"I, um..." Bucky Barnes ran a hand through his shaggy brown hair, long tendrils falling immediately in front of his eyes once more.
The piercing blue was clouded by a combination of embarrassment and uncertainty, his lips turned down as he waited for the other occupant of the room to either say something or walk away. They'd been running into each other around the compound for months, talking only when necessary, and - thus far - they'd avoided spending any time together one-on-one.
"Sorry," Natasha said, pursing her lips. "Sam's waiting for me."
Bucky nodded, exhaling slowly, before adding, "I thought Sam went out for the day with that receptionist."
"дерьмо," the red-head cursed under her breath, earning a sheepish grin from Bucky.
Her eyes flickered up to meet his, allowing one corner of her mouth to curl upward in a secret smirk, as she remembered that he was one of the few Avengers who could understand her tendency to curse in Russian. In fact, as memories flitted through her mind, she remembered that he was the one who tried to curb her of the habit so many years ago.
"Don't say it," she warned him, still smiling at the Winter Soldier standing across the kitchen from her. "Don't--"
Bucky grinned, "Say what?"
She hesitated, the smile slipping from her face, at the thought that he probably wouldn't remember what she was thinking of. It was one of the most difficult parts about working with him, being in such a close proximity of someone who had such a profound impact on her life, knowing that he would never remember any of it.
Never remember her.
Forcing her lips upward in a quick grimace, she shrugged and turned to leave. She'd done a fantastic job of avoiding Bucky Barnes up until this point, no doubt assisted by the fact that she'd hacked into the compound's security system and used her phone to keep tabs on him, and she intended to keep it up in the future. Maybe it was a little much - Clint certainly gave her enough shit for it - but she figured she was doing everyone a service. One, the further she was from Bucky, the less likely she was to fall to pieces. No one needed to see that happen. Two...well...she'd felt compelled to keep an eye on him ever since he moved in. It wasn't that she didn't trust him, she always would, but...she was worried about him. More than she wanted to be. More than she could afford to be.
"Natasha..." Bucky said, snapping her out of her thoughts before she could escape the room.
She took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders as if preparing mentally to face him, and pivoted where she stood.
The Winter Soldier stood less than a foot away from her, his cerulean eyes staring at her with an intensity that made the hair on the back of her neck stand straight up. He'd snuck up on her without a sound, which was something very few people could say and survive to talk about it. If she made one small movement, one imperceptible step, she'd be able to feel his breath on her cheek. It was already temptation enough, being this close to him, when all she wanted to do was eliminate the space between them 24/7.
"What is it, Barnes?" Natasha asked impatiently, planting her hands on her hips as she stared him down.
Doubt clouded his blue eyes, and he hesitated for a moment while he gathered his thoughts. She wished she could see straight into his mind and end this whole charade, but - alas - she was doomed to a life alone. It was what she had accepted for her life. It was what she deserved.
"You used to call me James," he said softly, clenching and unclenching his fist nervously.
Natasha's eyes grew wide, and she barely stifled a gasp. Years of training flew out the window as she struggled - and failed - to keep the emotion from showing on her face.
"That, um..." she cleared her throat. "That was a long time ago."
Bucky frowned, "Seems like yesterday."
"Yeah, well, a lot has changed," Natasha retorted, taking a step back.
He stepped toward her, the room shrinking around them like the space between them, as the air grew thick. She could practically taste the tension, goosebumps running up her arms, and she steeled herself. This wasn't rational - it wasn't practical - and she couldn't let herself be affected like this.
"Guess so," the Winter Soldier murmured, keeping his eyes glued on hers. "The doctors say I've made a lot of progress lately."
Natasha's voice was hardly a whisper as she replied, "You always did impress me."
"Then what can I do to get you to stay with me," Bucky asked slowly. "Tell me, and I'll do it."
She shook her head, "I-I...I can't..."
He narrowed the distance between them, his metal arm sliding up her forearm like cool silk. She froze where she stood, unable to tear herself away, unable to do anything but stare at the man she fell in love with those years ago. It hurt too much to resist him, and she could feel her walls tumbling down all over again.
Bucky cupped her cheek with his hand, his thumb brushing feather light over her lips, before lowering his forehead to rest against hers.
"James..." Natasha whispered, allowing herself to feel - just for a moment - as she leaned into him.
He smiled, speaking those words she'd hoped for every day and every night, "я помню тебя."*