Natasha wears a strange smile. It's not an unusual smile. It's not cold or humorless, or the kind of smile he hasn't seen on her a thousand times before.
It's just strange. Like her lips don't quite fit her face, somehow warping around her mouth in a way that is odd and yet beautiful all at once.
"I like that uniform on you."
He looks over at her, and there's the smile. Twisting the corner of her mouth up, eyes intense and bright, yet almost slightly unfocused.
There's a gun in her hand, and she fires. There is a sick thud from a few feet behind him, and he turns to look down at the blood pooling beneath the woman's head.
"Did you..." do that on purpose, he's going to say.
Eyes and mouth and cheeks, all working together to make the smile. There's a coffee maker on the bench, she's waiting for it to finish, and the smile is there.
He watches from the door, and he can see it in the reflection on the stainless steel backsplash.
"Coffee?" She holds out the cup, and he walks into the room to take it from her hands.
There's a pause. He sits awkwardly at the table as she makes a second cup for herself, and fills the silence by pulling out his phone and checking the news headlines.
"You're very adaptable," she says, as she sits opposite him.
He nods. "Yes."
The smile again. "Me too."
"Steve," she says.
There it is again.
"Do you like Klimt?"
There's an indignant noise from the other side of the briefing room. "Of course he likes me!"
"Shut up, fuckface," she retorts.
Clint grins and responds with something equally as horrible.
"There's an exhibition of his Golden Phase at the Met, I was wondering if you'd like to join me."
She wipes at a smudge on his cheek, and he meets her gaze. The smile... "Tomorrow, then?"
He nods. "Thank you." And then as an afterthought. "You know, for... thinking of me."
There's blood spattered on the walls, bodies piled high in the makeshift lab. He kneels down, picks up a curved piece of metal.
"He told me once..."
"Don't." She's kneeling by one of the scientists, the body face down, exit wound from a high caliber bullet wide and gaping at the back of his skull. She prods at it with a gloved hand, and he makes a face.
"I've never been a fan of guns," he says. She looks up at him, and there it is.
"Good thing you have me then, right?"
He looks down at the scrap in his hand, and it glows red hot. He drops it, muttering an expletive as he watches it fall to the concrete floor. He's thoughtful for a moment. "And him."
She stands, and removes her gloves, tucking them under her arm. "Hold out your hand."
"It'll heal its–"
"I know." She rubs the salve in anyway.
She pats his hand, and puts the gloves back on.
There's a fight. She's trapped, legs beneath the twisted metal of a flipped car. There's a gun aimed at her head, and the metal arm glints in the watery light of late fall.
"I think we both knew, didn't we Natalia?"
It's a strange smile. Like his lips don't quite fit his face. Steve throws the shield, and it as it hits the arm. The gun goes off.
There's a harsh buzzing, and the Winter Soldier jerks and twitches, falling to the ground as the barbs connect with his neck. Natasha looks up at Steve as he lifts the car, shoving it aside like a toy.
"No problem." When he looks down, there is no blood. She stands easily, and glances at the cluster of operatives a few feet away.
"The two most powerful warriors are patience, and time." Her voice is soft, almost inaudible over the sounds of sirens and radios.
"Sore, but fine."
He nods slowly as he finally realizes.
"Nineteen fifty three."
His punch lands, and the bag swings. He catches it, leaning his forehead against the vinyl.
"Why keep it a secret?"
"You never asked." She's leaning against the wall.
The smile is different today.
"Do you remember before?"
Her eyes are hollow. "There was no before. Only dreams."
He takes his forehead off the bag, and nods. "So Bucky..."
"I don't think he even has dreams." She hands him a towel from the shelves next to her. "Let me take you to dinner."
In his dream, there is blood. So much blood. It drips from the clock hanging from the wall, as if an invisible vein throbs beneath the thin sheet of drywall.
He jerks awake.
There is a hand next to his, and he turns his head. The eyes look back at him, intent and focused. There is no smile.
She strokes her thumb across his wrist.
"You want to talk about it?"
"I wouldn't know what to say."
She kisses him softly, and his breath stutters against her lips.
"Do you ever imagine a life without?" he asks. He's not even sure what he means. The serum... time... James.
She burrows her head into the curve of his shoulder. He can feel her breath hot and humid against his skin.
"What would be the point?"
"I don't know."
He pauses for a moment, and runs his tongue over his bottom lip. "No."
The next morning, the smile is back. She kisses him goodbye, chaste and sweet.
"The smile..." Her eyes have that look again, like she's looking slightly beyond his own.
"What smile?" Her lips touch his one final time. "I know a great place for yum cha."
"Seven-thirty?" he asks, as she turns toward the elevator.
As the doors close, he catches one final glimpse of her.
Her eyes meet his properly, and she smiles.