They should both be in the hospital, and they aren't.
They should both at least have gotten checked over by the SHIELD medics that all the - what the fuck are they calling themselves again? Avengers? Why, thinks Clint, does SHIELD have to have such corny fucking names for everything? fine, all the Avengers - managed to duck by going blocks over to actually get shawarma because it's amazing what Tony Stark can make sound like a great idea when you're punch-drunk on every poison your body can produce. Everyone dodged them, but Stark's his own problem and the other three are all fucking super-human, and Tasha and Clint both know better. But they still go with the others. Because . . . well fuck because fucking demon space whales just flew out of the fucking sky, and it's hard to take the universe seriously at this point.
So neither Clint nor Natasha get checked over by medics, either.
And they sort of . . . half-accidentally part company for the awkward bit. The coming down bit. The bit that hits after everyone looked at each other over the shawarma table and went, what the fuck are we doing? We need to go home and split up.
Clint gives half a moment to wonder where the fuck Thor's going to go, but doesn't really care. It's so not his problem. If there was ever a defining example of a problem that is not even remotely fucking his, that is it. So he doesn't fucking worry about it, or anything else. And he doesn't go back and see a medic either, which he knows is stupid, and neither does Nat (he doesn't think) which she also knows is stupid, because they were just fucking invaded by aliens out of a hole in the sky and they won and by the way three days ago some fucking other alien used a fucking magic glowing stick to fucking push Clint's mind out of his own fucking brain and fuck he can't deal with anything as normal and simple and familiar as a fucking medic.
Might actually stab one if they said something that took him the wrong way. Because there's an entire fucking megathrust earthquake fucking tsunami of hysterical laughter at the universe just waiting behind the fairly thin walls inside his head and that is good for nobody. Not him, but especially not people around him that might do something incredibly irritating, like saying his name, or breathing.
So Clint hits one of his New York bolt-holes that hasn't burned down. He checks himself and curses but gives in and sews the one laceration on his lower leg closed, contemplates painkillers and decides he doesn't need them (which is a fucking lie, and he knows it's a fucking lie, but he doesn't fucking want them because any that would be worth the liver-damage are going to fuck up his head and fuck that and fuck everyone else while he's at it), and then tries to pass out for a few hours and restart the world.
It doesn't work.
He knew it wouldn't
There comes a point where you know people well enough to know what they're going to do even in situations that have no previous parallel, no exemplar. Natalia passed that level of knowing Clint a long, long time ago. Another time she might feel some kind of remembered amusement, at even a barest echo of a memory of the repressed look of tragic oh god why me behind Coulson's façade of Exceptional Patience, from the first debrief she'd blithely (deliberately) answered I knew where Barton would be by then (when the sequence of events leading to the moment she meant was intricate beyond sanity) - - but she's not thinking about Coulson right now. Not even because she's choosing not to, but because when she tries it's as if some part of her, far far below her control, slams the window closed. Refuses. There's no desperation, there's no anger, there's no . . . anything. There's just a closed window, a locked door. So the thought doesn't quite form, only the thought that she would normally have that thought (and how far can that rabbit hole go? all the way to the bottom, she's well aware), and that's not the point.
The point is, she knows Clint Barton far more than that well.
She knows him, and he knows she knows him - and this is why Natalia picked one of her nicer boltholes, one of the ones that happened to be an actual town-house. That comes with basic human comforts. Because it's going to be less than two hours before there's someone knocking on her door, wherever that door happens to be and even if it's not actually a door in any way other than metaphorical.
Because he knows her that well, too.
And Maria and Fury know her, know them well enough to let them be for at least a night. At least that long, after this kind of . . . mess. (Even without Co - and then the window slams again).
Natalia's not sure anything's been this bad. Isn't even sure that the nearest runner up counts because for all the horror of that . . . time . . .it hadn't been the world at risk. But enough things have been bad that Nick Fury knows and fuck knows Maria does. What buttons he, she, they would be taking hammers to, if they tried to do anything other than fuck off and leave Natalia and Barton both alone for long enough to . . . for long enough.
Besides: SHIELD doesn't need them right now. SHIELD won't need them for a debrief until at least tomorrow, because it'll take that long for the city and the world to get beyond okay what the fuck just happened? and they won't add much of use to that until it's time to get into details. Nick and Maria both know what the fuck just happened.
So SHIELD doesn't need them, and they need the fucking time, and the space.
It's been a long time since it's been this bad.
It turns out she overestimated the time it takes Clint to come and find her. She's still under hot water, leaning her head against the side of the shower and willing it to burn everything out but especially the fumes of a burning air-ship and the strange chemical-uric-ozone smell that came when Banner stopped being Banner and became something that no human - or god, turns out - could even hope to slow down, something that wouldn't, couldn't even listen. . . she's still doing that when the doorbell rings.
She ignores it and stays in the shower until she's scrubbed all the blood, soot, sweat and fuck knew what all else off her skin. Then she towel-dries her hair and puts on black leggings and a loose black tank before she goes to the door.
The clothes are a compromise between something that fits with the persona that bought this townhouse, and what Natalia can stand. Even knowing who it is, she takes one of her Glocks off her suit and has it in hand while she checks the video-feed from the surveillance system linked up to the laptop in her bedroom, and then when she answers the door.
The battle didn't damage his hearing, at least: Clint's sitting patiently on the front step while she's at the surveillance-screen, but he's standing leaning on the door-frame when she opens the door. It's somewhat reassuring that he's still secure knowing she's actually here, that he didn't guess wrong. That he'll just wait.
Reassuring that, despite the god rummaging the fuck through his head, he still knows her that well.
"Well?" she asks, when he doesn't actually just wander in and toss himself on her couch or, for that matter, give in to paranoia and go sit on her roof. She may, just possibly, deliberately have bought a townhouse with one window that made that easy. Might have bought it because of that.
(Even Clint doesn't have a satisfactory explanation for why the hell he finds elevation, being way the fuck up on someone's roof, that viscerally comforting. Jokes about snipers and lines of sight aside - and he made them, and so did she - people who feel like shit still tend to prefer being inside a building, or even hiding in a panic room. Barton sits on roofs.)
"How do you deal with it?" he asks, so abrupt she's not even sure it's an answer, that he actually heard her say anything. The words fall out like rocks out of an open hand, hitting the ground and staying with all the weight. His jaw twitches and he waves the hand he's not leaning around in the general direction of both their skulls. "The head stuff. Remembering it. And forgetting. And everything else."
Natalia wants to sigh.
(No, she wants to scream. Somewhere in her gut, so far behind her navel you'd think it was too far to even be in her fucking body anymore, something twists into the shape of cold, sick-cold fear. This window, she slams shut on purpose, this window she covers with eight metaphorical fucking bookcases in her brain; this window never opened, this never happened, and she shoves all of it away and turns out the light.)
She would sigh, if anything like that . . .ever happened automatically, like it does for everyone else. And if it weren't Barton, if Clint weren't the one asking her, she'd sigh anyway because . . . because it'd be close enough to true, even if it wasn't honest. It just is him, and he knows that about her, too. And she knows where such a stupid fucking question comes from, why he - who knows so much better than that - would let it even come out of his mouth, better than anyone else.
So she doesn't sigh and she doesn't say anything: she just keeps her look level, lets the moment of silence stretch. An observer (if anyone could get close enough without her shooting them, right now, even one of the rare handful who'd know enough to interpret anything about this, at all) would probably think the silence was saying something like take another look at me, think for a moment, and then think about what you just asked. It'd be a reasonable assumption.
She's actually telling him that she doesn't have anything to tell him. That there's no secret, no trick, no magic. That everything he's watched from the outside is all there fucking is.
Honestly, Natalia would rather be giving him a silent smack upside the head.
His eyes flick away from hers. His jaw tightens. He drops his gaze and exhales, silent half-apology. And because he's not looking right at her, Natalia rolls her eyes despite it being a choice, not automatic. Who the fuck wouldn't ask me that, Barton? she also doesn't ask, though she might bring it up in a week or so and actually cuff his ear a bit. Of course he asked. Anyone would ask.
What she actually says is, "Vodka," which as jokes go is not really as funny as it could be. He knows that one, too.
When Clint looks back up, his mouth twitches. "Vodka," he says. "Really."
"Yes," Natalia replies. She realizes she's still holding the Glock and puts it down.
"Isn't that a little stereotypical?" he asks, and that doesn't make her happy: Clint Barton resorting to actually being a childish jerk is Clint Barton at the end of his rope. Beyond, even. Not that it's a surprise, it's not a fucking surprise, but it still doesn't make her happy.
She doesn't bother giving him an expression for that one, either, though this time someone else might be able to read the level look and the silence more accurately. But he chews on the inside of his mouth and says, "Can I have some?"
No. This doesn't make her happy at all. But she's not about to make it worse.
"You're not drinking my good vodka to drink yourself into unconsciousness," she says flatly, where good vodka means vodka imported from Russia.
"Can I have some of your bad vodka?" he presses, a glimmer of himself. She just gives him the Look that question deserves.
As if she has any bad vodka.
His mouth quirks up at the corner. "Can I go buy some of the stuff that's an abomination before man and God and bring it back here and drink myself into unconsciousness?"
"There's a liquor store down the street," Natalia says, and tosses him the spare key she'd stopped to get upstairs. "Knock," she adds.
He gives her the Look she deserves for even implying he'd forget. But he is a fucking mess, a total and complete fucking mess, and she does not want this to be the one time that means she accidentally shoots him dead because he's off his game when she's on edge.
Clint's never quite sure why he forgets how bad vodka hangovers are. Not quite as bad as absinthe, definitely still better than cocaine, let's not even discuss heroin, but still: fucking awful. Especially on top of a bruised body and a significant concussion, even if the concussion is the reason he's himself again and not some . . . puppet.
That one's almost funny, considering how often any working SHIELD agent gets lectured about the consequences of head-injury: concussions are supposed to risk changing your personality, not putting it back. Maybe it'll be funny in a week and he can become Medical's even-less-favourite person by having it to toss at them the rest of his career, but right now nothing is funny because after however many hours of sleep he's got a fucking vodka hangover and they are fucking awful.
As this one punches him towards consciousness, the automatic take-stock tells him he's still on Tasha's couch, and that she was even nice enough to throw a blanket over him when he passed out, truly showing that she cared. The lights are all off, meaning she's probably asleep, meaning he really shouldn't open any exterior doors or windows unless he really wants a screaming alarm system and his pounding headache says No to that.
Next question: does he remember the layout of this townhouse well enough to make it to a bathroom before he gets sick all over and without breaking anything?
It turns out the answer is yes because the bathroom has a night-light on along with a towel, soap, a tooth-brush, mouthwash and ibuprofen all neatly in their places on the sink. He notices that after he's done emptying his stomach. Leaning back against the wall, all he can think is huh.
Tasha must actually be worried about him.
He's pretty sure this is hangover, that he's not still drunk - that the nausea's from just how fucking bad his head hurts, not because he's still got fantastic little poisons all over his system. Which means if he can make himself take the drugs and drink the water he'll feel better. Especially if he crawls under hot running water for a while, too. He can probably make himself do that.
And eventually he manages to make the paranoia give way under the relentless logic that if someone could sneak into Tasha's bolthole now, without him hearing, without any signs of a struggle (or for that matter smells, given blood and death and gunfire are all pretty fucking pungent), and manage to make everything look and feel normal enough not to have actually set off any radar, and then actually have poisoned or (bluntly) roofied the (he notes as he reaches up to pull the bottle down to look at) unopened bottle of fucking ibuprofen . . . well at that point he's fucked anyway so who cares? And when he manages that, he only throws up one round of water and pills before he keeps the second down.
It occurs to him that might be the concussion, and he might be a real fucking moron for not checking in with the medics.
He showers, for the second time since aliens started trying to take over the world, and he tries to remember what he actually said as he determinedly put a layer of Smirnoff between him and the rest of the world. He's pretty sure some of it was really stupid shit to say to say to anyone, let alone Nat, but he's also pretty sure if she hadn't been up to him being a fucking idiot she'd either've told him to fuck off, or forbidden him to get drunk - at least, that drunk. Not like she doesn't know what happens when he is.
He throws his shirt in front of the laundry machine because he thinks he can smell vomit on it somewhere, but he drags his jeans back on because as far as he can smell they're clear, and if he can't smell it nobody else can either, so to hell with it.
When he makes his way up the stairs, he makes sure not to be quiet. And when he gets to the doorway of her room, he taps on the door-frame three times fast, once slow, and then two more times fast.
Then he stops there.
Tasha's sleeping with her hand under her pillow. Some of the bruises he can see are going to be spectacular, making him wonder what some of his look like.
But mostly he's wondering what Loki said to her, and if she's ever going to explain whatever was hiding behind I've been compromised. She might not. There's a lot of stuff like that - where he knows what it meant to her, but not what exactly happened. He accepts it, but that doesn't mean he doesn't wonder. Won't wonder.
Without moving, still on her stomach under the covers, Nat says, "Stop standing in the doorway being maudlin so I can go back to sleep."
Clint closes the door behind him and stretches out beside her, on top of the covers, tucking a pillow under his head and relaxing. There's just a little bit of grey outside the window, and Clint says, "If SHIELD calls tomorrow, tell them I'm calling in dead."
"If SHIELD calls me before I call them," Tasha replies flatly, "I'm throwing the phone out the window without answering."