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Begin Again

Begin Again

Took a deep breath in the mirror
He didn't like it when I wore high heels
But I do

"Natasha, you look fine," a voice reassures the 26-year-old, a warm hand on her shoulder. Natasha, a pretty redhead with forest green eyes, bites her lip as she turns around. She comes face to face with her apartment mate, Pepper Potts. "He won't care what you look like. He'll like you for you."

"How do you know that, Pepper?" Natasha asks, worry seeping into her voice. She crosses her arms and starts to pace back and forth. "I've never met him and you haven't either." She scowls and collapses on her pink bedspread, running her hands through her hair.

"Okay, but don't knock it 'til you try it," Pepper smiles, taking Natasha's hands in her own so that she won't mess up her hair. "Look at me, Tasha," Pepper tilts the brunette's head up and forest green eyes meet hazel, "just trust your heart with this guy, Natasha. You need to learn to trust again."

Natasha wipes at her eye and nods, reaching out with her empty hand to grab her brush. "Thank you, Pepper." She smiles and hugs her friend. "Now, please help me pick out shoes!"

The fiery red head giggles and rummages through their shared closet for a moment before pulling out a pair of black heeled boots. Natasha shakes her head but Pepper glares at her.

"Trust me, these'll look the best, Tasha," the red head knows why her friend is hesitant to put on the shoes. She hardly wears anything but flats, sneakers, and flip-flops these days. The scarlet haired woman nods, bites her lip, and allows her friend to slip the shoes onto her feet. When the brunette hesitates to even leave the dorm room, she realizes what's holding her back. "Don't worry, I'll watch her."

"It's almost 1:30!" Natasha shrieks when she realizes she will have to speed to get to her destination. She walks quietly over to the corner and kisses the young ten-year-old's forehead, kisses her best friend on the cheek, grabs her backpack, and leaves the room.

Turned the lock and put my headphones on
He always said he didn't get this song
But I do, I do

She winds up obeying the law and still getting there on time. She sits in the car, listening to one of her favorite songs before she has to walk into someplace that would either make or break her heart. The café looks almost empty when she glances at it and she groans. She hates when people are late and, like with her best friend, she will usually tell most people to be someplace fifteen minutes before they actually had to be there… so that they'll be there on time.

She hums along to a song on the radio as she pulls into a spot, mouthing some of the words. She remembers trying to get her now ex-boyfriend to dance to this song, but he would always scowl and tell her that she had a stupid taste in music. She would be forced to listen to the songs he liked, more rap and pop and swears than her ears can handle. So, now that she's free of him, she listens to all the oldies she likes.

Still humming along to California Dreamin' by the Mamas and the Papas Natasha turns off the car and steps out. Her stomach is filled with nervous hummingbirds and she's regretting the fact that she has agreed to be set up by her roommate.

What if the boy was hoping for a hot girl? Would he be disappointed with a Plane Jane like me? These thoughts are running through her head as she steps into the familiar coffee shop, the bell ringing as she pushes open the door. She smiles as the girls at the counter wave at her; one of her best friends glowing with happiness.

Walked in expecting you'd be late
But you got here early
And you stand and wait
I walk to you

"What's making you so happy?" Natasha asks in her soft voice.

"He proposed!" Jane squeals and hugs Natasha over the counter. The redhead chuckles and congratulates her best friend. Behind the light brown haired woman stands a brunette with her hands on her hips, golden brown eyes shining with amusement. "I can't believe it!"

"Okay, okay," the brunette laughs and puts a hand on Jane's shoulder. "You've told practically everyone in the shop about ten times now. Stop shouting."

"Maria, let her be happy," Natasha chides her friend, shaking her head. "So, how'd he do it?" Jane goes on to explain how her boyfriend had taken her out to dinner and proposed to her on the hill as thunder and lightning raged around them, his element. Natasha smiles and nods, happy for her friend.

"So Pepper told me you've got a hot date," Maria waves her finger at the brunette. "Why didn't you tell me? I could have helped you pick out the perfect outfit!"

"Because I shouldn't be all dolled up to meet a blind date at a coffee house," Natasha shakes her head. The dark skinned girl's eyes widened.

"So you're meeting him here?" she asks, her tone almost a hiss. "Why didn't you say so?" Maria notices Jane glancing over at a guy with short spikey blond in Natasha's hands.

"Maria—" Natasha begins but the brown eyed girl shakes her head and points over to the blond. He is standing against the window, his eyes focused on something outside.

"Can you deliver that coffee to him?" Maria asks sweetly and Natasha can see the sparkle of mischievousness in her eyes. When she glances at Jane, the other girl seems busy making another beverage for the elderly customer behind her. When Maria sees her friend hesitate, she whines, "Natasha, come on. Do it for me?" she pouts, trying to get her friend to (wo)man up and go over there. "We'll lose our business if you don't!"

Natasha bites her lip. She really shouldn't be helping Maria—she is waiting for her date to arrive and he is late—but the brunette knows she can never say no to helping out a friend. She and Pepper are alike in that respect.

Shaking her head at the Maria antics, Natasha makes her way over to the blond man. His summer sky blue eyes are looking down at the notebook in his hand before his eyes refocuses themselves on two doves pecking at the dirt outside the shop. Looking over his shoulder, she can see the gentle pencil strokes and soft lines.

"Wow, your drawing's amazing," Natasha speaks without meaning to and she blushes when the boy turned around. But, too far gone in her own world, Natasha continues speaking, "It's like the doves are really flying on the clouds."

"That's exactly what I was trying to do," he smiles at her and she flushes a bright red. About to apologize, she hands him the black coffee and is getting ready to walk away, feeling humiliated. But she freezes, her whole body buzzing with electricity when he grabs her wrist and pulls her back.

"You're Natasha, aren't you?" he asks. Her eyes fly to his face, startled that he knows her name. His light blue eyes are so amazing and she blushes as she feels the intensity of his gaze. Why is he looking at me like that? she thinks, insecure about herself and she tries to look away.

"I-I'm sorry to interrupt your drawing…" she apologizes and tries to walk away again, glancing around for her mystery date when he chuckles behind her and spins her around. To steady herself, she presses her palms against his chest and her head lands on his collarbone. She feels her body burning with embarrassed heat and her heart pounds.

"I've been waiting for you all morning," his voice is like honey in her ear and she shivers against him.

"You…" she can hardly speak. He's so handsome with the way longer strands of golden hair falls in his eyes and across his shoulder and her mind is drawing a blank. "You're him?" is all she could ask and she bites her lip when she realizes how that sounds.

But he can see the nervous twinkle in her eyes and he knows right away that she is definitely the girl his friends have told him about. He was told that she is a shy redhead and that her eyes are like the color of the grass on a spring day. He smiles at her and she graces him with a shy smile of her own. This is definitely a girl he can see himself with.

You pull my chair out and help me in
And you don't know how nice that is
But I do

He leads her over to a small table set up in the far corner of the store. Unfortunately, the two co-owners will be able to see everything they did and Natasha knows Maria will squeal over it for the next few hours.

Pulling out the chair for her makes her face flush with color and he chuckles at how easy it is to make this beautiful girl blush. "My Lady," he bows and she giggles, a sound like bells in the wind, and he's already fallen in love with it.

She sits down in the chair across from him, wondering if she has somehow found herself in a realistic dream. She pinches herself under the table and he notices her wince; yep, there's the pain that tells her this is not a dream.

He'll never know just how meaningful his gesture is and she plans on keeping her mouth shut about it. It reminds her of the beginning of her previous relationship, when she thought she had found her Prince Charming and he was going to sweep her off of her feet on a white stallion. But instead she ended up with a dragon that would eventually bite and chew and spit her mangled heart out, holding it out to her as if it was trash that he didn't need anymore.
"Are you okay?" his voice breaks through her fog and she almost beams at the fact that none of her friends have been able to do that. He notices her smile and he sends her one of his own. Just seeing her smile makes him happy!

"I'm fine," she reassures him, taking a sip of the latte labeled Natasha. Shaking her head, she moves on. "So, you know my name… How?"

"My best friends know your best friends," he shrugs and takes a sip of his own drink. "It's as simple as that."

She can remember Pepper saying something about her mystery date being friends with her boyfriend and his friends. They were the ones doing the setting up because they thought that both of them needed love in their life. I'll have to kiss them for this, she thinks with a laugh.

And you throw your head back laughin'
Like a little kid
I think it's strange that you think I'm funny
'Cause he never did

"Natasha, are you okay?" Steve asks. She had learned his name after Maria had called it out. The brunette had given her the wrong cup of coffee and he had gone to retrieve the right one.

"Yeah," Natasha nods, a small smile gracing her face.

"So what do you do for work?" he asks, a kind smile on his face that makes those pesky hummingbirds come back in droves.

"I'm an, um, well, I'm a writer, but I love to garden." She flushes and looks down to see his hand has grabbed hers over the table. When she looks up at him, she can see the tiny stars of silver in the depths of his irises. She lets a small nervous giggle escape her lips before looking away. "I've always loved nature and I have a garden out in the woods filled with plants."

"Maybe I could see them some time." He's encouraging her to talk with his voice and his comforting presence. Unlike with her previous boyfriend, who was extremely old fashioned, who made sure she knew she wasn't allowed to speak until he addressed her first. She hated it. "I have an aviary at my house. I love to draw birds, especially hawks and eagles."

She's laughing as he tells her more cheesy jokes that are completely obvious. One of the best was: "A man rode into town on Friday, stayed three days, and left on Friday. How is that possible?" She had looked at him with a questioning yet mesmerized gaze as he tells her that the horse's name was Friday. She'd accidentally snorted out a laugh and flushed red. But he'd just laughed along with her.

Natasha loves his laugh; it's deep and rumbly and makes her tummy clench. Although he seems to find everything she says funny and his smile makes her heart flutter in the cage of her chest like one of the birds he draws. She loves the fact that he actually finds her stupid jokes funny instead of stupid and he tells her his own that make almost no sense but they laugh anyway because it feels so good.

I've been spending the last eight months
Thinkin' all love ever does
Is break and burn and end

Checking her watch, her eyes widen when she realizes that they've been sitting at the small coffee shop for almost three hours. In that time she's learned more about him than she had even known about her last boyfriend. Ivan was a lone wolf of society and he didn't really share much of his personal life with her, even when she asked. He never explained why he did things or why he hated the world so much. He was like the darkness to her light and, in the end, she couldn't even explain why she went out with him.


With black hair and even darker eyes, Ivan was indeed very attractive. Somehow, out of all the beautiful girls in Shield High, he chose Natasha for some odd reason. None of her friends could understand it. She didn't even understand it herself. All of the other girls, mostly the cheerleaders hated her and tried to make her life miserable. When she told Ivan told her he would do something about it… but he never did.

"Natasha, come here," Ivan commanded over the phone and she rushed over. After a few weeks of dating, he had turned from the sweet and loving boyfriend the redhead had always wanted into her biggest nightmare. She shivered as she watched his dark eyes darken even more, if that was possible. Everything after that was black.

When Natasha woke up, she was beaten and bloody and bruised. A note taped to her arm said, 'If you tell anyone about this, I'll do much worse.' Biting back a cry, the scarlet haired woman had managed to crawl into her car and drive to Pepper's dorm room.

She had bailed on the slumber party Maria was planning to celebrate Jane and her boyfriend finally expressing that they loved each other through words instead of actions. It was silly, but Maria would never pass up the opportunity for a party. So when Natasha walked in with ripped clothes and blood dripping from a cut on her forehead, the party was called of and all of her friends rallied to take care of her.

(End Flashback)

That was ten years ago, but another relationship eight months ago had still left her numb. Not that it was the last time Ivan had beaten her. He did it when he was mad at her, drunk, or high. It didn't matter. But her friends were always there to help her and eventually they went to court. He had been put in jail for good.

"Natasha…" a honey voice says from somewhere beyond her tunnel vision. She blinks and a hot finger presses against her moist skin. She looks up and sniffles, wiping at her eye with the heel of her hand to see Steve looking at her with so much worry in his eyes. His thumb is wiping away at the sadness leaking down her cheeks. "Are you okay?"

"I…" she starts and then there's a moment when she realizes that he might care about her. Even though all she's ever known is that, romantically, pain equals love. But now her brain is trying to work out the fact that he's a stranger she just met and he seems to care more than her ex did in all the eight months they were dating.

But on a Wednesday
In a café
I watched it begin again

"Maria, do you think she's okay?" Jane asks, biting her lip. "'Ria…" The blonde in question is singing to herself as she makes a mocha latte. The light skinned girl rolls her aqua eyes and continues to watch her friend for any signs of discomfort. Pepper has already called and asked that if Natasha wants to leave she can.

"She's fine, Jane," Maria waves off her and goes back to her work, handing another customer their drink. The older woman thanks her and the bell rings as she walks out. "Stop being such a worry wart and help me with the customers."

"Fine, but don't yell at me if she flips out," Jane sighs and goes back to work, helping yet another caffeine hungry customer.

Across the room, Natasha can't stop smiling. It isn't because she finally feels happy, or because she's had way too many lattes, but because Steve has asked if he can draw her profile. The smile on her face isn't fake, but she wishes he'd let her turn and look at him. She can feel her heart beating faster and she knows that something was going on in her stomach but she can't tell if they're hummingbirds or wild horses. She pushes a strand of hair behind her ear nervously. She has always been insecure about not only her body but everything about herself. Ivan had beaten into her the fact that she wasn't pretty and was lucky he even looked at her. She bites her lip to keep back the lump of a sob from escaping her mouth.
"You look beautiful, Natasha," Steve says, his voice like the finest honey in the world. She rubs her eye and looks at him to see such concern and she knows that it's starting. Her heart flutters against the cage of her chest and she presses a hand against it. It's coming back to life; it's beginning again.

You said you've never met one girl who
Had as many James Taylor records as you
But I do

He sees her discomfort and wants to make sure she doesn't run away. So he switches the subject to something that they can both talk about. "So, who's your favorite artist?" his question makes her look up at him with a thankful smiles and he can't help but fall even more in love with her charming visage.

"Um, I have a huge collection of James Taylor records," she bites her lip at him nervously, waiting for him to laugh at her instead of with her. And he does laugh, but it's not cruel or mean, but a laugh that understands her.

"Me too," he's chuckling and she can't help but join in. It gets to the point where neither of them can stop laughing.

Her eyes are filled with tears but they aren't because she's sad but because she feels free to laugh and be herself and not have to worry about a slap or a hit or a punch. "What's your favorite song?" she asks hesitantly, her voice trembling breathlessly.

"Mexico," he smiles and begins to hum the tune. Her head sways with the rhythm and Natasha doesn't know it, but Maria's screaming in her mind about how cute they are. She's already planning the wedding in her head. Jane rolls her eyes because she knows exactly what Maria's planning. "You?"

"Shower the People," she answers. She has always loved the soft tune of it, mixing in the sadness and the love together into an unforgettable song. He nods and she almost jumps when she hears the song playing from the tabletop. She realizes it's his phone and she beams at him.

We tell stories and you don't know why
But I'm comin' off a little shy
But I do

"He did what?" Steve asks incredulously. Natasha's smiling and she watches as Steve looks over her shoulder at the two girls manning the counter. "He tried to trick his twin brother's girlfriend by proposing to her? That's so cruel."

"Yeah, but as you and I know," Natasha's smiling shyly at him, "people intimately know the people they love. She slapped him and kicked him in the nuts." Steve laughs and Natasha's cheeks burn, her eyes trained on her hands instead of his face.

This is exactly how it started with Ivan. The laughing, the jokes and secrets breathed between classes. Then it will be movie nights and 'friendly' dates which Natasha would have to pay for, just like before. But everything would go downhill, just like it did before, as soon as she agreed to be his girlfriend. She isn't naïve or stupid. She knows how love works… or at least that's how she thinks it is.

Steve watches her face. The lines of worry marring her beautiful visage and her emerald green eyes will look anywhere but at him. He doesn't understand her sudden shyness, but he doesn't want to impose or make her uncomfortable in any way.

"So, then what happened?" he asks once the silence stretches on for too long. "Did his brother ever find out?" Her eyes flicker with nostalgia and he just wants to reach over and take her hand, to reassure her that he isn't like whatever she seems to fear. He's different.

But you throw your head back laughin'
Like a little kid
I think it's strange that you think I'm funny
'Cause he never did

"Maria, look at her," Jane sighs as she leans against her hand, a sigh escaping her lips. "She almost looks happy…"

"She's looked happy before, you know," Maria retorts, rolling her eyes and pouring herself a cup of tea and some decaf coffee to Jane.

"Yeah, but there was always this little flicker of doubt in her eyes," Jane nods, taking a sip of her coffee. "Don't tell me you haven't seen it…"
"I tried to ignore it, Jane," the brunette sighs, placing a hand to her forehead dramatically. "I wanted to act like she wasn't this fragile doll you think she is. Why do you think I bought all of those clothes for her?"
"Was that your way of babying her?" Jane snorts, laughing so hard that Natasha and Steve look up from their small talk to see the girl laughing at the counter. Maria looks down at her coffee cup in embarrassment, her cheeks burning.

"I'm not really good at comforting other people, okay," Maria snaps, glaring at her dark skinned friend. "I was just trying to distract her."

"I'm not trying to reprimand you, Maria," Jane lays a hand on the woman's shoulder. They turn their heads to see Natasha pointing to something on a paper that Steve is showing her.

I've been spending the last eight months
Thinkin' all love ever does
Is break and burn and end

"Natasha, is there something wrong?" Steve asks, placing a hand over her clenched fist on the table. She bites her lip at him, worried that he can see the tentativeness and fear in her eyes. "You've seemed really reserved today."

Natasha's eyes widen when she realizes that he's noticed her absence from the conversation for the last hour or so. She doesn't want to tell him about her horrible past. Behind Steve's head, she can see Maria and Jane laughing and oh how she wishes she could be like them, so carefree and able to laugh, without fear of being hit or scratched.

"Natasha…" his voice breaks her out of her relapse into the past and her head jerks up so fast that he's scared she snapped her neck. "What's the matter?" His warm hand is over hers and her mind is betraying her again, going back to all those times with him before everything broke down and went wrong.

"I..." her mouth felt dry as if she couldn't speak, "I've just got a lot on my mind."

He smiles softly at her and she curses her heart for being so mushy and weak. "Well, as long as everything's okay." He takes the last sip of his tea and grabs her cup, which has been empty for the past thirty minutes.

"So, Steve, how's it going with our best friend?" the brunette asks as she takes the cups from the golden haired man, who smiles at her. The sapphires of his eyes are sparkling with mirth and happiness as Maria chats with him, her easy-going style something he can get used to if he decides to see Natasha again.

But on a Wednesday
In a café
I watched it begin again

"Hey, Pepper!" Natasha answers her phone with a huge smile on her face. "How is she?" Her smile doesn't go away when Steve comes back to the table and offers her his hand. She just nods and follows him out of the door, her mind still on the phone.

"She's fine, Tasha," Pepper reassures her friend. In the other room, there is the sound of someone screaming at the TV about some kind of spider and Natasha smiles, knowing it's her. "Although… I think she's getting a little angry at the program I put on for her."

"What's she watching?" Natasha asks, running a hand through her hair. Beside her, Steve is shooting her a questioning look but she waves him off. Her eyes give him that 'I'll tell you later' look. He nods and, in an act of courage, takes her hand and intertwines their fingers. He sees her blush and he smiles, proud of himself for being so brave.

"Some kind of fairy show called Avengers Assemble on Disney XD," Pepper answers. "She's yelling at the bad guys for hurting her favorite character, Black Widow."

"Yeah, she's made me watch that show with her a billion times," Natasha laughs, "My favorite character is Captain America."

"Natasha, I was just checking in," Pepper is smiling on the other side of the phone. "I'm not going to talk to you about your favorite character on a kid's TV show."

"Fine," Natasha pouts and Pepper chuckles, knowing she is. "Can you put her on the phone?"

"Sure," Pepper nods, even though the brunette can't see her. "Sweetie, come here! Natasha's on the phone."

"Mom!" the young girl's voice is an excited squeal. "Where did you go? When I woke up you weren't here! There's a new episode of Avengers Assemble and I had to watch it without you."

"I'm sorry, honey," Natasha smiles at the voice of her daughter. "You'll have to tell me what happened when I get home. Right now, I'm actually on my way and maybe, if Pepper tells me you've been a good girl, I'll pick you up something on the way. Okay?"

"Yeah!" the girl on the other end squeaks, only to calm down when Pepper takes the phone from her. "Bye, Mom!"

"Bye, honey. Bye, Pepper." Natasha hangs up the phone with a small smile on her face.
"Who was that?" Steve asks, "Your mom?"

Natasha tenses and slaps his shoulder. "No," Natasha giggles and it sounds like wind chimes. "It was my roommate and my…" She stops, tensing as he looks at her expectantly.
"She, um, she's my…" Her eyes fill with panic and she knows that if she tells him, he will run away. She feels safe with him and she doesn't want him to leave.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't feel comfortable," he reassures her and she smiles up at him, and her grip relaxes on his hand.

"No, you've been so kind to me, Steve," she stops and makes him turn to face her instead of standing beside her. "I should at least answer one of your questions truthfully."

"If you're sure…" He squeezes her hand reassuringly, telling her he is there.

"She's my daughter." Natasha freezes, waiting for his hand to retract, for him to look at her with wide eyes and accuse her of sleeping around.

But he doesn't. Instead, he wraps her in his arms and kisses her forehead, reassuring her that he's not going anywhere. And for the first time in almost eight months, she feels safe.

And we walk to down the block
To my car
And I almost brought him up
Steve and Natasha leave the quaint little coffee shop behind to walk hand in hand down the block. Her eyes keep flickering up to his face to examine his expression for any changes. As Cicero, a philosopher and statesman of ancient Rome said, 'the eyes are the windows to the soul,' and she is going to keep searching there until she finds a reason to stay.

She can see the questions in his eyes and she knows he wants to ask them but he is respecting her wishes to change the topic for the time being. 'Just tell him, you scardy cat!' she pushes herself but she bites her tongue as she thinks of her daughter and her safety.

But for some reason she feels safe in his arms and so she becomes brave and opens her mouth to spill a story she hasn't shared with anyone but her best friend… and maybe her boyfriend.

But you start to talk
About the movies that your family watches
Every single Christmas

It starts to snow and the wind picks up. Her mouth turns up into smile and she can't help but turn her head back to catch the flakes of iced water on her tongue. Some land on her nose and eyelashes and she giggles, not caring if she is making a fool of herself.

"It's almost Christmas," he whispers in her ear and she shivers, but it's not from the dropping temperature.

"I know," she replies, turning around to face him and she squeaks when she finds them almost nose to nose. If he leans down any further, he'll be kissing her!

"Don't you just love Christmas?" he asks, brushing his nose against hers in an Eskimo kiss and she flushes, both from the cold and the nearness of him.

"Truthfully," she starts, taking a shaky breath, "I'm not really that fond of Christmas."

"Why not?" he asks and she just shrugs, not wanting to spill secrets too early. Maybe later when she knows him more; when they've whispered other secrets across the sheets that aren't stained with her blood and tears but covered in love and comfort and security. Maybe then, she'll share her secrets.

"Well, my family, which is huge, by the way, gets together and we all watch Christmas movies," Steve explains and she beams at him, encouraging him to continue because she'd rather he talk about her family than have to explain to him why a 26-year-old woman like her has a daughter, even if he doesn't know that she is ten.

"What kinds of movies do you watch?" she asks, biting her lower lip at him. She fiddles with the bottom of her eco-friendly woolen sweatshirt. "I've never really had time to watch any."

He looks saddened by the thought before he smiles at her again, his midnight blue eyes filled with nostalgia. "We would watch things like The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Miracle on 34th Street,Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But my favorite one was always It's a Wonderful Life."

She gasps. "I love that movie!" she beams at him, giggling when he wraps his warmth around her. It feels like something she's never known with anyone other than her daughter and her friends. It feels like home.

And I will talk about that
'Cause for the first time
What's past is past

And for the first time in a long time Natasha doesn't feel like bottling it all inside. She doesn't want to explode from the pressure of being scared to give her heart to someone new because it's busied and broken and weak. She finally accepts the fact that this man standing right beside her, this handsome man that she'd only met hours ago in her friend's small coffee shop, might just be the one to take it and sow it back together; it might be able to heal and become strong in his hands.

"Come on," she breathes out against him, intertwining their fingers in her bravery, and pulling him down the street with her. She leaves her car, and her fear, behind. She's ready to be open with him and show him the side of her life that very few knew about.

'Cause you throw your head back laughin'
Like a little kid

"Mom!" a high pitched yet beautiful voice calls through the house when she unlocks the door to her and Pepper's apartment. "Mom, guess what Pepper did?" Her big blue eyes are glowing with mirth and there is no sadness left from this morning on the phone. Behind her comes Pepper, her hair streaked with what looks like a color explosion. But that's not what makes Natasha laugh. "Isn't he adorable?" What makes her laugh is the small Australian Shepherd puppy sitting at her daughter's heels, blinking up at her with big amber eyes. The collar is big around his neck and makes a small tinkling noise every time he takes a step.

"Pepper, why?" Natasha asks, stepping closer to her paint-covered friend. "Now she's never gonna go to school!"

"Mom, he wants to say hi!" the fiery redhead is so excited; she doesn't realize that she is using her 'outside' voice instead of being quieter. The small puppy follows at the blue eyed girl's heels as she walks over to embrace her mother. "Say hi, Hulk," she pulls her mom down so that Hulk can lick her cheek. He barks and both mother and child giggle.

I think it's strange that you think I'm funny
'Cause he never did

While Natasha is occupied with her daughter and the new member of their ever-increasing family, Pepper walks over to where a male figure is standing in the shadow of the door. "Hi, Steve," she greets him, smiling. She's seen him around when she was with her boyfriend Tony. "It's nice to see you again." She extends her hand for him to shake.

"Pepper, right?" he asks, not out of disrespect, but because the last time he saw her was a few months ago and she's certainly changed. Her eyes are less dull and he can see the sparkle Tony talks about so much that sometimes Clint—yet another guy that is connected to both groups—might slap him over the head and threatens to shove him out the nearby window. When she nods, he smiles. "It's nice to see you again."

"So, how was she?" the strawberry blond asks, chancing a glance over at her best friend. She bites her lip when he doesn't answer and worry shines in her eyes. Natasha is laughing as the puppy jumps onto the scarlet haired woman's lap and she pulls her daughter close to tickle her, making her squeal and the dog bark as loud as it can. "I mean, she's not showing any signs of anything being wrong…" By now she is speaking to herself but her voice is thick with worry. Pepper know Natasha won't tell her outright what transpired over the course of her blind date—even if it was amazing—and Pepper wants to get it from the other end how it was.

"Pepper, what's wrong?" Steve, always being the caring soul that he is, asks her. "Is there something wrong with Natasha?"

"Nothing's wrong with Natasha!" Pepper shouts and this time it alerts the woman in question that her best friend is talking with the man she may harbor feelings for. She takes CeCe's hand and puts Hulk back on the floor. When Pepper sees the unidentifiable look in the redhead's eyes, she immediately begins to freak out. "Natasha, I'm sorry! I didn't—"

"Pepper, don't you have a date with Tony?" she asks her friend in her soft voice, quietly telling her friend that she needs to do this on her own. Pepper nods and, even though she obviously doesn't have a date with her fiancé—he's working in his lab again, trying to invent something that can change the world— but she can go to the coffee shop that Natasha and Steve had just come from. Maybe Maria and Jane will have something to say about it.

Shaking herself out of her thoughts, she squeezes the woman's hand and leaves the house to silence.

I've been spending the last eight months

After Natasha tells CeCe to go watch TV with Hulk, she takes Steve into the hallway. Biting her lip to placate her nerves—the pain on her lips helps her to calm down—she intertwines their fingers and pulls him into the most intimate room in the apartment for her.

"Natasha, I…" Steve goes to speak, but when she looks at him with pleading eyes, he stops asking and instead allows her to lead him where she will. He is about to open his mouth to ask about why they are at the end of a darkened hallway when she opens the door and pushes her way inside. "Wow…"

Inside, the room is filled with plants. It's like an indoor forest and they have to fight their way to the middle. "Natasha, did you…?" He can't even speak as she touches each plant. She looks so beautiful and it takes his breath away. She could have been a fairy in another life, one comfortable in nature and confident in all that she does.

"Come on," she becomes braver the farther they walk and Steve wonders if the door is actually magic that has transported them to a real forest. She leads him even farther and he feels like he is seeing into her mind, a jumble of tangles and snares hidden by outer beauty.
"Natasha, where are we?" he asks as she intertwines their fingers, her eyes bright like the forest around them.

"I told you, I have a garden in the woods," is her only response as she leads them to an enchanted glen. There's not really any magic, but it looks like there is. Sun dapples the ground and the grass blows gentry in the breeze. Light patches of new snow covers the ground and makes it crunch under their boots. There's a large rock in the middle of the glade. She sits on one side of the rock, beckoning him to sit beside her.

"Natasha, this is amazing!" he praises her. She bites her lip at him and her fingers fiddle with the bottom of her asymmetric charcoal skirt. He sees her nervousness and takes her hand in his slightly larger one, rubbing his thumb over her soft skin.

"Mom!" a voice screams from what he assumes is the front of the woods. "Where are you?" Natasha stands up and walks to the edge of the glen. "Hulk, where are you—"

The young girl is cut off when she stumbles into her mother. "Hey, CeCe, what's up?" CeCe blushes and hugs her mom tightly around the middle. "Is something wrong?" The young girl presses her face into Natasha's stomach, small whimpers and tears escaping her lips. Steve watches as the two interact and all he wants to do is go over there and reassure the child so that she can no longer be afraid of whatever it is she fears. "Cecelia Natalie Romanoff, tell me what's wrong right now." Her voice is stern but gentle at the same time.

"I…" CeCe clings to her mother's shirt, "I thought you left…"

Natasha sighs, kneeling down to be eye level with her daughter. "CeCe, I'm never going to leave you. Why would you think that?"

Instead of answering her question, the young child looks over at Steve and back to her mother. "Momma, why don't I have a father like all the other kids at my school?" she asks. "Amber said that someone with no father is usually unwanted because he left."

Natasha bites her lip, not knowing what to say. How could she tell this beautiful child that, yes she wasn't planned, but love grew in the space of only days of knowing that she was there? How was she supposed to say that her father was a nasty man who she didn't want around anyway? But before she could say anything, Steve came to her rescue yet again. "CeCe, how could someone not love you?" he asks, walking over to put a hand on the child's shoulder. "I've only know you for a few minutes and I already have a special place in my heart for you."

"Steve…" Natasha is tearing up over his words, a single shard of sadness slipping down her cheeks. CeCe looks up at this unknown man and back to her mother, wondering why she's crying all of the sudden.

She smiles and hugs the golden haired man around the waist, thanking him with her actions. "Mama, can he stay?" she asks, looking over at her mother.

Natasha laughs, and Steve does too, before the redhead comes over to take CeCe in her arms. "Why don't you and Hulk go inside to watch TV while I talk to him about it, okay?" CeCe nods, squeezes Steve around the middle one more time, before she calls Hulk to her and they run toward the house.

Steve is left with a blushing Natasha who can't even look at him out of fear that he'll see how much she wants him to stay.

Thinkin' all love ever does
Is break and burn and end

"How old is she?" he asks as he takes a step toward her. She takes one back. This continues until her back is pressed against the nearest tree and he's looking down into her eyes, almost as green as the forest they are standing in.

"Ten," Natasha breathes, her voice weak.

"So you had her at sixteen?" he questions, his breath fanning her face. She bites her lip and a tear slips, unbidden, down her cheeks. She doesn't realize she is crying until he wipes at her damp cheek with his thumb, cupping her face in his hands. "Natasha, what happened?'
She starts to shake against the tree and he pulls her into his arms. "I'm sorry I'm so unstable today," she apologizes with a laugh, wiping at her eyes. "It's just… you've been so nice to me and… well, I don't know what to tell you."

He doesn't say anything as his face moves closer to hers. She watches as he looks from her eyes to her lips and back, allowing her to move away if she wants… but she doesn't want to.
'Maybe,' she thinks in a brief moment of clarity, 'love isn't only about the bad things. Maybe it's not about who's the strongest or can hit the hardest. It's about that feeling in your stomach when he smiles and the flutter in your heart when he—'

Her thoughts are cut off because his soft lips are on hers: soft yet pressing, tender yet rough. She's screaming inside—those horses are really starting to thunder across the plane of her ribcage now—and she smiles against his lips. She feels him cup her cheek in his artistic palms and pulls her closer, making her step away from her place against the tree and into him. He rests his hands on her slim waist and she wraps her own around his neck, her fingers tangling into the light strands at the back of his neck.

Natasha can't remember one time she was happier to be on a blind date.

But on a Wednesday
In a café
I watched it begin again

"Ew! Momma's kissing him!" CeCe shouts from where she stands with Pepper at the edge of the forest. The strawberry blond is smiling from ear to ear and her hazel eyes are shining with so much happiness. Natasha and Steve jump apart, both beat red and looking anywhere but at each other. Hulk barks from CeCe's heels and raced over to put his front feet on Natasha's skirt, leaving muddy paw prints on it when she pulls his paws away.

"Natasha, what's going on?" Pepper asks, her smile wide as she glances between her friend and the blond man. The redhead's only response is to blush and duck her head.

"I…" she can't even speak she's so embarrassed.

"CeCe, why don't we go inside and wait for Mommy and Steve to come inside," Pepper suggests as she takes the young girl's hand and leads her inside. The puppy looks back at Natasha and wags his tail before following his mistress inside.

"So…" Steve turns back to Natasha, seeing her bite her lip nervously at him. Her bright jade green eyes shining with something he can't read mixed with fear; she steps back from him, an apology wet on her lips. But before she can say anything, he pulls her in by the wrist and she falls against his body. A blush colors her pale cheeks and she won't look him in the eye.
"Natasha, look at me," he whispers, putting a finger under her chin and tilting her chin up so that she must look at him. "Nat, I'm not going anywhere."

And her eyes are shining with tears when he kisses her again, her wet cheeks pressed against his soft ones. He wraps an arm around her waist and pulls her to him, reassuring her with his words and actions that he will keep his promise.

But on a Wednesday
In a café

"Look what Steve got me for me!" CeCe runs over from where she had dug into her presents at the bottom of the Christmas tree. She stumbles over to Natasha's feet and waves the wrapped box around. Steve cringes at Natasha's side, wondering if the object isn't damaged.

"CeCe, stop waving it around," the redhead tells her daughter, holding the present still. The roaring fire of Steve's home wraps the three in warmth and the comforting smell of pine. "There might be something special inside."

CeCe, realizing that she might be breaking her present, looks down at the box. "Can I open it?" she asks, looking up at the raven haired man who nods. Squealing gleefully, she rips into the present, Hulk barking at the wrapping thrown across the living room. He retrieves a piece and brings it over to the scarlet haired woman sitting on the couch.

"OHMIGOD!" CeCe's shout makes the dog jump and Natasha cringe. She has no idea what the man got her but it must be something she's wanted for a long time. She jumps onto the couch and flings her arms around Steve's neck, accidentally smacking her mother in the face.

"OW!" Natasha put her hand to her nose to check to see if her nose was broken. "What's gotten you all excited?" CeCe turns to her mother and gives her nose a kiss. The redhead wraps her arms around the young girl, making her giggle.

"He got me tickets to go see Taylor Swift in concert! And a Black Widow ornament!" CeCe squeals again, hugging her mother's neck tightly. The strawberry blond girl snuggles up to her mother's side and slowly falls asleep, yawning against soft skin.

"I'll wait here while you put her to bed, okay?" Steve's voice whispers through the room. Natasha nods and wraps CeCe in her arms, bringing her upstairs to her new bedroom. The golden haired man had offered her a place to stay where both she and CeCe could have their own rooms and Pepper pushed her until she said yes. So now they live in Steve's mansion just outside of town and she sees her friends almost every day.

She tucks her daughter snuggly under the blankets and she watches as the young girl curls around her Captain America stuffed figure. Leaving with a kiss on her forehead, Natasha shuts the door and quietly tiptoes downstairs to see Steve hanging up the ornament where CeCe can see it. Hulk is curled up in front of the fire, his shiny new collar glimmering in the firelight. The brunette sneaks up on the dark haired man and wraps her arms around his waist, pressing her smile into his spine.

"Merry Christmas, Steve," she whispers as he turns her around.

He smiles against her lips as he pulls her to him. "Merry Christmas, love," he replies before stealing a kiss from her. She giggles and wraps her arms around his neck as his swing around her waist.

Suddenly, an old Christmas song Baby It's Cold Outside, revamped by Zooey Deschanel & Leon Redbone, comes on the radio. Steve sweeps her off of her feet and into a slow romantic dance. They sway back and forth, eyes locked, and she feels like she isn't touching the ground anymore. Her whole body feels like it's floating as she hums along with the music. Every so often he leans down to steal a kiss that belongs to him anyway and she just smiles, her eyes glassy with content.

"Natasha, I got you a present as well," he whispers near her ear and she shivers.
"But we only open one present on Christmas Eve and I opened CeCe's," she pouts, her green eyes trained on him. "I can't open it until tomorrow morning."

"This isn't a Christmas present, Natasha," he whispers against the skin of her neck, raising goosebumps on her tan skin. Her eyelids flutter as she nods her head, allowing him to bestow upon her his not-Christmas gift. "Close your eyes." She can feel his smile against the shell of her ear. She complies and waits with her hands out in front of her, waiting to receive the gift

Instead, something cold slips around her neck to hang on her breastbone. "Steve…" her voice was soft as he pulls away after pressing a kiss to the back of her neck. "What—?" She pulls the charm away from her neck to find herself looking at an intricately designed rose, carved from silver, wrought with rubies for the rose color and emeralds for the stem and single leaf.

He watches with dark eyes as tears pool in hers, making the forest green look hazy. "Don't cry," he whispers, cupping her chin in his hand. Quickly wiping off her tears, she fists his shirt in her hands as she buries her face in his shoulder. "Natasha, why are you crying?"

She can't find a way to make her vocal cords work as she struggles to keep down the sob lodged in her throat. This has to be the nicest thing anyone outside her small group of friends has done for her. Ivan had never done something like this, or given her any presents at all—besides the beatings that were her punishment. 'Maybe everything is going to get better now,' she thinks as she struggles to say something, anything, that will let him know how much this means to her. But since there are no words she can find to express her gratitude, she leans up and kisses him instead, pouring all of her love into this one kiss.

The rest of the night changes her view on the world of love completely.

I watched it begin again

She watches CeCe stand there behind the podium and her heart swells with joy. She grabs the hand resting beside her own to find her best friend beaming up at the magenta haired girl as well. "We raised her well, didn't we, Tasha," Pepper chuckles, tapping her friend's knuckles.

"Yeah, we did," Natasha sniffles as her daughter begins her Valedictorian speech in front of all of the members of her high school. Her light blue cap and gown reminds the redhead about the man she loves, who is late for CeCe's graduation. She's a little mad about it, but not as much as she should be. This is a very important day for CeCe and if her 'Dad' wasn't here she'll be crushed.

"Don't worry," Pepper spoke, noticing the quietness of her friend, "he'll be here." As soon as the strawberry blond says this, someone slides into the unoccupied seat beside the brunette and kisses her cheek.

"Sorry I was late, love," Steve whispers into her ear, making her shiver. "I stopped at your shop to get these." He hands her the tiger lilies, CeCe's favorite, and gives her a soft smile before taking her other hand.

It has been four years since that day she met Steve in the coffee shop, and it has been one of the most life changing, most healing thing she ever did.

Later that night, she'll snuggle up in bed with him and finally, for the first time and after years of learning to trust again, she might tell him about her past. Because on that Wednesday she had off of work, in Jane and Maria's café, she watched her life begin again.

I watched it begin again


Please review and tell me what you think. This is only my second time writing Avengers.


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