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Five Unrelated Rescues and One Reunion

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===== Rescue One:

Natasha carelessly let the last of the HYDRA sentries drop to the floor at her feet, unconscious. They would all be out for the next several hours, sleeping off the drugs she’d tranqued them with.

She turned her attention to the keypad lock next to the heavily fortified door they’d been guarding. It only took her a few moments to crack the security code and the door slid open with a quiet hiss. She silently entered the room beyond and a quick visual revealed it to be some kind of laboratory.

She didn’t care about the equipment lining the walls or the empty cell across from her. She only had eyes for the man strapped face down on the gurney in the center of the room. Her knees buckled a little and she felt lightheaded with relief.

“Clint!” she cried, voice breaking. He was pulling at the restraints that held his arms stretched out in front of him. She rushed over to him and was surprised when he flinched at her touch, until she realized he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids.

He whipped his head around to look at her and the relief that flooded his face was almost comical. He relaxed and Natasha quickly unlocked the shackles that bound his wrists and ankles, and were strapped across his back. She didn’t have time to process what had been done to him before he was sitting up, rolling his shoulders and neck, groaning as his muscles flexed. He slumped and gripped the edge of the gurney, knuckles whitening as he kept himself from falling.

The wings that had been grafted to his back spread out behind him and left her speechless, completely stunned.

Natasha couldn’t help but reach out and touch the dark feathers. They were surprisingly soft as she trailed her fingers along the edge of one huge wing. Clint shivered and she snatched her hand back, afraid she’d hurt him. She snapped her gaze back to his face.

His eyes were squeezed shut but there was no sign of pain or discomfort on his face, in fact he looked a bit like he usually did when she kissed him senseless.

Natasha gently tapped his chin. He opened his eyes and offered her a small, nervous smile. She made a fist and moved it in a circular motion across her chest. Sorry.

He released the white-knuckled grip he had on the edge of the gurney and she followed the motion of his hands as he signed. His movements were a little sloppy, a little slurred.

No, didn’t hurt. Felt good.

She raised an eyebrow in question and he continued.

First time someone has been gentle, felt good.

She made a tentative move toward his wing again, pausing until he nodded, then stroked from the crest down as far as she could reach. He shivered again and spread his wings. They were truly magnificent. Dark and lighter browns with the occasional cream or white mixed in. She guessed he’d have about an eighteen foot wingspan if he stretched them out completely.

Clint caught her attention and signed What do you think?

Natasha saw the tremor in his hands, the doubt and uncertainty in his eyes. She wished they’d stowed his back-up hearing aids in her gear instead of Kate’s, she didn’t want any misunderstandings in this. She took his face in both hands, stroking his cheekbones with her thumbs. She made sure he was focused on her mouth.

“They’re gorgeous.”

His breath caught in his chest and he crushed her to him, wrapping his arms tight around her. He was shaking and she ran her hands in soothing circles on his back, carefully avoiding the joints where his wings met his shoulder blades. He buried his face against her neck and took deep tremulous breaths. She felt moisture against her skin and started humming something nonsensical, knowing he could feel the vibration even if he couldn’t hear her.

After several long moments, Clint lifted his head and pulled her in even closer. He raised a hand to cup her cheek, brushing his thumb along her lower lip. She met his gaze and let him read the truth in her eyes; she was still there, still his, he was still hers.

He made a small, needy sound, and leaned in to kiss her. It was soft and gentle, no more than a brush of their lips, but the feelings wrapped up in the kiss were very nearly overwhelming. Natasha heard a quiet rush and the light dimmed. She broke the kiss and leaned her forehead against his. Clint’s wings surrounded them, nesting them in an intimate cocoon.

“Holy shit, Hawkeye!” Kate’s startled voice interrupted the quiet moment.

Natasha stiffened and half turned in his arms. She felt Clint go on alert, head snapping up and wings spreading out behind him in an impressive display. His shoulders dropped and his wings relaxed when he saw who was in the doorway.

“Oh my god. Clint, those … those are wings,” Kate said, voice full of equal parts awe and shock, and maybe a touch of horror. “Are you … are you okay?”

Clint pointed to his ear with one hand and tightly gripped Natasha’s hand with the other. She laced their fingers together, not caring if Kate noticed.

“Oh, right.” Kate said. She dug into a compartment on her quiver, tentatively stepped closer and held out Clint’s hearing aids.

Natasha took them from her and Kate went back to the door to stand guard, bow at her side, arrow nocked and ready. She kept looking back over her shoulder at them, and the huge wings behind them.

Natasha turned back to Clint and held his hearing aids for him. He placed them one handed, not letting go of her hand. His posture loosened ever so slightly and he gave her a quick grin.

“Glad you remembered my spares.” His voice was harsh and uneven.

His left wing twitched and he turned at the soft rustling sound it made. Both wings flexed and relaxed and Clint turned his head back and forth, listening. She could still see faint shadows of doubt in his eyes. She brushed her free hand along his cheek, back into his hair, and lightly gripped the back of his head. She shook him once, gently, to make sure she had his full, undivided attention.

“Clint, they’re beautiful.”

He nodded, but the shadows still lingered. She tugged his head down to hers again, pressing their foreheads together. Natasha synced her breathing with his and soaked in the comfort of his presence.

“Thanks for the rescue, Tash,” he whispered. “I knew you’d figure it out.”

“Hey, guys,” Kate called. “Evac’s in ten. We should head out.”

He gave Natasha one last, lingering, soft kiss before gingerly sliding off the gurney. She wrapped an arm around his waist and let him lean on her.

“Okay, Hawkeye, lead the way,” he said. She heard the determination in his voice and knew he’d get through this. She’d make sure of it.

 

===== Rescue Two:

Clint tightly gripped the burner phone and ran a hand through his hair as the call rang and rang. He paced the length of the small, dingy room then moved back to the window, casting a quick glance out to make sure the street below was still clear. Just as he was about to give up and throw the phone into the wall, he heard the call connect.

“Yeah.” The voice that answered was just as gruff as Clint remembered.

He sat down hard on the rickety cot, knees weak with relief.

“It’s Barton.” He said, tension bleeding into his voice. “I have something I need retrieved.”

“Ain’t really into that kinda work anymore, man.”

“I heard.” Clint closed his eyes and steadied himself. “It’s a very … distinctive situation … I’m calling in my marker.”

“When and where?” The voice went hard and deadly serious. For the first time since he’d reconned the compound, Clint felt a glimmer of hope.

---

“I see why you called.” Eliot’s voice was a quiet whisper in Clint’s earpiece. He’d been surprised when Eliot arrived with some pretty outstanding tech, stuff that rivaled what SHIELD equipped him with. Eliot had mumbled something about making sure the comms made it back or Hardison would be pissed.

Clint had heard about the misfit group Eliot had taken up with. Just in the few hours they’d been together going over the compound blueprints and Clint’s recon information, he could tell that some of Eliot’s sharper edges had smoothed out, softened. He wondered if Eliot could see the same thing in him.

“They’re good, gotta give ‘em that,” the whisper continued as they monitored the activity in the compound from behind cover on opposite ends. “Couple of ex-mercs that look familiar, see the distinctive holsters? This might be fun.”

“Yeah, just remember what we’re here for,” Clint reminded him.

“Can’t believe your partner’s the Black Widow.” He heard the amusement in Eliot’s tone. “You’ve moved up in the world, Barton.”

The pattern of the guards patrolling in the compound below them changed and Clint tensed.

“That’s it,” he said. “Two minutes and we’re go for infiltration. See you in fifteen.”

---

Clint burst through the door and two arrows later three guards were down. The fourth went out with a hard crack across the skull with his bow. He swept the room to confirm he’d taken care of all of them and slung his bow over his shoulder. Cold, hard fear settled in his gut when he saw Natasha. She was dangling from a chain by cuffs around her wrists, feet barely touching the floor, head hanging limply.

He tamped down on the panic threatening to consume him and concentrated on Natasha. Warm relief flowed through him when he checked for her pulse and found it beating strongly underneath his fingertips. He lightly tapped at her cheek and was rewarded when she groaned and jerked away from him.

She lifted her head and red hot rage churned in his chest. Both of her eyes were blackened and swollen closed, blood oozed from a split in her bottom lip, and her neck was mottled with purpling bruises.

“Jesus, Tasha, they sure worked you over,” he said, trying to keep his tone light, but fearing he failed miserably.

Natasha’s head sagged again and even though she was still hanging, he thought he saw her relax.

“’Bout time, Barton.” Her words were slurred but her voice was the sweetest thing he’d heard in days.

“Let’s get you out of here, huh? Then you can bitch at me all you want.”

“Promise?”

“Yeah, I promise.” He reached up, carefully unlocked the cuffs, and caught her when she sagged, her legs not supporting her. She groaned again and Clint took a moment just to hold her against him.

“Careful, Barton. I might get the idea you missed me.” He’d put more stock in her words if she were making any kind of move away from him, but she’d wrapped her arms around his waist and was holding him tight.

“Not that I don’t appreciate a good reconciliation, but we’re on a tight schedule here,” Eliot said from the doorway. Natasha stiffened and Clint squeezed her lightly in reassurance.

As they made their retreat as quickly as Natasha was able, something crackled in his earpiece. Clint looked over at Eliot just as an exuberant voice came over the comms.

“Parker wants the Black Widow’s autograph.” There was a pause and then, “And a lock of her hair.”

Eliot scowled.

“Dammit, Hardison!”

 

===== Rescue Three:

“Hi, honey!” Clint called as he opened the front door to the ostentatious brick and stone McMansion that was their base for this assignment. “I’m home!”

He set his grocery bags down, pulled off his jacket and took his time hanging it up in the foyer closet. He’d spotted their mark watching from his own McMansion across the street and wanted to give Natasha time to come greet him in front of the huge bank of windows at their front entry.

She rounded the corner from the kitchen and beamed at him. While her smile was too bright and toothy to be Natasha’s, it was perfect for Annabelle Warrington. Annabelle was the pampered, socially conscious, youngest daughter of a Louisiana oil magnate and newly married to his Blaine Warrington. They’d met in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, fell in lust at first sight, and married for love eight months later.

Blaine was an upper level Operations Manager at Stark Industries. Tony had set him up with an impeccable cover. Blaine’s current project was the development and building of a new corporate office and research and development facility in town. Their mark, Prescott Franklin, was a successful software developer and had ties to HYDRA. He’d practically salivated when Blaine and Annabelle had introduced themselves and Stark Industries had been mentioned.

Annabelle’s expression brightened even more as she hugged Blaine. Clint waggled his eyebrows at Natasha and glanced toward the windows, letting her know they were on display. Her smile turned a little wicked and she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him like they’d been apart for weeks instead of just a couple of hours. Blaine slid his hands down her back to the curve of her butt and pulled her closer. He backed her down the short hall and out of sight of the windows, kissing the entire way.

The kiss lingered and he felt the moment Natasha took over from Annabelle. After a swirl of her tongue that had his toes curling in his shoes, she fisted her hand in his hair and tugged his head back.

“Call me ‘honey’ again and I’ll have your balls.” She punctuated the threat with a small shake of his head.

“They already belong to you, along with the rest of me.” He gave her a cheesy grin and she snorted with laughter before giving him a quick peck on the lips.

“Did you remember the wine?” Natasha asked as she went over to the kitchen island and perched on a barstool, opening their laptop and pulling up the blueprint files.

“Yes, dear,” he replied and pointedly ignored the daggers she was glaring at him. He gave her his best innocent look, but she wasn’t fooled.

“What?” he asked. “You don’t like ‘dear’either? How about ‘darling’?”

“How many times over the last two months have we had this conversation?” She sounded gruff, but relaxed into his hold when he came up behind her, wrapped an arm around her waist, and hooked his chin over her shoulder to look at the blueprints.

The Franklin property was laid out before them and Natasha had the details of the security system highlighted.

“I checked in with Coulson while you were out,” she said. “We’re clear for tonight if things go smoothly at dinner.”

“Did he balk at our added objectives?” he asked as he brought up the file on Charity Franklin, Prescott’s wife of seven years. The picture of the elegant young woman with the black eye and fat lip made him seethe. Natasha tensed against him and he brushed a kiss to her temple.

As they’d gotten close to the Franklins it had become clear that Prescott was abusing Charity. Annabelle had redoubled her efforts at befriending Charity and a background in domestic abuse counseling had been hastily added to her cover story. So far Charity had resisted Annabelle’s efforts to help.

“He didn’t seem fazed. I got the distinct impression he was expecting the change in plans,” she answered. “But you know Coulson, he’s usually two or three steps ahead of the game.”

Clint chuckled and gave her a brief squeeze before going to retrieve the groceries from the foyer. He returned, put the beer, milk, and cold cuts away in the refrigerator, the bread and cereal in the cupboard, and set two bottles of wine on the island.

Natasha picked up a bottle and examined the label. “Chateau du SHIELD, 1984. A good vintage. The usual varietal?”

Clint nodded. “Yep. Should take effect six hours after drinking and keep them out until late tomorrow morning. We need to take the counter agent an hour before dinner.”

---

Dinner had gone very well. Since Coulson didn’t trust either Natasha or Clint with putting together the high caliber meal Prescott would be expecting, he’d had it catered, very obviously catered, from the best restaurant in town.

With Tony’s coaching, which was an experience in itself, Clint was able to talk shop with Prescott. At least until Natasha intervened and insisted on a business free evening. She was able to draw Charity out a little, but Prescott would quickly talk over her. By the end of the evening, Clint was ready to put his fist into Prescott’s smug, overly bleached, smarmy smile.

Blaine, however, played nice. He and Annabelle were the perfect hosts and made sure that Prescott and Charity made it across the street and into their house without incident. They stood with an arm around each other, waving at the other couple from their front door.

Once the Franklins were safely inside, Clint and Natasha retreated to their kitchen to clean up and prepare for the infiltration portion of their evening. They’d planned things out days ahead of time and it was just a matter of getting their gear together and then waiting.

They curled up together on the living room couch watching Iron Chef reruns with the drapes open so they could be seen enjoying their domestic bliss by any passersby or by the Franklins if they were to peer out their own windows.

Natasha snuggled in closer to Clint, took one of his hands and laced their fingers together. Clint secretly relished times like these, when the cover bled over into their personal relationship. When the mission didn’t put them in danger, when they got to appreciate and use the skills they’d developed that didn’t involve violence.

Natasha squeezed his hand, bringing him out of his thoughts.

“Do you think Spartan will be a problem?” she asked.

Spartan was Prescott’s prized purebred German Shepherd. He wasn’t much more than a puppy, still growing into his legs and paws. Clint had gone out of his way to befriend the dog. Natasha had fondly rolled her eyes, well used to Clint’s soft spot for animals of any kind. He’d almost ruined the entire operation when he’d seen Prescott hit the dog for peeing on an expensive carpet.

“He’ll be fine. He hasn’t barked at me in weeks.” Clint glanced at the clock; it was time to get started. He tilted her face up to his and pressed a kiss to her mouth. “I’m taking over some of those treats he loves too.”

“Good idea,” she said as she levered herself up and over to straddle his lap. She ran her hands into his hair and tugged him to her for a filthy kiss. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer.

Natasha trailed kisses along his jaw and to his ear. She whispered, voice husky, “Ready for some breaking and entering, hot shot?”

---

The evening went better than planned.

Natasha combed through Prescott’s desk, files, and computer in the book-lined home office. She hit the jackpot and found contact information and locations for Prescott’s HYDRA associates. He’d used the most rudimentary cypher to code it and Natasha had it cracked within just a few minutes. Since they now had the time, she manipulated the code in some key files that would allow Tony and SHIELD to trace the information when she transmitted it to HYDRA under Prescott’s login.

Clint kept to his part of the plan and helped himself to several of the more expensive, portable art pieces on the main level. Spartan trailed along behind him, doing the occasional trick and snapping up the treats he was given.

After he finished his grand larceny, he moved on to planting the drugs and account ledgers that would get Franklin brought up on Federal trafficking charges and put away for a hopefully long time. They’d looked into the local police department and were confident that when Franklin called to report the burglary the investigating officers would find the planted evidence.

While he was waiting for Natasha to wrap up the computer work, he took a seat in Prescott’s leather armchair and propped his feet up on the coffee table. The home office was incredibly pretentious.

He was absently scratching Spartan behind the ears when something about the large, garish marble urn next to the couch caught his eye. He took a closer look; the corner of a bill was poking up from underneath the lid. He opened the urn and whistled appreciatively. There must have been at least thirty thousand dollars in cash in the urn. Prescott really was an overconfident ass.

Natasha looked up at his whistle and Clint waved a strap of hundreds at her and she rolled her eyes. “Amateur.”

Twenty minutes later Natasha had wrapped up her side of the evening’s criminal activity. She looked up to see Clint waiting for her. He was leaned up against the entryway to the office, bag of pilfered art slung over one shoulder and a leash dangling from his hand.

“Clint,” she started but he interrupted her.

“We’re not leaving him.” He heard the mulishness in his voice but didn’t care.

Natasha just sighed and came up to him. She looked down at the dog sitting at their feet. Spartan was looking up at them, tongue lolling out of his mouth. She sighed again and turned her attention back to Clint. He reached out and rubbed away the furrow between her eyebrows.

“We’re not leaving him,” he said again, gentler this time, but no less stubborn. “You know Charity’s afraid of him and Franklin’s going to prison. I’ll find a good home for him.”

---

Late the following morning, Clint and Natasha observed the activity at the Franklin’s from inside their house. Half a dozen police cars were parked out front, uniformed and plainclothes officers trekking throughout the house and into the back yard.

They heard muffled shouting and watched as Prescott was lead out in handcuffs and escorted to one of the police cars.

“I’d hazard a guess the police found the drugs and ledgers we planted.” Clint couldn’t help the smile that crossed his face or the glee in his tone.

Charity came out onto the front porch, accompanied by a couple of suited detectives. Even from across the street, they could see the shellshock on her face.

“And that’s my cue,” Natasha said, no small amount of glee in her tone too. “Annabelle needs to offer some emotional support. And, once the police have left, oh so conveniently find the register for the Swiss bank account in Charity’s name. I’m sure she’ll be able to use thirty thousand dollars.”

She started for the door, but Clint stopped her with a hand on her arm. She took his hand and gave it a quick squeeze before moving into his arms and wrapping hers around his waist. They embraced for a long moment. Then Clint gave her a gentle kiss which she returned just as gently.

“We did good here, right?” she asked softly.

“Absolutely.”

 

===== Rescue Four:

Natasha looked at the clock in the waiting room, time was moving impossibly slow. She focused back on the magazine in her lap, but set it aside when she realized she’d read the same line four times without it sinking in. Something had to be wrong; it shouldn’t take this long for a simple extraction.

She got up and paced the small room, swinging her arms and rolling her neck, trying to release some of the tension she’d built up over the last hour. Thankfully SHIELD had provided her a private waiting area. The medical staff had apparently decided that would be best for everyone involved.

Just as she was about to hunt someone down to get an update, the door to the surgical area opened and she was led back to a recovery room. Clint opened his eyes and the dopiest grin she’d ever seen spread across his face.

“Tasha!” he exclaimed, or at least that’s what she thought he’d said. His voice was too loud and the word was slurred almost beyond recognition. She saw the confusion in his eyes as he raised a hand to his mouth and poked at his bottom lip before reaching up to fumble at his ear.

Natasha tugged his hand away, gave it a quick squeeze, and set it down by his side. She pulled his hearing aids out of her jacket pocket and carefully inserted them for him.

“Better?” she asked. She took a quick glance around, saw they were alone, and ran a hand through his hair, lightly scratching along his scalp behind his ear.

He nodded and the dopey grin came back. Her heart skipped a beat and warmth spread through her chest at the open adoration on his face. She knew he loved her, but it still took her breath away when he showed it so clearly.

She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his forehead. She had to smile at his contented sigh. He groped for her hand, clasping it and she let him pull it up to his mouth and press a sloppy kiss to her fingers. His brow wrinkled and before he could ask, she spoke up.

“It’s the Novocain, Clint. You had your wisdom teeth removed, remember?” She chuckled at the dawning realization on his face.

“Dat ‘splains my bad dream,” he slurred. “Evil dentist, big drill. You saved me. White horse.”

Natasha managed not to laugh but she could feel the grin on her face. He poked at his bottom lip again.

“I hate this,” he mumbled. “Everythin’s fuzzy. An’ I can’t feel my mouth.”

She squeezed his hand.

“Agent Barton? Agent Romanoff?” The oral surgeon walked into the room and paused when she saw their joined hands. Natasha stepped back and tried to drop Clint’s hand, but he just held tighter to her so she gave in to him.

“The surgery and extraction went well,” Dr. Casey said. “We just need to keep Agent Barton under observation for the next half hour and then you can return to your quarters. Here are post-surgery instructions and a list of complications to watch out for.”

She handed Natasha the paperwork along with Clint’s painkillers, wished her good luck, and left.

Clint was blinking owlishly at Natasha when she turned back to him.

“You gonna stay with me?” He asked, tone mostly hopeful, but she heard the doubt lacing the question.

She ran her free hand through his hair again and he sighed.

“Of course,” she said with a smile. “You’re my damsel in distress. I can’t abandon you now that I’ve rescued you from the evil dentist.”

He snorted, clutched her hand to his chest and, in his best Novocained voice, declared, “My hewo!”

When he was done chuckling, she leaned in and gave him a light, quick kiss on his lips.

“I can’t wait ‘til I can feel you kissin’ me ‘gin.”

 

===== Rescue Five:

Clint dropped silently from the dragon’s broad, golden back and waved Lucky off, listening intently to the sounds of the night and only hearing the rustling of dragon wings in flight. He pulled his coat tighter about himself and patted the wrapped package in his interior pocket. Once he made this last delivery, he’d be free of the price on his head. And free to find Barney.

Taneleer Tivan generally kept his word, but Clint was still going into the exchange on guard. Clint had never known him to renege on a fairly struck bargain, but he also knew The Collector could be a cruel man.

He jogged the short distance to the outskirts of Knowhere. The streets were still crowded this time of night and he was able to make his way to Tivan’s compound while blending into the mass of people. Caution, experience, and a healthy sense of paranoia had him circling the stone buildings to scout out the situation.

He paused at the sight of huge jaguar paw prints crisscrossing the open area between the back wall of the outer building and the wooded area beyond. If he was pressed, he’d estimate the cat to be at least five and half feet long and weighing in at about two hundred pounds. Certainly not a creature he’d want to run into at any time, and especially not the dead of night. Clint wondered what the cat was doing this close to a populated area, decided he didn’t want to find out, and quickened his pace. He counted himself fortunate he had a dragon looking out for him.

Other than the prints and a couple of sleeping guards, he didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. He made his way to the front of the main house and tapped his code on the front door. A small viewport opened and after he was given a onceover, the door was opened for him.

Clint paused just inside as the guard closed the door behind him and let his eyes adjust to the light. Tivan had expanded his collection since the last time Clint had made a delivery. He noticed several new pieces along the already full walls, but what drew his attention, and caused a sharp spike of fury to lance his chest, was the cage hanging next to an intricately carved wooden dragon.

The cage was ornate and hung from an equally decorative stand, both forged out of some kind of black, iridescent metal. While the energy field surrounding the cage was impressive in and of itself, what held Clint’s gaze was the tiny sprite inside it. She couldn’t have been more than eight inches tall and even from across the room he could tell she was furious. Clint had never seen anything like her before.

“Barton!” Tivan greeted, entering from a back room. As he passed the cage, he reached out and set it to swinging, a string of angry curses coming from the sprite inside. “And what have you brought me tonight? Enough to pay off your debt?”

Clint had been known to make some rash decisions in his life. The one that led to the price on his head just the most recent in a long history of him going with his gut. He made another of those rash decisions now.

In one swift, smooth motion, he swung his bow off his shoulder and slammed his fist into the guard’s face with a satisfying, sick crunch. The guard dropped and Clint kicked him away from the door while simultaneously nocking one of his arrows. Without a second thought, he fired.

Several things happened in the space of his next few breaths. His arrow flew true and a shower of sparks burst around the cage from where he’d hit the controls for the energy field. The look of horror that crossed Tivan’s face as he dove for cover would become one of Clint’s fonder memories.

A fireball exploded from inside the cage and when the flames cleared, the most beautiful woman Clint had ever seen stood in the wreckage. Her long red hair swirled around her head and her pale skin shimmered. Her green eyes flashed with violent energy as she turned to him. She was exquisite in her fury. Clint was shocked to realize she was the same sprite who had been in the cage moments ago, now transformed to human size.

Their eyes met and Clint felt the heat of her gaze flow through him. It was familiar, foreign, and comforting all at once. The strange moment didn’t last long.

He couldn’t see how she did it, but she threw three bursts of fire in quick succession. Each hit their mark and three other cages were destroyed, their occupants racing out the same door Tivan had come through. Two fire-bursts later and the heavy chest Tivan dove behind was burning. The Collector was nowhere to be seen but Clint made out the outline of a trapdoor on the floor beside the burning chest.

The woman screamed in rage and frustration. She raced toward him, raised her arm and tossed another ball of fire.

The door behind him exploded.

Clint dumbly reached out and grabbed her hand as she ran past him and they rushed out into the night. She tossed another fireball over her shoulder and Clint watched as Tivan’s house blew apart.

Her hand was warm in his as they ran for the woods and Clint wondered if fire was simply part of her nature. The way perfect accuracy was part of his.

The trees closed in around them and she slowed their frantic pace. When they finally came to a stop in a small clearing, Clint reluctantly dropped her hand. Something in him mourned the loss of contact and warmth. An odd, soft look crossed her face before her expression hardened.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“Name’s Barton,” he said.

“Well, Barton. It seems I owe you a debt. Name your price so I can be rid of you.” Her eyes sparked and Clint had an almost uncontrollable urge to take her hand again.

“You don’t … I didn’t … Nothing, you owe me nothing.”

She started to protest but was interrupted when a feline scream rent the air. Clint had just enough time to turn around and gape at the jaguar before it launched itself at him.

“Liho, no!” The woman shouted and the huge black cat twisted in mid-air to land next to him. In the same moment, Lucky erupted into the clearing, golden wings held high, trumpeting loud enough to wake the dead.

When the echo of the dragon’s cry died out, the four in the clearing remained motionless for long moments. The stillness was broken when Lucky folded his wings, waddled over to Clint and pushed his head into Clint’s chest. He automatically reached up and scratched behind the dragon’s ear.

A loud purr had Clint turning back to the cat and he found it rubbing up against the woman like some horribly overgrown housecat.

“Yours, I take it?” he asked, hoping to keep her company as long as he could.

“No.” She replied even as she smiled down at the jaguar and rubbed its head.

Clint’s curiosity outweighed his common sense and he found himself asking another question.

“How long were you there?” Her gaze whipped back to his. “In the cage, how long were you there?”

“A month.” Her reply was so soft he almost missed it.

“I’m sorry,” he said, trying to offer what comfort he could.

“I wish you’d name your price,” she said, voice louder.

He thought about it and grinned. She looked suspiciously at him and quirked a brow; he decided it was a good look on her.

“Your name.” He said. “I want to know your name.”

“Natasha,” she replied hesitantly, as if she were trying to spot an ulterior motive. “Natasha Romanoff.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Natasha Romanoff.” He held out his hand and was pleasantly surprised when she actually took it. That same warmth from before spread through his hand and he gave her his cockiest grin. “Call me Clint.”

 

+ One Reunion:

Clint took another taste of the soup simmering in the crock pot in Natasha’s kitchenette. One of the perks of being a senior agent was larger quarters on the helicarrier, and the larger quarters came with small kitchenettes. He added a touch more cayenne pepper and gave it a stir. He was trying a new recipe Phil had given him, spicy chicken tortilla soup.

He was hoping Natasha wouldn’t be delayed long during the debrief for the assignment she’d just wrapped up. With the schedules they’d been keeping, it had been close to two months since they’d been in the same hemisphere and just over four since they’d last seen each other. Phone calls had been few and far between.

He missed her. Missed her company, their conversation, the scent of her, the sex. But more than that, Clint honestly just wanted to hold her again.

He heard her keying in the code on the door lock, so he gave the soup one last stir before covering the pot.

Natasha came in and he could tell just by the way she held herself that she was exhausted. She dropped her bag and took a deep breath of the soup-scented air. When she met his gaze, the smile she gave him was wide, open, and dazzling even through her exhaustion.

In two long strides, he had her in his arms, held tight against his chest. She wrapped her arms around his waist, tucked her face into his neck, and sighed.

“I missed you.” He felt the whisper against his skin.

“Missed you too,” Clint whispered back. After a long, quiet moment, she tilted her face up to his and cupped his cheek with one hand.

“You’re scruffy,” she said and brushed her thumb along his cheek. Natasha tugged him down to her and kissed him. It wasn’t frantic or heated, but soft and gentle. Clint let her set the pace of the kiss, followed her lead. Long minutes later, she pulled away, shivered, and tucked into him again.

“You okay?” he asked. He knew she was tired, but she wasn’t usually this … soft.

“Yes,” she replied. “I just really want to shower, change and … god, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I just want to curl up on the couch with you and take a nap.”

He gave her a quick squeeze.

“I can get behind that idea,” he said. “Go get changed and I’ll turn the soup down, it can wait for a while.”

---

Clint carried her bag into the bedroom while the shower was running and changed into sweats and a t-shirt. He grabbed a couple bottles of water and set them on the coffee table so they’d be within easy reach.

Natasha came back fifteen minutes later; hair piled haphazardly on top of her head, wearing loose flannel pants and one of his old bullseye t-shirts that he hadn’t seen in a while.

They got comfortable on the couch, Clint on his side against the back, Natasha tucked in facing him, legs tangled together, arms wrapped loosely around each other.

He felt her relax completely against him as he lazily rubbed a hand up and down her back. Just as he was about to drop off, Natasha spoke.

“So, you spilled the beans, huh?”

“Shit,” he mumbled. He tensed and pulled his head back so he could see her face. It was expressionless and he knew he was so much better off just coming clean.

“I knew Hill would say something,” he said. “She caught me off guard yesterday when I got back. Before I knew it, I was telling her about making you this new recipe from Phil. And I could tell she knew.”

Natasha was just calmly staring at him and the first tendrils of worry crept into his gut when she smiled and chuckled.

“Clint,” she said. “She’s probably known since the morning after we first slept together. And she was halfway across the globe at the time. I figure she’s angling to make a killing in the Are-Barton-and-Romanoff-Banging betting pool. Hill’s devious that way.”

He snorted, relieved at her good humor.

“But don’t go advertising it,” she threatened with a pinch of his butt.

“Of course not, Tash.” He said, indignation clear in his tone. “Need to see about us making a killing in the Are-Barton-and-Romanoff-Banging betting pool.”

She laughed and, there was no other word for it, snuggled into him again. He kissed her once more, slow and gentle, and because he just couldn’t help himself, whispered, “I love you.”

Natasha hummed with pleasure and whispered back, “I love you, too.”