So, I wasn't originally sure whether or not I wanted to continue this/make it a series of short stories, which is why I labeled it as complete. I'm going to take if off of complete now because I'm still not sure whether or not I'm going to go past this one shot.
Note: Established relationship. Takes place after/around some point in the first story. And the reference to the YouTube video and Santa hat comes from a different one of my stories.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
The first time Natasha read Tony's file, back when she was going undercover to research him, she found out about the kidnapping in Afghanistan. When she met him, she realized he was fucked up beyond belief, or at least certainly more than anyone in his life would like to admit. She thought to herself, I've been thought that a thousand times, what gives him the right to have nightmares after just once?
But then she met him again with the Avengers Initiative and even though she screwed him over bad less an a year earlier, he never looked at her with any sort of malice or fuck I hate you and she realized that, in a bizarre twist of logical reality, that he just didn't care. And then it hit her that the personality she pegged him with in the beginning and thought was wrong because the idiot probably assumed what she did was his fault. So she re-read his file and the new information left over from his own hacking (an oversight most likely caused by the goddamn engine exploding in a way fireworks can only be jealous of) and saw that, yeah, Tony Stark had the right to be like that because it was worse than she was told.
Parents that ignored him, raised by help and his dad's coworker that betrayed him and he had to kill the guy himself in the end, and she acknowledged in her own, warped sort of way that flirting with him, working for him, only to cheat him didn't help any. That he wasn't trained in interrogation like she and Clint were, so he quite literally couldn't stop what happened before it got bad. She'd never been waterboarded to the same severity that he had, or stuck in a boiling cave for three months, pretending to build a weapon so he wasn't killed. It was the time that really got to her, though. Three fucking months stuck there because someone he trusted sold him out for some undisclosed reason.
Natasha had been through a lot of shit in her life, but never that. He knows what it's like to be unmade too.
And that was when the worrying started, she knows. Now she lies in bed still half asleep, staring over at the empty space next to her. For not the first time, she wishes that he screamed from nightmares or made some sort of noise so she could wake up and remind him that hey, it'd been two years and why don't you come back to bed, Tony, it's winter and just too damn cold without you.
Lazily blinking the last of sleep from her eyes, she spies the clock on the night stand. It four in the morning, both early and late for her. She rolls so she's on her back, hand on her stomach, and forces herself to focus on the ceiling. Earlier the day before she'd hit her head pretty hard and though she isn't concussed (according to Banner, whose medical opinion she trusts), the inevitable migraine that comes along with it isn't a fun thing to deal with.
The bathroom door opens and out walks Tony, a fluffy white towel around his waist and his wet hair sticking up at random angles. "Shouldn't you be asleep?" he asks, taking a seat on the bed next to her. "Bruce said the painkillers were supposed to knock you out for six hours."
"You suck at keeping track of time," she says, sitting up and ignoring how the world spins. "It's four, so I've been out for seven actually."
"Four's considered early," she points out. "Come back to bed, you look like someone ran you over with - wait, were you run over by anything?"
He shakes his head. "Support beam fell on me," he answers. "The suit stopped it, though. I'm fine." She raises a brow, skeptical, because last time he said this it turned out he'd almost run his ARC reactor out of power. "Really, Nat, I'm okay."
She grabs on to him, childish, because her head hurts and she's dizzy and they've been "together" for a while now, so she can slip into a smile or simple action like this sometimes and not feel guilty. "Come back to bed," she mumbles, knowing she sounds more exhausted than she really feels at this point. "Just sit up and play Tetris on your phone if you aren't tired or something."
For a moment he doesn't say anything, mulling it over, and when he stands up to slide on a pair of pajama pants and a shirt (because no matter what he says, he really is self-conscious of the scars and ARC reactor and it took a full month for her to see him without anything on) and rejoins her, she has a feeling it's more because she's hurt than anything else. He has that look on his face of, I don't want to be here because I don't want to sleep that she's gotten used by now. She lies back down and turns to her side, facing him, and falls back to sleep as his fingers tuck a curl behind her ear.
Natasha's never liked Pepper Potts. Even when she was undercover as Natalie Rushman, she thought the woman an idiot for acting exasperated towards Tony without actually asking why he was behaving so differently. And the woman definitely hated her back with equal animosity, so it's no surprise that once she reenters his life, whether or not Potts knows for certain that Natasha's the one who gets to sit on his lap while wearing lopsided Santa hats and watching funny YouTube videos, it's no surprise that they despise each other.
So she can be a little possessive, it's true.
Because of this, it takes a little effort to sit inside Potts' office, waiting with her arms crossed. She doesn't want to do this, but understands while she might be Tony's girlfriend (not that anyone knows, of course), she hasn't known him for ten years. "We need to talk," she says the moment the woman enters, surprise flitting across her face.
"What's wrong?" Potts asks as she takes a seat on her side of the desk. "Did something happen to Tony?"
"Tony is the problem," she answers and feels a very slight satisfaction that the surprise returns. But she doesn't dwell on that since their little, rather pointless rivalry needs to be put aside because she's legitimately worried. "Do you have any idea how to get him to see a psychiatrist?"
With a sigh, the woman says, "I've been trying for two years. Why do you ask?"
"He hasn't slept in about a week," she says, and crosses her arms, "yesterday he took three showers, and according to Dr. Banner he had a literal panic attack last Wednesday after he woke him up. And - fuck, even Clint and Steve are worried. Apparently he isn't using the melatonin you got him either."
"I don't know. He had flashbacks for about a month and half two years ago, but he never showed any signs since then. Either he's just been really good at hiding them, or something triggered it to -"
Natasha swears. "I think he's always had and they've just gotten worse. I blame space. You really have no idea?"
"Unfortunately no." Oh, of course not.
She stands, exasperated and way too annoyed to stick around without saying anything that she'll regret because she might hate the woman, but Potts is the closest thing her boyfriend had to friend before Stark Tower became the Avengers Tower. "Great," she says. "So this was completely useless."
"You can do what you did last time," Potts says and though it makes sense, Natasha doesn't think locking Tony out of his lab for a couple of hours is going to cut it. "If he's in the lab, the new override code is eight-five-seven-five -"
And just because she can't say anything blatant, but still wants to see the woman squirm (because she really does hate her), she interrupts, "I know it. Besides, he lets me in if I annoy him enough. Thanks anyway, I guess," all nice and casual-like.
As she exits, she catches an, "Any time," and she almost feels bad.
"I'm not sick."
"You spent all morning throwing up."
"That doesn't mean anything."
Getting so much as congested was usual for Natasha, and how to react to a fever over a hundred one and a stomach virus is lost on her. So she does what she always does when she's unsure, and denies it. Somehow, it's harder to do that when it's Tony telling to react appropriately rather than, say, Clint or someone. That might have to do with the level of hypocrisy involved.
Tony says, "It's not like we have anything to do today. Just take a nap."
She scowls and flops back in her chair, crossing her arms. "No," she says, not caring that she sounds like a petulant child. Normally, aggravating her boyfriend is the highlight of her day because it's just so damn easy, but right now it's at her own expense, which instantly kills any sort of enjoyment. "I'm not tired," she says, "and - oh, fuck."
Then she's in the bathroom again and he's holding back her hair and in some vague way, she wonders what's this is like for him of all people. Simply because of living circumstances and that fact that she'd totally kick his ass he hasn't gone through this since before everyone moved in. When it's all over and done with, her stomach settled and her teeth brushed, he asks, "Ready to take that nap, Natasha?" she nods, a little dazed, because it's been a good four years since she's gotten sick like this and she isn't used to it.
"Go away so I don't get you sick," she says when she's curled up in bed, feeling so stupid and so womanly that she's a little disgusted in herself.
"You won't get me sick," he answers.
"Barely sleeping with sporadic eating habits kills your immune system. You're a germ magnet."
He shrugs, but sits on the absolute other side of the bed, turning on his phone so he can...something. Like fuck if she ever knows what he's doing. She yawns, instinctively covering her mouth with the crook of her elbow, and he shuts the lights off, leaving only the soft glow of his cell phone screen and ARC reactor through his shirt to see by.
The six of them are dirty and tired but mostly unharmed as they sit in the common area of Avenger Tower's eighth floor, and she doesn't care that as she sits next to Tony, their body language screams that, hey, fuck being secretive. Clint knows and Pepper unsurprisingly figured out and she's pretty sure Bruce is at least a little suspicious.
After everyone's recovering silence ends, Steve says, "Is there something here I'm missing?" and maybe they should've told the team earlier.
"They are in love, Captain Rogers!" Thor bursts out in his usual exuberant tone and all Natasha can do is stare in shock.
"Wait," she says, shocked. "You figured it out? God, Tony, we suck."
"You hid it well, Midgardian friend!" Yes, hid it well enough for the two most clueless people on the team to pick up that something's a little off. "But my mother is the goddess of love and war, and few doe-eyed looks can slip past me!"
"How long?" Tony asks, and for once doesn't have a snarky comeback, which she isn't the only one taken by surprise.
In his normal I-speak-all-in-exclamation-points way, he answers, "Four months!"
They've been dating now for six and there's little else to say. The awkward silence that's fallen isn't helping. Finally, Clint says, "I don't have a problem with it," and instantaneously, everyone else agrees. "But, in advance, next time you guys have a secret, try not to let me know at one in the morning when I have a hang over."
"I make no promises," Tony says, but she can tell that he's relieved. "So who wants take-out?"
They talk and debate and after a long game of rock-paper-scissors, she's the one who needs to order.
God, why do I suck at endings? I'm just so bad. I apologize for my inability to end things well. Truly.