It happened on the evening they were supposed to board the Bus. Leo was taking inventory of all the equipement they were going to take with them and Jemma was double-checking everything they packed just in case.
“Have you seen the Dwarfs, Jemma? I can’t find them anywhere but I swear I saw them in this table, near the molecular specter and… Damn!”, cursed Leo when, just as he was turning around, his foot got caught in the table’s leg and he went down. A soft laugh behind him signaled that Jemma wasn’t conmiserate towards his predicament and Leo’s ears went red at the same time he turned to glare at his friend. “Yeah, yeah, laugh at my misfortune. Leo’s very funny.”
“Oh, don’t be resentful, Fitz, it was just a tumble”, Jemma said clearly amused. Then she got a startled look in her face, “Oh, Fitz! I forgot that we needed to hand in a report before we started packing! Something or other on electron collisions for Agent Daniels.”
“That one that’s always turning his nose up at us because we don’t have any field experience?”, grumbled him as he got up the floor.
“Just so, and I call dibs on it, so you’ll be the lucky one to have a one of a kind opportunity to bask in his presence”, she smiled while locating said report and handing it over with commendable speed.
“Oh, yes, lucky me”, glared him.
Still, there was no arguing with Jemma so it was with dread that Leo went to meet with the damn level seven agent and prepared himself to get verbally chewed like he was chewing gum. He was so distracted that he didn’t realize there was someone getting out of Agent Daniel’s office and managed not to trample said person by a very thing margin thanks to them sidestepping them just in time. The consequences though were that he was, once again, sprawled down in the floor. Leo groaned and an amused almost-not-but-there came from above him. It was a red-headed woman, petite but not quite, just on this side of seeming innocent without really appearing so. Leo shot to his feet so fast he thought he’d make himself dizzy.
He knew her, of course he knew her. He’d never seen her face to face but everyone within S.H.I.E.L.D. knew who was Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, member of the legendary (if you could call legendary something that was still in action) Team Strike Delta, now an Avenger after the happenings in New York and all arund amazing woman that could kill you with her pinkie and rip a guilty confession of just about anything without even touching you. Actually, now that he remembered, Coulson had warned them about her. She was a curios animal, he said, and incredibly insightfull; so if someone was able to guess that Coulson was still alive, it would be her. Also, Coulson had been Team Strike Delta’s handler, so that was an added problem that factored in. As Fury didn’t want any other people than the ones that had clearance to know about Coulson’s miraculous recovery and Agent Romanoff was sure to blab first to Agent Barton and then to Stark, just to be vicious, and he would be sure to share the news with any living being within hearng distance… Well, lets just say they better not say anything on the matter.
The obviously amused redhead was bending over (ohGod) to take his report off the floor and Leo had to remind himself that the woman in front of her was incredibly dangerous when she straightened and handed it over with a quirk of the lips.
“A-agent Romanoff!” managed to say Leo with just a little stutter. “I’m so very sorry, I wasn’t paying atention and I didn’t see you!”
“No harm done, junior, just remember to be more aware from here on out. Another might not have been so lucky and you may have been squashed.”
The shock of hearing the sentence he’d had engraved since birth in the inside of his wrist made Leo stand stock still for a long moment and by the time he realized what had happened, Agent Romanoff wasn’t anywhere in sight. But, why hadn’t she recognised him? Yes, sure, there must be a lot of bumbling idiots in S.H.I.E.L.D. that spent half their lifes apologizing to her, but she should have at least waited a little bit to see if he was her soulmate, right? The possibility of them not being sulmates didn’t even enter his mind. Who else would have spoken that sentence to him but her in this specific situation? Unless she hadn’t realized or, at worst, didn’t want someone like him for a soulmate…
“Agent Fitz! What on Earth are you doing standing there like an idiot?”, startled him suddenly. Agent Daniels was standing in the jamb of the door with a look in his face that said he’d seen everything and was enjoying his embarrasmentnt tremendously. Leo kind of wanted to punch him in the face but he couldn’t say anything so he just marched right into said office like a soldier marches to battle and decided to leave the questions abou his soulmate for later.
o o o
There was no later. Leo and Jemma boarded the Bus and it was only there that Leo had time to tell his best friend about his soulmate’s discovery. She was very supportive and quick to reassure him that Agent Romanoff could hope for no better person in her life, that it was surely some misunderstanding on her part. Hadn’t he stood still without saying anything at her response? Maybe she thought he was afraid of her or didn’t want to put him in danger, him obviously not being a Field Agent. Things got very dangerous out there for S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. There were many reasons they could give for why she hadn’t stayed to discuss with him that they were soulmates. But in he end they were just words, there was only one truth out there and just one person in possession of it.
Leo gathered all of his feelings about the matter and shut them in a cage inside his heart. It wasn’t forgetting, just a temporary plaster to not bleed out in between bouts of not seeing her. Which was incredibly rare. By the time he had spent four months in the Bus he resigned himself to never see her again. Yes, he could have relayed a message to her but soulmates were not something you talked about on an e-mail. He he poured all of himself into work, only opening Agent Romanoff’s cage on the rare ocasion they touched down.
Then HYDRA happened. Ward happened. He died. Or it sure felt like it. That was when hope disappeared. He was an invalid. Who would want someone who couldn’t string a sentence together for a soulmate? Tremors run through his hands making seemingly sime tasks a hardship fit for a Level 8 mission. It was pathetic, he was pathetic. But even then, Leo couldn’t stop himself from thinking about her. He searched for footage on the Triskelion debacle and downloaded all files available about her. Then with Skye’s help erased everything. Her story was hers, it was private and noone had the right to see it without permission. Except him.
He couldn’t help himself. He wanted to help her, to protect her in the only way available to him. But even him was only human, so he ended up looking. He read everything and learned it by heart, from her birth date (1928) to her family’s names to how many years she spent in the Black Widow program (58) to when she joined S.H.I.E.L.D. (2003) thanks to whom (Clint Barton). Then he found it. A very detailed picture of her forearm, horribly burned in patches where there should be words. Her soulmate words. Could it be…? He still remembered like it was yesterday the words he had spoken to her so it was a matter of seconds to write them down in his shaky handwriting and compare one to another. They matched perfectly and Leo let out the air he didn’t know he was holding. Her file said it had been burned out when the russians first got her, more than 60 years ago, and then had brainwashed her until she forgot them. She never remembered what they said and believed her soulmate dead or an old and decrepit WWII survivor.
She had been tortured before but she was an extremely resourceful woman. How was he supposed to be the perfect match for such an amazing being? Then again, the perfect match is supposed to be, well, perfect, for a reason. Right? Leo looked at his hands, trembling not only from the after effects of Ward’s treason but also from nerves and excitement. He thought about Mack, who was giving his all to help him, who was the only one to really help him out of all the team, who was making an effort to treat him like the human being he was. He closed his hands into fists. Maybe it was time he gave it his all also.
o o o
They saw each other again much later, when Leo had lost Mack and Skye was struggling to get a hold of her powers. The loss of Mack, to whom Leo had told his situation with Agent Romanoff and in whom he had leaned, prompted him to share his secret with Coulson and ask for his help. For a long time Leo had shut himself inside and when he recognised he couldn’t continue in that venue his first step was telling Mack. But then he had lost him also and he needed that support he’d been lacking since Jemma left. Jemma… Jemma was a hot coal he wasn’t jet prepared to touch.
Coulson then had to make the difficult decision of whether or not to reveal to the Avengers the secret of his continued survival (because he wasn’t going to fool himself into thinking that when one knew the others wouldn’t follow); but in the end he wasn’t going to keep two soulmates from meeting each other and Natasha was someone who deserved to have happiness in her life. He issued orders to search for Agent Natasha Romanoff to all agents and a code phrase to deliver to her in case someone saw her. A Captain America forum was the recipient for a private message to LilRed and a professional football coacher confessed his secret love for redheads in an interview.
She was there two weeks after disguised as a tourist in a flowery dress and with a face that promised murder. For the two hours she and Coulson stayed shut in his office the base was home to an intense and unfomfortable silence and only when they came out did everyone breathe easier. Agent Romanoff had a somewhat less tense demeanor and Coulson was smiling.
“Fitz, could you please show Agent Romanoff the new shockers you made? I’ll update the rest of the team meanwhile.”
Leo nodded, visibly nervous, and led the way to the lab. He’d made those shockers for her following the idea of the icers, making them deliver a discharge of the liquid they used and instantly knocking anyone they were in contact with.
“I remember your face from somewhere, Agent Fitz. Weren’t you at the Triskelion before HYDRA?”, asked Agent Romanoff from behind, startling him.
“Ah, y-yes, I was dispatched to the Bus just some months before… before HYDRA emerged”, he explained as they got to the door of the labs.
They opened and Leo went for one of the tables but didn’t take the shockers, which were already prepared to be handed to her, but a carpet file filled with papers. He turned around and bit his lip, just feeling the nerves as she arched a brow.
“Well?”, she asked, having obviously seen the shockers on the table.
“I, well, I confess Coulson had an ulterior motive for telling you he was alive”, he said and, as he saw her tense, he hurried to continue and reassure her. “It wasn’t for anything bad! It’s just, I asked him to.”
“I, I don’t know if you remember what you said to me the day I bumped into you in front of Agent Daniels’ office but it-it had a proffound effect on me because”, he bit his lip again “because you said the words on my soulmate mark.”
There was silence until-
Agent Romanoff was looking at him with an expression that was a mix of hurt, paleness and determination. Fearing she would leave before he had time to explain his reasoning to her, Leo started speaking with increasing velocity.
“No, it is possible! At first when you didn’t react at all to what I said I feared you didn’t want someone like me or that you didn’t think I was your soulmate. Surely a lot of people have apologized to you before. Jem-one of my friends suggested maybe you didn’t want to hurt me because the Avengers have very dangerous lives and a thousand other possibilities. Then HYDRA happened and I managed to find your data and download it before anyone else, Skye helped me erase it from Internet but I noticed there was a mention of your soulmate mark and what happened to it and it got me thinking again”, Leo quickly opened the folder and took two papers out, one with a picture of Agent Romanoff’s arm and another he’d made himself, and handed them to her, who took them slowly. “I remember what I said to you that day so I wrote it down and… it matches, perfectly.”
The assassin was looking at the papers like she was seeing a ghost, or maybe something she’d lost so long ago that she hadn’t expected to encounter it ever again. Leo was sure that, had she been anyone else, she would have been trembling everywhere. Instead, what he saw was a marvelous woman going through a difficult time and still managing to do it with dignity and determination.
“Show me”, she said determinedly.
“What?”, asked Leo stupidly.
“Your Mark. Show it to me.”
“Ah, sure”, he blushed to the roots of his hair.
His Mark was in his back so he turned and lifted his shirt, keeping it up so she could see it. It was neatly printed in a straight horizontal line that crossed his spine just under his armpits. It was the just high enough that he couldn’t almost see it in a mirror, not at all if he looked over his shoulders, and it took a great deal of effort to touch it with his fingertips. He’d been able to see it and read it for the first time when his mother took a photo and showed him.
The fingers sliding across the words were more important than to be reminiscing, though. Leo shivered for an entirely different reason than the cold of the labs.
“Do you remember… what you said?”, he asked anxiously some minutes after.
“I do”, came clear and softly. Then he was turned around and hopeful eyes looked on his. “Are you really mine?”.
“For as long as you still want me”, breathed Leo, then he was hauled into her arms and kissed within an inch of his life.
He’d kissed girls before but this was on a completely different level. Contrary to those times, in which he’d been the dominant partner with no clear idea of how to do anything, she was the one in control. And God, that tongue… He was as red as was possible to be when it finally ended and he thought he was going to burst a blood vessel. But when she joined her forehead with his and breathed in deeply, he thought maybe he could leave his embarrassment aside for once.
“You can call me Natasha”, she said softly.
“Then call me Leo”, he answered with a small smile.
“Not Leopold?”, she was clearly amused.
“Definitely not Leopold”, his smile turned into a grimace.
She chuckled happily. Natasha.