A greater power than we can contradict Hath thwarted our intents
- ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ V.iii.
Natasha never wears perfume. All the soaps and lotions and deodorant she uses are unscented. She told him once that smell has the strongest link to memory. She never wants to compromise her situation because someone picks up on a scent she’s worn before. Clint’s convinced, however, that there’s something in her shampoo. When she’s laying in bed next to him, her head resting against his bare chest, he’s sure he catches a whiff of cinnamon.
Or maybe that’s just what he thinks her hair should smell like.
These are the things Clint thinks about, too early in the morning, when he is awake and Natasha sleeps on and he’d rather stop the world than wake her. He’s sure Tony and the others are convinced they’re sleeping together--as opposed to next to each other--not that Clint would be opposed to the former (at all). But right now, it’s just this--Tasha curling her body around him as she lingers in a peaceful sleep that doesn’t come often enough.
Clint’s started thinking of himself as her teddy bear.
Did she ever have one? he wonders. His hand twitches as it lingers on her back. Did Natasha ever have a stuffed animal of her own--worn out from so many nights holding it close just to feel safe and secure, and smelling of every place she’d ever taken it. She probably didn’t, and the thought feels like a suckerpunch to the gut.
Her voice almost makes him jump. “I didn’t wake you, did I?” he says, knowing it really only takes the slightest touch for her to be alert and at the ready.
“No.” She props herself up on one arm with sunlight streaming in through the windows, light and shadow playing across her face. “I’ve been awake for a while.”
God, she’s amazing. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
She’s silent for a moment, then pulls away, stretching. The sheets slide away from her body, and he’s trying very hard not to stare, but she’s just wearing a pale pink camisole and white cotton panties and she’s so damn beautiful it almost hurts. “Your bed is very comfortable.”
“The finest money can buy,” he replies. “At least that’s what Stark says.”
“That’s what Stark thinks .” Natasha rolls out of bed and pads across the room to where she left her pants.
Clint props himself up on one elbow, not even bothering to pretend he isn’t staring openly as she walks away. “It’s nice, isn’t it?”
“The tower,” he says. “Having a place to go back to when the mission is over.”
It’s a discussion she hasn’t let him win since the day she first visited the so called Avengers Tower . From the look on her face, he was going to lose again. “I’ve got plenty of places to go, Clint.”
Veracruz. Paris. She has hiding spots all over the world, one empty apartment after the other. “Yeah, but people are waiting for you here.”
Natasha tugs the dark fabric up over her hips, twisting her body away from him so he cannot see her face. “I’m not like them. I’m not some superhero with a not-so-secret identity, Clint. You know that better than anyone.”
Clint almost traces back through his words, trying to identify the stupid thing he said to set her off but it’s a pointless exercise. “That doesn’t mean you can’t have a home, Nat.”
“People like us never can.”
Her tone is so firm and almost sad, Clint knows he’s never going to win this argument. Luckily, he doesn’t have to admit defeat, because his phone rings at the most opportune of moments. He feels around beside the bed and flicks the phone open on the third ring.
It’s Fury. “I need you and Agent Romanoff in Ushuaia yesterday,” he says. “We’ve got word on a weapons ring moving some questionable material to questionable places, and we need eyes on them. Right fucking now. You’ll be briefed on arrival.”
“Yes, sir. We’ll be there in twelve hours.”
“Make it eleven and make sure you leave any liabilities ,” Fury’s new favorite phrase for Stark and his crew, “behind for this one.”
The line disconnects abruptly and Clint flips his phone shut. He kicks the blankets aside and hauls himself out of bed.
“What’s the mission?” Natasha asked, eyes sharp and focused.
“Fury wasn’t big on the details. Weapons ring with dubious connections in South America.” He heads for his closet, pulls out his uniform. “More info when we rendezvous and he wants us on the move ASAP.”
Natasha nods. “I’ll be ready in ten.”
In Argentina, they are briefed by some fresh young face in a suit who is too eager about the job and his name is Carmichael or something like that, but Clint’s brain is too busy calling him not-Coulson to really retain it. He does retain the important parts, the information on the mission.
“We’ve picked up on unregistered electrical lines running underground through the mountains but haven’t been able to breach whatever facility is hidden there. We have, however been able to establish a link between the activity in the mountains and a supposedly-abandoned warehouse right on the harbor when three teenagers who’d last been seen sneaking in through a window washed up on the west edge of the bay looking like swiss cheese. Ballistics report said Russian military.”
Hell of a way to talk about dead children, Clint thinks, fighting a scowl.
“Your job is to find the connection,” not-Coulson tells them, right before he tells them he’s set them up with two rooms at a run-down inn at the edge of town. “It’s not like you’ll be spending much time there, anyways.”
Then he’s en route back to the helicarrier leaving Clint and Natasha to their work, and by the end of the day they’ve started their surveillance of the warehouse. He’s camped out on the roof of a market down the street, while Natasha’s set herself up in the remains of an old fisherman’s house that burnt half-way down years ago.
Movement in and out of the warehouse is minimal, mostly in the early hours of the morning before the sun peeks over the horizon. He’s never seen more than four individuals coming and going over the course of the first five days, but when Natasha’s finally got enough of a read on their patterns and an assessment of their security she breaches the perimeter and sets up three cameras. She’s forced to make a retreat before she can set up a fourth.
“They must go underground,” she tells him over her headset. “I’m seeing twenty in there. Minimum. And there have to be access tunnels underneath.”
“Do you think they’re connected to the facility in the mountains?”
“Doubtful,” she says. “That would be too easy to detect. No, chances are there’s an alternate entrance and possibly a bunker beneath.”
Clint remembers not-Coulson’s too-vivid imagery. “The west end of the bay, where the kids were found. I think that’s our best bet for an alternate access point.”
“We’ll move on it in the morning.”
For the first time, they use their rooms in the inn. Well, room. Natasha disregards the one booked for her entirely, and crawls into Clint’s bed like she belongs there. Not that he’ll ever complain. He threads his arms around her waist and she covers his hand with hers. If this wasn’t a mission, and the last thing he needed was putting his partner on edge, this would be the moment he tells her he loves her. He just presses his face against her hair and falls asleep.
They move their stakeout into the woods on the edge of the harbor. Sure enough, there’s a hatch hidden in the brush not too far from where the dead boys were found. Clint recognizes the faces that come and go from Natasha’s security footage.
Another three days, and they are preparing to make their move. Clint has Carmichael (or whatever the hell not-Coulson’s actual name is) standing by and ready to evacuate them if anything goes wrong; either way this is going to be their last day in Ushuaia.
Nat doesn’t sleep; she stays up most of the day. Long past the time he’s finished fitting his arrows with the tips he’ll need for this mission, she is checking and rechecking her weapons with a thoroughness that leads Clint to wonder if she’s worried.
“I don’t like the idea of you going in blind,” he says because it’s the only thing he can say. “We don’t have surveillance on that entrance.”
She turns to him, almost offers him a smile. “Just keep your eyes on the cameras we have and your ear piece in. You’ll know when I need you.”
“What’s your plan?” he asks, because maybe if he knows his stomach will feel less like lead.
There’s a hum of electricity as she charges some of her stun weapons. “Shock and awe.”
Maybe she knows him well enough now to see the worry on his face. She leaves her weapons ready for tonight and crawls into bed with him, settling herself into his arms. She doesn’t tell him it’s going to be fine, because there is no way of knowing. This is their line of work. There is always the risk that something will go catastrophically wrong--it’s why he shouldn’t care about her the way he does. But, there’s really no way of changing that.
Her lips almost brush his ear as she whispers, “Don’t worry so much.” She tucks her head under his chin and drifts off to sleep.
After the sun is down, they suit up and move out. Clint sets up in the same burnt house Natasha used for her post, along with her surveillance equipment, ready to move the second she needs him. All he has to do now is wait.
“I’m at the access point,” Natasha’s voice says in his ear. “I’m going in.”
“I’m on the other side,” he tells her.
Silence reigns on the line for several minutes, punctuated occasionally only by a short shout followed by a thud. Clint watches the monitors, the movement underground, the men inside scrambling, caught completely off-guard.
For a moment, it seems too easy; and then the monitors go down.
He snatches up his bow and edges through the darkness to the front of the warehouse. He presses his back to the stone wall. “I’ve lost visual,” he says over the comm.
“Cover me,” she says. “I need five minutes to copy these files.”
“I’ll buy you the time.”
There’s a lone guard on the empty first floor and Clint can get a fix on him from the outside. He nocks an arrow and puts it through the man’s skull, before vaulting through the window. Past the first room, he finds three more smugglers and drops them all. He’s on the stairs, making his way to the bunker beneath the harbor, when he hears Natasha over the comm. But she’s not talking to him at all.
“ You .”
One word, punctuated by a gunshot.
“Tasha?” No answer. “Shit!” He runs as fast as his legs can carry him.
When he finds her, there are five dead men around her and one live one standing over her. Clint puts an arrow through the man’s heart and rushes to where her body is crumpled on the floor. Clint places a hand over her chest, her uniform damp with blood and he can’t quite tell where it’s coming from. Her chest rises and falls in shallow, irregular starts.
“Carmichael,” he snaps over the radio. “I need a med team to meet us at the west side of the harbor.”
“The harbor? But the evac point isn’t--”
“Did I fucking stutter? Get it there. Now .” And then he stops talking because he doesn’t trust his own damn voice anymore.
Clint gathers Natasha up into his arms, her head lolling back at an awkward angle. The halls are littered with her kills, reeking of fresh death, and he rushes past them for the exit. She’s bleeding, she’s still bleeding and he can’t carry her and try to stem the flow at the same time. She has to hold on. She has to.
All he can think is Don’t die, Tasha. Just, please, don’t die.
Clint is a patient man--in his line of work it is a necessity. He knows how to sit and watch and find the perfect moment for his shot. He doesn’t know how to do this. He doesn’t know how to watch the second hand tick slowly around the clock, remembering Natasha’s pale lips and her blood on his hands.
His hands shake--the hands that hold his bow even and firm and steady actually shake--as he sits and stares down the clock, hoping any second will be the one where someone comes up to him and tells him something .
Not the voice he’s been hoping for. He looks up to see Stark practically tearing through the waiting room with his entire awkward entourage in tow. “What are you guys doing here?” he asked.
“We heard about Lady Natasha’s injuries,” Thor says. While he may, for once, be wearing clothes that make him fit in with the rest of humanity, his speech patterns never will. “And we’ve brought you a hot beverage, as I’m told is customary for those who are keeping vigil. How is she faring?”
“Thanks...” Clint wraps his hands around the styrofoam cup of convenience store coffee. “No one’s telling me a damned thing.” Banner stops wringing his hands for a moment to place a comforting hand on Clint’s shoulder. “The med team said she was stable enough to transport her to New York for recovery but...” He remembers how hard he’d wanted to punch Carmichael in the face when he told Clint they were moving her back to the States. They should have just stayed put at the hospital in Buenos Aires where they’d removed the bullet and stitched her up.
Steve takes up the seat next to him. “I’m sure they wouldn’t have moved her so far if they weren’t sure she would be alright.”
“And on top of that, we’re talking about Black Widow, here,” Tony insists with a dismissing wave of his hand. “She takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.”
“You said yourself they brought her here for recovery,” Pepper points out.
Clint looks down at his hands, expecting to see her blood still staining his fingers. “I know. But the doctors keep giving me the run-around. Everyone I’ve talked to ends up giving me some half-assed excuse for why they can’t tell me anything and walking away.”
“No offense,” Tony says, “But SHIELD isn’t exactly generous when it comes to sharing their information, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d let any doctor near Natasha if they weren’t deeply in SHIELD’s pocket.”
Clint takes a hesitant sip of the caffeinated sludge in the cup and grimaces. Tony isn’t wrong. Clint may not be on the innermost circle of the agency, but he knows when there is something he isn’t being told. Something about this entire situation just isn’t sitting right with him.
Bruce sits down in a chair across from him and tries to find another topic of conversation. The others try to keep Clint’s mind off of blood and secrets for a full four hours, before a doctor finally approaches him. “She’s awake.”
It takes every bit of self-control Clint has not to sprint down the hallway; and it’s a good thing he looks somewhat professional when Director Fury steps out into the hall. He acknowledges Clint with a sharp nod. “Barton.”
“Sir? What are you doing here?”
“Just checking in on Agent Romanoff,” he says which is strange because Fury doesn’t just do anything. “She wants to see you.”
And with that, he walks off.
From the doorway, Clint can see her propped up in the bed. She’s awake and alert and watching some birds perched on a ledge outside her window. He doesn’t bother to fight the grin taking over his face as he walks over and sits down on the edge of the bed.
He wants to tell her that she scared him half to death, wants to tell her never to do that to him again, but the first is obvious and the second is a promise she can never make. So, he just takes her hand in his and says, “How are you feeling?”
“Just fine,” she says, offering him a weak smile.
“Really?” He takes in the bandages he can see peeking out from beneath the hospital gown, the IV in her arm, the plastic tubing feeding her oxygen, and the steady pattern of beeps emitting from her heart monitor. He laughs, because he’ll cry if he doesn’t. “Because you look like hell.”
“I was shot in the chest; what’s your excuse?” she says, studying him intently. “When was the last time you slept?”
Clint lets out a long sigh. He brushes a lock of coppery hair back from her face with his free hand. “I don’t know. I think I caught a nap yesterday after you were settled in here.”
She grasps his hand, squeezes tight. “Clint...” her voice seems strange, oddly tight almost like she wants to cry, but Natasha doesn’t cry, so that certainly can’t be it. “You can’t do that. You can’t just wait up worrying for me.”
“What about you?” he asked. “If it was switched. If it was me lying in that hospital bed, would you have slept?”
Her grip tightens on his hand. “I... I don’t think I would. I don’t sleep well when you’re not around.”
“Oh yeah?” Clint slides off his boots and lays down along the edge of the bed. He slips one arm around Natasha’s shoulders and the other low around her waist, careful to avoid touching her injuries or jostling her too much. The last thing he wants is to cause her any more pain. “Why’s that?” he asks, giving her a grin.
“It’s ... comforting.” There’s a faint smile on her lips as she tucks her head against his chest, one hand splayed over his heart. “Knowing that I have someone watching my back.”
God, he just wants to stay like this forever. “I always will.” He leans down, drops a kiss against the top of her head. She smells like cinnamon.
Natasha pulls back, just enough to tilt her face toward his, and closes the gap between them. Her lips are soft and warm and unwavering and suddenly he’s sure he could die a happy man. Clint threads his fingers through her hair, arms instinctively pulling her close. He wants to lean in, wants to touch her everywhere--God he wants to devour her right now. But that's not what she needs. So instead he holds back, follows her lead and returns the kiss in kind. Later, he thinks with the small part of his brain that isn’t completely consumed by the fact that he’s kissing Natasha Fucking Romanoff . Later, when she is better, he is going to do this properly.
When she finally breaks for air, she’s breathless. “Thank you.”
“For what? For kissing you? Because, believe me, darlin’-- that was no problem.”
She lets out a shaky breath, and instead of a flush on her skin, instead of the shy smile or the laugh he had been expecting, she looks strangely pale. And worried.
“For everything,” she says quietly, looking at him the way he’d always wanted her to-- the way he wished she might, someday, in a hidden corner of his mind, in the place that was still stupid enough to hope for impossible things-- like he was the only man on earth. It damn near knocks the breath right out of him.
But the look shifts before he can say anything and the worry comes back, along with something else. If he didn’t know better he’d say fear, but this is the Black Widow and everyone knows the Black Widow doesn’t get scared. Clint’s brow furrows. “Tasha, you don’t have to thank--”
“I just wanted--” The words are coming slower now, her eyes are half-lidded and distant, but she keeps them locked on his. Her hand drifts up, pressing gently against his cheek. “I wanted you to know, how much--”
“You’ve got plenty of time to tell me how grateful you are when we’re home!” he blurts out, louder than he intends because something is wrong. Something is seriously, irreparably wrong.
The moments between the blips on her heart monitor are lasting longer and longer. “Tasha?”
“It’s okay,” she whispers, eyes fluttering shut, hand falling away.
Clint’s heart rate spikes as hers flatlines. “Tasha! Natasha? Natasha, say something. Please!!” But she doesn’t respond, her entire body goes limp in his arms, everything about her silent and still. “No. No, no, no, no.” He chants it like a mantra, like if he says it enough it won’t be true. He shouts her name, praying to a God he isn’t sure exists please--
Please don’t take her, not now. Not like this.
Somewhere, nearby, there’s an alarm. A flood of doctors rush into the room, pulling him away from her, ripping her from his arms. He stands, watching the scene before him but not seeing -- not processing any of it. His body feels distant, like he isn’t a part of it; it’s just some thing with a racing heart and held breath and hot tears rolling down his cheeks, standing dumbly against the wall, unable to do anything.
The concept of time escapes him completely. He has no idea how long he stands there, listening to the chaos before it just stops.
“I’m so sorry. We did everything we could...” a faceless set of scrubs tells him and it all fades to silence.
Complete and utter silence. She is gone.
-To Be Continued-