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not the storm before the calm

Chapter Text

“Here…” Natasha placed the orange kitten on his chest.  “He’ll make you feel better…”  

“Nat…” Bucky sat up, wincing as the kitten’s tiny claws clung to the front of his t-shirt.  He was about to tell her why he couldn’t be bothered with something like this right now, why this wasn’t the time to introduce him to their new pet.  He was overwhelmed by everything, and why she thought introducing something else on top of it all would help was beyond his comprehension.    

But then the kitten let out a piercing “Meow” and Bucky reached up to catch it in his hand.  It purred, a stuttering sound because it was so young, and he felt his mouth pull into a smile as he cuddled it close to his chest.  

 

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“I never would have pegged you for a pumpkin spice person…” Bucky said, chuckling as Natasha took a sip of her latte.

“Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s bad…” she said with a smirk. “In fact, quite the contrary…popular things usually ARE good. Take the Beatles for instance.”  

“Still need to get caught up on all that…”  Bucky admitted.

“Well, here’s your next pop culture lesson…” Natasha slid her latte over towards him.  “The pumpkin spice craze…”  

He took a sip and made a face.  “I’ll stick to the pie…”  

“Yeah…” she said, taking another sip.  “I honestly think it’s so popular because it’s seasonal.”

“I thought you said you liked it.”  

“Never said I liked it…just said that popular things tend to be good.”  

He laughed, shaking his head. “I missed you, you know that?”  

 

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Natasha knew how to make the shaking stop.  She knew the right words to say to make Bucky wake up when he was having one of those horrible dreams.  She knew the way to touch him to bring him back down to earth.  And Bucky knew exactly why she knew.  

Which was why, on the rare occasions it happened, Bucky was more than willing to do the same for her. He’d stroke her cheek, whisper her name, tell her he loved her…cradle her close to his heart.

And let her be alone when she requested it.  

That’s why they worked so well.  Fit so well together. They knew how to make the nightmares go away, how to replace them with something brighter.  Something better. 

 

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They had a price on their heads.  Together. Apart. Dead or alive.  From both sides.  

The pirate crew they’d escaped from wanted them dead.  And so did the British navy.  

Bucky and Natasha had nothing but their wits and each other.  And that’s the way they liked it.  

Of course, it might have helped to have some gold.  Stealing food was not endearing the two runaway pirates to any of the ports they frequented upon.  

 

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Natasha shivered as he ran his cool fingers up her arm and over her shoulder.  Chill bumps rose in its wake.  

Even his breath felt cool as he whispered in her ear, “Mogu li ya imet’ vkus?” (May I have a taste?)  

“So polite…” she murmured, opening her eyes and thrilling a little at the sight of her own reflection, pupils blown wide as she stood alone in his bedroom.  Glancing down, she could see his arm still curled around her waist.

She turned so her back was to the mirror, so she could see him.  “Zima…” (Winter) she whispered, “Of course you may have a taste…have I ever denied you?”  

Nikogda…” (Never)  he replied, his fangs popping out as she turned her head to bare her neck for him.

 

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Without a doubt, the best part of building a gingerbread house was getting to eat it.  

Bucky held out one of the licorice ropes they’d used for the trim on the side of the house, his stomach swooping when Natasha took a bite, tugging on it ever so slightly before chewing.

“Seems like a lot of work for somethin’ you’re just gonna destroy and eat…” he said, popping a gumdrop into his mouth.  

Natasha shrugged. “There isn’t a thing worth having that you don’t have to work for…like you for instance.”  

Bucky snorted.  “What work did you have to do to get me?”  

She smiled, “Each and every day, I have to put up with that mouth of yours.  And it’s work, lemme tell ya.”  

He leaned in, pressing his lips to hers.  “Don’t think I’ve ever heard you complainin’ about my mouth before…”

 

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Bucky growled.  Low.  Under his breath.

“Barton…”

He had barely taken two steps forward before Natasha yanked him back by the hood of his sweatshirt. He turned to glare at her.  “He’s doing it again.  He knows that’s my cereal.  And he just poured a bowl of it.  I’m turning it over on top of his head.”  

She shook her head, pointing towards the counter where the traitor was currently sitting.  “Just watch.”  

And that was how Bucky realized how truly vindictive his girl was. Round about the time where Clint was yelping and rinsing his mouth out with the sink faucet. 

“What’d you do to it?”

She grinned.  “Do you know what makes sour candies sour? Citric acid.  And they just sell the stuff in big tubs at the super market. Weird, huh?” 

 

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Her lips were warm on his.  Soft, yet firm.  Deliciously so.  

Bucky grunted when she bit down on his bottom lip, tugging it back and releasing it with a giggle.  

And that’s when he remembered it was fake.  Natasha didn’t giggle.

They were on a mission, and these kisses weren’t real.  But that didn’t stop him from pretending.   

 

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Natasha remained on the outskirts of his life, even after his memories started coming back. Forever in his periphery. Bucky had always known she meant something.  He could tell by the way his heart fluttered when they locked eyes.

What he wasn’t prepared for, was the flood of memories.  Of the feel of her skin.  Her lips.  Her warmth.  

Of the cold that returned when she was gone.  The cold that crept back into his heart now that he could remember being with her.   

Bucky had been too long in the cold.  He wasn’t about to stay there.   

 

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She felt rigid in his arms.

Bucky hated that she couldn’t relax around him.  She was always protecting herself. How much of that was him, and how much of it she brought with her wasn’t really something he liked to think about.  And yet, here he was.

She felt so small. Muscles bunched tightly. Like she was always ready to bolt out the door.  Never fully surrendering herself to any moment.  No matter how hard he tried.  She wasn’t going to trust him.  

And then she was standing up, her nude body walking away from him.  Expanses of bare skin, hard planes of muscle.  She certainly was put together well.  

Beautiful. She was beautiful.

But he couldn’t make his lips form the words.  So he tried to convey it in his touch.  Soft caresses of finger tips and lips. Even as she was moving away from him, he was reaching for her.  

Natalia…

She had her arms crossed over her breasts, looking back at him over her shoulder.  That look in her eyes. Like she wanted to climb back in bed with him.  

Usually he silently willed her to come back.  Tried to communicate his emotions through his eyes.  Parted lips.  Frantically begging her with soft exhales and teeth on his bottom lip.  

“Stay.  Natalia.  Please?” He was startled by his own voice.  Clearly forming the wish that had sat desperately on the tip of his tongue for so long.  

Her eyes met his. Bright green.  Crystal clear.  Wide and confused, because he never said things like that.  

“I—I have to—“ she started.

“Ya want me to beg?” he asked, sitting up in bed.  Her gaze was still piercing.  Dissecting him.  Trying to figure out his ulterior motive.  It hurt to think that she’d never been with anyone who didn’t have one. Who didn’t want her around just because she was who she was. “Cuz I’ll beg…”    

He rose slowly, because she looked like a spooked animal.  He knew the look well.  Knew the feeling.  He wasn’t trying to trap her.  He’d never—

She turned slightly, arms still crossed over her chest, facing him.  Tensing again.

He reached out to lightly caress her shoulder, using it as a prop so he could kneel down in front of her. Because he wasn’t kidding.  He’d beg if it got her to stay.  

His hand skimmed her side on the way down, catching sight of the scar on her stomach.  The one he’d given her.  He traced it with his thumb, leaning closer and pressing his lips against her skin.  “Please?” he looked up at her, arms circling her.  Metal arm bracing her back while his flesh one traced patterns on her hipbones. Patterns he followed with his lips. His tongue.  “Please, Lisichka.  Stay with me.”  

Her breaths were audible. “Why?”  

He smiled faintly, “Cuz I think you wanna stay.  And I know I want you to stay…so stay.”

Her hands fell from her chest, fingers carding through his hair.  He let out the breath he was holding, pressing his lips to her belly again, letting his hands come up to grip her waist.  

He felt her ragged breaths shudder through her as he stood, leaving his hands there at her waist, leaning down to press his lips to hers.  She ran her fingers through his hair, her eyes searching his as his arms encircled her.  She brought one hand down to stroke his cheek, nodding her head slightly.  

“I’ll stay…” she murmured, leaning up to meet his lips. “I’ll stay.” 

 

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It wasn’t what either of them wanted. An arranged marriage to end some age-old feud between their families. Something about a land debt and taxes or something. It had all happened so fast that neither of them really had time to think or to even weigh in. It felt like they’d woken up one day, married to one another and suddenly, this was their life.

Natasha hadn’t really vocalized her thoughts on the subject, but judging by the way she was secluding herself, her thoughts weren’t the nicest things in the world.

Bucky, on the other hand, was at least trying to make the most of the situation. He’d offered to sleep on the sofa. He made breakfast in the mornings. He asked her about her day when she came home from work. She just didn’t seem interested in the least.

So when he took extra time to make a dinner that he ended up eating by himself, he took a long hard look at the good things in his life and came up short. By the time she’d come home, three hours late, he was up to about six fingers and one generous thumb of her expensive vodka, and he gave her a piece of his mind. A rather large piece, as it turned out.

Something about how this wasn’t what either of them wanted, but why the hell couldn’t she put forth some effort? He knew she didn’t want him, but maybe just try to fool him a little bit? A nod hello in the morning. Just give him something. It wasn’t like they were complete strangers, for fuck’s sake.

And then she’d countered. Loudly. Reminding him that she hadn’t asked for any of it. Him. This stupid marriage pact. His kind acts that made it difficult to dislike him. She hadn’t wanted ANY of it, so he could climb off his high horse and knock it off, thank you very much.

And that’s when his mind drew a blank. Because he’d woken up in her bed. Fully clothed, but in her bed. With the worst hangover of his entire adult life. And when he’d stumbled downstairs to a short stack of pancakes and a big cup of coffee, he was so confused that he almost went to lay down on the couch.

“Need to take it easy on the vodka, Barnes…” she smirked, pushing the plate of pancakes towards him. “You’re difficult to drag upstairs.”

“Did we—?” He gestured vaguely in the direction of the bedroom.

“God, no. I took the couch. Figured we could at least trade off…”

He grabbed a fork, reaching for the syrup. “You cooked?”

She shrugged. “You do it everyday. Can’t be that hard.” And then she smiled. A true smile that reached her eyes. And Bucky wasn’t sure if she was trying to fool him like he’d asked or if it was genuine.

But a tiny part of him didn’t really care one way or the other.

 

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Bucky slid back into sparring easily enough.  He would have thought it was strange how evenly matched he and Natasha were if it weren’t for his vague memories of their time together.   Small bits and pieces of information…not enough to make a full picture, but enough to get sufficiently filled in by her on the days he felt like talking.  

He usually didn’t feel like talking.  The sound of her voice set him on edge.  Not to mention the wry smile that always played on her lips.  The look in her eyes.  Green and sparkling with laughter.  

It set him on edge.  Not a bad edge to be on.   But he didn’t want to go jumping off every edge.  Walking into every dark corner.  He wanted to know what to expect.  

He got in position, tried not to let Natasha’s gaze get to him.  She was letting him win today.  Not that he never won. They were fairly evenly matched.  But she was letting him win today and he had no idea why. No matter what he did, he ended up pinning her to the mat. There was something about the positions they ended in. Something definitely more than friendly about it.  

This time was no different. Except her legs were wrapped around his hips.  Somehow. And there was no questioning it this time. The position they’d stopped in was…definitely… 

Arousing.   

That much was apparent in the sweat pants he was wearing. He was hard enough to punch a hole through them.  Arousing wasn’t quite the right word.  It was…like a muscle memory.  Deja vu.  He’d been here before.  Like this.  

He blinked.  A flash of a memory blazed into his mind.  An expanse of pale skin.  The taste of her sex as his tongue dipped inside.  A single word on her lips.  Yasha

He jumped up abruptly. Turning and walking away from her. Trying to will away the stiffness between his legs.  “Again…” he blurted.  “Run it again.”  When Bucky looked back at her, she wasn’t smirking anymore.  Her eyes were wide, searching his for something.  He turned abruptly and walked over to his starting position. The memories were floating like rogue puzzle pieces in his mind.  A couple of edge pieces when what he needed was the big picture.  He wanted the big picture.  Hell. Looking at her now.  He just…wanted. Wanted like he hadn’t wanted in a long time. Too long.  “Don’t let me win this time…” he muttered.  “Natalia”  The name rolled out easily.  His tongue caressing the syllables with ease.  

Natasha damn near jumped up on his face.  Wrapped her legs around his head.  Squeezed with her thighs.   He hated when she did this.  There was very little he could do to get her off him without hurting her.  And he wasn’t going to hurt her.  

When he went down, it was on his knees and he nearly fell forward against her.  He caught himself, wrapping his arms around her thighs and knocking her on the mat with him.  He pinned her down easily.  

“Thought I told you not to let me win…” he felt his mouth pulling up into a smirk.    

Yasha…” she murmured.  “You remember…”   

He licked his lips and nodded. “Some. Not enough to give you…to give you anything.”

She pushed up on her elbows, her face poised close enough to kiss him.  But she didn’t.  “I can wait.”

He gulped.  Licked his lips.  Bit the bottom one hard before closing the scant distance.  Pressing them to hers roughly.  Parting them and pressing her down against the mat.  Her legs wrapped around him.  Hips rolling up to meet his.  “I want…” he rasped.  “I want…” His hand raked through her hair, pulling back even as his hips bucked to meet hers.  “I want to remember first…”

She nodded. Understanding.  She pushed him back until they were both sitting on the mat. She pushed up onto her feet, bending down to press a chaste kiss to his cheek.  “Until you remember.” 

 

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“Reservation for Barnes?” Bucky asked, setting his bag down at his feet.  “For two?” 

“Ah yes, of course… Barnes and.. Romanov…”  The little old woman’s voice trailed off as the pieces clicked into place.  “You’re THE Barnes and Romanov, aren’t you?” 

Steeling himself for what was sure to follow, he nodded curtly.  “Yes ma’am… and we mean you and your –”  

Her face broke into a wide smile.  “I’m SO happy you’re here.  I will finally get to try out my Pirozhki recipe… do you or Ms. Romanov have any preference for the fillings?”  

“Apples,” Natasha said, walking in behind him.  “If you don’t mind.”  

The old woman clapped excitedly and took Bucky’s credit card. 

 

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Bucky tried not to react as Natasha’s feet slowly crept over to his side of the couch.  Her toes were icy.  He did glance over at her.  Wearing his clothes with her hair all damp.  

She was gorgeous.  

But she was skittish, so he didn’t dive on top of her like he wanted to.  

Because he was cold too.  He got caught in the same rainstorm she did.  

She inched her feet closer, curling her toes as her feet curved around his thigh.  

“You cold?” he asked, holding out an arm.  

She filled the space beside him, cold nose pressed against his throat.  “Thought you’d never ask.”  

Maybe she wasn’t so skittish after all.

 

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Bucky wrapped his arms around Natasha.  She hissed when his cybernetic fingers brushed the bare skin of her arm, so he removed that one just as quickly.  

“Sorry,” he murmured, pressing his lips to her temple.  "If it makes you feel better, it isn’t cold enough in this walk-in to freeze us as long as we stay close…"

“What a hardship, being close to you,”  Natasha whispered facetiously, a soft chuckle wasn’t far behind.

He hummed, tilting his head down to rest on top of hers. “Tell me a story.”  

“Which one would you like to hear?”  

“Something long enough to keep my mind off of the fact that we’re locked in a walk-in freezer with a half of a cow…”  Bucky nodded towards the carcass hanging nearby.  

“So that rules out the time I outran a Texas rancher’s prize bull…”  

He snorted.  "That whole story is bull anyway.“  

"Is not! I’m pretty fast,” Natasha insisted.  

“Not that fast.” 

 

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Bucky showed up one evening at her apartment in DC. Just banging on the door like it owed him money or something.

When Natasha opened the door, the cool air hit her face. Nipped at her nose. More than a little. It was unseasonably cold that night.

“Hey there, Barnes,” she said with a smile.

“Cut the crap, Tasha…” His blue eyes were piercing, even in the low light. Especially in the low light. “I remember everything.”

And that’s when she made a mistake. She dropped the façade. She let her emotions read in her eyes for a split second.  And a split second was all he needed. “Well, that’s… it was a long time ago, Buck.”

“Bullshit…” he hissed, his hands gripping the doorframe. “Not for you, it wasn’t.”

“It was the same amount of time as it was for you,” she replied coolly.

“I know. That’s how I know it wasn’t that long ago.” Natasha looked up into his face. Even when the Soldier had taken over, he still retained a lot of what she came to know as Bucky-things. This look was one of them. This steadfast, never-gonna-move-unless-you-move-me-and-I-know-damn-well-you-can’t thing.  Except they both knew she could–and would–move him if she needed to.

It hurt because these things she found familiar were things she’d learned when he’d been someone else.

It was ass-backward and fucked up, but she was the one who needed more time. And she’d been lying to herself all along, insisting it was him who needed time to remember.  But now, he had and she wasn’t any closer to reconciling this thing. Because it was indeed, a thing.

While she was standing there, something shifted.  His bottom lip dropped just a little, and it quivered. Not that she was staring at his mouth, but…

But…

“Let me try something…” she whispered, sliding one hand behind his neck and pulling him down for a kiss.  Not just any kiss, though.  A real kiss. She could tell it was real because his teeth clamped down on her bottom lip to keep her from moving so much.  She grunted into his mouth and he let go.

“Sorry,” he whispered. “Too much?”

Her breath came out in steady puffs as her eyes searched for something, anything that screamed out ‘wrong’. It wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t.

“No,” she replied. “Not enough.”

She tugged him inside, her lips back on his as he slammed her door behind him, sliding the locks into place before he placed both hands on her waist.

Natasha took the opportunity to jump onto his front and he caught her. Effortlessly.

He grinned in surprise. “Muscle memory, I guess…”

That grin was wholly, entirely Bucky–and Natasha was starting to love it. “Let’s see what else your muscles remember…”