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Thread Contributor: Natalia RomanovaUnexpected meeting
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#1
Natasha was walking along the sidewalk, in the part of the Hub that was near to the Tower. She'd decided that she wanted a good slice for lunch, and was working on the information that she'd gotten to head in the direction of what had been one of her favorite pizza places. She'd almost reached her destination when a tall blond man, a very familiar looking tall, blond man, called out "Watch out, miss!" just as a bike jumped up onto the sidewalk to avoid a car.

"Thanks, Cap." she called out almost automatically, as she stepped out of the way, smiling at someone who could only be some version of Steve Rogers.
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#2
Steve was strolling down the street. Mr. Stark had told him there were several good restaurants this way that he absolutely had to try. Suddenly he sees a beautiful woman walking in his direction from across the street. Her hair is a bright curly red and her eyes are dark and mysterious. Steve wishes he had his sketchpad and colored pencils with him.

Suddenly a bike jumps the curb. He shouts and she easily avoids it, moving gracefully like a dancer.

"Thanks Cap" she calls, flashing him a smile. Steve stops and does a double take. She's definitely nobody he's ever met.

"I'm sorry, do you know me?" He asks. He wonders if she's someone who knows his future self or if she's someone who is from one of the other universes. His life is very strange.
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#3
"No, I don't think I do." Natasha said, studying the man. He looked remarkably like her Steve, but there were enough differences that she was fairly certain he was another universe's version of the man she'd known. That made it easier to talk to him, she didn't know what she'd do if she ran into a past or future version of 'her' Steve. "I've met a different version of you, though." she held out a hand "Natasha Romanoff, most recently an Avenger." it seemed like the easiest name and identity to use, at this time and with this person "Its nice to meet you. I was about to grab a slice of pizza for lunch, would you like to join me?"
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#4
She studies him and Steve stands there awkwardly. He feels like he's being looked over by a particularly severe teacher. She must like what she however because the next moment she is smiling and introducing herself.

"Nice to meet you." Steve says shaking her hand, "I think I might have met your Steve."

Steve wonders if there is a Natasha Romanoff in his universe. He hopes so.

"Lunch sounds excellent. Lead the way." Steve says.
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#5
He was so sweet, so polished, so earnest, that she couldn't help but smile. Even when he brought up possibilities that were less than pleasant to contemplate. "I don't think so." she replied, shaking her head "Its a very similar universe, but it isn't the one I came from. There are a few differences, minor things, mostly." because, in the grand scheme of things, did it really matter that much who she'd been screwing? No, no it did not. It didn't matter because she said it didn't, and because it mattered less if she thought of it as sex than as what it had been. So Natasha Romanoff had been screwing Steve Rogers, even if Natalia knew that was a lie.

They walked down the sidewalk and there, more or less where she'd expected it to be, was Gino's. Steve opened the door for her, as she'd expected, and she stepped inside, leading the way to the counter, where she ordered for herself and Steve, assuming that his pizza preferences were probably universal constants.
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#6
"but you knew me and you're an avenger too," Steve says, "I just joined the Avengers before coming here. I didn't get to fight with them long, but they seem like a really swell group."

Natasha orders him a pineapple and onion pizza. Something which Steve had never tried before, but decides to trust Natasha on. Hopefully the other Steve has good taste. He bites into it and flavor fills his mouth. He makes a surprised noise at how good it tastes.

"This is wonderful," he says downing his slice in three bites.

"So, how long have you been in the hub?" Steve asks as he watches her eat her slice more daintily than he had.
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#7
Natasha couldn't help but smile a little at the use of the word 'swell', Steve-the Steve she knew, rather-had worked hard to learn about the modern world, and about modern slang, but every so often something would slip out "The Avengers are something special." Natasha replied "I've enjoyed working with them. I wonder if I don't exist in your universe, or if I just haven't joined the Avenger's yet." Which was an odd thought, considering that in her world she was one of the people who had been here for Steve from the start.

"Would you like another one?" she asked, watching how he demolished the first piece in three bites. "Its good to see that some things stay the same from universe to universe." she added with a little smile.

"Just a few days." she said "Doctor Strange was supposed to be getting me back home after a mission, and I ended up here."
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#8
The idea that Natasha might not exist on his universe was a depressing thought. He has only just met her, but she is captivating.

"I certainly hope you exist in my world. I'd be rather disappointed if you didn't," Steve says sincerely, "we will have to ask Mr. Stark later."

She offers to get him another slice and Steve looks at her sheepishly. He shouldn't be making a pretty dame pay for his meal.

"Nonsense. I'll get it. Can I get you a drink or something?" Steve asks standing up.

"Doctor Strange? Another avenger?" Steve asks.
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#9
"Of course you have a Tony Stark in your universe." Natasha said with a little huff of annoyance. "Is he the one who has Avenger's Tower? If he is, then we've met already. But yes, he might know if I have a counterpart in your universe." she'd try to be fair to this other version of Tony as well. Going off on the one she'd met hadn't been precisely fair, even if he should have just taken 'I don't want to talk to you' for an answer.

And there was Steve, with the old fashioned chivalry and reluctance to let a woman pay for anything. "Just a water is fine." she said, wanting him to not spend money on her, on the off chance that doing so might start to turn this into a date. Because she wasn't sure how she felt about the idea of dating a alternate version of her ex-boyfriend. Especially where there might be a version of Tony Stark around who wanted to get into this version of Steve's pants. That wasn't a dance she wanted to do again.

"Doctor Stephen Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme." Natasha elaborated, "An Avenger, and the person who protects Earth from magical attacks. And sometimes invaders from other dimensions. You haven't met him either?"
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#10
Steve smiles at Natasha's huff at the mention of Mr. Stark. He wonders what their first meeting was like.

"No. My Mr. Stark own Avengers mansion. There's two Mr. Stark's here...well possibly more, but I've only met two so far" Steve says.

Steve gets up and orders a water for her and a Coke and another slice of pizza for himself for himself. He has a slight heart attack at the price. The soda alone was over a dollar. How did people ever afford to eat out? He pays it though and goes back to the table. He sets the water in front of her with a smile.

Doctor Strange sounds like an interesting fellow. "No I haven't. I never had the chance to meet too many people before I came here. I only came out of the ice a few months ago." Steve says with a shrug.
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#11
"I suppose there can never be enough Tony Stark's in the multiverse." she said wryly "Yeah, you should introduce me to him. I'd like to find out more about your universe, and about other versions of the Avengers." she didn't mention anything about being curious if Tony wanting to slip Steve the sausage was a universal constant or not, because that was a bit of a personal question, and because she'd decided that it was better to try to avoid drama. Especially since her encounter with one of the Tony Stark's had been very close to breaking the 'don't shit where you eat' rule.

"Thanks." Natasha said, smiling in return as he set the water in front of her "The Steve I know came out of the ice about six years ago." she said "things started moving pretty fast for him once that happens. It sounds like things were a little bit calmer for you. Who is in the Avengers in your universe?" she asked curiously.
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#12
"you'll like Mr. Stark, he's very nice. He's letting me live in the mansion since I don't have anyplace else to go." Steve says. He decides not to mention that Mr. Stark also has a complicated relationship with his future self and refuses to tell him how to prevent his own future death. No need to ruin Natasha's perception of the man with his complaining just because his own relationship with the man is strained and not great.

"Mr. Stark, Thor, Ant-Man, and Wasp were all there when they found me in the ice. Then I came here and met Wanda who told me she is an avenger in my future. That's all I know, but I get the impression that there are a lot of avengers I haven't met yet." Steve says, "but what is your world like? What is your Steve like?"
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#13
"Yeah, I'm sure that he's a great guy." Natasha said "Maybe I'll like him when I meet him. Right now, though, that isn't as interesting to me as just finding out about the universe that both of you came from. You don't need to sell me on meeting him, Cap. I'll do that anyway." she didn't want to be rude, but at the same time, she didn't want to have to sit here and listen to Steve go on and on about how wonderful Tony Stark was.

"Interesting." she said, when he described the makeup of the Avengers "In my universe, the Avengers didn't exist until after you'd come out of the ice. Thor and Iron Man were there from the start, but Ant-man just joined, and I've never heard of Wasp. In my universe, it started out as Thor, Iron Man, me, Hawkeye, Hulk and Captain America. Other people got added later, like Bucky. My world..." she shook her head "you'll have to be more specific, I don't even know how to start describing an entire world. My Steve-" she paused for a moment, and then continued, once she'd taken a moment to organize her thoughts "I think that he's one of the few genuinely good men that I've ever met. He's trustworthy, caring, honest, all of the things that people pretend to be, he really is like that. He has his flaws, of course. He's grouchy before he's had his coffee, and-he's loyal to a lot of people, and sometimes those loyalties conflict with what he knows is right, and that tears him up. Or the people who depend on him need different things, and he has to make a choice, and that choice leaves someone else hurt." she shook her head "Sorry, I know you probably just wanted to know if he was also from Brooklyn, and how long it had been since he'd thawed out."
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#14
Steve gives her a lopsided grin. "Not a good experience with your Mr. Stark?" He asks, "it's alright, Mr. Stark doesn't seem particularly interested in being my friend"

He listens to Natasha talk about her avengers, then she says the last name he would have expected her to say. "...wait, did you say Bucky? That's impossible. They told me when I woke up that he died during the war." Steve's chest still burned with regret and sadness whenever he thought about it. He happily switches topics to something less guilt inducing. Except apparently not...

"I'm sorry if I, in any universe, hurt you." Steve says sadly, then to try to break up the awkward building tension he adds, "but it's good that being born in Brooklyn seems to be a universal constant. I would hate to find out that I was born in New Jersey or something."
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#15
"You dodged a bullet, then." she replied, grinning back "In my biased opinion, of course. Not that I've met him, so I'm probably being unfair to the man." and she was trying very, very hard to be fair.

"Maybe he's dead in your universe. I don't know. In mine, though, he was captured by Hydra, and was part of an experimental project. We got him back, for a little while" she said, her voice quiet and calm as she spoke "but the things that Hydra had done, some of the back doors they'd put in place-if you're Bucky is gone, maybe that is better."

Then, in a effort to break the tension, he said two of the most Steve Rogers things possible, and Natalia couldn't help but smile, as she looked at him "It isn't your fault." she said quietly "Steve and I hurt each other, and you aren't responsible for any of it." following his lead she smiled and said "Captain America could never be from New Jersey."
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#16
"what?" Steve feels his jaw drop. He feels a sudden sickness in his stomach. "They never found Bucky's body. That was the first thing I checked on when I got out of the ice... I wanted to... I wanted to pay my respects. What if he's not dead? Oh God, what if Hydra has him?"

Steve's mind is racing, and he forces himself to breathe. The odds that Bucky survived are slim, the odds that he was captured by Hydra even slimmer...but it had happened in at least one universe and without Bucky's body he can't fully discount it happening in his own universe without investigating it further. "Can you tell me anything else about your Bucky? What did they do to him? How was he rescued?"

Steve gives her an apologetic grim. "I'm sorry. This probably wasn't the relaxing lunch you were hoping for."
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#17
"Its ok, Cap." Natasha said, laying a hand on his arm. She normally wasn't one for casual physical affection, but this was Steve, even if it wasn't her Steve, and the gesture was automatic "I don't mind telling you what happened, but its a long story, so sit back and relax. Keep in mind, I don't know if any of this happened in your universe, I'm just telling you what happened in mine." Natasha knew, of course, that if Bucky Barnes was alive, if there was a chance that he was alive that Steve wouldn't rest until he found his friend. But she still had to say it, because maybe the search would be fruitless.

"Ok, so in my universe, in 1945, Bucky went with the rest of the Howling Commandos to capture Armin Zola-he was a scientist who was working for the Nazis, while secretly being part of Hydra, working on a lot of stuff, including an attempt to replicate the super-soldier serum that made you. Zola escaped and Bucky was presumed dead. He wasn't. He lost an arm, and it was kind of touch and go, based on the records, but Zola kept him alive, and gave him a metal arm. The super soldier serum didn't really work on Bucky either. It made him a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, let his body integrate with the cybernetic arm that Zola built." Natasha paused and took a drink of water, this was getting to the part that was hard for her to talk about, since it started to get into the reasons why she had been able to help James after they'd rescued him, why Bucky and Natalia fallen for each other, and everything that had happened after that. But she could talk about it and leave out the personal stuff, and that would be ok.

"Once they had him, Bucky was experimented on, by Hydra scientists who were looking for ways to make the perfect assassin, the perfect killer. Brainwashing, even though that is a mild word for it. They took away his identity, his personality, his ability to do anything but to kill on command. They called him the Winter Soldier, and for decades he was a ghost, a bogeyman. When they weren't sending him out to kill, Hydra put him into cryogenic storage, until it was time for him to be brought out again. Then, after Steve had been pulled out of the ice-after my version of Steve had been pulled from the ice, Hydra sent the Winter Soldier out to kill Nick Fury. Bucky and he recognized each other. Even after all those years, all of that conditioning, something was left, some core of him was still inside, and he recognized Steve. Bucky broke contact, and went on the run, trying to figure out who he was." she took another drink of her water.

"It took months, but Steve and I tracked him down." months where she and Steve had gotten close, where Natalia had started to fall for him, where Natasha had learned to trust him, where Black Widow had come to respect his skill. They hadn't been lovers then, not quite, but they'd laid the foundation for what came later "We found him, started to help him, and then-they were trying to blame him for a bombing, and then it came out that Winter Soldier" who was and was not Bucky Barnes, in the same way that Black Widow was and was not Natasha, was and was not Natalia "had killed Tony Stark's parents. That was one of the things, the fight over the Accords was the other, that had the Avenger's divided, at each other's throats. Eventually we found out that all of it was engineered by a Hydra agent named Zemo, and that got everyone fighting on the same side." she smiled "The way that it should be, with the Avengers, right?"

"Anyway, Bucky was all set to go into stasis again, but Steve-my Steve- and I talked him out of it. We worked with him, worked with SHIELD and managed to cure him. Thought we'd managed to anyway. It lasted for three years" the best three years of her life, but she didn't need to say that to Steve, because he didn't need to carry the guilt for what had gone wrong in another universe, "and then a Hydra agent showed up, with a code that we hadn't been able to get out of his head, a level of programming we hadn't known about. It was the trigger for an attempt to assassinate the President. We stopped him, brought him back in, but Bucky wasn't-he wasn't Bucky, not all the time. When he was lucid, he'd decided to go back into stasis and" she stopped and took a breath. So far, she'd been mostly successful in keeping her tone calm, detached, but now it was harder. Bucky's death had gutted her, and there was no way to hide that "the unit failed, or" or maybe Tony Stark had sabotaged it. She hadn't wanted to believe that, but she couldn't let go of the possibility, one of the things that had pushed her and Steve apart "or maybe something in his programming triggered something" another possibility, and one that also matched the data "and he died." he'd died, and part of her had died with him, and "So yeah, thats the story."
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#18
Steve listens to her story with open mouthed horror, his heart lodged in his throat. He can't even begin to imagine what it must have took to turn his energetic kind-hearted buddy into the world's greatest assassin. Steve knows she's not technically talking about his Bucky, but he can't help but feel protective of him anyway.

"No, no Bucky would never kill anybody. Even during the war, he hated killing," Steve says, "he was only a lad."

Natasha's story is horrible. For the first time ever Steve finds himself hoping that Bucky is truly dead, and maybe in his world he is...but Steve can't be sure. And he can't stay here and wonder if his best friend really alive somewhere hoping Steve will save him.

"I've been in the ice for 20 years. If he is still alive they've been torturing him for decades already," Steve says miserably, "I've got to go back to my world. There has to be a way to open a portal back home."

Steve stands up and runs his fingers through his hair, deep in thought. He almost forgets Natasha is there as he starts to leave. He stops.

"Thank you for letting me know. and I'm sorry for dragging painful memories back up for you," he gives her a small smile, "after I save Bucky, the next pizza is on me."
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#19
That was a difference between her universe and his, Black Widow noted. In her universe Steve Rogers hadn't gotten thawed out until the 2000s. Not that it mattered, but it did explain why he didn't know her, she wouldn't be born for another couple of decades in his universe. Which, Natalia added, meant it was unlikely that this Steve would ever be that Natasha's lover, even if she did exist eventually. Not that any of that mattered, Black Widow added. What mattered was that Steve Rogers was going into danger to rescue the Winter Soldier.

"I'm sure that there is someone in this place who can open a portal to your world. I think my version of Tony Stark is working on it, and he isn't the only game in town." when Captain America stood up, she stood as well "When we rescue him, you mean. Once you get the portal open, I'm coming with you."
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#20
Steve just blinks at her as she processes what she just said. Did she really offer to come with him, just like that? It was clear that she cared a lot for her Bucky, but his Bucky was a stranger to her and this mission was going to be dangerous. Steve was willing, of course. He'd faced danger on Bucky's behalf before and he'd gladly do it again for the mere chance of seeing Bucky again...but could he really drag someone else into this mission with him?

"Listen, I appreciate the offer, but I can't ask you to do this. It will be dangerous and the only thing we might find out is that Bucky is dead after all," Steve says quietly
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