The Cold War Ends
Oh my gosh wait, is this the last chapter? *gasp* It is! I know you've been waiting a while for this (believe me, I have too!), so I hope you enjoy it.
When Steve came into the coffee shop the next morning, Natasha was already behind the counter refilling supplies. Steve frowned, since this was the first time since he'd started working there that Natasha had arrived before him. Not only that, but despite the passing smile she had directed at him when he walked in, Steve could see the tension in her shoulders and a vacant look in her eyes. Natasha didn't think Steve could read her as easily as she could read him, but she was wrong. Steve knew from the moment he walked into the shop that something was off about her, and his typical determined way, he was set to find out what it was.
"What's up, Nat?" Steve inquired.
"Nothin' just working," Natasha replied nonchalantly, stacking up cups without looking Steve in the eye.
Steve watched Natasha curiously as he grabbed his apron, but she offered no sign that she was going to start a conversation with him. After a minute of struggling with the strings at the back of his apron, Steve glanced pathetically and helplessly at her.
"Hey, Nat, can you tie my apron?" he asked meekly; in his confusion about Natasha, he had become more unable than usual to tie his own apron.
Natasha huffed and marched toward him, while he turned around to allow her to tie the apron with a few quick movements of her hands.
"You're hopeless," she said dully.
Natasha said this often when she had to tie Steve's apron, but this day in particular she seemed unenthusiastic in her teasing. Still scratching his head, Steve busied himself with preparations for the imminent morning rush. It wasn't until the end of their shift that he suddenly remembered something he had wanted to tell Natasha when he first walked in.
"Oh, you won't believe what happened to me yesterday - " Steve started to say, only to be cut off by a loud whoop.
"Yooooo, Tasha!" a man cried as he swaggered into the coffee shop.
"Hey, Mike," Natasha greeted brightly.
"Mike?" echoed Steve, who, after seeing the bandanna and the chain on his pants, recognized him as the guy who had grossly flirted with Natasha before.
"What are you doing here?" Natasha questioned, ignoring the waves of confusion coming from Steve.
"Finals week is almost upon us," replied Mike. "I've gotta start my days earlier so I can study. Plus, I wanted an excuse to see a fine young lady who works here."
"Oh, and who would that be?" Natasha inquired innocently as she twisted a curl with her pinkie.
Mike rested his elbow on the counter and leaned his scruffy face closer to Natasha, who mirrored his actions until their noses almost touched.
"Why, it would be the girl with the fire-red hair and sexy, sexy body right in front of me," Mike answered.
Steve had felt up to that point like he was going to throw up, but when he saw Mike's eyes trailing down from Natasha's face and his hand moving toward her, he was ready to kill. Moving far quicker than either Natasha or Mike could imagine, Steve leaped forward, grabbed Mike's wrist, and threw it down to the counter.
"Rogers!" admonished Natasha. "Would you keep your caveman instincts under control?"
"Eh, it's all right," dismissed Mike. "We can pick things up were we left off later."
After giving her one last once-over, Mike winked and sauntered back out of the shop without even bothering to order like he said he would. Steve doubted that he had wanted coffee at all, anyway.
"How could you do this, Natasha?" Steve demanded angrily.
"Do what?" Natasha asked dully as she adjusted the position of the tip jar and avoided Steve's accusing stare.
"You said he wasn't your type," reminded Steve, "and you were right. He's not good enough for you."
"Yes, he is," asserted Natasha, who finally turned around to look at Steve directly. "Actually, he's better than me. Everyone is better than me. I've known that all my life, and I've come to accept it. Why can't you?"
"Because it's not true!" Steve exclaimed passionately.
As he said this, he stepped closer to Natasha, until he was practically flush against her; Natasha instantly found it a hundred times more difficult to keep her composure in front of him.
"You are beautiful and brilliant and sarcastic and sneaky and funny," Steve continued. "Just because your first boyfriend treated you so wrongly, it doesn't mean you deserve for every guy to do that to you. You deserve someone who will treat you decently - like a person, not an object."
"It's not like I don't treat guys like objects," Natasha pointed out. "My habit is to see a guy almost every weekend."
"At least until I met you," thought Natasha; she hadn't realized until now how little she had actually dated since she became friends with Steve.
Steve sighed. "Okay, so maybe going through man after man without thinking is a good way not to get hurt. But you know what? It's a terrible way to fall in love."
"Love?" sputtered Natasha, feeling panic rise up as she remembered that ill-omened arrow necklace. "Love is for children."
How many times had she said that sentence? How many times had she not believed it when she said it? One.
"No, no it's not," insisted Steve. "If you ever met a guy who could prove you wrong, who could show you what it's like to love exclusively and unconditionally, with the way you're living you'll be too busy to realize you could have the real deal until it's too late. You'll have lost him forever."
Natasha searched for anything in her artillery to fire back at Steve - a jibe, a retort, anything! - but she found nothing.
As Natasha watched Steve walk away, she murmured in a wavering voice, "I think I just did lose him."
Clint was behind the counter the next day, glaring pointedly at a cool and collected Natasha as she entered the coffee shop.
"Steve isn't here," said Natasha, stating the obvious.
"No, I am." Also stating the obvious.
Clint knew how to wait Natasha out to get her to talk, but that day he frankly did not have the patience to do it.
"How long are we going to dance around the fact that you and Steve are fighting?" asked Clint.
"Wow, you really do see everything, don't you Hawkeye?" Natasha teased, adopting Tony's nickname for Clint ever since the laser tag trip.
"Tasha," growled Clint.
"What? We're not fighting, we just had a small quarrel yesterday."
"So small that Steve had a lengthy conversation with Nick about changing his shift to avoid working with you?"
Natasha stopped. "I didn't know he did that."
"No, of course not. But now that you do, what are you going to do about it?"
"If you're trying to get me to unleash a battle cry or something, you can just forget it."
"I talked to Tony. He says Steve hasn't been this depressed since Kate - he's even more depressed, in fact."
"I have no idea why. I can think of a really, really good reason for him to be the happiest guy that ever lived."
"What reason would that be?"
"Like I'm going to tell you. You're the Hawkeye. Go and investigate, point your beak of a nose into everything."
Clint grunted; he finally accepted that it was pointless to hack away at Natasha's wall, but maybe Steve would be a little softer.
Nope, he wasn't. All Steve would say was that he needed time to get over it, and then one day, maybe he would call on Natasha. What the "it" was that Steve needed to get over - that was the question that Clint could not gain the answer of. But despite general opinion, Clint was not stupid. He had a pretty firm guess as to what was going on between his two closest friends, if his keen eyes were as faithful as he thought. Clint was positive he was only one of many who noticed the vibrating tension between Steve and Natasha whenever they were in a room together. Even Bobbi asked him in passing if they had ever had a "thing."
When he gave Natasha the arrow necklace, he had hoped that he would be the one who shot it into her heart - a fact that he didn't plan on telling anyone about, especially Natasha. However, things had changed drastically since that misguided, lovesick wish of his. Natasha became his honorary sister, and Steve had done what everyone thought was impossible: win the Black Widow's heart. Not that the blundering football player had any idea, or that he would consider her affections something to be "won," but that's exactly what he did in Clint's opinion. He had through grueling effort gained Natasha's trust, climbing higher and higher until he reached - what? Something more? And Steve had done it without any goal in mind, any obstacle he intended to conquer. He just did it because he really liked (loved?) her. That was it.
This was Clint's opinion when he came knocking on the door to Steve's apartment on a day he knew Steve wouldn't be home. Tony answered the door and made all kinds of snarky archer jokes about Katniss and Legolas and other people - until Clint finally blurted, "We need to talk about Steve and Nat!" Tony, much to Clint's surprise, became suddenly serious, stepped aside, and said gravely, "Come in." When Clint had settled down on a chair, Tony sat across from him and looked at him expectantly. Clint had hoped this would happen, but now that he had actually come to this point he wasn't sure what to say.
Finally he said, "Steve and Natasha had a fight."
"Yeah, good inside info, Hawkeye," Tony replied sarcastically. "Did you dig up any other groundbreaking news?"
"Okay, but it's clear that you know why, and I know why they fought. They have feelings, but Steve's already been burned and Natasha can't admit anything. They need… They need…"
"An intervention!" exclaimed Tony, slamming his hands down on the armrests and pushing himself up to a stand.
Clint was still recovering from Tony's outburst when Tony marched over to where his phone was charging and began calling someone on speed dial.
Finally Clint blinked and asked, "Who are you calling?"
"Pepper," answered Tony. "We need a woman's devious mind for this project."
"Why not send each of them an apology note from the other?" suggested Clint.
Tony and Pepper shook their heads.
"We're trying to do more than get them to make up," reminded Tony. "Besides, they would both see through that trick in a second."
"There has to be something that means enough to both of them to bring them together," said Pepper.
The three paused to let the mechanics of their minds work, and suddenly Tony gasped.
"I know the perfect thing!" he cried. "Come with me."
Tony led Pepper and Clint down the corridor, but when he went inside Steve's bedroom they stood stock-still. Tony glanced at them inquiringly, while they stared stupidly at him for a few moments.
"Oh, I'm sorry, you want to take us to our deaths?" Clint at last said.
"Steve doesn't like us in his room," Pepper reminded timidly.
"It's for a good cause, okay?" reassured Tony. "Now come on."
The three friends stopped in front of a covered canvas, and when Tony drew back the cloth, Clint and Pepper gasped.
"It's the piece that won the art contest Steve mentioned," informed Tony. "This was supposed to be in the student art gallery, for all the art students to exhibit their stuff. Steve asked his professor to withdraw it from the gallery."
"Do you mean the gallery that I work at?" asked Pepper, although she knew well the answer.
"So we have the painting, and we have special access to the gallery…" Clint trailed off and looked at a nodding, grinning Tony. "Oh man, you really are a genius!"
"Don't say that too often, or his head will explode," warned Pepper.
"Let's put my brilliant plan into action," said Tony.
Tony had to skip a class in order to make a stop at his apartment before the gallery opened; if that didn't prove how self-sacrificing, giving, and all-around amazing of a person Tony was, well, Tony didn't know what could. Never mind that he despised the professor more than any other human being in the world and would do anything to tick him off. Tony was mentally coming up with many colorful adjectives to describe this professor when he came into the apartment and found Steve wearing sweats and watching TV on their couch. Tony stopped and gawked at him, until Steve finally noticed him staring and looked at him inquiringly.
"What are you doing?" demanded Tony. "You're supposed to be getting ready to go to the gallery."
"My mom couldn't get off work early, so we were going to go later on," answered Steve. "Why?"
Tony, who suddenly realized how suspicious he was acting, composed himself and thought quickly.
"Because Pepper and I wanted to go see you at the gallery now," Tony explained. "I have to meet some guys to work on our final project later tonight, and Pepper has something going on later, too. We thought we could get some food after we saw your art."
"Oh, well I guess I can just go again with my mom later," said Steve. "If you guys really insist."
"We do," nodded Tony.
"You want me to come with you?" Natasha asked disbelievingly. "Why would you want me to go with you to see your girlfriend's ceramics stuff?"
"Because I've never seen her work before," Clint said, "so I don't know if she's actually not that good."
"I'm sure they wouldn't put it out in the gallery if it was that awful."
"What if one of her pieces is supposed to be something, and I guess wrong? How am I supposed to dig myself out of that pit? Or what if - "
"All right, don't get so worked up. If it's stressing you out that much, I'll come."
"You must really like her if you're this desperate to please her."
"I do," said Clint, who winked and added, "And it's the most glorious feeling I've ever had."
"How did they rope me into this?" Sam thought as he stood in front of Steve's artwork. "One minute I'm doing my morning jog, the next Clint is convincing me to stand and stare at people for an hour."
Sam had been assigned a post next to Steve's work at the gallery, and to give the signal when either Clint, Bobbi and Natasha or Tony, Pepper and Steve came. They had to time it just right, so if either two groups came in early, he would signal for them to stall. Sam had to go to the bathroom so badly it hurt, and he shifted back and forth impatiently while he waited for his friends. Finally, Sam perceived Steve's head above the crowd (it was a good thing the man was giant), and saw Tony trying to catch his eye a moment later. Sam shook his head and crossed his arms, so Tony swerved in front of Steve to block him from going a step farther.
Steve frowned and asked, "What's wrong, Tony?"
"I was just wondering..." Tony trailed off, staring at Steve as his mind whirred.
"Yes?" Steve said awkwardly after several moments.
"I was just wondering how you got your hair to look like that," Tony finally said. "It's so neat and well-done. Did you start using a new gel?"
"Okay Tony, what's the deal?" demanded Steve in annoyance. "First you acted so impatient to get me over here so we could all look at the artwork, and now you're acting like you don't even care about it."
"I'm sorry, I'm just really into your hair."
A snort from Pepper that she simply couldn't suppress caused Steve to turn around and look at her with puzzlement.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"Oh, it's no-o-oh, look at that!" stammered Pepper. "It's Sam, let's go over there RIGHT NOW!"
Tony and Pepper began pushing a very befuddled Steve to Sam, who was jerking his head violently and looking at them with wide eyes.
"You guys are so weird!" exclaimed Steve.
Meanwhile, Natasha tapped Clint's shoulder and asked, "What do you think's wrong with Sam? He looks like he's having a seizure."
"Uh... oh gee let's - let's go find out!" Clint answered jerkily, as he and Bobbi picked up the pace.
"Strange," thought Natasha.
Steve, Tony, Pepper were coming towards Sam from one direction, while Clint, Bobbi, and Natasha were coming from the other. His eyes warily flicked back and forth between them, until finally, when they were only a few feet away, he stepped away from the painting. Once he did, all eyes gravitated to it instinctively, and Steve and Natasha inhaled sharply. They saw the painting that Steve had shown to Natasha before, the self-portrait that Natasha said needed something extra. That something extra was a very small but very distinct black spider that hung from a string of web. What undeniably identified the spider was the red spot on its abdomen, which glinted with the light from the window next to it. It was a Black Widow spider. Above the painting was a title that spelled out in simple black letters: "The Lonely Souls Found Each Other."
When they had finished gawking at the painting, Steve turned to his left and Natasha turned to her right. Their eyes connected, and an invisible beam of energy seemed to be running between them while they slowly stepped toward each other. Their friends gathered in a tight, worried, expectant semi-circle while they waited for whatever they would do next. They stopped when they were a foot apart from each other, not seeming to know whether to hug each other, smack each other, or kiss each other senseless. Natasha pointed to the painting without withdrawing her gaze from Steve and cocked her head slightly sideways.
"Did you mean to put that piece here?" she inquired quietly.
"No," answered Steve softly.
Natasha dropped her hand. "Why did you stop talking to me?"
Steve swallowed thickly, wanting to look away as he answered, but finding himself unable to break their mutual gaze.
At last, he said honestly, "Because I couldn't handle being just friends anymore."
The answer came out so quickly, it startled both Natasha and Steve, but Natasha didn't regret it.
"Is there anything going on with you and Peggy?" Natasha asked.
Steve blinked. "What? No. She was in town, and we had lunch with Kate, but that was all."
"Is there something between you and Mike?"
"No. I was going to go out with him, but I couldn't go through with it."
A few more seconds of silent staring, and Natasha realized that during their conversation, they had come so close to each other that Steve's teasing mouth was only some inches away.
"Don't you have any more questions?" asked Natasha breathlessly.
"No, I think I'm good," answered Steve huskily.
"Then…" Natasha swallowed and glanced at Steve's mouth. "Why don't you kiss me?"
"Because I'm waiting for you to make the first move."
Natasha didn't need to be told anything else; she slung her arms around his neck and pulled him down for his lips to find hers. Steve didn't hold back either, sliding his arms around her waist, pulling her flush against him, and kissing her more deeply and tenderly than she remembered ever being kissed. Everything was Steve, Steve, Steve, until Natasha had to come out for breath. Panting, they leaned their foreheads against each other and smiled with a mixture of awe, shock, and utter affection.
"Steve..." Natasha whispered.
Steve made that little smile that Natasha always secretly adored and murmured, "I think that's the first time you've called me by my first name."
They both chuckled, and went in for another kiss. Meanwhile, their friends were high-fiving each other and congratulating themselves on a matchmaking well done. (Natasha made a mental note to thank them, after lecturing them about how it was her job to be a matchmaker, not them). In his excitement, Clint sealed his mouth with Bobbi's in a sweet kiss, which Tony and Pepper noticed as they clapped for Steve and Natasha. Tony looked at Clint and Bobbi, then at Steve and Natasha, then back at Clint and Bobbi, and then finally at Pepper. His eyebrows were raised suggestively, but almost as soon as he turned to her, Pepper said sternly, "No."
"Well, I mean everyone else is doing it, so I thought maybe - "
Tony, for once, totally forgot what he was going to say when Pepper interrupted him with a kiss on the cheek. He stopped mid-clap and looked at Pepper with eyes so large they practically took up his whole face. Sam, meanwhile, looked awkwardly at all the couples around him and again wondered how they got him roped into this apparent hormone fest. Being the dauntless, chipper man he was, however, he decided to let it go and simply be happy for the couple he intended to see. Steve and Natasha were blissfully ignorant of all of this, and felt a kind of happiness in their chests that they didn't think they would ever feel again.
"Can we go on a real date now?" begged Steve.
Natasha grinned. "Depends… are you paying?"
Me: Nat, you would say that! As if the only thing you cared about was who was paying!
Natasha: Hey, it's a very important question.
Steve: Weird, because you haven't let me pay on any of our dates since the first one.
Natasha: I decided to let you have it your way on the first date, since you're all traditional. But now I want to pay.
Steve: Well, so do I.
Natasha: Okay, next time we'll do rock-paper-scissors to decide.
Me: Hey guys, I'm still here!
Steve: Sorry. But really, what else do you have to say at this point?
Me: I just want to tell my readers that you've all been really great in supporting this story. I believe that out of all my FanFictions, this one has the most followers EVER and the second most reviews. That's all thanks to you, folks! I'm sure Natasha and Steve also appreciate it.
Steve: That we do.
Natasha: It's cool yet weird to know that so many people ship us.
Me: Okay, the epilogue will be up soon, so be sure to come back for that. Otherwise, have an awesome day! Bye!