Natasha knew Steve; she had seen him worried about people, focused in the plans they had to come up with before something explodes and someone dies and she had watched him smile but she was too smart and had known so many people before to know that kind of smiles weren't entirely happy. She had talked to Sam about it; both of them were the closest friends that Steve had and they worried constantly about him. And they worried even more when the Avengers had nothing to fight for, when the peace and calm forced them to become normal (if that was possible) and to be part of the world again. Because Steve was a great leader and an excellent fighter, for sure, but when it became to have a normal life, he was totally lost. He was really the man out of time. Natasha had agreed with the news when gave him that title, because despite of his efforts, Steve didn't seem like he fitted in the 21st century, he was sad (even he didn't say a thing about it) and he seemed like he missed something… or someone?
"Maybe he misses Peggy," she suggested Sam.
But Falcon's answer was a firm and decided shake of the head.
"I mean… he misses her, for sure and I think she was like a sister to him, like family, but I don't think she's the reason why he's acting like this." Sam said. And then he told her about that day after the mission in Sokovia, when he tried his best to make him feel comfortable enough to talk. 'Man you need to tell someone about it in order to move on.' But Steve's answer was cold 'maybe I don't wanna move on.'
"So it has to be a person," Black Widow whispered.
"What do we do then?" Sam demanded, more desperate. "You have read his file; you know what he did that day when he ended in the ice."
Natasha nodded and realized that neither of them wanted to say it out loud; Steve had made a sacrifice in order to save the lives of thousands of people, in order to erase a powerful organization that wanted to control everything, but he didn't need to sacrifice his life, he could've told Peggy the coordinates to find him and he didn't. Because Steve Rogers wanted to die that day.
"Perhaps he needs someone to spend his time with," but the moment the words came out of her mouth she realized they were ridiculous.
Sam just rolled his eyes.
"Of course, Nat. Like we don't know how all your attempts of trying to get him a date have failed."
"Well we need to find out what's troubling him first and then we'll help him." She said and she saw the determination on Sam's face when the man nodded.
The thing she didn't know was the answer would come to them that same day.
That evening they all met up at the living room of the new Avengers building. Tony had called them earlier to have a "meeting" with all of them. Natasha kept herself from rolling her eyes when she saw the man standing in front of the group like he was about to say something deadly serious. But if something bad had happened she'd have been the first to know, so it couldn't be that bad. Tony just loved the attention too much.
He was trying his best to look serious though, but they knew him too well by now so no one seemed worried; Wanda and Vision were sitting on the sofa, in front of them, Sam and Clint were chatting about movies while Rhodey was standing close, apparently trying to tell a story or something and Steve… well at least he was the only one really paying attention to Tony. And she knew the reason why: Steve was hoping for a new mission; he needed a distraction. But he wasn't the only one who seemed interested, Peter was looking at Tony intently, but he was still fascinated and too happy to be with them that everything that came out of Tony's mouth was like the most interesting thing in the world to him. Natasha found that really funny.
"After months of indifference and silence, our very old friend Fury will come to the building with a new Avenger" Tony began, staring at his watch, which probably was the thing he was getting the information from.
"New Avenger?" Rhodey arched an eyebrow. He was looking at Tony with curiosity.
"Yes. Fury wants us to meet this guy and let him join the team, but it's up to us if we let him in or not." Tony informed.
"What do you know about him? Is he like me? How old is he?" Peter's eyes were open wide with hope. He desperately wanted someone younger than him to join the Avengers; he was tired of the others teasing him constantly.
"Petey boy just stop that. I've told you we can´t let another five year-old join us, we already have you," Tony said.
"I'm fifteen almost sixteen!" The boy protested, but the billionaire just rolled his eyes.
"Yeah big difference… so as I was saying about our new soldier," Tony whistled and smiled at something he was looking at on his watch, something he didn't share with the rest of them. "Wow, Fury got us a handsome one. Pray this guy looks as good as he looks in the pictures."
"I'm sorry I just got lost in his eyes." He joked. Natasha knew that man was in love with Pepper, but he couldn't help himself when it came to that kind of comments. He used to say that when he was really impressed with someone, which just made her feel curiosity for the first time.
"Our soldier is like you, Cap. He was born in 1917, lost in battle; apparently everyone thought he was dead…"
Black Widow was always aware of her surroundings; she always noticed. So it wasn't a surprise that she was the only one who noticed when Steve tensed at the words.
"He lost an arm and Hydra gave him a metal new one after they captured him," Tony's voice became weak. "He was tortured; they took all of his memories and brainwashed him till he lost his humanity. They turned him into a weapon. He was used by Hydra until SHIELD found him in a cryo chamber in Siberia."
The place was filled with silence; every one of them was processing the information in their own way. There was also uncertainty; that man could be truly dangerous for them.
"SHIELD woke him up two years ago and kept him as a secret till they came up with a solution to erase Hydra's programming inside his head. He's also recovering his memories…"
"Hold on a second. How do we know he's not a threat anymore? Can we really trust this guy?" Rhodey asked.
"I don't know about him, but I trust Fury," Natasha said. Everyone in the room looked at her. "He wouldn't bring someone here if he wasn't sure that he's cured. And even if he turns out to be bad, I'm sure we can handle it."
She could see in their eyes they were really thinking about the whole situation; it wasn't something easy to decide, but at least she felt confident about Fury.
"Nat's right," Clint spoke then. "Besides, I think everyone deserves a second chance."
She smiled at him; of course Clint would say that, after all he suffered when Loki came and took his will to turn him into a puppet. She knew he still felt guilty about what he did then.
Steve nodded and after that everyone seemed more willing to give the man a chance.
"I'm glad we all are on the same page here. Because Fury just arrived to the building with our new soldier," Tony announced, smiling.
By that moment everyone's curiosity increased; they were looking at the elevator intently, waiting for it to open. Steve, on the other hand, seemed tired and sad. He had lost interest and went to the kitchen instead to make himself some coffee.
Nat followed him.
"Of course, why wouldn't I?" He said, but his voice was cold and empty. God, that man was a terrible liar.
"Do you wanna talk about it?" She insisted, ignoring the man's previous answer. She heard him sigh but he never looked away from the coffee maker.
"Okay… I'd be here if you need me. Or I could just call Sam if you prefer to talk to him instead." She said before she sat next to Clint.
The soldier, Nat thought. It was because of him that Steve was acting like that. Perhaps he just wanted to avoid the man because they both were born in the same era; Steve didn't need another reminder of what he had lost.
She became distracted when she saw the elevator's door open. Fury entered the room followed by the soldier. And she had to admit that Tony was right; the man was handsome. His hair was dark brown, like chocolate, combed in a bun. It looked like he hadn't shaved in a few days, because she could see his dark stubble, but somehow it suited him well, she even thought it looked sexy on him. But the thing she liked the most about him were his green eyes; they were shining with kindness and joy; the eyes that, at the moment, were scanning the room, looking for something.
Then the man grinned and his smile was so warm that Nat couldn't believe someone with such a horrible past could smile like that.
"Your metal arm is awesome, dude!" Peter commented, ending the silence. His eyes were opened with excitement. "Can I touch it?"
He tried to leave the couch but Wanda took him by the wrist and made him sit again.
"Calm down. Let him talk first," she whispered, smiling tenderly at him. And Peter did as she said, but he didn't look very pleased about it.
The soldier smiled at the boy and Nat could've sworn that Peter blushed bright red at the moment. She was almost tempted to call Steve to make him watch the scene, it was really fun.
"My name is James Buchanan Barnes, but my friends used to call me–"
He was suddenly interrupted by a strong noise that came out the kitchen. All the heads turned to the same direction, but just a few of them could see Steve Rogers, standing with a shocked expression on his face and to his feet, the broken pieces of a blue mug. He entered the living room, shaking.
"Bucky?" His voice came out so soft and insecure that Nat could almost feel the pain in that one single word. In his eyes were so many emotions that she couldn't read.
"Steve, I thought… I'm so glad that…" But the soldier lost his ability to speak with coherence and started babbling. The look in his eyes softened.
"You two knew each other?" Tony asked, shocked. He was looking at his watch with a frown, blaming it for not having that information.
He was completely ignored; Steve looked like he had forgotten everything and everyone else, he could only see the man in front of him. Natasha saw tears forming in the corner of her friend's eyes and thought she was looking at something intimate, something that she shouldn't see, but she was too confused and surprised to react properly. Everyone seemed to be petrified.
"Bucky," Steve said again and the name came out like a prayer. He closed the distance between them and took the man's face in his hands. He was shaking. Slowly, he began to touch the soldier's face; his fingers were tender and careful like he was afraid that his touch could make the man fade away. "You're… you're alive! I'm not dreaming this time, am I?"
It was heartbreaking. Nat hated those words: this time. So he had dreamt about him before and the stubborn idiot had never come to ask for help. He never told them about it; he had been suffering in silence all those years.
Steve began to sob and fell to his knees in front of the soldier, James… his Bucky. Steve took him by the waist and held him close to his body like that man was his salvation. Bucky stroked his head a couple of times before he knelt too.
"Steve, hey… listen to me, pal. Look at me. I'm here and this is real," he assured him. "I bet I always appear in your dreams in that old uniform, don't I? I never thought you liked it that much."
Natasha knew he was just joking in order to make the other smile, but she'd never forget the look on Steve's face when Bucky said that; the man was blushing bright red. If the circumstances were different she would've taken a picture for sure. And then Steve smiled. Both men finally stood up.
"I'm sorry… I shouldn't have come. I thought you knew," Bucky said looking worried.
"What?" Steve blinked. He seemed hurt. He touched Bucky's face with his right hand; his thumb began to trace the other's cheekbone. "Bucky… if I had known you were alive… if I had had a clue, anything, you know I wouldn't have stopped looking for you."
And Bucky believed him; Natasha could see that in the way his eyes sparkled. Well not only him but everyone in the room believed Steve Rogers in that moment. There was so much devotion behind those words.
Sam got closer to her.
"Well at least we know now," he whispered and she nodded in response. It seemed Bucky was the half Steve was longing for all those years.
"Yes, because you're such a stubborn punk, you always were," Bucky replied, but he didn't seem angry, he was smiling.
"I truly was, still am, jerk." Steve conceded, looking so happy, like that was something to be proud of. But his smile faded away quickly. "But… when you started to remember, why didn't you look for me?"
"I couldn't get out the building SHIELD kept me in," he answered. "I wasn't in my right mind. I was dangerous. I didn't know you were alive, not at first… they didn't tell me. They informed me about you just a couple of days ago and they told me you knew about me… so I thought you didn't want to see me, but I didn't blame you… I understood I–"
Bucky couldn't finish; Steve turned away and planted himself in front of Fury. His shoulders were tense, his body was shaking with anger, and there was fire in his eyes when he looked at him.
Steve's hands clenched into fists at his sides. The super soldier looked threatening and for a second everyone held their breath. But Fury… he didn't move an inch, he appeared to be calm, with his hands behind his back watching Steve's reaction like it was something he knew it'd happened.
"You knew," Steve accused; that last word came out in the form of a growl. "Since SHIELD brought him in you knew who he was, you hid him and you… you kept him away from me all these years."
It never occurred to Natasha that a man could communicate with growls till she heard Steve speaking or at least trying to do so with Fury. He was so angry that it seemed he couldn't say all he wanted to.
"It was the right thing to do, Rogers," Fury said. "Barnes couldn't control himself and he was a threat for everyone around him."
Steve took a step ahead; his nostrils flared as he breathed in, it looked like he was trying to control himself, but it clearly wasn't working. He took a second step and, out of instinct, Nat and Clint jumped from the couch. She was sure (almost) Steve wouldn't hurt Fury, but she had to be prepared for everything.
"Steve… Stevie" Bucky got close to his friend and put a hand on his shoulder. The other man seemed to relax instantly at the contact. And when Steve finally turned around and looked at him all the anger disappeared from his eyes. Bucky took him by the arm and guided him to the couch and the ones that were still sitting stoop up immediately, making room for the two super soldiers.
"Look at me and listen. Fury did what he had to and for that I'm glad," he began, once they were sitting next to each other. He tried to ignore Steve's pained expression. "I wasn't human then, I was just a weapon and I would've hurt you and the worst thing is you would've let me 'cause you're a selfless kind idiot who doesn't listen to reason."
Steve wanted to protest, but Bucky shook his head.
"Look at me in the eye and tell me you would've fought me, tell me you would've stopped me no matter how much you would've hurt me."
But Steve just looked devastated. Natasha almost rolled her eyes; it was like seeing a very sad puppy.
"I can't hurt you, Buck. I'd never do that."
"I know because you're–"
"An idiot," Steve interrupted him, grinning from ear to ear. He didn't even let Bucky protest because he took him by the waist, lifted him as if he weighed nothing and put him on his lap.
Natasha learned then their Captain became a touch-starved puppy when Bucky Barnes was around.
Bucky flushed; he realized in that moment that they were not, in fact, alone.
"What are you doing?" He protested and tried to escape but the arms that were holding him were too strong for him.
And Steve smirked at him, he actually did that. Black Widow was in shock, she wasn't expecting to see that kind of smile on his friend's face. He even buried his face in Bucky's neck; they all could hear him taking a deep breath. Barnes shivered.
"We're not fifteen, Steve. We can't do this anymore."
"Don't care," it was the man's response. He didn't bother to look up.
Barnes looked at them and smiled like he was trying to apologize for that.
"This may take more time than I thought," he said. "Maybe if you give us a few minutes–"
Steve growled and pressed the man closer to his body. Bucky just rolled his eyes.
"You know we're almost hundred years old, right? Don't you think it's time for you to stop acting like a child?"
Another growl was the answer.
"Fine!" Bucky sighed. "A couple of hours then?"
But Steve growled again and the other man huffed in response. He made another attempt to free himself, but it was pointless.
"I can't believe I forgot you were such a little shit, Rogers. And you still are!" The soldier said, but there was no venom in his tone.
Steve's body started to shake and Nat could hear the laughter that escaped from his lips. Steve Rogers was shaking with laughter because he was truly happy and the only sad thing was Bucky had no idea how important that was for the rest of them.
"We see you two tomorrow then," Nat told Bucky; she knew Steve was listening but the only one really paying attention was Barnes.
"Yeah, uhh… it was nice to meet you all," he replied.
"It was our pleasure, trust me," Sam added and he winked at him. Nat wanted to high five him for that but she controlled herself. Bucky looked really confused already.
"Can somebody please tell me what the hell just happened in there?" Tony asked when they all were finally outside. He looked at Fury.
"Sorry Stark, but I need to go. I really don't have the time to talk."
The rest of the Avengers were as clueless as Tony, so they remained silent. Nat and Sam had other plans and decided not to discuss them with anyone.
"What do you think then?" Sam said when they were finally alone in the hallway. "Do you think Steve told him? You think they were–"
Nat's snort was better than an answer.
"Come on! We know Steve well enough; he's an emotional constipated idiot who hasn't and won't tell him how he feels even if someone is pointing a gun at his stubborn head. And Barnes, well he looks like the oblivious type if you ask me."
"So… we should help them?"
"Don't worry, we will. But we should give them time first. If they still acting like the idiots I think they are, we'll take matters into our own hands."