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After her debriefing, she was free to go back to Chicago to rest and write up a very, very thorough report on Banner, General Ross, the incident at Culver, and the bigger incident at Harlem. This report was also to include a better reason for shooting Dr Sterns in the knee than her 'I wanted to hinder his escape and stop him monologuing,' which Natasha was confident she'd think up as soon as she'd had a decent night's sleep.

After all, her answer in debriefing was already better than her actual motivation, which had just been to get him to shut the fuck up.


Then again, she'd been dealing with too many assholes this week. Too many assholes, too many monsters, too many mistakes, and too many aliases; she was feeling unsettled in her skin, uncertain of which part she was supposed to play and ragged with unruly emotions.

'Is there anything real about you at all?' Stark had snapped at her, as if he knew all there was about her.

'Whatever the evil men took from you, whatever your heart desires, it will be yours,' Sterns had crooned, as if she weren't capable of getting what she wanted herself.

Fuck the pair of you, Natasha thought, and booked a flight for San Diego instead.

– –

“Hi,” she said, brightly, as Clint opened his front door. She had healing cuts on her face and hands, she was favouring her right leg, and she was pretty sure that when she grinned at him, she flashed too many teeth.

“You look like you had fun,” Clint said drily, eyes sharp and expression concerned. She concentrated on walking normally through the door, and didn't dignify him with a verbal response.

But as soon as he'd turned back to face her, she was up in his personal space, hands framing his face as she kissed him, hard and desperate as was normal for her post-mission greeting. He kissed her back, one of his hands cradling the back of her head.

“You okay, 'Tasha?” Clint asked at last, pulling back to study her face. That was not normal.

“It's been a long week,” Natasha replied, after a considered pause. “I had to deal with Stark. And Banner. A couple buildings fell on me. Fury won't let me electrocute Ross for his sheer incompetence, so I'm going to devote my spare time to ruining his career instead. Fuck me, please?”

“...Fury's career?”

She gave him a long look. “Ross's,” she said, holding off on the 'duh' because she was thirty-three and had far more self-control than that.

“When was last time you ate?” he asked, finally, expression somewhere between amused and concerned.

“Don't recall. Anyway. Hi.”

“Hi,” he said. “Chinese or pizza?”


“...before or after sex?”

“After.” Most definitely after.

“I can work with that,” and then Clint was kissing her again, burying his fingers into her hair and sliding his other hand gently down her body. She did not, particularly, want gentle – she wanted hard and fast and for her world to be nothing but him – but she was mindful of her body enough that she wasn't going to protest.

Natasha hooked her arm around his neck and he picked her up, carrying her easily to his bedroom. He was a good friend like that, a good friend with really nice arms, and give her half a minute, and she was going to show him exactly how much she appreciated them.

“-How many buildings?” Clint asked once they were on his bed, pulling her blouse off.

“Just two,” she said, and tried not to wince as she twisted her arms behind her to unhook her bra.

“Ah-huh,” and he paused, looking dubious, so she put her hands on his chest and shoved him back against the mattress before sliding over him. Clint was still being careful about where he moved his hands, and even as she kissed him, she could feel her body start to relax against his.

Clint was safe.

He was safe, and he was familiar, and he was warm, and he was a balm against her long, awful week, and of course she had her eyes closed, she was kissing him.

She was just so tired...

– –

Natasha woke up to the sound of cars and rain outside the window. Clint had pulled the sheet up around her, and it took her longer than it should have to struggle free. Partly, that was the sheet, but mostly it was how groggy she felt post-nap, and how stiff her body had become while she'd been asleep.


Because she'd fallen asleep.

Muttering a curse, Natasha managed to get to her feet, took off the knife that was strapped to her shin, grabbed the nearest shirt (his) and staggered to the bathroom to freshen up.

“So, that was embarrassing,” she said once she felt human enough to wander into his living room. “I'm, uh. Not going to live that down, am I?”

Clint was looking up from where he was sprawled out on his couch reading, and shook his head with a smirk. “Nope.”

Natasha figured as much, but for the sake of appearances, she rolled her eyes at him. “Shove over,” she said, and clambered onto the couch next to him, tucking her head against his chest as his arm settled around her. “How was New Mexico?”

“It was...fine,” he said. “There was an alien with a hammer, and a giant-ass alien robot. Most of the town's still standing, didn't have to shoot was fine.”

He sounded tired. More than tired, weary, and she tilted her head up to look at him. “Robots,” she said then, “are overrated.”

Clint huffed a laugh. “Agreed. So, uh. How were you planning on ruining Ross' career?”

“Assuming that Ross isn't going to get arrested this time? Everheart. Can't use Vanity Fair, that'd tip both my hand and hers,” although honestly, Natasha was surprised that no one really questioned Everheart's choice of interviewee, “and it's not the right avenue. But she'd have contacts. I also have should have some insider information.”

He glanced down at her, and caught her deliberately wide-eyed and hopeful smile. “Ohhh, planning on pumping me for army intel?”


“Given your record...”

Natasha jabbed him with her finger – not very hard, but he still gave her an indigent expression. “Just for that,” she said, “I won't buy you pizza.”

“You drive a harsh bargain.”

“That I do.” Natasha's smile faded. “He opened fire on a civilian population, Clint. On a university. And he drove Banner until the man snapped, until he just...” Until Banner's brilliant mind was triggered, all of his intellect reduced down to nothing but rage. Until there was barely anything of the man he was left.

Natasha took a deep breath and forced herself to let it out without shaking.“I am going to destroy Ross,” she said at last, as Clint brushed his thumb back and forth over her waist.

“I know,” he said. “And it's going to be beautiful.”

She put her head down against Clint's chest and listened to the steady beat of his heart for a moment, thinking and tracing idly patterns against his hand. Then she paused. “By the by, Clint?”

“Yeah, Nat?”

“What did you do to your sheets? They're practically lavender.”

“...laundry can be complicated,” he protested, and Natasha just started to laugh.