5. Airline Security
“I can’t believe you’re making me go through security,” Tony complained. “It’s bad enough we’re flying out of a commercial airport. And could we really not have gotten a later flight?”
“Tony, stop whining,” Natasha snapped. She looked more casual than Steve had ever seen her, even after months in the Avengers tower; she wore close-fitting jeans, flip-flops, and a sweatshirt that looked several sizes too big for her with lettering too faded for Steve to read. Her hair and makeup were perfect, four-thirty in the morning or not, but apparently her ability to put herself together did not extend to her usual calm. “It’s still a private plane.”
“Well, private planes should leave the damn airport later in the day,” Tony grumbled, and Steve muffled a laugh behind his hand as they stepped into the airport proper.
JFK was a lot bigger than it had been in 1939 and Steve goggled up at the ceiling, staring around long enough that Bruce had to double back to gently take him by the arm and lead him in. Thor was pulled along with him, though he looked less awed and more confused.
“I don’t understand,” he was telling Clint as Steve trotted along beside Bruce, his suitcase dragging behind him. “What are the lines for? Are the metal birds so popular?”
“That’s one way to put it,” Clint said dryly. He looked about as excited as Tony to be up so early, though he was handling it much better, the faint smudges under his eyes the only sign that he’d much rather be under several pounds of blankets. Steve liked that about him. He was sarcastic and sometimes mean, but he never took his own frustration out on other people.
Coulson met them by what Tony called the “kiosks of death.” “I’ve taken care of checking you in,” he said, handing each of them a small packet. “These are your boarding passes and itineraries—actually, Natasha, why don’t you hold onto these,” he added as Steve looked down at his packet, trying to figure out why he needed a barcode and what the hell all the numbers were for.
Thor looked equally lost. “I still do not see why I cannot just fly on my own,” he said.
“Security,” Coulson said. “Also, an attempt on SHIELD’s part to avoid another issue with airspace violations.” Thor looked suitably abashed at that and Coulson patted him lightly on the shoulder as if to say there, there, sad puppy, it’s okay. “I’ve arranged so you don’t have to wait in line for security,” he continued, pointing to a young woman in a police uniform. “Sheila there will check your bags and get you through. You’re welcome,” he said, directing that last to Tony, who waved a grumpy hand.
Coulson’s phone rang then and he tossed them a farewell nod, walking away with his phone pressed to his ear. Steve waved goodbye because it was the polite thing to do and picked up his suitcase again, following Tony and Bruce as they led the way over to Sheila the Security Guard, who looked much friendlier than Tony’s rants about “those TSA bastards” had led him to believe.
“Good morning!” She said brightly. “I have to say, it’s a real honor to have the Avengers traveling with us here at JFK. I’ll need to see your passports and boarding passes, and Jeff over there will scan you and check your bags.” She pointed to another security guard, this one a gangly redheaded man who looked about Steve’s age, and then gave them all a brilliant smile. “Who’s first?”
Tony forked over his passport and pass first, grumbling about “getting this shit over with so I can get a damn coffee”, and Sheila inspected the documents carefully before handing them back. Bruce went through next, and then Clint, and then it was Steve’s turn. Natasha flipped through the packets Coulson had handed her and handed Steve a boarding pass and a passport, and Steve gave them to Sheila.
She opened the passport, looked at the picture, and then giggled. “I don’t think this is you, Captain,” she said, handing it back to him.
Steve looked at the picture and flushed, sure enough, Natasha’s face, not his own, was looking back up at him. “No, sorry,” he said, turning back. “I think you gave me the wrong one,” he said, apologetically, because his grandmother taught him manners and ladies should never be blamed for mix-ups.
“Damn,” Natasha muttered, digging into the packets again to try and find Steve’s passport (Coulson had given her several files along with the boarding passes), and Steve waited patiently, looking at Natasha’s passport. Her picture was very pretty, much nicer than Steve’s, but he expected that she was just a naturally photogenic person. He pointedly avoided looking at her age out of politeness, but the name on the passport caught his eye.
Romanova Barton, Natalia Alianova.
Steve stared at the document for a moment and then looked ahead to Clint, who stared right back, one eyebrow slightly raised, as if daring Steve to say something.
“Got it,” Natasha said, handing Steve his passport and plucking her own from his fingers, snapping it shut so quickly Steve felt the brush of the pages against his skin.
4. Tax Season
Bruce had never been a great sleeper, but rain made it worse. He liked it when he was meditating, and even more when he was working in the lab, found the sound to be soothing and calming. But when he was trying to sleep it had the opposite effect, made his mind race and his thoughts scramble around like ants on a dropped cookie crumb, made his brain come up with weird similes like ants on a dropped cookie crumb.
The rain was at its worst in April, and at three in the morning he gave up, rolling out of bed and pulling a pair of sweatpants over his boxers. He didn’t bother with a shirt, fairly confident that no one else was awake at this hour and not overly concerned if someone, because they’d all seen him shirtless as the Other Guy and naked in the aftermath, so there wasn’t much to keep hidden at this point.
He’d finished the last of his favorite tea the night before so he bypassed his kitchen entirely, stepping into the elevator and heading up to Natasha’s suite, planning to tiptoe in and borrow some of hers. It wouldn’t be the first time and she often left a few tea bags on her kitchen counter for him in a bowl, used to his late-night cravings. “You’re incredibly predictable,” she’d told him, lounging against the refrigerator as he crept into her apartment. “Why don’t you just tell JARVIS to buy you more when you run out?”
(He always meant to, but sometimes Natasha was awake when he made it into her apartment, and they’d drink tea and talk and kind of get to know each other, and she was the only other sane person on the team and he really kind of liked her, and now that she’d spent some more time with Bruce without the Other Guy she seemed to be warming to him—as much as Natasha warmed to anyone.)
The lights were on in Natasha’s apartment when the elevator doors opened, though, and the bright light took him by surprise, making him blink against the sudden onslaught to his eyes. He adjusted quickly enough, stepping into the entryway as the elevator doors swished silently shut behind him.
He heard soft voices coming from the dining room—Natasha’s, definitely, a soft murmur, and Clint’s, rough with exhaustion and a little frustrated. Bruce hesitated, his hand drifting back towards the elevator buttons, not wanting to walk in on an argument or mission briefing, but the sounds of ruffling papers caught his ear.
“No,” Natasha was saying. “That was deductible, I think. Charitable donation.”
“Did you keep the receipt, though?”
“It’s in the red pile.”
“Oh, I see it, okay.” More rustling, a sigh from Clint. “Right, okay, that’s done. Where are the bank statements?”
“Hold on.” Natasha raised her voice. “Bruce? Is that you?”
Bruce crept guiltily through the living room and poked his head into the dining room. “Hi,” he said, feeling awkward. “I came for tea. Didn’t think you’d be awake.”
“That’s fine,” Natasha said, arching back in her chair and rolling her shoulders. “You can help yourself, there’s a bowl on the counter as usual.”
He didn’t move, though, too busy staring at the dining room table. It was littered with papers—piles of receipts, legal pads of notations, an uncomfortably large stack of what looked like health insurance notifications, and more loose sheets he couldn’t identify. Clint sat next to a laptop, a pair of wire-rimmed reading glasses on his nose (really? Bruce thought, surprised), glancing from a legal pad to whatever he was typing up on the screen. “What are you two doing?”
“Taxes,” Clint said, pressing ‘enter’ with a flourish and leaning back, pushing his glasses up on top of his head and rubbing his eyes. “The American Dream in practice.”
Bruce looked from Clint to Natasha and back again. “Are you helping her with hers? Never took you as the accounting type.”
Clint snorted. “I’m not. We have Turbo Tax for that.” He glanced at Natasha, who tilted her head to one side, and shrugged. “We file joint taxes. Standard procedure.”
“Yeah, for married—” One and one added up to two with a click and Bruce stared, looking between the two of them again. “Oh. Really?”
“Really,” Natasha said. “Sorry the reveal wasn’t more exciting, but fighting my way through bank statements and 1040 forms is complicated enough for me for one night.”
“She’s new at this,” Clint said dryly. “In Soviet Russia, taxes file you. Ow,” he said, and Bruce suspected Natasha had just pinched him under the table.
“Well,” Bruce said, a little awkward. “I’ll just be grabbing my tea, then.”
“Don’t worry,” Natasha said distractedly, picking up two pieces of paper and comparing them side-by-side. “I’m sure Coulson will have your forms for you in the morning.”
Bruce hoped she was wrong, slipping past them into the kitchen. He grabbed the first tea bag he found, and left the way he came, looking over his shoulder as the elevator doors closed, just in time to see the two of them share a small smile, clasping hands as they bent over the laptop together.
3. Hallmark Awareness Day
“I hate this holiday,” Tony grumbled, fighting his way through the slush of the New York sidewalks. “I hate everything about it. JARVIS, remind me why I’m doing this?”
“Because Miss Potts threatened to have all of your latest experiments sent for scrapping if you didn’t do something nice for her this year,” the AI told him through his StarkTooth, the calm voice soothing in his ear despite the frigid February dampness.
Tony scowled at a street vendor who offered him an almost-certainly-fake Chanel bag for $6. “And she says I’m inconsiderate,” he mumbled, mostly to himself, though he was sure JARVIS was still listening. “Here I am, out in the damn rain just to try and find her a good Valentine’s day present, actually going out to find her something instead of just ordering her something online, which is entirely legitimate by the way—”
A familiar jacket caught his eye and he frowned, straining to get a better look around the crowd of every other fucking person in Manhattan who for some reason needed to be on the streets right this fucking second, God, Tony hated everything about Wednesdays, didn’t he have people to do this for him? He was pretty sure he did. It was one of the perks of being a billionaire.
But that was definitely Clint, and he was definitely ducking into the Papyrus store. So, looks like I’m not the only one on card-buying duty, Tony thought gleefully, following him. He’d had his suspicions about Clint and Natasha for months but the two of them were nothing if not discreet. Even getting Clint absolutely plastered on New Year’s had given him no answers, though both he and Natasha had disappeared suspiciously just before midnight.
The inside of the store smelled, predictably, of expensive paper and some kind of airborne fragrance, a scent that made Tony’s nose unsure of weather to wrinkle or sniff harder. He tiptoed around, the aisles and found Clint flipping through the “love themed” card section, looking at card after card and shaking his head after each one, carefully putting each one back in its envelope and into its allotted spot on the shelf.
A smartly dressed employee approached him and Tony quickly ducked out of sight, busying himself with the “get well soon” cards. Maybe he could find one for Bruce as a gag, though there seemed to be a distinct lack of Sorry About Your Gamma Radiation Mutation cards.
“Can I help you find something, sir?” the employee was asking Clint, and Tony strained his ears to hear the answer.
“Maybe.” He sounded unsure. “I don’t usually buy cards. I’m looking for something for my wife. It’s our first Valentine’s day in the same country—just wanted to get her something special.”
First Valentine’s Day in the same country? Tony smirked. At least he got points for never explicitly ditching Pepper, even if he did absolutely abhor the holiday.
Wait. Pause. Re-wind.
“We’ve got some good ones here,” the employee said. “A little less in-your-face than the usual ones.”
“This is good, actually,” Clint said, and Tony burst around the corner, unable to contain himself.
“You son of a bitch,” he said. “You married her, and you didn’t even let us give you a bachelor party?”
Clint gaped at him, and had he been less outraged Tony would have been legitimately proud of himself for sneaking up on one of SHIELD’s best spies. Clint opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, and then sighed.
“Shit,” he said, and looked at the employee, holding up a card. “Well, I guess I’ll take this one.”
2. Power of Attorney
Natasha was pacing.
Coulson watched her calmly, leaning up against the wall of the hangar. She was in street clothes, her hair disheveled from running her fingers through it. “Something must be wrong,” she said, turning on her heel, a little unevenly, to face him. “They’re taking too long.”
“They’re coming as fast as they can,” he assured her. “Natasha, sit down, you’re making me dizzy, and you’re just going to hurt yourself.”
With clear reluctance, she sat on the gurney the medical team had wheeled in with them when Coulson had gotten the frantic call from Tony—Hawkeye is down, we’re evac-ing. Have a medical team ready. A good one, Coulson, he’s going to need it—and to be honest Coulson’s skin was crawling, because he could count on one hand the number of times Clint had been hurt too badly to make his own calls, and those times had all been far too close to fatal for Coulson to relax even a little.
He looked at Natasha’s white knuckles and saw his own fears reflected in her eyes. She’d taken a knife to the thigh on the last mission and Medical hadn’t cleared her for active duty yet, and Coulson knew she was blaming herself for not being with him. “Natasha,” he began, an it’s not your fault speech ready on his lips, but the familiar sound of Iron Man’s thrusters interrupted him, and he looked to the hangar deck in time to see Tony blast his way in, Clint’s limp, bloody form clasped tight in his arms in a princess carry.
Natasha leapt off the gurney and rushed forward, careless of her bad leg, the med team behind her, and then everything was a whirl of medical jargon and Natasha’s voice, more frantic than Coulson had ever heard it, “talk to me, Clint, Clint, open your eyes—” and Tony, rasping, “took the hit, we didn’t even see him go down until it was too late,” and then Thor shot in as well, Bruce and Steve clinging to his arms, all three of them looking battered and bruised, and then Clint was gone, whisked out of sight into the medical bay.
“I’m so sorry,” Steve told Natasha. “He was alone, we didn’t even see—”
“Stop,” Natasha said, and she looked so pale that Coulson actually stepped forward, closing his hand around her arm; she leaned against him. “Just stop. I need to be with him.”
“They’ll be taking him into surgery,” Coulson murmured.
“I don’t care.” Her mouth was set in a stubborn line that was so reminiscent of Clint that Coulson almost smiled, and he wrapped an arm around her waist and escorted her down to medical, hyper-conscious of the rest of the Avengers on their heels.
It was a long wait, and all of them refused to leave. Steve took over Natasha’s pacing so that she could sit down on one of the benches in the waiting area, her lips thin and her face pale, leaning close against Coulson. Pepper arrived with clean clothes for Tony, thrusting the bag into his chest and wrapping Natasha in a hug that caught Coulson off-guard, and Natasha must have been exhausted because she surrendered limply to the embrace. Thor turned down all offers of food, joining Steve in his pacing, and Bruce demanded updates of every nurse that walked by, even the ones who clearly had no idea what was happening.
After what seemed like an eternity, a surgeon came into the room, walking stiffly. He pulled his mask down, looking grim but not upset, and scanned their faces. Coulson got to his feet automatically, heading over, Natasha close on his heels, and the surgeon beckoned them away from the group to speak more quietly. “Does either of you have the authority to make medical decisions on Agent Barton’s behalf?”
Coulson squared his shoulders, prepared to take on the responsibility of whatever almost-certainly-awful decision he was going to have to make, but Natasha spoke before he could. “I do,” she said.
The surgeon looked almost as surprised as Coulson felt. “Sorry, Agent Romanoff. You do?”
“I have Power of Attorney,” she said. “The papers are in legal somewhere, sealed files. Tell me what I need to know.”
Eyes wide, the surgeon looked from Natasha to Coulson, and Coulson recovered himself, giving him a crisp nod; if Natasha said she had Power of Attorney, she had Power of Attorney. “Come with me,” the surgeon said, and Natasha straightened her spine and followed him out of the room.
She appeared several minutes later, face drawn and pale. “They’re going to try and save the leg,” she said, and to her credit, her voice barely trembled. “They don’t know if they can, yet.”
Coulson wrapped an arm around her and she shuddered into his arms. “How long?” he murmured into her hair.
Her fingers clenched in his suit jacket. “Four years,” she said against his shoulder. “Four years on Sunday.”
He closed his eyes. “Natasha—”
“Don’t,” she said, pushing her face into his chest, and he pulled her in tighter.
They saved his leg and Clint was awake and talking twelve hours later. His face was still deathly pale and his voice rasped through his lips, still hoarse from the tube the doctors had shoved down his throat to keep him breathing, but his eyes brightened when Natasha came into the room and fairly threw herself into his arms, kissing every part of his face she could reach and then burying her face in the crook of his neck, and he held her close and stroked her hair.
Coulson met his eyes over the top of Natasha’s head, looking down the bed. Clint wiggled his toes—all ten of them—at him with a weak smile, and Coulson let himself sag against the wall.
They would live to fight another day, and he could deal with the paperwork tomorrow.
1. Fabric Samples
“Lady Natasha,” Thor boomed, mostly-crashing his way into her apartment. “I have a request for you from the Lady Jane!”
Jane looked up at him, and her face had the oh, Thor expression that he was beginning to get used to. “I could have done this myself,” she said, apologetically, when Natasha appeared, eyebrows raised and gun only slightly lowered. “I’m working on planning my sister’s wedding. Phil told me you were undercover as a wedding planner once, and I was thinking maybe you had some tips?”
Natasha’s lips quirked up. “And you couldn’t hire an actual wedding planner?”
“My sister thinks that’s cheating.”
“In Asgard,” Thor said proudly, “weddings are a grand affair, with feasting lasting an entire week and great games to send the couple luck and fertility. They are planned by a committee of families and authorities and chefs. I think it is much preferable to having just one planner, though it is understandable as your Midgard ceremonies are much less extravagant.”
“You haven’t met my sister yet,” Jane said. “Extravagance is her favorite.” She looked at Natasha with the same expression she gave Thor when she needed him to reach something on a high shelf or stop breaking her good china. “Please?”
Natasha smiled. It was a rare thing, and made her look very pretty. Thor decided against mentioning that. Natasha reminded him of Sif—very pretty, but very prickly. He suspected she would not take kindly to a comment on her appearance. “I’ll see what I can remember,” she said. “Come sit down.”
Clint was on one of the couches in her living room, his bad leg propped up on a pillow and a book in his hands. “Oh, hi,” he said, lowering the book as they entered. “Didn’t know we were expecting company.”
“Greetings, friend Clint!” Thor boomed, bounding over to him and remembering at the last minute Coulson’s warning that Clint was not to be roughed-around-with until he had clearance from the healers. “You are looking most hale!”
“Thanks, buddy,” Clint said, grinning up at him. Thor smiled happily back. Midgardian medicine was far less advanced than the healers on Asgard, but the Son of Coul had assured Thor that he was getting the best healing Earth had to offer, and even if the process was slow, Clint certainly seemed to be healing well enough. “What are you up to?” He caught sight of the frilly book in Jane’s hands and raised his eyebrows. “Wedding planning? Something we should know about?”
Thor felt his face heat up. “No, it is nothing of the sort. Lady Jane and I have not courted long enough for me to propose marriage to her. Her sister is to be a bride, and Jane has enlisted Lady Natasha’s assistance in planning the festivities.”
Clint looked like he couldn’t decide whether to be amused or not. “Is that so,” he said, craning his neck to look up at Natasha as she walked past him. “Nat, I thought—”
She said something in the language Thor was beginning to be able to identify as Russian and Clint snapped his mouth shut, but he was still grinning.
The two ladies sat beside each other on the other couch, looking through Jane’s sisters large book. Thor paced the room, mostly bored, until Clint finally beckoned him over and showed him some of the prototype arrows Tony was designing for him for when he was finally approved to go back in the field.
“Oh, that’s hideous,” Natasha said suddenly, and Jane laughed, the sound sweet enough that Thor’s ears perked, looking to see their conversation.
“My sister has awful taste in dresses,” Jane was saying. “I don’t know. She likes these awful princess styles, but then she says she wants to get married outside, and I don’t see how—”
“Those two tastes do not go together,” Natasha said.
“If she wants to get married outside, she should wear something simple,” Clint said. Thor looked at him, surprised; Clint did not strike him as the sort to enjoy the planning of nuptial festivities. “Something like what you wore, Nat, remember? It didn’t have all that fluff on it, it was perf—” he seemed to suddenly realize what he was saying and stopped mid-word.
Natasha sighed. “JARVIS,” she told the ceiling, “please add ‘inability to control verbal filter’ to the list of side effects Clint gets on narcotics.”
“Noted,” JARVIS said pleasantly.
Thor clapped Clint on the shoulder hard enough to make him wince. “Friend Clint, great congratulations are in order!” he exclaimed. “To be wed to one so fierce as the Lady Natasha, you must be as mighty in the bedchamber as you are on the battlefield!”
“Oh, my God,” Clint said, and Natasha dropped her head into her hands.
“Yeah, you get used to that,” Jane said, patting him fondly on the shoulder, and she had the oh, Thor look on her face again.
0. The Lady with the Gun
Her ears were ringing from the gunfire, but it was a sound she was born and bred to, her second lullaby, and that said all sorts of things about her upbringing but she’d settled her score with that years ago. It was their first Avengers mission since the Chitauri attack and her veins were singing with battle adrenaline; she’d missed this. She took out two HYDRA agents with one armor-piercing bullet (funny how it went through skull much easier than Kevlar) and turned in time to see one of Clint’s arrows fly past her, striking a HYDRA Jeep and exploding on impact. “Nice, Hawkeye,” she said.
She saw him grin and his voice crackled through the comm unit. “Why, thank you, Madame Widow.”
“Don’t let it go to your head,” she told him, and the sound of his laughter replaced the ringing in her ears as she went back to her shooting, tumbling out of the way to avoid an enemy soldier that Thor helpfully dropped from thirty feet up in the air. “Iron Man, what’s our status on the explosives?”
“Need about ninety seconds,” Tony said. “Start clearing out now. Steve, how are you doing with the perimeter?”
“All civilians are clear,” Steve’s voice came through crisp and clear. He always enunciated over the channel. Natasha appreciated that. “I don’t have visual on Hulk, though.”
“HULK BUSY SMASHING.”
Clint snickered. “Well, there you go—oh, hell.” Gunfire came through the comm line and Natasha felt a flare of panic, no, no, I just got him back. “I could use backup, here,” he said, and his voice was terse but free of pain.
Natasha started forward but found herself lifting off the ground instead, Thor’s arms wrapped tight around her. “My apologies, Lady Widow,” he said. “But Iron Man has requested that we vacate the area.”
“Clint—” she said, desperately trying to see over Thor’s shoulder.
And then the explosion went off, and she couldn’t see Clint, and icy waves of panic closed over her, so tight that she could barely breathe. This was worse than when Loki took him, worse than the kidnapping in Bangkok or the shootout in San Jose, and why wasn’t he saying anything—
Her feet touched solid ground and she whirled, staring back at the crater that was once their battle zone, feeling her stomach clench.
She was about to call out to him on the comm again, but then the Hulk crashed his way over to them, skidding to a halt in front of her and dropping Clint at her feet in a bundle of black leather and weapons. He rubbed his head, blinking up at her, and she dropped down to her knees, grabbed his face in her hands, and hauled him in for a hard, bruising kiss, taking the air straight from his lungs. She was probably clutching him too hard, but she hadn’t been this terrified since she’d gotten the call from Coulson, since the words Barton’s been compromised sent a bucket of cold water into her veins, colder than the darkest Russian winter, and she’d seen her share of dark winters.
Clint broke away from her first, managing to say, “Tasha—” before she slapped him hard across the face.
“I called you over the comms! Why didn’t you say something?”
“I was being Hulk-smooshed,” he yelped, rubbing his cheek.
“Hulk rescue Cupid,” Hulk said smugly from next to Thor, and Thor barely had time to duck before the Hulk sent a fond punch in his direction.
“Besides,” Clint said, “it’s not like it’s the first time I haven’t answered over a comm. It’s never bothered you before.”
“It bothers me now,” Natasha said, surprising herself at how much she meant it, and to hell with the fact that Tony had just landed and Steve was padding over and Thor and Hulk were still watching but she leaned over and kissed him again, more gently now, and this time Clint brushed one calloused hand through her hair. “And if you don’t,” she said when they parted, “I swear to God, I’ll divorce you.”
“Well, that’d be a waste,” Clint said, his lips a little red and a grin playing at the corner of his eyes. Natasha got to her feet and hauled him to his; he wobbled a little (“Hulk maybe save Cupid too hard,” Hulk mumbled) but caught himself, standing straighter.
Tony cleared his throat. “Can we go back to that bit about divorce?”
“No,” Natasha said. Clint had parked the Quinjet close by and she threaded her arm through his. “I’m covered in dust and I’m still on an adrenaline high, and I need my husband to tear all my clothes off.”
“My work never ends,” Clint lamented, and Natasha had enough time to catch the incredulous look on Tony’s face and the fiery flush on Steve’s cheeks before Clint drew her into the jet and slapped the door release button, and if he didn’t wait to pilot them back to the Tower before he pinned her against the cool metal of the floor—
Well, she thought, twining her arms around his neck and her legs around his hips, their marriage had certainly been through worse.