Work Header

Chris Crush

Chapter Text

New York. December, 2012.

Captain America is a great leader. He inspires everyone to be better just by being around him. Besides being an expert tactician and an experienced field commander, he's an excellent observer and his enhanced senses give him unmatched advantages. This is perfect when navigating through the intricacies of government agencies, like S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Army. Also essential for him to be the leader of the Avengers – definitely not an easy group to manage. It's his job to assure that they work as a team, and he really cares about them. So, he watches the Avengers.

Steve Rogers is a man from the past, struggling to find his place in the present, and he likes to watch Natasha Romanoff – he has been watching her since he first saw her. Different from any woman he'd met before, she's fascinating, and not only as a team member. The Black Widow is outstanding, no questions about it. But it's the woman inside her, the one she fights so hard to conceal, who had captured Steve's interest and invaded his dreams. Unequivocally, she's very attractive, but for him, the spy is far from the cold person she pretends to be. And that's what draws him to her.

When they met, half a year ago, the artist in him was instantly captured by her red hair shining like fire under the sunlight. Looking totally distant and confident, she gave him those elevator eyes. Not that he would ever brag about it, but Steve was used to being admired. Yet, somehow, her scrutinizing eyes made him feel… different.

She sure knew how to use words. "It's going to get a little hard to breathe."

More than any woman that had passed through Steve's life before, Natasha took his breath away.

With the grace of a ballerina, she moved ahead, guiding him to the Helicarrier's bridge. He couldn't deny it, he found her truly… hypnotic. Even though, it was interesting to see the Black Widow in action, spreading her web to catch him, to observe and understand who he was. He had read her file and he could certainly read her. The description of her skills hadn't been exaggerated.

But then, she turned to check on him, just for a moment, as if she wasn't sure about the effect she had on him. That was when he saw a tiny breach in her perfectly well-fortified armor, and it was enough for him to notice a different Natasha inside her. A glimpse in her eyes combined with a pulsing vein on her forehead that could possibly be translated as… Curiosity? That was really a great surprise, and made him pay Nick Fury ten bucks – not that the Director would ever know the real reason.

Whoever has the chance to really know the Captain will learn that people, not things, are what marvel Steve Rogers.

Despite his sweet awkwardness around her, Steve is a mystery Natasha can't decipher. He's the first straight man who seems immune to her charms, and he respects her as a woman. That's why he got her attention and, frankly, she finds herself wanting to be next to him, working, sparing, and learning from his vast experience. On the other hand, she saw him dealing with other women and men, with absolute class and professionalism. Nonetheless, while keeping everybody at a distance, he remained all alone. Although everybody fancies the superhero, she tries to understand the man from the past – a much more complex fish-out-of-water than she was when she came from Russia.

She's paying close attention when Tony Stark asks all the Avengers to attend a ball to benefit New York victims – after the battle with the Chitauri. The nearly imperceptible tension in the Captain's body doesn't go unnoticed by the Black Widow. They're just teammates, but she's always a bit kind towards him, and when everybody leaves, she approaches quietly.

"What's the problem, Captain?"

Her direct question takes him by surprise, but he can't lie and replies quite ashamed, "I don't know how to dance."

"I can teach you."

She doesn't joke or pity him. Instead, she invites him to her floor and leads him to her ballet studio. "JARVIS, play Michael Bublé. I'll be right back."

Still intrigued by him, she can't miss the opportunity for a test. The music fills the ample space, and he's admiring the suave melodies when she returns, wearing a navy blue taffeta evening gown, with a low heart-neck, puffed sleeves and a merry-go-round skirt. It's a pin-up dress she used in a vintage themed party, and the Black Widow doesn't miss her target.

The Captain's jaw falls in awe and it takes a few seconds for him to find his voice. "Ma'am… You look amazing."

The test worked. She got his attention, although she's still not sure about why. Is it her or the whole 40s look? Or is it about dancing? Smirking, she hides her satisfaction, "Thanks, Cap. And it's Natasha." Getting close, she reaches for him, but noticing his hesitation, she frowns, "Anything wrong? The dress?"

Embarrassed, he takes her hand. "God. I'm sorry. Natasha. It's more than perfect… it's beautiful."

"You need to learn it the right way. Shall we?"

Calmly, she leads him to the center of the room, as he tries to concentrate on her words.

But he can't lie to himself. She's the most beautiful woman in the world and he can't believe she dressed like this just to dance with him. Despite his racing heart, he can't cross any line. She's my teammate… she's doing me a favor.

Breathing in deeply, he tries, "Right. I hope I don't embarrass myself too much in front of you."

"Don't worry, your secret is safe with me." Her smile is mysteriously sweet, as she asks, "Do you like the music?"

Although he's definitely unbalanced and tense, he doesn't feel uncomfortable. "Yes, it sounds almost familiar."

"I thought you would like it. The guy is young, but sings classics with new arrangements."

"Thanks, Natasha. I really appreciate it."

Waiting for instructions, he stands uncertain at the beginning, but she knows exactly what to say. "JARVIS, start with the older slow dancing songs. Feel the movements, Cap. It's like a choreographed fight, just slower," she talks to distract him, while putting his hand on her waist.

Gracious and skilled, she's very patient with him and it works. After the initial clumsiness, he focuses on the lessons, revealing himself to be a quick learner. After all, he has the coordinated body of a perfect athlete, the smoothness of a stealth spy, and the soul of an artist.

"I didn't know modern music could be so beautiful," he praises.

"It's new for your time, but it's classic today. Clint calls it cheesy," she smirks.

After working more closely with the Avengers, the soldier realized that the archer and the spy are like siblings, contrary to the rumors around them. A small laugh escapes him, "Knowing his music taste, I'm not surprised."

They dance and talk for hours, stopping only for drinks and food. Slow songs mean romantic songs – it feels like the respectful, normal first date she never had before. Keeping her usual cool mood, Natasha is secretly surprised by the fact that she feels so at easy with Steve. He's the perfect gentleman, and she doesn't remember meeting one, especially with his godly body and deep blue eyes. The redhead can't help being charmed by this sweet side of the Captain, realizing she has never seen him so relaxed.

Above all, she's totally unprepared for the feelings that he evokes inside her. You are a very handsome young man, Steve Rogers… and for the first time, perhaps, I'm allowing myself to see that. To see you as someone other than the icon called Captain AmericaAn intelligent, sensitive man, who is also the embodiment of masculinityBe careful, Natalia Romanova… you're thinking some very dangerous thoughts.

It's quite late, but he's finally getting comfortable with the rhythms, so she asks, "One more before we call it a night? Lead away, Cap."

Turns out that having Natasha in his arms is surprisingly natural for Steve – they fit together. He tightens his hold on her, before they're being carried away by the beautiful song.

'Wise men say only fools rush in…' Bublé's melodious voice fills the place, and Natasha's eyes fall slowly to Steve's lips – even for the aloof spy, it's hard not feel attracted. It's been a long time since she had anyone this close, but she looks away discreetly.

'Some things are meant to be…' the lyrics are just perfect, and Steve realizes he's in deep trouble. He was attracted to her before, but after today, he has no escape… or hope.

When it ends, he says sincerely, "This is really a great song."

"Can't Help Falling In Love. It's from the 60s, originally by Elvis Presley," she explains, before raising her face to look at him, and he never saw anyone more beautiful. "I'll show you more tomorrow, okay? Now that you're a pro in slow dance, we can try other ballroom styles." Then, she leans in, and kisses his cheek, making him blush for the first time. "Good job, Cap."

"Thank you, Natasha."

To have the boys all dressed up appropriately, Pepper Potts called tailors to make customized tuxedos, and jewelers to bring cufflinks, tie clips and watches. For the ladies, they offered assorted pieces of jewelry and couture gowns. By all means, when you're Tony Stark, or living under his shelter, you don't go shopping – the stylists come with clothes, models, and everything else. It's the celebrity lifestyle.

With daily dancing lessons and other themed dresses, by the end of the week, Steve learned a few simple styles, and they get more comfortable around each other.

Proud, Natasha praises him, "You're a natural, Steve."

"I have the best teacher," he replies, kissing her hand, "Thanks for helping me, in everything."

"My pleasure. You think you're ready to face the ladies at the gala?" He blushes and she smirks, "Don't worry, you'll be fine."

On the gala night, Natasha wears a black silk-taffeta gown, expensive jewelry, with her hair and makeup done in a classic style.

"Nat, you're stunning," he says, offering her his arm.

"Thanks, Steve. The tux fits you perfectly too."

They're heading to the group table when the band starts to play a lovely tune. Instantly, Steve invites, "Nat, would you do me the honor of allowing me this dance?"

Smiling, she nods, and the duo makes the Captain's official first dance more than memorable.

The crowd cheers, while Tony and Clint complain that Steve is getting all the attention. Quickly, Natasha goes back to her unapproachable state. Needless to say, she's not a fan of human contact. But, discreetly, she observes everything from a safe distance. With his polite, chivalrous manner and movie-star look, Captain America dances the whole night, making the Avengers benefit ball a huge success.


After that, Steve and Natasha's relationship changed completely.

They end up working together more frequently, and trusting each other as partners. The similarities that they share make it all easier – such as being private people and placing the work first throughout their whole careers. Their differences, however, make their bond unique – they have complementary and, therefore, mutually strengthened skills. As an unexpected result of their partnership, the soldier and the spy start to question their own lives, what they wanted for themselves.

Steve's quest is simple – he wants to know more about the real Natasha.

Although she can mask her real emotions perfectly, he sees beneath her exterior. And, since she's great at reading people too, she knows she can't hide much from him. Gradually, she starts to break down the barriers that she'd put up and learns to trust him as a friend. Deep inside, she worries about him being lonely, and wants to help him adapt to modern times.

In spite of looking like an odd duo, they find a surprising relief as they learn to rely on each other, realizing that their well-oiled working relationship had turned into a more intimate friendship.

They're on board the Quinjet approaching their target, and Steve is about to jump, when Natasha asks, "Did you do anything fun Saturday night?"

"Well, all the guys from my barbershop quartet are dead, so, no, not really."

He looks at her wondering what she wants… hoping… But she throws his hopes away, "You know, if you ask Kristen out, from Statistics, she'd probably say yes."

As usual, he's straightforward, "That's why I don't ask."

She keeps teasing him, "Too shy or too scared?"

"Too busy!" he replies before jumping without a parachute, because Captain America doesn't need one.

After another successful mission, they're leaving S.H.I.E.L.D., when he takes the chance, and asks, "Are you doing anything fun tonight?"

"Nah, just thinking about relaxing and catching a movie." That's her way to unwind from all the stress, particularly after a tough day. He looks so handsome and lonely that she doesn't resist. "You can join me, if you're not too busy," she invites, winking playfully.

With a broad smile, he replies willingly, "I'm never busy for you, Nat."

Jumping on his bike, Steve follows Natasha's car back to the Avengers Tower, to their first movie date.

Next movie: Sunshine (2007)

Chapter Text

Avengers Tower.

Steve meets Natasha in the movie room in the common area. It's the ultimate private movie-theater with the best sound, image and special effects they ever saw – what Tony Stark calls the basics. It's all in complete darkness except for the unbelievably giant screen. Usually, when the team is gathered to watch something, they use the comfortable sectionals around it. Today, however, there are only two of them, so the spy is reclining on the large central sofa gesturing for the soldier to come closer.

It's the first time Natasha invites him to watch a movie, so she chooses a cerebral adventure with powerful human drama. JARVIS sends the info to Steve's StarkPad – Sunshine is about a mission to save the dying Sun, basically, the sacrifices that have to be made in order to preserve the future of mankind. Something that Captain America is well aware of.

Sitting beside her, he gets carried away by the incredible images of the Sun, pondering, "Points to Tony, it feels like we are actually on that ship." There's a hint of melancholy in his voice and she doesn't fail to notice the singularity of the situation. She raises an eyebrow inquiringly, but his smile is nothing but reassuring, "Seems to be a good movie."

It doesn't disappoint him. The sci-fi plot is well thought out, but it's only a background to the psychological journey of the characters. Surprisingly, too close to their real lives, as the engineer Mace – the solo voice of reason – attests, "We have a payload to deliver to the heart of our nearest star. We're delivering that payload because that star is dying. And if it dies, we die, everything dies. So that is our mission. There is nothing, literally nothing, more important than completing our mission. End of story."

Completing the mission – that's something the soldier and the spy have always been focused on, to the detriment of their personal lives. One of the things they have in common.

As the movie progresses, they watch captain Kaneda sacrificing himself to save the team, and a question slips from her lips, "Did you think about dying?"

They're looking at the hot Sun, but he understands she's asking about the cold ice, so he simply answers, "Yes."

They are partners, friends and, above all, they trust each other, but some personal issues were never discussed before. But she feels so safe and relaxed with him that she asked without thinking. Natasha hates being impulsive like this and she tenses up right away – in the field, it can cost lives.

Steve, however, can't see anything, anymore… His sight gets blurry, and his mind falls back into the mist of memory…

Back to 1945… to the day he went under… the day he died…

On board of the damaged Valkyrie, the Hydra super bomber, still almost fully armed, but with many unresponsive controls, Steve radioed back to the base and talked to Peggy, explaining the situation, "There's not enough time. This thing is moving too fast and it's heading for New York." There was only one right thing he could do, and he took a deep breath before saying it out loud, "I got to put her in the water."

The only indication of Peggy's fear was her slightly trembling voice, "Please, don't do this. We have time. We can work it out."

A torrent of thoughts flooded his mind as he spoke, "Right now I'm in the middle of nowhere. If I wait any longer, a lot of people are gonna die." Forcing the plane down, he watched the ice approaching quickly. As usual, there was no arguing with the Captain. "Peggy… This is my choice." The sense of inevitability about his death was too overwhelming, and he needed to think about something else. Once again, her photo in his compass was there to guide him. "Peggy?"

Her voice was a murmur, "I'm here."

There was no turning back and he didn't have anyone else to be by his side on this final mission. He trusted her to be strong enough – he prayed. "I'm gonna need a rain check on that dance." There was a bittersweetness on the simplicity of his sentence.

He barely heard her answer, "All right."

They didn't have any personal conversation about feelings of any kind and the heartbreaking reality was that they would never have. Their story would end before it ever started. At that tragic moment, the message was clear – he needed her one last time, to keep his mind focused to get the job done.

As expected, she didn't let him down, "A week, next Saturday, at the Stork Club."

"You got it."

Sounding almost like the Peggy he knew, she continued, "8:00 on the dot. Don't you dare be late. Understood?"

It was hard to concentrate because there was only ice in front of him, "You know, I still don't know how to dance."

Her voice was breaking, "I'll show you how. Just be there."

"We'll have the band play something slow. I'd hate to step on your…"

Those were his very last words. No goodbye, no I'm-sorry-we-won't-have-our-chance…

Steve didn't reach his 27th birthday.

Back in the present, his mind tries to process everything. It has been a long time since he remembered his past, the accident, Peggy, and the date that never happened. He's taken by surprise because it doesn't hurt anymore… not as much as it used to.

Slowly, Steve blinks realizing that the cold, white ice turned into the emerald green of Natasha's warm eyes.

They are filling his mind with his favorite recent memories – their dancing lessons, the ball… the long-awaited dance that he ended up having with the redhead Russian… without even thinking about anything or anyone else. She's right in front of him, and he just can't stop gazing at her…

A flux of energy surges through his body. God, she's beautiful.

When the Avengers first came together, the Black Widow kept her distance, pretending not to care about anything or anyone. But Steve noticed the subtle worry in her voice, talking about Clint, "Loki has him under some kind of spell, along with one of ours." Also, how concerned she became when Tony was on the other side of the Tesseract portal, "Come on, Stark." The soldier knows she cares.

"Steve? Are you okay?" she asks, touching his hand softly, and snapping him out of his reverie.

"Yes," he replies shyly, and she lays her head on his shoulder – although that's something she wouldn't probably do if they weren't alone. But after so many missions together, the two of them are used to physical contact – to take care of each other's wounds or massaging out the knotted muscles – and, they danced.

His voice is calm, "It's easier when the decision involves only our own lives."

Even so, he almost can see the gears in the head of the spy, as if reprimanding herself for being spontaneous. "I didn't mean to pry. You don't need…" she says.

"No, it's okay. To tell the truth, it's good to talk about all this, you know? I like to talk to you," he smiles.

To me? She's not sure about what he means, yet, it's an unexpected confession. Without knowing what to do, she pats his hand gently.

Finding comfort in this small act of tenderness she's giving to him, he explains, "The complicated part is to choose among the lives of others, sacrificing one for the benefit of the group."

Natasha immediately remembers the aftermath of the battle against the Chitauri…

The Thunderer started one of the Captain America's tales, as Thor liked to call them, praising Steve as a leader, who shared the laurels of conquest but took full responsibility for the defeats.

They were fighting side by side, and the Prince was admiring the Captain's technique and almost superhuman strength, when Thor saw Steve warning Tony that was about to cross the portal, "Stark, you know that's a one-way trip." Iron Man successfully directed the bomb through the portal, and after a moment they heard the powerful explosion. The Prince and the soldier looked at each other – both experienced commanders, they knew that it needed to be closed before any radiation could pass through it. Steve didn't hesitate and gave the order, "Close it." But it was the pain in the Captain's face that gave the Asgardian heir the proof of his worth as a leader – a noble heart.

Since then, Thor has followed Steve's commands without question.

Natasha can't agree more – she'll follow Steve anywhere, hoping that he trusts her enough to know she will always have his back.

She's lost in her thoughts when the movie reaches the part where Mace plunges into the tanks with coolant – she reacts instantly, "JARVIS, stop it." It's awfully ironic that anyone would freeze to death so close to the Sun. Mortified, she sits upright and turns to Steve, "I'm sorry, I forgot this part." A whirlwind of things is going through worried green eyes but she doesn't know what to do. She has no excuse and she's off balance.

Remaining totally calm, Steve gently takes her hand and puts it on his own pulse. "Nat, look, I have no problem with that scene, or any other freezing one. I don't like to see anyone dying. But do you get the point? I'm fine."

Her mind still can't understand it, but she feels his steady heartbeat. With a mix of guilt and confusion, she asks, "How? Why?" Right now she simply can't trust her instincts and tries to read him to find out if he's lying to her.

Seeing all her distress signs, he tries his best to explain, "I remember the instant of the crash and nothing else. The doctor said I must have passed out because of the violence of the impact. I have no memory of being frozen whatsoever. He explained that it was part of the suspended-animation state. It's like death." Smiling kindly, he continues, "The next thing I remember were faded voices, probably when I was in the coma, but I was warm already."

Natasha lets out the breath she didn't know she was holding, replying, "Certainly Coulson's."

They both laugh, relieved, and he asks, "Let's continue?"

She nods, "JARVIS, please, start the movie."

"Very well, Agent Romanoff."

Instead of watching the movie, however, which she knows by heart, Natasha can't help but watch Steve, thinking… He's the most genuine person she has ever met. She admires his integrity, and how he truly cares about them as a team. He knows each one of them really well, and she thinks they are lucky for having him in charge. Unsurprisingly, he gave her the answer she needed, the way she would better comprehend it – the same way he always does when they are on a mission – to quickly get her back on track.

"You make everything seem so easy, you know?" she compliments, "The team."

"It's hard to be responsible for everybody's well-being," absolutely humble, he flashes his deep blue eyes, "I'm not the wisest or the smartest."

She had never seen him so open like this before and she's taken by surprise at how young he looks. Technically, Steve and Natasha are both around 29 years old – not counting his frozen time and trusting the information in her S.H.I.E.L.D. file – while Tony, Bruce and Clint are past 40.

"You're someone who gives all for what you believe in," she replies sincerely, "Whether I get hurt or whether I die, you are a man I'm willing to follow." He blinks a bit confused, and she squeezes his hand, reassuring, "I trust you to keep me safe." Then, realizing what she said, she adds quickly, "We all trust you." Without waiting for his answer, she leans back on the sofa.

Definitely surprised, he tries to read her, but she's looking straight ahead. He thinks he knows what she's giving to him, but he can't be sure. Quite blushing, he doesn't know how to respond other than the direct way, "Thank you."

Stunned, Natasha can't face Steve because realization takes hold of her. She was so worried about him that she didn't even care about Mace's death, which she always did, every single time she watched that movie. No, it can't be right. Her crush is Chris Evans, the actor who plays Mace – an unachievable dream, and completely safe. Inside her protective walls, she can't lose control or get compromised. Besides, she can't think about feelings she has no idea how to deal with. She can't think of Steve this way.

They remain quiet, shoulder to shoulder, listening to the melancholy tune being played with the movie's ending credits.

Next movie: The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2008)

Chapter Text

Avengers Tower. Black Widow's floor.

After a long, exhausting mission, the soldier and the spy are both very worn-out. Natasha invites him to watch another movie, this time on her floor, and he comes running, longing for this relaxing time, just the two of them. Her TV room is also comfortable with all the tech Tony couldn't help but provide, but with a cozy, feminine atmosphere – in Steve's opinion, beautiful just like her.

Leaning over to sit by her side, he asks, "What are we watching?"

"The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. A Tennessee Williams' drama in the 20s," she hands him a beer, trying not to look embarrassed because it's a romantic movie.

"Sure. Thanks," he straightens up on the soft couch, putting his arm on the backrest, behind her. "I was born in 1918."

"Yeah, I know."

Wearing a coy smile on his face, he gives her a paper bag, "Ah, I stopped at the new coffee shop down the street. I didn't know which one you liked, so I bought one of each."

Opening the bag, she finds a dozen Russian chocolates and exclaims excitedly, "The dark ones!" Her eyes shine and she kisses his cheek, "Thanks."

Natasha makes Steve blush – she always knows how. Pleased for making her happy, he replies sheepishly, "I remembered you were looking for them."

Leaning back on the velvet sofa, she lays her head on his arm, and starts to unwrap one of the bars. "This is the best one! You have to try it," she turns offering him a piece of the chocolate. At any other time, with any other person, she would be distant, not wanting to be misread. But she trusts him enough to show him these glimpses of the real, relaxed Natasha.

Completely charmed by her, he holds her shoulder tenderly, and invites, "We can go there after the movie, deal?"

"Sounds like a plan," she smiles, gazing at him, the same way she did a few times during the last week. But it last just for a moment, before she turns back to the screen. "JARVIS, start it, please."

"Right away, Agent Romanoff."

As Natasha watches the movie, Steve watches her. He can't put his finger on exactly what it is, but something is definitely different between them. Anyway, as a side effect of his transformation process, he developed a didactic memory. Therefore, he can't miss a familiar face and recognizes the actor from the previous movie – it's an unexpected coincidence.

The Southern period piece portrays the 1920s Memphis high society, where Fisher Willow is the beautiful but rebellious daughter of a rich plantation owner. In order to complete her social debut, she needs an escort, so she hires the handsome grandson of a former governor, Jimmy Dobyne, whose family has fallen into near poverty. Properly outfitted, he's used just as a symbol of her wealth, like the $10,000 teardrop diamond earrings she wears. The plot establishes the poignant class conflict between the hard-working, devoted son, and the spoiled, selfish young heir, who is just used to buying everything and everyone she wants.

Natasha asks with curiosity, "Did you go to fancy parties like this?"

This is far from the tough reality of Steve's poor immigrant neighborhood in New York, but when he became the super-soldier, his life changed completely. Smiling shyly, he admits, "Senator Brandt took me to a few of these, while I was working for him at the USO shows, for promotion."

On the screen, Fisher mocks the attention that Jimmy's attracting, "You're the cynosure of all female eyes at the party."

Taking the chance, Natasha teases Steve, "Debutante balls too?" He can't help but blush again, and she smiles devilishly.

The restroom scene follows, when Jimmy punches an older man for staring at him in a kind of harassment. Steve coughs and Natasha bursts into laughing, inquiring playfully, "Not only females, am I right?"

Of course he won't say anything, so he presses the candy against her lips, gently but enough to shut her up. He had never seen her so happy, natural, and he finds her absolutely stunning, thinking that the chocolates were an excellent idea. She knows the movie lines by heart, and he finds himself enjoying watching her – a change in her breath, her pulse, a small laugh. But, as the redhead connects with the female lead, Steve notices the sad similarities between the two women.

Beneath her initial selfishness and arrogance, Fisher hides her emotional vulnerability, and falls deeply in love for the unfailingly honest farmhand, who stands for what is right – his family and his dignity. Despite her advances towards him, Jimmy resists her, and she gets heartbroken.

Miss Addie, a very sick, old woman, with an ample life experience, sees the truth behind Fisher's agony and desire to flee. She says, "Because you want somebody to love you that you love, and you don't know how to arrange that. And not all the teardrop diamonds in this world, lost or found, can arrange that for you."

Her wise words hit Natasha hard, and her body tenses up, taking Steve by surprise. The spy is now cursing herself for choosing this movie. Seeing Fisher battling her inner demons, struggling for affection, it triggers Natasha's personal, emotional turmoil. Something that she didn't intend to admit to herself, let alone share with the super-soldier.

Needing an escape, she gets up and walks to the bar. "Another beer?"

He accepts the drink, and she sits back on the couch, but keeping her distance. Worried, he wonders about what's bothering her so much.

The answer, however, is quite simple and moving – Fisher is strong and brave, but also lonely and lost. As the movie ends, her final words sink in deeply, "And as for me, well… no one will ever love me."

It hurts Steve just to think that Natasha may be feeling this way. He wants to say how much he admires her, how honored he is for being her partner and friend, wishing he could say something… more. But he can't expose his own feelings yet, since he has no idea about hers.

Suddenly, the Black Widow takes charge, breaking the awkward silence. "Back in your time, women were labeled by those social standards, weren't they?" Despite his puzzled look, her voice is completely condemning, "Vinnie is good enough for Jimmy to have sex with, but not to be his wife. While he can't even think of kissing Fisher without talking with his parents about marrying her. Poor or rich, women didn't have a choice."

Natasha was never bound by anyone's rules and she doesn't understand why she's feeling this way. It doesn't make sense and she hates the unknown. Damn chocolates. Beneath this whole feminist speech, the spy is truly angry at the soldier; although her brain can't accept the reason her heart can't hide anymore – her increasing attraction for him.

Steve wasn't expecting these sorts of questions, let alone her aggressive behavior. "Those were awful sexist times", he sighs, saying as obligingly as he can, "I'm glad the world has changed." He meets her gaze with a tentative smile.

Seemingly unaffected, her eyes scrutinize him, as if looking for weak points, "What do you mean?"

It feels like an interrogation, and he's on the wrong side of the table. "Well… things were complicated back in my day. The freedom we have nowadays is remarkable."

"Not missing the past today?" she's nothing but harsh.

Still oblivious to what's happening with her, he replies as calmly as possible, "I don't miss the past per se. I'll always miss the people, but everybody does that, right?"

Unmercifully, she shoots to kill and doesn't miss. "Don't you want to go back to the 40s? To the things you had back then?" Once again, she acted before thinking and immediately regrets it.

The coldness in his steady voice scares her the most. "I don't miss growing up sick and in pain, or seeing my mother die of a terrible disease. I don't miss being skinny and bullied, or the hunger and poverty during the Great Depression. I will never, ever, miss the horrors of the war." His body is absolutely tense and he tightens his fists resting on his legs, displaying all his frustration and disappointment. "But come hell or high water, people still think I will freak out because of a cell phone."

She can read him too, and that's why they trust each other – they don't waste time pretending. But she didn't imagine she could really hurt him, recognizing, too late, her mistake. "When you say it like that, I realize how completely stupid and shallow that question is," Natasha replies bluntly.

Old-man jokes usually don't bother Steve anymore, but he didn't expect that from her. After everything they've been sharing, he was hoping she knew him better. Nonetheless, he feels he blew it out of proportion. "No, I'm sorry, Nat. I guess I'm really tired today." He's honest and truly ashamed for losing his control with her, and takes her hand softly.

Nonetheless, Natasha takes his outburst as a proof of trust, and she feels oddly happy about it all. "Steve, I- We need to apologize to you, for all the dumb things we say. We don't know anything about your life before." It's not that she's sorry for being mad with him – she can't even remember why she was mad in the first place. But without realizing, she sounds welcoming, "I shouldn't… I didn't mean to upset you." It's the best she can say, but it doesn't matter since she can be there for him. Squeezing his hand back, she lays her head on his arm.

Looking at her almost content form, Steve is beyond confused and definitely still uneasy – his heartbeat is slightly off-balance, and he doesn't have a clue of what just happened. Why are women always so angry? He remembers Howard's words, when Peggy shot at him. 'The moment you think you know what's going on in a woman's head, is the moment your goose is well and truly cooked.'

There's a connection somewhere, but the soldier is too tired to think deeper now. Besides, Natasha is curled by his side, massaging his hand to release his tension. He relishes in her touch and care, trying to ease his heart, "It's okay. Thanks."

JARVIS plays the movie's beautiful soundtrack and they stay there for a while – he drinks his beer and she eats her chocolate bars. When she feels he's fully relaxed again, she admits, "I don't miss the Red Room or the Cold War, but I do miss a couple of people and some things, like this," giving him another piece of chocolate.

Closing his eyes, he savors the rich flavor for a few seconds, before starting, "I'll always miss my mother. She… died in 1936. I was 18. I didn't know my father. He died fighting in the Great War. I wish I could've saved my best friend, Bucky. I still have nightmares about his death." Taking a deep breath, Steve tries to keep his emotions under control, and continues, "That's why I don't want to go back to 1945. It wouldn't change anything."

She has never seen him speak this way. Then, he looks back at her, and her green eyes get captured by the depth of his blue ones, making her speechless.

With his eyes moisten, he confesses timidly, "If I had just one chance… I would bring mom here, you know? Before she got sick." And this was the deepest truth kept locked away in his heart.

Steve didn't know how much he needed to talk about all this. Although overwhelming, he's feeling much better after his exposure. As if he was yearning to share those feelings with her – to tell her his true, private story.

The one thing Natasha treasures from her tragic past is the faint memory of her mother – it's a painful connection between the two of them. At once she understands what touched Steve so much in the movie – Jimmy's emotional scenes with his mother in the asylum. Despite that, the soldier is completely open, honest, and the spy can't be that way – she doesn't know how. She doesn't deserve his trust – him – and the terrifying part is that she wishes she did. Natasha can't help but face the hidden truth that Fisher unveiled, and lowers her head nervously. 'Since it's only you that I want.'

Realizing that she's freaking out, Steve gets apprehensive. He doesn't know what she's thinking, but he remembers the movie, and tries, "I lost everyone I loved in my life before. I'll always miss them. But I'm having a second chance at life." On the spur of the intimate moment, he kisses her hand, and with eyes full of hope, he confesses, "I feel blessed."

Natasha shivers, as Fisher's words echoed in her head, 'People don't always shiver because they're chilly.'

Thousands of things pass through Steve's mind, but only one matters – she's uncomfortable and he can't see her that way. Trying to cheer her up, he invites, "Aren't you hungry? Wanna try the best milkshake in Brooklyn?"

She lightens up instantly, and replies playfully, "How do you know it's the best?"

His boyish smile is nothing but captivating. "I bet you that it is."


Steve takes Natasha to a soda shop in his childhood neighborhood. Among classic burgers and homemade French fries, he gets surprised when she leans over and picks one of his straws to taste his favorite milkshake. She acts as if it's not a big deal, but he thinks it's like the malt-shop-date-scene he always dreamed to have with a pretty girl like her.

Looking like a child, he asks excitedly, "Well, what do you think?"

"Came on, came on, don't rush a sophisticated palate…" Focused on the task ahead of her, she savors the sweet taste and thick texture, drinking slowly, before agreeing, "Wow! You win, Steve. My work for S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken me all over the world, and that is, without a doubt, not just the best milkshake in Brooklyn… but on the whole darn planet."

The joy in his face is contagious. "Told you, Nat. There's a reason this place has been open since I was a kid… way back before World War Two. Of course in those days the malteds were just a nickel…"

They're sitting in front of each other, and she can't help but gaze at him. He looks so irresistibly happy that she doesn't want the moment to end, so she asks more about his childhood, "And you had to walk uphill both ways to go to school, right?" She listens attentively, as he tells past stories.

After the simple but delicious meal, Steve takes Natasha on a stroll through the streets of his old neighborhood, explaining, "My mom and I lived in that third floor walk-up right over there…"

Getting closer, she asks a little worried, "Sorry… was walking around here a bad idea? Stirring up unhappy memories?"

"No… I mean, sure, it's bittersweet… But it's nice to see the next generation making good use of it, you know? There's something comforting knowing the world doesn't stop turning when you're not around." He flashes his blue eyes gratefully, "Thanks for being here with me."

"You know my secret now, dark chocolate and classic vanilla milkshake," she winks, and he smiles bashfully.

To end their pleasant evening, they stop by the Russian coffee shop. They share a bit more about their lives and she teaches him about the delicacies of her motherland.

Next movie: The Losers (2010)

Chapter Text

Avengers Tower. Captain America's floor.

In the days that follow, Natasha tries not to think about Steve, but fails miserably. By all accounts, their last movie date was… unforgettable.

First, she lost control – she had never been this unstable around anyone before. Second, and more shocking, her weakness wasn't used against her. Even Clint, if he had a chance, would have made fun of her, to say the least. Steve, instead, respected her, in a kind of protective way. Finally, the last and most absurd reason was that the always collected spy couldn't stop dreaming about the hot super-soldier… with baby blue eyes… delicious-looking lips… when they shared a milkshake at his favorite Brooklyn malt-shop.

Unable to keep her distance, Natasha arrives at his place, bringing four large Brooklyn style pizzas. "I hope you're hungry," she smirks.

"These are my favorites. Thanks," he greets her, picking the boxes up, before leading her to the kitchen.

Beneath her impassive mask, she sounds nothing but casual. "I owe you for finding my dark chocolates."

He smiles sheepishly, "I have a bottle of Chianti that would be perfect, unless you prefer beer."

"As Pepper says, red wine it is," she stops by the countertop.

Picking up a corkscrew, he teases, "The perks of living a millionaire lifestyle."

Tilting her head a little, she clarifies, "Actually, it's women's wisdom – wine is better than beer for my waistline."

"What are you talking about?" Steve frowns and, for the first time, he allows her to see him checking her out. With a subtle mix of attraction and deference, he praises her, "There's absolutely nothing wrong about you."

His compliment couldn't be more sincere, but somehow, the redhead reacts like any normal woman, who would be constantly worried about her silhouette. "Then, why it is that I'm always spent after our sparring sessions?"

The Captain keeps the team in shape, often teaching fighting techniques, but Natasha trains with Steve daily. Once more, he's nothing but honest. "I'm tougher with you because you're the best. I want you to be always prepared." Their eyes lock for a moment, and she notices a touch of concern in his eyes, as he admits, "To keep you safe."

To keep me safe, she ponders, not exactly about what he said, but what he truly meant. Without realizing it, she gazes intently at him, losing herself in his blinding smile… For a while, all she can think is how attractive he looks with basic blue sweatpants, and how his muscles are bulging out of his gray T-shirt… Damn itFocus.

Hurriedly, she changes the subject, "Are you up for a movie tonight?"

Following her lead, he accepts it willingly, "You brought me Brooklyn pizza, I'm all… yours."

Said by any other man, this would be a cheesy pickup-line. But the perfect gentleman is never ordinary, and his words have an unexpected effect on Natasha – her heart flutters. Turning around to set the table, she hides her pinkish face, and her thoughts drift away… She remembers when they first met…

The Black Widow had read all the Avengers files, but she knew a lot more about Captain America because of Coulson's incessant babbling about the world's first superhero. When she finally saw Steve Rogers in person, she couldn't help but think that he was the most perfect male specimen ever – mouth-watering. Everyone in the Helicarrier seemed to agree with her, since all the agents were literally ogling at him. Even the imperturbable Maria Hill didn't fail to check his… attributes. The Captain had knocked them out just by walking with that tight uniform. Despite everything, he remained absolutely professional and focused on the job, as if he was unaware of all that attention. However, the redhead learned that, with his enhanced senses, nothing went unnoticed by him – which only made him far more interesting.

But what actually surprised her the most, was that he would always look straight into her eyes, never a millimeter below. No man had failed to check her out before. As far as first impressions go, Steve was the complete opposite of Tony, who openly hit on her, or Clint, who tried to defeat her. Through all her years of training and experience, Natasha could always label any person, especially men – except Steve. He defied definition and, therefore, totally intrigued her.

He never judged or feared her – instead, he treated her with the genuine esteem of a valuable team member, without a hint of prejudice or superiority. In his old fashioned way, he treated her like a woman – but never as a sexual prey or weaker gender, only with courtesy and respect. Like when he protected her with his body and shield during battle, or simply held a door open for her to pass.

Although she found it odd at the beginning, after working together and getting to know him better, she was startled because she ended up… liking it. Not that she would ever admit it out loud, but… he made her feel… special.


Standing in front of her, Steve pours her a glass of red wine, bringing her back from her daydreams.

"Thanks," Natasha can't help but smile at his handsome figure.

"Love when you smile like this," he says shyly, leaving her even more lost in her own confused feelings. Then, he stands by the table, pulling a chair for her, "Shall we?"

His taste is impeccable – the Italian wine matches perfectly with pizza. After having a good meal, enjoying each other's company, they settle down on his comfortable couch.

"You got me addicted to Russians," he smiles coyly, handing her a candy box.

Rolling her eyes, she pretends to be upset, "I'm too fat already."

"You? Nonsense. You are perfect," he replies, holding her favorite dark chocolate in front of her.

It's not like he has a hidden agenda – not Steve Rogers. Even so, Natasha can't believe the things he's saying to her… so naturally… hitting on her… No. He's charming her. Almost pouting, she takes the candy, but complains, "Look who's talking, mister four-times-faster-metabolism. You can eat whatever you want while I have to fast to get into my suit."

"No way!" his laugh is contagious, "That Black Widow suit slips on and off pretty easily."

Shocked with his playful reply, she gets as red as her hair, and when she opens her mouth, nothing intelligent comes to her mind. After a few seconds that seems like an eternity, she commands, "JARVIS, start The Losers, please?" Wanting to make up for the last movie, and also avoid any revealing situation, she selected a typical guy flick.

"Yes, Agent Romanoff."

Curious, Steve raises his eyebrow. "Losers?"

Granting that her brain is still trying to process everything, she replies calmly, "This is just plain cool action about a black ops team. It's fun, trust me." Anyway, she's already questioning herself, hoping he doesn't find her choice too silly. And that's another uncommon emotion for Natasha – she cares about what he thinks.

The movie starts, and the first character on screen is Jensen. Instantly recognizing the actor, Steve smiles mischievously. Natasha uses all her concentration to not blush, but the soldier spots another familiar face.

"I remember these guys."

The spy knows everything about films, and ignoring the first mention, she answers about the second character, Roque. "The actor's name is Idris Elba. He played Heimdall in Thor's movie."

A little puzzled, Steve looks at her, but the exhilarating action scenes catch his attention – he is a guy after all.

Leaning back with her legs stretched on the couch, she turns slightly sideways to watch him – not the superhero or the man from the past – just Steve. She's so attracted to him that it's exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Yet, it's a total mystery for her why he doesn't look afraid of showing he's interested in her. At the same time, he doesn't miss any opportunity to tease her, repeating the silliest lines. "Hi, what's your name? I have no legs, but I wanna take you on a date."

Laughing pleased, she puts her feet on his lap, and he begins to massage them, quite naturally. His hands are firm, but tender, and he finds the right pressure points to make her relax – it's like magic. While watching the love scene, Natasha can't concentrate on anything other than Steve's touch.

Until, the couple's dialogue gets their attentions. The only woman in the group, Aisha, asks the team leader, "You have no one, do you?"

There is no place for romantic relationships in their dangerous lives, so Clay replies, "Do you?"

Steve caresses Natasha's feet and they look at each other, realizing that they had never felt this comfortable in their lives before, or less lonely. It's undeniable – she finds herself trusting him like she never trusted anyone.

Breaking the moment, Jensen starts to sing 'Don't Stop Believing' and the spy immediately looks back to the screen.

The soldier makes a face and she asks smirking, "What?"

"I didn't imagine that you would like this kind of movie," he squints.

Natasha speaks before thinking, "It's not the movie."

Almost gloating, Steve replies, "I know, it's your guy."

Busted. She tries her best to keep still but she can't find her Black Widow's mask anymore.

It doesn't help that Jensen is like the kid of the group, getting into mischief and cracking jokes at inappropriate times. Laughing, Steve keeps repeating his lines to mock her. "Where you from originally? Do you have any hobbies? I like your dress."

Flushed, the spy kicks the soldier, but he grabs her legs holding her loosely – they have fun, laughing out loud. The whole elevator scene is hilarious until Jensen's jokes get too close to home. "I'm warning you, I am a lethal killing machine. It was a secret government experiment. They did stuff to me. Spooky stuff…"

Still smiling, Steve admits, "Isn't always that funny."

Straightening up instantly, she sits next to him, before moving her hand discreetly – a signal to JARVIS that pauses the movie.

The soldier smiles reassuring, "Don't need to worry, okay?" Since the last time, they've been talking a little more about their past.

"I'm not…" she purses her lips, and admits quite abashed, "I know, it's ridiculous."

But he's longing for her affection, and says kindly, "No, it means you care."

Touched by his contentment, she squeezes his hand softly, asking, "Weren't you afraid?"

As much as he wants to tell her everything, these memories make his heart sink a little. "I guess I only understood the whole procedure when I was already there. I didn't think about the risks before, or the consequences."

His discomfort is unmistakable and, automatically, she nestles beside him. "Did it hurt?"

Back then, Bucky asked the same thing – now, the same bold answer comes through Steve's mouth, "A little."

Suspiciously, Natasha raises her eyebrows and he confesses shyly, "Of course it did." He won't lie, especially to her, although, it's more than that – he trusts her and feels he doesn't need to be the superhero for her. "It was like if my body was ripping from inside," he explains.

He isn't trying to get attention, she knows it, but she gets even closer, as if to show him that he won't feel that pain anymore. "Was it worth it?"

Nodding, he holds her tenderly, "Yes, otherwise I wouldn't be here, right?"

The full the meaning of his sentence is something she can't think about yet. But she kisses his cheek because she felt an irresistible need to kiss him.

He treasures these moments with her, the spontaneous Natasha, and whispers, "Thanks."

After signaling JARVIS to continue the movie, she lays her head on his shoulder, and jokes, "Avengers as Losers!?"

They need their banter back, so Steve follows immediately, "We need to buy Clint a hat," quoting the sniper, Cougar, "Never touch the hat."

"He'd say never touch the bow," Natasha replies, laughing.

Saving the whole team, Aisha fires a rocket launcher from the hip, and Jensen admires, "Now that's a badass chick."

Both Steve and Natasha are experienced with all kinds of weapons, so the spy rolls her eyes, "Not the right way to handle it, but Zoe Saldana looks good."

Looking directly into her eyes, he replies calmly, "There's something really sexy about a woman who can kick the shit out of a man."

It takes a few seconds for her to realize that he was quoting the movie's making of. Mesmerized by his flirting behavior, she says the first thing on her mind, "Poor Jensen, computer nerd, he'll be Tony."

This time, Steve bursts out laughing, "Poor Tony!" and repeats another infamous line, "Liking the angle of the dangle?"

Natasha reacts quickly, punching him lightly on his chest. But then, putting her hand over his heart, she says, "You are the Colonel," repeating what Aisha said about the team leader, "You care what happens to them."

Shaking his head, Steve smiles shyly, and she continues, "You really care about us, the whole team. But I don't think that's a weakness. It's your strength."

Again, his blue eyes dive in her green ones, completely exposed, humble, and he shows her all his fears. "I'm not infallible… you know… I'm only human."

It's increasingly difficult for her to resist him, particularly looking so vulnerable, but she keeps talking, "You boss everyone, even Fury. And, technically, you are a Colonel."

After Steve was thawed, in recognition for his services and sacrifice for his country, he was promoted to Full-bird Colonel, and received sixty-six years of back pay, among other benefits. Embarrassed, he jokes, "Well… Colonel America never sounded good."

They laugh together, until Natasha finds the perfect way to truly tease him back. "Personally, I think Colonel Rogers is rather sexy," she finish the sentence biting her lower lip, and his cheeks turned as red as the Chianti wine they're drinking. She can't stop laughing.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Steve is as ashamed as pleased. They're having a great time together and nothing went unnoticed by him. How easily distracted she was gazing at him, and how her heartbeat jumped every time he praised her. He wasn't playing any games or aiming to seduce her. Always honest, he was trying to show his feelings, as open as possible, but in his sweet, charming way. Once more she is in his arms, but this time she's happy. Knowing what he wants, he won't miss the chance.

"Well, he gets the girl," he replies, nervously – she's too special.

Feeling the unexpected intensity of his words, Natasha gasps for an instant, before warning, "She can kill him."

That's it. He loves to see her on top of her game. Smiling widely, he kisses her hand gently, and confesses, "He really likes her." Wearing his heart on his sleeve, he asks the only question that matters, "Does she like him?"

Surprisingly, the Black Widow is speechless and Natasha Romanoff is astonished. The master seductress finds herself trapped by the irresistible old fashioned sincerity of Steve Rogers.

Next movie: Puncture (2011)

Chapter Text

They were interrupted by an emergency call and dragged to a dangerous mission that lasted the whole week. The Captain kept the spy close, kept her safe, and the team was successful. They worked together perfectly as usual, but they didn't have any private moments. She remained focused on the job, clearly avoiding him all the time.

Feeling troubled, Steve worried if he read the signs wrong, if he went too far. He never wanted to jeopardize their friendship and, more than anything, he couldn't imagine hurting her in any way. He had already made up his mind – he knew there was something wrong with her, and he needed to find out what.

Behind her perfectly built walls, Natasha was miserable. Everything about the Black Widow was classified. Anything more intimate with her would be undisclosed. Any man interesting enough to earn her attention, to be captured by her web, didn't survive to tell the story. That was the legend around her, her curse, and it only increased the mystery surrounding her. It kept her feared… but lonely.

But the soldier was too close now, and he was her teammate, her friend – definitely off limits. Yet, all other men paled in comparison. Having the same needs as any woman, Natasha was craving human contact… she was longing for Steve. Even so, he was too decent for a one night stand and she found herself not good enough for anything else… for him.

The problem was that he seemed not to care about her fame or rules and kept advancing… And she didn't know how long she could keep running away from him.

Fisher's words were still haunting Natasha's head, 'Since it's only you that I want.'

September 6th, 2013.

Avengers Tower.

Friday evening, coming back from the last S.H.I.E.L.D.'s debriefing session, they end up alone.

Steve can't miss the opportunity, and asks, "Nat, what's wrong?"

Natasha almost can swear that JARVIS slowed down the elevator, and she feels trapped. "Nothing, why?"

"I miss you."

His sincerity is disconcerting and scares her more than anything. So, it's the Black Widow who answers, "We've been working together non-stop." She knows it's a lame answer, but that's the best she can do. He's off limits.

Ignoring her distance, Steve gets into her personal space, touching her arm gently. "I'm sorry. I screwed up, didn't I? Please, talk to me."

Finding it difficult to breathe, she fights hard to not lean into his touch. Still, on the outside, she seems emotionless, with her green eyes looking almost grey. "I've just been tired, that's all," she replies dryly.

Her coolness hurts him badly and he drops his hand, looking completely lost. Seeing him hurt bothers her in a way she can't understand, or deny it.

Then, he gets a paper bag from his coat's pocket and gives it to her. "Gustav called me. He left these for you. He said his wife made Tula Gingerbread, and they thought you'd like them."

Steve became a friend of the Russian coffee shop's owner – an immigrant from Moscow whose son was a fan of Captain America. Eager to please the superheroes, Gustav was personally in charge to search and find all the best Russian products for his famous compatriot.

Immediately, Natasha curses the Russians' hereditary sweet tooth and Steve for knowing her so well. In a few sentences, he waltzed through her barriers, making her heart melt completely.

She takes the bag, and when she looks at him there's no more mask, "Thanks."

Still uncertain, he says timidly, "I love your dimple when you smile like this."

Placing a soft kiss on his cheek, she sighs, "What am I going to do with you?"

Lightning up instantly, he begs with a boyish smile, "Have dinner with me, please? It's past eight."

Knowing how hungry he must be, she can't say no, not anymore. "Can we order in?" she asks as they stop at her floor.

"Anything the lady wants," he picks up his StarkPhone, suggesting, "Indian?"

One of her favorite restaurants is just two blocks from the Tower, and she nods before leaving, "I'll take a shower."

"Got it," he makes the call and orders everything she likes.

"JARVIS, please tell Natasha that I'll go change too and I'll bring the food when I come back."

"Very well, Captain."

Black Widow's floor.

In the privacy of her room, she takes her suit off remembering Steve's words, which have been feeding her mind with desire… and hope… 'That Black Widow suit slips on and off pretty easily.'

After the shower, she gets nervous about what to wear. Damn, Steve Rogers. She finds it unacceptable to behave like a silly girl before a date. Even so, she picks up a sari-dress, which she bought the last time she went to Calcutta. It's not fancy but it's comfortable, and very pretty. Consciously or not, it's a delicate way to tell him she appreciated his choice of food.

When she goes back to her living room, he's already there with the table set. Stopping instantly, he watches delighted as she comes close, and offers her a flute of Champagne.

"Nat, you look beautiful."

"Thanks," she asks suspiciously, "What are we celebrating?"

"That we're alive?" Ever the gentleman, he pulls the chair out for her, explaining, "Besides, it fits perfectly with Indian food."

Smiling, she takes the seat, pondering, "And people think you don't drink because you can't get drunk."

Frowning, he says, "You don't have to drink just to get drunk."

"Combining food and beverage is an art, I give you that," she toasts him, "You're an artist."

He likes that she can see the man and not only the soldier, and smiles proudly at her compliment. "Thanks. I just want to make you smile… like this."

She blushes a little, but she's done with the hiding, and they toast again.

Wearing casual dress slacks and a white button shirt, Steve's absolute handsome, and Natasha can't take her eyes of him. Suddenly she becomes thirsty, and hands him her already empty flute, "Excellent choice."

As much as she kept her feelings shut down, all her control seems to have vanished at this moment, and she can't think of one logical reason for not jumping him. Rationally, she knows that she needs to do something to take him out of her system. Nonetheless, Indian cuisine is spicy and stimulating. As the dinner progresses, she finds him even more hot, and drinks avidly.

Not used to seeing her so unbalanced, he worries.

They end up in the TV room, where a image of her favorite actor is frozen on the screen – her guy, as Steve calls him.

"What've you been watching?"

There's something dark in that scene, and her voice sounds melancholic, "Puncture. It's a true story, kind of 'David and Goliath' law drama."

He knows she likes to watch a movie over and over again, and wonders why she didn't invite him. "Sounds interesting."

"Come watch it with me." There's almost a plea in her voice.

It's not like he could say no to her, anyway, but he's truly concerned, "Aren't you tired?"

"I can't sleep right now, I'm drunk, and it's your fault," Natasha complains, lying on her very spacious velvet couch. The green and gold patterns on her dress highlight her eyes and lips, which look lusciously reddish.

She's a stunning vision… and she reaches out for him.

He knows her too well, "No, you're not." But his pulse increases immediately, as she pulls him to sit next to her, cuddling by his side.

"JARVIS, please, play it from the beginning."

"Right away, Agent Romanoff."

Natasha isn't drunk but she's emotionally shattered. Her increasing feelings for him are too intense and too unfamiliar for her to deal with. All she knows is to fight and to win. She can't show weakness, so she attacks. Snuggling into his shoulder, she places a kiss on his neck, and slides her hand across his well-toned chest.

Just for a second, Steve closes his eyes, letting himself be taken by his own emotions – he hungers for her. But he's feeling her fragility and desperation in attempt to regain control. As hard as it is for him to not succumb to his own desire, he can't let her go on like this – no matter what, he'll never disrespect her.

Gently, and masterfully, he grabs her hands and blocks her actions, without her even realizing it. He doesn't fight her, he changes her mood. Talking about the movie, pressing relaxing points on her shoulders, he makes her feel safe until her need of power is long forgotten… she melts in his arms.

It went so smoothly that she isn't sure of what just happened. Only that she's not feeling rejected but taken care of. That's another completely different sensation.

Relaxed, the movie captures her full attention.

Her guy plays Mike, a brilliant young lawyer, who is a functioning drug addict, and she lets herself immerse in his troubled life. As deeper and darker as the plot goes, Steve realizes she's mirroring all the anguish and pain on the screen. Holding her, he tries to make her comfortable, but it's a tragic story and her guy gives a ground-shaking performance.

The phone scene is heartbreaking when Mike confesses, "I don't like to be alone."

Her last wall falls, and Steve feels Natasha surrendering completely into the devastating emotions. When the movie ends, teardrops fall silently from her sad green eyes.

It's a total shock. He had never seen her crying, ever. Not even when they thought that Coulson was dead. And Clint even said, 'Natasha doesn't cry.'

Realization takes a hold of the soldier. It has been an amazing experience, a privilege, to share these movies with her, and the bond they were establishing through them. But now, this is the final proof of trust – this is a side of her that no one seems to know. Silently, he swears he will do anything to honor her trust and protect her. Holding her even closely, he whispers, "You shouldn't be watching this movie alone," and places a soft kiss on her head, "You should've called me."

His non-judgmental support is everything that she didn't know she needed. Natasha doesn't remember the last time she trusted anyone like this, or if she ever did it. Hiding her face on his chest, she lets go… and cries.

Undoubtedly, the movie told a sad story, but instinctively, Steve feels that Natasha's crying for something… more. She's vulnerable as he'd never seen her before and it hurts him to see her like this.

"Your guy is a great actor," he tries to cheer her up, but she doesn't say anything. So, he continues, praising the performance, the story, the approach, until he says, "He was fighting bullies. It's what I did my whole life."

Her voice is nothing but a murmur, "You're not like him."

"His cause is noble. I'd fight by his side."

Swallowing hard, she replies, "You're not damaged. You're perfect."

Realizing that she's at her breaking point, he's extra careful, "No one is perfect…"

"He wanted to do good… no one believed it… he was truly messed up." Her voice, her body, they're all trembling, and she fights back tears to speak, "Even his best friend gave up on him. He lost everything… everyone." Finally, she sobs, "He… died… alone."

That's what's hurting her, Steve can't believe it. Suddenly, he finds the patterns too similar – personal detachment, faster pace, higher risks, self-deprecation, and her addiction is the job.

Shushing her, he caresses her head softly, "No, you are not alone, I'm here. And you're not like him."

Drained and without any strength, she whispers, "I'm a spy… a killer. No one can seriously trust me… I'm no hero…" Ashamed, she remembers Tony's heated words, when he discovered that she was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., spying on him. Her voice is a sad lament, "There is nothing real about me… Not even my memories…"

The soldier knows a little about her past at the Red Room – the secret KGB academy whose cruel methods included brainwashing and memory manipulation. He thinks how lonely it must be, when you can't trust even your own mind, and his respect and admiration towards her increase.

That's another sad connection between the spy and the lawyer – they both were fighting huge internal demons to do something good.

Sliding his fingers through her silky red hair, Steve can't stop thinking about the amazing woman she is… strong and fragile… revealing herself to him. He can't hold it in, "This is real. You and me… this moment."

Her heart jumps, but she's so broken that she can't look at him. Resting her head on his chest, she listens to the steady rhythm of his heart, lulling her to comfort.

"We don't need to be heroes to each other, Nat. We can be ourselves." Taking a deep breath, he holds her hand close to his heart, and confesses, "I can't lie to you or to myself anymore. I never felt this way before… Natasha…" He raises her chin gently, "I… I like you."

"You shouldn't. The red in my ledger…"

Gently, he rubs her cheek with his thumb, and speaks straightforwardly, "That's in the past. I think we should start focusing on our future."

His words hit her hard, rendering her speechless. Her lips part, and she surrenders, waiting for him…

But seeing her defeated like this is excruciating for him, and he breathes in deeply. "All I dreamed was to have you in my arms. All I want now is to kiss you and make you mine." Resting his forehead on hers, his voice is steady but his hands are trembling, "I'm not gonna do that, I can't. Do you understand me?"

Taken by surprise, her brow furrows in a state of confusion and shame, "You… don't want me?" Through all her life, Natasha has always been coveted as an object of desire, but she never submitted to anyone. Now, that she is completely open to him, desperately wanting him to take her, she feels like nothing but a failure.

Her emotions are totally reflected in her eyes, and it shatters Steve's heart as he understands her pain. Pulling her to his lap, he enfolds her into his caring arms, "God, Natasha, I carry a torch for you." With the utmost gentleness, he places a chaste kiss on her lips, softly, briefly… But the electricity between them is overwhelming. "Can you feel it?" he asks, anxiously.

She nods between tears, with her green eyes fixed in his blue ones.

"But I can't take advantage of you, not like this. You have to be with me, if and when you want it."

Only then she realizes that he is also completely vulnerable… and terrified.

His heart thudded heavily in his chest, and he whispers, "I need to be sure that you want me… the same way I want you."

Her shoulders start quivering and she buries her head in his chest, mumbling, "I do."

If he didn't have enhanced hearing, he wouldn't have heard it, and his eyes get watery. "I don't want you to regret anything in the morning. I don't want you to do anything because you don't have the strength to refuse it now." He caresses her face, kissing her forehead tenderly, and she melts into his kiss. Then, she feels his tears mixing with her own, as he says, "I need to be strong enough to be worthy of you."

The movie's final words echo in her mind. "Just because you can't really get over the dark parts, it doesn't mean you can't get to the good ones."

In Steve's arms, Natasha is feeling exposed and safe, as never before. He holds her, and they fall asleep in each other's arms.

Next movie: The Nanny Diaries (2007)

Chapter Text

Saturday, September 7th, 2013.

Black Widow's floor.

Steve wakes up, blinking slowly, and smiles, relishing in the feeling of having Natasha cuddled in his arms. Looking at her face resting peacefully on his chest, he thinks about everything that happened last night.

At first, her sleep was irregular and she woke up agitated a few times. A twinge of sadness pierced his heart as he felt her anguish, but she clung to his hand the whole time. He stayed there, heartwarming and comforting around her, reassuring, "I'm here," until she was sound asleep. They have been at each other's bedside before, while recovering from some battle injuries, but this time is completely different – they aren't just friends anymore… he hopes.

There are so many things he wants to say to her, but he knows how scared she already is. He must be careful, otherwise she can run away, or try to hide herself from him again. The truth is that he was captivated by the fire in her eyes since the very first day. As time passed, she blossomed under his gaze, summoned an overwhelming passion that has delightfully consumed him… Fire, that's the word for her, meaning life and death, often in the same breath. It's dangerous to be around her, and yet, irresistible. Especially now that she's opening up to him, showing a side of her that nobody knows – a volcano of emotions that shakes his world – unpredictable, enthralling, and longing for love.

Suddenly Natasha's words to Loki come to Steve's mind in a flash. 'Love is for children.' Its complete meaning hits him hard… and he fears. What if she can't do this?

Instinctively, he holds her tighter and she opens her eyes tensing her body. He caresses her face, kissing her forehead, "I'm sorry, it's too early."

Her green eyes are fuzzy, but there's a glint of recognition and she relaxes again.

"I'll take you to your bed, okay?"

The home theater couch is very comfortable, but he needs to get up and he won't leave her there alone. After carrying her to the bedroom, he tucks her in, sliding his fingers through her hair until she is quietly asleep again. "Sleep well, my darling," he whispers, kissing her cheek.

As much as he's tempted to stay, there's a lot to prepare, to make the perfect day for her.

He takes the elevator and commands, "JARVIS, keep the non-disturb mode on Agent Romanoff's floor. Revoke any other access. I'll be back in about two hours. Call me, if she wakes up, or if anything happens."

"Very well, Captain. But there is no potential for disturbance since all the others are out for the weekend."

"Thanks, J."

By definition, JARVIS manages the building, but each Avenger's floor is controlled by its respective owner – access restricted, private mode. The only one who has special privileges, to use in case of emergency and safety reasons, is their team leader. Even Tony trusts Steve more than anyone else. JARVIS is happy to oblige.

Natasha sleeps through the whole morning. When she wakes up the first thing she remembers was being in Steve's arms. It's the most wonderful and strange feeling. She wasn't used to sleeping with anyone, but… with him… it felt different. She felt safe. Safe – if there's one word about Steve, that is it. The basic spy rule of survival is to be safe, and it always meant to be alone. Trust no one. Despite any rules, he managed to switch off her most primal instincts – she never felt this way before.

She can't help but smile, stretching slowly across her bed. The memory of his strong warm arms around her… and the kiss – the sweetest innocent kiss she ever had in her life – that makes her heart flutter just by remembering it. It wasn't a dream. He spent the whole night, fully clothed, just holding her, and in spite of her desire for him, she had never felt so treasured in her life.

There's a little note on her pillow, saying, 'Hungry?' with a sketch of a table set with food and flowers, over a Captain America's shield – the symbol of his floor. She loves his drawings.

Eager to see him, she runs to the bathroom, but seeing her image in the mirror almost sends her into a state of shock – her eyes are swollen from crying and sleeping too much. She's almost freaking out when she finds another note, written, 'Beautiful!' with a lovely sketch of her face with messy hair. She stifles a laugh, still disbelieving on what she's seeing.

"How does he do that?"

She's talking to herself, but JARVIS is there just waiting to be called, "Good Afternoon, Agent Romanoff. It's 12:08 PM. Captain Rogers left at 9:15 AM, and returned 10:57 AM but left quickly. He asked me to inform him when ma'am was awake."

"Tell him I'm gonna be there in 20. Do you know what's he up to?"

"Indeed. But he specifically asked me to avoid to disclosure any detail that could ruin the surprise."

"Do you know I'm an expert hacker?"

"I am well aware of your extensive expertise, Agent Romanoff. But don't you think that it would upset the Captain?"

"You win."

Captain America's floor.

Steve is in his kitchen when Natasha arrives. She's wearing a light blue dress, and walks towards him covering her face with her hands.

"Nat," he smiles widely, "I was missing you."

"I'm a mess. You can't look at me."

"No, you are not." He tucks a piece of her still damp hair behind her ear and kisses her cheek. "You are beautiful."

She blushes slightly, biting her lower lip.

Steve takes her hand, leading her to the table. He arranged a brunch, ordering everything from Natasha's favorite French patisserie – quiches, baguettes, assorted chocolate eclairs and macarons.

"You can't keep doing this, I'm getting fat," she complains but grinning.

"You are not." He pulls out the chair for her, and speaks close to her ear, "But I promise I'll work out with you."

Sitting down, she smiles at his playful tone. He hands her the grilled salmon salad and grabs a beef tenderloin baguette. Everything looks delicious and tidy. She asks, a little worried, "How did you do all this? You must be tired. JARVIS told me you overslept."

He looks sheepish, "Nat, it was the best sleep I had in years. I just didn't want to leave you until I had too."

Leaning in, she kisses his cheek, "Thanks, for everything."

Steve flashes his deep blue eyes, smiling shyly, "I wanted to make new memories for you."

Natasha sighs, having no idea how to deal with her emotions… with him.

First of all, she's not used to courtship. Before him, every guy treated her like an object to be owned, a challenge to be conquered. But she didn't earn the Black Widow name for nothing – she was lethal before she could remember. She never yielded to anyone, and subdued each single one of them.

But not this man…

Steve's honesty is unprecedented and his openness is disconcerting. She couldn't trap him – he offered himself freely to her. He saw her most fragile side and he took extra care of her. It's terrifying to be falling for him, and even more that she likes to be protected by him.

She can't resist him… and she doesn't want to.

Once more, they enjoy each other's company, and he spends the whole time wooing her – she can't stop smiling. After the brunch, he invites, "Movie time?"

Getting up, he reaches for her, and she takes his hand – she can't deny it, she almost feels… normal. They walk to TV room, and he points to the screen.

"Do you know The Nanny Diaries?"

"Yes. It's like an anthropological study of modern society," she answers quite serious, but her eyes are sparkling with excitement.

They sit side by side, and he explains, "JARVIS helped me to choose it."

"Good choice, J."

"You're welcome, ma'am."

The story is about Annie, a college graduate woman in search of her identity.

"She looks a lot like you, but I love your red hair," the artist in him loves colors and praises sincerely, "So vivid."

Natasha knows everything about movies, actors, directors, and likes to talk about them all. It's her way to be normal, and Steve listens attentively. "Her name is Scarlett Johansson, and she's blonde actually. My natural color is red-auburn, but it's too common."

"Nothing about you is common," he winks smiling, before caressing her soft silky curls.

Accepting to be a nanny as a temporary job, Annie ponders, "It seemed that fate now offered me a wonderful alternative… an opportunity to completely duck out of my life."

There's a sad resonance in their lives, since both the soldier and the spy had been living to work, instead of investing in a personal life.

As usual, Steve watches the movie but also observing Natasha. When her guy comes on screen, as Annie's love interest Hayden, the soldier acknowledges, "They have great chemistry." Natasha's smile tells him everything – she likes the couple.

When Annie speaks French, Steve hands Natasha a chocolate éclair – she rolls her eyes but accepts the sweet.

The life of the young boy Grayer makes Steve wonder, "You think that Tony may have been raised that way?"

"I guess it was worse because he is a genius. He didn't go to normal school or had friends on his own age," she answers sadly, and they both feel sorry for their billionaire friend.

For the 4th of July families party Annie has to wear a Betsy Ross costume, and, accidentally, meets Hayden in the elevator. "You look very patriotic," he can't help but laugh.

Steve bursts out laughing too, joking, "Can you dress like this for my birthday?"

Pretending to be upset, Natasha turns around and punches his chest, but she's smiling and blushing.

As to defend himself, he holds her in his arms, so she can't move. "Sorry!" he smiles joyfully. Their eyes lock for a moment, and her lips part as she struggles to find words. Steve, however, kisses her cheek tenderly, and whispers, "I'm kidding." Gently, he turns her to face the screen, keeping the hold on her. Resting her head on his chest, she hears the sound of his steady heartbeat, which kind of hypnotizes her – she can't think of anything else but him.

Throughout her life Natasha hid behind Black Widow, the same way Annie is doing with Nanny. But like Hayden, Steve appeared as an irresistible temptation, forcing the spy to reevaluate what she wanted for her life. The soldier represents the perfect world she never had access to. Although, like in the movie, she already found out that his life wasn't so charmed after all. They're very different, seemingly incompatible, but the attraction between them is undeniable… and irresistible. The real Natasha was asleep, concealed, but through Steve's eyes, she was reborn, and now, even scared to death, she yearns for life.

Annie's words echo on her mind, "After a lost summer of being Nanny, I finally got to know Annie."

Natasha can't hide anymore – she desperately wants whatever this is… with Steve.

When the movie ends, she can't help it, her heart jumps with anticipation.

He kisses her head and she feels his breath on her neck – she trembles. His arms are all around her, and he smoothly lays her over a pile of cushions, on the edge of the couch. Her pulse quickens as she senses him nearing her… the feeling of being vulnerable and safe with him is overwhelming…

Then he bends – just like in the final scene of the movie – and their faces are inches apart.

She's almost closing her eyes when Steve surprises her by grabbing a bouquet of red roses from behind the couch. With his face between flowers, he mimics Hayden, "But I do think you should probably let me kiss you right about now."

The spy doesn't need a second call.

Totally consumed by passion, Natasha throws her arms around his neck, drawing him into a hungry kiss – it spirals quickly. Relying on his arm not to crush her, Steve deepens the kiss, but when their lungs cry for air, he pulls apart, gently.

His eyes are as dark as hers, and he's panting too, "Natasha… What do you want?"

"Everything," she answered breathlessly, sliding her hands through his chest, unbuttoning his shirt hurriedly.

In the movie, Hayden was heartbroken when Annie chose her job over him. 'What about my heart?'

Feeling exposed the same way, Steve takes a sharp breath, and opens his heart, "I need… I want you… to be mine."

The powerful meaning of his words hit her deeply. This is not a game for him, not a one night stand. Trying to catch her breath, she blinks back unexpected tears.

Instantly surprised, he sits back on the couch, pulling her to his lap. Steve doesn't understand why she's crying again, and asks, "Nat, what's wrong?" He cradles her in his arms, as she holds the flowers close to her heart.

It frightens her that she is too unstable, but she can't lie to him… or to herself… "I don't know how to do this… I am…" she buries her face against his chest…

"I understand… I'm scared too," he admits, wearing his heart on his sleeve, "But I'm here with you."

Everything is too good to be true… and she can't let herself believe in happy endings. "This can't be real… Not in my life…" she sighs, "These things only happen in movies."

"Everything about us is real," he whispers, raising her chin, and his eyes search hers, asking permission.

Her watery eyes blink in consent, and then… he kisses her.

Nothing could have prepared Natasha for this moment. Their lips touch again, but this time, Steve sets the rhythm. He's tender but firm, kissing her senseless, with a fiery passion. She feels possessed only by his lips, and surrenders completely. He speaks between her lips, "It's only you that I want." Fisher's words, he didn't forget either.

In Steve's arms, Natasha is… happy… and her heart is taking control of her mind… She can't remember feeling so respected in her whole life… She whispers, "I need you now."

"Me too," his blue eyes shine, and he rubs his thumb on her lips, before capturing her mouth in another searing kiss. Hands roam everywhere, and he loses his shirt. They break the kiss, gasping for air, and he promises, "I'll never hurt you."

"I know… I trust you." Tracing her fingers along his jaw, she smiles intently, "I don't want to wait anymore…"

There is a certainty in her eyes that eases all his doubts.

Despite his old-fashioned values and morals, Steve is no fool. Besides, he will always put her needs and wishes first – he'll do anything for Natasha. With his eyes full of love, he picks her up, the way he dreamed for so long.

His voice is husky with a mix of anxiety and desire, "Everything?"

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she answers with another passionate kiss, and he carries her to his bedroom.

Natasha never felt like this before. This is a dream.

But he opens his heart and all she wants is to dive in. "I want you to be my girl, Nat."

Steve's powerful and virile like no other man, yet the gentlest one she met in her whole life. There's no struggle for power – she gives herself to him and he belongs to her – they complete each other. He cherishes her, worshiping her body. She hadn't ever been this enthralled, this lovesick by touches and kisses before. It's like being drunk – he's mind-blowing, addictive, and she can't get enough of him. With lingering caresses of his lips and fingertips he wipes out any other man's memory from her body – he gives her more pleasure than she knew was possible. As Steve follows her over the edge, his fingers laced with hers, Natasha realizes she is being loved for the first time in her life. In her arms, at her mercy, he feels alive as never before.

He gets lost in her sparkling green eyes and murmurs between her lips, "My beautiful girl."

In his arms, she's almost mumbling, "I'm glad you got frozen." He chuckles and she looks at him embarrassed, "No, sorry. I didn't mean… not the frozen part…"

"I am happy to be here with you too", he kisses her forehead, gently stroking her hair. She fits perfectly in his arms and Steve can't help but think that she's made for him. He needs to protect her, to cherish her – he needs her.

Natasha never imagined it would feel so good to be with him. He awoke a sleeping side of her, a dormant need that only he can fulfill. As she's drifting away, her mind is filled with the images of their lovemaking. Make love. She understands it now. He's all she wants… and needs.

SteveHe's better than any dream.

Waking up sometime later, Natasha finds Steve by her side, holding a plate with mini Fraisier cakes – her favorite French cake, which is filled with strawberries and creme patisserie.

He smiles mischievously, quoting Hayden, "What if I made you a tempting offer?"

Life never tasted so good.

Next movie: Push (2009)

Expanded scene: Chris Crush (Love scenes) Rating Mature

Chapter Text

With no mission to hurry them, nor a world to be saved, the couple spends the following days taking pleasure in their newfound intimacy. After being dancing around each other for almost a year, once they let their instincts take over, everything happened naturally. Despite the differences between them, they fit perfectly together. It's the happiest and most terrifying feeling ever.

Captain America is the public hero who lives under the spotlight. Even so, the partnership with the secretive Black Widow came instantly, thanks to their complementary skills – it reflected well also in their friendship. On the other hand, Steve is a very private person, not so different from Natasha. Although he made his intentions clear from the start, he's cautious to not rush her into anything. Definitely, it's too soon for them to seek for what is in their hearts and, honestly, neither of them know how to deal with this relationship. The obvious choice is to keep everything private, and the Captain asks for JARVIS' cooperation.

"My circuits are sealed, Captain. It's the Avengers' privacy directive."

The redhead still finds it hard to believe that the infamous Russian spy, master of deception, can be with the American hero, the ultimate symbol of honesty and integrity. However, against all odds, being with him is changing her, and the scariest part is that she's enjoying it.

Nevertheless, keeping a secret isn't exactly easy when you live and work among team-members. Especially because it's hard to hide their state of happiness from a partner.

Always attentive, Clint gets suspicious, "Nat, what's going on?"

The spy raises her eyebrows, "What do you mean?"

The archer squints, "You seem… different."

Natasha's mind turns to her friend – the closest person to her in her life, before Steve. Hawkeye is her equal, her partner who became a brother. They live in the same world of espionage and lies, hiding in the shadows to survive. Clint is the one who knows her best, at least, who she used to be. She knows it's a matter of time until the archer discovers her secret.

Avengers Tower. Black Widow's floor.

Steve finds Natasha resting on her home theater couch, and as usual, her beauty takes his breath away. She's wearing a silk red kimono with oriental patterns, that completely flatters her curvaceous body. Her disheveled hair frames her face perfectly, naturally beautiful without any makeup – as he loves to see her. He captures her image in his mind to draw her later, before sliding down next to her, and carefully enfolds her in his arms.

Stretching like a lithe dancer, she places her hands on his chest, smiling, "Hi."

They've been together all the time but he can't get enough of her. "Hi, gorgeous," he breathes, holding her by her slender waist, before cupping the back of her head, and drawing her in for a deep kiss. Her soft skin smells delicious, like some after-bath moisturizing oil. He knows he needs to control himself, but he's so in love with her that it's always difficult.

They break the kiss and her cheeks are a little pinkish. "I was waiting for you to watch a movie with me," she invites, biting her lower lip.

Steve asks with a smile, "What is it about?"

JARVIS promptly explains, "The film centers on a group of people born with various superhuman abilities. They band together in order to take down a government agency that is using a dangerous drug to enhance their powers in hopes of creating an army of super-soldiers."

"Super-soldiers? Aren't you tired of the subject?" he teases her.

She grins, snuggling into his arms, and replies, "It's a good story. There's a girl, Dakota Fanning, she's an amazing young actress. Do you wanna try?"

Adjusting himself on the couch and hugging her tightly, he's nothing but welcoming, "Anything my lady wants," and her heart melts.

Safe in Steve's arms, Natasha thinks about the story. The parallels with her life are unmistakable – that's why he chose it. Before Steve, movies were her private moment, just for entertainment, but now it's their easy tool to talk about things they wouldn't normally discuss. Do I want to talk… to think about what happened in my life? She never told anyone about it, but he deserves to know everything.

The movie was filmed in Hong Kong, and he finds it charming how she likes to dress to match its atmosphere. He whispers in her ear, "Love the outfit. You look beautiful," and kisses her hand.

She can't help but blush.

The mood changes quickly as the movie starts. The subject is too intense, dealing with human experiments since WWII, to turn special people into weapons. Steve knew the reality behind it, "I destroyed Hydra labs that did this for real." He doesn't hide the revolt in his voice. "There was one in Bavaria where I fought men turned into monsters – Zola's latest creations."

The scene shows one girl being tested. "She survived the injection. She's our patient zero."

Natasha turns to speak to him. "There are some things that I want you to know."

JARVIS understands their way to watch movies by now, and how they deviate to talk, so he activates the advanced motion sensors to pause the movie every time they both turned their faces away from the screen.

Steve grabs her hand giving her his full attention, "I'm here."

"I was injected with something too, a less advanced variant of the serum used on you."

Everything about her life is a mystery, but she has an enhanced physiology. Images of Bucky trapped on that gurney fill his mind, and Steve asks, fighting to hide his concern, "Were you forced?"

Natasha reaches up to touch his face, trying to ease his discomfort. "No. It wasn't like this. It was part of my training."

He learned about Bruce's accident with gamma rays, while attempting to recreate Dr. Erskine's serum, and wonders how many people were used in experiments that tried to make more super-soldiers like him. There's nothing about this in her file, but he had noticed her advanced skills already. He can't help it, he worries, "Were you exposed to any rays? Did you feel any pain?"

"Not that I know of. It wasn't really painful. It was like a vaccine, to improve my body, in a similar version of what happened to you. It enhanced my immune system, making me heal faster and resistant to normal drugs, things like that." Then she pauses, thinking about the most important thing she needs to tell him… Not that she can dream with any future, but anyway, he deserves to know. "And I can't have children."

There's a twinge of sadness in her eyes, but she turns quickly, looking back at the screen and the movie continues. He senses her light tremor, and holds her even closer… caressing her arms, kissing her forehead. I'm here. An overflow of thoughts fill his mind, but he's more concerned about her than anything else. Sadly, he senses that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Above everything, he understands and respects her needs – he doesn't say anything.

Truth be told, neither of them are ready to think about the implication of all this in their lives together.

A great action sequence plays on the screen. Her guy plays Nick, a telekinetic or 'mover', and he establishes a brotherly relationship with Cassie, a clairvoyant or 'watcher', played by the teenaged actress. They have to face the Division, a government agency that wants to weaponize them.

"They're great together," Steve recognizes. "But she's so young to be alone."

Natasha murmurs, "I was younger…"

He didn't miss it because of his enhanced hearing and his constant attention towards her – he stops perplexed, before taking her face gently, turning her to him. "Nat, I'm sorry. I didn't know." It's not pity, it's truly concern and a hint of indignation.

She nestles in his arms resting on his chest, and speaks quietly, "My home burned, everybody died, and they took me to this place with other children – the Red Room Academy – where it all happened. They trained me in everything – martial arts, gymnastics, spy stuff. I was good, so my training was more intense. I also remember joining the ballet Bolshoi when I was a child, but those seem to have been memory implants to overwrite my underage training. I can dance, though."

"I'm so sorry." Steve holds her tight, sadly realizing that whoever did this took away her right to youth. No wonder she has deep trust issues and always hid behind fortified walls.

"It wasn't that bad at the time. I didn't know any other life, so I didn't miss anything," she raises her chin, trying to smile. "That's why I like the movies. I can pretend to be anyone, and have a normal life… It's funnier and safer than being undercover."

All he can see is the young child inside this amazing woman he… cares so much about. Once more Bucky comes to Steve's mind, this time, as the young orphan that Steve's mother helped to take care of. "I can't imagine what you went through," he strokes her hair tenderly. It's another proof of trust that she's giving to him – her history – and he acknowledges it, "Thank you."

Natasha looks at him puzzled, "For what?"

Tracing his fingers softly over her cheek, he replies, "For trusting me."

It surprises her how easy it felt to talk to him and how happy she is for having him to share this part of herself with. Instantly, she draws him in for a deep kiss. When they break for air, he cups her face, and blue eyes dive in green ones. He asks hopefully, "We are making new memories, right? Good ones?"

"Yes, the best." She smiles widely before relaxing into his arms, as they turn to watch the movie.

Cassie gives a flower to Nick"You help her and you help us all." Remembering his father's words, he decides to help the teenager.

Natasha smiles, "Clint helped me. He offered me a choice. I owe him my life." Then she looks at Steve a little curiously, "You never asked me about him. Everybody else did, or tried."

He looks at her somewhat embarrassed, as if she had discovered a well-kept secret. "I saw how great partners you two were, since the beginning." He tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear, and speaks shyly, "Now I can confess, I was jealous of him for being so close to you and how protective he was with you." There's a faint blush on his cheeks, and she places a soft kiss on his lips, as he continues ashamed, "But after a while I saw that Clint treats you as a sister."

It's amuses Natasha to discover that Steve cared for her since the beginning. "Yes, he does."

Suddenly, a deep shadow falls over her, and her voice trembles, "There was a guy, in Russia, called Vindiktor. He claimed to be my older brother. But he tried to kill me… he had a metallic exoskeleton." Averting hers eyes, she looks miserable, "I ran for my life, to the top of a silo. He fell… and died before I had the chance to find the truth."

Steve can't believe how terrible Natasha's life was. The burden she had to carry… so young… all alone… "I'm so sorry, Nat."

"There was nothing I could do." Shrugging her shoulders lightly, she adds melancholically, "I was lured there with a diary of my mother. But… it was a lie."

Holding her with all his caring, he kisses her forehead lovingly, wishing he could shield her from any pain, "I'm here, okay? For anything you need."

They stayed there, holding each other tighter, until a familiar face appears on the screen, and gives him a chance to try cheer her up, talking about something she likes.

"Doesn't she look like Coulson's new partner? Agent Melinda May?

"She does, doesn't she? The actress is Ming-Na Wen. She's good."

Nick finds Kira, a telepath or 'pusher', and talks about lost memories. "You must have had yourself wiped. Erased memories make it harder for Division to track you."

Natasha closes her eyes slowly, and after a pause she straightens up to look at Steve – the movie stops.

"Back in the Red Room, they gave me various sets of false memories so I could operate under very deep cover. It wasn't perfect. I ended up learning how to turn them off, most of it." There's a sorrow in her voice, "But I found out that I was brainwashed in the past… I don't… I don't know how many times… and what they… erased…" Her voice fails and she swallows hard, before trying again, "When Clint trapped me… it was because I hesitated. I saw him… I felt that I knew him… like something had happened before, between us." Steve looks confused and she explains, "They could mess with memories, but never with feelings. But Clint didn't seem to recognize me, and he never said or did anything to imply anything other than our current friendship."

It's Steve turn to pause and stammer, "Do you… want to have more… than his friendship? Did you…?" All he wants is to be there for her, to be supportive with all she's telling him, but Clint is too important to them both. Steve's fear is almost unbearable. "I'm sorry… I have no right to ask. I shouldn't…" Ashamed, he finds himself silly and selfish, "I'm sorry, I…"

However, the look in her eyes is answer enough. She wraps her arms around his neck, "No. Never. Clint is my partner, my brother. I never felt for him as a man," and kisses him passionately. Breathless, she speaks between his lips, "I never felt this way, with anyone."

He feels guilty for being relieved, and it is stamped on his face. Secretly, she loves to see him as insecure as any other man, and keeps kissing him, again and again, until he finally relaxes. Still embarrassed, he whispers, "Me neither." She smiles delighted, and they look back to the movie. Silently, they try to not think about everything they are not saying to each other.

Nick and Kira's romance upsets Cassie who doesn't trust the telepath. Natasha retorts promptly, "I don't like her either, Cassie."

Steve squints, "Why?"

"Just don't think she's a good actress."

He asked but he almost knew the answer. Looking at his girl drooling over some other guy it isn't funny, even if just an actor. Anyway, he's truly glad to see her having any kind of normal fun.

Nick's plan requires him to be wiped, to forget some memories, but he fears, "I'm not gonna wake up and forget who I am, am I?"

Clint's words come to Natasha's mind, 'Have you ever had someone take your brain and play? Pull you out and stuff something else in? Do you know what it's like to be unmade?'

"Clint was truly messed up, you know? After Loki." Her eyes are full of gratitude. "You didn't know us before, you stood by him. You trusted me to trust him."

Captain America's support was essential to get Hawkeye back into S.H.I.E.L.D. without any gossip. Steve had earned both Natasha and Clint's trust at that time. He remembers how shaken the archer was and how long it took to have him completely back on his feet, after being mind-controlled by Loki. Even so, Steve is always humble, "It was the right thing to do."

Natasha smiles proudly, "You trained him in hand-to-hand combat, you taught him to use your shield – you gave him his confidence back. He worships you, says you're the best leader he ever had. You protected him. That's what you do with us all."

There's a faint blush on his cheek. In the field he's the confident leader, but with her, he's just a kid from Brooklyn. Noticing how embarrassed he is with her praise, she kisses him teasingly, "Love when you look like this." Then he turns purple red and she kisses him even more.

But Cassie gets their attention when, through tears, she confesses, "I know I act like I don't care sometimes, but I don't want to die."

Natasha sighs deeply, "Clint told me he saw the fear in my eyes. That's what stopped him from killing me, what made him give me a choice."

"Thank God…" Just this thought makes him shudder, and he hugs her. "I owe him forever."

Amidst all the tension, Natasha feels completely safe and wanted in his arms.

But before she can say anything, Nick confronts Kira who was turned by the Division, and says their love story was a lie. "It never happened. I used you, Nick."

Her words hit Natasha hard, and she starts trembling. Steve reacts quickly, pulling her to his lap, "What's wrong?" His eyes are scrutinizing her, trying to understand her sudden change.

"There are too many tragic conflicting memories that never stop haunting me," she looks down.

"That's the past, Nat. There were many things none of us could control." He tries to calm her, "We can't change that. What matters is what we do now."

Her voice is shaken, "I think… I used… Clint… before."

Taken by surprise, he questions, "What did he say?" But the look on her face answers everything. "You didn't ask him, did you? Nat, stop. Don't do this to yourself."

The dark shadow is back in her eyes, again… "The missions, the things they made me do…" He gets apprehensive, before she explains embarrassed, "I wasn't forced to do anything, but I was different. I believed in the KGB. My choices… I did things I regret now, and that I wouldn't do again."

There's nothing he can say to ease her angst, but he needs to try. "Everybody has a past. I fought in the most devastating war in history, where over 60 million people died. My primary target was Hydra, but I killed lots of soldiers – good men who were just following orders, and fighting for their countries. I lost men under my command." He takes a sharp breath, "We all have our regrets."

She can't help but think how good and noble he is… so different from her. "The people I was involved with were as bad as me. I'll never wipe out all the red in my ledger," she adds sadly, "I will never be good enough…" for you.

Placing a soft kiss on her lips, he speaks kindly, "Nat, please, don't say that again." Caressing her face, he continues, "You are the most amazing person I know and I'm blessed to be here with you."

She knows he means it, and she has no idea what she did to deserve him – she averts her eyes.

"We can't live in the past, and you know I can talk about it. But we have to learn from it to plan our future." He raises her chin and her eyes are moistened. "You were a child, you had no choice, and you didn't know any other kind of life. Whatever happened, if anything happened, between you and Clint, it was enough for him to give you a second chance. You can't keep torturing yourself with this, you have to ask him."

Looking terrified, she nods negatively, and it crushes him to see her hurt that way.

"It's easy to do good when you had every facility. You had nothing, but you changed your life to do the right thing. You picked the good side. I'm very proud of you and honored to be by your side." He's already holding her close, "We are doing great things together, aren't we?"

But the tension in her body is too intense – still fighting to stay in control, she rasps, "I didn't care about anything before. It was like acting, being undercover – it wasn't me." Pausing, she breathes deeply, "When I joined S.H.I.E.L.D., they told me they took off the Red Room controls. But I don't know if I had already lost something I didn't want to forget." Her pulse is uneasy, her breathing unpaced, and her voice is just a murmur, "I don't want that to happen anymore." Finally, she exposes her greatest fear, "What if they get me again?"

In silence he swears to hunt them down – but he can't imagine what he would do if he put his hands on anyone responsible for causing her so much pain. Trying to change his anger into reassurance, he breathes slowly, and cups her face, foreheads touching, "Nat, I won't let anyone hurt you. Ever."

She trusts him with her life, but she's about to break, "I don't want to forget you. I don't want to be used to hurt you."

"Trust me. It won't happen. I won't let it." He can feel her whole body stressed, struggling to hold back tears. His voice is serene, but certain, "I was born weak, but I got this gift to change it. You had to be strong since you were a child." Cradling her in his arms, he rubs her back gently, whispering in her ear, "Please, Nat. Let me protect you now. Trust me to take care of you." Placing a tender kiss on her forehead, he strokes her hair affectionately. "You don't need to be strong with me."

The Russian fortress breaks completely. She can't hold it in anymore, and tears roll incessantly. "I don't cry." She's frightened and humiliated because it's all she has been doing lately. "I never cared…" I never had anyone to trust like this… Her whole body trembles, and she sobs. Crying for all the things she did, for all the pain she suffered, for everything she regrets… above all, she cries terrified that it could ever happen again.

Cuddling in his arms, she lets herself be soothed by his heartbeat until she starts breathing normally again. "I'm not whiny…" she complains.

Caressing her face softly, Steve kisses away her tears, reassuring, "There's nothing to be ashamed of," and she surrenders under his touch.

Emotions flash through Natasha's eyes, "I don't know how to be like this…"

He comforts her, and tries to cheer her up, "Amazing, sensitive, beautiful, human?"

He's too good to be true. In his arms, she's completely safe – that's a feeling she lost and never had again when she became an orphan. So she turned into the cold-hearted, feared Black Widow, keeping the real Natasha hidden from the world, and from herself. But Steve is unveiling this woman inside her… fragile, passionate, emotional… and as scary as it is, real.

"Natalia. My name. Natasha is a nickname."

"Natalia." Her name in his voice makes her shiver. He kisses her, before asking, "Do you like it better?"

She's completely vulnerable, "I don't know her… I don't know how to be her."

He raises her chin, "Natalia tastes likes Russian dark chocolates," rubbing his thumb over her lips, "She loves romantic movies and cries during the sad scenes," and placing small kisses on her cheek. "She can't resist spicy Indian food, or sweet French cakes." Then he grins because her cheeks get pink. "When she blushes my heart melts," he gently rolls her onto her back laying by her side, "and her smile lights up my day." He winks, kissing her softly. "But she makes me jealous with her crush on that pumped actor." She smiles shyly.

"Natasha, Natalia, I want you." The three words he can say now. Then he kisses her passionately once more, making her forget everything else. "I promise I won't lose you. Ever." Steve keeps going on, telling all the wonderful things only he knows about her, kissing and loving her, until she finds herself alive in his arms.

A few hours later, Natasha wakes up and the feeling is amazing. Her back is against Steve's chest, he's wrapped around her, and she realizes there's nowhere else she wants to be. It's real.

He kisses her shoulder, "Hi," and she melts again.

She worries about his faster metabolism, "Are you hungry?" She's not like him, but she needs more nutrition too, "How about Chinese?"


He gives her the kimono, and she runs away quickly, coming back with a package for him.

"It's for you." She looks lovely, just waiting for him to open the gift bag – it's a black men's silk robe.

He smiles shyly, "Thanks, but what is this for?"

"You didn't have one. Try it on." He obeys silently, and she wraps the belt around him, smiling proudly, "Perfect. I like you in black." She pulls him into a hungry kiss leaving him breathless.

He says mischievously, "Anything my lady wants."

She laughs, picking up the phone. The food arrives and they continue to watch the movie.

After it all ends, the man tells Cassie"Your mother's very proud."

Natasha sighs, "I wish I knew if the memories with my mama are real."

Steve hugs her tight, thinking about everything she told him… He needs to find a way to help her. "We can look for the answers, together." Kissing her head he whispers, lovingly, "You are not alone anymore, you know this, right?"

Natasha simply nods, holding Steve's hand next to her heart, feeling that for the first time in her life this is the most absolute truth.

Next movie: What's Your Number? (2011)

Extra scene: Chris Crush (Love scenes) Rating Mature

Chapter Text

New York. S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters.

The problem of keeping the relationship a secret was watching other people ogling her man. Turns out the Russians were very passionate people, and after being hidden all her life, Natalia didn't know how to handle some… emotions.

Black Widow was a spy, secretive and feared – in any work environment she would be alone, or with Hawkeye. Besides Nick Fury, the archer was the only agent who dared to talk to her. By most standards, she was unapproachable and untouchable.

On the other hand, Captain America was a war hero, a legend, an example for the law enforcement officers, and his identity wasn't a secret. He was recognized everywhere and always surrounded by fans.

Since they met, Natasha Romanoff liked to watch the reactions around Steve Rogers.

The men were really fun. Genuine fanboys like Coulson – guys who grew up worshiping him as a hero, with collectible items like cards and comics, begging for a photo or an autograph. And the ones interested in him. Steve wasn't oblivious, far from it, but he treated everybody with professionalism, using his experience as showman during the war – or "dancing monkey" as he called it. Besides, Captain Rogers' impressive stature was intimidating, no question about it, so no guy ever dared to cross any line.

But the women were an entirely different story. First, they were whispering and drooling over him, but soon they took his gentlemanly manners as an invitation for flirtation. Alert, Steve acted even more professionally, visibly blocking any inappropriate behavior. Rejected, they started the venomous gossip – since he wasn't an exhibitionist womanizer, like Tony, or an avid hunter, like Clint, he must have been either gay or a virgin. Natasha almost choked when she first heard about it, and they weren't a couple yet. Of course this kind of gossip didn't fly and women continued trying to win his attention.

Wanting to motivate his agents, Director Fury asked Steve to spar with a few of them. Unquestionably, Captain America was the world's greatest hand-to-hand combatant, and his training sessions became a regular practice almost immediately. Once a month, the super-soldier would spend the day at S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters giving twenty-five minutes of instructions to each person. The waiting list stopped accepting more subscriptions after a year in advance. Normally, Steve would be pleased to teach fighting techniques, but with the audience around, it was much more a show than any kind of serious training. Sometimes it was all about avoiding improper contact – some people deliberately used their times just to be near him… flirting. His 40's mind would call it inappropriate behavior but, somehow, now is was just considered… bonding time.

Always saving the day, the Captain's top apprentice, Hawkeye, would appear to spar with his mentor and the two friends would give an actual demonstration.

But today, to Steve's misfortune, Clint was out on a mission and there were only women listed, none of them really interested in learning anything – and their clothes couldn't be smaller. The Captain was clearly uncomfortable and, from a distance, Natasha was dying from jealousy. It was an unknown feeling that brought out the worst inside Natalia, in levels that were very hard to control.

To make it worse, two women led the list of people which assisted Captain America.

Appointed as responsible for the training program by Fury, Deputy Director Maria Hill would provide a room for the Captain to shower and change, with the privacy he wouldn't have at the common lockers. Due to scheduling problems, it was never the same one. So, the 5'8" slim brunette would have to personally escort him to the new room, each single time.

But the woman who garnered all Natasha's hate was Agent 13, Sharon Carter. That was another foreign feeling, since everyone that Black Widow ever hated before had fled or been killed. Sharon's heinous crime, besides being blonde, slender and tall, was to be the only one who went on a date with the Captain – in Natalia's mind, it was reason enough for the death sentence. And more, always present at the training sessions, the agent tried to pose as his work girlfriend, always solicitous around him, with towels and bottles of water.

The Black Widow was one of the most beautiful women in the world, the epitome of the femme fatale. But Natasha was only 5'3" and very curvaceous. Looking at those toned women blatantly available to him, she was feeling like she had never felt before – a woman, and facing competition. She kept distance all day, watching him like a hawk, hiding everything inside her cold disguise. But when the sly Sharon touched Steve's forearm, whispering something in his ear, Natalia took charge in an explosion of rage.

Dressed differently from her usual uniform, today she had chosen to play as the alluring Stark's former assistant, Natalie Rushman, with a dark grey pantsuit and an overt sensuality. Almost unrecognizable, she stole all the attention walking towards the ring.

Steve wasn't expecting her there and was mesmerized by her outfit.

Taking off her jacket, she exposed a baby pink silk blouse, while stepping down from her high heels – she was absolutely enticing, looking very feminine and… fragile.

Her face was absolutely unreadable as she took his hand, leading him back to the mat. Without giving him any time to think, the Black Widow jumped with a feline dexterity, easily subduing Captain America, and knocking him flat on his back. The move was flawless, and she landed sitting on his waist, pinning his hands above his head. Their faces were inches apart, and the women around gasped in absolutely shock and mortal envy – everybody was expecting her to kiss him right there, even him. That was exactly what Natalia wanted, to show those shalava that she could do it, if she wanted to.

After a brief moment which seemed like eternity, Natasha got up. Putting on her high heels, she picked her jacket and walked away, hair and makeup both intact – leaving Steve on the floor… breathless and speechless.

The show was over.

Avengers Tower. Black Widow's floor.

Steve leaves right behind Natasha, arriving at the Tower, sweaty, exhausted, and definitely worried.

"I don't know how I got myself into that circus." He complains as soon as he enters her floor, and finds her dropping her car key on the table. "I told Hill that without a dress code there will be no next time," he explains, not exactly sure why she was upset, but wanting her to know that he didn't approve of those agents' clothes. Getting close to her, he touches her face softly, raising her chin, "You were so hot… I had to control myself not to kiss you right there." Her green eyes look on fire but she remains silent, so he gives a soft kiss on her lips before saying, "I'll take a shower, okay? Then we can do whatever you want."

As he starts to walk to her bedroom, she finally speaks, "What's your number?"

"What do you mean?" He's absolutely clueless, "The program has sixteen agents per day, but today felt like sixteen hundred. Those women were out of line."

"How many lovers have you had?"

Her words stop him cold, and he chokes, "What!?"

Walking towards him, she looks absolutely emotionless, but the rashness of her words are meant to hit deeply, "How many women… or…?"

This is a side of her that he had never seen before. Completely shocked with her insinuation, he replies dryly, "This is a joke?"

"Sorry." Knowing she went to far, she slides her hands softly though his chest, before grabbing his jacket, smiling inquisitively, "I only want to know how many women have you slept with."

He smiles nervously, "A gentleman never kisses and tells." Gently, he takes her hands in his, kissing them, to free his jacket, before walking away, "I really need to take a shower, okay?"

Officially, they're not living together, but they spend their times mostly on her floor, so he has a few clothes at her place. He walks to the closet and she follows him.

"You are Captain America." Her voice is unbelievable soft, "You don't need to date, you just take. You can have anyone you want."

Almost offended, Steve replies, "You can't be serious. Do you doubt my commitment to you?" Flooded with mixed emotions, she blinks quickly, but he recognizes a hint of trust in her eyes. He sighs relieved, but he is no fool, and asks kindly, "Nat, what did I do wrong?!"

The idea of her being jealous or insecure never crossed his mind, because she's perfect! And he gives her no reason to feel this way.

"I'm just curious." She's dangerously mysterious, as she turns away and walks to her dresser, before continuing, "You attract a lot of attention."

Quickly, he enters in the bathroom to be far away from her odd questions. He takes his well-deserved shower and changes into a brief boxer and plain T-shirt. But Steve thinks about her attack – because it was an attack since she can kill with her bare hands. All his experience tells him that an outburst like this could probably mean that she's feeling cornered. But why? None of those women are worth a tenth of Natasha – no, it doesn't make any sense.

When he comes back, she is sitting at her dresser, wearing nothing but her bathrobe – her clothes are laying out on the chaise lounge. But he still can't read her and doesn't know what to do.

"Did you like my attire today?" she asks as if unpretentious.

Sincerely – that's the only way he knows how to do anything – he replies, "Nat, you were amazing! You always are. But the way you dropped me on that floor… God, it was so hot."

Taking off her makeup, her voice is melodic, "You were raised in a time where women were weak."

Her movements are captivating, but he needs to understand what she wants, and answers honestly, "Yeah. It was a very sexist time, you know I'm not proud of it."

Sliding her hands through the curls of her fiery hair, she lets them fall loose, as she continues her inquiring, "Single women had to be virgins, right? Otherwise they would be considered fallen women, just to be… used and discarded."

She's leading him, he knows it, but he has no idea to where or why. "I told you before, I'm glad the world has changed."

"Well, men could have as many women they wanted."

He should have known she wouldn't drop the subject so easily. Taking a sharp breath, he says, "Nat, I'm not a prude. I was part of that society, I won't deny it. But I was also raised by a widow. I grew up seeing my mother struggle to take care of me."

The mention of his mother makes her melt a little, and she flashes her green eyes, asking, "She taught you how to treat women?"

Smiling shyly, he tilts his head a little, "Not directly, no. She wouldn't say anything about it to a son, it wasn't appropriate. It should be a father's job, but mine died before I was born." He's full of pride and love. "Mom was everything for me, a role model. She was the most humble and decent person I've known. She would always fight against prejudice and treated everyone equally, with nothing but respect." As always, he is earnest, "I couldn't do any differently."

She walks towards him and kisses him gently, before saying, "She must have been amazing." He opens the most loving smile, relieved by seeing her soft side back. Then she winks, "I have the perfect movie to show you," and enters in the bathroom.

Wanting to please her, he goes to the kitchen to get two bowls of miso soup – she loves Japanese food. But he almost drops everything when he returns and sees her standing in front of the mirror.

Wearing a long silk peach nightgown, she looks like one of those Victoria's Secret models that Tony keeps wanting to introduce to him. His heart races in anticipation… Natalia. Underneath her irresistible beauty she's pure fire… ready to consume him with ardent passion… but able to burn him with the same power.

"Nat… you're stunning!"

"For you," she whispered, taking one of the bowls, "This is delicious."

Her words set him on fire and he can't think about anything else – he wants her and he needs her, right now. But… it's so much more than that. He worships every side of her – emotional, powerful, fragile, hot. He wants to make her happy and he needs to please her. He'll do anything to make her feel like the most special woman in the world. Whatever it is that she's doing, it shows him that he belongs to her and she has total control of him… he couldn't be happier.

Taking his hand, she leads him to bed. He lays back on the pillows and she lies on his chest. He thinks the world could stop just there, but her words take him away from his bliss.

"JARVIS, please, play What's your number?"

Steve's eyes widen, and his body tenses, "You've got to be kidding."

Natasha turns to him, explaining, "It's a romantic comedy about a woman and her past lovers." Then, she settles herself on her own pillows, lying by his side, and he feels empty without her in his arms, as if she's punishing him. She smiles, "It's gonna be fun."

He worries. For whom?

The woman, Ally, has a neighbor, Colin, played by her guy, who opens his door naked in the first scene. She reads a magazine saying that "the average number of lovers women have in their lifetime is 10.5" and "women who have been with 20 or more lovers can't find a husband."

Natasha watches Steve's reaction, and he just raises his eyebrows, deciding to play dead. Somehow he feels like he's walking through a minefield… he went to war, it shouldn't be difficult.

The spy starts, "Do you think 10.5 is high or low? And 20?"

The soldier tries honestly, "I don't think it's a matter of quantity."

She won't miss anything, "So quantity is bad?"

He realizes it's worse than he thought – it's like being on trial with no defense. "I didn't say that," he replies.

Colin is a womanizer, and Ally knows it, but they make a crazy deal. "You help me track down my exes, I'll help you escape yours." She wants to see if any of her exes are worth a second chance so she won't have to go over the number of twenty lovers. While he wants to sleep with a different woman every night without having to say goodbye in the morning.

Natasha keeps going on, "Do you think about your exes?"

"I think that some things end for a reason."

She raises her eyebrows, "This is a yes?" and Steve just rolls his eyes.

Ally is worried about being lonely. "You guys all have this ideal girl in your minds and if our number gets too high, we can't be that girl."

Natasha teases, "How's your ideal girl?"

"You are my girl. Any way you want to be, even if means torturing me for no good reason."

She laughs. It's hard to be mad at him.

On the screen, it's also hard for men to understand women. Colin doesn't get it. "What kind of guy cares about how many people you've slept with anyway?"

"Do you want to know my number?" Natasha questions and Steve pauses.

This is a very delicate subject. Do I want to know? He never cared about her reputation. When they make love, it's special, unique, a communion, and that's what matters. And he's sure that it's something that neither of them had experienced before, not with such intensity. However, there's the subtle question. Do I care about her number? Damn. He is a man. The idea of another man with her is excruciating. He can't deny this primal feeling of possession but also he can't be hypocritical – he had other lovers before. The truth is that he knows and trusts Natasha. Period. He just doesn't need to see her past parading in front of him, like Ally is showing hers. I don't need to know.

Obviously, the important thing is what she wants him to say, and he'll never lie to her. So, he's nothing but cautious, "There's no good answer for that question. If I say no, you'll say I don't care about you, and if I say yes, you'll say I don't trust you. So I'm invoking my right to remain silent."

Natasha squints smiling, "When did you become an expert on women?"

"I…" he stops, realizing she's tricking him again. "I won't say anything."

She seems amused.

One of Ally's exes is Tom, but she finds out he has changed. "I wouldn't have known I was gay if I hadn't dated you."

Steve sees the resemblance with the newest Avenger, and asks curious, "Who's this guy?"

Natasha loves when he gives her a chance to talk about the cast. "He looks just like the Falcon, right? The actor is Anthony Mackie, he's great." She laughs, "But don't tell you saw this movie because Tony will give Sam a hard time."

Colin and Ally play strip H.O.R.S.E. and he loses, getting naked again. Steve clenches his jaw in a silent disapproval, and Natasha mocks him, "You don't have any reason to be jealous." When Ally take off her dress, Natasha hits the point, "Do you like slim women?"

"Are you nuts? You have the classy chassis, why would I look to anyone else?" Steve's getting tired of her pressure, and punches his leg in frustration. "God, Nat. What's going on?"

Always polite, he doesn't say things like that, but once more she takes it as a proof of trust. Melting immediately, she asks, "Do you think I have a great body?"

Absolutely incredulous, Steve thinks he'll never understand women. He says disappointed, "You really can't be serious." But underneath her confident face, he senses an emotional fragility, and reaches out for her. She cuddles in his arms and he cups her face, gently raising her chin, "Nat, you are the most beautiful woman I ever met in my whole life. Your body is beyond perfection. I have the hots for you – only you." He rubs his thumb across her bottom lip, hoping for a signal. "Tell me what's bothering you, please?"

Despite his honest devotion, she isn't ready to expose her hidden emotions. Giving him a quick kiss on his lips, she gives the most evasive answer possible, "PMS." He gets alarmed instantly – he knows what it means but he hears, 'Pass My Shotgun', remembering one of Tony's jokes about women's monthly period. Sensing his tension, she confesses, "I'm kidding."

The only two women around, Natasha and Pepper started with this a few months ago, to silence the boys – works even with the Hulk.

The movie continues with Ally's sister, Daisy, getting married. Her vows to her husband echo in Steve's mind. "I will not get mad at you about everything when I'm only really mad at you about one thing."

When it ends, Natasha looks at Steve. After seeing him squirming in discomfort during the whole movie, she had no doubt. "You hated it."

"Being punished? Yes." She kisses his cheek, and he sighs, before replying, "The woman doesn't have self-esteem, and the man is a liar. He can't treat women like that."

The actor is her blind spot, Natasha reacts promptly, "He's played by Chris Evans. He can do whatever…" but she regrets it the moment she says it. She even had instructed JARVIS to omit his name so that Steve would never found out.

"Chris Evans? Why do I know his name?" He realizes she talks about everyone in the movies, but she had never said the name of her favorite actor. Why?

Busted. Natasha's cheeks are red as her hair, as she speaks, "He played… you."

Steve is absolutely confused, "Me?"

"In The Avengers movie, we had to sign authorizations, remember? And in Captain America: The First Avenger too." She won't lie, but she's feeling ambushed. This isn't what she had planned.

Still unsure about what that means, he can't miss the chance to ask, "Oh. And we've been watching all his movies. Because…?"

Damn Steve. Looking back to the screen, she replies dryly, "He's a great actor."

It's a dangerous territory. Steve knows he can't make fun of her, as much as he wants to, at least, not today. All he wants now is to end this, peacefully. "Okay. I get the point. Women are crazy. Believe me, those ones at S.H.I.E.L.D. today already proved this," he admits, thinking that was her goal, and smiles genuinely, "But I only care about you."

Unfortunately, these memories wake up the stormy Natalia.

"How about Sharon Carter?" Her voice, her mood, all her body changes, and she straightens up, getting away from him. The look on her face is the same scary one she had when she dropped him on the training mat. "You took her on a date."

"That's what you're mad about! We had one lunch together!"

She's furious, "Why her?"

He has no escape, as he hadn't in that ring today. He will answer anything. "Nat, she's the grandniece of my old friend Peggy Carter. I wanted to know about her to pay a visit. It was just that."

"She bragged that it was the best date ever, that you are the perfect guy."

"I'm not naïve. That's why I chose that open place in front of the Headquarters. Nothing happened."

"What did she whisper to you, today?"

He blinks, "What? Ah, she asked me out again, drinks after the training session."

Obviously, she can't calm down after this answer. "Again?! How frequent does she do that?"

"Every chance she has, but I always refuse."

Her voice is full of sarcasm, "Surely, you aren't being clear enough."

Steve can't believe it… Natasha is jealous of Sharon. "Nat, I told her I wasn't interested, and that I was in a serious relationship."

His honesty always softens her. "You did?"

"Yes, I did." He begs, "Can we finish this, please?"

But it's too hard for her to be this exposed, showing her weakness… she won't stop now. "How about Maria walking you to a room?"

"Agent Hill? She manages the training program and escorts me to the designated room. We talk about work until we stop at the room door. She asks if I need any help. I refuse, thank her for the assistance, excuse myself and enter the room alone, locking the door. Satisfied?"

"No one has ever seen her after she leaves with you. People talk that she stays in the room with you."

"Nat, the gossips aren't my fault. I didn't do anything. I never wanted anything with any of them and I always made myself perfectly clear."

He's not off the hook yet, and she speaks as if complaining, "You went out with Clint."

Since they became friends, the archer had dragged the soldier to guys' night out – 'women hunting', as Tony called it, totally pissed off because of Clint's rule of 'no geeks allowed'. They never said anything about it, but Hawkeye would always hook up with someone.

Steve takes a sharp breath, before explaining, "I was lonely, he's my friend too, but I was worried about you." She looks surprised, and he continues, "I knew that while he was with me you were left alone. I didn't want to take him from you, but you know Clint, he gave me no choice." He smiles shyly.

As always, she hit the target, "But suddenly you stopped. Clint was pissed. What happened?" At that time, Natasha had been secretly pleased.

"I… I met someone." He didn't do anything but, for a moment, he considered the possibility of trying. Instantly, she tenses, so he clarifies quickly, "Since I met you I only thought about you. I didn't know if it could ever happen, but I realized I didn't want anyone else."

She had no right to be angry about what he did before. They've been together just for a couple of months, but it feels like forever. He looks guilty.

His words touch her deeply. Natasha's hearts flutters and she finds him adorable. Suddenly, his number doesn't bother her anymore. Neither the women that hit on him. Now she knows how he thought about her, since the beginning… just like her…

The anger vanishes. Sliding her hand through his hair, she leans close, asking mischievously, "Was she pretty?"

Steve knows there's no good answer for this question but, truly, he can't think of anything else with her straddling his lap, planting wet kisses along his jaw and neck. "Who?"

That's the best thing she could've heard, and she intends to keep it that way. For the second time today, she flips him, dropping him on his back, pinning him down.

Like a force of nature, unstoppable, uncontrollable, and irresistible, she takes him to places he didn't know existed. Natasha kisses and loves him until she's sure he can't remember anyone but her.

Steve barely remembers to keep breathing.

Sometime later, they wake up tangled in each other, when his stomach growls loudly.

Laughing, she kisses him softly on the lips, "Hi." He's too drowsy, but she knows what he needs. "JARVIS, can you place an order at the concierge? Teppanyaki grill, beef for him, and assorted seafood for me, vegetables, rice."

The Tower has the complete infrastructure of a luxury hotel to attend the residential floors – it is the Stark residence in New York, after all. "It's done, ma'am. It's under the Captain's name. They will make the usual four servings plus one."

"Thanks J." Then, she caresses Steve's face, "It's simple but it'll be here in no time, okay?"

He blinks slowly.

Getting up, she picks up her robe, and he watches all her movements, entranced by her beauty. She comes back from the bar with a bottle and two small cups, offering, "Sake?" She pours the Japanese rice wine for him, "Go ahead, bottoms up."

He obeys, "Wow, it's good."

Leaning in, she kisses him hungrily, "It will kick start you."

"You wore me out," he blushes, raising his hands in surrender, "I'm not complaining." He definitely loves this possessive side of her, and she laughs pleased.

The food arrives and Steve eats almost instantly everything she puts on the tray for him.

Her eyes sparkle with contentment, and her voice is seductive, "Do you want more?" He looks surprised, and she bursts into laughs. "Food," she says, licking her lips, "For now."

Pulling her close, he caresses her face gently, "I'll never get enough of you."

With her heart fluttering, she brings the extra servings, sitting happily by his side. Ally's last words come to her mind, 'I'm happiest when I'm being myself, and I'm myself when I'm with you.' Natasha doesn't know everything about her past, but she never felt this happy before…

They lay in each other's arms and she asks teasingly, "So, you won't tell me what your number is?"

Blue eyes dive in green ones, and he answers, "One."

She laughs, "Okay, right."

"Nat, you're the only one I care for." And he kisses her passionately.

I love you.

Next movie: Street Kings (2008)

Extra scene: Chris Crush (Love scenes) Rating Mature

Chapter Text

Part 1 (Super Adaptoid)

Avengers Tower.

In one of the luxurious laboratories, Steve and Tony play a holographic video game, while arguing about their different ways of seeing everything. This time, Iron Man wants to improve Captain America. "You want to survive, you got to change with the times," the genius insists.

The super-soldier is nothing but sharp, "Spend a few decades frozen in ice, then we can talk about survival."

As usual, JARVIS takes Steve's side, "Sir, I believe you would call that a burn."

Tony couldn't be more annoyed, "Point to JARVIS, master of the obvious." But the inventor believes that technology is the solution to everything, and he won't give up. Showing a holographic image, he continues, "I've already designed new armor for you, Cap, plus an upgrade to the shield. Don't worry, I kept the color scheme."

Although the genius genuinely intends to help, an armored Captain America wouldn't be him anymore, and he tries to reason, "Tony, armor would slow me down, and my shield is like an extension of my arm. If you change it in any way…"

"Just say it. Say, 'Tony, I'm afraid of new tech.' Admitting you have a problem is always the first step." Thinking years ahead of anyone, the genius rejects anything that isn't futuristic. In his brilliant but stubborn mind, it's about old versus new, and he can't miss the chance for an old-man joke.

Unexpectedly, Steve gives Tony a taste of his own medicine, "Gosh, Mr. Big Brain, your modern tech is so gol-darn confusing." The soldier picks the coffee maker, mocking, "How does this contraption turn water into coffee? Is it coal power, or is it a miracle?"

Not used to dealing with partners, especially those who oppose to him, Tony isn't pleased, "Hmm. Sarcasm must be a modern invention because when you do it, it just sounds wrong."

However, the Captain is trying to make a point, and keeps going, "Say, if I hit this, will the whole building just launch into the sky?" He jokes, touching the red button on the wall.

"Uh, the Aven-Jet? Yes." Tony closes the safety flip-panel, definitely pissed.

"I know, I read the manual," Steve says it loud and clear, "I don't have a problem with technology." And then he hits the core of the entire discussion, "But no machine can replace human intuition, or just plain guts."

That's how they see it – man versus machine.

Tony takes the punch, "You're saying I don't have guts?"

But before Steve can answer, JARVIS interrupts them – in a TV broadcast, Justin Hammer ridicules Tony, challenging the Avengers to a match.

Iron Man's pride can't ignore this public provocation from his old time competitor, and he takes the bait, "JARVIS, get me coordinates and call the gang."

The Black Widow is out on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission. So the team, plus the newest member, Sam Wilson a.k.a. the Falcon, takes at the Aven-Jet and flies to the designated facility.

Hammer's Industries.

As soon as they arrive, Hammer launches his new robot, Super-Adaptoid, against his rival, daring, "It's time to put your metal where your mouth is, Iron Man."

Before Thor and Hulk join the fight to help Tony, Hawkeye intervenes, "Guys, come on! We came all the way out here! Let's at least enjoy the show for a few seconds. Maybe Stark will get punched again."

"Thanks for the support, Hawkeye. You're the best." Despite the punches, Tony doesn't bend, "Hammer's toy robot packs a wallop, barely. Oh, look, it's scanning us for weaknesses. That is adorable."

Always alert, Captain America evaluates the robot and warns Iron Man, "Don't get cocky… cockier. It's learning."

But being self-confident is Tony's natural attitude, and he calls the team, "Then let's take it to school."

Effortlessly, the Avengers crush the robot, but the Captain gets suspicious, "It's never that easy." They had this argument before, when Loki attacked New York and, as usual, Steve was right.

On board the Aven-Jet, they fly back home as quickly as they came. Disappointed, Clint jokes and, unbeknownst to them all, hits the target, "A Super-Adaptoid that can't adapt? Hammer should've called it stupor-Adaptoid."

"What did you scan from the adaptoid during the battle?" Steve asks for the data recorded, worried, "You said it was scanning us?"

Arrogantly, Tony dismisses it, "There's nothing to see. Nada, zip, zero. Hammer came at us with his cheesy robot. We tore it apart."

The Captain, however, doesn't miss any detail, "That 'cheesy robot' started to adapt to your fighting style, and was about to use Falcon's weapons against him." He smells trouble, "And don't you think it's strange to spend billions on a robot just to let us crush it? Hammer can't be a complete idiot."

"Oh, Hammer is a complete idiot. Really. He's just a geek with armor envy." The genius refuses to take his old competitor seriously.

Turns out that Steve is as stubborn as Tony is. The soldier asks, "Data, please," and the genius has to comply, although reluctantly.

Avengers Tower.

The Captain is analyzing the combat's data on his StarkPad when the Falcon comes in, "I don't want to overstep, but if you need help with the tech, just ask." Sam is still uncertain around his hero, and ends up using some of Tony's jokes, "Probably sort of challenging for someone of your age."

Even so, Steve is nothing but welcoming with the rookie Avenger, "Sam, I'm barely older than you. I slept through a lot, but I woke up to a world of marvels. I really think this stuff is the tops."

"Cool. But just so you know, nobody says 'the tops' anymore. What are you looking for anyway?"

The Captain's assessment is absolutely precise, "Hammer played right into one of Stark's blind spots. He threw a machine at Tony. And Stark believes he's master of all machines."

Both men look at the data but it's Steve who finds it, "Right there."

Tony's pupil, Sam is an expert in technology too, and he gets surprised, "Whoa. Those are undifferentiated micro-clusters. Tiny machines…"

Without hesitation, the super-soldier replies, "That can be repurposed in response to new programming, right?"

The Falcon stops astonished – he can't believe he's hearing these high-tech words from the supposed old-man.

Then the Captain shows him a scientific magazine, with Tony's face on the cover, revealing the source of his knowledge, "Futura. Never miss an issue." Steve had been right since the beginning – the robot was learning – and he worries, "Tony thought the Adaptoid was scanning us for weaknesses."

Captain America is Sam's hero, but now, Steve Rogers' intelligence just exceeded all his expectations. The rookie is totally geeking out, when a huge blast shakes them all, opening a hole at the Tower.

The team comes quickly and, on speakers, they hear Hammer's voice, "Gentlemen, you left so soon. Our little test wasn't over. See, first Super-Adaptoid learns, then he adapts." Remotely controlled by the industrialist, the robot now has the Avengers' combined powers, and beats the team easily.

Only Captain America is able to hit the dangerous machine, by pretending to throw his shield and launching bombs instead. Besides being able to regenerate itself, the robot remembers everything, so it won't fall for the same trick twice – that's what Steve tries to tell Tony, "Gonna listen to me now?"

But the genius' ego comes into play, "You bet. Soon as I remind Hammer that anything he can build, I can break." The robot leaves and Iron Man flies in pursuit.

New York.

Immediately, Sam goes after Tony, and tries to explain Steve's point. "As Adaptoid is hit with new weapons, energy, or powers, it can copy them by creating new devices, new weapons and new tactics."

Curious, the genius scans the robot, confirming the rookie's information, "Turbines approximating Falcon's speed, my repulsor tech, Hulk's excess density and strength, Cap's shield, obviously… How did you figure it out, Sam?"

The young Avenger replies proudly, "I didn't. It was Cap."

"Cap? I hate it when he's right… Especially when it means I'm wrong." Tony's doubly irritated – it happens more often than he likes to admit it.

The Avengers follow the robot to the New York Harbor – Captain America and Hawkeye fly Sky-Cycles. Another battle ensues, but it gets stronger after each attack.

The Captain finally manages to explain his strategy to the defeated Avengers, "It's learning our moves and mimicking our powers. We have to try a new way of doing things, different than we're used to. If the Adaptoid can steal what our moves are, then we can't be ourselves."

Clint always follows Steve's lead, but the irreverent archer can't help but joke first, "I call handsome billionaire!"

"I'm on it!" Sam tries a different type of attack, but he fails.

Hammer is triumphant, "You're all limited by years of experience, hardened into habit. But all my Adaptoid does is grow and change and learn."

Beyond angry, Tony wants to win by power and sticks with the direct approach, "Let's try a combined assault. If we can overwhelm him, we can wipe that smirk off his face."

"Keep it occupied! We need better tools!" Steve, however, knows it won't work, so he leaves to make a backup plan.

"You don't think Adaptoid can handle you all at once?" Once more the Avengers are overpowered and Hammer gloats, "Tony! Are you man enough to admit my hardware is bigger and much, much better than yours? Where's the famous Stark snark, huh? Finally bowing to the better man?"

Defeated, Iron Man is being dragged by the robot when he sees Captain America coming back. It's Tony's turn to mock Hammer, "When you're busy monologuing, you're not busy noticing that your butt's about to get beat red, white, and blue."

Attacking the robot with a huge projectile, Steve frees Tony and confronts the smashed villain, "Copycats never get far, Hammer. Hope you know you're finished."

Regenerating fast, Hammer doesn't give up, "Finished? Not nearly."

"All right, new plan." Captain America flies back to the Avengers Tower, with the robot on his trail.

Avengers Tower.

Steve leads the Super-Adaptoid to the Aven-jet room, avoiding its attacks, and tricks the robot to punch the red button – they're launched into space exactly as the Captain wanted.

Part 2 (Street Kings)

S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters.

Natasha was hacking files for Fury when JARVIS warned her about the attack – she hurried back to the Tower. She still couldn't believe that Justin Hammer got away with all the charges against him, by blaming Ivan Vanko a.k.a. Whiplash, when they attacked Tony in 2010. Since the spy had already hacked into Hammer's systems once, it was just a matter of time before she could do it again, and help her team.

Avengers Tower.

As soon she arrives, JARVIS connects her to the team's communicators, just in time for her to hear Tony and Steve's chat.

"Cap, what are you doing?"

"It's called adapting."

"Great plan. Except that the Aven-Jet has a monster-sized hole in it, and any second you're going to run out of air."

Panting, Steve replies, "I meant to do that."

JARVIS gives the last update, "Captain Rogers is inside the Aven-Jet, on the way to space, fighting the Super-Adaptoid – alone. Iron Man and Thor are flying to back him up."

In shock, Natasha tries to assimilate everything while trying to bypass the villain's systems. Any way to help prevent the high-tech power-mimicking robot – who already defeated the entire team, repeatedly – from harming Steve.

The Black Widow grits her teeth when she hears Hammer arrogantly underestimating Captain America, "I've already taken down gods and monsters. You're just a man."

And that was the villain's huge mistake.

Steve Rogers is never just a man. A tactical genius with high level skills, an unbelievable intuition and an indomitable sheer will, the Captain confronts the Super-Adaptoid, fearlessly, "You tech-heads are all the same. You always forget one simple variable. Good old-fashioned guts."

Through the distorted video image that JARVIS got from the ship surveillance, Natasha sees Steve using other Avengers' spare weapons to beat the machine. The Captain uses his knowledge of his team's fighting style to predict the robot's movements, avoiding its attacks and counteracting, crushing the seemingly unstoppable Super-Adaptoid.

In disbelief, Hammer whines, "Why can't I hit you?"

The soldier's words make the spy proud. "You copied the moves of the teammates I spar with every day. Now, I know your robot better than you do."

Captain America's final hit, using Iron Man's repulsor blast, launches the Super-Adaptoid into space. Unfortunately, somehow it cut the video transmission and Natasha yells, "JARVIS, what happened?"

The A.I. replies, "The signal was lost. I'm trying to recover it."

But before she can see anything, Tony's final call stops her heart.

"Cap? Come out wherever you are. If you're still alive. Oh, man, I hope you're still alive. Cap!"

Natasha didn't know she could be scared like this… The minutes seem an eternity, until she finally hears Steve's voice, "Tony!" She let out a breath that she didn't even know she was holding, and a tear streams down her face.

Moments later, Natasha waits, hidden behind the automatic doors, when Thor lands on the Tower's rooftop, carrying the Captain in a space suit. Quickly, the Thunderer leaves to help Iron Man to bring the Aven-Jet back.

The suit disassembles by JARVIS' command, and she hurries to Steve's side, putting his arm around her shoulders to help him walk.

"Are you hurt?" Her voice is steady but she's shaken.

"Nat, I'm fine. Don't worry," Steve replies gently, as they take the elevator.

Captain America's floor.

But there's no arguing with the Black Widow when she takes charge. Besides, since they started their relationship, Steve had granted Natasha all privileges to his floor, and she did the same. "JARVIS, non-disturb mode on. Full body scan, update current status," she commands as soon as they enter his floor.

The A.I. was monitoring him all the time, keeping her informed, and reports promptly, "The suit protected the Captain in time from suffering any permanent effect of the zero gravity. The scan now continues to show no internal organ damages. There's no signal of any space-exposure sickness – the Aven-Jet didn't go as high as the beginning of the Stratosphere. Externally, he has tissue damage due to hypothermia, bruises and cuts from the battle. Overall, his super-soldier body supported the stress suffered with the uncontrolled decompression, although he may experience fatigue, generalized malaise, localized aches, and some dizziness. He needs proper hydration, nutrition, and bed rest. The medical floor is ready to receive him at any moment."

"Is there any condition that requires a doctor?" She needs to be sure.

"No. His status is already broadcasted to the staff and there's no mandatory physician, only nursing care."

The Captain defeated the robot but only his enhanced physiology allowed him to survive in space. He tries to reassure her, "Nat, I'm okay."

Completely focused, the spy isn't about to listen to the soldier. "JARVIS, I'll take care of him here. I need a cryptographed line at Steve's office. I'll continue my work remotely."

"All right, ma'am, it's done. Captain's floor is set at non-disturb. Your status remains on S.H.I.E.L.D. mission, location classified."

"Thanks. Keep monitoring."

Natasha leads Steve to the bathroom and strips down his uniform, checking his injuries. Her speech is laconic under stress, "Shower." She takes care of him, washing the blood and dirt from his battered body. Her hands are tender but slightly trembling, as she dries him carefully. Thinking about everything, she gives him a double high-protein smoothie, "Drink", before sitting him on a bench and starting to bandage his wounds. She's too silent, only sighing occasionally, and he worries for her, but he's too exhausted to talk.

"Let's go to bed now." Finally softening a bit, she offers, "Just drink one more, okay?" giving him a second glass. She helps him to put on a pair of boxers and to walk to the bedroom, laying him on the bed, stomach down. Using a healing balm, she begins to massage his back and almost instantly he's fast asleep. When she finishes taking care of his sore muscles, she lays her head on his shoulder… Emotionally tired, tears drop from her green eyes, as she whispers, "I'll kill you if you get hurt again."

Smiling at the ridiculousness of her statement, she remembers the first time she was worried about him.

They were flying to Stuttgart, and Natasha couldn't help but admire Steve's perfect posture in that Captain America new uniform. Despite being a super-soldier, it was his first time in action in the present time – everything was new for him, unknown. Even so, he faced Loki courageously, saving lives, and keeping the crazy demigod busy until Iron Man arrived.

When Thor took Loki from the Quinjet and Tony flew after them, Steve was left behind, and she tried to protect him, "I'd sit this one out, Cap."

"I don't see how I can," he was resolute.

She had been truly concerned, and warned, "These guys come from legend. They're basically gods."

His straightforward answer took her by surprise. "There's only one God, ma'am. And I'm pretty sure He doesn't dress like that."

Humble and noble, he put an end to the battle of egos between Thor and Tony. And, in the final battle, the Captain led them to the victory.

The six of them were gathered for the first time, facing the Chitauri, when Natasha asked, "How do we do this?"

Steve did what he does best – he inspired them all, leading, "As a team."

Tony's acquiescence was the final proof, "Call it, Captain."

Immediately, the experienced commander took charge, and he organized all the action. "Alright, listen up. Until we can close that portal, our priority is containment." He put Clint on the most strategic position, another proof of trust for the still unsure archer. "Barton, I want you on that roof. Eyes on everything, call out patterns and strays." He gave Tony action and control. "Stark, you got the perimeter. Anything gets more than three blocks out, you turn it back or you turn it to ash." Talking to the Prince, he showed reverence and respect. "Thor, you got to try and bottleneck that portal, slow them down. You got the lightning, light the bastards up." He trusted the spy to have his back in the center of the battle, pairing them together, since day one. "You and me, we stay here on the ground. We keep the fighting here." Natasha couldn't help but smile at this memory. But his final instruction was really one of the best she ever heard. "And Hulk… Smash." He made the green giant smile.

Steve ordered, but he wasn't bossy. He knew each one's skills and placed them perfectly, making they feel like a team for the first time – the Avengers were born. Captain America earned their trust and his place as team leader. Steve won Natasha's deep respect and admiration.

Now, looking at his sleepy form, she can't deny it, he owns her heart.

He sleeps six hours straight, until she kisses his face softly.

"Babe, wake up." His eyes open slowly to find her smiling face looking at him. "Sorry, but you need to eat." She helps him to lie back on the pillows and brings a deep reddish-purple soup. "It's Borscht, beetroot soup. It's nourishing and invigorating." His blue eyes are shining with gratitude, as she feeds him, before kissing his lips tenderly, "Are you feeling well? Let me change the bandages." He nods shyly, and she helps him to sit up on the bed. "Much better," she's satisfied with his fast healing. Then she brings another tray, "I made Beef Stroganoff, the original Russian recipe." He eats everything and gets seconds – she smiles proudly.

"Thanks…" He kisses her hand gently, but he's drifting off again and she tucks him in. Lying by his side, she puts her hand on his face, caressing him softly, and falls asleep watching him. He's safe.

Steve sleeps the whole time and Natasha is there, taking care of him.

JARVIS keeps him monitored, updating his status online, also blocking any visitors. "Dr. Banner has been adamant to check the Captain. I told him that he's resting the entire time, just waking up to eat, and that food has been ordered."

In the kitchen, Natasha checks all the ingredients she ordered to make the next meals, and replies curiously, "I didn't know you could lie, JARVIS."

"Technically, it isn't a lie. You do order food all the time here. I didn't tell him when the orders took place. Besides, the doctor doesn't have any reason to worry because the Captain's status is improving faster than expected. Your cooking is having a substantial positive impact on his recovery."

She smiles satisfied, "Thanks, J."

After having everything settled, she goes back to the room, and lies next to him. He was feverish, but now his temperature is back to normal and she sighs relieved.

It's late afternoon when Steve wakes up, blinking slowly. The bed's trembling and he sees Natasha curled by his side, crying silently. Instantly, he reaches for her and she cuddles in his arms, clinging like a child.

"What's wrong?" he asks concerned.

She buries her face in his chest, relishing in the comfort of his arms wrapped around her. Her voice is plaintive, "Sad story." There's a movie on the screen, but without any sound.

"Shh. I'm here," holding her tight, he falls asleep. When he wakes up again, it's already dark. He feels her warm body against his and instinctively pulls her close.

"Hi, sleepyhead," she murmurs sinking her hand into his hair, "Hungry?" He blinks, smiling and she kisses him before getting up, leaving for the kitchen.

After two days under her attentious care, Steve feels much better already, although still tired. He takes a shower and there are no more wounds.

JARVIS gives him the full report and explains, "It's normal to feel fatigue, Captain. You experienced the equivalent of a massive hypertensive crisis, even to your super-soldier physique. To say the least."

Back to bed, he asks, "Play this movie from the start." He wants to know what bothered her so much.

"Captain, I must warn you that it's a very disturbing movie for Agent Romanoff."

It's a crime thriller about corruption in the LAPD centered on a veteran cop who doesn't play by the rules. The theme is relevant but the report of the stories is brutally real. Steve questions why Natasha was watching such ruthless scenes, when her guy appears – he plays a decent but young cop, who teams up with the jaded veteran.

At this moment, she arrives, saying, "Can we pause it? It isn't a good movie for dinner time." He nods with a smile and she puts a tray in front of him, explaining, "This is Shchi, cabbage soup."

It has a savory aroma and he drinks everything, "Nat, this is delicious."

"Gustav got me all the best ingredients. He sent regards." Delighted, she changes the tray, bringing a beautiful dish with stuffed buns and sautéed vegetables. "Now, try Pirozhki. I made it with mushrooms and beef."

Grabbing her hand, he flashes his pleading eyes, "Eat with me, please?"

"You're a baby." She can't resist his boyish smile, not that she meant it.

He smiles satisfied as she sits by his side, and they eat together. He enjoys everything, while she explains the other typical fillings, and promises to make more.

They rest wrapped in each other's arms, until she asks, "Wanna continue the movie?"

He's apprehensive, "Are you sure?"

Smiling shyly, she looks very young, "I'll hold you close."

"Always," he encases her in his arms, kissing her lovingly. As the movie continues, she tenses, and he speaks full of concern, "Nat, let's stop, okay? I don't need to watch it now."

Clinging to him again, her voice is just a murmur, "It's fine. I want to."

JARVIS was right – her guy is killed in a ruthless way, and her body shakes as she sobs in Steve's arms.

The veteran cop blames himself for the young man's death, "I should have gone alone. I took a boy to a gunfight."

Holding her on his lap, Steve tries to comfort her, "Shh, I'm sorry, darling." The movie ends, but she doesn't stop crying. This isn't her normal reaction and he's alarmed, "What's wrong, sweetheart?" When she finally looks at him, she's completely scared and he worries, "What happened? Nat, please talk to me."

Her body trembles again and he almost can't understand her muttering. Natasha finally lets out all the stress she went through these past days – burying her face against his chest, she cries, "You could've died."

It crushes his heart seeing her hurt this way. "No, no. I'm sorry that I worried you." He holds her even closer, whispering softly, "I'm okay, nothing happened."

No, not this time. But what scares her the most is the fear that something could happen with him, some day, and the realization that she can't deal with it… she can't lose him. Resting her head on his chest with her eyes closed, she lets herself be shushed by his heartbeat. He is alive. She cries until there are no more tears, until she is exhausted but finally relaxed in his arms.

Watching her attentively, he tries, "Nat, don't you trust me? I had a plan." She gives him a little nod and he begins to explain, "That robot got our powers combined, and it was crushing the team. Tony was blind, but they were following his lead because it was a machine and he's the expert genius. But in each attack the robot got stronger." Cradled in his arms, she's breathing slowly, and he continues, "I needed to confine it, hence the jet, to restrict its movements, so I could beat him with ingenuity, not strength. It was the only way, and it worked, right?" But she still doesn't look at him, so he rubs her cheek softly, "I confess, I didn't think about the space-factor, but JARVIS helped me all the time, and put me in the correct suit." She sighs heavily, and he apologizes again, "I'm sorry you had to go through all this stress." He kisses her forehead, speaking softly, "But you have to believe me, I know my limits."

Natasha read all the reports and she can't deny it – she's proud of him. Looking at him, her green eyes are a mix of pride and concern, as she compliments sincerely, "You proved that the old-man was the only one who could really adapt to the new."

"Thanks." He gives her a soft kiss on her lips before continuing, "I know my place in this team. In the past, I was the only super-soldier, the one stronger than everybody else. This is not true anymore. I'm not indestructible, I don't have an armor and I don't fly, except with the Sky-Cycle." She smiles a little and he caresses her face. "But I'm the leader and sometimes I'll need to step in." He remembers the movie, so he says clearly, "I went alone because it was necessary for my plan to work. And I knew I could win. But I had Tony and Thor just behind me." He looks directly into her eyes, foreheads touching, "It wasn't a self-sacrificing act and I don't have to prove anything to anybody."

"The team needs you." She breathes in deeply and her voice is almost a plea, "You keep Tony and Hulk under control. Thor and Fury respect you like no one else. Clint and Coulson worship you. Sam too. And…" She swallows hard, "I… I need… you…" Tears fall back again, as she whispers, "I can't…" lose you.

"Oh, sweetheart!" Stroking her hair , he tries to comfort her, "Nat, you know I don't take gratuitous risks, right?" He cups her face affectionately, and his eyes are full of passion. "But the most important thing is that I need you too. I'll always come back to you."

She pulls him close and kisses him senseless. They fall asleep holding each other.

Cooking, Natasha follows Russian tradition and makes everything from scratch, using only fresh ingredients, which definitely make her meals a lot healthier. Besides, the flavors and aromas are irresistible. After a couple of days, Steve is feeling amazing.

Even so, she keeps the intensive care. "Morning, babe," she wakes him up with kisses, and porridge with buckwheat and oat. Happily spoiled with all her attention, he eats everything.

Just as he finishes it, JARVIS speaks, "Good morning Captain Rogers, Agent Romanoff. I'm sorry to interrupt, but Dr. Banner is at the door and refuses to leave without seeing the Captain."

"I'll stay in the closet. JARVIS, let him in," she says.

"No. Wait, JARVIS." Steve is completely serious, "Nat, I don't want you hiding."

"I'm a spy. This is what I do best." She gives a quick kiss on his lips, before picking up the tray and leaving.

Not entirely satisfied with the circumstances, Steve puts on his black robe, and lets Bruce in.

After checking the soldier, the doctor is very pleased, "You're in excellent shape. She's taking good care of you."

The Captain replies uncertain, "I beg your pardon?"

"Steve, I wasn't born yesterday. Everything here has a woman's touch. A very gifted one. You got yourself a fine lady. Just introduce us when you're ready. I promise we'll try not to scare her too much."


The doctor smiles, reassuring, "Don't worry, my friend, your secret is safe with me."

As soon as the doctor leaves, Natasha comes to sit on the couch, by Steve's side. She's amused, "He has no idea it's me."

Still upset, Steve takes her hand, and apologizes, "I'm sorry, I didn't want to put you in this situation…"

"Steve, relax. I'm used to labels. I know you don't think less of me because I can play housewife."

"I find it amazing," he smiles coyly. "But I don't want you playing anything if you don't want to."

Leaning close, she squints, "Don't you like it?"

He looks so guilty and she finds him absolutely adorable. "I… I love… it," he confesses.

"So shut up." She smiles mischievously, "I know you think my greatest quality is my butt."

He blushes, "No, I don't." But she raises her eyebrows and he can't lie. "I do like…" Getting up, she twirls seductively in front of him. He opens his mouth, drinking in her beauty, and admits, turning deep red, "I'm a butt man."

Laughing pleased, she sits on his lap, and kisses him hungrily.

When they break for air, he holds her tightly, and says full of pride, "Nat, you're gorgeous, perfect. But you are so much more…" She looks at him puzzled, and he rubs his thumb on her cheeks, before speaking truthfully, "Your brain and your heart make you special. You are bright enough to accomplish whatever you want, and you have the heart to make anything happen. You just don't need the glory. You do what needs to be done." She blinks, astonished, and he asks, "What? You don't believe me?"

Honestly surprised, she sighs, "No, it's not that." He tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear, and she speaks shyly, "This is just… just how people describe you."

His eyes sparkle in contentment, "Maybe we aren't as different as you think we are."

This is something she can't let herself believe, or even admit that it makes some kind of sense… "Well, if you can be a genius, I can play the lady…" she says before thinking.

"Exactly! No more labels." Running his fingers through her silky hair, he kisses her once more. "And you are a lady. The most amazing one I know." He compliments sincerely, "Nat, you are incredible! And you make everything seem so easy. You can cook like you shoot a gun or hack a computer. There's nothing you can't do."

Embarrassed by his praise, she feels that she needs to tell him everything.

Taking a deep breath, she looks at him, and there's a deep sadness in her eyes, "I… I was married once, that's when I learned how to cook." Among other things, she mastered the culinary arts, as she did with everything in her life.

The change in her pulse, and the melancholy in her voice are enough signs that this isn't a happy subject. His brow furrows instantly, "I didn't know this…" and he wraps his arms around her.

She lets him hold her, while telling another hidden part of her past. "It was after the Red Room gave me the ballet dancer memories, the normal childhood, you know? They used it to cover the underage training. I got to be a housewife until they faked his death."

Steve's completely shocked, "Did you love him?" It's the first thing that comes to his mind, but immediately he regrets it, afraid of hurting her. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't… it's not my right…"

Yet her laugh surprises him completely.

"I almost killed him when he first tried to kiss me. He had lots of broken bones. I was the toughest ballerina ever. Anyway, it was an arranged marriage, I… I couldn't refuse. He was my first, I was only seventeen… I thought that was love."

The lack of emotion in her voice hits Steve hard. That's where the love-is-for-children came from. The idea of a young Natasha being coerced into a situation like this is disgusting… He hugs her tight not knowing what to say.

"He was a Soviet pilot, and when he 'died' in an accident, they asked me to honor his death serving my country. It was all staged to make me work for them as if it was my choice. I was legally an adult since I got married. Then, I became the Black Widow. But they couldn't fake feelings. Deep inside I always knew something was wrong. I found out it was all bogus when I met him again, as the Red Guardian, the Russian national hero. Ironic, right? Anyway, he died for real a few years ago."

It was a very dark period of her life and she had never wanted to remember any of it. Even so, seeing Steve wounded changed her priorities, and her instincts took charge naturally. All she wanted was to take care of him, with everything she had… and nothing would be better than homemade food. Now, talking to him, she realizes these memories didn't bother her anymore. She smiles reassuring, "Don't worry. I'm fine."

Steve, however, is beyond tense, "Nat… I…" But he swallows hard, trying to hide his increasing anger to not concern her.

Unfortunately, she perceives his reserve as rejection, and feels completely miserable. "You don't deserve this in your life…" she whispers, looking down, before quoting the movie, "You need to get far away. Everything I touch dies." That's what the veteran cop said to his girlfriend

"Oh, no!" Pulling her close, he captures her mouth in a passionate kiss, and she melts against him, forgetting everything else. When they pull apart, their eyes are locked, and he speaks lovingly, "Nat, you are my girl. My life. Never, ever, doubt that." Her eyes are teary, and he thinks she's still misunderstanding his feelings. He takes a sharp breath, before saying, "You need to stop blaming yourself for what those monsters did to you."

There's a rage in his eyes that she've never seen before and she gets alarmed.

Then he continues, trying to make her understand, "I am furious… feeling powerless… because I want to find whoever did this to you…" His words come colder than ice, "And make them pay."

Concerned about his still recovering state, she tries to calm him down, "Steve, it all happened a long time ago, they're all dead."

"They better be." His voice is so frightening that she realizes she doesn't know what he's capable of, if he really loses control someday. Looking at her worried face, he closes his eyes, breathes slowly, "I'm sorry. I don't want to upset you more… I shouldn't say these things to you…"

Cupping his face gently, she opens her heart, "Steve, I never felt so safe in my whole life."

The shadow vanishes and his baby blue eyes sparkle once more. Drawing him to her, she kisses him trying to show everything she's feeling through her kisses. Her trust in him is absolute and he holds her like he's shielding her from any harm. I love you.

After a while, he asks, "Promise me you're not going to watch depressing movies alone anymore, okay? Do you promise?" He's serious, but he's not trying to control her, far from it – she feels he really cares for her.

"I do," she smiles, biting her lower lip, before inviting, "Let's have a proper breakfast now, shall we?"

They go to the kitchen and he watches delighted, how happy she looks, gracefully preparing everything.

"These are Sirniki, fried cheese pancakes." She puts a large plate in front of him and covers it with sour cream. "But you know what? I like it."

"What?" He asks as she feeds him with a piece of the pancake. "Nat, this is divine."

She smiles proudly, "I like to cook for you."

He feels thrilled, "Really?"

"It's a skill that I have, among all the others. You got better and I feel good about it."

"JARVIS told me that my healing rates were faster than usual thanks to you." She blushes, and he takes her hand, kissing it, "You are beyond amazing."

Picking up her plate, she sits by his side, smiling shyly, "I have this memory of my mama cooking for me."

She's beautiful in a way that Steve had never seen before, and he puts his arms around her shoulders, pulling her close. "You told me it's about the feelings." Raising her chin gently, he says, "I've never seen you smile like this. This has to be real too, your memories of your mom."

Her eyes get watery, but they are full of gratitude as she replies, "You're really good on this memory thing."

"I just want to make you smile."

"Just keep eating, and don't die," and she kisses him.

Ya lyublyu tebya.

 Next movie: Fantastic Four (2005)

Extra scene: Chris Crush (Love scenes) Rating Mature

Chapter Text

New York. Avengers Tower.  Captain America's floor.

Steve never felt healthier… or happier before. After a few days recovering, he's back to his normal routine of early morning runs around the friendly neighborhood. Returning to the Tower, he's still full of energy, so he trashes three boxing bags in a roll and drinks his raw eggs before taking a well-deserved shower.

Natasha's resting when he lies back down in bed with her – it's still too early. In her sleep, she nestles into his arms as he curls up, spooning her carefully. Her body knows his, and it's a proof of how safe she feels with him that she didn't even wake up. Looking at her, he feels blessed and can't hold in the feeling. God, I love you. Holding her close, he savors her sweet scent and the softness of her skin, until he falls asleep again.

Sometime later, she blinks slowly, feeling his warmth around her. Stretching pleased, she turns to face him, and he greets her with a tender kiss, "Morning, sweetheart."

Of all the changes he brought into her life, this is one of her favorites – waking up in his caring arms. She smiles sleepily, "Hi, babe." Before she gets lost in his baby blue eyes, she notices diferent colors surrounding them. Turning around, she realizes there are flowers everywhere, and exclaims surprised, "Steve! What is this?"

Handing her a branch of multicolored forget-me-nots, his joy is contagious. "Can't I give flowers to my girl?"

Lighting up, her cheeks turn pinkish, "They're beautiful!"

He speaks full of love, "Beautiful flowers for my beautiful girl."

She loves how happy he looks when he calls her my girl. Biting her lower lip, she smiles teasingly, "Keep doing that and you might get lucky."

"I told you before, I'm the luckiest man in the world." Placing small, little kisses on her cheek and neck, he makes her giggle, before asking happily, "How about a French breakfast?"

Her eyes sparkle, "That sounds wonderful." She reaches around drawing his lips to hers, and kisses him avidly, leaving him breathless. Pulling back she smirks, "Food first?"

Grinning at her playful tone, he gets up promptly, "Yes, ma'am."

Looking around she admires the flowers – a mix of pinks and whites, as well as the traditional blues, forming a familiar pattern – and she's delighted. "Steve, I love them. I've never seen these colors together."

Putting the breakfast tray in front of her, he sits by her side, explaining, "Mrs. Helen, the florist in the market, do you know her? I stopped there today, coming back from jogging. She saved them for me because of these colors. They're forget-me-nots Sylva. She said they were Captain America's flowers, and I should give them to my girl."

Still blushing, Natasha replies, "They are a symbol of eternal remembrance."

Flashing his baby blue eyes, he smiles coyly, "She told me they also mean true love."

Her green eyes freeze for a second, but she speaks quickly, "I think the old lady was hitting on you."

Kissing her cheek, his voice is mellow, "Nah, she knows I'm taken."

"Maybe I'll go with you, next time, as a chaperone, you know?" she squints playfully.

Holding her close, his smile is almost cocky as he says, "I'd love it."

They talk and laugh, eating the delicacies of her favorite French patisserie, before getting ready for the daily tasks.

Since that last training day at S.H.I.E.L.D., when the spy dropped him on the mat, sparring with her has been a challenge for the soldier. Despite everything, Steve Rogers couldn't resist Natasha Romanoff – at least, not for so long – and she was well aware of it. But when the session is finished, he doesn't need to restrain himself, not anymore. He grabs her by the waist, full of desire, "Nat… You're driving me crazy."

She teases him, "That's the idea."

He is even more affectionate and devoted to please her. Loving her with all his passion, he gives her everything she wants. As they start to lose control, his voice is just a murmur, a mantra – he isn't conscious that he is saying the words out loud. "I love you. Love you. You…"

His words explode into her heart, as the waves of pleasure ripple through their convulsing bodies. In bed, like in life, Steve's great superpower is always within his heart.

It overwhelms her completely – she never felt this happy… and scared before. Natasha can't hold it in, and she cries.

After the double workout, they are both sweating, panting, and her eyes mirror his. She invites, "Shower?"

"My thoughts exactly." He staggers a bit to get up, but carefully keeps his hold on her, carrying her towards the bathroom.

Wrapping her arms comfortably around his shoulders, she sighs drowsily, "I told you that I was gonna get used to you carrying me around, didn't I?"

His smile is irresistible, "Why aren't you already?"

Bathed and relaxed, they cuddle on the couch – they can't take their hands off each other. Their connection is too strong and their lovemaking is always special, but somehow her tears today seemed different.

Steve worries even more after their intense session, "Nat, are you sure I didn't hurt you?"

Natasha sees in his eyes that he doesn't remember, or he didn't realize what he said out loud… and the powerful effect it had on her. "You never do, babe." She kisses him lovingly, choosing to ignore it, to think of it as something he said in the heat of passion, and whispers between his lips, "I trust my hero."

Silently blushing, he kisses her again and again.

Looking for a diversion, she suggests an action movie, "Do you know the story of the Fantastic Four?" Settling into his arms, she explains the events that inspired the motion picture about the scientists turned into heroes, who Steve met briefly at one of Tony's benefit parties.

Her guy plays Johnny Storm, and Steve can't help but tease, "Mr. Blond Ambition?!" Natasha punches him slightly on the chest.

Best friends Reed Richards and Ben Grimm join siblings Johnny and Susan Storm during the preparation for the trip to the Von Doom space station. Wearing a special uniform, Susan looks amazingly hot, but instead of complimenting her beauty, former boyfriend Reed is more interested in the suit, "Wow! Fantastic! Material made from self-regulating unstable molecules."

As Ben and Johnny look at a disappointed Susan, Steve frowns, questioning, "Reed is really this clueless?"

Natasha smirks, "Typical nerd behavior. He doesn't see anything other than science."

"Our geniuses aren't this way."

"Tony for sure isn't. You should've seen him when we first met, before he settled down with Pepper. The ultimate playboy. Fury had me working undercover at Stark Industries, as Natalie Rushman. You know the executive outfit I used the other day? It's hers."

Everything about that day at S.H.I.E.L.D. is still vivid in Steve's mind. As usual, Natasha was stunning, and attracted all the attention, especially from the men. Just the idea of her in Tony's office, makes him tense and he replies dryly, "I'd rather not think about it."

"Why?" Feeling his discomfort, she turns to look at him, "It was a mission. Don't you trust me?"

"Of course I trust you." Cupping her chin tenderly, he sounds as kind as serious, "I don't trust any man's thoughts about you, as a matter of fact."

It all happened three years ago, while Steve was still frozen, but she enjoys this possessive side of him. "Are you jealous?"

"Nat, just because they fear you it doesn't mean they don't fantasize about you."

She can't help but grin, "How do you know?"

"I am a man. Believe me, I see every single man around looking at you." He adds a little displeased, before clenching his jaw, "I've always seen it."

Biting her lower lip, she smiles, "Did you fantasize about me?"

Taken by surprise with her direct question, he blushes a little, "You know I do."

"I like it." Her eyes shine with satisfaction and she kisses him softly before turning back to the screen.

Hugging her tight, he whispers in her ear, "Me too." She shivers, feeling his smile as he kisses the nape of her neck.

In complete contrast with the romantic moment that the soldier and the spy are sharing, on the screen, Victor von Doom tries to buy Susan's affection, making a proposal as if it was a business agreement. Inside the space station, looking at the Earth below them, he offers, "Susan, every man dreams he'll meet a woman he can give the world to." The awkward situation is interrupted by the cosmic event they wanted to study – unexpectedly, it accelerates, and they end up being hit by a cloud of radiation.

Sighing, Steve says honestly, "I dreamed of having a family."

Natasha realizes it's an innocent remark, but with the I love you he let escape before – she can't forget it – it unfolds a truth that she can't even think about, let alone, dream of.

After a while he gets curious, "I didn't know Doom dated Susan."

"Actually, he didn't. He just wanted everything that Reed had."

"She isn't a thing."

Steve's the perfect gentleman who can say these things without sounding fake – it makes Natasha's heart flutter.

Back on Earth, recovering in an infirmary room, Susan wakes up surrounded by all kinds of flowers that were sent by Victor.

Natasha rolls her eyes, "Besides being extremely competitive, Doom is megalomaniac. This room looks like a generic flower shop." Hugging Steve, her eyes sparkle, "You made me feel special. Those forget-me-nots are officially my favorite flowers."

The look of contentment on his face is priceless, as he speaks coyly, "It's all I want, Nat, to make you happy. Is there any other flower you like?"

She blinks sheepishly, "The bouquet of red roses you gave to me… That was the first time I received flowers for real." Sounding almost ashamed, she explains, "The Black Widow doesn't do flowers."

Surprised by her sad confession, he pulls her into his arms, kissing her deeply, determined to cheer her up. When they break for air, he hands her another branch of the delicate flowers saying, "Not anymore."

Speechless, she finds it hard to think about anything other than him. How does he do that?

Breaking their perfect moment, Johnny argues with the nurse, who is concerned with his high temperature, "You're hot!"

But the young man isn't worried at all, and blatantly flirts with her, "Thank you. So are you."

Quite annoyed, Steve takes a sharp breath, "Another womanizer." Despite everything, it amuses Natasha to see him bothered by her crush.

The accident in space almost cost their lives, so Ben tries to encourage Reed to talk to Susan, pondering, "You know, you live through something like this, it really makes you appreciate having the right woman in your life."

Wrapped around Natasha, Steve kisses her head, and she leans into his touch. Caressing her arms, he whispers softly, "I agree," and she can't help but smile.

While Reed can't overcome his fears of commitment, Doom admits to his assistant why he wants Susan"Because I could have any other woman."

Natasha asks teasingly, "Did you want me because I was inaccessible?"

"Nat, I've been captivated since the first time I laid my eyes on you." Steve turns her in his arms, and replies gently, "When I saw a glimpse of the real you, the part you hid from everyone else." His lips touch hers sharing his passionate energy and she thinks she can't melt anymore… "You weren't a target," he continues, and she realizes she can.

Two years after their break-up, the former couple finally talks, and Susan complains about Reed's detachment, "It's nice to be wanted sometimes, Reed. To be seen and heard."

For the first time, Natasha pays attention to the romance in this movie and, almost in a murmur, she confesses, "You're the only one who really saw me… who wanted to see me."

Whispering in her ear, he places a kiss on her cheek. "You're amazing. I feel blessed you're mine."

Surrendering to his overprotective embrace, she closes her eyes, thinking, Me too.

Always demanding full attention, Johnny comes back interrupting both couples – on and off screen. After literally catching on fire and burning all his clothes, he's wrapped only in a ski jacket, exclaiming excitedly, "You are never gonna believe what just happened to me."

Once again, her guy is wearing almost nothing on that big screen, and Steve gets truly pissed, "He has to be naked in all the movies?"

Natasha can't deny it, she loves his jealous comments, but she doesn't want to make him uncomfortable in any way. "This is vintage Torch, you know?" Kissing his cheek, she continues, wanting him to focus on the character, not the actor. "Do you remember the joke Clint told about him?" The spy impersonates the archer, "Johnny is Stark in Cap's body."

She's talking about the looks but the soldier thinks about personalities and replies promptly, "But I'm not like him." She raises her eyebrows and he reaffirms upset, "I am not."

"You could pass as twins! Okay, brothers, because you're older." She grins, but he doesn't look pleased, so she adds in a seductive voice, "You're way hotter, babe."

He squints with a half-smile and she laughs again.

The movie continues and observing Susan and Johnny, Steve ponders, "Well, these two don't look like brother and sister. She doesn't look natural."

Natasha is an avid critic, and replies immediately, "Jessica Alba is a great actress but she's not Caucasian. I think there's a limit to what special effects can do. It was a shame."

The artist in him can't agree more, "Yeah… Her blue eyes are lifeless."

"Exactly. It makes it hard to connect with the character when you think it's all fake."

The soon to be Fantastic Four experience the transformations and each one is affected in different ways. Ben's fiancée, Debbie, breaks up with him because he becomes the Thing.

The spy always gets pissed at this part, "She's an idiot."

But the soldier's placatory commentary surprises her, "Some people can't deal with change. It's a limitation." She raises her eyebrows, as if questioning him, but he keeps quiet. Seeing the media buzz around the group when they first use their powers, Steve finally speaks, "You know, this is similar to what happened to me."

"How so?" the spy asks, curiously.

"I turned into an attraction. No one took me seriously, you know? Until I saved Bucky and the other soldiers."

Natasha read all about Captain America and remembers the story, "From the Hydra base in Austria?" Steve nods, a bit melancholically, and she snuggles in his arms.

The mailman Willie greets Reed"Welcome back to the Baxter, Dr. Richards." It gives the spy a chance to talk about a lighter subject. "This guy is Stan Lee. He wrote most of the comics about superheroes. He's a genius."

"Ah, I remember the name, he was in the Army, back in my day. He was one of the writers of Captain America's comics books and wanted to meet me in person."

"That is amazing!" Natasha looks excited as a child and Steve loves to see her that way.

Susan discusses with Reed about their previous break up. "There was you and me. There were no variables, no math." He lost her because she didn't know how he felt about her – the typical fear of commitment, a common couples' issue.

Stunned, Natasha gets it – she never had a true relationship before, that's probably why she didn't see the romance here. Truth be told, she had been drooling over Johnny, better, Chris Evans playing him. But now, all she can see and think about is… the love story.

Steve senses her slight tension, but he's not sure about what it is that's bothering her. He kisses her head, but neither of them say anything.

The Fantastic Four are a very dysfunctional family. Reed lives in his own mind, Johnny behaves like a teenager pissing Ben off all the time, and Susan mothers them all, "Guys, look, we're gonna be stuck here for a while, so let's just try and get along."

Natasha rolls her eyes, "Thank God we don't have teens here."

"What do you call Tony and Clint?" They chuckle thinking about the pranks the boys play on each other, and Steve replies, "I've been unharmed because they didn't find me here. They both fear you." The boyish look in his eyes is irresistible – she can't stop kissing him.

Johnny goes public exposing his powers and Reed reprimands him, "You need to control yourself and think before you act."

But the impetuous young man has a valid argument, "Yeah, but see, that's your problem. You always think, you never act."

That's a sensitive subject regarding the super-soldier. Natasha sighs and Steve admits shyly, "I know. You don't like that I'm in control all the time."

It never ceases to amaze her how well he reads her. "No, it's not that." She winks mischievously, "And you're getting better." Remembering their passionate encounter on the training mat of his gym, this morning, his cheeks turn pinkish. Straightening up, she speaks softly, "You know you can trust me, right? To have your back, to be here whenever you need me." She offers honestly, "I want you to be free to be yourself, even if it means to lose control sometimes."

But he's sincere as well, "Nat, I trust you in everything, I trust you with my life, otherwise I wouldn't be here." He drinks her in, green eyes full of comprehension, and, thinking for a while, he admits, "I know I need to relax more. I have to learn to. I'm trying…" He adds embarrassed, "I've been in control all my life."

"You don't need to be Captain America with me, you know?" She smiles kindly.

His answer, however, takes her by surprise. "This is before him," he sighs shyly, "I was always in the hospital, but I couldn't bother my mom because she had other patients to take care of."

The images of him as a sick boy fill her mind saddening her heart. "Steve…" she touches his face affectionately.

"I was proud of myself that I didn't cry." Steve leans into Natasha's hand and continues to remember his mother. "Mom would always come to see me, give me a kiss, a hug. It wasn't all that bad, it made me stronger."

He looks so young, adorable, and she can see the little boy in him. "I bet she was proud of you."

His eyes shine with gratitude. "She said she was. Sarah, that's my mom's name." Natasha reaches for him, and he hugs her close, before continuing, "You're right, Nat. I'm just overly cautious with my power. I don't want to cause any harm to anyone."

As if on cue, Ben struggles with his newfound super strength.

Steve pauses instantly, breathing slowly, and once more his eyes show his fear behind it all, "I can't even think of hurting you, Nat. I can't…"

She captures his mouth in a fervent kiss, and whispers between his lips, "You never will. You need to trust yourself, like I do."

Alicia Masters meets Ben"You know, being different isn't always a bad thing."

Cuddling in Steve's arms, Natasha considers, "Besides, I'm not easily breakable. We're both different."

Then he points out a truth she's not ready to admit. "We have to face our fears, right?"

The spy has always sought the unknown, what she had never experienced before. On her job, she wouldn't hesitate, but dig in and find out everything about anything. However, on a personal level, she has to expose herself and live through it to find things out. This is what scares her the most.

Right away, Reed confesses to Susan"You were right, it wasn't complicated. I just wasn't ready to."

But before Steve and Natasha could think about what they are or not ready for, Ben and Reed fight – seeing true friends hurting each other badly is upsetting.

It makes Steve remember when the Avengers first met. "We all fought under Loki's scepter influence. I said terrible things to Tony," he speaks sadly.

"You were rash, but you said what was true about him, how he was before," and she compliments him honestly, "You gave him the push to become a hero and part of the team."

Even so, he's truly ashamed, "Maybe, but I should've never said it that way."

"Tony said worse." She puts her hand over his heart, "You were always special, I read your file and Dr. Erskine's notes, that's why you were chosen."

Blushing, he squeezes her hand softly, "But we solved things, you know? We apologized to each other."

Raising her eyebrows, she replies, "Wow, I can't imagine Tony apologizing."

"It happened when JARVIS helped me to design that safety key to Tony's armor. Right, J?"

The A.I. answers, "Indeed. The master was pleased. His exact words were, 'No bottle could make a brain or a heart like yours', as he was praising Captain Rogers."

"This is so true," she smiles proudly.

Steve adds shyly, "He actually kind of did it again, after I defeated Hammer's robot. He said he wanted to learn my methods."

Natasha is definitely surprised, "Tony wanting to learn from someone is even more unexpected than him saying sorry."

JARVIS promptly agrees, "I witnessed it, and, still, I call it a highly improbable event." The couple laughs happily.

Undoubtedly, the best thing about the Super-Adaptoid's attack was an improved relationship between Steve and Tony. The Captain wants to make it even better, but needs to check with Natasha first. "I've been thinking about sharing the team's leadership with Tony. I have the level head to strategize, but he's the heart that keeps us in movement. Besides, I always have to convince him to follow the plans, anyway." Truly excited, he's hoping for her approval, "What do you think?"

"Steve, this is a great idea. Tony deals with this crazy world better than anyone and you're the only one who can keep him focused."

He smiles happily, "You think that too?" Taking her hand, he speaks charmingly, "Besides, it would give me more free time, for us."

She wasn't expecting this last part, and it hits her – they're having a normal couple's talk about decisions that will affect their lives… together. After a while she manages to say, "I think it's perfect."

The Fantastic Four work out their differences and become a real team, defeating Dr. Doom. Finally, Reed isn't afraid anymore and proposes, "No more thinking. No more variables. Sue Storm, will you marry me?"

Thinking about it for the first time, Natasha admits, "They make a great couple."

Steve pulls her into his lap and cups her face gently, "Not as great as us." Before she can say anything, he kisses her with all his heart and they get lost in the heat of their passion.

North Salem.

During the day that follows, Steve takes Natasha on a bike ride. Approximately 50 miles north of Manhattan, they have lunch in a lovely restaurant overlooking a peaceful lake. She knows the surroundings and asks curiously, "What are we doing next to the X-Men Headquarters?"

"You know Wolverine – you saved him from Hydra assassins, right? For me he's James Howlett, a friend since WWII and a former member of the Howling Commandos." She still looks confused and he explains, "Professor Xavier is the greatest telepath ever and Logan told me that he helped him to remember his past. He can help you too, if you want."

Her usually sharp mind takes time to comprehend the magnitude of what he was offering – a chance to finally unveil the truth about her memories. Mama. Although it's scary to have someone this powerful inside her mind, Charles Xavier is well known and almost as trustworthy as Captain America himself.

Her voice trembles, as she says, "I do."


The professor greets them, "Welcome, I'm Charles Xavier."

"Natasha Romanoff. Thanks for having us."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Natasha. Logan asked me to take good care of you." Shaking their hands, the professor continues, "It's an honor to finally meet you, Captain. Wolverine doesn't trust many people."

"Steve Rogers. The honor is mine, Professor. Your reputation precedes you," the soldier replies gratefully. "Logan is a true friend, and a valuable partner on any team. He's one of the bravest men I've known in my whole life."

The professor smiles kindly, "As you must know, I can read minds, but I'm also good at reading hearts. No man in existence equals your courage, Captain."

The spy nods in a silent approval, and the soldier replies humbly, "Thanks."

Charles offers them a place to sit, and asks Natasha, "I believe you have some questions, my dear. Don't worry, everything we say here will remain confidential."

Natasha's heartbeat races. Steve knows he must give them privacy, but he doesn't want to leave her. Their relationship isn't public, but there's no point of hiding anything from the greatest telepath in the world.

Instinctively, Steve looks in Charles' eyes, and hears his voice in his mind, 'She's safe here.'

The soldier finds himself unable to restrains his thoughts, 'She's the love of my life. Please, Professor, take care of her.'

'Don't worry, Captain, I will.'

Steve squeezes her hand, saying, "I'll wait outside." She nods and he shakes the professor's hand, thanking him before leaving.

Professor X is amazingly kind as people said he was. He confirms that the key for Natasha's memories are her feelings, as she already knew intuitively. The stronger the feeling, the more truthful is the memory, and he helps her to learn how to break the remaining forged ones. He says that there are no more active controls in her mind, left by the Red Room or anyone else, and that S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't change anything in it. That she broke the last controls by herself when she chose to follow Hawkeye, and that he is proud of her sheer will.

When she asks about Clint, Charles explains, "I said this to Logan once, the mind isn't just a box that can be unlocked and opened. But you've already found the path in yours." He tells her that she needs time to find a few answers for herself, and that she will, when she is ready for it.

His last words bring tears to her eyes. "What you have now, my dear, that's the most powerful feeling ever. If anytime you think you are losing yourself, hold on to it." Then he speaks in her mind, 'The Captain will keep you safe forever.' Finally, he offers, "He's waiting for you at the next door. Take your time."

Natasha thanks him profusely – he helped her regain her self-confidence – before leaving the office.

When she enters the waiting room, Steve closes the door behind them, asking, "How did it go?"

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulls him down for a searing kiss, "Thank you. My mama, she is as real as I remember her." He holds her, and comforts her, as she sobs in his arms, crying tears of joy and relief.

New York. Avengers Tower. Black Widow's floor.

Later that day, they are lying on her bed, entangled in each other, and Steve thinks about everything that happened. Looking at Natasha, he knows what he wants, and what he needs to do. "Nat," She looks at him and he gently takes her face in his hand. "Our lives are complicated, I know. But I don't want to miss any more chances."

Taken by surprise, she doesn't know what he's going to say, but somehow, her heart jumps…

Tracing his fingers along her jaw, he continues, "You didn't have a normal life, neither did I, but nothing else matters to me when I have you in my arms."

Her eyes get watery and she's not sure why.

Suddenly he blushes, "I read about your actor on the Internet." Her eyes open wide and he explains, "Since you told me he played me, you know? I was curious about him. He said one thing that I find really meaningful." He quotes Chris Evans, "When you're scared of something, that's exactly what you should be doing."

Recognizing the line, she can't help but smile. The actor had doubts about playing the superhero role. Although she thinks he's the perfect one for the part, it showed how conscious he was before making such an important decision that would deeply affect his personal life.

But when Steve speaks again, she can't think about anyone else.

"I'm scared too, but what terrifies me is to think of my life without you, Nat." He's absolutely sincere and tears fall from her eyes against her will.

"I can't live afraid of losing you." Loving blue eyes plunge into inquiring green ones. "You don't need to worry," his voice is a pleasant murmur, "I'll never hurt you and I don't want to pressure you." He softly rubs his thumb across her lips. "But I can't hold it in anymore."

Steve kisses Natasha gently, and whispers between her lips, "I love you."

This time he is saying it for real and she freezes entirely. If there is one part of her that is truly inexperienced, it's her broken Russian heart. It feels like he's reaching the most hidden part of her, exposing her completely… claiming her soul as he did with her body. His. She can't think, move or even breathe.

Sliding his fingers through her red hair, he tries to comfort her, brushing his lips on hers, as if kindly saying she doesn't need to say anything…

After a few moments she exhales shortly, and blinks, in silent understanding. Completely speechless, she is… happy… as never before… and absolutely terrified.

He knows her – she is vulnerable, and he can't leave her feeling this way. Once again, he kisses her, thoroughly, passionately, until she finally relaxes. Steve holds her as if their lives depend on it, whispering, "This is stronger than anything I felt in my whole life. I love you."

Me… too.

Next movie: London (2005)

Extra scene 1& Extra scene 2 Chris Crush (Love scenes) - Rating Mature

Chapter Text

New York. Brooklyn.

With Natasha by his side, Steve feels happy as never before. Determined to create new pleasant memories for her, he takes her everywhere. It's an opportunity for them to be young together, and enjoy life in a way that neither of them had the chance before – as a normal couple. Among other things, he likes to show her the places he used to go, back in the 40s.

Parking his bike at Brooklyn Bridge Park, he leads her to a quiet spot, far away from the crowd, but still with a great view over the East River. He likes to come here to unwind from the constant chaos they live in, especially after a tough mission. Sitting on a park bench, they watch the sunset over Manhattan, enchanted by the scene revealed in front of them – a simple spectacle of nature.

Nestled in his arms, she speaks quietly, trying not to disturb the perfect scene, "It's so beautiful."

"It's one of my favorite places, since I was a kid," he explains, "The park is new, but the sunset hasn't changed. The beauty of the colors, the peace that it brings… It's all the same." Among other loving couples, this is the perfect environment for them to relax. He whispers, with a boyish smile, "Nobody notices us here," and they kiss each other lovingly.

Since they got together, they've been vigilant to keep their privacy. JARVIS helps them all the time. Even so, the spy knows they'll be discovered sooner or later.

"Clint is suspicious again, you know? Did you see how he was glued to me on the last mission?"

The three Avengers were investigating a report when they were ambushed by a hit squad. The heroes defeated the villains, but their leader escaped, promising revenge against Captain America. To make it worse, the criminal looked exactly like an allied operative not seen since 1944, and the soldier became very distressed.

During the fight, Hawkeye saved the Black Widow's life and Steve couldn't be more grateful. He replies, relieved, "I trust him to watch your back."

More abruptly that he would expect, she straightens up, pushing him away. "What are you talking about? I don't need a babysitter." Since he declared his love for her, she has been very distressed, snapping about anything.

Overly cautious, he tries to explain, "It's not that, Nat."

Noticing the change in his heartbeat, she pauses, scrutinizing him. Despite being raised in a sexist time, Steve never treated Natasha as a weaker gender, and the spy never felt passed over because she was a woman. On the contrary, because of her analytical mind and field experience, the Captain would often rely on the Black Widow as his second in command. Concerning the team, his tactical decisions were solely based on each one's skills and powers.

Confused, she asks sternly, "Don't you trust me to take care of myself?"

Gently, he draws her back to him, as he continues, "Of course I do. You are more than capable of taking care of us all. You're my number one, aren't you?" He gives her his charming smile, before continuing, "I'm sorry. It's me. It's my limitation."

But the slight tremor in his voice betrays him, and she questions, "Steve, what's the problem?"

He doesn't lie, and he can't escape her inquiring green eyes either. Taking a sharp breath, he replies, quite ashamed, "I can't focus… without knowing you're safe. My enemies… they can target you."

This obvious truth shakes her deeply.

The mission turned out to be very risky, and she remembers seeing the panic is his eyes turn into relief when he found her safe with Hawkeye. The Captain always kept everything hidden behind his mask, but not from her. Even before they got together, she had seen how he used to double check on her. To be honest, she was always concerned with his safety as well.

"Our job is dangerous, Steve. It's what we do."

Holding her a little closer, he's nothing but honest, "I lost everyone in my life…"

No matter what, Natasha doesn't want to see Steve stressed. "I'm not going anywhere, okay?" Resting her hand on his chest, she tries to reassure him, "I saved Clint's life twice that day."

Leaning in, he whispers, "Nat, I can't lose…"

But she presses a finger on his lips, saying, "You won't," before kissing him passionately.

Avengers Tower.

Sadly, in just a few days, they receive tragic news.

After interrogating one of the captured hitmen, S.H.I.E.L.D. identified their leader as a former MI6 spy, known as Richard, codename Bravo. In 1944, after an accident in a secret Hydra base, he was trapped with Allied and Hydra soldiers, in a dimension called Nowhere, in which they didn't age. Apparently, a recent volcanic eruption near the now abandoned base in the Alps, opened the portal to this dimension, freeing them. Somehow, when Bravo emerged, he was leading good and bad guys altogether, set in a plot to destroy Captain America.

Except for Thor, who is back in Asgard, the team is gathered in the Avengers Assembly Hall, analyzing the bizarre case, when JARVIS interrupts them, "I'm sorry, Sir, Captain Rogers. There's a personal report you both must see."

Arriving at that moment, Pepper stands by Tony's side, speaking agitatedly, "I got a call."

After checking the information on his StarkPhone, the genius puts his hand on the soldier's shoulders, "I'm sorry, Steve." All looks turn to the Captain, who continues to read the report in silence, when Tony announces gravely, "Margaret Carter died. The funeral will be tomorrow afternoon, in Paris. What time do we need to leave, JARVIS?"

"Paris is six hours ahead of New York, Sir. I suggest the departure at 7:00 A.M., with the estimated arrival at 1:35 P.M., local time. The Aven-Jet will take only 35 minutes to fly the distance of 3,530 miles between the two cities, at air speed of Mach-8."

Steve agrees silently, and Tony replies, "That's okay, JARVIS." After a pause, he reminisces, melancholically, "I remember her since I was young and my father was around. I called her Aunt Peggy. They ran S.H.I.E.L.D. together back in the 40s. She was very kind when my parents died."

While comforting Tony, Pepper's also concerned about the Captain, "Steve, do you need anything?"

"No, thanks, Pepper. I think we better get ready, if you'll excuse me," he leaves quietly.

It hurts Natasha seeing him walk alone, and she has to resist the urge to follow him right away, but she doesn't know what to do in front of the team.

As soon as the soldier is out of the room, Clint talks to the group. "We better get going too. Cap's not okay. Last year, we went to visit Agent Carter at the nursing home." After the battle of New York, the archer stayed by the soldier's side helping him with everything – an act of gratitude for the Captain's support, but also a way for Hawkeye to avoid the animosity towards him, after being mind-controlled by Loki. That was one of the things that helped the two men to become friends. Clint continues, upset, "She was 93 years old but recognized Steve immediately, acting as if they were still in the past. She even complained about him missing a date. He was pretty shaken when he left, but you know him, he didn't say a word."

Looking at the files, Sam points out, "Both Agent Carter and Bravo worked with MI6 and SSR."

Shaking his head, Bruce ponders, "Poor Steve, it's too much to deal with concerning his past."

Natasha adds, immediately, "Besides, the cemetery is an easy target."

"It's settled then, we're all going," Tony commands.

Captain America's floor.

Sitting in the dimness of his studio, the Captain reminisces about the past, with old photos and documents. Natasha never saw him looking so devastated, and she doesn't know how to deal with this. Hugging him from behind, she rests her head on his shoulder, speaking softly, "I'm so sorry."

Leaning in to her caring touch, tears fall silently from his sad blue eyes, as he says, "She'll be buried with all the honors she deserved." On his desk, his StarkPad shows the details of the ceremony, next to a photo album, with pictures of the Howling Commandos. Pain and guilt flood his heart, as he remembers that one soldier, whose sacrifice was just as great, went out without any honors or recognition. Bucky Barnes, his partner and friend. Sorry, Buck.

Hugging him tight, Natasha stays by his side, silently trying to comfort him. Her eyes, however, are fixed on the file Steve is holding with trembling hands… precisely on Peggy's photo. The Russian spy can't help but think how beautiful the British agent was, and her heart sinks to her feet as she wonders if she may be nothing but a rebound in his life.

"Peggy died in her sleep, peacefully," his voice is just a murmur, but it brings the spy back from her thoughts, and taking care of him takes priority.

Gently, Natasha takes his hand and invites, "You need to rest. Tomorrow will be a long day."

Without saying a word, Steve stands up and follows her to their bed. Emotionally drained, he falls asleep holding her close, as she rests her head on his shoulder. But it's a restless night.

Suddenly, his arms lose the grip on her and fall on the bed, waking her. Sweating and trembling, he's plagued with dreams he hadn't had in a long time… nightmares of war… "Buuuc…"

It's the first time it happens since they got together, and she senses his body shuddering. Although she fears to wake him up, she can't stand to see him suffering like this. "Steve…" she tries for a while, touching his face softly, but he doesn't show any sign of recognition. It's distressing to see him struggle, while remaining unbelievably steady – even sleeping he stays in control. Her voice is shaken when she finally says, "Steve, please… it's me, Natasha."

He opens his eyes, gasping, "Natasha," and touches her with surprising gentleness, "You hurt?"

"No, babe, no," she tries to relax him, "You were having a nightmare."

His voice is slightly groggy, as he says, "Bucky… I couldn't save him…" That's the thing he regrets the most in his life, and it has been haunting him, since forever.

With the lamplight, she can see the pain in his sleepy eyes, and feels devastated. "It was a bad dream," she tries to shush him back to sleep.

Enfolding her completely, in his protective arms, he murmurs, scared, "I can't lose you."

"You won't, babe, I'm here," she gently strokes his hair until he's relaxed and breathing evenly.

Holding her tight, he whispers in his sleep, "Love you… Nat…"

Natasha's heart is shattered… She loves him so much that it hurts, but she thinks she's too damaged to deserve someone as good as him. Terrified about not being able to compete with Peggy's memory, she's also afraid to see what's right in front of her. In his most vulnerable state, Steve shows how much she means to him, when she learns the words that always ease his heart, "It's Natasha, I'm safe". It works with every single nightmare…

Keeping vigil all night long, Natasha cries silently…

In the morning, the super-spy hides her exhaustion behind special makeup and contact lenses, in a perfect Black Widow facade. Wearing a traditional black pantsuit, she looks just ready for this type of event. In his Army uniform, Steve looks very distinguished, always handsome and impressive, but the sadness in his semblance shows he's mourning a special friend.

When they take the elevator, Natasha has decided to do whatever it takes to be by his side, even if it means exposing their relationship – she won't leave Steve alone in this difficult moment.

Avengers Common Area.

Fortunately, Clint seems to think exactly the same. As soon as the secret couple arrives in the common area, the archer stands by the soldier's right side, holding his shoulders, before signing to her. He's doing everything he can to take care of his friend, and trusting her to help him.

Her heart is filled with gratitude but, keeping her impassible mask, the spy plays her part, taking the place by their Captain. Natasha feels Steve's tension relieve discreetly, when their hands instinctively lace together. Despite the unusual display of affection, they act as if this is nothing but a very supportive and cohesive team.

Paris. Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Nick Fury joins the team attending the private service for family and close friends. Other former members of the Howling Commandos, James "Logan" Howlett and Timothy "Dum-Dum" Dugan, come to talk to Captain Rogers. Wolverine greets the Black Widow, who secretly thanks him for the help with Professor X. Old partners talk about their missing friends.

Steve doesn't let go of Natasha's hand, or leave Clint's side, and the three Avengers remain together, even as they give condolences to Peggy's great-niece, Sharon Carter. Despite this, the blonde takes the Captain by the arm to introduce him to her family and close friends. Solemnly, Captain America talks to everybody, while praising Peggy's accomplishments. But the spy can read the soldier, anywhere. Underneath his public persona of war hero and living legend, the man is shattered – more than ever, Steve is uncomfortable being displayed like a trophy.

Looking at each other, the spy finds resonance in the archer's worried eyes. Bravo's threat is a reasonable excuse to keep their Captain shielded, so Clint doesn't hesitate to rescue the soldier, bringing him back to their side. As soon as Natasha takes his hand, Steve sighs relieved. Although subtle, the act of intimacy is noticed by Clint, and the archer finally realizes what's right before his eyes – something is definitely going on between the soldier and the spy.

Not far from there, Bruce stays with Pepper, helping her to support Tony – the funeral brought up sad memories about the genius' parents. Sam maintains a respectful distance, observing everything in surveillance duty, while S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps the place heavily secured.

After the funeral service, they walk through the graveyard, and Fury asks, curiously, "You pulled some strings to get her buried over here, Steve?"

The Captain replies proudly, "Didn't have to. Her work with the French Resistance was never forgotten. They were honored this was her last request."

Melancholic, Dugan remembers, "Yeah… Peg loved Paris…"

New York. Avengers Tower.

They fly back in absolute silence.

Natasha notices a few looks towards them, when the soldier clings to her hand, but since Clint remains by the Captain's right side, she acts as if it's not a big deal.

At the Tower, she walks with Steve to the elevator, and it's implied she'll take him to his room. The spy part of her hopes that the team understands it as a solidarity act… her womanly side doesn't care about anything or anyone but Steve.

Captain America's floor.

Finally at his place, she tells him to shower and change, while she fixes some food. He doesn't complain and obeys silently. Completely exhausted, they lie in the bed holding each other, only hoping for a peaceful night.

Just before drifting away, he whispers, "I love you, Nat."

Without thinking, she replies, "Ya lyublyu tebya, Steve," but he's already fast asleep.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters.

In the days that follow, the Avengers capture Bravo and the rest of his Hydra squad, when he tries to kill the Captain once again. The most shocking part of his story, however, was his personal motivation – Richard had been Peggy's boyfriend until she dumped him to join Steve's team.

"Wait a second…" Tony asks, surprised, "You stole Aunt Peggy from another guy?"

"Not exactly… It was complicated…" Steve would never betray his friend's memory by revealing anything from her personal life. Completely uncomfortable, he says, "But he sure saw it that way."

Fury ponders, "What did you expect, Rogers? You were stronger, faster, younger…" Watching how stressed the Captain looks, the Director wonders about how much of his performance would be compromised by Peggy's death and Bravo's attack – a coincidence too tragic to be neglected. Worried, he advises Steve to take a leave of absence, "You need R and R like anyone else."

"I'm fine, Sir, really, and I'm a super-soldier."

"You're a man! Now be straight with me. Why are you dodging the downtime? You got something against having a personal life?" Fury seems truly concerned, and since no one knows about Steve's relationship with Natasha, the Captain can't contest him. For all that counts, the soldier is as much a workaholic as the spy.

Pointing out the advantages of the new shared leadership between Captain America and Iron Man, Tony says he'll keep things under control, "I'll call if we need you to save the world."

Avengers Tower.

Not used to taking vacation, Steve's unsure of what to do, until Natasha arranges some days off herself, and invites him to travel together, "A whole month. You and me. Where do you wanna go?"

It's the most tempting invitation, and he can't refuse her anyway, specially looking so excited. He suggests, "I always wanted to visit Alaska."

She raises an eyebrow, "Seriously? With all that ice?"

"It must be peaceful," he smiles shyly and she agrees instantly.


Taking Natasha's flying car, they turn off all tracking devices – only JARVIS can contact them in case of emergency. Using an alias, Steve rents a log cabin next to a very beautiful lake, in a remote area a few miles from Anchorage.

Being in the wild, surrounded only by nature, Steve relaxes completely – he jogs, chops wood, goes fishing, and sleeps without any nightmares. Natasha tries new recipes – it's not easy to find Russian ingredients everywhere. As JARVIS predicted, she masters the culinary arts. They eat all the time and he helps her cook and clean. Both artists, they discover another common passion – music. He plays an old guitar he found in the cabin and they sing a lot together. She dances for him and he draws her everywhere. Every day they take long walks, holding hands, enjoying the great outdoors.

Forgetting the world outside, they love each other passionately.

After a few weeks of perfect bliss, Steve wants to watch the Dodgers. Used to the state-of-art technology in the Tower, he finds the simple TV limited, but enjoyable nonetheless. Lounging on the king-size bed, they watch the game together, and he explains everything to her. He's happy as a child, and she's thrilled to see him so joyful. Surprisingly, the movie that follows is with her favorite actor, and he asks, playfully, "Look who's there. Wanna watch it?"

Hesitant, she frowns, "It's a crazy movie. You'll hate it."

But he feels so relaxed and at peace that it doesn't bother him at all, besides, he always wants to please her. "No problem, a little crazy can't hurt."

During the whole time they have been there, they hadn't talked about anything that happened over the past few days, and she worries about the effect that it had on him. Consciously or not, movies are their tool to talk.

The movie is very depressing, about lost, lonely people, who use drugs indiscriminately and discuss heavy subjects. Her guy plays Syd, a young man insanely jealous of his ex-girlfriend London. Through flashbacks, Syd revisits their troubled relationship, before summoning up the courage to face her one last time.

When Syd gives London a bulldog, Steve sighs, "I always liked dogs, but I couldn't have any pets because of the asthma." A few scenes later, in the middle of all the madness, he recognizes a face, "That girl…"

"Your visual memory is infallible." Natasha kisses him, before explaining, "The actress is Kat Dennings. She played Darcy's part in Thor's movie."

But that was the only fun part. Centered on the fear of commitment, the movie affects Natasha deeply – Syd couldn't say 'I love you' to London, and ended up losing her.

As it ends, Steve's brow is furrowed in disapproval, "You were right. This is the craziest movie I've ever seen. But your guy did a good job being both creepy and pathetic, I give you that." Shaking his head, he asks, "There are people really this lost? How can any of these be called a relationship?"

"You don't let people in, you don't get hurt. This is the basics these days," she replies dryly.

"They lied, cheated, they didn't believe in anything. No way it could've worked." Kissing her cheek, he relishes in the feeling of having his girl in his arms. "A true relationship must be based on trust."

Lying on his chest, she leans into his touch, sighing lightly, "I told you that you wouldn't like it."

After a brief moment, he ponders, "The movie title was what got my attention. I thought about the city. Do you know that Peggy was from London?" After experiencing the devastation of mourning once again, he finds joy remembering the good and funny memories about his lost friends. "When Howard was showing me the shields prototypes, Peggy actually shot at me, have I told you that?"

Natasha knows all the stories people tell about him, but this one has a particular point that got her curious, and she won't miss the chance. Staring at him, she inquires, "What did you do?"

Her beautiful green eyes captivate him entirely, and he swallows hard, before replying, "I'm not naive, believe me, I know that a woman can be more dangerous than hundreds of Hydra soldiers." The spy can't help but laugh. "I learned that lesson the hard way," he smiles ashamed, as he confesses, "I was kissed by a Private and Peggy saw it. She got furious, that's why."

"So, that's how it happened back then?" Natasha teases him, with a hint of jealousy, "I didn't think you were this easy…"

"No, of course not," he chuckles embarrassed. "I was waiting for Colonel Phillips outside his office in the Allies Headquarters in London, when his secretary praised my rescue mission in Austria. She was pretty and we flirted, I can't deny it, but she caught me by surprise. I hadn't expected that she would be that forward in the middle of a military facility."

Natasha gets disappointed, "You were flirting with another woman while dating Peggy?"

"What…? No! Me and Peggy… we never dated." Surprised by the redhead's assumptions, he adds quickly, "I wouldn't cheat, Nat. Ever."

"But weren't you two involved?" The spy is quite confused. "Didn't you love her?"

Taking a sharp breath, his voice is completely serene, as he answers firmly, "Peggy and I shared only one kiss, just before my last flight. Nothing else ever happened between us."

"I don't understand. Bravo wanted to kill you. You kept her photo on your compass…"

Of the women who had passed through Steve's life, the British agent was the famous one because her photo on his compass had been captured in some war movies. Also, she knew the Howling Commandos, and her file was part of the team. When the soldier woke up, after sixty-six years under the ice, he complained about the date he had missed… with her. In reality, no one knew their true story, because that was a private one that remained in the past.

Resting his chin on Natasha's shoulder, he speaks calmly, "Peggy wasn't a typical woman back then. She was strong, determined, I always admired her for that. Richard was an older guy she met when she started to work for the British intelligence, and she told me they were just 'soldiers in need of company', but he thought differently. Anyway, everybody has a past. After being shot at by her, we realized our mutual attraction, but we were both committed to the work, to win the war. I thought we would have time after." Pulling Natasha to his lap, Steve enfolds her into a loving embrace. "It was a promise, a dream, but it never happened. It wasn't meant to be," he says honestly.

Natasha blinks quickly, trying to understand the meaning behind everything he's saying, before averting her eyes. "It must have been hard for her…"

"I'm sure she missed me, but she lived her life fully, thank God. Dugan told me they all worked together at S.H.I.E.L.D., and that she dated Gabe Jones – also a former Commando, skilled soldier, great friend, and a gifted jazz trumpeter." After placing a soft kiss on Natasha's lips, Steve smiles sheepishly, "Do you know what she told me when I went to visit her?"

"She complained about the date you missed." The spy confesses, embarrassed, "Clint told me."

The soldier's voice gets a little melancholic, "Yes, at first she was back in the past. It hurt me a lot seeing her that way. But we started to look at a photo album, and she remembered many good things. She told me she had a good life, and that now it was my turn." Feeling his eyes moisten, he smiles shyly, "Even if only for a moment, she was my friend again, strong, smart, feisty. The one who helped me to stay focused on what was important." Cupping Natasha's face carefully, Steve grins, "She asked me, 'who's the gal', and if I had found my right partner." His baby blue eyes shine with contentment, as he says, "She saw you inside my heart."

Natasha gasps, "Why me?" That's the question troubling her soul…

"How many times do I have to tell you that what we have is the real thing?" Leaning in, his lips touch hers, and Steve kisses her deeply, until they're both breathless. Their connection is so strong that their kiss is worth a thousand words. It eases both their hearts. His happiness is contagious, "Nat, it's only you that I want, because I love you." Her beauty is breathtaking, but she's vulnerable, fragile, and he can't let her feel that way, so he invites, "Do you want some wine? By the fireplace?"

Natasha nods quietly, and Steve picks her up, carrying his girl to the living room. With the snow falling outside, the fire was already lit, warming the cozy one bedroom cabin. Laying the redhead on the leather couch, he puts a blanket over her, before turning to pick up the drinks.

Watching Steve pouring a glass of red wine, and the flames dancing in the fireplace, Natasha gets lost in her thoughts… the perfection of that simple moment… too perfect for someone like her. As she's opening her heart for him, trusting in his love and devotion, she also opens the most hidden door inside herself… one that she kept locked for so long that her conscious mind pretended it didn't exist. She's completely unprepared for the overwhelming flood of emotions that erupts through it…

"How can you love… me?"

Steve turns immediately, and the look on his face is one of absolute surprise. Sitting by her side, he enfolds her with his caring arms, and she feels safe, warm. After kissing her softly on the lips, he replies, "How couldn't I?"

In a time when she was trapped with false memories of being a Bolshoi ballerina, words of patriotism and duty, branded in her head, drove her to accept marrying the war hero Alexi Shostakov. The cruel reality was that the Russian pilot was a self-centered narcissist, not really different from any of the deep-rooted sexist male countrymen around her. A shadow falls over her as she thinks how young and naive she was, treated like a prize… a toy. No wonder she felt nothing but cold… Alexi's words of disdain come out of her mouth before she realizes she's repeating them, "I'm a cold woman."

More shocked by her defeated visage than by her statement, Steve cups her face gently, saying firmly, "No, you're not. Whoever said that, is a blind fool." It's an implied question, and he takes a deep breath, trying to prepare himself for what will come next – the last thing he wants is to upset her, so he needs to tone down his jealously.

"Shostakov," she says, embarrassed, averting her eyes.

"Are you sure he's dead?" A small laugh escapes from her mouth, as she looks back to him, and he's pleased at making her smile. "Don't let one single jerk bother you, okay?"

Unfortunately, she can't help but remember another guy, whose words had the same somber and diminishing meaning. "I destroy everything I touch."

Shaking his head in absolute disbelief, he frowns with a half-smile, "I have to beat up this other idiot, too."

They stare at each other for a moment, until she rolls her eyes, saying, "Murdock."

The Daredevil was just another example of the destructive kind of man she found herself drawn to, and that only brought her down. A chauvinist womanizer, that saw her like an object too. Without exception, the only four guys she got close to, reinforced the concept that a woman like her could never be loved for real… just used. That was what she believed, until she met Steve Rogers…

"If they couldn't see who you really were, they didn't deserve you, Nat." His deep blue eyes are completely open, exposing his noble soul for her. Then, he smiles, brightly like a sunray, making any dark memories faint. "But the past doesn't matter anymore, okay? We belong together, and we have a future ahead of us."

Blinking slowly, she murmurs nervously, "How can you be so sure?"

Drawing her to him, he kisses her again. Gently, his firm lips enfolds hers, savouring each part of her. His tongue carresses hers, in a slow, delicious assault, not letting her speak or think, anymore. When they break for air, he replies, "Because I never felt this way in my whole life."

Once again, she averts her eyes, and rests her head on his broad warm chest. After a while, she speaks almost as if complaining, "You didn't exactly answer my questions…"

Surprised, he chuckles, "You're right…" and then he speaks in the most charming manner, "Do you remember the first time you invited me to watch a movie? After trying to set me up with some woman. You took pity on me…"

That isn't the answer she was expecting, and she gasps confused, "I was testing you." Thinking about their chat in the Quinjet, several months ago, when she was pretending to set up a date for him, Natasha blushes, "I didn't understand why you didn't date anyone."

Steve pulls her to his lap, where she always fits perfectly, and he gives her a dashing smile, "Because of you, Nat. It was you in my dreams. I was asleep and you woke me. You made me feel alive. And when you danced with me, you took my heart forever."

Remembering the ball, Natasha asks a little uncertainly, "Tony said I looked like Peggy, and that you should like me. Do you remember?" After seeing the soldier and the spy arrive at the ball together, and dancing, the genius hadn't missed the chance to mock them.

Shaking his head, Steve replies, "I do. But you two couldn't be more different." Sensing her reticence, he pauses for a while, reading her, before saying, "You are not a replacement for anyone, Nat." The relief in her eyes is unmistakable, and she melts in his arms as he places a tender kiss on her lips.

Once more, he's nothing but honest. "Peggy chose to be strong, to live her life that way, and she pushed everyone around," he explains. "When Bucky died, I was pretty shaken, and she basically told me to stop whining." He chuckles, ashamed, "She was right, we were in the middle of a war. I had a job to do. That was the world Peggy and I were born in. Men were supposed to be strong and I had already been born sick. After the serum, I had no other option – I had to be the super-soldier, the symbol. She didn't expect weakness from me. No one did."

Just the idea of him being so vulnerable stirs Natasha's instant caring reaction, and she touches his face softly. She realizes how heavy was the burden placed on his shoulders, how lonely he had been, and her green eyes dive in his blue ones, full of compassion.

"You didn't have a choice either, Nat. You needed to be strong to survive." Leaning into the tenderness of her touch, he smiles shyly, "But you never judged me. On the contrary, you keep telling me that it's okay to be weak sometimes – that I can relax after all. With patience and kindness, you took care of me when I got hurt, and you soothed me when I was having those nightmares." Picking up her hand, he kisses it softly, before holding it close to his heart. "You were my lifesaver during the funeral, giving me the support to be the public person but also reminding me that I could be just a man." Their eyes get watery. "I know I have a lot to learn about not being in control, but I know you'll be by my side helping me, accepting me with all my flaws." Caressing her face gently, he says, "I can be myself with you."

Overwhelmed by Steve's words, and the flood of emotions that they inspire, Natasha finally understands the depth of their love… one that is based on the complete acceptance of who they really are… as humans. Reaching for him, she kisses him passionately.

"When I first saw you, it wasn't your strength or your beauty that captured me. It was your heart, what I saw inside you that I didn't understand but desperately needed… that was what captivated me." Steve gives her one of his irresistible smiles, "You are unique, Nat."

As tears fall from her beautiful green eyes, she murmurs, "I'm Syd, the screwed up guy, right?"

"No you're not, sweetheart. You're a blessing in my life." Kissing her tears away, he holds her close, "I never felt this happy before. I never loved anyone like I love you."

Natasha buries her head against his chest. "I don't want to love anyone but you," and between tears, she whispers, "Ya lyublyu tebya."

Steve remembers these Russian words, as Natasha said them before. Delighted with the heady realization of what they mean, he replies with all his heart,"I love you too."

Next movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Expanded scene: Chris Crush (Love scenes) Rating Mature

Chapter Text

After spending an entire month in Alaska, Steve and Natasha were more connected than ever. Their vacation turned out to be a great test for their relationship. In a very normal environment, they got to know each other better, sharing private time and learning daily habits. Despite their very different origins, they ended up finding lots of common interests, enjoying every moment together. They talked openly about their pasts and feelings – there were no more doubts.

The perfect moment was when, with the most romantic ballet solo ever, Natasha broke her last frosty barrier, exposing the passionate fire within her heart. Steve found himself completely hypnotized, admiring her breathtaking performance… "I love you, Nat."

They joined as one, in the most exquisite dance, giving themselves over to their love, driving everything else from their minds. All the emotions she expressed with her body were surfaced, exploding inside her… "I love you, Steve."

By allowing herself to love and to be loved in return, she ended up reaching the most hidden part of him – his fear of losing control. They opened themselves entirely, experiencing a whole new set of emotions – the ultimate proof of trust for each other. Undoubtedly, it changed them both. It allowed them to strip themselves completely from their superheroes personas to be just the woman and the man for each other. They couldn't be happier.

Even without realizing it, they were both ready for the next step. However, they had no idea about the obstacles ahead of them.

Just before it was time to return, Steve accepted a call from Fury, who asked him to check a report from the White House. A high-tech military facility had been hacked, so the Director assigned Natasha to the mission. Thanks to that fortuitous occurrence, the soldier and the spy spent one more week traveling and working together, in perfect synchrony.

Finally back to New York, Steve left Natasha at home, before going to S.H.I.E.L.D. for debriefing.

Avengers Tower. Black Widow's floor. 06:00 PM.

A few hours later, Steve arrives at her floor, bringing Russian dark chocolates, and Natasha greets him happily, "I missed these, but I missed you more." Flinging her arms around his neck, she draws him to her, and they kiss each other passionately.

When they break for air, he sighs, "You have no idea how much I wished I hadn't left your side."

Noticing his tension, she checks him over for any signs of trouble, but she finds none. So, she inquires, "What's wrong, Steve?"

Looking exhausted, he shakes his head, saying, "You're not gonna believe what happened to me… It's a long story. I'll tell you everything but, please, let's eat first, okay? I'm starving."

"Come," she smiles kindly, "I ordered Brooklyn Style Pizza."

"Oh! God, I love you!"

She smirks, "I know you do!"

They enjoy the crispy pizzas and cold beers, lounging on the comfortable velvet couch. Steve checks the sports on TV, and Natasha indulges herself with the chocolates.

After a while, knowing that he still needs time to unwind, she invites, "How about a fun movie?" She offers him a piece of the sweet candy, but he pulls her close, kissing her instead.

"Anything my ballerina wants," he replies coyly, savoring the chocolate taste from her lips.

With a delicate flush of pink coloring her cheeks, she melts, pleased to see him a bit more relaxed. Then, she asks JARVIS to play the film and snuggles in Steve's arms.

Based on graphic novels, the story is presented as a videogame. It focuses on the difficulties of making a relationship work when the loserish, teen-age-looking Scott Pilgrim falls in love with the girl of his dreams, the hot, experienced Ramona Flowers. To date the girl, he needs to defeat her seven evil exes, on a journey of self-discovery.

The movie's quest takes Steve by surprise and he laughs. Puzzled, Natasha raises her eyebrows, "What's so funny?"

"Let's just say that I had to fight for you today."

"You've got to be kidding me," she frowns in disbelief.

"I swear, I felt a lot like this guy Pilgrim…"

As the movie progresses, Steve tells Natasha about the unbelievable encounters he had during the afternoon.

"It started with Fury."

Matthew Patel is Ramona's 1st evil ex: looks like a pirate and has mystical powers.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, New York. 02:00 PM.

Captain America and Black Widow had accomplished the mission without any incidents, in record time. The Captain personally delivered the sensitive information acquired to Nick Fury, and after finishing the quick debriefing session, the Director seemed pleased.

"Good to have you back, Rogers. The President's satisfied. I have to say you earned your downtime."

"It was a team effort, Sir, but thanks," Steve replied, getting up ready to leave.

Fury, however, remained seated, and said calmly, "I'm glad you finally started to enjoy it."

Confused, the soldier asked, "Enjoy what?"

"Your personal life."

Shortly after the battle of New York, the super-soldier had taken mission after mission, working non-stop, and the Director had admonished the Captain about that seemingly unhealthy behavior. Unbeknownst to everyone, Steve had wanted to keep working also to be close to Natasha.

"I appreciate your concern, Nick," the soldier replied, politely, before walking to the door, "It was good to take this time out, but I'm ready for duty."

"Just one word, Cap. Agent Romanoff is my number one. She's like a daughter to me."

Startled by the personal comment, the Captain turned around. "I beg your pardon?"

Standing up, the Director spoke sternly, "I hope you know what you are doing." Clearly concerned, Fury almost didn't sound like himself.

Steve wouldn't lie, not even to deny anything. Even so, he wouldn't let anyone pry into his personal life, not even Nick Fury. The soldier said gravely, "With all due respect, Sir, I don't see how that's any of your business."

"You live in the spotlight. Natasha lives in the shadows. I don't want to see her getting burned."

That was a side of their professional lives that the Captain hadn't thought about, but he reacted promptly, answering firmly, "Neither do I." The whole situation was totally unexpected and the soldier left Fury's office suspicious about the Director's motivations.

Unfortunately, that had been only the first of the challenges Steve was about to face.

Raising an eyebrow, Natasha shakes her head, incredulously, "I know Fury trusts me, as far as he can trust anyone, but… daughter? We don't do personal."

The Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. had backed Hawkeye's call, offering the Black Widow a second chance, when the super-spy defected from Russia. Quickly, she became one of the top operatives – her marks were the highest ones in the agency's history and her efficiency was outstanding. Soon, Fury was relying on her as his favorite agent to solve high-level cases, and even calling her his 'lucky charm'. He was one of the few people who knew some things about her dark past, and she had helped him to keep his own secrets, on several occasions. Both members of the shadowed world of espionage, they ended up establishing a trustful working relationship.

"I can't say I wasn't expecting something. I saw him looking at us during the funeral," she admits.

"I'm sorry I wasn't fully alert there," Steve kisses her hand, confessing timidly, "I didn't want to expose you, but I wouldn't have borne it without you by my side."

"There's nothing to be sorry for. You needed me."

He smiles sheepishly, "I always do," flashing his baby blue eyes.

She kisses him tenderly, whispering, "And I'm here."

Wrapping his arms around her, he speaks sincerely, "Men like Fury don't have a life outside the job. I guess that's the best he can do. The thing is, he seems to truly care about you."

"Are you sure he was worried about me?" Leaning her head on his shoulders she ponders, "Because he does have a special deference with you. A respect he doesn't show with others."

He chuckles, "Believe me, I felt like I was talking to your father, or something like that." Rolling her eyes, she gives a small laugh, as he continues, "But you're right, too. We do have history. His father served with me." Rubbing the back of his neck, Steve tells her about another meeting, just after he was thawed.

The Director took the super-soldier to a safe-house, "I've been saving something for you," and showed him an old bike, "My dad passed this down to me. He said it belonged to you."

The Captain was surprised, "My motorcycle. But how?"

The older man explained, proudly, "My father's name was Sgt. Jack Fury. You saved his life in the war. I grew up hearing all the stories. He idolized you and so did I. Anything Captain America needs, ever, S.H.I.E.L.D. will provide for you. It's an honor to meet you, Captain."

Natasha exclaims with admiration, "Wow! That's why you keep that bike locked up! It's really worth it!" She can't help but be proud of her man – the hero for so many generations and, still, absolutely humble about his accomplishments. "Now I get why Nick went to that Brooklyn gym to ask you personally to join the Avengers. It's not like him to go after anyone."

"Really? I didn't know that," the soldier replies modestly.

"Yeah, Fury sent me to recruit Bruce in Calcutta, and Coulson to get Tony. But he didn't let anyone talk to you before him. Phil was beyond frustrated."

The Captain adds shyly, "Nick plays tough but he's not a bad guy," and after a brief pause, he ponders, "The problem is that we can't trust him entirely. He lies all the time about everything."

"We're spies, Steve. Survival is complicated," she sighs, before turning to face him, "Don't worry, I'll deal with Fury later. He won't bother you anymore."

The soldier replies firmly, "He can't bother me. Besides, officially, I'm a consultant, like Tony." Enfolding her in a caring embrace, he continues, "I'm worried about you."

Natasha smirks, "You don't need to."

But he insists, "Fury has a valid point. Besides…"


"Phil got me upset, too."

Lucas Lee is the 2nd evil ex: pro-skateboarder turned movie-star.

03:00 PM.

After Fury, Steve's second meeting was with Coulson.

Since his miraculous resurrection and new high-profile assignment as head of the special team on 'The Bus', Phil Coulson has been S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most famous agent – a star. Although he had been relieved of all his previous duties, the agent had remained in the prestigious position of being Captain America's liaison – Coulson would rather die, again, before giving up this task to anyone else. Even extremely busy, always traveling around the globe, whenever possible, the agent would find a way to check up on his favorite superhero.

At the end of their reunion, Coulson asked nervously, "Cap, may I speak with you about a private matter?"

Always concerned about his friend's health, Steve replied, "Of course, Phil. Is everything okay?"

"I've been revising the paperwork and I found some unusual data."

"What's wrong?"

The agent got directly to the point, "The mission in D.C., with Romanoff. It has only one hotel room reported – yours."

Steve didn't expect anyone to care about this, since they were, in fact, saving the agency's money by reducing the mission's expenses. Frowning, the soldier remained perfectly still, with his arms crossed on his chest, without saying a single word.

Coulson swallowed hard, before continuing, "I don't mean to pry, Captain, but these files are also checked by the administrative personnel. A gossip like this can damage both your reputations." After a brief pause, he explained, "S.H.I.E.L.D. non-fraternization policy, like in most law-enforcement agencies, is more like a precaution to avoid unprofessional behavior, abuse of power. Of course, it doesn't apply to the Avengers but, technically, you are her boss."

The Captain kept the friendly tone but commanded sternly, "I want to be informed about any rumors regarding any one of my team members, including Agent Romanoff, is that clear?"

"No problem, Cap. I'll personally check it and report it to you."

Visibly uncomfortable with the whole story, Steve replied dryly, "Thanks."

Talking as gently as possible, the agent gave one final piece of advice, "But, be careful, Cap. You are too watched. People envy what they can't have. She can become a target."

That got Steve truly furious, and he spoke with sheer determination, "Not on my watch."

Both Fury and Coulson had gotten under the Captain's skin, addressing the downsides of having a private relationship in a workplace environment. As a leader, Steve had vouched to protect his team, but as a man, he would go further to keep his woman shielded from any harm.

Natasha rolls her eyes. "Damn. We can't hide anything from Coulson. I thought that with his new team, he wouldn't care about us, but I forgot he'll always have time for you," she teases.

Holding her in a protective way, he's as caring as upset, "I don't want people talking about you."

"The Black Widow always lived surrounded by gossips," she is undisturbed, "Don't worry, I don't care."

Steve, however, is completely tense, and replies resolute, "Nat, I do."

Resting her head on his chest, she speaks with a hint of guilt and shame, "I'm sorry. I never wanted my reputation to bother you."

Gently, he raises her chin, "It's the opposite of that. It's my life, my public figure that's putting you in danger."

Sliding her fingers through his soft blonde hair, she pulls him in for a tender kiss, before replying calmly, "Look, I think Coulson exaggerates everything about you. There are no gossips…"

"No one would say anything in front of you. They fear you, right?"

"Did you hear anything?"

"Sam made certain commentaries."

Todd Ingram is the 3rd evil ex: liar, narcissist, rockstar with psychic powers.

04:00 PM.

As soon as the Captain left Coulson's office, he met the Falcon, who spoke excitedly, "Hi, Cap! Great to have you back. Do you have a minute?"

The rookie has been devoted to earning his place on the team, always wanting to improve, and had looked up to the Captain. Although Steve wanted to go back to the Tower – to Natasha – as quickly as possible, he couldn't ignore the young man's request. "What can I do for you, Sam?"

The Falcon led the soldier to an office nearby, explaining, "I was studying past missions to learn how to deal with super villains. Regarding the Chitauri attack to New York, I found S.H.I.E.L.D.'s surveillance videos very educative." There were several images from that battle, on the multiple screens around the room – the rookie pointed to one of them, and hit play. "Here, for example. The way Black Widow manipulated the God of Mischief was truly a masterpiece. She's the definition of cold, always in control, and here she tricked Loki pretending to be a real woman."

That commentary alone almost made Steve snap, but the tense dialogue on the video diverted his attention, until they heard Natasha's fateful answer, 'Love is for children.'

Keeping his anger under control, the soldier spoke sharply, "What do you need me for?"

Absolutely clueless, Sam continued, "I wonder if you could revise the strategies with me."

Trying to remain focused on the job, the Captain gave the rookie his assignment, "Write it down. Prepare a schematic of the battle with every main point you find. I'll check it when it's done."

Furious, Steve left the Headquarters without looking back.

The distress signs are all over Steve's body as he complains about Sam, "How could he talk about you that way? Was he trying to imply something?"

Natasha tries to calm him down, "I don't believe Sam meant to piss you off. He worships you. Besides, that's how everybody sees me. Nobody knows me like you do…"

Truly upset, the soldier continues to vent, "Why would he show me exactly that part? Why Loki? The guy is an idiot, a criminal. Just an arrogant cheater who thinks he's above everybody."

"So the problem was Loki, not Sam," hugging him tight, she ponders quietly, "Yes, Loki is dangerous. He's not even here on Earth and he found a way to upset you."

Frustrated, Steve protests, "The way he threatened you, he had no right to insult you that way!"

Suddenly it's obvious what's bothering him, and Natasha won't miss the chance to set things straight. Giving him a full body embrace, she speaks affectionately, "Steve, what I said that day… That was the truth in the past. I didn't know what love was before you." Relishing in the comfort of their bodies aligned together, he sighs relieved, and his eyes sparkle.

"I love you," she whispers, before capturing his lips in a searing kiss.

When they break for air, he replies, quite embarrassed, "I love you so much, Nat. I'm sorry, I'm tired and I overreacted." Caressing her face softly, he speaks, full of admiration, "I'm very proud of the way you mislead that pompous rascal." Blushing, she snuggles in his arms, but he lifts her chin gently, before continuing, "You are too talented and too special. I don't want our relationship jeopardizing your career."

"What made you think of this?"

"Pepper told me about her personal experience."

Roxie Richter is the 4th evil ex: former roommate, half-ninja.

Avengers Tower. 05:00 PM.

After the stressful meetings at S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve made a quick stop at the Russian coffee shop to pick up dark chocolates for Natasha, while trying to clear his head. When he arrived back at the Tower, he met Pepper in the main hall.

"Steve, welcome back!"

Since Tony had invited the Avengers to move in, Pepper Potts had become their amazing host. Early on, the CEO had found a rapport with their team leader, Captain America, and they had naturally teamed up to keep the oversized-superkids in line. Both altruistic and very polite people, Pepper and Steve had established a natural, cordial friendship.

Always the gentleman, he kissed her hand, "Pepper, you look lovely."

"Thank you. You look great too. How was the vacation?"

"It couldn't have been better", he replied as they walked towards the elevator.

"I can see," she squints, smiling, "She's really good for you."

"Excuse me?" he replied, surprised.

The look she gave him was unmistakable, and she spoke confidently, "Steve, I'm supposed to know everything that happens inside the Tower, right? Besides, the staff is already talking about it. Your laundry bags are on her floor, you order room service for two. You almost never sleep in your own bed. It isn't worse because they're afraid of the Black Widow." She gave him a small laugh, but he looked down uncomfortably, so she added gently, "It's okay. I think it's great…"

"Pepper, I don't want to sound disrespectful, or ungrateful. I can't thank you enough for your hospitality. But my private life…"

"Steve, I understand," she replied sincerely, "I only hope that you know what you are doing."

He couldn't believe she was asking the same question as Fury. "What do you mean?"

"Natasha is tough but she's a woman. I can tell you, it's not easy to date a boss. People talked about me getting preferential treatment and my skills weren't worth anything once I was reduced to being Tony's lover. It hurt, and I had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously again."

"I can only imagine," he paused pensively, before questioning, "Does Tony know…?"

"No, don't worry, I didn't tell him anything. I assumed you two wanted your privacy."

"Thanks, Pepper, I really appreciate it."

As usual, she was nothing but kind. "Steve, I know you're not the kind of guy who would hurt her, intentionally. But be careful, okay? She's my friend too."

The blonde's attention towards both of them touched him, and he smiled sincerely, "Always."

But despite her good and caring intentions, the CEO's friendly concerns were resonant with everything Steve had heard before, worrying him even more.

"Pepper has been asking me insistently about you," Natasha's almost gloating, "She'll be so jealous."

Over the past five years, the two completely different women had ended up establishing an interesting bond. Despite being undercover spying on them in the beginning, Natasha's mission was to protect Tony and she saved his life. Besides, she was the first attractive woman not to fall into his bed. Those were enough reasons for Pepper to like the redhead. The CEO of Stark Industries was wise and smart to deal with the genius' eccentricities while running his billionaire empire – that alone made the blonde admirable in the spy's eyes. Since the Avengers, they found relief in each other's company in the middle of the super-boys' club.

"What do you mean?" Steve asks puzzled, "She's with Tony."

Sliding her nails over his chiseled chest, Natasha speaks seductively, "He doesn't have your body, babe. Pepper's committed, not dead." The redhead can't help but laugh at his incredulous face, and continues to tease him, "Don't tell me you haven't seen the women drooling over you. Like at the last party! Don't you remember Darcy staring like a schoolgirl?"

Of all the things she's saying, it bothers him what today people think is acceptable for people in a committed relationship. He frowns, "So, do you look at other guys too?"

She can't deny it, she loves when he gets jealous. "Don't be silly!" Her voice is mellow and reassuring, as she smiles playfully, "You are the hottest!"

As always, he's nothing but earnest, "I don't look at anyone but you."

She gazes at him lovingly, but he's almost pouting, so she intertwines her fingers around him, planting small kisses along his jaw and neck, until he melts in her arms. With a beaming smile, she replies, "Steve, I don't look at anyone like this. I never did. It's only you that I desire and love."

Holding her with all his passion, he kisses her lovingly, and when they pull apart, he opens his heart, "I love only you, Nat. And you know me… I can't even think of you being hurt because of me."

"Oh, babe! You will never hurt me!" Her green eyes shine with absolute trust, "Besides, even having a nightmare you were worried about me. Don't you remember?"

He blushes, "I was?"

She finds him absolutely adorable, and tries to ease him, "Yes. You need stop worrying…"

"Nat, I'm not worried about you being harmed physically. I'll never let that happen. But these gossips…" he sighs, upset, "I don't want anyone saying I'm using you."

"Who said that?"

"Tony and Bruce implied."

Kyle & Ken Katayanagi are the 5th & 6th evil exes: bad-ass twins, expert roboticists.

05:20 PM.

Steve bid Pepper a farewell, before entering the common floor. "Fellas," he greeted his friends.

Definitely two of the greatest intelligences alive, the Science-Bros – as Clint had dubbed Tony and Bruce – had developed a special connection apart from the other team members. They would spend most of their time brainstorming about anything, from saving the world with groundbreaking inventions, to mundane gossips about their team members. No surprise, the shy, reserved man-from-the-past had been a favorite target of their pranks.

Bruce was welcoming, "Steve! How are you?"

But Tony didn't waste any time, and cut to the chase, "So, Cap, I think it's true."

The Captain creased his eyebrows, replying, "What do you mean?"

"You do have a woman hidden under your shield," teased the genius.

Immediately, Steve glared at Bruce who spoke embarrassed, "I didn't say anything." Tony rolled his eyes and the doctor confessed, "Well, I merely made a commentary about your quick recovery after the Adaptoid's attack. That it was a success thanks to the proper care you received."

"And since you refused to be attended to on the beyond-state-of-the-art medical floor that I assembled for the team, it's obvious that you had private care." Tony continued to mock the soldier, "So… Who's the sexy nurse?"

Steve replied, sternly, "Tony, I'm not in the mood for your jokes…"

"You can't hide forever, you know? Even though you charmed JARVIS to be loyal to you…" the genius continued, persistently.

"Sir, I don't think this is the appropriate term."

Always jealous of the A.I.'s deference with Steve, Tony replied almost complaining, "You do have a crush on Capsicle, JARVIS. Don't deny it."

Steve stared skeptically, while Bruce burst out laughing, and JARVIS replied unaffectedly, "Sir, my circuits are incapable of emotions."

But Tony continued his overconfident speech, "Anyway, as I was saying, I'm the genius who built JARVIS. So, no matter what, he can't keep secrets from me."

"Sir, you programmed me to ensure and respect the privacy of each Avenger. You implemented this mandatory directive that can't be overridden, not even by yourself."

Laughing presumptuously, Tony continued, "It's not what you said, JARVIS, because you didn't say anything. It's what you didn't say. How smartly you were trying to avoid my direct questions in regards to our Captain here and a certain hot red-haired…"

The direct reference to Natasha shook Steve's already over-stressed equilibrium, and he warned, steamed, "Tony! So help me God, if you make one more wisecrack…"

Taking the hint, the doctor intervened, breaking the last straw, "I told Tony it was improbable because Natasha doesn't fit the profile of a… You know, she's a… She isn't that kind of woman."

Without thinking, Steve took the immediate offensive, "What kind of woman is she?"

The truth was beyond evident, and Bruce turned to Tony, excitedly, "Bingo! I told you!"

The genius replied sarcastically, "I can't believe it. The American grandpa tamed the Russian femme fatale."

Tony had crossed the line, and as a man, Steve reacted impulsively. Grabbing  the genius  by his shirt, the Captain ordered, "Stop now!"

Raising his hands in surrender,  Tony  replied quickly, "It's a joke, Cap. Relax."

Feeling completely ambushed, Steve breathed in as he let  the genius  down.

"I'm sorry, Steve. We didn't want to piss you off," Bruce tried to make amends, "You're a man. This is good for you, normal, healthy." Despite his placatory tone, the doctor was still fishing, "You seem happier. So, it's a friends-with-benefits kind of…?"

Steve couldn't hear anything else, anymore, and stormed out, leaving the two scientists talking happily to each other about the successful experiment.

Natasha is astounded, "You actually grabbed Tony's shirt?"

Turns out that both Steve and Natasha are facing the challenge of dealing with new emotions.

Historically, in the time in which he was born and raised, the ideals of men as macho were at the highest levels. With the concepts of chivalry and gentlemanliness, he also knew that a man must always provide for and protect his woman, in every aspect, including, and especially, her honor. As a hero and a man, Steve can't deny his origins, his old-fashioned upbringing. However, the balance between controlled and relaxed is even more complicated to sustain when he has to deal with today's disregard for everything. People call joking what he always considered bullying.

"They played me like a child," Steve nods mortified, "I couldn't handle it. They didn't respect you."

Seeing things in a lighter way, Natasha tries to make him relax. "Don't take it too seriously. Tony jokes about everything. It's his feeble way to connect with people. And Bruce likes to push our buttons, to unleash the anger in everyone else but himself. Together, they are worse than mischievous kids." Her Black Widow's instincts take charge and she winks, "Don't worry, I'll make them pay."

Relishing in the comfort of her caring arms, and her wise words, Steve sighs, sadly, "The problem is that secrecy makes people think the worst."

He's right, she has to admit it, but she can't deal with everybody poking into her personal life, like the archer already does. Suddenly she realizes they're missing the most important member of their dysfunctional family. "What about Clint?"

This time Steve can't help but laugh. "He actually gave me a shovel talk."

Gideon Graves is Ramona's last evil ex: the powerful leader of the League.

05:40 PM.

Frustrated and embarrassed by his outburst with Tony, Steve walked away. When he entered the elevator, he found Clint already inside. It was a relief to find a friendly face, and the soldier greeted him, "Hey, man, I'm glad to see you…"

But the archer shot immediately, right on target, "Who the hell do you think you are?"

Shocked by the aggressive tone, the soldier straightened up, asking, "Excuse me?"

"What are you doing with Natasha?"

Of course, if everybody already knew it, Steve wouldn't expect to hide it from the marksman, who happened to be the spy's partner and best friend. He sighed, quite defeated, "Clint, that's private."

"You stopped going on our hunting-nights a long time ago and I was wondering who got your attention. Now, I'm seeing you two closer than usual, and you touch her all the time. She doesn't like to be touched!" He had that Hawkeye's scrutinizing gaze that was impossible to escape from, and he was pissed off, "You were holding hands during the funeral!"

Steve didn't have any more strength to fight. "Clint…"

"She was missing during last month, at the same time you were on vacation! Coincidence?" The archer pointed his finger in the soldier's face, threatening, "Cap, listen to me. I'll follow you to hell, but don't play with her, okay? Bottom line, I will take you down."

The archer's honesty and loyalty to Natasha touched Steve's heart, and he smiled, "Thanks, man."

The soldier's reaction took Clint completely by surprise. Taking a step back, he started to analyze the younger man in front of him – not the hero, not his team leader, but his friend – and put the pieces together. For the past few months, both Steve and Natasha had been more reclusive, and secretive than ever… and they seemed… happier. Realization took hold of him, and the archer softened his voice, "I don't usually miss, but when I do, man, I miss big. I didn't see that coming. I mean, you two. Thinking about it, it makes all the sense in the world." But after pausing for a moment, he gave an accusatory look, "But what is it? A fling? Are you messing around with her?"

Outraged, Steve glared at Clint, but chose to ignore the rash words, knowing that the archer spoke out of concern for Natasha. Taking a deep breath, the Captain said firmly, "I think you should know me by now. Have you ever seen me playing with anyone?"


"Don't you trust me?"

Clint was straightforward, "I trust you more than myself."

Toning down, Steve was nothing but honest, "Don't worry. She's important to me."

"Okay," the archer sighed relieved, chilling out too. After an awkward silence, he admitted, "I haven't paid attention. I guess I was too busy with my own life." For the past month, Clint had been dating Barbara Morse, Agent 19 of S.H.I.E.L.D., also known as the Mockingbird. "Bobbi gives me hell about Natasha. She says I'm an idiot, that the Black Widow doesn't have a heart." He smiled, embarrassed, "You know how women are when they get jealous. Bobbi can't understand it, but I love Nat as a sister, you know it, right?"

"I do," Steve gave him a half-smile.

"Natasha acts tough, and I'm not saying that she isn't, but she's more human than she wants to admit, okay?" Clint took his older brother role once more, but spoke with care, not anger, "Don't you dare hurt her."

Visibly more relaxed, Steve replied firmly, "I'd rather die first."

It was the archer's turn to be touched by the soldier's sincerity, and he replied happily, "But I'm watching her close. You know it, right?"

More than grateful, the Captain patted Clint's shoulder, "I don't trust anyone but you to do that."

With no more delays, Steve hurried back to Natasha's loving arms,

After telling her everything, Steve is quite relieved knowing that the archer cared this much for Natasha, and replies, "Clint's the real deal."

"He is," she smiles, "I couldn't ask for a better friend. I have to talk to him."

"He understands it, now that he's with Bobbi."

Natasha rolls her eyes.

"You don't like her? She seemed like a nice lady."

"She doesn't like me! She's always marking territory, showing that she and Clint are together."

"She fears you. She's jealous and doesn't understand your friendship," stroking her hair from her face, he caressed her cheek, "When she sees that we're together, she'll relax, believe me."

"You do understand a lot about women sometimes, don't you?" she teases him.

Pulling her close, he gazes at her intensely, "I know people. And I don't know any woman who wouldn't feel threatened by you."

"You say this because you love me," she bites her lower lip.

"Yes, I love you. But I'm saying it because it's true," and he kisses her lovingly.

With Natasha in his arms, Steve watches the end of the movie, thinking about everything that happened.

Nega-Scott is Scott's alter ego and dark side, representing his past mistakes.

All the crazy confrontations Steve had today, with their unpleasant insinuations, unleashed a different side of him, and he's definitely troubled by it. "You know I'm not like this, I don't lose control. But this whole gossip thing is messing with my head," he sighs, beyond disappointed. "It has been a long time since I felt this powerless… I couldn't do anything to defend you, without exposing our relationship." The simple truth is that Natasha is his weak spot, and it leaves him more vulnerable than ever. "It felt like I was getting beaten by bullies again, but this time you were the one getting hurt. It was a living nightmare." He can't let things continue this way, and he has already made up his mind, "Nat, I need to do the right thing. I don't want to hide anymore. I can't."

"Let's not make it a big deal," she tries to dissuade him, "They will talk for a while and forget about it."

But there's no stopping the Captain when he's decided about something. He cups her face tenderly, and speaks wholeheartedly, "In the past, I was blind to what was really important. I thought that being stronger was everything I needed. Then, after the super-serum, I only wanted to fight the war. But then I got frozen and lost everything."

Captured by his penetrating gaze, she breathes slowly, trying to understand what he means.

"I got a second chance, and now I know what's really important. You are my priority, and I won't neglect our life because of anything else." His lips fall softly upon hers, and she feels like melting. Then, he leaves no doubt, saying firmly, "I want everybody to know I'm serious about you. That we're together for real. Anyone messing with you will have to face me." Holding her hand on his, he kisses it gently, before asking, "I want to call you my girlfriend… You are my girlfriend, right?"

Lots of things come to her mind, and Natasha swallows hard. She didn't use any titles after her staged marriage. She never had a reason. But, with Steve, everything is real, and she realizes she has to face her past mistakes too. He deserves it and he's worth it. Especially flashing his deep blue eyes, that makes it impossible for her to say no.

"I am," she smiles shyly, before asking, "Everybody, you mean the team, right? Are you sure?"

"Yes. I can't even think about what I could do if I hear any disrespectful comment about you again." His eyes are full of anxiety and with a hint of anguish, as he replies, "I can't lose myself again." After taking a sharp breath, he winks seductively, "Except in your arms."

Her heart flutters, and she whispers between his lips, "You better." But then, thinking about it all, she snaps, "Why did everybody talk to you? They think I'm a damsel in distress? That I can't protect myself from the super-soldier?"

Steve can't help but laugh.

"This is not funny at all," she pouts, punching him slightly.

He whines, playfully, "Hey! I didn't do anything, why are you hurting me?"

"It's your fault! They think I'm weak next to you."

Grabbing her hands, he holds her close, and she loves when he does that.

"Nat, you're amazingly smart, tough… and hot!" he breaths next to her ear, sending shivers down her spine. And, as always, he's completely honest, "You wanna know the ugly truth?"


"I think everybody fears you more than me. You know, Ramona is way scarier than Scott."

Relaxing instantly, she melts under his coy gaze, and laughs pleased, "So, you did like the movie!"

"It's hilariously crazy, but it's fun to see the skinny guy beat the crap out of everybody and get the girl for a change. And your guy is good at being bad," he jokes, and she laughs more.

Natasha thinks how lucky she is for having Steve in her life. He definitely is the perfect man for her, who knows exactly how to cheer her up. She respects him above all, and understands how difficult it must have been for him to adapt to this modern time – and still is. He changed so much for her, already. Yet, there are some things that he can't change, things that make him the man she loves. No matter how strong and independent she is, he's going to protect her, he needs to. That's how he was built. Although she's still unsure about being seen in this girly role, the romantic Russian woman inside her loves to be taken care of by her hero. And after everything they shared in Alaska, the most rewarding feeling is that she can be her real self with him, and so does he. Besides, in their privacy, she doesn't mind being whatever he wants her to be.

She couldn't be happier and she intends to show him how much.

Avengers Common Area. Next Day.

The Captain gathers the team and Pepper, and announces proudly, "In the spirit of full disclosure, I would like to tell you that Natasha and I are in a serious relationship."

Pepper speaks kindly, "This is lovely! You are perfect for each other."

"What's news?" Tony rolls his eyes, "Are you moving in with your girlfriend or not? We could use the…" With a simple glare, Natasha cuts him off, and the genius swallows hard.

Not wanting to anger the resident assassin, Bruce plays the gentleman, "I'm happy for you both. You need to teach your secret to make Steve recover so quickly, Natasha." The spy looks disapprovingly at the doctor who mutes immediately.

And that's all it takes. The Science-Bros will definitely behave for a while, afraid of the Black Widow's bite. Steve smiles pleased.

Oblivious to the subtle communication, the rest of the team continues with their commentaries.

"Lady Natasha and the Captain, noble warriors with noble hearts! I salute you both," Thor praises them enthusiastically.

Sam, as usual, is totally surprised, "Wow, I didn't know the Widow dated."

Clint kicks the rookie, but remains silent, until all eyes turn to him. The archer points to the soldier, "I have an arrow with your name on it." Everybody laughs and Clint comes close to the spy, saying, "You know, I'm always on your side."

Keeping her cool facade, she gives him a half-smile.

Steve was right – they talked to him because he's friendly. Other than Clint, and most recently Pepper, Natasha didn't have friends. That's the catch. Now she's allowing people to get close to her, to know her. It's as exciting as terrifying.

Scott Pilgrim had to face his personal issues, but Ramona Flowers had a challenge of her own.

Envy Adams is Scott's ex.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters.

A few days later, after completing another successful mission, Natasha tells Fury about her relationship with Steve.

The Director reacts as expected, "I don't care as long as it doesn't interfere with the job," and she leaves his office, satisfied.

The cafeteria is full of noisy agents, but when the spy finds the soldier, she takes a deep breath. A wash of anger runs through her body, as she sees him sitting at a center table… with Sharon Carter.

Always alert, Steve immediately sees Natasha and his eyes shine happily, making her smile. Unaffected by the crowd around them, they can't take their eyes from each other, as she walks towards him.

Since the funeral, the Captain has been sympathetic with Sharon in respect of Peggy's memory. But the redhead spy arrives just in time to hear the blonde agent openly hitting on him.

"Has anyone ever told you how handsome you are when your eyes flash that way?"

The passionate Russian woman can't accept that, no way, and she decides that she won't hide either.

Using all her Black Widow's alluring presence, she doesn't think twice saying loud and clear, "I have." All eyes turn to the sexy redhead, as she leans in, and kisses the Captain's lips slowly enough to make everybody around freeze in silence. Without taking her possessive green eyes from his thrilled blue ones, she continues, "Every night and every morning, throughout the past year."

Then, with the most deadly smile on her face, the super-spy stands up, facing the perplexed Sharon.

Steve has to control himself not to laugh, and replies quickly, "Well, I gotta talk to Fury before he leaves. Ladies, if you'll excuse me." Getting up, he nods to Natasha, and she can see the mix of surprise and satisfaction plastered on his face.

Soon after the Captain leaves, the crowd starts to buzz.

After what seems like an eternity, Sharon speaks, but her voice lacks conviction, "I didn't know Rogers was this easy of a target, Romanoff."

The Black Widow replies sharply, "Too bad you're a cheap shooter, Carter." Then, before leaving, the redhead leans in, whispering in a threatening voice, "Stop harassing him, it's pathetic." That was very mean, the spy knows. But better than killing her, Natalia ponders.

Arriving at the garage, Natasha finds Steve next to his bike, wearing the most contagious smile.

"Hi, handsome," she mocks him.

Laughing, he grabs her by her waist, enfolding her in his strong arms, "I'm flattered."

"That she was hitting on you?"

Jealous, she tries to pull away, but he's already holding her tightly, and speaks coyly, "That you showed everybody that I'm yours."

Melting instantly, she wraps her arms around his broad shoulders, and kisses him eagerly.

He's undeniably happy and asks curiously, "Why a year?"

Blushing immediately, she averts her eyes, and he cups her chin gently. After a brief pause, she speaks shyly, "You said you didn't want anyone else since we met."

"Yes. I've had eyes only for you, Nat."

As passionate as embarrassed, she ends up confessing, "Me too."

Unable to restrain himself anymore, Steve captures her mouth in a hot, demanding kiss, as if the world around them no longer existed.

When they finally break for air, Natasha whispers between his lips, "Home. Now."

The Captain knows when to follow orders, and of whom. "Yes, ma'am."

Next TV Show: Skin (2003)

Extended scene: Chris Crush (Love scenes) Rating Mature

Chapter Text

S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, New York.

The Black Widow's life was always surrounded in complete mystery, and her cold-hearted reputation made her feared. But being Captain America's girlfriend, it made Natasha normal, a woman like any other, accessible as she had never been before. Just as it had happened with him, the soldier became the spy's weak spot. She's finishing a report with Clint when Agent Jasper Sitwell arrives asking for their assistance.

"We found another lost Chitauri weapon that needs to be intercepted tonight before A.I.M. gets it tomorrow. The target is a known black market dealer who keeps his vault's key on a chain around his neck. The easiest way to get the key is to break into his nightclub, disguised. It's not an Avengers operation, but we're out of time and resources right now."

As elite agents who answer directly to Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye make their own calls and never needed any extraction plan. Even so, Natasha doesn't want to be seen as getting preferential treatment, so she looks at Clint, who nods in agreement. "We'll do it," she tells Sitwell, before informing the Captain about the assignment.

"Be safe. Love you," Steve texts her back.

Since the Avengers publicity, it's hard for them to avoid the media, and therefore undercover missions are increasingly difficult. However, with Sitwell's intel and the proper disguise, the archer and the spy shouldn't have any difficulty with these particular criminals.

It starts as a quick and simple mission. Natasha attracts the target far away from the crowd and takes the key, immobilizing him before he can even understand what has happened. Unfortunately, the escape routes were completely blocked, and she's ambushed by the mercenary gang. Unmasked, she's recognized as the Black Widow. Angry for being deceived so easily, the leader becomes aggressive, so Hawkeye intervenes promptly. In the end, the two Avengers arrest everyone involved and recover the weapon, finishing the job. Despite their success, Sitwell gets furious because he wanted to keep the operation secret at all costs.

Avengers Tower.

Steve spent the night checking the mission's status, since he couldn't sleep. It's almost sunrise when he greets Clint in the common room, "Are you okay? Where's Natasha?"

"She's fine, we're not injured," Hawkeye answers quickly, knowing the information the Captain wants the most. "She went to pick up her car at HQ, and she'll be here in any minute."

The soldier's features relax a bit, and he helps the archer to carry his bags as they walk towards the elevator. "Why did you take this mission? What happened?"

"It was Nat's call," The look on his face in unmistakable, and Clint replies gravely, "But the target- he got crazy, and no way I would let that rat harm her."

Grateful, Steve pats the archer's shoulder, and replies, "That's why you broke the cover. Thanks, my friend. I read the reports. Sitwell is trying to cover himself because he messed up with the intel." The Captain trusts Hawkeye and will always back him up, but there's a report of an aggression, so the soldier lifts a brow, questioning, "What else?"

Clint speaks angrily, "That jerk Sitwell told me that I risked jeopardizing the mission for a… whore, so I broke his nose."

Steve's reaction is instinctive – and explosive – as he punches the wall in the hall, making a hole in it.

"Wow!" the archer jumps, "Steve, calm down! The idiot paid for what he said, I swear. There were other agents around, no one helped him. Some said good job to me."

Completely outraged, the Captain shouts, "He insulted her in front of other people?"

"No! No, she wasn't there! He wouldn't dare. But don't worry." Pulling his StarkPhone from his pocket, Clint takes a picture of the smashed wall, laughing devilishly, "I'm sending this to Coulson, telling him what happened. Done. I put confidential in the subject, but sent it through normal mail. In a matter of minutes, all S.H.I.E.L.D. will know about it."

"Clint, no. I can't expose Natasha this way." Despite feeling furious and frustrated, the last thing that Steve wants is to embarrass her with his actions.

"Relax, man. Everybody is already talking about the incident. You don't need to do anything. Let the image speak for itself. Trust me, no one would want to be this wall," Clint smiles, before inviting, "Come on, let's clean this hand before she arrives." They enter the elevator and the archer continues, "They fear her and me because they know what we can do. But no one expects this kind of rage from Captain America – it's not your style."

Hawkeye's floor.

They stop at Clint's floor and he leads Steve to the bathroom. Watching the soldier as he washes his hand, that has only small scratches on the skin, the archer complains, "Man… it'd be good to have your strength once in a while." The Captain gives him a half-smile. Excited as a child, Hawkeye remembers when Steve took ten thugs down by himself, "Do you know that your elevator fight with Crossbones' gang is the most viewed video in the agency's history?" Showing the photo on his phone, Hawkeye assures, "Believe me, this is way scarier. No one will ever even think to mess with your woman again."

Although this is probably true, it only makes Steve feel worse. "It's my fault, isn't it? I'm making her look weak," he sighs, dismayed.

"Shut up! You're making her happy, don't be an idiot." After a brief pause, the archer speaks frankly, "That's the thing, she's different, she's changed. Maybe she has finally realized she's better than all of this, that she's too good for this kind of job."

Thinking about the amplitude of Clint's words, Steve questions, "Have you told her this?"

"A thousand times."

They sit on the kitchen benches and Clint hands Steve a beer, admitting, "Look, there's something I need to tell you, that's not in the report. During the mission, she hesitated. That's why I had to do something." The Captain frowns, beyond incredulous, and Hawkeye sighs heavily, before continuing, "She didn't want to talk about it… But I've only seen this happen once, when I was sent to take her down, you know… and I chose not to."

Steve is absolutely sincere, "And I owe you forever."

Clint's eyes shine with fulfillment, "Nah, just keep her happy and we're squared."

"That's all I want."

"I know."

The two friends look at each other with the unspoken understanding – although differently, they both love her and they will do anything for her. The meaningful bond touches Hawkeye hard, and a shadow falls over him. When he speaks, he's absolutely mortified, "The truth is that we met the target before… when I first met Natasha, before S.H.I.E.L.D., eleven, twelve years ago. She doesn't remember it, I think 'cause she was probably brainwashed after that."

Surprised with the revelation, Steve's eyes open stunned, but he remains quiet.

Clint is consumed by guilt, and his struggle to speak is beyond evident. "I had sworn that no one would ever know about it, but I had to tell her. She was doubting herself and I couldn't let that happen. So I told her everything. But now I'm afraid that I hurt her even more." He begs, "You need to talk to her, okay?"

Seeing the archer's distress, the soldier reassures, "I will."

Looking down, fixedly to the beer in his hand, Hawkeye opens his troubled heart. "I was wandering around Europe. She was very young, and I got trapped instantly, it was like a spell. I had never seen anyone like her, I had no defenses against her. She didn't need to force me like Loki, no. She could make me do anything – steal, kill – I would die for her." Steve tenses instantly, but Clint explains, right away, "But that's my point, Steve. I've never touched her, I didn't even try – she never allowed me, or anyone. They called her Tzarina. She was worshiped but feared, and respected, you know?" Hawkeye talks about his first sniper job, giving cover for her team, while they were infiltrating a secret installation. "There was this guy, a mercenary called Danny French, and he was obsessed with her. The first chance he got alone with her, the jerk tried to kiss her, but she pushed him away." Even from a distance, Clint saw everything and could read her lips, as she threatened the insolent man, "Don't ever do that again, don't ever touch me." The archer shakes his head, continuing, "The idiot didn't back off. Man, she attacked in a rage… she wasn't gentle!" After beating the crap out of him, she completed the mission, but they were attacked by guards while escaping. "French was caught and we thought he was dead. The other guys said it was the Black Widow curse," the archer sighs, sadly, "I needed to tell her."

Steve feels crushed, just from thinking how dark Natasha's past is.

Looking miserable, Clint continues, "She deceived me, framed me, she broke me for real. But she didn't allow her comrades to hurt or kill me, so they left me tied up in a desert shed. She came last, said she was sorry, and put a knife in my hand. Then, she gave me a kiss on the cheek." Hawkeye looks to his Captain pleading for understanding, "It was like she was freeing me from her control. At that moment, I saw something different in her eyes – someone I had never seen before – as if she was trapped too, inside that disguise. That's who I recognized when we met again, and that's why I saved her, because she saved me first. She's the one who became my partner, my friend – the other one was a fake." His voice shakes, saying, "Even so, she could've been a liar, an assassin, but she was never a whore."

Just the sound of this word makes Steve's stomach sick in rage. But he sees both pain and relief in Hawkeye's eyes, and can't help but imagine how hard it must have been for him to carry this secret all this time. "Thanks for trusting me, Clint. And I'm really sorry for what you went through."

"Natasha is the classiest woman I know. Don't tell Bobbi I said that," the archer speaks shyly.

"Thanks, my friend," the soldier replies, full of compassion. "But I have to be absolutely honest with you too. Please, don't get me wrong. I didn't need to hear it because I know who she is."

"You love her for real," Clint smiles satisfied.

"I do."

"You know I love her like a sister, right?"

Steve lights up, saying, "I know."

"She didn't say a word about anything, but she asked me for forgiveness, man. I told her I had nothing to forgive, but she sounded broken…" Clint can't hold it in anymore and his eyes get moist, as he confesses, "I thought she would cry. It was crazy."

Steve blinks in understanding. Natasha doesn't let anyone but him see her truly vulnerable. Putting his hand on Clint's shoulder, he says, "Trust me. She needed to hear it from you. I know you think you hurt her, but I assure you that you freed her. She won't be haunted by this anymore. Thanks for looking after her."

"Captain, it's my genuine pleasure."

Steve's voice gets cold, "And about Sitwell…"

Clint laughs, "Who cares? To get near me, he has to pass through you, and I'm sure he'll ask to be transferred to Siberia before it happens."

The Captain speaks with resolution, "He better."

Suddenly, JARVIS makes them aware of how much time has passed, "Sorry to interrupt Captain Rogers, Agent Barton, but Agent Romanoff just arrived at the Tower."

"Thanks, JARVIS. Clint, I need to go."

Still worried about Natasha's feelings, the pain in the archer's voice is palpable. "Please, Steve…"

"Don't worry, my friend," the soldier affirms, before leaving.

Black Widow's floor.

It's almost sunrise when Steve rushes to her floor, and finds Natasha already in the bathroom. She's curled up on the shower's floor and the water falls incessantly. Quickly, he bends down and carries her out of the shower, which automatically shuts off.

"Nat, are you hurt?" he asked concerned, enfolding her with a soft towel, and starts to dry her carefully, looking for any injuries. Fortunately, she has only a few normal bruises, and Steve sighs relieved, "God, you scared me."

She kisses him softly, but remains silent, as she dresses up. After changing his wet clothes, he curls on their bed spooning her. His arms are the safest place in the world, so she lets go… Tears roll down her face as she sobs, tired and ashamed about all that happened. Holding her gently, he shushes her, "I'm here, you're safe." He doesn't leave her side, repeating their mantra, "I love you. Love you. You," until she falls asleep in sheer exhaustion.

When she wakes up, it is past noon already.

Attentive to her movements, Steve hugs her close, and greets her with a soft smile, "Hi, sweetheart." Natasha leans into his caring touch and he kisses her tenderly, whispering, "I was worried about you."

She looks so fragile and her voice doesn't match her words, as she murmurs, "I'm all right."

"What do you want for lunch?"

"Not hungry."

There's only one way that he can make it work, so he begs, "Eat with me, please, I'm starving."

She nods slowly, accepting it, well aware of what he's doing. He orders her favorite spaghetti from the Tower restaurant, but she doesn't eat much.

Afterwards, they sit on the couch, and he pulls his arm tighter around her, asking softly, "How about a movie? Any suggestions, JARVIS?"

"There's an old 2003 TV Series that ma'am had asked me to search for, called Skin, produced by Mr. Bruckheimer. It's a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. But Mr. Evans was just a guest star in the Pilot."

"Wanna try it?" he invites, and although she agrees, she still seems lifeless. Placing a soft kiss on her head, he holds her a little closer, wondering what else he can do to cheer her up.

The story is about a daughter of a porn industry mogul who falls in love with the son of a district attorney. Their families are on opposite sides, trying to destroy each other and will do anything to keep the couple apart. Jewel is a sweet girl who carries the burden of her father's fame. "Everyone at school thinks, because my dad makes these stupid sex movies, that I'm this brainless little slut… And the lamest part is I'm still a virgin."

This line hits too hard, and Natasha succumbs, "I don't have a father to blame, I made my own bed."

His heart is shattered by seeing her like this, and he offers his understanding love. Getting right to the point, he speaks firmly, "You don't need to prove yourself to anyone."

Remaining quiet, with her head resting on his chest, she shivers slightly. The lump in her throat is painful as she tries to swallow it. "Because of my reputation… they think I slept with everyone," she has never sounded so humiliated.

Caressing her face gently, he runs his fingers through her fiery, curly hair, and reassures, "Please, my love, don't say that. Sitwell is a jerk. You're admired for your many skills…"

"The Russian Femme Fatale." Her voice is pure shame, "I've always been too good, you know? I can get everything I want, just with my words."

Steve understands she needs to vent out but he can't be quiet seeing her in pain, so he tries, "I know. Everybody knows it. You are the one who tricked Loki, the Trickster. That video Sam's working on will be used at S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Academy as an example of how to deal with super-villains. Remember that I told you?"

But she's too hurt to accept a compliment, and continues sadly, "Seduction is an effective spy's tool to extract secrets. But it's the promise of what can happen next that accomplishes that. Only the most resourceless and dumb women would resort to actual sex – men tend to lose interest after that. I never needed to let anyone touch me. Any idiot would be easily coerced before they could think about trying something." Silent tears fall from her sad green eyes, but she looks at him begging him to believe, "I never used sex as a weapon…"

Pulling her into his lap, he enfolds her with all his care, shushing her, "Nat, please stop. I know you. You know I do. You don't need to tell me anything. You told me not to pay attention to gossips."

The truth is that she has never listened to any gossip. The more frightening she was, the better – she was unreachable. But that was before. Now, this whole situation made her feel miserable, thinking that everybody expected that she would betray Steve. For the first time, she doesn't want to be feared, but respected – to be seen as someone worthy of him. "I didn't care… But now I do…" She almost can't say the words, "I… I don't want you… thinking I'm a… whore."

"Please, my love, you know I never did." Catching her face with his loving hands, he presses his lips softly on hers, pleading, "Stop hurting yourself."

"I… I slept… with only three guys… in my whole life…" she stutters, and he keeps kissing her to stop her words, but she manages to whisper between his lips, "I only made love to you."

"Nat, look at me. I didn't know what true love was before you," he tries to wipe her tears away, speaking softly, "I love and want only you. Nothing's gonna change this. Ever."

"Not even my past?" She murmurs, "Clint…"

"He told me. Everything. He truly cares about you," he says, trying to calm her down.

But Natasha worries, instantly, "He told you I was a bitch?"

Steve's eyes are full of devotion, as he explains, "No. He told me you weren't yourself, but even so, you saved him." Caressing her cheek, he says wholeheartedly, "I don't need him or anyone to tell me anything about the woman I know and love." He kisses her slowly, tenderly, giving her time to process his words, before continuing, "But he was right, you needed to hear it, you needed to know that, even when you were trapped in some fake memory, you stayed true to yourself." Holding her close, he strokes her hair, trying to comfort her. After a while, he speaks with a hint of guilt mixed with anger, "Coulson was right too. People are jealous and resentful for what they can't have. They envy us. They attack you. Cowards."

Her voice is nothing but a lament, "Because I'm not good enough for you."

Cupping her face carefully, foreheads touching, he begs, "Please, Nat, don't say that ever again. You the most amazing person I've ever known, and I'm lucky to be with you."

Despite his unconditional support, she's still truly shaken. Looking down, she speaks ashamedly, "You said before, 'Avengers don't take lives. We save them.' You're a hero, I'm an assassin. Opposite sides…"

Raising her chin softly, he gazes at her intensely, speaking firmly, "The only side I want is with you. I can't live without you, and I don't want to." Before she can contest anything, a somber mood falls upon him, and he admits melancholically, "Do you have any idea how many people I killed during the war? Too many for me to dare count." As usual, he's nothing but honest. "I can't change it. Neither can you. The only thing we can do is protect people now. We have to learn from our mistakes, but we can't live in the past." Taking a sharp breath, he caresses her face kindly. "My mom used to say, 'In order to grow, you must let go of the past.' That's what we are doing. We are the good guys now."

Sighing deeply, as she reminisces, "Melaniya, that's my mother's name. I think she said something like this to me once…"

"It's a beautiful name," he smiles sincerely, before capturing her lips with a soft, tender, kiss, trying to convey his absolute passion and devotion. She lets herself be taken by his kiss.

His arms are around her, shielding her from everything, and she closes her eyes. Then, she breathes quietly, and her voice is a whisper, "My past… It's always following me. The target…"

"What happened, sweetheart?"

"He said he was once known as Danny French – the guy Clint talked about. I didn't recognize him, but he accused me of betraying him, leaving him behind to be captured and tortured. My mind was filled with terrible memories… I was petrified… completely afraid to move… I'd never failed before. If Clint hadn't been there…"

"God… Don't worry anymore, okay? He's arrested now, with all his gang." Steve speaks calmly, but still quite upset, "You shouldn't be involved in this type of mission. Why did you take it?"

"Because I could do it. I didn't want to say no."

"You can do a lot of things, Nat. Please, don't let them use you like this…"

Emotionally drained and physically exhausted, Natasha admits, "I can't do it anymore, I… don't want to tarnish your reputation."

"I don't care about reputation, I only care about you." Cupping her face in his hands, he raises it gently. "Please, tell me what you want."

Her sad green eyes get lost in his loving blue ones, as she succumbs, "I don't want anyone looking at me that way." Lowering her head, she shrinks on his chest. "I don't want anyone… to touch me but you."

This is her ultimate proof of trust… and love – exposing her most hidden feminine fragility, and allowing him to protect her as her man. She doesn't need to ask twice. Holding her as if their lives depend on it, he promises with all his love, "That's it. You won't take missions like this anymore. And I'll be by your side ensuring that everyone respects your decision."

Nodding, Natasha cries again, but these are now good cleansing tears, as she feels completely safe and loved in Steve's arms.

During the next couple days, Natasha avoids S.H.I.E.L.D., until she receives a distress signal through the Director's private channel.

"Fury's asking for my help," she smirks.

Steve warns, "He has been after you."

"Did he ask you anything?"

Rubbing the back of his neck, he speaks shyly, "Only if I paid for the new wall." She laughs and he can't help but question, "Have you seen the photo? You didn't say anything. Clint sent it before I could say no. I'm sorry if I embarrassed you…"

Cutting him off, she draws him in for a hungry kiss, before smiling mischievously, "I love it."

Holding her by her waist, he blinks as surprised as relieved. "Seriously?"

"You crushed a wall because of me. It was so hot."

Her teasing is enough to set him on fire, and he asks anxiously, "Do you really need to go? Do you want me to go with you?"

"Don't worry, it doesn't look dangerous. I'll call you if I need anything, okay?" Kissing him again, Natasha leaves him breathless, before saying, "Wait for me…"

Steve couldn't do anything else.

A.I.M. Installation.

Following the coordinates, Black Widow finds Nick Fury fighting against A.I.M. guards, and she teases, "Okay, now I know you're messing with me. You could've handled a couple of MODOK's goons with your other eye closed."

Complaining, Fury is straightforward, "I wanted to talk. You only return my calls if you smell a fight."

Working together, they easily beat the evil crew.

"That's not true," she tries to contest, but he looks at her intently, and she has to admit it, "Okay, that's true." After taking down the last bad guy, she asks, "What do you want to talk about, boss?"

When the Director found out about that mission, he was completely furious. Even so, he wanted to talk to Natasha first. The spy explains that she didn't want to play diva, but recognizes the waste of her skills. In the end, they both agree that she will take only high-level sensitive missions.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters.

The next day, the Director calls a meeting with everyone involved. But first, in his office, he yells at Sitwell, "What the hell were you thinking? Romanoff?"

The agent tries to justify himself, explaining, "We needed a female…"

"A female? Are you out of your mind?" Fury's laugh was scarier than his shout. "Who were you after? A genius like Tony Stark or Bruce Banner? Another demigod like Loki?" Pointing his finger in Sitwell's still bandaged face, the Director threatens, "I'd rather have you in drag than waste the Black Widow in a shit mission like this. She's worth a hundred of you!"

Outside Fury's office, the four Avengers are sitting in the meeting room hearing everything.

"Look!" Clint's exultant, showing the terrified agent on his StarkPad.

Instantly curious, Tony asks, "You hid a camera in Fury's office?"

"Leo Fitz, don't you know him? Coulson's new you. He let me borrow one of his gadgets."

Pissed, the genius replies, "New me? Nonsense."

"I'm serious, the kid is brilliant," the archer adds happily, "And I'm transmitting it live!"

Allowing himself to savor the moment of vengeance, Steve can't say he disapproves of Clint's actions, nonetheless, he warns his friend, "Fury will be mad at you."

But Hawkeye knows his boss, and chuckles, "Nah, he left the door open. It's fair game. He wants everybody to see it." Then, he smiles to the still impassible Black Widow.

Under the table, Steve grabs Natasha's hand and squeezes it softly, and she gives them a half-smile.

At that moment, Fury bursts in and talks to Natasha, commanding, "You're my number one. You choose your missions, but I forbid you to waste your time with any idiot with an IQ lower than yours." Turning to Steve and Tony, he emphasizes, "You're the team leaders, take care of your team. Understood?"

Natasha, Steve and Clint answer in chorus, "Yes, Sir," and Tony just nods.

Then the Director looks at the archer, saying, "Good job."

For being Natasha's partner? For punching Sitwell? For transmitting his message live? Clint really doesn't care, and replies proudly, "Thanks, Sir."

Fury winks, before going back to his office and closing the door this time.

"He just winked at me," the archer complains, "Why does everyone keep winking at me?"

Tony can't help but joke, "Winked or blinked?" And everybody laughs.

After all that happened, Natasha is more than satisfied. Fury is a very complex character, but through time, her mentor became the closest thing to a father figure in her complicated life. Officially, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is telling her and everyone else that the Black Widow's worth is her brain, not her body. Once again, it doesn't matter about the jealousy or the gossip. She has the respect of her boss, her team and, above all, she has the love of her life by her side. No one will dare to think of her as an object anymore. Smirking, she almost pities the poor soul who tries… almost.

Thursday, November 21th, 2013. Rural New York.

It's a cool afternoon with crisp air and blue sky, when Steve takes Natasha for a car ride. Stopping at an empty parking lot, he takes her hand, explaining with eagerness, "One of the times you were talking about your childhood, you told me about your dog, do you remember?" She nods, puzzled, as they walk towards what seems the side door of the establishment.

They're greeted by a very polite middle-aged woman. "Welcome back, Captain. Ma'am. Please come in." Without asking any questions, she leads them to a room. "You will have all the privacy you need. Take your time and call me if you need anything. "

"Thanks, Mrs. Simon," Steve replies, before taking Natasha inside. Pointing to a large kennel with eight white puppies, he speaks excitedly, "These are Central Asian Shepherds. The breeder said that they matched with the description of your dog. They're specialized in this breed and very well recommended." He shows her a photo album, explaining, "These are their parents."

"Bozhe moi!" Putting her hand on her mouth, Natasha observes the puppies happily playing with each other, before saying, "We call them Ovtcharka."

"What do you think? They look like your dog?"

"Yes. My Snezhok was like this big one in the photo," crouching beside the kennel, she exclaims, "They are lovely!"

"Their father weighs 170 pounds. He looks like a mini polar bear, doesn't he? The breeder told me that these dogs are guardians, safe to children, and very gentle with family members." Steve kneels next to her and asks hopefully, "What do you say? Let's pick one?"

Getting a dog together is a huge step, but something quite normal in a committed relationship… like theirs. Although surprised with the idea, Natasha doesn't feel scared, and her heart flutters. "Are you sure we can do this?"

"Together we can do anything," he holds her close, before putting his left hand inside the kennel. As if on cue, the bigger puppy comes quickly, and starts to chew it.

Amused, Natasha laughs, "Look at this one."

Steve smiles sheepishly, "He likes my hand. He did it the two times I came here before."

Gently, she caresses the puppy's head, that immediately turns to lick her hand. "I think he likes us," she smiles, delighted.

Picking the dog up, Steve hands him to Natasha, asking, "Do you like him?"

"Expressive eyes. It's a sign of intelligence, right?" She hugs the puppy and he tries to lick her face, softly. "Oh, Steve! He's adorable!" she melts.

"He's definitely smart. Bites me but kisses you!" Laughing, Steve sits on the pillows, before pulling her to sit on his lap, and asks, "So… What are we gonna call him?"

"Snezhok means snowball. I like Sneg for this little one. It means snow."

"Sneg is great, Nat! It fits him perfectly! But he won't be little in a few months. They're only ten-weeks-old and he's already thirty pounds. Also, he's the most energetic out of his entire litter."

He looks adorably boyish, and she can't resist him, looking so happy. "You know everything about him?"

"Yeah, he liked me before, so I asked," he says, shyly. "But we can take a look at other dogs, if you want to. Different races, colors, maybe a female."

"No! I love him," Natasha pouts, holding the puppy tighter, and Steve smiles widely, hugging them both. They're completely captivated by the dog, but she asks, still a little concerned, "Can we have him at the Tower? He'll be okay indoors? We really don't know anything about dogs."

"Yes, I already cleared it with Pepper. Besides, our floor is huge, we have enough space for him, and he can jog with me every day. The breeder told me that his personality matches with us, and she can help us in anything we need. And there is the veterinarian, Dr. Gregg, who took care of them since their were born. I have the number. We can schedule a check up anytime."

Her smile is full of admiration, "You have it all planned, right?" He nods, and she places a soft kiss on his lips, before turning back to the puppy. "I've never imagined… you know? That I would want something like this so much… I'm just afraid of doing something wrong."

"I know, Nat, me too. It means we care." Resting his chin on her shoulder, he sighs, "But can you put him back in that kennel?"

Comfortably placed in Natasha's arms, Sneg continues to chew Steve's hand.

Her eyes get teary, and she smiles, "No… I can't."

"Me neither," he holds them close, saying, "Let's do our best, okay? Together?"

"Sounds perfect!" and she kisses him tenderly.

Avengers Tower. Black Widow's floor.

After buying everything they'll need and scheduling classes to learn how to properly train the puppy, they go back home looking like a happy family. Wearing one of the dog coats that Natasha bought to him, Sneg looks adorable in blue, happily wrapped in her arms. Steve carries all the bags to one of the empty rooms, and set the new kennel there. They enjoy their time together until Sneg falls asleep, and they order dinner from the Tower's restaurant in.

It's late at night when Natasha sits at her dresser and, pensively, starts to take off her makeup.

"I'll be right back, okay?" Steve kisses her cheek, before leaving for his studio, which he had already moved onto her floor.

A few moments later, she's lying in their bed when he speaks from outside the room, "Nat? Close your eyes."

Smiling, she obeys.

It's exactly midnight, the 22th, when he sits by her side exclaiming, "Surprise!"

Opening her eyes, Natasha sees Sneg inside of a basket, surrounded by dozens of red roses. Confused, she looks at the puppy before noticing something sparkling on his red bow tie. "Oh! What is this?" She picks it up and it's a golden bracelet with two pendants, a heart, and a snowflake – he bought the latter when she was distracted shopping for the puppy.

"It's from us, Sneg and me. It means we belong to you. Happy Birthday, my love." His deep blue eyes shine with joy, as he leans down and kisses her lovingly.

Instantly tears fall from her green eyes, and her voice is just a murmur, "Nobody knows it…"

All of a sudden, Sneg jumps in her lap and starts to lick her teary cheeks.

"Fury told me," he explains, becoming worried, "You don't like it? I'm sorry, I should've asked you…"

Holding the puppy, she silences Steve with a passionate kiss. "Oh, I love it!"

"Anything to make my ballerina smile!"

Feeling completely happy, she confesses, "I didn't have anything to celebrate… before you."

Enfolding her in his arms, Steve speaks full of passion, "You're my life…"

"I love you so much," she whispers between his lips. As they deepen the kiss, Sneg whines and Natasha smiles, "You too, little one."

Next movie: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

Chapter Text

Happy Holidays!

New York.

When he woke up in the 21st century, Captain America was treated as a legend, but Steve felt lonely and lost. Through the Avengers, the hero found a noble purpose, and the man was able to make new friends. Most importantly, he met the love of his life – Natasha was his home now, and with Sneg, it felt like a family. For the first time, since his mother died, the guy from Brooklyn was truly happy.

That was when things got a bit complicated.

Always careful with their personal lives, they disguised themselves before going to visit a store specializing in products for big dogs. The breeder's recommendation was worth it, and they ordered great utensils for their puppy. Delighted with this glimpse of normal life, the couple shared a passionate kiss, while descending an escalator in the bustling shopping center. Unfortunately, someone captured their kiss on camera. A baseball cap and black-rimmed glasses weren't enough to conceal the Captain's impressive figure and he was recognized. Beneath a grey and black striped hood, with her hair straighter and lighter than usual, Natasha remained unidentified. Almost instantly, the photo was everywhere.

Avengers Tower.

The team, minus Thor and Hawkeye, are gathered in the common area with Pepper, when JARVIS alerts them about the latest news broadcast.

'Has America's number one bachelor finally found love? Who's the mysterious lucky woman kissing Captain America?'

"What?" visibly upset, Steve exclaims, "I can't believe this."

Tony protests immediately, "I'm the number one!"

Bruce and Sam burst into laughter, and Pepper retorts, "Not since Steve was found."

The genius squints, "Whose side are you on? And his first name is Captain."

"Unfortunately, not on the Captain's," the blonde can't help but tease her egocentric boyfriend, and turns to Natasha, asking, "Have you heard about a reality show called trading spouses or something?"

Surprised by Pepper's sharp banter, Tony stares at her, pretending indignation. Also confused about the modern women's playful dynamic, Steve looks at his own girlfriend searching for a reaction.

"No." Natasha smirks, without talking her eyes from her StarkPad.

Feeling completely ignored, Tony snorts his disapproval, and Pepper laughs, kissing him softly, "The media knows you're off the market."

Over the past five years, the two completely different women ended up establishing an interesting bond. Although she had been undercover, the Black Widow's mission was to protect Iron Man and she helped save his life. More remarkably, she was the first attractive woman who didn't fall in the playboy's bed. Those were sufficient reasons for Pepper to like Natasha. On the other hand, the CEO of Stark Industries was wise and smart enough to keep the eccentric genius in line, while running his multi-billionaire empire. That alone made her admirable. Since the Avengers were formed, and moved in to the tower, the only two girls around were slowly drawn to each other.

Despite their feminine connection, the spy is secretive by definition, especially about her romance with the also very reserved soldier. It's the first time they showed affection in public, other than an occasional holding hand.

After looking at the photo, Pepper pushes, "Finally, a kiss!"

Even so, Natasha isn't paying attention to their talk, and Sam questions, "What are you doing?"

"Done. Photographer identified. Typical celebrity stalker. No suspicious connections," the spy replies calmly, but seeing the group's questioning eyes, she explains, "We monitor who's watching us all, for safety, right J?"

JARVIS promptly agrees, "Indeed, Agent Romanoff. Threat level zero."

Tony jests, a little more ironic than usual, "You two are like twins."

"You always sound so jealous of JARVIS," Pepper pouts playfully.

"And now we're even," the genius chuckles, before replying, "Just kidding, honey."

Rolling her eyes, the CEO smirks, before adding, "Points to the spy who wasn't identified."

"The Black Widow doesn't go shopping," Sam replies.

Usually silent watching the couples' interaction, Bruce sighs, quite relieved, "Iron Man and Cap are the stars. They don't pay attention to us, the others."

However, this notoriety doesn't please Steve, who's very bothered. "In the 40s, Captain America was famous, but without the uniform, I had my anonymity preserved. Everything is too exposed nowadays. I still don't know how you deal with this madness."

Natasha reassures, "We'll be more cautious, next time." Nonetheless, she didn't miss the fact that her Captain didn't say 'in my day', and smiles discreetly.

Growing up in the spotlight, Tony was used to having his privacy invaded all the time, and couldn't care less. "Just don't pay attention."

"The best strategy is to avoid public places for a while," Pepper advises. "They'll always make something up to talk about. Haven't you seen what they're saying now?"

Raising his eyebrows, the genius mocks, "Guess what! I was adopted."

Outraged, the soldier objects, "That is completely ridiculous. You are exactly like Howard."

"Genetically speaking, the odds of finding someone so physically and intellectually similar are almost zero. Especially since both Howard and Tony are unparalleled geniuses engineers at their times." Bruce shakes his head, "It would be easier to find a cure for the Hulk."

"Well, at least that would explain why he was such a jerk." As usual, there's always a bitter feeling behind all Tony's comments about his estranged father.

The notion that his old friend had turned into a negligent parent always troubled Steve. But hearing the son considering that absurd idea to explain his father's behavior… that was beyond wrong. Family is one of the things the soldier values above all, and he can't hold it in anymore.

Shaking his head, he starts his maudlin speech, "I was watching a documentary about World War II, a few days ago, and it got me thinking about Howard working on the Manhattan Project." The sudden change to the serious subject renders the group speechless, as the Captain speaks, "Of all the terrible things that happened while I was frozen, I think that the worst was the use of the atomic bombs against a civilian population. I don't intend to diminish the importance of the other historical facts, but… that's not history for me…" melancholically, he stutters, "That was… my war…" Overwhelmed by the tragic memories of his past, the soldier breathes in deeply, before continuing, "For a long time, I blamed myself for not being there… with my team, my friends. What could I've done to prevent that massacre? Survivor's guilt, I know. But I can only imagine that the Howard I knew – a happy, friendly, good man – he must have been devastated by remorse too. It must have intensified over the years, since it still affects people's lives."

The sadness in Steve's voice touches Natasha's heart, and she holds his sweaty hand. Through this simple act, she's trying to convey all her support, appreciation, and love. Gently, he squeezes her hand back.

But as he proceeds, his words become increasingly heavy, "Both Fury and Dugan talked about Howard's obsession to find me. Peggy told me a few stories too. They all praised his constant effort to do something… good. It seems to me as if he was attempting to pay for his debts. I believe that being in part responsible for such…" swallowing hard, Steve struggles with his final words, "Atrocity… It ultimately broke Howard… It would have broken me too."

In an outburst, Tony stands up and leaves the place. This unexpected reaction brings the soldier back from the past, and he motions to follow the genius.

But Pepper stops him, "Please, Steve, let him be. Tony needs time."

"God, I'm so sorry. I need to apologize to him. I got caught up in the moment. I shouldn't have said those things about his father… to him. I'm really sorry."

"No, trust me. Let him come to you when he's ready. Okay?" With teary eyes, Pepper puts her hand on Steve's heart, speaking full of gratitude, "I need to thank you. Don't you see the good you did to him? You redeemed his father for him."

The same sheer admiration is reflected in Sam's eyes and Bruce's wise words. "Your intelligence and perspicacity never ceases to amaze me," the doctor says, "It's so sadly obvious, now that you've pointed it out. Howard wasn't a bad father because he didn't like Tony. He didn't find himself worthy of a son like Tony, so he pushed him away."

Natasha gently pulls Steve back to the couch, before laying her head on his shoulder. More than anyone, she's proud of him. The soldier sighs, in a silent understanding, intertwining their hands.

Still pondering about everything that happened, Pepper says melancholically, "After Afghanistan, Tony found out that his second-in-command, Obadiah Stane, was selling Stark weapons to terrorists, with the same technology Tony had created to protect our soldiers. He shut the division down, lost tons of money, and almost got killed. When he first became the Iron Man, he started a crusade to destroy these weapons around the world."

Both Stark men carried the burden of having their inventions used the wrong way, but neither one stopped trying to atone for their past actions.

Steve feels proud of them. "Like father, like son. And I have the privilege of knowing them both."


Over the next days, the world is threatened once again when an unknown space-ship appears at the University of Greenwich.

JARVIS sounds the Avengers alarm, informing them that Thor is already fighting there.

Within the half hour that Iron Man takes to fly from New York to London – at the impressive speed of mach-10 – the Prince of Asgard defeats Malekith the Accursed, King of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim. The alien combatants and the ship were already gone when Tony arrives, followed minutes later by the Aven-jet, which was flying at mach-8. The Avengers defeat the remaining Dark Elves and a giant Frost Beast, which came from Jotunheim during the Realms Convergence.

They find Dr. Jane Foster, Dr. Erik Selvig and Darcy Lewis unharmed, but very stressed. The astrophysicists try to explain the cosmic event and its repercussions through the Nine Realms, and also report the deaths of Loki and Queen Frigga, Thor's mother.

New York. Avengers Tower.

A few days later, when Thor comes back to Earth, Tony invites him and his friends to spend the holidays with the group. Pepper organizes a welcoming dinner, where they all can offer their proper condolences.

Unfortunately, all the Avengers had tragedy associated to family.

Back in 1918, a few weeks before Steve was born, his father Joseph was killed by mustard gas, fighting the Great War. Eighteen years later, Sarah Rogers died of tuberculosis. Orphaned at an early age, Natasha lost all her family in a fire. Clint was seven years old when his father Harold, an abusive alcoholic, crashed his car killing both him and his wife Edith. Tony also lost both parents in a car accident, when he was twenty-one. Bruce was an infant when his mother Rebecca was killed by her enraged husband Brian, who ended up in a mental hospital. And Sam was only sixteen when his father Paul, a Baptist Minister, died while trying to break up a neighborhood fight.

They feel a lot of empathy for Thor's loss, in this mourning time.

Steve offers his unconditional friendship, "You don't have to do this by yourself."

"We're here to help," Natasha speaks sincerely.

Tony extends his total support, "You're not just a guest at the Avengers Tower."

"This is your home too," Pepper sympathetically agrees.

Still uneasy around the god of Thunder, Sam says, "We're a team, right?"

"It's less difficult than being alone," Bruce talks from experience.

Always outspoken, Darcy asks what really matters, "You're not planning on leaving again, are you?"

The Asgardian Prince looks at the group in front of him… his mortal friends, teammates, and the woman who holds his heart. The pain of loss still crushes his noble soul – it will probably last forever – but for now, here in Midgard, he feels nothing but welcomed. "I think I'll stay here, among friends."

Remembering when they met two years ago in New Mexico, Selvig says, "I'm glad you've found some answers."

Also touched by the union around Thor, Jane replies, "You do have the best team."

"Verily," the Thunderer agrees with a sincere smile.

Together, they eat and drink, while listening to Asgardian tales, until Clint arrives with a stunning blonde.

"Hey, everybody! Your wandering boy Hawkeye has come home… and you'll never guess what I've gone and done!" Excited, the archer shows the gold bands on their left hands, saying, "I'd like you to meet Barbara Morse, I mean, Mrs. Barton."

The unexpected announcement takes the group by surprise, but they all get up, cheering with joy, "Congratulations!"

Tony teases, "Married? That's why you've been missing."

Always the perfect hostess, Pepper replies, "Welcome, Barbara."

"Thank you, please, call me Bobbi."

Paying his respects, Clint talks with Thor first, "How are you, man? I'm sorry…"

"I am better with your arrival, friend Barton. Lady Barbara, may the All-Father smile upon you and happiness be yours forevermore!"

Also a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Bobbi already knew most of them, but not the Asgardian. She replies embarrassedly, "I'm honored. I've never met a Thunder god before… much less been blessed by one!"

After kissing her hand, Thor calls out, "Let us celebrate!"

The mood is definitely changed to a festive one, and Tony doesn't miss the chance, commanding, "JARVIS, champagne!" and they toast the newlyweds, "To the happy couple!"

Getting closer, Natasha compliments the couple, "When did this happen? I wish you both all the best."

"It wasn't planned," Clint explains, "We eloped after the last mission, in the Pocono Mountains."

Steve kisses Bobbi's hand, "Congratulations. Tell us if he doesn't behave well."

"What do you think, Cap? Did I make the right move?" the archer hugs the soldier.

"I think so! Getting married is the most responsible thing you've ever done."

"What?!" Clint whines playfully, "Cap, you cut me to the quick! Haven't I always acted in a mature, responsible manner?"

"Look who's talking…" Tony jokes, "The man whose proudest achievement is the invention of the water-balloon arrow!"

Chuckling, the archer replies, "Aw, gimme a break, Shell-Head!"

With the group's laughter, the celebration continues through the rest of the dinner.

When they talk about the attack in London, Tony explains that they detained the remaining alien warriors at a high security facility. "Prison 42 is managed by the Fantastic Four, and placed in the Negative Zone – a universe comprised completely of antimatter. It's a super-villain prison that, even if there is a breakout, there's nowhere to break out to."

Thor becomes interested in the team who runs the prison. "These Fantastic Four, as you call them, they are mortal heroes as well?"

"Yes!" Darcy suggests quickly, "There are movies about them. We should watch one."

Observing the smiling faces around, Pepper agrees, "That's a great idea."

And Tony invites, "Let's try the new auditorium. Shall we?"

Theater Room.

The whole place is unbelievable. There are double sectionals and individual chaises all around, surrounding the big center couch, where Thor and Jane are settled. Everything is amazingly comfortable, and with only the screen lights on, it looks very cozy.

Always beyond excited about showing his new technology, Tony begins to explain, "It's all holographic, with individual controls on each arm pad. You can choose the intensity and type of the special effects. And place an order for drinks and snacks."

Mesmerized, Bobbi asks, "Is he for real?"

Clint nods, "He's Tony Stark. You'll get used to him."

Honoring the newlyweds, they choose the second movie that features Reed Richards and Susan Storm's wedding.

As the movie starts, Thor questions, "Is this Johnny related to the Captain?"

"The actor, Chris Evans, played Cap too!" Giggling like a schoolgirl, Darcy talks about other superhero movies.

Steve can't help but frown, and Natasha has to contain herself not to laugh. Feeling more at ease in the darkness, she hugs him close. With his girl in his arms, he relaxes, looking as happy as cocky. And after a few scenes, he's having fun, and she finds him adorable, realizing it won't be easy to pay attention to anything else but him.

When Johnny and Ben drag Reed to a nightclub, Tony complains, "Legolas owes us a bachelor party."

Bruce replies immediately, "I have to agree, Cupid. We didn't have a chance to celebrate with you."

Confused, Bobbi turns to her husband, asking, "How many nicknames do you have?"

The group laughs, and Clint shakes his head.

Right away, Thor asks, "What is this bachelor party?"

"That's what you are curious about?" Jane teases.

Sam promptly explains, "It's a way to celebrate a man's last night of freedom with his male friends. You know, before he gets married."

"Watch it and you'll see it, Goldilocks." Clint points to the screen, where Reed is dancing with two attractive women.

"The one I went to was just a dinner with friends," Steve remembers, "Nothing like this."

Visibly interested, Thor adds, "In Asgard, we do not have a celebration such as this, but it sounds like a great tradition."

"The best," Tony agrees, "One more reason for us to go."

Among the group's looks of uncertainty and curiosity, Clint holds Bobbi's hand, speaking charmingly, "Only if it's okay with my wife."

As expected, some of the guys boo the archer.

Then, Sue arrives at the club and gets upset seeing Reed surrounded by other girls. As revenge, she teases him, talking about her own bachelorette party. "Wild."

This time, Steve becomes curious. "Is it the same as a hen party?"

Pepper explains, "Originally, but there are some variations now."

Quickly, Darcy makes another movie suggestion. "Can we watch Magic Mike after this?"

Except for Steve and Thor – who have no idea what is she talking about – all the men yell in unison, "No!"

Suspicious, the soldier narrows his eyes, and the spy can't help but laugh, as Jane clarifies, "It's about male strippers."

Both the Captain and the Prince frown in disbelief when Selvig points to them, explaining, "Basically, it's about buffed guys like you two, taking his clothes off in front of a bunch of crazy women."

Thor exclaims skeptically, "Odin's beard!"

Calmly, Pepper grins, and offers, "That's a perfect idea. What do you say, Bobbi? Let Clint go with the boys, and we will take you to the best club in New York. Women only."

Darcy cheers in agreement, "Yes!"

But Tony and Clint yell immediately, "No!" and the girls laugh amusedly.

"Should I say something?" Thor asks Jane, who shakes her head no, still chuckling.

Always the gentleman, Steve asks quietly, "Do you wanna go?"

Natasha shakes her head, replying, "Not my party, nor my idea." The soldier looks so relieved that the spy gives him a soft peck on his lips, before speaking loud and clear, "Besides, I don't need any stripper."

Steve can't stop smiling.

After looking at each other, Tony and Clint yell again, "No way!"

Definitely more than confused, Thor sighs, "Mortals… fun but too complicated."

It takes a while for the group to stop laughing.

Meanwhile, affected by his encounter with the Silver SurferJohnny changes powers with whomever he touches.

"Which other power would you like to have?" Selvig asks, looking at the bunch of superheroes in the room.

"I call handsome, billionaire!" Clint points to Steve and Tony.

Sam agrees enthusiastically, "Me too!"

"You're already handsome, Sugar," Bobbi kisses her husband, "But I wouldn't mind the billionaire part."

Cockier than ever, the archer hugs his wife, "See? Perfect woman!"

Tony adds proudly, "That's why I don't need any improvement." Looking at Pepper, who can't stop laughing, he warns, "Don't say anything."

Exchanging looks, Natasha and Bobbi say, "Invisibility."

"Typical spy," Clint replies happily, seeing the two most important women in his life hitting it off.

Darcy doesn't even pretend, "I want to be invisible too. Stalker reasons."

"I would like to fly," Steve admits.

"Definitely!" Jane agrees, "It's really a dream."

Sam doesn't miss the chance to praise his hero, "You almost fly, Cap, since you can jump without parachutes."

"You do what?" Pepper exclaims horrified, "You never told me that, Steve."

Although he won't admit it out loud, Tony is jealous of his girlfriend's admiration towards anyone but him – especially the righteous Captain. The genius complains instantly, "Why are you so worried about Cap?"

Giving him a sideways look, she doesn't hesitate in responding. "Don't be silly, Tony. Steve is my friend too. Besides, he's the only one who keeps you all in line."

Puffing, the genius has to agree with this compelling argument – everybody does.

Right away, Sam explains with sincere worship, "You should see it. It's amazing. Cap has the reflexes of Olympic golden gymnastics and the strength of ten men."

Natasha reassures, "No need to worry, Pep. It's safe."

Rubbing the back of his neck, Steve nods embarrassedly.

The group continues to talk about super abilities, when Bruce questions, "Do the powers make the man, or does the man make the power?"

Taking the opportunity to salute his team, Thor speaks eloquently, "All I have learned about humanity is that your powers lie not in your abilities, but in your hearts. I am honored to be an Avenger among you, my friends."

They cheer him back, and Steve replies, "The honor is ours!"

As the film reaches the point when the Fantastic Four face the possibility of human annihilation, Johnny questions, "How do you want to spend your last few minutes?" and Ben answers, "I'd like to spend my last couple of minutes holding Alicia."

The sweet scene touches each one of them, making they think about their own lives and loved ones.

Holding Natasha close, Steve whispers in her ear, "All I want is you."

Unable to resist her romantic man any longer, she kisses him with all the passion of her heart.

Common area.

After having a great time watching the movie, Pepper leads the women to the living room, where more champagne cocktails and appetizers are served. She offers, "We need to know each other better, to survive this boys club."

Already tipsy, Jane smiles embarrassedly, "I don't think we should drink anymore."

"It's the same champagne we used in the toast, don't worry," Pepper replies, before starting to explain the basics of the Tower, and how JARVIS runs everything. Then she brings an important question, "You are moving here, right Bobbi?"

Amazed with all the facilities, the newlywed is obviously excited with the invitation. "Thank you. I would love to. Clint has been staying at my place, but he misses the team so badly."

Pepper is the Tower hostess, no doubt about it, but regarding the Avengers as a team, Natasha is the leading lady. The spy knows that Clint's wife will be part of her life, no matter what. Although she doesn't do girlfriends, she tries her best to welcome Bobbi. "Yeah, Steve has been complaining about missing Clint in their daily trainings."

Like everybody working for S.H.I.E.L.D., Mockingbird respected and feared the legendary Black Widow, and also knew about her long time partnership with Hawkeye. When Bobbi started to go out with Clint, she saw Natasha as a rival, despite him telling otherwise. More than ever, Bobbi knows that she needs to make it right in order to be accepted by the group. Most importantly, she wants to make her husband happy. After sipping her drink to get courage, the blonde starts, "I owe you an apology, Romanoff. I doubted that Clint was telling the truth, about you and the Captain. Sorry I was a jealous bitch to you."

The straightforward approach impresses the spy. "No problem. People tend to misread my friendship with Clint. And call me Natasha."

Pepper confesses, "I swore they were a couple too, in the beginning. But they're like siblings."

Helplessly inebriated, Darcy brings out the unspoken question, "But you two were a thing before, right?"

The spy smiles, before taking the opportunity to set things straight. "No. Never. Clint saved my life. Thru time, we became partners and best friends."

Bobbi replies more than relieved, "He says you saved his life a lot too."

Disappointed, Darcy can't keep her mouth shut. "Really? How about Stark?"

Pepper and Natasha smirk at each other, and the spy turns to answer the bold question. "No again. Sorry if my life isn't as exciting as you expected."

"You're doing Captain America! Can't get more exciting than that!" Darcy replies literally wishful, making all them laugh, including the spy.

Pepper continues her hostess duties. "I have guest rooms prepared for Dr. Selvig and Darcy. I'm assuming you're gonna stay with Thor, is that right Jane? You're all welcome to stay as long as you want to."

Darcy pokes her friend, saying, "Told you!"

Blushing like a tomato, Jane stutters, "Thanks. I… well… I can stay with Darcy."

Puzzled, Pepper frowns. "Why? Aren't you two together?"

Mortified, Jane shrinks under everybody's scrutiny. "We are, but… we're taking it… slow…"

"Oh my! You're not sleeping with… him?!" Also slightly drunk, Bobbi puts her hand over her mouth, "Sorry!"

Even taken by surprise with the unexpected revelation, Pepper doesn't flinch, "I'm sorry, Jane, I didn't mean to intrude. I'll set up a room for you in the guest area."

"It's okay. Thank you. I know it sounds silly. Darcy tells me all the time."

The brunette confirms, "It's beyond stupid!"

The brilliant astrophysicist is a strong and determined scientist with a very independent spirit. But, yet, she's also a young woman in search of love. Although she doesn't know these people well enough, she thinks… With whom else could she talk about dating a superhero? Obviously conflicted, Jane opens her heart. "Technically, we didn't have time… alone. We were always fighting some alien evil. And I didn't know when or if he would come back. I… I'm an idiot."

Understanding the implications of such an unusual pairing, the Russian spy ponders, "You're right about being cautious. Thor is an alien prince. Different cultures, values, everything."

As if yearning for any kind of support, Jane agrees, "Exactly! Do you know that his father called me a goat? That his mother was killed while protecting me? And his ex, Sif, is a beautiful, strong goddess, while I'm a mere… mortal."

But Darcy points the obvious, "He gave up his throne for you, pussy!"

"Relationships are always complicated," Pepper adds pensively. "Dating a superhero is beyond scary because of the danger."

"That's why I didn't wait, you know? I proposed to Clint. It was impulsive, but I suffered a lot already," Bobbi confesses, almost as if seeking for approval. "He's the one."

"Aww!" Darcy cheers, and Pepper smiles kindly.

"I have never seen Clint so happy," Natasha offers sincerely.

"It's truly romantic… and you're committed to each other. You got married." Jane reaches the main point.

"Do you want to get married…?" It's more a statement than a question, since Pepper realizes it's not really unexpected.

"Don't you?" Jane asks back, "I mean, you and Tony were together for years, right? Isn't marriage the next step?"

Pepper gasps, but replies politely, "Well… As he says, I control his company and his money already."

They all laugh, and Natasha secretly admires how Pepper elegantly avoided the personal subject.

Even within the friendly environment, Jane still feels miserable. "I was hurt before too. Thor is different. I want him to be the one. Call me old-fashioned but I… I need to be sure… that I'm more than a mortal fling for him…"

Smiling widely, Bobbi sighs, "It's romantic."

"I understand it perfectly," Natasha replies calmly, not anticipating that all eyes would turn to her – after all, they were dying to know about the superhero couple.

Pepper is the first to question, "What do you mean? There's no one more devoted than Steve."

Bobbi agrees, quickly, "Yeah! Clint said that Cap is the best guy for you."

Hoping for some connection, Jane asks shyly, "Isn't he even more old-fashioned? You waited too?"

Darcy blurts, "Don't tell me that the Captain was a virgin!?"

Natasha rolls her eyes at the sassy brunette, and the girls burst into laughter. Then, the redhead explains, "It's different. Steve and I knew each other for more than a year. We've worked and lived together since the start."

"Weren't you worried?" Jane stutters, very nervously, "He is… He seems to be… You know… Big?"

"Jane, you're drunk!" Darcy mocks her friend, before turning to Natasha and asking ashamedly, "Is he really all… enhanced?"

Pepper almost chokes, "Oh dear! You made the Black Widow blush! Go ahead, honey, tell us. What does the Captain hides under that shield?"

"Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America was a mystery because he didn't even flirt with anyone." Bobbi adds excited, "But after you two kissed in the cafeteria… WOW!"

They all laugh out loud and Natasha can't help but smile too. "He's special, and that's all I'm telling you", she replies, hoping to end the inquisition.

"You guys are great together." Jane replies with melancholy, "I… I don't know what to do…"

Pepper tries to comfort her, "You have to do what's best for you."

"Agreed. But I can say that Thor is an honorable guy," Natasha offers kindly.

Bobbi seconds, "I vote for you to follow your heart!"

"And jump the muscled guy before anyone else does!" Darcy exclaims.

Jane smiles ashamedly, "Thank you. I'll try my best."

After all that they shared, Natasha finds herself comfortable, and surprisingly supportive. "When it's for real, it's worth it all."

While the girls spend hours talking about the boys and everything else, the guys bond watching sports on the TV and playing video-games, with a basic laconic communication.

Falcon congrats the archer's milestone, "Hawkeye was really quick on target with the Mockingbird."

Proud of his respectful role, Clint admires the soldier's accomplishment. "Captain America has the guts to date the Black Widow."

Always taking care of the team, Steve worries about the doctor's loneliness. "Bruce, isn't it time for you to find yourself a lady?"

But Bruce doesn't miss the chance to push his science-bro, the genius. "I think it's time for Tony to marry Pepper."

Ignoring the teasing, Tony can't believe Thor's detachment, "How can you give up a throne, a reign, and eternal life… for a woman?"

Turns out, Thor is not all clueless, and plays the matchmaker, "I say you should try and court Lady Darcy, young Falcon. She was quite interested in you."

Astonished, the rookie asks, "Who? Me? As in a date?"

"You superheroes are very funny." Selvig replies as they all burst into laughing.

In the end, the genius didn't say anything about his father, but he's evidently lighter since the Captain's commentaries. Steve is glad for Tony, and understands his need for privacy. Despite the differences, their friendship is growing stronger because of their mutual admiration and respect. When it counts, they trust each other.

Alone at the bar, the two men observe the extended team that is becoming their close friends and dysfunctional family.

"The archer has balls," Tony recognizes, as he pours another glass of scotch for them.

"He's lucky. Bobbi seems great."

The genius becomes curious about the wishful gaze of the soldier and asks, "Do you think about this?"

Looking at Natasha, who seems to be having fun with their friends, Steve replies with honesty, "I do. But… she's not ready." Turning to Tony, he asks back, "Don't you?"

"Getting married? Well, family isn't my forte."

"So you're scared. We all get scared, and we push through."

Tony isn't really surprised by Steve's accurate assessment, just a little shocked by having to admit it to himself. The genius thinks about a thousand things to say, but only the truth comes to his mouth. "Don't quote me on this, but I don't know why she would want to marry me."

"I know you're the smart one, but that's pretty dumb." There's no irony in Steve's voice.

They both look to Pepper and Tony smiles. "She's the best thing that happened in my life."

"No doubt. She's crazy enough to like you. And she's ready."

Sipping the scotch, Tony confesses, "Steve, even without your shield, you're still Captain America. Without my armor, I'm just… a man in a can."

"You're Tony Stark! The Tony Stark. Billionaire genius. You're probably one of the three smartest men in the entire world. You're as tough as they come. You invented hardcore, my friend."

Stunned, Tony's first reaction is to hide behind his jokes. "Really? You know two people smarter than me?"

"Can't you just take a compliment?" Steve teases and they both laugh for a while. Watching the group again, the soldier advices, "Don't you dare lose her."

Shaking his head, Tony chuckles, "I would be dead."

Patting his friend's shoulder, the Captain pushes, "So, man up."

Romanogers floor.

Back at their place, Natasha runs to Sneg's room and picks him up. "I missed you, little one." He yelps happily as she hugs him close.

Delighted to see her so attached, Steve sits on the pillows pulling her to his lap, while she holds their puppy. Teasing her, he pouts, "You hold him more than me…"

Flashing her irresistible green eyes, she replies, "He's a baby, it's bonding time. He needs to get used to us."

"You should see your face now." Smiling, he kisses her tenderly before asking, "JARVIS, take a photo of us, please."

It was their first family photo.

But turns out, neither of them can be away from Sneg for too long. Comfortable in Natasha's arms, the puppy falls asleep quickly.

"See? He's a baby."

After setting him on his bed, the couple goes to their room.

"Did you have fun with the girls?" he asks curiously.

"Well, it was different. I'm not used to that girly talk, but it wasn't so bad. What about you and the boys?"

"Yeah, it was fun. Tony and I talked. We're okay."

"I'm so proud of you." She kisses him softly. "Did you like the movie? It wasn't our normal movie-night."

He smiles coyly, "I loved having you in my arms."

"We always watch movies together…" she bites her lower lip.

"I meant in a movie theater, with other people around. Today I wasn't the lonely guy."

"I loved it too."

In their bed, wrapped in each other's arms, they talk about their friends and relationships, like any normal couple. It hits Steve how happy and relaxed Natasha looks. Caressing her face, he kisses her passionately until they both need to pull out for air. "I'm blessed you're mine," he breathes.

As usual, he leaves her speechless, and her green eyes blink slowly. A question comes out of her mouth before she can think about, "Don't you want more?"

Pausing, Steve thinks. What is she really asking? Instinctively, he cups her face, not wanting her to look down, before answering, "You are everything I need. And I want anything with you, as long as you want it too."

Her eyes are dancing as she opens herself completely to him. "I don't need anything, but you."

"I am yours. But I want to give you everything you want and deserve." He kisses her softly and asks what he always asks, "What do you want?" But this time he adds, "What are your dreams?"

Marriage? Family? Do I ever deserve to dream of any of this? She thinks, and closing her eyes, she whispers, "I… I can't dream… of more…"

Raising her chin, he kisses her eyelids tenderly. "You are my dream, Nat. Don't worry; you won't have to do anything that you're not ready for, okay?" Enfolding her completely, he shields her from any harm. "I'm here, and I love you forever."

Pressing against his chest, once again, she's flooded with emotions… fear, hope… and love. Steve gave her a real life, a chance to discover herself and find happiness. He is her everything, and she's not afraid anymore. "I love you too."

This is definitely the happiest holiday season of their lives.

Next movie: Fierce People (2005)

Chapter Text

Sneg brings Steve and Natasha even closer. Very smart and curious, he follows Steve everywhere, they play and wrestle like two children. Natasha loves to see how the puppy mirrors his master in everything. After plenty of exercises, he's worn out, and when she calls, he comes running, absolutely happy to relax in her caring arms. Steve's delighted to see that, like him, Sneg is unconditionally in love with Natasha. The couple is disciplined, following the training instructions to the dot, what makes them perfect owners for this kind of breed. They spend all their free time learning how to take care of him and enjoying every single moment.

The bath, for instance, takes forever, letting Natasha completely wet with all the fuzz the puppy does playing with everything. They reformed his suite to be dog-friendly, with gates, a large kennel, and a play area. In the bathroom, they installed a big sink with a counter and, most important, an automated litter box. It's unbelievable what it's available for dogs nowadays when you have space and money.

Steve hugs her from behind, kissing her cheek, and she teases him, "Splash zone, you're gonna need a bath too."

She's wearing a tank top and shorts, but it's not the lack of clothes or the fact that she's all wet that is appealing for him. It's the simplicity of it all – her hair in a ponytail, her face clean of makeup, her relaxed and pleased form, taking care of their dog. He whispers playfully, "That's the idea", placing small kisses along her neck, sending chills down her spine.

"Babe…" She's melting already, but she pouts, "I need to finish his bath and I'm not very good at this."

"You're amazing." He holds her tight, before resting his head on her shoulder to stroke Sneg's head. "Right, buddy?" The puppy yelps excited. "See? He agrees with me."

Natasha smiles sheepishly, making more bubble soups for Sneg to play with. "I'm trying to make the bath a fun time, but look at this mess!"

"He's happy. Don't worry, we can take care of this later." He gently turns her in his arms and her wet hands soak his shirt, but he doesn't care hugging her even closer, "Are you happy?"

Sliding her arms around his neck, she relaxes into his embrace, "More than I could've imagined."

"That's all that matters." Strong hands carresses her back gently, while he pulls her from her feet, and kisses her passionately. "God, I love you!"

But Sneg yelps, wagging his tail excited wanting attention, and the couple laughs, breaking the embrace.

Grinning, she uses the sprayer to rinse the puppy. "I know it's silly, but this all makes me feel normal..." She rolls her eyes, "Well, if anything in this billionaire life-style can be called normal."

They laugh again, and Steve kisses her head, "It's not silly. I need it too. We deserve to have fun like everybody else." Watching Sneg playing with the toys in the water, he reassures, "We're doing the best for him. Remember what Dr. Gregg said in the last visit. He's as healthy as he can be." Since the paparazzi incident, they've been avoiding public places, so the veterinarian started to make house calls to check the puppy periodically.

After shaking the water off, running through the bathroom, Sneg lets Natasha dry him, and falls asleep in her arms while Steve quickly tidies up the mess. She lays the puppy carefully on his bed and reaches for Steve, smiling seductively. "Let's go, babe. It's our turn."


When Pepper comes to visit, she brings Tony and Bruce, full of bags. "I stopped at this new pet store. I know you're not going out for a while so I couldn't resist."

The two women get excited opening the bags, and Natasha loves it all, especially the clothes, "Ah, Pep! You're the best, thank you!"

Steve looks incredulous at the room, suddenly full of packages. "Thanks, Pepper, you didn't have to do this."

But the CEO is not nearly embarrassed as she kneels by the kennel, dropping lots of toys inside. Sneg jumps around, trying to play with them all. "Look how happy he is. Don't worry, count it as Christmas gifts."

"It looks like you bought him the entire store." Bruce jokes.

Tony's annoyed with all the fluffiness, "And I am the exaggerated one."

Pepper smirks, looking to Tony, "You gave me a giant bunny."

"JARVIS, make a note. No more giant bunnies."

"Noted, sir. Agent Romanoff, it's time for Sneg's supplement vitamin."

Tony can't help himself, "So you got JARVIS to dog-sit too?"

"It's actually very effective." Steve explains satisfied, "When we're not around, JARVIS talks to him using our own voices and it calms him down. We almost didn't have trouble with his first nights."

Observing everything, Bruce ponders, "I can't even imagine what you guys will do when you have kids."

Sam arrives at that moment, questioning, "Kids?! You guys are having kids? So, you're getting married or what?"

Tony chokes and all eyes turn to him, so he quickly asks Pepper, "If you want a dog too, honey, JARVIS can help."

Bruce pats Tony's back, "Now you're the one missing the point, my friend."

The genius rolls his eyes, and the men laugh. The women, however, continue their conversation pretending not to care about the talk, but Steve doesn't miss the subtle tension in both of them. He gets close, discreetly putting a hand on Natasha's back and caressing Sneg. "I think our lives are too stressed already. This little guy is really helping us relax and unwind, so, I recommend."

The doctor agrees, "Very well said, Captain."

Thanksgiving with all the team was great, but soon before Christmas, they all leave. Pepper, Bobbi and Jane go to their own families' homes, taking their respective men with them. Sam goes to see his mother, and Bruce wants to find old friends.

Steve and Natasha will be alone at the Tower to spend their first Christmas as a couple, while trying to learn how to be family for each other.

She wants to make him happy, so they decorate their tree with beautiful vintage ornaments from the 40s that she got for him, and some handmade wooden ones from Russia. Everything is arranged in a simple way to remember both cultures, cozy and modest, like them.

Wrapped on each other's arms, they lie in their bed, and he reminisces… "I remember this one time that I wasn't sick at the hospital during the winter. There wasn't many." As hard as his childhood was, he's happy to share these memories with her. "We spent those holidays at home. Mom brought a basket of food, a gift from a rich patient. Lots of things I had never tasted before. She gave me new pencils to draw and took me to the midnight mass. It was the happiest Christmas of my life."

With her head resting comfortably on his chest, Natasha hugs him tight, and offers sincerely, "Do you want to go to the midnight mass this year?"

He cups her face gently raising her chin, "You mean… together?" She nods and his eyes shine, "But you don't need to…"

She was born during the Soviet Union anti-religious regime, but they had never talked about it before. "When I was a child, religion was forbidden. We had to pray in secret." There's a hint of melancholy in her voice, "Mama… She taught me a song…" and her eyes get teary. "I sang for her to come back to me... but, after a while, I stop believing..."

Silently, he holds her while she hums a beautiful melody, and kisses her forehead when she finishes it. "We don't need to go anywhere, to do anything."

She turns to face him, stomach down, placing her hands on his chest, "I want to go with you."

It had always crushed his heart to be alone at those moments, and he dreamed to share them with her. Even so, he sounds uncertain, "Nat, you're the only one I want by my side, and I'd love to go..." Worry and frustration are equally mixed in his voice. "But I don't want to risk exposing you to some paparazzi..."

"I'm a spy, right?" She looks delicate in his strong arms, but she has all the confidence he needs. "Don't worry, I'll get us a real disguise."

He trusts her above everything, and smiles grateful, kissing her hand. "Thank you."

Green eyes dive in blue ones, and there's a sense of plenitude between them.

"I don't remember much, but the food… it was great." There's always a special glow in her face when she talks about her mother. Great part of taking care of small children is to feed them, that's when Natasha felt loved in her life. That's why she loves to cook for him. "What do you want to eat?"

Her smile lights up his heart, and he feels blessed. "I'll love everything you make, you know me."

Despite his fast metabolism and constant need for nutrition, Steve has a refined taste and appreciates good food. He enjoys trying all her new recipes, and Natasha's thrilled talking about all kinds of options for their first festive dinner. "For some people there are two Christmases in Russia. Following the Orthodox calendar, it's on January 7. We can celebrate both days, with two different menus. What do you think?"

He flashes his eyes in contentment, "Sounds perfect!"

"What do you prefer now, Irish or American?"

Steve's love for Natasha grows every day. He values every single thing she's doing for him, finding her even more irresistible. "You know…" A mischievous smile plays in his face before he turns her into his arms, and kisses her senseless. When they break for air, he whispers between her lips, "I'm addicted to Russians…"

She can't stop smiling, and they get lost in each other's arms.


Natasha orders online all the ingredients she needs, and it amuses them how express delivery truly works even at these busy holidays times. Making Irish recipes, she tries to recreate some of the things Steve's mother cooked for him. Sneg plays around and Steve helps her in the kitchen. Technically, he hugs and kisses her more than anything, while stealing pieces of the delicacies she's preparing. It takes a lot more time to have anything done, but they couldn't be happier.

He's delighted, "It's divine, Nat! It reminds me of mom's cooking but it has your special flavor, so it makes me think about you two."

She couldn't have a better compliment.

After the delicious Christmas Eve dinner, they leave for the Brooklyn church Steve attended his whole life.

Faithful to her promise, Natasha makes them completely unrecognizable. Steve didn't shave for three days and she applies washable hair dye to make them brunettes. They wear dark brown contact lenses. With the proper makeup, they look like bland versions of Lucas Lee and Annie the Nanny. Beneath coats, scarves, and winter hats, they are just another couple in the crowd.

Steve watches quietly the whole ceremony, praying for his mom, Bucky and the ones he lost. Silent tears fall from his eyes when it ends. For the first time, since his mother's death, it feels like a family. He's grateful for his second chance, and whispers into her ear, "I thank God for you in my life."

Natasha feels like an outcast, but she's there for him, and she clings to his hand the whole time. She doubts she can have his faith, or even her mother's. Not with all the red on her ledger. But something in that place, about sharing that moment with him, touches her deeply, and even if she doesn't know what to believe, she's grateful for their life together, for him. "Me too…"


Back to the Tower, they are full of love… and hope. They can't take their hands off of each other, but she stops him with a playful grin, "I need to wash my hair." He kisses her ardently before she enters the bathroom, and she whispers, "Hold that thought, I have a surprise."

Immediately, he runs to the guest room, showers and shaves quickly. He doesn't know what she is planning, so he puts her gift under the pillow and a mirror over his bedside table, before lying on their bed to wait anxiously for her.

If Santa himself appeared in their fireplace, it would be less surprising than what happens next.

The look on Steve's face is priceless. His jaw falls and he stops in a complete state of awe when Natasha reveals herself enfolded in red velvet and white fur – the sexiest Mrs. Claus he hadn't ever dare to dream about. A full length robe, wrapped by a black belt, hugs her perfect curvy body still hidden behind it. Through the front slip, she crosses one leg, exposing her thigh and a glimpse of the sexy lingerie beneath it – a red lace garter belt holding her red-and-white striped stockings. "Merry Christmas!"

In a split of a second, he jumps from the bed and carries her in his arms. She can't help but giggle as he almost throws her on the bed, in absolute excitement. She smiles, forming the most bewitching dimple at her totally flushed cheekbone.

"Hot damn, Nat!" Caressing her leg in the pantyhose, he smiles roguishly, "This is the best gift Santa ever left at my stockings." She laughs widely and he pretends to whine, "See what you do to me? I'm cracking crappy jokes!"

As an artist, Steve is a visual creature, and Natasha is a masterpiece. It isn't only the costume itself, but the fact that she's willing to dress up this way for him. With him, she's just Natasha. No masks, no Black Widow. He can't wipe the smile from his face, picking her hand gently and kissing it, "I can't believe you did this for me."

Her heartbeat speeds up and her cheeks become hot. "You like that add, don't you?"

Tony showed the Victoria Secret's festive lingerie add non-stop, teasing them all, but the Captain was really used to not pay attention to the genius' jokes. Natasha, however, saw the guys admiring the super models, even if she didn't show it.

"What add?" Steve holds her possessively, "You look spectacular, Nat!" She blinks slowly, seeing in his deep blue eyes utter adoration. No matter what, he always makes her feel the most special woman in the world. Gently, he cups her chin, "I love you, I want only you", and captures her lips in a passionate kiss.

They break up for air and, breathless, she replies, "I want to make you happy."

"You make me the happiest man in the world every single day, Nat." He picks a little red velvet box from under her pillow, "Merry Christmas."

She freezes for a moment, before picking it up to undo the green ribbon. The relief and joy in her face are instantaneous, as soon as she sees a pair of platinum cluster earrings – a classical set with a cushion emerald surrounded by 12 round cut diamonds, each. "Oh my God! Steve! This is too much, you didn't need..."

Cutting her with another kiss, he says, "Can't I give a gift to my girl?"

She truly looks like a child with the best Christmas gift ever. "These are natural emeralds! Colombian?" The stones are a little larger than her orbs.

"Yes. Pepper's jeweler found them especially for you." Looking sheepish, he rubs the back of his neck. "I wanted them for your birthday, but he didn't get the right color in time, to match your eyes."

He holds the mirror for her as she tries them on, smiling, absolutely excited. "Steve, they're the most beautiful earrings I've ever seen!"

He's fascinated by colors, and smiles proudly with her happiness. "Nothing can match the beauty of your eyes, but I think they're close enough. There's the matching ring, if you want..."

Wrapping her arms around him, she doesn't let him finish, pulling him for a searing kiss. "Love you."

Completely enfolding her in his arms, he smiles between her lips, "You're the best present I've ever gotten in my whole life."

She knows he doesn't mean the outfit.


It's almost noon when she wakes up and tries to move, but in his sleep, he grabs her tight.

"I'll be right back, babe." She kisses him softly before releasing herself from his caring grip. But without Natasha in his arms, Steve can't sleep, so he's awake when she puts a brunch tray on his bedside table.

She's wearing the velvet robe and he grabs her by the waist pulling her back to bed. He has the most seductive smile ever, "Aren't we supposed to open our gifts in the morning?" She gets lost in his loving blue eyes and the food is left forgotten.

The next time, she comes back with Sneg, who's also wearing a Santa hat. "We all need to eat." Steve laughs at her strategy to make him behave. They eat, they laugh, and sit by the tree to let the puppy play with his new set of Avengers dog-chew-toys. His favorite is the Hulk.

And then, Natasha gives Steve the official Christmas gift, a Gibson Acoustic guitar, "We had so much fun in Alaska singing together..."

"Nat, this is amazing!" He pulls her to his lap, caressing the white fur of her robe, "Thanks, Mrs. Claus, I love all my presents." She blushes and he kisses her, over and over again.

The next days are peaceful, and Natasha invites him to watch a movie. "It's an old one, but I haven't watched it yet." She looks absolutely adorable when she's embarrassed with something like this, "It's not my kind of movie..."

It's always a proof of trust, and Steve certainly doesn't take it for granted. Grabbing her gently by the waist, he cups her face saying, "We will watch it together, OK?" No judgment, no irony, just his unconditional support and love.

The couple cuddles with Sneg on the couch, and Natasha feels relaxed, surrounded by Steve's caring, protective arms.

The movie is about a teenager who is brought by his mother to live with a rich family and tries to study them through an anthropological view. It all ends up messed up when he gets involved with them, changing their lives and getting affected by them in return.

When it ends, she's hugging the sleepy puppy, while resting on the safety of Steve's broad chest.

"It's sad to think how money can corrupt people, make them think they're better than others just because they were born with everything." Steve ponders, but she keeps quiet, so he continues, "Your guy did a good job. He was young, but portrayed the troubled young man perfectly."

She's visibly uncomfortable. "I found it disturbing."

"He's an actor — it's his job to play different characters. I found it brave of him to try a dark character, while many actors would just stick to the easy parts." But she's definitely upset, so he hugs her tight. "Look, how about taking Sneg to play in the snow?"

Because of the rashness of the winter in New York, Steve's not jogging outside with Sneg yet – he's too young. But today it's not snowing, so they go to an isolated area outside the city, and the puppy gets enchanted with the open space. His natural dense long coat is perfect for freezing temperatures and, with his stout furry paws, he traverses the icy terrain easily.

Watching Sneg play, Natasha finally speaks. "He's growing up so quickly…"

"Soon enough, he'll be our mini bear." Steve jokes, trying to cheer her up.

"Do you think I'm spoiling him too much? Spending too much?" She's clearly still thinking about the movie, where Bryce, played by her guy, was raised without limits, had a twisted perception of reality and had a horrible dark side.

They're sitting on the open back of their truck, and Steve pulls her close, trying his best to keep her comfortable. "Look, don't overthink too much. The movie gives a fair warning to society. I like how it highlights the importance of family. It's clear how Bryce's mother protected him from everything, at any cost, making him untouchable, validating his sick behavior."

Natasha's heart races. This is her deepest fear. If she can't take good care of a dog, how can she ever dream about anything else?

Steve feels her tension and holds her hand. "We live at Stark Tower. A suite for a dog is extravagant, I agree, but we can afford it. It wouldn't make sense to restrict him into a small area, right?"

Her smile is slightly relieved, and he cups her face reassuring, "I think we're doing great with Sneg. He has defined boundaries he can't cross and an established routine he must follow. He's growing up smart, strong, but also obedient and loyal." He places a soft kiss on her lips. "You keep us in line. All of us, even the team. You're the best."

Resting her head on his chest, she whispers, "Thanks."

They walk and play with the puppy, until she flings a snowball at Steve, and runs, with him chasing her. Sneg barks happily, loving the game. Then, Steve grabs Natasha's waist and tackles her down on the soft snow, falling over her and making her squeal in the midst of the euphoria. Instantly, Sneg jumps close to them growling at Steve. At this moment, the couple witnesses the dog's protective instincts and realizes he won't let anyone hurt her, not even his beloved owner.

They both hug Sneg affectionately, showing that Natasha is well, and the puppy licks both faces. Steve praises him, "Good boy!" and looks at her with all the love of his heart. "Always take care of her first, buddy. We can't live without her."

Natasha draws Steve for a loving kiss, and Sneg whines, covering his face with his large paws.

At New Year's Eve, Steve and Natasha are getting ready to attend the Maria Stark Foundation gala benefit at the Stark Mansion, located at the prestigious 890 Fifth Avenue. It's a closed event, for selected guests. Even so, she still wants to keep their relationship off the media spotlights, therefore, they won't present themselves as a couple.

Smooth coral satin folds over her ribs and across her body to gather on one hip, bending in satin billow to brush the floor, as she walks towards him in sparkling stilettos heels. Lace pulls over her chest, outlining her off-the-shoulder neckline, through her long sleeves, contrasting with her pale skin. She stops with her back turned to him, "Can you zip me up?"

"Nat, you look spectacular." Steve's eyes darken and his breath hitches slightly, as he helps her, before turning her in his arms, "How am I supposed to spend the whole night without kissing you?"

Her eyes sparkle like her emerald earrings. "Don't worry, I know the mansion. There are lots of secret places." She winks mischievously and he leans to kiss her, but she pouts, "My makeup… we're late already…" With more women at the Tower, Pepper's professional stylish team took more time to get them all ready.

Sliding his hand through her waist, he feels the roughness of the lace that covers her whole back. He holds her close, foreheads touching, and he tucks a lock of her dark-red hair behind her ear. "You are breathtaking." Slowly, he traces his thumb through her jaw slightly raising her chin, and places a feather-light kiss on her soft lips. Under his controlled behavior, he's exuding passion from every pore. She feels weak on her knees and no desire of leaving his arms, but their friends are waiting, so she adjusts his silver silk tie, fixing his black tuxedo. They both look stunning.


Tony, Pepper, Clint and Bobbi arrive at the mansion together, and the archer officially introduces his wife to the press, dragging all the attention. The limousine with Steve, Natasha, Thor and Jane, leaves them inside, on the subterraneous floor. After Thor's incentive, Sam brings Darcy as his date.

But the great surprise is brought by Bruce. "My friends, I'd like to introduce to you... Betty Ross." While testing new kinds of weapons for the Falcon's armor, the doctor was accidentally shot by a strong experimental adrenalin inhibitor, made to deal with huge monsters. It actually helped Bruce to keep the transformation under control for some time. That's what gave him the courage to visit Betty during Christmas, and they finally settled things out.

"I'll definitely have to raise the rent." Tony jokes and they all welcome Bruce's girlfriend.

When Coulson arrives, they're all relieved, but greet him complaining that they only found about his kidnapping after he was rescued. The agent explains shyly, "I'm sorry. Finding a missing agent isn't an Avenger's mission."

Steve pats his back, "You're not just an agent, my friend."

Tony questions, "So, where is this new team that you ditched us for?"

The Bus team is ecstatic. Each one has their own personal idol and Coulson is pleased to introduce them all. "Thanks for letting me bring the kids, Ms. Potts."

"We all miss you, Phil, and your team is welcome."

Leo Fitz idolizes Tony and gets mesmerized listening to Jane and Selvig explaining their research in astrophysics. He quickly connects with Sam, amazed by the adventures of Iron Man's pupil.

Jemma Simmons was dying to meet Bruce and engages in an animated conversation with Bobbi, who's also biochemist. The young scientist blushes when Hawkeye says, "Cap! She's the one who shot that jerk Sitwell! Well done!" She almost faints when the Captain comes close, complimenting her, "You took care of your team. Good job, Simmons."

"Thank you, Sir."

She can't help but drool over him, until Darcy reminds her, "He is taken", pointing to Natasha. All S.H.I.E.L.D. learned about their kiss in the HQ's cafeteria.

Grant Ward was named after Captain America – Steve's middle name is Grant. So when the Captain praises him, the agent is dumbfounded.

"Your file is remarkable, Ward. It's good to know you have Phil's back."

"It's my honor, Captain."

Coulson introduces his new protégée to Natasha, "Skye, this is Agent Romanoff. She is the hacker who did all the things no one ever found out who did it, and many other things you'll never even know about."

Ward adds shyly, "And the Black Widow can beat the crap out of us all wearing high heels," making everybody laugh.

Natasha smiles, but she's really grateful for the young woman's skills, "You found Coulson while wearing a monitoring bracelet. I'm impressed."


Melinda May chats quietly with Clint about old times, when Director Fury and Commander Hill arrive to join the group for the festive dinner.

"Greetings Son of Coul. I heard you met a Berseker soldier." And Thor starts to tell Asgardians tales about that Army.

Skye and May whisper to each other, "He is dreamy."

Ward rolls his eyes and, discreetly, inquiries his partner, "Hill said that the Avengers didn't know about Coulson because they weren't level 7, didn't she?"

May retorts simply, "She keeps forgetting that Barton and Romanoff are Avengers", and she winks, "They say she's jealous of Romanoff."

After dinner, Tony takes Steve to the main hall to introduce him to a few people. The place is crowded of superheroes, like the Fantastic Four, X-Men, among other law enforcements. The Avengers want to have backup, in case they need to face a larger threat, so Iron Man asks the Captain to take a look at his top candidates.

The mutant Pietro Maximoff, Quicksilver, is talented but arrogant and with obvious trust issues, while his twin sister Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, openly hits on Steve. "From the day they thawed you from the ice... I have always admired you, Captain."

A brilliant scientist, Hank Pym, the Ant-Man, worked with Tony before, but he isn't interested in superheroes. His wife, Janet Van Dyne Pym, the Wasp, instead, seems overly curious about the super soldier, "That's Captain America? He looks so young." That makes her husband instantly jealous and grumpy, "Yeah, well, he's about 60 years too old for you, so you can pick your tongue up off the floor now."

Despite the incredible amount of powers and abilities around, finding a new team member won't be an easy task, at least today. From team members to life partners, the boys ended up chatting about the amount of opportunities for the single people. Since the photo of the kiss on the news, Captain America became a higher target than he used to be. As the party progresses, more women try to get Steve's attention.

Clint gets a little nostalgic. "That's the disadvantage of being married."

Kind of shocked, Steve questions his friend, "You can't be serious."

"Don't tell me you don't think about what you are missing, Cap." Tony teases, as another group of women parade in front of them with deep necklines, and blatantly available.

"These dames don't need to show me everything they got just because they think I'm single." Steve's eyes quickly search for Natasha. When she moves, with absolute grace and elegance, the perfect tightness of the dress fits her curves and makes his heart race. In the middle of all the skin exposition, her class and mystery are the most charming qualities ever. He smiles for her, and answer to his friends. "I don't miss anything."

On the other side of the main hall, Natasha isn't bothered by the women flirting with Steve. The couple keeps subtle track of each other the whole time, as in a choreographed dance at distance, not really caring about anyone else. But, unfortunately for Steve, Natasha's noticed by every man around.

She's introducing the two scientists, Jane Foster and Susan Storm, when Johnny arrives, openly flirting with her, "What would you say to a night on the town with the hottest superhero on North America?"

Steve motions to move but Tony stops him, "Relax, Steve. Torch is harmless."

Clint comes to Steve's side. "Man, if you don't want your thing to be public, you have to stop stalking her."

But Steve isn't listening because there's a man walking directly to her. "Who's that guy?"

"Damn. That scum is Matt Murdock. The womanizer who…" Before the archer can finish it, the Captain is already marching towards Natasha.

She instantly gets uncomfortable by being next to the Daredevil, and the Black Widow takes charge. "Murdock? What the hell are you doing here?"

Matt smiles, "Aren't you still the most gorgeous thing at the party?" Using his enhanced senses, he tries to slap on her backside, but she easily avoids it.

"You're still the same male chauvinist."

The blind man gets surprised by her improved reflexes and the evident disdain on her voice. "You smell different."

Not wanting a scandal, she walks to the waiting area next to the restrooms and he follows her. "What do you want, Murdock?"

"Don't you miss me?" The place is empty, so he gets close to her. "I've been trying to talk to you, but you're always with one of your new bodyguards."

"Back off. Don't make me hurt you." She blocks his advance, getting ready to fight, but he's quick enough to grab her wrist with more strength than he should have. Before she can react, a punch throws the Daredevil away. In a blink of a second, Steve is grabbing Matt's neck, pressing him against the wall. Clint guards the room entrance to prevent anyone else from coming inside.

"Don't you hear the lady?" The Captain is intimidating like she had never seen him before. With one hand, he immobilized the Daredevil as if he was any regular man. "Don't you ever think to touch her again, it's that clear?" Anger is running through Steve's veins making his blood boil, but when Natasha gently touches his shoulder, he releases Matt, and walks out there holding her by her waist.

"JARVIS recorded it all, in case he wanted to sue." Tony's outside, taking precautions, because he knows that Matt Murdock is a lawyer. "I'll get him removed from the party."

Clint's exultant, "Man, that bastard had what he deserved."

It all happened really fast and no one noticed.

"Thanks." She kisses Clint and Tony's cheeks and they leave, smiling.


Natasha leads Steve to a private office, locking the door after they enter. They sit on a couch and Steve asks, "Are you OK? What did he do?"

"Nothing, Steve. I would have kicked his ass, but I didn't want to mess my outfit." He looks upset, and she smiles kindly, "What I'm saying is, thanks for rescuing me", before giving him a soft kiss.

"When I saw him touching you, I couldn't take it, Nat." He's truly disturbed.

She needs to tell him everything, so she takes a deep breath. "We were involved, before… when I lived in San Francisco."

"I figured that. I'm sorry... I should've gotten quickly..."

"Steve, it's OK." She touches his face softly, "Nothing happen."

But the look on his face is of pure defeat, "You said you didn't want anyone else touching you. I should've been near you, I..."

"Babe, please, it's not your fault." Sitting on his lap, she wraps her arms around him, kissing him until he relaxes. "I know you need to protect me. But you can't forget I'm not defenseless. Don't be so hard on yourself." In her arms, he always surrenders, but yet, he's distressed, she knows him too well. "What's really bothering you, Steve?"

"I don't know how to do this, Nat." He sighs, disappointed, "People don't respect each other. I don't want these women throwing themselves at me the same way I don't want men disrespecting you. But I don't want to expose you, or force you to do anything you're not ready to do." Taking a deep breath, he confesses the reason of his worries, "I can't be a bully to you. You already changed so much because of me. You give me everything. It's not fair. I should've accepted you as you are, your rules, your way. Not force you to mine."

Natasha's heart flutters and she kisses him softly on the lips, "I love you so much." She blinks quickly to keep the tears away. "I was broken, you healed me. You didn't force me to do anything. No one was more patient and concerned about me than you, not even myself." He lightens up with her radiant smile, as she hits the main point, "We changed each other for the best, that's how it's supposed to be, right, babe?"

Holding her close, he rests his head on hers, "You unfroze me. I love you."

"I was scared about my past being public… that it could make you ashamed of me."

"Nat, I'd never…"

"I know." She smiles. "Murdock was part of this past that I was afraid of, but I realized he can't hurt me. No one can. I can't change my past and I know that bad things will come to haunt me, but I won't be a prisoner of the past. Above all, I don't need to be part of any tribe to be with you. I know you love me, and I love you, that's all that matters." She puts her hands on each side of his face and smiles widely, "I'm not scared, I don't need to hide anymore." He blinks, not sure he does truly understand what she's saying. Seeing the confusion in his eyes, she explains, "I want everybody to know you're mine and I'm yours."

His eyes sparkle with complete happiness, "Are you sure?"

"Yes." She bites her lower lip, "By the way, the don't-touch-her scene... totally hot." Their eyes dark with passion, as she presses her lips on his once more.


Just before midnight, they go back to the main hall holding hands. Among their friends, coworkers, and complete strangers, they wait the countdown.

"Five, four, three, two, one! Happy New Year!"

Steve and Natasha kiss each other saluting the future ahead of them.

Next The Winter Soldier (*special chapter)

Extra scenes at Chris Crush (Avengers) (*side story w/the Avengers)

Chapter Text

A few weeks ago, when S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Agent Brock Rumlow led the attack to Captain America, he exposed himself as a double agent, codename Crossbones, and his words implied that there was something else behind that act. "Cap, this isn't personal."

Steve single handedly defeated about a dozen heavy-set guys, who tried to take him down. "It kinda feels personal." The elevator fight at the Triskelion became a famous example of the hero's power and skills – as Clint reminded, the most viewed video in the agency's history.

However, the incident increased Fury's alert level, making him start a top secret investigation to find other spies infiltrated and unravel a possible conspiracy.

Following the Director's orders, Agent Sharon Carter investigated the villain's contacts, discovering evidence that A.I.M. (Advanced Ideas Mechanics) created a Cosmic Cube to supposedly alter reality to its bearer's wishes. But she disappeared after her last report, which contained a single image – the vandalized grave of Sgt. James Buchanan Barnes – Bucky.

The stakes couldn't be more personal. Who was targeting Captain America? And why?

Fury warns the Captain and puts Natasha to lead the investigation. Secrecy is the key – they need to remain unseen to proper assess the real danger of the threat, without risking Agent 13's life. So, Steve asks Tony for a diversion.

The genius sounds excited, "I'm testing a new LMD [Life Model Decoy], so I'll take yours with the team to help that conflict in Latveria." The robots look exactly like them, what will make everybody think that the Avengers are together on the other side of the world. Before leaving, Tony gives them the newest updated communicators to keep them all in contact via satellite. "Call JARVIS if you need anything."


Under the radars, fitted with new stealth uniforms, the soldier and the spy go to D.C., since it was the last place Sharon investigated. First stop, Arlington National Cemetery.

After visiting his old partner's desecrated headstone, Steve gets even more stressed. First physically, now emotionally. Whoever is behind this is hurting him deliberately, and Natasha needs to keep him focused for his own protection. "Steve… they want you out of the game."

Always taking all the responsibility for himself, he puts human life first, no matter what. But the situation is too delicate and his eyes seek her support, "I owe Peggy…"

"Carter's a top agent, she's not an easy target." The feeling of pride about the noble man he is makes Natasha realize that she doesn't have a hint of jealousy, not towards Sharon or even Peggy. With the most certain look, she guarantees, "We'll find her. Trust me, OK?"

Following Agent 13's path, the Black Widow tracks down the most probable buyer for the Cube – Kronas Corporation, owned by a former Soviet General, Aleksander Lukin, who made his fortune by selling artifacts he had looted from the archives of the K.G.B.. "Lukin was the protégé of one of the top Red Room's leaders – Karpov." The contempt in her voice is evident.

The Captain frowns immediately, "Vasily Karpov? We fought the Nazis together once, but I didn't like him. Kronas… It was a small village next to Stalingrad that was destroyed during the battle." Two more connections with his past, it's not a coincidence. "It sounds like some kind of sick revenge."


That night, Steve screams in his sleep, "No!"

Natasha wakes up in a jump, "Steve… What's wrong…?"

He sits on their bed, sweating, panting. "Bucky… died…" Nightmares about the war are always a sign that he's feeling powerless. She sits by his side, hugging him close. His heart's still racing but he leans into her touch, "I couldn't save him… again…"

"It was a just a nightmare, babe, come here…" She pulls his arm gently, and he lies by her side, holding her tight as she soothes him, "Let's go back to sleep, OK?"

Relishing in the comfort of her embrace, he clings to her, and his greatest fear comes up, "I can't lose you, Nat. I can't… What if they attack you?"

The look on her face is confident and her voice is absolutely sure, "I've learned from the best." The Black Widow alone is a legend, but since the Avengers, Steve has been teaching her countless ways to defeat himself. She has never been more dangerous, or better trained.

It's exactly what he needs to hear. He sighs, "I love you so much", and places a soft kiss on her lips.

Snuggling in his arms she whispers, "I love you too. You won't lose me."

The hacking program that Natasha let JARVIS running nonstop finally cracks Kronas' communications, discovering that they have increased the security at a warehouse in Philadelphia. Surveillance confirms that it's Agent Carter's captivity.

The extraction happens as planned. As soon as the spy disarms the building's systems and alarms, the Captain knocks the guards down and rescues Sharon, unharmed.

He notifies S.H.I.E.L.D., "I got Carter. Sent the containment team."

The agent is relieved and worried at the same time, "Cap! It's a set-up!"

"I'm sure it is. Let's get you out of here and we'll deal with it."

From a distance, a shooter watches them through a rifle scope, and detonates a bomb, that destroys a few buildings nearby, shaking them all.

Instantly alert, Steve gives Sharon a gun and a communicator, before rushing into action. Through the Avengers' private channel, he calls, "Romanoff?"

"I'm on the ground. The warehouse is empty, no sign of the Cube."

"There is an A.I.M.'s squad in a cross fire with the police. Cover me."

While Captain America engages into a fierce combat, the Black Widow checks the surroundings. There's fire and destruction everywhere, but she finds a man firing from a rooftop, next to a device containing what looks like the Cosmic Cube. She shoots at it, stopping the power transfer.

The shooter turns, and she recognizes her former Red Room instructor. "Yakov?!"

His voice lacks emotion but greets her in impeccable Russian, "Rekrut", before attacking her.

Fast and gracefully, she blocks his assaults. Although being formidable, Yakov is at least three times weaker and slower than her Captain. "I'm not a rookie anymore."

After crushing the criminals, the soldier finds the spy battling a masked opponent. Steve's mind doesn't believe he's seeing such familiar movements, but his heart makes him question, "Bucky…?"

Hearing that name, she hesitates for a brief second – time enough to get knocked down by an electric charge from Yakov's metal arm. Turning to the Captain, the shooter replies in perfect English, "Who the hell is Bucky?"

Before thinking, Steve is already by Natasha's side, shielding her, when a wall starts to collapse – the warehouse was also being consumed by fire. In a blink, the soldier carries the spy out of there, but the shooter disappears in the middle of the smoke and dust, taking the Cube with him.

Away from the wreckage, Steve stops to check on her, "Nat, are you OK?"

"Yes." Natasha replies quietly, still disoriented, and partly in shock about everything that just happened.

His scrutinizing eyes look at her, searching for any injury, "That man…?"

"I know him, Steve. He's the K.G.B.'s cybernetic assassin. He can't be…"

"For a moment he looked like… I know, I was mistaken." Keeping the hold on her, he shakes his head, "They lured us here, but why?"


After hours helping the rescue teams, they go back to the Tower. The couple checks each other wounds – nothing serious, except for the electrical burn on her shoulder.

"Damn it. This is my fault, I got you distracted. I'm sorry." Steve's truly upset, "Who's that guy?"

Yakov brings back all the past memories Natasha didn't want to remember. She thinks about everything she needs to tell Steve… "The Winter Soldier… He was K.G.B.'s secret weapon during the Cold War. In their secret Red Room Academy, he was called Yakov and trained top operatives like me. He received the early version of the serum I had and that bionic arm, which was constantly updated. He was brainwashed and programmed at each mission; kept in cryogenic state between them. It's what they called a sleeper-agent."

The Captain's disturbed by her report, "What kind of monster does this to a man?"

"The same one that created me." She tries to look unaffected, but he knows her too well. The mention of the Red Room takes her off balance. "He's one of the dangerous men I know."

He smiles, trying to be comforting, "Don't worry, I'm dangerous too."

She puts her hand on his face and she's trembling, "I'm serious."

He knows better than to pressure her.

Carefully, they undress each other and get into the shower. Worried about her wounds, he treats her with the ultimate care, and she just lets him do it. As the water finishes cleaning the dust from their bodies, she's completely tormented by memories of things she did and saw. The Black Widow shadow that seems to slowly engulf her mind – her body trembles as she cries.

Quickly, he carries her outside the shower and starts to dry her, seeking for any missing injury. "Are you in pain?" She shakes her head no, but remains quiet as he bandages her shoulder – with her accelerated healing and cutting-edge medicines, she will be cured in no time.

They eat as fast as they can and fall into bed completely exhausted. He holds her gently, but she's too tense, "Steve… there's something I need to tell you."

Seeing her anguish, he asks softly, "What's wrong?"

Burying her face against his chest, she replies, "It's my dark past coming to haunt me…"

He caresses her head, sliding his fingers through her red locks, "What is it, my dear?"

"A walking nightmare…" She struggles to say the words, "Yakov was… he…"

"What he did to you?"

There's a mix of apprehension and sadness in her voice. "We… slept together."

She looks fragile, scared, and he cups her face gently, kissing her softly. "Did you have feelings for him?" It's a twisted reality when someone you were involved with before tries to kill you.

"I guess… I thought I had…" Natasha thinks about who she used to be when she met Yakov, and that scares her much more than the assassin. "The truth is that none of us were able to have feelings, Steve. We were weapons to be used… nothing more." The shadow in her green eyes turns them to grey, "It happened after Alexei's supposed death, when I became truly detached, cold, a killer machine. Yakov came as an instructor, and he was like a robot. Perfect match, right?"

Shaking his head no, Steve caresses her face, and his blue eyes show nothing but his love for her. He's her safe ground in the present, as she dredges up her broken past.

She remembers that Yakov, despite being like an empty soul, was kind… different from the other men around. "We trained together for a few weeks and then I never saw him again. I learned that each time they woke him up, because of the mental instability, he needed some time to re-adapt before the mission, hence the training sessions." The humiliation in her voice is heartbreaking, "I wasn't the first hookup, neither the last. But it was their way to use us all, you know? Bad deserves worse."

The soldier's blood is boiling just by imagining her so young being used like this by an experienced man. "Cowards." He rubs her face, breathing slowly, trying to show her that in no way he's upset with her – he has no reason for it. His voice is absolutely soft and caring, "This is all in the past, OK? Don't think about…" At that moment, the man's Brooklyn accent finally hit Steve, and he tenses, "His voice… Where's he from?"

Yakov's voice, crimes, life… Natasha remembers everything she heard about the assassin, "I heard a doctor calling him 'the American' and they kept him frozen to cease his aging. Yakov in Russian is… James!" She cries in despair, "Oh my God, I'm so sorry…"

He holds her close, "What are you talking about, sweetheart?"

In her mind, she committed an unforgivable sin, "I slept with him… I didn't know… He's your… Bucky…"

The idea of Bucky being alive but turned into a mind-controlled assassin brings too many mixed feelings for Steve to deal with… He needs to think of something else, but it seems absurdly irrelevant to care about who she was involved before. "Nat, we don't know it."

"I wanted to forget everything about the Red Room… I should've seen it before… Your photos of the Howling Commandos… It is him, Steve… I'm sorry… I'm so sorry…"

Taking care of her always takes priority, and he gets focused on making her feel safe, "Nothing about this is your fault, Nat. You didn't do anything wrong, OK? You have nothing to be sorry for." Gently, he kisses her lips whispering, "I love you, my dear."

Natasha leans in to the safety of Steve's embrace, but their hearts are troubled with that shocking possibility.

The stories about her past, about what she went through, always make him angry… But now his mind is overwhelmed with images he saw before. Bucky trapped… Dr. Zola's labs… humans experiments… It can't be true.

The days that follow are tough ones.

Still under medical observation after the kidnaping, Sharon confirms Natasha's report – Lukin bought the Cube from A.I.M. but broke their deal, and he's using the legendary Winter Soldier to attack the scientists.

Through video conference, the Black Widow talks to the Director, "The target of the explosion was an A.I.M.'s installation. We located the new one, and we're keeping them and Kronas under surveillance. Our techs found the device I shot at buried on that building. It's used to convert the explosion into energy to charge the Cube. Lukin will need another one."

Fury commands, "The priority is to prevent Lukin to get a fully charged Cube. Our intel says he's in Europe. I'm reassigning Barton and Morse to get him."

Taking a deep breath, the Captain speaks, "I reviewed all the data you sent about the Winter Soldier. Crazy as it sounds, I think he might be someone I know… James Barnes."

"They're messing with your mind, Rogers."

"I know. But if there's even a chance that he's… I have to know the truth."

"Whatever he used to be is ancient history, Cap. He's an assassin without a country and without honor, a machine, nothing more."

Despite her own beliefs, Natasha will support Steve in everything. "Lukin wants the Cube and some kind of revenge against Cap. The Winter Soldier won't stop until his mission is finished."

The Director asks, "What's the plan?"

The soldier's direct, "Intercept them. Capture him alive."

It doesn't take long. As expected, the villain invades A.I.M. with a group of armed mercenaries, and battle ensues. While Natasha leads S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mandroids against both criminal squads, the Winter Soldier attacks Captain America. He's strong, fast, and has a bionic arm – yet, he's no match for the super soldier, who, even holding back, overpowers him.

Corned, the assassin follows Lukin's instructions and takes his masks off…

Completely shocked, Steve freezes instantly. Looking around ten years older than when they last met, his old friend stands in front of him, with the saddest eyes the soldier ever saw. "Bucky." The curse of the battle shifts drastically as the Captain only defends himself, "Is this really all you are now?"

The assassin takes advantage and attacks with no mercy, "Shut up!"

"Is there no part of you that knows what you used to be? Bucky, stop!"

This voice calling this name infuriates the Winter Soldier more than anything, "Stop calling me that!"

But Steve's determined, "I fought by your side for years. I know it's you, snap out of it, Bucky!"

"Shut up! You don't know me!"

"And you don't know how much I wish that was true…"

In a very expert maneuver, the assassin grabs the Captain's neck in a deadly grip. The soldier manages to knead its metal, but it isn't enough to set him free – he's suffocating. Gathering his last strength, he presses his distress signal, calling Natasha.

Seeing the man she loves almost lifeless brings the worst of the Black Widow, and she launches a brutal attack on the Winter Soldier. Both Avengers are wearing new suits, specially designed to absorb electrical discharges – the assassin can't hit her. Her rage strengthens her precise punches and her velocity astonishes Yakov, who's forced to release Steve. Joined by a few mandroids, she continues her ruthless assault, and the villain has no other choice than retreat. But, unfortunately, he got what he came for – a new charger device.

She orders the agents to pursue the villain and runs back to her Captain, who's fallen on the floor. "Steve, talk to me."

But he can't talk, it hurts to breathe, and hopeless blue eyes dive into worried green ones. His physical pain is nothing compared to his shattered heart. She helps him to stand, "Let's get out of here."


Back at the Tower, Natasha takes care of Steve's wounds, "We should go to the hospital floor."

"I've been hit by the Hulk… This is nothing." But his bold statement doesn't match his defeated form, and she has no idea of how she's going to heal his broken soul.

Collapsing on their bed, he puts his head in his hands. There's nothing she can say to comfort him, so she quietly lies by his side and hugs him, as he buries his face against her neck letting silent tears soak her tank top. She had never seen him so devastated.

Focus. Natasha's analytic mind quickly processes everything trying to find a way to help Steve and solve the case. Think. Whatever is the past reason that connects them, Lukin got the cruelest revenge towards Captain America. Why? The Cube is a dangerous weapon, but as the A.I.M.'s scientist confessed, it's one-time-only. As a strategist, she knows Lukin will probably keep it as leverage. There's still a missing part. What's his final objective? Mentally replaying the battle scenes, she thinks about the disturbing effect Yakov had on her – it has nothing to do with their past affair, it's something entirely different… and then, the terrifying truth is clearly revealed. Swallowing hard, she fights to speak, "They're after me."

Watery blue eyes blink quickly, as he raises his head, trying to focus on her, "What?"

"He didn't want to kill me, Steve, I recognize the tactics now. He was trying to capture me." She's holding him with all her love and care, yet, she's the one shaking. "Lukin… the Red Room… They want me back."

All pieces fall into place as she explains it to him. Everything the Winter Soldier did meant to reactivate the assassin she once was. Although she is free from any previous programming, the villain managed to unlock the memories of her past and the secret mission. Defeat Captain America was a secondary objective, a guarantee for Lukin's plan to succeed. The spy is the real target and it brings the soldier back on tracks – it tops everything. Cupping her face with caring hands, he's nothing but reassuring, "Look at me, Nat. I'll never let this happen, OK? Never."

They kiss each other passionately, and he loves her with wild abandon, reminding her that she's a real woman, the love of his life, not a cold-hearted weapon. "I love you. Love you. You." Safe and sated, she relaxes, falling asleep in his arms. Steve knows he'll die for her, nothing can change that.

But how about Bucky? He's not responsible for his actions. He's not in control and he'd hate that more than anything. The scariest true inside the soldier's heart is that he knows his friend, better than anyone. I know what Bucky would do in this situation. I know what he'd want… He'd want me to do whatever it took to stop him. Steve's mind is in a whirlwind as conflicted emotions crunch his frustrated soul. I've let Lukin push all my buttons too easily so far… I can't afford anything but a clear head from this point on… Nothing matters other than keep Natasha safe and find a way to save Bucky. It's what he needs to do. He's counting on me… whether he knows it or not. Bucky is counting on me.

Natasha calls Fury to warn him of the magnitude of the threat. "They attacked Cap as bait to lure me." After the New Year's Eve party, their photo as a couple was in every magazine around the world. "Lukin controls whatever is left from the Red Room and is using the Winter Soldier hoping to unlock the Black Widow's basic programming." The whole conspiracy and double agents make full sense now. She speaks directly to her boss and mentor, "He wants me to kill you."

She has been through S.H.I.E.L.D.'s extensive psychological evaluation, and has Professor Charles Xavier's endorsement, attesting that she's free from any mind-control. Even so, the Captain is cautious, "You two must step aside until we finish the mission."

The Director stays impassible, "We don't have time for this. I just talked with the Secretary of Defense. Lukin got diplomatic immunity, somehow. S.H.I.E.L.D. can't touch him without solid evidence. You need to stop the Winter Soldier from delivering the Cube. You're the only ones who can do it, by any means necessary."

Steve gets frustrated, "You think because he's got no memories of who he used to be… That he's just some programmed assassin… You think that makes it OK to kill him."

"Cap, I think that he's not your partner… your friend anymore. All he is are the parts that remember how to kill and that's what he's doing."

The stakes are too high, but Steve will fight to do what's right, until the end. "You're blaming the gun instead of the person pulling the trigger."

Keeping her professional tone, Natasha hides her fear. "That gun won't hesitate to kill you…"

But there's no way to stop the Captain when he has his mind set on. "Do you have my back, don't you?"

She hates when he corners her like this. He knows she'll follow his lead, no matter what, "You know I do."

"I know how to stop him." Focused, Steve knows exactly what he's doing – he's the master strategist after all. "With the Winter Soldier in our hands, we can get Lukin."

Fury lives in a world of lies and mistrusts, one that Natasha knows perfectly. But the Captain is too noble, and the old man feels like he needs to help the younger one to walk through this chaotic path. "You need to keep both eyes open."

Steve remembers when they first met, and the director told he was the son of Jack Fury, one of Captain's Howling Commandos. "Nick, you once told me that if I ever needed something ever that I could count on you. Well, I'm asking you now. I need to know if there's some part of Barnes still trapped inside… somewhere inside that thing they turned him into. I need to try."

"I'll keep S.H.I.E.L.D. out of this as long as I can." Fury respects him too much to stay in his way. "Looks like you're giving the orders now, Captain."


Captain America calls the Avengers. "After our last encounter, the Winter Soldier vanished. We need to find him before he meets Lukin."

On board the Aven-Jet, Hawkeye warns, "Lukin is on a private jet heading to the U.S. We're following him up close."

Distressed, the Black Widow explains to the team, "He got diplomatic immunity. We can't touch him."

Thor smiles, "He won't be able to fly under my Thunder-storm." The Prince grabs a communicator before leaving. "Pass the coordinates, Hawkeye."

Clint's excited, "How cool is that?"

Delaying Lukin is one part of the problem.

"The Winter Soldier needs another explosion to charge the Cube completely." Natasha continues, "We're monitoring possible targets, but so far we found nothing."

"I studied the device specifications. I'm inputting the amount of energy he'll need. It will narrow down the places." Bruce considers, "But I bet he'll choose a controlled environment, to be undetected."

"I got him." After interrogating A.I.M.'s scientists, Iron Man arrives with the answer. "I'm using the Cube's energy signature as a tracking device." He starts the holographic projection. "He's on the move. Overlaying his path with locations of Kronas holdings, factoring Bruce's inputs, I think he's heading here. It's an old underground facility, in the mountains of West Virginia, with a nuclear safe vault. He can blow up a WMD there, totally unnoticed."

Steve's beyond grateful, "Thank you, my friends."

The Falcon questions,"What do I do?"

The Captain gives him the most special task, "Lukin sent the Winter Soldier after the Black Widow. I need you to be her partner, Sam."

"I don't need a babysitter."

"This is for safety. We don't know who else he sent." Knowing she won't accept it anyway, Steve ponders, "We can't jeopardize the mission with any distraction."

"He's right." Tony's agreeing with Steve, and that, per se, is a sign of the gravity of the subject.

Annoyed, she nods, "Fine."

"You can count on me."

"You better be sure, kid." Clint makes a gun gesture towards Sam, "She's smarter than us all together."

All eyes turn to the newest Avenger, who gasps.

"Cap, what else?"

"Nothing, Tony, thanks. Thank you all. This is one thing I have to do by myself."

Steve's ready to leave, when Natasha appears all suited up. He grabs her arm, pulling her close, "What the hell you think you're doing?" She gives him her my-job look, but he continues, "You're not going."

"Hell, I won't. We both have jobs to do. What about that you-have-my-back talk?"

He rubs his thumb over her arm lightly, before releasing her, "Nat, please, you know I can't risk you…"

"Steve, stop. The place is crowded. The Winter Soldier will flee before you have a chance to find him." Looking at the distress in his face, she smiles kindly, "Besides, nanny has my back."

"Don't worry, Cap." Sam replies, uncomfortable for being in the middle of a domestic disagreement. "I'll take care of her, even if I have to knock her down."

This time Steve can't help but smile, "Well, good luck on that."


Using Natasha's flying car, the three Avengers arrive unnoticed to the heavily guarded installation. The Black Widow and the Falcon take care of the guards, while Steve goes directly inside. Following Bruce's tips, he finds the Winter Soldier next to the nuclear vault.

"You shouldn't have come here."

"I had to, Bucky. This stops now."

The old partners face each other, and this time, it's the assassin who is left off balance since the soldier is wearing his old WWII uniform. "You're something else… I'll give you that. But no one stops me."

"Yeah, well… someone has to, Bucky. And I can't fail you… again…" Seeing the Captain America he once knew, it makes the Winter Soldier more unstable. He attacks mercilessly, but Steve takes punch after punch, keeping the focus. The plan is simple, talking nonstop, calling his friend name over and over again – to find a way to capture him unharmed. "Remember, Bucky! Remember who you really are!"

Somehow it's working – the Winter Soldier is losing control of himself, "You were supposed to be tough, but this is… weak!" In spite of the assassin's harshness, there is a hint of recognition in his eyes and a hesitation in his speech, even as he grabs his guns. "Remember who I am?! The only thing I am is the man who's gonna kill you!"

Steve doesn't miss the signs and stops, dropping his shield, "Fine… then go ahead, Bucky. Shoot me. If you truly don't know me… then just do it." It takes the Winter Soldier completely by surprise and he freezes, with guns in both hands already pointed to the Captain.

Everything happens almost at the same time.

Arriving at that moment, Natasha and Sam hear Steve's words. Faster than anyone can anticipate, the Black Widow shoots the Winter Soldier, who shoots her back. Reacting instantly, the Falcon carries her out from the projectile trajectory, as Captain America throws his shield deflecting the other bullet, knocking the assassin down, who, in his fall, drops his precious cargo.

Without hesitation, Steve grabs the Cube that fell in front of him, pointing it to his old friend, and makes one wish, "Remember who you are."

The Cube glows, and it's like the world is falling on the troubled man's shoulders as years of memories flood back, overloading him. "No… no…" Bucky drops on his knees, holding his head on his hands, crying in agony.

With the tranquilizer gun in one hand, Natasha stops by Steve's side, who keeps talking to his friend, "It's OK, Bucky… it's going to be OK…"

Alert, Sam stands nearby.

Finally, Bucky turns and his watery eyes are filled with an indescribable pain, "Cap…? What'd you do…? How can I…?" Tears fall from his lost blue eyes, "No… you should've just… killed me." Without warning, he grabs the Cube from his friend's hand, "Sorry, Steve" and smashes it, causing a huge explosion.

Instinctively, Steve jumps to shield the one he cares the most – Natasha. He encases her completely, but when he comes out from below the rubble, she's unconscious in his arms. Desperately, he calls for help, "Falcon!"

Sam finds them outside the building in ruins, "Cap?"

"Check her, now!"

The Falcon uses his armor to scan them both, "JARVIS, are you copying?"

Running to the car, the Captain orders, "JARVIS! Status."

"There's no signal of any internal injury, Captain, in any of you. But there's metal projectile in her left leg."

Shocked, Steve removes an empty dart from Natasha's leg. "I'm taking her to the Tower, call Bruce."

"Yes, Sir. I'm setting the car to autopilot, and alerting the medical staff."

Immediately, Sam feels guilty, "Cap, I'm sorry… I thought I took her away from the shot."

"Sam, it's not anyone fault, OK? Find Bucky." Steve asks as he places Natasha carefully on the car.

"But… the explosion… the Cube… he wanted to die…"

The Captain lowers his head for a moment, before replying, "No… Bucky is a survivor… Find him. Be careful, and please, don't harm him."

"You got it, Cap."


Hidden in the woods, Bucky observes Steve, the only brother he ever had, the one who fought for him even when he didn't deserve it. Finally free of any mind-control, his thoughts are of deep guilt and shame, as he thinks how profoundly he disappointed the most important person in his life.

The thing about being under mind-control, the part nobody talks about is that you're still in there… some small piece of you is awake… watching. Like being a passenger in your own body. You struggle to break free… but you lose… over and over again… you lose… And it makes whatever you're forced to do that much worse… His last act as a slave hit his best friend where it hurts the most. I'm sorry, Steve… I hope you can forgive me one day…

He saw the news about them being a couple, and seeing the anguish in Steve's face as he holds her now, it's obvious that she meant a lot for him. The same way Steve must mean the world for her, considering that she almost killed Bucky when he was choking the Captain.

Bucky thinks about the irony of fate. She's the Black Widow, a product of the same Red Room that imprisoned him into the Winter Soldier. A long time ago, Natalia Romanova made me remember what it was to feel human. She was the dissonant chord in that chaos, the one good thing inside of that ocean of evil. No surprise Steve and Natalia found each other. Honestly, they're the best people Bucky have met in his long miserable life, and he was never good enough for any of them. I'm sorry, Natalia… I never wanted to get you into trouble. But I guess that's all I'm good at.

There's no other option, he needs to fix it. He can't make Steve suffer anymore. He can't let Natalia become a slave. He'll die before he lets Lukin take her.

Bucky puts his gun on the ground and disappears.

Next movie: The Perfect Score (2004)

Chapter Text


No surprise in Stark's world. The hospital floor at the Avengers Tower takes medical care to a whole new level. With state-of-art equipment and technology, it is enhanced to attend their specific needs – from regular checkups to cutting-edge surgeries, including complete ER and ICU facilities. Whenever necessary, the best specialists in the world can be called. That's what happened last year when Doctor Wu, the renowned Chinese cardiac surgeon, came to remove the shrapnel from Tony's chest. Notably, it was at its scientific research laboratory that they found a cure for the Extremis virus that infected Pepper during the Killian/Mandarin attack. Highest automation levels and strict procedures guarantee the ultimate security requiring a reduced number of personnel. The selected working staff is hired through an extensive process and everybody, with no exception, has to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Once more, all this resources will be put at use.


The teenager finally opened her eyes, she was crying and trembling. Nightmares… Memories… She couldn't be sure about what they were, but she didn't like any of them… Looking around, everything was strange… an absolutely empty space – she had no idea of where she was. There was a blinding light at one side, and the cold coming from there was cutting through her clothes, skin and bones – she shivered, realizing she was wearing only a camisole. It hurt so badly… On the opposite side, there was an oppressive darkness… Although she was afraid to sleep, a powerful drowsiness was overtaking her… As soon as she closed her eyes, the horrible dreams started to flood her mind again… She was lost between pain and fear. Wrapping her arms around her legs, she hugged them tight to her chest and sobbed, praying for help. At that moment, the redhead sensed someone next to her, a comforting warm presence gave her the push to open her eyes again… to keep fighting… it gave her hope.


Despite not being a medical doctor, Bruce holds expertise in Biology, Chemistry and Physiology, therefore, he supervises the entire floor – it's his way to help his friends as the man, not just as the Hulk. He leads the team, who receives them on the rooftop. The scene is shocking – quite beaten, Steve gets out from the car with Natasha in his arms, and gently lays her on the gurney.

In the ER room, the soldier talks to the physician, as she performs the initial examination on the still unconscious spy. Once Natasha is properly accommodated at the hospital bed, clean and medicated, the preliminary tests are finished and Bruce explains, "She suffered a concussion from the explosion, but there is no internal injury, only superficial bruises. The lab is examining the dart to determine what she was injected with. Any idea, Steve?"

Apprehensive, the soldier stands by her side, holding her hand, and replies, "Something related with the Red Room. Lukin wanted to take control of her."

"OK, we're on it. Now, we need to check your injuries, which seem far more extensive."

But the Captain simply doesn't move, remaining silent, and the doctor has no other option but to leave.

Once he's alone with Natasha, Steve clutches her slender hand against his heart, and prays. His whole body hurts, Bucky had beaten him brutally, but no physical pain is worse than how helpless he's feeling at this moment. Please, Nat, please, wake up… His heart is completely shattered by seeing her like this… His worst nightmare… Damn, Bucky… what did you do? The soldier thinks about everything that occurred, and what she told him about the Red Room, trying to find a clue about what's happening with her. She looks so peaceful, so beautiful… Steve kisses her head… a silent teardrop rolls down his cheek. I'm here, sweetheart, I won't go anywhere…

Clint arrives in a rush, knocking and entering the room. "Cap? JARVIS called me. I came as fast as I could. How is she?"

Steve shakes his head desolated, "She doesn't wake up, no one knows why."

Clint realizes he had never seen his friend so defeated. In a silent understanding, the archer stands by her side, taking her other hand. He is the only one Steve trusts to leave Natasha with, because she would be comfortable this way. Only then, the Captain allows the medical staff to take care of him. He receives customized medication shots – enhanced to work with their four-time-faster metabolism – like antibiotics to prevent infections but, despite his broken bones and torn muscles, he refuses any sedative. Quietly, he lies in his bed, assembled next to hers, and picks her hand once more.

The archer understands the soldier's need of privacy. "I'll be outside, OK? Call me anytime."


He observes the building in front of him. The people gathered there have no idea they're being watched. Fools. The hole in his heart is unbearable, making it impossible to breathe, and the suffocating memories relentlessly burn what had left of his tormented soul. It was better when he didn't have any feelings. Easy. Detached. Now, he wants to scream, cry, run… and die – but he can't. Damn, Steve. He aims to make them pay, seeking revenge. They truly know nothing about what he's capable of. It will be an easy task. Get in, get out, and crush whoever stays in his way. No one can stop him this time – he will finish them all.


Tony and Bruce are listening to Thor saying how he created a storm that forced Lukin to an emergency landing on a remote island, but, instantly, they all look at Clint, waiting for news.

"She's still sleeping… But… I've never see him like this… His body looked like he went through hell, and he didn't complain one bit… He only left her side for a few moments… because I was there." The archer's eyes are moistened and he pauses, taking a deep breath. "Does anyone know what the hell happened?"

Arriving at that moment, Sam confesses devastated, "I do. The Winter Soldier shot at her and I tried to carry her out of the dart's trajectory, but I wasn't fast enough, he hit her leg. I'm sorry. I messed up. This is my entire fault."

"Sam, the guy is a legend for a reason. He doesn't miss." Tony feels sorry for his pupil but they need more information. "What else?"

"They fought until Cap used the Cosmic Cube to make him regain his memories. It seems like it worked, but after that, he smashed the Cube and vanished."

Clint's blunt, "Is he dead?"

"No, he disappeared with the explosion." Sam shows a gun, explaining, "But I found his gun outside in the woods, so he's definitely alive."

The archer doesn't hide his rage, "Right. It means than I can kill him."

"Clint, stop. I'm worried for her too, but we have two friends in there." With Steve in need, Tony takes place as the wiser leader that even him didn't know he could be. "This guy means a lot to Steve. We can't forget it."

"As far as I'm concerned, the Captain considers this man a brother, despite his past criminal actions." Mourning Loki for the second time, Thor understands Steve's pain better than anyone.

But Hawkeye feels nothing but anger, "He beat the crap out of Cap and put Nat in a comma! You better keep him out of my sight!"

Bruce tries to calm Clint down, "You need to try and relax, OK? They both need you here." He takes the gun, "I'll have the lab analyzing the darts right now. Go inside, Sam, go tell Cap the news. It will cheer him up."

"OK, just one thing." Sam continues, "S.H.I.E.L.D. arrived on the site as I was leaving. Fury had promised to keep them out, right? To give Cap a chance to save his friend."

"Indeed suspicious… Fury wouldn't betray Cap." Tony commands, "JARVIS, put everything about Romanoff, Rogers, Barnes and Winter Soldier through Avengers Only Protocol."

"Yes, Sir."


She couldn't see anything or anyone, but she could feel it… Him. She didn't know who he was, but his presence was so welcoming, drawing her to him. She needed to fight the pain and the fear… she needed to find him. Gathering her last strength, she blinked slowly, trying to focus her teary green eyes. It took some time and concentration, but, finally, a teenager boy, no much older than her, appeared by her side. The connection between them was instantaneous and she felt the heat that he irradiated as he held her hand – it fit perfectly in his. She was so relieved that she just leaned into his embrace. His touch was soft, but firm – it felt familiar… so much more than the dreams which the darkness kept forcing, pushing into her mind. Just the thought made her shake, weakening her body, and her eyes began to close… Then, he touched her face slowly, tenderly, and she looked at his peaceful blue eyes. Forgetting everything else… she felt safe.


The doctor was right – as soon as Steve hears Falcon's report, a hint of hope fills the soldier's heart, "Bucky is alive." He squeezes Natasha's hand, which he keeps close to his chest.

Sam looks at her, and apologizes again, "I'm really sorry, Cap. It's my fault… "

"It wasn't your fault. It was Lukin controlling the Winter Soldier. Nothing more."

"Please, tell me what I can do."

Although totally focused on Natasha, the Captain knows his team too well. Sam won't rest, he needs a challenging task to keep his mind busy.

"You can try to find Bucky, and keep S.H.I.E.L.D. away from him."

"I'm on it." The rookie leaves quickly.

Once again, Steve is troubled with confused emotions. Bucky… His best friend, his brother… He is alive. This is something that the Captain couldn't have even dreamed of… And Steve believes, hopes, that he is also free from any mind control. However, the burden that Bucky carries is, maybe, too heavy. Besides having to deal with his own judgment, he will have to answer for his crimes as the Winter Soldier, having a long way to go before he can regain his freedom and everybody's trust. The soldier wants to do everything in his power to help his friend, but… honestly… now, he can't even hold himself together.

Without Natasha, Steve is… hollow… I need you, Nat… Please…wake up…


Bobbi calls Clint with bad news, "Fury is AWOL. There was an attack to his car, but no body was found. They're saying he went underground to investigate it further without being detected."

"The Winter Soldier?"

"No, too messy, unsuccessful, definitely not his style. Hill is in charge, and she's questioning me about what's happening with the Avengers."

"What have you told her?"

"Exactly what I know, which is nothing. After Lukin crashed on that island, I came here for debriefing and you went back to the Tower."

"Thanks honey. Don't worry, everything is gonna be fine."

The archer hangs up upset. Fury didn't know who he could trust, so he kept the operation under the radars – each agent only knew its respective part, even the Mockingbird. But Hawkeye is an Avenger, first and foremost. Clint doesn't want to jeopardize his wife's job, the less she knows the better, but it's hard to growth a relationship when you have to keep secrets from each other. Apart from being concerned about friends' health, now he still has to worry about what he can and can't tell his own wife. A terrible doubt fills his heart… In the event of a deadlock, if she has to choose, Bobby will be true to whom? Her marriage or her job? What about him? Whose more important, her or the Avengers?

But he doesn't have time to think about it now. He warns Tony, who gets furious, "That's why I'm receiving thousands of messages from Director Hill. She's demanding to debrief Natasha about the Winter Soldier, since she's the leading agent."

"With Fury out, Hill won't miss the chance to make a point. The guy is at S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Most-Wanted List. We can let her get near here."

"She won't." Tony's adamant. "I thought you didn't like the guy…"

"I want to kill him. But I don't want Cap or Nat involved with protecting a criminal."


I get lost in the explosion of violence, powered by the sound of bones and teeth breaking under my fists… He stops when the floor is full of bodies – they're alive, but barely. I can't help thinking that Steve would be ashamed of me right now. And that makes me miss him even more than I realized I could. He's breaking… You should've killed me, Cap. He wants to give up, but he can't stop… The Captain's voice echoing inside his head, 'You were better than this'. No, I'm not… Yet, he can't kill these people, not that he doesn't want to. He just… he just can't. He's frustrated, furious… These scums don't deserve to live, not after what they did to me… to her… But he won't stop. Not until he pays all his debts… or die trying.


The analysis of the darts only makes things worse.

The group is gathered around Natasha's bed, and Bruce explains, "It contains a neurotoxin meant to break the mind, most likely to force an old programming… to turn her back to one of her previous assassin identities." Pausing, the doctor warns, "We have no idea of how and who she'll be when she wakes up, Steve. I'm… I'm really sorry."

Bruce's words fall upon the soldier, hurting him more than any punch from the Hulk. Without taking his eyes of the love of his life, he squeezes her hand softly.

"Betty is a gifted cellular biologist, and we're working nonstop to find a way to neutralize it." The doctor continues, "Maybe someone at S.H.I.E.L.D. knows something…"

While the Captain remains silent, Clint is freaking out. "We can't let them know anything about this!" Seeing the group's worried eyes towards him, he breathes in, before explaining, "They will demand that we restrain her. It's the protocol to deal with mind-controlled agents…" Memories of Loki flood his mind, and he whispers. "I… know…"

Steve frowns immediately, "No!"

The Prince takes the lead, "At ease, my friend." At that time, he couldn't protect Hawkeye or Selvig, but he's here now. "No one will harm Lady Natasha, Captain. Trust me."

Looking into Thor's strong resolute eyes, Steve relaxes and lies back to his bed again.

Tony's glad to see the team united around Natasha, and Steve needs them more than ever. "JARVIS is monitoring everything. S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't know anything about her current state." Guarantee their safety is the priority. Unfortunately it means to be prepared for the worst case scenario – if she wakes up brainwashed, with another identity, they need to prevent her from escaping, or harm any one of them. The genius carefully explains, "Just for precaution, the room will be in total lockdown. Only the Avengers will be allowed."

Feeling guiltier than ever, Sam is also restless, "I started the face-trace, we're sweeping every accessible camera… I won't stop until I find the Winter Soldier. He did it, so he must have a way to undo it."

The pain in Steve's face is devastating, but even so, he cares about his best friend. "Sam, this isn't Bucky's fault. He isn't the Winter Soldier anymore."

Worried about the Captain's objectivity in this situation, the genius intervenes, "You don't know it, Steve… We can't trust this guy… We don't know the extent of the Cube's effects…"

"Tony." Steve makes him stop. "He left the gun to help us. I know him."

"I can't believe you're defending this assassin!" Clint leaves the room in a rampant, and the rest of the team looks at each other upset, granting they all understand that this is too personal for the archer.

Thor tries to comfort Steve, "Don't worry, Captain. He'll come back."

"I… I really don't know how to deal with this now… How did you?"

The Prince's answer is melancholic, "I didn't. I couldn't trust Loki… until the end… until it was too late…"

Steve closes his eyes, hopeless exhausted, and the team leaves in silence.


The pressure around the teenagers was increasing fast. Crushed between chilling light and the sweltering dark, she clung to him, shrinking scared. At that moment, the blond boy stood up, gently pulling her with him, and she felt weightless in his arms. With their eyes locked, he started to move, smiling, as if they were dancing, leading her through a labyrinth of light and darkness. There were shadows, indistinct figures, like ghosts flying around, chasing them, but she was focused in his bright blue eyes. The place turned into what looked like a desert hospital, full of identical empty beds, white painted metal, until they perceived a single wooden bed. She almost recognized it, but she had no idea why. Quickly, they hid there, under the blanket. Underneath it, it was warm, cozy, like a tent… like home.


Even with JARVIS assistance, the attempts to locate the Winter Soldier are unsuccessful.

Sam explains, "I have S.H.I.E.L.D. under surveillance, in case they find him first."

"He has been hiding for this past 70 years; we won't find him unless he wants us to." This is a familiar situation for Bruce. "But we need to keep trying, for Steve and for Natasha."

Tony agrees, "He's our only lead to find an antidote."

Upset, Clint exclaims, "Do you think Steve is right? That we can trust this assassin?"

"I really don't know what to think." The genius ponders, "But we can't let the guy get hurt. It would break Steve more than he already is."

Painful memories torment Thor's heart. He takes a deep breath before saying, "My friends, we have to take care of the Captain. After finding a cure for Natasha, his health is our prime concern."


The time goes by, and Steve remains in full alert state despite his weariness. He doesn't know how, but he won't let Natasha being mind-controlled again. It's her worst fear – to forget who she is, forget him… Like Bucky… Steve can't even begin to think about this… Not gonna happen. He knows they can fake memories by not feelings. Enfolding her with his caring arms, he holds her close to his heart, whispering their love mantra, "I love you. Love you. You."


They are all exhausted and frustrated – without their Captain to inspire them, the team is broken.

Natasha's physical wounds heal as expected, but she still hasn't woken up. "There's no medical reason for her to be sleeping. I'm afraid there's some kind of brain damage we can't detect…" Bruce is as tired as worried, "And Steve's in the verge of a breakdown. He's not healing properly because he barely sleeps and is not eating enough. I'm keeping him under parenteral nutrition, but… it's not enough for him, and the long term side effects… I don't know…"

Nervous, Clint's also desolated, "I want to stay there more, to help, you know? But he gets uncomfortable after a while… I feel like I'm intruding…"

The prognostic is as bad as Thor points it, "If Natasha doesn't wake up…We can lose both of them."

"And we don't know who she'll be if she wakes up." Tony never sounded so defeated. "Any news about the Winter Soldier? Or the cure?"

Sam's truly beaten, "No. The guy is really a ghost."

Betty's beyond embarrassed, "We are still trying to crack the neurotoxin formula… We need it to make the antidote." Her first chance to help the team, and she's a failure.

Pepper can't hold it anymore, "Let me bring Sneg. Steve will relax knowing that he is guarding Natasha."

Sam is uncertain, "Can you have a dog in a hospital room?"

This is one thing that Tony can control. "It's my Tower. Bring it."


After passing Sneg through the decontamination chamber, to clean him from any germs, Clint brings him to Steve. "Pepper said you’d like to see him."

The soldier nods grateful, caressing his 6-month-old dog.

Sneg licks his owner's face, before lying by Natasha's side, whining softly. With the dog’s comforting presence, Steve surrenders to the exhaustion. The scene is heartbreaking – Sneg lays his head on top of Steve and Natasha's entwined hands, as if protecting them both.


I hope it's not too late… Bucky's mind is in a whirlwind. Remorse, anger, an uncontrollable desire of vengeance, the overwhelming need to die… I don't mean for any of it to happen. I don't mean to hurt anyone. He loads the truck with old boxes, after hacking the systems and getting everything. He needs find the data to finish his mission. I'm sorry, Steve. I'm sorry, Natalia. I hope you can forgive me one day…


JARVIS brings the news, "Sir, there's an incoming message to the Captain, labeled urgent. I already tried, but it's impossible to trace the origin."

Tony looks at the pictures of some notes. "What's this?"

"It's a chemical formula in Russian. For its components, it matches the neurotoxin injected at Agent Romanoff."

They identified the notes as from the Red Room, and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s reports that Lukin's warehouse was burgled. Steve was right. It's obvious – Bucky did it, to get the formula. The soldier's beyond grateful. Thanks, my friend.

Betty uses reverse engineering to produce an antidote, and Bruce applies it to Natasha. "Now, we hope there are no sequels."

Tony's optimistic, "The simulations show an 80% probability that she will be free from any side effects. She must wake up in a few hours."


The blanket was white, but warm like fur. Whatever was happening outside, it was forgotten as she looked at his lovingly smile. Wrapped in his protective embrace, she felt herself shielded from all harms. He was everything she needed… all she ever wanted. She smiled and relaxed, falling asleep in his arms – no nightmare could torment her there… She felt loved.


The wait, however, is excruciating – pacing nonstop, Steve feels like going crazy.

"Captain, you need to slow down. Even a super soldier requires proper sleeping and eating. Your body can't endure so much stress for so long. Agent Romanoff will be very upset when she wakes up." JARVIS is the one who can say these things to Steve without distressing him. Despite of his ability to express humor, often displayed with Tony, the A.I. shows nothing but respectfor the Captain. It has been the constant presence in the couple's life, absolutely non-judgmental, helping them at each step of their relationship. He always states the simple truth and Natasha considers this intelligent program a true marvel – they're like friends. The Captain stops, breathing heavily, and JARVIS continues, "May I suggest a movie?"

Steve can't deny it, JARVIS is intelligent, and Natasha does love her movies. "What she'd like me to watch?"

"The next on her list is about six students who conspire to steal the SAT answers."

Steve lies in her bed, holding Natasha sleeping form – it relaxes him having her in his arms. The multitude of things in his mind doesn't let him concentrate on the movie, but as soon as Francesca appears on the scene, she attracts his attention. He kisses his girlfriend's hand softly, saying, "She looks like a mini-you."

The teenagers struggle to be a team while learning about themselves and growing up in the process. Her guy plays Kyle, and he has to abandon Matty, his best friend. Bucky… Steve remembers their childhood, and sees him falling from that train… once again. The guilt he felt before, for his best friend's death, has turned into deep sorrow for everything Bucky went through. Steve swears he'll do anything to help his friend find peace.

Natasha's favorite pairing isn't a couple in this movie – Francesca ends up with Matty. Steve shakes his head smiling at the irony of the film. Back in the past, he was jealous about Bucky's strength and his easy way with the ladies. Thinking about Bucky… and Natasha together… This is all so shallow now. He'd do anything to have the two people he loves the most safe and sound next to him. There's no if. He trusts Natasha and their relationship. He trusts Bucky and wants his best friend back. Pretend to be a possessive macho boyfriend would be ridiculous, it's not who he is.

Suddenly, Francesca, who lives with a negligent father, starts to talk about her dreams of future, "I'd just be a mom. Not just a mother. I would be a real mom, who cared more about the title of parent than the one on her business card."

It hits Steve instantly, and he holds Natasha even tighter, "You will be a great mom. I know it." He kisses her forehead. "I promise you. After all this, we'll do anything you want, the way you want. But if you said so, I'd love to have a normal life with you. Marriage, kids, we can always adopt, right? There are so many amazing kids out there." He keeps talking about his dreams of life and family, as silent tears fall from his deep blue eyes. "Because that's the thing, it is you, only you, Nat. I don't care about anything or anyone else. I can't live without you…" Caressing her peaceful face, he kisses her lips softly, "Please, Nat. Wake up. Come back to me…"

With the antidote in her bloodstream, Natasha is finally free from any neurotoxin. In her dream, she hears a familiar voice. 'Come back to me…'

'Steve?' She thinks, and his voice fills her heart as his warm lips kiss her tenderly.

"I love you, Nat."

Kissing him back, she whispers, "Love… you…"

Surprised, Steve raises her chin, seeing her green eyes blink slowly. Overwhelmed by happiness, he can't hold back the tears, "Hi, sweetheart…"

She frowns, "Why are you crying?"

"I thought… I had lost you." He's smiling between tears, "I was so scared… "

Watching him attentively, she squints, "You look like hell."

He is haggard, thinner, unshaven and with dark circles under tired blue eyes. A small laugh escapes from his mouth, "JARVIS said you would be mad at me." Touching her face softly, he kisses her once more, "I… was lost without you."

"What happened?"

Clinging to her, he kisses her and hugs her, crying tears of joy, and tells her everything about the last days. "I couldn't do it, Nat… I can't live without you… Please… never leave me again…"

Sliding her hand through his blond hair, she tries to making him relax, "I'm sorry I worried you."

"Nothing about this is your fault, Nat."

Smiling sheepishly, she says, "Well… I didn't want to wake up."

"What do you mean?"

"I dreamed of us… we were teenagers… almost like the ones in this movie."

He had completely forgotten about the film. He smiles, "Seriously?"

"Yes. You held me, and kept me safe, you didn't let me be dragged by the darkness or the light. It was the program trying to control my mind, through dreams, and…" She pauses before explaining, "Resist the Red Room drug was usually so painful that could cause death… hence the light."

He gets worried instantly, "Were you in pain?"

"No, babe." Caressing his face softly, she continued, "I know how to fight it, remember that I told you? That's why I didn't wake up before. And I followed Professor Xavier's advice." Seeing Steve's confusion, she smiles, "He told me that whenever I felt lost, I should hold to you, that you'd keep me safe forever. That's what I did."

"Nat…" Watery blue eyes blink quickly, "I don't understand."

Tears fall from Natasha's lovely green eyes, and she holds his hand against her chest, "My heart… it's where you are… I hid here, and you came to save me."

Steve can't find words to express what he's feeling… Their tears mingle together as they kiss and hold each other relishing in this powerful love found within their hearts.

Next movie: The Iceman (2012)

Chapter Text

Just when the soldier and the spy were getting ready to embrace their future together, their past came in and punched them in the face in the form of the Winter Soldier. Despite the successful outcome, the whole incident brought back painful memories for them both, affecting their lives in an unquestionable way. Not only had Steve failed to save Bucky's life, but also left him at the mercy of an even crueler fate. And, as much as Natasha wanted to be on the side of the angels, her past was just as bad as the assassin's. However, even after the most devastating storm, there always come clear, open skies.

With Natasha safe in his arms, Steve finally starts to relax. Worried about how broken he looks, she kisses and soothes him until he falls asleep soundly for the first time in days. With a lot of effort, she manages to free herself of his tight embrace, but he doesn't wake up – a testament of his deep exhaustion. Before getting up, she kisses his face softly, whispering, "I'll take care of you."

JARVIS reaches the team and they all come running – they find Natasha outside the infirmary room, bathed and changed, looking as good as new.

Clint grabs her shoulders with both hands and looks directly into her eyes, "You okay?"

Seeing his watery eyes, she gives him a soft smile, understanding what he's really asking about. "Yes. JARVIS already checked me."

"Indeed." The A.I. confirms, "Scan shows no neurological alteration."

With a mix of relief and concern, the five tired-looking Avengers stare at her, who finds it awkward to be the center of all that attention. "I stay away for a while and you all look like zombies."

The archer does the unexpected and hugs her tight, "Don't ever do that again."

One by one, they hug the spy, who tries her best not to look too uncomfortable, "Seriously, guys, I'm fine. You won't get rid of me this easily."

Sam remains quietly apart, until she looks at him and he apologizes, "I'm really sorry. You were my partner and I let you down."

"Don't be silly, Sam. This is part of the job. The Winter Soldier… Barnes was my instructor. I knew the risks."

They all want to know more, "What happened?"

On the Avengers communicators, Steve and Natasha have a private channel that keeps the couple in contact all the time – she heard everything he was saying to his old partner during their last encounter, "Cap lowered his shield and challenged Barnes to shoot him."

Tony and Clint shout at the same time, "He did what?!"

Thor smiles proudly, "The Captain is truly brave."

"Barnes hesitated, but I didn't. It was a tactical decision. Cap was exposed to frontal shot at very close range. I had better odds." The spy explains, "Anyway, it worked as a distraction. I guess you know the rest."

"What are we gonna tell S.H.I.E.L.D.?" Also the team leader, Tony has been dealing with all of the pressure. "Hill wants to debrief you and Cap."

Natasha gets suspicious, "Hill? Why?"

"Fury is AWOL, she's the interim Executive Director. The place is chaotic." Clint promptly explains, "I got a message from Coulson warning us to be careful because there's a mole inside the agency."

"Our mission was to neutralize the Cube – it's done." The spy pauses for a moment, thinking about how much of her past she needs, or can bear to share with them. Her voice becomes somber, "Barnes and I were created at the Soviet intelligence academy, the Red Room – I know their methods. Everything the Winter Soldier did was a diversion, while he tried to activate one of my past targets – Fury. We warned him and I think he went underground." For better or for worse, the Director was the one who assembled the Avengers. The implications of his absence could be disastrous for the team and, personally, she cares about the old spy, more than she wants to admit. "We need to find and help Fury."

As the last pieces of the puzzle fall into place the Avengers start to understand everything that happened. Suddenly, Nicky Fury's conspiracy theories make sense.

The archer nods, "Bobbi is on the task force Hill assembled searching for the Winter Soldier. So far, they got nothing."

"Cap asked me to find him." Sam reports, "I'm monitoring S.H.I.E.L.D. closely in case they find anything."

"He is the ghost. It's not gonna be easy, but we need to keep him safe." Seeing the confused looks and Clint beginning to protest, she commands, "Stop. This is Steve's Bucky we're talking about." The boys agree, silently, to her irrefutable argument.

Even so, the genius worries, "Do you think we can trust Barnes? That the Cube worked?"

"It doesn't matter if we trust him or not. Steve does. Besides, before the Cube, he hesitated to shoot Cap, and, after the Cube he got the formula to save me. These are the facts." Then, she adds resolutely, "He's not the same evil machine anymore."

Visibly relieved, Tony jokes, "I'm glad you didn't become an evil spy." That was the possibility that scared them all.

After silently analyze all medical charts, Bruce's still concerned, "You don't feel anything at all?"

"Nope. This isn't my first time against mind-controlling drugs."

Surprised, Clint asks, "What do you mean? Were you conscious?"

"Sort of." At their confused looks Natasha explains, "Have you ever seen the movie Inception? Or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? They are good metaphors for conscience layers in our minds. These kinds of drugs were engineered to break the mind resistance to imprint missions and fake identities through dreams. I recognized the pattern, so I stayed in a level below."

Sincerely, the doctor commends, "We should've expected something like this. The Black Widow is no damsel in distress."

The archer is full of pride, "You always find a way to fight."

"The human mind never ceases to amaze me, but yours is truly outstanding, Lady Natasha." Thor makes a little bow, "You remind me one of my best friends, Lady Sif, she's the best Asgardian warrior of all." The Prince smiles with a twinge of homesickness, "I promise I will introduce you as soon as we have a chance."

The spy tilts her head in silent thanks, not knowing how to react to all this praise, "I had to learn some form of resistance after having my mind messed with a few times." She's used to be feared, not admired.

But Sam continues excited, "Coulson's team doesn't stop talking about Lady Sif's visit, and her fight with another Asgardian. But you must see the footage JARVIS recovered from that A.I.M.'s warehouse – Natasha beating the crap out of the Winter Soldier is just as spectacular."

Tony sounds almost awed, "Yeah, I didn't know you could fight like that."

She fought wildly to protect Steve, and just the memory of him so defeated gives her chills. Their intensive training sessions were never so valuable. She raises her eyebrows, replying, "If you trained with us, you would know."

"God, you sound like him." Tony exclaims, looking around, "Speaking of, where's Cap?"

Her posture changes completely and she speaks in a protective voice, "He's sleeping. No one enters the room."

Thor remembers, a little uncomfortable, "The Captain was under a lot of stress without you."

Clint worries for his friend, "But he saw you awake, right? Jeez, he was a mess."

"Yes, he told me everything I missed." Natasha turns to Bruce, "What's his status, doc? I'd like to take him upstairs."

"That will be perfect. He just needs to eat and sleep properly. Sounds simple, right?" The doctor adds hopeful, "He won't disobey you."

"He didn't relax at all." The genius complains, "You know, you have the two most stubborn men wrapped around your finger."

Her reproving green eyes pierce Clint, "What did you do?"

The archer rubs the back of his neck and replies abashed, "I didn't do anything…"

"He stayed by Cap's side. If it wasn't for him, and Pepper, who providentially brought the dog, I don't know what could've happened." Sounding tired, Bruce suggests, "But for now, let's all take a break from the hospital, shall we?"

Natasha adds a little embarrassed, "Thanks, guys, for everything." For the first time since the Avengers assembled, the spy feels she's among not only great team members, but friends.

Tony puts his hand on her shoulder, reassuring, "We're a team, honey. We take care of our own."


After lots of testing, the spy receives a clean bill of health from the medical staff and she thanks Betty, "I owe you."

Despite the pressure and the difficulty of her first task, the biologist created the perfect antidote to neutralize the neurotoxin without any side-effects. The shy brunette blushes, "Natasha, please, it was a team effort."

Back at their place, Steve's immediately relaxes when Natasha tucks him in. Home. Despite the luxurious accommodations of the medical floor, nothing compares to the comfort and familiarity of their own bed. Sleepy blue eyes closely follow her as she handles it all with grace and affection, until she sits beside him. He kisses her hand tenderly, "God, I missed you."

Looking at his pale expression, she remembers the medical notes attesting how depressed he was. The scary thought that has since haunted her mind, is now unbearable – she caresses his face gently, "What were you doing to yourself?"

Relishing into her touch, he replies, "I didn't want you to wake up alone."

"But it was like you wanted to… die."

Although sincere, his answer is still frightening. "No, Nat… no. I just didn't know how to deal with everything… to live without you."

It's not really a surprise that their lives are intertwined to this extent, but it hits her deeply. It scares her to see him so vulnerable, emotionally and physically, completely dependent on her. "You can't do this anymore, you have to promise me." He nods shyly, and she kisses his lips softly, "Go back to sleep, okay? I'll make lunch. What are you up for?"

The recent emotional distress weakened him more than a thousand battles. It reminds him of his childhood as a sick boy and… Mom. Seeing Natasha perfectly healthy, taking care of him, he can't be anything but happy. Teary eyes blink slowly.

Instantly, she worries, "Are you in pain?" He places her hand against his chest as if to show her something and she pauses – his heartbeat and breathing are in a perfectly normal rhythm. Confused, she shakes her head, "Steve, what are you feeling?"

He smiles sheepishly, before saying, "Love…"

She can't resist his boyish looking face and a small laugh escapes from her mouth, "You are a baby."

He's never cheesy but now he becomes a melting puddle of love whenever she's around, "I'm your anything you want."

Smiling warmly, she kisses him again, "I love you."

Closing his eyes, he nestles, murmuring, "Can you make Beef Stroganoff?" It was the first thing she cooked for him, and it became a favorite.

She strokes his head, "Yes. Rest now, okay?" He doesn't need much incentive, and falls asleep.

Natasha thanks Pepper for taking care of Sneg and looking out for Steve. Without revealing any confidential information, the redhead tries to reassure her friend about their health, and ends up confessing the source of her uneasiness, "Steve… he is… How can I say it? Too loving?"

The blonde smiles tenderly, empathizing completely, "Ah, I know how this is. Tony was like this after the Mandarin incident. Couldn't stay away from me for a second. It was suffocating."

In spite of generally having opposing points of view about everything, their super-boyfriends behave the same when they're concerned about their beloveds. Through the strong bond developed thanks to their unexpected friendship, the two women share their personal experiences, offering one another emotional comfort and moral support.

With Natasha's care, Steve gets back to his super soldier shape in no time. He's more passionate and caring than ever and, although enjoying the attention, she worries about his exaggerated, overprotective behavior. Now six months old, Sneg is huge, weighing 105 lbs, requiring a lot of exercise. She sends her two full-of-love-and-energy boys for the morning run, gaining a few moments of peace for herself.

From the kitchen, she watches when they return. As expected, the little one is spent, but not the big one. Steve hugs her from behind, and hands her a dainty tied nosegay with aromatic flowers, "Special delivery to my girl!" Before she can say anything, he takes her in his arms to kiss her passionately until they hear a crackling noise and she turns quickly towards the stove. Placing a soft kiss on her neck, he adds playfully, "Mmmm, this smell delicious."

Smiling, she continues to prepare his favorite Russian pancakes, "Put the flowers in water, will you?" A faint blush spreads on her cheeks, "I love them."

Because of the cold weather, he is not all sweaty, yet he puts the bouquet in a vase, and leaves for a quick shower.

After the delicious breakfast he loads the dishwasher while she tidies the kitchen before asking, "Can you watch a movie for me? It's based on the real life of a Mafia hitman."

Narrowing his eyes, he replies curious, "Can't we watch it together?" She looks sheepish and simple nods negatively while he reads the information that JARVIS puts on his StarkPad. "Ah, you want me to watch it first, to see what happens to your guy?"

She bites her lower lip, teasing, "You are my guy."

He lightens up and grabs her by the waist, cupping her chin softly, "You are worried about an assassin getting hurt?"

She tilts her head a little, "I'm an assassin. Or I was."

"Point." He kisses her tenderly, and asks before leaving, "Aren't you trying to get rid of me, are you?"

Laughing playfully, she replies, "Why would I do that?"


Steve's studio is an upgrade from the one he had at his previous floor. Following Natasha's suggestions, the spacious corner room was divided into two separate areas. Benefited by the natural light streaming in through the glass wall, the artist workshop is equipped with a drafting/light table for him to work, an entire wall of shelves with various art supplies. His drawings are scattered everywhere, but at the center easel is his last work – a beautiful rendition of Natasha holding Sneg.

On the other half of the room is an office/library. It has a perfect balance between leather, wood with glass and granite accents – definitely a masculine atmosphere, but extremely elegant and classic like its owner. The few paintings and art pieces were personally selected, to fit in a specific spot. It's interesting how it became the place where the couple use to catch up things they missed – usually cuddled together on the large leather couch, he ventures through the Internet at his StarkPad while she enjoys reading books banned under the old Communist regime.

But today, with only Sneg lying by his side, Steve sits on his comfortable chair, to watch the movie for her. Starting in the 1960s, it tells the story of a cold blooded killer who, over the course of a few decades, claimed to have killed over a hundred people, while living as a perfect husband and father. Almost unrecognizable, her guy plays the psychopathic partner, Mr. Freezy, who stashes bodies in the freezer of his ice cream truck. Despite the dark subject, the movie is well done, including the time characterization.

Suddenly, the soldier is far away from there, back to his childhood, thinking about Bucky and their dreams about future, all shattered by fate. Steve has Natasha – she's his second chance, his everything. But Bucky has nothing, only an unbearable guilt and thousands of sins to pay for. Far from the sociopaths in the movie, he was merely a weapon, not the hand pulling the trigger, what makes his burden infinitely worse. It's an imperfect world, but the Captain has always been a fighter, an optimist, who believes in the good rather than in the bad. But he can't help but remember the small Bucky's sad eyes after his mother's death – the same hopeless ones he displayed while he was mind-controlled. Tears fall through Steve's face, as he laments his best friend's tragic destiny once more.


It takes Natasha by surprise when the dog stops by the door, whining for her attention, interrupting her Yoga training. Following Sneg, she finds Steve quietly at his desk, with blank eyes and dried tears, sticking to his face.

The soldier strokes the dog's head softly, "Snitch." The spy sits on his lap, holding his head against her chest. Relishing in the comfort of her embrace, he whispers, "I thank God every day for having you in my life."

She holds him carefully, kissing his face and caressing his hair, "I'm here, babe, I'm not going anywhere. What's wrong?"

"You're my world, Nat. I can't even think of my life without you."

Kissing him softly, she begs, "You need to stop worrying, I'm fine, and I can take care of myself."

"I know, my dear." She raises her eyebrows confused, and he continues, "It's Bucky. I lost him once, and I can't do it again. You two are the most important people in my life, and he's all alone."

As hard as it is for her to remember her past – and Yakov is a part of it – Steve needs Bucky. That's all that matters for her, "We'll find him."

They stay wrapped on each other for a while, until he speaks, "I need to help him, but I don't know how. And I want to do the right thing for you." Steve looks so young but, at the same time, it's like the burden of his 95 years all of a sudden has fallen upon his shoulders.

"What do you mean?"

"I want to bring Bucky back to my life, but only if it doesn't bother you."

She'll choose to please him, no questions at. "Steve, he's your best friend, your brother. It's like me and Clint."

Lovely enough, he'll do the same. "It's not what I'm asking." Rubbing his thumb on her chin, he raises it gently and places a soft kiss on her lips. "Why don't you tell me how do you feel? You and Bucky were involved in the past. I don't want to put you in any uncomfortable situation. I can't. Ever. I love you and you are always my priority."

Natasha's green eyes blink slowly, "I want you to have someone who understands where you came from, and to help you with the things that I can't. I really want this."

"But?" He cups her face softly, "You have to tell me. I need to understand."

Feeling guilty, she confesses, "He reminds me of who I was, and that place I want to forget."

"Did he do anything to hurt you? Anything at all?" She raises her eyebrows as if disbelieving his doubts, and he explains, "We met two different men. I have no idea about the things he did as the Winter Soldier."

It's a valid point, she has to admit it. "Yakov – he was as lost as I was, maybe emptier, but he was a gentleman. I have nothing against him." With these last words, her voice becomes somber, "Anyway, it was just sex. I wish I had a more meaningful answer, but I don't."

"So what's still bothering you?"

He knows her too well, and, honestly, she loves this about him. Looking absolutely young and vulnerable, she opens herself totally to him, "What do you think about this, me and him?"

"Of course I'm jealous of anyone who gets close to you. I still want to smash Murdock's face." He takes a deep breath before continuing, "But Bucky… He being alive tops any jealousy, you know? While I was sleeping, he was a slave. I couldn't save him before, I need to do it now." With the most sincere eyes, once more, he gives her everything, "But I can't hurt you because of him. I can't hurt you at all."

"Steve, once for all, you'll never hurt me, okay?" Snuggling in his arms, she tries to show him how safe she feels, "We'll find him, and together, we'll work things out." But he still looking unsure, so she commands, "Stop thinking and kiss me."

They've been trying to find his old partner since day one. After Bucky sent the drug's formula, Natasha set a tracking program to answer any other electronic contact, with Steve's words to his best friend, 'Eagle to Bluejay, contact base.'

But when Bucky gets the message with their codenames during the war, he feels miserable, missing the time when he was still himself – now, he doesn't deserve Steve's friendship and he has never felt so lonely in his whole life. In the following days, while seeking revenge against everyone connected to the Red Room, the former assassin tries to make amends for his past crimes, retrieving every piece of data, sending it to the Captain.

Unbeknownst to Bucky, little by little, he is earning the Avenger's sympathy.


Checking Lukin's files, they discover that, through his corporation Kronas, the former Soviet General made illicit deals targeting Stark Industries. Tony's pissed, "With this information, I'll take him down." Underneath the genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist, there is a fair businessman who rewards a job well done, "Barnes is saving me a lot of money and trouble. I owe him."

Steve knows that, in order to be free, Bucky must be put on trial for the crimes he committed as the Winter Soldier. He explains, "I need legal counseling to be prepared for his trial."

The genius offers, "Done. I have the best lawyers in the country."


Certainly, Bucky's most shocking discovery is that the Red Room is in fact active, as 2R, selling their biotechnology to a U.S. cosmetics corporation called Gynacon. Analyzing the files, Bruce identifies advancing genetic manipulation among other things. "Most of these experiments are unbelievable, and only meant to turn people into weapons. However, by studying them, we can actually find some good uses. More importantly, we can stop them from using hazardous biological material irresponsibly." The doctor is satisfied with the data collected, "Your friend is doing a great job."

Steve asks hopeful, "Can you help me prove that he was mind-controlled during his years as the Winter Soldier?"

The doctor agrees, "Definitely. We can work on a scientific argument, but we need to examine him."


It takes a sniper to catch a sniper, so Natasha seeks out her best friend, but Clint's reluctant, "You and Cap almost died because of this assassin."

"Do you think it's easy for me? Barnes reminds me of the gushing red in my ledger." The archer is taken by surprise with her admission, and completely shocked when she reaches the main point, "But he is Steve's family… the same way… you are mine."

Over the years, their partnership became more solid than friendship, but they demonstrated it through actions, not words. Startled with her open statement, his eyes get moist and he yields instantly, "I'll do it."


Still suspicious, Clint follows the Winter Soldier's trail looking for flaws – he finds none. On the contrary, all the evidence supports a change in behavior. There's a path of destruction wherever Bucky goes, but his attacks have surgical precision and minimal casualties. The archer can't deny it, he admires efficiency, and more than anything, he is pleased with the results, "He's finding and crushing what is left of the Red Room, far better than anything we dreamed of doing."

Steve agrees with melancholy, "Bucky was their victim, just like Nat."


Finally, Bucky learns the evil plan. In order to patent the Red Room biotechnology, Gynacon needed to eliminate any proof of prior use – they were targeting the women from the Black Widow program. A former K.G.B. super-agent, Vassily Ulyanov, was eliminating the perfect killing machines thanks to a secret weapon – a pheromonal scent, specifically designed to force the ex-operatives into submission.

Natasha is one of the last twenty-seven women – also defenseless against the chemical trap. The Avengers enter red alert but Bucky hunts down and kills Vassily before he gets a chance to harm the spy, earning the team's trust once and for all.

Steve changes his message, 'Eagle to Bluejay, come back home.'


After extracting his revenge, the former assassin doesn't feel any better. As a weapon, he was used to accomplish the mission. Period. No praise, no emotion. Now he's free to choose but feels hollow without an objective. The one certainty in his shattered soul is the need to watch over the one he called brother once upon a time – now the only important person left in his life. Bucky will spend his life protecting Steve, and the people important to him, while trying to earn his forgiveness.

Back at the Tower, the couple lies in their bed, thinking about everything that happened in the last weeks, when Steve remembers, "Wanna watch the movie now?"

She asks unsure, "How did it go?"

Pulling her close, he enfolds her in a protective hug, "Your guy did a pretty good job. I didn't recognize him at first. We see the psychopathic killer, not him at all."

Resting her head on his shoulder, she breathes slowly, "Did he die?"

"You really want me to tell you?"

She sounds ashamed, "You must think I'm silly, but I do."

Placing a soft kiss in her lips, he replies, "Nat, you are my girl, I love that you're human and real."

He tells her everything she asks about the movie, and when she finally watches it, he's by her side, holding and supporting her.

The movie ends with a last question, "Do you have any regrets for the things you've done?" And the Iceman's answer, "I never felt sorry for anything I done… other than hurting my family. The only thing I feel sorry for. I'm not looking for forgiveness. I'm not repenting. I know I'm wrong. I'm wrong. I do want my family to forgive me…"

Fully curled in Steve's arms, Natasha's voice is a sad lament, "That's why people like us are not allowed to have a family."

Immediately, he raises her chin gently, "You are nothing like these guys. Neither is Bucky."

She hates and loves that he can read her like this, "You have no idea about the things we did before."

"Don't you believe in second chances?"

"I… I do. It's just that I think no one can trust us for sure."

He sighs, before speaking, "I know in my heart that I can trust him. And I trust you my life. Clint, Pepper, the whole team trust you. You should have seen they all united, protecting you. I wouldn't have borne without their support, even with Clint wanting to kill Bucky." She can't help but smile, and he caresses her face softly, continuing, "Aren't we a family already, with Sneg?"

She gives him a soft kiss on the lips, "Yes."

But her lovely green eyes are still clouded with a hint of sadness, so he says, "Okay. I was waiting to do something special, but…" He lays her softly on the pillows, and turns to his bedside table pulling a small package out of his drawer. "This is for you."

Surprised, she asks, "Why?"

Blue eyes shine with excitement, "Open it."

Somewhat uncertain, she reads the card, and immediately becomes speechless. Inside, there's a lovely drawing of them holding Sneg, with a single line, 'Would you be my Valentine forever?'

Confused, she looks at him, and he replies, "We were pretty busy and didn't have a chance to celebrate our first Valentine's Day." She remains still, as if frozen, so he opens the box, showing her a stunning emerald ring.

Instantly tears fall from her face and she shrinks nervous.

Seeing her discomfort, he explains quickly, "Nat, look, this is just the matching ring." He puts it in her middle finger, taking her hand gently on his. "See? The jeweler found it with the earrings, and Pepper said that I shouldn't miss the chance." Worried, he kisses her hand softly, "It's just a ring, okay? Do you like it?" Finally, she nods slowly, and he starts to kiss her tears away, "I didn't mean to upset you, sweetheart, I only wanted to make you happy."

"Oh, Steve, I am happy." Drawing him close, she kisses him passionately, "I'm sorry, I love it. Damn, I'm a total mess…"

"No, you're not." He smiles tenderly, "Nat, I don't want anything that you don't want too."

"I know, babe, and it's not that I don't want…"

Doing his best to not sound anxious, he replies, "You do?"

Completely mortified, she questions, "What about your dreams?"

Pausing for a moment, he drinks in her beauty, "There are no dreams without you being happy by my side. I don't need anything but you."

She smiles shyly, "This is my line."

Loving blue eyes dive in watery green ones. "Because you think you aren't allowed to dream, but you are." He never sounded so serious, "We can have a normal life and a family, even if we have to resign, move elsewhere. You just need to tell me what you want."

That's the question that makes her freeze.

A long time ago, in her staged married, she thought she could dream with all this. When they broke her teenage soul into pieces, she learned that love was for children. All this past was deeply buried, forgotten, until Yakov brought it back, with the guilt of everything. He tried to redeem himself, destroying their common enemies. Now, she truly wants a chance to meet Steve's Bucky, or whatever left of him. In spite of all this dark past, Clint, and lately Pepper, are close to her in a way that Natasha couldn't have predicted – she cares about them. Yes, they're already a family.

Everything is only possible because Steve healed her with his unconditional love. Natasha knows he's completely honest and she desperately wants to believe him – that she can be the woman he deserves, despite her flaws. For the first time in her life, she has a real chance of happiness, and, although a tiny part of her still thinks she's not good enough for him, they can't live without each other. She can't admit yet, but she wants everything with him. Biting her lower lip, she whispers, "You're more than anything I could have dreamed of."

Steve smiles, flashing his devoted blue eyes, before capturing her lips in a deep kiss – making her world stop and the unhappy memories fade away. Nothing else matters because she's surrounded by him, his warmth, his love, and his words are nothing but reassuring, "Nat, you're the love of my life." He kisses and loves her, over and over again.

Next movieNot Another Teen Movie (2001)

Extended scenes: Chris Crush (Avengers) - chapter 4, The Killer (Natasha and Pepper) - chapter 5, The Arrow (Clint).

Chapter Text

For Earth's Mightiest Heroes, back to normal life means battling super-villains and saving the world. Since Thor appeared in New Mexico, they've been exposed to a whole new set of enemies and challenges, but also valuable allies. Recently, the beautiful warrior-goddess Lady Sif came to Midgard – the Earth's realm name for the Asgardians. With the help of Coulson's team, she captured the witch Lorelei, who wanted to rule the planet by enslaving the men.

This time, unfortunately, the Avengers will face a much more evil magic.

Lorelei's older and more powerful sister, Amora the Enchantress, has been obsessed by the Prince of Asgard since their youth, more than a millennia ago. Despite her advances and feminine wiles, Thor resisted the deceitful sorcerer. Instead, he chose the loyal and brave Sif, who even earned Odin's approval. Rejected, the blonde never forgave him, and the two women have remained rivals even after Sif and Thor fell apart.

Once the Thunderer moved more permanently to Midgard, to develop his relationship with the mortal Jane Foster, he left Asgard's protection. Then, Amora plotted a new plan of revenge.

Taking advantage of Earth's weak defenses against her mystical powers, the witch ambushes the Prince using a charming spell. "Your will is my will. I am your master! You must obey the Enchantress!" Because of his great power, she controls him just for brief moments, but it's enough to force him to drink a special brew and fall asleep. During his enchanted sleep, she fills his mind with false images, "When Thor awakes, he will believe that the Avengers are his mortal enemies."

Everything happens too fast.

Completely under her influence, Thor flies back to the Tower, and smashes a hole in it, surprising Steve and Bruce in the common area. Shocked by the explosive entrance, the Captain notices the Prince's glazed eyes, and reacts instantly, jumping towards him. "Thor, what madness is this?"

Without saying a word, the Prince swings his hammer Mjolnir, knocking Bruce through the broken wall and out of the battle area, before he gets a chance to change into Hulk. Although slower because of his trance-like state, Thor is still too strong, and Steve calls for backup, "JARVIS! Avengers Assemble!"

The soldier manages to avoid the Prince's attacks until Tony arrives fully armored, and hands the Captain his shield, yelling, "What the hell is happening?"

The two friends are barely defending themselves from the berserk Thunderer when Hulk crawls back up to the floor and delivers a powerful double handed bottom fist blow that finally puts Thor down.

Panting, Steve tries to explain, "Some kind of mind control…"

Not giving them any chance to recover, a portal opens and a tall blonde appears, wearing a tight green outfit. "Kneel before me, mortals, for I am Amora the Enchantress." Absolutely stunning, she exudes danger and seduction from every pore.

Steve shakes his head in disbelief, "Another crazy Asgardian?"

Tony can't help himself, "At least she's hot."

Through the portal, a group of menacing-looking minions led by her faithful servant, Skurge the Executioner, jump in, ready to fight. Immediately, the three Avengers engage into battle to protect the still unconscious Thor.

The sorcerer mocks them, "The Avengers. How unimpressive. You had better hope someone more capable chooses to avenge you."

The Captain commands, "Iron Man, Hulk, we have to stop her!"

The green giant smashes everyone in his path as he runs towards Amora, but before he gets close, her spell puts him into sleep. Her sorcery, however, seems to be deflected by Tony's armor who tries to blasts her. Immediately, Skurge takes her defense, charging Iron Man.

Checking Steve's impressive figure, fighting in just a white T-shirt and blue sweatpants, she notices the shield, "Ah! You must be the valorous leader whom the Thunderer follows blindly here in Midgard, the Captain of America."

Steve shouts at her, "What have you done to the Hulk?"

"For the moment, he is merely asleep, doubtless dreaming dreams of me!" Her voice fills the air, enticing, never ceasing, clamoring him to her, "But, alas, he can never truly have me, for I am yours, my handsome Captain!" The powerful spellcaster opens her arms, summoning him to her, "Am I not beautiful? Come to me…"

But her seduction spell has no effect on Steve's indomitable heart. "Give it up, Enchantress! I'm taken!"

Defiantly, she replies, "Your will is strong! Very well! We shall do this the hard way!" In vain, she tries to hit him with magic rays, but gets frustrated by his gymnastic agility as he skillfully dodges everything she throws at him, "Surtur's teeth! You move as quickly as the cats of Skornheim!" Furious, she commands, "Executioner! Take him down!" As Steve faces the powerful Skurge, Amora smiles devilishly, "You are a strong warrior, Captain, definitely worthy of my attention."

The relentless minions attack the Avengers, when Thor wakes up, and stands disoriented, exposed – the sorcerer seizes the chance and shoots at the Prince. Without hesitation, the Captain deflects her ray by throwing his shield, but when he gets his weapon back, he's hit by the ray and its magic spell. His body glows in a kind of explosion of light, blinding them all… but not Steve's guardian angel.

From his usual position of distant observer, Bucky was watching everything through the hole Thor opened in the Tower. Eager to engage, he came close.

As soon as his friend is hit, he launches an electrical discharge against Amora, taking her by surprise and leaving her unconscious.

Coming to her aid, Skurge uses his enchanted Bloodaxe to open a portal for their escape, and the two Asgardian villains vanish leaving the squad of slaves behind.

Not formally introduced before, Iron Man fights alongside the Winter Soldier, defending the dizzy Captain, until they realize astonished that he somehow shrunk.

Tony calls in shocked surprise, "Cap?!"

Finally free from any mind control, Thor exclaims, "This has the stench of dark magic above it. A spell to strip us of our powers. I'm going after the Enchantress!" And he flies off in pursuit.

More than ever, Bucky's protective instincts towards his friend take charge, and he asks, terrified, "Steve, are you okay?"

"Bucky? I'm… I'm not sure. I'm the way I used to be before the super-soldier serum." But even so, this Steve is far from that skinny kid from Brooklyn. The Enchantress' magic spell may have taken his strength and size, but didn't erase all his years of intense training in all kinds of martial arts. Quickly, he evades an attack, and hits the opponent's leg, making him drop to the ground. As if choreographed, Bucky follows Steve's lead, and hits the wildly swinging adversary.

In a cruel twist of fate, the two longtime best friends find themselves fighting side by side again, like when they were young. "You came…" Steve is exuberantly stunned.

For the first time in decades, even if for a moment, Bucky feels like he's at home again, "I'm with you 'till the end of the line."

Unfortunately, the last villain manages to overthrow Steve, before being hit by Iron Man. Tony turns to the Winter Soldier, "Can you watch them until the team arrives? Cap needs medical attention." Opening the armor's mask, he says, "I'm Tony Stark. You're safe here."

Somewhat embarrassed by the attention, Bucky replies, "James Barnes."

Moments later, Sam arrives, followed by Natasha and Clint on Sky-cycles. They had been out on a mission, but came running after the call to assemble. Finding the Winter Soldier in the middle of the destroyed floor, Natasha asks shocked, "What are you doing… ? Where is Steve?"

With his friend in danger, Bucky doesn't care about introductions or whatsoever, and explains quickly, "Some witch attacked them and her spell hit Steve. He shrunk back to how he used to be… you know? Before…" The three Avengers can't quite comprehend his words, but the look in his face is one of pure shock as he continues, "The Viking went after her. Iron Man took Cap to the doctors and… he left me here keeping watch."

Natasha takes charge, "Clint, Sam, fix this," pointing to the hole in the wall and the men lying on the floor. "Barnes, come with me," and not giving him any chance to refuse, she adds, "Steve needs you. No one knew him before the serum."

That is exactly what he needs to hear, and Bucky follows her promptly. Inside the elevator, he looks down, completely uneasy next to her, and tries, "I'm sorry…"

She cuts him off, "Not now. JARVIS, status."

While projecting the holographic images of the fight, the A.I. reports, "Captain Rogers is in the private room inside the lab with Master Stark. No internal injuries. Dr. Banner is back to himself, also in the medical bay. Following your previous instructions, all unnecessary personnel were cleared from the Avengers-only area, as soon as Mr. Barnes arrived to the Tower. No information about his presence is available anywhere."

Natasha grits her teeth when she hears Amora talking to Steve, and her body trembles as soon as she watches the light explosion around him and his unbelievable transformation. Taking a deep breath, she remains in control and, for the first time, she looks directly to Bucky, and says, "He needs you. Now, more than ever."

It's too much information for Bucky to process, but he finds in Natasha's terrified eyes a connection deeper than anything he'd found before – Steve is the top priority for them both. Period. Their past in the Red Room doesn't matter at all.

"Yes, ma'am."

After being checked out, Bruce attends Steve's injuries, which fortunately aren't extensive, but without his super-soldier's body, everything is uncertain.

Steve asks worried, "Are you going to be able to reverse it?"

Bruce shakes his head pensively, and Tony knows he won't stop trying, "If I can find out what's causing it, yeah… probably."

After running what seems like millions of scans and tests on his blood, they confirm that somehow the serum has stopped working. This means that Steve will be riddled with all his previous diseases. Fortunately, today's medicine is far more advanced than the time in which he was born, so everything is treatable, and even curable. They put the Captain into intensive care to receive a series of antibiotics, vaccines and vitamins.

As soon as Natasha arrives, she rushes to Steve's side. Despite everybody around them, she can't hold it in and leans over to kiss him softly. He flinches under her touch, which brings him agony instead of comfort. But she acts the same way she did before, every time he came back injured from any battle. Checking his charts, she asks, "Are you hurt?"

Embarrassed, he replies, "Tired. Can't breathe."

Bruce explains desolated, "We are still running tests, but it seems that he reverted to his pre-serum form." Looking at Bucky, who nods in agreement, the doctor continues, "I'm administering him drugs to prevent any of his former illnesses."

Steve calls, "Bucky?"

His friend comes close. Overwhelmed by the emotions, neither one can say anything, until Steve starts coughing, and Bucky turns worried to Natasha, "The asthma!"

The Captain suffered the stress of the sudden transformation, but during battle he was under an adrenaline rush. After it ended, without the healing power, everything is excruciating for his now frail body. With one look into his eyes, Natasha understands, "He is in pain!"

Bruce comes to Steve's side, "I'm giving you a sedative."

Natasha hands him an inhaler and Steve starts to relax – without the serum, the sedation effects make him fall asleep in no time.

The doctor calls, quietly, "He needs to rest. Let's wait outside."

At the door, Clint is completely pale, watching everything, and comes close to the couple, to speak softly by Natasha's ear, "What do you need?"

The spy grabs the archer's arm, "Take care of Barnes. Make him stay. Steve needs him."

"Okay. Don't worry." Clint says before leaving.

Outside the infirmary, Tony leads them all to a meeting room, when Thor arrives with Lady Sif, and inquires, "How's the Captain?"

After being updated about Steve's status, the Prince starts devastated, "The Enchantress has ever found joy in causing me pain." Pausing for a moment, he introduces his friend, "I asked Lady Sif here to help us. She is the only one powerful enough to truly confront Amora."

"Greeting, Avengers." Sif starts, and her voice is captivating, "Everything was orchestrated as a distraction. The Enchantress poisoned Thor against you as part of her twisted game. She craves power, and she won't mind the casualties. We need to find her before she attacks again."

As they watch the images of the fight, Clint asks stunned, "What chance do we have if she can control Thor and Hulk?"

Sif smiles proudly, "I brought Thor a new chest piece, its magic will repel hers."

Tony adds quickly, "My science blocked her too. I guess the armor's new field force is pretty effective." Then he turns to Bruce, "But Cap… ?"

The doctor replies, "You go, I'll stay. I call you if we need anything."

"I can use the new Falcon armor, and I'll be safe too," says Sam.

Thinking for a second, Clint questions, "She couldn't control Cap… Why? He wasn't even wearing his uniform…"

Tony agreed puzzled, "Man, he didn't even flinch. The green witch was pissed."

Thor says full of admiration, "The Captain's strength is remarkable. Truly thou art a warrior to be reckoned with for few can resist the Enchantress' charms." Then, he turns to Bucky, "He was right about you, James Barnes. You are a noble warrior and your assistance was invaluable. I'm honored to fight by your side."

Speechless, Bucky nods nervously, as all eyes turn to him. But he's saved by Sif who calls for attention as she warns, "Amora doesn't stand rejection, she may want revenge against the Captain."

Through holographic screens, Tony enters a few commands, saying, "I set the Tower's force field like mine. Theoretically, she won't be able to come back here, but if she does, electrocute her, okay?" Tony stands his hand to Bucky, "Protect Cap."

Instantly, Bucky declares, "With my life", and shakes Tony's hand.

"We don't have time to lose." Bidding her farewell, Sif leaves, followed by the three Avengers.

Then, Bruce turns to Bucky, "We need to check your wounds."

Since he started to follow Steve, Bucky had a chance to observe the team and learned that they are a noble group, and now they are all united around their Captain. Against all his instincts of survival, his loyalty to his friend takes precedence and he conforms himself to accept these people's hospitality.

A few hours later, Steve blinks slowly. Natasha. Always his first thought when he wakes up, he feels her body curled by his side. Instinctively, he turns to hold her, but realizes he's plugged in to too many sensors, recognizing the infirmary room. Still dazed because of the sedatives, he takes a moment to stretch his body… "Damn it. It wasn't a nightmare…" he sighs disappointedly.

Alerted by his sounds and movements, Natasha awakes immediately, and touches his face softly, "Steve, are you okay?"

Despite the dim light, he can see the exhaustion in her beautiful green eyes. He shakes his head no, averting his eyes, but he can't fool her.

She cups his chin gently, "Babe, how are you feeling?"

He's now only 5'4", an inch taller than she is, and thinner. His answer comes without thinking, "A joke."

"What?" She shakes her head confused, "Are you in pain? Do you want me to call Bruce?"

His words didn't match how absolutely dejected he looks, "No, thanks. I'm fine."

Wrapping her arms around him, she kisses his lips softly, "I was so worried."

She's by his side, taking care of him as she always did. Everything seems perfect in place, except from him. He can't hold her back, he doesn't know how to. Never in his 25 first years as a skinny sick guy, had he felt as miserable as he is feeling now, next to the love of his life. She's the most wonderful woman in the world and he doesn't deserve her… not like this.

He can't find any strength, and all he can say is… "I'm sorry."

"For what, babe?" But he doesn't say anything, so she insists, "Steve, what do you mean?"

Finally, he looks at her and, mortified, he tries to explain, "I'm sorry for being like this, for worrying you. I don't know what to do…"

"Steve, this is not your fault. You saved Thor."

"Tony and Bruce can't fix it. And I can't do anything but wait. I'm sorry, you don't need…"

She cut him off with a tender kiss, and he melts in her arms. She means the world to him, and to see her suffering hurts him more than any pain. The stress makes him start to cough again and she hands him the inhaler.

"Here, breathe. Are you hurt?" She tries to check his wounds, but he holds her hand to stop her, terrified that she could see his skinny body.

"No, Nat." He looks down. "I'm sorry for causing you discomfort."

Completely confused by his reaction, Natasha blinks slowly, and speaks firmly, "Steve, look at me." Gently, she overtakes his resistance, and turns him to face her. Their heads are lying in the pillow and she rests her forehead on his. "You are scaring me, okay? Stop apologizing. You didn't do anything wrong." Caressing his face softly, she whispers, "I love you."

His breathing increases and, coughing again, he picks the inhaler.

She hugs him tenderly, "Please, relax, you need to rest."

As it happens on any dangerous mission, the women, non-Avengers, are kept outside the loop. The few members of the team that appear lock themselves inside a meeting room.

This time, however, for Jane, the aggravation is having Sif by Thor's side… everywhere.

Observing they passing by from a distance, Pepper asks, "That's his ex?"

Darcy confirms dryly, "Yep."

Overtaken by jealousy, Jane snorts, "Best friend."

Because of the magical nature of the incident, not even Betty was asked to consult. She's as clueless as surprised, like all the girls, and exclaims, "Wow."

Bobbi promptly agrees, "And I thought I had a problem."

"Where's Natasha when we need her?" Jane complains pissed, before noticing Bucky, "And who's that guy?"

"We can't say anything about him. It's classified." Bobbi explains, since Clint is the only one of the teams who talks, even if he doesn't really say anything.

Darcy sighs, "He's hot." And the girls nod.

The team is beyond broken without their Captain. And they have no success finding the Enchantress, yet.

After consulting Asgard's doctors and healers, Sif explains, "The spell will mostly like to revert when something specific happens, but we don't know what."

As expected, the Prince is miserable, blaming himself for his friend's condition. "It's my fault. It should be me, not the Captain." Frustrated, he throws Mjolnir on the floor in the common area, making a hole in it.

Defeated as never before, Tony doesn't even complain about the damage. Him and Bruce almost don't leave the lab trying to find a solution and Sam helps them as much as he can.

Times like this make Clint realize how not-super he is. So he hovers over Natasha attentive to her every request, and, as promised, babysits Bucky. After initial friction, the two snipers seem to find an equilibrium point to a good coexistence.

Bucky spends a lot of time by his best friends' door, but they can't say anything to each other… not yet.

Natasha doesn't leave Steve's side too, but despite all the affection and attention, he remains distant, reclusive.

After a few days, Steve's health stabilizes, and free from any disease, he's cleared to go back to their place. Sneg greets his owner as if he was wounded – gently walking by his side, the dog looks even bigger.

Lying on their bed, he looks absolutely uncomfortable, and Natasha can't hold it in anymore. "Steve, talk to me. Please, don't do this to me. Don't tell me that my presence stresses you…" The pain in her voice is palpable, and tears fall from her desperate green eyes, "I can't live without you…"

Seeing her so fragile brings his protective instincts back and without thinking, he hugs her, "No, Nat, I'm sorry. I'm an idiot." But when she clings to him as she always did, he shrinks again. His voice is nothing but a murmur, "I'm ashamed… I can't force you to be with me like this…"

Crying and trembling, she asks confused, "Steve, what are you talking about?"

He can't see her suffering, he can't hurt her, he never could. There's only one thing… one right thing to do… He tries as calm as he can, "You don't need to be with me like this. I'm not the same man you knew. I won't hold you to it." His last words literally shred both hearts into pieces, "I don't deserve you…"

"You think so little of me?" Her eyes were full of shame and deep sadness, "Don't you believe in my love? What did I do wrong?"

No matter what, he can't handle seeing her so broken and vulnerable, and cups her face gently, "No, Nat, please. It's me. Can't you see? I'm not worthy of you like this!"

She cuts him off with the most passionate kiss ever – it feels like always. At that moment, he forgets everything and kisses her back with the same love. After they break for air, she whispers between tears, "I love you and want you exactly the same way. You told me once not to say I wasn't worthy of you. I'm telling you the same thing, don't you dare to repeat this again."

They fall asleep, silently in each other's arms, sadly scared of the future ahead of them.

The Avengers' melancholy is unmistakable, but they are expected to attend a Memorial Day ceremony. If not all of them, Captain America must be there, and Steve gives Tony the solution, "You take Bucky dressed as me. Behind the mask, no one will notice. Besides, he can handle the shield if it's necessary."

Since he never felt himself worthy enough to step in Steve's shoes, Bucky obviously refuses it. Until Steve asks, "I can't let Captain America disappoint the public. Do it for me. Please."

The American part of the team fulfill their patriotic duty perfectly, but when it's time for photos and autographs, Bucky starts to break. Claiming an emergency mission, the Falcon flies him out of there.

Back at the Tower, Bucky thanks Sam, and the rookie apologizes, "I shot at you."

The burden of his past falls over his shoulders once more, and the former assassin replies, "I shot at everyone."

After watching the Avengers on TV, however, Steve smiles for the first time since the accident.

Suspicious, Natasha asks, "What are you thinking?"

"People need Captain America."

It's not that he's depressed, he's not – he's quiet. But Steve Rogers doesn't give up. He trains every day, plays with Sneg, and he's even eating properly. He spends a lot of the time in his studio, between old paintings and new drawings. Bucky follows him almost everywhere, they don't talk much, but they train with the shield. Despite his best friend's reluctance, Steve is clearly passing his Captain America's mantle to him.

Everything seems to be moving on… except for them as a couple. Natasha's beyond worried, so she calls the psychiatrist who attended him after he woke up.

Dr. Florence Driver isn't used to making house calls, but Captain Rogers is a dear family friend, so she comes promptly. They talk for a few hours, and before leaving, the doctor meets Natasha.

"Dr. Driver. Thank you so much for coming. The car is waiting to take you back."

Smiling kindly, the 65-year-old replies, "It's my job, dear."

Uncertain, Natasha asks, "How is he?"

"The situation is unbelievable, I know, but he's gonna be fine."

"Please, I need your help. He… We are not fine. I… I don't know what to do."

"My dear, I can't disclose anything about a patient, right? But as a woman, I can tell you one thing." Her voice is full of compassion, "You are everything he ever needed."

"Me? How? Tell me, please! I'll do anything for him."

The psychiatrist winks reassuring, "Look in your heart, Natasha."

Standing at the elevator hall, still processing the doctor's last words, Natasha gets surprised when Sif appears.

"Lady Natasha, a word please."

"It's just Natasha, Lady Sif. Please, come in." The two women sit in the living room, and the spy thanks the warrior, "Thor told us everything about you. Thank you for being here helping us."

"Likewise, Thor praises you as the bravest of Midgard's female warriors. How is the Captain?"

"He is… There's no injuries. He's… fine. Have you found a cure yet?"

"That's exactly the point I want to discuss." After a brief pause, Sif inquires, "Can we talk privately here?"

"Yes. JARVIS, private mode on."

The A.I. promptly answers, "Very well, Agent Romanoff."

Natasha nods and Sif explains, "This is a very personal story. But without the Captain, Thor is devastated… I hope we can help them both." Taking a deep breath, Sif begins, "We all grew up in Asgard, at the same time. While me and Thor trained to be warriors, Amora walked into the paths of sorcery and dark magic, like Loki. As the Asgardian heir, Thor was the center of all the attention, and she wanted him as the high prize. But he and I… We were each other's first love. She tried everything to take him from me. I was young, inexperienced, I let her manipulate me." Despite her usual constricted demeanor, for a brief moment, Sif shows a completely soft and different side of the fearless warrior – the woman side. Natasha can't help by empathize with her. But quickly the warrior is back in charge again, and she continues, "Amora uses seduction spells to enslave men, but she targets the most powerful and strongest ones. Specially the taken ones. She feeds on other people's love, since she can't love or be loved herself." Her voice is full of concern, "I don't think it was an accident. The Falcon showed us the images from the fight, and from what I've seen, she focused her attention on the Captain when he resisted her spell saying he was taken. I think she targeted Thor knowing that the Captain would protect him."

"But he's not powerful now… I don't understand…"

"Isn't he?" Sif raises her eyebrows, "From everything Thor had told about your Captain, his heart is one of the strongest ever. It's too great of a challenge for her to enslave a unique man like him."

Natasha gets instantly alert, "I won't let her get near him."

Once again Sif opens her soul, "Don't make my mistake. Don't let her undermine your love."

After talking with the psychiatrist, Steve finds Bucky at Clint's place, with lots of pizza and beer, and they invite the captain to join them. Steve is pleased to see his two friends getting along so well, and asks, "Are you two buddies now? How did it happen?"

Clint smiles shyly, "Yeah. I've been taking him to the training room. We beat the crap out of each other. We're okay."

Definitely inebriated, Bucky is having fun, "Man, the guy's good. He doesn't miss."

"We did a few rounds of practicing targets too," explains the archer.

Now Steve understands the bruises he saw on both of them a few days ago. Interestingly enough, it's not a surprise that they fit so well together, since the two loner snipers share a lot of similarities. But Clint now is a married man, and the soldier asks concerned about the mess that his two friends are making of the place, "Where is Bobbi?"

"Out on a mission." The archer answers and throws him a beer.

Looking around, Steve sees a few DVD's, and picking up one, he asks, "What's a Mockbuster?"

Grinning, Clint explains, "Parody movies, Cap. They make fun of other movies."

"It's good!" Bucky is laughing out loud. In a sense, he's just as much of a man from the past as Steve is. The few moments between the times when the Winter Soldier was frozen and the ones of assassination missions turned out to be not actually life. This is the first time he gets to have a normal anything, without being controlled by someone in the Red Room.

Steve isn't really paying attention to the movie since it's one of the strangest ever, but after a while he can't help himself, "Who does this kind of thing? Are teens this dumb today?"

"We were a bunch of idiots too, back then. Don't you remember?" Bucky punches him slightly on the arm.

Steve chuckles, "Speak for yourself."

Suddenly a naked guy appears covered in cream and cherries, and Steve can't help but recognize the actor. None of the others have even bothered to know any names, they just make fun of the scene, asking for naked girls instead.

Watching his friends having fun in a typical guy's night out, Steve misses everything he has with Natasha. He misses her.

The movie is about to end when she appears by the door. Bucky gets sober instantly, and he and Clint start to collect the garbage around them. She smirks, "Good. This way, your wife won't kill you both when she gets back."

Smiling, Steve stands quickly and walks towards her, "Night, guys", and the couple leave in silence.

Walking back to the elevator, Natasha slides her hand over his and he holds hers gently. It's weird not having the size difference anymore, but it bothers him, not her.

"You didn't have to come with me, I didn't mean to interrupt. You guys seemed to be having fun," she says.

"They were." He smiles shyly, "Thanks for rescuing me."

Back at their place, she cooks and he helps her, as they continue to talk about their best friends.

"I can't believe they are getting along so well." She ponders.

"Funny right? But they actually do have many things in common."

She asks disbelieving, "Really?"

"They have the same young spirit, you know?" Shrugging his shoulders, he explains, "They're like teens and, in both eras, the two of them helped to not make my life so serious." A small laugh escape from his mouth, "They like these parody movies. Did you know this?" She shakes her head no, and he continues, "Actually, that movie we were watching… is with… you know… your guy…"

Frowning, she complains, "I told you to stop this. You are my guy."

She tenses up, but he takes her hand gently saying, "Alright, sorry. That actor", and she relaxes a bit.

They eat side by side, enjoying each other's company, but when it's time for dessert, he can't resist and jokes, "Anyway, that sundae outfit…"

Blushing instantly, she hides her face in her hands, "I can't believe you saw that."

"Clint has an entire box with these so called Mockbusters."

Without looking at him, she replies, "I'm gonna kill him."

He looks at her intently, trying to read her, and questions, "Do you like it?"

"It's a comedy. It's not supposed to be taken seriously."

"Oh, really?"

"Shut up. It's a parody of teen movies."

They laugh for a while, and tidy up the kitchen as they finish their dinner.

In bed, she lays her head leaning into his shoulder, but carefully not to crush him. This is the thing he misses the most – to be able to hold her like he always did. He can't help but think about the ridiculousness of that movie, and questions, "Why would someone play a part like that?"

Rolling her eyes, she says, "It's a job. He's an actor. And he was young…"

Thinking for a while, he speaks somewhat embarrassed, "Well, at least he could take his outfit off…"

She turns to look at him, but her voice is full of comprehension, "Is that how you think of yourself? That you're stuck in this body?"

He won't lie, but he doesn't look at her, "I told you… I feel like… a joke."

Without a hint of irony, she replies, "Well, I feel grateful for having the chance to know this part of you."

Surprised, he looks at her in disbelief, "You can't be serious." But seeing her green eyes, with nothing but admiration, he complains, "This is who I used to be, ancient times ago. This is not me anymore, except that I'm trapped here. I can't do anything to change it," before continuing disappointed, "I can't be myself with you…"

"Because you don't want to."

Looking down, he sighs, "Nat, please."

Getting close, she cups his chin gently, and raises it to her. "I love you." She places a soft kiss on his lips, "Nothing changed, here", touching his heart gently with her hand, "Where it matters."

A faint smile opens on his face, and he replies, "I can't live like this. I need to try anything to fix me."

"There's nothing wrong with you."

"Nat, are you out of your mind?"

Green eyes look at him intently, "No, I'm not. I love you…"

"But I'm not me. I'm this weak version…"

"Steve, you're not listening to me." She leans into him again, "I love you, no matter how you look."

Their lips touch and, this time, he kisses her back with more intensity than she expected – she lightens up, and he replies shyly, "Nat, we can't live like this. We can't even be together."

She pouts, "Because you don't want me anymore."

Her body is leaning on his, and he can't hide the effect she has on him, he never could. "You are really out of your mind. I never stopped loving and wanting you. I…"

"But you barely touch me."

The honesty in her plea is disconcerting. This is not a game of seduction, and he knows it. She's the woman who truly, deeply loves him, and he can't live without her. "Because… I can't… I can't be the man I was for you."

And she's about to break, "You don't love me anymore? You don't find me attractive?"

He holds her close, "Oh, God, Nat, don't ever say that. I love you and I want you so much that it hurts."

Her voice is just a whisper, "Prove it. Make love to me."

"I… I can't… This body isn't worthy of you. I'm not…"

Without giving him time to think, Natasha kisses Steve. Between wordless reassurances and tears, they fall in each other's arms. After a few days with 21st century medicine, his skinny body is healthier and stronger than ever before. He knows every inch of her – to be able to please and love her is everything that Steve needs to feel alive again. In his arms, Natasha is entirely real, free… totally happy. It's a journey with new paths, but between old and deeply connected partners. It's different, for sure, but perfect nonetheless because they love each other with their hearts and souls, not only their bodies. She's the most amazing, unbelievably beautiful woman, who makes him feel a giant, even bigger than he was with his super-soldier body. In the end, it's stronger than anything they anticipated – real in a way that it couldn't have been before – it's earthshaking. They surrender completely to each other, "I love you. Love you. You."

Absolutely spent in his arms, she smiles mischievously, "Some things… didn't change…"

His male ego was desperately in need of this confidence and Steve blushes instantly. Kissing her passionately, he whispers between her lips, "Nat, I love you so much."

Sated and relaxed, cuddling by his side, Natasha starts to fall asleep, and murmurs drowsily, "Me too… marry me…"

NextThor: The Dark World (*special chapter)

Extended scenes: Chris Crush (Avengers) – chapter 6, Bucky, and chapter 7, Sif (to be posted sooner).

Chapter Text

"Nat, I love you so much."

Sated and relaxed, cuddling by his side, Natasha starts to fall asleep, and murmurs drowsily, "Me too… marry me…"

Her words startle Steve – they stop him completely. When he's finally able to move, he touches her face softly, but no words come from his mouth. Staring at her sleeping beauty, her pinkish lips and still flushed cheeks, he wonders if he's not dreaming. After all the stress they went through since his transformation, and the incredible lovemaking they just experienced, he's pleased that she's getting a well-deserved rest. He holds her with all his love and devotion… however, he can't sleep.

In a situation like this, who could?

His mind is in a whirlwind – he remembers the talk with the psychiatrist, and his worst fear… "How can a guy like me have a woman like the Black Widow, when she had Captain America?"

The super-soldier was the peak of human physical perfection. How could any man compete with that? More than ever, he was feeling like the scared, skinny, sickly little Steve Rogers he once had been.

Despite everything, Natasha proved him wrong.

Although he couldn't believe it, or even try to explain it, he couldn't deny it – it was incredible. Unthinkable, yes… but, it was all real.

In the morning, Steve wakes up with her kisses and breakfast in bed – her happiness is just contagious. She made his favorite Russian pancakes, but tided the tray with an appropriate amount of food for his current body… and appetite. It touches him how she thought about everything to not make him feel bad.

Still feels like a dream, and his fear of waking up increases…

Lying in each other's arms, all his insecurities come back with full force and he asks confused, "Nat, are you sure you're okay?"

Stretching pleased, she sighs, "Yes."

"How can it be?"


"How can you be so… happy?" His whole body is tense. "It's almost as if you like me… when I'm looking like this…"

Flashing her beautiful green eyes, her answer is plain simple, "I love you."

However, Steve is still a man, and he can't get over the physical change. "Nat, please! I don't understand…"

"You don't understand my love?"

He's completely lost, with a vulnerability he shows only to her.

"Steve, this is who you are. How you were born and grew up, how you faced the world before the super-soldier serum. Now I understand." She opens the sweetest smile. "I know why you're so gentle, caring. Why you are shy. Now I know you. And I love you even more."

His mind tries to process everything… but her last words from yesterday are screaming inside his heart. He has never been this terrified in his life before. When he finds his voice, he stammers, "You… you said… last night… after… you… you asked…"

Leaning close, Natasha places a soft kiss on his lips. Then she speaks the words, "I asked you to marry me."

Steve is in complete shock.

"Will you?" she never looked so radiant.

"You… can't… be serious." Anxiety takes control of him and the asthma attacks.

Handing him the inhaler, she helps him until his breathing goes back to normal. Then, she whispers quietly, "Don't you want it?"

"God, Nat… please… don't play with that…" He starts to get stressed once more.

This time, however, she is the one who calms him with her lips. She kisses him tenderly and, for a moment, he forgets everything else. When they pull apart, she speaks softly, "I've never been more serious in my life. Isn't this what you want?"

Nodding embarrassed, his blue eyes shine as he replies, "It's all I've dreamed… since that day we danced."

"Oh, Steve!" Her heart melts with his unexpected confession, and she kisses him again. "So what is the problem?"

Despite all her affection, he's flooded with frustration, "Me! This joke of a man that I am now! How can you…?"

"You are not a joke."

"Nat, please, listen to me! Can't you see me?"


Her straightforward answer hits him, and he straightens up even more confused, "How can you want to marry me when I look like this? Did you ever want to get married before?"

"Yes." Biting her lower lip, she continues, "I was just too scared to admit it to myself." She sits by his side, entwining their fingers, and replies sincerely, "Steve. I love you. And I want you. Happy, safe, alive. Mine." She winks, "Now, I can have you all for me."

"What do you mean?"

For the first time, Natasha is the one with plans and… hope. "Barnes will be Captain America, right? We can retire. I can work from a computer wherever we are. You can go back to your art. We can have a normal life."

Her words are everything Steve didn't know he wanted to hear… it just doesn't make sense. "You? Retire?"

But her answer surprises him even more. "I did it before, you know? I tried. When I first defected from Russia and moved to San Francisco. I wanted to put everything in my past behind me." She explains melancholically, "But they forced me back. Then, I settled down because, before you, I didn't have a real reason to want a private life."

"Nat, all I want is your happiness. I'll do anything for you. But I can't be happy if you're not. I can't be the one to force you in any situation you're not comfortable with. I…"

"Babe, please, you are the one who is not listening. Look at me." Smiling mischievously, she leans close to him. "Do I not look happy? Do you think I was faking it, last night?" He blushes instantly, and she kisses him hungrily, "Can't you see how much I want you… right now?"

"Oh, Nat… I trust you, never doubt that." Steve shakes his head in disbelief, and speaks out of sheer desperation, "But… I don't understand… How can you be happy with… this…?" Shame and guilt are the tone in his voice, as he puts his hands on his skinny chest. "When you had Captain America?!"

"I don't love Captain America." Her eyes moisten, and she places her hand over his heart. "I love Steve Rogers."

His jaw drops, and he's completely speechless.

"Steve, of course I like the super-soldier body. It's part of you too. And Sif said that the spell will broke eventually, right?" She tilts her head a little, "I wouldn't have met you if you weren't Captain America. I wouldn't probably look at you this way…" Ashamed, she confesses, "I was too broken and scared, when we met… it was easier to stay in the superficiality of physical beauty than admit my deep emotional flaws."

Touched by her honest admission, he cups her face tenderly and she leans to his caring touch.

"You first got my attention – and everybody's – because of your perfect physique." She rolls her eyes, before reassuring, "But you won my heart with your heart. You taught me to love… that I deserved to be loved. You healed me." Grabbing his hand again, she murmurs, "Now I got this chance… to love a part of you that I could only imagine before." A teardrop falls from her eyes. "Yes. Things changed. But I admire and want you even more. I didn't know it was possible, but I love you more than I already did." Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulls him back to bed. They lie together, foreheads touching, and she continues calmly, "It finally hit me. The whole 'worthy' idea we talked about so many times. I always saw myself as broken, but now I understand what you said to me."

"You're perfect," he whispered.

"That's it. I am not. No one is. But it's okay, because I know you love me anyway."

His baby blue eyes are teary too, and he struggles to find his voice, "I love you more than my life."

Caressing his face, she reassures, "I love you, no matter how you look."

"You are the most amazing woman in the world."

She smiles shyly, "Now I know I can be myself. I don't need the Black Widow to define me anymore. I'm really free. This feeling… is the best of my entire life." Unable to hold back her tears, she kisses him, and whispers between his lips, "I am yours." These simple words, and the depth of this life-defining moment, overwhelm them entirely…

Her words, her tears, her love… They finally hit him. "Nat…" he takes a sharp breath. "I'm so sorry. For being stupid, for hurting you." The little guy from Brooklyn kisses his beautiful girl, with all his love and it's absolutely perfect. "I've been a fool these past days, but I promise I'm going to make it up to you."

Natasha gives him the most beautiful smile ever, "You just did…" And they get lost in each other's arms.

Since the incident, the team has been constantly together, working extensively on finding a cure for their Captain. Led by Jane, the women demanded to help as well, but there was not much they could do other than provide moral support.

Finally at peace with his current fate, Steve knows he needs to appease his friends. Happily holding Natasha's hand, he enters the common area of the Avengers Tower and find them sadly languishing around.

"Captain?!" Instantly, the Prince walks towards them, looking tired, as if they just arrived from a battle. "My apologies. Our searches have been unsuccessful… I do not have an answer yet…"

Steve tries to calm him down, "It's okay, my friend, you need to stop worrying."

"How can I? Your unfortunate predicament is entirely my fault. I am unworthy of your friendship." As in the typical Shakespearean drama he always seems to live, especially when stressed, the Prince of Asgard drops his hammer on the floor and walks away.

"Thor! I couldn't ask for a better friend." Without thinking, Steve picks Mjolnir up, intending to give it back to its owner.

The team gets surprised since not even Hulk could lift it before, but what comes next is beyond unexpected.


As it happens with the Thunderer, a lightning bolt hits Steve with full charge. In an explosion of light, sparks fly off of his skinny body, shooting around the room, blinding them all. In a painful relief, he feels the same tearing agony he experienced long ago, as his muscles start to bulge, his chest expands, and he slowly grows taller. When it ends, he has his super-soldier form back, and balls his fists in power.

They all stare in wonder at the return of Captain America. The guys cheer and the girls whistle, as the room erupts in applause.

The spy jumps to the soldier's side, but it's Bruce who thinks quickly, throwing Thor's cape over to them, saying, "I'm used to the size changes."

The doctor is booed by the women, as Natasha covers Steve's almost naked body – since his small clothes were shattered into pieces during the transformation. But the spy is focused on her man, "Are you okay?"

Delighted with the surge of power, he holds her tight with his one free hand, while wielding the magical hammer in the other. "I am…"

At that moment, a portal opens in the middle of the room, dragging the soldier with the spy in his arms. Immediately, Lady Sif stands by Thor's side, who yells, "Heimdall!" and the two Asgardians jump inside the portal, following Steve and Natasha.

The two pairs vanish, leaving the rest of their friends behind, and a very pissed Jane.


With Natasha safe in his strong embrace, Steve finds them flying through the magic portal, propelled by the magical hammer, into a Technicolor tunnel among the stars – it's simply indescribable.

They land in a big rounded room, where a golden-armored warrior speaks, "Welcome to Asgard. I'm Heimdall. I greet thee, Captain of America. It's an honour to meet a Mjolnir's worthy."

Wearing Thor's cape as if it's a toga, Steve replies quite embarrassed, "Thank you…"

Seconds later, Thor and Sif arrive, and the Prince questions, "Friend Steven, are you all right?"

"Actually… I feel great!" The Captain hands the enchanted weapon to its rightful owner. "I'm myself again, but it's like I'm better!"

Looking at the Asgardians, Natasha asks, "What exactly happened?!"

Thor shows the inscriptions engraved on Mjolnir, "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor," and explains excited, "It is protected by my father's spell. Only a man or god worthy, pure of heart and noble of mind, could have lifted it!"

Lady Sif is triumphant, "Odin's power definitely annihilated the Enchantress' spell."

Still feeling energized by the magical experience, Steve admits, "That is one special weapon, Thor! I've never wielded such limitless power before!"

"And I have never known a mortal as honorable and noble as Steven Rogers!" Handing the magical hammer back to the soldier, both warriors lift it together, and the Prince declares proudly, "A sacred bond unites all those who have ever been privileged to wield Mjolnir! A bond which stretches far into infinity! I salute you, Captain America!"

Steve replies honored, "I hope I'll always be worthy of that honor and privilege, my friend!"

The Asgardians bow in respect and Thor exclaims, "We shall celebrate!"

"But why are we here?" questions Natasha.

Solemnly, Heimdall replies, "Odin demands to know each worthy one. I summoned the Captain to Asgard," giving an enigmatic smile, "And he brought milady with him."

"You two are my guests of honour!" The Prince invites, "Come, my friends!"

Exiting the Bifrost Observatory, the view ahead of them is absolutely spectacular. Asgard – the Realm Eternal – is like a fusion of medieval architecture with futuristic technology.

Magnificent horses wait upon the mystic Rainbow Bridge. Tiny by Asgardian standards, Natasha rides with Steve, and cradled in his arms, she feels as if she is inside of a romantic movie. Wherever they pass, they are greeted by the people, happy to have their Crown Prince back. In the center of the city, rises majestically the Imperial palace.

As soon as Steve is cleared by Eir, the goddess of Healing, Lady Sif escorts the couple to their chambers. "Everything here was set to fulfill Midgardian's needs, to work as if you were there. When the darkness comes, royal servants will help you to get prepared for dinner," she explains before leaving.

Finally alone, Steve grabs Natasha by her waist. With a mixture of relief and anxiety, she rushes her hands over his shoulders, releasing the cape and exposing his once again super-soldier body. As if he has returned from a battle, she seeks for wounds, removing the remaining shattered pieces of clothing. "Are you sure you are okay?"

The effect on him is immediate – his blue eyes darken and his voice grows husky, "I've never felt better!" Claiming her mouth with passion, he steals her breath, weakening her bones. Her heart flutters as he carries her effortlessly, bride style, "God, I've missed this." With his girl in his arms, Steve feels himself again.

Gazing languidly at each other, he walks through the spacious chambers, towards the bedroom. The sumptuous room is illuminated by a faint light that enters through a small gap in the curtains. In the center, there is the largest bed they've ever seen, with mantle rods hung from ceiling beams, in the most perfect medieval style.

Besides recovering his physical form, Steve now demonstrates an energy and force that Natasha can't describe, otherwise as… godlike. It's like the power of the enchanted hammer was still flowing through his whole body. In that unbelievable romantic scenery, they love each other passionately – definitely the most magical experience of their lives.

Despite this perfect moment, none of them talks about their plans for the future. Her question is still pounding in his heart… and she waits for the answer he didn't actually give to her.

As she lays comfortably in his arms, he asks sheepishly, "So… do you miss the little guy?"

She blinks disbelieving, "Are you jealous of yourself?" She punches him lightly, "Didn't you pay attention to anything I said before?!"

"I did…" he says blushing, "I'm not… I just wonder… who…"

"You. I love you." Cupping his face, she speaks softly, "And I want you happy. Are you happier now?" With the most adorable boyish look, he nods shyly, and her eyes moisten as she whispers, "I can see you inside of you…"

He kisses and loves her, again and again, taking her to the stars, "I love you. Love you. You."

After a revigorating nap, they have no idea about how much time passed, but as the bedroom starts to get darker, Steve stands up to check the window. "Wow! Nat, you need to see this." He comes back to bed and picks her up, carrying his sleepy girl to the balcony.

The mix of colors upon the alien sky and the amount of stars already visible are simply mesmerizing.

With her head lying on his shoulder and her arms wrapped around him, Natasha whispers, "I can't believe we are here… stargazing in another world…"

The couple is properly outfitted when Thor and Sif arrive. Natasha is gorgeous looking like a Renaissance princess, but she feels like a teenager next to the 6'2" Sif, also stunning in her feminine attires. Both men look very much alike dressed in festive shining armors.

As they tour through the magnificent palace, they meet Thor's younger brother, Balder the Brave, at The Hall of Heroes. They drag Steve around the room, telling stories about their ancestors, and the women wait patiently. Even though he was honored with the royal attention, wherever they are, Steve always looks for Natasha, and smiles discreetly.

"Having the Captain back has made Thor truly joyful. It's been awhile since I saw him this happy," confides Sif. "Last time… we were all mourning their mother."

Natasha remembers Jane's words about her past experience, and expresses her concern, "Lady Sif, is there any problem with me being here? Jane told us about her visit…"

The warrior-goddess' posture changes completely, hardening as she speaks, "Our Queen Frigga died protecting that mortal. Odin forbade… Jane Foster is not welcome here." After a brief pause, she speaks kindly, "Captain America is the only one Thor ever followed in battle, besides the All-Father. And now Steven Rogers has proved himself worthy by wielding Mjolnir. It makes him a guest of the highest honour, and thou art his bride."

Natasha stammers, "I'm not… we're… still…"

Sif speaks with honest admiration and a bit of envy, "Thou art a very fortunate woman, Natasha Romanoff."

The truth behind those words is incontestable, and also reveal a lot about the goddess-warrior and her longing for love. Natasha nods in silence.

When they finally arrive at The Great Hall, Thor proudly introduces his Midgardian guests. Although courteous, the Asgardians are obviously curious about the mortals. Natasha detects lust from some of the men towards her. Somehow in this alien territory, she isn't as confident as she is on Earth – it scares her to feel like prey among predators.

Always by her side, Sif advises, "Asgard is a world of men. Stay close to the Captain and there will not be any trouble."

"With all due respect, Lady Sif, I don't need protection," the spy replies quietly.

"Here thou dost. Asgardians are a lot stronger than any Midgardian." As they walk towards where Steve and Thor are, Sif explains with a tone of obvious disapproval, "Many of them used to go to Midgard for centuries, to feast with mortal women."

Demigods or mortals, Natasha always found it revolting when men abused their power, treating women as mere possessions. As if sensing her discomfort, Steve holds her by the waist, pulling her close to him. Despite all his strength, her man is absolutely gentle and relishing in the safety of his touch, she feels blessed by having him by her side. Thankfully, Thor and his closest friends are nothing but respectful, and among them, they have a very pleasant time.

Since the Queen's demise, Odin has been reclusive, so he wasn't expected until the end of the evening. Despite the differences between them, Thor worries about his now widowed father, and is anxious about the reunion. But even without the King's presence, the sight unfolding in front of them is one few mortal eyes have ever seen – the revelry of the gods. The immense table is abundantly filled and the food is exquisite. Servants wander around, constant filling their cups with mead from silver ewers. As they say, the Asgardians eat more than Frost Giants and drink enough mead to drown a thousand sailors.

Sitting between Sif and Steve, Thor remains attentive towards his guests and looks genuinely happy. The Captain tries his best not to disappoint his friend and enjoys not being the most gluttonous on the table. Quiet by his side, Natasha observes everything, exchanging glances with Sif, who definitely has a place of importance in the power hierarchy, on the contrary of most of the other women, who remain in the background. Even so, her words make complete sense, and the redhead spy can't help but feel connected with the raven-haired warrior. Both women had to fight for their place among men's world, but the Asgardian's life is by far more challenging.

Despite being one of the most advanced societies in the Nine Realms, Asgard's culture is solidly based on a patriarchal hierarchy. The romantic image of knights and castles is nothing but a cover to the strong sexism inherent in the structure of their aristocratic behavior. They live to battle and to celebrate their powerful, strong male warriors, telling tales about their amazing victories while asking for 'more cold mead and warm women.'

Among his brethren, the 6'6" heavily-muscled, virile god of Thunder, embodies their ideal of masculine perfection, exuding kingship in every aspect. His accomplishments are the most memorable, starting with 'The winning of Mjolnir'.

The most festive one of the Warriors Three, Volstagg the Voluminous begins, "Who is there who dwells on high that ever can forget the shameful day when stealthy Storm Giants stole the golden apples of immortality? It was Prince Thor, still a fledgling youth, who restored the enchanted fruit to its divine guardian, the All-goddess Idunn."

"I was supposed to be protecting her. I failed. They captured us both," tells Sif.

Thor steps in, "Thou wast a girl, barely a woman, let alone a warrior."

Sif nods with a smile and, on the other side of the table, Idunn replies, "Indeed, Fair Sif. Their audaciousness only benefited from thy youth. Thus did they face Prince Thor's wrath for daring to meddle with the golden apples of Asgard… and his favorite raven-haired goddess!"

"Hail the Prince!"

They all toast, before Hogun the Grim joins the storytelling, "Is there any among us who has not heard of the valiant defense of young Prince Thor, against the invading Forces of Evil?"

"It almost cost his life," reminds Balder the Brave. "Thor, Sif and I were just returning from Odin's quest – bringing the four mystic elements which he used to forge my enchanted sword, Svadren."

"One of the tasks was to bring the enchanted waters from the Lake of Lilitha, but it was dried, so I got only its sand," says the Prince.

"The Norn Queen's army had laid siege to Asgard and we battled for our lives." Continues Sif, "But just as victory was ours, Thor's heart was struck by Karnilla's magic arrow… and he fell dead in my arms!"

"In his grief, All-Father scattered the dried lake bed dirt over Thor's body." Balder explains, "When Sif's tears of love came into contact with the enchanted earth, their healing powers brought him back to life." Standing up, he bows to Sif, "Let's us drink to the Shield-Maiden of Asgard!"

Amongst hails and toasts, Thor follows Balder in his bow, "That was only one of the times Milady saved my life."

The Warriors Three add in chorus, "Ours too!"

Keeping the banter tone of camaraderie among fellow warriors, the raven-haired goddess rolls her eyes, "I have lost count."

It's amusing to Natasha to see how Sif is truly the most revered of the goddesses.

Then, it's Fandral the Dashing who speaks, "Finally, our Crown Prince proved him worthy when he did descend to darkest Hel, there to rescue the innocent Sif from the icy touch of Hela, Death's goddess!"

"The Storm Giants' King, the coward Rugga, bartered Sif's life to Hela, for immortality." Thor slams his fist lightly on the table, but even constricted, his strength is enough to make it all shake.

"My Lord was barely out of boyhood, but offered to make the supreme sacrifice, giving up his life for mine." Putting her hand gently over Thor's, Sif smiles proudly, "Hela was so impressed by his nobility that released us both."

"For these and other deeds of selfless valor countless as the Heaven's stars, Thor first gained full possession of his enchanted Mjolnir!" finishes Balder, "Raise your tankards! All hail the Thunderer!"

The loud toasts and exaltations continues, as more tales start to be told. Listening to the god of Thunder's incredible adventures, Natasha proudly realizes how special it is that Steve could lift that same enchanted hammer.

But reveling in the feeling of Sif's soft touch, Thor travels back to that time of their youth, where their young love was all that they needed… and he remembers…

Hela's question… "You would sacrifice yourself so… for the life of another?"

"Yes, Sif's life means more to me than my own. Let me be the one to feel your fatal touch."

"Never have I heard such an offer."

His bold but absolutely honest answer… "Then never have you known love."

The beautiful and innocent Sif… Her terrified blue eyes, that were filled with tears of pain and love, mirroring the love he felt in his noble and also pure heart… His worthy heart.

And their kiss… the first truly passionate kiss of their lives… Even after those centuries, it remained completely unforgettable…

All those memories and emotions come back at full force and, instinctively, Thor looks at Sif. They stare at each other… Once again, her eyes show her devoted love… and also pain… but a deeper one than he saw before. The shared comprehension is overwhelming, but it lasts for just a brief moment, before she excuses herself and leaves.

Thor stands up, as if to follow Sif, but he is immediately hugged by Volstagg and dragged to the middle of his friends. Among them, a joyful Steve, at the request of all, wields Mjolnir. The revelry of the men overtakes the Prince, and he starts to tell Avengers' stories, praising the Captain, "I do not pledge my allegiance to many of mortal stature! This man I will follow through the gates of Hel!"

Despite the laughters and jokes, Natasha didn't miss the signs of intimate connection between the two former lovers… and the subtle sadness that befell them. Following Sif, she finds the goddess standing by a side table, with her double-bladed sword in hand. The spy recognizes the behavior – they both hide their feminine emotional sides behind their strong warrior personas.

The redhead compliments sincerely, "It's a magnificent weapon." Without saying a word, Sif hands her the sword, but Natasha refuses respectfully, "Thanks, I prefer guns." Sif and Natasha smile at each other in a silent understanding of the bond they've established.

From a distance, they watch the male warriors playing like boys, trying to lift Mjolnir. Thor and Steve, however, are gazing back to them.

Natasha sighs, "Thor doesn't know how lucky he is…"

"He was born to be King. Blessed with unparalleled strength and power," says Sif. "He does not need luck."

As if on cue, all noise stops because the King arrives.

As he had done many times before, Thor salutes his father, throwing the hammer to him, saying, "Father! I'm honored to introduce my worthy friend!"

But instead of catching the powerful weapon, as only he could have done it, Odin falls on the floor, with Mjolnir fastened on his chest. In front of shocked eyes, the shapeshifter transforms, revealing himself as the god of Mischief.

"Loki?! What madness is this?" Thor yells, "Where is Father?!"

The chaos that follows is indescribable.

The King's guard attack, showing themselves as Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, and the Prince commands, "Asgardians, rise!" Immediately, they are all engaged in battle, using the weapons they carry constantly on their garments.

Even unable to move, trapped under the magic hammer, Loki fights with spells, so the Thunderer grabs him, and flies to lock him in the dungeons.

In Thor's absence, Balder is in command, and Steve admires the well-oiled fighting machine that the Asgardians are. Unarmed, the Captain picks up a shield and a sword that were exhibited on the wall, and seeing Natasha protected by Sif, he joins the fight as well. Even though the Dark Elves greatly outnumber them, the super-soldier is able to easily defeat a lot of them, showing why he is one of the best fighters in the Universe. Instead of relying only on physical strength and weaponry – that is the basic style of the Asgardians – Steve employs the same tactics he uses to train with the Hulk, using the opponents' weight and power in his favor. His varied fighting style and unparalleled skill with a basic rounded shield gain the approval among Thor's warriors, proving once for all why he is worthy.

Adopting a protective stance, Sif slays a few Dark Elves who dare to approach them. Natasha is mesmerized by the goddess-warrior's ability and grace with the sword, when she feels her body levitate. Completely paralyzed, she recognizes the woman that appeared in front of her from the Avengers Tower surveillance video – Amora the Enchantress.

"This is the wench that the Captain of America chose instead of me? How unworthy he is." Unable to speak, the redhead cries out in pain, as the blonde sorceress mocks with the most absolute disdain, "I could crush you in my fist like the slug you are! But physical contact with creatures such as you disgusts me!"

Sif demands, "Amora! Let her go!"

In the middle of the confusion, the Enchantress holds Natasha in an immobilizing spell, attracting her longtime rival to a quieter place in the huge hall. "Does not it sicken you, Fair Sif? How many of these mortals whores did your insatiable Prince bed already?"

Approaching slowly, the raven-haired warrior commands, "She is not the one. Release her!"

"But they are all the same, aren't they? Frail, weak… Inferior imitations of us… to be used and discarded." The sorceress keeps the terrified spy between them, while teasing the warrior-goddess, "What art thou among them? The royal concubine?"

Although enraged, Sif's primary concern is Natasha's safety, so she dares Amora, "And yet, thou hidest behind her."

"I hide not!" Throwing the redhead's helpless body on the wall, the blonde summons a sword. "When I finish thee, I will triumph where thou failed. I will make thy Prince long for me."

"Over my dead body."

Amora laughs pleased, "As thou wishest."

Their battle is fierce, but despite her magic tricks, the sorceress can't hit the highly skilled warrior.

Even free from the magic spell, Natasha finds herself defenseless against a strong Dark Elf, who carries her away – she calls Steve in despair. Immediately, the Captain mows his way through all the elves, with an unprecedented display of strength and agility. In a blink, he reaches her captor and knocks him down with a ferocious punch – she has never seen him so enraged or more powerful before. Catching her in his arms, he holds her close, "Nat, are you hurt?" She clings to him, but can't stop shaking, and he tries to shush her, "I'm here, you're safe."

At that moment, Thor arrives back and Amora doesn't miss the chance, blasting him. Acting on impulse, regardless of the consequences, Sif instinctively springs forward, throwing herself in front of her beloved Prince, taking the blow instead.

The evil blonde laughs maliciously, "Foolish Sif! Still art thou a pawn of the Thunder god!"

"No!" Holding Sif's unconscious body in one arm, Thor throws Mjolnir, yelling, "You shall pay!" But the Enchantress disappears before he can reach her.

The last Dark Elves are beaten by the Warriors Three and Balder the Brave, while Thor and Steve rush to the healers chambers, holding their beloved women in their arms.

Eir the Healer puts Natasha under a sleep, and Thor explains, "This will heal her body and mind. Do not worry, Captain."

Watching the two women being attended, the Prince apologizes, "This attack should never have happened here… You were under my protection. I am sorry…"

"It wasn't your fault," the soldier replies, pacing anxiously.

The Thunderer pats Steve's shoulder, "I assure you, my friend, when she wakes up, she will be alright." Steve nods silently, and Thor compliments sincerely, "The love you share for each other is remarkable. You are a lucky man, Steven."

Noticing the Prince's also stressed state, the Captain questions, "How about your father?"

"We are still searching… Loki claims he was captured by the remaining Dark Elves, after I defeated Malekith the Accursed. He said he was ensorcelled and doesn't know anything about the All-Father's whereabouts."

"Do you believe him?"


"Can your father… can he be hurt or…?" It's a delicate subject, and Steve's clueless about it.

"Father lives. The Odin Force… the power he wields, I did not inherit it yet."

"What are you going to do now? How can I help you?"

"We don't know how long Father has been missing, or what Loki did on his behalf. The burden of the throne has fallen on me." A sadness falls upon Thor, "I cannot go back with you."

The Captain is nothing but understanding, "Of course, my friend. What do you want me to do?"

"Go back, keep Midgard safe. Tell our friends I will miss them all."

"Are you sure you don't need us here? Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Can you explain this all to Jane? Can you make her understand?"

"I can try." After a moment of hesitation, always the perfect gentleman, Steve suggests, "I don't want to intrude, but isn't better if you tell her in person? Maybe just a quick visit through the Bifrost?"

"Without Odin, Asgard is vulnerable. During the Odinsleep, Balder and Sif always kept it protected. But Sif… I cannot leave…" Talking about her, affects Thor deeply, and the pain in his face is unmistakable.

The soldier worries, "How is she?"

"She took a hit that was meant for me," the Prince's guilt is unbearable.

"But she's gonna be okay, right?" Thor nods and Steve continues relieved, praising the warrior, "She's outstanding. I've never seen anyone fight like her."

Pausing for a while, Thor's answer is simple, "She is… unique," but the emotion he conveys speaks volumes – he is talking about the woman, more than the warrior.

Realization hits the Captain, "Do you… care for her?"

They don't talk about women like the other guys. But for the Prince of Asgard, following someone else's orders in battle is the highest proof of trust. "Centuries ago, she and I declared our love for each other. It is a love that has been sorely tested and yet has managed to survive."

Thor's answer shocks Steve completely, and he can't help but ask the obvious question, "What are you doing on Earth?"

"I fear I do not have a simpler answer for thy question."

"I'm sorry, my friend, I don't mean any disrespect, and I don't understand anything about Asgard's traditions. But… have you ever thought about how they feel about it all? Sif and Jane?"

The look on his face shows that this is a completely unknown concept for the god of Thunder.

For a while, both men look back to the healing chambers, thinking about their women.

When the Captain speaks again, there's the certainty that accompanies his every speech, inspiring the best in each person. "I didn't live centuries like you, but I lived more than what was expected for the human race. I've known other women, I even thought I could fall in love, before. But when I met Natasha… She is the one, and I only want to be with her. It doesn't matter if it's for one day or for eternity." Shaking his head, his voice trembles a little, as he shows the man behind the legend. "I wanted to kill that elf when I saw his hands on her. And I would have done it, if he hadn't fall after the first punch."

That's a feeling that Thor can connect with, "This is what I felt when Amora hit Sif."

"When it's for real, there are no questions. I know I will protect Natasha with my life, because the fear of losing her is… unbearable." Pausing for a moment, the soldier looks straight to his friend, "I would rather die than see her suffering because of me… physically or emotionally."

Devastated, Thor looks down, before replying, "You speak true, Steven. My heart is filled with regret. I feel myself divided between two women and two worlds."

"My friend, when it comes to matters of the heart, we all suffer the same way." Steve pats his friend's arm, "But don't forget, they are suffering too."

The women spend the night, which the gods call darkness, in the healing chambers, and the men don't leave their side. In the morning, Natasha wakes up and Steve greets her with a tired smile, "Hi, sweetheart. How are you feeling?"

"I am… great. I dreamed I was floating…"

Thor comes close, and he looks even more exhausted. "Lady Eir told me there are no side effects of any magic. The bruises and broken bones are healed. You are completely well. Do you still feel any discomfort?"

"No, I can't even remember the pain… Thank you."

"I hope you can forgive me for what you went through, Natasha."

"Thor, it wasn't your fault." Smiling kindly, she looks around, "Where is Sif?"

The Prince answers sadly, "She is still sleeping. It will take longer, but she will make full recovery."

"I owe her. She fought for me, with that crazy… witch."

"I assure you, the Enchantress will pay for her actions." Thor gets somber, "Did she say what she wanted with you?"

Natasha sighs, "She didn't even look at me… I guess she just took it out on me because of Jane. For her, we, mortals, are nothing. Casualties." The Thunderer's face hardens, as she continues, "She's obsessed with you, Thor, and hates Sif. She used me as bait to attract Sif, and said horrible things about you… to hurt Sif."

Steve grinds his teeth, before asking, "Do you think she was connected with Loki or the Dark Elves?"

"I do not. Amora is an opportunist. Do not worry about her anymore, alright?" Reassures Thor, before leaving.

Steve caresses Natasha's face gently, and apologizes too, "I shouldn't have left you alone… I'm so sorry…"

"Don't be silly. And for the record, I'm glad you're the super-soldier again."

"This is not funny."

"I know. I'm trying to make you smile." She draws him to her and kisses him softly.

"God… When I saw that elf's hands on you… I lost it…"

Blinking slowly, Natasha confesses, "I've never felt so helpless in my life."

Holding her tightly, he takes a sharp breath, "That's how I felt… without the serum."

"Oh, Steve…" she kisses him again, and again, until they are both smiling. "It was an amazing experience, but now, I want to go home."

He picks her up, carrying her in his arms, making her giggle, "Anything my lady wants."

Back to Sif's chambers, Odin's words echoed in Thor's memory…

"Human lives are fleeting, they are nothing. You would be better served by what lies in front of you. I am telling you this, not as the All-Father, but as your father. You are ready. The time has come for you to take the throne. Embrace and celebrate what you have won."

Thor ponders about his life, and his constant fights with his father. For centuries, he won battle after battle, trying to prove himself worthy – of the hammer, to lead the Asgardian Army, to be King. Always seeking his father's approval. When the time came, he turned it all down to follow Jane, to be an Avenger, and to live another adventure. But for how long? A half of a century was nothing for him, but it meant a lifetime for Midgard.

Steve's question comes back to his mind. What am I doing?

Looking at Sif's still sleeping form, he remembers her words before he left, when the loving woman took the place of the fierce warrior. "In my heart, I know that thou wilt one day tire of thy mortal path, if not now, then soon. When thou dost, I shall be waiting for thee, my Prince, on high as I have done these many years."

Despite all his escapades, through the Nine Realms, she remained the one constant in his whole life. Faithful, strong, and patient. Suffering quietly…

He kisses her hand gently. Please, beloved, wake up.

When it's time to leave, Balder and the Warriors Three come to bid farewell to Steve and Natasha. They make the Captain promise to teach them how to fight, as they swear they will visit Midgard sooner.

Thor promises to call Natasha as soon as Sif wakes up, and she kisses his cheeks, whispering, "Take care of her."

The Prince nods silently, before explaining that the all-seeing and all-hearing guardian sentry of Asgard will keep them under his watch. Whenever they want to be in contact with Thor, all they need to do is 'call' Heimdall.

Finally, the two friends hug each other and Steve says, "All my life, I fought for the things that were right for my country, all the things I loved. You are doing the right thing, standing by your people."

Touched by the Captain's words, Thor opens his heart. "I have lived many ages of men, Steven. Centuries without end. I have seen many great men, and known countless honors. But the greatest honor of this ancient and tired soul has been the privilege of fighting beside you, and calling you my friend. May grace and peace be with you, to the end of all things."

"The honor is mine. Goodbye, my friend."

Next movie: Snowpiercer (2013)

Chapter Text

 New York.

The Assembly Hall of the Avengers Tower has been the most crowded place in the last few days – and also the most stressful. Consuming tons of coffee, Tony searches for any sign of the missing team members, complaining annoyed, "Asgard is another dimensional realm, not a magical fantasy land. So it turns out that it's accessible by manipulating trans-dimensional wormholes. Everything about Thor and Asgard is explainable by science, which I've been telling everyone."

The gifted astrophysicist couldn't agree more, "Exactly! With the data I collected, I think we'll be able to open the same wormhole Thor used to come here." Using her knowledge and previous research experience, Jane works non-stop, seeking for any contact with her alien boyfriend.

Lurking around the self-absorbed geniuses, the team waits anxiously for any news.

Clint's distressed, "It's been four days, man!"

While pretending to assist Jane, Darcy takes the chance to check out the mysterious new good-looking guy. Bucky, however, isn't comfortable with her hovering. Sadly, he's not the charming 40s guy who used to get all the girls anymore, nor the cold-hearted assassin who didn't care for the next unknown woman in his bed. On a personal level, the fill-in Captain America doesn't have a clue of who he is anymore, or where he belongs. He paces nervously, when the assistant notices a bright light in the middle of the room, and warns, "Guys?!"

Jane replies enthusiastically, "It's an Asgardian portal!"

After watching the soldier and the spy materialize in front of them, without any sign of bad guys whatsoever, Tony's relieved, "Thank God!"

Sounding almost pleased, JARVIS greets them, "Welcome back, Agent Romanoff, Captain Rogers."

Not seeing Thor with them, Jane asks, disappointed, "Where… What happened to you guys?"

Bucky hugs Steve, "You scared the hell out of us!"

"But I'm liking the new looks!" Clint admires, while helping Natasha to take off her cloak. Underneath it, the redhead wears a fur-trimmed velvet green gown, tied at the waist, which has gold embroidery around the hem and long sleeves – she's absolutely stunning. Wearing a full Asgardian armor, the Captain looks as impressive as the Thunderer, except without the long hair.

Tony can't help but joke, "It looks like you guys went to a Renaissance party."

"You look beautiful, Natasha," Bruce smiles, before turning to the soldier, "Steve, are you alright?"

The spy smiles silently, while the soldier answers promptly, "Yes, I've never felt better."

"It's good to have you back." Sam shakes their hands, "These guys were freaking out around here."

Chuckling, Bucky and Clint shrug their shoulders, while Tony protests rapidly, "I was not."

Getting close to Natasha, Jane tries not to sound too bothered, "Are you two okay? Where is Thor?"

"He's not coming," answers the redhead, a bit uneasily.

Stepping over beside them, the soldier speaks with concern, "Jane, things are very complicated in Asgard right now. Odin's missing and Loki's back." The group looks at each other in shock, as Steve explains how the god of Mischief was pretending to be the All-Father, but was discovered because he couldn't hold Mjolnir. "Thor is the Prince Crown, the one responsible for leading the Kingdom, and he can't come back until they find his father. He asked me to explain that to you."

"Well, it seems logical that he do that," Jane sighs sadly, "Thank you, Captain."

Surrounded by their friends, Steve continues to answer their questions, as he's dragged to the lab. Natasha excuses herself, and goes to check on Sneg.

Tony submits the Captain to a series of exams, despite his reassurance, "I'm okay. Sif already had me checked by the Asgardian healer."

"Sif? Super-hot-bad-ass-Thor-ex Sif?" Clint can't resist prying, "Are you two bffs now?"

"She's a spectacular warrior. The way she fought the Enchantress and the Dark Elves to protect Natasha was unbelievable," replies the soldier, "She earned my deep respect and gratitude."

"So, all you needed to do was lift the hammer?" Tony questions, "That was the trick?"

"Yes. Thor told me that Mjolnir is protected by Odin's spell. Its superior power annulled the effects of the Enchantress' sorcery," says the Captain, "Eir the Healer assured me that there was no trace left of magic in my body, nor side effects."

"Call it what you want. To me it's just science I haven't figured out yet," says the genius while analyzing Steve's scans. "But, yeah, your readings are back to normal, Cap," Tony says pensively, "Could you do it again, or was it a one-time event?"

"Thor's friends asked, so I did it again. The Asgardians were surprised because I can wield Mjolnir anytime, and no one else there can do it, besides Thor and Odin."

"How was it?" asks Bucky, with complete admiration.

"It was incredible. I've never experienced such power before."

"But how did you do it?" Sam questions, mesmerized, "Hulk couldn't even move it! You guys remember him and Thor fighting in the Helicarrier? I saw that S.H.I.E.L.D. footage."

Arriving with Betty, Bruce explains, "I asked Thor about it, and he told me about the spell. It's not about how but who. Only the worthy can do it, and no one is more worthy than our Captain, right?"

Steve smiles humbly as the shy scientist greets him, "How are you feeling, Cap?"

"I'm great, Betty, thank you. Is everything okay?"

"It's more than perfect!" When Steve disappeared, the cellular biologist was called to analyze his blood, and after evaluating all the data now, she sounds thrilled, "When the serum stopped working and you shrunk, your cells retained the benefits of all the years of training and healthy habits. Mr. Barnes helped me to validate the SSR notes, and comparing them with the data of your pre-serum state, it looks like you were healthier this time than in the past."

Bucky agrees, "You bet, doc."

"And under 21st century medicine, you were healed from your previous diseases," Bruce adds contented, "So when the serum was activated again, you were stronger than the first time, and the difference is proportional to your data now versus before the enchantment."

Sitting in the waiting area outside the lab, Jane looks desolated and Darcy tries to cheer her up, while peering through the glass wall, over at the almost naked super-soldier. "Look at that! Cap's wearing only black speedos, but he doesn't look uncomfortable with Betty, while he can't even be shirtless in front of us." The assistant complains, "That's not fair."

Arriving with Pepper, Natasha overhears the talk and replies quite amused, "Dr. Ross was part of the team of scientists that thawed Captain America." Then she adds with a hint of menace, just to play with the sassy brunette, "Why? Are you checking out MY guy?"

Even joking, the Black Widow never fails to be scary, and Darcy stutters, "S-sorry! I wasn't… I…"

Not missing the chance, the CEO stands by the glass wall, teasing, "Is he perfect or what?"

"Yes!" the assistant replies without thinking, and instantly covers her mouth with her hands, "Shit!" But when Natasha and Pepper burst into laughter, Darcy breathes relieved, "This means I'll live?"

Jane can't help but mock her always impertinent friend, "Not unless you can keep your mouth shut!" Even melancholic, the astrophysicist is caught in the fun of the moment, and they laugh for a while.

After watching the amount of tests to which Steve is submitted, Pepper asks, "What happened?"

Jane looks at Natasha, almost begging, "Why didn't Thor come, at least to talk to me?"

Cornered, the spy tells them everything, including the story of the Enchantress' attack that sent both her and Sif to the healers. "She took the blast that was meant for Thor, and she hadn't yet awakened when we got back."

Jane sighs heartbroken, "He stayed for her."

"You can't forget, his father is missing," ponders Pepper.

Darcy tries to console her friend, "He'll come back. He did before."

Natasha, however, doesn't utter a word. Surprisingly, she feels herself behaving in a way she hadn't before. Not only wasn't she afraid to call Steve hers, but now she's worried about hurting another woman's feelings. Most shocking, the spy can't… lie… not about this. The ugly truth… after all that she witnessed, is that she doesn't believe Thor will come back… to Jane.

After finishing all the tests, Tony hands Steve a uniform. It's the dark-blue-stealth version of the Captain's one, but the genius explains, "I took your boring old suit and teched it up a bit."

"No, thanks. I'll stick with my natural talents. I don't need technology as a crutch."

"But I do?"

"No offense. You think I'm afraid of tech. I think you're afraid to be without it."

"Just try it. I just made some impact resistance improvements, like what I did for James' one."

Bucky nods silently, and the soldier accepts it, a little reluctantly.

Meanwhile, JARVIS warns, "Agent Romanoff, incoming call. Director Fury on secure channel 2."

The Avengers enter and lock themselves in the Assembly Hall before the spy activates the holographic projector in her gauntlets. "Nick? Where the hell have you been? The team is here…"

"Good. Barnes?"

"Yes, sir," Bucky answers promptly and the Avengers look at each other puzzled.

The Director continues, without delay, "Max is out and the link is broken. He's involved in something called 'Robot Evolution' with a group of synthezoids. I'm sending the intel. Rogers, S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised and D.C. is the target. Fury out."

As soon as he finishes the call, Tony commands, "JARVIS, open the file."

The images start to appear, and looking at what seems to be Fury's photos, Steve asks, "Who's Max?"

Clint summarizes the information, "Max Fury is a living Life Model Decoy with most of Nick Fury's memories. That's a dangerous thing."

"But it had been in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, since it was held responsible for the last attack that forced the Director to go underground," Bucky adds.

Observing the ample amount of data about the android and collected by it, some puzzle pieces start to fall into place, but one question stands out, so Tony asks, "How do you know Fury, James?"

The former assassin looks at Steve, before replying, "After I got my memories back, all I wanted was revenge against Lukin and the Red Room. Fury approached me with intel, and in exchange, I hacked his mechanical double," he points to the image on the screen. "He asked me to inject a nano-trojan in it, so he could spy on it."

Clint questions, "Did you break into a S.H.I.E.L.D. detainment facility?"

"You could have been caught," the soldier frowns apprehensive.

"Fury gave me codes and maps. But it was heavily guarded, and its escape definitely looks like an inside job," Bucky replies concerned.

Reading the technical information, Sam exclaims, "Some of these specs are unbelievable."

"A perfectly functional synthezoid? Not built by me?" Tony is skeptical, "I'll believe it when I see one."

Analyzing the reports, Steve questions, "A synthezoid isn't an android?"

"It's a special type of android empowered by synthesizing energy, whose bodily structures resemble organic tissues but are much stronger and resilient," explains Bruce.

Checking the feed the spy says, "Max's code was overridden by some external source. The connection was jammed in the process, but it's still partially working." Then she turns to Bucky, narrowing her green eyes, "Do you know where Fury is?"

Although always uncomfortable when dealing with her, Bucky keeps his imperturbable facade on and answers promptly, "No, I didn't need to. He would contact me with data and instructions."

"Well, there is a lot of info here." After a brief pause, Natasha asks her Captain, "How do we do this?"

Remembering her words from when he first led the Avengers, Steve answers proudly, "As a team."

They are all happy to have their leader back, and Tony promptly says, "Call it, Captain."

After processing the assessment as quickly as only the super-soldier's mind could do it, the master tactician and strategist points to the map, commanding, "Geographically speaking, we know he's here in Arlington. Clint, go back to S.H.I.E.L.D., get Bobbi and investigate the agents Max got in contact with. Talk to Hill. Natasha, try to restore the link to monitor its actions. Sam, check his historic log, find anything we can use. Bruce, find out what this synthezoids are and what they mean with 'robotic evolution'. Tony, we need to know how to fight against them."

Feeling left behind, Bucky asks shyly, "What do you want me to do?"

The Captain puts his hand on his partner's shoulder, saying, "9 in 10 attacks like this target the President. I'm heading there to protect him and I need Captain America to cover us."

"What do you mean?" the former sidekick is confused, "You are Captain America."

The soldier replies with determination, "No. You are."

Bucky protests vehemently, "Steve, you are not skinny anymore."

"I'm serious, Buck." Once again, there's no arguing with the Captain, as he explains the strategy, "Everybody knows who I am as Steve Rogers. It will be a good diversion having two of us. Besides, without Thor, we need all the help we can get."

"Exactly, perfect plan!" Tony couldn't agree more. "Anyway, James, you're a much funnier old-man!" the genius jokes, before saying, "You did great, man," and the whole team nods in approval.

There aren't enough words for Bucky to express his joy by having his best friend back. Still, the chance to fight alongside him, and remaining a part of his superheroes' team is more than the former assassin thinks he deserves. He worries and holds out the shield, "But you're taking it back, okay?"

"It's Captain America's shield," the soldier refuses it, with a half-smile, "Besides, I'm stronger now."

"Steve, you have three, maybe four times more strength, agility and reflexes than James, but you are not bulletproof," Bruce ponders, concerned.

"Here," Tony shows a control on the uniform's gauntlet, "It's the energy shield we were always arguing about." This time, the soldier doesn't have another option but to cave in, yet, he remains silent, while the genius explains triumphantly, "It has all the old functions, plus it can morph, working as a portable force field enough to cover your whole body." Wearing the stealth uniform and holding the energy shield, Steve looks marvelously futuristic, for Tony's ultimate satisfaction.

Unable to contain himself, Sam geeks out, "Wow! The Super-Soldier!"

Instinctively, the Captain looks at Natasha, who tilts her head a little, "I like it."

Almost blushing, Steve's delighted by having his friends… his family around him.

As they start to get ready for the mission, the couple barely has time to talk, but Natasha's worried. "Why are you postponing this? You're gonna be Captain America again, right?"

Sighing deeply, Steve confesses, "I really don't know, Nat. After everything we went through these past few days… it put so much into perspective."

Standing by his side, she asks reticently, "I just… I don't want you to give up your dream… because of anything we said before. You know? About… retiring…" Her last words come up slightly unsteady, and he instantly remembers her proposal – not that he had forgotten it.

Taking her in his arms, he leans in, capturing her mouth in a searing kiss. Then, he cups her face gently. "Nat, you are more than anything I could've dreamed of, all of I need. And I want the chance for us to have the normal happy life that none of us had before." Her green eyes blink slowly, and he can see a hint of doubt still shadowing them, so he explains the other reason behind it all. "Besides, I think if Bucky doesn't keep wearing that uniform, if he doesn't keep being Captain America, he may lose himself again… even die… and I couldn't live with that. He doesn't have anything else…"

She nods in approval, and he smiles coyly, "Let's solve this case, and we'll talk about our future, okay?"

"Please, be careful," she whispers between his lips, "I love you."

"I love you too," he replies before kissing her once more.

Washington D.C.

While tracking Max Fury, the Avengers discover the Descendants, a lineage of self-aware robotic life-forms that want to subjugate humanity. The synthezoids updated the LMD's code to make him independent, to join their cause. Also, they kidnapped a woman named Yalda, and her young son, Parvez – the final piece to put their Robot Evolution in motion. It was revealed that the woman was a lost synthezoid, with the abilities of Energy Absorption and Blast Power, who when forced to unleash her powers, caused a massive explosion.

Monitoring in secret at S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, Natasha calls the team, "I'm picking up a large blast of organically magnified energy near the White House. I've mapped the energy stain, and it matches the hostages' data. Steve, Max's here."

The Captain commands, "Natasha, track the hostages. Clint, get Max. We're on site, and under attack. Avengers, assemble!"

Immediately following the explosion that disabled some of the Capitol's defenses, the Descendants attack with an army of robots. Iron Man, Hulk and Falcon hold the front, while inside the White House, Captain America and the Super-Soldier fight to protect the President.

However, the battle is also used as a distraction. With a group of agents – in reality, robotic copies – Max Fury starts taking on the Triskelion. Possessing all Nick Fury's memories, the LMD wants to exploit the agency's facilities to mass-produce nanobots to mind-control humans. Once controlling the U.S. capital and the President, they plan to take the entire country and then, the world. Led by Maria Hill, the real S.H.I.E.L.D. agents try to resist, but despite their ample skills, they're overmatched facing the powerful machines, until Hawkeye and Mockingbird join the fight.

Caught in the middle of this domination plan, Yalda is a victim as well, since she was coerced to work for Max because he was holding her son hostage. Being the first natural born offspring of a human and a synthezoid pairing, Parvez is the evidence of the viability of the Descendants as a species, and is claimed by the artificial intelligences to be raised to be their godlike-leader. Shocked at the evil plan, the mother rebels against their captor, a Descendant with adaptoid's abilities. When it motions to take the boy, the mother makes the ultimate sacrifice to assure her son's safety, charging the evil machine with her last strength – both Yalda and the Adaptoid fall lifeless in the middle of a huge blast.

Alerted by the second explosion, Black Widow arrives at a warehouse, and finds the child immobile in the middle of all the destruction. Natasha alerts the team, before stopping to check at the young boy, who's seems to be in shock. His eyes… What have these monsters done? She speaks softly, "Dear… what happened to your mother? What happened to you?"

Sobbing, the he almost can't say the words, "The man… he killed her… the old man."

The scared boy's tears of pain and desperation awaken forgotten feelings inside the always detached super-spy that the Black Widow is supposed to be. "I was orphaned. I know what you're feeling… I know." Carrying the child in her arms, she hugs him tight, "We're going to protect you from the bad men. I promise, no one will hurt you again…"

Parvez clings to Natasha as if understanding everything – his unconditional trust changes something else inside her… She fears for him in a way she had never felt before…

However, keeping him safe won't be an easy task – the Adaptoid starts to self-repair. Protecting the boy in her arms, the spy presses her distress signal, and runs, while trying to comfort the child, "Do not fear. By God, I will get you to safety."

"Who will safeguard the child from you, Avenger assassin?" dares the synthezoid, dragging its burned body towards them.

"Back up or you'll find out what this assassin is capable of!"

Never before had the Black Widow cared about being called an assassin… as she does now. While shooting at the evil robot, and trying to escape, she sees her whole life passing in front of her… all her sins… There's nothing she can do to change the past, but she now realizes she will do anything to protect this innocent life… to give him a future. Sliding down in an empty storm drain, they fall, and after a safe distance, the spy hides them in an empty storage room. As she tries to calm down the frightened child, a sweet song comes to Natasha's mind… and a soothing memory… Mama.

Many Russians born during the Soviet regimen – when religion was forbidden – remained Orthodox Christian in secret. The spy doesn't know anything about her family, but she remembers this song her mother taught her… It was a covert way to teach the young girl how to pray and to share her mother's faith… Somehow, at that moment, the thought touches Natasha's heart deeply, and she hums the sweet melody – it comforts both her and the young boy.

Before she can think about, she finds herself praying… Forgive me, God… I know I don't deserve anything, not even to pray… But… this child is innocent… he has no one else… Please, help me save him… Please…

Interrupting this meaningful moment, the Adaptoid hits her hard, before moving towards the infant who falls from her weakened arms…

What happens next, however, is beyond unexpected – the boy reacts explosively, "You hurt my mother!" Producing an electric discharge, he disables the synthezoid completely.

Free, Parvez runs back to Natasha, who hugs him closely, "It's gonna be okay…" and she prays with gratitude, Thanks… Tears threaten to fall, but she holds them back, Not here… Not now

The Falcon arrives at that moment, but seeing his metallic armor, the boy gets scared, until Natasha whispers softly, "Don't worry, he's my friend."

Immediately, Sam calls to notify Steve, "Cap, I got Romanoff and the child. They're okay."

After the fierce battle, the Avengers defeat Max Fury and the Descendants.

At the White House, while being checked by the medical staff, President Matthew Ellis gets confused by seeing two Captain Americas, until Steve stands by his side, "Don't worry, Mr. President, I'll explain everything later."

The path of destruction left by the machines is extensive, but the two childhood friends are delighted by being able to fight together once again. Outside the Capitol, Bucky exclaims, full of admiration, "That was friggin great, man. Classic."

Steve replies content, "Yeah, it was fun." Then, he looks confused when Bucky hands him the shield. "What are you doing?"

"This was just one last go… That's your shield, Steve."


But the former sidekick insists, "That was the plan, right? I was a diversion. The mission is over."

Trying his best to express his feelings, the soldier says honestly, "Bucky… I think you should keep doing this… being Captain America. You're amazing."

"That's… don't be ridiculous."

"I saw you in action today, Bucky… this mask and shield… they mean something different to you now."

Touched by his friend's perceptiveness, the former assassin lowers his head, completely embarrassed, "I never wanted them, never."

"Neither did I." Steve's confession is beyond surprising, "I was just supposed to be a soldier, I never wanted to be a hero," he adds shyly, "Now, I really would like the chance to try to be just a man."

Shaking his head in disbelief, Bucky replies quietly, "You're my hero, you always have been. Since I saw that dumb little guy standing up against those bullies." He averts his eyes, "I'm not you, Steve. I'll never be anything like you." I don't deserve this.

The Captain looks straight at him. "You are a great Captain America, that's a fact. I'm proud of what you've done. Besides, you have the metal arm, and you're the best shot – don't tell Clint, but he's not so good with guns." Both men chuckle, and the soldier smiles, "Bucky, you're my best friend. The only brother I have. I trust you to carry my name."

Once again, Bucky's eyes display the entire range of emotions caged inside his troubled soul. Taking a deep breath, he's almost imploring, "I don't want this." I don't trust myself.

Steve Rogers never needed a shield or a mask to be the great man he is, the one he has been since he was born. Putting his arm around Bucky's shoulders, he offers with all his heart. "So then… do it for me." That's the catch… Bucky will do anything for Steve… he would die for him, again. They stop by their vehicles, and the soldier opens his broad smile, "What do you say?"

The new Captain America puts his hand on Steve's shoulder. "I'm with you to the end of the line, pal."

The Super-Soldier smiles pleased. "That's all I ever wanted."

New York.

Back at the Tower, after being checked by the doctors, Natasha takes Parvez to her floor, and Sneg greets them happily. The giant dog is absolutely docile with the young child, and for the first time, she sees the boy smile. She bathes and feeds him, who collapses in her arms, from sheer exhaustion.

On his way back, the Captain checks all mission reports, getting to know everything about the rescued infant. Arriving at their floor, he finds them in the guest room, with the boy sleeping peacefully between the spy and the dog.

Alerted by Steve's arrival, Natasha gets up slowly, careful to not disturb the child. As she falls in her lover's caring arms, she feels absolutely safe… The cold experienced Black Widow gives way to the fragile human Natalia – the young orphan who didn't have a chance, nor a choice… She breaks, exposing herself to the one person she trusts to show her real self… and lets herself be carried away by the flood of new emotions she experienced today.

Treating her like the most precious treasure in the world, Steve picks her up, and sits in the chaise lounge outside the bedroom. He holds her with all his heart, until her flow of tears finally ebb, and he asks worriedly, "Nat, what… what happened? Are you hurt?" Resting her head on his shoulder, she tries to catch her breath, while he checks her for wounds, sighing, upset, "God, I was so worried about you."

Feeling as if she had been caught committing the greatest crime in the universe, she confesses ashamed, "I… prayed…" Then she waits, resigned, for the reprimand.

Her voice, however, was so low that even with his enhanced hearing he doesn't understand. "What?" he asks kindly, but he's caught by surprise when she shrinks completely. Gently, he caresses her face, whispering, "Nat, I just didn't hear it. Please, dear, say that again."

Pain, guilt, shame… these are the feelings flooding her heart as she speaks, "I needed to save him. I… I didn't have any other choice…"

"It's okay, sweetheart. Just tell me," Steve's soothing voice and caring embrace offers nothing but his complete support.

Burying her head against his broad chest, her voice is just a murmur, "I prayed."

"Prayed? To God?" Without looking at him, she just nods, and he smiles compassionately, "This is amazing, Nat. How did you feel?"

His comforting words and near enchantment are nothing like what she was expecting, and she replies confused, "I know I shouldn't, I'm sorry… I didn't know what else to do…"

"Nat, please." His baby blue eyes shine with indescribable happiness as he says proudly, "There's nothing wrong in seeking God…" He holds her hand close to his heart, "You saved a child's life."

"Technically, he saved me." Nestled in his protective arms, she feels his unconditional devotion and… acceptance… Her usually sharp mind tries to process everything without success… and Natasha is even more lost than she was before…

But Steve continues, showing only absolute understanding. "What's his name? How old is he?"

These questions about the boy lead her into another state – one of a caretaker. "Parvez… the doctor said he's around four," she replies, devastated, "He's traumatized, he saw his mother killed. He cries calling for her… I brought him here because I didn't know what else to do…"

"You did right. There are still a few Descendants missing, so it'd be better if we could keep him here, for safety." Steve looks at her, deeply, before asking, "Are you okay with this? Do you need anything?"

"It's okay. He didn't go with anyone else. The doctor had to check on him in my arms. Pepper brought a nanny, but he didn't even look at her. She told me about food and basic care." Her eyes show how tired and insecure she is. "Sneg made him smile."

At that moment, Parvez wakes up screaming, "Mommy!" Natasha runs instantly, and holds him in her arms, singing a Russian song.

Steve admires how devoted she looks, and can't help but dream about a family of their own. After a short while, bathed and changed, he lies down beside her. Spooning her as she holds the child in her arms, he kisses her cheek, whispering softly, "We can all sleep here."

In the days that follow, Parvez remains attached to Natasha. Because of his young age and peculiar origin, the extent of his powers is unknown, so it's mandatory to keep him secure avoiding an uncontrolled outburst. Thanks also to Sneg's constant presence, the boy seems more relaxed and even smiles at Steve's kindness.

While trying to help Fury to unveil the extent of its actions inside S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers hunt the missing Descendants. Despite actively working to track any trace of the synthezoids. When she finally pinpoints their secret location, the Black Widow declares, "I'll stay behind as mission operator."

Tony questions, "You aren't going with us?"

Clint worries, "Are you okay?"

"Little Parvez needs to be cared for," Natasha replies calmly.

Confused, the Falcon asks, "Are you babysitting now?"

The look on her face is calm, but resolute. "I'm not ashamed to care for an orphaned child, Sam."

Although surprising, the spy's answer is kind of understandable. All the Avengers are orphans, having lost one or both parents at young ages. Sadly, they all can empathize with the boy's pain. Even the Falcon, whose mother Darlene is still alive, lost his father when he was a teenager.

"Sorry… I didn't mean…" the rookie replies, ashamed, and the spy gives him a half-smile.

"It's okay."

After capturing the last androids, the Avengers have a few options concerning the boy's future. Both Charles Xavier's institute and Reed Richard's foundation, offer a place for him, among special children. However, Natasha's connection with him grows stronger each day, and Parvez still clings to her as if his life depended on it, refusing anyone who tries to earn his attention unless he's safe in the redhead's arms.

She's tidying the crib, when Steve holds her from behind and speaks softly, overlooking the sleeping child. "He looks so peaceful…" Natasha leans in to his touch, sighing quietly, as both watch the boy. After a while, Steve ponders, "You know, I've been thinking… We can keep him, if you want."

Surprised, she turns to look at him, "What? How?"

She's captivated by the sincerity of his smile, as he replies, "We can adopt him, be his family."

Instantly, her eyes get watery and she stutters, "I… I can't have a child… Steve… I don't know how to take care of one." I don't deserve one.

Enfolding her in his caring arms he speaks lovingly, "Of course you do. You've been doing it for the past few days, masterfully. You are perfect with him."

"I don't know if I can do it… Even if I could forgive myself… for all the things I've done…"

"Nat, stop it, please. Don't do this to yourself," caressing her face softly, he continues, "Sweetheart, you're forgetting one simple thing here… Parvez chose you."

Speechless, Natasha's terrified… her heart is flooded with feelings of hope… with a dream she had never admitted to herself… but before they can talk more, the boy cries and she picks him up. "Parvez, angel, I'm here."

The next day, summoning the courage, Bucky asks Steve, "Would you go somewhere with me?"

"Sure, where?"

After accepting his place among the Avengers, in a more definitive way, Bucky agreed to meet with Tony's lawyers in order to prepare for his trial, to get his life back. While researching his past, he found something he wasn't expecting – someone… "I want to visit… Rebecca."

The soldier smiles, full of compassion, "That's great, man. She'll love it. She misses you."

"Thanks for taking care of her. JARVIS told me… everything… I didn't know…"

Once Steve was thawed, he searched for his old friends, and found Bucky's younger sister in an Alzheimer's Hospital. Since then, the Captain has visited her regularly, making sure she got the best treatment available. "You weren't… here. She's family."

"Thanks, man."

Bucky's reunion with his now 93-year-old sister is, as expected, very emotional. He wears a shorter haircut, like the one he used in the 40s, and she recognizes him immediately, "But, Jimmy, how are you so young? You haven't changed a bit. Is poppa with you?"

Swallowing hard, Bucky does his best to smile back to her, "No, Becca. He's not… But look who I brought! My old buddy Steve, do you remember him?"

"Hi, Becca," the soldier speaks kindly, "How are you feeling today?"

"Don't be silly, this is not Stevie. Where is he? He promised he'd read for me."

Affected by the disease, Rebecca doesn't connect her childhood friend with the super-soldier figure he became. But as he is ever patient, Steve picks up the book he was reading for her during his last visit. His voice didn't change, and it soothes her. Holding her brother's hand, she relaxes listening to the story.

Finding Rebecca old and ill touches Bucky deeply. It makes the burden of all the years he lost even heavier. He wasn't there for her… After their mother had passed away, he had promised his father that he would take care of his sister. It felt like he was disappointing his old man… again.

As she starts to fall asleep, Bucky kisses her forehead softly, "Get some sleep, sis. I love you."

Steve touches her hand gently, "Bye, Becca. I'll be back later to finish the book."

Before they reach the door, she asks, "Don't forget the Carnival is this weekend… I love the Ferris Wheel…" before leaning back down on her bed again. Then she closes her eyes whispering, "Wait until Jimmy is out, Stevie. He can't know you're my sweetie pie."

Still legally a fugitive, Bucky can't use his real identity, so he sneaks out of the building quickly, while Captain Rogers talks to the doctors. The facility is located in a remote area, very peaceful, surrounded by abundant forestry. After walking for a while, Steve finds Bucky pacing impatiently behind some trees.

After learning everything about Rebecca's latest health status, Bucky frowns, asking "What did she mean about you two? Ferris Wheel…?"

"Bucky… let me explain…"

Noticing Steve's reticence, Bucky exclaims, "You put your hands on my baby sister? She was a kid!"

"No! She was almost sixteen and I was seventeen," the soldier replies mortified, "When she came to visit from the boarding school, after your 18th birthday… Do you remember?"

Bucky shakes his head in disbelief, "You were the babysitter, with your books and drawings."

"We were friends. You didn't want to hang out with us anymore. You liked to go out with those guys from the factory, to get drunk. That summer, me and Becca… we grew closer."

"I can't believe you, you punk! How could you do that?"

Steve confesses embarrassed, "I didn't… Actually, she kissed me…"

"You're saying it's her fault?" Bucky faces him, outraged.

"No! No! We talked… She trusted me…"

"I trusted you! You lied to me!" Letting out his frustration on the one person he trusts, Bucky punches Steve's shoulder, a little more recklessly than he should.

"Hey! Watch it!" The metal punch hurts, but fortunately, isn't anything that the super-soldier can't handle. Leaning back on one of the trees, Bucky sits down, lowering his head, and Steve apologizes, "I'm sorry, I wanted to tell you, but I promised her I would never talk. You two were my only friends." Steve adds melancholically, "I didn't know she'd remember. Most of the times she doesn't even recognize me, but she likes the stories."

Bucky breaks, devastated, "I should've been here… I keep failing her…"

Sitting side-by-side, Steve worries about how sad and frustrated his best friend looks. "None of that's your fault, Buck. Look, from what I've heard, she had a good life until she became a widow."

The former sidekick wishes he could believe in the Captain's always wise words, but he can't… After a while, he sighs, "You've been taking care of her…"

The soldier breathes in slowly, "You would do the same for me."


"So, are we cool?" Bucky nods quietly, and Steve replies, "Good, cause I really need your help with something. Natasha…" At just the mention of her name, Bucky tenses, and Steve questions, upset, "Man, please… How can you forgive me, but not yourself?" It's a valid point, and Bucky stares at him in shock, before quickly averting his eyes. Then the soldier continues, "It happened before me, you didn't do anything wrong, okay?" But the former assassin remains silent, so Steve asks as calmly as possible, "Do you feel anything for her? Did you feel for her before?"

"No! Off course not! Goodness, Steve. Don't even say that!"

"So, what's the problem?"

"That's the problem, I didn't feel anything, at all! I have the memories, but it wasn't… me!" Closing his eyes, he remembers the KGB's doctors' terrible words, When we are done with our Winter Soldier, there will be nothing left of who he was. The pain in Bucky's heart is unbearable, "They took out everything inside me… the only thing that remained was the machine… the monster. I wasn't so different from those Descendants after all…"

Steve speaks firmly, "You are nothing like those robots."

But the former assassin looks completely broken, "Now, it's like I'm waking out of a trance, and it's a living nightmare. I have to live with a past I didn't want… and there's nothing I can do to change it…" His voice becomes even more melancholic, darker, "The women… mostly I didn't even want to know their names. And she's your girl, and it makes me feel even worse because she was in the middle of this mess," he's beyond devastated as he struggles to find words, "All I've brought her is trouble… nearly got her killed at the Red Room when we first met… She didn't deserve to be there, you know?"

"Buck… You two were victims of the Red Room, but you avenged both of you, when you finished them once for all. You saved her life when you uncovered the plan to kill the Black Widows," patting his friend's shoulder, Steve adds, "And you made me proud with the way you handled it all." The Captain offers nothing but his unconditional friendship, "I'll say to you the same thing I said to her. You are not responsible for what those monsters did to you."

Bucky shakes his head, before smiling shyly, "Maybe, someday, I'll believe you…"

A few moments pass, and Steve tries again, "Please, are we okay now?" The former assassin nods once again, and the soldier questions, "Really? That's good cause I really need your help. You know, you are my best man."

"That's great, man. Are you gonna propose?"

"She kind of already did it," Steve replies quite ashamed.

"She did what? Women can do that?"

"Yeah, this is a different time, Buck."

Straightening up, Bucky pushes, "This is crazy… You gotta man up, you got to do it right!"

The two friends start to talk about Steve's future plans.

It's dinner time when they get back to the Tower.

"I'm sorry it took so long," he smiles sheepishly, holding a bouquet of Silvestre flowers for her.

Taking the flowers, Natasha kisses Steve on the lips, but as she touches his arm, he flinches a little.

"What's wrong? Are you hurt?" she asks curiously, "Didn't you guys go to see his sister?"

He blushes instantly, and she doesn't miss it. Placing her hands on his chest, she looks directly at him and he knows he can't escape. "Bucky punched me, but it's okay, he didn't mean it." Without saying a word, she raises an eyebrow, and he continues embarrassed, "I told him something about the past…" Her green eyes stare intently – it's like being under the effects of truth serum, and he can't help but tell her everything, "About me and his sister, during a summer vacation, when we were teenagers. He was upset because I didn't tell him before, but we're cool now."

"What did you do with his sister?" she teases him.

Steve replies quickly, "We just kissed!"

"He punched you because of a summer love?" She smirks, "Overreacting, wasn't he?"

"You need to understand him, his mind is still in chaos. But he's still the same Bucky underneath… The angry boy who tries to solve everything with his fists," he replies melancholically. "His aunt told my mother that he had been that way since his mother died. Getting into fight after fight."

"It must been very hard for him."

"We talked… about the time at the Red Room, too."

Blinking for a moment, she walks away, and he follows her to the kitchen. "What did he say?" she asks, without looking at Steve. Then, she puts the flowers in a vase, over the countertop, before continuing to cook dinner.

"He told me he's uncomfortable around you because he's ashamed of what happened back then. He said he was nothing but a machine, and he blames himself for everything… He also said that you didn't deserve to be there."

"Well, none of us deserved that…" Smiling shyly, she replies, "You got yourself stuck with the most broken people around."

Standing behind her, he holds her gently, kissing her cheek, "Well, you're my girl, he's my brother. I feel like the most blessed man in the universe."

In the morning, Clint comes to talk to the couple. He worries for Natasha, but he has no choice other than to announce the news. "Nat, we found the boy's father. S.H.I.E.L.D. is bringing him here."

Thanks to Steve's arms around her, she doesn't fall, as she replies quietly, "Yes, of course. You sure it's the right family?"

"He has all the documents, photos, but we ran a DNA check. It's a match."

Turns out that the father is a soldier and just came back from an undercover mission. He didn't know anything about what had happened. When the boy sees him, Parvez runs to his arms, "Daddy!"

Steve stays by Natasha's side but she remains impassive.

The father thanks her, with tears in his eyes, "I can't thank you enough, ma'am, for looking after my boy."

In his arms, Parvez reaches for Natasha, and she kisses the boy softly.

"Daddy, she's my Black Widow."

"I thought Hulk was your favorite."

"She is pretty."

After they leave, Natasha sits on the bed in the guest room. It's completely empty, since they gave everything to Parvez's family. His clothes, his toys… everything is gone. Looking around, her eyes lay on the pillow… sliding her hand over it slowly, she grabs it and holds it close to her chest. That's all that it takes… she breaks, tears falling abundantly, as she cuddles around the boy's pillow.

Watching her closely, Steve reacts instantly, carrying her in his protective arms, and takes her to their bedroom. They lie together on their bed, and he holds her as she sobs, "What's wrong with me? I should be happy for him… I am…"

"I know…"

"But… I miss him…"

"I know, sweetheart…"

Wanting to cheer her up, Steve hands her two movie tickets.

Snowpiercer 10:30am Sunday 6/29/2014.

Her sad eyes sparkle a little, "I can't believe you got these!"

"I have a friend working at this cinema and he said he would help us get in and out undetected," he smiles tenderly, "Wanna go? We can have milkshakes after."

As promised, Steve's buddy – a retired military officer whose father served with Captain America – keeps them hidden until the lights go off. Sitting in the very back of the theater, the couple enjoys a bit of privacy, while watching the post-apocalyptic story.

After the Earth was plunged into a new ice age, the remaining survivors struggle inside of an enormous train, looping around the planet. The movie has beautiful scenery, like the miniature universes represented in each of the cars, mixed with brutal and dark scenes, as the oppressed rebels battle against their oppressors. Her favorite actor gives a powerful performance as Curtis, the reluctant hero of the tail section, which holds 'A thousand people in an iron box.' He fights against the established oppressive order, as explained by Mason – played by the outstanding Tilda Swinton. "I am a hat. You are a shoe. I belong on the head. You belong on the foot." In the end, the movie delivers a complex but also very disturbing metaphor for hell on Earth.

Steve keeps his arm around Natasha during the whole movie, and holds her carefully during the most chaotic scenes. Predictably, she gets emotional with Curtis' heartbreaking monologue, "You know what I hate about myself?"

They leave quickly, before the lights are turned on, and as they walk, he says ashamedly, "I'm sorry, Nat. I didn't know it would be dark like this… I wanted to cheer you up…"

Snuggling into his warm embrace, she replies kindly, "Steve, I knew everything about this movie. It wasn't a surprise, okay? I liked it. How about you?"

"You did?" he asks puzzled. "I found it spectacular, a great cast."

Quietly blushing, she smiles, "Okay. The movie was well done, amazing performances, the message is very meaningful, but… for sure, I won't be watching it again, anytime soon."

He holds her close, "Ah! That's sounds more like my girl," he opens his boyish smile, "I read that he's making romantic movies next. I'll take you to watch those, okay? I owe you a love story!"

Arriving at where his motorcycle is parked, she kisses his lips softly, whispering, "I don't need a love story. I live one." Hopping on the back of his motorcycle, she holds him close, before adding playfully, "But you, Captain, promised me a malt!"

Having lunch at Steve's favorite malt shop since childhood, they share a milkshake, and he asks coyly, "Do you really think we live a love story?"

Finishing the last drop, she flashes her beautiful green eyes, saying, "Yep."

His smile is contagious, "For me it started when you first taught me to dance."

"Sorry it took me so long to understand it," she replies shyly.

Taking her hand in his, he kisses it softly, "You're worth the journey."

"I love you," she whispers, before picking up her phone. Smiling, she shows him a picture of Parvez eating breakfast, "When we talked this morning, he was happy with the cereal boxes I sent to him. His grandma couldn't find that particular brand, and he missed it."

Steve smiles pleased, "He looks happy."

She nods quietly, and adjusting her sunglasses, she watches the family in front of them. After a brief pause, she sighs deeply, "You know… I used to hate everything about myself… about my life… about the terrible things I did… After I started to work for S.H.I.E.L.D., I put money into trust funds for charity to atone for my past, but I never felt it was enough." Taking a deep breath, she whispers, "I never allowed myself to dream of a family… because I thought I would never be worthy of being loved…"

"Nat, please, don't say that…"

"But you know what? You're right, as you always are," she squeezes his hand, "It was basic orphan abandonment issues… but I understand it now. Parvez didn't care about my past even when that adaptoid called me an assassin. He…" swallowing hard, she holds back the tears that are threatening to fall, "He trusted me to take care of him, and that was all he needed to know about me." She smiles embarrassed, "I had never felt that kind of trust… from anyone but you."

"I love you." Leaning closer, Steve holds both her hands gently, and speaks with all his heart, "And our children, wherever they come from, they will love you too."

Overwhelmed by his earnest words, Natasha can't say anything… a single tear falls from her hopeful green eyes and, deep inside, she knows she believes him.

Next scene: Chris Crush (Family) – chapter 3, Watching the Fireworks – Steve's birthday

Next movie: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)


Chapter Text

Saturday, July 5th, 2014. Avengers Tower.

Steve wakes up with a rumbling stomach – it's past noon, no surprise he's starving.

His 96th birthday celebration was definitely the happiest he'd had since his childhood. After all the festivities, he needed the rest, and looking at how Natasha's warm body is absolutely relaxed in his protective embrace, she needed it too. He resists the urge to stretch in order to keep his hold on her. Caressing her silky red curls, he relishes in the intimacy of this perfect moment, closing his eyes once again.

A familiar sweet voice comes to his mind, "My sunshine boy," instantly filling his heart with joy and a twinge of melancholy. I miss you, Mom.

He fondly thinks about how his mother would spend the holiday spoiling him, working twice as hard for him not to miss his father. Growing up with her nourishing love and encouragement was the best gift Steve could've received as a child. Her faith in him was unconditional, and he remembers her words that inspired him throughout all his life. "Whatever you dream, you can be, but you're gonna have to fight for it. People are gonna spend your whole life taking one look at your body and telling you what you can't do. But they can't see like I do. It holds a heart ten times its size."

Sarah would certainly be proud of what her son had accomplished in thirty years – the actual time he has been alive. Being a Christian immigrant from Dublin, and a nurse, she would probably regard the super-serum as a blessing. Not only had it cured him of all his illnesses, but also allowed him to fulfill the little boy's dream of following in the footsteps of his father, to proudly serve his country.

The comforting memories of his devoted mother get mixed with the dreams he had about the father he never knew. It's as if he can feel them by his side once again, and see a young Joseph holding his lovely wife, like in their wedding photograph. His father's wise words touch Steve's heart, "Find your right place in the world."

Hugging his sleepy girl close, he thinks proudly. I found her, Dad. She's the one, Mom. Without question, that's the most important thing that happened to him. Accepting his second chance to live, he found love. Natasha is worth everything.

Breaking the meaningful moment, Steve's stomach rumbles again, louder this time, and the redhead moans softly, without really waking up. Between his surprise birthday party on Thursday and the 4th of July barbeque at the White House, neither of them have had much sleep in the last two days. Looking at her gorgeous peaceful face, he remembers everything she did for him. His heart pounds in his chest, and he kisses her head gently, before extracting himself from her caring arms.

On his way to the bathroom, he finally stretches pleased, feeling the smooth ripple of muscles beneath his T-shirt, before he starts his daily routine.

Outside the bedroom, JARVIS greets him, "Good afternoon, Captain. It's past your mealtime. Do you want me to order you something?"

"Yes, please. Japanese. Order everything she likes, but make it double. I'm sure I can eat a whole cow right now." Opening the fridge, he grabs a jar of orange juice, and drinks it all down in one gulp. "Ah, JARVIS, can you get me some flowers?"

The A.I. promptly opens the florist's catalog on a holographic display, and the soldier chooses an elegant bouquet of yellow daffodils. "Excellent choice, Sir. It symbolizes rebirth and new beginnings. Order accepted. Mrs. Helen is sending them by express delivery."

Walking towards Sneg's room, Steve asks, "Any messages?"

"You've always been popular, Captain, but during this past week people worldwide sent you birthday congratulations. The correspondence department is still working on triaging the fan-mail. There are personal cards inside the box over on your desk, and gift boxes stashed in your office. I categorized the new electronic messages." Displaying the inbox, JARVIS proceeds with the report, "After walking Sneg, Mr. Barnes asked me to tell you that he went to spend the day with his sister. And little Parvez called earlier to speak with ma'am, so I put him in video conference with Sneg."

"Really? How did it go?"

"Very well. Both spent a lot of time playing in front of each other, and seemed pleased. His father and grandmother also sent their regards for your birthday."

Steve caresses his ten-month-old dog's head, who wags his tail excitedly. "Did you play with Parvez, buddy? And how was the walk with Buck? Did you make him run his ass off?"

"It's highly probable, Sir, since Mr. Barnes was indeed panting when they got back."

When Steve shrunk, Clint took Bucky to walk Sneg, and since then, whenever it was needed, JARVIS would call one or both men to fulfill the tough task. Habituated to the super-soldier's speed and resistance, the 150-pound dog is growing as athletic as his owner.

After checking some of the scanned fan-mail, Steve commands, "I think it's better to send the new Captain America's mail to Bucky. But not the generic, the ones from the missions he was in."

"Well thought out, Captain. That's a great way to uplift Mr. Barnes."

Steve plays with his dog for a while, until the A.I. announces, "Sir, your orders have arrived."

Always attentive towards the Captain's appetite, the Tower's restaurant sends the two-tier food trolley, fully equipped to keep their meals hot for extended periods of time. Steve puts the bouquet of flowers on top of it, and pushes it to their bedroom.

Kneeling by their bed, he kisses Natasha's lips tenderly, "Wake up, sleeping beauty."

After a while and lots of kisses, she finally yawns. Looking around through half-lidded eyes, and sliding her hand over her sleepwear, she speaks slowly, "Where is… um… the Jacuzzi…?" That's the last thing she remembers.

"You fell asleep last night, sweetheart. I brought you here. Aren't you hungry?"

Faithful to his promise, Steve eats the whole course. After the delicious meal, Natasha puts the vase of flowers on her bedside table, before lying back on their bed.

"They are so beautiful," she kisses him softly, "I love them!"

"Come here, gorgeous." Gazing at her with intense yearning, he holds her close, deepening the kiss.

When they break for air, she shakes her head, panting, "You're impossible!" He pouts right away, and she nestles in his arms, amused, "Why don't you try the TV? Maybe there's something interesting on about the holiday."

Promptly, JARVIS turns the TV on. "Aren't you going to watch your usual 4th of July movie, ma'am?"

"What?" Thinking for a moment, she gasps, "No… no."

Steve raises his eyebrows, "Do you have a special movie for the holiday? Can't we watch it together?" Natasha's cheeks turn as red as her hair, and he frowns, puzzled, "What movie is this?"

Compelled by his penetrating irresistible gaze, she replies, "It's silly."

With a twinkle of mischief in his eyes, he teases, "Well, that depends on what kind of movie this is." She punches him lightly, and he whines playfully, "I'm kidding!"

"I didn't celebrate American holidays, so I watched movies." Averting her eyes, she shrugs her shoulders, "Go ahead, JARVIS, play it."

Steve turns to the screen and after seeing the image of his shield in the ice, he has no doubts. "Ah, Captain America, I should have known," he sighs, with a hint of disappointment.

Puzzled by his reaction, she questions, "Have you seen it, before? Don't you like it?"

"I haven't watched it yet. I heard it got great reviews and that your guy did a good job."

Natasha replies affectionately, "He is not my guy."

Something in her voice catches Steve's attention, and he can't help but ask, "What's the film you first saw him in?"

Biting her lower lip, she admits, "This one."

Narrowing his deep blue eyes, he continues his inquiry, "That's where your crush started?"

The look on her face is one of complete enjoyment, as she shakes her head.

"No? I don't understand."

Sliding her hands across his T-shirt, draped over his muscular chest, she murmurs softly, "It was never about… him."

Looking as surprised as happy, he stares at her intently. "Oh… Really?"

"That's not why I watched this movie in the first place," she smiles coquettishly.

He finds her breathtakingly beautiful, as her loving green eyes tell him everything. But he wants to hear her say it… his male ego needs it. "Why did you watch it, then?"

Two years ago, when Tony asked the Avengers to attend a benefit ball, Natasha took the chance to get close to her intriguing team leader. While teaching him how to dance, she couldn't help being charmed by the sweet side of him. However, she was totally unprepared for the feelings that he evoked inside her. You are a very handsome young man, Steve Rogers… and for the first time, perhaps, I'm allowing myself to see that. To see you as someone other than the icon called Captain America. Be careful, Natalia Romanova… you're thinking some very dangerous thoughts. Confused by her compromising emotions, and after watching the movie, she masked it all into a simple crush towards the actor who played the hero's part – Chris Evans. It was her easy way to feel safe, while she remained in absolute denial of any infatuation towards the actual super-soldier.

Everything seems so ridiculously obvious now that she can't stop smiling, feeling her cheeks burning hot. "Because of you," she confesses with a coy smile.

"Me," he almost sounds cocky, "So… all this time, all those movies… no Chris crush?"

"No!" she laughs a little, "I tried to fool myself, but… I couldn't stop thinking about you…"

He gives her his most endearing smile, before sighing heavily, "And I was dreaming about you, Nat, but you kept me at a distance."

"I didn't know how to deal with you… You never judged or feared me. I wasn't used to that." Her soulful eyes shine, expressing all her vulnerability. "And when we danced… I had never felt attracted to anyone that way before."

The mention of that special moment makes Steve's heart jump. "You stole my heart with that blue dress!" He smiles broadly, remembering their talk at his themed birthday party, when she wore the same outfit.

"But when you didn't try to kiss me then… I thought you could never like someone like… me," she says shyly.

"God, you really didn't know the effect you had on me that day, did you?" Stroking her red curls, he caresses her face lovingly, "I told you I wanted to kiss you. But I wanted more." The intensity of his gaze makes her pulse race. Lowering his head, he rubs her pinkish cheek gently, speaking with sheer passion, "I wanted all of you, Nat. But you invited me to your place, as a friend. I couldn't take advantage of the situation… of you. Ever. I was going to ask you out, properly, at the ball, but you disappeared. I looked for you everywhere, until I found out that you were called to a secret mission. I thought I had blown my chances with you."

She rolls her eyes, "Oh, my, I feel so silly now."


"Tony said you should like me because I looked like Peggy, do you remember? Well, when you were attending other guests, he started talking about her, that she was supposed to teach you how to dance… the date you missed."

Shaking his head, he speaks earnestly, "I was dancing with you the whole week and I didn't think of anyone else. You know that, right?"

"You know that I do," her eyes sparkle. "But I was really broken. I felt used, and furious. I was frustrated by emotions I couldn't even admit to myself. So, I fled. That was when I started to watch his movies." Raising her eyebrows, she smirks, "It didn't work, right? I kept seeing you in each one of them." She offers a bemused smile, "I tried to stay away, but we worked so well together… I couldn't resist being around you."

"It was better this way. It gave me time to think, to slow down. But I can't deny it," he pouts playfully, "I was resigning myself to be just your partner and friend, when you invited me to watch that movie."

"Since then, you never left my side." She teases, mischievously, "I can't escape…"

Not needing any extra encouragement, Steve enfolds Natasha in his possessive arms, rolling her on her back. His voice is husky as he places sloppy kisses along her neck. "You… cannot…" Her body shivers in complete surrender to his delicious assault, and they get lost in the throes of passion.

Sometime later, wrapped in each other's arms, they watch the movie quietly. It's a bit weird for Steve to see someone else telling his story, but he is impressed by the quality of the shots portraying the time period, and by the special effects. In the end, he says that it looked like a romanticized version of the documentaries about him, with stories told by Peggy and the Howling Commandos.

"That's fine. It's a summary of what they knew about my life, of course, just a small part of the story." Shaking his head, he laughs, "But they made Colonel Phillips look like a fool. He was a tough guy, but a very experienced commander. He told me I wasn't enough, but that I would have to make up for it – well, his words were a lot more harsh. Anyway, he left me behind to be trained. The Army saw me as a weapon, that needed to be calibrated before used."

"It makes more sense," she smiles amused, "Why doesn't anyone talk about it?"

"Everything was top secret. When Dr. Erskine was killed inside of a secret military base, on American soil, the Army entered an alert state. They started a severe investigation and the suspicion was that I would be the next target. My identity should remain secret at all costs, so they shipped me off to Camp Lehigh, to hide me among other soldiers. Meanwhile, I was put through the most rigorous physical training imaginable, building up my new body to the perfection the professor had made possible. I also learned and implemented military tactics derived from thousands of years of warfare." Bowing his head, he continues, visibly sad, "The problem was Lieutenant Glass, the one left in charge of overseeing my training and my safety. Peggy always hated her."

"Who is she? There's no mention of her in your file."

"I guess the Army didn't want any record of the American golden boy involved with a Nazi spy."

Natasha turns in his arms, exclaiming, "What?" and her green eyes open widely.

"Cynthia Glass was a double agent, who let the Hydra assassin in the lab that day. She betrayed us… betrayed me. But when we met again, while I was attacking one of the Hydra bases… she died saving me, in defiance of her superiors." The burden of all his years falls upon him, and he sighs, defeated, "I couldn't save her…"

"Oh my God, Steve!" His distress is so palpable that it's clear that there's something more at play in this story, so she questions, warily, "Did you… like her?"

"I thought I did," his eyes downcast as he nods. "We worked for a few weeks, just the two of us, and I was eager to prove myself. She brought the instructors, equipments, manuals and books for me to study, always helping me with everything… charming me, tricking me. I didn't suspect anything. When she escaped, the Army put me on hold while another investigation took place. I underwent a series of tests because they got worried that she could have sabotaged me and my training somehow, which she hadn't. The waiting was driving me crazy. That was when Senator Brandt asked me to perform at the USO shows."

"I'm so sorry. It must had been so hard for you…" Natasha remembers their talk after the event at the White House yesterday, and the jealousy she felt, because of the dancers wearing patriotic costumes and ogling him at the 4th of July celebration. None of that matters now. All she can think about is how lost and heartbroken Steve must had been back in the 40s. She's honestly glad that he'd found comfort in a rebound relationship with the dancer he told her about.

"You use whatever you have to in order to subdue the opponent," he adds dryly.

"I think that Glass cared for you, since she risked her mission, and ultimately, sacrificed her life. Don't sell yourself short," she ponders compassionately.

"You're not angry?" he's completely puzzled, "Jealous?"

Suddenly, it hits her how much she loves him and how much she grew up, as a person, to have such altruistic feelings. She can't help but laugh. "Don't get me wrong. I'd shoot her myself, if I was there. But I can imagine what a struggle it must have been for her." Sliding her fingers through his hair, she strokes it gently, before replying, "You're a hard guy to not fall for."

In her arms, he sighs a bit relieved, "I'm just human, Nat… And I made a lot of mistakes. People don't know me like you do. Only the myths about Captain America," as usual, he's nothing but humble.

Frowning, she contests proudly, "Well, it's no myth that you saved countless lives. And that you inspired an even greater number of people throughout the whole world. That's why you became the hero admired for so many generations."

Rubbing the back of his neck, he confesses, almost guilty, "I never wanted to be a hero."

Tilting her head to the side, she questions, "What do you mean?"

Yearning to tell her about this part of his life too, he starts, "I was meant to be the first of a whole army of super-soldiers. I never imagined I'd be the only one of my kind. But I did what my country asked of me. I became a symbol first, and then a soldier. On the battlefield I realized it was more than propaganda when all those G.I.s were looking up to me, looking for hope, on so many hopeless days. And that scared me more than anything in my whole life ever had, because I'd never been a leader. I hadn't wanted to wear the flag and carry that burden. I just wanted to do the right thing. But suddenly there was only one right thing to do, one mission, and it got bigger and bigger every day. I just tried not to fail, tried to be the best man possible. Because so many people were counting on me, and I knew what it felt like to let people down." Running his fingers through his hair, he explains, "That's the hardest thing about being Captain America, understanding that the mission is too big and it'll never end."

"I've never thought it could be this hard – I guess no one has – because you make it seem so easy," she sighs with deep admiration. "You were born a leader. The best one I know. And the fact that you never wanted the fame and glory, that's what makes you so special."

"Please…" Blushing brightly, he shakes his head a little. "I feel honored, you know? Being America's symbol made me a better man. So even though the burden consumed my life and nearly cost me everything, I carried it willingly. I've rarely tried to find a life outside those stars and stripes. But since I came back… I haven't wanted them. That's why I asked Bucky to continue to carry the shield," he explains reticently. "Partly because I saw the burden making him a better man, too. But partly because…" he takes a sharp breath, before saying it out loud, "I never wanted to be… Captain America. I just wanted to be a soldier."

Sensing his vulnerability, Natasha holds him with all her love, and he leans into her caring touch.

When he speaks again, his voice is full of melancholy, "The whole truth is that I just didn't want to be afraid. I'd grown up that way, without my father. I was a frail, sickly kid, constantly picked on. And with every broken bone or black eye, I knew I was letting my mother down. Sure, I was scared of the bullies waiting for me, but my real fear was that I'd get home and my mother wouldn't be there. Like it could all fall apart at any moment… as it did when she died," he swallows hard. "And I think that was what shaped me. How the whole world felt unfair, unjust. That's why I tried over and over again to enlist before we were even in the war."

Placing her hand over his heart, she cuddles him tighter, whispering softly, "You're not alone anymore, you know this, right?"

Remembering that he had said the same words to her before, he murmurs, "I know, my love." They intertwine their hands together, remaining quiet for a while, until he says, "I'm not running away from my responsibilities. I'm not quitting. But I've been fighting for freedom since I can remember. The Steve Rogers within me wants more than that! I want a normal life, a home, and my girl to share things with." He kisses her hand, "I want to experience the freedom myself. Stop me if I'm sounding too selfish."

"You? Never. You're always putting the needs of others before yourself. I love that you are doing what you want for a change."

He smiles sheepishly, "Sorry for the maudlin speech. Sometimes it makes a man feel better, just to get things off his chest."

"Steve, you always make maudlin speeches… that's why I love you," she opens the most sweet smile. "But now I understand it better. What you are doing for Bucky, and for us. I think it's amazing."

His eyes shine with complete gratitude, and he leans in to kiss her. Holding Natasha in his arms, savoring her silken lips, Steve knows she's all he wants and needs in his life.

The next morning he wakes up full of excitement, and invites, "Do you wanna go out for a few days? I have something to show you."

"Sure, where? Aren't we gonna try the sidecar?"

Thinking about the present she gave him for his birthday, he sighs pensively, before replying, "Can we go for a bike ride some other time? Right now I really want to take you to Alaska."

"Seriously?" her mouth twists with curiosity, and looking at his joyful face, she asks, "What are you planning?"

"It's a surprise! And let's take Sneg, he'll like the snow."

After packing Natasha's flying car with clothes and food, Steve adds, "There is just somewhere I want to stop by first."


They fly above the Arctic Circle, up to the northeast coast of Greenland, and Steve lands on a glacier. After checking the safety of the surroundings through the car's radar, Natasha releases the leash from Sneg's collar, and opens the door. Barking happily, he jumps down and starts to run around. She verifies the dog's tracker and the GPS coordinates, before asking, "What is this place?"

"It's where they found me," Steve answers calmly.

After almost three years, under the arctic climate, there's no sign of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Base Camp that once was here, only ice everywhere. It's summer, so the temperature is around 40 degrees F and, luckily, there's no wind. Always the gentleman, he helps her getting out of the car, and wraps his arms around her as they lean against the vehicle.

Shoving her hands into her pockets, she rests her head on his broad chest, before asking, "Why are we here?" She's worried about any sad memories that the movie could've brought to him.

But he answers, completely relaxed, "I always wanted to see the midnight sun. It's beautiful, isn't it?"

Relishing in the peaceful moment, they appreciate the stunning landscape. Mountains and sea are cloaked in many different shades of gold, and the colors change on the floating icebergs, in a smooth rhythm.

Natasha observes Steve with attention, trying to identify any sign of distress, but she finds none. After a while, she ponders quietly, "You seem pensive…"

"Can't hide much from you, eh, Nat?" Flashing one of his dashing smiles, he replies, "They say that the midnight sun is a state of mind. Since the day has no end, time makes no sense. Ironic that I spent so many years frozen here, huh?"

Turning in his arms, she asks, "What's going on, babe?"

"Once you asked me if Project Rebirth was worth it. Do you remember?"

"Yes. And you told me that it was, otherwise you wouldn't be here," she simpers, and a faint blush covers her face, "And I couldn't help but think… with me."

"And that's the absolute truth," leaning in, their eyes fall upon each other's, and he places a soft kiss on her lips. "I know, Captain America did many good things. But the price that I had to pay was too high. Somewhere along the way, I had lost Steve Rogers. When they found me here, I was the living legend of World War II. A relic. Condemned to live the rest of my days as a human symbol… as an emotionless masked fighting machine." Taking her hand in his, he holds it close to his chest. "I was completely alone. Until I met you, and you unfroze me." Caressing her face tenderly, his mouth curves in a wide grin, making his baby blue eyes crinkle at the corners. "I always believed God had a plan for me, a greater reason for such a tough path." He never looked so handsome, and his words take her breath away. "You are my reason, Nat. I had to go through all of that to find you. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. You're worth it all."

Her loving green eyes get watery, and she frowns, still unsure about what he's doing.

But when he speaks again, it's as if the whole world had stopped around them. "Yes, I want to marry you, Natasha. I always did. I'm sorry I didn't say it sooner." Overwhelmed by the powerful revelation, she feels like melting in his arms, but he holds her close. "I was waiting for the right moment," he smiles coyly, "Please, my love, bear with me. I need to do the right thing. Besides, I'm not that little guy you asked before."

"I can't believe you…" she gives him a small laugh.

"I'm serious!" he opens the most beaming smile, "Although my love for you didn't change a bit."

"Neither did mine."

"I know, sweetheart." Rubbing the pad of his thumb over the edge of her lower lip, he adds with a wide smile, "Even so, there are some differences. The little guy would have a safe job, and live anonymously, while Captain America is a public figure, who will face danger on a daily basis. The thing is, I'm not either one of them, not now, but they are both part of me. I'm not sure about what I'm gonna do. But I am the super-soldier, and an Avenger. And I'll always suffer the consequences of my past…"

He's talking non-stop and she gets even more lost, "Steve…"

His entire face is lightened, "I've been dreaming about this day for so long… I want it to be perfect." Taking a deep breath, he kneels in front of her, holding her hands in his. "God, I'm nervous."

Natasha realizes she can't breathe… her heart pounds heavier in her chest, and tears threaten to fall. She can't understand why she's feeling that way since he already said yes. But looking at the breathtakingly beautiful scenery, having the love of her life on his knees, knowing he is about to propose to her… it's simply beyond anything she could have imagined… and everything she secretly dreamed, deep inside her romantic Russian heart.

His baby blue eyes get teary too. "What I'm trying to say is that… for the first time in years, I'm plain old Steve Rogers. My only certainty is that I love you, and that I want to spend the rest of my life loving you, if you'll have me."

Underneath the hood of her winter jacket, her silky red hair flows out of the front and back of the scarf around her neck. Her emerald green eyes flood with happiness, and she trembles, but his smile warms her heart completely.

"And this place here… It means that time doesn't matter for me as long as I'm with you. You are my midnight sun. You make me alive, and without you it's like I'm frozen again, under the endless polar night." Her heart stops, as he pulls out a small red velvet box from his inside coat pocket. Finally, he opens it, revealing a beautiful diamond ring, and pops the question, "Natalia Alianovna Romanova, will you marry me?"

Natasha falls in Steve's arms, whispering among tears, "Da… Yes!"

Taking her trembling hand in his, he slips the engagement ring on her finger, and she can't stop crying. Cupping her face gently, he kisses her, murmuring their love mantra between her lips, "I love you. Love you. You. Natalia," and she weeps even more.

Always alert, Sneg comes running worried for her, interrupting the perfect moment, and the couple chuckles amused. She hugs the giant dog, while trying to ease the intense emotions flowing through her whole body. The arctic wind starts to blow and they stand up quickly, running back to the car.


Natasha tries to calm down Sneg and her own jumping heart, while Steve flies by that log cabin they rented last year. But he doesn't stop there. A few miles away, he lands on one of the myriad Alaskan small islands, inside a very peaceful and isolated bay. Hidden under the trees, there's a house carved on a tiny hill – a perfect refuge from the everyday stress of the urban life.

The garage door opens at his command and she gasps, "Wow! A private island?!"

"Yes! That's the thing I wanted to show you," he replies excitedly, before taking them inside.

It's a spacious two-story house, with four ample bedrooms, tiled baths with in-floor radiant heat, vaulted ceilings, and wood flooring. In the living room, there's a classic fireplace and large glass windows overlooking the water. After walking through the place, she asks puzzled, "Did you rent it? Without furniture?"

"Do you like it? It's brand new and it was never used before."

"It's quite big, but the design is modern and cozy at the same time. And the view is breathtaking. It looks like a place to live, rather than just spend the weekend." She smiles a little disappointed, "I'd love for us to stay here, but it's… empty."

Giving her his best boyish grin, he exclaims, "Do you want it? It's yours!"


"I put down a deposit, and if you say so, it's ours!"

Jumping into his arms, her eyes dance with joy. "I can't believe it! I love it!"

"Anything for my fiancé!" Holding her by her waist, he swirls around, sweeping her off her feet and making her giggle. "That was the last thing I was waiting for, Nat. The place got ready just a couple days ago. Come, let me show you the outside!"

A few meters from the main house, there's a cozy guest quarters, fully furnished, perfect to accommodate a couple or a small family. They settle Sneg into the comfortable kennel, right by the boat house, and after so many adventures, the dog settles down tranquilly. Natasha activates the surveillance systems on the car, and it's enough to cover the twenty acres that surround the island.

They go back to the guest house holding hands, but he's too quiet, so she asks, "Anything wrong?"

Caressing her hand, he speaks coyly, "You didn't tell me… if you liked the… ring…"

With all that happened, Natasha didn't have a chance to take a good look at the huge ring on her finger – a 10-carat old-European-cut diamond, presented in a gorgeous platinum mounting expertly crafted in the Edwardian style. After a brief moment she recognizes it, and drops onto the couch behind her. "Oh my God!"

Quickly, Steve jumps to her side, "Nat? Is everything okay?" Nodding, she looks at him absolutely stunned, and he asks shyly, "Did I get the right one?"

She almost can't find her voice, "Yes… But… How?"

"That day you were helping Pepper with the jewelry. Do you remember what she said?"

Before that benefit ball, Pepper called her personal jeweler to select a few pieces for the boys. Among cufflinks, tie clips and watches, Mr. Oliver showed the two women expensive rings, hinting on a possible engagement between Pepper and Tony. Natasha was just helping to get things in order, but this ring caught her instant attention. It was one of the simplest ones on the extravagant showcase, but she couldn't resist its classic design and the clarity of the diamond. Somehow, its purity reminded her of something – a very dreamy someone – too good for her. The man was definitely off limits, so she reached for the ring, instead. Almost unconsciously, she put it on her finger and it was a perfect fit. Pepper joked, saying that it must be the most special ring in the world, to be the one selected by the Black Widow.

Steve explains, "I couldn't help but eavesdrop. I was always paying attention to you, I guessed it was the right one."

Throwing her arms around his neck, she kisses him tenderly, "Oh, babe!" Looking back to her hand, a tear rolls down her cheek. "I can't believe it… That day, I was watching Pepper talking about her plans with Tony. Everything seemed so… normal. When I saw this ring, I imagined all those things I thought I couldn't ever have… a life, a happiness unattainable for someone like… me."

His baby blue eyes stare at her, and he lightens up, "I had never seen you smile that way."

Gazing back at him, her emerald eyes sparkle, "I was thinking about us dancing… how normal I felt… with you…"

Taking her hand, he kisses it softly, "I'm so happy you liked it."

"I love it! How did you find it? It has been more than two years ago. Oliver said it was a unique piece."

Blushing instantly, he stutters, "Well… I didn't… Not exactly…"

"What do you mean?"

Steve's face turns red as she'd never seen him before, as he admits, "I bought it that same day."

"Why?!" she exclaims in shock.

"Because you liked it."

Shaking her head, she contests, "I wanted you to kiss me! And you bought a 10-carat-diamond engagement ring instead?!"

"I had just received the back-pay from the Army. I had never had that much money before," he confesses bashfully, looking like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Nat, I told you. That dance meant a lot to me. I knew, in my heart, that I had found my right partner."

Natasha's head is spinning… "You kept it hidden the whole time?"

Nodding, he cups her face gently, giving her the most shining smile, "It wasn't easy. But you were worth the wait."

Memories flash through her mind as emotions flood her heart. She remembers everything… their dancing lessons, the first movie they watched together, when they shared a milk-shake at his favorite malt-shop, their first kiss… and when they first made love. She had never felt so respected in her life. Teardrops fall down her cheeks, as she murmurs, "All this time… you wanted to… marry me?"

"Natasha…" Steve slides his hand through her hair, stroking it with the most absolute tenderness. "I wanted you since we first met, but when I had you in my arms…" he hums their love song, "For I can't help falling in love with you…" before pulling her into his lap, enfolding her into his caring embrace. "And then, I saw you with this ring on your finger… It was impulsive, I know. But for the first time since I was thawed, I felt alive, I had hope. And if I ever had a chance, I wanted to have the right ring." As always, he's completely honest, "When you disappeared, I was disappointed. But it made me think about the differences between relationships now from the 40s. So I waited… and followed your lead." Kissing her tears away, he smiles, "I have to admit, it was much better this way. Over time, we grew closer as a couple, and got to know each other for real. My instincts were right, but now I know for sure. Some things are meant to be…" Leaning in, their foreheads touch, and he flashes his irresistible blue eyes. "Your proposal caught me by surprise, I won't lie, but it also told me that we were finally on the same page. I wanted to answer your question, but I had all these plans to make it memorable… romantic. I didn't ruin it, did I?"

"God, Steve… It was a dream! I'm Russian, I love romance…" and she opens a passionate smile.

"And I love you, my Russian ballerina! Since that day, I couldn't resist you dancing…"

Their lips touch, and they melt in each other, fusing their hearts and souls as one.

New York.

After the most amazing few days, the newly engaged couple comes back to the Tower, full of hope and plans for their future. Steve finalizes the purchase of the house and Natasha starts the plans for decorating it. Sitting at his desk, she's working on a holographic model of the house, when he stands by her side. He gives her the property certificate, along with a few papers to sign, explaining, "It's from the bank, for a joint account. It's everything I have."

Frowning, she gasps, "Steve… this is a lot…"

"Tell me about it. Back in the 40s my whole bank account had about a hundred dollars, and that was considered an awful lot of money!"

When Steve dropped out of sight back at the end of the war, he was never officially declared dead, only missing in action. Therefore, when he was found in 2011, he was entitled to receive sixty-six years of back pay reimbursement, with full benefits, and monetary readjustments. And as if that wasn't more than enough, accepting Tony's financial advices, the already ridiculous amount of money increased, leaving the little guy with very deep pockets. Rubbing the back of his neck, he's beyond embarrassed. "First I refused it, I told them to keep the money, but they said it was impossible. Bureaucracy. I had no choice. I must tell you it makes me mighty uneasy to have this much of the American taxpayers' money… all because of a legal technicality. It's not like I earned it. I haven't been in the service since World War II. I was on ice…"

"Of course you earned it, Steve! You got trapped on ice because you gave your life for your country!"

"I never asked for a single cent, Nat. I saw my duty and did it, without thought of personal gain."

"Exactly. No one's worked as hard for this country as you have," she reassures, full of admiration.

He chuckles, "Tony said the same. And he helped me to invest it, well, kind of forced me, you know how he is. And yet he didn't let me pay the rent." He sighs, as ashamed as relieved, "I'm glad you understand."

"Steve… What I meant is… Why are you giving me these papers? This is yours…"

"You're gonna be my wife," he answers calmly, because it's the most natural action for someone as honest and reliable as he is. Natasha feels her heart fluttering and she finds herself speechless. Hugging her from behind, he continues excitedly, "I waited for too long. I don't want to wait anymore. I want to share my life with you, all of it." Her eyes travel between the papers on the desk and the holographic projection of the island, as she processes his words. Noticing her slight hesitation, he asks softly, "What is it, Nat?"

Blinking slowly, she replies, "It's… nothing…"

Instantly concerned, he takes her hand, before leading her to the couch, "Come here, sweetheart."

It's inevitable – he wonders about what sad memories she may have from her previous experiences. That's the thing he worries about most, and what he was trying so hard to avoid. One of the reasons why he wanted everything to be perfect, and why he prepared so many surprises for her. They sit facing each other, and he holds her hand in his. "What's wrong?"

"Everything's perfect, Steve." Averting her eyes, she sighs, "Too perfect…"

"Nat, you deserve all happiness I can give to you." A lock of her hair falls across her cheek, and he tucks it behind her ear, saying, "I know I can't change your past. Lord knows how I wish I could. But what I can do is to fill our present with good memories. Please, tell me what else I can do…"

Sliding her hand behind his neck, she kisses him languidly. The effect is instantaneous, it eases both hearts. Then, she whispers quietly, "I only need you. I am happy. More than I ever thought was possible. It's so much that… it makes me scared…"

"Didn't you say we live a love story?" he asks with a coy grin. "We are entitled to happiness. We deserve it. Besides, we had enough drama in our lives already, don't you think?"

She smiles, shyly, "You're right. I know, it's just… it was a memory…"

Holding her close, he insists, "You can tell me anything…"

"I don't think about Alexei," she shakes her head. "Never. It's kind of weird… my mind keeps it all in the fake memories category since I was surrounded by lies. And I didn't feel anything. If I hadn't had the papers I wouldn't believe it happened. It was a civil marriage, inside the Red Room, just another practical arrangement. We lived in dorms, so, one day, we signed the papers and moved in together. And after a few months, I received his death certificate. That was all." Opening a wide smile, she caresses his face softly, reassuring, "Everything we're living now is so true and real that it makes that past even more meaningless."

Gazing at her with intense devotion, his eyes dance with anxiety, wondering, worrying, and he raises his eyebrows, "But, what's bothering you, my dear?"

Taking a sharp breath, she opens her heart, "The only thing I remember… it's me." She sighs a bit somberly, "A seventeen-year-old Russian girl. Physically, and even intellectually, I was already unbeatable. But emotionally… I was still too young and insecure… lost in so many fake memories. There was an older woman, who explained to me the basics of a married life, as if it was just part of the training. I remember the feeling… I was terrified and lonely. Not that I would show or admit to anyone. So I had to fend for myself, and I became even more detached. Anyway, it's just a faint memory."

It's as if he almost could see the young woman she once was. His need to protect and cherish her increases even more. Hugging her tight, he captures her mouth in a searing kiss, showing with his lips all his love and devotion.

When they break for air, she breathes calmly, "This is what's real… us." Intertwining their hands together, she whispers, "And you, my reluctant hero, you saved that Russian girl."

A faint pink flush creeps across his cheeks, and Steve smiles shyly, before holding her tight, "I thank God for having you in my life."

Looking into his baby blue eyes, she feels like she is diving into a lake of still waters, comfortable… always safe. Snuggling in his caring arms, deep inside her heart, Natasha thinks, Me too.

Next movie: The Avengers (2012)


Author's note: I hope you're smiling. :)

References: Marvel's Comics:

Adventures of Captain America Vol 1 #1 (1991) – [Steve about Cynthia Glass] How could she have betrayed us… betrayed me?!

Avengers Vol 1

#334 (1991) – [Natasha] You seem pensive, Cap. (…) [Steve] Can't hide much from you, eh, Natasha?

#343 (1992) – [Steve] Stop me if I'm sounding like an elitist. [Natasha] You? Never. (…) [Steve] Sorry for the maudlin speech. [Natasha] Steve, you always make maudlin speeches… that's why we love you!

#355 (1992) – [Natasha] I'm Russian, Vision, I love romance!

#382 (1995) – [Natasha] You are a very handsome young man, Steve Rogers… and for the first time, perhaps, I'm allowing myself to see that. To see you as someone other than the icon called Captain America. (…) Be careful, Natalia Romanova… you're thinking some very dangerous thoughts.

Chapter Text

The Avengers


After settling all the legal issues, Steve takes Natasha to lunch at their favorite malt-shop. She loves how he makes one-malt-two-straws with burgers and french-fries the most romantic meal ever. They're walking arm in arm back to their car, when he nods to an old man waving from a window across the street.

"Nat, I want you to meet a dear old friend of mine. Would you?" They stop by the modest wood-frame house, and the two men greet each other. Steve introduces her warm-heartedly, "Professor Wallace Young, this is my fiancée, Natasha Romanoff."

Black Widow isn't used to dealing with senior citizens, but Captain America finds war veterans and their families everywhere. It has never ceased to amuse Natasha how he would always be attentive and kind towards them all. But she recognizes this name, as one of the few people with whom Steve kept a personal relationship. "Nice to meet you, professor," she replies politely.

"The pleasure is mine! Congratulations! Cap, she's even more beautiful than the pictures!" Offering his arm to her, the eighty-nine-year-old man invites them into his place, "Please, come inside. And call me Wally!" where he starts to talk nonstop about his childhood idol.

Both of Irish Catholic descent, their families lived in the same poor neighborhood, since the 20s. Wally's mother worked as a laundress at the hospital where Sarah was a nurse. "Mrs. Rogers was always helping everyone, with no exceptions. My mother used to say that she'd never met a more charitable soul." Growing up, Steve always stood against injustice and, even as a skinny adult, he protected the younger kids, like Wally. "We're seven years apart, but Cap wouldn't let anyone be bullied around him." They met again during the toughest days of the war, when Private Young served in the Bravo Company. "I was one of the two survivors from my platoon. It was a miracle that Captain America and Bucky showed up when they did." Steve rubs the back of his neck, and Wally pats his shoulder. "Cap likes to blame himself, saying if they'd gotten there sooner, they might have saved them all. What I know is that I prayed, and God sent him to save my life. But you might want to take that with a grain of salt… because I'm a big fan. Let me show you." The retired professor sighs proudly, before opening a scrapbook with a series of newspaper articles, all about Captain America. "Ah! My mother saved this one." Wally shows Steve the oldest clipping.

'Steven Rogers wins Creative Arts Project's "Artists of the Future" Award'.

It says that while still a teenager, Steve had designed his own comic book heroes, earning the first prize and the judge's praises. 'This scrawny little kid's page had such power, such action. He draws war scenes like he's born for it. This kid keeps up the good work, and believe me, one day every comic fan will know the name Steve Rogers.'

"I can't believe you have this!" Steve reads it attentively and gets visibly touched by his mother's words. 'I just know my boy's going to create a legacy.'

Natasha holds Steve's hand gently, and after a moment Wally offers, "It's yours, all of it. I was waiting for the right opportunity to give it to you. Consider it my engagement present."

"Thanks, my friend," Steve replies embarrassed, without taking his eyes from the precious gift. "It means a lot to me."

In order to give the Captain privacy to reminisce, Wally stands up and reaches for Natasha. "How about a coffee? Would you help me, my dear?"

"Sure," she takes the older man's hand, and smiles, "It's an amazing collection. Thank you."

While making coffee, the loquacious professor talks about his late wife, and his son, who's the local priest. Sitting at the simple table in this homely kitchen, Natasha finds herself captivated by this sweet stranger, and his devotion towards her Captain. Suddenly, Wally points to the window of his backyard, asking, "Are you going to get married here?" Outside, they can see the church Steve brought her to for the Midnight Mass, last Christmas. Before she can think of an answer, he continues hopefully, "It would be an honor if my son Johnny could celebrate your wedding."

Taken aback by his humble suggestion, Natasha stops, speechless. That's the modest life-style that Steve was used to, and undoubtedly he would cherish this kind of simple and traditional ceremony. After all the surprises he did for her in his proposal, she wants nothing more than to please him. He deserves it all. But can she do it? Does she deserve it?

Sensing her hesitation, Wally replies quickly, "Don't pay attention to this old man. Of course you famous superheroes will be married in some fancy, large place."

Shaking her head, Natasha says, "No, no… it's not that. We just didn't discuss it yet."

"Ah! Russians are Orthodox, right? Or you're not religious? I'm sorry, I should've asked before. But you know what? There are mixed-marriages where only one is Catholic. It happens all the time."

Pausing for another moment, she asks, reticently, "You know who I am, right?" There was news about the whole team in the scrapbook, so she's sure he has already read about her… reputation.

Once again, the simple man surprises the super-spy, this time, with his wise and caring answer. "Of course I do, young lady. You're the reason Steven smiled again." Opening a large grin, he speaks kindly, "Three years ago, when I saw him at the church, I thought I was getting senile. But I would recognize my Captain anywhere. After the shock, I brought him here and we talked about everything. For me it was another miracle. Captain America is a symbol of the good in this country, and he's always needed. But I grew up admiring Steven Rogers, and that man in front of me was completely lost and all alone. Since then, we often met at Sunday Mass, played chess, and talked about old times. Until that crazy day in the city… I'll never forget when I saw him on the TV! Then he told me about his new team, the Avengers, and he was proud, grateful. But whenever he talked about a brave Russian – the most amazing woman he'd ever met – he was smiling."

Natasha remembers that time very well, and smiles shyly. Wally's honesty and compassion are unmistakable, and it feels almost as if she's talking to Steve's grandfather. Before she realizes it, she's opening herself… "I'm not sure I would be accepted in any church…"

"That's non sense, my dear. God's doors are open to us all," he winks kindly, "And I'm sure He doesn't read tabloids, neither do I." Pouring her a cup of coffee, he reassures, "Trust me. I've known Steven since I was a kid, and I've never seen him as happy as he is now. In my book, you're a blessing in his life."

Entering the kitchen at that moment, Steve stands by Natasha's side, placing his hand gently around her shoulder. "Yes, she is," he says proudly, and a faint blush covers her cheeks.

They all sit around the table enjoying the hot beverage and talking about their old neighborhood, until the alarm rings. Wally speaks excitedly, "It's time for the afternoon Mass. Do you wanna come and meet my Johnny?"

At this time of day, the church is quiet and almost empty. A sixty-five-year-old smiling man, Father John is as welcoming as his father, congratulating the Captain and his bride.

Reading The Parable of the Prodigal Son, he touches Natasha's heart deeply. Especially, the son's plea for redemption, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son," and the father's answer, stating that forgiveness has already been given, "Let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found."

Silently, Steve prays, thanking God for his life, family and friends, but more than ever, for having found this amazing woman, that will become his wife.

After the pleasant afternoon, and warm farewells, Natasha leans her head on Steve's shoulder, as he drives back home. Keeping one hand on the wheel, he holds hers with the other, and sighs a bit ashamed, "It wasn't as romantic as I wanted…"

"You know I loved it. It's part of who you are," she replies, before placing a soft kiss on his cheek. "And they are really good people."

"They're impossible! All that talk about marriage… I hope you didn't feel pressured."

She chuckles, "Well, I did, but it's fine. I think we can do it."

"Do what?"

"Get married there, as your mother would have wanted."

Making a quick maneuver, he pulls over, before turning to her in absolute surprise. His baby blue eyes dance with excitement, as he asks about the dreamy possibility. "Are you serious?"

Natasha's heart flutters at seeing his happiness, and she reassures bashfully, "I am. Wally is pretty persuasive, and Father John said it was okay that I'm not… that I'm… me."

"They both loved you, Nat!" Taking her hand to his lips, he kisses it softly, before saying, "But I don't want you doing anything that makes you uncomfortable. I don't need it."

"Last Christmas, it had been crowded, but it still had a peaceful atmosphere. This time, it felt cozy. To be honest, I didn't know I would feel so… accepted. Besides, the Natalia you helped me to discover, she's a simple Russian girl with simple dreams. And if you can take time off from being Captain America, I can leave the Black Widow out of this too."

Cupping her face gently, he gazes at her, before asking, "Are you sure this is what you want?"

"Steve, I want us to be together… forever," she answers with a sweet smile. "And that church holds so many beautiful memories for you… I can't think of a better place for us to get married."

As someone who never doubted his faith, the hero always tried to accept everyone, regardless of gender, race, or religion, as long as the main goal was to respect and protect life. Even so, having their union blessed in the same church he used to attend with his mother, it was everything the man dreamed of. "God, Nat… I love you so much." Overwhelmed by the powerful feelings of love and gratitude, he captures her lips with passion, and they melt into each other. Their lungs are crying for air when they break the kiss. Slightly panting, he asks, "I was thinking, how about September 6th?"

Although still dizzy after the perfect kiss, Natasha remembers that day, last year, clearly. It was the first time she opened her ice fortress completely in her life… to him. When trusting him to show her true fragility, she cried, feeling safe in his arms. Her green eyes sparkle as she thinks of their first sweet, chaste kiss, and how he spent the whole night just holding her. "I had never felt so treasured in my whole life."

"That's what you always meant to me, Nat."

"It's the perfect day," she replies lovingly.

Avengers Tower.

Once the date and place are settled, Steve and Natasha are finally ready to talk to their friends. As soon as they arrive at the common area, the happiness reflected in their sparkling eyes outmatches the shining ring on her right hand, drawing the group's attention.

Before they can say anything, Pepper exclaims, "Oh my God! They're engaged!"

"About time!" Tony orders immediately, "Jarvis, champagne!"

Among hugs and toasts, the girls line up to admire the stunning diamond ring, while the boys tease the 95-year-old groom, who explains they want everything very private and small.

Touched by the festive atmosphere, Bobbi gets emotional, "You're so perfect for each other!"

Clint hugs his wife, placing his hand on her belly, and announces happily, "We're having a baby!"

Everybody congratulates the parents-to-be, and the bets about boy or girl start.

After a few more cheers, Bruce whines, "I can't be the last one!" Turning to his girlfriend, he speaks embarrassed, "You better accept that ring back, Dr. Ross." After the accident that had turned him into the Hulk, they had broke up their previous engagement. But since he started to use the super adrenalin inhibitor, they've been living together almost without any incident.

Crossing her arms over her chest, Betty dares, sound and clear, "You better propose properly, Dr. Banner!"

Holding his own fianceé, proudly, Tony mocks the speechless doctor, "Jade Jaws, that's a knockout!" making the group burst out laughing.

In the days that follow, as the proud maid of honor, Pepper takes charge. Since the billionaire's nuptials are scheduled to happen next year, the wedding coordinator Mrs. Steele has already set up a central room in the Tower. From there, both brides can choose everything together. Although they have less than two months to plan Steve and Natasha's wedding, the simplicity of the ceremony and the small number of guests makes the process very easy.

Coached by the boys to organize the bachelor party, Bucky faces the hardest task as best man – convincing the groom. "Come on! It's your last night of freedom!"

"Absolutely not," Steve says firmly, "That's not the kind of 'freedom' I fight for."

"Are you nuts, Grandpa?" Clint complains, "I didn't have mine! Let's go to Vegas!"

Trying to ease the moods, Bruce ponders, "It's just a party, Steve. Besides, forever is a long time."

"Don't worry, Capsicle, I got this," Tony takes charge, "Spare no expenses, James! How about my house in Dubai? We can use my parti-carrier. It has been inactive since a long time." Seeing the confused eyes around, he explain, "It's how I call my prototype whisper-quiet jet luxury-craft."

Quickly, the archer adds, "The Stark-jet with dancer pole!"

"Wow! I've never been there!" Sam confesses, before asking, embarrassed, "Tony… It is true you know the Maxim cover models?"

The billionaire simply rolls his eyes and Bucky exclaims, "Holy moly!"

Unfortunately, all these arguments fail, so, the best man begs shamelessly, "Don't be such a wet blanket, Steve! I can't disappoint the guys."

"There's no way I will partake in anything that involves unclad women," the groom remains adamant.

After hearing Steve's complaints about the men's pressure, Natasha gives the final and decisive push. "I know you don't want to do it. Neither do I. But they're our friends, right?"

Realization hits him and he frowns instantly, asking, "Are you having a party too?"

"Pepper cornered me. Made me chose between a girls' night out or a… bridal shower!" She takes a deep breath and smiles playfully, "But don't worry, I trust you!"

"And I don't trust you?" he teases, a little upset.

Walking towards him, she replies straightforwardly, "That's not a question I need to answer," and places her hand on his chest, over his heart.

Wrapping her in his warm embrace, equals part protective and possessive, he gives her his boyish smile, "Of course not. You know I do."

Flashing her stunning green eyes, she smiles, reassuring, "Exactly. Nothing will mess up with us."

"You are right." Leaning in, he places a soft kiss on her lips, before sighing heavily, "The problem is that I can't trust Tony, or Clint, in this matter… and Bucky is acting like a teenager, all over again…"

"You really don't need to worry, okay? Even if they take pictures of naked women surrounding you!"

Opening his eyes in shock, he begs, "Please, tell me there won't be naked men at your party."

Amused, she shakes her head, and replies coyly, "There's a huge difference between Tony and Pepper, don't you think?"

"I do hope so."

Despite his concerns, Steve caves in, but warns Bucky, "No strippers or I walk away." Determined to keep it as simple as possible, they settle for Tony's private nightclub in Manhattan, where the rooftop saloon will be closed for the V.I.P. event.

Then, still unsure about how this will work, Steve calls Heimdall, asking him to give Thor a message.

It has been almost two months since they have left Asgard and they all worry about the Prince, especially the wistful Jane. The astrophysicist has been working nonstop, keeping herself separate and distant from the group.

Juggling the time, Darcy assists Jane, but keeps lurking around the still introspective Bucky.

Saturday, August 30th, 2014.

On the day set for both parties, Thor arrives in the morning, with Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, bringing lots of gifts and barrels of mead – their strong, legendary liquor. Steve and Natasha welcome the Asgardians, and the Thunderer hugs them both, giving the couple his best wishes, "Marriage is a bold adventure, my friends. May you face its challenges with wisdom, and reap its harvest of joy! Balder sent his regards."

"Thanks, big guy, you've been missed," the Captain replies, before turning to the goddess-warrior, and kisses her hand. "Lady Sif. I was waiting for the opportunity to meet you again and thank you for everything you did for us. It's good to see you made a full recovery."

After kissing Thor's cheeks, Natasha greets Sif, "I'm glad you're here."

"I am honored to have fought by your side," the goddess-warrior replies proudly, and congratulates the couple, "May fortune smile upon ye, and happiness be yours forevermore!"

While Steve provides accommodation for the Warriors Three on Thor's floor, Natasha leads Sif to their guest room. The two women talk about what happened since the last time they saw each other, and the spy speaks quietly, "I owe you."

"My heart is gladdened with your invitation and friendship." The Asgardian gives the bride an exquisite wooden box beautifully hand carved, which holds inside the most delicate garland of posies ever. "These flowers came from the garden of our beloved late Queen Frigga. They will bring blessings for your bridal party, and shall remain fresh and beautiful for a long time."

Touched by the meaningful present, Natasha thanks Sif and reassures, "I'll wear it with pride."

After brief introductions, Thor updates the team about the search for his father. "To dark Valhalla itself have I gone in search of the noble Odin, but nary a trace have I found of him. I shall not rest until I do." Although hopeful, he feels terribly guilty about leaving his father, after the tragic loss of his mother. "My noble friends, I have joined the Avengers because I believe in your strength and honor. I have never regretted my choice, and I do not regret it now. However, I cannot ignore my duties on Asgard. As a King, I can't stay on Midgard permanently. Nor can I be an Avenger anymore."

"Don't worry, my friend, once an Avenger, always an Avenger!" The Captain says reassuringly, "Whatever you need from us, just ask," and the whole team agrees.

Grateful, Thor promises to help them, in case they need him, before excusing himself, and leaves to speak with Jane in private. Used to the couple's always passionate encounters, no one expects them to join the group very soon.

Aware of the guests' festive habits of eating and telling tales, Tony suggests the Midgard's way of storytelling, "We call it movies!" Pepper settles the brunch service in the movie room, and the first feature selected is The Avengers.

Although familiar with the Earth's antiquated technology, the Asgardians don't have a film industry, since they prefer live plays. Nonetheless, they find it a pleasant form of entertainment.

Sif makes polite comments about everything, wishing they could've been here to help. "The Bifrost was still broken, we could not travel between the realms." However, she complains about the poor portrait of the god of Thunder in action. "Thor could've taken dozens more of those Chitauri Leviathans himself."

"He sure did! This is just a movie," Clint replies, and they talk about the real battle. As the movie progresses, the archer turns to spoil his pregnant wife, attending instantly to any of her cravings.

Also watching it for the first time, Bucky becomes horrified with the destruction of his hometown. "I didn't know it has been so bad," he explains, embarrassed, "I was frozen at that time."

"Me and Jane, we were in Norway, pretty freezing too. We only saw the news on the Internet…" Sitting next to him, Darcy offers support, but he doesn't say a word to her.

The movie progresses and despite their differences, the Warriors Three find it interesting.

"Who is the dark-haired gorgeous lady warrior?" questions the always flirting Fandral the Dashing.

"We can introduce you to the real Maria Hill. She's single," Sam speaks quickly, definitely awestruck by the aliens.

"When will we battle against the Hulk?" asks Hogun the Grim, constantly seeking for a challenge to prove his honor.

Shaking his head, Bruce chuckles, and Betty answers firmly, "I don't think it would be appropriate."

"What is shawarma?" inquires Volstagg the Voluminous, eternally hungry.

"We can order in, if you like it, Sir," JARVIS offers promptly.

Looking around for a moment, the red-haired warrior yells, "Ah, the ethereal voice of the tower! Thor told us about it! Yes, please!" and everybody bursts out laughing. As the movie ends, the Asgardian raises his glass, suggesting, "Captain! Adding Volstagg to your roster is all you need to truly become the Earth's Mightiest Heroes! Volstagg and the Avengers! Imagine it, Steven! With your mind!"

Steve toasts him back, "Yeah, big guy, I got it…"

Tilting her head, Sif replies, "He is all yours, Captain!" and the laughter continues.

Even without Thor's presence as the connecting point, both groups end up having a great time together. The Asgardians learn a bit more about Midgard, and the mortal heroes whom their King calls friends. And by reliving their first battle together, the Avengers think about how much their lives have changed over these past two years. From loner individuals who learned to fight as a team, they have become true friends… and now, most of them are building a family of their own. Sam and Bucky find themselves definitely lucky to be part of such an amazing team.

More than any of them, Steve and Natasha's lives were directly affected by the events represented in this movie. Together, despite all odds to the contrary, they faced the adversity, accomplishing the most important victory – finding true love with each other.

Honoring the joyful couple, the Asgardians lead the toast, "Hail the betrotheds!"



Romanogers floor.

It's dark already when Natasha stretches slowly, after a revigorating nap. Looking at her man fast asleep in their bed, the redhead Russian smirks satisfied. The passionate moments they just shared will keep them even more connected, no matter how hot the strippers are. Snuggling gently on his chest, she places a soft kiss on his cheek before getting up.

When Steve finally wakes up, she's coming out of her closet, wearing a slim-fit sleeveless dress with u-neck, with black platform heeled sandals, looking absolutely classic in solid gray. "How do I look?"

Gazing at her, he's sure she's the sexiest woman in the world. "You look too beautiful!" he says, still groggy. Blushing slightly, she sits by his bedside, to kiss him goodbye, but he has other plans. Wasting no time, he straightens up, pulling her into his arms, "I miss you already…"

Among giggles, she whispers, "You're impossible! I'm gonna be late to meet the girls at Pepper's."

"How am I supposed to let my fianceé go out without me, looking stunning like this?" and he starts to kiss her jaw and neck.

"Oh, babe, you don't play fair…" she moans softly, and he silences her with a breathtaking kiss.

Caressing her red curls, he asks softly, "Tell me again… Why do I need to do this?"

Sighing, she tries to catch her breath, before answering, "Bucky… Pepper… Our friends… guests."

Steve pouts like a child, "Are you sure about this?"

"Yeah. It's gonna be fun," she places a quick kiss on his lips, before getting up.

"I hope you don't have too much fun!" he sighs disappointed.

"You must be careful with the dancers!" she winks, playfully, and starts to fix her makeup. He frowns, shaking his head, and she smirks, "Have you been to Stark's nightclub before?"

"Yes. But I told them I'll leave if they bring strippers."

"Pick me up, when you do?"

"You bet!"

"Bye, love you!" she blows him a kiss before leaving the room.

Pepperony floor.

As the maid of honor, Pepper invited the girls to meet there before they left for the bachelorette party. The mood, however, isn't festive as Natasha had expected.

Sometime later, when Bobbi finally arrives, she explains herself, "I'm sorry I'm late. I don't know why they call it morning sickness since it can strike at any time of the day or night." Looking at the women's upset faces, the pregnant blonde says, "But I'm fine, now. I'm ready to… party… What… What happened with you guys?"

Walking towards the door, Jane replies dryly, "I need to get drunk. Let's go?"

Standing by her friend's side, Darcy cheers supportively, "Now we're talking!"

The other women are still stunned with all that happened, but the experienced hostess reacts promptly, "Okay, I just need to finish my makeup. If you need anything, please, be my guest."

Darcy pulls Jane to the guest bathroom and, discreetly, Bobbi follows Pepper, asking, "What the hell is going on here?"

"Jane dumped Thor. Long story, but he wants her to move to Asgard and she wants him to stay here. And believe me, Sif is amazing!" Looking at Bobbi's perplexed face, Pepper explains Jane's fears that led her to break up the relationship. Then, she tells about Sif's selfless demonstration of love and devotion towards Thor, making her accept the other woman in his life. Ultimately, how the Asgardian earned the respect of them all.

Back in the living room, Pepper calls, "Ready? Let's party! Happy has the cars ready for us."

The night was just starting.

Bachelor party.

A rain falls over New York, as Steve lands the flying car on the rooftop of the nightclub, and Bucky leads him inside the private saloon. Gathered at tables full of drinks and appetizers, the men are surrounded by beautiful waitresses in sexy uniforms. Looking at the groom's upset face, the best man whispers, "Tony assured me that they're not strippers, they're just hot!"

The guys stand up and walk towards him, clapping. "There he is! Welcome, Cap!"

As Steve greets his friends, an already drunk Thor calls from the bar. Pulling the super-soldier aside, Bruce explains, "He has been drinking that Asgardian liquor since this afternoon. Jane dumped him. Don't know why…"

Surprised at the unexpected news, Steve approaches Thor, who hugs him, and starts his lament, "My throat aches and burns but I keep drinking. I languish in anger and grief. I seek consolation from a grimy glass. I shatter my soul, Captain…"

"Thor, my friend, how can I help…"

The heavily inebriated demigod tries to whisper, as if no one could hear his thunderous cry, "The rainfall is not by my will or command, but the manifestation of the melancholy that grips me… tears of a weeping god!" He gives a weird laugh, before finishing his flagon of mead in one single gulp, and asks for more, "Another!"

Coming in rescue to their King, Fandral and Hogun stand on either side of Thor, raising him up, and Volstagg says, "Come, my Lord, let's sit over at the table."

Taking a sharp breath, Steve speaks upset, "Perhaps he's had enough drinking…"

"Worry not, noble Steven! There are no thunderstorms yet!" the redhead Asgardian laughs loudly.

Despite the tempestuous moment, the Captain watches from the bar as the celebration continues to flow smoothly. The men drink, laugh, and mingle with the gorgeous women, while the groom orders a Scotch by himself.

"Everybody seems to be having a great time, but you, Cap," Coulson speaks discreetly.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Steve admits, "Not my idea of fun, my friend."

"I totally understand. Still… you should try."

"Yeah…" Patting his friend's shoulder, Steve asks, "How've you been? How's the… cellist?"

"It's complicated," the agent shakes his head, trying to justify, "I died."

"Well, me too," the Captain replies, before advising, "Don't waste your second chance, Phil."

The agent nods pensively, and they both walk back to the tables. Always the caretaker, Coulson joins Hogun, who was left alone, trying to console Thor.

The single guys, Bucky and Sam receive special attention from stunning blondes. "Steve! This is better than Madam Lucille's, don't you think?" the best man remembers the cabaret they went when they were young.

Two exotic waitresses approach the groom, offering drinks and company, but he refuses politely.

Tony doesn't miss the chance to tease the old man. "I have to be honest, Cap, I was afraid you'd be a little too strait-laced to enjoy this."

Steve's answer, however, is nothing but sharp, "Oh, I'm shocked. I'm probably blushing."

They all laugh, and Dugan mocks back, "Tony, you kids didn't see crazy," as he starts to tell stories about Howard's wild parties. Also former Howling Commandos, Logan agrees, remembering the clandestine places they went during the war. The old guys knew how to have fun too.

Despite the jokes, and the amount of alcohol consumed, the non-single Avengers keep a respectful distance from the girls, watching as they remain floating around the blonde Asgardian – Fandral charms women as much as Volstagg eats and drinks.

"Robin Hood gives you a run for your money, Shellhead," Clint teases the former playboy.

Tony protests instantly, "I'm off the market, Legolas, and so are you!"

"And I have to propose to Betty. Again." Feeling pressured by the 'marriage race', Bruce complaints, "I've gone back and forth a hundred times on whether or not this is really the right thing to do."

"What could be more right?" surprisingly, the genius becomes serious, "You two love each other."

"True, but is love enough? With all the other factors is the addition of love enough to make the equation positive? Where is the guarantee we're not about to make a horrible mistake?" questions the stressed doctor.

"There's no guarantee in life," Steve ponders, "You have to do the right thing for you."

"It's always seems easy for you, Cap. But how do I know what's right?"

Tilting his head, the Captain replies, "Betty is an amazing woman. You are lucky."

"It's simple, actually," Clint hits the target, "Can you live without her? Or can you think of her with another man?"

Thinking about their respective women, the four Avengers answer in chorus, "No!"

"So stop whining and man up!" Tony pushes Bruce, and looks at Steve. Both remember when the soldier was the one giving the genius courage to propose to Pepper.

After a few divorces, Dugan thinks of himself as an expert, "Marriage is good. Ex-wives are not."

Experienced jaded men, Logan and Fury are nothing but cynical towards relationships, and agree promptly. However, Natasha is too special to them, and after a moment, Fury gives his piece of advice, "Behave yourself, Rogers. Or she's gonna kill you, slowly, painfully."

Also taking a big-brother role, Logan warns, "She's a catch, bub, you better not mess it up."

"You're doing the right thing, Cap," Coulson compliments sincerely.

Listening to everything patiently, Steve tries to give each one of his friends a bit of attention. Underneath their drunk talk and crazy marriage advices, these guys truly care about him and Natasha, and the Captain is beyond grateful. But the more he listens to the guys' stories and personal adventures, the more he misses her.

Suddenly, automatic dancing poles appear on the small stage, and all the girls begin to dance suggestively, under the loud music. "Trust me, not everyone hosts a show like this," Tony announces, and the guys cheer and whistle profusely when the real stripper arrives.

Faithful to his promise, Steve bids his farewell and leaves – not that any of the men are paying attention to him anymore. On his way out, the anxious groom texts his bride.

Bachelorette party.

Not far away, in another private nightclub, the women drink, chat, and dance animatedly, with gorgeous waiters, wearing widely varied costumes, except super-heroes – obviously.

Raised in a typical patriarchal society, Sif finds the reverse gender-role very amusing, and enjoys every Midgardian drink available, while talks with Maria Hill. Trying to keep up with the Asgardian, Jane and Darcy are definitely drunk, and Betty is following close.

From the table, Pepper and Natasha try a few exotic cocktails, and Bobbi orders the alcohol-free ones. While the other girls are dancing, the mother-to-be questions, "I can't believe Sif accepted Jane so easily. And vice-versa."

"It makes sense, actually," Pepper ponders, "In a few decades, Jane will be old, and Thor won't. It's like Steve and Peggy Carter."

"Well… It's true… But still, I would be jealous," Bobbi confesses, and turns to Natasha, "That's why I didn't think you would invite Maria." The Mockingbird remembers the secret girls club that the Deputy Director organized to 'watch' the Captain, while he was training at S.H.I.E.L.D. – which the Black Widow unmasked brilliantly.

Unaffected, Natasha speaks calmly, "Hill's okay."

"Actually it was my idea," Pepper explains, "It's good PR."

Bobbi narrows her eyes, and once again, asks the spy, "You told Pepper? About…?"

Playing with her drink, Natasha says, "She knows."

"Of course I know. I was Tony's personal assistant for 10 years before we got together. He couldn't tie his shoes without me."

"So you know all the women Tony…? My God! And I thought Clint's previous affairs at S.H.I.E.L.D. were a big problem!" Bobbi paused, pensively, "Still, I don't want to know Clint's number. No!"

"Why not? Tony could have any woman in the world…" Pepper replies, but looking at Natasha's raised eyebrows, she rectifies, "Well, almost any woman. But what matters is that he chose me. Why would I be bothered by it?"

Bobbi shakes her head in disbelief, "Pepper, you are too mature for me. Too modern!"

The three women are still laughing, when the other girls get back to the table.

After the nth toast, Darcy whines for not having a man, "I'm between feeling sorry for myself and happy for you all, super-brides… No offense."

Natasha smirks, "None taken."

"What about the hot best-man?" Pepper remembers Steve's birthday, when the sassy brunette danced the whole night with Bucky, and they seemed very friendly.

"What about? He's avoiding me like hell! What's wrong with these men?" yells the young assistant.

A waiter dressed as Adam offers promptly, "Can I get you ladies anything else?"

Darcy smiles quickly, "Call me Eve!"

Among laughs, the women place new orders, and after looking at the green leaves on his sculpted body, Sif shakes her head, "I have never talked to a vegetable in my life."

For a brief moment Jane stares at her, and they talk at the same time, "Except for Thor."

"He can be a little starchy," the Asgardian nods pensively.

Jane agrees immediately, "Surprisingly green sometimes."

The other women watch perplexed as the two supposed rivals bond in the most unimaginable way. Used to Asgard's much strong liquor, Sif isn't drunk, just more relaxed, and acknowledges the irony, pointing to Jane, "He is bold, but you and I in the same room would scare him half to death."

"Puny god!" Jane takes another shot of tequila, before crying in protest, "Why can't I fall for a normal man and have a normal life?"

Although tipsy, Betty keeps her sharp mind. "Normal man is an oxymoron. Like jumbo shrimp. Furthermore, there's no such a thing as a normal life. Just different degrees of abnormality."

The women sheer in unison, "Agreed!"

Time passes slowly, as they continue to drink, toast, and dance.

After a while, Pepper whispers, "You seem a million miles away, Nat…"

Betty asks, "Not having second thoughts, are you?"

"No. Not at all." Natasha answers quietly, "I'm just tired…"

"You can't be apart from each other…" Bobbi sighs, "It's so romantic!"

"Thou art a very fortunate woman," Sif speaks calmly, repeating what she said in Asgard, when the warrior called the spy Steve's bride.

Taking the chance to make amends, Maria compliments, "You both are."

Natasha nods with a smile, "Thanks." As if on cue, her phone vibrates.

Attentive, Pepper asks, "Steve?"

Reading his message, the bride lightens up, and replies, "Time to go."

Immediately, the maid of honor commands, "Girls, we're clear! Boys, showtime!"

Following the call, the Cowboy steps up on the stage. Quickly, the women gathered around, cheering and whistling, "Take it off!"

On the table, Bobbi whispers, confused, "What did Steve say?"

Natasha chuckles, and Pepper replies, "He didn't need to say anything. I know him and I know Tony!" They all laugh, and the maid of honor continues, calmly, "I kept my promise, right, Nat? Since you're leaving… there's nothing wrong in watching a good show."

Looking at Darcy, who's receiving a lap dance from the Fireman, and Jane cheering shamelessly, Bobbi teases, "They passed just watching a long time ago."

"They are both single now. But don't worry, these guys are professional dancers, and that's all. Trust me. Nothing else is gonna happen." Pepper winks, "Even if drunk ladies beg for it!"

Among their laughs, Natasha says, "Steve's coming to pick me up. Do you girls want a ride?"

Bobbi questions, "Did he say anything about our guys?"

"No, he wouldn't, but…" after a few touches on her phone, the spy shows a live feed with just the part of the table, where Clint and Tony are completely passed out, and Bruce is dozing off.

"You're my favorite hacker in the entire universe!" Betty hugs Natasha, before getting up to join the group next to the stage.

Shaking her head, the spy explains, "Actually, this is JARVIS security system. I didn't need to hack it. Tony gave me complete access, a long time ago." Regards computers, Black Widow is probably as good as Iron Man, and she's definitely better spying and hacking them.

Bumping her shoulder on Pepper's, Bobbi laughs, "The playboy is really tamed!"

"He better be," Pepper smiles pleased, picking up her own phone, "I'm asking Happy to pick them up." Then the maid of honor encourages, "Go, Nat! Who needs men-in-uniform? Enjoy your night with your super-hot-soldier!"

The bride-to-be smiles, "Have fun!"

Natasha finds Steve already waiting outside the car, and run into his arms, where she truly belongs. No words are needed, and they kiss each other, speaking eloquently in the language of their hearts.

Next: Epilogue...

Extra scene in Chris Crush (Avengers) – The Other Girl (Jane and Sif)