“You want to move in?” He asks over the phone.
She pauses. On the little video on his screen, he can see a man running past in the background, set alight and screaming something in Croatian, he thinks. Her eyebrows look a little singed. “Is this a trick question, Stark?”
“Nope. I’m inviting all of the Avengers to the tower. It’ll be like one big slumber party.”
“No, it won’t.”
“Well, no, probably not. But Steve’s still living at SHIELD, and Bruce wants to be independent, like what is up with that?”
She raises an eyebrow, and the corner of her lips quirks. The flaming man behind her runs into a house. The house catches fire.
“Maybe he’s just trying to get away from you.”
“Shush. And I just know that Clint’s like, perching on cupboards on the Helicarrier, and I’ve already started designing the top floor to have a higher ceiling so he’s not so squished on top of the bookcase, you know?”
“Thor just comes over anyway, I don’t have to invite him. Whenever Jane kicks him out for science, and I empathise with the girl, can’t wait to meet her, he just flies here.”
“And what does Pepper think about all of this?”
His voice turns a shade too innocent to be taken seriously. “She has absolutely no problem with it.”
“Really?” She draws the word out so it drips with scepticism. The wail of a fire hydrant sounds behind her.
“I bought her four pairs of shoes that cost more than the actual cost of upgrading the Tower, and she agreed as long as you stay out of her room.”
“Her room?” She frowns. Last time she checked, it was our room.
He barrels past the question. “So, yes, really you’re obliged to come. Also, shouldn’t you be helping to put out that fire?”
“What fire?” Her voice is innocent.
“That – never mind.”
The next time they chat is about ten minutes before the rest of the Avengers arrive. She has a surprisingly large suitcase (he honestly that all she would bring would be knives and a gun or two) and he finds her charming JARVIS for the second time in the lobby.
“Don’t do that,” he says.
“Do what?” She replies.
“Manipulate JARVIS, he’s still slightly heartbroken after last time. You promised you would call him back.”
She smiles thinly. “How do you know that I didn’t?”
He decides not to further that particular train of conversation. “Oh. Well, do you want to see your room?”
She takes a firmer hold of her suitcase handle, and nods. Welcome to your new life, Romanoff. The walls talk and your roommate has been on the cover of TIME magazine.
Her room is perfect.
There’s no way he designed it all by himself.
Her mouth opens a little bit as she stares. She suspects fifty per cent of the design came from Pepper, with a small contribution from Clint. And – “Sookin syn, Tony,” she breathes, gliding over to the small, framed scrawl on her fine oak desk.
“JARVIS? What does that mean?”
“I believe, sir, it is Russian for ‘son-”
“It means thank you.” She quickly says. She looks back at the autograph. Printed underneath the scribble is, ‘Natalia Osipova’. “Where did you get this?”
“I met her during a party in Moscow.” He shrugs. Then, at her raised eyebrows, he adds bashfully, “Okay, I slept with her during a party in Moscow. But whatever, it’s real. And yours. Clint said you’d like it.”
She makes a silent promise to thank Clint later.
The moment is interrupted by JARVIS: “Mister Barton has arrived, sir. I recommend you meet him soon, since he seems to be contemplating firing an arrow at your corporate logo above the desk.”
A week after Steve becomes the final Avenger to land his suitcase on the floor of his new room in awe, Tony is deciding between two bottles of wine which look frustratingly similar. “JARVIS?” He finally asks in desperation.
“The one in your right hand, sir, is favoured by wine critics.”
“Awesome.” He pops open the cork and pours some out in a cylindrical glass.
She appears from nowhere, it would seem. Her mascara is smudged underneath her eyes and her hand is piled on top of her head, though he can’t quite figure out how. There’s a crease on her cheek, like she’s been resting it on a hard edge.
But she still manages to terrify him into dropping the bottle of wine on the floor.
She rolls her eyes, and hands him the dustpan and brush from some cupboard he’s too tired to assess. “Here.”
“You must be joking.”
“I’ll get the mop, you try not to cut yourself on the glass, okay?”
When it's all been cleared up, Tony’s feels it necessary to mourn. “That was good wine!”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“Yes, it was! JARVIS said so.”
She raised an eyebrow. She has a habit of doing that. “JARVIS is wrong, then. What did he say, exactly?”
“That it was critically acclaimed, or whatever.”
“Yes,” she says patiently. “For when drinking it with fish. And strong fish, at that. No, you need something different .” She looks at the wine rack and pulls out a much darker coloured bottle. “Here. And don’t drink it in anything other than a wine glass, honestly.”
“You sound like Pepper.” He apparently can't help the twist of his tone when he says her name, and he casts his gaze away so he won't have to see Natasha's assessing expression.
“You sound like you don’t like Pepper.”
He looks down at the wine glass she’s just filled for him. “I like Pepper just fine.”
“This is not happening,” he shakes his head. “I forbid it. And you know why? Because I am not going to talk about my break up with a Russian spy who stabbed me in the neck-“
“To save your life,” she points out.
“That is not the point I was making.”
He pauses. “I can’t remember.” He rubs the side of his neck – where there’s still a small scar from the needle, thank you very much – morosely.
There’s a beat of quiet companionship.
“Pepper didn’t break up with you because she doesn’t love you,” she suddenly says, all matter-of-fact like.
He looks up at her. “Right.”
She swills her glass and then downs it all in one go. “She broke up with you because she loves you.”
He frowns. “That makes no sense.”
“Sure it does.” She points her smallest finger at him, the others still wrapped around the glass. “She works with you, she’s best friends with you, she’s your worrying nurse, and she’s your girlfriend. Pepper’s an amazing woman, but that’s a bit much, even for her.”
She puts the glass down.
“Any more wisdom?” He tries for a smirk but falls flat when he actually sees a spark of sympathy in her blue eyes.
She puts her hand on his shoulder and says, firmly, “Go to sleep.”
Natasha walks into his workshop and drops her high heels on the closets surface. Which happens to be just in front of Dummy, so she doesn't get to see those shoes for a long time., but she doesn't care at the moment.
He flips his visor up. "What do you want?"
"Give me something to do."
"Come on," she says impatiently. Her eyes look a little wild around the edges. "Give me some thing to lift or something. Anything."
"Well," he thinks. Then he points to an old Rolls Royce he's been meaning to fix up, parked in the corner. "You wanna take the engine out of that?"
She nods approvingly, splits her tight black dress up the side for more manoeuvrability, and stalks over to it.
Half an hour later, she's covered in grime. Tony watches as she steadies her feet and then hoists the engine out and drops it on the floor.
"Want me to get a bottle of wine?" He offers.
She leans against the open bonnet, wipes her brow, and nods. "If you want."
When he returns, she quietly tells him about how she was assigned to be a rich woman's escort, to check up on how she felt about her funds towards SHIELD.
"I don't care what people think." She says. "As long as they're just thinking it. When Anastasia actually turns against me, just to stay in her social circle..."
She punches the engine and coincidently breaks off a piece.
"I'm not worthless."
"Of course you're not." Quite frankly, he's astounded by the notion. "You're...Natasha, you are worthy." He raises his glass. "For our increasingly feminine chats, at the very least."
She smiles weakly.
"I mean, Jesus, even Fury thinks you're not expendable." He nods, eyes full of conspiracy, at her. "And he thought his own eyeball was an acceptable loss."
She clinks her glass with his. "Thanks, Stark."
Steve's checking you out. You should wear those trousers more often.
Oh, I know. Not wearing underwear, that's the real secret.
"Nice dress," he hisses into her ear, just before the press conference starts.
She scowls. The dress in question is nine times more revealing than she would've liked, but Pepper promises that next time, she can wear trousers.
"Nice hair," she whispers back.
He whimpers slightly, and brushes a hand over the back of his head, where 'CLINT' is shaved.
"I'm never betting based on Thor's predictions again."
Steve elbows him to shut them up.
Clint asks him how he knows Natasha supports the Red Sox.
Bruce asks her how she knows Tony sometimes needs to wear glasses if he tries working after two in the morning.
She pats his hair, flattening it down from its tossed state. "If you didn't want that video leaked online, you shouldn't have agreed to make a sex tape with a reporter."
"I didn't know?" He tries meekly, the side of his face mushed into her thighs.
"You spent half of the time grinning at the camera, Tony."
He sits up straight. "You saw it?"
She rolls her eyes, as if to say,duh. "For research."
"Research?" She looks, deliberately and mockingly, to his crotch. He scowls. "You're mean."
She tuts. "It was Clint who showed me. And Bruce. And Thor found it...educational."
Tony groans, and flops back into her lap.
"Tony!" She yells into the rubble. "Stark!"
"I'm here, Jesus." His voice comes in over the comm. "You scream that loudly in bed?"
"In your dreams." She smiles, briefly and to herself, and then gets back to work.
"You know," Tony says casually over the glass rim. "It's not cool to date someone new and not tell your gal pal about it."
"We're not gal pals."
"Well, you're not my bro, because Bruce is my bro. Clint's my mate, and Thor's my comrade. And Steve's my constant-irritation-that-is-a-giant-dick-as-well. Therefore," he says logically. "You are my gal pal."
"So you and Steve had another fight, then?"
"He's a dick, I'm a dick; invariably; we clash."
"...God, even your bitching is full of sexual tension." She rolls her eyes. "Get on with it, Stark."
"We're not talking about my love life, we're talking about yours." He says stubbornly. "Now, I know you've been going off to see someone and short of following your every move with security cameras-"
"I could still escape them." She says confidently.
He sighs. "Just tell me."
"I'll tell Clint."
"Clint already knows."
"What?" he looks offended. "But we're gal pals."
"Sorry, Tony." She pats his shoulder. "Maybe after four bottles instead of just two."
It takes five, actually. She knows what he's doing, he's hardly subtle, but she doesn't mind. She was going to tell him anyway.
"It's Pepper," she whispers in his ear.
He freezes. She thinks she's ruined this forever, since she's pretty sure she's broken some invisible gal pal code, but then he breathes, "That's so hot."
"Believe me," she leans back in the sofa. "I know."
To: Kidney Stealer
From: The King Of All
Operation: Get Steve To Sleep With Me is a failure. Abort!
To: Kidney Stealer
From: The King Of All
He wants to hold my hand. I've escaped to the toilets while he orders us ice cream.
Hold his hand, then.
To: Kidney Stealer
From: The King Of All
Operation: Hold Steve's Hand is a success! Good work, team.
"Pepper thinks you need to sleep more."
"Steve thinks you need to tell him when you're injured more."
“Do you ever miss Russia?” He asks, and moves his bishop aimed to attack at her knight.
She blocks the manoeuvre with a pawn, and muses carefully over the question. “Think of it like this: do you miss Mark II of your suits?”
He twists his lips. “Sometimes.” He slides his rook across.
“There’s your answer,” she says as she takes his queen. “Check.”
There’s a beat of silence while Tony tries to figure out his next move. He finally decides on sacrificing his last knight.
Then Natasha says, “Do you ever miss...Living alone? Back in Malibu.”
“You mean when I didn’t have to worry about explosive arrows or super soldier nightmares?” He quirks his eyebrows.
She rolls her eyes. “You know what I mean.”
He sighs. And then grunts when the does indeed take his knight. “Malibu was better for my tan, sure.”
“Not that you went outside much in the day.”
He doesn’t say anything else for a while, and Natasha doesn’t press him, presuming he’s thinking about his next words. But Tony is the master of multidimensional thought, and so he moves his pawn onto the the row closest to her. “Queen, please.”
“My queen,” he repeats. “I got a pawn onto your back row, so I get a piece back. And I want my queen.”
“We don’t do that in Russia.”
“You always use that excuse.” He holds out a hand. “Come on.”
Reluctantly, she passes it back, and he swaps it for his pawn.
She thinks he’s forgotten the previous train of conversation, so she slightly taken aback when he says, “There’s a room, back in my Malibu house. It, uh, was empty. All of the time. It had a cupboard, and a bed, and maybe a sink, I don’t know, I didn’t go in it much.” He clears his throat. “But here...There isn’t an empty room. There’s a massive training floor, and a target practise room, and bedrooms, and bathrooms, and lounges and kitchens and dining areas.”
She gets it.
She swears in Lithuanian, and Tony doesn’t dare to ask for the translation from JARVIS.
There’s a mission, which Natasha doesn’t come back from for three weeks. Tony keeps eyeing the wine rack, but he won’t touch it.
She comes back with blonde hair and her arm in a sling, and he has to wait until everyone else has expressed their relief before he can sit her down on the sofa and give her a glass of red wine. Then he sits down next to her with his own glass, and they clink against each other.
“You know, I never could’ve imagined this happening.”
“Neither did I, Stark. Believe me, neither did I.”