A friendly peal of laughter dies slowly in his throat——whether from the shock of Natasha’s sudden violent assault, or from strangulation as her mouth moves angrily against his own, James isn’t sure. Only that he isn’t laughing anymore, and he isn’t quite sure why.
Not that he’s complaining, necessarily. His left hand finds the arch of her back as his human fingertips wind themselves up in her hair out of habit, and he finds that the laugh tastes quite good going back down, mangled and broken by her sharp teeth, stained by smudges of strawberry red lipstick.
"Hello to you, too," he manages a bit breathlessly, once she’s had her way with him.
She was drowning. That was what it felt like; the blood of her past filling her lungs and threatening to consume her from the inside out. Her guilt was a rock on her chest – a boulder – pinning her in place. She couldn’t escape this. She couldn’t escape what she had done, the innocent lives she’d taken or the artform she had made killing into. Natasha didn’t want to forget where she had come from, or the things she had done, because her mistakes were her own and to pin them on someone else would make atonement a hard thing to come by, but she didn’t want to be eaten alive by it, either.
Awake, she could deal with the demons, the voices in her head and the blood on her hands. They would always be stained red, she knew that, she would never be able to wipe them clean; no matter how much white she added, how long she fought for the right side, she would never be anything more than grey. It was always there, but it wasn’t all-consuming. It wasn’t terrifying.
Nightmares came infrequently, for Natasha. Sometimes so long went by that she forgot what it felt like, to be this afraid. It wasn’t that she never feared anything, because she was human – more human than she let on – but just that she used that to keep her going, to give her drive. She couldn’t be weak; there were so few people she’d let see her in that state. Natasha could play on it, she could make targets believe she was a fragile little girl with ease, but to actually be vulnerable around someone…that took trust. A lot of trust. It wasn’t something she possessed in spades.
A part of her subconscious must have known that she was in a safe space, here, because she curled against James’ chest—James. She could see him, amongst the shadows. Among the blood. Maybe he was the blood; she thought she’d killed him, that they’d made her kill him. They’d been found out, and the fact that they were no longer under the control of Department X here didn’t matter. It was irrelevant. There was little logic to dreams, after all. James was dead and she was the culprit, and he morphed into others she’d killed, faces that no longer had names attached to them, all coming for her. All gunning for her.
She was so scared. Natasha didn’t know why, she couldn’t have said what it was that made this so frightening, just that her heart was pounding so hard it might find its way out of her chest. “James.” She wasn’t even awake; Natasha needed him. She needed him to be alive, she needed him to ground her. She felt safest when they were fighting together, when she knew he had her back. Just as she always had his.
It was he who dragged her out of the darkness in her mind. Natasha awoke with a start, heart hammering, her fists raising in readiness for an attack that wasn’t coming. They lowered more slowly; it would have been nice to have something to fight. But she couldn’t fight her internal demons. She was so hot, her hair sticking to her head, and yet cold enough to shiver—no, she wasn’t shivering, but trembling. Shaking like a leaf.
“James,” she repeated, wanting to wrap herself in his voice like a security blanket, wanting to hide in its roughness, in his accent more than the words themselves. They were not the Russian that had been in her dreams, fragments of orders, people pleading and begging her to stop, and the threats that were held over her, were she to disobey. She buried her face against the crook of his neck, struggling to breathe; the boulder of guilt still crushed her chest, her lungs still felt full. “I’m okay.” She didn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe it, not while the cobwebs of the nightmares lingered. But he would understand.
"I know," he murmured, lips still tasting the cold sweat along her damp hairline; when she drew closer, Bucky rested his cheek on her forehead, hands ghosting down her arms before settling firmly at the small of her back.
And he did know.
He knew exactly how much each word weighed in her mouth; knew that each syllable cracked in her ears like a gunshot; knew that forcing them out left a gaping exit wound smoldering in her throat.
eyes burning, his own ghosts shining in the darkest corners of his vision——breathing slowly, smothering their screams—
ribs cracking, counting the fractures made by each frantic heartbeat————
that she was very much not okay.
So, he took a deep breath and forced himself to be.
Natasha flickered wildly in the gray morning light, a pale candle whose charred wick was dangerously close to crumbling dust—so he struck kisses across her skin like matchsticks, told her he loved her, laced his fingers through hers and sighed sweet words against her knuckles to prove to her that her hands were clean.
And every moment was married to that simple phrase:
He said it again, again and again, over and over, as many times as she needed to hear for it to come true. He breathed it from his mouth to her lungs, tattooed it—fingerprint-shaped—into her hips, wrapped it tenderly around her reopened scars in feather-soft Egyptian cotton.
Then, finally, his voice hoarse and brutally soft (because he had forgotten just how helpless and frustrating it was to love her and to see her in pain and to want nothing more than to take it all away and to have nothing to punch in the face on her behalf):
“I’ve got you.”
if you run very fast then your quick walk is just a run.