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professionalism is... hard

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“That… is not the suit Tony designed."

 

If Natasha hadn’t been trained to repress every emotion, to keep any and all feelings from penetrating the mask of unwavering neutrality she’d clung to since the Red Room, she might’ve choked on the single strawberry she’d plucked from the kitchen (Steve was in there slicing fruits and baking pancakes in an obnoxious star-spangled apron with old-timey tunes playing grandly over the loudspeakers, because Natasha guessed he just wasn’t enough of a cliché to begin with)—and yes, she’d known at least nine paces beforehand that Wanda’s soft distinct footsteps were set on the perfect collision course with her own, so it wasn’t a surprise when she turned the next corner to find the young witch mid-stride just feet away from her, but she definitely hadn’t accounted for… that.

 

Most mornings (it was 8:42am, last Natasha had checked), Wanda wore ridiculously tiny black silken shorts and a loose graphic tee (the past couple mornings it’d been ‘Def Leppard,’ which she supposed she had Tony to thank for Wanda’s newfound partiality towards rock music), her chestnut-brown hair falling messily over either shoulder, those wide ocean-blue eyes blinking drowsily in the light of day (which, to be fair, was something Natasha was by no means immune to), but today… Well.

 

And perhaps Natasha should've prefaced this by explaining the whole ‘suit’ predicament (too late now, she supposes), because it’s not like Wanda was standing there in sensual lingerie (which, Natasha will admit she’d vividly imagined on more than one occasion) or anything terribly promiscuous—it was skin-tight black leather pants and a scarlet bodice with a sinfully-low sweetheart neckline (when Cap saw it, Natasha was sure his heated blush would reach the tips of his ears), supplemented by a long flowing red-leather jacket that swished hypnotically around her calves as she walked…

 

(It also wasn’t all that helpful that Wanda was a good three inches taller than Natasha to begin with, and both women were barefoot at that particular moment, affording Natasha a generous eyeful of Wanda’s ample breasts, which by all accounts looked as if they were trying to literally escape over the low V-shaped neckline of the bodice altogether.)

 

What’s more, Natasha prided herself on her ability to exercise control over both body and mind: sadness, happiness, rage, fear… lust.

 

Maybe once upon a time (though she can scarcely remember it) she’d allowed childlike and trivial emotion to yank her strings, forced to bare herself like a doll-faced marionette before hundreds of onlookers watching silently from their seats, every soul in the audience being allowed to know her in a way that made her feel sick.

 

No—Natasha hadn’t been a performer onstage for a very long time.

 

And still, Natasha felt inexplicably lost for a moment (though her training ensured she’d never let Wanda see it) like she was back in the theatre, suddenly experiencing considerable difficulty in attempting to form a coherent thought as she stood there feeling a tad underdressed in tight black spandex and a loose tank with David Bowie’s likeness stamped across the front.

 

She knew she didn’t look bad, per se; she could feel Wanda staring appreciatively at her form (the young witch was never all that subtle—Natasha had known for weeks that Wanda was attracted to her), but she wasn’t quite sure if that made the whole thing better or worse.

 

“You do not like it?” Wanda questioned eventually in her heavily-accented drawl, eyes finally coming up to meet Natasha’s.

 

Natasha’s lips twitched. “You know that’s not what I mean.”

 

(Weeks ago, Steve had informed Natasha she’d be training Wanda in hand-to-hand combat until further notice; no exceptions.

 

Natasha hadn’t been planning to argue, even if she wasn’t all that thrilled at his request: She trusted Steve to a certain degree, and what’s more, she could easily see the sense of asking Natasha to train Wanda… similar body types, a vaguely analogous history in Slavic regimes, the fact that they were both slim attractive women that many men tended to underestimate at first glance.

 

So it wasn’t ideal that Natasha now had to routinely pin the object of her current affections to the mats with various moves that held undoubtedly sexual undertones, but she got over it fairly quickly.

 

It still wasn’t easy to clamp down on Wanda’s unsuspecting neck with the steely grip of her thighs, ultimately ending the move with Wanda squirming on the floor between Natasha’s legs, her mouth mere inches away from Natasha’s—

 

Well. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy, and leave it at that.

 

To be clear, though, she wasn’t some inexperienced pre-teen boy in the midst of puberty who couldn’t control his raging hormones and seemingly endless libido—no, she was a professional.

 

But unfortunately, professionalism didn’t account for mind-reading, or whatever Hill had called Wanda’s neural-interface-hocus-pocus-voodoo in her polished scientific jargon—because all it took was one mistake on Wanda’s part, which, since the girl hadn’t the faintest clue on how to throw a proper punch, were never in short supply, and suddenly, everything went to shit.

 

“No powers” had been something of a rule from the very start; she’d seen Wanda become too overwhelmed to summon her magic at times, and lose control of those glowing red tendrils entirely at others—despite her reluctance to be the younger woman’s mentor, she knew Wanda needed to learn to defend herself without the use of her powers, especially if she wanted to continue being a part of the Avengers.

 

Sometimes Wanda’s eyes would flash red while they trained, or crimson energy would gather around her clenched fists when Natasha would hit her with a particularly swift blow, but they were two weeks into training, and Natasha hadn’t yet been hex-blasted through the walls—by all accounts, things seemed to be going rather well.

 

She supposed it made sense that such a thing wouldn’t last, because Natasha Romanoff had learned quite early on that she didn’t get “good” days.

 

She didn’t think of it as some blatant injustice in the universe, either; she deserved it for all the lives she’d taken, for the bloodstained corpses she can’t remember leaving behind, for living this life not as a person, but rather as a weapon, and a dangerous one at that.

 

So, to be fair, she was only marginally surprised when the consequence one particular day for knocking Wanda off her feet with a fleet-footed sweep kick was an immediate implosion of red behind the assassin's eyes and a throbbing pain in her skull, followed quickly by Wanda's blinding scarlet presence as it filled her mind once again with devastating efficiency.

 

Almost instantaneously, she found herself thrown violently into hordes of her own fragmented memories and half-baked dreams, unable to escape even as she cursed silently and braced herself for another nightmare-inducing invasion of privacy.

 

She saw snow falling peacefully in St. Petersburg even as she stood stiffly above a bloodstained corpse lying deep in a pink-tinted snowbank, his pleas for mercy having tapered off just minutes before; she saw Madame B. coldly examining her trembling stance with a critical gaze, demanding that Natalia control her pathetic weakness and pull the trigger; she saw a younger and dull-eyed Natalia lying limp beneath a heavy and pungent-smelling man whose face was constantly changing to that of her countless marks, to the sadistic male instructors of the Red Room, his hairy body snapping hard against her hips with every thrust.

 

The memories came faster after that—she could feel Wanda’s fear, a kind of anxiety in her chest that didn’t belong to her, because the young witch was still there but trying with everything she had not to be, to control the reach of her magic and get the hell out of Natasha’s head.

 

Flashes of Clint’s kind blue eyes, of Yelena’s blood staining the snow, of the times she’d see Alexei’s face in her dreams, of Sao Paulo up in flames, of Pietro lying lifeless amidst the wreckage of Sokovia… and then Wanda—she was there.

 

Not anything but a figment in Natasha’s mind, but she was there just the same, giggling nose-to-nose with her long arms curled around the redhead’s back as the two stumbled fully-clothed into the mess of sheets on Natasha’s bed and—

 

And then it was gone—all of it.

 

She re-entered reality, drenched in cold sweat on the mats of the gym, gasping for air even as she could hear Wanda doing the same a couple paces away.

 

She ended training early that day, forcing herself to walk evenly out the door with a hell of a lot more self-assuredness than she felt, leaving a crestfallen Wanda in her wake.

 

Natasha had been cold and dismissive with Wanda for weeks after that, even despite the young witch’s numerous attempts to apologize—nightmares plagued her even more than she considered to be normal, so she didn’t sleep, preferring to train for hours instead; she couldn’t stop seeing their faces everywhere… Yelena, Oksana, Phil, Alexei, Wanda.

 

She’d kept it up for weeks, still showing up to training sessions with Wanda but remaining distinctly detached each time she threw the girl down to the mats, offering only the occasional tip for improvement in a decidedly flat tone, anything to keep her distance even as their bodies pressed fully against one another’s in sparring—until Steve had come to her one day in all his self-righteous fury, saying Wanda had come to his quarters crying because she thought Natasha hated her, and like it or not she was a part of the team and “Fix this now, Romanoff.”

 

She did.

 

She didn’t let her walls down again, but she obeyed Steve’s command—and over the next couple of months, she’d grown into something of a tentative friendship with the Sokovian girl.

 

They never spoke about Natasha’s memories, about Russia, about her feelings toward Wanda.

 

It laid there beneath the surface in every interaction, but Natasha had resolved never to let Wanda close enough that she felt she could ask.

 

The assassin didn’t ignore it, of course—the last thing she needed was to willingly fork over yet another piece of her for Wanda’s ammunition, because the powerful young witch knew far too much already, things that made her feel vulnerable in a way she hadn’t been for a very long time.

 

Wanda knew more than Clint, Phil, and Nick combined, for Christ’s sake.

 

Natasha couldn’t afford to give her anything more.)

 

Wanda paused for a moment back in the hallway at Natasha’s comment, obvious confusion playing on her features. “I thought we did not talk about that.”

 

A suppressed prickle of annoyance sparked in Natasha’s chest even as her expression remained perfectly composed. “We aren’t.”

 

“But I would like to.” Wanda said the words quietly, wide blue eyes tentatively searching Natasha’s as if pleading for something—a sign of surrender, Natasha guessed.

 

She should say “No”—she knew she should, the single syllable already half-formed on her tongue… but the way Wanda was gazing as if trying to see her to her very bones, precious vulnerability and something like sincerity showing across smooth pale features while mesmerizing ocean-blue irises pleaded wordlessly with her to reconsider—Christ, it was effective.

 

She made a mental note to request a new mission from Phil as soon as possible, preferably as far away from New York as he could manage.

 

“Maybe,” she found herself answering like she wasn’t going to hate herself for it later, suppressing the urge to smile when Wanda’s bright cerulean eyes immediately lit up in response, pink lips stretching into a wide grin that bared perfectly straight white teeth, and Fuck if that didn’t make it a great deal harder for Natasha to act like she didn’t care.

 

(Not impossible, mind you—she’s known for a long time that honesty for honesty’s sake is like announcing your hand of cards well before the game has even begun, which is a goddamned mistake in every sense of the word, no matter the comfort so much of the population seem to find in their belief that such transparency holds virtue.

 

And maybe they’re right to some degree about that, but the rules of her game are different—they always have been.

 

Maybe it’s safe for the hopelessly-square all-American businessman working 40-hour weeks to lose the game, because for him, losing the game means marital problems and having to fire the maid and company stocks dipping from day to day—losing the game for people like Natasha is another matter entirely.

 

So she never slips—she thinks it’d actually be harder to do that than to maintain her perpetually aloof facade.

 

Even with Wanda, she doesn’t slip.

 

But she’s consciously been genuine with her—too genuine, she thinks, because it’s a distinct possibility that she’s really starting to care, and granted it’s nowhere near her loyalty to Clint or Phil or Nick, but she knows damn well that even the oscillating state of caring is just asking for trouble, for things to get a lot messier than they need to be.

 

It's like asking to become compromised, and she’d like to think she’s not stupid enough to invite another complication so willingly into her bloodied state of being, especially when that complication is a damaged young witch in her mid-twenties who just lost her other half and actually seems to be struggling with that grief in an impressively human kind of fashion.

 

It’s practically textbook, Wanda’s mourning: outbursts of anger, inability to control her own rage, retreating further into herself, becoming a small and quiet presence on the sidelines.

 

It means that she’s still human, that she’s still whole—that she didn’t let Ultron break her.

 

Natasha can’t remember ever being whole.

 

There are too many reasons that she shouldn’t let warmth spill through her chest when Wanda smiles her way, and only one or two selfish ones for why she should.

 

But emotions don’t rule her any more—she’s spent every moment of forever making that statement breed true, and she’ll be damned if she lets up now for a stupid crush.

 

No, she needs to stop letting Wanda worm her way past Natasha’s self-inflicted isolation.

 

She can’t afford to be compromised again.

 

She’s going to ask Phil for a long-term overseas mission, she decides, and she’s not going to leave until she has one that’s at least a 6 month requirement.)

 

“Okay,” Wanda replied with that stupidly big grin (though Natasha didn’t find it stupid at all; she found it absolutely adorable ). “Training later?”

 

Natasha fought the urge to crumble at the openly hopeful look in Wanda’s gaze. “Yep,” she said casually, before narrowing her eyes playfully at the taller woman. “Don’t be late.”

 

If at all possible, Wanda’s grin grew wider at that (Dammit, Romanoff, Natasha’s brain cursed), a slight sort of distance in cerulean-blue eyes, most likely recalling the last time she’d been late (6 minutes to be exact) and Natasha had ordered her to run 6 miles for her tardiness, one for every minute. “I will not again be making that mistake anytime soon,” the young witch spoke with a chuckle.

 

Natasha allowed her lips to quirk almost imperceptibly upwards. “Good. Steve’s making pancakes, by the way.”

 

Wanda’s eyes widened comically like saucers. “Really?

 

“I guess you’ll just have to see for yourself.”

 

She despised the faint but unmistakably tender glow of affection that grew beneath her ribcage as she watched the girl spring excitedly into action, hurrying down the hallway and around the corner, hair flowing gracefully behind her in her hasty search for the pancakes Natasha had spoken of.

 

Fuck.

 

When she got back to her quarters, she pried open a single floorboard with practiced ease (and a thin silver metallic gadget she kept on her person at all times), crouching cat-like on the wooden floor as she dialed one of two cellular numbers she knew by heart.

 

Putting the cheap burner phone deftly up to her ear, she remained perfectly still while it rung twice, something like relief pulsing in her chest when a soft click! came over the line.

 

“Romanoff?”

 

“Hey Phil. I need a favor.”