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only seeing myself (when i'm looking up at you)

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Steve doesn’t really realize how he’s missed Nat until she’s back, is the thing.

After months in a safe house, he’d kind of figured everyone would appreciate not being under fuckin’ foot all day long, and that’s true enough—he and Sam have experience living in close spaces, at least, and Sam and Bucky had figured things out way more successfully than Steve’d ever expected—but it’s just, it’s kind of lonesome now that Nat’s back on mission, gone for weeks at a stretch. When she rolls back into the house the three of them are sharing, so tired she’s dead on her feet and muttering something about needing a place to crash for a night or two, Steve’s heart feels like it’s expanding back to its proper size, everyone in the house like they should be. It’s a nice feeling.

“Take Bucky’s room,” Sam says, “not like he’s ever in it,” and Nat snorts, disappears off to bed without another word. Doesn’t surface until the next morning, late, and Steve thinks: yeah, this is trust.

He’s the only one in the house when she drags herself up, hair a mess and dark circles under her eyes like she’s smudged her fingers in his good drawing graphite and pressed them into the hollows. Pours a cup of coffee, sips it slow. Blinks over at Steve.

“Where are the others?” she asks, yawning, and Steve shrugs.

“Out. I think Bucky wanted to drink a coffee the size of his head, or something, I dunno. Maybe they went to the park.”

“Right,” Nat says, “okay. How long has that been a thing?”

“Shit, I dunno,” Steve says. Still a little raw about it, if he’s honest. “You’d know better than I would, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Nat says. Looks narrowly at him. “I’m gonna go take a shower. Can I borrow some clothes? I kind of—”

“Sure,” Steve says, “go ahead. You know where everything is.” It’s not even— that’s just how it works. It’s fine.

When Nat comes back in she’s in sweatpants and a singlet, hair shoved up under a ball cap, and Steve smiles and makes space for her. Watches how she throws herself down, stretches out like she’s deliberately taking up space; she’s been on an undercover mission all week, pencil skirts and teetering heels, and now she’s barefoot, bare-faced, lines around her mouth and shadows under her eyes showing how tired she is. It makes him feel tender, somehow.

“Nat,” he says, offering her the remote, and she tilts her head back against the arm of the couch, sighs out a long breath.

“No,” she says, “keep it, what are you even watching?” and Steve shrugs, leans forward to put it down on the coffee table.

“No idea. Supposed to be a documentary, I think.”

“You’re not watching the WW2 week on History Channel again, are you?” Nat asks, throaty with amusement; Steve shakes his head, rolling his eyes, and feels her poke his thigh with her big toe. “Nat, come on, quit it.” Wraps his hand around her ankle, thumb settling into the arch of her foot, and she sighs again.

“You always—” Nat starts, and pauses, looking at him watchfully. Face very deliberately neutral. “How do you always get it right, Rogers?”

“Hmm?” Steve says, absent. Thinking about getting up to find his sketchbook, maybe; the light’s just right, the way it’s falling across the planes of her cheekbones. He thinks maybe if he asked nice she’d let him draw her.

“You,” Nat says again, “with the name.” Steve blinks. Bites his lip.

“It’s,” he says. Hesitates. “Code-switching, right? You’re not the only one who…” It feels suddenly like he’s given too much away; Nat’s eyes sharpen, and then she’s pushing herself upright, squinting at him a little.

Steve,” she says, perhaps delighted. Steve shifts, ducks his head, and she’s touching her fingers to his jaw, strong and gentle all at once. “Jeez, Rogers, I didn’t mean to make you blush.” That has him blushing harder, he can feel it: hot down his throat, a flush across the bridge of his nose, and Nat laughs under her breath, chucks his chin affectionately.

“I don’t,” Steve says, “I mean, I—”

“Tell me the truth,” Nat murmurs, softer. Takes her cap off, sets it down on the back of the couch. “If I said you were pretty, Steve, would you like it?”

All Steve can hear in her voice is honesty, just on this side of raw; it’s not her bloodless spy’s curiosity, not the way she’d asked about Peggy’s photo down in Camp Lehigh. Not a question just to gauge his reaction. Not teasing, either: this feels like she’s waiting on an answer that matters personally, maybe, and that decides him.

“Yeah,” he agrees, already breathless. “Yeah, Nat, I would.”

“Oh,” Nat says, low and serious. “Good, Steve, because you’re so fucking pretty, blushing like that.”

“Thanks,” Steve says, not sure what else to say; “never been told that by a girl before. Wait, I mean—” and Nat’s laughing, the kind of laugh that says it’s okay to join in.

“You’re good,” she tells him, “don’t worry, you’re good. Girl, whatever, it’s complicated. Hey, I got an idea, you up for it?”

“I dunno,” Steve says, feigning doubt, “depends on the idea, Romanov, I know you like to fuck with me,” and that has her laughing harder, just like he’d hoped.

“Well, it’s just,” Nat says. Touches one finger to the center of his lower lip. “You want to be pretty for me, Steve?”

Oh,” Steve says. Surprised, taken aback. Shocked, but not in a bad way. “Nat, I—”

“You don’t have to say yes,” Nat says, carefully casual, and Steve shrugs, feeling hot all under his skin.

“I know,” he says. Takes a breath. “But. Yes.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Steve agrees. Rubs his thumb over her instep. She doesn’t have beautiful feet—like every dancer’s, they’re gnarled, toes broken and rebroken until they’re permanently crooked—but Steve loves her down to her bones regardless; loves her especially when she’s like this, nobody but Nat under all her masks.

“Oh, we’re gonna have fun,” Nat breathes, promising, and Steve shivers. Watches her shift her weight, and then she’s slinging one leg up over his thighs, settling into his lap, and Steve shivers again harder. Brings his hands up to rest on her hips, tentative at first and then holding on, gripping tight. Nat makes herself solid, muscle and bone and skin; Steve thinks it must be a reaction to working as a ghost in the system for so long. A deliberate embodiment. Here I am. It's the opposite of how he curls in on himself when he's not thinking about it. His body still feels too broad in the shoulders. Width and dimension he's not used to, even now.

“You're thinking hard,” Nat says, and Steve blinks. Shakes his head.

“Just—” he starts. Ducks his head again, gives her a smile he knows is sweeter than it needs to be, and it makes her smile back, face open and delighted.

“Yeah,” she murmurs, “there you are.”

Nat’s hair is twisted up into a knot, the sides cropped short. She’d done it to Bucky last week, out on the balcony, and then when she’d finished she’d handed him the clippers, crouched down in the chair and tilted her head forward for him to start cutting. The two of them with matching haircuts like peas in a pod, dark hair and red mixing in a tangled heap as Nat had swept it up, and then she’d parted the long top section down the center, combed it straight, and suddenly it was hidden again: perhaps a secret just for her. Steve can’t help it; his hand comes up to cup the nape of her neck, fingers brushing the buzzed-short hair. It feels just the same as Bucky’s, like touching velvet against the grain, and Nat hums under her breath, leans into the touch.

“Hey,” she says, “do you trust me?” and Steve nods, caught up already in the movement of her body down into him. She digs in her pocket. Comes out with a lipstick, a matte black bullet of it, and Steve laughs a little.

“What, you just carry lipstick around with you? Even in your sweats?”

“It was in your bathroom vanity,” she shrugs, “I must have left it here last time I was over.” Uncaps it, twists the tube to push it up: a slash of red, velvety, blood-dark, blue-undertoned. “It's called,” she says, and pauses for emphasis, “Russian Red,” and then the both of them are laughing, because oh, that's perfect.

“It's a good color for you,” Steve manages, and Nat shifts again in his lap, takes him by the chin.

“It is,” she agrees. “It'll be a good color for you too, I think,” and Steve can't help it, feels himself prickle hot all over just at the thought of it. Knows she can feel him getting hard, Jesus, it's all at once, and Nat just looks and looks at him, waits for him to say yes.

He licks his lips. Tilts his face up for her, mouth falling open, and this is as close as he can get to saying please, will you—

She understands, he thinks, she understands and she grips his chin tight, touches the lipstick to the center of his lower lip and slowly, slowly fills it in. Shapes his cupid’s bow careful and precise. He presses his lips together. Feels the matte stickiness of it, the way it smears almost-slick and then catches.

“You've done this before,” she says, and Steve nods. Thinking of Bucky's hand on his jaw, the waxy lipstick. The smell of sweat and bodies and all Steve's sharp bird bones. It’s how he still thinks of himself, when he’s tired, on the edge of sleep: catches himself about to fall out of bed, unused even now to the boundaries of his own body.

“Probably looked a bit different then,” he says, deprecating, and Nat wipes a smudge away from the corner of his mouth, shrugs. Looks at him easy and evaluating.

“Still pretty,” she tells him. “Yeah, still real pretty.” Caps the lipstick, runs her fingers through his hair and tightens her grip, pulls his head back so his throat is bared. Steve hears himself make a soft noise: a moan, a whimper. All it's taken is her weight on him, a tube of lipstick, her objectifying gaze, and he's embarrassingly hard. Could come in a minute if he thought about it; less, perhaps.

“Jesus,” he says, desperately, “Nat, Jesus,” and she puts the lipstick back in her pocket, touches three fingers to his lower lip and presses just hard enough he opens his mouth for her again, lets her push them in. Flat against his tongue, traces of lipstick tasting of vanilla, the faintness of soap and skin-salt, and he sucks at her fingers, eyes fluttering shut.

“Oh, Rogers,” Nat murmurs, “look at you, huh. We’re doing this again, I’m bringing over my cock and putting you on your knees, you hear me?”

God, he thinks again; she’s good to him, she’s so good to him, this is—

“You want to take your shirt off?” Nat asks, raising one eyebrow, and Steve nods, feels her pull her fingers back. It makes him whine; he wants her to keep fucking his mouth. Wants and wants it. “Shh, I know. I want to look at you, though. You'll let me, right?”

There's no letting about it, Steve thinks, dazed; he said yes and he gave himself over to her. You want to be pretty for me?

He tugs his shirt off. Looks at her looking at him, and then doesn't, closes his eyes. Imagines Bucky, just for a minute: goddamn, you got big while I wasn't looking, huh. Nat touches his pec just the way Peggy had touched him, and the brush of her fingers makes him blink back into it; new world, new time, new weight in his lap making him hot under his skin.

When she drags her fingertips down his chest she leaves streaks of red; it's messy, Steve thinks, it’s a mess and it’s beautiful. She cups his pecs; Steve shudders, arches into it. It feels good; it feels so fucking good to have someone’s hands on him.

“God,” she says, “your chest’s bigger than mine, I swear,” and rubs her thumbs over his nipples to emphasize the point.

“Wouldn't know,” he says, wry, glancing down at her breasts in their plain white sports bra and singlet. Her nipples are hard through the fabric, he can see that much, and Nat laughs low and teasing.

“Go on,” she says, “you can touch,” and he does, careful at first, watching her reactions. She pinches one of his nipples and then the other, hard enough that it's a jolting flare of pain. Smirks at his choked-off gasp, grinds down against his dick. “Why am I not surprised that's what you like, huh,” she murmurs, and pinches him again, twists, does it over and over until his nipples are flushed dark and swollen.

“Please,” he says, “Nat, please.” He might be crying a little, just on the edge of too much, and she scrapes her thumbnail over his left nipple just as he pinches her back, finally, pinches her hard exactly the way she's been fucking with him.

“Oh!” she gasps: surprised, and pleased about it too, the way her mouth tilts up. “Yeah, that's good, do it again,” and he does, rolls her nipple between finger and thumb until she's moaning. He wants to get his mouth on her. Leans forward and takes her nipple between his teeth, lips leaving smudges on the cotton of her singlet.

She smells good, he thinks dizzily. Not perfume or powder, nothing floral, not sweet; it's sharp, citrus-edged. Under that, hot skin and sweat. She smells like him, he realizes. His shampoo, his soap; it’s how he smells straight out of the shower, when he’s still a little hot from his run. He wonders what it means that he likes it so much.

“You’re making a mess,” Nat says, low. Arches her back, pushing the swell of her breast up against his mouth anyway. “Come on, Steve, get in my pants, I can see you wanting to.”

He does want to; she sees through him just the way she always has, and he nips at her just for that, hears her laugh breathless and giddy. Puts his hand on her waist, and then lower, her hip, lifting her singlet up above the waistband of her sweats.

“Are you—did you steal my underwear?” Steve asks. Trying to sound outraged, failing. Nat shrugs.

“They were clean,” she says. “I haven’t done laundry. You don’t mind, right?”

He doesn’t mind. Drags his fingers over the cotton, between the thick band of elastic and the heat of her bare skin. The puckered scar low on the curve of her belly, and he touches it carefully, slides his fingers lower. Her hipbone, the soft rasp of her pubic hair, and then she’s sitting back, sliding her thighs open wider to give him space; she’s wet, she’s so wet. He groans. Rubs two fingers over her clit, not trying to tease, just giving her what she wants.

“That’s it,” Nat says, “put your fingers in me, Steve, yeah,” and he does, pushes up and into her. Jesus she’s hot. She leans down to kiss him, sharp, biting: it hurts and he wants more. Pushes another finger into her and brushes his thumb over her clit like maybe that’ll convince her to keep kissing him, and it does. They’re making a goddamn mess of the lipstick, he knows; it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, Christ, it’s messy and it’s perfect. She’s all teeth like she knows he just wants her sharp, the very edge of hurting. He thinks, maybe, she understands better than anyone else how exactly he wants to ride that line.

“Come on,” Nat says, “come on, Steve, make me come.” His lipstick is smeared over her mouth, scarlet like blood on her teeth where she's bitten him; it makes him shiver and twist his hand, desperately trying to get a better angle, more leverage. His knuckles and the back of his hand rub his dick through his pants every time she grinds down and it’s almost enough to make him come. Not quite, though he’s close; he presses his thumb harder against her clit and crooks his fingers inside her and it makes her gasp, short, punched-out: the same sound he’s heard from her when they’re sparring. There’s sweat on her collarbones, at her temples; her hair is sticking to it where it’s come loose from the topknot, a bead of sweat about to fall in the hollow of her throat, and Steve leans in, licks it off her skin. Bites gently and then less gently at the side of her neck, and hears her moan. It’s raw, needy; it makes him flush, his stomach flip. He bites again harder, and she gasps again. Grabs him by the hair, yanks his head back. Kisses him harsh, her teeth on his bottom lip.

“Steve, I swear,” she hisses in his ear, “I’m gonna—fuck, I’m gonna make you take it, I swear, I’m gonna give it to you like you want it, baby, come on, you’re so fucking pretty for me, that blush and that red fucking mouth, you—I’m gonna fuck you until you can’t think, okay, I swear to god,” and Steve already feels that way, his brain nothing but a white-hot buzz of adrenaline the way he only gets when they’re fighting hard. It’s so good his chest aches with it exactly as if she’s smacked him right in the solar plexus, the heel of her hand connecting solid and hard; he’s dizzy and aching and fucking desperate to come, and then he twists his fingers again, rubs his thumb slick over her clit, and she goes steel-tight around him, comes panting for breath in a rush of wetness, and Steve lets himself go, lets himself come; he feels fucking undone by it.

“Fuck,” he says, stupid; “fuck,” and Nat clenches again around his fingers. Throws her head back, eyes closed, and then leans in and in, rests her forehead damp and sweaty against his.

“Yeah,” she agrees, “fuck,” and Steve pulls his fingers out of her, careful. Sucks them into his mouth to lick them clean, and Nat kisses him around them like she likes the taste of herself on his tongue.

“Jesus, Nat,” Steve says, his dick making a real good effort to go a second round, and she smirks, blows a strand of hair out of her eyes. Wipes the back of her hand over her forehead. She’s got lipstick along her jaw, her throat, her chin; a red smear on the tip of her nose, incongruous, and Steve smiles. Feels dopey, still, strung-out on how good it is, how good Nat is, to see what he needs and give it to him like this. “Thank you,” he adds, grateful, a little teary about it, and she shrugs. Cups his jaw, her callused palm against his cheek.

“Yeah,” she says, “you’re welcome, Rogers. It wasn’t just—this is what I needed too, okay.”

“Still,” Steve says. “Thanks.”

“Let’s do it again?” Nat asks, a question that’s not really a question. Traces the edge of his lower lip with her index finger. “I was serious about putting you on your knees.”

“God,” Steve breathes, “please,” and Nat smiles, pleased. “You’re not always—I mean, when you’re Natasha,” he starts, and doesn’t know how to continue; Nat looks at him for a moment, her eyes thoughtful.

“Inhabiting a body is a strange thing,” she says, and Steve thinks, yes. They're coming at it from opposite sides: they unmade Nat, pulled her out from inside and filled her up again with their own creation, and whatever she’s made herself, she’s clawed back from the void. Like Bucky, Steve knows; he and Buck don't talk about it, have never talked about it, but he's heard Bucky whisper to her sometimes. Little sister, his eyes soft. If she’s Nat and Natasha and Tasha and Natalia, that’s okay; if she’s just Nat when they’re like this, Steve doesn’t mind. Loves any iteration of her construction.

“I just,” he says, and swallows, “don’t want you to feel. Uncomfortable.” I don’t want to push up against your rough edges, is what he means, and it must show clear on his face, because Nat shrugs, runs her fingers through his hair.

“I’ll tell you if you do,” she says, “and you’ll do the same,” and that’s probably about as good as they’re gonna get, Steve thinks. He nods. Kisses her shoulder.

“We should probably be less of an art project before they get back, huh,” he murmurs. Watches Nat laugh.

“Fuck it,” she says, “they can deal with it,” but they make it to the bathroom eventually, wipe each other clean. It’s nice, Steve thinks, it’s nice, it’s so nice, and he leans in against her, kisses her forehead just at her hairline. Feels her hug him back, brief and solid and reassuring.

When Bucky and Sam get in, all playful bickering that doesn't at all hide the way they're looking at each other, Steve and Nat are stretched out at either end of the couch, making fun of some incomprehensible program supposedly about sharks while tossing popcorn into each others’ mouths. Nat's feet are in Steve's lap, and he’s got one hand wrapped around her ankle; he feels grounded in a way he hasn’t for months. Maybe years.

“Boys,” Nat says, and Sam grins at her, passes them both an iced coffee. Bucky squints at them.

“You've got lipstick on the corner of your mouth, Steve,” he says, raising one eyebrow incrementally. Steve shrugs. Touches his fingertips to his mouth.

“Yeah,” he says, “probably,” and Nat smirks around the straw of her drink.

“You have fun?” Bucky asks, knowing, and Steve smiles at Nat very slow.

“You know,” he says, thoughtful, measured, “I think we did, yeah.”