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Ten minutes past two on a Thursday night, a month after the battle of New York, and Natasha couldn't sleep. Lately, her unconscious hours were filled with Loki, with literally drowning in the blood of those she's killed. But she won't admit that to anyone; even Clint, as much as she trusted him, wouldn't be able to understand the darkness in her. His hands were bloodstained too, but not as much as hers. Nowhere near as much as hers.
That was why she found herself leaving her room in Stark Tower and taking the elevator to the bar at the top floor, where Stark's booze supply was always well stocked. To her surprise, the billionaire himself was sitting at the island, a glass of liquor in hand. She wordlessly plopped herself down on a barstool on the opposite side of the island; just as silently, he offered her a generously filled glass, which she drained. He refilled it.
"What're you doing up?" Despite the half empty bottle sitting on the island, testament to how much he'd drunk already, his words were not slurred, and the chocolate brown eyes regarding her were clearly sober.
She considered lying or deflecting the question with a snarky comment. She didn't usually have qualms about it; after all, she was a spy, and a good one at that. Lies and deflection were the bread and butter of her trade, and on several occasions her life had depended on her ability to lie. But she wanted to be as honest as she can with the Avengers, especially to Tony. She knew that he didn't trust her; hadn't trusted her since her deception as Natalie Rushman two years ago. After being thrown into a team together, his distrust had lessened, but it was a safe bet that out of all the Avengers, she was the one he trusted the least.
Maybe it was because she wanted that to change, or because of the surreal feeling from the late hour, or simply because she was mentally exhausted, but she didn't want to lie anymore. So she said, "Couldn't sleep."
"So you decided to raid my booze?"
"More or less." She shrugged. "Problem?"
A half-hearted smile grew on his face, a shadow of his usual cocky smirk. This was a Tony Stark weary of keeping up appearances. "No, but I'm not carrying you back to your room if you pass out."
"Fair enough, but I'm not dragging you back to your room either," she replied. "I'll leave you here for the rest of the team to find you in the morning."
The smirk widened, more closely resembling his usual grin now. "You underestimate me, Romanoff. Do you actually think that I'm going down before you?"
She gestured at the bottle, which was almost empty by now. "You had a head start."
The corners of his lips fell and he fixed her in an intense stare. "Let's see about that," he challenged.
Two hours and half a dozen drinks later, a tipsy Tony and Natasha were still sitting at the island. Tony was recounting how he and James Rhodes tried sneaking into the girls' dorm when they were at boarding school together. Natasha was listening with her head propped up with one hand, elbow on the table.
"And right when Rhodey was stuck in the window, those girls came up behind him and –" Before dissolving in laughter, Tony managed to gasp, "He fell down from the second-floor with his pants still down!" Tony was all but rolling on the floor, and it appeared inevitable from the way he was perched precariously on the stool. The story wasn't all that funny, but Tony's boisterousness, coupled with the alcohol, made Natasha relaxed enough – drunk enough she reminded herself – to allow herself to laugh.
Miraculously, Tony did not fall off the stool, but recovered enough to prompt Natasha. "Your turn, Tzarina."
"'Tzarina'?" She cocked an eyebrow incredulously. "Are you serious?"
He grinned, dark eyes gleaming playfully. "Weren't you a Russian princess?"
"Don't make assumptions, it just makes you look stupid." Her warning was more teasing than serious.
"But were you a princess?" Tony seemed genuinely interested.
Natasha paused, debating how much she was comfortable with telling him. "Who or what I was doesn't matter. I'm Natasha Romanoff now."
Tony nodded in understanding. She wanted to create a new identity, be someone who isn't tied defined by her past. He'd been there, he knew that feeling better than most people realized.
"Fury didn't approve of me choosing an alias so similar to my birth name," Natasha continued. "But I did it anyway. I don't want to completely disengage myself with the person I used to be. It's not someone I'm proud of being, obviously, but at the same time..." She trailed off, the words for explanation failing to come to her.
"You don't want to forget how your past has made you into who you are now," Tony finished for her.
"But if Fury didn't like your new name, why did you stick with it?" he pressed. "I thought you lived for orders."
A spark of defiance rose in Natasha' gaze. "I don't question them; that doesn't mean I can't make decisions for myself. I don't think Fury has a say over something as personal as my name."
"Does it ever bother you, though?" Tony said. "That you have to listen to Fury? Not question orders?"
She considered this for a moment. "A little," she admitted at last. "But sometimes the alternative is worse."
He leaned forward, elbows resting on the surface, brown eyes intense despite the copious amount of alcohol already in his system. "If you, or Hawkboy, or any other agent, had confronted Fury about what was really going on with the Tesseract, everything might have turned out differently. No Loki, no battle, none of that crap."
"Maybe," she said. "You think of that a lot?"
"Yeah, you know I have a thing with orders." The seriousness disappeared from his eyes and he leaned back, taking a long drink from his glass.
"No, about the battle, Loki, all that," she amended, genuinely wanting to know.
"Yeah," he said frankly. "Don't you?"
She looked away, reluctant to admit weakness but even more unwilling to lie to Tony. "Yeah," she whispered. She met his eyes briefly before looking away again, unable to let him see the weakness in them. Sincerity had torn down all her walls, and she knew that he recognised the vulnerability in her. The same look was in his eyes – unguarded, vulnerable – and she knew that he understood completely because he felt it too.
"Good to know you don't live and breathe for Fury's orders. Remind me to call you next time I hack into SHIELD." Tony grinned and the mood lightened immediately, the vulnerability dissipating. He got up and stumbled to the elevator, leaving Natasha to finish her drink. Watching the elevator doors close upon him, Natasha had a feeling that sleep would come easier and more peacefully tonight.
Author's note: There need to be more fanfics of this ship. This fic was meant to be a one-shot but it kind of grew and now it's a giant. I hope you guys are happy with reading a lot more of these two.
Please review and let me know how I can improve. I love these characters so much and I hope they're not too out of character.