Just a short (~1k) ficlet for euphoricsound - stay safe in the stormpocalypse, bb!

For the cottoncandy-bingo prompt "Won't Fall in Love … oops, in love".

She will never be able to pinpoint exactly when it happened, never be able to say when it was that she stopped looking at him like he was just another idiot who thought he could fix her and started looking at him like an equal, somebody she actually wouldn't mind having her back in fight. She will never be able to figure that out, except that it was gradual and it happened without her noticing.

She first realizes the change when they're in Egypt, when instead of refusing the cup of coffee he offers or "accidentally" spilling it or taking it and "forgetting" to drink it, she tips it back without a second thought, is halfway through it before she realizes that not only didn't she worry about its contents, it was even the way she liked it.

She's careful after that, suspicious of her reactions, wondering at every turn if she's been compromised, if he's going to turn out to be a problem for her.

They're outside Ankara, pinned down in a firefight when she realizes just what a liability he's become. She's supposed to be gathering intel, getting in, getting out, and delivering the package. He's just supposed to be her backup, just supposed to be watching over her while she carries out her part of the job.

But then, the son of a bitch gets his hand caught in the cookie jar (and since when did she start thinking in English idiom anyway?), and instead of delivering the package, she finds herself jumping in front of a bullet meant for him, shielding him with her body (and her body armor because she's Russian, not stupid) and she must be really fucked for him because she'd make the same decision again in a damn heartbeat.

She starts to realize that maybe he feels the same way when they get lost in the Arctic.

It's a stupid mission, one better suited to comic books than reality, and she can't really figure out how they ended up trekking across the damn tundra with one pack, except that she'd gotten caught off guard and he'd had to bust her out of the holding facility and there really wasn't any other choice but to get the hell out of Dodge before the rest of HYDRA showed up.

They pitch his one-man tent on the leeside of a mountain, inside a shallow cave. Once they stop moving, her body temperature drops sharply; she hasn't eaten in days, she's dehydrated, and her parka really isn't good enough for this kind of weather.

They can't light a fire without risking exposure (funny turn of phrase, that), but it turns out that it doesn't matter, because he zips them up inside his tent and his mummy bag, opening up their coats and tucking her smaller body close in to his own. She buries her face against his chest and for the first time all day she feels warm.

And then she hears his heart racing, and she knows. It's like the last piece of the puzzle falling into place, the final brushstroke on a masterpiece, the keystone that holds up the arch. She knows he's just as screwed for her because he doesn't bother to hide his erection, but neither does he try anything, just makes one of his goofy, self-deprecating comments and continues to hold her like she's precious, and god, she's starting to think she could get used to this.

SHIELD picks them up the next morning, and she's almost sorry to go.


After that, she tends to seek him out on missions, at night, when they're alone in whatever city they've been sent to and she's cold and in need of human contact. She sleeps with him, lets him hold her, holds him back, but she doesn't sleep with him because that might ruin the fragile thing between them, whatever it is, and she really needs him in her life.

They go on like that for months, almost a year, touching and sleeping and being close, and it doesn't occur to her that she might be in love with him because she doesn't do that shit and he doesn't do that shit and they're not fucking children, dammit.

They play a married couple in Bogotá, newlyweds, two people in love with being in love, and it comes far easier than it should, far easier than she thought it would. They don't share a bed on this mission, don't sleep together because that would be almost like admitting something that neither one of them is willing to admit.

And then he gets shot, returning the favor she gave him so long ago in Turkey, except he's a stupid American and not wearing body armor and she has to half-drag, half-carry him to the nearest hospital while he bleeds all over her new dress, the new one, yellow, that made him smile when he first saw her in it.

She uses their cover ID in her favor, gains permanent access to his room with a downcast smile and a few tears that didn't have to be faked. She sits with him, motionless, knowing full well that she's completely head over heels for him, knowing that she's compromised, knowing all of that and not giving one single shit because he could die and then she'll be alone and she just can't do that again, she just can't.

He opens his eyes on the third day and she's so relieved she sobs into her palms. He reaches out to her, weakly seeks her hand and pulls it away from her eyes, whispers her name.

She meets his gaze, and he looks pale and weak and terrible and he's the loveliest thing she's ever seen.

And in that moment she knows, figures it all out. They're both breathing and (mostly) alive and they're in love with each other and son of a bitch, isn't that great.

She smiles at him with her lips and teeth and he returns it with his eyes and her heart swells.