“I need to get laid,” Natasha says.
Bucky makes an affirmative sort of grunt from under his flesh arm. The other one drapes off the sauna bench, metal fingers brushing the floor. There's a little pool of sweat under them. He's switched it off so it doesn't overheat in the stifling room.
They're naked, of course. Bucky's fine with it, because – well, she doesn't know if it was the Army, or the Soldier years, or if he was always that way, but he has zero body shame. And Natasha's fine with it because, really, he's not looking. Not in any way that matters to her.
“So get laid,” Bucky mumbles, after about a minute.
“Go to a bar.”
“No offence to the kind of people who pick up other people at bars,” Natasha says, “But they're really not my type.”
Bucky lifts his arm and squints at her. “What even is your type?”
“I don't know,” she admits.
Natasha's dating history is sporadic at best. She dated at SHIELD, for a given value of 'date,' because technically, she wasn't doing it as her own self. Noelle Renaud had a series of ill-advised affairs with senior analysts. Nora Richards tried her luck with the baby agents. Natalie Rushman had the longest relationship, with a gorgeous codebreaker from Poland who (she discovered an embarrassingly long time post-break-up) was actually HYDRA.
Somehow, what with gods and aliens and everything that came after, it just didn't seem like the right time to get back into the dating game as Natasha Romanoff, singular.
“Think it might help if you worked that out,” Bucky says.
“I'll take it under advisement.”
There's a pause that, much later, Natasha will remember as deeply ominous.
“—I used to set Steve up with girls all the time.”
“I wouldn't want to be any trouble.”
“Lady, I'm not allowed to work until October. You'd be doing me a favour.”
Natasha smiles. “Bored, Barnes?”
“Terminally.” He levers himself into a sitting position. “C'mon, let me throw beautiful women at you, it'll be fun.”
“Okay, just – don't tell anyone?” She grimaces. “I'd never hear the end of it from Clint. Or Stark, for that matter. Going on dates like a sixteen-year-old.”
“Weren't you an internationally feared assassin when you were sixteen?”
“Touché,” Natasha says. “Well, if you're willing to stump on my behalf, more power to you. In the meantime, I'm about to turn into a raisin. Want to go monopolize the roof?”
Bucky's grin is immediate and wicked. “Oh fuck yes.”
Natasha applies sunscreen like it's going out of style, but Bucky doesn't bother. He and Steve shed even the worst sunburns in less than half an hour, so everyone is pretty convinced they can't suffer long-term cell damage. It doesn't mean they're safe from Clint running around after them and slapping their temporarily red necks, but since that usually gets him thrown in the pool, Natasha doesn't bother refereeing.
Either way, Bucky covers the metal arm with a towel, because the contact burns from that are a lot less funny.
JARVIS switches off between their current playlists. Natasha's is a long queue of bouncy indie pop, while Bucky is catching up on the century's chart-toppers. (He's up to the 80's. There's been a lot of Michael Jackson in Natasha's life lately.) It should be dissonant, but she likes the interplay.
Natasha drifts. If she follows the music, she can almost forget she's at the top of a skyscraper filled with crazy superheroes and mad scientists. The gentle sounds of the wave pool lull her down, away from stress, away from all her problems.
“Captain Rogers is requesting permission to access the roof,” JARVIS says.
Bucky flops his head in her direction. “Your call.”
“Is he going to spontaneously combust?”
“Nat, he lived on a train with thirty showgirls in 1943.”
“JARVIS, let him up,” Natasha says.
“Should we tell him about—”
“Don't say anything,” Natasha hisses as Steve approaches.
“Sorry I wrecked your zen,” Steve says. “Tony says there's a helicopter landing on the roof in twenty, figured I'd better warn you. Buck, are you aiming for 'tan' or 'human panini'? Hi, Nat. I like your nail polish.”
She wiggles her nuclear-waste-green toes. “Thanks.”
“Hey, Steve,” Bucky says. “We're gonna find Nat a dame, okay?”
Natasha shoves Bucky into the pool.
“If I'm doing this, I'm going to need to buy some date clothes,” Natasha says ruefully, contemplating the sad state of her closet. After the infestation of hyper-moths six months ago, she hasn't bothered to replace anything that wasn't strictly practical.
Steve, inspecting her highest stilettos, says, “Care for a second opinion?”
Natasha does a double-take and narrows her eyes at him. “Who are you, and what have you done with Steven Rogers?”
“You hate shopping!”
“I hate shopping for myself,” Steve clarifies. “Shopping with ladies is fun.”
“For a bi guy, you do a pretty good impression of gay stereotypes.”
Bucky walks into the room right as Steve lisps, “Honey, stop, I am so butch.” He turns around and walks right back out again.
“Get back here, Barnes!” Natasha growls.
Bucky pokes his head around the door, looking moderately skeptical.
“Can I trust Steve's opinion on clothes?”
Bucky shrugs. “Sure. He's an artist.”
Steve grins triumphantly.
Natasha sends Pepper a nonchalant text inquiring about her recommendations for dressy casual. List in hand, she and Steve camouflage up and hit the pavement.
At the fourth shop, squinting at a navy blouse, it finally occurs to Natasha to ask, “Why don't you like shopping for yourself?”
“Not that one, that'll make you look like a professor,” Steve says. “And, uh, dunno.”
“I don't buy that, Rogers.”
He shuffles his feet and takes another shirt off the rack before he answers.
“I guess I'm still not used to buying for this body. I bought my own clothes for years before all of...this.” He sweeps his hands at himself dismissively.
“Didn't you choose it?”
“Well, sure, but that was only for the war. I didn't really think about after, y'know? And, I mean—” Steve makes a frustrated gesture. “Do I mind that I don't have back pain or asthma or ulcers anymore? Hell no. But.”
He goes quiet. Natasha finishes: “But it's not you.”
“But it's not me,” he agrees. “I still don't recognize myself in the mirror, sometimes.”
“Well, maybe when you retire, Stark can invent a shrink ray,” she jokes, hoping it's the right thing to say.
It is. Steve laughs loudly enough to attract the attention of two sales clerks and a baby.
At the very least, it puts her fashion woes into perspective.
Steve, because the universe hates her, has a mission on her first date night. Bucky stands next to her in the mirror, holding his elbows and looking lost. Natasha frowns at her reflection.
“This is a lot harder when I'm not dressing for a character,” she says.
“You are dressing for a character. Mild-mannered superhero Natasha Romanoff.”
“We've already agreed that's not my play.”
She doesn't know what her play is going to be yet, but she has time, right?
“I liked the other earrings better,” Bucky says, unhelpfully.
Petra is smart, funny, and has an absolutely otherworldly cheekbone-to-jaw curve. Natasha finds it isn't as hard as she expected to let her guard down, to flirt and ask leading questions. She learns about Petra's younger sister, who works as a stunt woman, and Petra's job as an economic analyst – which sounds absolutely stultifying, but Petra clearly loves it.
In fact, Natasha thinks everything is going very smoothly.
“So,” Petra asks, leaning forward eagerly, “Enough about me. What do you do?”
Natasha opens her mouth.
I'm a superhero, she can't say. I'm a freelance agent. I'm a retired assassin mostly-not-for-hire. I babysit nonagenarians for fun.
“I'm a bodyguard,” she lies, and that's when everything starts going downhill.
“I'm a personal trainer.”
“I'm a martial artist.”
“I'm a security consultant.”
“I'm in between jobs.”
“Maybe it'd help if you stopped lying.”
“And what?” Natasha asks. “Oh, remember when aliens wrecked New York? That was me! Oh, and remember when helicarriers crashed on DC? I was there too! When I'm not running around in a catsuit and killing people for shady governmental organizations, I enjoy knitting!”
Natasha makes sarcastic rainbow hands in front of Bucky's face. He scowls.
“Okay, bad idea,” he allows. “But maybe we can think of a good compromise between truth and fiction.”
“I've tried everything except 'independently wealthy,' and somehow, I don't feel like that's going to get me the right kind of woman,” Natasha grumbles.
“Worked for Tony.”
She glares at Bucky until he flips his hood up and pulls the drawstrings tight.
Natasha goes out for lunch with Agent 13.
It's not a date, for once. Sharon is straight, and she has far too much energy for Natasha to handle. Sharon's idea of a relaxing weekend involves industrial warehouses full of loud music, glowsticks, and sweaty twenty-somethings.
But she's just about the closest thing Natasha has to herself, experience-wise.
“How do you go about dating?” Natasha asks, over appetizers.
“Very carefully,” Sharon says. “I do a lot of background checks.”
“So do I, but that doesn't account for personality.”
“No, or compatibility. You know what Aunt Peggy said to me, when I started going out with boys?”
Natasha shakes her head.
Sharon does a fairly good impression of a crisp British accent: “Don't waste your time on men who are intimidated by you!”
“Well, and a lot of unrepeatable stuff that I don't think is in any way relevant to your situation,” Sharon says. “I think the gist is to be yourself, and if anyone doesn't like it, well, tough shit. They didn't deserve you anyway.”
Which would be a lot more helpful if Natasha didn't have to keep half of herself tucked away under lock and key.
Thing is? Bucky knows a lot of people.
Natasha's not really sure how he does it. It's not artifice. It's not practised. It's genuine charm. She thinks he's aware – he must be – but she's never seen him abuse it. He's one of those people who makes friends by walking into a room and opening his mouth, despite being dumped here more or less out of 1945, despite the fact that the people she knows with his flavour of appalling trauma are almost invariably social hermits. He just nonchalantly collects humans everywhere he goes.
It terrifies her sometimes, to think about what HYDRA could have accomplished if Bucky had legitimately been on their side.
What it all amounts to, in practical terms, is the absolutely obscene number of dates he manages to line up for her.
On her next few outings, she says she's a translator, and it doesn't feel like as much of a lie. She did do a lot of translating for SHIELD, and while she doesn't have much call for it with the Avengers, there'd been a few tense months when Bucky had trouble expressing himself in English. It's about as close to the truth as she feels comfortable moving. Her identity feels much more secure.
But the dates don't get any better.
Bucky is picking amazing women – ex-Navy SEALs and forensic linguists and paediatric surgeons – and Natasha goes home after every date feeling disappointed. It's something different every time, and she starts wondering if it's her. Is she ready for normal dating? Is she just wasting her time?
Natasha starts to question her life choices somewhere around Date #11.
She listens to music, but she doesn't watch TV or movies unless someone she trusts straps her down for it. She works out, but it's preparedness for pitched battle against evil robots more often than not. The majority of the books she reads aren't in English. She doesn't have the typical childhood-to-high-school-to-university-shenanigans upbringing that seems to be a pretty immutable cultural expectation for the average American woman. She doesn't leave the Tower often, which suits her just fine, but it means she doesn't have much to say to “So, what did you do on the weekend?”
Oddly enough, “had my regular naked sauna date with a dead man and crocheted a StarkPad cover” probably isn't going to go over all that well with her dates.
Around Date #17, she realizes: there's nothing wrong with her. For god's sake, she's earned this life. She likes it. She's made it hers; clawed it together from the scraps and refuse of the dozens of people she's pretended to be. She's happy. Happy with her apartment, her friends, her inner peace – broken as it is by the occasional ludicrous near-death experience.
She loves her life.
She's just not finding anyone who's compatible with it.
When Natasha finally calls a sitrep, she and Bucky sit down on his bed to review. Well, he sits. She mostly sprawls, her head on a really atrocious embroidered pillow that one of them brought home from a pawn shop out of pity. She can smell the mushrooms Steve is sauteéing in wine for dinner.
Bucky flips another page and says, “Okay, Caroline?”
“Really wants to settle down and start a family.”
“Fun, but clearly didn't want a second date.”
“Took three smoke breaks during dinner.”
“Has a wife and two boyfriends.”
Bucky looks up, startled. “Really?”
“Hey, you picked her, aren't you supposed to know this stuff?”
“I must have missed that one,” he mutters.
“I appreciate how much effort you've put into this, but the only thing I have in common with most of these women is our mutual love of boobs.”
He looks pained. “That's not enough?”
“If I want to date them, it's not.”
Bucky chinhands at her and opens his eyes very wide. “Golly, Miss R, we sure had it easier in my day. If you wanted a lay, you just went down to Red Hook and took your trousers off.”
She smacks his thigh.
“So,” he says, swatting back half-heartedly, “What I'm getting here is that in a toss-up between Miss Incompatible Kink and Miss Painfully Shy Breeds Goldfinches, you'd just rather not.” Bucky frowns and rustles papers near her head. “What about Library Girl? Suhkbir? I thought you two clicked.”
Natasha snorts. “She was nineteen, Barnes, I'm nearly old enough to be her mother.”
“No way. How old are you?”
“I think I'm 32. 33?”
Bucky gets her favourite smile on his face: the shy-pleased one where everything goes soft. “I thought I was the only one with that problem.”
Natasha pats his knee. “Don't worry, old man, I'll be here to celebrate your ninety-mumble-cough birthday.”
He steals her pillow.
A fairly ardent struggle ensues. She finally wrestles the pillow back and sits on him, hugging it.
“I don't want to go out on a second date with any of them,” Natasha admits. “The spark just wasn't there. Even a friendship spark.”
Bucky sighs underneath her. “Don't tell me you're giving up.”
“Ugh. I don't know. Let me take a break for a week, and then we can try again.”
After Date #22, Natasha says, I'm done.
Her dream girl is going to come into her life out of the blue, or during a rom-com-ridiculous situation, or, hell, she'll fall for the villain of the week, but it's not going to be through an awkward string of disappointing dates with random women.
Bucky builds her a pillow fort the size of a bus. Steve takes her out paintballing.
“Have you ever been to Canada?” Bucky asks, two weeks later.
“In 2006,” Natasha says. “Why?”
“It'd be nice, right? Log cabin in the middle of nowhere, roaring fireplace, bearskin rugs, cozy bunks?”
“I think you've mixed up Canada with Montana. And no.”
“Well, good, because we're not taking you.”
She produces an enormous eye-roll instead of pinching him. “Barnes.”
“Steve and I are going on vacation.” Bucky grins, and it's not one of the ones she's seen before. It's cocky and crooked and clearly planning something, and Natasha is a little bit concerned. “But don't worry, I've set you up on a blind date in the meanwhile.”
“I know, you said no more dates, but I've got a good feeling about this one.”
Natasha makes a rude gesture.
“Aww, dollface, don't be that way.”
“No,” Natasha says. “Don't 'dollface' me, I'm not going.”
“Please?” Bucky uses the expression that makes her feel like she's just drowned a sack of kittens. “Last one, I promise, and then I'll never ever set you up on a date again. Dinner's on me, even.”
“Why am I friends with you?” Natasha says, and he beams.
Natasha arrives ten minutes early, and spends all of them fretting.
The restaurant is nice. Two-martini-lunch-with-Pepper levels of nice. Nice enough that Steve convinced her into chandelier earrings, a lace-sleeved blouse, and high waisted dress pants. She feels like a CEO about to buy a small European country.
Bucky is either very confident in this one, or he's making sure Natasha impresses her. Either way, the only reason she hasn't torn her napkin into little strips by 6:00 is because it's made out of cloth.
When she hears someone approach with long legs in stilettos, she takes a fortifying breath.
“Here is your table, ma'am,” the hostess says. Natasha smiles and prepares herself to gaze into the eyes of—
Of Maria Hill, apparently.
Who is wearing a modest purple sheath dress, nude lipstick, and a single steel hair-stick in her bun.
They stare at each other.
“If you'll excuse me for ten minutes,” Hill says, “I need to go punch a national hero.”
Natasha grabs her elbow before she can get too far from the table. “Don't bother. He's in Canada with Steve.”
“He set us up and then ran away?” Hill slides back into her seat. “Smart man.”
“He's an idiot,” Natasha says. “But he's paying, so I'll forgive him.”
“Well, I'm going to order the most expensive scotch on the menu, then. How have you been?”
“Redundant. You heard they set me up as cultural coordinator to the supersoldiers?” Natasha asks. Hill nods. “They don't need it. Barnes hacked his tablet within a week of being cleared. Rogers has a food blog.”
Hill's eyebrows lift, and then she laughs until she snorts, and all the imperiousness falls away, her military stiffness sloughing off like water. Natasha doesn't have to fake a smile. It's already on her face. She's missed shooting the shit with Hill.
“Are you enjoying working for Stark?” Natasha pauses. “Although maybe enjoy wasn't the word I should have used.”
“I mostly work for Pepper,” Maria says. “Stark pops in about once a month to ask my opinion on paint colours or give me donuts. It's – nice. JARVIS is my unofficial office mate.”
“Better than a flesh-and-blood office mate, I guess.”
“Ask him the meaning of life some time,” Hill says, grinning. “It's a riot.”
Maria Hill, Natasha should have realized years ago, is a total dork.
She loves obscure vintage musicals. She has a photographic memory, but she mostly utilized it to mess with the baby agents. She's a craft beer snob. She has a cupboard dedicated to her father's dusty US submarine memorabilia. She remains the only person from SHIELD to beat Nick Fury's score on Flappy Bird.
Natasha is worried, at first, that they don't have much in common.
But it doesn't seem to matter.
“My mother filled my condo with ficus plants, which, hey, turns out I'm incapable of killing,” Maria says, and Natasha says, “I'm thinking of starting a Stark Tower knitting club,” and Maria says, “New Delhi is beautiful in the spring,” and Natasha says, “So the crow proceeds to drop half a pack of raw bacon on my car,” and Maria laughs like bells.
They're halfway through dessert when Natasha realizes she hasn't lied once.
“You forget,” Maria is saying, drawing a circle with a forkful of cheesecake, “I've seen you naked, high, and ranting about Brezhnev.”
“Potsdam, why will no one let me forget Potsdam?” Natasha moans, covering her face with her hands.
Maria laughs. “We all have a few. My first solo op involved losing my mark in a carnival and shooting an undercover agent in the foot. There's video.”
“I still think Barton wins.”
“Christ,” Maria says, with feeling. “I'll have nightmares about that for the rest of my life.”
“Did the zoo ever get the rhino back?”
“Yes, eventually, but the NYPD never recovered the heroin. It probably turned some poor drug lord into a toad.”
“Clint did finish the mission without getting a concussion, though, so he gets dignity points,” Natasha says.
“Barton gets dignity points for finishing missions with his pants still intact, let's be real.”
Natasha chokes on her last sip of wine.
Maria waits until she's recovered to ask, “May I have the honour of walking you to your door, Agent Romanoff?”
“That's Head Babysitter Romanoff to you,” Natasha says, and takes Maria's elbow.
It's only four blocks from the restaurant to the Tower, and Natasha privately wonders if Bucky planned that too. The walk is just long enough to be intimate without becoming awkward.
Maria walks her all the way to the private entrance, and then detaches to a perfectly respectable distance. There's a pause in which Natasha could politely wish Maria a good night with her hand on the doorknob, and Maria could smile, and walk away. It would be smooth, and professional, and easy.
Natasha's never been a fan of easy.
“Do you prefer coffee or etchings?” she asks. There's a little Bucky Barnes in the back of her brain going YEAH GIRL! She mentally squashes him.
Maria steps right up into Natasha's bubble. Natasha doesn't have cause to regret her choice of conservative heels, because it means she gets to look up at just the right angle. Her heart decides to kick up into her throat. Heat spreading under her jaw.
Their noses are inches apart when Maria says, “I prefer sex.”
Natasha hauls their mouths together.
By the time the elevator doors slide open on Natasha's apartment, Maria's hair has come halfway out of her bun, Natasha's blouse is on the floor, and Maria's fingers are millimetres away from unclasping Natasha's bra.
“Wow,” someone says. “I thought JARVIS was kidding.”
Maria doesn't flinch, but all of her muscles go hard as rock. Natasha detaches herself with less dignity than she'd like.
She grabs Bucky before he can make a break for the sofa and yanks him into in a headlock. He squawks and pretends to try to bat her off as she noogies him.
“You said you'd be in Canada, you ass!”
“Oh, did I forget to mention that we were going next week?”
“You're a dead man,” Natasha hisses.
Maria marches over and grabs Bucky's face in both hands, her expression slate-blank. For two terrifying seconds, Natasha thinks she's actually going to headbutt him to death.
Maria pats him on the cheek instead, and then shoves him towards the elevator.
“Go on, git,” she says.
Bucky grins until the elevator doors are almost shut, and then he salutes.
“I'm going to kill him,” Natasha says. “I'm going to pull out his spine and strangle him with it. I'm going to dye all of his socks pink.”
“If you're not too busy plotting your revenge—”
“I'm going to put ants in his coffee,” Natasha decides, and pulls them towards the bedroom.
In the doorway, Natasha helps Maria wriggle out of her dress. She bounces a little on the bed when Natasha pushes her onto it. Maria tucks her thumbs into the waistband of her underwear and raises her eyebrows.
Natasha makes a noise in her throat. They're only white boy-shorts, utilitarian, practical, but she can see where Maria's soaked through them, and it takes an effort to stop herself from leaning forward and putting her mouth there.
“Romanoff,” Maria says, sort of scandalized – the look on Natasha's face must be a picture – and then they're both fumbling at her waist, desperate.
“Underwear is the worst, why can't it just tear away,” Natasha says, laughing, and Maria says, “You wouldn't really want that, you wouldn't, think of the wardrobe malfunctions,” and Natasha howls with it until she finally, finally gets the fucking things off.
She doesn't savour the moment.
She flattens down and gets her hands under Maria's back, opens her mouth and puts it over the soft mound of her, pressing with the strength of her jaw, not quite biting, her own hair and Maria's in her teeth. Tongues her open so she can look.
Maria's right labia is longer than her left. Natasha sucks at it briefly before she presses hard on Maria's clit. Maria's groan comes at the same time she gets her hand in Natasha's hair, nails on her scalp, scratching right where her spine slots into her skull. Natasha grabs at her and moans.
Maria's feet come up on Natasha's sacrum, resting. Rough calluses on her heels. Natasha has them too: combat wear classic. Maria's toes curl up just above Natasha's ass.
Natasha rolls her tongue and presses in, mouthing against the whole of her. Reaches as far as she can go before she flattens her tongue, licking up. Purposeful, at first, and then sloppy-thorough. Maria's thighs tighten against the sides of Natasha's head. Hand clenching harder in her hair, not pushing, just holding.
Natasha's fingers digging into Maria's waist, the smell of her, and Christ, Natasha loves this. This is her favourite thing. She could stay down here for an hour. She'll stay down here until she sprains her tongue. Wet against her lips, her nose, down her chin, god, god.
Maria's legs twitch when Natasha slips her thumb in and pulls down, teasing, tonguing at her softer. Maria growls like a tiger. Something molten blooms in Natasha's neck at the sound, twisting down her spine to curl in the bowl of her hips, hot and wanting. The bed is too smooth for her to grind down, but her hips jerk anyway. Instinct. She slides two fingers in and up, curling and curling, sucking vicious-hard at Maria's clit. Punched-out groans above her. Natasha hums low and buries her face, harder, harder.
When Maria comes, tight-warm-wet, she doesn't cry out or gasp. Natasha doesn't know how to describe the sound. It's a loud and victorious thing. Natasha thinks, delirious: the sounds we make when we fuck are older than language. Neanderthal triumphant. Living things turning breath into noise. She pants against Maria's hip, rubbing her through it, half-convinced she's come herself.
Maria laughs drunkenly.
Natasha crawls up her body and crashes their mouths together, settling in her lap. Little sips of air through her nose, spiralling higher, halfway to drowning before Maria clutches at her.
She finishes with one of Maria's hands kneading her breast, three of Maria's fingers pressed palm-deep in her, thumb grinding hard above her clit. She doesn't sound like a delighted animal: she comes gasping fuck fuck fuck, oh-oh fuck. Frowny-snarling, lip curled up like she's going to bite. Maria sucks a bruise onto her collarbone while she drifts back down.
She lets out all the air she's been holding in her lungs.
“Go again?” Maria says wickedly, crooking her fingers.
Natasha shudders and turns a moan into a laugh. “Fuck. Nope. Ding ding. I'm out of the ring.”
Maria slaps the bed three times and cries, “K.O.!”
Natasha cracks up. She shimmies between Maria's thighs and falls backwards, Maria's sticky hand on her knee, still laughing. For a while, there's only the sound of their breathing, and Natasha's pulse galloping in her throat.
“Are you staying?” Natasha asks the ceiling.
“Mmm,” Maria says.
Maria isn't a cuddler, which is fine with Natasha, who is reliably informed she moves around a lot in her sleep, and isn't all that fond of someone's weight pinning her down. Instead, Maria flops onto the second pillow and rests the back of her left hand against Natasha's ribs, her rough-skinned knuckles brushing Natasha's skin just slightly every time she inhales. It's grounding. She closes her eyes.
Just before she falls asleep, Natasha realizes her shirt is still on the elevator floor.
When she wakes up, Natasha resists the simultaneous urges to a) snuggle up to Maria and start purring, b) dance around the room singing “I think she likes me!” and c) have a small crisis, because what does Natasha Romanoff – not Noelle Renaud or Nora Richards or Natalie Rushman – do with a gorgeous woman in her bed?
She can't help looking, just for a moment. Natasha has seen Maria in evening gowns, tall and queenly and cold. She's seen her ash-smeared and exhausted, covered in sweat and oil, road rash on half her face. But she's never seen Maria like this. Soft. Sleep-rumpled. Hair loose and a little greasy. There's a crease under her eye from the pillow.
I wouldn't mind being the kind of person who wakes up to that again, Natasha thinks, a little awed.
She shakes herself all over like a dog and focuses on getting dressed.
She tugs on sweatpants and a camisole without waking Maria up. Sound sleeper goes on her mental list, alongside likes cats and suits jewel tones and that sound she makes when she comes.
Just in case, she leaves a green post-it note on her pillow that reads: Gone to torture a supersoldier, brb.
“Holy sex hair,” Steve says. “I was going to ask how your date went, but I think I have my answer. Bucky's still in bed.”
Natasha waves at him and sets off down the hall.
“Don't murder him too much!” Steve calls.
Bucky is either dead-tired or losing his touch, because she makes it all the way to the side of the bed before he wakes up, eyes wild. She pins his shoulders and plants a big wet kiss on his cheek.
“Ugh, morning breath!”
“That's pussy breath, you manipulative jerk,” Natasha says gleefully. “We'll talk about how I'm going to kick your ass later, but right now, I'm too happy to care. I owe you ten shoulder massages.”
He shuts his eyes and rolls over. “M'glad.”
Something occurs to her.
“Why were you in my apartment, anyway?”
“Was gonna console you,” Bucky mumbles.
Natasha gapes at him. “I thought you said she was a sure thing!”
“You're awful. Did you at least rescue my blouse?”
“Mnnnrr,” Bucky says, and pulls the sheets over his head.
“You two want breakfast?” Steve asks when Natasha comes back to the kitchen.
“I'd have to wake her up.”
As she says it, she hears the sound of someone padding barefoot on tile.
“No need,” Maria says, rubbing one eye with the heel of her hand. She's wearing a pair of Natasha's pyjama pants. The ones with little spiders all over them, courtesy of Clint. Natasha licks her upper lip unconsciously. “JARVIS sent me up. Did I hear food?”
“Yup,” Steve says. “I've got that tea you like – um, somewhere in the pantry. If you're feeling brave.”
“The brave little toaster, that's me,” Maria says, and shuffles through the door.
Natasha catches Steve looking at her. “What?”
“Nothing,” he says, turning back to the stove.
“You are disgustingly happy,” Natasha says accusingly. “If I didn't know any better...”
He flicks the kettle on.
“Buck failed at finding me a girl every weekend for about ten years,” Steve says fondly. “He's the worst matchmaker ever. I may have taken pity on the both of you and...made a suggestion.”
“You're lucky you're cute,” Natasha growls, as Maria emerges from the pantry, Earl Grey held triumphantly high. She kisses Natasha's hair on her way to the kettle.
“You know what this sauna needs?” Maria asks. She taps her foot to Lady Percy. Natasha's head is pillowed on her thigh. “Aromatherapy oils.”
“See, you have good ideas,” Bucky says, getting up to pour water on the rocks. “That's the second reason why I like you.”
“What's the first?”
“Because you smack me way less than – agh! Nat!”
“Don't taunt the woman with the pinchy toes, Barnes.”
“Never mind,” Bucky grumbles. “I hate you both. Break up immediately.”
“You love us,” Natasha says smugly.
“Yeah. God help me. If you get married, I'm your best man, right?”
“You can be the flower girl.”
He empties the ladle on her head.