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Like a moth to a flame

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2012

S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier

4 months after the Battle of New York

 

 

There were few unreachable things in this world for Natasha Romanoff. She could count them with less than the fingers of one hand. 

Family, motherhood, peace.

She wouldn’t ever say it aloud, but the fact that there were so few things she couldn’t have was exactly what kept alive a minuscule flame of hope inside her chest.

That’s why she was an Avenger. No family? Get yourself a band of dysfunctional superheroes as a substitute, and Nick Fury as the ultimate badass paternal figure (not that either of them would ever acknowledge the way they felt about each other, but Nat knew, deep down, words weren’t necessary).

Motherhood? Being Auntie Nat to Clint’s kids was something she didn’t take for granted and still, she knew it wasn’t enough. And perhaps one day she could make her peace with that. One day. Not now. 

Talking about peace: if she couldn’t have peace of mind, at least she would fight for the rest of the world to have it. At some point. Because – wasn’t the whole point of the Avengers to come to a day when they weren’t needed?

So yes, some things she couldn’t get by changing names, batting her eyelashes at someone or flirt her way out of a situation. 

But the list was so short that when she met Maria Hill she was beyond pissed to have to add another line to it.

When Fury recruited her there was quite a fuss among ranks on the helicarrier. Clint even commented that it was almost as intense as when Natasha joined S.H.I.E.L.D. At first, Barton thought that professional jealousy could be the root for Natasha’s unprecedented curiosity for Agent Hill. The crew had renamed her as Agent Eye Candy, Deputy Director Blue Eyes, Hotshot Ice Queen… all wildly inappropriate, of course, but perhaps Natasha felt like she had been ousted as the object of desire of the whole crew. Clint knew she never liked the title, and that Natasha flirted with everyone just to remain in character, to keep the walls up; it’s not like she didn’t despise sexism and harassment, but her training had taught her to remain in control even in the most awful of situations. Sex and sensuality were weapons for Natasha, and she had mastered them as well as knives and guns. 

So, perhaps her little obsession with Hill was empathy? Natasha’s defence strategy had always been that of remaining inaccessible for everyone, occasionally breaking hearts with her overconfident smirks and swing of hips during combat training, charming everyone with her straightforward humour. 

But Hill… she truly was an Ice Queen. It was obvious that some of the buzz had reached her ears. She never seemed to be bothered by the mess deck rumour mill. Everyone wondered why she never took days off or shore leave. What made her so special that she was recruited to be Fury’s second, just like that? She commanded respect, trust, a little fear, too… and it was not as if no one could make her smile. She was so annoyingly by-the-book, yes, but she knew when to make a joke or how to respond to witty remarks from her subordinates. She was excellent with public speeches, presentations, briefings, combat analysis, tactical decisions and capable of convincing birds to fly in the opposite direction. She built excellent rapport with her team, and she was accessible when someone needed her to solve a problem. Yet not a word of her personal life or an out-of-place remark left her mouth, ever. 

She was a fucking role-model, and that made Natasha’s blood boil, for some reason.

Clint liked her. She was reasonable, most of the time, and balanced Fury’s ruthlessness quite well.

Natasha, on the other hand, could not make her mind up. All she saw behind Hill’s behaviour was strategy, methodology, survival techniques. Hill was a professional from head to toe, and every movement of her body, every word she let herself pronounce was a calculated step to produce a specific response from her team.

She was scary because she was better than Fury at the game of bringing people together by manipulating them with words, saying exactly what they wanted to hear. And better yet, she knew when to stay silent.

It was clear she made an effort, every day, to be ordinary. And that’s why Natasha knew she was hiding that she was nothing of the sort.

What pissed Natasha the most was that Hill seemed to use this gift genuinely: each time she created a strategy, each time she measured her words to accommodate them to her interlocutor, Hill appeared to be truly taking into account the greater good and what was best for everyone and the feelings and hopes of the other person and– ugh! Natasha knew there had to be more. It drove her crazy for a year, since Hill had joined S.H.I.E.L.D. Hacking her file had left her with more questions than answers, and as good as she was at hiding her hobby, as Clint referred to it, Barton found it incredibly amusing and told Natasha she needed to find herself a boyfriend because her unfounded suspicions about Hill were the product of boredom.

 

New York was horrible. Many people died. But they had saved Manhattan and, potentially, the world, so morale was off the charts. It had helped that the Avengers were a thing now, and they occasionally worked on the helicarrier. Everyone felt like part of the team. 

STRIKE Team Delta still did some missions for S.H.I.E.L.D., and when the Black Widow and Hawkeye were aboard, everyone pushed to give their best. It was a bonus for the crew: the ship was already ran with an almost perfect balance of Fury’s implacable pragmatism and Hill’s unfaltering commitment.

 


 

 

Clint found Natasha on the conference room above the bridge. Her arms were crossed over her chest. She hadn’t changed out of her field suit. Their mission had ended hours ago. She watched silently as the familiar symphony of the bridge played below her.

“You’re just hurt because she turned you down. You really can hold a grudge, Tasha.”

“What?”

“Hill, obviously.”

Clint approached her and Natasha frowned, shaking her head slightly. When Clint reached her side, he sighed as he confirmed how perfectly placed Maria Hill’s post was on the line of Natasha’s view.

“You tried everything with her, and it got you nowhere. Girls nights out that she politely declined, sparring sessions you lost on purpose, help with stupid missions you could’ve done with the tip of your pinkie… you were so obvious, so sloppy. When you found out she's gay, you tried to seduce her, remember?”

“I did not.”

“You did. Amateur.”

Natasha scoffed.

“S.H.I.E.L.D. punishes fraternisation.”

“As if that’s stopped you before.”

Clint looked at her now, his voice showing a little more concern than he intended to.

“But, seriously, you tried it and she said no, thank you, as if you were offering her a piece of bread while having lunch. No follow up, no sexual tension afterwards… You are still hurt, Romanoff. No man or woman has ever turned you down before. That’s the reason you still come up here every time we come back.”

Natasha closed her eyes for a moment and shook her head.

“You’re wrong, Clint, there has been people–”

“…who said no but you eventually charmed your way in. Not with Hill. And you didn’t even wanted her, you just wanted to be right about her, to feed your master spy ego. But she shut you out and you are going crazy trying to understand why.”

“That’s not…”

Natasha paused herself the moment she registered the pitch of her voice going higher than usual. Clint nodded his head at her, no more teasing in his tone.

“Let her be, Tasha. It’s obvious she’s on our side, and that’ll have to do. She’s a puzzle you can’t solve, there’s magic in that. Just let her be. You should focus on more tangible, rewarding things.”

“Like what?”

“Get yourself a boyfriend.”

Natasha’s laugh echoed through the room and Clint’s concerns let his body as that wonderful sound reached his ears.

“You’re out of your mind, Barton.”

“C’mon! It will be so much fun. Double-date with me and Laura? I know the perfect nerd.”

“Who?”

“Banner, of course. Laura suggested it, actually. It’s amazing how she hasn’t met the guy and already thought he would be perfect for you.”

“Banner? What–”

“You don’t like him?”

“Uh, I don’t know, it’s just…”

“So… he’s a good guy. Except when the other guy comes out, you know what I mean? Give him a chance, Tasha, you might find something interesting.”

He’s not a puzzle I can’t solve, Natasha thought. There’s no magic in that, I have him already figured out.

Natasha swallowed hard. She caught a glimpse of Hill’s upright figure, her hands crossed behind her back, giving orders, commanding the bridge like she was born to do it. Clint misunderstood Natasha’s silence for a moment of self-consciousness. He liked to see her at a loss of words, from time to time, knowing only he got to see the not-so-confident side of the mighty Black Widow. He put a friendly hand on her shoulder, and Natasha snapped back to reality. 

Let her be, Clint’s words resonated in her mind.

“Ok. Banner. I’ll think about it,” she said with her best playful smile, that one not even her best friend could tell was fake.

 

 

 

 

 

2014

Avengers Tower

6 months after the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D

 

 

 

As the elevator finally reached Stark’s penthouse, Maria could feel herself already regretting being here. She had been foolish enough to accept Pepper’s invitation. But she had told her everyone was going to be there, and it certainly had been a long time since they had spent some time together, all of them, just hanging out.

Tony was the first one to spot her, and yes, hearing the first words that came out of his mouth, she immediately knew this was a mistake. Too late.

“Oh, no girlfriend tonight, Hill? Smart choice, the guys here would be drooling over her all night. I’m telling you, Hill’s going out with one of the most beautiful ladies in the Stark staff… uh, ah, coming in third to Maria herself and Pepper, of course, who sits at number one and is the queen and owner of my absolutely taken, enslaved heart.”

Rhodey’s laugh echoed through the room, though everyone else was eyeing Pepper intently and holding their breath.

“Nice save, boss.” Happy chimed in, not happy at all.

Pepper took Maria’s coat in her hands and smiled at Tony, her eyes screaming murder.

“Yes, very nice indeed.” The CEO said, simply, and disappeared off to hang Maria’s coat or perhaps to burn Tony’s AC/DC vinyl collection.

Maria scanned the room quickly and saw the usual suspects: Thor, dressed in Earthly clothes, chatting with Steve and Sam; Clint reclined on the couch, looking unapologetically amused by Stark’s fuck up with Pepper; Rhodey and Happy, trying to fit in with visible effort; and sitting on the corner, sipping from a straw in a piña colada, Natasha was glaring at her intensely, looking stunning as always in a short red dress. She seemed to be miles away from whatever story Banner was telling her. Bruce was sitting intently close to her, and Maria adverted her eyes from them and proceeded to properly greet everyone. Thor had other plans, though, because the God of Thunder engulfed her in a bear hug and patted her back as if she was one of his Asgardian comrades. Luckily, he released her quickly so she could resume breathing. He squeezed her shoulders, gentler this time, and began to speak with the goofiest grins she’d ever seen on the guileless god.

“Well done, Lady Maria, the joy of my friends dances like my own joy in the hall of my heart. Are you planning on bringing little Ladies Hill or little Lords Hill to the world with your beautiful maiden?”

She could see from the corner of her eye that everyone was trying hard not to burst out in laughter at Thor’s words and her perplexed look of horror. Everyone, but Romanoff.

“Uh… that’s not how it works, Thor, and I haven’t even met her parents yet so no, no continuing the House of Hill for now…”

“Ah, your love’s still young, then.” Thor raised a glass in his hand and put an arm around Maria, keeping her close. He looked to everyone else, proudly. “I can perform weddings since I’m royalty.” He turned to Maria again, more than excited. “Let me know if you need me if ever you decide to make your lady your betrothed.”

Patting his chest gently, Maria finally set herself free of Thor’s attention.

If that happens, Thor, you will certainly be the first one to know.”

“Imagine Thor performing Maria’s gay wedding. You’re already a lesbian icon, my friend, you don’t need to increase your legend,” Sam laughed through his remark. Maria thought about walking to the bar and pouring herself a drink, but she was too aware of a pair of green eyes, enigmatically fixated on her.

“The Lesbian People love me a great deal, that is correct, young Sam, and I’m happy to be their champion!” Maria couldn’t help but smile at Thor’s enthusiasm. He was genuinely made of sunshine. He put a glass in Maria’s hand, who was unable to protest as Thor kept rambling on. “Raise your glasses my friends, for Lady Maria and her absent beloved!”

As everyone else drank to the God’s toast, Natasha put her piña colada on Banner’s hand and said something in his ear. He nodded slowly, his eyes showing a little confusion. She stood up and graciously walked towards Hill, grabbing her gently by the arm and whispering something, only for Maria to hear.

“Come with me.”

Maria didn’t have time to process the request as Natasha pulled her close and she was literally being dragged out of the room, focussing her attention on not falling while keeping up with Natasha’s steps. After a few seconds, they found themselves in one of Tony’s bathrooms for guests. Natasha finally released Maria’s arm to lock the door behind her.

 

Back in the room, everyone seemed a little perplexed. 

“Wait. What was that?” Tony asked to the air.

Barton shrugged it off and poured himself another drink.

“Girl stuff, probably. They haven’t seen each other in ages, they’re going to gossip about Maria’s girlfriend and Banner’s obliviousness.”

And Banner just showed his perpetual frown.

“What?”

 

Meanwhile, in one of Stark’s eight bathrooms, things were also a bit confusing. 

“What the hell, Romanoff?”

“You have a girlfriend.”

Natasha’s voice was flat, toneless. She crossed her arms over her chest and just regarded Maria with an unreadable expression.

Of all the things Maria was expecting, that kind of statement was not on her list.

“Uh… well, yes.”

“Why?”

Natasha took a step forward, but nothing changed in her voice and body language. She didn’t even blink.

“What do you mean, why?” Maria scoffed as a lock of brown hair set itself free from her low bun.

“You didn’t have a girlfriend when you were with S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Maria shook her head and laughed this time. In part because she couldn’t believe how weird Romanoff could be sometimes, in part because the intensity of her green eyes on her was creating heat in her cheeks and wetness between her legs. And she hated all that. And she had to conceal it, somehow.

“Are you sure about that?”

“Yes.”

“Are you even hearing yourself, Romanoff, what is wrong with you?”

Natasha took another step forward.

“Answer my question, please.” 

Maria mirrored the spy’s pose and crossed her arms over her chest, her bewilderment giving room to utter annoyance.

“Okay. I don’t know why I have a girlfriend… it’s just something adults do when they’re attracted to each other and have things in common and find it pleasant to spend time together?”

Natasha took another step, and now she was on Maria’s personal space, their chests inches from each other. Natasha looked up into those sapphire eyes and for a moment, Hill forgot how to breathe. She hated herself in this very second, she hated that Natasha had injected her venom in her while she was defenceless, distracted, out of practice. She knew better than to let herself be trapped in the spider’s web, but Natasha had made a move on her prey too quickly, too expertly. 

“How long have you been together?”

Natasha’s unperturbed gaze lowered a little, and Maria could feel her heart beating loudly in her chest as those green eyes landed on her cleavage. She didn’t flinch, though, she wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.

“What is this, court-martial?” Maria asked, her voice now dangerously low despite her futile attempt at humour. 

Natasha’s eyes seemed lost, only for a second, and the next sentence, she spoke it with something Maria had never seen her display: vulnerability.

“How long? Please, tell me.”

It was a trick, Maria knew, but she voluntarily stepped into the trap.

“Three months – no, four.”

Something dark crossed Natasha’s eyes. She smiled, for the first time since she had decided to catch Maria in her web. It wasn’t a real smile. Maria could see sadness, guilt… jealousy? It couldn’t be. Natasha had no right. Not here. Not now.

Romanoff took another step and now Maria’s back was pressed against the bathroom wall. The tiles were cold against the black silk of her Armani. Natasha wet her lips, and Maria could feel her breath against her chin. She was having a very hard time not to close her eyes and beg her to step away from her. Before–

“What’s her name?” It was just a whisper now, and Maria wondered how someone’s voice could make her physically hurt.

“I don’t think you should follow down this path, Natasha…” Maria finally gave in. She closed her eyes, her voice pleading for Romanoff to stop, to put an end to whatever this was. But the torture was only beginning. She felt Natasha’s fingertips caressing her jawline. She closed her eyes even tighter.

“What’s her name? Tell me.”

Natasha’s touch was doing something to Maria’s blood now. She felt it boiling inside her arms, her chest, her sex…

Blue met green and this time, Maria didn’t blink.

“Rachel. Her name’s Rachel.”

“Is she pretty?”

Natasha kept her tone casual, but her hand changed Maria’s cheek for her hips, joined by the other, squeezing gently and pinning Maria against the wall. There was no escape from the trap now.

Maria took a deep breath, closing her eyes again, having a hard time picturing Rachel’s face. She was blonde. Tall, with long, tanned legs. Brown gentle eyes. She was absolutely beautiful. And she wasn’t Natasha.

“Yes… she’s… uh, she’s g– she’s pretty, yes.”

“Do you love her?”

Eyes wide open now, Maria regarded Natasha as if cold water had been splashed against the back of her neck. 

“That’s it, Romanoff, you must be drunk already–“

Maria took Natasha’s wrists in her hands, trying to jerk away from the Widow’s grasp. But the spider hold was tight on her prey.

“Do you love her, Maria?” Natasha repeated again, sinking her nails in Maria’s hips. Maria hesitated.

Hill’s eyes turned deep blue sea dark, and Natasha could see real water welling up behind them.

“Tell me, do you?” Natasha’s voice was just a whisper now, daring Maria to stop fighting the venom.

And Hill would hate herself for it in the future, but she gave in. Her voice broke, finally.

“You have no right to ask me something like that.”

Natasha nodded and closed her eyes. Then, she did something unexpected.

Romanoff released her hold on Hill’s hips only to wrap her hands around her waist. She rested her head against Hill’s chest. She listened to Maria’s accelerated heartbeat, and let herself be rocked by the tide of her breathing, her eyes closed, her mind unable to process the peace it all brought to her, instantly. 

Maria’s body was rigid, unsure whether this was the spider’s final bite, or if she was being shown mercy. After long seconds, she couldn’t feel any venom on her blood, so she mirrored Romanoff’s actions with an unexpected gesture of her own.

Maria rested her chin over the top of Natasha’s head, and wrapped her arms around her. She held her against her chest, and cursed to herself as she confirmed something she had suspected for years: their bodies fit perfectly, as if they were hand-made to be joined together, like two missing pieces of a puzzle.

They stood like that, in each other’s arms, for what felt like an eternity, but was still too short.

“Do you love her?”

There was no coldness in Natasha’s tone this time. No more games. There was hurt, hesitation, guilt.

Maria sighed and held the redhead in her arms even tighter. 

“Do you love Banner?”, she asked back. It was a simple question, no cruelty behind it.

Natasha looked up to Maria, their eyes locking immediately, their mouths closer like never before.

“I don’t know. Perhaps. Yes. I could.” 

Maria nodded as she gave Natasha the saddest of smiles.

“You have your answer, then.”

Maria hated how her voice sounded so defeated, so lost.

“I want to hear it from you. Do you love her, Maria?”

There was no hesitation this time.

“No.”

Natasha responded to that by placing a chaste, slow kiss to the tip of Maria’s chin. Hill closed her eyes, she was on the edge of falling apart.

“Could you break her heart, ever?” Natasha asked, her voice the softest Maria had ever heard it.

Another kiss to her jawline. Maria felt a hand slowly going up her thigh, caressing her hips, reaching her waist, sending electricity down her legs when it reached the elastic of her underwear…

“Natasha…”

And another kiss. And another, this time below her earlobe. Natasha sucked the skin there, and then she licked her neck as if she was a lioness. She wanted Maria to smell like her, to be imprinted with her essence, her bite marks, to inject the venom of the Widow in her veins, forever. 

“Tell me to stop. Tell me to stop, Maria, and I’ll stop.”

Maria couldn’t help herself when her head tilted to the side, exposing more skin to Natasha’s expert lips. The redhead seized the opportunity and took Maria’s earlobe in her mouth, glad that the ex-agent wasn’t wearing any earrings tonight, biting her gently as one hand on Maria’s hip helped her keep her balance and the other went inside Maria’s underwear, past her pubic hair and into her sex.

“God… what are you – doing…” Maria’s breathing came in ragged gasps now.

Natasha knew exactly what she was doing.

“Something I should’ve done a long time ago.”

Natasha found the tip of Maria’s clit and began to circle it, not surprised when she felt more than enough wetness to help her task.

Maria’s hand rested on Natasha’s shoulder, squeezing hard as a curse, a plea and a burden came out of her mouth, all in one word.

“Fuck.”

Natasha was fascinated by the way Maria responded to her touch, she couldn’t have enough of her, she couldn’t understand how she lived all those years without these sounds; she couldn’t imagine herself going back to the emptiness of not having her. 

“Tell me to stop. And I’ll stop, I promise.” Natasha’s mind didn’t really think she could stop if Maria asked her to, but she had to be sure this was something they both wanted. For an answer, there were Maria’s moans.

“Oh, God.”

Natasha kissed her neck again, never stopping the rhythm of her fingers dancing with Maria’s clit. 

“It’s not God, Maria. It’s me.”

“Nat…”

Natasha kneeled before Maria, who lost her voice when she became aware of what the redhead was about to do. Romanoff creased Maria’s dress up to her waist. Hill gasped when she felt Natasha’s hands gripping her black panties and tearing them apart in one swift motion. Natasha dedicated her one final look, kneeling between her legs, as her hands came up to grasp Maria’s buttocks firmly. 

“Say my name, Maria. Say it.” The Russian hissed, never breaking eye contact.

Then, she launched herself forward and covered Hill’s sex with her mouth, circling her clit, moaning against wet folds, her tongue greeting every inch of her.

“Nat, fuck… ah!”

Natasha entered her smoothly with one finger, then two, while her tongue didn’t give Maria any kind of rest. Maria’s legs were trembling, faltering, so Natasha broke their contact only for a second, to bring one of Maria’s legs up across her shoulder and keep her steady against the wall. Soon they found a shared rhythm and Maria had to bite the inside of her cheek until she drew blood just to stop herself from screaming, while her hands messed up Natasha’s hair, clinging to her, letting her know how close she was.

Natasha wanted nothing else but to stay like that forever, but by some willpower she didn’t know she had, she was able to jerk away from Maria and stand up again. Maria moaned in protest, but it all went away when she looked at Natasha, regarding her with nothing but insatiable desire. She was raw, her chin dripping with Maria’s body fluids, her hair, a mess, her forehead sweating, her breath uneven. Her eyes, darker like Maria had never seen them. 

“Does she touch like this?” Natasha said, raising her hands to touch Maria’s breasts. She stepped forward, pressing her body against Maria’s. She took one of Hill’s hands in hers and placed it over one of her own breasts. Hill squeezed gently, and Natasha felt the world turning around her. “Do you come undone on her fingers like this?” Natasha let one hand over Maria’s right breast and with the other, she found her swollen clit, once again. Maria moaned against her head. “Do you think about me when she does this to you?” Natasha entered her with two fingers again, and Maria raised one leg to wrap it around Natasha’s waist. Natasha began a new pace, with Maria groaning in her ear. “Do you close your eyes, and see me? It took me just a second, Maria, just a second to know–”

"Ты заткнёшься наконец или нет?" (Will you shut the fuck up?) Maria whispered desperately against Natasha’s ear. The Russian words and the imperfect accent in Maria’s voice added fuel to Natasha’s desire.

They met halfway. The kiss was ravishing. They messed up their lipstick, their teeth clasped together, their tongues danced with each other sloppily and their saliva flowed  together until it was one, in the most chaotic of ways. They didn’t care.

It was their first kiss, and it had everything they had hoped for: passion, power, desperation. All the things that had been left unsaid over the years. And hunger. The ultimate hunger.

"Как красиво. Mоя Маша." (So beautiful. My Masha.)

Natasha kept whispering things in Russian, until she felt Maria coming apart in her hands. Maria’s orgasm washed through her with the power of a wave that also shocked Natasha, who had been unconsciously grinding against Maria’s thigh and felt a replicate of the earthquake inside her own body. There wasn’t any screams because they put that fire out in each other’s mouths. 

They trembled together for long seconds, and Natasha rested her head against the taller woman’s chest, thinking that the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto no. 2, op. 18, had nothing on Maria’s heartbeat.

Natasha felt hands gently pushing her away, and watched dumbfounded as Maria cleaned herself, her body language showing nothing but the soldier she used to be. Fear or something worse crept up Natasha’s spine.

“What are you doing?”

Maria smiled at her quickly, fixing her hair in front of the mirror.

“There’s a party we need to go back to.”

Her voice was calm, her eyes showed something else.

Natasha took tentative steps towards her and placed a kiss on her bare shoulder.

“Maria?”

Hill jerked away.

“Stop.” The one word she couldn’t say a few minutes ago made Natasha’s heart skip a beat. “This… this was a mistake.” Maria finally breathed, looking down at her hands, her palms resting on the bathroom sink.

It was Natasha’s turn to be absolutely lost.

“What?”

“This never happened, Romanoff.”

“Are you out of your mind?”

Oh, how the tables had turned. Natasha couldn’t close her mouth, couldn’t believe she had her, she had her only to lose her now. And she couldn’t understand why she didn’t move, why she didn’t protest, why she didn’t anchor her hands to Maria’s waist and begged, pleaded for her to stay.

Maria shook her head and took a deep breath. She turned to Natasha, a condescending smile on her lips. So out of character. So not her Maria.

“Yes. Yes, I am out of my mind. So now, please, you get out of my head. This is it, Romanoff. I don’t want anything else from you. Fix your hair, redo your makeup. I’ll take the other bathroom, I’ll be done before you, wait a few minutes to go back to the party.” Maria said the words the same way she used to give orders on the helicarrier’s bridge, the same way she used to guide Natasha through missions. Collected. Calm. Indisputable.

Natasha didn’t even blink.

“You’re serious. You want to act as if nothing happened.”

Maria shrugged her shoulders and looked at her, ungraciously failing at seeming unconcerned.

“What were you expecting?”

Natasha took a deep breath. Whatever this was, whatever was coming in between them was not in the room with them a minute ago, when they were coming hard in each other’s arms. So that could only mean one thing. 

Natasha took a step forward and gently cupped her face, trying to lower Hill in order to meet her eyes.

“Maria… what are you not telling me? It’s me. You know I can help, whatever it is.”

Hill was about to give in, give in to a kiss, give in to the truth, give in to Natasha’s arms. She deserved this. She deserved to be able to send the rest of the world to Hell, for once, and not put everyone’s needs before hers. And rest, finally. Stop fighting.

But it just wasn’t in her nature.

She grasped Natasha’s hands, firmly, and took them away from her face. She closed her eyes, and once she was sure she had fought back the tears, she looked at Romanoff and said what was needed to be said.

“Stop. You said you would stop if I told you to. I’m asking you now, Natasha. Please stop.”

With that, Hill left the bathroom.

And Natasha stood there, speechless, suddenly remembering something they used to tell them in the Red Room: if you don’t have a heart, no one will break it.

Another lesson she had refused to learn.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

2013

The Triskelion

5 months before the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D.

 

 

 

“Come in.”

Director Fury’s voice resonated through his office as his second-in-command, Maria Hill, walked in, dressed in a black S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform, her hair in a ponytail, her right hand holding a white envelope.

“Thank you for seeing me with such short notice, sir.”

Fury looked up from the papers he was reviewing. He set the documents aside and crossed his hands over his desk, dedicating her his full attention. 

Hill’s hands were sweaty and she mentally kicked herself for her weakness even if she didn’t let it show. Fury just regarded her with his one eye, silently. Waiting. Maria could sense he knew. He’d be so disappointed in her. She had failed. There was no going back now.

She positioned herself in front of his desk, placing the envelope over it, within his reach. She crossed her hands behind her back (an echo of the sleeper soldier within her) and cleared her throat, finally saying the words.

“I came to hand my resignation, sir. In this letter I explain the details of the circumstances that have led me to this strenuous choice.”

The rehearsed words sounded so lame now that she spoke them aloud.

Fury didn’t even flinch. He just continued to study her for what felt like extremely long seconds. Fury’s death stare didn’t show accusation or disappointment, or even surprise. He simply leaned against his desk, speaking in a calm tone. Something that Fury never did. Consequently, Maria freaked out internally.

“No one quits S.H.I.E.L.D., Hill. If anything, S.H.I.E.L.D. quits you.”

She nodded firmly and held his gaze.

“I know, sir. It’s all explained in there, I don’t have a choice.”

Fury ignored her while he opened the envelope and read her letter, not showing the tinniest reaction to Maria’s words, both the spoken and the written ones. After a few seconds, he put the letter down and pursed his lips, unimpressed. 

“You state in the letter that your father is very ill and that you desire to take care of him in his final days. That could be arranged with a temporary leave. Please explain why I should approve your resignation based on a lie.”

Maria blinked incredulously and frowned. 

“It’s not a lie, sir. He’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I’ll go back to Chicago and care for him at home.”

Fury shook his head, then raised his hand gesturing for her to sit down in front of him. It was obvious he wasn’t going to accept a no for an answer, so Maria complied. That’s when Fury opened a drawer and grabbed what seemed like a remote. He pressed a button, and then all the electronic devices in the room went dead, including Fury’s computer, the security cameras and even the phone Maria was carrying in her pocket. Just like that.

“While I know for a fact that your father’s ill, he’s a mediocre man," Fury sighed, and Maria’s blue eyes flashed with a spark of shame, “a piece of shit that used to beat the crap out of you when you were a kid,” Fury continued, his voice low, collected, as if he was stating a simple fact about a mission. “He was the reason you were ready to throw your life away when I met you. So you using him as a decoy to hide the truth only serves to intrigue me even more. Plus, you know the wolves at Congress go over every nickel we spend with our payrolls. I know he’s in an institution where he’s very well taken care of. And I know you pay for all that, but you haven’t talk to him in ten years. God knows the bastard doesn’t deserve all the efforts you put into his well-being, but I’m not one to judge. So, now, Maria, start talking, for real this time. It’s just you and me.”

Hill always knew that lying to her implacable boss was useless. But she had hoped, foolishly, that he would sense the truth and just let her go down easy, sparing her the humiliation. She looked down at her trembling hands and smiled, bitterly, knowing that if someone deserved the truth, it certainly was Nick.

“I’m afraid I’ve developed feelings for one of my subordinates, sir.”

It came out just like that. She didn’t even took the time to think about how she should phrase it. She pondered to herself that it was the first time she had said it aloud. And it was here, in her boss’s office. She was so pathetic, and she knew that was what Fury was thinking. She was weak, and had made a rookie mistake. And now she was being stupid enough to say it aloud. Her career was over, and Fury would be telling her that in a matter of seconds.

But the Director’s reproach never came. Instead, Fury crossed his hands and touched his lips with the tips of his index fingers, regarding her intently.

“I see.”

Those two words were the only thing that he said after Maria’s confession. And Hill was about to beg him to say something else and stop torturing her with silence, when he added something. A question.

“These... feelings. How would you describe them, exactly?”

Hill was mortified inside, but she knew these questions were unavoidable. She had betrayed Fury’s trust, so she had to be as honest as possible, even if every word that came out of her mouth felt like a kick in the ribs.

“I... care about her, sir. That’s all I can say. When she’s out there, I can’t think properly. I don’t make the right calls anymore. I should’ve stepped down the moment I – I’m just… I’m sorry to disappoint you, sir.”

Fury didn’t comment, he just asked another question.

“Does she know?”

The response was immediate, firm.

“I don’t think so, no.”

“Have you made any attempts to fraternize?”

“No.”

“Has she?”

“Yes. All properly ignored.”

Fury closed his eye for a second, deep in thought. He inhaled deeply. 

“Protocol Green. You came up with it.”

It was a simple statement, but Hill knew all its implications.

“Hill?”

“Yes, sir?”

“If that’s the problem, I’ll cancel it. Right now.”

Hill panicked. This was not how it was supposed to go, why was Fury asking all the wrong questions?

“Sir… I… you can’t do that. Protocol Green is the best chance we have to secure the asset.”

Fury nodded.

“You designed the strategy, you should know.”

“Yes, sir.”

The words had never come out of her mouth with such lack of conviction. Something burned inside her throat. The taste of failure, perhaps. No, she’d tasted failure before, and it didn’t feel like this, like she was about to throw up her own heart. 

Regret? Could it be like this, like her own blood was poisoning her from the inside?

“You’re hurting, Hill. I could be looking at you from a mile away with my one eye and I could still see the knot in your stomach.”

Maria had never heard Fury speak with such delicacy. The words were spoken with a level of empathy she didn’t know Fury had, and if Maria had ever known what a real father was supposed to sound like, perhaps Fury’s tone would have reminded her of that.

“I’m… I will be all right, sir. The mission is more important than– than this. Than any of us.”

Fury agreed with a low hum from his throat and turned around in his chair.

He got up, holding Hill’s resignation letter between his fingers. He looked to the window, gazing upon the Potomac. Hill let her head hang down, she knew what was coming. It was the end. She had hoped he would have the guts to look at her, but apparently she didn’t even deserve that. 

“Have I ever told you about Carol Danvers?”

Hill looked up, surprised by the change of subject.

“A few times, sir, yes.”

Fury played with the letter in his hand, his back to Maria.

“The most exceptional woman I’ve ever met,” he said. “You remind me of her. Like you, Hill, Danvers was brave, resilient, hard-working, always ready to make tremendous sacrifices. The best of the best. There’s only one difference between you two.”

Maria closed her eyes and swallowed hard, but composed herself before speaking.

“I’m afraid to even ask, sir.”

Fury turned to look at her. He was smiling. As much as Nick Fury smiled.

“Her genetic structure was altered due to an accident and she developed incredible powers, becoming half-alien. You, on the other hand, are still human.”

Maria sighed, waiting for the final blow. It never came.

“And that’s exactly what I need in my team.” 

Fury hadn’t even finished the sentence when he tore the resignation letter in half. He walked to his chair and folded the torn pieces to put them back in the envelope. He handed it back to Maria, whose blue eyes were wide with confusion.

“Go back to your post,” he ordered in a tone that left no doubt about how serious he was.

Maria took the envelope in her hand, but she didn’t know what to do, what to say, what to feel.

“Sir…?”

Fury rested the palms of his hands against his desk, and locked his eye on Maria.

“Work around this. Or with it. Find the way to let it make you a better agent. Anger, love… it doesn’t matter. Both fuel us with equal intensity.”

Hill was speechless for a few seconds. She found something to say without stuttering only after registering what Fury had said. It was especially shocking to hear the word ‘love’ in the Director’s voice even if the context wasn’t very heartening.

“Sir, I don’t understand.”

Fury locked his eye on her, and Maria wondered how it was possible for a man with one eye to say so much just with a glare.

“Our enemies are alien species drunk with power, blood-thirsty beings that lurk in the dark corners of the universe feeding their god complex, fascists organizations that know no loyalty but to their own name... we need people on our side who will fight them with their heart, not just their hands. Go back to your post. Be better. Be smarter. Don’t turn her into your weakness, Hill, she doesn’t deserve that. Let Romanoff become your strength.”

Maria’s body went rigid (even more) when she heard the name on Fury’s voice. It didn’t matter now. If he was giving her the opportunity to make things right, she was going to take it. Not like she deserved it, because she had broken the rules. She had failed, even if Fury was ready to forgive her.

As if sensing Maria’s inner conflict and distress, Fury’s voice changed into the charged, powerful electricity that could convince everyone on S.H.I.E.L.D. they could win a battle even when the odds were against them.

“Repressing our humanity will serve us for nothing. After New York, after everything we’ve been through, I need agents that are reminded of what we fight for. If we forget who we are, what it means to be human, then we won’t be able to defeat what’s out there. I know we haven’t seen the worst. And I need you here, Maria. The world needs you here. That includes Romanoff.” 

Fury sat down on his chair and went back to his papers, as if nothing.

“Protocol Green is still a go under your supervision. You’re still the best person in this organization to decide whether we should terminate it or not, perhaps now more than ever. If that’s a problem for you, then find a way for it not to be one. Now, stop sucking up my time and go back to work. That’s an order, Hill. This conversation never happened.”

Maria got up from her seat, her torn resignation letter in one hand, her determination and purpose back inside her body, filling her the same way a dehydrated person feels the first sip of water bringing them back to life.

“Yes, sir.”

She didn’t look back when she left the room. 

 

 

 

 

 

2015

Avengers Tower

The night Ultron was born

 

 

 

 

If they were any other regular people on the planet, things would have been awkward as hell between them. After all, a few months ago they had fucked in a bathroom at this same penthouse, where another party was taking place right now. And things hadn’t ended precisely well.

But they were two of the most efficient, pragmatic and professional beings in the world.

It was only natural that both of them had swallowed their feelings about what had happened between them and go on about their lives as if nothing.

For different reasons of course, but that, they didn’t know.

So Natasha went back to her charming but indecipherable self, enjoying her status as founding member of the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest heroes. And Maria just stayed in character, pretending to be the more relaxed, civilian version of ex-agent Hill while she navigated the unbearable routine of a desk job occasionally spiced up by her secret missions aiding Coulson and handling intel for the Avengers.

It wasn’t as if her sham of a life didn’t have any pros. She had formed an unlikely friendship with Pepper Potts, who was a captivating, intelligent woman despite the fact that she was dating Tony Stark; she was safe from the claws of Washington after the whole S.H.I.E.L.D. is Hydra fiasco thanks to Stark’s army of lawyers; and she still had a mission, a purpose, as she kept an eye on the Avengers while Nick remained in hiding. She dated, just to keep appearances. She had meaningless sex with women who she didn’t ever call again. She had constructed an almost perfect cover. But still, it wasn’t a real life. She missed a lot of things and only two people.

One of them was right in her line of vision, looking utterly gorgeous in a black and white dress, leaning over Stark’s personal bar, serving a cocktail to Bruce Banner and looking at him as if she was a spider ready to trap its prey.

Not long ago, Hill had been the one entangled in that web. Jealousy felt like ice in her nape and hurt like an uppercut to the chin.

Still, she knew things were going exactly as planned. She should be proud of herself. Protocol Green was working. But this victory tasted like poison. She had fell upon her own knife, and she deserved the dread she felt looking at Natasha making eyes at Banner and the paralyzing pain that jabbed her chest when she closed her eyes and imagined them together, Natasha sweating under him, saying all those stupid things she murmurs in Russian when she’s about to come…

Laughter broke the torture in Maria’s brain as Rhodey finished the story of the tank and the general for the umpteenth time.

“Boom! You lookin’ for this?”

Maria sighed and reminded herself to act like she was enjoying herself, no matter how much she wanted to jump to the void from one of Stark’s balconies.

Because her feelings didn’t matter. She was just one person, one tool in a big, scary world that always needed protection from the bad guys. Or itself. 

It was all about the mission. She was just one woman. 

Maria watched as Natasha left Banner on the bar. He couldn’t help but stare at her walking away and that alone made Maria almost throw the drink in her hand at his head.

She was losing focus. It’s all about the mission, she repeated in her mind, once again. 

Maria adverted her eyes from them and tried to focus her attention on the dull story Rhodey was telling her. It was useless, so she fooled herself by thinking that her interest in Romanoff’s and Banner’s interaction was out of her desire for Protocol Green to succeed. As she watched Steve looking entranced by Natasha and Banner’s awkward flirting, she felt disgust and self-pity beginning to boil in her stomach. Especially when she thought about her role in all that. She had been the one to bring to Steve’s attention the exchanges between Romanoff and Banner. She had been the one to suggest perhaps Bruce needed a pet talk from the world’s leading authority on ‘waiting too long’. And Steve had luckily mistaken her anxiety for the excitement of a friend that wanted to bring two people together. 

She had done lots of bad things in her life, it was such an irony that the one that made her feel the dirtiest didn’t leave any stains on her clothes. It was all about the mission, and still… not even Stark’s most expensive whiskey had succeeded at drowning her feelings. 

She thought about Nick, then. 

Repressing our humanity will serve us for nothing.’ She sighed bitterly and drank the content of her glass in one sip. You fucking asshole, Nick. You fucking liar. You played me years ago. And I deserved it.

She had never wished for any superhuman abilities despite being surrounded by superheroes all the time. But oh, now her slightly intoxicated brain was fantasizing about becoming half-Kree, perhaps, taking upon the title of Captain Marvel, and using her unlimited powers to make everyone else disappear and fuck Natasha on top of Stark’s bar until both of them forgot their own names. She would take the bottle of Jameson 18-Year-Old limited reserve Stark keeps in his office and she would spill it over Natasha’s breasts while sucking every millimeter of her skin, and then she would spread the Russian’s legs and bury her tongue in her sex until her senses were flooded with Natasha’s taste, Natasha’s sounds, Natasha’s perfume, Natasha’s sweat melting into her own sweat and Natasha’s voice screaming for her to stay there forever. And Maria would, Maria would make love to Natasha until the end of time. That’s what she would use her superpowers for. No doubt about it. 

In her mind, she was holding Natasha in her arms in the vast infinity of space. 

But back to reality, in Stark’s victory party, someone was touching her shoulder. And it wasn’t a redhead.

“Hey, Hill. Maria?”

“Uh, sorry.”

“Where were you?”

“I just… I’m sorry. It’s been a long week.”

Hill smiled sheepishly at Rhodey and he smiled back, glad to be able to start another War Machine story now he had Maria’s attention again.

Maria was able to keep herself from coming up with weird sex fantasies about Natasha for the rest of the night. The desire to punch Bruce Banner in the face, however, was something she couldn’t quite repress. Which was wrong because the guy had done nothing wrong – besides playing God and turning himself into an unpredictable killing machine, of course.

The fact that Maria and Natasha remained polite with each other when surrounded by other people didn’t mean that they wouldn’t always put at least one person between them in meetings, vehicles or social gatherings as this one. When everybody left but the original six and their closest allies, Maria made sure to sat next to Clint and even then, Banner was still trying to hog Natasha’s attention. For once, she was grateful, because Clint had sat up to participate in the testosterone driven bet of who could lift Thor’s hammer.

When Natasha passed on the test and the guys bickered with each other like cocky teenagers, Rhodey nodded in her direction.

“Wanna try, Hill?”

She shook her head with a tight-lipped smile.

Thor turned to her with a smug expression on his face after Steve’s -almost not- failed attempt. 

“If someone in this room could do it besides me, it should be you, Lady Maria.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Thor, and please, stop calling me that-“

Tony didn’t let her finish.

“C’mon, Hill, give Point Break a break, because he’s got a point! You have a beautiful name. In fact, it is the most beautiful sound I ever heard…”

Maria’s eyes went wide with annoyance. She left the beer in her hand over the coffee table and pointed a menacing index finger at the billionaire. 

“No, Stark, not again!”

But it was too late. Tony began to sing West Side Story’s hit song ‘Maria’, and Hill just covered her eyes with her hands and groaned in pain.

“Mariaaaa, I just kissed a girl named Mariaaa–“

Stark pointed at Clint who unskilfully sang the next verse, the two of them swaying around each other in what seemed like a poor attempt at emulating Broadway’s dancing style.

“And suddenly I found how beautiful a sound can beee!”

Tony and Clint mixed their voices in a terrible harmony to sing the next verse.

“Mariaaa, say it loud and there’s music playing, say it soft and it’s almost like praying…”

And then the whole group sang the final line of the chorus. Everyone, but Natasha, who only smirked at the boys, and Dr. Cho, who watched the performance with a mix of horror and amusement in her face as well as a slightly embarrassed body language.

“Mariaaa, I’ll never stop saying Mariaaa!”

Of course Steve and Thor weren’t familiarized with West Side Story at first, but Stark had made sure to include it in one of their movie nights, just so they could all properly mock Maria for the rest of her life. The victim had become immune after a while, though, and she just played along to humor them. Maria laughed incredulously at the group and simply shook her head, as if showing them a bit of compassion.

“You guys always manage to make it worse than the last time,” she said. “I just hope Maestro Bernstein can’t hear you butchering his masterpiece so he doesn’t get up from his grave to haunt you all.”

Stark made no effort to look offended.

“Years ago, I sang it to Rita Moreno at a party and she said my low notes were on point,” he retorted, “and speaking of lows,” he cleared his throat, “what happened between you and the hot blonde from accounting? I’ve been dying to get you properly drunk to ask.”

“Oh, that transition was very tasteful, Stark,” Clint said as he rolled his eyes, but Maria was already back with her walls up in the form of nonchalant sarcasm.  

“Well, not that it is any of your business, boss, but it simply didn’t work.”

Tony blinked twice, then smiled. Like a creep.

“That’s not what Pepper told me.”

Clint made a long oh sound and it was Maria’s turn to roll her eyes.

“Ah, that little snitch,” Maria sighed.

“But – what happened, Lady Maria? I was the one supposed to perform your union, remember? Asgardian weddings last for five days and five nights… it would’ve been so much fun.” Thor looked genuinely disappointed.

Maria sighed again visibly tired of being surrounded by all these men-children.

“Thor, just please get rid of the ‘Lady’ thing already, and I’m sorry, but that was self-appointed, I never intended on marrying someone I dated for a few months. I never intended to marry, period.”

Tony took a random glass of champagne from the coffee table and smirked at Maria.

“See, I knew you were a player since the day I met you but I never thought you were the type that enjoyed breaking pretty girl’s hearts… you know, like me?”

“Whoa, wait a minute, she was the one that left me!” Hill regretted the words the moment she saw everybody in the room staring at her. 

Stark took a sip of his champagne. Then, he dropped the bomb.

“Because you told her there was someone else.”

The room was silent for a few seconds, eyebrows rose to unprecedented highs and only one person in the room wasn’t showing any kind of reaction to Stark’s words. Romanoff, of course, eyeing Hill with green eyes darker than usual. Thor frowned, lost in translation by the technicalities of human relationships, and Maria just wanted the ground beneath her feet to open up and give her an easy way out.

“That’s not – I didn’t – I – I made that up!” Hill blurted out.

Her words didn’t make it better.

“What? Why would you do that?” Banner asked her, genuinely confused.

“And you told her that though it could never happen with that other mysterious woman you seem to be so hooked on…” Stark explained, enjoying himself far too much, “gorgeous, perfect Rachel would never be enough.”

Clint was the one to judge this time.

“Wow, that’s fucked up, Hill, poor girl.”

“What? I never told her that!” Hill defended herself with the truth. She was stuttering more in one minute than in her whole life.

Stark simply shrugged his shoulders. “Yes, I know, but she’s pretty upset so she’s telling different stories about you, they’re just her theories I guess but let me tell you, she’s maaad. And I liked that story the most because it tells me how little she knew you: Maria Hill, a hopeless romantic, yeah, right… ” Stark turned around looking at the group for sympathy. Clint and Bruce nodded to Tony. Thor tilted his head, reevaluating his assumptions about Maria. Steve just stared at her, frowning. And Rhodey and Cho had the decency of looking uncomfortable. Natasha, on the other hand, was unreadable, but a patient observer would had noticed the slight, almost imperceptible trembling of her lower lip, “…that would be a chimera as wild as teletransportation. Believe me, I tried,” Tony continued. He finished his glass and picked another one from the table. It was wine, this time. There were fingertips on the glass. He didn’t even care. He took another sip. No one stopped him. “You’re making a name for yourself, anyway. The legend of Blue Eyes from Security. Men envy you, women fall for you… I’m just jealous. Is it true you had a threesome with the two hotties from Pepper’s press office? You know, Barb and the other? Whatshername… Monica?”

Rhodey got up from his seat on the couch and touched Stark’s elbow gently.

“Tony…”

“I’m just saying, I’m glad someone’s taking care of my legacy now I’m committed and happy with Pepper. I’m proud to say 53 percent of the staff at Stark Industries identify as female and I sleep better knowing they’re in good hands. Yours, to be specific. Just maybe try to be more discreet so your legend doesn’t surpass mine, I can’t compete now, it’s not fair.”

“Tony, c’mon, this isn’t funny anymore,” Rhodey insisted.

Then, it was actually Romanoff’s voice that made Tony stop rambling. 

“Stark, that’s enough.”

Everybody looked at the redhead, who had a very serious look in her face. Maria couldn’t decide what to feel at the intensity of Natasha’s glare on Stark, so she looked down to her feet and tried to calm her beating heart.

Tony smiled at the Russian.

“Oh, Natalie, you’re no fun.”

It wasn’t Natasha who spoke, then. It was the Black Widow.

“I just find it mildly infuriating when men get together to pick on a woman. Remember Hill is your employee now and she is potentially a very expensive sexual harassment lawsuit if you don’t keep your mouth shut. So, stop it. Now, please.” The fact that Natasha ended her intervention with a smile was what finally made everyone hold their breath.

Fortunately, Stark finally gave up, putting the glass down and accepting defeat.

“God, I always forget you worked here as Fury’s little mole and Pepper taught you everything…” He raised his hands apologetically and looked at Maria, “ok, I’m sorry, I’m sorry but uh – Hill, you don’t really mind, do you, hotshot? You know I’m just messing with you. You’re one of us, one of the guys.”

For a few seconds, Maria was silent. Her jaw was clenched and she considered grabbing the gun hidden in her thigh, give Tony a good scare… but that would’ve been too much. She finally said something. She didn’t smile at him.

“Asshole.”

Everyone released a collective sigh of relief. Even some of them chuckled softly at the exchange of words between Hill and Stark, back to their game of pretending they got on each other’s nerves.

“You love me.”

Maria scoffed.

“You’re delusional.”

“I’m the little brother you never had.”

“Little?”

Clint took the chance to bring things back to the original topic.

“That’s accurate. Tony Stark, little man who couldn’t lift Mjolnir.”

“Oh, no, that’s not how it is. All deference to the man who wouldn't be king, but it's rigged,” Tony stated.”

“You bet your ass,” and Clint agreed.

Maria looked at Steve and seized the opportunity.

“Steve, he said a bad language word.”

Now, she wasn’t the one mortified. Steve shook his head and looked at Stark.

“Did you tell everyone about that?”

“The handle's imprinted, right?” Tony quickly got back to his brand new obsession. “Like a security code. ‘Whosoever is carrying Thor's fingerprints’ is, I think, the literal translation?”

“Yes, well that's, uh, that's a very, very interesting theory. I have a simpler one.” Thor got up with a proud expression on his face. Too proud. He took Mjolnir easily in his hand and flipped it in the air. 

“You’re all not worthy.”

A chorus of disagreement and scoffs was interrupted by a loud screeching noise. 

The prodigal son was about to make his entrance. Hill would always remember the voice, from then on, the confusion and the primal fear she felt when she first heard it speak.

“Worthy... No... How could you be worthy? You're all killers.”

When Ultron’s minions attacked, Maria thought old habits never die and her first instinct was to fire upon those who targeted Natasha so she could provide cover for her. Ultron succeeded in distracting them long enough to escape with Loki’s sceptre. 

Weeks later, after going back for the old helicarrier, after Sokovia and with a new Avengers facility up and running, she would think about the irony of that night. 

She always thought that was the moment she finally accepted that she had lost Natasha forever, when her first instinct was to protect her and Natasha’s was to run with Banner. She was absolutely positive of it when she was pulling out little pieces of glass from her bloodied feet in Stark’s lab while the group was trying to wrap their heads around the concept of Ultron.

But she was wrong. It wouldn’t be up until Banner disappeared and Natasha found out the truth that she really, really understood how far she had pushed Natasha away from her. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015

New Avengers Facility

2 weeks after the battle of Sokovia

 

 

 

“Protocol Green is terminated.”

The sentence took Maria out of her reverie. She was thinking about that one time, years ago, when she walked into Fury’s office in the Triskelion to hand her resignation. What would have happened if she had been brave enough to leave? She was never a fan of obsessing over ‘what ifs’, but lately her conscience was playing tricks on her.

Now she was in Fury’s new office, wearing a new Avengers uniform. Black and blue, it suited her. She’d missed this, she’d miss him, but she didn’t miss butting heads with him.

“Sir, I beg your pardon?”

Fury was looking at a tablet with the information of an energy reading consistent with a crash in the Banda sea. The Quinjet, perhaps. But there was no way to be sure.

“It’s up to you whether we reveal the information to Romanoff and the others, but I’d like to come clean. After all, it was something that we set up on S.H.I.E.L.D., and this should be a new beginning for everyone. New place, new team, new methods.”

Maria couldn’t fathom the agony she felt in her stomach.

“Sir… you can’t be serious.”

Fury sighed.

“I knew you’d have your reservations.”

Hill scoffed and her hands rested on her hips, the soldier within her no longer holding her back.

“Well, if you want them to not trust me ever again, then please, by all means, tell them everything.”

Fury got up from his chair and began to walk towards the door, Maria following behind.

“We need to be able to know what each and everyone of us has been up to, Hill. If this Ultron fiasco has taught us anything is that we can’t have any side projects, and whatever we do, we do it together, all cards on the table.”

“You sound like Steve.”

“He’s beginning to rub off on me, yes.”

When Fury was about to step out of his office, Maria intercepted him placing her arm on the door. He had no choice but to look at her. He didn’t seem pleased.

“So you’re going to throw me under the bus for the sake of transparency.”

“I said it was your choice, Hill,” Fury replied, his tone low and collected, trying to counterbalance Hill’s uneasiness.  

“With all due respect, sir, that’s bullshit. I’ve made tremendous sacrifices for the sake of Protocol Green and now you’re telling me all these years were for nothing?” Hill murmured through gritted teeth.

“I’m not saying that. We knew Banner was unstable. Every day we managed to keep him in the team was a success. Every day mattered. He saved countless lives in Sokovia. If these three years is all we got, we should be grateful. He was contained and he was helping the cause.”

Maria crossed her arms over her chest, defensively. 

“Then let me lead a team to Indonesia. Let me bring him back. We can’t let him loose in the world, just like that.”

“He managed to keep the monster at bay before, he’ll do it again,” Fury retorted. 

“You’re throwing away the project you asked me to supervise for years.”

Fury sighed annoyed with himself more than anything. He should’ve known Hill wouldn’t let this go easily.

“He won’t come with you. He wanted to disappear, do you understand what that means? We knew we’d never be able to contain him, we knew he had to stay by his own will… what do you think he’s going to do the moment he sees you arriving with a team armed to the teeth?”

Maria finally let free the frustration, the anger and the regret she was holding back inside her.

“I don’t know! But at least it will mean something! You knew how I felt about this and yet you talked me into going through with it. And now you’re asking me to just wipe it all out, all the things I’ve said, all the things I’ve done… It can’t be for nothing. Do you know what you’re asking of me, Nick?”

Fury looked at her. Hill was glad that his eye didn’t show pity, but true understanding.  

“Yes. And it’s not like you didn’t know what it would take. I told you it was your decision. You never called it off. You never asked me to stop it. And now he’s decided to leave, so it’s finally over. The simple truth, Hill, is that she was enough for you to stay. She wasn’t enough for him.”

Maria was speechless now and the only thing she could do was scoff in incredulity and shake her head, suddenly finding it very hard to breath. 

She needed to get out of there. She needed to find something to do. Supervise shipments, train some rookies until midnight, get laid with anyone that would make her forget Romanoff if only for a few seconds, go for a 2 hour run or find a mission on the other side of the world… 

She just couldn’t look at Nick. She knew he would be going to Romanoff with the lead on Banner. She knew they would find a new routine. She knew they would become a team again a new threats would come up and she just couldn’t, wouldn’t see herself going back to how things were three years ago: to just pretend Romanoff wasn’t under her skin seemed like a torture far too crueler than that one time the Talibans waterboarded her in Afghanistan for days. She opened the door and was ready to leave Fury’s office when his voice called behind her. 

“This isn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore. This is the Avengers. We get to make new rules, or have no rules at all. She’s not your subordinate now, she’s your equal. There’s nothing holding you back now.”

Maria scoffed bitterly and shook her head, mad at herself when she felt her eyes wet.

“Oh, nothing, you say?”

Fury put a hand on her shoulder.

“You did what you had to. She’ll understand.”

Maria jerked away from his touch. 

“DON’T – please, don’t. What– God…” she sighed, still holding the door. Her head hung down and she closed her eyes when she felt the first tear falling down her cheek. She smiled, but there was only bitterness in her eyes. She looked at him, not caring anymore. “I never thought I’d say this and live to tell it, Nick, but please, just fuck off.”

Nick nodded, as if she had asked him for the simplest thing.

“As you wish,” he said.


And with that Hill stormed out, and Fury just watched her walk away, adding the moment to the list of things he could have managed better. 

He had no doubt that Romanoff would forgive them, in time, but he wasn’t so sure about Hill being able to do the same with him.

 

 

 

 


 

 

Romanoff found her three and a half hours later, beating up rookies in the gym. Natasha had just finished training with Steve and the new group. Something had been bugging her after her little chat with Fury, but she promised herself she would look for Maria after the session. Leaving the new Avengers in the hands of Steve Rogers for their first lesson would have been highly irresponsible. Steve was an outstanding leader, but a far too compassionate teacher, and Natasha loved to play their game of good cop, bad cop, especially with Sam and Rhodey (Wanda and Vision, on the other hand, seemed utterly unimpressed). 

When she got to the gym, something twisted in her stomach when she saw Hill dressed in workout shorts and a black tank top, sweat covering her skin, making the biceps in her arms shine obscenely under the artificial light. Hill was barefoot on the ring, her fingers and wrists protected by hand wraps made with white tape, her hair getting everywhere and out of her messy ponytail. 

Natasha’s mouth watered and she decided to watch from the shadows, at least for a few minutes.  The fact that she still felt lust for Maria wasn’t a surprise. What the Russian didn’t expect was the desire to jump in the ring and throw punches at her.

 

The show wasn’t particularly appealing until Hill got tired of winning round after round and ordered them to attack her in groups of four. At first, everyone hesitated. When bodies started falling to the mat and Hill yelled at them to ‘get in the game!’, things got more interesting. The group attacking her divided their efforts: three of them got a hold of Maria’s arms and neck while the other was able to land a punch to her face, breaking her lower lip. When the rookie was startled by the appearance of blood in his superior’s face, Maria seized the opportunity to throw a kick to his crotch. With one of them out, she squatted down into a strong stance, then leaned forward and bent her elbows quickly towards her attackers, first the one on the right, then the one on the left, until they couldn’t keep holding her wrists. Classic Jiu-Jitsu move. She then proceeded to fake the intention of pulling down on the arm of the one holding her neck. When he took the bait and tried to pull her towards him, she launched herself backwards using both her weight and her opponent’s, falling on top of the poor guy’s lungs. The other two launched one final uncoordinated attack, and it was over in four seconds. 

“Again!”

Maria’s voice echoed through the gym and a symphony of groans followed. Natasha frowned. Maria wasn’t even enjoying the moment. This was no ordinary sparring session, she wanted to exhaust herself. She didn’t even acknowledge her bleeding lip. Her eyes looked lost. There was no pedagogy here. There was only sweat and blood.

Natasha knew something was wrong, but she couldn’t quite place it yet. She stepped out of the shadows.

“Perhaps you should let them hit the showers, Hill. It’s past midnight, after all. I’ll be your dancing partner, if you wish.”

Hill didn’t say a thing. She just stood there in all her glory; hands on hips, swollen lip and  sweating muscles and God, Natasha really wanted to hit her. Or fuck her. Or both.

“I’m gonna take that as a yes. All of you, dismissed. Get some rest. You’ve earned it.”

There was a choir of thank yous and some lingering looks toward the Black Widow. Hill rolled her eyes, Natasha enjoyed to feed everyone’s infatuation with her far too much. Some things never changed.

Hill walked over to the corner of the ring where her towel was hanging. She grabbed it to dry her face and arms. 

“If I can’t have my toys, I’m leaving the playground. I’ve got an early morning meeting, anyway.”

“Don’t you dare step down from that ring, Hill.”

Maria turned around and put the towel over her neck, not meeting Natasha’s eyes.

“Romanoff, I’m serious.”

“Me too. You owe me.”

Natasha walked to the ring and Maria sighed, understanding there was no way out of the one thing she’d been avoiding. The look of determination on Romanoff’s face was the same one she had that night that haunted Maria in her dreams. Maria remembered Natasha devouring her with her eyes before she devoured her quite literally. 

“Any rules?” Hill simply asked.

“Yes. No rules.”

Hill threw the towel away and stretched her neck.

“Good.”

It had been a very long time. The dancing lessons, as Natasha used to call them, had stopped after their encounter in the Avengers Tower. It was a shame, because they’ve always had a natural synchrony. Maria had strength, but Natasha had reach. Maria had speed, Natasha had instinct. 

Romanoff used to get more wins, but Maria learned pretty quickly and remembered all the moves and the weak spots, so the more they did it, the harder it got for both of them. After all, nothing came easy between them, and that was probably an understatement. 

After a few minutes of tentative moves, one of Natasha’s signature leg locks brought Maria down. Natasha didn’t remove her legs from Maria’s neck when they both fell ungraciously to the mat.

“This is nice,” the redhead smirked, both women on the floor.

Maria lowered her eyebrows with apparent disgust.

“Shut up.”

There was a second of hesitance, but then Natasha’s flirtatious tone came back with a vengeance, as if months of avoiding each other never had happened. 

“I remember the last time you told me to shut up. You said it in Russian. That was very nice, too.”

“For fuck’s sake, Romanoff, let go of me.”

Hill’s voice should’ve sounded angry, but she was just tired.

Romanoff complied sensing the defeat in Maria’s voice. Hill went back to her corner, picked her bottle water and drank from it like she just had been for a walk in the desert. She was thirsty in more ways than one. She poured the remaining water over her head.

The water stained her tank top and Natasha could see the way it dripped from her nose, her chin, how it drew grooves on her chest… Natasha closed her eyes, breathed in deeply and murmured something in Russian to herself. 

Hill didn’t notice. Or pretended she didn’t.

“What’s going on with you, Hill?” Natasha asked, still sitting on the mat, her eyes narrowed trying to find the piece that was missing from this Maria puzzle.

“Please, Romanoff, go find someone else to play games with. I’m not in the mood.”

“A game? That’s what I am to you?” Natasha’s look of hurt made Hill disgusted with herself, but she didn’t say a word. The redhead relaxed a bit when she saw Maria’s eyes flashing with regret.

Natasha crossed her legs and straightened her back. She looked at Maria with narrowed eyes. Perhaps it was time to ask the questions that had been burning in the back of her mind for weeks… months, even. Maria was sitting on a little wood stool on the corner, unwrapping her hands, failing at the attempt of pretending she didn’t mind Natasha’s presence.

“What Tony said at the party…” Natasha began, tentatively, “is it true? Are you fucking every woman you can at Stark Industries? That’s so unlike you. So unlike the Agent Hill I used to know, anyway.”

The spy’s tone held no reproach, no anger. Natasha looked at Maria like someone who’s trying to decipher an ancient hieroglyph, filled with curiosity and wonder. Hill couldn’t allow herself to look at those green eyes that had disarmed her before. She just focused herself on trying to unwrap her hands without showing how much they were trembling. 

“You’ve done a lot of things that feel odd, I guess. Or perhaps I don’t know you as well as I thought.” How Natasha’s voice changed when she let her walls down. Maria hated it when Natasha’s usually husky voice turned into a thin thread because it usually meant she was beating herself up over something that most probably wasn’t even her fault. That was the case. But it only got worse.

“Why did you ask me to stop?” Natasha said with what could only be utter sadness. “Why did you leave?”

Maria couldn’t help it when she stopped breathing. Every muscle in her body tensed, and she had to stop herself from screaming out in pain. That was how much it hurt to hear Natasha saying these things, to not be able to speak the truth. If she could… what would she say?

Some stupid, cheesy speech? Something like this: “Nat, leaving is all I know. Running is how I survived. I ran and ran and I never looked back. I’ve done a lot of shit in my life. You know it. I’ve seen people who swore to defend freedom killing innocents because they looked different, and I couldn’t – no, I just didn’t do anything. I’ve tortured people to get information out of them, not minding whether they were guilty or not. I’ve tried to drown my memories in alcohol for days and nights until all I wanted to do was crawl out of my own skin and disappear forever. I’ve killed, I’ve lied, I’ve infiltrated, I’ve been tortured, I’ve been shot… they almost starved me to death once. I was a soldier, but I never believed in just following orders, and still, I did things I’m not proud of in the name of the mission. Like I did with you. I was a soldier, but I wasn’t born one. When I was seven, I crawled under a barbed-wire fence and I almost ripped the skin of my back in the process, just so I could escape my drunk father and his belt… Am I still running from him? I don’t know. Leaving is all I know, running is how I survived. But it doesn’t matter. Because despite it all, despite each fucking day I thought things couldn’t get worse, leaving you behind in that bathroom… that was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. You were all I ever wanted and I had to walk away from you. You ask me why, and I can’t explain why because if I had to do it all over again knowing how I’d feel each time I saw you looking at Banner and not me, I would hold you in my arms and I would never, ever, let you go.”

A mean voice inside of her head whispered the word ‘Pathetic’.

So Maria channeled her Ice Queen persona and shrugged at Natasha’s question. 

“I told you. So we fucked, and that was it, what is so hard to understand?”

Natasha regarded her with intensity.

“Right,” the redhead whispered, skeptically. 

Somehow, that got on Maria’s nerves. And that was her doom.

Filled with sudden rage (at herself, at Natasha for asking so many questions, at Fury, at her fucking joke of a life, at the thought of her father dying in a warm bed in an institution where she paid people to treat him with the humanity he hadn’t shown her as a child), she threw the empty bottle at the wall, kicked the stool out of the ring and raised her voice far too loud.

“It’s that simple, Romanoff. Fuck, if you don’t like it, I can’t do anything about it! This is who I am.”

And seeing her there, blue eyes filled with frustration, regret and self-disgust, it all clicked on Natasha’s brain. She ignored the words and just focused on those eyes. And she finally saw it… And she laughed, the Russian laughed bitterly before Maria’s confused eyes. She had been a fool. The best spy in the world, beaten at her own game. And Natasha laughed, and laughed until there were tears in her eyes and she couldn’t see Maria’s face anymore so she had to wipe them and put a hand to her beating heart and the laugh turned into a sob, just once, and then she stopped and got up and pulled at her own hair, raving mad, because yes, she had been a complete fool.

“It was a long con,” Natasha said, at last, with a tight-lipped smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “The girlfriend, the women, the desk job… for a long time… I really bought it all.”

Maria just stared at her, speechless and wide-eyed.

“Banner’s gone, but you already know that,” Romanoff accused. She took a step towards Hill, determination and purpose back in her body language. “Why did you do it, Maria?”

Hill swallowed hard and took a step backwards, without thinking.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Maria’s voice faltered, and Natasha smiled, and this time it was the Black Widow staring at her. It was over now, all cards were on the table. 

Natasha was a couple of steps away from her now but Maria already felt trapped. There was no threat in Natasha’s voice when she spoke, she sounded just hurt. Lost. Disappointed. 

“I never thought… I never thought you’d be the one manipulating me. Guess it serves me right. You pimped me out to him. This is something the Red Room would do. Not S.H.I.E.L.D., not Fury, not… not you. I trusted you.”

It was worse than her broken lip. Maria even bit unconsciously on her wound and when she felt the taste of blood, she felt the rage building up again. She always had to make it about herself… she, she, she, always in her head, always in her mind… Fuck.

“Would you please stop it, Romanoff?!” Hill finally blurted out. “You’re not the fucking center of the Universe, not everything’s about you, not everybody daydreams about you, not every fucking thought in my mind is of you!”

Natasha scoffed and frowned.

“Why are you mad at me? You used me. I should be the one yelling, not you.”

An accusing finger was pointed at the redhead and Maria had to pace around the ring in order to stop herself from running away. They were dancing again. It was another combat, even if there was no physical contact.

“I didn’t use you, Natasha, you were the one that dragged me to that bathroom and ripped my underwear and you were the one that risked it all and I had to make sure the mission didn’t fail!” 

Maria didn’t care if anyone heard. She was fed up with everyone, everything. If the rookies were trembling in the locker room, afraid to come out, it was their problem. If Fury was watching everything through the security cameras, it was his fucking problem. If Steve was eavesdropping in the corner, ready to guilt-trip her, it was his stupid problem. She needed to stop caring because when she cared for them, she forgot how to care for herself.

“So that’s what’s important to you. The only thing. The mission. That’s why you broke my heart.”

Maria had to scoff at the irony of the sentence and its timing.

“Please, don’t make me laugh, the deadly Black Widow doesn’t have a heart.”

Natasha paused for a moment, then she crossed her arms over her chest.

“You broke it. So you proved I had one, at some point.”

It was time for Maria’s turn to laugh out loud with poisoned sarcasm.

“Yeah, that’s why Protocol Green worked so bad.”

Natasha frowned. 

“Protocol Green? You had a name for it?” The redhead sighed and shook her head slowly. “Nick really is a bastard.”

She shouldn’t have, she shouldn’t have but she couldn’t help herself.

“It wasn’t Nick’s idea. It was mine.”

Natasha just looked at her, frozen. So Maria just confessed it all, and it didn’t feel good, but it felt right.

“He assigned me the task of planning Banner’s recruitment strategy. I was the best recruiter S.H.I.E.L.D. had, but Nick knew he wouldn’t stay unless he had a good reason. We couldn’t convince a guy who had tried to kill himself several times to fight for ideals, or glory, or even redemption. He had to find something else. Something more… tangible. I knew you were our best chance from the very beginning. I knew you would appeal to his humanity. That you would understand him, somehow, and that he would be drawn to you inevitably. Classic Beauty and the Beast story. But for it to work, it had to be genuine. The beast would have smelled your fear, otherwise. It was a long shot, but Fury thought it was genius. So when you… when we – I made a mistake. And then I did what I had to.”

Natasha was at a loss of words, but when she did find them, they were tinted with harshness.

“And I thought I was the monster.”

Maria couldn’t hold back. The pain, the jealousy, the sadness, it all came back at the same time to suffocate her.

“Please, I said I didn’t want anything else with you after a quick fuck. It’s not like I dropped you in his bed. I never told you to jump in the shower with him or convince him to run away.”

Natasha’s eyes went wide with shock.

“You… you were listening.”

Maria shrugged her shoulders and kept on rambling like an asshole.

“Of course we were. We had to make sure you didn’t tear each other apart after your first encounter with Wanda. Oh, so you know Fury but you didn’t assume Barton’s house was bugged? Don’t pretend to be so naive, Romanoff! And you come here and try to rip the truth out of me when you knew, deep down you knew, and you still went along with it. And yeah, he’s gone now, but if he hadn’t been that selfish, if he had taken you up on that offer of running away together, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, right, Natasha? You wouldn’t even think of me, not even for a second. You’d be on a beach in Fiji sucking Banner’s green co–“

It was a strange choice. A person who could kill her with the tip of her pinkie slapped her face, the palm of her hand leaving the red marks of her fingers in her skin. It wasn’t the smartest way to inflict pain. But it worked. It worked so well on Maria, who felt shame, and guilt and loss through the slight burning in her cheek.

And the worst came with Natasha’s broken voice.

“I hate you.”

Maria said the only thing that could be said. The truth.

“I know.”

“I hate you, Hill, I hate you,” Natasha said again, and this time it felt like a mantra, like something she needed to repeat to herself in order to believe it but ended up echoing in the air with the menace of a question mark.

Maria nodded slowly, and felt like her body was going to collapse.

“You should. We have that in common.”

That seemed to break Natasha inside even more. She closed her eyes.

“Maybe I knew, deep down,” Natasha nodded to herself and when she raised her head to look at Maria, her eyes were glassy and her look tore Maria’s chest in half. "Maybe you’re right. Perhaps I wanted to go along with it because I needed to hurt you…” Natasha took a step towards Maria, then another, and then, another, and she only stopped when she was close enough for Maria to hear her even when she spoke in the weakest of voices. “I wanted to hurt you. Tell me, did I?”

Maria looked down at her, thinking that at least she owed Natasha being brave enough to hold her gaze. They were so close they could feel each other’s breaths on their mouths. Maria didn’t dare to move away as she answered the question.

“Yes.”

Natasha nodded. She never blinked. She looked in Maria’s eyes, searching for something. But whatever it was, she didn’t find it, apparently. 

“Good.”

And with that, Natasha turned away and left the gym, leaving Hill standing alone in the ring, frozen, unable to move or cry or scream.

 

That’s when Maria knew. It wasn’t that night after fighting a murder bot. This was the day she lost her. Today. Once the truth was exposed. And she deserved it, she deserved to lose her.

Because the mean voice inside her head repeated those words she’d been screaming at herself for years.

Leaving is all I know. Running is how I survived.

Maria knew she had to stay put. She knew she just had to wait in the room until Natasha was far away from her. Do nothing, let her go, just hold still.

But it wasn’t in her nature. 

So Hill ran. 

She ran like she had done so many times before, under fire. She ran as fast as that little girl that knew what was coming if daddy got his hands on her. She ran for her life, like she’d done so many times on missions for S.H.I.E.L.D., going after Loki, rescuing Natasha and Steve from Hydra…

The thing that changed this one time was that she wasn’t running away from anything. 

She was running towards it. 

She found her walking towards the command center, on the main hall of the building, the one place where the Avengers facility crawled with people any time of the day or night: agents, security arches, people coming and going, shipments coming in and out, teams arriving to report and teams leaving for a mission… and she didn’t care this time. She’d learn the lesson.

She said her name, and she realized then how fast she’d go because the word left her lips with total shortness of breath. 

“Natasha…”

The redhead turned around. Her eyes red, her mouth half-open when she saw the look on Maria’s face. 

She didn’t react when Hill finally closed the distance between them. There was no hesitation, only purpose and clarity. It all happened so fast. With one final step, Maria cupped the Russian’s surprised face and kissed her. It was one swift motion. It was a statement, in the middle of the hall, with everyone freezing and looking at them with what could only be described as collective perplexity.

It was quite a picture: Maria Hill in shorts and a tank top, barefoot, holding the Black Widow in her arms, and said Black Widow leaving marks on Hill’s arms as she dug her fingernails in her skin. They were aggressively making out. In the middle of the hall. At 12.24 am. And some agents had to rub their eyes to even try to begin to understand what was going on.

Maria didn’t relax when Natasha kissed her back. She entangled one of her hands in the auburn locks, she made sure Natasha felt her tongue not asking permission to invade her mouth, she moaned against her and she pressed their chests together so the other woman could feel how fast her heart was beating. Her lip was bleeding again because of the friction, but Natasha didn’t seem to mind.

The kiss, and the caresses and the deep breaths and the moans went on, and on and on. And Maria only pulled back when she felt the world around them starting to turn again. It lasted so long, it was so unequivocally passionate, that everyone had to awkwardly ignore them and go back to whatever they were doing.

Maria had never seen Natasha’s smile so wide.

“Public displays of affection make people very uncomfortable,” the redhead murmured only for Maria to hear, never letting go of the taller woman’s waist.

Maria laughed.

“Oh, I know…”

Blue eyes flashed with mischief as they met green, and they kissed again.

 

 

  

Chapter Text

 

 

2016

New Avengers Facility

A week before the Lagos mission

 

 

The funny thing about them (although Clint didn’t find it funny at all) was that they turned out to be so incredibly touchy. So unapologetically physical. 

The cliché should have been them being their usual taciturn and reserved selves, trying to keep their cold facades up even for each other, at least whilst they were in the company of others. Pretending they were not involved even when everybody knew, stealing glances in meetings and discreetly sneaking out of parties.

But, surprisingly, that was not the case.

Barton should’ve understood the message behind their little stunt in the HQ hall (to call it little would be the understatement of the millennium, however, considering their public make out session was the fuel of never ending gossip, something that had reached safe-houses and international delegations and even deep-shadow undercover teams all across the world, often blatantly exaggerated: “Hey, did you hear? Commander Hill and the Black Widow had sex in public at an Avengers facility. They broke a security arch using it as a swing!”)

And again, surprisingly, they didn’t care.

In return, Clint Barton was mortified. 

He complained about it constantly. Never to their faces, of course. He just liked to vent with the rest of the team. 

So Barton, Rogers, Maximoff, Wilson and Romanoff were returning to base from a five weeks long mission, hunting down Brock Rumlow across the globe. At least, this time they didn’t come back empty-handed and they had a promising lead, Nigeria was the next location they needed to investigate but they had agreed to brief Fury first.

Besides, Clint missed his family, Wanda needed to rest, Steve had to check some leads on the Winter Soldier and Natasha… well, Natasha had been nothing but professional and competent through and through. But the whole team knew that it was better to leave her alone on the flight back home, because she usually was on edge, dying to see Maria. Not that she would ever admit it.

And since Nat was napping or pretending to nap, Clint took the opportunity to complain very loudly, with a sleepy Wanda curled up in a blanket on the co-pilot seat and Steve and Sam standing behind them in the cockpit.

“I mean, Nat’s Mother Russia’s deadliest weapon and Hill, well, she’s supposed to be the female Nick Fury, for fuck’s sake! Why the hell do they have to act like horny teenagers around each other? And more importantly, why do they have to do it when I’m around??”

Steve chuckled softly.

“You know that the more uncomfortable you say it makes you, the more they’ll keep doing it, right?”

That only fuelled Clint’s frustration. 

“But why? Why, God, why? I would’ve expected them to be all tough and moody and ignore each other in public but they’re… they’re saps!”

Wanda stretched out in her seat.

“I think it’s cute. You would expect them to behave differently, yes, and yet… it’s heartwarming. When they hold hands, when they stand close together… it’s nice. I think they just need to feel each other, to make sure the other is there,” the young Avenger paused for a moment, and then her voice turned sad. “I can understand,” she said finally, her eyes lost in the sky before them, her accent heavier than usual.

Steve looked at her with sympathy.

“Life’s too short to contain ourselves,” the Captain said dedicating her a knowing look.

Sam and Clint were oblivious to the exchange, but Wilson agreed all the same.

“Yeah, man. Life’s too short.”

Clint just shrugged never taking his eyes away from the sky.

“I know that. And I’m happy for them… I mean,” Clint swallowed and then struggled to find the right words. “Tasha’s never been this… relaxed. But she’s like a little sister to me and they can’t get their hands off each other and you would think they’d calm down by now, but noooo, they’ve been going out for how long? A year? And they’re still in that honeymoon phase where you can feel the electricity between them when they’re in the same room and God, all I’m saying is that it’s so awkward!”

Steve shook his head and patted Clint’s shoulder.

“It seems to me that you’re the only one with a problem here, pal.”

“You’re jealous, dude,” Sam added matter-of-factly.

Clint’s voice went high like a rocket.

“No, I’m not!”

Wanda looked at Barton with a bit of amusement but kindness in her eyes, “Natasha is with Maria all the time now and you get bored, she stole your best friend, of course you are jealous.”

Clint’s eyes were about to pop out of their sockets, and for the first time in the long way back home, he was speechless.

Sam, Steve and Wanda laughed gently, trying not to make more than the necessary fun of Clint. Wilson crossed his arms over his chest and pursed his lips, cutting Barton some slack.

“It’s ok, buddy, we feel ya. You can join Steve and me for bowling night if you want to. I know we might not fill the gap left by your poker games with Tasha, but it will certainly be better for your pocket.”

And of course the Black Widow had to sneak up on them in that precise moment.

“Hey, are you guys talking about me?”

Wanda was the only one who didn’t grab their chest trying to suppress a heart-attack. Clint, Steve, and Sam responded in unison, “No.”

Natasha looked between them, finally landing her gaze on a smiling Wanda, who just shrugged her shoulders and winked at her.

“Ok. That wasn’t suspicious at all,” Natasha said quickly, but she really had come up to the cockpit to ask something else, “So, uh, hey, Clint–“

Her best friend knew exactly why she was there. He waved a hand in the air, anxiously dismissing her.

“I know, I know. We’ll land in five, you’ll be fondling your girlfriend in no time.”

Natasha frowned but her voice was calm as usual. Calmer, even, and there was a hint of amusement to it.

“Don’t call her that.”

Clint tried to look over his shoulder.

“What do you want me to call her, then? Mrs. Romanoff? My sister-in-law?”

Natasha shrugged, unworried. 

“She’s got a name.”

Barton looked back to his control panels.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t make you blush.”

Natasha scoffed. “You wish,” then, a playful smile appeared on the redhead’s face as she turned on her heel, “but seriously, Maria? Not my girlfriend,” she added with her back to the group, already leaving the cockpit. 

Clint called out behind her, a little pissed that he couldn’t chase after Natasha to annoy the crap out of her.

“If you two are not girlfriends then I’m Hydra and my birth name used to be Goebbels, you beautiful Russian asshole!”

Steve shook his head, smiling, and turned around to get ready for landing. Sam laughed out loud and followed Steve. Clint was trying to see if Nat had reacted to what he’d said, unable to locate her despite the rear-view mirror he had installed in the cockpit to make sure the Avengers behaved. He had the same one in his truck to watch over Cooper and Lila.

“Is she giving me the finger? I can’t see. Is she?”

Wanda chuckled.

“Of course she’s giving you the finger.”

Clint cleared his throat and nodded, happily.

“Good, good. That’s good.” 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

When the Quinjet landed on base and its ramp opened, Natasha was the first one out. She always was. 

She smirked contently as she saw Maria among the many agents waiting for them. The commander had a stoic look on her face, but it relaxed the moment her eyes met Natasha’s. She was dressed in workout gear and sweating all over, but that didn’t stop Natasha from running towards her, though some could argue it seemed more like skipping (not that anyone, ever, would tell that to Natasha’s face). Without even saying a word, she jumped to Maria’s arms, climbing her as if she was a tower. Maria caught her mid-air and helped the redhead lock her legs around her waist. Natasha put her arms around Maria’s neck, the brunette’s hands clutching her thighs. They kissed, ignoring everyone around them as Clint muttered to himself, agents found very interesting things to look at in their shoes and Sam yelled at them to get a room.

The reunions always played out like that. It didn’t matter if it was after five weeks or five days. 

And they’d always stand there, looking into each other’s eyes, Natasha straddling Maria and Maria holding her in strong arms until it’d be just the two of them in the heliport. 

And the words would be said after the kiss, and they always would come out in soft whispers, with their foreheads touching, Natasha’s hand caressing the skin behind Maria’s ear, the Russian slipping out of Natasha’s mouth without even thinking, her voice always raspier than usual.

“Привет, красивая.” (Hello, gorgeous.)

“Hi, stranger.”

“I’ve missed you.”

“Yeah, me too, Nat.” 

Maria put her down gently, with the petite spy still clutching to her bare arms.

“I just finished training with Vision…” Maria began, apologetically, “I need to hit the shower and you have to check in with medical. I’ll see you in half an hour, ok?”

Natasha pouted and made use of her infamous puppy eyes, that could melt Maria’s resolution in a nanosecond, “Maria, please.”

Maria shook her head and took a step backwards, trying to gently pull away from Natasha’s arms.

“Nat, I stink…”

But the hold only got tighter. Natasha hugged her with incredible strength and literally inhaled her, fondling her nose against Maria’s skin from the clavicle up to her jaw. “You smell delicious, Commander…” Natasha declared after her little attack. Then, her voice turned low and seductive, “besides, you’re going to be sweating again in minutes, you’d just be wasting water.” 

Maria opened her mouth to protest, but a finger alighted in her lips.

“Take me to bed, Masha. Now.”

There was nothing else to say, but to confirm the command, so Maria dust off her Russian as she swept the other woman off her feet to carry her to their quarters, bridal style, Natasha giggling like a child.

“Да, мэм.” (Yes, ma’am.)

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Approximately two hours and five orgasms later, they lay naked in bed. Natasha’s long hair was a mess. Maria’s wasn’t much better, but her hair, being shorter, still looked half-decent. One pillow was on the floor beside scattered clothes, the other under Natasha’s head, and the sheets were balled up at their feet. The room felt warm and the air was charged with the smell of sweat, sex and lavender candles. They enjoyed the silence together, both of them looking up to the ceiling, their bodies touching lightly, side by side.

“I really need to ask Fury to send us on longer missions,” Natasha said out of the blue.

“What?”

“It’ll be worth it if we have sex like this each time I come back.”

Maria’s laughter echoed through the room, infecting Natasha.

“Nat, you’re a perv.”

“I know. And you love it.”

“Please never change, baby.”

Maria turned to plant a kiss to Natasha’s bare shoulder, who happily hummed in response. Maria rested her head on her hand, dreamily regarding Natasha. With her free hand, she slid her palm over the redhead’s breastbone, resting it above her heart. Natasha relaxed under her touch, and Maria was tempted to stay silent and let her rest but… she’d been postponing this conversation for far too long.

“So, uh, listen, I need to tell you something.”

Maria hated the way her voice sounded so nervous. Natasha opened her eyes immediately, looking rather intrigued and just slightly scared.

“All right,” was the only thing the redhead said, cautiously. 

Maria was fixated on her hand, making little circles over Natasha’s skin. 

“Fury has asked me to go on a trip with him,” this time, the brunette’s voice sounded steadier, but still vulnerable.

Natasha smiled, trying to disguise her own insecurity. 

“Are we talking about a weekend-at-Disney-World kind of trip or a super secret one?”

“You know if we were going to Disney World, I’d insist on taking you with me.”

“You better.”

They fell silent, none of them knowing what to say next. As if looking for some comfort to fight the uneasy feeling that had settled in her stomach, Natasha caught Maria’s free hand in hers and intertwined their fingers, looking at their hands and avoiding Maria’s eyes.

“So… do you know for how long?”, the redhead asked, in a poor attempt at casualness. 

“I don’t but… I haven’t said yes.” There was a rather unusual pause on Maria’s side. “Not yet,” she added.

This time, Natasha couldn’t help the urge to look at Maria, puzzled by her choice of words. Maria sighed, and sensing the question in Natasha’s frown, she tried to explain herself.

“I asked him to… uh… I thought I might discuss it with you, first.”

Natasha didn’t feel the need to point out how Maria could do anything she wanted without consulting her because they were independent beings and they didn’t owe each other anything and blah blah blah. They were past beyond that point, thankfully. Instead, she considered Maria’s words, carefully, and said the obvious thing that came to mind.

“But Nick… he’s… your Nick.”

Maria cracked a bittersweet smile at that.

“Yeah.”

Natasha went back to playing with Maria’s fingers, mostly to keep them away from her chest – she was afraid that Maria would feel through her skin the rapid beating of her heart.

“You have a Nick, I have a Clint and a Steve…” Natasha sighed, “these silly, noble men we adore that keep dragging us to their silly, stupid wars…” Maria’s hand went up to caress her cheek, and Natasha looked at her, a mixture of pride and sadness in her eyes. “You know I don’t need the details. If you think it’s the right thing to do, you have my blessing. I can’t ask you to stay when I’m hunting down Hydra all over the world. It wouldn’t be fair.”

It was bold of her to think so, but at this point, Maria thought she was the person that knew Natasha best in the whole wide world. She could see through her ‘I only act like I know everything’ act, through her emotional walls, rooted so strongly in the back of her mind that some could think she was born that way, that her coldness and her calibrated responses were natural to her. 

But Maria knew better. 

The real Natasha was a woman who liked to be held through horror movies even though they made her laugh out loud, who cried silently through dramatic films that involved children or animals, who could be moved to tears by Anna Netrebko’s voice singing an aria from a Tchaikovsky’s opera but also sing her heart out with a Britney Spears 90’s hit song. The real Natasha had nightmares, and sometimes, she said out loud the names of the girls that were with her in the Red Room, the ones that never made it. The real Natasha danced to pop tunes with ballet moves when she couldn’t persuade Maria to take a break and not work herself to exhaustion; a pas de chat or a grand jeté or a soubresaut to Whitney Houston’s I wanna dance with somebody or Queen’s I want to break free with Maria watching from her desk, laughing to tears. The real Natasha had confessed one night, almost casually, naked in Maria’s bed, that she never had had an orgasm with a man, and that the Red Room had succeeded so efficiently in engraving in her brain that sex was just another tool, a skill to achieve a higher goal, that she considered her vagina another muscle she had to train with pelvic floor exercises, dildos and Ben Wa balls, the same way she trained her arms and legs to be one with any weapon. Maria wasn’t taken aback or scandalized by this. Instead, she told her how she always knew she liked girls, she told her about her first time, her first disappointment, the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ times in the Marines… The real Natasha was the woman who experimented the joy of multiple orgasms that same night, for the first time in her life, and laughed against Maria’s neck, completely spent, and sweared in Russian and wanted to celebrate with a bottle of the most expensive imported vodka. 

The real Natasha was an outstanding singer, but that one time the Avengers ended up in a karaoke lounge in Tokyo, she refused to perform with false shyness because she didn’t want to break Thor’s heart, who naively thought he was the best of them all.

The real Natasha was a being of infinite power, infinite beauty and fierce independence, who needed no one to protect her, no one to uplift her, but that didn’t mean that she’d refrain from pressing her back against Maria’s chest and whisper, “Hold me, Masha”, just because she needed that to fall asleep. The real Natasha was a little spoon, yes.

As this train of thought hijacked Maria’s mind, she couldn’t help herself so she planted a sweet, short kiss to Natasha’s lips, then rested her head on the pillow beside Nat’s head, now both of them side by side, staring at the ceiling again.

“The thing is… now at least we know we have this place. But wherever the hell it is we’re going… It’s not like we’ll get free weekends, Nat. We might be apart for a very long time. Shit, the way Nick talks about it, we might not come back at all.”

“Oh.”

None of them said a thing for a while, both trying to find the way to process all the consequences this new situation could have on their future.

Natasha was the one that broke the silence, with a pragmatic thought, of course.

“If Clint or Steve said they needed me for… well, anything, I wouldn’t hesitate.”

“I know.”

“But I’d do the same for you.”

“I know that, too.”

“And I know you’ll do this for Nick, because whatever it is, he asked you. That means there’s no one else he can trust.”

“I know.”

“We seem to know a lot of things. So… you know what this means.”

“Yeah.”

It’s not like they weren’t making eye contact because they felt uncomfortable, in fact, it was quite the opposite. They had found that their intimacy had multiple layers to it: they enjoyed each other’s presence in absolute silence and they could talk and talk for hours, about almost everything (there were some taboos, of course, eventually brought down by patience, respect and time); they could have emotionally exhausting sex, looking into each other’s eyes and placing sweet kisses in each other’s skins but they also could break beds in half due to untamed rough passion, fucking for hours like animals in heat. Sometimes, they just needed a look to know what the other was thinking. And other times, they could need weeks of closeness to be able to spit out what had happened in a mission that went FUBAR. All in all, they adapted to each other like water to shapes, and sometimes that meant the right thing to do was embracing each other, sometimes it meant pushing each other to the limit to let go of the pain, and other times the answer was leaving the other to their own thoughts or not speaking at all.

All this didn’t mean that there couldn’t be misunderstandings. So Maria sat up on the bed, breathing in slowly, trying not to show how Natasha’s words felt like a shot to the heart. She turned to place her feet on the cold floor, her bare back to Natasha and her hands clasping the mattress. 

“I hate that it has to end like this,” Maria said, defeated, her voice sadder than she’d like it to sound.

She felt movement behind her and Natasha kneeled on the bed beside her, quickly reaching for her face and cupping her cheeks, forcing her to look back at wide, terrified green eyes.

“Whoa, whoa, who said anything about an end, Hill?!”

Natasha’s anxiety was almost laughable, but Maria was too lost in her own confusion to notice.

“Well, you just said… I thought you were implying we should break–,” Maria stopped herself the moment she saw Natasha shaking her head hysterically, almost comically, so the brunette let out a relieved scoff, “God, Nat…”

The Russian kissed her chin and then rested her forehead against Maria’s, eyes closed, her voice trembling just slightly. 

“I’m not giving up on you, Mash. If Fury takes you to another dimension or a different galaxy… well… It just means our bills will go up because of the phone sex, and that if you ever are able to steal away an hour for me, I’ll go to whatever place you are so I can fuck your brains out, you hear me?”

Maria’s gentle laugh was like music to Nat’s ears.

“You’re a romantic, Romanoff.”

“And you’re very silly sometimes, you know that?” The Russian had to insist because, how could this woman be so clueless sometimes? How could she ever thought they had fight their way to each other through pain, jealousy, denial and forgiveness only to let this go because of some super secret and also super inconvenient mission? As if they weren’t Maria Hill and Natasha Romanoff, experts on achieving the impossible… “You’re lucky you’re gorgeous,” Natasha added with a kiss to the tip of Maria’s nose.

Maria circled her arms around Natasha’s waist and the redhead took the opportunity to sit on the taller’s woman lap, comfortably straddling her.

“Still, I wish I was brave enough to say ‘fuck loyalty’ and stay here, with you…” Maria lamented.

“Well, I’m here, right now, and since loyalty is out of the question, you can fuck me, instead,” Natasha murmured seductively placing another soft kiss above one of Maria’s eyebrows. Then, another to her cheek, and another to the corner of her lips, and when she was about to go for a side of Maria’s sharp jawline, the brunette captured her mouth and showed her no mercy with a deep, sloppy, perfect French kiss that had Natasha’s head spinning within seconds. The redhead moaned shamelessly with Maria’s tongue inside her mouth, and when they parted, the smirk on Hill’s face said it all.

“I see,” Maria smiled.

Natasha’s breath was uneven, and her eyes were dark with desire.

“Masha, I’m having a whim for something special.”

It was Maria’s turn to take advantage of her position as she placed a trail of kisses from Nat’s chin to one of her bare shoulders. 

“And what is it?” Maria asked as she brought her hands up Natasha’s back, gently sliding her fingers up and down warm skin.

“That thing we keep in the second drawer of your nightstand.”

Maria paused for a second, remembering what Natasha was referring to. 

“Oh, we haven’t done that in a while,” the Commander said when realization hit her, blushing just slightly. 

Natasha gently pushed her shoulders, making Maria lay back on the bed.

“Until you’re leaving with Fury, you’re mine, Masha, so get ready.”

“Да,” Maria nodded her agreement in Russian, much to Natasha’s delight.

Natasha graciously rolled to the side, reaching for the drawer to open it. She pulled out a white box and left it next to Maria, smirking while she opened it.

“Remind me to send Tony another bottle of wine,” the Russian said as she opened the box to reveal a white double dildo that looked both stylish and kind of futuristic.

Maria, still lying on the mattress, covered her face with one hand as she groaned, mortified.

“Oh my fucking God, don’t you dare mention Stark before we have sex…”

Natasha’s logic was actually very simple: when you’re friends with Tony Stark and he gives you as a present the successful prototype for the most revolutionary sex toy in decades, developed by one of the cutting-edge subsidiaries of Stark Industries, you just have to admit he’s a very good friend.

“I’m just saying he always makes the best gifts.”

“Shut up, Nat.”

“Make me.”

“Gimme a minute, and I’ll make you scream.”

“Promises, promises… let’s get you ready for this, shall we?”

Natasha kneeled on the floor right in front of Maria, caressing her hip bone and placing kisses along Maria’s abs, which were Natasha’s weakness from the very beginning. She felt the brunette trembling under her, as Nat’s breasts brushed lightly against Maria’s upper thighs. 

Natasha trailed a path of kisses and little bites down to Maria’s trimmed pubic hair, gently pulling it out of her way with the tip of her tongue. The spy’s hands went up to cup Maria’s breasts, then pinching her nipples as she parted wet folds with her tongue to find a swollen little bud throbbing with desire for her.

Maria cried out as Nat licked her entire sex with long, wet strokes, her tongue completely flat against slippery skin, up and down, up and down rhythmically and firmly and never missing a beat. The Russian’s hands went down to help her gain better access: one of them parted Maria’s folds gently so she could keep on worshipping her, the other began playing with Maria’s clit as she finally entered her with her tongue.

Maria cried out again with a long moan that sounded like a yes in the beginning and ended up like a mantra of Natasha’s name.

The Russian could feel her own wetness bursting out of herself, lust and anticipation running down her inner thigh in the form of a thin trickle.

Natasha blindly reached out to Maria’s side to grab the dildo, her tongue slipping in and out, her face now smearing with Maria’s wetness. She finally got a hold of the object, stopping her ministrations as Maria protested with a groan of frustration. The Russian’s knees were red from the friction against the floor, but she didn’t care. She stood up so she could fixate her gaze on the way Maria’s mouth gasped for air.

“Masha… look at me, миленький.” (Sweetie.)

Maria made a titanic effort to stand up on her elbows and regarded Natasha with mild impatience.

“Ты такой красивый, детка,” (You’re so beautiful, babe,) Natasha brought the shorter part of the dildo up to her mouth, never breaking eye contact with Maria. She licked the end they both knew would be inside Maria in a few moments, and she watched as the brunette wet her lips when Natasha put it all into her mouth. When she pulled it out, it was shiny under the room lights, wet with her saliva. “Ты такой красивый, и ты нужен мне во мне,” (You’re so beautiful, and I need you inside me,) Natasha’s raspy voice always became even more irresistible to Maria whenever she heard her speaking Russian.

Natasha kneeled once again and resumed licking Maria, ferociously. She brought the dildo close to Maria’s entrance and teased her with the tip while she sucked her clit until she could feel muscles and limbs going impossibly tense below her. Maria’s hands were entangled in her hair now, chaotically clutching to her. When Natasha felt Maria’s entire body going stiff, she pressed the soaked dildo to her opening and easily let it slide inside her lover. The sensation only fuelled Maria’s impending orgasm, her legs spasming violently and her head bouncing against the mattress until she had to push Natasha away because the redhead wouldn’t stop licking her to exhaustion.

But there was no time to rest, because Natasha only stopped to climb the bed and straddled Maria. The dildo became a strapless strap-on, a quarter of it inside Maria, the rest pointing to the ceiling, stupidly defiant. Natasha grabbed it with one hand, squeezing it gently, her other hand in Maria’s hip bone to help her keep balance. 

“Are you feeling this, Masha?”

“Yes…”

Stark Industries’ invention, which was supposed to hit the market next year, was going to be revolutionary because of a brand new feature that would allow women to feel everything they did with the dildo thanks to nanotechnology. The end inside Maria’s body was equipped with an immediate response unit, which in English meant that tiny filaments would send electrical responses to Maria’s sex, translating what was happening outside into amazing sensations inside.

Tony had actually given Maria the prototype as a birthday gift, hoping to mortify her in public, once again, but a) his plan backfired the moment Natasha’s face sparkled with excitement and Maria looked at her with pure devotion and b) he really was proud of the R&D team that had developed the tech along with other inventions targeted for the LGBTQ community, and if someone deserved to have privileged access to it, it was Natasha and Maria, who he adored, although c) he would never tell them that to their faces. He also wanted to launch it under the name The White Widow, but Maria threatened to persuade Pepper to go celibate and Tony took it very seriously because Peps had the annoying tendency of becoming Maria’s partner in crime when it came to pestering him. 

So when Natasha gave the dildo a few swift pumps, Maria felt it all. She arched her back, her eyes wide shut and a vein almost popping in her tense neck muscles while she grabbed Natasha’s thighs and made involuntary thrust motions with her hips. 

Natasha had never seen anything sexier in her whole life.

“I need you inside me, baby,” the Russian whispered, tilting her hips to one side so she could guide the head of the dildo to her entrance. When she was properly aligned, she sank down in one motion, the previous activities granting her more than enough wetness to make it as smooth as possible. Maria made a soft sobbing sound as she felt Natasha taking her in. Natasha was now panting, adjusting herself to the fullness she felt with Maria buried deep inside her. 

“And I never want you to leave,” the redhead hissed, opening her green eyes to meet blue ones shimmering with lust. 

Natasha’s wavy locks were cascading over her shoulders, and when she bucked above Maria with a smooth rolling of hips, her breasts began swaying up and down and Maria thought she could pass out from a Stendhal syndrome induced by Natasha’s sheer beauty. 

She clutched Nat’s hips to meet her with her own thrusts. 

“Fuck, Nat, oh fuck…” was all Maria could stammer when all coherent thoughts were thrown out of the window as she became one with Natasha.

The redhead rode Maria wildly, unapologetically, trying to get every bit of pleasure she could. Maria loved how Natasha was a generous lover but she also adored the way she sought out pleasure for herself, unrestrained and unashamed, and she was definitely going to give it to her. She licked her own thumb and then used it to rub Nat’s clit. A sharp cry came out of Natasha’s throat at the addition and then Maria couldn’t help herself. 

She grabbed Natasha’s ass to make sure she didn’t fall as she sat up on the bed, her abs going tense and her thighs taking Nat’s weight with her feet still firmly placed on the floor, helping her keep balance. The new position granted Maria access to Natasha’s breasts, proceeding to lick them alternatively. Just knowing she was sucking on Natasha’s nipples while she rode her was enough to almost make Maria come. One hand went around Nat’s waist, securely holding her while the never-stopping up and down motion of her hips brought them closer to the edge. Maria’s other hand went up to squeeze whichever breast was left free when she switched between them with her mouth.

Then, she felt perfect manicured hands with short nails and black polish scratching her back and messing up her hair. Nat finally clutched her face and forced Maria to look up so they could gaze in each other’s eyes, both now sweating and panting, the heat radiating from their joined bodies making them feel like the room was on fire.

“ебать меня (fuck me) until I scream your name, baby,” Natasha gasped against Maria’s forehead, “because I want the world – to – ahhh, fuck – I want them – I want them all to know I’m yours, Masha.”

Natasha’s words set fire to Maria’s chest and as a response, she kissed the redhead roughly. She then got a hold of Natasha’s hips, bringing them impossibly closer, and thrusted in and out of her as if their lives depended on it, with Nat’s holding on to her neck. 

“C’mon, baby, lose control. Lose control inside me, Mash,” Natasha whispered in Maria’s ear, and that was the end of any self-control that was left in the commander’s body.

Strong arms made Natasha roll to the side, now her stomach flat against the mattress. The motion made Maria pull out of her and Nat was about to protest when two hands made her lift her ass in the air.

“You wanna scream my name, sweet girl?” Natasha couldn’t help the little whine of pleasure that escaped her lips when she felt Maria’s warm breath whispering in her ear, her body trapped below the taller woman’s weight, Maria’s breasts pressing against her back. “Go ahead, scream for me.”

And with that, Maria entered Natasha from behind. The room filled with the sound of Maria’s pubis bone smacking against Natasha’s butt. The new position made Maria hit Nat’s G-spot directly and both of them just gave in to the bliss of it all, panting, grinding, moaning together. Perhaps it was Maria’s words, perhaps it was the way the room was filled with the smell of them – so intimate, so unequivocally theirs –  perhaps it was the way Maria’s fingers rubbed her clit even though the weight of both their bodies was probably rendering Maria’s hand numb, but everything hit her at once and for the first time in her life, Natasha felt a pressure inside of her that felt like an orgasm on top of another orgasm on top of a sea ready to explode within her. 

And it scared the shit out of her.

They did have a safe word, but she couldn’t remember it.

“Wait, stop!”

She didn’t have to repeat it twice. Maria froze all motion and in the blink of an eye, she went from horny animalistic sex-machine to concerned and caring partner.

“Wha – Nat? Did I hurt you? Are you alright?”

She didn’t wait for an answer as she gently pulled out of Natasha. She hissed as she pulled the dildo out of herself, throwing it away carelessly so she could lie next to Natasha and caress her back.

Natasha sighed with relief and turned around to meet Maria’s beautiful blue eyes, feeling a sting of guilt as she watched them now filled with worry.

“It’s… it’s ok, Mash. I’m sorry…” 

“Nat? Are you in pain?”

Natasha laughed out loud a little, her eyes welling up with emotion and confusion at herself. She genuinely didn’t know what had happened.

“No… I’m… it’s actually quite the opposite…” Nat snorted and the puzzlement in Maria’s eyes only grew wider. “I felt… I felt like I was about to burst,” Natasha tried to explain, visibly frustrated with her own choice of words. “It’s just… it was too much I guess. I’m sorry.”

Maria’s frown gave room to sudden realization, and she just crawled on top of Natasha to plant a kiss to her forehead.

“Oh, sweetheart…” Maria began tenderly, “you don’t have to apologize for anything, ever. If you want to stop, whenever you want to stop, we stop, and that’s it. If it is too much, we can do anything else. If you want me to go, I’ll go….”

“NO!” Natasha gasped a little too panicky. She continued, softer this time, “no, I mean… it was just… you know… have you ever…?”

Natasha’s voice sounded so little, so unlike her, that Maria’s heart melted inside her chest and she had to channel all her inner strength not to say something stupid that could ruin them forever. Instead, she kept it inside. She always did.

“I love you,” Maria thought to herself, “I can’t say the words because I know you, you’ll feel bad if you don’t say it back, or perhaps you’ll say it even if you don’t feel it to spare me the pain. But, anyway, I hope you know. Through all this, I hope you understand that I just love you and I always will, no matter what…”

“What – what are you giving me that look for?” Natasha grew nervous under Maria’s fond gaze for all the wrong reasons. 

Maria smiled, sympathetically, and shook her head, amazed by the fact Natasha’s cuteness always caught her by surprise in these rare moments when it shine through.

“Nat,” she whispered, just to enjoy how the consonants of the name rolled over her tongue…”Nat, do you trust me?” Maria asked simply.

“Always.” Natasha’s firm reply left no room to doubt.

“Is it ok if I touch you, if you let me finish what we started?”

Nat just nodded, mesmerized by Maria’s blue eyes filling up with desire once again. And sincerity, passion, devotion… All those things Natasha didn’t think she deserved.

Maria kissed her gently, her arms to each side of Natasha’s head, careful not to put all her weight over her. Natasha moaned slowly as Maria’s tongue rolled over her neck and Maria ended up smiling against her earlobe, enjoying the vibration of Nat’s voice through her skin.

“Trust me, ok? Let go, sweetheart,” Maria whispered softly in Natasha’s ear. “Just let go on me, Nat.”

Natasha closed her eyes as Maria’s voice sent waves of inexplicable pleasure down her body. Maria payed homage to Nat’s skin trailing kisses from her clavicle to her mons pubis, where her teeth played around the perfectly line of French waxed hair that marked the path to Natasha’s center. Maria’s hands caressed Natasha’s curves as the redhead closed her eyes, tossing her head to the side, damp strands of hair hovering over her face.

“Let go, babe. I’m here. It’s just you and me. You’re safe, you’re perfect. Let go, honey. I’m with you, I’ll always be with you.”

Maria kept whispering words of encouragement and adoration as she slid her fingers up and down Natasha’s silk folds. Then, she launched herself forward, covering them with her mouth. Natasha hissed crinkling the sheets in her fists, and Maria stiffened her tongue to circle Nat’s clit as she slid one finger inside her, then another, then she curled them to find the sensitive area inside Natasha that made her pant and cry out just like before. Instead of motioning in and out of her, Maria lifted her fingers upward in a ‘come here’ gesture that she repeated gently, feeling how Natasha’s walls began to clamp around her fingers.

“I’m here, baby. It’s me. Everything’s gonna be ok. Let go, Nat, baby, let go…” Maria began to make the motion wider, deep, still not adding speed but making sure her fingers rocked Natasha’s entire body.

“Masha!” Nat cried out and she just couldn’t control her body anymore, her legs kicking the air, her head tossed back and forth against the sheets, her hands searching for Maria’s, her eyes rolling to the back of her head.

“I know, love, I know…” Maria had never used that specific term of affection before, but she was too spellbound by Nat’s pleasure to think and hold back.

The unexpected endearment made Natasha feel a wave of warmth that generated in the center of her sex and expanded through her body down to the tip of her toes and up to the top of her head. It all exploded when Maria’s tongue pressed against her clit.

The movements inside her slowed down, but the pressure Maria was applying with her fingers was just right, and now combined with her tongue licking her already wet clit, it all made Natasha see stars. The Russian began grinding against Maria’s face, clenching to her hair and pushing Maria down against her even though there was no more room between her mouth and her sex. Teeth, lips and tongue clashed against Natasha, who didn’t seem to mind, and though Maria was having a hard time to breath, arousal energized her enough to moan against Natasha’s velvet folds. Natasha’s upper half body suddenly rose, almost levitating, and Maria heard her scream her name, finally, followed by a colourful collection of Russian obscene words. 

Maria didn’t stop licking her, nor did she relax her fingers inside Natasha, and when the redhead’s orgasm seemed to be coming to an end, Nat felt it hitting her again: the vertigo, the unknown. She tried to warn Maria, pushed her away from her, but the brunette captured her hands to hold them as if they were lost at sea, and Natasha knew this time she couldn’t hold back.

“Mar – oh, oh, OH!”

Before she knew it, Natasha was riding the wave of the most powerful orgasm she had felt in her life. Her muscles contracted around Maria’s fingers, her abs spasmed uncontrollably, her clit throbbed with relief as she felt herself releasing long bursts of hot liquid that hit Maria’s chin and smeared across her labia, soaking Maria’s chest and her own thighs.

Maria stopped licking her but Natasha almost didn’t notice, as her body was numb, spent, trembling with little aftershocks of pleasure. Nat felt little kisses to her inner thighs, her abdomen, her breasts, as Maria made her way up her body, finally meeting her eyes, hovering on all fours over her.

It was the most excruciating thing she ever had to do because her eyelids felt awfully heavy, but Natasha forced herself to open her eyes and look at the absolutely incredible woman that had just rocked her world. 

“That… that’s never happened before,” Natasha breathed out, her voice filled with delight and incredulity.

Maria’s cocky smile could seem kind of inappropriate, but to Natasha’s eyes, it was undeniably cute. She was so proud, so happy.

“I figured.”

“C’mere.”

Natasha opened her arms wide, and though Maria didn’t want to put all her weight over her, Natasha got what she wanted. She shoved the taller woman toward her and engulfed her in a crushing hug. She needed to feel her everywhere. Their skins were still on fire, but their breaths were slowly going back to normal.

They reveled in the silence once again, Maria resting her head against Natasha’s chest, enjoying the sound of her heartbeat slowing down, and Nat playing with her fingers on Maria’s back, drawing circles that sometimes turned into heart shapes.

They were drifting off to sleep in each other’s arms when Natasha giggled softly. Maria opened one eye, turning her head to look at Nat’s face with a puzzled expression.

Nat smiled widely and giggled again while she stroked Maria’s cheeks, her jawline and her lips.

“Maria…” Natasha sighed, dreamily. “Maria. It really is the most beautiful sound I ever heard.”

And with that Maria groaned a loud “Oh, no,” and covered her face with her hands while Natasha laughed and began to sing to her. 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers were about to leave for Nigeria. Fury and Hill would be leaving to their very confidential, very black-ops mission the day after that. They had planned out the hierarchy in their absence, and it was always meant to be a triumvirate: Steve, Tony, Nat. 

Nat and Maria knew they might not be able to make contact for a while, so they spent all their time together in the bedroom, almost until last-minute. They said their goodbyes with the promise of a quick escape to Rome or Paris once they took care of their respective missions. 

Natasha made a quick stop at Fury’s office before she hopped on the Quinjet with Steve, Wanda and Sam. Clint was going to sit this one out because Laura was clearly outnumbered in the farm.

 

She didn’t knock. She just stepped inside, saying nothing, looking at Fury until he finished signing some papers. He didn’t acknowledge her presence for a while, and after a few seconds he spoke, never rising his one eye from his task.

“Miss Romanoff, can I help you?”

“I don’t need to know where you’re going or what you’re going to ask of her,” it wasn’t Natasha’s voice, it wasn’t the Black Widow’s voice, it was a terrifying mixture of the two, filled with determination, truth and clarity. That was what made Fury look at her… “but I tell you this: if you don’t bring her back to me safe and sound, you better run, hide or die before I get my hands on you, because I’ve only shown you half of what the Red Room really trained me for.”

Nick blinked and nodded, very slowly. 

“Understood, Miss Romanoff, I wouldn’t expect any less from you.”

Nat nodded at him and turned around to leave.

“Oh, and Natasha?”

She looked over her shoulder. 

"Yes, sir?"

"You better come back to her in one piece, too."

There was almost a smile in the corner of Fury’s lips, almost, and there was definitely a smirk in Natasha’s.

“Don’t ever doubt it, Nick.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

So Fury and Hill had to go on a secret mission, disappearing from the face of the Earth for months, just before the shit hit the fan. Murphy’s law, right? Only Murphy never had Tony Stark and Steve Rogers as variables. 

Natasha left fourteen voice-messages in Maria’s voicemail before giving up. 

Fourteen.

1: “Hey, so, Peggy Carter died today… I know you admired her and, well… I’m worried about Steve. I’m gonna go see him in London before Vienna. I really don’t want him to be alone… yeah, so, I hope you get this and please call me when you can. Say hi to Nick for me and tell him that my threat still stands. He’ll know what I’m talking about. Bye.”

2: “Masha, something happened. I had a close one today. I’m alright but… this is bad, it’s really, really bad. The Wakandan king is dead, and I’m pretty sure Steve is going to start a war to protect Barnes. Shit, this is so, so bad. Tell Nick you guys should really come back ASAP. I’m doing what I can to keep the team together but I can’t do what you guys do, babysitting was never my forte… anyway. Be safe, ok? Call me when you can. Bye.”

3: “Shit, you never pick up. Where the hell are you, Masha? It’s been a month in the blind, I – I need you.”

4: “I’m scared, Maria. Just call me back. Please.”

5: “You said this could happen. That you guys could go silent for months. I thought I could do this. I told you I could but – everything went to hell in Germany. The Avengers are no more. Tony, Steve… it was like ripping my body in two, they were both right, they were both assholes. I know that if you and Nick had been here, things would have played out differently. The thing is I have to go into exile, I’m a criminal now. Or should I say, I’m a criminal again? Shit, it’s all so absurd. Why am I even leaving these messages? I swear, Masha, if you are dead I – well, I’m gonna be pissed.”

6: “So now I live on the run with Steve and Sam. Clint accepted a deal and he’s at home detention. And with these two… it’s like we’re living in the lamest road movie you could ever imagine. Sam keeps saying we’re like the dysfunctional family from Little Miss Sunshine, but I really hope he doesn’t get any ideas about painting the Quinjet yellow… Fuck, Mar… where the hell are you?”

7: “Wanda and Vis bolted. They’re together. We all knew. We’re helping them. Shit, this is useless…”

8: “Я хочу, чтобы ты был здесь и сейчас со мной” (I wish you were here with me right now.)

9: “If you come back at all, don’t bother to find me. I hate you. You should’ve never left.”

10: (Silence. Heavy breathing. The line dies.)

11: “I just called to hear your voice and then I realized you don’t even have a voice message in this thing. я глупая женщина (I’m a stupid woman.)”

12: “How could I allow you to make me so weak?”

13: “This one’s for Fury. Nick, you asshole, if you have broken your promise, be sure that I will keep mine.”

14: (Silence. Heavy breathing. A muffled sob. The line dies.)

 

 

 

2017

Sapienza Università di Roma

Rome, Italy

10 months after the aftermath of the Sokovia Accords

 

 

 

“Listen, guys, I don’t wanna sound anxious or anything, but I’m sure we’re being watched. If you don’t get your cute little white asses here right now, I’m gonna leave without you.”

The passenger door of the car Sam Wilson was sitting in suddenly opened, revealing Steve Rogers in a Dolce & Gabanna black and white suit. A year ago he would have never pulled off a cover like that, but Natasha was the best teacher when it came to body language and blending techniques. Steve and Sam had to learn fast considering their survival depended on it. Cover and all, Steve was still Steve, and the former Captain America, the icon now turned fugitive, had the most disapproving look on his bearded face.

“Sam, language,” he scolded his friend and Sam didn’t even bother protesting.

Natasha sat on the back seat with a briefcase in her hand. Her blonde platinum hair was tied in a sophisticated low bun, and the Gucci grey pant-suit she was rocking fitted her like a glove.

“You got it?” Sam asked looking at the briefcase.

“We got it,” Steve nodded proudly. 

“Sam, start driving before they realize we are no NATO officials and the half-million we just gave them is phonier than Steve’s British accent.”

“Hey!”

“We really need to work on that, Cap, I almost blew our cover trying not to laugh.”

Steve was about to keep on protesting but they all three noticed two black sedans appearing on their car’s mirrors, trying to flank them.

“We’ve got company,” Steve announced.

“Told ya,” Sam moved up a gear and sped up past a yellow light into the chaotic afternoon Roman traffic. 

Natasha looked back to watch as their chasers pulled very big guns at them from their passenger’s windows.

“Get down!”

The second Natasha screamed, the bullets began raining down on them. The vehicle’s armor survived the first wave, but there was no way they were getting back the deposit now. Not that they ever intended on giving the car back…

Sam was skilled enough to navigate them through a jam even when he had to drive through the middle of the road. All kinds of obscenities were directed at him from drivers and bystanders alike,  and Natasha remembered for a moment how much she loved Italian curse words. That one happy thought died in her mind as she saw their pursuers recharging their weapons.

“Sam,” she shouted, “we really need to lose them!”

“What do you think I’m trying to do here, sightseeing?”

It was bad timing, really, that the Coliseum appeared in front of them when Sam turned a corner. Steve just smirked at him and Sam rolled his eyes.

With a quick maneuver that put a truck between them and the bad guys, they managed to lose one of the cars, but it was the shortest victory in history as two more appeared at an intersection.

“Goddamit, are they reproducing or something?!”

Steve could sense the anxiety in Sam’s voice so he channeled his Captain America persona to lead them out of this situation even from the co-pilot’s seat.

“Just focus on the road!”

And that was when Sam had to hit the breaks with all he got because traffic was completely still in front of them. There was no way out.

Their pursuers were catching up with them. They would have to face them. They would have to fight, again, unarmed, surrounded, with the odds against them… 

Suddenly, a black Maserati Quattroporte appeared from a side street, skidding in front of them and coming to a halt facing the black sedans. The rubber from their tires left marks along the road as they forced the breaks just in time to prevent a collision. 

“Whoa, whoa, who’s that maniac??!” Sam shouted as the three of them watched the crazy scene unfold.

“We should run now, Steve…” Natasha was about to open the door and get out when Steve put his hand on her shoulder.

“Wait, wait just a moment, I think this one’s on our side…”

And as if they had heard him, the Maserati’s front headlights slide up to show a line of barrels that opened fire against the bad guys.

The three former Avengers just couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

“Is that… fucking James Bond’s car?” Sam asked incredulously.

Steve shook his head as he watched their pursuers’ cars being absolutely obliterated.

“Whoever that is, I’m grateful,” he said, not believing his eyes.

Sam nodded.

“We should buy him dinner, then.”

The bullets coming from their mysterious savior’s car stopped as they heard a familiar voice resonating through the sound system in theirs. “Him, huh, Wilson? Why should it be a him? I’m disappointed in you.”

Natasha stopped breathing. 

It couldn’t be. 

She felt her pulse going impossibly high and her eyes turned glassy. 

Only Sam’s and Steve’s shock was as clear as hers, so it could be. She was here. She came back.

“Hill?” Steve’s voice trembled with surprise, delight, anticipation… “Maria??” he repeated, “is that you??”

For an answer, they watched as former Deputy Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Maria Hill emerged from the driver’s seat with her signature Glock 9 in one hand, crouching behind the car’s door to shoot at the attackers that remained firing at them.

Sam and Steve lost it.

“YES!!!” Steve shouted while Sam clapped like a maniac and yelled ecstatically at Natasha, “It’s your girl, Widow!!”

But Natasha just sat there, speechless. Maria was wearing a pair of jeans, Dr. Martens black boots, a white shirt and a black leather jacket. Her hair was longer, Natasha could tell even if it was held by a ponytail, and she saw it was fairer too, the darker locks mixed up with flashes of rich brown and even some shades of honey and gold. 

Something stirred in her belly. She remembered then how her desire worked around Maria, the pull, the gravity her body felt towards Maria’s body, undeniable, unstoppable. 

She was here. She was alive. And Natasha forgot for a moment they were in the middle of an urban battle.

Maria looked back at them and shouted at the top of her lungs. It was like following her orders at S.H.I.E.L.D. all over again. Always their Commander.

“Move, get in the car, NOW!”

Sam, Steve and Nat ran towards the Maserati as Maria provided cover for them. Steve claimed shotgun while Sam and Nat hopped in the backseat.

Maria fired a few more rounds emptying her magazine and jumped back in the driver’s seat. She didn’t lose time with small talk.

“Hang tight,” she didn’t even let the group catch their breath.

With quick thinking and even quicker hands, Maria put pedal to the metal and skilfully drove them out of chaos. The few standing bad guys could only watch as the Maserati swung through the traffic, and even though they were driving in the opposite direction, Maria was able to not even grace any of the terrified drivers that tried to stay out of her way.

“You truly are a maniac, Hill. I’ve missed ya!,” Sam yelled from the backseat as Maria made the car skid hard on a turn to avoid colliding with a truck. 

“You haven’t seen half of it, Wilson,” Maria yelled back, her blue eyes still glued to the road, focused and determined to drive them to safety. Once the road before them seemed a little clearer, Maria pushed a button on the wheel and gave an order, “F.R.I.D.A.Y., set propellers at 100 percent. Get us out of here, you know where to go.”

The car sound system resonated with the familiar Irish accent of Tony Stark’s very own personal AI.

“Of course, Ma’am. Lift off in 3, 2, 1…”

Wilson gripped the backseat when they all felt the trembling propellers on the underside of the car.

“Are we fucking gonna fly like this is the motherfucker Delorean from Back to the Future?!”, Sam asked in a reference that was lost to Steve. The captain sighed. So much to do, so little time.

Maria smiled at Sam from the rear-view mirror. That full-of-herself, over-the-top smirk that was so Deputy Director Hill.

“Buckle up, McFly.”

And with that, the Maserati took off in the sky, activated its cloaking device and disappeared right in front of the eyes of thousands of innocent bystanders.

 

Just another Tuesday in the post-Chitauri invasion world.

 

 

 

***

 

 

About fifteen minutes of awkward silence later, only broken by Maria’s cryptic “I’ll explain when we get there,” they landed in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, but was in reality a little village called Casape, 48 kilometers east of Rome city. The Maserati turned aircraft remained cloaked and hidden between the trees, and Maria led the group in silence towards a house slightly away from the rest of the village. It was a typical Italian villa, not fancy at all, but it had a wrought iron gate and a little garden surrounding it. From a strategical point of view, the place was perfect because it overlooked the rest of the village, which also provided a natural advantage as it was settled in a valley between green mountains. 

Natasha distracted herself in taking in her surroundings. Anything to avoid making eye contact with Maria. Not like the former Deputy Director had made any attempt to acknowledge her presence, either… Under other circumstances, she would just confront Maria and question her until they had laid all cards on the table, but Steve and Sam’s presence was making this already awkward and unexpected reunion far more complicated than it should be. So Natasha just tried to calm herself, and waited, it was just a matter of time before she could speak to Maria alone and truly look at her.

Maria opened the front gate with a rusty key and let them in. 

“This house belonged to my mother’s family. She was born here, actually,” Maria pointed out with her back to them, already opening the front door, “it’s perfect to lay low for a little while.”

Natasha couldn’t help her surprise. Maria had never mentioned she had a property in Italy. She had never mentioned her mother, now that she thought about it. Or anything about her Italian roots. There were so many things they hadn’t talk about and Natasha had the feeling that she really didn’t know Maria. It was like a vertigo, the sensation and sudden realization that she had been burying their connection in layers of sex and excuses to not let her in. If Steve and Sam weren’t there, she would have reached out to her, making sure this was real, making sure she was never letting go again. But she still had so many conflicted feelings, and they weren’t alone, so all her fears and hopes would have to wait. As usual.

The house was gorgeous, but so very old. Most of the furniture was covered by white sheets turned almost yellow by a thick layer of dust.

“Don’t worry, it looks better upstairs,” Maria reassured them as she closed the front door behind her, “the rooms are clean and you should have everything you need inside if Klein followed my orders this time.”

Wilson, Romanoff and Rogers just stood there, speechless, while Maria crossed her arms over her chest, waiting. It felt like they were standing once again in Maria’s office, afraid to begin their report on an Avengers mission gone south. It had happened more than once.

It was Steve who made a poor attempt at breaking the ice. 

“Maria…”

The ever eloquent and inspiring leader just shook his head, unable to find what to say. Hill cut him some slack and just smiled fondly at her friend.

“Captain,” she said, her voice filled with respect and affection.

Steve scoffed and closed his eyes, then looked back between Natasha and Sam, but there was no backup there. Steve sighed.

“It’s just – you’re –“

The second attempt didn’t work, either, but this time, Maria took pity on him.

“You’re welcome, Cap,” she smiled, and Steve knew what to do, instantly.

He hugged her. The way a soldier hugs the long-gone comrade, the friend that always had their back. Maria couldn’t help but giggle a little (softly, only Steve could hear), because a hug from Captain America felt like nothing in the world could hurt you. The man just gave himself all in, as a soldier, as a hero, as a friend. Maria even allowed herself to close her eyes and sniffed him a little, because under the Dolce & Gabanna there was the smell of leather and dust. Sometimes, just being close to Steve could make her feel like she was a Marine again. Sometimes, it was quite scary. Other times, like this one, it just brought her home.

Sam followed Steve’s lead and engulfed her once Steve let her go.

“Hill, you crazy motherfucker, I’m so glad to see you.”

“Does the Captain allow you to use that kind of language, Wilson?”

“Just on special occasions like this one.”

“Sure.”

Sam’s hug was brief but very affectionate, and once he let go of her, all Maria could see was Natasha, just standing there, her feet glued to the ground, her gaze on her very expensive borrowed shoes.

Maria felt her heart beating loud and was suddenly very aware of the distance between them, both the real and the metaphorical one. All she wanted was to reach out… all she wanted was to have her, once again, in every possible way. But Natasha didn’t move, and Maria’s heart just went faster and louder rendering her hopeless. She had to escape the panic, somehow.

“You know, I hope you three getting in trouble with Hydra cells only for me to save your asses doesn’t become a regular thing, because I’m sensing a pattern here…”

Her attempt at humor to defuse the tension didn’t go unnoticed by Steve and Sam. So the Cap took the hint and nodded, looking back to Natasha.

“Yeah, speaking of which…” Steve cleared his throat, then proceeded, “Nat, do you mind if Sam and I take a look at the documents? Maria, mind if we use your kitchen as the war room?”

Hill nodded and pointed at the end of the corridor, “Yeah, sure, go ahead.”

Natasha handed the briefcase to Steve as he and Sam passed by her side. Maria was unable to see how Steve gestured with his eyebrows in Maria’s direction. Natasha just rolled her eyes.

“May I show you your room while the boys play detective, Nat?”

Nat. Her name on her lips. Once again. She could melt right there.

But instead, she just nodded, afraid she couldn’t find her voice and Maria would notice then how weak she was, how stupid. Hill made a gesture with her hand pointing the stairs behind Natasha, “After you,” she said, and Nat just let herself be swept by the low notes in Maria’s ever throaty voice. For the love of Thor, how she had missed that voice. And the blue eyes. And the perfect jawline. And the length of her fingers and the warmth of her chest.

As they went up the stairs, Natasha’s mind couldn’t help but panic for a few seconds. It was as if the past three years never happened… she was back at square one, hopelessly infatuated with Agent Hill, only now she felt like she couldn’t bear it if Maria walked away from her. Before they got involved, the disdain, she could take it. She could pretend she didn’t care. Now, she couldn’t go back. 

Focus, Natasha, you’re a fugitive now. A survivor. A shadow. Not a lovesick damsel…

The sound of a door closing behind her took Natasha harshly out of her reverie. They were finally inside the room, and Maria was kind enough to pretend to roam around fixing some details so Natasha could be aware of her surroundings. The room was a piece of art, with wooden furniture of the finest craftsmanship and a four-posted king size bed, its fine quilt now showering in the sunset light entering through the balcony.

Hill moved around the room with uncharacteristic nervous body language, checking drawers three or four times and relocating the pillows.

“This was my grandparents’ room. Matteo and Caterina.”

And Natasha just stood there, watching her, trying to remember how to breathe.

Maria kept rambling because she didn’t know what to do with herself. Talking was the only thing preventing her from falling to her knees and begging Natasha to say something.

“They arrived in Chicago in 1956. My mom was a few months old. Nonno Matteo died of lung cancer in 75, I think. And for all I know, la nonna died of a broken heart soon after that. At least they didn’t get to know Ed, because mom met him when they were already gone. The fucking bastard wouldn’t have passed the scrutiny of Italian parents-in-law but…  well. They are all gone now. I didn’t know about this place until Ed died, may he never rest in peace.”

All of this was blurted out while Maria kept pacing around the room, doing everything and nothing, and when she ran out of painfully ridiculous tasks to do, there came the moment when she had no choice but to look at Natasha. 

The intense green of Natasha’s eyes finally met Maria’s baby blues, and they both felt the electricity instantly. But there was more, so much more that went unspoken between them. For Natasha, it was fear. Loss. Anger.

“I can’t decide whether I like the new hair or not –“ Maria’s poor attempt at casual crashed directly into Natasha’s cold, no-nonsense tone.

“Where the hell were you?”

It wasn’t exactly the hello she had planned after almost a year apart, but it was what her pain let her articulate through clenched teeth.

Maria just sighed, defeated.

“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me, Nat. We needed to retrieve something important, something from Nick’s past. We –“

Natasha raised a hand and realized then she had her back against the wall, her body stiffen by tension.

“Don’t,” the Russian commanded, “you don’t owe me an explanation. I– I don’t really care about your mission.”

The coldness in her tone was still there, but the stutter betrayed her.

“You’re mad. I understand.”

It was the honesty, the bareness of Maria’s sympathy what made her break inside.

Natasha looked down at the floor and the words came out in a whisper.

“No, I’m not mad.”

Maria had stepped towards her carefully, and was now almost at arm’s reach. Nat heard her sigh deeply and she could tell without looking at her that she was searching her eyes, and that she feared what Natasha would say, or do.

“Listen… it’s been almost a year. I get it if you–“

And Nat just couldn’t take it anymore.

“I thought you were dead, at first,” she blurted out, halting every movement, every word Maria was about to say. She could feel the tears rolling down her cheeks before she could even feel the wetness in her eyes. She didn’t care. She smiled when Maria looked at her with a frown and she saw that sempiternal devotion in her bright blue eyes. Natasha couldn’t, wouldn’t falter now. She had to let it all out. “And I got mad then, sure,” she continued, almost choking at every word, “but after a while Steve convinced me that there was no way you and Nick had gotten yourselves killed so quickly. Besides, Nick has always been an over-dramatic diva, if he was really dead, we would have found out in some spectacular fashion. At least that’s what he did last time.”

Maria smiled, despite herself.

“Well, you’re right about that.”

Natasha swallowed hard and wiped her tears with the back of her hand.

“I never told you what I did after everything that happened with S.H.I.E.L.D., during my little hiatus.” Maria’s body filled up with tension and Nat saw her opening and closing her mouth, as if she knew what Natasha was about to say but knew not how to stop her, and so she went on, ferociously honest. “I went back to Russia and tried to find my parents. Two little gravestones by a chained linked fence. I pulled some weeds and left some flowers. We have what we have, when we have it.”

“Nat…”

“And I thought that was it, with you, we had what we had… But now you’re here.”

When Maria reached out to touch her cheek, Natasha thought her body was going to collapse. She needed Maria to be fierce, strong, forceful even, to take what was hers with brutality to compensate for all this fragility Natasha felt burning through her veins. She wasn’t designed for it. She wasn’t trained to survive such torture. She didn’t know how to let herself be loved. 

But Maria showed her, one more time.

The brunette pulled her close to her, and Nat felt the arms she had missed so much around her. It was freakishly strange how perfectly their bodies matched, and Natasha felt all the tension, all the fear and the exhaustion of the past year leaving her body as Maria rested her chin on the top of her head. 

She reached out inside Maria’s jacket to hug her waist and the warmth that greeted her felt like coming home.

 

Natasha thought the phrase in her mind, but she never got to say it: kiss me.

 

Instead, her hands went up Maria’s body, fisting her hair and lowering her until she was ravishing her, teeth clashing, tongues exchanging fluids as if they had unlocked the secret of life. It was a statement, the kiss, it was a promise kept and a promise reborn. Natasha’s lipstick became a mess painting their faces red but they didn’t care. The Russian pulled Maria’s leather jacket down, and the sound of it falling to the floor was music to her ears. 

Suddenly, there was nothing in the world more important for the Black Widow than unbuttoning Maria’s shirt. There was nothing more urgent than unclasping her bra. Pulling her pants down, getting rid of her underwear. She didn’t know how, but she managed to do all these tasks while Maria did precisely the same with her. And before Natasha could cry out “Yes!” in Russian, she was spread naked on the bed, ruining the beautiful floral quilt above Maria’s grandparents’ bed, with Maria three fingers deep inside her. There was no foreplay. No hesitation. Only the feral need of being comforted by the friction of their skins and the invocation of impending orgasms.


Maria bit hard at Natasha’s earlobe as her fingers set up a relentless pace. Natasha screamed, not minding Steve and Sam’s presence in the house. She just opened up herself to Maria, spreading her legs as wide as her body let her, taking Maria all in, letting herself be fucked, loved, moved, overwhelmed and wrapped by Maria.

 

Natasha felt it as a ball of fire in her chest, at first. She was confused, as she was feeling a shattering orgasm arriving, but she was not quite there yet. 

 

It burned through her pharynx to sit tight in the back of her throat. A desire. An emotion. An unstoppable force that took over her mind and her body and refused to be ignored. She tried to choke it back, but it burst out her body in the form of happy, silent tears.


And it finally conquered her tongue when she felt Maria’s mouth wrapping around her clit and Maria’s fingers pushing her all over the edge.

It was a tiny whisper, at first.

“я люблю тебя.”

Maria didn’t hear her, the first time.

“я люблю тебя, Masha.”

But then it became a chant. A prayer. A song of freedom while Natasha rode her orgasm.

When Maria climbed up her body to look at her face to face, her blue eyes were darkened by tears of her own.

“Nat?” It was all she could stammer. In that moment, Maria’s face was the most beautiful thing she had seen, with her expression stunned by Nat’s words, showing confusion, fragility, but most of all, hope.

So the Russian just smiled at her as the warm tears slid off her cheeks.

“I love you, Masha,” she repeated, “I love you,” and again, “I love you,” and again, “I love you…”

She didn’t let Maria say it back. She kissed her, instead, as if she wanted to make sure her message was understood clearly and without the shadow of a doubt.

Maria did have a chance to say it aloud, plenty of times, for that night they didn’t leave the room. 

 

The next morning, after they had showered to at least keep the appearances of looking half-decent, they found freshly made coffee in the kitchen and a note from Steve, certainly it was Steve’s handwriting at least, though the directness of the language seemed a bit uncharacteristic, much to Maria’s amusement and Natasha’s embarrassment...

“Went out scouting. Be right back. PS– About damn time, Nat.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

2017

Casape, Italy

 

 

 

Natasha woke up slowly. That was a novelty. But novelties were her new normal now, so she didn’t worry. Not even for a second.

The early morning sun showered the bed in smooth light, filtered by the long, elegant curtains in Maria’s grandparents’ master bedroom. The window was open wide, it was summer after all, and she could see how the morning breeze moved the drapes just slightly. Birds sang happily outside. She heard movement, too. Maria was probably working already, raking the garden or shearing the hedges. The woman was more than determined to nurse the old house back to life.

Natasha inhaled the scent emanating from the sheets – Maria’s aroma. She smiled against the mattress and stretched her naked body, now rested and relaxed from the thoroughly satisfying love-making of the previous night.  

Sometimes, it all felt like a dream. She never had good ones, but if that’s all this was, just a dream, she never wanted to wake up. You’ve become a walking cliche, Romanoff, she would think to herself. But it was true. She never wanted to leave this house. She wanted to wake up like this, every day, for the rest of her life, knowing Maria was waiting downstairs with a cup of coffee and an adoring smile and a breathtaking kiss.

Was it too much to ask?
Of course it was.

She knew she’d have to leave, eventually. She couldn’t hide forever with Maria, none of them could. There were fights to be fought, people to be saved and threats to be stopped. People like her couldn’t have a happy ending, she’d learned that a long time ago. But she could enjoy this, while it lasted. Carpe diem and all that shit. 

Still, a tiny part of her panicked at the thought of going back to her responsibilities as a secret avenger. She had lived on the run with Steve and Sam for almost a year and a half and it had been easy, it was a life she’d known before. But now, things were different. What she wanted differed entirely from sleeping on a stolen Quinjet and pretending to be a different person each and every day. Natasha could try and lie to herself, but she knew what had changed everything: Maria was no longer a fling, no longer the girlfriend she refused to call as such, no longer a distraction that tangled her in lust, desire and jealousy. Allowing herself to speak the truth of what this really was had made Natasha understand why Madame B. had been so insistent on engraving with pain and fire in a young girl’s mind that “love is for children.” That love is for the weak. For the mediocre.
There was nothing weak or mediocre about what she felt for Maria, and Natasha realized right there, in that precise moment, that she was finally free from the Red Room. It had only taken her almost thirty-three years, a deflection, many missions to right her many wrongs, becoming an Avenger, being on the run and finally admitting she had fallen in love with Maria Hill to achieve it, but there it was, freedom, ultimately, at the grasp of her hand.

She shrugged it off as if it was nothing (that was what freedom was about, anyway) and put on some clothes. Hill’s shirt and shorts were a little big for her, but she’d managed. She’d been living out of Maria’s spare clothes for the past eight days, and truth be told, she loved it. Being free from tactical gear was almost as liberating as escaping the Red Room’s indoctrination. Almost…

After getting to the kitchen to help herself to a cup of the wonderfully smelling espresso Maria prepared every morning, Natasha found her working, as she had suspected.

The former redhead now dyed blonde rested her body against the frame of the backdoor leading to the garden and simply watched Maria work for a few minutes. The brunette was wearing a black tank top, old ripped jeans and green gardening gloves, already covered in sweat and dirt as she repotted plants and seeds. Natasha smiled, a sense of calmness quietly perching on her heart.

“I can feel your eyes on me, itsy bitsy spider.”

Natasha giggled a little, she really had lost the ability to sneak up on Maria, and yes, she giggled now. But only for her.

“Morning, богиня.” (Goddess).

Maria finally turned around with a goofy smile reserved for Natasha’s eyes only as she walked up to her, “Morning, sweetheart.” 

She was going for a quick kiss but Natasha had other ideas. Throwing her arms around Maria’s neck, Natasha pulled her down for something far more heated than a good morning peck.

“Uh, Nat, don’t, I’m covered in dirt…” Maria protested, but it was too late.

“I don’t care.” 

Natasha jumped into the taller woman’s arms and Maria was quick to catch her only because it wasn’t the first time that the Russian threw herself at her without warning. Natasha loved to climb her. Maria rolled her eyes, but she loved to be climbed, too. Maria’s hands, still in the dirty gardening gloves, grasped Natasha’s ass firmly just to make sure she didn’t fall off her. Not that she was complaining, but…

“Ok, you’re wearing my most comfy shorts and now they’re ruined. They shouldn’t call you after a spider…” Maria laughed in between kisses as Natasha locked her legs around her waist. “You’re a monkey. A Russian monkey. That’s what you are. Do they even have monkeys in Russia?”

It was Nat’s turn to laugh as she bit mischievously at Maria’s lower lip.

“You let this monkey oversleep again.”

Maria tried to get to the closest table to set Natasha gently on top of it, never mind the rusty surface of the old garden furniture. In her experience, Natasha could try to spend the rest of the day perched on her. Although the idea could seem really sweet, she wasn’t sure that’d be good for her back.

“Guilty as charged,” Maria said as she settled Natasha over the table, occupying the space between her legs, Natasha’s hands still around her neck, her fingers playing with the loose locks in her low messy bun. “Besides I thought you’d need it after last night.”

Natasha scoffed.
“You seem to be feeling a little cocky this morning, Agent Hill.”

The low notes of a chuckle resonated through Natasha’s neck as Maria placed little sloppy kisses to it.

“That’s Commander Hill for you, love.”

And despite Maria’s playful tone, Natasha pulled at her hair to look her in the eye, suddenly demanding.

“Say that again.”

The intensity of Natasha’s green stirred something inside Hill’s chest. The atmosphere had changed. It was just one word. Oh, but it was always so much more.

“Commander?” Maria played dumb just to have another second or two to gaze into the fondness of Natasha’s eyes.

The Russian shook her head, well aware that Maria had understood her meaning perfectly, and gently rested her forehead against the taller woman’s.

“Love,” she whispered.

Maria nodded, unable to say anything, not a hint of the playfulness she was showing off a second ago.

“Yes, love,” Maria whispered back, emphasizing each word. “Whatever you need, love.” With each word, Maria sealed Natasha’s skin with kisses and light bites, soon making the former spy tremble in her arms. “I will say it as long as you want me to, I will say it forever, if that’s what it takes, love, amore, Любовь…”

That did it for Natasha.

She jerked her hips forward, trapping Maria’s waist between her legs once again.

“How quick can you get us to bed?” Natasha breathed out, anticipation and desire reverberating through each word.

Maria shook her head and laughed as if it ached.

“With your legs on me like this? Not quick enough.”

“Fuck the bed, then.”

Natasha let out a frustrated groan and took off her shirt in one quick motion. She threw it away without a care. She wasn’t wearing a bra.

She pulled at Maria’s tank top and the taller woman complied. No bra either. 

Soon, they were all over each other. 

Natasha tried to cover as much skin as possible, pulling and scratching at Maria’s sculpted back, just to feel her impossibly closer. The sweet kisses turned messy and needy, all tongue and saliva and moans in each other’s mouth. They broke apart just to gasp for air, and with quick pulses and dilated pupils, they gazed into each other’s eyes, the world around them nothing but a blur.

“I need you,” Natasha implored, her voice cracking.

Maria understood. In fact, she wanted to cry like a child just from the absurdity of being this physically close to Natasha and still needing more, still needing her skin all over, her fingers inside, her soul colliding with hers and becoming one… She had never imagined something like this existed, this craving, this longing, this kind of love.

“I’m here, I’m yours,” was all Maria could say. But she meant so much more.

“Prove it,” Natasha gasped out, accompanying her demand with a lingering lick of Maria’s neck that made the brunette’s eyes roll to the back of her head.

Natasha took two of Maria’s slender fingers into her mouth then, sucking and rolling her tongue all over them. Maria knew what was going to happen, it had happened many times before, and still, she couldn’t function. She just watched, frozen at Natasha’s mercy.

Nat scooted a little to the center of the round table, raising her hips. Maria understood immediately and wasted no time: in one swift motion, she tugged the shorts up Natasha’s legs, and along came the underwear.

One of Maria’s hands took hold of Natasha’s knee to raise her leg over her own shoulder, while the other just went straight for the prize. Natasha, now naked and spread all over the table, just let her head fall back and held on with her life to the table’s edge.

Maria circled her clit with her index and middle fingers and explored her wet labia, deliberately ignoring her entrance.

“Fuck, babe, you’re so ready,” Maria almost sobbed out of bliss and happiness. 

Even with her head thrown back, eyes closed, just waiting for the moment she craved, Natasha was able to whisper back words of affection that finally made Maria lose control.

“For you. Only for you. Always for you, Masha.”

Without warning, two fingers slid inside of Natasha, eliciting a gasp of pure joy.

At first, Maria kept the rhythm maddeningly slow, and though Natasha’s hips rocked backed and forth trying to add speed, it only made her crave more, trapped in sweet agony.

“Faster.”

“Do you think the table will hold?”

“It will. Masha, please.”

Maria placed sweet little kisses to Nat’s leg, still clinging to her shoulder. She grabbed her thigh then, bracing her for the new pace.

“As you wish, love.”

Maria began thrusting slowly again, then picked up the pace gradually. Natasha moaned her approval below her, and Maria let go of her leg to hover a little over her and tease Nat’s hard nipples. The table moved below them, and though its legs were rusty and old, it seemed to be passing the impromptu field test just fine. 

“Yes… Masha! Don’t stop.”

“I won’t.”

Maria couldn’t take it anymore and though she knew it was a risk, she placed her free hand on the surface of the table to balance herself, giving access to her thirsty mouth to Nat’s exposed skin. Natasha’s moans grew louder as she spread her legs wide open and Maria swirled her tongue over her belly button, continuing to lick her way up to her breasts, taking her time sucking her nipples and never stopping her now deep, quick thrusts.

“дорогая, любовь, да!” (Darling, love, yes!)

“Nat…”

Maria let her forehead fall against Natasha’s abdomen, focusing all her attention in the pace, listening to every little sound Natasha made to ensure she was on the right path. She felt Nat’s fingers twisting her hair, pulling, caving, expressing her approval. Soon they were both panting and sweating against each other, but Maria wanted more. To feel more. To give more. She froze then, halted every movement, still buried inside Natasha.

Nat whined immediately and waited a few seconds. Perhaps it was just teasing, just part of the game, but when Maria didn’t make any intention to resume, Nat summoned a strength she didn’t know she had to look at her lover.

“Mash… Masha?”

And Maria just stood there, naked from the waist up, panting, her mouth half-open, her blue eyes drinking in all of Natasha, her fingers still inside of her, her free hand caressing her hips with soft touches, looking at her like… like what? Natasha’s brain couldn’t find the perfect analogy, but she knew no one, ever, had looked at her like that. 

“Nat. You know I love you, right?” Maria blurted out, as if she had the sudden need to state the obvious.

Natasha wasn’t expecting that.

“Yes, I know.”

She didn’t understand either why her eyes filled with tears and she felt herself choking up. It was just… something in Maria’s eyes. The way she said her name.

“You know I’d do anything for you. I’d die for you–”

Nat had to close her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat. 

“Don’t say that.”

“But it’s true, Nat. It’s true,” Maria whispered back as her hand reached Natasha’s lips to trace the lines of her mouth, the curve of her nose, her eyebrows and her cheekbones.

“You know I’m– I’m not good with words. But… I never knew it could be like this. I never thought love like this could be real. When Ed beat the shit out of me, he used to scream I was worthless. That no one would ever love a kid that had killed her mother. And I realized now that I used to believe him. Until you, Nat. You proved him wrong.”

Nat gasped as silent tears of wonder fell from her eyes. Maria’s voice was the sweetest, tenderest sound she had ever heard. She never knew it could be like this, either, and she was starting to believe she was really worthy of Maria’s love.

“Nick was right,” Maria continued as she worshipped every inch of Natasha’s body with her free hand, “all those years I tried to suppress myself, to hold it back… you’re not a weakness. You make me better, smarter. You’re my strength, Natasha Romanoff. And I’ll love you until the day I die.”

Natasha sniffed and shook her head, fighting back renewed tears. It was all too much.

“Look at me, Nat.”

And so she did. 

Maria moved her fingers inside of her, just slightly, just to remind Natasha she was still there.

What Natasha saw in Maria’s eyes spoke volumes, but Maria needed to say one more thing.

“I love you, Natasha. Please, don’t ever forget that. Promise me. Promise me, no matter what, you won’t forget I love you. If our missions get in the way, if we can’t see each other for months like last time… promise me you won’t forget.”

Natasha nodded. She understood now. She knew.

“I won’t. I couldn’t.”

Maria smiled lovingly at her and placed a gentle kiss to her bare stomach.

“Good.”

“I love you too, Maria,” Natasha said, lifting Maria’s chin to make sure she looked at her in the eye as she said the words.

Maria’s smile grew wider, as she hovered over Natasha’s naked body to kiss her.

“I know, love. I know.”

They kissed with ravishing force, and the flame between them burned with renewed heat. Maria began moving her fingers again, adding her thumb to circle Nat’s clit with purpose, and Natasha moaned into her in a way that made Maria’s legs tremble.

She broke apart with a possessive bite to Natasha’s lower lip.

“I need to taste you,” Maria panted, her sultry voice charged with desire.

It took all Natasha had within her to deny the request, but she needed something else.

“Later… later… now, just… I’m close. Look at me, please. Just look at me.”

Nat cupped Maria’s face in her hands to make sure she could see her, and Maria just let herself be guided to stare into an impossibly green color, eyes that appeared to be jade gemstones.

They got lost in each other’s gaze as Maria twisted her fingers inside Natasha. The pace was now erratic, messy, with long, deep thrusts that made Nat tremble in anticipation until her clit throbbed in ecstasy and her walls clamped around Maria’s fingers.

She screamed her orgasm into the pure air of the morning, and Maria held her as she came down from her high.

Nat heard Maria chuckle against her chest and then the warmth of her body was gone as she straightened up and offered her hand so Natasha could place her feet on the ground.

“You’re going to catch a cold. We should get inside.”

Nat shook her head, still out of breath.

“No can do, Commander. I can’t walk right now.”

Maria sighed, but the loving smile on her face betrayed her. She put an arm below Natasha’s knees and with the other she held on to her lower back, letting Natasha throw her arms around her shoulders.

“It’s alright. I’ve got you, love.”

As Maria lifted her carefully from the table, Nat let her forehead rest in the crook of the taller woman’s neck, closing her eyes, her head still in the clouds.

“You do. You really do.”

 

 

 

***

 

 

It was an oasis, the days they had together. They knew, so they never talked about it. 

Time went by as if they’ve lived like that since forever. They made love, they napped, they worked in the house, they cooked, they made love again, they went down to the village to buy groceries, Nat melted when Maria spoke Italian with the locals – she was quite good, the American accent slipped in from time to time, and the grammar wasn’t perfect, but it was impressive considering she learned as an adult, since her father wouldn’t let her speak a word of Italian at their house.

They cleaned the main floor, they painted the walls and restored some furniture. They watched old movies on Maria’s laptop. They fixed the backyard, hung some lights and lanterns, had dinner there each night, enjoying the night breeze. Maria would pick up a bottle of wine at the local market (always red), a Sangiovese, a Barbera, sometimes a Nero d’Avola, and they'd drink and talk until their heads were spinning. Sometimes, they made love in the backyard, right there, under the moonlight. There were a few occasions when they made it to bed. 

They always fell asleep after midnight, spent, content, usually in each other’s arms if the heat was forgiving.

On night number sixteen, they lay naked in bed, Nat tracing lazy patterns on Maria’s back as the brunette was almost drooling on the mattress, her stomach flat against it, slowly drifting off. 

Nat had seen a small circle of scarred skin on the center of Maria’s back before. She first noticed many years ago, when they were sparring together, in a brief second when Maria fell on her hands on the mat and her tank top went up to show the back of her bra and perfect, glistening skin. She noticed it then: a dark dot the size of a nickel. A scar, no doubt. She never said anything about it.

This time, she couldn’t actually make it out in the darkness, as the only light in the room was the moonlight entering through the open window and the silky drapes. Still, she felt it through her fingertips. They had played the game of comparing scars a few times over the years, but Maria had never explained this one. Curiosity won the best of her, and she wasn’t sleepy yet, anyway.

“You never told me about this one.”

Maria said something, but the sound was muffled against the sheets and Natasha didn’t quite catch it.

“Sorry, what did you say?”

Maria rolled on her back and she took Nat’s hand in her own, placing it above her chest, intertwining their fingers.

“Ed,” Maria said again, eyes closed, as if it was nothing.

Nat kicked herself internally. Of course, how could she be so dense?

“I’m sorry,” Nat said immediately.

“Don’t be, long time ago.”

Maria shrugged it off just like that, but Nat felt herself out of breath, imagining that son of a bitch, Ed Vernon, or whatever his real name was, abusing her only daughter, torturing her across the years and… her blood just boiled. The former spy closed her eyes just to imagine for a brief moment what she would have done to him if she had had the chance to lay her hands on the bastard… when she opened them, Maria was looking at her, her expression somber. Nat could tell because now the moonlight graced the skin on her temple and her jawline. Maria could probably see her too.

“Nat?”

“Mmm?”

“Do you wanna know?”

There were a few seconds of silence filled only by the soothing singing of crickets below their window.

“Yes.”

Maria propped herself up on her elbows and accommodated the pillow behind her head. Then, she retook Nat’s hand, playing absently with their intertwined fingers. She concentrated her focus there, as if it was too much to say the words looking at Natasha. She took a deep breath and just plunged into it.

“He did it every year, on her birthday. Said since she wasn’t there to blow the candles, I needed to pay the price. He chose that place because the clothes would cover it, and besides I couldn’t reach to tend to the wound. He smoked Marlboros, they weren’t that big, the pain usually subsided after a few days. There was one year when he had a cigar. It smelled awful and it was big and it felt like he was putting it out on my spine. That was the last time. I was fifteen. The next year I waited for him behind my door and hit him with a baseball bat. It wasn’t enough to knock him out. I wasn’t strong enough. He broke my jaw in retaliation. He had no choice but to take me to the hospital and that was the end, one of the doctors was suspicious, they called the police… they knew it had been him. I used to lie every time, fearing what he might do if I told the truth but that one time… I was just beyond the pain. So I chose the shelter. I changed broken bones for freezing bones, but he never got me again. I ended up in something called the Rosenthal Family Lodge. I was one of the lucky few. I met some good people there, they helped me get on my feet. I graduated high school, and the day I turned eighteen I knew they couldn’t take care of me anymore, so I signed up for the Navy without even coming back for my things. I had nothing on me, anyway. From then on… the Marines, Madripoor, S.H.I.E.L.D… you know the rest.”

The speech felt like she was reporting a mission. Nat didn’t blame her. She was thankful, actually, because she knew how much it meant for Maria to tell her this. 

Nat placed a kiss to Maria’s bare shoulder and then rested her head against it.

“I’m glad he’s dead,” Natasha said, incredibly calm, “otherwise, I’d kill him in the slowest way possible.”

Maria reciprocated Nat’s kiss with one of her own on the top of her head where dark red roots were blending with blonde hair.

“I believe you,” Maria reassured her, as serene as Natasha had sounded. “But it wouldn’t have mattered, love. He died pissing himself and choking on his own blood. When they called me from the nursing home they told me it wasn’t quick, nor painless. I thought I’d feel better when he was gone, but Alzheimer had made him an empty shell long before he died.”

Natasha snuggled closer to Maria, deep in thought. Maria welcomed her in her arms and they lay there, as close as it was physically possible. 

Long minutes passed without any of them saying a word, but neither fell asleep either.

“I think Yelena killed Madame B.,” Natasha said casually, “she never told me… but I heard rumors. She was the only one that could’ve done it. Besides me, of course.”

Maria nodded slowly.

“And how does that make you feel?”

Nat shrugged.

“Mildly bothered. Like when you’re watching a good movie and you feel you have to pee? You know you can hold it until the end but… it’s still pesky.”

Maria laughed, she couldn’t help it. And Nat looked at her and tried to fix in her mind this image of her, laughing, naked, bathed by the moonlight in a summer night, only in case she needed it for later, just in case she needed to be reminded of why she was still fighting out there.

“Isn’t it funny?” Nat asked.

“What?”

“You, trying to survive your piece of shit of a father, while I was on the other side of the world, a few years younger, being mind-fucked each day, learning ballet and protocol and also how to kill a man three times my size with a fork?”

“Did they really teach you how to kill someone with a fork?” Maria frowned at her with faked apprehension. 

“Yeah.”

“We’re switching to chopsticks from now on.”

“Oh, I do know a few tricks with those. I could show you,” Nat smirked.

They chuckled gently in each other’s arms. A gentle breeze moved the curtains, their bodies felt the chilling air and the goosebumps that followed, making them hold each other tighter. 

For a moment, they knew peace.

“We survived, Nat. That’s all that matters,” Maria murmured.

“I know.”

Maria moved her hand to Nat’s hips and slapped her gently.

“Come,” she said, moving to the side to keep her back flat against the mattress.

Nat complied and straddled Maria’s hips, sitting on top of her, feeling Maria’s trimmed pubic hair brushing against her inner thighs.

“What do you wanna do tomorrow?”

Nat is taken aback by the question because her mind went somewhere else when they changed positions. Desire had fired up in her belly, but she tried to dismiss it. It was hard, but she could manage. Later, she thought. 

“What do you mean?”

Maria sighed, and if it wasn’t so dark, Nat could tell she was blushing.

“We’ve been working our asses off on the house all week, I figured we could take the day off? Do anything you want?”

Nat smiled adoringly as she shook her head.

“I’m an internationally wanted criminal, Commander. I’m afraid there’s not much we can do outside the house besides buying vegetables in the market while undercover as American tourists.”

Maria nodded and grabbed Nat’s hands, placing them above her chest.

“I know, I know… but… think about something you want and… I’ll try my best.”

Nat had to think quickly just to ignore the fact that Maria was being so sweet and awkward she could sob right there… she didn’t deserve her. She didn’t deserve to be this happy right here, right now. 

One thing came to mind.

“I do love your pasta alla Norma. You could cook for me?”

Maria smiled like a fool, goofily proud of herself.

“Done. What else?”

“Oh, there’s more?” Nat joked.

“Anything you want,” Maria replied, awfully serious.

Nat nodded slowly, understanding then that Maria really wanted to do this. So she deserved for Nat to be as committed as possible. She searched her mind, looking for a desire that she may have buried a long time ago, something her Black Widow persona would have discarded and locked away so she could become a deadly assassin, something she maybe dreamed of when she still entertained the idea of escaping the Red Room…

She found it. She blushed immediately. 

“Oh… there’s something. But that’s too much. You won’t agree to it.”

“What? Nat, no. I’m serious. I’ll do anything.”

“But you don’t like dancing.”

“I do li– wait. Dancing?”

Nat hid her disappointment behind a smirk.

“Told ya.”

Maria shook her head firmly and squeezed Nat’s hand for reassurance. 

“No… Nat… I’ll do it. Anything. I promise. Just tell me.”

Natasha sighed. She didn’t know how to handle this. How to be this vulnerable with Hill. It felt almost like being normal. Everything was different with Maria now, and she wondered if all these new things she thought she would never feel would ever stop.

“Ok…” Natasha agreed, “but you can’t laugh. And you have to promise me you won’t tell anyone. Not even Clint knows what I’m about to tell you. I have a reputation to maintain, ok, Hill?”

“Yes, ma’am. Your secret is safe with me.”

“That phrase doesn’t give me peace of mind, Masha.”

Hill moved her hands from Nat’s hips to her cheeks, cupping her face in the gentlest of touches.

“Nat, I’ll do anything for you, I told you. Just tell me, please?”

Nat kissed the palm of her hand and nodded.

“So… in the Red Room, we were raised almost entirely in English,” Natasha began slowly, swallowing hard. “We had to sound like native speakers, in case we were sent out to the States to infiltrate the belly of the beast. We were trained in accents, other languages and cultural infiltration. You know that, I told S.H.I.E.L.D. everything when I deflected.”

Maria listened to her intently, caressing her hips with both her thumbs, a gentle looping touch just to ground Natasha.

“What I didn’t tell them specifically was that, each Saturday, among other activities, they prepared for us an immersive, all-American movie night. They gave us popcorn, soda, candy… it was the full experience. Of course, when the movie was over we went through a two-hour indoctrination class of how the perverted film we had just seen portrayed everything that was wrong with the US, the absence of morale of our enemies and blah blah blah. They made us throw-up everything each time and look at our own vomit to see what America really represented… Even though I knew what was to come once the movie ended, secretly, I loved them all. The Goonies, Back to the Future, WarGames… We watched 80s hits, mostly, they were so sleazy they couldn’t even get their hands on modern films. Remember this was in the 90s.”

Maria was mesmerized now, trying to picture little Natasha eating popcorn and watching all those films. And then being tortured and brainwashed time and time again. She flinched, but she tried to bury it all under a smirk and a goofy chuckle, all for Natasha’s sake.

“Oh my God. That’s why you’re a nerd!”

Natasha slapped Maria’s arm. It wasn’t gently.

“I’m not a nerd!”

“You so are!”

“Ugh! I shouldn’t have told you anything, Hill!”

Natasha propped herself up to get away from Maria but the brunette grasped her by the hips as she was turning. They fell to the side on the center of the bed, Maria on top of her, the sheets a mess below them. Nat made a weak attempt at trying to get away from Maria, who knew it was all just for show. They could’ve played the game of Nat pretending to be offended and Maria annoying her a little more, but instead, Maria just fell on her with purpose and gave her a long, wet, lingering kiss. When they broke apart, Nat’s head was spinning and she didn’t even remember what they were talking about.

Maria brushed the tips of their noses together, slowly, tenderly, and put her arms around her. Now, spread on the bed in front of one another, Maria caressed strands of hair and Natasha’s cheek with an adoring smile.

“You were saying?” Maria whispered sweetly, melting Natasha’s heart.

Nat smiled sheepishly, looking so awfully young to Maria’s eyes.

“So… can you guess what my favorite film was?”

Maria bit her lower lip, thinking.

“I’m taking a wild guess here but… Top Gun?”

Nat looked genuinely offended.

“What? No!”

Maria shrugged.

“I don’t know, you seem like a Tom Cruise fan.”

“No way!”

“The guy might be a Skrull but he does his own stunts, gotta respect that…”

Natasha frowned with horror.

“What?!” 

“Nevermind,” Maria just waved it off. “Well… tell me. The film?”

Nat shook her head, clearly wondering if Maria was joking before or not. Once you got to know her you quickly realized the former Deputy Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. had a wicked sense of humor she only showed to her closest friends. Nat still had trouble adjusting sometimes…

“I’m waiting, Romanoff,” Maria said dryly, teasing her.

Natasha sighed and just rolled her eyes.

Dirty Dancing, ok? It was Dirty Dancing.”

Maria blinked, raising one eyebrow at her.

“And why are you telling me this all worked up? Dirty Dancing is just a generic 80’s movie.”

“Yeah, right… I thought you were going to tell me I’m a sap.”

“Oh, you are. But I can survive watching Dirty Dancing together. We can do that.”

Maria placed a quick kiss to Nat’s cheek and sighed happily, but that wasn’t the end of it.

“No, Masha.”

“No?”

Nat propped herself on one elbow to look at Maria right in the eyes, dead serious.

“I wanna do the dancing routine from Dirty Dancing. With you.”

Maria sucked in her breath.

“Fuck me,” she whispered.

Natasha smirked. 

“Oh, I intend to. After teaching you the dance, of course.”

It was Maria’s turn to be worked up.

“You know I can’t dance. It’s not physically possible for me,” she shook her head, sitting up on the bed. Nat did the same.

“You can fight. So you can dance.”

Maria’s eyes went wide with terror. 

“Like Patrick Swayze? No way, I can’t, nope, not in a million years.”

“What made you think you’d be doing Swayze’s part?” Natasha scoffed. 

“Oh, you’re telling me you’re going to pick me up and lift me in the air? No way, you’re Baby, I’m Johnny.”

Natasha laughed.

“I could lift you if I wanted to, you’ll be Swayze because of height, nothing else…” Nat was more than amused by Maria’s uncharacteristic agitation. If she had known this was the reaction she was going to get, she’d suggested this crazy idea to Maria a long time ago.

“You seem to know a lot about Dirty Dancing, Commander.”

“Yeah, well, I was practically raised by TV given that my mother died in labor and my father was a drunk bastard.”

“Sorry, again.”

“Don’t do that, Nat, we’re past beyond comparing childhood traumas, ok?”

“Ok.”

They sat there, looking at each other in silence for a few moments. Maria awkwardly held her legs to her chest, resting her chin on her knees.

“So… you want me to go all Dirty Dancing on you, huh?”

Natasha couldn’t help herself and cupped Maria’s face to place a sweet peck on her lips before responding.

“Yes. And you’ll do it.”

“Of course I’ll do it,” Maria scoffed, faking annoyance.

“Because you love me,” Nat added with a whimsical smile.

“I do,” Maria nodded while looking at her hands. She finally looked up at Nat, sighing, “but fuck you, Romanoff. If anyone finds out about this, I swear I–“

“Shhh. I know you have a reputation, Commander Hardass. I do too. I’m the Black Widow, remember? International assassin? Fallen Avenger? Public enemy number one?”

Maria’s voice turned low and careful seeing through Natasha’s typical dismissal of herself.

“You’re not those things. You’re a hero, Nat.”

Natasha crooked a smiled, shyly and shrugged her shoulders just slightly.

“Yeah, well… I don’t care about that right now. The important thing is that it’s just us here. It’s only you and me.”

Maria changed tactics, bringing the attention back to herself, she didn’t want Natasha to drift off into the dark corners of her mind… sometimes, that was unpreventable, but right now, she could do something about it.

“Promise to go easy on me?” Hill did her best at accompanying her words with a hardly innocent pout.

Natasha nodded as she parted Maria’s legs gently, sitting on her lap and putting her arms around her lover.

“I’ll have you know, Ms. Hill, I’m an excellent mentor with innovative pedagogical skills.”

Maria began to slide her hands up and down Nat’s back in a soothing pattern. The blonde closed her eyes and sighed with contentment.

“Uh-huh, not what rookies used to say about your teaching methods…” Maria smirked.

Nat opened her eyes to slap Maria’s shoulder

“Oh, shut up! Wanda and Sam don’t count, they misbehaved all the time.”

“Yeah, I know. C’mere.”

Hill embraced her and Natasha gave herself completely, letting her weight fall on Maria’s thighs, her arms returning the embrace, her chin resting on her shoulder, her fingers gripping the back of Maria’s neck.
Maria began to rock them, slowly, smoothly, and Natasha wanted the moment to last forever. So cliche, yes, yet so real.

After a few minutes, Maria said something against Nat’s hair. 

“I hate you, Nat.”

It sounded completely fake. Natasha just smiled and pulled apart to rest her forehead against her girlfriend’s.

“You don’t.”

“You’re right. I don’t.”

They kissed. Slowly, passionately, with a tenderness they both thought they would never know. When they broke apart, Maria’s eyes were dark with desire and Natasha was panting.

“Can I make love to you?” Maria whispered, their lips almost touching.

For an answer, there was a curse and a plea and a thundering kiss. 

“Fuck, Masha…”

Maria secured Natasha with a hand holding her tight around her lower back while the other traveled down in between their legs. Natasha arched her neck, exposing skin that Maria kissed wildly, allowing Nat the opportunity to lock her legs around Hill’s waist.

“You’re so beautiful. You take my breath away, Nat.”

Maria whispered things in Natasha’s ear that made the Russian’s blood boil. She was so wet that Maria entered her with two fingers with ease, no resistance, only warmth and pleasure. Nat asked for more and Maria gave her everything. Soon, they were panting together, Natasha bucking her hips along with Maria’s wild pace. She began thumbing Nat’s clit when she felt her tightening around her fingers, and Nat’s orgasms rocked through her like thunder – quickly, dazzlingly, leaving her hot and electrified. 

Nat felt boneless and just let herself float in Maria’s lap, biting and kissing her lover’s shoulder as she tried to catch her breath.

“я люблю тебя.”

Maria felt a shiver down her spine when she heard the words. She would never get tired of hearing her say it.

“I love you too, baby,” she whispered in Natasha’s ear, her heart jumping a beat. 

She would never get tired of saying it, either.

 

 

***

 

 

 

The next day, they moved around the furniture in the living room and came up with a pretty decent training space.

Maria was extremely clumsy at first. She almost shouted mission abort in the first five minutes. But when Natasha swapped the ballet vocabulary for military terminology, everything went smoothly. 

And Maria did have some rhythm within her, after all. Natasha distracted herself a few times with the movement of Maria’s hips, so when they took a break to have something to eat, they ended up not having any food. They recorded themselves with Maria’s laptop so Natasha could explain the trickier moves. Maria turned out to be a committed student and Natasha a patient teacher. They practiced well into the night and they ended up sweaty and happy and even more in love than before. When Maria first raised Natasha in the air successfully in the culminating point of the routine, they couldn’t stop laughing.

And as (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life resonated through the living room for the umpteenth time, Maria’s phone beeped with a message from Nicholas J. Fury himself.

It’s time, it read.

For seventeen days they were the only people in the world. For seventeen days, the Black Widow and Agent Hill didn’t exist. Only Nat and Maria. They knew it would end at some point. They knew Fury would break their bubble, just like that, one day or another, and they both would have to go back to their old lives: Hill, at Fury’s side, running what was left of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers. Natasha, back to Steve and Sam, to the road and to being a hero even if the world didn’t want them.

That last night, they didn’t get any sleep, and dawn found them exhausted and sweaty in each other’s arms.

So when they said their goodbyes, they both smiled. They both put on a brave face for the benefit of the other. They both made promises and they both sealed them with kisses.

They both knew, but they never said it aloud – they were leaving behind the happiest days of their lives.

Only seventeen days and eighteen nights, but they would have had a lifetime of it.

A someday got stuck in between them, in all the things they didn’t say.

They both got back to their teams, to their jobs, to their missions, with the exhilarating feeling that, no matter what, they belonged together now, and not even the end of the world could keep them apart.

 

 

 


 

 

 

2018

The sky over Scotland

 

 

Natasha pressed the hydraulics button, closing the ramp of the Quinjet. 

“I thought we had a deal,” she said coolly, addressing Wanda, “stay close, check in. Don't take any chances.”

Wanda was sitting at Vision’s feet, utterly worried about him. She knew Nat was right, so she made no effort to hide her guilt.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “we just wanted time.”

Natasha was about to walk past Steve when she heard the words. She stopped in her tracks, her whole body going rigid. She clenched her teeth, looking at Wanda with disapproval, annoyance…

“Time? Oh, really?” Natasha snapped, “You think you two are the only ones in this world that have to compromise and make sacrifices?” Both Vision and Wanda looked down, hearing the restrained rage in the Black Widow’s voice.

“Natasha,” the Captain tried not to raise his voice, but the tension was more than palpable.

“No, Steve, don’t Natasha me. You guys are grown-ups, if you put yourselves in danger, you put all of us in danger. If you had checked in a few days ago–“

Steve finally grabbed her arm and scolded her.

“Natasha, enough!” Once he got her attention, his tone became softer. “They get your point.”

“It’s alright, Captain,” Vision intervened, trying to talk in between grimaces of pain, “Natasha is right. She knows this better than anyone. We’re sorry. If we live to tell it, it won’t happen again…”

Wanda shot a disapproving look at him, but they both remained silent as Natasha broke free from Steve’s grasp.

“Out here, we only have each other, Steve. If we forget that, we’re done,” Natasha said, calmly this time.

But Steve wouldn’t let it go.

“Listen, I get that you miss Maria but you can’t take it out on us–“

Natasha turned around quick as a flash, her face lit up with anger.

“This is not about Maria, this is about me trying to keep together a team that you tore apart!”

Steve was about to protest, but a quick nod from Sam, quietly seating at the pilot’s seat, made him realize he should just let Nat speak her mind.

“Just look at us! We’re back at square one. Fighting aliens falling from the sky! Only now there’s only half of us.”

Steve sighed and shook his head.

“I told Tony he could–“

Natasha didn’t want to hear it.

“I know what you told Tony. But we’re still on the run. I’m tired, Steve. And so are you. And if you weren’t so stubborn you would finally admit it.”

The Russian concluded the conversation, letting herself fall on the co-pilot seat.

Steve looked down at his shoes and took in Natasha’s words, one by one. No one said a thing for long seconds, and, finally, it was Sam who asked the most important question of all.

“Where to, Cap?”

Steve finally locked eyes with Natasha, nodding slowly at her, letting out a small sigh of understanding.

“Home.”

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

About six hours later, they landed at the Avengers compound. 

Rhodey welcomed them with open arms and bad news that made the unexpected encounter via hologram with Senator Ross seem like a mild inconvenience.

They learned about it all: Thanos, the stones, Vision’s role in the mess.

And there was Bruce, visibly terrified. He had seen him, and the destruction he brought. It was obvious the threat was real, deadly, and the odds were probably against them. The usual stuff.

Natasha was thrilled to see Rhodey, and Bruce – well, she felt relieved that he was alive and kicking, and she was more than amused by his awkward pacing. Some things never changed.

Once they decided to fly to Wakanda, seeking King T’Challa’s and Princess Shuri’s help, Nat asked Rhodey if they could have a word.

They walked together around the compound’s corridors, side by side, as if two years of fighting and running were only a bad dream. But none of them were naive enough to believe that.

They made small talk at first, but Natasha’s usual confidence faltered in front of Rhodey’s knowing smile.

“I was… I was expecting to–“ she began, but she didn’t need to finish.

“They’ve been out for a couple of days. But they called this morning, they’re ok,” Rhodey reassured her. “Fury said something about Stark’s trail. They’re trying to find out where Tony is.”

Natasha closed her eyes as a sudden jab of anxiety hit her in the stomach, halting in the spot.

“Shit, Tony. You don’t think he–“

Rhodey pursed his lips and shook his head.

“He’s Iron Man, remember? If there is someone in this planet meant to survive against all odds, it’s Tony Stark. And just be thankful he’s not here now to call you blondie and make all sort of jokes about your new hair.”

Natasha smiled despite herself.

“Oh, I’m grateful. But I worry.”

Rhodey squeezed her hand, just briefly.

“Yeah, me too.”

They resumed walking.

Natasha found Rhodey’s presence calm and comforting. After years of running with Steve’s ego and Sam’s vigor, it was refreshing to be in the presence of someone as balanced as him. She loved Sam and Steve, sure, beyond reason, but it was nice to be able to talk to someone else. Still, the ache inside her chest had another name written on it.

“In the past six months, we’ve only had a weekend in Athens…” Natasha sighed, “how’s she?”

Rhodey smiled, understanding immediately what Natasha needed to hear.

“You know her. She’s Hardass Hill. She’s fine. But she misses you too. I can tell by the mood swings…”

Rhodey chuckled and Nat blushed. She had admitted long ago that she was insultingly transparent when it came to Maria. Might as well just roll with it.

“Nat… you know… I’d like to say something here,” Rhodey turned to look at her directly, searching her gaze, “and please forgive me if it’s not my place, but… I’m your friend. And I’m her friend. And I care about you both. I care about all of us.”

“Just shoot, soldier,” Nat smiled, hiding the fact that she was slightly nervous about this unexpected heart to heart.

Rhodey nodded and looked at his shoes briefly, trying to put on a brave face. Then, he spoke his mind, just laid it all out in the open, all the pain, the love and the fear of the last two years taking its toll on him.

“We need to put an end to this. You and me, we need to work as a team and bring this family back together. Whatever happens with this Thanos guy, we need to knock some sense into Tony and Steve. We’re the Avengers. We’re stronger together. Whatever happens, we need to fucking assemble. You with me?”

Nat just smiled, proud of her friend, incredibly grateful that Rhodey had been able to put into words what she had been pondering for a while.

“All the way, Colonel.”

“Good, because I’m sure you’re tired of babysitting everyone. You know what I mean.”

Nat rolled her eyes.

“You have no idea.”

“And you deserve better. You deserve a home. And I know for a fact Maria is more than willing to give you a lifetime of happiness –”

Natasha froze, thunderstruck.

“Wait. What?”

Rhodey blinked at her. It took him a second or two to realize what he had said, the implications in the ambiguity of his words. His eyes widened, just slightly, and Natasha held her breath as she realized her friend had said something he wasn’t supposed to.

“What – what do you mean?”

Nat’s heart was beating loud in her chest. It couldn’t be. Rhodey was wrong. Maria couldn’t be thinking about – no, no. Nat didn’t deserve it. Oh, but how she wanted to be worthy…

Rhodey nervously shrugged it off and shook his head, poorly trying to pass his words as wishful thinking.

“It’s – well, it’s just what I figured – I – I mean… Just – just that even if I have only seen glimpses of you two together… what you guys have, it’s special, Nat. A Russian spy and a Marines Commander? You’re the impossible dream. You weren’t supposed to work out. But you do, right?”

Even though her heart was beating fast in her chest, Nat smiled politely and gave her friend the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it really was all in her head.

“We do, yes.”

Rhodey nodded.

“You guys deserve better than a long-distance relationship. We, as a group, deserve better. And if Tony and Steve can’t make peace, we’ll work it out for them until they have no other option but to accept that nothing will divide us, ever again.”

Nat nodded back, her face filled with determination and pride.

“Agreed,” she said. 

They hugged, because what else was left to say?

When they parted, Rhodey nodded his head towards a door right in front of them. Natasha hadn’t figured out that they were walking to her old room in the compound, the one she had shared with Maria before all hell broke loose.

“There’s a phone on her nightstand. It’s a secure line. Press 8, and it will link you right to her.”

Nat’s eyes began to fill with unexpected tears, but Rhodey was already leaving her to her thoughts by the time she managed to whisper a ‘thank you’.

Natasha entered the room without second thought. She smiled to herself as she saw everything precisely as she remembered. Hill’s obsession with order and tidiness was still going strong, and she had to choke back the tears as she opened the closet out of curiosity and found that Maria had left her side empty. She was waiting for her. She knew she’d come back one day.

Nat went straight to the phone, then. She needed to hear her voice. She did as Rhodey had told her, pressed 8, and after a few beeps from the line, she heard that low, sultry voice, absently answering as if she was in the middle of something.

“Hill.”

“Guess what.”

There was silence then, and Nat imagined the perplexity on Maria’s face.

“Nat – Natasha? Is that you? Are you ok?”

“I’m in your room right now,” Nat’s voice was cheerful on purpose.

“What?”

“We’re at the compound.”

Nat could hear noises around Maria, she even thought she heard Fury shouting orders at someone. For a moment, she felt guilty, remembering Tony was missing, the bad guys were out there and they still didn’t have a solid plan. But then, Maria’s voice rose again, all fear and worry.

“What?! Are you – are you insane? Ross will come after you!”

Nat cleared her throat, trying to transmit calm. 

“Maria, relax. We’re leaving in 5.”

“Wait… wait a second–“ Nat heard movement on the other side of the line. Maria was probably trying to find a more private place to speak to her. She heard a door opening, then closing. When Maria came back, her voice was agitated but there was no background noise anymore. “Where are you going?”

Nat sighed, she was on Commander Hill mode now, there was no going back.

“Wakanda.”

“What – what happened? Is everyone ok? What are you doing there? We’re getting reports from everywhere and we still hadn’t figured out what happened to Tony, are you guys ok?”

“We’re ok, but we ran into Thanos’ thugs. Well, we had to lend a hand to Wanda and Vis, they’re after his stone.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah.”

Nat waited. She knew this kind of silence. It was Maria Hill, the strategist, thinking about all the possible outcomes, all the possible paths in front of them… It only took her five seconds.

“I’ll tell Nick… we can regroup with you guys in Wakanda and–“

“No,” Nat cut gently, “You do what you’re doing. We need to figure out what happened to Tony.”

Nat heard a scoff of incredulity. 

“I don’t take orders from you, Romanoff.”

The Russian smiled, she had an ace up her sleeve Maria wouldn’t see coming. 

“No,” Natasha said, “but you take orders from your girlfriend.”

“Wow,” Maria gasped, “you hate that word.”

“Yes, I do. Because you’re more than that, Masha.”

Maria chuckled, and Nat knew then her strategy had succeeded in at least calming her down, for now.

“I’m sure that’s what you tell all of your other girlfriends,” Maria joked.

“Only to the ones that have pretty blue eyes like yours.”

Maria sighed, longingly.

“Ha. It’s been a long time since you’ve been this flirty.”

“That’s not true,” Nat protested, rather weakly.

“And usually, you get flirty when you’re nervous. Something you wanna tell me?”

Oh, how the tables had turned.

“That’s not– ok. You’re right,” Natasha exhaled, giving up. “Bruce is here. Among other things.”

“What – Banner?”

“Apparently he’s been off-planet this whole time, somewhere out there in space with Thor, can you believe that? He seems to be terrified of Thanos, he had a close one with him but… apart from that, he still seems to be Bruce.”

“Oh.”

There were a few seconds of tense silence. Natasha knew exactly why.

“Masha?”

“Yeah?”

“It was a long time ago. You don’t have to feel guilty anymore.”

Nat heard her hissing. 

“I… I know.”

It sounded convincing, but Natasha knew there was more to it.

“Yeah, but you’re still jealous,” she whispered gently.

“You know I am,” Maria admitted simply, "and afraid.”

Nat frowned as she sat down on Maria’s –their– bed, concern creeping up her spine.

“Afraid, afraid why?”

Maria sighed, deeply, and proceeded to say something she had been hiding since forever. Only the circumstances now were pressing, and she knew she had to lay all her cards on the table. Natasha deserved that much.

“Because… because since this all started, since we started, I’ve always been afraid of losing you. Losing you to someone else. Losing you in battle, in a mission. Losing you just because I might not be good enough for you. Because you might get tired of me. Losing you because saving the world has to come in first place… I’m not good with words, Nat, I… I can’t help feeling like this. I’m sorry.”

Natasha felt out of breath. That was the moment Steve chose to gently knock on the door and tell her his solemn and immutable “Nat, it’s time…”

She waved him off with a “Gimme a minute.”

“Nat? You have to go, right?” Maria asked, uneasy.

“Yes but – listen, just, listen, Masha…“ Natasha breathed in deeply, regaining her composure. It took all the strength she had. “I’m afraid to lose you too,” Natasha began, “I worry every day. The only thing that gives me peace is having you by my side, hearing you breathe calmly when we lie together,” she closed her eyes, grateful that her tears were silent. Maria could probably tell anyway, but still, she held on to a tiny bit of pride. “You’re the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last that crosses my mind when I fall asleep,” Natasha confessed, her tone adoringly, her purpose clear, “you’re the world to me, Maria. When I’m fighting out here, I’m fighting for us. For the chance to finally be together one day, and never have to be separated again. For the day when the Avengers are not needed, and I can come home to you.”

She could hear Maria’s breath. She could hear it was as agitated as hers. 

“I–“ Maria got interrupted by someone telling her something unintelligible to Nat’s ears. She heard her sigh and curse…

“Nat, I have to go too. Just… when all this ends, when we finish this mission we need to talk, ok? I don’t care about Ross, I don’t care about Interpol, I’ll find you, ok? And we’ll talk. Just stay alive for me, Nat, please.”

Nat smiled, and this time she choked on the only word she managed to whisper.

“Always.”

“I love you, sweetheart,” the affection in Maria’s voice traveled through the phone and into Nat’s chest.

“I love you, Masha.”

And then, just like that, they had no other choice but to hang up.

 

 


 

 

 

2018

Wakanda

Thirty seconds after Thanos snapped his fingers

 

 

Natasha ran to Steve’s side to watch him cradle Vision’s lifeless body.

“What is this? What the hell is happening?” Rhodey asked the group, but no one answered. Thor, Rocket, Bruce… they all remained silent.

Natasha’s mouth opened, but no sound came out of it. The ultimate anxiety sat on the pit of her stomach and she had to put a hand on her belly to try to stop the nausea. Her knees were failing her, but her whole body was frozen by something that can only be encountered when you walk far beyond despair. Hot tears welled up in her eyes. 

He had done it. Thanos had done it.

“Oh, God.”

Steve’s broken voice reflected her own shock.

Not far away, a scream that shook the Earth. 

Okoye, crying out for her king.

“Oh, God,” Steve repeated again. 

He looked at her and Natasha could see it in his eyes. Bucky. Vision and Wanda… but how many more?

Clint, Laura and the kids… would they be safe? Scott? Peter? Everyone back at HQ? Pepper and Tony?

But Natasha’s eyes screamed the question with only one name. 

They couldn’t know who was alive and who was gone. 

And they wouldn’t know for hours, when Nat tried to reach Hill’s super-secret-super-untraceable-only-for-emergencies-phone from the jet.

Maria didn’t pick up, but Natasha refused to accept the truth. 

She called Fury. Nothing.

She called and waited, and called again, and swallowed the lump in her throat.

She yelled at an answering machine that could only be accessed through a four-step verification process.

“You can’t be dead. You can’t be dead, do you hear me? Call me when you get this, Hill, or I swear – Блядь! (Fuck!)… Please, Maria… please. Don’t do this to me.”

She tried from the Quinjet’s computers. Satellite phones, intelligence reports, she hacked into the CIA, the FBI, the MI6… She tracked down every phone for every ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. operative working for Nick and Maria. She came up empty. Almost all real-time systems were down, but everything that was automated like databases and cloud servers had to be still active.

Her ears perked up with the anticipation of an idea – the panic hadn’t let her think about the simplest of tracing methods. She typed rapidly as she hacked into the NSA servers and triangulated the signal from Maria’s phone last known location. Not that the NSA would ever know it was actually Hill’s phone, her and Nick made sure to operate always under the radar, but the data was there, encrypted along with millions of lines of information, and Natasha knew exactly what she was looking for. She got an address in ten seconds.

Then, she typed furiously to hack into the Department of Transportation servers. She wasn’t being careful at all, not minding cleaning the digital trace she had left behind, she figured no one would mind since Thanos had just wiped out half of the universe…

She finally found it: she switched between traffic cameras until she spotted the undoubtedly S.H.I.E.L.D. designed black SUV. Sometimes, they didn’t even try… She felt the hairs in the nape of her neck rising as she watched the car stopped in the middle of the street. No sign of Maria or Nick. They could be out there, helping people, it didn’t have to mean anything… right?

She watched the live feed for a few minutes then, absolutely horrified. It was a mess.

People running around, yelling, cars on fire, even a little kid standing in the middle of the road, crying out for her parents. Natasha regarded the time-print in the screen and proceeded to do something that would haunt her for the rest of her life.

With trembling fingers, she rewinded the footage. She set it exactly at thirty seconds before the time of Thanos’ snap.

 

C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. Don’t do this to me, she prayed to herself. Please, Masha. Please.

 

Natasha knew pain. Natasha knew loss. She knew despair and terror. But she had never known a dread, a hopelessness as devastating as what she felt when she saw Maria pleading to Nick, confused and scared as she turned to dust in the middle of the road.

She felt sick and almost passed out, and finally threw up what little contents her twirling stomach had.

Then, there was only silence for what seemed like years, but was only a few hours. She didn’t move. She just stared blankly at the footage as it replayed itself on a loop, over and over again. She was in a place beyond pain; numb, frozen, almost forgetting how to breathe.

Until Steve came to tell her they needed to move. Regroup. Count their loses. Fight back the impossible. 

One look was enough. She just shook her head, and he understood. And she broke down because what couldn’t be happening was happening, and her mind just went crazy.

Natasha cried in the pilot’s seat and the only stupid thing she could think of was that Maria couldn’t be dead because there were still so many unspoken things between them, things Natasha had buried under layers of pride, fear and irrational feelings of unworthiness.

Steve didn’t – couldn’t say a thing. So he just held her while she wept, shedding silent tears of his own. They were in each other’s arms, but their minds were far away, looping cruel memories. Steve kept seeing Bucky’s face, flashing with confusion and fear, saying his name for the last time. 

And Natasha felt herself falling endlessly in a spiral of pain, as if she was dying. A world without Maria was something unfathomable for her. It was the end.

But although Maria was dust, Natasha didn’t die. She did something else, instead.

Heartbroken and lost, she did the only thing she had strength for, besides dying. 

She put up the fight of her life.