A Brief History of Romantic StuckyNat Part 2: 1945-The Winter Soldier

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This is the continuation of my 5 part headcanon series about StuckyNat (Steve, Natasha and Bucky). Part 1 is HERE. This series tells the story of what would be going on in the minds of Steve, Natasha and Bucky if all 3 were in love with each other. It follows the timeline of the 2 Avengers movies and the 3 Captain America movies. It is canon-compliant.

1945- The Original Avengers Assemble

Bucky Barnes was shocked when he woke up at the bottom of the ravine to find himself not dead. His body was a mess. He could barely think through the pain. He lay in the snow falling in and out of consciousness, wondering if he was hallucinating being alive. He didn’t have any clear thoughts, memories or feelings for decades to come after that. His body and mind weren’t his own.
Steve Rogers stayed in the back of Bucky’s mind through the whole 70 year long ordeal, a small kernel of hope and love that helped keep Bucky’s own identity alive and compartmentalized, no matter what they did to him or made him do. Even when they told him Steve was dead, something in him kept burning against all odds, buried so deep it was almost lost, waiting for the right time, the right trigger to break free. Until he saw the man on the bridge.
There were a few times that Bucky briefly came to the surface in the decades before Steve broke the Winter Soldier’s programming for good, like when he was forced to kill Howard. When he met and trained Natasha Romanoff in the Red Room, she brought him back to himself for a while. But his handlers were quick to squash his awareness as soon as they noticed it, and wipe every bit of memory that surfaced or was newly created. The longer he was the Winter Soldier, the more his handlers preferred him to be an automaton. Holding his leash too tight ended up allowing cracks to show through. Steve and Natasha slipped through those cracks and broke them wide open.

Natasha was raised in the Russian Red Room, taught that any connection to other people was a liability. Despite that, she and Bucky briefly connected and had an off and on secret affair while he was training her, but they were both made to pay dearly for that connection when they were discovered. Loving Bucky is the best and worst thing that ever happened to Natasha.
Then Clint Barton saw something more in her, got her out of Russia, and brought her into SHIELD. Natasha wanted to get Bucky out at the same time, but he was in cryo when he wasn’t out on missions in those days, and wiped before and after every mission. The timing just didn’t work out, and Nat wasn’t sure she could have gotten through to him quickly enough to get him to cooperate, anyway. She intended to keep trying to find a way to get Bucky out, and help him discover who he really was.
Most of the people in Natasha’s new life saw her only as the monster the Red Room created, and, even more, still wanted her to be that monster, even as they loathed what it meant for her as a person. They wanted to use her skills, then shut her away in her box the way Bucky was shut away in cryo.
Then she met Steve Rogers.
Steve was the first person, besides Clint, who hadn’t prejudged Natasha before he’d even met her. He clearly hadn’t prejudged Bruce Banner either, and went out of his way to let Bruce know that. Steve was not at all what she was expecting him to be.
As Steve and Natasha looked each other over for the the first time, it was clear that they were attracted to each other. He’d always had a thing for girls who had a bit of a masculine side, and here was this gorgeous woman, with her military bearing, wearing a thigh holster over her tight jeans and Peggy’s favorite red.
Natasha had seen photos of Steve before, of course, but nothing could prepare her for the sight of him in person, from his broad shoulders to his blue, blue eyes. But what she noticed most was his energy. Intelligence, kindness, and charisma all rolled off the man. There was a deep, longing sadness within him that called out to the same feeling within her. She suddenly understood how he had become such a trusted leader at such a young age, and with so little formal training.
As the newly formed Avengers all struggled to work together on the helicarrier, Steve admired Natasha’s rationality and calmness when discussions started to get out of control. She admired his strength when it came to standing up to Tony, even if she didn’t always agree with Steve himself 100%. When it came time to call out positions for the final battle, Steve paired himself with Natasha on the ground. As they fought together, they realized they shared a similar sense of strategy and teamwork.
Steve and Nat worked so well together, in fact, that they both requested to be partnered up on more missions when Steve agreed to work for SHIELD. (Natasha was a definite influence on Steve’s decision.) Natasha loved Clint, but the guy was a sniper and a family man. A girl needed to have a partner who was a little more available, and whose fighting style more closely matched her own. She figured she’d explore that chemistry with Steve. Professionally, of course.
Steve felt the same way. She was virtually the only person since the ice that he’d felt like he truly connected with.  In return, he felt like Natasha saw past Captain America to Steve himself. He wasn’t dumb enough to let the potential for friendship or a great working partnership go. But that was all he was in a position to want. He was in mourning for Bucky, the love of his life. A love that Steve didn’t appreciate while he was alive, and then let fall to his death. That penance would be taking a long time. He wasn’t sure he should even be trusted with another person’s love after he’d screwed up so badly the first time.
By the time they’d worked as partners together at SHIELD for 2 years, Steve was gradually getting closer to Natasha. He felt like something more could develop between them if he was ever ready to fall in love again, but, guess what! They discovered Bucky was alive. Steve’s world was turned upside down again. In the midst of the chaos, what he knew for sure was that he needed to get Bucky back, and he needed to be romantically available when he did.
 But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

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The Winter Soldier

As The Winter Soldier began, Natasha Romanoff and Steve Rogers had a smooth partnership, but it remained mostly a work friendship. They playfully bantered to break the tension. She tried to set him up on dates, but, like Bucky in the pre-war days, she didn’t try too hard. Part of her wanted Steve for herself. The rest of her was sure he wouldn’t want the real her. Natasha was mindful of her Red Room training, so she only let Steve so close. The severity of both Bucky and Nat’s punishment for their affair still affected her ability to get close to people. She still missed Bucky. She’d never stopped watching and searching for him, hoping to find a way to get him out, too. She was devastated when she lost him after he shot her near Odessa, but at least she knew he was back in circulation again. She had other brief, casual affairs here and there, but the Winter Soldier, Clint and Nick Fury were the only people she had ever truly trusted.
Steve had tried a few dates to be polite, but he was still too depressed to really give anyone a chance. While he put up a good front in public, when he got home at night he still longed for Bucky and the 1940s. The loss of a lifelong love, along with everyone and everything he’d ever known, was a hard thing to move past. Especially for someone who was as loyal, and loved as deeply, as Steve. Maybe eventually there would be room in his heart next to Bucky, like he’d felt with Peggy, but Bucky would never be gone.
After Odessa, Natasha intensified her watch for the Winter Soldier. She finally dared to hope when he shot Nick Fury, though she knew that complicated things immensely, and she and Winter might both have to run. She hated that the Winter Soldier had killed Nick, but she knew it wasn’t his choice. If anyone understood how little choice he had, it was the Black Widow.
Nothing was the same in Steve’s life from the moment he found Nick Fury in his apartment. While Steve and Natasha were on the run together after Nick’s death, they started breaking through the barriers they’d kept between them for years, developing the kind of trust they both associated with true friendship and love. They’d both started to admit the attraction they felt for each other more openly. Then the Winter Soldier was revealed to be Bucky Barnes. And Nick turned out to be alive, having lied to both of them in the worst way. Again. After he’d let so many SHIELD and Hydra secrets fester. Both Steve and Natasha were devastated, reeling with all of the emotional implications. They didn’t even have time alone together for a conversation before they needed to suit up for battle. Steve did his duty to stop Hydra (again), then gave everything he had to break Bucky out of the Winter Soldier programming. He owed Bucky no less.
During the fight on and around the bridge, Natasha surreptitiously tried to stimulate cognitive recalibration in the Winter Soldier. She aimed at his goggles, hoping that would jar his brain, then she tried to knock him down so he’d hit his head, or get him to pass out, but nothing worked. Even her Widow’s Bite didn’t seem to jog his memory into recognizing her at all. When Winter shot her again, and then Steve recognized the Winter Soldier as the love of his life, the bottom dropped out of her world. Bucky, who’d treated her like a stranger, turned around and talked to Steve. Responded to him, not her. And later, on the helicarriers, Steve was the one who was finally able to do what she’d hoped to do for years. He broke through Bucky’s programming for good, and set him free.
Not that she’d known Bucky Barnes was his true identity until that day on the bridge. She couldn’t even wake him up enough during all of their time together for him to remember that, yet it only took Steve a few minutes. Clearly Steve was the one who was meant to be with Bucky.

{Author’s Note: Natasha is an unreliable narrator here. Steve had the name to give Bucky. Nat didn’t while they were together in Russia. Bucky did recognize her as being familiar and important during the fight around the bridge, especially when she hit him with her Widow’s Bite. He just didn’t stop in the middle of the fight to reveal it like he did with Steve, except for a momentary hesitation. In addition, Bucky’s brain had adjusted to being wiped at the time of WS to the point that it was bouncing back more quickly, sort of like how the immune system adapts and learns how to overcome things it encounters repeatedly. So he was regaining memories more easily at that point than he had been in Russia, when there was nothing familiar around to stimulate his memories and he was being subjected to Karpov’s system for controlling the Winter Soldier, which was more effective than Pierce’s.}

Bucky had nearly killed Steve on the last helicarrier before Steve finally got through to him. The memories had been flickering in and out all week, starting with when he had caught the shield that first time on the rooftop after shooting Nick Fury. They’d wiped him over and over that week, but his brain had become very effective at healing from wipes, with Pierce doing them so frequently. He was able to retain enough memory and agency between wipes to keep himself from aiming kill shots at Natasha and Steve, while aiming close enough to keep his handlers satisfied that he’d tried. It had taken him longer to remember Natasha, but he had. He’d known she was important to him in time to keep the bullet away from her heart when he shot her for the second time in their lives.
Now, Bucky had a head full of jumbled, half-remembered information, much of which he wished he hadn’t remembered at all. Natasha was the only good thing about the whole 70 years he’d been captive. He didn’t understand how Steve was alive. Was Steve put through something as horrible as Bucky? He couldn’t go there in his thoughts yet. At any rate, he was still too unstable, and didn’t understand his own memories well enough, to go to either Steve or Nat. Bucky also wouldn’t assume that either would still want someone like him. God, why would they?
Bucky left Steve on the river bank and went into hiding. He assigned himself the new mission of taking out Hydra. Then he set about sorting through the memories that continued to surface, trying to piece Bucky Barnes back together into some semblance of a whole person.
Part One   Part Three   Part Four   Part Five
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