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Shining Armor

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The plane ride was bad. But they typically were when you stowed away in a shipment of Kobe beef and had to wear snow pants and wrap yourself in a heated blanket in order to keep your body temperature level. Luckily hotels tended to be less picky about who they let it. Nora Evans was in the Plaza by two o’clock and enjoying a lovely bubble bath by two fifteen. By nine she smelled like roses instead of beef and was in a head-turning Givenchy gown. She fit right in at the September Foundation’s gala in the main ballroom of the plaza. No one noticed as she slipped in through the wrong door, bypassing security. No one except the host, but he wasn’t exactly about to call her out.

The beautiful redhead that no one seemed to actually know did not speak to Tony Stark. She didn’t look at him, or even greet him. They were only even near each other once as she brushed past him on her way to somewhere else. No one really noticed, though all eyes were on one of the two of them. Every society girl looked like an angel but Natasha looked like wolf in angel’s clothing and that got everyone’s attention.

By twelve, Tony Stark was in a room under the name of Nora Evans. “I’m getting myself into a lot of scandal, coming up here.” He said as she tossed her dress over the changing screen.

“No more than your usual amount.” She smirked, coming out in a pair of sweats and a tank top. “Nice to see you, Tony, you look good.”

He looked like he was trying to decide if he was angry at her. “You’ve been gone.”

“Your ex-best friend has been trying to arrest me, so yeah, I’ve been gone.” She said, coming uncomfortably close to him. She did that, he had to be wary of that. Of the mind games.

“Well I can probably deal with that.” He said vaguely. “Put a few more warrants out for Cap, he doesn’t care he’s in Wakanda anyway.”

“Try not to sound too bitter,” She laughed, stepping forward, even closer. She looked really…thin. It was hard to tell at first because Tony mostly hung out with starved supermodels and women who were too rich to be supermodels but apparently not rich enough for anything more substantive than a salad, but she looked thin for her.

“You don’t look very good.” He responded too late to her greeting.

“Thanks.” Natasha smirked. Despite everything she looked like she was happy to see him. Weird.

“Why are you here?” He demanded, or kind of demanded. It was hard to demand things of the one friend who stood by you and wasn’t a robot.

“Someone’s trying to destroy you.” She said, a smirk still on her lips but not in her eyes. She was actually worried. That wasn’t something he’d ever imagined happening to him.

“You came out of hiding to protect me?” He said, raising an eyebrow.

She looked away, a little shy, “I didn’t think of it that way. I was investigating something…not sure what, and it led me to you.”

“How clandestine.” He said, looking away.

“Tony, I know it might be hard to believe but I am your friend and—“

“It’s not hard to believe.” He said quietly, “I’ll see what I can do about Ross, and tomorrow you can replace my current assistant of the week, coordinate with Happy on the company’s security, and do whatever you want to continue your investigation.” Natasha was grinning and it upset him. “What?”

“You missed me.”

“No.” He said flatly, turning to the window in what he thought was a very strong pose.

Natasha came over and casually put an arm around his shoulder. “You love me.”

“Shut up.” He couldn’t stop himself from grinning. After getting over the fact that she’d lied to him for nearly six months, Tony had actually learned to like Natasha. She was definitely the most rational person on the team back when there was a team. And she had done her best to keep the family from breaking up. Even though there was nothing that could stop that.

“You missed me.” She grinned.

“Don’t you belong with Cap and his boyband?”

“Nah,” She turned to look at him, “They already have a token female over there.” That made him smile, so she continued. “I missed you, anyway. I know you’ve been…going through stuff.”

“That’s all in the past now.” He said belligerently.

“I noticed, you smell like apples.” She pulled away and leaned against the wall.

“A little dye and no one notices the difference. Plus I get a sugar rush and it’s kind of like being drunk.” He smiled, relaxing a little. Damn, she did it. She got him off guard.

“Should I feel bad you’re firing your assistant?”

“Nah, she’s probably better off. She’ll be transferred to something she’s better at.” It was beautiful out, the city looked like stars and the lights were low, probably a spy thing, but the lights glittered over her skin. Tony almost remembered the night of his party, when he’d asked her how to spend the last night of his life. He knew now it was a test, one he’d failed.

“So…you want to stay all night or…” She smiled.

“Alright I’m going.” Tony smirked, “See you bright and early tomorrow morning.”

“So in your dreams?”

“Bye, Natasha.”

“Bye, Tony.”

***

Natasha was the best assistant barring Pepper that Tony had ever had. It was eerie. She knew every one of his preferences, even the new ones like making his own coffee as opposed to pouring himself a drink. All those years they had been team mates he knew she’d been watching him, well probably everyone. She was also damn good with the other personnel. She flirted with the right people, and kicked others in the ass. His meetings had never gone so smoothly. He was starting to wonder if he should demand every assistant have some background in international espionage.

The trouble came when the workday was over and the not-workday began. “Why are you in my house?”

“I am not leaving you alone, Tony.” Natasha said. She wasn’t in the pencil skirt and the blouse that just had one too many buttons undone. She looked like she was about to work out with sneakers, yoga pants, and a T-shirt on. Damn it she still looked really good. Pretty much as good as the office outfit.

“I am not a helpless baby.” He said, dropping his briefcase, “I’m Iron Man!”

“The person going after you will not be going after Iron Man, they’ll be going after Tony Stark! And I’m not letting Tony Stark stay in his giant penthouse all alone.”

“His giant penthouse with Iron Man suits!” Tony threw his hands in the air.

“I am not leaving and Iron Man cannot stop me from leaving so suck it up.” She plopped down on the couch.

There was a moment of intense silence before Natasha turned to him and said tensely, “I made lasagna. If you would like some it is in the oven.”

Tony was about to say something snappy, but instead glared at her and said, “Thank you.” Before going over to the kitchen.

Yeah this would be…interesting.

Chapter Text

“This God of Thunder recently touched down in Colorado.”

“Th--“

“THOR!”

“—or!”

“That one was totally mine!”

“You snooze you lose, Romanoff—No! No more tackling!”

Natasha had him in a chokehold as Alex Trebec read the next question.

“Mercy, mercy,” He laughed, and she let go, going back to her side of the couch. “I can’t believe you never watched Jeopardy.”

“Uh when I was being brainwashed about America Jeopardy wasn’t invented.” Natasha said, popping a popcorn kernel into her mouth.

“I’m not surprised about the violence though.” Tony chuckled, “You know, that is not the best way to solve your problems.”

“Uh, shut up Mr. Kills a Mosquito with a repulsor blast.”

“That was an evil mosquito and you know it.” Tony rolled his eyes.

“You’re so overdramatic.” She grinned and pushed the popcorn towards him. Relaxing was not normal. It stressed her out. She was all kinds of messed up.

“That face needs to stop.” Tony said.

The fact that Tony Stark could see through her carefully cultivated mask of emotions was very disturbing. Of course, there was no reason not to be honest with him, he was one of her few remaining friends, and honestly she trusted him more than anyone else. “I’m just feeling very domestic.” She shrugged.

“Really?” He raised an eyebrow, evidently that was not the answer he’d expected. “I suppose this is…somewhat nuclear family-ish.”

She looked back at the TV, smiling just a little. “I’m worried I’m letting my guard down. I haven’t been in a room where the decor didn’t include skulls for a long time.”

“Civilian life not agreeing with you?” Tony chuckled but she could see some real concern behind his eyes. He wasn’t the best at hiding how he felt without his sunglasses.

“This isn’t civilian life.” She raised an eyebrow, “I’m protecting you, remember?”

“It’s been a month and nothing.” Tony sighed, switching o the TV. “It’s time or some real talk, Romanoff. Why did you come back? Did you just want me to smooth everything over with Ross?”

“No,” She shook her head, “I could have gotten Coulson to help me out with that. I really was investigating a threat on your company.”

“And yet you haven’t said a word about what happened, you’ve just been living on my couch—“

“—In your guest room.”

“On my proverbial couch, making sure invisible monsters don’t kill me.”

Natasha sighed, “Well after the Accords split us up, I considered a few options, but Fury contacted me. He’d been monitoring some things.”

“Like?”

“Like the fact that four of your shipments have been hijacked by small terrorist cells—“

“We stopped all those attempts.” Tony countered, defensively.

“But the attempts were made. And Hammer Tech was not as successful in staving off those attacks, so either way the weapons were stolen.” Natasha held up a hand at his inevitable comment. “I infiltrated one of the cells, it took me two months to get into something of substance, but I was posing as an American soccer mom that had been recruited. I rose fairly quickly, was finally given the opportunity to dine with one of the higher level rebels. I think I was supposed to be his wife.” She shrugged, “Regardless, I ate with them and managed to get my hands on some files. My cover was going to be blown anyway if I got any higher, I’m kind of well-known in the right circles. I fried their computers and found some files so encrypted it took a long time to encrypt. Fury and I went down to a certain infamous prison and we interrogated a few prisoners, and what we found eventually added up to what the files confirmed. No one knows the plan, but the plan was to hit Stark shipments, kill as much as possible and take anything they can. Anyone using Stark Tech is twice the target.”

“But they have to know they’re not a match.” Tony frowned. “I mean, so far there’s been nothing big enough to even merit my attention.”

“I know,” Natasha said, tucking her legs under her. “Which is why I think you’re the real target. Maybe they’re not just hitting the shipments, they’re tracking them. They take you out and that information suddenly becomes a lot more useful, especially because whoever takes over after you will likely not command the kind of loyalty you did. There’s bound to be personnel changes, making you vulnerable.”

“Possibly, but it seems like a lot of work to get weapons.” He raised an eyebrow, “Is my tech really that great?”

“As much as I hate to inflate your ego, yes. Even the more benign technology, the well drills, the portable schools, even the cooling technology you use to preserve drugs. You put that in the hands of a local tyrant and they can control the community completely.” She sighed, pushing her hair behind her ear.

“So basically, I’m screwed and we don’t know why.” Tony tipped his head back.

“That, and it doesn’t seem like these are the kind of people who are going to attack directly. They’ll target one of your many public weaknesses.” She winced as she spoke knowing he’d put her real motives together.

“So you’re my babysitter!” Tony snapped, suddenly standing, “I can’t be trusted not to go back to drink or sleep with the wrong girl or whatever else you think they’ll trick me into doing!”

“No,” Natasha stood too, “No, it’s not….I trust you, Tony, I know you can handle this.” She held up her hands, and then turned away, “I knew you would get upset about this. I knew you’d take it as a personal insult. I thought about what to say, there’s a lot of reasons for me to be here. What if I’m wrong and they do go for a direct attack, you may be Iron man but I know about fifty assassins off the top of my head who would be able to kill you in your sleep. Even if they don’t, I can monitor the situation much more easily as your assistant.” Natasha sighed, leaning back and closing her eyes, “But honestly? I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be a spy.”

Evidently this was not the answer Tony was expecting. There was a moment of awkward silence before he sat down next to her. “Natasha…are you lonely?”

She sighed and sat up, facing him, “I miss being an Avenger. I miss the team, I miss our dysfunctional family.” It felt weird to talk to him about this. She never talked to anyone about anything. She handled her own problems, and when they were just emotional they didn’t even count as problems. Wanting to be part of a family? That shouldn’t even be on her radar, let alone interfere with her ability to do her job.

“I miss it too.” Tony put a hand on her shoulder, “But you could have gone to Wakanda and just warned me about the threats. Isn’t Steve your best friend?”

“Yes, Steve and I have a lot of history. So do Clint and I, and I didn’t know T’Challa long but it’s definitely…complicated in that direction, but Tony, you made the Avengers. You built the team more than any of us and you held us together.” She sighed, running her fingers through her hair, “I mean it was your thing. And if I go into hiding with them, I’ll be a back-up singer on Steve’s solo tour. If I’m with you, I’ll be an Avenger.”

Tony Stared at her, then laughed, earning a punch to the arm. “Tasha, I cannot make you an Avenger!” He said, scooting away from her. “You are an Avenger, you were one before I was, and the team was as much a part of you as it was of me!”

She stretched her legs over his lap and sighed. He didn’t really respond so she let her head rested on his shoulder, “I guess, part of me was worried about you too. You know when we first met I was hard on you. I was an orphan from the streets of Russia, trained from a young age to be a weapon for other’s use. Seeing all your wealth and opulence, I thought you were weak for letting your emotions rule you.” She closed her eyes, “But then I saw how strong you were as Iron Man…your emotions make you strong. Maybe mine can too.”

Tony raised an eyebrow, “Not sure I got all that, but I think you just complimented me.”

“Oh shut up I only kind of complimented you.” She flicked him.

“Yeah yeah.” He turned the TV back on, “It doesn’t matter because I’m about to kick your ass at Jeopardy.” She only rolled her eyes.

“You wish.” 

Chapter Text

Happy Hogan was a simple man. He liked nice cars, a good steak, a pretty woman, and his best friend. After recovering from being bombed, Happy had a new outlook on life. It was fragile. Crushingly so. Everyone he knew and everyone he loved needed constant protection. And also he was in love with Pepper Potts but that was a problem for another day. Making sure everyone had the right security clearance, the right badges, was thoroughly vetted, etc. So when a redheaded bombshell of a former super spy wanted the highest level clearance possible, access to all Stark Industries’ records, and 24 hour access to his boss it bothered him. When Tony, his best friend, pretty much gave him no choice but to comply, it made him even more suspicious.

She was hypnotizing him. She was using her probably amazing lady parts to hypnotize him and steal his soul. This would not be the first time it happened. Once Tony dated a Bethany or Whitney someone who got unlimited access and she stole his credit card. Tony was very vulnerable. And even if Natasha had saved him before and saved Pepper and saved the company as well as the world a few times, she wasn’t Hogan approved.

He needed to keep an eye on her.

Like now. “Nora Evans” perched on the edge of Tony’s desk while he dictated instructions for one of his branch managers. She looked good, tight skirt, high heels, and red lipstick, pretty usual. What was weird was that Tony didn’t really notice her at all. He was looking out the window the way he did when he was feeling especially capitalistic. He hadn’t done that in a long time.

Natasha amended his notes, somehow knowing personal details of almost every employee Tony mentioned. Whose wife was sick, who would slack off if given a promotion, who would rise to a challenge. Tony didn’t question a single word, which was incredibly out of character for him. And when she was done, she jumped off the edge of the desk and went to the desk outside his office, presumably to field calls or access the intense amounts of information on the company and his boss she had at her fingertips.

“Why the face, Happy?” Tony said as Happy glared at the door where the woman of infamy had gone through.

“I don’t trust her.” Happy said, turning towards Tony, “Why does she need access to…everything?”

I trust her,” Tony was trying not to laugh, “Natasha is a very close personal friend.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that before.” Happy rolled his eyes.

“It’s not like that.” Tony put his hand on his desk.

“Then what is it? Why do you trust her so much?” Happy demanded.

“We’re friends. She’s an Avenger for God’s sake, I mean Cap trusts her, is that not good enough for you?” Tony grumbled.

“Given how he treats his friends, no that’s not good enough for me.” Happy said. Yeah, sure, as part of his struggle for sobriety Tony had forgiven Steve and his best friend. But that didn’t mean Happy needed to do the same thing. The accords were just politics, and Happy didn’t know much about that, but he did know you didn’t break up the team.

“Happy, I love you, but you need to relax.” Tony sat down at the desk and rubbed his temples.

“I don’t trust her.” Happy said, hitting the wood.

“Jesus! Happy!” Tony said, jumping back, “What is it going to take for you to trust her?”

“Twenty four hour surveillance.” He demanded, “Until I’m satisfied she’s not up to anything.”

“She has twenty four hour surveillance. She’s with me all the time.” Tony raised an eyebrow.

“You’re not a professional, you’re probably watching her ass the whole time.” Happy said, dismissing Tony’s claim.

Tony gave him a look. His eyes “Okay fine. I assume you want to do the first twenty four hours.”

“Yes.” Happy said, plopping down into his chair.

“So you’re going to stay here and not go out there where you might be able to see her?” Tony raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll monitor her through the security cams for now, we don’t want to tip her off.” Happy frowned. Tony was giving him another weird look but sighed and turned back to his work on his tablet.

***

It took three hours for Natasha to leave the office. She checked in with Tony, telling him she had a few meetings. He let her go and Happy got up to leave only to notice Tony was doing the same. “You’re not coming.” He said flatly.

“Yes I am.” He raised an eyebrow, “How are you going to explain yourself if you get caught? If I’m with you we can just say I had something important she needed to handle.”

That was actually a really good idea but, “What if I’m right and she’s dangerous? She could attack. She could hurt you!”

“Well you’re probably wrong, so I don’t care.” Tony grinned, “Besides I’m Iron Man.”

Hard to argue with, especially after everything Iron Man had faced. Sometimes it bothered Happy that Tony was so self-sufficient. He could handle any enemy that faced him head on. It was all the ones that were indirect that he worried about. The people that pretended to love him were the most dangerous. That was what made this woman such a threat. She and Tony had history. A history Happy wasn’t a part of. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Well I don’t think investigating Natasha is a good idea.” Tony said cheerfully. “So this is a happy medium.”

“Ha ha very funny.” He rolled his eyes. “Fine come on before we lose her.”

They snuck out after Natasha, following just far enough to see a flash of red hair. As he suspected she didn’t go where she was scheduled to. Her first stop was a bar. He turned to rub it in Tony’s face but he was looking at his phone. “Seriously?” He knocked it out of Tony’s hand.

“That was a very important conversation!” Tony said, catching the device in mid-air.

“Look at where your new girlfriend is!” Happy gestured to the Bar.

“Looks like she’s leaving.” Tony said, gesturing to the back door opening. She was dragging a large man by the collar and threw him against the neighboring building.

“We need to stop her!” Happy went to get out of the car.

“Wait, wait.” Tony said, putting a hand on his chest. He made a few movements and a small sound amplifier popped out of his watch. “Let’s see what she’s saying.”

“Please, please! I’ll never do it again!” The man squealed like a pig as he kneed him in the gut.

“You’re damn right. You ever touch that little girl again, and I will rip you limb from limb, and I mean every limb. Then I’ll deliver you, a useless torso to the police where they will put you in jail to be used the way that little girl was used by you.” Natasha’s voice was low and dangerous. Her face so close to the man’s ear they blended together in the dark light of the alley. “Now, you are going to get out of town, get yourself a new job, and send everything you don’t need to survive to that little girl and her mother. Understand?”

“Y-yes, yes I’ll leave tomorrow.” The man was sniveling and Natasha stepped back letting him squirm away like the rat he was. She walked back to her car. And got in. There was a moment of silence.

Finally, Tony spoke as Happy pulled of the curb, “Are we seriously still following her?  I think defending the innocent is a pretty good use of her time.”

“She could have been doing that to throw us off!”

“Yeah, she just beat up a pedophile to throw us off the scent.” Tony rolled his eyes, going back to his phone.

“Well she’s showing a pattern of violence.” Happy grumbled. “I think more investigation is merited.”

Her next stop was a Russian restaurant. She was there for nearly an hour, mostly she was on her phone while she ate some kind of soup and then a dish Happy couldn’t see too well but which needed a knife and fork. A woman came over and sat across from her. They talked, laughed, Tony used the sound amplifier and from what they could hear Natasha had saved Anna from a Russian mobster a few years ago. She’d gone to cooking school and opened her own restaurant.

“Obviously we’re at a code red here.” Tony rolled his eyes as they followed Natasha down town. Happy still wasn’t ready to give in. He wasn’t ready to hand his best friend to this woman. IT was hard to keep up but in the next hour Natasha completed all the errands she needed to as Tony’s assistant. She picked up his dry cleaning, went to an art gallery, bought groceries, went to the post office, even went to the notary.

“Do you do anything for yourself?” Happy said as Natasha came out of a record store with a pile of vinyl’s.

“If I went out for every little thing I’d be mobbed by fans.” Tony rolled his eyes.

It seemed like she should go back to the office but she still had an hour left and she was going in the opposite direction. Whatever was happening was definitely off script, Happy just had a feeling about it. “Alright we’re done.” Tony said suddenly, looking up from his phone. “Take me back to the office I’m pulling the plug on this.”

“No.” Happy said, defiantly.

“Seriously! Turn around!” Tony said. His anger only fueled Happy. He must be on to something. They followed Natasha to an abandoned theater, a perfect place for some shady business to go down. They went in after her, Tony only trying to keep up to stop him, but Happy was determined. This was it, this was when she was going to get caught. The lights were out in the lobby, so it was nearly pitch black outside the door to the theater but something must have still worked because the stage lights were fine and she was playing some kind of classical music.

There were no words to describe what they saw when they finally laid eyes on the stage.

Chapter Text

Tony had never known how delicate Natasha was. She had always seemed very solid to him, but he saw now that she was all spindly legs. She moved like a doll, mechanically, methodically, beautifully. He didn’t know what she was dancing to, but if he had to guess it would be Swan Lake given the fact that she looked like a bird coming to land. The dance seemed infinitely sad, as did the music. Only a small light illuminated her in the darkness. She began by moving over the stage, her legs making the slightest movements, then she turned, floating gracefully, lamenting. Now and then it looked as though she would take off and fly, but her feet hit the ground, rather than jump.

Her back bent down, like a swan dipping under the water, and she reached out as if to touch the pond before spinning furiously. You could feel the desperation, the sadness, as she bent down almost to bow. Her movements stopped being birdlike and became slow, methodical, each step seemed to be a burden until finally she slipped to the ground, her story complete.

Tony stared, not caring that Happy was watching her. He was certain he did not like ballet. His parents had taken him so many times, and when they were together, Pepper had also dragged him along. It wasn’t that any of those women danced less beautifully than Natasha—they did but that wasn’t the point—no, he couldn’t appreciate even the greatest prima ballerina. It wasn’t the pure beauty of the dance, of the feeling or the heart. There was something in the desperation, in the turning, in the flying. She couldn’t get off the ground and he wanted to help her. But at the same time he knew Natasha didn’t need help, that she would rise or fall under her own power and no other way. It was Natasha. She was perfect.

“Tony, are you okay?” She said, snapping her fingers in front of his nose. When did he get up on stage? He grabbed her hand and just looked at her. She was giving him a look that said she was questioning his sanity, but he didn’t care.

“I’m really, really okay.” He said quietly, “That was amazing.”

She visibly relaxed only to look angrily at him and Happy. “What the hell are you two doing here?”

Falling in love with you, Tony thought. Maybe ten minutes ago the idea that he had any romantic feelings for Natasha would have required a lot of soul searching. Probably why he’d been avoiding the fact that he liked everything from the way she dressed to the way she yelled at him to the way she walked. But he got it now. That dance, he just…she understood him. Or at least she knew…real pain real feeling. “Uh…”

“Uh?” She mocked him.

“We were…uh…” He turned to Happy who looked really embarrassed.

“We were surveilling you.” Happy said finally, “I needed to verify that you weren’t a threat to Tony or the company.”

“You thought you were within your rights to surveil a former Avenger? One of the top spies in the world? Do you know how many times I’ve saved the world? Do you know how many times I’ve saved Tony?” She stepped forward, turning her fury on Happy who was facing it bravely.

“You know what, I do, but you weren’t straightforward with us before and I don’t take risks when it comes to Tony or any of the people at Stark Industries. Now I might have crossed a line, and I apologize for that, but I will not apologize for my reasons.”

She pursed her lips, then nodded, “Alright.” She took a deep breath, “I get it, you love your friend, you love your job. You’re just trying to protect your home” She took a step back, but her eyes turned towards him full of the kind of intensity only Black Widow could conjure. “But you do not go after me again. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, yes.” Happy stepped backwards, “Please don’t turn me into just a torso.”

That made her snicker. She looked at Tony and he smiled back. “Alright, fine.” Natasha sighed. “Come on, Tony let’s just go home.”

***

In the cold light of Sunday Tony had to come to terms with something. For a brief moment three days ago, he had been head over heels in love with Natasha Romanoff. Okay yeah, he was exaggerating, but still. One dance, and his iron heart melted for perhaps the most dangerous woman—no, the most dangerous person in the world. What was he thinking? Sure, Natasha was beautiful. But the same creamy white thighs that barely peaked out of her skirts and work out shorts were the same thighs that could crush a man’s head like a blueberry. And those intense, glittering blue eyes could get even the hardest criminals to break with one icy look. Her fiery red hair wasn’t just silky and smelled like strawberries, it was a warning that everything about her was lethal.

And yet…that wasn’t his Natasha. Yes, they barely ever agreed on anything and when they had been on the same team she was (rather annoyingly) much closer with Cap than with him. But she had always…protected him. Even when they first met, she didn’t have to stay on, she didn’t have to encourage him to save his own life. She didn’t have to help him defeat Vanko either, but she stayed, and she made that battle easier. She’d even been helping him when she didn’t recommend him for the Avengers, after all, it was a dangerous gig and at the time they didn’t have that many people on the list.

And as Avengers he had learned to trust her with…pretty much everything. She wasn’t just a good fighter and a loyal friend, Barton had those two things down. But Natasha was something else, she was capable. She was strong. And when you were weak, she either made you stronger or she took over. It was sometimes annoying, but you always knew with her on the team nothing would slip through the cracks.

“Tony…what are you doing here?” Natasha asked as she rolled over and looked at him. Oh yeah, he was watching her sleep. It was really peaceful.

He just kept staring at her, thinking. He had feelings, feelings he didn’t like. He had had a long life (relatively) without feelings. Then he realized he had a drinking problem and suddenly it was all feeling all the time. Maybe this was good. Was it really so wrong to want to be with someone who had only ever protected him? Yes. Because wanting things was fine, things were easy to get. Wanting people was giving them power of you. And that made you weak. That’s what his father always said…

“Tony? Why are you in my room?” Natasha was sitting up and glaring at him

“I think we should go out to breakfast.” He said, standing and walking over to her window, “Yeah, we should go to breakfast.”

Natasha stood up and put her hands on his shoulders, steering him out of the room silently. Twenty minutes later she was showered and dressed. “No pancake houses.” She said, walking towards the car.

They ended up at an organic place that served whole wheat everything and eggs that might as well have been plucked right from the chicken that day. Natasha ordered a coffee and a fruit bowl. Tony spent almost ten minutes looking at the menu and ended up with the same thing. He pushed the fruit aside. “Why did you dance?” He asked finally, leaning forward. “You knew we were following you. But you…I mean you gave us a performance.”

She looked down, her hair covering her face in a way that would hide any blushing whatsoever. “I…I guess a part of me wanted you to see that side of me. I never got to be a Ballerina. I mean, I know now, I never even had a chance. I was just some orphan they were able to use without anyone noticing. They played with my mind like a toy and I believed I was in the Bolshoi.” She looked away, taking a deep breath, “I don’t know, Tony, we’ve been living together for a few months. I’ve never trusted anyone in my entire life but I trust you.”

He blinked, not expecting that kind of an answer. It wasn’t the kind he would have given. “My father was disappointed in me.” He said quietly, “I know he was, he sent me away when I was eight. He wanted me to learn to be a man. I thought I had. I thought I’d become iron.” He looked down at his hands, “But sometimes I wonder if I know anything about strength at all.”

Natasha reached out and took his hands, “I used to think that if no one could see my center, I would always be okay. But then…I had to share everything I feared. It was a matter of the world’s safety that we be a good team, one that worked together. But it didn’t make me weak, Tony, it made me stronger.”

“OHMYGODAREYOUTONYSTARK?!” Three women ran up to them, all squealing. Natasha pulled back and smirked as they all practically jumped up and down. They didn’t really notice her, but they were there for another half hour. She didn’t really stop anything, but just looked at him with that bemused smirk.

When the girls finally left, Natasha and Tony left too. The drive back was spent in amicable silence. Natasha looked out the window, her hair blowing out behind her head. As they pulled into his house, the air seemed to shift. It was warm and yellow with sunlight inside. He almost wanted to make a pillow fort, but didn’t think Natasha would be into it.

“What were we talking about before?” He said, turning towards her. She was giving him a strange look, intense but soft at the same time.

Natasha stepped forward and looked into his eyes. “I don’t want to talk.” She was even closer now, their faces only inches apart.

Tony cleared his throat. “Then…what do you want to do?”

She closed the gap between them, and for the first time in a long time, Tony forgot everything else.

Chapter Text

Natasha stared at the ceiling, trying to make herself feel bad. Because after all, she’d just had sex with Tony Stark. Tony Stark who meddled in people’s lives and played Metallica while he fought his enhanced enemies. Tony Stark who challenged terrorists to man on man fights. Tony Stark who donated millions to Charity. Tony Stark who thought Superheroes needed some oversight because he couldn’t stand that even one person had died when an entire country was blown up by a psycho robot. Tony Stark who hadn’t even blinked when she burst into his life.

“Are you trying to feel guilty about this too?” He said quietly. Natasha turned to look at him, he was watching the ceiling with a smile on his face.

“Not anymore.” She sighed, sitting up.

“Then I won’t either.” He said, sitting up too.

“I’m kind of surprised actually,” She smirked, “Normally men who are rich, powerful superheroes are compensating for something.”

He raised an eyebrow, “Are you saying you had a good time?”

“A really good time.” She laughed as he pulled her over into his lap. She hadn’t noticed how tall he was before. Natasha was tall for a woman but Tony was still a good head taller. “Tony…it’s been two months…and you were never in danger. At least, I don’t think you ever were. I was being paranoid, because when I felt lonely, I thought of you.”

He was grinning at her, “Didn’t we already have this talk?”

“I just think I wanted this somehow.” She smiled back. “I didn’t think of Steve or Clint or anyone else when I was lonely, I thought about you.”

“We’re not right for each other.” Tony reflected, “Or, we don’t seem right for each other. But I’ve always counted on you. You’re probably the only person besides Pepper and Happy that tells me when I’m about to screw up.”

“Well then I’m in good company.” She smiled. Her fingers combed through his hair. “So are we doing this?”

“The me and you roommates and sex buddies thing?” Tony raised an eyebrow.

“The me and you as boyfriend and girlfriend thing.” Natasha said, pursing her lips.

“I want to.” He put his hands on her hips and dragged his index finger up to her shoulder.

“Me too,” Natasha smiled back. She leaned in to kiss him and he met her half way.

“Mr. Stark,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. said, making them both jump a little, “Colonel Rhodes and a small S.H.I.E.L.D. unit have bypassed security and are coming up.”

Natasha sighed and climbed off his lap. She pulled on her shirt and leggings just as Coulson burst through the door followed by perhaps half of S.H.I.E.L.D.

“We need to get you out of here now!” Rhodey said, coming in after Melinda May. Natasha went up to her, face cold and calm.

“What’s the situation?”

“Who are you?” The agent said, raising an eyebrow

“Natasha Romanoff, cover name Nora Evans.” She nodded to Coulson, “I’ve been shadowing Mr. Stark—“

“—We’ve been doing more than shadowing.” Tony whispered loudly to Rhodey which earned him a glare.

“Turn on the TV,” May said, silencing everyone. F.R.I.D.A.Y. complied, Anderson Cooper appeared, looking very grave.

“Good morning, more on the harrowing Stark Industries story. So far three hospitals have been destroyed in Madripoor built by the September Foundation. So far we have 500 confirmed dead. We do not know yet how they managed to get into—Yes? Yes? This just in another September Foundation infrastructure has been targeted, a school in—“

“Turn it off.” Tony said, coldly, “Why wasn’t I told about this? I need my suit.” He walked out of the room, down the hall and into his lab.

“These attacks have all come within the last ten minutes,” May said, “Whoever is doing them is sending out the footage directly, and there is no reason or prompting that we know of.”

“Why is S.H.I.E.L.D. involved?” Natasha said, “You all are focused on inhumans aren’t you?” Every agent in the room whipped their head around to look at her. “I know what’s going on, guys.”

“We suspect a group of inhumans that reformed Hydra after it was destroyed and after Hive was destroyed.” Coulson said, coming to stand next to her.

Tony suddenly shouted, “Why the hell aren’t my suits working?!”

A dark haired girl sighed, looking up from her tablet. She was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent by her looks. “I disabled them.”

“You—what?!”

“Tony,” Rhodey said, putting a hand on his shoulder, “We came across something.” He pulled up a video.

A woman in a dark green dress sat in a large leather chair. She wore a green turtle neck and green lipstick. Natasha used to be best friends with Captain America but this woman looked very over the top. She had jet black hair and looked into the camera with a cold intensity. “Hello. You may call me Viper.” She said darkly, “As you all know the leadership of this nation has been sent into chaos. My organization would like to take over that leadership. I know many of you are suffering at this sudden tragedy. Too often we trust the influence of the west only to be hurt. Tony Stark’s supposedly charitable foundation created a target here. We must stand on our own power without the cage of welfare the west has lowered on us. The destruction of the Western influence is what we need to create a better Madripoor. From now on we will be unified and we will destroy anything that threatens that unification. Tell Tony Stark to get out of Madripoor!”

There was a moment of silence before Natasha spoke. “You can’t go in. You don’t have any other properties there, the damage has already been done, if you go in she’ll blame the entire thing on you.”

“No!” Tony spun, looking at her, “I need to go down there. I can help!”

“No, you can’t.” Natasha said, she stepped forward and took his hand. “Alright, everyone but Rhodey, Coulson, and Computer over there I want out. I’ve been working this case for a year, I’ve got any protection Tony needs handled. Someone get on the phone with Pepper Potts who heads the foundation and tell her to do what she can for the victims without it being traced back to Tony.” No one moved so she practically growled, “Now!” They scurried away like rats.

“Alright, Coulson, inhuman connection?”

“We’ve been tracking an inhuman named James who can make things into bombs or make them super heat by touching them. We believe he was responsible for the majority of the attacks.” Coulson reported to her, glancing between her and Tony.

“Alright, I need a location. I want a base of operations in Madripoor. She probably needs a mainland base, Madripoor is very small. See if you can’t get the Chinese to cooperate.” She turned to the woman with the tablet, “What’s your name?”

“Uh, Agent Daisy Johnson.” She stepped forward, “Are you really Natasha Romanoff?”

“Yes,” She rolled her eyes, “I want you on the same project, Agent Johnson. Anything you can do to find this woman so Tony and I can take her out. And I want you to leak that to the press. The attacks happened less than an hour ago she has a video? We need to make sure people see it, let Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer put the rest together themselves.” She waved her hand and the two left.

Rhodey and Tony were going over ways to ramp up security with the rest of the foundation’s properties. She watched them for a moment, then went to her room. She put on her tac suit. When she came back, Rhodey was gone and Tony was in his Iron Man suit.

“Don’t try to stop me.” He said, pushing his faceplate down.

“I won’t.” She said, reaching out and cupping his face. The metal wasn’t cold like you would expect. It was warm and humming with electricity. “Give me a lift?”

“Actually,” Tony said, lifting up the Faceplate again. “I made you something.”

Chapter Text

Flying was amazing. Yes, Natasha had flown a lot of planes, in fact she was a fantastic pilot. However, that was something totally different from the repulsors Tony had given her. It was obvious he’d been building her a suit, but he refused to admit it. The gear he did give her was essentially a new tac suit However there was a thin skeleton that allowed her body to align for flying and repulsors that packed away at the press of a button. To help her fly there was even a mask that somehow folded up when she wasn’t using it. He preserved all the original features of her old tac suit, micro suction cups in the hands and feet, shoes that barely made any sound, ultra-thin Kevlar that would block slow bullets and absorb electronic blasts.

The fact that he had done something so big for  her without consulting her first made her think they needed to have a few talks about how they would interact going forward, but in this particular situation she was thrilled. She followed Tony through the air as they headed to Madripoor. “Now remember,” She said into the coms, “We’re just here for recon, Tony, nothing else.”

“We’ve only been dating an hour now and you’re already bossy.” Tony teased. It was obvious he was feeling better, Natasha wondered if merely putting on the Armor had that affect.

“I was always bossy.” She rolled her eyes and dipped down towards the ground. She landed pretty far from the wreckage and waited for Tony to land next to her. He didn’t. Of course he didn’t. He walked right up to the ruins of the hospital. So Natasha jumped on his back and turned on her repulsors jettisoning them into the sky.

“What the hell, Tasha?” Tony shouted as they reached the stratosphere. She released him as his own repulsors fired up and flew around to face him.

“I told you, recon!” She glared at him before realizing he couldn’t see her glaring.

“That’s my hospital down there!” He shouted back at her. “My company, my good name!”

“No, it’s not your hospital, Tony.” Natasha shouted back. There was a lot of shouting considering their coms automatically adjusted for volume. “This hospital belonged to the people of Madripoor. And there were people in there who were suffering, struggling, fighting to stay alive. And there were people who were leaving after years. There were people coming in to have babies, and coming in to get vaccines. And they are all dead. Do not make that about you, Tony. This is not about you. This is about them!”

“Are you telling me this wasn’t my fault?” He said, and the anger was real.

“Of course not! How dare you blame yourself for this!” She flew closer to him. “You’re screwed up, you realize that right? You have got so much wrong with you I could fill a library with the list.” She held up her hand before he could respond, “Do not use this moment, the end of so many people’s lives, to just screw yourself up even further.”

“I have to do something!” He tried to fly down but she blocked him, even in the air she was faster.

“That is what Viper is counting on! She wants you to be the hero!” Natasha sighed, “She wants you at the scene of the crime, she wants video of ironman walking out of the hospital wreckage.”

“So you’re telling me to go home, to ignore the suffering of others?” He demanded, obviously angry with her logic.

“I want you to solve this problem as Tony Stark, not as Iron Man.” She said decisively. “You want to be with me? Well here’s our first test. Trust me to do what needs to be done here. I have the repulsors, I have the gear. You need to go home. Cry on Rhodey’s shoulder, and let me do my job.”

For a moment they both hovered in silence. It was hard to read him in his suit, but not impossible. The way he quivered slightly in the air, she knew, he was worried. But then his head turned slightly towards her and she looked at him evenly. “Alright.” He said quietly. “I trust you.”

She smiled, then realized he couldn’t see the smile. “Good! I won’t let you down.”

“I believe you.” Tony said, and he headed back toward New York.

Natasha landed and reluctantly minimized all her new gear. It was time the widow got back to work.

***

“Are you sure it happened?”

“Dude, almost half a dozen of your own men and you saw us together in bed this morning.”

“I saw Natasha pulling on a shirt. I don’t know, you could have magnetized it or something.”

“Really?” Tony smirked, despite everything, he was amused. That was probably Rhodey’s plan, his friends knew him too well. “I promise I did not sexually harass her, we mutually decided to have sex and now we’re mutually deciding to pursue a relationship.”

“Wow, you sound like an actual adult,” Rhodey smirked, “The last time I heard you talk like that was when you and Pepper ‘consciously uncoupled.’”

That was probably a test, bringing up Pepper to make sure he wasn’t still holding a torch for her. “Well, I’m feeling very adult,” He smirked back. “And she stopped me from making a major mistake less than an hour ago.”

Rhodey sighed and looked over his shoulder. “Are you sure you can trust her?”

“Not this again.” Tony sighed, sitting down, “Ye she’s a spy, yes she once deceived me to evaluate me. But even then she and Fury saved my life, and ever since she’s been nothing but honest. Natasha lies to find the truth. She does what’s right when she possesses all the fact. Which is better than me and Steve who do what we think is right with none of the facts.”

“That was oddly self-aware of you.” Rhodey chuckled.

“Well I have to do something instead of drink.” He closed his eyes. They both turned their heads as Natasha landed on the balcony. The repulsors minimized and she stepped into the room.

“Hello boys.” She smirked, coming up and sitting on the table, her knees pressing to Tony’s arm.

“What did you find?” He said, a little too eagerly.

“Well the source of the explosion was definitely an inhuman.” She sighed, pulling up a file. “James Taylor James aka Firestarter has had a few run-ins with S.H.I.E.L.D. after the destruction of Grant Ward’s Hydra, he went off the grid. He was the only one to survive the destruction of hive and this looks like it’s definitely his work. The ability to superheat objects and his explosive touch would have been used to destroy the building from the inside. He’d be able to destroy the majority of the building in a few minutes.”

“Fantastic. Well, he can’t be that bad, let’s go find him.” Tony said, leaning back.

“First of all, yes, he can be that bad. And secondly, we can’t go in without permission from the government of Madripoor which, due to the now viral video by Viper basically blaming you for everything, is probably going to be pretty impossible.”

“So what do we do?” Tony frowned.

“I don’t know.” Natasha sighed. “But maybe we should start with a shower and coffee.” She leaned down and gave Tony a kiss. He wasn’t pacified.

“How can I shower when—“                                                                     

“Nope.”

“What do you mean ‘nope’? This is all my—“

“No.”

“If the September Foundation hadn’t—“

“No. Nuh-uh,” She shook her head, “No blaming yourself for this. A terrorist destroyed something wonderful that you did. And it hurts, I know it hurts, but this is not your fault.”

Rhodey watched them for a minute and then smiled, “I’m uh…going to go coordinate with Coulson.”

“Bye, James,” Natasha smiled, leaning in to kiss Tony again.

As the door shut, Tony smiled, “You are so beautiful, did you know that?”

“Yes I did know that.” She moved to sit in his lap.

“This is my fault.” He frowned, “How can I be happy with you when so many people are dead?”

“If you say that again I’m going to cut off a pinky toe.” Natasha warned playfully, “And you’re happy because I’m amazing and beautiful and I’m starting to think of a plan.”

“Really?” He raised an eyebrow.

Natasha got a mischevious look in her eye and slipped out of his embrace, “Meet me in the shower and I’ll tell you.”

“Can’t you tell me now?” Tony frowned, watching her run away.

“There’s no time! Take off your clothes!”

 

 

Chapter Text

“This morning there was a vicious terrorist attack on one of the September Foundation’s most incredible accomplishments. A year ago a project was cut to build a super-hospital in Madripoor. It would run on solar energy and would have the highest level of natural disaster resistant engineering. This hospital was designed by the daughter of a doctor who was born on Madripoor. Iyana Ching made a decisive effort to hire within the community at every level. And when the doors opened to the three hospitals she managed to build in less than a year, they uplifted their communities. The September Foundation was created to help people help the world. And this project was an undeniable success.

“Stark Industries has never been a perfect company. And the nation of Madripoor is plagued with issues of corruption and poverty that sometimes seem insurmountable. But this project helped people. These were hospitals. And this attack was not one of a terrorist against the West. This was an attack on the people of Madripoor and anyone that does anything but condemn it is wrong. My heart, and the hearts of everyone in my employ goes out to the people of Madripoor.”

 

The room erupted as fifty journalists all got up to ask questions. The September Foundation’s spokesperson stepped up to the podium and Tony walked over to Natasha. His hand slipped around her waist as he almost unconsciously leaned on her.

“That was amazing,” She said, turning to kiss the side of his head.

“I’m not so sure about that.” He turned into her. It was so easy to lean on her now that she was here. Every inch of him wanted a drink and he was trying to drown it out with the smell of her perfume.

“You need to stop being so hard on yourself.” She said as they slipped into the car. A relationship that had only just started was beginning to feel like an old and comfortable marriage but she didn’t have time to freak out about it.

“I need to go home and spend the day in bed with you.” He smirked, snuggling up to him in the back seat of the car.

“Guys, seriously?” Happy grumbled.

Natasha pushed Tony away with a grin. “Actually I’ve got something better. A location on the inhuman that destroyed the hospitals.”

“Seriously?” He actually sat up straight and reached for his briefcase, “What are we waiting for?”

“Approval from the U.N.” Natasha sighed, “Coulson is working on it now, May, Johnson, you and I will go after him the minute we get the rubber stamp.”

Tony’s heartbeat quickened in anger. He knew on some level that the accords were good and that he had lost a lot to fight for them, but on a whole other level they were blocking him from saving his good name and countless lives from another attack. “What the hell? We need to go now!” Before he could do anything Natasha grabbed his briefcase. She tucked it behind her and rolled her eyes.

“No! You know how hard you fought for this, you know you can’t break the law now.” It was embarrassing how easily she held him back with one hand. He needed to start working out especially now that his girlfriend was basically John Cena.

“This isn’t about the law it’s about—“

“It’s about protecting yourself and your good name, I know. But if you save lives now just to start a war with China all the lives lost in that war will be on you, is that what you want?” She demanded, her piercing blue eyes hitting him like daggers.

Tony sighed and slumped back. “I hate it when people make me behave rationally.”

“There is a reason you fought for the accords, and this is exactly the situation you needed oversight in.” She reached out and cupped his cheek.

“When did this happen?” Happy said, looking in the rearview window too long. “Rhodey told me but I didn’t believe him. Tony I told you she—“

Tony rolled up the privacy barrier and gave Natasha a kiss, making her laugh. The muted sound of Happy’s disapproval was an interesting soundtrack to their situation. Tony looked like he was going to start taking off her clothes for the fifth time in the last three hours when her phone made a light ping sound.

“It’s Coulson he’s got the okay.” She announced, handing Tony his briefcase. She hadn’t changed out of her tac suit so they both geared up in a matter of seconds. Much to Happy’s inevitable continued disapproval they also didn’t mention anything before opening the doors and flying out. He pulled over suddenly, no doubt shouting curses, but they were already gone.

***

James wasn’t in Madripoor. He was in a ship in international waters. Once Singapore, Malaysia, and China agreed, they were allowed to make their move. S.H.I.E.L.D. would board from the helicopters but Natasha and Tony were faster. She went down first, minimizing her repulsors but keeping up the face-shield. Tony was quickly behind her. The deck was clear.

“I’ll take the cabin, you take the wheel.” Natasha ordered. “Coulson tells me he’s not exactly smart so don’t trust him not to blow himself up.”

“Roger that, hot stuff.” She could almost hear him winking.

She very visibly rolled her eyes before they split up. Natasha was the definition of silent as she slipped into the cabin. Lucky her, their prey was hiding there. Normally she would take him out with a few moves, but he was packing some heavy heat.

“And here I thought they’d send earthquake girl!” He shouted and tossed a superheated electric kettle at Natasha’s head. She dodged, but just barely.

“Suspect is in the cabin.” She said, “Attempting to draw him out.” She turned and ran out of the cabin. A risky move but James followed her. She activated her repulsors the second she was outside. Engaging him would be risky. She didn’t have armor like Tony, and her repulsors only had a few good blasts in them. She blocked a few miscellaneous objects with her widow’s bites and flew around in odd patterns to throw him off.

“Iron man engaging.” She heard as she blocked another rock flying at her face heated to 1000 degrees. Tony dipped towards the man, but realized in the last second that they couldn’t take him out without running the risk of being exploded.

“Yeah, come at me you hunk of metal!” James shouted, lugging what was formerly a toaster at him. “You’ll never take me alive!”

“That doesn’t have to be a priority!” Tony shouted angrily, moving to hover a hundred feet away from her. He glanced at Natasha, “What can we do?”

“Distract him?” She tried, dipping lower as something exploded right above her. “S.H.I.E.L.D. Will know what to do.”

“Does all of his skin have the explosive touch thing or just his hands?” Tony flew to the other side to draw some of the blows.

“I don’t know but I’m pretty sure he won’t be as quick when it’s not the hands.” She did a loop in the air. Tony’s pride at her flying patterns was evident in the way he held himself.

“Alright, I’ve got a present for you.” Tony tossed a small disk at her. “It’s just a prototype but put it on your chest and press the red button.”

She did as she was told and shimmered out of existence. “Yes!” Tony shouted, “Invisibilty tech is go!”

“Be quiet!” She laughed.

“Right, right, so are we on the same page here?” Tony said.

“Switch to infrared, I’ll get down there and incapacitate him, then you fly him out of here and we pass him over to Coulson.” She didn’t wait for a response, instead flying down and wrapping an arm around his neck. James made a face and Tony saw through the infrared that she injected him with something, probably a tranquilizer. Increased metabolism meant he could probably burn off any non-lethal dose fairly quickly. His repulsors were stronger so he took the unconscious man and flew as quickly as he could to the nearest S.H.I.E.L.D. ship.

He landed with a soft thud, followed closely by Natasha. James was already starting to stir. Johnson and Coulson wrangled him into a weird white cell that would supposedly dampen his powers. Tony sure as hell hoped that was the case. He deserved to be stuck there for a long, long time.

***

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Natasha said, coming out of the shower. They were back home, or at Tony’s Malibu house after three or four hours of bureaucratic bullshit.

“That I want to kiss every inch of your skin?” He said, standing up and kissing her neck. It was still damp with shower water but he loved how smooth and warm her skin was. Even still, he could feel the muscle beneath, and the power inside her.

“Well that and Capturing James was too easy.” She smiled as his lips moved up her cheek. Tony was actually much taller than her, but sometimes he felt smaller, like she grounded him.

“I know,” He sighed, “But at least in America the reputation of Stark Industries and the September Foundation is restored.” It felt hollow, though. He knew in Madripoor the Viper was still calling him a meddling westerner responsible for countless deaths. No one in that part of the world would trust him…he wanted a drink.

Natasha must have sensed something because she pressed her lips to his and smiled. “We can talk about it tomorrow if you really want to.”

“Oh? So what do we talk about today?” He slipped off her towel and slid his hand over her body.

She smiled, “Why don’t we talk about us?”

“What is there to talk about? We’re partners, we’re together.” He said, pulling off the towel wrapped around her hair. “And you’re all clean now so I want to get you all messy.”

“Stop!” She laughed, dancing away from him. “I want to be your girlfriend, but not as Natasha Romanoff. Okay?”

“You mean you want me to keep calling you Nora in public?” He sat on the bed and she sat next to him. “You know they’re going to plaster your face everywhere.”

“Believe me I’ve had my face plastered all over everywhere before. We can have private lives, you know. I mean who recognizes the non-famous wife. I’m not going to be an actress or anything.”

“Did you just call yourself my wife?” He laughed.

“Oh shut up.” She kissed him and he grinned against her lips.

“Fine, but I just want to say one thing.” He gently pressed her back on the bed and kissed down to her stomach, “You’re fired.”

“I’m….mmmm….what?” She bit her bottom lip as he began to tease her.

“You’re fired, I’m not letting you be my assistant anymore, it’s weird. I’ll hire someone else.”

“Whatever, I’m still monitoring your company.”

“That’s fine.” He kissed the inside of her thigh. “Now…let me tell you about your severance package…”

Chapter Text

Sundays were amazing things. As an international tycoon in almost every tech industry there was, Tony rarely had a Sunday to spare, at least, before he didn’t. Now they were somewhat mandatory, mostly because of the company. Natasha probably didn’t sleep in like she pretended to, but it was nice to watch her slowly breathing anyway. She looked positively angelic, stretched out next to him, her red hair like flames licking the pillow or curling over her skin. He liked to kiss the curls or, push them aside to kiss her collarbone or her neck. How did she always smell so good? Almost sweet.

“Morning.” She said, opening one eye, then the other, a smile spreading over her lips as his mustache tickled her earlobe.

“You’re so beautiful when you’re asleep.” He said, wrapping his arms around her. A lot of men might feel a bit emasculated by the fact that their girlfriend was so strong, and only soft in a few places, but Tony loved it. She was his anchor.

“I’m beautiful all the time.” She turned and kissed him, her leg hooking around his hips.

“Yes you are.” He nuzzled her hair and pressed a few kisses to the side of her head.

It had been a month since they started…this. It still felt kind of weird for him to call her his girlfriend. He was pretty sure he was in love, he slid his hands over her breasts, down her stomach. Knowing her she’d get scared off by anything like a confession of love, but he almost didn’t mind. He was beginning to suspect she knew though, as every touch seemed to say it for him. Sex that used to feel like a chance to impress his partner, was now so much more satisfying, relaxing.

“We should get breakfast.” Natasha said softly after a few moments of kisses.

“I’d rather eat you for breakfast.” He said, then groaned as she wiggled out of his arms.

“We have things today, remember?” She teased, padding over to the bathroom. He’d gotten used to her silence, but it was still amazing to watch. Each movement was graceful, dance-like.

“You mean the dance thing?” He sighed, moving to sit up.

“Yes, I mean the dance thing. You don’t have to go.” She called out, before the sound of the shower ended the conversation. Instead he stood and joined her in the shower.

“You know I like to do things with you.” He said, stepping into the hot water with her. She already had his soap in her hand and she let herself message the gel into his skin. Life was so much better with someone else. He had only ever had something like this with Pepper, but it was different then because Pepper could only ever be Tony’s partner, not Iron Man’s, so they fought constantly. He’d never expected to trust Natasha, but once the doors were open so were the floodgates. Soon he was telling her about everything, even about his father, who he’d never even spoken about in AA. Cold and Cruel, Howard had demanded his son be “a man” at any cost. His childhood was spent with his mother as his shield against his father’s drunken rage. But what was most terrifying was knowing that demon lived inside him too, and could come out at any moment with just a sip of liquor.

“You’re thinking too much.” Natasha said, reaching up to wash his hair. He rubbed some soap over her back, using it as an excuse to hold her close. Her soap smelled like vanilla, but somehow it didn’t stick to her skin long enough to hide that natural scent.

“I’m thinking about how far we’ve come in so little time.” He said quietly.

“You know, when I first moved in, I didn’t think I’d be signing up for so much reflection and pensiveness.” She teased, giving him a soapy kiss.

“I’m full of surprises, it’s been well documented.” He smiled against her lips.

“That I know.” She smiled, moving with him as he lifted her against the wall. “It’s easier to love you than you think, you know.”

“Are you saying you love me?” He whispered as he stepped between her thighs. She didn’t answer, instead gripping his hair as the water fell over them and their breathing quickened.

Sundays were amazing things.

***

Natasha was a hard woman to love, or even like. She liked things that way. It made it easier to be alone sometimes, but even better, it meant that when love did come around, it was pretty world shattering. She just hadn’t expected that with Tony Stark. Though she’d always known he was more than he seemed, smarter, more rational, it was just surprising that the two of them would be lovers, especially when they had so little in common. A month had gone by so quickly, but she felt like she had been with Tony for years. In a way, she had known everything about him, she’d studied him, and even been able to read most of his personality after a few weeks of shadowing him. The tumultuous childhood, the alcoholism, the insecurity was written all over him.

What was unique about Tony Stark was that when he felt bad, he was just as likely to reach for his suit as for the bottle. Most people hurt themselves, or hurt others, because most people only see too choices, but what connected Natasha and Tony, was that when the chips were down, the first path they saw was to help someone else, to save or to protect. And she supposed that’s why they were sitting at the met, watching Miranda Leonova dance a solo in Cinderella like a beautiful puff of white. Natasha studied her movements, committing them to memory so later she could do her own version that would knock this one out of the water. Tony looked bored, he’d already taken three phone calls and gone to the bathroom twice. It was coming down to the finale though, so she knew he could hang in there.

As the lights came up, they each got phone calls, the watch dogs had a warehouse full of hostages, this seemed like a job for Iron Man and Black Widow. They slipped into the bathroom and came out their alter egos, thanks to his repulsors, Natasha was able to keep up with Tony. They were in the sky soon, flying having become a familiar thrill.

“So have you ever been to a waffle house?” Tony said as they passed over the land

“I hate waffles, and I think you know that.” Natasha responded with a smirk in her voice. A small image of Tony’s face popped up in her side view.

“C’mon,” He pouted, “Waffles.”

“Oh you’ve convinced me.” She rolled her eyes.

“Why don’t we fly down to Florida for the weekend after this?” He said, a new note of hopefulness in his voice.

“It’s Sunday.”

“So?”

“So the weekend is over after this.”

“Only if we let it be over.” He actually winked.

“So we’re both going to play hooky with the UN tomorrow morning?” Natasha raised an eyebrow.

“You’re not fun.” He grumbled.

“Cut the chatter.” Maria Hill’s voice cut into their conversation. “Sending you both schematics now…” Maria outlined the plan. Apparently Vision was joining them today. Natasha would go in first, clear a path for the hostages and begin evacuating while Tony and Vision dropped in. She glanced at Tony and saw a slight deflation in the way he held himself. He missed the Avengers, so did she.

The plan went off without a hitch. Natasha dropped in, literally, and took out several men with her bites, of course set to stun. They dropped like flies under her power, and the boys came in shortly after, followed by Johnson, who was calling herself Quake, and her team. Natasha ushered the hostages out as the watch dogs foolishly open fired on people who were essentially bullet proof. Natasha was on her way out too before something caught her eye.

The watch dogs were essentially a white supremacist group at heart. Yes, their primary target was inhumans, but they had picked up plenty from mein kampf. That was why one of them having a necklace with a golden dragon of the east was a bit surprising. What was more surprising, when she pulled away his mask, he wasn’t white. She was pretty sure it wasn’t racist to assume that an Asian man didn’t belong in a neo-nazi group. Natasha pocketed the Charm, she’d deal with it later. For now she had to keep her boyfriend from running off to a waffle house in his Iron Man Suit.

***

“M-Mr. Stark?”

“Yes, Lindsey, it’s okay to come in.” Tony said as Natasha straightened his tie. Despite firing her, he was finding her assistance with the day to day aspects of living pretty constant.

“Well, I have the itinerary for tomorrow, and…uh…” She always got shy around Natasha, which was kind of odd, because Natasha wasn’t Natasha, she was Nora who was actually not intimidating at all, but very beautiful and nice. “Mr. Hogan called to remind you that you need to…uh…go over the...uh…new system tomorrow.”

“Thank you.” Natasha took the itinerary and placed it on the table. She looked really good in that black dress. He tried not to look at her ass as she walked but failed.

“Any plans tonight Lindse?” Yeah he wasn’t getting better at the nicknames.

“N-no…” She looked away shyly.

“Oh come on, pretty girl like you, Friday night, you’ve got to have something.” Tony flashed one of his signature grins while he wandered over to Natasha and kissed her cheek.

“Just going to sit at home…and watch netflix.” She said, her eyes following him as he crossed the room.

“Well have fun.” Natasha giggled as her lover nuzzled a particularly ticklish spot on her neck.

The assistant left, pressing her back to the door. She could hear the voices inside, soft and light.

“There is something wrong with that one.” Tony’s voice floated through the door.

“Oh, come on, you don’t see it?” Nora’s chastising tone.

“What do you mean?”

“She has a crush on you, you idiot!”

“What?” The shock was evident even when Lindsey could barely hear them.

“Oh my god you’re so dumb sometimes.”

Lindsey stepped away, she didn’t need to hear anymore. She waited until she was out of the building to make the call, and even then she used a payphone two blocks away. The phone rang a few times before she began. “You were right,” She said coolly, “They’re happy, weak. But best of all, they don’t know what’s coming.”

 

Chapter Text

“Well Nina, I think when the accords were implemented, the world was in a place where we needed them. But I think after seeing the way that Captain Rogers’ Rogue avengers have managed to stop terrorist attacks despite evading UN security forces has really changed the way most people think. Public opinion has definitely shifted and I think we’re coming to realize that the threats we’re facing today need a new kind of reaction. Personally, I trust Captain America over drone strikes any day.”

“That is so true, Diane. For those of you just tuning in I’m here with Senator Diane Riley from South Carolina.” Nina Caraway said turning towards the camera, “We’re here talking about the UN’s decision to repeal the Sokovian Accords and grant Captain America and his team a full pardon after their recent heroics in Yugoslavia. Tell me, Diane, does this mean the band is getting back together?”

“You know, that’s really up to one man, and his name is Tony—“

“Off.”

“Hey! Diane was about to say my name.”

“I’m the only woman who should be saying your name.” Natasha stood over Tony with that look in her eyes. The ‘you’re not in trouble yet’ look.

“This is…” He swallowed. He really wished he hadn’t gotten rid of all his booze.

“It doesn’t mean anything.”

“I was wrong.” He said quietly, “They’re saying I was wrong. That everything that happened didn’t matter because I was wrong. And Steve was right and if I had just done the right thing and fallen in line and listened to him it would have been fine. And they’re ri—“

“No.” Natasha said, sighing. “No. I don’t want to hear that ever come out of your mouth again.”

“I’m stating facts,” The great Tony Stark was practically pouting up at his girlfriend

“You’re wallowing in self-pity like you always do.” She put a finger over his lips before he could speak “Honestly, honey, you weren’t wrong. The Avengers didn’t need oversight, we were a good team for the most part, and we did the best we could with incredibly difficult situations. But we had the two best men in the world in charge of us. Steve, as much of a pain as he can be, was our conscience and he always led us in the right direction. And you always thought of the best solution to every problem. Together you two did better than any oversight counsel would have—“

“—So you think I was wrong too?” He said, muffled by the fact that her finger was still on his lips.

“I’m not finished,” Natasha rolled her eyes, covering his whole mouth now. “Despite the fact that we didn’t need guidance a little bit would never hurt. The UN wasn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. it was the UN and it’s wrong of Steve to let his personal feelings get in the way of the fact that he might not always be in charge. The Avengers might not always be a group of six people that live together. I mean, we’ve already got spider man, and those wackos in hell’s kitchen might end up on our side. Plus Coulson and Daisy have a whole team of enhanced people they call inhumans. The world is growing and so are the threats, it’s not right that we don’t have restrictions.”

“So you think I was right?” He said as she finally moved her hand away.

“I took your side, didn’t I?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah but you let Steve escape.” Tony didn’t finish. She’d let Steve escape with the guy that had murdered his parents.

“I knew they weren’t going to stop. To continue fighting would only hurt all of us.”

Tony sighed and kissed her. “You forgot about how awesome you are.”

“What?” She tilted her head, trying not to smile.

“Well, you talked about how amazing Steve is and how amazing I am. You forgot the most important part of the team.” He smiled, cupping her cheek, “Steve was our conscience, I was our mind, you were our heart.”

“What makes you say that?” She leaned into his touch, not hiding her smile now.

“Well, you trained all of us that needed training, you did all the grocery shopping, you helped Wanda with getting over her brother, you helped Clint set up a secure line back home, you ran most of the missions. You made sure we had dinner together. We could have just gone our separate ways when we moved onto the compound but you made sure we were a real team. Hell, I told you about Pepper and me way before I told anyone else.” He pulled her down to kiss her again. “You were definitely the heart of the team. And…I shouldn’t have said those things…before.”

She tilted her head, “You mean when I let Steve go?” It seemed like so long ago.

“You were trying to keep your family together and I didn’t see it.”

“It’s okay.” Natasha smiled and leaned down to kiss him, “I’ve already forgiven you.”

“I love you.” He said softly against her lips. It was the first time he’d been able to say it, and really it was a race to see who would say it first, they both had more issues than they could count, and Natasha never even once called him her boyfriend.

“I…” She looked shocked. He was about to say she didn’t need to say it back when her phone rang. She pretty much jumped off his lap to answer it which didn’t feel fantastic. “Maria? Yeah, hi…uh…no, no problem. Yeah, we’ll meet you there.” She mouthed the words ‘suit up’ to Tony who sighed and sent the command through his watch that his suit should come to him. Natasha rolled her eyes, she thought it was lazy for him to put it on like that.

“We’ve got a couple explosions in Singapore.” She said, strapping up her boots.

“Saved by the terrorism.” Tony smirked.

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Oh come on.”

***

“So just so you know, you don’t have to say it back.” Tony said, as they flew over the Pacific Ocean.

“I...it’s not that I don’t…it’s just that…well I don’t know how I—“

“I mean it, Tasha, I love you, I’ve loved you for a long time and I get how hard it is to open up.” He sounded really sincere which was weird because this was the kind of thing he’d usually be really insecure about.

“I just don’t want to say it insincerely.” Natasha said quietly, “I’m not exactly a relationship expert.”

“Yeah you were basically a virgin when we met.” Tony cackled. He just loved the fact that the reputation of the infamous black widow was just a shell game. She’d only been with a handful of men, actually less than a handful. Three.

“Hey, I was not a virgin, I got around plenty.” Natasha rolled her eyes, but there was no real resentment.

“Around the convent maybe.” Tony chuckled. Luckily, given his boosted repulsors technology they were able to cross the Pacific in less than an hour, especially when Natasha opted not to use hers in battle and use them for travel time instead. He’d suggested she just ride on his back but she was not into the idea. She pressed the button to compact them as they landed next to Coulson where he was less than two hundred feet from the center of the situation.

“What’s the situation?” Natasha said, all business.

“We’ve got three bombers used to be four, they’re spread out over the city. We need to disarm them before they detonate.” He pointed to a map, “I’ve got May and Daisy on these two targets, Romanoff I need you on the third.”

“Got it.” She set her widow’s bites to stun.

“Well that’s not all, we’ve got some kind of remote detonator, we’re picking up the signal but we don’t know where it’s coming from.”

“That’s okay,” Tony piped up, “I can go to the center of town, and the suit give out an EMP and knock down all electronics, remote detonator off.”

“Won’t that drain the suit?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Well Coulson doesn’t mind giving us a lift back home, do you Coulson?” Tony winked.

He ignored the look and turned to Romanoff, “I think we’ve got a plan.”

“One two three, break?” Tony cracked a smile and gave Natasha a kiss before flying off. Luckily he had remembered to engage stealth mode.

“You know, I still can’t wrap my head around you two.” The agent said. They hadn’t worked a lot of missions together, but Natasha knew there was a mutual respect there. He genuinely cared about most everyone he worked with.

“I know what you mean.” She smiled turning towards the small monitor that gave away everyone’s positions. “But it seems like we’re doing well.”

“Hey babe,” Tony said over the coms. “Got anything you want to say to me?” His voice was light and teasing.

“Hmmm, can’t think of anything.” She teased back, watching his location on the monitor.

“Oh you know starts with an I…ends with a you.”

“Starts with I and ends with U, hmm, that would be a real scrabble winner, wouldn’t it?” Natasha chuckled. “Remember when I beat you with inconnu?”

“I remember agreeing that you wouldn’t talk about that anymore.” She watched as the littler red dot that was her boyfriend landed on a tall building in the center of the little red dots that were the suicide bombers.

“Oops.” She laughed.

“Alright,” Coulson said into his own com, EMP in place, we are a go.

It was easy to take the guy out without the looming threat of remote detonation. She just snuck up behind him and delivered a blast to his knees that had him falling over. Then she…blocked his main airways…until he passed out. Daisy and Melinda were likely doing the same thing at the same time. “You know what I just love, honey?” She said as the bomb squad came in. There was no response.

“Tony?” She said into her coms a little louder. Nothing. Oh god. Don’t panic.

“Tony, are you there?” Still nothing.

“Black Widow to Iron Man, please come in. Iron Man, please come in…..Tony, please…oh god…Tony!”

Chapter Text

Two weeks. Two weeks of terror and fear and those two weeks ended here. In some sleazy bar in New York, surrounded by bums or soon-to-be bums. This was not where Tony belonged. Though she knew a year ago it was one of his favorite spots. Luckily the surveillance camera had picked up his face. Thank god for Daisy Johnson.

“Let’s go.” She said with the kind of commanding tone most people would be terrified to disobey.

“Don wanna…” Tony slurred, reaching for his glass, it was empty but he didn’t seem to notice.

Natasha grabbed his arm and pulled him outside. He was weak with drink which didn’t exactly make it easy because he was practically dead weight. She stuffed him into her little black car with minimal protest. He was passed out by the time they were back at the tower. Natasha put him in the bed she had fancied theirs but that was looking more like his tonight and told F.R.I.D.A.Y. to seal off the room and tell her if he woke up. She went down to the gym where she dodged blasts and beat up some punching bag for the better part of an hour before someone joined her.

Pepper looked immaculate despite the fact that it was nearing one in the morning. Her clothes were casual but something about them seemed very professional, her hair was tied back tightly and she wore just a touch of makeup. Just seeing her Natasha kind of wanted to fall in love with her too. She just looked so…together. “Hi.” Natasha said, wandering over to the fridge and grabbing a bottle of water.

“Hello, Natasha.” Pepper gave her an awkward half smile. It was obvious she didn’t know how they ought to act together. Natasha didn’t really know either, how did you greet the soulmate of the person you loved?

“I didn’t know if you’d come.” Natasha said honestly, opening the bottle.

“I thought you both might need a friend.” Pepper said softly, “And only a friend.”

“I know,” Natasha smiled, relaxing a little, “I’m not…I just want Tony to be okay.”

Pepper walked over to a bench and sat down. “You didn’t know him when he was…impaired. It was pretty bad. He said things and did things that I don’t know if I ever really forgave him for.”

Natasha sighed, “I just, I don’t feel angry. I mean, I know it’s not him. I…don’t want to lose him.” She was lying. The Tony she loved she didn’t harbor any bad feelings for, but the drunk loser upstairs she was pissed at. She wanted to kick his ass until he gave her back her Tony.

“It’s hard, I know. I think the best thing you can do is help him through withdrawal and then when he comes to his senses he’ll sober up.” Pepper rested a hand on her shoulder.

“It wasn’t his fault…” Natasha sighed, “I guess someone realized the best way to take down Iron Man was to get at Tony Stark. There’s footage of someone dumping him on the street drunk. They probably poured it down his throat.”

Pepper frowned, “I sometimes wonder if the Iron Man thing isn’t the root of the problem. Which is the real addiction?”

“It’s the booze.” Natasha smirked, making Pepper laugh. “But I think he likes who he is as Iron Man more than he likes Tony Stark.” She sighed, “I just wish I could show him that the two halves of himself are connected. Everything he hates about Tony Stark is what makes Iron Man so strong.”

Pepper stared at her for a long moment, “You’re in love with him aren’t you?”

Natasha actually blushed, “Maybe.”

“He loves you, I mean, to hear him talk…” Pepper smiled. “I mean you’re the reason we’re even able to be friends, he became quite the feminist overnight and apologized for objectifying me.”

Natasha laughed, she remembered the night he’d accidentally said something less than enlightened about an actress who had decided to do a rather revealing photoshoot for Vanity Fair. She’d gone full Gloria Steinem and lectured him for an hour.

“I guess he was listening.” She joked.

"He loves you," Pepper insisted, her mouth trying not to twist into a smile.

"You're too happy about this." Natasha laughed. She was finally relaxing when F.R.I.D.A.Y.'s voice sounded.

"Miss. Romanoff, Mr. Stark is awake." She said calmly, "You have approximately five minutes before he realizes where he is."

"Of course," She sighed, standing and looking at Pepper hopefully.

"I'll come with you," The former assistant said, standing. Natasha couldn't help but think of them as Tony's official Bad cop and Good cop.

***

When they entered the penthouse Tony was sitting up in bed looking fairly disoriented. That lasted all of a minute before he saw both of them. "Pepper?" He frowned, "What are you doing here?"

"I heard you've been having some problems." She said almost sweetly.

"I called reinforcements," Natasha explained. "Are you okay? How do you feel?"

"Sober." He grumbled, "Where's that scotch? The really old one? I remember that being good."

Natasha rolled her eyes. "Nope."

"That's not an answer to 'Where'." Tony looked at her belligerently.

"Go back to sleep." Natasha said, coming over to sit next to him. He didn't respond with his usual affection, instead basically pouting at her.

"I need a drink. Please, love."

"We both know that's not going to happen." Natasha said, smirking. She was trying desperately to find this funny or cute but was failing.

It wasn't cute an hour later when he was practically begging her for anything "even a sip of wine" (which really begged the question what was wrong with wine). She had stopped answering and mostly just looked at Pepper helplessly who looked back at her helplessly. After the second hour progress was made in that they managed to get him into the shower but that only energized him and he was beginning to threaten.

"Do you know who I am?!" He shouted at both of them. "Do you know what I could do to you?" He took a swing at Pepper who jumped back, but that was too much for Natasha and she sent her out of the room.

***

So it was just them. He couldn't really threaten her, even drunk it was obvious how untouchable she was. So he went after her love instead. "Please, you're so beautiful...please just one drink." No. "Please, if you love me at all." No. "Please, 'Tasha, I need it." No.

"This is why you're always alone." He said, his face contorting angrily. He looked like he might try to hit her but he was too sober for that. "You think you know what's best for everyone, but you don't. No one is going to thank you for what you do."

"That's okay." She said, perched elegantly at his desk.

"I thought I loved you." He grumbled, "But I can't love someone who's empty inside."

That struck a nerve. She was empty, she had to be. She filled herself with whatever the person next to her needed so she could use them, manipulate them and own them. It was so natural she couldn't even tell if she was doing it sometimes.

"Do you even feel anything?" Tony spat. "Or are you going to eat me up like you did everyone else?"

"I feel a lot," Natasha admitted, taking a deep breath and going over to him. "But mostly I just want you to get over this."

When he really looked at her horror crossed his face and he pulled her close. "Oh God, I'm so sorry, Nat. I'm so...."

"Don't, cherepakha," She kissed his head, "Just focus on me."

 

It took a full twenty four hours for him to sober up. Altogether he'd been missing a week and been out on the streets for one day. He didn't see his kidnappers, only remembered being force-fed booze until he was too drunk to know his own name and got dropped off at a very public bar. Natasha suspected more than alcohol played a part but it was too late for a tox screen. Pepper had a few days off still and helped the new assistant with the Press so Natasha could lie in bed with Tony all day long and let him apologize for his behavior while she forgave him.

"Did I say I'm sorry?" He said, his head tucked into her neck.

"Only about a million times." She smiled, gently playing with his hair. "It wasn't you, Tony. And this time it really wasn't your fault, you didn't relapse, you were drugged and set up."

"I just...I should have done something." He sighed, rolling onto his back to look pensively up at the ceiling.

"Right, like I should have broken out of the brainwashing,” She said, turning and wrapping an arm around his waist, "Sometimes the things we do are not in our control, it's something we give up--or is taken from us--when we become heroes."

"I shouldn't have started in the first place then." He frowned down at her. "I had a choice a long time ago and I made the wrong one. I was weak...just like my father said..."

"No, Tony." She sighed and sat up, "If there is one thing I have learned it is that every human being is composed of certain traits. Every greatness is a weakness and every weakness is a strength. The part of you that reached for the bottle is the same part of you that reaches for the suit. For good, or bad, it is who you are and I..." She looked away.

"What?" He grinned, "You what?"

"I love you." She said, not looking at him but he could see the smile forming on her face. "Okay? Happy?"

"Oh extremely." Tony pulled her back against his chest, making her laugh, "I finally got you, hmm?"

"Don't be so pleased with yourself I might take it back." She teased.

"No, you won't." He kissed the top of her head.

"No, I won't." She said, looking up so he could see the promise in her eyes. "I love you. Alcoholism and all."

Tony shifted so he could kiss her, heart swelling with emotion. "I love you too." He said quietly.

"That's not a surprise." She smirked.

"I know." He said softly, "But you're not empty, you're full of love and brains and qualities I don't deserve in a girlfriend. I love all of you too."

"Good," She said, smiling, "Because you can't get rid of me now."

"I wouldn't dream of it."

Chapter Text

Pepper Potts was amazing. Everyone could agree to that. She was nice, smart, and more capable than anyone else in corporate America that was for sure. Unfortunately, she couldn’t exactly feel like she was any of that with the kind of agenda she was juggling. She’d forgotten how being in Tony’s life was almost being Tony’s life. He’d depended on her so much before, it was like stepping into a familiar mold. The first day she took charge, cancelling all his appointments, solving what problems she could. The second day she intended to do much the same thing, until an entirely different Redhead walked into his office ready for action.

Natasha was every bit the ballerina. She danced gracefully between proverbial landmines as they seemed to be exploding around her. Stark industries was falling apart at the seams and whoever had been running it—Pepper assumed it wasn’t Tony—had been holding it together with gum and duct tape. There had been several investments that had fallen through due to natural disasters or pirate attacks, even a few instances of terrorism. Pepper watched as Natasha dodged reporters and moved money around to save as much as possible. She talked to lawyers, accountants, everyone she could get on the phone. She’d been the bully and the therapist to many a crying scientist.

“You know if the spy thing doesn’t work out for you, you should try starting a business.” Pepper said when the two of them finally got to take a lunch break.

Natasha laughed with that deep voice that gave Pepper goosebumps. Okay so she had a little bit of a girl-crush. “I don’t think this is anything I’m particularly gifted at.”

Pepper raised an eyebrow, “If Tony was in your place, I’d be pretty damn surprised if he could have pulled off even one of the hourly miracles you managed to make happen.”

“Probably not,” She laughed, eyes glittering conspiratorially. “But I learned a lot as his assistant…I’m surprised that Lindsey hasn’t stepped in more. I guess no one can be Pepper Potts.”

“Ugh, even I can’t be Pepper Potts, I’d rather be Virgina…Pans.” The joke fell flat but Natasha laughed anyway which was nice. Pepper was trying not to be jealous of Tony’s beautiful, confident, and deadly girlfriend. Five years ago she would have been nothing but hostile towards her, but now that she knew there was no future for her and Tony, she couldn’t bring herself to hate someone who had brought him so much peace.

“We’re being targeted,” Natasha’s dark words made Pepper look up. “It’s Viper, I know it. She’s coming after Tony because…I don’t know…because he’s a target. Because every time you try to make this world a better place it stabs you in the back.” The darkness that had come over her made Pepper uncomfortable.

“I’m sure she won’t get away with this.” Pepper said, reaching out and taking Natasha’s hand, “After all, you’re superheroes.”

The word brought out a bitter laugh from Natasha. “I think Captain America took that title from us during our last little…skirmish.”

“No one can take that away from you or Tony.” Pepper said emphatically. “You’re both so much stronger than you think. I now you can fight this.”

Natasha smirked. “I can see why Tony has such a big ego.”

“I mean it, you can take down Viper. If she’s targeting Tony’s business it has to be for a reason right?”

“She wants to win the election, but she could do that with money like everyone else in Madripoor.” She sighed, leaning forward, “Why target Tony? Probably because he’s the only American in Madripoor most likely.” She sipped her coffee. “She wants to really win…she wants popular support. But why?”

“Well maybe she wants to do something drastic.” Pepper shrugged, “Like start a war or invade another country, that wouldn’t really work if no one supported her leadership.”

“That’s true, but who would she fight? Madripoor has no standing army and it’s so corrupt there’s no….” Natasha trailed off eyes widening. “She wants to use it for her own corruption. She wants to bring in her own infrastructure…she’ll say it’s for the good of the people and they’ll believe her.” She covered her mouth, “She’s just using Tony to get to that point.”

Pepper smiled, “See, you’ve solved it, now you know what her plan is, I’m sure you can take her down.”

“Thank you for your confidence.” Natasha laughed. “But I’m not sure it’s ever that simple.”

***

“Are you calling me fat?” Tony said, crossing his arms. As much as he liked to see Natasha in her work out clothes—a sports bra and booty shorts—he couldn’t ignore the reason they were there.

Natasha chuckled, “I never said you were fat.”

“I prefer to get my exercise another way.” He grinned, reaching out to put his hands on her hips. He wanted to pull her closer but she wasn’t budging.

Natasha stepped out of his grasp, further proving her point. “Tony, I love you, but you cannot hold your own in a fight.”

He blinked, “Is that what this is about?” He put his hands on his hips, “I was blindsided.”

“Look, Steve used to give you self-defense training and you’re not bad in a regular skirmish, but we’re not fighting regular people here.” She put her hands on her hips and gestured for him to come over to where she was standing by the punching bag, “Happy’s booty boot camp and Steve’s punching one-oh-one isn’t going to help you against ninjas.”

“And your booty boot camp is?” He walked over to her but passed the punching bag and wrapped his arms around his girlfriend instead, “I’m sorry, I just can’t take any of this seriously with you looking that good.”

Natasha rolled her eyes, “Should I put on my hoodie so I don’t distract you?”

“Mmmm, no, I like you this way.” He was kissing her collarbone and neck, and despite her best efforts he could feel the way her skin was warmer every time he touched her or the slight increase in her breathing.

“We are not having sex.” She said flatly. “No means no, cherepakha.”

“Who said anything about sex?” He raised an eyebrow, looking up at her mischievously.

“This is a public gym.” She pushed him away gently. No one was there (probably because most people were working at 10 in the morning), but Natasha still had her rules. Tony sighed and pulled away.

“Do you know why I call you cherepakha?” she said, seeing how deflated he was.

“I know it means turtle.” He perked up, “And it’s really hot when you speak Russian.”

“Why would I call you a turtle? Hmmm.” She said in an attempt to distract him.

“Because I’m slower than you when we go jogging?” He grinned, the ‘when we go jogging’ part of his statement was more wishful thinking, he’d tagged along to her morning jog once and had felt like he was dying by the end of it.

“Because you hide in your shell,” She said, pressing a hand to his arc reactor. It was a bit blunt, but they both knew it was true, “And while I won’t comment on what that means for your emotional health—“

“Hey!” He huffed, “I’m not that bad.”

She smirked and leaned up to give him a placating kiss. “What I was saying was, as a defense strategy, it’s not good for you to always rely on your suit to protect you.” Her fingers wound their way into his hair, probably to calm him down, but instead just mixing up all his emotions. “You need two lines of defense. Your suit and yourself.”

Tony frowned, pressing his forehead to hers. “I don’t know if I can be strong like you are.”

“Strength consists of two parts.” Natasha said, pulling away. She didn’t entertain his self-doubt, instead taking on the teacherly role, “Minimizing the number of times you fall and getting up when you do.”

“And you’re going to teach me how to do those two things?” He grinned, watching her hop into the boxing ring.

“Mhmmm…” She gestured for him to follow her and he jumped up. “Just trust me, okay?”

Tony pretended to think about it, then gave her his biggest grin, “Always.”

Chapter Text

“Can I help you Mr. Hogan?” Pepper shifted a few papers on her desk before looking up.

“So, are you back?” Happy said unceremoniously. “Because if you are that means I’m going to have to recheck your security clearances.”

Pepper raised a red eyebrow, stopping her work to look up at him, “I’m not here permanently. I’m just helping Lindsey cover some of the press.” Something about Happy had always made her want to cross her arms and shake her head.

“Do you want to be back?” He traced a pattern on the edge of her desk.

“Honestly? I like my job. The only reservation I had was that Tony can barely take care of himself, but now he’s got Natasha to take care of him so it’s all good.” She stood up and took Happy’s arm in an overly familiar way that only she could pull off. “But that shouldn’t stop you from buying me lunch.”

Happy gave her a look that said “did I just get a date with THE Pepper Potts?” before looking away shyly and laughing, “Hey, you’re the executive, you should be buying me lunch.”

The two laughed and walked away leaving Lindsey to field calls and finish up the day’s paperwork. She didn’t mind being left alone. With Tony Stark working from his home office and Pepper Potts too distracted by that ridiculous Hogan fellow to notice anything. The real concern was Romanoff. She’d been on their tail for years now, nipping at the heels of the organization like a hungry wolf. It was impossible to get anything done when that woman was around, what a menace.

She clocked out, walked down to the subway and took a train out to Queens, miles away from where she worked or lived. “Serpent to Viper,” She said after dialing the number.

“You’ve certainly been taking your sweet time,” A cold voice hissed through the phone’s staticky speaker. “What have you got for me.”

“Your plan worked, Tony Stark’s reputation has been severely damaged. He relies too heavily on Romanoff. Take her out of the picture and he will be crushed.” Lindsey looked around for watchful eyes, her little bobbing blonde head seeming deceptively frail.

“Good. Then get rid of her.” The command sounded even harsher in Viper’s cold voice.

“Are you sure?” Lindsey could only dare to dream.

“Don’t I sound sure?” Viper said coldly, “We need Stark to be destroyed, not just dead annihilated. Get rid of his girlfriend and I assure you he will never put his damn suit on again.”

“I understand, Hail Hydra.”

“Hail Hydra.” There was a click and the call ended, Lindsey could not contain the pure joy bubbling up inside her. Time to kill a spider.

***

It felt like it had been a while since Natasha had spent a few hours alone. Normally she was at Stark Industries, or at S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to find a way to protect Tony and destroy Viper. Or she was with Tony himself, going out, staying in, attempting to convince him to learn some self-defense skills. So being home alone was a little weird.

She started by working out, but no matter how many times you punch a punching bag it will never punch back, so that got pretty boring. She moved on to ballet, but it wasn’t as fun without Tony watching in awe of her (wow her ego had gotten too big). So she settled for watching TV.

It surprised her to find that television had gotten incredibly boring. She wasn’t interested in exaggerated legal dramas, reality shows where mothers exploited their children, or anything to do with cakes and/or wedding dresses. That left the news. Fox was out, for obvious reasons, as was MSNBC despite the fact that she could sometimes appreciate them. So she settled on CNN and Anderson Cooper’s expose of corruption in an Iowa school district.

About an hour in, Natasha was beginning to doze off when F.R.I.D.A.Y. chirped, “Miss. Lindsey to see you Miss. Romanoff.”

“Let her in,” Natasha said, yawning. Maybe there was something to ease the boredom of doing nothing. She sat up and fixed her hair a little, hoping she didn’t look completely unpresentable. But Lindsey never entered the room, making Natasha wonder if F.R.I.D.A.Y. had made a mistake.

Then someone blonde and clad in black fell from the ceiling. This someone had made the mistake of trying to take Natasha Romanoff off guard.

She made a grab for the nearest sharp object, a screw driver Tony had left out somewhere. Natasha could have taken Lindsey’s life in seconds, but it was clear she was a spy, and therefore it was paramount she be kept alive.

“Well, Well, Well,” Lindsey said as they circled the room, looking at each other, “I can’t believe the day finally came that I get to slit your damn throat.”

“Many have tried that, child, and many have failed.” Natasha said, her voice icy and threatening in a way that would have surprised anyone who’d met her in the past few weeks.

“You know how hard you made my job, you bitch?” Lindsey spat, “I swear to god Iron Man would be dead in the gutter weeks ago if it hadn’t been for you.”

“You flatter me.” Natasha said coolly, “I’m sure you can take some of the credit for your own incompetence.”

“You fucking—” Lindsey didn’t finish the sentence as she lunged for Natasha, going for a kick first which suggested that she was eastern and not western trained. Within moments Natasha knew that she was using an amalgamation of  styles from different disciplines, only a few of them western. That confirmed it, she was from Madripoor.

She had to dodge a few bullets, but the fact that the room had a few turrets in the ceiling made it somewhat easier for Natasha to escape. “F.R.I.D.A.Y. turn off the lights.” She said, the moment she’d gained the high ground.

After that it was nothing, Natasha disarmed and captured “Lindsey” in seconds.

“It’s no use,” The blonde said, as Natasha checked her for cyanide pills moments later, “I will never talk. Never.”

“Oh, my child,” The spy grinned darkly, “You’ve already told me so much.” She fingered the tip of the screwdriver before setting it aside. Then she pulled out a few of Lindsey’s weapons, “Why don’t you spare yourself the pain and tell me a little more.”

An involuntary shiver went through Lindsey’s body at the look on Natasha’s face, “Never.” She repeated.

“Well,” The Black widow said, a cold look crossing her face, “Let’s get started then…”

***

“Here’s a fun fact.” Natasha said, to Daisy as Coulson verified the intel she’d extracted from “Lindsey” or actually “Hellen Sanger” a semi-famous German spy. “Torture doesn’t work.”

“What do you mean?” Daisy said, frowning, “How’d you get any info out of her?”

“Well, I scared her, sure, but you can’t torture a person.” Natasha said, calmly, “Because 70% of the time what they’re saying isn’t true. In fact they’ll usually just tell you whatever they thin you want to hear.”

“So then why do it?” Daisy frowned. “Why does anyone do it?”

“My theory? Toxic Masculinity,” Natasha said, shrugging. “But really the best way to get information is voluntarily. Hellen over there, she grew up in Madripoor, sure, but she’s a hired gun. I clocked her the moment she attacked me.”

“And how’d you do that,” Daisy smiled.

“Well,” Natasha shrugged. “It was the fighting, and the complaining about her job. People who are devoted to the cause tend to really get into it. And her style was too mixed. Mixed probably means she’s had to change styles before.”

“Wow, I feel like I’m getting pro-tips right now.” Daisy smiled.

“Well maybe one day you can give me some tips.” Natasha grinned back.

“Romanoff?” Melinda May stuck her head out the door. Hellen and Coulson sat at a computer desk.

“Well?” Natasha said, eyeing Hellen wearily, “Is her information good?”

“Unfortunately yes.” Coulson frowned, “Which means...”

“…Which means Viper works for Hydra.” Natasha finished.

“It’s not all bad though,” Hellen smirked, “I gave you a silver lining.”

“Oh?” It was clear all was not forgiven from the way Natasha glared at the other woman.

“Well...” Hellen smirked with her impish mouth, “Viper’s never met me. I was hired through some distant connections, that’s how I like it.”

“Which means,” Coulson continued, “We can send an agent back into the field as her. Viper is the lynch pin if we can take her out of the game we can end it.”

“Send me.” Natasha surprised everyone.

“This is a deep cover operation,” May said skeptically, “You’d be gone for months, maybe even years.”

“I know.” Natasha said quietly, “But it’s perfect. She was supposed to kill me. I disappear, I go back and become her, I take out Viper, it’s a win-win.”

“What about Stark?” Coulson said softly.

“What about him?” Natasha showed no outward change, but the people in the room knew that that had to be a façade.

“He’ll think you’re dead.” Daisy said, looking a little heartbroken on their behalf.

“No, then Viper wins. You can tell him I’m okay, but don’t tell him where I am. I’ll leave a not for him to smooth things over.” Natasha crossed her arms, “But I need to do this, I’m the best agent you’ve got for a reason, and this is too important to not use all our assets.”

Coulson looked away, then down at his hands, “Alright…let’s get started.”

***

Dear Tony,

 

              First I want to say I love you. I love you so much, there’s no cheesy metaphor to describe it. Loving you is like flying, pure elation. If we lived in a perfect world, I would be with you always and we would never leave the bedroom but we don’t live in that world. I have to leave, and no, you can’t know where I am. I know you like to be the knight in shining armor. I know it’s going to kill you for us to be apart. I know that you’re going to start blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong. To that I have something to say. You have to have faith in me. Trust that I do not need to be rescued. Trust that I will come home to you. And trust that I have faith in you, and I know that you are a good man, flaws and all.

Love,

Natasha 

Chapter Text

Tony read the note again for the millionth time in the last six months. He knew it was the only thing between him and the void at the end of a bottle. He sat in his office, looking out at a city that mimicked the stars. All he could see was her face, her hair, her skin, that smirk, those eyes...The door opened and Steve walked in. Tony quickly stashed the note. “Hey, Cap, I thought you were going to Pepper and Happy's party.”

“I was going to go,” Steve said, that frown on his face, “but then Pepper told me you weren't coming.”

“I…I don’t know…an engagement party just doesn’t seem like the right choice right now.” He looked down at his hands, it felt wrong to be doing things. When Natasha got back, she’d be upset that she missed everything. He couldn’t ask people not to get on with their lives, but maybe if he stepped away they would wait.

“You know that’s not an excuse.” Steve said, frowning, “Natasha wouldn’t want you to be sitting in your office pretending to be busy.”

Tony winced at the sound of her name, “Look, I know the Accords are repealed and we’re friends again, but you really need to ease in to the tough love.” He sighed, despite what he’d said, he was glad the team was back together—well not completely back together. Somehow Natasha’s “death” managed to bring everyone together. Even Daredevil made an appearance, which was weird because Tony hadn’t been aware they knew each other.

“Tony, come on, you need to live your life,” He looked as pained as he spoke, “For both of you.”

Tony stood up, “Not tonight Cap,” He said quietly, patting Steve on the shoulder. “Later.”

“You have to start somewhere…” Steve said quietly, but Tony was already gone.

***

“Daisy! I’m so glad you could make it!” Pepper said, walking over to the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in her beautiful red dress and red pumps. Happy looked endearingly awkward in his suit, but Pepper looked perfect, the dress she was wearing seemed made for her.

“Thanks for the invite,” She said, clutching her clutch nervously. She’d been undercover before, but this wasn’t a mission which made it even stranger.

“Of course!” Pepper smiled, “I’m happy to see—oh! Excuse me.”

She ran off to greet Steve and Sharon, the other power couple in the room. There was a noticeable one missing, but no one seemed to be calling attention to that elephant.

Daisy made her way around the waiters to find a neat little corner in the back of the room.

She placed a small device on one of the ferns in the back. It looked like a little black spider, but appearances could be deceiving. Daisy made her own rounds, then promptly left the party because, after all, she had a lot to do and this wasn’t her sort of thing. The spider, however managed to make its way off the fern and climb slowly and carefully up onto the ceiling where it had a bird’s eye view of everything that was happening.

Pepper and Happy were mingling like the best of them, Pepper was obviously a little tipsy, but somehow it was nice to see her so unguarded. Happy looked, well, Happy, which was interesting because despite his name he barely ever cracked a smile. There was one noticeable absence, but everyone else had made it. After the Black Widow died, all was forgiven in the superhero community, or so it would seem. Once again the Avengers were together, Steve Rogers was having an animated discussion with Peter Parker about how much Brooklyn had Changed. James Rhodes and Sam Wilson were discussing what it was like to be friends with the worlds two biggest assholes. T’Challa and Sharon Carter discussed international diplomacy. And who could ignore Bucky Barnes and Bruce Banner sitting angstily next to each other without saying a word like an alliterative cliché.

Clint’s kids ran around the room, making a fuss, with little Nathaniel sleeping happily on his mother’s lap. Meanwhile Hawkeye himself was nowhere to be seen. The spider crawled across the ceiling out to the balcony of the beautiful ballroom Pepper had rented. As suspected, there was the archer, looking contemplatively out into the stary city scape. The spider crawled unseen up onto his shoulder when someone else came out too.

“Thought I might find you out here,” Wanda said with a shy smile.

“Hey kid,” Clint returned the smile with one that was obviously forced.

“You know, there’s a party going on inside, right?” She teased.

“Yeah it’s just…” He sighed, and the spider clung tightly to his shirt to keep from falling down. “It still doesn’t feel right, you know?”

Wanda stepped forward, leaning on the railing, “I know she’s with us,” She said in that deeply mystical way she had, “I can feel it somehow.”

“Well I haven’t got any of that mojo you’ve got going for you,” Clint said turning around, “All I know is, it’s wrong that we get to keep on living when…” He couldn’t finish his sentence.

“You know that is not what Natasha would have wanted,” Wanda said, gently putting a hand on his forearm. “She would want you to be happy with your family, she would want you to be with the people you love and the people that love you.”

Clint chuckled, “I don’t know, you’re giving her a lot of credit.”

“Why don’t you come in? Enjoy the party?” She said, returning to the old topic.

“Maybe in a minute,” Clint said. Wanda must have decided to give him his space, because she walked back inside and continued to try and convince Vision to dance with her.

Clint stared down at the city, missing his best friend, and the spider curled up on his shoulder, wishing it could do more to offer comfort.

***

A lovely blonde woman in a black tactical suit closed her laptop as someone entered her quarters. She was met by a woman as intimidating as she was beautiful with long black hair and a green snake-skin dress. “Are you ready, Hellen?” She said, her black lips forming a vicious smile.

“I am always ready for you, Commander.” Hellen stood and grabbed her firearm. The two women walked out onto the platform where the new naval recruits of Madripoor were celebrating the “election” of the new Supreme Commander, Viper. Hellen, along with the two guards that were there to act as security, had a strange octopus plastered on her chest. As the four of them entered into the space, there was a cheer of pure jubilation.

“Hail Hydra,” Viper whispered before making her way to the podium.

“Hail Hydra,” Hellen whispered back as she watched her walk away.

Viper made her speech, full of sentiments of nationalism, isolation, racial superiority, and an end to corruption. It all made Hellen feel a bit queasy even after all this time, but she smiled as though she were just as proud to see this day pass. When the speech was over, Viper descended into the crowd, and it was Hellen’s job to make sure no one was there to hurt her.

She greeted each man with a sultry smile, and a handshake. With some of the officers she spoke about changes to the military infrastructure, with others she talked about riding Madripoor of what she called “degenerates.” Hellen was not asked questions or even noticed as she stood alongside Viper. It wasn’t until the event died down that Viper finally relaxed enough to talk.

“Do you know what I hate about these events.” She said, slipping her shoes off and sitting on a couch in the captain’s quarters. He had cleared out and the two were alone now.

“The shoes?” Hellen suggested with a smirk.

“That too,” Viper sighed, relaxing and taking a sip of her drink, “It’s the people.”

“What about them?” Hellen raised an eyebrow.

“They’re so…superficial. Half of these men were probably perverts and thugs before they joined,” She groaned, as though she hadn’t counted on them being exactly so. “I mean, honestly, you can tell none of them really believe or even understand.”

“I believe,” Hellen said quietly, sitting down next to Viper, her eyes large with awe. “You know I do…or I’d have been gone months ago.”

Viper’s lips curved up predatorily, “I know, my dear,” Her hand reached out to trace Hellen’s jawline. “I know you believe.”

“Hydra will rise again,” Hellen repeated with earnest, “It has to, after all the work we’ve done.”

“It will, it will,” Viper promised, “We can use these degenerates to begin our empire. Tomorrow morning, we will begin our offensive.”

“So soon?” Hellen said, her lips splitting into an innocent smile. If someone were watching, they might think the two women looked like a cobra and a mouse. Hellen was all eagerness and delight, Viper was cold calculating lust.

“Of course, and then we will remake the world, the way we want it to be.” Viper said, her hand wandering down Hellen’s neck, to her collar. She pulled the zipper down just a little. “You know, next time you can wear something a little more…festive.”

Hellen looked down at her hands shyly. “I don’t want to distract…”

“Oh, please,” Viper said, leaning forward, “The only person you’d distract is me.” She pulled the zipper down a little more, revealing the red lace of Hellen’s bra.

The girl leaned back, her face twisted with disgust and fear. “We can’t! This is…” She looked away.

“Are you accusing me of being a pervert?” Viper said, suddenly slapping Hellen across the face.

“N-No,” She stuttered, looking a lot more like a caged bird. Things might have escalated further if the door hadn’t opened.

“What is it?” Viper snapped.

“Sorry to bother you, ma’am,” He said, in a heavy accent, “Iron man is here!”