She hasn't been home in months. She didn't even know where home was exactly. It took months of traveling around the world before she could silence the sneaking voices in her head and find her own. It was hard to keep sane with this line of work. It was hard to remember that she was still human. It was even harder to remember how to feel.
She steps through the glass double doors, unsure of how she was going to be greeted. She hadn't kept in contact with any of them. Not Fury, not Clint (except for the short message announcing that she would be back that night), not even Steve. She knew she didn't owe any of them an excuse, but she did owe them something. And that something was at least her life. Not something she could easily entrust to someone.
The hallway is cold. Empty. It's late and everyone is either out or asleep. She walks towards the elevators, noticing that the place seems so familiar yet so alien to her now. Pressing the button to call the elevator, it opens almost immediately. That wasn't surprising, everything here was top notch. What was surprising was the fact that it wasn't empty.
She contains her surprise and steps into the cold glass box, avoiding making eye contact, and revelling in the silence. Until he breaks it.
"You're back," is all he says. Body stoic. Eyes searching hers.
"Yeah," is all she says. Unsure if he's pissed off or relieved or both.
"Would it have killed you to drop a message at any time?" he asks, deadpan. He knew she wouldn't. He knew she needed her space. She simply shrugs one shoulder and stares up at the numbers, feeling the ground lift her up, floor by floor. Underneath his nonchalance, she knew he was a little bit hurt by the lack of contact. He sort of reminded her of a sad puppy and she almost laughs out loud.
The thing is, she was starting to let people in. It wasn't something she expected to happen. She thought that this job would be strictly professional, no outside, personal relationships whatsoever. But she was wrong. She couldn't help but admire every single person on this bizarre team, made up of super soldiers and gods and assassins. And she couldn't help but realise that she could actually relate to some of them. All her life she thought she was alone in the world, that no one could ever understand her, that opening up would only lead to the judgment of her character. But here were these people who appreciated her for exactly who she was. Even though she didn't like to show it often.
She can feel his gaze trained on her. Trying to think of some bloody excuses, trying to stall time, she looks everywhere except at him. One look into those blue eyes would be her undoing. He sighs audibly, laying a large palm on her slim shoulder to get her attention.
"Look, Nat. You probably won't believe me but I was worried about you, okay? We all were." His eyes are still searching hers. As if he knows that if he looks long enough, she will give in.
"You know there's no use in worrying about me. I can take care of myself." She wants to shrug off his hand, but instead she leans into it. The touch is comforting. His touch reminds her of safety, which is a ridiculous thought for her to have. Almost nowhere is safe for people like them. But she can't help but wish. She wishes he would let go. He was giving her a false sense of safety and it wasn't good for her. Instead he slides his hand down her arm and grips tightly at her elbow.
"I know better than anyone that you can handle it yourself, Natasha, but I can't help it that I worry about my friends. They're few and far between. And I don't think I can bear to lose any of you. Especially after what happened."
The super soldier was making everything so difficult for her. It would have been so easy to just say "I don't care," and leave him there. It should have been easy. But he made her care. She now knew all about Bucky and all the tragedy he's been through. And now she can't deny that she, the Black Widow, cares about Steve Rogers. Captain America. Mister Perfect. Superhero Extraordinaire.
He makes her want to forget about all the labels cast upon them. Whenever she thinks of him all she wants is to be normal. That maybe in a normal world, they could lead normal lives, and they could fall into each other normally. Naturally. But even those thoughts are absurd. It's hard to imagine a super spy and a soldier brought back from the past in a normal relationship. But oh, how he makes her wish for normality.
He looks down at her, begging her to just listen. To look back at him. "Nat…I know we've all got stuff to figure out. But I wish you'd let me in sometimes."
"Look, Rogers. I've already let you in. More than enough. I'm no good at getting attached." She finally looks him straight in the eye. Pleading with him to change her mind.
"This job's already hard enough without you acting this way. Haven't we already proven time and time again that we just work well together? And I don't even mean that just literally. We fit, somehow, Nat. I swear we do."
"So what do you propose, then?"
"I propose that you treat me like a friend, for starters. Tell me anything and everything. Let's hang out like normal people on our off days. Let me take you out." It's a surprise that he isn't a bumbling mess when he says these words. Natasha is taken aback at his forwardness, but she also appreciates it. It was no use beating around the bush these days.
"But what about that nurse next door?" She asks him, jokingly. She finally cracks a smile. Her first genuine one in ages.
"Heard she's training for the CIA. But that's besides the point. I think it was pretty obvious that I wasn't really trying all that hard to ask her out." The impossibly long elevator ride finally comes to a stop. She steps out of the metal doors with him following right behind her.
"This isn't your floor, Rogers." She teases.
"Our conversation isn't over, Romanoff. So, what do you say?" He looked like his reserve of confidence was finally starting to dwindle. His nerves over the situation were beginning to show between his cracks.
"I say…okay. Okay. You got me." Smiling at his slightly surprised but pleased expression, she plants an unexpectedly soft kiss on his cheek and turns to open the lock of her door. She's about to leave him standing there when she remembers something.
"What were you doing out there so late, anyway?"
"We've all got our secrets," he smirks, gaining back that good old confidence. "I'll see you tomorrow, Nat. Sweet dreams."
Again, he made her hope. He made her hope of dreamless nights, if not sweet ones. After spending so much time with the man, she found him chasing away the demons in her nightmares. The ones she tried to bottle up and forget. He reminded her that her past was not all she was made of. That she was so much more. And for some reason, he unwittingly made her happy. But even though she couldn't understand it right now, she'd let him stay. She'd let him crawl into the crevices of the parts of her she didn't show. And she hoped. She hoped she wouldn't regret it. But she already knew she wouldn't.
The blond saunters back to the elevators, sending a quick text on his ancient phone to a certain archer, thanking him for the tip.
Okay. You got me.
But she had him for so much longer. She just didn't know it. But she would soon, he promises himself, as he counts the hours 'til the next day.