When they have sex for the first time, Tony doesn't take his shirt off and does his best to distract Natasha and to deepen the kiss.
Natasha knows that the blue glow from arc reactor puts his scars that cover all his chest to exposure. Unlike Stark, however, she sees beauty in it.
She knows by heart now that if you put a man under pressure and proceed to press, he'll cave in and break eventually. Tony doesn't break, though. He falls, gets up and goes about his life, ready to fall again, ready to pic up the pieces. He never gives up, always fights till the very end, always ready to fight back even if the odds are not in his favor.
Scars prove that Tony got out alive, that he's alive, that he's near her, smiling, lowering his head as if she's some kind of a puzzle and he wants to solve her.
Natasha has seen a lot of damage in her life, but she has never met someone who always does everything with such stubbornness, who tells Destiny "fuck you" every day.
Natasha has seen a lot of deaths, too. She's seen the bravest people turn to someone who was ready to do anything to survive. Tony Stark laughed in Death's face and managed to save people's lives while at it. He stood at the edge and was able not to fall down when he could chose that free fall over the painful waiting of death.
Sometimes, it makes her wonder: has he ever thought about not putting the reactor in the place where it belongs? About being a little bit more reckless in the next battle? About walking the rooftops without his suit?..
There was no point in asking him about his reasons for participating in that Monaco race.
Natasha doesn't judge. On the contrary, if she was to be honest.
She always wanted to end her own story herself - whenever she wants to, however she wants to - and go out with a bang. Every time she put her mind to it, she thought that there was something both great and terrifying about suicide. People rule their fates and lives, and not everyone can have enough strength and courage to put a period, to burn all the bridges. There's nothing special about ordinary death, because ordinary people don't have heights to fall from. Someone like Stark, though, is a completely different story. These cases make you think: what should have happened for him to want to end it all? For him to make such a drastic decision?
Palladium in your chest is a painful way to die, no doubt.
Natasha imagines vividly how one certain car misses the turn, how there's a big and loud explosion, how the papers don't know what to say and what theory to believe.
Stark's decision was changed by Vanko who decided to kill everyone there.
Tony considers the reactor to be a weakness, so he tries to stop Natasha's sneaky hands when she begins to unbutton his shirt. Her moves are steady and slow, smooth, like she's dealing with a wounded animal who's terrified. Partly, it is the case: she's surprised that Tony still finds it in himself to trust people after being betrayed by the most close ones. Partly, she is flattered that he trusts her in particular.
Because Tony can't do anything halfway, does he? It's just not his style. Tony Stark never trusts people because they always need something from you, and it's never enough, they need more and more and more, they need to get inside, to get everything out, until there's nothing left to give, and then they leave you picking up the broken pieces, stitching and glueing them together for the next person to fuck you over again.
But if Tony trusts, he does it completely, without any second thoughts, without even realizing that he might be used. If he loves, he does it with such dedication that his love will be enough for both parties envolved.
Natasha doesn't understand how it might be possible to forgive someone you loved who cheated on you. Tony just shrugs and says that it's better this way. "It's better for Pepper and Happy," is what he actually means. Natasha is good with reading between the lines, between his lines.
She remembers vaguely hearing a quotation somewhere saying that we let go because we love. Tony let go because he loves and is afraid to lose Pepper completely.
Natasha takes off his shirt slowly, goes for his undershirt and meets his amber eyes - wide with fear, begging.
Natasha cannot stop, Tony tastes like an old strong wine on the tip of her tongue.
She promises with her eyes that everything will be fine and tugs at his undershirt, helping him to get rid of it. She can't resist the urge to ruffle his dark hair along the way. Finally, she reaches the proof that Tony Stark has a heart.
She puts her palm on the surface of the arc reactor and, holding her breath, listens for his heartbeat. The rhythm is steady, it doesn't match the pulsation inside the device embedded in his chest, but she learns to listen for both sounds, to understand how they overlap.
This is how life sounds for her, this is the color of her hope nowadays.
Natasha finally touches his chest, he shivers and wants, tries to say something but then closes his mouth unable to pronounce a single sound. She bites his neck, and it's not fair, because it always makes him close his eyes and moan from pleasure, and she knows it too well. They both know that Natasha likes hickeys, but she loves to be on the giving end, so Tony throws his head back to expose more skin. She helps him to get out of his jeans as gratitude.
She imagined for some time how she would touch him, say something cheesy, despite not being the one for sentiments.
"It's not a weakness, Tony," is all she manages instead.
He tries to turn away but she catches him by his chin and makes him look into her eyes. She sees that stupid lamp he bought somewhere in France reflect in his orbs, and she can't help thinking about how she loves more when he's smiling and his eyes seem to be brighter and lighter.
"It proves that it's hard to break you," she whispers and he shivers again.
Tony doesn't believe her, but she still has time to convince him, and they'll be late again, and it sounds so absurd and funny that she hides her smile in the crook of his neck.
"It proves that you have a heart," Natasha says silently and Tony snorts because there's the first reactor born from pain, sweat and blood, and it's under glass, it stands on his nightstand, and it says exactly the same words - written there by Pepper long ago.
Natasha knows that this old piece of junk has already saved his life two times in a row. In her eyes, it makes it beautiful, too.
"It proves that you're alive," she states finally and Tony keeps quiet because there's no point in arguing with obvious. He doesn't want to.
He wants Natasha to touch him again, to look at him again like here and now he's the most important thing for her.
As if she's not going to walk away like everyone else did.
Love is for children, Natasha said it herself. But none of them had any, so, just for a little while, they are going to close their eyes, hold hands and hope for a better future.
If they are lucky, Dr Doom will reschedule New York's destruction from Monday to Wednesday, and Hydra will decide to change the operation plan and will strike on Tuesday.
In a really early Monday morning, when the world is safe from mad super-villains, it's easy enough to believe in something better.
And they do.