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if you're out there in the cold

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 if you’re out there in the cold

There’s nothing quite like snow in the city.

Over seventy years, a lot of things have changed – the buildings taller, the cars faster, the poor poorer and the rich richer – but if there’s one thing Bucky has found to be constant, it’s snow in the city.

Outside, there’s a good thirteen inches on the ground, and the snow is still falling, fat clumps of it raining down lazily in the glow of the streetlights. They’ve shut down the subway system, closed the streets to all but emergency response vehicles, and – as they always have in these conditions – New York City sleeps; peaceful, blanketed in white.

(And although there is no rest for the Avengers – no vacations or sick days – he knows his city, and he knows that even the most despicable denizens are still just New Yorkers, holed up in their secret lairs, penthouse apartments and hidden labs, waiting out the storm like everyone else.)

“Don’t tell me the Winter Soldier is afraid of a little snow.”

Natasha’s arms wind round his waist, her face pressed against his shoulder blade. Heat radiates from her like fire wherever her skin meets his.

(He’s been cold for far too long.)

.

 Cold. Always cold.

Most days it’s all he knows – this bone-deep chill that makes his jaw clench and his joints grow stiff. It’s all he knows until she’s in his arms, his fingers twining through the fiery tangles of her hair, and for a brief moment, he feels as if he’s beginning to thaw, a pulsing warmth buried deep in his chest. He clings to it – clings to her – when nothing makes sense; when the rest of the world is just a jumbled mess, he relies on her to pull him from the darkness.

He relies on her to find himself, again and again and again.

.

They go to a little café six blocks away – one they’ve sworn they’d visit over and over but never have – for hot chocolate. The owner wakes from a reverie when the bell chimes, announcing their presence, and he gives them a pair of pastries on the house, informing them that they’re the only customers he’s had all day. Natasha smiles, and asks for a cup of whipped cream to go – ‘for my cat,’ she says – and deposits the whole of her change from her twenty dollar bill into the tip jar.

“You spoil that cat,” Bucky chastises (though he’s trying his damnedest not to smile) as they make their way down the street. “Before you know it, she’ll be too fat and lazy to make it onto the bed.”

“I don’t know, James,” Natasha smiles, her tone casual yet bordering on teasing. “I thought you would like that. Not having to share so often.” Her hand is tucked in the crook of his elbow, the bag containing their sweets and Liho’s treat clutched in his grasp. They sip at their hot cocoa as they bow their heads against the wind, snowflakes catching on their eyelashes as they push through the knee-deep snow, leaving twin paths in their wake.

(Once upon a time, they would both have left fake trails, covered their true paths as best they could and set booby traps at regular intervals. They’d both been trained to lose a tail, and it comes as naturally as breathing, even now. After all, such giveaways are the enemy of assassins and spies alike. But here – just a normal couple venturing out into the blizzard of the decade, grinning at each other over cups of hot chocolate and spoiling their cat silly – they’re safe; no reason to cover their tracks, no enemies to divert and no goons to outsmart.)

(Their parallel paths converge once, twice, three times, as Natasha closes the gap and leans up to press her lips to his.)

.

“Talia,” he says, sounding as severe as he can manage.

“She’s hungry,” Natalia protests, kneeling beside the scrawny, underfed kitten. It’s shivering in the snow, looking up at the both of them with big, shining eyes.

“Pretty soon all the cats in Leningrad will be scratching at our door,” he chides. “Hardly discrete.”

.

Later, while Liho is licking daintily at her dessert (her head consumed entirely by the takeout coffee cup) and as the snow continues to fall outside the warmth of their little Brooklyn apartment, he presses his lips to the hollow of her throat, the swells of her breasts and the valley between. He brands her as his – ‘Natalia’ – a name now reserved for him alone, and she twines her fingers in his hair – ‘James,’ her breathy reply – and he knows that he belongs to her just the same.

He puts his mouth between her thighs – tasting her – his left hand firmly grasping the curve of her hip as she pushes up against him, his right reaching up as hers reaches down and they hold onto one another, grounding each other to this moment.

She falls apart around him, legs shaking and grip tightening while a mess of Russian curses tumbles out of her mouth.

(Watching her, he thinks she’s never more beautiful than in moments like these.)

.

She’s trembling and flushed all over, just shy of a second peak and he slides out and pulls back, only breaking contact for a moment before he’s between her legs, his mouth closing over her sex. It’s the first time he’s touched her like this, but with the way she’s responding – her breath caught in her throat, hand fisting tightly in his hair while the other gropes blindly for his own – he knows that it will not be the last.

(He doesn’t know where he came from – if there had ever been someone who loved him, if there had ever been a place he truly belonged – but here and now, with her thighs tightening around his head and her hand gripping desperately to his while she spills over the edge, he feels like he’s coming home.)

.

The windows are frosted over, reflecting and refracting the moonlight as the clouds clear – the bedroom cast in a faint, icy glow.

Natasha moves over him, her hips moving languidly yet purposefully against his. His fingers catch in her hair.

(He holds on carefully; not because he thinks she might break, but rather afraid she’s just a dream, that she will shatter and vanish if he pushes too hard.)

“Natalia …” he whispers, when she leans down and touches her forehead to his, still moving slowly against him. “I— ”

“I know, James,” she replies, her hand gliding down the length of his arm before clasping his, gripping tightly. “I know.”