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tonight, let us not become tragedies

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Sometimes, Buffy and Natasha play a game.

It’s a drinking game.

Buffy blames it on Natasha, says it’s her Russian penchant for hard liquor coming through, and Natasha is usually too far into her cups to bother denying it.

(Also: it’s true.)

She may have an insane alcohol tolerance for a human, but only drug and/or magic enhanced booze has ever gotten Buffy really going, so the spy doesn’t really stand all that much of a chance.

On top of that Nat puts back vodka like water, but she isn’t all that great with anything involving sugar and Buffy makes a mean cocktail. Literally. It involves some demon moonshine that burns the skin off your tongue if it’s not watered down with plenty of sugary fruit juices. Mean.

But, but, but, not the point.

The point is the game they play, which is a drinking game.

(To be honest, maybe Buffy is a little bit drunk, too, at this point. Demon moonshine. Duh.)

The rules are simple.

You take a drink for every stupid, idiotic, heroic, cliché name or title anyone has given you.

They played it before the Avengers a time or two, but back then, one of them was the demon slaying head of a secret organization and the other was a ghost in any and all systems. There weren’t nearly as many names as there are now, that their faces are plastered all over billboards, toys, t-shirts and CNN.

Occasionally, Buffy regrets coming when Nat called her during the Tesseract-slash-Loki crisis.

(Lie.)

It always starts the same.

Buffy says, “Buffy,” and sips daintily.

Natasha says, “Natasha,” and throws back a gulp, biting into the strawberry sitting pretty on the rim of her glass.

Slayer.

Black Widow.

Avenger.

Avenger.

Buffster.

Nat.

(At this point, it’s still fun, as much as a game like that is ever fun.)

Anne.

Natalie.

Pumpkin.

Natalia.

Killer.

Red Death.

(Less fun. Buffy pulls out the box of chocolates Tony gave her yesterday, as an apology for exploding one of his experiments and ruining her favorite leather pants. Natasha vengefully bites into a cream truffle and on they go.)

God Slayer.

Russian Avenger.

Queen.

Weapon.

Tool.

Asset.

“You know, I’m not really sure why we do this. It’s a crap game, Summers.”

“Summers,” Buffy echoes, and drinks. “Thanks for that, Romanov.”

“Eugh,” Natasha grimaces and throws back the rest of her fourth --- fifth cocktail. Buffy grabs the glass from her and goes to serve refills.

“No, really. Why do we do this?”

“Because we are masochists with a weird need to torture ourselves with how many different things we have to be on a daily basis? Also, it’s how we decompress.” Buffy offers.

It’s why she loves Nat so much. Because there’s no-one else in the whole, entire, big, huge world she can say something like this to without having to spend the next hour justifying and rationalizing her words.

Nat just lets her be because Nat gets it. The first time they met, Buffy was slitting throats and Natasha watched, dispassionately, because she’d seen it all before.

By the time they actually became friends (before or after the first post-mission sundae?), it was too late for masks.

So they’re a little screwy. One of them has been slaying monsters since she was fifteen and the other one has been trained for murder since long before that. It’s fine. It’s all fine.

Except that sometimes Buffy has weeks like this one. Avengers crisis on Monday, screaming match with Nicky on Tuesday, apocalypse in Rio on Wednesday, Avengers crisis on Thursday, back to Rio on Friday, Council meeting on Saturday, back to Rio on Sunday, get drunk with Nat on Monday, with a grand total of twenty hours of sleep in the past eight days and three outfits completely ruined.

That peasant blouse was her favorite. It went perfectly with the pants Tony blew up.

And even now that she could, technically relax (until the claxons go off, or her phone chimes the emergency ring tone, or Dawn calls with another thesis crisis), Buffy still feels like a live wire, because she’s Slayer, she’s Avenger, she’s Council Head, she’s Queen Slayer, she’s Natasha’s friend and Clint and Tony’s outlet when they feel nervous before battle, she’s Steve’s crutch when it comes to planning, she’s Dawn’s sister and Giles’ student, the Minis’ leader, Will’s and Xander’s friend.

She’s so many things she can’t quite remember who she is at all and it helps.

This.

Getting drunk and laying it all out, name by name, role by role, identity by identity, until it’s dismantled in front of her like the guns Clint fiddles with during movie night. This piece and this piece and this piece slot together and they make this bigger piece and if you add to it these three pieces, you have a weapon.

Or a person.

Leaning over the back of the sofa, chin in hand, to watch Buffy fiddle with the industrial sized pitcher containing their future alcohol poisoning, Natasha nods. “Right. Because that makes sense.”

“You’re the one who started it, Miss I have too many identities to keep straight sober.”

“I was?” It’s a lie, that question, because they both know Nat knows exactly that she was. Super spies don’t really forget things. Ever. Not even when drunk enough to start randomly stripping.

“Uh-huh. It was after that thing with the underground demon fighting ring in,” she snaps her fingers, looking for the name of the place. It was after they started up the ice-cream tradition, but before Rome. Probably. Maybe shortly after.

Buffy tries not to think about Rome too much, because it reminds her of September and September is a bad month.

(Which is funny, because she died in May, but May is perfectly alright, as far as months go. September is the one that always gets her.)

The spy nods. “Right. India. I remember.”

India. There was a cook it, peel it or leave it incident. Definitely after Rome, then. Huh.

“You complained that SHIELD gave you, like, six new identities within four months and you couldn’t keep them straight anymore. So we got drunk.”

At the time, it seemed like a perfectly logical solution. They’re both twenty-something women in high-impact jobs with little to no time for hobbies. Booze is a cheap way to let loose.

When they’re in a safe place, at least.

And say about Tony Stark what you will, he has awesome security, especially in places he lives in.

(They might or might not be occupying his private living room at the tower right now. What? Tony has the best boozestuff. Buffy blames Pepper since Tony is really a neat and straight kind of guy, when he’s not doing the whole sober thing. All Buffy had to bring to tonight’s festivities was the black burnt.)

Buffy finishes arranging a new set of fruit on the rims of their glasses, gives them a critical once over and then meanders (weaves and wavers, possibly) her way back over to the couch, where she passes her friend both glasses and flings herself down, feet in Nat’s lap.

She has blisters from all the running around she did in the past week. Despite slayer healing.

Nat passes her one glass back and they sip for a moment, quietly.

It didn’t really start as a game, this game. Or maybe it started as a game but isn’t one now. These things are hard to tell apart with five --- six glasses of demon moonshine in your belly.

Try again: It started as a way for Natasha to work out her frustrations and learn to keep her identities straight at the same time. Practical and slightly weird, just like them.

Now, now –

“Why do we still do this?”

Because it’s not about learning cover stories anymore. There is nothing to learn from ‘Slayer’ or ‘Red Death’. They are titles, given to them by others, roles they are pressed into, roles they fill already. It’s not about new names and strange backgrounds.

(It never was.)

“It’s how we decompress,” Natasha quotes, snatching a raspberry off her glass with her teeth. Then, after a brief moment of consideration, she grabs the chocolate box from the table and selects something dark and rich looking and puts it in her mouth along with the berry.

She chews.

“Gross.”

“Delicious.”

She makes a sandwich out of another raspberry and chocolate and dangles it over Buffy’s mouth until the slayer opens like a baby bird.

“Okay, maybe it’s not that gross.”

It actually is delicious. Damn it.

“Told you,” Nat announces smugly. Then adds, “Is it really important why we do it?”

Buffy considers as she swallows and washes the weird concoction down with a swig from her cocktail. “Not really? I mean, people get drunk watching, like, I don’t know, sitcoms or something. We can get drunk on identity porn.”

“What?”

Buffy makes a face. She keeps forgetting that most people don’t share breathing space with Andrew and thus pick up crap like this by osmosis. “It’s an internet thing. Forget it.”

“Does it involve actual sex?” Comes the wary question.

Buffy’s face intensifies. “No. Not that I wouldn’t do you, but, no. Absolutely not.”

“Oh,” comes the breezy response. “Are we playing Fuck, Marry, Kill now?”

Buffy brains her fellow Avenger with a pillow. Nat retaliates with a precisely aimed piece of chocolate right between the eyes and then it’s all-out war for the next five minutes.

They stop once they run out of pillows.

Most of which have been gutted and are lying on the floor.

“For a billionaire, Tony’s pillows are surprisingly shabby quality,” Buffy observes. There is a feather tickling the back of her neck, but she can’t seem to grasp it.

Natasha reaches over and plucks it off her, along with a few others that got stuck in her blonde curls. Buffy returns the favor and then they’re raking up the mess they made and piling it into a relatively intact pillowcase because they’re nice like that and also, if they don’t, they lose all high ground they have over Tony and his tendency to leave messes wherever he goes.

Buffy likes getting apology chocolates at least once a month.

Once the room is semi-neat again (minus a bunch of pillows, whoops), they settle back on the couch, Buffy’s legs back in Nat’s lap, drinks refilled for the seventh --- eighth time.

They turn on the TV and JARVIS, being the wonderful, silent enabler he is, tunes them straight into a Sex and the City marathon, because they need to be more of a cliché.

Sometime later, with Carrie in the middle of one crisis or another, Nat squeezes Buffy’s ankle and quotes, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Because of course Natasha is the kind of Russian spy who quotes Shakespeare when drunk.

Buffy toasts her and drinks because it doesn’t really matter how many names and titles they have, how many roles they fill for how many people. In the end they’re still just Buffy and Nat, two not-ever-really-young women doing the best they can and saving the world a lot.

And if nine --- ten cocktails in an evening are what it takes to remind them of that, well, then bring on the moonshine.

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A week later, perfectly sober and wearing the new leather pants Natasha helped her pick out, Buffy stands over the villain of the week, who is rubbing his skull where she just brained him with her scythe.

“Ouch,” he complains, sounding more like a sulky teenager than the new overlord of Manhattan he just proclaimed himself to be. “You bitch.”

Buffy gives him her nastiest grin, hefts her weapon and orders him, “Say my name, bitch.”

Over coms and three blocks south of her, Natasha laughs.

“Hold on,” Clint demands, “Did you two start watching Breaking Bad? Without moi?”

Clapping handcuffs on the bad guy and passing him off to the waiting SHIELD agents lurking around the corner, Buffy asks, “What?”

“Whatever. Cap, call it?”

“Called,” Captain America sighs, resigned to the fact that there will always and forever be chatter on the coms. “Well done, Slayer, team. The usual place?”

“Meet you there,” Iron Man announces and swerves sharply around a skyscraper to be the first at their usual ice-cream parlor. They have their own private room there, these days.

“He better order ahead for all of us,” Buffy comments darkly as she jogs to meet up with Nat. They link arms and stroll after Tony as less-than-sonic speeds.

Clint, rappelling off a building to avoid the elevator, thumps to the pavement next to them. “No, seriously what’s with the ‘say my name’ thing?”

Buffy looks at Natasha. Natasha looks at Buffy.

Then they both shrug.

“It’s how we decompress,” they chorus.

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