Chapter 1: Part 1
It wasn't possible. It just couldn't be possible. She would wake up sometime soon and it would all be a dream. Yeah, right, how many times had she hoped for that cliché before? She felt like she was frozen in time, just suspended in that moment while everything else around her continued to live. They had been fighting alongside Iron Man as Tony had been the only one in the City. Tony, however, hadn't seen the bullet that had been aimed for her heart, nor had he seen it hit Clint instead when he pushed her down, along with the two other shots that followed. He hadn't seen him fall.
“Tony!” Natasha finally managed to choke out. She somehow managed to find her voice. Tony was only a few yards away, and upon hearing the tension in her voice, he turned to face her. Though his face was hidden by his helmet, Natasha could see his entire stance change as he shot over to them after seeing Clint on the ground.
“What the hell happened?” Tony demanded as he knelt down by Natasha's side, Jarvis's scanners running vitals over Clint's body. He was still breathing, and his pulse was there, but just barely. He could already tell things were looking bad.
“He....” Natasha struggled to keep her voice as she looked up at Tony, his face plate finally moving up. She shook her head, “He took a shot meant for me. Please, please, Tony, we have to get him some help.”
Natasha's heart jolted slightly as Clint's eyelids fluttered and opened. She felt his hand squeeze hers gently and she squeezed back, “Clint,” She said in a soft voice. “Clint, you've been shot. We need to get you some help.”
“I can get him back to Stark Tower fastest,” Tony said, Jarvis's analysis of Clint's injuries ringing in his ears. “He needs to see a doctor now, Natasha.”
Clint's eyelids began to flutter once again and she felt his grip on her hand starting to slacken once again, “Tasha,” He breathed, though Natasha was a little more than certain that he couldn't see her anymore at that moment. She looked up at Tony and nodded once. “I'll stay here with the others. Please, Tony, make sure he gets to a doctor before....”
“I'm on it,” Tony said, lifting Clint up with ease. He'd have to fly at a slower speed, but he'd still get there. “Be careful here, Romanoff.”
Then he was gone. Stark flew into the air, leaving Natasha with one more killer to deal with. The one who had shot Clint. She'd had more than enough. When Iron Man had taken down his comrades, the guy had run, but Natasha knew he couldn't have gotten far. She'd bring him back to SHIELD dead or alive.
An hour later, Natasha finally returned to Stark Tower, which after the battle with Loki, had been transformed into a SHIELD base of sorts. She'd had to wait for the cleanup crew to join her and start taking care of the mess. She'd brought the man who had shot Clint in alive. Feeling as though maybe SHIELD might be able to get some answers from him. But she had bigger things to worry about at the moment.
“Where the hell is he?” Natasha demanded, knowing that Jarvis's system was hooked up throughout the building and would be able to answer her question.
“The 'he' I believe that you are referring to is on the third floor, Ms. Romanoff,” Jarvis responded after a moment. Natasha was crossing to the elevator as it was coming down. Natasha blinked as Tony appeared in the elevator.
“Stark,” Natasha said, her heart pounding when she saw him. She looked at him through eyes filled with concern. She really didn't want to stand around talking to him, but she would give him a few seconds of her time, after all, he had brought Clint back to the tower as fast as possible. “How is he?”
“Natasha,” Stark repeated, his eyes looking down at the floor. He reached out and took her arm, “We need to talk.”
Natasha shook her head. Was Tony seriously asking her to wait before going to check on the person who had saved her neck? The person who had for so long been her partner? “No, Stark, I need to go see my partner.”
“Natasha,” Stark said, his tone taking on a sense of urgency. Natasha looked up into his eyes an saw that they were slightly bloodshot. Had Stark been crying? Tony Stark never cried
“Oh, my god,” Natasha said, her heart jolting painfully. “Tony,” She said, her throat tightening slightly. “Tony, where's Clint?”
“Natasha, he's gone.”
Natasha looked Tony in his eyes, “No, he's in the infirmary,” she said with a shake of her head. “With the doctors, right?”
Her tone was pleading. She could hear it, and she was sure that Tony could. He shook his head, “He's gone. They couldn't save him.”
“You're lying,” Natasha snarled, her fury suddenly rising. “You're a fucking bastard, Stark,” She hissed, reaching up and backhanding Stark across the face. “Why the fuck would you say something like that?”
“You know I would never lie about something like that,” Tony said with another shake of his head. “Natasha, he was shot three times--”
“Yeah, I know that,” Natasha glared at Stark, “But you were supposed to get him here so the doctors could take care of him.”
“They tried,” Tony said, unable to meet her eyes. “God, Natasha, they tried everything. He was losing so much blood.... They hit one of his major arteries. It was a wonder he lasted until I got him back here....”
Natasha shot past him then and slid into the elevator, hearing Stark call after her as the doors slid closed. She rode it to the medical floor and was out of the elevator before the doors were fully opened.
“Clint!” She yelled, her heart pounding. She needed to see him. There was no way Stark had been telling the truth. He was such a dick and a bastard. “Goddamn it, where is he?”
Director Fury appeared out of a door on her left and he closed the door behind him instantly, “Fury, where is my partner?” Natasha demanded, her eyes blazing.
“Agent Romanoff,” Fury said in a low voice. Natasha was quickly growing sick of the look that everyone seemed to have in their eyes, like someone had died. “You know what happened. Stark just told me he told you.”
“Stark's a liar,” Natasha snarled, her anger surfacing as Stark's name was mentioned. “He always has been, always will be.”
“Agent, your partner is gone,” Fury echoed Tony's words. “Agent Barton lost his life after he was brought in by Stark. Those three bullets killed him.”
“Fuck you, Fury,” Natasha snarled. She pushed through him and into the room behind him. She saw Clint laying there, a tube sticking out of his throat, his body still and covered from the chest down by a thin sheet. It couldn't be real, what all of them were saying. She walked over to him and shook him by the shoulder, “Clint....” She took his hand, it was like ice. “Clint, please,” She said, her voice suddenly pleading once again. “Clint, wake up....”
She didn't even notice Stark and Fury standing in the doorway watching her. They both knew this was something Natasha had to do alone.
“Barton, goddamn it, wake up!” Natasha yelled at last, her voice echoing around the room. This wasn't real. She had to be having a nightmare. She lashed out at the nearby machines, sending them to the floor with loud bangs and crashes, some of the equipment broken beyond repair. Needles went flying while glass shattered. Fury and Tony dived out of the way as a heart monitor went shattering through the window. Finally, it sank in as she fell to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks. Clint, her partner, the one who had always watched out for her, he really was gone. “No,” She said in a low voice, pulling at her hair, “No, please,” She inhaled sharply as her body started to tremble. “Clint, no....”
She finally started to break down, the world around her shattering. She could swear she heard it, the sound of shattering glass all around her. The tightness in her chest was slowly becoming unbearable. Please, someone had to tell her all of this wasn't real. That Clint wasn't really....
She suddenly felt someone's arm on her shoulder. She looked up, suddenly realizing that her tears had filled her eyes, making her vision blurry. She could tell it was Tony though, “You were supposed to get him here so they could save him,” She said, fighting to keep her voice steady. She lashed out, punching Stark with a strong right hook. “You were supposed to make sure he was going to be okay!”
“I know, Natasha,” Stark said in a low voice. “I tried. Damned if I didn't try. I was in here until the last moment. He was fighting until the end. But his injuries....”
Natasha let out a low cry, “His injuries were meant to be mine!” She yelled, punching Tony's arm. Tony let her punch him again and again, knowing that she needed to get it out, and part of him felt that her words were justified. She had let him take Clint from the scene and had trusted him. “He died because he was protecting me! He pushed me out of the way when the bullets started flying! He.... He tried to save me and now....”
She was gone. The world around her had shattered. She'd abused Tony, but what the hell good was that going to do her? Kicking Tony's ass wouldn't do a damn thing. She stiffened suddenly, “Son of a bitch!”
She tore away from Stark and ran out of the room. She ran into the staircase, pulling her gun as she went to the basement where the holding cells were. She slid her access card through a reader and walked into a room where Clint's shooter sat, his hands cuffed in front of him and resting on a table.
“How's your partner?” The criminal asked with a smirk, seeing the tear tracks on Natasha's face. Natasha checked the cartridge of her gun and narrowed her eyes.
“He's dead, you son of a bitch,” Natasha said in a low voice. She walked to the criminal and aimed the gun right between his eyes. “You killed him. You have three seconds to start telling me why I shouldn't start putting bullets through you.”
“Killing me won't bring your boyfriend back,” The criminal responded simply with a shrug.
“Got a name?” Natasha demanded.
“Let me remind you, Sam,” Natasha said, pulling back the hammer of the gun. “I'm a trained assassin. I know at least ten ways to shoot you and still keep you alive long enough to castrate you and shove your balls down your throat.”
“And you still wouldn't have him back,” Sam said simply. “He's gone, and I killed him. And you know what, bitch? I don't feel an ounce of regret.”
Natasha didn't feel an ounce of regret when she pulled the trigger and killed Sam instantly with a bullet between the eyes. She left Stark Tower at that point. She left the building. She didn't give a damn that the alarms were blaring due to the fact that she had just killed Sam. He was right, it wasn't going to bring Clint back. It wouldn't bring back the only person she'd ever managed to care about and the one person who had always had her back since she'd met him. It wouldn't take away the pain she felt in her heart, nor would it take the tears away. She wasn't sure where she was going or if she'd back, and god help the person who tried to talk to her.
Chapter 2: Part 2
“You've reached Natasha. Goddamn it, just stop calling me already. If I wanted to talk to any of you, I'd have answered my phone already. Leave me the hell alone.”
Steve rolled his eyes as he hung up without leaving a message, “Her voicemail message changed,” He said as he turned around in his chair. “I really don't think that she's even in New York anymore. Knowing Natasha, she could be in Zagreb or London or Budapest....”
“Don't mention Budapest,” Tony said with a shake of his head as he ran his fingers through his hair. His face was black and blue as was his arm from Natasha's hits three days earlier. He was starting to wonder how Hawkeye had ever put up with sparring with Natasha. The man really must have been stronger than any of them ever gave him credit for. He pinched the bridge of his nose, “We've all left messages telling her that the funeral is today. Now the rest is up to her.”
Truth be told, he knew that Natasha was still in New York, at least, he knew that she hadn't flown out. He'd been having Jarvis monitor the airport security feeds for her face and computers for anyone of Natasha's aliases. So far, she hadn't turned up anywhere. He only hoped that she was okay.
Natasha, however, was far from okay. She was in a small loft that Clint owned in the Bronx. The place had a secret wall that she conveniently hid behind any time that any of the Avengers came peeking around. They hadn't come in over twenty-four hours though, so she was finally thinking that they gave up trying to find her there. She was so beyond drunk at that point though, she didn't really care if they did find her. What were they going to do to her? None of them was going to do anything that might have the slightest chance of setting her off though, she knew that much. But then again, what did they know? They'd never lost a partner. All of them were so high and mighty, with powers they were either given or that they made themselves, they'd never needed a partner. Meanwhile, since the day she'd joined SHIELD, she'd had Clint. What did she have now?
Some pretty damn good vodka. She had to laugh at herself for a moment. What else did a true Russian spy need other than a good bottle of vodka and a gun? She'd listened and seen all the messages all of them had been sending her. What the hell did they want her to do? Go face her dead partner again? It wasn't enough to see him laying dead on the table in Stark Tower? They wanted to remind her that she was the reason he was dead? Nope. None of them would ever see her again. Especially not like this.
She'd never known what it was like to be truly broken until the reality of Clint dying hit her. But now, she could say she knew what Humpty Dumpty must have felt like. She felt like there was a huge hole in her chest, and sitting around Clint's loft wasn't doing much to help her. The place smelled of him. He was everywhere, mostly in pictures with her, but his essence was there, whether it be in his bedroom, his weapon room, or the living room, he was still there.
“Clint, you fucking bastard,” She said at last, her voice hoarse and tinged with her Russian accent that returned when she was drunk. “How could you leave me behind? How could you do this to me after all the missions and all those nights after the missions? All the times you held me through my nightmares and I helped you through yours? How could you do this to me? To both of us?”
The hot tears slid down her cheeks as she heard the voice. She'd come to accept it as a hallucination. They say when you want something badly enough, you start to see it, and she must have wanted it pretty damn bad.
“You know I never meant for this to happen, Tasha.”
Natasha looked over her shoulder and saw Clint leaning against the counter, his arms crossed over his chest. He was dressed in his favorite jeans and a gray t-shirt, his old beaten leather jacket over it, “You're back,” She said, referring to the time the night before when she had also been drunk senseless when he had last appeared to her. She had been horribly drunk and throwing up in the toilet when he'd first appeared. She had to admit though, he looked better than she'd ever seen him. He seemed to be a lot more relaxed, and his skin was slightly luminescent, with all his scars gone and his eyes as vibrant as ever.
“I didn't go far,” Clint commented. He walked over and leaned against the table. He seemed so real, and yet her hand went right through him when she tried to touch him. “It's not like I have a choice, though. You keep pulling me here when you're drunk and angry.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Natasha said with a roll of her eyes. He was the one who had died and yet he was giving her the lecture. “But who left whom behind?” She demanded. “God, Clint. How the hell am I supposed to get past this? We were partners!”
Clint smiled, “You're slowly realizing that we were so much more than that, Tasha. You can call us partners all you want, because that's a good thing to call us. But you know what the reality is.”
“I know the current reality is that you're dead,” Natasha said with a shrug as she downed a bit more vodka. “I'd rather not think about what could have been.”
“I do,” Clint admitted. “You and I were supposed to be 'partners' to the end. It was you, Natasha. From the day I met you, you were meant to be mine and I was meant to be yours.”
“What the fuck good does that do us now, Clint?” Natasha demanded. She felt like he was stabbing her in the heart with a good and sharp dagger from his weapon room. Over and over and over again she felt the jolt of pain in her chest. God, why was he tormenting her like this?
“You're suffering because you know it too,” Clint mused. He looked Natasha in her eyes. He'd never seen her truly broken and he just wanted to make her pain go away. But for that to happen he would have to want something that made him entirely selfish. Hell, he was dead, but he wanted Natasha to be happy. He wasn't sure that she'd ever find it, that she'd ever smile again, not that anyone other than himself had ever seen her truly smile. He also knew that she believed him to just be a hallucination, but that really wasn't the whole case. Sure, only she could see him, but that's what happened when you were connected the way that they were. “Tasha, when I was alive, you and I both know we didn't believe in soulmates or fate or any of that, but now... I know I was wrong.”
“Again, what the fuck good does that do us?” Natasha hissed. Tears stung at her eyes again and she tried to stop them by sipping from her glass again. Clint gave her a sad look as he shook his head, wishing he could pull the bottle away from her.
“You're going to suck that bottle dry soon, Tasha,” He said in a low voice. He was truly starting to get worried about her. He'd been dead for three days and Natasha just seemed to be sinking lower and lower into her pain. “I know you're in pain, and I wish I could tell you things were going to get better....”
“But you can't, so why bother?” Natasha asked. She pinched the bridge of her nose and looked up at Clint, “I loved you,” She said at last. “God, I did, Clint. If I didn't I wouldn't be trying to drink all of this away. I never got the chance to tell it to you, and now there's not a damn thing I could do about any of that.” She inhaled shakily and got to her feet, feeling extremely unsteady as she did so. She shook her head and wobbled a bit as she did so.
“Easy, Tasha,” Clint said, wishing he could reach out a hand and steady her. “You're really out of it....”
“You're telling me,” Natasha mumbled as she whirled around to face Clint. She reached for the vodka bottle, intending to put it back in the freezer, but as she picked it up, it slipped and shattered on the floor. “Shit,” Natasha mumbled under her breath. She made a move to bend down and start to clean up the glass, but her foot slipped out from under her and she wound up cracking her head hard against the counter top by the sink.
“Tasha!” Clint yelled though nobody could hear him, not even Natasha, who passed out from the force of hitting her head against the edge of the counter top. Clint watched as the blood started to slowly pool around Natasha's head and he felt a strange jolt. “Tasha, no... goddamn it, no! Not like this! No! This isn't supposed to happen like this! Tasha, fight it!”
Across the bridge in the City, the Avengers were getting ready to lay Clint to rest, all of the male Avengers in their black suits. Thor had even descended from Asgard to pay his respects, but there was no Natasha.
“We really can't wait much longer,” Bruce said, glancing at his watch. He was worried about Natasha and had something of a bad feeling about her absence. “The minister is getting restless. I think we should just go and do it, guys.”
“Natasha would want to be here,” Steve said, his arms crossed over his chest. “Goddamn it, Natasha....”
“Come on, guys,” Tony said at last with a shake of his head. Pain surged through his cheek as he spoke. As much as he might have wanted to wait for Natasha, he knew that she wasn't going to come. He, however, made a mental note that he wanted to go check out Clint's apartment in the Bronx one last time afterward, see if anything had changed there. “Let's do this. Wherever Natasha is, I'm sure she's here in spirit.”
As the funeral commenced, Natasha's eyes shot open. She felt weird. She felt... peaceful. She guessed that was the way to explain it. She remembered dropping the bottle of vodka on the floor while talking to Clint and then, for some reason, her mind went blank. Wait a second. She didn't feel drunk. Why wasn't she drunk? She'd drank half a bottle of vodka over the last few hours and she had definitely been drunk. What happened?
Natasha looked around, and then she looked down, “Oh, shit.” Below her, her body lay, a small pool of blood around her head. She walked over and shook her head, “That crack against the counter....”
“Hurt your skull pretty badly,” Clint said with a shake of his head. “Of course, there's no one here who can physically use a phone other than you, and you started to lose a lot of blood.... God, Natasha, I'm so sorry.”
Natasha looked from her body on the floor, to Clint, and back again. She was free. The hole in her chest didn't feel like a hole anymore. She walked over to Clint and reached out to him. She touched his cheek. She felt him, “You're sorry?” She tilted her head to the side.
“Back together with you,” Natasha finished. She could see why Clint was concerned, but she truly couldn't bring herself to feel the same way. If Clint was suddenly believing in things like fate, why couldn't this have been hers? She hugged Clint tightly, inhaling his familiar scent. He felt warm to her, he felt strong, he felt... like Clint. Her partner, her.... “Soulmates, huh?” She asked with a small smile.
“Now a little more literally, sadly,” Clint said with a glance at Natasha's body on the floor. He nuzzled her cheek for a moment, realizing just how real she felt to him right then. He inhaled slowly before resting his forehead against hers. She was beautiful. Her skin seemed to radiate the same glow that his did, and there wasn't a scar to be seen on her face or on her arms. She looked perfect to him. “I think I preferred calling you my partner, if it's all the same to you.”
Natasha smiled as she stood on her toes, “Partners until the end, then,” She said before she kissed him softly, her fingers finding his hair, feeling him against her. Everything felt right, like it should have been. She wasn't sure how much time passed as she and Clint moved slowly around his old amartment just holding each other and keeping each other close, but when the room had started to darken around them, the door opened and Tony walked in.
“Oh, crap,” Natasha said in a soft voice. She hadn't been expecting Tony to come by again. She got up from Clint's lap, where she had been sitting, and followed Tony through Clint's apartment.
“Romanoff, are you here?” Tony called out as he started to head for the kitchen. Natasha watched as Tony found her body and she heard him cry out, “Natasha!”
Natasha glanced back at Clint and then to Tony. She wasn't exactly sure what she should do. It wasn't like Tony could see her right then, but she watched as Tony's initial shock wore off and Tony looked around the room after calling the others to come and help him. He looked right at the spot where Natasha was standing with Clint behind her, and she wondered whether he really couldn't see her.
“Natasha,” Tony said in a soft voice. “You're back with him, I'm guessing. God, I hope you're happier than you were here. I truly hope that you found peace. Nobody should have to feel the way that you felt that day.”
Natasha stepped to the side as Tony walked out of the kitchen and past her to wait for the rest of the remaining Avengers. She smiled weakly at Clint before walking back to him, wrapping her arms around him, “I think we can go now,” She said in a soft voice. “There's nothing left for us here. I'd rather not be here when the rest of the team turns up.”
Clint nodded once and wrapped his arm around Natasha's shoulders. Together they started to vanish. Natasha wasn't sure where Clint was taking her, but she knew that she had trusted him with everything while they had been alive, she had no reason to stop trusting him now that they were truly going to be together for the rest of their days.