Tesla looked over her shoulder for a split second before taking his hand. In her other, she grabbed the arm and focused on the escape. Behind them, the world glowed orange and yellow and the force of the explosion pushed them forward for just a moment… and then they were falling, down, down…

"I've instructed the tessaract to restore her memories. Now you are truly free," she informed him as they fell.

"What?! I told you, that's not your decision!" He shouted.

She smiled a tight-lipped half smile. "And it was never for you to decide either, my dear James."

They were both quiet the rest of the time that they fell. After awhile, he noticed that they were going to hit water and he braced himself for the impact. He felt Tesla struggling to free her hand from his and he attempted to hold on tighter.

"This was never my destination," she explained as she pulled her hand from his grasp. "Only yours."

"It doesn't have to be this way," he insisted, almost pleadingly. "You could come with me."

The expression on her face told him that she couldn't, and he bowed his head in defeat as they plunged into the river.

"You'll be okay," she said as she swam upward while he was still trying to catch his breath. "And so will I. Oh, and you'll probably want to stop by S.H.I.E.L.D. I have another surprise waiting for you."

He was about to ask her what she meant by that, but when he turned around, she had gone, leaving him to sputter the water out of his lungs alone.

XXXX

He sat on the bed in her temp quarters at S.H.I.E.L.D., idly inspecting the new arm that Nick Fury had just attached for him.

She winked at him, her long red hair shining in the early morning sunlight that was peeking through the lone window as she pulled on her regulation jumpsuit.

*"Natasha…" He called, and she turned around to face him. He rushed the two long steps forward to close the distance between them, his hands sliding up to her face as he kissed her.

She laughed when he reluctantly pulled away, placing a finger over his lips. "Hey now, loverboy—We don't have all day," she warned.

"I know," he said quietly, running his flesh and blood fingers through her hair. "I just needed a moment."*

She nodded, letting her hands linger on his chest for a moment as she lazily dragged them down from his face. "Fury wants to see us ASAP. Says it's urgent," she said. "There'll be more time for this later, I promise," she added with a wicked grin. She slipped her fingers through his and led him down the hall to the meeting room.

"Natasha," Fury said with a genuine smile as they entered. "Barnes, glad ya made it back alright."

He nodded once in acknowledgement.

"Seems we still have a lot to discuss about the conclusion of yer mission," Fury said.

Bucky shrugged. "I'll tell you whatever you want to know."

"Right. Anyway, there's someone here wants ta see you two. Agent Sitwell, if you please," he called over his shoulder.

Bucky's head snapped up to attention as the smaller agent swiftly stepped into the room, dressed in full, neatly pressed regulation S.H.I.E.L.D. attire.

"Jasper!" Natasha shouted, throwing herself into his arms and embracing him fiercely.

Sitwell's face flushed slightly as he eagerly returned her embrace, and if it was a little too eager, James barely noticed through his shock. "How-how is this possible?" He uttered.

"Barnes," Jasper moved closer to him, holding out his hand and Bucky engulfed it in a firm handshake.

"Is this real?" Natasha wondered, tracing a hand down the other agent's arm and gazing at him thoughtfully.

"Sure is," he said with a smile.

"The Electric Ghost," James muttered, his mouth still hanging half-open. "She did this."

"Who?" Sitwell asked.

"It doesn't matter," Natasha said, shaking her head. "All that matters is you're alive, and I didn't kill you."

"Yeah, about that…." Sitwell said.

Natasha bit her lip. "I'll buy you lunch?"

He pretended to think it over for a moment before answering, "Fine."

For a moment, the reality of everything she'd done flashed over her face and James moved to reach for her, thinking that was a look he knew all too well, but then Jasper was squeezing her hand and she quickly composed herself.

James lowered his eyes to the floor, barely hearing Fury's brief dissertation on next steps.

XXXX

Natasha lounged lazily on the couch in her quarters, flipping through some channels on the television without really paying attention to what was on. James could feel her eyes on him as he cleaned his weapons at the table.

"Getting ready for work so soon?" She asked with a raised eyebrow.

He shook his head. "Nah. I'm actually taking some time off."

She nodded. "I figured as much."

"You?"

She shrugged. "I've locked myself into this whole Secret Avengers thing with Clint and Coulson." She thought for a moment. "You know, Commander Hill has hinted more than once that she'd want you on the team…"

"Yeah… the whole mind wipe thing? Doesn't really work so well for me," he said, watching her carefully. "Besides, I'm still a dead man, remember?"

"See, that's the thing. Everyone goes through adjustments after every assignment, so technically your cover wouldn't be blown," she pointed out. "Besides, it could be fun. Us working together again."

He smiled a half-hearted smile.

"So you'll think about it?" She patted the space next to her on the couch. "Why don't you take a break and come sit?"

He crossed the short distance from the table and obediently sat down. "What are we watching?" He asked, deliberately keeping a cautious distance.

"I haven't the slightest idea," she murmured, studying him. She scooted closer to him, taking note as his body tensed. "Why are you acting so weird?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Ever since you got back from the satellite. You're not yourself," she said.

He frowned. "Do you remember anything from before I left?"

"The whole brainwashing thing with Leo? Of course I remember. That's what this is about? You're angry that I forgot you?" She placed her hands on her hips.

"Of course not. That wasn't your fault. None of it was." He regarded her thoughtfully. "Nobody knows that better than me."

"James… " she placed her hand on top of his. "You walked away from me?"

"I-I couldn't hurt you anymore."

She nodded. "I know that. I know how you think. So what now?"

"Nat… I don't… I don't have the strength to walk away from you."

"So don't," she whispered, pulling his head down to rest on her lap.

"I'm sorry," he whispered back, closing his eyes as her fingers parted his hair. "I'm so, so sorry.."

"Ssh," she soothed. "It's alright. It's just how it is, with us, right?"

He nodded.

"So no more acting weird," she demanded.

He turned his head to look up at her. "Where do we go from here?"

"I don't know. The same place we were always going, I suppose."

"I mean, what do you want?"

She leaned down over him. "The same thing I've always wanted. You. And if you're not yet comfortable taking control, then I guess I'll have to," she murmured, placing her lips against his as she adjusted herself flat against his chest.

He moved his hands up to her face, pulling her in closer as he kissed her thoroughly.

"See that? It's easy to get back," she said, smoothing his hair back with both hands.

"Easier than I thought," he agreed.

"Right. So if you don't relax, I'm going to have to use extreme techniques to make you," she said suggestively, lowering her mouth to his neck.

"Mmm, can't you do that anyway?" He asked, leaning his head back with a mischievous grin.

She grinned back as she sank down into the couch cushions with him.