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The Choice We Made

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She didn’t remember very much of it. That was probably a good thing, she realized, as she came to lying in a small soft bed she recognized as the medical ward of Avengers Tower.

A machine to her right was beeping softly. Monitoring her heart rate. A IV pole on her left had a line going into her left arm, probably just fluids. She didn’t remember the last time she had anything to eat. Or drink.

The rest of her was covered with a blanket, but she could feel the scratchiness of the wool against her bare skin, and she knew they hadn’t even put her in a gown. Probably best against her bruised and battered flesh.

She closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing. The more awareness of her situation she gained, the more everything was hurting. It felt like half her body was on fire. But the ache between her legs was the worst.

She could see pieces in her mind. Bucky’ face above hers. His hands gripping her hips. Her body shuddering through orgasm after orgasm. Bucky’ face between her legs. Bucky inside her. Her riding him. Her sitting on his face. Against a wall, her legs wrapped around his waist. Bent over the bed, him taking her from behind.

Natasha shook her head, trying to clear the memories before she remembered something she didn’t want to.

It was just sex. It wasn’t a big deal. She and Bucky had had sex before. Not like this but just the where was different. The how. The why.

But she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Couldn’t stop images she didn’t want to see. Images she didn’t want to remember.

Bucky’ face above hers, kissing her. Stroking her cheek, her hair. Cradling her to him.

No.

Natasha forced herself to stop thinking about it. It was just sex. It’s what it had always been. It was what it was this time. Nothing more.

A noise echoed through the room, breaking her out of her thoughts. She let out a soft sigh as she looked toward the door to see Tony slipping into her room.

Her stomach gave a weird lurch at the sight, and she wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed it wasn’t Bucky.

“You’re awake,” Tony said when he saw her.

“How’s Bucky?” she asked.

“Better than you,” he said, but at the glower she gave him, he clarified. “Physically fine. Worried about you. He keeps threatening people to give you space. Almost had to fight him to come in here, but …” Tony shrugged. “Wasn’t sure you wanted to see him right now.”

Natasha nodded. “How am I?” she asked.

Tony consulted the tablet he held in his hand, then looked up. “Luckily, the drugs they gave you weren’t quite as powerful as some of the other ones we’ve seen. You two were going at it for two, three hours but it was already starting to wear off by the time we got there.”

Natasha waited for Tony to get to what she really wanted to know.

“A couple bruised ribs,” he finally said. “Two broken ones. Bruising almost everywhere. Lots of bleeding.” He gestured to her legs and she knew where he meant. “A lot of what looks like rug burn.” He looked up. “Nothing that won’t heal in a couple weeks’ time. We’ve got some pain meds for you if you want. No sparring or training for at least a week. Stay in bed. But you’ll be fine.”

Natasha nodded again. Most of that she already had figured out, but it was good to have it confirmed.

Tony was looking at her oddly, though.

“What?” she said.

“Why’d you pick it?”

“The sex pollen?” she asked, referring to what it was generally called around SHIELD. It was a common occurrence in their line of work, though the drug combinations and the form of consumption often varied.

She knew if she moved the blanket that was covering her she would still see the injection site on her upper arm. And probably see the marks on her wrists where they cuffed her much too tightly before they let them have each other.

Tony nodded. Natasha shrugged.

“What choice was there?” she said. “Reveal all of SHIELD’s secrets and the Avengers’?”

“Didn’t you put most of SHIELD’s secrets on the internet?”

“You know not everything is in a file,” Natasha answered. “Besides it was only sex.” She frowned at the look that crossed Tony’s face when she said that. “What?”

“That wasn’t only sex,” he said.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve seen people affected by these types of drugs before. It didn’t look like that.”

Part of Natasha wanted him to elaborate. Most of her didn’t.

“It was just sex,” she repeated.

“If you say so.”

“When can I get out of here?” she asked, changing the subject.

“Whenever you want,” Tony told her. “But you probably shouldn’t be alone until you’re able to get up and about by yourself.”

She scowled.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Someone’s already volunteered to be your babysitter.”

If Natasha could have thrown a pillow at his head — or worse — she would have. Instead Tony escaped without interference to the door, leaving Natasha once again to try not to remember exactly what had happened.

-

She knew as soon as Tony had said it who had offered to watch over her, but she was hoping she was wrong, that maybe Clint had returned from vacation with Laura and the kids, until the minute Bucky walked through the door.

He asked her how she was feeling, and she told him she was okay, but they purposely avoided conversation until he had gotten her out of bed, dressed her in a robe and carried her back to her own floor. She was only glad they hadn’t run into anyone else on the way.

He helped her settle on to her bed. She stared longingly at the bathroom door. Now that she was out of the hospital room, the reality of what had happened was starting to sink in. Sure, it was just sex, but she smelled like it. Her hair was knotted and sticky. Her body was covered in dirt and who knows what. Everything hurt, but she felt beyond filthy at the same time.

Bucky followed the way she was looking.

“Tony said I can’t let you shower,” he said. “But I can give you a sponge bath.”

She wanted to refuse, but beside the frustration about not being allowed to even bathe herself, what did it matter? He’d seen every bit of her already.

It was only sex, she reminded herself. This was only a sponge bath, nothing she hadn’t helped with for other teammates in the past.

She nodded. “Thank you.”

He was surprisingly gentle, being careful to touch her just slightly, making sure she was comfortable in a certain position before cleaning her off.

The water was warm and the sponge was soft, and the pressure he put on it was softer. She closed her eyes as he stroked her, cleaning off the dirt and the grime and the reminder of the sex they had so much of.

He was cleaning her legs off when he paused.

“Ummm,” he said, and she knew without opening her eyes what he wanted. She spread her legs just enough to let him wash her off, without causing herself even more pain. A couple seconds later, the sponge was between her legs, his knuckles accidentally grazing her leg, and she tried not to think about how intimate this moment was.

It was worse with the cream. She knew she needed it, needed to heal down there and it ached for her to move, let alone to be able to do it herself, but the way his fingers stroked her, rubbing in the lotion, his metal hand gently helping to hold her legs apart while he worked.

She kept her eyes squeezed close so she didn’t have to see his face. There was a knot in her stomach that seemed to go against this whole situation, and she concentrated on ignoring that too.

It was only sex. This was only someone trying to help someone else. Nothing else. They meant nothing to each other beyond that. Beyond being teammates. Beyond being friends.

She cursed herself angrily but silently.

No, they meant nothing. This meant nothing.

He dressed her carefully when he was finished, in loose pajama pants and a hoodie he could zip up instead of pulling over her head. Then he helped tuck her into bed, making sure she was propped up enough on the pillows.

“I’ll be right here,” he told her when he was done.

She wanted to ask him why he was doing this — guilt, a sense of obligation, something more? — but she decided she didn’t really want to know and instead let herself drift off to sleep.

-

Bucky stayed with her for two weeks. He left occasionally to go get them food or to go visit with the others for a little bit here and there or to go back to his own floor to pick up clothes, but for the most part he was by her side, always ready to help her with whatever she needed, from reapplying the healing cream to taking a bath to putting on clothes.

“You know you don’t have to stay,” she told him one afternoon. They were sitting side by side on her bed, watching television.

“I know,” he said.

He didn’t say more. Natasha wasn’t surprised. They were both masters of ignoring the obvious when they didn’t want to deal with it. It was why in the past two weeks, even though he was literally tending to wounds that happened because they’d had too much and too rough of sex for hours, neither one of them had ever mentioned what had happened that had led them here.

But maybe it was because she was growing antsy from not being able to do anything for two weeks. Maybe because it was getting harder to ignore the feeling inside of her when his fingers would touch her. Maybe because she had finally reached the point where she didn’t want to ignore it anymore.

No matter the reason, she reached out to grab the remote and then quickly hit the mute button for the television. He turned to look at her.

“You don’t have to stay,” she repeated.

“I know that, Natalia,” he said again.

“Then why are you here?”

“Maybe I want to be here. Did that occur to you?”

She shook her head. “You don’t have to protect me. Or feel guilty about what happened. We both made the decision to choose the sex pollen.”

“I don’t feel guilty,” Bucky said, then he shook his head. “That’s not true. I do feel guilty. Because you got hurt. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because … I don’t know … I like spending time with you. You just …” He shrugged. “Get me in a way other people don’t. Including Steve.” He looked at her. “Okay?”

“Yeah,” she said. She sat back against the pillows, looking down at her hands. Something still felt off, but she wasn’t sure what she had been expecting. What had she wanted him to say?

“And maybe I like you. You know. Not just in the I like to have sex with you way.”

She turned again to him, this time almost staring in disbelief.

Bucky shrugged at her. “I know it was supposed to be some casual thing, but.” He stopped to shrug again.

Natasha wasn’t sure what to say.

“Okay,” she finally said.

“Okay?”

“Yeah. I mean.” She shrugged now. “Maybe me too, I guess.”

“We’re really bad at this, aren’t we?” Bucky said, and when she looked up, he was grinning. She felt a bubble of laughter well up inside her.

“Yeah, I guess we are.” She scooted over a little, closing the gap between them. “I guess we can be bad at it together. If you want, I mean.”

“Yeah, I guess we can do that,” he said. And he slipped an arm around her, as if to seal the deal.