The way she stalked rather than walked when in combat was lethal. Natasha knew it, used it ruthlessly to her advantage. Her fellow SHIELD agents knew it, admired it, and sometimes ogled it whether she was watching them do so or not. Maria knew it, and at times that knowing almost broke her.
Striding towards her beside his partner, Barton gave the redhead a quick nod and one of his rare, wide, relaxed smiles. “Good run, Tasha.”
Maria forced muscles in her jaw that she hadn’t realized were tight to relax.
“Romanov. Barton,” she said that quick snap in her voice that she knew would get his attention. She knew it was mean of her. The man still possessed so many of the ingrained reflexes of having grown up under someone else’s thumb. Someone who had been accustomed to barking out their orders and having them followed without question. It was mean of her to take advantage of those reflexes but still, there were times like this when Maria just couldn’t resist.
Especially not with Natasha standing in front of her just a little too close to the archer’s side.
Not close enough. Want her closer. Want to touchsmelltastefeelglut.
The redhead’s weight was still canted slightly forward in that fighter’s posture. A muscle at the corner of her eye twitched ever so slightly as she avoided letting that cocky smirk play across her sculpted features.
That did it. The imperceptibly tiny gesture was all it took to push Maria over the edge.
“Reports, Barton. You’ve got two hours to have them written and in the Director’s hands. Romanov, go get yourself cleaned up.”
“But –“ the archer protested.
“Your partner is covered in sweat and gore from close quarters combat. On the other hand you , Agent Barton, have spent most of the past 12 hours sitting on a rooftop. Need I say more?” Maria just barely avoided the last words coming out as a growl.
“No, ma’am.” Barton snapped back.
If she’d needed to be left alone, the door would have been locked.
Settling herself more comfortably against the bulkhead, Maria waited for the sound of the water in the bathroom to stop running. She closed her eyes. She breathed. It was better here, surrounded by the minutiae of her Sentinel’s presence. Scents, sounds, the resistant ridges and rough texture of the Kevlar clenched in her hand. All of them soothed her.
Maria worked to unclench her jaw yet again.
Stupid primitive instincts.
The civilized intellectual part of her knew things had to be this way. Barton was the best possible field partner Maria could have wanted for Natasha. Cool, calm, steady, confident; the archer never needed looking after, bailing out. No matter how often she reminded herself of that, Maria still couldn’t stop the reaction she had every time they came straight back to the carrier from field ops.
Mine, a part of her growled. It should be me whispering in her ear, watching her back. You can’t have her. She’s Mine.
Shut up , Maria snarled back wordlessly. She despised that voice: the cold, slit-eyed thing that slithered deep inside her brain.
But she despised the other part of herself even more: the hot, irrational, passionately human piece of her that had taken such delight in sending Barton off to do paperwork. It was even worse; that calculatingly cold bitch who ruthlessly took advantage of her rank to dish out uncalled-for punitive actions against a fellow agent for nothing more than having been out in the field.
Out in the field with your Sentinel when it should be you standing by her side, you mean .
Jiminy Cricket always had been a heartless bastard.
The water’s stopped running.
The thought hadn’t registered soon enough. The mattress dipped beside Maria’s thigh and warmly filling weight settled onto her lap, slithered gracefully down to rest against her chest. Nimble fingers slid down the zip on her uniform top, impatiently yanked aside the thick fabric until they could touch, caress, claw. A faint tightening of the muscles across her collarbone and in her neck was Maria’s only response.
Good , that slit-eyed thing deep inside of her purred, gave a satisfied shimmy before settling down into quiescence once again.
“I hate what you do to me,” Maria mumbled around a mouthful of strands of red hair.
“I very much doubt that, Assistant Director Hill.” The words fluttered across her skin. Made the fine hairs stand on end.
Eyes still closed, Maria released a breath with slow, measured control. She might not have control over much right now, but she’d be damned if she’d let this rob her of something so basic as her breathing.
“I hate what this ,” Maria gestured between the two of them, amending her previous statement, “does to me.”
“Still wrong, Assistant Director Hill.” The tip of a tongue, soft and warm, caressed her skin with the pronunciation of the final consonant. Lightning fast, Maria’s fingers threaded through the other woman’s silky hair, curling, yanking her away from her skin like she’d been burned.
Natasha hissed out her approval and pleasure. “Yessss,” the feeling of her breath flowing across warm wet skin made Maria shiver. “That’s more like it.”
Finally giving in to the sigh she’d been withholding, Maria allowed her hands to relax once more. With a squirm obviously intended to be sensual, Natasha retook her place with one hand snuck inside the collar of her Guide’s uniform and her cheek pressed against Maria’s skin.
“There’s nothing shameful about the way things are.” Natasha reiterated for what felt like the hundredth time.
“I know that,” Maria snarled.
“Then what? Why behave precisely the way they expect of you when you know I’m safe, that this is the right choice for us both?”
Arms wrapped comfortably around the burden in her lap, Maria refused to respond. For the moment, Natasha let it be. She would talk. When she was ready, she would talk.
Natasha lay plastered to Maria like a second skin. Two hours passed by far too quickly when they’d been separated for this long. In spite of - or perhaps specifically because of - the adrenaline high Natasha was still coming down from, their time together had not gone any farther than holding each other, fingers pressing into skin in reassurance that the ephemeral something still stretched between them had remained unbroken. For Maria, it’d been enough. Sitting there drowning in the proof of what was still between them, Maria could win the fight against that cold, scaly thing inside her. She felt it settle, felt it slip back beneath the dark surface of her conscious mind.
Good , she thought. This situation was never yours to control in the first place.
At times Maria envied how easily the assassin had been able to accept her place in this partnership. Coming off of missions, she always made sure she could spend enough time in Maria’s presence to anchor herself again, to sooth the restlessly over-protective thing inside of her that rose every time they were apart. She never seemed to struggle with the ways in which their bond had changed her.
It was something Natasha achieved without thinking but for Maria, turned her into someone she still was not sure how to be.