“Seriously?” Natasha sighed when she came out of the bathroom and caught him glaring at his reflection in the full-length mirror in the suite’s bedroom, the studs for his shirt scattered across the floor and the bow tie crumpled in his fist.
“Yes,” Clint snapped, getting enough of a grip to not throw the stupid tie at her, thus avoiding being choked out with it when she caught it. “I hate these things.”
“Mmmm,” Natasha agreed in a pretty fucking astonishing display of tact. Normally, she just laughed at him. “Let me--here, I can fix this.” She took the wrinkled piece of silk out of his hand and retreated into the bathroom again. Clint very maturely did not pull out any of his own hair and crouched down to retrieve all the studs from where he’d yanked them out of his buttonholes in a last-ditch attempt to be able to breathe. Or in a tantrum. Whatever.
He was threading the last one into the bottom buttonhole when Natasha re-emerged, his tie smooth and neat again.
“Travel steamer,” she said in answer to his unspoken question. “You didn’t think this dress survived two airports and four cabs without a wrinkle, did you?” She had that perfect deadpan going, the one that said she’d smack him for a liar if he tried to imply he’d even given the matter any thought.
“Who knows?” Clint answered, standing still in front of her and letting her take care of him. “I figured the velvet was as scared of you as I am.” Natasha snorted at that; Clint counted it as a win as he tipped his head back obediently and let her tie the perfect knot. She finished in no time--Clint refused to think how long he’d been standing there fighting with the damned thing--and smoothed her hands down the front of his shirt, part care-taking, part possessive, the satisfied There as clear as if she’d spoken it out loud.
Clint blew her a kiss and went to deal with his ankle holster. It was light duty tonight, not even a real protection detail, just a favor for a friend of the agency, no need for a bow or anything with a scope, nothing but a Kel-Tek 9 mm and a throwing knife at the small of his back. Natasha’s dress was full enough that she could go with the same Kel-Tek in a thigh holster and her very favorite stiletto tucked in her dress somewhere. He was also sure she had a few other surprises she could call on; she wouldn’t be Nat if she didn’t. By the time he’d gotten his dinner jacket on and everything settled, Natasha had stepped into her wickedly-high heels and was easing her evening wrap off its padded hanger. He went to hold it for her, the heavy silk smooth and cool against his hands. She let him drape it across her shoulders and smiled at him in the mirror. He’d brought the fabric back from Thailand for her--it felt like a lifetime ago. It had been a present--at least on the surface--for the first birthday she’d celebrated away from the Red Room, but even with his own less than spectacular sense of introspection, he knew it meant so much more in reality. Deep emerald silk, hand-embroidered in spun gold with an abstract pattern picked out by tiny sprays of tourmaline and peridot wasn’t even close to being an appropriate gift for a co-worker, but from the second Clint had seen it, buried deep in a marketplace stall in Bangkok, he’d had zero chance of walking away from it--which was also the same chance he'd had of walking away from Nat the first time he'd seen her in the wrap she'd had made from it. He didn't think that last part surprised anyone.
“Ready?” Natasha asked, arching an eyebrow when Clint shook his head.
“Two seconds,” he murmured, sweeping her hair off the back of her neck so he could drop a kiss there. “Wouldn’t want to mess up your make-up,” he added, straightening up and grinning at her exasperated look, because he might not be the go-to guy for the black tie shit, but nobody could read Natasha like he could and he knew exactly where to look to see the happy under the surface. He slipped his earpiece in and touched it to activate. “We’re on our way down, Sitwell,” he said. “Let’s get this thing done.”
“Roger that,” Sitwell answered, and Natasha let Clint usher her out the door and down the elevator to where the SHIELD car and driver sat outside the hotel.
* * *
Traffic was good as they edged south past the White House and the Ellipse. Sitwell didn’t have any new intel for them so they got a relatively peaceful ride past the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial, flags snapping in the breeze and everything lit up for the night. The mild weather meant the tourists were out in droves, even in the deepening twilight but since he and Natasha were technically playing out-of-town visitors on their way to a Kennedy Center gala, Clint decided it was only fair to give them a break, at least the ones who paid attention to the traffic lights and didn't do stupid things like try to dart across Constitution Avenue in between cars. Clint met the driver’s eye in the rear view mirror and smiled as the guy shrugged.
“I could have gone across K Street, but I kinda like navigating by monuments,” the driver said. Clint could see his point, especially since they didn’t have any particular route they needed to take. They made it without any pedestrian fatalities down to where they could turn off Constitution and onto the diagonal of Virginia Avenue, and the architecture of monuments and memorials gave way to the blander facades of one federal agency after another. The streets were mostly deserted until they cut around GW where half the student population seemed to be out taking advantage of the weather, and then the gala traffic slammed in a couple blocks west of there. The car inched along New Hampshire until they got up to where the driver could show his nicely-forged credentials and turn onto the restricted part of F Street.
“Stepping out of the car, Jasper,” Clint said, as they finally made it up to the front of the line and the driver came around to open the back door.
“Alerting the paparazzi,” Sitwell answered, and if it wasn’t Coulson’s dry delivery, it was close enough that Clint knew Sitwell was missing him, too. Clint shoved that thought down and got out of the car without tripping or sliding around in the ridiculous shoes that went with the tux. His whole game plan at this point in the op was to try not to look like too much of a moron, at least until Natasha joined him. Once she and her dress made an appearance, no one would pay him the slightest attention.
Clint generally managed to dodge any op that was black tie, but he and Nat were supposed to have been on leave when Fury had approached her about this one; if Clint hadn’t gone along, they’d have lost another day while Natasha flew out to join him. Since he didn’t actually care where they got their long overdue downtime, only that they did it together, he agreed to tag along and play backup while Nat kept an eye on things. The tux was a pain in the ass, but the flip side of it was Natasha in heavy, deep green velvet that flowed off her bare shoulders and a bonus slit that let her tease him with flickering glimpses of her leg up to her thigh. Clint would sit through far worse for far less.
For once, everything played out as advertised. Natasha ID’d her charge within two minutes of walking into the Grand Foyer. She and Clint mingled with the crowds inside, the crystal chandeliers sparkling and the dresses and jewels vivid against the marble and red carpeting. Since the weather had held, the crowd spilled over onto the terraces during intermissions; even with the damn bow tie threatening to strangle him, Clint could think of a hell of a lot nastier places to be during an op than out looking over the Potomac with the lights of the city spread out in front of them.
They hadn’t had any direct threat to monitor; Natasha was there mostly to reassure the target’s great-grandmother, an emigre who had fought to free Prague and made a substantial number of enemies in the process. Clint knew there had to be more there under the surface, but Nat wasn’t talking so he just made sure he had her back and let it go. They danced once or twice, and circled through the crowd. Clint even managed to find food that wasn’t so painfully fancy that he couldn’t figure out what it was. No booze, of course, but it was barely midnight when Sitwell was calling the night and they were free.
With more restraint than Clint knew he possessed, he didn’t undo his tie and rip out the top two buttons on his shirt until they were halfway down the main staircase.
“What?” he asked at Natasha’s low gurgle of laughter. “I have no idea why they keep sticking me with these details, but they do and there's only so much I can take.”
“Maybe I like you in black tie,” Natasha said.
“Yeah,” Clint snorted. “That’s definitely it.” He steered her by the elbow away from the line of cars waiting and over to the elevator down to the parking garage. “Sitwell was so relieved not to have to farm this out to anyone else that he did me a little favor,” Clint explained. The elevator was mostly empty--the bulk of the crowd had left long before they’d been sprung, but there were still a few people in it, so they kept up the nothing-but-tourists pose for a little bit longer, at least until Natasha realized where they were going.
“You mean you let someone who is not you touch your baby?” she said as they came up to Clint’s GTO tucked in right where Sitwell had promised it’d be.
“I’d do a hell of a lot more to get us off the radar and out of everyone’s ‘oh-yeah-they’d-be-great-for-this’ scheduling brain,” Clint said, unlocking the passenger-side door. “Go-bags are in the trunk and we are free and clear.”
“Are we, now?” Natasha said. She settled herself in the seat and slammed the door with the proper amount of force to get it to catch. “And did you have a plan for this freedom and clarity? One that might include food?”
“Your call, gorgeous,” Clint said, getting the car started and backing out from behind the pillar. “Blues Alley is just getting started for the night, or we can go hit up an all-night diner and work from there.”
“Diner,” Natasha said, firmly. “Steak and eggs. Coffee.” She toed out of her sandals and curled her legs up under her. “Pie. And then bed.”
“Not gonna argue with that,” Clint said.
* * *
In the end, Clint took them across the river and into Arlington, because while there might be all-night places scattered across the District, there was only one Bob & Edith’s. Every time he came back to the area, he expected the little silver building to be gone, a victim of outrageous rents and urban renewal, but so far, it’d held on. Natasha smiled that ‘Barton, you are so predictable’ smile as he pulled up to the front but she had her shoes on and was out of the car in a flash, before the crowd spilling out of the car behind him could get in front of her in the wait for a table.
The parking mojo was with Clint--he caught a space less than a block away--and he was back at the diner right as Nat was claiming a table next to a group of Marines in working blues. Two tables down was a bunch of high school kids and across from them were a couple of booths of twenty-something yuppies. So, basically, a standard night. They had two cooks working the grill and a couple of older, experienced waitresses weaving between the Formica-topped tables and booths. The only concession to changing times that Clint could see was the updated, MP3-playing jukebox.
Clint shrugged out of his tux jacket and handed it to Nat to wear over her dress. The silk wrap was strictly for black tie events; early on in their partnership, his coat had been singled out to take up the slack during any and all post-event activities. By the time the waitress got there to drop off their first round of coffees and take their orders, Clint had gotten his cuff links off (and Nat had tucked them away somewhere that Clint had missed, but based on the round eyes from the high school table, he was going with down her cleavage) and his sleeves rolled up. Between all that and the first sip of boiling-hot, so-strong-it-could-melt-your-spoon coffee, Clint could feel the tension in his shoulders easing off.
True to her word, Natasha ordered New York strip and eggs over easy; Clint nodded to the waitress to make it two. Nat kicked a shoe off and tucked her foot up under Clint’s thigh. It was nothing flagrant or outrageous, but more than enough to get him thinking and her little not-quite smile said she knew that, too. The Marines settled up their checks and headed out; one of them, an older gunnery sergeant, nodded once to Clint, and then, once he got a good look at Natasha, once to her, too. Clint wasn't surprised to see the red flash of a FORECON patch on his shoulder, and he nodded back.
"You can take the boy out of Special Forces…" Natasha teased quietly.
"Girl, too," Clint answered. She quirked an eyebrow at him, one that said he was romanticizing her past again, but he knew what he knew. Whatever else she’d done with and without the Red Room, she’d taken what they’d left her with and made it so he'd take her on his six over anyone. Had, too, not that he had any intention of bringing up Budapest again.
Fortunately, the food arrived before they could get into that well-worn discussion but Clint filed away the Gunny's recognition for the next time Natasha was fighting to see past everything she carried with her, and dove into the steak and eggs.
* * *
They must not have fucked over their karma completely, because the daily pies included a favorite for each of them--it was never pretty when one of them got their favorite while the other one had to make do with apple--so after a slice of pecan for Clint (what? like he was going to not like something that was basically three inches of sugar syrup in a pie crust?) and one of lemon meringue for Nat (which Clint maintained was her favorite solely because the best places used a blow torch to brown the top) and enough coffee to float the Titanic, life was looking pretty damn good from Clint’s point of view.
“Where to?” Clint asked as they settled up the check. They both had places in the area they kept for downtime. Natasha’s was--of course--an open, spacious co-op in Kalorama with a guest bedroom and a master bath that was more of a spa. Clint’s was kind of a dive, an efficiency in an older, unrenovated building on the Virginia side of the river, all ugly parquet floors and heat from a radiator that had only two settings (freeze or roast), with the sole saving grace of a view that looked out over the far edge of the park around the Iwo Jima memorial and across the Potomac toward Georgetown.
“Your place is closer,” Natasha said as Clint held the door for her. Somewhere, he thought Coulson was smiling at the old-fashioned gesture, and for an instant the thought sat heavy on his chest. He couldn’t help but be glad he’d known Phil, though, so it eased into something that made it okay to breathe. Natasha cocked her head at him, like she’d been waiting for him to come back and just as he let the door go and turned toward the car, she leaned into him and drew the tips of two fingers along the base of his throat and it was hard to breathe again, but for good reasons. “It might be that I like you halfway out of black tie,” she murmured.
* * *
Clint was damn proud he managed to get them home after that comment, but he’d learned a thing or two over the years about keeping his focus. Of course, that usually meant staying on target and making sure the right person got taken out and this meant he got to be sliding his jacket off Natasha’s shoulders, but focus was focus. He wasn’t going to argue with anything that got him to where he was kicking the door to his place shut behind them a split second before Nat had her hands up under his shirt.
The apartment was laid out in an L-shape, and it really was small, only a dozen steps before they edged around the corner and he could tumble them down onto the bed. The old-fashioned blinds were half-open; the streetlights fell in stripes across the floor, enough that Clint could see the serious, focused expression on Natasha’s face as she undressed him, every button and stud neatly undone, shirt and pants and socks and shoes draped across the chair next to the bed until it was just her hands and mouth and the velvet of her dress against his skin, no rush, no hurry, nowhere to be, no one waiting for them.
He thought he’d take his time returning the favor--she’d let him, he knew that--but then he was sitting on the edge of the bed and she was in front of him with a single hook-and-eye at the top of a long, smooth zipper and before he knew it, the dress was a whispering slide of silk on the floor and he couldn’t bring himself to care about anything but the taste of her skin.
* * *
He never made it back out of bed to close the blinds, so the morning sun woke him entirely too fucking early. He thought about trying for another hour or two, but his brain decided it’d be a good morning to shift into high gear and get on with the day. He guessed he didn’t blame it: he was well-fed, well-rested and really damn well-fucked. All the bases covered, so to speak. He knew better than to try to get out of bed without waking Natasha--he’d kind of lost track of the stiletto in the rush of everything else during the night and he’d definitely rather not end up with it sticking out of any portion of his anatomy--so he kept still and said, “Nat. Nat. Nat. Nat. Nat. Nat.”
“You say my name once more, Barton, and I will cut your tongue out.”
“No, you won’t,” Clint said, rolling away from her now that she was awake enough to threaten him. “You like my tongue.”
Yeah, it was a cheesy line, but... Well. True. He had the scratch marks on his shoulders and back to prove it.
“I like a lot of things I live without,” Natasha mumbled.
“Yup, you’re a pillar of self-control, and yet, here I am, about to go running while you laze around in bed for another couple of hours.” The stiletto thumped into the wall six inches from Clint’s head and he grinned. Translated from the Natasha, six inches was like a light year.
“Go away,” Natasha snarled. “Bring me coffee back.”
“I live to serve,” Clint said, digging his running shoes and gear out of his bag and ducking into the bathroom. Nat was under a pillow and back asleep by the time he came out, so he slid out the door as noiselessly as possible and headed out to loop around the Carillon and Iwo Jima and then down along the river and across Memorial Bridge. The weather was good, still, and the bike path was more crowded than he expected for as early as it was, but most everyone was out for a serious run, no weekend wannabes in sight, so it wasn’t that bad. He caught up to a couple of women on the bridge who never shut up, but since they were running six-minute miles while they were tearing apart every person they’d ever met, Clint pretty much decided just to give them props and push his own pace up enough to get around them.
Natasha was just coming out of the bathroom in a towel and a cloud of citrus-scented steam as he got back in the front door of his apartment, and, since he hadn’t forgotten the coffee and Natasha firmly believed in reinforcing positive behavior, the towel didn’t actually last very long. He was pretty sweaty and rank, though, so there wasn’t much that happened before he was in the shower himself. Alone, unfortunately, but since there was nothing to eat in the apartment, the promise of pho for breakfast and the knowledge that they had days to themselves had gone a long way to make his solitary state be okay.
It got better when Nat opened the door two minutes in and said, “Don’t shave.”
“I--uh. Okay?” Clint stuck his head around the shower curtain to see if he could figure out what the hell was going on now.
“It might be that I like you scruffy, Barton,” Natasha said as she closed the door.
“I can do scruffy,” Clint muttered after the couple of seconds it took to get his brain back online. "I can rock the fuck out of scruffy." He ducked under the spray to get the soap out of his eyes and decided he liked this whole vacation-as-a-couple concept.
They hit a snag once Clint was out of the shower and getting dressed, in that Queen Bee had closed and he still had no clear favorite to take its place. Natasha sighed--which Clint got, he guessed. It’d been a good five years since the Queen had gone under; it was an excessive amount of time to waffle about things, even for him, but he’d spent a lot of time at the old place and sometimes he had a hard time letting go. He had a list of new places to try (he always had a list of new places to try no matter where he was; he still hated it when a long-time favorite disappeared) but they were all out past Seven Corners and he was decidedly apathetic about the prospect of a trek.
“Nam Viet,” Natasha finally said, naming the place that had inherited most of the patrons of the Queen. It was good, because the food held up, but bad because they never expanded and the line tended to lengths that would make grown men weep. She pulled on a light leather coat and waited in pointed silence until Clint sighed and shoved his feet into his boots and grabbed his house keys. “It’s still early enough not to be a complete zoo. We can take the Metro. I’ll read. You can nap.”
It was, like most of Natasha’s ideas, a workable plan, so Clint snagged his sunglasses (it was much easier to nap behind them, plus there was the bonus of occasionally freaking out creeps with guilty consciences who thought Clint was staring them down) and they were gone.
The trip was the usual uneventful Sunday morning on the subway; they arrived in the sweet spot between the last of the Asian customers there for breakfast and the yuppie/hipster lunch rush. The soup was as hot and fragrant as he remembered, and, if anything, the portions had only gotten larger. Clint still downed two bowls, though the second time, he held back on the sriracha a little in a (probably doomed) effort to save his taste buds.
He was braced for a day of galleries and browsing--Natasha had very clear ideas of how her living spaces should look and feel, and nothing went in them that she hadn’t personally chosen, which was driving Stark and his interior decorators (but not Pepper, because she totally got it, which only cemented Clint’s--purely platonic--thing for her) insane--but when they got back to the subway station, Natasha only said, “Home,” and when he couldn’t quite get the surprise off his face quickly enough, she leaned up and dragged a long, open-mouthed kiss along his jaw and added, “I told you: I like you scruffy.”
“I can do scruffy,” Clint managed to choke out, and then spent the rest of the trip as still as possible so as to not get arrested for public indecency. All bets were off once they got back inside the apartment, though; when Clint could think again, he was going to be really fucking proud he had enough coordination left to pick Nat up and brace her against the wall so they could fuck that way rather than just going for it on the floor by the door. If nothing else, it left the floor as an option for later.
His coordination and focus even managed to extend to getting them off the wall and over to the bed, but that was where it ended. Natasha poked at him until he got himself more-or-less under the sheet and blanket--he didn’t see any need to discuss the pathetic noises that apparently were coming out of his mouth while that happened except to say the woman had lethal aim and knew all his most vulnerable places--but then she curled up next to him and he forgave her for the torture. Mostly.
“‘s good,” Clint slurred after a peaceful few moments. Natasha hummed in agreement. “We stayin’ here or are we going to your place anytime?”
“We’re not having sex in my spa tub,” Natasha said, correctly interpreting his question.
“Can we make out there and have sex other places?” It wasn’t the smoothest of questions, but Clint was operating on some seriously fucked-out brain cells. Forming words was a triumph at that point. Subtlety was over-rated anyway.
“Possibly,” Natasha said, and if Clint could have moved, he’d be doing his best endzone dance. Since he was, again, operating on fucked-out brain cells, he just nodded and said, “‘K. I can do possibly. I can do it real good.”
Natasha sighed, but it was one of the most indulgent noises he’d ever heard her make, so he chalked one up for himself and settled a little deeper into the pillows.