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Cold War in a Coffee Shop

By Julliette

Humor / Romance

The Cold War Begins

I am very confused when it comes to MCU shipping. After watching Captain America: The First Avenger, I simultaneously shipped and mourned Steggy. After watching Avengers, I shipped Clintasha and Steve/Beth-the-waitress like nobody's business. Finally, after watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I start shipping Romanogers. Do you see my problem? Anyway, this is a Coffee Shop AU featuring Romanogers, and Clintasha if you squint. Implied Pepperony to come in later chapters.

Warning: this fic has mild language

Disclaimer: I do not own Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, or, most unfortunately, Steve Rogers.

Natasha couldn't remember the last time freshly brewed coffee smelled good to her. After she started working at the coffee shop, she breathed coffee fumes, spilled half-and-half until her hands were sticky, and snapped thousands of covers on coffee cups on a daily basis; meanwhile, she was making wages that not even a five-year-old would find sufficient for buying a candy bar. Clint, her co-worker and the only friend she had made in this crud-hole called a four-year university, smirked at her as she crinkled her nose at the dark liquid pooling at the bottom of the coffee pot. He knew how loathsome coffee had become to Natasha, but there was no way she was going to make it through the morning haul without at least a few sips of the stuff. Clint and Natasha, synchronized as they were in action and thought, still could barely handle the grumbles, growls, and yells coming from caffeine-starved morning customers. At the moment, however, they had just opened the place and the sun had not yet climbed high enough over the horizon for anyone to be walking in. A few minutes of precious peace...

Which was broken the moment that a six-foot man with dirty blond hair that flopped across the top of his head came jogging inside, causing the little golden bell at the top of the door to jingle. He was dressed in a way-too-tight light grey shirt that had a triangle of sweat from the neck down, along with navy blue sweatpants and a pair of dirty white sneakers. His eyes locked with Natasha's, and Natasha noted with indifference that they were a very bright blue that most girls would probably swoon over. A clattering sound of something Clint dropped caused Natasha to turn around and see Clint with an excited glint in his eyes. He murmured a quick "I got him" to Natasha, but just as he was sliding past her to reach the cash register, their boss called him from their stock room.

"Barton!" he barked furiously. "Where are the French Roast coffee beans?"

Clint groaned and spun his body around, allowing Natasha to see the annoyed expression on his face as he shouted back, "Same place they were yesterday, Nick!"

"I don't see 'em! Get in here!"

Clint's shoulder bumped against Natasha's as he stomped towards the stock room, while Natasha stared blankly at the customer. She knew she was supposed to smile prettily, like a good little employee who enjoyed slaving for cranky coffee-cravers, but frankly that just wasn't her style. Leave all the charming to Clint. The customer stood tip-toe and leaned to one side as if he were trying to look over Natasha to see the commotion behind her, but Natasha didn't think that necessary considering he had the height of the Empire State Building. He could probably see over the heads of 99% of the world population. Pushing the thought out of her head, she cleared her throat and directed an almost-glare at the customer, until he shifted his blue-eyed gaze to her.

"Are you going to order something?" she asked. "Or are you going to keep taking up half the space in this shop?"

Okay, so maybe that was a little rude, and it wasn't like this guy deserved it, but it was early morning. You had to cut her some slack. The customer clearly did, because he smiled apologetically at her and ordered a large black coffee without further comment. While she rang him up, a crash and several curses emanated from the stock room, but she didn't bother to check on them. Steve chuckled, which Natasha couldn't understand, because the way he did it made it seem like he was hearing his younger siblings fight over the last cookie in the jar. There was a familiarity in his laugh, something that recognized the muffled quarreling going on between her co-worker and boss.

"They still do that?" inquired the customer amusedly.

"Do what?" Natasha asked irritably.

"Fight about every detail of this coffee shop," answered the customer.

"Ugh!" groaned Natasha. "Yes. How would you know that?"

"I left for four weeks to go to Europe, I'm not dead. Didn't Clint tell you about me?"

"I think he was going to once he rang you up."

"Oh. Well, I guess all you need to know is that I'm a regular. Large black coffee every time."

"I can't be expected to remember everybody's special."

Natasha hated it when customers who came three thousand morning rushes ago assumed that she would remember their go-to drink. The worst kind of customers were, in Natasha's opinion, the ones who thought they were regulars when they really weren't. Natasha's thoughts about people like them clearly showed on her pursed lips and in the wrinkles between her finely sculpted eyebrows.

"You'll remember mine," assured the customer. "Every morning, right at this time, large black coffee."

"And here is your special order," announced Natasha, plunking the cup on the counter in front of him a few minutes later.

"Thanks, uh…" The customer squinted at her name tag. "Natasha."

"You're welcome," Natasha replied coolly.

The customer took his coffee and started on his way, briefly stopping to prop the door half-open with his foot and say a friendly "Bye!" He took a few spare seconds to see how the pretty, redheaded barista would respond, but it looked as if she didn't even hear him. He shrugged and let the door clang shut behind him right when Clint finally escaped from the stock room. Clint deflated a little when he realized that the customer had left, which almost made Natasha smile in amusement.

"That your best friend or something?" she asked absent-mindedly.

"Nah," dismissed Clint. "I just hadn't seen him in a while and I would've liked to catch up."

"Who is he?"

"That's Steve Rogers, the captain of our football team. He's probably going to lead us to the championships this year."

Natasha scoffed. "You were looking forward to catching up with a blockheaded athlete?"

"That's stereotyping and you know it," retorted Clint. "Besides, he doesn't fit the bill. He's on the Dean's List."

"Whoop-dee-doo," drawled Natasha in a monotone voice as she waved her forefinger in the air.

Clint rolled his eyes. "Forget it, you're just gonna hate every customer who walks through that door."

"Now you get it!" Natasha exclaimed with mock enthusiasm.

Steve turned out to be a bona fide regular as he had claimed that first morning, as he continued coming every morning after that. Within the first few minutes of opening, jogging in would come an annoyingly cheerful Steve with the same outfit, the same flop of sweaty blond hair, and the same set of earbuds that he popped out of his ears the moment he was inside. Natasha rang him up while Clint poured the coffee into a large cup and struck up amiable conversation with Steve. The topics ranged from the monsters known as midterms, to the last football game, to Steve's trip abroad. "He's thinking of joining the Peace Corps after college," Clint had once informed Natasha, not that she cared. At all.

"So have you started working on the new logo for the shop?" Clint asked Steve one day as he slid the protective cover over the burning hot coffee cup.

Natasha couldn't help herself, try as she might to be as uninterested in their conversation as she always had; she looked up.

Steve stifled a groan as he massaged the bridge of his nose. "No, I've been spacing out so much on that. Between hard-ass Coach Miller and the demon Professor O'Reilly, I can barely squeeze in my coffee shop visits. I have some ideas, I just need to pen them down."

"Hey, I understand," assured Clint. "I know better than to rush an artist."

"You're an artist?"

Natasha's question came out as nonchalant as nearly everything else she had said in her life, but since it was still a question she hadn't meant to ask aloud, Natasha internally cringed. Clint and Steve both looked at Natasha with surprised expressions, as if they had forgotten she was even there; Steve recovered first.

"I guess I don't give off the starving artist vibe?" Steve asked, a corner of his mouth quirking upward.

"No," Natasha answered bluntly.

"Much to your surprise, I'm actually majoring in art."

Natasha quickly looked away from Steve's amused grin and scrubbed a crusty milk spill on the counter with a damp rag.

"That's nice," she said sarcastically through her teeth.

Clint moved the conversation on to something about the Queens or Kings or whatever the heck that hockey team was called, but Natasha could still feel Steve's gaze poking her incessantly. She blew her red bangs out of her eyes, and as she did so caught a glimpse of him leaning against the counter, his muscles bulging out of his shirt, and his inquisitive, uncertain eyes scanning her like she was a difficult calculus problem. Natasha sighed, swept her hair back, and went to the stock room before she could hear any more of Clint's incredibly boring droning about hockey. She wasn't avoiding Steve's maddening stare - you can't prove it.

The next day when Steve came in, he found Clint stacking cups behind the counter, while Natasha was distinctly missing from her post at the cash register. Clint looked up and nodded in greeting as a slightly disillusioned Steve approached the counter. Steve pushed a friendly smile onto his face, but Clint could see through it as easily as if it were made of glass.

"Sorry I don't have curly red hair or a cute ass," informed Clint sympathetically.

"Well turn around, maybe your ass is cute," joked Steve.

Steve was quick to counter, and Clint was impressed; he hadn't really seen that side of Steve before. This didn't mean he approved yet though. Natasha was Clint's closest friend, and he had become increasingly wary of the moment-too-long looks Steve kept giving her on the sly.

"So what are your intentions with Natasha?" Clint asked bluntly.

It was a good thing Steve hadn't got his coffee yet, or else he would have spat it all over Clint's face.

Several unintelligible squawking sounds, mixed with a few "uh's" and "um's," fell out of Steve's mouth before he replied, "N-nothing!"

"Because, you should know something about her," Clint continued, as if he hadn't just seen Steve verbally fall all over himself. "There's a reason she's called the Black Widow."

Steve had actually heard a few people refer to the sulky redhead at the coffee shop as the Black Widow, but he never knew why. He looked expectantly at Clint, who exhaled loudly and raked his dark blond hair with his long fingernails.

"She's called that because like the spider, she is known for, well, devouring the males of her species."

Steve raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.

Clint sighed. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that you should be careful with her. She's not used to long-term relationships, and I'm sure you're not used to getting your heart broken."

"Think again," muttered Steve.

Clint paused. "I'm not wrong in thinking you're attracted to her, right?"

Steve bent his head down to hide his slightly flushed cheeks.

"So… why her?" Clint asked; it was the question that had been a maddening itch in the back of his mind for the past few weeks.

When Steve lifted his face back up, his eyes were glowing with an emotion that Clint couldn't identify.

Steve grinned at Clint and said, "Something inside her is worth knowing - you wouldn't be friends with her if there wasn't."

"That's true," admitted Clint as he drummed his fingers on the countertop, "but just so you know, if she really cares about you, she will shoot you down the moment you ask her out. That's what she did with me."

Steve blinked, and Clint enjoyed seeing the shock instantaneously rework his face.

"Yep," said Clint. "It was the best thing she could have done, because we certainly couldn't have been friends if I had gone the same track as all her boyfriends have. But hey…" Clint looked hard at Steve. "Maybe you're different. Maybe things would be different with you. I don't know, I make no promises, I wish you the best of luck. Now take your coffee and get outta here already."

Steve was going to do it. He was going to ask her out. Ever since he (regrettably) told his roommate Tony about the cute but cranky barista at the local coffee shop, Tony wouldn't stop going on about how he should just go for it.

"You've got to get over that Penny girl," Tony insisted. "This is the perfect opportunity."

"Her name was Peggy," replied Steve tartly.

"Whatever, you haven't seen her in years," brushed off Tony. "You need to find some fresh meat."

"Don't talk about girls like that," admonished Steve.

Honestly, Steve didn't know why he had willingly been living with Tony since freshman year - he was snarky, he was egotistical, he was disrespectful. But then, sometimes, Tony had those moments of glory that reminded Steve why they were close friends. One of them was the simple but hard-hitting speech Tony gave Steve that would motivate him to finally ask Natasha out.

"Look, you like her, and I'm pretty sure she likes you," said Tony. "I get that it doesn't give you the 100% guarantee that you want, but no one has gotten that since dating was first invented - heck, not even since life was invented. You ask her, she might say yes, she might say no, and you move forward from there. It's that simple."

"Easy for the playboy to say," mumbled Steve, though in the end he knew Tony was right; he couldn't continue living in the grey area forever.

Steve kept replaying his conversation with Tony in his head, right up until he made it to the edge of the counter and finally looked up at the flashing green eyes of Natasha. She made - if it wasn't quite a smile, it certainly wasn't a frown like she made the first time he met her. It was progress. Since Clint was AWOL (Steve figured out the reason for it when he heard mutters from the stock room), Natasha was the one who filled his large cup to the brim with steaming dark liquid. Her brows were furrowed adorably in concentration (it was always a fear of hers that she would dump scalding coffee on her hand one of these days), and Steve watched her with a captivation he hadn't felt in a long time. A couple of springy copper curls had escaped from her sloppy bun and hung delicately around her oval face. Steve wanted nothing more than to reach over and tug on one of those curls - partly because he irrationally wondered if they would make a "boing!" sound, but also because he had a simple craving to touch her, subtly yet expressively at the same time.

When Natasha shoved the coffee into Steve's hands, he finally blurted, "Will you go out with me?"

Every atom of Natasha's body froze, and she could feel her brain cells electrocuting mid-thought as she watched Steve's eyes widen in embarrassment and anticipation. A squeak of a sneaker behind her alerted her to the fact that Clint had walked back into the room, but he had halted in one heart-stopping moment. All of their bodies were held in a breathless, motionless suspension that was only held together by the pulsating connection between Steve's shining blue eyes, and Natasha's stunned green eyes. Remembering a very similar conversation she had with Clint three years ago, Natasha knew what she had to say now, so that instead of breaking Steve's whole heart, she might only dent it for a moment.

Natasha plastered a thin smile on her face before she replied smoothly, "Sorry, but I don't date guys with bigger boobs than me."

A beat, and then the sound of Clint's snorting laughter being poorly masked behind his hand. She had successfully poked fun at Steve's especially large pecs, thus guaranteeing that Steve's wounded pride would prevent him from ever asking her out again (or at least, that's what Natasha hoped for his sake). Natasha's smile became a smirk, but Steve still couldn't find the will to break the tether between his eyes and hers. If Tony were there, he would have clapped Steve's back, muttered "Tough break, kid," and dragged him out to try to drown his sorrows with a movie marathon. If Clint hadn't been too busy gasping from too much laughter and too little oxygen, he would have smiled sympathetically. Neither of those two things mattered though, because if Clint was right, Natasha cared about Steve at least as much as she cared about Clint when she turned him down. For Steve, that moment, that pride-injuring and snark-injected moment where she both insulted and rejected him, was actually a pretty decent start.

Wow, this is the longest single chapter I have ever written. Go me. In case you didn't catch it, Natasha and Clint's boss is Nick Fury. :P

Edit 4/17/15: the author's notes are from when I originally published this on, so some of them might be outdated.  Don't let that distract you from the story though!

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