Actions

Work Header

Some Strings Attached

Work Text:

The suit doesn't quite fit right--the shoulders are little too big and the sleeves a bit too long--but it serves to disguise the muscles beneath it. It's not a cheap suit--no loud patterns, no weird colors--and it doesn't look bad, it merely encourages anyone looking at Clint to see a normal, nine-to-five guy out with his wife for Valentine's Day rather than half of Strike Team Delta undercover.

"I feel like an idiot," Clint says, scowling at the mirror and poking at where his hair is parted on the side and combed flat. Natasha will never admit it out loud, but she does miss the usual spiky mess. The bland neatness is just inherently wrong on him.

"You're supposed to be out of your depth," Natasha reminds him (and herself.) Her own dress doesn’t fit any better than his jacket. Like his suit, it's not that it's an inexpensive dress or that it's inappropriate. It's only that it's too matronly for the age she's playing, as though she'd been nervous about spending so much money and allowed a middle-aged sales clerk to help her pick it out. Plus, the red of the silk has too much of an orange undertone to play nicely with her hair and complexion. As far as she's concerned, he's got the better end of the deal.

"Yeah, yeah," Clint answers, grimacing as she comes to stand in front of the mirror with him for one last check. "I got it--no Hawkeye and Black Widow on an op, these aren't the droids you're looking for, thanks for playing, nothing to see here, move along," He shrugs. "Still feel like a dork."

"Your life is very hard," Natasha says and pushes him out the door to go hail a cab.

* - * - *

The restaurant continues the theme of a nice, average couple out to celebrate a bit above their means. It's overpriced on a normal night; for the holiday, the prix fixe menu is double the regular price. Clint isn't faking his shock at numbers on the menu the maitr d' hands him. (Natasha notes with an inward snort that her menu doesn't have the prices listed. It's all very Neanderthal. She wonders what they do with same sex couples, and is tempted to ask, but can't quite work up the energy to plot out how her cover persona would phrase it.)

The wine is similarly overpriced, not to mention downright bad. Natasha is, of course, capable of drinking the vilest of swill and smiling sweetly if that's what it takes to get a job done, but tonight, she decides, she is really not in the mood. She takes a few dainty sips and then leans in toward Clint (who isn't faking how his cover would far rather have a beer in front of him) and murmurs, just loudly enough that the mark, seated at the table next to them with a woman who is most certainly not his wife, can overhear, "So good, but it's so expensive. I'll only have the one glass, sweetie."

One corner of Clint's mouth twitches up in a ghost of his usual smirk, but he answers back in character. "Don't worry about the price, babe. We're supposed to be celebrating, right?"

He really has gotten much better at undercover work, Natasha thinks. His expression is earnest and awkward and sincere, very much the newlywed out for dinner on Valentine's Day. Natasha smiles her cover's smile at him and leans forward even more so she can kiss him and tell him how good he is to her. It's all very cliché, enough that the mark never thinks to suspect them, so that when the FBI arrives at his table with badges and warrants in hand and he tries to make a run for it, right over their table and grabbing for Natasha as a hostage as he goes, it is immensely satisfying to see the shock on his face when she slams him into the table.

Clint smiles his own wicked smile cheerfully at the mark as the agents swarm their table. "I don't know about you, man, but that was a hell of a turn-on for me. If I still smoked, I'd be bumming one from you right about now."

Natasha rolls her eyes, but since he's faux-casually leaning all his weight on the back of the mark's neck in a clear warning that he'd be happy enough to snap it right then and there, which makes it so she can let go of the idiot's wrists and straighten her dress, she doesn't do anything more.

Hill arrives with their badges and two borrowed FBI windbreakers so they don't get accidentally shot by the mob of over-eager agents looking to make their bones on the arrest, and they go straight into debrief. By some miracle--or possibly Maria's severely unimpressed face and the fact that the mark would have been out the door if Natasha hadn't taken care of him and everybody in the sting knows it--they don't have to jump through a thousand inter-agency hoops. The AiC takes their statements, thanks them (or really, Hill) for their coordination and the interagency cooperation and they're dismissed. Because Clint is never happy with anything the Feds might do, he's visibly annoyed at how they're hustled out (the better for the FBI to focus the media attention on their op, rather than muddy the waters with any SHIELD involvement) but Natasha elbows him before he can open his mouth.

"Hate it when they pull that shit," Clint mutters, but he's moving and they're in the van on the way back to SHIELD before anyone can think of any reason to keep them longer. "You put him down; they could at least not give us the bum's rush."

"It's on their tab," Hill says, and Natasha smiles. At some point, full repayment will be extracted for this evening--Hill's mental accounting is extensive and detailed and scrupulously fair, which was the initial reason Natasha liked working with her. Clint grunts something unintelligible but settles back in his seat and lets the driver navigate the traffic circles and bridges back to the Triskelion.

The women's locker room is still relatively full, but there's enough hot water for Natasha to get the cheap styling product out of her hair and rinse the overly-flowery perfume off her skin. She's tempted to shred the dress so there's no possibility of her having to wear it again, but ultimately decides to be a professional about it and tosses it into the bin to be cleaned and pressed and recycled into the system.

She takes her time with her make-up, everything subtle and layered to play up her eyes and mouth, as far away from the basic foundation-blush-lipstick of earlier in the evening as she can get. Leaving a cover behind and reclaiming her own clothes and style has become more satisfying over the years; it's doubly so tonight, for reasons that have little to do with the positive outcome of the case.

No one else needs to know that, though.

The atrium is dark, but not entirely deserted. Natasha crosses the length of it to join the small cluster of late-workers waiting for the secure elevators to the parking decks below the building.

"Agent Romanoff," Hill says in greeting. Amid the other agents and support staff dressed in street clothes, the unrelieved black of her ops suit and boots draws Natasha's eye like a thunderclap. "I believe I speak for several departments when I say thank you for getting tonight's boondoggle wrapped up so quickly." There's a murmur of agreement from the crowd before Hill continues, "I said the same to Barton, but I doubt he heard me over the squeal of tires as he peeled that junk heap he drives out of the garage."

"Well," Natasha answers casually, "Barton." She knows she hits the exact right tone, the one that says she has no idea what his problem is, and even if she did, she is not responsible for her partner's socialization issues. She's the Black Widow, she never misses the right tone. The quiet laugh that spreads through the group as the elevator doors open confirms it.

The look Hill gives her as they step onto the elevator, the one that assesses Natasha's hair and make-up and doesn't miss the small diamond studs in her earlobes and the snug fit of the scoop-neck t-shirt under her leather jacket--that look tells her that she might have hit the right tone, but Hill was onto her--onto them--regardless.

Natasha isn't about to deny it, especially since SHIELD doesn't have regs against relationships that don't involve the chain of command. She allows her mouth to quirk up in the slightest of smirks, one that she's entirely sure Hill will not only see, but interpret correctly, in that whatever his issues—and they are many—Natasha finds Barton entirely worth the effort.

Maria returns the smirk with one of her own—hers says that she accepts Natasha's evaluation despite having grave reservations about Barton himself, would be deeply interested in hearing more, and would be willing to pay for the liquor that would necessarily accompany any such discussion.

This is the second reason Natasha is happy to work with the woman.

The doors open on the parking deck and the group spills out into the damp chill. Natasha's car is parked close-in—the day started with briefings long before dawn—and she's able to slip away with only a raised eyebrow from Hill. Traffic is intermittently sluggish, but weaving in and out gives Natasha a certain sense of calm, not unlike a focused meditation.

And yes, she's aware of what exactly that says about her.

The GPS guides her to the coordinates Clint sent her earlier--sometimes he is ridiculously too pleased with the 'Secret Agent' identity--a rest stop and scenic overlook on the GW Parkway, south of the airport. He's there under the lone light next to the map of the jogging trail, leaning easily against the side of his (as Hill so aptly described) beloved junk heap despite the February wind slicing in cold off the river.

"It's a lovely view," Natasha tells him as her window rolls down smoothly. "When there's light. Did you have a point to this?"

"Nah, I just stuck a pin in the map and this was the closest place to pull off the road."

Natasha sighs and presses the button to start rolling the window back up.

"Wait, I--uh, actually did have a point for this," Clint says, finally straightening up. He shoves his hands in his pockets, his studied cool suddenly gone. "A plan. You know, for the… uh, holiday."

"The holiday?" Natasha stares at him.

"Valentine's Day?" he counters weakly.

"I know what day it is," Natasha snaps. She isn't sure why this is annoying her--she has had far more ridiculous conversations with him over the years. "I've barely been able to wash off the disgustingly cloying perfume Ops insisted was appropriate for the 'occasion.'"

"Yeah, that kind of sucked," he says. "Even if you did get to kick the scumbag's ass." He shrugs, then adds, "I was thinking about doing something for real."

"You," Natasha says slowly, "thought we should do something for Valentine's Day?"

"Yeah," Clint says, simple and direct, and Natasha is beginning to think she might never truly understand him, or his motivations. "I made reservations and everything."

He meets Natasha's eyes evenly despite his obvious self-consciousness, and Natasha can't really come up with any reason to turn him down. Well, except for the utter ridiculousness of Hawkeye and the Black Widow celebrating Valentine's Day, but that goes without saying. He waits her out patiently, as though he's waiting out a shot. It's a terrible analogy for the night, but she knows how long he can hold his focus in that kind of a situation and it's comforting in a way that fits the two of them and the complicated relationship between them.

"All right," she finally answers, telling herself it's mostly to see what on earth her self-proclaimed white trash partner (and, she reminds herself, more-than-occasional lover) has come up with now.

She expects some juvenile form of celebration in response (he is ordinarily fond of the basic fist pump) but instead she gets a crooked half-smile and a quiet, "Awesome."

There's a bit of confusion with the cars where she manages to insult his planning skills ("I'm sorry, you thought us driving separate cars was a good way to start the 'holiday' celebration?"), which results in his car dropped off in long-term parking at the airport and him behind the wheel of her 'Vette. (It's not exactly an apology on her part, because he'd cracked back to her insults exactly like normal, but even in the low light she'd noticed the dull flush across his cheekbones, and she's honest enough to admit to herself that she's a bit out of her comfort zone and over-compensating for it.)

She doesn't let him pick the music, though.

That's also less of a line drawn in the sand than it might have been, because she's in the mood for old blues, the first music she chose for herself once they'd allowed her off-base at SHIELD, and every music device he owns has been blasting Stevie Ray Vaughn for the last month, but it's the principle of the thing.

There's just enough traffic that keeping to the speed limit provides the entertainment needed to take the edge off Clint's mood, which in turn helps Natasha to relax. It might be an obnoxious, capitalistic, manufactured holiday and they might be on their way to some place that requires reservations, but Clint is singing along to SRV and cutting in and out of traffic with inches to spare, so maybe everything hasn't changed irrevocably, Natasha thinks.

* - * - *

Ending up an hour outside of the District, at a Michelin-starred restaurant tests her no-real-change theory to the limit, especially since there's a small, exclusive inn attached to the restaurant, one that clearly is taking the 'holiday' seriously. Clint is studiously not looking at her as he pulls the car up to the valet, but she knows he can't really expect that will put her off.

"I am not dressed for this," Natasha murmurs right before the valet opens her door.

"Neither am I," Clint says, coming around the car to meet up with her. (At the very least, Natasha thinks, things haven't changed so much that he's rushing to open the door for her.) "But I played the agents-involved-in-a-drug-bust card and they were pretty nice about it. About us being so late, too."

It is late, long past ten. Natasha is ravenous, and she knows Clint is, too—they're always starving after a sting—but there are only a few other patrons in the dining room, and they're all clearly on their final rounds of post-dessert coffee and brandy. The room is quietly understated, low lighting showing off the myriad candles and snowy linens accenting the china and crystal. Despite the time, the maitre d' is clearly expecting them, taking them immediately to a table by the fireplace before leaving them with complimentary glasses of Lillet and oversized menus. It's all fairly surreal, given where Natasha started the evening. (And who she's with now, but she's trying to pretend that part is fine.)

Clint tossing back the aperitif as though he wouldn't rather be killing a beer is really the final straw. Natasha closes her menu and fixes her best 'tell me what the hell is going on' gaze on him.

"Why are we here?"

"It's Valen—"

"Yes, it's Valentine's Day. Why are we here, an hour out of the city?"

Clint stares at her, as though she's the one who's acting completely out of character. "You like French restaurants." He says it patiently, as though he's explaining something to a very small child.

"You don't." Natasha is trying not to snap, but it's not working out especially well. The aggravating thing is that it's always been that way with Clint. She's the Black Widow: she's taken down governments with nothing but a smile, but from the second Hawkeye had walked--sauntered--into her life she's never managed to find her equilibrium around him.

"'s food." Clint shrugs. "You know I can eat anything. It's fine."

"Yes, because nothing says celebration like watching your partner choke down his dinner."

Clint closes his menu and puts it on the table, paying enough attention to what he's doing that he could be disarming a bomb rather than only trying not to knock over crystal. "Look," he says, his voice quiet and flat. "I get that I sprung this on you, and it's… different than how we usually are. It's just… You like French food—I asked around and this is the best place for a hundred miles. That's why we're here." He flicks a glance at Natasha, but then goes right back to studying the tabletop. "But if you don't want to be here, let's don't do this to… to our partnership."

He looks back up at Natasha and lets her see a lot of things in his eyes, some of which she's sure he doesn't realize he's saying. One thing she does see, very plainly, is that continuing this evening is her decision to make. The part that she's not sure he knows is there is that whatever she decides is the tipping point. If she cuts the dinner short, she's certain he thinks that they'll go back to the casual way they'd allowed their relationship to slide into sex--but she can see that it won't work, not for long. She doesn't think their actual partnership is in danger--Clint still works well with Bobbie, and she personally is not going to trust him any less simply because she doesn't trust in the abstract concept of love.

It's what might happen if she tips the other way that eludes her. She very much doubts they keep going on as they have been, but she can admit that she hasn't thought past that comfortable arrangement. Now might be the time to acknowledge that she hasn't wanted to, not because she hasn't been curious but rather because she isn't sure people like her can hope for anything much more.

Clint fidgets under her gaze, but doesn't say anything more, and the thought that he isn't allowing that same fatalism--she knows he shares it--to interfere with what they might become insinuates itself into Natasha's consciousness. It's the barest wisp of an observation, but Natasha has bet her life on less, has done it with Hawkeye more times than she can count, so that when their server steps up a few seconds later, she's already made her decision.

"Coq au vin," she orders for herself--something that's comforting and hearty and rich--and, when Clint's eyes flash with a surprised happiness, nods to him and adds, "And steak frites." Red meat and fried potatoes--there's no need for him to suffer through the menu while she indulges herself.

"Very good, madame," the waiter answers, and then it's Natasha's turn to be surprised when Clint leans in to ask if it'd still be possible to order a souffle for dessert.

"In for a penny…" he says in answer to her arched eyebrow. Since it's a favorite saying of Coulson's, it probably answers all the questions Natasha has had about the evening, everything from how her burger-and-beer partner found what is indeed the best French restaurant in a hundred miles, to not only knowing about the possibility of souffles but also knowing to order early to finesse the timing.

Calling in Coulson doesn't answer why Clint started off down this path, but it does (at least in Natasha's mind) show a certain seriousness, one that is the tiniest bit reassuring. At this point, she'll take every bit she can get.

* - * - *

The restaurant shares their public bathrooms with the tiny lobby of the adjoining inn. On her way back to the table, replete with the rich, wine-infused chicken and all the appropriate accompaniments, Natasha impulsively stops at the front desk to inquire about pricing and availability. Given the day, she's really asking so she has an idea for the future, but as they hand her a card with their contact information and website printed on it, they mention that they do have a cancellation for the night if she's interested.

"You'd be surprised how often that happens," she's told. "It's the pressure of all the expectations around the day. All the cracks start splintering. The dining room usually loses one or two tables during the evening, too. The bad ones are the ones that fall apart between the appetizer and the main course. Very messy."

"I'm sure," Natasha murmurs politely while she thinks through her options. On the one hand, she and Clint have spent the night together for years, even before sex entered into the equation. This would be one more night in a long string, although most of them haven't taken place in such nice surroundings (and the ones that have have all been work-related.) On the other hand, things between them have changed and spending Valentine's night in a country inn signals an intent for even more change in that direction.

The prudent approach would be to take this shift in their relationship slowly, to see how (or even if) it might fit with their lives and what kind of concessions and arrangements it will entail. The practical course of action is to tuck the card away for later. Natasha knows this--analyzing practicalities of situations and how to make them work best is what she does. For a long time, it had been all she was, but now, after a decade with SHIELD, with Clint and Coulson on the ground with her, and Fury and Hill overseeing strategic directions, she can see where there's more to her than the purely pragmatic.

Clint, of course, is ridiculously impractical, even as he pushes all such impulses deep and away from the surface in order to reach the ruthless efficiency demanded by his job. Natasha has long since given up trying to understand how those two warring attitudes can continue to co-exist in a single person. She's decided that it's just how he is, no matter that it exhausts Natasha to think about maintaining the dichotomy.

His… optimism, for lack of a better word, isn't unlimited, though, and Natasha is fairly certain that he reached that limit (or possibly exceeded it) in making the first move for this evening. She's confident that this dinner (she almost feels that she should capitalize that, even in her thoughts, as it most certainly is a Dinner, rather than their usual shared meals) is as far as he's thought—which is, to be fair, quite a bit further than she'd ever done. Now that they're here, though, she'd be lying if she told herself she couldn't see the path that will take them forward, even if she also can see the obstacles and disasters laying in wait.

She opens her mouth to decline the room, but instead hears herself taking it. Her words are greeted with smiles and encouragement, which her cynical side points out as being the result of not having to lose the profit on the room. She manages to smile back, though, and extracts a credit card for the deposit without (she hopes) seeming too shell-shocked. On the walk back to the table, she tells herself that she doesn't actually have to go through with telling Clint, that she could easily forfeit the deposit and pretend nothing had happened on her way back from the ladies' room.

It's so weak-willed that she barely completes the thought before she's appalled at her lack of nerve.

Clint smiles as she slips into her seat, but then freezes as she slides the room key across the table to him.

"I--" he starts, looking back and forth between the small bit of plastic and her face. "Nat?"

"It's a… suggestion," Natasha says. "And an invitation, but one that you should feel free to decline if it's too much, too fast."

"It's not," Clint says almost before she's finished. "I… just--are you sure?"

"No," Natasha admits. "But that's got very little to do with the actual merits of this situation. I doubt I'll ever be sure." She takes her glass and finishes off the wine in one swallow. "It seemed to be a… possibility, though. One that I should explore."

"No 'shoulds'," Clint said. "Nat, don't do this because you think I'm expecting it."

"No," Natasha answers firmly. "That's not why I'm doing this--any of this. I'm doing it because I want to, despite everything objectively wrong with it."

"Yeah, well, if we were going by objectivity--"

"I'd be dead at your hand," Natasha says quietly. He doesn't look away from her, and he doesn't deny it. How could he? There hadn't been a single, concrete, objective reason for him not to have taken the shot all those years ago.

"I'd be gone, too," Clint counters. "Because I've lost count of how many times you've pulled my ass out of the fire since we, uh, met."

That's less of a truth than he'd like to believe, but before they can restart that particular argument, the waiter arrives with dessert and they get a bit of a break while the general production of a chocolate souffle happens. By the time the waiter gets through taking the first spoonful and pouring in the creme anglaise and serving coffee, Natasha has gotten to the point where she only says, "I find that difficult to believe, but you've heard that before," and Clint just arches a disbelieving eyebrow at her in response.

The souffle is ridiculously rich, but the coffee counterbalances it enough that they nearly finish the whole thing. Natasha's reasonably sure it's Clint's first encounter with the dessert, and if she's honest, she's actually a little surprised at how much she's enjoying the blissed-out expression on his face. She'll keep that to herself, along with how acknowledging it helps to balance out the trepidation that's still lingering from her suggestion to spend the night, so much so that when Clint looks up from paying the bill and asks, "You still have go-bags in the car, right?", she can answer easily despite everything the question implies. She even manages a credible eye-roll, because of course she has duffels for each of them in her car, exactly like he does. She's long since lost count of how many times they've been sent out without warning; having a bag of essentials and a change of clothes always available is the standard procedure in their line of work.

"If the offer's still open, then," Clint says, nodding to the key sitting on the edge of the table, "I'll go get our stuff." He says it casually enough, but he isn't really trying to hide anything from her. Natasha stops and thinks about it one last time, but nothing's changed.

"It is," she answers quietly. Clint lets his smile reach his eyes, and then is up and halfway out of the dining room almost before Natasha can blink. If she'd had any doubts about him not recognizing this being another step in their relationship, they're swept away by his energy. Natasha finishes her coffee and stops to thank the waiter for being so patient with them. She'd seen the tip Clint had left, and it had been more than adequate, but it isn't often that she's comfortable with a more personal approach (it's too easy to be remembered that way) and it's always good to take advantage of when she does.

Clint's enthusiasm apparently hasn't faded; he's coming in the front door with both their duffels right as she's made her way out to the lobby. The room is on the second floor--a lucky break as neither of them likes ground floor access--and at the end of the (admittedly, short) hall, so it's as private as they're going to get. Clint drops the bags as they walk into the room and automatically turns right to start a sweep. Natasha mirrors him, going to the left and working her way around the room with its antique four-poster bed and small sitting area to meet up with him in the bathroom. Everything is fine, of course--she's not exactly sure who might think that Strike Team Delta is spending Valentine's night in a country inn when she herself remains bemused by the idea, but it's a habit that's kept them alive for far longer than anyone might expect.

Clint evidently feels the same way, and it's suddenly verging on the awkward, as though the absurdity of their standing in a room nice enough to have fresh flowers next to the sink for actual personal, not job-related reasons, is sinking in. In an effort not to make everything more uncomfortable by staring at Clint and trying to figure out if he's changed his mind, Natasha finds herself looking more closely at the actual room, at the antique dresser that's been pressed into service as a vanity and the oversized, free-standing tub against the far wall. It really is enormous and deep even taking the elaborate, carved feet that lift it off the floor.

"Fancy," Clint murmurs, trailing his fingers over the curved, rolled-over edge of the enameled cast iron. He leaves off the gripe about how there isn't a shower out of what Natasha can only imagine is some sort of of courtesy since she knows he lives for trying to drain the hot water tank dry. She's not far behind him there, but she supposes it wouldn't have fit with the rest of the room.

None of this is helping, though, so she mentally throws discretion to the wind and takes the direct action, walking back out of the bathroom and over to the window of the bedroom, drawing the heavy, swagged drapes and turning back to face Clint, still hovering in the bathroom door.

"Don't take this the wrong way," Clint says, "but if we don't get the rest of the evening started soon, I'm not going to be awake for it."

"You do say the sweetest things," Natasha answers. She slips her jacket off her shoulders and lays it neatly over the back of the armchair. She can't help smiling as his eyes follow every movement, but she grows serious again as he moves to imitate her. "No," she tells him. "I'll take care of you, too, when it's time."

"I--" Clint swallows hard, enough that Natasha can see his throat working from across the room. "What do you want me to do?"

His voice is quiet and a little rough, just enough to catch on Natasha's nerve endings, just enough to make her want to hear more.

"Relax," Natasha says. She takes her boots off, one at a time. "Stay right there." She tugs her t-shirt out of her jeans, pausing to look at him once the hem is free. "Watch."

She thinks he breathes in sharply at that, but her own heart is suddenly beating hard and it's hard to hear over how her pulse is pounding in her ears. She breathes deeply and it settles a bit, but she is acutely aware of his eyes on her as she pulls the t-shirt off over her head.

Natasha isn't interested in a strip-tease--she's not interested in any kind of a tease this night--so she makes quick work of the buttons and zipper on her jeans and pushes them down and off with hands that are closer to shaking than sex with Clint should warrant. They've done this before, dozens of times, but he's watching her as if he expects her to disappear if he so much as blinks and she can't tear her eyes away from the desire she sees in his eyes.

It's the work of seconds to unhook her bra so that it drops down over her shoulders and then to ease her panties over her thighs so that they, too, can drop to the floor and leave her naked. Clint is breathing in a controlled, even pace, the way he does to keep steady and on-target in a nest, and just the thought of how hard he's working to do as she'd asked excites Natasha almost as much as being naked in front of him does.

Reflexively, Natasha smooths her hands along her sides, down along the curve of her hips, only enough of a touch to lay the foundation for when it will be Clint touching her. His breath quickens at that, and then, when she draws her hands back up, over her abdomen to stroke along the underside of her breasts, he mutters a low and hoarse ah, fuck, and her own breath hisses in.

He's always liked watching her play with her nipples---and she's found that she likes watching him watch--but seldom has the atmosphere between them been so charged even before she starts. She circles each nipple lightly, tracing the pads of her fingers and her nails in tight, concentric paths; they've tightened to a pleasant hardness long before she first flicks her nails over them.

Clint makes a low, possessive sound. He's still standing where she'd left him, and Natasha intends to go make good on her promise to take care of his clothes, both because she likes getting to keep promises she's freely made and because she wants his hands on her. Her fingers have a plan of their own, though, moving on to plucking and tugging at her nipples with a fierceness that leaves her wanting so much more.

She'd only meant to set the scene and then move them along, but each time her fingers tighten, Clint's eyes darken a little more and it's nearly as arousing as the physical sensations themselves. She can't resist one more pinch, and then one more, and then one after that. Her nipples are hot and throbbing by the time she takes the first step across the room and even then she doesn't stop teasing them, so that when she gets close, they're hard and swollen, easy for him to scrape over with his nails, easy for him to knock her hands away and pinch and twist them himself.

Natasha allows herself the smallest of moans--he isn't cruel with her; he's never that, but he knows that she only trusts her pleasure with a very few, and he's confident enough in knowing her and her body to be merciless. She forces her hands to move, ignoring the near-blinding pleasure he's forcing on her to half-rip open his shirt, unbuckle his belt and tug open his pants.

He's hard already, his cock pushing up past the elastic of his boxers, the tip wet and slick just from watching. Natasha had planned to touch him for as long as they both could take it, had pictured standing close and stroking him slowly while they kissed. He's still working her nipples with a rough, sure hand, though, and Natasha is almost already at her limit. She manages two or three of the slow, light strokes, but then Clint gets an arm around her waist, lifting her to where he can use his mouth on her breasts and she stops seeing the upside to taking things slowly.

Clint usually likes to take his time, likes to tongue her thoroughly, licking at each nipple and aureole, wetting them and then blowing on them, letting the chill harden them to tight points before he might move on to sucking and biting at them, but he skips most of that tonight, only flicking his tongue once over her already aching nipples before catching them between his teeth, one after the other, each bite perfectly hard enough that Natasha can't keep still or quiet.

She hisses at the sudden, exquisite pain that shudders out from where he's bitten down, but then lets herself fall into the sensations as he repeats his actions again, and then once more, each bite a little more sharp, a little more intense.

"Enough," Natasha manages to gasp. "Fuck me." She half expects him to keep right on teasing her--Hawkeye is not known for taking direction well--but she's barely finished saying the last word when he's gotten them the last few steps to where he can brace her against the wall. Natasha wraps a leg around his waist and inhales sharply as he pushes his cock up into her with a short, hard thrust. "Yes," she hisses, dragging his head closer so she can kiss him.

Clint opens up for her almost sweetly even as he fucking into her with wicked, filthy twists of his hips. Neither one of them is going to last if he doesn't ease off, but with a sudden jolt, Natasha realizes that this night and the decisions she's made—to come to dinner, to take the room, to invite Clint to share it with her—all of these choices mean it's really only the start.

Natasha pulls him closer, wrapping her leg more tightly around him, breaking the kiss so she can drag her mouth along his jaw and tell him that, that it's only the beginning. She can only say it in Russian, which isn't fair to Clint, but he shudders against her as though he understands. Maybe he does, Natasha thinks, laying her head back against the wall and holding tight to his shoulders. Maybe he's known all along and has only been waiting for her, or maybe he's needed her to say it to believe it himself.

It doesn't really matter, Natasha decides, not now. She knows it and she has him there with her, the familiar muscles of his back under her hands, the blue-gray of his eyes all but swallowed by the dark of his pupils, his hands fitting easily at her hips, holding her without binding her. She moves them against him, smiling at how quick he is to move with her, all but purring at his low groan, delighted at both the feel of him moving inside her and the quick rasp of his calloused hands against her skin.

He doesn't stop moving and it all tangles together inside her, what she's thinking and how Clint touches her, all of it twisting her higher and higher every time Clint drives into her, until she can't catch her breath for how her skin feels too small, how her nipples draw in tight and hard and her hips grind into his desperately.

"Nat," Clint gasps, working his hand between them, unerringly finding exactly where she needs his touch, sending her orgasm crashing over her with the first brush of his fingers. Natasha can't help how her hands tighten on his biceps, the nails digging in deep and his hips stutter in response. "Nat," he grits out, holding off for a long few seconds.

"Your turn," Natasha answers. She bites a quick, sharp path along his jaw, the strong column of his neck and down to his collarbone. "Don't stop now." Her voice strengthens into a near-order and her arms lock tight around him. "Finish for me." He freezes for an endless second, but when she adds, "Now, Hawk," almost unconsciously slipping into Russian, he jerks back into motion with a low, desperate groan and she holds him tight as he gasps and shakes against her.

* - * - *

Natasha is not sure how they don't end up in a heap on the floor (she would not have objected—a small, controlled slide seems to be a relatively minor price to pay for the otherwise excellent encounter), but she supposes it's yet one more example of Clint's bred-to-the-bone stubbornness. He manages to keep himself braced against the wall even though Natasha can feel his legs shaking.

When he finally lifts his head off of Natasha's shoulder, she is suddenly at a loss for words. They've had sex for years now, but this is new, uncharted territory and she's unsure how—or even if—to acknowledge that. Clint stares back at her, and she can see the same near-panic in his eyes, too.

Finally, though, Clint's mouth quirks up into his familiar half-smile and when she answers with an almost automatic arch of an eyebrow, he says, "Okay, so that rocked."

"Very poetic," Natasha says drily.

"If you thought a fancy dinner and a room full of antiques was enough to get the hick out of me, I might have to call in the medical types and see if you got dosed with something nasty," Clint says, leaning in close. Natasha meets him halfway for a slow, easy kiss. "I was mostly just saying that it was nice that the extra… stuff didn't get in the way of the sex," Clint says. "Cause that's always been solid."

Natasha rolls her eyes, but she secretly agrees that it's a good thing to know. She gets her second foot planted firmly on the ground and reaches hard for the ceiling with both arms to stretch out everything. Clint hums a low, lazy sort of a noise as she moves against him and despite her heart rate only having just evened out, Natasha is keenly aware of how little it might take to start her back down the path again.

Clint's eyes don't miss a thing, so when he says, "We should put that tub to use," it's clearly an invitation for more than a simple bath. Natasha would be more surprised at how quickly she accepts, but since that's already the theme for the evening, she barely notices, only brushes a kiss against Clint's mouth and shivers in the sudden chill as he backs away from her.

His eyes don't leave her as he steps out of his pants and boots, his gaze lingering at her mouth before it dips lower to where her nipples are already hard—she'd like to say it was from the sudden change in temperature, but has to admit is due at least in part to how he's looking at her—and then lower still.

"Come on," Clint says quietly, turning and walking the few steps to the bathroom. Natasha lets her own eyes roam, taking in the smooth flex of the muscles across his shoulders and back and legs. That's not anything new, though—she's always been aware of Clint, right from the start, even when she couldn't begin to trust him. Watching him move, settling into that familiarity… that eases the most recent flare of uncertainty that's cropped up over this evening, enough that it’s easy to follow him into the bathroom and let him take her hand and draw her close.

The tub is deep and wide; the water level creeps up slowly. Clint fills the time with languid kisses, his hands on Natasha's hips, fingers splayed low across her back. He breaks the kiss to smile—a true smile, not a smirk—when Natasha winds her arms around his neck and moves her body against his.

By the time they separate so that they can step into the near-to-overflowing tub, Natasha is working hard to keep her breathing slow and her hands under control. Her nipples are tight from where they've brushed against Clint's chest and her clitoris aches for more than the indirect pressure it's gotten from how their hips have moved together. If it had been anyone other than Clint with her, she would have already been taking care of herself, but instead she clenches her fists tight and ignores the part of her mind that doesn't like relying on anyone.

"I've got you," Clint promises, as though he'd heard everything running through her brain. They've been partners for a long time, though; he probably doesn't need to actually hear it to understand. It goes both ways, after all. Natasha almost doesn't have to think to know how his own internal devils like to betray him. She nods and he holds out a hand to help her balance. Natasha breathes deeply as she steps into the hot, hot water, exactly how she likes it best, and lets Clint settle her between his legs, her back leaning against his chest and his arms sliding around her.

She doesn't, however, let him stroke his hands idly along her stomach and thighs and hips for as long as he clearly wants to, but pointedly takes them and moves them to cup her breasts after a few minutes.

"Yeah, okay," Clint laughs. "Signal received, five by five." Since he's kneading her breasts lightly as he speaks, Natasha ignores his 'humor', and when he turns his attention to her nipples, she rewards him with a low hum of satisfaction. He's still smiling, she knows that, but he's also catching her nipples tightly enough that she can feel the blood rushing back to her nerves when he lets go. Natasha has no problem with either, especially when he starts adding a twist to random pinches, irregularly enough that she can't predict them, hard enough that it takes time for her heartbeat and nerves to recover from one.

"One day," Clint breathes into her ear, all smiles gone now, "I want to see if I can get you off like this, just this. Keep at it 'til you come or tell me to stop." He's holding each pinch longer now, twisting her nipples tighter, and she only barely keeps her control at the thought of how his words might play out. When he wants to be, he can be very, very patient—Natasha has seen him stay perfectly focused and intent for hours and the thought of being the target of that focus sends a slow, involuntary shudder washing over her. "I'll take that as a 'yes'," he says. Natasha shivers again, and Clint groans. "Seriously, Nat, you have no idea how much I want that."

Natasha is closer than she likes to snarling Fine, then—do it when he breathes deep and snaps back to the present.

"Later, though," he says, his voice brisk for all that it's rough and uneven. "Swear."

Natasha barely has time to think about whether she's disappointed or relieved before Clint's urging her forward, up to her knees, guiding her to where she can brace herself at the front of the tub, her hands curving to fit over the rolled edge on either side of the elaborately cast spigot. The air is cold after the heat of the water, but before she can even shiver, Clint's pressing two fingers inside her, burying them deep in a single, smooth stroke and all her attention irises in with a swift, dizzying intensity.

"You like it like this," Clint says, setting a slow, bottomless rhythm. Natasha does like it this way, likes the angle and the depth and the freedom of movement it all gives her, but he knows that, has known it from very early on. He likes to talk during sex, to which Natasha does not object even if she usually doesn't join in. This feels different, though and she's not sure she understands. "You like it," he repeats.

"Yes," Natasha grits out, realizing before she's even finished forming the word that saying that she likes it, acknowledging it out loud, rejects that much more of everything she still carries with her from the Red Room. She pushes back onto his hand, taking him more deeply in her and gasps,"Yes."

"In the morning," Clint says, letting his fingers slide all the way out of her to flick up over her clitoris and then fucking back inside her. He does it again, and then once more, and she can hear his breath catch as she half-sobs at how good it feels and yet still isn't enough, isn't nearly enough. "In the morning, we can fuck like this, like you like it, in that bed you got for us—"

Clint breaks off to press a third finger inside her and bring his other hand up to play with her still aching breasts, pinching at them with the same rhythm that he's fucking her. Natasha allows herself to fall into the sensations, moving in counterpoint to his hands, gasping out her pleasure at how they're pushing his hand deep inside her as the other one pulls sharply at her nipples.

"Yeah," Clint murmurs as she moves more quickly, her body straining to find the right rhythm. "Like that, Nat, c'mon, it's my turn to feel it, feel you come—"

Clint shifts his hand so he can work her clitoris his index finger while he fucks her with the rest, his calluses rough against her no matter that she's slick and wet. Natasha grinds back on his hand and he pushes hard against her in perfect time. She could draw it out more, slow her movements and tease herself on his hands, but she'll save that for later.

Now, she lets it all build smoothly, feels everything coiling tighter and tighter, her legs shaking and her hands tightening until her knuckles are white. Clint moves with her and she can hear him talking still, encouraging her, but she can't spare the concentration it would take to make out the words, not when she's racing to the end and there's not enough air to breathe.

It's Clint there with her, though, and Natasha makes sure she keeps that in her conscious thoughts. It's Clint, not just anyone; Clint, who's been there beside her for years now, who asked her to be here, with him tonight, whom she's decided to be with, here and now, because she wants it that way. Natasha holds onto that knowledge and his voice, and lets everything else go in favor of the tension crackling and shattering under his hands, one endless second after the next.

* - * - *

The water is still comfortably warm—if not as near-scalding as it had been before Clint had gotten her half out of it—and Natasha indulges in it loosening the knots in her muscles as she leans back into him again. He's doing the same; she can feel him slowly unwinding against her. He doesn't speak, though, and finally, Natasha twists around to fix an unwavering look on him.

"Mmm?" He lifts his head off where he's pillowed it with a towel tucked along the rolled edge of the tub. His voice is still low, but his eyes are open and clear. Valentine's Day or not, he knows her well enough to know she’d rather know about any issues up front, no matter how it might break the mood. She doesn’t see any of that in his gaze, and something inside her eases a bit.

"I'm checking to make sure you hadn't drowned," Natasha answers, finding a credibly dry tone. "Outside a nest, you aren't usually known for your silence."

"Just enjoying the calm after the storm."

"All right," Natasha says slowly. "Again, not your usual, but—"

"None of this is my—our—usual," Clint points out, and Natasha has to nod in agreement. "Doesn't mean I'm not liking it."

Natasha holds his eyes for a few seconds longer, but then turns back around and settles herself against him again. He's right in more ways than the obvious. She's not ordinarily one for extending physical closeness past the sexual, but she's not in a particular hurry to do that this evening. She turns that thought over in her mind, examining it from different angles, and then allows thoughts about the rest of the night to join the process.

By the time the water finally cools too much to be enjoyable, one observation in particular has filtered its way to the top of Natasha's concerns. She considers how best to address it as she and Clint carefully extract themselves from the deep tub and wrap themselves up in the ridiculously large and plush towels. After a small distraction to ensure that the Valentine's theme hasn't been carried to ridiculous extremes—there are, in fact, no rose petals scattered on the bed, about which Natasha is thankful—she decides that a straightforward conversation is always going to be best.

"Don't make this all about me," she tells Clint. The bedside lamp is not much brighter than a candle, but Natasha knows him well enough to interpret the quick shift in his eyes. He opens his mouth—to protest, she can tell—but she's ready for that. "We're here because I like French food. The bath was scalding and I know you're a much bigger fan of water that's barely body temperature." He's quiet now, but she isn't done, not quite. "And yes, I like sex when you're behind me, but that's not the only position that I enjoy." Clint smirks at that, and yes, it's probably ridiculous to be talking about sexual positions after years of working through as many of them as possible, but she does have a point. "You don't defer to me in the field, as my partner," she says, more sharply than she'd intended. "Don't do it here either."

The smirk Clint's wearing fades to something that's a little more true, a little more honest, which Natasha appreciates. There's unfortunately also more of that self-mocking edge he dredges up far too often for Natasha's taste.

"I'm serious, Barton."

"I'm not saying you're not," Clint says.

"This is about you and me. Not only me."

"I get it." Clint shrugs. "I do. There's just this really loud part of my brain that's telling me that I'm nuts if I'm not doing everything I can to make you happy—"

"Until there's nothing you're happy with and you resent everything you're doing and we lose it all—the partnership, the friendship, the—"

"Whoa, whoa," Clint says. "I wasn't making myself inhale that steak tonight just to make you happy. And I'm pretty damn sure we spent more time with not-stupidly-hot water than we did with it." He rolls over so he's on his side, close enough that Natasha can feel his breath on her skin. "I know what you like in bed, and you know what I like. On a scale of one to ten, we're usually banging in around an 11. Sometimes, a 15."

All of this is true, but Natasha still finds it difficult to let it be that simple. "I was there at the end of you and Bobbie," she reminds him.

"Not my finest hour," Clint sighs. "But, uh… would you buy that I've learned from it?"

"Have you?"

"Well, probably not enough, but yeah," Clint says. "A lot more than I'd have expected." Natasha remains silent and he adds, in a thoughtful voice, "I did the whole fancy restaurant thing because I was pushing us way out of our comfort zone and… I dunno, a crab shack out on the Bay wasn't really going to cut it for Valentine's Day."

Natasha thinks about the tender sweetness of freshly steamed crabs and the loose, relaxed way she’s seen Clint lounge at the newspaper-covered tables, and decides she might make a few arrangements of her own here shortly.

"I wanted to be sure you knew I was for real," Clint's saying, his voice low and quiet enough that Natasha brings her attention back to the here-and-now. "That this was a big thing and I knew it and I was ready to be serious about it." He pauses for a moment, and then adds, "That I am serious about it."

"I do know that," Natasha answers, equally quiet."I'm serious about it, too."

"Yeah, I got that when you came back with the key for here." Clint reaches out and traces a finger down her arm, a slow, light path. "So, here we are."

"Yes," Natasha agrees.

"Emphasis on the 'we.'"

"Yes, again."

"Okay, then." Clint yawns suddenly, as if he's overcome by the day. Natasha understands. "Can we kill the lights and knock off for the night? I swear we can keep talking in the morning—"

"No," Natasha interrupts. Clint stiffens next to her; she keeps her expression sober and severe as she surveys him. She allows the silence to draw out for a long few beats, but finally takes pity on him and finishes, "You've already made promises about tomorrow morning—any further discussion will have to wait until after you've taken care of those."

She really shouldn't be so pleased by being the cause of the slow, dawning smile on his face—she's known him long enough to have seen all of his expressions—but she can admit to herself that she is very nearly smug at drawing it out of him.

"Yeah, fine," Clint sighs, mock put-upon. "I'll fuck you—"

"As promised," Natasha interjects in her best we-already-had-a-plan-Barton tone.

"Hands and knees or against the headboard—your call, Widow," Clint answers. "Then we can talk, okay?"

"We'll see," Natasha answers. "I'm not sure that being able to speak would live up to the expectations you've set, but I suppose we can take that as it comes." She hears what she's said and can't help the small laugh—fine, the small giggle, which is just ridiculous—that slips out of her mouth. "So to speak."

Clint snorts, saying, "Game on, Red." Natasha laughs again, free and full this time, and reaches for the lamp switch. The last thing she sees before the dark falls is Clint's grin. "Game-fucking-on."