that little disappearing act.

If he happened to be in an uncommonly good mood the rest of that third month after Natasha had caught sight of his new lover, and by then the love-bites ceased to really fade so much as subtly migrate, no one said a word about it. Those who weren’t a bit afraid to ask for fear of somehow jinxing the source of his good mood and bringing back the far more broody Tony Stark, were wise enough to sit back and simply enjoy the show.

Which is what Natasha was doing at this particular Expo. Also keeping an eye out for agents from Hydra, for a number of complex reasons, but mostly she was enjoying the show, and she noticed she wasn’t the only one.

The dark-haired woman was back, and Natasha idly wondered how many of these events she went to, and reminded herself to ask Pepper if Tony seemed to be attending more of them than usual since autumn.

The lady, for she unquestionably carried herself like a queen, wore another black dress, a little more understated, but still in that same color scheme, only a little altered: mostly emerald, accented with black, highlighted in gold. She watched the stage, and Tony Stark thereupon. Closer than before, Natasha noticed the woman’s eyes were an almost unnatural shade of green, like burning copper salts. With casual stealth, Natasha vanished back into the crowd, and doubled-back. She then slowly worked her way back around to approach the bar, this time with the lady’s back to her.

When the assassin was still several feet away, she saw the dark-haired lady’s shoulders stiffen, head tilting just so. She turned a bit as Natasha unhesitantly continued her approach, not missing a beat. By the time Natasha reached the bar, she caught an oddly familiar, dagger-sharp gleam of white teeth out of the corner of her eye as the woman smiled.

“There are not many people who can sneak up on me,” the lady said.

Natasha turned to meet her gaze, wearing the same perfectly calm expression, not-quite-innocent, that she had worn upon first meeting Tony Stark face-to-face in a boxing ring.

The lady’s smile only widened: all wicked curve and mischief, but a bit too cold for comfort. “It’s good to see you well, Agent Romanov.”

At that, Natasha blinked, letting the corner of her mouth curve in mild amusement. “Have we met?”

With a fluid shrug, the lady said not a word.

“I would think I should remember you,” Natasha said, voice low and smooth, looking the other woman up and down, not without a bit of sincere appreciation. Say what you like about Tony Stark, she thought, but the man has truly excellent taste, sometimes.

That brought still more mirth to light up the lady’s eyes. “Perhaps. Times change.”

Well played, Natasha thought. Oh, Tony, what have you gotten yourself into here? “You’re actually quite difficult to recognize, I think.” She glanced idly toward the nearest security camera, then returned her gaze to the lady. “Surprisingly so.”

“I value my privacy, let us say, Agent Romanov.”

“Natasha,” the assassin offered.

The lady’s expression turned a bit curious, then. “Are you flirting with me, Natasha?”

“Is it working?”

The lady laughed. “You’re interesting, and a truly excellent liar,” she said, “but I am not easily caught.”

“Did you give him the same trouble?” Natasha inquired, nodding toward the stage, and the images of Iron Man now playing across the backdrop display.

“Oh, I gave, and still give, Tony all sorts of trouble,” she said lightly. “Less so now than in the beginning, however; well, less property damage at the very least.” Her smile was playful; although that playfulness had an edge to it that might have sent a saner human’s hind-brain all a-quiver.

Natasha raised an eyebrow, her mind itching less with unease, and more with her inability to work out why so much about this woman seemed familiar somehow. Perhaps they truly had met before, but that thought was more daunting than she liked. “When have I met you before?” she asked lightly, in a tone that made her realize she really did seem to be flirting a bit––not altogether falsely.

“Oh, worry not, I’m not anything to do with red in your ledger,” the lady said, just as lightly, smile still in place.

The assassin felt an icy chill pour down her spine, turning to ice in the wake of that single little phrase. “Excuse me?” she asked, her voice a little sharper.

“At long last,” the lady murmured, narrowing her eyes a little. “I thought I would never manage it, but here we are. That reaction is sincere, even.”

“Who are you?” Natasha asked, her voice again calm, but still a bit darker than it had been moments before, and she wore a bit more predator in her expression: less well-concealed than it usually was outside of a physical fight.

“You have been told before,” the lady said, smile gone from her lips but lingering about her eyes. She did not hide her predatory nature at all, and looked as though she might be contemplating the uses to which Natasha might be put in a purely culinary sense. “You’re sharper than almost all of them here, except perhaps the one who has already caught me. You impress me, consistently. Tony Stark, by contrast, positively astonishes me. If you intend to hunt me or seek to bring any of my secrets to light, you had best do rather better than this.”

Natasha considered. She should have known better than to be spurred on by a challenge like that, but she considered anyway. She willingly stepped into the same sort of trap she herself had laid out hundreds of times, for hundreds of people, mostly men, but not nearly. “I get the feeling Stark didn’t try very hard to bring anything of yours to light. I think he followed you into the dark a bit further than you expected.”

The lady’s eyes flickered. “That’s more like it,” she purred, thoughtful.

Another party joined in, stepping out of the crowd suddenly to sidle up beside the lady. “Darling, please stop flirting with government agents,” he teased, but there was a slight edge to it, surprisingly aimed at Natasha. He met her gaze, eyes shooting her a steely warning glare, and his smile was full of teeth.

The assassin blinked. Wow. Unexpected.

“Pardon me, Natasha. We’ll have to catch up another time,” the lady said, light and cordial and elegant, as she allowed Tony to pull her closer with an arm around her waist, curling an arm around him in turn. She didn’t spare Natasha a glance, however, instead catching Tony’s eye and drawing his attention immediately. The assassin noticed that as they turned away, she rested a hand over Tony’s heart, and spoke close to his ear, entirely comfortable in his embrace.

 

~~

 

“I think she’s worried about you,” Loki said softly.

“I think she was looking at you like you might be lunch,” Tony countered.

The god of mischief laughed a little: even an octave above Loki’s usual pitch, in this form, that laugh sounded like smoke and silk. “I’ve caught her off-guard, Tony. Little more than that.” She stopped, once they were a suitable distance from Natasha and the bar, and curled both arms around him, pressing her lips to his for a lingering and surprisingly tender kiss. “She’s interesting, but not half so much as you are.”

Tony’s breath caught. “You don’t fight fair.”

“So I shouldn’t lure her to join us, even as a gift for a special occasion?” Loki purred. “Don’t tell me it didn’t cross your mind.”

The ensuing mental image made Tony’s head spin a bit. “You are dangerous.”

“You like it,” Loki reminded.

Helplessly, the inventor nodded. “I do. I love it.” He slid his hands down her sides slowly, until they rested on her hips. “Provoking our dear Black Widow could be a problem, though. She doesn’t like you.”

“Well, she does when she doesn’t know me, and like this, she doesn’t know me at all, now does she?”

Tony’s mental image altered slightly and he made a small sound. The whole concept was mad, ridiculously risky, and painfully erotic. Of course it had an effect. “You need to stop being perfect and a terrible influence.”

“Never,” Loki countered, smiling broad and sharp.

“Oh good. I love terrible influences.” The inventor dragged his teeth across his lower lip, his expression becoming one of affection and hunger in equal  measure. “Let’s get out of here.”

“No more showmanship tonight?”

“Hell no. You know, if I can help it, I only ever stay for the intro, then book it before the press can catch up with me in the crowd.”

“Or until you get distracted.”

“Just for you, darling,” Tony countered. “And now I’d like to distract you, thoroughly, and at great length. Far from here, though.”

“Of course.” Loki let her head fall forward, hiding her face in his neck, so he felt her lips against his skin as she muttered an increasingly familiar spell that averted all eyes and threw off the two nearby security cameras for just long enough that they could vanish entirely without anyone noticing in the least.

 

~~

 

Upon his return to the tower the next afternoon, Tony was still feeling pretty good about life altogether, and spent several productive hours in his private lab being brilliant as a result. He even remembered to eat, which was how Natasha found and cornered him. He had just sat down with a propped up tablet displaying some new schematics, and a sandwich, in fact. He was minding his own business.

“Who is she, Stark?”

Tony didn’t jump. His shoulders did jerk upward in an impressive twitching motion, though, after which he slowly turned his head and met her gaze. Yes, she was wearing the kill-you-slowly-with-rusty-old-Soviet-gardening-tools face. Of course. On this matter, though, Tony could easily stand his ground. “Not really your business, Tasha dear.”

Natasha slowly arched an eyebrow. “She mentioned red in my ledger,” she said slowly, enunciating each syllable with exaggerated care. “So either you mention that sort of thing off-handedly, in which case we need to have words, or she knows someone else whose heard me mention it. I’d like to track down who.”

The inventor considered. “Or she heard it from you directly.”

The assassin’s eyes narrowed. “Unlikely.”

“Look,” Tony said, “I honestly had never included you as a subject in conversation with her until last night. She knows a bit about you. You know she’s involved with me, which is a fair bit more than most people know about her, and that means you have a bit of leverage over both of us. I know you’re aware of that.”

“Maybe if she had a name to me, I would have leverage,” Natasha said lightly. “Her face isn’t in any archive on the planet, Tony. Not any that S.H.I.E.L.D. can get into. No government identification, no military, no casual photographs uploaded onto the internet. That’s a bit unheard of these days, you know.”

Tony made a mental note of that. Might need to get Loki a passport or something, at least. “Yeah. She’s interesting.” He smiled bright and unforthcoming.

“How much do you really trust her, Tony?”

“Further than most. Further than hi––than her own family does, in fact.” He maintained his composure despite mentally wincing at the near-slip. “Look, Natasha: she’s dangerous, yeah. More so than you are. That said, I still let her nearer very valuable parts of my anatomy on a regular basis. We’ve had an almost-steady relationship for just over three months, and were enjoying some really spectacular sex for about four months leading up to that. I currently value that, and her trust in me pretty highly, because I’m capable of all sorts of things that could make her life a living hell within less than ten hours––the sort of things that would never stop until she was stopped by means of restraints or execution. I’m not inclined to do that, though. And she’s not inclined to take me out, either.” He cleared his throat. “So look: don’t trust her yourself. That’s fine. But you live in my house, and you seem to trust me. Consider that, and consider how long this has been going on before even you noticed and how easy it would have been for her to fuck with me, or you, or the any of us Avengers in all that time. Then consider that she hasn’t done anything.”

“But she might?” Natasha inquired.

Well, it didn’t work out last time, and Loki’s nothing if not practical, he didn’t say, but it was tempting. “Not too terribly likely, but possible. That said, it’s about on par with the likelihood of Bruce destroying the tower: it’s very possible, but would take a bit of provocation, y’know?”

She considered. “She’s familiar to me. I can almost believe I’ve met her before.”

Tony nodded, shrugged, said nothing.

Natasha sighed. “You really care about this one, don’t you?”

After only a moment of hesitation, Tony gave in. “Yeah. I do.”

“You told her yet?”

He cleared his throat again, fidgeting. “Not your business.”

“That’s a strong ‘probably not’ I think,” she mused.

“Why, were you hoping I’d be possessive and jealous enough to help you be less attracted to her or something?” Tony shot back.

Natasha frowned. “I have a pulse and as far as women go, she’s my type. I can deal with attraction; it comes with the territory.” She gestured toward herself illustratively.

“Yes, Black Widow: you’re great at pulling strings,” Tony conceded, but he was starting to smirk now. “But she’s not so easy as all that, is she?”

“Is this an invitation?” Natasha’s eyes narrowed.

“Not really, but I can’t say the idea lacks merit,” Tony mused, letting himself revisit the mental images. Oh, fucking christ. “You’ve never been that fond of me, though.”

“You were a mission,” the assassin said. “I saw you as one. Attraction wasn’t a factor then.”

The inventor’s eyes narrowed. “Interesting.”

“What?”

“Past tense.”

Natasha held his stare, unflinching, her expression a blank mask.

Tony felt the tension in the air crackle nevertheless and started to smirk, feeling a bit of a buzz suddenly. “Seriously?”

“Admittedly,” she said, with only a little reluctance, “it’s less about you than it is the pair of you. You’re different with her. You otherwise hide your predatory streak almost as well as I do, just with different tools: joking, showmanship, misdirection. She brought it out from the moment I first saw you with her. It was interesting, in a way I hadn’t thought you could be interesting.”

The inventor’s mouth went dry.

“I think that’s all we qualify for, isn’t it, Tony? You and I,” she said, smiling a little now. “Interesting. Not enough to quite click without a bit of additional something to lure out a bit more recklessness and hedonism.”

“Is this a request for an invitation?” Tony asked lightly.

“No. I get the feeling it’s not on you to make that call.”

He thought it over for a few moments. “Accurate.”

“Then enjoy the hypothetical,” she said lightly. “And know that I’ll skin you alive if you act like an asshole about this.”

Tony raised both hands, palms-forward. “Duly noted.” He arched an eyebrow. “Should that additional factor be amenable, however...”

Natasha looked him over appraisingly, thought of that fierce look he’d shot her direction when she been verbally sparring with his dark-haired lady, and of the look on his face when that lady rested a hand over his heart: hungry, dark, and heated. It sent a pleasant warmth through her to think about getting a chance to touch that sort of passion, to get caught between these two for a little while. It had been a long time since she’d been able to get caught up in someone else’s storm rather than those purely of her own making. The thought of doing that with Tony Stark and his mysterious lover was enough to nearly make her toes curl; it was the sort of encounter even the Black Widow thought she might not escape unscarred, but those scars would be well earned. “I would like that,” she said, low and thoughtful and predatory.

Tony felt the hairs raise on the back of his neck. “Also noted,” he said.

Smiling her best enigmatic smile, Natasha turned away and headed out the door. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw a dark figure, dressed all in green and gold, reflected in the stainless steel door of the refrigerator, but when she turned to get a better look, the only reflection was her own. She scanned the kitchen briefly, found nothing, and proceeded into the hall.

Watching that brief little double-take from the assassin, Tony suddenly felt less alone in the room, even after she left. “Keeping an eye on me, then?”

“You aren’t the only one with occasional concerns,” whispered a low, possessive, and decidedly masculine voice in his ear: all trickster, all Loki in his truest form.

The inventor shivered. “You’re still far more interesting than she is,” he countered, his voice low and thoughtful. “You have me as long as you can stand me. You know that.” He twitched in surprise a little at the feel of Loki’s mouth on the side of his neck and made a low noise in his throat, tilting his head to give a bit more access. Then Loki was there, nearly in his lap on the barstool, dressed in full Asgardian wear, though thankfully sans the heavy gold armor and helmet. It was brief, aggressive, and just a bit desperate for reassurance, on both sides.

When they parted, Loki smiled a small, surprisingly gentle smile. “I had a word with your AI, you know. Apparently, it’s very nearly your birthday.”

Tony’s eyes widened. “Y-yeah. It, uh, it is.”

The god of mischief’s fingers trailed along Tony’s jaw and down his throat. “Invite the charming little assassin. Just for the night.” He kissed the inventor again firmly before he could quite respond, then pulled away to whisper in Tony’s ear, “And you have me, Tony Stark, for as long as you may desire beyond that.”

The inventor made a low, slightly breathless noise, his hands gripping hard at the lapels of Loki’s coat. “Yes,” he managed, low and ragged. “You. Are. Perfect.”

The god of mischief made a noise of slightly startled surprise when Tony stood quickly, the motion pushing the barstool out from under him with a clatter. Tony kept his balance by by pressing the full length of his body against Loki’s. Discarding, without regret, his original intention of vanishing for dramatic effect shortly after his little confession, the god of mischief instead gripped Tony about the waist and hastily transported them both to the penthouse suite.

As was well-established habit now for the household AI, JARVIS deleted all security footage in which Loki appeared, except for copies left on Tony’s own private, heavily secured servers. JARVIS also sent a tidying-droid to put Tony’s half-eaten sandwich in the refrigerator.

 

~~

 

Initially, Natasha had regarded the invitation without much interest––so she told herself, though she left it on her vanity long after other envelopes in her stack of mail had gone to their more final destinations. While she spent just barely half her nights in her quarters in the Avengers’ tower, she still returned often enough to glance at it, and consider.

The invite itself wasn’t altogether special. The other Avengers had each gotten one, she well knew. She doubted, however, that any one of them had gotten one with traces of lipstick above Tony’s signature: his handwriting, but clearly not his lip-prints. It was permission to chase, and Natasha was taking her time to consider whether she was really that interested.

She did try ever so hard to pride herself upon being practical. It was clear Tony had involved himself with a particularly clever, most likely criminal and possibly genius lady. And neither Natasha, nor any part of S.H.I.E.L.D. she had access to, could even find out what her name was. There was courting danger on the one hand, and contemplating inglorious suicide via lust and stupidity on the other; and yet, why would someone with that sort of power, and that sort of sway, be interested in offing a mere little Black Widow, if it might affect what the Lady had with her Iron Man? It was clear enough, to Natasha at least, that there was mutual investment in that: not just on Tony’s side, given the risk such a well-hidden, private and secretive creature as his lady took by making regular appearances at so many glitzy Stark Industries events.

If only she had some measure other than efforts at scheduling on which to base that particular assumption.

Her opportunity arrived three days later, a mere forty-eight hours before Tony Stark’s planned birthday bash. They were fighting a few malevolent Skrulls who had formerly been imitating a few powerful politicians when all hell broke loose.

One of the Skrulls apparently used his “phone a friend” option, and summoned his master, who was apparently already in the area, fleeing from the Fantastic Four. “Brilliant,” Natasha remembered snapping, swiftly starting to run for cover: the creature Clint had so affectionately named “Super-Skrull” in one of his less creative moments. It was a genetic experiment, capable of the usual shape-shifting, and also perfect imitation of the Fantastic Four’s powers. Hawkeye shot down a line for her, which she hooked to her belt, wrapped around her forearm, and let him reel her up out of the way with it just as the massive thing landed hard in their midst and the asphalt began to melt under its feet.

Natasha kept her distance once those fireworks started, exchanging glances with Clint. Neither of them were quite insane enough that night to leap down into the fray of spiked force-shields, half-molten chunks of concrete debris, and the collective wraths of both The Thing and The Hulk.

Tony Stark, however, with the advantages of his suit, held out admirably for a long while, and even landed the Super-Skrull a few critical hits, allowing the Fantastic Four to start wearing him down. It worked marvelously until an invisible javelin of force went straight through his shoulder. Clint, intent on calling shots for the others on the ground while Natasha kept up running commentary for the ones in the air, missed it. Everyone missed it, save Black Widow, who saw the impact, the arcing shape of spilled blood as that bit of force-field slid through armor and flesh alike without resistance, and she saw Tony drop several feet before getting control again despite the pain. He almost dodged the next one, but it grazed his chest piece, and the protective cover the armor laid over the arc reactor visibly shattered.

Again, Tony fell, and this time he didn’t seem as able to recover. Natasha reported it with some urgency, but the others were distracted. “Iron Man is falling! Reed, tell me you can-”

“He’s out of my range, just now, Agent Romanov.”

“Well shit,” Natasha snapped, then felt her breath catch as she caught a flash of something not quite right: something green as burning copper salts, from where Tony should have visibly and spectacularly crashed––but didn’t: no burst of noise and sparks, he simply vanished into the alleyway his fall had aimed him for. “We have more company! Someone just intercepted Stark, one block over. I can’t see from here.”

There was an ungodly sound, then: raw elements in violent protest at the way they were being treated. Molten stone hissed, creaked, cracked into solidity, all along the street, starting at a point near where Tony had landed and radiating outwards. It was ice. Lots of ice. “I didn’t think the X-men were around,” Steve said over the comms, but he sounded uncertain.

“That’s not Iceman,” Reed said gravely. “Their frequency isn’t in use here, and without it he would have sense to show himself.”

The Thing interrupted, “Don’t stop now! It’s to our advantage, here: we have him on the ground knee-deep in melted street, and it’s not lookin’ like it’ll be melted for long!”

The action abruptly recommenced. Within twenty minutes further, there was an end in sight, and the ground was safe again for mere humans to tread. Natasha repelled down the building back onto the street and ran toward what should have been Iron Man’s crash site.

She struggled to maintain her balance as the ice thickened, the closer she drew to him: inches thick so she nearly had to jump waves of ice like miniature hurdles once she rounded the corner. Then a projectile launched at her: green flame, green as poison, aimed right at her heart. She dodged, barely, slipping only a bit on the ice, and caught herself gracefully.  “I’m not here for that!” she shouted.

Silence was the only reply.

“How is he?” she tried again, after several moments.

A low, familiar voice, rather harsher than she recalled, responded, “All the better if you will shut up and let me concentrate.”

Natasha blinked. That sounded suspiciously like Tony’s lady. She settled in where she was crouched, and waited, noticing broken-off little bits of Tony’s armor scattered in sections of the nearby ice. After a long moment she heard Tony gasp and  a fit of coughing louder and stronger than someone wounded about the upper ribs and shoulder should have been able to. There was still a bit of wet blood in the sound, but not so much as Natasha might have expected.

Someone shushed him, though to Natasha’s ear it sounded less like his lady. She wondered whether someone else might be with them.

“Lo-mmmph.” A pause. “What the Hell-”

“We’re not alone.”

A longer pause, interrupted by low, urgent whispers Natasha couldn’t catch, though after a while she noticed another flicker of that strange greenish light, reflected oddly through the ice. She lifted her head, then, as she heard armor-heavy footsteps approaching her––alone, notably.

Tony carried his helmet, and his armor looked less than grand, extra torn places Natasha didn’t recall noticing before he fell. Then she realized they thoroughly obscured where he had actually been impaled, and that there wasn’t as much blood on it as there should have been. “Hey,” he said, his expression carefully masked.

“You look surprisingly well,” Natasha said, rising to her feet and glancing pointedly into the dark from whence he’d approached. Only as it cleared up a bit did she realize the dark hadn’t been altogether natural. “That’s an impressive illusion. Better than some of Doc Strange’s. Interesting.”

“Who?”

“Occult consultant for S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Natasha said off-handedly. “Your lady...”

“Drop it,” Tony said, his voice flat and cold. “How’d the fight go?”

“They had just wrapped up the Super-Skrull when I left,” Natasha said. “His little friends got away, though.” She looked at his face closely. “Are you alright?”

Tony absently touched his not-so-injured-as-it-should-be shoulder, his brow furrowing for a moment. Natasha admired all that he managed to hold back so that even she couldn’t detect it. “I’ll be fine.” He cleared his throat a little and met her gaze again, perfectly composed. “Just a bad landing.”

Natasha nodded thoughtfully. “You’re reconsidering an invitation, aren’t you?”

He glared at her. “Not the time.”

“I know.” She smiled a bittersweet sort of smile. “She wouldn’t let me near you.”

“No. She wouldn’t,” Tony muttered. “You’re almost as out of your depth here as I usually am with this one. Take me at my word: you should drop it.”

“Or what, Tony?” she challenged. “If I really were a threat, what would you do?”

He stared at her for a long few moments. “I’d hope you’re as practical and intelligent as I like to think you are, when I rely on you in fights like these.” He nodded toward the battle field.

“They’ll be wondering about the ice,” Natasha said.

Tony seemed caught off-guard for a moment, and observed just how far the glacial effects went. “Oh. Wow. How on earth did-” He cut himself off deliberately and started walking past her, taking in the half-frozen battlefield. His expression cracked enough to let shell-shocked astonishment display. “What the fuck happened?

“We could ask you the same, Mr. Stark,” Reed called, shortly before making his whippy way over to them like a liquid thing, from overhead and a bit leftward. “The ice started not long after you fell, starting apparently from where you fell.”

Tony gestured toward himself, his armor, and the dried blood in his hair. “I landed hard. You’re lucky I can walk straight; I’m only human, Reed. Natasha nearly had to yank me out of a crater. Whoever pulled off that little ice trick didn’t stick around.”

Natasha’s eyebrows raised a bit as she noted that when it really came down to it, Tony Stark could be a startlingly good liar. “Someone with a vendetta against the Skrulls, but otherwise not inclined to get our attention, or yours, perhaps?” Natasha suggested. “There was evidence of a hasty escape back there.”

If he was surprised by her cooperation, Tony didn’t show it, only raised his eyebrows unforthcomingly at Reed’s slightly disappointed look.

“It’s no one we’ve encountered before. I’ll have to study some of the readings from it to be absolutely certain, but the way it moved was more like a concentrated storm of cold than Ice Man’s rather less brute-force abilities. If it’s someone trying to avoid our attention, then they’re doing so preemptively, unless you Avengers know of anyone?” Dr. Reed prompted.

“Not so’s you’d notice,” Tony said flatly. “I’d remember my ass being as numb as it currently is, even through the suit. Impressive effect, definitely.” He took in the scene of destruction with a low whistle. “Someone was really... really pissed off,” he said, his voice just a little too soft and thoughtful.

“We’ll let you know if we find anything, Dr. Reed,” Natasha said.

“Of course. We’ll keep you appraised on our progress with the Skrulls. Thank you very much for your help.”

They exchanged further parting pleasantries before Tony could quite extract himself. Natasha kept an eye on him as she reported to Steve over the comms. The inventor was looking at the ice the way he looked at interesting new scientific theories mapped out in formulae across his myriad interactive touch-screens: detached, fascinated, and seemingly itching to get his hands dirty in the mechanics of how it all must work. There was something a bit less distant about his appraisal than usual, though: an occasional expression of sincere bafflement.

It occurred to Natasha that he still wasn’t used to anyone caring about him on quite such a grand scale––let alone someone capable of showing it on quite such a grand scale. She was the only one, it seemed, unsurprised when Tony vanished from the face of the earth for the next two days, not reappearing again until his party began.

Natasha was there, seated at the bar, watching his loud and colorful entrance on the stage at the other end of the room. She couldn’t help but shake her head, with a hint of a smirk, at how thickly he did lay it on. Her spine snapped straighter and stiffened at the feel of a breath against the back of her neck, but she didn’t jump, and didn’t quite shiver. “You’re early,” she said, her gaze still straight ahead. “And I’d be interested to know how you managed to be that silent.” She turned slowly, then, and inhaled sharply as she found the lady with the long dark hair and those impossible green eyes a mere breath away. “There’s not many people who can sneak up on me,” she said. As she said it, something in her memory clicked faintly: enough to itch, but not enough for her to track down the source of the click and figure out where it fit: green eyes, those words, said to her by the lady the first time they had met––the first time she could recall, in any case. Something.

The lady smiled like a knife: all white teeth and just a bit more brashly wolfish than most women could properly convey. “Remember me yet?”

The assassin shook her head. “Not quite, no. It’s bothering me.”

“It would bother you far more if you recognized me,” the lady said. “Keep that in mind, darling.” She raised a hand, luring the bartender over and requesting Metaxa on the rocks.

Sipping her own drink. Natasha looked the woman over: same sleek styling to the dress, though a bit more post-modern, and still visibly lined with that dark, dark shade of green. The only gold this time was at her neck, and her wrists. “You keep to that color scheme a lot.”

“As do you,” the lady pointed out, eyeing Natasha’s well-executed little black dress, and the blood-colored garnets trailing down near her collarbones.

“Point taken.” She held the lady’s gaze. “I’m surprised at you meeting me here. You seem... disinclined to share.”

“Some things,” the lady admitted. “Things that last longer than a single night.” An offer and a warning, all at once. “Allow me to be perfectly clear: you will not get this opportunity again.”

Natasha felt a trickle of heat along her spine. “Understood. I’m not looking for that from you. Interesting as you both are, I’m not quite half so insane as the pair of you, I think. I only pay very brief visits to that sort of madness.”

The lady smiled again, then, warm and more open this time. “Very good.”

“I don’t suppose I get to ask questions?”

After a few moments’ consideration, and her first sip of liquor, the lady assented, “Just a few. I may very well not answer.”

“Were you and he alone, when you nearly set me on fire?” Natasha inquired.

A low snort, and a knowing smile. “Yes.”

Natasha’s brow furrowed a little. “It sounded otherwise.”

“Do you think that shadows and other matters visual are the only illusions I’m capable of?”

The assassin considered. “How much of you is illusion now?”

“A good deal. I could be someone else entirely tomorrow,” she said simply.

Natasha’s eyes narrowed. “You clever bitch.”

“Thank you, darling,” the lady said, the curve of her smile very self-satisfied, which suited her far better than it had any right to.

“So I’ve met a different version of you.”

The lady nodded.

Natasha considered, finishing the last sip of her martini and setting it aside. “The eyes must be the same.”

“You would do better to save your curiosity, where my identity is concerned for after tonight, should you wish to spend so much time in my company. Unless you really wish to know, and don’t mind spoiling the surprise, but say not that you were unwarned.”

“You clearly know who I am, and to some extent the sort of things I get up to, as well as the people I tend to like,” the assassin mused. “How bad must you be that you’re afraid to let me know who you are?”

“Very bad,” the lady assured. “Particularly for you and yours.”

“I have no one who counts as mine. Not really,” Natasha said.

“Yes you do.” Those impossible green eyes were all too knowing. “Don’t try to lie to me with such half-lies you so often tell yourself. You’re truly a master of the art of dishonesty, but so am I, and I’ve had years more practice.”

Natasha’s expression darkened. “Is your true form reflective of this seniority?”

“Not really. I do not age as you do,” the lady said simply. “You of all people should not be so quick to assume someone like me to be human, Natasha.”

“If I can’t have your name it’s unfair that you get mine.”

“You know the name that currently has my heart tied to its owner,” the lady said. “That alone is more than I would entrust to most assassins who might have reason to dislike me.” She finished her drink and slid from her barstool, every motion smooth as silk as she moved further into Natasha’s space, close enough that the assassin could feel how the coolness of the air around her increased with every inch closer the dark-haired lady drew. “Since you insist, I tell you now that I have been your enemy, and not without reason. I will not seek redemption, as I find it a presumptuous thing to request from people with lives so short and brutal as most human lives tend to be, in comparison to my own. You may either accept that, and the potential that you may deeply regret this later, or you may tell me to go.”

Natasha felt her body respond, independent of her cooler thought processes. She wanted very badly to touch, and see if the lady’s mouth was as cool as the chill breath against her cheek promised. She was also wary. “You hurt one of mine,” she said, voice low and sharp. “How badly?”

“He lives. He breathes. He has nightmares, I would not doubt. He will never forgive me, and I do not blame him. I did to him what had been done to me by similar means, and I have not forgiven that monster either,” the lady said. “But he was returned to you otherwise whole, with no new scars on his skin to itch at his memory when he looks into a mirror.”

Sadly, Natasha considered, that only narrowed down the list so far, at first glance. Of those few she had claimed over the years as her own, whether they knew or not how deeply she did value them, several were still alive, and male. Several had been put through experiences that would give them nightmares, but emerged without scars. Considering further, the way the lady spoke suggested she thought Natasha would know more about those theoretical nightmares than did the lady herself. That narrowed it a bit further. Further still if she ruled out days from her red ledger, and adjusted a few other factors from past conversational hints. “Hawkeye.”

“Yes,” the lady said, expression wary, but she did not move away.

“Why tell me, when you know it only tempts me to poison you?” she said, voice all ice and anger.

“Because I am in love with the man whose house you do live in, and our crossing paths one day is inevitable. You will know who I am one day, and I would prefer not to bring your already impressive protective streak’s anger to also be tempered by the bitterness of feeling deceived by someone you’ve bedded,” the lady said. “I respect you,  in my way, for you are a talented liar and positively an artist when it comes to tricks and deception. Had we met in different circumstances, in the distant past, I might have taken quite a shine to you.” She touched the assassin’s face with a hint of tenderness. “As it is, we first crossed paths when I was twice as mad, and ten times as broken, as I am here, standing before you now.”

Natasha’s gaze narrowed further still, but there was an odd warmth to her voice when she added, “And now you catch Tony Stark when he falls.”

The lady smiled, crooked and a bit warm. “Our broken edges fit together in a... uniquely complementary fashion.”

The assassin reached out a hand, rested it low near the middle of the lady’s ribcage, imagining how easy it would be to damage her sternum, perhaps with the dagger she had about her person, from this close, with a bit of leverage from the bar. Her fingers instead drifted up and left, then down along the lady’s side to her hip, feeling surprising muscle there under the gentle curves. It made her want to feel them much closer and more intimately. “You think I couldn’t kill you,” she said.

“You would find it difficult, but not impossible. With enough tries, you might well manage it,” the lady admitted.

Gently, Natasha tugged her closer. “You’re not redeemed, nor are you forgiven,” she said slowly. “But consider yourself on parole, where I’m concerned.”

“You still don’t know what it is I’ve done,” she said.

“Yes I do,” Natasha hissed, low and predatory, sitting up a little further as though whispering in the lady’s ear, but instead her lips brushed the tender skin behind the corner of the lady’s jaw. “You look surprisingly good in a dress, though, Loki.”

A rather satisfactory shiver ran through the well-disguised lie-smith under her hands, and against her lips. “Well then,” Loki breathed, “this really might prove to be an interesting night.”

“Touch Barton again and I will make sure that myth about the snake venom will seem like a delightful pipe dream to you,” Natasha said softly, then bit at the tender skin of the god of lies’ neck.

Lady Loki gave a low, thoughtful hum, just slightly sultry. “Duly noted.” She pulled back just enough to meet Natasha’s eye. “I have one suggestion, unrelated to my potential flaying.”

“Oh?”

The god of mischief smiled bright and sharp. “Let’s not suggest you’re aware who I am to Tony.” That smile widened just a little. “Not at first.”

Natasha started to understand how this sort of madness might be appealing and thrilling––especially to one Tony Stark. It wasn’t her usual cup of tea, but for the night, it set her grinning, already getting just lost enough to play along, just for a while, almost like a real person. “Go on.”

By the time he escaped the stage, dodged several reporters, reassured Pepper that he had nothing explosive or particularly insane planned, and finally made it to the bar, Tony Stark was deeply disconcerted to find that his lover had more of an audience than usual, and that it was in no small part due to the red-headed assassin in Loki’s lap. The woman and the god of mischief disguised as one both shot him casually appraising looks, as though they had never seen him before, though the sly, wicked curve of Loki’s lips said, danger and lots of it.

With abrupt clarity, Tony knew he was in trouble, but oh what trouble it would be.

Understandably, he didn’t remember most of the rest of the night until Loki and Natasha managed to steal him away and conveniently deposit him, and themselves, into Happy’s Bentley.

“Where to, Tony?” Happy asked, then did a bit of a double-take at the tableau they formed in the back seat: the tall lady with dark hair in the middle, with Tony’s arm about her waist and her own arm draped across the dangerous Natasha Romanov’s shoulders. Natasha arched an eyebrow at him, daring him to say a word.

Happy Hogan did not dare.

Loki provided directions to a hotel, in which her alias Lauri Laufeyson had reserved a penthouse suite. The hotel in question was one that the god of lies and Tony were both familiar with, from the earlier, more raw and reckless days of their tumultuous relationship: before it had gotten really personal. Tony wasn’t sure whether to be amused or not, mostly because he was distracted by the sight of Natasha’s hand on Loki’s thigh.

“I get the feeling coherent thought won’t last long at this rate,” he said, low in the got of mischief’s ear.

And Loki only laughed, low and dark.

 

~~

 

Natasha was fairly tingling with anticipation by the time they reached the hotel, surprised a bit at the lack of groping in the car: just light touches, surreptitious, from Loki’s fingers trailing along her neck, her collarbones and her jaw. Tony had watched, his own arm around Loki’s waist fairly still, though his mouth drifted to the god of mischief’s ear and the tender skin below it, teasing just enough to earn a shiver now and then.

By the time they reached the elevator, however, the spell seemed to break. Loki leaned back against Tony’s chest, pulling Natasha’s back flush to her front with two strong arms about the assassin’s waist. Natasha relaxed willingly, and made a small sound as Loki’s too-clever mouth worked on her neck in earnest, and Tony’s hands began caressing them both.

The fact the elevator had mirrors on all sides was just icing on the cake.

Tony breathed Loki in: glaciers and apples and forest, with only a trace of Natasha’s lavendar-and-leather scent in addition. His hands traced the god of mischief’s  hips and sides, then slid between Loki’s arms and Natasha’s waist and drifted up, up, to get his hands on the assassin’s all too fine breasts. Then a roll of Loki’s hips pulled a low groan from him, and when his grip tightened he heard Natasha gasp softly. Glancing up, he noticed one of Loki’s hands had trailed lower, and slid up under Natasha’s dress to settle between her legs, where the fabric hung just low enough to conceal the actions of long pale fingers implied by the fluid little movements and flicks of the wrist Loki employed. Whatever the god of mischief was doing, it made Black Widow’s back arch and another low sound to escape her throat. Loki met the gaze of Tony’s reflection and smiled, lips just slightly parted as her breath quickened.

They couldn’t reach the penthouse floor quick enough, Tony thought, though his thoughts were soon interrupted by the chime of their arrival; and yet, he was still of the opinion it should’ve happened several minutes, or hours, earlier. He gripped Loki’s hips again and steered the god of mischief out, earning a mischievous laugh in response as Loki released Natasha enough that she had the option not to be dragged along. She followed regardless, face flushed, even taking hold of and deftly removing Tony’s tie in a single fluid, practiced gesture as they went. Loki caught sight of it and turned herself in Tony’s grasp, starting to unbutton his shirt. Once they managed to reach the bedroom proper, Loki kicked off her heels, putting her height even with Tony’s to her apparent amusement. Natasha tugged at the mad inventor’s suit jacket as Loki’s hands slid under it and his shirt alike, sending both garments tumbling to the ground. As soon as his hands were once more free, Tony wasted no time letting one of them hike up Loki’s skirt while the other settled between the god of mischief’s legs and began rubbing: slow and teasing, enough to make Loki’s breath catch.

Natasha sidled around them to slip behind Loki and start pulling that dress’s back zipper down. Her hands slipped under the fabric, around the narrow ribcage to cup the god of mischief’s ample breasts. “You wear these well,” she murmured in Loki’s ear, just a bit too low for Tony to hear.

Loki laughed, back arching, and let her head fall back and to one side until she could meet Natasha’s eye. With Natasha still in her heels and lady Loki barefoot, the assassin had just enough advantage in height to minimize strain of either of their necks when she took that opportunity to get her first taste of Loki Lie-smith’s dangerous mouth. Distantly, she heard Tony swear reverently at the sight, but her ability to pay much attention had lowered drastically, because she was in the middle of discovering that even with the considerable distractions of Tony Stark’s and Natasha Romanov’s clever hands doing a fair bit of wandering (and, in the case of Tony’s right hand, the exploration was very localized and fricative) Loki, and more particularly Loki’s tongue, was still capable of a breathtakingly masterful displays of skill. The fact Tony was making the god of mischief increasingly breathless all the while only meant Loki made more low, hungry noises into Natasha’s mouth while at it.

Altogether, it was terribly distracting, and Natasha got a bit lost in it, and at the feel of that lean body under her hands.

It took the assassin a few moments to notice when Tony’s free hand drifted up to cup her jaw, gently breaking them apart. “Pardon,” he said, low and hungry. Natasha’s eyes fell open and she noticed that at some point Tony’s pants and Loki’s dress––the god of mischief hadn’t been wearing a damn thing under it, apparently––had vanished at some point. “But you’re overdressed,” Tony concluded.

And perhaps she was, but only by the factor of a few barely-there bits of lingerie. “Well, you’ll both have to see to that, then.”

The pair of them grinned wolfishly in response and Natasha’s hind-brain, well used to facing down the sort of things that would cause most humans to require years of extensive psychotherapy to cope with, tingled with sudden awareness that she was caught between a pair of marginally monstrous madmen. Then there was a rush of movement and her head still spinning with arousal, she found herself suddenly on the bed, Tony behind her, gripping her upper arms firmly to keep her in place, and Loki kneeling between her legs, which draped over the edge of the bed. Natasha’s bra had gotten lost somewhere along the way, and she would have liked to know how that happened, but before she could ask, Tony tilted her head back and caught her mouth just as Loki hastily removed her last scrap of clothing and leaned down to taste her.

Shuddering, Natasha felt a severe crack in her control and for a half-second nearly panicked until, with perfect timing, Loki applied suction and undulated that silver tongue right over her clit, just distracting enough to send all thoughts of stopping straight out the window before she could even quite tense. She made a low, strangled sound, arching in Tony’s grasp and nearly whimpering at how he drank down her surrender like fine scotch, all in one smooth draw, as he kissed her, while his hands took their time with her breasts. It wasn’t long before she was whimpering a fair bit more, increasingly shameless as she neared the edge.

Breaking the kiss to tilt her head back further and nip at her neck, Tony purred, “You’re all strung out aren’t you?”

Natasha nodded a bit against his gentle hold on her chin. “Yeah. Not much time to––oh-” A brief digression into Russian cursing followed. “-time. For. Thingslikethis.” She gave a low cry, then, as Loki slipped two long, clever fingers into her and stroked hard at just the right spot. “Soclosesoclosesoclose don’t stop.” She could feel Tony hard against her back, could feel the amused hum Loki responded with. She thought of Loki’s little idea concerning the element of surprise, and wondered if she might get to see him get Tony like this, might help him take Tony apart. She knew abruptly how she wanted that to play out and the idea’s very inception at last triggered her orgasm, distracting her thoroughly for a while. As she drifted, she realized she must have uttered it aloud in Russian somewhere along the line, because Loki replied, in the same language:

Oh, I do like the way you think.”

“What was that?” Tony asked lightly.

“Nothing,” the god of mischief lied easily, with a silk-and-poison smile.

She returned to herself in time to feel Loki slide up along her body, the friction and coolness of the god of mischief’s skin making her shiver a little with little over-sensitized aftershocks. Loki pulled the mad inventor closer with a hand on the back of his neck, and kissed him long and slow and thorough, rolling her hips against Natasha between them, bringing just enough pressure and friction between them at key points of contact, to make them both gasp.

“I think it’s your turn,” Loki purred against Tony’s mouth. “Don’t you agree, Natasha?” To emphasize, she wriggled against the assassin again, just so.

Tony hardly had time to look startled before the Black Widow had effortlessly slipped from his grip and, along with Loki, pushed him down nearly onto his stomach, except Natasha slipped between him and the bed at the last second as he caught himself. At the feel of Loki’s possessive grip on his hips, he instinctively canted his hips up and back before recalling that his lover was still in less masculine shape––but then two slick fingers pressed into him slowly. “Fuck, when did you even get the lube?” he managed, only a little breathless.

“At roughly the same time he handed me this,” Natasha said simply, holding up a condom with a maddening little smile.

It took a few moments for that pronoun usage to really sink in, given how distracting it was to have Loki preparing him with the addition of a third finger while the pretty assassin’s hands stroked him appreciatively a bit and deftly applied said condom. When he did manage to grasp the implications, his spine went stiff as a board and he started to turn to get a look at his lover, but Loki intercepted him, pressing close against his back and there––yes, definitely not female form anymore. “What the hell-”

“Shhh,” Loki chided. “Trust me.” Then the god of mischief tugged Tony’s hips back, slowly pressing his length into the mad inventor with more than a little savor as Tony moaned, low and broken.

When Tony’s eyes snapped back open, he was met with Natasha’s wide-eyed stare, her lips slightly parted and her face again looking flush. The mad inventor regained just enough of his wits to inquire, “See something you like?” as his body adjusted to having Loki’s not-unimpressive length inside him.

Natasha nodded quickly. “Yes. Oh yes.” She met Loki’s gaze over Tony’s shoulder and bit her lip, letting her teeth drag across it. “I think I might like you just a bit closer, in fact,” she said.

Loki chuckled softly, just a little strained, against Tony’s nape and obliged, forcing Tony’s hips down with his own.

Tony managed a strangled, utterly incoherent sound as Natasha rolled her hips up to meet him. “Fucking god you two’ll kill me like this.”

“Stark,” the assassin said, low and warning. “Are you going to let Loki do all of the fucking here?”

Tony stared at her. “You two planned this.”

“Well, most of it was improvised, but we did collaborate,” Natasha said lightly. “However, that doesn’t answer my queh––hahhhyes.”

Tony swore a blue streak as he slipped in to the hilt, her wet heat tight and slick around him. Then Natasha rolled her hips up against him, and Tony was increasingly sure that his brain was going to explode, especially as Loki finally started to move, slow yet ungentle strokes, and Natasha kept undulating her hips at just the same pace and Tony had to struggle to keep up, his curses increasingly disjointed and incoherent. It was all he could do to grip the sheets hard and writhe with them, his breath coming in shuddering gasps.

Natasha watched, eyes wide and dark, and her own self-control fast waning at the sight of them, and the feel, and the sounds they made: Loki savage and focused, with one arm locked around Tony’s waist, Tony stubbornly challenging and starting to shake with the effort of keeping up, but still able to hold her gaze and hold it steadily with that same steely ferocity she’d caught a glimpse of once before. Her hands wandering over every bit of them she could reach, Natasha felt heat fast coiling in her belly again as the lingering sensitivity from her previous climax quickly drew her toward another.

When she did fall apart under them, squeezing tight around Tony’s length and crying out, she heard the inventor moan against her throat and a low, hungry sound from Loki who only quickened his pace and deepened his strokes. Natasha shuddered as Tony was pressed deeper into her, ground against her, not letting her come down from her orgasm until the god of mischief had drawn one from his lover too. When Loki at last lost himself, scarcely keeping himself braced over them as his whole body trembled with it, he clutched Tony just that much closer hiding his face between the inventor’s shoulder blades as his masks all cracked and crumbled away, however briefly. Then his shoulders slumped a little, weariness a bit more apparent.

“If you two both collapse on me, I don’t think I’ll be able to breathe,” Natasha pointed out, only a little muffled from where Tony already draped over her, his face against her neck.

Loki managed a breathless laugh, pulling back and collapsing beside them on the bed on his side, drawing closer Tony to him and curling around him when the inventor made a low, blissed-out noise at the movement.

Natasha sighed at the loss of connection, but felt too limp and sated to quite move to join them just yet. “That.... was fantastic.”

“Agreed,” Tony managed, his voice a bit ragged.

Loki smirked a little and hummed his assent.

They all lay catching their breaths for several long moments.

“Round two,” the god of mischief muttered. “Twenty minutes.”

Tony gave a low noise not unlike a whimper, and Natasha grinned wide and ferocious. “Agreed,” she said.

“If that’s the case,” Tony posited, “I want you to have as much soreness walking around tomorrow as I will.” He lifted his head and shot her a wicked look. “Think you can handle the both of us at once?”

Natasha’s breath caught a little at the prospect. “I won’t say no.”

“I love the way your mind works, Tony,” Loki purred.

 

~~

 

They didn’t check out until late afternoon the next day, all three of them looking freshly showered, but otherwise disheveled and a bit sleep deprived. Natasha made it as far as the main shared living room in the Avenger’s tower, then curled up on the couch there to nap. Before quite dozing off, she chuckled silently at the thought that she knew Loki was upstairs in the tower even now, probably curled up with Tony for a while before he once again vanished off to parts unknown: their first real nemesis apparently able to get into their home without a single alarm raising, and she wasn’t bothered or worried by it at all.

When she blinked awake a few hours later, she found Clint looking down at her over a cup of tea as he sipped from it. He appeared amused and a bit curious. “Not a word,” she muttered, sitting up and plucking the mug from his fingers, taking a long sip.

“You know me better than to expect that,” he shot back, smiling. “Seriously, though, were you and––” He glanced upward. “Well. Stark?”

“He’s upstairs sleeping off the effects of his party and one of his birthday gifts with someone he’s in love with,” Natasha said primly.

Clint’s eyes widened a little. “Wait, what?”

The redhead nodded solemnly. “Trust me. I got to see it first hand.” She smirked. “It was a very close examination.”

Slowly, the archer’s expression slackened with shock still further. “No.”

“I’d have invited you, but...”

“Stark’s not really my type,” Clint said flatly. “Didn’t think he was yours either.”

“Not really,” Natasha said. “But there’s always exceptions, even if just for a night, with the right incentive and enough curiosity.” She shot him a warm, seductive half-smile. “You know that as well as I do, Clint.”

The archer nodded. “Yeah. We’ve had more than just a few nights, though.”

“Yes,” Natasha said softly, trying to ignore the itch under her skin: the urge to get still closer to him, and say something embarrassing about keeping him safe and claiming him as hers. She’d gotten adept at resisting that urge, after the first few times someone she loved got killed and it got easier and easier to keep the next ones at arm’s length. It didn’t help the pain, but they seemed to live longer that way. And restricting herself to the behavior of a light-hearted fling helped her keep that distance, but still have him now and then, when she needed him. “We have.”

Clint rested an arm on the back of the couch beside her and ran his finger along the marks on her neck. “You’re a crazy woman.”

“You knew that even before you met me.”

He smiled, warm and affectionate and did he know how tempting? “Sometimes I have to wonder...” A flicker of something  bit sharper, a little jealous, and that was new.

Natasha’s eyebrows raised. “Yes?”

He leaned down and kissed her lips briefly, tenderly. “Nothing. Just thinking about breaking my own heart for some reason.”

She reached out and grabbed his shirt-collar tightly before he could pull away. “What did you say?”

“I’m an idio-mmph.” He went quiet as she kissed him again, more firmly.

“I’ll be the death of you if you ask me for that,” she whispered. “I always am. That’s the only reason I’ve never asked. Think on that before you say such things.”

Clint stared at her for a long moment. “I don’t think I care. If I was all about being safe and sound and unscarred, I don’t think we’d have ever met, Tasha. So let me, if you’re interested.”

Natasha delicately set aside the coffee mug on the nearby side-table, and pulled him down with her on the couch. “Okay, then.” She curled up as he settled between her and the back of the couch, arms wrapping around her. She felt a bit shattered, suddenly, in an inexplicably pleasant way.

“That’s it?” he asked, amused. “You come home from some sort of weird threesome with Tony Stark, and we just... start this?”

“Is that really a problem?” She raised an eyebrow. “It wasn’t when we invited Pepper to join us a month after her break up with him.”

Clint considered. “That was a good night. And we’re fucking insane, promiscuous people, I think.”

“I’ll be less if you like,” Natasha murmured. “I can do.”

“So can I, if it means I get you for more than a night at a time, and more often than every once in a long while,” he agreed.

“Let’s try that, then.” She nuzzled at his chest with a sigh.

“You’re just going back to sleep?” he whispered.

“It was a long, long night,” she replied. “And just ‘til the caffeine in that tea properly kicks in.”

He chuckled against her hair. “Alright, then. Rest up.”

She nodded a little, and dozed off again, tingling with warmth and quiet terror at this risking her heart again, but too content to care, if only for now.

“Who is he in love with, though?” Clint asked, some hours later.

Natasha smiled. “Oh. Just another liar.”