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Can you talk?

Natasha Romanov was sipping a cup of tea in the middle of Trafalgar Square when her StarkPhone beeped. The text was from an encrypted phone—one of only six that could communicate with no chance of being overheard by the wrong people. Unless by the wrong people, you meant Tony Stark.

She sighed at the number and placed her paper cup on the bench beside her. This looked bad.

Depends. Is it life or death, because I’m taking a break from those.

Her lips tightened minutely. Dumping SHIELD’s secrets onto the internet had been exactly the right thing to do—she didn’t regret it for a moment—but she was feeling far, far too exposed, all of a sudden. Anonymity had always been her armor, and now…? All she wanted was the bleach job she’d given herself before she left the US and some time being someone safe and boring. She wasn’t sure she could handle another global crisis right at the moment.

Both? That’s a trick.
Why am I not in this one?

The text came with a weblink and she clicked on it, to find a Moravian Free Army blog entry reprinting the case report of a mission in Moravia’s capital in 2005. She smiled in spite of herself. She’d been sent in to recover a scientist who had been “conscripted” by the local militia. Her cover had been a rich Russian socialite. That had almost been fun until the guns came out.

You were in Gadavant, remember?

Oh yeah.
You never even TOLD ME about this one…

The attached video link had her almost giggling, as YouTube fired up to show her wearing far, far, far too much makeup and a huge parody of Minnie Mouse’s dress. She’d gone undercover on a Japanese game show to bring down the producer—whose night job was selling high tech weapons to West African separatists.

“Those were the good old days,” she murmured to herself before setting thumbs to screen.

Would you have? She flipped over to her phone’s browser and typed in a well-known address, scanning down until she found the link she wanted. She copied and pasted it into her text window. Anyway, what about this?

The video wasn’t public—not SHIELD, technically, or at least not something of world import. She just hoped Phil Coulson had never uploaded his personal birthday party videos onto the main servers before he died.

WHERE DO I GO TO DELETE THAT!?

She picked up her coffee and sipped it with idle disinterest.

Nat?
Nat, I’m serious!

Her phone pinged at her for a couple of minutes before she looked at it again, and the last text had her heart clenching.

The kids miss Auntie Nat. You can hide here, too, you know?

Natasha thought of the sprawling farm. The quiet of the nights there and the utter anonymity that came from a place where no one was close enough to even wonder who you were. She remembered what she’d said to Steve during the whole run-for-their-lives episode. “Who do you want me to be?”

She wasn’t hiding. Not really. She was trying to regain herself. She was an Avenger, right? Her superpower was knowing how to be anything for anyone, whenever it was needed. But she couldn’t figure out how to do that when everyone knew everything now. She was suddenly everyone and no one, and…

Extra room’s set up if you want it. Meanwhile, can we forget that this ever happened?

She clicked on the video link and watched a grainy surveillance video of herself and Clint, dressed to the nines, dancing effortlessly around the marble floor of King Marsooka’s palace in Harmodin. Three hours later, the palace had been in flames, Marsooka was dead, and Clint was being rushed to a SHIELD safe house with a gunshot wound in the most embarrassing place. That op had guaranteed the fall of one of the most vicious regimes in the former Soviet bloc.

“Something to be proud of,” she reminded herself.

I’ll be there. Some time. Meanwhile, how’s your ass?

Shut up.

She rose and slid her phone into her pocket as she headed for a trashcan to deposit her cup. The phone pinged one more time and she pulled it out.

You’re still a hero, Nat. Masks or not.

She didn’t answer—Clint wouldn’t expect her to. He’d accomplished his own heroic task, and she walked away into the London dusk with a smile far more genuine than she’d had in a long while.

Surprising how shooting arrows wasn't his only super skill.

*******
the end