It started with an explosion. Like many disasters did, metaphorical or otherwise. Natasha swore under her breath and tapped her fingers against the table as if that would make the download go faster. The A.I.M. plant was supposed to be empty except for the night guard. This was supposed to be a simple grab and run mission.
“On it. How much time left?” James’ voice was distorted by static crackle over the coms. Nearing the front entrance, then. The signal disrupter she’d left by the alarm only interfered with their coms at close range.
“Three, maybe four minutes. The clean-up less than half that,” she said and frowned at the screen. The status bar crawled across it at a snail’s pace. It seemed to slow down as she waited for his update.
“Guard’s dead.” His whisper was barely audible over the crackle. “Handful in the street outside. Combat uniforms. Not local.”
Uniforms usually implied teams and organization. Yet they had still decided to attract the attention of everyone within hearing distance. “And inside?”
Long seconds ticked by before James’ reply came. “Big hole in the west wall. Raiding the warehouse.”
A break-in meant security would be crawling the place afterward and they might discover Natasha’s careful data extraction. Would definitely notice the disabled alarms, since they hadn’t gone off when the soldiers decided to use explosives as lock-picks. All that planning and sneaking around ruined by a second team of intruders hitting the A.I.M. plant on the same night.
A sound like metal against metal drew her attention to the courtyard. She went to the window overlooking it. A few floors below and to her right the door to the loading dock was rolling up, light spilled out, then a figure ducked out under it before it had finished opening. “Someone in the courtyard.”
“Security or raiders?”
“Someone else, no uniform. Wait.” The figure glanced around and then sprinted across the courtyard, moving too gracefully to be a man. Even if they hadn’t been separated by distance and a thick panel of glass, Natasha was sure she wouldn’t have been able to hear the running footsteps. Too light on her feet for that. The lithe figure reached the gate and opened it to let a cargo truck in. Then she turned, finally allowing Natasha a good look of the face. Definitely female, young, there was something familiar about the line of her jaw—
The computer beeped as the download completed, and Natasha turned away from the window. “More coming. We should move. I’ll finish up here.”
Even with the guard dead, there were other warehouses nearby, some with their own guards. Any one of them might have called the police by now. Natasha had no desire to get caught up in a firefight between the soldiers and the local police.
James agreed. “Okay. Meet me on the roof. The ground’s too risky.”
Natasha pocketed the USB stick with the downloaded files and plugged in a second stick, this one with a crudely sketched skull on it, waited a few seconds for the confirmation that the worm had made its way onto the network, then pocketed that one, too. Good to go. A final glance out of the window showed her the young woman from before was gone, but the soldiers were busy loading the truck. Good, that at least kept some of them occupied.
James was already on the roof when she reached it, using the rooftop vents for cover as he kept an eye on the streets below. A shadow among shadows.
He looked her over when she neared him. “You got everything?”
She patted the pocket with the USB sticks in it and flashed him a smile. “All packed up and ready to go.”
The Quinjet was waiting for them in a private airfield. James put away the equipment while Natasha started the preflight check. Despite it being routine, it still required her attention. As did the take-off, but after she leveled the plane out she allowed herself the luxury of going over the mission in her head. Trying to settle the gnawing feeling that she had missed something.
She didn’t even notice the water bottle James held out to her until it bumped against her arm.There was preoccupied and then there was distracted. She usually didn’t tolerate the second while out in the field. With a barely suppressed frown, she took the water bottle, opened it, and took a deep pull from it. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him leaning forward, elbows on his knees, as he looked at her. She turned her head towards him, a joke at the ready, but he beat her to it.
It was a deceptively simple question. Had it been anyone else doing the asking, Natasha would have lied and said she was fine. But if it had been anyone else they probably wouldn’t have picked up on her silence. “I’m just.” She sighed. “Annoyed, I guess. It was supposed to be a simple grab and run.”
“I trashed the alarm panel when I removed your gadget. Kicked the door in. Security might just think the burglars took out the alarm system before they battered their way into the warehouse.”
Not that people who used explosives as battering rams would care much about alarms, but it would seem a likelier explanation than two different teams with different agendas, breaking in during on the same night. At least she hoped it would. Occam’s razor and all.
Natasha shot him a sideways glance. “I knew I dragged you along for more than just how good you look in that uniform.”
“Sure. I’ve seen the way you look at me when you think no one is watching.” The rude grin disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, and James leaned back in his seat, still facing her. “Besides, we got the info Stark wanted. Got out in one piece. Didn’t even have to kill anyone. Steve will be pleased.”
He had a point. Cleverly disguised it as banter, but still valid.
Natasha flipped on the autopilot and swiveled her seat to face him. “What did I ever do to deserve someone like you?” Her tone was joking, but she meant every word of it.
“Beats me. Probably something really bad,” he responded in kind.
Just a few years ago, having someone that apt at reading her would have been terrifying. Now she just smiled and tilted her head when he stretched to kiss her.
The upside to working and living in the same building was that, after a long debrief, home was only a short elevator ride away. The walk from the elevator to their apartment even shorter.
Once he had closed the door behind them, James said, “Go change, I’ll make dinner.”
Natasha half turned, to look at him over her shoulder. “What? You’re not joining me in the shower?”
Her pose earned her an appreciative look, but he kept unbuckling his uniform. “Baby-doll, I’d love nothing more, but if I don’t eat anything soon, I’m gonna keel over and you’ll have to drag my sorry ass to the med bay.”
She strolled back to him to him, swaying her hips with each stride, put a hand on his chest, and looked up at him with loving eyes. “Don’t be silly, Barnes. I’ll just get them to come here. I’m not ruining my back dragging you anywhere.”
He ran a thumb over her cheek, cradling her jaw. “That’s my girl. Work smart, not hard,” he mumbled, dipping his head to kiss her, gently, his lips soft and dry against hers.
It would be easy to stay here, to link her arms around his neck and deepen the kiss, but his stomach was growling and who was she to deny him his wishes? Natasha stretched and kissed him lightly on the nose before she turned away and headed towards the bedroom.
When she returned, freshly showered and wearing little more than a short and silky black robe, she saw that James had not only mostly finished dinner, but also changed into jeans and a white tee.
“Something smells nice,” she said, walked over to him and leaned against his broad back, wrapping her arms loosely around his waist.
“Making chicken piccata. Done in a few minutes.” He had to stretch to stir the broccoli frying in a pan, somewhat hindered by her hug and she released him to go be useful instead.
“I’ll set the table,” she said and followed up on her words.
There was comfort in moments like these. Comfort that Natasha didn’t miss when she was working, not even when the mission turned to shit and everyone was shooting at her and it really would be so much easier if they would just calm down and let her do her job. But still. The clink of glasses dangling from her fingers, the chill from the bottle of white wine gripped more firmly, the smell of dinner spreading throughout the apartment. And best of all, the soft swish of fabric against fabric that meant that James had noticed her staring out of the window and wanted to give her a heads-up instead of sneaking up on her unheard.
He placed the now filled plates on her table by the cutlery she had brought, and said with a wry grin, “Dinner is served.”
It was, unsurprisingly, delicious. They ate it slowly, talking about everything and nothing. As long as it wasn’t the mission. There were reports to write tomorrow, but for tonight there was just great food, wine, and the excellent company James so willingly provided.
Natasha stretched afterward and had to stifle a yawn, rudely interrupting James’ riveting tale of the trouble he and Sam had gotten up to the other day on patrol.
“Am I boring you, Romanova?” he asked, his tone dry.
“Never, моя звезда.” She gathered the now empty plates and took them to the kitchen, closely followed by James with the rest of their services.
He closed the dishwasher and walked over to her as she leaned against the kitchen counter. His fingers barely touching her as he brushed a few unruly strands of hair out of her face. “Wanna call it a night?”
She did, but not for the reason he seemed to be hinting at. Sleep would have to wait. She draped her arms around his waist and said, “Not quite ready to go to sleep yet.”
The soft look on his face faded and was replaced with a rude grin. “I’m open to suggestions.”
Natasha shifted to sit on the kitchen counter behind her and wrapped her legs around his waist to pull him closer. Between the brick wall that was James Buchanan Barnes and the kitchen cabinets against her back, she had little room to move, but she could make do. She licked her lips and watched his eyes dip down at the movement before they flicked back to meet hers again. This wasn’t comfort. This was closer to the thrill of a well-executed mission, the anticipation of it. He ghosted his fingers over her shoulder, down the back of her arms, metal sliding easier over the silk than roughened skin. She shivered, just a little. Guiding his head to hers, she said, just as he was closing his eyes in anticipation of a kiss, “Don’t want to ruin your evening,” she paused and kissed him lightly with closed lips, “if you have plans,” pause, kiss, “we could—”
He caught her head between his hands, said, “I’m pretty sure you’re the one who had plans,” and kissed her.
She would never tire of this.
The kiss was soft at first, nipping, luxuriating in the simple pleasure of being here, together. With an arm curled around his neck, Natasha deepened it, drew it out. He was so incredibly warm. She had gotten used to it and didn’t really think much about it these days, but the flimsy robe provided little isolation, even less warmth, and she felt cool against his heat. She basked in it. Better than the sun on her skin.
He moved to her jaw, grazing the line of it with his teeth. She dug her fingers into his back when he hit a ticklish spot under her ear. Definitely not feeling sleepy now. He continued his exploration of her neck, nosing her robe out of the way when it kept him from progressing.
“Oh.” James stopped his trail of kisses and straightened when he saw what her now partly open robe had revealed. His exploration forgotten as he touched a finger to the sad excuse for a bra strap. The green satin almost glowed against her skin, a stark contrast to the no-frills, black ones she usually wore. That was why she’d picked the set in the first place.
“This is new,” he said, tracing a useless ribbon, weaving in and out of the top band of lace, down to the equally useless and tiny bow between her breasts.
She rolled her shoulder, shrugging the robe off, and letting it puddle around her hips.
“You spoil me rotten.” His breath wafted over her skin, warm and smelling faintly of wine, as he closed the gap between them again.
She didn’t contradict him. Instead, she tilted her head up to face him more fully as he cupped her jaw, crushing his lips against hers, flooding her with warmth. Natasha knew how to seduce, how to make a mark stupid with want, how to strip them of their humanity, and how to kill them, with as little or as much pain as she wanted. Her body was a weapon in more ways than one. But unlike most weapons, she had full control over how it was used. She grabbed the hem of James’ shirt and lifted it halfway up his waist.
“This should be on the floor. Five minutes ago.”
He smirked at her impatience but grabbed the neckline willingly enough and pulled the tee over his head. “Happy to oblige.”
His hair was a mess and she weaved her fingers tough it, trying in vain to make it behave. James shivered a little when she reached his neck, and she ran her fingers down that ridiculous chest of his, raising gooseflesh in their wake. The cut of his Adonis belt was visible above his jeans and she traced it, dipping her fingertips below the waistband just to see him shiver again.
Weapons could be used for more than killing. You could have fun with them.
The jeans were graciously allowed to stay on. But only as long as it took them to get to the bedroom. A few steps from the bed they were discarded. Leaving a trail of clothes seemed to be a habit of theirs. Good thing they so very seldom had unannounced guests.
Natasha made to unclasp the bra when a hand on her elbow stopped her.
“Don’t— Don’t take it off yet. Please?” he said with a boyish smile that was impossible to resist.
“Oh? You like this then?” She hooked a finger under the bra strap as if to pull it off, but released it again, punctuating her question with the snap of elastics hitting her shoulder.
James snorted derisively but skimmed his hands down her sides eagerly enough. “You knew I’d like it. That’s why you got it.”
He was right. Of course, he was. She sighed with mock exasperation. “Fine. But don’t ruin it. It was expensive.”
“I’m making no such promises,” he said and lifted her cleanly off the floor with one arm wrapped around her waist.
Natasha’s delighted laugh ended in a whoosh of air when he unceremoniously dumped her onto the bed and crawled after her, kissing a trail up her body, the scruff on his chin deliciously rough against her skin. She groped for a hold on his shoulders when he reached her nipple and sucked at it through the bra. The green silk created a barrier between them, but it didn’t dull the sensation, only spread it out. And when he moved to her other breast the damp fabric left behind rubbed against her when she shifted. It was completely unfair. He was all the way down there, using his mouth and fingers to torment her, drawing gasp after gasp out of her, while she couldn’t reach below his chest.
As if reading her mind, James looked up at her, his eyes shining, his lips red from kissing, and she wanted nothing more than to wrap her entire body around him and never let him go.
“Natalia,” he said with such reverence it made her stomach knot up. “My beautiful Natalia.” That man was going to be the death of her.
She reached for him, pulling him up to her. He came, willingly, eagerly, letting her guide his movements.
Natasha thought briefly about tormenting him as he had her. About kissing him breathless, stroking him until he couldn’t keep his eyes open. Would, if not for those pale eyes right above her. Blueish gray and shining and very nearly bottomless. He needed this at least as much as she did. The closeness of it, the intimacy. She shifted the crotch of her panties to the side and guided him inside.
There was a breathless moment as she adjusted to him, then he began to move with deliberate slowness. She released a breath hard enough to turn it into a groan and he grinned down at her. Oh, the luxury of having all the time in the world to enjoy his touch, of not having to be silent. James’ next push came harder, hard enough to make the mattress dip under her, to make her groan in pleasure in earnest, and she pulled his head down to kiss the grin off his face, the air from his lungs.
Natasha only achieved her goal at a cost. When she released James’ lips, her breathing was as labored as his. Victories were seldom achieved without losses however small, and this was a loss she could easily accept.
He was getting close, the way he kept biting his lower lip was an obvious tell, and she slipped her hand between them. The lacy panties felt unfamiliar against her palm, but that was no hindrance. Not with him inside her, not with the tight coil of pleasure in her abdomen. All it took was a few circling rubs before that coil released, sending sparks along her nerve endings, making her moan into the crook of his neck, as James fell apart too.
Loose-limbed and spent, he was crushingly heavy on top of her, but Natasha loved it, the breathless weight of him.
At least for a little while.
When the sticky heat of it became too much, she tapped James’ shoulder and he rolled off her, onto his side. She shifted to keep facing him, pushed sweaty hair off his forehead, smiled. A little bit tired, most of all very satisfied. He traced a line from her hand up her arm and over her shoulder until he reached the bra strap. She grinned.
“So, I should get one in every color?”
“I mean.” He traced the strap with a finger, silver against green. “Why limit yourself to only one style?”
For a man who had lived out of a duffle bag for weeks more than once when a mission demanded it, he could be surprisingly extravagant. Especially when it came to spoiling her.
Not that Natasha had any complaints.
“I’ll see what I can find. Might need your help picking it out.”
“At your service, ma’am.” The playful grin slipped, and he pulled her closer and leaned his forehead to hers, their noses brushing. James had always been better at expressing his feelings with actions instead of words. Now, as well as the first time they were together, all those decades ago.
So she said it for him, “I love you.”
His lips twitched in a wry smile, then he said, “Love you, too,” and kissed her.