Steve suddenly stood in the doorway, watching Nat quietly, a worried frown on his face only partly for her. The two of them had become close over the last few years. It wasn't hard to figure out what she was thinking when he was thinking it himself. But instead of mentioning Fury, the first thing he thought to ask was about her. He'd seen the expression on her face, the tone of her voice, the way her hands were shaking. As much as she might try to hide it, he knew she was upset, and rightfully so. They'd grieved Fury's death once; neither of them wanted to do it again.
"You okay?" he asked, staying where he was a safe distance away. She wasn't okay; neither of them were, but he had to ask anyway.
She thrust the pot home a little more forcefully than was really necessary before lifting her gaze to her friend. "You know I'm not," she told him. "You're not, either. How long did he know S.H.I.E.L.D. had become Hydra before he let us know Hydra still existed? How long did he send me out on missions for the enemy while he played his long game?" She sighed, turning to lean back against the counter, arms wrapped tight about herself. "How long has he been in there, trying to get out?"
"Maybe he's not trying to get out," Steve suggested. He wasn't suggesting that Fury had betrayed them or had gone over to Hydra, but that he may have pretended to do just that. It would have been nice if he could have warned them about the hit on Lucy, that ended up almost killing Liv, but maybe he either hadn't been privy to that information or hadn't been able to pass it along, for some reason. He didn't have to spell it out for her. She'd put two and two together on her own eventually.
"I thought I was turning my life around, working for him," Nat said quietly. "I thought I was one of the good guys. I'd be happier if he'd gone down fighting."
"Nat, you can't think like that," Steve said, taking a step into the room. "Fury's got reasons for everything he does. He's always ten steps ahead of everyone else. He's got his own end game going on, but I refuse to think he's betrayed us. Hell, Nat, this is proof he hasn't betrayed us." Unless, of course, it was a trap, but Steve didn't want to think about that.
"And proof that he doesn't care about collateral damage," she pointed out unhappily. "This makes twice he's put your wife in danger, just to see what happens. He'd better have a damned good reason for it." Nick Fury hadn't been around to see his most efficient killer grow deeply attached to Steve's wife and children, and their extended family beyond, but he should have realised it would happen. She had the same sort of bond with Clint Barton's family.
"If he's not careful, he might become collateral damage," Steve murmured quietly. A muscle in his jaw twitched, the only sign that he was having as much trouble processing this as Nat, but doing his best not to show it. It was one thing to go deep undercover inside of Hydra, but quite another to put those he was supposed to be protecting in danger.
"You realize that if that's good information, we could set Hydra back decades," he pointed out. He had to admit, it was a pretty big "If".
"Put you and me out of a job in the process," she agreed, but her anger was guarded again, less likely to explode. "Not a bad thing, for you." She drew in a breath, tilting her head to look at him. "Liv saw the healers, right? How is she doing?"
"She's doing fine, and you're changing the subject," he pointed out, unsurprised by her tactic. "When the world - hell, the multiverse - runs out of bad guys, then we'll retire," he told her, confident there were enough bad guys to go around for a while yet, even without Hydra.
"If - if - the information is good - and we'll have to do covert recon on it for a couple of days - Hydra's going to get the kicking of a lifetime," she pointed out. "Any bad guys paying attention will think twice about causing trouble anytime soon."
"You sound like you'd almost be sad to see Hydra go," he teased, taking a lean against the wall, arms crossed against his chest. He knew better than that, but he also knew she might have trouble sorting out what to do after that. "If you get bored, I've got a handful of teenagers who could use a little hands-on training."
"I'll have to go back to basics," she shrugged. "New covers, new life ... start over all over again." It wasn't something she wanted to do, clearly. The mention of his handful of teenagers made her smirk. "You seriously think Johnny would ever say yes to that?"
"He's gonna have to accept the fact that his daughter is following in his footsteps sooner or later," Steve pointed out. "We're not gonna live forever, Nat. They're the next generation of Avengers, and you know as well as I do that not all of Earth's threats come from Earth."
She nodded wearily. "Maybe we'll get lucky, and Thor's found an alien for us to beat up," she suggested, but she wasn't vetoing teaching the teenagers a few things. Powers only gave you an edge in a fight, in her experience - she knew a few other tricks that could turn that edge into a killing blow.
He noted the weariness in her, the worry, the warning signs that she might be starting to burn out. "Maybe you need a vacation. When was the last time you took a break?" he asked, knowing this wasn't the time for it, but if they really did somehow manage to take Hydra out, they'd all deserve a well-earned break.
He probably wasn't going to like the answer to that question, but she gave it anyway. "1994?" she hazarded a guess. "I was ten, it was a reward for passing into the Red Room." She shrugged. "This is what I am, Steve. I don't stop, I don't know how to."
"Then maybe you need someone to show you how," he said, unable to hide a faint smile from his face. You could say whatever you wanted about Steve Rogers, but he wasn't very good at pretending. "You and Prescott seem pretty chummy. You a little sweet on the new guy?" he asked, nudging her arm with an elbow.
She snorted with laughter. "If I was, do you think I'd tell you?" she countered, turning back to pour fresh coffee from the pot. "He's not like anyone else I know."
"How's that?" he asked, studying her as she turned her back on him, which was as much an admission of guilt as anything else. "Because he doesn't wield a hammer or hulk out and turn green?" he asked, for example. Or was it something else?
She was quiet for a long moment, but he knew that silence. It was Natasha trying to decide how much truth to share. "All my friends, all of us ... we're fighters," she said quietly. "We see a problem and we run at it. And here's this guy who could probably go toe-to-toe with me in a fight and almost win, who doesn't do that. He's a better shot than I was out of training. But he'd rather be support, rather pick through lines of code and run intel simulations, than raise his hand to anyone. It's ... it's not what I'm used to."
Steve didn't bother to point out the fact that she had plenty of friends who weren't fighters. There was Liv and Lucy, to name a few, and that was just for starters. Instead, he remained quiet until she was finished, until she'd said out loud, maybe for the first time, what she'd been thinking. "Maybe that's a good thing, Nat. Maybe someone different is just what you need," he pointed out, as gently as he could.
"Maybe you and he should open up an introduction agency," she drawled, half-amused by Steve's insistence that there was something in her that was worth more than a lifetime spent fighting and hiding.
He wasn't telling her to fall in love, get married, and have kids - at least, not right away - but what he was telling her was that there was more to life than fighting. "I don't think you need an introduction," he said, chuckling. "But if you want me to make dinner reservations somewhere, I can do that."
"Yeah, with a mission that could kill me coming up? Not happening." She smiled, sliding a cup along the counter to him. And there was the main problem. Natasha was a covert agent, always had been - she would always be able to find the excuse that would keep her from living the life left to her.
"If I thought that way, I'd have never gotten married," he pointed out further. "Have you ever considered that maybe having someone to come home to gives you more reason to stay alive?" he countered her argument with one she could have made to him at some point in the past when he'd been struggling with the same thing.
"Have you ever considered that most guys want the 2.4 family?" she argued mildly. "Destined for disappointment there, because I can't give anyone the .4 part of that."
"Most," he echoed, pointedly. "Liv didn't think she could have kids. That's why they adopted Fliss. Kids aren't for everyone, but if you decide you want a family, there are options, Nat. Besides, we're just talking about a date here, not the whole white picket fence thing." He smiled again, warm and reassuring. "Don't you think you deserve a little happiness, Nat?" he asked, gently again.