A/N: WAOWAOWAO look at me actually updating again in a somewhat timely fashion! Good job, me
Now we're dealing with post-civil war trauma bc chapters with feels are fun. Thanks for all your continued love and support! I appreciate all of ya!
"Maggie, Callie's on the phone."
Maggie sighed, pressing her face down into the nook formed by her arms on the dining table. "Can you tell her I'm busy talking to someone else?"
She glanced at Natasha through the space between her hair and her arm to see Natasha's reaction. Holding the landline in one hand while covering the bottom end of it with her other hand, Natasha frowned at Maggie. "You don't want to talk to Callie? Your best friend? Are you feeling okay?"
Swallowing down an uneasy feeling in her belly, Maggie shook her head. "I just don't wanna. Can you cover for me?"
Natasha nodded, but her lips were still downturned in a frown. She lifted the phone back up to her ear. "I'm so sorry, Callie, but Maggie's busy right now. She's talking to her uncle. Yes, I'll tell her to call you back later or tomorrow. Talk to you later. Bye, Callie."
Maggie watched Natasha place the phone back on its base on the kitchen counter and then walk over to the table where she sat. Natasha took the seat beside Maggie and placed a hand on Maggie's arm. "What's wrong, Лапушка? Are you feeling alright?"
"Not really." Maggie shrugged. "My tummy feels funny."
"Are you sick?" Natasha poked Maggie's belly. Maggie couldn't help the giggle that escaped her mouth in response. "Hmm, you don't sound sick. Is it a different kind of funny?"
"Is it the kind of funny where you feel scared or nervous about something?"
Maggie shrugged again.
"Come on, Maggie," Natasha said softly, running a hand through Maggie's hair. "Remember what the doctor said? Sometimes, you have really strong feelings that only adults should have, which is why we need to talk about them."
"That's why I don't want to talk to Callie," Maggie explained quietly. "The last time I talked to her on the phone, she asked me about what happened with...you know, the thing with the bomb and Uncle Bucky and everyone fighting. I started thinking about it and got scared so I told her I had to go and hung up on her."
Natasha nodded along to Maggie's explanation. Maggie was thinking about it - the "Civil War" - again by explaining this to Natasha, so she felt gross again. She picked at a piece of her hair, averting her eyes. "So...I just don't want Callie to worry. She sounded really scared on the phone when she asked me about it. I think she's worried about Avengers stuff."
"It's a good thing you don't usually deal with Avengers stuff," Natasha reminded.
"But I still deal with enough of Avengers stuff that it's scary to other people." Maggie sighed, leaning back against her chair. "I think Callie thinks I fight bad guys with you."
"You are not allowed to do that for a while, Лапушка," Natasha said. "That being said, I can talk to Callie's parents about it for you, if you want. I'll let them know to talk to Callie and Marie about...this."
But Maggie shook her head. "I should be able to tell them myself. Callie's my best friend. And I don't want her parents to think we're too dangerous to hang out with. Some parents don't like the Avengers very much, Mama."
"Trust me, the Pierce's are nothing like Senator White," Natasha said. Maggie frowned at the mention of the crazy Senator mom lady. She was the mother of Maggie's classmate, Matthew, whom Maggie had accidentally almost hurt the previous school year, which led to a confrontation in the front office and Maggie getting an "early summer break." Maggie wasn't a dumb kid; she understood a disciplinary punishment when she saw one. "Maggie, like I said, you're dealing with some really mature feelings right now. Those are not meant to be things kids like you or Callie should have to deal with. I'll talk to their parents."
Maggie groaned. "Fine, whatever."
"That being said," Natasha said, "that doesn't mean you should keep ignoring Callie. I'll talk to Mr. and Mrs. Pierce, but you should talk to her again afterward. She just wants to know you're alright."
From what Maggie had experienced over the summer, being involved at all with the Avengers put people at risk. She was just a kid, and look what nearly happened to her. (Of course, she's the child of two of the most famous people on the planet, but that didn't mean other people associated with the Avengers were excluded from danger.) What if something bad happened to Callie because she was friends with the Avengers, too?
"Callie's a normal person," Maggie said very seriously, staring at the wall across the room through narrowed eyes. "She is a civilian we must protect. It's the duty of the Avengers to protect everyone before ourselves. That's what you told me, Mama."
"You're taking it a bit too seriously here, Maggie," Natasha said, waving a hand in front of Maggie's intense gaze. Maggie blinked and turned back to her mother. "I know I told you all about what being an Avenger means, but that's not something you need to worry about right now. You're still young."
"It felt like I was an Avenger, too, during the thing," Maggie grumbled. "Everything was scary and sucked and I could have died. Isn't that what happens when you're an Avenger?"
Natasha rubbed her forehead with her fingers, muttering in Russian under her breath for a moment.
Maggie backtracked, fearful of upsetting Natasha like she had during their big argument. She reached a hand up to grab Natasha's arm. "I'm sorry, Mama, I'm wrong-"
"It's okay, Maggie," Natasha said softly, grasping Maggie's smaller hand in her own. "I'm not mad, okay? Just a little exasperated, because you made a really good point. You don't have to worry about us getting into a really big fight like that ever again."
"Okay. Good." Maggie nodded. She'd been trying to act as peacefully as possible when around Natasha since their argument and resolution during the Civil War mess, as she was afraid of getting into another big fight like that. Maggie didn't want to hurt Natasha again.
"Like I said, you just made a really good point. Yes, you've experienced a lot of the same things each of the Avengers has," Natasha said, grabbing Maggie's empty lunch plate and standing up from the table. "Which means you're now going to learn one of the most important lessons each of us have had to learn."
"Yay! Avengers training lesson!" Maggie cheered, pumping her fists into the air. She knew next to nothing about fighting techniques and battle strategy, but she'd learned her fair share of the more "emotional" Avengers lessons, typically about dealing with trauma and worrying for those she loved.
Natasha sighed. "You're too young for these things." She shook her head, placing the plate in the sink, then turned back to face Maggie. "You're about to learn how to balance."
"Balance?" Maggie echoed. "Like, balance on one foot? Balance on one foot and punch someone at the same time?"
"Sorry, Baby Widow, no lessons in that department today," Natasha said with a smirk. "I meant balance as in balancing your social life."
"Simply speaking, finding a way to handle the scary Avenger feelings while also being friends with people who don't do scary Avenger things," Natasha explained. "Callie's just a normal person, like you said, so she doesn't understand what you're going through like Daddy or Uncle Clint or I would. Which isn't a bad thing, but it makes it hard to talk to Callie about the things you do."
"So, how do I balance?" Maggie asked, scrunching up her nose.
"Communication. Honesty. Trust," Natasha listed. "Those are the main things. Hmm...maybe the best way to explain this is through an example."
"An example?" Maggie perked up. "Oh! A story!"
Natasha nodded, walking back to the table and sitting down beside Maggie. "Yep, a story. I have one that deals with this exactly. It's about Uncle Tony and Aunt Pepper."
"Uncle Tony and Aunt Pepper? What did they do?"
"Back when Uncle Tony first became Iron Man, he had a hard time talking to Aunt Pepper about it," Natasha said. "For the longest time, he never talked to her about it in any detail at all. After we formed the Avengers, I caught up with Uncle Tony and got knee-deep in his drama, as usual…"
"Welcome to my humble abode," Tony said, holding out his arms to either side while leading the ragtag team of heroes into the penthouse. "Well, maybe not so humble. And it's usually cleaner than this."
"We've already been in here," Natasha reminded Tony, following him with Clint walking beside her. "When we got Loki earlier, remember?"
"Well, yes, but I didn't have time to give you a proper introduction," Tony said, already heading toward the bar. "Anybody want anything?"
"A nap," Bruce said, trying to hide a yawn behind his hand.
Tony pointed his finger to the opposite side of the room. "Down that hallway, first door on the right. Guest room, king sized bed. Knock yourself out."
"Goodnight, everyone." Bruce made his way in the direction of Tony's pointing.
"And if anyone else needs a place to stay overnight, feel free to crash here," Tony said, gesturing to the others.
"I must deal with my brother and prepare to return to Asgard as soon as possible," Thor said. "But I am grateful for your offer."
"Sure thing, big guy," Tony said. "Cap?"
Steve shrugged his shoulders. "I'll stick around for a while."
Tony nodded, turning to Clint and Natasha. "Master assassins?"
Natasha looked up at Clint, her eyebrow raised. "You'll get used to Tony pretty quickly."
"Hey!" Tony huffed.
"I figured," Clint said. "Sure. I'll stay."
"There are bathrooms down the hall, and some clothes in the other guest bedroom. Feel free to clean yourselves up," Tony said, looking through his collection of alcohol.
"Thanks, Stark," Steve said, turning and walking down the hall. Clint followed Steve after a few moments.
Thor walked toward the windows. "I must go check on my brother. I will see you all again soon."
"Later, Point Break," Tony said.
As Thor flew off, Natasha closed the distance between herself and Tony. She set a hand on the bar counter. "You planning on cleaning yourself up?"
"I'm wearing in the suit," Tony said. "Newer model."
"So," he held up a bottle of scotch, "drink?"
"No, thank you," Natasha said.
"How polite." Tony set the bottle down next to his glass. "So, you and Cap."
"Me and Cap?"
"Your budding romance."
Natasha rolled her eyes. "You're just as delusional as always."
"It's going to happen, I'm calling it now," Tony said, pouring out his scotch.
"Speaking of romance, what about you? Where's Pepper? She must be worried sick about all of this." Natasha gestured around herself.
"I haven't spoken to-"
"Sir, you have an incoming call from Ms. Potts."
A digital screen on the wall beside Tony lit up with Pepper's name and face, a soft ringtone playing to indicate her call. Natasha smiled knowingly.
"I knew she'd call soon," Natasha said proudly.
"Yeah, uh…" Tony set the bottle of scotch back down. "JARVIS, ignore the call."
"Are you sure?"
Natasha raised an eyebrow as Tony nodded. "Just let it go to voicemail."
"Are you feeling okay?" Natasha waved a hand in front of Tony's face. "Maybe you're a little more banged up than we thought."
"I'm fine," Tony insisted, walking away from his untouched drink. "I'm gonna go suit...down, if that's a thing. Don't touch my drink."
"Wasn't planning on it," Natasha said, watching Tony walk toward the elevators. "Are you sure you're feeling okay?"
"I'm going down to my lab," Tony said without looking back at her.
"I'll drop by in a bit to come check on you."
"No need, agent."
"You're not my boss anymore."
"And you're not my weird undercover-caretaker-assistant-person anymore, either."
"If we're going to be a team now, it's my job to have your back."
"The fight's over."
The elevator doors closed then, separating Tony and Natasha for good. She sighed, massaging her forehead with her fingers and thumb.
Something was wrong with Tony.
Tony sighed as he freed his hands from his gauntlets, enjoying the feeling of the skin of his hands touching once more. He rubbed his hands together as his machines worked to remove the rest of his suit, which had been somewhat trashed during the battle. Nothing some hard work in the lab couldn't fix, but enough damage that it would be a bit tedious. At least he was never one to back down from a challenge.
It was hard to think that, just a few hours ago, Tony had been directing a nuke into a wormhole to outer space. Outer space. Was this what being a hero was all about? Would being Iron Man lead him into more situations like today's events, or even worse situations?
Then again, this was an Avengers crisis, not an Iron Man one. He'd just ended up being the member of the team to do some of the scarier heavy lifting. It was no big deal, right?
Tony groaned, dragging his hand down his face. It was a pretty big deal.
He remembered being rejected from the Avengers Initiative just two years prior by Natasha and Nick Fury. At the time, he thought they were being foolish; now he was starting to second-guess his drive to join the team. These weren't things he'd been raised to handle, unlike some of the other Avengers. He was an innovator, a scientist, a businessman, not a hero - unlike the others (except Bruce), who'd all been trained for these kinds of things for a fairly long time.
Maybe Natasha had a point in rejecting him back then.
Finally freed from his suit entirely, Tony leaned against his lab table. The exhaustion of the day (and almost dying) was starting to take its toll on him.
Then there was a vibrating in his pocket, accompanied by the shrill ring of his phone.
He jumped in surprise, the vision of the endless of space before him filling his vision momentarily. He remembered falling, falling, falling…
"Sir, Ms. Potts is calling."
Tony weakly pulled his phone out of his pocket, fumbling with it for a moment. He gazed at Pepper's face on his screen for a moment, frowning thoughtfully. What was he going to tell her? Of course, Pepper had probably learned most of today's events from watching the news, but how could Tony explain that to her himself?
He'd never even told her about Afghanistan, outside of simply acknowledging that it had happened and led to the necessity for the arc reactor in his chest. With just that knowledge accompanying the fact that Tony took up the mantle of Iron Man, Pepper constantly fretted over him, hovering more than usual. Then they'd become an "official thing" after the Whiplash situation, and in the two years since then, Tony tried to keep his Iron Man life and Pepper life separate, because he knew she'd just freak out if she had any true understanding of what he'd gone through.
Now that he was joining the Avengers on epic adventures (if today was any indication of his permanent membership on the team), everything would be even more hectic. Just one world-ending crisis was already leaving Tony reeling with sudden fear and paranoia; what would happen on the next Avengers adventure? What if he had to fly a nuke through a wormhole again? What if he didn't make it out alive that time? Pepper's stress levels would be through the roof...
"Sir," JARVIS broke through his thoughts, "shall I answer Ms. Potts' call?"
Tony took a deep breath, touching his thumb to the screen of his phone. He hit ignore.
She was probably on her way back to the tower now, if Tony had to guess. He leaned back farther against the table. Clearly, he couldn't ignore Pepper forever. He could avoid speaking to her on the phone, sure, but he'd have to physically confront her at some point.
Tony started at the sudden voice, whirling around to face the source. He found himself standing face to face with Natasha, freshly showered and wearing a large t-shirt and baggy sweatpants. She must've found the clothes in one of the guest bedrooms.
"You've been just standing there like that for at least ten minutes now, staring off into space," Natasha continued, coming closer to him. "And you ignored Pepper's call again."
"Are you just here to spy on me again?" Tony challenged her, glancing at her. "I don't need anything right now, Ms. Rushman."
"Are you dying again?"
Tony couldn't help but chuckle at Natasha's own jab in referral to their shared past. He smirked. "Touche, agent. No, I'm not dying, but thank you for your concern."
"Look," Natasha sighed, placing her hands on the side of the table opposite from Tony, "I know we have a bit of a...rocky history. But I also know it's hard to come out of battles like this. You may be out of it physically, but, mentally, you're stuck on the battlefield for days."
"I sense there's a story behind that," Tony commented.
"Of course. I had to learn it myself, after all," Natasha said. "And now it's your turn."
"I may not be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but this is far from my first rodeo with death and threats to the safety of humanity," Tony pointed out.
"True. But this is the first time it involved outer space, nuclear weapons, demi-gods, and having to work with other people who are as good as or even better than you at the superhero thing."
Tony whistled. "You really spare no one, huh, Romanoff?"
"I'm not here to tell you what you want to hear," Natasha said. "I'm here to tell you that you're not alone. We're all trying to work through this. And I can also tell you that ignoring those you love most is not the solution."
Tony placed his cell phone on the table. "Pepper has nothing to do with this."
"You're ignoring her because of this. She very much has something to do with this."
"No, I mean, she has nothing to do with you," Tony said, gesturing to Natasha. "She has nothing to do with you, or Cap, or Banner, or…" He trailed off with a sigh. "Or Iron Man. We're here to protect Earth, right? She's a part of what we need to protect. I can't protect her if I can't separate myself from her."
"Trust me, Tony," Natasha said slowly, "I understand where you're coming from. It's not easy. It's not fair, either. But that doesn't mean it has to be this way. If you love someone, you have to let them in sometimes. Otherwise, how are you treating them any differently from how you'd treat acquaintances or strangers?"
Before Tony could reply, his phone vibrated once more. Pepper's face lit up his screen. He looked from the device to Natasha's calculating expression, her eyes watching him.
"In the end, this is up to you two to figure out," Natasha said, taking a step back. "I don't really have any place in telling you what to do. But I wanted to add my own thoughts, from my own experiences, to be variables considered in your equation."
Tony didn't say anything as Natasha flashed him a small smile, then turned around and walked away. She said nothing more.
He ignored the call.
"Tony?" Pepper called as she walked through the seemingly empty lab, her phone in hand.
She looked around the room. Pieces of Tony's latest Iron Man suit were strewn about, each piece damaged in one way or another from the Avengers' battle earlier that day. But the "Man" in "Iron Man" was nowhere to be found.
"Tony!" she called out again. "I know you're in here. I overrode JARVIS with the code you gave me, so he told me you were in here."
Still, no response.
"Why are you ignoring my calls? I know you called me earlier during the battle, before...please, Tony, just tell me what's wrong."
Frowning, Pepper quickly called Tony on her phone. She heard the vibration and ringtone of his phone for just under two seconds, as it was quickly cut off.
"Now I know you're in here," Pepper said smugly.
Her own phone vibrated then, but only once, indicating she'd received a text message. She hastily unlocked it, opening Tony's text.
I don't think we should be together anymore.
"Tony…" Pepper glanced around once again, unsure of what to make of Tony's sudden text. She bit her lip. "I don't believe you."
She took a step deeper into the lab. "Come and tell me to my face that you're breaking up with me. I refuse to break up over text, and I refuse to believe that you just suddenly decided, since battling aliens, that we shouldn't be together anymore."
There was still no response.
"Come talk to me, face-to-face, and I'll believe you."
A still silence filled the room for several moments. Pepper clenched her phone in her fist. In the four years since Tony becoming Iron Man, she'd stood by his side through every single thing that had happened. Though Tony wasn't particularly keen on sharing what was racing through that grand mind of his in terms of emotions, Pepper tried to be patient and accommodating. She cared about Tony more than she'd ever thought she would, especially in the two years they'd been dating. His problems were her problems, just as her problems were his. That was how things worked. They overcame challenges together.
Which was why she was having trouble seeing how this was any different. Sure, Tony had been working with an actual team of heroes for once, and this particular situation had a bit more of a...terrifyingly existential overtone than usual, but Pepper didn't see why that meant anything between them had to change drastically.
Finally, Pepper heard the metal from one of Tony's suit pieces slide across the floor. She turned to face the sound, finding Tony standing there, his foot placed where said piece had sat moments before. He was averting his eyes, but Pepper had an idea of how stormy they would appear.
"Tony," Pepper said softly, approaching him slowly. "What's going on?"
She stopped before him, taking his hands in hers. "Why won't you talk to me? Is it...something I did?"
Tony shook his head.
"Please, Tony, talk to me."
Several moments of silence passed between them before Tony managed to meet Pepper's eyes. She felt a part of herself crumble at the sight of unshed tears in his eyes, but he spoke before she could.
"I still want to be together," he whispered, looking down at their joined hands.
"I thought so," Pepper said lightly, squeezing his hands.
"I just...everything that happened today, I can't…" Tony sighed. "I don't want you involved in it. Any of it. But if you're with me…"
"Hey. We made it through these past few years together, didn't we?" Pepper pointed out.
Tony didn't reply.
"Look." Pepper placed a hand against Tony's cheek. "I understand where you're coming from, Tony. Hell, you've been doing this ever since Afghanistan, trying to protect those closest to you from the bad things you've experienced. I've seen it, Tony. I see you."
"You deserve better," Tony murmured, meeting her eyes hesitantly. "You don't need this in your life."
She heard what he really meant by those words. You don't need this. You don't need me.
But she shook her head. "You're wrong, Tony. We're in this together. I know it's hard, but if you could try opening up a bit more...to me, and to Rhodey, too. We're here for you because we love you. You can talk to us. You don't have to carry things alone, no matter how heavy or terrifying the things may seem. We need you. I need you."
"I just want to protect you," Tony said.
"I'm a big girl," Pepper said. "I can handle it, whatever it is. Being strong doesn't mean being completely and utterly reckless; it's okay to ask for help. And I want to be there for you, just as you've been there for me and countless others for so long."
Tony nodded along to Pepper's words. "So...you want to hear about…?"
"You decide. I'll be here for all of it." Pepper pressed a kiss to his forehead. "I'll be here as long as I can be, through everything, from now on."
"You've always been here," Tony corrected her with a small smile. "I love you, Pep. And I'm sorry we broke the tower."
"I love you, too. And it's okay, I'd rather have a broken tower than any of the worse outcomes that could have happened."
Tony pecked Pepper's lips. "I'm the hot mess between the two of us."
"I'd argue that's usually debatable, but in this case, maybe you're not wrong. Let's sit down and talk."
"Wow," Maggie said, eyes wide. "Uncle Tony used to not tell Aunt Pepper anything? Not until after the Battle of New York?"
"Hardly anything." Natasha nodded. "He was afraid of Aunt Pepper getting hurt because she wanted to involve herself in his problems. Naturally, of course, since they were dating."
"And now they're married!"
"Yes, they are. And they may have never reached that point without overcoming that boundary between them."
"So," Maggie furrowed her eyebrows, "I should tell Callie about Avengers stuff."
"You shouldn't just ignore her when she asks about it," Natasha corrected. "You can tell her as much or as little about these things as you want, but you should at least tell her you don't want to talk about it, rather than just ignore her without explaining why."
"Do you think I hurt Callie's feelings?" Maggie asked.
"I don't think she's mad at you," Natasha reassured her. "She's probably just worried about you, like Aunt Pepper was about Uncle Tony back then. The sooner you talk to Callie, the sooner she'll feel better, I'm sure."
Maggie nodded, standing up quickly from her seat. "I'm gonna go call her right now!"
She raced toward the landline phone on the kitchen counter, yanking it off its base without any hesitation. Dialing Callie's number, Maggie scurried out of the room, heading down the hallway toward her bedroom.
Natasha sighed in relief at the sight. Mission accomplished and crisis diffused. Perfect.
In that moment, Natasha's cellphone vibrated from where it sat on the table a few inches away from her hand. Curiously, Natasha picked it up and unlocked the screen, only to find a new text message from Tony.
I know things between us aren't the best right now but I just wanted to check in with you and the familia.
Natasha smirked to herself, typing out a reply: Well, isn't that kind of you. I'm touched.
Tony's reply came quickly: Just returning the favor after our latest fight. ;) Oh and Pepper says hi
As complicated as things had been as of late between their extended superhero family, Natasha felt grateful for the years she'd spent fighting beside her beloved teammates, and for the fact that despite the differences between them now, they still cared for one another.
Tell her I said hi back. Thinking of you two. We're doing okay here. :) Thanks, Tony.