SUMMARY: Tony and Steve are getting the band back together.
RATING: PG-13 (for swears)
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is a work in progress that will probably end up coming in somewhere between six and eight chapters. I've got the first four chapters written and am close to finishing the rest, so expect regular updates.
“The higher the lift (and therefore the circulation) the stronger the trailing vortices. Furthermore, the presence of these trailing vortices results in a drag on the wing, even in ideal flow theory, for as they lengthen they contain more and more kinetic energy, and creating all this kinetic energy takes work.”
In the Ngorongoro area of the southern Serengeti of Tanzania, a storm was raging. Thunder rumbled across the blackened skies and rain lashed the grasslands. The air crackled with electricity as lightning stabbed at the earth, frightening a herd of migrating wildebeests.
Storms were not uncommon in this part of the savannah, but this storm was different. Supernatural, in fact.
You might even say it was mythic.
Halfway around the world, in a Stark Industries laboratory in midtown Manhattan, a girl with a political science degree squinted at a monitor that had suddenly begun displaying a long, complicated string of characters.
“Holy shitballs,” the girl said. She threw an empty Mountain Dew can at the astrophysicist who’d fallen asleep at a nearby desk. “Jane! Wake the fuck up!”
Natasha was at a farmer’s market. This was what she did now, apparently. She went to farmer’s markets and fondled heirloom tomatoes. Or sat in coffee shops reading books about women who were unlucky in love. Sometimes, on the weekends, she’d go to pet adoption fairs and pretend she was thinking about getting a dog. She didn’t actually want a dog, she just pretended that she did.
She also pretended it didn’t bother her that her life had become intensely mundane. Not that she hadn’t had job offers. She’d had plenty. Just not any she could imagine herself taking anymore.
When her phone rang she reached for it eagerly, hoping it was Clint. She was really trying to give him the space he wanted, but it would be a lot easier if he’d just fucking talk to her so she’d know he was doing okay.
It wasn’t Clint.
“What do you want?” she said tersely into the phone.
“Captain America tells me phone conversations should start with basic pleasantries,” Tony Stark said. “Hello, how are you, nice to hear your voice again.”
“I’m hanging up now,” Natasha told him.
“I hear you’re out of a job,” he said quickly.
“Who told you that?”
“Bald guy. Eyepatch, playful sense of humor. Maybe you know him?”
Natasha frowned. “I wasn’t aware you were still speaking to Fury.”
“We meet for coffee klatch and book club every other Tuesday,” he quipped. “Listen, I’ve got a proposition for you.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“At least hear me out before you throw a drink in my face and storm off.”
“You’re really not selling this.”
“I’ve got a feeling you’re gonna like this one. How soon can you get back to New York?”
Natasha gazed at the tomato in her hand. It was at the peak of ripeness. Even color, unblemished skin. It was perfect, the great white whale of heirloom tomatoes. She’d been thinking of making it into a salad later with torn fresh basil and some slices of buffalo mozzarella.
“I’ll be there tonight,” she said.
Tony hung up the phone and tossed it onto the couch. “She’s on her way.”
Steve nodded. “Good.”
Tony went to the sideboard and poured himself two fingers of a very fine eighteen-year-old scotch that he couldn’t even begin to pronounce. “You sure about this?”
“You don’t like her?” Steve asked, shaking his head when Tony offered to pour him a drink.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think she’s magnificent.” Tony dropped onto the couch and propped his feet up on the coffee table. “Smart, efficient, deadly… awe-inspiring, frankly. And Pepper keeps saying we need some women in the mix to keep this thing from becoming too much of a sausage-fest. Which is maybe a good point, actually… but I also think there’s a reason Fury made sure to tell me he’d fired her.”
Steve arched his brow. “You think she’s still working for SHIELD?”
Tony swirled the amber liquid around in his glass, watching the laws of fluid mechanics interplay. “Once a spy, always a spy, right?”
Stark Tower looked a lot better than the last time Natasha had been in New York. While most of the other buildings damaged in the Chitauri attack were still in varying states of disrepair, Tony’s precious baby seemed to be almost entirely back to its original, ostentatious glory.
Pepper Potts greeted her in the lobby with a wide, generous smile and offered to escort her up to the penthouse.
“You look wonderful,” Pepper said in the elevator. “Civilian life must agree with you.”
“Not really,” Natasha admitted. She hadn’t intended to be so truthful, but Pepper was one of those people who seemed to invite confidences without being nosy. “I’ve been thinking of getting a dog,” she added.
Pepper gave her an oddly knowing sideways look. “You’ve never particularly struck me as a dog person.”
The elevator doors opened and Natasha stepped off. Pepper didn’t. “Aren’t you coming?” Natasha asked.
Pepper gave her tight smile. “You’re on your own with this one. Give the others my best.”
Natasha barely had time to wonder who the others were before Tony appeared. “Agent Romanoff!” he exclaimed, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
“I’m not an agent anymore,” she reminded him.
“Of course, I must have forgotten,” he said, whisking her into the living room. “Look what Pepper brought us!” he announced.
Steve Rogers stood up and offered a firm but enthusiastic handshake while Bruce Banner nodded at her stiffly from where he stood on the far side of the room. She’d guessed that Rogers might be here, but Banner was a surprise. A rather pleasant one.
“Love the hair,” Tony told her. “I always suspected you’d make a knockout blonde.”
“The red became too recognizable,” she said, scowling.
“I’ve started wearing a hat,” Steve said. “So I don’t get recognized on the street. I’ve got a whole collection of them now.”
“Funny, I never seem to get recognized,” Bruce said dryly. No one laughed except Tony.
“So,” Natasha said, cutting to the chase. “What’s the occasion?”
“Thor’s back,” Tony said cheerfully, moving to the bar and reaching for a pair of ice tongs.
Natasha cast her eyes around the room and arched her brows. “Can you see him right now? Is he invisible?”
“I always forget how funny you can be,” Tony said, pouring two ounces of very expensive Russian vodka and a hint of vermouth into a crystal martini pitcher. “Here on this earthly plane, not here in New York. He’s still in transit.”
“Okay.” Natasha shrugged and wandered over to the window overlooking the terrace. The view from Tony’s penthouse was truly magnificent at night. She hadn’t properly appreciated it the last time she’d been up here, what with Loki and the alien horde and the Hulk smashing everything in sight. Her eyes flicked over to Bruce and caught him watching her. He glanced away nervously.
Tony crossed to her and held out a martini glass. “We’re getting the band back together,” he said. “Vodka martini?”
“Thank you,” she said, accepting the drink. “That’s why you called me?”
“That’s pretty much the long and short of it, yeah.”
She sipped her martini. It was very dry and very excellent. “I wasn’t exactly in your band,” she pointed out.
“Do you want to be?” Steve asked.
Natasha regarded them all circumspectly. Tony: always the center of attention, eager and slightly manic. Steve: quiet, calm, and thoughtful. And Bruce: awkward, shy, keeping himself a little apart from everyone else.
“And you’re all in already?” she asked.
“I’m not, actually,” Bruce said. “I’m not part of this.”
“Then why are you here?” she asked him.
He shrugged. “Curiosity, I suppose. It’s kind of my downfall.”
“Ignore him,” Tony said. “He’ll see the error of his ways eventually. So what do you say, Romanoff? Wanna be an Avenger?”
She winced. “The name’s terrible. You know that, right?”
Tony shrugged. “Yeah, but we’re sort of stuck with it now. Got a logo and everything.”
“What about Barton?” she asked.
“What about him?”
“I want you to extend an invitation to him, too.”
Tony’s face contorted as if she’d said something funny. “You mean Loki’s minion? The guy with the bow and arrows? Yeah, I don’t think so.”
“He was brainwashed. It wasn’t his fault.”
“We all know that,” Steve said, shooting Tony a warning look.
“Still doesn’t give me a reason to trust him,” Tony pointed out.
“Either he’s in or I’m out,” Natasha told them.
Tony cocked his head to the side, studying her. “Interesting. What is he, like your boyfriend or something?”
Natasha’s eyes flashed dangerously. Tony managed to make a decent show of standing his ground without flinching. Much.
“Barton’s a good man,” she said, her voice steely. “He wants to make up for the things Loki made him do. He deserves that chance.”
“That’s a nice story,” Tony said. “Touching, really. I’m moved. Here’s the thing, though: I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt because we go back a ways, you and I, and because Steve and Pepper seem to like you. Mostly it’s because Pepper likes you, though, let’s be honest. But if we take your boyfriend on, that makes two SHIELD agents—”
“Former SHIELD agents,” Natasha corrected.
“Potato, potahto,” Tony said. “I’m not a fan of spies, as a rule. A fact I believe I’ve mentioned before.”
“He was pretty useful when we were fighting off the Chitauri,” Steve pointed out. “He’s got a good eye and he’s an excellent tactician. He could be a valuable asset. I think he deserves a chance.”
“So do I,” said Bruce.
Tony shot him a look. “I thought you weren’t part of this team. Or did you change your mind about that?”
Bruce set his jaw stubbornly. “No. I didn’t.”
“Then you don’t get a vote,” Tony snapped.
“But I do,” Steve said in his full-on Captain America voice, no more mild-mannered Mr. Nice Steve. “And I say Barton’s in.”
He and Tony locked eyes and stayed that way for several long moments, engaged in some kind of silent battle of wills. The tension in room was thick enough that Natasha cast a uneasy glance at Bruce, but he seemed more amused than anything.
Tony was the first to flinch. “Fine,” he conceded finally. “Whatever. Can I break out the Moët now or is there going to be another last-minute nomination? Dr. Doom maybe, or that girl who works in Dr. Foster’s lab?”
“I can already tell this is going to be loads of fun,” Natasha said dryly.
Ju1 7, 2012 11:28 PM
I need to talk to you.
Jul 8, 2012 10:49 AM
Jul 8, 2012 6:02 PM
I mean it.
Jul 8, 2012 11:57 PM
Dammit Clint, answer me.
It took Natasha twelve hours to locate Clint’s secret cabin, including travel time from New York.
It was rustic and secluded, like something from the beginning of a Stephen King novel, just before the ghosts and/or monsters showed up. She arrived at twilight and surveilled the place from cover. There was a battered green International Harvester Scout parked on the gravel drive out front. Lamplight shone through the slats of the closed wooden blinds, but there were no sounds or signs of movement inside. If Clint was in there he was keeping a low profile.
She didn’t bother knocking. The front door was locked but it was just a cheap cylinder lock that took her all of six seconds to pick. She opened the door and stepped inside.
“You really shouldn’t sneak up on me,” Clint said, lowering his bow with a shaky hand.
“If I’d been trying to sneak up on you, you wouldn’t have heard me coming,” Natasha replied, frowning.
The cabin smelled like beef jerky and dirty socks. The kitchen table was covered with days-old dirty dishes and the trashcan was filled to the brim with empty beer cans and bottles of cheap whiskey. Clint’s skin was ashen and his eyes were bloodshot and hollowed by dark circles above several weeks’ worth of beard. He didn’t appear to have changed clothes in days.
“I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone,” she said.
He at least had the sense to look vaguely embarrassed. “I wasn’t expecting company,” he mumbled.
His eyes flashed angrily. “You know, I don’t barge into your home and start passing judgement on the way you choose to spend your free time.”
“If you hadn’t wanted me to come you would’ve answered my texts,” she retorted. “When’s the last time you slept without drinking yourself into oblivion?”
He snorted. “Is it still June?”
“Let’s just say it’s been a while.”
She sighed. “Go take a shower and get cleaned up. I need to talk to you about something and I need you to be less revolting when we do it.”
While Clint showered, Natasha worked on cleaning up the kitchen and tidying the cabin. A half hour later he emerged from the bedroom freshly shaven and wearing relatively clean clothes, his hair still slightly damp and smelling of shampoo. He collapsed onto the couch wordlessly. Natasha dried her hands on a dishtowel and went to sit next to him.
They sat side by side for a while, neither of them speaking or looking at the other.
Eventually Clint said, “It’s good to see you, Nat.”
“Sorry it took me so long,” she said.
“I miss anything important in the world?”
She shrugged. “Andy Griffith died.”
“Wasn’t he dead already?”
“Apparently not,” she said. “Also, Thor’s back. Presumably. I haven’t seen him yet.”
Clint looked over at her. “Really?”
She nodded. “Stark wants to make the Avengers a real thing.”
Clint looked away. “So that’s why you’re here.”
“They want us on the team.”
“You mean they want you on the team. ’Cause I’m pretty damn sure they don’t want me.”
“Rogers wants you. So does Banner. Although Banner keeps insisting he’s not in, so, you know. Whatever.”
“What about Stark?”
“Do you care what Tony Stark thinks?”
“Stark thinks we’re both still spying for Fury.”
Clint laughed bitterly. “That’s rich.”
“I think it would be good for you.”
“I’m not a superhero, Nat, I’m just a guy.”
“I’m not a superhero either.”
“Are you kidding? You’re practically a force of nature.” He shook his head, shoulders slumped. “I’m not even a hero.”
“You could be,” she told him.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Are you doing it?”
She sighed and stared down at her hands. “You know what I’ve figured out in the last month? I’m terrible at being normal. And I really, really don’t want to get a dog.”
Clint smiled faintly. “At least you managed to bathe yourself without supervision.”
“That is true,” she agreed.
Neither of them said anything for a while. Then Natasha said: “I’ll do it if you do it.”
Clint sighed. “I don’t have to wear spandex, do I? I fucking hate spandex.”