For a while, when they're picking up the pieces, Clint seems like he's doing okay. They're all shaken up, but they're all already moving forward, reshaping the lives that they had around the thing they have now. Things start to level out at SHIELD, and Clint and Natasha go back to their routine, training and fighting and training some more. It's not until then that the cracks appear.
It's all very sudden, the way it happens. Clint is on the range alone, firing arrow after arrow, and he's missing, missing wildly, his arrows ending up all the way in back wall, far off the side of the target. Hill radios Natasha and very carefully tells her to keep an eye out from observation, cryptic enough that no one else would understand, enough to keep Clint's dignity intact.
Clint keeps firing and firing, and he's getting worse. He reaches the end of his quiver, takes it off, and just spikes it, throwing it hard against the ground. His bow gets better treatment, but not by much; he just holds it up and lets it drop to the floor. Natasha stares in complete shock; his quiver and his bow, those are Clint's babies, the things he cares about most in the world.
And then he just walks off.
As soon as she sees Clint leave, she rushes out and retrieves them, stashing them in the weapons locker before anybody can notice that Barton has suddenly gone off. She gives him maybe five minutes before going to track him down; if she gives him any longer than that, she won't see him for hours.
Thank god he's in the first place she looks; anybody who thinks Natasha gives a shit about the sanctity of the men's locker room is really just too dumb to be working at SHIELD. He's standing there in a towel, another in his hands, his skin damp, his face expressionless. "You're having a bad day," she says; it's not a question.
Clint snorts. "You could say that." He scrubs at his hair with the towel for maybe longer than is necessary, like he wants an excuse not to look at her.
Natasha's not sure what she's dealing with here, but she's no stranger to treading lightly. "I just came down to tell you-"
"You sure you want to tell me anything at all?" Clint says, cutting her off, and Natasha knows enough to hear the way that he's holding back, the scream behind his words. "Hasn't been a good idea in the past."
"Anything you said was under duress," Natasha tells him; there's no point in fucking around, not when it's just them. "It's not like being tortured. You didn't have any choice at all. Loki made you do it. Nothing else you could have done."
He throws the towel into the locker and slams the door, hard enough that Natasha jumps, hard enough that it doesn't even make contact, just bounces back shakily. "He didn't make me do a fucking thing," Clint says fiercely. "I told him everything because I wanted to. I told him everything because I wanted someone to know. When he did that to me, it felt good. I don't know how much of the rest of it I did just because I wanted." He lets out an angry sigh. "And don't you stand there and tell me, Natasha, don't you for a goddamned instant pretend that you think it's okay. You of all people know it's not. You're supposed to keep your fucking mouth shut. You're fucked if you do anything else."
Natasha wonders just who told him that; she didn't. There are things you don't give up, but there are things you do, things that are so big that they can't be kept, too much for one person. Clint's supposed to know that by now; Natasha can't count the times she put her head on his shoulder and told him something, sometimes a little thing and sometimes something huge. She's accused of being a pretty cold bitch every couple of hours or so, but that's how it is, give and take.
Sometimes she wonders if Clint's ever learned how to have a friend.
"Hey, fuck-up," she says softly; it's a term of endearment, one of the first things she ever heard him called, when she'd been with SHIELD all of ten minutes and Clint was getting very thoroughly reprimanded for it. Clint looks up, and his face is stony, his jaw set, even though it looks like his eyes may be watering. She steps in and pulls him close, hugging him tight, not worrying about the fact that he's wet and half-naked. "It's gonna be okay." She strokes her hand down his back; he's trembling a little, and he's starting to make the little noises that mean he's trying not to cry. "You can tell me anything. If I get tortured, then we'll just be even."
Clint laughs breathlessly, and then he's breaking, coming apart in her arms. She doesn't want to have to deal with it, doesn't want to have to see it, but it's not about her; it's about him, about helping her friend.
She can't hold him until it's okay, because maybe it never will be. She can hold him for now, and that's what really matters.