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“Unfortunately… you shall be too dead to hear it.”

Natasha whipped her head away from the Zola-screen as she heard the automatic doors of the underground room start to close.  Beside her, Rogers turned just as quickly, winging his shield across the room in hopes of wedging the door open.  As soon as it left his hand, she knew it wouldn’t get there in time – the doors may have been fifty years old but they slid as quickly and smoothly as if they’d been maintained yesterday (which was a definite possibility, now that she thought about it).

Her phone beeped and she pulled it from her pocket as the Captain stepped forward and caught his shield.  “Steve, we got a bogie… short range ballistic, thirty seconds tops.” She glanced up, locking eyes with Rogers, her head still reeling a little inside from information shock.

Steve looked a little stunned too, staring at her slack-jawed for a moment before responding. “Who fired it?”

As if they didn’t already know the answer.  “SHEILD.” She looked away, shifting back to survival mode.

“I admit I have been stalling, Captain.” Zola cut back in, his accent adding a comic-book villain touch that in the stress of the moment was almost laughable.  “Admit it, it’s better this way…”

Her stress levels were steadily climbing, her mind searching for some sense of order or a mission and eventually latching onto the thumb drive.  Protect the thumbdrive.  Survive.   She plucked it off the desk, tucking it into a safe pocket, and turned to search a way out as her breathing hitched up a notch.  Was this really her end?  The locked doors weren’t going to budge, not with just the two of them.  They were trapped in an underground bunker that she knew would be composed of walls of reinforced concrete several feet thick.  No way out… no way out… The seconds crawled by without mercy.  Steve was stepping back and forth, looking frantically around the room.

“…we are both of us…”  Zola’s voice cut through the whirlwind of useless escape ideas that were flicking through her mind.

Steve looked down, noticed for the first time the grate at his feet, ripped it out of the floor and beckoned to her.  Natasha lunged towards Steve as much as the dark hole in the ground – in that instant they both represented safety, survival.

“…out of time.”

She saw the light of the explosion before she heard the sound or felt the shockwaves hit her body.  Time slowed nearly to a stop and with a final cry she flung herself at Steve, feeling his arm wrap securely around her waist as he leapt into the pit, pulling her body underneath his own with a yell.  He crouched over her as the world blew apart, the shield held firmly above them both, and chunks of cement began to rain down around them.

Natasha felt herself beginning to go into shock.  The Black Widow fought the apathy, fought to stay alert, but Natasha was lulled by the sense that Steve had her now, and she had never seen him let anyone down.  The explosion was still intensifying and Rogers’ yell turned to a roar as he fought the weight of the rubble piling down on his body and the intense heat bearing down on them both, his face twisted in a grimace.

Her vision was starting to go.  What started as a healthy distance between their bodies (always the gentleman, wasn’t he?) shrunk under the pressure until he was pressed bodily against her just trying to save her from the worst of the weight or any impact.  Suddenly, it was all too much - the buzzing in her head, numbness in her limbs, the heat and the pressure and the realization that she had finally given up and completely entrusted someone else with her safety.  She silently fell unconscious.


 

 

The missile hit the bunker and Steve locked eyes with Natasha, reaching out as she lunged towards him with the world going orange in his peripheral.  His focus narrowed until all he could see was the small figure lunging desperately toward him – in this moment, protecting Nat was the only thing.  He finally managed to lock an arm around her and pull her underneath him as he jumped into the space under the grate and braced the shield to cover them both.

The bunker began to rain down around him, and it was hot like he’d known it would be, and heavy, but right now nothing would shake him.  He would make it out of this, and when he did he wasn’t going to be walking out with a body. 

He clenched his jaw as the shield became harder and harder to hold up and the weight bore down on his raised arm, and then he was yelling over the roar of the explosion as the sweat beaded out of his face and the heat and the pressure became almost too much to bear.  He felt Natasha suddenly go limp underneath him and he renewed his efforts, recalling the times when his best hadn’t been enough.  Not today. Not again.

And then, as soon as it had started, it was over.  The rubble was no longer crashing down, no longer entrapping them in this tiny cave in the floor.  The heat subsided to a bearable level, no longer singing the fine hairs on the back of his neck.

Steve gasped in air, coughing as he pulled a lungful of dust.  There was a big piece of concrete almost resting on his shield; he grunted and shoved it to the side, lodging it against the pit wall.  A few smaller pieces were knocked loose and shifted a little, but with that their safe haven was stable for the time being – like a concrete tent.

He gently reached down, checking pulse and breathing, running a hand along the underside of Natasha’s neck.  Everything seemed fine there… She had a decent cut on the side of her head where the blood was running into her hair.  Something must’ve hit her.  He made a mental note to check for concussion later and turned back to shifting the rubble, letting out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.  Because at that moment, he realized what it would have meant to him to lose her.  He realized how much it would’ve been like losing Bucky all over again.

As soon as there was a viable way out he crouched down and scooped Natasha up, cradling her securely against his chest.  Adrenaline and exhaustion waged a mini war inside his body but he knew they had to move now – SHIELD was nothing if not thorough.  As if on cue he heard the noise of the rotors and saw the spotlights appear over the horizon, dangerously close.  Glancing nervously at the sky, he clutched Tasha tighter and began picking his way out of the ruin, making for the trees.

He was safely under cover of the treeline by the time the SHIELD agents hit the ground.  Silently thanking God that they had ended up in a forest he knew for once, he slumped back against a trunk to catch a moment of rest.

He glanced worriedly at Natasha, wondering if he should bother trying to wake her, wondering if he’d even be able to.  She wasn’t the type who liked to be fussed over – Lord, she was so very much like Peggy in that way – but right now she seemed so small, without her enormous presence of mind taking up extra space. 

“Natasha.  Natasha, can you hear me?”

She didn’t respond.  He frowned, realizing he’d been in the same place too long, and began moving swiftly through the moonlit forest in the direction of the small town he knew was some 8 miles north.

The red headed spy that weighed so lightly on his arms was still rather heavy on his mind.  Sometimes he almost felt he was falling for her, in the slow but steady way that he’d fallen for Peggy, as unavoidable as a glacier’s slow traverse down a mountainside.  She and Peg were so similar, even coming from such disparate backgrounds – both strong, independent to a fault, with a sassy sense of humor that expressed itself as almost aloof in Peggy and as dry, biting wit in Natasha.  Neither of them looked at him and saw the famous Captain America – to them he was just Steve, just another soldier, and he cherished their disillusionment with his grand public figure, their lack of regard for his reputation.

But then – she was almost becoming more than Peggy had been.  He cursed himself a little for thinking it.  She was the beautiful woman he watched day in and day out fight for those other than herself, and this made her like Peggy; but she was also the one who followed him fearlessly into whatever misadventures he could dig up, and in this way she was Bucky; and at the bottom of it all she was Natasha – above all, doing what she thought was best, regardless of whose orders she had to disobey, and loving her comrades fiercely til the end, even if she’d never openly admit it.  He had to admit, he really admired her a lot.

A moment of perspective hit him and he cursed his feelings away, blaming the shock of rediscovering his old enemy and then getting intimate with a bunker explosion.  Because all things notwithstanding, he reminded himself, she was the Black Widow.  She might have a strong brotherly love for all of them, but he’d never seen evidence of her showing romantic feelings for anyone.  To her, love would be a silly weakness or a liability – an illogical move that should be avoided.  Kisses were nothing but a way to maintain cover; sex was a tool to ensnare a target.  He pressed all thoughts of admiration (what did they call it these days? A “crush”?) to the back of his mind and focused on moving his tired feet silently over the spongy forest floor, stepping to the beat of an old march tune that looped lazily through his mind.

Anyway, the childish part of him couldn’t help interjecting, if she fell for anyone it wouldn’t be you. You’re the fossil, remember? The antique. It would obviously be Clint.

 


 

Natasha slowly emerged from the blackness, fighting to mentally shake off the foggy stupor that was clamped onto her brain.  Her mind was spinning, as much from the shock of the bunker memories that were slowly returning as from a physical headache that pulsed insistently from her temples.

She was cradled rather comfortably in Rogers’ arms.  They were travelling at a steady clip through old growth forest.  She frowned a little, wondering how long she’d been out, marveling that Steve was apparently immune to exhaustion.

His foot swung too low over the ground and caught, causing him to stumble a little before he caught himself.  Ok, maybe not immune, she thought as her head bounced off his chest a little.  His face, now that she looked at it, was definitely a little the worse for wear – still handsome as ever, but he looked a little haunted, a little drawn. 

 

He noticed she was awake, seeming to snap out of his preoccupation.  “Hey… how’s the head?” His voice was low, as if any sudden noise might send the trees around them crashing down.

“Good- I’m good. You should set me down.” Her voice sounded far away and tinny – aftereffects of the explosion on her hearing.

A flicker of doubt passed across his face but he stopped and gently lowered her to the ground.

She swayed a little at first, the analytical part of her brain wondering how big a bomb SHIELD had dropped on them – or what had hit her on the head – for her to still be feeling the effects this strongly.  It was frustrating.  If there was one thing Natasha hated, it was being out of control of a situation.

After a few moments the blood settled and her head stopped throbbing.  “Alright, Captain… lead the way.”  Her voice was a touch higher than normal but she fought to keep it steady, strong.

Rogers watched her cautiously a moment longer before slipping back into what she liked to think of as Fearless-Leader mode.  “Ok… we have about a mile left to go until we hit a town.  From there we’ll borrow a car and… yeah.”  He petered off into the unknown.

She shrugged.  “Good enough plan for now.”  They started moving again, each lost in their own thoughts and not really speaking.  It was taking far too much of Natasha’s willpower to stay on her feet but she was determined to make it through this.  There would be rest in the car, since Steve would undoubtedly insist on driving.

   She wondered idly if he’d struggled with the idea of leaving her behind.  He could’ve been long gone by now, this moonlit forest stroll nothing but a flash and a memory.  Even if he’d taken the trouble of digging her out of the rubble, he could’ve just left her in the woods someplace to wake up and fend for herself.

Admittedly it wasn’t Captain America’s style to leave a comrade behind, but she was the Black Widow – not exactly the model partner for America’s golden boy.  She still wasn’t sure he’d forgiven her for that night on the pirated ship – when she’d been a liability for withholding information, for not trusting him.  I had trusted him, it just… didn’t seem important.  He certainly didn’t trust her – he’d made that pretty clear afterwards.

A stick popped a few yards off and Steve turned and pinned her against the nearest tree trunk, covering them both with his shield until they saw the nonplussed deer walk by, oblivious to the drama that had unfolded just a few miles off.

The two humans let out a collective breath, frightening the animal, which went daintily bounding off into the night.  Natasha watched it go, the light bouncing stride reminding her of ballet.  It brought her thoughts back to her childhood, and there they stayed until Steve stopped her where the forest ended and the small town abruptly began. 

He motioned her to an old burned out oak with a bit of a hollow underneath.  “You wait here.  I’ll be back in a few moments.”  He turned and moved silently away, down a small incline and into the truck stop parking lot that signaled the edge of civilization.

She leaned wearily against the tree, sinking down to the grass, putting a hand up to her head and feeling the blood crusted in her hair.  Yeah, something had definitely hit her head.  Concussion was a definite possibility, but other than that she was good – a little bruised up, scrapes here and there, but for the most part feeling great for having been buried under a bunker’s worth of rubble.

She had only a few moments to wait before a beat up old Ford pickup rumbled into the deserted parking lot.  The blue paint was chipped and faded but it sounded like it was running fine.  Steve stepped halfway out of the driver side door and beckoned, his face looking rather stoic in the shadowy light.

The truck seemed very suited to Steve, she thought amusedly as she ambled down the hill.  Not a fitting vehicle for the grand Captain America, but pretty good for Steve Rogers – a man she realized she didn’t know at all, not really.  “You could’ve picked us a prettier ride, Captain… this one looks almost as old as you.”

The lighthearted ribbing brought a smile to Cap’s face.  “But you know what else this truck and I have in common? We’ll both keep running long after all your newfangled modern tech is down in the junkyard.  Hop in, let me take a pretty girl for a spin.”  He was using his television voice, projecting the words clearly with a hint of a smile and old-fashioned charm.

She laughed as she climbed in, settling on the old bench style seat.  “My pleasure, Captain.”  It felt good to smile again, to push all the new revelations about SHIELD and Hydra out of her head for a few moments.

She propped her feet up on the dash, settling back into the seat with a groan.  Steve shook his head. “Borrowing!” When she made no indication of moving, he reached over and grabbed both ankles in one hand, dragging her feet over to his lap.

She resettled on the seat, content with the new arrangement.  “So where’re we headed, Cap?”

He paused a moment, then shook his head.  “I… have a couple ideas.  Lemme think on it a bit more.  How’s the head?”

She prodded her temples gently.  “It’s been worse.  I should be fine in the morning, at most in a few days.”

“Good to know… I’d hate to have to leave a lady behind.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

 

They lapsed back into silence for a few moments and that was enough for Natasha to fall asleep, lulled by the low rumble of the pickup.

 

She awoke abruptly from a nightmare where Clint had turned out to be a Hydra op.  Shaking her head a little to clear it of bad images, she phased back into the present.

Steve was relaxed into the driver’s seat, long legs sprawling, one arm on the wheel and the other tossed over the back of the seat.  Every now and then a passing car would illuminate his unreadable expression but for the most part they were still shrouded in darkness, hints of dawn just beginning to show on the horizon.  The radio was on and tuned to some oldies station, quietly playing a scratchy swing tune that she didn’t recognize.

How strange it must have been, to wake up in the 21st century.  Yeah, she’d thought about it before, but she felt like after the revelations of the evening she was able to empathize a little more.  As much as she hated to admit that the Black Widow was capable of feeling emotional distress, learning about Hydra had left her badly shaken.  SHIELD had been her entire world – it had been the foundation of her new life as one of the “good guys.”  Even she, the impenetrable assassin, had intrinsically trusted SHIELD to be a force of mostly good.  It hurt to have that trust destroyed.  She had trusted Fury.  And now he was gone, murdered by the very organization that she’d essentially devoted her life to.

She was left feeling ungrounded, her sense of what and who she was swept out from under her feet for the umpteenth time.  It was the worst feeling.  She wondered if Rogers felt like this every day.

At least she still had him.  Captain America was someone who she could trust, and though she didn’t understand him half as well as she’d like Steve Rogers seemed almost more trustworthy.  Being on a mission with the Captain, she realized, had shown her how little he shared with the team and how truly private he had remained.  The simple old-fashioned good guy was a bit of a ruse – she was just now understanding how much deeper Steve ran.  This must be just as awful for him – SHIELD was all he had in the modern world, really; and Hydra was so deeply tied to his old life that it must’ve been like a journey back in time.  She knew how much he valued trust – this would be quite a blow.  But then, she wasn’t really sure he’d trusted anything about SHIELD in quite some time, even the past iterations of SHIELD.

She contemplated what it must be like to be someone like Steve, someone so intrinsically good and trustworthy that it seemed normal for him to have the right to demand truth from others.  He really just was so… good.  Selfless.  The ideal model citizen.

Did pre-Black Widow Natalia ever have a shot at being that kind of person?  She wasn’t sure.  Sometimes it seemed like the assassin was all she had in her, that trickery and deception and cunning were all that made up her ways. 

Being around Steve made her want to change that, sometimes.  To choose to be open and trusting and good, like he was, just for a little while at a time.  Would he ever really, really trust her?  She never seemed to get an opportunity to earn his trust, only chances to make mistakes and break it.  She craved it, she realized.  She really, genuinely wanted Steve to trust her.  It was important.

It was a new thought and a mildly uncomfortable one.

The sun was beginning to rise.   Rogers glanced over, noticing seemingly for the first time that she was awake.  “Mornin.  We’re almost there.”

“Almost where?”

“D.C., I know a guy there.”

She blanched.  “You wanna go towards the people trying to kill us?  This friend isn’t in SHIELD?”

He glanced at her sideways, blue eyes looking particularly weary.  “It’s the last thing they’ll expect, right? And no, this guy’s a retired vet, the guy I was with when you picked me up before this whole fiasco.  He’s a good man, we can trust him.”

Natasha remained a bit skeptical – how well could he know this guy? – but then, it was Steve.  Fury hadn’t hailed him as a master technician for no reason.  “Alright, if you say so.”  She pulled her feet away, sitting up, accidentally bumping the radio off in the process.

 

“Hey, that was a good song!”  His tone was semi playful again, if tired.  He flicked the station back on.

She scoffed.  “This sounds like something my grandpa might listen to.”

 

“Whatever happened to the Russian orphan with no family? That just a cover?”  He raised an eyebrow at her.  “… but that said, feel free to introduce me to your grandpa.  He seems like an alright fella.”

“He’s a figurative grandpa. You guys would get along great.”

 

 


 

Steve parked the truck someplace near the Washington monument at about 7 in the morning and let her wipe down the car after they got out.  They sat on a bench that Steve gestured to.  “Should be along any minute now.”

It was indeed not more than another 2 minutes before she spied the man from the street come running along the sidewalk.  They waited for him to gain about a block before they wordlessly began trailing him, eventually watching him enter a small house in a well-manicured little neighborhood.  Natasha pulled her hood over her head as they walked around the block once, sweeping for spies or other… issues.  When it seemed clean, Steve led the way up the stone steps to Wilson’s door, knocking three times. 

 

Sam opened the door with a jug of orange juice in one hand, his annoyed expression quickly turning to puzzlement but remaining impressively controlled.

Steve held out a hand.  “Hey man, I really hate to do this to you, but we need a place to lie low.”

Natasha chimed in, face serious.  “Everyone we know is trying to kill us.”

For a long second, Wilson just looked at them and she thought Steve had been wrong, that this guy wouldn’t help them and he’d call them in and then they’d really be on the run.  But then Sam gave a hint of a grim nod.  “Not everyone.  Come on in.”