"Excuse me, Mr. Barton, but Agent Romanoff is outside your door and is requesting admittance. Should I ask her to leave?"
"What?" Clint snapped, not yet awake and with his eyes still resolutely shut.
"Agent Romanoff would like to enter your quarters," Jarvis repeated. "Should I inform her that this is a bad time or would you like me to let her in?"
"Jarvis, why are you in my room?" Clint asked, reluctantly sitting up as he peered at the clock. It was just after one in the morning and he still wasn't thinking straight. "I told Tony that you're not supposed to be in here. At all. Are you going Skynet on us or did Tony not reprogram you?"
"He did, sir, but..."
"Of course," Clint sighed, rolling his eyes as he stood up and stretched. Tony Stark invented the loophole.
"...Mr. Stark left in a provision that I was allowed access to any room necessary in case of an emergency."
"Is Tasha hurt?" he asked, for a moment legitimately concerned.
"She appears fine," Jarvis answered, which, after Clint thought about it, of course she was. She'd have kicked open the door if there was a real problem.
"So... what's the emergency?"
"She didn't say. She is, however, inquiring about your status. What would you like me to say?"
"Tell her I'm on my way and then get out of my room, Jarvis."
"And stay out," Clint added, making a mental note to talk to Tony, again, about personal space.
"Of course, sir," Jarvis responded, and Clint would swear the AI sounded put-off. Or he would sound that way, if he had emotions.
He didn't bother to get dressed; Natasha had seen him in less than his current attire, which consisted of boxers and a t-shirt. Instead he just took a deep breath and headed straight for the front door. Clint only paused once he reached his destination, curious as to what had brought her here in the first place now that the initial, short-lived shock of having been awoken from a dead sleep had worn off.
And to be quite honest, he needed that pause to collect himself.
Deciding he might as well get on with it before she sent Jarvis back in, Clint opened the door.
"You know what time it is, don't you?" he asked, leaning into the frame as he spoke, and as casually as he could, blocked her entrance.
"Yes," she answered as she crossed her arms defensively. This was obviously not how she wanted to start, which was perfectly fine with Clint.
"And you remember how I feel about sleep?"
"Tasha," he sighed, shaking his head ruefully. "I have one thing. Just this one thing."
"I've heard this speech before."
"Sleep," he said firmly. "I need sleep. I crave it. I love it. If sleep was a physical being, I would marry it."
The corners of Natasha's mouth twitched, but she knew he wasn't done yet.
"And my love is a wish, really, at this point because," Clint continued, undeterred, "I swear, I'm the only one in this whole place that does sleep."
"That's probably true."
"Four hours sleep. Just... four hours sleep. That's not a lot, but it's what I need to be a fully functioning, non-psychotic, productive member of society. Four hours."
"Are you done?"
"Two hours sleep and I'm okay. Not my best, but I get by," he went on. "Six hours and I am in heaven. But I need four hours and right now... you're in the middle of them. Why?"
"I wanted to see you," Natasha answered, and Clint was a bit surprised to see he'd caught her off guard.
Natasha stared at him for a moment before dropping her eyes. With a sigh of her own, she lifted them again and nodded her head in his direction. There was almost a smile on her lips, or at least he thought there might have been one coming on. "Can I come in?"
Clint hesitated, and for the first time, felt uneasy.
Things had been okay between them. Not good. Not great. Just okay, and he'd been okay with that.
Clint wasn't happy with what had happened. He hated that it had happened with Tony and Steve all but participating, but he wasn't letting it affect his work. Clint knew he still had to work with Natasha. He had to see her. He had to talk to her. He'd tried very hard not to let any of his own frustrations or hurt show, and had done a decent job of it. No one had broached the subject with him in the three weeks that had passed, and that was fine. In fact that was exactly the best outcome Clint could have hoped for, because the last thing he wanted to do was to talk about it. But now...
"Clint?" she asked, taking half a step forward as she did.
He didn't answer her, not really, just shrugged and stepped aside, sweeping an arm in towards the living room and allowing her access. All the while thinking that Natasha was right. He was a fool.
Natasha didn't hesitate, not like Clint had. She moved past him easily and even flipped on the lights along the way to the couch, where she sat, pretty much exactly where she always did when she was over, completely at ease. Clint had followed, halfheartedly, and stopped dead in front of her, unsure if he should sit or stand or what to do next.
When he remained standing, staring down at her and waiting, Natasha only had to lift her eyebrows in that slightly impatient way she always did, and he took a seat beside her. Just like a dog, he thought to himself. She had him trained just like a dog.
"I wanted to say thank you."
"You don't have to..." he started to dismiss, but she quickly waved him off.
"I haven't even told you what I'm thanking you for."
"It does," Natasha insisted.
"Okay then," Clint relented.
"I wanted to thank you for showing up," Natasha continued, her eyes only momentarily meeting his before casting about the room for some other object to latch onto. "For my last mission. You didn't have to do that."
"I always do that."
"I'd have understood if this time..."
Clint let out a breath of air and rubbed his hands over his face. "I considered it," he finally admitted. "I thought about not going but..."
A week after Natasha had laid out her reasons, clearly and with her typical brutal honesty, to all of them on her made-up mission, she was assigned a very real mission by Fury. Their routine, their ritual regarding solo missions had always been the same. Phil had started it. He'd been the first to insist that, no matter who was going out, or for how long, they'd all be there to send them off if they could. For years, no matter what, either Phil or Natasha, and usually both Phil and Natasha, had been there to see him off and to welcome him back, and Clint had happily done the same in return.
But now it was just the two of them.
And now it felt like there wasn't even that.
"...it wouldn't have felt right," Clint finished. "Not being there wouldn't have felt right."
The silence between them grew tense and just as Clint had begun to wonder exactly what it was Natasha had hoped to accomplish with this conversation, he found out.
She kissed him.
It was very slow, almost leisurely, the way she'd done it. Natasha had just leaned in and softly pressed her lips to his and exhaled. She didn't move her hands, they'd stayed folded in her lap, she just continued to plant small, short kisses, followed by longer, lingering ones on his lips until Clint had no choice really but shut his eyes and return the favor.
She'd been the one to kiss him, but somehow he had managed to make the first move. Within no time he'd drug one hand up through her hair and used the other to gently tug her closer. To pull her closer to him, craving more contact. Natasha complied willingly, wrapping her arms around his neck as their kisses grew less chaste and more intense.
Soon after that he realized that she was pushing him backwards, laying against his chest, her hands having already deftly discarded his shirt in between kisses. Clint ran his hands down her back and then back up her sides again, feeling her murmur against his lips at his touch. A moment later Natasha sat back, still straddling his waist, before pulling off her own shirt and tossing it on the floor with a smile. He stared back up at her, returning the smile and suddenly his whole stomach clenched into a knot.
It was like waking up.
It was exactly like waking up or being slapped or maybe like being slapped awake. Whatever it was, it felt as if reality hadn't just set in, but landed on him with all of the force of a freight train.
This wasn't right.
Natasha, seemingly unaware of his internal struggled, moved back towards him, still smiling, but Clint stopped her before she could really touch him again. He turned his head away and, as gently as he could, moved out from underneath her and then off the couch entirely.
"What's wrong?" she asked, looking more than a little concerned at his sudden change in behavior.
"We can't do this."
Natasha looked as if she was about to object, but instead simply closed her mouth with a slight frown.
"We can't do this," he repeated seriously. "Not after... Listen, I don't know why you stopped by. Doesn't matter. But, I'm sorry, you have to go."
"What?" she snapped, and as she did, Clint realized she was actually blushing. "What are you saying?"
"I'm not saying anything," he answered, continuing to scrutinize her until, finally, it hit him exactly what was wrong with this whole situation, besides the very obvious.
Natasha sensed it this time. They stared at one another for a long minute and it was as if she knew that he understood what was happening here. Finally, all he could do was shake his head in disbelief.
"It's not..." she started to say, but was cut short by his laugh.
"Holy shit, Natasha," he interrupted. "Are you serious?"
"It's not like that," she snapped back at him, getting to her feet and snatching up her shirt as quickly as she could.
"Why are you wearing that then?" he asked, grabbing his own shirt and pulling it back on as he spoke.
"It's called a bra. Women wear them. It's a type of underwear. I'm sure you've heard about them before."
"No, no, no," he returned, shaking his head as he spoke and averting his eyes from the offending black lacey garment they were discussing. "I've seen your bras. That is not what you wear every day. That's a working bra."
Natasha stopped and gave him a look that plainly spoke her irritation.
"I don't mean working like that," he backpedaled. "But you know what I mean. That's the kind of bra you wear when you're going after a target."
"Don't flatter yourself."
"All of your things are practical. All of them. And I've seen you in your underwear. That's not them."
"This was obviously a mistake," Natasha said as she headed towards the door.
"Wait," Clint called, chasing after. "What was a mistake? Coming here or getting caught?"
Natasha stopped and turned around to face him, her face void of expression.
"You didn't think I'd recognize what this is?" he continued. "I've seen it enough over the years. I realize I'm not a genius, but eventually you had to know I'd catch on."
"Or maybe you didn't think I would. Or that I'd care. Because me being in love with you just means I want sex and once that's done we can go back to how it was. Is that what you think of me?"
"But here you are," he said, too angry to stop. "You show up right when my guard is down, in the middle of the night. You talk your way in, when we both know you could have just picked the lock if you wanted. You even did that little flirty, shy thing in the doorway, and I must be stupid, because that should have been all the evidence I needed to know I was getting played. Why? Why bother? I got the message. I've left you alone. I haven't brought it up to you or to anyone. I've tried, Tasha. What do you want from me? I don't understand this. At all. Are you just trying to hurt me now?"
"I wasn't trying to hurt you," Natasha said as she dropped her chin to her chest, her whole body seeming to slump from the effort. "I just thought that..."
"This would fix me?" he supplied, trying desperately not to sound as mad as he was and mostly failing. "That this would fix us?"
"No," she answered, purposely meeting his eyes. "I thought this would help me."
There were a thousand things Clint could have said in return, but nothing came out. He was at a complete loss for coherent speech.
"I can't sleep," Natasha admitted, rubbing her hand over her eyes as she did so. "Ever since I've been back... I can't get the images out of my head and at night it's worse. And I was... I was desperate for..."
Clint nodded and thought he finally understood. This had nothing to do with them. This was about the job. This was about the fallout.
The mission she'd just come back from had gone badly. He'd been there when she left and had been there when she'd gotten back. He'd sat through the debrief and it had been rough.
There had been children involved and Natasha always had a harder time with those missions.
"I know that this my problem, not yours. You don't have to care. You never had to. I thought that..." she continued on, once it became clear he wasn't going to speak again. "I don't know. Maybe that if I gave you something then you'd let me stay and... and I could get some rest."
"You don't have to give me anything," he said, more than a little horrified that she'd even considered it in those terms. "That's not me. That's not us. That's not how we operate."
"That's how the world operates."
"And since when are we the rest of the world?"
"I thought," she said, taking great pains to make her voice even, "that given everything that's been said, given what I did, that we might not have the same... understanding."
"You could have just asked," Clint said, shaking his head at her response. "You didn't even have to ask. You could have just told me. I'm here for you. Always."
"Always," he repeated, taking a step closer and dropping a hand on her shoulder, all of his anger gone.
Natasha looked up at him and smiled, a real smile this time, even if her eyes were a bit watery, before tipping her head to the side and brushing her cheek against his hand.
It took every bit of reserved willpower Clint had not to swoop in and kiss her.
"Come on," he said instead, sliding his hand down her arm until it fell into hers. "Show's over. Let's get some sleep."
"Don't," he said quickly. He'd much rather think it had all been an act than to hear that some of it had, in fact, been real. There was only so much he could take in a night. Especially this late. "It was a show. A pretty good one, even," he continued, attempting to keep his tone light as he led her into the bedroom. "But I've seen it before. Granted, I'm not usually a participant and mostly I've looked on through a sniper scope, but this wasn't half bad."
Natasha caught on to the fact that he didn't want to discuss it anymore and stood back, taking off her shoes, as Clint pulled back the covers on the unused side of his bed. As she slid under the sheets, he went back into the living room and shut off the lights. When he got back, he had to laugh.
"No," he said as he approached the bed. "No pillow wall," he said, still laughing a bit as he took away the pillows she'd moved to the center of the bed. "Not tonight."
Natasha watched as he crawled in on his side and laid down before turning to her and opening his arms wide.
"You're serious?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered, motioning her to him. "I'll behave if you will."
Natasha hesitated for a split second more and then finally just shrugged and curled up next to Clint, resting her head on his chest.
It took about twenty minutes before she'd fallen asleep.
It was all so messed up, he thought, as he struggled to remain awake.
Clint knew what would happen next. He knew that, once he fell asleep, sometime early in the morning, Natasha would creep out of his room without so much as a goodbye. He didn't need any thanks, he'd meant it when he'd said he's always be here for her, but her disappearing act was going to be hard to take. It was going to hurt.
He'd already accepted it.
He loved her and she couldn't love him back. Eventually he'd have to find a way to get over it, but how could he when she was the only part of his life that really mattered. There had never been a lot of people in Clint's life that he loved and respected, and now Natasha was the only one left. He was still finding his place on this team. He was still adjusting to being around so many new people and personalities. Clint didn't doubt that eventually... but eventually wasn't now. And at this moment, he was struggling. Not just with SHIELD. Not just with Phil's death. Not just with Natasha.
He was struggling with everything and, like Natasha, he just needed a rest.
But there wasn't time for that. Too much was changing. Too much had changed. There wasn't time for love stories or friendships. There wasn't time for heartache or hurt feelings. Early on he'd learned that life is fleeting and it was ruthless. It was as much about luck as it was about ability. Some people coasted through while others scrapped by.
Clint had always drifted.
He needed an anchor. He needed purpose. Clint had thought SHIELD had given that to him, but he'd been wrong. He hoped that whatever it was Tony had planned would finally be it, because if it wasn't...
Clint looked down at Tasha, sleeping soundly by his side. Absentmindedly he ran his fingers through her hair before planting a soft kiss on the top of her head. He wanted her to stay, but he so rarely got what he wanted that he didn't even dare hope for it.
He needed to rest. He needed to sleep.
But just like everything else in his life that he really wanted, sleep was suddenly hard to come by.