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Her Soldier

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“Looking for him is a dead end. I know. I’ve tried.” 

Steve didn’t ask why she’d tried, so very hard, to find the same man that had shot her and she knew that with her reputation it was because he thought she wanted revenge. 

In reality, Natasha’s reasoning was completely different. 

The man haunted her dreams, but as a ghost of a memory. A memory she let herself keep secret, the last thing she could really call her own.

 

“She’s mine.”

Those words sent something electric down her spine, pushing her to go faster as she looked back over her shoulder, a tiny grin on her lips. Even after all that time and he remembered enough to know that she was his. His to chase. 

Their fight wasn’t long, but at the look in his eyes, she knew. 

He didn’t remember. 

He just saw her as a threat.

Then a bullet was in her shoulder and all she could think was ‘he’s going to kill me’. Thankfully Steve was there, fighting.

“Bucky?”   She heard Steve’s whisper- the soldier’s voice coming out in clear English to respond.

“Who the hell is Bucky?”

And after the debris from the Soldier’s stolen gun had cleared, he was gone.

 

“He looked right at me. He didn’t even know me.”

Natasha let the pain and the sick feeling in her chest be pushed to the back of her brain.

“None of that’s your fault Steve.”

Steve went on, talking about the man she had never known as anything other than the Soldier, and she closed her eyes, tilted her head back.

She didn’t want to hear it. 

He would forever be the Soldier to her.

A ghost of her past.

 

“You might not want to pull on that thread.”

Natasha knew Steve wouldn’t listen, part of her actively hoping he didn’t, even if it was for the chance to see her Soldier again.

 

“I’ll kill him myself.”

T’Challa was simple with his words and Natasha wished that she could pretend he hadn’t meant that as she watched him walk away.

She wasn’t sure she was ready to watch her Soldier die, whether he knew her or not.

 

"Your first name is James?”

James. 

Such an unfamiliar name. 

Simple, yet completely foreign to her mind. The man on the screen was just that, foreign, and her stomach rolled at that thought.

He was supposed to be her constant.

“My name is Bucky.”

Natasha frowned more, saw Stark glance at her curiously.

That man was only the person Steve knew, all the glory of a prisoner of war and an old friend wrapped into one, and she saw Steve’s eyes shine.

But he wasn’t hers anymore. 

Wasn’t her Soldier. 

He had Steve.

Natasha looked away from the screen to stop the emotions in her gut from spilling out.

 

He was practically on top of her, eyes wild and untamable like when they’d trained together in the Red Room.

“You could at least recognize me.” She choked out the words, T’Challa coming to her aide as she gasped for air.

He didn’t look back as he ran off.

 

“I said I'd help you find him, not catch him. There’s a difference.”

And that difference was the way those dark eyes had looked so lost, confused. 

That difference was when she’d needed help remembering she had been alone- and she couldn’t do that to him, no matter how much it hurt that he didn’t remember her.

 

~~~~~~~

 

Natasha returned to the Tower, made her peace with Tony for what she’d done.

They were both hiding secrets, but they made good company with each other and the bottles they shared.

She hid from the messages on her burner phone, Tony hiding the way he wouldn’t sleep for days on end and flinched whenever someone brought up Steve.

Tony knew that she was playing both sides still. He’d even asked her about it when they were drinking together one time, but he accepted her answer. “Your side is the right side, but I have family on that side… I have family on both sides.”

Drinking with Stark ended up with them oversharing. Never about the things that they hid, clutched to their chests, but everything else was fair game. Howard Stark’s drinking. The Red Room. Maria Stark being an absent parent. Natasha’s time as a hired gun. Obadiah Stane. Brock Rumlow. Afghanistan. Her brainwashing. 

All of it came out, except for the things that were still raw. They cried together, kept each other company, and made promises that they pretended not to remember in the morning.

Drinking was easy.

It always burned so good on the way down and so when she got a text from an unknown number, she remembered Stark standing over her, words jumbled together in her head. 

The floor was littered with bottles. 

A single sentence showed up on the screen of the phone in her hand.  

‘Bucky went back into cryo.’

Natasha closed her eyes, wished she could go to sleep until she forgot too- but she knew it would be impossible. There was only one way for her to truly forget.

About everything.

 

Natasha and Tony made a deal after she ended up in the hospital. 

No more drinking, no more avoiding their work, and no more trying to inadvertently kill themselves.

Natasha helped in his lab and even though she wasn’t his level of genius, FRIDAY and Tony were slowly helping her fill in the parts of her knowledge that were missing.

They worked on projects together.

She helped design more flexible materials for Spider Man's suit. Learned how to do the necessary repairs to her own Widow Bites. Helped with the heavier lifting.

They were in the middle of building a sleek black racing bike out of parts from Captain America’s cannibalized motorcycle, Clint’s arrows, a prototype of Redwing, and other cars Tony had. Natasha suspected that it was part of the man’s unusual type of therapy, but she didn’t question it, and in turn Tony never brought up the message she’d almost died over.

Tony revealed that he’d never deleted Natalie Rushman out of SI databases, and changed her to his personal assistant in the R&D branch. 

Tuesdays were their assigned date at SI headquarters, to test out the new fun projects. 

Those days usually ended up with Natasha grinning as she was shyly handed a new fun toy one of the R&D engineers had spent their own time working on, and she gave them specs on how it could work better, her reflexes testing the projects to their limits.

She became their mascot, the whole branch under secrecy as to who Natalie Rushman actually was.

 

It was one of those Tuesdays, Tony and her both dressed down as they walked through the Compound’s lobby to the car, when Maria Hill approached them.

“Director.” Natasha’s response was practically programmed in her.

“Please Natasha. You know the circumstances.”

She nodded. “Right... Hey Hill.”

 Hill looked at Tony. “Stark. I wanted to let you know that the other Avengers are getting pardoned. All of them.”

Tony gritted his jaw, eyes falling flat. “When.”

“They’re arriving here within the next two hours.”

By now Tony wasn't just mad, he was furious. “What?” He hissed at the woman. “Here? Are you crazy?”

“They need a place where the Accords council can watch over them. The Council picked you and Romanoff for this duty.”

Natasha cleared her throat. “Um… They know about my past transgressions. Why-”

Hill fixed her with a look. “They want you to give them a reason for them not to trust you. Try not to give them that.”

As Hill walked away, Natasha reached out blindly, steadying herself on Tony. “They- they’re all…

“I’ll let R&D that we’re taking a rain check.”

Natasha squeezed her eyes shut. “Yeah... Rain check.”

They were both silent for a second.

“I need a drink.”

Tony still looked slightly shaken, nodding. “I think this allows for a break in the rules.”

Natasha nodded and the two of them made their way to the bar, both unlocking their separate keypads on the special safe they’d made, pulling out the Vodka.

Rhodey found them an hour and a half later, the Vodka empty and sat them down, shoving food and water at them in hopes they’d sober up.

 

Natasha and Tony leaned against the wall of the compound whispering to each other, both wearing grease stained band t-shirts. Rhodey was dressed in his armour, with Dr. Strange by his side, decked out in his usual robes.

Natasha kept batting away the sorcerer's cloak as it tried to mess with her hair, Tony giggling at her. She frowned, but it was making Tony laugh, so she didn’t really protest. When it stopped, returning to its owner, she looked up.

A jet of Wakandan origin landed, the team walking slowly across the lawn.

Natasha elbowed Tony, voice a teasing whisper. “I was right! It’s Wakandan!”

The man groaned. 

Rhodey shot them both death glares, hissing at them from where his jaw was clenched tightly. “You two have been dreading this for the last four months! Act like it!”

She huffed, crossing her arms. The team got closer. “They’re like, so cool , with their slow motion walking.” Tony almost cracked a smile and she saw Steve’s eyes dart to the man. “Look at Wanda and Clint. Sunglasses, leather jackets, and everything.” 

The two did in fact have sunglasses on, Wanda wearing some red leather jacket, Clint in his ‘cool guy’ clothes. Natasha snorted, causing Tony to smirk.

Steve stopped in front of Rhodey, eyes flicking to Tony, whose smirk faded slightly, his face losing some of its color. 

“I’m glad that we’re here.” Steve’s chin was tall, eyes proud like he’d just come home from fighting a war. “I’m glad that we can come to see that we’re stronger together and that we can be a team again, that no-”

Tony leaned to the side, leaning on her heavily as he whispered in her ear. “He copied Thor. With the beard. Wants to be king.”

Natasha grinned, leaned more on him, and to anyone that didn’t know better their position would look almost intimate. “Long live the king… Too bad you have his crown.” She grinned and her lips practically brushed his ear they were so close. “It’s in your lab, spray painted pink.”

Tony gave a mirthful laugh at the reminder of what he’d done to Steve’s shield on a particularly bad day, and she felt the vibrations through her own chest what with how close they were.

“What’s so funny?” Wanda’s eyes narrowed on them.

Natasha’s eyes slid to the woman. She grinned wider, moving to face Wanda, causing Tony’s face to smush into her shoulder when his weight was displaced. “Nothing.”

Tony made a wheezing sound, pulling himself up, slinging his arm over her shoulder. “Nothing but the king’s crown.”

“It’s such a pretty crown, don't you think Rho?”

Rhodey sighed. “Did you two… Again? I thought I cleaned it off!”

Natasha gasped in mock offense. “So you admit it! You touched the crown of the king! Traitor!”

“What king?” Sam looked confused.

“King America, of course.” Tony smirked, before poking Natasha’s side, voice whiny. “Hey bumblebeeeeee… I wanna go inside.” 

“Lead the way pumpkin.” Natasha and Tony stumbled inside before Rhodey could catch them. 

Natasha leaned over the bar, batting her eyes at the man as he poured two shots. “Serve me one darling. I need it for the trauma.”

“You’re drinking !” Steve exclaimed as he strode in.

Tony downed one of the shots, filling a glass for her. She threw it back before looking at Steve and putting a finger up to her lips, voice an exaggerated whisper. “Shhh. Not so loud. Tony’s not supposed to know. We have a deal.”

“What deal?” Wanda frowned.

Rhodey sighed, walking over and taking the bottle, tossing it to Strange who magic-ed it away. “You two should shut up- go work on your project.” His pointed look was lost on them.

Tony smiled icily at Steve. “We don’t drink because of the Incident .”

“What happened-”

Natasha’s eyes widened, turning back to Tony. “Oh he’s right! The project!” She pointed to the clock. “It’s Tuesday!”

Tony blinked, before his eyes widened and he stumbled out from behind the bar. “Platypus we have to go! You have to get us to date night!” Tony tugged on Rhodey’s sleeve.

Strange rolled his eyes, opening a portal with his Sling Ring. “Get out of here you idiots.”

“Thanks Harry Potter!” Tony ambled through.

Natasha kissed Strange on the cheek as she passed him. “Thanks Mister Doctor. And you too Flappy.” 

The cloak gave her a wave as she stumbled into SI’s R&D department.

 

The SI team had dealt with a drunk Tony Stark before and refused to let them go anywhere near the projects until they were both sober enough to regret their decisions.

And once both of them were back to their usual collected selves, the team sat them down and talked engineering with them. Natasha even let one of women practice braiding her hair while she worked with Tony, so the lady could do it for her daughter.

Soon enough it was late, later than they stayed most of the time, and they matched grimaces. “No.” Tony shook his head. “No, I'm not living with them again.”

“We can’t stay here.”

Tony got a mad glint in his eyes. “We can for a while. I’m sure Strange and Rhodey can manage for a few days.”

She considered it, before shrugging. “Yeah, okay. Can you get Happy to deliver the bike?”

Tony grinned. “I like the way you think.”

 

Tony and Natasha worked on her bike for three days before the R&D department rose up and staged an intervention, shooing them out. The bike had been done for a day, and Natasha suspected that it was Tony’s hovering around the other projects had gotten them kicked out.

The bike was a sleek black, with a painted brown recluse on the side, and it was outfitted with every weapon she could possibly need in the field. Tony clutched onto her as she pushed the bike to it’s limits, and when she pulled in the garage of the compound, they were both riding an adrenaline high.

“Coffee?”

“Is that even a question?” Natasha opened the door for Tony, and they made their way to the kitchen. Natasha’s smile was beaming and even the other’s presence in the kitchen couldn’t put her off, even if she notice Tony falter for a second. “She worked like a dream… we did good with this one.”

Tony seemed to take her lead and just pretend like they were going about their normal routine of grabbing things for each other, passing off items, and moving around each other like an elaborate dance routine.

Tony grabbed the coffee ice cream from the freezer, tossing it to her. 

She set it down, tossing him back two coffee mugs that he caught nimbly. “I was thinking about the brakes. They seem a little off, but I'm sure a day in the shop could make her click right again.”

Natasha pulled out two small bowls, smoothly trading places with him. 

He started the coffee as she scooped ice cream. “I think it’s the bedding. Front has more than back… FRIDAY? Make a note to check the back bedding.”

“Of course Boss.”

Finally Natasha tossed back the considerably lighter ice cream tub and they picked up their ice cream and coffee, moving to the smaller couch that was unoccupied. Natasha folded herself in between the man’s legs. “I think Kevin might be a great help with project 23. He’s really shown that he can work with the team and his field is manufactal design.”

“You just think that because he let you play with his last project!” Tony pouted. “ I wanted to test that one.”

Natasha chuckled, smiling when a red cloak wrapped itself around her. “Hey flappy flap!”

An irritated Steven Strange followed the cloak. “That’s not its name.”

Natasha snorted. “Then why does it like it so much?” 

The man just huffed in response, sending the cloak a glare.

Rhodey walked in, smiling. “Are you two back already? I thought I was going to have to bribe R&D to kick you out!” The man sat down in his armchair. “What’re we watching? I vote Lord of the Rings.”

“Honey bear...” Tony pouted. “You said I got to pick and I want to watch Star Wars!”

“You lost all movie rights when you broke the deal.” Natasha pinched his leg. “I say Sharknado.”

“Hypocrite!”

“Yeah? Well you’re a-” Natasha’s mind went blank as the Soldier walked into the room, hair tied back and in simple civilian clothes. She felt the mug in her hand break and hissed, looking down at a where a shard of the mug had pierced her hand. “ Fuck !”

Tony moved, grabbing her other hand  before she could pull the piece out. “Tasha… We know what to do with bad injuries- remember?”

She gritted her teeth, holding out her hand. “Fine. Do it.”

Strange made a green glowy magic bracelet and she watched as the shard and her hand were separated again, the cup returning to the way it was, same as her hand. “You should be more careful Natasha.”

Natasha nodded, smiling shakily at Rhodey. “You look like you need coffee and ice cream.” 

The man looked like he was about to protest, but when he met her pleading glance, he sighed. “Yeah, wow, guess I do need that.” She thanked him with a dip of her head, shoving the mug and bowl at him before practically running from the room.

 

Tony found her sitting in a cold bath, eyes red. “What did he do to you?”

Natasha didn’t look at him. “He loved me.”

Tony snorted, moving to sit on the side of the large tub. “Well that’s not something I can relate to, but he did kill my parents... When he was the Winter Soldier.”

She looked up. “He trained me in the Red Room, back when he was a mindless machine.” Dark, empty eyes were ingrained into her mind. “He made me who I am.”

“He strangled my mother.”

Natasha looked down at where her feet were losing their color. “They used to wipe him whenever he got attached to me, refused to fight me… And I had to listen to him scream. ‘Love is for children’ they would say, again and again and again.”

Tony reached down, pulling out the drain-plug. “I found out in that base in Siberia. Steve knew this whole time and hid it from me.”

“He won’t remember me. They made sure of that.”

When a towel was wrapped around her shoulders, Tony gently ran a brush through her wet hair. “We fought in Siberia. It ended after I blew off Barnes’ arm and Steve slammed his shield into the arc reactor, left me there to die.”

Natasha knew it was her turn to say something, some memory, but instead she looked back at him. “Stay. Please.”

Tony figited a bit. “My reputation-”

“Is full of shit and we both know it. You have a thing for blondes that have hurt you before, with eyes as blue as the American flag. I just- I don’t want to be alone.” She gently took the brush from his hands, setting it down before going to get on pajamas. 

Tony pursed his lips. “Alright. But I’m not going to forget about that jab. I don’t like him.”

Natasha’s smile was sad. “No, you don’t want to like him. There’s a difference.”

“Be quiet traitor.” The words were out and Tony looked like he wanted to take them back. 

Natasha just smiled, shook her head as if to say ‘ it’s fine .’ “Come on then Stark. Show me your supreme talent for cuddling.”

 

Tony had a Council Meeting, leaving Natasha to her own devices in the compound. She was eating cereal, headphones in, when Wanda and Sam sat down at the table. She pulled one of her earphones out. “Good morning.”

“Where’s Stark?”

Natasha smiled politely at the girl. “He’s making sure that all you you can be protected under the Accords.”

Wanda looked a bit skeptical. “You’re lying.”

She shrugged one of her shoulders, taking a bite of her cereal. “You should read them. We had to do a lot of blackmailing Ross so they would be this good.”

Steve walked in the kitchen, a man with dark hair trailing after him. “You blackmailed Ross?”

Natasha tried not to let it show how much the Soldier’s presence affected her, looking back down at her cereal even if her fingers tightened on the spoon. “For a while we had to deal with him, so yes, we blackmailed him. But then he got put under investigation because of an anonymous tip... And now he’s in jail.”

The whole group looked surprised. 

The coffee pot dinged and she slid out of her chair, squeezing her way in between Steve and the Soldier to get to the coffee pot. “Excuse me.” They both made room for her, and she set about making two cups of coffee.

“Natasha, you never really met Bucky, did you?”

She felt her breath catch in her throat, and had to keep herself breathing normally, plastering a fake smile on her face. “Right... It’s good to meet you Sargent.”

“Is that coffee for me Honeybun?” Natasha was pulled from looking at Barnes, glancing at Tony, who stood in the doorway, eyes narrowed into angry slits. 

“Ah. Yeah. Got you a cup of coffee right here, Sugar.” She quickly made her way to Tony, handing him a cup and muttering a quiet ‘thank you’. 

He nodded slightly, taking a long drag of coffee before sighing. “The council wants progress reports. I’m thinking of just sending them one of my sex tapes and calling it good.” His eyes gleamed. “They might even think me unfit to house the Avengers…”

Natasha chuckled, brushing back the man’s hair fondly. “Should I call Peter or are we watching dumb romcoms? I think a break from work is in order before Pepper has to kill you for doing something dumb.” She pulled him to the main area, the TV going to Netflix automatically. “Though if you did send in one of your tapes, you should send that one with that volleyball player. He’s hot.”

Tony turned, eyes wide. “You watched them?”

She shrugged. “You were the mission for almost a year. Had to do my homework. Plus it didn’t take much to notice the eyes that you and that one guy in accounting make at each other. He kind of looks like your type.” 

They both pretended that everyone else wasn’t listening in on their conversation. 

“Oh? And what’s my type Natalie ?”

She leaned forward, voice so low that even the super soldiers couldn’t hear. “Steve Rogers.”

Tony turned red, hissing out, “Well Kevin’s your type ! And he clearly likes you!”

Her voice was low, eyes dangerous. “And what’s your guess of my type?”

Tony’s mutter was almost unintelligible even to her ears. “Broken brunettes.”

Natasha chuckled, letting her face settle into a fond smile. “Then you’re just my type Stark.” She pulled him closer, pushing the remote onto some cheesy romcom.

“You wanna make a sex tape?” Tony’s voice was muffled into her shoulder.

Someone choked on something and she heard Clint mutter, “What the fuck did I just walk into?”

Natasha smiled Tony. “I don’t want to have to kill you. We both know that Black Widows don’t kiss and tell, they kiss and kill .” She felt the man shudder, squirming closer to her. “Watch the movie Pumpkin. I won’t eat you... for now .”

Eventually, the others joined them around the TV, Rhodey pushing his way into Natasha and Tony’s cuddle puddle with a muttered “Stephen’s went back to London- end of the world or something like that ”

 

Tony eventually got carted off by Rhodey, Natasha letting them go, knowing that Tony needed sleep.

“So... you and Stark?” Wanda looked at her.

She smiled, shaking her head. “No- No he’s actually quite avidly into a guy at the moment. Shame the guy’s a massive douche to him.”

Steve frowned. “Is the guy... hitting him?”

Natasha frowned. “He did once and I think I might have a talk with him later-” She lightened her tone. “But other than that, he’s mostly harmless… Kind of oblivious actually.”

Steve nodded, looking at her. “And you?”

Natasha grimaced. “Heart’s gone. Wandered off somewhere in Russia I think.” 

She went to stand and a metal hand shot out, grabbing her wrist. 

Her blood went cold as she looked back. “Get your hands off of me .”

The Soldier’s eyes were blank, Russian heavily accented. “Вы могли бы хотя бы узнать меня.” 

She took a moment to process the words. 

“You could at least recognize me.” The same words she’d said to him as his fist wrapped around her throat when he was activated

Ripping her arm back, she gave him a look that she was sure wasn’t all that clear, surprise, hurt, fear, and hope all melding together. “Stay away from me Soldier. You don’t want to start that game.”

Then, more quickly than normal, she scrambled down to the lab.

 

Empty, cool, and surprisingly beautiful, Tony’s lab spread out before her. She breathed a little easier just by stepping inside. “FRIDAY? Lock it down. Access code: Shit Just Got Real.”

 “Are you sure you want to lock it down? There’s someone in the eleva-”

“Do it! Now!” Natasha backed away from the door, watching as metal plating started sliding over the doorway.

Just as it was about to close, a metal hand caught it, pushing it open slowly. The Winter Soldier stalked in, releasing the door, which slammed shut behind him. “ Natalia ... I’m disappointed.”

 She backed up, into one of the work benches. Her hands were shaking. “Soldat.”

The man stalked forward, body trapping her to the work bench. Large hands caught her hips, both abnormally strong and she knew from experience that his grip would leave marks, light bruises. “Natalia, do you not remember me? I think you do.”

“You’re not- You’re not him. Not my Soldier.” 

The dark eyes narrowed slightly. “I’m both. Both the man that knows how you saved us and the man that knows how sweet you taste. I’m both, прелестный.”

Natasha’s eyes swept over his face. “You’re- You remember me?” Her voice was unsteady. “Soldier if you lie, I will never forgive you. Do you actually remember me?”

The man’s face softened, arms pulling her forward, wrapping large arms around her. “I remember. I remember I hurt you and I will forever be sorry. I remember Natalia... but you go by Natasha now.”

She relaxed, pulling him close. “My Soldier... I found you.”

A pounding at the door started. “Bucky! Don’t hurt her! Natasha open the door!”

Steve sounded stressed and she pulled back. “The team… I think-”

“They shouldn't know.”

Natasha paused, the words ‘we should tell them’ on the tip of her tongue. She swallowed them and smiled thinly. “Right. They... might not understand.”

He tossed her a gun. “Here.”

She pointed it at him just as the door slid open, Tony’s bored eyes widening. “Whoa. Whoa there Red. Let’s not shoot Tasty Freeze. If anyone shoots him, I think I would get that honor.”

Natasha contorted her face into a snarl. “He’s the man who trained me! He made me this!”

The man in question narrowed his eyes, hands balled into fists. “She’s a threat Steve. A spy .”

Steve pulled Barnes away right as Tony gently pried the gun from her hand. “Hey. Natalie… you know you don’t want to do that… Let’s go get you a nap. I’m still tired from being woken up by a lock down alert.”

Natasha shot a small smirk at the Soldier that went unnoticed by the other two men. “Fine... but can we go to your room?”

The Soldier’s eyes narrowed.

“Sure thing Red. Let’s go before the popsicles get it into their heads they don’t like us and decide to make this a real fight.”

 

Natasha came down for breakfast the next morning, eyeing the Soldier as she walked in, looking around for other people.

“Steve and Sam are out on a run. The others are asleep.”

She nodded, leaning over the counter to press a light kiss to his cheek. “Good morning then. Sleep well?”

The man’s eyes narrowed. “You sleep in Stark’s bed?”

Natasha smiled, turning to start some coffee. “Only on occasion Soldier.” She winked back at him. “Trust me, my heart was given to a man with a red star somewhere in Russia.”

The man’s face shifted into a glare and she was about to ask what was wrong, until Sam and Steve walked in, both freezing when they saw the situation. “Bucky… She’s not a threat.”

Sam rolled his eyes at the man, sliding onto a stool. “Chill man. She’s not that bad.”

Natasha eyed the three, before narrowing her eyes at the Soldier. “What do I call you, Soldat ?”

“You can call him-”

“James.” The man growled. “Bucky is for friends. She can call me James .”

 Natasha knew that sounded like mistrust to Steve and Sam, who both looked between the two of them like they were scared of a fight breaking out, but to her it was a declaration. She was Natalia to no one else, just as he would be James to no one else. She took a sip of her coffee. “James... It’s not very Russian, милый .” 

The term of endearment sounded like a curse on her lips.

“Natasha!” Steve sounded so offended on the man’s behalf even though he had no idea what the word meant and she couldn’t help but smile, noticing James’ lips twitch as well. “Both of you! Play nice!”

“Of course Steve. I always play nice.” Then with the satisfaction that James’ pupils were blown wide, she stalked out, hips swaying.

“Natalia…” At the man’s growl, she threw a middle finger over her shoulder as the elevator doors closed.

 

It was getting increasingly harder for both of them to keep their hands off each other. 

Whenever Natasha went to train with the other group (to Tony’s displeasure), Steve paired up James and her in hopes they would make nice or something. Usually both of them were sweaty and giving each other heated looks by the end of training, Sam usually having to pull them apart when she was sure James was about to rip her clothes off, Steve giving them a long talk about being friends.

 James would pull her into side rooms, closets, sometimes show up in her room so they could spend some time just making sure the other person was there, real and alive.

Currently she had been called out on a mission, the threat doing some real damage against Tony, Rhodey, Stephen, and her. 

Mostly her.

The swamp creatures had taken her as the weakest link and even as hard as she could fight, there was more and more of them coming. Then one got a lucky swipe with it’s clawed hand and she gasped in pain. “Fuck!”

“Widow you alright?”

“I’m hit. Might need back up.” She pulled out her guns, shooting instead of engaging in hand to claw combat, but she could feel her energy draining away as warm blood seeped down her side. 

“We’re coming! Hold on!”

Then Iron Man and War Machine landed beside her, blasting the monsters around her into portals that Strange made with ease. When the last monster was either dead or gone, Tony scooped her up. 

“Hang on Tasha. Just focus on coffee, Roger’s dumb face, or whatever you need to stay with us.” Then he was carrying her, flying at speeds her brain couldn’t process. “FRIDAY! Prep the med bay! Get someone that can deal with this! Anyone not already working!”

There was a lilting voice responding to Tony’s command, but Natasha was too focused on trying to keep her eyes open to understand it. 

The shaky landing made her eyes shoot open, the pain waking her up. Stark stormed through the compound. “FRIDAY? We ready?”

“Ready.” 

The armour melted away, Natasha crying out at the jolting movement. 

“What’s going on? Natasha?” Steve’s voice was worried.

Tony shot past the man, into the med bay. “Close the doors.” The bay doors slid closed all at once, glass blocking Steve and the others. She was set down on a table, hissing.

“Hey Natasha. I’m May Parker. Focus on my voice, this’ll hurt.”

Natasha blinked up at a kind-faced woman slowly. “J-James.”

The banging on the doors this time was metallic. “Natalia! Keep your fucking eyes open Natalia! Don't you dare give up!”

She tried to sit up, reach for the man. “Jam- James-”

May pushed her down, and when she fought to sit up again, a needle was pushed into her arm. “I’m sorry about this, Peter really does like the stuff you’ve helped make for him, but we need you to stay still.”

Then her brain was growing fuzzy, the last thing she heard a strangled cry of her old name.

 

A voice floated through her subconscious, rough and faintly familiar. “Y’know that one time you and I made it? We made it to that little town, stayed in an actual bed for the first time? I remember the way your eyes sparkled in the sun as you tried to soak it all up, tried to take all the sun for yourself. You-...” The man's voice broke.

Gentle pressure was applied on her hand and she realized warm fingers were intertwined with her own. 

“That was the first time I'd seen something so beautiful. I just stood there, trying to memorize that moment, trying to keep that image in my head as they wiped me… I heard you cry. Heard you sob the first few times that they wiped me, heard the saying they told you...”

 “Love-... Love is... for children.” Natasha choked out the words, throat dry.

James’ bright blue eyes flew to where she was laying, a tear dripping down his cheek. “Natalia!” He pulled her into his arms as best he could. “Don’t do that again. You can’t leave me again.”

She smiled slightly, but tiredness was sinking into her bones. “Never, James. Never again.”

His smile was soft as she fell asleep again.