Actions

Work Header

All Fall Down

Work Text:

Fabric. Ragged. Dirty.

Steve honestly didn’t know why he held onto it. It was a relic, much like him.

Much like Bucky.

Something from another time.

He couldn’t think about Bucky. Thinking about it made it real. His mind rebelled. He couldn’t have lost Bucky. Not again. Not when he was just getting him back. It was too horrible to be real.

But it was. He’d watched his best friend dissolve in front him, unable to do anything to stop it. They’d lost, something Steve never wanted to believe was possible. If he allowed himself to believe it, then what was the point in fighting?

Steve buried his face in his hands. Exhaustion had seeped into his muscles, his bones, his very cells. There wasn’t a part of him that didn’t hurt.

His heart most of all.


 

Where was Steve? Natasha’s eyes flitted through the crowd, some wounded, some not, all exhausted and grief stricken. Everyone was still shell shocked, trying to fathom the horror that Thanos had wrought. Nat had tried to keep Steve in her sights, but he’d managed to evade her on their way back to the palace.

Seems he’d learned a thing or two in the last couple of years. She would have been proud if she wasn’t so damn worried.

She’d never seen Steve like this. Not when they fought aliens or HYDRA or Ultron. Hell, simple street thugs. Never once had she seen Steve Rogers lose hope. Lose faith.

It scared her, far more than Thanos ever could.

“Nat.”

Natasha paused, her eyes falling closed. She hoped to do this later. Much later, but that was the guilt talking. She knew she hadn’t done anything wrong, but she hated unfinished business. Bruce was her unfinished business. She was happy he was back, thrilled even; she had missed him. But two years was a long time.

Slowly, she turned. “Hi Bruce.”

Bruce looked a bit worse for wear. Getting thrown around in that Hulkbuster armor left him battered and bruised. He had a few bumps and bruises; his hair was shorter than she remembered. Grayer too.

“You okay?”

She nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Hell of a day, huh?”

Where was he going with this? Bruce never had been the small talk type. He was skittish anywhere that wasn’t his lab. Worry about Steve gnawed at her; she needed to find him.

“The worst.”

”Powerful statement coming from you.”

“Yeah.”

“Is Clint okay? In all the commotion…”

“Clint’s okay for now. Scott too.”

Bruce frowned. “That guy who talks to ants?”

“He does a lot more than that. Scott’s…a character.” It hit her again, just how much Bruce missed. He shouldn’t have left, she thought. But he made his choice.

Just like she has made hers.

“Maybe I’ll meet him one of these days.” Bruce paused, apparently thinking, then started again. “Nat…”

“I really need to find Steve. How hard is it to find a super soldier?” She was making a bad joke to cover her discomfort; maybe Bruce wouldn’t notice. She threw her arms around him; she really was glad he was back, even if her feelings had changed. “I’m really glad you’re back.”

She was halfway down the hall when Bruce called out to her again. When she turned, he looked resigned and sad. “You and Cap, huh?”

He didn’t appear to be judging her. Simply stating a fact. “Yeah.”

“Are you happy?”

Despite how terrible everything currently was, Natasha allowed herself a smile. “Surprisingly, yes.”

“That’s good. That’s really good, Nat.”

They nodded their goodbyes and Nat resumed her search. The Steve she knew would be looking at intel, searching for a way—any way—out of their current situation. But something was wrong, she could feel it in her bones.

She didn’t know when she became so attuned to him. Since the fall of SHIELD they’d been close, much closer than she could have ever expected. The spy and the super soldier? The Russian assassin and America’s Golden Boy? It was absurd.

Yet here they were.

Things changed after Berlin. Helping Steve break their friends out of the Raft made her a fugitive. She’d been one before. She could do it again. It was harder on Steve. On Sam. They never said anything, at least not to her. Maybe it was an Army thing. She didn’t know.

She never considered abandoning them and going her own way. She was through running.

It finally clicked. Of course Steve would be there. She couldn’t imagine how torn up he must be. It was why she needed to get to him. Her soldier took far too much on himself; he always had.

Bucky’s little farm wasn’t far from the palace, within walking distance. They hadn’t been to it since receiving word that T’Challa’s little sister had managed to undo whatever HYDRA and the Soviets had done. Steve talked to his oldest friend a handful of times over a secure channel, but Nat knew it wasn’t the same. There was always the mission. And the next one. And the one after that.

Nat sometimes wondered if Steve was afraid.

Captain America, afraid? It sounded insane, but Natasha knew the man. She knew Steven Grant Rogers in a way no one else did. Bucky was Steve’s last link to the past. Losing that could break him.

She was afraid it finally had.

Footprints pressed into the soft earth; it was definitely Steve’s heavy boot print. Nat tread lightly; she didn’t want to startle him, but she didn’t want to make him run either. She needn’t have bothered.

Steve sat motionless in the rough wooden chair. If the shadows didn’t reflect his steady breathing, he could have been a statue. His head lay in his hands, his back to her.

The sight broke her heart.

Carefully, Nat knelt at his feet. “Steve?”

Steve flinched, her gentle touch both welcome and hated. The darkness inside him—the hole Bucky had left—just wanted to be alone. But the rest of him cried out for her. She was the only one he trusted with his heart, his weakness.

In the end, his body moved for him, lowering his hands down to hers.

Nat caught the large calloused hands in hers, holding tight. His eyes were rimmed with red, but he wasn’t crying. He just looked defeated.

“Hey soldier.”

Steve tried to muster a smile for her; even like this, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever known. But it wouldn’t come. Too much had happened.

“I don’t know what to do.”

His voice was barely more than a whisper, but at least he was talking. “I don’t think anyone does.”

“I feel like I should do something. Could have done something.”

She twisted their hands together, surprised by the small circle of cloth trapped between them. “What’s this?”

“Nothing. Not anymore.”

Steve was sentimental to a fault; it was secretly one of her favorite things about him. Nat turned the circle over in her hand.

It was faded, torn. But it was unmistakable. The Avengers A. The symbol of their makeshift family. It must have come from Steve’s uniform. Nat reached up, holding the patch over the ragged hole it left. “I didn’t even notice it was missing.”

“Ukraine.”

“Oh.” Ukraine had been a particularly nasty place. The civil war made it hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys, something she knew Steve hated. It was something Natasha had dealt with all her life.

“Don’t know why I have it. I just…couldn’t throw it out.”

She knew why. “It’s home.”

“You’re home.” Seeing Nat in front of him, she was the only thing he had left to hold on to. Everything else was gone. If he lost her, it would destroy him.

Nat’s throat clenched painfully; she couldn’t bear to see him like this. To mask it, she stood and eased herself into his lap, ignoring the dirt and grime that covered them. Steve wrapped his arms around her, leaning in to inhale her scent. He could just make it out under all the sweat and exhaustion that rolled off her in waves.

His beard tickled her skin, but it was welcome. It meant he was alive. They both were. They remained that way, foreheads pressed together, until the sun set through the window and darkness enveloped them.

“Nat?”

“Yeah?”

“Did you check…?” He trailed off, not wanting to say the horror out loud.

“Clint and Scott have checked in. The kids are a little freaked out, but otherwise okay.”

Steve blew out a breath. Thank God. Yet something niggled at the back of his mind. Would He really let this happen? Days like this made him wonder if there was anything to believe in at all.

“Fury?”

“Nothing.”

“Tony?”

Sadly, she shook her head. From what little Bruce could tell them, Tony had gone after one of Thanos’ ships. He hadn’t been alone. But no one had heard anything from him since.

So many, Steve thought. So many good people. Sam. Bucky. T’challa. Vision. Wanda. “Shuri?”

“She’s a bit banged up, but otherwise fine.” Physically, at least. Natasha didn’t know how the younger woman was handling the death of her brother.

“I can’t imagine what she’s going through.”

“You’re a terrible liar, Rogers.”

Steve looked away, regret and shame in his blue eyes. “Bucky’s always been like a brother to me. When I had no one, I still had him. When he fell…it took a piece of me with him. I thought I was getting that back.”

She carded her fingers through his long locks, hoping to offer some comfort. She wasn’t good at this, at emotions and feelings, but Steve helped her learn.

He taught her so many things.

Steve didn’t want comfort or sympathy or pity. Anger like he’d never known bubbled up inside him. He slammed his hand down on the rickety table beside them, both startling Nat and shattering the wood. “What gives that monster the right?” he growled dangerously.

Nat slithered off his lap quickly, relief washing through her. Steve had always worn his emotions on his sleeve; the silent defeated man she’d found was not her Steve. He needed to get this out if they had any hope of moving forward.

Steve ignored the sounds of shattering wood, standing abruptly. He yanked off his gloves, chucking them across the room. Tucked in a corner of the hut Bucky had some exercise equipment, a punching bag like Steve favored. Why would Bucky have such a thing? Steve didn’t know, but he suspected it might be for the same reason he did. A reminder of the past, of a simpler time. It broke the dam inside him. Steven marched over and took a swing; no finesse, no control, his immense strength knocking it clean off.

Bucky was gone. Sam was gone. Vision was gone. Wanda. T’Challa. That tree friend of Thor’s, Groot. Who knew how many others? Steven dropped to his knees beside the bag and began to pummel it viciously, almost as if he was trying to mimic the pain inside his heart.

This was his fault. If he’d signed the damn Accords they would have been together. The Avengers, working side by side to save the world.

Maybe it wouldn’t have helped. Maybe it would. But they would have been together.

Finally, the tears came. He cried for Bucky and Peggy. For Tony and T’challa. For Wanda and Vision. He cried for everyone they’d lost, for his own arrogance and stubbornness. This was too high a price to pay.

Nat desperately wanted to go to him, but she needed to wait. She had to let him get it out, be willing to accept her. They needed each other, more than ever before. It felt like an eternity, waiting. Once Steve seemed to calm, she moved, standing beside him. She laid her hand over the top of his head. A great shudder passed through him and he reached for her.

Steve pressed his cheek into her belly, arms tight around her waist. The fact that she remained floored him. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“This is my fault. Bucky, Tony, all of it.”

“Steve, you didn’t invite the insane alien to Earth. The martyr act isn’t necessary.”

“You wanted to keep us together. The Avengers. I just went and threw it all away.”

“For your best friend. For your family.”

“You guys were my family too. We wasted so much time.”

“I wouldn’t say it was wasted.” She offered him a sly smirk. “I think our timing’s pretty good.”

He flushed, her teasing exactly what he needed. Nat never let him stay in his head for too long. She was always ready with a quip or a smile. He’d come to love her for it.

“And you weren’t wrong about Ross. I should have seen it sooner.”

“I hate what it did to us. What if that was why we lost today? Because we weren’t united?”

“Rogers,” she began, using his last name to get her point across, “Thanos is the most powerful being in existence. I don’t think singing kumbaya was going to help.”

Logically, he knew she was right. But that didn’t make it hurt less. “So many good people…”

She stroked his long hair. “I know.” She let him hold her as long as he needed. Steve Rogers the man may be hurting and struggling to comprehend what happened, but he was still Captain America. It didn’t matter if he had his shield or the star on his chest. 

Captain America always got up.

Steve stood and looked down at the woman who’d come to mean so much to him. Her blonde hair was a bit frizzy; there were smudges of dirt on her face. He knew she had to be as exhausted as he felt. Yet she hid it well. Her green eyes held nothing but love and trust. It was that—more than anything—that gave him hope.

Steve cupped her cheeks tenderly and slowly lowered his lips to hers. He could taste the sweat and salt, but it reminded him that they were both still alive. They had each other.

Nat wrapped her hands around his forearms, using them as an anchor. She hadn’t realized how much she missed him until this moment. They always tried to be discreet among their friends and teammates, not wanting to distract from the mission.

Now they were all alone.

Steve grunted when Natasha stood up on her toes and pressed her mouth more firmly to his. He caught her around the waist, dragging her flush against his body. He had long since lost his shyness and hesitation; Natasha was well acquainted with the man within. Right now, he needed her as much as she needed him.

They kissed until Natasha finally needed air; she licked her lips as Steve held her close. “Is it wrong to be happy right now?” he asked quietly.

She shook her head. “You’re allowed to feel more than one thing at a time, Rogers.”

He offered her a small smile. “I learned that from this girl I know.”

“She got a name? Should I be jealous?”

Steve sobered a little. There was something they hadn’t talked about yet, what with the world ending and all. “Speaking of jealousy…” He didn’t know how to feel about Bruce being back. He and the scientist had never been close, but Steve considered him a friend. One that he himself encouraged to date the woman in front of him.

To quote Sam: it was awkward.

“He knows. Figured it out for himself actually. I was going to explain, but there wasn’t time.” Not to mention that she didn’t know how to explain. Being with Steve barely made sense to her half the time.

“And how do you feel?”

“I made my choice a long time ago, Steve.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

She shrugged. “Happy he’s not dead.”

“And?”

“A little pissed he just skipped out.”

“There it is.”

“But we’ve got bigger problems.”

“Yeah.” Steve looked around the hut, a little ashamed of his actions. Bucky’s living quarters were ruined. He should clean up, but then he remembered that Bucky was never coming back.

Nat realized she was losing him again. “Steve?”

Something shiny caught his eye. The moonlight was reflecting off something, a piece of glass. He fumbled for his tiny flashlight as he bent to look; under the glass was a photograph. He shook the broken glass away carefully; a lump formed in his throat.

It was a photograph of him and Bucky.

Where had Bucky gotten such a thing? It was from their time in the Army; winter 1943, perhaps? The serum improved his memory, but he had a hard time placing it at first. “Oh, Buck.” Steve ran his thumb over his best friend’s image; it was the laughing mischievous man he’d known and not the emotionless assassin his captors turned him into.

“You two were quite a handsome pair.”

Steve reached out, tucking Nat into his side. He needed her strength. “The serum fixed a lot of things.”

Natasha scoffed. “I’ve seen your file, Rogers. You were always cute.”

He grinned. “Cute, huh?”

“If you tell anyone I used that word, I will break your fingers.”

“Not much of a threat, Nat.”

“It would hurt. At least for a little bit.”

“Promises, promises.”

She elbowed him, but a smile curved her lips. It was good to see him teasing, even if it was fleeting. “Where was this?”

“Germany.” That much was obvious. He looked closer. “Outside Dusseldorf, I think.”

“Memory getting fuzzy in your old age, Rogers?”

He chuckled. “Picture’s black and white, Romanoff. German countryside tends to all blend together.”

She tightened her grip on his waist. He’d confided some of his stories to her; she was honored by his trust. Yet she never wanted to seem like she was prying. She was still working on sharing many of her own secrets. Steve never asked about her past; he allowed her to open up at her own pace. “It looks like it was a good day.”

“Not many of those.”

“Not exactly what we saw in the newsreels, huh?”

He looked askance. “You’ve seen those?”

She nodded. “They showed us. You were famous.” She didn’t need to elaborate on who “they” were. Steve knew exactly where she’d received her training. The Red Room was designed as the answer to the super soldier program. Steve was the thing she had been trained to destroy.

The irony was not lost on her.

“I’m sorry, Natasha.”

She moved so he could see her face. “Don’t apologize for being you, Rogers. Not ever.”

He cradled her cheek and ducked to brush her lips with his. “Yes, ma’am.”

 


 

They were mostly unnoticed as they returned to the palace. Steve wondered what would happen; he wanted to see Shuri, see for himself that she was okay, but he was filthy and exhausted. Everyone looked as stunned as he still felt. It didn’t feel real.

“Steve?”

Thor’s voice reflected the way Steve felt. Angry. Defeated. Sad. “Hey. You okay?”

His friend simply nodded and to Steve’s surprise, drew him into a hug. Of all the Avengers, Steve felt a certain kinship with the Asgardian. They were both soldiers. “I have missed you, my friend.”

“Same here.” Steve let him go, once again admiring his friend’s new look. “That’s going to take some getting used to.”

Thor looked confused for a moment, then nodded. “I could say the same.”

Steve scratched at his beard. “Did for me too.”

Thor shifted his weight, surprisingly graceful for such a large man. “I feel like this is my fault.”

“Join the club. It’s not anyone’s fault, Thor.”

“But if I’d…”

Steve grabbed the Asgardian’s shoulder. “We can’t think like that. Not if we’re going to get this bastard back for what he’s done.”

That seemed to perk Thor up a bit. “Aye.”

“We will. After we rest and regroup.” This was familiar. Steve never felt like he was born to lead men, but somehow the task always fell to him. Thanks to Natasha, he felt worthy of taking up the mantle again. “Listen, has anyone checked on your girl?”

Thor’s frowned, then shook his head. Steven sensed something was going on with that, but he didn’t want to make his friend even uncomfortable. They’d all missed a lot in the last couple of years. God, had it really been that long? Steve was beginning to feel every one of his ninety plus years.

Steve turned, but Thor called out to him again. “Yeah?”

“Loki’s dead.”

He wasn’t expecting that. Steve had no love for Loki, but he knew that in spite of everything, Thor had loved his brother. Steve felt the same way about Bucky. Family was family, no matter what. Steve’s family needed him now. Including Thor. “I’m sorry.”

“So am I.” Thor laughed, a near hysterical sound. “You know the last thing I said to him?” Steve shook his head. “I said, ‘You are the worst, brother.’ My last words were ones of condemnation.” Tears stung the Asgardian’s eyes. Steve had never seen him cry before. “He was trying to save me, Steve. From Thanos. And I couldn’t even avenge him!”

Steve understood exactly how Thor felt. He grabbed Thor’s massive shoulders and forced him to look up. “We will, Thor. I promise you. We’ll avenge all of them.”

Thor stared at him for a long moment, then he nodded. They parted, Steve feeling the weight of their losses more than ever. How could they not know something like this was coming? A mad alien intent on snuffing out half the universe? Even after New York, alien threats still seemed so bizarre.

Tony knew. Tony had tried to warn them. Now they didn’t know if Tony was alive or dead.

Nat slipped her hand into Steve’s. She could almost sense him spiraling into self-recrimination and doubt again. He was hard on himself, too hard. It was what made him the best man she knew. It was one of the reasons she loved him. He squeezed her hand, grateful for her presence. “Come on, soldier.”

Steve had a suite reserved for whenever he visited; he hadn’t expected to use it. Natasha didn’t know where it was; they hadn’t been in Wakanda since they became a couple. He led her quietly, people nodded at him as they passed. He was surprised they could still look at him with respect; was it simply because of T’Challa?

“Stay with me, Rogers.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” She squeezed his hand, wishing she could do more to support him. She just wasn’t good at that sort of thing. She saw how he was with Thor; that was the Steve Rogers she knew. Giving support and leadership to everyone around him. Making them believe in the impossible. He’d done it for her, without even realizing it.

The room was unchanged; sparsely furnished, it was little more than a guest room. A bed, a couple of chairs, a desk, a spectacular view. No one was interested in the view. The pair moved directly toward the en suite; Natasha was floored but it. Everything gleamed; it had tech she didn’t recognize. “I think we could both use a bath.”

“Is that an offer, Agent Romanoff?”

“If you play your cards right, Rogers.” She didn’t think either of them were really in the mood, but it was nice to see him try. She gave him a smile, then went to turn on the water to the huge tub. But she couldn’t figure out how it worked. She thought it might be a touch thing, but nothing happened.

“Here.” Steve reached out and touched the faucet. “It’s calibrated to me.”

“Oh.” Water rushed out it, slowly filling the tub. “That’s unexpected.”

“You’re unexpected.”

“Yeah?” She looked up at him, wondering what he was thinking. “In a good way or a bad way?”

“Definitely a good way.” He brushed his lips over her temple, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. He relaxed as she hugged him back, apparently unperturbed by how filthy they both were. But, he reflected, they’d been in similar situations before. In fact, it was one of things that started them on this journey together.

Natasha slowly began to undress him, peeling away the layers of his uniform. Over the years, it had grown progressively filthier, the white stripes and silver star now mostly obscured. Nat sometimes wondered if this was just another way for Steve to punish himself, especially after what happened with Tony.

Steve absently ran his fingers through her blonde locks as she stripped him; her hair was soft, the touch soothing to his wounded soul. He sighed when he felt her lips touch his skin, right over his heart. “Nat?”

“Shhh.” She stood up on her toes and kissed his lips quickly, then resumed her task. She found the ghosts of bruises on his torso, the serum well on its way to healing his body. She kissed each one anyway, moving lower and lower until she knelt before him. One by one, she removed his heavy boots, then pushed the rest of the uniform over his hips. Steve stepped out if it, clad only in a pair of boxer briefs that left little to the imagination. So maybe she’d been wrong about the mood.

“My turn,” he said softly. He beckoned her to stand, gently turning her around by the shoulders. Nat leaned against him as he pulled the zipper down the front of her suit, his broad strong hands molding to her curves as he pushed it down. She made no move to stop him as he explored her naked torso; she knew he needed this. She did too. They were warriors, survivors; who would judge them for clinging to one another?

Steve kissed the side of her throat as he shoved the rest of the suit over her hips. There were bruises on her too, darker than his yet already healing. When she’d first told him about what happened to her in the Red Room, the physical and psychological torture, the experiments, his heart had broken for her. He’d undergone his procedure willingly, knowing the risks. Dr. Erskine was the first person to believe in him; he didn’t want to let him down. Natasha had been taken and molded into a weapon against her will; she’d survived.

Natasha hummed as he cupped her breasts, stroking her nipples into hardness. “Steve?”

“Take of your boots.” He let her go, yanking off his boxers as she did her boots. Once their last remaining clothing was gone, he scooped her up and carried her to the tub. She clung to his neck as he lowered them into the steaming hot water; their enhanced physiology gave them increased tolerance to things like heat and cold. It felt heavenly, the hot water soaking into aching tired muscles.

Nat positioned herself in his lap, straddling Steve’s legs. He stroked up her back, enjoying the feel of her skin on his. She cupped his face, his beard deliciously rough, and leaned in to kiss him. Slow and gentle, it belied the need they both felt coiling inside. She felt him, hard and thick against her belly; her core clenched in response. “This okay?” she asked.

Steve nodded. “Yeah.” He needed a reminded that not everything in his life was ruined. That there was hope. Natasha was still there, still loved him. He pulled her closer, groaning as she rolled her hips over his length. “God, Nat, just like that.”

“Like this?” She did it again, guiding his hands to her chest as she moved over him. It was her turn to moan as he touched her, rolling stiff nipples between his strong fingers. He didn’t have to be gentle or careful with her; he didn’t have to hold back. She could handle him. He ducked down to suck one firm nipple into his mouth, sending a jolt of need to her aching core. “Fuck. Harder, Steve.”

He obeyed her, suckling greedily with his mouth, fondling the twin with his hand. She moved her hips faster, the firm ridge of his cock sliding perfectly over her swollen clit. The pressure built, higher and higher until it snapped, pleasure flooding her. She gripped his hair, holding him to her as the waves washed through her.

Steve growled, her rough handling making his cock twitch. He needed to feel her around him. Now. He gripped her hips hard, angling her just right for him to push inside. Natasha whimpered loudly as he took her, her body stretching to accommodate his girth. She was still quivering, fluttering around him; Steve moaned loudly. “Nat, Nat.”

She kissed him deeply, holding tight as she moved, feeling how badly he needed her, needed this. He felt so good, filling her perfectly. “Don’t stop.”

Water splashed around them; neither paid it any heed. Need, desperation, lingering grief, it all poured out of them as she rode him, bodies moving in practiced sync. Steve found her clit with deft fingers, rubbing with hard firm circles. She gasped as she climaxed a second time, spasming around him. Steve followed quickly, her tight wet warmth calling to him. He grunted, holding her to him as he came hard, filling her. “My Natasha.”

She found his mouth, kissing him hungrily. “Yes, yes.” She cursed in Russian, riding out the last waves of their mutual highs. The only sound was harsh breathing and pounding hearts; the water was growing cooler by the moment but neither cared.

Steve held her close, grounded by her presence. Love for her warred with the grief he still felt, the guilt. Everyone he loved was gone, everyone but her.

Natasha felt him trembling; she rubbed his back soothingly. Eventually, she reached for a washcloth and some soap, scooting back so she could wash the lingering dirt from his skin. Steve gave her a soft smile and began to relax, leaning back against the porcelain. Her touch was gentle yet firm, loving above all. His body was healing, but it would take longer for his heart. So much loss, so much pain. She was the single light shining in his world.

“Feel better?” Natasha asked when she finished.

“Thank you.” He didn’t know what else to say. The emotions of the last few hours still threatened to engulf him, yet she was still there. He took the cloth and soap from her and slowly began to return the favor, washing the last few hours from her pale skin. The hot water and their lovemaking had made her skin a rosy pink; he placed loving kisses to the swells of her breasts, along her collarbones. Natasha combed her fingers through his hair, relaxing deeper in his hold. She was so tired; his touch was soothing.

“Don’t fall asleep on me, Romanoff,” Steve murmured.

“Tired.”

“Me too.” He rinsed them both off and carried her out of the tub. Setting her on her feet, he grabbed a couple of towels for them. They dried off, then moved toward the bedroom. It was dark, almost pitch black, but Steve knew the way. He took her hand and guided her, peeling back the covers to the enormous bed. “Stay?”

“I don’t think I’ve got a room, so you’re stuck with me, soldier,” she teased gently. She rolled into his arms, sighing as he held her close. She didn’t mind; she needed his solid presence too. “We’re gonna be okay. We’re gonna be okay.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I know you, Steve Rogers. You always get back up.”

“How much longer?” His brow knitted; it was so exhausting, the constant struggle.

“For as long as it takes to finish the job.” She threaded her fingers through his. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Good.” He kissed her forehead. “I love you, Natasha.” He didn’t say it often, knew it made her uncomfortable. But he needed her to know.

She smiled; for the first time, the words filled her with joy, rather than self-loathing. “Love you too, Steve.” She kissed him sweetly. “Now sleep. We’ll regroup in the morning.”

“Yes, ma’am.” And he believed her. They would regroup. Regroup and make Thanos pay for what he’d done. And they’d do it together.