AN-I am completely blown away at all the love that these stories are getting! Ya'll are the best and I can't tell you how thankful I am. I won't inflict a long author's note on you this time, so enjoy!
Disclaimer- I don't own the Avengers, I just take them out and play with them occasionally for my own amusement.
Rating- T for language (blame Tony, he's a potty mouth lol) and SLASH relationships.
Despite the fact (or maybe because of it) that they were all broken in some ways, the Avengers had made themselves into a family. So naturally, when something was off with one of the members they all noticed. It took them longer than they wanted to admit to, but they had all noticed that there was definitely something off with Natasha. They had all seen the difference in her lately. Tasha was a fairly calm woman, but lately she had been distant and jumpy. It became obvious one morning at breakfast what, or rather who, her problem was.
Clint was at the stove since he was one of three people that were actually trustworthy in the kitchen. The archer was making waffles because Bruce had asked for them. Bruce rarely asked for anything, so on the odd occasion that he did the whole team came together to make sure he got it. While Clint was mixing up the batter, Phil Coulson was setting the table and getting everyone had the favorite morning drinks. Their handler took time to slide his arms around his husband's waist and brush a soft kiss on the back of his neck. Natasha stumbled in, took her favored seat, and propped her chin on her hand to watch the obvious love and understanding between her partner and their handler as she drank the tea that Phil had made for her. She always loved watching them work together in the kitchen because they were so attuned to each other that it was like a dance. Steve was the next to make an appearance. He was still a little sweaty from his morning jog around the city. He was the one to break the morning silence
"Anyone seen Tony yet?"
"Considering how late you two were up last night, what do you think?"
Steve turned bright red at the question. But he was saved from replying when his lover waltzed into the room and immediately wrapped himself around the super soldier, snuggling against his back.
"Morning, Blue Eyes. It's a lovely morning isn't it?"
Natasha glared at the two, but the look held no real heat
"You're ridiculously chipper in the morning after you get laid."
Tony grinned unrepentantly and Steve blushed cherry red again. Tony couldn't resist placing a kiss on his Captain's lips that quickly absorbed them both.
"Oh, come on! How many times do I have to tell you? No PDA, before I've had my tea!"
Bruce Banner covered his eyes playfully as he entered the kitchen. He was the last Avenger to come down for breakfast that morning, since Thor was with his Lady Jane helping her get packed up. Tony had finally succeeded in wooing the astrophysist to Stark Industries. Clint had glanced over his shoulder to greet the doctor when he noticed that Tasha had stiffened at the sound of Bruce's voice. He didn't think anyone else had seen it. However, he liked to say that he was fluent in Natasha. They had been partners for years as well as best friends, so they were very aware of each other's body language. They had to be in order to stay alive in their business. Clint met Phil's eyes and saw his concern reflected there. He should have guessed that his husband would have also seen it. After all, he had been the only one that the two assassins had totally trusted until the Avengers had come along. He knew them both as well as they knew themselves. There wasn't much that he didn't see when it came to them. Clint turned back to the stove and finished their breakfast. As he sat the waffles on the table and told them to dig in, he saw that Tasha's eyes narrowed a little at the choice in a food that wasn't normally on the menu. She promptly pushed her chair back and said
"I'm not really hungry this morning and I have a ton of paperwork to do back at headquarters. I'll see you guys tonight."
The Black Widow (there really was no other word for it) fled the table. That left the males at the table staring at each other in confusion and (in Bruce's case) hurt. Tony was the one who gave voice to everyone's thoughts
"What the hell was THAT all about?"
Steve looked pensive
"Come to think of it, she has been acting strange lately. Strange even for her, that is."
Bruce mumbled something that no one understood apart from a few words here and there
"….Afraid…won't be in the same room….The Other Guy….frightened of me."
The others looked at each other in shock. Natasha? Afraid of Bruce? That was nonsense. Sure, she had been wary around the doctor when they had all moved into the tower, but they had worked that out. In fact, other than Clint and Phil, Bruce was the one that she was closest to. Bruce (when he wasn't in Hulk mode) had a very soothing presence and it wasn't uncommon to find the spy and the scientist reading in the common area with apparently perfect contentment in each other's company. This time it was Clint who asked the obvious question
"Bruce, what are you talking about? For fuck's sake, it's Nat. She's not afraid of you! You're one of the few people she actually relaxes around. We all know how rare it is for her to really relax around anyone."
Bruce looked utterly miserable as he answered
"Not lately. She won't even stay in the same room with me for five minutes at a time. Whenever I enter a room, she makes up an excuse to leave it. It's obvious that she's scared of me. I don't know what the other guy did, but it spooked her."
Phil and Clint exchanged telling looks. That wasn't how Tasha behaved when she was afraid. Phil told Bruce gently
"The other guy didn't DO anything that could have scared her. Quite the opposite in fact. In the last mission, he went out of his way to protect her. Hell, whenever one of Doom's bots would shoot at her, he would beat it to tiny pieces while growling 'No hurt Red!'. So, that can't be it."
The rest of the team nodded in confirmation. Even though it didn't seem possible, Bruce looked even more miserable and kind of sick at the same time. He just dropped his head onto his arms that were resting on the table. He should have figured that the other guy would figure out a way show his preference for the Russian woman. This was not good. Not good at all. Steve spoke up
"Someone's got to talk to her about this."
All heads turned towards Clint. He whined
Tony shrugged as if it was completely obvious
"You're her partner. And her best friend. She probably won't kill you. She won't want to break in a new partner. Plus, Agent Austringer is even scarier than she is if that's humanly possible. She knows he would be very put out if she broke you."
Phil nodded in agreement with the last part and Clint just closed his eyes and groaned.
Later on that day, Clint dragged himself down to the spy gym, as Tony called it. The gym had been designed specifically with the two assassins in mind. He found Tasha sparring with one of the gazillion robots that the billionaire had built for them to work out with. Clint watched as the flame haired woman completely destroyed the bot. He swallowed hard. He wasn't a coward, by any means. However, he had heard the wrath of Tasha before and it wasn't an experience that he cared to repeat. It was right up there with facing Phil's outrage on the archer's list of things to avoid.
The Budapest mission had sucked and that had put Nat in a foul mood. A mood made even more dangerous by the fact that Clint himself had been seriously injured due to their handler's mismanagement (not Phil, he had been on another assignment from Fury). Agents still shuddered whenever anyone brought up Budapest. Nat's fury at the handler had been epic. Clint had heard her all the way down in Medical just as clear as a bell. Of course, even Tasha's anger had been a pale thing compared to Phil's when he had found out that his husband had been hurt because the handler in question had refused to listen to the archer. Said handler had mysteriously been assigned to the Siberian wilderness for a decade long mission all by himself not long afterwards. Phil was kinda scary and completely badass when he set his mind to it. Tasha had been satisfied with only breaking a few of the handler's fingers. Clint drew in a deep breath
It only took one word. She whirled around and nearly caught him with a kick aimed at his face. He sidestepped it and just looked at her.
"Sorry. I was in the zone. Didn't hear you come in. What's up? We got an assignment?"
"No. I want to know what the hell was the deal this morning. It's past time you tell me what is bothering you lately. I'm not the only one who has noticed. I had JARVIS seal us in here. So, you won't be going anywhere until you talk to me."
The only thing Natasha could think was that this was déjà vu and possibly payback. She had done the same thing when Clint had been running himself into the ground in the aftermath of the Loki incident. Even when they had found out that Phil wasn't actually dead; it hadn't stopped Clint's self-destructive guilt. That guilt hadn't been helped by the other agents. She knew, but couldn't prove that they had tormented him. The archer still wouldn't go to the helipad unless it was absolutely necessary. Whenever the team overheard anything negative said about their Hawk, they took swift and decisive retaliation against the speaker. She knew that he would keep his word because she was the same way. He wouldn't let her out until she said something.
"Just dealing with some stuff. I need to get it cleared in my head before I'll be ready to talk about it. Please Clint. Drop it for now. I'll come find you when I'm ready."
He studied her intensely. He must have found whatever it was that he was searching for because he nodded
"See that you do, Nat. We're all worried about you."
She shrugged and called for another sparring bot.
It was after midnight when Bruce Banner finally gave up on getting any sleep. He got up and silently headed to the kitchen to make himself some tea. As he entered the room, he saw Natasha staring into her empty mug. The kettle was going on the stove. Her head came up when she heard his entrance and her face went pale. She started to get up. Bruce froze
"Please. Don't leave. I won't hurt you, I promise. I just wanted some tea."
She closed her eyes as if in pain
"I'm not worried about you hurting me. At least, not in the way that you mean."
This time, it was the scientist who went white at the redhead's words. He ran his finger through his tousled curls nervously. He had to take a chance and find out what he had done wrong.
"Tash…What did I do? Tell me so I can fix it. I miss reading with you. Hell, I just miss you. Please tell me that the other guy hasn't fucked our friendship up."
"It doesn't have anything to do with the big guy. Truly, it doesn't."
"Then what is it?"
He was practically begging her
"It's not anything that you've done. I said that I'm not afraid of you hurting me. That's true. Physically anyways. But, Bruce, you sure as hell have a way to break my heart. I don't know when it happened, but somewhere along the way you've taught me that love isn't just for children. And it frightens me."
He caught his breath and his heart started beating wildly. He was across the room before she even saw him move. Tasha had forgotten how damn fast he could move when he wanted to. He trapped her against the counter with his body. He looked down at her; his brown eyes filled with….not disgust as she had dreaded, no fear or hatred…but with what looked like hope. She quickly dropped her eyes to the floor because that had to be wrong. She had to be imagining that look.
He spoke her name gently. She looked up and met his eyes again. He cupped her face and tilted her head up and he lowered his head to capture her lips with his. She froze for a second, but then returned the kiss with passion and fire. When they finally broke apart, he softly ran the backs of his fingers down her porcelain-like cheek
"I've wanted to do that for a long time, Natasha."
"Me too, but I've been so afraid that what I am would be too much for anyone to accept. My past is so beyond fucked up. My ledger is gushing red. You deserve someone much more stable than I am."
He spoke in a low growl
"No. I've been so desperately in love with you since after the Loki incident. I never wanted more than what you can give me. All I've ever needed is someone who can love me always and I wanted that someone to be you. But I knew you were afraid of the other guy, so I settled for what I could get. I moved in just because I knew that Tony would nag you into moving in too, and god knows that I needed to at least see you…"
She cut off his words with another soul-searing kiss
"I love you too. Both parts of you. Always."
AN2- I think that they are both a little OOC, but since it's my universe I've decided to embrace it. Don't forget that I've installed a very special no-bite review button so don't forget to use it. The more my muse is fed, the happier she is. And the happier she is, the more I write.