"I think Stark likes you."
Natasha, with eyebrows almost knitted together, turned her head from washing the dishes to Clint who sat on the table, munching on an apple.
Her bestfriend swallowed his last bite and threw what remained of the fruit to the trash bin before replying. "He stared at you while you played with Lila, as if he was watching over his wife and kid."
They were at Clint's farmhouse. Natasha and the rest of the Avengers plus Nick Fury found refuge there as they needed a safe place, away from the city. Earlier that day, they busied themselves helping out in the house chores. She also volunteered to look after the kids while Laura prepared their dinner; it was probably the time that Clint was talking ablout.
"Stop it," she replied, dismissing the idea.
"I'm not kidding, Tasha. I know that look," the archer moved from the table to the sink as she continued her task at hand. "You seem so precious to the guy which is kinda... odd. We all know you can kill a troop with your bare hands."
"You're imagining things. We have more serious issues at hand."
Clint huffed. "Fine."
Natasha thought he was gonna drop it until he spoke again.
"Hey Nat. Is something going on between you two?"
Natasha looked up to Sam who threw in the question out of nowhere. She figured he was pertaining to her and Tony as they just finished brewing their favorite coffee at the counter and getting a mug each. Then their billionnaire teammate exited the kitchen to go to his workshop.
"Oh. I don't mean to intrude. We just noticed how you guys are getting along pretty well -"
"We noticed?" she cut, stressing on the collective term he used.
"Yeah... right. At least Steve, Bruce and I do," he glanced at the two others he mentioned who quietly sat around the dinning table with him, having pancakes.
Her facial expression spelled 'can-you-explain-what-you-are-talking-about?' to Sam, so he did.
"The all-nighters... Morning coffee... Couch cuddling...?"
The all-nighters: check. They were not planned though. Tony and she just happen to be usually awake at the same time of the night so they chat at the common areas when they caught each other and she would visit his workshop if she really could not sleep yet.
The morning coffee: check. And it was simply because they both cannot start the day without coffee so either she or Tony initiate brewing their favorite first thing in the morning and would prepare a big mug for the other all the time.
The couch... cuddling? She can remember just one instance. Tony was hit by fever due to extreme body pains after days of almost no sleep. He barely ate decent meals also and he lacked water intake which caused sore throat. That night, he curled up on the couch in their home theater with an action film playing. Stubborn that he is, he refused to go and rest in his room as much as he refused to admit that he was actually sick. So Natasha stayed there with him, with water bottles and food that she gathered. Around 1:30 AM, he started groaning and shaking involuntarily. She covered him with blanket, both his and her own, that she ended up on the floor beside his couch, an arm over his body, running a hand on his back. When she woke up, Tony was gone, and it was her who lied on the couch with blankets over her.
Apparently, the team caught what happened in that single instance.
"What the fuck...?" she responded without much thought.
Steve was quick to react. "Natasha, language."
Sam whistled. "Ohhh-kay. If you aren't really together, I think the guy is into you. Just saying." Then he continued finishing his own breakfast.
"This suit looks really good."
Natasha nodded at Rhodey's comment with a little smile as she stared at the new suit that Tony made for her.
"I know. I'm still surprised."
It was her birthday, which they did not really celebrate because that was never her thing. But their resident genius still had a gift for her, he said, so she went down to the workshop as he instructed.
Rhodey came to visit while they were checking the suit so he was invited to the workshop too, but Tony had to go get something from his room for the colonel and they were left down there for a while.
"Jarvis, how long did Tony work on this one?" Rhodey asked the AI.
"Sir worked on the suit development for three nights, Colonel, and he completed them last night, in time for Ms. Romanoff's birthday."
He chuckled. "I guess he barely slept."
"Indeed. Sir hardly had time to sleep. He works on Stark Industries assignments in the morning and on Ms. Romanoff's suit at night," Jarvis also inputted.
"He looks after the people he loves," there was a glint of pride in Rhodey's tone.
It was her turn to speak up as she wanted to affirm that. "He takes care of the team like that."
He glanced at her. "And you're more special than everyone else."
She shook her head, again, dismissing what was implied in his statement.
"No, Rhodes -"
"You know it," Tony's bestfriend cut with conviction.
Before she could counter that, Tony was back.
"Thank you, Nat."
"For what?" she asked Pepper as they stood side by side near the bar at that charity gala the Avengers attended; both of them with a cocktail drink on hand.
"For looking after Tony and for making him smile."
"I'm... I don't think I alone should take credit for that," Natasha took a sip from her margarita to clear her drying throat.
"If it isn't any obvious yet, he's fond of you, Natasha. I see it in his eyes from afar. I can tell."
She figured that the Stark Industries CEO, also Tony's ex-girlfriend, might have been watching as they danced earlier, after Tony teased him for dancing with Steve, Clint and Bruce but not with him.
"This is... awkward," she replied, for lack of any other response she could possibly give. Her mind seemed to be short-circuiting and it was unusual. The Black Widow has always been on her toes...
But lately, not when Tony Stark or his "probable feelings" about her was the subject.
"Oh. I'm sorry... I just can't help it." Pepper chuckled. "Tony is one of my best friends and, seeing him like this now, I'm glad. He deserves it. He's a good person, Nat."
That was something she would never discount. Indeed, Tony - contrary to what people from his past could say - is one of the most genuine, most generous people she knows. And so far, Natasha has been seeing the best version of himself, notches better than the Tony Stark she as Natalie met.
"He is," she subconsciously voiced.
Natasha felt a light tap on her back so she turned her head to look at the woman beside her.
"Give it a chance, Nat."
Then Pepper smiled before walking away.
Natasha woke up to a dimly lit room and the first thing that registered in her mind was Tony, standing beside her bed, both hands in his pockets.
Finally, the exasperating man showed up on the 7th day of her Stark Tower arrest. After she was rescued from her last mission that went hayward, she also woke up to him in a hospital in Washington DC. He looked like he hasn't slept for days and was still wearing a suit, as if he went there straight from an SI board meeting. They did not talk much - she was still feeling very weak, her whole body immovable. But she did hear what he said before she dozed off again:
You can't just die. You're not leaving me just like that, Romanoff. We're going home.
That same day, Tony flew her back to the tower, where a guest room-turned-hospital suite awaited. Two doctors and a private nurse attended to her, making sure she recovered soon. But since that day, she hasn't seen the genius billionnaire.
"I've been looking for you the whole week."
"I am here now. Actually, I am always here, you just sleep a lot. Why'd I make you stay in this tower if not to see you whenever I want?" his tone was normal, his face stoic.
Natasha gathered all of her will to ask one question that was burning in her chest for a while now.
"Tony, why are you doing these for me?"
By these, she meant not only the last 7 days but the attention he has been showering her for months even before the unfortunate incident...
What Clint guessed.
What Sam, Bruce and Steve noticed.
What Rhodey assumed.
What Pepper saw.
She hoped she knew the answer and she hoped that it was right, but she needed to hear it from him. It's now or never. If he wouldn't give a defined answer, she promised not to put herself in this situation ever again.
Tony did not move, he just stared at her.
She swallowed an invisible lump in her throat as she looked into his eyes, too, trying to read his emotions.
"Maybe because I love you?" he confessed.
Yeah, maybe they were right all along, Natasha thought.
And maybe, she loves him, too.
Surrender's just a word
'Til you try it out
And see how hard it is to hurt
With someone else around
I'm the worst I've ever been
Afraid of almost everything
The skies are clear but storms are always comin'
Your gift to me
Is just to be
Bracing for the winds I always summon
My home, my heart
Thank God you are
Someone who loves me
- Lyrics from "Someone Who Loves Me"
by Sara Bareilles