kaffyr: Natasha Romanov, badass (Natasha turns)
[personal profile] kaffyr
Title: Beer and Skittles
Author: 
[personal profile] kaffyr 
Characters: Melinda May, Natasha Romanov
Words: 2,005
Summary: Two old friends, with similar spectacularly lethal skill sets, walk into a bar. How Melinda took care of Natasha's watchful heart.
Author's Note: This story has been sitting, half completed, for well over a year, but I finally realized how it should end only recently. I really love both of these women, and I hope this story treats them with the respect and affection they deserve. I like to think that neither of them are beyond getting a little looped to relax. This takes place prior to "Avengers: Age of Ultron." It also follows what I believe is fanon about Natasha's age, and the results of Red Room genetic manipulation.
Edited by: The most excellent [livejournal.com profile] dr_whuh
Disclaimer: No characters are mine. They are the sole property of Marvel, Marvel Studios, Paramount Studios, ABC, and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement and take no coin. 

**********************************


“It’s a balance,” Natasha said, swallowing and wiping the foam off her upper lip. “The things that make us what we are, well, they’re basically awful, right? Shit.”
 “That’s so,” Melinda said, glad she was into her third martini.
 
“But to be able to get up in the morning, to get dressed and look at ourselves in the mirror, we can’t believe that we’re shit. Which I happen to know a lot about, having spent too much of my life doing just that.”
 
“Getting up in the morning?”
 
Natasha glowered at her.
 
“Joking, ‘Tasha.”
 
“Some joke.”
 
She stopped for a moment, looking dyspeptic, then began again. “You know what I mean; you always seem to know what I mean. And what I mean is that we have to accept what makes us, without thinking that that’s us. D’you see what I mean? It’s the only way we can stay healthy. As healthy as people like us can be.” She drained her stein, and signaled the nervous waiter for another. “So … am I right? Is it a balance? I think so. Yeah, it’s a balance.”
 
Natasha subsided, the look on her face suggesting that she’d become aware that she was rambling. Melinda decided to sip on her drink a moment before taking up the conversation again.
 
It’s funny, she thought. If the woman’s on a job that requires her to drink 1000 proof fusel oil for four hours with a man she’ll later bed or garrote, she’ll be sober as a deacon the entire time. She’ll go home after the job, sleep the sleep of a baby, then get up and do it over again. Tell her she’s on vacation, and she can’t get through a six-pack of Dos Equis without developing maudlin run-onitis. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t raised with the idea of vacations. Or fun.
 
You’d think she could get the hang of living for herself instead of for missions. She’d had more than a few vacations in the past. S.H.I.E.L.D. insisted on it for its top operatives, although many were as bad as Natasha when it came to enjoying vacation ‘assignments.’ Melinda eyed her companion, trying not to smile as she did so. Natasha would not like that. Being closely observed always upset the older woman. 
 
Older woman … Melinda knew perfectly well that Natasha had not been young for years, possibly decades. Had it not been for Fury’s insistence, it was probable she would have ended up permanently in Med-Research as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s horrifically dedicated medical teams attempted to find out what the hell was done to her to keep her youthful. Fury and the rest of the big-leaguers — Rogers, certainly, and Barton, maybe even Banner (no, especially Banner, Melinda had seen the way he looked at Nat when he thought he was unmonitored) — they didn’t overtly protect her, no, but it was good to have friends like that in your corner as you got older, but never aged.
 
Mind you, Natasha would be hard to get into Med-Research, and harder to keep there, Melinda thought. She risked another look at her table mate, and saw that she was staring gloomily into her stein. Yes, definitely not good with free time. 
 
Still, Melinda thought, she didn’t care how uncomfortable free time made her friend. She was just grateful she had this time to spend with the Russian.
 
They didn’t get together often. Being S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives usually meant you couldn’t socialize with your co-workers. And Romanov had been Level God Knows What when Melinda was still a drooling infant, organizationally speaking. But as Melinda began rising through the ranks — and before she became The Cavalry — Romanov had decided to take an interest in her. Apparently she’d been impressed when, alone among the freshman operatives gossiping about the feared Black Widow, Melinda had eschewed the usual questions about who she’d slept with, or why S.H.I.E.L.D. trusted a former brainwashed Soviet killer. Instead she’d wondered why Natasha chose to call herself Romanov rather than Romanova.
 
“That’s what you want to know about me?” Romanov (it would be some time before Melinda thought of her as Natasha, let alone Nat or ‘Tasha)  had asked, one exquisite eyebrow raised, the other drawn down very slightly in a frown. 
 
Melinda hadn’t known why she’d gotten an invitation for coffee from Natasha, whom she’d only known from the difficult Russian workshops she occasionally ran, and the even more formidably dangerous close quarters combat lessons S.H.I.E.L.D. could occasionally induce her to give to promising students. 
 
When Romanov had explained the invitation over her cup of thick, sweet Turkish coffee, then asked that question with her head tilted in curiosity, Melinda had had a moment of sheer confused school girl terror. How could she possibly talk to Natasha Romanov?
 
Stand your ground. It’s simple, she’d thought to herself. Tell her the truth. “Yeah.” Then she’d stopped and tilted her own head. “How did you find that out?”
 
“I’m a spy. I generally find out what people say about me very quickly,” Romanov said. “Especially in S.H.I.E.L.D., where I am … not popular. Again; why was that your main question?”
 
Melinda had groped for an answer. “Because … because you seem so very Russian, and you’re female, so your last name should be Romanova. Which means you have a specific reason for not using that form.”
 
“It could be simply for operational purposes,” Natasha had said. 
 
Melinda had shaken her head. “I thought of that. No.”
 
Natasha’s frown had deepened, and she’d very slightly pursed that remarkable mouth of hers. Melinda remembered stiffening, and trying not to show it, abruptly certain she’d made a big mistake. Then one corner of the pursed mouth had lifted. The frown had disappeared: “I do have my reasons. I won’t talk about them now. But I like the way you think. How old are you?”
 
Melinda had hoped her shrug looked nonchalant. “Twenty-four.”
 
“You’re an excellent pilot,  I hear.”
 
Melinda, who had just about decided that she would never be as good at the throttle as she wanted to be, had wondered if the other woman was teasing her. “I’m not satisfied yet. But I’m working on it.”
 
“Working on it … this entire job is ‘working on it.’ But I imagine you know that.” Natasha’s smile had somehow become gentler, and it provided Melinda the encouragement to begin a conversation that ultimately allowed a young and still insecure agent to air those insecurities, to ask for advice and help from someone she trusted and respected. 
 
Eventually, those conversations gave way to conversations that were less mentor and mentored, and more true communication between equals — or at least near equals, Melinda thought wryly, returning to the present. And then, somehow, friends, or as close to friendship as Natasha not-Romanova would ever allow, bless her always watchful eyes and heart. 
 
So here they were, in a sufficiently vetted drinking establishment, and ‘Tasha was getting thoroughly looped because she didn’t want to be on vacation. Because, of course, vacations mean free time, free time means free thoughts, and Natasha didn’t like those. She didn’t want to think about herself, or anything that had to do with that watchful heart. 
 
Well, enough maundering. Time to take the plunge, Melinda thought. 
 
“So what’s bothering you, ‘Tasha? Or rather, who are you bothered enough about to start self-recriminating about?”
 
Natasha winced. “Ouch.” Then, realizing what that must have sounded like, she switched to one of her patented glares, apparently under the misapprehension that that would impress Melinda. 
 
The two of them looked at each other. Melinda sipped at her martini without breaking eye contact. She could play this game just as well as Natasha could these days. A minute or so went by before the older woman groaned. “Someone I shouldn’t be interested in.”
 
“Because …?” 
 
“I’m not into … bad boys.”
 
Melinda snorted in disbelief. “Pull the other one.”
 
“Clint is not nearly as bad a boy as he’d like to think,” Natasha said, her wooziness momentarily gone, supplanted by the measuring look she usually wore when giving mission reports. “Laura makes sure of that.”
 
“There are other bad boys out there,” Melinda said mildly. She still wasn’t certain about the whys and what-fors of Natasha’s relationship with Barton and his wife, but visiting them usually served to relax ‘Tasha, so she was happy to let it be a mystery. Now this just-admitted mystery person? Him she wanted to know more about. 
 
Natasha look pensive, stifled a burp rather elegantly under the circumstances, and looked down at her latest beer. “He doesn’t want to be bad. He can’t help it.”
 
“Well, that’s what the bad boys always say,” Melinda said, trying for jocularity. Something in the way Natasha spoke made her uneasy. 
 
Natasha stopped looking at the stein in her white-knuckled grip and looked up at Melinda again. And Melinda was shaken at the near heartbreak in Natasha’s eyes. “No. That’s not what  I mean. He can’t help it. He physically can’t help it.”
 
Oh. 
 
Oh.

Well, shit. So she’d been right. It had been a who, not a what, that had precipitated the half-drunken ramble. It made a weird and unlikely kind of sense to Melinda, as she thought about it, although she wished it didn’t. Two people, broken and put back together in ways that made them run from the rest of the human race...she took a breath, let it out, unsure of what she could say to her friend. “When did you two —”
 
“He doesn’t know.”  That was hard and flat.
 
“Ah.” Melinda thought for a moment, wondering as she did just when she’d drained her glass. “Are you going to tell him?”
 
“No. Maybe...Someday.”
 
There was in that fractured sentence a world’s worth of unhappiness, hope, hopelessness, heart, and determination, Melinda thought. She blinked rapidly to keep her own tears in check, and cursed the three martinis for making them spring so easily to her eyes. “I’m sorry I brought it up—”
 
Natasha’s smile was weary, but it was there. “No. Don’t be. This evening was always going to be me, telling you.
 
“I just needed enough beer.”
 
Carefully, Melinda reached for Natasha’s right hand with both of hers. The other woman didn’t flinch at the unasked for intimacy. Instead, she brought her other hand to grasp Melinda’s. She said nothing more, but held on, tight. 
 
They stayed that way for some time, until Melinda realized that one of her hands had gone to sleep. Time to go, then. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
 
“You can’t drive,” Natasha said, not letting go; not ready to, not yet. “And  I don’t want to.”
 
“Who said we needed to drive anywhere? It’s a nice night. We can walk home.”
 
“Yours? Mine?” That smile was less weary. Melinda liked it. 
 
“I have no idea,” she said. “But we can always take our time getting wherever we want to go. There’s no hurry.”
 
“No hurry, huh.”
 
“None whatsoever. You’re on vacation, remember?”
 
“Vacation,” Natasha said. She shuddered. “Vacations suck.”
 
“So you’ve said. And yet here you are.” 
 
“Yes. Here  I am. With you.”
 
They smiled at each other. 
 
“Thank you, Melinda.”
 
Melinda shook her head slightly. “Nothing to thank me for.”
 
Now it was Natasha’s turn to snort. But she let Melinda have the last word, as they paid their tab, gathered their jackets, and threaded their way through abandoned tables toward the door. Followed, Melinda was amused to note, by the warily appreciative gazes of the barkeep and the waiter; she wasn’t sure if it was the considerable tip she’d left for the latter, or the fact that they’d finally left, long after everyone else in the place. 
 
Outside, the night sky was clear, the Milky Way large and close above the darkened neighborhood.
 
Melinda breathed deep. 
 
So did Natasha. “No hurry,” she said, softly, looking up. “None at all.”

-30-
 

Date: Thursday, 9 June 2016 04:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] a-phoenixdragon.livejournal.com
Ohhh, I loved these. These two taking downtime together...it makes sense. And I like that Natasha went from an unaging unknown once-was-an-enemy-now-turned-agent to a good friend and close confidant. Epic, m'dear! Full on epic! Glad you got back to this fiction and finished it!

*HUGS*

Date: Friday, 10 June 2016 01:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaffyr.livejournal.com
I'm glad I finished it too, and that you enjoyed it!

Date: Thursday, 9 June 2016 08:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tardis-stowaway.livejournal.com
I love these two as friends, and the way their friendship has evolved. Nicely done.

This is my favorite bit of banter:
“But to be able to get up in the morning, to get dressed and look at ourselves in the mirror, we can’t believe that we’re shit. Which I happen to know a lot about, having spent too much of my life doing just that.”

“Getting up in the morning?”

Natasha glowered at her.

Date: Friday, 10 June 2016 01:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaffyr.livejournal.com
Thanks - I'm glad you liked it! And I'm also tickled you liked that bit. It just came out of my brain without me meaning it to, but I'm glad it did. Heh.

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