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(The Names) Our Bodies Call Each Other

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     When my body had forgotten its purpose,
     when it just hung off my brainstem like whipped mule.
     When my hands only wrote. When my mouth only ate.
     When my ass sat, my eyes read, when my reflexes
     were answers to questions we all already knew.
     Remember how it was then that you slid your hand
     into me, a fork in the electric toaster of my body. Jesus,
     where did all these sparks come from? Where was all
     this heat?
     —Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, December

Natasha's apartment, when she led Jessica inside and flicked on the light, was bare: there was little furniture and sparse decoration, not so much in a trendy minimalist way as in an I-just-moved-here-and-haven't-had-time-to-decorate way. As far as Jessica knew, though, she'd lived here for years. Jessica examined the bare walls as she unzipped her jacket. "This place is depressing as ever."

Natasha tossed her an unconcerned look. "It's home." She toed off her boots and shrugged out of her coat. "Do you want a drink? I was planning on a glass of wine, but I could make you something."

Jessica blinked, halfway through struggling out of her own boots. "Oh, no, wine is fine," she said. "Just… whatever you're drinking."

"Red it is." Natasha moved to the kitchen, waving Jessica off when she tried to follow. "I've got this. Go, sit."

Jessica sat. When Natasha joined her, getting settled with her couch and her wine, she said, "All right, Jessica. Tell me something interesting."

So they talked. They talked about work, and about their teammates, and about the new Ms. Marvel apparently running the show down in Jersey City, and not once did Natasha ask why Jessica had been waiting on her doorstep at two in the morning. This, here, Jessica thought, this was why, why she'd gone to Natasha when her brain began to rattle like a bee caught in a jar: whether it's the spy training or just some inherent Natasha-ish quality, Natasha was easy to talk to. Things didn't get weird with her; awkward silences had no place under her roof.

Jessica sat back, drank her wine, and let it happen.

Eventually, they got on the topic of whatever solo stuff Natasha was doing these days. "And then," Natasha was saying, a laugh on her voice, "I kid you not, he says, Do you feel lucky? Why do I always get the nerds?"

Jessica drained her glass and plunked it on the coffee table. She leaned back against the couch and looked down at Natasha, seated on the floor near her. "I don't know how you do all of that on top of being on the team," she said. "I'm busy enough as it is. God, I haven't even gotten laid since—" Since Clint, she didn't say, because that way lay dragons. She made a noise, irritated with herself. "Since a while ago, anyway."

Natasha laughed. She tipped her head back to look at Jessica, and Jessica's eyes traced the line of her neck. "Darling, I can guarantee you it's been longer for me."

Their eyes caught on one another, snagging like a callous on cashmere. Jessica thought, suddenly and with a clarity that startled her, I should kiss her.

Instead, she said, "Have you seen Carol's newest cat pics?"

Natasha blinked, and the moment shattered. "What? No, I must not be on that particular mailing list."

"Nobody has mailing lists anymore, old lady. She texts them. Or she did before she left for space. Pass me my phone."

"Pass yourself your phone."

"It's right beside you!" She gestured to where it sat, on the end table next to the couch.

Natasha set her glass down on the coffee table and folded her arms, settling back against the couch's base. She tilted her chin up at Jessica. "Too bad. I'm comfy here."

Jessica narrowed her eyes and put her own glass down. "You are such an asshole. I'm writing you a bad Yelp review."

"Ouch, that really stings."

"Just wait until you start losing customers. Get out of my way."

She had slid off the couch to reach for her phone, but Natasha just raised an eyebrow and refused to budge. Jessica sighed dramatically and knee-walked across her, balancing one hand on Natasha's shoulder and straddling her outstretched legs. She misjudged the distance, though — her depth perception always got a little funky after she'd gotten some wine in her — and she had just gotten her hand around her phone when she overbalanced and wobbled dangerously to the side.

"Whoa," Natasha said, laughing, and balanced her with her hands on Jessica's hips.

Jessica laughed and looked down at Natasha through the curtain of her own hair. They were close, now, so close. Natasha was smiling up to her eyes, and her hands were so warm through Jessica's shirt and, wow, had Natasha always had such a nice mouth? She must have, right? How did Jessica not notice it until now?

She dragged her gaze up from Natasha's lips to her eyes and found Natasha watching her again. Like she was assessing the situation, waiting for Jessica's next move.

"Stop me if this is a bad idea," Jessica said, and she ducked her head and kissed her.

It probably was a bad idea, Jessica was mature enough to know that, but Natasha made no move to stop her. Instead, she tilted her head so their noses wouldn't bump and kissed Jessica back. Her hands slid from Jessica's hips up her sides, slow, soft, and goosebumps rose over Jessica's skin.

Fuck, this was Jessica's best bad idea ever.

Later, much later, Jessica trudged home in the grey morning light, and she wondered: if you haven't gone to sleep yet, does it count as a walk of shame?

Then again, it wasn't like she never arrived home in the early hours of the day, bleary-eyed and frumpy, for perfectly innocent reasons. Her internal clock was kind of fucked; that was the whole problem, and why, in fact, she'd gone to Natasha last night instead of suffering another bout of late night TV. She turned her key in the lock and opened her apartment door.

Everything was exactly as she left it – garbage bags piled up by the door, the mass of clothes on her bedroom floor escaping into the hall, shoes strewn everywhere for her to trip on. Jessica flicked on a light, navigated the detritus blocking her path to her kitchen, and opened the fridge door to stare inside.

Nothing. Abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Or to be more specific: an empty thing of yogurt, two slices of probably-stale bread, the end of a brick of cheese, and half a dozen bottles of various condiments with nothing to spread them on. Jessica wasn't sure what she was expecting – food to have sprung up overnight? She hadn't gone for groceries in almost two weeks.

"Fuck," she muttered, grabbing the cheese and bread and closing the door. Getting groceries would require showering, probably, and finding clothes other than her pajamas to change into. It would mean bundling back up, going back out in the cold, and walking eight blocks to her grocery store, finding the groceries, carrying them around the store, standing in line, playing nice with the cashier, paying, and lugging everything back to her apartment. Then putting it away. And preparing the food before she could eat it, because she was probably going to get anemia or, like, scurvy from subsisting entirely on homemade bagelwiches as it was.

She wasn't hungry enough to bother. Jessica made her sad little sandwich, then went to her bedroom, changed into her pajamas, and put her phone down on the trunk that moonlighted as her coffee table, settling in to watch some TV until she got called in to work.

"It's just you and me, Queen," she said, starting up the first episode stored in her DVR, and then felt faintly embarrassed for saying it out loud.

The thing was — and ask any of Jessica's teammates about this, they'd tell you the same — but the thing was, SHIELD pay was for shit. You could get food, sure, maybe pay rent if you found a good deal on a not-too-shitty apartment, and it was definitely enough to keep yourself in uniforms when one got ripped on the job. Past that, though, there wasn't really much room for having expensive tastes.

Which was precisely how Jessica had wound up here: forty-three days since her little bottle ran out of pink pills, trying to do her job with her hands shaking like leaves in the goddamn wind.

She was past the anxiety and the crying jags, past the electric shocks jolting down her spine; she had, blessedly, gotten through those parts pretty quickly, with minimal influence impact on her job. Like last time, though, the sleep problems stuck around, and between that and the whole no-food-in-the-house thing, her shitty body was starting to show the wear.

"Today, Spider-Woman," Hill's voice snapped over the line, and Jessica's fingers finally fumbled open the lock on the crate.

"I still don't know why I had to be on lock-breaking duty," Jessica muttered. It didn't help that it was cold out here, but it still wasn't cold enough for her to be shaking like this. She pried open the lid to the crate and grabbed the package inside.

"Would you rather be getting shot at?" Nick shouted, the sound of another volley crackling through the line.

Jessica tucked the package securely under her arm and ran for the warehouse door. "Nope, but I'm about to be anyway!"

When it was all over, Jessica found herself surrounded by the unconscious bodies of AIM goons, doubled over and trying to catch her breath. Those dudes could move.

"Here," she said breathlessly, holding out the package in the general direction of her teammates. "It's safe, someone take this to Hill. I need a moment. And to work more on my cardio, wow," she added, knowing full well it would take nothing short of divine intervention to make that happen.

Phil, Clint and Natasha all made their way over, but Phil was the only one who grabbed for the package. Jessica handed it over, and he gave her a jokey salute and turned to where the helicopter sat waiting to take them home.

Which… left Jessica with her ex on the one hand, and on the other, the woman she'd kind of had casual sex with. Not that Natasha acting strange around her; on the contrary, she was acting just like she always did, which was one of the great things about Natasha. If you're gonna bang a coworker, Jessica figured, you should make sure you do it with one who knows how to remain professional.

Jessica straightened up, her breathing back under control, and Clint patted her firmly on the shoulder. "Good retrieval," he said, and Jessica fought back the urge to roll her eyes. He was being friendly, and she was being Mature Jess. Clint blew on his hands, tossed a look back towards the helicopter and sighed. "I told Hill morale on the team would go way up if she installed some of those butt-warmer things in the seats. Do you think she'll ever put 'em in?"

Instead of waiting for a response, he turned and headed for the helicopter. Natasha put a hand on Jessica's arm, leaned in, and murmured, "That's what she said."

Jessica laughed, a surprised, inelegant kind of snort. Natasha squeezed her arm once before moving to join Clint, and Jessica's stomach did a funny swooping thing as she watched Natasha walk away and that — that was it, really.

Because Jessica may not have been rich with self-respect, but she still had too much of it to pretend she didn't know what a crush on a teammate felt like. She'd been here before, with Clint, with Carol, she knew the signs; worse, she thought in retrospect that this one might have been a long time coming. She considered her own eagerness to be around Natasha, the ease of her company and the choices that led Jessica to Natasha's apartment that night.


"Come on, Spider-Woman, we haven't got all day!" Natasha called out. Jessica looked up to see the four of them – Natasha, Clint, Nick, and Phil – standing all in a line in front of the helicopter, waiting for her.

C'mon, Jess. She called back an apology and jogged over to meet them. Natasha greeted her with a smile and a hand on her elbow and turned to lead her inside, and Jessica swore silently that she wouldn't make this weird.

She managed to make good on that vow for almost a full twenty-four hours.

The flight home, sure, Jessica behaved like a normal person. She chatted with Nick, laughed at everyone's jokes, even lamented the lack of butt-warmers with Clint (because really, heated seating would make this thing a little cozier). Debriefing was easy, and of course, it was hard to make things awkward once she was back in the safety of her own pigsty of a home. Bomb-sitting duty the next morning, though, that was a different story.

"So," Vlad said, "when are you going to tell them?"

Jessica, perched upside-down on an overhead pipe, looked at him through the curtain of her own – ugh, greasy – hair. "What?"

"That you can read their emotional states," he clarified.

She sighed. "I'm still not an empath, Vlad."

"Really." Somehow, he managed to look unimpressed. "So it was just a coincidence that you knew what to say?"

"I'll let you sit with that one for a minute, I'm sure the answer will come to you," Jessica replied. The door behind Jessica creaked open and she tipped her head backwards to find a very upside-down Natasha.

Unfortunately, in doing so, she leaned back too far: she lost her balance and her grip on the pipe, and tumbled gracelessly to the floor.

"You should probably stop doing that," Vlad observed.

Jessica rubbed her back. "Thanks," she told him. She looked back at Natasha. "Hey, Nat."

"Hey. Hi, Vlad." She nodded in Vlad's direction. "Jess, Hill wants me to tell you that it's a false alarm and we're free to go. She said we should, and I quote, Go get some pedicures, or whatever you two do."

She held out a hand, and Jessica let herself be pulled to her feet. She didn't feel tingles, quite, when she held Natasha's hand, but she was acutely aware of how warm Natasha was. Jessica made herself let go. "Nice of her. Was it actually a false alarm, or were we just aggravating her with our presence?"

Natasha shrugged. "Does it matter?"

"Not really. I won't say no to a pedicure. Later, Vlad."

They said their goodbyes, and Natasha and Jessica left. When the door closed behind them, Natasha put a hand on Jessica's lower back, leaned in close, and said, "Pedicures are great, but I can think of something even more fun we could be doing."

Jessica laughed – at the corniness of the line, at the tingle that actually was running down her spine this time – but she didn't disagree.

It was slower, the second time.

Natasha touched her breasts, rubbed her thumbs and tongue over Jessica's nipples until they ached, until she was oversensitive and more aware than she'd ever been of every sensation against her skin. When she came, it was with Natasha's fingers against her clit, Natasha's teeth against her clavicle. Her breasts stung against the cool air of the room.

She caught her breath, flipped Natasha gently over onto her back, and wriggled inelegantly down the bed. Natasha was quiet in bed, eerily so, but Jessica was pretty great with her mouth; she wanted to wring every sound she could from Natasha, make it as good for her as it had been for Jessica. She pressed her lips to Natasha through the fabric of her underwear, and grinned when Natasha gasped.

An orgasm or so later, giving Natasha a break and mouthing at a knot of scars over her ribs, Jessica felt the bedspread shift a little beneath her. She lifted her head just enough to see Natasha gripping the sheets beneath both hands.

Shifting her weight to one arm, Jessica moved her free hand up the bed to nudge at Natasha's fingers. Natasha stilled for a moment, then released her grip on the fabric and laced her fingers through Jessica's.

It was a little awkward for Jessica to get herself rebalanced, but it worked out for them: Natasha used the grip on Jessica's hand as leverage, and Jessica got the extra feedback of Natasha squeezing her fingers whenever Jessica did something extra awesome with her tongue. Win/win. She dipped her head to bite at Natasha's thigh, and stroked her thumb idly up and down Natasha's hand.

There was a full week, this time, before she saw Natasha again. Hill hadn't had any missions for them, for once in her life, and Jessica'd had nothing to do. She'd slept; she'd gotten takeout; she'd watched made-for-TV movies and played Candy Crush. Eventually, though, her apartment had begun to feel claustrophobic, all cramped and airless, and she'd grabbed her jacket and left, already knowing where she'd end up.

She hoped Natasha wouldn't think she was just there for a low-tech booty call. She really hoped that.

This time, though, Natasha didn't even pause when she saw Jessica sitting on her doorstep. She raised her eyebrows playfully. "We've got to stop meeting like this."

Jessica's cheeks got a little warm. "There was nothing on TV and I got bored. Whatever."

"Whatever," Natasha repeated. She was smiling, though, like she didn't mind the idea of Jessica crashing her lonely party. It was only when she got closer that Jessica noticed the pale sheen to her face, the dark smudges under her eyes.

"Jesus." Jessica stood up. "Natasha, no offense, but you look like crap."

"Oh, none taken," Natasha said drily. She hip-checked Jessica lightly out of the way and unlocked the door.

"No, seriously, I mean that in the nicest way possible." Jessica followed Natasha inside and up the narrow staircase. "When's the last time you got any sleep?"

"Last night."

"When's the last time you got a full night's sleep?"

Natasha paused in front of her apartment door and counted on her fingers. And kept counting. "It's been a while," she said finally.

She unlocked the door and stood back to let Jessica inside. Unwrapping her scarf, Jessica said, "Not good enough. You got anything you need to do tonight?"

"Aside from make us some drinks? No, I'd say my schedule's pretty clear until tomorrow."

"Good, then you're on couch rest."

Natasha stopped in her path to the kitchen and turned to face Jessica. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me. Doctor's orders."

"You're a doctor now?"

Jessica put on her best Tony-Stark-trying-to-be-seductive face. "Baby, I can be anything you want." She savoured the warm stab of pleasure when Natasha laughed. "No, seriously though," she added in her normal voice, "go. Shoo. Sit on the couch. I'll make us drinks."


"Shoo. Tonight you're resting and we will have drinks and gossip about our teammates and then you will get a good night's sleep."

Natasha narrowed her eyes. Jessica stared her down. Eventually, Natasha sighed. "Fine. But you'd better know how to make a Manhattan."

Jessica grinned. "Kind of!" Then her grin faded a little. "Nat, if I'm being too pushy—"

Natasha waved a hand. "It's fine, I'll tell you if you get there. And who's going to say no to being pampered? Cocktail shaker's in the cupboard above the sink."

Jessica got herself to the kitchen and the Black Widow's surprisingly sad liquor cabinet, and made two halfway passable — probably — Manhattans. Jessica was just making her way back to the living-room-ish area when Natasha's phone rang, loud and shrill. Natasha made to stand up and grab it, but Jessica jumped in her path and shoved a drink into her hand.

"No, sit down, I'll get it," she said. "Pretend I'm your secretary. Nobody's getting through unless it's an emergency and I can't handle it."

She was halfway across the room already, and Natasha gave up and flopped back down. Jessica got her hand around the phone on the third ring - Isaiah, said the caller ID - and only then did it occur to her she didn't know if this was a cheery Hi, Natasha's phone or a threatening Black Widow's phone sort of situation.

Fourth ring. Shit. "Are you Natasha or Widow to phone people?" Natasha lifted her head and stared. The fifth ring started up and Jessica panicked, hit the green button and held the phone to her ear. "Uh, hellooo?"

She winced.

"...Who is this?" said a voice on the phone, just as Natasha said, "Who is it?"

Jessica mouthed, Isaiah, and Natasha rolled her eyes and stretched a hand out for the phone. Probably a first name situation, then. "Um, hi, this is a friend of Natasha's, she's on enforced couch-rest and can't come to the phone right now. Can I take a message?"

"Give me the phone, Drew," Natasha growled - legitimately growled, it was hilarious. Jessica was about to hand it over when the guy on the phone laughed.

"No, it's fine," he said, more relaxed now. "Just ask her to call me in the morning. I'm glad someone's making her take a break. She's not great at that."

"I know, right? I'll pass the message along."

Isaiah said a quick thank you and hung up, and Jessica set the phone back down on the coffee table. "Isaiah wants you to call him in the morning," she told Natasha.

"He just wants to talk money again. Fine." Natasha patted the couch cushion next to her, so Jessica sat down.

"Do you want to snuggle?" Jessica said. "We could snuggle."

Natasha gave her a look. "I don't snuggle."

"That's the saddest thing I've ever heard." Jessica kept to her side of the couch, though. God knew sometimes she wanted to be physically left the hell alone, too.

They sat in silence together for a while, sipping their cocktails. Finally, Natasha sighed heavily, gathered her blanket around her, and shifted to Jessica's side of the couch. She curled her legs up underneath her and leaned her weight against Jessica.

Jessica took another sip. "I knew you snuggled."

"This isn't snuggling. I'm cold and tired and you're like a huge, warm pillow. It's pragmatic."

"Nah. I'm totally snuggling with the Black Widow right now."

"Ugh." Natasha sighed again, dramatically. "You're lucky I like you so much."

Her face tightened minutely as she said it, and Jessica, seeing it, felt her stomach sink down to her toes. She wondered if she should say something right now, clear the air once and for all. Hey, so, no pressure, but I kind of accidentally went and got all these gooey feelings for you? No worries, though, they'll probably go away if I ignore them long enough. Maybe.

Yeah, no. She was going to woman up and keep pretending her feelings weren't there, just like a mature adult secret agent who was pining for a coworker should.

"Hey," Natasha said, interrupting Jessica's thoughts. Jessica could find no trace of discomfort in her voice. "Do you want to watch a movie?"

Jessica blinked. "Nat, you don't have a TV."

"No, but I have a laptop." She pointed to it, resting on the end table on Jessica's side of the couch. Jessica could probably just reach it if she stretched. "Grab it for me, let's see what I've got on there."

As it turned out, she had an entire library of high-def movies. Mostly action and snooty foreign dramas, but she had a pretty sizeable collection of romcoms, too.

"Aww, Natasha," Jessica said, "I never took you for the romantic type!"

Natasha rolled her eyes. She clicked open the folder of action movies and started scrolling through the list.

They ended up on Die Hard, because the first thing they could both agree on was that it felt like a Die Hard kind of night. Jessica settled in for the opening of it, Natasha still warm and solid against her side.

By the time the credits rolled, Natasha had given up all pretence and gone for the full-on cuddle. She'd moved the laptop from her lap to the coffee table, and once her glass was empty, she'd slung an arm around Jessica's waist. Jessica had to put her own arm around Natasha's shoulders just to keep it from falling asleep.

Finally, the credits ended and the file closed itself. Natasha leaned her head back against Jessica's shoulder and looked up at Jessica. "Do you want to stay here tonight? You could, you know."

Her hair was a dishevelled mess and her eyeshadow was creased in her lids. Jessica kind of never wanted to move again. "That would probably be a bad idea," she said honestly, thinking of her morning routine of 'lying in bed for an hour until her muscles responded to demands to move.' Nobody should be subject to that.

Natasha just smiled a little and nodded. Her cheek rasped against Jessica's sleeve. "You'll be okay walking home alone, then?"

"Pfft. I'm a superhero, remember? I'm always fine."

Natasha looked at her for a long moment. Then she smiled again and nudged Jessica's shoulder with her own. "Get going, then," she said. "I've got to go to bed."

On her way out into the snow, Jessica ran into Liho the cat. Liho mewed at her until she crouched down to scratch under her chin. "I know," Jessica murmured over Liho's purrs. "I'm totally screwed."

And then, of course, because this was the way Jessica's life worked, Natasha went and got herself kidnapped.

"Okay, don't freak out," Hill said when she got them all assembled.

They stared at her. Jessica said, "I am way past freaking out."

"Well, stop freaking out, then. I need you clear-headed on this. Now, the bad news is that we haven't had any communication from her yet. No signals, nothing. That means she might be unconscious."

"Or dead," said Jessica.

Hill glared at her. "You don't kidnap someone just to kill them, now stop interrupting. We know roughly where she is, but her tracker stopped transmitting a little while ago. That's what set the alarm off. Something's blocking it. Her last recorded coordinates were near the perimeter of a known AIM base, however, so we can assume that's where she is."

"What's the good news?" Clint cut in.


"You said the bad news. That implies good news. What's the good news?"

Hill levelled him with a long look. "The good news is that she's the Black Widow, and nobody has managed to hold the Black Widow yet. Now shut it. Here's the plan."

The plan was simple: get in, find Natasha, get out. Clint was on back-watching duty, making sure they got in safely and, ideally, undetected. Jessica, Phil, and Nick were each to cover a third of the base in order to find Natasha as quickly as possible. Hill had given them some kind of closed-system-whatever comms so that they could signal each other for backup even with AIM blocking outgoing signals. She said she wanted minimal casualties.

"No promises," Nick replied to that, and Jessica couldn't help but agree.

"This is a rescue mission," Hill reminded him. "Find your teammate now, get revenge later. Get going."

Clint got them in with little fuss. There were two guards outside, each of whom Clint dropped with a single shot, and another two in the hall just past the side door. Jessica and Nick each took one while Phil scouted ahead; the goons didn't even shout for backup before they fell unconscious. Rookies.

Phil looked at Jessica and gestured to a stairwell leading down. She took that as her cue and headed downstairs.

She found herself in a long, dark hall, all damp and cold and dimly-lit. There were cells along the walls, honest-to-god cells with metal bars and everything, what the fuck. Someone needed to let AIM know it was 2014 already.

There was a scraping sound to Jessica's left, a little way down the hall, and Jessica's brain snapped back to the mission. Jessica moved slowly, keeping her steps soft and her body close to the cells on her left, and peeked into the cell the noise had come from.

Natasha was crouched in front of the lock, holding a bobby pin. She glanced up at Jessica. "Oh, hey."

The relief that overtook Jessica was so profound she felt almost dizzy with it. She dropped to her knees in front of Natasha, reached through the bars, and pulled her forward to kiss her.

Then she remembered where they were. When she tried to pull away, though, Natasha made a frustrated sound and hauled her back in, pressing a hard kiss to Jessica's lips. Then she let her go.

"Not now," Natasha muttered. Then, quieter: "Later."

Jessica grinned a little wildly. "Need any help with that lock?"

She didn't, as it turned out, but she let Jessica play lookout and feel useful anyway. Once Natasha was on the right side of the bars, Jessica touched her earpiece and said, "I've got the Widow." She fished around in her pocket for the spare earpiece Hill had given each of them and handed it to Natasha.

There was a crackle of feedback over the line, followed by Nick's voice saying, tersely, "Great, but we're a little busy!" and a series of shouts and thumps.

Jessica and Natasha looked at one another and ran for the stairs.

There were five of them, all facing away from the stairwell and firing at an overturned structure down the hall that she'd bet her butt hid Nick and Phil. Natasha took two of them out almost faster than Jessica could blink, clocking one over the head and wrestling the second to the ground, and when the guy next to them turned to see what was happening, Jessica grabbed his gun and smacked him in the head.

Not very classy, but efficient. The guy dropped like a bag of potatoes. The remaining two goons flailed a little, unsure where to point their guns, and with their attentions divided, Nick leaned out from behind the structure – whatever it was – and dropped them both easily.

Suitably rescued, he and Phil emerged, looking annoyed but intact. "Report," Hill said, her voice tinny over the line.

Natasha responded immediately. "We're all safe," she said, "no major injuries. The second floor is currently cleared, but I doubt it'll be long before they bring in reinforcements."

"Good. Hawkeye is in position to cover your retreat. We don't know how many more AIM operatives there are in this place, so I want you to engage as little as possible from here on out. Let Hawkeye cover you: the four of you just make it to the helicopter as fast as possible. Got it?"

In other words: run like hell through a hail of bullets. Jessica hated this job sometimes.

In the end, they made it. Once they were in the air, Hill turned on Natasha with that scary I'm-totally-not-showing-emotion-right-now-because-I'm-so-pissed-at-you-I've-forgotten-how look.

"All right, Natasha," she said evenly. "How did that happen."

Natasha frowned, but her shoulders were slumped, like her heart wasn't in it. "I got careless," she said simply. "I thought I was meeting a new potential client to discuss a job. Turns out, I really need to rethink my vetting process."

"You think?" Hill shook her head. "What did they want you for, anyway?"

A shrug. "Questioning, I assume. They hadn't gotten that far yet. If they'd really known what they were doing, they wouldn't have left me alone in that cell as soon as they got me there, but honestly, they weren't that good. Professional enough to knock me out and make the cuffs too tight to slip out of, not professional enough to confiscate the shim inside my shoe." She proffered a small, thin rectangle of metal from her pocket. "Unlocked the cuffs, broke the zip strips, and here we are."

"After your teammates rescued you, you mean."

"After that, yes."

Jessica watched the AIM base rapidly shrinking through the window. "Can we blow them up?" she asked. "I want to blow them up."

"No," Hill said.

"You never let me have any fun."

Natasha, seated across from her, caught her eye and grinned.

Jessica had planned to ride her adrenaline high all the way home, maybe call Natasha later that night – on the phone, wouldn't that be novel – and make her talk out what had happened, but she'd barely stepped out of the helicopter before Natasha grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into a kiss.

And seriously, it was a good kiss. Movie star-worthy for sure. Jessica grabbed the front of Natasha's coat in her fists, startled, and Natasha grinned and slid a hand into Jessica's hair. Jessica could hear Clint laughing, faintly, somewhere behind her, and she removed a hand from the fabric of Natasha's coat and flipped him off.

After another moment – a great moment – she broke off the kiss and pressed her forehead to Natasha's. "I want to date you," she said, on a breathless whim, but she felt sure of it as the words left her lips. "I'm a total mess, but I want that. I want you to be my girlfriend, do you want to be my girlfriend?" Natasha smiled at her and leaned in to kiss her again, but Jessica stepped back, out of her reach. "No, come on, you have to answer me. I need answers!"

Natasha rolled her eyes. "Yes, I do, okay? Now come here." She wrapped a hand around the back of Jessica's neck and pulled her back in. She kissed Jessica, long and firm, and Jessica smiled against her lips, against the giddy feeling rising in her heart.