Why exactly Steve thought she was somehow a tech genius just because she wasn’t from the forties, she had no idea. So, maybe she had given the impression that she could do anything, but had she not admitted to only pretending ? Once the plan was made, she was left alone while the ‘heavy hitters’ went out to ‘do the actual work.’ She resented that, but it wasn’t uncommon for people to underestimate her despite there being a very good reason to overestimate her if anything. She could kill someone in two seconds max, and look back with apathy nearly unheard of in any of the other Black Widows. People seemed to forget her talents, even Fury, and underestimate her. That was fine, though, because she would use it against them along with everything else she had learned hurt them.
She called Tony, because he had been kind enough to offer her a place despite her past ill intentions toward him. That was someone she could respect. His file, everything she had written or saw, she was beginning to doubt. He seemed almost as skilled as her when it came to hiding the truth, it was actually eerily similar. Perhaps she should research him more thoroughly after this is all over. Although she doubted she would find anything SHIELD hadn’t included in his file.
“Come pick up a USB. JARVIS is on it, and when he’s there, I’m there, so I can get the files released securely, perhaps only to officials who need them for evidence… this is saving a lot of people, coming to me that is. Thank you for asking for help.”
“You probably think I sound stupid,” she said.
“Nonono! The smartest people know when to ask for help. Now, seriously, you can pick the USB up at the front desk so you can fix this thing quick and nobody ever needs to know.”
“You don’t want any credit?” It was hard to believe that a ‘narcissist’ wouldn’t want to take the credit for his work. He made a sound that Natasha had never heard from Tony. It was a choked sound that communicated ‘why?’ better than the word could.
“Uh, not really. You have this, you’re the hero here, I’m just… well, I don’t need credit, I just need to help the best I can.”
“ Spasibo , Stark. (Thanks, Stark.)”
“ Pozhaluysta (You’re welcome),” she paused for a second and pulled the phone away to look at it. He had disconnected already. Had she been talking to Tony Stark? No need to think too hard on it, perhaps he was just having one of those days.
She picked up the USB, winking at the cute brunette at the front desk who blushed and returned to reading the magazine hidden below her keyboard. This was the best decision, she knew it. Tony was right, though, the smartest people where the ones who knew when they needed help.
Natasha handed the file on the the Winter Soldier to Steve with a heavy heart. She had been trained to not feel, but it was hard to give such private information to someone like Steve. Someone who would try to deny or invalidate the years of torture just to see what he wanted to see. She had grossly underestimated all the true flaws in Steve. She had pushed all the things she had read into her mind, refusing to take in what she had observed herself. How foolish of her… how had she missed something so important? Perhaps her skills were waning without active use, although she had been oberservative, she wasn’t doing a very good job lately, was she? She could say ‘it’s only human’ but she had been trained to be better . The Headmistress would be so terribly disappointed in her.
It was two months after the file was given to Steve when she decides to tell Tony about the issue with his parents. Steve had been aloof and generally indifferent towards Tony, and Stark had graciously offered a stranger housing and plenty of money just because Steve ‘asked’ (although it was more like a demand).. She had seen and heard Steve and Sam talking in whispers on the couch or in the corner of the kitchen. They would quickly change the subject of looking for the Soldier as soon as Tony walked in. Clint even seemed to be in on it. She was very disappointed with the man she thought was the closest thing to a friend she would ever get. Bruce, however, remained ignorant and mostly hid out in the lab Tony made specifically for him.
This was an issue that required tact, she knew, but from this ‘new’ Tony she was seeing in little pieces here and there, giving the details to him unembellished would be easier for the both of them. That didn’t mean she was going to drop that bombshell and leave. She brought offerings of coffee and doughnuts to Tony’s workshop to promote Tony to be comfortable when she told him. People needed comfort when told about things like the murder of family members. People seemed to need comfort all the time. She excluded herself from this count.
JARVIS let her in, only thanking her for bringing ‘sir’ sustenance after a three day binge of coffee and a single smoothie while he concentrated. He had been distant lately. He had made the Iron Legionaire weeks earlier, they had been employed almost as soon as they were finished, so what held his attention so thoroughly? She sat the coffee down beside his hand on his desk. He looked over at the paper cup then up her arm and at her. He smiled.
“I see you’ve brought me goodies,” he narrowed his eyes at her, still smiling, “did something bad happen? Did Hawk-ass break a vent again? I swear he needs to be more gentle, they aren’t built for humans, and even my reinforced designs aren’t for his stupid ass. They’re vents , for air . He wiggles too much… I expected better from someone like him.”
She pulled a stool up from the back table to the desk and sat down, pulling out some of the doughnuts and offering him two. He takes them and puts them on the desk before him.
“Now I’m really nervous. What happened?”
“I have some important information. It seemed unfair to keep you in the dark as the Captain and Wilson are doing. It is rather personal and painful, so I brought the food as a sort of comfort,” he didn’t say anything, but was now staring at her with narrowed brown eyes. They looked so much older than he was, and they were reading her just as she was reading him. She knew that look, she had seen it in the mirror often enough, but where had she learned…? There was no way… not him. “During the takedown of HYDRA, we were confronted by the Winter Soldier,” there was a spark of recognition in Tony’s eyes, but it was quickly hidden when he looked away and took a sip of his coffee. Why was he so hard to understand? How did he know about the Winter Soldier?
“How did that work out for you?” He almost sounded like he was amused. As if it them getting their asses handed to them by the Winter Soldier was humorous.
“I fought him briefly…” he bit his lips, likely to hide his smirk, but it wasn’t hidden well. Why allow her to see that, but not see anything else? Was he trying to send confusing information on purpose or was he just that all over the place? Did he even know he was giving away such information, or was it an accident? Better question, how did he know how to manipulate her observing skills? Not even the other Black Widows could do that. That brought the question: who is Tony Stark? She admittedly had no idea now that she realized that he was hidden under the facade she had seen. He had tricked her and everyone else. Her : the most skilled Widow. It was… actually sort of terrifying to know he had such an ability.
“Mhmm. He hits hard. Break anything?”
“Shot me in the shoulder… I think he missed on purpose,” he looked at her, almost uncaring to most, but there was understanding. How was that possible? They were so different it was painful sometimes, or at least that’s what she had been led to believe.
“Hmm, interesting. Something bad happen with him involving Stark Industries? Was he using my old guns or something?”
“No… I read his file,” Tony frowned and she didn’t know why. She waited for him to retort, make a wise quip, but he didn’t. “You must know he’s been hurt. He prob--”
“What did he do?”
“He killed Howard and Maria Stark.”
There was silence. Natasha watched for any signs of sadness or anger in Tony, but he showed none. He sighed and popped the lid off his coffee. He ripped a doughnut in half and dipped an edge inside. He didn’t eat it, he just let it disintegrate in the coffee. He didn’t look at her, either, just stared at his coffee.
“Is that everything?” He was so apathetic, it made her look caring. It was infuriating, because he should have been hurt at the very least. He was a drama queen, he should have been demanding attention… then again, from this ‘new’ Tony, she expected a more profound hurt, an emotional outburst and tears, but he gave her nothing .
“Why aren’t you upset?” He looked up at her and smirked before turning back to the desk with a dramatic sigh.
“Thanks for telling me, by the way. It’s nice to finally know ,” he was avoiding her question, and she knew he knew he was doing it. “I had my suspicions, but… well, let’s just say I was rather glad they were gone. Had it been a few years later, and they were still alive, well… a child who lost his entire family is supposed to be upset, I’m not a child, and they weren’t my family , anyway. I’m sure you would understand such a sentiment, Black Widow ?” What was he telling her? Why had he said her name like that? What did that mean? Most importantly, why was he telling her now? He seemed to notice her thoughts because he looked at her again, over his shoulder, and offered one of those smiles he had in front of other people, but hardly on any other time. It was as ingenuine as the Tony Stark the world saw. “Look, the next time I see the Soldier, I’ll give him the biggest, messiest kiss I possibly can, because while I would’ve waited until I got the company completely and cut Stane out all together, it was easier his way… thank you for the refreshments, JARVIS would have made me go to the kitchen or something, and I don’t really want to see any of the others. You’re my favourite,” he winked, “but I really need to get back to work. Pepper will have my head if I don’t get a working prototype and she’s always so much nicer when she’s happy.”
Natasha left him alone, trying to hide her confusion. She hadn’t bothered to take the doughnuts with her. She wasn’t hungry after everything she had just been told. She sat on the couch on the entire floor Tony had given to her. Was this a gift because of their team, was it an amends, was it an apology, was it genuine care? She had done things to him that she’s not proud of, but back then, he hadn’t been whoever he’s showing her now.
She thought about family. She never had one, and she never really wanted one. Unlike Tony, she was too young to have remembered any of her family, and by the time she was eleven, family was a weakness she didn’t care about anyway. The closest thing to a ‘family’ she had was the Avengers, and before that it had been the Winter Soldier, the one who taught her everything she had ever needed to know to protect herself and kill others as easily as possible.
It took her a week to ponder and figure out what Tony had told her, and honestly, she still didn’t think she had figured it out. All the possibilities she had come up with were all impossibilities that would have been noticed or in Tony’s file. According to his file he had been a genius, but disliked his father. He could be heard playing piano, according to the staff that worked at the manor, often. However, as a child, he also spent time with his mother, learning with her and his tutor, a reputable private tutor with all the credentials and information to back all of that information up. Then he went to college at sixteen. From sixteen on, he had been the Tony Stark the public had known. The loud, charming, genius who thought too highly of himself. Then he was captured, built the Iron Man suit, shutdown the weapon department and killed Stane. Then she had met him. Everything she had been briefed on before she was sent in as Natalie had seemed true. He played that persona well. She know knew he only played into that ‘person’ because that Tony Stark, was not the Tony Stark that has spoken with her now. She doubted anyone knew the ‘real’ Tony Stark. Which only made him unreliable, because what was the truth and what was part of some disguise he hid behind… she needed to know what he was hiding from to find out who he was. Those things tended to go hand in hand.
After that week of contemplation, she went to Tony, and found him in his penthouse this time. He was spread out on the sofa and was chit chatting with JARVIS about how to ‘handle’ Fury, or was that exactly what he wanted her to hear? She was quiet, the enhanced ears of Captain America couldn’t hear her, but he noticed.
“Hello Tasha. You’re being extra stealthy,” she could hear the smile in his voice, “need something?”
“I want to talk to you about the Winter Soldier,” he quickly sat up and look at her over the back of the couch. He followed her movements until she rounded the couch. “May I sit?”
“Sure,” he moved his legs off the couch and she took their place. “What about him has you interested?”
“How did you know him?”
“Well, how did I not? I can get into any intelligence agency I want, and what they know, I know.”
“Did you know about HYDRA in SHIELD?” He didn’t respond. “Did you know?” She asked, hoping that with adding the extra force to her voice, she could force him to admit guilt or give her a straight answer at the very least. He shrugged.
“They were good at hiding things, I had all the pieces, and so did everyone really, but only so much of it was legally admissible, and how was I supposed to tell all you idiotically loyal SHIELD agents that you were actually working for crazy people? Capsicle would likely insult me or something and then you and Clint would be mad and ignore me… it was better you found out on your own.”
“You knew about your parents?”
“I think I already told you about that. I’ll tell you again, though, I love talking. I may have found references to their murder, but I never found any reputable documentation of it, so I just let everyone think I didn’t know any different than what I was told. The world believes what they are fed, so if nobody else would ever questioned their reality and send them scrambling to make sense of things on their own, why wouldn’t they believe the easiest truths, even if those truths aren’t true at all?”
“Why are you telling me these things?” He smiled and it made her frustrated. This wasn’t some game, this was important. She could just force him to tell her, but something told her that attacking him was a bad idea. Mostly that he gave her things and provided for her as well as had an AI protecting him. Also, he could call an Iron Man suit at anytime and easily win against her. She wasn’t stupid enough to go against Iron Man, not when he really wanted to do damage. She had seen what he had done to the Ten Rings, what he had done to Stane, and Vanko. No, he was dangerous, but nobody else seemed to take that danger seriously because Tony was ‘just Tony.’ An unenhanced human who ‘only cares for himself,’ so of course he would never attack. Nobody considered that he was a compact tank. Steve and the others who thought Tony a weakling were idiots, but she never said she was working with the smartest bunch, unless she counted Stark and Banner. Even Clint could be a dumbass on his best days.
“Maybe I don’t want to have to keep pretending, or maybe this is my way of extending an olive branch. Let’s just say I’ve noticed some things that I’m not happy with, and you’re my best ally. I love Brucie-Bear to death, but… well, you and I would work much better than me and Hulk, and considering the Hulk likes me, that’s saying a lot.”
“I’m an assassin and spy, I don’t work well with others.”
“According to you, neither do I… that’s not entirely true, though, is it? You and Barton worked very well together for a long time, and he was, what? Maybe an eighth as talented as you? I’m not saying I’m some great success, but I am… better . Call it my narcissism, but I am, and it would be nice to have you in my corner because the others don’t like me, or are nervous around me. Do I look scary to you?”
“You’re not scary,” she felt small and she hated it. How did he know? What would he know? He didn’t… know what she could do. Nobody could ever know. He couldn’t know what it felt like to do what she did, and he certainly wasn’t capable of the bad things she’s done. Compared to her, he looks like a saint. “About the Soldier?”
“Yes, let’s talk about him. I know where’s he’s been hiding out, or where he’s been travelling and running from. Steve’s pushing him further and further away every time he thinks he gets any closer. There’s a ‘two step’ saying, but whatever, ya know? The Soldier knows how to hide, he can do anything that is required of him, but… well, he can’t hide from me . That’s very difficult to do, avoid me, I mean. He’s in Hong Kong right now, and I have a good idea where he’s hiding next, and then where he’ll run after that. He has a… pattern , I guess.”
“How is he avoiding HYDRA?”
“I’m assisting. Indirectly, of course. I’m also very frustrated with them at the moment, and while I don’t tend to pick sides, they chose the wrong side and now I’m going to destroy them. It’ll be a great weekend get-away, dontcha think?” He laughed and waved his hand, “Really though, they’re dead and don’t even know it yet. So adorable how they try to regroup. Sort of offensive where they’ve taken their newest base considering that the Russians were the ones who initially taught and trained the Winter Soldier who they abused .”
“... can you keep me updated on him?”
“Sure. I also got everything ready if you wanna go storm HYDRA’s Sokovian base. We can gather the team and we can be there in, eh, ten-ish hours,” his timing was perfect, uncomfortably so. Thor had been in town for a few days now, the entire team was there. He had to have planned it, right? Coincidences weren’t real, were they?
They gathered the Avengers, and went on as they usually did. Tony seemed to pretend as though he had never even revealed anything to Natasha, or that he knew that Steve had been keeping important things from him or secretly searching for the Soldier while under the belief that the Soldier killed Tony’s parents. Tony seemed oblivious and completely normal , when he was so different when he was just with Natasha. She needed to know more, but at this point, she could only watch. This time, however, she wouldn’t think anything she’s been told is the truth. With that logic, all those conclusions that she had thought impossible became legitimate possibilities. Most of them, she knew made Tony all the more dangerous, and that she wasn’t with some arrogant playboy in a fancy suit, but she was with a predator like herself. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but then again, new Tony was unpredictable and only seemed to be telling her enough , but never all .
“You’d make a wonderful spy,” she whispered to Tony once they were on the ground. He smirked at her.
“You wouldn’t know the half of it,” he said with a cocky half-smile. His faceplate slammed shut and he shot into the air seconds later, rising above the trees and out of her sight. Thankfully, Thor was with him, so maybe he wouldn’t show his ‘true colours’ while the prince was around. After all he seemed to only want her to know about this side of him.
He was a dangerous enemy as Tony Stark, but a threat beyond comprehensive danger if anything she was thinking is true. The combination of honed skills and genius intellect made anyone scary, but to have power, money, and public-support behind it only made it all the more terrifying.