Natasha's curled up on her couch scrolling through a new file Fury had just sent her when she hears the faint sound of one of the ceiling tiles being moved. Natasha smothers a smile by taking a sip of tea. She places the mug back on the coffee table and waits.
"I have a problem," Clint says from somewhere behind Natasha's shoulder.
"Took you long enough," Natasha says. She tucks her feet under her thighs and pats the cushion beside her.
Clint vaults over the back of the couch and settles in. His face is serious and solemn as he stares at her. She stares back. He breaks first.
"It's about Steve."
"What did you do?" Natasha says before she's able to stop herself. It's not that she thinks Clint would ever intentionally do anything to harm Steve - on purpose, at least - but the man does possess the emotional maturity of a cumquat at times, and both he and Steve certainly have their issues.
Clint scowls. "Nice," he says. "And nothing. Yet."
Natasha narrows her eyes. "What do you mean, yet?"
Clint sighs and starts picking at the material on the back of the couch. Natasha is just barely able to refrain from smacking his hand.
"I just..." Clint pauses. The frown lines around his mouth deepen. "What do you think of us?"
"I... Who? You and Steve?"
"What do you mean, what do I think of you?" Natasha asks. "Do you mean the two of you as a couple, or-"
"Yeah," Clint says. "What do you think of me and Steve together?"
Natasha squirms a bit. "Clint, you know me; are you really sure I'm the one you want to talk to about this?" Natasha hasn't had any long-term relationships since she was recruited by S.H.E.I.L.D., and the ones previous to that are best left in a cold, dark box buried in an old government installation in Siberia. "I'm not exactly one for, you know... feelings or whatever."
Clint snorts. "And you think I am?" he asks. "When I wanted to know how to woo the guy, I went to Darcy. When we needed to get a reinforced, super-soldier-proof bed frame, I went to Tony. When I wanted to know where to take him for our one month anniversary, I went to Pepper. But what I need right now is the truth, and for that I will always come to you."
Natasha wants to take a moment to bask in one of the best compliments she's ever received, except her brain seems to be stuck on something else. "You went to Darcy for wooing advice?"
Clint honest-to-God blushes. "Yeah, that was um... It worked, though." He gives Natasha a sheepish smile.
"I expect you to share that story, my friend," Natasha says, already anticipating it. She had given no real thought to how Clint and Steve had gotten together, but she had always assumed that the sexual tension the two of them have together had merely boiled over at some point, and the resulting encounter was amazing enough to propel them into a relationship. However, now that she knows that Clint had actually perused the good Captain - on advice from young Darcy, no less - Natasha wants to hear all the juicy - or gory - details.
The smile falls off Clint's face. "Yeah," he says, "it's a good story."
Natasha, not liking the melancholia that once again surrounds her friend, pokes Clint hard in his thigh. "So, you want the truth, then?"
"Yeah, Nat, I do."
"The truth is that in all the years I've known you, I've never seen you happier. He is good for you, Clint."
"Aw, Nat," Clint drawls, "I already knew that part. The question is, am I good for him?"
Natasha has an obvious answer at the ready, but she pauses and thinks first. She thinks about how Steve was when she first met him and how he is now. "Yes," she says firmly, "you are."
Clint groans. "Nat-"
"No," Natasha says, "you came to me with questions, and now you will listen to my answers. You are good for him. Do you know what happens when he sees you, even if the separation has only been a few hours."
Clint shakes his head.
"He smiles," Natasha says. "And then he loses all tension in his jaw, and his shoulders relax. Do you remember how he was when the Avengers was first formed, how he carried the weight of everything? He doesn't do that anymore. You've eased his burden, Clint."
Natasha sits back, satisfied that she's helped and hopeful that Clint and Steve will be able to work through whatever bump this might be.
"I think I need to break up with him," Clint says.
Or not. Natasha blinks. "What?"
"I do," Clint says with a nod. "That would be for the best, right?"
"No! Did you not listen to what I just..." Natasha crosses her arms over her chest and glares. "I thought you said you wanted the truth. I gave you the truth. Steve's good for you. You're good for Steve. I don't see the problem."
"The problem is..." Clint groans and sinks further into the couch. "The problem is the age thing, okay?"
Oh. "Oh." Natasha supposes that could be a problem. "But you two get on so well, and Steve's getting more and more comfortable in the modern world." She reaches out and lets her hand rest on Clint's knee. "Whatever the issue is, I'm sure the two of you can fix it. Don't just give up on him."
"God, Nat, this isn't something that can be fixed!" Clint says, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "I'm so much older than he is; how the hell am I supposed to fix that?"
"Wait," Natasha says. "You're... Wait..." She shakes her head. "Clint, Steve is in his nineties, I don't-"
"Technically," Clint says, rolling his eyes, "sure. But his decades in the deep freeze don't count, Nat. Not really. And if you take those years away, do you know how old he is? Twenty-five, Natasha." Clint chuckles harshly. "Do you know how old I am? I'll give you a hint; it's pretty far fucking north of twenty-five."
Natasha thinks she understands Clint's woes, but that doesn't mean she approves. "You're being ridiculous," she says.
"Wow, thanks for that."
"You wanted the truth, remember? Well, here's the truth; I think you're being ridiculous." Natasha peers at him. "Is this a mid-life crisis? Are you having a mid-life crisis right now? Is that what this is about?"
"Oh, so you just want to make you and Steve miserable on a whim, is that it?"
"Of course not, but-"
"Then give me one good reason why your age difference is a factor in this relationship." Natasha holds up her hand. "And it better be something more than it makes you uncomfortable."
Clint fidgets, and hems, and haws, and eventually the fight and indignation goes out of him, and he slumps down. He looks so dejected that Natasha wants nothing more than to comfort him. She doesn't, though. Clint can get his comforting later, from Steve, after Natasha extracts his stubborn head from his own ass.
"Well," Natasha says, "I'm waiting."
That earns her a glare.
"Fine," Clint says, rallying a bit of his normal attitude. "We were at a club the other night-"
"You took Captain America clubbing?"
"Steve likes going out," Clint says. "He says that dancing's much easier now that there are no steps to remember." For a moment, Clint has this fond, almost dopey, look on his face. "Anyway, I went up to the bar to get us drinks, and this guy comes out of nowhere and asks how I got such a fine, young piece of tail." Clint morosely goes back to picking at the couch.
"And?" Natasha asks.
"And what?" Clint asks. "I behaved myself. I didn't deck the guy or anything."
"Good for you," Natasha says, "but are you seriously telling me that's all that happened?"
Natasha takes a deep breath and tells herself several times that, while causing Clint physical harm may give her temporary satisfaction, it probably wouldn't be worth the disapproving look she'd be sure to get from Steve later. Even the Black Widow wilts under Captain America's 'I'm so disappointed' face.
Luckily, words wouldn't leave any lasting, traceable marks. "You cannot be this big of an idiot."
"Okay, I'm rethinking this whole truth thing," Clint says.
"Too fucking late," Natasha says. "So, some random dick in a club makes a stupid remark, and you're suddenly willing to break up with Steve? What the hell?!"
"God, it's not just that!"
"What, did someone call you Steve's sugar daddy?" Natasha says scornfully. "Did someone say you were robbing the cradle? Did someone say... I'm not sure what other euphemisms might apply here, but did someone use one of those? Oh, you have a hot, young boyfriend, poor baby. Are you that insecure? Really? Then maybe you should dump Steve's ass and let him find someone a little more worthy." Natasha watches as her last words make a direct hit. There's blood in the water now, and maybe they can finally get down to what's really bothering Clint.
"Exactly," Clint says hoarsely. "Steve needs someone better than me."
"He deserves someone better than me. I'm so fucking damaged, Nat."
"And Steve isn't?" Natasha asks.
"Not like me," Clint says. "Not like us."
Natasha knows she needs to tread carefully. "I wouldn't be too sure about that," she says. "We've seen some horrible things, done some horrible things, but sometimes I think we forget that Steve's a killer too."
Clint looks scandalized. "Nat-"
"He was on the front line of a world war, Clint. His hands are just as bloody as ours are. He's just able to be self-righteous about it." She smirks. "After all, we're the ones who skulk in the shadows, and he's the guy who punched Hitler."
"You know he hates when anyone brings up the USO stuff," Clint says, the barest hint of mirth escaping via the crinkles around his eyes.
"You mean Steve doesn't appreciate Tony constantly telling JARVIS to change his ringtone to 'The Star-Spangled Man'?"
That startles a laugh out of Clint. "He is cute when he gets all flustered, though."
"Oh, he's adorable," Natasha says. "And he's so very, very in love with you." She leans forward. "Now, do you really want to make the big, blond, puppy-man cry?"
Clint sighs. "Nat-"
"Because you will. He's already lost so damn much, Clint. Are you sure you want to take one more thing away from him?"
There's a suspicious moisture gathering at the corner of Clint's eyes. "That's not playing fair," he says.
Natasha scoffs. "Of course I don't play fair; I play to win." She smacks his leg. "Go. Talk to your boy, man, super-soldier, whatever. Tell him your fears, and see what happens."
"He's probably gonna pout at me."
"And you will have brought that on yourself by being so stupid in the first place."
Clint's grin is tremulous, but it's there. "You're all heart, Nat."
"Oh, please," Natasha says, picking up her tablet again, "the only time I have a heart is if I cut it out of someone else." She keeps her eyes trained on the screen as Clint hauls himself off her couch. No more words are said, since Natasha's quite sure the conversation is over now, but when she feels Clint's lips brush the top of her head, she smiles.