'Director Fury is requesting entrance to the tower,' JARVIS announces suddenly, breaking the calm silence of the kitchen. Natasha quietly swears in Russian, trying to fix a hair strand falling out of her messy bun without getting her hair dirty.
'Let him in,' Tony tells JARVIS, his voice so soft it makes him sound almost afraid of something.
'Of course, sir,' JARVIS announces and the silence falls again, interrupted only by a regular sound of a whisk hitting the porcelain bowl's bottom. Natasha counts seconds in her head, eying Tony every few moments, as her wrist moves steadily, beating the egg whites and sugar together. She's maybe two minutes from being done. Fury is up in one.
'What is going on in here?' he asks, standing ominously in the doorframe, clad in his usual black leather outfit. He looks around the cozily lit room, taking in Natasha's red apron and the tool in her hand, white powder duster over the counter, and then Tony, sitting at the end of the kitchen island with his back turned towards the entrance, hair messy, back hunched, arms wrapped around his chest tightly.
'It's raining,' Natasha says simply, never stopping to beat the egg whites, they are pretty stiff already. Just a few more seconds.
'It's raining, no shit, agent Romanov,' Fury growls, looking briefly at the mini puddle of water forming under his heavy boots. 'I really haven't noticed.'
'What are you here for, Director?' Natasha asks, putting the whisk away and grabbing a spatula. The cake batter is almost ready, she only needs to fold in the egg whites delicately, making sure they don't lose too much volume.
'I've got a project for Stark to look at.'
Tony doesn't even flinch, just takes a deep breath, untangles his arm and rests his elbows on the counter, staying in the same position otherwise.
'Is it urgent?' Natasha questions without looking up, scooping another portion of the raw meringue into the batter and watching the white disappear among the yellow.
'It is,' Fury says, putting the portable drive on the edge of the nearest cupboard, as far from the flour bag as possible. Then he fixes his eyes on Tony, Natasha can see on the edge of her field of vision, and stares at the man's shoulders, moving up and down and up slowly, steadily.
Natasha ignores Fury, putting the rest of the egg whites into the batter and folding them carefully, trying to work out the most efficient moves, finding this mundane task an exciting challenge. She hasn't done anything like that for decades, or maybe ever, and yet it feels so familiar and calming.
'Is that all?' she asks finally, pouring the batter into a floured pan and scooping all of it from the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and then she licks it, marveling at the perfect bourbon vanilla flavor.
'It is,' Fury says but doesn't move. Tony takes a deep wheezing breath and rests his head on the marble counter, letting his forehead touch the cold stone. Fury's body tenses instantly.
Natasha opens the oven, feeling a wave of warm air hit her face, and puts the pan inside carefully before closing the doors and setting 40 on the timer.
'It's raining,' Fury says unsurely, as if he was contemplating the words leaving his mouth. His coat has stopped dripping by now, the kitchen is really warm, but he still looks somehow miserable, Natasha notes silently. 'What is going on in here?' he asks again and Natasha has the urge to roll her eyes, but then she can understand why this picture is so confusing. It's not her answer to give, though, so she pours a cup of tea from the teapot and places it in front of Tony with a soft rattling noise, music to her ears, and walks up to the china cabinet in the other end of the room to take out two more teacups and go back to the teapot.
'It's, ah, a surprise,' Tony says lightly and Natasha frowns, recognizing the shortness of breath that freaked her out when she first noticed it. She's used to it now and wishes she wasn't. He looks up and gives her a short pleading look before looking back at the teacup nestled between his hands.
'It's Rhodey's – Colonel Rhodes' – birthday tomorrow. He's coming over. I'm helping out.'
'Didn't know you could bake,' Fury notes, eying Natasha putting the two full teacups on the tabletop and sitting in front of Tony. The other is sitting lonely to his right.
'Me neither,' she replies and takes a sip of the tea, strong black with a bit honey, almost burning her tongue. 'Hey,' she says to Tony in a whisper, making him look up and stare at her blearily. 'You sure you don't want to go up?'
'Yess,' he almost hisses, letting his free hand massage the chest around his arc reactor for a moment, before he clutches the shirt over it and freezes like that.
'It's raining,' he say breathlessly, louder, and Fury's eyes lit in understanding. Natasha can only imagine him suddenly acknowledging the dull ache of his own old badly healed injuries.
'I know,' he says, takes off his coat, hangs it on the door handle and sits by the kitchen island, a seat away from Tony.
They sit without speaking for a few long moments, Natasha observing the two men subtly, and the only interruption is the soft clatter of teacups against teapots, and the sound of their breathing.
'What is the surprise?' Fury asks, finally breaking the thick calmness, his deep voice cutting through the silence. 'Cake?'
'Vanilla with coffee buttercream,' JARVIS supplies, voice subdued, and Natasha notices the directions for the buttercream popping up on one of the screens embedded into the countertop. She takes last sip of the tea and stands up, giving Tony a glance, and he smiles at her weakly. She smiles back, just for a fraction of second, but he sees it.
Natasha takes the two sticks of butter that have been waiting for her in room temperature for some time and puts them into a big bowl, then grabs a wooden pounder and starts to cream the butter with long slow movements. It'll take a long time this way but she's been always told that the more work you put into something the more it's worth. Not to mention that electric mixer would make lots of noise and she wouldn't want to do that to Tony.
Maybe two or three minutes later, Natasha loses count silently singing one of those silly songs Clint showed her, Fury stands up abruptly, rolls up his sleeve and stands dangerously close to her.
'Gimmie that,' he says, so she hands him the pounder, looking at Tony and shrugging. He frowns slightly, but then grimaces. 'Put that damn sugar in here,' Fury adds and Natasha obeys, throwing the contents of the bowl, filled with powdered sugar, into the bigger one.
'Milk,' Tony says, making them both look at him. Natasha nods and pours three tablespoons, like JARVIS' instruction says, and lets Fury cream the ingredients, staring at the man's bare forearms as inconspicuously as possible. It's going slowly so she pours Tony another cup of tea and ruffles his hair as she goes over to the oven to check on the cake.
'Coffee,' Fury barks. Natasha grabs the instant coffee, the best possible quality, and adds the indicated amount into the frosting, staring with fascination at the white buttercream turning milky-brown in furious swirls under Fury's quick movements.
Then the oven pings so Natasha puts on thick oven gloves and takes the pan out, admiring the soft buttery scent and the golden color of the cake.
It needs to cool down, she knows, so she waits a few minutes and takes the cake out of the pan, placing in on a cooling rack, careful not to burn herself, while Fury still furiously works on the buttercream. She simply doesn't think of how strange this all is.
Tony seems amused, as much as he can be when he's in pain, and that's good enough for her. It was terrible, learning that there is no medicine he can take without risking his health or constantly being on the edge of addiction. It took her too long to notice and she's been beating herself up ever since. Tony told her he didn't want them to know, didn't want to trouble them. She called him dumb moron over and over for that.
'You can cut the cake now, Miss Romanov,' JARVIS quiet voice says and Natasha nods at no one in particular and takes a long thin knife in her hand; that much she can do easily. Half a minute later the cake is sliced in two perfectly even halves and Tony is looking at her with his half-exhausted, half-amused dark eyes.
'War Machine is so much more manageable than you, Stark,' Fury says suddenly, putting the pounder down with a dull thud. 'But he's boring. I don't like annoying assholes, but I don't like boring even more.'
'Understood,' Tony murmurs into his cup of tea. 'Give me,' he adds, pointing in the vague direction of the director. Fury raises an eyebrow, but obeys, and Tony scoops a bit of the icing from the pounder onto his finger and licks it quickly, like a cat. 'Good,' he declares and pretends to clap his hands a few times before going back to the initial position, with his arms wrapped around his chest.
Fury massages his left side unconsciously, bringing a sad grin to Natasha's face. There is one big reason for all of them hating rain.
They seem to freeze in their spots, inhaling the scents and the warmth, until JARVIS speaks up again.
'You can frost the cake, Miss Romanov, the temperature is optimal now.'
'Thanks, JARVIS,' she mutters, taking a spatula from the counter and staring at the cake layers and the bowl of frosting unsurely.
'Put a cup in the middle… of the layer,' Tony instructs her, making a too long pause between two halves of the sentence. 'Spread with the spatula.'
'All right,' she says, sighing, and drops an approximate amount onto the middle of the cake layer and starts spreading it around, somehow naturally moving outwards, and even if the layer isn't perfect, it looks pretty neat after a minute. She places the other cake layer on the top, presses it slightly, and looks at Tony expectantly.
'Same,' he breathes. 'Then sides. Little bit of frosting… on spatula. Spread. Doesn't have to… be perfect.'
'Shut up,' she tells him fondly, ignoring Fury's curious look. When she drops some frosting on the top of the cake, he comes up closer and hovers over her arm to see how she is doing. The sides are more difficult and too much frosting slides down instead of forming a nice even surface like she saw in bakeries, but if Tony said it doesn't have to be perfect, then she won't try to fool everyone pretending to create a masterwork.
'Write. Brown,' Tony says when she's done, causing Natasha to frown as she isn't sure what he means. She's never made a anything like this before and the words mean too little.
'Sir means you should add a bit of chocolate extract, five drops would suffice, to the remaining buttercream, mix it, and create a written message on the top of the cake. Piping bags and tips are in the top drawer of the third cupboard to your left.'
Tony smiles, obviously proud of JARVIS' understanding of his scarce words, and Natasha does as JARVIS said, but she freezes when she's just about to pipe the letters onto the cake. It feels impossible, to do it without messing everything up.
'Happy birthday, Rhodey?' she asks, not letting her hands tremble irrationally which proves to be quite difficult to do.
'Sure,' Tony agrees sleepily. Natasha just hopes he won't fall asleep with his head on the tabletop, she'd hate to wake him up but sleeping like that would make him too sore to move in the morning.
'Just think of it as a damn mission, Romanov,' Fury says over her shoulder, almost making her twitch. She bites her lip, concentering, tries her grip on the piping bag, making a tiny flower on the marble, and then she exhales and writes.
The letters are probably too thin, with long loops and Os more oval than round, but it's fine, she thinks, for the first time ever. Besides, cake is food anyway, so the looks counts just a little.
Fury takes a step back, so Natasha takes the cake stand in her hands carefully and walks up to Tony, placing it in front of him. He inhales the strong coffee scent, wipes a tiny bit of fallen frosting from the porcelain, puts the finger into his mouth and nods approvingly.
'Thank you,' he says, wrapping his finger around her wrist and squeezing it tightly. 'So much. and you, too,' he adds to Fury. 'Come by tomorrow. Or Nat will… bring you. Cake.'
'We will see,' Fury replies, looking around the messy kitchen and backing away, taking a few steps towards the floor. 'Put that cake into the fridge, Romanov. And you,' he adds, pointing at Tony, 'you go to bed, it's fucking eleven p.m. already.'
Then he grabs his coat and strides out of the room quickly, his paces big and angry, and disappears into the half-dark hall.
'What was that?' Tony asks and looks up at her, blinking. Natasha wonders about an answer for a moment and then simply laughs. 'Not fair… can't, ah, laugh,' Tony wheezes, making her smile turn into a frown.
'Sir will be fine, Miss Romanov. He just needs rest and some additional oxygen.'
'Well, we're going up, then, just like Fury said,' Natasha declares, helping Tony climb down the high chair. 'If you're not better tomorrow, I will kick your ass. And Pepper will have your head. Sorry to remind, but there is some sort of a meeting.'
'That's a good,' Tony stops, takes a shallow breath, and finishes, 'motivation. Good.'
'I'll make you coffee in the morning if you promise me to get lots of sleep and give me storytelling privileges, no one will believe that Fury came here anyway.'
'Deal,' Tony decides, straightening his back a bit, which visibly causes him pain. But there's nothing anyone can do and Tony wouldn't like her to mention it, so she doesn't. Instead she waves him goodbye and watches as he walks out of the room, dragging his feet tiredly, and then disappears into his private elevator in the middle of the hallway.
Natasha puts the cake into the fridge, places all the tools and bowls into the dishwasher and cleans the flour off the countertop. When the kitchen is back to habitable state, she pours herself the last of the tea, now just warm and very bitter, filling the cup to the brim, and makes her way back to her room in small barefoot steps.
Just a small & calm & self-indulgent one piece to have a break from working on the Manhattan series. Hope you enjoyed! I've been dying to write Tony & Natasha friendship for ages.
Thank you for reading and goodnight :)