Life is frail.
Natasha has walked with death as her shadow for as long as she can remember, has worn it as a cloak, held its hand in the darkness. Death has been her instrument and her ally, she has been its servant and its bride. In later years, death has been a relentless whisper in the back of her mind, a constant reminder that it can still touch her
It struck too close today.
She doesn’t want to think about it, but now that it’s finally over and she can allow herself to feel again, she pictures Phil Coulson for her inner eye and lets the pain wash over her again and again. She need to desensitize herself, get used to the loss before it drowns her.
Loki is not going anywhere for the moment, the Hulk saw to that. Over the comm, she can hear that Stark made it back through the portal, that he seems to be okay. It’s irrelevant at the moment. Natasha hasn’t heard a sound from Clint for the past ten minutes, and she can’t get to his last known location fast enough.
She has at least three cracked ribs and a badly sprained ankle. The pain is bright and sharp in the back of her mind, but she can’t allow it to slow her down yet. Pain, too, can be an ally.
The rooftop where Clint was last seen is empty, but when she peers upwards, she can see a broken window below. That could possibly be a good sign, but his comm is still silent. That means he’s either hurt badly enough that he can’t talk or...
As she climbs the stairs, Natasha knows she should finish the sentence in her head, that she needs to be prepared for what she might find. Life is frail and hope is dangerous. She already had her stability torn from her today and she doesn’t want to lose her heart.
He’s not moving when she finds him. Death digs its icy claws into her belly.
You will survive, she reminds herself. It will hurt, but you will live. Your heart will keep beating, you will wake up in the morning and the world will be emptier, but it won’t end.
She forces herself to walk slowly across the room. No one is watching so she allows herself to limp a little now, taking a little weight off her injured ankle. It’s already been swelling for hours and she will probably have to cut the boot open to get it off.
The floor around Hawkeye is strewn with shattered glass, glittering like diamonds in the dim light. She kneels beside him, feels the sharp bite as it digs into her legs. She’d like to hesitate before checking his vitals, let him linger for a little longer in the shady borderland between life and death in her mind, but it’s better to get it over with fast.
Natasha sits back and lets out a shaky sigh of relief before she carefully pokes his shoulder. There’s no reaction. She reaches for his bow, discarded on the floor beside him.
The moment she touches the weapon, Clint’s hand shoots out and closes around her wrist. Natasha stays very still, waiting for him to wake up properly. If she tries to move too soon, he’ll break her hand.
“It’s me,” she says. “You’re still alive then?”
Clint blinks his eyes open with a groan. “Ask me again tomorrow. Could you check if my quiver has actually lodged itself in my back, or if it just feels that way?”
“Your back is fine, you big baby,” Natasha tells him, carefully easing the quiver over his shoulder.
She’s lying her teeth out. There are a few places where there is a worrying give in his ribs, and she’ll have to tell the medics to check his kidneys. He will live though. He will live and he will heal and they will figure out how to function together again, just the two of them.
There are shards of glass embedded in his arms and shoulders. When Natasha tries to pull some of the larger ones out, he goes ghostly pale and hisses out a curse between his teeth.
“This is nothing,” she says, maybe a little more for her own benefit than for his.
“Have I ever told you how much I appreciate your compassionate bedside manner?”
“I might have missed it in between all the whining.”
“I want superpowers,” Clint groans and swats at her hand when she reaches for another piece of glass. “Invulnerability, a healing factor, anything. I bet Thor never feels like this. Do you think Stark would build me a suit of armor if I asked him?”
He’s talking to keep his mind off the pain and Natasha lets him. Besides, he’s not wrong. Neither of them can be described as ordinary human beings, but they will need to work even harder in the future. The world has changed.
“Can you stand?” she asks him once she’s got the worst cuts taken care off. The medics will have to deal with the rest of the glass.
“Working on it.”
It’s slow going, but he manages to push himself to his feet, leaning on her for support. That back is probably not doing him any favors at the moment, but Hawkeye is familiar with pain as well. He knows how to work through it and get the job done.
Once he’s found his balance, he looks her over with practiced eyes. “Are you okay?”
“Bruised ribs. I’ll be fine.”
Of course he wouldn’t miss that. She shifts her weight so it’s a little more evenly distributed. “Not broken.”
“Are you sure?”
“Is that sure like you were sure in Baghdad or actually sure?”
“When will you stop bringing up Baghdad?”
Clint doesn’t answer with words. Instead, he leans in close and presses his lips against hers, wraps his arms around her, and she can’t help but do the same.
The kiss tastes of blood. She doesn’t know if it’s his or her own. Maybe a little bit of both. Natasha wants to strip him bare, relearn every inch of his skin, find out which hurts are visible to the naked eye and which ones lie deeper. She knows he’s itching to do the same.
It’ll have to wait until later. Loki needs to be secured and there will be plenty of cleanup to worry about. Clint pops some painkillers from his kit into his mouth, swallows them dry and winces at the taste. It’s no substitute for rest and proper medical care, but it will be enough to keep him upright for a while longer.
Today, they fought beside gods and legends, beside monsters and men with metal hearts, went into the fray already half-broken, and here they are, still standing. They were never trained for this, but that, at least, is an oversight that can be remedied.