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It Ends With Us

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Natasha was an Avenger. A hero.

At least that’s what she’s used to people saying about her ever since New York. All she has ever wanted was to wipe the red in her ledger. Now she’s not so sure.

It’s been 6 months since what people termed as the ‘Civil War’.
6 months since she lost her family. Or atleast 6 months since her family had broken up.

And it had been 2 months since her soldat had awoken. Or Bucky apparently. That still needed Some getting used to. But he remembered. He remembered her. He remembered them. What they had. And he’s the one who said it, that he wanted to try to be something again.

Natasha never did get over him. One of the few people who ever made her feel something back in those days. The last memory she had was of him getting put in cryo. She remembered feeling something akin to pain...to love. And that’s why she wanted to try. Wanted him to make her feel whole again. So she accepted it. Thought this was life giving her a second chance to have happiness again. Some days when Steve and Bucky would be just hanging out in the living talking about their time, Sam joining them just as enthusiastic to listen about the war, she could pretend that everything was normal again.

But she missed Clint, she missed the kids. She missed having the whole team together. And she missed Him...Tony...

Just as she delved further into his thoughts Bucky entered the room. “Doll, you awake?”
“Yeah did you need something?”, she said trying to hide the fact that she was clearly lost in someone else’s thoughts.
“Got you breakfast in bed. Thought you’d like the surprise.”

It was amazing how well he was taking this, the new world. Like he hadn’t just been the winter soldier for decades. Times like this natasha was in awe of how well he was adapting to this world which was so different from his.

 

“ You know me so well”, Natasha said as she pressed a chaste kiss to his lips.

*****

As Natasha and Bucky came out of the room, she saw the others, Steve, Sam, Wanda clearly invested in something being shown on the TV.

Her heart dropped as she saw the headline:

BILLIONAIRE TONY STARK AND PEPPER POTTS ENGAGED.

Chapter Text

Insomnia.

Staying awake all night. Nightmares.

That was supposed to be an anomaly. But for Tony that’s just another day. Ever since Afghanistan followed by New York and then Ultron which was his fault.

Even though the last few months, six months to be exact, the only recurring nightmare he’s been having is Cap’s shield slamming into his reactor, his heart. Again and again and again. Until he stopped breathing. That would be the point when he’d wake up screaming.

Pepper helped. She came to him broken and devastated after hearing about Rhodey’s paralysis. About Siberia. She was there to help him through it all but she didn’t get him. Didn’t get what he was going through, what had happened, how something inside him broke, something which would probably never be fixed. But she was there for him and she cared.

Steve, the guy he considered a friend even though they had their problems. The guy he’d trust to have his back, the guy his father never stopped talking about. The same guy who kept the truth about his Parents death from him just to protect his best friend.

James Bucky Barnes. The winter soldier would cross his mind every now and then. The rational part of his brain knew he wasn’t at fault, that he wasn’t Bucky but just a cold blooded murderer all due to hydra. Maybe one day he would even feel pity for the guy but at this moment of time all he felt was anger and resentment. And the wounds were still pretty new.

And finally she’d cross his mind. Tony tried to avoid thinking about her. About what would’ve happened between them if she hadn’t betrayed him, if she had stayed. He trusted her, she apparently didn’t. She chose the captain and one thing Tony knew now for sure was she’d always choose the captain. He told himself he didn’t miss her and that was his reality.

 

Spider kid just got himself into trouble again. When he recruited the kid he sure as hell didn’t hope to become a father figure. But he did and now he’s gotta run to save the day again. Being the earth’s greatest defender sucks sometimes and maybe just maybe he hopes someday the team will get back together again.

 

******

“Thank you Mr. Stark but I’m good”

“You’re good? How’re you good?”, said Tony disbelief clear on his face.

“I mean I’d rather stay on the ground. You know... friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.”

He was just a little proud of the spiderling in that moment. And he knew the future of the avengers was in good hands. Well now all he had to do was manage the press conference behind them. And he came across the brilliant idea of getting engaged to Pepper. Like he hadn’t been pondering on that for quite a while. He couldn’t get anyone better, that much was certain. He was in a healthy functional relationship and that’s something you can’t say in regards to him that often. He ignored the nagging feeling in the back of his head reminding him of the redhead. And Happy had been carrying the ring since 2008 so why the hell not. He proposed.

 

The next day all that the headlines said:

 

BILLIONAIRE TONY STARK AND PEPPER POTTS ENGAGED.

Chapter Text

Natasha’s suffered in her life in ways people couldn’t even fathom but this feeling? This emptiness inside her, this was new, something she was still getting used to.

The first time she felt it was when she had that dreadful conversation with Tony on the balcony.

“Boy it must be hard to shake the whole double agent thing” she remembers him saying. And just like that she knew she’d destroyed whatever they were working towards.

She doesn’t know how long she stares at the TV screen. Until someone finally speaks up.

“ Stark’s getting married”, Wanda says almost remorsefully.

They’d had their differences. Wanda grew up blaming him for her parents death. It wasn’t until they came to Wakanda that Natasha realised just how many misconceptions she still had about Tony.

But now she thinks Wanda realises that she was wrong, they all were when it came to Tony. When Steve came back from Siberia, all she could feel was regret. Regrets about betraying him, leaving him vulnerable, keeping him in the dark about his parents death. She knew but she trusted Steve to be the one to tell him but he didn’t and she was wrong.

She finally spoke up, “He deserves it. He deserves to be happy.”

Even though she said out loud, why couldn’t she be happy for him? Why did she almost want to be there instead of Pepper? Was it selfish of her to still hope to have a place in his life? But she knew Pepper was the right woman for him, the one who stood by his side and kept him grounded. The one who kept him sane and Natasha would never be that for him.

Steve finally gets up from his seat and with his hand on her shoulder, “ He’s gonna be okay. And I’m still hopeful. Someday we’re all gonna go back to where we were.”

 

“ Can’t be as optimistic as you Cap,” she says with a rueful smirk.

******

She’s become really close to Shuri in the meantime. Sometimes she’d just sit in the lab while James talked to Shuri. She’d made him a vibranium arm.

And it almost made her happy seeing how giddy they both got when making improvements to the arm.

“ Natalia, you lost in your thoughts again?” James said as he came up to her and wrapped her in his arms.

“It’s Natasha now remember?” She laughed in his embrace.

“ Sorry, hard to get rid of old habits.” He said sheepishly.

“ Hey it’s okay. I was just pulling your leg.” She knew he would still get worried over the slightest of things and she didn’t blame him.

“ It’s just that I know why you go by Natasha. Natalia is a part of your past. You’re the same and at same time so different from her. Changed for the better but sometimes I wonder, if it will ever be the same for us again? What if it was just those circumstances which forced us to be together? Does it still hold true to us now?”

Just as Natasha was about to answer, Shuri informs her that T’Challa wants to talk before leaving for the states.

She looks at James and sighs “ we’ll talk about this later okay?” James nods and she kisses him before leaving to find the king.

 

******

 

Tony knew the rogues were living in Wakanda.

T’Challa would visit every once in a while to talk about the accords and he had offered to extend any help necessary to fix them. Talking to him also made it clear that they both knew where Cap and the others were. And Tony would be lying if he said he didn’t want them to come back.

And that’s why he was working so hard to make the accords feasible. To work out some kind of pardon for those who didn’t sign. But as of now the biggest obstacle to that was Ross. All he had to do was work out something and get him off the council and that’d make his and T’Challa’s job that much easier.

And maybe the avengers could be back again.

Chapter Text

Tony finally had something, something which could work as tangible proof against Ross. He had documents proving Ross’s hand in the creation of the Hulk, which explained why Bruce was always so uncomfortable around him. He might’ve also tapped into security footage of the Raft.


Without Ross on the council it was infinitely easier for him and T’Challa to convince the others to grant the rogues pardon.

 

He wasn’t particularly elated to face Steve or any of them again. But after contemplating the matter days on end, he could see all of their motivations. Seeing Wanda that day in the raft, helpless in that straitjacket hurt. He was not gonna lie. They had their differences but he never wanted her to feel that he was intentionally restraining her, even during that time in the compound. Now though In hindsight, he could see why she didn’t want to be confined to the compound.

 

He was relieved when Clint and Scott took the deals and decided to stay with the ankle monitor. He doesn’t think he could forgive himself for separating them from their families though he didn’t know Scott that well.


The futurist! The futurist is here! He sees all. He knows what’s best for you even when you don’t,” he remembers Clint saying. That hurt but he said it before and he’s gonna stand by it when he says they chose the wrong side.

Before he could get further into his musings he heard Pepper come into the lab. They’d moved in together to the Malibu house again and it was going well to say the least.

“And what’s my fiancé upto today?” He heard her ask and he looked up just as she bent down to give him a kiss.

“Pep, I think I might have something. With the accords I mean,” as soon as those words came out he saw Pepper freeze in her place.

He could see her try to compose herself. “ And by that you mean?” She sighed a long while later.

“ Something to get the others back to the country. Get them forgiven by the council, and I’m pretty sure they’d like to sign the mended accords.” He said lightly trying to gauge her reaction.

“You really think Captain America is gonna sign it just like that? After the enter fiasco last year?” He could see her fuming.

“Not the previous one. But this one? I’m confident he’ll sign it. His problem with the initial accords were the limitations we had when acting on a disaster. But now we can get some clauses approved which would enable us to act as soon as we like still under government supervision”

“You know that’s not what I’m worried about. He slammed his freaking shield on you! You were barely conscious Tony! I was there, Happy, Rhodey even Peter. We were there for you. We saw what you went through. And they couldn’t even be bothered to ask about you, to come see if you were still alive or dead, none of them did. NONE OF THEM!”

At the end of her rant, Tony gathered her in his arms. And as he pressed a kiss on her head, “I can deal with it. But the world needs the Avengers together Pep. And that should be all of our main priority.”

“I know what this means to you. What the team means to you. So I’ll never stop you. But just be careful okay? I can’t get married if my fiancé ends up dead” she tried to joke as she choked on a sob.

“You’re not getting rid of me that easily” he kissed her again as she got up. “Drag your ass to bed at a reasonable hour for once,” she says as she exits the lab.


When Pepper left, Tony started to ponder her words. How she thinks none of them came back for him, but she did, he thought.

 

Flashback:

Tony didn’t know how long he was laying there. The shield just a few centimetres away from him. It’d been a few hours seen Cap left with Bucky. A few hours since he thought Cap would’ve killed him. And now he’s pretty sure hypothermia is setting in. He doesn’t know how long he has left.

Until he sees a black figure approaching him. It’s Natasha. She came back for him. And he couldn’t help but feel just a little bit better.

“Tony, can you hear me? Tony”, she prompted holding his head and putting in on her lap.

“Nat, you came back....Cap left, he left me here. He disabled the reactor and... and I lost connection with Friday and...”

“Sshh. Just show me how to take the suit off okay? You’re gonna be alright. I’m right here”

“You have to take it off manually. The... the...” he fumbled through the sentence.

“It’s okay. Just stay with me.” She said as she began to work on his suit.

It felt like forever but she was finally done taking off his suit and was checking him for injuries. She wrapped something around a cut on his torso and began to carry him presumably to her jet.

When they finally got on the jet, she turned back and asked him “where should I take you?”

“Aren’t you gonna come with me?”

And he knows he must’ve looked pathetic when he made that request but her face contorts to something similar to pain and regret at the same time when she replies “I’m gonna take you to the compound okay? And I’ll let Pepper and Happy know somehow.”

She paused for a while before adding, “I’m a criminal by definition now remember? Someday maybe I’ll return when I’ve finally paid my dues.”

There’s silence in the jet but Tony hates her in that moment. Hates that she won’t stay with him.

 

They finally reach the compound and Natasha helps him in. He almost wants to say something but decides it’s not worth it. She looks at him as if to check if his injuries were too bad.

Then As she glances to him one last time she says “I never meant to hurt you Tony. You know how much you, our friendship meant to me. And I’m sorry I did this. Trust me you’ve no clue how much I regret it. I....” she stops and gives him a light kiss on the lips.

And before Tony can even comprehend what happened she’s gone and he knows he didn’t imagine the tears in her eyes as she said goodbye.

******

 

Natasha found T’Challa just outside the palace.

As she approached him he nodded curtly to her and said, “Miss Romanov, I have to go back to USA. But before I did I had to talk to you regarding something”

“Yeah sure?”

“ I have not told anyone yet but my trips to the USA were related to the accords. I’m afraid I have been keeping the truth from you. But Mr.Stark and I might have come up with a solution to the accords. I do not mean to get your hopes up but we might be able to get you all back to your home.”

That might’ve been the happiest she had felt in a while and she replied, “So you and Tony are working together to get us back?”

“Yes I didn’t want to blindside you. And your expertise might actually be useful to us at this time.”

“Thanks for letting me know. Is there something i have to do?”

“Just make sure Captain would be willing to sign the amended accords”, as soon as he said that Natasha knew she had her work cut out. But the prospect of Tony wanting them to be back was more than enough for her.

So all she said was, “ Have a safe flight.” As T’Challa nodded in her direction before getting on the jet.

Natasha couldn’t help but think about what this meant for her and the team. They’d just have to hope for the best.

Chapter Text

“Steve, you got a minute?” She decided delaying won’t help anyone. And this conversation was inevitable anyway.

 

“Yeah, is everything alright?” He asked looking as concerned as ever.

 

“T’Challa just told me something. Something related to the accords. You might wanna sit down for this.”

 

“What do you mean? I thought they sanctioned it,” he said and she clearly saw him get tense.

 

“Well apparently Tony and T’Challa have been working on it. They’re onto something. All those contingencies that you asked for, they’re trying to get them approved. And it is almost definitely going to work. All we have to do is sign.”

 

“ But Nat you have to understand I can’t trust them. Not after...” before he could finish that sentence she decided she had had enough.

 

“Not after what Steve? After you very clearly didn’t sign a document approved by a 117 countries meant for the safety of the people? Or when you wrongfully got the Winter Soldier out of containment? Don’t get me wrong, I love Bucky but even I know that at that point you couldn’t be sure who he was. Not to mention that time you left Tony for the dead in a fucking bunker in Siberia! The same Tony who’s working his ass off to get us back to our home!” As she finished her rant she saw a flicker of guilt in Steve’s eyes before he stared at her with that god awful determination he had.

 

“I can’t trust people with authority who don’t understand the stakes of what we do Nat. You know the accords had their flaws and I did what I thought was right. And yes I got carried away with the need to save Bucky. But wouldn’t you do the same for Clint? And trust me a single day doesn’t go by when I don’t regret what I did to Tony and I’d do anything to change that day” that last part was almost a whisper but Natasha heard him.

 

“ Then sign the accords. You don’t trust authority, that’s fine but I know you trust Tony and the king. Do this for us, so that we can go home.” She could see him lose his resolve and that meant he was considering what she said.

 

“I need some time to think about it,” he said as he finally looked into her eyes and she knew he meant it.

 

“Take all the time you need”, she said as she left the room.

 

Just as she got to her bedroom, she saw James leaning against the door.

 

“So I just saw you and Steve in a heated argument. Want to tell me what that’s about?” As he said that, all Nat could think about was how selfish she was being. How she never stopped to think about him in this whole situation with the accords.

 

“I didn’t want this to be common knowledge just yet but I think we can go back home soon. The accords are being mended as we speak, which means we can officially get pardons and return to the states.” She said really trying to gauge his reactions.

 

“How exactly did that happen?” He asked almost skeptically.

 

“T’Challa and Tony, they’ve been working on it for sometime and they seem to think it is going to approved. How do you feel about that?”

 

“If we go back, to your home as you said, does that imply the Avengers compound? The one belonging to Tony Stark?” She knew this was coming so she thought it would be best to tread lightly.  She slightly nodded in reply.

 

“Then you already know how I feel about it. I... the soldier killed his parents. And it doesn’t matter what I say but to him I’ll always be that man. Do you think he will ever forgive me? Let alone talk to me and invite me somewhere which is practically his home?” He almost looked pained saying that and Natasha gave him a hug before continuing.

 

“ James, I know that’s not your fault and deep down so does Tony. What you went through, what Hydra forced you to do, we could never even begin to understand your pain. And you underestimate how forgiving Tony Stark can be”, as she said those words she really hoped they still held true.

 

She continued, “ What happened in Siberia, you had no hand in it. If anyone is to be blamed it should be me and Cap.” At this she saw his face contorting in confusion.

 

“We knew, we knew about the winter soldier killing Howard and Maria Stark. And I trusted Steve to tell the truth to Tony but I should’ve prompted him to do something, made sure that he actually came clean. But I didn’t and none of that would’ve happened if I did.”

 

“Don’t do that, don’t blame yourself for something you had no control over. Natalia, if going back is what you want then that’s what’s going to happen.” He said as he finally wrapped her into a hug and took her to bed.

 

Natasha could feel that pang in her chest everytime James said he loved her. All she felt was guilt. Guilt over how she’d rather take Tony’s feelings into account than those of James. How even though she knew James would probably be happier in Wakanda, in a world where there was no one to spite him or remind him of the  soldier or everything that he was forced to do, she’d still rather want to go back home to be with her family. How she would do anything to see Tony happy again. With that thought in her head, she fell asleep in the arms of a man she knew she didn’t love.

 

******

 

Tony was waiting for T’Challa in the compound but before that he thought now would be a good time as any to catch up with Rhodey. Rhodey had been going through physiotherapy every other day and it was a slow process but Tony sighs with relief every time he sees his best friend back on his legs.

 

“Hey honey bear. Miss me?” Tony jokes as he hugged Rhodey.

 

“So you finally got time for me? Didn’t think I’d be seeing you this soon. What with you getting engaged and all,” as he said that Tony knew that was his way of congratulating him.

 

“Thanks, that was a pathetic attempt at saying you’re happy for me but I’ll take it. So what are you upto?”

 

“Physio. It’s working and I can actually cross the room now without falling on my ass. So thats an improvement. I just hope I can go back to what I was, you know?” Rhodey said barely keeping eye contact with him.

 

“Don’t we all. So I was just here to meet T’Challa. He should be here in a while. But I thought I’d catch you up. The accords have been amended. T’Challa and I will present it to the council today. Hopefully they’ll approve and then we can work on getting Cap and the others back.” He said trying to keep it casual but he knew Rhodey would be anything but subtle.

 

“Wait a minute. You’re telling me you actually want them back here? I forgave Sam a long time ago. But you? I know what Cap did shouldn’t be forgiven. And honestly I don’t think I like the idea of him being in the same place as you again.” He said as his protective instincts kicked in.

 

“I’m okay with it Rhodes. I just want things to go back to the way they were. If that means facing Cap then I’m okay with it. It’s not like we’ll be all buddy buddy again,” he tried to hide his emotions but Rhodey knew him way too well to be fooled by that.

 

“What about Natasha?” When those words came out of his mouth Tony instantly froze. That wasn’t something he was expecting.

 

He cautiously replied, “What about her?”

 

“Don’t be coy with me Tony. I’m paralysed not blind. If you both were trying to hide how you felt about each other, well let me let you know, you massively failed. So yeah how do you feel about her coming back?” Rhodey was fuming by the end and yeah Tony didn’t know what to say to that.

 

“There’s nothing between us. There never was. Nothing concrete anyway. She was my friend. Now she isn’t anymore. I don’t care about her any more than I do for Cap. We can both be professionals.” As he finished talking he could clearly see Rhodey’s disbelief.

 

“Lie to yourself all you want. We both know how you felt, how you feel.  I’ll be honest with you Tony, don’t hurt Pepper. I’ve seen you and Nat together. And if it’s still as intense as it was back then? Yeah Pepper doesn’t stand a chance”, he said with a firm resolve and Tony couldn’t breath.

 

Rhodey just gave him a reality check what Nat being back really meant for him. Meant for his and Pepper’s relationship. But he pushed those thoughts to the back of his head as he said,

 

“I love Pepper”, he said.

 

“I know you do”, just as Rhodey says those words Tony knows, but are you in love with her? goes unsaid.

Chapter Text

 


2 months later


To say Natasha was anxious would be putting It lightly. She was absolutely terrified. Everything with the accords was sorted and they were supposed to go back today. Sign and make everything official. The moment when Cap agreed to sign the revised documents was probably the most relieved Natasha had ever felt. She wasn’t sure if the others would agree if Steve didn’t. She’s still not sure if James is okay with everything.

They were in their room packing. She could see James struggling with something. That unsure look in his face residing ever since she’d told him about the accords.

“ You need any help?” She said trying to get him to talk since he’d been awfully quite lately.

“No I just..maybe I should remove the arm? I don’t want anyone there to think I’m a threat. I specially don’t want Mr. Stark on the edge.” Hearing him say that almost breaks Natasha’s heart and she tries her best to comfort him saying,

“James I wouldn’t ever ask you to do that. No one would. And I know no one’s gonna feel threatened by you. Even if they do, you really shouldn’t care. That arm’s a part of you and I know it’s important to you that people don’t see it as a weapon. But I’ve seen your face light up everytime Shuri adds enhancements or updates it. I can’t ever take that away from you. And if you ever get to know Tony you’ll see that he’ll feel the same.”

“You know him well don’t you? Do you think he will ever forgive me?” He’s almost afraid when he asks that.

“The Tony Stark I know might’ve forgiven you long ago, he’s gonna try to hold on to resentment, to hate you but he always sees the best in people. He saw past my worst mistakes. And I’m sure when he gets to know you, he will warm upto you eventually. I mean how could someone not turn to mush looking into those beautiful eyes?” She teased trying to lighten the mood.

He smiled saying,”I hope that’s true,“ then he adds,

“I love you so much Natalia. The only reason I’m going, the reason I even have the courage to face others is because you’re here with me.” He looks at her with such sincerity that she has to look away.

She knows he noticed that she didn’t say it back. But she couldn’t not yet, so all she can do is clasp his hands in hers and avoid his eyes.

Steve, Sam and Wanda are all waiting in the living room by the time they finish packing. She sees Sam barely containing his excitement. Even Cap has a small smile on his face. Then she turns to Wanda and she seems lost in thought.

“I’ll meet you guys downstairs,” she says handing their bags to James and nodding in Steve and Sam’s direction.

“Wanda? You okay?” She questioned clearly seeing Wanda was in distress.

“Stark knew I’m meeting Vis. He knew we were all here and he didn’t do anything or say anything against us. Just another thing I owe him. I can’t believe how I’ve behaved or treated him Natasha. He has never been anything other than caring and I painted him as the guy to blame for everything wrong that ever happened to me. I don’t know if I even deserve his forgiveness.” She says as that solemn look grows deeper in her face.

“You’ll never know if you don’t try. Tony’s made mistakes just as we have and he’s human. Trust me when I say he won’t hold it against you. What we did wasn’t fair to him but what happened to you gave you a right to be mad. But I know he never did anything to hurt you. So I think that apology is pending on both sides.” She shrugs and she can see Wanda’s mood lighten and she smiles moving out of the room.

As she goes downstairs she hears the tail end of Bucky and Shuri’s conversation,

“ I’ll send you ideas and updates regarding the arm so you do not  dare forget about me,” Shuri warns James as he raises his arms in defense.

Then she sees her moving towards her. Shuri gives her a hug and she leans in saying,

“I’ll miss you,” and that was true she was extremely fond of the teenager.

“I know you will. And could you get me Dr. Banner and Mr. Stark’s autographs when you come the next time? I’m a really big fan.” She says with an excited glint in her eyes.

“ I knew it. You were just using me to get to the Hulk and Iron Man!” She joked and gave her a final hug goodbye.

Finally T’Challa was standing next to the jet. She had grown extremely close to the king and without a doubt would miss all the conversations she had with him  about world governments and diplomacy.

“ I thought you’d be going with us since this concerned the accords?”

“Not really. I wrapped all my work the last time I was there. And Mr. Stark is the primary advocate of the accords anyway. I was just there to give him a hand and represent both on behalf of superheros  and Wakanda.” He replied.

“ Well I guess I’ll miss having someone to talk to who knows almost as much about diplomacy as I do”, she jokes.

“Yes I think I will miss having someone well informed around here Natasha,” He says and I notice that’s the first time he’s called me by my name.

“I have a feeling this is not the last we’re seeing of each other,” I say as I give him a hug and get on to the jet. As the jet takes off I wave to all of them and get ready for what’s to come.

As she sits in the jet with her eyes closed it almost pains her to think how worried she is to go back home, to people she considers family.

She thinks back to simpler times when she was happier than she ever thought she could be.



Christmas, 2015:

Natasha had a hard time believing this was real. She was celebrating Christmas. The Black Widow celebrating Christmas with what was practically her family.

Everyone was wearing those goofy Christmas hats and sweaters. It was like something out of a Christmas flick. Clint was next to her showing her pictures of baby Nathaniel. Sam and Rhodey were obviously discussing Rhodes’ recent military excursion and who had the better suit *men*.

She saw Wanda, Vision and Cap talking about her powers and how to best control them. It was almost sweet how she regarded Steve as a father figure. Even Thor was supposed to swing by from Asgard. She was surrounded by people she loved and admired.And she didn’t know how she could be any happier.

Well that was until Tony walked in with his messed up hair and Rudolph sweater. God he looked sickeningly adorable. He went to Cap and snatched the eggnog from his hand,

“Are you really drinking in front of the kids Cap?” Motioning to Wanda and Vision before downing the entire glass.

He stopped beside Clint, glancing at the phone before saying,

“How many smaller agents do you even have at the Barton farm, Legolas?” And she had to laugh at his shenanigans before their eyes locked and he motioned towards the kitchen.

She raised her eyebrows at him but she knew she could never say no to him when he made that face.

She followed him to the kitchen before he backed her against a wall. She looked up at him.

“Hey handsome. Merry Christmas,” she said trying to ward off her nervousness.

“Merry Christmas,” he says running his eyes all over her appreciatively before adding,

”I think Red’s my favourite colour on you,” she can’t help but blush at his comment.

“You don’t look too bad yourself. I mean saying you look absolutely adorable feels like an understatement.” As I say that I feel him leaning towards me and I know he wants to kiss me.

We haven’t yet, we haven’t even spoken about what we are but I know he has feelings for me just as I do.

If someone told me six months ago that I’d be this close to Tony Stark, I’d probably have smacked them on the head before proceeding to laugh my ass off. But now she couldn’t imagine being away from him.

After Ultron, after Sokovia, Pepper had broken up with him. He promised no more suits but he couldn’t stop. And she didn’t think he ever will be able to. He was heartbroken, devastated losing the one person that meant so much to him. She knew Pepper meant so much more to him than a lover and She wondered if she’ll ever be able to compare with Pepper Potts. After that Natasha spent six months helping him through his nightmares. It had gotten particularly bad after Ultron. But she doesn’t think Pepper understood what he went through. And she doesn’t expect the woman to either. The hero gig, the stakes of carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders was something only meant for people who were really screwed up. She always said she had red on her ledger that she’d like to wipe out and she knew Tony felt exactly the same.

She was glad she got to see the side of Tony which very few people even knew existed. She was fortunate enough to have him open up to her. She saw the Tony Stark who still felt remorse over Obadiah’s actions. How something he created was the cause of such destruction. And then he told her about the vision. The one where they were all dead and he was to blame, the one which prompted him to go ahead with creating Ultron. She told him about the Red Room, how she remembered nothing about her parents, how she killed innocent people just for self preservation, because the black widow was supposed to be a weapon.

He always knew what to say, how to make her feel just a little less terrible which was why they’d spent countless nights soothing each other. Being that shoulder to cry on before she even realised she was in love.

And now he was leaning towards her and as soon as she closed her eyes she heard someone enter the kitchen. Tony backed away just as soon as Thor came inside the kitchen and practically picked him up the floor while giving him a hug.

She met his eyes one last time before leaving the kitchen and he had that knowing smile on his face.

He couldn’t wait to finally have her all to himself if that look on his face was any indication. That’s the first time she was absolutely horrified about what would happen if this, whatever they were venturing upon went wrong. She was scared and worried they were moving too fast. She didn’t want to jeopardise their relationship. Wanted them to take their time before they rushed into something. That’s why she avoided him that entire night. He was frustrated by the time she went to her room and locked it behind her when he clearly wanted to spend more time with her.

******

Now she wonders why she didn’t trust what they had enough to let him in completely. She wondered What things would be like if she just let him in that night or all the nights afterwards when he asked for more. But she knew the right time would eventually come. She just didn’t expect their first kiss would be one where she said goodbye. Natasha forces herself to stop thinking about him, to think about what they were on the verge of becoming. She has to stop and remind herself every now and then that he was engaged and she was too late.

Chapter Text

Today was finally the day they’d be back. Tony wasn’t sure how he was feeling at this moment. He knew the conversation with Cap wouldn’t be easy. If he was being honest he would try his best to probably avoid any confrontation but Tony knew he wasn’t that lucky.

Now on the way to the compound, he thinks he is going to be sick. Talking to Rhodey that day just broke open a dam of emotions he wasn’t sure he was ready to face yet.  It was impossible to get Natasha’s thoughts out of his head and even harder to hide them from Pepper. Even though she probably assumed it was just because everyone was coming back.

He had to bring Happy along just because he didn’t trust himself not to crash the car. Now he wonders if that was a mistake because Happy’s staring at him in a way which could only be described as intimidating.

“You wanna tell me something?” Tony said not being able to take it any longer.

“You know I’m your friend right? But I’m also friends with Pepper”, Happy says and Tony wonders where he’s going with this.

Then he adds, ”And Natasha.”

Tony’s heart drops, “You going somewhere with this Hap?” He says cautiously, hoping his expression doesn’t give anything away.

“You and Natasha weren’t really discreet you know? In the car, around me. Actually most times you both forgot I was here.” As he says that Tony gulps down and starts fidgeting.

But Happy isn’t done,” Do you remember that conversation you both had the night of the charity gala? A few days after Christmas?” Tony nods and Happy continues,

“Now that I know you and Pepper are engaged, and that Natasha’s coming back. Is that something I need to tell Pepper? Should I warn her? And be honest with me here Tony.” As Happy finishes, Tony wonders how transparent he really is. And how their well protected secret wasn’t really a secret anymore.

“No, all of that ended the day she let Cap and Barnes go. Now she’s nothing more than a colleague and that’s all she’s ever going to be. I’ve never told Pepper about those few months. And maybe I should come clean to her, but that’s just it Hap. It should be me telling her. Not you or anyone else.” He said almost defensively. He didn’t like how people pretended to know what Natasha and he had.

“I trust you Tones. I don’t want to see any of you get hurt. And I mean any of you,” he says pointedly and Tony knows he’s including Natasha in that.

Tony just doesn’t want to have that conversation anymore so he looks out the car thinking back to that night.

 

 

January, 2016

 

Tony was frustrated. Frustrated with himself, with Natasha. He hated how she was treating him and couldn’t for the love of god figure out what he had done wrong.

She had been avoiding him ever since Christmas.

He doesn’t know what happened but in a matter of moments she put up a wall. And all of a sudden she was the same Natasha he met years ago.

All concealed intent and none of the honesty and trust they had built up in the last few months. He needed answers and he was gonna get them tonight.

Stark Industries hosted a charity gala a few weeks after Christmas and he asked Natasha to be his date. Surprisingly she didn’t decline his offer. Now they were in the car with Happy driving. He didn’t care there was someone else in the car. So he took Natasha’s hand in his and she let him. He saw her glance his way every couple of minutes until he shifted closer to her. Natasha’s breath hitched and she went forward to push the button which activated the divider. Just as Happy was out of the picture, Tony couldn’t wait any longer.

“You’re avoiding me. Why?” He gazed intently and saw a flicker of fear in her eyes.

“I’m not Tony. You’re just imagining things.” She says trying to avoid his gaze.

“You know I’m not. We haven’t had a proper conversation since Christmas. That was weeks ago,Natasha. You pointedly avoid being alone with me. Making sure Clint or Cap are always around.”

He turns to face her and cupps her face saying, “I miss you Nat and I know you do too. So whatever you’re thinking about I need you to be honest with me okay?” He leans in trying to give her a kiss but Natasha moves away and it’s breaking his heart. She pushes the button again.

“Happy stop the car.” She says before getting out.

Tony follows her out and glances over his shoulder to see Happy obviously listening in but he couldn’t care, not when Natasha was behaving the way she was.

“You’re pushing me away,” he can hear his voice starting to break.

Natasha looks at him, pulling him away from the car so no one could hear them.

“What do you want from me Tony? I can’t give you the life you want. And We can’t be together the way you want us to. I’m an assassin for godsake.” She screams at him.

“You know I’m not forcing you into anything. I’m not even asking for a relationship. But we both know we can’t ever be just friends. And I want more Natasha, I’ll always want more from you,” he’s pleading with her now.

“ Maybe you shouldn’t. You deserve better Tony. Someone like Pepper, someone who won’t break you like I probably will.” Natasha says and he can clearly see the hurt in her eyes.

“ I don’t want anyone else! I know you’re aware of how I feel about you. Shouldn’t that be enough? Can we just go back to being us? It doesn’t have to feel any different Nat. Please.” He doesn’t think he can take any more rejection tonight.

He sees Natasha break, until she takes a few steps towards him and wraps her arms around his neck.

He doesn’t think he has ever felt this relieved.

“Can we just forget we had this conversation? I wanna go back to how we were before,” she says her voice muffled by his shoulder.

“I don’t know if I’m ready for anything more Tony but I think someday I will be.” She says pulling away and looking into his eyes.

“Then I’ll wait for you. I always will,” he says pressing a kiss to her forehead.

When they went back to the car he looked at Happy and it was obvious that he heard everything. He would just have to handle that some other day.

Tony and Natasha spent that entire night dancing and talking and drinking together. And he was happy. He would happily wait forever if she would just give him a chance someday.

 

******

Tony can’t help but think back to those days. Maybe he should’ve done something differently. Maybe he should have told her he loved her. He wondered if them being together would change her decision of siding with Cap.

But he doubted that it would change anything. Though even now, If that was all that he could have with Natasha then he’d gladly take it. Anything would be better than her betrayal and the resentment he felt towards her right now. He’s not sure if he can handle meeting her again today. He’s just worried he’ll fall in love all over again.

Chapter Text

Tony was standing in the hangar, looking out through the window to calm his nerves. Waiting for the arrival of the rogues had been excruciatingly painful. The amount of emotions running through his head was disconcerting.

Then the jet landed and all he felt was gut-wrenching fear. Flashes of Cap’s sheild, his body lying cold in that bunker plagued his mind and he felt a panic attack incoming.

Until he saw her, coming down the jet, the picture of calm and composure and he felt himself drown in her thoughts again. And all of a sudden he didn’t know how he spent eight whole months without seeing her. She was blonde now, but she was still his Natasha.

Rhodey’s hand on his shoulder pulled him out of his reverie. And he went towards the door to receive them.

He took a deep breath and before he knew it he was face to face with Cap.

“Tony, you don’t know how glad I am to see you.” Cap smiled and brought his hand forward.

Tony was enraged. He didn’t think he could just could just come up here and expect all is forgiven.

“Well yeah speak for yourself.” Tony said as he shoved his hand in his pocket.

Cap’s smile faltered for a while but then he took his hand back.

“ I never expected you to reach out and actually turn the accords in our favour Tony. I really am grateful and we really need to talk. But right now I just hope you can accept that I am sorry?” He questions still polite as ever.

And Tony’s not gonna be painted as the bad guy here. So he nods.

Of all the things Tony expected out of today, Bucky Barnes coming up to him to say sorry was not one of them. And surprisingly Tony didn’t mind. He had come to terms with the fact that of all the people here, him and Barnes were probably the victims of that incident.

“Mr. Stark, I wasn’t sure if you would be okay with me being here. Technically I’m not an avenger. But I could help. I’m enhanced and I really think I could contribute but only if you’ll allow me.” When Barnes said that Tony actually felt bad for the guy, seeing how timid he was.

“I should be the one saying sorry. I would’ve killed you that night if Steve didn’t stop me. And I probably would have regretted it all my life. But I can’t say I forgive you. All I want to know is, is the soldier out of your head and can I trust you on my team?” As Tony said that he could clearly see Barnes’ surprise but he schooled his features before replying,

“Yes, Mr. Stark. Thank you so much for this.” He says this with a sickening hopeful glint in his eyes that makes Tony almost grateful that he was not disparaging.

His eyes lock with Natasha while she’s giving Rhodey a hug and he can almost make out her lips tilting up seeing him and Barnes interact. Even now Tony couldn’t believe how much he sought out her approval. Sam was just as sorry for everything that happened.

Then he turned his attention to Wanda and before he even knew what happened Wanda hugged her.

Okay this day is turning out weirder than he ever thought possible.

“I’m sorry Tony. I’m sorry about everything. I never meant to hurt you like that when I should’ve seen that you were just trying to protect me.” She said looking as remorseful as ever. And Tony felt this weird protectiveness develop in him.

“Hey it’s okay. It’s not your fault. If anything I should be sorry about the raft. It’s on me that you had to go through that. Okay?” He said trying to soothe her as she nodded her head finally detaching from him and moving towards Vision.

Finally Natasha moved towards him and he wanted convince himself that he wasn’t happy that she was back but he’d be lying.

“Hey, Shellhead,” she said giving him a smile.

“Hey, you’re...blonde”, he said that almost with distaste pointing at her hair.

“You’re one to talk. I’m not the one who’s hair is greying.” She teased and he felt some of the tension leaving his shoulder.

God wasn’t he supposed to be mad at her?

“I liked the red better on you,” he said shrugging his shoulders.

“So you’ve said”, and she was flirting with him again.

This really wasn’t going the way he pictured it. He forced himself to start thinking with his upstairs brain again. Focusing on how nothing was fine and she wasn’t getting away with it that easy.

“Nothing’s forgiven Natasha. We’re not okay and you can’t just come here and pretend that we are. I don’t like you much at this moment and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” he said with all the force he could gather and tried so hard to make her feel at least a little guilty. He almost took pleasure in how the smile dropped from her face and it contorted with pain.

“I know that Tony. I’m not asking for forgiveness but I swear I’m gonna earn it. Someday you’ll trust me just as much as I trust you right now, as much as I’ll always trust you.” She said with determination and Tony decided that he couldn’t stay mad at this woman.

At least until Bucky Barnes came and decided to interrupt their moment.

“Doll where did you want me to keep your bags? Do you know where our room is?” Just as those words left Barnes’ mouth Tony’s gaze immediately shifted to Natasha and he clenched his fists.

He almost couldn’t believe she’d do that to him. She couldn’t give him a chance all those times he begged for it. And now maybe he knew the reason after all.

They needed to talk. And all of a sudden he needed reassurance that her saying no didn’t have anything to do with Bucky Barnes.


*******

As soon as they landed from the jet Natasha’s eyes searched for Tony. She couldn’t wait to see him any longer. Just then she saw him through the glass of the hangar. He almost seemed to have aged a couple of years worth in these eight months. But he was still her Tony.

She saw him notice her and couldn’t help but feel a little conscious under his scrutiny. That was immediately replaced with concern when Cap stepped towards him.

She tensed when Tony refused to shake Steve’s hand but relief washed over her as soon as she saw Tony nod and agree to whatever Steve said. She moved towards Rhodey and gave him a hug. All the time keeping her gaze on James and Wanda interacting with Tony.

She was glad he was still the Tony she knew. The Tony she fell in love with, her mind automatically corrected. The Tony who wore his heart on his sleeve and forgave James and Wanda just as soon as they asked for it.

She couldn’t anticipate what their conversation would hold. But she was getting restless and she needed to talk to him. Finally she moved towards him when he was done meeting the others.

“Hey Shellhead,” she said with a smile hoping he would reciprocate.

“ Hey, you’re... blonde,” he said distastefully and she couldn’t help how happy she felt when his lips turned up.

“You’re one to talk. I’m not the one who’s hair is greying,” she said noticing how tired he looked.

“I liked the red better on you,” he shrugged and she remembered their conversation from long ago.

“So you’ve said,” if Tony was thrown off by the flirting he sure as hell didn’t let it show.

Then his face turned dark and Natasha prepared herself for what’s coming.

“Nothing’s forgiven Natasha. We’re not okay and you can’t just come here and pretend that we are. I don’t like you much at this moment and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” he says and she tries so hard not to hug him. She wished she could let him know how her heart breaks when she sees him hurting.

“I know that Tony. I’m not asking for forgiveness but I swear I’m gonna earn it. Someday you’ll trust me just as much as I trust you right now, as much as I’ll always trust you.” She said with as much sincerity she could muster and she meant it. They looked at each other for what felt like forever until James interrupted them.

“Doll where did you want me to keep your bags? Do you know where our room is?” As soon as James says those words she shifts her gaze to Tony’s and sees him clench his fists.

Shit. She totally didn’t think this through.

She could see Tony wanted answers. He barely removed his gaze from her as she showed James the room.

She knew there was a conversation to be had. And it wasn’t gonna be pleasant.

Chapter Text

Natasha was dreading the conversation she owed Tony. The last two months all she thought about was meeting him. Still somehow she failed to prepare for the fact that she was dating someone else and how Tony would react to that. Not just someone, she was dating the guy who fucking killed his parents. Maybe she did think about it and maybe just maybe she wanted to see his reaction to it.

And now she had to explain the whole thing to him. Any other day, she’d probably wait until Tony cooled down enough. She knew how he got when he was mad. He got impulsive and it never ended well. But she knows she can’t delay it any longer.

James is getting settled in the room. Them sharing a room wasn’t really going to be helpful if she wanted to fix things with Tony but that was a problem for another time.

She practically ran away from the hangar when Tony found out. She couldn’t bear looking at the disappointment on his face. While she was thinking about what she was going to say to him, her phone buzzed.

Tony: Stairwell. 4th floor. Right now.
Guess they were doing this right now.

“ I’ll be back in a few,” she tells James and he nods, focused on unpacking.

As soon as she opened the door to the stairwell, she saw his silhouette. He was standing with his shoulders slumped and she was really fighting the urge to hug him.

“Hey Tony?” She said meekly hoping he’s not that mad.

“ How could you do this to me? Him? Of all the people in the world?” He says and she knows he’s going straight to the matter at hand.

“Look I can explain. Just calm down.” She says trying to soothe him.

“Well go ahead then,” he said with venom in his words.

“ You know he’s not at fault. I can’t imagine what you went through when you found out about your parents death. And I know it feels easy to blame him, but he was brainwashed Tony. Hydra was inside his head the entire time. That was the winter soldier. This is Bucky Barnes.” She tries to justify herself.

“What the hell are you even talking about? Why are you bringing my parents up? You told me you weren’t ready Natasha but that someday you would be. Why does he get to have you when I didn’t? Wasn’t I enough for you?” The gravity of his words seem to hit Natasha right at that moment.

He’s not mad that she was dating James. He’s mad because she was with anyone at all.

“Are you kidding me right now? Did you just throw a tantrum because you’re jealous Tony? Is that what this is about?” She screamed.

How dare he object to her dating when he went ahead and got engaged to someone else.

“I’m throwing a tantrum because you’re a liar Natasha! I begged for you. There’s nothing I wouldn’t have done to be with you. But you weren’t ready. Now all of a sudden you are ready for him? You’re ready to be with a guy you’ve known for what barely a few months!?” He was shouting now as he ran his hands over his face.

“ I’ve known him for years. He’s the Winter Soldier, I was the Black Widow. We both operated under KGB and Hydra. Can you connect the dots now?” She said almost as a whisper. She didn’t know how he would react.

“Is that why I never got my chance?” He said without even looking at her. He looked so defeated and even though Natasha was fuming at the moment, she never could bear to see him like this.

“Tony, if I still have to explain how I felt about you... how I feel,” she sees Tony’s head snap up at her words.

And she continues, ”I’ve never felt that way about anyone else. I can’t deny how selfish I want to be right now but I won’t say anything further than that. Not until things go back to the way they were.” She feels Tony’s eyes on her, feels him step closer.

“You said you would always wait for me,” as she says that she can feel herself start to cry.

“ You pushed me away. You helped Cap. And now you’re with him. And I can’t trust you anymore. I thought I knew how you felt. Now I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t feel anything for you, not right now and I hope I never do. And yeah I didn’t wait because I wasn’t about to waste my life waiting for someone who clearly thought I was replaceable,” he said and she knew he was just trying to hurt her.

“Is that why you can’t bear the thought of me being with another man?” She said knowing it would piss him off.

They locked eyes again and this time Tony had reached his limit. Before she knew what happened Tony was pushing her against a wall clearly enraged. And then his mouth was on hers and she couldn’t help but moan into his touch.

That was until she realised what they were doing and she pushed him off her as soon as she came back to her senses.

“Where’s Pepper?” She knew she was being vindictive but she couldn’t care.

All that mattered was he still felt the same for her. He was clearly not happy with what he had just done. He was about to say something but he probably stopped himself before he went too far.

He opened the door and slammed the door shut behind him leaving Natasha alone with her thoughts.

Chapter Text

Tony couldn’t believe what had just happened. He shouldn’t have confronted her before he calmed down. Now, he’s regretting ever showing her how much he cared. It was painful how much she still affected him.

Ever since Ultron happened she was the one who stood by his side. The one who helped him through more sleepless nights then he could count. She guided him through every panic attack he had afterwards. And it was only her voice which ever calmed him down. He liked to think he knew her better than anyone. But he obviously didn’t.

She had Barnes now and they had more history than Tony would ever like to admit. Still he can’t cope with the fact that she would rather be with the soldier than be with him. It wasn’t fair to him. And now he wonders if anything they ever had was real.

That kiss had felt real. She kissed back.

He forced his mind to get over her thoughts. They could be just colleagues and those few months shouldn’t effect him this much. He tried to reason with himself. And decided that’s what was going to happen. Then his phone buzzed,

Pepper: Everything okay there?

Right Pepper. He completely forgot he was supposed to let her know what happened. God he needed to talk to her. Tell her about everything. And he hoped that he could stand by what he told Rhodey and Happy. He wasn’t ever going to jeopardise his relationship with Pepper.

Tony: Everything’s fine. Do you think you could come down here babe? I need you.

He hoped she wouldn’t ask questions because he really did need her right now.

Pepper: I’ll take the jet and get there by tonight. I love you.

Tony: I love you too.

Tony needed to get down to the lab and get his mind off of Natasha if he ever wanted this to work.

By the time he got there he saw Cap sitting down on a lounge chair obviously waiting for him.

“Tell me you don’t want to talk now,” he was almost pleading. He couldn’t handle another stressful conversation right now.

“ Is this a bad time? I just need you to hear me out Tony. You don’t have to say anything.” Cap said and he was a little intrigued to hear his apology anyway.

“Well go ahead. I don’t have all day.” He said seeing Cap get up from him seat and stepping towards him.

“Tony I know I’m late. The letter was a pathetic attempt at saying sorry. But if I could wipe out that one week I totally would. I’m not expecting you to forgive me. I’m not even sure if I deserve it. But I just hope you can see things from my perspective.” He takes a pause before looking at Tony and continuing,

“When we got to know from Zola about project insight and Howard and Maria’s death, I really wasn’t sure If it was Bucky. I knew Howard had been successful in creating an altered version of the serum and that’s why he was targeted. And afterwards I started searching for Bucky, I had to make sure he was okay. Then Ultron happened and I just didn’t think it was the right time to tell you. I didn’t know how you would react. I didn’t even know if you’d let me continue search for Bucky. But now I can see that I was wrong. I never should have hidden anything from you. I thought I was protecting you, I just didn’t realise keeping you in the dark would culminate the way it did. But above all, I’m sorry about Siberia,” As soon as he finishes he looks at me and can see my breath hitch. That’s not a reminder Tony needed right now.

“ You were a guy who preached honesty and integrity. You can see how keeping that from me was a little hypocritical right?” He needed to know Cap really felt sorry.

“I know Tony. It was wrong and I was way too consumed with the thought that something would happen to Bucky that I lost perspective on what was really important. I was being selfish while what I really should’ve done was come clean to you.” He said looking just as apologetic.

“ I trusted you Cap. I trusted you to have my back. I sure as hell didn’t expect you to use my own father’s shield on me. Having you behind me used to be reassuring. Now I’m just worried you’ll betray me again. And you’re right. I don’t know if I can forgive you but this team matters a lot to me. Iron Man protects the world and I  can’t do it alone. I can’t say we’ll ever be friends again. But I want to be able to trust you as my teammate and that’s all I can offer you right now.” He said almost unsure of himself.

“Then I’m okay with that for now Tony. I just don’t want you to resent me all your life for my one bad judgement call. I know I have to earn your trust and I’m glad you’re giving me a chance to prove myself again.” He says looking just a bit relieved. It’s almost as if he expected this conversation to go south.

And Tony was surprised that they could be civil for once. Talking to him actually made him feel just a little better. They would never be the same again. But Tony could be okay with that as long as they could work together and prevent anything like that from ever happening again.

When Cap extended his hand this time around Tony actually did shake it. And just like that Tony had a flicker of hope that maybe they could still be a team after all.

Then Cap left the lab and Tony started working on updates for the spiderling’s suit all the while trying to push Natasha from the forefront of his mind.

 

******

Natasha couldn’t move. She had been frozen at her place in the stairwell for god knows how long. She can’t believe how spiteful she was with Tony. She doesn’t even know if she just damaged their relationship beyond repair. It’s not fair on either of them that they had to face these circumstances.

After contemplating the matter for a while Natasha could see why he was hurting. They spent months trying to work towards something, towards something resembling a relationship. She told him she’d be ready someday. She knows that he thinks she never gave him a chance because of James but how was she supposed to tell him that that was as far from the truth as possible.

Natasha couldn’t ever feel for James the way she felt for Tony. That’s the only reason she didn’t hurry through their relationship. She never wanted to even imagine a life without him. And now she probably ruined their chances at ever being friends again.

They needed to talk again. Preferably at a time when he wasn’t so infuriated. She needed to explain why she was couldn’t be with him then. She still needed to apologise about helping Cap. She just hoped it would go better than this.

When she finally reached her room, she saw James in awe of the compound.

“Natalia, I mean Wakanda was already beyond my wildest expectations but this place? It’s making me a little awestruck.” He said with a goofy grin on his face.

“Yeah? Well you haven’t seen anything yet. Tony did personalise all our rooms according to our choices.” She said almost endearingly remembering how much effort he put into making sure they were all comfortable.

“That explains the dark interior,” he jokes and Natasha swats his arm.

She’s tired and exhausted and the day’s took a toll on her. She’ll just wait until tomorrow to make sure Tony’s in a better mood so she could pacify him.

Chapter Text

It was the middle of the night when Natasha’s phone rang.

“The prodigal daughter returns”, she can feel him grinning through the phone.

“Clint it’s 5 in the morning,” she says annoyed.

“I just saw the news. Apparently you guys are back to the compound. And someone didn’t think to let me know.” Leave it to Clint to watch the news at this ungodly hour.

She shuffled out of bed careful not to wake James up.

“I was going to call you. It’s just been a stressful day,” she said knowing Clint understood.

“Tony being Tony?” He sighed.

“Oh you have no clue. This time around though it’s our fault. My fault to be exact,” She couldn’t deny her hand in his rapidly deteriorating mood.

“ How’s he holding up?” He said concern evident in his voice.

“He was actually fine in the morning. Didn’t butt heads with Cap. He wasn’t even hostile towards me. At least till he got to know I was dating James,” she said tiredly.

“Oh god Nat. That’s not something you should’ve ambushed him with.” He says and Natasha can almost imagine him face palming.

“ I didn’t. He just heard James talking to me. You really think I would be that careless?” She’s almost offended he would assume that.

“You sure you didn’t just time it that way to get a reaction from him? He’s engaged now Natasha,” he sighs.

She glances back to make sure James is asleep before replying,

“ What do you mean Clint? I know he’s engaged. I wasn’t trying anything. I know I screwed up the day I left him.”

“I can’t believe you’re trying to conceal things from me now Nat. Do you really think it’s gonna work? Like I don’t already know what you would do to get him back.” He says forcefully and Natasha’s a little mad that he’s bringing that up right now. She really doesn’t need a reminder of her failure.

“Can we please just talk about this some other time?” Natasha pleaded, not being able to take it anymore.

“Whatever you say. I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be back in a few days,” she’s relieved when she hears this.

“Did Tony talk to you about the accords and what’s gonna happen to you and Scott?” She said almost intrigued.

“Yeah. We have to sign. And make a decision if we want to become an active member of the team or retire. Then voila, the ankle monitor comes off and we get off house arrest,” as he said that Natasha could feel the happiness in his voice.

“I’m glad. I’ll see you in a few days okay?”

“Yeah. Just don’t screw things up worse before I get there.” He’s so smug at times it’s annoying.

“You wish,” she says as she hangs up.

Sometimes she wonders what they did to deserve Tony. The man did think through every possible scenario before drafting the accords. Now only if she could get him to open up to her again, she thought as she headed back to bed. And before she knew it she was dreaming about him again.

 

A week before Lagos, 2016

 

Natasha was just back from the gym when she heard a knock at her door. She smiled knowing it was probably Tony.

“I’m bored Nat,” he whined and entered the room before flopping onto the mattress headfirst. She shook her head at his antics.

“What do you want me to do?” She asked as she laid down on the bed next to him and propped her head on her hand. She used her other hand to rake her fingers through his hair as Tony sighed contentedly.

“I don’t know watch a movie, play a game. Anything,” he said shrugging his shoulders.

“ You go ahead and decide. I’m gonna go take a shower.” She said as she started to move from the bed just as he took ahold of her arm.

“Can I join you?” He said suggestively.

“You wish,” she said trying to hide her blush as she detached his hand from her arm.

“Your loss,” she heard Tony screaming as she entered the shower.

As soon as she got out, she knew he was upto no good. He was still laying on her bed with that excited glint in his eyes. Then he looked at her and she remembered why she hated having him in her room.

She always got conscious when he looked at her like that, like she was the most important thing to him in the world. She wondered what he was thinking about at times like this and it was almost uncomfortable because she had an inkling of exactly what he was thinking about.

Trying to push those thoughts out of her head, she asked,

“ So you decide anything yet?”

He began to get up from the bed as he raised himself to her level.

“Strip poker,” he said and Natasha couldn’t help but be nervous.

“In your dreams,” she said trying to conceal how fidgety she was getting.

“Oh absolutely. But come on it’ll be fun.” He said with those big brown eyes of his. He knew Natasha had a hard time saying no to them.

Well damn him, she thought.

“No way Tony. Let’s just watch a movie. You get to choose,” she said obviously trying to avoid playing strip poker.

She knew she would win. That just made it worse. She didn’t wanna find out if she could control herself around him when he was naked. It was already tough as it was. As fragile as their relationship already was, she still wasn’t ready to rush anything.

He naturally chose to watch back to the future for the thousandth time. And somehow she didn’t mind. They were wrapped around each other on the couch sharing the same blanket and watching each other more than the movie when Clint entered the common area.

“I don’t even wanna know what you guys are doing,” he says with disgust and leaves the room.

This causes her and Tony to break into laughter. And all she remembers afterwards is falling asleep or at least pretending to in Tony’s arms and him kissing her forehead when he tucks her into bed.


*******

Looking back to those days, she knows she would give anything to get that Tony back and she wants nothing more than for him to be happy again. They probably never imagined what was coming for them just a week later. When everything they had was snatched away.

Sometimes she thinks it’s unfair that the two of them had to suffer so much. That no one else faced the loss they did through his fight with Cap but she knows she’d be wrong. Like he said long ago that they can never be just friends. She wonders if that still holds true to them. And if that does then what does it mean for them now.

Chapter Text

Tony wakes up in the middle of the night. That day flashes before his eyes. The fight with Nat, followed by the bunker then Nat leaving him at the compound.

“Are you incapable of letting go of your ego for one goddamn second?!” Her words echoed in his head and he wondered if that’s why she never wanted to get involved with him.

Was he really that unworthy of her? Did she despise him that much? Was all that they shared just an act? A part of him would say, it couldn’t be. He saw it in her eyes everytime they spoke. He saw it the night she said goodbye. But then he would start thinking rationally and he knew there was no other reason for her to not let him in. Maybe Bucky Barnes was all she wanted after all.

He had made up his mind. There was no way Natasha would see him break again, she wouldn’t give him that satisfaction. His head hurts just thinking about it and he knows he won’t get any sleep tonight. So he gets up and decides to get coffee and maybe put some time in the lab. Though as soon as he gets out of his room and into the hallway, Friday informs him of Pepper’s arrival. He’s so relieved that she’s here.

“Pep, you’re here,” he says as he rushes into her arms looking for comfort.

“Tony, baby are you alright?” She soothes him and he buries his face into the crook of her neck.

“I’m just glad you’re here with me.” He says and he means it. After the toll today took on him, she’s the only one who could make him feel better.

“Let’s go to bed okay? We’ll talk in the morning,” she coos and takes him back to their room.

After they’re tucked into bed and she had Tony in her arms, he was grateful that she’s here. Knowing that he had her almost helped keep the nightmares at bay. But it didn’t help with the nagging feeling at the back of his head.

The only other person who could calm him down, the only person he has ever wanted that much was in someone else’s arms right at that moment.

 

******

Natasha was anxious about today. She really wanted it to have a better outcome than yesterday. She doesn’t think she can go through that again. With that thought in her mind, she gets up and takes a shower before going downstairs into the kitchen. James had been awake for a few hours already.

As she entered into the kitchen she saw Steve and James talking about training and getting combat ready again. She was almost amused to see them this excited to fight bad guys. Maybe soldiers will always be soldiers.

She sat at the table which was already filled with pancakes, toast and every possible fruit you could imagine feeling a little overwhelmed.

“You make these Cap?” she enquired pointing at the food knowing how much Steve loved to cook but how he lost all interest in it the last few months.

“Yeah, I thought Tony would appreciate it. And I was finally in a mood to cook after a long time,” he said with a smile on his face.

Huh that’s interesting, she thought. Did they make up or something?

Steve then sat facing her and James was by her side just as Tony entered the room, still groggy and it was obvious he didn’t sleep well last night. She can’t help but wonder if it was for her, she also hates how much she hopes it was.

“Where’s the coffee?” He says and she had to smile. He still couldn’t start his day without coffee.

“I’ll get started on our brew,” Natasha said more out of habit than anything else as Tony suddenly looks at her and she realises what she just implied.

Their brew. The one she made for him every morning. The one they’d drink couple of times a day, whether in the morning or while being curled up on the couch together. Suddenly she could feel all eyes on her.

“ You know what I don’t want coffee today,” he said making it a point to not look at her.

Before he continued, “Cap, could you pass me the bread,” as he sat down.

If Steve and James felt the tension in the room, they sure didn’t comment on it as she sat back down. Before she could even process how she was feeling, Pepper sauntered into the room stopping just before Tony.

“Morning Tony,” she said and bent down to give him a kiss.

“Good morning babe,” Tony replied with a wide smile.

And Natasha felt her heart constrict in pain. This shouldn’t bother her so much. Since she knew she’d be around them quite often. Nonetheless she couldn’t help but wonder if this is how Tony felt when he found out about her and James.

”Pepper how are you? It's been so long,” she hears Cap say and a dark look passes over Pepper. She looks in Tony’s direction and he nods.

“I’m doing okay. How is it being back?” She says getting the okay from Tony. 

She tunes out everything happening in the room in favour of watching Tony. Pepper’s hand around his shoulder and how his face lit up the moment she entered. Then,

“Doll, you haven’t even touched your food,” James said concerned.

“I was just thinking about something,” she brushed him off before resuming eating.

One by one Rhodey, Sam, Wanda and the others all came for breakfast and she couldn’t help but notice how Tony interacted with them all.

Her heart drops when she realises he never even acknowledged her.

Chapter Text

Natasha wasn’t happy. She was furious to say the least. It was almost 10 at night and she didn’t get a single moment alone with Tony. How were they supposed to hash things out if they couldn’t even talk?

Now Rhodey wanted them to gather in the conference room and she really couldn’t think straight. Let alone get the facts about a briefing.

Pepper being there really put a dent in her plans. She was always around Tony and it was almost like he didn’t want her and Pepper to interact either.

As they entered the conference room she was sitting next to Wanda but her gaze had been on Tony the entire time. He seemed tense and she wondered what this was about.

“So all of you know who Thaddeus Ross is right?” Rhodey began and she had to divert her attention to him.

At the nod of heads in the room Rhodey continued,

“He was completely against any kind of amendment to the original accords or to granting pardons to the rogues,” he pointed at them.

“So we kicked him out of the accords enforcing council,” Tony pitched in.

Now Natasha was intrigued,

“What did you do?” She asked directing the question to Tony.

“Footage of the Raft where he held Wanda and the others. Then his experiments on Banner. We collected everything we could find against him and presented it to the council.” Tony said as an answer to her question barely looking at her.

“But now he’s obviously not happy being kicked from both the council and his position as secretary of the state. So he’s targeting Tony now. We’re just worried how low he’s willing to stoop to get to Tony because if the accords were any indication then we really need to be wary.” Rhodey said trying to hide his concern about Tony.

“What do we need to do?” Cap said as ready as ever to march into battle.

“Nothing extensive. We got info that  he’s trying to get the book again. The one with trigger words for Barnes. That obviously isn’t a threat any longer since you got all of that out of his head. But he doesn’t know that. So we use that to our advantage. This is the best lead we have on him and I’d like to handle him as soon as possible.” Tony said trying time gauge James and Cap’s reaction.

She could feel James stiffen beside her so she took his hands in hers to calm him down. He really didn’t need to relive all of that.

“ What do you need us to do?” She looked at Rhodey this time around knowing Tony would most likely ignore her.

“I need you to go undercover. Everyone under his command in military still backs him up. You could  infiltrate their base of operations and figure out how exactly he wants to use the book or the soldier against Tony.” Rhodey says and she’s almost happy at his vote of confidence.

Bucky speaks up from beside her and she can’t help but inwardly cringe.

“Is that safe? Don’t they already know how Natalia looks?” Sometimes she feels bad for him. How he still thinks that he needs to stand up for her. Though before she could say anything, she sees Tony perk up at this.

“ She’ll be fine Barnes. Manipulating and lying are her forte. She’s a spy. That’s what she does,” he says with so much venom in his words that Natasha feels her heart break. He doesn’t look at her once. She’s almost about to say something when Rhodey speaks up,

“ Then Cap you can run point on locating Ross as soon as Natasha figures out what they’re upto.” Steve nods at this.

“All we have to do afterwards is use a decoy red book and use Barnes as bait.” Tony adds and James nods.

“Natasha you have to start tomorrow. All the information’s in this file. Tony and I will be maintaining communication the entire time if something goes south.” Rhodey says pushing the file towards her. Then all of them move out of the room.

James approaches her looking concerned.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?”

“This is what I do for a living James.  I’m pretty in my element. So you don’t have to worry,” she says feeling guilty when Tony enters her mind once again. She can’t help but think how she’d rather have Tony worry about her. Just that thought warms up her heart.

As she’s moving out of the room she comes face to face with Pepper. She can see her lips press into a thin line and she wonders if Pepper knows about her and Tony.

“Hey, Pepper.” She says trying to initiate conversation.

“Natasha. How are you?” She asks but Natasha can clearly see she doesn’t really want to talk to her.

“I’m okay. Must be exhausting being SI’s CEO. Pretty sure not as exhausting as being Tony’s assistant though,” She tries to lighten the mood.

“Not really. I love doing that job and I’m grateful to Tony for giving me that opportunity. A few people take him for granted. But I appreciate him for everything he has ever done,” she says and Natasha gets that she’s still bitter about her betrayal and Siberia. Now she’s not sure Pepper even knows who brought him back home.

“I’ll just go and find Tony then.” Natasha said getting the gist that Pepper clearly wasn’t interested in talking to her.

She tries to locate Tony and finally finds him alone in his lab. She missed seeing him like this. That look on his face when he invented something or figured something out never failed amaze Natasha.

“Tony, you working on something?” She says cautiously. He doesn’t even glance her way.

She decides it’s better to talk about work.

“ The Ross thing. How does he know you went after him? I’m pretty sure the council kept the decision anonymous.” She saw something shift in him.

“I warned him when he refused to accept the new conditions to the accords. I told him I’d come for him. He’s smart enough to know that no one else would be able to gather that information about him.” He said being as detached as possible.

“ Are you worried?” She prods but he gives no response yet again.

God this would be so much easier if she could just touch him. She tries to step closer to him.

“You should go and prepare for the mission tomorrow. It’s not gonna be that easy.” Tony says and moves around her to get out of the lab.

She wanted to break down, wanted to scream at him in that moment but all she could do was watch his back as he left. She didn’t expect him to forgive her this easy but she expected some kind of a reaction. She hoped he would be mad at her, scream, tell her what she did wrong. But anything would be better than his stoic resignation.

She really doesn’t think she can take his indifference any longer.

Chapter Text

Natasha got up early in the morning. She had to prepare for the mission and her current emotional state didn’t really help. She needed to clear her mind and go for a run. But she decides she needs some caffeine before starting.

As soon as she enters the kitchen she sees Tony turning the coffeemaker on. He was awake before her which only meant he didn’t sleep last night.

“Hey, could you make some for me as well?” She says and he makes it a point to brew more for her separately without saying a word.

“Were you working on something? You don’t look like you got much sleep.” She prods further. She wasn’t giving up so easily.

“Just some updates on Peter’s suit.” He says and she wonders who that is. Right. The spider kid.

“You both seem to have grown close,” she moves towards him and she decides enough is enough.

“Come on Tony. What’s wrong with you? Do you have to avoid me like that? What happened to being teammates?” She’s frustrated at him for pushing her this far.

“Right teammates. That’s all we are. I kind of forget how much you wanted me to stand by that even when we were so much more.” He says finally turning towards her.

“What do you mean!? I never denied what was happening between us. You know I didn’t. You can’t start blaming me right now just because you’re hurt!” She couldn’t believe him right now. And the dam of emotions broke open and she couldn’t stop.

“ You talk to everyone in the room. Even Cap, and James but somehow conveniently forget I exist. Who’s being petty then Tony?”

“ So what you mean to say is I don’t have a right to be mad at you any longer? I can’t even be pissed at you for betraying me, then siding with Cap. Then leaving me alone?! That too just a few days after you told me that you wanted to be with me. Do you have any clue how hopeful I was, how happy I was that we finally get to be together?” Tony’s screaming now and Natasha’s grateful everyone else is still sleeping.

“ I never meant to hurt you Tony! You have to understand I had to choose between saving this team and saving our relationship. I thought letting Cap and James go would mean that you wouldn’t be harmed. That all of you would be safe. I did what I felt was right and I’m so sorry Tony that it wasn’t the right decision. I never imagined that my decision would lead to Siberia. If I knew that’s what’s going to happen? I never would’ve put you in harms way knowingly.” As soon as she looked into his eyes she knew she had let him know,

“ And I meant it when I said I wanted us to be together. I just never realised what would’ve happened by the time that week was over,” she says almost as a whisper.

That seems to bring up an almost solemn expression on his face.

“Do you know what my perspective was Natasha? I saw one my closest friends and the woman I love betray me and hurt me in every way possible. I trusted you both with my life. Hell you know there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done for you. And that’s what I get in return.” She can feel herself begin to tear up when she realises that’s the first time he ever accepted that he loved her.

“You can’t imagine the countless nights I spent, trying to convince myself that what we had wasn’t an act. That you felt the same way for me. And I even managed to make myself believe that. Until you come here, already moving on with a guy who killed my parents while you lead me on for months telling me you weren’t ready. You should’ve just told me you didn’t want me because this hurts me way more than that rejection ever could,” he says dejected and Natasha catches ahold of him arm before he can leave.

She cupped his face trying so hard not to break down, as she says,

“I know I hurt you. And I know this apology won’t mean anything but I love you and I always will. This doesn’t change anything, doesn’t change how I feel about you. I wish I could make you trust me again but I’m working on it and all I need from you is to give me one more chance?”

“That’s where you’re wrong Natasha. All that I felt for you ended the moment you came here with Barnes in tow. That was the last straw. I can’t ever feel the same for you.” He says looking straight into her eyes.

“How can you even say that when you moved on with Pepper as well? I never blamed you for that and you can deny it all you want but all I still see in your eyes is how you feel for me.” She says as he detaches himself from her.

“We can’t ever go back to what we were. I’ll never hurt Pepper like that. You know why? Because I can’t and won’t ever be like you,” he says as he leaves the room.

If Natasha had any hope that their relationship could be salvaged then all of that shattered today. All she could take to soothe herself from this was that she wasn’t the only one whose heart broke. She tries to convince herself they’ll be happier with Pepper and James than with each other even though she knows that’s not true.

She needed to prepare for her mission and she really hoped this wouldn’t weigh on her mind the entire time.

Chapter Text

Tony couldn’t believe this was happening. Natasha was halfway done through her mission. And then out of nowhere the coms were down and they lost all communication with her. He doesn’t remember ever being this panic stricken and he was taken captive in a cave by the ten rings. So that says something.

Natasha was in a class of her own when it came to espionage. And Tony couldn’t help but be worried since he’s never lost track of her in a mission like this. He knew she was on edge and now he’s contemplating if he took it too far. Maybe she wasn’t as vigilant as she was supposed to be and it was probably his fault.

Before Tony could tear himself apart though, she comes through the door. And Tony sighs of relief. That’s until he sees her disheveled appearance.

Clothes torn and cuts and bruises everywhere.

That concern for her kicks in back again until he moves towards her almost about to give her a hug but realises she doesn’t even look at him and stops.

“Got the info. He’s planning to hit the Joint Terrorist Counter Office tonight. He’s already got a mole in there. He’s gonna acquire the book then James always goes out for a jog in the morning that’s when they plan to get him. Ross has been surveilling the compound ever since we moved back.” She says calmly even though Tony can see that she’s a little shaken.

“Okay got it. I’ll just let Cap know,” Rhodey says as he begins to move out of the room.

“Are you okay? Did something go wrong?” Tony says and he can’t help it. He needs to know she’s alright.

“One of the guys got suspicious. He’s dead now,” she said that with a steely look on her face. Then she begins to move out of the room.

Tony wasn’t going to be phased by her avoidance. He had been on the receiving end of it way too many times to be unsettled. After what he said in the morning he should’ve guessed she would only take his indifference for so long. He begins to follow her out.

“You need to get someone to take a look at your wounds,” Tony said hoping she wouldn’t be difficult.

“I can manage it myself,” she said being just as stubborn.

“I’ll do it. Come on Natasha. We’re teammates,” that seemed to stop her. It’s almost as if she weighed the pros and cons of that in that moment before nodding her head.

They were in his lab. Tony wasn’t particularly comfortable being alone with her these days. Which was ironic considering the extents he went to, to make sure they got time alone a few months back.

“Do you know why the guy got suspicious?” She spoke up and Tony shook his head and put his attention on tending to her wounds. It was never going to be easy seeing her in this condition.

“I wasn’t careful enough. I was inattentive, busy thinking about how I could make it up to you, how you could possibly talk to me again that I almost forgot I was on a mission. I jeopardised my position because of you and I decided I’m never going to go through that again. Not because of you or anybody else.” She was infuriated, more with herself than him. Now he’s regretting having that argument with her as he knows how much pride she takes in her work.

“You can’t join Cap now. The wounds are too deep. You’ll probably need the regeneration cradle after we’re done,” he says trying not to show how much he cares running his hands over the cut on her collarbone. He doesn’t want to fight any longer.

Natasha doesn’t say a word and leaves the lab without so much as a glance to him and Tony thinks it’s better this way.

He could deny it for all its worth but it’s never gonna change the fact that he’ll always love her. But all that love has ever done is hurt them, hurt both of them. And he’s not going to let that happen ever again.

 

*******

The mission was successful. Ross has been captured and Tony wasn’t in danger anymore. That’s the part she was the most grateful about. It didn’t matter how much she pretended not to care in front of him the truth is she always will.

She saw glimpses of her old Tony today. The one who was worried sick for her every time she was on a mission. That never failed to make her happy. But she had to hurt him in some way. He couldn’t get away with acknowledging there was nothing between them. It wasn’t fair to either of them.

She knew James wouldn’t be back until later today. They still had to interrogate Ross. So she cried herself to sleep. Hoping for some miracle to let them get back to the way they were.

 

The day before Lagos, 2016

 

Natasha was on a high. That’s apparently how being in love made you feel. She almost had a hard time believing how happy Tony made her. Last night they pretty much went on a date, no matter how many times he denied that it was in fact a date. When Tony cooked for her even though he wasn’t a fan of cooking, and made her laugh all night which was really uncharacteristic of her, she decided that she was going to give them a chance.

She couldn’t wait any longer. And if last night or even the last few months was an indication of how the rest of their lives were supposed to be then she knew she was making the right decision.

She just had to wait until this mission was over.

They had to track down Rumlow at any cost. The only thread left in Hydra. She also promised Cap she was going to help him locate Barnes and she wasn’t going back on that promise. She still hasn’t told Tony anything about Barnes and she didn’t feel particularly okay with keeping him the dark about their previous relationship but she doesn’t want to ruin an already perfect day. But someday she’ll tell him.

“I can’t believe you’re going on a mission again.” Tony said as he wrapped his arms around her waist from behind her.

“Not everyone can retire from active duty,” she teases leaning into him.

“Cap’s just hellbent on ruining my love life,” he jokes burying his face into her hair.

She turns around and wraps her arms around his neck.

“Love life huh? I thought we were just friends,” she says with an innocent look on her face.

“Yeah right. Do you really have to go?” He whines holding her closer to him.

“You know this is the first solid lead we have had on Rumlow in a while. I gotta help Steve see this through.” Though she wishes she could just stay here with him.

“I know I know. I just want you all to myself. I’m selfish like that,” he sighs as she lays her head on his shoulder.

“You’re anything but selfish Tony Stark. I don’t know when I’m going to be back but I’m gonna miss you,” she says trailing her hand down his chest.

“I’m gonna miss you too. You realise we’re talking like a cheesy old couple right?”

“What’s so bad about that?” She says giving a peck on his cheek and getting ready to leave.

As soon as she’s back she’s gonna tell him how she really feels. And she can’t wait to for them to really be together afterwards.

Chapter Text

Tony was anxious. He desperately wanted to persuade himself that what happened to Natasha wasn’t his fault. Now he thinks he was being unnecessarily harsh with her. He needed reassurance that she was really fine. She probably didn’t even think to change her bandages. Damn that woman and her stubbornness.

Though he doubted if he still had the right to go check up on her. She has Barnes. She’ll be okay, he tried to console himself but it wasn’t working.

He was pacing in his room and Pepper was asleep. It was 10 past 3 in the morning and he knew that checking up on her right now would be crossing his limits. Not to mention explaining to Barnes why he was there. Just then Pepper stirs in her sleep. He still hadn’t said anything to her.

“Tony, are you kidding me? It’s 3 in the morning!” She says oblivious to his current train of thought.

“Just go back to sleep Pep,” he says tiredly then she gets up from bed now aware of his mood.

“What’s wrong baby?” She asks as she turns him towards herself.

“I wanted to tell you something but it’s late and I’m not sure you will be able to process it. We’ll just talk later,” wondering when he’s gonna get a chance to come clean to her.

“My flight leaves at 8 Tony. We won’t get a chance to talk until weeks later. So please just tell me what’s on your mind?” She requested and he decided now was as good a time as any.

“Do you remember when we broke up and I moved into the compound?” He asked and she nods her head.

“During that time Natasha and I... we were together,” he mentally face palms himself. That sounded horrible.

“What do you mean together?” She raised her eyebrows almost skeptically.

“We had feelings for each other. Both of us. And then I had my fight with Cap and you know the rest,” he trailed off.

He could see Pepper gulp down, unable to grasp whatever he was saying or maybe she did and wanted to pretend she didn’t just hear her fiancé talk about another woman who was technically currently residing in the same house as him.

“Were you serious about her?” Pepper asks cautiously and he knows he should be truthful but it would just make matters worse.

“It never lead to anything significant,” He says trying to be vague.

“Do you still have feelings for her?” She asks closing her eyes almost hoping he’d say he doesn’t. He decides he can’t do this to her when the truth would most likely hurt her.

“Not in any way that matters. All those feelings died down the day she betrayed me.” He’s almost trying to convince himself that that’s the truth.

Pepper nods her head. Obviously not in a good mood.

“ I’m glad you didn’t hide it from me Tony. Even though I know I can trust you. Should I trust her? Should I leave in the morning with you both living under the same roof?” She asks needing reassurance.

He holds out his arms as a gesture and she curls up against him.

“You have nothing to be worried about love.”

Tony knows it’s the half truth. But he can’t come to terms with how she’d behave if she got to know the extent of his feelings for Natasha. Or that he kissed her literally the day she came back to the compound. That wouldn’t help with the team or with the relationship. And he couldn’t take that risk this far into it.

But it makes him feel a little better that Pepper’s at least aware of it.

 

******

Natasha was sore and tired and bruised all over. Not to mention mentally and emotionally exhausted. Not the best start to a day, she had to admit.

James had woken her up urging her to eat something. Now they were all sitting at the breakfast table save Tony and Pepper.

“It’s your favourite,” James says placing ginger tea in front of her. She didn’t have the heart to tell him she really shouldn’t be drinking that. Then Tony walks into the room with Pepper in tow and finally meets her eyes.

“Are you seriously drinking ginger tea Natasha? You know it’s gonna slow down your healing,” he says almost irritated that she’d be this careless. He scoops the tea from in front of her and dumps it in the sink. Before making a cup of coffee and handing it to her.

Tony and his incessant need to care for her was heartwarming. She was about to break into a smile before noticing James’ expression. Followed by Pepper’s narrowed eyes and realised that probably wasn’t the best thing.

Cap cleared his throat as he got everyone’s attention.

“We might have a problem on our hands,” he says pointing at the TV.

The Hulk sighted in downtown Manhattan.

Chapter Text

“Well the green rage monster’s back,” Tony jokes as he takes a seat next to Pepper as she swats his arm.

“He’s you friend Tony. Don’t be so insensitive,” she reprimands.

Sometimes she wonders how Pepper and Tony’s relationship even works. They could literally be displayed as polar opposites of each other. But she guesses that whole opposites attract bullshit might have some weight to it after all. 

Natasha wished she wasn’t so prone to analysing people. The last thing she wanted to do was dissect Tony’s relationship with another woman. She might be a masochist after all.

She could almost pretend they were a normal functional family when they were just seated across a table having breakfast, with Wanda teaching Vision normal human etiquette except now they had to worry about finding the Hulk.  

Speaking of the Hulk, that’s another guy she wished she never came across again. She wonders why she wanted him to like her so much. She went so far as to even agree to run away with him. Sometimes she really had doubts about her judgement. Until her eyes would flick to Tony and she decided her judgement wasn’t too impaired when it came to love. 

“We need to track him down. Do you have something to help with that Tony?” Steve questions looking in Tony’s direction. 

“Do you even have to ask?” Tony replies ever so confident. And begins to shuffle out of the room. Clearly a cue that they’re meant to follow him. He stops at the lab and points at his computer. 

“I secured Shield’s database after the organisation fell. They were tracking Banner ever since Harlem. I’m pretty sure it’s still active.” He says with a smug expression on his face.

“I’ll just hack into the server and see what I can get,” she says but Tony roughly moves her and says, 

“God you might be the expert hacker in this room but you’re forgetting I’m the genius and I’m better than you ever will be,” as he sits down to work.

Natasha could clearly see the concern in his eyes which conveyed to her that he didn’t want her taxing herself out. 

But James obviously didn’t see it that way. 

“Stark do you have to be like that to Natalia at every given opportunity? She didn’t do anything wrong.” James snapped and Natasha was suddenly fearful of what this would lead to. 

Tony had a look in his eyes which was almost daunting.

“Oh yeah? I’m pretty sure the Black Widow doesn’t need her guy to stand up for her. She’s more than capable Barnes,” Tony taunts. And she can see James clench his fists.

“She’s just trying not to madden you after everything that happened. She’s being considerate. You on the other hand are not. Do you really think taking out your frustration over your failures on her will make you look any stronger?” James had a fire in his eyes which almost scared her. 

“You think you know her so well don’t you?” As Tony’s about to continue he sees her shake her head and finally composes himself before saying,

“You know what we’ll continue this some other time.” Tony says looking at her again. 

“James just stop. We can’t afford to waste anymore time. And he’s right he’s faster than I am,” she tries to persuade him. 

“But doll...,” he tries but Natasha cuts him off. 

“Finding Banner is our first priority.” That finally seems to calm James down. And she’s relieved that this did not turn ugly. 

They finally get a hit on Banner and Cap’s already telling them to suit up just as Pepper knocks on the door to the lab. 

“Guys I’m leaving,” she waves to all of them before Natasha says,

“Have a safe flight,” and she can clearly see Pepper’s face turn a little hostile as she doesn’t even acknowledge Natasha’s greeting. 

“Tony do you have a minute?” She then asks him as Tony begins to move towards her.

She can barely make out what they’re saying except her telling him to be careful and then kissing him at which point Natasha turned her face away.

Well that was weird. Natasha and Pepper weren’t ever friends but they always were friendly. They had their differences ever since Natasha disguised herself as Natalie Rushman to infiltrate SI and get closer to Tony. Though she’s pretty sure she understood the need for that. Ever since then they’ve never not been civil to each other. And their interaction right now didn’t seem to be related to her betrayal. Just then Natasha realised, Tony told her about them.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Tony was trying to act nonchalant but honestly he was a little worried. Bruce was his friend and it didn’t help that he disappeared off the face of earth for a few years just to appear out of thin air now.

He remembered how glad he was to find someone who actually was as interested in science and inventions as much as he was. It was just natural that they bonded. Tony would even go as far as to say he was probably the closest friend he had after Rhodey.

Not Natasha withstanding, not that they ever were friends though. It was all flirting and sexual tension until it turned into something more.

He smacked himself on the back of his head as he ventured into her thoughts again. It was ridiculous how his brain managed to make everything about Natasha.

His phone buzzed and he laughed seeing Clint’s caller ID. It was a picture of when he was drunk and accidentally tried on the iron man suit. He picked it up glad to hear from him again.

“Hey, Tin-Man. I thought you had some documents that you needed me to sign.” Clint singsonged.

“Yeah yeah Legolas. They’re here. I’ve just been busy the last few days.” Tony said.

“What happened to returning  and sitting behind a desk?” Clint asked knowing exactly what happened.

“Just realised the world needed Tony Stark too much,” he joked.

“So what’s got you so busy right now. I can hear your Armor getting updated.” And Tony was surprised how sharp this man was even though he needed hearing aids.

“Banner’s resurfaced. We just got a hit on his location. Gonna head there in a few.”

“You got the Hulkbuster ready?” He can hear the concern in Clint’s voice.

“ You know you’re talking to me right?” He retorted.

“You never can be too careful around the big guy. We’ve first hand noticed how he gets Tony. A little caution might be the best right now.”

“I know Clint. You know what, you should join us. Like you said we need all the help we can get. I could hack into your ankle monitor so no one gets an inkling that you were there. And then I could get your sign on the documents and drop you home on the way.” He said knowing how helpful Clint was in these situations.

“I’ll suit up if you’re sure then. Let me know when you disable the monitor.” Clint says as he hangs up.

Just as he’s finished updating the suit Rhodey walks in.

“ We’re all suited up. I think we should move now Tones.” Rhodey says and he nods. This wasn’t gonna be pleasant.

They got to the location in downtown Manhattan as Tony took point on the search.

“He’s in that abandoned building half a mile ahead. We could surround him from all sides and lure him out into the open. That way we could limit his movements with Friday’s help.” Tony says as everyone agrees before Natasha speaks up.

“Maybe I should go. The lullaby worked like a charm the last time. See if we can handle this without confrontation and minimise damage,” she provided a little unsure.

“ No, that’s way too much risk. We don’t know where he has been or who he is right now. For all we know he wouldn’t even recognise you. Not to mention the fact that you forcibly turned him into the hulk in Sokovia.” He says hoping she will back off. He was biased but he couldn’t let her get hurt.

“That’s true Nat. He might still be holding onto resentment.” Clint agreed and now he was glad he asked him to come as he backed him up on this.

“Then that’s all the more reason I should go. It might probably trigger him to transform back into Banner.” She said as stubborn as ever.

“We don’t know that for sure,” he tried to fight back but knew she was being rational.

“I’ll be fine. You guys can cover me. Tony, you already know the hulkbuster can take him. If something goes awry I’ll signal you guys in.” She says determined.

And Tony sighs as he knows she’s made up her mind.

“Okay, be careful. I’ll keep Veronica on standby.” She nods and moves towards the building as they all follow.

Natasha cautiously moves through the rubble when the Hulk finally notices her and let’s out a scream.

“Hey, big guy.” She soothes just for the Hulk to let out another massive growl. Tony can barely breath as she takes a few steps towards him.

There’s no sign of recognition in the Hulk as Natasha tries to land a hand on his arm.

“Sun’s going down. The sun’s getting really low,” Natasha coos and Tony thinks it’s working as the Hulk turns it’s head.

Then before the blink of an eye the Hulk smashes Natasha away with all it’s force.

Tony screams tuning everything out and flies forward trying to catch Natasha before she falls. He aims and shoots one of his repulsors at the Hulk just as he begins to morph into Banner.

Just as he had Natasha in his arms, he directed the sentence at everyone,

“You guys handle Banner. I’ll get Natasha to the hospital as soon as possible.”

Everyone seemed to agree except Barnes but even he saw the logic in his words and didn’t argue as Tony flew Natasha to the hospital. He made sure she was breathing and he wonders why he ever let her go into that building.

Chapter Text

In all honesty, Tony didn’t mean to hijack Natasha. It was more of a spur of the moment decision which he can’t exactly justify right now. He had gotten Natasha to the hospital right in the nick of time as the doctors explained.

She had suffered from major head trauma and was kept under observation for 24 hours. They had explained all that could go wrong when she wakes up. But they assured him she wouldn’t have any long term memory loss or chances of slipping into Coma. She might forget what happened, persistent headaches, Vertigo and the like. She also shouldn’t be exposed to stress. Well there went his idea of screaming at her.

Though she might take a few days to wake up. So as soon as the 24 hour observation was complete and she hadn’t woken up, Tony decided to take her back to the compound. He realised that’s not something he should be deciding by himself. He probably didn’t even have the right to. But he was feeling guilty, worried and possessive all at the same time. So he somehow managed to convince Barnes and Clint to shift her to his suite in the compound.

“ I think we should shift her to the compound,” Tony suggested, but it came out as more of a demand.

“She just suffered a huge blow to the head! We shouldn’t be moving her anywhere,” Barnes said stubbornly.

“Who would Natasha want to make that decision for her? Who’s the medical proxy?” Steve asks always being the calm one.

“I am. Tony, you sure that’s the right thing for her?” Clint asks.

“Absolutely. I have a better medical staff and way better patient care than this hospital could afford. You’ve been treated at the compound a thousand times Clint. What do you think would be better for her?” Tony asks hoping that’d convince him.

“I don’t know about all that medical jargon, but Nat trusts Tony’s opinion and he’s well informed when it comes to this stuff. So I think we should move her,” Clint says and Tony’s relieved. He’s so happy he decided not to freeze out Clint after the whole accords situation because if that would’ve been the case, he’s not so sure Clint would be agreeing with him now.

However he could feel Barnes grow agitated that he didn’t get a say in this. He didn’t care anyway. Natasha would deal with him when she wakes up.

Now that Natasha had been shifted to his suite he just needed to make sure he’d be the first to see her. With Clint and Barnes there it was next to impossible so he just decides to lie instead. It wasn’t the right thing to do but desperate times call for desperate measures.

“I just talked to the doctor. No one’s allowed in until she wakes up. Medical personnel only.” He says trying not to let any of his nervousness show. He was literally lying to two super soldiers and a spy so it had to be convincing.

“Will they let us know if there’s any change?” Barnes enquires and he nods.

“I’ll just go get some sleep,” he says.

As he’s leaving the lobby he hears Barnes get frustrated and say,

“Stark doesn’t even care about her. I can’t believe you’d trust his judgement when regards to her.”

Tony scoffs, if only he knew. Getting back in the Iron Man suit and manoeuvring himself back into his suite through the window. Now all he had to do was wait for Natasha to get up.

Tony woke up in the middle of the night. He fell asleep in the lounge chair next to Natasha’s bed as he didn’t want to let her out of his sight. Just as he became aware of his surroundings, he saw Natasha stir in the bed.

And a while later he heard her call out his name and moved to her bedside.

“Hey, hey you’re okay now. It’s me. We’re in the compound,” He said lightly, hoping not to hurt her head as she begins to open her eyes.

“Water...” she rasped.

He raised her bed and handed her the glass of water making sure she could drink it.

“What happened? Banner?” She trailed off and Tony was glad she at least remembered what happened.

“You got knocked out. Suffered from major head trauma. You’re okay now though.”

“How long was I out?” She was speaking a bit clearer now.

“2 days. You should be glad I hijacked you. I’m pretty sure Clint and Barnes wouldn’t be elated to hear you call my name first when you woke up,” he couldn’t help but feel a little happy at that.

“Hijacked?” She asks confused.

“ I might’ve bullied them into shifting you here from the hospital and made sure that I was the first to meet you,” he shrugs his shoulders as he moves away from the bed.

“And they let you?” Somehow even in this condition she was raising her eyebrows at him.

“Wasn’t an easy conversation to have but I can be very persuasive,” but Natasha didn’t believe that at all as she looked on skeptically. Tony sighed.

“I might’ve also implied that no one was allowed in except medical staff until you woke up,” he says nonchalantly and he can see her lips turn up.

“Wanted to see me first that bad huh? Why?” She asked intrigued.

“You went into that building because of me. It’s my fault,” he says as he leans against the wall across from her.

“No, Tony. I went there of my own accord. You can’t blame yourself for that,” Natasha said forcefully.

“I was leading the team. I should’ve been strict. I shouldn’t have been persuaded by your rationale. I knew there was a chance it wouldn’t work and that you would be in danger but I let you anyway. If Cap was the one in charge I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t have happened,” he says resigned.

“Tony, it doesn’t matter who was leading us. Do you really think you could convince me once I had made up my mind? You know I’d have done it anyway.” He hates how she’s concerned for him even though she’s the one lying in a hospital bed.

“You don’t get it Natasha. You got injured twice in the past week. Both times under my supervision. If it’s anyone’s fault it’s mine. I can’t handle it when you’re hurt. The last two days were awful. And I don’t ever wanna go through that again,” he’s tearing up by the time he’s done.

“Tony come here.” She requests as he moves towards her and sits on the side of her bed.

“You can’t blame yourself just because I’m adamant.” She puts a hand on his cheek and he can’t take it anymore as he hugs her.

They lay there for what feels like hours with Natasha soothing Tony the entire time raking her fingers through his hair.

Tony wakes up the next morning  right in that position as he watches how peaceful Natasha looks in her sleep. He waits until she wakes up.

“I hate this. I hate fighting with you,” he says wanting nothing more than to fix things with her.

“I know. Me too.” She says looking into his eyes.

“ Friends again?” He questions hopefully.

“Casual friends? I thought that wouldn’t work out between us,” Natasha teases.

“Maybe it was true back then. Now I know what really matters. I don’t want to cut you out from my life. It’s way too painful and I hate not being able to talk to you.” He confesses.

“Friends then,” she says holding out her hand which Tony clasps tightly in his.

“I should probably let your best friend and boyfriend know you’re awake,” he jokes while leaving the room, just to emerge back in a second to add “Please don’t tell them what I did. They’ll probably incapacitate me. At least Barnes definitely will.”

And the last thing he hears is Natasha laughing at his antics.

Chapter Text

Natasha was happy. That wasn’t something typical for a patient of head trauma to say but she’d just patched up with Tony. Sure she had a pounding headache and could barely breath without hurting her head but it was worth it. They’d finally buried their hatchet and Tony was almost back to normal. She missed seeing him laugh.

She was still laughing when Clint entered the room. He moved carefully through the room almost as if she was fragile which admittedly she was at this moment.

“Hey, Nat. How are you feeling now?” Clint asked cautiously.

“Sore and like someone’s hitting my head with a blunt object repeatedly but otherwise I’m fine,” she snarked.

“Look at you being a smart ass already,” Clint laughed and the relief was evident in his eyes.

“So how did your conversation with Tony go?” Clint asked again and Natasha’s eyes snapped up.

“How did you get to know?” She asked trying to gauge if he was mad at Tony.

“He apparently went to sleep at 9 last night which I don’t think he ever does and I just saw him the happiest I’ve seen him in a while. Wasn’t that hard to put two and two together. It was kind of obvious he was with you,” He shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal.

“He just wanted to sort things out and talk to me first. Does James know?” She asks knowing he wouldn’t take it well.

“No way. He’d probably kill Tony if he finds out. He wanted to see you first anyway,” he said shuddering at the thought of James knowing.

“It’s better this way. What about Banner?” She asks suddenly reminded of him.

“He turned back into Banner a while after you got hurt. He’s been in the room Tony assigned him the last two days. We’re gonna have to talk to him eventually,” he says.

“Can we do it after I’m back on my feet? I’d like to talk to him,” she asked even though she knew the boys probably wouldn’t agree to that.

“I don’t want to let you. And I’m pretty sure James wouldn’t as well but I know for a fact you’re not gonna listen to us Nat. So I might as well say yes now,” he says shaking his head.

She smiled at him just as James knocked on the door,

“Can I come in now? If you guys are done,”

“Yeah go ahead. I don’t wanna face the Winter Soldier’s wrath keeping him from his girlfriend,” Clint joked as he went out of the room. James was always amused at how goofy Clint could get.

“I almost expected you to not let Clint come in first,” Natasha teased knowing how protective he got.

“Well yeah I strongly resisted the urge to do that. You would be proud of me really,” he said moving to the side of the bed and giving her a kiss.

“I missed you,” Natasha says smiling into the kiss.

“You have no clue, doll. I was worried sick. I’m just happy you’re alright now.” He seemed to have calmed down after seeing her.

“How long do I have to be here?” Natasha asks already tired of being confined to the bed.

“Do you want to move back to your room? We could arrange that. But you’d still need to be on bed rest for the next two days.” He says and she nods her head. She had expected the same.

“I guess I’ll just stay here for a few more days. No point in moving back to the room.”

“You up for some more visitors? Steve, Wanda and the others want to see you. Stark as well. Can you believe the guy went to sleep while all the rest of us were worried sick and awake for you all night?” James said getting a little raged.

“Don’t worry about it. That’s just how Tony is.” She said almost scared what would happen if he got to know.

The fact that James didn’t know anything about her and Tony bothered her. She wanted to tell him but it’d be too complicated. With their history and his increasing hostility towards Tony, she wasn’t sure it’d be in their best interest. The fight that day in the lab scared her and she didn’t want a repeat of that. So he needed to be kept in the dark for now even though she didn’t feel comfortable lying to him.

As James left the room, Tony came back and Natasha had to wonder if he moved her to his suite just to have better access.

“Hey. So your boyfriend doesn’t like me,” Tony said almost a little disappointed.

“Were you just eavesdropping on us?” She asked a little exasperated.

“It’s not my fault he’s so loud. Anyway feeling better now?”

“You saw me 2 hours ago Tony. I have a pounding headache but otherwise I’m fine.” She said acting irritated but finding his concern endearing. Now that it was morning she took a better look at him and it was obvious he didn’t get any rest last night.

“You look like shit,” she remarked.

“At least my ex didn’t give me head trauma. She just left me alone and then flaunted her new boyfriend in front of me but that’s fine,” he says in a teasing tone but has a hard time concealing how bitter he still is about that.

“Technically I can’t be your ex. We never dated,” she tries trying to keep things light. She can’t take another argument right now.

“Right. We were just cozying up to each other platonically.” He bites back and than falters,

“Sorry Nat just..let’s not bring that up,” he said looking down.

“Tony it’s fine. You’re allowed to be mad at me. I don’t expect things to go back to the way they were in a day.” She reasons extending her hand just as he takes it in his.

“Speaking of Exes, Banner’s back. How do you feel about that?” He asks.

“I don’t know. It’s kind of surprising to think that I was pretty much ready to run away with him and now there are no feelings there. Maybe I just wanted someone to love me, someone to accept the Black Widow. I probably just thought he’d be the one who got me you know,” she trails off.

“I used to be jealous of the guy. Of the fact that he got to be with you. Anyway it’s his loss.” He says looking at her as she realises what goes unsaid. It’s his loss.

“I want to talk to him when I get better,” she demands.

“I won’t let you. He hurt you. You just have to let me handle it.” Tony says with determination.

“I’m gonna talk to him anyway whether you like it or not. I was just letting you know,” she knows she’s pissing him off now.

“God you’re still just as stubborn. Not my decision to make anyway.” He gets up before adding, “You know you have a type right? You’re attracted to geniuses. It’s completely plausible you just went for him because the better looking one was unavailable at the time,” he jokes pointing to himself.

“What about James?” She says wanting to continue their banter but he just laughs and shakes his head.

Then he drops a kiss to her forehead which almost makes her go weak at the knees. He really shouldn’t be able to affect her like this.

Chapter Text

Natasha was finally free to go. The last two days were horrible. She decided she hated being on bed rest. Tony was the only reason it was at least bearable. He sneaked in everything she liked to eat while James and Clint were out. That saved her from eating whatever the doctor prescribed. Not the most responsible choice but when were they ever responsible.

She realised being friends with Tony wasn’t as bad as she thought it’d be. Yeah she craved for more. But she could almost pretend they were together again when they stayed up talking all night.

“What are you daydreaming about?” Clint asks pulling her out of her reverie.

“Nothing just happy I get to go back to work today,” she says.

“Whoa whoa slow down. You’re off bed rest. Doesn’t mean you get to fight bad guys already. And you sure Tony wasn’t a part of those thoughts?” Clint asks and she pouts. She doesn’t really like to discuss their relationship with others even though it’s just Clint.

“None of your business,” she says sticking her tongue out.

“What? You guys seem happy that’s all,” he says putting his hands up in mock surrender.

“We’re just friends now okay? We sorted everything out between us,” she said putting stress on the word friends.

“Maybe you should tell him you came back for him afterwards. Might help with being more than friends,” he says and Natasha’s face falls.

“I can’t. He’s happy with Pepper now Clint. You have to swear you’ll never tell him.” She says strictly.

“Like you said, none of my business. But I think he deserves to know what made you move on with James.”

“What? Do you not like James?” She asks seriously intrigued why he wanted her back with Tony.

“James is a decent guy. I can see you both care about each other. Both of you have a lot of history that even I’m not aware of. Tony on the other hand is my friend, so are you. And I know James can never replace Tony. You guys were... are in love. It’s obvious who you should be with. I just don’t want you to get hurt.” He says and Natasha has to process everything that Clint just said so all she does is nod.

 

3 Months After Siberia

Natasha needed to see Tony. She needed to let him know that she’d never leave him alone. She loves him and he needs to know just how much. Being with him while being on the run will be tough. But if that’s what it takes to save this relationship then that’s what she’ll do. The last few months just made her realise how he was a part of her. A part she couldn’t imagine her life without.

Which is why she’d risked her cover to come meet him at least once. Just to apologise properly. All she needed was a chance to explain herself. And this was the perfect opening.

He taught her how to hack into his servers just because she was curious. No one could possibly get inside SI’s or Tony Stark’s personal database but Tony himself. But he taught her how to as he wanted to show her how it works and because he trusted her that much.

She wasn’t happy about breaking that trust but all she needed was his schedule for today. That was why she was now in Malibu where Tony was supposed to meet someone for dinner at the diner just across from her. She waited for an hour knowing Tony would most probably be late. Then he showed up wearing a dark plaid suit with a blue shirt. Looking as stunning as always and Natasha longed to hold him again.

That was until Pepper got out of the car behind him and they walked hand in hand to the diner. She shouldn’t be following them but she needed to see for herself what she already suspected. They were seated across from each other on the table until Tony leans in to give her a kiss. He moved on. And Natasha knows she’s too late.

He looked happy. He was nowhere near as miserable as he was with her. And she wanted nothing more than for him to be content. That’s something she was sure Pepper could offer him. She on the other hand...

She knew what she had to do. So she turned away and decided what they had was over. It didn’t matter how much it hurt but Tony was happy and that’s all that mattered.

*****

She knows that memory is never going to be easy to look back to. By the time she’s done reminiscing, James is back with her ready to take her back to her room. And she knows Tony is somewhere lingering around. He hasn’t really let her be alone the last few days which was a welcome distraction.

“You ready to go Nat?” Tony asks.

“Could you give us a minute?” James says sternly cutting off her reply. Something passes over Tony’s face but then he nods and moves out.

“Are you really okay Doll? I don’t want you to rush through your recovery just because you want to go back to work,” he says concerned.

“I’m fine James. You heard the doctors. They said I was clear to start walking around now. And Tony confirmed the same.” She tries to assure him.

“For some reason I don’t exactly trust that guy’s opinion. He had problems with all of us for months. Now all of a sudden he’s so concerned about you?”

“Tony’s not as bad as you think he is. And he had his reasons to behave the way he did. Now I wanna get the hell out of here,” she dismisses trying not to take either of their sides.

“Impatient,” he smiles and kisses her before leading her out of the room.


She was finally in her room trying to change but having a difficult time trying to manoeuvre them so that she didn’t hurt her head. Just then Tony enters her room.

“The door was locked,” she says a little conscious that he was clearly seeing her without her shirt on.

“Really? It’s my compound with my AI operating the whole thing.” He says as nonchalant as possible. Not even a bit phased seeing her half naked.

“Well I need a little privacy,” she says getting frustrated.

“No, what you need is my help,” he offers. Moving forward and helping her put her shirt on. When he’s done, “I need to change your wound dressing while I’m here as well.”

“You’re exhausting.” She humphed, a little annoyed that he barely reacted to her.

“Shut up. Lay down on the bed. And remember I’m way more qualified than anyone else in here.” He reprimanded. It was pretty weird to see Tony take charge of her care in this way. So she was quite while he changed her dressing.

“Done. You need me to help you take a bath as well?” He raised his eyes suggestively.

There was the Tony everyone loved. She rolled her eyes at his remark but decided to play along.

“Pretty sure James wouldn’t appreciate that.”

As soon as she says that,

“James wouldn’t appreciate what?” James says entering the room and looking expectantly at the two of them. It was obvious that he wasn’t happy Tony was in the room but he didn’t verbalise it.

Then Tony gets up from her side and putting a hand on his shoulder says,

“None of your business, buddy.”

Tony knew how to antagonise people. That was for sure. She just really didn’t want this to turn ugly. And at the pace they were going she was starting to expect the worst.

Chapter Text

Tony knew he was being selfish. It’s almost been a year and he’s finally now resolving his issues with Natasha. So he knows he needs more time with her. But Natasha had other people who deserved to spend time with her as well. That wasn’t gonna stop him from making plans with her though. He was too used to how their friendship worked the last time, if you could even call it that. And he didn’t want to go out of that routine.

“I made peanut butter sandwiches,” Tony said placing them in front of Natasha knowing how much she loved them.

“God you know me so well,” she said looking up and smiling at him before pulling the plate towards herself.

“She’s got you cooking for her again? We’re not getting any of those are we?” Rhodey whines and Natasha just winks at him.

“Nope,” he replies still amazed at how happy she looked right now just as that ache returned to his heart.

“You could’ve told me. I would’ve made them for you,” Barnes says to Natasha and Tony resists the urge to roll his eyes.

“And what feed her ginger tea again? ” Tony snarks and he can see Barnes is not happy with him.

“Guys you’re supposed to pamper me today. Head injury patient and what not.” Natasha pouts and Tony can’t help but notice how adorable she looks.

“So I was thinking we could go to the shooting range today? I know you haven’t been there for a few days and I could use the practice as well. Cap, you and Sam could join us as well.” He says hoping Natasha would agree and making it a point not to include Barnes in there.

“Are you serious Stark? She’s in no condition to go shoot guns,” Barnes says almost furious at his suggestion and before he can retort Natasha steps in.

“James you said no strenuous activity for a week and I’ve listened to you. But now I really have to start training again and shooting guns doesn’t really require a lot of stamina,” she says effectively shutting him down.

So maybe he was crossing his limits. But he wasn’t particularly happy with the way Barnes was treating him either. He hated when people interfered in things they had no idea about. His relationship with Natasha was only their business. So yeah he might’ve pushed Barnes too far. He can admit that. Still whatever the reason, Barnes had no right to stop them from spending time with each other. And even if he didn’t like it, he suspects Natasha would ever let a man control her like that.

She just proves him right when she looks at him and agrees to go to the range later today.

“We’ll join you guys as well then,” Cap says before adding, “We still have to interrogate Bruce. He hasn’t been out of that room in weeks.”

“I completely forgot about him. You got a plan?” Tony asks.

“We need to make sure we’re not stressing him out. Might be better for a few of us to go. Natasha and Tony should probably go since he knows you guys the best.” Rhodey suggests and Tony’s worried about Natasha.

“You sure Natalia should go? I don’t trust him around her,” Barnes says and Tony has to agree.

“Yeah I agree with Barnes,” never in a million years did he think he would say that.

“No, I’ll go. I have questions that I need answers to,” Natasha supplies calmly.

“You guys do have a lot of history. Might get awkward,” Sam jokes from across the table and Tony has to laugh at what an understatement that is.

“What do you mean?” Barnes asks still confused.

“They dated,” Tony says wanting to see how Natasha handles it.

“Well not exactly. I thought I had feelings for him. Ended up being just my need for validation. I do wanna ask him where he disappeared to though,” she looks right back into his eyes knowing she surprised him by talking about Banner infront of everyone. He also knows this won’t be the last time Barnes asks about Banner. 

“Let’s just do it right now. Nat you coming with? I think Cap should be there just in case.” He was slowly trying to rebuild his relationship with Steve and Steve seemed almost happy to be included so he thought it was working.

As soon as they got to Banner’s door he glanced at Nat making sure she was fine before taking her hand in his. She didn’t make any attempt to detach it so he maintained his position. Then Cap looked at him waiting for confirmation and he nodded as they knocked on the door.

As soon as Banner opened the door, he was relieved to see him in a much better condition. He wasn’t particularly happy with him for hurting Nat. But he knows the extents the guy went to in order to make sure he didn’t hurt anyone. If anything he felt pity for the guy.

“Hey Bruce.” Natasha says and Banner looks like he almost can’t believe she’s there.

“Nat, are you okay? They... they told me what I did. And I was worried sick. What happened?”

Tony stayed quiet in favour of watching them interact.

“It’s okay. I’m fine. Not your fault,” Natasha says but he can see that she has a lot more questions.

“I’m glad. I couldn’t forgive myself if something went wrong. I wanted to check up on you but I wasn’t sure if that’d be welcome.” He says timidly.

“We need answers buddy,” Tony finally speaks up.

“Yeah, anything you want.” Bruce replies.

“Where did you disappear to? None of our satellites could track you up until you showed up in Manhattan.” Natasha asks and he can see she’s curious.

“I don’t know what happened. I remember I took the quinjet and it was on autopilot. Somehow it crashed and I landed up in an island. I’m still not sure where. But it was uninhabited. I was still Hulk, I’ve been trapped in Hulk’s body for almost two years without any recollection of how I came back.” Banner says and even though anyone else would be skeptical, Tony knew him too well to know when he was lying and this definitely wasn’t one of those times.

“Do you think someone brought you back here?” Natasha prods further.

“I’m not sure but I can’t see how I’d end up here otherwise.” He supplies.

Natasha seems satisfied.

“Why did you leave?” She asks. Tony knew this was a personal conversation now but he couldn’t leave her alone as he and Cap looked at each other and decided to stay.

“I wanted to run away. I never wanted to turn into the hulk again. But you forced me to Nat. It was painful. I just couldn’t stay amongst people knowing I would hurt them and I couldn’t stay around you. So I just decided to run.” Banner says and Tony puts a hand around Natasha’s waist which Banner notices but refrains from saying anything.

“That’s enough for today. You don’t need to hide out here Bruce. We’ll provide all the help we can to find out what happened. And you can be a part of the avengers again.” Cap says and Bruce seems to contemplate that for a moment before agreeing to it.

When they exit the room, Cap asks

“Do you guys trust him?”

“I do,” he says and Natasha nods her head.

As they move back to the common area Tony pulls Natasha back,

“You okay?” He says lifting up her chin.

“I’m not proud of a lot of things Tony. Forcing him to turn into the hulk was a mistake,” she says almost regretfully.

“We needed him in Sokovia. You probably helped save millions of people with that one decision. Never blame yourself for thinking logically,” he says and Natasha wraps her arms around his neck engulfing him in a hug.

Chapter Text

Natasha was almost done with her practice. She had been shooting for the last half and hour and had already gone through fifty rounds. She had to admit going to the gun range today was a good idea. Tony always did have the best ideas even though she knew he did this more for her than for himself. That’s why he bowed out after just a couple of minutes in favour of just watching her.

Bruce’s recurrence wasn’t easy to deal with. Trepidation crept in every time she thought about the first time she faced The Hulk in the helicarrier followed by the incident in the abandoned building a few days ago. That was still fresh in her mind. And even though Tony tried to understate what had happened she knew it wasn’t a minor injury. He just went to those extents trying to make sure she didn’t panic. But right now being in the range, doing what she did best, was a stress reliever, the distraction she direly needed in this circumstance. Now that she was done clearing her head, she could properly have a conversation with the boys.

When she turned around, keeping the gun in the holster, she saw Tony staring at her in awe. Which was flattering to say the least.

She moved towards him taking the towel he offered.

“Damn you’re attractive,” he’s shamelessly flirting right now but she doesn’t seem to mind. She throws the towel on his head before sitting down next to him.

“I really needed this. Thanks Tony,” she said honestly.

“Do you wanna talk now?” He’s walking on eggshells around her lately which she thinks has more to do with their history than anything else.

“About Bruce? Not really. I was wondering about the Spider Kid. The guy you got at the airport. What happened to him?” She deflects but genuinely interested to know more about the guy.

“ I can’t tell you his name. He’s pretty secretive about that but he’s got spider powers pretty much. Can shoot webs, enhanced reflexes, climbing walls that sorta thing,” he supplies.

“How old is he?” Natasha enquires further.

“He’s 15 right now,” Tony says already flinching.

“You brought a minor into a battle field Tony? Are you out of your mind?” She’s a little annoyed he’d be this careless.

“I was desperate. I just needed to turn the odds in our favour. He was never supposed to be in proximity of the actual fight. I just wanted him to web them up and immobilise them temporarily,” he says shoulders slumped which was obviously a sign that he was feeling guilty. Natasha’s a little sorry that she got so harsh with him. But Tony’s biggest weakness was how impulsive he got.

“Are you mentoring him right now?”

“Yeah, there was this guy, Vulture I think. He wanted to get his hands on all the Avengers weapons which were being transferred from the tower here to the compound. The kid stopped him. Got pretty injured but he has the right instincts. I want to bring him into the fold when he grows up.” Tony says and it’s obvious that he’s gotten close the kid.

“Maybe I should meet him. Help him train or something? It’d be helpful if he combat trains. Would probably keep him safe in the face of something unexpected.” Natasha offers and Tony genuinely seems pleased.

“I’ll let him know then,” he says smiling.

Now Natasha really wants to meet this kid. She wants to see why Tony’s taken to him so quickly. And the Avengers do need all the help they can get.

Just then Tony’s phone rings.

“Sorry I have to take this. It’s Pepper.” He says receiving the call.

After reconciling with Tony, she really thought this would get easier. But seeing him interact with Pepper was always tough. Hearing him say I love you to a woman who wasn’t her broke Natasha’s heart every damn time. But she had to be his friend. She had to be supportive which is why she wore a smile as soon as he ended the call.

“Is she okay?” She asks trying to keep up the facade.

“Yeah. She won’t be able to make it next week. Something came up.” Tony says obviously disheartened.

“You told her about us didn’t you?” She asks.

“How did you know?” Tony asks surprised.

“You didn’t notice how she froze me out while leaving?” She asks and he shakes his head.

“How did she react?” She asks wanting to know if it was easy because that was the truth she owed James as well.

“Better than I hoped honestly. She didn’t scream at me or try to tear your hair out. So I think it was a success.” Tony jokes.

“But she asked me if she could trust me and you. If she should be leaving us here without her around. She got a little insecure and I don’t blame her.” He said almost thoughtfully.

“Do you think she can trust us?” She asks mostly because she wants something to be hopeful about.

“Not at all,” Tony says looking right into her eyes and she couldn’t have hoped for a better reply.

As she was about to ask him why someone cleared their throat in the hallway and she turned her head to see that it was just Clint.

“You guys wanna get started on work or do you plan on staring at each other all day?” Clint teases as She flips him off.

“Yeah we do need to get started on figuring out what happened to Banner. I also need to put some time in the lab. So I’ll see you guys later,” Tony says a little flustered.

“What did you do to him Nat? The poor guy was totally unsettled,” Clint asks as Tony leaves.

“He just admitted something he probably shouldn’t have,” Natasha says cryptically and Clint shakes his head exhausted before following her out.

She shouldn’t be feeling this ecstatic. They were supposed to be friends. They were supposed to be happy and move on with other people. People who love them. People who didn’t hurt each other irreparably like they did. But somehow the notion of him still wanting her makes her day just that much better.

Chapter Text

Tony was a little on edge. He doesn’t know what prompted him to be so truthful with Natasha. It was probably how overwhelmed he was when Natasha looked at him with so much hope in her eyes. And after seeing her reaction his suspicions just got confirmed. She wanted that answer if the glint in her eyes was any indication but he knew she wasn’t prepared for that just as he wasn’t.

He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do now. Does Natasha expect him to be more open? Are they supposed to have a discussion? Or should he just pretend that it didn’t happen?

It didn’t help that Pepper wanted him to fly back to LA for a meeting. He hasn’t attended those meetings in years and he knows that Pepper’s aware of that. All he could conclude from that conversation was she wanted to be near him. She wasn’t particularly happy about his confession regarding Natasha as well which was understandable. What bothered him was the fact that he’d would’ve taken those trips to see her a few months ago without any hesitation.

Now he’s not sure he wants to leave the facility. He knows the Avengers have a lot on their plate right now. Moreover, even if he didn’t want to admit it out loud, he’s not comfortable leaving Natasha alone so soon after her injuries. And he can almost see why Pepper broke up with him the last time. Between his saving the world and her running the biggest tech conglomerate in the world, they didn’t really have a lot of time for each other. Not that that’s a big deal. He was certain that they could make it work this time around.

Before he knows, he’s been in the lab for hours and he’s nowhere near completion on his suit. Friday alerts him of Natasha’s presence and he turns back to see her punch the code in before entering the lab.

“You didn’t take away my access,” she says with a smirk on her face.

“Probably slipped from my mind. Don’t look so smug,” he retorts.

“You’re forgetful about a lot of things Tony. And you’re just as paranoid. I know you would have changed it if you thought I was going to cause you any kind of harm,” she says and he forgot how insightful she was.

“I have made a lot of enemies throughout my life. I just didn’t want to lose the few friends I have. Not changing the code was my way of holding onto hope that things between us weren’t irreparable,” he says honestly. Which she acknowledges with a nod.

“You missed dinner,” she says a little concerned.

“Tell me something new,” he snarks.

“What is that, Mark 47?” She asks pointing at the suit.

“Mark 49. I’m planning to change things up with the suit. This is just a prototype. Mark 50 is gonna be groundbreaking,” he can’t help but say it a little proudly.

“Every suit you make is ground breaking Tony. No one’s even come close to replicating the arc reactor technology yet,” she deadpans and he has to laugh.

“What are you planning to do anyway?” She asks further genuinely curious.

This is what he loved about her. She would always be interested in what he had to say. And there hadn’t been a day when she wasn’t fascinated by the things he invented.

“I’m going to use the reactor as a housing unit for nano particles. It’s nano technology basically but I wouldn’t have to carry a physical suit any longer. I could function any command into it and according to that the nano particles would be activated and consequently engulf me in a suit,” he explains gauging her reaction.

“God that’s amazing Tony,” she says surprised. Then she starts inspecting the arc reactor intently and he can’t help but be a little turned on right now. He has to stop himself from thinking those thoughts almost forcefully.

“It’s not anywhere near complete. But I’m still figuring out the logistics of it and I’m pretty sure it’ll work,” he says.

“I know you’ll make it work.” She pauses and he knows there’s something on her mind.

“Did you want to say something?”

“I wanted to talk about what you said earlier, in the range,” she looks away as she says that. He’s glad to know she’s just as uncomfortable as him in broaching that topic.

“When we had that argument about my avoidance and whatnot, I said a lot of things I didn’t mean.” He says sheepishly.

“I’m not holding that against you,” she supplies.

“No you don’t get it Nat. Yeah I was pissed and I wanted to hurt you just the way I was hurting. I was being brutal and I had no right to undermine what we had. I might have lied about my feelings and I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now either. What I do know is as long as they are there, I’m not sure I trust myself completely around you. But all i want right now is to focus on Pepper and what we’re building. I hope you get that.” He says trying to desperately hold back everything he really wanted to say to her.

Disappointment flashes across her face before she schools her expression.

“I know Tony. We both moved on and I’m happy with what we have right now. And I’m sure none of us want to risk this.” She agrees with him without even sparing a glance in his direction. Somehow he thinks she’s not really okay with this. And he’s glad he’s not the only one who’s confused.

She moves to the couch at the end of the lab and he follows. Wanting to ease whatever she’s so worked up about but he knows there’s not much he can offer.

“Do you ever think about that night?The same day the accords were presented to us.” She asks and he’s not sure he can ever forget that night.

“You mean the night when you told me you were willing to give us a chance? Just to go back on your words a few days later,” he’s not trying to be bitter but he can’t help it.

“I regret what happened every single day Tony.” She says closing her eyes.

He knew fate was cruel. But it had been inscrutably brutal with them.

“It was a perfect day remember. That’s all I have. I have countless perfect memories of us Natasha. Followed by the worst few days of my life. And as much as I’d like to hold on to those memories, what happened later is always going to weigh on my mind,” he says regretfully. He doesn’t want to hurt her but he needs to be honest and she needs to know.

“Of all the things I’m sorry about Tony, falling for you isn’t one of them. I’m glad we had what we had even if it’s just a distant memory. I got to know you better than I ever thought possible. And I’m never going to regret that,” she says sternly. Almost warning him not to trivialise what they had.

He wishes he could make it better for both of them. All he wanted right now was to somehow console her, to make her feel just a little better.

So he takes her face in his hand slowly caressing her cheek before leaning in. Just the smell of her driving him crazy. He closes his eyes in anticipation just as she puts a hand on his chest to stop him.

“Tony...,” she’s looking at him intently and he knows in that moment she needs him just as much as he does.

But before he can initiate anything again she moves away from the couch obviously a little nervous before saying,

“It’s late, you need to have your dinner. And please get some sleep Tony,” She requests and he nods.

Now he knows that his night will only be plagued with her thoughts and he doesn’t seem to care. But he can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

Chapter Text

Sometimes Natasha couldn’t believe how infuriating that man was. One moment they were discussing how they’re past the point of reconciliation then the next he was trying to kiss her. She doesn’t know how to behave around him now. He had to go ahead and make things complicated after they had finally started being friends again.

Though she’s not sure it’s entirely his fault. She never should have prodded him about his comment regarding not trusting them. This is not how things were supposed to be. She knows bringing up that night made them both vulnerable. It was supposed to be the start of something beautiful.

Knowing what she knows now, the fact that they were both in love, makes her almost regret not fighting for him back then. She should’ve let him know she came back. But as always it never changed the fact that they moved on. At least on the outside. Now they are too involved with other people even though their feelings for each other didn’t really lessen with time.

She wishes Lagos never happened. She wishes Cap clocked the bomb earlier. She wishes Wanda never lost control. She knew that was the catalyst for the accords. But Most of all she wishes she didn’t let Cap and Bucky go. It might’ve made sense at the time but right now, she knows all that decision contributed to was breaking the Avengers apart and breaking Tony apart in ways she couldn’t fathom.

 

Few Days After Lagos,2016

 

Natasha knew that entire mission was a mistake. She’s not sure if Rumlow had the suicide bomb strapped to his vest because he knew Cap was onto him or if it was just a contingency. All she knew was they had messed up. And innocent people had to pay for their mistakes. She couldn’t help but be horrified remembering how Rumlow didn’t even react to getting electrocuted possibly because he couldn’t feel pain.

Tony wasn’t happy with what had happened. She knows it‘s not fair that he’s blaming himself for an incident he wasn’t even present for.  But that’s how he was. Carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders  was what he did. And now the accords were presented to them which had a lot of things Natasha couldn’t agree on but the fact that a 117 countries signed this and want the avengers to be put in check almost puts into perspective how much damage they actually caused the world while saving it.

There had to be some kind of repercussions when they screwed up. She knows that as much as they’d like to take credit for saving the world, it’s Tony and SI that helps with clean up after a disaster.

That’s why she was with Tony when he wanted to sign. She told herself her decision wasn’t swayed by Tony’s. But she knew she actually needed to take responsibility for her actions and if this was the form it would come in then she would gladly accept it.

Tony hasn’t talked to her ever since she returned from the mission. When they reached the compound he took a glance at her probably checking for injuries before he decided she was fine. That was all the contact they had the entire day. She was worried he was mad at her. And that’s not something she was looking forward to. He said it best when he said he hated fighting with her.

But now that Ross was gone and he was leading her to his bedroom she was worried where this would lead to. He closes the door just as she starts to justify what happened.

“Tony, you have to understand...” she starts but he cuts her off with a hug and she can’t help but be a little relieved.

“God you have no clue how worried I was,” he says pulling away from her and cupping her face with both hands before adding,

“There was no word from you guys for hours, Natasha! All I had were the transmissions Friday gave me of a building collapsing. Now those guys out there, they’re super soldiers and have telekinetic abilities and I was worried what happens if you were In danger,” he says and Natasha can’t help how much she loves this man. She pulls him into a hug again not wanting to let go.

Before he takes her to bed with her laying half on top of him. And she realises this is all she wants. Him, all of him.

“I can’t believe this happened today. Rumlow was too prepared, Tony and he caught Cap off guard while Wanda tried to control the explosion but ended up causing more damage instead,” she says regretfully.

“You know I was at MIT, demonstrating BARF and I told you about the Stark Foundation right?” At this she nods her head,

“You’re doing a good thing for them, Tony,” she says knowing how much it would benefit the students.

“Well that’s the thing. Once I’m done with my presentation, this woman corners me in the hallway. Her son was building sustainable houses for the poor in Sokovia, Tasha. Guess when. Ultron,” he flinches and she can still see he’s shaken up.

“Tony, don’t do that. Never blame yourself for thinking logically. If you didn’t figure out how to minimise damage that day, we probably wouldn’t even be here right now. You saved billions of people. You’re a hero baby,” she says tucking her face into the crook of his neck.

“The world wouldn’t need saving if I didn’t create Ultron in the first place. And I was bullheaded enough to go ahead and do the same with Vision without knowing how it would turn out.”

“Wanda got into your head. I know you scrapped Ultron’s idea years ago. Whatever she showed you made you desperate. I won’t let you do this to yourself again. You have suffered enough. None of this is on you. You specially don’t have a fault in what happened in Lagos.” She’s says trying to console him.

“You’re the only good thing in my life right now,” he says smiling down at her and she’s glad she can be that for him.

“I wanted to wait a few more days but I think you need to know,” she says propping herself and putting a hand on his cheek.

“Yeah?” He asks.

“I think I’m ready. I’m ready for us to be more. All I know is I love you, Tony. And I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” she says watching his reaction carefully before seeing him break into the most adorable smile.

She knows he’s still processing it but then he hugs her so hard that she’s having a hard time breathing. But she doesn’t care. What matters is he knows. Then he pulls them back to the bed.

“When all this is over, I’ll take you on the best date you’ve ever been on. I’ll pamper you and I swear we’ll both be the happiest we’ve ever been. That’s what you do to me Tasha. It’s impossible for me to not be grateful when I realise I have the most amazing woman with me,” he says almost gleefully.

“You can’t say things like that when I’m already overwhelmed,” she jokes and then he’s just rambling so she drops a kiss on his cheek before drifting off to sleep in his arms.

This really is a perfect memory. One she will cherish all her life. She wishes she could be trapped in that moment for eternity but she meant what she said. None of them should ever diminish this moment by what happened afterwards. It’s not fair to this memory or to their relationship.

Chapter Text

“Natalia, everyone’s gathered in the lab. They’re trying to figure out what happened to Dr. Banner. Let’s go.” James says.

“Just give me a minute,” she replies closing her laptop. “Okay, let’s go.”

“Not so soon. Come here,” he says pulling her in for a kiss as Natasha can’t help but smile.

“You seem to be in a good mood,” she says not detaching from him yet.

“I just miss you so much. You barely have any time for me now,” he pouts.

“You’re adorable but that’s bullshit and you know it. We share the same bed for godsake,” she makes to leave the room just as he pulls her back in.

“We’re not making a lot of use of it the last few weeks,” he says kissing her again just as Natasha gave him a playful shove.

“Impatient,” she teases as he follows her out.

As they enter the room she can feel the tense atmosphere.

Tony’s with Cap showing him something on the monitor before he notices them. One by one, Sam, Rhodey, Clint all shuffle into the room.

“We tried to hack into surveillance footage of all the uninhabited islands and there’s just one which matches Bruce’s description so we’re sure he was trapped in Auckland Islands. There’s been no hit on the hulk there but get this we sighted Bruce Banner in an airport in New Zealand a month ago.” Tony says explaining all that they have.

“Wait so you transformed back into yourself at one point but you’ve no recollection of it?” Natasha aims the question at Bruce.

“None whatsoever,” he seems just as confused as the rest of them.

“That’s not all. He was flying with this woman. You wanna hear something strange? We have no clue who she is. She doesn’t show up on any known database.” Tony says before blowing up the woman’s profile on the screen.

“So we track her out. Bring her in for questioning then see what we can find.” Cap suggests.

“I think Cap and I should go since we don’t know what we’re dealing with here. If she’s the person who helped you get back to yourself than she might be an ally but chances are she’s most likely not on our side.” Tony says and everyone agrees.

“Maybe you should go with a little more backup. Like you said we don’t know a lot about her.” Natasha says hoping they would adopt caution.

“I’ll come with. I’ll stay at a distance and if things go south I’ll come in,” Wanda offers.

“Sounds like a plan,” Tony agrees as all of them leave the room.

“Nat, can you stay back?” Tony says just as she’s about to leave.

“Yeah? Did you need something?” She asks passively.

“Don’t do that. Don’t avoid me just because I’m stupid,” he says catching her a little off guard.

“I’m not. We were literally just talking about Bruce,” she tried to defend herself.

“Yeah about work. Look I know I make impulsive decisions but that doesn’t mean you should just give up on our friendship completely. Please?” He requests and she can see his point.

“Okay. Be careful out there,” she says with a smile and he nods.

******

Tony along with Steve and Wanda had been gone for a day. She couldn’t help but be a little worried.

This woman was an unknown quantity and they had no idea what she was capable of. So she was understandably perturbed. She spent all night brushing up on all the information they had regarding her and something didn’t match up. Just as she was digging deeper Friday alerted her of Tony’s arrival.

She rushed to the hangar just as they offloaded the unconscious woman.

“Are you guys okay?” She asked obviously knowing something went wrong.

“Guess what? She can manipulate our minds,” Tony says a little exhausted.

“What? Like Wanda?” She asks needing more information.

“More persuasive. She convinced me to throw my shield at Tony,” Cap flinched closing his eyes.

“Oh God,” Natasha says.

“Tell me about it. Let’s sedate her until I can figure out what to put her in so she can’t control our freaking minds,” Tony says.

“I’ll keep watch over her,” Wanda says.

“Yeah I’ll be there with you,” Natasha offers.

“Hey, you got a minute?” Tony pulls her to the side.

“Are you okay?” Natasha asks. His face plate is retracted but his suit is still on so she has no clue about the extent of his injuries.

“Except the fact that Cap tried to slam his shield on me the second time this year. Just peachy. But maybe you should go down to my lab, grab one of my suits just in case? Whatever she’s doing she couldn’t do it to me. So I think the suit keeps her out.” He says concerned.

“Okay. If it keeps you at ease. What happened anyway?” She asks really intrigued.

“Ask everyone to come meet us at the lounge. We’ll talk then,” he’s tired so she let’s it go. Nodding at him as he turns to walk away.

She’s in the medical lab with Wanda who still seems really shaken up.

“Hey you okay?” She asks.

“Yeah it was just so unexpected. She’s really strong, Natasha and it’s obvious she’s like us,” she replies and she can see Wanda get really disturbed.

“Not like us. We don’t know if she’s on our side. Tony told me the suit can keep her out which is hopeful.” She knows something must have gone in their favour otherwise they wouldn’t be able to capture her.

Tony then enters the room,

“Hey let’s assemble in the lounge now. There’s a lot we need to catch you guys up on. I’ll put her in one of my suits and give her a heavy dosage then FRIDAY can alert us if anything changes.”

As she turns to leave she has a nagging feeling in the back of her head that whatever this woman is planning, it’s not gonna end well for them.

Chapter Text

They’re all gathered in the lounge and she can’t help but notice how unsettled Cap and Tony looked. She hoped this hadn’t thrown a wrench in their already fragile relationship. Things were just getting back to normal and she would hate to see Steve and Tony at each other’s throats again.

Finally Tony seems to have gathered his thoughts.

“She calls herself Abyss. We cornered her in an alley after tracking her for hours. The entire time she was always looking over her shoulder. So it’s obvious she did something which would cause people to come after her. When Cap and I finally confronted her she said that she didn’t want to do this,” Tony says leaving the sentence open for Cap.

“Then before I knew what was happening, I threw my shield at Tony. It’s like someone else was giving me commands and I was just following.” Steve says regretfully.

“I think she tried to do the same to me, but for some reason it didn’t work out. I think the suit was blocking her out but I can’t say anything for sure yet. Anyway that probably flustered her and gave Wanda the opening. Otherwise we wouldn’t be standing here right now.” Tony sighs as he finishes recounting what happened.

“We need to interrogate her,” Rhodey suggests.

“Yeah we should probably try to find out how she managed to transform me back into the hulk and why she brought me here in the first place. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do those things of my own volition,” Bruce says still a little on edge.

“I’ll do it. I’m the only one she couldn’t effect. Even if it’s the suit or something else, it’s the best bet right now,” Tony says and Natasha knew he was being rational.

“I’ll join you then,” Natasha says knowing she would probably be more helpful than Tony in extracting information and also because she didn’t want to leave him alone.

“No way. You’re staying here I’ll handle it myself.” He says stubbornly and she has to roll her eyes.

“Who among us is the master interrogator?” She snarks.

“We have no idea about the extent of her powers. All we know is she can alter our minds somehow. I can’t let you go in there,” He says not budging at all.

“Tony you’re being illogical right now. I’m the one who should be there and you know I’m right,” they’re screaming right now.

“I don’t want you to get hurt!” Tony screams and suddenly she’s aware of her surroundings. She’s just now realised they’re not alone. And she knows all eyes are on them. Tony seems to have come to that conclusion as well as he shuts up.

“Fine but you have to wear a suit.” He finally agrees.

“Anything you need,” she says. Tony walks out of the room just as Clint approaches her.

“Big trouble,” Clint teases before she scowls at him.

She left the room a little relieved that nobody else questioned her but  all that dies down when she sees James leaning against the doorway.

“When did Stark start caring so much about you?” He questions confused.

“It’s nothing. He probably just doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.” She lies and she hopes her face doesn’t give anything away.

“That guy is weird. One day he can’t bear to have you around him and now he’s that concerned?” He says skeptically.

“That’s just how he is. He’s been trying to show just how mad he was at us by lashing out. But when it matters he’s always got our back,” she hopes he believes her.

“Maybe. Be careful out there love. You will wear the suit no matter what. And just keep an eye open.” He suggests and holds his arms out.

“I’ve faced worse. I’ll survive,” she smiles hugging him.

She’s finally grabbed a suit from Tony’s lab. She notices that Tony had already set up her preferences and configured FRIDAY so that she listens out for her as well.

She meets up with him just outside the holding unit. They weren’t sure if Abyss had a specific radius so they opted to leave the others back in the common area.

As they entered the room, Tony began working on waking the woman up.

Just as she did she tried to work her way out of the cuffs but failed.

“I see you figured out that the suit can’t be penetrated,” she says.

“Not exactly. But you did just confirm it so thanks I guess?” Tony says trying to understand this woman.

“Why did you come here? Can you explain why you’re not on any of our radar,” Natasha asks.

“Because I’m not from Earth. I’d have thought being Avengers would teach you not to assume,” she says spitefully.

“What do you want?” Tony asks forcefully.

“To destroy the Avengers,” she says with a chilling glint in her eyes which almost makes Natasha terrified.

“What did you plan to do with the hulk?” She further questions.

“Don’t you get it? Getting control of the hulk would mean unleashing disaster specially if I could control his thoughts and deeds. Except the first time I tried it, he just changed back into Bruce Banner. That’s why I had to bring him back here. I even succeeded in enraging him but containing him afterwards proved to be difficult. That’s why he running around Manhattan,” she spits.

“So your plan failed. Good to know. We’ll take your leave now,” Tony retorts.

“Not so soon.” Just as she says it both of theirs head whip around just  in time to see Abyss turn into a gas and disengage Natasha’s suit as she falls hard against the table. Tony tries to reach her just to see Natasha back on her feet again.

Abyss tries to command Natasha to probably hurt him. But it doesn’t seem to work.

“She doesn’t seem to want to hurt you. Is that love I sense?” She says before slamming Nat against the wall again.

Before Abyss has any time to react Tony deploys a force field and tranquillises her. He rushes to Natasha and carries her out the room.

“FRIDAY notify the others to handle Abyss right now and inform them that Tasha’s hurt.” He says hurrying to take her back to the Medical lab.

Chapter Text

When Tony finally reaches the Med Lab he sets Natasha down and begins to work on getting off her suit. As soon as it’s off he can feel Natasha stir and he sighs of relief. Natasha groans as she begins to sit up.

“Just lay down,Tasha. Don’t try to move,” he orders her pushing her back on the bed.

“What happened? We were with Abyss and then I felt like I wasn’t in control of myself anymore,” she says still in a daze.

“It’s okay. We couldn’t have predicted she could turn into a gaseous substance.” Tony scoffs and he sees her lips turn up.

“We really shouldn’t assume in this line of work.” She says.

There’s a comfortable silence until,

“You got hurt again,” he says remorsefully as he begins to tend to her wounds. There’s a gash on her scalp and he flinches just looking at the bruises on her body.

“Don’t you dare do this again. I’ll seriously slap you if you blame yourself for this now, Tony.” She warns and Tony raises his hands in mock surrender.

As he’s dressing her wounds, Tony feels her groan.

“I’ll get you something for the pain,” he says concerned.

“My saviour,” she teases and he can’t help but smile.

Just then he notices her bleeding through her shirt.

“Take off your shirt,” he orders sitting down beside her on the bed again.

“What?” Her eyes widening.

“You’re bleeding out,” he says moving his hand to the hem of her shirt just as she stops him.

“Can you get someone else to do it?” She requests.

“God Tasha! Everyone’s busy with Abyss. You can’t be serious.” He says moving his hand to her shirt again.

“Tony, I don’t want you to see me like this. Please,” she says holding his hand and he falters just as he feels a hand on his shoulder. He turns around and is face to face with Barnes.

“Let me do it, Stark.” Barnes holds his hand out and Tony hands the kit to him albeit reluctantly. But before he leaves he almost marks his territory by dropping a kiss on Natasha’s forehead.

“Don’t move around. Just stay still or you’ll rip apart your stitches. I’ll just leave the painkillers here.” Tony tells her.

“When all this is over, you owe me a conversation,” he hears Barnes say to Natasha as he’s leaving the room.

On any other day Natasha’s safety would be the first and foremost thing on Tony’s mind. He’s not okay with leaving her side either. But now he has to deal with the person who caused that condition. He knows he’s furious. Somehow he’s going to figure out who Abyss really is and he’s going to make her wish she never came up against him.

As Tony finally finds the others, Clint comes up to him first.

“Where’s Natasha?” He can see Clint’s concerned.

“In the Med Bay with Barnes. She’s fine.” He reassures Clint as he runs probably to the medical lab.

“What happened after we were gone?” He asks wanting to know if the situation was handled.

“The force field and tranquilliser were still active so we just moved her back to the holding cell with more drugs to knock her out.” Cap says then looks at him,

“Are you okay Tony?” And he seems genuinely worried.

“Yeah I’m fine. Natasha took the brunt of the attack. I need to run some tests on Abyss,” he says almost to himself.

“I’ll give you a hand,” Bruce offers as they both head down to the lab.

When they pull up the scans for Abyss’s body,

“Holy Shit! She’s quintessentially a gaseous being. Her molecular structure suggests she can alternate to and fro either way.” Of all the things Tony’s seen in his life, this is probably the craziest.

“What do you wanna do?” Bruce asks curious.

“We could develop some kind of a serum to stop her from changing states.” He says and begins thinking up plans right at that moment.

They’ve been working on it for hours when they’re finally satisfied with the outcome.

“This should work hypothetically,” Bruce says still a little skeptical.

“It is going to. I’m gonna go give her a visit.” Tony says but Bruce stops him.

“You need to sleep Tony. We’ll do it in the morning when you’re functional you know.” Bruce reprimands and he can see his point.

“I can be fully functional on coffee,” he tries to convince him but to no avail.

“Yeah I’m not letting you. So, you and Natasha how long has that been going on?” He asks avoiding to look Tony in the eyes.

“What do you mean?” Tony’s eyes snap up as soon as he mentions Natasha.

“Look I get it if you don’t wanna tell me. I’ve just been observing a lot these days. And you obviously care more about her than anyone here. I also know how Natasha’s not comfortable opening up to most people but she does feel comfortable around you.” Bruce finishes before taking a glance at him.

“Well you’re obviously wrong because there’s nothing like that. We’re just friends. And if you didn’t know Natasha’s dating Barnes now,” he says trying to school his expression.

“She seems way more inclined towards you than Barnes if you ask me. I’ve seen you guys interact without even speaking,” Bruce says shaking his head.

“What’s wrong?” Tony questions seeing a dark look pass over his face.

“It’s just you’ve been everything to her that I hoped I would. It is selfish of me to feel resentful?” He asks sheepishly.

“Yeah a little. Just know that Nat and I are nothing but friends. So whatever you think or think you’ve observed it’s obviously wrong buddy,” he says and Bruce nods his head.

He decides to check up on Natasha before going to bed. He enters her room to see her sleeping. He takes a seat beside her. He’s caressing her face and he can’t help but think how peaceful she looks when she’s asleep.

“When I said I didn’t like seeing you get hurt, I meant it. The more I try to protect you, you end up getting even more compromised. Maybe you’ll say it’s not my fault. But my job is to make sure you’re alright and if I fail to do that then that’s my failure. But I swear I won’t let anything happen to you ever again.” He says tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

Tomorrow he’s gonna get his answers and he’s gonna make sure Abyss is dealt with once and for all.

 

 

Chapter Text

Natasha’s not sure how everything managed to get so screwed up within a day. She’s having a hard time coming to terms with it. If she thought a psycho enhanced altering her thoughts and controlling her actions was the worst that day had to offer than she was completely and utterly mistaken.

She was in love with a guy who’s spoken for. If that wasn’t enough, the guy she is with at the moment is suspicious of her. Though James had yet to mention anything about yesterday, she could see the distrust and wariness in his eyes the entire time he was tending to her wounds. Not that it’s any consolation but she knows he probably won’t bring it up until she heals.

Natasha knows it’s early in the morning and that she’s alone in the room. She didn’t expect anything else. James wasn’t the kind of guy who liked being lied to. As much as she’d like to think not telling James about Tony was an effort on her part not to hurt him but she knew she omitted the truth because she wasn’t sure how to justify her feelings. She couldn’t say it’s a part of her past when she direly wants it to be her reality. From her perspective lying by omission was better than lying straight to his face. That’s what she will be doing if James confronts her about her feelings and all that makes her feel is guilt.

She’s a little startled when she realises someone’s in the room with her. She cautiously opens her eyes and looks around until she spots Clint.

“You don’t have to look so dejected.  I’m not dead yet,” she jokes.

“Glad to see you’re making a habit out of this. The whole damsel in distress really working out for you huh?” He retorts still a little tired.

“What? Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?” She asks confused.

“Didn’t sleep at all actually. Tony’s been up all night making some sort of a serum so I just decided to keep watch on Abyss. Everyone’s a little unsettled after yesterday.” He says yawning.

“I slept like a baby,” she says trying to wind him up but he seems unaffected. That must’ve been a shitty night then.

“Speaking of where’s your guy? Why isn’t he at your beck and call?”  Clint asks.

“He’s not exactly a fan of me right now,” she says drearily.

“Did he finally figure out you and Tony have been making eyes at each other ever since you came back?” He jokes but then stops at the look on her face.

“Wait he did?” He further questions, eyes widening slightly.

“Not exactly. He walked in on us last night.” She says trying not to make any eye contact.

“Really? Didn’t know Tony’s that big of a stud. That too right after you got injured?” He rambles and she throws the bottle from her bedside aiming at his head before glaring at him.

“Idiot. We were just talking. It was just something James shouldn’t have heard.” She sighs.

“I did say all those bottled up emotions would catch up to  you someday,” he says with a smirk.

“You’re not being helpful at all,” she says before running her hands over her face. This was way too stressful for her to handle.

 

******

Tony couldn’t sleep last night. Just having that maniac in the compound made him stressed out.

He was just about to approach her with the serum as he heard the tell tale sign of someone flying into the compound. He had just seen Vision in the corridor with Wanda and he would’ve been alerted if Rhodey was operating his suit. That just left...

“Tony, my friend!” Thor exclaims just as he picks him up giving him a hug.

“Hey buddy. I didn’t know you were coming.” He says extremely happy to see him after so long.

“I did not have any plans to but I found my way here while trying to find someone I have been looking for,” Thor says thoughtfully.

“Who’s that? Jane Foster again maybe?” Tony teases. They seemed  to really be in love and he liked the woman enough.

“No, Jane and I broke up. It was mutual,” Thor says with a somber expression.

“I’m sorry buddy. I didn’t have a clue,” he regrets bringing her up now.

“We shall not talk about that. Anyway I’m searching for a being. She’s really dangerous. Loki...he imbued her with her powers and now she is on a rampage vowing to destroy habitation all over the universe.”

“She doesn’t turn into gas by any chance does she? Would’ve helped with our latest nuisance.” He scoffs.

“How did you know?” Thor asks dumbfounded.

Just then Tony’s eyes snap up. He couldn’t believe this right now.

“God if this is the woman you’re looking for....” he says a little shocked.

“What are you talking about my friend?” Thor’s still confused.

“We have a lot to catch you up on. Come on,” he says leading the way to the holding cell.

“Tell me this is who you’re looking for,” he says pointing inside at Abyss’s crumpled form on the table still drugged inside the cell.

Thor’s eyebrows are raised almost in shock before he turns toward Tony.

“I have been in search of her for months. Did she cause harm to you?”

“Natasha got hurt. We were trying to figure out what she wanted when she attacked Nat.” He says overwhelmed with worry for Natasha while accounting the incident.

“It will be hard to take her back to Asgard. She has many means of escape.” He says regretfully.

“Not really. I might’ve figured something out. A serum to stop her from changing states.” He says not yet sure if it will work.

“That is great news. I am certain everyone will be elated that she’s captured,” Thor beams at him.

“We’ll talk about that later. Let’s meet up with others now. FRIDAY inform the others of Thor’s arrival.” He says looking up at the ceiling.

“Boss they’re all on their way,” Friday chimes in.

Soon Cap, Rhodey, Sam, Clint and others join them and welcome Thor back. Natasha’s in a wheelchair obviously coming up to meet Thor when Tony spots her. Running over to help her.

“You good?” He asks with concern clearly latched onto his voice.

“I’m fine. I can operate my own wheelchair. Stop babying me,” she rolls her eyes and sticks her tongue out at him causing him to laugh.

“Natasha! I am so delighted to see you are healthy. I’ve just heard what happened but don’t worry. I will be taking the woman back to Asgard where she can’t harm any of you,” Thor says and Natasha looks up at him as if awaiting confirmation. He replies nodding his head which seems to calm her.

“I’m so glad to see you Thor. We’ve missed having you around,” she says which causes Thor to smile.

“Guess what guys. Thor’s been in search of Abyss for a while and he’s gonna take her off our hands now,” Tony says relieved.

“How do you plan on holding her once you’re in Asgard?” Cap ask curiously.

“We have cells there which will restrict usage of her powers,” Thor offers and everyone seems satisfied.

“I’m afraid I can’t stay long friends. We will have to meet again some other time,” Thor continues.

“I’ll just get the serum now then.” Tony says taking off to get his suit before he gets into the cell with Thor right behind and cautiously administers the serum. Just then Abyss wakes up. Still extremely volatile as she tries to break out of her cuffs before realising she can’t morph anymore.

“What did you do to me Stark?!” She screams clearly enraged at him.

“She’s all yours, Thor.” Tony says glad to see that it worked.

Thor gives them a final hug goodbye as he flys of with Abyss in tow.

“Somehow Loki always manages to screw things up for us even if it is indirectly,” he muses as Rhodey puts a hand on his shoulder.

“Crazy few days huh,” Rhodey says shaking his head.

“Tell me about it,” he says. Though he’s glad that this is over with.

Chapter Text

It had been a few days since Thor had gone. Natasha had been healing well, she always did but that didn’t make Tony feel any better. Tony wasn’t sure why but he felt the need to look out for her ever since that inconvenience who shall not be named. So he opted to just watch her bake. Apparently she picked it up during her time in Wakanda. Tony scoffed at her with disbelief and she couldn’t help but prove him wrong. So now they were baking. Well she was anyway. Tony was watching her and lending a hand whenever she needed it. The last thing he needed was for her to rip out her stitches.

He was a little unsettled by how comfortable this felt. Natasha saw him just standing there and scrutinising her but she didn’t seem to mind. He was captivated by this woman. Her red hair was growing at the roots, a stark contrast to her blonde dye. Not that it made a difference. He couldn’t deny there was nothing that could make her anything less than gorgeous. Even though he was with Pepper.

“The red looks better on you,” he finally spoke up.

She looks up confused but realises what he meant after a while.

“Sexier you mean?” She winks at him.

“I mean it’s just more you I guess. You should grow it out you know? Now that you’re not on the run anymore there’s nothing to be worried about,” he says trying to convince her. He has flashes of her fiery red hair scrawled across his chest when he woke up in the morning. He wants to be that close to her again. A few weeks ago he would’ve denied he even thought of those days. Now he just doesn’t want to anymore.

“Maybe I will. Taste this,” she raises the spoon with the batter to his mouth and he’s kind of awestruck by how good it is.

“God Natasha that’s amazing,” he stretches his hand for more but she swats it away.

“You’ll get more when it’s done,” she said and he pouts.

There’s a comfortable silence prevailing again until his phone rings. His lips turn up when he sees Peter’s caller ID.

“Hey kid,” he says clearly seeing Natasha glance at him with interest.

“Mr.Stark, I thought Happy was kidding when he said this is your personal cell!” He exclaimed.

“He wasn’t. I don’t need a repeat of that incident with Vulture so if anything goes wrong I want an update.” He says knowing he underestimated the kid last time around.

“Yes sir.” Peter says and there’s a silence on the other end.

“Well what did you want to talk about?” Tony asks.

“I just wanted to see if this really was you. Sorry. I’ll just hang up now,” Peter says sheepishly.

Just then Tony feels Natasha’s hand on his shoulder and she signals to the phone reminding them of their conversation about Peter.

“Wait kid. You know what maybe you should join us at the compound. There are some people I want you to meet.”

“Are you serious, Mr.Stark? Oh my god! Thanks sir,” Peter shrieked with excitement.

“Yeah that’s all right. I’ll get Happy to pick you up after school tomorrow,” he says.

“What am I going to tell May?” Peter says finally calming down.

“Just tell her it’s for the internship,” he says waving it off.

“Okay. I’ll wait for Happy and thanks again, Mr. Stark,” he says almost gleefully and Tony can’t help but laugh as he hangs up the phone.

He turns around to find Natasha looking at him with a smirk.

“Tony Stark being the responsible adult. Never thought I’d see the day,” she teases.

“I can be mature.” He says then when her eyes narrow at him he adds, “At times.”

“Right. So is he coming?” Natasha asks turning her attention back to the oven.

“Yeah asked him to drop by tomorrow. The training part of the conversation is yours to handle.” He says as the oven clicks.

“It’s done. FRIDAY let the others know.” Natasha says looking up at the ceiling.

“Shall I ask them to join you in the kitchen, Miss Romanov?” Friday chimes in as Natasha replies in the affirmative.

“Why do they have to come?” He whines and Natasha rolls her eyes.

“You really think this huge cake was made just for the two of us?” She passes by his side and ruffles his hair in the process.

He loved how sickeningly domestic this entire setting was. He found himself craving for more of it. More of her.

One by one everyone enters the room and Tony can’t help but yearn for more time alone with Natasha. He knows he’s falling back into old habits but he can’t help himself.

 

******

Natasha loved the normalcy she had with Tony. She couldn’t have imagined getting this far when they were barely on speaking terms a few months ago. She was almost scared of how well it was going. It’s like she spent every moment waiting for the other shoe to drop.

James hadn’t said anything about that incident either. She wonders if he’s just protecting himself from the pain which was sure to come from that conversation but she decided she wouldn’t hide things from him anymore. She might understate her feelings for Tony because she’s not sure she can handle breaking James’ heart. Not when he’s been her rock through this entire thing.

“Doll, we need to talk.” James says just as they return from the kitchen.

She spoke too soon. All of a sudden she wasn’t so sure telling him was a good idea.

“I know,” she says trying to avoid his eyes. He takes her hand as he pulls her to the side of the bed. She’s sitting facing him when he speaks up.

“I’ve never doubted you or questioned anything. I’ve never even wanted to know about your past but if there’s something I need to know about Stark....” he trails off.

“Whatever you’re imagining it’s nothing of that sort.” She pauses then maintains eye contact with him because Natasha Romanov is brave and she doesn’t shy away from things when they get tough.

“Yeah you’re right. Tony and I do have a past. When he broke up with Pepper after Ultron, we both started feeling for each other. We were on the verge of something serious but it never turned into anything concrete. Afterwards with the accords and me helping you and Cap escape there really wasn’t any way back for us,” she says honestly. She was hoping he would take it calmly.

He was quiet for what felt like hours.

“He still cares for you. Every time you get hurt, he’s always affected, always trying to make you feel better,” he says dejectedly.

“Yeah because that’s what friends do. James, it took us months to get where we are right now. I admit I kept it from you but that was just because I didn’t want to hamper your and Tony’s already tense relationship.” She says knowing that’s somewhat truthful.

“You both know each other really well, Natalia. Sometimes when I’m in the room with you two its almost like I’m not privy to your conversations. So all I’m asking you is should I be worried?” James asks not wanting to but doing it anyway. “I did feel something for him back then. I always will. But never at your expense. We’re all that matters to me right now,” she says cupping his face.

“Do you love me?” James asks with a hopeful expression.

She falters beginning to question herself. Does she love him? How could she not? He’s the first man who ever made her feel anything at all. She knows she’s in love with Tony. But she knows that she will always love James.

“You know I do,” she says and he pulls her in for a kiss. The relief evident all over his face.

“Then that’s all I need to know,” James says.

She can’t help but feel that she’s betraying him but she knows there’s nowhere to go for her and Tony. What they had is nothing but a distant memory now. Their friendship would just have to suffice for both of them. Their feelings, no matter how strong they were just couldn’t bridge the gap that was created the day she broke his trust.

Chapter Text

Tony was looking forward to today. As much as he wanted Natasha all to himself, he was really fond of the kid. Peter was a good kid. He was hard working ,had good instincts and was actually passionate about helping people. He wished he had Peter’s moral compass when he was his age.

Tony will never ever deny his hand in Obadiah’s weapon smuggling. Or the fact that his company, his inventions were responsible for countless terror attacks. The title Merchant of Death was actually fitting. He was too busy partying, and drowning in his sorrows to actually handle the business end of the company. He suffered the consequences of his ignorance. Though he knows he has turned his life around from that point onwards but he will never really be able to compensate the sorrows he has caused others. That blood on his hand will always remain, a remainder of why he needed to be Iron Man, needed to protect the world.

When Peter warned him about Vulture the first time around all Tony felt was dread. He didn’t want a kid to have to take that responsibility on his shoulders. He recalls snatching away Peter’s suit in an attempt to keep him safe. Like that totally worked in his favour. Then a few days later getting the news of Peter’s fight with Vulture and the fact that he was so brutally hurt filled Tony with emotions he couldn’t fathom. He doesn’t know when but he got more and more protective towards the kid. Which is why he was so glad when Natasha mentioned that she would like to train him.

Natasha was the most fierce woman he had ever encountered in his life. He knew she could probably kill him with her hands tied behind her back. That’s why he had always been so fascinated with her. The fact that the same woman, Black Widow was capable of so much compassion and love never failed to amaze him. He’s never once stopped to wonder why he fell in love with her because it was impossible not to. She understood him on a level no one else did, not even Pepper.

He was worried he was going down a road he would never want to return back from. What he feels for Natasha will always scare him. None of that changes even if they are with other people. But it should. He dreads knowing no one will ever replace her. As much as he wants to change the past, he’s trying his best to grip onto the present. He loves Pepper, he reminds himself every time Natasha crosses his mind. He’s worried how much that happens in a single day.

Before he could sadden himself with those thoughts the team starts gathering for breakfast. He’s glad the Avengers are back together. He almost prides himself for his decision to mend the accords. That had to be the first time he could let go of his reservations and resentment to work toward the greater good. It’s true, he could be mature at times.

“Hey, shellhead,” Natasha says pulling him out of his reverie.

Followed by greetings from the rest of the guys. He was surprised even Wanda was opening up to him nowadays.

“Tony, do you know where Bruce is?” Cap asks.

“Wait isn’t he in the compound?” He asks confused.

“He hasn’t come out for dinner or breakfast in the last few days. I haven’t even seen him get out of his room,” Natasha says while placing his coffee on the table.

“I saw him at the lab last night. He didn’t say much though. We were both just working on our respective projects,” he shrugs not sure if it’s a cause for concern.

“Maybe he’s not comfortable around here? Or doesn’t feel welcome any longer.” Rhodey offers.

“But why? No one is blaming him for anything. We know what happened wasn’t his fault,” Tony says obviously lost now. He wasn’t seeing a probably reason for Bruce to avoid contact.

“For a genius you can be really dumb at times, Tony,” Natasha ruffles his hair and he leans into the contact.

“I think he feels like he doesn’t belong. All of you have moved on from where you were, but he’s still stuck in the same time when he left.” Barnes speaks up for the first time that morning and Tony can’t help but wonder if he’s projecting his own feelings.

“I’ll talk to him later on. Figure out if something is wrong. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. Bruce isn’t the most outgoing person anyway. Maybe he’s just nervous,” he says knowing that’s probably what happened.

After they’re all done eating, Tony takes the plates to the sink. When he turns around, he realises Barnes stayed back. Well that’s surprising.

“Can we talk somewhere?” Barnes asks timidly.

“Sure give me a minute,” he says skeptical of where this would lead.

When they’re finally in the lounge and there’s no one around, he urges Barnes to speak.

“Natasha told me about you both,” Barnes finally admits.

“Told you what?” He says hoping he’s not talking about their relationship.

“Don’t do that Stark. You know exactly what I’m talking about. I realise now that both of you had feelings for each other and that you were in fact building towards a relationship.” Barnes says avoiding his eyes.

“Yeah. That was a long time ago. None of that changes anything right now. Whatever we had was over that day in the Tarmac when she let you go,” he’s not sure what prompted him to be sincere but he was nonetheless.

“I know. She assured me of the same. That those feelings didn’t exist any longer,” Barnes says and something inside Tony breaks. Does she really think there are no feelings involved between them?

Barnes continued, “ I know she will always mean a lot to you. I wish someday I will have the same repertoire with Natasha that she has with you. All I know right now is we both love each other and I won’t let anything come between us.”

“Trust me you won’t face any trouble on that front,” he scoffs.

“She’s happy around you. So I will allow you both to still be friends but I swear Stark if I ever see you cross your limits,” Tony’s eyes snap up at the threat.

“Excuse me. What did you just say?” He snaps.

“I meant what I said. I know your reputation, Stark. How you are with girls. I won’t have it if you hurt Natalia,” Barnes stands his ground.

“Did you just threaten me in my own compound?” Tony was fuming now. His allegations were far from the truth and he couldn’t believe this guy had the guts to say his feelings for Natasha weren’t authentic.

“No wait. You just gave me permission to be friends with your girl. What do I look like? What makes you think I need your permission to be friends with a woman I understand more than you ever could?” Tony continued, his voice raising higher with every word.

“Don’t you dare, Stark.” Barnes warns.

“What are you going to do about it?” Tony says just as he shoves Barnes back. As soon as he charges back Natasha enters the room clearly distressed and stands between the two of them.

“Both of you stop right now,” Natasha warns and they both stop at the look in her eyes.

“I’ll talk to you later on,” she tells him sternly taking Barnes’ hands in hers and pulling him behind her. It’s obvious she’s not happy at what she walked in on.

Tony won’t deny how good it felt to finally give Barnes a piece of his mind. He was nowhere near done though. But right now he was way more worried about facing Nat’s wrath than anything else.

Chapter Text

Natasha dragged James to their room. She was fuming. She had no clue what transpired between the two of them but the last thing she needed was for them to be picking fights against each other.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Natasha exclaimed the moment the doors closed.

“Doll, I was just telling him that I knew. I thought it was necessary for him to know he doesn’t have the same right on you that he once did,” he shrugged like it was nothing.

“Tell me what you told him,” she says sternly.

“It wasn’t a big deal, Natalia. Why are you taking his side anyway?!” he’s a little mad and it showed.

“I’m not taking anyone’s side. But I know he’s not the one who initiated that particular conversation. So how did a verbal altercation turn into a physical one?” She says calmly hoping it’s nothing she can’t fix.

“I told him I won’t let anyone get between us. That I would let you both be friends but if he tries anything else I won’t have it,” he says looking down at the floor.

“Did you just offer him an olive branch and then threaten him?” She says with disbelief.

“You don’t get it love. You don’t know how hard it is for me to even look at you both together even if you’re just friends. That insecurity doesn’t go away,” he says cupping her cheek.

“Do you trust me?” She asks.

“You know I do. It’s him I don’t trust. I’ve heard what people say about him.”

“You don’t even know him James! I can’t believe you’re living under the same roof as him and would rather trust the word of some media outlet instead of actually talking to him,” she seethes. James seems to falter at that, not giving any reply.

“All I am asking is for you to give him a chance just like he gave you one when we first came here,” she requests and James nods.

He stretches his arms out and Natasha steps into his embrace.

“I shouldn’t have judged him based on my preconceived notions. I’ll try to get to know him okay? Will that make you feel better?” James asks.

“Yeah. That would really help,” she says.

 

*******

Tony thought he had gotten away with it. It had been half an hour. There was no sign of Natasha so he almost thought he had avoided confrontation that was until he saw her leaning against his doorway. The moment their eyes met she spoke up.

“Are you serious, Tony? Shoving him?” Natasha asks disappointed.

“He pushed me too far. I’m not apologising for it.” He defended himself.

“I know he did. But he just got to know his girlfriend had been hiding a relationship with someone who’s still really important to her and guess what? Lives in the same fucking house as her. I’m pretty sure he deserves some slack,” she exclaims flopping down on the bed beside him.

“He threatened me, Nat. He brought up how I was with women. He pretty much insinuated that I was using you. That my feelings were a sham,” he says dejectedly.

“Look, Tony. That’s just because he doesn’t know you.” She tries to console him.

“That doesn’t give him a right to judge me. To judge us! He practically permitted me to be friends with you. And I know for a fact that you would never let a man control you like that,” he spits.

“No I wouldn’t. But he’s just acting out. He’s insecure and who wouldn’t be in this situation really? She says placing a hand on his shoulder urging him to look at her.

“That doesn’t justify anything. He....” Natasha cuts him off.

“It’s barely been a few months since he got out of cryo. He’s still getting used to this world as Bucky Barnes. So I can’t blame him for trying to hold on to us when there’s nothing he can call home in this time.” She speaks on behalf on him and sure Tony can see the logic behind her words but he would much rather lash out. However he didn’t want to disappoint Natasha any more.

“I can’t promise I’ll be civil if he continues to act like he knows what we had.” He says.

“Just get to know him please? I’m sure you’ll get along better if you do. Staying together is the most important thing remember,” she says and he knows this is important to her so he nods.

“Boss, Mr. Parker is here.” FRIDAY’s voice fills the room.

“Yeah. Could you direct him to the common area? Tell him we’ll meet him there.” He says looking up.

“Let’s go meet your young prodigy,” Natasha jokes looking at him. Then she takes his hand in hers which he obviously wasn’t expecting as she pulls her out of the room.

As they enter, they can both see Peter gawking at the compound. He had seen the foyer once but that’s about all. Everyone in this compound were all kinds of screwed up and then there was Peter. He was like a breath of fresh air. Someone who never imposed his thoughts or opinions on others. And he still had his innocence intact. Tony wished that that was never stripped away from him.

Peter heard them enter.

“Mr. Stark, this is amazing!” He starts but then notices Natasha just beside him.

“You’re... you are,” he’s pointing at Natasha now. Actually he’s gaping at her.

“Natasha Romanov,” she says as she stretches her arm out to him.

“You’re the Black Widow!” He says as he catches onto her hand shaking it furiously.

“Yeah I am,” she smiles at his enthusiasm.

“You’re amazing! I’m a huge fan. I’ve seen thousands of videos of you in hand to hand combat. You’re unbeatable! You’re like my favourite superhero. No offence Mr. Stark,” he says still shaking Natasha’s hand.

“None taken kid. She’s my favourite as well. We should probably get down to business now.” Tony says and Peter finally realises what he’s doing as he pulls his hand back.

“Sorry,” he says sheepishly.

“It’s okay. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you Mr. Parker. Tony’s told me a lot about you.” Natasha smiles at him. Tony knows she likes him just by that look on her face.

“He did? I mean that’s great. So what did you want me to come down here for?” He says a little nervous now.

“I heard you just captured a bad guy and ended up getting hurt in the process. I’d like to make sure the chances of that happening in the future are lessened. We thought it would be good for you to have some lessons in combat. That way you can defend yourself no matter when the attack comes,” Natasha explains to him.

“Who would train me?” He asks.

“She will. You said it yourself. She’s the best there is,” Tony supplies.

“That would be amazing! I mean Thank you Mr. Stark and Miss Romanov,” he says visibly lighting up.

“Just Natasha’s fine.” She says.

“So when do we start?” Peter asks excitedly.

“How about right now?” Natasha says pointing at the boxing ring.

“Sure,” Peter says with disbelief as he follows Natasha into the ring.

As Peter and Natasha are sparring, Tony couldn’t help but stick around. Seeing Natasha take Peter under her wing was comforting. There’s no one he’d rather trust. When they were finally done after half an hour with Peter visibly exhausted and Natasha barely breaking a sweat, he said,

“You really gave her a tough time buddy,” he jokes. Peter chuckles.

“Like you could do any better.” Natasha teases him.

“Hey I can spar,” he says almost like that hurt him.

“Yeah right. You haven’t trained with me once in the 7 years I’ve known you. I think someone’s afraid,” She says and he has to admit that’s true. But he resorts to sticking his tongue out as protest.

Natasha rolls her eyes at his antics.

He’s busy bantering with Natasha when he finally notices Peter looking expectantly at him.

“Kid, same time tomorrow okay?” He asks.

“Okay. What will I tell May? ” Peter asks.

“Just tell her the internship is really challenging and you need to put some more time in,” Tony suggests.

“I don’t like lying to her.” Peter says distraught.

“I know kid. Though I’m not sure if she will approve of you being Spider-Man. Nonetheless working with the Avengers,” he says.

“I know, Mr.Stark. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He says giving them a smile as he leaves.

When he’s gone Tony glances at Natasha. God she’s gorgeous .

“You like him,” he states.

“He’s a great kid. I can see why you’re so fond of him,” Natasha says.

“By the way, I can totally hold my own in a fight,” he says dragging back that conversation again.

“Right. That’s why you go out picking fights with my boyfriend.”

“He started it!” He says childishly.

“You’re such a kid,” she says shoving him playfully.

“A kid that you love,” he says and he feels Natasha freeze in her place. Shit.

I should go. Wanda probably needs my help,” she deflects and leaves the room not once looking at him.

Sometimes he really wished he had a brain to mouth filter. He hoped this wouldn’t make things awkward again.

Chapter Text

Natasha wasn’t expecting that. She had accepted long ago that she’d always love Tony. He would always be the one who got away. She just didn’t expect him to say it so casually. Even though it was obvious he didn’t mean it in that way. Now she’s a little embarrassed about the way she acted. She should have just shrugged it off like any of his other jokes. Reacting to it just proved how hung up she still was on him.

It wasn’t going to make a difference anyway. She wouldn’t let things be awkward between them. She had bigger things to worry about. First and foremost of them had to be James and Tony reconciling. She was hoping she could rectify whatever harm that fight inflicted upon their already fragile relationship. So she did what she was good at. Manipulating the boys had always been her strong suit. They were too trusting for their own good.

“James, the laceration on my head is acting up.” She lies but that was somewhat true. The wounds weren’t completed healed and she wasn’t pain free in any sense.

“What? Is it too bad?” James asks concerned.

“It’s getting worse as we speak. Maybe we should get to the med lab,” she says and James moves to her side.

He starts examining the side of her head.

“It’s not bleeding out. Maybe we should have Stark check it.” James says and Natasha nods. Glad that this was working.

“Friday could you let Tony know we’re in the med bay?”

“Sure, Miss Romanov.” The AI said almost sounding concerned. She knew Tony was a genius otherwise she would totally say it wasn’t possible for an AI to sound like that.

James helps her up and gets her to a bed in the lab. A few seconds laters Tony approaches them and she feels a little guilty for making them so anxious but it had to be done.

“What happened? Is it the gash on your skull? Let me take a look.” Tony asks already getting ready to examine her.

“Yeah she said its acting up,” James offers.

“Actually it’s nothing,” Natasha says warily eyeing them. Then she points between the two of them and says, “Talk.”

Understanding crosses over both of them after a while.

“Wait did you really do all of this to play peacemaker? I was worried sick, Natasha!” Tony says furiously.

“Natalia, that’s not fair. You can’t just lie about feeling sick when you know how much it would effect us.” James sounded disappointed.

“I’m sorry. I just needed to get you two in a room so you could clear things up. Both of you are so important to me. I just don’t want to see you fight.” She says hoping it would sway their decision.

“It’s not my fault that he doesn’t trust me.” Tony spits.

“A month ago you did everything possible to degrade Natalia and now I’m just supposed to believe everything you do is in her best interest?” James says seething.

“I’m not supposed to trust the Winter Soldier either. Still here I am giving you a place on the team and trusting you to have my back when it matters. Which is generous considering you and your best friend tried to kill me a year ago,” Tony sneers.

“After you attacked us!” James is screaming now.

“Oh yeah. Do you remember why? Do you want me to bring that up?” Tony’s pushing him.

Natasha realises this was totally not going the way she wanted it to.

Before it gets any heated, she gets in between them , a hand on each of their chests pushing them away from each other.

“Do we remember what we talked about?” Natasha reminds them both as they seem to cool off.

“I’m not saying sorry to him,” Tony says pointedly looking at her.

“You both had a past that I wasn’t even aware of a few days ago. I’m the one who was kept in the dark.” James says running a hand through his hair.

“What she has to say everything to you?” Tony quips.

“Yes because I’m with her and relationships are supposed to be about honesty and trust!” James says almost rubbing it in Tony’s face. She can’t ignore the flash of hurt which passes Tony’s face. Natasha can’t help but sigh.

She sees Tony contemplating something but before he can say anything she stops them.

“Are you done screaming at each other?” She asks sternly.

“ I know you both have had your differences but I don’t want you to argue over me. Just please can you be mature for a second and talk calmly.” She stresses on calmly almost warning them to cross her.

“I shouldn’t have implied you were going to harm her. And I realise that you both don’t need my approval to be friends.” James says almost with a grimace.

“I’m sorry for shoving you,”Tony states and Natasha’s eyes narrow at him.

“What? I didn’t say anything else!” He protests.

“You’re too stubborn to even admit your mistakes, Stark. You still wonder why people don’t like you?” James says.

“I think you can call him Tony now.” Natasha adds.

“My friends call me Tony. I really don’t think you ever will be.” Tony says stressing on the word friends.

“I’m not dying to anyway. I just want us to not be at each other’s throat when our main priority should be protecting the world.” James says and she’s a little proud of him.

Tony seemed to accept that.

“Okay. Teammates.” Tony extends his hand and James shakes it. Natasha’s finally relieved as she lays back down on the bed.

“I wasn’t totally lying though. My head really is paining.” She says smirking at them.

“We should probably get you a head CT. Barnes get out of the room,” Tony says with authority.

“I could stay and help.” James offers.

“How are you going to help her? Do you even know how to take a CT scan?” Tony quips.

James huffs with frustration as he leaves the room but not before pressing a kiss to Natasha’s lips.

“He’s just showing off that he can kiss you while I can’t,” Tony says almost despondently.

“Is that what you want?” Natasha questions and Tony averts his eyes.

“I haven’t wanted anything from you in over a year,” Tony responds.

Natasha wants to point out that he’s lying. That she’s aware that their feelings are mutual but she opts to not push him any further. Going down that road never works out for them anyway.

“Do you have to demean him like that?” She asks instead. She knows how he’s treating James is unfair.

“I just stated the truth. He would only be in my way. You can’t just expect me to be nice to him all of a sudden. I won’t pick fights with him, but that doesn’t mean I’ll do anything more than acknowledge he exists,” Tony defends.

“Not everyone can be a genius,” she retorts.

“He’s the one who got the better end of the deal. I don’t think he needs my approval as well.” Tony says harshly. Then there’s a pause as he adds almost as a whisper.

“He’s not the one who got betrayed by the woman he loves.”

Natasha’s heart clenches when he admits that out loud. She can’t handle being this close to him and not having the right to touch him. So, she stays quiet. And she knows while trying to fix their relationship, she might’ve just made her and Tony’s worse.

Chapter Text

In his defence, he didn’t want to start avoiding Natasha again. But after yesterday he’s not sure what else he is supposed to do. She doesn’t seem to be making any effort to talk to him either so he guesses this is just the way it will be from now onwards. Ironically he had more contact with Barnes that day at breakfast than he had with Natasha. So he knew it was intentional.

He wanted to clear his mind so he went towards the lab stopping at the last moment when he realises he should probably talk to Bruce. He has been way too caught up in his own problems to even notice he hadn’t joined them for breakfast today as well.

He knocks on his door and it takes a while but Bruce opens the door.

“Hey,Tony.” He says opening the door motioning for him to enter.

“You look like crap,” Tony says observing the bags under his eyes.

“Yeah I was working on something late last night.” Bruce says.

“You wanna tell me why you use the lab late at night? Are you avoiding me?” Tony accuses.

“No, not at all.” Bruce says.

“Any reason why you don’t join the team during breakfast or dinner either?” Tony prods further.

“What are you talking about? I just lose track of time so I just eat in my room instead,” he deflects.

“I’m not buying that buddy. You know what I think? I think you’re hiding. You don’t want to accept that you could be one of us again.” He says hoping he can get through to him.

“Would you if you were in my position, Tony? The other guy has harmed countless people. And i ran away because I thought that would keep people safe. But it culminated with hulk wreaking havoc and hurting Natasha this time around. How can I hope to be a part of you guys when I inflict more sorrows upon people than I could ever hope to save.” Bruce says with disdain.

“Look. Nothing which has happened is on you. It’s not fair for anyone to blame you let alone us. And now we all know you weren’t even acting of your own accord. Abyss played with your mind. So you have to believe that we will accept you just the way you are because we will. The rest is upto you,” Tony says patting Bruce on his shoulder before heading for the lab.

As he got inside the lab though, Cap was waiting for him which was unexpected to say the least. They have been nothing but professional with each other the last few months. He wasn’t sure if they would ever be able to go back to the way they were but they were at least trying to be friendly if not friends.

“Cap. You need something?” He asks.

“Yeah I think the magnet on my shield isn’t working,” Cap offered and Tony nodded his head.

“I can fix that,” he extends his hand as Cap places the shield on it.

“I also wanted to talk you,” Cap continues.

“About what? I didn’t hear anything about a mission,” Tony asks confused.

“I wanted to ask if everything was okay.” Cap says apprehensively.

“I’m fine. What made you want to ask that?” Tony brings his eyebrows together wanting to figure out what Cap was hinting at.

“You just went through breakfast without making a single quip. That’s the first time that has happened in a while,” Cap says timidly and he got the impression that he didn’t want to push too far.

“I wasn’t feeling inspired today,” Tony retorts.

“Is Pepper alright? I haven’t seen her in a while.” He continues and Tony has to applaud the will in this man.

“Yeah she’s busy with running an entire company. We can’t just meet up whenever we like,” he says suddenly missing Pepper. That’s when realisation hits him. They haven’t spoken properly in weeks. What’s worse is he’s not sure he even thought about her the last few days.

“I don’t mean to push Tony. I was just asking as the only reason we’re in this dilemma in the first place is because we kept secrets. Keeping things from the team is what caused it to break apart. I just don’t want a repeat of that.” He says sincerely. Tony could respect that.

“Trust me whatever is going on isn’t detrimental to the team.” Tony assures him and Cap nods.

“If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate okay?” Cap offers as he turns to leave.

“Hey, Cap.” He says trying to get his attention. Steve raises his eyebrows questioningly.

“Do you ever feel torn between two things? Like you know one of those decisions would be so rewarding if you give it a chance, take a risk but you’re somehow inclined towards the safer choice. The one which will save you from getting hurt but it won’t make you feel fulfilled either?” He’s not sure what made him open up to Steve Rogers but Tony realised his opinion would always matter to him.

Cap seemed to ponder over his question for a while as if looking for the best way to phrase it.

“Always, Tony. At the end of the day you just have to decide if you want it hard enough. If the risk is worth taking and you think you can’t handle being without her then the harder decision is often the right one.” He says earnestly. Tony’s content with that answer until,

“I never said it was about a woman,” he says.

“It almost always is, Tony. I won’t ever judge you for falling in love. That’s the one thing you can’t control.” He says as he leaves.

Tony’s always known what he’s supposed to do. He just doesn’t know if he’s strong enough to do it.

 

*******

Ignoring Tony was exhausting. What’s worse was she knew that he was doing the same. They barely glanced at each other the entire day. She was missing him. That she couldn’t deny. She also realised they were falling dangerously close to their old routine. That didn’t help when you were trying to get over said person.

She goes and knocks on Rhodey’s door wanting to debrief him on a case.

“Rhodey I needed to talk to you about a case.”

She says before she comes face to face with the person she was avoiding.

“Sorry I thought you were alone. I’ll find you later,” she turns to leave but Tony stops her.

“It’s fine. I was leaving anyway.” Tony gets up from the chair he was sitting on to move to the door. As they passed each other though she couldn’t help but look at him. When their eyes locked, she started wanting to be near him again. She broke out of her stupor as soon as Tony left directing her attention at the file in her hand instead.

She was about to leave when they were done with work. But Rhodey stops her.

“You wanna tell me what happened?” He asks.

“What are you talking about?” She’s a little confused.

“Why are you and Tony giving each other the cold shoulder?” He asks then adds,”Don’t deny it.”

“He’s still mad at me about everything that happened last year. I thought we were past that. Apparently not.” She says hoping he would take that explanation.

“You know that’s not why he’s mad. What you did makes that big of a difference because you’re you,” Rhodey says cryptically.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Natasha asks hoping he doesn’t know.

“You know what I mean. You and Tony were anything but subtle, Nat. He might negate it ever happened but I know you two were crazy about each other. I think you still are.” Rhodey says looking right at her and suddenly she was really uncomfortable discussing about this with Tony’s best friend of all people.

“He just never understands what went I through when that happened. I never wanted to hurt him. I just followed what seemed like the path of least resistance. I get that I broke his trust Rhodey. That never changed how I felt. He just doesn’t get that.” She says everything that she’s hidden for so long.

“I love Pepper. I know she will never intentionally hurt him. But I also know he’ll never be completely happy with her. So tell him how you feel. Make him understand your side of things. And if he doesn’t listen to you then I’m there. I’ll convince him but you need to take that first step.” Rhodey says forcefully and she knows he’s right. She gives him a hug.

For the first time in a long while, she knows what she has to do. She knows it will take time but she’ll do anything to restore Tony’s faith in her, in them.

 

Chapter Text

Natasha was extremely confident a while ago. She was sure she could get Tony to talk to her again. The difficult part was telling him how she felt. She’s not sure she could take his rejection. The more she thought about it, the less optimistic she got.

It was almost ten when James called her for dinner. That’s the other thing she didn’t want to acknowledge. James. What effect would that have on James? She knew at some point that her desire to be with Tony would surpass her need to protect James’ feelings. She’s just not sure if she’s ready for that yet.

She enters the dining room with James in tow. Tony was already at the table, extremely excited about something probably a new project as he waved his hands around explaining it to Clint. His passion for inventing things, the way he relentlessly wanted to fix everything around him was something she always loved. Suddenly, she longed to have him in her arms again.

She sat across from him on the table. She was aware that everyone was talking about something but she tuned it out in favour of watching Tony. The entire time they were having dinner all she did was glance at him. Their eyes would meet every once in a while and she knows that longing in his eyes wasn’t a misconception.

When they were finally done, Tony started carrying the plates to the sink. She knew she wouldn’t get a better opportunity. So she followed him to the kitchen and started helping him. Everyone was gone when he finally realised they were alone. He seemed to ponder over something for a while before he finally turned.

“Natasha,” he says her name barely  a whisper on his lips.

“Are you ready to stop brooding?” She asks. He nods and she takes a few steps towards him.

“I’m gonna apologise but you’re not gonna be a smartass or try to cut me off. Understood?” She says sternly and he nods once again. Then she puts her hands on either side of his face urging him to look into her eyes.

“Tony, I know nothing will ever change what happened. If I could take it all back I would and I’ve said so a thousand times. I need you to see my side of things just this once. Will you please just hear me out?” She requests not ready to force anything on him yet.

“Yeah,” he chokes out nervously.

“I can’t possibly imagine what you went through. I will never advocate for Steve after what he did in Siberia. I also get your resentment towards James, I really do. So, I’m going to be selfish with you. We were both in love, Tony. Even the day I had to take that decision on the tarmac all I thought about was our future, what this meant for us. I still wanted to do the right thing. The Avengers will always be my family. I thought letting them go that day would prevent any further fights.” She pauses when she sees a tear slip from his eyes and she moves her hand to wipe it. She continues,

“Then Steve told me about the other Winter Soldiers and if there was any chance he was right I knew I should let them go. I’ve always spoken about how I wanted to wipe the red off my ledger and I thought preventing that fight, making sure the Winter Soldiers weren’t awoken would help. I knew I was breaking your trust but I thought we could get over it. Later that day, I saw that cold calculating Tony. The one I hadn’t seen for so long and you broke my heart. That’s when I knew nothing would ever be the same again between us. What you have to understand is that, that day Black Widow, an Avenger betrayed you not the woman you loved. Do you know why? Because nothing has ever meant more to her than Tony Stark.”

As soon as she finishes Tony takes her hand in his and kisses them before pulling her into a hug. She’s not sure she’s ever been hugged so tight before. She could feel all of him press into her. She’s sure she has never felt closer to him. In that moment she feels more alive, safer than she ever has. She holds onto him tighter never wanting this moment to end.

“I’m sorry about how harsh I’ve been. All this time I brought up how much you hurt me even though I always knew you were hurting just the same. It wasn’t fair to you. You never deserved my indifference or indignation.” He pulls away and she almost pulls him back in craving for the contact.

“I can’t take it when we fight. Talking to you makes my day just that much better. So let’s just forget yesterday ever happened,” he says taking cupping my face and I have to nod.

“You look like a mess.” She laughs wiping at his tears.

“You look gorgeous,” he says looking at her in such a daze that she has trouble holding anything back. She wants to scream how much she loves him but she knows they are not ready for that yet.

She’ll just wait for the day when they are. Something makes her hopeful that that day isn’t far away.

 

******

Tony’s not sure if they’re friends anymore. If this night was any indication then he could definitely say that they had crossed that threshold. He had dropped her to her room. To her and Barnes room which made him feel extremely empty. He wants to hug her again. He wants her body pressed against his. He wants to never let her go. Just the thought of her with another man made his blood boil.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. He should be the one she’s with. He’s never been more sure of it. They could fight a thousand times but when they reconcile it’s always worth it. She’s worth getting hurt over. If he had any doubts regarding them they had all been erased tonight.

Just as he’s contemplating how to get Natasha back, his phone rings.

“Hey, baby,” Pepper’s voice filters through the phone.

“Hey, it’s late I didn’t think you would be up.” He says checking the clock. It was almost three at night.

“I know I just got done with an entire day of meetings. I just needed to hear your voice,” she says and Tony’s heart drops. Guilt starts eating away at him. He can’t believe he would be that selfish.

“Yeah I missed you too.” He says.

“I do have a piece of good news. I’m coming back in a week.” She says and he can feel her smiling through the phone.

“That’s great honey! Should I get Happy to pick you up?” He says trying to be enthusiastic.

“No, that’s not needed. I’ll get there by myself. I should go to sleep now. I love you and I can’t wait to see you.” She says.

“I love you too. Night,” he says hanging up the phone.

He can’t even comprehend the emotions going through his head right now. He loves Pepper. He knows he always will. His feelings for Natasha on the other hand is indescribable.

It’s the kind of love which keeps him awake all night. The kind which makes him never want to let her go. But he’s never been a cheater. Though he knows his love for Natasha is cheating in itself. Steve’s words flow through his mind the entire time. And he knows that she’s worth taking a risk for.

 

Chapter Text

Tony was ruminating on the recent turn of events. Last night, he was sure he wanted nothing but to be with Natasha. Now, on the other hand, seeing her happily sparring with Barnes, the smile never leaving her face, he lost his conviction.

He knew he made her happy when they were together but that doesn’t change the fact that they can be spiteful, indifferent and egoistic whenever it served them. That was more on him than her anyway. He was way too possessive of her even when they weren’t official and Natasha had made it clear that she didn’t like it.

That added with his insecurities just made him realise all the things that could go wrong for them. He also knew they both had priorities, that’s what caused the Civil War anyway. He meant when he said he would make sure she would never get hurt again and that included his own actions.

But he loved her. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Then there was Barnes to consider. He sure as hell didn’t like the guy but he respected him enough. The one thing they both had in common was their mutual concern for Natasha and that somehow assured him that the guy wouldn’t hurt Natasha.

He couldn’t even contemplate what he thought about Pepper. He fucking got engaged which felt like a huge mistake now. He vowed to try and fix things with her, committed to her and was he just supposed to leave her alone when she’s the one who supported him the entirety of those eight months? Oh this train of thought was hurting his head.

“You know what’s wrong with this team?” Clint sneaks up on him while he’s working on some stimulations for the prototypical suit.

“Huh, what?” He gives Clint a confused look.

“Everyone’s bored! All we have done the past few months is chase bad guys and save the world. Honestly I’m pretty sure they are all exhausted.” Clint whines.

“What am I supposed to do about it, legolas?” He rolls his eyes at the archer.

“Come on, Tin Man! You’re Tony Stark. Throwing parties is literally your specialty.” He says trying to flatter Tony.

“Give it a few months. Let the situation with the accords calm down then I’ll throw you all the parties you need. Movie night sound okay for now?” Tony smirks.

“You know that’s why you’re my favourite,” Clint grins.

“Natasha, Clint says I’m his favourite,” he shouts turning towards where Natasha was fighting Barnes in the ring. Natasha narrows her eyes and Clint visibly shrinks.

“You gonna come up here and train, Tony?” She reprimands.

“I said I was gonna come to the gym. Never said anything about training,” Tony snarks and Natasha looks frustrated.

“Suit yourself. Not gonna save your ass on the field,” Natasha says and Tony sticks his tongue out at her.

The rest of the time, Tony’s working on his tablet and opting to watch Natasha every once in a while. Seeing her with Barnes would never get any easier. The way he looks at her, the way her face constricts whenever he’s hurt. She’s always aware of not attacking his metal arm. It was obvious that they understood each other, that they loved each other. He’s not sure he could compete with Barnes. He’s not sure he would ever make her that happy.

Just then Peter entered the gym. His mouth hanging open when he saw the people in the room. Tony had to suppress a chuckle.

“Hey, kid.” He greets trying to get his attention.

“Hey, Mr. Stark.” He waves at him still looking at the avengers.

Steve was in the corner repeatedly hitting a punching bag. Sam was pulling weights. Natasha,Barnes were sparring and Clint was practicing with his Bow and Arrow. He had arranged a separate room for Wanda which could be accessed and was visible through this part of the gym so that she could realise the full extent of her powers. While Rhodey had been away as he had to handle something in the army.

Tony could understand how seeing all these superheroes in one place would stun a kid. Before he could say anything though Natasha takes notice of him.

“Peter, come on up here.” Natasha gestures him into the boxing ring.

“Yes, Miss Ro... Natasha,” he says nervously.

“This is James Barnes.” Natasha introduces them and Barnes holds out his hand.

“Whoa. I’m sorry I had to restrain you during the fight,” Peter says glancing at Barnes’ arm.

“Sorry have we met before?” Barnes’ asks a little confused.

“Oh yeah. I’m Spider-Man! I fought against you in the airport.” Peter says that last part almost a whisper. Before he seems to realise something. “Wait James Barnes? As in you were a howling commando? That’s so cool!” The excitement evident on Peter’s face.

A flash of surprise crosses Barnes’ face clearly not used to getting recognition as his lips turn up.

“Yeah, what’s your name kid?” Barnes asks clearly liking Peter.

“Peter Parker,” he says still fidgety.

Then one by one Peter gets introduced to Cap, Sam, Clint and Wanda.

Natasha finally speaks up,

“Let’s work on your reflexes today shall we?” And Peter nods.

They’re training for an hour and Tony can’t help but be a little proud of Peter for holding his own against Natasha. He knew she was going easy on him but the fact that he wasn’t pinned on the mat by Black Widow already was a feat in and of itself. Hours pass by as they’re all training and Tony’s working on his suit when Clint finally grabs everyone’s attention.

“Let’s go watch a movie together today? We’ve worked hard enough.”

“Are you okay with that, Tony?” Cap looks at Tony asking for his permission.

“Yeah obviously Cap. Friday’s already arranged everything. You guys go on ahead.” He says.

“Mr. Stark, maybe I should go now? May will be worried.” Peter asks stepping towards him.

“Or maybe you could join us? I’ll talk to May,” he suggests. Peter’s face lit up as soon as he said it. He almost jumps towards Tony and hugs him.

“Thank you so much. You’re amazing, Mr. Stark!” Peter exclaims.

When Peter follows Cap and Barnes out of the room, Natasha stays behind.

“Tony Stark’s a father figure.” She singsongs.

“You’re sickening,” Tony huffs.

“What? I think it’s adorable. I always knew you’d be good with kids. Your reservations about being a father should be lessened by now. At least Pepper can give you that.” She says sombrely.

“ I never expected that from you,” Tony’s mad she would ever be self-reproachful that too about things that she had no control over. She knows they’re treading too deep here for comfort so she diverts the conversation.

“You’re joining us right?” Natasha says putting a hand on his shoulder.

“Yeah I’ll be there in a while. I just need to finish some last touches on the suit.” He reassures her and she nods.

He never realised how much this effected her. They barely ever spoke about her being sterile the entire time they were together. He wonders if Natasha thought that would matter to him. It didn’t. As much as the thought of having kids with Natasha warms his heart.

Loving her meant he had to make some sacrifices and he gladly would without thinking twice. He never thought he would make a good father, he was too worried he would turn out like Howard. That’s not something he would ever put a child through but he knew if they ever did Natasha would compensate for his shortcomings. He has to tear himself away from those thoughts realising it had almost been half an hour and the team must be waiting from him.

When he reaches the lounge he sees Cap and Sam on the couch across from him with Peter sitting on the ground. Clint was dangling from the end of one of the lounge chairs. But there was an empty seat right next to Natasha....on the couch she and Barnes were sitting on. Well that was awkward. He moved to sit on the ground but Natasha finally noticed him and patted her hand on the seat. He nodded taking a seat next to her.

“Where’s Wanda and Vision?” He asks not seeing them around.

“I think they wanted some time alone,” Natasha offers and he nods.

“Now that Stark’s finally here, what movie should we watch?” Clint asks.

Tony’s just about to open his mouth to suggest a movie when,

“I swear to God if you say back to the future again,” Natasha warns looking pointedly at him. And he shuts his mouth.

“Cap hasn’t watched The Mission Impossible movies yet. Maybe we should start with that,” Clint suggests and everyone seems to agree with that.

It was hilarious being huddled on the same couch as Natasha and Barnes. It’s like the universe was playing some sick joke on him. He had lost his interest in the movie with what it’s complete disregard to Physics so he utilised that time to study Natasha’s face. All his musings from earlier seemed to fade away from him as he wanted nothing more than to be curled up against her at this moment. He wanted her so bad. He just couldn’t deny it any longer.

“God Tom Cruise is hot,” Natasha sighs as both Tony and Barnes narrow their eyes at her. She notices and says,”What? He’s really attractive!” Natasha defends.

“Yeah obviously. His huge arms, chiseled chest and abs. Why wouldn’t you be attracted to him?” Tony says pouting. He knows he’s annoying but he can’t help himself. Natasha gives him a weird look before turning her attention back to the movie.

This was going to be a long two hours.

 

 

Chapter Text

They were halfway through the movie when Natasha let her thoughts wander. It was kind of ridiculous how she was sandwiched between Tony and James. What’s worse was Tony had been restless this entire time. She raised her eyebrow at him silently questioning what was wrong but he just shook his head as he turned his attention back to the movie.

They ran out of popcorn so Natasha thought of going and getting some more.

“I’ll just get some more popcorn. You guys need anything else?” Everyone shakes their head but Tony gets up from his seat.

“I’ll help,” he says and starts to follow her out of the room.

Once they are in the kitchen though, Tony doesn’t say a word.

“You’re being weird today,” she states trying to figure out what’s wrong.

“Why did you fall for me?” He asks timidly and if it wasn’t for years of training Natasha probably wouldn’t have heard him.

“What’s this about?” She asks. After all this time that’s the last thing she expected him to ask her.

“Barnes and I, we’re so inherently different,” he scoffs. “It’s funny how he is literally a World War II veteran. The guy was mercilessly experimented on by hydra, wiped out of his memories and forced to do things he couldn’t control. Somehow, I still don’t have it in my heart to forgive him. I’m still bitter about the fact that he gets to live in my compound after I saw the Soldier choke the life out of my mother. So how could you love someone like me? Someone who’s so indignant, so selfish, so insecure?” his voice is trembling.

“I loved you because I saw how utterly selfless you were even when people wanted to believe the worst in you. I loved the real Tony Stark. Not the cocky billionaire who could destroy a room with an offhanded quip but the one who regrets and relentlessly tries to repent for everything he has ever done wrong,” she says stepping towards him.

“I’ll never be good enough for you. Barnes can make you happy. He loves you, I can see that now.” He says closing his eyes.

“Is this your attempt at telling me we’re done?” She’s mad that he would give up so easily.

“Oh no. I’m not sure I can ever stop feeling for you. I’m just telling you that you have a choice. You don’t have to deal with my emotional baggage.” He says honestly.

“We’re both flawed, Tony. We’re messed up in ways others couldn’t even comprehend. If you’re still doubtful of how I feel about you then I don’t know how to make you trust me.” She says gently taking his face in her hands.

“Do you think we could ever fix things between us? Pick up from where we left off?” He asks hopefully.

“I can’t say anything for sure, Tony. But I know I don’t wanna give up on us,” she says.

“Then that’s all I need. Even though I know Barnes might make you happier than I ever can, I can’t goddamn get over you. That’s how selfish I’m willing to be for you,” He says forcefully.

“Tony....we should get back,” she was feeling uneasy under his intense scrutiny. She moves to press a kiss against his cheek but he moves his face just in time to brush his lips against hers. She’s surprised by his sudden movement but before she knows it she’s kissing him back. Her hand tangles in his hair pulling him closer while his wrap around her waist.

But Clint’s voice in the distance breaks them off.

“What’s taking you so long, Nat?”

She moves away from him as fast as she can to pick up the bowl of popcorn to go back to team. It’s a while before Tony joins them taking the seat next to her again.

She tries not to look at him but shivers the moment he catches hold of her hand.

“What’s wrong doll?” James asks noticing her tremble.

“I think she’s just a little cold, Barnes. Maybe you should get a blanket,” Tony says with a smirk aimed directly at her. James nods and moves. Just as he’s out of earshot Natasha can’t help but retort. “Asshole.” And Tony suppresses the urge to laugh.

They stay like that the entirety of the movie. His hand not once letting go of her. She doesn’t even know when she dozes off with her head on Tony’s shoulder.

She wakes up in the middle of the night. It takes her a moment to take in her surroundings. Then she realises that she’s laying on Tony’s shoulder. She looks up and sees him sleeping and slightly snoring the way he usually does. The scene makes her smile. She wishes he would always look so serene. As she manages to detach her eyes from Tony, she finds that all the boys are asleep. She looks to her left and finds James. She wonders if he saw her fall asleep on Tony last night. She slowly wakes him up by nudging his side.

“What time is it?” James asks groggily.

“A little after 3. You wanna go back to the room?” She asks.

“Yeah let’s go.” James gets up extending his hand to her as he leads her to the room.

Once she’s in bed, she can’t help but recount everything that happened in the kitchen. Tony made it clear that he wanted her. How was she supposed to react to that? Were they supposed to forget all the relationships they forged just to run back to each other? She glances at James feeling an immense amount of guilt.

They needed to figure out what they were. And they needed to do it fast.

Chapter Text

Natasha woke up happier than she had been in a while. Last night was eventful to say the least. She didn’t know what was occurring between her and Tony but she knew it was leading towards something. Just the thought of him wanting her back was solace enough.

“Then that’s all I need. Even though I know Barnes might make you happier than I ever can, I can’t goddamn get over you. That’s how selfish I’m willing to be for you.”

She couldn’t stop the smile that threatened to break across her face each time she thought of him.

And the kiss. God, she knew she shouldn’t have let him. But once he initiated it, it was impossible for her  not to reciprocate. She had been craving his touch for months. Though none of that justified it. She knew it was wrong. They were still with other people, people that they cared about.

There was a long road ahead. She knew they had James and Pepper to worry about. They had to be considerate about their feelings and she was aware that they would never intentionally hurt them. But he had given her hope last night. That’s more than she could ever ask for. Specially since she wasn’t even sure if she deserved his forgiveness a few months ago.

With that thought in her head she headed down for breakfast. Pleased to see Tony was already there talking to Clint. Those two had been getting awfully close lately. As soon as Tony was aware of her presence he broke into a genuine smile, tracing each of her steps. She smiled back. When she reached them, she dropped down to press a kiss on Clint’s cheek. Tony pouted when he didn’t get his causing her to shake her head almost as a warning. A grown man shouldn’t look that adorable.

“Morning, Peter. I’m glad you stayed over.” She greeted as she moved across the table.

“Thanks, Natasha.” Peter blushed a bright red as she ruffled his hair.

“Yeah must be amazing to have breakfast with this dysfunctional group of people,” Tony joked. Peter chuckled.

“No, it really has been amazing. I really look upto all of you. Thanks for giving me this opportunity. Specially Mr. Stark and Natasha,” he says earnestly. Natasha had a hard time believing he was just 15.

“You deserve it, kid.” Tony says proudly.

“When’s Rhodey coming back?” Natasha asks wanting to talk to him regarding Tony. She knew Clint would just say I told you so and that would be it. He also got really protective when she started dating guys. So, Rhodey was her only option. It was weird to have him as a confidant but then again no one in this compound was normal.

“Tomorrow probably. He’s not sure. The work’s holding him back.” Tony says. Natasha nods.

“I was wondering if you guys didn’t need me here, maybe I should go visit Laura and the kids? It’s been a while.” Clint asks.

“You don’t need to ask us, katniss. It’s your family. You can go visit them whenever you want,” Tony says waving it off.

“I haven’t seen the kids in ages,” Natasha says sorrowfully. She really missed them.

“Maybe you could join Barton? If you have anything urgent you need to do you could just explain it to me. I’ll do it.” Tony offers and Clint raises an eyebrow. She shrugs him off.

“I’ll just go see them some other time.” Natasha says.

Just then James and Steve enter the room clearly having come from a run. James leans down to kiss her.

“There are kids here, Barnes,” Tony teases but Natasha can clearly hear the hint of jealousy in his tone. James just smirks at him in return before taking a seat next to her.

When they’re done Natasha can’t help but anticipate what’s ahead for her and Tony. She couldn’t wait to talk to him. That’s until he looks at his phone and a dark look passes across his face. Then he proceeds to lock himself into his office for the next two hours. She’s worried what could’ve wrong in such a small amount of time.

“FRIDAY, is he out yet?” She asks.

“No, Miss Romanov. But he has asked you to join him if you want.”

“Thanks,” she says visibly lighting up.

As she enters his office,

“You know it’s kind of rude to ignore a girl after kissing her,” she jokes but he doesn’t reply. Upon better observation, she can see him slouching in the chair holding something in his hand. When she’s close enough she realises whose photo it is.

“That’s Peggy Carter,” she states moving his chair so he faces her.

“That’s my Aunt Peggy.” He says.

Understanding crosses over her features.

“Today’s the day she died. It’s been a year.” He says looking into her eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Tony. I didn’t know you were close.” She apologises instantly regretting how she spent that entire day supporting Cap when the man she loved needed her by his side.

“I never told you. It’s not your fault.” He says as he keeps the picture back on the table. He gets up from his chair and she steps towards him, throwing her arms around his shoulder, needing to comfort him in any way possible. He buries his head in the crook of her neck.

“You know what’s the worst part? That last month I was so overworked, so overwhelmed with what happened in Lagos that I never got the chance to meet her. I didn’t visit her for a year thinking I’ll get the opportunity later, only then it was too late,” he said whimpering and Natasha’s heart clenched in pain.

She finally let go of him to manoeuvre them on the floor so that he was laying with his head on her lap.

“Tell me about her,” Natasha says.

“I can’t. It’s too painful.” He chokes on a sob.

“Just trust me. Tell me about her,” she urged raking her hand through his hair.

“My dad was always busy. He never had any time for me. He was cold, calculating. My mother on the other hand adored me. She gave me everything I ever wanted, urged me to do what I liked. She was always proud of me, always told me she loved me. But they were both away a lot. Jarvis, my butler and my aunt Peggy, they are the ones who practically raised me.” Tony says his voice still shaking.

“Your AI Jarvis?” Natasha asks.

“Yeah I named my AI after him.” He chuckles. And Natasha smiles.

“They both loved me. They were the ones who tended to my wounds when I would accidentally blow myself up while experimenting with something. To them there was nothing I couldn’t do. Aunt Peggy taught me to always do what I felt was right. She inspired me. Did you know she was a founding member of shield?” Tony asks.

“Yeah. I’m kind of a fan,” Natasha tells him.

“She was the first woman to ever go into field work when everyone around her told her she couldn’t pull it off. She was an amazing spy and an expert in matters of espionage. She was a master tactician and crazy at combat. Come to think of it she would love you,” he smiles up at her.

“I wish I could meet her,” she says.

“I wish I could introduce her to the amazing woman I fell in love with. She would be proud.” He says looking up and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She can’t do anything to stop the blush that spreads on her face.

“When SHIELD fell, during my little hiatus, I went back to Russia. I tried to find my parents.” She laughs scornfully.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Tony asks.

“There was nothing to say. Two little gravestones by a chainlink fence. We have what we have when we have it, Tony. She knew you had her even if you didn’t visit. I know she’s proud of the man you became.” She says and Tony raises his head just to press a kiss against her cheek. They stay like that for hours and get up only when Tony’s whimpers have finally subsided.

As Natasha’s leaving the room she turns back to him.

“We have a lot to talk about, Tony,” she says hoping he understands.

“I know we do. I meant what I said last night, Natasha. This ends with us together.”

She moves to him again. And buries her face in his chest as his hands encircle her waist.

“I don’t wanna wait anymore.” Her voice is muffled by his shirt but she knows he heard it.

“Just a little while longer. Pepper will be back later this week. We’ll figure it all out then.” He says kissing the top of her head.

Whatever lied ahead terrified her. The conversation with James and Pepper wasn’t gonna be easy. But that’s the least she could do for him. She meant when she said she would never give up on them. She wasn’t planning to now either.

Chapter Text

The last few days all that’s been on Natasha’s mind is Tony. She knew this kind of obsession wasn’t healthy. But being apart for over a year did that to people. A week. Just one more week. She tried to console herself.

Then James was shuffling into bed beside her. She wondered why she didn’t ask Tony if she should break things off with James. He had to wait for Pepper but she didn’t. That being said they did live in the same compound. There’s no way James would take lightly to them being together after she reassured him that there was nothing between her and Tony. Moreover, staying in the same place as him afterwards would be ignorant to say the least. Now that she thought of it, they really needed to take decisions regarding their living arrangements.

“Hey, love.” James said getting into bed and wrapping his arms around her. She’s surprised how she feels nothing at that action.

“Hey, what did you do today?” She asks trying to hide the slight guilt creeping into her voice.

“Just worked on my shooting. The range is amazing.” He says then trails kisses all the way from her jaw to her neck. As his hands find themselves under her T-shirt,

“James, I’m really tired. Not today,” she’s giving excuses but she can’t do this anymore. All of this pretending was taking a toll on her.

“Okay, doll.” He said kissing her forehead. He trusted her wholeheartedly. That just further broke her heart.

“Maybe we should go on a real date sometime soon? There wasn’t really a lot of opportunity for that in Wakanda or Hydra.” He jokes.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” She lies. She feels like that’s all she has been doing lately.

She fell asleep with Tony’s thoughts in her head. She would do anything to have him here. To be in his arms instead. She’s never been a cheater but she’s not sure what she is right now. She can’t wait until all of this over.

When they’re having breakfast she notices Tony isn’t there.

“Where’s Tony?” She asks directing the question at Clint. He shrugs. But Friday answers instead.

“Boss is working on something in his lab. He doesn’t want to be disturbed unless it’s something urgent. He also assured everyone that he ate early this morning.”

That meant he would be holed up in the lab all day. There goes Natasha’s hopes of talking to him.

She had been helping Wanda train when Peter joins them.

“Hey, Natasha!” Peter says excitedly. She smiles at him.

“What do you wanna do today?” She asks him.

“I don’t know. Where’s Mr. Stark?” He asks looking around.

“He’s working in his lab. Doesn’t want to be disturbed.” She says missing him.

“Oh, I actually needed his help. I can’t stay for long today.” He says timidly.

“Why? What’s today?” She asks casually.

“Umm...I have a.... umm nothing just some school stuff.” He fumbles through his words.

Natasha narrows her eyes obviously knowing that he’s lying.

“Really?” She asks skeptically but let’s it go.

“Yeah,” Peter says without maintaining eye contact. Natasha doesn’t prod any further deciding if it was that important he wouldn’t have hidden it from her.

“When Tony told me about you, all he said was that you have spider powers. Maybe you could show me what that entails. I’ll just help you strategize and show you how to be more effective. That work for you?” She asks and he nods.

They get started and honestly seeing him climbing walls, swinging on his webs so gracefully made her feel a little proud. Peter was just 15, and yeah he still had room to improve but he was nowhere near sloppy. She got why Tony wanted him involved with the Avengers later on. Sometimes Peter reminded her of him. The same superiority when it comes to intellect, the same need to take responsibility for things they probably didn’t have any control over.

When they’re done Natasha asks him,

“What did you need Tony’s help with?”

“No, it’s nothing Natasha. You probably can’t help me with it.” He says.

“I could help you if it’s something school related. Tony might be the genius but I don’t think I’ll struggle with high school homework.” She offers.

“Actually, Natasha. I lied to you,” he confesses avoiding her eyes.

“I know,” she smirks at him.

“What, you do?” He’s nervous now.

“Master spy and interrogator here. I’m pretty sure I know when someone’s lying,” she says.

“It’s actually...I have a date.” He says sheepishly.

“Oh really?” She teases.

“There’s this girl I like. Her name is MJ,” he says blushing.

“And how’s Tony supposed to help you with that?” She asks genuinely curious.

“He has been giving me advice. You know he’s Tony Stark. He knows what girls like,” he says.

“Does he now?” She says barely containing a smile.

“Yeah, I think I should go now. I’ll be late otherwise.” He says unmindfully giving her a hug and Natasha freezes. But then recovers and hugs him back.

“Have fun, Peter,” she says as he lets go of her. She’s never thought about having children. But times like these she really wished that she had a choice.

Natasha was tired and exhausted and just wanted to be near Tony. It was almost time for dinner and she hadn’t seen or spoken to him the entire day. That’s when FRIDAY chimes in,

“Miss Romanov, Boss has asked you to meet him in his lab.”

“Tell him I’ll be there in a sec,” she says unable to contain her happiness.

Tony was hunched over a table in his lab. Music from AC/DC was blaring through the speakers. He was welding with a blowtorch and had his goggles and gloves on. She sighed observing how good he looked when he was in his element.

“So now you miss me?” She teases.

Tony looks up and takes off his goggles giving her a smile. She can’t help but notice how adorable he looks. He has a smudge of grease over his forehead and his hair is sticking up in all directions.

“I miss you all the time,” he says extending his arm towards her.

She steps into his embrace and he presses a kiss on her cheek.

“Maybe you shouldn’t lock yourself up in the lab all day then.” She retorts unwilling to let him go as she lays her head on his chest.

“Yeah, about that. I made you something.” He says excitedly pulling away from her.

“Did you update my widow’s bites or something? You’ve already made me enough weapons, Tony,” she says seeing him pick up a bracelet and then helping her put it on.

“It’s not a weapon. Just press that button when you’re ready.” He says pointing at the bracelet and she looks at him with narrowed eyes.

He moves out of her periphery and wraps his arms around her from behind. She cautiously presses the button. A second later she hears some mechanism whirring before a suit appears in front of her. At first she thought it was one of Tony’s new suit but upon better inspection she realised that suit wasn’t for him.

It was for her. He had made a suit for her.

She was in awe of what was ahead of her. It had a black and red exterior with the widow symbol in place of his arc reactor. She turned around in his arm,

“Tony... I can’t,” she says not being able to phrase a sentence.

“Yeah, you can. It’s yours. I made it for you.” He says forcefully.

“It’s beautiful. And it’s more than anything I ever deserved.” She says closing her eyes burying her head in his neck.

“Don’t do that. Don’t undersell yourself. I know you can handle yourself on the field and you sure as hell don’t need my suit. But I want to be able to protect you.” He says running his hand through her hair.

“I love you,” she says pulling back and looking right into his eyes.

“I love you too, baby. Now go on ahead. Try it on.” He ushers her towards the suit.

As soon as she’s within range the suit engulfs her and this is probably the most powerful she had ever felt.

“So I assorted it with built in weapons such as repulsor rays, wrist mounted machine guns, thought scramblers and the like. You can also achieve supersonic flight and I can add any other weapons you want later,” he says.

“This is perfect, Tony. I don’t know what to say,” she says trying everything on the suit still wondering if this is real. She was ecstatic, that’s how she felt right now.

“You don’t have to say anything. Can’t a guy do something nice for his girl? And I just don’t like the thought of you getting hurt. This is more for my peace of mind than anything else.” He says as she steps out of her suit and gazes at it.

He turns her around so that she’s facing him. His hands are on her hips pulling her closer. She closes her eyes as he kisses the corner of her mouth. She can’t help but sigh when he kisses her jaw, followed by her neck and finally stopping at her collarbone.

“Tony...” she says trying to stop him.

“I know, I know. It’s not my fault you are so tempting,” he says and she swats him away.

“Did you stay up last night making the suit?” She says finally noticing how tired he looked.

“I might have. It’s fine. I have coffee.” He jokes. She trails her hand on his chest.

“You’re gonna take a shower right now and join us for dinner. Then you’re going to go to bed at a decent hour. Get it?” She warns.

“Okay. You’re mean.” He says pouting.

“Get used to it,” she teases and as she’s about to leave he catches hold of her hand and pulls her back.

“Give me a kiss,” he smirks at her.

“Don’t make me hit you,” she smiles at him and he lets her go.

She really wasn’t expecting him to give her a suit. It was beyond her wildest expectations. He had obviously designed it keeping her choices in mind, starting from the colour scheme down to the functions of the suit. She was happy. Tony loved her and they were so close to getting back what they had. If this is how the rest of her life was supposed to be then she really couldn’t wait any longer.

Chapter Text

Tony watches her as she leaves the room. He never thought he would get her back but now that he did, he never wanted to let her go. Last night, his dreams ranged from a happily ever after with her to Natasha getting hurt again just because even though she’s stronger than all of them combined but she was still vulnerable on the field, unable to deflect bullets or take hits like the rest of them. That’s what had prompted him to stay up all night and all day to work on her suit. He was just glad that she accepted it.

All that was left was coming clean to Pepper and Barnes. He knew that was going to be the hardest part. It was weighing heavily on his conscience. It had already been two days since they started whatever this was and they were already two days too late to confess to the people that they were with.

Just then he detected movement on his right as Cap came into his view. He couldn’t help but wonder how long he was there.

“When I told you to follow your heart, I didn’t realise i was also asking you to break my best friend’s,” Cap says coming into the lab. Well now Tony knew how long he was there.

“What are you doing here, Cap?” He says casually trying to delay wherever this would lead to.

“I came here to ask if you were gonna join us for dinner. I just didn’t expect you to be with Bucky’s girl,” he says his lips drawing a thin line.

“She has a name you know? Don’t think Natasha would like being called Bucky’s girl.” Tony retorts.

“Look, Tony. I don’t know what’s going on here. But if this is just the two of you screwing around...” Cap says exasperated.

“It’s not. It’s not a fling.” He says sternly.

“I meant what I said that day. You can’t control who you fall in love with. And I’m still not judging you for that,” Cap says.

“Trust me. I know,” Tony scoffs.

“Whatever I saw today. I know this is not a recent development. And I’m pretty sure Bucky doesn’t know. That’s something I will judge you for,” Cap says honestly.

Tony knows he’s at fault here. There are no excuses. He couldn’t be a smartass when he had no defense.

“Don’t you think I know that, Cap?” He says unable to maintain eye contact.

“Why doesn’t he know yet? Is Pepper aware?” Cap enquires and Tony shakes his head.

“We just haven’t figured it out. Pepper’s not here and it’s not something that I can just drop on her. And Barnes, he’s already not happy with me,” Tony says closing his eyes.

“You both need to tell them Tony. It’s none of my business and I swear I’m not telling Bucky. But if you both don’t, I’ll be compelled to. I hope we’re clear on that.” Cap says sternly moving to leave the room and Tony nods.

They had just gotten themselves into a bigger mess. Tony’s not sure if Natasha should speak to Barnes tonight. Whatever it was they really needed to talk.

 

*******

As Natasha got out of Tony’s lab, she came face to face with Rhodey who probably just returned to the compound.

“Hey, Nat,” he said giving her a hug.

“Hey, what took you so long? I thought it was just a debriefing you had to attend.” She asks.

“Illegal weaponry in the no fly zone. Had to don the war machine armour. We still couldn’t detect whose tech it was.” He says exhausted.

“At least you’re back,” she says wondering if she should tell him.

“Something on your mind?” He probably notices how she’s holding something back.

“I didn’t wanna ambush you with this but I literally have no one else to talk to.” The absurdity of this situation doesn’t escape her.

“Yeah, Nat you can tell me anything. I’ll probably end up telling Tony later but that’s expected,” he jokes and she shoves him.

“This is why I shouldn’t be discussing this with his best friend.” She sighs. But continues anyway,

“Tony and I, we admitted how we felt about each other. Finally. We had a talk and we want to move forward with us. Does that make sense?” She wonders why this makes her so nervous.

“That’s great, Nat. I’m so glad you guys aren’t lying to yourselves any longer.” Rhodey says genuinely happy.

“Thanks. It’s just that we haven’t spoken to James and Pepper yet. I don’t even know how to bring it up with him.” She says wondering how Rhodey will react.

“You know that’s wrong. I told you Pepper’s my friend as well and Barnes does seem to love you. I’m not sure hiding this is the right decision.” He says disappointment evident in his voice.

“We’re not hiding it. I just...I don’t know what we’re doing.” She’s exhausted.

“Look, I know you and Tony. And I’m aware that that conversation isn’t going to be pretty. But you need to be honest with them. It’s not fair to either one of them.” Rhodey explains and she agrees.

“I know. Trust me I do.” She sighs and Rhodey puts his hand on her shoulder leading her to the common area.

“So, how’s my best friend treating you?” He teases and she has to laugh. She’s glad he doesn’t judge them. At this moment she knows even she does.

When they were having dinner that night, something was off about the team. She’s not sure why but there was this palpable tension in the room. Clint had gone off to the farm. And no one uttered a word the entire time they were eating. She raised her eyebrows at Tony questioning what was wrong but he just shook his head. When they were done her phone buzzed.

Tony: Meet me in my room. Please?

She looked around to find him and once their eyes met she nodded at him.

Once she was at his floor she couldn’t help but look over her shoulder. She scoffed at herself. Clandestine meetings with a guy she liked. She almost felt like a teenager not that she had that kind of a life anyway. Her teenage was more spying and gathering information on people then screwing around with guys. She knocked and entered the room when he asked her to come in.

“Stark, if this is a booty call I swear....” she stops when she sees the sombre expression on his face.

“Cap knows,” he says with a sigh.

“Oh,” she says walking over to the bed before flopping down beside him. She adds,”Rhodey knows too.”

“Wait, what?” He asks confused.

“Yeah, I told him.” She admits.

“Why are you talking to Rhodey about us? Anyway, Cap saw us in the lab together,” he says trying to gauge her reaction.

“Oh come on. I shouldn’t have expected anything less in a transparent lab.” She says running her hands over her face.

“He practically threatened us to let Pepper and Barnes know.” Tony recalls.

“We shouldn’t be keeping it from them in the first place. I think I’ll tell James tonight.” She says asking for his approval.

“Yeah, you probably should.” He admits.

“He loves me, Tony. I can’t betray him like this. Just seeing how much he trusts me is killing me,” she says.

“We’re not cheating on them,” he defends and she narrows her eyes at him. “Well not physically anyway.” He adds later.

“If I do tell him tonight, I’m not sure I can rub the fact that I’m with you on his face. We can’t stay here afterwards and James is an avenger now. This is his home as much as it’s ours.” She wonders if he thought about that.

“I know. I have a plan. I’m not sure if you’re gonna agree to it though.” He says.

“What do you mean?” She asks.

“I was thinking we could move out of here. Get a cabin in the woods. I might retire from active duty again and you could work from there. Maybe visit the compound on a weekly basis. And they can call us in, in case of emergencies.” He offers cautiously.

“That actually sounds really good,” she smiles at him and he reciprocates.

“When are you gonna tell Pepper?” She asked further.

“I don’t know. It’s not something I can just admit on the phone. She has a string of meetings extremely important for SI and I’m not sure if I’ll even get time with her if I fly there. Which was why I was waiting for when she came.” He explains.

“Are you scared?” She asks because she’s terrified.

“Yeah I don’t even know how to approach her about this.” He says. She glances at his engagement ring before taking his hand in hers, “As long as you don’t, this is always gonna be a barrier between us,” she says pointing at the ring.

“I know, Tasha! It’s just that she was there for me when no one else was. Not you, nor anyone on the team,” he says bitterness creeping into his voice.

“I came back, Tony.” She says knowing now is as good a time as any to come clean to him.

“What do you mean you came back?” Tony’s eyes snap up.

“About three months after Siberia. I came back to ask you for a chance. To tell you that I was sorry and that I wanted us together even if that’d be extremely hard while I was on the run. But I saw you in Malibu with Pepper. She made you happy. So I went away. I didn’t want to intrude.” She confesses and Tony’s eyes turn red.

“Pepper and I weren’t even dating at that point. You’re telling me you threw away whatever we had because you thought Pepper made me happy?!” His voice raising higher by the second.

“I didn’t want to hurt you. Not again. Don’t you get that? I just thought she would be better for you than I ever could be.” She exclaimed.

“That wasn’t your decision to take. What’s the point of a relationship if we can’t mutually decide what we want, Natasha? I thought you were never giving up on us!” He says enraged.

“You said you would always wait. But you didn’t and I thought I had destroyed whatever chance I had of us being together. That’s why I left.” She says sternly.

“Congratulations. You almost did destroy whatever we had. Not by betraying me. You did that when you decided to let me go. To let me be with someone else.” Tony says tearing up.

“Tony... don’t say that,” she pleads.

“None of this would’ve happened if you didn’t give up. You should’ve fought for me. Then we wouldn’t have to break their hearts right now. We never would have to hurt Barnes and Pepper If you just came to me back then.” Tony says.

“I’m sorry, baby.” She says trying to cup his face.

“Just get out. Please,” he pleads and she moves to leave. Barely holding herself together until she breaks down.

She can’t believe this was happening right now. Tony didn’t even want to look at her.

They were so close. So damn close.

Chapter Text

Natasha was in a daze. She’s not sure what happened or how she even let it happen but it did. And now Tony was mad at her. She wanted to scream at him, wanted to beg him not to screw this up when they were so close but she knew he wasn’t wrong.

She should’ve trusted their feelings enough to not let him go. They wouldn’t be in this dilemma otherwise. This time around though she was going to be patient. She’s willing to give him all the time he needs because she’s assured of their emotions this time around. She believes in them and she trusts him enough to know he won’t give up on them. All she had to do was wait.

It had been three days since that incident. Since she had her fight with Tony. She wanted to tell James everything that night. But she wasn’t sure if she was in the right mindset to have that conversation, not when she was barely keeping together. She wasn’t even sure if there was anything to say.

She hadn’t interacted with Tony once in those three days. All she had was glimpses of him. He seemed normal enough when talking to Rhodey or Clint. Really few people understood him well enough to see past his mask. The only change in his demeanour came when he was around her.

Indifference. Detachment. Avoidance.

The fact that she was ready to leave James for him made her realise that her feelings for James were nowhere near as deep rooted as she thought they were. He was replaceable in her life. That thought just confirmed what she always knew, she was a horrible person and James deserved so much better.

All she was doing right now was leading him on. And that was never going to end well. She had barely spoken to him the last few days. He was obviously aware that something was off but he had yet to prod her about it.

Her musings were interrupted when Steve entered the room.

“Not training today?” He questions.

She was tired and defeated. She was sure interacting with people would just push her over the edge. She wasn’t ready for that. Wasn’t ready for them to figure out just how broken she was.

“I’m just not in a mood I guess.” She shrugs hoping he leaves.

“I know about you and Tony. You realise that right?” He asks.

“I know that you know.” She says giving him a fake smile.

“Judging by how Bucky doesn’t seem devastated, I’ll take a guess that you haven’t told him yet.” He says.

“No, I haven’t. I’m not even sure if there’s anything left to say.” She says dodging his eyes.

“What do you mean? You’re in love with another guy. How is there nothing left to say?” Steve asks further.

“Tony and I had a fight. Not that that’s any of your business,” she scoffs.

“That doesn’t change how you feel. Bucky deserves to know the truth. He loves you, Natasha.” Steve says and Natasha has to roll her eyes.

“Please don’t start with your greater good speech again, Steve. You preach honesty and integrity. And then somehow end up hiding about Tony’s parents death from him. You’re the hypocrite here. Not everything is black and white. Tony and I don’t share your moral compass and we sure as hell don’t want to,” she says spitefully words pouring out of her before she can stop them. She vents all that pent up anger and frustration of the last few days on Steve even though she knows he doesn’t deserve it.

“Are you done?” He asks and she nods.

“Good. Now get your ass back to training.” Steve smirks.

She huffs before moving out of the room. She had to admit screaming at someone helped. Even though Steve probably wanted her to talk to James, she couldn’t do that yet. She’s worried that she will snap at him or worse completely disregard his feelings. She wasn’t used to being in this much of a fragile state of mind.

Well whatever she was feeling just got a whole lot worse. Pepper. She hadn’t seen the woman in months. That was when she was less than happy with her after she got to know about her history with Tony. Natasha wonders how she will react if she knows about their feelings right now. Whenever she was about to break, her only consolation was that she knew Tony loved her. That’s why she was still holding onto hope for them.

Just then Pepper Potts walks towards her, seemingly less hostile then she before.

“Hello, Natasha,” Pepper was closed off but nowhere near unkind. Natasha  always respected Pepper. She was her own woman. She knows Tony would’ve gone through a number of downward spirals if Pepper wasn’t present. She was also aware of the fact that she had singlehandedly saved Stark Industries because Tony was an amazing inventor but not much of an administrator.

Making Pepper the CEO was probably one of his best decisions. That being said she also realised how important she was to Tony and how close they were. Natasha was never jealous, she barely ever felt insecure. But she couldn’t help but feel a little threatened by their history.

“Hey, Pepper. I thought you were coming a few days later.” She says.

“Yeah, I was supposed to. But I hadn’t seen Tony for a long time so I just rushed some meetings,” she supplies.

“That’s great.” Natasha says. Just like that they had run out of things to say to each other until Tony came towards them breaking the prolonged silenced. He wraps his arms around her and Pepper moves to give him a kiss. She decides to leave as soon as that happens. No point in inflicting torture upon herself at this point.

She can’t help but wonder if Tony was going to break things off with her like they originally planned to do. Just the thought of Tony going ahead with the wedding shot a pang through her chest. She wasn’t sure how she was going to cope if that was to actually happen.

 

Chapter Text

Tony’s not sure when his entire world started revolving around Natasha but at this point of time he had to admit that he was utterly and undeniably whipped. When he wasn’t daydreaming about her, he was probably busy trying to justify her reasons behind letting him go. He wasn’t happy with her admission. He still isn’t. Just the thought that they didn’t need to go through the hurt and betrayal of the last few months enraged him. They probably would’ve had everything they wanted by now if she didn’t let go.

He was so close to having everything. So close to having her 

Further they wouldn’t have to put Pepper and Barnes through rejection. They wouldn’t have to hurt their feelings. He wouldn’t have to break off an engagement. Pepper was coming back today. He was extremely apprehensive barely having a clue as to how he was going to face her or broach the matter to her.

One thing was for sure. They had to break things off. Tony has never been the best example when it came to morals and ethics but he knew keeping his relationship with Natasha hidden wasn’t fair to any of them. He knew neither of them wanted to betray Pepper and Barnes. And Tony wanted to be able to love Natasha in front of the entire world.

They still had things to talk about. They still needed to figure out how to have a functional relationship. Sure, he was a little mad at her right now. But getting back together was inevitable. They loved each other way too much to back off. He knew no matter what they would end up running back to each other eventually. He appreciated that she was giving him his space but that was enough. He’s done delaying things with her. All he wants now is to be with her.

As he sets of to find Natasha, he’s greeted with the sight of her and Pepper together. She must’ve just reached the compound. He moves towards them trying to keep his gaze from faltering. As he reaches Pepper she wraps her arms around him moving to give him a kiss. He almost hesitates to kiss her back as he sees Natasha turn away from them. He never wanted to put her through this. He wishes he could just run over to her and tell her that he’s not rubbing it in her face. He doesn’t want to hurt her. He loves her.

“Hey, Baby,” Pepper says cupping his face.

“Hey, how was your flight?” Tony asks his eyes wavering to follow Natasha’s retreating form until she moves out of his view.

“It was good. I’m just so tired.” She says snuggling into his chest.

“Yeah, let’s go back to the room.” He says leading her towards that inevitable conversation.

Once they’re inside, Pepper locks the door behind her and moves to him.

“I missed you so much,” she says wrapping her arms around his neck.

“We have to talk, Pep,” he says removing her hands from his neck.

“What is it?” She asks visibly tensed.

“It’s about Na...” he begins just as Pepper’s phone rings. That timing was impeccable.

“Sorry, I need to take this,” Pepper apologises as he nods. He can’t help but overhear her conversation as he waits.

“Yeah, I’ll send you the ideas I had. Along with the guest list. We’re throwing the gala together so it does have to be perfect.” He hears Pepper say on the phone and his ears perk up.

She finally hangs up the phone when he raises his eyebrows at her.

“A gala? Who’s we?” He asks.

“You and me,” she smiles.

“I didn’t know I was throwing a party. It’s not even my birthday.” He asks confused.

“It’s just an event to show the Avengers are back together. United front and what not. It can also function as a party for our engagement since we didn’t throw one previously.” She says nonchalantly.

“Why didn’t I know we were throwing a party together?” He asks feeling a little blindsided.

“Come on. You love parties, Tony. I thought you’d be excited. It was more of a surprise anyway.” She says giving him a peck as she moved to the bathroom to freshen up. She stops just before entering and turns to him.

“What did you want to talk to me about?” She asks.

“Nothing. Go ahead,” he deflects suddenly nervous.

Then he sets out to look for Natasha again finally finding her in the range. He leans on the doorway watching her for a while. She seemed frustrated to say the least. He wonders if she missed him the past few days. Once she’s done with her bout and begins removing her gear Tony moves towards her.

“Tony...” she says after finally noticing him. But he opts not to say anything as he catches hold of her hand and leads her to the nearest stairwell. Once they were safely away from prying eyes, she looks at his hand still holding hers questioningly.

“I don’t like being manhandled,” she says sternly. And he lets go of her hand.

“It’s not like you couldn’t escape my hold,” he smirks knowing she’s annoyed but looking down at her challengingly.

“Shouldn’t you be with Pepper? She said missed you,” she says defiantly.

“Low blow.” He huffs. He runs his hands over his face trying to gather his thoughts.

“Was there a point behind this or do you just want to vent?” She asks.

“I’m not being difficult right now, Natasha.” He’s irritated.

“Then what? You barely even looked at me the past few days. Do you want me to apologise again because I can do that. But only if it makes a difference,” she says.

“No. I’ve thought about this, about us. I know you assumed things seeing me and Pepper that day. And you made a decision regarding us without giving me a say in it which ultimately did make us suffer.” He says and Natasha cuts him off.

“I know I did. I am sorry for that, Tony. But that doesn’t mean you’ll just throw this away.” She’s desperate and he knows he is too.

“I’m not throwing anything away. That’s why I’m here. We could be mad at each other all we want, we could pretend not to care but somewhere down the line it’ll be too hard to deny what we already know. We love each other and that’s not gonna change. And I’m sure we will end up running back to each other anyway. I’m sick and tired of wasting time. I just want us to be together now.” He says earnestly hoping she understands how he’s feeling. By the look in her eyes she definitely does. Then her lips turn up and suddenly he can breathe again.

“I was almost worried you were giving up on us again,” she says laughing as she pulls him to her giving him a hug.

“Never. You know the past few days were hell right?” He says into her hair.

“Trust me I do.” She lays her head on his chest and they stay in each other’s arms for a while not wanting to let go.

“Now that that’s done with. Pepper’s back.” He says pulling back.

“Oh yeah I noticed that when you kissed her right in front of me.” He tenses but realises that she’s just teasing.

“I didn’t do that to intentionally anyway. More of a reflex I think.” He defends but shakes his head adding, “Sorry, that doesn’t sound any better.”

“Let’s just talk to them and get this over with.” She says tracing his cheek with her thumb.

“About that.” He begins and Natasha immediately narrows her eyes.

“Did you fuck something up, Tony?” She warns.

“No, it’s just that... I think Pepper and I are throwing a party together tonight.” He swallows not wanting to face her wrath. He loved her but he couldn’t deny Natasha was also the most intimidating person he had ever come across.

“You think? Why?” She raises her eyebrows.

“I wasn’t even aware of it okay? She just planned it by herself. It’s supposed to be the Avengers’ first appearance together since the accords and she also wants it to function as a party for our engagement,” he closes his eyes not wanting to see her reaction.

“Which means there’s going to be huge press and media.” She sighs.

“ I swear we’ll talk to them tomorrow.” He promises.

“Don’t you think we’re just looking for excuses?” she scoffs.

“I swore to Pepper that she could trust me. I fucking proposed because I thought I was ready to settle. You know what she said that day?” Tony asks and she shakes her head.

“She said that just the thought of me committing to her was insane. That there’s no one else she’d rather spend her life with,” he flinches. Natasha’s hand is on his shoulder.

“I thought moving on with James would help with getting over you. It didn’t. I kept on wishing that whatever we felt during his days as the soldier would be enough but it never was. I strung him along anyway. So I guess we’re both horrible people.” She says resting her head against his shoulder.

“Do you ever feel like we’re trying to delay being together? Like something will go wrong as soon as we do?” He asks.

“All the time. But I trust us enough to make it work.” She confesses. Hearing her say that floods him with relief. 

“If Barnes leaves me alive that is,” he jokes but can’t deny the truth in that statement. 

“Or Pepper,” she says trying to lighten the situation.

“This isn’t gonna end well is it?” He knows it won’t.

“Let’s hope for both of our sakes, you get that cabin arranged as soon as you can,” she sighs.

Chapter Text

Tony entered the room with a smile on his face with Pepper by his side. He was good at putting on a mask in front of the world.  He’s used to putting on perfectly tailored suits and snarking his way through a room. Admittedly he didn’t wear his playboy persona on his sleeve any longer but he could see enough people turn their heads when he entered. He was in his element and he was sure that tonight would pass by without incident.

Tony had also somehow convinced the Avengers to show up tonight. This gala had foiled all of his plans of getting back together with Nat but he couldn’t deny that the Avengers did need to make a public appearance. Even if just to console and reassure the public. Tony was used to being fashionably late so he wasn’t surprised to spot a few of the avengers already there. Captain America was standing to the corner of the room. Obviously still uncomfortable with group settings and parties.

He was perfectly okay with leading a group though.

Then he notices Clint and Laura in front of the bar. As Pepper and he walked over to the two,

“Legolas, I didn’t think you’d bring your wife along.” He states a little concerned about him breaking cover.

“Wife? Whose wife? I just ran into Laura a while ago. This is Tony Stark,” he winks at him as Tony gets what he means.

“Hey, Laura.” He says putting on his trademark Tony Stark smirk and pressing a kiss to her hand.

“Back off, Stark.” Clint warns as Pepper and Laura break into a laugh.

He’s trying to ignore the fact that Cap is definitely not happy with him and Natasha if his clenched expression suggests anything. But chooses to avoid him not being able to take his judgement any more.

“So, I hear you and your fiancé threw this party,” Rhodey jokes coming up behind him.

“I heard you’ve been talking to Natasha about me.” He retorts.

“Seriously, Tony you both are literally on the edge of a knife right now. I sure as hell don’t want to be around when Bucky and Pepper figure it out.” Rhodey warns.

“Stop worrying about us honey bear. We’re telling them tomorrow I swear.” He hopes that’ll keep the conversation at bay.

“Just don’t get drunk tonight. Try to be sober. And please don’t do anything stupid.” Rhodey says looking over his shoulder.

“Why?” He’s confused.

“Because you’re so screwed tonight,” he says gesturing behind Tony.

Tony turns around to follow his path of vision only to see Natasha enter with Barnes on her arm. Tony could barely breath as he took in Natasha’s appearance. He looked her over, taking in the close-fitted, ankle length red dress she was wearing. Her hair was swept up in an elegant bun. She was gorgeous and he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

He approaches them just as Bucky gives him a nod.

“You owe us big time, Stark,” Natasha teases and he knows she didn’t want to come along tonight.

“I gave you guys the opportunity to dress up and there’s a free bar at your disposal. What more could you possibly want?” He jokes. They stare at each other for a while longer than necessary and he knows that Barnes noticed. He clears his throat to speak up just as Pepper loops her hand through his.

“Let’s dance,” Pepper tugs at his arm. He has to tear his eyes away from Natasha to concentrate on anything else as he lets Pepper drag him to the dance floor.

After a while they’re joined by Clint and Laura followed by Barnes and Nat. Even Wanda and Vision join them at one point. The entire time he’s dancing with Pepper he keeps on sneaking glances at her. Until Pepper decides she’s tired.

“I’m gonna go grab a drink,” she says pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth.

He’s not letting the opportunity of dancing with Nat go. That’d be a waste of the day.

“May I cut in?” He says moving over to Barnes and Nat. He seems like he’s about to say no but probably doesn’t want to make a scene in public. So he moves back, albeit reluctantly. As soon as he’s face to face with Natasha his smile widens.

“You know you’re wearing a backless dress right?” He teases.

“You like?” She says biting her lip.

He nods before asking, “What about me?”

“You know exactly how well you pull off a tux, Tony,” she shakes her head laughing.

Then he takes her left hand in his resting his other hand on her lower back pulling her closer as she puts her right hand on his shoulder. As they begin to sway in rhythm with the music,

“You look gorgeous,” he compliments and she barely hides the blush creeping on her face.

Natasha’s steps were lithe grace. He couldn’t help but admire how well they fitted with each other.

“Do you remember the last time we did this?” He asks disrupting their comfortable silence.

“Uhmm. You were all flair if I remember,” she teases fondly recollecting the night they spent dancing together.

“I’m still all flair,” he declared smugly causing her to laugh.

“Did Happy ever bring that up with you? I did ask him to pull over in the middle of nowhere.” She asks curiously.

“Oh yeah. A few months ago when you came back. He was worried about Pepper.” He says and as soon as he does he realises why people warned him back then.

“I wonder how transparent we were. Everyone seemed to know something was up,” she says shaking her head.

“Do you want a drink?” He asks and she nods. So he leads her towards the bar.

“Vodka neat,” she tells the bartender.

“You’re so Russian,” he teases.

“You’re not gonna drink?” She asks.

“I think I’m gonna lay low tonight,” he says and she narrows her eyes at him.

“Why?” She asks cautiously taking note of the look in his eyes.

“I don’t wanna act on my intense desire to know if that dress would be easy to remove,” he leans in whispering in her ear smirking at the way she trembles at his words.

“Behave,” she reprimands.

Just then someone calls out his name and he wishes he could just hide away or avoid her.

“Hey, Tony,” Christine Everheart coos.

“Hey....” he lets it trail a little fuzzy on her name.

“Christine Everheart,” she extends her hands to Natasha.

“Natasha Romanov,” she replies professionally.

“Oh I know. Who doesn’t know Black Widow?” she says with a smirk on her face.

“So, how do you and Tony know each other?” Natasha continues the conversation as Tony opts to just watch the women.

“I did a spread on him for vanity fair a few years back,” she says.

“Oh really? Tony did always love the media. Though I’m pretty sure he’s more into red heads,” Nat says cryptically. Tony almost chokes on air gaping at Natasha’s statement. The subtext wasn’t lost on him. Christine narrows her eyes at Tony.

“I’ll just... excuse me,” Christine falters taking their leave.

“You totally schooled her,” Tony laughs.

“Another one night stand I presume?” She asks with a smirk.

“Most women who crossed my path back then were. Why you jealous?” He asks with a crooked smile.

“No. Do you know why?” She asks and he shakes his head.

She looks around before leaning in,

“Because I’m the one you think about all day and all night,” she purrs as Tony’s throat dries up.

Tony can’t help it. He knows he promised Rhodey he wouldn’t do anything stupid but desperate times called for desperate measures.

He draws Natasha near trailing his fingers up her arm before it all goes to hell.

All Tony feels is a fist contacting his jaw before he loses his balance and hits his head against the bar.

Chapter Text

                    Pepper

She hadn’t seen Tony in months. Between the meetings for Stark Industries and handling the press and publicity for the Avengers, she really didn’t have any time to go see him. That didn’t explain why he wouldn’t fly to her but she knew or at least she hoped Tony was as busy as she was. Setting up the compound, training the others and running missions while still putting time in the lab must be agonising.

They spoke almost everyday on the phone. Some days she would be too exhausted and spent to even call him. What concerned her was his lack of effort to contact her. They would speak when she would call otherwise he didn’t really bother. But he would still let her know that he was okay after missions which reassured her. She knew he had a habit of losing track of time when he was down in the lab and she hoped that’s what this was.

She couldn’t deny their conversation about him and Natasha put her a little on edge. But things didn’t really bother her up until this last week. He seemed detached, almost like he was hiding something. That scared her. The last time he had been this disconnected was when he was trying to keep the Palladium poisoning from her. So, she decided to go back to him earlier than she planned. She planned a party because that always helped in lifting up his mood. As soon as she entered the compound though she encountered Natasha. Determined not to let the woman unnerve her, she walked towards her in a composed manner.

“Hello, Natasha.” She said not trying to be hostile in the least. For all she knew she had no reason to be threatened by her.

“Hey, Pepper. I thought you were coming a few days later.” She says and for some reason she doesn’t like the fact that they have spoken about her.

“Yeah, I was supposed to. But I hadn’t seen Tony for a long time so I just rushed some meetings.” She says needing to mark her territory but is surprised to see Natasha barely phased by it. Maybe she’s not threatened by her when it comes to Tony, or maybe she just doesn’t care. She really hoped it was the latter. Because she’s not sure how she could compete with Natasha Romanov.

“That’s great,” and just like that they’ve run out of things to say.

She could hold a proper conversation with Steve Rogers who she despised for everything that he did to Tony but she could barely find things to talk about with Natasha or maybe she just didn’t want to. Either way that said something. That awkward silence didn’t linger for long as Tony joined them and wrapped his arms around her and everything was fine again.

Tony seemed to want to talk to her regarding something but he brushes it off so she thinks it’s nothing serious. Things don’t take a turn for the worse until that night. When they’re dressed for the gala, her heart breaks when Tony barely glances at her compared to when he would admire her for hours, telling her how lucky he was. Things hadn’t been the same for them ever since Killian and the whole debacle with Mandarin.

He used to dote over her, he could barely spend a day without seeing her. But things changed after their break, after his fight with Steve. Or maybe things changed the moment they broke up for the first time. Because even though they reconnected after the splitting of the Avengers, Tony wasn’t the same. That’s when she realized, that’s because this Tony wasn’t completely in love with her.

Her heart broke further when Natasha entered the room. Tony looked at her like she was the only thing that mattered, he was openly gaping at her. Everything that Pepper thought was reserved only for her, the way Tony used to admire her. Now she saw all of that in him again just for a different woman.

She couldn’t help the flash of jealousy which gripped her, or the sudden urge to stop Tony from ruining whatever they had. So she distracts him with a dance. None of that works though because the entire time he’s glancing at Natasha and she gives up. She gives up because she knows she has lost him. She leaves him on the dance floor in favour of getting a drink. Her suspicions get confirmed as Bucky Barnes approaches her at the bar and she sees Tony and Natasha dancing with each other.

Both of them opted to avoid whatever’s happening but she knows Bucky was restraining himself the entire time. He was out of patience though when Tony finally pulled Natasha towards himself on the other end of the bar tracing a hand up her arm. Pepper’s heart clenched. Within a moment Bucky was stalking towards them and before she could even blink Tony is hit square on the jaw.

But she still can’t help rushing over to him. She halts when she sees Natasha crouching on Tony’s level and tending to his jaw. She knew what was coming next. It was inevitable. She was dreading the conversation she would have with Tony and she already knew how it was gonna end.

                     Bucky

Something was wrong. Bucky was aware of it the moment Natalia entered their room. For whatever reason things had shifted between them that night. She could barely look him in the eye and any attempt he made to coerce her seemed futile. She seemed detached. They didn’t have a proper conversation for almost a week. Whenever he asked a question, her replies would be short. Maybe a nod.

That was until today. She had just returned from the range, seemingly happier than when she had left and Bucky breaths a sigh of relief. Maybe things would be better now.

“You seem happy,” he says a smile tugging at his lips and she smiles back.

“There’s this party tonight. We are expected to go,” she informs.

“Why? What is it for?” He asks.

“It’s supposed to reassure the public that the Avengers are really back together.” She says going through her closet. He nods as he understood why that was important.

“What are you doing?” He asks seeing her searching for something.

“Looking for a dress. It’s Tony Stark’s party. I have to dress up for the occasion.” She jokes.

“Like the guy has anything better to do,” he says and she narrows her eyes at him. It irked him how much she hated hearing things against Tony.

“He does more than enough for all of us, James.” She reprimands taking his side yet again. But he can’t deny that Stark has given them all that they could hope for. He also makes sure everyone is secure on the battle field so Bucky does respect the guy.

“I was just joking. I don’t think I have a suit,” he says sheepishly.

“Trust me, getting a tux or renting one isn’t the hardest thing in New York,” she joked.

When they finally finish dressing up for the gala, Bucky can’t take his eyes off of her.

“You’re gorgeous. Are you sure you should be wearing that?” He says pointing at her dress his protective instincts kicking in.

“Thanks. I’m sure. We’re not living in the 40s any longer,” she rolls her eyes.

He can’t help but be disconcerted at how she barely pays attention to anything he says when they’re finally in the car and they fall back into the routine of the last few days. He can’t help but notice that the first time he sees her genuinely smile in the past few days is when Stark comes to them. They stare at each other for longer than what is deemed appropriate and Bucky almost felt like he was intruding. He’s trying, trying so hard to keep her attention on him but he notices her gaze flick to Stark every once in a while.

“May I cut in?” Stark asks and he doesn’t want to. He wants to hold Natalia and never let go. He moves back reluctantly and the moment Stark takes her hand, he feels her slipping away from him. He can’t concentrate on anything but the way Natalia reacts to him, the way they seem happier with each other than she ever has been with him. After a while, Steve interrupts his musings,

“You want to tell me why you look so gloomy, Buck?” He asks putting a hand on his shoulder.

“It’s nothing, enjoy the party Steve. Go mingle,” he says trying to put on a smile. But Steve always knew when something was wrong with him. He followed his path of vision to where Natalia was dancing with Stark and sighed.

“So, what’s wrong with Natasha?” Steve asks.

“Do you think I’m being over possessive of her?” He asks needing reassurance that he wasn’t doing anything wrong.

“What makes you say that?”

“I wasn’t okay with them being friends. She didn’t like the fact that I thought I controlled her interactions with other people,” Bucky says dejectedly gesturing towards Stark and Natalia.

“Look, they’ve always been close. And I can’t say anything because your relationship is yours. But sometimes things happen which are out of our control and it’s none of our faults.” Steve says which doesn’t help at all.

“Do you have any clue how cryptic that was?” He shakes his head.

“I just... I always felt there was a disconnect between Natalia and me. I thought it was because of the soldier or the fact that I don’t really understand what she’s been through the past few years. Now I wonder if its because of him,” he says bitterly. Steve just puts a hand on his shoulder as silence engulfs them.

Bucky decides he needs a drink. As soon as he reaches the bar he sees Pepper looking almost as crestfallen as he does.

“Did Stark ever tell you he had feelings for Natalia?” He asks and she gets startled but gets what he means.

“Yeah. I’m not sure had is the right tense.” She scoffs and he’s glad he’s not the only one. They settle for just mutually avoiding what’s happening on the dance floor.

He’s drunk by the time Stark leads Natalia to the bar. Then, whatever restraint he had in him snaps when he pulls her closer, but what really hurts him is the fact that Natalia makes no attempt to stop him. He decides he’s had enough and before he could talk himself out of it, before he could even register all the people around him he moves towards them and punches Stark with all he has.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Natasha was sure none of this was gonna end well. She guessed James and Pepper would not take well to the news. She just didn’t expect James to punch Tony in the middle of his own party. The atmosphere was tense. The room was eerily quiet. And she’s sure her reflexes are the only reason Tony was saved from cracking his skull open.

She was almost afraid that it was the metal arm. But as soon as she bent down to check on Tony she was relieved to see it wasn’t that bad. She was afraid to even face James at this moment so she focuses all of her attention on Tony. She was faintly aware that someone was pulling James away from the scene, probably Steve or Clint as Rhodey crouches beside her.

“Are you okay?” She asks cradling his head. Her concern for him surpassing the curious looks from the bystanders. She can almost imagine the headlines tomorrow.

“At least it wasn’t the vibranium  arm right?” He chokes out. She gives him a weak smile.

“I’m glad your sense of humour is still intact, Tones.” Rhodey says sarcastically.

“Can you stand?” She asks.

He finally manages to get up and out of the room with her and Rhodey’s support. She sees James get into a car with Clint as he nods at her and she’s relieved he’s with him. She looks around for Pepper but didn’t seem to spot her around.

“Where’s Pepper?” She directs the question at Rhodey but sees Tony tense.

“Happy took her to the compound,” Natasha’s glad she isn’t alone so is Tony if that sigh meant anything.

The ride home is full of silence. Until Rhodey speaks up,

“For the record, this is what don’t do anything stupid meant,” he snarks and Tony somehow manages to roll his eyes.

As soon as she helps Tony out of the car and into the compound, he moves towards his room,

“You need to put ice...” but Tony cuts her off.

“This is more important. We have delayed this enough.” He says and she knows he’s right so she just nods as he disappears out of her view.

Trepidation creeps in when she enters her bedroom and finds James on the bed. He’s covering his head with his hands. She’s not sure what to say, how to even broach the matter with him. She moves into the room and closes the door behind her. He finally notices her presence and they stare at each other for what felt like hours.

“I’m sorry,” she says. Her voice barely a whisper.

“You’re sorry,” he laughs scornfully.

“Yeah, James. I have no excuse, no way to defend myself. It’s my fault.” She accepts.

“Why?” His voices breaks as he croaks out that one word. She knows why. She fell in love with someone else. She was always in love with someone else.

“I don’t know. I never meant to hurt you. But I fell in love with him. I let myself be selfish. I wasn’t thinking about what this would do to you. We fooled ourselves into thinking we were doing nothing wrong. But we were,” she can’t stop the tears now.

“Why did you decide to put me through this, why be with me at all when you knew you still loved him?” He questions.

“Because I thought I could move on. I thought you could fix me. Make me forget him. It just never happened.” She confesses.

“Did you ever really love me?” He asks defeated.

“James, when we first met, I’m not even sure I knew what love was. You were the first person who ever made me feel anything resembling to love. But we were different people back then. I’m not Natalia any longer and you’re not the soldier.” She says taking cupping his face.

“That doesn’t change that I did love you, I always will. And I’ll never stop caring about you.” She says wiping the tears from him face.

“But you can’t ever love me like you love him,” he finally looks at her.

“No.” She confesses. He nods like he accepted whatever just happened.

“You deserve so much better. I won’t ever forgive myself for the way I treated you. And I’m sorry I broke your heart. I know it will never be enough and you’ll probably never want to see me again. But what we had mattered to me. It always will.” She tries to make him understand that this was the hardest thing she ever had to do.

“We’re done, Natalia. All you had to do was tell me before I ever got involved.” He closes his eyes.

“I know. Take care of yourself, James.” She says moving towards him kissing him one last time as she leaves the room.

She’s not sure if she will ever see herself the same way after today. They both hurt people they cared about and they both have to live with that for the rest of their lives.

 

*******

A terrible pain shot up Tony’s jaw. He could barely breath without hurting himself. His head was throbbing from where it hit the bar but he couldn’t have retaliated. He knew he was wrong. It was his fault. And he very much deserved that punch. He would probably not stop Barnes if he decides to vent his frustration on him again.

The door to his room was slightly ajar as he took in Pepper’s form leaning against the balcony. He knocks to grab her attention but she doesn’t say a thing, doesn’t even spare a glance in his direction so he enters anyway closing the door behind him. He doesn’t have anything to say. There is no justification to what she just witnessed.

“Pep,” he says touching her shoulder. She slightly moves towards him,

“You know I always thought that if you ever cheated on me, it’d be with some random whore from a pub. Probably because you were too drunk to even remember that we were together. And I would have forgiven you. Because I know that would be the truth, that whatever you did wasn’t intentional,” she muses.

“I’m so sorry,” he says trying to ease his conscience. He knows there’s nothing to salvage in this relationship. All he can do is be sorry.

“You fell in love with someone. That also meant you fell out of love with me. I guess I always knew we were never going to work. I’m not sure why I held onto us even though I saw the signs ever since we got back together.” She finally moves towards him. “How am I supposed to compete with Natasha Romanov? Why?” She says giving him a shove then continues to hit his chest repeatedly. He knows he deserves it.

“I can’t justify anything, Pep. What we did was wrong. I never should’ve kept anything from you. I never should’ve even put you through this when I knew I was hung up on someone else. I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m always going to regret it,” he apologises and she finally stops hitting him.

“Did you sleep with her?” She asks looking down at the ground.

“No. I wouldn’t do that to you.” He says honestly.

“Did we ever mean anything to you?” She looks up at him with tear filled eyes.

“You were the first real relationship I’ve ever had. I don’t think I could have functioned without you this past decade. No one has put up with me or handled me like you did. I trust you with everything. My heart, my company. And I’ll never stop loving you. You made me realise I could be a better person. Yeah Natasha gets me on a level others don’t. And yeah I’m in love with her. That doesn’t change anything that we ever had. It’s doesn’t diminish us.” He says hoping she understands. She nods.

“I hope you’re happy, Tony. I’m gonna catch a flight to D.C. tonight. Take care.” She says and he hugs her. He tucks her face beneath his chin as they stand there for minutes.

“I’m sorry for everything.” He says pressing a kiss to her hair.

She glances at him one last time before opening the door and leaving. He knew this was never going to end well and he didn’t except it to. What he didn’t realise was how empty he would feel once it was done. He had just lost the person who supported him through everything and he’s not sure he’ll ever forgive himself for that.

Chapter Text

Natasha was exhausted. This night couldn’t get any longer. The guilt and emotional turmoil was too much for her to handle. When she leaves James’ room, their room, she sees Clint waiting for her.

“Nat, are you okay?” He asks.

“Yeah. Why’re you still here? Where’s Laura?” She tries to avoid talking about James.

“She went back to be with the kids. What happened tonight?” Clint asks and she realises how out of the loop he was. She takes a seat next to him and he puts his hand on her shoulder.

“We messed up. Tony and I decided we were going to give us a try. That happened a week ago. We just couldn’t work up the courage to tell James and Pepper I guess,” she sighs.

“Oh, Nat. I know I always urged you to let Tony know how you feel but keeping them in the dark wasn’t fair.” Clint says with no judgement in his tone and that’s why she would always be grateful for her best friend.

“I know. I guess we were delaying whatever this was. This feels horrible. Confessing to James that this relationship never had anything tangible to begin with, that’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.” She admits.

“Harder than Budapest?” Clint jokes and she playfully shoves him.

“Go to sleep, Clint. This is my mess to deal with.” She says getting up.

“Where are you gonna stay tonight? Pretty sure your room is taken up,” he says pointing to the room she and James shared.

“I don’t know. I have to check up on Tony first. Is Pepper still there?” She asks hoping she wasn’t.

“Saw her leave his room a while ago.” Clint says and she nods.

She knocks on Tony’s room but he’s lost in his thoughts obviously not registering her presence.

“You need cold compresses,” she says and he finally looks at her. The look on his face meant he had clearly forgotten about his jaw. She leads him to the bed and presses the ice against where there was bruising. He stays silent the entire time opting to just watch her.

“You’re being uncharacteristically quiet.” She states. He takes a deep breath.

He removes the ring from his finger, runs his hand over it a few times before getting up from the bed and placing it on the table. He gives her a smile as he turns.

“Not between us anymore,” he says with that boyish grin of his. She moves to him, happy that he wasn’t closing himself off again.

“Are you really okay?” She asked cupping his face. He leans into the touch replying,

“On one hand I’m devastated. I hate that I hurt Pep. It’s worse when I think about everything that she puts up with for me. Then there’s this part of me which is so happy that I finally have you. Does that make me sound like an awful person?” He asks placing his hands on her hips.

“No. It makes you human.” She says. He smirks at her gazing intently into her eyes.

“I love you, Natasha,” he says with longing in his eyes.

“I love you too, baby.” They could finally admit that without any guilt latched behind their words. She averts her eyes from his feeling uneasy under his intense gaze.

“Where did you hit your head? Let me take a look....” She starts but he cuts her off as he kisses her pulling her by the hips. She smiles into the kiss getting ready to push him away until she realises she doesn’t have to. He’s all hers. She parts her lips granting him entrance as he groans like that’s the sexiest thing that has ever happened to him.

She kisses him forcefully pulling him onto the bed over her. Tony moves his head to her neck sucking a bruise which will most likely leave a mark on her. He trails kisses all over her jaw to her collarbone.

“I told you I was gonna be the one to remove this dress tonight,” he says nibbling on her ear lobe.

She presses her lips against his moaning into his mouth. She fumbles with the buttons of his shirt finally managing to pull it off him. They kiss and grab at each other until Tony starts hiking up her dress and places his hands on her ass.

“Tony,” she whispered after a sharp intake of breath.

“Do you want to stop?” He asks, his pupils dilating.

“I think we’ve waited long enough,” she says hastily undoing his belt buckle then holding onto his face as she presses her lips firmly against his. They gave in to each other again and again that night until she was tired and sore.

Natasha woke up draped across Tony in the morning. She opened her eyes to see him propped up on his arm.

“Were you watching me sleep?” She teases.

“You just look so peaceful when you’re asleep. Though I was mostly thinking about last night,” he jokes.

“I know I rocked your world,” she says giving him a lazy smile.

“Oh you certainly did.” He says leaning in to give her a kiss.

“I just wanna stay here inside this room with you forever,” she says caressing his cheek.

“I know. I don’t wanna face the world,” he sighs kissing her hand.

“Did you think about us moving out yet? I’m not sure I want to see James on a daily basis after last night,” she says hoping he has planned something.

“Yeah. We could do it today if you want. I’m not sure I wanna be around him much longer,” he says pointing to the bruise on his jaw. She has to laugh at his antics.

“Aww, you poor baby. That’s what you get for trying to kiss me infront of thousands of people.” She says pressing a kiss to his nose.

“Hey, that’s not fair. You were tempting me,” he whined.

“It’s not my fault you’re so easy, baby,” she jokes trying to get up from bed. But he pulls her back in.

“Let’s just pretend it’s just the two of us for a little while longer.” He says burying his face in her chest.

When they’re finally done packing up their stuff, they meet the others in the dining room. As soon as Clint sees them enter together, he raises his eyebrows and she has to smirk at his curiosity.

She’s sighs with relief when she sees James is absent at the breakfast table but her concern overtakes her.

“Did you talk to him?” She directs the question at Steve hoping he would understand.

“Yeah. He’s coping as well as can be expected. I sent his breakfast to his room.” Steve reassures her.

“We’re moving out. So, tell him he doesn’t have to worry about that.” Tony supplies from beside her.

Clint chokes on his bread taking a while to return back to normal.

“What do you mean moving out?” He asks.

“You know, Legolas. When a man and a woman...” Tony begins but she puts a hand on his chest to stop him. She was almost proud of how much he listened to her.

“Yeah, we are. I think it’s the best decision for all of us.” She says and Steve and Rhodey seem to agree.

“What about the Avengers? Are you both retiring or something?” Clint asks knowing she doesn’t want to stop being an Avenger.

“No. Tony is but I’ll still run missions. I just won’t stay here. Maybe come by once or twice a week to train Peter and Wanda.”

“Where are you both staying?” Rhodey asks.

“I got us a cabin. I’ll leave the address here if you guys need it. I’ll also still be making the upgrades for all of your suits and everything so don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything.” Tony supplies.

As soon as they’re done with breakfast, Tony carries all their luggage to the car.

“Take care. I’ll come visit you both every once in a while,” Rhodey says giving them both a hug followed by Clint, Wanda, Bruce and the others. She sees Tony extend his hand to Steve and she’s proud of how far they’ve come from Siberia.

When they’re finally in the car,

“You ready?” Tony asks giving her a smile.

“Always,” she says kissing him and intertwining her fingers with his.

She knows every risk that they’ve taken, all that they had to endure was worth it. Now their eternities were intertwined. She was finally with the man she loved and that’s all that mattered.