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Natasha likes the way Steve almost unconsciously reaches for her when something explodes around them.

She likes the way he’ll tuck her body against his, enveloping her almost completely. The way her fingers brush against his pulse as she reaches around his neck, and how he’ll duck his head down next to hers.

Crouched against him, she likes the way his solid body muffles the sound of the blast. She can smell smoke and dust and gasoline but for some reason Steve’s musk always breaks through, comforting and inviting. He smells of army regulation soap and of something inherently masculine, but at the same time of sweat, grime and fighting and it’s not the slightest bit unpleasant.

She likes the way his arms feel around her, holding tight and keeping her still. Keeping her safe. Keeping her so close. She likes the way his shield covers both of them, an impenetrable barrier, but really it feels like Steve is protecting her more than the shield ever could. Like even if he didn't have the shield he would still throw himself around her without hesitation.

One thing she definitely doesn't like though, is how quickly the moment fades. The threat passes and he’s already moving, drawing away from her. Already fighting. Moving boulders bigger than himself. Doing whatever it is he needs to be doing to make sure everyone else is safe too. She doesn't like the way in which his presence slips from her like smoke, but she carries on regardless because he’s counting on her to have his back. He trusts her and she can’t let him down.

And Nat can’t help it if she’s mentally looking forward to the next time he’ll pull her into his arms.

Not that she would ever tell him any of this.

Steve just wishes it didn't take an explosion or collapsing building to get so close to her.

Chapter Text

Natasha is pissed off.

At Steve.

Steve stumbles back into the quinjet, and despite her anger Natasha finds herself steadying him. His right hand is pressed to his left shoulder, trying to keep blood in his body.

An hour ago, they had broken into an underground bunker, shutting down a ring of mercenaries-turned-arms-dealers who had joined forces and found themselves with a substantial amount of biological weapons to sell to the highest bidder. Fifty minutes ago, an alarm had sounded throughout the base. Twenty minutes ago, one of the mercs on the floor Natasha thought was already dead had spent his last breath on raising his gun and pulling the trigger. Only Steve had pushed her back, stepping into her place before she even knew what was happening. His shield had been on the other side of the room.

Hence why Natasha is pissed at him. She's angry that she’d grown complacent and there’s a bullet lodged in his shoulder because of her overconfidence. She hates the thought that Steve sees her as some damsel in distress. She hates that for one horrifying moment, when that gunshot echoed through the room and she turned back to see Steve fall to his knees, gasping, she had feared the worst. She hates how her body had shaken with fear, terrified at the thought that he wasn’t going to get back up. And if she’s angry to hide all of that, well, that’s nobody’s business but hers.

Steve grunts in pain as Natasha none too gently pushes him to a seat and goes to grab a medikit. He starts to unfasten his uniform but realises he can’t lift his arm above waist level without pain shooting through his body. He takes his helmet off with one hand instead. She slides into the seat next to him, her brow furrowed and lips set in a firm line. Thankfully this time her touch is gentle as she carefully examines his shoulder, eyes narrowed.

Watching as Natasha turns back to rummage in the medipack, Steve can't help but wonder why she seems so angry with him. Maybe he's done something obvious but the pain has made his thoughts hazy and he can't quite figure out what it could have been. Suddenly the dull throbbing in his shoulder seems like nothing compared to the sinking feeling in his stomach.

Steve hides his grimace as she peels away the fabric from the edge of the wound and sets about cutting away the fabric of his suit. He hisses as she pours alcohol on it and she glares at him.

“You’ve already started healing around the bullet,” she says matter-of-factly, and Steve can’t stand the coldness and distance in her voice. “I’ll need to take it out unless you want it scraping against the bone every time you raise your arm.”

Natasha doesn’t speak again as she draws out a long pair of surgical tweezers and he braces himself. He chokes back a cry and the metal arm of the chair creaks and snaps under the pressure of his right hand as she digs through the flesh. Steve decides to concentrate instead on how her vibrant green eyes seem a little shinier than usual, or is it just him imagining things? She brings the bullet out, thankfully still in one piece. He lets out a breath he didn’t realise he was holding, feeling lightheaded after the sudden surge of pressure and pain. She jabs him in the leg with what he thinks (or hopes) is morphine and places a dressing over the wound.

He lays his right hand over it, pressing down even though it doesn’t seem to be bleeding profusely anymore. It’ll have to do until they get back to base and get someone to look at it. Deciding to be bold, he breaks the silence.

“Nat?” She glances at him but doesn’t answer. “You know, usually when someone takes a bullet for you, you're not angry at them.”

He can see her purse her lips out of the corner of his eye and it looks like she’s having an internal battle whether or not to snap at him. She does, after a moment’s deliberation.

“I didn’t need saving,” she says harshly. “I’ve been shot before.” Ah. So that's it.

“You know that’s not why I did it,” he says earnestly. He can tell she doesn’t buy it.

"I don’t need someone to take bullets for me,” she bites back. He leans forward and looks across at her, hoping if she looks at him she'll see his sincerity. 

“Nat, if there’s a chance that I can take the hit instead of one of my team, then I’m going to take it, every time,” he says firmly. And also, but he doesn’t dare tell her, because he doesn’t know what he would have done if the bullet was in her head and not in his shoulder. “Doesn’t matter if it’s you or Clint or anyone else.”

She’s quiet and it looks like he’s gotten through to her. He’s never lied to her and she knows it. His features soften into a slight smile, gently bumping his thigh against hers.

“Redhead or not,” he adds, still feeling more than bold.

Honestly, he doesn’t know where this sudden burst of confidence is coming from, but he’s going to go with it. Maybe it’s the adrenaline that comes with getting shot. Maybe it’s the morphine she just gave him. The corner of her mouth twitches up, she rolls her eyes and he can see he’s forgiven. He loves that about her. As much as she can seem colder than a Russian winter, he finds it glorious that, like flipping a switch, with the barest hint of a smile she can send a warmth through him the likes of which he's never felt.

“Got a thing for redheads then, do you, Rogers?” she teases dryly, gathering up the medikit and putting it away.

“Just one,” he says. “Tends to not like it if you take a bullet for her though.”

There’s something akin to excitement bubbling in his stomach as he sees Natasha’s brain sputter for a response, as surprised as he is by his sudden brashness. It’s only for a millisecond and he doesn’t think she knows he saw it, and then her usual self-assured smirk is back on her face.

“Well,” she says, heading to the cockpit. “Good thing she’s way out of your league then, isn’t it?”

Steve sighs and rests his head against the wall, closing his eyes as he hears the engine starting up.

“Yeah, and don’t I know it,” he mutters to himself.

But he remembers how her eyes had seemed glassy a moment ago, and thinks to himself that maybe she isn't as distant as she pretends to be. 

Chapter Text

 “It’s this one.”

Steve looks across at her confident verdict to see her bringing her hands up to rest on her stomach. She’s lying next to him, gazing at the ceiling, on a mattress in Ikea.

Natasha had declared it a crime when she found out he was living this century and he hadn’t been to Ikea yet. And, when he let slip that he hadn’t been sleeping too well on his marshmallow of a bed, it was decided. Killing two birds with one mattress, she had said. What feels like half a day has passed already and they haven't even made it out of the bed department. Steve isn’t too certain that he likes the place. It's like time has a new meaning here.

“I’m not sure,” he replies, looking back at the blank ceiling and fidgeting a bit. The mattress is definitely firmer than his current one, and probably the best one out of the dozens they have tried already, but can he sleep on it? There’s no way of knowing, short of falling asleep in the store, which he’s pretty sure is frowned upon.

“Remember, you have ninety days to bring it back if you don’t like it and swap it for another one,” she says, as if reading his thoughts and sounding like an employee.

Steve ponders for a moment. He thinks he’s narrowed it down to two.

“Let’s try the other one more time. Where was it again?” he asks, sitting up and finding himself unable to recall in the sea of beds. Last time he’d seen so many beds together there’d been a war on and the thought is a little disorientating. Natasha slips off the mattress and calls back over her shoulder.

“Aw, having trouble remembering in your old age? Maybe we should get you a memory foam mattress.”

He rolls his eyes at her and follows, plonking himself down on the slightly firmer mattress and wondering if Natasha would ever run out of terrible jokes about his age. He doesn’t see it happening any time this century. Yet another attendant walks over to them but is quickly turned away like the rest by Natasha’s rather unique social skills.

Steve closes his eyes, tries to imagine falling asleep and that’s when he finally figures out what it is that’s bugging him about the place.There’s a distinct lack of clocks. Ones that display the correct time anyway. There’s cheesy songs playing on a loop the radio and there aren’t any windows. Everything is bright and shiny and demands your attention. It’s like a casino, or Tony’s lab.

He’s pulled from his thoughts when Natasha leans across flicks him on the shoulder. She’s resting on one elbow and fixing him with an amused look on her face. He wonders for a moment if this is what it would be like to wake up with her. To open his eyes and see that fiery hair and clever smile. His heart stutters.

“Hurry up and choose one, I told that attendant I was going to divorce you if we don’t make a decision soon,” she says.

He still isn’t sure why she feels the need to give them a cover story when they’re just out looking at beds, but he knows better than to question her and doesn’t press the matter. Let her have her games. God knows there's no room for such things most of the time with the kind of lives they lead.

“The other one,” Steve sighs, defeated. Mumbling something about not being married as he gets up, Natasha ignores him and beckons to the assistant. A lump forms in his throat as she slips her hand into his.

“What are you doing?” Steve asks, mildly perplexed but hardly complaining.

“Married people hold hands, Steve,” she says dryly, as if he’s just asked her whether or not the sky is blue. They’re not married, but it’s nice anyway, the way her hand fits in his, and Steve doesn’t object as he lets her wrap things up with the assistant and makes a move to leave, still holding his hand.

“Let’s go to the kitchen department before we go, I need some new knives,” she says casually.

He doesn’t ask if she means for cooking or killing, but he hopes it’s the former. He doesn’t think Ikea kitchen knives would be good for throwing, but what does he know? It's the first time he's been here. 

“I still can’t believe you put ‘Go to Ikea’ on my list,” he huffs, changing the subject. Not that he’s actually annoyed at her. Quite the opposite in fact. His chest feels light because the skin of her palm is warm and soft. Her slender fingers are interlocked with his and it’s the first time she’s done such a thing outside of a mission.

“Well, now you can cross it off your list,” she retorts. “Besides, it’s part of the 21st century experience.”

“What, consumerist-driven showroom aesthetics so everyone’s lives look like dollhouses?”

“Precisely,” she says, flashing that sly half smile at him. "Don't you know the government want to control everyone? It's a worldwide plot to get everyone to buy the same sofa."

Steve suppresses another sigh. Even though he doesn’t really like the place, he’s glad she’s the one who dragged him here.

She’s unusually quiet as they pass through the children’s department, and Steve resists the urge to stop and pick up one of the plushies that resembles Hulk. There’s a pained look in her eyes which he doesn’t think he’d notice if he wasn’t so used to her subtleties and expressions. He tries not to think about what it could mean, but he doesn’t miss how the grip on his hand tenses a fraction and her shoulders stiffen when a child behind them screams with laughter and delight. He picks up the pace slightly, deciding it's best to get out of this particlar part of the store.

They leave the department and enter the almost clinical looking kitchen aisles, and the look in her eyes is gone. Her features are relaxed, as they were before, like it was never there. But she had let the mask slip and he knows he didn't imagine it.

Suddenly he feels uncomfortable and wonders just how much she’s never said.

He squeezes her hand reassuringly, and hopes that one day she’ll tell him.

Chapter Text

Natasha opens her eyes slowly.

Wherever she is, it smells of disinfectant. Sterile. There’s a faint beeping of a machine which gives Natasha the sneaking suspicion that she’s in a hospital. Her entire body aches and to put it bluntly, she feels like shit. Her eyelids feel heavy but she refuses to close them now she’s awake. Her lungs feel wheezy and bruised, so she keeps to shallow breaths. Not to mention the fact that her head feels like it’s being slowly squeezed in a vice. 

Trying to remember how she got here, she winces as she moves and feels an IV drip in the crook of her elbow, keeping her hydrated. She thinks she remembers finishing the mission, infiltrating and shutting down a lab doing questionable and illegal experiments, then a burning sensation in her lungs and Steve’s panicked voice over the comms, but not much else.

The room is dimly lit with a lamp so thankfully the light isn’t too dazzling but it’s more than bright enough for her to see the rest of her surroundings. There’s a clock to her left and she sees it’s early morning. Her gaze is drawn to something at the foot of the bed, sat on a table.

A giant, fuzzy black bear with small, beady eyes, surrounded by an abundance of flower bouquets and clutching a squishy heart shaped pink pillow emblazoned with the words “Get Well Soon”.

She’s never seen such a thing in her life. Nor does she expect to see it at the foot of her bed.

Looking around the room, she hopes to see some sort of explanation for the bear. She doesn’t find one, but what she does see is Steve, head propped up on one fist and looking very uncomfortable as he sleeps in a chair that looks too small for him, a dusting of stubble on his jaw and his hair dishevelled. She feels infinitely better just seeing him.

Natasha thinks if anyone else had been here instead of Steve, she’d be mad. She hates anyone thinking of her as less than capable and waking up in a hospital bed is the last thing she wants to do after a mission. She has to be strong, she has to be unbreakable, and she'll never admit it but she doesn't want people to see her in a different light if she is anything less than polished perfection. She's always prided herself on being the best, on getting in, getting the mission done and getting out with practised efficiency. But this is Steve, he never thinks less of anyone for getting hurt and his presence has this dreadful habit of putting her at ease. She knows he won’t look at her differently. He never has.

Clearing her throat, she tries to say his name but it just comes out as a croaky jumble and makes her cough. The sound jolts Steve awake and it’s almost comical the way he looks around, startled and wide eyed. He sees that she’s awake and he’s on his feet in a second. He returns to her side a moment later holding a cup of water, and his touch is gentle but warm as he pushes hair back from her face and holds the cup to her dry lips. She gasps as the water hits her empty stomach, but at least her throat feels better. Steve’s looking at her with concerned eyes, anxious and hesitant.

“How are you feeling? Is there anything I can do?” he asks, and she can’t help that the corner of her mouth twitches up. They’re stupid questions really, considering the state she’s in. She knows he just wants to help. But it triggers a stupid and somewhat unexpected longing.

She wants him to hold her like he does when they’re behind his shield, close and protected, but she doesn’t know how to say it. She doesn’t even know how to process the thought of him doing so without an explosion or spray of bullets forcing her into his arms. So instead she pushes the thought aside and says the only thing that comes to mind because he’s clearly waiting for her to answer.

“That bear is hideous,” she croaks, her voice weak from disuse. Relief floods his face and the sight of it makes her chest ache for reasons entirely separate from her current medical condition. “I hope you’re not the one who bought it.”

“Oh. Well,” he starts, looking over at it apologetically. “You know Stark. Be thankful it’s not a twelve foot bunny rabbit.”

Natasha manages a weak laugh, but even so it makes her cough again, and Steve is there with the water instantly. She drinks some more and is happy to note that she’s feeling a bit more alive and less like the zombie she felt like when she had woken up.

“How long have I been out?” she asks.

“Four days,” he replies, going to refill the cup. “You were hit with a toxin. When you hit the kill switch in the lab a gas was released, kind of a fail safe in case they were ever shut down I guess." He sets the cup on the table in close reach should she need it again. "Managed to get you out pretty quick, luckily there was only minimal exposure so it was non-lethal."

Natasha nods, taking it all in. She notices how his face is riddled with guilt as he mumbles something to himself about how he should have been there, should have known.

“It's not your fault,” she says, knowing that he's probably been tearing himself up about it for the past four days. 

“But it happened on my watch." He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks to the floor.

"You can't be there all the time."

He nods, and she can see that he knows she's right, but there’s a moment of silence where the look on Steve's face tells her that he wishes he could be. She decides to change the subject, because she hates seeing him feel guilty and worrying over things that are out of his control. It's a look he gets far too often for her liking.

"How long have you been here?" she asks, noticing again the stubble on his jaw and his crumpled shirt. There are beginnings of dark circles under his eyes because if he has been here the whole time then he can't have been sleeping too well in a chair.

"'Bout three days," he says sheepishly, after a pause, and there's a strange feeling in her chest at the thought of him staying by her side for so long. “They made me go home and change after the first day, once you were stable. Picked up some books for you while I was at the Tower,” he says, turning to the table and picking one up from a small pile. She notices Russian letters on the spine. “I’ve been trying to read them but-”

“-You’re learning Russian?” she interjects swiftly, surprised. She knows he speaks several languages, but it never occurred to her that he might try and learn hers.

“Well, trying is the key word there,” he says. She’s pretty certain there’s a faint blush on his cheeks as he chatters on. “I’m getting there, slowly, and I’ve been meaning to learn for a while…I just thought that because you…I thought we could…but I mean I brought them for you…if you want them that is…they’re going to want to keep you in for a few days so I just thought…that you might…that it might alleviate some of the bore-”

“Cпасибо, Steve,” she says quickly, before he hurts himself. Thank you, Steve. He shuts up and smiles broadly, and it’s enough to make Natasha’s chest swell with warmth, and something else she can’t name.

“Пожалуйста,” he replies. You’re welcome.

A surge of something like possessiveness sweeps through Natasha upon hearing her Mother tongue on his lips, and a feeling of nostalgia she isn’t prepared for. A familiarity. A longing for a home she has lost. But then, she’d never really had a home in Russia anyway. All those years, serving a country she had foolishly thought she would give her life for, and she had never felt the way she does now, in a hospital bed with him smiling at her.

“Don’t imagine you get to speak Russian much these days,” he muses aloud, and Natasha shakes her head, still bewildered by the man in front of her and the strange feeling in her chest.

“I’d like to. With you. Speak Russian, I mean,” he says, the sentence jumbled up but his meaning clear.

“I’d like that too,” she replies slowly, still not quite processing why he would want to do such a thing. He’s grinning like an idiot as he puts the books within her reach on the table, unaware of the effect he’s had on her.

Part of her has always thought that one of the reasons why she adopts an American accent when speaking English is because if people hear her Russian accent they’ll be reminded of who she once was. Of what she’s done. They don’t want to know that side of her. They want her skills but they don't want her history. But not Steve. He wants to learn Russian. So he can speak Russian with her. Nobody had ever tried, ever bothered to do something like this, without some ulterior motive. Unless is pertains to a mission becoming successful, no one wants to know her Russian side.

But Steve does.

And she wants to wrap her arms around him because of it. The longing she felt earlier is back and she wants him to draw her close.

She wants to find out what his lips taste like as the words of her homeland spill from his mouth.

“Well, I’m gonna go and let the nurses know you’re awake,” he says, snapping Natasha from her suddenly heated thoughts. He starts to leave but Natasha calls after him and he stops at the foot of the bed. She gestures to the bear.

“Take that thing away, will you?” she asks, a lump in her throat. “Leave it for one of the kids to wake up to.”

Nodding, he picks it up, holds it in one arm and the bear is so big she can barely even see the top half of him anymore. 

"And do me favour," she adds, and he turns to look back from the doorway. "Go home and get some sleep." She tries a half hearted smile. "Wouldn't want to neglect that mattress I spent three whole hours helping you pick." 

"No, I don't want to do that," he say gravely, but a smile is tugging at his lips. Her chest feels tight and she dares to think that he genuinely cares about her, and not just because she's one of the best assets S.H.I.E.L.D has. "I'll be back for my bag once I've got rid of this and spoken to the nurses," he continues, patting the bear and leaving the room.

She watches as the bear bobs past the window and out of sight, hoping that by the time he gets back she’ll be able to think about something other than what it might be like to have him murmuring Russian in her ear and on her neck as he holds her close.

Chapter Text

They’re sat in a jet, waiting to reach a drop point when she asks. It’s just the two of them, not counting the two pilots in the cockpit, with backup on standby in another jet if needed. The hum of the specialised stealth engine is barely audible even to them. Covert. Discreet. Unlike Natasha.

“Steve?”

“Yeah,” he says absent-mindedly, fiddling with the glove fastenings at his wrists.

“When was the last time you had sex?” He nearly chokes. That isn’t a question he’s expecting to hear. Maybe from Tony, but not from Natasha.

“What?” Maybe he needs to get his hearing checked.

“Losing your hearing in your old age?” she teases slyly, and no, he can tell he heard her just fine.

“Isn’t that a little personal?” he says, and he can feel his ears burning already.

“Humour me.” She’s giving him that smug smirk and for some reason it’s a little unsettling. He glances down to the cockpit door and hopes the pilots are too preoccupied with flying the jet to be listening in on them.

“I’m really not having this conversation with you,” he utters sternly.

“You really are.”

She’s still smirking and somehow, he knows that she’ll get it out of him, one way or another. He’s terrible at lying and he knows she won’t drop it if he tries to change the subject. Natasha doesn’t ask questions she knows she won’t get the answer to. It seems kind of pointless to try and avoid it.

“Why do you even want to know?”

“Call it a curiosity.” She leans back in her seat and stretches her legs out, her eyes narrowing on him. “Stark seems to think you’re pure as snow, but I’m not so sure. I don’t have to tell him if you don’t want. Our little secret,” she winks. 

Steve feels hot under the collar, a jolt of heat going through him. He’s never denied that he’s not a virgin but he’s not exactly shouting it from the rooftops either. Things are different in this century and he understands that, even welcomes most of it. Just some things though, he prefers to keep private. But then, he knows she won’t tell anyone, if he asks her. If there’s one things Natasha excels at more than killing, it’s keeping secrets.

But Natasha also has this way of finding out everyone else’s secrets too.

“You’ll find out some other way even if I don’t say, won’t you?”

“Naturally,” she replies smoothly. At least she’s honest about it. He sighs and rests his elbows on his knees, defeated. Funny how easily she can do that.

“It’s been…a while,” he says, wondering how she’ll react if he tells her just how much of a while it’s been. She doesn’t miss a beat.

“How long is a while?”

“I haven’t since…” He pauses, not quite believing that he’s actually going to say it. “Since before the ice,” he admits, looking away from her. Somewhere, his male ego is crying out in anguish. She lets out a low whistle.

“Wow, that has to be some kind of record for the longest dry spell in history, Cap.”

“Well it’s not like I wanted to be frozen in ice for seventy years,” he protests. She lets out a short laugh and even though the involuntary stasis had been less than ideal, he’s kind of glad it happened if it means he’s here with her. Even if she’s asking him some rather personal questions.

“Why haven’t you done anything about it? Nobody at work caught your eye?” Steve still can’t quite believe he’s actually talking about this. Stark would probably be laughing at him, but Natasha…it suddenly feels easy talking about it with her, now he’s over the initial flustered feeling. Everything feels easier with her.

“It’s just…hard to trust people, you know? The last thing I want is to wake up to an ‘I Slept with Captain America’ headline if I fall into bed with someone I don’t know. Everything’s so…obtrusive now.”

He doesn’t tell her everything. He doesn’t tell her how he’d been grieving when he woke up for a life that had been taken from him. Still is, in many ways. Still healing. Doesn’t tell her how over the past few months he’s come to enjoy her company a lot more than he should. More than he'd like anyone to know. That the only person at work who has caught his eye is her.

“I get that,” she says, looking pensive. “You don’t want to be compromised.” He can’t help but feel like she’s speaking from experience. It makes her seem…more human than the front she puts on most of the time. Closer to reach. She thinks a moment more. “Have to say, I don’t envy your being in the public eye so much.”

“You get used to it,” he says.

“I suppose,” she muses.

They don’t speak for a moment and for some reason Steve feels the urge to ask how long it’s been for her. He’s spent enough time with her to know that she isn’t the deadly succubus that the rumours flying around the Triskelion make her out to be, but he's curious notheless.

“What about you?” he blurts, before he can stop himself. It seems only fair that she tell him too, he reasons.

“What about me?”

“How long has it been?” She raises an eyebrow at him and he can tell she’s surprised and perhaps somewhat impressed that he was bold enough to ask. She ponders for a moment, and Steve is startled when she lets out a short laugh.

“Do you know, I can’t remember,” she says, looking up at him. “Even if I have to get intimate on a job I make sure I have everything I need before I have to start taking off underwear.”

Steve tries very hard not to picture her in something black and lacy, reaching behind her to undo a clasp and letting said lace fall to the floor. He fails, and his brain temporarily cuts out. Sometimes, he really wishes he didn’t have such a vivid imagination.

“Maybe, like eight months?” She smiles slyly. “Guess we both need to get out more.”

Steve just nods, still trying to recover from the images his brain had so kindly provided him with. One of the pilots chooses that moment to stick her head around the door. She lifts a plastic cover and punches the button it covered, opening up the side of the jet.

“Reaching the drop in two minutes,” she says loudly over the rush of wind, before disappearing back into the cockpit. Steve can’t see any sign that she’s heard any of their conversation.

Natasha stands and shrugs on a parachute, securing it as she walks over to the opening. He puts his helmet on and fixes his earpiece in place. He grabs a parachute too because even though he doesn’t always need one, this time he’ll be landing on solid earth and he’d like the impact to keep his bones un-shattered.

“Thirty seconds to drop,” a voice says in his ear. Natasha looks over to him as she puts her own earpiece in.

“You know, if you ever feel like breaking that dry spell, you should let me know," she says coolly.

Steve’s stunned for a moment and he can’t tell if she’s being serious or just pulling his leg. Sometimes it's difficult to be sure with her.

“Are you kidding?” he says in disbelief, not even sure how to respond. There's a tightness in his throat and his heart is beating faster. It's not because he's about to jump out of a plane.

“Five seconds,” the pilot says.

“Well,” she says, turning to face the open air. “You’ll just have to figure that one out by yourself, Rogers.”

And just like that, she’s gone. 

Steve exhales heavily, and thinks to himself how he’s never met anyone quite like Natasha Romanov.

He jumps from the plane after her.

Chapter Text

Steve’s having trouble keeping his mind focused.

After what Natasha had said to him before she’d jumped out of the jet, trying not to think about what her skin might feel like under his hands is even harder than it was before.

He doesn’t remember exactly when or how he started to feel like this about her. When they’d first met he’d thought her to be distant and detached, but the events of New York had brought an unspoken bond over the team, her included. As he spent more time with her and they were partnered up on missions with increasing frequency, he’d come to see past her professional air of indifference.

She’s his equal, and opposite at the same time.

They work so well on missions together because their skills complement each other perfectly. Working in tandem. He has his strength, she has her stealth. She can read people in a way he can’t, and these days it’s hard to find a mission that they can’t do together. Sometimes it’s like she’s reading his thoughts, moving before he can even get the words out of his mouth. Technically, he’s the ranking agent, but it never feels like she’s taking orders. In fact he has no doubt that she could probably kill him with ease if the mood took her. It’s a partnership which he’s found difficult to explain to other people, but one which has never needed defining between either of them.

Until now he's never felt uncertain around her.

She’s bold and quick and he’s grown quietly fond of her witty remarks and jibes at him, even though he would never tell her. She doesn’t treat him like a stranger in a distant land. He’d begun to seek her company more outside of missions too, and one day when she’d been huddled against him behind his shield, suddenly he’d realised that he was looking at her in a way that couldn’t be considered professional anymore.

And if there’s a chance that she feels even a fraction of what he feels, then he needs to know.

He glances across at her, and she’s absorbed in dismantling and cleaning her guns. Her movements are precise and practised.

They’re in the Triskelion armoury getting ready for another mission, but right now his mind is so preoccupied he can’t even remember what the mission is. Already a few days have passed since their little talk in the jet and he still isn’t any closer to figuring out if she had been joking with her offer or not.

“Well, you’ll just have to figure that one out by yourself, Rogers.”

Steve likes to think he knows more about women than he did in the 40’s but to be honest, he doesn’t think any of his knowledge will ever come into play when dealing with a woman like Natasha. And it’s driving him insane.

He’s arrived at the conclusion that the best way to find out would be to just ask her. But that’s a lot easier said than done because he’s spent the past three days mentally stewing over it and trying to figure her out. It doesn’t help that she’s acting the same way she always has, like she hadn’t offered to sleep with him. It’s infuriating. It’s confusing. Just ask her already.

Natasha’s just putting her guns back together when Steve finally musters up the courage to ask her.

“Nat.”

“Mm?” Her attention remains on the guns in front of her.

“Were you being serious, what you said the other day about…” he trails off and rubs the back of his neck, looking very hard a spot on the floor.

Natasha looks over to him and waits expectantly but he isn’t making any signs of continuing.

“About?” she prompts, hoping he’ll snap out of it. He brings his eyes steadily back up to meet hers and huffs out a breath, like he’s bracing himself for something.

“About…dry spells.”

Oh. Does that mean he’s actually been considering it? Or that he hopes she was joking?

Natasha’s stunned for a moment, because she’d said it spur of the moment and he hadn’t mentioned it again afterwards. She had assumed he hadn’t taken it to heart. She’s said things like that before, because really, who can blame her if she likes to flirt with attractive men sometimes? And Steve definitely falls into that category. It was all part of their banter, part of their relationship and rapport somehow. He’d brush it off like any other remark, like he always does, with another witty comeback or a roll of his eyes, even if a blush would creep onto the tips of his ears. Hell, when he'd been shot a couple of months ago he'd even flirted with her.

But somehow this is different and she can see it in his eyes. He has this look on his face she hasn’t seen before and she can’t describe. What if she’d gone too far? She shouldn’t have assumed. She doesn’t want their relationship to change, or worse, fall apart because of something as trivial as sex. She’d seen it before. Happens to people all the time. And she doesn’t want it to happen to her and Steve. It can’t. As much as she'd like to find out what his lips feel like on her bare skin.

“Tasha?” Natasha is snapped from her thoughts harshly by his voice, and she does something which she never recalls doing before in her life. She panics.

“If I was being serious, we’d have done it by now,” she says quickly. Her heart beats faster as she realises what she just said. Of course she'd been serious when she said it. But he can't know that. She should have just played it off like she always does. Turned it back on him. But she'd responded hastily, without her usual calm wit. Lately she’s having trouble with the effort it takes not to at least pull his lips down to hers sometimes and apparently it's affecting her. But she'll keep on resisting because she knows what will happen if she doesn't.

Having sex with someone gets you compromised. Feelings get in the way, even if you don’t want them to, and especially if you know that person already.

Things get messy. Usually very quickly. 

Natasha respects him too much to hurt him like that. And she doesn’t want to find out too late that she’s not as untouchable as she likes to imagine.

“We shouldn't even if we wanted to. We’re partners,” she says firmly, her heart still going a million miles a minute. She wishes it were that simple.

“Partners,” he repeats, and her gut clenches at the way his face falls, ever so slightly. He tries to hide it but his eyes betray him. Suddenly she can’t look at him, her chest feeling tight.

“I can set you up with one of the interns though if you want,” she suggests, and she mentally kicks herself. “What about Amy from H.R.?”

Really, she’s astounded at herself. Has she ever said anything so stupid? She doesn't think she has. Is this what being socially inept feels like? If it is, she really doesn't like it. It doesn't feel like she's in control.

“I heard she’s into women” he says dismissively, but without malice. She looks back up at him and any traces of disappointment that had been on his face before are gone. Maybe she imagined it. He crosses his arms.

“Huh. I'll think of someone eventually." Steve flashes her a somewhat worried looking smile.

"Well, until you do that I guess my dry spell will have to last a bit longer," he says in a sombre tone, but not really looking all that gloomy.

"Let's hope it doesn't take me another seventy years to find someone."

Steve lets out a short laugh and she feels better, more like herself as they slip back into a more familiar feeling and much less uncomfortable exchange. Grateful. Relieved. She can't be what he wants right now, but maybe there's hope for them in the future. If she dares to think about that. Hopefully she hasn't put him off for life. 

"Have to tell you, I don't know if I'd survive another seventy years," he says, giving her that goofy half smile. She puts a hand on his arm, feigning concern.

"Steve, you do know there's another way to take care of things, right?" 

"You can say the word 'masturbate' around me, I'm not gonna have a heart attack," he says dryly.

"Actually at your age they can be quite common," she warns.

Steve snorts as he clips his shield onto his back and everything feels normal again.

He's smiling and everything feels right, the way it should be. The tightness in her chest is gone and in its place there's a possessive warmth she's come to associate with teasing him.

Natasha likes it when he smiles.

She likes it even more when it's because of her.

 

Chapter Text

Natasha lounges on the double bed with a laptop and a heap of photographs, picking at a selection of chocolates Steve had room service bring up. Every now and again she’ll make a small noise of frustration or chew on her pen instead of chocolate as she scrutinises the screen in front of her before scribbling on a notepad.

Steve reclines in an armchair by the window, legs stretched out in front of him. There's a similar stack of files and photos on the coffee table to his right. He’s trying to concentrate on the text in front of him but they’ve been combing every line and every photo for what feels like hours and his brain just isn’t absorbing the information anymore. Endless call records and bank transactions and blueprints and emails and security camera stills. He feels so sluggish that he’s pretty sure that he’s read the same paragraph at least six times over without realising.

There’s a film playing quietly on the television in Russian, with English subtitles. Steve’s gotten into the habit of having films on in the background like this because reading a language is very different from hearing it being spoken. He learns it better this way, the combination of hearing the foreign language spoken naturally and reading the translations at the same time burning into his memory. Watching it absentmindedly, he finds himself occasionally repeating words and phrases under his breath to get used to the feel of the words on his tongue when his attention strays from the files he’s supposed to be reading.

“As much as I like hearing you speak Russian, you should be reading those files,” he hears Natasha say, her voice luring him out of the daze he’s in.

“Hm?” he hums, glancing across at her before looking back to the files guiltily. But really he knows he isn’t going to get any further with them in this state of mind. Defeated, he throws the file he’s currently holding to the table and rubs at his eyes.

“I can barely see straight anymore I’ve read so many of these things,” he says, standing and stretching out his limbs. His fingertips just brush the ceiling before he lets his arms fall heavily back to his sides. “I just need to think about something else for a few minutes.”

“I’ve seen this guy’s face so much I’m going to be dreaming about him,” Natasha agrees, pushing the photos of the man they are trailing away from her and throwing an arm over her eyes as she rolls onto her back. Steve walks over to the small coffee machine on the side.

“Coffee?” he asks automatically, filling up the pot with water.

“Please,” comes Natasha’s reply, and he switches it on and sets out two cups.

“<So you like hearing me speak Russian, do you?>” he teases, though secretly his chest swells at the thought of it.

“<Shut up>,” she retorts back. A pillow hits the back of his head, softly thumps to the floor and he has to stifle a laugh. He turns to face her and she’s wearing that playful smirk of hers, like she knows something he doesn’t. She jerks her head in the direction of the file he’s left on top of the stack on the table.

“<Pass me that file,>” she says.

Steve could listen to Natasha speak Russian all day. There’s something incredibly warm and silky smooth about her voice, the heavy accent lowering the pitch slightly and never failing to send a shiver through him no matter how much he tries to ignore it.

He hands the file to her, and when their fingers brush he can’t figure out if she did it on purpose or not because she’s still smirking even though she’s looking at the file instead of him. Her tongue sweeps across her plump lips and Steve wonders if they're as soft and inviting as they look. But she had made it unmistakably clear about a month ago after a very awkward conversation that they’re just partners, colleagues, and doesn’t have any intention of changing that. So he thinks about something else.

“Found a way in yet?” he asks.

“They’re being careful, but I think so,” she replies, tapping the file. “Just checking the security shifts for the building though.” Steve nods. Okay, so that gets them in the building and able to get the data they need. Then they can move onto the next stage of the mission; infiltration. They have a felxible plan thanks to the intel they already have but can’t make it concrete and put it into action until they have the data.

Noticing that the coffee is done, Steve goes back over to it and pours them both a cup.

“<Thank you>,” Natasha says as she takes the cup from him. Steve likes the way she slips back into Russian around him sometimes. He likes to think it’s a sign that she’s comfortable around him, a sign that she’s at ease. He wonders if she even realises she does it.

 “You ever get homesick?” he asks suddenly. She looks up at him, eyes curious.

“Sometimes,” she admits after a pause.

“Ever think about going back?” She looks back to the file in her hands.

“Not really,” she says nonchalantly, but there’s a firmness to the set of her jaw that makes him think that she’s not telling him everything.

“Sorry,” he says quickly. “If you don’t want to talk about it I mean…I was just curious.”

His chest feels tight because she’s quiet for a moment, and her eyes are dark as she looks at the mug in her hands. He doesn’t know what she’s thinking about but he’s not sure they’re pleasant memories.

“It’s fine,” she says finally, looking back up at him and giving him a half smile. The tightness in his chest lessens. “No one’s ever really asked me that.” She’s silent a moment more. “What happened to me before S.H.I.E.L.D., the people I worked for, the things I did…I wouldn’t change it.”

Steve’s quiet, knowing if he says something now she’ll probably stop talking and that’s the last thing he wants. Not now he’s finally getting a glimpse of her, underneath it all.

“It’s better left buried, but it’s a part of who I am.”

Steve thinks he understands what she means. He and his comrades had done some terrible things in the war, things he isn’t proud of. Things they don’t write about in the history books and exhibitions. They'd had to compromise. But if he could go back and change it he doesn’t think he would.

“It’s what drives you to be better. Keeps you going when you think you can’t.”

There’s a brief moment where she regards him with what looks like a mix of confusion and respect. It only lasts a second but a lump forms in Steve’s throat because it feels like she's looking right through him, like she's trying to see something she hasn't noticed before. It's uncomfortable. The moment shifts and then her usual playful glint is back in her eyes.

“When did you become so perceptive?” she teases.

“I’ve always been perceptive, it’s you that hasn’t noticed,” he replies dryly, and the lump in his throat fades because she’s looking at him the way she always does again. He drinks some coffee and she crosses her legs, glancing back at the photos to her right. For some reason silence never feels awkward with her. The film’s still playing in the background.

 “What about you?” she asks idly, thumbing through a file.

“Hm?” He looks across at her.

“Ever miss the nineteenth century?”

“Actually I missed half of it,” he jokes lightly, and she gives him a sarcastic glare.

“The first half of it then."

“Well,” he starts, taking another gulp of coffee. “I can’t pretend that things are perfect but they’re better than they used to be.” Natasha nods, and Steve wonders what she’s thinking about when she smiles to herself.

“What are you smiling at?” She looks up at him and her smile widens.

“Look at us, strangers in a distant land,” she sighs dramatically, and Steve lets out a short laugh.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he says, making sure he looks across at her pointedly. “Think I’m getting to like it.”

Steve likes to imagine that he’s getting better at this flirting thing. He’s learning from the best after all. She smirks again and he’s ready for some witty comeback but instead she says something he isn't expecting.

“Me too,” she smiles warmly.

It's the first time Steve's seen her smile to openly. The first time he's seen her smile so honestly, and it makes his chest ache with a longing he can barely understand. She looks so carefree and he wishes she looked like this more often.He wants her to smile at fleeting moments and laugh at stupid things. He wants her to smile like this all the time. 

He has to firmly remind himself that they're partners, because if he doesn't he's just one step away from just leaning across and finding out what that smile feels like against his lips.

"Now, you should get back to those files, soldier. Coffee break is over," she says sternly, though there's still a trace of that smile on her face. It's fading fast though and Steve wonders if he'll ever get to see it again. 

"Yes Ma'am," he obliges, standing up off the bed and walking back over to the stack of files.

Partners, he repeats mentally as he pushes his desires back. Just partners.

But he knows there's only so long he can keep telling himself that.

Chapter Text

The party is already in full swing when the elevator doors open. Natasha steps out, pausing for a moment to take in the room.

Stark’s holding a charity gala at the Tower, of course featuring special guests, The Avengers. The hall is packed with foreign dignitaries, business tycoons, the rich and famous, paparazzi and god knows who else. Normally she doesn’t attend these type of events outside of work, because being a spy, most of her missions rely on her being anonymous to the world at large. She knows for a fact that after New York Tony had made sure there were no clear images of her face floating around from any of the footage that survived. She's thankful, but she'll never tell him that.

But, tonight is an exception because some general is giving Steve an award later and he’d asked her to come. So here she is, wearing a midnight blue, backless dress with just a hint of shimmer in the fabric. Just skimming the floor as she moves, the gown hugs her figure in all the right places. And no, she hasn’t picked it out because she knows that blue is one of Steve’s favourite colours. Nope. Definitely not.

That isn’t the only reason though. In the morning, she’s leaving on a mission, long term. Clint knows, of course, and Fury, but other than that she hasn’t told anyone. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but for the last few days she’s had a niggling voice in the back of her head telling her that it’s only right that Steve should know. The thought of leaving for so long without telling him makes her feel uneasy, for reasons she can't quite figure out.

And what's worse, every time she’d found herself with an opportunity to tell him over the last few days, the words had died in her throat and she'd ended up making small talk about the weather like an idiot or some equally embarrassing and trivial subject, and he'd looked at her like she'd grown another head.

So it has to be tonight. One more chance to tell him, without any more horrendous drabble. The only problem is, the longer she thinks about it, the more she thinks that maybe she doesn't want to tell him after all. Call her selfish, but she doesn't want the last time she'll see him for months to be tainted. She'd rather he smile at her like he always does, when he thinks he'll see her the next day.

From this vantage point at the back of the room, she can see everything and everyone. Really, she’s surprised Clint hasn’t claimed this spot. Her eyes wander the room, assessing, even though she knows it’s secure. It's easy to pick out the rest of the team. She spots Tony almost instantly, centre stage with Pepper, looking exquisite by his side and surrounded by beneficiaries at the bar.

Thor is off to one side with a smaller group, beaming and jolly with his arm around a petite woman’s waist who Natasha recognises to be his scientist friend. She's seen her a few times since Thor decided to start spending more time in this realm. Her small size only makes him seem even larger.

Clint has claimed a spot in a corner, and to be quite honest he looks like he’s about to fall asleep standing up, his suit slightly crumpled and a small cut on the side of his face. God knows what he’d being running around doing before the gala. Knowing Clint, it probably involved dogs or pizza.

She’s surprised to see even Bruce has made an appearance, milling around in a quiet manner. She doubts many people would recognise him with his natural skin colour and size.

And there is Steve, making conversation with a vaguely important looking man, striking an immaculate figure in his military dress uniform. The sharpness of the collar only emphasizes his strong jaw, and the nipped in waist belt only served to make his already broad shoulders appear even wider and his legs longer. His blonde hair is pristine but he runs his fingers through it anyway every now and again as if he’s worried it’s fallen out of place.

The clear clink of a fork on a champagne flute echoes through the room. All eyes turn to Tony and the small orchestra stop playing. Natasha makes her way through the crowd to Clint, because he's closest, while Stark starts his speech. A weary smile crosses Clint’s face as he sees her, but he looks grateful at her approach. 

“Think I’m about ready to go and crash,” Clint say as Natasha reaches his side.

“Rough day?”

“Yeah, something like that. Just can’t keep my eyes open,” he laughs, before yawning widely as if to stress his current state.

"Don't you want to stay and talk to your adoring fans?" she teases, a small smile on her face. She knows Clint doesn't get nearly enough of the recognition that he deserves. 

"Are you kidding me? Half these people don't even know I'm an Avenger for Christ's sake. They probably think I'm some hobo off the street," he says, gesturing to the cut on his face and generally dishevelled appearance.

Natasha lets out a short laugh, and the room fills with polite applause as Tony finishes speaking and Pepper takes over. They stand in silence as the applause dies down.

“You all set?” Clint asks after a moment, and she knows he's talking about the mission.

“Yeah." What little she needs is already packed in a bag upstairs on her floor. But she still needs to do one last thing.

 “You gonna tell Rogers you’re going this time?” Natasha brain stutters for a moment, but manages not to show any external reaction.

“Rogers?” How can Clint know she's thinking of telling him? A sudden anxiety gnaws at her stomach.

“Yeah, Rogers. The guy was shuffling around like a lost puppy for three days last time when he ended up finding out from me. You should tell him this time.”

Natasha nods, digesting this new information. Her last long term mission had been over a year ago, a couple of months after New York. Did that mean...for that long? She knows that he's been harbouring feelings for her for some time, but she was under the illusion that it had only been for the last few months.  It makes the thought of telling him even worse. 

“I was thinking of telling him,” she says, making sure her voice is indifferent, even though Clint can probably see past it. "I haven't decided."

"You should," Clint says simply, as if it were that easy. "So then I don't have to do it."

"Always leaving me with the hard work," she says dryly.

"Hey, I bit the bullet last time, so it's your turn now," he grins.

More applause as Pepper finishes her speech, and the music starts up again.

"Well, I'm gonna take off, I can hear my bed calling to me from upstairs," he huffs with a tired smile. She rolls her eyes as Clint steps forward and pulls her into an embrace, planting a quick peck on her cheek. "Send me a postcard, yeah?"

Natasha smiles, and he squeezes her hand briefly before he departs with another grin, leaving her alone to circulate the room. 

Spending a chunk of time milling around, talking when she needs to, she's not too bothered that most people are too interested in the other people already around them to talk to her for that long. Either that or they suspect who she is and are too scared to approach or say the wrong thing. Maybe it's both. Stopping a waiter as he passes by with a try of champagne flutes, she takes one and has a sip.

"Enjoying the party?"

Natasha looks around at the question to see Bruce. 

"I've been to better," she says, and he smiles slightly. "You?"

"It's a little crowded," he admits. Probably the understatement of the century coming from him. "Steve's looking for you," he adds. Natasha takes another sip of her drink.

"Where is he?" she asks, deciding that she's put this off for far too long already. 

"Think he's on the balcony, said something about getting some air." Natasha glances over to the balcony entrance. There's no door but part of it is around a slight corner which is closed off enough from the main room to be considered private. Mind made up, she thanks Bruce, and he nods with a raise of his glass. She sets off weaving her way through the crowd towards the balcony, before her resolve falters.

Stepping outside, there's a slight breeze as she turns the corner and sees Steve; both arms braced on the balcony and looking out to the city below. She pauses, because he hasn't seen her yet and this will be the last chance she has to back out. She knows she needs to tell him about the mission. This is probably the best time, and she isn’t sure if she’ll get him alone like this again.But that doesn't mean it will be easy. Brushing a curl of hair that's escaped her updo behind her ear, she walks over to him. 

“I thought you were supposed to be mingling,” she says as she approaches. He turns at her voice, a smile spreading over his features.

“I'm taking a break from the mingling,” he responds, turning back to the city as she reaches his side. "Too many people in there."

"Bruce said the same thing." He smiles to himself, and neither of them speak for a moment and he inhales deeply. 

“Feel like I can actually breathe out here," he says.

“Didn’t think this kind of party would be your deal somehow.” She’s never quite been able to picture Steve at one of Stark’s sometimes excessive and often overcrowded parties until tonight. She's always thought he'd be more comfortable in smaller gatherings. Maybe she'd know if they ever got the chance to spend time together outside of missions.

“Don’t even know how to dance,” he admits, casting a sheepish glance back to the main room. She rolls her eyes at him.

“You’re hopeless.”

“I know,” he agrees lightly. He turns to face her again and his eyes are twinkling with something like amusement. A boldness she hasn’t seen since he'd been shot in the shoulder and was running on adrenaline mixed with a heavy dose of morphine. “Care to teach me?”

Natasha raises an eyebrow at him. The way he says it feels like a challenge.

“Here?” They can still hear the music from the party drifting out and the balcony is more than big enough.

“Here.” His eyes still hold a playful glint.

Well. Never let it be said that Natasha Romanoff backs down from a challenge.

“Step on my toes and you’re dead, these are Louboutin pumps,” she says bluntly, and he makes no move to stop her as she takes his hand and puts it on her waist, holding the other one level with her cheek. She makes sure to leave a respectable distance between their bodies because frankly she needs the space to be able to think straight.

Taking him through some basic steps, she tries her best to ignore the way heat seems to radiate from him and resists the urge to let that warmth envelop her. His large hand feels heavy on her waist though his grip is light. Even with her heels on, she only just reaches past his shoulders and she has to crane her neck to look up at him they’re so close.

“It’s easier if you don’t look at your feet. Don't overthink it,” she suggests, seeing the way he stares at the floor between them but knowing it’s much easier to just let the music lead rather than getting too caught up in the steps and counting. “Look at me.”

He gets the hang of it surprisingly quickly after that. Raising his eyes to meet hers, suddenly she feels flustered under his gaze. They keep to small steps and soon enough, he’s the one leading. Uncertainty is bubbling in her stomach but it’s nice, being close like this, a small smile on his face, in a way she hadn’t expected.

They carry on for some time, not really speaking, just enjoying the slow, steady feeling of moving together. Somehow the distance between them closes, her body pressed lightly to his. He draws their joined hands to his chest and the hand had been resting on her hip moves around to the curve of her spine, fingers splaying across bare skin.

It’s a tiny and slight change, physically at least. But in Natasha’s head it feels like the whole world has shifted around them and for a moment she can’t breathe. For once there aren’t any explosions. No falling buildings or bullets. Nothing to distract her from the feeling of his arms around her. Nothing to make him pull away and nothing to make her heart pump faster apart from the way he holds her. He surrounds her and it’s almost overwhelming without the rush of adrenaline she usually has when they’re behind his shield.

Feeling light headed, she rests the side of her head on his shoulder, relishing in the way he supports her. It feels like a dream. Hazy and pleasant. Beyond her reach. Like it will crumble away from her if she dares to move.

So she stays still, and lets him hold her. She isn't sure how long they stay like this, but it's long enough for her to start trying to memorise the way it feels to be in his arms like this. There’s something unbelievably comforting and yet frightening about having him so close without reason and she has to stop herself shuddering. She can feel the beating of his heart under the solid warmth of his chest. Instinctively she nuzzles against him, needing him closer, if only for a moment more.

“So Clint says you’ve something to tell me,” Steve says softly after a while. Well. That wakes her up.

“Does he now?” she responds, feigning ignorance. So Clint was the reason Steve had been looking for her. So she'd have no choice but to tell him. That bastard. The tightness in her stomach that Steve's arms had erased from her memory gnaws at her again.

“Everything okay?”

“Fine.”

Natasha knows she should tell him about the mission. But really this is turning out to be a lot more difficult that she had planned, especially now he’s holding her so close. They’re hardly even dancing anymore.

He needs to know.

Taking a breath, she steels herself. Her head is still resting on his chest and now that she doesn't have to look him in the eyes, maybe she'll be able to say it. Just get it done. Quick, like a band-aid.

“I’m leaving on assignment tomorrow,” she says finally, and the tight ball of anxiety in her stomach lessens somewhat now she’s finally said it. She wouldn’t be telling him if it was only for a few days and it seems he can sense it. He’s quiet and suddenly the relief of finally telling him doesn’t feel that great.

“How long?” he asks after a moment, his voice thick.

“Deep cover, minimum three months, could take anywhere up to seven.”

He falls silent again but makes no sign of releasing his hold on her, still swaying slightly. She’s content to stay like this, because as long as he’s holding her she can pretend he doesn’t want to let her go.

“Going anywhere nice?” he asks after a few minutes, trying to sound upbeat but failing miserably. He’s never been good at hiding his emotions and right now is no different.

“You know I can’t tell you,” she says softly.

“I know.”

They don't speak again for a number of minutes, but then he murmurs something in Russian and Natasha bites her lip as throb of pure want goes through her.

"<Stay safe.>"

It’s not just hearing him speak Russian this time. It’s everything. It’s how one of his hands still rests on the bare skin of her back. It’s how she can feel his heart beating in his chest. How the heady mix of his aftershave and his natural musk is making her dizzy and how tenderly he holds her, like a lover would. Most of all though, it’s how he’s telling her, the famous Black Widow, to stay safe, even though they both know she can handle herself better than he can.

But she doesn’t tell him any of that. She can’t.

“Your accent is getting better,” she says instead, and thankfully there is no tremor in her voice.

“Maybe by the time you get back I’ll be able to hold a conversation for longer than thirty seconds,” he jokes, pulling away slightly to look at her. 

Natasha thinks he’s about to say something else but no words leave his mouth. His gaze focuses on her lips and she thinks to herself that if he leans down to kiss her right now, she’ll probably let him. Would it really be so terrible? Just one kiss. One kiss can’t hurt, right? There’s a physical ache inside her that she doesn’t quite understand as he raises his clear blue eyes to meet hers. His grip on her tightens, pressing her body fully against his and she grasps at his jacket collar before she can stop herself, pulling his lips just that little bit closer to hers. She can feel his heart beating rapidly under her hands as her own thuds against her ribcage.

Bringing one of his hands up to rest against her jaw, she watches his eyes glaze over with want as he swipes the pad of his thumb across her bottom lip, sending a jolt down her spine. He pauses, looking back up to her eyes – she knows what he’s doing – giving her time to back away if she doesn’t want this. But god, she wants this. She wants it so much she can barely think of anything else. Clutching at his uniform tighter, a throb of anticipation goes through her as he leans down.

Their breathing mingles and his lips are so close that-

“-America!” Tony’s voice shouts around the corner, and Steve releases his grip on her as if he’s been burned. Straightening his uniform hastily, by the time Tony strolls onto the balcony there’s a respectable distance between them and nobody would know that just seconds earlier she’d been ready to kiss him for all she was worth. That she had wanted him so desperately. She can hardly believe it herself, dizzy and her heart pounding violently.

“Time for your award, Man of the Hour,” Stark announces. Seeing Steve cast a sideways glance at her out of the corner of her eye, she keeps her features stoic and is unendingly grateful that neither man can tell how fast her heart is beating.

“Now?” Steve says, sounding a little exasperated but obviously trying to hide it. Stark doesn’t notice, as usual.

“Getting cold feet, Capsicle? Tip of advice; just pretend you're as attractive and charismatic as I am and you'll be fine." He turns to go back into the main room and gestures for Steve to follow him.

Steve starts to take a step after him, but pauses and looks back at her apologetically.

“Nat…”

“Go,” she says quickly. “It’s fine.” Her chest feels tight and there’s a sinking disappointment in her stomach. But without his presence invading her senses she can think straight again. And it scares her how close she had been to just giving in and kissing him.

“Some time this century, Cap, or do you need a hip replacement to get out here?” Tony’s voice shouts from the stairs.

“You’ll still be around when I’m done with this, won’t you?” His eyes are hopeful but there’s a lump in her throat. She can’t do this.

“Of course,” she lies. He smiles and even though she manages a smile in return inside it’s hurting. Natasha hates lying to him but it’s better if she leaves now. For both of them.

She’s been fighting against the pull Steve has on her for months for a good reason after all.

Watching as he leaves, she lets out a shaky breath once he’s out of sight. It's probably a good thing, this mission, because she's not sure she can handle another close call like this. It hadn't been just a heat of the moment thing. The next time she sees him there might not be a well timed interruption, and she can't allow herself to do something they would both regret.

Maybe some time apart will put things back into perspective. She had hoped, for a while, that maybe in the future they could give things a try. But she has always known deep down that it can't work. People like her don't have futures like that.

Maybe he'll meet someone while she's gone.

The thought pains her more than she'd like to admit but he deserves to be with someone who can give him everything he wants and more.

That someone isn't her.


 The next hour is the longest hour of Steve’s entire life.

Or that’s the way it feels. The actual award-presenting stuff is over pretty quickly, but afterwards there seems to be endless photo-ops and interviews and people wanting to shake his hand. He desperately wants to be back on that balcony with Natasha but every time he makes a move to go and find her, someone new pulls him aside.

Finally, after what feels like a lifetime, Steve manages to (politely) make some excuses and escape. 

Quickly scanning the room, he tries not to let his heart fall as he sees no trace of her. There are a few redheads in the room but he'd recognise Natasha's exact shade of crimson locks in the dark, and she's not here. Hoping she might be in her rooms, he heads over to the elevator.

"Agent Romanoff's rooms," he says quickly, stepping inside.

"Certainly, Captain Rogers," Jarvis responds. Usually Steve's a little more polite to the A.I., but his mind is a little preoccupied.

Wondering what he's going to say to her, he pushes a hand back through his hair. His heart's beating a little faster than usual. Where to start? He'll tell her that he wants her, not any of these stupid dates she's been suggesting to him. It’s about damn time he tells her as much, explicitly, with no room for doubt or ambiguity. About time he shows her. But a trickle of dread goes through him. What if she's not even here anymore? He shakes his head. No, she has to be here. She said she would be. She's never lied to him. Not mentioned some things, perhaps, but never lied.

The elevator doors slide open to Natasha's rooms, in complete darkness. Jarvis kindly switches them on for him without asking as he steps inside. 

Natasha is nowhere to be seen. The rooms are quiet, and the small flicker of hope that's in Steve's chest burns out.

"Nat?" he calls, a foolish hope. The silence hurts more than he thought it would.

"Miss Romanoff departed the building approximately forty-eight minutes ago, Captain," Jarvis chimes. Steve's heart sinks, a lump in his throat.

"Did she say anything before she left? A message? Anything?"

"She did reschedule her flight to an earlier departure, sir."

So. That's it. She’d been right there, in his arms, breathless, and now she’s gone. Like it hadn't even mattered. Like she hadn't felt it too.

"Do you know where she was going?"

"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to divulge that information," Jarvis says, sounding genuinely apologetic.

Letting his back slide down the wall until he’s sitting on the floor, he pushes his hands through his hair, defeated. So much for telling her how he feels. Why couldn’t he have just kissed her like a normal person would have? So what if Stark would have walked in on them? At least then he might have been able to convey some of what he feels.

Forty-eight minutes? That's practically a life time. She could be anywhere by now. He doesn't even know where she's flying to, or from which airport. Even if he had known, there's no way of catching up to her. No way of contacting her. She's off the grid, and he has no idea when he'll see her again. Or even if he'll see her again.

He thinks of how he'd hesitated, unsure and afraid of doing the wrong thing. Not just earlier on, but so many times before, and how it feels like never saying how much he wants her will be one of the biggest regrets of his life.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Almost five months pass.

Steve perseveres, because that’s what he does best. At first it’s hard to think about anything other than the void she seems to have left. Natasha. His heart twinges at just the mere mention of her name for the first few weeks. He misses her sly smile. He misses her razor sharp wit and the way she’d tease him. He even finds himself missing the endless granddad jokes. He misses going on missions and knowing she has his back. He misses knowing when he'll see her next, and so much more.

It still hurts, the way she’d left that night. He’d been so certain she’d felt at least something for him on that balcony. But still, he’d hesitated, and the moment had slipped through his fingers. The only thing that gets him through is that he knows she’ll be okay, that she’ll come back. Hopefully one day soon, and maybe he’ll get around to saying all those things he’d left unsaid before.

So he carries on without her, because whether he likes it or not, the world’s still turning regardless, and he’ll sooner die than sit around feeling sorry for himself like a lovesick fool when people need his help.

He’s just got back to his apartment in D.C from another mission and is just about to start making some food, hair still wet from a brief shower when he sees the blue notification light softly pulsing on his phone. Generally, he doesn’t take it with him on missions, especially short ones. Picking it up, he sees there’s a bunch of emails, a few missed calls from various people but nothing that looks too urgent. It’s late evening, and he decides he’ll get back to them in the morning. Apart from one missed call and a voicemail from Clint, asking to call him back. It’s only a few hours old.

Pushing the dial symbol, he waits for Clint to pick up. He just wants to get some food and go to bed but generally Clint doesn’t call him unless it’s important, so his curiosity wins out. Hopefully it’s nothing too disastrous.

“Hey, Clint, did you need something?” he asks wearily, rubbing his eyes.

“Hey, yeah, I was wondering, have you seen Nat?”

“Nat?” he asks, puzzled, but instantly wide awake.

“Yeah, you know, red hair, short, could kill a man with a paperclip?” Clint’s voice rolls.

“No, I know who you mean I just-is she not still on her mission?”

Clint doesn’t respond right away. Wait. Does this mean she’s back? He hears Clint curse under his breath, as if he’s said something he shouldn’t. Steve’s heart beats faster and suddenly he’s clutching the phone a little tighter.

“She’s back? When?”

 “Four days ago,” he says. “Sorry man. Thought she would’ve told you.” Steve’s heart clenches. Yeah, so did he.

“No…no she hasn’t.”

Clint’s quiet for a moment and Steve huffs out a breath, not sure how to feel. Four days? She’s been back for four whole days and she hasn’t even bothered to at least let him know she’s alive and safe?

“Where is she now?”

“AWOL,” Clint sighs. “Why I called actually. Thought she might be with you.”

 “Well,” Steve starts, trying to hide the sudden bitterness he’s feeling from his voice. “Apparently not.”

“Huh. Guess I’d better start looking in some other places then,” Clint muses.

“Let me know if she turns up.”

“Ditto.”

Clint hangs up, and Steve’s hand falls to his side, still holding the phone. He doesn’t know how long he stands there, unmoving.

She’s back? He still can’t quite seem to process it. Natasha’s back. She’s back and she apparently had no intention of telling him.

She’d told Clint though. She’s been with him for the last four days.

She’d got back from her mission and run straight into Clint’s arms. His jaw clenches. Of course she had. What, had he seriously expected her to come running back to him, saying how much she’d missed him? A stab of jealousy and resentment at the archer goes through Steve at the thought, but he regrets it almost immediately. He knows he’s being stupid. Overthinking, as usual. Natasha and Clint aren’t together like that, at least not anymore.

Maybe, it’s just that Steve isn’t as important to Natasha as he had thought he was. Just another agent. She’d been able to leave him that night with such ease after all.

He curses as the phone cracks in his fist unexpectedly, power flickering off for the last time as the screen splits in several directions. He huffs out a breath indignantly. Great. Now he needs a new bloody phone.

She didn’t tell him. He can't stop thinking it.

Throwing the now useless phone in the trash, he grabs his running shoes which are by the sofa and laces them up before heading to the door. He needs to get out of this stupid, empty apartment.

Steve finds himself heading to the park where he usually takes his morning runs in the vain hope some fresh air and a change of scenery will help him take his mind off Natasha long enough to calm down. Steve likes people watching, usually. Sometimes he’ll come up with stories for the people he sees, why they’re rushing past or why they chose to wear that particular coat today. There are still a few people around, an older man with a dog, a young couple, a small family, but he finds it’s not the distraction he’d been hoping for. He’s still churning things over too much in his head, the gears turning and clunking relentlessly when he just wants them to stop.

So he gets up from the bench he’s sitting on, starts to run, and tries not to think anymore. He runs, and he doesn’t stop until he’s the only one left in the park and he’s lost count of how many laps he’s done. He doesn’t stop until his lungs are screaming and he’s gasping for air, leaning against a tree for support.

Suddenly his thoughts are too loud again, as if now he’s stopped running they’ve caught up with him. Should he try to find her? What if she doesn’t want to see him? Had he done something wrong? Was it the almost kiss before she left? Is he even ready to see her yet? What if she doesn’t want to hear what he has to say? Surely, it’ll just hurt more, to go back to the way things were? He’s spent five months waiting for her to come back to him, but now he’s faced with the possibility of seeing her he isn’t sure he’ll be able to even look her in the eyes without thinking about the way he’d felt when she left. Without wondering if she’s lying to him again.

Maybe he should just wait. If Clint can’t find her that means she doesn’t want to be found, for whatever reason. Maybe if he waits until they're both called on a mission it'll be easier. More natural. But if he waits that long he’s afraid it’ll be too late.

He thinks his breathing is back to normal, but his heart’s still pounding. He doesn’t know if it’s from the running (because honestly he has never pushed himself that far by just doing laps before) or because of what he’s feeling but he decides to go back to his apartment. Maybe he’ll feel better after sleeping on it. He jogs up the stairs to his floor and glances at Kate’s door as he walks past it. He thinks to himself that maybe he should just give up and ask her if she wants to get that cup of coffee sometime, because she’s always there and actually seems like she’s interested in him and everything would be so much simpler. She’s nice and she’s gentle and she’s open with her feelings, even if she sometimes gets a bit coy when she flirts with him.

Everything Natasha isn’t.

Which is precisely why, he realises with a sinking heart as he slots his key into the door, that he’ll never see Kate as more than a friend, no matter how hard he tries. It would never work.

Because she isn’t Natasha.

Steve pushes the door open, throws his keys in a bowl on the side and heads to his bedroom, kicking the door shut behind him, heart and head heavy. His t shirt is still clinging to him with sweat and he tells himself he’ll grab another shower and then go to bed when he hears a voice.

 “I thought you only went for runs in the morning?”

Steve looks up sharply. He recognises that voice so well he knows who it is before he’s even laid eyes on her, but it’s still a shock.

“Tasha,” he breathes, not quite believing that she’s actually standing in his apartment.

“Hey stranger,” she says.

All that anger and hurt and confusion he’d felt since she’d left, suddenly none of it matters, because she’s here.

She’s here and he tries to fathom how he could have possibly been mad at her not twenty minutes ago because right now all he wants is to gather her up into his arms and just hold her close, breathe her in and feel her body against his so that he knows it’s real. That he’s not just dreaming it up, because it wouldn’t be the first time. But for some reason his limbs feel like they’re stuck in place, and he just stands there, rooted to the spot.

“You’re hurt,” he observes, his heart twisting as he sees the small cuts on her face and the bandage across the back of her hand. The bandage disappears under the sleeve of her hoodie and he can’t tell how bad the damage is.

“It’s fine,” she says dismissively. She smiles slyly. “Ended the mission with a bang.”

He thinks he remembers something on the news a few days ago about an explosion in a reported Chinese smuggling ring’s base, and wonders if it was her. He doesn’t ask though, and she doesn’t tell. She’s silent and he tries to decide what to say first. He needs everything out in the open, if he has any chance of making this work.

“You left without saying goodbye,” he blurts out, unable to stop himself or phrase it better. She looks down at the floor. It was rash, but he doesn’t regret saying it.

“I’m sorry about that,” she says mechanically.

“Are you?” He has to know. If there’s one thing he has to know, it’s this. He’ll forgive everything, anything, if she's honest with him right now. She stills, looking away for a moment as if he’s caught her off guard and she’s deciding whether to tell the truth or lie. He doesn’t know which one he’d prefer.

“Yes.” She meets his gaze again, and there's something in her eyes he's never seen. Regret. There’s just a hint of fear there too, and that’s all Steve needs to see to know for sure. She’s telling the truth, and his heart lodges itself in his throat because of what it could mean.

“I should go,” she says quickly, moving towards the door and he can practically see her closing off from him again, putting up the barriers that had been in place only moments ago. Steve finds himself able to move again, and puts himself between Natasha and the exit. He’s not going to let her leave like this again.

“Steve,” she says softly, but still a warning. “I have to go.” He doesn’t move. She looks up at him, and there’s something in her eyes that seems to contradict what she’s saying.

“I missed you,” he says quickly, feeling brash. She looks down, seemingly unable to meet his gaze at his confession. “A lot.” Understatement.

“You shouldn’t have,” she says firmly, though she looks up and her eyes betray her. Her wonderful eyes, normally so cool and collected, unreadable, telling him everything her lips can’t.

“Why did you come here if you’re just going to leave again?” His question seems to jar her, as if she’s doesn’t actually know why she came here. He doesn’t think he’s ever been so tense in his entire life, waiting for her to answer. Every fibre of his being is hanging on what she’ll say next.

He watches her try to put the pieces together in her head, try to come up with a plausible excuse. But he knows she won’t find one, because he’s been trying to find reason for five months without success. He just needs her, plain and simple, in a way he can’t explain.

“I don’t…I wanted…”

She's never looked so uncertain, but he’s never felt more sure.

Suddenly he has a realisation, one that he should have had a lot sooner, considering everything he’s been through. It’s so clear to him now.

Time waits for no man.

And he’s done with hesitating.

“Stay.”

Natasha looks up at him as if she thinks she’s misheard him. He wants to take her in his arms and kiss her, with no distractions this time. He wants to tell her all these things he’s come to feel for her but he can’t find the right words. How can plain old words express such things?

They both jump as her phone starts ringing in her pocket and she pulls it out, frowning. He casts a glance at it before looking back to her, deciding it can be ignored even if it’s Fury himself. This is more important.

“Clint," she states, as if he cares who it is. "I should probably-”

“No,” he says quickly, stepping forward and stopping her as she raises the phone to her ear. “I’m not being interrupted again.” She opens her mouth as if to protest but he acts before she can form any words.

Closing the distance between them, a sharp intake of breath escapes her as he takes her in his arms like he had that night all those months ago, intentions clear.

She doesn’t pull away as he leans down and kisses her with everything he’s got..

Steve hears the phone thud onto the carpet. He doesn’t notice how long or if it carries on ringing because she melts against him and he can’t help but groan at the feel of her lips finally on his. It feels so much better than he could have ever imagined, because it’s real this time, it’s real and she grasps at his t shirt, pulling him closer. His heart’s beating a million miles a second because she’s kissing him back just as fiercely, and the way she gasps softly when he grips her body tighter invades every part of him. He’s unprepared for the way she consumes his senses; all he can hear and taste and feel and smell is her and it’s almost too much. The world could be collapsing around them and he honestly doesn’t think he’d notice because right now his entire being is focused on the woman in his arms.

It’s heated and tinged with desperation, yet still he wants more. Her arms wind around his neck and the kiss morphs into something slow and deep, coaxing her mouth open. He wants to devour her, drink her up until he’s dizzy and sated and can’t see straight anymore. She sighs again and he can feel her heart thudding through her chest against his. She sucks on his bottom lip gently and it makes desire tug at his gut, a sharp spike of pure want. He groans into her mouth but he knows he has to pull back, because she hasn’t even agreed to stay yet and if things keep going at this rate he’s going to have to start physically restraining himself until her answer is clear, either way.

He pulls his lips away, but only just – his forehead rests against hers and their breathing still mingles because quite frankly this is the furthest away he’s willing to get right now, but he needs a moment to recover.

“Stay,” he repeats softly. She keeps her eyes shut, biting down gently on her bottom lip as if to savour the taste of him. He’s never seen her so unguarded.

“Kiss me again,” she breathes, eyes still closed. He does, softly this time. If this is what it takes to convince her then he’s only too willing to oblige.

It feels different like this, more intimate in a way that makes his chest ache. All the pain he’s suffered in his life, all that loss he’s endured, he’d gladly bear it all over again if it means she’ll keep kissing him like this. One of her hands moves to cup the side of his face and her touch is light, indulgent as she slowly trails her fingers over his jawline and cheekbones. She tilts her head in a way that lets him kiss her deeper, but opens up one side of her neck to him. His better judgement apparently abandoned him some time ago, because Steve can’t stop himself trailing kisses over her jaw down to her neck and collarbone even though he knows he shouldn’t yet, pressing his lips to her skin in a way he’s been dreaming of for months now.

“I don’t…I don’t know if this can work,” she breathes, but keeping him fixed on her neck. Right. Partners, he reminds himself. He finds he doesn’t give a damn anymore.

“Neither do I,” he mouths against her skin between kisses. Honestly, who does? He’d rather give it his best shot and things fall apart than never even try. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Taking that risk, that leap of faith. “But I want to find out.”

Natasha pushes him up suddenly, away from her skin and he has to stop himself chasing after her, but he manages to resist somehow. She looks up at him and her eyes are clear now, certain, like he’s used to seeing them and he knows she’s made her decision. A stab of anxiety goes through him and his hold on her hips tightens a fraction. God, he hopes she’ll say yes.

She doesn’t say anything. She just pulls him down and kisses him, hard.

It takes him by surprise and for a moment his head spins while his brain catches up with her. Overcome with delight and desire, he kisses her back greedily, lost in the sensation of her lips. One of her hands slides under his t shirt and his brain nearly cuts out. He carefully wraps his fingers around her bandaged wrist, stilling her movements because he's not sure he can take it without stripping them both of their clothes right here and making sure his skin is the only thing she'll touch for the next few hours.

"Don't tease me, Tasha," he gasps. Funny, he hadn't meant for that to sound so needy. She smiles devilishly, and the glint in her eyes hits him like a punch to the gut.

“Think we’ve waited long enough to break that dry spell, don’t you?” she says, leaning up and kissing the corner of his mouth. His heart stutters just like it had the last time she'd said something like that.

“Please tell me you’re not kidding this time,” he breathes, not trusting himself to even move lest his restraint snaps.

A wicked smile creeps onto her lips as she shakes her head, and Steve doesn’t think he’s ever moved so fast in his entire life. He’s sick of waiting and doesn’t want to waste another second, not when that second could be spent with her in his arms.

They stumble to his bedroom, all hands and lips because he can't stop kissing her, can't take his hands off her long enough to just walk there normally even though it means they would probably get there faster. They reach the foot of his bed and he dares to think that from the way Natasha tugs at his clothes impatiently, eyes hazy with lust as they fall back on it, that she’s sick of waiting too.

Chapter Text

When Natasha had showed up at Steve’s apartment last night, she hadn’t really known what would happen. Hadn’t planned she would say to him. Hadn’t been able to explain why it had taken her four days to get on a plane to D.C. or why she hadn’t called him when she got back, when all she had thought about over the last five months was how much she’d wanted to see him roll his eyes and try to hide a smile at one of her sarcastic jokes again.

She’d ignored the way her heart stuttered as she saw him. She remembers thinking that it had been foolish of her, showing up unannounced like this. She also remembers holding her breath as a flurry of emotions crossed his features; surprise, anger, confusion, regret, relief and finally concern as he saw her sprained wrist and the cuts on her face. Part of her had expected him to embrace her, but he’d just stood there, rooted to the spot. She’d thought that maybe that had been a good thing, because it turned out being away from him for so long certainly hadn’t lessened her desire for him as she’d hoped. She wasn’t sure what she would have done if he’d held her right then.

She’d tried to keep her usual air of sarcasm and confidence, but then he’d gone and told her that he’d missed her and she’d wavered. He’d asked her why she’d come and she hadn’t been able to tell him because she didn’t actually know herself. She just had, without needing a reason, and the thought scared her. He’d kissed her then, and in a moment of weakness she couldn’t bring herself to stop him.

It felt wrong, like she was claiming something that wasn’t hers, and she knew she shouldn’t have kissed him back but he'd tasted so much better than she could have imagined and she'd craved more. She’d wanted him to hold her closer, wanted him to devour her until she couldn't think straight. He had.

Somewhere between him trailing his lips across her neck and him telling her that he wants her as so much more than a colleague, she’d decided that she just didn’t care about what she should and shouldn’t want. About whether it was wrong, or unfair. Just this once, she wanted to be selfish. She wanted him.

Was it really selfish, if he wanted her too?

She’d been so busy telling herself it would never work, that she’d just end up hurting him that she’d never considered she was hurting him more by constantly pushing him away. Yet still he’d waited so long for her. Still wanted her, even after the way she'd left.

And she’d be damned if she wasn’t going to make it up to him.

Judging from the look in his eyes as he'd undressed her, this was at least a start.

 

Natasha has been awake for a while now, content to ignore the outside world in favour of staying right here. Steve’s arm is a heavy weight draped over her waist, her back to his front and his breath on her shoulder is a warm comfort through the circles her mind is running through. She's thinking about last night. It had felt foreign, the pure need and adoration in his touch, the feel of his skin on hers too much to pull away from. It hadn’t felt like simple lust. She’s surprised and perhaps somewhat disturbed to find the thought doesn’t scare her like it had last night before he'd kissed her.

No, what worries her is what will happen when they have to leave the pleasant bubble of existence that is Steve's bed.

Actions have consequences after all.

But Natasha doesn't want to think about that right now. She's had enough doubts for one morning already. Rolling over to face him, Steve stirs slightly and presses a kiss into her hair as she runs a hand up his chest to his neck. He makes a small hum of appreciation as she cranes her neck up to his jaw, a shiver going down her spine as the stubble there scratches her lips. His knuckles trail up the curve of her waist and ribs, and he dips his head down to kiss her.

Steve makes no move to stop her as she pushes him onto his back and climbs on top of him. His lips are clumsy with sleep but she can feel him already hard beneath her. One hand settles on her hip and the other fumbles with her hair, pushing it out of the way as she kisses him deeply. His touch holds none of the urgency it did last night, but it still makes her ache just the same. She wonders vaguely how she ever got this far without his hands on her body, fingers skimming her skin, caressing every curve.

“Said you’d tell me if I was too rough,” he mumbles sleepily against her lips, brushing the light bruises he’d left on her skin last night. There’s a hint of guilt in his eyes. He’d gripped her body tighter, thrust that little bit harder than she’s used to. It had been intense, to put it lightly. Passionate, full of need and she’ll need time to get used to his strength. He'd given her everything he had, and she'd loved every second of it.

“You weren’t,” she assures, though she bites her lips at the throb of want that goes through her at the memory. He nods and she carries on kissing him, pleased to see he doesn’t look the slightest bit apologetic about the bruises anymore. She'll never let him do anything she hasn't asked for, and she trusts him to know as much without needing to say it.

There’s something almost leisurely about this, about the way his lips slide against hers, the soft groan he lets out as she ghosts her nails down his chest and he squeezes her flesh. It’s unhurried, and she takes her time working him up, lavishing all her attention on his neck and jaw, enjoying the way his muscles bunch and coil under her palms as his breathing becomes unsteady.

He slips a hand between her thighs, and she moans against his skin as his fingers sink into her already slick folds, teasing. She only just remembers to keep sucking on his neck as he starts to lightly rub her clit in small circles, and like last night she finds herself thankful that he seems to know what he’s doing despite the seventy year gap in practice. Taking him into her hand, his breath hitches, the tip of his cock already leaking arousal onto his stomach. She wants to taste him again but that can wait until later, because what started out as slow and leisurely is suddenly heated as he finally sinks a finger inside her and rubs against a spot that has Natasha writhing above him in moments.

The ease with which he holds her in place using one arm only adds to the heat in Natasha’s belly. A thrill goes down her spine at the thought of all that raw power in the man beneath her. All that strength, and she doesn’t think for even a second that he would ever lose control. He’ll never use that strength against her, to control her.  And god, if that isn’t one of the hottest things about this then she doesn’t know what is. Well, maybe if the mood took her and she asked him to. A second finger joins the first and Natasha’s moan is muffled by his lips. His fingers are thick, but still it’s not enough and she finds herself needing more. She needs to feel the way she had last night when he’d finally pushed into her for the first time, so wonderfully hard and thick, inch by inch. 

“<I need you,>” she gasps against his lips. She tells him in Russian, because it feels safer that way. It’s a wonder Natasha doesn’t come right there and then because the throb of desire that goes through her when he groans and pushes up against her is nearly enough to tip her over the edge. She’s so caught up in the thought of it that she almost misses his response.

“<You have me.>

He says it so earnestly, with such conviction it makes her heart ache in a way she can barely understand. She isn’t sure how to respond, can’t quite grasp the idea of having such a man give himself to her without reason or doubt, and she’s thankful when he pulls her down and kisses her fiercely because it feels like he doesn’t need her to say anything. Like the only answer he needs is her lips on his.

His hands pull her down on his lap, grinding their hips together and she decides that she’ll find words later. Right now, she needs him even more than she had before, if it’s even possible. Leaning back up to a sitting position, she stays on top, because they didn’t try it like this last night and she needs to be able to go at her own pace. She doesn't bother getting a condom; they'd had a brief discussion about it last night but they're both clean thanks to regular S.H.I.E.L.D checkups and she'd told him she has an implant because it was quicker than getting caught up in a conversation about fertility, or her lack of it. Besides, she doesn't think she can wait the time it would take to get a condom even if they needed one.

She sinks down on him, and it’s a relief to have him inside her again, even though it’s probably only been a few hours. He feels even bigger like this, and she takes a moment to adjust before rolling her hips. God, she doesn't think she'll ever get used to feeling so full. His hands are everywhere, and it feels like he can’t quite decide where to keep them, though she’s not complaining as he reaches up to her breasts and travels down to grasp her hips and thighs before moving back up. She looks back to him with half lidded eyes and attempts to memorise every tiny detail, every hitch of his breath through the waves of pleasure rolling through her body. His jaw clenches, grip on her waist tightening a fraction as his neck strains back. A choked out groan escapes him and he bites his lip in an attempt to stifle it. His eyes are dark as he looks up at her, and she can feel his heart pounding in his chest under her hands.

Natasha can’t get enough of the look on his face when she moans; it’s almost reverent and yet somehow possessive at the same time. She can’t help it if it only makes her moan more, because possessive is the last thing that comes to mind when she thinks of him but the that look in his eyes sends unexpected heat pooling to her stomach.

He sits up and captures her lips with his own and she gasps into his mouth at the new angle. Wrapping her legs around him, he pulls her closer until her breasts push up against him. He groans and his stubble scratches lightly at her shoulder, breath hot against her skin and suddenly the feeling of his arms keeping her pressed tightly to him is almost too much. He learned all her weak spots last night and now he uses them to his full advantage as he sucks at the left side of her neck, each swirl of his tongue sending her closer to the edge. Natasha can’t think straight anymore, can’t think past the scorching pleasure each time she rolls her hips against him and his teeth scrape her flesh. She’s close, so close, and he can tell, because he just holds her tighter and kisses her hungrily.

“<I’ve got you,>” he huffs against her lips when he’s sure she’s right on the edge, and she doesn’t know whether he’s conscious of it or not but that’s the thing that sends her tumbling over.

Natasha comes hard, clinging to Steve and trembling in a way she never has. Her moans are lost to his lips as he kisses her through it, and all she can think to do is try to kiss him back, breathless as she is. When she finally comes back down to earth he’s looking at her like she’s given him something exquisite.

The tension in her muscles ebbs away as she falls slack in his arms and he reaches up to brush her hair back from her face. He holds her tenderly now, fingertips trailing over the angry red marks blossoming on her shoulder.

“Well, now I know you like hearing me speak Russian that much I’m seriously debating giving up English.”

Natasha lets out a weak laugh, mind still too numb from pleasure to think of a comeback that quickly, and he smiles at her, eyes bright.

“Don’t think that would be appropriate in a mission debrief,” she says dryly once she's caught her breath.

“I guess not,” he smiles to himself, seemingly fascinated with the way she arches back under his touch.

He’s still hard inside her, and she doesn’t think he’s come yet because lasts a long time if last night is anything to go by. Even if he has come already and she failed to notice in her own climax, he apparently has a refractory period of about two seconds. He’d blamed it on having seventy years to catch up on before spending the next two hours showing her exactly how he meant to do that all over again.

A thrill goes through Natasha as Steve rolls them over suddenly, pinning her down. Her heart gives a stutter as he looks down at her, his eyes mischievous and hungry. She reaches up to push a few stray curls of his hair back from his forehead, and he turns his head to kiss her palm. Natasha finds herself again unable to react under his affections but thankfully she doesn't have to dwell on it too long because he hitches her left leg up over his shoulder and starts a steady rhythm with his hips, slow but hard and deep.

Natasha's mind goes blank, too overwhelmed by sensation. He leans down on one elbow and kisses her still swollen lips, and the slight change in angle sends him even deeper. She cries out, unable to stop herself, grasping at his shoulders. 

"Too much?" he asks with a concerned look, leaning away slightly.

"Fuck, no," she gasps, pulling him back down. She can feel his smile against her lips and he thrusts into her with renewed vigour, harder, faster than a few moments ago because he knows she can take it. God, she doesn't think she'll ever get enough of him like this, a light sheen of sweat on his skin and looking thoroughly wrecked above her. There's something about having him pin her down, about the moans that escape him as he gets closer, because in what feels like no time at all she can feel another orgasm creeping up on her, growing with each thrust.

"Steve, Steve I-Ah!" she chokes out. She doesn't know what to say, what to do, only knows that it feels like she's drowning, utterly consumed by pleasure.

"<Come,>"  he urges. "<Come for me, Nat.>

She does, and this time it's blinding as she takes him with her.

Steve's weight presses down on her as he kisses her briefly, breathlessly, though she can tell he's being careful. She thinks his heart is pounding almost as as hard as hers is, and she has the sneaking suspicion she'll have a few new bruises in a couple of hours. Groaning in displeasure as he pulls out of her (still looking like he could go another round), she tries to ignore how empty she's left feeling. He rolls his weight off her, settling on his back yet apparently still unwilling to not be touching her as he pulls her across so she's half laying on his chest.

"Could get used to waking up like that," he says, not quite panting but not quite breathing normally yet. Natasha nods half heartedly - she completely agrees with him but hasn't recovered enough to manage much more than small movements. They stay like this for some time, not really speaking, Steve running his fingers through her hair and Natasha tracing the muscles in his abdomen with her fingertips. Of course it doesn't last.

Natasha's phone starts ringing from the other room and Natasha groans, hiding her face in his torso.

"Doesn't Clint know I have better things to do than answer the phone by now?" She feels a laugh rumble in Steve's chest.

"What, like me?"

With anyone else that probably would have sounded arrogant, and she probably would have considered inflicting some kind of pain for it. But with Steve it just sends a heat through her and she leans up to see him with a smug smirk on his face. That won't do.

"Precisely," she says, biting his bottom lip and dragging her nails down his chest to the v of his hips. The smirk rapidly dies as he sucks in a breath sharply and his eyelids flutter shut. She takes it as a small victory. 

"Look, just call him back so he knows you're okay and then he'll leave us alone."

Natasha sighs dramatically and rolls her eyes as if the thought of doing so is a chore even though she knows he's right. But that will mean getting out of bed, which she doesn't want to do. He just laughs again and pushes her up off him so they're both sitting up.

"Rendezvous in the shower?" he asks with that smug little smile, even though it doesn't really sound like a question. He gets up off the bed and she waves him away in defeat, though she does watch him leave out of the corner of her eye because really, it should be illegal for someone to look that good from in front and behind. He disappears into the small en suite and she drags herself off the bed, pleased that her legs only feel partially unsteady.

"Are you going to look this smug all the time now?" she says dryly over her shoulder as she leaves the room.

"Get the feelin' that I am, yeah," he calls back, and Natasha rolls her eyes even though he can't see her.

Picking up the phone from where she'd dropped it on the floor last night, she quickly types the pass code and sees four more missed calls from Clint in two hour intervals. She taps out a brief text, because she knows if she calls Clint like she usually does they'll be talking for longer than she wants to be when she currently has a super soldier waiting for her in a shower.

NR; At Steve's, you can stop calling now

Natasha considers grabbing a glass to get herself a drink while she waits for a response and gets as far as opening a cupboard to see plates instead of glasses before the phone bleeps again.

CB; Does asking him 2 tell me if u showed up mean nothing 2 the man? Did u make it up 2 him 4 not saying u were back?? May have told him by accident!

Upon seeing the text slang, suddenly Natasha remembers with regret why she usually calls Clint instead of texting him. At least he's picked up the hint and text back instead of calling. But anyway, that's besides the point. She types a quick reply. What? She's allowed to brag to one person, right? Until she and Steve decide...whatever this is and who they'll tell. Clint would find out anyway.

NR; Seemed pretty pleased with my apology this morning.

Natasha doesn't know what she expects him to reply with. Suddenly there's a twinge of anxiousness in her stomach. What if he thinks she's made a mistake? She isn't left wondering long though, as another message comes through in seconds.

CB; FINALLY

And another, a few moments later.

CB; Have fun kids I'll cover 4 u ;)

Natasha exhales slowly, and it feels like part of a weight has been lifted. Maybe, if Clint thinks it's okay, maybe they have a chance. Maybe it won't be as bad as she feared for all those months to start something with Steve. But that's a thought she keeps to herself.

NR; Steve is old enough to be your grandfather I don't think you should be calling him "kid".

CB; Yet ur the 1 sleeping w/ him

Natasha smiles to herself but doesn't bother replying to that one. She'd be here for hours, tossing comebacks back and forth with him like a tennis match. She's sure he'll understand her lack of enthusiasm for texting right now. 

Padding back into Steve's bedroom, she throws the phone on the bed as she goes past and slips into the en suite. Steve's already in the shower washing soap off his body, steam slowly filling the room.

"Clint's a little offended you didn't tell him I was here," she says as she joins him, closing the cubicle behind her. He turns to face her and looks at her like he still can't quite believe she's actually here. He reaches out to touch her and Natasha has to bite her lip at the feel of his hands on her as water cascades over her skin. But then he seems to gather his thoughts.

"I was a little...preoccupied," he says, looking up to meet her gaze. "Besides, I broke my phone."

There are still some suds in his hair and she reaches up automatically to push them out with water. The shower is a little small to try anything too adventurous and he obviously knows this because he focuses on making sure all her hair is wet before lathering on some shampoo, fingers massaging her scalp. Her heart sticks in her throat because it feels somehow very intimate, and again she's reminded that it can't be just sex between them. 

"You don't have to-"

"-I want to," he cuts in quickly. "Besides, I've got several months of pent up affection to take out on you." Natasha can't stop the laugh that escapes her.

"Pent up affection?" she repeats. It's just so incredibly Steve of him it hurts. She's reminded of one time when Clint compared him to a golden retriever and she hadn't seen it at the time but now she has to find herself agreeing. He's fiercely loyal, even if it leads to him being a little reckless at times, and he loves without question, never willing to see anything but the best potential in people, even if they don't realise it themselves.

"That's a thing, right?" he says, rinsing her hair and being careful not to let shampoo fall into her eyes.

"I don't think so."

"Well," he says matter of factly. "It is now, see?" 

He leans down and kisses her softly, slowly and it makes her head spin. He wraps her up in his arms and she stands up on her toes so she doesn't have to crane her neck so much. He pulls away a fraction, bumping his nose against hers before pressing a kiss to her forehead. The intimacy of it makes her ache. She doesn't deserve this.

There’s so much he doesn’t know about her. About her past. About her feelings. So much she’s never said, when she should have told him everything from the start. She doesn't even know if she can say any of it. Can't even figure out most of it, let alone find the right words.

But he pulls back and smiles at her, and she feels like maybe it doesn’t matter.

As long as he’s with her, it feels like none of that matters.

He's patient and unendingly kind, taking what she gives him and never asking for more. She doesn't know when it happened and she only fully realises it now but she's come to need him just as much as he appears to need her. She knows he’ll always keep her safe. Keep her close.

Just where she wants to be.

Steve pushes her hair back and starts to wash her body, large hands gliding over her skin and she can't help but sigh at the feeling of it. His hand dips between her thighs and he looks like he's about to get down on his knees but before they get much further than that the shower runs cold and they're forced back to his bed, only briefly stopping towel each other dry. He makes her come with his mouth two more times before he kisses his way up her stomach and breasts until she finally taste herself on his lips, and she wonders what she ever did to deserve having such a man so intent on watching her come apart at the seams, in every way.

Steve thinks Natasha gasping his name as if it were salvation itself while she comes is the most beautiful thing he'll ever see, and it was worth waiting seventy years for.