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The One with the Diner

Chapter Text

It was 8:15 and Natalie was riding a bus to work.

A bus was taking Natalie to work at 8:15.

Natalie, at 8:15, was riding a bus to work.

Right. So, she had all the particulates down, if only she could remember where she worked. She looked out the bus windows hoping to recognize her stop.

"You're the waitress from Captain's Diner, aren't you? The ballerina?" An old woman beside her asked. A ballerina. That's right. She was a ballet student and worked at the diner for extra cash. The diner that she could see coming up at the next stop. 

"That's right." She responded with a smile before getting up to leave.

The diner was themed mid WWII with old photos and Army posters. Leave it to her to work at a place like this. She couldn't figure out why everything felt new and off kilter or why her head was fuzzy.

"Hey, that was one hell of a party last night, wasn't it?" A young man greeted her when she reached the kitchen. He tossed her her apron, "I'm surprised you made it in with all those tequila shots you did." He chuckled. A quick look at his name tag said Anthony. Although, for some reason, that didn't feel right. Just then a handsome man with a tag reading Sam pushed the door open.

"Yo, Anthony, your boy's here." He wriggled his eyebrows. "You got a table, Natalie." The air of indifference left a hollow feeling in her chest. She pulled the note pad out of her pocket, and thanks to muscle memory she knew exactly where she was suppose to go - even if her head hadn't quite caught up yet. On her way she saw Anthony flirting with a toothpick of a man with glasses and what looked like a hearing aid and probably barely weighed ninety pounds soaking wet. He offered her a wave and a smile she couldn't help but return. She passed a guy muttering something like 'messed up so bad' and 'give my left arm for a chance with him'. She couldn't help but think that the sky might fall if that were to happen – who ever it was he was talking about. Finally she came to a stop at a table with the last person she ever thought she'd see: her ex-boyfriend Clinton and his apparent date who he had just called Kate. This was definitely going to be a long day.

"Hi, and welcome to Captain's. My name is Natalie. I'll be your server this morning." She smiled.

"Natalie." Clinton seemed as surprised as she had, "Hey."

"Hello." She said, acting like he was a complete stranger. "Can I go ahead and get your drink order for you? We have flavored hot teas, orange juices, coffee."

"I'd like water, please." Kate ordered.

"Alright, and for you, sir?"

"Root beer. Uh, please."

"Okay, I'll have that right out." She walked back to the kitchen calmly, caught sight of Anthony kissing tooth pick goodbye, tried not to puke in her mouth, and prayed for this day to be done and over with. What the hell time was she supposed to get off work anyway?

5:30. She worked from 8:30 to 5:30. Anthony followed her home after work, something about having left his phone charger and not relying on her to remember it in the morning. It worked out for the best - not only was she not even really sure were she lived, but she was still overwhelmed about how her day went. Sam didn't talk to her for the remainder of the day. Which really bothered her for some reason. When she had asked Anthony about it, he made a noncommittal grunt before moving onto another table. She found out Anthony's boyfriend's name was Steven. They had been dating for two years after meeting in college. There was another waitress who came in a little before noon to help with the lunch rush named Virginia. According to her, the pining boy, who was still at his booth, was named James. Turns out he and Natalie were roughly the same age. He was an author and could be found most days working on one thing or another at his table. He also had a huge crush on Steven unbeknownst to him or Anthony. She also gossiped about other folks who came in throughout the day. It made Natalie feel raw and exposed. She didn't dare tell her about what happened this morning, she didn't know who else Virginia might tell.

Of course it was all made worse when Clinton returned at dinner with Phillip. It used to be, way back when, the three of them were best friends. She had trusted them with her life. And she had been stupid to do so. Clinton had broke her heart and in the aftermath of the disaster Phillip had stabbed her in the back by choosing Clinton's side over her own. They had been all she had. They had been her only family, aside from her parents, but they were never around anyway. They didn't care about her broken heart until it started to effect dance rehearsals. A back handed slap and a week with out dinner was meant to set her straight. Instead she withdrew everything from her savings account, got a job, and a crappy no bedroom apartment with a bath tub in the kitchen and rats as company. If the windows had've opened she might've jumped.

The two people who had broken her will to live spent the rest of the evening ordering refills and offering stories to get her to remember them. But as far as she was concerned they would never be those people from the stories again.

She cried herself to sleep that night. For the first time in a long time, she didn't know who she was. 

It was 8:15 and Natalie was riding the bus to work.

The bus was taking Natalie to work at 8:15.

Natalie worked at Captain's Diner. She was a ballet student, but worked part time for extra cash. But when was it she went to class?

"Hey, one week left of summer vacay. Admit it, you're going to miss seeing my mug everyday." Anthony greeted her when she reached the kitchen. He tossed her her apron. She wasn't sure how to respond so she settled for an eye roll. She walked out to check her section for new comers before Sam could find her. She saw Steven enter and in her peripheral she saw James go from hunched in his seat to sitting ramrod straight. The poor kid really did have it bad.

Unfortunately, sitting in the booth behind him and waving frantically for her attention was Clinton. He always did know how to make a scene - in the worse, most embarrassingly way possible. She bit back a sigh as she went to greet him. She didn't even get to open her mouth.

"Do you remember me yet?"

"I really think you've got the wrong girl, uh?"

"Clinton. Clinton Barton."

Suddenly the world felt like it got turned on it's side. "Nat. Natasha!" A voice called from far away. 

And then there were hands on her shoulders. "Natalie. Are you alright? Nat?" Clinton was shaking her and everything snapped back to razor sharp focus. Except her head felt fuzzy again.

"I'm not sure." She managed to get out before she fainted.

 She felt like she was under water, just below the surface. She could hear muffled voices, in and out of a conversation, only stinted bits: 'trapped', 'alternate', 'mind control', and agony riddled apologies. It made her head hurt even worse and she gratefully welcomed unconsciousness again. The last thing she was aware of was pressure on her left hand.

Natalie woke up to a cold pack on her neck and a wet wash rag on her forehead. She was laying on a make shift cot made out of chairs. Steven was sitting by her feet, reading.

"Hey." He smiled, "You scared Anthony. Usually I'm the one who passes out." He chuckled.

"Sorry about that. I've had an exhausting couple of days." She rubbed her eyes.

"Really? I mean, I just thought for a ballerina it would take more than working at the diner to be tiring."

"Emotionally exhausting."

"Ah. I get that. Speaking of, the guy you were with left his number. He had to go to work, but said for me to text him when you woke up and to give it to you."

"No." She said with probably to much force. "To all the above."

"If he's not a good guy I could talk to Anthony, make sure he doesn't come back."

"It's not that. He's an ex boyfriend. From high school. I've convinced him I have no clue who he is. It's one of those things that years later it's stupid but still hurts like hell." She moved to sit up. She had a remark on her tongue to stop him from helping, but he didn't move.

"I know how that is. As far as awkward encounters of high school crushes goes." She nudged him with her foot to continue. "James was baseball royalty. We never spoke to each other, but while I was getting my ass kicked for not doing the quarterback's homework, he was making sure it stayed one on one. Kept it fair. If anyone interfered he kicked their ass. Four years we did this. Him saving me and us not talking. Then we're graduating and he's going off on a baseball scholarship and things were coming to an end. I went to school and met Anthony and things were finally good." He began to rant more than actually tell her the story. "Next thing I know, I show up to see Anthony and James has set up shop here of all places and we continue to go on not talking." He looks up from his book glaring before remembering who he was talking to. "Don't tell Anthony that." He ended firmly.

"Wouldn't you rather be with a family man? Adopt two kids and have a garden?" Steven seemed like a farmer's market kind of guy.

"You're kidding right? There's nothing Anthony wants more than that, thankfully he's decided he needs to finish getting his masters first. I mean, I'm not really into the whole baby thing, but I get it. After Anthony and his dad had such a great relationship, then he died last year with the heart attack and left Anthony the diner. I'm thinking of using it as a reason for why we can't leave the city, though." He shrugged.

She just nodded and decided to change the subject.

"You know, I have a random question. I thought ballerinas were super dedicated and trained everyday, why is it, do you think, that I've got a summer vacation?" It really was something that had been bothering her, though she tried not to think to much about it.

"Uh, well, you don't. I mean, not really. You usually only work the mornings and have practice in the evenings. According to Anthony, that is. But last week there was a busted pipe in the practice studio and the school gave the last week of summer off while they fix it. Yea, so, that's why." 

"There was only one practice studio?" She asked surprised. Before he could answer Sam poked his head in.

"Good you're up. You have tables to attend to." He came in and grabbed the ice pack from her.

Natalie was just checking in on her customers when James, who had been lost staring at his laptop, shot up in his seat. She thought it was because Steven had finally come out from the back room, with Anthony in tow. She wasn't expecting for him to reach out and snatch her wrist. 

"Nat!" He practically shouted. He took a moment to look around the diner.

"Yes?" She asked. His eyes found her again before glancing at her name tag. She was surprised when he rolled his eyes.

"Natalie, seriously. Okay, look, I don't have a lot of time. I messed up and set off your triggering. You're real name is Natalia, but now days you go by Natasha Romanov. I know that look, don't give me that look." He stood up to look her in the eye and shook both her arms. "Right now, some part of you is realizing that that actually could makes sense, while a bigger part of you is trying to remember if we've ever spoken before. We have. We're best friends. I'm Bucky Barnes and." He cut off when his eyes cut to the left. "And why the hell is Stark kissing Stevie?" He seemed to be struggling with biting his tongue before his glare snapped over to her. "Listen to me and listen good. The whole point of this trigger is to stall you long enough for the handler to reset you. Except we don't have handlers, but you do have a boyfriend who is beside himself. You've probably noticed how nothing seems normal or quite right, like that pompous asshole putting his hands on my boyfriend, and anything you think to question is automatically answered." Her eyebrow quirked without permission. "See, that. You didn't think about it. That is Natasha. You're brain has been wired to make everything just weird enough to make you uncomfortable without bringing awareness to the fact. Does that make sense?"

It probably shouldn't, but it kinda did. She nodded.

"Good girl. You are the only one who can break the programming. You need to think with your gut instead of your head. The moment you stop to question it, your brain is automatically going to find a way to distract you."

"Hey, get you hands off her." She heard Anthony yell from across the diner.

"You thought about it, didn't you? Now your brain is going to force me out and I'll become whoever I was before now. But listen, you have to make things right. Don't just accept it. Fight back. You have to make it how you think it should be, or else you'll be stuck here. And you can start by putting me back with Steve." He said as he glared over her shoulder. Suddenly, his hand was being wrenched off her arm by Anthony and James was gasping like coming up for air.

"I can handle it, Anthony." She snapped. She watched as James seemed confused for a moment before apologizing and moving to sit back down in the booth. Anthony dragged her back to the kitchen. "What the hell? What part of 'I can handle it' did you miss?" She demanded though she was perfectly calm.

"No. Stow the self righteous crap. He is out of here." He turned to leave, but Natalie's patience finally broke. She yanked him back by his collar and actually let out a growl. She cut off, though, when Steven poked his head in to check on them. She was acting insane. These people were her friends. Just because James had some weird physic trance didn't give her the right to turn on them. She tried taking a deep breath and took special care to fix Anthony's collar.

"Don't kick him out. He wasn't hurting me, Anthony. We were just talking. He was asking my opinion about his new story idea. He's fine." She tried to put as much reassurance into her voice as possible. She didn't let go of her hold on him until he agreed.

She didn't miss the stink eye Steven gave her before he left, and she made sure to avoid James for the rest of the day. When Virginia finally showed up, the tense atmosphere seemed to lift - that didn't keep her from bothering Natalie about what exactly had gone down that morning. She powered through a hectic lunch rush and into the beginnings of dinner in silence, watching in horror at the storm growing inside Sam. Finally, the straw that broke the camel's back was when Clinton showed up right behind a party of twenty. He was just explaining that he 'couldn't stay but wanted to come by' make sure she was up and alive. She was just telling him goodbye when Sam's voice bellowed out through the madness and told her she needed to leave now, before she didn't have a job to come back to tomorrow. He did not have to tell her twice.

Unfortunately, Clinton had still been there, so Natalie had to pull him out with her to keep him from yelling back. She hadn't even realized she had grabbed his hand until she was standing at the bus stop and he was beside her smiling stupidly. He gave it a gentle squeeze before letting go, somehow knowing she slowly dying inside. It had seemed like a natural reaction, something she hadn't even thought about, keeping him from fighting for her. For some reason, whenever she was around him, that fuzzy feeling in her head became stronger - like she was forgetting something. Something Important.

"You know the bus isn't due for another twenty minutes." He said.

"I can wait."

"Well I got a car." The corner of his mouth quirked as he motioned down the street and she saw his old Ford truck.

"There's something." She stopped talking when her brain caught up to what she was saying.

"It's better than nothing." His unabashed grin forced her to look away to hide her blush. "I knew you remembered." He murmured, not any anger in his tone.

"Can you blame me for wanting to forget?" She stayed staring straight ahead, but watched him from the corner of her eye. He shook his head.

"Let me give you a ride. Lord knows you won't accept my apology." He started walking toward his truck, and she was helpless to follow.

She hadn't paid attention on how to get to her apartment, but she had taken the time to figure out the address. Luckily, Clint knew how to get there, although judging by the crease in his brow he wasn't happy about the area she lived in. In all honesty, neither was she. She thought about a million different things that she could use to start a conversation, but she couldn't get any of them past the lump in her throat. The cab of his truck smelled the same. Her mind felt numb from the fuzziness that came from being so close to him. How long had it been? How long had she unknowingly carried around this ache inside her? How long had she secretly been hoping he'd come back? 

"You know. When you ran away, I was the first person your parents called. They didn't even seem to know that things between us were so bad. So broken. I spent all summer, before I had to leave for school, looking for you." 'Didn't look hard enough' was what she wanted to snarl. "I found you the first week. I remembered you telling me about the studio with the up and coming teacher you wanted to transfer to. But you knew your parents would never let you leave since the hag who was your teacher had taught your mom. I never told them, obviously, but I sat on the place for two weeks and learned your schedule. Checked in a couple times a month. Made sure you looked healthy. Happy."

"I wasn't."

"I know. That was my fault, which was why I never said anything. When I came home for winter break, they said you had gotten a full ride and I lost you after that. Kinda kicked myself for not trying to make things right." He gave her a half smile before parking outside her building. "It's been three years, Nat. And I've spent every day of them more sorry than you can possibly imagine. What I am trying to say is - I'm sorry." She nodded, not really sure if she wanted to accept. She felt her stomach clench as she stepped out into the night air. She decided to do something she probably would've never done before.

"Tell you what. The coffee we have at the diner is crap, bring me a cup in the morning and I'll call it even." He seemed honestly shocked.

"Uh, yea sure. What kind?"

"You tell me." She smiled and waved and then headed inside.

Sleep wouldn't come. After watching the clock blink obnoxiously for hours, at three in the morning she finally decided to take a sleep aid to knock her out. Strange dreams decided to tag along as well.

She was in a kitchen that was bigger than her apartment. She was washing dishes while talking to man who was sitting on the counter beside her. He looked a lot like James, but his hair was longer, brushed back behind his ears, and he had a completely metal arm. He was giving her puppy dog eyes while begging to have a brownie. Asking for permission even though they were sitting right beside him.

"Fine, but if you burn the roof of your mouth, you better go complain to Steve about it because I don't want to hear it."

"'Course. We all know he loves me more than you do." He gave her a wolfish grin before shoving a brownie in his mouth. "Fuck. Natasha, these are amazing. I love you. Almost more than Steve." He called out with a dopey grin. He must have heard someone get off the elevator. Somehow he managed to fit two more brownies in his mouth before they reached the kitchen. 

"Do I need to separate you two?" It was asked in mock anger. She assumed this was Steve. "Bucky?" The smile had fallen off Bucky's face and he was now choking. She wanted to check on him, but found herself unable to move. Steve hurried and gave a quick hard slap to Bucky's back, checking if he was okay. Bucky looked over at her and that was when they seemed to notice she was completely unresponsive. "Shit." Steve cursed. Crossing in front of Bucky to give her a gentle shake. "Jarvis call Clint. Something's wrong." Everything started to fade out, but her last thought was that up close, he looked awfully similar to Steven. 

It was 8:15 and Natalie was riding the bus to work.

The bus was nearing her stop for work.

Natalie couldn't get the damn dream out of her head. She had never had something feel so real - not even the last two days at the diner. And that's pretty much what made her decide. She couldn't stop to think. She just had to act.

She marched back to the kitchen, passing Steven on her way. He waved. She didn't wave back. As soon as she entered, Anthony threw her her apron and started to greet her.

"Shut up! Gah. Seriously, how do I put up with you. You are constantly upbeat and cheery and it's disgusting. No one should be that happy. Not when they are working at a shitty diner." She was just getting started when Sam came into the kitchen to see who was yelling. All it took was him opening his mouth for her to turn on him. "And what the hell did I ever do to you? We are friends. You and me. We're a team." She felt that deep in her gut. Believed it with her every fiber, just like she was positive somewhere deep down Anthony was actually a sarcastic douche bag. Both men were left spluttering like she was being completely out of character, and maybe she was, but for once things felt right. She decided to listen to Bucky. She calmly placed her hands on Anthony's shoulders and gave him her most solemn face. "Your last name is Stark, right?"

"Uh, yeah. Did you really just insult me and not know that?"

"Yes. I'm going to tell you something very important, Stark. You and Steve. Not going to work."

"It's Steven." He tried to say as she pulled away and went out of the kitchen. She waved him off as she grabbed Steven's wrist and dragged him over to James' table, who was looking to all the world hopelessly confused and uncomfortable. 

"Bucky. Steve. Steve. Bucky. You are both in love with each other and I have it on good authority that Stevie is yours." She talked over their correction of their names and placed Steven's hand into James'. "As for you Stark, you need someone like her." She pointed to Virginia as she entered the diner, way earlier than ever before. "Her bad social skills of judging everyone will balance your apparent need to be nice to everyone. Or something. Go work that out, because as far as I can tell you two are the only two who want to work here - that's got to mean something. Now. You and me, Sam. Lay it on me. What's with the stick up your ass?" She kept her mind distracted by silently reciting the lyrics to her and Clinton's song, backwards, and in Russian - which she didn't even know she knew. The more focused she was on that, the quieter her surroundings became. 

Surprisingly, the first think to fade away was Sam's sputtering for an answer. Next, was the fight between Anthony and Steven. She was half way through when she could no longer hear James trying to explain what was going on to Virginia. The background noise from the customers stopped. As she reached the beginning, the last thing she heard was the bell above the door and then she felt the now comforting fuzzy feeling she associated with Clinton. 

He smiled when he saw her. His brow creased, apparently concerned about the commotion around her. Natalie weaved through the people, carefully thinking over yesterday, over things that had been said, heard - 'call Clint. Something's wrong', 'make it how you think it should be', 'you have a boyfriend who is beside himself', 'Natasha Romanov', 'Clint Barton'. She knew, in her gut, she knew. She ignored the coffees in his hands, choosing instead to glide into him, wrapping her arms around his neck, rising up onto her toes, she kissed him. 

Chapter Text

Her mind whited out completely. The fuzzy feeling in her head turned into intense ringing. She felt every muscle in her body tense at the noise and then someone was calling her name.

"Nat. Natasha!" She felt someone squeeze her left hand. "Come on, Babe. Come on. Wake up. Just open your eyes. Okay? That's all you got to do. I'm here. I'm right here. Just open your eyes, Nat." She blinked and the white turned into a dark room. Her eyelids felt heavy. Her jaw was clenched against the pain attacking her, but she couldn't move, couldn't squeeze back. The ringing should be bursting all the glass in the room. If she had any extra strength she would've tried to look for the voice. They seemed to understand what was going on, even if she didn't. They yelled for someone and then leaned over her. She felt tears spill, she knew him, she did, she just couldn't think with the noise. "It's okay. It's okay." He used his other hand to wipe her eyes. She tried to blink the tears away, for some reason it was important that he didn't see them. The pain overwhelmed her, and she passed out before he could say any more.

The next time she woke up, it was slow and lazy, with no hint of the pain. She didn't open her eyes right away. Instead, she tried to assess the room she was in. She was laying at an angle this time, instead of flat on her back. She could feel the irritating sensation of needles in her skin from the IV in her right arm. There was the sound of light snoring from near the foot of the bed. There was a hand holding her left hand and she felt the tickle of hair on her arm. Their breaths were timed with her pulse causing a swell of feeling safe in her. She opened her eyes.

Bucky was in the chair down by her feet. She saw Steve asleep on the couch not far behind him. Sam was taking up what little space was left.  The room looked like one of many on the medical floor of the tower. She took a deep breath before looking at the man sitting beside her. She knew who he was, he was Clint, and she was angry at herself that she hadn't remembered. He was asleep, with his head resting on her arm while his hand kept hold of her own. He was facing her with his brow creased in concern. From the amount of scruff on his face, she had been out for a while. She remembered all of it. Everything that had happened at the diner and that other life. She felt a sad smile form when she thought about Bucky upset about Steve. It was gone as quick it came. She reached over to smooth out Clint's brow; he immediately woke up. He was always a light sleeper.

"Nat?" He asked, not even caring what time of night it must be. The three others woke up instantly. Neither she nor Clint paid them any attention. "Are you. Are you okay?" He reached up to brush her hair out of her eyes. "Any pain? Ringing?" She shook her head.

"She need's water." Steve stated before rushing out of the room. Natasha was surprised when Bucky followed. She wanted to thank him and find out how he had managed to break into her mind like that.

"I'm going to get a doctor." Sam said. He turned on the light on his way out.

"Clint." Natasha felt tears well up again, before biting her tongue to make them stop. "How long?" She could barely talk above a whisper. Her throat felt raw.

"It's not important." A doctor arrived before she could argue. Sam came in behind him and gave Natasha a cup of water. He gave her a small shake of his head before taking a seat on the couch. 

"Ms. Romanov, it's good to see you awake. I'm Dr. Stevens. We're just going to go through a quick check just to make sure everything is okay, okay?" She nodded and he pulled out a small flash light from his pocket.

The went through the basic checkup that S.H.I.E.L.D used to always make them do whenever something went wrong on a mission. He shined a light in her eyes and looked in her ears and down her throat. He rubbed his fingers on both sides of her head to check her hearing. He had her squeeze his fingers to check strength. Knocked her reflexes in her elbows, knees, and ankles. He pressed on her stomach to check for tenderness. Usually she would have to get up next, to check balance and hand eye coordination, but Dr. Stevens seemed to know she didn't have the strength to get up just yet. He checked her heart and her lungs. Took her pulse and her temperature. He left after saying he would be sending in someone to take some blood.

As soon as he was gone she turned on Sam. The only reason Steve wouldn't be here right now would be because of something with Bucky. He simply told her no, and was going to leave it at that until Tony came sweeping in. He obviously wasn't denying Steve's existence any more, as it took both of them to drag Bucky into the room. Now that the light was on she could clearly see yellow around his eye. A sign that she had learned meant he had gotten a black eye within the last few hours.

"Anything you want to tell me?" It's announced to the whole room, and just as she expected Bucky's mouth opens with the clear intent to apologize. She stops him with a raise of her hand. "Clint. Would you care to explain why you punched the Winter Soldier?"

"He's lucky I didn't decide to use him for target practice." She had never seen him so angry, not even after Loki.

"It was an accident and you know it." Steve physical pulled Bucky behind him as if he was afraid Clint might still shoot him. It was then that she saw the bow and arrows by Clint's chair and realized it wasn't an empty threat. "I told you he's not Hydra and if Nat hadn't been unconscious at the time I would have knocked you out for even suggesting it."

"You said what?" Natasha was angry for Bucky too.

"He said the trigger words. You can't tell me he didn't know. Because all the sudden he knew how to tap into your mind. He claimed he told you how to fight it, but then you didn't wake up. And then you did, but your whole body was completely rigid and you almost died. Your brain almost hemorrhaged. He just happened to know a key word that will break the final hold from the programming to save you. So yeah, I punched him. It was bad enough he put you into a coma for almost two months, but then you almost die coming out of it because he couldn't be bothered to stay around or tell anyone 'Hey she most likely will die if she wakes up but I've got a word to snap her out of it. Hear let me give it to you'. You almost died, Nat. He almost killed you."

"Two months. It. It was only three days. In the diner, it was only three days." She searched their faces. Tony wouldn't even meet her eyes. "Right."

"Nat." Bucky spoke from behind Steve's back. "I swear I didn't know. I didn't. I knew how to get into your head, because I sometimes had to trigger some of the recruits they had me train and they trained me to talk to them. Knowing how to break the type of trigger that stalls you like that doesn't do any good if you don't know it's just all in your head. I honestly though that if you woke up yourself the ringing wouldn't happen. Whenever they woke me up after a stall, I had the ringing, but I thought it was a fail safe incase I woke up on the attack. Please, Nat. Please know I never meant to hurt you. You're my best friend."

"Go knock on someone else's door 'cause we're not buying." Clint scoffed.

"Clint, you are the only person in this room who knew about that trigger. Thanks to Bucky, not only is she awake and alive, but by waking up on her own, she broke the trigger. Which means you won't have to use sign language anymore." Steve argued.

"I'm still more likely to shoot him." 

"Clint Barton, you shoot him, and I will use every last ounce of my strength to climb out of this bed and beat you over the head with your bow." 

"You don't get it, do you?" He turned on her, ripping his hand away. "Two months. I've sat here and watched over you. You almost died, Nat. You can threaten me all you want, but it won't make up for the two months you lost. We lost. It's his fault. It's all his fault. I can't believe you'd take his side." Clint grabbed his weapon and stormed out. 

Tony checked over her chart and gave her the run down of what she'd missed. Sam went to talk with Clint. Steve made Bucky stay, but they sat silently on the couch, not saying anymore to her. She hadn't expected Clint to take off like that. She half way thought she was still trapped in her mind. He had always been good at handling her emotions. He could stand up to her temper better then most. Cool, calm, and collected. She hadn't picked a side. He shouldn't blame Bucky. He certainly shouldn't threaten him; Steve was as fiercely protective as she was. She felt guilty that she had hurt him, but she wasn't ready to apologize - she didn't think she did anything wrong.

"Pepper sent the flowers by the way." Tony pointed over the her side table. "You want to tell me why Bucky threatened me to keep my lips away from his boyfriend?" She found she actually missed this Tony. Having him ask caring question by covering it with humor.

"Well Anthony, lets just say you were more of the wear your heart on the sleeve kind of guy." 

"Oh, do tell more." He put his elbows on the bed, his hands framing his face, looking like a five year old. She was aware that Bucky and Steve were listening in, so she told them what happened. Seeing Steve's mortified face made it worth it. When she mentioned Steve and Tony kissing, both times, Bucky pulled Steve into a possessive kiss. The tension between Tony and Steve, however, still seemed strong. She had never dreamed that Tony would be able to hold onto his anger for so long. She tried to lighten the mood by talking about the others at the diner. It took Tony nearly five minute to stop cackling after she described Virginia. "So, do you know why?" Tony asked after she finished.

"Know why about what?"

"Why Natalie and Clint broke up." 

"It was a bunch of stupid high school stuff. Miscommunication and a one sided argument that led to him running away instead of talking it out." 

"Seriously? Dish. I got the happily ever after, but I need to the angst." Tony scooted closer to the bed.

"I don't know what you want to hear? They had been dating for a month at least. But they hadn't told anyone. It wasn't really official, they hadn't put a label on things. He kissed her one night when he was driving her home, after they had been skirting around their feelings for months. After, they kissed whenever they could sneak away together. Eventually, they told Phil, but no one else. Things were good, she was happy with how things were." She huffed out a laugh. "Then prom rolled around, which is such a cliche. She heard something she didn't like. Instead of standing up for herself and fighting it out. She sent a text. Never got a response, but the next day she found out he asked someone else. They never talked about it and slowly he started dodging her at school and then Phil started to too. And suddenly she was alone. Like I said stupid high school stuff." She tried to shake off the weird effect Natalie's heartache had. It wasn't even real, it shouldn't bother her.

The spell on the room was broken when Sam cleared his throat from the doorway. He looked broken and suddenly the heartache she was feeling became all her own.

"Clint took off. Said he needed to clear his head. He asked me to keep an eye on you. Didn't know when he was coming back. Not sure if he could."

Natasha prayed for the fuzzy feeling to come back, for something to seem off kilter or out of place. The only thing she got was a lump in her throat and several sympathetic faces. Words rang clear in her head - 'Don't just accept it. Fight back. You have to make it how you think it should be, or else you'll be stuck here'. It took two super soldiers and a heavy sedative to make the pain finally go away.

Natasha was kept on sedatives to make sure she got the rest she needed. Steve and Bucky stayed with her night and day, while Tony and Sam went out looking for Clint in some of S.H.I.E.L.D's safe houses. At the end of two weeks, Natasha woke up to find Coulson sitting beside her, instead of one of the two super soldiers helping to hold her hostage. It was actually comforting not to see him smiling at her. She had enough sympathetic looks to last a life time. As soon as she got her hands on a weapon, cleared for duty or not, she planned on finding him. It took time and a series of bizarre dreams for her to come to the understanding that she wasn't wrong, but that she had picked the wrong side. The two of them had always been a team and he always had her back, and now that they were in a relationship, she should have had his too. Bucky wasn't to blame, but Clint's feelings were something she shouldn't have gone against. 

"He called me last week. Requested an assignment. I had been handling things while Hill was still recovering, but I tried to tell him I didn't have anything. In my experience, Clint requesting a solo mission is never a good thing. But he insisted, so I sent him to Canada - thought the cold would help calm him down. This morning I got a package from South Africa with a envelope in it addressed to you." He withdrew a small brown envelope from his breast pocket. "You want to tell me why he's not speaking to you? Or why I've been reduced to delivery boy?" He didn't even wait for her to answer, just passed over the letter.

It was a post card. A picture of Cape of Good Hope on one side, and one word written on the other. 

Snook-ems. I've been compromised. Don't know when I can come back.