It had meant to be a simple evening. A fun evening, Romanoff, Tony had teased her. You know how to have fun without putting bullets in people, right?
She had responded by throwing the knife she was sharpening a centimetre away from Tony’s left thumb, then agreeing to come on the condition that she got to keep the dress.
He better buy me a new one, Natasha thought as she raced to the line of parked cars, surrounded by millionaires and billionaires harassing the valets, trying to get to their luxury vehicles as they fled the museum. Natasha pushed past them, the act made easy by the red stain splashed across her emerald gown. Tuxedos and ballgowns parted in her wake as she marched to the front of the line of cars and jumped in a red Mercedes, prying the keys out of the valet’s hands and ignoring the owner’s shouts as she locked the doors and revved the engine into gear.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.,” she said into the ridiculous diamond watch strapped over her wrist. “Where are they taking him?”
“I am tracking Sir on the West Highway, Agent Romanoff.”
“Is he hurt?”
“Sir’s vitals seem to be intact.”
Thank heavens for small mercies. Natasha pulled out from the museum car park, hand not leaving the horn until she had nudged the expensive vehicle out of the panicking crowds and onto the highway. “Thanks, J.A.R.V.I.S. Notify the team, and tell them I’m in pursuit.”
A fun evening, Romanoff. Sure. It had actually started off not that horrible. Natasha had agreed to be Tony’s extra security for the benefit, and only because it was a benefit.
“You really going to let the destitute orphans down, Romanoff?”
“It’s for an ocean clean-up project.”
Tony had rambled something about Pepper making him go and promised that Natasha would get to keep every part of the fancy outfit afterwards. Natasha had given in with the added condition she got to choose said fancy outfit.
“That’s going to be a problem.”
“Is it, Stark?”
“Because I already bought it for you.”
“I changed my mind.”
“What? Don’t you trust me?”
The dress had been a pleasant surprise. Natasha had fully expected something gaudy and revealing, but the dress Tony has presented her - with matching diamond earrings and necklace and watch - had been surprisingly tasteful, and something she might just have chosen herself.
“Pepper bought this, didn’t she?”
“Did you forget that Pepper is no longer my assistant? Come on, admit you like it.”
Natasha tried to ignore the red now staining the dress as she pushed the car’s limit. “Hey J.A.R.V.I.S.,” she said into the watch. “What are the chances you could, say, hide me from every speed camera I’m about to set off?”
“Already done, Agent Romanoff.”
“Ok. That’s impressive.” Natasha floored the gas pedal. “What I am looking for?”
“A silver Cadillac, number place GAP-9875. You are gaining on it.”
“Damn right I am.”
And the benefit had actually not turned out to be that bad. Natasha’s job had been to hang onto Tony’s arm, looking pretty and unthreatening, and scan the room for anyone who had decided to come after the genius that night. Great job, Romanoff.
“Stay with me, Stark. We’re getting out of here.”
“Trying to kidnap me while I’m saving rainforests? Don’t you hate it when the bad guys have no class?”
“Oceans, Stark - duck!”
“How far, J.A.R.V.I.S.?”
“Make a right turn in ten kilometres.”
In another scenario, Natasha would have teased Tony about J.A.R.V.I.S. being reduced to a basic GPS, but for now she wrenched the steering wheel down, turning off onto a darker, less populated road.
“Where’s the suit?”
“There’s one in the car.”
“You don’t have it on you?”
“At a charity event? No, Romanoff, that’s what you’re here for, remember?”
Natasha winced as she slammed her foot down on the gas pedal. Up ahead, she could see another pair of headlights. She was gaining.
“Ok, not far to go.”
“We have to keep moving.”
“Natasha! Do you hear that?”
And there it was. A silver Cadillac, going almost as fast as she was. Almost.
As Natasha gained on the front vehicle, the window wound down and then there were bullets ricocheting over the road. Natasha started to swerve the car, slowing her down but making her a harder target to hit. If they blew out her tires, they’d get away with Tony.
“The screaming? Yeah, I hear it Stark. Let’s get you your suit and we can go take care of it.”
“What if we’re too late?”
“Fine. You go get the suit. I’ll deal with it.”
“They’re here for me.”
The moment it looked like her opposition was out of bullets, Natasha was out of her own window, firing back, aiming at the tires only. The Cadillac’s windows were tinted black, and she couldn’t see inside - she didn’t want to risk hitting Tony by accident.
“If I give myself up-”
“Look, I don’t want to do this, ok? You don’t think every part of my rather impressive brain is screaming to get away from the people with guns? Because it is.”
“No one would blame you for getting out of harm’s way.”
“I think I might. Yeah, I would. Dammit.”
“I could make you come with me if that’s easier.”
“It would be. I appreciate the offer. But we both know you’re not going to sign up for letting any of the well-to-do down there ruin their party-wear either.”
So she’d let him walk right into the ballroom, into the firing line of the guns, hands up in the signature peace symbols, and watched as they’d marched him out of the building. She’d been quick, taking out two before they had even known she was there, but the wrong end of a gun pointed at Tony’s forehead had convinced her to back down. They had tried to take her too then, but Stark had been quick, spinning words and promises she prayed he didn’t intend to keep. And it had worked. They had left her out of it.
Unfortunately for them, Natasha had no intention of staying of it.
Natasha was on the cusp of catching the Cadillac when a blaze of oncoming light made her swerve to the right. The truck clipped her wing mirror, its horn roaring disapproval as it sped past.
Natasha swore as she tried to right the car, just managing to keep it on the road, the Cadillac pulling ahead.
“No you don’t.” Natasha pressed the gas pedal. “J.A.R.V.I.S., how far away are the team?”
“Twenty minutes, Agent Romanoff.”
Natasha spat out Russian obscenities as another round of gunfire surrounded her. She flinched as her windshield cracked, threatening to break apart into deadly glass shards. She grit her teeth and kept going.
“Agent Romanoff, you have an incoming call.”
“I'm a little busy.”
“It’s from Mr Stark.”
“Fine. The watch beeped. “Tony?”
The voice that answered was out of breath, with an accent that was decidedly not Tony’s. “Turn the car around, Romanoff.”
Natasha’s answer was to push the gas pedal harder. She was starting to gain. “The fact that you’re calling me says you’re out of bullets. I’m not.”
“Not quite. I have one more. You don’t get prizes for guessing who’s skull it’s going into if you don’t turn your car around.”
“You didn’t go to all this trouble to kidnap Tony Stark only to kill him within the hour. Your employer wouldn’t take kindly to that, would they?”
“We have no employer.” Natasha smirked at the fear in the lie. “Turn around, or he dies.”
“Stop your car, or you die,” Natasha counter-offered. “And you will die. I’ve done this far more times than you, I can assure you.”
She could hear the hesitation on the other end of the phone. She couldn’t help grinning as she played her trump card. “J.A.R.V.I.S., tell the nice men how far away the Avengers are.”
“About five minutes, Agent Romanoff.”
The car in front of her began to slow. Natasha didn’t, smiling to herself as one of the car doors began to open, although why would they open the car door if they were surrendering-
An object was thrown into Natasha’s path. She had a split second to decide; swerve the car, or run him over.
She was travelling so fast that she could do nothing as the car flipped over, and then the world was vertigo and fear and pain and then black.
“Natasha! Natasha! Romanoff, come on, don’t do this. Please don’t do this.”
Natasha’s eyes fluttered open. Everything hurt. And she was used to pain but this…this was…
There were hands on her abdomen, pressing down. “Natasha? Here. Look here.”
“Blurry,” she remarked. Then, “Tony?”
“Jesus, Romanoff, who taught you how to drive?”
She batted Tony’s arm, then winced. Moving was a bad idea. “Couldn’t…” she managed. “Couldn’t…hit you…”
In some foggy part of her brain, she registered with some odd satisfaction that she had made Tony Stark fall silent. Or was she deaf? No, she could hear other sounds. Sirens. Other voices.
“Loud,” she remarked.
“Sorry. Um, I don’t think I can do much about that. Medics are coming. I got you out of the car. I wasn’t sure…it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Shit. Sorry. I'm so sorry.”
Natasha took Tony’s hands, which were still on her stomach. Wet, she thought. That shouldn’t be so wet. Wet was bad.
“Hurt?” she asked.
“Um…should I sugarcoat it? Because I hate to break it to you, but you have completely ruined this lovely dress I picked out for you.”
“No.” Her mind was starting to feel numb. That probably wasn’t good.
“It’s fine, I’ll buy you a new one. Ten new ones. With matching shoes.”
“No,” she insisted. “Hurt?” And she prodded Tony’s hands.
It took him a moment to cotton on. “Are you seriously worried about me right now?” Natasha nodded, then immediately regretted it. The world was too wobbly for her head to be moving.
Tony was quiet for a moment, and Natasha waited for the next quip, the next brush-off. Instead she got, “I’m ok. And you’re going to be too. I promise.”
His words felt nice. Really nice. They were taking the pain away. Then there were hands all over her, lifting her. Through her foggy brain, she heard one familiar voice amongst the strangers'. “Can I stay with her?”
Yes. Stay. Things were warm now, and the last thing Natasha Romanoff remembered before she let the drugs take over was Tony Stark’s hand pressed into hers.