Thy Plaintive Anthem Fades

James had a habit of going off on his own at times, just as Nat and Bran had. They liked each other’s company, it was, for the most part, where they felt the most comfortable, but sometimes they needed time to think. 

That time was rarely longer than a few hours, but when James hadn’t returned to the flat all night and there was no trace of him at SHIELD, Nat got worried. 

She didn’t speak to Bran about it, instead ran hand along his cheek and brushed a kiss to his lips, before sending him off to work. She spent the rest of the day trying to find James. 

The problem was, that he wouldn’t be found if he didn’t want to be. He could handle himself, but what Nat was truly worried about, was his motivation for vanishing. Especially after even a call to Fury turned up empty.

James hadn’t been sent on a mission, he had made a point of staying hidden and he had made no attempt to contact her. All in all, that spelled trouble. And the first round of it would come the moment Bran walked into the apartment, realising, that James was still missing.

The boy might seem indifferent, most times, but he was much more observant than most people gave him credit for and while Nat was still unsure of where they stood exactly, she knew, that Bran loved James, even if neither of them truly realised it as that. She knew, he would ask and she wasn’t quite sure what her answer would be.


Cold Comfort



A very angry part of him wanted to snap at her, tell her to keep her pity because he didn’t need it. Letting that out would probably open the floodgates for even more emotion, and he had no idea what was going come out when it did. Anyway, it didn’t seem like pity in her tone. Cautious sympathy, maybe. He knew she and James had been close - for what little he’d seen of them in the same room, they seemed like they had some kind of nonverbal communication between them that spoke of a lot more behind closed doors.

Bran wasn’t the sort that got jealous or felt the need to compete - she’d known James long before he had, after all, and they had never really put a definition to whatever it was that was between the former assassin and the Scot. Certainly not propriety. If anything, he’d been curious about the woman that was currently offering an alternative to a dreary motel room. 

He hesitated, chewing the inside of his cheek for a moment and glancing back at the movers who were making short and efficient work of the flat. How often did they do this, he wondered? Probably more than he’d care to know.

“Yeah… alright. ….Thank ye.”

She wasn’t sure about all of this. James had been curiously tight lipped about the boy, beyond what was absolutely necessary information. A straight up, precise account of what had happened way over a year ago in one of the Foundation’s facilities, the simple statement, that Bran needed a place to stay and James was providing it. That had been all.

They never had a huge need for words, though. She could see it in James, the way his lips had twitched into a small smile, whenever he’d turned towards Bran on the few occasions Nat had seen them together. Oh, of course, the idiot had tried to hide it behind that bloody pokerface of his and put up a front of good natured annoyance, but she wasn’t blind and she knew him. He liked Bran. A lot. And whatever the redhead had done in the time the two men had shared the apartment, it had made James better. Calmer. Less tense.

Apropos sharing an apartment. Had Bran just collected his belongings from James’ bedroom? Sure looked like it. And Nat was pretty damn familiar with the layout. She’d made a point of scoping out the place thoroughly. So, it was already at that point. 

Just friends my ass, James.

As for Bran himself? Someone else, who wasn’t making a living (and surviving) on knowing exactly what others thought might have mistaken his subdued attitude for apathy. Nat knew better. The kid was shaken beyond the point of expressing himself. She was pretty familiar with that feeling.

Which was, why she was turning all this over in her head, as she swept a hand towards the door in invitation and turned towards the movers to wave them a short, business like goodbye. 

"Come on, then.", she said and there was the short urge to put her arm around Bran’s thin shoulders, but instead she stuffed her hands into the pockets of her jacket and fell into step beside him. 

Her heels brought them up to the same height and she stole glances at his profile. There was something almost girlish to him. The straight line of his nose, the long, pale lashes and the swoop of full lips. He wasn’t traditionally handsome, but she saw the appeal. There was an odd sense of mystery to the boy, a tragic past etched into the downward tilt of his mouth and the angle of his brows. 

James never could resist the pull of the depth behind a fragile facade.

"Are you hungry?", probably not, she thought the moment the words had left her mouth. She didn’t open the door of the Stingray for him, somehow she thought he wouldn’t take kindly to being babied, so instead, she slid behind the wheel and watched him get in beside her 


Cold Comfort



His brow furrowed slightly when she stepped closer - she wasn’t going to try to hug him, was she? He wasn’t sure he could handle that just now, and she had never struck him as the type. Thankfully, she stopped just short, seeming almost as uncomfortable with the offering of comfort as he was with the receiving of it. He only nodded in acknowledgement to his name, then let out a slow, heavy breath.

It made sense, of course. So many weapons, so many secrets the man had kept - SHIELD couldn’t very well leave that out, unguarded and ripe for the picking of anyone looking for information. James had always been so careful, but it was amazing what technology could pull from even fingerprints and skin flakes on common household items these days. Hell, he was almost surprised they didn’t just collect him along with his belongings, considering how much DNA James had left on him over the past several weeks.

“Let me gather what’s mine and I’ll be out of yuir way,” he replied quietly, his voice a careful monotone.

It didn’t take him long, considering most of his personal effects had been destroyed along with his own flat, and he hadn’t bothered with purchasing much more than a few changes of clothing since then. All under the guise of ‘just a temporary stay till he found a new place’, despite having stopped looking ages ago - not much choice now, was there? He’d find a motel to stay in a few days and then probably just move on Site like most of those his level and above did.

Technically, he didn’t have to wait, but he wanted a few days to himself. To think, or grieve, or whatever the hell it was that normal people did in these situations.

Nat saw the same hollow pain in the young man now, as he moved about to collect a few belongings, that she had felt in herself before. Someone had broken him and she could see through his cracks and it hurt. They’d only met a few times before, more in passing than anything else, but she’d seen how James had looked at him.

"I have a place you can stay.", it wasn’t, like she was using her flat at the moment. "Let them finish up here and … you can find a place from there."

She understood James’ reasoning. What they were about to do was dangerous, even compared to the job they had been doing up to that point. SHIELD was back in the world’s good graces and too public, with the Avengers around. Their fight, however, was not as clean as the would would like it to be.

There were things, that needed to be done, that would look less than good on SHIELD’s resume. Both James and Natasha were good at doing these things. They knew how to get their hands dirty. But they couldn’t do so with Bucky being such a prominent figure. Now he was dead and the Winter Soldier would return, the ghost in the shadows.

She had the luxury, that all her loved ones were in the same business, but Bran, while he certainly wasn’t a stranger to their kind of work, was not a field agent. She wouldn’t have wanted to drag him into it either.


Cold Comfort



He’d been dreading this. When James hadn’t come back, days after the dust had settled from the attack and long-suffering cleanup crews were already clearing the streets, he knew something had gone wrong. Not a word, no phone call, no texts; even when he’d finally worked up the courage to send one - just one - asking if he was okay. The reply came back as a disconnected number, and his heart had sunk into his stomach, and that’s where it had stayed even as he continued through his daily routines.

He kept going to work every day. He kept on top of his research assignments and if anyone noticed he’d seemed quieter than usual, no one said anything. He returned every night to James’ empty apartment, the key feeling a little heavier in his hand as time went on.

The sound of the door opening had, just for a moment, sparked some hope that maybe, maybe the worst had not happened - and then he heard Romanova’s voice and he knew it was all over. 

The Scot gripped the edges of the desk he’d been seated at, knuckles going white as he pushed himself up to his feet and tipped the clamshell closed on his laptop. He stepped out into the hallway, locking eyes with the Black Widow for a few, silent seconds before letting his gaze fall down and slightly past her shoulder.

“….He’s dead, isn’t he?” Bran asked in quiet rhetoric. Times like this, he almost wished he had the capacity to cry. Anything was better than this listless weight in his chest.

She had known, that this wouldn’t be easy. She’d also hoped, that there wouldn’t be some emotional breakdown, but this … this cold acceptance? It didn’t sit right with her. There was something hollow in it. Not because the young scientist didn’t care but … because he cared too much, probably.

When Nat drew a breath, it was with the intention to say ‘No.’. Then she released the breath and kicked the door shut behind her, effectively shutting out the movers. “Dr. Kennedy …”, she ran her tongue over her lips and stepped closer to him. “Bran, right?”, she was horrible at this. Why was she even trying?

Because whatever it was, that had happened between James and the boy, Bran meant something to the former assassin. So Natasha reached out, but stopped before actually touching him. “I’m going to have to take his things.”