Maintaining their cover is a luxury this time. They're newlywed adventurers, there to climb the Aztec ruins (and totally not to end the life of a general slowly setting up a city-state built on cocaine and intimidation). They can hold hands. He can slap her ass and make a big show of pretending he didn't do it. They go overboard, actually, doing all the things they wouldn't do even if life allowed them to, calling each other "Babe", bitching about the inconveniences of travel, trading stories with the other couples about how they met and how he proposed.
"He puked in the restroom right before he came out and asked me," Natasha says, rolling her eyes in fond exasperation. "He had to borrow mouthwash from the maitre d' before we could kiss." That is her only contribution to the tale.
"Why aren't you wearing rings?" asks Selma-from-Jersey.
Acting in perfect synchronicity, Clint and Natasha use their thumbs to pull out the gold chains around their necks. The rings spin a few times before stopping.
"Oh, that's so smart," Selma-from-Jersey says, delighted. Rod-from-Jersey is completely disengaged from the conversation, focusing instead on the baseball game playing on the screen behind the bartender. "So much harder to get robbed that way. We should do that."
Clint looks at Natasha and sees the same thought reflected in her eyes. Lady, don't bother, they both want to say. If someone decides they want something of yours, they'll take it. There's nothing you can do to stop them.
They get back to the hotel around one AM, with five whole hours to kill before they have to drive the rental car back over the border then meet up with the Helicarrier.
Natasha closes the door and leans against it with a grin. "Nice shooting, Tex."
He pulls off his shirt and tosses it behind him, not giving the slightest shit where it lands. "Nice watching my six, Red."
Her smile goes dark and dangerous as he boxes her in. "How long do we have again?" she asks.
"Oh, years. Decades." He kisses her neck, runs his hand along her stomach, and unbuttons the fly of her cargo shorts. She does this thing sometimes where her lips part and she lets out a breath of air that isn't quite a gasp. It drives him absolutely wild.
They have a rule: Never fuck until a job is done. It does wonders for his motivation.
They were supposed to have enough time left over to rest up a bit, but Clint's phone rings before he's even gotten a chance to drift off.
"Change of plans," Coulson says. "We need you both to reroute to Montevideo. A courier will be dropping off all the relevant intel in ten minutes. If you get on the road as soon as he arrives, you'll make the flight we have you booked on."
"We'll be ready," Clint says. Natasha steps out of bed, arms crossed over her bare chest. Her expression is carefully blank, meaning that it's covering up deep thoughts. "This place is boring anyway. Right, Nat? Got through all the tourist-traps before lunch the first day. We been twiddling our thumbs ever since."
"Be safe," Coulson says.
Clint snorts. "Not always up to us, sir, but I can promise we'll do our best."
"That's all I ask." Coulson disconnects the call.
Clint walks up next to her as she stares at the wall, grabbing the back of her neck in silent support.
"Remember what it was like to have a day off?" she asks.
"Nope," he says truthfully. She lets out a quiet sigh and he gives her a little shake. "Come on. Time for all good little Russian spies to stop being naked."
They travel over the top of the building on cat feet, making as little noise as possible. They stop in the middle, crouching down to remove the squares of glass.
"Don't follow me," she says, smirking. She knows she can't, but she imagines herself giving him a fleeting kiss on the lips before she jumps through the skylight.
Clint's warning whistle drifts over to her unexpectedly before he shows himself. "So you got everything wrapped up on your end?" he asks, looking down at her prisoner.
She glares at him and he raises his hands.
"What? I was done." He holds up the flash drive to prove it. "You get anything out of Bludo here?" he asks, giving the prone captive a little kick.
She shakes her head. "Cyanide capsule. He didn't even pause to gloat about it before he bit down."
"Well, hell." She waits for him to add something about needing to know the Hydra benefits package to explain this single-minded devotion their people have. But he doesn't get the chance.
The telephone on the wall explodes, rocking her off her feet. Clint spins in the air and lands hard on his stomach.
Ignoring the small burns and cuts on her face and arms, she rolls him onto his back. "Hawk? Hey. No sleeping on the..." His right flank is a mess of shredded flesh, bleeding freely. "...job."
"Wow," he pronounces on exhale, his jaw clenched tight. "That is gonna leave an awesome scar."
She mutters a curse in Russian. "Do you think you can-" She smells the smoke right before she sees the flames. As flames do, they double and triple in size in the space of few blinks.
Clint looks around wildly as he struggles to sit up. "Who set the place on fire?" he asks, sounding absurdly annoyed, like someone who'd just misplaced his keys.
She brushes back the sweaty hair touching his forehead. "We'll find out later." She takes his free hand, the one that isn't latched to his side, and pulls him flush against her back, tuning out the agonized groan he can't quite stifle.
The floor plan of this building indicated that it has four separate doors leading out. She only needs to find one.
He gets two hours of urgent care at a city hospital before SHIELD spirits them both away.
On the chopper, his eyes are closed, but she can tell that he's conscious. He tugs experimentally at the restraints when he thinks no one is looking. The stuff running through his veins is more saline and opiates than blood, but he's still capable of taking several of the medics out.
She touches his face and murmurs to him. We're safe. We're safe. The mission was completed. Just rest. I promise, I have your back. Rest.
Eventually, he settles down.
So often it isn't the wound itself, it's the infection that creeps in afterward.
To her he feels like he brought the fire back with him. And he won't wake up. On the flip side, there's no delirium. She won't have to lie when he asks her later if he let slip anything he didn't mean to.
She lies in bed with his hot head on her shoulder, and she waits for later to come.
"We need you to go out again," Sitwell says.
And Natasha says, "Of course." Not It's only been two days, or If he dies while I'm gone, I'll tell you what I would have told him and then send you to pass the message along.
"I'm sorry, Romanoff." He looks like he genuinely is.
The mission is bloodless for a change. Hostage extraction. She manages to get the family out of the house without killing even one of the guards. Localized gas takes care of the bad guys, keeps them out for the duration.
Which is honestly sort of a shame. The least the bastards could do is let her get some aggression out.
It takes eight days of recon and waiting for the right moment to pull everything off. She doesn't spare a second to think about him.
When she returns to the infirmary, he is sitting up in bed, his eyes open and clear. The monitors are off to the side, powered down, useless, and unneeded.
A sudden flare of emotion expands in her chest, making it hard to breathe. He drops his magazine on the floor.
"I told you," she says, cold with rage. "Don't follow me."
He moves forward, carefully, slower than usual but he's moving. When he gets to the foot of the bed, they wrap around each other and she holds on like the ground just opened up beneath her feet. His torso is bare apart from the bandages around his stomach. She has one arm around his neck and her other hand is cradling the back of his head, and all she can feel is skin, hair, and life.
Neither of them say a word.