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That afternoon at the museum: it was supposed to be just reconnaissance. Tell that to Yelena fucking Belova, Natasha would sigh, several days later, in the carefully-calibrated performance she delivered at her briefing: gesturing with one hand to imply Belova: chaos agent; nothing to be done. There'd been warning signs enough, though, if her employers had wanted to dig for them. Yelena was Yelena, that much was true; but Natasha should have predicted, if not what happened, at least that something would; and if she'd still been functioning at her optimal abilities, she would have done.

But that was the problem, wasn't it. That was it, exactly.

So. In the first place.

In the first place: an extended mission in a remote and scenic locale did not—to understate the case—play to Yelena's strengths. They'd been collaborating occasionally for a few months now: freelancing projects that took an overnight here, a few days there. This one, though. By the time the two of them, in the middle of the afternoon—outfitted in khakis and sneakers and sensible winter jackets like two tourists out for a shaved ice and a mountain ramble—walked into the museum, they'd already been cooling their heels in the little town for almost three weeks. It was necessary, Natasha had explained, repeatedly: you couldn't observe a months-long pattern in just a few days. And there was so much that their intel didn't cover. The particular target, yes, that was clear enough, and elegant in its way: the smuggling of experimental, ultra-concentrated chemical weapons under cover of technology perfected in the eighteenth century. The juxtaposition of microprocessor release mechanisms with clockwork so delicate that its teeth, nearly invisible to the naked eye—

"Filthy capitalists," Yelena had snarled. "So—we will just take them all back. Reappropriation."

Reappropriated to whom? Natasha didn't say.

"Russkaya," she'd said, instead—sternly, because Yelena had been already half-naked and so easily distractible by Natasha being stern that Natasha would have laughed if she didn't sometimes suspect Yelena was acting; that she was only pretending to be as, as easy, as lovely, ripe and fucking openable as she put on; that she was only priming Natasha for some long-awaited reveal. Natasha'd flipped the kid, thighs around Yelena's hips; back against the mattress Yelena'd scowled up at her, pouting, and Natasha'd shoved her hand down Yelena's jeans. "How far," she'd asked her, as Yelena'd started to sweat, "does the scheme go? Who at the museum knows about it? Who at home? What—"

"More," Yelena said. "Natalia"; and Natasha supposed—looking down at her, yellow curls spread out on the pillow and writhing, she was always so wet for her, always, no pretence there, anyway: Natasha could probably strip her bare in front of Nick Fury and a Red Room general and the girl'd still be biting her lip, stifling her words, panting for Natasha's hands—that more was, after all what she'd offered. So more was what she gave.

It was not, however, a method of mission strategizing that yielded synchronized long-term results.

However. In the end, it managed to keep Yelena out of trouble for almost long enough. By the time they walked into the museum's foyer—their sneakers squeaking under the aggressively modern white plastic androgyne which hung above them, black-jointed; humming with clockwork—they knew nearly everything: the logistics of the scheme, the schedule of operations, most of the major players. In addition to uncertainties about the involvement or lack thereof of certain museum administrators—Trollinger, Caspari—their outstanding questions pertained mostly to the exact nature of some of the chemicals in play, and their microprocessor trigger mechanisms. Simple enough to investigate in a little after-hours exploration, assuming a basic working knowledge of the place's layout. So: mid-day tourist reconnaissance. Yelena took Natasha's arm, and kissed her; smiled up at her with her fresh little face and her dimples and that wild, menacing look behind her eyes; Natasha's chest clenched but she raised an eyebrow.

"Having fun?" she said.

Yelena leaned in: chin on Natasha's shoulder. Lips at her ear. Natasha expected some extrapolation about the androgyne's use as a surveillance device, or the implications of the train-station-to-museum transit options for Trollinger's daily commute, but what Yelena said was, half-laughing: "I heard there's a room where they don't let in the under-sixteens"; and then she nipped, lightly, at Natasha's earlobe, and before Natasha could turn around, had slipped away.

Natasha sighed. Took off her baseball cap, and slapped it against her thigh.

When did Yelena not want a cat-and-mouse game? But then, how much havoc could she wreak, Natasha thought—how much would she wreak—in broad daylight, surrounded by civilians? And so Natasha strolled on, through the entryway and into the exhibit hall. They were here to observe; well. Yelena would be observing, just as Natasha was. She walked through a corridor of music-boxes that ranged from miniscule golden rectangles, lined up behind glass in dimly-lit cases, to elaborate pieces of furniture, dark wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Toward the end of the hall, two pieces had been removed for maintenance: they would reappear, Natasha knew, two weeks later. After their trip down the mountain.

Around a corner: a room packed with pocket watches. The walls were laden with them: their round, encrusted faces and their gears. Baroque watches with curlicued dials for the moon and the day of the week. Nineteenth-century watches with clear-glass faces and visible works, Roman numerals painted in delicate bands at their outer rims. Art deco watches with stylishly elongated faces making way for curvilinear silver engraving. Natasha made a circuit of the room and counted four pieces removed for maintenance. No Yelena.

She cursed under her breath, strolling into the automata room. No Yelena here either; and Natasha, with a growing weight of suspicion, scowled down at the near life-sized clockwork boy who sat at an escritoire and actually wrote; at the elegant clockwork lady behind her pianola, complete with jointed fingers which, when she was wound up, actually hit and depressed the keys. Natasha came to a stop beside a case marked Removed for maintenance, remembering how she'd told Yelena reconnaissance only, promise me and Yelena had nodded, her big wide blue eyes. Inevitably, then, she'd be already in the maintenance room; and fuck whatever they'd agreed.

Ten minutes later Natasha swiped her stolen access card and slipped in herself. There, indeed, was Yelena: bent at the waist, one hand resting weight on the table, her pink mouth open just a touch as she leaned over a Harlequin automata. The thing was motionless; Natasha hadn't thought to wonder whether they actually disabled the pieces as part of the installation process, and now wondered if it could jerk to life at any time. It didn't, though: just stood, instead, perpetually risen on its toes, one arm outstretched; the other behind its back, holding its sharp little wand. There was a certain jauntiness about it, she thought, even though most of its face was hidden by a mask: a hint of a grin to go with its suit of multi-colored silk. It seemed more interested in a conversation than did Yelena, who hadn't even looked up when Natasha'd come into the room.

"Russkaya," Natasha hissed. "What are you doing?"

"They're all eating lunch," said Yelena, still staring at the Harlequin. She touched his jointed elbow; walked around to the side of him and pushed his diamond tunic up to get at his clockwork back.

"But now we're on their surveillance footage," Natasha said. "They'll know us; we can't come back."

"Then we had better do what we need to today."

Yelena did look up, then: one of her radiant, hungry little grins, her tongue in the corner of her mouth, and Natasha thought: of course she'd love Harlequin. And in a sudden, sharp flash: the image of herself in diamond silk, springing hands-to-feet over Yelena in a ragged servant's dress, her eyes black-ringed and shining. Natasha cursed, then pushed her sleeves up, took out her latex gloves, and turned to inventory the room.

Grandfather clocks. Player pianos: no good for their purposes, which required the merchandise be portable. Pocket watches, music boxes, clockwork toys, smaller automata; she made her way along the work-benches as quickly as she could, with Yelena racing her along the other side of the room. Between the two of them they found three processors, but nothing to indicate the chemical trigger mechanism, or what was being triggered. Natasha set her jaw.

"Last time I believe a promise of yours," she muttered, and Yelena made a tsking noise.

"You're too cautious," she said. "Sometimes it is necessary to take risks."

"Sometimes it's stupid," Natasha said. "If we can't find anything then that's three weeks of work you've ruined, when we could—"

"Old lady," Yelena scoffed. "I'll find something."

"Right," said Natasha. She let the "T" pop. Redoubled her speed, moving down the line. Yelena aside, there must be something that Natasha, at least, could salvage. A side-by-side comparison, for example, of these two open watches, one in a more advanced state of deconstruction. Here: the way the back plate was being prepped to be reaffixed, an almost imperceptible spacer between the screw-plate and the body of the watch—

"Maybe I've already found something," said Yelena, with a kind of a sulky pout in her voice that she always got if—Natasha turned.

"What did you find?" she said.

Yelena didn't answer. Just stood in the middle of the room looking mutinous. But in the second after Natasha'd spoken she moved her foot, and her hip, like a twitch—

"The Harlequin," Natasha said, and moved toward it, Yelena just enough closer that she managed to dart in front of her, blocking her way. Pressing up against Natasha, her hands on Natasha's shoulders. The heat coming off her; Natasha grinned. Her pulse picked up.

"What were you going to do, Russkaya?" she said. "Keep it from me?"

Yelena didn't answer so Natasha feinted to the left. Yelena followed and Natasha dropped; rolled; came up behind her but Yelena got her foot out and caught Natasha in the solar plexus. It knocked her off-course so when she got back on her feet she was to the left of where she'd meant to be, and Yelena, breathing hard, was blocking the Harlequin from view. Her hands behind her back: staring Natasha down.

"Come on," said Natasha. "I'm onto you now; you may as well show me."

Yelena swallowed. Her shoulders flexed. A bead of sweat was tracing its sticky way down her cheek and it distracted Natasha for maybe a second, maybe half that long—a moment only in which she wasn't thinking about what that shoulder flexion had to mean; and then—

"Suka," Yelena gasped, jerking her hands back in front of her with her right index finger bleeding. At the same moment: the sound of the outer door opening; the cheerful German of the museum workers returning from their lunch.

"Air shaft," Natasha said, "Damn it"; and pushed the girl ahead of her and toward the corner of the room. First Yelena then Natasha, they skinned their way up the bolts at the back of the room and further, lifting a ceiling tile and lifting themselves through the opening: the soles of Natasha's sensible American sneakers disappearing—she hoped—a split second before the museum workers opened the door; the ceiling tile slid back into place as the latch was clicking back into place. Nothing to be done, now, about the grinning Harlequin, its wand glinting with drops of Yelena's blood.

After that there was no pausing. No time to stop back by their hotel, so the clothes they'd brought and their makeup and the postcards of waterfalls and stuffed frogs were all abandoned; even their jackets got left behind in the coat room. They made their way via airshafts to the back of the museum, let themselves down into a storage closet, then slipped out the back way and hurried—casually—to the train station. Tickets purchased on the next—and conveniently immediate—train out: a bright-red tourist one over the Alps. Not many stops, Natasha thought, as they jostled their way through the crowds in the station: that would be a good thing, as long as no one followed them onto it in the first place.

Which—nobody seemed to. Though she couldn't be sure. Her mirrors in place, checking her six, a little jumpy but nothing unusual for a Tuesday afternoon, Natasha led them through half a dozen sparkling-clean carriages before they reached their seats: red-cloth upholstered in the middle of a carriage. Since the train was built for appreciating sublime vistas, the sides of the carriage were mostly window: glass wrapping from the floor all the way up past the top of the seating area and onto half a foot of ceiling. In the station it meant they sat staring at a grey concrete wall, but as soon as the train pulled out they were flooded with cold, bright Swiss sunlight and treated to a panorama of the little town, its peaked old roofs and the clean lines of its public buildings. And then the train went into a tunnel, and when it came out the other side there was nothing but crags and snowfields. White on white on white.

Natasha sat back. Breathing she closed her eyes for a second. Two: her annoyance withdrawing: a pulling-out tide. If that was the worst of it—which: uncertain (Yelena's pricked finger)—they might even be able to call the mission a qualified success. Gathering intel was hardly ever a completist gig, anyway. Though they would have gotten closer if they'd done it Natasha's way.

Yelena, she thought, with a dropping sensation in her stomach that she clenched down on, hard. Always, Yelena required. Flexibility.

Their carriage was a little over half-full: young couples, families with children. Across the aisle a pre-teen was playing a hand-held video game while his mother read a book, and Natasha's mind went to personae; undercover work. Why, after all, would a person buy tickets for this particular train, if they weren't planning to stare out the windows? The woman looked up for a moment, turning the page of her book and catching Natasha's eye and Natasha—

"Sergei knew I was on this mission with you," Yelena said, and Natasha's head whipped around.

"What are you doing?" she said, under her breath. "Anyone could hear you."

Yelena sat forward in her seat, hands under her thighs and—shit, Natasha thought. That high fever flush on her cheeks, dewy with sweat. The careful, brittle way she was holding herself—or holding herself back.

"Are you all right?" Natasha said; and instantly, as if pulled from her throat: "No," Yelena said, and then bit her lip, her eyes going very wide.

That alone: Yelena, gut-shot in Chicago, had insisted she was fine. Natasha clenched her jaw.

"He wanted information," Yelena said. Chewed her lip, and then said, "About who you were—willing to work with these days, who you would—"

"Are you able to just shut up?" Natasha murmured, leaning forward; and Yelena, panicked, shook her head. Not good. Natasha glanced at the woman across the aisle, the child looking up curiously from his video game. It was no news to Natasha that the Red Room'd want a line on her activities, nor that that they had one; nor even that it was, specifically, Sergei; but there were probably forty people in this carriage. Anyone could have bought a ticket.

"—report to," Yelena was saying, "what levels of damage control you're trying to—"

"Okay," Natasha said. "Shit," shoving a hand into her bag and coming out with—some badge, she thought, something official-looking, any badge would do. Hand to the seat-back she swung herself up, palm above her head.

"We have a contamination risk," she said, and heads swivelled to her. Over the sound of Yelena still talking—panting a little, her expression horrified—came the sounds of the other passengers gasping; murmuring. The scrape of their luggage. "Biological weapons exposure," she told them, which had the benefit of being true, and the man in the fedora seated behind Yelena turned pale; fumbled for his duffel. The woman across the aisle had tucked her paperback away; was tugging her son to his feet. "Please evacuate this car in an orderly fashion," Natasha went on, flashing her badge but not letting it linger too long in any particular direction; and then started her instructions over in French.

"—and he—he wanted—he wanted to know about the—the trigger mechanism," Yelena was saying, biting her mouth, head turned to the window and making little whining noises of distress so Natasha talked over her, her voice calm and authoritative and above all loud as she could reasonably make it.

"Quittez la voiture, s'il vous plaît, oui, monsieur, madame, vous aussi," she said, up and down the aisle, "Verlassen Sie sofort den Wagen" as Yelena babbled, and panted, and now at either end of the carriage people were crowded up against the communicating door, glancing back over their shoulders at Natasha, patrolling the aisle, and at Yelena, who brought her hands up over her mouth. "Thank you, yes, just this way, they'll reseat you, le contrôleur vous trouvera des nouvelles banquettes, just this way—" until the last person had pushed through the door, and the air seal locked behind them.

Natasha shoved her badge in her back pocket. Dove into the upper luggage rack and: there: a walking-stick, an umbrella. She wedged them between the handles of the communicating doors on each side of the car, then pulled down the shades, blocking the two of them from view.

Back to the door, she assessed the carriage. Open; modern: nowhere a person could feasibly hide but she could never be sure of bugs. Cameras. Other modes of surveillance. In the center seat Yelena sat, curled in on herself and more than halfway to hyperventilating, growling: "The last time—after I saw you, in—fuck, in London, I went to—went to him—"

"Hey," Natasha said, and Yelena's head snapped up: her beautiful murderous eyes. "Can you just—run through stats, whatever, doesn't matter. Personal bests on training drills, anything."

"I—," Yelena said. "I—um—unmh—42 seconds to—field-strip an—AN-94—"

"Impressive," Natasha said; and Yelena spat, "Eight seconds slower than you, suka I—"

"Okay," said Natasha. "Breathe; it's okay" because Yelena now was heaving huge lungfuls of air, knuckles white-clenched on the seat by her thighs. Natasha considered egging her on; she would pass out if she kept breathing like that—but if she kept talking even then, she'd have even less control over what she'd be likely to say.

So Natasha crossed the carriage. Folded herself down: straddled Yelena with her hands on the seat-back either side of Yelena's head. Kissed her hard and Yelena just melted into her, hands coming up to smooth down Natasha's sides; to fist in Natasha's hair. She was vibrating, still. Panting, her whole torso heaving with it, and her mouth parched from all the monologuing but this was working, Natasha thought. This would work: Yelena not talking but moaning, biting at Natasha's mouth making all species of sounds, pressing up into Natasha's weight holding her down.

Natasha tried to think of—fuck, but her precedents had been—lifetimes ago. And with Yelena writhing under her, growling-moaning, sinking her teeth into Natasha's shoulder with her hot little frame curling itself up to meet her impossible to think back and back but even so she remembered she should—should keep surprising her. That'd been the key, he'd said; she should keep—

And so she pulled back. Yelena cried out and then, immediate: "—can't stop, I can't stop, I went to see him in London and I—Natalia—" Her voice raw with panic and more transparent than Natasha had ever known her, which shouldn't be so—distracting but it was; it was. Natasha, flooding, aching at the root of her body, slapped Yelena to make her gasp and then dug her fingers into cotton: yanked up Yelena's t-shirt and dragged it over her head to muffle what came next. The shirt hit the floor of the train car as Yelena's head snapped forward, cheek pinked up from the slap and Natasha got her mouth back on Yelena's mouth: Yelena groaning so grateful and hungry, fuck, for anything, everything Natasha might decide to do to her with her hands.

The girl was fever-hot; clammy and shivering. No way out but through, Natasha thought. She pushed Yelena's bra up and couldn't spare conscience for the way her mouth watered at the faint trembling all under Yelena's skin. It traveled; resonated through Yelena's bones into Natasha's; she felt the hum of it in her lips as she sucked on Yelena's tongue; in her wrists and her fingertips as she cupped Yelena's breasts. Thinking: I will put my tongue—there, there, feel her tremble through the back of my throat feel her shake but not. Not now, not.

Natasha slapped the seat-back in frustration. Drew back and slapped Yelena's left tit under her shoved-up bra; Yelena moaned and squirmed and it gave Natasha enough time to unzip her own khakis one-handed; pull them down with her underwear, scrape her sneakers down her heels and kick the whole mess into the aisle and then get Yelena by the hair.

"When you told me," Yelena was babbling, "that time in Sydney, not to tell," as Natasha pulled her back by the curls across the gap between the seats, "about your deep cover and I—I said I wouldn't but—mhhnnn—"

Kid loved it anyway, Natasha thought, wild, as her back bounced on the upholstery. Scratchy industrial polyester on her bare ass and she couldn't care less: she spread her knees as wide as the armrests would let her, pulling Yelena's mouth down hard against her cunt and Yelena. Yelena loved it. She always did; she was so fucking. Greedy for it, and Natasha thought: that should shut her up—

"I shouldn't reward you like this," she said, gasping herself, "for bad behavior, fuck, yeah, come on, come on—"

Not that Yelena needed to be encouraged, she was. On the floor on her knees between Natasha's legs and moaning, topless and shivering eating Natasha out like she was dying, like she'd starved for years for nothing but this. Sucking on Natasha's labia, biting at her clit; shoving her mouth against her, drenching her nose and lips with her shaking hands holding Natasha's thighs spread like Yelena was afraid Natasha was going to do something ridiculous like close her legs.

"Yeah," Natasha said, and Yelena's jaw worked; her warm eager wriggling tongue ag-against—so Natasha leant forward to get a hand on the side of her face and her throat. Feel her swallow. Swallow, drinking from her like—pooling heat in the cup of Natasha's hips Natasha blinked and blinked and flipped her hand. Brought the other to join it so her fingers wrapped around the front of Yelena's throat to feel it vibrate: making so much noise. Moaning. Yelena moaned and Natasha squeezed; Yelena's whole face pressed closer against her body and Natasha pressed a little harder: still: all that sound.

"Come on, you're so—unh," she said. "Make me come and I'll let you breathe."

Yelena squeezed her eyes shut and—fuck she was—Yelena was never quiet unless she had to be, but even with Natasha most of the way to choking her and gagged with half of Natasha's vulva she sounded—Natasha had never heard her like this and never. Never seen her so—urgent, beside herself: pressed into Natasha, face wet with her slick and eating at her like a peach but not—not like Natasha'd trained her to do. Not like the times she'd tugged her where she needed her, telling her yes, no, there, yes until on a mission Yelena could slide down Natasha's front, unzipping her catsuit all the way down so that with kittenish little licks hard suction glancing teeth she could get Natasha off in minutes; this was—not that. Gagging for it; starving; tears on her cheeks and pressed into Natasha's body like she'd die without it but—not enough bite; not enough rhythm. Teeth at the wrong times like she was possessed; like she was fitting; like she had no control at all because of course, Natasha realized, she didn't.

Hands off her throat and back in her hair: Natasha pulled her up by the curls and the moment her mouth was unmuffled—

"—didn't do it, like you said, I heard you but I didn't think it was, was important and then Brusilov—he found my wire just like you—fuck I didn't—"

Yelena's face was soaked with Natasha, and with tears. Hands still gripping Natasha's thighs; words pouring out of her mouth and her panicked eyes. She looked so young, Natasha thought, with a clenching in her chest that she didn't—want and could do nothing with.

"You still can't shut up?" Natasha said. Her own voice sounded bruised, somehow. Weak, and rotten. Yelena shook her head, her shoulders shaking.

"I didn't want you to know," Yelena said, her face crumpling. Still kneeling in front of Natasha like some kind of supplicant.

"Come on," Natasha said. "Get up here." She tugged at Yelena's hair, but gentle, and pulled Yelena up into her lap. Ran a thumb under her left eye; then her right. "There are worse things than getting caught ignoring good advice."

"I know," Yelena said. Hiccuped. "That's why it's horrible, that's why—and I can't stop—"

"Hey," said Natasha. "It's just truth serum. Some specialized variety of truth serum; we've all been there. Just. If you can't stop talking, then shut up with the mission details and tell me something about me. About us."

"What do you mean?" said Yelena. "I think they have to be," screwing up her mouth, "things I don't want—"

"Things you don't want me to know. I'm sure that narrows it down for you."

Yelena didn't actually stop talking but she did kneel up in the seat, pressing her mouth to Natasha's mouth, sliding her hands up Natasha's t-shirt. Her knees bracketed Natasha's thighs, the smooth cotton of her khakis rubbed up against Natasha's bare skin as Natasha thought back, and back; and then… sideways.

"Okay then," Natasha said, pulling back. Hands on Yelena's face; Yelena was panting, open-mouthed. "Try this: I can do it for you, no details. What do you want to tell me about catching you in the toybox earlier today?"

"It was stupid of me," Yelena said. Her words immediate, and followed this time by something that looked more like annoyance than anguish.

"What was stupid of you?" said Natasha, smiling; and Yelena scowled at her.

"It was stupid of me to touch the—" Natasha cleared her throat, and Yelena, glaring, said: "—dolly"; Natasha snickered but tried to look politely encouraging. "It was stupid of me to touch the dolly," Yelena repeated, "without looking where I was putting my hands."

"How thrilling to hear you admit it," Natasha said, and opened Yelena's fly; pushed her pants down as Yelena, still scowling, rearranged her knees so that Natasha could push everything halfway down her thighs. Natasha's hands, smoothing up her pretty little ass as she sat her back down.

"And why did you touch the dolly without looking where you were putting your hands, malyatka?" Natasha said.

"I was t-trying," said Yelena, sounding murderous and therefore almost like herself again which unlocked something—tender with decay in Natasha's stomach, "to take the… magic wand… without you seeing."

"Yeah?" Natasha dug her fingers into Yelena's waist; ran her hands up her hot trembling sides to unhook her bra. "Were you going behind my back? Behind daddy's back, too?"

Yelena recoiled; Natasha threw her head back and laughed outright with that rotted-through yielding bruise inside her creeping wider— as: "Fucking—whose back, Romanova?" Yelena spluttered. "What the—"

"Mr. Heron's, then." Natasha gave her a little slap. "Our employer. Were you double-crossing him as well?"

"Yes," said Yelena, looking daggers. Ugly blotches of color coming up on her cheeks and her chest.

"Hm," said Natasha. Leaning in, conspiratorial, to whisper: "Who was your buyer?"

Yelena made a sort of a choking, retching sound, squirming on her lap, so Natasha spanked her bare ass as hard as she could.

"Yurinev, fuck you," Yelena gasped, and Natasha laughed; slapped her again and she moaned.

"Good girl," Natasha said. "What else?"

"What?" said Yelena; Natasha spanked her again.

"Good enough for openers," she said. "What else've you got? Hm? You need more questions? Two nights ago, after we wrapped up research on Trollinger and went to bed. What were you trying not to say?"

"How do you—" said Yelena. She was writhing on Natasha's lap, smearing wet all over Natasha's thighs; her hips kept twitching back toward Natasha's hands like she couldn't wait for another smack but she screwed her eyes shut; face tipped up toward the ceiling. Stuttering, "How. How can you—"

"Come on," Natasha said. "The way you bite your mouth when we fuck."

Yelena stopped breathing but she didn't stop moving, hips or mouth; and then a high, pinched whine and she was gasping again. Shaking her head.

"Tell me," said Natasha; but: "My class," Yelena gasped, "at the Red Room"; as No Natasha thought, no and dug her fingers into the flesh of Yelena's ass. "Class portrait of—of 1993, from top left Sonia Umanova—"

Who was at the Pentagon now, Natasha knew. Personal assistant to a Fleet Admiral, presumably more skilled at long-term undercover missions than her classmate, and was not what Natasha'd asked for, not what she wanted; nothing to do with her at all.

"You'd rather talk about Umanova?" Natasha said, her mouth, for some reason, desert-dry. "Come on: Thursday, in the bath. You took my fist and bit my shoulder, what were you—"

"Vyesna Barndyk," Yelena said, like a recitation, like an address learned off by heart, "Dmitreeva Berezin"; and Natasha, heart galloping in her chest, could think of six people off the top of her head who would pay good money for this information. Financial profit was only the simplest thing a person might use it for and what they'd do to Yelena. What they'd do to her when the rumor reached them that Natasha knew—well, what did it matter, she thought. Natasha should let it. Natasha'd made her share of mistakes; dealt with the consequences; she should sit back now and take notes and let Yelena do the same if she was so stupid she'd say these things instead of what Natasha'd asked. On a free market Natasha had an equal right to anything fallen so neatly into her lap and—and there would be more, she thought. If she really were Natasha Romanova, she would keep listening.

"—Tamara Kasharina," Yelena was saying, "She works at the World Bank now, she—"

"Stop it," Natasha said. "Don't tell me this. You don't want to be telling me this."

"Wanting—not to is the—point," Yelena snapped; almost yelled; so Natasha, hardly thinking, got one hand around her windpipe again, the other between her legs, and lifted her off her lap.

It would mean the end of them being—whatever they were. The end of their ability to work together at all, if anyone knew Natasha'd been handed so much that she'd never had cause to touch; and Natasha—hot, and sick-feeling—steered Yelena by the throat and the crotch and then took her hands off to turn her and half-throw her against the huge curving glass of the window out onto the snowy Alps.

"Helena Ura—kova—" Yelena got out. Natasha shoved her harder against the glass and followed after; bit rough at Yelena's nape. Yelena moaned.

"I'll use it," Natasha told her. She pressed herself hard against Yelena's back; muscled her own thigh between Yelena's which were still hobbled by her khaki pants and her sneakers; and hand to the back of her head pressed Yelena's face against the glass. "I'll use everything you tell me, Russkaya, and the word will get back to the Red Room. If you keep talking you're risking all their lives and we can never work together again."

"I want—to work with you—againfuck," Yelena ground out, and Natasha was at once just—furious, furious that Yelena could be such a child; that this schoolgirl thing which should never have approached exposing undercover agents still embedded in the field, should flush Yelena's whole neck and her shoulders scarlet when that hadn't. Natasha couldn't—she burned; irate: so Yelena'd sell out her whole class and the two of them besides in order not to have to admit to some, fuck, some mundane infatuation. Yelena twisted her shoulder; tried to slither out of Natasha's grip but Natasha livid held her pinned: fist in her hair pushing her head against the glass, pulling back enough to spank her again, again, hear her gasp watch her slippery little snake of a spine and her lungs heaving like bellows and "Voyzlava—Brusilova," she gasped. "She's in—"

"Sometimes in your sleep," Natasha told her, voice stony, "you say my name."

"—MI-6," said Yelena; Natasha incensed hit her again and she gasped, "d-double agent, did the—suka—because I think about—you—"

Natasha crowded forward; pressed her whole naked front for just a moment to Yelena's back. Sucked at her nape with bruise-sour relief flooding her chest as she slid a hand around to Yelena's cunt to feel her dripping.

"—constantly—"

"That's it," Natasha said, into her hair, "tell me. Tell the whole fucking train."

Yelena's breath fogged out against the window. Her earlier tremble had become all-out shivering; shaking; her teeth chattering and when Natasha shifted back—slapped her twice, hard, left asscheek then right and then pushed herself back against her, palm around the front of her hips fingers hooking down-in-up–the girl's moan vibrated with the shuddering of her jaw.

"What else?" Natasha murmured, her wrist twisting up-in; and Yelena said, "I'm—afraid—I'll. Never be you, never be the—same I—hate this, Natalia, I don't want—"

And Natasha caught in riptides of fury and relief pressed close against Yelena, found herself suddenly—apart. Traveling back through Siberias, and Siberias, and feeling in her own face (Siberias) something alien and familiar which she'd only ever seen from the outside in (just for a second, okay, you'll bite off my thumb or break your teeth on the other one), she took her left hand out of Yelena's hair to slide fingers into the kid's mouth. The noise she made: Natasha listened. Knew it well. Yelena sucked and sucked and fucked herself on Natasha's right hand with her shivering overtaxed hips, sucking and shaking and then, still, talking, teeth meeting with enough rattling force they might have broken skin so Natasha took them back.

Remembered the feeling of that loss.

"—focus half the—time because I'm trying to be you," Yelena said. She was sobbing. She punched the wall by her shoulder as: "It's all right," Natasha said. Shoving into her. Giving her all she could of her hands.

"The Black Widow," Yelena said. "Want to—climb in—live inside to—wear you like a, a pelt, like—"

The cool air on Natasha's front. Yelena wailed shakily at the loss of her warmth and her hand and then Natasha spanked her again, driving her into the glass: and again, and again and her wail changed to a panting moaning, both her palms pressed against the glass until Natasha moved Yelena's right hand down, then drew back to hit her again.

"Rub your clit," she said. Yelena shuddered, full body, biting her mouth whining and shaking. "And tell me," Natasha said, as she folded down to her knees. "Tell the whole fucking mountain": and face at the level of Yelena's hot, pinked-up little ass, she cupped her cheeks hard and sudden with both palms; then pulled them apart and leant forward. Tongue out.

"Afraid," Yelena panted, "wanting you is—unh—" as Natasha licked her; sucked at her hole then pulled back for a breath and a slap and dove back in to Yelena grinding out: "wanting you is, is the best thing about me, is the only—thing making me—decent at this, at—fuck, Natalia" so Natasha leant back on her heels, pressed Yelena's hips to the glass to catch her off-balance, keep her from coming keep her there, on edge, and she sobbed and scrabbled and then got her hand back in place to rub at herself, wild and frantic babbling. "Afraid it's the only reason I'm—still here, because I—fuck—oh—"

Natasha hit her again and then leant back in, Yelena's hot sore skin in her palms and her panic-sweat animal-smell filling her head and against her mouth Yelena's clenched-tight asshole, her hips humping back against her trying to ride Natasha's tongue as she shook and cursed and—

"I have this," Yelena panted, "dream" as Natasha dug her fingers into hot flesh, lapping-sucking, humming, sucking, "about—slipping your knife between your—ribs and I wake up—sobbing or, or, or c-coming—"

Through every point of connection between them, that high-buzzing tension drew tight. Natasha on her knees gave Yelena the tips of her nails and her whole open face to fuck back into as Yelena's hand went stiff and slow and she pulsed. And wailed. And pulsed.

And then before she could get her breath back Natasha pulled away. Pulled her down. Yelena's glazed, blotchy face: her left cheek red and squashed where it'd been pressed against the window; eyes red; eyelids puffy from tears; she let herself be led. Let herself be folded down onto the floor, still panting, unsteady even on her knees; her kiss when Natasha got there was kitten-weak.

"Just," Natasha told her. "Keep repeating that stuff. Lie down, let me rub off on you. I think it's worn off enough now that you can just—"

"I think about you," Yelena recited blankly. "Constantly."

"Right," Natasha said. "Good girl. Keep 'em coming," as she stretched out on top of Yelena lying on the train compartment floor.

Yelena crooked one knee up and stared at the ceiling. "I'm afraid I'll never measure up to you," she said, as Natasha clenched her thighs around Yelena's thigh, and moved her hips. "I know I won't," she said. "I know I'll never the same."

"Mmm," said Natasha. She curled her back; bit at Yelena's nipple and the soft skin around it as leisurely she rubbed herself on Yelena's thigh and didn't make Yelena meet her eyes.

"I think wanting you," Yelena said, "is the best thing about me. I think it's the only reason I'm good at what I do."

"Keep going," Natasha told her, and Yelena closed her eyes.

The drug took another half hour to wear off enough that Yelena could be silent. It wasn't hard for Natasha to make the rest of it last that long: just rubbing, gently grinding against Yelena's thigh while Yelena repeated her exhausted mantra. After a while Yelena's hands came up to smooth down Natasha's shoulders; skim the sides of her breasts; but Yelena's eyes stayed closed and her face was turned away and gradually the silences between "I think about you" and "constantly" tapered down to nothing until she just lay there, petting Natasha's back and her shoulders, running her hands through Natasha's hair. Eventually she gave a tiny, silent nod; and Natasha let her speed gather just enough; her thighs clench just enough harder; and she buried her face in Yelena's hair as she came.

Natasha rolled onto her back, after. Put out a hand to feel for the lap-blanket in its plastic sleeve tucked into the seat-pocket. Yelena curled onto her side, back to Natasha, compacted into a tight unhappy ball.

Natasha thought about touching her. Gathering her up. And then thought—'49, hadn't it been. All that snow. How mortified she'd felt; curdled; how hot despite the endlessly-stretching ice on the steppes. At nineteen she could already kill a man and dismember the body without it turning her stomach but she'd thought she would be sick, looking into James's face and telling him all the things that stuff had made her say. Maybe she had once been as young as Yelena, after all. And then she thought of James, how something had seemed to—slip out of place, behind his eyes, looking at her that day. The way his flesh hand had moved and then—stopped itself. That strange confusion he used to get, sometimes; in moments she'd shown weakness outside of their fighting or fucking: times when she hadn't been able to stop herself drawing into herself, bruised and animal-small. Like he'd been trying to—remember. Like there'd been a time, once, when he'd have known what to do; if only he could recall. She remembered watching him, shut deep inside himself. The awkward way he had touched her shoulder; as if the two of them had just met.

"Most of my missions," Natasha said, into the quiet of the train car, "the past—five years, ten. I don't—I only do it because there's nothing else I'd know how. I wasn't—taken from another life, you know, they just. Gave me a false one. I can't even—dance, I remember it but I never really." She laughed, grimly. "I never really knew how. This is—what I do, so I do it, but I don't. Care, or choose, and I'm. Afraid that means I'll slip up. I'm afraid I'll slip up on purpose, and. So many times, lately, the only thing keeping me interested in fighting has been you. And I can't stand you, most of the time."

The drone of the rails, beneath them. Natasha pillowed the back of her head on her arm and watched the late-afternoon shadows on the mountains, bruising the bright whites into purples and blues.

"Is that true?" said Yelena, eventually.

Natasha turned her head, but Yelena hadn't moved: was still faced away from her; so she looked back out the window. Every time the train rounded a curve, she could look down along the track and see the red of the cars show up hot against all that cold.

"You decide," Natasha said, at last, and pulled open the plastic to spread the blanket over them both.