"Beware of your own stupidity, Captain America."

There's something in the way she says it like he's the most idiot human being to ever exist. It just makes him want to find a great enemy to unleash his rage. But he just stares at her, because Natasha is being effective yet another time in making an impressive entrance.

She's not on her S.H.I.E.L.D. suit, which he appreciates for a change. She's on jeans and a white shirt, looking almost normal. She's still got the red hair and the cruel look of someone who can break your neck easily though. Steve thinks that's how she's most intimidating: while she's not making it obvious that she's a trained agent who can kill. Now, she's just a girl. An impressive girl who's currently unimpressed, but an impressive girl all the same.

"Care to tell me the reason why?"

He was sitting on his damn room, for Christ's sake, but he figures that privacy is a luxury he cannot afford – not from people like her, anyway. She's giving her back to him now, her eyes piercing the television box like she wishes she could shoot it.

It's a romantic comedy that Steve happens to be quite fond of – not that he would tell her that, anyway.

"Col. Fury talked to me about your little talk." She does it again: saying an otherwise ordinary word like it's a four lettered one. She does that with "talk", but Steve figures he should've seen it coming.

"Apparently, Fury keeps no secrets from his most loyal agent, does he?" he raises an eyebrow, crossing his arms, still sitting comfortably on his couch. Inside his head, this sounded like quite a good comeback, but the way she's looking at him – it just failed to get under her skin. He thinks that he does that a lot of this failing thing when it comes to her.

Finally, she bothers to turn to him. She's narrowing her eyes and her red hair is falling on her face, and under the dim light of the room barely illuminated by the television, the white of her shirt looks grey, and the line of her mouth look almost like a smile.

"His most loyal, perhaps. But his lover?" she snorts. "What was that ridiculous scene? Just how exactly you think you have the right to bitch about where my royalties lie to him? Not the smartest move."

Steve sighs. Part of him wants to give in and tell her all about how it was indeed the most stupid thing he's done lately, but when again she was being defended and Fury made it obvious that she was a way better agent than he could ever be a hero, he just lost it.

He couldn't take the feeling that Fury and Natasha could have something more than a professional relationship. It pained him almost physically, and it actually made him turn his voice louder than he intended and counting to ten couldn't work by the world.

Like it or not, he was jealous.

Of course, that isn't something you can just tell the Black Widow. She might make it look reasonable to cut off your throat for something like that. She's just the type to come with some illogical rationale for how this is trying to objectify her and that she belongs to no one and—

"Have you also gone deaf?" she rolls her eyes, and walks in a perfect circle around the couch, making him follow her with his eyes as she shakes her head, annoyed. "I can't even believe I had to have this conversation with Col. Fury. You're so stupid."

"Stop calling me stupid," he says with cocked eyebrows, and he gets up as well. "Seriously, stop. I don't even know why you're so bothered by that. He's the one constantly being on your side and making it look like none of us could ever be on his good side."

She stops walking. The couch between them. "Are you going to bring this up again? Honestly? You look like a child." And just like that, she puts herself above him, like she's done many times to many other people as well, as Steve's heard.

He takes a deep breath. "You have got to stop talking to me like I'm fifteen."

"Are you not?" is the immediate response. She raises her eyebrows. "I'm sorry, I may have misjudged you. Is it just your mental age that is fifteen?"

Steve opens his mouth to talk, but she crosses her arms and raises both eyebrows, challenging. More than ever, he needs something to shut her up for good, but his mind is blank of options. Phrases of effect aren't his forte.

In the romantic comedy behind him in the television, he knows what the boy would do to the irritatingly beautiful girl. Boy would kiss Girl. Boy would end all their arguments and all their pain, because secretly Boy and Girl were always in love, but too proud and stubborn to admit so.

But that was just the stupid movie. In real life, Boy isn't exactly eager to find out Girl's reaction to something like a sudden kiss. It may be a punch in the jaw.

"I was just pissed at the way Fury does things sometimes, that is all," is what he says instead, and there's an apologetic tone to that, that he cannot even begin to explain.

Natasha laughs a small bitter laugh. "Jealous of the boss, are we?"

It makes Steve want to punch a wall.

He snorts, and he's pretty sure that Boy in the movie would be ashamed of him for not doing something about it, and Girl in the movie would laugh at him along with Natasha. Putting things in perspective, a punch in the jaw can't sound much worse.

"You're such a fool, 'Tasha," he says, a curve forming in the corner of his mouth. "You don't even know it." Natasha gives him a confused look as he touches her arm, and it seems to cause burns in both their skins. She frowns, defensive, about to take a step behind, but she doesn't. "Why do you always come here to fight?"

Natasha can be so transparent sometimes that it makes the whole thing ridiculous. Steve can tell by her facial expression that she hates the direction where this is going. But she does pull away, not when he touches her arm again and lets go murmuring a little, "Damn it, you don't have to always come to fight," and he's not even sure that she's listened to that, because she's not looking him in the eye, and she's just not saying anything.

"I fight because you do some weirdly stupid things sometimes, Cap," she says, with a smile, and backs off this time. He can hear the heels tapping against the floor, but he sighs all the same; lets her take a look at the room like they're still with their hearts in the fight.

"Indeed," he says, more to himself than to her. She pretends not to listen again. He clears his throat again, this time loudly. "I saw your disapproving face when you saw what I was watching. aveHave you ever even watched this movie?" he tries for a smile, ends up being an awkward one.

Natasha turns to him, and if he thought before that her look was disapproving, it's nothing compared to the one she gives him now. "I don't have to. They're all the same. No big changes but the names of the characters. All of them are stupid."

"You're getting so repetitive," he sighs, a smile still playing in his mouth, gaining some confidence by how bothered she seems by the movie still playing. "Repeating the same words over and over again."

He's not sure why, but she rolls her eyes, snorting again, and sits beside him on the couch, elbowing him when she notices that they may be too close. It may have been his comment, or just the fact that they have run out of offensive things to say, big time.

"Her name is Jess, and his name is Brad. They're oblivious to the fact that they're in love, but they really are," Steve says in a rather amused tone. Shamelessly, he has watched this movie six times. It's one of the best, in his opinion, and he had early considered tonight his lucky night because it was on TV.

"Sounds pathetic. I'd quickly kill both Jess and Brad," she comments, crossing her arms, but doesn't say anything else for a while.

Steve smiles a real smile. He watches her with the corner of his eyes, and watches her reactions throughout the movie, also shamelessly. When Jess and Brad finally kiss, Natasha rolls her eyes. When Jess confesses her love, Natasha makes a face of someone who's about to throw up. When Brad announces that never again they'll be apart because of silly things, Natasha shakes her head. When Jess explains what love is really about, and how they're feeling it now, Natasha looks at Steve, and says: "How can you watch this trash?"

He can't help but to smile again. "Funny, isn't it? The way teenagers see love. So shallow, so uncomplicated, and how they're constantly complicating it just for the sake of making it special. Love will be special on its own already," he shrugs.

It's not something he intended to say. It's one of these things that just escape his mouth before he can keep them from getting out. Words and Steve are not always friends, but this time the words have betrayed him for a greater good: of having Natasha giving him the most scared face that she's ever did. It's not saying much, because it's a mere narrowing of eyes and parting lips, but it's something.

"Are you mental?" is what she asks.

Steve laughs. "Probably, yes."

Natasha nods, as if that explains a lot. And he isn't sure of his motivations, but he finds himself looking for her hand, and when he finds it, he holds it between his. She raises her eyebrows, asks: "What are you doing?" but he doesn't answer, not just yet.

He brings her hand to his lips, kisses the back of it. There's a never-leaving smile on the corner of his mouth though, a shy smile, and it's what keeps her from slapping him, or so he thinks. He's about to let it go and apologize for acting on impulse, when she presses her lips together and sighs in desistance.

It worries him, though he doesn't let go of her hand. "Did I do something wrong?"

She nods. "Yes," is what she says, but the rest of her body betrays her mouth so much that it'd make him laugh if it wasn't with him. It being with him, he can't laugh or even smile at all, because he's too busy taking her in his arms.

Natasha forces him to let go of her hand, and both of hers hold his face when she crushes the distance, covering his lips with hers. It's not a brief kiss, a testing kiss, or one of these kisses Steve has seen many times in romantic comedies. It's a hungry kiss, of someone who's waited too much. It takes him off guard, but he doesn't fail this time – he does respond to the kiss.

He pushes her close by the waist, and just feeling her body against his makes him wonder why on Earth did he not do this sooner, which he also considers a very frequent feeling in romantic comedies, but he refuses to associate his life with one – any further than that, that is.

Steve wants to break the kiss, if anything to tell her things that he isn't even sure what are going to be yet, but she doesn't let him. It's like she's afraid of what would be said if they ever have the time to think again.

Natasha unbuttons his shirt, her warm hands pushing him down the couch, and soon she's on top of him, and he's trying to hold her close, because he just needs to not ever forget the scent of her skin or the taste of her mouth, and he kisses her neck and she just stops in place, letting out a little moan when he finds a certain spot in her neck. Steve smiles, his hand bringing her as close as humanly possible, and kisses her again, but doesn't bother to stop smiling. He smiles against her mouth, and she mirrors the smile almost as if it's against her will to smile at him.

She finishes unbuttoning his shirt, throws it on the floor, and just as she's thinking of taking off her shirt, he accidentally moves to the right, and falls on the floor, leaving her on the couch.

His back hurts a little, but he laughs. Natasha rolls her eyes, but she's smiling as well. "Typical," she murmurs, and gets down on the floor as well, sitting on his lap, lowering to kiss him again. He answers to that immediately, and as his lips kiss hers, his hands go under her shirt, and as his hands go up, they take the white shirt away.

His shirt is right beside them on the floor, but hers go nowhere to be found. He just throws them over the couch, and at the moment she laughs and shakes her head a little, and he hugs her. He truly hugs her, kissing her cheek, and whispering something that none of them really understand, but that seem crucial at that moment. Something that makes her both sad and happy, but she doesn't show. She just kisses him once again, and he smiles at her.

Steve Rogers looks… happy.

It's the sun rays that wake her up. It's the most bothering thing, when she wants to sleep all day, but the stupid sun comes through the curtains and makes her eyes open too soon. This is the one time she's glad it's happened.

She's on the floor, of course. She's wearing an unbuttoned man shirt, and there's a man on the floor with her. Steve has both arms around her, and she's more or less lying on top of him.

Natasha doesn't even know where to start with the things that are wrong with this scenario. If she really should choose a first, maybe it'd be the shirt. This wasn't planned, not at all, not for the world. She shouldn't be here. She should be away.

She curses in Russian, and gets up doing her best not to wake him up. He stays asleep. She looks around the room, and finds her jeans easily, but has no such look with her shirt. The idiot threw her shirt out of the window for all she knows; it's impossible to find it.

Pressing her lips, Natasha gives him a long look, and her heart races. Lying on the floor like that, he looks so… fragile. Just like he did, when he gave her that type of look that she's been avoiding, except this time they kissed before and after the look.

This makes no sense. She needs to be out of this place.

She gets in her pair of jeans, finds her heels, and is out of the apartment before it's five minutes since she's woken up. She hasn't seen a mirror, but she feels like she's in a room full of ones, all of them her own face, judging her and wondering what's wrong with her brain.

Natasha sits on the stairs outside the apartment, and covers her face with both hands. "Not supposed to happen," she repeats what she's had said many times to herself over the last seconds, but each one of them is long and endless, and she can't help but feel like she's just committed the worst type of treason there is: she's committed treason against herself.

Taken aback by her own mind, she abruptly gets up from the stairs, and starts to run outside, and once she reaches outside, she keeps on running; running on the street and never stops nonetheless.

People look at her – a woman running in heels and a man shirt – but no one really stops and asks her what's wrong, to which she's glad. She couldn't speak if she wanted to.

Natasha runs and runs and runs and keeps running no matter what, and she only stops when she's completely out of air, and this is the point where she's very nearly crying, but she also doesn't. "You're stronger than that," she speaks to herself, and shuts her eyes close and rests her weight against a wall of the outside of a building, and stays there just until she has gotten back the air to keep on running.

It's three days later when her phone did not stop ringing but she never picked up, and now there's no escaping it because their stupid job doesn't make it easy for them to be apart. She parts her lips to say something rude to Tony Stark when she sees him, but Tony is smiling so brightly that it makes her sick in the stomach. "Why the smile?"

"It's such a beautiful day," he says.

Natasha knew that it couldn't be anything important for Tony Stark to be inviting the Avengers to discuss a matter of national importance, but Col. Nick Fury had insisted she'd go just "to see what the clown was up to", so she did.

Thor looks to be the less amused of them all, but Natasha isn't in the mood to ask why. Hawkeye and Banner are also there, talking lowly about something that looks to be boring Hawkeye to death but making Banner see a new meaning to life.

Then, there's Steve. He's sitting awkwardly in a corner of the meeting room, and as Tony leaves her to say something to Steve, his eyes lie on her in a questioning way.

Natasha avoids Steve's eyes like they are the Devil itself.

"Is Fury not coming?" Tony asks like he's really interested, which makes Natasha give him a long look. He doesn't need an answer to that. "Well," he clears his throat, looking away from her, "since we're all here: we have something to discuss."

"This better be good," Thor says with a sigh.

Banner looks horribly disappointed to be stopped, but Hawkeye looks relieved. There's, by the way, a drink in front of him, and Natasha briefly wonders whether she can get one for herself as well.

Steve's eyes are on her. She can feel them boring into her as if she's made of plastic.

There's a moment of suspense, and Natasha keeps wondering when would be the least impolite moment to just leave. Tony starts to say a great amount of words that together mean nothing at all, and while Banner looks like he's about to say something to prove Tony wrong in his bullshit, Thor frowns and Hawkeye resumes his drinking.

Virtually, there's only Steve and her in the room, and avoiding eye contact to the only person in the room is the most difficult experience in a while, and it cannot be said her life has been easy.

"What do you really want with all of us here, Tony?" she asks, interrupting Tony's speech, which seems to surprise him, just by the way she looks at her like he's even forgotten of her presence in the room.

He smiles. "What I intended by bringing the Avengers together, was to discuss a way of celebrating our friend Nick Fury's birthday."

This causes an explosion of feelings, none of them too sympathetic. Natasha is the first one to react, the way she sees it, and gets up from her seat, rolling her eyes and murmuring something about how she needs to be in places where people don't waste their times the way the Iron Man seems to do.

She's out of the meeting room in another second, and she's almost sure of her victory over fate and Tony Stark, and how this time again she'd avoid Steve Rogers, but not quite. Too soon to think of any of that.


Hearing her name by his lips makes her stomach go weird, and she feels the smallest to ever exist. She presses her lips together, and keeps on walking, like if she can only reach the exit of the mansion, she can surely find herself out of this situation as well.

That is, of course, in a parallel universe where things go right and not wrong. Where Steve isn't a stubborn person who insists on her even though the last few days should have made it clear that he's wasting his time.

Steve reaches her, holds her wrist so she'll stop.

The touch of his hand on her skin brings memories and a bitter taste of not-lasting in her throat. She looks around for anyone who could help, but everyone is in the meeting room raging at Tony for bringing nonsense to the table, in a quite literal way. She's alone with him and her feelings that should not exist, period.

"Why are you pretending that I don't exist?" he asks slowly, like he's afraid she'll run out of the blue. She doesn't blame him, but doesn't do anything to make this better either. Raises an eyebrow, if anything. "You know what I'm talking about."

"In fact, I do not," she frowns. "You should get back to the meeting room. You may be losing to vote on which strip club hookers will be brought to the party." She tries to smile, but it fools no one. He's still looking at her in the very same way, and his hand looks for hers again.

She crosses her arms. Hands out of reach.

"I guess everybody has some regrets, don't they?"

Steve blinks fast, as if not actually able of comprehending what she has just said, but he'll have to, because she turns her back on him, and leaves like nothing of importance has happened. It's not the first time this week. She's getting an expert in leaving people behind with lousy explanations and new regrets of her own.

The next day, when Natasha wakes up to a loud noise in her living room of broken glass, she reaches for the nearest gun – the one under her pillow –, dresses in a robe and goes to the living room immediately.

It's to her great surprise that she finds Tony Stark, looking like a guilty little dog to a broken bottle of vodka on the floor. She raises both her eyebrows and doesn't lower the gun. "Seriously, Tony? Seriously?"

Tony smiles her a crooked smile. "Wouldn't it be ruder if you woke up to a man drinking all your vodka? Much ruder, I think. You just woke up to a man on your living room."

Natasha still doesn't lower the gun. "How did you even get in my apartment?"

"Pointless question," he gestures with a comrade smile, "we have more important issues to discuss. That's why I'm here."

Above his head, she sees hanging on the wall her clock. It's marking 6:12 am, and even though she lowers the gun, she's still wondering whether it'd be irreversible for Fury's mood if she killed him for good.

"Such as Col. Fury's birthday party?" she rolls her eyes, and follows his eyes to her cleavage. Shaking her head, and wishing she had not indeed lowered the gun, she closes the robe. "Out, Tony."

"No, seriously," he laughs, like she's just joking, and sits on her couch. "I'm here to talk about Steve and you and your supposed one-night stand," he makes a face, and rolls his eyes, though the smile is still there.

Natasha refuses to sit. "I said out."

Tony turns to her, and sighs. The smile fades, but she can tell already that it isn't because of what she said. How she wishes she had not lowered the gun. But Tony is giving him a long, serious look, that she has only seen when actual important missions were being discussed. "Steve told me about what happened, and I don't get why you're doing what you're doing, Natasha. He's quit calling you not because he wanted, but because I put some sense of dignity in his head. I still want to know what happened, and so does he."

"You don't have the right to come in my apartment and tell me what you want," she frowns, and can't help but to point the gun back at him.

Automatically, he raises both hands in the air in a sign of peace, and as he slowly gets up from her couch, he says: "I know what it's like to be scared of feelings. I think that we're more alike than you'd like to admit." Tony pauses, just for the sake of watching her offended expression, but he interrupts her before she has the chance of saying something – or shooting. "I think love's stupid. He said he fears you feel the same. But you know… he doesn't. He believes in love, just how pathetic is he?" he laughs a little, both hands still in the air. "He's in love with you."

"Is he in eighth grade?" she snorts, still pointing the gun steadily at him. "How childish, to ask for his buddy to come and talk to the girl. I just can't—"

"It wasn't something he asked me, and he'd probably take the gun from your hands and do the job himself if he knew I was here. The thing is… he's not alright. He's blaming himself, and I know that you're the one to blame, because you're scared."

"I'm not—"

"You don't have to be."

Natasha looks about to pull the trigger, which Tony considers a relatively nice moment to leave. He starts to walk in the direction of the door, hands up and not giving his back to her. Natasha repeats another time that she wants him out, and he agrees with an unusual polite smile.

Just before he does, though, he says something else: "You know that guy that breaks the girl's heart? Steve's not him. Not to you, anyway. He cares."

Two weeks go slower than years have in the past.

She sees him twice, but they don't talk.

He hasn't called, but then again, she hasn't, either.

"I have thought of you knocking on my door many times, but never actually considered the possibility," Steve tells Natasha when he opens his door, and finds her standing there, arms crossed.

He opens the door though, backing off so she can come in. She does, and he watches her silence be part of the room and part of him, too, and when she sits on his couch, his mind starts working too much, and he wishes he could reach out and touch her, but he doesn't.

"What brings you here?" he finally asks, sitting beside her on the very same couch.

Things are so, so different from the last time they were in this couch together.

Now the TV is off and the lights are on. It's not the middle of the night, but the start of the evening, and there's no laziness of a Sunday, but the hurry of a busy Tuesday. It makes things to her stomach.

"I didn't bring my gun," is the first thing she says.

She's staring at her own knees. He's looking at her with wondering, sad eyes. He hasn't been losing sleep, or so she thinks, because he looks perfectly fine, and she knows she isn't. It feels so different to be there, like nothing could ever retrieve and– she just doesn't want to consider the options.

"Okay…" he says, confused eyes penetrating her and searching answers.

Natasha presses her lips together, but doesn't find her voice to say anything else.

Steve frowns out of sudden, like he's only now noticed something that bothers him immensely. Looking her in the eye, and not accepting to have his eyes avoided, he asks: "Why did you knock? You could've entered the room by braking in or because – I'm sure – you have the keys."

"It didn't feel right to just… walk in."

Natasha crosses her arms. This doesn't feel right. Why does she have to even be here, and why wouldn't her conscience leave her alone? And she's been stressing so much over words the last couple of days and she shouldn't have.

Steven Rogers is the personification of "shouldn't have".

She turns to him. "I know I don't get to just walk in and kiss you—" he parts his lips and a syllable comes out, but she interrupts him before he can finish a word. "I know that. But… you know what? I'm the Black Widow. I do what I want, Steve," she laughs a little, shrugging, and she's ready to go on, listing the reasons why he should be glad she's walked on her pride to be there, but she doesn't have to.

In a certainly surprising way, he's the one to do it.

Steve takes her in his arms once again, and he kisses her and she's the one that this time wants to break the kiss and talk – she's not sure about what, but just make sure that he knows how she's not less of herself because she's there – but he doesn't leave her time to, and as the seconds pass by and the kiss deepens, she starts doubting she ever wants to leave his embrace.

Just like that, things change again. She breaks away even under his protests, and he's about to say something, but she silences him with a finger covering his lips. Things are said in that very mute moment, and he gets up from the couch with her in his arms, and she's taken to the bed with no protests.

Boy gets the Girl.

I woke up this morning with a funny taste in my head
Spackled some butter over my whole grain bread
Something tastes different, maybe it's my tongue
Something tastes different, suddenly I'm not so young

I'm just a stranger, even to myself
A re-arranger of the proverbial bookshelf
Don't be a fool girl, tell him you love him
Don't be a fool girl, you're not above him

I never thought I could love anyone but myself
Now I know I can't love anyone but you
You make me think that maybe I won't die alone
Maybe I won't die alone

Kiss the boys as they walk by, call me their baby
But little do they know, I'm just a maybe
Maybe my baby will be the one to leave me sore
Maybe my baby will settle the score

I never thought I could love anyone but myself
Now I know I can't love anyone but you
You make me think that maybe I won't die alone
Maybe I won't die alone

What have I become
Something soft and really quite dumb
Because I've fallen, oh, 'cuz I've fall-fallen, oh 'cuz I've fall-fall-fallen
So far away from the place where I started from

I never thought I could love anyone
I never thought I could love anyone
I never thought I could love anyone
But you, but you, but you, but you, but you
But you make me think that maybe I won't die alone
Maybe I won't die alone

(Ingrid Michaelson – Die Alone)