Only one person catches Natasha's eye during her sweep of the museum: a woman in blue trousers and a white blouse, walking slowly around the exhibition room. She's glamorous, certainly, beautiful and broad-shouldered and carrying a suit jacket over her arm like a model, but it's the way she carries herself that Natasha is interested in; she's clearly had some sort of basic SSR training, probably hand-to-hand and personal defense. A few moments of watching, though, suggest the woman is looking at the collection, not scanning her surroundings for hostiles, and when she tilts her hips as she stands before one photograph, Natasha doesn't see the outline of any weapons.
Still, Natasha lets the woman catch her watching the next time she looks up. She sees no spark of recognition, no defensive reaction; the woman just quirks an eyebrow and smiles. Natasha smiles back, finally satisfied, and turns toward the photographs nearest her.
The exhibition is, after all, her reason for being here. Not for being in New York — she's in New York because New York is where you go to disappear — but for visiting the museum. She had been intrigued by an advertisement on the subway, and this sort of leisure is still novel to her.
The photographs, she finds, are beautiful. Most are black-and-white portraits, many set against the backdrop of cities she recognizes. Here is a small child standing before a shabby wall; here is an old man in a cafe, staring out the window. One photograph in particular stops her in her tracks. It depicts three people: one, in the middle, is visibly the focus of the photograph, while to the left a woman hands this person a tool, and to the right sits another woman, held down by the first person's hand. It's their gazes that capture her; each of them stares directly at her, unsmiling. It drags up a visceral reaction in her that she wants to understand.
She remains there, before the photo, and tries to understand.
Natasha studies it a long while before the woman in blue makes her way over. She stands shoulder to shoulder with Natasha, hands in her trouser pockets.
"Stunning, isn't he?" the woman says. She has a lovely voice, one that sends a shiver up Natasha's spine. "Cartier-Bresson. This is my third time here since this exhibition opened."
Natasha looks her over from the corner of her eye. "He sure is," she replies, flattening her voice into a suitably American accent. "I can't seem to take my eyes off his work."
"I've noticed." There's a palpable laugh in her voice, but Natasha thinks she's being friendly. "This piece always makes me a bit uncomfortable, personally. I feel like a voyeur."
Natasha sweeps her eyes over the image. Her gaze catches, again, on the stare of the person in the middle. Slowly, she says, "To me it feels more… hostile. Like they know something terrible about me, and now I'm being shut out."
The woman gives her an appraising, sideways look and holds out her hand. "Peggy Carter."
Irene Warren, Natasha is prepared to reply, the alias of a humble florist whose biggest secret is a drunken night with her brother's wife, but instead she says, "Natasha." She shakes Peggy's hand, gripping hard the way Irene Warren never would, and firmly does not show surprise at herself. It hardly matters now, anyway, she thinks wryly; Natalia Romanova is dead.
"Natasha." Peggy rolls the name across her tongue like she's testing it out. Her shoulder brushes against Natasha's, faux-casual, and a warm, fluttering sensation spreads through Natasha's body. "It's stuffy in here. Would you like to go for a walk?"
They wind up strolling down the sidewalk, heading, as far as Natasha can tell, in no real direction. After a bit of idle chatter, Peggy says, "You're not from around here, are you?"
It's not really a question, and Natasha doesn't bother lying. "No. I just arrived a few days ago. How could you tell?"
Peggy smiles kindly. "Nothing obvious, I promise. There's just a sort of… air," she says, waving her hand as if to demonstrate the air in question, "to people from this city. I can't really describe it, but you don't have it."
Natasha considers this. "Well, that's embarrassing." She tries on the guise of a self-conscious, country-grown tourist. "I really stick out like a sore thumb?"
Peggy laughs. "No, like I said, it isn't obvious. It's just a vague sort of feeling I get, a gut instinct. Once I wouldn't even have noticed it, but during the war, you know, with all the panic about spies, it was drilled into me that I should trust that instinct." Natasha carefully does not widen her eyes, bracing herself to fight, but Peggy adds, almost like an afterthought, "Except I can't seem to un-train myself now that I don't need it."
And — that is interesting. "I think I know what you mean," Natasha says carefully.
She had meant it to be diplomatic, to demure, but Peggy gives her a sidelong look. "You know, I'm not surprised that you do."
They walk in silence for a few long minutes. Natasha's shoulders begin to relax.
Eventually, Peggy continues as if she had never left off. “It's all quite exciting, isn't it, when it's happening. One thing they don’t tell you, though, is when it’s all over, all those slogans, ciphers, codewords, what-have-you — where is all of that supposed to go?”
Natasha exhales sharply, half a laugh. "If I ever find out, I'll make sure to let you know."
Peggy knocks her shoulder amiably into Natasha's. "Hey," she says, pointing to a little food cart down the block. "Let me buy you some hot chocolate. It's chilly out here."
Natasha does. Soon they're sitting on a bench, sipping their drinks and watching the people go by. The hot chocolate is watery, but she enjoys it, just like she enjoys the warm press of Peggy's leg against hers. Both are a comfort.
"Where do you work?" Natasha says into one stretch of silence, gesturing at Peggy's suit. Peggy laughs a little and leans back into the bench. Back into Natasha.
"Oh, trust me, you don't want to ask that question." She turns her head to face Natasha. "It's the same everywhere, anyway, wouldn't you say? Patronizing men, doors shut in your face, people falling all over themselves to tell you that they're so sorry about—" She cuts herself off with a sigh. "Never mind. Natasha, I don't usually do this, but would you like to come back to my place?"
Nervous energy flares in Natasha's chest. Her instinct tells her to say no, but she thinks that's the Widow talking. She says yes.
Natasha second-guesses herself on the long trip back to Peggy's, wonders if maybe she's misread this, but the door is barely shut behind them before Peggy moves in close, so close to Natasha, and says, "May I?"
Instead of answering, Natasha kisses her. Peggy returns the kiss with every ounce as much energy, and the warm feeling still glowing inside Natasha spreads, heightens, pools low in her stomach. Peggy's mouth is hot and firm, and her hands stroke Natasha's shoulders, her hips. Natasha just wants to get closer.
She backs Peggy up against the door and rests her hands on Peggy's waistband. Peggy takes it for the question it is. "Be my guest," she says against Natasha's collarbone, and Natasha unbuckles her trousers and slips a hand inside.
The way Peggy's head slams back against the door at the first press of Natasha's fingers through her underwear is gratifying. Peggy muttering a curse and pulling Natasha in for another kiss is even more so. Natasha moves her fingers, trying to find the places that make Peggy weak, and lets herself enjoy this: the fumbling press of their bodies, the chance to explore.
Peggy gets her fingers on Natasha's dress and unbuttons her to the waist. She pushes the fabric off Natasha's shoulders, and Natasha inhales sharply at the brush of Peggy's nails across her skin. Peggy strokes one hand down Natasha's arm — feeling, admiring — and when Natasha shifts the angle of her fingers, Peggy gasps and clutches her. The sound travels straight down Natasha's spine. Peggy shoves her hips up against Natasha's hand, pressing back against the door for leverage.
A painful twinge shoots through Natasha's wrist. She thinks about ignoring it, but she'll hate herself tomorrow if she gets her dominant hand injured because she was too eager to make a girl come. She kisses Peggy once more, firmly, and removes her hand from her trousers.
Peggy stares at her, eyebrows raised. "Don't stop on my account." She's breathless, and Natasha smiles, more pleased with herself than she thinks she should be.
"Just thought we could do this somewhere more comfortable," Natasha says, nodding toward what she hopes is the bedroom.
Peggy grins. She leads Natasha to the next room, sits on the bed and tugs off her own blouse, but before she can get to any more of her clothes, Natasha kneels over her and kisses her, hard. She tugs at the waistband of Peggy's trousers until Peggy lifts her hips, letting Natasha pull them down and off, and then she takes Peggy's underwear with them. This time when she gets her hand on Peggy it's all skin on skin, coarse, damp hair, and Peggy makes a muffled sound against Natasha's mouth. Natasha kneels over her and shifts her own weight from side to side, restless.
"Lean back," she murmurs against Peggy's skin, and when Peggy shifts her weight back, onto her hands, Natasha slips two fingers inside her. Peggy curses again and grinds down against Natasha's hand, and Natasha laughs breathlessly and kisses her again.
It doesn't take long after that. Natasha keeps the heel of her hand pressed against Peggy's mound and Peggy directs her, harder, not so deep, give me another. She twists her fingers, spreads them, stretching, and tries not to grind her own hips against Peggy's knee whenever Peggy gasps out encouragement. Finally, Natasha crooks her fingers inside Peggy, drawing from Peggy a choked-off sound. Peggy shudders against Natasha, and goes still.
Natasha wipes her hand off on the sheets and shifts to sit on the bed beside her, ignoring the pleasant ache between her own legs. "That was fun," she says, turning her head to shoot Peggy a grin.
Peggy looks at her for a moment and arches an eyebrow. Then she's leveraging herself off the bed. She settles on the floor, between Natasha's legs, and Natasha stares at her.
“What," Peggy says, clearly amused. "You think I don’t know how to show a girl a good time?” She puts her hands on Natasha’s knees and grins up at her. Natasha shivers. “Is there anywhere that you’d rather I not touch?”
“No, no, anything is fine,” Natasha replies, her own voice surprising her when it comes out a little breathless. Impulsively, she laughs.
Peggy’s raises her eyebrows, looking smug, and leans in to kiss the inside of Natasha’s knee, then higher. She slides her hands up Natasha’s legs, thumbs rubbing circles over her stockings, and Natasha watches, rapt, as Peggy pushes the hem of Natasha’s dress further up her thighs.
Natasha sleeps longer that night than she has in months, and in the morning she wakes to the first hints of sunlight and a rustling from across the room. Natasha props herself up on her elbows; Peggy, it seems, is busy getting dressed, already in her blouse and working at fastening up the skirt. She tugs the zipper into place and casts a glance back over her shoulder, smiling when she sees that Natasha is awake.
"Good morning," Peggy says. "Sleep well?"
Natasha rolls her eyes good-naturedly. "You can see that I did." She pushes the covers back and gets herself upright, casting around for her own clothes. She'll have to wear the same dress as yesterday, she thinks grimly, fishing the dress in question up off the floor. Then she smirks at herself; it's been years since the last time she even had this problem. She retrieves and slips on her bra.
There's comfortable silence while they dress. Eventually, Natasha says, "Do you have to work today? It's Saturday." She tugs on her stockings and fastens them.
Peggy is bent over her dressing table now, applying lipstick in the mirror. She hums in what sounds like affirmation, then blots her lipstick and catches Natasha's eye in the mirror. "Beastly, isn't it? I did tell you not to ask me where I work."
"It seems downright cruel," Natasha agrees. Peggy returns to her makeup.
Natasha is still only in her slip and underthings when Peggy finishes dressing and sweeps across the room. She leans in, much to Natasha's surprise, to kiss her.
"I'm sorry to do this, but I've really got to run," Peggy says, and she looks genuinely apologetic. She points to a key on her dressing table. "Lock up with that on the way out, would you? You can put it underneath the mat, I'll find it when I come home. And if the doorman gives you any trouble on your way out, just tell him you're my cousin."
Natasha smiles at her. "Of course." She tugs her dress over her head and down into place, and starts buttoning it up.
"Thank you," Peggy says, and she straightens her jacket and leaves the room. Natasha notes a brief pause in her footsteps, and then her head pokes back inside the doorway. "I meant to ask, how long do you think you'll be in the city?"
She furrows her eyebrows, genuinely uncertain. "I'm not sure," she says honestly. "I don't really have any set plans yet."
Peggy nods, like this is expected. "Well, if you do end up sticking around, make sure to come and find me." She smiles once more and then her head disappears back into the living room. Natasha hears her footsteps, and the click as she walks out the front door.