When Clint arrives in Lagos he has a serious case of jetlag, a half-asleep arm that feels like it’s on fire, and one hell of a fucking headache.
It wouldn’t be so bad, all of that, not if he didn’t have to act convincing enough to get past the border guards who gave him a wary eye when he presented his white immigration card (“Jim Baldwin, 38, analyst from New York” and Clint has practiced the words enough times in front of a shoddy airport bathroom mirror to believe that he actually is Jim fucking Baldwin) or if he didn’t have to be alert about everyone painting a target on the back of his head. That last one is his paranoia more than anything else, he knows – can almost hear Natasha’s voice telling him so – but damned if the fact that it could be possibly true wasn’t sitting in the back of his brain like a trigger waiting to be released.
Clint pulls the heavy duffel a little tighter over his shoulder as he slips through the crowds, and narrowly avoids looking too much in one direction as he shuffles his feet in front of the customs booth.
“Good morning, sir. Business or pleasure?”
What an ironic question. Would you like the real answer? Sit down, because it may take a few days to explain it all.
“Pleasure,” he replies briskly, silencing the voice in his head. “Meeting my wife for a few days.”
“Oh, yeah?” The guard makes a note on his documents, not bothering to look up. “What does she do?”
Clint pauses at the question, his breath stilling in his body before he exhales slowly, squaring his jaw.
“She’s a congresswoman.”
At that, the man’s eyes finally lift and he meets Clint’s face with a smirk. “No kidding. Well, that’s really neat. Anyone I would know?”
Clint stops the laugh he feels crawling into his throat, swallowing it down before it has a chance to materialize.
“No. No, she’s…” He pauses, searching for words. “She’s small town. Local.”
“Ah. Well.” The guard shrugs and closes his stamp over the passport before handing it back. “Suppose that’s fair. Tell her good luck, will you? And welcome to Lagos, Mr. Baldwin.”
“Thanks,” Clint mumbles, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jacket and winding through the crowd of travelers until he spots an unoccupied wall that he can lean his weight against. He’s exhausted as anything and he’s only been to Lagos once, four years ago on a mission that went south incredibly quickly. That, combined with the fact that his vision is currently swimming from lack of sleep and an overactive mind, isn’t making it entirely easy for him to focus on what he’s supposed to do, or where he’s supposed to go.
“Excuse me. Are you lost?”
Clint opens his eyes, startling at the heavily accented woman who has appeared in front of him with a small child in tow.
Another ironic question. Give me an hour, I’ll give you the truth…though I’m not sure you want to hear it.
He swallows, blinking rapidly into alertness. “Yeah. I, uh…” He sighs, gesturing towards himself before giving up entirely. “I need to find a taxi.”
“Taxi stand. It is that way,” the woman replies with a small wave of her hand while her child continues to tugs at her sleeve. Clint manages a smile as he pulls away from his spot against the wall, moving towards the direction she’s pointed out where he takes an escalator one flight down to street level. When he finally does manage to spot the designated area for ground transportation, he’s relieved to find that the line for yellow cabs is blissfully empty.
One perk of taking a goddamn redeye, he thinks grimly as he flags down an approaching car, practically falling into the backseat and giving the driver a hastily scribbled address from the back of a crumpled Starbucks receipt, before passing out for the duration of the ride.
At the front desk of the Intercontinental, he checks in alone (“Laura” hasn’t arrived yet, but when she did, would the concierge please tell her that her husband has already acquired the room key and is waiting upstairs?) and then follows the signs to the elevator, until he gets to room 3154. Clint notes with grim realization that Natasha has been smart enough to give them the thirty-first floor – easy access to get out without hurting themselves if the situation presented itself, but high enough so that they’re not susceptible to immediate attack. It’s a damn nice room too, he realizes as he puts his bag on the bed and kicks off his shoes, letting them bounce unceremoniously across the floor. Certainly nicer than the places they were used to staying when they were on missions, or even when they were dicking around between jobs and putting their tabs on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s credit card.
He paces the floor, using the time to take in the mini fridge against the wall, the slightly overstuffed chair, and the large, single paned window adjacent from the king sized bed. This particular view overlooks the streets and casts a panoramic view over the cityscape, tall buildings bathed in still-sleeping shadows as the sun edges up over the structures and throws diamond sized sparkles onto the surface of the small expanse of water in the backdrop beyond. Clint relaxes against the glass, surveying the sightlines and memorizing them until he’s constructed what he thinks should be a fairly accurate map inside his brain, one that he could easily pull if anything drove them to combat.
Perfect view for a vacation. And for snipers, he thinks sullenly as he pulls the drapes closed against the growing dawn. That’s the goddamn world they’re living in now. Conspiracies and spies and snipers and aliens, and Norse gods with mind-controlling glowsticks.
He double-checks the lock on the door one more time before heading into the bathroom, splashing a palm-sized amount of water over his face and eyes in an attempt to scrub out the tiredness as much as he can. Reaching for the knob that controls the shower, he twists the metal lever as far as it will go on one side, easing his body under the spray. His muscles scream from a kind of fatigue that he hasn’t felt in ages, and Clint arches his neck tiredly while he tries to think of his last real night of uninterrupted sleep. He comes up empty, finding that he can’t remember much of anything before Natasha’s cryptic text demanding that he get to the airport and make a pre-arranged flight that left exactly four hours from two days ago.
He’s in the middle of reaching for the soap when a soft click forces him to stumble, the sound of the opening bathroom door bleeding through the roar of the shower and through his own thoughts. Clint freezes, holding his breath in the wake of barely audible footsteps, counting to three in his head before reaching for the inside of the curtain. He yanks it back harshly with his hands poised in defense only to find Natasha standing in front of him, the barrel of her gun raised level with his head.
“Did anyone follow you?” Her voice is flat in the wake of his exclamation, and she stays motionless with her gun trained on his face, despite the fact that the still running shower is sending spray over the edge of the tub.
Clint shakes his head, causing more water to fly forward. “No.”
“Are you sure?”
“Jesus Christ, Tash. Of course I’m sure. I’m jet lagged, not dumb. I’ve been doing this for years.”
“So have I,” she points out with a look that seems to say everything and nothing all at once, lowering her gun and placing it on the sink with what he notices are shaking hands. Two fingers wipe droplets of steam and sweat from her forehead and Clint searches for an apt response, coming up with nothing except the obvious.
“You’re late.” He allows himself to relax as she crosses her arms, a move he recognizes as her beginning to let down her metaphorical and emotional guard.
“You’re still taking hot showers.”
Clint shrugs, the accusation behind the words as scorching as the bathwater that continues to burn into his skin. “I hate the cold,” he replies, figuring if she really remembers everything, he won’t need to elaborate. Natasha nods as her eyes search his body.
“I know,” she says finally, bending down to strip out of her clothes. Clint reaches for the shower knob to turn down the intensity of the heat, but she pushes his hand away before he has a chance.
The oppressing steam curling through the windowless room is making it almost impossible to breathe but he obeys, dropping his hand as she wraps both of her arms around him, the water pounding dark red splotches against her skin. After a few moments of silence, she lifts her head and pulls his lips hard against her mouth, her fingers clawing their way up his back.
“Hell of a greeting,” he mutters as she continues to lean into him, her body brushing his cock. It takes about five seconds for him to go hard despite the mental and physical exhaustion he feels surging through his body, and he’s surprised when she doesn’t initiate further, instead drawing away so that her eyes can search his face more seriously.
“How was your flight?”
Clint pauses for a half a beat longer than he knows is allowable before she’ll start to wonder about his state of mind.
“Tiring,” he answers truthfully. “You put me in coach between a woman who wouldn’t shut up for half the trip and a man who snored like the second coming of Godzilla. I’m lucky to be alive.”
Natasha moves her hands down his chest, exhaling softly against his skin. “Sorry. Just tried to get you out of New York as fast as I could...didn’t exactly have time to spring for first class.”
“Saved that for the hotel, huh?” he asks and she glares, water running into her eyes and two tracks of mascara darkening the pallor of her cheeks.
“I have a friend in the area – from before S.H.I.E.L.D.,” she adds off his look. “He owes me a favor, and we needed a place to stay. You shouldn’t complain.”
“I’m not complaining,” he responds defensively before she cuts him off, kissing him harshly again. This time, she lets her tongue trail all the way down the length of his neck before she steps away and out of the shower, leaving Clint with his palm pressed against the wall. He grits his teeth, trying to relax himself in a way that doesn’t involve masturbating like hell while she’s on the other side of a very flimsy curtain.
“Jesus Christ, Barton. Has it been that long?”
Yes. Yes it fucking has. “Missed you too,” he says under his breath as he finishes washing up, finally exiting the tub. Natasha is sitting with her legs up on the toilet seat, having already re-dressed with the rest of her make-up scrubbed off, what she can fit of her hair pulled into a messy wet bun.
“How long are we here for?” Clint asks, reaching for a towel and wrapping it as neatly as he can around his lower half. Natasha pauses, getting up slowly.
“I don’t know,” she admits, and there’s enough hesitancy in her voice for him to know and believe that she’s telling the truth. “A few days. Maybe more. Enough time for us to get our shit together.”
Clint grunts, pulling his shirt over his head, trying to ignore the collection of angry red marks that label his skin. “That’s what we’re calling it now? Getting our shit together?”
Natasha presses her lips into a thin line. “Yes,” she responds tightly, opening the door and moving into the room, which after the heat of the bathroom feels like an icebox. Clint grabs for his boxers, leaving his towel in a heap as he comes into view of her body pressed up against the window, the curtain thrown back and full sunlight drenching the perimeter of the room.
“Is that really safe?” he asks as he rubs at his jaw, his mind simultaneously re-calculating all of the sightlines he’s memorized from his earlier observations. Natasha turns towards him, shaking her head as she pulls the drapes shut again, shutting out all vestiges of light.
He wants to laugh in the wake of her response but he bitterly ascertains that she has a point - for all he knew, the goddamn maid could jump them while they were sleeping, and they would never even know the difference. Clint watches her play with the muted fabric of the blinds, taking notice of the way her fingers dance along the edges of the more frayed seams.
“I want three days,” he says suddenly, causing Natasha to turn, furrowing her brow in response.
“I want three days,” he repeats more firmly. “That’s the normal amount of time we spend somewhere when we need to lay low and we aren’t waiting for an extraction, right?”
She nods slowly, and he can almost see the wheels turning inside her head as she tries to understand the meaning behind his request. “Yes.”
“Okay.” Clint settles himself on the bed, flopping back against the pillows. “So, three days. Then we figure out what to do next.”
Natasha sighs, moving away from the window and sitting down next to him, her weight tipping the mattress slightly in one direction.
“We’re not fugitives,” she says finally, trailing her fingers along the covers. “We’re just lost.”
“Same thing, isn’t it?” he asks resentfully. “I mean, you can’t have one without the other.”
“I think you can be lost no matter whether or not you’re running,” Natasha returns with a cold look. She gets up, walking over to the mini fridge, and bends down to pick at the lock until she can access the collection of formerly partitioned off alcohol. Clint raises an eyebrow, shifting in bed and propping himself up on one arm.
Natasha shrugs and grabs a miniature bottle of vodka, throwing him a similarly sized volume of whiskey. “We’re not paying for the room, remember? Laura and Jim are.” She cracks a smile similar the one he knows is shadowing his own face, returning to the bed to stretch out beside him. Clint turns the bottle over in his hands, watching the plastic catch in the light.
“Because,” Natasha replies, twisting her cap off. “It was the first place that came to mind when I thought of where to send us. I had a few jobs here before I joined up with S.H.I.E.L.D. Always liked the area. Always liked the coffee, too,” she adds before pausing, her lips turning downward.
“I assume you want to know what happened.”
Clint lets out a breath. “I saw the news,” he says carefully. “Pierce, the Triskelion, the Helicarriers – all of it.” He decides not to mention the press conference, or the way he had stood in front of his television screen feeling sick and proud with the realization of what she was defending, her face as open and vulnerable as the silver chain hanging around her neck. It spoke more about her personal and professional choices than she ever could say in public, though no one but him would ever realize it, and he watches the small arrow glint in the overhead light as Natasha tips back her bottle.
“I asked if you wanted to know what happened,” she repeats, and he flinches internally at the strength of her words.
“Where’s Rogers?” he asks instead, mostly because he’s curious but also because he’s trying to avoid the answer to the question she’s attempting to extract from him. Natasha sits up with a sigh.
“Looking for Barnes,” she replies. “It doesn’t matter. He’s on his own for the time being, and so am I.”
“But you’re going to help him,” Clint prods, throwing his empty bottle to the floor. “Right?”
Natasha shakes her head sharply. “I can’t help him,” she answers. “Not with this. And I don’t want to.”
“So instead you want to be stuck in some international country with a marksman who doesn’t have any type of security to fall back on, and whose entire professional life has amounted to a whole lot of nothing,” he remarks sourly. Natasha crosses her arms, a sad expression settling onto her face.
“I missed you,” she stresses quietly. “I wanted to see you, and I fucking missed you. Why can’t it just be that?”
“Because I’m the reason for this,” Clint snaps, tasting the guilt as it starts to rise in the back of his throat like bile. “Because I’m the reason you’re here in the first place, and the reason why we’re even sitting in this hotel room right now. You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me.”
“And where would I be?” she asks tersely, clutching the vodka bottle a little tighter in her hands. “Drenching my ledger in Romania? Six feet under in Croatia because I took someone else’s bullet to the skull? Dead on the side of the road in Odessa because my partner didn’t care enough to risk his own life to save me?”
Clint balls his hands into hard fists at the last memory, feeling the throbbing phantom pain in his left shoulder as if he’s experiencing the sensation of bleeding out all over again.
“You would’ve had a different life,” he says finally, watching the change in her expression. “You wouldn’t have sold your soul to Hydra.”
“And I wouldn’t have known you,” Natasha returns, her eyes flashing. “I’m the reason I’m here in the first place, Barton. Don’t you get it? This is the only thing in my life that has ever been my choice.”
“A choice I gave you, which makes it my fault,” he argues back sullenly, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and pulling himself upright. Natasha snorts, rolling her eyes.
“Like you had any idea.”
“Maybe I should have,” he says miserably, pressing his hands into the bed. “Maybe I should’ve realized that the people who I was taking orders from were going behind my back, telling me to kill on their own secret agendas under the guise of saving the world.”
“Not all of them,” Natasha says carefully. “Just the ones that wanted more glory than what S.H.I.E.L.D. could give them. In Russia, we called them communists.”
“Yeah, well. In the circus we called them reckless assholes,” Clint replies bitingly. “The same ones that went off and sabotaged someone’s act because they wanted to be the best, and because no one would ever suspect a tightrope walker falling to his death in practice when that was a risk that we took every single day.”
Natasha puts her tongue inside her cheek and gets up, crossing the room to stand in front of the dresser with her back to him.
“Fury didn’t tell me that he was alive,” she says slowly when she speaks again. “And I had no idea until I saw him that day in the bunker. Do you want to know what he said when Rogers asked him why he did it?” Natasha pauses. “He said it was because he didn’t know who he could trust. He didn’t know,” she repeats, her words catching in her throat. Clint stays silent as she turns back towards him, steadying her voice, and he can see the thin film of water starting to glass over her pupils.
“But Hill knew. And some random doctor that was taking care of him? He knew, also. So he didn’t trust me, but I trusted him with my life. I didn’t trust anyone, except for you and except for him, and you were gone, and that’s why it hurt so goddamn much when I thought he was, too. It hurt,” she continues, her voice rising. “That fucking hurt, Clint. That hurt me more than Hydra coming out of the woodwork.”
Clint meets her eyes, his gaze unmoving. “And what about me?” he asks quietly. Natasha glares.
“What about you?”
Clint shrugs. “Our partnership. This trust. Everything that was built on a lie,” he says raggedly. “All of this, falling apart around us, right now.”
Natasha looks like she wants to scream, and for a brief moment, he considers it wouldn’t be surprising if she marched back into the bathroom, grabbed her gun, and shot him on the spot. Instead, she walks back towards the bed, standing over him with her hands on her hips.
She waits a few moments for him to respond, and when he doesn’t, she pushes him down forcefully.
“You were the only real thing in my life, and you always have been. I never doubted your trust in me,” she says firmly. “Not that day that you brought me in. Not when you argued my case in light of losing your job. Not ever.”
“Ever?” he asks as he searches her face, unearthing the mask of terror that she’s trying to hide.
“You want me to doubt your trust?” she asks, her breath hot against his neck. “Tell me you don’t want this. Tell me you don’t want me, right now.”
Of course I want it, he thinks, giving in with her permission and shoving his hands against her shirt, squeezing her breasts through the thin fabric. Of course I want you. But you knew that from the moment you walked in, didn’t you? Couldn’t do it in the shower because you had to make sure that I was sane, that I was trustworthy, because you had to prove to yourself that we were okay, right? Her tongue is viciously scraping against his mouth, a feeling he recognizes as her being desperate for more than he can probably give at this particular moment, and he wraps his legs around her own despite the fact both of them are still mostly clothed.
Clint shifts so that her hands can pull down his boxers, freeing his erection before helping to lift his shirt off, the action pulling her flush against him. It’s been too long, he thinks, since he’s felt the warmth of her skin against his, and too long since he’s had to imagine what she would feel like on nights when he couldn’t sleep or when he ended up alone in some godforsaken country, no one to help him out of his situation. He kisses a line down the side of her neck, stopping at her pulse point, the place where he knows (remembers) she’s the most sensitive. Taking a hint of skin between his teeth, he bites down gently, flicking his tongue over the pierced flesh.
She makes a noise against his mouth that sounds like a cry, her hands bruising the side of his body. “Fuck,” she breathes, and there’s wetness that tastes salty, and it takes him a moment to realize its tears, not blood, coating the roof of his mouth.
She needs this, he realizes as he works his hands down her body, succinctly controlling his movements before he gets to the last of her garments. I need this. He pulls off her pants a little harder than he means to, and she uses the momentum to roll to the side, dragging him next to her instead of on top like he expects.
“I wanted to see you,” she says so quietly that he can barely hear her over the hum of the automatic air conditioning that’s come alive during their earlier conversation. He’s not sure if she means now or before but decides it doesn’t matter as she curls her body into his own and puts her mouth against his chest, mapping a trail towards his navel until she has enough leverage to take him fully into her mouth.
He can’t help the groan that escapes from his throat, biting down hard on his tongue. This time he does taste blood, the bitterness of it entwined with the leftover salt of her tears, a strange mixture of everything he thinks might represent them in that moment if there was ever any point in which they had to explain themselves. He claws at the covers, his hands tight around the white sheets as she rocks back and forth against him, her hold innately secure as if she’s guarding him, keeping him hostage against anyone who might want to claim him for themselves.
“I wanted to see you,” she echoes, sliding her mouth off his cock, her tongue lapping around his head before moving back so that she’s level with his face. She places a hand on his chest, her palm warm against his skin, and she taps her fingers against the beat of breaths that he knows are coming too rapidly.
“Didn’t you want to see me?”
He sees it in her eyes, the challenge and the smirk and fuck it all to hell, they were never as good at talking as they were at reading each other’s mind, which was another strange thing all together because Coulson and Fury and everyone else would be the first to say that Clint Barton was someone no one would ever be able to understand. He rolls her over onto her back and places two hands on her thighs as he leans in to taste her, feeling her body go rigid almost immediately.
“Relax,” he murmurs with his mouth still inside of her, his tongue drawing circles around her clit, and at her moan he pulls back slightly, his lips curving. “You gonna get soft on me, Romanov? Thought you were a spy.”
“Thought you were an archer,” she hisses, and out of his peripheral vision he can see the way she’s struggling to hold herself back. “Made a living off those hands.”
He grins, twisting two fingers upwards. “Yeah, I did,” he growls, continuing to massage her. “This is a better use for them.”
“Don’t tell me you’re suddenly sentimental,” she manages to retort, and he feels her start to harden around grip. “Used to take you days to come.”
“Hours, actually,” he grunts back, sliding himself in before she can respond, finding her eyes. He feels her nails claw into his skin again, and dimly finds himself wondering if they’ll leave the same red marks as the ones he had received as a child, scarred reminders of belonging and possession from two very different people for two very different reasons.
“Yeah, well. Just us now.” She’s speaking into his shoulder in a voice that sounds like it’s straining to be heard, and he doesn’t try to hold back, tensing with a cry that turns into a desperate yell. Natasha’s own response is lost in his flesh as she buries her face into his body, her teeth scraping over his skin as her orgasm rolls through her, and her breath a hot blanket that makes him feel warmer at this moment than he ever has, scalding shower or not.
Clint waits until he can count enough spaces between their breathing before moving off of her, kicking his legs into the covers.
“Just us now, huh?” he asks hoarsely as she stares at him, her face suddenly an open display of emotion, as if something has been broken inside of her.
“Clint.” Her voice is quiet, with a vulnerable tinge that he’s not used to hearing. “If I told you that this was all I needed – no S.H.I.E.L.D., no missions, no Strike Team Delta…” She swallows, pausing. “If I told you this was it, forever or even for a little bit…would you believe me?”
There’s a rawness to her question that matches a look he hasn’t truly seen since she screamed derogatory Russian language at his face and told him to go to hell in a single walled room in the bowels of Medical so many years ago. Clint turns over, kissing her gently in silent response.
“I would now,” he replies as he pulls away. Natasha sits up slowly, and he can see the uneasiness working its way over her face as he waits for her to continue.
“It’s not over yet,” she says softly, and Clint rolls onto his back, following her lead.
“I know,” he says. “So we’ll figure it out together.” He circles an arm around her waist, pulling her against him until he can feel his pulse bleeding through his skin, mingling with her own in a synchronized beat. “We do that, right?”
Natasha nods, and Clint tightens his grip around her body, accepting what she doesn’t say. One hand reaches for her hair, his fingers drowning themselves in a messy sea of red.
“You know, for what it’s worth –” He stops, not missing the slight upturn of her lips that seems like a mirage on top of an otherwise blank expression, and when she turns to kiss him he tastes New York, Hydra and Loki and both of their unmakings, blood and sweat and the stinging pain of pasts merging with an uncertain future all rolled into one.
“You were saying?” she asks when she breaks away, and he notices, for the first time, something akin to hope masquerading in her eyes. Clint smiles.
“For what it’s worth, I missed you too.”