kobayashi maru

Clint/Natasha, mild R. Post – movie, Avengers movie verse. Team. AU, because this certainly will never be on screen, but it's not leaving my head. Other than that I have no other excuse. I wanted to tackle a challenging scenario here and do it as realistically as possible, to keep characters true to themselves. Even though this fic deals with pregnancy, there are no white picket fences here. I started with a tongue in cheek kind of idea and ended up with something much more ambitious, and way longer than I planned. It turned out more personal than I expected it to. I hope you like it, I hope you can enjoy it. Beta read by awesome and amazing yappichick. A huge special thank you goes to daxcat79 for reading the first draft of this ages ago and basically telling me I can do a lot better. You rock, love!

Few things about this fic: Slow dancing fights off nightmares. It's a thing Clint comes up with and makes it a tradition. Tony does know what impolite is, but sometimes he ignores it. He is a Star Trek fan (shiny tech!). Also, I adore him. (I adore them all). Steve is pretty much the sweetest guy you can imagine. Clint likes cheesy music (I am rather unashamed how I imposed my own musical taste onto him). Discussions about science fiction are serious matters. Some references I used through here: Emmylou refers to Emmylou Harris, Alison to Alison Krauss; The River is Bruce Springsteen's album that was published in 1985. (it took 250th place on The Rolling Stone's list of best 500 rock albums. The River? One of the best songs ever written, IMO. If you don't understand its greatness, I am sighing a lot because of you – and no, don't take me serieously). Fender Esquire Classic Series '50s is a type of guitar you can see on the cover of Springsteen's "Born to run". Bruce still plays it in concerts. :)

kobayashi maru – a no win scenario which can be won by changing the rules. in effect, it's cheating. First mentioned in The Wrath of the Khan.

Other than that every comment is loved.


xxXxx

.

.

.

The dust is everywhere and it feels as if it's never going to go away.

Natasha is looking for Tony when she walks into one of the devastated business buildings. In there, she sees Bruce being a doctor for the first time. It's the first thing that grabs her attention, and she stores it for later. She is tired, in more ways than one, and she just flies the details for later use. Bruce is wearing a too big pair of pants and a shirt that almost fits him, and in this moment he almost looks like someone else. Someone completely human and kind, someone like Steve.

It's a room full of people. There are children, many children, looking scared, but the situation is slightly better because there's Captain America talking to them and telling them how brave they were. He does these things easily, and Natasha wonders briefly what he was like when he was younger. She read his file, of course, but that's not the point. The point is, he might be the only among them whom she can imagine as a child.

Clint is sitting bit further away, observing. He is fiddling with his bow and she knows it's because he needs something to occupy his hands. She is familiar with the post battle twitch, her own and his alike; and when things calm down, the mind becomes a place too big, full of sounds and images and numbness. You need something to focus on, today even more than on other days, and to Clint his bow is a familiar. It's reassurance, if anything is, that things are normal again. She briefly holds his gaze and it's almost too heavy.

"Steve Rogers," Thor appears and calls from the door. "We need your help."

Steve nods and turns to Clint then. "You mind?" he asks. Clint's hands pause, but that is the only thing that gives away the surprise. You don't call a hired assassin to watch over scared children, but Clint doesn't make any comment on Captain's request. He was pulling these children out of a crushed bus earlier. That's not a thing he usually does, nor does Natasha fight for a greater good. They're not good little soldiers, they don't march into battle, or they didn't; but she is too tired to think about all ways how things have changed today. Today is a day of firsts, Natasha thinks and shivers. Clint never tried to kill her before – he was sent to kill her, but he didn't truly try. Until today.

Natasha observes as her partner walks over to Steve and the group of children.

"This is my pal Hawkeye," Steve says. Clint is far away from a pal, but it's what Captain America says, and on a day like today no one would argue with Captain America. Clint grins lightly and it's something that looks good on his tired face. He looks like the man who holds a guitar in the quiet hours while Natasha observes him from her spot on his couch. "He'll keep you company until I come back," Steve says, and Clint crouches to the floor.

"Is he a superhero like you?" a boy asks and Steve smiles.

"Why don't you ask him yourself?" Steve says and pats the kid on the head, and despite the blood and dust and grime, Steve is a pure creature here.

The questions start. Natasha observes Clint as he makes himself approachable and fairly gentle, and she thinks how she couldn't do this. She knows Clint is a patient man, but this is another of those firsts she hadn't seen before. When he shows a seven year old how to hold a bow, when rough fingers wrap around the small ones and they pull the string together, she wonders of his past. She knows Hawkeye, and she knows Clint, and there is a fine but solid distinction between them. Clint is that guy out of Springsteen's songs, one that still has a second chance in him; one that entertained people once, and didn't consider becoming so dangerous. She had seen him doing all kinds of things, some completely ordinary, and some of them horrible, but he is still more virtuous than her. She has no doubt. Yet, he had seen her, all of her, and never had turned his eyes away. And this, this is new, and she just watches. She doesn't have it in her to judge him in any way, because he just isn't like her.

Even if he isn't more virtuous, he is still better human being.


xXxXXxxx
.

.

.

Love is for children. Love is for those who can afford it, who still have something to give and aren't afraid of giving. The more one has, the more one can lose. Having Clint is a luxury. Something she shouldn't allow to herself, but she is past the point of going back. He blended in into her existence, always present; like a background to her thoughts. Sometimes he feels like a part of her, and sometimes, in fight or in quiet, she doesn't consider them two separate entities. It's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, and usually she doesn't think about this, doesn't question the way things work.

Until Loki and the battle of Manhattan.

She isn't broken. Not by a long shot. But there are cracks, and they are more dangerous than outright, brazen damage. They make her not quite whole and not quite in control.

The actual fallout happens months later, after Loki is back on Asgard and they have all settled into Stark tower. Each of them has an apartment and it's practical. Not even the fact that she is surrounded with all of them makes her uncomfortable. She is merely alert, like she always is, and this is possibly the calmest she had felt in very long time.

Fury sends Clint on a mission that should be a simple walk in and walk out, but instead it goes wrong in all possible ways. For two long days they don't know if he is even alive. She copes, because that is what she does, but when she finally sees him, unconscious in Hulk's hands like a broken doll, something happens. Something gives in within her and the damage is final.

It turns out that he isn't even seriously injured, it just looks bad. There are cuts and bruises and the sight of injuries on his body makes her breath catch in her throat, but he is fine. He is alive, and not long after he can stand on his own feet and limp. She keeps searching his eyes, meets the familiar grey blue and the shadow of his smile; and she has to repeat to herself that he is fine. Whole, unbroken. Alive.

She, she feels completely different. Like all those cracks have connected into a fine spider web of damage and just one touch could make her crumble like battered glass.

She makes herself stay away at first. It doesn't work this time. Her web is cracking.

Clint is awake when she goes to him, his bruises dark in the dim light of his room. She is careful when she first touches him, but he acts like it doesn't hurt. When she kisses him, he holds her and it's just what she wants. It's slow, deep, it's her and him, and this time it's not the post mission adrenaline they need to wear off. This time it's different, even though she doesn't know exactly how, or maybe she doesn't want to know. They don't usually do slow and sweet, and she doesn't let him kiss her cheeks and eyes like this, like she is his; but this time she doesn't care.

He is always the calmer one between them, the one who doesn't have to plan every word. He keeps her honest, even if its only between two of them. They've been on this road for million years, going around each other in undefined circles, and finally she crashes here, fractured and damaged and completely raw. She touches him, familiar lines of his body that fits against hers and lets herself get lost. He is the only person that ever gets to undress her, and he is a man who knows what it means. It's him who is hurt, but she is the one comforted. She is held and cherished, and if she were someone else, this thing they're doing would have a name.

She usually leaves his bed before dawn. They never talk of it, and they don't kiss in the morning next to kitchen counter with smell of coffee in the air. She doesn't wear his shirts, and he doesn't follow her under the shower. They don't spend entire day wrapped in each other like this, until she kisses his every scar and he touches each one of hers. They don't make love, him against headboard of the bed, her wrapped around him. They don't, and they shouldn't. But this thing they're doing for two days now, it feels like the only thing that will help her keep her head straight. Natasha can't help it, and she doesn't want to. All she wants is Clint, whole and alive, and right now, she can have him.

In the dim light of early afternoon Natasha watches Clint cook and realizes things will change. She just doesn't know how.


xXXxxxX

.

.

.

She stares at those two lines on the pregnancy test as if they're something too difficult to comprehend. They're not, and yet, it feels like her body shouldn't, cannot be doing this.

She knows what she should do. There is no room for this in her life. It's hard to even form the word in her head, think what it really means. Part of her feels nothing, just nothing, because her body doesn't seem any different – she is an agent, an assassin, a liar; every piece of her remodeled and reshaped and made into this. All of that is still in place, where it should be, and there is no room for something tender in her life.

Love is for children, for the innocent and unbroken, and she's a spider web of cuts glued back together and put into place. A mirror that returns a deceiving image, made like that on purpose. One isn't supposed to find the truth in her.

She cannot move from the bathroom sink and the mirror above it. Her face in it is pale and a little scared, an edge to her expression. She wants this to be a mistake. She wants to hide. She doesn't want to face this and make that decision.

She wants to run to Clint and have his arms around her and just stay there, but her mind insists it's something she shouldn't do. Everything she knows and everything she is demands that she gets rid of this. She is a weapon, made to manipulate. She is a killer. She should be one even now.

She goes to Bruce instead. Bruce, because he's eying her suspiciously for past couple of days like he knows something; because he knows how it is to deal with something you're afraid of. She sets the piece of plastic on his desk – the fourth test she's made, and they were all positive – and Bruce gives her this look, a mix of surprise and something kind and compassionate, with a hard edge around all of it. "Does Barton know?" he asks.

She swallows. She has this uneasy feeling, deep down to her bones; uncertain, anxious, frustrated; because she doesn't feel like having much control over this situation. There is a decision that she should make. She should terminate it, and she should just keep it to herself and everything could, would be fine as usual.

"He doesn't," she sounds too soft, almost weak and Bruce's face is all understanding and compassion and things she shouldn't reach out for, but Bruce Banner isn't Nick Fury. She chose to walk into Bruce Banner's lab. He regards her for a couple of moments, carefully, presses his lips together.

"Do you need me as a doctor or as a team member?" he asks. She's looking back at him, contemplating this, and he continues. "As a doctor I could do tests, but I assume you are healthy and in good shape. As a team member -"

"I don't want to tell Clint," she says suddenly, and winces when she realizes that she used his name. It feels like a lie and it wasn't even convincing.

"Do you think it's going to make matters easier?"

She doesn't answer that.

"I would want to know," Bruce continues emphatically. "I would like to be a part of that decision."

She nods, starts to leave his lab.

"Natasha," she turns to him and he's holding the test in his hand, gently, like it's something precious. He gives her half of a smile when she takes it. "You're not alone," he says.


XxXXXxx

.

.

.

Clint doesn't believe in normal. It's a label that most people use to mark something expected and ordinary, something that lets them believe that the sun will rise and the life will continue the way it was yesterday. Obviously, it's a useless label for him. Clint prefers constants, and in his life there aren't many. He had taught himself to appreciate them and not grow too attached.

Stark Tower, or rather Avengers Tower, is new. It's growing on him, and that's annoying, especially because he can't help it. Meanwhile Stark is playing a gleeful and intrusive mother bear who throws Clint a birthday party, one that Clint can't avoid. It turns out that others – Natasha included – have teamed up and got him a gift. Fucking Fender Esquire, the vintage Classic Series 50s, and Clint is speechless, but not because he has nothing to say. He could say too much. He plays the guitar instead, and they have fun together.

Later that night Natasha sneaks into his apartment, and her dress is silk and lace; not the thing she would usually wear. It's a mission dress, and he is the mission. He gets to unwrap his present, and she stays the night. Another constant. He isn't complaining about this one.

Stark likes to emphasize Clint is a part of the team. It annoys Clint to no end; because he doesn't do teams, or at least that's what he's telling himself. His actions tell a different story, because he's listening to Johnny Cash albums with Cap and teaching Thor how to play football.

Clint has to admit that Stark is a smart guy. He also firmly believes he is bound to punch Tony's face in foreseeable future, but Tony is right about one thing. The normal, or the constant; it doesn't matter how he calls it, it exists. It's taken a distinct shape by now. Clint hasn't been on a possibly deadly mission in two months, and he doesn't mind it. It's pretty much clear that Fury considers them a team for special circumstances, which is fine. Clint does wonder, though, if this team actually needs him. He likes the camaraderie as much as the next guy, he just knows it's safer not to expect it. His set of skills doesn't really match those of a demigod, a super-soldier, or richy rich in a battlesuit. Let's not even mention The Other Guy, as everyone fondly calls Bruce's anger management problem.

He can compare himself to Natasha – but she can do something neither of them can. Clint's heart grows darker as he contemplates that; the way she works, the why of her methods and skills.

"Barton?" Thor's voice brings him back to present. As much as he disliked the idea of having the Asgard around him for longer periods of time, it turned out to be good. Clint presses his palm against the door sensor of his apartment and the door slides aside. "What did you think of my suggestion?" Thor asks.

"It might work," Clint looks over his shoulder at two men accompanying him – Thor and Steve Rodgers - and reaches a conclusion. Hanging out with them is just fine, as long as it's not every day. Clint certainly isn't the only one feeling out of place here, and these two guys are as far away from normal as possible, which is comforting in a way. "We could beat any three man team of SHIELD agents any day, any sport."

"It will work," Steve says. He's not a foolish guy, but he is bright and hopeful, in his own way, even with everything that happened to him. He throws the basketball to Clint and Clint catches it, and if he's honest, this was fun. Not being in danger is cool, but he has to deal with excess energy somehow. Introducing Thor to sports is one of the better ways, and it's something that works for Steve as well. It works for Clint too, when he can't spend his time with Natasha. He doesn't want to put two of them into the center of everyone's attention, and if the team suspects something, they're not asking questions.

Attention. Clint senses more than he notices something is amiss, but his instincts are rarely wrong.

"Barton?" Steve asks standing beside him and looking around, then at him.

"Someone was here," Clint says. Then he sees it – he left three apples in a bowl on the table, and now there are two. "JARVIS? Was someone here while I was gone?"

Tony Stark's artificial intelligence helper sounds like a perfectly polite English butler.

"Agent Romanoff was here, Sir," JARVIS responds, and Clint scans the room again. Natasha doesn't come here to pass the time, she comes - "She left you a message, Sir," JARVIS adds.

"Where?" Clint asks.

When Natasha comes here while he's away, there's always a purpose.

"At the kitchen counter, Sir," the pleasant voice directs him and Clint walks there.

What he finds is not something he expects.

At first he just stares at the piece of plastic, trying to hold his thoughts in place. It's hard because they're threatening to explode all over. He knows Natasha. And he knows this - if she wanted to end this (his hands tremble just slightly when he picks up the pregnancy test from the counter), she wouldn't let him know. And he would never know.

Clint just stands here, stares at the piece of plastic and two pink stripes on it when Rodgers and Thor walk to him.

"Barton? Is everything in order?" Thor asks.

"What is that?" asks Steve.

"It's personal," Clint says. Thor and Steve accept that – it's personal, they don't ask any more. They work like that, bless them. Clint's thoughts go to Natasha again, and his thoughts start spinning. She is showing him this for a reason. She is telling him that she needs to make a decision.

"Is Natasha okay?" Steve inquires worriedly and Clint comes up with the most reassuring face he can muster.

"Yes, I suppose she is. I need to go and find her," he says, excuses himself and leaves Steve and Thor.

His mind hurries just like his feet do. Decisions are linked to options, and options to possibilities. In his life, and Natasha's, something like this wouldn't have been discussed before, and there would be no choices for them to make. It's a simple fact. Yet he is holding her message in his hand. He stands in front of her door for a moment, fingers tight around the test. Clint likes to think he isn't sentimental, but Natasha often points at his musical taste and tells him he is wrong. Country is just load of sentimental crap, and you listen to it when you drive; so you're either sentimental or plain pathetic.

Sentimental is barely better than pathetic, he thinks when he presses his palm against the sensor. It recognizes him, and allows him in, but she is not there. Clint turns around, leaves her apartment and heads somewhere. Eventually he ends up at the top of the tower. Heights always help him feel better; where he feels disconnected yet still present.

He remains there, alone, for an hour.


XXXXxx

.

.

.

Nothing in life can be rushed. Clint is good at coping with time. It doesn't matter if there's plentiful or not enough, he knows his way around the impossible odds.

It's still not midnight when she comes. She can't sneak up on him, he had learned to sense her presence, but this time she is not even trying to remain quiet like she can. She doesn't come to his bedroom, though; she waits in the living area, wants him to meet her halfway.

He sets his feet on the floor and goes to her. There is a balance to them and the way they work, because they're cut out of same cloth. To people outside he might look like the soft one, while she looks cold and detached, but Clint knows better. One fixes the other, he knows this. He knows her like nobody else does, he knows her because he watched her rebuild herself, over and over and over again.

She stands by the window, looking at the city skyline and tiny little lights flickering in the darkness around them. It's not midnight yet, but it's close and she must be tired. She doesn't move even though she knows now he is here.

The thing is, he doesn't know what to do. Sure enough, there are two options. It sounds simple, but it's not.

"Nat," he says, leaving just a little bit of distance between them. Just to give her room to breathe. She turns around and nothing more. She looks tired, and soft, and somehow younger than she usually does. Sometimes he forgets her age, forgets that he has years of everything ahead, because she is so hard-worn and weary, made into an old soul. They look at each other a little bit longer and he knows what she came for.

He feels responsible for this. It's not only his fault, and technically, the only purpose of birth control is to work. Still, he can't not feel responsible, and the notion makes his chest expand and fill with things he doesn't want to name. "I've got your message," he says instead of everything he wants to do. She nods.

"What did you think of it?" she asks quietly.

"Are you certain?" he asks gently. It's concerned, and he knows she won't mistake it for something he didn't mean to say.

"Yes," she says. Her voice sounds small and he comes a bit closer, nods. He knows one thing, he will not turn his back on Natasha. He will never betray Natasha, even if she chooses that option which will hurt more. And then, he shouldn't think about why it would hurt; it's bad enough to realize that he has preferences.

"What do you want, Nat?" he asks, and yes, he is the sentimental one. When her eyes meet his he cannot feel anything but willing, and even soft; ready to open his arms for her.

But she is a different story. Everything is a process with Natasha, time and calculation and tact. He knows she is all webs and distraction, and that she needs time to come out of the shadows. What he cares about the most is her, and he will do anything to keep her safe. Anything.

"I would rather not talk about that right now," she lowers her eyes and he notices how one of her hands almost drifts to her stomach. She catches herself and stops the motion and he doesn't say anything, just lets her get away with it. She's not ready yet.

"Then we won't," another step closer, and he can feel the warmth of her body against his own. "Are you tired?" he asks and she nods. "We should go to sleep," he says and that's when her body loosens and he knows it's okay to touch her. His hand touches her cheek, her shoulder, slides down her arm and she melts against him. He wraps her in his arms, absorbs all the weight she's been carrying and takes her to bed. They undress each other, until there's only skin, and his front against her back, his lips on her shoulder.

She feels small in his arms, curled in the darkness, and it reminds him how insignificant all of them are. He tries not to think about how it's three of them here.

"Clint?" she calls. It's small and soft and painful.

"I don't -" she doesn't finish, and he pulls her closer. He thinks how she doesn't want this, but she can't just end it. It's the same thing he feels. He knows what she thinks – that ending this would be infinitely worse than all the red they're carrying around on their hands and souls, but he can't neither judge her or tell her what to do.

"I'm here, Nat," he says instead and means it, and he holds her until they both fall asleep.


XXXxx

.

.

.

They don't tell anyone. It's like playing a song quietly, in the dark. For a few days it's just for two of them, their secret, like trying to keep sand in your hands and pretend it won't slip through their fingers. It's not comfortable, and unlike anything they've been through yet. There are small moments when he catches her staring at her reflection in the mirror, and he pretends he didn't see her do it. They don't talk about it, but it's there, constantly, like the air and the dull spring rain beating against the windows.

It's three in the morning when sounds of retching wake him. He walks toward the bathroom and finds her on the floor, her face pale and exhausted, and vulnerable in a way he hasn't seen yet. He catches her eyes and a light flickers on, then goes out. Something in his chest twists uncomfortably for seeing her like this. He had seen her at worse, he had seen her worst, but never before he felt like he was the cause of it.

He sits on the floor, not too far away from her as she rubs her face. The she looks at him, long and tired.

"I feel awful," she says, and it's the first thing she said about it for days, and he just nods. She wants to say something else, but before she can she has to throw up again, and here he is, holding her hair back, and handing her a glass of water when she slumps sideways against him. Her skin is clammy and cold and she shivers.

"Do you want me to go and get something?" she shakes her head, closes her eyes; side of her face against her chest. Fingers fist his shirt, she tries to get herself upright and changes her mind.

"Just stay here," she says.

He stays. After she's done throwing up again, she falls against him and gives him a heavy, hard look.

"What do we do, Clint?" she asks, and the way she sounds, it breaks his heart. He wants to tell her something, promise her something. Instead he kisses the top of her head, and feels like he's out of this moment, like he's observing it from above. How can this be happening to them?

"What do you want to do?" he asks. She moves, pushes against his chest slightly. She gives him a hard look.

" Are you expecting me to do this – decide this – by myself? What about you?!" She breathes and he looks into her eyes – wide and filled with unusual anger. "Don't you want – don't you think -"

"I think you gave me that test for a reason," he interrupts her. She closes her mouth, her eyes hard on his. "I think you wouldn't ever tell me about it, if you decided to terminate the pregnancy. If you wanted that -" her eyes grow, softer, sadder, glowing with a warning. He takes her shoulders in his hands and holds her. "You haven't even said the word yet, Tash. This has a name."

"Clint -" she is shaking her head.

"Say it," he doesn't let her get away with it this time. "Say it," he repeats, softly this time.

A tear rolls down her cheek and she looks defeated. "I'm pregnant," she says, and it looks like she crumbles onto herself. He pulls her close, so she's tucked under his chin and cradled against his chest, and he holds her, like a guy from a country song who can fix every fucking thing in the world.

"It's not the worst thing that can happen." he says, soothing and feels something that could be a sob.

"This isn't what we're made for," she sounds more shaken, much worse than he expects her to.

"If by made you mean trained, then no. We were made for one thing, Nat," he whispers softly, and pulls her apart from him just enough to look into her eyes. "Black Widow and Hawkeye have one purpose," she swallows as she looks at him, doesn't believe he is trying to give her this kind of talk. "You were there. Can you go back there?" he asks honestly, seriously. He doesn't think of himself as a hero, that's for Thor and Cap; but this might be some kind of redemption walk for them both.

She doesn't say anything, but he knows the answer nevertheless, she might need this chance more than he ever will.

"You're not just one thing," he says looking at the bathroom tiles and stroking her sweaty hair. "I didn't want to do this to you."

"Don't apologize," she says. She's not angry with him. They could deal with anger. "If you did, I'd wipe the floor with your sorry ass."

"Right now?" he smiles after he hears the smile sneaking into her voice, and she exhales into his shirt.

"It's too dangerous," she says then, like she's seeking a reason to say yes. He nods, because he's been thinking about this too. It's constantly on his mind, every time when he tries to picture them -

He stops the thought. It's a foolish wish, but a wish nevertheless.

"It's dangerous," his voice sounds so dark. "But I am dangerous as well. And so are you."

"What are you saying, Clint?" she asks quietly. He isn't just saying things, he realizes he is offering them too, and she knows this. They talk in half thoughts, in codes, in looks. Things don't have to be spoken, they read each other too well, and he is trying to determine which words are safe to say out loud. Once you name something it takes a shape, becomes real.

He moves to look at her again and kiss her face, her lips, and lingers there as she relaxes.

"There's more than one option, Nat."

He knows what she's fearing. Each memory of his family is a sharp blade along his skin. It tears him, and it tears him because he remembers belonging to someone and wanting to be good for what he was. It hurts because he was never good. He knows she doesn't remember having a family – she remembers bits, scarps, flashes of images. She was robbed of everything good and happy, everything that once made her someone's child. Everything that made her loved and wanted, once. He likes to imagine that her parents did love her; he wishes he could imagine his parents loved him.

Sometimes he wishes he didn't remember.

"I learned to believe that you can be good at anything you want to," he says, and he believes this. Natasha, she is made of survival, of bitter struggle, of not giving up. It's one of the things that makes them alike, and they have been both struggling for so long that he doesn't remember when his life wasn't some kind of fight.

"This is different," she says, emotions mixing in her voice. And it is different because it's something they really never were trained for, never meant for, and perhaps it's too big for both of them.

"I know," he says, strokes her hair.

He feels heavy and determined and wishes, not for the first time, they were both different people with different lives.


XXXXX

.

.

.

.

"Something's not right."

Bruce looks up and notices how Tony stares. He stares in Natasha's direction, well, actually Clint and Natasha's direction. Tony likes to pry, which makes him look rude, but Bruce thinks that Tony's rudeness usually comes with a purpose that's not immediately obvious to other parties. People usually don't figure him out. It's easier to believe he is an asshole; he makes it easy. That's his way of taking one for the team.

"What do you mean, something's not right?" Steve asks, and so it begins. Steve takes the bait almost every time.

Tony turns his back to Natasha and Clint, who are not talking in the kitchen area of Steve's apartment. They're far away enough not to hear quiet conversation between rest of the team. It doesn't take a genius to realize something isn't right, the very way they move around one another screams distress, but Bruce knows more. He also knows Tony well enough to guess that Tony has a list of suspicions if he's even bringing up this topic.

"Hawkeye and Hot Lips," he says, and the reference goes straight over Cap's and Thor's head, but Thor gives Tony a priceless look. Bruce knows it's aimed at him. He turns another page in his book and gives Tony a look, but doesn't comment.

"What about Clint and Natasha?" Thor asks. Tony crosses his arms, he has audience now, Bruce included.

"They're acting weird," Tony begins, picking up a figurine of a baseball player from a bookshelf and comes to sit next to Thor on the couch. "I mean, they act weird on their good days, with all their secrecy going on, but something's not right for past week, or more," Tony frowns, looks in Natasha's direction. "Have you ever seen Romanoff distracted?" he asks.

Steve and Thor share a look, then steal a glance towards the pair. Bruce holds his tongue because he doesn't want to give Tony more ammo; but it seems Tony doesn't need it anyway.

"She's being moody, and for someone who has every syllable coming out of her mouth in control, that's telling. She's not eating properly, and I am pretty certain she was nauseous. Twice, at least." Tony is looking at Bruce now, and Bruce is staring back, and well, things can't be helped any more. He has figured it out. "Not to mention Barton is watching over her... like a hawk."

To his credit, Steve rolls his eyes. Bruce closes his book.

"Do you have a point?" he asks.

"You know I have a point," Tony says, arms crossed. "Do you know anything?"

"I don't read minds, Stark," Bruce says. If Tony wants a scene, then let him make it himself. Not that it's a problem for Tony. Bruce isn't about to say one bit about Natasha's private matters.

"What is going on?" Thor asks concernedly. He is probably the sanest person here, because he doesn't want to play games. He wants to discuss things openly, and ironically enough that's what Tony wants as well, but unlike Tony, Thor doesn't push and prod and manipulate people into unpleasant conversations.

"I'm suspecting Natasha has a condition," Tony waggles his eyebrows and Bruce takes a deep breath. This is not the time or a place to lose control. As on cue, Steve gives Bruce a look.

"Stark," he whispers warningly. But Tony Stark is one of those bratty kids who don't take no for an answer and he usually gets away with it.

"Is Natasha ill?" Thor's face is momentarily covered with concern, and that's just what Tony wants.

"I wouldn't call it ill," Tony just loves this.

"Even if it's true, it's a private matter," Steve says, and Bruce glances at him. Yes, Captain is the oldest among them, his knowledge of the world is vastly outdated, but he is far from stupid. At this point Thor gives Steve a look.

"Didn't Barton say -" he starts and stops himself.

"What did Barton say?" Tony latches on instantly.

"That it's a private matter," Thor says, and then turns to Bruce. "But what if her condition is serious? She – they – would tell us that? What do you think, Banner?"

Bruce sighs, takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. He's doing it to buy time. Tony butts in.

"That's the whole point, Son of Odin," Tony leans forward. "We're supposed to be a team. If we're a team, and there was a serious issue with me, or you, or Doctor Angry -"

"We get it, Tony," Bruce says.

"Well, what do you know?" Tony asks and Bruce crosses his arms.

"Do you understand the concept of 'private'?" This discussion reminds Bruce of their first discussion on the helicarrier, seconds before everything went to hell.

"If what I think you know and I suspect really is true, how much do you wanna bet they are trying to come up with the right decision?" Tony whispers.

"If whatever you think is true and they're trying to decide on whatever private issue, it's their decision, not ours," Steve says.

"See? It probably is true, because even he knows," Tony says, points at Steve while looking at Bruce. "And if we all know, save for the demigod present, and we can't talk about it, we're not much of a team -"

"Because you don't accept no for an answer, do you?" Steve whispers back.

"Because they're probably thinking it's them against the world. Again. Which makes me wonder how much of a team we are, if they're still thinking like that," Tony concludes.

"They have had difficult lives. It is not easy for them to trust," Thor, bless him, understands. "We should let them know they have our support without prying."

"Okay, let's do that, then," Tony says, stands up and Bruce braces for disaster. "Hey Romanoff!" Tony shouts and both Natasha and Clint look up and in Tony's direction. "If you're really pregnant, which is what I suspect you are, we want you to know we'll support whatever decision you guys make. We also want you to know that if you do decide to reproduce – God help us all – we'll be supportive, proud uncles and we'll have your back and all that. Fury won't touch you, hell, anyone who even thinks about it will have to face us here. If you're not pregnant, however, we apologize -"

"For God's sake, Stark!" Steve stands up as well, looks at Natasha and Clint and their expressions are promising really painful things. "I'm sorry. We tried -"

"I believe that," Clint says grimly.

"You're pregnant?" Thor is on his feet now as well, but his expression is – well, joyous. This is probably a cause for celebration on Asgard, and it should be anywhere, but. Natasha looks at Bruce.

"He didn't say a thing," Tony says. "Neither did Super Soldier Boy, but I have no idea how he figured it out."

"I recognized it in a film few days later. The test," Steve addresses Clint. Clint sighs. Natasha looks frustrated.

"Well then?" Tony asks.

"How much do you value your right arm, Stark?" Clint asks.

"Look, brave Merida," Tony stares back at him, because he's very brave, or a fool, or both. "If something is happening to one of us, it's happening to the rest of us as well -"

Touching," Clint cuts him off.

"Okay, enough now," Bruce is really tired of the pissing contest. He gets on his feet, and rest of them try not to flinch. They actually calm down and shut up, and there's one up side for having Hulk as an alter ego. "Even though Stark could use a lesson or two in social skills, the bottom line remains. If one of us is in some kind of trouble, and we're not sharing it with the rest of the class -"

Bruce lets the words hang in the air. Cap looks at him, then gives both Clint and Natasha an empathic look.

"He has a point there," he says.

"Agreed," Thor adds.

There are a few moments of silence. Clint looks a bit less furious and mostly concerned. Natasha looks at her hands, then looks at each one of them.

"It's true," she finally says.