They usually don't talk about what they do. There's no need to discuss what happens in the killing fields, the times when their bullet chambers and quivers are empty and all they have are their hands. The best assassins don't need an object to use - they are the best weapon they have.
Clint is brutal, forceful. Natasha is deadly grace.
They return to SHIELD, strip and shower. It's not sexual, not as the water swirls red around their bare feet on tiled floors. Maria Hill walks in and leans against a locker, waiting for them to finish just out of view. The folder in her hand is slim, eagle stamped on the cover. She taps it against her SHIELD uniform; the water turns off in the next room.
Maria looks the duo over, their lithe and limping forms dripping water on the locker room floor. Natasha stands apart as she dresses in civilian clothes, not looking at the agent but not turning her back on Fury’s rumored right hand. Clint shows his broad back as he pulls on a t-shirt and drops the towel without an ounce of shame. She has one goal in mind tonight, it's clearly written on her face to the few who know how to read her. Maria opens her mouth and Clint shakes his head minutely. The door swings shut behind her.
The woman takes the elevator down to medical, where there is a man with a robotic arm she knows all too well.
Clint stalks out of the locker room and presses the button for up.
“You going to follow me around, Hill?” His voice is a growl.
“Yes,” she answers simply. The bell dings and they ride the elevator up to the roof, where there is wide open space and a bird’s eye view of the city they protect, defend, bleed for.
She brushes past the white coats and slips into the room holding what many consider a dangerous person. James looks up and waves, best he can with his wrists in restraints.
Clint takes a seat, perching on the top of the chair that is dragged closest to the edge. Maria sets the file on the table next to them and leans back in her own cushioned chair. Clint runs a hand through his short hair, ruffling it worse than the slight breeze ever could.
They don’t speak. Cars honk and screech on the pavement, drifting up to their ears on the wind.
She undoes the buckles, unafraid. He won’t hurt her because she knows the triggers. They’re the same as hers, the blank spots in her memories, the blackness that she skirts around in her own mind. There are some things you can’t forget though. James smiles and produces a bottle of vodka.
“Yaroslavl.” Natasha’s voice is hardly louder than the machines whirring all around them. James throws back the clear liquid and doesn’t wince at the burn. They both know the town that’s 250 kilometres northeast of Moscow. The havoc they caused, the death that blanketed the growing population thanks to them and their Soviet masters.
His metal hand reaches out to grasp her thin fingers. She intertwines them together. There is no longer a red star on his shoulder - another blank patch in the history of their lives, as if it were that easy - and she is older than that mission.
Natasha is so old now. They drink a little more, so the bottle is almost half gone.
Maria leans over and puts a warm hand on Clint’s shoulder. “You did all you could.” She reassures him. Clint’s hand tugs on his hair again, not quite pulling it out. Maria watches with cool eyes, one hand white-knuckled in her lap as he leans to look over the edge again.
“Don’t tell me it wasn’t my fault,” Clint grinds out, teeth clenched.
Maria doesn’t say anything to that directive. She isn’t his old handler, the one who knew what would make the marksman explode or calm with a few words. She runs her hand down his arm and squeezes his wrist lightly, a touch she hopes is grounding.
It’s cold on the roof. Colder than the mission was. Clint stares at the city below.
Drunk is not a state that comes easily to those borne in war, but they give it their best shot. It’s more playing pretend than anything else but neither say a word. Natasha’s head rests against James’s bicep, warm flesh and bone wrapped in muscle. He moves over on the cot SHIELD has given him, chained him to on bad days, and lets the woman he taught to shoot, to kill, curl up next to him like the little girl he found hiding in the closet so long ago.
It’s all hair-triggers and code words, half-finished sentences that don’t bear repeating. A jumble of Russian, the smell of distilled potatoes permeating the small white room they lie in. They watch the ceiling, hands joined together, and stop talking about what they do remember.
James and Natasha drink to the memories, drink to forget. To dull the ache, the blood that drips and stains their hands. Their ledgers will never be written in black, no matter how long they live.
They finish the bottle in silence, as doctors rush around to save and heal those who still remember how to live in sunlight.
“You’re not alone, Clint.” Maria says quietly. Her nails bite into her palm as she tells him the truth, a brief instance of pain that she knows doesn’t compare to what he and his partner were asked to do today.
The marksman glances over at the agent. “I know.” He exhales with a rough sigh. The sound is only slightly angry. He sits back, away from the roof’s edge. The short-haired woman breathes a little easier.
Silence falls between them again as the sun dips below the horizon. There isn’t much to say when both parties know the truth. The folder sits on the table, pages flapping up in the wind, a reminder of the past.
Sometimes the best option, the only option, is still the one that can keep you up at night.