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In their relationship it was usually Natasha who was away, on some mission or assignment given to her by S.H.I.E.L.D, the organisation who seemed to have planned her every waking moment. Except this time it was Maria, away in Sudan collecting Intel from some gang about a handful of Chitauri weaponry that seemed to have fallen onto the black market, and consequentially into their hands.

To anyone that asked Natasha would say she wasn't worried about the fact that it had been four hours since their scheduled check in and they hadn't heard anything; but mentally it was tearing her up in ways that she hadn't expected. The brunette had been away for about two days, in that time Natasha had noticed how empty her life was without the woman. 

She missed walking into briefing and finding a take-away cup of coffee from this cheep but cute coffee shop a short walk from The Triscellion (Maria would always buy two, one each, because neither were morning people even if their jobs warranted it.) In fact, everything seemed dull and unamusing. 

One look still sent other agents running in the other direction, but not with as much fear as they usually did when both she and Hill were together. She got a kick out of being with the Deputy Director, and even though they'd been seeing each other for months Natasha still got butterfly's when she saw the woman, especially if that before mentioned brunette was laying in her bed in almost nothing.

Natasha cleared away that fantasy as she walked from a debriefing to another briefing. The Triscellion was not her favorite place in the world but at least she'd hear news about Maria quicker. 

She'd managed to grab a styrofoam cup of coffee on her way inside, but it tasted stale, like she had expected it too. Still, she forced the liquid down, then clutched the empty cup as she slid through the closing doors on an elevator. It was pretty packed, especially considering it was one of the smaller and more internal ones. 

There were four other people cramped into the space, Natasha recognised none of them, but their expressions told her that they recognised her. The smallest woman, and quite obviously the youngest and newest stood with her mouth gaping. It could have been her first day, if the pristine pencil skirt and starched blouse told Natasha anything. She clutched a brown file to her chest, the front was turned outwards, Natasha could see the words confidential stamped across the front.

"Turn that file around Agent" she said quietly, knowing that the other three occupants would hear even if she'd whispered. 

The young woman flushed red and swiftly turned the brown file around to clutch it to her chest, almost dropping it as she moved her hand to wipe auburn hair out of her face. "Yes Ma'am" she muttered quickly, sighing when the elevator dinged and hurrying out, even though Natasha knew it wasn't her floor. 

Clint came in and took her place, grinning like he'd done something bad. Natasha didn't doubt that he had, and guessed she would hear all about it later when someone decided to bitch about it a little too loudly. Clint was still suited up, quiver strung over his back and bow in hand, the thin sheen of dryin sweat told her that he'd come back from a mission pretty recently. 

"Have you heard anything about Foxtrot?" Clint muttered quietly, looking around quickly at the other agent on the elevator, all were pretending to look busy, every one of them listening in. Foxtrot was the code name for Maria's mission.

Natasha shook her head, "no." Her voice was bitter, Clint didn't question it but Natasha knew he picked up on it. "You just got back?"

"Some Deli about twenty blocks away, exploding sandwiches, the rest of my guys are in med-bay with sandwich related injuries." He chuckled, "I shouldn't laugh, but it's hard not to when you watch someone get knock out by a flying sub roll. Have you seen Coulson?"

Now that the bastard wasn't dead Clint had been spending a lot of time with the bloke. Natasha didn't blame him, even though Phil wasn't her type she could see why Clint was interested. "Not since before lunch, you know he's only in for a few days right? Refuelling his BUS then jetting off with that team of his." 

"The Cavalry wasn't it?"

"Don't call her that" Natasha replied automatically, snorting a short laugh at him. "Yeah, not a bad  team at all, considering half of it is made up of kids."

Clint nodded in agreement, "but you can't fault FitzSimmons."

"No, you can't and from what I've heard that hacker of theirs isn't half bad either. Skye wasn't it?" The elevator halted and two more people filtered out, leaving them alone with another new looking recruit, this time a stick figure thin young man wearing a plaid shirt and jeans under a S.H.I.E.L.D issue grey lab coat. "Agent Ward's her S.O."

"Never liked that guy" Clint replied, snorting as he shook his head. 

Natasha rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her field suit, probably the reason why the scientist was now staring at her with wide hazel eyes and a semi-open mouth. "Just because he has more contact with Phil at the moment or is it because he broke your arrow that one time?" 

"Doesn't matter" Clint huffed, turning away and facing the elevator doors, stepping out when they opened, pausing briefly to blow her a mock flirty kiss, to which she flipped him off. 

That left Natasha in the elevator with the shaky scientist, she had her back to him now, but she felt him staring at her ass. She almost smiled when she thought of how Maria would have replied. If you persist to stare at Agent Romanoffs ass, Agent, then I will have you cleaning my office every afternoon until you learn that only I get that privilege. That does for mine too! She recalled the last time that had happened, remembering the look on the agents face when he realised that he'd been caught. "Take a picture" she said off-handedly.

"Wh...what?" The scientist stuttered in reply.

Natasha didn't turn towards him. "I said, take a picture, it'll last longer."

"I'm sorry... I didn't-" 

 "Of course not" she cut him off with a sarcastic tone. "You accidentally found yourself starting at my ass." She whirled on her heal, face carefully blank as she crossed her arms again and looked at him with a raised eyebrow. 

 His head dropped in terror, Natasha covered up a smile. "I'm sorry Black Widow, Agent Romanoff Sir, Ma'am!" 

 "I am most definitely a woman, agent. I am not a man, therefore I am not a sir. Do I look like a man?" She took a step closer, watching as he stepped away in fear.

His head shook almost violently. "No Ma'am." 

"Good." She pause for a second, waiting for the elevator doors to open, then walked out onto her floor, leaving the young scientist quaking in his shoes. 

"Afternoon Romanoff" Coulson greeted as he left one of the briefing rooms. He had a few files tucked under his arm, Skye followed him, taking an unconscious step away from Natasha. They hadn't met officially, but they'd heard of each other. "Skye, this is Agent Romanoff. Tasha, this is Skye."

"Pleasure" Natasha greeted the woman easily, already taking a liking to the woman when she straightened up and looked her in the eye. Any friend of Coulsons was already considered an ally to her. She trusted his judgement.

Skye shook her hand steadily, "it's nice to put a face to the name." Her voice was controlled neatly. Natasha took a brief second to scan her, light skinny jeans, and a plain grey shirt under a long sleeved red checkered one. 

"Like wise" Natasha replied with a small smile. She noticed the bracelet around her wrist, she'd seen it before, even used a few on missions that had needed them. "I see they have you tagged." She commented.

"Not any more, I keep it as a souvenir" Skye giggled quietly, relaxing slightly but not fully, still consious about the stories that followed the Black Widow. "It was nice meeting you Agent Romanoff." 

"Natasha if you see my two scientists, FitzSimmons, can you tell them to meet back at the BUS by four? It'll be a real favour." 

"Sure thing Phil" she replied, walking away but smirking when she heard Skye whisper 'Phil!?

Deciding that her briefing could wait a little longer Natasha turned down a seperate corridor and towards the North Side stairwell, she walked down twenty flights and pushed through a pair of double doors into one of the labs. She'd met Agent Simmons before, but even without she would have been able to locate the two scientists by the size of the crowd gathered around them as they worked. 

For a short while neither seemed to notice their new red-headed audience member, even though she stood out not just because of her hair colour but because of the clothes she was wearing (there was no way you could mistake her catsuit for a lab coat.) Natasha watched with amusement as they worked, occasionally explaining something extremely complicated to the scientists around them; a mix of engineers, biologists and chemists. 

Natasha was unsure which noticed her first, but both of their heads turned in her direction at the same time, further adding to the rumour that they were psychically linked because she hadn't even seen their lips moving. 

As soon as FitzSimmons had noticed her their surrounding crowd seemed to as well, because they swiftly returned to their workstations with their heads bowed. As computer keys began to click, and glass hit each other, Simmons approached her, smiling widely. "Agent Romanoff" she said, sounding surprised. "How did you know we were down here?"

"Coulson tipped me off, he told me to tell you that he wants you back at the BUS by four. I decided to make a special visit, it's much more interesting then sitting through another boring briefing. How are you?" 

"We're... urm, I'm great. Oh, this is Leo Fitz, I don't think you met him." Simmons blushed "how are you? What about you and Commander Hill?" 

"Other then the fact that Hill has been MIA for about four hours we're fine. I'm alright too." 

Simmons gasped, "MIA? As in Missing In Action?"

"She's in Sudan with Rodgers trying to gather Intel on some Chitauri weapons that ended up on the black market." She felt comfortable telling the younger agents, and the mission wasn't exactly above their security clearance, it was just not many people were aware of it. Probably for the better. "I have no doubt she's okay, and I warned Steve beforehand that if there was so much as a scratch on her body then he would pay."

Fitz had been watching the exchange with a mix of confusion and interest, his head and been whipping from one woman to another. Natasha caught his eyes, smiling internally at the blush that spread from his pale cheeks all the way around to the back of his neck. "Agent Romanoff, Simmons and I just finished working on another Night Night pistol. Do you want to, err, come test it?"

"Night Night pistol?" She quirked an eyebrow at Simmons, who was blushing even more then Fitz was.

"Its like a tranquiliser gun without the darts and with a better effect. It uses a dendrotoxin I engineered, harmless but guaranteed to work." Natasha knew that the younger woman was purposefully not going into detail, not that Natasha would have minded it would be better then going to the briefing she was meant to be at. Someone would fill her in anyway probably whoever was unfortunate enough to be assigned as her partner.

"Go ahead, I've nothing better to do."

Natasha spent the best part of an hour listening to Fitz explain what the weapon did. He was passionate, but didn't get carried away. Although he was almost constantly flustered, even more so when she asked him a question. They'd moved from the lab to the BUS, which was all she had expected it to be. It was so luxurious that it could probably compare to one of Starks private planes.

As she excused herself from the lab, quite big considering only two scientists used it, she heard a door above her open then closed. She watched as Agent May came down the stairs and stopped in-front of her, "and what do you think you're doing?" 

Natasha flashed her a grin, "Mel. It's good to see you again."

"Obviously not if you were going to leave without saying hello." Melinda pouted, but it's was obviously fake and she didn't hold it up for long because she cracked a rare smile. "How've you been?"

"Busy, you know how it is." She allowed her eyes to wander around the large cargo hold, lingering on Lola before returning to look at Melinda. "I got together with Commander Hill" she confided, expecting that the other woman already knew. 

As expected Melinda just nodded, "so I heard. I have to go finish refuelling my plane, next time I'm in the Hub I'll text you." 

"I know you will" she smiled cheekily. "See you around, I should probably go see what that briefing was about anyway." 

That evening Natasha was exhausted by the time she returned to the apartment she shared with Maria. It hadn't been arranged, Natasha usually slept at the Hub but when they'd started dating she began to stay with Maria a lot, and gradually moved in. Now her only belongings at the hub were a collection of weaponry and a few field suits.

She'd changed out of one of them when she finally decided to clock off, and had returned home in a pair of jeans and a shirt. She'd been wearing a hooded shirt too, but the second she'd stepped in the door she'd stripped it over her head and slung it over the back of one of the White leather sofas that had come with the apartment. Her shoes landed by the wall under the small table and she padded barefoot through the empty apartment to grab a bottle of beer from the fridge in the kitchen. 

Natasha didn't feel like going out tonight, it was no fun without Maria, she couldn't beat up anyone that tried to hit on the brunette. Just as she was begining to unwind her laptop chimed from the dining table. She always left it on, scanning all networks in encrypted windows, this time however it was telling her that she had a waiting Skype call, which was extremely unusual because she never usually got them, the only people who knew the number were Fury, Clint, Coulson and Maria. 

On closer inspection the picture on the screen told her it was none of them, but she still hesitantly clicked answer. Whatever she had been expecting wasn't what she saw, Maria Hill sat on the edge of some rusty bed presumably in a motel somewhere in Sudan. Her skin was dirty, her face scratched and bleeding. 

"Maria?" Natasha asked, not believing what she saw. "Are you okay?"

Maria nodded, glancing behind the camera. "I'm good, we lost both strike teams that were out here. Killed by rebels. Rodgers is okay, he's radioing HQ. We're requesting extraction for a few days, we've almost closed the mission, just a few loose ends to tie up. How's things back there?"

"Horrible... Well okay, whole of Strike Team Charlie are in Med-Bay now, with sandwich related injuries. The coffee is disgusting and its really no fun scaring the other agents without you."

On the screen Maria laughed, "Careful Romanoff, it almost sounds like you miss me. What happened to Charlie?"

"Exploding sandwiches or something, it was Clints mission." She faked a gasp and brought her hand up to her mouth to hide the smile forming on her lips, "why ever would you think that? I could never miss you Hill. Like we tell everyone else, our relationship is purely professional."

"Is that what we're calling it now, because you and I have different views on professional." She smirked, rolling her head back and yawning. "What time is it there? Is it late? Were you asleep?"

"Its late, but don't worry I wasn't asleep. Not really tired."

Maria groaned, "Tasha, you need to sleep."

"But I don't want to" she pouted like a naughty five-year old. She guessed her next question, "yes, I've been eating. And I don't appreciate you ordering the cadets to bring me food every few hours."

"Phil thought it'd be funny" she replied defiantly. "I hope you didn't scare them too much."

Natasha rolled her eyes, "of course Phil would. I talked to him, his whole team's here whilst they refuel. Skye's pretty. Fitz is a school boy and Jemma... You know I already adore the woman. But no, I didn't scare the cadets too much, although I have a reputation to uphold and I appreciate it if you didn't mother me."

"Ain't gonna happen Nat. Anyway, I have to go. Miss you." She clicked off before Natasha could reply but the spy still whispered it back at the empty screen.

That night Natasha didn't sleep, her mind was busy thinking of all the ways that Maria could have been killed, it was something she tried to clear out of her head but the images just kept rolling. She tossed at turned, but insomnia had her in its grip and although she'd been prescribed pills she would never take them.

The next morning she woke early, and went for a run before stopping for a latte then catching a cab to work. Whilst waiting for her order in the coffee shop she'd changed from her work out clothes into jeans and a hoodie.

The cabbie was a gruff man,who didn't look up as she slipped into the back, latte in one hand and a small duffle in the other. "Where to?" He asked without looking away from the steering wheel. 

"The Triscellion. You know where it is?" 

 "Sure love, but if you're such a big company don't you have your own transport? I get enough agents through that I could probably make a living solely on transporting them." 

 Natasha smirked into the mirror, even though he'd only glanced at it once when she'd got in, "if any are giving you trouble tell me, I'll make sure that they don't breath a word again."

 "Big words from a little lady." He breathed a laugh as he pulled out into the busy street. 

 Locking her jaw Natasha refrained from reaching for the gun at her waist, a natural reaction when someone insulted her, but she'd rather not have to find another cab so she clasped her hands in her lap. "I have a lot of swing, I can assure you. You earn respect when you fight off an alien invasion."

"Holy-" he released a sharp breath, looking at the mirror then swerving to miss a car. "Black Widow right? My daughter loves you." 

 Natasha cringed, staring out the window and sipping her latte. "That's the one, nice to know I have a fan." 

He chuckled, an entirely different tone than earlier when he had assumed she was just another agent. "More then that, but I won't bore you. There are more interesting things for you to think about." He shook his head softly, "Nats going to be so jealous."

"Nat, as in Natasha?" She replied, surprised at her own willingness to carry on the conversation. 

"She used to hate the name, until she discovered it was the same as yours. She isn't a normal child, she's paralysed from the chest down, no friends, doesn't take much interest in anything. Iron man? Didn't bat an eyelid. Captain America, well she was slightly impressed. Hulk? Nothing. Thor, she couldn't care less. When she saw you, she became a whole new person, like she was before the accident." 

Her heart pulled, uncharacteristically and slightly scarily. "That must be hard, dealing with something like that." 

In the mirror he glanced at her, "I manage, she has a full time carer, her mother took off a while back. We manage."

"Well listen, if you ever need a better paying job stop by the Triscellion some time. Go to reception an ask for Agent Romanoff, I'll sort you out." She caught his grateful look, although he looked slightly sceptical. "I live with the deputy director and I have Nick Fury on speed dial,  it's no trouble."

"I'll keep that in mind, thanks." 

As he spoke they pulled around in front of the building she had just told him to visit. She climbed out and paid him in cash before walking into the building and flashing a dangerous smile at the team currently on security. 

She didn't miss the way other agents gave her more then a once over, but she didn't pay much attention as she headed straight for the locker rooms. On the way she finished her Latte and dumped the cup in a bin. She took the stairs this time, and arrived at her floor five minutes after she'd stepped into the building. 

It was busy in the locker room she had been assigned, but when she entered the chat quietened to a whisper. Most women looked her way briefly, one made eye contact; Sharon Carter.

"Morning ladies" she said quietly, like she usually did when she was in a particularly good mood. A few murmured shocked replies, Sharon smiled. "Hey Carter." 

 Sharon rolled her eyes, "what has you in such a good mood?"

 "Nothing." She knew Sharon wasn't convinced. "Hill Skype'd me last night."

 "The ice queen can use Skype?" The blond mocked, zipping away a pair of jeans and shirt now shed changed into her usually slacks and blouse."I didn't even know she had a heart."

Natasha pulled her two piece mission suit out of her own duffle, okay, it wasn't her two piece. It used to belong to Maria, but somehow she managed to gain possession of it and somehow it was tailored to her size. It still smelt faintly of the deputy, although that was probably Natasha's imagination. "Definitely" she smirked, "and I know just how to get it jack hammering." She considered that her weekly contribution to the rumours going around about her and the brunette.

"TMI Romanoff" Sharon cringed.

Stripping off her clothes Natasha looked back at the slightly taller woman, "you know you love it." If there was one thing she loved, it was teasing the few people the liked with snippets of information about hers and Maria's sex life. She slipped on her clothes, then stowed her bag in the locker she had stolen from Hill on her first day at the Triscellion. She retrieved the pair of boots inside and pulled them on. 

Sharon had waited patiently, "so, you're off to San Fran aren't you? Doing anything fun?"

"Just shadowing, then crossing my mark off. It;'s a day mission; luckily. You?"

"Supervising some of the more junior handlers, it's like kindergarten." 

Natasha agreed, "s'why I ditched mine."

"Liar, you made them all so scared that they don't even dare to comment on your work."

"Same difference, anyway, I'll see you later."

Sharon nodded, "don't die Romanoff."

"Are you caring?" Natasha gasped, slapping a hand over her heart.

"No, but Hill would hate the paperwork."

Natasha rolls her eyes, turning down the opposite corridor to Sharon. "You have a point."

The mission was a surprisingly easy success, she sat on a roof top for almost two hours with a position that Clint would be proud of. She followed her mark down the street and onto the pier, she managed to sabotage his boat before he arrived and it slowly sank, wih him still inside.

When she returned to the Triscellion something felt different, but she was more concerned with changing out of her field suit to care. The locker room was empty, so she took her time in a steaming shower, it had become part of her after mission routine.

After spending longer then she should have in the showers Natasha finally dressed and dried off her dripping hair, she didn't bother brushing it; no one ever commented if her hair was unbrushed after a shower.

There was still a weird atmosphere when she left the locker room, in a more comfortable pair of jeans and her shirt; okay, so it was Maria's, but no one would care. Clutching her duffle in one hand, she used the other to grip the hand rail as she made her way into the main lobby so that she could call a taxi.

When she got down there however, she noticed one person out of everyone. Even without the rest of her face; Natasha knew those eyes. It took all of her self restrain to walk over there calmly. Once there though, she dropped her bag and seized Maria's face, pressing their lips together in a steering kiss that left other agents frozen an probably made a few very rich.

She finally pulled away for air, and the look on her face was one of shock. "You're back." A grin broke out across her features. 

"Hey." Maria looked strangely nervous, which Natasha hadn't seen since their first few dates almost a year ago. "I'm back. Miss me?"

Natasha closed her eyes for a second and nodded, when she opened them Maria was no longer stood infront of her. Natasha looked down, there she was, on one knee. She gasped.

"Natasha Romanoff, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?" She held open a box, inside was the most beautiful ring Natasha had ever seen, it had a silver band, and there were two jewels on it, a sapphire blue one, and a crimson red one. "Nat?"

For once she was speechless, and there were tears running down her face before she could stop them; although she did wipe at them with her sleeves. Her head moved up and down furiously, "yes."