- 1 -
Before Steve knew anything about Natasha Romanoff, he knew that she was fearless.
He didn't mean that she wasn't afraid of anything--that was just plain suicidal and no one with a reputation like the Black Widow was foolish enough to not know exactly how long the odds were every time she went in. He meant that she never let her fears control her. In the aftermath of the attack on Fury's helicarrier, Steve found himself seeking her out. It didn't take long; she sat, composed and still, outside Agent Barton's room, keeping watch.
At the last second, he wondered what he was doing and hesitated briefly, but she'd already seen him. He couldn't tell what she was thinking--no surprise there; he didn't think there were many people who could--but he felt like leaving without speaking to her would be worse than her thinking he was checking up on her because he didn't trust her.
"Captain Rogers," she said as he closed the last few feet between them. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"No, no," Steve said. "I just wanted to make sure you were alright." Agent Hill had gotten him up to speed with remarkably few words, but Steve had been in the military long enough to know how to hear what wasn't being said. In this case, there was quite a bit going unspoken and a lot of it pointed to Romanoff dealing with everything on her own. He shrugged one shoulder and rubbed at the muscle he'd strained at the back of his neck. "Old habit--I, uh, guess I haven't gotten rid of it yet."
"Once a captain, always a captain," she murmured, and Steve shrugged again, partly because she was right, and partly because he was relieved she hadn't taken offense. A group of doctors came out of Barton's room then, and while Steve was sure she didn't need any back-up, he was already right there. Romanoff glanced at him once, but then gave her full attention to the medical team. Steve let the jargon flow over him and just paid attention to the body language, all of which boiled down to nobody really knew anything but they were going to keep watching. Some things really didn't change.
Once they were gone, she turned and looked in the observation window. The lights in the room were dim; Barton was unconscious and in restraints. Natasha watched silently for a long time, long enough that Steve had plenty of time to notice how hard she was holding onto the ledge, how white her knuckles were. He wasn't sure she would be comfortable with him having seen that, though, so he didn't say anything, just stayed and watched with her.
"He knew me," Natasha finally said. "At the end, right before I knocked him out, he knew me."
"That's good," Steve told her. "That's real good." It was a tiny drop in the ocean of bad this whole thing with Loki was turning out to be, but if Steve had learned anything in the time he'd spent on the front, it was that you always celebrated the good. A little of the tension eased out of Natasha and she nodded. Steve couldn't stay--Fury would be waiting for him, he knew--but he didn't have to go right then, so he kept watch with her a little while longer.
-- 2 --
"No, Stark," Clint said with an edge to his voice that Steve was reading as ten seconds to physical violence. "You can't just bull your way in there. Nat knows what's she's doing; she's been doing it since she was eight years old--"
"And what if all this, this radio silence isn't just her cozying up to the head of the cartel?" Tony rubbed at the edge of the arc reactor; Steve wondered if he even realized he was doing it. Clint noticed it, too; Steve saw his eyes flickering and the way his fists relax, but from how his eyes and mouth were still tight, he was forcing himself to stand down. Tony being Tony, of course had to keep pushing. "It's been two days--what if she can't make the call--"
"If Natasha Romanoff can't make an ex-fil call, she's already dead," Clint said, flat and unemotional, except for how Steve had to make himself meet Clint's eyes and everything that was tearing him apart in them.
"You don't know--"
"No, you don't know. You go in there and I guarantee you will fucking blow her cover," Clint snarled, the beer he'd been holding crashing into the wall next to Tony with pinpoint accuracy. "And then she will be dead."
He turned and stalked out of the common area, blowing past Steve like he wasn't there. Steve sighed and shot Tony a look when he started out after him. "Let me," Steve said. Tony stood his ground for a long couple of seconds but finally stepped back.
It was cold out on the landing pad but Steve knew Clint came there when he needed to clear his head; it only took a few seconds to find him out on the edge, still and silent, silhouetted against the lights of the city. Steve didn't doubt Clint knew Steve was there, but he made sure to make a little noise as he crossed the pad. Clint didn't acknowledge Steve, but he didn't ask him to leave, either, so Steve was taking that as a plus.
"Once, in Tallinn, she was off-grid for seventy-seven hours," Clint finally said. "Right in the middle of an op it had taken six months to plan. Phil--" his voice faltered for a second, and not for the first time, Steve wished he'd gotten to know Agent Coulson better. "Phil was so jittery he forgot his cufflinks on the third day."
Steve smiled and settled himself against the handrail. "And I'm assuming it all worked out okay."
"For certain levels of 'okay,'" Clint said, sobering up in the space of a heartbeat. There was more to the story, Steve knew, but he also knew it wasn't going to come out tonight. He got that, and he hoped Clint understood he wouldn't press. Clint looked back out over the city. "We're still here."
"Sometimes that's all you can ask for," Steve said. "That's something Tony struggles with." Clint stayed quiet but Steve didn't think he'd crossed any lines yet. "I'm not sure that's a bad thing, at least not all the time."
"Yeah," Clint sighed. It got quiet again, and Steve's phone vibrated in his pocket, the triple, staccato burst that meant an incoming text from Tony. Steve ignored it, but then three more came in, rapid-fire, and he eased the phone out of his pocket, if only to tell Tony to give him a little time. Clint added, "The thing is, it's a human-trafficking group, and Nat... She's been known to take some pretty fucking stupid risks going after scum like that, so Stark maybe hit a couple of my buttons a little too hard in there."
"He's good at that," Steve said, skimming the first message. "He's also good at--he wants me to ask you if accessing the municipal video feeds so he can run facial recognition software would compromise anything--" Clint turned sharply at that, his mouth open and Steve held up one hand and read the texts in order. "Tell Katniss, no, I haven't gone in yet; don't even insult me and ask whether anything could be traced back here; seriously, don't ask."
Clint rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth slowly, but when he nodded, it was crisp and professional. "Tell him, yeah, do it." Steve typed go, and within a minute, the screen on his phone was flashing through images of pre-dawn London as Tony fed him the video feeds JARVIS was accessing. He handed the phone to Clint, who watched it for a few seconds and handed it back. He didn't move from where he was leaning on the railing, and Steve stayed with him until the sky was lightening and the pictures on his phone slowed and stuck on a shot that was undeniably Natasha flagging down a cab with a time-stamp only a minute or so earlier.
-- 3 & 4 --
There was definitely something to that old wives tale about only seeing what you expected to see, because Steve had walked right past the woman cleaning a gun and around the corner before his brain caught up with his eyes.
"Natasha?" he asked, turning around and starting back the way he'd come. "I thought you and Clint--"
"Something came up," Natasha said, biting off each word precisely, her hands almost a blur as she reassembled her Glocks. Steve glanced around and everyone at the range was giving them a wide berth, so he was assuming the stack of shredded targets on the floor belonged to Natasha.
"Is everyone okay?" Steve hadn't gotten any Avenger-related alerts, but Natasha and Clint occasionally fielded SHIELD requests. Fury still should have come through Steve, but sometimes things happened more quickly than the virtual paper-trail could follow. "Is Hawkeye--"
"We're fine," Natasha said, and Steve wouldn't be surprised to find out that she could actually freeze someone to death with that particular tone. She slapped the first Glock down and started in on the second right about the same time Steve noticed the boxes and boxes (empty boxes, he should say) of ammunition littered around her. Clearly, she'd been there for a while, and equally clearly, she was not getting much out of it.
"Are you sure?" Steve didn't know if their non-work relationship extended quite that far, but he'd always been fond of apologizing after the fact rather than asking for permission up front. If he had overstepped, he was at least fairly certain she wouldn't blast him right in the middle of the 'carrier shooting range, which meant he'd probably get a chance to apologize before she spiked his Powerade with arsenic.
She didn't answer until the second Glock was re-assembled, and then all she said was, "Not here." Steve nodded, waiting while she checked the guns back into in the weapons storage locker, and then followed her silently through the crowded passageways to the mess area. He was not at all surprised that she apparently had a special tea blend reserved for her; he passed on it and ended up with coffee and a couple of Danish leftover from breakfast. And a banana and one of those little boxes of Cheerios, but only one, and--
"Should we wait for the full lunch service?" Natasha asked dryly. She was watching him with one of her not-quite smiles and Steve could only shrug.
"Your metabolism," Natasha finished for him. "Got it." She looked at his tray doubtfully. "Are you sure we don't need to wait?"
"I'm fine," Steve told her. She was much more relaxed than she'd been at the range, which was good, but he could still see the tension in her eyes and mouth. He didn't know if he could help, but he wasn't going to let her go without at least trying. He led them over to a table in the far corner, acres of space between them and the closest group. She put her tea in front of her and stirred it slowly; Steve knew a calming ritual when he saw one, so he busied himself with the Cheerios and the banana and generally tried to project an attitude that said I'm-here-to-listen-whenever-you're-ready.
"We are fine," Natasha said after her first sip.
"But you're supposed to be on leave," Steve said when she left it at that. "Both of you." He left off the 'together' part of that last statement, because he wasn't exactly sure that was true. The bare facts were that they were individually on leave at the same time and they had left the Tower together right at dawn, but Steve didn't like to assume. "You said that something came up?"
"Barney Barton came up," Natasha said, back to the icy tone. "Clint's brother." She had her hands wrapped so tightly around her tea Steve was surprised the mug didn't shatter. Two deep breaths later, Natasha continued, "He was picked up in a sting last night, claiming to be undercover FBI. Interestingly enough, the Bureau is less certain."
"And Clint is …?"
"Clint is trying to sort through the whole mess."
"No," Natasha snapped.
"No." Natasha was calm now, but it was the deadly calm of a hunter assessing her prey. "When Clint was fourteen and refused to go along with the criminal activities his mentor was running, not only did Barney, our alleged FBI agent, Clint's brother, his blood-- Not only did he not back Clint up, he stood by while the rest of them cracked four ribs, broke his nose, dislocated his shoulder, and then left him for dead in a ditch. All Clint says about it is that Barney was pretty young then, too."
Her eyes were cold, and honestly, Steve couldn't blame her. He nodded once, acknowledging her anger. She was quiet for a long time, but finally said, "I don't see this playing out well, and however it does, Clint will take it on himself, because..."
"Because that's what Clint does," Steve finished for her. "But he's not fourteen now."
"You have seen him playing Super Smash Brothers with Thor, yes?" Natasha didn't smile, but she arched an eyebrow and that was almost as good.
"You might have a point," Steve said, playing along. "But that's not the job--"
"No, but I'm not certain he thinks of this as a part of his job either," Natasha said quietly. Steve couldn't refute that, but from how Natasha had let go of the death grip on her mug of tea, he thought it might not matter, that just being able to talk it through had let Natasha find a little equilibrium. He was just about to suggest they go find an update on the situation (very few people were going to refuse the Black Widow backed by Captain America and Steve was not above using his rep when one of his team was in the line of fire, be that fire literal or not) when they were approached by a pair of young female agents. Steve swore they were recruiting out of high school these days; he thought he saw a ghost of the same feeling in Natasha's eyes.
Age notwithstanding, the two had apparently attended a one of Natasha's informal hand-to-hand seminars and were approaching her to find out when she might be free for another session.
"It would appear that I've got some time right now," Natasha told them, leveling a long, level glare at Steve's unfortunately timed snort of laughter. "Go on, I'll meet you in the upper gym; I just need one final word with Captain Rogers."
"I'm sorry; it's just that you've shot new blisters on both hands, had a nice cup of tea, and now you're going to smack some recruits around--if there's any better remedy for your mood, I'm missing it."
"Oh, Cap, you don't really want me to answer that, do you?" Natasha had a smile that somehow managed to be both wicked and demure, and left nothing to the imagination. Steve cursed his stupid Irish complexion--there was no way he was getting out of this without turning beet red. Natasha's smile edged closer to wicked. "It's not an all-or-nothing kind of a cure."
Steve held up his hands in mock-surrender and at least managed to wait until Natasha was out of the mess hall before he congratulated himself on hearing her laugh. He might not have had much to do with it, but a little embarrassment was worth lightening her mood.
The rest of the morning passed without incident, except for the running debate Steve had with himself as to whether he should go find out what was happening with Barney Barton. Natasha hadn't sworn him to secrecy, but for all his wisecracks and good humor, Clint was a guarded and private person and Steve wasn't sure how he'd take Steve interfering. On the other hand, Steve didn't like feeling like he wasn't helping. He had just decided to track down Deputy Director Hill, since he felt she would be the most discreet about any inquiries he'd make when he all but ran Clint down on his way to the bridge.
"Oh, Cap, hey--" Clint barely slowed down but Steve saw enough to know he was on a fine edge. "Can't stop--I need to find Nat--"
"She's running a hand-to-hand seminar in the upper gym," Steve said. "She said she had some unexpectedly free time."
"Shit," Clint sighed. "This is really not how I planned to spend my first day of leave."
"They used to call that a SNAFU," Steve said. "Do they still say that?"
"Yeah," Clint snorted. "Still say it, and yeah, definitely applies." He scrubbed one hand hard over the top of his head. "I'm guessing Nat talked to you?"
"A little," Steve admitted. "Enough to explain why you're here, rather than off the grid somewhere."
"She give you the history lesson, too?" Clint sighed when Steve nodded. "Yeah, so there's another totally fucked-up situation normal."
"Has anything been resolved?"
"It's Barney," Clint said. "He tends to complicate things to hell and back, and the thing is, I know that. I figured it out a long damn time ago, and I still went running off like some fucking puppy--"
"He's your brother," Steve said.
"Yeah, well, he's not worth whatever Natasha's thinking right now." Clint caught himself, looking around as though he just remembered they were standing in a passageway with personnel streaming past them.
"Come on," Steve said, and Clint fell into step with him. For lack of a better alternative, Steve headed back to the mess hall. He'd be willing to bet Clint was running on caffeine and adrenaline by this point in the day. In Steve's experience, that was never a good place to be making inter-personal contact from. If nothing else, Steve could take that variable out of the equation.
Clint went through the line as though he was gearing up for an all-out assault and might not get a chance to eat again for a week. It wasn't often anyone ate more than Steve, much less three times more; Steve found himself enjoying the novelty.
They sat across the mess hall from where Steve had watched Natasha stir her tea earlier, but he tried to be as open to listening to Clint as he had been with Natasha. For all their outward differences, Steve thought, Clint's rough, blunt features and Natasha's elegant grace, Steve saw the same walls and wariness in their eyes.
"This was my idea," Clint said. "The leave, I mean." He flicked a glance at Steve. "The rest of it, us--well, I'm pretty sure it was a fucking miracle that I had the brain power to say 'yes' when she told me it was stupid to keep dancing around each other the way we'd been."
Steve smiled. "Training under fire does come in handy on the odd non-lethal occasion."
Clint snorted. "Yeah, Coulson would have been proud. Or horrified. It was a fine line, sometimes." He shook his head. "Yeah, so--this. It was my idea and I knew it was outside of her comfort zone, but I kept pushing it."
"It was important to you," Steve said, not really a question.
"Obviously not important enough," Clint answered, with a bitter edge to his voice that Steve hated to hear. Before Steve could say anything--though he had no idea what--Clint shook his head once and said, "When you talked to Nat, earlier--how was she?" Steve opened his mouth to say worried about *you*, but Clint rushed on, "I mean, it's okay if she was pissed--well, you know. Not okay, but I can deal with that. I just--you know how hard it is for her to trust and I pretty much screwed that over. Pissed would be... not great but it'd be better than her thinking she didn't matter--"
"Barton," Natasha said, coming up to the table with a trail of worshipful junior agents. "Did you and Rogers leave any food for the rest of us?"
Her voice was light and unconcerned, but her eyes were sharp and assessing when Clint jerked his head up to meet them. Steve knew they communicated in more than just words--there had been quite a few occasions at the Tower when he and Tony and Bruce had been in the same room and missed an entire conversation--but he must have been getting better at reading them because he followed along on this one pretty easily since it seemed to consist of You okay? Yeah--you? yeah and some extra stuff he thought was pretty personal. He didn't think anyone else even noticed, though.
"Road trip," Clint said, leaning back with a trace of his usual smirk. "I'm late, too--not gonna have time to stop once we get going."
Natasha let her mouth curve up in the barest of smiles in answer. "Someone told me the whole point of a road trip was that it was a journey. Schedules don't matter. It sounded like fun."
"Good to know," Clint said quietly before he flashed a practiced smile at the the junior agents.
"It's my metabolism," Steve said in his best no-really-don't-mind-me-over-here-alone-during-your-relationship-crisis voice. "Hawkeye has his road trip; I just eat like this all the time." He added the smile that matched the tone when both of them shot him suspicious glances, ones that said they were trying not to break their brains but they were beginning to think he might be playing them. He let his smile get a little bigger: he got a lot of practice pretending to be oblivious with Tony and Pepper; it was good to see it worked on other people, too.
-- 5 --
To be honest, Steve thought Clint was holding up pretty well. He was pacing, sure, and he kept running a finger around inside the collar of his shirt as though it was choking him, but he was stone-cold sober so far as Steve could tell (and Tony had been offering anything and everything before they left the Tower) and he'd stopped tossing his throwing knives around after he'd accidentally freaked out one of the administrative assistants whose office they were borrowing as a hideout. So long as Natasha wasn't late, Steve thought they'd be good.
"3:35," Steve said. "They should be here any time now."
"You think everything's okay?"
"I'm sure somebody would have called if there was a problem," Steve said. "Hill knows how to reach us for any of those kind of problems, too." Privately, he pitied anyone trying anything that would require the Avengers to assemble on this particular afternoon. None of them would be in any mood to go lightly on anything like that.
"Do you have--?" Clint started for the hundredth time.
"Yep," Steve answered, patting the chest pocket of his Class A's. "Got ‘em both."
"Yeah, sorry," Clint said. "Thanks, Cap."
"My pleasure," Steve said. "Really."
"3:36," Steve said, with as much patience as he could summon, thanking whoever was watching out for them when he caught a sudden flurry of activity on the street outside the window. He moved the blinds just enough to get the angle of sight he needed and nodded to Clint. Pepper had taken the lead on all the planning, with contingency plans for the contingency plans, all accomplished in less than seventy-two hours. The scene outside played out exactly how she'd laid it out, with Happy pulling one of Tony's flashier vintage cars up to the curb and jumping out to hand Pepper out of the back seat. Tony got out behind her, both of them dressed to the nines and people started taking notice. Steve saw camera phones coming out and Tony stopped and waved and drew all the attention to the two of them. No one noticed the sleek black Mercedes pulling up a few car-lengths behind or the couple--a tiny redhead dressed in Dior and a taller, quiet-looking man who moved a little cautiously--who got out and walked quietly behind Tony and Pepper and into the building. "Everybody's here," Steve said. "Showtime."
The words had barely left his mouth when Clint laughed and clapped Steve on the shoulder. "Okay," he said, rolling his shoulders the way he did when he was coming down from days in a nest, every muscle cramped up from the tension of holding ready. "So, apparently, I was harboring some deep-seated fears that this wasn't going to happen, because I gotta tell you, Cap, I feel like Thor just picked that damn hammer up off my chest and let me breathe."
Steve laughed. "There's still time for Doom to do something stupid."
"Fuck," Clint muttered, going a little pale. "Don't jinx us, Cap."
There was a light tap on the door and Bruce stuck his head in. "Pepper and Tony just made it inside, so we're all here," he said. "Anytime you're ready."
"Thanks, Doc," Clint answered. He turned to Steve and held his arms out for inspection. "Am I good?"
Steve flicked a stray piece of lint off the deep gray of Clint's suit--Pepper's genius also extended to producing custom-tailored suits on next to no notice--and straightened the flower on his lapel. It was probably good Steve was wearing his uniform and they only had to keep one boutonniere looking decent between them, because Steve could tell it was going to be an issue. "Five by five," he said, nodding.
"Right. Let's do this," Clint said, taking a deep breath and leading Steve out of the room.
The group waiting for them was happy and excited, and they put up a little cheer as Clint and Steve emerged. Clint grinned in response--Steve was smiling, too; it was impossible not to, everyone was too happy--but then people shifted around and Clint's smile morphed into something almost blinding as he got his first look at Natasha.
It was supposed to be like that, Steve thought, as Natasha crossed the room--smiling just as brightly--and took Clint's arm. You were supposed to light up when you were marrying the person you loved, and whatever issues Steve had with this life he'd ended up with, he was honored to be here with them.
Pepper, keeping everything on track, fussed a little with Natasha's hair and handed her an armload of flowers to carry. Steve could be honest and admit that he'd zoned out during the more involved discussions about which flowers would be best--who knew different flowers meant different things?--but he remembered the conclusion, which was that Natasha would carry them all, because she couldn't narrow it down to just one kind of love. Steve didn't think he was the only one who'd gotten a little quiet after that.
The rest of the details had fallen into place quickly. Agent Coulson, still undoing all the paperwork his not-quite death had caused and unsure of his legal status to stand witness, had ceded best man responsibilities to Steve and would instead give the bride away. Natasha had neatly lifted Pepper's phone out of her hands, interrupting the planning just long enough for Pepper to agree to stand up for Natasha. Deputy Director Hill was monitoring all event possibilities personally. The Fantastic Four were on standby if needed. Everyone else, including Director Fury, was under strict orders to show up and celebrate.
Technically, the City Clerk's Office only performed marriages during a strictly-enforced time period and did not accept appointments, but Pepper--again--had taken care of it, politely pointing out that it was in everyone's best interest to keep things as quiet as possible. She had it set up so that they were the last ceremony of the day and no one so much as batted an eye as the Avengers and company crowded into the room. It wasn't anything that Steve had ever imagined for his life, but it was still good.
-- +1 --
The hospital room was actually fairly large, but there was so much equipment packed around the lone figure cuffed to the bed that it felt cramped and crowded. There were also many more people than Steve expected there to be, everyone squeezing in around the monitors and machines and the SHIELD security team.
Bruce, despite the exhaustion that transforming always left him with, was reading the electronic chart Tony had hacked, while Thor spoke quietly and seriously with Natasha. Clint was doing his best not to hover, but the sling on Natasha's arm was clearly not making that easy. Steve made a mental note to go over the mission feeds with him; just telling him there was nothing he could have done wouldn't do much to clear the guilt Steve was reading in his eyes. Going over the feeds in detail would make sure he saw that for himself.
Outside the room itself, Steve knew Agent Coulson was dealing with the medical team, and he was sure that Fury and Hill were still in the background, too. He should get up from the chair he had settled next to the bed and go talk with them, but he couldn't find the energy. For all the physical enhancements the serum had given him, there were still times when his brain called it quits and everything else followed.
Gradually, people began to filter out and Steve settled himself a little more comfortably. Nurses and technicians came and went, and he filed away overheard terms in the back of his head to ask Bruce about the next time he saw him. The security team stayed. Steve understood; the force he'd seen employed by the man on the bed was astonishingly lethal. The dull ache in his ribs, the stitches that spilled down Natasha shoulder, the bruises that circled Clint's neck--they all testified to that. The security team still made Steve's skin crawl with how he couldn't shake off the memories of that first HYDRA compound.
"Cap," a quiet voice said, and Steve jolted himself out of the bad place he'd ended up in to see Clint standing at the foot of the bed, holding a stack of clean clothes toward him. "I know you don't want to leave but you can at least ditch the uniform."
Steve hesitated, more from trying to clear the last bits of the past out of his brain than from anything else, and Natasha added, "We'll watch over him."
She met his eyes steadily, with the compassion and strength that made her so much more than the killer they'd tried to create, and Steve nodded. Grabbing the clothes from Clint, he stumbled into the small attached bathroom. He only meant to wash the blood and dirt off his hands and face, but the water came out of the sink tap already steaming and he couldn't resist the shower tucked into the corner. It was a good call: it helped bring him all the way back to the present, energized him, so that once he was clean and dressed in the fatigues and t-shirt Clint had acquired for him, he felt much better equipped to open the door and deal with the reality that it was looking very much like it could be Bucky in that hospital bed.
"All clear," Natasha said as Steve came out. Clint handed him one of Tony's protein shakes and came to join him and Natasha bedside.
"How long before the test results come in?" Clint asked, as though he knew Steve couldn't find the words.
"A few days," Natasha answered. "They may not be conclusive, though. Even if it is James--I don't know what they did to him, how that might have affected his DNA."
"And that doesn't begin to take into account how much of him is left," Steve said quietly. "I know."
Steve could barely process everything Natasha had told him, the things she knew about the operative they called the Winter Soldier, but since the man in question was unconscious and down for the count, he figured he had a little time to make sense of it.
"Well," Clint said, dragging a set of chairs up beside the one Steve had been using and using his hip to bump the bedside table closer. "I guess we're here for the duration." He pulled a deck of cards out of his jacket pocket, grinning as Natasha sighed and rolled her eyes. "Hey, hey, princess, none of that. You got to pick the distraction the last time we sat around this joint." Steve knew that was when they'd been keeping watch over Agent Coulson. They'd lived there for days on end, neither of them willing to let him out of their sight once they'd found him again, but from the very satisfied smile that was curving Natasha's mouth, there must have been a little bit more going on than just a protection detail.
"As I recall," Natasha said, her smile turning wicked and dangerous, "you had no problem with my choice." To Steve's amazement, Clint blushed as hard as Steve had ever seen him, and Natasha laughed in pure delight. "Fine," she said, holding out her hand for the cards. "Dealer calls the game, but none of that stupid thing they play on TV."
"You're killing me, Nat," Clint sighed, but it was purely for show, Steve could tell. "You play, Cap? Because you probably guessed this already, but the Black Widow is kind of a card sharp and I myself might have spent a year or three hustling college boys for their beer money back in the day. I'd hate for people to think we lured you in under false pretenses."
Steve looked at the two of them, ready to wait with him however long it might take. He thought about Tony and Thor and Bruce and how they'd be back in the morning. Natasha cut the deck one-handed and smiled at him. Clint bumped his shoulder into Steve's, and something inside Steve eased up enough that he could breathe almost normally.
"I play," Steve said, pasting on his best innocent face. If that really was Bucky in the bed, and if they really could get him back, Steve wasn't going to have much of a chance to use it again. "But I'm not real good at it."
Natasha snorted and Clint rolled his eyes and Steve sat down to wait with his team.