Maria wanders from the bathroom to her bedroom, wrapping her hair in her towel and piling it on top of her head as she goes. As she begins digging in her dresser for a clean set of clothes, the little blue light on her phone flashes, catching her attention. She sinks down onto the edge of the bed to check the message. It's from a blocked number, and she breathes deeply to keep from getting too hopeful before she opens it.
free to meet up tonight? -N
Maria lets her breath go with a whoosh, grinning despite herself. It’s a good thing the message came while she was in the shower; it saves her the trouble of trying to keep herself from texting back right away.
Sure. When and where?
After several minutes without a response, Maria reluctantly sets the phone down and continues getting dressed. She pulls on a pair of sweatpants and, after a moment’s hesitation, the old t-shirt Natasha borrowed to wear home after spending the night. Maria inhales deeply as she pulls it over her head. It doesn’t smell quite the same as the rest of her clothes, even after a few weeks in the back of her drawer. Wow, Maria, you’ve really got it bad for her, don’t you? Pepper’s words float into her mind, and Maria shakes her head, almost laughing at herself. Somehow, she manages not to dive for her phone the second her text alert goes off.
The text reads ‘great. 7?,’ along with an address in the East Village.
Maria deliberates for a moment before deciding it’s just the right amount of cheesy to text back, ‘it’s a date :)’
This time, Natasha’s response comes right away: see you then ;)
Even though the rest of the day drags on, the walk from the subway to the address Natasha sent her is surprisingly quick. With each step, the flutter in Maria’s stomach intensifies until it turns into a knot. It’s absurd, really, how nervous she is for this evening, but then again she doesn’t really know what to expect. Maria supposes that this date can’t possibly end up worse than their previous one, so she tries to relax, hoping she won’t prove herself wrong.
Maria rounds the corner onto a side street, and just as she’s about to double-check the address to make sure she’s in the right place, she spots Natasha farther up the block. She’s sitting on the steps in front of a brick building, talking to a woman with greying hair. Maria is too far away to hear what they’re saying, but not too far that she can’t see the wink the woman gives Natasha before picking her bag of groceries up off the step and disappearing into the building. Natasha shoos a little black cat off her lap and gets to her feet as Maria approaches.
Maria raises an eyebrow in the direction of the door, but doesn’t say anything other than, “Hey.”
“Hi,” Natasha replies, looking almost bashful. It’s not a look Maria’s used to seeing, and she smirks, wondering what that wink was about that has Natasha all self-conscious.
“So, who was that?” Maria prompts, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“Her?” Natasha jerks a thumb toward the top of the steps. “Oh, that was just my neighbor, Ana.”
“Yes.” Natasha stuffs her hands into the pockets of her jacket and cocks her head to the side, meeting Maria’s eyes with a suddenly serious expression. “Remember how you said you don’t want me to shut you out?”
Maria nods, eyeing her warily.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about it, and I want to let you in. Literally.” Natasha makes a face at her own cheesy wordplay, then continues. “My apartment is upstairs. Do you want to come up?”
Whatever Maria was expecting, it certainly wasn’t this. She blinks, surprised, and trips on her words. “I... yeah. Yes. I’d like that.” She can’t help but smile as Natasha’s face lights up.
“Okay, come on.” Visibly relieved, Natasha starts to climb the steps up to the front door, beckoning for Maria to follow. As she reaches her key towards the lock, the little black cat reappears out of nowhere and wraps itself around Natasha’s ankles, looking up at her with expectant yellow eyes. Maria watches in surprise as Natasha rolls her eyes and pushes the door open. “Sure, you can come, too.”
The cat darts through the open door and runs to the top of the first flight of stairs, looking back at them impatiently.
“And who’s that?” Maria asks, amused.
“That’s m... a cat.” Natasha ushers her inside and pulls the door shut behind them.
“I can see that,” Maria laughs. “Is she your cat?”
“No,” Natasha insists, following the cat up the steps. “I just feed her sometimes.”
As if to call Natasha’s bluff, the cat puts her front paws on Natasha’s knee while she unlocks her door. Natasha automatically bends to scratch her behind the ears, and Maria raises an eyebrow at them both.
“Okay, fine, she’s pretty much my cat,” Natasha admits with a smirk. She straightens back up and holds the door open, and the cat trots ahead of Maria into the apartment. “I call her Liho.”
“Nice to meet you, Liho,” Maria calls to the cat. Liho ignores her. With a laugh, Natasha kicks her shoes off next to the door, and Maria follows her lead.
Standing in her socks in Natasha’s living room is distinctly surreal. For a moment, Maria just lets her eyes wander around the apartment, taking in all the details. The apartment is very nice, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a place Natasha Romanoff would live. Then again, that’s probably the point. The living room is sparsely furnished but well-coordinated. Everything from the throw pillows on the sofa to the framed paintings on the walls is colorful but tastefully nondescript. Except for a handful of details – a mostly-empty water glass on the end table, a jacket draped over the arm of the chair, a stack of junk mail on the coffee table – the room could’ve been pulled directly from the pages of a catalogue. There are no photos on the walls, and the books and other items on the shelves are clearly for show, rather than being a personal collection. It must be incredibly lonely to live in an apartment that feels more like a safehouse than a home.
Natasha shrugs, as if reading Maria’s mind. “I’d give you the grand tour, but there’s not much to see.” She waves her hand toward the darkened hallway across the room. “The bedroom and bathroom are over there, and the kitchen’s in here.” Natasha flips on the light and beckons for Maria to follow her.
“Nice place,” Maria comments, scanning the kitchen the same way she did the living room. It’s huge, by New York standards, but just as spare as the living room. Only the coffee mug, bowl, and spoon drying on a towel by the sink indicate that anyone actually lives here.
“Thanks,” Natasha shrugs again, pulling a bowl and a bag of cat food out of the cabinets. “I don’t really spend much time here. Don’t you dare jump up on my counter!”
Maria turns from admiring the view out the window over the sink to confirm that Natasha’s last comment was indeed directed at the cat, not Maria herself. She chuckles, watching Liho practically dance with anticipation as Natasha fills the bowl with food and places it on the floor. She strokes Liho’s back, then leaves her alone with her supper.
“Want a drink? I’ve got some wine, or there’s probably some beer in the fridge if you’d prefer.”
“Wine is fine, thanks.” Maria smiles as Natasha goes up on her toes to grab two wine glasses off of a not-so-high shelf. She sets them on the counter and motions towards Maria.
“The corkscrew is in the drawer behind you.”
Maria quickly locates the corkscrew and hands it to Natasha. While Natasha opens the bottle, Maria’s eye catches on the one thing in the kitchen that seems strangely out of place. Leaning up against the wall near the sink is a small, framed painting about the size of a postcard. It shows two dolphins leaping through abstract purple swirls, and it’s the absolute last thing Maria would think to associate with Natasha Romanoff.
Natasha must notice her amusement, because she hands Maria a glass of wine and picks up the frame, laughing at it affectionately. “It’s terrible, isn’t it? Clint gave it to me as a housewarming present a long time ago. It’s... kind of an inside joke.”
Maria steps closer and pretends to admire the painting over Natasha’s shoulder. “No, I think it’s beautiful. It suits you. In many ways, I’m sure you are that teal dolphin,” she teases, earning herself a swat on the arm.
Natasha laughs and puts the frame back in its place. “Come on, there’s something I want to show you.”
Wine glass in hand, she leads Maria back into the living room and over to the door on the far wall. The door opens onto a small balcony, just big enough for a pair of wrought iron chairs, a glass-topped deck table, and a handful of potted plants. The cat follows them out onto the balcony and jumps up onto the ledge where Natasha sits, looking out at the view of the city.
“Oh, wow,” Maria murmurs, again at a loss for words. She props a hip on the ledge next to Liho and Natasha and sighs happily, taking in the way the lights are coming on as the sun sinks behind the buildings. “Natasha, this is beautiful.”
Natasha hums in agreement, leaning her back against the brick wall behind her. She sips her wine and scratches the cat under the chin as she climbs into her lap. She looks so content, so picturesque, that Maria finds herself staring. Once again, she’s struck by the realization that this is not a side of Natasha that many people get to see. She takes a sip of wine to cover her amazed, probably stupid-looking smile.
If Natasha notices, she doesn’t comment on it. “I thought we could have kind of a quiet night tonight: order in, maybe watch something together... you know, start over?” There’s an apology in her voice and an earnestness in her eyes that has Maria’s heart fluttering.
“Sounds good to me.” Maria smiles at her over the edge of her glass. “Although I vote we skip all the blood, broken glass, and bruised ribs this time.”
Natasha smirks and holds out her glass. “Deal.”
“Deal.” Maria touches her glass to Natasha’s with a soft ting. They both drink, and Maria breathes deeply, letting go of the last of her apprehension. Natasha smiles at her, and Maria realizes with a start that she’d been staring again.
“Come on, it’s my turn to order pizza.” Natasha gets to her feet and heads back inside, the cat padding after her. Natasha pulls her phone out of her jacket pocket, then reaches for Maria’s glass. “Want more wine while we wait?”
Maria hands it to her with a smile. “Yes, please.”
While Natasha disappears into the kitchen to refill their glasses and call in the order, Maria settles onto one end of the sofa and clicks her tongue to try and coax Liho to come closer. At first, the cat ignores her, so Maria redoubles her efforts, wiggling her fingers to catch her attention. Liho approaches her cautiously and sniffs at Maria’s fingers, whiskers tickling across her knuckles before she rubs her head against Maria’s hand, then headbutts her leg. Maria grins and reaches out to scratch her behind the ears and under her chin. Liho accepts the attention eagerly, leaning so hard into Maria’s hand that she ends up flopping over onto the floor, exposing the fur of her underbelly. Maria knows enough about cats to know what’s about to happen, but she takes the bait anyway. Her fingers wriggle into the fur of Liho’s belly for a few brief seconds before the cat grabs her hand between her paws and mouths at her fingers, hind legs thumping against her wrist.
“Liho, no!” Natasha scolds, setting the refilled glasses down on the coffee table and sitting down on the sofa opposite Maria.
Maria only laughs and scratches the cat under the chin again. “It’s okay; she’s just playing.” She extracts her hand from Liho’s mouth and holds it up for Natasha to examine. “See? Not even a scratch.”
Natasha raises an amused eyebrow as Maria resumes playing with the cat. “I don't let her do any of that to me. No biting, scratching, whining or licking.”
“Not much of a cat person, are you?”
“I like cats just fine; I just want to set boundaries.”
“Why doesn't that surprise me?” Maria teases.
Natasha laughs and reaches over to stroke Liho's back a few times. Immediately, the cat gets up, stretches, and jumps up onto the sofa and into Natasha's lap. She flops over and nudges her hand, begging for more petting, and Natasha immediately obliges. Liho goes still and starts to purr, a surprisingly loud, deep rumble for such a small cat. She doesn't even try to bite or lick Natasha’s hand.
Maria smiles, completely endeared by the two of them. “She sure seems to like you a lot, boundaries or not.”
Natasha practically beams down at the purring bundle of fur in her lap. “Yeah, I suppose she does.”
While one hand keeps petting Liho, Natasha reaches for the remote and switches on the TV. Neither one of them pays much attention to it, though. Liho’s yellow eyes close as she purrs even louder, clearly reveling in all the attention they’re both giving her instead of the TV. Even though she’s practically asleep in Natasha’s lap by the time the pizza arrives, the sound of the buzzer has her ears and whiskers instantaneously on high alert. She jumps down off Natasha’s lap and leads her to the door, then follows her back to the sofa like a shadow, eyeing the pizza box expectantly the whole way.
Natasha sets the box down on the coffee table between them. “Help yourself.”
Maria flips the lid open to find- “Mushrooms? Really?”
Natasha smirks, doing a decidedly poor job of masking how pleased she is with herself as she grabs a slice. She raises an eyebrow pointedly at Maria before taking a bite.
“You just have to rub it in, don’t you?” Maria chuckles, taking a slice for herself.
“What did you expect from me, Hill? You weren’t nearly as sore a loser as I thought you’d be. I couldn’t resist getting in one last jab.”
“Don’t get cocky. You still haven’t guessed my lie yet,” Maria reminds her.
Natasha remains unperturbed. “Patience. I will soon enough. Liho-” She draws out the last syllable in a warning as the cat gets bold enough to reach a paw towards the pizza. She eyes Natasha and slowly retracts it again, but her eyes remain relentlessly fixed on the box, her tail twitching. Every so often, Liho starts to rise up on her hind legs, but she settles back down the moment Natasha goes pssst at her. Finally, once both Maria and Natasha have had their fill, Natasha shuts the box again, but the cat remains vigilant.
“She just doesn’t quit, does she?” Maria laughs. “You two are perfect for one another.”
“She’s a tenacious little beastie, I’ll give her that,” Natasha agrees, reaching out to give Liho an affectionate scratch behind the ears. “I should put the rest of the pizza away, though.”
“I’ve got it,” Maria insists, picking up the box before Natasha can reach for it.
“You can probably just put the whole box in the fridge.” Liho starts to follow Maria (and the pizza) into the kitchen, but Natasha scoops her up into her lap before she can get far. “Oh, no you don’t, Pizza Cat!”
Natasha wasn’t kidding: there’s next to nothing in the fridge, and the box fits neatly onto the bottom shelf. Her first instinct is to be a little worried, but if Natasha is serious about not really spending much time here, there’s probably no cause for concern. Probably. Maria shuts the fridge door with a thump and returns to her spot on the sofa.
For once, Maria turns her head to catch Natasha watching her thoughtfully. Maria cocks an eyebrow at her. “What?”
Natasha tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Do we have to start over completely?” she asks, as tentative as Maria has ever seen her.
At first, Maria can only blink at her in amazement, but she quickly uses Natasha’s uncertainty as incentive to be bold. “Of course not.” She shifts her hips closer to Natasha and reclines back against the arm of the sofa. “Come here.”
Natasha does not hesitate to close the distance between them. To Maria’s surprise, she settles her weight against Maria’s body and rests her head on her chest. Maria tenses beneath her, suddenly very unsure what to do with her arms.
“Too much?” Natasha asks softly.
Maria shakes her head, willing herself to relax. “No, this is fine. It’s nice.”
“It is,” Natasha agrees, sounding almost surprised.
Maria wraps her arm around Natasha’s back and starts to relax as Natasha’s attention returns to the TV. Somehow, they just fit like this, Natasha’s weight resting comfortably on top of her, her head tucked neatly under Maria’s chin. They’re close enough that Maria can catch the scent of clean hair, warm skin, a hint of some elusive perfume, earthy and sweet. Familiar. It’s the same scent that followed Maria around all afternoon, at least until she changed out of the West Point shirt and into a more date-appropriate outfit.
Though Natasha’s attention is still ostensibly directed at the television, Maria’s is entirely focused on Natasha’s fingers as they trace small circles through her shirt, just under her collarbone. There’s nothing tense or irritable about it, though, just a steady, unobtrusive motion of her fingers. Maria lets her eyes fall shut and concentrates on keeping her breathing steady as Natasha fidgets with a button on her shirt. It’s a losing battle; the swirling touch of Natasha’s fingers quickly starts to go to her head.
Natasha deftly works open the topmost button of Maria’s shirt and her thumb hooks under the collar, pulling it aside. Maria gasps as she presses a kiss to the hollow of her throat.
“There’s the reaction I was hoping for,” Natasha chuckles as she begins to trail kisses along Maria’s exposed collarbone. “I was beginning to think you’d fallen asleep.”
“Definitely not sleeping,” Maria breathes. Her hands find Natasha’s waist and hold there firmly, keeping herself anchored.
“Good.” Natasha’s voice is muffled in the crook of Maria’s neck.
She kisses her way slowly up the side of Maria’s throat to the underside of her jaw, her lips growing hotter and hotter against her skin. At first, Maria is too stunned to do much more than cling to Natasha’s hips. She sighs as Natasha’s tongue glides across her pulse point, and Natasha hums lightly, working her way up to nip at Maria’s ear.
The feel of Natasha’s teeth on her earlobe and the rush of her breath, already starting to come faster, bring Maria back to herself. No longer paralyzed like some stupid teenager, she turns her head to meet Natasha’s mouth with her own. Natasha leans into the kiss, her lips parting eagerly as she straddles Maria’s lap. Maria immediately misses the press of her weight against her body, but she’s quickly distracted by the slick heat of Natasha’s tongue in her mouth.
Natasha pulls back long enough to catch her breath and reaches for the rest of the buttons on Maria’s shirt. She makes quick work undoing them, and the efficiency of her fingers leaves Maria breathless, arching up under her hands. Natasha’s palms graze across Maria’s abs, then up over her breasts to her shoulders, pushing her shirt out of the way as she goes.
The lack of Natasha’s lips against hers starts to make Maria antsy, so she rises up to kiss her again. Her arms wrap around her waist as she bites down on Natasha’s lower lip; the small sound she earns in response sends shivers down her spine. Natasha reaches up to tug Maria’s hair out of its bun, her fingers working the handful of pins out of it just as surely as they undid her buttons. Maria shakes her hair the rest of the way loose and dips forward to kiss along Natasha’s collarbone. Natasha draws in a sharp breath, but then she pulls away, coughing and spluttering.
Maria looks up at her, concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Natasha laughs and swipes at her mouth. “I think I inhaled your hair.”
“Sorry!” Maria scrambles to sweep her bangs out of her face, but her attempt is mostly ineffectual. “I’ve been meaning to get it trimmed for ages.”
Natasha catches a strand between her fingers and strokes her knuckles down Maria’s cheek. “I could cut it for you if you want.”
“What?” Maria starts to scoff, but the animated smile that spreads over Natasha’s face gives her pause. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am.”
Maria wrinkles her nose. “I don’t know, Natasha...”
“What’s the big deal? I cut Clint’s hair all the time.”
Maria remains unconvinced. “I wouldn’t exactly put that on my resume.”
“Have you ever seen it after he’s combed it? It’s not half bad. I cut Steve’s hair sometimes, too. Hell, I even cut my own hair from time to time.” Natasha seems incredibly eager to win Maria over. Much to her chagrin, it’s actually working.
Maria laughs. “See, I would’ve led with that.”
Natasha punches her arm. “Oh, come on, Hill. Don’t you trust me?” Her tone is lighthearted, but there’s no doubt in Maria’s mind that Natasha’s question is deadly serious.
The pleading look on Natasha’s face is too much. Maria finally caves, excitement slowly taking over her exasperation. “I... yes. Sure, okay, fine. What the hell.”
“Really?” Natasha’s face lights up almost the same way it did over their game of Two Truths and a Lie.
Maria can’t help but smile back. “Do it.”
Natasha is on her feet in an instant. She grabs a wooden chair from against the wall and hands it to Maria. “Take this into the kitchen and turn on the lights,” she instructs. “I’ll be right back.” Maria does as she’s told while Natasha darts off in the direction of the bathroom. She returns in no time, carrying a barber’s smock and a professional-looking stylist kit in a leather case. She sets them on the counter and repositions the chair so it’s facing away from the kitchen window.
Maria shoots her a quizzical look, which Natasha answers with a mischievous smirk. “I don’t want you to see it until I’m finished.”
“Fine.” Maria’s stomach starts to knot with apprehension, but there’s a challenge in Natasha’s eyes that she just can’t back away from. She sinks into the chair with a huff and lets Natasha drape the smock securely around her neck.
Natasha takes her time circling her, running her fingers through Maria's hair, comparing its length against her shoulders, her jawline, the curve of her breasts. She threads it between her fingers and pulls it through slowly, evaluating its strength and the extent of the split ends. Maria wishes they were positioned in front of a mirror so she could see the look on Natasha's face as she works. For now, she settles for stealing glances when Natasha circles in front of her or into her peripheral vision. There's a small crease of concentration evident between her eyebrows, and she hums every so often, sometimes in deliberation, sometimes in satisfaction. Maria can see the wheels turning behind her eyes. She watches as Natasha's plan, whatever it may be, clicks into place before she repositions herself squarely behind her shoulders, out of sight.
Natasha rakes her fingers back across the top of Maria's scalp from forehead to nape, gathering her hair into one thick bundle with both hands. She transfers the bundle to her left hand and picks up a set of shears with her right.
She holds Maria firmly by the hair and asks simply, "Do you trust me?"
"Yes," Maria responds hesitantly, a kind of dread weaving its way into her throat as it occurs to her to wonder why Natasha asked.
"Okay then." Natasha opens the shears with the smooth sound of metal sliding against metal.
"Wait, I – !" Maria's panicked protest springs to her lips just a moment too late.
The shears sink into the base of Maria's ponytail. Several aggressive, hacking snips later, Natasha tosses the lopped off fistful of hair into Maria's lap.
"Natasha, what the fuck?!" Maria whirls on her in stunned horror. Her temper flares up at the smug, unapologetic look on Natasha's face.
"No turning back now, Hill."
Maria grits her teeth to keep from shouting some more. "I'm going to kill you," she seethes.
Natasha ignores the threat. “You said you trust me; you don’t get to take that back.” Maria opens her mouth to protest, but Natasha cuts her off, her voice sharp and clear. “Let me finish. If you hate it, I’ll let you kick my ass all over this apartment.”
Maria glares daggers at her and takes several deep breaths, her nostrils flaring. Surprisingly, Natasha’s steady hands on her shoulders help to calm her down.
“Admit it, Hill: if you wanted someone to just take an inch or two off the bottom and trim your bangs, you would've gone to a salon or something ages ago.”
Maria stares mournfully down at the remnants of her ponytail in her lap. Natasha’s right, of course, even if Maria didn’t realize it before. With one last deep breath, she lets the severed ponytail fall to the floor and raises her chin defiantly. “Finish it.”
“That’s more like it.” Natasha gives her a bolstering clap on the shoulder and immediately picks up the shears again.
She works quickly and confidently, wielding the comb and shears as skillfully as any weapon. Maria’s anger quickly subsides, replaced with amazement and admiration. The look of pure determination on Natasha’s face is mesmerizing, but Maria eventually chooses to shut her eyes to avoid thinking about how large the drifts of cropped hair on the floor around the chair are getting. Natasha’s fingers continue to glide through Maria’s hair, smoothing and ruffling and measuring and evaluating in even intervals until at last she steps back, flips Maria’s bangs to the side one last time, and sets the shears down, apparently satisfied.
“Okay, I think that’ll do it.” A delighted grin breaks across Natasha’s face as she removes the smock from around Maria’s neck.
“Can I look now?” Maria asks hesitantly, reaching up to touch the back of her neck.
Natasha swats her hand away. “Not yet. Close your eyes.”
Under different circumstances, she’d be inclined to cheat, sneaking glances through imperceptibly opened eyelids to keep some shred of control over the situation. Tonight, though, Maria obliges without any further complaint. She’s trusted Natasha this long; she can give her this, too. Natasha takes her by the hands and leads her through the apartment to what Maria assumes is the bathroom.
Natasha flicks the lights on and speaks close to Maria’s ear. “Okay, now you can look.”
A part of her expects to cringe, to flinch away from her reflection, to round on Natasha with venom on her tongue.
All of those expectations vanish the moment Maria opens her eyes.
It’s short, shorter even than it felt when Natasha was cutting it, but short hair suits her far better than it really has any right to. Her neck looks longer, her jawline and cheekbones look sharper, stronger. The bangs are the perfect length to accentuate her eyes and the arch of her brows.
Maria gapes at her reflection, turning her head this way and that to take in all the angles. Even though she can see her hands make contact with the sides and back of her head, she still can’t quite believe how little hair is left there. She runs both her hands from her temples to the nape of her neck, and the phantom sensation of the bun that used to be there sends a shudder down her back. She’s so caught up in wrapping her mind around her reflection that Maria startles when Natasha wraps her arms around her waist from behind.
“So?” Natasha’s lips tickle against Maria’s ear. “Still want to kill me?”
“No.” Maria breathes. “I love it.”
Natasha’s eyes meet Maria’s in the mirror and she flashes her a triumphant smile. “See? I told you.”
“Yes, you did,” Maria concedes. “I should’ve been quicker to trust you.”
In lieu of a response, Natasha wraps her arms a bit more snugly around Maria’s waist and lowers her lips to her shoulder. The kiss is light, almost imperceptible, but it burns against Maria’s skin, drawing her attention away from the mirror. She lowers her hands onto the edge of the counter as Natasha kisses her again, and again. The warmth of her lips on her shoulders and the back of her neck is almost enough to make Maria’s knees buckle. Her breath catches when Natasha pulls her undershirt untucked from her pants and slips her hands under it so she can drag her fingertips over Maria’s abs. Her hands roam over her belly only momentarily before they inch lower, reaching for Maria’s belt buckle.
“Okay there, Delilah...” Maria chuckles, a little breathlessly.
Natasha stills her hands. “Too much?”
“Not at all.” Maria grabs Natasha’s wrist and tugs her around in front of her, pinning her against the counter with her hips.
Natasha laughs and drapes her arms around Maria’s neck. Her fingers thread into Maria’s short – oh, so very short – hair and she lifts herself up onto the counter, simultaneously pulling Maria down for a kiss. For the second time that night, Maria digs her fingers into Natasha’s hips and kisses her back. Natasha hooks her legs around Maria’s waist, pulling her closer. She quickly kisses her way along Maria’s jaw to her ear.
Maria nods fervently. “Hold on.”
Natasha clings to her as she takes a step back, lifting her off the counter and into her arms. Maria pauses only long enough to support Natasha’s weight with her hands on her ass before carrying her into the bedroom.
“Impressive,” Natasha smirks in between pressing open-mouthed kisses to Maria’s throat.
Maria tumbles the both of them down onto the bed, careful so as not to crush the cat, who had been snoozing by the headboard. Liho gives them a sleepy, disgruntled look before she hops off the bed and disappears back into the living room. Natasha chuckles and reaches for the hem of Maria’s undershirt, and Maria helps her tug it off over her head.
No sooner has Maria settled her weight back down onto her forearms than Natasha’s mouth finds her throat again. The combination of the scent of Natasha’s hair and the pressure of her teeth on her skin makes Maria’s head swim. She tangles her fingers in Natasha’s hair, reveling in the heat that radiates from Natasha’s fingernails raking their way up her back. When she reaches for the clasp of her bra, however, Maria stops her.
Natasha stills her hands immediately, looking up at her with confusion in her darkened eyes.
“If we’re going to do this, we should set ground rules first. Is there anything off-limits I should know about ahead of time?”
Natasha blinks at her, a little taken aback. “You know, I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that before...” She thinks hard for a moment, her brow furrowed. “I don't mind if you touch any of the rest of my scars, just try to avoid the one that's right–“ She traces her fingers along the underside of her breast through her shirt “–here.”
“I will. Anything else?”
Natasha shakes her head. “Nothing else comes to mind. What about you?”
“I don't like being held down,” Maria shudders a little at the thought, “especially not by the neck.”
“Okay then.” Maria leans down to kiss her lightly, fingertips sweeping across her cheek. “I think we can work the rest out as we go.”
"Works for me," Natasha agrees, reaching for Maria's bra clasp again. "May I?"
Maria laughs. "Yes, please."
Natasha makes quick work of undoing the hooks. Maria shrugs the straps off her shoulders, tosses the bra to the floor, and sits back on her heels, shoulders squared. She learned years ago not to be self-conscious about her body, not even in front of a woman as formidable as Natasha Romanoff. Not even when her eyes – followed by her fingers – are tracing the curves of her breasts. She meets Natasha’s gaze with confidence when it eventually returns to her face.
“Gorgeous,” Natasha breathes, surging up to crush their lips together.
The fabric of Natasha’s shirt is soft against Maria’s skin, but it’s not what she wants right now. Her hands work their way under the hem, and Natasha helps pull it up, breaking their kiss only long enough to tug the shirt off over her head. One of Maria’s hands flattens against the small of Natasha’s back, and the other glides up her spine to hover by her bra long enough for Natasha to nod her approval. The clasp comes undone with only a flick of Maria’s wrist.
“Very smooth, show-off,” Natasha chuckles. She bites down on Maria’s lower lip, then slowly pulls back until it slips from between her teeth.
“How’s this for showing off?” Maria leans her weight into Natasha, bearing her down to the mattress. She lowers her mouth to Natasha’s throat while the pads of her thumbs find her nipples. She teases them gently at first, then harder until Natasha’s nails dig into her shoulders and her hips buck underneath her.
From there, Maria trails kisses down the center of Natasha’s chest to her belly. Her fingertips ghost over her ribs as she goes, carefully avoiding the underside of her breasts. To her surprise, Natasha squirms and gasps at the touch, apparently a bit ticklish. It’s so tempting to take advantage of this new information, but Maria decides not to push her luck this time. She kisses her way lower, swirling her tongue in Natasha’s navel as she passes, all the way down to the waistband of her jeans.
Maria pauses only briefly, glancing up to find Natasha watching her intently. She raises a questioning eyebrow, and Natasha nods, catching her lip between her teeth. It’s easy enough to work her jeans open, but they’re tight enough that she needs Natasha’s help to tug them – along with her underwear – off her hips and onto the floor. Maria sinks slowly to her knees, her eyes sweeping over Natasha's naked body. She really is exquisitely beautiful – scars, bruises and all.
As usual, Natasha catches her staring and smirks, though her expression is much less cocky when her eyes are so dark with desire. "Like what you see?"
"Of course I do."
Maria nips at the inside of her knee, making her twitch in surprise. With a warm chuckle, she replaces her teeth with her tongue, gliding slowly up Natasha’s inner thigh. Maria’s eyes remain locked with Natasha’s, daring her to look away. She doesn’t – of course she doesn’t – even though she’s practically squirming with anticipation.
When she reaches the apex of Natasha’s thighs, Maria manages to wait just a few racing heartbeats longer before closing what little distance remains. For a moment, she’s completely unable to hold back her groan of satisfaction or the shiver that flies down her spine.
As fidgety as she was before, Natasha goes surprisingly still at the touch. She’s hard to read at first, but Maria is keen and attentive. It doesn't take her long to figure out precisely the right spots to make her sigh, the right speed to make her breath hitch, the right amount of pressure to make her hands ball into fists in her hair. Maria moans against her; she wasn't even sure her hair was still long enough to pull, but oh, she's glad it is. She can’t help but wonder if Natasha left it that way on purpose.
A slight cant in Natasha’s hips refocuses Maria’s attention. Natasha’s hands move from Maria’s hair and she gropes blindly for Maria’s hands. Maria intertwines their fingers, holding their hands steady against the bed as Natasha draws in a sharp breath. Her back arches up and then –
Her name on Natasha’s lips is the most exhilarating thing Maria has heard in a long time. Heart pounding, she drives Natasha relentlessly through her orgasm, then slows to help her ride out the aftershocks. Only after Natasha's hips jerk away involuntarily does she pull away entirely.
Maria climbs back up onto the bed next to Natasha and wraps her arms around her. She expects her to need a moment to catch her breath, but Natasha immediately curls a hand behind her neck and kisses her hungrily, clearly reveling in the feel of Maria’s lips, slick against hers. Natasha’s moan catches in her throat, but it’s more than enough to make heat flare between Maria’s thighs, building and building until she’s gasping into the kiss.
The next thing she knows, Natasha does something that leaves her flat on her back on the mattress with Natasha above her, already working the button of her pants undone. Maria stares up at her in amazement for a moment before lifting her hips to help facilitate Natasha undressing her the rest of the way.
Once the rest of her clothes wind up on the floor, Natasha’s hands start to wander over Maria’s body, sliding up her thighs, tracing the contours of her abs, palming at her breasts until her nipples are peaked and sensitive enough to send electricity through her body with every touch. Natasha takes one in her mouth and Maria’s back arches, her gasp deepening into a moan.
It isn’t long before Natasha’s clever tongue leaves Maria shaking. Natasha cups her hand firmly between her legs, but she keeps it frustratingly still. Maria begins to worry that Natasha's just going to tease her until she begs for more, but Natasha’s patience runs out mercifully soon. Maria's not even sure how many fingers she slips inside her; she just knows it's exactly what she needs. Little by little, Natasha presses the heel of her hand against her too, but it's not quite enough.
"God, Nat, just – " Maria huffs through gritted teeth.
Suddenly, Natasha’s teeth close firmly around Maria’s nipple and she cries out as her body jumps, shuddering hard in waves until she has to grab Natasha's wrist to cease the friction. A whimper accompanies the last twitch of Maria’s hips, and she blushes furiously, her hand flying to cover her face. Natasha begins to laugh, a warm and genuinely delighted sound, and – much to her own astonishment – Maria joins in, collapsing in a boneless, breathless heap.
Natasha settles next to her, resting her head on her shoulder as Maria wraps her arms around her.
"Uh huh," Natasha agrees, laughing even harder at her own incoherence.
For what seems like forever, the two of them just lie there laughing until they can't anymore.
Once they’ve recovered their breath, Maria starts to shiver despite the warmth of Natasha's body curled around her. Natasha notices immediately. She tugs at the blanket underneath them and they both slide under the covers, somehow still entwined.
“Will you play for me sometime?” Natasha asks quietly, her fingers once again tracing absent-minded circles across Maria’s chest.
Maria struggles to focus enough to figure out what she’s talking about, but her mind is completely blank. “What?”
“Well,” Natasha smirks impishly, “I think it’s safe to say I’ve seen every inch of your body by now, but I haven’t found a single tattoo. That was your lie.”
Maria gawks at her for a moment; somehow, she’d completely forgotten. “Oh my god, Nat,” she laughs, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes. “Please tell me you didn’t seduce me just so you could win our game.”
“Give me a little more credit than that.”
It really is incredible how Natasha’s triumphant, self-satisfied smile more than makes up for the exasperation of losing so thoroughly. Maria wrinkles her nose, but her indignation is entirely feigned. “Okay, fine! You win. Again. I’ll play for you on one condition.”
“Be my date to Pepper’s big, fancy party?”
Natasha’s smug smile falters. “Your date?”
That wasn’t the reaction she was expecting. Maria nods cautiously, her chest beginning to tighten.
“I don’t know, Maria...” Natasha’s thumb strokes Maria’s cheek in what is probably supposed to be a reassuring gesture, but her words still sting. “Can I think about it?”
Maria would’ve preferred an immediate ‘yes’, of course, but at least it isn’t an outright rejection. Be patient. Give her time. She nods again, affecting more confidence this time. “Of course. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.”
The silence that follows does nothing to loosen the knot in Maria’s throat. She takes a few controlled breaths, unsure of what to do to ease the tension between them. Maybe it’d be best for her to leave before she makes things worse.
“Do you want me to – “ Maria trails off and gestures half-heartedly toward the door.
“Stay.” This time, Natasha does not hesitate for even a second. She cups Maria’s cheek and holds her gaze with soft eyes. “Please?”
Maria lets go of the breath she’d been holding and leans into the touch with a small smile. “Alright.”
Relief breaks across Natasha’s face as she shifts up to kiss Maria. Grinning, Maria meets her halfway, the last remnants of tension evaporating with each brush of their lips. They kiss until it seems like they’ve melted into one another again, their limbs becoming languid, their touches soft and slow.
Eventually, Natasha lets her head fall to the pillow with a contented sigh. She shifts around in Maria’s arms until her back is pressed up against her bare chest, her skin warm and soft against Maria’s. Just like their first night together, Natasha takes Maria’s arm and pulls it around her waist, maximizing the contact between them. Maria wraps herself around her securely, protectively, no longer hesitant to nuzzle her face into Natasha’s hair. Maria breathes deeply, eager to memorize the scent of her, of the two of them together.
For the first time in a long time, Maria drifts off to sleep completely at peace.