Hi guys~ Long story short, last year I accidentally fell in love with a bunch of dumb superheroes and have not been quite the same since. And this pairing, I don't even know - an idea popped into my head, and then suddenly a thing. This thing to be precise. So yeah - first fic in the fandom, first time writing any of these guys ever and I'm pretty nervous about posting it but...here we go? Hopefully it doesn't suck too much, but enjoy, hopefully! c:

ETA original ch1 now split into two parts, and fixed some mistakes and details pointed out by reviewers. thanks guys!

tenderness is the only weapon left

by Whiscash

fandom: The Avengers/Marvel Cinematic Universe.

pairing(s): Natasha/Thor (mentions of Thor/Jane, past Natasha/Clint, slight background Steve/Tony).

rating: PG13 (mild language, that's pretty much it).

disclaimer: Marvel owns The Avengers and all related characters. I own nothing but a lot of feelings, and no one's (yet) willing to pay me for that.

notes: AU after the Avengers movie (i.e. ignore all of the movies that may or may not have come out by the time I finish this). Title is from Baiya by Delphic.

The memo had simply been: just be careful.

Careful, delicate, sensitive, discreet, any number of similar euphemisms; they were always SHIELD's favourite words. Natasha doesn't consciously have to change anything: careful is her MO anyway. She stays on guard, watches her back, covers her tracks just like they're always told, but Natasha's never needed telling.

She could easily have slipped into HQ unnoticed, usually preferred to, but things are different now. Natasha doesn't greet or acknowledge anyone, but she feels the junior agents' eyes on her as she passes, appreciating the occasional nods of respect, awe, sometimes a hint of fear. She doesn't mind that; fear is healthy. It motivates.

With SHIELD, you had to be fast, efficient, ruthless; get the job done by any means necessary. The ends - that ancient ideal - justify the means. Assume any identity, any methods, and maybe most importantly: stay professional, detached, impersonal. You can't afford any emotional baggage; the minute it gets personal, as everyone tended to learn pretty quickly, is when it blows up in your face.

Of course, that had all been before things did blow up, literally, and very nearly all over New York City.

It's been a few months, and they're operating as normal - well, as "normal" as it ever gets - but there's still loose ends and fallout to be handled. The official statement's been made, but the press aren't satisfied; people want to know about the Avengers. Sure, they saved the world, but at what cost? Who are these people? Where did they come from, what are they going to do next, are we really going to trust our lives to a bunch of freaks in spandex? Why won't they come forward?

The answer to the latter question being that any kind of public exposure isexactly what SHIELD doesn't need; they all know that anonymity is their lifeblood. A faceless bureaucrat in a suit, a charmingly unremarkable temp filling a position serves their purposes so much more effectively than well, a freak in spandex (no offence, Cap). The more you answer, the more it looks like you have to answer forand - well, Natasha's more aware than most that they're operating in the "morally grey" area, at best. So naturally everyone's on their guard - even more than usual - and under strict instructions to watch themselves, keep a low profile, don't talk to any members of the press (or "anyone who seemed suspicious", which as far as Natasha could gather, was everyone).

Which is fine, for them, but for Natasha - and for Clint, and there's rumoured blurry footage of a guy who could be Fury - it's different. Their faces - her face - are all over the press, on the internet, everywhere they can be pored over and publicly dissected. Blasting aliens in the middle of New York wasn't really the best way to keep a low profile.

Natasha tries not to think about what that could really mean - she's fighting next to a giant green rage monster, a recently defrosted super soldier, a genius-billionaire-whatever in a flying robot suit and an actual Norse god, nobody, she tells herself, is looking at her. And this isn't about her, it's damage control. If they're going to stay undercover, they need to reconvene, figure out the future of the team - if there's a future for the team - and how it's all going to work, on what terms. Work out some sort of arrangement, at least temporarily.

That's the idea, anyway. Ideas tended to have little in common with the actual outcome.

Natasha remembers, though it seems like another life now, when she'd first heard about the Initiative. It was a risky strategy from conception, but Fury pushed it even though Natasha could have - and did - told him it was a ridiculous idea. Remarkable people tended to bring their remarkable egos, remarkable personal issues and remarkable risks to the table, and she didn't see how that was going to help them.

(Then they sent her to monitor Tony Stark, which had to be some kind of twisted payback.)

But when it came down to it, it didn't matter. Not that the Initiative had been shut down, not that Natasha was never supposed to be this involved - from the minute she got the call, heard Phil's voice grit out "Barton's been compromised", she knew it was going to get personal. Complicated, frantic, totally unpredictable, very messy and very public, in the end, but somehow they pulled it off.

The press, before they became suspicious, showered them with praise, proclaimed them heroes, declared that America had nothing to fear as long as the Avengers were around. The name stuck; they became a brand, an idea people seemed all too eager to buy into.

As of now, that's all it is, an idea: Natasha hasn't seen any of her teammates since. She heard about them, occasionally, but she was busy making sure she got sent on on missions in the furthest-flung corners of the globe. Being in the spotlight, however briefly, was...weird, and unsettling, in a way that she really wasn't used to. She just needed time, she told herself, to get back to doing what she knew. There were threats - so many more threats than they ever thought possible, than she'd ever been trained for - out there, but SHIELD dealt with them. Natasha dealt with them just fine. Let the dust settle, and one day, the world would make sense again.

Natasha's still waiting for that day.

The team, she thinks, it still sounds wrong. They'd parted on good terms, sure, worked surprisingly well together under pressure. But Natasha, Clint, Stark, Banner, Rogers, Thor - they've all got separate lives, different motivations, in some cases different planets, or realms, or whatever kind of place bred genocidal maniacs with serious inferiority complexes. Natasha's not used to really being part of a team - on occasion, maybe, there was her and Clint and Phil (don't think about that) - but that was different.

Everything's different, and they need to address that, or so says Fury - the world may still need the Avengers. They don't have any long-term strategy yet, but this meeting, this would be the first step towards something new. Something that could be...good, even, that could be more than the sum of their parts. Give something back. Protect people from what they now knew was out there.

Natasha has her doubts. But she also has instructions, and she can't deny she's curious. Working with a team - with this team - it's new, and she has no idea how it might work out, all of them, long-term. But Natasha works with what she's given, and they could try. She had to try.

Apparently, she thinks irritably, trying doesn't include any of her prospective teammates actually showing up on time. Clint claims to be allergic to official meetings, or official anythings, but he'd usually drop out of the rafters (only sometimes metaphorically) at the last minute. The only time she'd ever known Stark to turn up to anything on time is when she'd physically threatened him. Banner had disappeared again pretty much immediately after New York, and she hadn't heard anything since; Natasha supposes that indicates he hasn't been captured or killed, but it doesn't necessarily improve the odds of him showing up either. They're keeping tabs on Cap, somehow, from his apartment, so he can't be far. That only left...

"Miss Widow!"

Natasha glances up, and there's Thor; striding purposefully towards her, six foot something of full armour, hammer in hand, cape streaming majestically in his wake and the antithesis of anything approaching careful or discreet. There's another agent she doesn't recognise scurrying to keep up alongside him, a small guy with glasses who looks comically tiny by comparison.

"Agent Romanoff," he greets her breathlessly, and Natasha nods. "You and Mr., uh..." He looks helplessly up at Thor, as if he can't quite believe he's there, let alone how to address The Actual Norse God of Thunder, as the press occasionally liked to refer to him.

"Odinson," Thor informs him.

"Mr. Odinson, right...You two know each other?"

"We do, yes," Natasha can feel Thor's eyes studying her, and he smiles when she looks at him, but she detects a hint of uncertainty. Does he remember her? It's been a while, and in the circumstances they hadn't exactly had much time to talk.

The agent looks between them, then examines the contents of his clipboard.

"Director Fury is expecting...more of you?"

Natasha nods again, waving her hand to dismiss him. "He is, and they'll be here. We're good for now."

"I'll inform someone of your arrival," he says, before walking off briskly, seemingly relieved.

Natasha doesn't think anyone within a 15-mile radius could have missed Thor's arrival; subtle and discreet, as far as she can tell, don't feature prominently in the Asgardian dictionary. Still, when she looks back at him, his smile widens into something more genuine.

"Miss Romanoff," he greets her, extending an enormous, armour-clad arm. "A pleasure to be in your company once again."

Natasha returns the smile, accepts the hand and shakes it once, briefly.

"The pleasure is mine, Thor. It's good to see you again."

He remembers her, of course, Natasha realises belatedly - and that explains the uncertainty in his smile. Seeing her, probably just being here had to remind him of everything that had happened, the total madness of the last time they'd seen each other. Sure, it hadn't exactly been fun for any of them, but it wasn't hard to figure out putting your own brother away for attempted genocide would leave some kind of mark.

Natasha can't help wondering about that, actually, about why Thor's come back here so willingly. They anticipated resistance from all parties, but out of all of them, on the face of it, he has the least to gain from continuing the team. Thor doesn't answer to anyone on this planet; SHIELD has nothing on him. He's royalty of a realm as far from theirs as it was possible to be, she thinks, her mind automatically racing, calculating, but here he's an illegal alien, in every sense. He'd be regarded with suspicion and fear, or else as some kind of exotic animal to be gawped at - maybe Thor didn't realise that right now, but he still didn't have an obvious motive...

Thor clears his throat, and Natasha blinks out of her reverie. Focus, she reminds herself sharply, careful. This is business; whatever Thor's motives, he'd be an invaluable ally. Fury trusted her to secure the deal, by any means necessary.

Thor, still looking uncertain, reaches out and takes Natasha's hand again. Before she can figure out what he's doing, a prickle of beard against her fingers makes her body react automatically; she jerks back, wrenching her arm free and slamming her other fist upwards, catching Thor on the chin.

Sense comes back to her at about the precise moment her fist collides with his face - oh shit - and Thor grunts, more in surprise than pain, but drawing some dubious looks from a couple of a couple of agents in the process. Natasha automatically waves a hand at them in what she hopes is the signal for "training exercise". Not that punching out demigods is actually in the handbook, unless it's been recently updated, but Thor's bewildered expression suggests that at least his pride has been hurt, and Natasha probably really ought to be attempting some damage control now.

"Sorry, I - god," she rushes out, and that already sounds wrong - Natasha doesn't apologise, at least sincerely, as a rule except in very exceptional circumstances. "I really didn't mean to - wasn't expecting - that is, um, that isn't..."

This, she has to admit, maybe wasn't the ideal start to proceedings.

Thor shakes his head, still somewhat shell-shocked but otherwise perfectly unharmed; he rubs a hand idly across his nose - like scratching an irritating insect bite - but it's unconvincing, though on some level Natasha likes that he considers her important enough to be humoured.

"It's quite all right - the fault is mine, Miss - Agent Romanoff. I wondered if perhaps..." He trails off, shrugging sheepishly and taking a careful step back, well out of her space. "I realise I have misjudged your appropriate Midgardian greetings. I meant no..."

Natasha nods, folding her arms and trying to regain some composure. "Culture shock," she says. "It's only natural, but we do things differently around here. It's better that you learn sooner. I mean, not that I intended on teaching you quite so soon, and in that...particular way."

She offers a wry smile as some form of compensation, and thankfully Thor returns it, silence - save for the muted voices and activity in the background - hanging between them. Natasha considers how, actually, she probably could've predicted today would involve somebody getting punched. Only her money would've been on Stark, and been at least five minutes into the meeting.

So much for delicate and sensitive, but hopefully she can still prevent another interplanetary conflict. Natasha takes a deep breath, puts on her best professional we're-all-friends-here smile, and ventures, "You know, it's funny...How you've come from a different planet and you're still the only one who's here on time."

That doesn't say great things about their chances of success, but it does seem to relax Thor a little, and he nods, smiling with something like pride.

"As of my word." He pauses, and then frowns. "But I have not travelled from Asgard today."

Natasha blinks. "You haven't?"

"No. I've been in the realm - state, I believe you call it? Of New Mexico, for some time now."

Natasha raises an eyebrow. "Huh. Okay."

That's interesting - so how long exactly had he been here? SHIELD had to have known, because they'd need to keep him undercover and something told Natasha that wasn't Thor's usual MO. But nobody had told her about it, and why New Mexico, of all...

"There's...a girl, isn't there?" - she remembers now, because Selvig knew Thor, and she was on their database, the astrophysicist, though Natasha couldn't remember her name.

Thor's whole face softens, like he's remembering a wonderful dream.

"Jane," he says, noticeably softer, as though her name is something precious he's afraid of breaking. "She has taught me a great many things, about this realm, and about...life. Love. She is wise, and kind, and beautiful, and I wonder that..."

As quickly as it appears, the light in Thor's eyes seems to die, and his expression clouds over with...Worry? Regret?

"That events...may have happened differently, had it not been for my meeting her," he finishes, quietly.

Thor holds Natasha's gaze in a manner that may have been perceived as challenging, but she knows instinctively it's not. It's just how he is; eyes solemn and intense, and full of questions there's no way she can answer.

"Maybe," she replies eventually. "and maybe not. A lot of things could have been different. We'll never know for sure, but we can't change..."

Natasha doesn't know Jane, has never met her, can't begin to guess how much she matters in terms of everything that's happened. She clearly matters to Thor, the way he's hanging onto Natasha's words, eyes pleading for some kind of reassurance. But Natasha's just not in a place to give it, honestly; she's still trying to make sense of New York, to pick up the pieces of her own shattered beliefs.

Natasha doesn't like things she can't figure out, but she doesn't say that.

"...the past," she finishes instead, because that's true enough. "But - with what we're doing now - we can try to change the future, at least. Make a difference."

Thor nods determinedly, like he believes it. Maybe he does.

"So, Jane," Natasha steers the conversation back on track, reminding herself again what they're here for. "You want to protect her, right? That's why you're here."

That would make sense, at least - it gives him a good incentive to go along with SHIELD, to care about their world, but Thor shakes his head.

"No," Natasha raises her eyebrows questioningly, and he clarifies, "That is - yes, Jane is very dear to me, and of course I would keep her from harm. But I know, also, that she is not the only thing in your world of value."

She waits, and he continues.

"Your realm is...beautiful. In ways very different from my own, but you are a wonderful, strong people. And just because I am of Asgard, the son of Odin, does not mean I should think myself above you. My time here has taught me that, but, in my position, I should endeavour to protect it in any way I can. After -" he breaks eye contact for a moment, looking down at the floor, but then holds his head high, face hard and determined and eyes firmly locked on Natasha.

"...After everything. I should make it my mission to fight for something other than my own foolish glory."

As a prospective job interview, Natasha thinks to herself, it's pretty impressive. And a little overwhelming, being the recipient of Thor's tendency to talk like he's delivering a speech to an imaginary army. But Natasha is not easily intimidated, and she just stares right back. Tilts her head as she considers him, and the unavoidable question - are you for real?

And, incredibly, there is nothing in Thor's stance and expression that suggests to her he isn't. Natasha catches a minuscule bite of his lip, betraying his total confidence for just a second, and decides - okay, let's go with benefit of the doubt here.

"Well," she responds eventually, "on behalf of, um, our realm...thank you? And on behalf of SHIELD, I can say we'd be very happy to work with you."

Thor's face lights up, his battle-ready expression giving way to a wide grin, and it's like sunshine pouring in. It's infectious, and it catches Natasha just a little off-guard, considering how such unbridled optimism from anyone else would have -should have made her instantly suspicious. Anyone else she could name would themselves have been cautious - and rightly so - about liaising with SHIELD in the first place.

But Thor isn't anyone else. Alien, technically, yes, but he's not like anyone Natasha's ever met and - for some reason - she's finding it a lot tougher than usual to second-guess him. Especially when he smiles at her like that (maybe it's some kind of godly power, actually, she'll have to look into that).

"And I would be honoured - again - to fight alongside such distinguished warriors as the Avengers," he says, dipping his head. "Certainly, I should know now not to underestimate you in being a most formidable opponent, Natasha Romanoff."

Natasha doesn't think Thor's ever called her by her full name before; he pronounces it like a title, like he's honoured to be addressing her. Respect tinged with the hint of wariness she supposes is understandable, considering how she'd first greeted him.

She likes how it sounds, she decides, and she lets the corner of her lips quirk upwards.

"Good to know," she replies, "since that is definitely something you should learn sooner, rather than later."

Thor chuckles, deep and low in his throat, and Natasha is just thinking hm, this one's shaping up to be interesting, when she hears a gratingly familiar voice approaching.

"...let them talk you into anything. Just because they defrosted you, or whatever, doesn't mean you owe them anything. Stranger danger, say it with me, Cap..."

"Tony -"

Natasha turns, and takes in the sight of Tony, Steve and - huh, that's an unexpected bonus - Bruce, led once again by the agent she hopes is getting some sort of pay rise for this.

"Agent Romanoff, Mr. Stark, Captain Rogers and Dr. Banner are here," he informs her, unnecessarily.

"I see that," Natasha says dryly, giving them all a cursory once-over; Tony smirks at her, Steve smiles hopefully and Bruce looks uncomfortable, but nods.

"Well done, kid: you caught 'em all," Tony adds, as the agent turns to leave. He smiles uncertainly, but his eyes shine for a second in a manner that could be perceived as - god help them - starstruck.

Natasha rolls her eyes as he hurries on; Bruce shakes his head, but could be biting back a smile, and Steve frowns in the universal expression for "I don't get it".

Thor can't, either, but he comes to life, exclaiming "My friends!" and gently - well, she thinks he means to be gentle, but since it's Thor the effect is still not unlike being bulldozed - pushing past Natasha to greet them.

"It has been a time; I am pleased to find you all in good health," he beams, shaking each of their hands vigorously in turn.

As they return the sentiment in various ways, Natasha acknowledges them with an inclination of her head.

"Likewise. Especially as some of you have been off of our radar for so long, we were growing a little..."

"Concerned?" Steve asks.

"Suspicious?" Tony raises his eyebrows.

"Not necessarily, just curious," she smiles, but it feels paper-thin. She's careful not to direct the remark at anyone in particular, but Bruce smiles back at her, equally unconvincingly.

"Some of us, Agent Romanoff, thought that it would be in everyone's best interests to stay as...off-radar as possible. I didn't really see many advantages to sticking around, after last time," he says.

Natasha supposes that's reasonable, and she nods sympathetically. "Of course, Dr. Banner. And we - I really appreciate your taking the effort to be here."

It's true, at least - she's still wondering how, if nobody really knew where Bruce was, he could have gotten the message, and something definitely doesn't add up there. But she'd have time to figure that out later; it's good enough for now that he is here. Pick your battles, she thinks, and is rewarded with a barely perceptible quirk of his lips.

"For the record," Tony interjects, "some of us are more interested in how long it takes for that vein on Fury's head to pop."

Natasha smiles pityingly. "Believe me, Stark, better people than you have tried and failed to make that happen."

"I like a challenge," he shrugs, while her eyes flick over to Steve. He holds himself as straight as ever, that familiar soldier's stance, and the little forehead wrinkle that's been pretty much a fixture whenever she's seen him outside of a combat situation is still there.

"Anything to add to that, Captain?" she enquires sweetly as Steve catches her eye, and his face smooths out into an ever-dutiful smile.

"Just happy to help out in whatever way I can, ma'am - uh, Agent -"

"Natasha," she interrupts him gently, because they'll be here all day. "I think we're on first-name terms by now, don't you?"

"Sure," Bruce says, deadpan. "We're on the way to becoming one big, happy team."

Predictably, Thor fails to notice any sarcasm in that remark as he nods, smiling serenely. "Indeed. After the trial we faced together, I would regard you all as my brothers in arms. We stand together so that we might protect this earth, and so it shall be."

He really has no idea how this world - or at least, their corner of it - works, Natasha thinks as she takes in the various dubious expressions on her would-be teammates' faces. Still, if he sticks around he'll have to learn pretty quickly, and until then maybe a little optimism would be useful. It's sort of cute, even, in a way.

"...Yeah," she says eventually, when no one else responds. "Anyway. Gentlemen, now that we're all here -"

"What about Hawkface?"

Natasha does not laugh just because she's picturing Clint's face if he were around to hear that remark; she bites down on her lip and tells Tony "He'll be here. Later - for now if you'd all follow me, Director Fury should be ready for you now."

Natasha indicates the way with a twist of her head, and leads them all off towards certain doom - well, Fury's office, but depending what mood he's in, there's not a whole lot of difference.

"Did you have to make that sound quite so much like we're going to get our wisdom teeth yanked out?"

"No, I'm pretty sure this is worse."

"What dentist do you go to, anyway?"

"Oh, I don't. He comes to me: it takes work, you know, staying this beautiful."

Natasha thinks she hears Steve mutter "Rich kids," and safe in the knowledge now that none of them are looking at her, she smiles to herself.

Interesting. Yeah.

Natasha doesn't really think of her apartment as home; she spends most of her time on missions out of town, or out of country, and when she's not it's usually more convenient to stay at SHIELD. She's never had a chance to do anything with it, really, make it hers.

Tonight, though, she's grateful for it, because she just needs to be somewhere other than SHIELD. Needs the mundanity of it after spending the last three hours (more? She lost count) listening to superheroes bickering and trying to keep the peace and her own sanity.

Beige carpet, beige walls, no constant whirr of technology; it's not pretty, but here, she could almost feel normal.

Well, maybe if Clint wasn't lying on her sofa noisily eating a bag of potato chips.


Natasha really wishes she could be surprised by this. Clint just waves at her, flashing a cheesy grin.

"Honey, you're home!" When she stares at him, he adds, "I have a key. Remember?"

Natasha knew she'd live to regret that, but she just sighs, resigning herself as Clint swings his legs around so she can collapse on the sofa next to him.

"Are you even supposed to leave HQ?"

"Maybe...not," he replies evasively. "But I'm a free man, Nat. They don't own me."

"Hmm," she murmurs noncommittally. Clint's been on psychological review for a while; he's still not cleared for any kind of field duty, which Natasha knows frustrates the hell out of him.

("It doesn't make sense, Nat," he'd said once. "They want me to talk about it, but how can I? I don't remember what happened: I was mind-controlled, I did some bad shit, now I just want to forget about it, but they won't let me. We've all done bad shit, how's this different?"

"I know," she'd told him. "Believe me, I know. But you have to give a little; just tell them what they want to hear. Then they'll let you out again, and we can get back to..."

Clint had sighed, scrubbed a hand through his hair roughly, and Natasha reached out and took hold of it.


It hadn't felt like the right word then, and it didn't now.

"Give me some of those," she says instead, reaching for the bag of chips. They crunch in companionable silence for a moment.

"So," Clint cracks his knuckles, rolls his head back like he's working out a lot of tension. "That was...something."

"Definitely something," Natasha agrees, resisting the urge to point out that Clint hadn't seen the half of it. He'd eventually turned up, maybe halfway through, to a death glare from Fury and Bruce saying that - with all due respect - he wasn't sure that this was the right organisation for him to be working with.

Not that it really mattered for Clint at the moment, since Hill had shuffled through her reports and declared that, until he was cleared for field duty, Agent Barton would not be officially classified as a member of the Initiative. He would, however, take part in team training exercises to learn how to work with the Avengers and to prepare for any future occurrences in which his skills would be needed.

Clint hadn't argued, or let his expression slip for a second when she said it, but as much as Natasha knew it was coming, she felt for him.

"Do you really think this can work?" he asks now.

They needed a response team for future threats, Fury said. You are the best, the strongest, the most capable people we have at our disposal. You all have the power, here, to protect people; to do that most effectively, you learn how to respond. As a team.

Tony doubted, somehow, that their intentions were really that pure and noble. Bruce wanted to know how SHIELD proposed to turn such a potentially volatile combination of individuals - no offence, guys - into a reliable response team. Steve asked if they believed the threat level to be high at present, and fromwhere?

Fury replied that essentially, all he was asking them to do was play nice with each other and respond when you are needed. Agents Barton and Romanoff will report back, and continue to work for SHIELD, and they'd take care of the rest. And, since you ask, Captain, it is mainly the fact that two of his best agents' faces are splashed all over the world's press that puts them in a severely compromised and vulnerable position as of now.

Tony said so, essentially, Fury just wanted a pack of really cool guard dogs who wouldn't ask awkward questions like what exactly they were defending. Bruce saw where this was going, and he wasn't prepared to be their guinea pig and risk who knows how many lives. Steve thought that given what he knew about SHIELD's activities so far, he'd need some time to think about aligning himself with them.

Natasha did her best to be the voice of reason when things got heated, while fighting a growing sense of despair. Clint said nothing at all, his face carefully blank. Thor eyed them all warily, as though observing an alien species - which he was, in a way - and when prompted simply said that yes, he considered the earth under his, if not Asgardian, protection.

Natasha licks the crumbs from her lips and says, "I don't know."

"I don't think Stark trusts Fury - trusts us. Banner doesn't, either. Or Cap."

"No," she muses, "and Fury doesn't trust them. Or you, or me. And we can't totally trust Fury either. Or Stark, or..."

"I get it," Clint interrupts, grinning, "it's not a big buzzword. We're running a shady operation where anyone could stab you in the back at any moment."

"Pretty much," Natasha agrees, and he looks sideways at her, sharing a wry smile. "But...you learn. Who to trust. And they'll learn too, I guess."

Clint nods, rooting around for the last of the chips, but coming up with only crumbs; he flicks them at Natasha, and she dodges effortlessly.

He pouts. "Aw, Nat, you're no fun."

"Maybe if you weren't so predictable, Barton," she retorts, and he balls up the chip packet and throws it at her.

Natasha defends herself with a cushion and bats it back, laughing when it hits Clint square on the nose and he grimaces.

"Goddamnit, Romanoff," he grumbles, but he throws it towards the trash can this time, and it's a clean shot, of course. Natasha smirks in quiet victory, letting her head fall back against the sofa.

They're quiet for a minute and then Clint says, "I get the feeling things are gonna be different around here."

"Mmhm," Natasha murmurs vaguely into the cushions. For better or for worse - or worse before it gets better? She wants to leave all that stuff behind, just for a while; she's tired of peacekeeping and negotiating and she wants to sleep.

"You going to be okay?"

Natasha opens her eyes to blink up at him, and she's almost insulted by that - isshe going to be okay? Who's the one on review here? - but not really, because it's Clint, and she knows what he means, what change means for him. Are we going to be okay?

"I'll deal," she answers, and they exchange familiar smiles before she stands up, stretching and rolling out the tension in her muscles - turns out sitting stiffly in a chair while superheroes bicker does that to you.

"Okay, I'm going to bed. There's blankets in the cupboard, I think," she tells Clint. "Night."

He sticks his head up from the sofa. "Can't I -"


"Worth a shot," Clint calls after her, and Natasha shuts the door.