Actions

Work Header

Old Flame

Chapter Text

“So who am I looking for?”

Though he didn’t bother to look at her, Natasha didn’t miss the lines of frustration that crossed Steve’s forehead at her question.

“I’ve told you everything he said. I have no idea who or what we’re looking for,” the man at her side replied, his voice lower than necessary. Sure, it was important to keep a low profile, but no one else in the large room had given any indication that they had been spotted.

Tucking a strand of red hair into her raised hood, Natasha eyed the exhibit before her, pretending to read the great sea of writing on the plaque. “So mystery voice calls you up and tells you to meet him here.”

Steve nodded, risking a glance behind him.

“Here,” Natasha repeated, “at the Smithsonian. At your own exhibit.”

“Would you keep your voice down please?” the man known as Captain America replied, tugging the brim of his baseball cap lower.

Nat shrugged. “Sometimes whispers attract more attention than regular conversation,” she replied, her voice taking on a teasing tone. She was enjoying herself. “What’s wrong? Afraid one of your adoring fans will recognize you and ask for a selfie?”

The glare Steve gave her spoke for itself.

“Fine,” she relented,her voice slightly quieter than before. “What did he sound like?”

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Sound like?”

“Sure. Young? Old? Accent?”

Her friend looked frustrated. “I don’t know. Adult male. Young enough to not sound old. No accent.”

“You mean ‘American accent’,” Nat teased. She moved to the next photo on display, taking the opportunity to quickly case the room again. “Did he sound calm?”

Steve paused, and she could almost see his mind working, playing through the conversation again in his head. “No, not really. Not relaxed, at least. He sounded nervous.”

“Okay,” Natasha mused aloud. “So were looking for an adult male, American, not too young and not too old, who’s stressed out. Easy.”

She watched the man as his clear, blue eyes roamed over the room again. “Sure. Easy.”

After several long minutes of silence, Natasha pointed to a newspaper article in a frame. “I didn’t know you were an entertainer.”

“Yeah, more an exhibit than a soldier for a while,” her friend replied passively, his mind divided between speaking and searching without trying to draw attention to either. “I did the whole ‘buy war bonds’ tour and entertained troops. It was while…”

Steve trailed off and suddenly turned to face her. “Wait. Have you never been here before?”

Surprised by the question, Natasha blinked. “No. Why?”

“Seriously?” Steve looked genuinely surprised and even a little hurt. “I just… thought you would have checked it out.”

Nat resisted the urge to chuckle. “I know the actual Captain America. In real life. Why would I come to a museum about you?”

“I don’t know,” her friend mumbled, turning his eyes toward the ground.

Oh Steve. Sweet, pure, gentle Steve. If only the plaques and photos in the exhibit could convey just what a soft heart the super soldier had. He could even make the Black Widow feel a stab of guilt. “Alright,” she conceded, placing a hand on his forearm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it meant so much to you. Maybe when this is all over you can give me a personal tour. Tell me your life story.”

He brightened at that. “Sure, that sounds good.”

They fell back into silence as both heroes turned their eyes to the article on the wall before them.

“You know, I went to see the unveiling of your statue in New York.”

“Steve!” Nat whispered sharply. “I said I was sorry!”

When he turned to her, Captain America was smiling and his eyes flashed with mischief. “Don’t be mad that I’m a better friend.”

It was all she could do to resist giving him a playful shove. “It’s a statue of all of us. And Tony said we all had to be at that media circus. You didn’t do it out of your own benevolence.”

“Alright, fine.” Steve put his hands in his pockets and turned to watch the rest of the room, but even in his vigilance Nat could see that he was more relaxed. The lines of stress had gone from his face and his shoulders had lost their tension. Good.

“I could use a coffee. You?”

Natasha nodded. She let her friend wander off to a nearby concessions cart while she turned her eyes back to the artifacts. Before her was a bust of Howard Stark and a life-sized model of Cap’s shield, obviously made out of some more common metal than vibranium. It definitely didn’t seem to have the same sheen to it as the real thing, but the detail was fairly impressive. She was about to turn from the model when something caught her eye.

There was movement in the shadows, just behind a display wall. Natasha paused, green eyes squinting, trying to focus in the poor light. The thing moved again, slowly, stuttering, and she could see its hesitancy even before getting a full view of the figure. When he did step partially into the light, she felt her heart stop.

It was a man, tall, strong, with a similar build to Steve’s trim and muscular form. That was where the similarities ended, though. The man standing before her had dark, unkempt hair that hung about his chin. A few days worth or growth in his beard and a dark cap tugged down over his eyes kept most of his face obscured. But Natasha caught a flash of his eyes, and that was all she needed to know exactly who was standing before her.

Those eyes. She saw the familiar, passionate heat in them that always smouldered behind the icy blue. Eyes she saw in her dreams, and in her nightmares. In her imagination when alone in the dark of night. In her most favorite memories.

“James.” His name came out as a breath before she was able to catch herself.

His eyes flickered toward her for the briefest of moments, but no recognition crossed over his features. Instead of the expression of brutal determination that she remembered so well, his face wore a look of barely controlled panic. He looked like a cornered animal, ready to dart away if the situation turned dangerous.

Over her shoulder, Natasha heard Steve’s gasp. “Bucky?”

Steve stepped forward, shoving two cups of coffee into her numb hands as he passed. But his movements were much too fast for the man before them. Fear flashed in his eyes, and the man held up a gloved hand to stop the captain in his tracks.

“Look, I don’t know you,” the man said, keeping his hand out as if it make a barrier between himself and Steve. “But I saw you on tv. There was an interview, and you were talking about your friend. They showed a picture, and it was me.”

He paused, his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. His eyes were searching Steve’s face, silently pleading. Desperate.

Natasha also felt desperate. Helpless. She was trapped as an observer in an impossible situation. Her best friend confronted with a ghost from his past turned out to be the same man who had been haunting her for years.

James, or as Steve called him, Bucky, continued his hurried, patchy story. “Hydra wiped my memories. I don’t remember you. I don’t really even know myself.” His quiet, cold voice cracked. “I escaped, but I need help. I thought… my only plan was to find you.”

Chapter Text

It turned out to be a hell of a long day.

Predictably, Steve has jumped at the chance to help his long lost friend. The atmosphere in their jet was a buzzing mixture of excitement, tension, fear and hope as they quickly made their way back to the Avengers tower. Once arrived, Tony Stark had joined in an interrogation of their guest, his attitude a bit less optimistic than Steve’s. Barnes insisted he didn’t know much; he only had a few month's worth of memories. But he stuck to his story. He was on a mission for Hydra and caught sight of Captain America on television. Cap had spoken of his army days, how he came to be what he was today, and an old photo of James “Bucky” Barnes flashed on the screen. A man without a life of his own suddenly realized he had a past, a friend, and a name. He had immediately gone AWOL, researching Steve Rogers while in hiding for weeks before getting up the nerve to call him.

It was a tremendous story. One Natasha felt strangely disassociated from. She hung outside the room during the interrogation, listening in, doing her best to keep her mind in the present instead of the past. She didn’t know Bucky Barnes. But she knew the ragged, tired, frightened man who sat before them. Intimately. She knew his hands, still gloved and folded together on the table before him, moving slightly as if he was resisting the urge to wring them in desperation. She remembered the skin of one being warm, the callouses on his palm rough as they brushed her cheek. The other, the one Hydra had given him, was smooth and cool, incredibly strong but controlled so as not to leave so much as a bruise as he gripped her hip. She knew his lips, now turned downward in a frown as he repeated himself yet again, and she knew the way they caused a shiver up her spine when he pressed them to the side of her neck. She watched as James shifted in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest, where she knew the skin under his shirt was crisscrossed with scars. And she knew that his eyes, now cautious and guarded, could nearly glow in the darkness of a bedroom.

Hours passed, and finally Barnes was shown to a private room with instructions to get some rest. Natasha, Steve and Tony joined the rest of the Avengers in a conference room. They all looked curious and bright-eyed, while she simply hoped she didn’t look as drained as she felt.

Tony produced a decanter of whiskey and glasses, signaling the start of a meeting. Nat groaned inwardly. This long day was turning into a long night.

“Alright,” Tony said after taking a swallow of booze. “Who wants to start the debate about what the hell we do with this guy?”

It was Steve who spoke first, of course. And he was clearly and openly optimistic, of course. Bucky has a good heart, he just had to find himself again, he insisted.

Tony was skeptical. Of course. Rhodey took Tony’s side. Of course. Sam and Clint had concerns. Bruce was talking psychology and neuroscience while also making a point to mention that neither psychology nor neuroscience were his strong suits. And Thor nearly finished a decanter of whiskey on his own. Natasha remained silent as the men around her debated the believability of Barnes’ claims. Was he really trying to escape, or was this a mission from Hydra to infiltrate them? How much control over him did the Russians have, even if he was truly was trying to break free?

She tried to sort through her own memories; a difficult task while also pretending to be following everyone else’s conversations. Natasha knew James was used more for muscle than for mind. He was a soldier, not a spy, all brawn and force and following orders. She didn’t buy the theory that Hydra was using him to infiltrate and destroy the Avengers. As far as trying to escape Hydra, that had been a surprise. Like herself, James had never been content to live his life as a tool for a shadowy organization. But freedom had been something so tantalizing and terrifying that even Natasha had spent years dreaming of escape before actually taking the plunge. When one lives under another’s control for as long as she had, and as long as James had, the unknown where to go or what to do with oneself is paralyzing. It must have taken a lot of courage for him to-

“So we sleep on it then?”

Nat’s head snapped up to find Tony rising from his perch on the table. “I mean, we’re not making any headway here. Might as well mull it over and revisit this tomorrow. Maybe our guest will spontaneously produce a few more memories in the morning.”

Thank goodness. Natasha rose slowly from her seat, letting a few of the others exit the room in an attempt to not look like she was making a bolt for the door.

“Nat,” Steve said suddenly, snapping her out of her thoughts and stopping her in her tracks. She looked back to find him watching her intently, big arms folded across his chest.

There was a soft click of the door as the last of the other Avengers made their way out of the room, leaving her trapped and alone with Captain America.

Natasha’s stomach began to churn, but she kept her expression neutral. She cocked her head to the side, waiting for whatever it was he wanted to say. She certainly wasn’t going to offer anything freely.

There was a moment of excruciating silence before Steve finally gave in. “You knew his name,” he said simply.

Oh. So he had heard that.

“We were in a museum, in a room dedicated to your war days,” Natasha replied, waving her hand dismissively. “And you’ve talked before about your old friend.”

Steve leaned forward, palms pressed flat on the table across from her, his eyes never leaving hers. “I never called him ‘James’,” he replied.

Oh.

Well, that was that. She was trapped. There was no escaping the past now. In her shock at seeing Jame’s face, she had revealed a single word that would lead to her emotional demise. And Steve didn’t look like he was going to show her any mercy.

She took a few slow steps towards him, her fingers following the curve of the table as she moved, buying a few seconds while she formulated exactly what and how much she would tell him. Steve was her friend and teammate, and she had to admit he deserved the truth. But after years of keeping secrets so close to her heart, it was very difficult to release them.

“Hydra worked closely with those of us at the Red Room. We had a lot of the same goals. Sometimes there were joint missions. Sometimes the Winter Soldier would be paired with a Widow. Sometimes, it was me. He was powerful, strong, and brutal, while I was trained to infiltrate quietly. Our opposite strengths made us a nearly unstoppable team.”

She paused, remembering walking by the Winter Soldier’s side, the smell of blood and gun smoke in the air, the feeling of being small and delicate next to such a big and powerful man. A surge of heat pulsed through her body. It took a few seconds for Nat to control her emotions before she continued.

“What he told you today was true. They mind-wiped him often, and he didn’t know his identity at all. Not his nationality, not his friends, not even his name. But he and I were on a mission once, invading a British research lab when he saw a nameplate on the door. It read Dr. James Hammond. He stopped and read it over and over again.” Natasha’s gaze drifted to one of the blank walls of the room, her mind’s eye seeing the way the tightness around his mouth had softened, the way his ice blue eyes had trailed over the brass plate, the way his right hand, his real hand, had come up to trace the engraving.

Natasha continued, her voice growing more quiet. “He said the first name felt familiar. So, when we were alone, away from Hydra's constant surveillance, I started calling him James.”

She drew her lower lip between her teeth, suppressing a shiver as she remembered the way he had rocked into her the first time she used his name. “He… liked that.”

“Were you two… intimate?” Steve asked, a rosy blush touching his cheeks.

Natasha smiled and turned to face him again. Sweet, innocent, old fashioned Steve. “When working with a partner, part of my duties were to reward him for a completed mission. It was expected.”

She didn’t miss the way his body went stiff at that statement. “Are you saying he-”

“No,” she corrected him quickly. “On the contrary, James was the only one I ever wanted to be with. He never simply used me. He cared how and what I felt. He made me feel valued. With him it was like… making love.”

She tossed her red hair behind her shoulders and let her eyes slip shut, tilting her face up toward the ceiling. A melancholy smile painted her lips at the memories, and Nat didn’t try to suppress it. She let the words keep spilling out like a teenager telling her friends about her crush. “We fell for each other. Even outside missions, he used to sneak into my room at night. It was stupid. Dangerous. But we couldn’t stop.”

She heard the shuffle of Steve’s feet as he shifted his weight, considering. “You two were caught,” he said, more of a statement than a question.

Natasha met his eyes again, her smile fading. “They found out. Of course. We both knew they eventually would. James was wiped again and just like that, he didn’t even recognize me. It was shortly after that I defected.”

She didn’t tell him that they had made her watch. That she had heard him screaming and watched the light fade from his eyes. That they hadn’t even allowed her to mourn his loss before throwing her back into the field.

She sniffed, realizing that her emotions were slipping from her tight grip with every admission. But there was something addicting about finally being able to reveal these secrets, and now that they were spilling out, she didn’t want to stop them. “I went back for him once. Word got around the intelligence community that he was chasing a target, a nuclear engineer from Iran. I caught up with them near Odessa. I needed a quick way to get his attention, so I stood between him and his target and tried to reason with him, tried to make him remember who I was and what we had.”

Her voice was cracking, and her friend was beginning to look alarmed. She was always collected. Always carefully put together. Always in control of herself, both physically and mentally. For her to show this much emotion must have been terrifying. A thought flitted through the back of her mind that Steve’s expression would have been somewhat amusing, had she not felt such despair.

Her eyes stung with tears, but she pushed forward. “He couldn’t remember. Couldn’t even comprehend what I was telling him. He just saw me covering his target and did his job. He shot him. Through me. And then he just left us both there to die.”

Her hand moved to cover the scar that was beneath her shirt. “Bye bye bikinis,” she said, attempting to use a joke to pull her feelings out of the dark pit she had fallen into. But another tear slipped away, and she felt the dam inside of her burst.

Steve moved quickly, closing the distance between them to hold her tightly against his chest. He stroked her hair gently, whispering her name while she sobbed. Nat was glad for his solid, strong body to lean on and his big arms to hold her up, for she felt like she suddenly had no energy left to support herself. Seconds, then minutes ticked by, and her friend continued to hold her, steadfast and patient as he always was. Opening herself to someone else had been something Natasha had to train herself to do after the Red Room, and the vulnerability that came along with it was still terrifying at times. But in that moment, Natasha was incredibly glad she had a friend like Steve.

As a thunderstorm subsides to gentle rain, Nat’s sobs eventually weakened into a few sniffles. Still, Steve waited until she pulled away first before loosening his arms around her. Her eyes burned and her face felt wet, and Natasha knew she must look a mess. Letting someone see her in such a physical state felt foreign and more than a little embarrassing. She let out a nervous chuckle.

“Thanks,” she said, feeling suddenly very unsure of herself.

Steve nodded, watching her carefully as if she was going to crack and shatter again any second. She squared her shoulders and shook her hair back in response, trying to look even a little stronger than she felt. “I’ll be okay, Steve.”

His eyes turned downward, and Nat noticed the lines of worry that creased his forehead. Worry for her. Worry for his long lost friend. Probably worry for himself, too. Like her, he was emotionally invested in this weird mess of a situation. Did he feel like he was falling apart, too?

“We should get some rest,” he said, his voice sounding as strained and fatigued as she felt. “I think tomorrow is going to be a long day.”

Yeah. It probably was. The night was over, but this puzzle of theirs wasn’t anywhere close to being finished.

“Steve,” she began with a sudden stab of panic. Captain America’s eyes snapped back to meet hers and she didn’t try to hide the concern in her expression. “Please don’t tell him.”

There was a pause, deep and awkward. “Why?” he finally asked.

“Because his mind has enough to sort out right now,” Nat replied. It was a weak excuse, and she could see by her friend’s deep frown that he saw through it instantly. Fine.

“Because I’m afraid of his reaction.”

Steve opened his mouth to respond, and Natasha braced herself for a lecture about honesty. But whatever he was going to say evaporated into a deep sigh. Nat also let out the breath that she had been holding.

“Alright,” Steve said, “I won’t tell anyone. But this isn’t just your secret. It’s Bucky’s past too, and it’s not fair to hide it from him. Eventually-”

“Eventually I’ll tell him everything,” Natasha promised.

That seemed to satisfy him, and she decided to finally slip off to bed. After a gentle squeeze of thanks to Steve’s hand, she made her way toward the door.

“Nat,” his voice called her back again. Now what?

Natasha turned to see Steve watching her with a small smile. “If you would have just gone to my exhibit at the museum, we could have figured this out a long time ago.”

She snorted a laugh. “You’re right again, Cap.”

Chapter Text

It was Wednesday.

Natasha took one last look in the mirror, taking a moment to pin back a lock of red hair that hung near her face. Months ago, Tony Stark has decided that the Avengers needed regular bonding time and declared every Wednesday night be reserved for some casual revelry. Provided a mission didn’t interfere, everyone joined together at the Tower for dinner, whether they lived there or not. The choice of food and music rotated between the heroes, and tonight Tony himself had chosen classic rock while Clint set a menu of good, old fashioned, American, grilled steaks.

But this Wednesday was different. It was six days after James “Bucky” Barnes had stepped into the lives, and about nineteen hours since everyone, including the lofty Nick Fury, had finally accepted his story. If a friend of Captain America needed help, the general consensus seemed to say, then they would help him. And it certainly didn’t hurt that this friend happened to be a super soldier with abilities that may benefit them in later missions.

Whether their reasons were altruistic or strategic, Natasha was glad for them. Perhaps her fellow Avengers would cease digging into James’ past and the secrets that she had also buried there. Perhaps tonight would be focused on the present, or even the future, she hoped. A clean slate, a fresh start, a new beginning. Tonight, James would be joining them for Wednesday dinner.

The Black Widow wasn’t sure she had ever been more nervous in all of her long life.

She was one of the first to arrive in the dining room, and helped herself to a cocktail while the others filtered in. Steve and James were the last to arrive, and Natasha felt her breath catch in her throat when she saw them.

James was dressed in a simple long sleeve shirt and jeans, both of darker shades, both fitted enough to show the powerful muscles they covered. His metal hand was tucked into a pocket as if to disguise what it was that made him different from the others. His hair was washed and combed, still hanging loosely around his face in a style that made him look clean and rugged all at once. He had shaved, but a five o’clock shadow had already grown which only served to highlight his strong jawline. Those light blue eyes of his sparkled as they moved to carefully take in the room and everyone in it. He looked about as nervous as Natasha felt inside, but he held his chin up and shoulders squared.

He looked really good.

Though nearly all of the Avengers had some sort of contact with the former Winter Soldier by now, Steve took advantage of the evening to make a fresh start. He guided his oldest friend around the room, formally introducing him to his allies. Steve’s eyes were light, his grin broad. This was what he had always wanted, all of his friends together.

The others’ reactions were predictably mixed. Nat didn’t miss the fact that Sam neglected to shake James’ hand or the fact that Tony’s greeting was more clipped and sarcastic than necessary. But just the fact that they were present in the room was something, she supposed.

When the two men approached her, Natasha found that her mouth had suddenly gone dry. She took a quick sip of her drink to compose herself before turning to face them.

“Natasha Romanoff,” Steve was saying with a gesture of his hand. “Former Russian agent, now a good friend and partner. You won’t meet a man or woman more clever than her.”

“Such flattery,” Nat returned with a wink before focusing her green eyes on the man of the hour. She extended her hand to take his, which felt warm, rough, and so big around hers.

“James,” she said his name in greeting, purposely choosing the name by which she knew him instead of of the nickname by which Steve kept refering to him. She kept her hand clasped with his for longer than necessary, not wanting to break the first physical contact they had in years.

”Welcome home, Comrade,” Natasha said, switching to her native Russian.

A hint of amusement flashed in James’ blue eyes and the lines in his face softened ever so slightly.

Steve looked expectant, glancing from Nat to Bucky and back again. “What did she say?” he finally asked.

It was James who responded. “She said ‘welcome.” He turned back to lock his eyes with hers again. ”Thank you.”

“Yeah, okay,” Steve replied, reaching over the bar to grab a pair of beers. “Is dinner ready yet? I’m starving.”

——

The man formerly known as The Winter Soldier found himself alone for the first time that evening, and was incredibly grateful for it. Dinner had been surprisingly satisfying, and the company of others felt awkward yet weirdly welcome, but he also felt the need to sit back and take in the events of the evening. While Steve was engrossed in a lively conversation with Sam Wilson, Bucky had moved away to a a seating area and taken his place on a couch.

He tapped his empty beer bottle silently on the arm of the couch, trying to resist the temptation to pick off the label in his unease. He felt out of place. The interrogation upon his arrival had been expected, and he had braced himself to face all manner of tactics the so-called “Avengers” might use to draw information from him. But they had been shockingly civil. They didn’t withhold meals or sleep, didn’t inflict any sort of pain or fear based strategies, and even gave him a warm bed, full stomach, and new clothes. It had both relieved and confused him. Despite the fact that some of the members of the team obviously and openly distrusted him, Bucky had felt more like a guest than a prisoner.

And now this dinner thing? Steve was obviously trying to help Bucky feel like part of the team. Like he was welcome. Like he belonged there. It was… kind. But when one is out of practice in social events, one tended to feel like the odd man out, even with such a warm welcome.

“Care for something a little stronger?”

A silky smooth, feminine voice drifted to his ears. Bucky didn’t need to turn around to know who it was that had approached him, but he did anyway. Natasha Romanoff stood nearby, holding a glass of crystal clear liquid in each hand, a smile painted on her lips. She had approached silently, without him realizing. He would have to keep a better eye on her in the future.

For now, he gave a short nod and watched as she settled into the chair next to him. His empty bottle was placed on the coffee table and she handed him one of the glasses of vodka, the ice making a tinkling sound as he brought it to his lips.

It was smooth. Cold. Strong. Familiar. Good choice.

He thanked her and took a moment to size her up. She was petite and pretty, with full lips, stunning red hair and bright green eyes. Steve has said she was clever, and that was no surprise. The Winter Soldier knew about Black Widows. You don’t get to be stupid and survive long at that position.

She was watching him, too, Bucky realized, probably making similar judgements about himself.

He took another swallow and leaned against the couch, lifting his arm to lay along the back in a position he hoped conveyed a sense of casual ease. Something about her was tugging at his curiosity. Her posture, her friendly, flirtatious smile, her greeting when they had shaken hands earlier, the way she hadn’t shied from touching his hand.

“I have a question,” he finally said.

The girl tilted her head to the side in polite interest, but waited for him to speak.

“Why aren’t you afraid of me?”

That made her laugh. It was a beautiful, carefree sound that, paired with her smile, made his heart beat a little faster. Natasha’s eyelashes fluttered as she glanced down at her lap, then back up at him. “I didn’t know I was supposed to be,” she answered, a playful tone to her voice.

But Bucky wasn’t interested in playing. He gestured around the room with his hand, his metal hand, and noticed that she didn’t flinch when she saw it.

“Stark treats me like a time bomb that’s going to go off any second. He’s keeping me at arm’s length. Banner stumbles over his words, as if he doesn’t know how to speak to me. Even Steve, for all his friendliness, is handling me with caution as if I might break apart any minute.”

He turned his eyes back to the woman sitting next to him. “And you’re here, alone, bringing me a drink and inviting conversation. Why aren’t you afraid like everyone else?”

Natasha smiled again, this time it was less flirty and more melancholy. She took a few seconds to find the right words, her emerald eyes flickering downward to her drink before speaking.

“You’re just a person, James,” she said, and he found himself distracted by the way his first name sounded on her lips. “You’re not a time bomb and you’re not made of glass. I have no reason to be afraid of you.”

She held his eyes for a moment longer before turning toward the rest of the room. She gestured with her glass as she continued to speak. “Tony thinks he’s our dad, and that he needs to protect us. You’re like the boyfriend coming to pick up his daughter for the first date. Of course he’s going to be distrustful, but he’ll come around.” She flashed him a secretive smile. “To be honest, I don’t think he trusts me most of the time, either.”

She nodded toward Banner. “Bruce is afraid if his own shadow, so don’t take that personally. But he’s a smart guy, and a good one to have around. I hear he’s been putting out some feelers with a few... experts who might be able to help you.”

Bucky opened his mouth to ask what she meant, but the Black Widow has already moving on. “Sam is the newest guy here, and he’s really made a connection with Steve. I think he thinks you’re going to steal his new friend. And Steve…”

She trailed off, drawing her lower lip between her teeth. “Steve’s heart is bigger than his brain. He talked about you often, with all of us. He really did miss you. He’s excited to have you here, and he just wants everything to be alright.”

Bucky found himself, once again, drawn into her green eyes as they fell into silence again. Black Widows were supposed to be smart, sexy, irresistible, he reminded himself. A siren that could lure any man in. She was damn good at her job.

Movement caught both of their attention, and the pair simultaneously looked up to see Steve approaching. Bucky didn’t miss the flash of annoyance that crossed over Natasha’s features, but he was secretly relieved. The last thing he needed was to be seduced and used for whatever a Widow wanted. While this woman seemed sincere, and while she spoke so openly and honestly with him, he wasn’t willing to take any chances.

“I'm not interrupting anything, am I?” Steve asked with a broad smile as he approached.

Natasha answered with a smile of her own. “That’s alright,” she began,rising from her seat. “We have all the time in the world to get to know each other, don’t we, James?”

Without waiting for a reply, she was walking away, and Bucky found himself watching the way her hips moved as she left.

Great. The last thing he needed was a distraction.