It started off simple. Sam noticed she'd been more tense than usual, which was an accomplishment for her.
"Need a hug, Nat?" he'd offered, his tone light and kind.
"Not sure if you've noticed, but I'm not the "hug it out" type," Natasha answered pointedly. "Kinda comes with being who I am."
Sam gave her a disbelieving look. "Right, because you're still all stone cold and grouchy. Totally never smile or give anyone any type of affection ever."
"Wilson, I like you, I really do, but I will not hesitate to-"
He cut her off. "Stab me in the gut and carve out my spleen. Yeah yeah. Look, I'm not saying go off and start hugging strangers and acting like you've got rays of sunshine coming out of your ass," this earned him a slightly amused look "but, you can seek affection. That is neither wrong nor bad."
"Affection comes with a price," she said simply. His inner VA therapist was showing, but he meant well.
"Not always. Especially if it comes on your own terms from people you trust." Sam turned to her, his expression softening. "Just think about what I said, alright? And if my advice turns out to be shit you can kick my ass later."
"Hm. You've got yourself a deal Wilson."
Blood. So much blood. Shrill screaming as a bullet shot past one person and into another.
"Just kill them, Natalia. They do not obey like you do, they are nothing."
"You are a machine; efficient, brutal, deadly.
Obey or you will wind up like them, like the other girls who were too weak to kill. They were not fit for glory like you."
Natasha jolted upright, body covered in a cold sweat as she shook.
Or were they memories? Sometimes she couldn't tell the difference.
The thought of the ruthless, blood-stained monster she'd once been, what she'd done, made her stomach churn heavily; a wave of nausea briefly washing over her as she tried to steady her breathing.
Once she was sure she wasn't in danger of decorating her bedroom floor with her stomach contents, Natasha shakily got to her feet. She knew who could calm her down when she had nights like these, and she thanked her lucky stars that he wasn't on a mission and that they conveniently shared a floor in Stark's ridiculously furnished tower. Slowly walking down the hallway to Clint's bedroom, she poked her head in cautiously, glancing around to see that he was fast asleep in his bed.
"Clint?" she whispered, stepping into the darkened room. The archer, unsurprisingly, didn't budge. She stepped closer, gingerly sitting on the bed before giving his shoulder a few gentle taps.
Clint's eyes slowly opened, expression going from alarm at realization that someone was suddenly in his bed, to a concerned, questioning one when he realized who was in his bed.
"Tash?" he mumbled sleepily, sitting up ever so slightly to reach for one of his hearing aids so he could properly speak with her. "What is it?"
"Nightmare." She said simply, voice still shaky with the visions of earlier.
Wordlessly, Clint scooted over just enough for Natasha to climb under the covers with him. She gave him an appreciative, small smile before getting up, all but curling into Clint as she settled beneath the sheets. His arms wrap tightly around her, a protective barrier of sorts; and she thinks that if he squeezes her tight enough, that maybe he can chase the thoughts away, even just for tonight.
She's with Steve, a routine capture mission turned borderline wild goose chase since their target either didn't exist or had already been taken out. Whichever the case, they'd decided to hole up for the night at their most recent dead end. Which, as luck would have it, turned out to be an abandoned aircraft factory. In the middle of the Swiss Alps. In winter.
She's freezing. Body shaking with the bitterness of the cold air circulating the spacious hangar they'd settled in. She's slept in worse conditions, much worse conditions. But, shivering under a thin blanket isn't exactly her idea of an ideal night. Sighing in defeat, and bundling the blanket over her shoulders, she shuffles over to where Steve is curled up, gently nudging him with her toes.
He immediately stirs at the contact, eyes darting around before giving her a questioning glance.
In the steadiest voice she can manage with her teeth practically chattering, she plainly states "You're a human space heater, Rogers. And I'm colder than the motherland right now. Scoot over." He gives her a small smile and opens his arms for her, enveloping her in a warm, safe feeling that not even the coldness of winter can knock away.
With Sam, she ends up personally demonstrating she's taking his advice to heart.
They're in his apartment in the tower, aimlessly chatting in the kitchen while she makes them both a cup of tea, and he suggests they watch a movie to kill time till they've all gotta go to some tediously boring meeting Coulson called for later.
"Alright, but you're not making me watch Moulin Rogue for the fifth time. I can only take so much of your terrible singing." She teases, grabbing down the jar of honey to sweeten their mugs a bit.
"My singing is not terrible," Sam protests, settling himself on the sofa and patting the spot next to him invitingly.
She gives him a coy smile, setting down their tea mugs on the coffee table before sauntering over and curling against him happily.
Sam lets out a surprised, happy gasp. "So you took my suggestion, eh? Glad you trust me enough to be close, Nat." he might even press a small kiss to the top of her head. And she might press one back to his cheek.
Then there's Bucky.
She catches him lounging on the couch of his and Steve's apartment, absentmindedly flipping through a magazine. She saunters over, plucking the magazine out of his hands and all but crawling on him, in a severely catlike fashion.
"I was reading that y'know." he chastises her playfully, raising a brow when he realizes she's on top of him. "Need something, Talia?"
She answers simply by settling herself on his broad chest, nuzzling into the fabric of his shirt and sighing softly as she hears his heart beat steadily.
He chuckles. "Well damn, looks like the world's deadliest house cat just wanted some cuddles." She bats at him playfully for that comment, but all but purrs when he cards the fingers of his flesh hand through her hair.
She should listen to Sam more often, especially if it meant she'd get sincere, gentle touches like this. Oh, and back rubs; apparently ex-assassins have a hidden knack for giving good ones that all but melt her into a puddle of goo.
She'd have to thank him for this, thank all of them really. Cuz he was right, not all affection came with such a heavy price tag.