When Natasha meet Johnny

or

(The first time Natasha stalked Johnny was an accident,

the rest were on purpose)

Takes place between Chap 1 & 2 of The Nine Tailed Foxx

Crossing paths by accident…...

Johnny sat in the back of the SUV, re-reading the file he had been given, one last time. He knew what the mark looked like, older caucasian male with salt and pepper hair, brown eyes, average height and weight. He had also memorized the list of interests the mark had, including sexual preferences. He fit the description of just exotic enough to draw the mark's attention without standing out too much. Nothing beyond getting the mark to follow him outside and to a waiting vehicle was in the packet. He was good at being a distraction and getting people to follow him, past that, it was up to someone else. Flipping the file closed, he dropped it into the empty passenger seat then checked his pockets to be sure he had everything he needed. Money, fake ID, burner phone, the ticket for the event, even condoms and lube incase the mark needed a little extra persuasion to go with him.

"We'll be waiting for your signal when you have the mark," the driver said as he looked into the rearview mirror at Johnny.

Nodding his head, Johnny slipped the decadently soft scarf around his neck then slid on the hooded greatcoat before exiting the SUV. He quickly fastened the coat, then re-adjusted the scarf before flipping the hood up in an attempt to keep the cold at bay. The walk to the art gallery where the jazz concert was being held, only took about 15 or so minutes. He waited patiently for another 10 minutes before he and the rest of the people standing around were let in. With a charming smile, he handed his coat to the attendant while keeping his scarf and took his claim ticket. He accepted a glass of wine from one of the event staff as he meandered around the gallery, examining the displays as he did.

Natasha arrived with plenty of time before the mark was due to show up. The first ensemble of musicians had already started and most of the early arrivals were already on their second glass of wine for the night, making it a little easier for her to blend in effortlessly. As she sipped her wine, her eyes slid across each person within her line of sight, automatically scanning then assigning a threat level. When she glanced up to the people on the mezzanine, she spotted a familiar face. Her mission brief included a list of attendee names, and his was no where on that list, ergo he must have come under an assumed name or as someone's plus one. She was too much of a professional to allow even the barest hint of her amused annoyance at the fact that Johnny was here to show in her expression.

By the time the concert was drawing to a close, Natasha was no longer amused, she was annoyed. During the intermission, she had made contact with the mark, attracted and held his attention as planned, even had him almost ready to leave when he became distracted by something, or rather someone. She noted that the mark kept glancing up towards the mezzanine every few minutes while they chatted. The mark excused himself only to return a few minutes later. After the second time he did that, she followed discreetly.

"Gorgeous. Just gorgeous," the mark said as he stopped a few feet behind where Johnny was standing.

Johnny mentally rolled his eyes at the rather corny pickup line as he sipped his wine. "Yes, the photographer has a very good eye for the subject," he replied as he continued to look at the black and white photo collection, a series on life in the Deep South circa 1920's to 1930's.

"The photos aren't that bad looking either," the mark commented as he held out his hand. "Crispin Donovan the Third," he said in way of a greeting.

Johnny laughed, switching his wine glass to the opposite hand. "Jaxon Firmin."

From her spot half-hidden by one of the displays, Nat grudgingly marked a tally in Johnny's favor. The tactic of using a false name with the same starting letter as his real name, meant that he had some training in the art of undercover work. She watched as the pair chatted for a few minutes before the mark excused himself. It didn't take her more than a few moments to reach the first floor of the gallery and get into position again.

"Miss Ivonava," the mark said as he came up to Natasha's side, "Oxana," he corrected himself. "I apologize for taking so long. I ran into an old acquaintance and we started talking. I'm afraid I'll have to take a rain check on that after party you spoke of. He and I are going to catch up over coffee."

Natasha made a little mewl of disappointment, "Perhaps, you can introduce me to him? I'm positive I can make a new friend. Hmmm?" She turned the charm up a notch in an attempt to get herself invited along for whatever it was Johnny and the mark would be 'catching up' on.

"I'm afraid he's a very private person," the mark responded. He caught Natasha's hand and brought it up to his lips. "It has been a real pleasure to meet you Oxana. Perhaps we can meet again sometime soon?"

"I look forward to it," Natasha replied. Once the mark turned away, she stepped back, blending in with the other concert goers. She kept watch as Johnny and the mark headed to the door, both collecting their coats on the way out, and disappeared. In moments she was slipping through the people, a cell held to her ear as if she was talking to someone. "Damnit, I lost the mark to other interested parties." She rattled off Johnny's description to her handler, along with some other information. She was informed that a secondary unit would tail the pair until she was able to get away and pick the tail up herself.

Outside, Johnny lead the mark down the block to a waiting limo. After both climbed in, it pulled away, joining the flow of traffic. While the mark started to get a bit grabby and frisky, Johnny signaled the driver. Shifting so he straddled the mark's lap, he returned the enthusiastic kisses as he slipped a hand into a hidden compartment. After he broke the kiss, he moved back to the opposite seat. "While I would love to continue this, I'm afraid my employer is rather impatient to meet you," he said. He rapped his knuckles on the divider, signaling the driver.

There was a soft click of the door locks engaging, followed by a sibilant hiss as the back of the limo was gassed. The mark lunged, but a foot to the chest knocked him back. A few moments more of struggle, then the mark was unconscious. The limo turned onto another street before it pulled over. Johnny exited the vehicle, tossing the small gas mask onto the seat as he did. The passenger window rolled down only long enough to pass an envelope containing his pay for the job. What happened to the mark after that wasn't any of his business.

The first stalking started on a thursday and lasted through sunday night...

For someone as skilled as Natasha was, it was child's play to acquire Johnny's work schedule (and personal information) from the restaurant. From the information obtained, Johnny would start his three day work week the following day, Friday. As long as she wasn't called in for anything, she had plenty of time to plan her next move.

Natasha was a firm believer that there were no such thing as coincidences. Not in her line of work. Crossing paths with someone more than once in the city the size of New York, especially when neither ran in the same circles, meant something was going on. She was going to get to the bottom of that something even if she had to kill someone to get there. Knowledge was power (not to mention a great source of blackmail material). Already she had found little things that didn't add up. Like his apartment for example. The two bedroom apartment was located in an area that was moderately priced, fairly clean and had very little criminal activity. The building itself was up to code, had a fairly decent security system and the building's superintendent actually did his job. It was well beyond what Johnny's current income could handle, yet his rent and utilities were paid on time or before they were due. Another example that something wasn't adding up, was that his bills were all paid using one of those anonymous, reloadable credit cards that made it almost impossible to track (handy to have when undercover though). Plus there was the concert at the art gallery.

It took Natasha a couple of hours at the most, to set up a series of SHIELD grade cameras that gave her the best possible view into Johnny's apartment without breaking in and planting anything. A couple of tiny yet powerful mics discretely attached to the windows would provide the other half of the surveillance. Once she made sure she had a good feed, she headed back to the Tower to plan her next move. On her way, she called Cantellines. With a casual name drop, she secured a late lunch reservation at a prime table for two in Johnny's section, for three days hence.

Once back at the Tower, it took Natasha only a few minutes to locate the person she was looking for. "Pepper."

Pepper glanced up from her tablet to look at the other woman, "Natasha," she replied in greetings.

"Would you do me a favor?" Natasha asked as she settled down on the common room couch next to the other redhead.

Setting the tablet aside, Pepper gave her entire attention to Natasha. "Depends on what you need," she said.

"Go to a late lunch with me on Sunday?" Natasha asked. "I'd take one of the guys, but Clint looks horrible in a dress, Steve's too naive at times, Sam's out of town and Bruce is still oblivious."

The SI CEO just laughed. "What about Tony?" Pepper asked.

"A circus train wreck waiting to happen, not to mention he's too likely to go snooping where he doesn't belong," Nat answered.

Once again Pepper laughed, "That's Tony," she said in agreement. After a quick consultation with her schedule, she agreed to the late lunch date. "You can update me on all the current Tower gossip as well," she added.

When Sunday rolled around and everything was still quiet for the Avengers, Natasha was leary of what was around the corner waiting to bite them all on the ass. Whenever it was calm for too long, she started preparing for the call to assemble. Inevitably, the longer between calls the worse the problem turned out to be.

Johnny was putting the finishing touches on the table when Natasha and Pepper arrived at Cantellines. He made a round checking on the customers seated in his area before he headed to the maitre d's post where he accepted the menus, then gestured for the two women to follow him. "Good afternoon, ladies. Right this way." He pulled out the chairs when they arrived at the table, assisting first Pepper then Natasha as they sat, then offered them the menus before pouring their water. "Do you require anything else as you make your selections?" He asked.

Natasha waved Johnny off as she studied the menu.

Glancing up, Pepper shook her head. "No, not at this time. Thank you," she said.

"You're welcome. I'll be right back in a couple of moments to take your orders then," he said with charming smile and a dip of his head. He did a quick survey of his area then headed towards one of the other tables.

"Isn't he a little young for you?" Pepper asked as she looked through the menu.

Natasha's lips quirked up as she cut her eyes to the side to watch Johnny's backside as he walked away. "Don't tell me you haven't looked as well," she said in deflection, eyes going back to the menu.

A minute or two of silence passed between the two women as they made their selections. Menus were closed and set to the side. Eyes meet then both women started to laugh. Nobody noticed or cared, after all they weren't the only ones watching Johnny that afternoon.

The end of his Sunday shift was the best part of both his work day and his work 'week'. He collected the rest of his tips, gave the busboy his percentage (never piss the busboys off as they can get pretty vengeful, sharing of tips seem to keep it from happening though), and left the restaurant behind. Partway down the block, he slid into the back seat of a waiting SUV with a grateful sigh both for being off his feet and the warmth. "Am I required for any jobs this evening?" He asked as he gently brushed a finger down Alexei's cheek. In return he got a toothless grin.

The driver glanced into the rear view mirror before he returned his eyes to the road. "Just some financial reviews," the man said. "Everything is in the back along with the diaper bag and supplies."

Johnny made an appropriate sound as he turned his attention to the infant. At just over 3 months, Alexei had him firmly wrapped around his tiny fingers. "Anything I need to be aware of in regards to Alexei?"

The driver glanced back up for a few seconds then returned his eyes to the road once more. "No, he's progressing as expected for his age. No signs of any health issues though he does appear to be developing a diaper rash. It was decided to try switching diaper and wipe brand's first before using medicating products."

Again Johnny made a sound of acknowledgement as he continued to stare at Alexei for the rest of the trip. Once they arrived at his place, the driver assisted in carrying everything up to his apartment. He bid the driver a good night then closed and secured the door.

Natasha had been admittedly (if only to herself) slightly surprised when she watched Johnny enter his apartment with a baby carrier and a backpack, followed by another man who was carrying several shopping bags loaded with baby necessities. That right there had put twist in a couple of her plans, but she wasn't one of the best spies in the world for nothing. All it took was a matter of moments for her to run through several dozen plans of approach until she found the one that would work the best. That was how she ended up outside of Johnny's apartment building late that evening. She pulled her phone out of her jacket pocket to check the time (and the video feed) as she carefully balanced the 6 pack of sodas (beer would be better but the only evidence suggested Johnny prefered non-alcoholic drinks) on top of the extra large pizza. She timed it perfectly, smiling and thanking the couple (the elderly woman was a nosey but kind who tried on multiple occasions to set Johnny up with a date with her granddaughter) who exited for holding the door for her. In the elevator, she took the time to make small talk with a middle aged man (single divorcee, works full time, has teenage autistic daughter), agreeing to pass on a message on about dinner and a get together on Wednesday. She stepped off at the correct floor, walked to the correct door and knocks. When it opened after the second time she knocked, she smiled. "Hello Johnny."

Johnny frowned around the pencil in his mouth when he heard the knock on his door. He wasn't expecting anyone this late in the evening and he usually got at least a text if he had a sudden job. Tossing the pencil onto the coffee table, he stood up from the couch and headed to the door. He had only sensed one person on the other side of the door, so didn't bother to check any further than that. His first mistake was opening the door without checking to see who it was. His second was to think he had any say in the matter when it came to one Natasha Romanoff. Several moments passed as he just stared at the red-headed woman. With a sigh, he pushed the door open further then turned and walked away.

Natasha crossed over the threshold, closing and locking the door behind her as she did. She immediately scanned her surroundings. To her left was a bathroom, two closets (one smaller, broom closet?) and a dark bedroom that appears to have been turned into an office. Straight ahead and slightly to the right was the living room, next was the separate kitchen, then the dining room area.

In the living room area, Natasha could see an UHD TV (a SI logo in the lower corner) mounted on the wall that separated the kitchen from the living room (some type of educational/documentary program playing, volume on low). A small entertainment unit under the TV (DVR, three different game consoles and their respective controllers). A long coffee table (laptop - open and still on, several stacks of receipts, a pencil and pen, and a ledger book) in front of a comfortable looking couch (cloth, second hand but well cared for). Several large bean bag chairs (low to the ground, out of direct line of sight, though positioned where afternoon sunlight would fall on them) was placed on either side of the window.

The floor was covered in a neutral colored low pile carpet and by the barely-there wear patterns, it indicated the bedroom-turned-office was rarely used. The bathroom and the kitchen both had tile (possibly textured by the way the light reflects off of it).

Natasha took everything in, processed, catalogued then stored it away for later use in the short amount of time it took Johnny to walk to the other bedroom door, glance in and close it, then turn around to walk back, ducking into the kitchen for a moment as he did.

Johnny held out his hands for the pizza and drinks, nodding to the bench and shoe rack next to the door. "If you would please," he says. A roll of paper towels and couple of paper plates were tucked under his arm.

Natasha handed over the pizza and drinks. She watched as Johnny walked away, her eyes traveling from the back of his head down to his feet then back up again, lingering on his backside as he cleared a spot on the coffee table. She didn't sit, instead choosing to stand as she removed her ankle boots. She picked a pair of soft house slippers close to her size, then made her way over to the couch. As she passed the coffee table, she took one of the drinks and raised it to toast. "Vyp'yem za to, chto my zdes' sobralis', i chtoby chashche sobiralis'!" she said with a smile.

Johnny stares at Natasha for several moments before raising his own drink. "Za Vas," he replied earning a raised eyebrow. "Other than a few curses a peacock taught me, that's all I know," he muttered before taking a sip.

Settling back on the couch, Natasha's smile turned into a smirk. "Is that where you picked up that tradition?" She asked, pointing towards the shoe rack.

Johnny shrugged as he flipped the pizza box open, gestured to the paper plates, then the remote, waiting for Natasha to serve herself before taking any. The laptop, ledgers, and receipts were all tucked to the side, safely away from the pizza box.

After some small conversation, they end up watching some live action movie of a Japanese anime set in the feudal era about a former hitman turned pacifist wander. Natasha finds it amusing that the main character was a red-headed (former)assassin. About a quarter of the way through, Johnny got up and disappeared into the other room. He returned twenty minutes later to find Natasha poking though the laptop. He didn't say anything about it, but did give her an annoyed look. She offered a half-smirk and shrug in return, as if to say why did you leave it out then?

The movie was almost over when Natasha received a call to assemble; Doctor Doom bored on a Sunday night and looking to cause some problem. She told Clint to pack her bag and let the others know she would meet them there.

Natasha never did get to see the end of the movie.

The second stalking occurred on a tuesday, just over a week later…..

"Here, this one is better in both quality and taste," Natasha said casually as she strolled up to the shopping cart Johnny was standing next to and placed the item in the cart. She plucked the similar item out and placed it on the shelf next to her, totally disregarding to the fact it didn't belong there.

Johnny turned slightly, hand going from playing with Alexei's foot to bringing the carrier's bonet as far down as possible. He then shifted his full attention to the red-head. "Stalking me much?" He asked softly, crossing his arms over his chest.

There was an undercurrent to his voice that Natasha recognized in a heartbeat. She casually took a step back, tucking her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. A shift of her shoulders, tilt of her head, posture going sloppy like most teenagers today and to anyone looking, she's a harmless young woman. "Whatever gave you that idea?" She asked playfully.

"I wonder," Johnny deadpanned.

Natasha stepped back further as another customer came between them, breaking Johnny's eye contact with her. She noted that the greater the distance between her and the infant the less tense he was. She let him have the illusion he could escape her if he wanted. She popped a piece of gum into her mouth before turning and pulling her phone out of her pocket. Bending her head down, she started flipping through various apps, fingers tapping swiftly against the screen as she blew bubbles, adding another layer to the image she had crafted. When they reached the checkout, she gave Johnny an absent minded wave, still looking at her phone, as she headed for the exit.

When Johnny exited the store a few minutes later, he watched as Natasha swung her leg over the seat of a sleek, black motorcycle. With a shake of his head, he side-stepped someone entering the store and headed towards the curb where a cab waited. It was only after he secured the carrier in the back and was helping load the trunk with grocery bags, he realized he hadn't heard the normal engine noises associated with motorcycles.

The third case of stalking happened by chance on a Friday night….

"How do you spell that again?" Darcy asked for the fourth time in under ten minutes. Her fingers paused on the keyboard as she looked over the rims of her glasses at the trio of scientists.

Tony stopped mid-gesture at the question to turn and look at Darcy. Behind him, both Bruce and Jane were still going, flipping through holographic diagrams and blueprints. He crossed his arms, stared at Jane's assistant for a minute straight, then uncrossed them to throw them in the air. "Go.. just.. Go. FRIDAY can take notes," he said as he shooed her out of the lab.

When Darcy entered the common room, she was greeted by Pepper.

"He finally threw you out of the lab?" Pepper asked, glancing up from her tablet.

With a sigh, Darcy flopped down on the couch. "Yeah," she said. She was use to the sounds of a lab; Jane's science chatter and noises from the machines. She didn't even have her iPod with her to distract her from the quietness of the common room. Ok so it wasn't totally quiet. The guys (minus Tony and Bruce) were playing pool, talking and trading insults while the women were chatting softly amongst themselves. She shifted in boredom for several minutes before giving up and getting up. "What is there to do in this town? I mean come on, it's New York! The City that Never Sleeps. There has got to be something going on somewhere…" She paces to one of the windows and looks out at the city.

And that was how Darcy Lewis found herself climbing out of a SI limo at one of the newest, most popular nightclubs in the city, in the company of Pepper Potts, Maria Hill, the Black Widow and Sharon Carter. Cray to the Zee.

Johnny let out a sinful moan as he was pinned against sink by his date for the night. A hand was fisted in his hair, pulling his head back, exposing his neck further. The other hand had found its way down the front of his equally sinful leather pants and was doing delightful things to him. "Keep that up… and we won't make it back out there any time soon," he commented with a hitched breath. "Fuck…Marcus!"

"That's the idea," Marcus commented before his mouth attacked the other side of Johnny's neck.

A pounding on the locked door interrupted the pair before they got much farther. "How long does it take, to take a piss?!" A voice hollered from the other side.

Marcus turned his head, about to make a scathing reply but was distracted when he was pulled back around for a searing kiss.

"Ignore em," Johnny said as he reached down and squeezed, earning a growl and a nip to his jaw. "Better yet, let's go back out to the floor… might find someone else to join us tonight. If you think you can handle more than just me that is," he said challengingly.

"You're on."

The two men straightened themselves out somewhat before they exited the bathroom, heading for the middle of the dancefloor. Of the two, Johnny was the more exotic looking but Marcus wasn't bad either. He was almost as tall as Johnny, but was more rugged and athletic looking. Sandy blond hair and blue-gray eyes completed the picture. All around all American bad boy. They danced face to face for a bit, arms about each other as they practically rutted there on the dance floor. The press of bodies pulling away, giving the pair some space.

Johnny turned so his ass was pressed against Marcus's groin as he danced. He felt a hand popping the buttons on his shirt but he didn't care. He hummed in pleasure as fingers slowly raked upwards, leaving trails of sensation. The hand made its way down to his waist, popping the top button of his pants then slide inside. Fingers teased and tantalized, getting him hard again in no time. He threw his head back onto Marcus's shoulder, turning slightly so they looking at each other. Lips came together in a sensual kiss that turned into a battle of dominance complete with dueling tongues. Other bodies pressed up against him, hands roaming exposed flesh, wet trails as tongues licked and nipped. He welcomed it all as he let himself slip into a world defined by the sensation of touch and movement.

Up in the VIP section, waitstaff moved between tables and booths, ensuring the high-roller party goers were well taken care of. Lights around the railing edges made it almost impossible to see who was up top, but made it easy for those looking down. The music was also much quieter than downstairs. High quality sound and vibration dampeners made sure of it.

After the appetizers and first round of drinks were delivered, Darcy moved to stand at the railing to look down at the people on the dance floor. She wanted an idea of where the best spots were and which areas to avoid unless she didn't have a choice. Besides, the dynamics of the dance floor was interesting. She watched as two men made their way into the middle of the floor, and honestly the only reason she noticed them was due to them being taller than most everyone else. And they were both hot as hell. Slowly her eyes widen and her jaw went slack as the two men practically had sex standing up, right there in the middle of the dance floor. "Ooohhh…. Eemmmm… Effing.. Geeee… that is the hottest….. Is it even legal? ...You have got to see this….who needs porn when you got a live show ladies." She waved her hand at the others while keeping her eyes on the floor below. "Lady bits are tingling!" She added, fanning herself.

"Ugh, no thank you. Tony's collection is big enough as is," Pepper commented before taking a sip of her drink.

"Bet Clint's is bigger," Natasha snickered.

Maria was in the process of taking a sip when Natasha made that comment. She had to bring her hand up to cover her mouth as she started to cough. "You did not just…."

"Ummhmmm…." Pepper commented. "She did."

"Oh come on!" Darcy said loudly. "Just come over here and look! I mean they aren't Thor but.. Hot damn….these two come close…."

Sharon turned, throwing an arm over the back of her chair, to look at Darcy. "Then why don't you go down and join em," she said with a laugh before turning back around.

With a stomp of the foot, Darcy huffed, "Fine, be that way… I think I just might do that." She turned towards the stairs and headed towards the stairs leading down to the main floor of the club.

About 5 minutes had passed when Maria looked around and suddenly sat up straight. "Shit! She took you seriously, Sharon."

"Oh hell. Quick, we need to find her before something happens and Jane kills us for it," Pepper said as she stood up from her seat and headed to the railing.

Down on the main floor, Darcy eeled her way through the crowds. She was unafraid of using underhanded tricks like pinching, tripping or elbowing people out of her way. Afterall she took down a norse 'god' with a taser. Getting to a couple of hot guys to dance (have almost sex) on the dance floor with them shouldn't be a problem. She reached the epicenter only to find it empty. Or so she thought. She let out a squeak of surprise before spinning around to find herself face to chest with the rugged blond.

With a leering laugh, Marcus snaked his arm around the feisty brunette who fought her way to them. He maneuvered her backwards into Johnny as he ran one hand down luscious curves until his hand landed on her ass. "I think we found a keeper," he said to himself. He wasn't going to yell to be heard over the music. Pulling her flush against his body he started moving to the beat of the music.

At first Darcy wasn't sure what they were going to do to her, then she said screw it, loosened up and started moving with them. Hard muscled bodies (in both senses) had her sandwiched between them as hands roamed her curves. She was turned around to face the other man, her hands guided to smooth dusky skin. She resisted when the blond tried to direct her hands into the redhead's crotch. While she had no problems putting her hands on (hot!) leather covered ass, she wasn't about to stick them down a total stranger's crotch. She felt the laughter from the blond at her refusal and tried to elbow him for it.

Johnny caught the brunette's hands before she could do anything to piss Marcus off, and brought them up to his lips. He kissed across her knuckles before placing her hands on his shoulders. Unlike his date for the night, he kept his hands mostly to himself. He ran his hands down her arms, over her shoulders and down her sides before placing them on her hips, respectful of the boundaries she set.

Darcy's blue-green eyes locked with emerald green. She saw equal parts laughter and lust in their gem like depths and was slowly being drawn in. She rose up on her tiptoes as she slid her hands up to the back of the redhead's neck so she could pull him down closer. The moment wasn't just interrupted, it was shattered as if the Hulk had smashed it in his rage. Rough hands had come from behind to cup her breasts then squeezed them in a painfully tight grip. She let out an angry shout then kicked backwards with her foot, slamming the heel of her boot into the blond's leg. Twisting around, using her momentum, she slugged him.

Marcus reared back, hand going to his jaw. His surprise at being slugged rapidly morphed into anger as he raised his hand to deliver a slap to the bitch. His wrist was grabbed, fingers digging painfully into the tendons. His eyes shot up to meet those of Johnny. He saw laughing emerald shift to deadly serious dark green as his date glared back at him.

No words were said, as Johnny just glared then jerked his head towards the back of the club. His message was clear; 'get off the dance floor now'. He turned to the woman, whom he had shoved behind him when Marcus had reared back, and offered an apologetic look. He took her hands gently and brought one up to his chest as he leaned forward, the other to his lips. When he glanced up to her face, he noted the chagrined expression on her face as she looked over his shoulder. He let go of her hands as he straightened up and turned around.

Natasha stood several feet behind Johnny, her expression neutral as she looked at Darcy. She moved past Johnny, giving him a small nod of acknowledgement as she passed him to collect Darcy. She took the younger woman by the elbow and calmly escorted her off the dance floor, the crowd parting around the duo as if they were a pair of sharks cutting through a school of fish.

Darcy wisely kept her mouth shut when she saw the other three women's expressions.

Across the club, Johnny was directing Marcus to the men's room with a tight lipped, angry expression on his face. When they emerged about 15 minutes later, Marcus was less angry than he had been while Johnny was carefully neutral. They collected their coats and left the club.

The fourth time was deliberate hunt….

Natasha went looking for Johnny the day after the Club incident. He wasn't at work like he should have been. The manager mentioned that Johnny asked for a couple of weeks off, something about a family emergency. She knew that according to SHIELD files, Johnny didn't have any family. So she went to his apartment. He wasn't home and hadn't been since the early morning hours according to the surveillance equipment. She didn't bother asking any of his neighbors. When she tried his phone, it went straight to voicemail. She tried the GPS locator but as she expected, it was turned off. It only took her a few moments to set up and initiate a trace program that would alert her the moment his phone was turned back on.

A week passed by. The Avengers were called out, this time to Europe. A dismantled HYDRA base had been located by a couple of hikers that had somehow taken the wrong turn. The local authorities had attempted, at first, to deal with it but came to the conclusion it was way above what they could handle. From evidence gathered, the HYDRA base was in the middle of evacuating when the Winter Soldier dropped by to say hello.

Natasha was in the final stages of a mission debrief when she received the first alert. Listening to Steve talk with only half an ear, she flipped through the apps till she found the one she wanted. When she saw the location, she thought about the implications. She kept her expression neutral as she flipped the phone face down on the table, returning her attention back to Steve. A casual brush of a foot against hers had her flicking the fingers of one hand.

After the team moved on to the usual post-debriefing rituals, Clint hung back. "Anything wrong?" he asked, knowing there was maybe a 75% chance she wouldn't say anything.

Natasha looked at her phone again, this time allowing a small frown appear. "No. Not yet," she replied as she closed the app. "If you're good, I might tell you later," she added teasingly.

Clint just chuckled and shook his head. "Come on then, before all the good stuff's been eaten and we're left with the crumbs."

Once she retired for the evening, Natasha took her time in tracing the direction Johnny's phone was traveling. The point of origin for the first alert was within 5 miles of where the HYDRA base had been located. "Why are you working with them?" She whispers to herself. "What leverage do they have on you? Or are you a willing participant?" She sat back, crossing her arms over her chest and closing her eyes. She thought of the skill sets he had shown thus far. Some of which were natural talents that had been cultivated, others could only be obtained through training. She thought about how he showed a flare for infiltration, how he could slip in and become part of the crowd like he had at the jazz concert. Another thought occurred to her. If he was HYDRA, he would have informed his superiors that he was being tracked by the Black Widow. As paranoid as many HYDRA higher-ups were, the idea of being tracked could easily become being turned, thus the need to eliminate the person being tracked. It had been a common practice for the Red Room, so why not HYDRA?

Checking the progress of Johnny's GPS tag, Natasha was 99% sure he was headed for Amsterdam. From there it wouldn't be that hard to get a flight back to the US, or any other country. She debated on the merits of using SHIELD programs to set up a profile alert or asking FRIDAY to do it. Both had their pros and cons. The question was, which had the better trade off? After some more thought, she decided to use the SHIELD programs. It wouldn't take much convince whomever asked her about it, that she was protecting SHIELD interests.

Natasha was in the waiting area of John F. Kennedy Airport. She could have used her connections and been waiting at the debarkation point, but she wanted to have a few moments to study Johnny before snagging him. What she saw had her reevaluating her plans, again. She wasn't sure if she was annoyed or impressed by his ability to cause that.

Johnny came down the escalator dressed in cargo pants, combat boots, a turtleneck with leather patches on the elbows and shoulders and knit cap, all in black. His face was closed off, nearly buried between the turned-up neck of the sweater and the knit cap pulled low over his forehead and ears. The straps of a backpack looped over his left shoulder and an old army jacket was draped over his right arm.

Natasha stepped away from the column she was leaning against, not even being stealthy as she threaded her left arm through Johnny's right when he walked past her and stopped him. She took a closer look at him. He had a split lip and a cut eyebrow that looked to be several days old at most, and there was a dark patch above his eyebrow indicative of bruising. She also saw a lost look on his face, like he wasn't sure what happened, or why. She was reminded of Clint when a mission went bad and someone (usually himself) was injured, or an innocent bystander killed, or both. The very public, middle-of-JFK-baggage claim, would not be a very good place to talk she decided. "Come on, let's go," she said.

"Where?" It came out low and hoarse as if Johnny hadn't spoken for a few days.

Natasha didn't reply as she worked her way through different choices. She could take him to the Tower, but that would involve informing the rest of the team. She could take him to SHIELD instead, but there wasn't enough evidence and it would destroy any possibility of catching bigger fish. She had multiple safe houses located in and around the city, some hers alone, some belonging to both her and Clint. It would take him off the grid, but also mean she'd have to find another safe house to replace it. Inconvenient, but do-able. "How about we go somewhere for coffee?" She asked as she steered him towards the garage where she had parked.

"Marcus is dead."

Natasha raised an eyebrow as she watched Johnny over the rim of her coffee cup. She stilled her movements and shifted her focus completely on him. She would have to read between the lines and hear what he wasn't saying. He might hate her for it later, but she wanted answers and to get them, she had no problems with making him believe she cared. "Were you together?"

"No, he was a job." Johnny was staring into his coffee cup, slowly stirring the caramel colored liquid like it held the secrets of the universe. "Someone saw us together at some point. Either knew who you are, or figured it out. Decided to test my loyalties." He stopped stirring and set the spoon to the side. When he picked the cup up, he closed his eyes and inhaled the rich aroma before he took a sip. "Didn't realize it was a test until it was too late."

After she put her cup down, Natasha reached across the table to lay her hand on his wrist. She saw him flinch at the contact, his arm twitched under her fingers before going still. For someone who was a highly tactile person, it was a glaring neon sign that something had happened to him. It was almost a full minute before she was able to make eye contact with Johnny. "Will you let me take a look?" She asked softly. She couldn't just bully him into revealing his injuries like she could with Clint. She had to coax him into it like a skittish animal. Slowly she slid her hand from his wrist to the back of his hand then curled her fingers around his palm. His hand was cooler than it should have been which made the heat radiating from the base of his palm more noticeable.

Dark emerald locked with light jade as he weighed his choices. "Please, we both know I'm nothing more than a side mission for you." Johnny said as he pulled away. He tugged the sleeve down further before he picked up the coffee once more.

"What if it's both? You're a friend I'm concerned about who happens to be my side mission right now?" She asked with a hint of amusement.

Johnny huffed softly. A ghost of a smile flitting across his face before it closed off. "I'm not… I.. don't think now….." He started then stopped and shook his head. "Not the apartment."

Natasha nodded as she dropped all pretense of being a concerned friend. She pulled her arm back, fingers now curled around her own coffee cup. "Alright." She understood that what Johnny needed now, was not a friend, but a handler who could turn chaos into order for him. The web had been woven, now all that would be required of her was to patiently wait for her prey to walk into it.

"Thank you." He knew it was a trap he was walking into, but knowing about it didn't make it any less of a trap. He just needed to gather enough nerves to take that first step.

With methodical care, Natasha slowly placed the medical supplies on the cheap motel room's equally cheap table. She turned and surveyed the room once more. The tools she used to place several trackers in Johnny's things were put away. The bed was still made, their shoes by the door, her overnight bag and his clean clothes stacked on the dresser. She picked up her phone, glanced at the time then put it back down. The shower had been going for close to 25 minutes, and to her way of thinking, it was time for her to drag him out. She moved towards the bathroom door when she heard the shower turn off. Good, she wouldn't have to coax him out this time.

Johnny stepped out of the bathroom with only the flimsy excuse of a towel wrapped about his waist. He tried to keep his expression as neutral as possible but knew he had failed when Natasha just crossed her arms over her chest and raised an eyebrow at him. He crossed the room without his normal grace to stand where she pointed.

Natasha recognized Johnny's expression without even trying (she saw it often enough with Clint after a mission). Lingering pain of fresh injuries, a deep seated ache of old ones, and bone deep exhaustion from little to no down time to recover. She also saw the underlying tinges of wounded pride, shame and fear. She uncrossed her arms and moved into his personal space as she brought her hands up to his sides. "Tell me when, where and how each injury was acquired," she said to him. "Do you understand?"

Johnny nodded.

In the predawn hours, Johnny slipped out of the motel room. Dressed once more in the cargo pants and combat boots. The sweater had been replaced by several layered shirts under a dark hoodie and the army jacket. With the backpack thrown over one shoulder, the cap pulled down low and the hood thrown up, he could pass for one of the hundreds of homeless vets that called New York City home. Natasha stayed until after sunrise. She went over the room, cleaning up all the evidence that either had been there, then left.

The fifth time she crossed paths with Johnny, she wasn't alone but neither was he….

"I don't see why it had to be me," Bruce said as he and Natasha walked, arm in arm, through Central Park. The pair moved with the flow of the Saturday afternoon crowds. "Why couldn't it be any of the others?"

All around them people were bundled up against the cold. Children laughed and shouted as they threw snowballs at each other. Parents enjoyed hot drinks as they watched the children. And teens moved about in pairs, groups or solo. The local ice-rink was only at half-capacity, but still pretty busy.

Natasha just laughed softly. "Can you imagine Tony strolling through here?"

Bruce reached up to scratch his eyebrow. "Eehh…"

"Exactly."

"Ok, what about Steve? Or Sam? Or Clint? You and Clint are always together doing stuff. Why not him?" Bruce asked as he gestured to the general area.

"You know that Steve left to go chasing leads on the Winter Soldier almost as soon as we got back from that last HYDRA base. And where Steve goes…" Natasha said.

"Sam follows," Bruce finished. "Gotcha."

"Besides, I thought that.. We might, you know… try again?" Natasha hesitated, unsure if Bruce would be receptive of the idea.

Bruce stopped so he could turn and look at her. "Yeah?...Yeah… I'd like that...There's no.. world shattering catastrophe looming on the horizon… or I hope there isn't…"

Natasha laughed again, a little louder this time. For such an intelligent man, Bruce could be a dork at times. She steered him towards the ice rink and paid the spectator's fee before he realized what she had done.

"Aahh.. sneaky…" Bruce commented, with an amused grin as he directed her to a bench that had a good view of the rink and all the skaters. "So tell me honestly, pleasure or work?" He asked as he accepted the cup of hot cocoa she had just bought.

Natasha settled next to him as she scanned the people out on the ice. "A little bit of work, but mostly because I like your company." She turned her head and smiled at him as she bumped her shoulder against his.

Bruce hummed as he took a sip of the warm chocolate. "What about the Other Guy?" He asked.

Natasha took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "He still scares me a little. Not as much as he once did… " she admitted after several minutes of thought. "But I'm working on it." She slid a little closer to him until they touched, from knee to hip.

Bruce leaned back as he draped his arm across Natasha's shoulders. The silence between them was a comfortable one. There was no need for small talk or lengthy discussions or poetic declaration of love. After some time had passed, they traded nudges as they pointed out different things to each other. Kids on the ice for the first time, others with experience under their belt, pranks and jokes between friends.

"So who are you watching?" Bruce asked after almost an hour had passed.

Natasha scanned the rink before she nodded towards the other side. "There, with that group. The guy in the tangerine scarf."

The group in question consisted of an older man, two teenage boys, a teenage girl, another younger couple and a child. Johnny was staying just out of the two teen's reach as he laughed and traded insults back and forth. He would sweep around them from time to time to assist the older girl or the child. He had on the knit hat, the hoodie and the army jacket, but he was also wore the brightly colored scarf that matched the child's.

"Ah," Bruce replied with a nod as he stood up. He held his hand out for her, "Shall we take a walk around the rink?" He asked.

"That sounds like a lovely idea," Natasha replied as she accepted his hand and stood up. She linked her arm with his once more as they started to walk.

By the time Natasha and Bruce made it around the rink, the group was starting to break up. Hugs were passed around as the younger couple along with the teen boys prepared to leave. Johnny leaned against the rink wall, the child in his arms and her skates on the ground next to them.

After making eye contact with Johnny, Natasha led Bruce to a coffee kiosk close by. Bruce agreed to wait when she asked him, then took her drink and a second hot cocoa (extra whip topping) and headed for Johnny. "You know, that color really suits you," Natasha said in way of a greeting as she offered the cup of cocoa to Johnny.

Johnny accepted the drink, took a sip then let the child have a sip as well. "I really wanted the hot fluorescent pink one, but nnoooooooo…..Munchkin here wanted the tangerine instead," he answered with a soft laugh as he stuck his tongue out at her.

The child laughed, a bit of whip topping on the tip of her nose and across her upper lip.

"Greedy, give it back," he said as he took the cup away. He glanced over Natasha's shoulder for a moment then looked back at her. "Be right back," he said as he handed the cup back to the child then reached down for the skates. He walked away but returned several minutes later, sans child and cup. "I won't be at the apartment after this weekend. Being relocated," he said with a shrug.

"I see," Natasha replied as she watched him remove the blade guards on his skates. "Going back out?" She asked.

Johnny nodded. "For a little while longer. Until my ride gets here at least."

Natasha nodded, "Well, have fun and see you around Johnny." She turned and headed back to the coffee kiosk. Threading her arm through Bruce's once more, she lead the older man off towards the exit of the rink.

Another meeting, same target, but different agendas….

"Com check," Natasha said as she adjusted her ear piece.

Sitting across from her, Clint pressed his finger against his own ear piece, subtly adjusting it. "Affirmative. Com check."

"Affirmative."

The junior agent in charge of communications gave a thumbs up then returned to watching the group of screens. The senior agent and (temporary) handler nodded. "Get in, get the info and get out," he instructed the Black Widow. "You're backup in case she runs into anything she can't handle alone," he told Hawkeye. "Call once you have it and we'll pick you up." After a final once over of their gear, Natasha and Clint exited the vehicle going their respective ways.

With ease of long experience, he climbed to the nearest rooftop. He stayed low as he crossed over to another rooftop on the way to what was identified as the best vantage point to cover his partner. If there was a better location, he'd find it then inform her. "At least this one didn't try to micro-manage us," Clint snarked after he changed his com channel to the private one he shared with Natasha.

Natasha huffed as she crossed her arms and strolled along the sidewalk. It was cold, but she had experienced much colder with even less than she had on now. "He's been our handler before," Natasha replied, also on the private channel.

"Damn I miss Phil…." Clint muttered as he settled down to wait. He scanned the area, passing the information to his partner, usually in amusing comments and quips. Unlike his partner, he was wearing a long sleeved version of his gear, so the smattering of snow fall didn't bother him.

As she walked, Natasha looked down at the screen of the burner phone, browsing various social media sites. "Still quiet?" She asked.

"As a cemetery," Clint replied. Movement caught his eye where there had been none a moment earlier. "Where the hell did you just come from?" He muttered as he went on high alert. He nocked an arrow, but didn't draw it back just yet. "Got someone else interested in your target," he informed Natasha. "Want me to take them out?" He asked.

"Description?"

"Tall. Long hooded overcoat, dark clothing. Cap's height but can't tell build due to the coat. Can't see their face either."

Natasha rolled her eyes. "Sounds like someone I know. Keep an eye on him. I'm 5 minutes out still."

"Affirmative." After a couple of minutes, Clint let out an amused chuckle. "Take your time... Seem's he's run into a problem with getting in."

Down in the dark alley, Johnny cursed silently as the device he was using rebooted yet again for the fourth time since he started on the security system. He'd gotten caught earlier in an isolated rain shower that was barely above freezing after leaving the meeting with the client. Cheap bastard didn't even offer any form of transportation so he had been forced to find his own way. A cab had been out of the question. Too many chances of questions getting asked that he couldn't answer. Movement at the end of the alley had him freezing in place for a moment. Until that movement resolved itself into a person.

"Hello stranger," came a sultry voice from the shadowy depths of the alley way. The figure approached the dim, flickering ring of light that illuminated the rear of some cheap, run down looking building. "Having fun yet?"

(( To our get-together! May we meet up more often! / Let's drink to the fact that we are gathered here, and to gather more often! - .de/en/learn-russian/drinking-toasts/ ))