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Clint plopped down next to Natasha. They didn't look at each other, but after a moment, Clint said conversationally, "So we have a problem. Your bosses have asked me to kill you."

Natasha raised a single eyebrow. "I could take you any day."

"I know that, and they know that," said Clint, "which is why we have a problem."

Natasha sat up straighter. "Talk to me."

"If I try to kill you, you'll kill me first, which gets me out of the way. By getting you to do it, they're both ensuring that I won't survive and screw up their plans, and, as a bonus, they get to test you with a new scenario." He painted an imaginary billboard in midair. "Watch: will the Black Widow survive this sneak attack--this time from her lover?"

Natasha nodded. His logic worked out. Except--

"How do you know they didn't want you to do exactly what you're doing? It could be a trap to see if I'll run."

"Because they offered me a spare million to do it, and hinted not very subtly that they'd kill me themselves if I didn't. I’d have to be an idiot to do what I'm doing."

It was not Natasha's job to improve Clint’s self-esteem, and she didn't point out that an idiot would not have worked out her supervisors' plan.

"Do you still have good standing with SHIELD?" she asked instead.

"Should do. If they're mad about my long vacation, they clearly underestimate exactly how much I don't work for them."

"What if we worked with them now?" They turned to each other for the first time.

"What, sign on?" He looked wary. He liked his freelancing, she knew. Hawkeye didn't work for anybody, he just did them occasional favors in return for being left alone to do whatever the hell he wanted.

"I work for Russian dictators," she reminded him, "and I'm one of their best weapons. You really think if we don't either run for the rest of our lives or find some powerful allies that we'll survive this?"

He nodded reluctantly. "Not the day we land, though. We meet the important power centers and see what our options are."


They were in Hungary when Dottie showed up. Natasha spotted her and immediately pulled Clint into the nearest shop.

"What is it?"

"The tall blonde. She's Red Room."

They attempted to sneak away, but Natasha knew only too well how good Red Room agents were, and the gunfire started just inside the city border. Natasha rolled behind a water reservoir and started shooting back. Clint vanished, but not for very long. An arrow came arcing down, unerringly headed for Dottie, who performed a spin kick and sent the arrow hurtling toward Natasha. It was tumbling, not on trajectory, so Natasha wasn't even thinking about it as she took advantage of Dottie’s distraction to get a shot in at last.
And then the arrow exploded. Natasha wasn't aware of where it threw her, she didn't even process her landing, she just knew that when she opened her eyes again, two Clints were kneeling over her and a jet was landing in the background.

“SHIELD's here, Nat,” said Clint softly. "Decision time."

"I have a concussion," she managed, and Clint cursed.

"We aren't gonna survive if I'm the one looking after both of us," he muttered. He shot her a wry smile. "Guess we're out of options."

Natasha grabbed his arm. "Code word," she slurred. "If we defect, we do it together."

"So we say the word to the other one if we're quitting?" Clint nodded, thinking. A guy with an eye patch and a trenchcoat was heading toward him. They were out of time. "And we can say 'this reminds me of' if we want to ask the other's opinion." She tried to nod. It turned out she couldn't. She lifted a weak wrist and nodded her wrist instead. "The last place we were free seems fitting," he murmured, looking around himself at the city. "Code word is Budapest."