Steve Rogers meets Natasha Romanoff on the deck of helicarrier with a crisis brewing over S.H.I.E.L.D’s loss of the Tesseract. She’s charming and a little playful amidst the seriousness of the situation, but balances it with courtesy and a businesslike competence.
By the time they’re sitting down to shawarma with the rest of the Avengers, he can tell that they’ll deal well together. She has a sense of humour, a cool head, a steady eye, and she’s willing to treat him like he’s a person, not a hero.
A month after New York, travelling through a country that’s changed beyond recognition, he walks into the Triskelion in DC to be greeted by her again.
“Agent Romanoff. You’re my guide again?”
“They thought a familiar face might help.” She grins up at him, her smile wielded like a weapon. While Steve feels the blow, he’s not affected by it.
Even without having read her file, he’d have guessed that she was Morning. It’s a brilliance that goes beyond her personality or skills, the sharp clarity of being and doing that’s unrelenting. Bucky used to say it was like watching a moth twist in flame; but then, Bucky was Evening – contained shadows, cunning charm.
The thought of Bucky still stings – the loss is only months old, not even a year. And on top of that, to lose the Howling Commandos, Peggy, and seventy years in the blink of an eye...
It’s a new world, a new time, and time for a new start.
The new start starts with a woman whose expression is careful and blank as she looks at him, without any of the smiles or interest that he’s felt from just about everyone else who they met walking through the corridors of this complex.
“Deputy Director Maria Hill.” Her voice is resonant and strong, and her gaze doesn’t flinch before him. “I’ll be going through the induction and sign-up materials for S.H.I.E.L.D, before Agent Romanoff takes you on the tour of the Triskelion, and details some of our training and operational procedures. You’re a contractor with S.H.I.E.L.D – as Stark and Banner are – and Agent Romanoff will be your contact for most work that you undertake with us. Any questions?”
He glances at Romanoff, who’s smiling at him – a smug little curve of her mouth, like a satisfied cat. Her pose is slightly feline, too – bold and confident, but not brassy. For some reason, he thinks that Bucky would have liked Romanoff – and probably Hill, too. His buddy always had an eye for the confident dames.
They’re waiting on his answer, these two women that he already knows will not only command his respect, but compel it. “No, ma’am.”
There is, Natasha thinks, something about working with a man who’s direct and professional, both in the field and out of it.
He doesn’t flirt or leer, doesn’t make comments about her gender, her sexuality, or her competence. He treats her with respect and he trusts her judgement. There are precious few men who are willing to look beyond her face or her body, and even most of those who’ve come to see past her femininity to what she can do have had to learn.
Steve Rogers didn’t have to learn, he just did.
If she thinks about it, it’s the same respect that Clint gives her, that Fury gives her, that Phil gave her. But it’s not just her, the Black Widow, either. It’s Maria, and Victoria Hand, and Bobbi Morse, and all the other female agents who otherwise slip under the radar of far too many men – even in S.H.I.E.L.D.
Captain America, a good man, works with Natasha in STRIKE Operations, partnered together on missions as the need arises. Most of the time, he’s grouped with Rumlow and company, whose behaviour is more typical of what Natasha expects of men in intelligence operations. Rogers reins them in – Captain Courtesy, laughs Rumlow – but he can’t be the social justice police all the time.
Still, in spite of his work with Operations, Rogers keeps largely to himself – a restrained, self-contained man who mixes with a good semblance of charm, but carries his solitude like a cloak to swirl around him at any moment.
It’s one of the things S.H.I.E.L.D is aware of, and working to rectify the situation.
“He needs connection in the here and now,” Fury said. “You’re one of the avenues, but I’ve got a couple others in play.”
“How’s the apartment turning out?”
They’re post-mission, in a safehouse, kicking back. She unearthed a bottle of ten year-old port, and they each have a glass. The pickup chopper comes in early tomorrow, so Rumlow and the boys went out to do their usual share of post-mission drinking, which Rogers declined – probably because Rollins let slip that the night’s plan involved at least one strip club.
For all that he’s one of the hottest properties on the planet, so far as Natasha can tell, the man is fastidious as a priest.
“It’s pretty nice. It’ll take a while to feel like home.”
“Neighbors are nice?”
He pauses in the act of lifting the glass. “Yes.”
The pause is interesting. Natasha waits until he’s actually sipped before asking, archly, “So, is she pretty?”
When the coughing stops, he gives her an irritated glance. “Mind your own business.”
The snap is mild, but it is a snap. Which means he feels comfortable enough to give her a sharp rap over the knuckles, instead of politely edging around it.
Natasha’s grin deepens. “You know, I can do that and mind yours, too.”
In spite of the warning, Steve has to trust someone. He’s not Nick Fury; he can’t think in compartments of truth and lies. But after the interview with Pierce and the attack by Steve’s own team in the elevator, that pool of people has shrunk, and he doesn’t know who of the remainder he can trust.
The betrayal is acid in his throat, poisoning his judgement.
Get the USB drive, he tells himself as he dumps the suit and hides the shield. Work it out from there.
He trusts Romanoff because he has to, at first. Then because she proves herself. Then because he understands where she’s standing – he’s been in the same place, trying to find solid ground. Commonality, understanding, and the comfort of knowing that, for all her flirtatiousness, she thinks of him as someone to trust, too.
“So,” says Wilson while they wait for Natasha to get into Fort Meade, “What’s with you and Red?”
It’s not the first time he’s had the question – particularly after New York – and Steve’s pretty sure it won’t be the last. “We’re friends.”
The kiss on the escalator burns on his lips as he says, with perfect truth and compromised facility, “Yeah. She’s Morning.”
Sam gives him a sideways glance but his next comment isn’t about Steve holding to moiety. “So no objections if I try my luck?”
“Well, I’ll be annoyed if I have to scrape you off the floor after she’s flattened you.”
The other man’s grin is bright and brilliant, a twinkling gleam of bright opportunism. “I’ll be respectful.”
The sally reminds Steve of Bucky – something about humour in the midst of a tense situation, and the charm that the ladies responded to so well.
Just so long as you are, Steve is about to say, when Natasha comes back.
“We’re in,” she says, then eyes them both. “What?”
At first, Natasha’s not sure that her knock will be heard over the sound of the vaccuum cleaner, then the noisy whine shuts down and the door opens.
“Hey,” Steve looks a little harried. “Hey, I wasn’t expecting—”
Natasha hands him the bottle of port and leans up to kiss him on the cheek. “Happy Birthday for Friday.” While he’s studying the label, she breezes into the apartment, which seems to be in the midst of a frenzy of cleaning. “Ninety-six, right?”
“Yes.” He looks slightly rueful as he puts the bottle down on the sideboard. “Excuse the mess. I’ve...I’m trying to make the place semi-presentable...”
She can see that. What she can’t see is any sign of Sam – none of his clothes hanging over the chair, none of his books spread out across the table. There’s only one phone and one tablet charging on the kitchen bench, and the music is Steve’s jazz and swing rather than Sam’s rock and blues.
Well, well, well...
“So, you were expecting someone who wasn’t me?”
“Actually, yes.” He meets her gaze steadily, and since he got the tan, it’s harder to tell when he’s blushing, but she’s pretty sure there’s a pinkish tinge to his throat.
“No.” When Natasha arches one brow, he just stares back. “Mind your own business, Romanoff.”
“I did say I can mind mine and yours...” Natasha pauses and joins up a number of previously unconnected dots. “Maria?”
So maybe she doesn’t mean to sound quite so incredulous, Steve pokers up. “I thought you liked Maria?”
“I do. I just...” She makes a gesture that probably doesn’t say anything – except it does.
Steve blinks. “Okay, that’s...complicated.”
“I was going to say ‘amusing’ .” It does explain why Maria’s been a little preoccupied lately – working for Tony, helping Pepper, sleeping with Steve... “Busy girl.”
“You don’t mind?”
Natasha wanders over to the kitchen and pulls open the fridge. There’s a six-pack of Maria’s favourite beer, a bottle of her preferred champagne... “Well, I’m feeling a little intimidated.” She indicates the shelves of fresh produce, ready to be made into meals. “But otherwise...” She frees a bottle from the six-pack, and twists off the top. “Do you mind?”
“Maybe we should be asking Maria this.”
“If she minded juggling – or wanted exclusivity – she would have said from the start.” Natasha shrugs. “It’s a sharing arrangement. Like a moiety marriage.”
Steve’s smile is a little tense. “Okay.”
The new always carries with it the sense of violation, of sacrilege.
What is dead is sacred;
what is new, that is different,
is evil, dangerous, or subversive.