Natasha Romanov had always been alone.
She lived alone. Her friends were few and far between. Clint was usually her only accompaniment, and she'd always been fine with that.
So, it was understandable, she thought, that she was having a bit of trouble adjusting.
With Thor having returned a few months prior, it was actually quite a full house. Well, she supposed, that's not quite right. The Formerly-Stark-Now-Avengers Tower was, in fact, quite a large building, and though most of the rooms were full, they weren't living quarters. It's basically just…a lot of Tony's crap. And a few office spaces, perhaps. Most of the real business is done at the formal Stark Industries…headquarters, or whatever the hell you'd call it.
As a side effect of living alone, Natasha has an awful habit of forgetting the fact that she does, actually, have a few roommates.
Natasha is always the first one up. She just is. And whether it's because of her training or because of a wiring oddity up in her head, she has found herself incapable of sleeping in past, oh, six in the morning.
10 AM found her sitting on the kitchen table, relaxed, or, well, as relaxed as she ever is, still wearing her pajamas and reading a Stieg Larsson novel.
Engrossing as it was, she didn't notice one of her aforementioned housemates until he entered the kitchen. A shadow caught the corner of her eye, and, faster than Tony's hungover mind could process, she was standing in a lightly crouched, defensive position, pointing a gun at him.
He scoffed as she resumed her position with an apologetically reproachful expression, trying to find words. "Where did you even get that?", he managed.
Glancing down at herself, she realized he had a point. Her pajamas consisted of a tank top and yoga pants, and her mouth twitched upwards slightly, and Tony nearly gasped because she just almost smiled. "I'll let you figure that out on your own, Stark."
He grunted noncommittally in reply, and pulled the milk out of the fridge. "Do we have any Fruit Loops left? I really want some Fruit Loops."
She shrugged. "I wouldn't know. Coffee's made, though, if you want any."
"God, yes," he groaned, grabbing the pitcher.
Clint cracked his neck as he walked into the kitchen, and he zeroed in on the cereal in an instant. "Fruit Loops? Awesome." He grabbed them out of Tony's hands just before he could pour them into his bowl. He ignored Tony's indignant gasp.
Thor went straight for the coffee. His hair was tangled and a little frizzy. Natasha rolled her eyes. Even gods have bad hair days.
Clint pushed her legs off of the chair they were strewn across and sat there himself. Tony and Thor unconsciously held in a breath for a moment, waiting for her to get up and kick his ass for it. To their surprise, she just glanced at him and kept on reading.
An unshaven, yawning Steve Rogers entered alongside Bruce, whose glasses were rather askew. He'd most likely slept in the lab again.
"Well, I learned something new this morning," Tony announced.
His only reply was a lazy grunt from Thor, which he grudgingly accepted as a 'Oh, Tony, really, I can't wait to hear it, please, tell us, I'm so excited!'. Except, you know, he wouldn't have wanted it to be sarcastic.
"Always announce yourself at least ten seconds before coming around a corner. Or else Romanoff will shoot you in the head." Realizing he lacked a drink, he tipped his cereal bowl in an awkward replacement of a wine glass and finished off with, "True story."
As Thor and Tony started to bicker over who finished the coffee, Natasha sighed in wonder. The room had a happy…familiar feel to it. Clint flashed her a secret grin, which she begrudgingly returned.
Somehow, though, she still felt like the outsider. She was lucky enough to be a part of something, to be accepted by this amazing group of people, but there she sat, feeling alone all the same.
Maybe this is just what life is.
2. Video Games
Clint leaned forward in his seat, fingers slamming down on the PS3 controller as if that would help him, but there was no contest. After a few moments, the screen darkened in respect of an epically violent combo, and a deep voice that she was pretty sure Thor could replicate echoed across the room.
Nightwolf faltered for a moment, and then flipped forward and and struck the fatigued, swaying Cyrax in the chest, thus ending the fight.
Eyes wide with shock, Clint turned to his left. "Rogers...what the actual fuck?"
Natasha chuckled slightly. It seemed that all men became teenagers when playing video games. Steve was laughing almost sadistically, a huge grin on his handsome face.
"I thought you were good at this, Archer," Thor called from the table as he brought a ridiculously large beer mug to his lips.
Clint was stuttering. He was a little paler than normal. "I-I was, but I started out going easy and he just...he just..."
"Beat the living crap out of you?", Steve finished for him.
Tony walked out of the kitchen, scotch in hand. "I didn't want to be the one to say it... But Clint, I think I have to call noob."
A murmur of agreement passed over the room, and Natasha rolled her eyes, sipping from a glass of water. She had nothing against alcohol; she actually rather liked it. But she had been an assassin for so long, it was nearly ingrained into her brain that drunkenness was a big no-no. An age old voice echoed in her ears. Stay sharp, Natalia. Stay sharp.
Passing a hand over her face, she sighed almost desolately and kicked her feet up on the chair next to her own. Thor shot her a half-quizzical, half-concerned look, which she brushed off with a fake smile.
So she found herself, once again, cut off from the rest of the world. Trying to live her life, but here she was, stuck in a nearly forgotten memory.
Maybe this is payback.
Very little makes it over Natasha's head. It's part of her job; she notices things. The little things, the big things, and this was no exception.
She'd been dozing quietly on the couch while some movie played out on the screen, but instincts brought her flying into consciousness the moment Bruce sat down on the couch. He didn't sit directly next to her, she noted, but that didn't necessarily mean anything.
"Hey, you watching this?"
She shook her head. "Nah, you can change it."
He changed it to...oh, god, is that National Geographic? Fucking scientists...but at that moment, Tony's voice floated up from one of the lower floors.
The man in question chuckled in amused annoyance and got up, heading towards the staircase rather than the elevator and leaving Natasha to watch some science show.
She'd just never been into the academic side of things. Natasha was the get-up-and-go type. She didn't bother herself with anything other than the necessary logic behind things.
A few minutes later, the duo walked back into the kitchen, and she rested her head on the back of the couch as she waited for the question that came every single time Tony entered the kitchen. He had no idea how predictable he was.
She looked up, unfazed.
"Do we have any more whiskey?"
"It's where it always is, Stark," she replied with a sigh. Natasha redirected her attention to the TV, and after a moment, her face contorted in disgust.
"What the hell?", she muttered under her breath. Steve and Clint wandered in, and she heard Clint saying somewhere behind her, "Oh, look, monkey porn." A few minutes later, he reappeared, sitting next to her on the couch with a plastic plate of take out shawarma on his lap. "What are you watching, Romanoff?", he asked teasingly.
She rolled her eyes. "Don't look at me. Banner put it on."
"There's shawarma. You hungry?"
"Eh. Maybe later."
With a nod, he stood up and joined the other guys at the table, leaving her to watch monkey porn by herself.
She sighed quietly. Even Clint was calling her Romanoff now. Calling someone by their last name is a formality, meant for a stranger, sometimes even a sign of respect. It wasn't something you call a friend.
Maybe this wasn't a good idea.
She was gone for a week.
Fury called her away for 'something important', and something important had turned into a week in Argentina.
She half-limped through the doors of the Tower. The cut on her cheek was stinging against the stitches, and she hadn't slept in far too long for her taste.
Usually, Natasha would take the stairs, but seriously. Today? Thanks, but pass.
However, she found a note taped haphazardly to the elevator doors, written in Tony's untidy scrawl.
Out of Order, Courtesy of Thor
If her knuckles weren't already bruised and scabbing, she probably would have punched something.
It took her almost fifteen minutes to get up the stairs to her floor. Fifteen fucking minutes. Avengers Tower is a tall building, she'll admit that. But fifteen minutes? She sighed.
Thor was closest to the stairs as she finally made it to the 28th floor. He appeared to be puzzling over the microwave (Thor and Cap still had a little trouble with technology sometimes) and he turned to her with an eyebrow raised in question.
"Widow! What has happened? Is danger afoot?"
Mjolnir crashed through the wall and into his hand. He stepped back and examined the now badly broken microwave with a jovial grin.
"I have beaten the hateful machine!'Tis a good day!"
Tony shoved the door open, looking murderous. "Thor! This is the fifth time. Microwaves aren't free!"
"This time it was an accident! I swear it on the fate of Asgard!"
He struggled with words for a moment, but gave up after a few seconds. "Oh, hey, Romanoff. What happened to you?"
She limped into the kitchen, glancing at the microwave and glaring at Thor. Natasha thought of the sign downstairs. Courtesy of Thor. She glared a bit more at Thor. "Just got back from Argentina..." She grabbed a bagel and resigned herself to eating it cold. The toaster had been taken out as well.
"Argentina?", Thor asked, mispronouncing it horribly. "Why were you in this...Argentina?" Little better the second time.
"I had a SHIELD thing."
"Is that where you've been?" Tony looked sheepish. "We thought you were in your room..."
A flash of hurt struck her, but she knew better than to let it show. "Well," she said with a tight smile, "That's where I'm going now."
She gripped a chair for a moment to stay upright when she stumbled, and Clint was by her side in seconds. "You need any help?"
He touched her shoulder, and she shrugged him off forcefully, ignoring the stab of pain it sent through her at the sudden movement. "I'm fine," she snapped.
His look was skeptical. "You're always fine," he replied cynically. She ignored him, and walked laboriously down the hall into her room.
She laid down on her bed, muscles giving out almost simultaneously.
She'd been gone for a week. A week. Seven days. 168 hours. 10,080 minutes. 604,800 seconds.
And they hadn't noticed.
Natasha pressed her lips together. If they wanted her here, if she really had a reason to be here, wouldn't they have listened to her? For god's fucking sake, wouldn't they have noticed when she disappeared for a week?
Maybe she was wasting her time.
Natasha knew her methods were...unconventional.
If she was supposed to be some sort of hero (although she wasn't sure that she was), shouldn't she be happy-smile-save-the-world?
Instead, she found herself with a poisoned blade pressed against the throat of a HYDRA agent.
The Black Widow was not against killing. In fact, she'd been raised on it.
Natasha knew the others would be there soon. She knew she should calm down, back off, take a deep breath, and think for a second. But the Black Widow refused.
"Where?", she asked forcefully, shaking him slightly. "Answer me! Do you want to die?"
He just stared at her.
"Widow! Stand down!"
She jumped back, sliding her knife into the small sheath on the inside of her left arm.
Steve was in the doorway of the tiny, shadowy room, his shield reflecting the outside light into her eyes.
"Just what the hell was that?"
"I got carried awa-"
"I saw that, Romanoff. You were going to kill that man."
She pursed her lips. "He was a HYDRA agent!"
"That doesn't make it okay!" Rogers voice rose.
"I get it, okay, I know! But if you're really that naive-"
"Naive? You're calling me naive now?"
"Yeah, because you know what, death happens! People are killed, it's not as big of a deal as you're making it out to be! You know that just as well as I do, Rogers."
He scoffed. "That doesn't mean I'm okay with it. And it most definitely doesn't mean you should be."
Rogers left, slamming the door behind him. Natasha sank into a seat at the table, resting her head in her hands and gritting her teeth to stop her lower lip from trembling.
The maybes and wonderings are done with by now. She can't allow them to have this sort of an effect on her. This isn't the place for her.
Maybe it's time to go.
Steve dropped onto the couch in the other room, massaging his forehead. "That didn't go very well...", he muttered.
Clint looked at the TV regretfully, and then turned off the basketball game. He leans forward on the couch.
"Steve, look. What Natasha did wasn't okay, and I understand that, alright, I'm not arguing with that." He moves up a little, sitting next to the super soldier. "I just think you should...cut her a little slack. She...she hasn't exactly had it easy. Just don't be too hard on her."
Steve sighed. "Is she always like...this?"
"What's 'this'?", Clint asked.
He shrugged helplessly. "Apathetic? Removed? I don't know, like this!"
"Oh." Clint hesitated. "She just doesn't trust any of you yet." He laughed humorlessly. "Sometimes I wonder if she even trusts me."
Steve started to contradict him, but Clint shook his head.
"Nat isn't the trusting type. She...she just isn't." He refused to elaborate.
After a moment of silence, a loud crash sounded from just outside the doorway, and both of their heads shot up. There was a harsh whisper of, "Well, now you've done it!," and then someone cleared their throat, and after a moment, Tony and Bruce walked in.
"I mistakenly," Bruce cleared his throat at that in a way that sounded suspiciously similar to 'bullshit', "Overheard your conversation," Tony began, "And I have an idea."
She woke to the sound of hushed voices and quiet footsteps.
It had been a long day, all things considered. She'd woken up at her usual, freakishly early time. Washed the dishes a few times. Yes, a few times. A lot of dishes piled up with all of them living there, and it seemed that the only ones who thought to start the dishwasher, or even put their dirty plates and glasses in it, were Bruce and herself.
Thor broke the microwave again, and by then, they'd assigned a weekly interval of who had to cook breakfast when Thor broke the microwave, and it just happened to be her turn.
And then Clint was acting strange and he wouldn't talk to her, which sent the day plummeting into horribleness, not that she'd admit it. It'd ruin her if people knew how much they could affect her.
And then all of the guys started avoiding her, and she almost felt like crying (not that she ever, ever would) because she was worried that it had something to do with what had happened at the HYDRA base.
And then she'd gotten a fever. She didn't tell anyone though. Not for any specific reason, she just isn't an open person.
Then the headache set in.
So since none of the guys were anywhere to be found, she put on sweatpants and an old, baggy t-shirt, curled up on the couch with a blanket and a box of tissues, and started watching some old comedy movie. She honestly wasn't paying much attention.
And after a half an hour, she drifted off, shivering under her blanket, covered in an icy sweat.
So her little plan of turning off the TV and running to her room when the guys got home was trashed.
"Shut up, shut up, you'll wake her up!"
"I thought the aim was to wake her up?"
There was a silence.
She was half asleep, but she groaned and reached under her pillow, pulled out her Glock, and pressed the tip to someone's forehead. "This bettr fuck-n be good", she slurred tiredly.
Tony said quietly, most likely to Steve, "Maybe we can come back later..."
"No...", she opened one eye, "You woke me up. Now what is it?" She relocked the safety and replaced her Glock.
After a moment, Clint sighed and leaned forward, establishing eye contact, which was not always easy to do with her. "So, after some serious speculation, and the appearance of a packed bag under your bed-"
"You went in my room!"
"-we decided to throw you a re-welcoming party. Because you clearly didn't attend the first one."
She raised an eyebrow as Clint offered her a champagne glass. "You didn't have to-"
"Nat, just shut up and drink."
Natasha suppressed a smile and did as she was directed.
Maybe this would work out after all.