Hi, okay, so no, I have't abandoned the wrestling fandom in terms of writing, I swear, I've just got a LOT of inspiration currently coming from Steve/Bucky and I'm not going to say no to it. So here is the sequel to Let Me Sleep, it would definitely be a good idea to read that before reading this.
Tony never called, not that Steve thought he would. The phone had been a gesture of good faith, an olive branch. A softer way to say we're still friends even though I picked him. A softer way to say I'm sorry I broke everyone out of that jail (but really, I'm not sorry about that) but they deserved their freedom. Being out of the job was foreign, not racing into battle with his shield brandished ready to take on anything was hard. Not that he had a shield anymore, leaving it in Siberia at Tony's feet had been the hardest and easiest decision Steve had ever made. He'd cherish the time he spent with that shield; like an extension of his arm but there came a time when hanging it up became a real vision in his future.
Wanda Maximoff had shown him his greatest fear a year ago. A world where the war had ended and there was nothing to fight. Where he could go home... except he had no home to go to. Not then he didn't. His home among the Avengers wasn't truly a home, not to him. They were a disjointed family of misfits just trying to hold it together. The Sokovia Accords had fractured them further, leaving pieces of their team spread all over the universe, really, never truly to be whole again. Now? Now he had a home, even if his home was frozen under ice in the depths of Africa, he had one.
It wasn't only Tony he hadn't spoken to, not Clint, not Wanda, not Scott, not even Sam. Not because he didn't trust them, no he trusted them more than almost anyone, but because he owed them silence. Their lives had been thrown into turmoil enough when he came calling that he owed them a few silent months, hell maybe even a year or two.
Natasha however? Natasha was relentless. Steve knew it was only a matter of time before her spy skills brought her to him. She worried about him, for good reason probably, but Steve needed a break. He needed to a way to decompress, to not be Captain America for a while. He needed time to think and search for a way to fix Bucky. He trusted T'Challa to find a way, he did, but looking on his own gave him piece of mind. Steve Rogers was a hands-on man, if he can help, he will help.
In a testament to Natasha's perhaps growing scale of patience, she wanted a generous week before showing up at Steve's door. How she found him he'd never truly know, but perhaps he should start straying further from the safe place that was New York.
It was a much more delicate thing than he expected when she knocked on the door. Softly like she was abashed to disturb him, but with urgency that he knew who she was. So tiredly, Steve opened the door a crack, the afternoon sun caught the red of Natasha's hair and damn near blinded him as he pulled the door open a little more.
"Hey there, captain," Natasha said.
He sighed, leaning against the doorframe, "Just Steve is fine."
"Steve," Natasha amended, smiling gently, "how are you?"
He shrugged one shoulder, "Been better, been worse."
Natasha sighed, "Are we strangers now, Steve? What's with the cold shoulder," she paused, and chuckled to herself, "no pun intended."
Steve cracked a smile, and opened the door so Natasha could come in. She touched his forearm as she passed, a gentle almost sisterly thing.
"No need to check, I'm alone," Natasha called from the sitting room.
Damned if she didn't know him well. Steve closed the door and met her in the sitting room. Natasha eased down onto the couch, looking casual for once in jeans and a simple green t-shirt, but she was armed to the teeth, she had to be. Natasha Romanoff went nowhere without several of her favorite toys. Steve occupied the chair opposite her, leaning back to look at her. Outwardly at least, she wasn't Black Widow today. She was Natasha, whoever that was, the friend that Steve had asked once upon a time.
"How is he?" She asked.
"Come on, Steve. Don't play me like this," Natasha said, "I'm not here for anyone else. I'm here for me, as your friend. What's going on?"
"Tony didn't tell you?" Steve asked.
"Tony and I have a complicated relationship, something I'm sure you understand. We aren't exactly on speaking terms after what happened at the airport," Natasha said, "but I have it on good authority that you left with Barnes, and without the shield."
Steve shrugged, "It wasn't mine anymore."
"So that's just it? No more Captain America?"
"Not for a while, Nat," Steve said, "we all need a break sometimes, don't we? The Accords threw everything off the rails. The team isn't right anymore, not when half of them ended up in a nightmare of a jail because of what happened. There's a lot of mistrust there now. I owe them a lull, some quiet. They fought with me; they believed with me, they deserve a break. So do I."
Natasha nodded, "You're right. You've done a lot over the years. You deserve some time away. So, what about Barnes?"
Steve fixed her with a hard stare, "I hope you don't take offense to my hesitance. I never know who you're really working for, Nat."
"None taken. It's smart, really," she said as she leaned in and put her elbows on her knees, "but I promise you that I'm not here on orders. I don't exactly have anyone to give me those anymore. I'm not here for Tony, or Secretary Ross or what's left of S.H.I.E.L.D I'm just not. I'm here for me, and I'm here for you. No agendas, no secrets, just the two of us. I know it's hard to believe, and I've earned that from you, but all I have is my word, Steve, whatever that's worth to you."
Steve sat silently for a moment, chewing over her words. She looked as sincere as they came, imploring with her eyes that he believe her. Maybe he had a soft spot for Nat, maybe he was always a little gullible when it came to her, but she looked honest, looked concerned, just like she had the day of Peggy's funeral. When she came to him just so he wouldn't be alone with this new heartache, when she held him against her and just let him cry. She let him be Steve, the person, the heartbroken ex-soldier who'd lost one of the last pieces of his old life.
"He's different," Steve said, "he's all I got left, and I guess it's always been that way. He remembers so much now, it's amazing. He's hurt though, from all of it. He remembers every single thing they made him do. He's living in a nightmare everyday, Nat. He doesn't trust himself or his own head. He's sleeping now..."
"He's not... Steve, he's not gone, is he?" Natasha asked.
"No, no. He's alive," Steve shook his head, "No, I'd be a mess if he was dead again. He's sleeping, frozen, until we can fix him."
Natasha studied him, the way his eyes dropped to his lap, ringed with red almost immediately. The way he gripped the wrist of his left arm, kneading the skin absently. The way Steve curled in on himself, fear weaving it's way through his veins, terrified of losing him.
"He's gonna be okay, Steve," Natasha said, "you got him now."
Steve huffed, but it was almost a laugh, "Sure, if you say so. I just hate he's so far away. I can't be with him, be near him. He's alone again and even though he's sleeping, he's still alone in a place he doesn't know. That's all he's had since the 40's, Nat. Being alone and separated from those who care about him and it's not right."
"Where is he?" Natasha asked.
"Wakanda," Steve whispered, "T'Challa has him. He went under willingly, but he's still alone. They're trying to figure out a way to get the HYDRA stuff out, then they'll wake him up."
"They're incredibly advanced, if anyone can find a way to fix him, its T'Challa and his people," Natasha said, "so what are you worried about?"
"That it won't work. That the HYDRA programming is buried too deep and there isn't a way to reverse it," Steve said, gripping his left wrist a little tighter, "all he wants is to come home, to have a home to come to and I'm afraid he'll never have it."
Natasha sat back, crossing her legs as she surveyed Steve's reaction. Barnes had always been a sore topic for Steve, he'd always had a soft spot for the only piece of his past he had left, but this was different. The way he talked about Barnes now had more pain behind it, more longing, something had changed in a major way. There were tears at the corners of his eyes when he spoke about him this time; there was a deeper sentiment behind his wanting to give Barnes a home, not just to rid him of the HYDRA nightmares, but keep him safe from those who were going to hunt him.
For once, Natasha was at a loss for words. She tried, but she stumbled. "T-there's something you're not telling me. This seems a lot bigger than you're letting on."
Steve laughed, "Of course. We all gotta have our secrets, right?"
"Steve, you left the team for Barnes…"
"His name is Bucky," Steve interrupted.
"Bucky, I'm sorry," Natasha nodded respectfully, "but the point still stands. You left the team for him; you dropped the shield for him. I know Bucky is important to you, Steve, but, it's different than we think, isn't it?"
Steve scrubbed a hand over his face, "There's a lot about it that's different than you think it is."
"Will you tell me?" Natasha asked.
"Will you keep it to yourself? I want to be able to trust you, Nat, but you can't tell anyone. Not Clint, not Tony, not Bruce if you see him. Not a single word." Steve implored, his eyes fixed on hers with a seriousness that nearly frightened her.
"Whatever you need, Steve," Natasha said, "I'll take it to my grave."
Natasha had never made a promise like that. Not to S.H.I.E.L.D, not to the KGB, not in the Red Room did Natasha ever promise to take something into the dirt with her. Extending this courtesy, this show of faith to Steve was something no one ever received from her.
"He… Buck… he's everything to me," Steve said and pinched the bridge of his nose, "He's… I don't know how it. He's just all I need."
Natasha smiled slightly, lowering her eyes to Steve's hands, clasped together tightly in his lap. "You love him, don't you? I mean more than because he's your best friend. You love him… romantically, am I right?"
Steve glanced up at her through his impossibly long eyelashes, "How'd you guess?"
"Your body language," Natasha said, "you haven't let go of your left wrist since I got here. The way your eyes look when you talk about him. The only person I've ever seen you get emotional for is Peggy, and I know how much you loved her, everyone does. I can only imagine it's the same with Bar—I mean, Bucky."
"You're good, Romanoff," Steve chuckled, "so we're keeping this quiet, right? Not a word?"
"Not a word, Rogers," Natasha said, "but so you know, it's not 1940 anymore. Things like that are perfectly normal."
Steve rolled his eyes, "I know that. I've seen the internet…"
Natasha outright laughed, "Oh Steve. You're such an old man at heart."
"Cut it out, you know what I'm trying to say," Steve said, "it's not something I'm used to and I'm not exactly looking to spread it around the world."
"That's fair," Natasha nodded and relaxed into the couch, "how long? With Barnes?"
Steve settled into his recliner, his fingers still lingering on his left arm, "As long as I can remember. If I ever really felt love for someone… it was Bucky, or Peggy. There wasn't ever anyone else I felt it in my heart for. When Peggy passed…and I thought I was gonna lose Buck again. Nat, that's what it feels like to have your heart ripped out and thrown against the wall. I'm never gonna find a love like those again, not this far along. Bucky is all I got left and I can't let him go."
"I understand what it's like to have something you love disappear in front of your eyes," Natasha said, her eyes going far way. She blinked and seemed to refocus. "So my question to you is, what are you doing sitting in New York when the love of your life is on ice in Wakanda?"
"I'd just be in the way. There's nothing I can do there to help the process, Nat. There's hardly anything I can do here to help, but at least here, I'm sitting on my own hands. I'm jittery and I'm out of everyone's way. That, and I'm the only one that knows here."
"Are you afraid people will look at you differently if they find out about Bucky?" Natasha asked.
"Sure, wouldn't you be if you were in my shoes?" Steve asked.
"Point, but love is love, despite gender," Natasha said, "be proud of the man you love, Steve."
"I am proud of him," Steve said defensively, "I'm prouder of Bucky than I've been of anything in my life. He's been through so much and he's here, he's on the other side. He might not be totally whole, or totally right but he's alive and he wants to be here with me."
"That's not what I mean," Natasha waved a hand, "but honestly I'm the last person you should be taking romantic advice from. So instead of telling you something I'm not an expert in, I'll tell you a few things I am something of an expert about. Matters of the mind are things I know a good deal about. I've been broken and remade more times than I can count. There's always a way out."
"How? If there's anything you can do to help, Nat please tell me. I need to help him this time. I need to bring him home," Steve plead.
"I understand, Steve, trust me," Natasha said, "I'll do whatever I can to help you. I promise."