Chapter 1: The Call
“Target on the move, headed toward north exit.”
“I’ve got her,” said Clint Barton, notching an arrow in his bowstring and finding Natasha Romanova in his sights as she slipped out of the factory.
“Seems like a crime to kill something so gorgeous,” he said, mostly to himself, as he watched the woman slink along the outside of the building toward the tree line. He watched her scan the forest quickly, looking for threats. Threats like him.
“Do you have a shot?” asked the business-like voice on the other end of his earpiece.
Hawkeye slowed his breathing, aiming for her jugular and spinal cord. Instant kill shot. He was about to respond to his handler when something took him by surprise. Natasha Romanova was looking right at him.
That should be impossible.
He was fifty yards away from her, twenty-five yards from the edge of the forest, fifty feet up a tree. From where she was, he should be completely invisible. And yet she was staring at him down the sights of his bow. Not running, not moving at all, despite obviously being aware of the danger she was in. Instead she was looking at him with a distinctly amused expression.
“Agent Barton, do you have a shot?”
The Black Widow cocked her head to one side and raised an eyebrow, almost like she had heard the agent’s question. Clint lowered the bow to look at her eye to eye. She smiled and turned her head to one side, bringing a hand up to touch her earpiece.
Now it was his turn to smile.
“Clever,” he said softly.
“What?” demanded Coulson. “What’s clever?”
“She’s hacked our wireless transmitter. She’s listening to us right now.”
“What?” The sound in his ear clicked off abruptly, no doubt as panic was ensuing at headquarters. Natasha Romanova smiled again and took a slow step forward.
“Ah, ah, don’t take another step or you’ll be dead before you can blink,” he said to her.
“The techs just confirmed it, Agent Barton, you’ve been made. Abort mission.”
“It doesn’t matter; she’s got nowhere to go but back inside a building that’s about thirty seconds from exploding. She’s just got to decide if she’d rather die in a fiery blaze or with my arrow in her throat.”
She smiled again, taking another step forward in the grassy expanse between the factory and the trees. She held her arms out from her sides in a very clear ‘shoot me’ gesture, and in the second that Clint hesitated, she dropped out of sight.
“Fuck,” he swore, already swinging down from his perch in the tree and running toward the place where she had disappeared, barely even registering Coulson demanding explanations in his ear.
“She’s gone,” he explained as he got to a hole in the grass where she had been standing. “Underground.”
“We don’t have records of any tunnels in that area.”
“Well, your records are clearly incomplete, because I’m looking right at one. I’m going after her,” Clint said, struck with an intense curiosity about this woman who had played him so quickly and efficiently.
“Negative, Agent, that factory could blow any sec-“
But Clint had already ripped the earpiece from his ear and swung down into the pit, having faith that if the Black Widow had purposely fallen down here, it must be reasonably safe. Indeed, he found himself in a long tunnel running away from the factory, and before he could take more than a few steps away from the entrance, the building above exploded spectacularly. Clint took off running, both because he was unsure of the stability of the tunnel he was in, and because he was unwilling to give Natasha another second’s head start.
It was only a minute or so of running before he came to a fork in the tunnel. He paused, trying to imagine what he would do in the Black Widow’s place. Obviously she knew where these tunnels led, and if she was tapped into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s comm system she knew he was after her. Then he realized something. If someone were chasing him, planning to kill him, he would wait for them in a place that he knew they would have to pause. Like a fork.
Just as the thought occurred to him, it was interrupted by her voice.
“You’re giving your bosses quite a panic attack.”
He looked up, and sure enough, perched on a pipe, was the Black Widow with a nine millimeter pointed at him.
“You know, I’m actually pretty insulted S.H.I.E.L.D. sent someone so stupid after me. How could you possibly think you could follow me down here and still have any advantage whatsoever? Planning to kill me telepathically, are you?”
“Maybe I don’t want to kill you,” he said.
“Wrong answer, dubiina. I have this, remember?” She indicated the earpiece. “I know what your orders are.”
“I didn’t say anything about my orders. I said it’s possible that I don’t want to kill you.” A look crossed her face for a second, almost like confusion.
“You saw me,” he said simply. She stared at him curiously, gave him a look that made his heart beat faster. This was not an enemy sizing him up. This was a woman, trying to know him. It was personal, even intimate, and as he gave her an identical look the tension between them grew like a rubber band being pulled tighter and tighter. And then it snapped.
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, lovely, sentimental as well as an idiot. And with a completely medieval weapon, too, christ. Seriously, in what way is that thing even remotely practical? The only thing I can think of that’s more idiotic is if you had tried to chase after me with a catapult.”
Clint was far from phased. He knew that the only reason an assassin talks is because they want something. She was insulting the very core of his being, and she knew it. It was meant to be a distraction, just for a fraction of a second while she jumped to the ground, but she didn’t count on how much he thought like her, or just how quickly he was able to draw that bow.
In the split second that the gun was pointed away from him, Hawkeye drew his bow and fired. His arrow grazed her index finger as it shot through the space between the trigger and the finger guard, ripping the gun out of her hand and then burying itself in the wall. The gun caught on the fletching at the end of the arrow and dangled out of reach.
To her credit, where anyone else would have been stunned, the Black Widow reacted instantaneously. She swung down and locked her legs around his neck, throwing him to the ground. His bow skittered away from him and they grappled for a moment, and then were both on their feet, preparing for a real fight.
She lunged, he feinted and struck her in the ribs. She used her momentum to spin and kick him in the back of the head and the fight was on, strikes and blocks flying so quickly even the ones throwing them could barely keep up. After a minute, Clint heard Natasha laughing softly. He realized with an internal swoop of exhilaration that he was laughing too. It was amazing. They were perfectly matched, totally complementary. She was like the perfect sparring partner he’d never had. How often did people of their skill level find a real challenge?
She knocked him to the ground and came down on top of him. As she straddled him and pinned his wrists, he allowed his admiration to show for a moment—the closest people like them ever got to complimenting each other. Then a much less controlled expression passed over his face as he dragged his eyes down her body, taking in her heaving chest and the position of her hips directly over his.
She smirked, and began to squirm a little bit, teasing him. With a predatory growl he overpowered her and switched their positions, looming over her. She twisted one of her arms out of his grasp and brought her hand up to toy with the zipper holding in her cleavage. Clint was so mesmerized that she actually managed to take him by surprise, smashing her fist into his jaw and then bringing her legs up to wrap around his neck, slamming him into the ground yet again.
She disentangled herself expertly and they both stood at the same time, on guard. She gave a short chuckle.
“You have no idea how easy you men are to manipulate.”
“I’m slightly offended by that. I thought we were having a moment,” he said in a teasing tone. After a few passes, Natasha lunged at him, and he took the opportunity to grab her arm and pull her tightly against him, her back to his chest. He wrapped strong arms around her, and she froze as he bent his head down and let warm breath play over the back of her neck. He brushed his lips over the shell of her ear and smiled as she drew a shuddery breath.
“Who’s manipulating who now, hmm?” She snapped back to reality and struggled against his grip, but for all her speed and skill, he was much stronger. He realized that if she had slammed her head backward she could have broken his nose, and he took her unwillingness to do so as a promising sign.
“Natasha Romanova,” he said calmly. “My name is Clint Barton, and I would like to have a conversation with you. I’ll do it like this if you want, but I swear I no longer have any intention of killing you. Could we have a truce, please, just for a moment?”
She stopped struggling and seemed to really consider it. Finally she said, “Only if I can have my gun back.”
“Are you going to try to kill me?”
Slowly he released her, and she pulled away from him, swinging up onto a metal beam on the ceiling and climbing over to where her pistol was still pinned to the wall with one of his arrows. She removed both the gun and the arrow from the wall, and Clint tensed, because underneath a projection of confidence, he knew he might very well be about to get shot. She turned, but instead of aiming the gun, she tossed his arrow at him. He caught it smoothly and she jumped down.
He had retrieved his bow while she was climbing, and now they stood facing each other, weapons in hand but pointed at the ground. Natasha just looked at him, waiting. He took a breath, knowing full well that this woman’s life was riding on how persuasive he could be for the next five minutes.
“It’s about the people you work for.”
“Ah, yes. I work for the bad guys, right? And you work for the good guys. And clearly I just need to be set straight.”
“It has nothing to do with who’s good or bad. This is about you, Natasha. You go where your bosses point you, kill who they tell you to kill, and never think about why.”
“So you know me, now? One fight and you understand me? Or are you going to tell me that you were just like me once, a lost soul, until you had some grand epiphany and decided to join the unwinnable war?”
“I think I’m still like you, just not in the ways you’re thinking. I don’t care about the war on evil. Like you said, I mostly think it’s pointless. But I’m not like you, because I decide who I kill. I think that there are people who are making this world a worse place, and I work for S.H.I.E.L.D. because they usually point me toward those people. But I never kill just because I was ordered to.”
Her eyes flashed. “Are you saying I’m a puppet?”
“No. I’m saying you’re taking the easy way out.” Her grip tightened on her gun. He was clearly making her angry. “Not because you’re weak, but because you hate… complications. Am I right?”
She took a breath. That part was true, she did prefer her life to be as simple as possible. She didn’t know who she killed; she didn’t need to know. Sensing her acquiescence, Clint went on.
“I’m not asking you to come join S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m not even asking you to stop working for your bosses. I’m asking you to think for yourself. Because you’ve worked your ass off your whole life to be this good, and if you’re just an indiscriminating killing machine, then what’s the point?”
Natasha pursed her lips, the only sign that she had reacted to his words at all. Finally she let out a breath, and seemed to be about to say something, when she jerked her head up and looked intently down the tunnel.
“What?” he asked.
Natasha touched her earpiece. “S.H.I.E.L.D. found the tunnel entrance. They’re coming to extract you.”
“Go,” said Clint quickly. “I’ll tell them I’ve been searching for you.”
“Thank you,” she said, and there was maybe even a hint of real emotion in her tone.
“Just don’t forget what I said. You have a choice. And if you decide you’d like to help me kill some killers one day, just put the word out that you want to see me. It will get around.”
She turned to leave. “Oh, and Natasha,” he called out to her. “If you make me regret the decision to let you live, I will hunt you down. Alone. And I will put an arrow through your throat.”
“As if you could, Clint Barton.”
And she turned and ran.
Chapter 2: Munich
It was a testament to how good she was that it took him so long to realize.
Natasha had been following Clint for at least three days.
He had gotten into a firefight outside a warehouse in Kiev, and six arrows later there were ten dead men surrounding the building full of political prisoners. At the time Clint didn’t really have time to think about how that had happened, and by the time the fighting and running and rescuing and speaking clumsy Ukrainian was over, he was too tired to do anything but fall into his cot and clock out.
The next morning there was a bundle of six arrows outside his door.
He probably should have told someone. After all, S.H.I.E.L.D. still considered the Black Widow a hostile, but it had been two months since their first meeting and Clint hadn’t heard a word about her killing anyone. And he certainly didn’t think she was coming to kill him, given how helpful she’d been, so he didn’t feel the need to let anyone know that the most dangerous woman in the world was stalking him.
She was curious about his work. That was good. That was progress. If he called her out now, she might get scared off, so better to go about his business. Show her what it meant to make your own decisions.
In a fortuitous turn of events, the next mission S.H.I.E.L.D. called with was perfect. A man in Germany suspected of selling biological weapons to terrorist organizations. S.H.I.E.L.D. offered to fly him, but he told them he would find his own way. Not too unusual for him, S.H.I.E.L.D. was used to his spy’s habits. On surveillance missions, when any shred of attention was unwanted, he often chose to take less obvious forms of transport.
Of course, this time, he had an ulterior motive. He went to the train station the next day and bought one ticket to Munich. Scanning the crowd, he didn’t see her, but that didn’t mean anything. He paused by a pillar and very conspicuously dropped his receipt, then walked away. It wasn’t until he was seated, in the very last car with his back to the wall, that she found him.
He spotted her the minute she walked into the compartment. Her hair was dark brown, and she had traded the catsuit for a dress, but it was unmistakably her. She walked over to him and gestured to the seat across from him.
“Darf ich?” Her German was flawless.
He nodded. She sat down, and he spotted the telltale corner of the gun strapped to her thigh before she rearranged her skirt expertly to hide it.
“Schöner Tag für einen Ausflug nicht wahr?”
Ugh, German small talk. Clint’s German wasn’t bad, but like most of his language skills he was better at understanding it than speaking it. His specialty had never been the schmoozing at parties, dropping pills into drinks kind of espionage. He didn’t get up close; he watched and listened and followed from a distance until he got the information he needed.
He didn’t even have to know Natasha Romanova to know she was the exact opposite. Surreptitious meetings in train cars were right up her alley.
“Leider ist mein Deutsch nicht sehr gut,” he said, purposely laying the American accent on thick.
The tiniest hint of a smile crept into her eyes, and she silently mouthed, “It’s better than your Ukrainian.”
They passed the train ride in the silence of the unacquainted, her with a book, him with a smart phone that complemented the business man disguise he’d adopted. They were playing a kind of eye contact tag, each trying to get a good look at the other when he or she wasn’t looking.
He stepped off the train in Germany without looking back. She was in the wind.
Clint had to admit, as missions went, that one had been pretty fucking flawless. He couldn’t have hoped for a better demonstration of his methods and skills.
He had surveilled the mark for a day, seen clear evidence of weapons trading, then taken a shot from eight hundred yards into a moving car. The man had died instantly, before any of his bodyguard even knew what happened. Clint was slinking through the backstreets of Munich feeling pretty good about himself when she found him.
“So should I chalk the archer bit up to temporary insanity?”
He didn’t jump, thankfully, but he did worry a bit that Natasha had been able to sneak up on him.
“No,” he said. He had used a rifle for this job, now disassembled into unassuming pieces in his backpack. “But as much as I love the bow, it just doesn’t have that kind of range. What did you think?” He shouldn’t have cared about her answer as much as he did.
“It was a good shot,” she said casually, and they both knew it was an understatement. “And he was scum. And you made sure he was scum before you killed him.”
“I always do.”
“I never do.”
There was a pause.
“You were going to kill me.”
“Maybe this isn’t a conversation we want to be having out in the open?”
“This is the poorest part of town. No one around here speaks English.”
“Still. I’ve got a place, a safe house—“
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Where did you sleep last night?”
She gave him a look that made it clear that wasn’t a discussion she was going to have. “Why did I deserve to die?”
“I watched you snap Shirokov’s neck.” There was a slight tightening around her eyes and he wondered if that might have been a wince. She was silent another minute.
“Was he a good man?”
Clint shrugged. “He was a man. He had a family. He didn’t deserve to die.”
“But you changed your mind.”
“I was curious about you.”
“And I thought I could give you a second chance.”
Her mouth tightened into a thin line. “I don’t need you to save me.”
“Of course not.”
“I’m going back to the States tomorrow,” Clint said. “If you let me bring you in—“
“Okay.” He knew that pushing the issue was a waste of time. “Is this the last time I’m going to see you?”
“Good.” He found the word slipped out before he could stop it. Her eyes narrowed. “You were a big help in Kiev,” he covered, even though that hadn’t been what he was thinking. He had been thinking that she was beautiful and deadly and fascinating and that he liked her.
“You didn’t need it,” she replied, and for some reason she sounded bitter.
He shrugged. “Doesn’t change what I said.” He stared at her for another minute, contemplated whether he should hold his hand out to shake. Wondering what the odds were she’d take it, and what the odds were she’d put him on his ass. Ultimately he decided against it.
“Until next time, then.”
She gave him a curt nod, and backed away, melting into the shadows. He walked back to his safe house, his mind full of Natasha.
Chapter 3: Barcelona
Warning: Discussion of rape.
It was almost a month before Clint saw Natasha again. He had pulled two jobs in Saudi Arabia and another in rural Sicily before he was assigned the one he was on now. Actually, he thought she might have been in Sicily, there had been signs: a broken lock, a guard that conveniently went missing.
But now he was in Barcelona, and things were about to go horribly wrong.
“This is why I hate this kind of work,” he thought to himself as he ran down the hotel stairway. He had been at an upscale charity event, the kind where you had to go through metal detectors and they didn’t take kindly to weapons, because despite his distaste for up-close espionage, he really had to get a bug onto this mark so S.H.I.E.L.D. could collect proof of wrongdoing before officially ordering his execution.
But somehow in the process he had been made, and now he was running from three very well-trained bodyguards. They cornered him in the basement and spread out, two of them sandwiching him between them and putting him at a distinct disadvantage. One lunged, swinging a fist, and Clint focused on him, sidestepping and grabbing the man’s arm, forcing his elbow the wrong way. He was just wondering what was taking the other guard so long to attack when he heard a surprised grunt behind him, and he glanced over his shoulder just long enough to see a flash of red hair.
They took down their opponents in roughly the same amount of time, him with crippling stomp to a knee and a quick neck snap, her with a knife he had no idea how she’d snuck past security. Clint was just turning around to look for the third one when he jumped out from behind a boiler, swinging a pipe that connected solidly with Natasha’s head.
She crumpled, and the man immediately went for Clint, who ducked under his attack and rolled toward Natasha’s body, plucking the knife out of her hand and sending it into the last man’s throat with a flick of his wrist. Clint barely paused to make sure he was down before tentatively placing his fingers onto Natasha’s neck.
When he established that her pulse was solid, and also that she was out cold and unlikely to wake up and beat him, he picked her up, pausing to reclaim her knife and then slipping out of the service entrance.
He tried not to think about how much he liked the feeling of her in his arms.
It was a solid hour after Clint had gotten Natasha back to his tiny living space before she woke. She jolted out of bed, onto the floor, rolling until her back was against a wall, eyes darting around the unfamiliar room.
“Is this how you always wake up?”
Her gaze snapped to him, a safe distance away put proffering a bottle of pills and a glass of water.
“Are you going to hurt me if I get close enough to give these to you? You’ve got a pretty nasty bump there.”
As if those words reminded her of her pain, she closed her eyes and put a hand to the wound he’d cleaned and bandaged.
“I got hit…” she said, sounding dazed.
“By Mr. Green, in the basement, with the lead pipe.” He paused, waiting for some acknowledgement that he had made a joke, even if it was just an eye roll, but she only blinked at him. He cleared his throat. “Yeah. It was my fault; I should have warned you there was a third guy.”
She stared blankly, trying to put it all back together in her head. Clint could almost see the next thought pop into her brain as she looked down, running her hands over her thighs. “Where’s my knife?” she asked.
He reached into a pocket and pulled it out by the blade. It was a little thing, only about three inches long. She reached for it, and part of him wanted to show off a little, throw it down and make it stick into the floor right between her feet, but the rational part of his brain reminded him that this woman was dangerous, and she was injured, and maybe he didn’t want to go around throwing things at her. For both their sake’s.
So he bent down and slid it to her across the floor, handle first, and as she picked it up, he asked, “How’d you get that thing into the benefit?”
As an answer, she slid the hand holding it through the slit in her evening gown, pushing it up a bit so he could see that there was a sheath on the inside of her thigh, up almost to her bikini line. He understood. He could picture it now, the young security guard with the metal detector wand, waving it down her front. When it went off right at the apex of her thighs, all it would have taken was a wink and an assumption, and she would have been in the clear. One of the benefits of being female in this business.
He shook his head of those thoughts and the unprofessional direction they were traveling in. Instead he offered her the pain medication he was holding again.
“Did you want this? It’s the good stuff.”
She was clearly skeptical, but the pain in her head must have been intense, because she finally nodded, and winced a little in the process. He walked over and offered her a hand, feeling mildly surprised when she took it, allowing him to help her stand and move back to the bed. He started to open up the bottle, but she took it from him, read the label quickly and opened it herself, then inspected a pill carefully before swallowing it dry.
He offered her a glass of water, but she shook her head slowly.
“You should drink something,” he said.
She didn’t even have to say Don’t tell me what to do; it was perfectly evident from her expression. He shrugged and set the glass down on the table by the cot. Then he moved back across the room and sat down with his back to the wall, watching her. If she didn’t want to talk, that was just fine. He settled into the well of patience all snipers had, watching her. Waiting.
A long period of silence passed between them. She must have been feeling better after a while, because she shook her head a little bit and looked around the room, seeming a bit more alive. Finally she broke the silence.
“I’m somewhat impressed with S.H.I.E.L.D’s security. I looked for this place last night and couldn’t find it.”
Most men would be uncomfortable with the idea of an assassin trying to find out where they sleep. Clint found he rather liked the idea. He shook himself again. He could see a pattern in the way his thoughts were heading, and he knew that there was nothing but trouble that way. For fuck’s sake, she was called the Black Widow. That was about as clear as a warning could get.
“You found my place in Kiev,” he replied.
“Only because I followed you home. And you were sloppy.” He had been sloppy; he’d been too tired to worry about who might be following him. After another pause, he decided it was time to get down to business and have the real conversation they needed to have.
“So what happens now?” he asked. “Have you seen enough of what I do to come work for S.H.I.E.L.D?”
She fixed a sharp gaze on him. “That’s not why I’ve been following you.”
Now he was taken aback. “Then why…?”
She didn’t answer for a moment, just gave him a hard look. Finally she said, “I owe you my life.”
Clint blinked. That was what he had been expecting to hear. “So?”
“I dislike owing people. If we met on the field someday and I had never paid you back, it would mean I’d have to forfeit. Which I do not consider an option.”
Clint’s mind was racing. Apparently he had read their relationship entirely wrong. And he’d also totally misjudged the likelihood that she would change sides. He was trying to work through all their interactions, casting them in this new light. This explained why she’d been unhappy that he hadn’t needed her help in Kiev.
“So, you intend to follow me around the world, waiting for an opportunity to save my life?”
“And then what?”
She faltered. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead,” she said. Somehow he knew she was lying. He knew she had tried to figure out what she would do and had come up empty.
“Just so you know, I don’t consider you in my debt. Killing you was the wrong call.”
“Actually, killing me was exactly the right call. And I don’t think much of the fact that you couldn’t make it, but that doesn’t change that I’m alive now because you didn’t.”
He tried to hide that he was stung. Clearly she liked him even less than he’d thought she did.
“Not bragging, just stating facts, here,” he said, “but I’ve been in this business a long time, and I haven’t died yet. This could take a while.”
She shrugged wordlessly.
He frowned, then rubbed a hand over his face, trying to keep from sounding too exasperated. “Okay, well, moving past the part where none of this makes any goddamn sense, can I ask what you intend to do now? Disappear again, spend weeks tracking me down after I move? If you’re trying to save my life, you might as well stick with me.”
“You really still don’t trust me?”
She gave him a withering look. “Trust is for children.”
“If I were going to kill you, you’d be dead already.”
Natasha laughed a little, but it was hollow. “It’s not you killing me I’m—“ and suddenly she cut off, looked as though something had just occurred to her. She cocked her head to the side and scrutinized him. Then she nodded. “Okay,” she said, and Clint did a double take, unsure he’d heard her correctly. “I’ll stay.”
“I… just like that?”
She didn’t answer, just popped two more pills in her mouth and downed the entire glass of water he had left her.
“Can I use your shower?” she asked. He gaped a little bit, completely bewildered by the sudden turnabout.
“Uh… yeah.” He indicated the door leading to the small bathroom. He was still confused and mostly speechless when she walked through the door and shut it behind her.
Clint shook his head, consciously deciding that trying to work out the Black Widow was a waste of time, and he set about assembling the second cot so they’d both have somewhere to sleep. When the water turned on, he couldn’t stop himself from picturing Natasha naked and wet in the next room. She hadn’t even locked the bathroom door, which might have struck him as odd if her weren’t so consumed by lustful thoughts.
Less than ten minutes later, the water shut off and the curtain slid across the bar. Clint heard the door open and turned just in time to see a graceful hand dart into the bag right next to the doorframe. His bag. She grabbed something white and retreated back into the bathroom, shutting the door.
Before he really even had time to wonder what had just happened, the door opened again and Natasha stepped out wearing… Clint’s throat suddenly went dry. She was wearing his t-shirt—and nothing else. It hit her upper thigh and left most of her long legs bare. She had just barely dried her hair, and every so often it would drip, the water rolling down her neck and leaving a wet, transparent track between her breasts.
He’d never seen anything hotter in his life.
As she brushed past him, the heat from the shower seemed to radiate from her skin and sink into his bones. She moved to the opposite wall and pressed her ear against it. More inexplicable behavior, but at least this he could ask about.
“What are you doing?”
“Seeing if your neighbors are out. I need clothes. Do you know if a woman lives in this room?”
Thank god, something to think about besides the gorgeous body of the deadly assassin. Clint was very thorough; he had checked out the people in suites surrounding his so he would recognize someone out of the ordinary.
“There’s a woman about your size who lives in 3. She’s a waitress, so she should be at work now, too. Are you really going to steal her clothes?”
He expected derision, but instead Natasha fixed him with a smoldering expression. “Would you prefer I wore this all day?”
He really hoped his gulp wasn’t audible. As a distraction, he turned and rummaged around in his bag, pulling out a wad of cash and handing her a few dozen Euros. “At least leave her some compensation.” Now she did roll her eyes at him, but took the money and walked out the door.
After the door was shut, Clint let out a breathy “Fuck.” He decided that—for multiple reasons—he really needed a shower.
When he left the bathroom after his shower, more than one kind of tension relieved, Natasha was back in the room. She was dressed, thankfully, but in rather tight workout clothes. It was obvious that, despite being similar heights and sizes, the girl from suite 3 was distinctly less voluptuous than Natasha, and the yoga pants she was wearing left little to the imagination.
She stood by the window, very blatantly reading confidential S.H.I.E.L.D. files. When he walked in, she gave him an eyebrow and dared him to say something. He decided that there wasn’t anything in those files important enough to pick a fight with her about, so he let it go.
“I see your employers haven’t found out the name of Zimmerman’s Russian contact?” Luca Zimmerman was the man Clint had tried to bug earlier that evening.
“No,” he replied. “Why, did you get it?”
She gave a wicked smile and put the file back on the desk. “It’s amazing the kinds of secrets someone will spill in bed.”
“I can’t imagine doing that.”
“What? Fucking someone for information? ”
“It’s just the same as fucking for any other reason.”
“I’d say that means you aren’t doing it right.”
“Oh, believe me,” she purred, moving right up close to him, “I do it perfectly. Work you right up to the edge, right at that moment when your muscles all tense and electricity shoots up your spine and you’re just. so. close. And I whisper that I’ll do whatever you want if you just tell me what I want to know. And you try to come up with a lie, but the only thing you think about is the heat of my mouth on you, and before you can stop yourself you blurt out the truth, tell me anything and everything just so you can come.”
Clint was mesmerized again, watching her full lips form those filthy words. She was so close to him, too close, and his hands drifted up to her waist totally of their own accord. But the second he touched her, she backed away, slipping gracefully out of his grip.
He put all his energy into making sure his next breath didn’t sound like a gasp.
“Are you fucking with me on purpose?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said nonchalantly from across the room.
I’ll take that as a yes, he thought to himself.
“So you fucked Luca Zimmerman and he told you the name of his contact in Russia? Really?”
“No, of course not,” she said, sounding amused. “I fucked his assistant.”
“You must have seen her at the party. Tall, brunette, gorgeous, never leaves Zimmerman’s side? She practically runs that man’s life; she knows all his dirty secrets, and she’s far less inclined to keep them.”
Thankfully, at that moment Natasha turned away from him to look out the window. Clint took the opportunity to break his military bearing, sag forward slightly and rub his hands over his face a few times. Wow. It was one thing to read in a file about a woman capable of reducing men to whimpering puddles of lust. It was another thing entirely to experience it first-hand.
Then he stood up straight and summoned his resolve. He didn’t know what she was trying to accomplish, but she wouldn’t get to him. Cool, composed, these were traits Clint prided himself on, and he’d be damned if one woman was going to take them away.
“I didn’t mean you were doing the fucking-for-information thing wrong, incidentally.” Maybe it was a bad idea to keep talking to her about sex, but he was determined to come off unaffected.
“It’s the sex for pleasure you’re doing wrong, if it feels just the same as what you do for your job.”
She raised her eyebrows. “And what makes you think you know the first thing about my pleasure?”
“Well… I…” he floundered.
“I’d bet money you don’t know anything about what any woman wants.” There was a strange kind of challenge in her voice. “I know your type: big macho man who thinks he’s so good in bed. Well, let me tell you a secret, Barton. Every woman you were ever with was faking it.”
He gave her a small frown. There was no anger in his expression; he had always been very slow to anger, and years working as a spy had only enhanced that aspect of his personality. But he was confused. He knew that Natasha wouldn’t ever speak so careless as it seemed like she was, which meant she was goading him on purpose. And he had no clue why.
“Okay,” he said slowly. “I may be totally off base here, but if you’re coming on to me I’m going to need you to come out and say so.” It was blunt, but then, he was a blunt person. He could play mind games if he needed to, but he didn’t like them. And it might have been naïve, but he wanted his relationship with Natasha to be based on something a bit more real.
She actually looked surprised. Honestly surprised. Her body dropped its seductive lean and she gave him a long, searching look. “I’m not,” she said softly, but she sounded distracted. She continued to watch him, long enough that he had to turn away and find something to do to escape the intensity of her stare. He started packing, and it was almost fifteen minutes before she spoke again.
“Are you afraid of me?”
He really considered the question. “No.”
“Then why won’t you touch me?”
He turned back to her, totally bewildered. “Did you want me to touch you?” He tried to say it lightly, but it was a pretty damn loaded question. And he still had no idea what her game was.
“No,” she said. “But when has that ever stopped a man?”
His eyebrows shot up. “I don’t know what the hell kind of men you’ve been— wait. Is that what you’ve been doing? Have you been trying to provoke me into raping you so you won’t owe me anymore?” His voice was rising, and she was looking at him warily. This was the most intense she’d ever seen him. He was simultaneously horrified by and concerned for her. “Fuck, Romanova, do you realize how fucked up that is?”
She pressed her lips together into a thin line and looked at the floor, and he knew that look, knew that he’d upset her. Immediately he took a breath and allowed his emotion to pass over him. When he spoke again he was much calmer.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you. But regardless of however things go between us, that is never going to happen. There’s a chance I may kill you someday, but I swear that I will not ever touch you sexually unless you ask me to. With words. Very explicit words.”
She gave a wry smile, but she still wasn’t looking him in the eye. “When we met you told me you didn’t consider yourself one of the good guys.”
“Well, take it from me, Clint Barton—you’re one of the good guys.”
“Because I won’t rape you?”
“More because you’re so horrified by the thought. It seemed like the quickest solution to my problem.”
He collapsed on a cot and rubbed a hand over his face. “Christ, Romanova. If you hate owing me that much… god, now I’m really worried what else you’re going to do. The only thing I want is for you to stop killing good people because they’ve pissed off someone powerful. You do that, I call us square. Go live your life.”
“I don’t have one.”
He would’ve asked what she meant, but he knew already. He was the same way. Without the job, he had no one, nowhere, no purpose. He had no idea what he’d do in the civilian world.
“Then come work for S.H.I.E.L.D,” he said quietly. “It’s as close to freedom as I’ve ever gotten.”
And finally, finally, she didn’t turn him down. With a softer expression than he had ever seen her wear, she conceded:
Chapter 4: Russia
“Sir, I don’t think there’s much you can do about it. Hell, I don’t think there’s much I can do about it.”
It had been almost two months, and S.H.I.E.L.D. had finally noticed that their top assassin had been performing better than usual. As in, pulling stunts by himself that should have taken two people. They had investigated. And they hadn’t liked what they found. The two assassins had been in St. Petersburg at the time, and Barton had been ordered to move to a secure, albeit deserted, S.H.I.E.L.D. facility in Siberia and await further contact. Which, apparently, meant an irate call from Nick Fury himself.
“If she were dead, like she’s supposed to be, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
“She came to me with a peace offering, sir. What was I supposed to do, shoot an unarmed woman?” He heard a scoff behind him. Natasha was listening to his half of the conversation, and didn’t care much for being classified as unarmed. She hadn’t been happy with the idea of following Clint into a real live S.H.I.E.L.D. base for the first time, but when she realized he couldn’t be dissuaded, she had reluctantly come along. Clint didn’t like to think about all the weapons she must have been carrying to make her comfortable in this place.
“Perhaps I did not make it clear to you how dangerous this woman is, Barton. She’s killed twice as many people as you have in half the time. And she does it by charming idiots like you. Five years ago, she single-handedly took down the Wallenquist Organization on a grudge.”
“I’ve never heard of that, sir.”
“You’re damn right you haven’t, you want to know why?”
“Because they’re all dead, sir?”
“Because they’re all fucking dead. And I will not have my—“ This was the last Clint heard, because at that moment Natasha snatched the phone away from him, while simultaneously twisting his wrist in such a way that he had to drop to his knees to keep her from breaking it.
“Colonel Fury? This is Natasha Romanova. Listen to me very carefully. I currently have no intention of harming Agent Barton or your organization. No, don’t interrupt me. I’ve been impressed by Agent Barton’s competency, and I’ve been studying how he works for my own personal reasons. If any other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are sent to neutralize me, don’t doubt that I will kill them without a moment’s hesitation. You’d do well not to fight this, because what you have to gain if this goes your way is far more valuable than anything you have to lose.” She paused for a moment to listen to Fury’s question. Then she said, “Me,” and closed the phone with a snap.
Clint was on his feet by now, and held his hand out for the phone.
“Got to admit, that was much more truthful than I expected you to be.”
“That presumes you knew the truth about her to begin with,” came a voice from behind them.
There was a snap of movement, and Natasha had a gun pointed at the intruder before Clint could even turn around.
“Whoa, whoa,” he said, stepping between them. Then he turned to acknowledge the man who had just walked in. “Coulson.”
“Natasha Romanova, Phil Coulson. My handler.”
“Miss Romanova. I’d say pleased to meet you, but under the circumstances…”
Natasha lowered her gun. “Understandable.”
“Would you mind if I had a word with Agent Barton in private?” Natasha blinked. Phil’s politeness threw people off, especially people who had just been shouted at by Nick Fury. Finally she nodded and walked out, heading for the training room.
When the door shut, Coulson turned back and looked at Clint. It was amazing how this man’s disappointed look could make him feel a hundred times worse than Fury’s worst verbal abuse.
“Are you sleeping with her?” They weren’t going to beat around the bush, apparently.
Coulson sighed. “You’ve put us in a very difficult position, Barton. We’ve got a lot on the line and very little understanding of the situation. Could you please explain what exactly is going on between you and the Black Widow?”
Clint opened his mouth, but couldn’t find the right words. It was a strange situation all the way around. Finally, he said, “I trust her.” It may not have been the explanation Phil was looking for, but it was really all he needed to know.
“Okay.” Coulson sounded resigned. “I’ll try to put Fury off for a while. Meanwhile, while we’re here, there’s something in Moscow we need taken care of.”
Initially, Natasha didn’t ask him how his talk with Coulson had gone. Clearly she knew that she was in control of the situation, that if she wanted to follow Clint around for the rest of his life, as long as Clint didn’t mind, S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn’t do anything about it. But when Coulson began treating her—not nicely, exactly, but cordially—she had to ask.
“That’s just the way he is, Romanova. I’ve never seen Coulson be anything but polite to anyone.”
They were sparring, taking advantage of the first real training space they’d had since they met. Fighting her was just as exhilarating as Clint remembered, an exercise in strengths and weaknesses.
“But what did you tell him?”
“You aren’t going to like it.”
“I told him I trust you.”
Her eyes hardened, and she stepped back, her body language indicating that she was done fighting him.
“Idiot,” she said, but it didn’t sound as angry as he’d expected.
He shrugged. “Maybe. But it’s true.”
“And that was enough for him?”
“Phil’s known me a long time. He’s my friend. If I tell him you’re not planning to kill us all, he believes me.” He turned away, walking toward his bag and pulling his shirt over his head. When she didn’t respond, he turned back to see her watching him with a surprising degree of interest. He couldn’t help but smirk.
“See something you like?”
The change in her expression was instantaneous and almost imperceptible. He had to admit, she really did have a much better handle on herself than he did.
“I was picturing you bleeding to death,” she deadpanned.
“Oh yeah?” He tossed his shirt aside and approached her, watching with amusement as her pupils dilated. “How’s that?”
She reached a hand out to his chest, laying her fingers delicately against his collar bone. As she spoke, her hand trailed down and her eyes followed it. “I was imagining digging a knife in right… there.” On the last word she twisted her hand and dug her nails upward, right under his ribcage. It didn’t really hurt, but it did make him suck in a sharp breath through his nose. “Puncture a lung, your liver, maybe a kidney. Then I’d slice this way…” She dragged her nails slowly across his abdomen, noticing how his muscles twitched under her touch. “Watch you get dissolved by your own digestive juices.”
“You sure know how to sweet talk a guy, don’t you?” he murmured, his voice husky. Her eyes flicked up to his, and there was definite arousal in them.
Her hand moved to his wrist, still by his side, and slid up his forearm. “Or maybe I’d just slice all of your arteries and let you bleed out.” He felt the bite of her nail at the very top of his bicep, almost at his underarm. Then her hand wrapped around his neck and she scraped her thumbnail down his jugular.
“If you wanted to go for the femoral, I certainly wouldn’t complain.” He watched her eyes as they dropped down and took in the bulge in his pants. Her tongue darted out to wet her lower lip. She met his eyes again.
And suddenly, it was over. She stepped back, and the tension in the room evaporated in an instant. When she turned away he drew a shuddery breath.
“I’ve got to say, Barton, you’ve got an insane amount of self-control. It’s almost as good as mine.”
“Sniper,” was all he offered in reply. He wished his voice didn’t sound quite so weak. He cleared his throat. “Uh, S.H.I.E.L.D. wants me to go to Moscow tomorrow to run a couple days’ surveillance on a suspected human trafficker. All long distance stuff, should be very low-key. It’s up to you if you want to come, of course.”
“The low-key ones are usually the ones where people end up dying. Of course I’ll come.”
It ended up being incredibly handy that Natasha was there. Because although Clint could understand Russian, and he could read lips, reading lips in Russian was difficult.
So he was the eyes, and Natasha was the ears, so to speak, and together they perched on a rooftop to watch a building where a large party was taking place. It was remarkably similar to the one Clint had been attended in Barcelona, and he couldn’t help but think that criminal dealings were getting a bit cliché. Mercifully, this event took place in a ballroom with an entire wall of windows so surveillance was possible from a distance. Just the way Clint liked it.
They were in place early, before anyone but the caterers had arrived in the room, and they were sitting together in comfortable silence. Actually, it wasn’t that comfortable, since she had been looking at him contemplatively for a while and it was starting to worry him. Finally, she just came out with what was on her mind.
“What does it mean to have friends?”
He wasn’t surprised she didn’t know, but he was surprised she asked. “It means you talk about things besides work. You know things about each other’s lives. Coulson’s told me about his family, for instance, and I’ve told him about mine.”
“So you don’t consider me a friend.”
He didn’t know whether she wanted to hear a yes or a no, and in such situations he usually opted for the truth.
“No.” Not yet, he thought to himself.
“That’s something, I suppose. But you trust me?”
“I do. Do you trust me?”
“Of course not. I don’t trust anyone. Trust is foolish and gets you killed faster than any other mistake you could make.”
“So you’re saying I shouldn’t trust you.”
“Can you give me a reason that doesn’t boil down to a rejection of trust in general?”
“Every man who ever trusted me is dead.”
“How many of them would still be alive if they hadn’t trusted you?”
She was silent a moment. “Two," she finally admitted begrudgingly. "Possibly three, it’s hard to say.”
“There you go. I make my decisions about who to trust based on the person. So I’m going to continue to trust you until you prove I shouldn’t.”
She might have kept arguing, but people were starting to trickle into the ballroom across the street, and their mark had just walked in.
“There she is. Olga Lebedev. Supposedly here to negotiate a human trafficking deal.”
“Well, right now she’s talking about wine. Which she has terrible taste in, by the way.”
“It’s okay, where she’s headed they don’t have much in the way of wine anyway.”
“We’re putting her in jail? Seems a bit of an underreaction.”
“I was actually talking about hell.” She took the binoculars away from her eyes to give him an amused look, then immediately went back to scoping their target.
An hour went by, and it was starting to look like bad wine was the most interesting thing Olga Lebedev was going to talk about, when the doors to the ballroom opened again and Clint felt Natasha stiffen next to him.
“What is it?”
“It’s- it’s nothing, probably. I know that man.”
“From where?” he asked. Considering the life she used to lead, it was pretty likely that anyone that Natasha knew from Russia was a criminal. And a dangerous one at that. She didn’t answer, though, just watched the man closely. Time passed, and he made no move toward Lebedev, and finally Clint turned his attention back to the person they were actually supposed to be watching.
“Oh, look, we have suspicious behavior.” Indeed, the woman was tucked in a corner with an older man, and even without being in the room Clint could tell they were speaking in very low voices. “Can you tell what they’re saying?”
He felt a change in Natasha’s posture as she snapped out of whatever flashback the mystery man had put her in. The person Olga was meeting with had his mouth to her ear, at such an angle that they couldn’t read his lips, but hers were visible.
“She says she’ll have the girls Friday. They’re arriving at the docks Thursday night.”
“Alright. I’d call that due diligence. Let’s stick around for a while longer, just in case, but I think that’s all we need.” Natasha didn’t answer, just trained her binoculars back on the man she’d said she knew. “Who is that?”
“Ivan Koslov. The head of the Red Room.”
Clint turned fully to stare at her. “The Red Room, you mean the group that—“
“That killed my parents, kidnapped me, and turned me into a killing machine?” Clint stared at Koslov again, scanned the room for any indication that he was in communication with Olga Lebedev. There seemed to be none; they hadn’t even glanced at each other. “Is it just coincidence that he’s here?”
“I think it must be. He likes to rape little girls, but he doesn’t need a human trafficker to get them.” Clint stared at Natasha for a minute, thinking. Then he reached for his bow.
“I’d offer you the shot, but I don’t have a rifle and I don’t think you’re a strong enough shot with the bow.”
She tore her gaze away from the ballroom to look at him. “You’re going to kill him?”
“Of course. I told you when I met you, I kill people who make this world a worse place. And men who rape children and turn them into weapons definitely fall into that category.”
“But you haven’t seen for yourself.” Clint looked at her speculatively, pulling an arrow out of his quiver. It was true, this would be the first person he’d killed in a long time on the word of someone else. But he’d told Natasha he trusted her. She was testing that trust now, exploring its limits, and if he couldn’t do this for her, it wasn’t worth much at all.
He drew his bow and took a breath. He dropped his heartrate to a slow thud, took aim at the man who had destroyed Natasha Romanova’s life, and released.
Glass shattered, people screamed, and the man was dead before he hit the ground.
“Let’s get out of here.”
That night, there was a knock on Clint’s bedroom door. He opened it, and Natasha slipped in, dressed casually and looking as gorgeous as anything Clint had ever seen. She seemed stiff, uncomfortable as she stood by the door and searched for what she wanted to say.
“I lied to you.”
He turned back to her, raised an eyebrow. “About what?”
“The man you shot today. He wasn’t the leader of the Red Room. I’d never seen him before in my life.”
Chapter 5: The Beginning
The very last chapter. Thanks for all the positive feedback!
Also, there's a reference in here to a TV show I love, and if you catch it, you get a cookie.
“That wasn’t Ivan Koslov. He was just a random civilian.”
Clint stared at Natasha, thinking hard. He wanted to think she was lying now. That she’d decided after the fact to use this for—something. If she was telling the truth… he didn’t want to think about what he’d done.
Finally, he pulled his phone out. It would take too long to go find Coulson, even though the building wasn’t that big. They needed this settled now.
“Coulson. The man I shot tonight, what was his name?”
“Um…” There was a pause while he shuffled papers. “I was going to ask you about that tomorrow at your debriefing. We aren’t sure.”
“It wasn’t Ivan Koslov?”
“Koslov? Definitely not. We keep close tabs on him; we’d have known. You killed someone you didn’t know? That’s not like you, Barton.”
Clint closed the phone hard, clenched it in his fist. Natasha didn’t even have the decency to look contrite.
“What. the fuck.”
“You needed a reason not to trust me. Now you have one.”
“You manipulated me—“
“You made it easy.”
“Made me kill an innocent man to… what? Prove a point?”
“To teach you a lesson. I’m trying to keep you alive; I don’t give a damn what you think of me.”
“And that man? You don’t care at all that that man is dead because of you?”
“Lots of men are dead because of me. He was collateral damage.”
Clint took a few deep breaths. He was furious, but he still didn’t want to get into an actual physical fight with her.
“Get out. Get out of this facility. If I ever see you again, I’m going to kill you myself.”
“Is there a reason you aren’t killing me now?” Her stance was defensive; she was really expecting him to attack her. When Clint noticed her body language, he was shocked by the realization that he was actually ready to kill her, and yet he still wanted to shove her against a wall and fuck her until she screamed. That wasn’t particularly healthy.
“Sentiment,” Natasha sneered. “Almost as big a weakness as trust. You’re not incompetent, Barton, but unless you get over these childish notions—“
“I’ll what? Retain some semblance of humanity? Unlike you? You’re a monster. I thought there was something in there other than a weapon, but clearly I was wrong. Get the fuck out of my sight.”
For a minute it looked like she was going to say something else. But then she wordlessly slipped out of his room. The sound of the door closing had an air of finality. This was the way she’d wanted it to begin with.
“Where has the Black Widow gone?”
It was first thing the next morning, at his scheduled debriefing, and Clint was in a foul mood.
“Don’t know. Off a goddamn cliff, hopefully.” Coulson raised his eyebrows a bit, but otherwise didn’t react.
“Okay. Let’s focus on your mission last night.”
“Staked the party out, located Olga Lebedev. She met with an unknown male, his photo’s on the camera, and told him that a shipment of girls would be arriving at the docks Thursday night, and she would deliver them on Friday.”
“And the man you shot?”
“The Black Widow told me he was Ivan Koslov, the man who had kidnapped and abused countless children as a key member of the Red Room operation.”
“He wasn’t; we’re sure of that. We’re still investigating who he really was, but it appears at this point that he was an unrelated bystander.” Anger filled Clint’s chest again. Phil did his best to distract him. “Let’s go back to Lebedev. The information about the trafficking shipment, how did you acquire it?”
“You read her lips?”
Clint felt a sinking feeling of guilt. “No. The Black Widow did. Her Russian is better than mine, obviously. Damn, I really fucked this one up, didn’t I?”
Phil sat down across the table from him. “Actually, it’s not nearly as bad as we were expecting.”
“But you aren’t. You were manipulated, Barton. You can’t blame yourself.”
“Watch me. What’s ironic is, she did this to stop me trusting her. Because I didn’t believe her when she told me I shouldn’t trust her.”
Coulson opened his mouth to answer, then stopped, a slight furrow in his brow. He shook his head. Clint got up and turned to leave, when Phil stopped him. “Clint. When we find out who he was… do you want to know?”
He closed his eyes briefly against another wave of guilt. “Yes.” It was right. He owed the stranger that at least. Maybe if he had a family Clint could give them part of his salary every month.
It was two days later, and Clint was still tracking Olga Lebedev. Alone. She hadn’t done anything overtly criminal so far, just a lot of the waste that characterized rich, unemployed wives. Funnily enough, Mr. Lebedev seemed totally ignorant of his wife’s business and the money she’d earned from it, which she kept far out of his reach.
Clint had bumped into her casually earlier that day and buried a microphone in the fur stole she wore, so now he was listening to her chatter on her cell phone about her latest decorating project. However, just when Clint was beginning to think that this woman never was involved in any crime and Natasha had set him up, a second phone rang in the middle of Olga’s conversation. She bid an cheerful farewell to whomever she was talking to and answered the other phone with an irritable bark.
Clint heard the following, in Russian: “What?... Of course I had it taken care of… Smirnov… Fuck. Is he dead?... Fucking Americans. Okay, tell Red to meet me, I need someone to beat the shit out of Kowalski. I’ll have the way cleared for the shipment by Monday.”
She hung up the phone and walked through the house, calling for the help to tell her husband she was going shopping.
Clint immediately reached for his own phone to call Coulson.
“Coulson, something went wrong. Lebedev just pushed the shipment back to Monday.”
“Yes, that makes sense. We have a Karl Smirnov in our custody that told us something along those lines would happen.”
“That explains it. I’m about to follow her, I think she’s going to lead us to another arm of the operation.”
“Good. Barton, before you go, we found out who that man was.”
“His name was Adelai Niska. And I have good news. We had such trouble tracking him down because he’s changed his identity three times in the past two decades. He’s a sadistic psychiatrist who’s been involved in multiple criminal brainwashing operations, including the Red Room. And we’re almost certain he was there at the same time as Romanova. She was telling the truth, for all the parts that mattered.”
Clint shook his head and murmured, “That crazy bitch,” but he couldn’t stop a small smile and a huge wave of relief.
“Trust me, Clint, the world’s better off without him.”
“I need you to tell me where Romanova is.”
“We really don’t know. We weren’t prepared to track her when she took off. She went out the west gate, that’s all I know.”
“Can you help me find her?”
“Barton, maybe that isn't the best idea.”
“Phil, please. She may still be keeping tabs on me, but after the—oh. What day is it?”
“I know where she is.”
Incredibly, he spotted her first. She was crouched in a tiny alley between two warehouses, and her attention was on the dock in front of her, not the archer overhead.
“Natasha Romanova,” he called out to her, then ducked. He knew by now that she’d have a gun pointed at him before he could say another word. “I’m not here to kill you,” he called over the ledge of the roof. “We found out about Niska. And also, nothing is happening here tonight.” He couldn’t say more when he was nearly shouting, at least by covert mission standards, and he was also starting to notice the silence. He had his back to the brick wall, and since he couldn’t see her he was listening carefully for any sign of movement on her part.
And he was still listening hard when something flew over his head and hit the rooftop in front of him with a graceful roll. Natasha was on her feet with a 9 mil trained on his head in record time, a suspicious look in her eyes.
Well, best deal with business first, he thought. “We threw a wrench into Lebedev’s plans; the shipment doesn’t arrive until Monday.” She continued to watch him silently. “You lied to me,” he challenged.
“You trusted me.”
“I still trust you.”
Her expression made it clear that she would have given him an almighty eye-roll if she’d been willing to take her eyes off him for a split.
“I don’t know what it is about you not wanting me to trust you, Romanova, but I’d bet money it isn’t for the reason you say it is. And at this point I’m officially telling you to get over it.”
Her response was to pull the trigger.
Clint dropped to the ground instinctually, but his rapid assessment of the situation led to the conclusion that she’d fired at something besides him. She was too close to miss, and he definitely couldn’t dodge bullets.
He drew his bow, coming up in time to watch a man with a machine gun drop like a rock. Then the air was thick with flying bullets, and he and Natasha both ducked under the cover of the roof’s ledge.
“Police or Lebedev’s people?” she asked over the din.
“Got to be Lebedev’s. The police make more noise.”
She nodded. They both knew what that meant: shoot to kill. He gestured to a skylight a few yards away from them, and she fired two shots into the glass. He swung down first, eyes piercing the dark, searching for any threat. When she landed silently next to him, they moved toward the door together, covering each other seamlessly.
Clint shoved the door open while Natasha peered around it, fired three shots that were followed by three heavy thuds.
“My car’s this way,” said Clint, pointing down an alley. “About three blocks.” She nodded curtly, and fired another shot over his shoulder.
Suddenly there were flashing lights and shouts of, “Politsiya!” Clint waved Natasha toward the car, then fired two arrows into ground at the feet of the police. The arrows immediately burst and released knockout gas, providing enough cover for both of them to slip away toward the S.H.I.E.L.D. jeep.
“Did you want me to drop you somewhere?”
“If I didn’t intend to go back to the base with you, I wouldn’t have gotten into this vehicle.”
“Okay. So you’re back to following me around, trying to save my life?”
“It would appear so.”
“You saved me tonight. I had no idea that man was behind me.”
She was silent a minute. “You saved me in Barcelona. And you wouldn’t have been on that roof in the first place if not for me. We still aren’t even.”
At this point, Clint had completely resigned himself to the bizarreness that was his life. “No more shit like you pulled with Niska, okay? You want me to kill someone, fine, no need to lie about it.”
“I’m perfectly capable of killing people on my own, thanks. And besides, I wouldn’t want rob Coulson of the chance to be condescending.”
Clint gave a startled laugh. “Oh, I like you,” he said.
She turned her head to look at him for the first time. “Really?”
When she said it like that, it made him think harder about what he’d just said. It’d been something let slip casually, without much thought, but when he really considered it, he found it was true.
“No one’s ever said that to me before.”
“I’ve had a dozen men tell me they love me. No one ever said they liked me before.” She trailed off, and Clint was silent. His instincts were telling him something important was happening in Natasha’s head right now. “I- I appreciate what you did. Killing Niska. I didn’t think you would." Her words were coming choppily, nothing like the smooth, calculated speech she usually affected. "I thought if you got back to base and realized I’d lied, that would have been enough. But I’m glad you did. I won’t ask you to do something like that again.”
As thank you/apologies went, it definitely left something to be desired, but it was a big step for someone like Natasha Romanova, and Clint would take what he could get with her. He pulled off the highway and glanced over at her.
“Be my partner,” he said. Their gaze met for a second before they both looked out at the road again.
“Okay,” she replied, and as Clint pulled into the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, he wondered if he hadn’t just been getting the wording wrong this whole time.