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Piece Yourself Together

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From: Natasha A. Romanov <nromanov@aveng.ers>
To: Clint F. Barton <cbarton@aveng.ers>
Subject: You should probably come home

You should probably come home now.

From: Clint F. Barton <cbarton@aveng.ers>
To: Natasha A. Romanov <nromanov@aveng.ers>
Subject: job? Work? Meh?

Nice to know that I’m missed, but I’ve got 10 more kids to get out of this stupid sniper program. They’re too good and I’m only allowed to pass four of them? There’s something seriously wrong with SHIELD’s idea of training and success rates.

Tl;dr It’ll be a couple of more weeks. Miss you too. Ps you’re locked out of your SHIELD email too? Tell IT to fix the fucking email server ffs

From: Natasha A. Romanov <nromanov@aveng.ers>
To: Clint F. Barton <cbarton@aveng.ers>
Subject: About SHIELD

No, that’s what I mean. You should come home now. There were some inciting incidents but tl;dr SHIELD is no longer an organization.

From: Clint F. Barton <cbarton@aveng.ers>
To: Natasha A. Romanov <nromanov@aveng.ers>
Subject: call me on my personal cell


            Three days since she was on Capitol Hill testifying. Blowing her cover. A decision she had made, willingly and openly. She had made so many choices in the last few days that her head spun at the thought of them. She told Steve all her covers were blown, but that wasn’t quite true. She had covers even SHIELD didn’t know about, the same way Clint did. He hadn’t, until Natasha’s paranoia became contagious.

(Coincidentally: about the same time they started sharing a bed, he came around to her worldview. New York only solidified Natasha’s distrust in SHIELD, and Clint…he asked to be sent to South Korea with SHIELD’s sniper class. She never thought she’d see the day when he came out of the field willingly like that. Became a teacher. But then, she knew they’d level out. They had, for the most part.)

She liked this cabin they had off the grid. They used it too infrequently, she decided. She spent the afternoon charging her drop phone off a solar panel, and then climbed up to the roof, wrapping a shawl around herself and gazing out over the mountains while she called Clint.

He answered on the first ring. “Hi.”

She liked how calm he was. “Hi. How’s Seoul?”

“Loud,” he said. “How’s unemployment?”

God, she missed him in ways that she could never explain. His voice filled empty places inside of her, smoothed out the furrowed brow between her eyes, soothed the way her heart beat anxiously in her chest.

“Quiet,” she said after a long pause.

“You want to tell me what happened?” His voice softened, like he thought maybe she had been fired. Or that she hadn’t been a part of it.

So she told him, the long and the short of it, everything she had been afraid of putting to paper. She told him about Steve, and Fury (“They did it again? Honest to fucking god, you’d think they understood what Coulson’s not death death did to us.”), and Hydra. Her voice caught, then, a little bit, and Clint calmly ran through a string of curses in all sixteen languages he spoke. She understood most of them. She leaned against the chimney and shivered. The sun was setting over the mountains, a warm glow spilling into the shadows crossing the endless forests. She could see the lake glittering from where she sat.

“So everything’s out there,” he said. “Wikileaks style.”

“Wikileaks is pennies compared to what I put on the internet,” she whispered. “Clint, there will be people, who come after you and me. Your file was there too.”

“I know.” He sighed and if she closed her eyes, she could imagine him scrubbing a hand over his face and running his fingers through his short hair. “It’s okay, Nat. We’ll figure it out. What’s Tony say?”

She stayed quiet. Then Clint muttered, “Christ, you didn’t even call Tony before you went off the grid? Nat, he worries about you.”

She didn’t like the idea of Tony worrying about her, though she knew it was true. Tony worried about everyone far more than he’d ever admit he did. He probably already had Steve in therapy, but with Jarvis or something to protect state secrets. Though, Nat thought that Steve looked more balanced and closer to leveled out at the cemetery than he had before anything happened, before the fake pirate ship.

“You there?” Clint asked.

Natasha stretched out her legs. “What do we do now?”

“I assume at some point, I’ll get a notice of unemployment but it’s not like we won’t have work with the Avengers, Nat. You worried about being bored?”

She shook her head and then realized he couldn’t see her. “Worried about getting killed.”

For a long time, Clint didn’t say anything in return. She imagined him leaning on a balcony, or somewhere even higher, looking out over a sunrise, imagining her. They were all just figments, invented and pieced together by their limited knowledge of each other. That’s how all people were, really. We could only know so much of each other so we took what we knew and rearranged it into a mosaic, creating something beautiful from fragments. From something that might not be as beautiful in reality.

“Do you remember Italy?” Clint said, abruptly and with a hoarseness to his voice that caught Natasha off-guard.

She leaned forward, wrapping an arm around her knees. “Yes.”

When he remained silent, she cleared her throat and continued, “I remember that I didn’t know what it was like to be somewhere else and have it not be a job. That was strange and disconcerting, like I was seeing everything around me too intense.”

“You let me kiss you in public,” he said. “It took me hours to realize you let me do that because you felt that it was something that was done, like it was protecting your cover instead of something you wanted.”

Natasha whispered, “Why is this important?”

“You’re still protecting a cover, Nat, right now.”

Her eyes were full of tears. She wiped at them hastily. “Everything’s a cover. You know that. Natasha’s as invented as Natalia as Nastya is.”

“Yeah, but Nat’s not.”

She closed her eyes. Steve had called her Nat too. What they did they know about her that didn’t involve SHIELD or her work or her past? What did they know about her that couldn’t be found on the internet right now?

“I’m catching the next flight out of Seoul. I’m going to retrace my steps a couple of times, so might take me a few days to get up there. You’re at Milkman?”

They called the cabin milkman because of all the empty milk containers they found inside of it when they bought it with cash off the guy using it as a hunting cabin a couple weeks a year.

“Yes,” she said, and then panic gripped her chest. “How’d you know?”

“You sound cold,” he said. “And you like the roof there.”

She tilted her head against the chimney. These were the things that no one else knew still. Just the things between them. She still had her secrets. She could piece herself back together with those tiny things, the things that files and psych notes and mission debriefs never contained. Things uncaptured in photographs, biometrics, and boxes of hair dye. Things that she hadn’t lost in the choices she made.

“Okay,” she said. “See you soon.”

“Sleep, Tash,” he said, and there it was, another part of herself not on any file. Her friends called her Nat. He called her Tasha or Tash, in fits of his own romanticism. And now, the nickname, the endearing nickname pulled from her culture’s own penchant for affectionate diminuatives, washed over her, warming her even as the sun set over the last hill.

“Be safe, Clint,” she whispered, and then ended the call.