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After Running (I'm Coming Home)

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Natasha is sitting on the couch, working on her laptop that is rested on her lap, with a nine-month-old James playing with his wooden blocks on the mat in front of her. She would look up from her laptop frequently, just to watch James and chase after him should he crawl away from the mat, or should he call his mother’s attention to show her something he had built using his blocks, which is usually just a tower of three blocks in many different orientations, but whatever , her heart would still flutter at every achievement her son would proudly show her.

“Mama.” James calls, and Natasha looks away from her laptop and smiles when she sees James stretching out his small arms at her. She unfolds and rolls down the sleeves of her sweater, placing her laptop on the coffee table beside her and grins as she stands and walks over to pick her baby boy up, kissing his cheek and inhaling the scent of milk and vanilla from her son’s red hair that almost mirrors her own. It is still neatly combed and still slightly damp from his bath just before he started playing.

"Tired of playing, малыш?” Tired of playing, baby boy ? she asks, and James babbles, resting his head on her shoulder and wrapping his arms around Natasha’s neck. She chuckles softly and walks over back to the couch. She grabs two pillows and piles them up, resting it on the arm of the couch as she rests her back on it, shifting James so he is standing on her lap. James looks at his mother and smiles, his blue eyes sparkling, and Natasha can’t help but grin at how much her son reminds her of Steve.

“Mama, Dada?” James asks. Natasha pulls her son close and peppers his face with kisses, eliciting a laugh from the baby, as warmth spreads over Natasha’s chest at the most beautiful sound she has ever heard.

“Daddy is on a mission, little one,” she replies softly. “But he will be home soon, maybe tonight.”

James tilts his head, and Natasha chuckles. “Dada will come home, sweetie, don’t worry.” she says, smiling, and James bounces, clapping his hands, a sign that he understood that he will see his Dada anytime soon.

Come home , it’s one of the phrases James understands, as it is being said repeatedly at him by both his mother and father whenever Steve would be out for a mission with T’challa and Bucky. It’s funny and ironic, how, even while on the run from the rest of the world, both of them would still be out doing rogue missions. But ever since James was born, Natasha had stopped participating in missions, and T’challa would call Steve in only for big missions that would require more manpower than his team can offer. Natasha is called only when absolutely necessary, and even then, it was in the condition that at least one of them should stay home with their son.

While the two of them hoped to never once again go back on the battlefield, they knew it would be impossible. The Avengers may have disbanded, but that didn’t mean their urge to fight and answer the call to missions would disappear as well. Besides, the least thing they can do as thanks to T’challa for letting them stay since they got married and had James was to aid him in missions. Which is why it was important that they let James understand that they will always, always come home, even if it just adds more pressure to them to do well and get out of missions alive, however scathed, but alive back to their little family.

“Nemo.” James says, grinning widely at his mother. Natasha laughs, Finding Nemo has been one of James’ all-time favorite movies. They have watched it thousands of times, but somehow, it always seems to be James’ default suggestion every time he would want to cuddle with his Mama or Dada.

“Again, little one?” Natasha asks, a grin on her face, and James nods enthusiastically. “But it’s almost bedtime.”

“Nemo.” James says, softly this time, as his eyes widen and he sticks out his lower lip, a technique he uses if he wants something from his parents, which aren’t much—only more cuddling time way past his bedtime. Natasha would always tease Steve for always giving in to that look, but he would point out that she’s not that different. And who was she kidding? Who could resist such a cute face from a baby boy who is just asking to be cuddled by his parents before being transferred to his own crib?

“Okay, okay, but you have to promise Mommy that you will sleep after, alright?” she asks, and James coos in response, a big grin on his face. She chuckles and shifts in the couch so they are facing the huge television screen T’challa has provided them so kindly in their private unit. She sits James down on her lap so he is facing the screen as well.

Natasha picks up the remote, and navigates to the movies Shuri had downloaded for them (for James, mostly), and as soon as James saw the orange clownfish and the blue tang, he squeals in delight. Natasha laughs, pressing play on the remote and kissing the top of his head softly, her arms clutching around James’ body, as he leans back and rests his head on his mother’s chest.

And so they watch, well, mostly James watches the movie, and Natasha would just watch her son get all excited about the movie. She knows how the movie goes (she’s watched it thousands of times that she felt like she can basically recite the entire movie), and she is sure her baby also knows how the movie goes, but his reactions to different scenes still manage to surprise her and still make James the most adorable baby in the universe.

But knowing how the movie goes also didn’t mean that some scenes still get her, and hit close to home. Marlin losing his family would always remind her of how she was taken away from her own family in Russia, how the Avengers had disbanded over the Accords, or how she had almost lost Steve numerous times since they had been partners. Nemo being taken away by a scuba diver would always heighten her overprotectiveness over James. Marlin finally reuniting with Nemo would always hit her hard, because that’s how she would want to reunite with Steve every time he would be out on missions, and would be gone for hours to even days, which are, thankfully, practically nonexistent since they had James, to which Natasha is grateful to the king for.

But some scenes still manage to make her smile and laugh, just as it makes James giggle and laugh. She would always laugh at how James would imitate the whale sounds Dory made (and sometimes, like tonight, she would join him—it would always make him laugh louder, no matter how ridiculous she sounds), or how he would also join when the seagulls would make their sound. He would babble here and there, and it would always make Natasha’s heart flutter and her stomach do flips.

She loves her son so very much more than she can ever imagine.

By the reunion scene, Natasha notices James had fallen asleep in her arms, and she smiles. She gently smooths her son’s red hair and presses a soft kiss on his forehead. She reaches for the remote and pauses the movie, making sure that James is really fully asleep before shifting him in her arms. She slowly stands up from the couch, letting James’ head rest on her shoulder as she walks over to his nursery beside her and Steve’s bedroom.

She slowly lowers James down on his cot bed, making sure his head is rested on his pillow. She places the black panther plush Shuri had given James when he was born (mainly as a joke for her brother, but T’challa rather finds it adorable, he admitted to Natasha) beside him and pulls his blanket over him. She lowers herself to give a gentle and soft kiss on James’ forehead, and while the nine-month-old stirs at the kiss, he remains fast asleep, clutching the black panther against his chest.

“Good night, little one,” she whispers. “Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you.” She turns James’ night light on, and grabs the baby monitor before exiting the nursery and closing the door gently behind her.

And just in time, she hears the faint sound (thanks to the almost soundproof windows) of a jet landing in front of the palace. She places the baby monitor inside their bedroom and walks over to their huge window. She smiles when she sees T’challa and Steve, along with two women—Okoye and Nakia—walking down from the jet. T’challa and Steve are talking, both men staring at the tablet in T’challa’s hand, and Okoye and Nakia are not far behind them. They stop in front of the entrance, and Natasha watches as Steve gives T’challa a one-armed hug, and a nod towards the two women before entering the palace.

Natasha smiles, and she walks back from the window to clean up James’ toys, putting them inside his play bin that is just in their living room beside his playmat. She looks up when she sees the door open, and Steve enters, his expression tired, his suit dirty, but when his eyes landed on her, that expression is quickly replaced with a huge smile and sparkling eyes.

“Welcome home, soldier.” Natasha greets, her lips curling to her signature smirk, as she puts the last of James’ wooden blocks inside the toy bin. She stands up, as Steve closes the door behind him, meeting him halfway in the living room when Steve wraps his arms tightly around her.

“Good to be home.” Steve mumbles, burying his face in Natasha’s hair. He takes the time to inhale the scent of her hair, which smelled of her usual lemongrass shower gel. He presses a kiss to her temple, and moves to kiss her forehead, right cheek, nose and then her lips, like how he usually does whenever he gets home from a hard mission. Natasha hums against his lips and kisses him back softly before pulling away, wrapping her arms around his neck, as his arms fall to her waist.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?” she asks softly, running a hand through his long brown hair, and resting the same hand on his cheek. He sighs and leans against her touch, shaking his head.

“Just a long day.” he answers, giving her a small smile. Natasha kisses him on the lips once again. “James is asleep?”

Natasha nods. “He just fell asleep. We watched Finding Nemo.” she says, and Steve arches an eyebrow. Natasha chuckles and shakes her head. “No, I did not resist the look, I couldn’t even try.”

Steve chuckles softly and kisses her forehead. “He’s his mother’s son after all.” he says, and Natasha smacks Steve’s arm lightly, making him laugh.

She threads her fingers in his and pulls him towards James’ nursery. They both smile when they stop at his cot bed, and he lets out a little snore as he stirs, snuggling closer to the black panther plush in his arms.

“He missed you.” Natasha whispers, leaning her head on Steve’s chest. His arm automatically snakes around her waist, pulling her closer.

“Would it be so bad if we can take him and he’ll sleep with us tonight?” Steve whispers back, grinning, and Natasha chuckles softly.

“You’ll wake him,” Natasha replies softly. “Spend the day with him tomorrow. I’ll be training with Okoye in the morning, and I promised to drop by at Queen Ramonda’s in the afternoon.” Steve smiles and nods.

He slowly lets go of Natasha as he leans in to give James a gentle kiss on the forehead. “Sweet dreams, buddy.” he whispers. The baby is undisturbed in his sleep, and lets out another snore just as Steve pulls away. Natasha smiles down at their son, and they walk out of the nursery quietly, with Steve closing the door gently behind him.

Natasha smiles at Steve as he wraps his arms around her waist again. Natasha runs her hand through his hair, and he leans in to give Natasha a kiss on the lips.

“I miss the blonde,” Natasha murmurs against his lips. Steve chuckles and pulls away, shaking his head. “But I’m not complaining about the beard. The beard can stay.” She grins and Steve runs a hand through her short blonde hair.

“I miss the red,” Steve replies. “But you’re beautiful in any hair color, so whatever.”

“Charmer,” Natasha says, grinning. “Go take a shower, you stink.” she tells him, leaning to kiss him again on the lips.

“But you still couldn’t resist me, huh?” Steve says, after Natasha pulls away to walk to their bedroom.

“You’re my son’s father after all.” Natasha, says, winking over her shoulder. Steve laughs, shaking his head and following Natasha to their bedroom.