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In the low lamplight I was free

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Natasha bangs through the door, left hand held to her chest. She grabs the first aid kit without a word to Bucky and stalks into the bathroom, stripping off the top of her tac suit one-handed.

He follows, leaning in the doorway in a way that still lets her see the rest of the safehouse. “So I guess those hackers are state sponsored,” he says dryly as Nat gathers cardboard and gauze to splint her wrist.

He doesn’t offer to help. The Red Room had had an infirmary. Bucky had seen the inside of it often, treated by a shriveled doctor who complained unceasingly about the cost of patching up the body sustaining The State’s fantastic arm. The Red Room’s students knew what happened if the price of their treatment was higher than the cost of their training. They dressed their own wounds in silence, as Nat did now.

She bares her teeth in a joke of a smile and replies, “Unless five guys writing code in a warehouse had enough foresight to hire their own strike team, that’s a solid assumption.” She’s shaking now, the fight’s adrenaline wearing off. Bucky resists the urge to wrap her in a blanket and tuck her head against his chest. They have work to do. And touching her while she’s still in combat-mode would probably just lead to bloodshed anyway.

“You wanna do the mission report before you crash?” he asks, voice neutral as he can make it. He holds up the tablet and says, “You can dictate.”

“Sure,” she says tightly. He watches her delicately curl each of her fingers before taping them as she recounts how a reconnaissance mission into a cyber-espionage cell’s headquarters became a brawl that left 2 dead and 3 injured, with Nat making sure to include a sidebar detailing the ways in which she could have avoided the blow that cracked her capitate bone.

“You cannot possible know that’s the bone that broke,” Bucky says with a smile.

“No.” She grunts, tightening the tape around her arm. “But I can tell it’s not an arm bone or a metacarpal. So I’ve got a 1-in-8 chance of guessing the right carpal bone. And if I’m right, I look even more eerily brilliant than usual.”

She notes that she microchipped the unconscious and dead soldiers, in the hope that tracking them will help SHIELD uncover which government is using the money laundered by the hackers. She finishes her report with the strong suggestion that, “Further actions against the group be undertaken by a team rather than a lone agent.”

“That was a real polite ‘fuck you’ to Maria for sending you in there by yourself,” Bucky mutters as he sends the debrief off. He gestures for Natasha to show him her immobilized hand.

“She’ll be getting the less polite version in person, at full volume. I don’t like not being told that my mission is, ‘canary in a coal mine,’” Natasha replies, wincing as Bucky checks the tape on the splint and loosens it. “It’s fine,” she complains.

“It’ll cut off your circulation if it swells anymore,” he argues back.

“It’s not going to swell anymore because I’m going to ice it.” She cracks a chemical ice pack against the sink to emphasize her point, and Bucky breaks into a slightly hysterical chuckle. She’s fine. She’s really fine, and the cold terror that grips him whenever he hears fighting over the comm and he’s nowhere close enough to help finally recedes.

Nat smiles at him, and he watches as she lets herself relax. Her shoulders and back curve in and her chin drops to her sternum. “I need a strong drink and a nap,” she says from behind the curtain of her hair. “Not necessarily in that order.”

Bucky takes his cue and scoops her into his arms. She rests her head on his shoulder as he carries her into the safe house’s main room, yawning and saying, “Y’know, this is really above and beyond a handler’s duties,” as she pats his bicep.

“Maybe you should let me be your handler more often,” he replies, settling her onto the room’s double bed and making sure her wrist is elevated and supported.

She shakes her head, eyes closed and a ghost of a smile on her face. “No, you worry too much,” she murmurs. Then she’s asleep.

He does worry too much, but Bucky knows from bitter experience that it’s better than not worrying enough. SHIELD sends her on these bullshit missions because they know she can take out half a dozen mercenaries on her own and joke about it afterward. But it’s a fucking waste of her skills and they know it. He’s told Hill as much, but she just nodded and said, “Your concern is noted,” before turning back to her paperwork. Maybe he’ll try a strongly-worded memo next.

Bucky removes Natasha’s boots, checks her hand one more time, then lies down next to her, listening to her even breathing until he dozes off.

***

He wakes to the sound of her pained grunt. “You OK?” he asks automatically.

“Feel like I got hit by a truck,” she says, stretching and letting out a few more unhappy noises in the process.

“Those guys you took down probably weighed at least as much as a truck all together.”

Bucky sits up to take off his shirt. Natasha blinks a few times, gives him a faint smile, and says, “You know what’s supposed to be good for post-fight pains, right?”

He snorts and asks, “Did you just waggle your eyebrows at me?”

“Yes,” she says calmly. “Secret Soviet hypnosis technique. Good for seducing foolish Americans.” She pats his chest with her good hand and says, “Now c’mere.”

He leans down to kiss her jawline and murmurs, “Don’t waste your tricks on me. I’m a sure thing.”

“S’my favorite thing about you,” she sighs as he moves to kiss her neck, pushing her tank top up at the same time. He carefully spans his hands over the curve of her ribcage and mouths across her collarbones. He feels her chest rise and fall as she sighs gustily.

He looks up with a smirk. “Am I boring you?”

“No.” She huffs out a laugh. “It’s just frustrating. To have to lie here and do nothing.”

“What, you didn’t get enough exercise tonight?” He catches the flesh at the seam of her breast and arm between his teeth and bites lightly, feeling smug when her breath catches.

“Feels lazy,” she admits, combing her hand through his hair, alternately pulling and petting.

Bucky leans up and gives her a series of kisses, pressing her lips open with his own then pulling back until she growls and yanks his head down. “Be lazy,” he says into her mouth. “Be selfish. Boss me around. You know I like it when you do.” Bucky likes anything she wants to do while pressed up against, around, or over him, but he likes her voice best, be it happy, bossy, or desperate.

She giggles and he smiles against her shoulder. “Fine. Get to it,” she says, mock-grumpy, shoving at the top of his head.

“So romantic,” he teases, leaning down to ghost kisses over her breasts. “Such a way with words.”

“I’ll stop complaining,” she sighs as he traces his fingers along the sloping curve of her stomach, “if you keep doing that.”

“Deal,” he replies, curling down to kiss where his hands had been, then mouths at the thin skin over her hipbones.

He hooks his fingers under the band of her underwear, but leaves it on as he mouths down over her cunt, smiling to himself as he hears her sweetly startled, “Oh.” He’d be offended that she’s still surprised when he goes down on her, but he’s too charmed by the sound of her to ever mention it.

She tangles her hand in his hair again and says, “Don’t tease, James.”

He doesn’t, sliding her underwear down and biting up her inner thighs before licking into her, letting her pull his hair and roll her hips so her cunt slides along his tongue. She curls her hand down to his jaw and Bucky nearly comes in his pants as she yanks him right where she wants him. He bares his teeth as she rides his face and he lives for the noise she makes as her thighs shove against his face and she comes twitching against his tongue.

He’s nearly out of oxygen by the time she lets go. He pushes up onto his hands and knees and grins wolfishly at her flushed cheeks and slack mouth. He doesn’t say a word before pushing into her hot center, and it’s worth it for the wail that escapes her before she forcibly clicks her teeth together.

“Tell me, Natalia,” he grits, fingers catching in her hair as he struggles to hold still. He’s desperate for her, breathless and undone, waiting for her permission to fall to pieces.

She tugs him down to her, her lips to his ear, and breathes, “You feel so good,” and he’s transported back to a gray shower in a gray fortress, where she wrapped herself around him and whispered those same words with life-altering conviction.

He tucks his face against her shoulder and begins to move, the sweet clasp of her body tugging whimpers from his mouth. Natalia writhes beneath him, and he can’t help the words that escape him. “My perfect girl,” he gasps. “Everything. I love all of you, everything.”

She sinks her teeth into his neck and Bucky comes, shaking, trying and failing not to fall on top of her entirely.

Natasha gives him a minute to catch his breath, then pushes his forehead up with the heel of her hand. “Hi,” she says as he stares at her dazedly. “I love you spectacularly, but I also need to breathe.”

Bucky manages to shuffle over enough that they’re face to face on their sides. “I should totally be your regular handler,” he says with as much conviction as he can muster.

Nat snorts. “Listen, the last thing I need is a meeting with SHIELD brass where they tell me that my last six mission requests have been met with, GO FUCK YOURSELF.”

“I would not do that!”

“Bullshit.”

“Well. I wouldn’t swear at least.”

Natasha snickers and presses her nose to his Adam’s apple. “You worry about me?” she says into his skin.

“Always,” Bucky admits.

She leans up to look him in the eye. “Then it would be awfully unfair to put you in charge of my safety, wouldn’t it?”

He presses his lips together and sighs. “You’re ruthless, Romanova,” he concedes.

“I am,” she says evenly, and he feels her fingers curl into a fist at the back of his neck. “But you know it’s for the both of us, don’t you?”

“”I do,” he whispers.

There’s silence between them until Natasha looks at the clock and says, “Extraction is in three hours. Are you ready?”

“I am,” replies Bucky, as honestly as he can.