Chaos instantly descended upon the room as everyone started talking at once, panicked glances being thrown like knives.
After about five minutes of incessant noise, a shrill taxi-cab whistle turned everyone's attention towards the coffee table, on top of which my dad had taken a metaphorical podium.
“Alright, settle down. Don't give me that look, Barton, yes I do know what just happened. One at a time, hands raised.”
Five people groan but six hands are raised anyways.
“Good little children. First…Steve?” my dad chirps, gleefully ignoring the exasperated glares sent his way.
“What just happened?”
“That, good captain, was a team response to Fury threatening my daughter. You got all up in his face – nice job, by the way – and Fury got his gun. We refused to back down, so Fury fired all of us.”
“And what happens now?”
“We could always show Fury we don't need him and he can stick it. All in favor, say aye!”
Five ‘aye!’s ring out (some more hesitant than others), and the room is left staring at Clint and Natasha, both of whom had remained silent. The former assassins were acting fidgety, squirming in their seats and picking at their clothes. Their eyes darted every which way, refusing to make eye contact.
“We just lost everything.” Clint’s voice is quiet and slightly shaky, and I want to hug him so badly, “We both just lost the only job both of us were happy at, where we could stop running from the blood on our hands and the ghosts behind us. We found a team we could work with, live with, and the rug just got pulled out from under us.”
Realization dawns upon the team, soon replaced by sympathetic gazes, which only cause the spider and the hawk to squirm even more. I cross the room to lay a still-covered hand on Clint’s shoulder as my dad opens his mouth again.
“I could always make positions at Stark Industries for you? Avengers liaisons or something, anything to keep you both doing your sneaky spy thing. How about it?”
“I don't know, Stark, you being my boss? Again?” Natasha looks skeptical, and I wince as I remember the circumstances of ‘Natalie Rushman’.
My dad simply rolls his eyes and lets that roll off his back. “Come on, Natashalie, you know boss is a loose term. This is literally just a way for you and Clint to stay here, doing what you love.”
“Give us time. We’ll get back to you.”
My dad nods contentedly as he points towards Bruce’s hand.
“We need funding if we're going solo. This will crash and burn – badly, I might add – if we don't have the money to support anything.” Bruce, ever the voice of reason, points out.
“Ah, funding. Bruce, billionaire here. Taylor, can you get that one board member on the phone? The one-“
“-with the tattoos of our logo and Cap’s shield?”
“Yeah, him. Tell him the situation and what we need. Throw in lunch with Steve if he says no.”
I laugh at Steve’s indignant ‘hey!’ and nod as I clear my throat to deliver my two cents.
I gulp as I turn slowly to face the entire team and try not to mess with the hem of my shirt as I begin to speak.
“I just wanted to thank you all. You all just lost your jobs and pretty much your entire lifestyles for me-“
“-my lifestyle had nothing to do with S.H.I.E.L.D., thank you-“
I roll my eyes at my dad before continuing. “You lost a lot, just to protect me from Fury and to secure my place on this team. Thank you, you really didn't have to do that-“
I’m cut off sharply by Clint stomping up to me and gently slapping me.
The rest of the team stares at us in shock as I twist my head back from where it snapped to the side. Thor, Bruce, and Steve have utter confusion and shock written all over their faces, Natasha looks relieved in a I-was-five-seconds-away-from-doing-that way, and my dad was staring at Clint in utter detest.
“I gave Clint permission to slap me if I ever went into ‘stupidly self-depreciating mode’.”
“Oh. Good, I don't have to hurt him. Some people wouldn't like that.”
I glare at my dad as I get back on my original topic. “So anyways, thanks, I owe you guys.” I finish quickly as I sit back down on to the couch.
Quiet whispers of welcome float around the room and I smile slightly as my dad continues.
“So while we get all this sorted, who’s up for a vacation?”
This time all seven hands are eagerly flung onto the air.
My dad laughs at our reactions and jumps off the coffee table before continuing.
I’m about to suggest Paris (now that we're not saving the world), but Clint voices my thoughts before I can.
“Paris? Just as awesome, touristy, heroes this time.”
I tense in anticipation as my dad seems to think this over, glancing at me a few times, before smiling and announcing his verdict. “Paris it is! Pack your berets, we leave tomorrow!”
I squeal uncharacteristically and jump up to give my dad and Clint bear hugs before running off to decide just how many gadgets I need.
I smiled out at the beautiful city of Paris from where I sat on my hotel room bed, gazing with wonder at the magnificent skyline.
I jump as my phone lights up, informing me I have a new message.
One swipe, a few taps, and a passcode later, I learn that the team is going to dinner at some restaurant with an unpronounceable name and all girls’ musts wear dresses, all guys were required to wear tuxes. I groan before racing down the hall.
“Yes?” Natasha cracks her door open, summoned by my frantic screaming.
“Did you,” pant “get the text,” pant “about the dinner?”
“Please tell me you have something for me to wear!”
Natasha just laughs and pulls me into her room. “Of course I do, what kind of question is that, genius?”
I just laugh as she sits me down onto her bed and hauls out a dress.
My laughter is cut off by my jaw hitting the floor.
The dress is stunning. A knee length tea-type dress, made of a silky material in purple and black. The one sleeve is purple and covered in silky black roses. The top has a sweetheart neckline, the top itself is purple, down to the waistline, which is covered by a thick black band. Below the band, the skirt of the dress has alternating purple and black thick stripes, the skirt itself is puffed out a little by layers of black netting beneath the skirt.
“So eloquent. How do you manage the press conferences?”
“Shut it, Tasha. But seriously, are you sure? I mean, it’s stunning, but on me?”
“It’ll look even better. But first shower, hair and makeup!” Natasha promises, shoving me towards the bathroom.
“You do know it’s not my wedding or anything, right? And no makeup!”
Natasha waves off my interruption as she closes the bathroom door behind me.
I sigh as I turn on the shower, letting the steam cover the bathroom before stepping in.
I take time to scrub off all of the motor oil crusted in my hair, all the sweat caked on my skin, and just generally let the steam relax my tense muscles.
Sometime later, I step back out into the hotel room, hair dripping (by Natasha’s instructions) and clad only in a towel.
“Ah! You’re out. You look so much better without motor oil and sweat.”
“Thanks. Who knew, right?” I laugh and roll my eyes.
Natasha giggles as she thrusts a fluffy hotel robe in my direction. “Put this on, I’ll turn around.”
After I’ve ditched the towel and donned the robe, Natasha leads me over to the chair by the desk, which has been turned into an impromptu salon/makeup table.
“Do you trust me?”
“With my life or with my hair?”
“Are the answers different?”
“I ask again: do you trust me?”
“…yes. Just, nothing crazy, okay?”
“Deal.” Natasha agrees as she spins the chair around so I can’t see my hair until it’s finished.
Half an hour later, the chair is spun back around.
And Natasha has made me speechless again.
My usually messy brunette pixie cut has been fully straightened, the bangs brushed fully to the right, reaching a little past my eyebrow. My hair is a glossy, soft, chocolate brown, and you would never guess I keep it in a rat’s nest 99.9% of the time.
“Holy crap, Tasha-“
“Ah-ah-ah! Not even close to done. Makeup time!”
“Not too much, please!”
“Don’t worry, just a spot of blush and some lip gloss.”
She lightly dusts my cheeks with the fine pink powder and gently rolls on a pink-peach shade of lip gloss that I have to admit is kind of pretty.
Natasha leads me back over to the bed, where my dress is waiting, along with shoes and a handbag.
The shoes, thankfully, are not heels, but flats – the likes of which I have worn to many a press conference. They’re the same silky black material as the dress, even with tiny purple satin bows near the front rim.
The handbag is a black leather masterpiece, the flap decorated with a crisscross pattern and latched with a small purple heart.
Natasha shoves the dress at me and ushers me back into the bathroom, this time waiting outside the door if I need help with the tiny zipper.
I easily slip the dress on, and once Natasha zips me up and slips on the shoes, leading me back into the room and pausing in front of a mirror.
You guessed it, speechless.
I look like I’ve just strutted out of Fashion Week. My eyes and hair gently reflect the light, and my dress shimmers every time I move.
Natasha stands off to the side, one hand fisted beneath her chin in a classic ‘thinker’ pose.
“Hmmm…ah-hah! Final touches!”
“Here!” She gently sets a black beret with a purple rim on my head, and then rummages through her duffel bag and comes back with a tiny knife holster and accompanying dagger. “And here. I know it’s not your knife, that’s in your purse with your gloves, but you need a backup. It goes on your thigh, under the skirt, put it on while I’m in the bathroom. By the way, keep the outfit, you look amazing.”
I nod as Natasha fishes a dress out of her closet and heads towards the bathroom. “See you in twenty! Try not to sit!”
True to her word, Natasha does emerge twenty minutes later, after I’ve strapped on the holster and slipped the knife in.
My eyes widen slightly as I take in her ensemble: a short lace sleeved, knee length, form-fitting, sequined black dress with a thick burgundy band and matching black kitten heels.
“Who are you trying to impress?”
She just shrugs and gestures to my own outfit. “Nobody and everybody. Better question: who are you trying to impress?”
“Well, you put me in this, so you answer that.”
“Let’s see…purple and black, archery, and birds. Is that truly so hard?” Natasha’s voice is oozing sarcasm.
“And you’re okay with that?! I thought you two were-“
“No. We were partners,” Natasha sighs sadly and I wince, “but now we’re just teammates and friends, just like you and me or Bruce and your dad. Too bad you’re too young, you’re good for him.”
“Thanks, Tasha, your opinion means so much.”
“You have my full permission to date him in three years.”
“Tasha, once I turn eighteen…what if he’s moved on? What if his sparrow doesn’t mean so much anymore. I once had a crush that lasted for three years, he just thought I was invisible. I can’t let that happen here Tasha, I just can’t-“
“Hey.” Suddenly Natasha is directly in front of me, one hand firmly on my shoulder. “Calm down, you’ll ruin my masterpiece,” she gestures towards my dress and hair, “but more importantly, you’re overreacting. You’ll always mean the world to Clint, whether it by best friend or girlfriend or both. He will never think you’re invisible. On a lighter note: I just got a text that we have a limo waiting outside, the boys are at the restaurant, let’s go!”
One posh limo ride later, Tasha and I walk through the door of a restaurant whose name I still cannot pronounce.
A hostess leads us to a private room in the back, inside of which wait five men in tuxes.
My dad looks perfectly at ease in his classic black tux with a dark red tie, balancing a glass of champagne while gesturing wildly with his hands to tell Steve some story.
Steve is wearing a tux that is either dark navy blue or black with a blue and black striped tie, his head titled as he pays attention to my dad.
Bruce looks uncomfortable in his chocolate brown suit jacket which is covering a beige vest, both of which cover a matching tie. He’s immersed in reading the menu – and probably succeeding.
Thor has gone fully classic with a three piece tux and black bowtie, honestly a cane would fit the ‘aristocratic gentleman’ persona perfectly. He too has a glass of champagne in his hand, which he is delicately sipping as he looks at something – most likely a painting – across from his chair.
The last guy I notice is Clint.
And oh my god.
He has a black blazer on, unbuttoned, over a light purple dress shirt and a darker purple tie. His pants look freshly creased; his shoes newly polished. His hair is recently gelled, his blue eyes sparkling as he leans back in his chair, studying something outside the window.
And then – almost simultaneously – they notice us.
Wait, no, scratch that: they notice me.
My dad’s eyebrows shoot into his hairline as he takes in my appearance, and I can almost hear the unasked question: who and why the heck, Taylor?
Steve’s eyes widen and he blushes ever so slightly before tearing his gaze quickly away and towards the menu.
Bruce smiles and hastily glances towards Clint before grinning at me again and nodding his approval.
Thor’s grin nearly splits his face in half as he gives a quiet clap and nods his approval alongside Bruce.
Clint’s head tilts, like I’m a specimen under a microscope, his world-renowned eyes giving me the once-over and doing a double take, before he grins and nods once.
“Come on ladies, the food is getting cold.”
Natasha darts into the seat next to Clint, leaving me to take the only other seat available: next to my dad and across from Clint.
Evil, evil lady.
Talk is exchanged as steak, mashed potatoes, and different sides are passed around, along with non-alcoholic champagne, especially for me.
I listen to the hum and chatter and quiet banter flowing between my teammates as I sip my champagne and join along in certain discussions, others being drowned out as I lose myself to my thoughts.
Over the span of about a month (sixteen days of which I was unconscious) I have managed to balance the scales in terms of loss and gain. I have lost so much – an arm, a suit, a piece of my heart (literally), all ties to safety (ahem, S.H.I.E.L.D.), and my peace of mind.
On the other hand, I have gained just as much, if not more – a metal arm, a new skill (and the bow to go with it), a crush, a surrogate aunt (who gave me a beautiful dress!), and a newfound confidence.
One month. Thirty-one days.
We aren’t done here- not by a long shot. Loki slipped our radar through the whole prosthetic fiasco, and we now have to deal with him without our training wheels and cavalry. He’s probably making more Tesseract soldiers as we speak, gathering forces for a rebound no-one will soon forget.
I had thought, at the beginning of all this, that this would only enhance my reputation as Iron Beta. And it did. But Iron Beta did not lose an arm, Taylor Stark did. Cameras flash with more vigor than ever, no matter where I go.
Some people think Iron Beta, like Iron Man, hides a soft and weak person behind a metal mask, that Taylor and Tony Stark are vulnerable mice hiding behind lions.
They’re so wrong, it’s not even funny.
I’m gonna show them just how wrong they are.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, taycofWrite a Review