Fair warning for this chapter: I dabble a bit with talking religion here. While I made sure to avoid stepping on anyone's toes (I'm not religious, but that doesn't mean I really want to bash it), I do put a few of my own ideas out there. Namely Evolution and Religion coexisting. It's not much, as Steve strikes me as a good Christian boy. But I think we'd have to work really hard to get Steve to ignore science, right? So he's worked through some stuff in my head. You'll see it when you get to it, but so you know, I don't actively try to offend people.
But it's only this chapter, so don't take it all out on me, please?
Malibu was gorgeous. The way the ocean blew any congestion in the air away from the high cliffs, the way the air always smelled of brine and the way everything could feel like summer if the temperature was just right. To Natasha, Malibu was definitely one of her more favorable cities to be in.
She drove up in front of Tony Stark's house in a sleek black BMW, mentally preparing herself for the night ahead. This would be the first time all the Avengers would be congregated in one location, seven months after the attack on New York. They'd all seen each other to one degree or another, but planning group events always seemed difficult when one member of the group was from another world.
She grabbed her clutch and adjusted her thigh holster, shifting the gun inwards to avoid any visible lines. The ring on her right hand glinted red in the light from the lamps on the porch, highlighting the hourglass there. Black Widow to the end it seemed. She pushed open the door, lifting her eyes up to see the jaded valets eager to take her car off the drive way. She passed the keys over and walked to the entrance, the black dress swirling in waves around her knees and calves, layers of fabric allowing movement and easy concealment of weapons. The bodice clung tight to her, wrapping its layers of fabric around abdomen before crossing over her breasts and tying around her neck. Red heels covered her feet and matching earrings hung in chains to her shoulders, swirling around where her hair usually lied. She'd grown it out further, the tips just brushing the tops of her collar bones, though tonight it was up in a decorative clip.
She'd be lying if the she said she wasn't doing it to forget about a captain who loved her short hair.
She walked up the steps carefully, trained eyes noting the electronic control panels that lay near dormant to the sides of the door as well as the cluster of men in the corner eyeing her movement. She'd used her body to get what she wanted many times before and knew the stares were not menacing, but instead ogling her, and hardly a threat.
"Drink, Ms. Romanoff?" a waitress in a tight red and gold fitted dress asked, presenting a tray with various glasses of champagne.
"No, thank you," she replied easily, giving a small smile out of politeness. The waitress nodded and moved on, presenting her selection to another guest. Natasha trailed along the edges of the room, always a wall to her side.
"Can't avoid casing the room either?" a voice in her ear whispered and she smirked.
"Never," she replied evenly, turning her gaze over to Clint Barton who stood in a tux, bowtie perfectly aligned with his shoulders and hair parted at the three-quarter mark over his left eye. "How've you been?"
"Alright," he shrugged. "Went to Dubai a few weeks ago."
"How'd that go?"
"Weather was nice," he grinned and she chuckled lightly, knowing he couldn't say more. "What about you? You've apparently been incognito. Fury hasn't mentioned you once."
"I haven't been on any jobs for him, that's why," she said evenly. "I've taken some time to myself."
"It's characteristic if I'm doing it," she grinned crookedly at him before sobering. "I just need time to myself."
"Fine," she said. "It's only a vacation. I'm still me."
"How many weapons?"
"How many do you think?"
"Gun, two knives, shock ring," he listed. "What am I missing?"
"Hair clip," she grinned. "Doubles as a syringe."
"Me to know and you to hopefully never," she said, fighting a smile.
"If it isn't my two favorite assassins!" a loud voice greeted them from across the room and they turned to see Tony Stark heading towards them, arms spread wide and his smile stretching his goatee out.
"Tony," Clint nodded once in acknowledgement.
"Hello, Stark," Natasha said coolly. "Wonderful benefit you've put together tonight."
"This shindig? Nah, that was Pepper," he dismissed. "That woman knows how to make me look respectable."
"So she can make the impossible happen then," Natasha smirked.
"That's cold," Tony said, his face falling as he looked at her. "Now tell me, why exactly do they call you a Widow?"
"Didn't they used to call you the Merchant of Death?" she countered.
"Touche, Ms. Romanoff," he nodded. "What about you, Wings? What have you been up to?"
"My job," Clint replied.
"Not one for adjectives I see," Tony nodded. "Well, I've been having a lovely time out here. You guys should really consider getting summer homes. We could bond, go swimming. You know, I have a gym a few levels down you two might actually enjoy. Little sparring, one on one. Agent stuffs."
"I'll pass," Clint smirked. "More of a nomad myself."
"A nomad from SHIELD base to SHIELD base? Whatever turns you on, I guess," Tony shrugged. "What about you, Red?"
"I'll think about it," she said, not displaying an iota one way or another as to her decision. The truth was, she actually was considering it. She loved Malibu, and with her earnings from such a high risk job she could easily afford something maybe half the size of Stark's home.
"Wonderful," Tony grinned. "You know, I think Pepper could use a friend. A girl type friend. Although I have no idea if she'd go for the girlfriend thing. Remind me to ask her about that later."
"Of course," Natasha rolled her eyes.
"Splendid," Tony grinned and clapped his hands in front of him. "You kids have fun. I'm gonna go mess with Big Green. He seems a little edgy tonight, it's fantastic."
"Stark, I don't think you should—" Natasha started but Tony was already wandering off towards the other side of the room towards where Banner and Pepper stood talking.
"If he brings out the Other Guy, his suit is gonna get it," Clint mumbled.
"Do that once we've actually gotten the Other Guy under control, we might need that suit," she said.
"Wonder if Rodgers brought his shield," he mused, scanning the crowd.
"Is he here?" she asked, her voice a small bit higher than normal, and she prayed Clint's trained ears mistook that for curiosity only.
"Not yet," he shook his head. "But he should be soon. Even Thor is here and he had to travel from a different world."
"How did they even contact him? She asked, her brow furrowing.
"Something about calling a gatekeeper," Clint shook his head. "I have no idea. Fury wasn't exactly descriptive."
"Is he ever?"
"When he needs to be."
"Ah," she nods, her eyes trailing once more over the room. She catches a few people milling around, trying to catch eyes with any of the Avengers, others gaping like they were statues for display. It didn't unnerve her, but it did make her eager for the night to be over. "I'm going out on the patio."
"I'll catch you later," Clint nodded once and she returned the nod before maneuvering through the crowd and out into the breezy night air. Stark had a wrap-around walkway that followed the twisted architecture of his house, a small three foot wall stopping you from falling over the cliff with a miniature lantern every six to eight feet.
The wind caught her dress, swirling it around her legs and raising goose-bumps on her arms. The orchestra that had been almost nonexistent in the background in the house could not be heard out here, giving her the feeling of being almost entirely alone.
It was pleasant. She watched the waves brush against the spiking rocks below, the smell of salt and brine reaching her nose and reminding her of all the reasons she liked Malibu. When she had been monitoring Stark before, she'd never gotten much of an opportunity to enjoy the city. When not in Tony's presence, she was acting her part or attempting to detour his Artificial Intelligence Computer that controlled all his files and automatic house functions. Stealing anything from his personal files was near impossible without the risk of JARVIS catching you.
But now… Now she wasn't on a mission. She was here because of her affiliation with the group known as the Avengers, and no more. She had no mission, no schedule for the near future, she could speak English anywhere, not once having to brush up on her other languages, or having to become a new person. She was herself. It was an enlightening feeling.
"You do know that at parties where you are a star, it's customary to appear," the even voice that she had so often thought of late at night when her mind wasn't so closely monitored and unbidden thoughts could get through. Her heart clenched in her chest and she forced herself to look at him with an even mask, not once betraying the pain that resided in her heart.
"Is that so?" she asked, forcing down the smile and keeping her voice even and far from the flirty tone they used to use.
That they used that night while whispering secrets… When both their heads were under the covers, the only light being the full moon shining through the window and then the sheets. How you couldn't see details but you knew every minute movement, how the other's mouth would crinkle when they formed certain words and syllables, how a laugh always sounded free in the dead of night…
"It is," he nodded. "Mind if I join you?"
"Free country," she shrugged. "I'm sure Captain America of all people knows that."
"I do, but my mother always taught me to ask a lady first," he smiled, "never to intrude on her solitude unless given permission."
What about playing with her heart? she so desperately wanted to speak the words out loud, to make them real and to show him that she hadn't meant to hurt him and that she was only scared. She was still scared.
"So, Ms. Romanoff, may I have your permission to accompany your staring at of the ocean?"
She couldn't fight the smile. "You always have such a unique way of phrasing things, did you know?"
"Where I come from, everyone talks like that," Steve replied. "We all were raised to be polite, to open doors and to be respectful to anyone regardless of age."
"And color?" she asked with an arched eyebrow.
"According to the History Channel, that didn't come for another twenty years after I was frozen," he grinned. "But I grew up in New York. Everyone was from everywhere, and no one was bothered. There were so few colored folk up there anyway. Too far north I suppose."
"Do you ever feel like you were born in the wrong time?" she asked quietly.
"No," he replied simply. "God put me in the time I was born so I could become who I am today."
She smiled and looked down at the wall, crossing her arms on it to lean forward. "I love how we can have a god standing in the house behind us, and you still think there is only one power that governs us all."
"He's not a God, Nat," Steve smiled, tilting his head to look her in the eye. "He's like another species. He may look like us and have powers we don't, but he's from another world. Not ours. His race is different; larger, stronger. He's I guess what you could call evolved."
"I thought you religious type didn't believe in evolution?" she teased, nudging her shoulder against his.
"Not all of us," he shrugged. "Some. But why can't we believe in both? Science made me who I am, and God put me there to become that. They seem to work together in my head. Just because a paper says the sky is green, does that make the sky green?"
"So if the Bible says God made the world in 6 days and on the 7th he rested, why couldn't he have only made the basis for his world. That he put us on here to grow and become more than what we are?"
"What about that Adam and Eve story?" she asked and he shrugged.
"I never said I had all the answers," he grinned. "I just know that I became more than what I started as, and the rest of God's work can too."
She smiled but remained quiet, studying the water and how the sliver of moon in the sky cast a dim light over the water and its bending waves.
"How have you been, by the way?" he asked and she looked back over at him.
"Alright," she gave a small smile.
"Yes," she nodded, and it was the truth. She felt like she was in a half-life, neither here nor there. "What about you? What have you been up to?"
"I went to England," he grinned and cast a sideways glance. Her eyes widened in surprise and he answered her next unspoken question. "I had to look up an old friend. She's living with her daughter and her daughter's two boys. But it was nice. She and I both got some closure."
"Wow," was all she managed to say. Dozens of thoughts streamed through her head. He'd never spoken of a woman. Always either of Howard Stark or of the scientist who'd sought him out for testing.
"Yeah," he nodded, lost in thought. "It was… Surprisingly good closure. I never would have thought so but it was, like finally answering all my questions."
"She cleared things up," she summed and he nodded.
"Yes, she was quite eager to see me again after hearing about New York. Apparently, she helped create an experimental program within the American Government. Though she didn't say, I think it was the predecessor to SHIELD."
Natasha's eyes widened once more and her head snapped to the side. "Really? Are you sure?"
"Well, Tony told me how his father was one of the founders of SHIELD. Pulled it from SHIELD's files," Steve shrugged. "And she mentioned that she had worked with Howard for years after I went MIA."
"How did you know her?" Natasha's curiosity overtook her and the question blurted out.
"She was my boss. To a degree, she always treated me like an equal. Even before I became Captain America," Steve smiled fondly. "She was the first woman I ever held a conversation with. I was so awkward around her in the beginning…"
Natasha realized by the look on his face that this woman was his first love, and that made Natasha's stomach twist. Jealousy overtook her and she was torn between curiosity and never wanting this woman mentioned again.
"Were you… Did you…" she trailed off, her gaze back on the rocks below.
"Not really," he said, getting the gist of what she meant. "I mean, Howard and I kind of competed for her affections, but we only really confessed our feelings the last time I saw her."
"Oh," she nodded. "I… Sorry."
"Not your fault," he sighed. Once more they lapsed into silence, at a complete loss for words. They stood like that for nearly five minutes until he suddenly shifted, turning his body towards her and producing his hand out to her. "Do you want to dance?"
"Want to dance. Yes," he nodded. "It's okay if you don't. I know there are a lot of people and you wouldn't want to give them the wrong idea."
"No, it's alright," she shook her head. "I mean, yes. Let's dance."
His returning smile was almost enough for her to drop everything and run off with him right there, forgetting everything and disappearing for however long they needed. Instead, she placed her hand in his and tried to ignore the twisting feeling that grew in her stomach. All the reasons for that night nearly a month ago came flooding back to her, twisting in her chest and pushing her heart back and forth.
They followed the winding path back around the building and into the main room, the orchestra music filling their ears and the surrounding conversations a low hum under the music, hiding specific words in the thrum. Steve took her to the middle of the floor and spun around to face her, grasping her waist with familiar ease, his touch sending sparks up her ribs and her stomach fluttering in time with her rapid heartbeat. They fell into the motions of dancing and a part of her was surprised he knew how to dance. He wasn't clumsy in the slightest, despite his larger size, and kept his steps perfectly in time with the accent notes within the music.
"I didn't know you could dance," she smirked, looking up at him through her eyelashes.
He shrugged. "I learned awhile back."
"As in pre-Captain America or post?"
"Post," he grinned. "Post thawing too. It's a recent thing."
"Interesting," she nodded. "I had no idea."
"I'm full of surprises, Ma'am," he laughed and she shook her head.
"I'm not old enough to be a Ma'am," she said. "But I know that'll you'll just tell me that you were raised to say that."
"I like that about you," she grinned.
"I think I like everything about you," he said, and she knew immediately they were talking in much more serious terms.
"I know," he smiled apologetically. "I get that, I understand. Believe me. Love is for children, right?"
Never before had she wanted to cry nearly as much as she did right at that moment. She could feel her heart tearing in half and it was by her own fault.
Instead of correcting that though, she just mumbled 'right' and continued dancing in silence. The music changed to a slower one and she drifted closer to him, holding his shoulders a little tighter, and he tightened his grip on her back, pressing her close.
They swayed carefully to the music, and as the song drifted to a close, she stepped back and looked up into his face.
"Thank you, for the dance," she said, her voice a little rougher than she meant for it to be. "I had," she swallowed and inhaled a breath, "I had a wonderful time."
"Anytime, Nat," he whispered and her throat closed slightly as he said her name.
"You're special, Nat… So special. I can't imagine you any other way…"
"Right," she nodded. "Goodnight."
She spun and moved towards the entrance of Stark's house, her eyes on the doorway and straying nowhere else.
As she stepped down the steps, she passed her slip to the valet who immediately ran off to get the car. She had to wait only a minute before her sleek car pulled up in front of her, and she wasted no time in getting in and pulling out of the drive. She glanced once in the rearview mirror, her eyes locking on the tall figure in the doorway to Stark's house. She did her best to ignore the pain that laced through her at the sight of his dejected face.
The tears came then, and she got only a mile down the road before they got too harsh, and she pulled over behind a sign out of sight of the road.
And there you have it! Let me know your opinions in a view, hurtful or otherwise. I'm a big girl, I can take it. I'm actually really curious as to what you guys think. I originally wrote this chapter sometime last May or June, before the deleted scenes came out. The first draft had Steve talking to Peggy's granddaughter, rather than her himself. She's gotta be upper nineties by now. But after the deleted scenes hit the internet at the end of last summer I had to move things around to work with the movie-canon. But I do honestly think Steve and Peggy could spend an afternoon or two catching up and getting the closure they need. Peggy had to have seen the post New York news and known he was back. At the very least someone told her.