Timeline: movieverse, a year-ish post "Avengers" - prequel to my story "It's a Fire"

Rating: T

Pairings: Steve/Natasha

Disclaimer: Obviously, we know who owns these characters and it's not me. If I did own them, we'd never get anything of substance done, so it's probably just as well. ;)

Author's notes: Unbeta'd, for the record; I'm an impatient sort. Xx, cd


By the time Natalie had finished with her evening shower ritual – her face scrubbed clean of the little makeup she did wear, her ringlets hanging damp and free over her shoulders – Steve was no doubt already in bed. She'd meant to catch him for a quick chat, but had gotten caught up with how nice it was to stand in the hot running water after the day she'd had. If it were anyone else, she would shoot them a text to see if they were awake, but Steve was ever the soldier; lights out was a solid 11 pm, every night.

Knotting her robe closed haphazardly, she picked up the book she'd discarded two days ago – a copy of Valentin Rasputin's Proshchaniye s Matyoroy in her native Russian – resolving to read a bit until sleep seemed closer. Sliding in between the cool cotton crispness of her toffee-coloured sheets, she flexed her toes restlessly and licked a fingertip, falling back into the story like she'd never left it.

She hadn't gotten three pages in when the vibration of her phone against the wood of her bedside table pulled her from the story. The backlight on her phone lit up a simple alert: 1 new message. A quick touch revealed it was from Steve.

- Asleep?

Surprised, both by the hour and by how pleased she felt, she placed the book face down on the richly embroidered green and gold duvet, saving her place as fingers flew to type out a response.

- Not even close.

She waited, knowing better than to try to get lost in the story again; pages of Russian wouldn't compare to abbreviated texts at the moment.

- Can I come over?

Normally, she would have had no problem going to see him. But he lived at Avengers Tower, and even if he had the whole floor to himself, her sign-in would be all over the clearance protocols in the morning; Tony wouldn't be able to resist saying something. No, it was definitely easier for Steve to make the drive to her apartment. There would be a record of him leaving, but it was just a formality. It wasn't prison, he wouldn't be questioned.

- I hope you're already in the elevator.

Smiling to herself as she hit send, she cast a cursory glance around the room. Her style was fairly Spartan; there was no extraneous furniture, just a neatly-organized closet and a plain chest-of-drawers with an ornately carved mirror on top. The mirror matched the headboard of the bed, and the duvet was the only other splash of opulence; there was nothing to straighten before he got there.

Her phone was silent, and she assumed he had indeed already climbed onto his motorcycle, unaware of the subtle vibrations that normally alerted him to a message. Wondering what was keeping him up, Natasha laid the ribbon marker between the pages of her book and set it aside, crawling out from between the sheets again to pad into the kitchen to put the kettle on.

Just as she was dropping the tea satchet into the pot, the delicate rose and lemon fragrance that reminded her more than anything of home wafting up to meet her, the doorbell rang. She hurriedly placed the ceramic cap on the teapot, swathing it in a cozy before slipping to the door. She swung it open lightly, one hand holding her robe shut as Steve stepped inside.


Her voice was a low rumble, tired but warm and pleased to see him.


His voice was even more tired, but the smile that broke across his face was kind, one large hand slipping back behind his head to graze the back of his neck as he looked down at her.

"I made tea, if you want…"

Her words trailed off; she wasn't quite sure what he wanted. But she assumed it wasn't in his manners to turn down a cup, and as he nodded, she half-hid the smile of pleasure that came from knowing she was right. She slipped to the kitchen noiselessly, feeling exposed though her robe was knotted tight around her waist. It was rare anyone caught her in her nightclothes, and even rarer they were invited into her home for any amount of intimacy. And tea was intimate, as far as Natasha was concerned; she wasn't the sharing type.

Wide hands ghosted over her hips as she tipped the teapot over two mismatched mugs. She wasn't surprised; Steve wasn't exactly stealthy with that frame of his, she'd known he had stepped close half a minute before he'd ever touched her. Pouring the tea and setting the pot back on the countertop, she took a moment to lean back against him, especially enjoying the way his fingertips didn't reach for her sash. Her ginger curls crushed against the expanse of his chest as she leaned back, enjoying a silent moment there with his hands resting firmly as she took a sip from her teacup.

Beginning to twist, she raised an eyebrow as strong fingers tensed, holding her in place. Steve waited for her to rest the china back on the countertop, promptly forgetting the tea as he turned her insistently. He looked down at her face for a long moment, weariness evident in his eyes. Even superheroes got exhausted sometimes, Natasha mused to herself.

Meanwhile, Steve was walking the line between curiousity and wonder, seeing an unguarded Widow for the first time. Her hair hung in damp curls around her face, her eyes no less piercing for the lack of mascara they sported. She had the tiniest splash for freckles over her nose, so faint that he was sure he'd never seen them without the boon of fluorescent light, and as he reached a finger up to gently stroke down the bridge of her nose, her mouth quirked into a smile despite herself. They'd been teetering on this edge for months now, and here it was again.

His lips were tentative and soft as they leaned in, closing the brief distance between them slowly, as if giving her every chance to turn away - but Natasha rarely turned away from anything, and this was no exception. Their first kiss of the night was exploratory and unrefined, but full of a terrible tenderness that shocked her more than anything in recent years had. It was kind and honest and classic Steve, and so different than the collections of kisses that littered her past. Her palms rested against his chest, easily parsing the muscles beneath the thin grey ringspun cotton tee he wore, pushing him gently back.

Steve stared at her a moment before letting his gaze drop to his feet, no doubt catching her bare ones in his sight as well.

"I'm sorry. I –" He ran a hand through his short blonde hair, exhaling. "I don't know what I was thinking, you must be tired, and –"

"Hey." She cut him off, affectionately tugging the hem of his shirt as she sidled up against him again, her forgotten tea going cold on the counter. The rust orange and cream print of her robe was a stark contrast to his muted palette, and so different than the Natasha he normally saw, and she fought the urge to distance herself from the situation like she would have done with anyone else.

"Let's go to bed." At the way his eyebrows lifted, she quickly amended her statement, hands instinctively checking to make sure her robe was tightly closed. They still had a few frontiers to explore, and this was not one she'd intended for tonight.

"I mean sleep."

Steve nodded decisively, the faintest blush colouring his cheeks endearingly as he ducked his head, and she glanced away to hide the curve of her smile. Sex was an activity she'd utilised several times in her line of work; it was a strength and a weapon and a power struggle, and she wanted none of that right now. The intimacy of sleep, however, was just that: a private frontier that she'd never shared with someone in this capacity. She wasn't used to vulnerability – actively avoided it in her line of work, even – and she hoped that Steve would recognise that fact.

Gently, she wrapped slim fingers around his wrists, moving his hands from their pull on her hips and tugging him in the direction of the bedroom. The tea sat, cooling and largely untouched, on the counter, along with her toaster and tchotchkes and the day's mail, which she still hadn't sifted through.

The bedside light was still on from where she'd been reading, and Steve ambled around the side of the bed, shuffling out of his shoes and into the sheets, his distraction at being invited into Natasha's personal space tangible but unvoiced. His fingers trailed the spine of the book she'd left in her place absently as he watched her, obviously unsure of himself.

"Are you su—"

"Turn out the—"

They each spoke over the other, the faintest hint of colour returning to Steve's cheeks as Natasha looked down, the tiny frizz of flyaway curls around her face obvious in the wan light. Natasha shut the door soundlessly, the carpet masking her already light footfalls as she moved to the opposite side of the bed. The foreign bulk of Steve's body disrupted the incandescent glow of the bedside lamp, and her cheeks heated gently as she turned her back to him, shrugging out of her robe and hanging it on the side of the headboard, a flash of soft teal panties painfully obvious in the muted colours of the bedroom. It had been a long time since Natasha Romanoff had blushed for anyone, and it unnerved her. She crawled in between the sheets quickly, the pillow top mattress answering each curve of her body as she pulled the sheets up; they tickled her collarbone as she finally looked over to Steve.

He was watching her, of course, his usually easy-to-read face a mask of thoughts she'd never seen before. Unabashed reverence, maybe, not unlike when he caught a glance of her during her workouts and thought she hadn't noticed him watching. Disbelief, too; an echo of what was going on inside her own head.

One hand pressing the sheet to her chest, she looked at him for a while, a silent communication taking place. Tentatively, with a stark honesty that shook her, Steve tugged his shirt over his head, letting it hit the floor as he reached over to switch off the light before carefully moving to settle against Natasha, his front to her back. The gentle slope of her spine rested against his chest, and his fingers ghosted over her ribcage but never higher, eventually settling again on the solid purchase of her rounded hip, the lace edging of her knickers flirting with his palm.

This was new territory for Captain America. Besides the fact that he was easily the most inexperienced out of their group, there was the fact that Agent Romanoff was just that: a coworker. In the last few months as they'd drawn closer, he'd constantly wondered what boundaries existed - or should exist - between them. It hadn't helped that she'd constantly left him wondering how she felt; deliberately or not, Natasha was an evasive woman. But she was an easy one to like. Kind and efficient and deadly... he didn't know where to start on her list of attractive qualities. All he knew was that after the day he'd had, she was what he wanted at the end of it.

The tip of his nose nuzzled the nape of her neck, and despite herself, she smiled against the pilow, her hand resting atop his to allow her thumb to stroke his knuckles meditatively. The familiar scent of her shampoo, unusually strong so soon after her shower, was the last thought on his mind before he drifted to sleep, the tension easing from each of his limbs an illustration of his restfulness.

Natasha lay awake for a long while, her form fitted against his, her mind whirring. This was what intimacy felt like, apparently. At first it was almost white hot, almost painful to relax after years and years of living without it… but two hours later, lulled by the subtle rise and fall of Steve's breath against the shell of her ear, she closed her eyes and slept; she would deal with the morning when it got there.