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Gone to the Dogs

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Punch after punch lands with a sickening thud. Flesh buckles, bone breaks, blood flecks, yet her fists fly again and again. A hand, an impossibly large hand, catches her bloodied wrist with ease, dwarfing her slender fingers with its enormous, scarred knuckles.

<<Good, Natalia. Again.>>

The garrote in her hands makes her fingers burn, but she doesn't loosen her grip until the body beneath her crumples to the floor. She lands on her feet. Her arms shake, her thighs ache and her blood pounds in her ears, but she remains standing.

<<Good, Natalia. Again.>>

Swirling blackness crowds the edges of her vision and all sounds around her meld into one low whine in her ears. She struggles for air, but none makes it past the fingers clamped around her throat. Her pulse throbs behind her eyes, set to explode as her own hand gropes lower, lower, desperate. Her fingers brush the hilt of a knife, and with her last ounce of consciousness she unsheathes it, only to re-sheathe it deftly between her assailant's ribs. Air pours into her chest as the blood pours out of his, coating her arm in sticky heat.

<<Good, Natalia. Aga-- >>

Natasha sits bolt upright in her bed, limbs thrashing, sweat beading, lungs burning as she screams.

"Easy," Maria breathes as she carefully moves towards the bed. The only sound now is the hum of the engines and Natasha's harsh breathing as she struggles to come back to herself. This is different from the mindless attack weeks ago, and Maria wonders what nightmares come to the Black Widow.

She doesn't usually get this shift, but she can't help but wonder if the other guards are used to this sight. Maria isn't, and it tugs at her. Her fingers itch to reach out, but she knows better. Just because Natasha is sitting up doesn't mean that she's truly awake.

She sticks to squatting beside the cot, her hand bracing her against the edge as she watches Natasha carefully. There is no gun to put to the side, as S.H.I.E.L.D. decided it would be for the best to keep any weapons away from the Black Widow. "Easy. You're good, Natasha."

The deep, gulping breaths of air quickly make Natasha dizzy, so she forces herself to steady her breathing. Her eyes sweep the room as usual, taking stock of the situation. The room is the same as always, except Hill is unexpectedly close to her. That doesn't matter right now, though. Her eyes fly to her hands, fearful of what she might see.

Natasha heaves a sigh, not bothering to try and conceal her relief. There's no trace of blood on her hands or wrists, under her fingernails or on her clothes. Just a dream, then.

Realizing she must look somewhat manic like this, breaths heaving, eyes wide, hands held up in front of her face, she steadies herself and acknowledges her guard's presence. "Hill. Sorry you had to see that."

Maria shakes her head, and as Natasha calms down, she reaches out, lightly touching Natasha's wrist as if she can ground Natasha that way. "Glad to have you back," she says quietly.

The presence of Hill's hand is oddly reassuring. Against her better judgement, Natasha grips her forearm with her other hand and holds on, squeezing her eyes shut. "I'm not quite back yet; give me a minute."

The touch startles Maria, but she doesn't pull back. There's a warmth at the pit of her stomach that shouldn't be there as Natasha holds on to her.

<<Take your time,>> she says softly, wrapping her fingers more securely around Natasha's arm, her thumb rubbing the inside of her wrist where she can feel the flutter of Natasha's pulse going too fast.

<<Thank you.>> Hill's grip tightening on her arm makes it a little harder for Natasha's pulse to settle. One of the reasons for that is not something she wants to think about right now. The other reason - the main reason - is something that can be alleviated, at least. "Just please, don't grip my wrist so tightly."

Maria hates the way she can feel the heat at the back of her neck slowly creeping up to her ears. It's dark, though, and she hopes Natasha can't see this. It's fucking stupid and she hasn't blushed since the first time she took a woman to bed.

She quickly releases Natasha, a mix of emotions going through her that don't quite make sense. She'd draw back completely, but Natasha still has a hold on her arm, and she can't bring herself to force her to let go. "Sorry."

Slowly but surely, Natasha's heartbeat and breathing return to their normal pace. She doesn't look Hill in the eye, especially once she realizes she's curled in on herself mere inches from Hill's body. If she wanted to, she could lean forward just a little and rest her head on Hill's shoulder, her body against her chest. The thought should be off-putting, would be uncomfortable in many other situations, but right now? After dreams like those? With Hill's arm resting hesitantly on hers, having instantly released its grip when she'd asked? The idea of seeking comfort in another person's touch doesn't sound so bad.

What is wrong with me?

Maria's surprised when Natasha doesn't move or push her away. It only makes her realise just how bad those dreams must have been. She tries not to stare, keeping her eyes on Natasha's fingers gripping at her arm. Her knees are hurting from the position, but she stays where she is. There's little point offering to listen when she knows Natasha won't tell.

Several deep breaths and a firm reminder of how inappropriate it would be to lean on Hill right now manage to convince Natasha to stop thinking about doing just that. Instead, she opts to settle back down onto her pillow. She doesn't move her hand from Hill's forearm, though, even in her new, slightly more awkward position.

"Okay. I think I'm alright now."

"Okay," Maria says softly, failing to find any relevant words. When Natasha moves, she finally looks up, her eyes scanning Natasha's face, making sure she's telling the truth. Her fingers for an instant catch at the fabric of Natasha's jumpsuit before she curls them into a fist to keep from repeating the touch.

For a moment it seems like Hill is going to pull away entirely, and Natasha's grip tightens involuntarily on her arm. She releases it almost immediately, though. She doesn't need to keep contact. She doesn't. That floor can't be comfortable to kneel on for this long; she should let Hill go back to her chair. Not that the chair is comfortable either. Nor is the bed, for that matter, but at least it's a little more padded. Natasha slides closer to the wall, leaving a space large enough for Hill to sit down next to her, a silent invitation.

Maria hesitates; she's definitely not used to seeing Natasha like this. It feels like any wrong move will shatter it, but not responding seems so much worse. She can't help the grimace as she gets up, her calves protesting, and she sits down gratefully, her movements careful as not to dislodge Natasha's hold.

The extra weight on the bed makes a dip even in the thin pad that passes for a mattress. Natasha's body cants toward Hill so she ends up somewhat curled around her hips. At this point, trying to scoot backwards would draw too much attention to how much she's trying to avoid closing the distance between them, so she just gives in, letting her body stay in the same position.

"Good thing you didn't headbutt me this time. I don't want to see any more blood tonight."

Maria snorts and she stays as still as possible feeling the heat and press of Natasha in ways she shouldn't when they're barely touching. "Well, you didn't try to kill me, so it seemed a bit excessive."

There's amusement in her voice, but her expression and eyes are serious as she watches Natasha. <<Who were you?>>

<<A monster.>>

It's true. There's no other word for who she was, what they broke her down and transformed her into. But if she can help it, that isn't who she will be forever. She wasn't always a monster (at least in theory; she can no longer remember a time without violence in her life), so maybe it's possible to transform into something else, something more.

It's the transition that is the painful part. That's why her dreams are always of her training, never of her work. While each kill she made as a fully-fledged Black Widow is something for which she will have to atone, they were each just another day at the office. Each kill she made during her training, however, was a knife-stroke, cutting away her childhood strip by strip and replacing it with pieces of the monster they wanted her to be. Yes, it is the transition that is the most painful, and that's what she's going through again now. This time, she took the knife by the blade and surrendered it to S.H.I.E.L.D. to wield against her, stripping away her years of brutal conditioning (and any intelligence they can mine along with it). This time, it's the beginning of her penance; there's some solace in that.

It hurts to become.

Maria shifts just enough so her back is towards the camera and she can look down at Natasha. She tilts her head, letting Natasha notice how she's blatantly studying her.

<<It is gone now,>> she says when she finally seems satisfied and meets Natasha's eyes again.

"It is never gone." Natasha is pretty sure Hill would have understood her in Russian, but she wants to be absolutely certain. She stares up at her, not flinching away from her eyes.

Maria nods her understanding, and she mulls it over for a moment. "But you don't have to be that person anymore," she tries, knowing it sounds way too simplistic, but she doesn't want to push right now.

Natasha nods. "That's why I'm here. It isn't easy, though, not when I'm surrounded with people who expect the worst from me." She's still looking up into Hill's eyes, her expression pointed.

"You want me to expect the worst from you," Maria argues stubbornly, automatically defending herself.

Natasha wants to glare. She wants to shout and spit and curse, but when she opens her mouth to begin, nothing happens. Her face doesn't even manage more than a slight frown. This is exhausting. She's just so tired. Tired of not sleeping well. Tired of being under constant supervision. Tired of the back-and-forth, of knowing that at any moment there could be a gun pointed at her, and the only thing she can do to avoid it is to keep her mouth shut and her eyes on the walls. Her tiredness doesn't edge into her voice, though; it comes out smooth and even when she speaks.

"How can you still think that?" Somehow, she still hasn't moved her hand away from Hill's forearm.

"You seem keen to remind me," Maria points out, her voice low so only Natasha should be able to hear. She's even more aware of how close they are and how Natasha's hand is a welcome heat, even through the fabric of her shirt. There's a part of her that wants to shift and stretch on the cot and keep this silence, demons and all.

Under different circumstances, Natasha might be annoyed, but now she just sort of chuckles under her breath. "I've, what? Yanked your chain? Pushed you around a little? Gotten you in trouble? That's not exactly my worst. Not to mention, I don't for a second believe you couldn't keep your distance if you tried. You're just as complicit in this as I am."

Maria does glare, but there's no heat behind it this time, and she shifts, turning more fully towards Natasha so they're even closer. She has to brace herself on the thin mattress as she leans down to catch Natasha's eye. "Are you going to ask me for gum now?"

Natasha smirks. <<Not exactly…>> She reaches up and cups Hill's face with the hand that had, until very recently, been firmly affixed to her forearm.

Maria can feel the camera aimed at her back almost as much as she can feel Natasha's hand on her skin. It still doesn't stop her from turning her head into the touch, her eyes never leaving Natasha's.

"I don't have a gun to steal," she reminds her, unable to help herself, but then she's not pulling back either. She's very solidly staying put and calling Natasha's bluff. That's all there is to it, she tells herself.

<<I know.>> This is stupid, probably even more stupid than stealing Hill's gun. There's a challenge in Hill's wide eyes, and Natasha doesn't want to back down from a challenge. At least, that's what she'll tell herself later. Now, she pulls herself up and presses her lips to her guard's, gently and firmly.

This is definitely going to rank up there with the biggest screwups of her life, but everything about it catches Maria off guard. Not the kiss; she walked into that. It's how gentle it is when she expected teeth and fire. Well, there's still fire in the pit of her stomach, which should be enough of a sign as to why this is a very bad idea.

This, this is lips and tongue. Her tongue brushing along Natasha's lips as she digs her fingers into the mattress to at least keep from grabbing her.

Natasha didn't exactly expect Hill to try and dodge the kiss at the last moment, but she did kind of expect her to stiffen up and break the kiss as soon as possible, returning to her chair with a snort and a 'Go back to sleep, Romanoff,' or something of the sort. The feel of Hill's tongue sends electricity down her spine, and she parts her lips, her own tongue darting out to meet Hill's. As much as Natasha would like to claim that she only intended to see how far she could push Hill before she pulled away, the truth of it is she quickly finds herself too caught up in the kiss to play games.

It'd be so very easy to give in, to slide down the bed and push Natasha back. Maria can almost imagine what it'd be like... She can't. She really, really can't. This isn't supposed to be happening. When she considered that she needed to get laid, this wasn't what she had in mind.

The soft sound at the back of her throat when she pulls back is completely involuntarily, and she'll deny its existence if Natasha points it out. She's still left feeling dazed; the press of Natasha's mouth a ghost on her lips, and Maria licks her lips before she can even consider it a sign of weakness. "Fuck."

Natasha settles back down onto her pillow, wetting her own kiss-swollen lips to mirror Hill's movement. Her hand starts to reach up to brush Hill's bangs away from her eyes, but she quickly reconsiders, letting it fall to the bed at her side. For a handful of heartbeats, she can't think of a single thing to say. Finally, her lip curls upward in a smirk as she says the first thing that occurs to her.

<<Do you have any gum?>>

There are no walls now. At least, Maria doesn't think there are because she's never seen Natasha this open. She wonders how long it will last. It makes it so much harder to remain sitting, but the words break some of the tension, and Maria's laugh is almost a bark as she leans her head back. It's definitely safer staring up at the ceiling. <<No gum.>>

"You did your homework. <<Good girl.>>" Natasha almost laughs right along with Hill, but she gets distracted by the underside of her jaw. She isn't going to sit up again and kiss Hill's throat. She isn't. Thank goodness for those high-collared S.H.I.E.L.D. uniforms.

Maria glances down, an eyebrow raised, but the words get stuck for an instant as she finds Natasha watching her. It's so fucking stupid, and she snorts and looks away again. Maybe if she doesn't move too much, she can pretend this isn't happening. <<What did I win?>>

Natasha taps the side of her chin in a show of mock-thoughtfulness. "Let's see… I suppose that depends. Are you ever going to bring me that latte you owe me?"

"I'm working on it," Maria says dismissively. At least Natasha seems to be distracted from the dream she'd been having.

Well, it isn't a 'no.' Natasha would kill for some coffee right now. No. Not kill. Oh, how she hates that expression. She shudders a little and shifts up onto one elbow so she can smirk at Hill again to get the thought out of her mind.

"Then I suppose I can let you choose your prize."

Oh, there's a number of things instantly crossing Maria's mind, and she's pretty sure Natasha can read her too well. "I'll think about it," she decides before she can say anything stupid and make this worse.

Coy is not a good look on Hill, Natasha decides. She doesn't need her extensive experience in reading people to know what comes to Hill's mind. "Don't think about it too hard. The offer expires at the end of your shift," she warns. As an afterthought, she adds, "It's not like I've got just tons to offer."

One night with Natasha Romanoff. The thought crosses Maria's mind, and she tries to nudge it away, but it's a persistent thing. The camera behind them feels more like the crosshairs of a gun. She's an idiot for even considering it. <<I wonder how many weeks they would give me for that one.>>

"There's only one way to find out." Natasha arches an eyebrow playfully, dangerously, daring Hill to make the next move.

"You really do enjoy getting me into trouble, don't you?" Maria snorts and shakes her head. It's about the only way she has to try and ignore how much she wants to take that dare. She has an annoying habit of picking dare to begin with, and that has an annoying habit of ending badly.

Smart, cocky, a little bit reckless and stubborn as hell, Natasha thinks.

"I've gotten you into trouble before, and you've always ended up right back here. I'm sure you're already in trouble again; how much worse could this get?"

"How much worse could it get?" Maria laughs, and she rubs a hand across her face. "I'm pretty sure we're talking court martial if S.H.I.E.L.D. was actually military."

"Good thing it isn't, then." Natasha puts a hand on Hill's forearm again. It's a good fit there, she decides, just the right combination of harmless and ill-advised. "Is that something with which you have a lot of experience?"

"No," Maria bristles, but she doesn't pull her arm away. Pride is definitely another one of her traits, and this one isn't too happy with the implication of Natasha's words or how close they come to the truth. Then again, she does seem to be getting a bad track record when it comes to following the rules.

Natasha knows this is a dangerous game they're playing, and she can tell she's toeing the line between safe and sorry. She doesn't move her hand away, but she changes her tone, fixing Hill with a serious stare. "I've said it before: tell me to stop and this is the last I'll speak of this."

"There is no this, Romanoff," Maria says quietly. It's the only way this gets to be, but there's a hint of regret in the words.

"Maybe not," Natasha tightens her grip just a little bit on Hill's arm, "but that doesn't change the fact that you kissed me back." It's a stupid thing to say, partially because of how much it sounds like it belongs in a rom-com, but mostly because she said it just a hair louder than Hill might be comfortable with. "No one's pounding down the door this time."

Maria's eyes darken as she watches Natasha, and she moves abruptly, her hand pushing at Natasha's shoulder, pushing her down on the mattress. She follows and leans her head down before Natasha can protest or push her off. Her lips are a breath away from Natasha's, but she doesn't close the distance. She keeps her eyes locked with Natasha's. Her voice is low, and there's no way anyone but Natasha would make out the words.

"I am not fucking you in front of a camera," she murmurs, her fingers tightening on Natasha's shoulder, but the way her body shifts at the thought betrays her. "And I'm not going to be the guard who used you." Or is used by you.

The unexpectedly rough treatment makes Natasha's breath hitch, and she feels Hill's words more than hears them. Hill's whole body seems to resonate as she speaks, the almost imperceptible movement of her hips telling of more than her concern over her job or reputation. It's satisfying, almost refreshing to watch Hill's integrity and self-restraint win out over the desire in her eyes. It's enough to break the tension like a thunderclap, Natasha's body shuddering and then going slack. She turns her head away, breaking eye contact and letting Hill win this one. <<Good.>>

It's almost disappointing when Natasha looks away, but Maria can't help but wonder how many people have turned this down. There's a moment when Maria's gaze drifts down to the line of Natasha's neck, but she pushes the thoughts away and returns her feet to the ground, standing up from the bunk.

Her hands are steady, but she feels like they should be shaking, and it takes all her stubbornness not to cast a look at the camera.

<<Try to sleep.>> The words are an order, but Maria's voice is soft.

Natasha doesn't answer, only turns over to face the wall. There's no way she'll sleep now, but she won't give Hill the satisfaction of letting her know that. She wonders briefly how much longer Hill's shift is; there's a dull, throbbing ache left over that she wishes she could alleviate with the help of her fingers between her thighs, but she won't give Hill the satisfaction of seeing that either.

However long it is, it takes way too long. Maria has trouble sitting still. Her body is tense, and there's an excess of energy that takes a lot of willpower to control. She tries to ignore Natasha, but she's too aware of the fact that Natasha isn't sleeping, and watching her becomes almost as much of a challenge.

When the reminder comes that her shift is over, Maria almost bounces off her stupid chair. <<You are Natasha Romanoff now,>> she reminds her before opening the door.