Chapter 1: Beginning
Her world begins in fire and flight.
In fact, there are several fires, and several flights, and they always bring her back, but every time she runs away, she gets a little farther. They punish her, calling her ungrateful. She doesn’t remember why she’s supposed to be grateful in the first place; however, even as she’s laying on the floor, unable to move, she can’t help but detect a bit of respect on the part of her handlers, as if her escapes are also a test. She passes all their tests with flying colors.
This time, though, this time she is actually going to get through.
Her bedsheets are aflame; the hallway patrol is neatly dispatched, and these guys with their AK-47s? What a joke. She’s zigzagging straight at the fence, barefoot in the snow, cursing her red hair, but she’s making headway. Oh, you want to play, nameless guard? The girl slows down, not much, just a little bit, letting her pursuer gain on her. Here’s the fence, buddy. It’s electrified, I know it, and you know it, and you know that I know, because they’ve warned you about me.
He’s coming in for the tackle, but she’s not even interested in breaking his neck. She jumps onto his shoulders instead, and propels herself through the air, impossibly high, flying, flying—and landing on the other side.
She laughs and dodges the bullets, ponytail whipping in the wind. She made it all the way to the trees last time, but she’s well past them now. The pines, the birches…the cliff? They think a cliff is going to stop her? She does not even slow down for the leap.
They have to peel her off the rocks, and she grins at the surgeons rearranging her bones back to normal for the whole eighteen-hour operation. When she heals—she heals fast—they send her to train with the American.
Chapter 2: Accusation
“Is there anything real about you? Do you even speak Latin?” Stark hisses at her across the table, and Natasha notes to herself, coolly, that this man has a preternatural ability to get under people’s skin. She has met people with some special skills in her life, but this instinct for weak spots transcends to a truly extraordinary level. A part of her wants to congratulate him on the achievement, but another part of her wonders how much Stark would bleed on the carpet if she ripped that meticulously groomed mustache off his face. She leaves the room before seeing which part wins out.
That night, over chamomile tea, Natasha remembers when her programming started going faulty, and how her parents’ faces dissolved into surgical masks, and how the thunderous applause of ballet lovers became machine gun fire. ”I’m not sure what’s real anymore,” the young, young woman in her memories whispers to her sweetheart—those days, every word they said to each other was a confession—and then he either tells her that he no longer loves her, or gets dragged away by the guards, writhing in pain. The disparate scenes overlap, blending into each other; the near-reality wavers, and Natasha drifts off to sleep knowing one thing for certain: that appearances are deceptive.
Chapter 3: Restless
In the Cracksmash RP Universe, Bobbi, Clint, and Natasha were all awesome spysassins together.
Bobbi has hair like sunshine, and a smile to match. Right now, she’s sipping on her quadruple espresso at an outdoor cafe and has two trained assassins watching her every move. Clint loves it when not taking his eyes off of her is part of his job description.
“No, and get this, this woman—this woman,” he barely whispers, “exists on nothing but Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, OK? I am going to sit her down with a damn cheeseburger one day. Girl eats like a bird.”
“Your wife has peculiar tastes,” Natasha chimes in from across the roof.
“Yes she…waaaait a minute, this is an insult, isn’t it? You just insulted me.”
Down on the ground, the blond woman’s lips barely turn up.
“Barton, stop it, you’re going to blow her cover.”
“Oh please. Now I’m hungry.”
“He is the twitchiest marksman I’ve ever worked with,” Natasha complains to the city below.
“World’s greatest marksman, you mean.”
Bobbi nods, but Clint’s not sure if she’s agreeing with him, or greeting the black suit with an entirely too conspicuous briefcase who just sat down at her table. The man strikes up a conversation, tapping his fingers on the menu, and Clint takes a deep breath and holds…
“Something is wrong,” Natasha says.
“She hasn’t given the signal.”
“Something is wrong, Clint.”
“No, Tasha, wait…”
There is movement, and the stranger slumps in his seat, suddenly very still. Bobbi looks around and slides his briefcase over to her side of the table.
“Goddamn it, baby, what the hell was that?”
“Don’t yell in the comm link, honey”—the briefcase is in Bobbi’s hands—“he had a gun on me.”
“And I had him!” Clint gestures with an arrow. “You don’t have to be the damn hero all the time, you know!”
“Oh, give it a rest, sport,” she smiles and throws back the rest of the coffee.
Chapter 4: Snowflake
Natasha dreams a song:
You are so far, so far,
there is so much snow between us
it’s hard for me to walk to you
but there are only four steps to death
Teenagers huddle together in the woods. The snow will cover their tracks, but it’s cold, wet and cold to the bone. It’s not the coldest Natasha has ever been, since Siberia is much dryer, but no, that’s in a few years, it hasn’t happened yet. The white will overtake the woods, and cover the trees and the supplies, but they are still a pile of warm bodies, a spot of brown in an otherwise perfect world. Wet fur prickles, and smells. In her dreams, Natasha always has long hair, but her memories betray her: they have all long shaved their heads to keep from lice; besides, she would have stood out in the snow. Kolya was shot yesterday—run run run you bastards—the blood spread around his head like red hair on a pillow, and they didn’t make it to him to close his eyes. They will eat his rations later this week, when the snowflakes will have settled on his face, one by one, in intricate patterns that will not melt.
The Russians are singing.
Sing, harmonica, to spite the storm,
Call the happiness that’s gotten lost,
I am warm…
Chapter 5: Haze
His fist catches her right on the cheekbone, and the girl curses her carelessness. Her bones are still tender from the fall, but that’s hardly an excuse. Sparring’s not going to wait for her little aches to go away—the teacher won’t either. Don’t just worry about the metal arm, watch his right, watch his right.
They don’t tell her anything about him, but she knows he’s an American, because of those straight white teeth. The man probably has a beautiful smile, though all he does is snarl. His Russian is excellent, but it’s not too hard to detect him faltering on some sounds that the Westerners’ throats cannot seem to manage.
Of course, neither of them has a name. In fact, the girl thinks that his name for her is ne tak—“not right”—with as many times as he corrects her. “Ne tak, that’s not how you block. Ne tak, that’s not how you walk up to the one who attacks you. Ne tak, that’s not how you rip a man’s fingernails off. Ne tak, you’re too close to the target. Ne tak, that’s not how say your r’s. Ne tak, don’t smile when you’re about to hit people.” She doesn’t really have a name for him. It’s “teacher,” or “American,” if she’s feeling annoyed, but she doesn’t say that to his face. She doesn’t say much to anyone’s face.
She suspects the game is to make her resent his strictness, or hate him while seeking his approval, but really, it’s all just another challenge. And she always passes their tests with flying colors.
His knuckles rip the skin; brightly flashing stars shoot behind her eyes and a bloody haze falls over her entire field of vision. The Red Room. It’s so funny that she can’t help herself. She gives him her brightest 32-tooth grin—and tastes the salt in her mouth.
Chapter 6: Flame
Her world begins in fire and flight. There are many fires, and many flights.
She doesn’t trust the American, she decides, crawling throughout the network of tunnels under the Red Room. He may be an instructor, but he’s still a foreigner. Sure, he’s been trained, and appears above all else interested in following orders, but what does an American know of loyalty? What does an American know about patriotism? Their silly, simplistic language doesn’t even have the word for родина. “Motherland,” he said. Motherland? That’s it? It is a term as empty as these passageways. in Russian, “rod” means clan, and birth, and a long line of guardian ghosts behind your back, and the voices of the unborn. My country is my blood. In English, a rod is something to hit or control people with.
The tunnel widens, opening into something that looks like an actual hallway. The young woman gets off her knees and dusts herself off gingerly. Walk now. She only has a very vague idea of the layout—thus far, her instincts have not led her astray; she has always trusted that persistent inch under the layers of consciousness that has told her to get out, get out, any way you can, find a way, make ways where there are none. This way is not even supposed to exist.
She is feeling her way along the wall when a hand covers her mouth and yanks her head backwards with a familiar strength. Followed. How long? Sloppy. Before she can even move, her arms are pinned in a metal grip, so she kicks back as hard as she can—her bare feet hit hard leather. Captured.
“You’re trying to run,” her teacher says without any particular inflection. She tries to shrug, but it almost wrenches the shoulders out of their sockets. “You’re not very good at it,” he adds. I found the tunnels no one has heard of. I m the best student in the Red Room. I…love…my country. But she can’t contradict him with that hand over her mouth, so the anger rises from her chest like flames. He’s trying to rile you up. She forces herself to go completely limp, dead weight in the American’s arms—he does not seem to appreciate the move. The right hand slides off her face and to her shoulder, the left spins her around, back to the wall.
They look each other over coldly. In a way, she can admire his ability to maintain that look that suggests he may have a snarl coming on, and you may or may not be worthy of actually seeing it to its glorious completion. There is something to be said for consistency in facial expressions. She is going to be really hurt again as soon as he drags her back. Better him than some nameless guards. All in all, this has been a remarkably successful attempt, if it takes an instructor-level operative to catch her; plus, no broken bones this time, though the night is still young.
So, why does he look disappointed? No…wait…his eyebrows aren’t in their usual “disappointed” position. What is that expression? Hurt?
“Ne tak,” he whispers and grips her shoulders.
Suddenly, fear washes over hear in an icy wave, and she can see—she can see in a way that is more lucid than reality. The darkness is crystalline. And the man in front of her—she suddenly understands him to the marrow of his bones. What she sees is something that is wildly, unwisely foreign here: a single shining star, a candle in the darkness.
She reaches out with the whole of herself, as though she can encircle that little flame, to hold it in the palm of her hand, protect it with all she’s got. And as her eyelashes flutter against his burning cheek, they melt against each other—she hears him whimper and knows that she has won.
Chapter 7: Formal
If there was ever a man whose body was simply begging to be enclosed in a fine pinstriped suit, that man was Steve Rogers. Unfortunately, the poor fellow seemed allergic to anything that didn’t look like he purchased it at a Wal-Mart. This issue required intervention; possibly, some high-level agent work.
So, Natasha stalked Steve at the gym—for research reasons, of course—and simply shrugged at his quizzical looks. “Just watching your form, Cap,” she told him, thanking the stars that Stark was not around to scare off her prey.
Natasha was especially proud of managing to get Steve’s chest and waist measurements in one well-planned hug. Sure, there was some blushing, and perhaps an eyebrow raise from Bruce—I am having none of your sass, Banner—but…
When Steve walked throughout the doors of that restaurant wearing a suit that fit him like he was poured into it….when Stark sputtered and could neither close his mouth or say anything for a full minute…Then, Agent Romanoff sat back and sipped her wine with a sense of satisfaction that only a mission thoroughly executed could bring.
Chapter 8: Companion
There is a faded photograph at the bottom of Agent Romanoff's desk drawer at SHIELD: two women smiling at the camera. The redhead's got a full grin on her face, and the blonde has an unimpressed look and a crooked smile.
That was the point in the Agents' Night Out when Natasha was starting to get a little tipsy, which meant that Barton and Morse were sloshed to high heavens. They stumble into a cab when Clint announced that he--he was going to take a picture and everyone had to look at him right that moment. Natasha puts her arm around Bobbi and whispers, 'Hey, lady, you and me, we better ditch this guy and run before he figures it out."
Bobbi giggles, watching Clint fumble around with the camera. "Listen, it's point and shoot, sport."
"I never miss!" he protests.
"No, Tash, you wanna see my impression of Clint hitting on people?" Bobbi screws her face up into something rakish, an eyebrow raised, a corner of her mouth quirked, and Natasha squeezes her a little bit more. The flash goes off.
Later, when they make it to Natasha's apartment, Barton passes out right away. They have to drag him onto the bed, but the effort is just too much, so they all collapse in a tired, jittery pile. Sleep doesn't come, though.
"OK," Bobbi says. "Best sex you've ever had? Present company excluded, to spare their dignity." She gives Clint a bit of a kick--not ungentle--and he lets out a snore in response. Bobbi has never been awkward about Natasha's history with Barton. Honestly, if she avoided every person with whom Barton had a history, she couldn't work with half of SHIELD. Maybe more than half. It's hard to keep track, especially at the Christmas parties.
Tasha thinks about it for a bit. "From what I can remember? That's gotta be Matt."
"Is he that blind lawyer guy?"
"Yeah, you know, the redhead. He could…pick up on things really well, if you know what I mean," Natasha opens her eyes wide and splays her fingers in the dark. "If he wasn't hearing that heart rate going above a certain rate, he felt like he wasn't doing his job."
"Um, I don't think blind people get special sexy powers, Tash, like hearing your heartbeat" Bobbi says, "Was he a mutant?"
"Gosh, Bobbi," Natasha rolls over on her side, "You can't just ask people if they're mutants!"
They both laugh. Bobbi flings a long leg over Barton's inert body, and the three are together in silence for a while.
"Is there a lot you don't remember?" she asks.
"I don't know. Sometimes there are entire years missing. Sometimes I remember events, but not faces. Sometimes everything is in there," Natasha taps the side of her head, "…with perfect clarity."
"Um. But…your husband. Did you love him?"
Agent Romanoff thinks very carefully about her next statement, then shrugs. "I was convinced I did."
"But part of you knew, right? They can't just…do that. When you had your head cleared, it was all gone. No one can just reach into your brain and make you love them, right?"
"Of course not," Natasha lies.
Bobbi falls asleep.
Chapter 9: Move
Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — "No, you move."
Captain America, Amazing Spider-Man #537
A personal note to Director Fury, attached to Steven Rogers' psychological profile:
"Fury, I must inform you that Coulson is not an aberration. In fact, his reaction is natural. To know Rogers is to love him. It's not that he doesn't make mistakes, because he does. But even in his mistakes, he is infallible. When he needs to push someone, he pushes them. When he needs to inspire, he does. And when he just needs to deck a guy in the face, he'll do that, too."
There will come a time when Captain will root himself into the ground, and Natasha will continue to bend and sway like willow branches. She likes the Captain. He reminds her of those crew-cut boys hiding out in the woods with her, back in the more innocent days. The kids who pooled the cold potatoes and tried to sneak her an extra helping, the ones who would give her the hats off their heads and suffer the cold, just so her silly hair didn't stand out in the snow. Steve had the same solitary determination in his eyes. Perhaps he's never seen his house burn, but he has had his home shattered--the one that you take with you, you understand.
She asked him once how he came out of the War with his hands clean. Steve just looked away. "They're not clean, Natasha," he said. It was quite clear he was not going to volunteer any more information; however, mistakes-largely public-always seemed to Natasha to be the province of Tony Stark. Where Steve is teflon, Tony is fly paper (and where there are flies, there will be spiders).
Chapter 10: Silver
About a week into the affair, she notices the absence of that itchy feeling in the back of her skull that used to whisper to her to get out. It has been replaced by secret kisses in the locker room and heartbeats in the darkness; electric danger of the smiles through the busted lips in the ring. They still don't quite have names for each other; she can't translate the white explosion in her brain when she thinks of him to anything like a name.
"No, no, your hands are cold," she laughs at the man climbing into her bunk. He has unexpectedly developed a personality overnight, exposing himself as a person afflicted by irreverent humor, vague guilt, and a generally wild, unwise nature. He runs his fingertips up her thighs, smirking, and slides both hands up her shirt. She wriggles, wracked with silent, hysterical giggles. They warm up quickly.
Afterwards, she traces moonlit patterns on his left arm.
"Do you remember how it happened?" she asks.
"Huh? Yeah, no," he looks up, brow furrowed. "I…fell? There was…a lot of water. And snow?"
"No shortage of that here."
"There was something really, really important that I had to do," he sits up and switches to English. "Something important. I had them on the ropes."
"You…what? What you are going to go do about that now?" she sighs, enfolding him in her arms.
He collapses back onto her, and his arm gleams in the darkness.
Chapter 11: Prepared
Natasha is used to walking softly, but sometimes, it may be better if they see you coming.
"Hey, can I borrow some hot water?" she sticks her head in the door. The lab smells sterile and fluorescent; all bunsen burners, rubbing alcohol, steel. There is not a single thing that she associates with Bruce Banner that does not evoke mind-numbing panic. All this place is missing is a dentist-like chair and electrodes. At least the scientist in question is wearing a wrinkled button-down, and not a lab coat, and his perpetual appearance of serene bewilderment is starkly different from the cold efficiency of Natasha's ghosts. Small blessings…
Bruce does not look up from his desk. "How about a cup of sugar?"
"What?" She raises her eyebrow and forces her legs to move into the room.
"Uh," now he looks up. "It's…something that neighbors do?"
"No idea," Banner laughs. "Yes, you can borrow some water."
"I'm not going to give it back, you know," she smiles back.
Bruce pauses for a second--thinking of another smartass thing to say, Natasha guesses--then runs his hand through his hair silently. The hair remains sticking up in a forlorn, puzzled fashion. He gets up from the desk, grabs a shining electric kettle, and fills it with tap water.
Agent Romanoff watches his every movement, counting between breaths. Five to inhale, ten to exhale--one two three four five--path for the doorway still clear--six seven eight--incidentally, it's clear from where Banner is standing--nine ten. Natasha pulls two green tea packets out of her bag and hands one to him.
"Do you always carry tea on you?" he asks, looking vaguely guilty as he catches her eye.
Tea. Tranquilizers. She shrugs, "I have all kinds of things in my purse. It's good to be prepared."
Banner nods and pours the gently steaming water.
Chapter 12: Knowledge
Thanks go out to Historymiss for writing Stark. I hope she forgives me the shameless borrowing. Will be continued in the next prompt.
Power comes in all sorts of forms. You have guys like Stark--a one-man army, with all the privilege the right race, gender, and class can buy. You have Thor, who is some kind of an alien god. You have Banner, who might as well be a vengeful deity in a human body.
And then there's the little spider, climbing the gossamer threads of information from one asset to another, high and low. She can take out a giant with one little bite, it can fly any plane, speak over a dozen languages, dance like a ballerina, draw like a fashion designer, but stitching herself up when she can't see the wound is still a pain in her spider ass.
Natasha stumbles into the infirmary of the Stark--Avengers--Stark Tower. Getting separated from the team was sloppy; though she can't feel the explosions rock the lower levels anymore, which means that the pesky robots must have stopped attacking. There is already someone in the room--smells like antiseptic--and Natasha has a brief, bright flashback to the time before the madness, though this time it is not Coulson slumped by an unconscious Captain America, but Stark.
"Oh shit, Captain…" Natasha mutters and starts rummaging throughout the shelves.
Tony jumps. "Natasha…your side?"
Mr. Stark, your powers of observation are uncanny. What tipped you off, the fact that I can't walk straight, or the red fluid seeping through my fingers?
Suddenly, Stark is a paragon of efficiency, pulling up Jarvis, waving his hands around--he must be channeling the pent-up frustration over the inability to help Steve into a new project that just stumbled into the infirmary. Why is it so hard to find alcohol in Stark Tower, of all places, anyway?
"Yeah, I know about shrapnel," he says in that I'm-a-billionaire-engineering-genius-who-was-stuck-in-a-cave-that-one-time voice, "and that's why you're sitting down and letting me and JARVIS help you."
"Oh, for God's sake, what are you going to do, put an arc reactor on it?" You are not a doctor, Tony.
"I get it, you're a badass," Tony gestures with some packet, "but you've gone white as a sheet, and I can't have you bleeding all over the lab. It's unsanitary."
"Sorry I'm bleeding all over your nice tower," Natasha shifts her focus from her pain to the overwhelming desire to inflict some on Stark, "I'm fine."
No you're not, says a voice in her head that sounds suspiciously like Clint's. Damn Barton, damn exploding robots, and damn this man who has enough knowledge at his fingertips to give himself brain surgery, but not enough good sense to leave things well enough alone.
Tony presses a gauze pad to the wound, and she gives up.
Chapter 13: Denial
This finishes up the scene started in Knowledge, the previous chapter. Thanks again to Historymiss for being Stark, and Cracksmash for being Cracksmash.
JARVIS suggests actually anesthetizing the patient before stitching her up. It’s a terribly fussy robot, all in all, but Stark almost looks guilty for not having thought that maybe sticking a needle through someone’s skin could be marginally painful. That’s probably because Stark is not a doctor, even if he is in denial about it.
She wants to tell him that she’s fine, that she doesn’t need it, but instead she says, “You’re gonna need enough to take down an elephant. I’ve got…serum,” Natasha turns her head towards Rogers’ cot and wiggles her fingers.`
Tony looks like he’s about to have a giggle fit and produces the biggest syringe Natasha has seen since…well, since the aforementioned serum. “I’m still younger than him,” she adds.
And then Natasha hears the blood in her ears; a distant ocean laps at her fingertips and toes, then her whole body. She knows, or rather, assumes Stark is still talking, and some part of her answers. Another part whispers I’m fine, I’m fine, everything is fine, she tries to grasp at the words in Russian, because they inevitably have more meaning that way, but they slither away. Stark is smiling. Iron Man is not a weapon, he says from somewhere far away, over the rush of the water, and I’m no doctor.
—he’s a tool—I’ve never been a tool—no, that’s all you’ve ever been: a tool to be used, or a weapon, they’re all the same thing, in the end, to soldiers and butchers—
“Hey, Stark?” Natasha makes sure to catch his eye, “I don’t actually want to kill you.”
It looks like the mask that Tony wears under his armor—the acidic confidence of the Public Stark Face—cracks. For a moment, he stands there, brow furrowed, lost. Then he blinks and coughs, as if unmitigated honesty has clogged up his air passages, and turns away. “Careful,” he says over his shoulder,” Don’t say anything you’ll regret in the morning.”
Chapter 14: Wind
There is a quote from a (Russian) (Orthodox) Guardian Angel prayer in this drabble.
The full prayer goes something like this:
"My angel, guardian, my savior, redeemer
deliver me, save me,
cover me with your cloak
from my enemies that are nine and nine in number
from Herodus' gaze, and Judas' deeds
from unkind words and slander
from blade in the darkness
from poison in the vein
from thunder and lighting
from wrath and punishment
from the rending of animals
and when my last hour comes
my angel, my guardian,
stand at the head of my bed
and ease my passing"
Thor's favorite spot in the Tower is the roof. The first time Natasha set foot up there, she heard him talking to the sky.
He stands with royal bearing, glorious against the wind, his hair a violent halo, and even though he's in a t-shirt and jeans, she can almost see the cape billowing behind him.
"Heimdall," Thor says, and the wind does not dare to not carry his voice, "Loki has returned once again. Please, if you hear this, tell my mother that I will continue to search."
There is a certain humility in the slope of his shoulders, which makes Natasha think of prayer. Technically, Natasha supposes that he is, since he is addressing an entity removed from the mortal realm and asking it to do things for him.
Do gods themselves pray? She wonders. Natasha Romanoff was born in place when prayer was carefully relegated to incense-filled rooms, rituals, and saints, but before the time when such frivolities could put a man to death. She thinks she was probably baptized into the Orthodox faith, since it was customary to dunk Russian infants as soon as it is likely that their squalling will not end up filling their lungs with holy water. Child mortality was high, though: no baptismal, no heaven, no namesake patron saint to protect them from a blade in the darkness, from poison in the vein, from thunder and lighting…But various fires had long since burned away any memory of holy water or a name, and when Natasha led anything resembling a civilian life in her early years, she was married, and therefore quite lost to gods, saints, angels, or other guardians.
Chapter 15: Order
This one she remembers with nauseating clarity.
The girl has bouncy pigtails and patent leather shoes.
By the time people realize they've just heard a gunshot, Natalia Romanoff is already lost in the crowd.
Chapter 16: Thanks
In the Cracksmash RP canon, which is a meld of Marvel movie and comic universe, Black Widow and Daredevil did date, and, in fact, moved in together for a while around the same time that Clint and Bobbi were married.
"You never say thank you, Matt!" Natasha is pacing from the TV to the hallway.
"I don't know what you're talking about, kid," he throws up his hands. "I always treat you as an equal!"
"I am not your kid," she stops and crosses her arms. "Or anyone's kid. And no, you don't."
"Would you just stop yelling?" Matt stands up from the couch, graceful and towering. "I'm blind, I'm not deaf."
"That's not funny. Are you trying to be funny? That's not funny."
"Don't Natasha me," she walks into the kitchen and picks up her mug of tea again. "How many times have I pulled your ass out of the fire? And how many times did you either completely ignore me or specifically point out that you didn't need me?"
Matt smirks. "Maybe I'm just not afraid of a little fire."
Natasha takes one last sip of tea and hurls the mug at the wall. It shatters somewhat pensively, and the tea runs down to the floor in amber rivulets.
"Oh. Oh, that's mature," he brushes a fingertip across his temple and goes in the kitchen.
"Could you at least try to get out of your head for once and see things from my point of view?" Natasha grabs the broom.
Matt rips off a paper towel and turns to her. "OK, are you trying to be funny now?"
"Murdock…" Natasha carefully sets the broom back down and makes sure to step on the broken ceramic pieces on the way out the door, grinding them into the carpet a little more.
She loved that stupid mug. She really thought did.
She's going to Clint's now, he just knows it. Bobbi must be the blind one, not him. How is it not obvious to her? He can hear Barton's heartbeat race when Natasha walks into the room, and one of these days, one of these days he will just address it, man-to-man. Natasha's always been a bit…liberal in her morals, but Barton is a married man. It's not right. How the hell did he screw up this time? What did he say wrong? Why can't she just be thankful for what she has?
Matt Murdock takes his own tea mug from the counter, and holds it for a moment. Then, it also takes flight.
Chapter 17: Look
The first thing Natasha notices about Janet Van Dyne is that she smells like money. There is a palpable, very American brand of royalty wrapping around her like a fine shroud.
It's not that Jan hasn't suffered, because she has. It's not that she's never been hurt. But the second Natasha looks at Jan, she knows that she's never ripped her perfectly manicured fingernails on hard snow, or drifted past the gnawing ache of hunger into purified solitude.
Instead, Van Dyne has an easy grace and a capricious mouth that remind Natasha sharply of Tony, except where Stark's smile is wolfish, Jan's is bursting with light. She is not smiling now, worried about her boyfriend and his robots, but something in Jan's delicate features--the spunky designer haircut, the well-bred bones--suggests that she is just about to take flight, or laugh, or burst into dance. If only one was to look at her...
Chapter 18: Summer
It's Clint's favorite season. He used to be quite ridiculous about celebrating warm weather; when they were home between missions, every weekend was BBQ at Bartons'. Clint was always the perfect host, stutting around in that purple Kiss The Chef apron that Bobbi got him, marinating the brats, filling collers with beer--always a cold one for Coulson, margaritas for the ladies.
They buried Bobbi in the summer under a sky as blue as her eyes. Clint bowed his cornsilk head, all purple darkened to black, and no parties were held again.
...until Stark decides to celebrate their first Fourth of July together, murdering the burgers with such cruelty that Clint simply has to take over the grill, and for the first time in years, it starts to feel like summer.
Chapter 19: Transformation
Banner writhes on the floor, and Natasha is pinned by the weight of the entire world. She pours every ounce of power that she has over the hearts of men into holding him together: calming words, desperate promises. None of it works, and slowly, slowly, slowly the thing that is inside Bruce rises in her dreams, and Natasha wonders if one day her own skin will burst like overripe fruit, spilling blood and death in her wake, as she did in her youth.
Sometimes, Banner passes out after missions, and some of those times are worse than others. The fight in the swamp, for example, must have taken a lot out of him, because when they have to leave, he is still asleep in the hotel bed.
Natasha feels awkward entering Banner's room, but someone has to pack him, and everyone else is still taking care of their own crap. She looks around for Bruce's bag--the one that Tony got him, much bigger than the one that he had in India, though this one is also starting to get scuffed up around the edges.
Banner sleeps on his side, elbow over his face. Natasha really doesn't want to watch a man sleep--she's not Coulson--but she can't help but shoot a glance over.
He looks horribly vulnerable, like Clint with his nightmares.
Agent Romanoff turns away and starts very carefully folding the few shirts that Bruce has, then tucks in some tea packets into his bag.
Chapter 20: Tremble
She earns her name. Now, he can whisper "Natalia, Natalia" as she trembles in his arms, always overwhelmed by the magnitude--the wave--threatening to pull her under, drowning, obliterating whatever fragile sense of identity they have strung together for each other. The name is a joke, really. He said that Americans think all Russians are named Natasha, then got embarrassed when interrogated further (she doesn't care about religious symbolism at the time, but later learns that the name is prophetically appropriate).
The last name is an act of rebellion; it is common enough in her country, but naming herself after a dead royal line under a Soviet regime is hardly wise. Natalia wants them to know, though. She wants the rest of the little girls in the program to know that she heard them when they called her a princess, wrinkling their little noses--she was fed better, had better clothes, even her own room. Ungrateful, they said. But let them sneer. Romanoff worked and bled and burned for everything she got. She earned her name.
One day, he goes on a mission and does not come back. It happened sometimes, though not as much as one would think; they are, after all, professionals, and Natalia has her own assignments. She has an irrational confidence that if he--if he was dead, she'd know. Instead, what she know is that there are levels in the Red Room where no one is allowed, which means that she will get in there.
Vats. Darkness and vats filled with greenish liquid. He's floating in it, shot with wires, hand against the glass, a living corpse.
The Black Widows' bodies are not their own--they've always known that. Natalia's body, for one, is state-of-the-art, made by them, to be used by them in any way necessary. If you've thought were anything but a weapon, you've deluded yourself, Romanoff. Were you under the impression that you could actually love something, and they would not take it away from you?
He looks desperately lonely in that vat.
Natalia finds that she is clamping her hand over her mouth to stop herself from screaming. She wants to run, or to touch the palm on the glass, but her muscles, seized up and shaking, do not obey. Equally treacherous, tears burn their way down her face, and she wonders if the liquid in the vats burns as well.
Her last clear memory is that of water; she doesn't know how she made it out of that place, but she remembers the punishment, though not her wedding itself.
Chapter 21: Sunset
The sun goes down in Georgia, a perfectly crimson end to a perfectly golden day. The dirt cools on Bobbi's grave. Soon, there will be fireflies.
Clint sinks to his knees, getting red dust on his new suit that Natasha packed him into. He doesn't remember why he has to do the little things anymore, like eat, or shower, or wear black. Natasha has taken him to her apartment to get him away from the place that is filled with bottles and dirty socks, and still, somehow, the palpable sense of Bobbi, that bright, sunny smell.
They were supposed to be safe in the summer.
Natasha crouches beside Clint, dress be damned--everyone already left to let the husband have his last words. It's easier to just think of him as 'the husband,' rather than the once-and-future-ex. It's just the two of them now. The triangle is a duo. The Widow and…
She takes a ribbon out of her hair and ties it around Clint's wedding band. He hasn't been wearing it before…before, just to avoid awkwardness, but he had it for the funeral. Natasha double knots the ribbon and tries to catch Clint's eye. His whole body is unfocused--the man who can shoot a drone out of the sky with his bow can't see in front of him. But Agent Romanoff is used to dealing with those who stumble in the darkness: she touches his chin, makes him look at her. This will hold you together, she tells him without words. Nothing between them ever really needs to be said out loud.
Chapter 22: Mad
Natasha has seen evil in many forms. There was absolutely nothing relative about it: politicians and scientists took young women in desperate situations and whored them out for the greater good. There was always a good reason for evil. Usually, it had something to do with patriotism--the honest love for a nebulous concept that had something to do with a land mass enclosed by an imaginary line that arbitrarily encompassed a people with roughly the same culture. Words like loyalty have been thrown around, but the hard truth is, Natalia Romanoof has killed children and burned people alive in the name of a line on a map. It was madness.
When Agent Romanoff met Henry Pym for the first time, she couldn't help but wonder if all scientists have to sign some sort of a contract binding them to a lifetime of uncontrollable hair, or if the hair follicles' proximity to the genius brains has enabled them to stare into the abyss of their bearer's mind and run up, up, and away as stubbornly as possible. Pym is tall, blond, skinny, and disheveled. He is also insane. Natasha does not begrudge him that--she has peered into the blackness herself, and did not come away entirely unscathed. But it's quite obvious that somewhere along the line, Dr. Pym got a live wire in his head. When asked about whether he felt responsible for Janet Van Dyne, he replied without hesitation that of course he did, for he has created her. It was not a statement of love, but of madness.
However, Natasha has come up against abyss personified before--chaos barely contained behind green eyes--and in her long, long life has learned the difference between madness and evil. As the trickster god hissed out his threats at her from a joke of a cage (he can do nothing to her that has not been done before, but the main threat, is of course, to Clint), Natasha knew in her blood that Loki was completely, chillingly sane.
Chapter 23: Thousand
All in all, Natasha thinks, it's pretty unlikely that she and Barton would have ended up working together, considering the way they met. Also, the Hawk has a certain reputation. Yes, he's competent, yes, he's perceptive, yes, he's someone you'd want at your back in a fight, but it is Natasha's impression that 85% of agent want to strangle him, and the remaining 15% has not worked and/or slept with him before (that number is shrinking). Of course, a 100% of her new co-workers don't trust her for shit, but that is a perfectly natural, even healthy reaction. Considering. Natasha is glad she wasn't working for fools.
"So, how old are you, really?" Barton's voice cuts into the comm.
"It's rude to ask a lady about her age," Natasha says lightly.
"What, like, a thousand?"
Well, OK, maybe she is just glad she's alive.
Chapter 24: Outside
"You know what my favorite part about planes is, Barton?" Natasha screams over the roar of air and fire and beeping. "The part where they fly!"
"Yeah, I'm a fan, too!" Clint yells back and punches the dashboard.
They go into the water.
"And then, then we go into the water, right?" Clint says, illustrating the trajectory with his fork. "And we're in the ocean. I mean, deep."
He closes one eye and growls, "Deeper than the darkest recesses of a kraken's arse!"
Bruce swallows a mouthful of pasta. "Are you..trying to do a pirate Nick Fury or something?"
"Shut it, Banner," Clint points his fork at the man's face. Bruce raises his eyebrows, managing to look both innocent and guilty.
"Anyway, so, no shit, there we were, miles underwater, the plane broke in half, we barely make it outside," Clint twirls a fork in his spaghetti. "And then I see them. The dark shapes in the water. Sharks."
He leans forward in the chair. Bruce picks up another meatball.
"Do you ever just eat these and pretend you're Galactus?" Clint points at Bruce's plate.
"Sharks," Banner says.
"Sharks. Circling Tasha and me, and you know, we're both cut up and bleeding, and these shadows are in the water, but they're not coming close, except for one. This shark--the biggest shark I've ever seen, and it's coming right for us."
"Have you…seen a lot of sharks up close?" Bruce asks noncommittally.
"Shut it. Huge shark. Swimming right up to us. And then it turns around, and for a moment, I'm relived. But then"--Clint circles the fork in the air--"I realized it was just making a u-turn under the plane. So it's back, facing us, and it looks hungry."
"So, I remember what they told me," Clint switches to something that sounds maybe Australian, "if a shark comes up to you, you just have ta knuckle sandwich it right in the fois!"
"Who told you what?" Banner tilts his head a bit.
"Well, I swim up to it, OK? And I draw back--and I punch it right on the nose." He demonstrates the gesture in slow motion. "And all the other sharks gasp."
"Uh uh," says Bruce.
"They gasp, and the big boy just shudders from his head to his tail," Clint throws his hands up in the air, spaghetti on the fork and all. "And then they all turn around and swim the hell away."
"What did Natasha say?"
"Well, we swam up to the surface, and she looked at me, and she said, 'you just punched a f***ing shark.'"
"What else did she say?" Banner narrows his eyes.
Clint grins. "She said, 'you're never going to shut up about this, are you?'"
And then they both laugh.
Chapter 25: Winter
"I just don't like the cold," Natasha says, wrapping her arms around herself.
"It's barely below thirty," Bobbi laughs. "Aren't you supposed to be Russian?"
Natasha frowns. "I'm Russian, I'm not a yeti. I get cold."
Bobbi shakes her head and waves a hand to encompass the entire street. "Just look at it. Every time it snows, it's like a new beginning. Everything is cool and clean and smells minty."
The city, eager not to disappoint, sparkles enticingly, and Natasha glares at it. "Yeah, it's cool and clean alright. Look, sure, we're covering things up, but all the shit is still under there. We forget who we are in the winter."
Morse shrugs. "It's not all shit, there's good stuff under there, too."
"Yeah, and that's also covered up," Natasha steps on a tiny frozen puddle with an audible crunch.
"Why don't you just go to Atlanta in the summer? It's nice and toasty there."
"Well, maybe I will."
The women walk in silence for a while.
"So, I signed the papers," Bobbi says.
Slowly, it starts to snow.
Chapter 26: Diamond
Based on this picture by the wonderful silverfeatherraven (http://thesilverfeatheredraven.tumblr.com/post/30370768607/i-dont-actually-know-how-these-two-interact-in)
Natasha has met some true royalty in her life, but her last name aside, she never expected to see one of them standing in her kitchen, ruffling through the tea cabinet.
Watching him move is an experience unto itself. Natasha has seen people with extraordinary grace: there's Clint, who practices shooting two hours a day, breathing arrows into the ether; there's Matt, and the blond kid with the dragon on his chest who is friends with him, and their fluid acrobatics. This man does not bother with ninja tricks. He moves, and the entire world rearranges itself to accomodate him. Right now, he's picking through the teas, muscles rolling lazily under the skin, as though his body can't believe it is being asked to do something so mundane as touching tea packets.
"Murdock," T'Challa says, a roller coaster of disdain in every syllable. "Why do you keep Red Diamond tea in your kitchen?"
A part of Natasha is somewhat surprised that Matt, the kitchen, and the box of tea itself do not immediately catch on fire in their shame.
Matt chuckles. "Oh, I meant to take it to the office. It's for the clients I don't like."
"Come for the legal advice, stay for the worst tea of your life," Natasha says and sips her chai.
T'Challa mimics drinking a cup, pinkie stuck out. "Yes, yes, one can really taste the toxic waste."
"Mmm, the aftertaste really has strong overtones of"--she waves her hand--"ass."
"Natasha!" Murdock exclaims. She laughs, T'Challa smiles, and it is magnificent.
He pulls out a box of powdered matcha. "I still think you're crazy, Murdock."
"Well yes," Matt rubs his forehead. "But you've got to understand, they're going to figure out who I am; my life is going to be ruined.
"So what did you have me fly down here for?" T'Challa looks to the left, then right. Natasha takes the nice kettle out of the cabinet and fills it from the filter.
"You have to put on the suit, Panter," Matt says, turning his palms up to the ceiling.
T'Challa looks at him for a moment and bursts into melodious laughter, bending in half.
"Matt....hah...Matthew..." He looks up and wipes his eyes. "There may be a crucial piece of information about me that you are missing here."
"Murdock!" T'Challa throws up his hands. "Do you realize...Did you know I have a country to run?"
"Whaaaat?" Matt's voice turns plaintive.
"I'm a king, Murdock! Also, I'm black."
Matt turns his head with a blank expression.
"You're white, Mathew," Natasha supplies helpfully and takes the kettle off the stove.
"What?" He raises his eyebrows. "Next thing, you're going to tell me Danny Rand is white."
"He's not," T'Challa says.
Natasha stirs the matcha powder rapidly, and he holds the cup out with a bow. "Your majesty," she says.
He takes the cup with both hands and inclines his head. "Madam Romanoff."
Chapter 27: Letters
"Seriously?" Natasha looks over Coulson's shoulder. "That's the new design?"
"What?" He flips the sketchbook closed.
"Phil. The A on his forehead?"
"So. It's America. It's classic."
"What, are you going to get Clint a hat with a giant B on it?"
Coulson thinks about this for a second. "Maybe an H."
"I'll stick with my hourglass, thanks," she jerks her shoulder and walks off.
Chapter 28: Promise
Natasha has been making very few promises in her life, because despite being an inveterate liar, she is an honest person. Notions of integrity aside, there is also an almost supernatural belief in the power, the magic of words. So, the Black Widow says nothing lightly.
But as the months with Avengers roll by, the promises weave around her in metaphors familiar to the poind of chafing: webs, spiders and flies, waiting, feeding, promises spoken and unspoken binding misfit jerks together. "I will find her, Bruce" becomes "you will be happy," and then "I will protect you" to some, or "I will make him human" to others, as well as the old standby, "there is always a special place in my heart for you." With every one of them, she rips herself up.
It seems inevitable that she will promise someone someday that she will just let them fall, every time, but for some reason, the oath she gets in return is that he will always come back.
Natasha drinks the already lukewarm tea in her empty apartment. Darkness calls her, itching under the skin. Soon, she will cut through the threads.
Chapter 29: Future
This was written four months ago, and while this prompt was supposed to be the last one, it's too depressing not to have been pushed back.
Natasha wasn't trying to sneak up on the old man, honestly, but at this point, it is getting hard to make her presense known. He is drinking soup ferociously, white head bowed.
"It's raining like hell," Natasha tells him by the way of greeting.
The man sets down the bowl. "October," he says.
It looked like he was done, so Natasha sits next to him, pushing the piles of newspapers and widgets out of the way.
"I keep thinking about this woman, OK? Years ago," he cocks his head at her. "And I don't even know her name, or her face--she just happened to be there somehow. It was very convenient."
"And I think--I think she got in a car wreck when she left my house. It's just...I knew that something happened. She was saying all that dumb shit that everybody says, that night, but I think this one really did love me for the rest of her life. You know, the next hour or so." He looks up at the ceiling. "I don't think I've ever thought of her before, and I don't think I will again."
"Well, you're the man of the future," Natasha pats him on the shoulder, offering comfort that he doesn't need.
He looks at her again, as if he'd just noticed she was there. "Are you coloring your hair these days?"
"I'm starting to get greys," she smiles.
"You know what, fuck you and fuck Rogers, fuck this workshop, and goddamn it," Tony is muttering now. He pushes away the bowl, and Natasha lays her head on his shoulder, listening for the faint hum in his chest.
Chapter 30: Simple
In conclusion, have some musing on the mating habits of Avengers and Avengers-related characters.
Bruce Banner never talks about sex.
It drives Natasha nuts. She can get a read on almost anyone; it's part of her job--psychological profiles, you understand. She can get people talking, too, because she has her ways, but cracking Banner did not prove to be that simple. The most that Agent Romanoff has gotten him to admit is that he's heard of tantric practices and, quote, "was not completely inept before the accident." Which really doesn't say much.
Not that Natasha obsesses of these things, mind you, it's just a bit of a hobby. Steve, for example, is easy to figure out. For all of Steve's awkwardness, and manners instilled by the nuns, he's got that deep-seated anger problem that must find its way out somehow. Oh, no, not violently or anything like that. But he would certainly get intense; maybe as intense as James. Steve would need someone especially bright, who could meet his recklessness with theirs.
Now, Tony is amusing, because she knows him all too well, down to the soles of his thoroughly expensive shoes: the contradictions, always pushing and pulling. Wanting control, but not really, looking for pain, but not really, oh no. He would make love like a man who is afraid to die, but pretends that he isn't. She would break him into pieces, and maybe they'd form something new and beautiful, but he needs someone who can do that with quiet strength, not violence and fire, which is just too bad, really.
Thor is a god, of course, so really, any kind of an escapade would probably be like being bathed in golden light while skipping through fields filled with rainbows; possibly unicorns. It is very likely that one could start an entire religion based on the experience. He'd be terribly pleasant about it.
For those wondering, Clint takes the same approach to sex as he does to archery, which, as we know, he practices for two hours every day. Man knows what he's doing; he does it well and always enthusiastically. Scratch the surface, however, and you'd get to the undercurrent of desperation and fear--the fear of being alone, abandoned, forgotten. He holds, and he cuddles, because he likes being completely wrapped in someone. It makes him feel like home, but of course, they all inevitably leave.
James is something else. Natasha wonders what he was like before the Room. Was the darkness always in him, or did he dance and laugh and tread lightly until he found someone who could speak to it?
Sometimes he stops, and his eyes are neither ice nor coals, nor shuttered windows--they are nothing. Absolutely nothing, and then Natasha can feel that he wants to hurt people, and to be hurt, and she wants it, god, she eats it up. They don't know. He's just another one of the guys that something awful happened to, right, Steve's best friend? He and Steve, they know each other better than brothers, closer than skin, and Steve has no idea. He always sees the best in him somehow. Maybe not in everyone, but always in him.
Steve doesn't know that the Red Room may have been the best thing that ever happened to James Buchanan Barnes.
He needs everything, and he needs it like the world is on fire. He needs the angel on his shoulder, and the devil in his rib, and he needs to know that yes, she will kill him one day, destroy him bit by bit, rip him apart and dance in the wreckage. It would be a sad dance, and very beautiful. But as he traces her body with his lips, his evil mouth, she knows, mindless and sweet, that he likes seeing her undone as much as she likes breaking him.
It's really not that complicated.