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no matchmaking before breakfast

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A little-known fact about Natasha Romanoff (and by “little known” it means only Clint knows, really): She’s slow in the morning.

Of course, Natasha's definition of “slow” is still about a hundred times more alert than anyone else’s. Still, she knows. She’s not at her 100% until she has a cup of coffee and eats something. Sure, most people would argue that Natasha’s 30% is already enough to take down the government of a small country, but she doesn’t care.

It's not like anybody ever notices, really. Everyone always expects her to be completely sly and aware at all times, so even on the rare occasions she isn’t, people’s perceptions do the work for her. She keeps to herself before getting her coffee, Clint tries to make sure she always has the first batch of pancakes when he cooks, and everything works fine. At the end of day, Natasha's inability to fully function before she's had breakfast is just one more thing the world will never know about her.

It also happens to be the reason why, right now, at the kitchen of the recently reformed Avengers Compound, Natasha finds herself in the most bizarre conversation of her life.

Rhodey is sitting at the table with Tony. They have a gossip site opened on his phone. Ever since everyone came back and the Accords were stricken down, they’ve had to be extra careful with the media and the process of reintegrating the fugitives to the team. Rhodey has helped a lot, but sometimes he just wants to have a laugh at the insanities being said, so he goes through obscure internet forums and reads the most insane conspiracy theories for them.

Natasha usually enjoys it, but now she’s waiting for her coffee to get ready, so it takes her an extra second to register what he’s saying.

“It seriously amazes me,” Rhodey’s voice comes from a distant, far-off place where he and Tony already have coffee in their mugs. “A purple maniac tried to destroy the universe, the U.N. went back on a law, and all they can talk about is your affair with Cap.”

She shrugs, her eyes still firmly on the coffee machine. “They love this story.”

“They sure do. It’s everywhere. Did you know there are people online who think part of the reason you ran away with him was to elope?”

Natasha knows. It’s always been a popular rumor, ever since she and Steve became friends. She doesn’t mind it – it’s good that the press has dumb things to keep them occupied. They might not have anything to hide, but Natasha still prefers it when the public’s eye is distracted by silly things. Call it a habit.

“That’s sexist. Isn’t it?” Tony’s voice is even more distant as he chews on a piece of toast, and Natasha allows herself to ogle the pancakes on his plate wistfully. He’s still talking, though. “No one said Sam or Clint or Scott were going for a patriotic hookup when they became fugitives - and we all know Scott would definitely go for it. Can’t a woman and a man just have the same political opinions? I mean, you and Cap have known each other for years. You fought together. They think you’re, what – fucking in the compound? It’s – it’s preposterous, really. Offensive. Ridiculous.”

It’s a testament of how slow Natasha is in the morning that it takes until now for her to grasp the clear insecurity behind Tony’s rambling. She takes her eyes off the coffee machine for one moment to look at him and transmit total sincerity as she says: “Absolutely ridiculous.”

The obvious relief in Tony’s face manages to be even more ridiculous, but Natasha is already back at looking at the coffee machine, who finally decides to get to work and starts filling the pot. Her mouth waters.

“’Course it is.” Tony goes on, evidently cheered up by her answer. “Though that doesn’t stop people online from obsessing about it. I liked this article where they think it’s a love triangle, with Steve and Sam fighting because of your feminine wiles. Of course, good old All-American love wins at the end.”

“I don’t even find Steve attractive,” Natasha says, eyes following greedily every drop of coffee the machine pours, for once in her life genuinely unaware of the impact her words are about to cause.

There’s a moment of silence.

Tony grins, shaking his head.

“You know, I’m always caught by surprise when I remember you actually have a sense of humor. It’s a pleasant surprise, though.”

Natasha just looks at him, confused. The coffee pot isn’t full yet – there’s no reason to joke.

“Not a very good joke, really, but since this isn’t your thing I’m willing to give it an eight for effort. Plus, like I said, it always gets me by surprise when you allow your inner comedian to shine, so that’s a factor in your favor.”

Rhodey gives her a strange look, half-apologetical but also suspicious, as if he’s wondering what’s her angle to say something like that.

Natasha doesn’t answer.

“I, uh… I think she’s serious, Tones.”

Tony's grin falters for a moment, and he looks at Natasha as if he's never seen her before.

“Wait," He says, raising a hand in the air and gesturing towards her. "I get it. That’s your defense against those admittedly offensive and terrible rumors. Totally understandable. But you don’t have to do it here. Can’t speak for Rhodey, of course, but I have always been against selling lies to the tabloids. I provide them with actual material, out of respect for the art of journalism.”

In any other circumstances, Natasha would know better than to entertain Tony being Tony so early in the morning, but, again, she’s working at 30% of her usual efficiency here. She honestly doesn’t know what all the fuss is about.

She moves to take the – finally – filled pot and pour coffee into her mug. “He’s not bad-looking, but he doesn’t do it for me," she manages to mumble – a feat, really – before taking her first sip, feeling her entire body waking up pleasantly at the taste.

Tony gapes at her.

“’Not bad looking’? " He asks, his voice full of righteous indignation, as if Natasha's just insulted him deeply. "The man is a specimen! He is literally the peak of human perfection, with a jawline that could probably cut glass and eyes so blue Van Gogh would be jealous. That’s a completely objective statement backed by casual and fully platonic observations of a teammate and friend, by the way,” he adds, in response to Rhodey’s amused look.

Natasha shrugs, before taking another sip. She feels slightly better, but it's not enough. She steps towards the toaster, picking up some bread. “He just doesn’t do it for me, I guess.”

Tony’s eyes widen at her. Then he shakes his head again, a slight smile on his lips. “Oh, ok, now I get it. The beard doesn’t do it for you. That’s fine. It’s not for everyone, the Handsome Lion look.”

“God, Handsome Lion, are you even listening to yourself?” Rhodey says, unable to fight back a laugh.

“Buzzfeed came up with the name, not me!”

“Tony, come on, this situation is getting ridiculous-“

“There’s no situation, platypus, as I’ve told you a hundred times before,” Tony’s voice grows a bit wary and Rhodey shakes his head, looking at her with an exasperated expression.

Natasha’s just had three sips of her coffee by now, so she can finally put two and two together. Oh, she thinks. This is about the whole Tony-and-Steve situation. A situation that’s been going on for literal years of unresolved sexual tension, mutually unspoken admiration and a ton of frankly pathetic pining.

The thing is, Steve is one of Natasha's closest friends. He is actually her closest friend aside from Clint (something that never ceases to amaze her, because she never thought she’d have even one really close friend in her life, let alone two). By comparison, she and Tony are not that close, but she likes him a lot, and she’d be very happy if he and Steve could sort out their shit and get together.

However, to be completely honest, Natasha gave up on Steve’s love life years ago. Between a dozen of refused blind dates and finding out he was actually harboring a secret years-long crush on a man he had completely convinced himself he had no chance with, Natasha had come to accept that Steve’s a little more than emotionally stunted in the romantic department. Combine that with Tony’s own pile of issues, their messy history, and Natasha’s pretty sure that any attempt of matchmaking for those two would only end up in tears.

Of course, apparently, Tony’s closest friend has a different perspective.

“Sure, sure, no situation at all,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Then why does Nat’s opinion even matters? Hell, I’m not attracted to him either.”

“You’re not attracted to men,” Tony replies. Then he turns to Natasha again. “Wait, is that the case here?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Natasha deadpans.

Tony blinks at her for a few seconds. “Then… I mean, it’s gotta be the beard, right? I suppose it can take a little bit of getting used to, but I never pegged you as someone who would prefer the All American Boy look.”

“I wasn’t attracted to him before the beard, either.” 

Tony snorts. “That’s bullshit. Just straight up bullshit. Sure, you don’t have to want to hop into bed with him or anything, but you’re a person with clear eyesight, functioning mental faculties, and no inclinations towards nazi ideology. You know he’s attractive.”

“I suppose so,” she tries. Her stomach is grumbling, and, as the toast gets ready, she wonders if Thor ate all the peanut butter again.

“You made out with him, Romanoff! The mall security tapes are just one google search away, don’t make me pull them out.”

“I’ve done a lot of things in missions I wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

Tony' gapes at her for a second before composing himself. “What – how – so, wait, does that mean it was bad?” The sheer incredulity in his voice would make her laugh in any other situation, but right now, she’s busy opening the fridge. Damn Thor. The next time they spar, she’s going to make him regret it. “Kissing Steve? I mean, when you think about it, it’s not like he’s been getting a lot of action in this century, right? Was it… What, was he too awkward? Too stiff? Too much tongue, maybe? Did you guys even use tongue?”

Natasha gives a look to the table to see that Rhodey is facepalming at Tony’s terribly disguised curiosity. She wonders if they still have any Nutella left. “I honestly don’t remember.”

Tony lets out an indignant squeak.

Natasha sighs. And people wonder why she’s never honest.

“You kissed Steve – I mean, you kissed Captain America and you don’t remember what it was like?”

“It was years ago, Tony.” She turns towards the cupboards. There should be a jar of Nutella here somewhere. Then she notices Tony’s baffled look and shrugs. “But it was ok, I guess.”

“’Ok, I guess.’ Come the fuck on!” Rhodey gives him a warning look, but Tony just gestures around. “What? It just doesn’t make sense, and you know it.” He turns to Natasha with an accusatory look. “If the beard doesn’t do it for you, then the All American Boy look should do it. Why can’t you admit it? You do know the Cold War ended a while ago, right? No one is going to accuse you of betrayal for admitting attraction for an American icon, Natasha. I promise.”

No Nutella. Natasha scowls. Clint is definitely to blame for this one.

She resigns to picking up some cream cheese, getting her plate ready and sitting on the table. Meanwhile, Tony is still talking.

“I’m just saying that, that, it’s not normal, ok? The man is literal physical perfection, and you know I hate misusing that word, but in this case it’s just what it is, plain and simple. There’s, like, scientific data on his attractiveness. And it’s not even all because of the serum, I mean, you could create a new mathematical formula on the angle of his jaw alone!” He pauses for a second, winded. “Stop looking at me like that.”

“I can’t. You’ve gone beyond the definition of hopeless,” Rhodey says, still with his face buried in his hands, but smiling a little. “Nat, just ignore him.”

She should, she knows, but right now she’s a bit upset that she’s had to wait so long for a subpar breakfast, so she can’t resist poking Tony a little. “To be completely honest,” she starts, taking a bite of her toast. “If I had to rank the entire team by attractiveness, Steve would probably get the last place.”

Even Rhodey raises his head to stare at her with wide eyes.

“I feel like I have stepped into another dimension or something.” Tony glares at her, completely ignoring the pancakes on his plate. Now that she’s more awake, Natasha wonders if she can get away with stealing some of them. “Is this a parallel universe where you’ve never met Steve? Or, or he never took the serum, and Captain America is someone else? Does the person we know as Steve has, I don’t know, Thaddeus Ross’ face or something? It has to be that, right?”

“Last place seems a bit harsh, Nat. Like… Of the entire team?”

Natasha just chews on her toast. It’s slightly burnt, just to top off this amazing morning she’s having. She nods.

Tony looks at her like he usually looks at people when there’s a chance they’re being mind controlled.

“Steve. Steve is the person you find the least attractive of the entire team. Steve Rogers.” He runs a hand through his hair, still staring at Natasha like she's just grown a second head. “Does that list include, I don’t know, Vision? The Hulk? Clint?”

“Vision is second-to-last,” Natasha admits. “Mostly out of respect for Wanda, though.”

Tony's mouth just hangs open for a moment, before he starts talking again. “You know, usually, my first instinct would be to ask about my spot, but now I don’t know if I’d feel flattered even if I was number one, since your taste is so clearly screwed up.”

“Thor is number one.” When he’s not stealing other people’s breakfasts, she completes mentally.

Tony’s eyebrows go up to his hairline. “Thor?! Are you serious?!”

Rhodey looks at him confusedly. “Thor’s a pretty handsome guy, man.”

“Yeah! And he’s a muscular blonde with blue eyes! How can Thor be number one and Steve’s the last?!” Tony snaps, slamming his hands on the table. He looks at Natasha as if she’s personally offended him. “What are your turn offs? Shyness? Full lips? Renaissance-esque facial features?”

“Wait, now I need to know. Is the Hulk really on the list?”

“Seventh place.” At their shocked looks, she shrugs. “A woman has a right to be curious.”

“Clint, then,” Tony says, with the expression of a man desperately trying to hang onto something that makes sense. “You two are practically siblings. Plus, he’s married. Plus, he’s Clint. There’s no way he’d rank above Steve.”

Natasha just stares at him for a moment.

“Wait – oh, my God – that already happened, hasn’t it?! How – was it before Laura?”

Natasha keeps staring.

Holy shit.” Tony breathes, while Rhodey’s mouth opens in shock. “Well,” he says, blinking slowly. “I guess the white picket fence life apparently doesn’t exclude threesomes with hot Russian spies. The more you know.”

Natasha finishes her toast. Not a good breakfast by any means, but it gets the job done. By the time she stands up to wash her dish, she’s feeling like herself again.

“Wait, don’t act like this conversation is over,” Tony calls after her. “You still haven’t given me a single discernible reason for why you refuse to acknowledge that Steve is attractive.”

Natasha stares at him for a moment, considering. She takes a look at the digital clock on the wall – 10 A.M. on the dot, she notices. Which means…

“You know, Tony, Steve doesn’t care if I don’t find him attractive.” She pauses for a moment, long enough to let the words linger. “In fact, he doesn’t have the best self-image either.” Another pause as she watches the effect of that information on Tony, who widens his eyes. “That’s probably why he doesn’t date much. Or why he can’t bring himself to make a move on someone he’s attracted to.”

Tony opens his mouth to say something, then closes. He gets a thoughtful expression and looks away, lips pressed together. On the corner of her eye, Natasha can see Rhodey watching them attentively.

“So, um." He starts, crossing his arms. "In a hypothetical dating scenario. You think he’d, uh, not make the first move?” He looks at her, brown eyes so big and insecure that’s almost cute. “You think he’d prefer if the other person took initiative.”

“Definitely. Especially if it happened to be someone he really liked.” She turns, looking at him directly. “Or that he has a complicated history with.”

Tony looks away, his fingers tapping the table nervously. Rhodey gives her an amused look, but Natasha isn’t done yet. She nods towards the door, and he turns to look, curious.

Like clockwork, Steve and Sam step into the kitchen, back from their morning run. Tony startles in his chair, eyes wide searching Steve nervously. Rhodey looks at her shocked.

Natasha rolls her eyes. Come on, guys, the clock is right there.

“Good morning!” Steve says.

“Good morning.” Natasha responds, smiling. She can hear Tony’s fingers tapping the table louder. Sam pats Steve's shoulder.

“Gonna go hit the showers, Cap. ‘Morning, everyone.”

Steve goes straight to the fridge, reaching for a water bottle, oblivious to how Tony’s eyes are pretty much burning a hole in the back of his head. Natasha steps away from the sink, taking a seat at the table by Rhodey’s side.

Rhodey’s look to her is inquisitive, but she mouths Give it a minute and he stays quiet.

After a moment, Tony stands up, walking towards him.

“Hey.” He says.

Steve finishes swallowing the water, then looks at him, a tiny smile in his face. “Hey.” He takes another sip.

“Do you want to have dinner tonight?”

Steve chokes on the water. He wipes his mouth, wide eyes glancing at Tony, disbelieving. “I. What?”

“Dinner. You know. The meal.” Tony babbles, clutching his hands. “There’s a nice sushi place that just opened up last week. If you like sushi, of course.” Steve blinks at him, his cheeks flushing, and, because Tony is Tony, he misunderstands his silence for hesitation. “Or, or maybe something else. Like Chinese. Or a burger. I always like burgers.”

“Burgers are great.” Steve manages, still looking like someone just hit him in the back of the head with a brick. Natasha fights back a sigh. There was a reason she gave up on the blind dates.

“They are!” Tony says, grinning. “They really, really are. Classic American food and everything. Not the best for cholesterol, but, hey, nobody’s perfect.”

Steve grins back. “So… Burgers?”

“Yeah. Yeah, definitely, burgers. Uh, tonight?” He asks, and Steve stares at him for a moment before nodding way too enthusiastically. “Great! That’s, that’s really great.” Tony breathes, and there’s a flush on his cheeks too, and for a moment he and Steve just grin at each other like two teenagers who just agreed to go to prom together. Natasha rolls her eyes. “I’m going to, uh, do stuff. I mean, work stuff. In my workshop. And. I guess I’ll see you tonight. For, uh. Burgers.”

Then he practically bolts out of the room, as if he can’t believe what he’s just done. Steve just stands there staring at nothing, the silly grin still stuck on his face.

Rhodey laughs.

“I have been trying to convince him to get his head out of his ass for literal months, and you just fixed it in less than ten minutes,” he says, shaking his head with open admiration. “You’re really something, Romanoff.”

Natasha allows herself to smile back. Rhodey is on her top 3, after all.

“I… I don’t think I fully understand what just happened,” Steve admits, walking towards the table. “But I get the feeling I might owe you one.”

Natasha just hands him an empty plate. “Pancakes, please.”

Steve laughs. “Right away.”