Steve meets Natasha in the movie room in the common area. It's the ultimate private movie-theater with the best sound, image and special effects they ever saw – what Tony Stark calls the basics. It's all in complete darkness except for the unbelievably giant screen. Usually, when the team is gathered to watch something, they use the comfortable sectionals around it. Today, however, there are only two of them, so the spy is reclining on the large central sofa gesturing for the soldier to come closer.
It's the first time Natasha invites him to watch a movie, so she chooses a cerebral adventure with powerful human drama. JARVIS sends the info to Steve's StarkPad – Sunshine is about a mission to save the dying Sun, basically, the sacrifices that have to be made in order to preserve the future of mankind. Something that Captain America is well aware of.
Sitting beside her, he gets carried away by the incredible images of the Sun, pondering, "Points to Tony, it feels like we are actually on that ship." There's a hint of melancholy in his voice and she doesn't fail to notice the singularity of the situation. She raises an eyebrow inquiringly, but his smile is nothing but reassuring, "Seems to be a good movie."
It doesn't disappoint him. The sci-fi plot is well thought out, but it's only a background to the psychological journey of the characters. Surprisingly, too close to their real lives, as the engineer Mace – the solo voice of reason – attests, "We have a payload to deliver to the heart of our nearest star. We're delivering that payload because that star is dying. And if it dies, we die, everything dies. So that is our mission. There is nothing, literally nothing, more important than completing our mission. End of story."
Completing the mission – that's something the soldier and the spy have always been focused on, to the detriment of their personal lives. One of the things they have in common.
As the movie progresses, they watch captain Kaneda sacrificing himself to save the team, and a question slips from her lips, "Did you think about dying?"
They're looking at the hot Sun, but he understands she's asking about the cold ice, so he simply answers, "Yes."
They are partners, friends and, above all, they trust each other, but some personal issues were never discussed before. But she feels so safe and relaxed with him that she asked without thinking. Natasha hates being impulsive like this and she tenses up right away – in the field, it can cost lives.
Steve, however, can't see anything, anymore… His sight gets blurry, and his mind falls back into the mist of memory…
Back to 1945… to the day he went under… the day he died…
On board of the damaged Valkyrie, the Hydra super bomber, still almost fully armed, but with many unresponsive controls, Steve radioed back to the base and talked to Peggy, explaining the situation, "There's not enough time. This thing is moving too fast and it's heading for New York." There was only one right thing he could do, and he took a deep breath before saying it out loud, "I got to put her in the water."
The only indication of Peggy's fear was her slightly trembling voice, "Please, don't do this. We have time. We can work it out."
A torrent of thoughts flooded his mind as he spoke, "Right now I'm in the middle of nowhere. If I wait any longer, a lot of people are gonna die." Forcing the plane down, he watched the ice approaching quickly. As usual, there was no arguing with the Captain. "Peggy… This is my choice." The sense of inevitability about his death was too overwhelming, and he needed to think about something else. Once again, her photo in his compass was there to guide him. "Peggy?"
Her voice was a murmur, "I'm here."
There was no turning back and he didn't have anyone else to be by his side on this final mission. He trusted her to be strong enough – he prayed. "I'm gonna need a rain check on that dance." There was a bittersweetness on the simplicity of his sentence.
He barely heard her answer, "All right."
They didn't have any personal conversation about feelings of any kind and the heartbreaking reality was that they would never have. Their story would end before it ever started. At that tragic moment, the message was clear – he needed her one last time, to keep his mind focused to get the job done.
As expected, she didn't let him down, "A week, next Saturday, at the Stork Club."
"You got it."
Sounding almost like the Peggy he knew, she continued, "8:00 on the dot. Don't you dare be late. Understood?"
It was hard to concentrate because there was only ice in front of him, "You know, I still don't know how to dance."
Her voice was breaking, "I'll show you how. Just be there."
"We'll have the band play something slow. I'd hate to step on your…"
Those were his very last words. No goodbye, no I'm-sorry-we-won't-have-our-chance…
Steve didn't reach his 27th birthday.
Back in the present, his mind tries to process everything. It has been a long time since he remembered his past, the accident, Peggy, and the date that never happened. He's taken by surprise because it doesn't hurt anymore… not as much as it used to.
Slowly, Steve blinks realizing that the cold, white ice turned into the emerald green of Natasha's warm eyes.
They are filling his mind with his favorite recent memories – their dancing lessons, the ball… the long-awaited dance that he ended up having with the redhead Russian… without even thinking about anything or anyone else. She's right in front of him, and he just can't stop gazing at her…
A flux of energy surges through his body. God, she's beautiful.
When the Avengers first came together, the Black Widow kept her distance, pretending not to care about anything or anyone. But Steve noticed the subtle worry in her voice, talking about Clint, "Loki has him under some kind of spell, along with one of ours." Also, how concerned she became when Tony was on the other side of the Tesseract portal, "Come on, Stark." The soldier knows she cares.
"Steve? Are you okay?" she asks, touching his hand softly, and snapping him out of his reverie.
"Yes," he replies shyly, and she lays her head on his shoulder – although that's something she wouldn't probably do if they weren't alone. But after so many missions together, the two of them are used to physical contact – to take care of each other's wounds or massaging out the knotted muscles – and, they danced.
His voice is calm, "It's easier when the decision involves only our own lives."
Even so, he almost can see the gears in the head of the spy, as if reprimanding herself for being spontaneous. "I didn't mean to pry. You don't need…" she says.
"No, it's okay. To tell the truth, it's good to talk about all this, you know? I like to talk to you," he smiles.
To me? She's not sure about what he means, yet, it's an unexpected confession. Without knowing what to do, she pats his hand gently.
Finding comfort in this small act of tenderness she's giving to him, he explains, "The complicated part is to choose among the lives of others, sacrificing one for the benefit of the group."
Natasha immediately remembers the aftermath of the battle against the Chitauri…
The Thunderer started one of the Captain America's tales, as Thor liked to call them, praising Steve as a leader, who shared the laurels of conquest but took full responsibility for the defeats.
They were fighting side by side, and the Prince was admiring the Captain's technique and almost superhuman strength, when Thor saw Steve warning Tony that was about to cross the portal, "Stark, you know that's a one-way trip." Iron Man successfully directed the bomb through the portal, and after a moment they heard the powerful explosion. The Prince and the soldier looked at each other – both experienced commanders, they knew that it needed to be closed before any radiation could pass through it. Steve didn't hesitate and gave the order, "Close it." But it was the pain in the Captain's face that gave the Asgardian heir the proof of his worth as a leader – a noble heart.
Since then, Thor has followed Steve's commands without question.
Natasha can't agree more – she'll follow Steve anywhere, hoping that he trusts her enough to know she will always have his back.
She's lost in her thoughts when the movie reaches the part where Mace plunges into the tanks with coolant – she reacts instantly, "JARVIS, stop it." It's awfully ironic that anyone would freeze to death so close to the Sun. Mortified, she sits upright and turns to Steve, "I'm sorry, I forgot this part." A whirlwind of things is going through worried green eyes but she doesn't know what to do. She has no excuse and she's off balance.
Remaining totally calm, Steve gently takes her hand and puts it on his own pulse. "Nat, look, I have no problem with that scene, or any other freezing one. I don't like to see anyone dying. But do you get the point? I'm fine."
Her mind still can't understand it, but she feels his steady heartbeat. With a mix of guilt and confusion, she asks, "How? Why?" Right now she simply can't trust her instincts and tries to read him to find out if he's lying to her.
Seeing all her distress signs, he tries his best to explain, "I remember the instant of the crash and nothing else. The doctor said I must have passed out because of the violence of the impact. I have no memory of being frozen whatsoever. He explained that it was part of the suspended-animation state. It's like death." Smiling kindly, he continues, "The next thing I remember were faded voices, probably when I was in the coma, but I was warm already."
Natasha lets out the breath she didn't know she was holding, replying, "Certainly Coulson's."
They both laugh, relieved, and he asks, "Let's continue?"
She nods, "JARVIS, please, start the movie."
"Very well, Agent Romanoff."
Instead of watching the movie, however, which she knows by heart, Natasha can't help but watch Steve, thinking… He's the most genuine person she has ever met. She admires his integrity, and how he truly cares about them as a team. He knows each one of them really well, and she thinks they are lucky for having him in charge. Unsurprisingly, he gave her the answer she needed, the way she would better comprehend it – the same way he always does when they are on a mission – to quickly get her back on track.
"You make everything seem so easy, you know?" she compliments, "The team."
"It's hard to be responsible for everybody's well-being," absolutely humble, he flashes his deep blue eyes, "I'm not the wisest or the smartest."
She had never seen him so open like this before and she's taken by surprise at how young he looks. Technically, Steve and Natasha are both around 29 years old – not counting his frozen time and trusting the information in her S.H.I.E.L.D. file – while Tony, Bruce and Clint are past 40.
"You're someone who gives all for what you believe in," she replies sincerely, "Whether I get hurt or whether I die, you are a man I'm willing to follow." He blinks a bit confused, and she squeezes his hand, reassuring, "I trust you to keep me safe." Then, realizing what she said, she adds quickly, "We all trust you." Without waiting for his answer, she leans back on the sofa.
Definitely surprised, he tries to read her, but she's looking straight ahead. He thinks he knows what she's giving to him, but he can't be sure. Quite blushing, he doesn't know how to respond other than the direct way, "Thank you."
Stunned, Natasha can't face Steve because realization takes hold of her. She was so worried about him that she didn't even care about Mace's death, which she always did, every single time she watched that movie. No, it can't be right. Her crush is Chris Evans, the actor who plays Mace – an unachievable dream, and completely safe. Inside her protective walls, she can't lose control or get compromised. Besides, she can't think about feelings she has no idea how to deal with. She can't think of Steve this way.
They remain quiet, shoulder to shoulder, listening to the melancholy tune being played with the movie's ending credits.