They don’t hide their relationship. They’re not ashamed of it. All three of them have been through too much to care about that. It’s just that these are their friends, and their friends can be…a bit much. Especially Tony.
So they don’t hide their relationship. They just let the rest of the team figure it out at their own pace.
It helps that two of them are lethal assassins. Gives them good poker faces.
JARVIS is the first, of course. Nothing goes on in the Tower that he doesn’t know about. He gets sensor data from the entire building, and there’s camera coverage of all hallways, doors, windows, and shared spaces (Tony went through a paranoid phase during construction).
Of the three of them, it took Bucky the longest to get comfortable with the omnipresent, seemingly omniscient voice. He still sometimes had to practice his knife skills to feel comfortable talking to JARVIS. Steve was never bothered by it; just another “strange new future” thing. There was very little that could phase Natasha.
JARVIS knows, then. The first time. When the entire team gets back from a mission, exhausted and grimy at 12am. They pile into the common room. Share pizzas, make tea, start to decompress. Everyone mingling, chatting, comparing bruises and scrapes. Nat ribs Clint about missing a shot; Clint swears to anyone listening that he meant to scrape the hubcap instead of shooting out the tire to “make the car easier to track”. Everyone rolls their eyes when he isn’t looking. Bucky and Thor arm-wrestle, godly strength against mechanical arm, chatting quietly in between rounds. Steve moves around a lot, checking on Sam’s ankle, Pepper’s arm (she hasn’t quite mastered her Extremis powers yet), Wanda’s headache.
Couples and singles start to drift off. Nat leaves first, casually moving by Bucky, then Steve. JARVIS is the only one that catches the feather-light touches she gives them: Bucky’s right arm, Steve’s left hand. JARVIS is also the only one to catch the quick glance between the two men, the minute eyebrow raise signaling confirmation. Bucky leaves after fifteen more minutes. Steve stays with Rhodey and Bruce to finish cleanup before yawning, stretching. A chorus of “Good night”.
JARVIS observes Captain Rogers’ entry into the elevator, his choice of floor. Just as he observes the opening of Ms. Romanoff’s door, her stealthy pad through the hall and descent down the stairs. JARVIS registers that the door to Sergeant Barnes’ room opens twice and that three hearts beat slowly, steadily, in close proximity for the rest of the night.
Sam was next.
He knows the signs of Steve or Bucky or Natasha having a bad day. After all, he’s been there for most of Steve’s and some of Bucky’s. Natasha has only let him in once, but that instance was enough to teach him some of her tells.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the serums, they have some traits in common. A slight clenching of the jaw when entering a room. Hyper-vigilance. A need to be near some kind of weapon, be it knife, chair, or teddy bear. Sam is still nervous about that last one.
They each have their own specific responses, too.
Steve sketches, anything and everything. He needs to keep his hands busy. On bad days, he can fill up an entire notepad with sketches of the city skyline outside the window, the bowl of fruit, Bucky’s arm, uniforms, his men from the war, Natasha’s eyes, his own hands. Whatever he’s closest to.
Bucky stills, withdraws back into himself. He’s slower to respond to Sam’s careful questions, Bruce’s quiet acknowledgements, Tony’s sarcasm. Always keeps his back to the wall, focused, watching. Only Steve or Nat can draw him out of it even momentarily, get through to him enough. Sam doesn’t read anything into that, just chalks it up to shared life experiences helping those two to bridge the gap when the others can’t.
Natasha…Natasha sharpens. No other way Sam can think to put it. She’s all edges, razor-sharp wit ready to eviscerate, stalking with refined power and strength, eyes daring anyone to challenge her. No one does, especially after she bruises Thor’s windpipe badly enough to make him wheeze audibly for three days, and shoulder-checks Tony hard enough to bruise. Sam tries be especially gentle those days. The first time he follows her to the ballet studio, soon after his joining the team, he does so because he’s worried that she’s going to hurt herself. He only catches a brief glimpse—floor-to-ceiling mirrors, the bar, polished wood, her feet moving to starting position, her gaze reflected—before the door closes.
The second time he sees her in the studio, it’s late at night, several weeks later. The Tower is mostly empty. Tony, Pepper, and Rhodey are off at some conference, Clint is with his family upstate, Thor and Jane are visiting Asgard, Bruce is in the middle of a science-bender that’s left him unaware of the world outside of his lab, and Darcy and Wanda are already asleep. Sam is walking down the hall to check on Steve before heading upstairs to check on Bucky (all three of them were having a bad day), but Steve’s room is empty. Bucky’s is too.
JARVIS directs Sam down four floors. The hallway is dark except for the light spilling through one open door. He dimly remembers that it’s the ballet studio, approaches carefully. Sam freezes in place once he can see inside.
He knew Natasha danced, so it wasn’t a surprise to see her, graceful and poised as she flows, floats through the room. Sam was dumbfounded to see both Steve and Bucky in the room with her—-she wants to be left alone when she’s like this what the hell are they thinking—and then it registers that the two men are not just in the room with her; they’re dancing with her.
Three bodies, each one enhanced, crafted, honed, trained, for war, for muscle and deadly power. Three bodies, moving in concert with each other, flowing around and through each other seamlessly. Three bodies, in motion, together. And then.
They stop. Bucky holding Natasha up, flesh and metal hands gentle but strong around her waist, Steve steadying Bucky with one hand, the other clasped in Natasha’s. They breathe in unison.
Sam slips away undetected (or so he thinks).
At breakfast the next morning all three of them troop in together and regard him coolly. Then Steve beams, Natasha cracks a smile, and Bucky gives him a quiet grin. Sam chuckles and shakes his head.
Several months later: Natasha, Bucky, and Steve had taken one of the Quinjets to Europe to hunt down a HYDRA base.
Pepper is perceptive. It’s part of why she’s so successful as a CEO and dealmaker. Within the company, her ability to salvage negotiations is legendary. She’s contracted with the UN on occasion. It also helps that she’s fluent in 5 languages. So: Pepper knows people. Prides herself on her ability to read them.
It took her even longer than she thought it would to start to understand Nat and Bucky. Steve surprised her the most. Pepper had thought he was an open book, but it appears that he’s been learning. That should have been the first clue.
She’s there on the roof to meet them as the Quinjet lands. The ramp lowers and Pepper starts forward, stops suddenly in understanding. They’re not even doing anything specific; normal post-mission things: gear stowing, packing bags, going through the post-flight checklist. They’ve done it hundreds of times; she herself has seen them do it dozens of times, but this time…she sees.
Sees the affectionate glances, the not-quite-necessary grazes and touching as they move around each other, how relaxed they are around each other.
She smiles and nods acknowledgment as all four walk to the door.
A chocolate cake with frosting saying simply, “Congratulations” appears outside Natasha’s door three days later.
Thor likes to take laps around and through the city. See the people, feel the wind in his hair. Remembering that the captain mentioned something about moving furniture around his apartment, Thor decides to head over to help. On his approach he notices that all the windows are shaded save for one. Through it he can see Rogers. The red hair means Romanoff, and the metal arm Barnes. But why do all three seem to be focused on one particular piece of furniture…
Thor only flies through one building. Luckily it was already scheduled for demolition.
This time around Jane’s hit a snag on the latest round of calculations for generating a stable Einstein-Rosenthal bridge. Thor stumbled in a couple days ago shedding brick dust, but seemed embarrassed when she’d (distractedly) asked him about it while grabbing a snack. He has been of no help for the past few days, so she heads out to see the Berlin Philharmonic.
Jane not-so-secretly loves going to the symphony. It helps her relax when she’s stressed and stuck on a problem; something about going to see dozens of people who’ve practiced individually and together for hundreds of hours working together to showcase their talents.
She thinks she saw Natasha making her way into the hall ahead of her, and Jane is pretty sure that that’s the back of Steve’s head as he’s waiting in line to order tea, but is utterly bemused by their possible presence. She’d expect Bucky, who had unexpectedly proven to be an avowed fan of classical music (and a remarkably good pianist), to show up, but other two? What were they doing here?
At intermission she quite literally runs into Bucky from behind. Jane is so taken aback that she stumbles back, trips over her own feet, only to be caught by strong, sure hands (Steve’s?). Stepping out of his grasp, she sees that Steve and Natasha have both appeared, Nat’s eyes glinting with mirth. They all seem…relaxed. Bucky starts chattering away about the performance, and Jane joins him while keeping half an eye on the other. To her surprise, both Nat and Steve follow along with the conversation closely, even making a few comments of their own, but mostly just watching Bucky with a clear mixture of affection and fond amusement as he gets so excited that words seem to escape him. Jane has never seen him this…at ease.
She gets so caught up discussing the music that she must have let slip that she can still kinda play the cello. That’s the only explanation Jane can come up with for the day two weeks later when she’s up early collecting data and hits another bottleneck. She must be visibly frustrated, because the next thing she knows, JARVIS is politely recommending that she make her way to the performance space where she keeps her cello. Jane is astounded to hear instruments and a soft murmur through the open door. She steps in–who else is even awake right now–to see Bucky seated at the piano, Nat perched on the windowsill cradling a violin, and Steve seated across from them strumming on a guitar. He doesn’t stop when Jane enters quietly, just moves his chair to open up a space for her. She takes her cello and sits down.
Captain, Kitten, Soldier, Spy
Clint had pretty much always wanted Natasha to get a cat. He’d suggested it several times over the course of their friendship, but she’d demurred. Especially when he put on his “concerned big brother” face and worried about her getting lonely. She just scoffed at him.
The first time he saw the kitten in the Tower, he assumed it was Jane’s or Darcy’s. But it was there even when they weren’t staying at the Tower, so he figured it might’ve been Pepper’s until he remembered that she was allergic. Wanda wasn’t really an animal person, and Thor, being an actual godly golden retriever, was a dog person through and through.
On a whim, Clint spent two full days monitoring the cat’s movements (sometimes he got bored). JARVIS did’t say anything to him about it, but Clint got the feeling that the AI was exasperated with his constant requests for updates on the kitten’s location.
Clint was bewildered when he concluded that the cat was, in fact, Nat’s.
She just smirked and kept scratching its head.
It didn’t escape his notice that the kitten was clearly fondest of Nat, but it also seemed to like Bucky and Steve. It mostly ignored everyone else.
And then one day the kitten disappeared.
JARVIS informed them that she had managed to make it into an air vent, and was now climbing through the duct system.
Clint took one look at Natasha’s face and volunteered. Which was why he now found himself wedged into a cornering of the ducts between floors 46 and 47, trying to coax a reticent kitten to move just…a…little…bit…closer…
A sudden thud spooked the kitten and retreated again. He could hear Thor’s sheepish grin over the comms.
“Sorry! I was merely trying to open another entrance into the small metal tunnels.”
Clint cursed silently; asked, “JARVIS, where is she now?”
“She is climbing up the to the 49th floor, Agent Barton. Sergeant Barnes is moving to intercept.”
Clint sighed heavily and gathered himself to wedge his way further upward.
Upon hauling himself out of the vent (without the kitten), Clint is met with the sight of Bucky gently cradling the kitten in his metal hand as she purred loudly enough to fill the hallway. A second later, Natasha and Steve (Clint is in enough pain from the contortions that he doesn’t really question Steve’s presence), all but sprint around the corner. Clint can only watch as the kitten jumps, still purring, onto Steve’s shoulders, twining her tail affectionately around his neck, before jumping happily into Natasha’s arms. Bucky and Steve move to either side of Nat, all three smiling down at the now-sleeping kitten.
He finally catches his breath, looks up, does a double take.
Wanda and Bucky have a standing arrangement for a Russian movie night every two weeks. They commandeer the common room, turn down the lights, make popcorn.
Wanda is sitting in an armchair, Bucky on the couch. Nat wanders in, yawns, curls up catlike on the couch, feet just touching Bucky’s leg. Several minutes later Steve walks in. Bucky sits up, moves toward center of the couch, Steve sits, Nat extends her legs out over both of them, and Steve massages her feet while Bucky gets her calves/quads. Over the course of the movie they just calmly rotate through massaging each other and talking about the film but Wanda is so distracted by the casual touching that it takes her most of the movie to register that they’re talking about the film in Russian, even Steve–since when does he know Russian…
Darcy is getting pissed.
She’s seen them operate solo, or in pairs, or as part of the larger team, but never before with just the three of them. And gods is it beautiful.
You know, in a “stunning yet terrifying display of strength, coordination, and skill” kind of way. Eerily perfect synchronization, no wasted movement, relying on their strengths, covering for their weaknesses, in almost total silence (save for the occasional bit of Russian).
Darcy has a problem with that.
She’s the mission coordinator. The one who handles transport, monitors communications, sends in backup if necessary. Those last two are significantly easier when the members of the team one is coordinating are actually communicating.
Also she doesn’t know a word of Russian. She huffs loudly in frustration.
Over the comms, Bucky chuckles.
Shit, she thinks. That was out loud
shit “Uh, nothing, Ms. Roma–Natasha. Natasha. Just getting a bit quiet in here with just myself” that was smooth. I think that was smooth
Darcy can hear Natasha’s smirk as she says, “Of course. Dears, we’re doing that thing again.”
Steve’s laugh is cut short by a very loud boom.
Darcy refocuses quickly, pulling up external drone footage and heat signatures. “Steve, I need you to clear these last two rooms. Natasha, Bucky, there’s an exit three doors down the hallway to your southwest. That should get you to the final building. Your ride out is standing by.”
They wrap up the mission in about twenty minutes, with noticeably better communication.
Darcy definitely does not let squeal audibly when she’s requested to coordinate their next mission. And she absolutely does not start keeping a list of their pet names for each other.
He’s been planning this surprise party for his sister for months, invited most of the extended family, sworn everyone involved to secrecy, and now there’s only a couple hours left and the caterer is late, half of the tables and chairs aren’t set up, and none of the balloons are inflated. So yeah, he panics.
He’s not even trying to call Steve, it’s just that his phone registers a scroll as a tap and oh gods it’s a video call why is this happening…
…but it’s not Steve. It’s James. A shirtless James.
“Hey Rhodes, what’s up?”
Rhodey manages to ask about Steve, to which James responds by launching the phone overhand (are he and Steve at a beach?) not to Steve, but to Natasha (who, alarmingly, is wearing a sun dress and a ridiculously large floppy hat), who finally passes it to Steve. He takes one look at Rhodey’s face on the screen and says, “Give us twenty five minutes, we’ll be right there. Just text me the address.”
This means that Rhodey has about twenty minutes to just sit, panic, call the caterer for the fourteenth time, and ponder that phone call with Steve. Or rather with Steve and friends.
Steve who is definitely off taking some much needed vacation. Steve who definitely seems more of a solitary vacationing type than a ‘hang out with friends from work’ vacationing type. Come to think of it they all three are. What the hell are they doing together at the beach?
Twenty minutes goes by rather quickly while he ponders this question, and before he knows it, they’ve arrived.
Steve, Bucky, and Nat instantly scan the room, assess the situation. Bucky’s taken Rhodey’s phone before he knows what’s going on. Nat and Steve head for the remaining tables and chairs. Rhodey eventually figures he might as well keep working on place settings. A couple minutes later his phone is tossed back along with “The food should be here in 10.”
“How the hell did you manage that?! I’ve been calling them for the past two hours!”
Bucky shrugs, smiles a little. “I know a guy.”
Steve calls over as he sets up the last table, “Is it the same guy who helped us out a couple months ago? Yeah, Rhodey, you’ll be just fine.”
Nat shoos Rhodey away from the tables. “Take a seat. We can finish this.”
In remarkably short order, they’ve completely set up tables, straightened chairs, and organized place settings.
It gets weird when all four of them are inflating the balloons: Bucky sucks in some helium and starts talking, and both Nat and Steve fall to the floor laughing so hard they can barely breathe. Rhodey just watches in confusion as his teammates have more fun than…well, than he’s ever seen them have in all the years he’s known them.
He puts it out of his mind as the guests start arriving.
One of Rhodey’s nieces is the one to say something to him during the party about how cute his friends are together and why hadn’t he mentioned to her that they’re all dating. Rhodey stares at her for a second.
“Who’s dating who?”
“Your friends. Over there.” Pointing at Steve, Bucky, and Nat.
“What? No, they’re not…dating…” As he says the words, he sees Steve wrap an arm around Nat’s shoulders, press a quick kiss to the top of her head; she pecks Bucky on the cheek, and he and Steve share a small kiss. Just a moment, and one that Rhodey would have missed if not for his niece.
He elects not to say anything to them until after the party, when they’re helping with clean-up, seizes his chance when Bucky and Nat are wandering around collecting cups (Steve is the least intimidating).
“So. You three?”
Steve smiles a blindingly happy smile. “Yeah.”
Hope takes one look at them, smirks, and high-fives each of them.