Dating, Heartbreak and Laser Tag
Heh, I was just about to update when a guest reviewer commented on how it's been a while since I've updated. I apologize for that, folks! It was totally my bad. I usually email QuirkyRevelations with the draft of the next chapter so she can beta-read it, but I forgot to attach it in the last email I sent to her. Therefore, this chapter is kinda late in coming. Ah well.
Clint stuck his straw into his chocolate shake several times, trying to break apart the clumps that were floating around; he always hated when a shake didn't have the usual smooth, creamy texture to it. Natasha's green eyes went up and down with the motion of the blue straw as she absent-mindedly munched on her cheeseburger. She and Clint were sitting at an outside table of the burger place that they went to whenever they had time for an off-campus lunch. Natasha was glancing at her phone for the thousandth time when it finally rang. A picture of Steve with his Brooklyn Dodgers cap and his typical adorable smile appeared on the screen, so she quickly answered the call.
"Rogers, where are you?" Natasha asked, doing a masterful job at sounding unconcerned.
"Hey, Natasha," Steve's charming voice greeted. "Listen, I'm really sorry about this but I have to cancel lunch with you and Clint. I was doing something with Kate, and I thought we would be done by the time lunch came around, but…"
Natasha bit her lip disappointedly before answering, "It's okay, I understand. I'll tell Clint."
"Okay, take care."
Natasha hung up, but before she could say anything, Clint guessed, "Cap's a no-show, huh?"
Natasha shook her head.
"Too bad, I know he loves this place," said Clint. "Next time."
"If there is a next time," Natasha replied, with a touch of annoyance.
Clint frowned. "Something bothering you?"
"I'm just wondering if he's going to be ditching us regularly now to be with Kate."
"C'mon, give the guy a break. It's the first girlfriend he's had in ages. Anyway, this is the first time he's actually cancelled anything with us." Natasha grunted. "I thought you wanted Steve and Kate to be together."
"I do," Natasha shot back defensively.
"Then why do you have an issue?"
"Okay, okay, fine. Geez, women are so weird."
"You don't know the half of it," Natasha thought miserably.
Natasha had gotten over most of her weird mood by the next morning, when she was working the first shift of that week with Steve. Their rhythm together was fluid and efficient, on par with Natasha's old shifts with Clint, during the best and worst of the morning rush. Kate stopped by briefly, but she had a morning class so she couldn't chat long with Steve; she did stay long enough for them to arrange a date that night, though. Towards the conclusion of their shift, a young man with dark brown eyes, chains hanging from the pockets of his ripped jeans, and high-top sneakers walked in. He had a scruff of hair on his pointed chin that matched the color of his eyes, as well as a dark blue bandana wrapped around his head. The faint smell of smoke lingered on him as he leaned over the counter, bringing his face far closer to Natasha's than was appropriate.
"How are you, little lady?" he asked charmingly.
"Tired and ready to end my shift," sighed Natasha, who smiled politely at the same time; at Steve's request, she had been trying to be nicer to all the customers, even the overly flirty ones who tried to get in her personal space. "What'll it be today?"
"What do you recommend?"
"Well this guy's favorite seems to be the macchiato," Natasha answered as she gestured to Steve, who was busy working the espresso machine behind her.
"What about yours?"
"The Red Eye."
"I'll have that then."
"Red Eye, Rogers!"
"Got it!" Steve exclaimed.
The customer paid for his drink and stuffed a roll of dollar bills into the tip jar (he chuckled at the cartoon on it). Natasha was aware of his stare while she took care of the next few customers, and was glad when he finally got his drink and disappeared. At the end of their shift, Steve wiped his forehead and untied his apron after several awkward minutes.
"Count the tips?" he requested.
Natasha nodded, dumping out the cash from the jar and counting out the bills, until she came to the money the flirty customer had left. In the middle of the wad of bills was a card with his name and number; on the back he had written "Hey Natasha, call me!" He must have written that while she was busy counting out his change at the register, and then snuck it into the tip jar for her to find later. How like a coward!
Steve looked over Natasha's shoulder and said, "Uh… that guy left his number?"
"Yeah," muttered Natasha.
"Are you going to call him?" Steve asked, hating how much he cared to know the answer.
Natasha shook her head. "That guy is so not my type."
Steve almost said "Good," but he caught himself. Instead he said, "Okay, I'll see you tomorrow" and hurried out just as Clint came in.
Steve and Kate had a wonderful three weeks together before disaster knocked on their door. They went to the movies (Kate never made him see a horror film), to the local café (Steve couldn't handle Clint or Natasha watching at the coffee shop), or to his secret spots on the campus (which no one, not even Natasha, knew about). Despite her embarrassed protests, Steve made several sketches of Kate, drawing the smooth slope of her nose, the dimples on her cheeks, and the quirk of her lips when she smiled. They talked about art a lot, although Kate found a wall between herself and what Steve called his "raw" art. When Steve asked her about her studies, she replied that she was pursuing nursing; ever since she told him that, Steve would ask her all sorts of medical questions to make her feel uncomfortable when she didn't know the answer. And people said Steve didn't have a sense of humor.
On the day that marked their third week of dating, Steve decided to surprise Kate at her dorm ("Geez, when did I become the guy that celebrates week-anniversaries?" he thought amusedly to himself). He asked for suggestions from Natasha, and following her advice he dressed in his navy blue blazer, slacks, and dress shirt before he stopped at Kate's door with a new necklace in a velvet box. Natasha had gone shopping with him, and after much bickering they had decided on a simple silver necklace that had two hands forming a heart. As Steve stood in front of Kate's doors, he realized that loud conversations was already going on inside. He heard the familiar sound of Kate's laugh and her exclaiming "Oh, Peggy, you're too much" before knocking on the door. Kate called "Door's unlocked!" automatically, thinking it was her roommate who had just left a few minutes beforehand. The only light in the room was the light from her open laptop (Kate had an odd quirk in which she felt she worked best in a "dark cave").
Kate was having a video chat with someone, so she wasn't really aware of Steve setting down the gift bag with the necklace and sitting in her roommate's desk chair. For the next minute Kate continued her conversation animatedly, which made Steve feel awkward considering he came to talk to Kate himself. Steve was just wondering who on earth Kate could be talking so excitedly to, when the other person on the video chat laughed at a story Kate was telling. Steve tensed up to the point that even his pupils were stiffly locked in place; that laugh, he hadn't heard it in a thousand years, but he had heard it enough before that he recognized it after a few seconds of mental processing. Steve cocked his head up and glued his gaze to the woman on the screen, who had short, curly brown hair and charming brown eyes that had weakened his knees in days long past.
"Sharon Carter, you are so bad!" the woman teased.
Kate shook her head. "I told you, I'm known as Kate now!"
The woman gasped. "Uh-oh, I think you're boyfriend is here. I can see the poor guy huddling in a corner over there."
Kate inhaled sharply and stiffened. "Uh, I'm going to have to call you back later."
"Sure thing," answered the woman before signing off.
A fatal silence dwelled in the small dorm room, making Kate wish more than anything that she could shut her laptop and disappear into darkness forever.
"I recognize you now," Steve said quietly. "You're Peggy's cousin. I never met you, but you two were close."
Kate nodded. "I changed my name after coming to college. I wanted a fresh start."
"Well you certainly got it, didn't you?" Steve said angrily, standing up to leave.
Kate stood up as well. "Oh Steve, please don't - "
"You lied to me," Steve asserted, as hurt underlined the fury in his voice.
"I didn't li- " Kate stopped herself and sighed. "I didn't tell you because I was afraid you would hold it against me. It was why I said no to you when you first asked me out."
Steve turned away, unable to see Kate's face without also seeing Peggy's.
"I really liked you, Kate," he murmured.
"I really liked you too," Kate said, upset that they were already talking about their feelings in the past tense. "I didn't want to tell you the truth, because I didn't want to mess things up between us. And there's one more thing… I'm not actually studying to be a nurse."
"What? Why would you lie about that?"
"I wanted to impress you, and then I was too embarrassed to tell the truth. I have no idea what I want to study. I'm so sorry, Steve."
Steve stopped, his back turned to Kate, and took a shuddering breath. "I am, too."
Steve opened the door and walked out without even a word of farewell, forgetting that he was leaving the gift bag behind. After she had dried her tears, Kate found the necklace inside, and tears flowed anew down her chapped red cheeks. How had she managed to so royally mess everything up?
One afternoon, Natasha was debating on whether to watch another episode of Gossip Girl or to try to get ahead on homework when Tony called. At first she thought it was Steve, because it was his picture that showed up on her screen before she picked up, but the voice that began babbling at her was definitely not Steve's.
"Natasha, you need to come over to the apartment right now," informed the voice. "911 status, big time!"
"Who is this?" Natasha demanded.
"Tony, Steve's roommate. We met at a frat party that one time."
"Right, okay. So what's the problem? I noticed Steve didn't come to work Friday morning, and he hasn't picked up his phone."
"It's Kate. They had some sort of falling out on Thursday, but he refuses to talk about it. I was hoping you could, I dunno, give female advice? If anyone can get him to talk, it's you."
"I'll be right there."
Steve was slumped on the living room couch watching Netflix when Natasha kicked open the door. Steve barely glanced up from his laptop long enough to grunt at her, before returning his lethargic attention to the screen. Natasha squeezed onto the couch and watched for any sign of the lovable, optimistic Steve underneath the depressed, apathetic Steve sitting next to her. All she could see was sunken eyes, a chapped nose, torn sweatpants, and stubble along his jaw. It was the stubble that threw Natasha off the most; had she ever seen Steve not clean-shaven?
Natasha nudged Steve. "Hey."
"Hey," he muttered despondently.
"Tony called me. He sounded really worried about you."
"I'll be fine."
Steve sighed frustratedly and paused the show he was watching. "It didn't work out, okay? Your match made in heaven fell apart."
Steve turned his profile away from Natasha and let silence reign between them for a minute before he finally said, "She lied to me."
"I'm sure there were good intentions behind it," Natasha assured him. "People make mistakes, and you have to cut them some slack sometimes."
A strangled, grunting noise choked up Steve's throat for a second, and he wiped his eyes.
"It's not just the lying," Steve replied. "I found out something that I really can't ignore."
Natasha waited for Steve to explain, but he didn't.
"What is it?" she prompted.
"She's Peggy's cousin," he said dully.
Natasha gasped and laid a hand on Steve's shoulder. "Kate is Peggy's cousin? I had no idea."
"Of course you didn't. How could you? I feel so stupid about the whole thing."
"Are you really going to sacrifice your happiness with Kate because she happens to be related to an old girlfriend?"
"She wasn't just an old girlfriend! She was the first person I ever loved, and you have no idea how hard it was to get over her."
Steve let his head fall into his hands and moved his fingers up and down to try to massage the stress out of his face. Natasha studied him carefully, as a frown developed on her porcelain face and as her mouth pursed outward.
"Are you really over her?" Natasha asked.
Steve puffed out a long, exhausted sigh. "The thing is, you never forget your first love. You can move on, but you can't forget. Kate's face… it's now a reminder of a relationship long gone. I couldn't have gone on like that."
"I understand," Natasha sighed sympathetically.
Natasha nodded. "You're not the only person in this room to have a first love. Although, I would say things ended a lot better with you and Peggy."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Natasha grinned and elbowed Steve. "We're here to discuss your woeful love life, not mine."
Steve laughed, probably for the first time in days. Before she could make a move to get away, Steve wrapped Natasha in a hug, which she returned after some hesitation. Natasha thought of the multiple times she had gripped onto Steve as she rode on the back of his motorcycle. She felt like this sensation, the feeling of his arms around her as her arms were around him, was entirely different - and entirely better. Recognizing how intoxicating the embrace had become, Natasha retreated from Steve's grasp, grabbed a pillow, and hugged it to herself instead.
"Are you feeling better?" she inquired.
"A little," he answered. "Thank you."
"All right, then stop watching Cake Boss, give yourself a shave, and for goodness' sake, take a bath!"
Steve laughed again and nodded. He started walking down the corridor to the bathroom, but he discovered Tony hiding just past the doorway to the kitchen. Steve crossed his arms and stared inquisitively at a guilty Tony, who had clearly been eavesdropping.
"I'm fine, Tony, you can stop slinking around the apartment," Steve told him.
"Yeah yeah, just do as the lady says and take a bath," urged Tony, brushing past a grinning Steve (who was touched to see how much his roommate cared).
Tony walked Natasha to the door and said, "Thanks for that. I had no idea how to end his slump."
"I don't think he's in the clear quite yet," warned Natasha. "You should take him out somewhere - not a party - and get him to have a little fun. He could use it."
"Could you help me with that? I've never been good at planning - Pepper and Steve have told me this multiple times."
"Sure. Call me later, but don't let Steve know."
"Keep it a surprise?"
"Laser tag? That's the big weekend plan you and Nat were unsuccessfully trying to make a surprise?"
Tony bristled, glaring at his roommate for a few seconds before returning his eyes to the road; he couldn't risk looking too long at Steve, because not paying attention meant car accidents, and car accidents meant damaging his precious, sleek black roadster.
"Just for your terrible attitude, I will personally laser your butt to smithereens - not that there's much of a butt to begin with."
"You give snark, you get snark, buddy."
"Okay but seriously, whose idea was it?"
"It doesn't matter. You, Natasha, Clint, Pepper and I are doing this, and we'll make you like it if we have to."
"Don't forget Clint's girlfriend Bobbi."
Tony snorted. "Who invited her anyway?"
"Who do you think, dunce?"
"Call me names one more time and I will push the button for the ejector seat."
Natasha, Clint, Pepper, and Bobbi were already at the laser tag zone when Tony and Steve showed up. Sam would have been glad to be there, but his professor tacked on a last-minute rewrite of a paper he would spend most of the weekend doing. Tony wanted to have a guys versus girls game for the first round, and once they entered the black-lit room, the guys reigned supreme. Pepper and Bobbi weren't the athletic type, and because they would make a noise of surprise whenever they got hit, the guys always knew where they were. Even though her team lost, however, Natasha individually scored the second-highest out of everyone - thanks to her stealthy moves and accurate aim. Clint had the first highest score, which led him to privately suggest an alliance to Natasha, who smiled slyly.
The teams were rearranging for the second game, when Clint said, "Natasha and I versus all of you. Right now."
Everyone became a chorus of confused exclamations and disbelieving comments.
"You can't be serious, Clint," scoffed Tony. "The two of you versus the four of us?"
"Well, no offense to Pepper or my wonderful Bobbi," began Clint, "but it's really a two-on-two match."
"It's true," sighed Pepper and Bobbi.
"So it's Barton & Romanoff versus Rogers & Stark… and then Potts & Morse," said Tony. "Am I right?"
"You are," affirmed Natasha.
Clint and Natasha destroyed the opposing team's base within the first five minutes, and they would have re-destroyed it several more times if the rules allowed it. A few times Clint saw a flash of Tony's vest and stunned him by hitting the dead center of his back with just one fire. Natasha picked off Bobbi and Pepper many times, until they decided to huddle in a corner together for the rest of the game. Clint and Natasha left them alone after that, preferring the challenge that Tony and Steve offered. Natasha had yet to come across Steve, however, which smarted her pride, because a man his size should have been easy to catch. She would bet that her archer friend had already nailed him at least a dozen times.
She knew the time for the game was lowering to a mere minute or so as she slowly circled around one of the higher walls. Her back was facing the wall, but her face was turned to the side to look for Tony - whom she was certain she heard muttering under his breath. Suddenly, Natasha's shoulder bumped against someone else's, and she whirled around as the other person did the same. Natasha froze when she recognized Steve staring with boggled eyes, but before she could say or do anything, a shrill bell rang out. A voice blared from the speakers on all the corners of the room to announce that the game was over, so Steve and Natasha dropped their phasers and let them dangled at their sides.
"Pizza!" Tony shouted. "Who's ready for pizza?"
Finally broken from their stupor, Steve and Natasha walked out to join their friends. They were all looking at the score board, and Clint was currently gloating to an annoyed Tony.
"It was a tie!" Tony protested. "Our teams tied."
"Even so, in individual rankings I beat your butt by a mile!" whooped Clint.
While Tony shook his head, Clint continued reading the scores and adding his comments accordingly.
"Oooh, Steve and Natasha were neck-and-neck!" He whistled. "Nice job, guys. Tony comes next, then Pepper, then… oh this means that Bobbi is in last place." Clint turned to an embarrassed Bobbi. "We're going to have to work on your accuracy."
"Ah yes, the best way to improve accuracy is to train with a guy who has the eyes of a hawk," drawled Tony.
"Oh, so do you want to join Bobbi's lessons?" Clint grinned.
So, the good news is that I have finished writing this FanFiction like I wanted to. The bad news is that classes start next Tuesday, so I probably won't have time to actually publish all the rest before summer is over. I'm probably just going to have to send the remaining chapters as one installment to QuirkyRevelations soon. That way everything is at least beta-read before school starts and I can update whenever I have the chance. We have three chapters and an epilogue to go, so the end is definitely in sight. Until the next chapter, readers!