It'd taken him a few seconds to get around the fact that she'd found him first – it was clear that she’d surprised him. Of course, Natasha had known it all along. For someone with her specific training, it wasn't hard to tell when someone was trying to assassinate you. He hadn't been completely overwhelmed with surprise, but Natasha knew it when she saw it. He’d certainly been collected and focused, but it was betrayed by his eyes.
Perhaps the fact that they'd ended up at a stalemate wasn't unexpected. Where he was quick, she was faster, but his aim was impeccable and whenever he managed to land a hit, it was spot on. His accuracy was deadly, but it was nothing she couldn't match.
From the few times Natasha had seen him, she had barely had enough to time to register his appearance -- blond haired, blue eyed, relatively shorter than normal; it could have been anyone around Budapest – so when they finally stood across from each other, face to face in a deserted café, she couldn't help but study him.
The way he held himself, confident yet calm, despite the fact that she'd confronted him. The slight tension and movement, pulling in his shoulders, as he held his bow level with her chest. His face, composed and serious, as he never once looked away from her. The firm set of his mouth and the focus in his eyes would have normally intimidated any opponent – and it had done so before, they both knew it – but not her. She was different. He was different.
Natasha had killed countless amounts of people before. She hadn't blinked as they'd begged her, pleaded for their lives, and, in cold blood, it was as if her heart didn't exist. The people she killed were like pawns. They were nothing compared to her. The men did a double-take and fell willingly into her hands, giving her everything she needed to now before they knew no more.
But he, one of many assassins sent to remove her from the world, struck a chord within her. And it appeared as though it was the same in both cases.
Tables and chairs discarded, broken and thrown around them, Natasha faced him, gun loaded and aimed right for the freckle that sat left of the middle of his face. A slight twitch of the finger and he could be dead. He wasn't fazed, not in the slightest, as he stared her down, arrow strung and aimed to pierce her heart. Her mind ran quickly, listing and forming strategies. Stalemates weren't common, but they certainly weren't impossible to get out of.
And then, cutting through the tension as if it was nothing, he spoke,
"What's in it for you?" It was all Natasha could do to prevent her thought process from stumbling. She didn't answer. She wouldn't answer – a manipulation strategy a simple as this wouldn't fool her. He was watching her expectantly and, after a few moments, he tried again, "Seriously. I just wanna chat – can you do that? I know you speak English."
It slipped out before she could stop it, "How?"
A smile – that was strange, yet not unseen. He could be sadistic, insane. It'd happened before. "You're not as secretive as you think you are," There was a pause before he added, as if it was nothing, “Natalia."
If she hesitated, it must've shown, because he chuckled softly, breathlessly. Not once in the past seven years had she not be under an alias so how could he even know that? Focusing on him carefully, Natasha shifted, swapping her gun to her other hand easily. "Don't call me that."
"You're not really in a position to argue."
"Neither are you."
Again, he let out a light chuckle. "Alright, Nat—"
He sighed, "Cut me some slack here, I'm trying." The look in his eyes, despite the set of his jaw, was earnest, and it bothered her. No one could be that earnest towards her. He was acting – he had to be acting – and he was damn good at it. "Barton. Call me Clint if you want—"
He looked confused,"...Why? Because that's... my name? Clinton, if you're my Mom though."
"Trying. Why are you trying?"
"Oh, well, it sure beats killing you." Natasha doesn't believe him for an instant. "You're not like what the file said – cold, calculating, and ruthless. That's not you."
"You don't know that."
"Yeah, you’re probably right. Even if you are, you're not just those things."
Her next response freezes on her lips and she stiffens. Across from her, Clint does the same, the faint smile completely dissolving into a grim line. He can sense them too, she realises. There's a light, almost inaudible shuffle of something unnatural and, like a flicker, the shadow near the counter to his left moves slightly. It's almost invisible, but not quite. It's obvious that the two of them are not alone. It takes a few more moments to tell that they are severely out numbered, even together.
Natasha sees his fingers twitch on the bow and instinct causes her to meet his eyes. They're intense, focused, filled with haste and meaning. It's never happened before, but she knows what it means. Even an idiot could figure it out – together if they want to survive unharmed.
Working alone is her forte, but he's right. They're in this together now.
Exhaling, she is allowed only a single moment to collect her thoughts and form some sort of plan when she hears it. One of Clint's arrows goes whistling past her head and, behind her, the distinct and familiar sound of gargled choking. Natasha doesn't have to look to know where the man's been hit. She's killed that way before, straight through the throat. It’s not that she doesn't trust his aim – because, honestly, they'd only send the most accurate, skilled assassins after her – but that could have hit her.
"Sorry, Nat—" it seems to float through the air, despite what's happening around them. Natasha nearly ignores how genuine it sounds, but gets caught on the look in his eyes. There's something there, something apologetic and worried that strikes at something within her chest. It's difficult to believe that it was his intention to save her life and it distracts her.
She senses the hand just as it touches her. Natasha curses herself for not being as quick, yet still manages to grab the wrist, complete with the gun in her hand, and pull forward, turning and ducking under his arm. The man isn't focused and doesn't react in time, allowing himself to be flipped. He lands on what remains of a broken chair, and she finds some sick pleasure in the crack and groans that follow.
In front of her, Clint has shifted, slinging and shooting arrows quickly at whoever dares to come at him next. Several are already down, lying along the floor, barely having made it out of a hiding place. Whoever sent him had been hoping for her body alongside the thugs on the floor.
Something in the corner of her eye moves and she turns without hesitation. Both pistols are aimed at his chest for hardly any time until they've left two, red punctures in his body. Quickly, she moves onto the next one, removing them quickly and efficiently. They hadn't planned this well – amateurs, she realises. They're complete machetes and daggers and brute strength but that's it.
Like flies, they fall easily. There's about three left of the eight when she gets bored. The guns are soon replaced with fists and hand to hand combat but, even then, it's so easy it's laughable. A simple dodge and well placed kick to the solar plexus sends one staggering backwards into a barely standing table. His friend makes the mistake of watching him fall and, within seconds, he's on the floor as well, neck cracked and turned at an impossible angle. The last one goes down as easily as the last. She's at his side and tripped him up within moments, and he lands wrong, one arm under him, the other splayed out across some broken glass. The small groan of pain leaving him escalates into something horrible as she slams her heel down onto his wrist, and she doesn't even blink when she feels the bones beneath her shoe fracture and crack painfully.
Feeling merciful, she pulls the gun from its holster and aims between his eyes. There's a shift beside her and she reacts quickly, offensively, firing off two shots in succession. It takes a single, fleeting moment for her to realise that she was off.
Clint groans and staggers slightly, firing off an arrow haphazardly, before moving his free hand to his side. It comes away slowly and stiffly, matted with blood. There's not much, but the thought isn't reassuring in the slightest. It can only get worse from there. He doesn't haves any free hands and the grunt sees this, taking advantage of the situation, and of his brute strength, to tackle Clint to the floor. His bow goes skidding across the tiles, out of reach.
Her heart is racing now – not with adrenaline, but with genuine worry that she didn't know she possessed. Thick, chubby fingers grab her ankle, and Natasha jumps slightly before hastily disposing of the man. He goes limp under her foot and his hand falls away from her ankle, allowing her to move.
Breathing deeply, she turns and heads towards Clint and his attackers. He's gasping and using his free hand to shove at the face of the man, fingers in eyes and nails digging into his cheeks but, despite this, it's obvious that he's overwhelmed. The man is nearly twice his size and is further beating out what remains of his blood. There are two more nearby, recovering and moving it.
And suddenly, Natasha doesn't know what she's doing. The reasonable, logical, independent part of her minds has obviously disappeared, along with her sanity. She knows she has every possible reason to leave the archer lying bloody and helpless on the floor while she makes an escape, but something holds her back.
'You're not just those things.'
She wants to prove him wrong, to flee and leave him to die like all the others. He doesn't know her. Nobody knows her. He tried to kill her and, if he hadn't, she would've killed him anyway.
Instead, she empties the final shots of her pistols on the encroaching men. They stagger and drop instantly, landing on whatever is nearest to them with sickening thuds. As if it's nothing, Natasha shrugs it off and turns back to the wrestling match on the floor, where Clint is obviously at a disadvantage. She wastes no time in reloading one of her guns and holding the cold metal to the back of the thug's head. He stiffens almost immediately, as if frightened. It had to be obvious – what other result could there possibly be?
Her finger twitches on the trigger with hesitation – she can still escape and leave him to die – before firing the final shot. Silence settles around them, except for Clint, who groans and coughs under the sudden increase in weight, shifting painfully. Without a thought, Natasha rolls the man off of him with her foot, and bends down to him, holstering her gun. Her mind is screaming at her. Everything she's doing goes against what she's ever done before.
Using one hand, she brushes away whatever debris is nearby. Dust floats up around them, causing her to cough a few times. Through everything, Natasha works quickly, pulling a knife from her belt and cutting away the material around the wound. It comes away, stained with blood. Perhaps this wasn't the best idea, but there's no going back from here.
Without offering a glance, she cuts him off, "Don't move. Take a breath." It takes a few moments, but he does so. Shaky and shallow, Clint inhales, his face twitching slightly as his chest shifts. Natasha doesn't waste time, pushing down on the wound with a single hand.
"Ah! Argh, fuckin'—" Caught off guard; he bites down on his lip, stopping the sting of curses that Natasha knows was coming. She can feel her hand warming up, becoming slick with blood, and the pounding of her heart echoes in her head.
Think. She has to think. Strategies lie themselves out in her head, and she can see exactly what she needs to do, first aid wise. However, when it comes down to it, she highly doubts that the groaning, bleeding man in front of her shares her increased genes.
This is a horrible situation. Natasha has never needed to handle anyone else. She's worked alone for as long as she can remember and, suddenly, she's saddled with the man who has been trying to kill her.
Sighing, she puts a hand on his face, turning it sharply to look at her. His eyes are worried, yet there's strength in them, along with something else. Something that never, in all of her life, Natasha thought she'd ever see – belief.
"Clint," she says, not straying from his eyes, "Your phone."
Despite his increasing lack of blood, he's coherent enough to understand, "Pants, front pocket. Speed dial two – call him."
She follows orders easily, trying not to shift her hand as she pulls his phone out. It's sleek and black and, when she flips it open, she's greeted with a picture of what appears to be an eye. Natasha blinks at it.
Clint manages a breathless laugh, "Hawkeye."
It's confusing but she goes with it, pressing the two on the keypad. When it rings, Natasha immediately activates speaker phone and carefully balances it on his chest, within range for him to speak. Other hand free, she puts it on the wound, applying as much pressure as she can without making it worse.
The phone is answered on the third ring, "Coulson."
A half-hearted smile pulls across his face at the voice, "Hey, Phil." Clint, despite trying, sounds breathless and ragged. Natasha pulls her eyes from his face and focuses on tending to the wound.
"Barton, what's happened?" Phil's tone is urgent, demanding.
"Shot in the side. No big."
On the other side of the line, the man swears. "You've been shot. We're sending a team to meet you."
"Ah, you need to... know something," Natasha can feel his eyes on her and she struggles to ignore them. "Hostile is safe."
"Natalia Romanova... she's safe. No hostile forces," Before Coulson can interrupt, Clint is speaking again, "She's on first aid."
Once again, he swears. "Barton—"
"No ...Leave her be." The force in his voice is unnecessary and surprising, and she can't help but glance up to look at him. He's staring at her reassuringly, despite that fact that he's the one shot and bleeding. She supposes that this is what sentiment feels like, and she can't say that it's not pleasant.
There's a pause before Coulson sighs, "Understood. Romanova is safe." He says it with purpose, clearly articulating each word. It's clear that he knows she's listening in. It sounds like a warning, and it hangs in the air for a few moments. "We're on our way."
The call drops out, becoming a series of dull, monotonous beeps in the silence of the ruined café. Natasha gives it about six minutes or so until the forces are here.
Her lips twitch slightly, "Don't call me that."
"Got it," When she doesn't reply, he continues nonetheless, "You're safe, alright?"
Natasha doesn't believe him. She sighs in resignation and focuses on the wound again – it was her fault, so she might as well look after it for the time being. All possible thoughts of bailing and escaping – at least while she still has the chance – sit stagnant in her mind.
Obviously, she's lost it. Listening to the man who tried to kill her is already crazy enough, but actually tending to him after fatally wounding him is downright bat-shit insane.
She sighs, again.