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As Red As Blood

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This was the second time in six months that Natasha had gone MIA on mission in what was a suspected hostage situation.

Clint was really going to have to have a talk with Coulson about the missions they decided to send her on. Later, he would find out that Shield hadn’t actually organised the mission at all, that Natasha had found it and decided to go herself. They did that from time to time, usually for situations that were personal to them. Bucky would find Hydra agents or suspected brainwashing situations and would take off on them. Clint had a thing for people who had gotten in too deep into bad things, drugs or underground rings, and would often bring home strays with him.

Natasha’s thing often centered around kids. Around abductions, experimentation on children, paedophile rings.

But for now, Clint needed someone, something to be angry at, so he chose Shield in that moment.

Gathering the others and preparing themselves to leave took no time at all. By the time Clint had received the called that Natasha hadn’t checked in two days in a row, to them getting suited up and congregating on the jet took all of five minutes and then they were in the air.

A minute after they’d took off, Clint got the message with the coordinates of Nat's last known location and his stomach dropped straight down to his feet.

God fucking dammit.

Because where else would it be but Russia? Not only Russia, but fucking Moscow because of course.

Natasha never could resist the pull when information came through their channels about stuff going down in her home country. Literally, never. She was terrified, hyper vigilant, scared stiff, that any one of those reports coming in meant The Red Room was back.

Wasn’t that literally Hydra’s motto? And now since they knew Hydra had had a hand in The Red Room the whole time, wasn’t it possible that Natasha’s ‘cutting of one head’ AKA burning the place to the ground, wasn’t the end?

But, never in all their years tracking and hunting down and stopping whatever was going on, had they had anything come out of Russia, from the original site of The Red Room. Until now, that was.

Tony let Jarvis drive the jet so Clint could talk to all of them.

They all knew of Natasha’s past, they knew of the place that had raised her and trained her. They knew how important it was that that place never see the light of day again.

As Clint told them the location, there were a few wary glances at each other but most didn’t know Moscow was where it all started. Clint did, and so did Bucky. He hated how he had been even a small part of that.

They all knew, that whether that hellhole had returned or not, Natasha was in danger.

They had to get to her.

Fast.

Natasha woke with a jolt, pulling in a shuddering breath through the freezing cold water that rained down her face.

The man in front of her laughed, tossing the plastic bucket aside as he grabbed a handful of the woman’s hair and jerked her head up to face him. “Natalia.” The voice hummed, breath ghosting across her cheek.

God, she despised when they sent in him. He was far too fucking handsy and loved getting in her face.

As far as she could tell, it had been two days, at least.

Two days in a dingy, cold room with zero natural light and dirt fucking everywhere.

Two days of beatings, hands all over her, trigger words chanted over and over and over. The trigger words hadn’t worked in a long time. She’d fought fucking tooth and nail to get that shit out of her head and had succeeded. They wouldn’t get her with them.

But they knew them. They knew every single word.

So no, they wouldn’t get her with them but the fact these men knew those triggers told her something possibly much much worse. It told her that they knew her, they knew The Red Room, or someone connected at the very least. It told her that they probably had the tools to just start the whole process again.

To take her mind, to implant new words, to use drugs and shocks and wipes and pain until they were so firmly ingrained all they had to do was say the first word and she would comply.

However, after two days of the old trigger words, Natasha grew restless. Didn’t they know the Avengers would be on their way? Didn’t they realize the words didn’t work anymore? Why weren’t they wiping her already, making her a clean slate for a new trigger?

She got her answer, wishing she’d never even thought those questions.

The man dropped her head, taking a step back.

He’d brought in a case with him and Natasha wasn’t particular interested in finding out what was in it.

Obviously it didn’t matter what she wanted, and the man began to pull out a collection of items that, at first glance, made no sense together but then the pieces clicked together and Natasha felt her veins fill with ice.

They weren’t after the Widow. They’d been calling her Natalia and the woman had assumed that was because that was the name she’d had back then, but it dawned on her quickly that actually, it was far more nefarious than that.

They wanted Natalia. They wanted the girl in her head, not the woman. They wanted her dropped and then…then they were probably going to start the process.

Children were easier to mold and Natalia was the most dangerous child out there.

She had the most kills under her belt by the time she was ten, that the Red Room had ever seen. She was ruthless, unstoppable, deadly.

If she was controlled…if she was controlled, it would all be over. She could kill her family and friends, kill Shield completely, kill anyone they wanted her to.

The man knelt down on one knee, fingers hovering the items before he chose one and stood, bringing it to her.

It was a teddy bear. Soft, brown, with a button nose. The kind of toy that Natty would ooh and aah over, wanting desperately to hold it to her chest.

“We can do this one of two ways.” The man said, smiling and holding out the bear.

“Is one of them the easy way?” Natasha growled.

“I suppose, for you it is. You can take the bear, you can take all the toys you want and you can submit willingly or…well, I’m hoping you’ll choose the second option because then I can have some fun.”

“Please, enlighten me.” Natasha said dryly.

“We make you submit. In much more…interesting ways. Either way, the outcome is the same. You submit.” He pressed the bear to Natasha’s face, brushing a paw over her cheek.

“Please, please tell me you don’t want the toy.” The man grinned.

Natasha grit her teeth and glared up at him, her body straining against the restraints. She was going to fucking kill him.

“No? Thank god, it’s been far too long since I got to play.” He threw the bear over his shoulder and slid a phone from his pocket.

“You know, these things are so useful. You see, it says right here that Natasha Romanoff has a tendency to drop when certain things happen."

Natasha stiffened. He had her Shield records.

"For example, getting knocked out, having a fever or being sick, and one I think sounds very promising, when drugged. Doesn’t that sound like fun? I think that’s the option I’ll play with first. Or I could combine the second two, what do you say? You feel like a nice cold bath?” He grinned, sliding the phone back into his pocket. “Unfortunately, getting a bath filled with ice water sounds like far too boring a chore but lucky for you, I have everything I need right here to implement that last option. I hope you’re not afraid of needles.” He turned towards the single door and clapped his hands three times.

The door swung open and two men carrying a hospital style bed came strolling in.

Once the bed was in place on the floor, one of the newcomers came up to her, a cloth in hand. Natasha knew instantly by the smell that it was chloroform.

“Just so you don’t get any funny ideas and try to escape or anything.” The original man grinned at her, waving the newcomer over.

Natasha struggled, though her arms and legs were bound, she managed to get in good few headbutts and bites in before the cloth came over her mouth and nose. She could hold her breath for a long time, so she did that, all the while still struggling.

Don’t panic, that will make you breathe faster, don’t panic.

But the restraints were good, another hint that they’d been in contact with someone from The Red Room and after a few minutes her lungs began to burn with the lack of air, her vision swimming. Eventually, she had to take a breath and within seconds, everything darkened.

Natasha woke this time both freezing cold and uncomfortably numb. As she blinked away the haze of the chloroform, her vision slowly returned.

She was alone now and as she forced her frigid muscles to move, she realized she was laying down, straps across not only her arms and ankles but her chest, waist and knees. She also had two needles firmly stuck into the crook of both arms, suspiciously murky liquid trickling in from IV bags handing above her head.

It was clear that they hadn’t been in for long, but she was already starting to feel the effects.  The cold seeping into her bones came from the drug, as did the numbness spread out across her body.

She could feel sweat collecting across the goose bumps covering her body and her heart raced in her chest.

She had no idea what drugs they were using, whether they simply wanted to confuse and disorient her or if they were going to make her hallucinate, scare her into a drop.

Pulling in a heaving breath, Natasha looked up at the gray ceiling, feeling the burn in her throat that usually indicated she was going to cry, usually a good sign that she was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed wasn’t good. Overwhelmed Natasha was always one step closer to dropping.

She lay there for an indeterminable amount of time, trying to force her leaden lungs to give her enough air and as shapes began to appear at the sides of her vision, Natasha knew she was in for a rough ride.

Alright, Natty, you’re going to have to listen to me and be strong right now.  You cannot come out.

Staring back up at the ceiling, trying to ignore the figures dancing in her peripheral, Natasha fought to just keep on breathing like nothing was going on.

She couldn’t drop.

She wouldn’t.

Chapter Text

It didn't matter if Natasha closed her eyes and tried to force herself to sleep, it didn't matter if she kept her gaze straight up at the ceiling, or that she kept repeating the names of her family over and over in her head, none of it worked to block out the faces and the voices.

People she'd killed, people she'd watched die, people who had tried to kill her. Madame, Yelena, diplomats and gangsters and assassins and daddy.

No. Not daddy. No. Seargent Barnes. Soldier.

Despite not being completely lost in the haze of the visions and the drugs coursing through her, Natasha couldn't help but begin to spiral.

Her heart raced in a way that had nothing to do with this ice in her veins.

They wanted her to panic. Panic drops were more confusing for the little and it would be even easier for them to take the confused, scared girl, and control her. There was a reason the drugs had been chosen before the other 'options' she'd been presented with.

They didn't know that she saw those faces in her nightmares already.

She already saw the blood soaked faces, empty gazes, flames surrounding them. She already saw Madame and her whip and sharp tongue. She already heard the orders compelling her to kill as she slumbered at night. She'd forgiven Bucky long before the second bullet of his had tore through her shoulder but still, she saw him too sometimes. How could she not?

She could deal with these faces. With these ghosts. She could. Most of them she had already dealt with long ago.

But of course, the drugs were inside her and her mind was the thing supplying the gruesome images, not anything else, so things took a turn as she realized those figures would not make her drop. Not anymore.

So then her mind supplied the figures that would. That could.

It started with Clint. An imaginary arrow slicing through the air above her face. His soft laugh, twisted with mirth, in her ear. His calloused fingers gripping her hair and pulling. His beautifully rough voice murmured straight into her being.

"Did you think we'd really let you into our family, Natalia? You? You're a monster with so much blood on your hands they're always going to be stained. Do you really think you deserve to live happily ever after?" His face slid into her view and it didn't matter how hard she squeezed her eyes shut, he wouldn't go away.

Daddy

No. Shut the fuck up.

This twisted version of Clint would never be anything to her. He couldn't be. He would never treat her like that, never say those things.

It's not real. Not real. Not real...

Right?

Natasha shuddered, a shaky, panicked breath escaping her lips as more figures joined Clint, their faces twisted imitations of those she held dearest to her.

Their eyes filled with hatred, with disgust, with anger. All directed at her.

Natasha began to feel her grip on reality slipping.

Please. Please no, I'll be good.

"You're not good, Natalia, you never have been and never will be." Steve murmured, voice sickeningly sweet as he looked down on her.

"You're bad. Evil. You don't deserve redemption and you will never get it." Bucky whispered, eyes glinting in the darkness of the cell.

Natasha whimpered ever so softly, yanking her head to the side, where Tony and Bruce stood, arms crossed.

"Please," the woman pleaded, fighting to get air into her panicked body, "make them stop."

"Natalia, why would we do that? This is what you deserve. This is it. This, forever." Tony hummed, taking a step towards her.

Bruce's eyes flashed green, a dangerous grin spreading across his face. "I don't think she gets it, Tone, why don't we show her what she really deserves?" The sleeves of his shirt began to rip as the Hulk began to come out. "Let's give her the pain she's inflicted on everyone else." He growled.

Natasha couldn't pull her eyes away as the group descended on her, holding her down, hands squeezing tight enough to break bones as they closed in and closed in until all she could see were their angry faces and their hate filled eyes.

Natasha screamed.

...

After that, Natasha lost all concept of time and reality.

She was aware of nothing but the faces and the words ingrained into her brain.

Until mercilessly, Natasha sank into the darkness that pulled at her. She went willingly.

...

The next thing the woman was aware of was how fucking cold she was as she forced her gritty eyes to open.

She was still laying down, blurry gaze staring up at the ceiling. The restraints were still wrapped around her. The needles were still stuck in her arms, though the liquid coming through was now a different colour.

She was also wet. Not just 'bucket of water thrown at her again wet' but head to toe, dripping with water.

A shiver ripped through her body as she exhaled, teeth biting momentarily into her lower lip.

She had no idea how long she'd been there now, the drugs had addled her consciousness so much she didn't know if she'd been tormented by the hallucinations for minutes or days or even longer.

But it seemed that now they were moving onto plan two. And sure, Natasha could probably pretend to drop, it wouldn't have been the first time. Maybe if she convinced them, they would let their guard down and Natasha could get out of those fucking restraints.

But, she had a sneaking suspicion that even if she appeared dropped, the torture would continue, and it was best that if that were the case, she wasn't anywhere close to Natalia or Natty. She wasn't using her voice or her mannerisms because that was one step closer to a slip up.

No, she couldn't take a drop, she just had to sit through whatever they were going to do to her.

As Natasha lay there, gaze up at the stained ceiling, the effects of the new drug and the reasoning behind the cold water became clear. Apparently the man had decided against the bath, and was trying the whole sick/fever drop another way.

Despite her best efforts at trying to control the violent shuddering of her body, it was all but impossible.

Before long, her teeth were chattering hard enough to send vibrations up her head, and her body was shaking so hard she worried the restraints were tight enough that she could break something.

This time, Natasha determinedly did not let herself lose track of time.

She looked up and counted through the seconds, even as her joints ached with the violence of the shuddering and her mind tried to pull away from the digging pain of the cold seeping into her very core.

As the minutes piled up, Natasha could feel her grasp slipping. She was tired. Really fucking tired. It was getting more difficult to count as the tremors began to slow as the fatigue built up.

After about half an hour, the IV stand clicked and Natasha could feel the second the drugs stopped filtering through her system.

They probably knew hypothermia was more likely to kill her than get her to drop. Or so, Natasha hoped because jeesh what a shitty way to go.

She was left to her own thoughts for a few minutes before she heard something whir to life. It sounded like an air conditioner and Natasha flicked her gaze across to the vent she'd noticed way earlier.

She couldn't see anything coming from it but she realized that was definitely the source of the noise when, seconds later, a blast of hot air blew across her face.

Seriously?

They were going to keep changing up the temperatures, sending her body from near freezing to burning hot.

Well that was certainly one way to make someone sick.

Fucking hell

Natasha forced herself to just continue breathing, even as the air pressed heavy around her, making it hard to pull in breath after her breath. Her lungs burned with the heat of the air they received.

Soon enough, Natasha's body was slick with sweat and her eyes turned gritty and dry as she continued looking up at the ceiling.

It's just temperature, Natty. Nothing to worry about. We've been through worse.

Even as she said those words, she knew the girl didn't believe her. She whined softly in her head, tears streaking down her red cheeks as she pulled in ragged breaths.

Ah, shit. Please don't do this, Natty, it's us. It's us and we've got this and you can't-

The vent stopped blowing the hot air, almost instantly replaced by ice as the drugs began to move through the tubes and into her veins again.

Alright, Natty, it's about to get cold.

Chapter Text

Natasha could feel when the inevitable fever began to take hold.

She started off unable to stop sniffling, or shivering, even when the temperatures climbed high.

Her throat burned with more than just the lack of water until she couldn't help but cough, pain sitting sharply in her chest.

Her skin was covered in sweat and she could feel how her face heated.

She twisted in the bonds, squeezing her eyes shut.

This is bad. This is so so bad.

However, it wasn't the first time she'd been sick and not dropped. It wasn't an exact science, there were a lot of factors that went into a drop; panic levels, how comfortable someone was, how safe they felt, if the position they were in was safe enough to allow that to happen, how long it had been since the last drop, how emotional someone was.

If Natasha dropped when she was sick, it was because she knew she was safe. It was because she wasn't in immediate danger, because she had time to.

This was not one of those times and she forced herself to stay as calm as she could, practising the breathing techniques Bruce had showed her, even if they were often thrown off by the violent coughing.

You're okay. Just a little sick, nothing to worry about. We don't need to drop, we can't drop, you know that. Not safe.

Natasha wasn't sure how long the whole temperature 'experiment' went on for, she drifted a few times as the fever got worse.

Despite her best efforts, she could feel how scared and afraid the girl inside her was, how she desperately wanted to come out so she could just attempt to deal with what was happening.

Natasha, bleary eyed and shuddering, watching everything through a haze, tried her best to console Natty.

We'll go home soon, and we can drop properly. With everyone there to look after us. We just can't now. We can't. I know I've said that when I didn't mean it but this time, we really can't.

After another round of the hot and cold game, Natasha barely had a minute in between a violent set of coughs, pulling multiple muscles as her body involuntarily strained against the straps.

The air was beginning to feel a little thin, and though Natasha knew it was just because she was struggling to get enough air in between each cough, she couldn't help the race of her heart and the panic in her veins.

That next time, when the IV stand clicked off, it was silent. No heat came from the vent, no sound of any machinery filtered through.

Natasha dropped her head back and forced her eyes open.

They'd stopped and she wasn't dropped, that meant that something else would be coming.

Natasha wracked her addled brain and sorted through her scattered thoughts.

What was it that made her drop?

She was so tired. All she wanted to do was curl up and sleep. The pain in her chest stabbed deep into her muscles, moving around her body until everything Natasha brushed against lit a fire across her skin.

What were they going to do? What were they going to do?

Something...Something about her head, right? Something...

So tired

Natasha was clinging to her consciousness as best as she could when the door swung open again.

Eyes snapping open, Natasha forced herself to lift her head and glare at the figure stepping over to her.

"Nataliaaaa." The voice sang as a hand moved to rest against her forehead. 

The man's lips pulled into a smile as he trailed his finger over her brow and down her cheek.

"Those red cheeks, aren't you just the cutest thing ever?" He hummed, slowly pulling his hand away. "Now, have we had any change of heart? There's no need to put yourself through the next phase, surely, when you can just surrender. Give yourself what you really want. Peace, safety. We'll look after you." He tutted as Natasha coughed, grating and painful.

"See, love? We can fix this, make you better, wouldn't you like to feel better?" He asked.

Natasha grit her teeth, forced herself to take a few breaths and looked right up at him. "Go to hell." She spat.

The man's face darkened and his hand shot out to wrap around her throat, squeezing just enough to hurt. "Never give up, huh? Well we'll see how you feel after the next phase." He smiled sweetly and dropped her throat.

Natasha was so bleary that she could barely see what happened next before it was too late.

Another cloth, more chloroform, and then just darkness.

...

Natasha woke up back in the original chair and honestly, it was kinda a relief to not have the straps across her and her breathing seemed a little easier sitting up.

Plus, she'd technically just had a nap. A forced nap, but a nap nonetheless and though she was in pain, though each breath hurt and her brain was fuzzy, Natasha was ready.

They were going to force a concussion this time. And that was perhaps the one that seemed to blur the lines of all the controlled variables. It was going to be harder to stop this one.

The man stood in the corner of the room, leaning easily against the wall, eyes on her as she came to.

"Ready for some fun, Natalia? Remember this is all your fault. You could have stopped this." 

He came stalking towards her and Natasha locked up her muscles, clenched her jaw and met his gaze. As soon as he got close enough, she threw her head forward into his.

She was met with a backhand so hard she saw stars but it was worth it to see the blood dripping down his face from a now crooked nose.

Natasha smiled, slowly bringing her head back from the side. She could taste blood in her mouth and carefully spat it out near the man's feet.

"Oh, you bitch-" the man laughed through the blood dripping down his lips. "You are going to pay for that."

Natasha just smiled sweetly. "And here I was thinking I was going to pay already."

The man smirked, sliding his belt from around his waist.

Natasha expected a blow to come from it but instead he wrapped it around her throat and tied it to the back of the chair.

As soon as the leather met her neck and pressed, she found it harder to breath. Coughs exploded from her chest and she found herself gasping for air that didn't seem to want to come.

Stars shone at the edges of her vision.

"There we go. Now you don't get any more ideas about trying to use that pretty face of yours to hit me." He grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her face up from where it had fallen.

Natasha frantically gulped down air whilst she could, her chest heaving.

The man smiled. "Let's begin."

Of course he wasn't just going to whack her over the head and leave it at that. He wanted her as broken as possible.

The first punch sent Natasha's head flying back so much it smacked into the back of the chair.

Blood dripping down over her lips and she only bared her teeth, challenging him.

The next blow knocked every single bit of air from Natasha's body, landing right in between her ribs.

Stunned for a few seconds, Natasha tried to get in air but it was seeming like a harder and harder task as time went on.

The blows continued, often in the same places.

Her chest or stomach to knock the air out of her and make her dizzy. Her head to make sure a concussion would follow. Sometimes he'd go off map, breaking a rib at one point, a ring on his finger breaking open the skin above one eyebrow, blood dripping into her eye immediately.

And through all of that, Natasha tried to focus on breathing. Her lungs ached and her entire being grew wary with each frantic, like inhaling through treacle, breath.

The pain in her head or stomach was nothing compared to the deep burn of her chest.

She was dizzy. Either from lack of air or the wounds, she wasn't sure, but she knew as Natty screamed and screamed and sobbed in her head that they were in trouble.

She refused to show it. Lifting her chin with defiance after every blow, even as everything grew hazy.

When his hand wrapped around her throat once more, squeezing until she couldn't take a breath, Natasha just blinked at him.

His fingers dug in so hard that her vision exploded and roaring sounded in her ears.

He must have remembered the mission after a moment because with a reluctant growl, he let her go and Natasha was once more frantically fighting for air.

She didn't have to for long though because the ending blow followed quickly.

The man's fist came flying towards her. Pain exploded first at the front of her skull and then at the base as her head slammed back into the chair.

Natasha didn't know any more.

...

When Natasha next woke up, it was to a hand cupping her cheek and frantic voices talking in the background.

Moving seemed exponentially difficult and even opening her eyes seemed like too much effort.

She wasn't dropped, though. So the man was probably coming up with a new plan. Probably playing nice, hence the gentle touch on her face.

Except then it wasn't so gentle, the hand tapped against her face and the fuzzy voices seemed to grow more urgent.

She thought she might have heard her name. Natasha, not Natalia, which didn't seem to make any sense.

She could feel blood sliding down her neck and shoulders, the pain in her chest so bad she really just wanted to sink back into the darkness.

Because the closer she came to consciousness, the more aware she became of how hard it was to breathe.

A voice said her name again and there were two hands on her face, one pulling at her eye.

Something slipped around her shoulders, fingers pressed against her neck and that got her to move, just a little, in an attempt to stop those fingers wrapping around her throat again. It was already too hard to breathe.

She lashed out with her head again, connecting with something hard, causing the pain in her head to grow exponentially.

She forced her eyes open, confusion warring with her need to sleep because even as she hit out, she didn't get hit back.

Instead, the voices grew softer and a hand stroked through her hair and she was so confused she just had to see what was happening.

She opened her eyes, cringing away from a light to her left, a soft whimper escaping her raw throat as the pain and tightness in her chest grew so much she worried she'd stop breathing then and there.

"Natasha?" A voice whispered and she turned her bleary, slowly going dark again, gaze.

She saw sandy hair, a purple and black costume, bow and arrow next to him.

He knelt in front of her, his hand touching her face.

Too fuzzy to understand or even remember his name, Natasha only knew that the person was safe. He was safe.

She was safe.

As the darkness closed in and her chest heaved with the need for air, she forced out the words she thought were important.

"I didn't drop." She gasped out, voice slurred and hoarse. "I didn't drop. I didn't drop." She reiterated, even as the figure swam in front of her.

Her head dropped towards his shoulder and Natasha was out again.

...

Ten minutes earlier

The team had landed in the country thirty hours ago. It had taken them that long to find the place their girl was being held.

It had been gruelling and stressful and each one of them had grown more and more anxious as time went on.

None of them had slept and had barely eaten, Clint only had when Bucky had half chastised him and told him he needed to for Natasha. He'd do literally anything for her.

But now, here they were.

They cleared the building in three minutes flat, downing anyone in sight.

They caught the last man coming out of the last room to search, hands covered in blood.

Clint just knew.

He saw red, firing countless arrows into the man before calling the others to his position.

Clint breathed a single sigh of relief as he saw Natasha, though it was quickly replaced with burning worry as he noticed her slumped position and blood coated hair.

He rushed over, dropping his bow, onto his knees in front of her.

He clutched her cheek, immediately noting how hot she was. Her cheeks were flushed and her skin was burning.

Her whole face was bloodied, sticking to his hand as he cupped her face and tried to coax her awake.

"Natasha?" He murmured, heart pounding in his chest.

He pressed fingers to her pulse point, wincing at the fast rhythm.

"Nat, please-" he whispered.

Footsteps sounded before him and all but Tony gathered around him and Natasha.

Bucky growled as he noted the belt tied around her neck, and the bruises dark against her pale skin.

He ripped it away and told Steve to work on the bonds.

Bruce pushed through to get to Natasha, fingers skimming over her hair. The back of her head was slick with blood.

He carefully pulled one of her eyelids open. She had concussion for sure.

She was the palest he'd ever seen her, apart from the flushed cheeks and even unconscious, she shuddered desperately.

''Tone, we need that footage, we need to know what happened." He spoke into the comms as he watched Clint and Bucky try to rouse her.

There was a distinct crackle every time she breathed in and her breaths were laboured, as if they were difficult to get in. Her lips were tinged blue just a little, in a way that seriously worried Bruce.

Steve had gotten her wrist bonds broken and his arm slipped around her shoulders so she didn't slump forward.

"We have to wake her up before we move her." He told the others, crouching to feel her pulse for himself. 

Then Natasha was moaning softly, weakly tilting her head to get away from his touch.

Before they could react, her head was smacking forward into Clint's, and after a millisecond to recoil, the archer was back in front of her. "Nat? Baby, it's me, it's Clint."

The woman's eyelids fluttered.

"That's it, open your eyes, love." Clint said softly, brushing over her bruised cheek. 

Bucky stroked through her hair, eyes dark.

The woman whimpered, the noise triggering a coughing fit that rocked her whole body. 

"Natasha?" Bucky whispered, crouching to her side.

Natasha's glazed gaze finally swivelled on Clint, though she was clearly not there at all. He still kept brushing over her cheek.

She was struggling to breathe, her teeth chattering together as her body heaved, mouth wide open as she tried to get air.

"I didn't drop." A voice, not hers at all but coming from her nonetheless, made everyone freeze.

The words seemed urgent, as if she needed them to know. "I didn't drop. I didn't drop." She slurred, sending shivers down every single man's spine.

Without warning, Natasha went, eyes shut, head slipping forward to hit Clint in the shoulder.

"Nat?!" Clint grabbed her face, urging her jaw up. "Nat, please-" he croaked weakly, broken gaze looking up at Bucky.

"I have the footage." Tony's voice came over the comms and in a few more seconds, Steve had her legs free.

Knowing they didn't have time to just sit there, Bruce stood.

"Pick her up, we're going home."

Chapter Text

As soon as Bucky laid Natasha down in the jet, Bruce got to work.

Steve, taking the gruesome job upon himself, headed to the front of the jet to play the footage Tony had gotten. Bruce was good at what he did, but they needed to know exactly what had happened and Nat...she wasn't going to be able to help.

Taking one last look at his girl, Steve inhaled, pulled headphones over his ears, and pressed play.

Meanwhile, Bruce was helping Natasha the best he could.

First, he carefully settled an oxygen mask over her face and got her attached to the monitors.

As he did that, Clint began to dab at the head wound as carefully as he could.

It would need stitches for sure, but the archer hoped that no damage had been done to the skull or brain.

She had a concussion, but hopefully, once that passed, that would be it.

But they were in trouble if they didn't wake her up. 

Concussion could be tricky and needed to be monitored frequently, and to do so, they really needed Nat awake.

Trembling fingers wiped at the blood coating Natasha's pale face.

As the first layer of blood got wiped away, they began to see the myriad of bruises underneath.

Across her temples, down a cheek, one at her jaw, trailing all the way down her throat until they got to the distinct fingerprint shaped ones.

From the front of the jet, there was a soft broken whimper from Steve and Bucky immediately moved over to him.

He sat down beside him, wrapping an arm around his shoulder as they both watch the horror unfurling on screen.

"Our baby." Steve whispered, his eyes wide and horrified.

Bucky swallowed down bile, teeth clenching together. His whole body shook with rage.

They had died far too quickly.

Clint pulled his gaze from the two men and focused on Natasha instead.

Bruce was now sliding a needle into her skin, his eyes dark.

Clint followed where the man's eyes rested at the crook of one of her elbows and he was sure his blood turned to ice then and there.

"She was drugged." Clint ground out, a shudder running through his body. "With what?"

"Without running tests, I don't know." Bruce shook his head. "Tony, can we get a small of blood sent to Jarvis?"

"On it." Tony nodded, tapping away at a laptop.

"Steve?" Clint called over. "Did you see any label, anything that might let us know what they gave her?"

Steve was stock still, staring at the screen before he very slowly turned his head. 

"Um..." the blonde stammered and a chill ran through Clint at the haunted look in his eyes.

"No labels. She uh...She was drugged with two different things. One clear liquid. That one...made her hallucinate." He swallowed, a tremor in his voice. "The second...made her cold? Freezing. It's more a yellow colour."

"That...doesn't explain the fever." Bruce frowned, looking at the monitor and the numbers displayed there. 

Her temperature was on its way to 105.

"That's because that's not all they did." Bucky muttered. "They started with the drug, threw water at her. Then...it seems like they filtered in hot air? They stopped the drug and sent in the air."

"They were making her sick." Clint frowned, everything beginning to click into place.

"They had her files. Her Shield files. They had to. The drugs, making her hallucinate, making her sick, giving her a fever and a concussion. They're all in her file. The warning signs that we all have, for when we go in the field. For drop triggers." Clint frowned, pinching the bridge if his nose.

"Someone at Shield gave them that information." He breathed.

And then, the horror seemed to really sink in that someone in Shield had been trying to get Natasha to drop.

For what, he wasn't entirely sure, but he was suddenly certain that it had something to do with Natasha's former home.

And then...in that case, they probably wanted her to drop to...

Clint felt his legs collapse and quite suddenly he found himself on the floor.

Tony crouched in front of him, "Hey bud, you okay there?"

"Don't." Clint grit out, his breaths shaky. "Don't be nice to me." He said weakly, feeling the thin line between selves grow blurry in his head.

Tony, immediately understanding, nodded and stood, pulling Clint up with him and then returning to his computer.

Clint leaned heavily against the wall as Bruce tried to patch Natasha up as best as he could.

They wanted her to drop so they could have their best child soldier back.

They'd probably been planning to get her to drop, to wipe her, to start all over. 

Kids were easier to control.

Fucking hell.

...

By the time the family got back home, Natasha wasn't exactly awake, but she'd been moving restlessly for the last leg of the journey.

Her fever had climbed to 105.3 and her eyes were yet to open.

Anxious to get her into a real bed with their real equipment, Bruce and Tony rushed Natasha off to the med bay.

Clint wanted to follow but found his legs wouldn't cooperate and he halted at the ramp.

A few moments later, a hand touched his shoulder and the archer felt his resolve crumbling. He pulled in a shaky breath, turned, and buried his face into Bucky's chest.

Steve was close by, wrapping his arms around the two men, chin leaning against Clint's head.

The three men all shared tears in that moment. Tears for Natasha, maybe even some tears for themselves.

Clint exhaled shakily, trembling as he pulled his head back.

"What are we going to do?" He asked quietly, not entirely all big in that moment.

"We get her back to us." Bucky said, voice firm and determined.

"What if she's lost? I...we have no idea how this is going to affect her ability to drop. If she will. And hell, we don't even know if she's going to wake up. She didn't the whole ride home and Bruce said her fever was too high and what if she dies and-"

"Clint. Clint, take a breath." Steve said, cupping the archer's cheek. "Just take a breath. We will work this out. There is no way on God's earth that after all Nat went through back there, that she will not wake up. Bruce will get the fever down, she will wake up and we will handle the rest. Understood?"

Clint sheepishly dragged a hand over his eyes. "Yeah."

"Good." Bucky nodded. "Now let's get inside, sit in with our girl. And make a plan."

If only they could make a plan to stop Clint crumbling to pieces, that would be super fucking helpful because he felt like a fucking time bomb.

This was going to end so badly.

Chapter Text

When the boy's had taken a minute to pull themselves together, they headed to the med bay, touching fingers as they walked.

Clint tried not to spiral at the other men's gentleness.

By the time they got there, they found that Natasha was awake.

Bruce already had the woman all wrapped up in blankets with an IV line in the crook of her arm. She looked pale and small, nearly everything but her face hidden. Her cheeks were flushed bright red, matching the gruesome cut across her temple. The pallor of her skin made the bruises littering her body stick out like a flashing neon sign.

Tony was nowhere to be seen, probably already in his lab trying to figure out what they'd given her.

Natasha looked completely and utterly out if it, her gaze blank and staring at nothing, even as three loud men came walking in.

As Clint carefully approached, she very slowly tilted her head in his general direction.

"Nat?" The archer breathed, sitting in the chair at her side, automatically reaching for her hand, clasping it in his own.

He scanned her face almost frantically, for any sign at all that she was present.

She didn't respond to her name but blinked at him, tiredly, like it was more energy to do so than she had left in her.

"Sweetheart?" Bucky asked quietly, standing just behind Clint's chair, his knuckles white as they clutched the plastic.

Natasha's mouth opened and closed a few times but no words came out at first. She seemed to be struggling, trembling and looking confused.

"You're okay now, love, you're home." Clint whispered, thumb brushing over the back of her hand.

When Natasha spoke her voice was both broken and resigned. "Home?"

"Home." Steve said firmly, hand wrapping around Bucky's. "Safe."

Natasha frowned, her eyes darting around the room. She pulled in a trembling breath that seemed to exacerbate the rattling in her chest.

After a minute of wheezing coughing, Bruce carefully settled the oxygen mask back over her face. It seemed to help just a little.

A few breaths later and Natasha was watching them with the critical eye she usually reserved for marks.

She didn't seem to believe them at all and the realization sunk heavy in Clint's stomach.

"This is real, Nat, I swear." He breathed, blue eyes filled with tears. "This isn't them, this isn't the drugs. It's just us."

Natasha said nothing else, though her gaze never faltered.

"How can we prove it?" Bucky murmured. "How can we prove it's really us?"

Clint didn't think they could prove it. Natasha wouldn't know for sure she wasn't hallucinating again and that scared the hell out of him.

They'd gotten her back, taken her home, but for all she knew, she was still trapped there and they were still playing with her mind.

"You don't have to believe us. It's going to be one of the hardest things to do, we know that." Steve said lowly, gaze just as broken as the others. "But it is us. This is real and you're safe. You're not going to be hurt by them again."

They could see in Natasha's eyes that she was uncertain. And now they were just going to have to do everything in their power to protect her and to get her to trust them again.

Clint was visibly shaking with how upset he was, though he tried his best to hide it. He clutched Natasha's hand like it was the most important thing in the world.

Natasha's tired gaze slowly lowered, eyelids fluttering with how exhausted she was.

"Sleep." Clint said tenderly, not daring to touch more than her hand at that time. "We'll be here when you wake up."

...

And they were.

Every single time Bruce woke her for a concussion check. Every time she woke screaming or coughing so hard she couldn't breathe. Every time she woke so disorientated and in pain, she couldn't speak. Every time she attacked them, confused, thinking they were coming to hurt her.

They were always there.

As the day passed, the family filtered in and out constantly.

After finding out the drugs she'd been given, Tony had dropped and Steve had only left Natasha's side to take care of him. The boy had been nearly inconsolable, clutching at Steve, his big eyes full of tears. He wouldn't let go of his daddy at all and so Steve had taken him to their room for a nap.

They knew what she'd been drugged with but that didn't change anything. They couldn't give an antidote, just had to wait for them to leave her system and pray there were no repercussions.

After she'd been cleared of concussion, though they still needed to keep an eye on it of course, Natasha slept a lot.

They couldn't get her to eat or drink anything, even after preparing her absolute favourites, she didn't even touch them. Bruce ended up adding more things to the IV so she wouldn't get even more dehydrated but sooner or later they were going to have to get her to eat something.

By the end of the next day, Natasha was definitely clearer and she was seeming to warm to the idea that it was all real at least.

...

It wasn't until the next day that she woke for more than five minutes at a time.

Clint had been napping, curled up as best as he could be in the chair, cheek against her hand on the bed.

He woke to trembling fingers in his hair and a hoarse voice saying his name.

Sitting bolt upright, Clint looked over at their girl.

Her eyes were brighter than they had been the whole time, and she was fully looking at him and seeming to properly see him.

"Nat." He breathed, taking her hand in his. "You have no idea how worried we've all been."

"Sorry." The woman croaked, looking crestfallen.

"Sorry? No, Natasha, you have absolutely nothing to be sorry for. None of this is your fault." He said firmly, though he kept his voice soft enough to not worry her.

After a beat, the woman dropped her gaze to their joined hands, her eyes shining with the tears she hadn't been able to shed yet.

"Come here." Clint said tenderly, standing and squishing himself onto the bed, letting Natasha nestle in against his chest as tears began to drip silently down her cheeks.

The archer engulfed the woman in his arms, pressing the softest kisses to her hair as he rocked them gently from side to side, mindful of her injuries.

"It's okay to cry. Anything that is about to happen is okay." He whispered against her ear.

He didn't use the word drop, worried it would trigger something bad but this was about the time a drop would usually happen.

For the smallest second, he thought she would drop. Her eyes squeezed shut as she cried, trembling and tangling her fingers in his shirt, face bowed low enough he couldn't see her expression.

She took a few, still rattling, breaths, and Clint thought he could see it happening until abruptly Natasha stiffened.

Her hands let go of him and instead moved to rub hard enough at her eyes to hurt, gritting her teeth together as she shook her head, as if listening to someone else. Natty, probably, she was probably desperate to come out and have comfort from her family.

"Nat..." Clint said warily, loosening his hold on her in case things were about to head south. "Nat, it's okay. You don't have to fight it."

"No." Natasha growled, eyes flashing as she turned to face him. "No."

Clint blinked, holding his hands up in surrender. "Okay. Okay, it's fine."

Natasha glared at him for a few more seconds before turning again, sinking back against him.

This time Clint said nothing, just held her.

Her tears had dried up just as soon as they'd come and it seemed like she probably wouldn't be crying until she dropped and it was not on the cards, that much was clear.

It was just as Clint had feared. They'd done so much to her trying to get her to drop and now that she was safe enough to do so, she couldn't.

She was scared. She was locking the girl in and refusing to let her out and Clint knew from experience it was only going to get worse.

He had no idea what to do.

Chapter Text

A couple of hours later and Clint had swapped with Bucky.

He'd been close to dropping on the jet and now, watching Natasha struggle with both trying not to sleep and trying not to drop, he was hovering.

She barely spoke, nails digging into the flesh of her arms, shuddering with what Clint knew was more than cold or the fever.

He tried to speak with her, get her to engage, but she either couldn't or wouldn't respond much to anything he said or did.

He told her stories, stroked through her hair in the way she really liked, even resorted to tickling her but still nothing.

As the third hour approached, Clint knew he couldn't handle it much longer. His stomach hurt and he felt sick. He was shaking just a little himself and he could feel as time went on, how fuzzy his brain got.

Clint felt guilty for how relieved he felt when Bucky poked his head around the door.

"Hey, Clint." The man said softly, eyes flitting from Natasha's near catatonic features and Clint's tired gaze.

"Here, why don't you go take a break." Bucky suggested as he stepped over to the bed. His face was soft and understanding. "Alright, bud?"

Clint wasn't fully dropped, couldn't until he was out of the room, but the nickname and soft gaze certainly helped ease him over the line.

"'Kay." Clint mumbled, carefully untangling himself from Natasha, hopping off the bed.

Knowing he wouldn't get much of a response but not willing to just leave, he leaned over the bed and pressed a kiss to Natasha's forehead. "I love you, no matter what. If you want me, I'll be right here."

Ducking his head, he rubbed clumsily at his nose as he moved to rush past Bucky. The man stopped him, a gentle hand on his bicep. "Hey, sweetheart, Steve and Tony are in the living room. Go join them, okay? No running off on your own."

Clint sniffled and nodded, "'Kay." He whispered again.

"You're such a brave boy, Clint. Thank you for taking such good care of Natasha. Do me a favour and make sure you remind Stevie it's snack time, okay?" Bucky wanted to make sure that the kids still were sticking to their regular routine, since it had been all bent out of shape.

Clint nodded, unable to stop himself from pushing right up to Bucky's chest. He wasn't able to ask for what he needed but Bucky always knew.

Arms wrapping around the near boy, Bucky pressed a kiss to his hair. "You're okay, Clint. This is all going to he okay."

After a few shaky breaths, Clint pulled back and headed out the room.

Taking a breath himself, Bucky sat in the seat by Natasha's bed. "Hi, sweetheart." He murmured.

Natasha didn't answer him, though her head tilted in his direction just a little.

He couldn't begin to imagine what was going on inside her head.

She was almost rigid on the bed, her gaze not there at all.

She was clearly shutting most things out in an attempt to shut the girl inside her out. She was stubbornly refusing to drop, and it wasn't as if Bucky could say there wasn't good reason.

She was terrified, panic stricken at the mere thought of letting Natty out. After everything those evil men had done to her, Bucky seriously didn't know how any of this was going to go.

They knew it was impossible for Natasha to never drop again. It wasn't all mental, but biological too. There was no way she could hold Natty off forever.

She could try, but the more she did, the more erratic she would become. Odds were she would refuse to sleep, since her walls would be pulled down. She would ignore touch and comfort since that could send her over the edge. She would refuse anything that reminded her of the little girl. Drinks, foods, blankets, her siblings even.

She was completely shutting her mind down, pushing out anything that could cause her to drop. Putting her walls up and blocking out the world.

It was terrifying to know that was what was happening. How Natasha felt, what she was dealing with.

If Clint had even failed to get her to open up or pull down her walls just a little, they were in serious trouble.

They'd known Natasha refuse to drop before. But this was different. So different. This wasn't her being stubborn or feeling like it wasn't a good time or not feeling completely safe. This was something else entirely.

Bucky didn't even know if Natasha was able to hear him but he hoped so, since she'd vaguely turned in his general direction before.

"Natasha...I know this might not register or you mind not be able to listen but...You have to know this isn't okay. You can't hold Natty off forever, you're going to hurt yourself very badly. You are safe here. One hundred percent safe and I understand that after everything, you're scared, of course you are but they're not getting to you again. We are here to protect you. Look after you. You don't have to force yourself into not dropping."

He didn't realize until a second later thay he'd made a very bad mistake using that word.

Because Natasha's head snapped up and the look in her eyes was almost unrecognizable.

Her lips pulled back in a snarl and she was very suddenly not Natasha anymore. Not their Natasha.

"I don't fucking want to drop!" She growled. "You can't fucking make me!"

Before Bucky could even realize what was happening, Natasha was pulling wires and needles from her skim and was getting off the bed.

"Nat-" Bucky immediately stood, reaching for her and backing up to get to the door before she could.

But she was wily and stubborn and didn't hesitate before sliding past him.

It happened so quickly and Natasha was so fast that by the time Bucky had turned in the hallway to grab her, she was nowhere to be seen.

Chapter Text

Natasha ran as fast as her legs would carry her.

It didn't matter that she was in her pain, that the pressure in her head made her feel like her skull was about to explode. It didn't matter that she was dizzy and trembling and starving. It didn't matter that she was still feverish and her body was dealing with the withdrawal from the drugs.

She knew she had to run. So she did.

Her mind was so fuzzy and her thoughts were so twisted, constantly merging in her head until she couldn't even remember what she'd been thinking about three seconds earlier.

Her head may not have had any idea where she was it where she was going but as always, muscle memory came through.

She expertly wound her way around the corridors. Something in her remembered the living room would be occupied by people she didn't want to see. Or was it that she wasn't allowed to see them?

Either way, she gave that room a wide berth. She ignored the elevator and instead took the stairs, unsure where she was heading but just knowing it was away.

She could barely remember what she was even running away from. Her temples throbbed with every step and she was distinctly aware that something in her head was missing.

Hadn't someone been talking to her? Now the only thing in her head was static and her racing, mushed up thoughts.

As Natasha reached the top of the flight of stairs, she became aware that her chest was on fire. Not only that but her breaths were grating and rasping and actually hurt her throat as they came out.

She bent over at the waist, gasping and coughing as her oxygen starved lungs ached.

The pressure in her head grew ten fold as she struggled to catch her breath and dimly realized that she was headed towards something very bad.

Forcing herself to stand properly, Natasha began to run again, knowing that whoever was following her would catch up quickly if she loitered around being pathetic.

She should have been more aware of that fact because no sooner had she began running again then the door at the bottom of the flight of stairs banged open.

Knowing she was about to run out of time, she changed tactics.

She pushed over a vase and chairs around a table in another dining area and then quickly retreated in the opposite direction.

Maybe it would fool whoever into going that way.

So consumed was she about getting away, that she didn't notice there was a step leading up to her destination.

Her toes connected with the step but she was still rushing forward, so Natasha ended up tripping, flying a few feet before landing heavily on the ground.

A distinct snap filled the air around her and seconds later, the woman was howling softly at the pain stabbing through her wrist and radiating around her body.

Crawling onto her knees, wrist cradled to her chest, gasps echoing throughout the room, Natasha couldn't help what happened next. She was already slipping and slipping.

Overwhelmed and fuzzier than she ever remembered being, Natasha's mind reacted in the way it was made to do.

It forced her into a drop. She didn't go gracefully. It wasn't a quick transition at all.

Her mind threw her headfirst into it, kicking and screaming, frantic pleas of no please I don't want to ignored.

There was no line to gently fall across this time. Instead it was a gaping, jagged hole she went tumbling over, with no easy way back across.

Natasha fell and fell and fell.

Natty woke up.

...

As soon as Natasha had slipped past him, Bucky was slamming his hand into the intercom button.

The one he'd pressed went down to the lab and all he had to say was, "Natasha's gone." Before Bruce was in action mode.

Natasha could get into a lot of trouble very easily. She wasn't thinking right, wasn't in control of a lot of things happening to her. Hell, Bucky didn't even know if she was Natasha at that moment.

The look she had given him before taking off had been something he'd never seen from her before. It was animalistic, terrified, pissed off as all hell.

Bucky couldn't help but be bombarded with outcomes for the whole thing. When neither Natasha or Natty was in control, she could be incredibly reckless. Impulsive. She could run out onto the streets and take off, she could hurt herself or hurt someone else if she felt threatened. She could get her weapons, could decide the family was the enemy. She could decide she was the enemy.

And that was without the mental and physical torture they'd pulled her from. That was without her forcing herself into not dropping. That was without those bastards playing with her and fucking with her. That was without Natasha deeply believing that to drop was the worst thing in the world she could do.

They were in so much trouble.

...

Luckily, at least one of the outcomes wasn't possible. As soon as Bruce had heard that Natasha was gone, he'd locked the tower down. Not fully, since they needed to get from place to place inside. But the doors and windows leading to the outside had all been locked and shut down.

Most of the exits were on the lower levels so Bruce hoped neither of the kids saw and got scared.

Sure, it would have been great to have extra hands on deck to help them search but pulling a kid out of a drop only to set them down in a scary situation, was definitely not good.

So Bruce took the elevator down to the bottom level to start searching, as Bucky started at the floor with the med room and worked upwards.

One of them would find her.

They had to find her.

...

Natty didn't know where she was.

She didn't understand what was happening. She didn't know why she hurt so much, why she was crying so desperately, why she was struggling for air.

She didn't know why she was in the cramped space she'd decided to climb into, didn't even remember getting there. Didn't remember anything for a while before that, actually.

She didn't know why the place she was in was dark. Why there was a blanket underneath her and empty snack packets in front of her.

She didn't know anything!

Not one thing.

Except that she was very, very, very scared and sad.

Sobbing, Natty dropped her head to the cold metal underneath her, howling as she jostled her wrist, cradling the appendage to her chest as she continued to sob her heart out.

Hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts please make it stop I don't know what to do I don't want to be alone please someone help

A low, keening wail escaped the girl's lips as the fingers of her uninjured hand twisted into the blanket she was curled up on.

As she did that, the girl shuffled until her face was pressed against the fluffy blanket and not the metal.

She inhaled raggedly, still crying. As she did so, something registered in the back of her head.

She knew that smell. The scent of the blanket...she knew it!

It took far too long for her scrambled egg mush of a brain to comprehend but when it did, she immediately let out a soft sob.

Daddy

The blanket was daddy's, so it must mean she was in her daddy's special high up hiding place.

She was suddenly overwhelmed with conflicting thoughts.

Want Daddy

Can't have daddy

Wanna hug

No hugs!!! Hugs are for good girls and you're a nasty bad girl

Scared

Good. Weren't supposed to drop, idiot, now you're in danger and they're gonna come for you and it's all your fault!

Can't breathe can't breathe can't breathe

Help

Chapter Text

When Bucky reached the fallen chairs and smashed vase, he knew he was getting closer.

He could either go to the left, past the ruined objects, in the direction Natasha would have gone if she had truly knocked the stuff on accident.

Or, he could follow the niggling voice in his head that told him that it was a set up and had been done on purpose.

He followed his gut and began to head in the other direction. 

The corridor lead to a room Bucky had never even thought to check out before, it was basically empty, only holding a few dusty pieces of furniture.

After checking the very few objects Natasha could have hidden under, Bucky pressed a hand to his head.

The chairs must have been an accident then, his gut had been wrong. Except his gut was never wrong, he truly didn't think she had gone the other way but then where had she gone? There was no one but him in that room and it had been the only one off the corridor.

He took a few steps back towards the door, brows furrowed as he scanned every surface of the room, every wall, every possible place there could be a...secret door or something, anything that would explain why he hadn't left that room to go the other way yet.

He was hovering in the doorway when he heard something.

Unsure at first where it was coming from, Bucky moved to the centre of the room to see if the muffled noises got louder or quieter.

Louder.

In the middle of the room, he could hear that the sounds were that of crying and his heart lurched in his chest.

Natasha

But where the hell was she?

He moved quickly back to the furniture shoved into the corner of the room and this time, instead of looking under the objects, he looked on top.

And there, across the top of an old three legged table, was a break in the dust.

A footprint.

It dawned on him all of a sudden and he cursed himself for being so unobservant.

If living with Clint had taught him anything, it was to always look up.

And there, on the ceiling, a little hatch, almost completely hidden from view, but Bucky could see the square and a little hole someone would use to open it. Someone like a wily spy, for example. 

Without even thinking about it, Bucky carefully and quickly climbed up onto the table, making sure it would hold his weight before he stood up fully.

He was about to slip his finger into the opening before abruptly stopping and clenching his fingers into a fist instead.

He knew Natasha was up there, but he had no idea which Natasha he would open it up to find. He didn't know if she had dropped, if she had weapons, if the vent connected to other parts of the tower.

If he spooked her and she began climbing through the vents, Bucky knew he wouldn't be able to follow, there was no way he could fit up there, especially not with his arm.

Knocking would spook her for sure, but maybe it would be less intimidating than his head popping up in her hiding place.

Taking a breath, Bucky quietly knocked out their little rhythm. All of the family knew their little morse code signal, so if someone wanted to knock on a room, they would use that. If someone knocked on a room without that signal, the person inside knew it wasn't someone from their family.

Bucky held his breath after he'd finished knocking. 

The muffled sounds of crying he'd heard stopped immediately and he could just imagine Natasha clamping her hand over her mouth to stop the noises.

But, Bucky hadn't heard any scuttling or anything that might have meant Natasha was bolting.

So he knocked again, this time speaking after the sequence had finished. "Natasha?"

The was the sound of a bang from inside the vent and a soft whimper echoed from inside.

"Nat? It's Bucky, I'm not going to hurt you, I just want to help. Can you open the door so we can talk?" 

Everything was quiet from within and Bucky's anxiety grew as he waited for a reply, any reply. Maybe she'd managed to get away silently and was already deep in the bowels of the Tower.

Or maybe she'd passed out. She was still hurt and there was no telling what all the running had done to her already weakened body.

He was about to say fuck it when a childish, soft and hesitant voice came from within. "That's what you would say if you weren't real."

Bucky wasn't sure what she meant at first, until he remembered the videos they'd collected. The videos where she'd been forced into hallucinating so vividly that when they'd gone to get her, she didn't even know if it was really them.

"It's me, sweetheart." Bucky kept his voice soft but still firm. The voice coming from inside suggested that she was dropped, but he also knew the woman was clever enough to use her little voice to trick him.

"What can I do to prove it to you, Nat?" Bucky asked, chest aching at the thought of how much his love was suffering a foot away from him and he couldn't do anything about it.

But Natasha was silent. Maybe she didn't even know how he could prove it was really him.

"Why are you here?" Natasha asked after a few moments of silence. 

She sounded genuinely confused and Bucky realised there was every chance that she had been so scattered and so caught between the two halves of her that she didn't even remember getting there.

Still, he took it as a good sign that she had come to that place in particular. Because it was obviously one of Clint's hiding places, so somewhere inside her, she trusted at least Clint enough to use that hiding place.

"I'm here because I love you. Because I'm worried and I want to help. Want to make sure you're safe and looked after." He said simply.

"You said I was evil." The woman's voice broke and Bucky was sure his own heart broke along side it.

"I didn't. Nat, I would never say anything like that. It wasn't me, the bad men who took you made you see that, but Natasha, it wasn't me. You are not evil." Bucky whispered, trying to keep his voice from shaking.

Natasha's voice was definitely shaking when she spoke next. "M...my arm h...hurts." She hiccupped.

"Your arm?" Bucky asked quietly. Had she fallen? Hurt herself on purpose? Did she even know how or why it hurt? "Why don't you come out so I can have a little look?"

Natasha whimpered softly and Bucky was certain at that point, that she wasn't faking a drop. She really had dropped.

"Baby? I just want to make sure you're okay. Do you remember where we were before you got here?" He wanted so badly to pull the hatch open and cradle his baby girl.

"H...hospital." She whined softly and Bucky could just imagine how her face would have screwed up when saying that.

"That's right, malyshka, 'cause you have some ouchies and all daddy wants is to make the ouchies better and for you to not be in pain anymore. Can I at least open this so I can see you?"

"No!" Natasha half sobbed, half screamed at him. Bucky felt his stomach drop.

His nails dug into his palm and he exhaled shakily. "Okay. Okay, I'll stay here. This is all on your own terms, baby, we'll do what you want." 

"Not coming out." Natasha said, her voice muffled. It sounded like she still had her hand over her mouth.

"Okay. Then I'm just going to sit down on this table here and when you're ready, we can go get your ouchies checked out." Bucky slowly lowered himself down until he was sitting cross legged on the dusty table top.

It physically hurt him to know how distressed Natasha was, how on top of everything that already hurt and felt bad, her arm was hurt now too. And he just had to sit there and know that and not be able to do anything about it.

There was silence in the room.

Bucky pulled out his phone to give an update to Bruce, who immediately messaged back asking if he should come up there or should get Clint to come.

Bucky didn't know what to say to that. Clint did have a way with Natasha but he was dropped himself and as much as he loved his baby sister, he would be so upset to see what was happening. If Bucky was heartbroken, he knew Clint would be just the same, if not worse.

Bruce wasn't dropped, but Bucky was aware that he was close to overwhelming the girl and that any more people coming in and invading her private space, could be chaos.

So he told Bruce to sit tight, informed him that she'd hurt her arm and would need it looked at.

The silence was broken by a loud fit of coughs from above him and Bucky's jaw clenched at the ferocity of the attack.

"Natasha?" He implored, "are you okay up there?"

Mfter a few ragged breaths, the girl cleared her throat. "'M fine."

There was the sound of shuffling and a small yelp that made the man's heart race. She must have really hurt herself to be making that kind of noise.

How was he supposed to just sit there? But then, if he opened the hatch regardless, she would bolt. And not only that, the trust would be broken.

So he sat still, picking methodically at a frayed part of his jeans for an indeterminate amount of time.

"I don't feel good.'' Came a soft voice from above and immediately Bucky was back on his feet, fingers pressing to the hatch.

"Please come down, baby, I just want to help. You don't need to suffer, that's what daddies are super good at, fixing ouchies." He prayed to a God he had long stopped believing in him for Natasha to open that hatch.

After a few more moments, she did. Not completely, just enough so that he could see part of her tear stained and pale face peeking out from the dark.

"That's it, sweetheart, just a little more." Bucky encouraged, offering a warm smile. "I can lift you down and we can go sort out your arm, okay? It must be hurting so much."

Natasha sniffled and the hatch opened a little more. "Comin' down." She whispered.

Bucky kept still and as unthreatening as possible. "You're doing so good, Natty, just a little bit more and I can reach up and get you down." He could have opened the hatch himself but then the control would be in his hands, not hers, and for this to work, Natasha had to be in control of everything that was happening.

Again the hatch was opened a little more and Bucky could see that Natasha had her arm curled against her stomach and with the light coming through the window, he could see that the skin was mottled and bruised, swollen.

She'd probably broken it.

Fucking hell.

He didn't let any of that show in his face, nodding and smiling reassuringly. "Almost there."

The next time the hatch moved, Bucky could see all of Natasha. He lifted his hands up to take her, like he said he would, when suddenly Natasha reared back from his touch.

"No-" she half gasped out, shaking her head frantically.

"Okay. Okay." Bucky said immediately, dropping his hands as Natasha watched him warily.

His entire being hurt.

When she seemed content that he wouldn't touch her, she shuffled on her ass until her legs were dangling from the vent.

She jumped, landing awkwardly on the table, a cry escaping her lips as her arm got jostled.

Bucky clambered quickly off the table, chest aching as he recalled those panicked eyes as he'd tried to help her.

Natasha didn't exactly give him a wide berth but she stayed far enough away from him that she wouldn't accidentally brush up against him.

More tears on her face, Natasha slid off the table.

"You're doing so good, baby." Bucky whispered, unable to stop all of the pain leaking out in his voice.

Natasha had her head down and her arm protectively hidden from view.

''Lets go get you looked at, sweetheart, we can help you feel better." Bucky smiled, making his way towards the door. Natty trailed after him, always at least three steps behind.

If Natasha didn't even want him touching her, Bucky had no idea how Bruce would be able to look at her arm, nevermind get her attached back to all the IV's and stuff.

This was not going to be easy.

Chapter Text

The entire trip back to the medical wing, Natasha stayed exactly three feet behind Bucky.

Despite how badly the girl was wheezing, Bucky used the stairs instead of the elevator. The elevator wasn't small but it also wasn't big enough for Natasha to stay her three feet away and also, she could switch from loving confined places to absolutely hating them in no time at all. He had the feeling that the vent hadn't been because it felt safe or small enough that nearly everyone couldn't get up there. It had been because it was Clint's.

So no, elevator=bad idea.

The absolute last thing they needed was to trigger a panic attack with Natty already so sick and struggling to breathe as it was.

"Okay," Bucky told her softly, "we're just going to go see Brucie so he can have a look at your arm and help with the ouchie."

The footsteps behind him faltered a little as Bucky mentioned going to see Bruce. He was worried the girl would stop and refuse to move or even run away again.

But after a few moments, Natasha started up walking again. Maybe it would be okay once she saw Bruce.

It was understandable that Natasha would be wary of Bucky himself, he was probably mixed up in The Red Room memories in her head. But Bruce wasn't and Natty adored her siblings so much.

Bruce was always so gentle and took such great care of the girl.

That being said, Bucky knew it wasn't going to be easy. If she'd just sprained her wrist, maybe they would've been okay but he was certain she'd broken it. That meant x-ray's and a cast at least. And that was only if it wasn't too bad to need surgery or re-setting.

Realizing he was spiralling before anything else had even happened, Bucky pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind as he and Natasha, a few seconds later, stepped into the medical wing.

Bruce didn't speak at first, as he carefully set down the objects in his hands.

Bucky walked over to the man before ever so slowly turning around to face her for the first time since she'd opened the vent.

Natasha immediately dropped her gaze to the floor, the fingers she had wrapped around her bad wrist clenching. It must have hurt terribly but it seemed like Natasha didn't even notice she was doing it.

"Sweetheart?" Bucky asked cautiously, "I know you're upset and scared right now. Is there anything or anyone that would make you feel more comfortable?"

Natasha looked as if she'd thought about it for no time at all but Bucky could see the tension of her shoulders and the ticking in her jaw, indicating she was actually thinking very hard.

After a few moments, she shook her head and Bucky felt sick.

She wasn't accepting any comfort or help. If she was sick or hurt or just sad she had lots of things that bought her comfort. Stuffies, her pacifer's, soft clothes, fiddle toys, Liho and Lucky, her weighted blanket, different scented items. It was rare for her to not accept at least one of them, and for her to not even want Clint close by seemed like a massive red flag.

Even if she wanted none of the items on offer to her, she was normally insistent on being with or by Clint at the very least.

Bucky swallowed the lump in his throat and forced himself to nod. "Okay, baby. Do you need some help onto the bed?"

Another shake of the girl's head as she crept closer to the bed she'd rushed out of earlier.

The only difference from earlier was that Bruce had gotten out the portable scanner so Natasha wouldn't have to deal with the bigger, scarier one.

It pained Bucky and Bruce to watch her struggle onto the bed with one hand. Her nostrils flared and she bit into her lower lip as she got onto the bed. That would normally be the point she would close her eyes because the pain was so bad, but she stubbornly kept them open even as a few tears welled up in them.

"Okay, Nat, I just need to give you something for the pain first, otherwise when you straighten your arm for the x-ray, it might hurt very much.'' Bruce said gently. All his movements were slow and done deliberately in her eye line as he reached for a new IV line considering she'd ripped the other one out.

But before he could even begin to tell her what he was about to do, Natasha grit her teeth and took her hand away from her injured arm. She straightened the whole thing out quickly, like ripping off a bandaid, a soft broken whimper escaping her lips.

She'd gotten very pale very quickly and her breathing was heavy. Tears streamed freely down her face now.

"Okay, okay, just lay your arm here-" Bruce muttered quickly as he slid a pillow underneath where her arm was hovering.

With another stifled gasp, Natasha lay her arm down.

They could all at once see how bad the injury was. Her arm was swollen and massively bruised and Bruce was sure he knew where the break was before even turning the scanner on.

Natasha was breathing through clenched teeth, her eyelids fluttering a little.

Bucky was concerned that she was about to pass out and he wanted nothing more than to hold her and comfort her and steady her.

However he knew any sudden touch would cause her to flinch and flinching meant she would jostle her arm and then she really could pass out.

That bad of a broken arm was a lot of pain for anyone, let alone a little girl who was already in a lot of pain because of everything that had happened.

Bucky met Bruce's gaze and the pain was mirrored in both of them.

Bruce tried his best to hide it as he spoke next. He knew Natasha had flung her arm like that to avoid medication, which was completely understandable after everything. But also he knew that the pain was only going to get worse when it came to setting it and putting a cast on.

She really did need some kind of medication because whilst he knew Natasha could withstand an incredible amount of pain if she needed to, she didn't need to. She didn't need to be crying from the pain when he could easily help soothe at least some of it.

Natasha was stubborn though, even when young, and she was jumbled up after the abduction and her head was filled with so many different things that Bucky knew the drop had been forced upon her, not chosen willingly.

She may have not been able to pull her age back up at that moment but what she could do was avoid anything nice or helpful or comforting. She believed she didn't deserve or need it.

"Sweetheart, please let me give you something for the pain." Bruce said quietly, glancing over at Bucky.

The men had a choice. They could either give her the medicine knowing it would help her but that she didn't want it. Or they could sit there whilst she writhed in pain and cried, knowing she didn't want the drugs.

Neither man wanted to betray Natasha, especially after she'd literally just been in a place where they drugged her without consent. But watching Natasha in pain was perhaps more than Bucky could handle and he was her daddy and wasn't it his responsibility to take care of her and decide what was in her best interests?

Fucking hell, Bucky wished Steve was there. He always had a very rational point of view and would probably have the right answer.

But was there even a right answer? Either choice they made would result in a distressed and hurt Natasha. It was just that drugging her without consent would result in a Natasha that trusted them even less and would feel betrayed.

"It's her choice." Bucky whispered, not sure how long he'd been frantically searching for the right thing to do. Steve made it look so fucking easy.

Bruce swallowed and nodded, his eyes just a little green. Bucky wasn't worried, he just knew that Hulk hated seeing Little Red hurt and he knew she was about to be in more pain.

"We can't take the choice away from her. Not like they did. We're not like them. We can't betray her trust." Bucky said softly.

He was sure his chest would never stop hurting. He was supposed to protect his babies and now Natty was going to be in so much pain and he couldn't even hold her hand or stroke her hair through it. What kind of caregiver was he, to fail so badly? Maybe Natasha was never going to forgive him and-

He was pulled back from his head again by the distinct feeling of being watched.

Bucky blinked, expecting Bruce to be watching him with sympathetic eyes. He wasn't expecting Natasha to be looking him straight in the eyes for the first time since the whole thing had started.

Natty was watching him carefully. To the untrained eye, her expression was neutral, maybe even cold and distant, but her eyes burned holes into his soul.

Bucky pulled in a breath. He hadn't realized how hard he'd been breathing, how close to a panic attack he'd been. He swallowed and slowly unclenched his metal fingers from the fist they were in.

A little bit of red crept up his cheeks as Natasha continued to stare him down.

After a few moments of silence as Bruce got the scanning machine ready, Natasha cocked her head to the side a little, her brows furrowing.

She opened her mouth and closed it a few times before finally deciding what she wanted to say.

"Sad?" She asked so softly it was more a whisper.

Bucky blinked and exhaled shakily. "A little." He murmured honestly. "You're in pain and there's nothing I can do."

Natasha dropped her gaze once more and Bucky thought that was all the interaction he was going to get for a while.

His heart pounded painfully in his chest. Maybe he would need to ask Steve to come up soon instead. He couldn't quite catch his breath properly.

Bruce pulled the scanner down over the girl's arm, careful not to touch her.

"Okay, we'll count down from three and then start the machine, just try and keep super still for me, Natty." Bruce said kindly.

Bruce had just begun counting down when Natasha whispered something hard to hear over the soft whirring of the scanner.

Immediately turning the machine off, Bruce carefully asked, "what was that, love?"

"Medicine." The girl whispered, nodding at the tray Bruce had discarded the IV in.

Bruce's expression softened. "You want the pain medicine?"

Natty glanced over at Bucky momentarily before nodding.

Bucky offered a weak smile that soon faded after Natasha had looked away. The knot in his stomach loosened just a little as Bruce got the medicine ready.

For whatever reason, Natasha had accepted the meds and that was great, honestly. But she still wasn't accepting any touch or anything comforting so it seemed like they had a long way to go.

Maybe accepting the meds was the start of everything getting better.

Or maybe things would go horribly wrong very soon.

Chapter Text

Bucky stood away from the bed, fist pressed to his mouth as he tried to figure out what to do.

They had multiple pressing issues facing them, even though the pain meds had been dealt with.

Yeah, it had been difficult to actually get her to take them, since she refused the needle form and Bruce didn't have any strong enough medicine in liquid form so they had to be tablets.

Anyway, that had been dealt with. But now they had other problems.

For example, Bucky was worrying about the fact that Natasha wasn't letting anyone touch her. That meant that they couldn't give her the IV again.

That would have been fine. If Natasha hadn't also been refusing food and drink when she was seriously dehydrated already.

That was Bucky's main focus.

Bruce's was the fact that, again, Natasha wasn't letting anyone touch her. That meant that Natasha's arm was continuing to swell up.

He'd been so focused on helping with the pain that he hadn't thought to give her an anti-inflammatory and he knew that trying to get more meds into her was a no go. She'd already pulled back even further from them after the pain ones.

No touching meant he wasn't able to wrap her arm up with ice packs to help with the swelling. That meant he couldn't put on a cast because of said swelling. The longer Natasha's arm was left as it was, the more likely that her bones would heal wrong and she would need surgery to fix it properly.

And then even if they did ice it, there was little chance they'd be able to convince her to have the cast.

Fucking hell.

Bucky sighed softly and took a small step forward, crouching so he was completely in the girl's eyeline.

Her wary gaze looked straight into him and Bucky was struck suddenly with the thought that he had no idea which Natasha they had on their hands.

She was dropped for sure, she wasn't acting like big Nat. But she also wasn't acting like Natty. But she was dropped. It was very confusing.

"Okay, love, we know we can't touch you and that's okay, we understand. But we need to help you feel better. So there are certain things that need to happen so you can feel okay. We need you to drink some water or let Bruce put the needle back in otherwise you're going to get sick."

Natasha flicked her gaze from her arm and then up at Bruce. "Ice?" She said, tone almost flat.

Bucky's brows furrowed a little as he too looked at Bruce.

"Have'ta break it again." Natty said, blinking slowly.

Now Bucky was very confused.

Luckily Bruce wasn't. "If it heals wrong, maybe, yes." He said softly. "That's why the sooner we get the icky swelling down, the sooner it can all get fixed."

"I'll do it." Natasha said quietly, dropping her gaze. Her eyes scanned her arm, a finger trailing over the marring of her skin.

Bruce swallowed. "Okay, if that's what you need to do." He nodded. "Buck, there's a mini freezer in that cupboard, if you can get out the ice packs and wrap them in something, a blanket maybe."

Bucky, more than glad of something to do, went to do just that. He was too preoccupied to realize that Bruce was closer to the freezer and would have known exactly how to wrap the packs up better. Bruce could tell Bucky was close to spiraling or having a panic attack and Bucky had been a soldier and sometimes giving him orders and things to do was the thing that helped calm his mind the best.

"Okay, sweetheart." Bruce smiled softly at the girl. "You'll have to listen carefully when I tell you where to put these, yeah? It will be really uncomfortable but the blanket's going to help the cold not hurt. Can you do that for me?"

Natasha's jaw clenched and she nodded silently.

"Alright, darling. You're doing so good letting us help. Whilst we're getting the swelling down, why don't you do something super important and decide what colour cast you want, hmm?" Bruce smiled reassuringly as Bucky stepped over to the bed with the supplies.

Once the packs were all wrapped up, they were left on the bed for Natasha to pick up.

Bruce carefully instructed the girl where and how to place the ice packs all along her arm.

It was clearly uncomfortable but Natty was quiet and made no noises about it, she just settled the packs carefully and then looked back up at Bruce.

"Good job, love." Bucky said softly, smiling softly, trying to be reassuring even though he felt more than a little sick.

Natasha flicked her gaze between the two men, her expression carefully shielded.

It hurt to see that expression. Hurt to know Natasha was hiding how she really felt from them. Hurt that she didn't feel safe enough, couldn't trust them enough in that moment to show her true feelings.

Bucky swallowed bile, hastily rubbing a hand over his eyes and clearing his throat.

"Now?" Natasha asked, voice flat.

"Now we wait for the swelling to go down. And you think about whether you want to drink and eat or if you want the needle. There really isn't any other option I can give, okay? Because you're dehydrated and getting sick so it really is one or the other. But you have time to carefully think it over." Bruce explained softly.

The room was quiet for a little while before the sound of heavy footsteps came from the hallway.

Bucky recognized the steps immediately, inwardly cursing as he moved quickly to the door.

Clint appeared, rubbing his eyes and yawning softly. "Pa, do you want anything to...Nat?"

The boy pushed past Bucky, eyes wide. "What...what happened?" He stammered, eyes focused on the arm wrapped up.

Clint stepped to the bed, eyes watery and his expression vulnerable and upset. "N...Natty?" He asked, confusion clear in his voice. "Sissy?"

Natasha stiffened at that, eyes narrowing. Her voice was ice cold when she spoke. "Don't."

Clint flinched, taking a tiny step back.

Bucky pressed a hand to his shoulder. "Nat's just having a bit of a hard time. She fell down and hurt her arm so Brucie is helping her."

Clint, looking young and uncertain, pushed himself against Bucky's side, clumsily wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand.

Natasha followed the hand movement and behind the blankness of her expression, there was a spark of...something, at least.

Some sort of emotion, something she wasn't completely hiding, something brought out by Clint's distress.

Clint could clearly tell Natasha was dropped but that something was very wrong. Natty delighted in being called sissy.

"Sorry. I...I didn't mean-" Clint stammered, swallowing, eyes filled with tears.

Natasha was still watching Clint rather intently but after a moment, she finally looked back at her arm.

It wasn't a good reaction by any means, but Natasha hadn't bolted again or lashed out, so Bucky was taking it as not necessarily a bad reaction either.

Bucky squeezed Clint, gently nudging him a little further away and out into the hallway.

Clint sniffled and rubbed at his nose, his lower lip wobbling.

Bucky wrapped his arms around the boy, pressing a kiss to his hair. "I know. I know, love." He murmured. "I know it's hard."

Clint clutched Bucky's shirt, pressing his face against the man's shoulder.

"Natasha's gonna be okay, baby, it's just really tough for her right now." He said softly, holding the boy close.

"W...what if she isn't o...okay again?" Clint hiccuped.

"She will be." Bucky said firmly. "She will be."

Chapter Text

Clint, overwhelmed and upset, let himself be talked into going back to the living room with the others.

A part of Bucky wanted to follow the boy, switch out with Steve, hug the two boys close. 

Yet he didn't follow, despite the distinct aching in his chest that told him he probably should have gone with Clint.

But switching out when everything was so fragile, when the boys, Tony in particular, would be upset and getting comfort from Steve, and with Natasha possibly maybe starting to come around to him, it didn't matter how he felt.

The bigs had to keep everything as settled as it could possibly be and Bucky wasn't going to 'tap out' on staying with his little girl just because it was a little hard to breathe.

Back in the med room, Bucky walked in to find that Natasha hadn't moved at all. Her big green eyes were hyper focused on her ice pack covered arm and her back was so straight and tense that for a brief second Bucky thought she could snap right in two.

To an untrained eye the girl would look cold, dismissive, uncaring. But Bucky wasn't untrained.

He saw the small twitch of her lower lip, the slight glaze in her eyes, the minute tremble of her fingers.

She exhaled, nostrils flaring and her teeth clamping together.

Bucky realized what was about to happen, but he didn't realize why it was happening until it was too late to do anything about it.

It started with the minor movements he had noticed in just a few seconds and before he or Bruce could do anything, Natasha was pulling in a desperate, shaky breath and flinging her arm off the bed.

The ice packs flew across the room and hit the wall with a dull thud, one narrowly missing Bruce's head.

It was as Bucky watched a pack tear and spill onto the floor that he realized their mistake.

Idiot, fucking idiot. You saw the damn videos and still let her put freezing ice packs on the exact spot she was drugged with freezing liquid. Great job, Barnes.

"Nat-" Bucky moved quickly to the side of the bed. 

Bruce had moved to the door, thinking she might run again, but the girl was locked in place on the bed, shuddering just like she had been on the cameras.

Her eyes had been glazed before but now they were completely gone, focused on something only she could see.

Her breaths caught and rattled in her chest but there wasn't even time to cough with how frantic and anguished her breathing quickly became.

Bucky crouched on the floor beside the bed, reaching immediately to her, like they usually did to try and help ground her.

He stopped, hands close but not touching her. What if it made it worse? She was already seeing and living through the awful things that had been done to her. Would touch just remind of their hands all over her?

Bucky had the sudden urge to cry his eyes out.

Swallowing, he looked at Bruce, who stood over the man's shoulder, pale.

"Natasha, love, it's me, Bucky. It's just me and Bruce and you're home, you're in the Tower, not there. We got you out of there-" Bucky doubted anything he said would help but what was he supposed to do? He couldn't just sit back and act like it wasn't happening. He had to try.

"You're okay, Nat, we know it's scary and it feels like you're not safe and you're back there." Bruce was careful to use her 'adult' nicknames and not any of her little ones.

Natasha was gasping, holding her injured arm with her fingers digging in so hard she left nail marks in already blemished skin.

She was staring at the arm, it clearly was still cold and she felt as if it was happening all over again. Trapped and scared and helpless.

A sudden thought came to Bucky and he stood, slow enough to not completely startle Nat but quick enough to try and help as fast as he could. 

Moving to the storage cupboards, Bucky pulled drawers out and rummaged through them.

After finding what he wanted, he rushed back to Natasha.

He was sure the gasping breaths she made would never leave his head.

She was pale, eyelids fluttering a little and Bucky was starting to wonder if her passing out would be better in the long term. Should they be considering sedating her?

Fucking hell.

"Okay, Nat, try and listen to me. I'm going to help but I need you to help me with it." Bucky crouched at her side again, shaking out the blankets he'd pulled from the cupboards.

"Can you hold your arm out, Nat? It's going to help. The cold will get better. It's so hard but you have to trust me with this." Bucky spoke softly. 

Natasha didn't seem to even hear him and her eyes hadn't moved from their spot on her arm.

Bucky was panicking again. It was like Natasha was only awake by sheer will because she was shaking so hard, breathing so hard that the man didn't even understand how she was still upright.

Realizing they really didn't have time to just stand there, Bucky gathered the blanket and laid it over Natasha. He had been going to properly wrap her arm up with it but she didn't want to or literally couldn't move her arm for him to gain access.

Careful to only touch the blanket, he lifted a corner over her shoulder so chest, where her arm was pressed to, was covered with the soft material.

It wouldn't warm her arm as quickly as if it had been properly swathed but hopefully it woukd work.

"Nat?" Bruce asked quietly, his knuckles white as he clutched Bucky's shoulder.

When they'd been on the journey home, none of them had had any clue just how hard the experience would be for all of them. Of course, their panic and worry and sadness was nothing compared to the horrors Natasha had suffered. However, that didn't mean the entire family wasn't reeling with everything. 

Bruce looked very much like he wanted to drop and Bucky would never deny anyone that comfort but...they needed their doctor. And more selfishly, Bucky didn't think he could he could handle trying to look after the girl on his own. His heart broke more and more every second.

Bucky cleared his throat, wanting to say something but having no clue what he should or could even say. 

Natasha didn't want comfort or touch or sensory items. She didn't want her brothers or daddies or...Bucky was suddenly overwhelmed with a revelation so horrifying his ears rang and his vision wavered.

Fuck. Oh holy fuck.

The Red Room had been lead by men. Madame had overseen a lot, but she hadn't been in charge, Dmitry had. Those that had taken her, that had her files and information, that had most likely come from the same place, had all been men.

Bucky wasn't aware that it was hard to breathe until he felt himself fall back from his crouched position and straight onto his ass on the cold floor.

It was entirely possible he was gasping but everything felt so out of focus and dreamlike that he couldn't tell if that was him, Natasha, or both of them.

He'd been a part of it. The Red Room. Well, no, Bucky hadn't. The Soldier had. Yes, he'd been brainwashed, and yes he'd helped the girls, not hurt them, but he had been a part of the whole thing.

No wonder Natasha wanted nothing to do with him.

What happened next wasn't clear at all. All Bucky was aware of was waking up with his head in Steve's lap.

Blinking, eyes like sandpaper, Bucky cautiously lifted his head and man did that hurt.

"Easy, Buck." Steve said softly, fingers combing through the other man's hair. 

"What happened?" Bucky asked, voice hoarse and scratchy as he slowly shifted his legs off the couch so he could sit up.

Steve was watching him with that pinched, worried expression that always made him look like a kid again. 

Steve's nostrils flared and he actually looked a little paler. "Panic attack. Bruce called me down. I have no idea what happened but when I got there Nat was watching you, crying, and you were on the floor."

Bucky swallowed and winced. "I was shouting, wasn't I?" He asked quietly.

"Yeah." Steve nodded, sliding his hand into Bucky's. 

"Did Nat..." Bucky closed his eyes, exhaling shakily.

"We were back upstairs by the time that started. She didn't see it. Neither did the boys. I called Phil and he came right over." The blonde explained, thumb rubbing over the grooves in the metal hand. 

Bucky sat back, looking up at the ceiling. "Fuck, Stevie." He whispered, voice trembling.

"Come're." Steve murmured, tugging the other man to his chest, arms wrapping around him.

Bucky shuddered, eyes burning but no tears escaping. He clutched at Steve nonetheless. 

After a moment, Bucky spoke. "Can we get Maria here? Or Bobbi, Sharon, Melinda?"

Steve hummed, "Maria's on her way with Nick. They think they found the leak."

Bucky stiffened, teeth clamping together. "Shield?"

Steve exhaled. "Clint was right. It came from inside Shield."

A growl ripped itself from Bucky's throat, fingers clenching in Steve's shirt.

"I know." Steve whispered. "We'll sort it. They won't get away with it." After a beat, he spoke again, softer, kinder. "What happened, Buck? And why're you asking for Maria?"

Bucky swallowed, squeezing his eyes shut. "Because...all I'll do is make her worse. I was there when she trained, Stevie. I was a part of the group that took her and tortured her and made her a killer. You said she was crying when you came to get me."

Steve was quiet for a moment. "Buck, Nat wasn't crying because she was scared of you or anything like that. She was upset because you were upset. She feels like it was her fault, the whole thing."

Bucky pulled away from Steve, brows furrowed. "She said that?"

"Not in as many words." Steve admitted. "But trust me, yeah? She was worried about you. Her brain just won't let her convey that properly. She's in flight mode, dissociated and in her head. But she's still our girl. She still loves you."

A tear finally rolled down Bucky's cheek. "Yeah?"

"Buck..." Steve exhaled. "Of course. She always will. Everyone is going to be okay."

Bucky sniffed, wiping a hand over his eyes. He couldn't talk anymore about those fears in that moment or he would fully start sobbing. Instead he focused on what he'd been trying to figure out when he'd apparently blacked out. "Maria?"

"Will be here soon." Steve tilted his head a little. "Why're you so focused on Maria?"

"Her and Nat are close, I thought...maybe she'd feel safer with a close female friend. Like she had in The Red Room." Bucky shrugged. "Just a thought."

"A good thought." Steve said softly, thumb brushing over Bucky's cheek. "We've got this. Okay?"

Bucky shrugged, dropping his gaze. Steve tutted, not having that. 

The blonde tilted Bucky's face up. "Okay?"

Bucky sighed, cheeks just a little flushed. "Okay."

Steve smiled and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Good. Then let's do this."