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Oh, I’m going to enjoy watching you wince for the next week every time you sit down.

This isn’t the first time Natasha has watched, unnoticed, as Maria tries to go about business as usual the day after a scene. Usually, there’s a certain languidness to her movements and an edge to her voice that is imperceptible to her subordinates but, to Natasha, speaks of gratification, of satiation. She likes seeing her like that, likes watching Maria’s eyes widen with the occasional flare of pain, then darken, the corner of her lip curling just slightly at the reminder of the previous night’s activities. If she’s honest, witnessing the aftereffects of a scene is almost as much of a rush as the scene itself. Knowing that she’s had that kind of impact (pun intended, of course) on Maria – the kind that leaves her distracted, balancing on the edge between uncomfortably sore and illicitly aroused – feels almost as good as the cane did, balanced lightly in her hand.

This time, though, something is off. The languidness is there, to be sure, but now it’s edged with listlessness, a hesitancy that Natasha hasn’t seen in her before. Her voice is tense, irritable, absent. Natasha watches carefully, evaluating her movements, waiting. When finally Maria forgets herself and sinks into a chair, Natasha’s creeping suspicions are confirmed. Maria startles at the flare of pain, but there’s no spark of excitement behind her eyes. They cast down for a moment before falling shut. Her shoulders sag, just a little, just enough that Natasha might have missed it had she not been watching so closely.

The expression that clouds Maria’s face is disconcerting. Shame? No, not quite shame, though were it anyone but Maria it might be.

That’s not a good sign.

Women like Maria Hill do not come into Natasha’s life very often. Trusting and trustworthy, eager and available. It’s easy, with her. Simple. She can read Maria’s body, read her voice. She knows exactly how far Maria can bend before she breaks, even if that breaking point is a moving target.

It's rare for Natasha to find someone she doesn't have to worry about. Someone who is honest with their limits. Someone who can keep up with her, who can take that kind of pain with relish, who thrives on it rather than in spite of it. Someone who can take just as much as Natasha needs to give. She’s broken a few of her playthings in the past; what a shame it would be if she broke this one, too.

“Agent Hill. Can I speak with you privately for a moment?”

The request is almost formal, certainly lacking the practiced indifference Natasha usually exudes, and Maria picks up on it immediately. She tenses, standing to attention, her jaw squared.

“Of course.”

Natasha doesn’t say another word as she waits for Maria to put another member of her team in charge and fall into step next to her, following where Natasha leads. When they come to a stop outside the door to Maria’s quarters, Maria breaks the silence, one eyebrow rising in a show of amusement.

“Again? Already?” There’s a note of anxiety behind Maria’s wry humor that does not go unnoticed. Natasha can’t blame her for her apprehension; usually a few days – if not weeks – pass between one scene and the next.

Natasha counters with a raised eyebrow of her own. “Are you going to invite me in or not?”

Maria’s eyes cast down again, but she unlocks her door and ushers Natasha inside. She starts to say something, but Natasha speaks over her the moment the door shuts behind them.

“Lie down.”

Maria shudders, trepidation in her eyes. “Natasha, I don’t think –”

“Lie down,” she repeats calmly, then waits.

Maria doesn’t say no. She doesn’t say stop.

Good.

It takes a little while for Maria to comply. She sits gingerly on the edge of her bed, a compromise between Natasha's order and her reluctance to follow it. It’s unlike Maria to be recalcitrant with her; for a moment, Natasha aches to slap her across the face, but she knows better than to do that right now.

Not that it’d be the first time. Natasha’s mouth waters at the memory of her palm connecting sharply with Maria’s cheek, a sharp reprimand for making the mistake of lifting her mouth away from Natasha’s cunt to take a breath. Her head had jerked sideways instinctively, leaving a wet streak where her mouth brushed against Natasha's thigh, then her tongue delved back into Natasha’s cunt without hesitation, rubbing hard against her clit with renewed determination.

Maria never did make the same mistake again. Pity.

The blow had been well within the boundaries they’d agreed upon; it was nothing Maria couldn’t use the sparring ring to explain away, but certainly nothing she was expecting at the moment, either. The sound of it, the prickle of pins and needles across her palm, Maria's startled gasp, the way her eyes stared up at her, pupils blown wide...  

The palm of Natasha’s hand itches to recreate that sensation, but she settles for resting it lightly on Maria’s shoulder instead, applying just enough pressure to guide her onto her belly. She then places her hand squarely between Maria’s shoulder blades, evaluating the pattern of her breathing. They never officially agreed to start their scenes this way, but Natasha likes it, likes the ritual of it.     

This time, instead of running her hand down Maria's back to her ass as usual, Natasha slides a hand up into Maria’s hair and tightens her grip, slowly but firmly, just enough to quicken Maria's pulse. She watches carefully as her breath hitches, speeds up, then slows again, evening out. Natasha holds her like that for a long time.

A long time.

“Does it hurt?”

Maria chuckles, husky and low. “My hair or my ass?” She still has the sass, the cocky sense of humor she uses as a safeguard against her own uncertainty.

Time to take her a little deeper.

Natasha gives Maria’s hair a firm tug, like reprimanding an animal by shaking them by the scruff of their neck.

Maria groans and squeezes her eyes shut, allowing Natasha to press her face into the mattress. Her breathing speeds again, and her attitude changes immediately.

“Yes, it hurts.”

That’s better.

What follows is maybe a bit closer to an interrogation than is strictly necessary, but it’s worth it to see Maria shiver at the flat, offhanded tone of Natasha’s voice.

“You don’t like it. You did last night, but you don’t really know why anymore.”

It takes several long moments and another firm shake, but Maria finally concedes. “Yes.”

“You’ve felt like shit all day, haven’t you?”

This time, Maria responds more quickly, but no less dejectedly. “Yes.”

“Tired. Slow. Hung over.”

“Huh,” Maria breathes, as if she’s only just now noticing the similarity. “Yes.”

“You don’t usually feel like this the next day. You’re ashamed of yourself for wanting that, what I did to you.”

Maria can only nod, her eyes closed tight.

“For taking it and liking it.” Another nod, harder this time. “For asking for it in the first place.”

Maria groans – it’s not a whimper, not quite – into the sheets, and Natasha gives her a moment to collect herself.

When Natasha continues, her voice is softer but by no means warmer. “And at least once today you considered finding me and ending this. Considered telling me you never want to do this again.”

Maria takes a few deep, shaking breaths. “Yes.”

“A part of you wants to end it right now.”

“I don’t know.”

Maria’s voice has that quality to it that lets Natasha know she's in the right headspace. Reverent, contemplative, low and soft, but still clear enough to understand. She hasn't quite reached the point of sounding foggy yet, thick, like a person talking in her sleep.

Perfect.

Natasha releases her hair with one last tug. “Take off your clothes.”

Maria doesn’t say no. She doesn’t say stop.

Maria starts to strip, and Natasha does the same, her eyes still carefully evaluating her sluggish movements. She hesitates for a moment before removing her pants and underwear, most likely as an attempt to keep her abused ass concealed as long as possible. She's never done that before.

Natasha's concern is momentarily eclipsed by the sight of the numerous welts and bruises covering Maria's backside. Less than 24 hours after she'd inflicted them, the marks are still angry and red, but lack the heat and immediacy of fresh wounds. Over the next few days, the sharp lines from the cane and the indistinct handprints will spread and mellow, turn blue and green, the rippling aftereffects of the scene. The deep purple line where her ass meets her thigh is going to linger for well over a week, Natasha's sure of it. That particular stroke had nearly been hard enough to draw blood; Maria had taken it so beautifully.

“Lie down,” Natasha instructs, and this time Maria does as she's told without hesitation. She settles onto her stomach on the bed, exposing her marks but burying her face in the sheets.

For a moment, all Natasha wants in the world is to dig her fingers into those bruises. She wants to hit her again, to make her writhe until she can't take any more, until the tears start to pour down her cheeks, until all she knows is agony and humiliation and the satisfaction of being used and abused by someone who knows her, someone who wants her, someone who wants to wring every ounce from her, until she has no more to give. How beautiful she’d look smiling up at her, all blissed out, high as a kite from the pain, proud of herself beyond words. How proud she’d be of her for taking it.

She wonders, sometimes, if Maria would be happier if Natasha held her afterwards, kissed her, stroked her hair, told her she was proud of her.

Probably not.

She's just here to get beaten and get used, to give Natasha what she needs.

Of course, now is not the time for Natasha to toy with her. She made a mistake; she has to fix it.

Slowly, deliberately, Natasha sets her hands on Maria’s shoulders and begins to rub at the knotted muscles.

“What are you –”

Again, Natasha speaks over her. “The way you felt all day, there's a term for it.”

Maria half-chuckles, half-groans into the mattress. “A bad mood?”

Natasha laughs, careful to sound more affectionate than mocking. “It's called sub drop. It isn't uncommon after scenes like last night's.” She continues to massage Maria’s neck, her shoulders, her upper arms. “You did well last night. I love seeing you like that, seeing you take that much pain. You’re so beautiful.”

Maria exhales slowly, but says nothing.

“You should have told me it was your first caning.”

You should have asked, Romanov. The way Maria asked for it, Natasha had assumed she was craving something she’d had before. She should have known better than to assume. It was careless of her.

“I didn’t think it mattered.”

“It matters to me.”

With that, Natasha sets to work in earnest, kneading out the tension with the tips of her fingers, the heels of her hands. Her hands are to blame for much of Maria's stress right now, but certainly not all of it. There's power in them, strength and dexterity and skill that she can wield and manipulate to get what she wants. She can use them to give Maria what she wants, too. She can slap and pinch and scratch. She can pull Maria's hair, stroke her thighs, thrust her fingers into her cunt.

Or she can massage the knots out of Maria's back and shoulders. What Natasha is doing to her now is not dissimilar from beating Maria senseless, nor is it dissimilar from fucking her until she forgets her own name. Pleasure, after all, is the inverse of pain. Knowledge of one makes mastery of the other so much easier.

Maria gradually goes limp, becoming pliable under her hands, melting into the mattress. The pressure on her muscles draws a litany of small sounds from her, and Natasha is all too aware of how easily she could turn her sighs into gasps, her low moans into desperate whimpers. How easily she could make her keen and scream and sob. Her pulse speeds up at the thought, but she wills it to steady again. That kind of treatment is not what either of them needs right now.

Natasha finishes her ministrations, and her hands still. Maria coils tight again, steeling herself for a blow.

Instead, Natasha lowers herself and presses a kiss to the back of Maria's neck. She might as well have hit her; Maria judders like she did when the cane first touched her the night before.

Natasha doesn't kiss often, has never kissed Maria in all the times they’ve been together, but she kisses her now. She kisses her neck and shoulders until Maria stops shaking, then stretches out next to her on the bed. Bending her knees, she coaxes Maria into curling up on her side, the bruised skin of her ass cradled against Natasha's hips.  They breathe together, just breathe, for a long time.

This narrow, S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue bed is not big enough for two, not really. They fit well enough for now, but it's definitely too small to share for more than a night. Natasha wonders about the people who shared a bed like this one with Maria, in a dorm, in the barracks, in this very room. People she fucked. People she loved. People who loved her in return. People who would rather spend the night wedged between Maria and the wall than spend a moment longer than necessary away from the warmth of her body.

“Do you still want to end this?” Natasha asks softly.

Maria’s response, when it finally comes, is steady and clear. “No, I don't.”

“Neither do I,” Natasha says. “But I do think we should renegotiate the terms of this arrangement. Not tonight, though. You probably want to sleep the rest of this off.”

Maria nods, then asks hurriedly, “Are you going to stay?”

“Yes.”

Maria doesn’t say no. She doesn’t say stop.

Good.