"You're asking me for a favor?"
Characters (this chapter): Natasha Romanoff, Tony Stark
Content Warnings: None
The machine is sterile and the room is tidy. Natasha assumes it doesn't get much use. The blood draws are easy enough, and he assures her that the tests will only take a few moments to process, that it should all be complete by the time the scans are done. She lies down for the machine and Tony fiddles with the controls, keeping up the commentary, which she filters out until it becomes useful.
"-and this is actually really cool, because I can make a three-dimensional replica of- um." The bed of the machine rolls out, and she sits up, staring at the holographic image of her insides. Tony is staring, too. "I don't know how to tell you this, but you've got an implant in your-"
"I know." She stretches her neck. "It belongs there."
Tony's face transforms into a series of waves and wrinkles while he examines the readouts beside the holographic screen.
"You sure about that?"
She watches his reactions, taking a calculated risk by opting for honesty.
"When I was a kid, one of the ops I was on went south. Screwed up my adrenal system." She grins at his reflection in the metal cabinets. He doesn't catch it. Distracted. "Modern science came up with an alternative."
"All hail the motherland." He snorts at his own joke. "So that explains the hormones." He snaps up the stylus stored behind his ear.
She's itching to recover her weapons, stored in the adjoining room, safely away from the magnet.
"But you can replicate them?"
"Of course I can. I've had the program running since you got up. Shouldn't take long. I'd tell you to make yourself at home, but I have no idea what the state of your home is. Do you live in the sewers?" He turns off the hologram. "Don't take that the wrong way, it's just that I always imagined you and Fury as like, the Ninja Turtles or something. I guess that's insensitive." He fiddles with his tablet some more, not looking at her. "So, make yourself at home, I'll have something ready for you in a few hours. Less, if I don't get distracted by something more exciting."
She offers him an arcane smile. He makes a clicking sound with his lips.
"Right. Well. There's probably some standard-issue questions I'm supposed to ask, but since I am not a doctor, I'm not going to ask them." He looks up and appraises her, still twitchy and wired. "But you're feeling all right? When you're not getting shot at and keeping up with super-soldiers and all that? You totally could have called me, by the way- that's not the point. You're fine? No side effects? Morning sickness, dizziness, signs that some part of you is bleeding on the inside that you've failed to mention because you were busy being stoic and unavailable while you seduced hapless billionaire playboys?"
She waits until he runs out of breath to mutter a succinct "nope".
"Excellent." He pauses, but she's found that staring at Tony Stark and waiting politely is a more efficient means of communicating with him. "Not that I don't enjoy our talks, because believe me, I do, really, I cherish them, actually, but it seems like you could have gone to a real doctor for this. Banner, for example. Why me?"
She hasn't decided in advance how to answer the question. It's not one that she thought he'd ask. Pierce had conducted one of her exams, early on, when she was still a secret to all but a few hand-picked confidantes. Tony Stark's machines felt nothing like Pierce's stethoscope, warmed by his breath before he pressed it against her ribs to listen to her (perfectly functioning) lungs. Pierce had smiled, and explained every procedure to her, telling her how much blood needed to be drawn, and why. Tony Stark let her take care of those details herself. He barely looked at her, more fascinated by the readings displayed on his consoles and screens. He is an ally. He is not a friend. He does not smile at her, or use a patient tone of voice. He acts like a mechanic, and he treats her like a car.
This time, he waits for an answer.
"Maybe I like our talks, too." She winks. "And Banner doesn't like it when I flirt."
Stark's lips curl like he's kicking himself for expecting anything less than snark. He fumbles for a chair, rolling away to jot a few notes down on a tablet.
"He might surprise you. Or, I forget, do you not 'do' surprise? If I threw you a birthday party, would you be expecting it? Probably, now that I've told you. Or maybe I'm telling you so you'll be expecting it, so I can do something else instead. Where are you-"
She steps through the door.
"You told me to make myself at home."
She closes the door on his retort. There's reconnaissance to do. Natasha reloads her gear, counting every weapon and double-checking her ammunition before she gets to work.
She starts with a full circuit of the floor, observing the surveillance and security mechanisms installed in the building. There won't be a way to override them, not quickly, and any failed attempt will be noticeable. Any effort to steal weapons from Stark Tower will set off alarms throughout the complex. She enters the closest elevator and instructs Jarvis to take her to the residential section. She's impressed by how well-guarded the building is. Her impression of Stark's head of security was not favorable, but it seems her initial assessment was correct: he is employed for sentimental reasons, not practical ones. Stark doesn't need a person in charge of security, not when he's constructed his mechanical empire to protect himself thoroughly enough already.
"Here you are, Agent Romanoff. You'll find a room has been prepared for you at the end of the hall on your right. The refrigerator is well-stocked, and if I may suggest-"
"I've got it."
The silence of the AI doesn't fool her; she knows she's being watched constantly. Not that she's revealed anything; her bored expression is fine-tuned.
She makes herself tea, eating anything ready-made. There's cubed cheese, two bananas, half a pound of sliced turkey, a handful of unsalted cashews, and a salad with broccoli and quinoa. She barely tastes the food as she eats, pacing the room. Protein, calcium, vitamins. The tea has steeped enough by the time she's done a full circuit of the well-furnished apartment. She carries the mug into the tasteful bathroom, leaving it by the sink as she undresses. She shower is spacious and there are a superfluous number of options regarding water pressure, speed, amount, and temperature. She chooses the most basic, massaging cold water into her muscles. At least Tony was considerate enough to leave her a dull, unscented bar of soap. She sips the tea as she rinses the sweat from between her toes. Natasha remembers hearing an anecdote about tea being comforting. The flavor is floral, acidic, and nutty. It isn't bad, but she finds it to be no more comforting than other water.
"So sorry to disturb you, Agent Romanoff, but if you would prefer to wear something clean after your shower, clothing in your size has been provided. I can have your items washed for you-"
"Thank you, Jarvis. I'll do that."
She turns off the water, dabbing herself dry. The air is lukewarm and heavily filtered. She wraps herself in a towel, pinning it in place with one of her knives, and exits the bathroom. She'd catalogued the clothing during her search of the suite; muted colors, pragmatic style. It is, she realizes, considerate. The gesture corroborates the note she'd made in her report about Stark; aloof, prone to impersonal, often grand acts of kindness. She has rarely seen him exhibiting this degree of thoughtfulness, and assumes that Miss Potts was consulted.
Natasha dresses, arms herself, and heads downstairs to rejoin Stark.
She sees his reflection grimace when he hears the elevator doors gliding shut behind her.
"This is the new stuff. Same formula, don't worry, I didn't add any bells or whistles."
She lets out a breath as he hands it to her. She can install it later.
"Nice of you to show some restraint."
"Yeah! Well. The whole almost-dying thing seems to have mellowed me out a bit. Speaking of, how's my bedside manner? Not that I'm looking for a career change or anything, but it seems like-"
She tunes him out. He's still twitchy, more than usual, but he's talking to her over his shoulder doesn't give her the same sensation as a dismissal. Stark's tone is not changed from his prior familiarity. He is strange, and speaks fast, favoring quantity over quality with his language, but it means the room is not filled with an angry kind of silence. Pierce was like that, sometimes. For a second, the air smells more humid, more like the medical facility in DC where she began her integration into S.H.I.E.L.D. Pierce had been welcoming at first, helped her seat herself, told her to relax, said "this isn't my first rodeo", meaning he was not inexperienced. When he finished, he did not feel the need to behave in a comforting or familiar way, and the abrupt change had been. Unsettling.
She bites the inside of her cheek, staring at the space between Stark's shoulders.
"Your bedside manner is fine, Stark."
He starts to turn, then stops himself.
He turns around then, drying his hands.
"You can call me Tony, you know. It's cool. I mean, I call you Natasha, sometimes, I probably should have asked or whatever, but I feel like we're at that point, you know?"
She waits for him to talk it through.
"I mean, I was kind of a jerk for a while. We started out not great. And that was like, partially my fault. You were under orders, but that probably wasn't a good enough reason for me to 'behave like an ass', or whatever."
She assumes that the finger quotes indicate a phrase Miss Potts has used.
Tony holds his hand out to her.
"So there. We're teammates. First name basis. And I'm sorry, or something."
Natasha shakes his hand, saying, "I'm sorry too", because it seems like what she should do.
He squeezes her hand, not aggressively, before letting go.
"I know you're probably not, but I appreciate the sentiment."
She smiles, making it look genuine.
"Well. That was bizarre. Same time next year? Standard nondisclosure agreement. I agree not to share your private medical information with anyone, and you agree to continue not killing me."
Natasha heads for the door.
"Dead men tell no tales."
"Hilarious. I'm laughing on the inside. Don't make too many incorrect character assessments or steal a bunch of Stark Industries secrets on your way out."
She pauses with her hand on the doorknob.
He perks up.
"I didn't mean it."
She grins over her shoulder.
"Is it stealing if I promise to bring everything back in one piece?"
Thanks for reading!