Red Dragon Inn
Dreamweaver's Lair => From the Dragon's Mouth => Crash and Burn => Topic started by: Natasha Romanoff on June 03, 2018, 09:04:12 AM
[size=9]((Warning - adult material toward the end.)[/size]
It was over. Hydra, at least in it's current form, was destroyed, left without the manpower or the infrastructure to be trouble for the world for decades to come. A.E.G.I.S. had fulfilled the promise made when they had first been formed; governments around the world would trust them even more easily now they had proved they got results. Back at the New York HQ, it was midnight before all the Avengers checked back in, and morning before the round of debriefings began. Almost every detail was picked over, discussed; praise was given, and assurances against mistakes being repeated made. And despite her warning, Nat didn't make much of the withholding of information Zach and his young team had performed. She didn't feel it was necessary to put them through being scolded, not when they had actually done very well. Tony was already planning the celebratory party to be thrown at the mansion as the debriefing broke up, even making Thor promise to stay on Earth until it happened as they filed out of the briefing room.
There were more things to celebrate than just the elimination of Hydra, but Lucas and Fliss didn't seem ready to make any engagement announcements yet, not before Lucas could ask her father for permission to marry his daughter, even though he probably didn't need it. Matt had proven he could do more than just breathe underwater, and Zach had proved himself worthy of becoming an Avenger full-time, though he hadn't been officially asked yet. It was only when the meeting was over and the others had gone their separate ways that Zach went in search of Natasha.
He found her in the corridor. Anyone else might have been hesitating before making the decision whether or not to check in with a certain someone in the computer labs, but Natasha Romanoff was not a woman you assumed hesitated about anything. She offered Zach a wry smile. "Something on your mind?"
Zach didn't need to look around to make sure they were alone, or as alone as they were going to get there at A.E.G.I.S. HQ. "May I have a word?" he asked, quietly and politely, adding almost as an afterthought, "In private?"
"Sure." Nat didn't see any problem with this, jerking her head back toward the briefing room. "Should be empty in there now. You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," he assured her, as he turned to head back toward the briefing room, pausing long enough for her to join him. "Just a little confused."
Closing the door behind herself, Nat tilted her head curiously. "What about?" she asked him. "Debriefing is usually the time to ask questions."
"This question is just for you," he explained, a little surprised she hadn't already guessed what he was going to ask her about. He could have probed her thoughts instead, but he knew better. He had learned control a long time ago and had learned that people didn't generally react well to having their thoughts poked at without their permission.
She nodded, settling herself down in one of the recently evacuated seats and gesturing for him to do the same. "You want to know why I didn't drop you in it with Captain Rogers and the others," she said calmly. Yes, Nat could make a good guess at what this was about.
"Yes, that's right," he said, taking a seat across from her and folding his hands on the table while he awaited her explanation. He knew she'd been angry, and he knew he'd screwed up. The ends had justified the means, so to speak, or so he thought, but that didn't explain why she hadn't taken him to task in front of the others.
"Because you did good," she explained, "and because the deviation from the plan didn't cost us time or lives. It's not something to make a habit of, especially in the field, and next time, I will expect you to mention it in the briefing beforehand. But this time? You get a pass."
"Next time?" he echoed, brows arching upwards. He was aware he'd been invited to join the Avengers, but he wasn't quite sure if that invitation was sincere or if he was really welcome there, and if it was, he wasn't sure whether or not he wanted to accept that invitation just yet.
"It's your choice," she assured him. "No one's gonna force you to take a spot on the Avengers' roster if you're not 100% sure you want it. Maybe just keep the option open, though? You've got the skill and the discipline, and you work well on a team. Just need to work on that communication thing."
He nodded his understanding before going on. "It's ironic, isn't it? You'd think a telepath would be more candid," he said, though it seemed the exact opposite was true. Of course, there were reasons for that, but he wasn't going to get into all that here. He assumed she'd at least browsed his dossier and whatever information was part of it.
"I think you have your own reasons for not being as forthcoming with information as some people would expect," Nat told him gently. She understood, to a certain extent. "But like I said before, keeping secrets from the people trusting you with their lives is not a good way to live."
"Sometimes people are better off not knowing," he said, though that obviously depended on the secrets and the circumstances. There were some who knew most of his secrets, but few knew them all. "I had to know there was no one worth saving there yesterday," he explained. "Not for me, but for my teammates. For Fliss and Lucas and Matthew." Or at least, mostly for them.
To her credit, Nat didn't argue with this. "They didn't really know what they signed up for, did they?" she asked, though it was obvious from the subdued way the other three had been during the debriefing. Hearing the actual numbers was sobering for anyone. "Look, I appreciate that you did that. If you hadn't, I probably would have had to have restrained Matt, and he would not have enjoyed it."
"I should have realized it before, but I was too busy trying to train them, trying to get them ready." Rufus had warned them, in his own way, but realizing there had been nothing glorious about going into battle was a sobering thing for all of them. "I didn't want them to have to live with the guilt. I could ..." Zach hesitated before continuing. "I could alter their memories, but that wouldn't be right."
"No, that wouldn't be right," she agreed. "I think you handled it well, given the circumstances. I don't like surprises, that's why I was pissed. Any deviation from the plan that doesn't touch the contingencies could result in losing people and I have enough blood on my hands as it is. But in hindsight, you did good."
"It won't happen again," he promised, though he wasn't sure if by saying that he was accepting their invitation to be an Avenger or not. "Agent Romanoff, if I might be blunt ... They did good out there yesterday. They make a good team, but they are young - too young to have such a burden put on their shoulders," he said, though he wasn't all that much older.
"I know," she agreed. "And they don't want to do it again, do they? Not unless there's no choice." It didn't take a genius to work that one out - Fliss and Lucas had all but stated it outright, and given the way the color had drained from Matt's face during the debriefing, it was a fair guess.
"No, they don't," he confirmed without hesitation, though whether he knew that telepathically or because they'd told him, he didn't say. "There are other ways they can put their powers to good use. Ways they could help people," he added.
"Rhy'Din's a good place to develop those powers," Nat said thoughtfully. "Earth ... is not such a good place to still be developing powers. As soon as you're marked as different, you're a target here. No, I think it's wise for them to stay on Rhy'Din to develop themselves. And you are more than capable of deciding for yourself what you want to do."
"Agreed," Zach replied bluntly. There wasn't much he needed to say about that, but there was something else. "But before I accept the Avengers' invitation, there's something you need to know about me." Something he had obviously withheld and that was not in his dossier.
She frowned thoughtfully at him. "Is this something you don't want in your official dossier?" she asked bluntly. "More than me will have to know, but we can keep it out of the documentation."
He didn't reply right away, unsure how to answer that. He thought maybe it would be best just to tell her outright. Afterall, he wasn't the only one on the team who was descended from nobility on another planet. "It is just that accepting a position on the team might put people at risk."
Nat's eyes narrowed as she considered him. That was very careful language, designed to give a tiny hint to something much bigger lurking behind it. She knew a certain amount about Zach by now, though. "Who did you piss off on which planet?"
"It's not what you think," he told her. "I did not ... piss anyone off exactly. It's a family matter and it's complicated. When my father died, I choose to leave, rather than fight my brothers for his inheritance. I have no interest in that kind of power. Up until now, I've heard nothing from them. They seem content to squabble with each other, but that could change."
"I see. And do they ... have your abilities?" she asked, a little less blunt this time. It would be a good idea to know this, just in case.
"In a manner of speaking. Each of us has our own specialty. Mine is telepathy," he explained further. "Some of us are stronger than the others. When a man such as my father dies, it is customary for his sons to enter combat in order to determine who will win his inheritance. I rejected my right to fight and left, but if any of my brothers still thinks me a threat, they might look for me."
"Then we'll protect you." That was it, nothing simpler. She didn't even need to check with the others to know that would be their response as well. "It might not come to it, but if it does, we have your back. Always."
Both brows arched upwards again, a little surprised by her reaction. So far, no one had shrunk from him in fear of his brothers, even though he thought they probably should. "You would do this for me?" he asked, as surprised as ever by her simple assurance that they'd have his back.
She smiled faintly. "It's what we do," she reminded him. "You're a friend, an ally. You've helped us. So if you ever need us, we'll be there, without question. Humans are funny that way - we're big on loyalty."
He frowned a little, despite her assurances. "It's Dani who worries me. I did not expect to ... to meet someone like her, to care for someone. It puts her in danger."
"Zach ... protecting you doesn't just mean you," Nat pointed out to him. "It means your family, the people you love, as well. If anyone comes after Dani, that affects you. And we'll help you answer that."
"I don't want my father's inheritance, Agent Romanoff. I don't want that life. That's why I left. I'm happy on Rhy'Din. I have family there who care about me. And there is Dani." He exhaled a sigh, lowering his gaze to look at his hands. "I don't want to fight them. I just want to be left alone."
"I think you've earned the right to call me Natasha," she told him, leaning onto her arms. "Is there any reason to suspect your brothers might come after you?"
He lifted his gaze to meet hers, with a shrug of his shoulders. "It's hard to say. Some of my brothers are a bit ... aggressive. If they think I might be a threat, if they think I might come back and challenge them, they will come for me, and they won't care who stands in their way. I'm no coward, Natasha, but I don't want anyone else getting hurt because of me."
"Zach ... if they come after you, or anyone you care about, they will have to deal with us," she told him firmly. "Maybe tell Thor about this, though? I don't know whether your planet is aware of Asgard, but having the heir to the throne of a big-ass bully planet like that as a friend has to count for something, right?"
Zach nodded again, his expression betraying the fact that he had not yet considered that option. "Perhaps," he admitted with a thoughtful frown. "Though I would prefer my brothers not find out where I am," he said, unsure if saying something to Thor would make matters better or worse.
Nat couldn't help smiling at that. "Probably best not to mention it to Thor unless they cause you trouble, then," she conceded. "He has no chill."
"No chill, right," Zach echoed again. He was not that familiar with Earth slang, but he got the gist of what she was saying. "I do appreciate the offer of help, but how do I get in touch if I need it?"
"We can set you up with a comm link that'll connect through the portal," she told him. "It's been tested, we know it works. Or you can always contact your own team on Rhy'Din - once Fliss is involved, so are Johnny and Steve."
"A direct link would be good," he said in agreement. Even with his powers, he wouldn't be able to establish a telepathic link from that distance. A comm link or something similar would have to do. "What about Dani? What do you think I can do to keep her safe?" he asked, welcoming her advice.
"Teach her a little self-defense?" Nat suggested. "Enough to be able to get out of a situation and run for help, maybe? I don't know how your abilities work - if you can link your mind to hers, you might be able to, I don't know, lend her some kind of telekinesis to give her an edge if she's in trouble."
"Self-defense against my brothers?" Zach said, doubtfully. "I do not think that would help," he admitted with a frown, though there might be other options. "I think she is fairly safe so long as she is at Maple Grove," he said, but he couldn't expect her to stay within those boundaries all the time.
"Then you need to sit down and talk to her about the risks," Nat told him. "You can't expect her to stay in one place all the time, so she needs to know what concerns you have and be a part of creating safeguards designed to protect her."
"Right. I will!" he said, in agreement once again. If he and Dani were going to have any kind of life together, she needed to know the dangers of being with him and had to be prepared to deal with those dangers. "Thank you, Natasha. I am glad for your help and your friendship," he said, moving to his feet and extending a hand to her, as he'd seen done among friends and colleagues.
She squeezed the hand he offered her, smiling again at his formal manners. "Anytime," she promised him. "And if you want a little hand to hand training, let me know. I have a feeling I'm going to have a lot of free time for a while."
"Here or on Rhy'Din?" he asked curiously. His home was on Rhy'Din now, but he got the feeling hers was on Earth, though she seemed to travel back and forth with some regularity.
"Either," she assured him. "It's not like it's a difficult commute!" She chuckled, squeezing his hand once more before releasing him. "Stop in at the labs to pick up that comm before you go back - drop my name, and they won't ask questions."
"Thank you, Natasha. I will do that!" he said, looking visibly relieved and more relaxed than he'd been a few hours ago. There wasn't much more to say, and so, he turned on a heel and disappeared out the door to find the labs before he headed home.
She chuckled quietly at his hasty exit. She couldn't blame him for wanting to go home - it had been his first mission, too, and she knew from experience that those who had family waiting for them generally wanted to check in with them as soon as possible. She wanted to check in with a certain computer tech, but there was something else she needed to know first. So it was her turn to go looking for someone ... that someone being Steve.
As it happened, she found him on the way to his quarters after just having finished up with Director Croft. There were still a few loose ends that needed tying up, mainly those regarding Croft's predecessor, Nick Fury.
And that was what Nat wanted to talk to Steve about. "Hey," she said, falling into step with him. "Any news on Fury? He wasn't in the Gobi facility, no one mentioned him in the debriefing."
"No, we're still looking for a body, but it's really just a formality. I don't think we're gonna find anything, Nat. I'm sorry," he told her, knowing how she felt about Fury. As infuriating as the man could be, both Nat and Steve had considered him a friend.
She frowned. "I wasn't really expecting to find him alive, but finding him would have been something," she admitted. "Closure, you know?" She rubbed a hand through her hair. "We should have a memorial service."
Steve stopped, turning to face her, his expression full of sympathy and understanding. "I don't know, Nat. Maybe it's better this way. Do you really want to see him that way? I don't," he admitted sadly.
She sighed, shaking her head. "He deserved better," she said quietly. "He kept secrets, and he kind of put himself in that position, but he was a good man. He did not deserve to die like that."
"No, he didn't," Steve said, pulling her close for a rare hug. It wasn't often he showed his affection for Nat or offered her comfort, but maybe she wasn't the only one who needed it. "But he died a hero, and because of him, we've been able to set Hydra back decades."
For once, Nat allowed the hug, even participated in it, pressing her face against his shoulder as she breathed out a jagged breath. She wouldn't show anyone her tears for Fury, but Steve knew they would be there. "The next kid you have is gonna have to be a Nick or Nicole," she murmured.
Despite his grief, Steve couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Lucy might have something to say about that," he said. They were busy enough these days juggling five kids, two of whom were twins just over a year old.
She smiled as she drew back. "Well, I'd offer to do it myself, but that isn't going to happen," she pointed out with a wry grin. "You heading back to Rhy'Din?"
"Yeah, as soon as I'm packed and I've wrapped up a few things," he confirmed. "Rhy'Din's home now, Nat. I don't think that's gonna change," he told her. Though New York had always been home, he could no longer imagine moving Lucy and the kids back here from Rhy'Din. Rhy'Din was home now; it was where they belonged, even now that they didn't have to fear the threat from Hydra.
"I know," she assured him. "And it's good that you have a home and a family, and time to spend on them without worrying that you're neglecting Earth. Who knows? Maybe it'll be home for me someday."
"You? Really?" Steve asked, arching his brows, a smile spreading across his face. "I never thought I'd hear you say that. The kids would love that," he said, not to mention Lucy and Liv and Johnny. "I'm sure we could find a place for you at the Grove, unless that's too close."
"We'll see." Nat smiled a little mysteriously. "Won't be for a few months, at the very least. I, uh ... I kind of have something else to pursue before I make that decision."
"This have anything to do with a certain computer programmer?" he asked, unable to hide the smirk from his face. He'd never thought he'd live to see the day the Black Widow might consider settling down - or at least, slowing down.
"Possibly," she drawled back to him, green eyes sparkling a little at the question. "He's probably pissed I haven't gone straight down there to prove I'm still alive."
"Well, I guess you better get on with it then," he told her. He agreed that they needed to arrange a memorial service for Fury, but they could talk about that later.
"I guess so." She began to turn away, then glanced back at him. "So ... there wouldn't be any objection if, for example, I brought a plus one to that family dinner Lucy's been bugging me about?"
"No, Nat," Steve assured her, a little amused at her uncertainty. "You're more than welcome to bring him along." It was practically Steve's way of giving her his blessing, though she certainly didn't need it. He trusted her implicitly, and besides, the man was part of A.E.G.I.S. and had already passed all of their screenings. There was no reason not to trust him. "The more the merrier, as they say."
"Good to know." Her smile relaxed once again as she headed away. "Say hi to my goddaughters for me." One hand waved to him, not expecting to see him again before he left for home as she turned her feet toward the research and computer labs. Now she had time to remind someone else that she was very much still alive and kicking.
"I'll say hi to everyone for you!" Steve called back, as he continued down the corridor toward his quarters to get packed. Now that the mission was accomplished, so to speak, he was eager to get back home.
Despite the huge amount of work still to do in clearing up Hydra's mess, A.E.G.I.S. HQ had an air of celebration hanging over it as Nat made her way through the corridors. In her uniform, she was instantly recognizable from a distance, resulting in a few "congratulations" being called to her as she passed open doors on her way to the computer labs. She pushed open Colin's door, leaning in the doorway with a faint smirk on her lips. "So ... I heard something about some redhead you're taking on a date somewhere?"
Colin couldn't help but grin, as he turned to find a certain redhead filling up his doorway. "I am, but we haven't set a date yet. Are you jealous?" he asked, as though they were discussing a different redhead than the one he was talking to.
Crossing her arms over her chest as she lounged comfortably, Nat let out an exaggerated sigh. "I don't blame you for keeping your options open, but now we know I survived, I may have to kill her."
"You might find her a worthy opponent," he replied, as he moved to his feet to meet her at the door. Reaching for her hand to pull her into the room, he waited until the door closed behind her before greeting her properly with a kiss that told her how happy he was to see her without saying so in so many words.
"Oh, I might, huh?" she asked, lips parting in a wide grin as he drew her inside. But that kiss ... it said far more than welcome home, or I'm back and I'm alive. It said everything that had not yet been said aloud, everything they weren't ready to say aloud yet. Her arms wrapped about his shoulders as she rose up onto her toes, reveling in the sheer luxury of having someone to come home to.
It didn't seem to matter that they hadn't known each other long or that they'd only recently met. They were full-grown adults, after all, and knew what they wanted and what they were looking for, and each of them seemed to find that something - whatever that something was - in each other. Colin didn't need days or weeks or months or even years to know that he'd found in Nat everything he'd been searching for in a woman for all of his life. If it worked, it worked. That was all that really mattered. And though he might not have said it in words, his kiss told her all that and more.
And even when the kiss was done, the connection wasn't. Nat pushed herself harder into his arms, hiding her face against his chest as she let herself shudder out the last vestiges of regret for the lives she had helped to take in the last day. It felt ... wonderful ... to know that he wouldn't judge her for her actions. And she did know it, to her bones. Colin wouldn't hold her past against her. She just had to learn not to do it to herself.
"Are you okay?" he asked, just holding her close, sensing somehow that she needed that right now more than anything else. "I've been following the communications transmissions. I'm sorry about Director Fury," he said, choosing to offer his sympathies, rather than his congratulations.
"I helped a lot of people die," she said quietly, finally raising her head to meet his gaze. "I helped kids help those people to die. It's not gonna sit well for a long time. And as for Fury ..." She sighed, shaking her head. "I wish we'd found his body. I don't like the idea of him lying in an unmarked grave somewhere."
"Okay," he said, absorbing what she'd just said and debating possible ways he could help. "When was the last time you took a vacation?" he asked her point-blank. "I mean a real vacation."
She laughed, although it wasn't exactly a happy sound. "Over twenty years ago," she admitted, shaking her head again. "It's always been about the job, you know? And now ... I can't remember a time when I had anything outside work."
"Sounds like you're overdue," he said, as he drew her further into the room and onto his lap as he reclaimed his chair. "What do you say we turn that date into a little vacation? It would give us a chance to get away and get to know each other better." And now that Hydra was off the radar for a while, it was the perfect time to take a break.
For the briefest moment, Nat hesitated before sinking onto his lap - not because she didn't want to be there, but because this was not really in her wider experience of men in general. But Colin wasn't men in general. "I ... where were you thinking of going?"
He sensed her hesitation again, but was patient enough not to mention it or to push her too hard. "I have no idea!" he replied, laughing. "Where haven't you been that you'd like to go?" he asked, knowing she'd probably traveled around the world, but never solely for pleasure.
"You know ... I've never been anywhere and had the leisure to just enjoy it," she admitted, curling her arms about his shoulders. Sitting on his lap in her work uniform wasn't exactly the most comfortable experience, but at least the zipper wasn't making a beeline for her bellybutton. "Have you? Where have you been that you'd like to go again?"
"Oh, no!" he replied, with another laugh. "This isn't about me. It's about you," he said, tapping an index finger against her nose. "There must be some place you've always wanted to go."
She laughed, her nose crinkling under his bop. "I don't know!" she protested. "Somewhere that isn't a war zone, somewhere that has things to do but doesn't mind if we do nothing ... well, nothing fit for the public eye, anyway."
"Tropical or not tropical? What kind of things do you like to do?" he asked, determined to narrow it down. There were countless places to go and things to do, and he didn't want to choose for her. There was plenty to do right there in New York, but he wanted to give her a proper vacation away from their home base.
"I don't like humid places," she mused thoughtfully, her fingers absently playing with the top button of his shirt. "I like sunshine, so long as I have sunscreen. I don't freckle, I just burn."
"Hmm," he mused aloud, well aware of her fiddling with his shirt. Maybe this wasn't the time or the place for this conversation. "Are you off duty? What do you say we get away from here for a while?" he asked, though he didn't suggest where they might go.
"I can sign out," she assured him. "I don't think anyone's gonna need me for about ten years now." She chuckled, brushing a kiss to his temple. "I need to change, though. This is not a public-friendly look."
He chuckled again in mingled amusement and good humor. He wasn't the type to get moody too often, which might be just what she needed. "I don't think I can afford to take ten years off, but I might be able to get away with a few weeks." He let his gaze wander over her, a slightly lecherous expression on his face. "I kind of like it," he said, teasing her zipper downward just a little.
She batted at his hand, laughing once again. "Knock it off, I have to work in this get up," she reminded him, moving to lift herself off his lap. "Trust me, if I tell Croft you're taking a few weeks, you'll get them. I'll share my own time owing if I have to." She winked at him. "How long are we gonna be off-base for, do you think?"
"I thought you were off-duty," he teased, chuckling as she batted at his hand, but not forcing the matter. "Today or when we go on vacation?" he asked, obviously distracted by the view. "I have an apartment off-base. If you like, we can stay there until we decide where to go."
Nat's smile softened, touched that he would trust her in his home so soon. "I'd like that," she agreed. "I just gotta change and pack a bag. Why don't you drop a line to Croft using my override and arrange that time off?" She wiggled a finger under his nose. "And don't say you don't know my override, because you are a computer genius."
"It would make things easier if you just told me," he said with a smirk. It wasn't that he wasn't up for the challenge so much as that he hadn't been able to sleep since she'd left and didn't really want to think that hard. He didn't deny the part about being a genius, though he wouldn't have used that word exactly.
She rolled her eyes teasingly, though this was something he needed to know about her as well. "Romanova, Natalia A," she told him, leaning up to brush a softer kiss to his lips. "If he gets difficult, ask him how his wife is getting on with the new stroller," she added, though it was unlikely Croft would argue once Colin got through to him. The override would see to that.
He arched a brow, wondering what she meant by the stroller remark, but too polite to ask. "You realize he's going to know we're ..." He trailed off. Why was he worried about anyone finding out about them? It was likely Croft already knew. Jarvis certainly did, and it was likely Rogers did, too. Taking a vacation together was going to send a clear message to everyone who was connected to A.E.G.I.S. He didn't really care what anyone thought, but he wasn't sure how she felt about her privacy.
"I don't ... I don't mind if you don't," she offered quietly, perhaps even a little shy in offering that assurance that she felt certain about being with him, even if they had only had one very short night together so far. They had been getting to know each other for months, after all.
"I don't mind either," he was quick to assure her. He wasn't sure where this relationship was going yet, but if they were going to be together, he'd rather not keep it a secret.
"Good." Her wide mouth curved into a smile once. "I'll go change and pack a few things. Won't take long."
"Nat," he said, taking hold of her hand to keep her there a moment longer, as if he couldn't bear to let her go just yet, though he wasn't quite sure what it was he wanted to say. "I'm glad you're back," he said, hoping she understood what those few words really meant.
She reached up, curling her fingers along his jaw and into his jaw, drawing him down to touch her forehead to his as she leaned into him. "For the first time, I'm glad to be back," she admitted softly. There was a pause. "I just gave you the perfect view down my cleavage, didn't I?"
He smirked in amusement at her question. "I'll never tell," he said, as if admitting to catching a glimpse of her cleavage was some big government secret. He pulled her closer, his hands on her hips to press an impatient kiss against her lips before whispering, "Hurry."
She gasped softly into his kiss, feeling a surge of urgency that had nothing to do with going on vacation. "Only if you do," she countered, flashing him a warm grin before slipping from the lab. If he got to the door in time, he'd have seen her sprinting for the elevators.
He didn't bother to follow her to the door, letting her slip through her fingers, but trusting that she wouldn't go far. He went about contacting Croft and telling him their plans. Though she might not need Croft's approval, he did.
It said a fair amount for Natasha's eagerness to be alone with him that she was already on her way back through the computer labs twenty minutes later. No doubt Colin heard her coming before she came into view - it was very unusual to hear a wolf-whistle in the labs, and rarer still to hear the recipient respond with, "Take a picture, it'll last longer!"
And what was the reason? Agent Romanoff was wearing a dress. Not a dressy kind of dress, more of a button-down long shirt with a belt and boots, but it was still an unusual sight.
"Thanks for understanding, sir! I have to go!" Colin told Croft before quickly cutting their connection and moving to his feet to find out what was going on outside his office. He had a feeling all the attention had something to do with Nat. Who else would his colleagues be wolf-whistling at? He couldn't help but smirk as he watched her approach from the doorway. He'd never seen her in a dress before, and though it wasn't nearly as clingy as her leathers, it was much more feminine than anyone was used to seeing her.
She also had a backpack slung over one shoulder, and her hair was losing the battle to stay in the softer waves she seemed to prefer, parts of it beginning to snap back to the curls that came naturally. She smiled at him as she came to a halt. "Am I late?"
"Just in time actually," he replied, stepping back into the room so they wouldn't be overheard. It was going to become obvious soon enough that they were together, but he'd rather it was later than sooner. "I just finished with Croft. He's giving us a month of paid leave," he told her, with a pleased smile on his face. A whole month to do nothing but rest and relax ... together. Of course, with the stipulation that they could be called back at any moment in case of an emergency.
Nat chuckled, tucking her hair back behind her ear. "Wow, he really wants me out of here, doesn't he?" she joked, hiking the bag on her shoulder. "So where are we going, or didn't you get to that part yet?"
"My apartment, first of all," he said with a smirk. After all, he had to pack a few things, and there was the matter of picking a destination and making the arrangements. Wherever they were going, it wouldn't be via the quinjet this time.
"Also, there is a dinner I want to take you to, once I know when it is," she blurted out suddenly. "If you want to go. I mean, Steve's really not that intimidating, and his wife's cool. They have adorable kids, too."
"A dinner?" he echoed, quickly realizing she was talking about dinner with Captain Rogers and his family. "I know you two are good friends," he said, not asking for any explanation and not jealous of that friendship either.
"He's my best friend," she told him. "And no, there was never even a hint of anything else there. I, uh, he actually made me a godmother to his kids." She snorted with laughter. "Because clearly what they need in life is an assassin looking out for them!"
He didn't bother to make any comment regarding her relationship with Rogers. Steve seemed like a decent guy, and he wouldn't begrudge her his friendship. It was no secret that he has a happily married family man anyway, so there was nothing to be jealous of there. But the comment about her being an assassin made his frown just a little. "You're a lot more than that, Nat. I'm sure Captain Rogers knows that," he assured her.
Her smile was just a little disbelieving. "I am never going to get used to people seeing more than that when they look at me," she admitted a little reluctantly.
"You might, in time," he assured her gently. He wouldn't have said it if he didn't believe it, but he knew it would take some time to convince her. "Shall we?" he asked, pulling open the door for her. He'd already shut his computer down and gathered what few things he'd brought with him.
"Well, if we don't, we're going to make some interesting memories in a computer lab covered by 24 hour surveillance," she reminded him cheerfully.
"I'd rather not," he said with a chuckle. It was one thing to have an A.I. constantly eavesdropping on them, but quite another to know they might make the surveillance tape.
"Well, then ... shall we, Mr. Prescott?" she asked, turning invitingly toward the door. They were off-duty - no need to be agents for a whole month.
"As you wish, Miss Romanoff," he replied, stepping past her to pull open the door, but waiting for her to exit the room first. "After you."
"Such a gentleman," she teased gently, stepping out into the corridor but waiting for him to join her before heading for the exit. "You're not going to put me in the basket of your bicycle or anything, right?"
"Uh, no. I'm an adult. I have a car. Are you disappointed?" he teased back, hoping she wasn't expecting a motorcycle. It was a tempting thought, but not very practical in a place where he could only ride it for a few months a year.
"Why would I be disappointed with a sensible vehicle that has a backseat waiting to be made a part of our relationship?" Nat countered in a sweet tone. Sweet enough that it might take a moment to realize what she had just proposed.
He chuckled, catching on quickly to what she was not-so-subtly suggesting. "That doesn't sound comfortable," he remarked, as he led her through the corridor where the computer labs were located toward the elevator.
"I'm bendy." She shrugged, chuckling as they walked together past the still occupied labs. Whoever it was who had wolf-whistled when she came in was keeping their head down as they left, possibly to avoid making himself a target for any retribution.
"Is that on your bucket list?" he asked, with that boyish smirk of his. It was likely she'd never had a chance to create a bucket list, much less tick off any of the items on it. It was a good thing there were no wolf-whistles or he might have had to prove he was capable of doing more than cracking code.
"Hmm ... maybe I should make a bucket list," she answered, hitting the button on the elevator as she turned to look up at him. "Pretty sure you could help with that. Unless you have a bucket list you want help checking off?"
"Maybe we should make one together," he suggested, resisting the urge to touch her in any way, even if it was just to take her hand, until they were clear of the prying eyes and ears of A.E.G.I.S.
"Well, we're already taking a vacation," she commented, stepping into the elevator as it arrived. "And we did end of the world sex, too." She flashed him a grin.
"Ah, but we don't know where we're going yet, and I'm not sure we should put sex on the list," he said, only because that could be a very long list. He mirrored her grin, daring to tangle his fingers with hers as he joined her in the elevator.
"Hey, this having a life outside work thing is very new to me," she defended herself in amusement, visibly relaxing as his hand tangled with her own. "I'm trying not to get carried away here."
"Life is too short, Nat," he told her, though he was sure she knew that already. It wasn't meant as criticism; only as a reminder that life was too short not to enjoy what you had left of it, before it was too late.
"Yeeeah," she drawled. "I think we may be a little bit too new for me to start talking about the things that immediately come to mind when phrases like "bucket list" come up." She laughed, squeezing his hand.
"Why's that?" he asked, genuinely curious as to where her mind was going. Was it various sexual positions she was contemplating or was it something else? He stopped short of assuring her that she could tell him anything. It might be a little too soon for that, too, but for the first time in years, he felt hopeful about the future.
"I've spent my whole life not having the things that a lot of people take for granted," she shrugged. "A home, a family, a pet. I don't even have hobbies, if you don't count the stuff I do for work."
"We'll just have to change that then, won't we?" he said, with a faint smile. It wasn't amusement exactly, so much as it was the prospect of sharing all those things with her for the first time. The elevator dinged as they reached the basement, where the parking garage was located, and the doors slid open. "After you," he said, with a wave of his hand.
"What do you recommend we start with?" she asked, almost teasingly. Building a life from the ground up that complimented her personality and didn't grind him into shattered shards of annoyed what might have been would be a challenge.
He shrugged at her question, not quite sure where to start. He didn't want to overwhelm her with too much too soon. "Make a list maybe? But for now, we can start with dinner. Are you hungry?" And then maybe a vacation.
"I could eat," she agreed, looping his arm over her shoulder comfortably as they walked through the garage. "I probably should - I haven't had more than half a ration bag since last night."
"What do you feel like?" he asked, as his arm was slung over her shoulder, their fingers still tangled together. "Do you want a nice dinner or something quick and easy?" One nice thing about New York was that the choices were endless; getting anywhere in traffic was the real problem, but then he knew something she didn't.
"It isn't the food that makes the meal, it's the company." Nat tilted her head back to look up at him with a faint smile. "I'd say anything would be a nice dinner, the company I'm in."
"You wouldn't say that if you ate in some of the greasy spoons around here," he told her, mirroring her smile, a little amused at her remark. He was flattered that she found him pleasant company, but he didn't think that would be much comfort if she got food poisoning. "Do you trust me?" he asked, already knowing the answer to that question.
She raised her brow, daring him to think she didn't. "Do you really need an answer to that question?"
"Probably not, but I had to ask," he admitted, leading her to find his car. That alone might come as something of a shock to her that he was hoping she could handle. He didn't bother to explain why he'd asked that question, letting her think on it a while.
"That ... is a very nice car," she complimented him, though the surprise on her face was obvious. She cast a curious look over at him. "You're not quite what you seem, are you?"
"Oh, that's not mine," he said, steering her away from the shiny black Lincoln toward a royal blue Jaguar. "That's my car," he told her with a smirk, as he pulled his arm away from her shoulders to pull the keys from his pants pocket. "So, how do I seem?" he asked, touching a button on the keypad to unlock the doors.
Nat actually laughed aloud as he teased her, rolling her eyes at her assumption that the Lincoln was his. The Jag was something else entirely. "I'm not sure nice covers this car," she mused. "Sex on wheels is probably closer." She grinned over at him. "You seem ... well, okay, I kind of made a few assumptions," she admitted. "There isn't a huge amount of money to be made in computer hacking unless you're doing it illegally, and you don't strike me as an illegal kind of guy. But this is a gorgeous car."
He chuckled at her description of the car. Sex on wheels was pretty accurate, in his opinion. "It is a gorgeous car, isn't it?" he said, in complete agreement. He obviously wouldn't have bought it otherwise. He leaned forward to pull open the passenger door for her. "Please, have a seat," he told her, waiting for her to do just that before he went around to take the driver's seat, ignoring her remarks about money, at least for now.
Setting her bag into the footwell, Nat folded herself down into the Jaguar, audibly moaning in appreciation of the butter-soft seat she found herself in. "I am never driving anywhere again unless it is in this car with you behind the wheel," she declared.
He chuckled as he joined her in the driver's seat. "Not even on the back of Captain Roger's motorbike or one of Tony Stark's many sports cars?" he teased. Instead of inserting a key in the ignition, he pressed a button and the engine turned over, purring like a kitten.
"Steve rides that thing like an old lady," she told him laughingly, though she would never say that to Steve's face. Still, it was true - he loved that bike of his too much to risk breaking the speed limit on it. "And I've driven all of Stark's cars. They are not that impressive."
"He does seem to have a fondness for German cars," Colin remarked, referring to Stark's apparent fondness for Audis, but making no comment regarding the way Steve rode his bike. "So long as you haven't driven Stark," he teased, assuming that was unlikely.
She snorted with laughter. "If you think for one second I'd get into an enclosed space with Stark, you've got me all wrong." Not that Tony would try anything - he knew better than to risk having her do to him what she'd done to an unwary Happy before any of them had known who she was.
"Relax, I'm just teasing," he said, putting the car into gear and backing out of his parking spot with the ease of a professional driver. "Does Steve - I mean, Captain Rogers - know you think he drives like an old lady?"
Nat's smile deepened. "I've never mentioned it to him personally, but I'm pretty sure he's been told that's his driving style by more than one person," she assumed. "The ladies in his family are pretty outspoken, with one exception."
"Which one is that?" he asked, as he maneuvered the car through the parking garage toward the exit ramp that would take them to the surface.
"His wife's sister," she told him. "Liv's Johnny Storm's wife, but she's definitely the quietly diplomatic one. She was the one Hydra almost killed - that's why it was so personal."
"I heard they're twins," he said. The rumor around A.E.G.I.S. was that Lucy had been the real target, and that Hydra had got the wrong twin. "Sounds to me like they poked the wrong bear."
"Lucy and Liv, yeah," Nat nodded. "Identical to look at up until a few months ago - not really a surprise that Hydra got the one they weren't targeting. But better, in a way. Steve might not have been able to function if Lucy had been the one who got hurt."
Colin arched a brow. "Well, they won't be hurting anyone again anytime soon," he said, not really sure what else to say about that. He didn't know Rogers or his family very well, though if he kept hanging around with Nat, that might change.
"No, they won't." And there was a certain amount of satisfaction in the way she said that, long used to leaving the guilt behind when it came to clinging to what few positives there were in conflict. "You know, it occurs to me that I don't actually know that much about you?"
He glanced her way momentarily, a single brow arching upwards again. "Haven't read my dossier?" he asked, unsure how much of his past was in there. It all depended on how much MI5 had wanted to share.
She shook her head. "No," she admitted. "I know you're British, I know your name, I know your skills. That's it. I didn't ... it didn't feel right to snoop about and read your file."
"What do you want to know?" he asked, impressed that she hadn't read his file, but with nothing to hide - at least, not from her. He didn't bother to point out that fact that if she hadn't read his file, she didn't know all his skills.
"Do you have any family?" she asked, the first tug on the string that should unravel at least his formative years for her.
"Not anymore," he replied, the hint of a frown on his face as he carefully pulled out onto the busy New York streets. Why would a man move all the way across the ocean unless he had no family left to keep him at home? "My mum passed a few years ago," he explained further. "Dad's been gone a while."
First faux pas. Keep it up, Nat, you might win a prize for the fastest ending to a promising relationship. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to poke at a sore spot," she apologized, shaking her head. "I'm not good at small talk."
"You're not poking," he said. "I have a few cousins and such, but no one I'm particularly close to. I'm a bit of an enigma, I suppose," he admitted with a slight shrug. "I didn't bring a lot of baggage with me when I came here," he admitted, the word baggage not referring to his belongings so much as his obligations back home.
"Is there a lot of ... baggage ... back home that still needs your attention?" she asked, still curious, but wary of putting her foot in it again.
"I have people who take care of that," he said, though he didn't quite explain what that was. "My father was a financier," he explained. "He made his fortune legally, but no one lives forever. Not even him."
"Oh, so ... I'm the poor one in this relationship, then," Nat mused, trying not to find that funny. Her bank accounts were more than healthy, despite numerous attempts to empty some of them with generosity to friends who refused to accept it.
"I'm not hurting for money, if that's what you mean," he said. The Jag was proof enough of that, though he didn't usually flaunt it. "My father wanted me to follow in his footsteps, but that life wasn't for me."
"You should do what excites you, what holds your attention," she agreed, tilting her head to look at him as he drove. "You don't seem the type to be comfortable in a business suit, swindling the poorest levels of society out of what little money they have."
He chuckled at her description of what his father might have done during his illustrious career. "I hope he wasn't guilty of too much of that. Otherwise, I might be inclined to give it all back," he said, hinting that he might possess a sense of honor or at least, fairness. "I found I had an affinity for computers when I was still in secondary school, but instead of going to university, I volunteered for military service. I'm still not sure why I did. I was a bit of rebel in those days, I suppose. In a hurry to prove I was more than just a spoiled brat, born with a silver spoon in my mouth."
"Which service?" Nat asked curiously. "You don't seem like an army grunt."
"Royal Marines," he replied, taking a turn and heading in the direction of Central Park.
"You were a commando?" She sounded duly impressed. The Royal Marines were pretty well respected across the globe. "Yeah, I can see that. So how did you end up in MI5 if you started on the front lines?"
He shrugged again, as though it was nothing. "They found out I had an aptitude for computers and encouraged me to get into intel," he told her simply. There was a little more to it than that, but that was the simple answer. "You know, I thought joining the military would make my father proud, but he only seemed to see it as a betrayal. He never could accept the fact that I wasn't like him, that I didn't want to follow his path. After he died, I found out he served in the war and lost a lot of friends. I guess maybe he was just trying to spare me that kind of grief."
"But he never talked to you about it?" she asked, concerned to hear that his family relationships hadn't been the happy family she had imagined him as having. "I'm sorry. Men of a certain class don't seem to be able to express themselves very well."
"No, my mother told me after he was gone. I don't hold it against him. He was only doing what he thought was best for me, even if he had a strange way of going about it," he said, revealing that he'd mostly made peace with that part of his past.
"That's the weird thing, isn't it? Everyone who raised us only did what they thought was best at the time." She smiled faintly, shaking her head. "I guess the best part of him still lives on in you."
"That's one way of thinking about it," he admitted. "Mom died a few years ago. She was the best. You would have liked her," he said, happy to change the subject. Even though his parents were no longer with him, it was clear he had made peace with their deaths and preferred to focus on the good, instead of the bad.
"She made you," Nat pointed out. "I probably would have liked her. I don't think she would have approved of me, though. There aren't many people in the world who would approve of inviting someone who was once the world's best assassin around for tea."
"Does it matter, Nat?" he asked, looking over at her a moment before turning back to maneuver through traffic. "We're old enough to make our own choices without needing anyone's approval."
"I know." Her smile reappeared as she watched him drive, admiring his hands and arms for a long moment. "It'd be nice to think that maybe your family might have approved of me, though. Fantasies of normality and all."
"What's normal, Nat? My life's never been normal and neither has yours. We'll make our own normal," he said, in a tone of voice that didn't sound like he'd take no for an answer. Maybe it was too soon to start planning their lives together, but it wasn't too soon to hope.
"I did say it was a fantasy," she pointed out mildly, laying her hand briefly against his wrist. "You can't miss what you never had, after all."
"But that's my point, Nat. It doesn't have to be a fantasy," he said, glancing at her again, while they were stopped at a red light and offering a soft smile. "I did ask whether you trust me," he said, though at the time, it had been about dinner.
"I do trust you," she reminded him, green eyes smiling as she drew her hand back to her lap. "I'm not very good with surprises, but I do trust you."
"Well, you did ask about my skills," he said, his smile widening, though he didn't explain exactly what skills he was referring to.
Vague suspicion blossomed fondly in her expression as she smiled back at him. "Are you going to cook for me, Col?" she asked. "Because I should really admit right now, I cannot cook, even if my life depended on it."
He chuckled at her admission. "It's probably a good thing one of us can, then. Do you mind? We can order out, if you prefer." he said, letting her choose. It might take longer to whip something up, but it would probably be well worth the time and effort.
"No, I don't mind," she assured him. "As long as you don't mind me watching. I know some people can't perform with an audience." This was offered up completely deadpan, her lips only twitching toward a smile as the pause after grew.
"Well, that depends on the circumstances," he replied back, though he couldn't help the smirk on his face. "I don't think Rachel Ray has to worry about me replacing her anytime soon," he said. "And I'm not looking to get into porn, so ..." he added, that smirk widening.
She snorted with laughter. "Oh, so that's why you weren't keen on giving the security guys an eyeful, got it," she teased cheerfully. "I'll remember to make sure you're not under surveillance before you get started in future."
"I hope not!" he said with a chuckle, though it had been at least a few weeks since he'd combed his apartment for cameras or bugs. "And just how do you plan on doing that, Agent Romanoff?" he asked with another smirk.
"Oh, I don't know ... wear a blindfold?" she suggested with a low laugh, reaching up to shake her hair away from her neck. "Where are we going, anyway? This is the upmarket district."
He chuckled. "That sounds a little kinky," he said, darting a glance at her in time to see her sweep her hair away from her neck. That simple movement was making his body react in uncomfortable ways, but he said nothing of it as he looked back at the road, the traffic finally starting to move again. "Would it bother you to know I live there?"
"Kinky can be fun, with the right person," she countered with a shrug, her smile easily audible. She looked up at the tall buildings around them. "Why should it bother me? I've lived in military and intelligence institutions all my life. The simple fact that you have more than one room and shared bathroom is pretty impressive to me."
"Oh, there's more than one room," he assured her with a chuckle. Though his apartment wasn't a large one, it was impressive in its own way. After all, what was the point of having money if one couldn't enjoy it? "It's in walking distance of Central Park, so there's a little green space."
"Mmm, greenery that doesn't have sweaty soldiers in it," she mused wistfully. "I'm starting to feel jealous. Keep talking, I might end up having to rip your clothes off to keep a lid on the envy."
He laughed. "No, just people walking their dogs." He turned his glance to her again, smirking at her teasing. "Just don't do it while I'm driving, or we might get thrown in jail." He turned back to watch the road, a nod of his head toward a particular building, not as tall as some of the others around it but far more elegant looking. "See that one there? The smaller one with all the windows? That's home."
She tilted her head, leaning forward a little to look up at the building. "It's so elegant," she commented. "I guess I'm going to have to try to look like I fit in a little." She chuckled. "Just as well my entire civilian wardrobe involves heels one way or the other."
He chuckled again. "You don't have to impress anyone, Nat," he assured her. Even though he was dressed smartly enough in slacks and a shirt, he wasn't afraid to be seen in more casual dress. There was one more surprise waiting for her at his apartment, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he told her what it was.
"What if I want to impress you?" she countered a little impishly. "I could be wearing anything under this dress, after all."
"I think you've already made quite an impression on me," he admitted quietly, as he pulled up in front of the building. Apparently, there was no need to find the parking garage as a valet was waiting at the door to do that for him. "Well, here we are," he told her, looking over at her again and feeling just a little bit nervous. It had been a long time since he'd let anyone into his life, and he knew he was taking a big risk.
"I suppose we should get out, then," Nat suggested, but before that, she leaned over to brush a kiss to his nervous mouth. "I promise not to feel you up in the elevator, does that help?"
"I'm not sure," he admitted, smiling into her kiss. "Maybe you should kiss me again," he told her, leaning closer for another kiss. While her kisses might not actually help him relax, he was sure to enjoy them.
She laughed into his answering kiss, nuzzling close for a long moment before pulling away. "Maybe we should let the nervous young man hovering on the sidewalk do his job before we go any further with this."
"We probably should, if you want to eat dinner sometime tonight," he teased back. "Wait there," he told her, opening the door and climbing out of the car to have a brief word with the valet before going around to get her door. He offered her a hand to help her out, like a proper gentleman, the valet waiting patiently nearby.
Left in the car, however briefly, Nat smiled to herself, lifting her bag onto her lap as Colin opened her door to help her out. Her hand in his, she rose from her seat, tucking the strap onto her shoulder. "Why, thank you."
It wasn't often he had the opportunity to play the gentleman, but it was a part he apparently played well. "You're very welcome," he said as he led her away from the car, handing off the keys to the valet, along with a tip. "There's, um, someone I'd like you to meet," he said, a little nervously again, but before she could say a word, the doorman was stepping up to get the door.
"Good evening, Mr. Prescott. Ma'am," he said with a polite nod to them both. "Shall I arrange to have Coco brought to your rooms?" he asked further, not bothering to explain that he wasn't talking about the hot chocolate beverage.
A little bemused by Colin's sudden nerves followed by the doorman's offer, Nat caught herself glancing toward the afternoon sky before she looked back at the pair of them. "I'm guessing this isn't the drink you're talking about here?"
"No. I'm afraid there's another woman in my life," Colin admitted with the tiniest hint of a smirk that indicated he was probably teasing. "I'm hope you're not jealous."
"A woman called Coco," Nat repeated in a slow drawl. Her lips curved in a smile as she went on. "Tell me, is she elderly, French, and has obvious fascist leanings?"
"I'm afraid not. She's not a fashion designer either." In fact, his Coco had absolutely nothing in common with the French fashion designer, except maybe for the fact that she had nice hair, but even that was a stretch.
"You needn't worry, ma'am. Coco is a ..." the doorman started, before quickly closing his mouth at the look of warning on Colin's face.
Glancing between Colin and the doorman, Nat upped the ante, just to see the look on their faces. "His favorite prostitute, perhaps?"
"No!" both men exclaimed in unison.
Colin took a breath. "Sam, can you have Coco brought to my apartment, so I can introduce her to the lady, please?"
"Of course, Mr. Prescott. I'm sure she'll be happy to see you," the doorman replied with a grin, as he pulled open the door so that they could step into the foyer.
With Natasha still laughing to herself at the joint response to her second suggestion, she stepped inside, shaking her head in amusement at how easy it had been to both horrify and entertain both men. She looked back at Colin. "So she's not a prostitute then," she mused, continuing to tease him. With a name like Coco, she had a pretty good idea what this other woman actually was. "Your personal masseuse?"
"Perhaps you should stop guessing and wait until you meet her," Colin suggested, chuckling at her latest guess, which was not even close. "I will give you a hint," he said, tucking her arm into his as he led the way toward the elevator. "She has a brown, wavy hairdo, hence the name Coco." Okay, so it was more like fur; minor technicality.
"Oh, she's your sister!" Nat laughed again, hugging his arm close as he drew her to the elevators. "You really have given me way too much ammunition here," she added playfully. "Question is, do I keep guessing, or do I admit to already having guessed right?"
"You won't know you've already guessed right until you tell me what you've guessed," he argued. Halting in front of the elevator, he leaned forward to press a fingers against the button with the upward pointing arrow.
"I can be pretty sure I've guessed right," she insisted, tilting her head to smile at him from beneath one teasingly raised brow. "Unless you're into exotic animals, that is."
"Oh, there's nothing exotic about Coco," he assured her, that smirk making itself known again. "I'm quite sure you two will become fast friends," he added, as the elevator dinged announcing its arrival on the ground floor.
"Uh-huh." Stepping into the elevator, the redhead considered him for a moment. "So I have two options, though actually just the one. Because you wouldn't need to give a cat to a sitter while you're at work."
Colin chuckled again at her remark, fairly certain she already knew who and what Coco was. "Definitely not a cat," he confirmed, joining her in the elevator and pushing the button for the 14th floor. There were twenty floors in all, but even so, the building was dwarfed by most of those that surrounded it.
"Then I am forced to concede that you, Colin Prescott, have been hiding a dog from me for the last six months," Nat commented, grinning back at him. "Which makes you unique in my album of pet owners. Usually people can't wait to tell me all about their fur babies."
"Hiding?" Colin echoed with another laugh. "I wouldn't say hiding. She's been here all along. You just haven't met her yet." Though he was guilty of not mentioning her yet, in his mind, he was hardly guilty of hiding her.
"And yet I have never seen even so much as a picture of her," she pointed out, leaning back against the wall of the elevator comfortably. "Or any dog hair on your clothes."
He only smiled. "You are still assuming she's a dog," he said, not quite admitting to owning a dog just yet. Though it probably seemed pretty obvious by now, he was still having fun teasing her.
"Oh, so you have a pet bear, huh?" she chuckled, reaching across to swat at his arm. "Give it up, you've been called out on your secret. Give in gracefully and I might not talk about Coco, your fascist masseuse, at work."
"I have a certain reputation to maintain," he told her, grinning as she swatted him. But what kind of reputation that might be, he hadn't said. The elevator dinged again as they reached the 14th floor, and the door swished open to allow them to exit.
"So you wouldn't mind me telling everyone about the gorgeous brunette you have on-call at your building, just for you and no one else?" Nat teased, pushing from the wall to follow him into the corridor.
"All I need now is a blonde," he teased back, waiting for her in the corridor before turning to lead the way to his door. "You're not allergic, are you?" he asked, pretty much admitting to Coco being a dog now.
"To blondes? I think we'd have found that out by now, don't you?" Natasha couldn't remember having laughed this much in one person's company for a very long time. Colin seemed to be very easy to tease, or perhaps he was just letting her do it. Either way, she could feel her cheeks aching from all the smiling.
"No, silly. To dogs!" he replied, echoing her laughter. It had been a long time since he'd laughed this much, too; a long time since he'd felt this comfortable in someone else's company. Though he was friendly enough with his colleagues, he was mostly a closed book, preferring to keep his private life private.
"No, I'm not," she assured him, laughing through her words. "And even if I was, taking one small tablet a day would be a small price to pay."
"A small price to pay for what?" he asked curiously, as they arrived outside a door with a sign that read Apt. 1411. "Well, this is it," he said, stating the obvious. "Still want to do this?" he asked, giving her one last chance to back out, if she wanted.
"For being around you." And she meant it, too. Even if the first sight of his dog brought her out in hives, she'd find a way to cope. Whatever was going on here was more important than being a bitch about an animal. "Why would I change my mind?"
He shrugged, unsure how to answer that question. There were no skeletons lurking in his closet - at least, none he hadn't already told her about. Though he valued his privacy, he had few secrets, so what was it that made him offer her a chance to back out? What was it he was afraid of? "Do you know how to swim?" he asked, out of the blue.
She blinked. "Yes," she said, "but now I'm slightly concerned about what kind of dog I'm about to meet. Do I need to come equipped with a scuba mask, or a full oxygen tank?"
"No, of course not," he replied, chuckling softly as she misunderstood his question. He reached for her hand, his fingers tangling with hers again, his expression softening. "Even though you know how to swim, it can still be frightening sometimes to jump into the water," he told her, hoping she understood the allegory.
Her own smile softened as he took her hand, stepping closer into his side as she looked up at him. "I understand," she promised him. "Are you sure about this?"
He turned to face her, almost losing himself in her gaze. "Quite sure," he replied, lifting a hand to brush his knuckles against her cheek as their eyes met and locked. He found his heart was pounding inside his chest, not with fear so much as anticipation.
Her cheek tilted into his touch, the barest flush of warmth leaving a rosy hint on her face as her smile deepened, fighting not to claim another kiss so soon. After all, that wouldn't be a good impression to make on his dog. "So when do I get my scuba mask?"
"Maybe we should just both hold our breath and jump in together," he said, leaning closer, almost close enough to kiss her, a soft smile on his face. He was just about to steal another kiss when the distinct sound of a bark was heard coming from down the corridor.
Leaning into him, Nat sighed into that kiss, letting her tension slide away with the sigh. She didn't need to worry about being around Colin - he knew what she was and what she did, if not all of what she had done, and he still wanted to be around her. That was more than enough. But the bark made her laugh, drawing back to look down the corridor with a curious smile.
Colin turned to find a teenage girl shouting as she hurried after a small chocolate cocker spaniel that was heading their way. Colin laughed, letting go of Nat for a moment so that he could scoop the dog up into his arms as soon as she reached them.
"Hullo, sweetheart! I missed you, too!" he told the dog, as he ruffled her perfectly groomed chocolate floppy ears.
Nat stepped back as the dog bounded into her owner's arms, tail wagging eighteen to the dozen and tongue ready to smother him in affection. "I can see you have a very intimate relationship," she chuckled.
"She is rather affectionate," he agreed, laughing as "Coco" covered her master's face in doggy kisses.
"I'm so sorry, Mr. Prescott! She's always so good, but she saw you and wiggled right out of my arms!" the teenage girl explained in a rush of words, her face flushed with worry as she joined them.
"It's okay, Amy," he assured the teenager. "Nat, this is Amy. She takes care of Coco for me when I'm away," he explained.
"I can see that." Nat was still laughing as the teenager was introduced to her, offering a warmer first impression than most people got from her. "It's very nice to meet you, Amy."
"Nice to meet you, too, miss," Amy replied, still looking a little exasperated. "I'm sorry she got away from me, Mr. Prescott. It won't happen again!"
Colin smiled reassuringly back at the teen. "It's all right. Really. All's well that ends well," he assured her.
"Who wants to get between a dog and her boy, anyway?" Nat pointed out in an impish tone. "They are seriously loved up."
"I'm a bit old for a boy," Colin pointed out, still grinning. "Would one of you take her for a minute so I can get the door?" he asked, looking to either one of them to volunteer.
Nat found her gaze drawn to the enthusiastic dog in his arms, and felt something very close to shyness for possibly the first time in her adult life. "I, uh ... I could, I guess."
Though Coco was clearly attached to her master, she wasn't an unfriendly dog, her tail wagging happily as she was handed off to Nat, so that Colin could unlock the door to his apartment.
"She's a really nice dog, miss," the teenager assured Nat. "It was nice meeting you, but I have to be going. See you later, Mr. Prescott! See you later, Coco!" she called, as she turned to leave, waving goodbye as she hurried back down the corridor.
As if on cue, the dog barked once in reply.
Coco was certainly heavier than Nat had been expecting, or perhaps it was just the way that wagging tail kept putting her weight off-balance so much, neither one way or the other. Still, it wouldn't look good to drop Colin's dog, so she adjusted her grip as best she could, opening her mouth to say goodbye to Amy in the wake of Coco's goodbye. Coco, however, had better comedic timing than Nat had given her credit for - the redhead ended up with the dog's tongue in her mouth.
Colin pushed the door open, looking back at Nat just in time to witness that first kiss and breaking into laughter. "See? She likes you. Love at first sight! Maybe I should be jealous," he teased, waving them both inside.
"Oh, sweetie, you need a breath mint," Nat informed the dog, snorting with laughter when she got her face licked just for showing the beautiful creature a little attention. She edged past Colin, maneuvering with the dog in her arms and the bag on her shoulder to get in through the door.
"Make yourself comfortable," Colin told her, closing the door behind her, giving her permission to let Coco down without exactly saying so. Inside, the apartment wasn't exactly what one might expect of a bachelor pad. The place was tastefully decorated in neutral shades of white and beige, gray and black, and though their surroundings were elegant, they were comfortable, as well.
Crouching to let Coco down, Nat brushed the fur from her dress as she rose, listening to the sound of the dog's happy paws tapping over the floor into the apartment. She hadn't expected the place to be so bright, charmed by the living room as she stepped further inside. "So this is Chez Prescott, huh?"
"Home sweet home," he replied, backing into the room, with arms outstretched to welcome her into his private space. "So, how do you feel about pasta?" he asked, pausing near the couch to slip off his shoes.
"Well, I'm not going to ask it to marry me," she pointed out, slipping her bag down her arm to set it out of the way against the wall. After a moment's thought, her boots joined his shoes by the couch, losing her about three inches in height in the process.
He had told her to make herself comfortable, so long as she kept her clothes on. Otherwise, they might not make it to dinner. He smiled down at her again, amused by her response and looking more relaxed than she'd ever seen him. "I have to feed Coco before she starts gnawing on the furniture," he told her, linking his fingers with hers again and planting a light kiss against her lips.
"Does that a lot, does she?" she asked, smiling into the kiss he brushed to her lips. She had no objection to her hand in his, content to pad barefoot about his apartment at his heel to watch him feed his hyperactive dog.
"Not really. She's pretty well behaved, but you never know," he replied, leading her into the kitchen with Coco at their heels, barking once to remind them she was there. "Yes, yes, I know you're hungry. Doesn't Amy feed you?" he asked the little bundle of fur at their feet as he went about fetching her food and water bowls.
"She obviously just doesn't have your special touch," Nat told him in amusement. "How long have you had her? She's beautiful." As she spoke, she absently leaned down to drag her fingertips through the dog's fur.
"Not long. About a year. She's not much more than a puppy really," he told her as he turned on the sink to fill one of the bowls with fresh water. "I found her in a local shelter. All her siblings had already been adopted and she looked lonely, so I took her home."
Without quite realising she was doing it, Nat found herself crouching beside the little dog, one arm wrapped about the russet back as she scratched her head. "What made you want a dog?" she asked curiously. "How's she adapting to life in the US?"
He shrugged at her question - the first one, at least. Why did anyone ever adopt a pet? The truth was he'd been lonely, but he didn't want to tell her that. "I suppose it was love at first sight," he replied, though that didn't explain why he'd gone to the shelter to begin with. "She doesn't seem to mind it here, but she had a hard time on the plane."
"So I guess you guys are intending to stay here for a while, then," Nat mused, looking down at Coco. She smiled as the dog licked her cheek again. "Good grief, she's a very kissy dog."
"She's very affectionate," he agreed, as he filled the dog's food bowl. "She's not much of a guard dog, I'm afraid. If anyone tried to break in, she'd probably try to make friends," he said, with another chuckle.
"Aww, that's all right," Nat teased. "You've got me to defend both of you now." It came out a little more possessive and psychic-seeming than she had intended, not wanting to assume that she was here to stay unless Colin said it aloud. In an attempt to cover that slip, she gave Coco a gentle push toward her bowls. "Go on, sweetie, eat everything and be sick on the bed!"
Colin chuckled, as he crouched down to set the bowls in front of the little dog. "If she gets sick on the bed, guess who's cleaning it up?" he teased in return. While he hadn't exactly invited her to move in with him yet, he was seriously considering it.
"You - I don't count as anything other than a guest until I've taken two showers and had to wear your underwear as shorts on the morning run," she told him with swift wit. But at least she'd given him a time frame.
He couldn't help but laugh. "Ah, I see. Well, that shouldn't take long," he said, grinning at her, as his fingers combed back through the dog's silky fur while she enjoyed her dinner. "You'd better hope I wear boxers," he added, though if she was observant, she already knew that.
"Darlin', if you don't wear boxers, I am never going to be anything but a guest," she teased back, rising onto her feet once again to stretch her back. "Is there anything I can do? I'm not used to having downtime and nothing to do in it."
"I didn't realize my underwear choices were so important to you," he said, still looking amused. "Is there anything else I should know that you require in a man?" He, too, moved to his feet, towering over her by at least a head. "I was thinking pasta, unless you have a better idea."
"Yes, I require that he be everything in this Colin Prescott package in front of me," she answered him smartly, her gesture encompassing all of him as her head tilted back to meet his eyes with a smile. "Are you seriously asking the person who confessed to not being able to cook, what to cook?"
"Can you boil water?" he asked, with that amused smirk still on his face, arms crossed against his chest as he took a lazy lean against the kitchen cupboards.
"In theory," was her reply, although perhaps it wasn't as playful as it sounded. Natasha really didn't know how to cook anything that didn't involve a microwave.
"Okay, lesson number one ... How to boil water," he said, grinning as he pushed off his lean to give the Black Widow her first cooking lesson. It was a lot harder to burn water than people claimed, and with him there to give her instructions, she might actually learn a thing or two. In less than an hour, dinner was on the table, and no one had gotten hurt making it.
Coco had also trundled off to amuse herself in her own toybox, apparently well trained enough to understand that human dinner was none of her business. And for all that Nat made a big show out of not being able to cook, the coffee she produced after the meal was as good as any you might get in a restaurant.
"So ... I'm burning with curiosity here," she said over the rim of her cup. "Does Coco have her own side of the bed, or will she be in the middle?"
Colin sipped his coffee appreciatively. Who needed cooking skills if they could make coffee this good? "Actually," he started, setting his mug down. "She has her own bed, but ..." There was that smirk again. "She usually ends up with me by morning."
"You know, that really doesn't surprise me," Nat murmured, half-teasing through her soft smile. "You're a hugger when you're asleep. It's rather adorable, actually."
A single brow ticked upwards at this information. "Am I?" he asked, clearly unaware of it. No one had ever told him that before, but then, it had been a while since he'd shared his bed with anyone but his dog. "Is that a good thing?"
"I enjoyed it," she assured him, glancing toward the dog who was as close to the couch as she could get without being on it while doing something chewy with what looked like a shoe made out of rope. "I may have some competition, though."
He smiled as he followed her gaze to man's best friend, or in this case, the "other woman" in his life. "I think there's enough of me to go around," he said, adding, "I did warn you."
"Briefly, just before we walked in," she pointed out in amusement. "She's beautiful, Col. Don't worry so much. If I can handle Tony Stark, I can definitely make friends with your girlfriend."
"She hasn't growled at you yet. I think that's a good sign," he said, though it was hard to imagine the cocker spaniel growling at anyone. "So, I was thinking ..." he started, with just the faintest hint of nervousness. "What would you think about moving in with me?" he asked, bluntly. There didn't seem to be much point in beating around the bush.
To her credit, Natasha did not immediately recoil and shut down the whole idea. Instead, she set her cup aside, giving him her full attention. "I ... have made a lot of enemies in my time," she said carefully. "If they track me down, they'll want me dead. Are you sure you know what you're asking by inviting me to live with you?"
To his credit, he didn't so much as blink at her warning. "I'm not as helpless as I seem, Nat. Do you need me to prove it?" he asked, knowing she had to warn him of the dangers of being with her, even though he was already well aware of that fact. "Besides, I have Coco to protect us," he added, with a smirk, hoping to lighten the conversation.
"No, I know you're not helpless," she assured him. "And there's no guarantee that anyone will find me - the name, the look, they're different to what I was known by when I crossed them. It wouldn't be right to agree to live with you without being sure you know the risks."
"Nat, I wasn't just a computer programmer with MI5. I was an agent, and before that I was military. I know how to use a gun, and I know how to take care of myself," he assured her, though he figured she'd already guessed as much. "Who are we talking about here? Russian Intelligence? KGB?"
"No, the legitimate organizations wouldn't be stupid enough to come after me," she shook her head. "I'm not their problem anymore. No, if anyone was to do it, they would be independent agencies. People I worked with, people I ... inconvenienced. Same or similar skillset, a little less moral backbone."
"I'm still listening," he said, assuring her he wasn't that easy to scare off. "With Hydra off the map, that narrows it down a little, but we all have our fair share of enemies. People who'd like to see us dead ... or worse. You have two choices in life - you can either hide and hope they don't find you or fight back and hope you find them before they find you. Isn't that why we're both working for A.E.G.I.S.? So the good guys can beat the bad guys and live to fight another day?"
Her lips quirked into a faint smile. "You'll note I didn't say no," she pointed out with gentle amusement. "I just need to be sure you know the risks of being that entangled with me. It might never happen, but ... I keep my bases covered, always."
"Natasha, I'm already entangled with you," he said, reaching over to brush his fingers against her cheek and push her hair back from her face in a gesture of genuine affection. "And I just don't scare that easily."
She tilted her head into his touch, enjoying the uncalculated affection he was so good at showing. "Then yes," she told him quietly. "If you think Coco can handle sharing you ... I'd like to have a home. With you."
He knew who she was; he knew what she was capable of, and that she was dangerous to be with, and still he was asking her to move in with him. It wasn't exactly a marriage proposal, but it was a start. He looked over at his dog, who was resting her head against her paws and napping peacefully. "Oh, I'm pretty sure Coco can handle it. Can you?"
Nat's smile deepened as she followed his gaze to the dog. "I think I can handle being one of two women in your life," she conceded. "You're going to be outnumbered, though."
"That's all right," he said, mirroring her smile. "You're my two favorite girls." In truth, they were his only girls, as far as she was aware of anyway, since his mother was deceased, and he had never mentioned a sister.
"Let me guess," she teased. "In many ways, I'm far superior to your cocker spaniel." And if he got that reference, he would have learned something new about her without needing to push for her likes and dislikes.
What were the chances that he'd recognize that quote, considering the movie was made before their time? "White Christmas?" he guessed, with a grin. "I'm more of a Scrooge fan myself," he admitted.
"Oh, well done," she praised him, surprised he'd recognised the quote at all, much less attributed it correctly. It wasn't exactly a well known quotation from the movie. "Which version of Scrooge do you prefer?"
"The Muppets?" he replied with a grin, though he was clearly teasing. "My Mum read the book to me when I was a boy, so it's always been a favorite."
She laughed aloud at that. "It's good to have something familiar to come back to," she agreed. "It may be a little surprising, but my favorite book is To Kill A Mockingbird."
"Really?" he said, brows arching upwards in obvious surprise, just as she'd predicted. "Shall we go through the list of our favorites?" he asked, smiling. "Or would you rather we find out by accident?"
"Oh, I think finding out as we go would be more fun," she agreed, moving to rise from the table to collect their discarded dishes. She might not be a cook, but she would certainly wash up.
He caught hold of her arm before she could escape, whether she was carrying any dishes or not. "Leave them for later," he told her, drawing her back. He hadn't brought her there to help with chores - at least, not tonight.
She laughed as he drew her back, letting the piled dishes settle on the table once again as she leaned close against him. "Not interested in the domestic goddess routine tonight, huh?"
"I didn't ask you here to do dishes," he told her, pulling her into his lap. "Unless that's what you'd prefer," he added, though he had a feeling they could both think of better things to do.
This time, there was no hesitation in her slide onto his lap, in the way her arms wrapped comfortably about his shoulders. This time, they weren't at work, under surveillance. It was just them. And Coco, of course. Her fingers gently traced his cheek, seeing the signs of his sleepless night painted in his face. "I survived, Col," she reminded him softly. "I'm right here."
His arms circled her waist, as if he wanted to hold her there in his arms forever. His expression softened, weary as he was, at her reminder. "And I'm going to do everything I can to make sure you go on surviving," he told her, sealing that promise with a kiss, though it was unclear just what he could possibly do in that regard.
She sighed softly into his kiss, wondering if he would ever understand just how much it meant to hear him say such things, especially knowing who and what she was. A thought occurred to her as she drew back, kissing the tip of his nose affectionately. "Let's go to Malta," she suggested.
"Malta?" he echoed, chuckling. "I was thinking about going to bed," he teased. "What's in Malta? Other than sea and sand," he asked, never having been there before, but knowing it was reputed to be Mediterranean paradise.
"That's a given, you're the one who wanted me to make a decision about this vacation of ours," she pointed out in amusement. "I don't know why Malta, it just ... came to mind. So long as you don't mind being seen with a scarred woman in a bikini."
"I think you mean a beautiful woman in a bikini," he corrected, before kissing her again, this time a little deeper than the last, his lips lingering against hers. "Would you like to see the bedroom?" he asked, touching his forehead to hers.
"If I run, do you think I could beat Coco to the bed?" she asked playfully, teasing her fingertips over his neck as she grinned back to him. The dog herself was wuffling happily in her sleep not too far away.
"Not if you run, but perhaps if you tiptoe," he replied, with a brief glance at the happily dozing dog. If they were quiet and didn't wake her, though she was likely to come looking for then as soon as she woke from her doggy dreams.
Pressing close to tease his lips with another long kiss, Nat drew back with a sparkling smile. "I can sneak with the best of them," she promised him. "Can you?"
"There's only one way to find out," he said, not one to ignore a challenge. He touched another kiss to her lips, as he slowly moved to his feet, scooping her up in his arms as he did and starting in the direction of the bedroom.
For someone so small, there was a surprising density about Natasha's weight, a reminder that she was mainly composed of toned and trained muscle, rather than the softness most men associated with a woman. But she was feminine enough to giggle as he lifted her into his arms, surprised and just a little touched by the chivalrous gesture.
Was it really chivalrous though, or was it just lust? Either way, he didn't seem to be having any trouble carrying her from one room to the other, despite the fact that his build was more athletic than brawny. The bedroom was decorated similarly to the rest of the apartment - modern lines, warm woods, and neutral colors. As for the bed, it was big enough to get lost in and comfortable enough to be inviting. He laid her gently back against a pile of pillows, kissing her again to make sure she knew his intentions.
"Nuh-uh," she warned playfully as he drew back, grasping his arms to pull him down onto the bed with her, rolling until she straddled his waist. She leaned down to him, pressing her smiling lips to his. "My turn to play."
"I didn't realize we were taking turns," he whispered back, between kisses. The view out the windows was spectacular this time of day, the setting sun setting the sky ablaze in a wash of fiery shades of pink and orange, the color reflected against the walls, though he hardly seemed to notice. The view, though beautiful, was nothing compared to the one before his eyes.
"You hogged all the teasing last time," she accused him affectionately. "My turn. And no deadline this time." The grin she flashed him should have been warning enough - she intended to leave him squirming and sated, before she let him take his turn.
"I was more awake last time," he reminded her, though that was arguable. Neither of them had likely slept more than a handful of hours in days, and yet, now that he was here with her, he wasn't ready to sleep until they were both fully sated.
"Then you'd better start thinking wakeful thoughts," was Nat's only reply, as clever fingers undid his clothes. She nipped his lips just once before her head dipped to his chest, and a very clever mouth began to tease him into exquisite oblivion.
"It's probably a good thing we had coffee," he said, before giving himself over to her ministrations. He might have objected or even given her a taste of her own medicine, but she lived up to her name, it seemed, as he fell under the Black Widow's spell.
At least he could be sure he was going to end the evening with his head still attached - she wasn't quite that well named. But she was certainly thorough. It had been a very long time since Nat had allowed herself to just enjoy lavishing affection on anyone. Colin was the sole beneficiary of a lot of expertise, with the new element of actually caring that he enjoyed himself.
But he wasn't the kind of man to take it all lying down. He gave as good as he got, needing to know - needing to make sure - she was as satisfied as he was. Just as before, he proved once again that he knew his way around the female body pretty well, but it wasn't just about sex anymore. His kisses and caresses were proof she was more than just one night's satisfation, proof he was starting to care for this woman who seemed as alone in the world as himself.
She'd never felt this wanted, this ... this loved ... with anyone. There had been one or two she'd thought might have the potential, but it was nothing like this. Every time she fell, he was there to catch her; he never pushed, he cajoled and teased and guided until her mind spun and all she was aware of was him, right there in her arms, holding onto her as she held onto him. If that wasn't love, she wasn't sure she knew what was. Even if it was too soon to say it aloud.
It might have been too soon to say the words out loud, but there was an unmistakable connection between them, an unmistakable attraction he'd never felt with anyone before in his entire life. If this wasn't love, he wasn't sure what was. Just as they were coming down from the pinnacle, their limbs tangled together, sharing breathless kisses, a thump was felt on the bed, followed by a small bark and a wet doggy kiss against Nat's leg.
Well, it was certainly one way to vet whether or not her master's new lady was the right sort of woman for him. To her credit, Nat didn't even squeak at the cold wet nose stroking along her calf, breaking the kiss to let her head fall back with a loud laugh at Coco's enthusiastic affection. "Oh, sweetie, you have such good timing!"
Coco had no idea what was going on in her master's bed. She only knew that her master and his new friend were laughing and having fun without her and she was not one to be left out. A wagging tail slapped against Nat's rear, as the dog barked again as if to ask if she could join them.
Colin chuckled as the dog joined them. "I told you she always ends up with me," he reminded her, with a grin.
"I didn't realise that would involved getting spanked." She laughed with him, rolling to her back to ruffle the beautiful dog's fur. "Are you feeling left out, sweetie? Should we find you a big old Alsation to rock your world?"
Colin chuckled again. "You want to find her a boyfriend?" he asked, rolling onto his side and propping himself up on an elbow as he reached over to watch his two best girls get to know each other. "I told you she'd like you."
"I don't know, has she been done?" Nat asked, grunting as Coco knocked her onto her back to sit on top of her.
"I'm afraid so," Colin admitted with a faint smile. He hadn't had much choice in the matter, but Coco didn't seem any less happy for it. "Are you worried she might get lonely?"
"Well, she's got no need for a fella if she doesn't get the urges," Nat pointed out in amusement. "Okay, sweetie, your paw really doesn't belong right on my boob. Scoot." She gave Coco a push, which just resulted in the dog lurching sideways to give love to Colin instead.
The dog didn't seem to mind, licking her master's face affectionately as she found herself sandwiched between them. He found himself laughing again. "We may need a bigger bed," he said. "All right, Coco. Time for bed," he told her, scooping her up in his arms. "Say good-night to Nat."
Chuckling at the excited dog being forcibly carried off the bed, Nat ruffled Coco's fur briefly before she lay back. She could get used to this; to not being alone once the social part of the evening was done, to having someone around even if they didn't speak. To know that she would wake up to a smile, be it human or canine, in the morning.
Colin knew Coco wasn't likely to stay in her little doggy bed, but she always started the night there, until her master was asleep and couldn't protest her joining him on the bed. Once he got her settled in, he rejoined Nat in bed, pulling the covers up over them both before turning to face her again. "Sorry about that. She just misses me," he said, a small frown in the dark.
Nestling into his side, Nat bit her lip. "Maybe I should get a dog, too," she murmured. "Get her a friend to keep her company while we're ... otherwise engaged."
"It's not that so much as when I'm at work," he admitted, wondering if it had been selfish of him to adopt the dog in the first place. "She gets lonely, and Amy isn't always available to watch her."
"You could probably bring her onto the HQ, but there's no guarantee it won't be attacked again," she mused thoughtfully. "I guess it's something to think about."
"I don't like the idea of crating her. It doesn't seem fair or humane," he said. He wasn't sure if he liked the idea of bringing her to work with him either. "I'll probably have to look into doggy daycare." If there was such a thing.
"Well, you do have access to the best background checkers in the world," she reminded him, tilting her head up to brush her smile against his jaw. "You could be absolutely certain she was in good hands."
"That's true. I wonder what Croft would think of me asking them to do background checks on dogsitters," he said, only half joking. He eased a little closer to slide an arm around her waist, as he leaned in to brush his lips to hers. "You should get some rest."
"So should you," she pointed out, her own arm slipping about his waist in turn, hugging to him beneath the sheets. "We have an important decision to make and then execute tomorrow. There may be shopping involved."
"What decision is that? I thought we already decided on Malta," he said, stifling a yawn. Now that he was relaxing comfortably in bed, with Nat by his side and Coco nearby, it was proving hard to stay awake.
"All right, so decision made," Nat murmured, blinking slowly as her own weariness caught up with her. "Travel agents or whatever tomorrow. Also calling Lucy Rogers so I can show you off before we disappear for three weeks."
"Does she know any doggysitters?" he asked, yawning again, his eyelids growing too heavy to remain open. Unfortunately, he couldn't stay awake long enough to hear the answer to her question.
Nat grinned as she watched him slide into sleep. She was fairly sure that Steve and Lucy Rogers would have no objection to taking Coco for a couple of weeks or so, though she would definitely ask them in advance rather than dropping the gorgeous dog on them. She hugged a little closer to her sleeping lover, listening to the sound of Coco perking up from her bed and pattering back to jump up and drape herself comfortably on top of both sleepers. How did I get this lucky? Maybe Steve was right, after all. Maybe she'd finally reached a point where she deserved this - a home, something close to a family. Now the dust had settled, maybe finally she was going to be able to live her life. With Colin, she thought she could probably have it all, if he was so inclined. But that was a thought for another day.