"I can't believe it," said Clint, striding into the room, his eyes immediately going to the observation window where Bruce was testing the restraints on the unconscious Winter Soldier. "Jesus, finally." He turned to Sam and Steve. "So how did you catch him?"
"We didn't," said Sam, his manner a mixture of puzzled, bothered and relieved, and Natasha could sympathize.
Chasing after ghosts and vague rumors for months, all of them contributing what they could in terms of possible sightings from automatic surveillance and supposed HYDRA boltholes, places the Winter Soldier might have gone to ground... and suddenly the thrill of the chase destroyed by their quarry just about walking up to them and handing himself in.
Not that Steve seemed to mind that. Not that Steve seemed to mind anything right now as he stood in front of the observation window, arms crossed, eyes fixed on the dark-haired man who was shackled to the bed, sleeping off a massive shock.
"Steve was searching the warehouse," said Sam. "I flew over the roof to see if there were any signs and there he was. Didn't look surprised or anything. Like he knew we were coming."
"He probably did," said Natasha.
"But he's been running all this time. Hiding. Why show himself now?" Sam's frustration was evident. "Natasha, he just stood there, gun down till I drew mine - and he wasn't even trying. He could've gotten off good shots instead of a couple of pathetic wing dings before I stunned him."
"There comes a time when you just get tired," said Natasha. "You want to rest. You don't really care what happens after you're captured."
Clint touched her hand gently.
"Yeah, well he would've known Steve would capture him, not kill him," said Sam. "Steve refused to even defend himself when Barnes was trying to kill him. But me?"
"When you're tired enough you don't much care whether you survive, Sam," Natasha said. Clint pulled her close and Natasha knew he was thinking the same thing. How she'd gotten sloppy too, at the end, when he was hunting her, no longer caring to live or die. How she'd let him get the drop on her, let him bring her in to SHIELD, not knowing what would happen to her but knowing it had to be better than what she was living with.
"Has he said anything?" asked Clint.
Sam shook his head. "He's been sedated the whole time. We brought him back here, wanted him in a secure environment when he woke up. You know what happened in the past when he didn't want to be confined."
Natasha smiled grimly. The Winter Soldier had been captured by a splinter group of Ten Rings once in the eighties; the devastation had been impressive and the legend had reached mythical proportions. Nobody had been eager to try to capture him since. She, Tony and Bruce had spent some time figuring out adequate restraining, sedation and observation devices for transportation and long-term housing.
"Has he said anything?" Clint asked softly, nodding at Steve. Sam shook his head.
Steve glanced over his shoulder. "He's right here," he said irritably. He turned back to the window. "We've got him sedated, but that should be wearing off in the next hour or so. Bruce will oversee his waking up."
"Will you be in there?" asked Clint.
"We don't know if that'll be helpful," said Steve. "It would be different if he'd seen me before being stunned. I don't know how much he remembers about me; it might be counter-productive to have me there. Distracting, if he doesn't know where he knows me from." He turned to Sam. "You should probably go in there; he gave himself up to you, so it might be reassuring to him to see you. Then again, if he knows I've been partnered with you..." he frowned thoughtfully.
Natasha spoke up. "You should go in for a few minutes after Bruce has established a rapport. If Bruce can establish rapport. Stay five minutes, answer any questions, then leave."
"I'll let him know nobody's trying to trick him into thinking I'm not here, but let him know his presence here doesn't depend on him doing anything about it."
Sam nodded, and Clint and Natasha traded a glance at the detached, unemotional tone of Steve's voice. He might have been discussing the best way to get surveillance, or storm a HYDRA base. She'd had a number of these talks with him over intelligence reports about Barnes's whereabouts, as they discussed therapists to deal with what she'd found in Barnes's files, and his manner had been the same... but somehow she'd expected him to get a little more animated when they actually found Barnes himself.
Bruce came out of the room.
"He should be up in the next hour or so," he told Steve. "That 'night-night' stun-gun you used is powerful, but his vital signs are coming around. I'm patterning his physical responses on yours and mine, since we're both recipients of versions of the Serum. It's pretty imprecise, though; we don't really know enough about him."
"No, we don't." Steve frowned. "Wish we did. The reports said he's likely to be fighting for consciousness more than normal. Did you factor that in?"
"Yes, we did."
Steve looked back into the room. "How's his physical state?"
"Well, he's malnourished and shows signs of exhaustion," said Bruce. "Otherwise he's healthy. He's also been grooming himself, but his teeth, nails, hair, all point to some difficulty with regular access to anything luxurious in terms of facilities. I'd guess he hasn't been staying at spas, but neither has he been sleeping in dumpsters. Probably low-end motels. Without speaking to him, no idea whether he's been in contact with HYDRA or not."
"That's our first priority: find out if he's still in contact with them," said Steve. "Find out whether he really did basically give himself up. Try to figure out what he wants." He gazed at Barnes thoughtfully. "We need to let him know that we're not going to hand him over to HYDRA, but if he's still with them he's not going to betray us to them either. If he's lucid enough, we should also let him know he's confined here, for his own good and our own. We don't want to make him feel like we're hiding anything."
"Oh - shit. Here we go," said Sam, as the man in the other room stirred. Bruce walked back in, sat down on the stool near the bed, and waited.
"Where am I?" was the first thing that Barnes asked. He rattled his hand in the cuffs, but testing, not trying to break. He seemed more curious than anything else.
"You're being held in a secure facility in New York City."
"No. Stark Tower."
"Stark? Tony Stark?"
Bruce nodded. "You're restrained because we don't know enough about your conditioning, or whatever was done to you by HYDRA. Once we're sure you won't hurt us, you'll be released."
Barnes nodded calmly. "Hurt you, personally?"
Bruce gave him a small, grim smile. "You can't hurt me. I'll explain why later. We're more worried about you hurting yourself, or getting out and hurting civilians. We've read what was done to you. We know you can get yourself out of just about any confinement, kill somebody with a ballpoint pen, and probably have a number of tricks up your sleeve we don't know about. We're counting on you wanting to be here."
"Why would I want to be here?" asked Barnes.
"Because you gave yourself up," said Bruce.
Barnes's eyes narrowed. "That's debatable."
"He's coherent," Steve commented. "I wasn't sure we could expect that."
"We're the good guys," Bruce was saying. "We're not SHIELD, we're not HYDRA. We have no agenda other than helping you, and keeping you and the public safe from anyone who's trying to find you." He paused. "Is anyone trying to find you?"
"I don't know. None of my handlers showed up. They usually do, if I fail."
"Have you failed before?"
"Not failed my mission, just... malfunctioned." Clint made a small sound in his throat and Natasha wondered what the hell that meant. Barnes glanced around the room, spotting the large one-way mirror. "Who are you?" he asked Bruce, not taking his eyes off the mirror.
"Bruce Banner. I'm a doctor. I work with Tony."
"Who else is here? The guy with the wings?"
"Who else?" asked Barnes, his voice tense.
"Steve Rogers," said Bruce. Barnes nodded. Bruce hesitated, then leaned forward. "Does that name ring a bell?"
"He was my last target," said Barnes calmly. "I failed to kill him."
"You saved his life."
"That's debatable. The Serum might have saved his life. Or the pararescuers."
"But you pulled him out of the water."
Barnes shrugged, eyes still glued to the mirror.
"Do you know who he is?" asked Bruce. "Other than your last target?"
"I saw the Smithsonian exhibit," said Barnes.
"So you know who you are, then."
"I know that was my face on that display. James Barnes."
"Was any of what you saw familiar?"
Natasha glanced at Steve, who was staring impassively at the window. His jaw flexed slightly and he pressed his lips together, and she tried to imagine what that had to feel like. His lover of ten years, whom he'd mourned and then sought all over the world... still didn't remember a thing.
They'd known it would be possible, of course. Even likely.
It didn't help.
"Do you want to see the man with the wings?" asked Bruce. "Or Steve?"
"Can I see Rogers?" asked Barnes.
Steve took a deep breath, looking nervous for the first time since this had begun, and entered the room without hesitation.
Natasha tensed as Barnes turned to meet Steve, raking eyes over him, his hands relaxed in the shackles. Mild curiosity and puzzlement were all she could read in him - no hostility at least. Steve held his gaze, his face so carefully blank it was hard to get any kind of read off him.
"Didn't know if I'd see you," Barnes said finally.
Steve swallowed. "Did you want to see me?" he asked, his voice low and tightly controlled.
Barnes shrugged. "I was curious."
"Did you turn yourself in on purpose?" asked Steve.
"Not sure. Didn't really feel like it at the time." Barnes examined Steve. "Are you gonna hand me over to anybody?"
Steve shook his head. "We're going to keep you here. You're safe. Nobody's going to hurt you here."
Barnes's eyebrow went up. "Wasn't worried about that." He glanced at his wrists and ankles. "How long are you gonna keep the shackles on?"
"We're not sure," said Steve. "Not long. Tony - Stark - has outfitted a floor for you upstairs. It's a little bare bones - we know you've been trained to make weapons out of just about anything - but we'd like to keep you comfortable if possible."
Barnes nodded. "And I'm here until... when?"
"We don't know that either," said Bruce. "You must know people are looking for you."
Barnes nodded. "Yeah," he said indifferently. "And I know most of them aren't gonna be concerned with keeping me comfortable."
"You're also dehydrated and undernourished," said Bruce. "We'd like to fix that."
Clint crossed his arms. "You know, it's funny, if Steve hadn't said this was his one-and-only that he watched die and then spent the last four months chasing down to the ends of the earth... I'd swear I'm watching a SHIELD debrief here."
"He's been like this from the beginning," Sam agreed. "Like it's just an important assignment."
"It's not," said Natasha. Steve was keeping it together, yes, but she'd seen him relaxed and focused on a mission, and she'd seen him angry and tense. He wore his heart on his sleeve most of the time. This was different. It was like he was shut down.
He was also exhausted, she suddenly realized. She could read the line of tension in his shoulders, his movements strained and lacking his normal grace.
"When was the last time he slept?" she asked.
"Got up early around five in the morning when we got the tip on Barnes," said Sam, and Natasha glanced at the wall. Two in the morning.
"He can go for longer," said Clint absently. "You know that."
Natasha nodded, focussing on the three men in the room again.
"What do you want us to call you?" Bruce was asking. Steve tensed minutely.
Barnes shrugged. "I don't usually need a name. Winter Soldier in Russian was my code name. Don't suppose I need it any more." He glanced at Steve. "Eric Branson's the name I have on my current fake ID. It's as good as any."
"You don't want to go by your original name?" asked Steve, his voice tight.
"James Barnes?" He shrugged again. "Doesn't matter. If that makes things simpler, fine."
"What do you want?" asked Steve.
"Barnes is fine," said Barnes.
"Do you have any other questions for me?" Steve asked.
"No," said Barnes.
Steve nodded. "I'll leave you to Bruce, then," he said. He came back to the observation room, closing the door from Barnes's room just as the other door opened and Tony rushed in.
"Holy shit I thought JARVIS was kidding," he murmured, giving them all a distracted wave and moving straight to the one-way mirror. "Can't believe you actually found him. Finally."
"Yeah," said Steve, picking up the tablet that held their notes on Barnes.
Tony watched Bruce talking quietly to Barnes. "So... how is he?"
"He's going to be all right, physically," said Steve. "Gonna need proper nutrition and medical care, but he seems to be in good health, physically. Better than we'd hoped, anyway, considering. Mentally it may be another story, but it's encouraging so far." He scanned over a report and Natasha could see he wasn't really registering. "He's lucid, and seems to be taking the confinement in stride. Again, better than we expected." He glanced at Natasha. "Then again, it may have to do with some of what's in his file, and what you talked about with the Red Room, the conditioning he went through. It could be an act."
"How are you?" asked Tony cautiously.
Steve glanced at him. "Fine. Relieved. I'm glad we got him before HYDRA did. Or the police. Though according to what Natasha's said, I guess the hard part starts now." He turned back to the file.
"Hey." Tony waited for Steve to acknowledge him, then shrugged and continued when it became clear that he wouldn't. "This... this is your guy in there. It's OK to be happy. Or sad, or upset." He paused. "Or... something."
"Thanks," said Steve absently, still looking over the reports.
Tony exchanged a glance with Natasha.
"Did you contact the therapists?" she asked.
"I called them. Well - Pepper did. They'll be here in the morning."
Bruce tapped on the window, and signaled for Steve to come back into the room.
"Rogers," said Barnes, almost as if he didn't want to.
Steve stiffened slightly. "Yes?"
Barnes licked his lips. "I remember you," he said calmly. "Sort of."
Steve paled, but nodded.
"And I looked stuff up on the Internet, and at the Smithsonian."
"I knew I knew you. They told me you were just my target, but I remembered. That's why they wiped me the last time, because I remembered."
"I'm sorry," Steve said cautiously. Wiped. Natasha had read about that in his file. Barnes seemed to remember inconvenient things sometimes; got erratic, and had to be erased. Apparently it involved a fair amount of pain.
"Are you gonna be involved in whatever it is they're going to do with me?" Barnes asked, not acknowledging Steve's apology.
"I was planning on it," said Steve.
Barnes nodded. "I'd rather you weren't."
"Oh shit," muttered Clint.
Barnes shrugged. "I don't know how much they wiped or how whether it'll come back at all. I do know that you're not a shrink, and you're not a doctor. You're just some guy who knew me a long time ago, and you have a reputation for getting too involved in what you shouldn't." He sounded like he'd rehearsed his lines. "Thanks for looking for me. I understand that you thought you were under some sort of obligation. But you've done your duty." He paused. "I'll look you up once I'm all right, if that ever happens."
Steve looked off-balance. "I... I want to be here."
"You don't need to be. And I'd rather you weren't."
Steve swallowed. "Why?"
Barnes narrowed his eyes. "You nearly let me kill you. I'm a little confused right now, but I do know that I want to figure things out, and that'll be difficult if you're around. And you've probably got an agenda, want to get your army buddy back. I'm not him."
Steve took a deep breath and nodded. "All right. If it'll be better for you."
"Not sure about the 'better for me' part," said Barnes indifferently. "But I'm pretty sure it's for the best overall."
Steve frowned. "Why?"
"You refused to kill me; I refuse to let you waste your time with me."
Steve's mouth opened, then closed. "Wait. You want to do this for me?"
"Sure. One good turn deserves another, right?"
Steve nodded, looking shaken. "Right." He nodded again, then cleared his throat, shifting his feet.
"Steve?" Bruce said quietly.
Steve was blinking rapidly, and Natasha noticed his hands were trembling. He bit his lip. "Um. Bucky." He cleared his throat again. "James. Don't. Please - please don't do that. Uh, send me away, that is."
Barnes's eyebrows rose. "Why not?"
"I - I want to help you--"
"I really don't remember much," Barnes pointed out. "I may not remember very much more, ever. I was wiped down a bunch of times during my training. And after."
Natasha swallowed. Damn it, as much as she normally felt pretty much at peace with her past, having Barnes here was doing all sorts of things to her equanimity. "You remember your training?" Bruce asked.
"Not a lot of it. But I don't really remember you," he said to Steve indifferently. "I'm grateful to you for not killing me when we were fighting, and for... this," he gestured around him, "if it's really supposed to be to help me. But I can't pay you back for anything."
Steve shook his head. "I - you don't have to pay me back. For anything. Bucky, I'm the reason you were lost in the first place. Anything I can do--"
"You already did," said Barnes. "You let me live and you set this up. Your debt's paid; you don't owe me anything."
"This isn't about owing you--" Steve stopped. He pressed his lips together, and now Natasha could see that he was trembling. "Bucky--"
"I'm not Bucky."
"James, then." Steve took a deep breath.
"I'm not your friend, whoever he was," Barnes continued. "And you don't need to hang around waiting for me to turn into him--"
"James." Steve paused for a long moment. "Please let me be here." He briefly closed his eyes, evidently carefully thinking his next words. "I - you were my best friend," he told Barnes, keeping his tone steady, but his fists were clenched tight. "My whole life. You - I know you don't remember. You might never remember, and that's fine. If you never do, if you get better and you're stable and you can be allowed out of here and you decide you never want to see any of us again, that's fine." He voice shook slightly and he paused, his control beginning to slip. "We're helping you because you deserve help. You don't owe any of us here anything. You don't owe it to us to become who you were, or to remember anything, or do anything you don't want to do." He took another deep breath. "I'm not here because I want anything from you. But," his voice broke. He stopped again, and gathered himself. "You - you weren't just some guy I used to know," he said softly. "You were my best friend. You were..."
Natasha stepped to the door, and Clint gently put a hand on her arm.
"He's going to screw this up--" she began.
"Maybe. Let him."
"Barnes doesn't need to hear this."
"Maybe Steve needs to say it," said Sam.
In the room, Steve had composed himself slightly.
"We really were best friends?" Barnes asked slowly. "That wasn't just the Smithsonian?"
Steve shook his head. "We were best friends since we were kids," he said. "We were orphans, grew up together. You were the only family I had. You took care of me when I had nobody else. You were my hero." His eyes filled with tears and he held Barnes' gaze. "You went to war and got captured by HYDRA and I moved heaven and earth to rescue you. I was told you were dead, and I went against orders to rescue you anyway. You're the whole reason Captain America was anything other than a guy in tights selling war bonds. I did it for you." He took another deep breath. "And when you - you died, losing you was like losing part of me. I died days later and it was fine, I didn't care; I'd already felt dead without you."
Natasha held her breath. This wasn't the right time to tell the Winter Soldier that they'd been lovers, but Steve wasn't stopping, his voice shaking with suppressed grief and tension.
"I woke up in this world and it would've been better to stay dead, because you were gone. B- James. I know you don't remember. But don't - don't send me away. Please don't - if you feel you owe me anything at all, please - pay me back by letting me stay." A tear had spilled over now and Steve wiped it away. "Please, I..."
Barnes was gazing at him curiously. "All right," he finally said.
Steve nodded quickly, letting out his breath and staring at the floor for a moment before backing up and leaving the room. He closed the door and leaned his back against it, hands shoved deep in his pockets, head bowed.
In the other room, Bruce was approaching Barnes again and speaking to him quietly about therapy, and asking if he wanted to read his own file. Natasha ignored them both, as Steve took one deep breath after another, eyes closed and fighting for calm.
"Uh... you OK, there, big guy?" asked Tony gently.
Steve put a hand to his eyes and took a deep breath, then let it out. "N-no."
Natasha came closer. "No, you're not."
Steve put his hand down and met her gaze, his eyes swimming with tears and his voice unsteady. "You don't understand. He - after he died, I wanted to die too. And I - I know that's not him in there, but." He shivered.
"You have to consider what he said, though," said Natasha gently. "Won't it be worse, knowing that's not really him? Knowing that he can't come back?"
"I don't care." The tears spilled over now and Steve made no attempt to stop them. "I don't care. That's... that's Bucky in there. I - after I was woken up, all I could think was that he wasn't there and he'd never be there again. That I'd loved him with everything I had and he was seventy years gone." He was shaking now, his words coming faster. "I lived without him, knowing he was dead, for just a few days, back in '45, and taking that plane down was a relief, not a sacrifice."
Natasha stepped closer and put a hand on his arm, hesitating before gently tugging on him, slightly startled as he let out his breath and drew her into his arms, his head on her shoulder.
As many times as they'd worked together, as close as they'd become, they weren't like this. Physical closeness was something she only ever did with Clint. But the rock-solid rigidity in Steve's body seemed to be loosening.
Steve clenched his eyes shut, a sob escaping from his throat, and Natasha almost felt like her small frame was holding up his large one. It always startled her a little, how big he was; he didn't look intimidating.
"I can't - I can't lose him again," he murmured his voice rough. "It's always been one of us sending the other away, and I can't do it any more." His breath shuddered and he held her tightly. "I don't care if it's selfish," he gasped, tears flowing unashamed now. "I don't care any more. It's Bucky. If there's even a chance, any part of him that's survived..."
Natasha gently stroked his hair, uncomfortable as hell at such naked emotion but grateful she could provide even a small measure of comfort. Sam came closer, putting a hand on Steve's back, and she realized that he'd probably seen more than his share of shell-shocked soldiers losing it, overwhelmed by their grief and no longer able to carry on. She wondered if he'd been expecting this.
She glanced at Tony and Clint, both politely having turned to the window, watching Bruce talk to Barnes, giving Steve what privacy they could.
"It's all right," she murmured. "Steve, it's all right. We'll all help. If anyone can get him through this, it's you."
Steve nodded, deep sobs racking him, the sorrow washing over him. Natasha briefly wondered if he'd let himself indulge in tears at any point in time, either after he woke up or while the search was going on. Wondered how much it had cost him to keep such a tight lid on his emotions as they worked to find Barnes, and whether he'd be able to pull himself together enough to help Barnes now.
"It's all right, Steve," Sam said quietly. "Just let it go."
Steve nodded wordlessly, shuddering in Natasha's arms and making no attempt to push it down any more. Probably for the best - though Natasha glanced at the room where Bruce was still speaking with Barnes and hoped Steve wasn't called back in any time soon.
What felt like hours later, finally the shaking was slowing down, and Steve's breathing was getting steadier. He drew a deep breath and started to straighten up, wiping his face.
"You all right?" asked Clint quietly, stepping away from the window and handing Steve a tissue.
Steve nodded automatically. "Uh. Sorry," he muttered, wiping his eyes, his voice wrecked. "I... sorry--"
"Think we were all wondering when that was gonna happen," said Sam. "Look, you can't keep it all in, all right? What's going on in there," he gestured with his head towards the other room, "what's happened to you and to him, you can't just take it all in stride."
"I have to," said Steve roughly. "It won't help him any if I'm a mess." He blinked rapidly, his hold on himself fragile but his resolve steely. "He's the priority here, not me."
"Yeah, he's the one who's been brain-wiped and all that," Sam agreed. "But you've gone through hell too, and ignoring that won't help him any. Especially if you're gonna be part of his recovery. You've gotta get yourself together and that doesn't mean repressing everything, damnit."
Steve glared at him through reddened eyes. "I'm not--"
"I just spent four months helping you chase your boyfriend all over the world, with you treating it like a challenging mental exercise. Don't tell me you weren't repressed."
Steve bit his lip and looked into the room where Barnes sat quietly listening to Bruce.
"You're gonna need help too," Sam insisted.
"I'll set you up with someone," said Natasha. She paused. "And this time, please do me the courtesy of telling me if you're not going to take me up on it. I understand now why you didn't before, but..."
"You tried to set him up with a shrink?" asked Sam.
Natasha exchanged a glance with Steve, who was looking shaky but slightly less fragile. "I wish. I tried to set him up with girls."
Tony and Clint chuckled and Steve flushed.
"Why didn't you say anything?" asked Natasha.
Steve hesitated. "I wasn't... I know things are different now," he said slowly. "I wasn't ashamed, or trying to hide," he said, then paused and shrugged. "Who knows. Maybe I was, in part. But I couldn't - I didn't want to say anything because then I'd have to explain about Bucky and Bucky was mine. That part of my history was mine. Nobody else's business." He gazed at Barnes, and Natasha tried to see the gaunt, broken man lying in shackles as Steve must see him. As his file showed him: young, handsome, vital. "And I didn't ever want to think about what happened, or try to explain it to anybody." He glanced at her. "I probably would've told you eventually. Not about Bucky, but about not wanting to date any of the girls you set me up with."
"You're not bi, then," said Tony.
Steve shook his head. "Not really. Maybe a bit - I can find girls pretty, it's just... I didn't want to explain."
"I could've set you up with some very nice men too, you know," said Natasha.
Steve shook his head. "Not likely. I... it's really not my thing. Dating, that is."
"You know there's a lot of people who swear you're a blushing virgin," Tony commented, and Steve grimaced. "I always thought that was crap because you were surrounded by USO girls for months, but--"
The door opened and Bruce came out. "All right," he said, looking weary. "I've done all I can right now. I'm going to get him some food, do some bloodwork. He's agreed that he's probably got to stay restrained until we can get psych evaluations done."
Tony frowned. "He's staying in restraints until tomorrow?"
Steve shook his head, opening his mouth to protest.
Bruce put up a hand. "Before you say anything, I didn't suggest it. He did."
"There's a lot of anger there, Steve. A lot of confusion, too, and fear. But a lot of anger there waiting to come out. Trust me. I know anger." He paused. "He's got to stay in restraints until we have a bit better idea of how to keep him and everyone else safe from that. I can't guarantee that he won't cause a hell of a mess in there if we release him, and while I'm sure you - or I - could contain him, I don't think you really want to do that. I know I don't."
Steve swallowed hard. "You know, one of the things that still gives me nightmares is seeing him cuffed like that when we were arrested." He blew out his breath. "It's like a horrible flashback. Damn it."
"Different context," said Natasha, resolving to ask him about that arrest some day. Not right now, though.
"Yeah. For one thing, this time I'm not right next to him. He doesn't even know me." Steve's reddened eyes met hers sadly. "Now the hard part starts, doesn't it?"
Natasha nodded grimly. "Now the hard part starts," she agreed.