They say you have only one chance to make a first impression, one chance to get it right. For Clint and Natasha there were several first meetings. The other Avengers have asked them about how they met, and were all given different answers. It frustrates some of them more than others, but Natasha and Clint insist that they’re all true (even if Tony secretly thinks it’s to mess with them).
(Nine years after the Soviet Union fell)
The first time that [Natasha] and [Clint] met [Natasha] was acting as a daughter to a member of the Ukrainian embassy and [Clint’s] cover story for this mission was that he was a member of the American embassy. He had been given the identity of an existing member, who looked similar enough to [Clint] that the mission could be pulled off. They had both been sent to guard the same man, albeit by different organizations with different names, and [Clint] and [Natasha] each had different identities. The man they were guarding thought he could play them off each other, due to residual mistrust between the two countries, even almost a decade after the collapse of the USSR.
[Natasha] drew [Clint’s] attention simply due to the way she worked the room. She played the sweet, doting daughter to her father, but was still always keeping an eye out for danger. He watched as she directed conversations with apparent ease; she never let the conversation focus too much on herself, instead she kept the people she was conversing with talking about themselves. [Clint], on the other hand, just had a handler he needed to check in with. He didn’t have a partner to work with on this mission and was in fact a solo agent the majority of the time, trusted to get the job done. This mission was a bit out of the ordinary for him though in that he was usually expected to watch from afar, which suited him, not be right in the middle of the action.
The mission turned messy, which annoyed [Clint], but he was able to roll with the changes which were thrown at him. He was usually good at thinking on his feet. [Clint] ran for the nearest exit, away from the goons who had been asked to guard his target, weaving around people who were trying to go in the opposite direction. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was going and almost ran into [Natasha], who was coming from the opposite direction.
“Whoa, sorry,” [Clint] said, out of breath and reaching out to steady [Natasha].
[Natasha] tensed imperceptibly for a moment before allowing [Clint] to touch her, which didn’t escape [Clint’s] notice. He was impressed by how easily she fell back into being a diplomatic’s daughter. “It’s alright,” she said.
“I noticed you’re with the Ukrainian embassy,” [Clint] said, struggling follow her lead. His mind was too full of trajectories and cataloguing threats to fully become who he was a few minutes before. “Do you like your dad’s job?”
[Natasha] shrugged. “It’s okay.”
“It must be interesting to live in all those different countries,” [Clint] tried again. “I bet you see a lot of different things.”
[Clint] noticed that [Natasha] seemed to be keeping an eye out for someone. “Oh, there’s my ride!” she said. “I’ll see you around.”
[Clint] watched as she walked quickly away, then exited out of a fire escape, thinking to himself that he doubted he would see her again.
(One year later)
[Clint] watched the young woman out of the corner of his eye. He was at a bar for his mission and she had come in not long after him. He had been watching her for a while and although she acted like she belonged she didn’t quite manage it. Her makeup was put on well, as far as [Clint] could tell, but her clothes were put together like she was trying too hard to be grown up, not realising that she was attractive without trying to be older than she was.
As he watched her for an extended amount of time, he became more and more convinced that she was the same girl as the one he’d met at the embassy ball a year ago. She had the same wariness of other people about her, although she had a new set of skills in that she was trained in sexuality, which made all the men in the bar turn a blind eye to the fact that she was underage.
[Clint] watched as multiple men came up to her, and tried to engage her in conversation. She would go along with it politely for a few moments, but [Clint] could see her subtle discomfort, however much she tried to hide it, and how she would try to get rid of them. After a couple hours of this, [Clint] had had enough. He approached her, trying to not let her think that he was one of the others, and then he spoke.
“Why do you work for them?” he asked, playing with the glass he’d brought along with him to where she sat.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” she said, twirling the straw in her drink. “Do you think I work for the local department store? What’s so bad about them?”
“I think that you’re buying what they’re telling you; you don’t realize that you could be more than what they’ve said you could be. You haven’t had a chance to make mistakes yet, and they’re making sure you never do.”
“Is that so wrong?” she said, glaring at him. “I would like to know what makes you think that you’re entitled to give opinions on my life.”
[Clint] watched as she got up, grabbed her coat, and walked out the door. He had a good instinct about her, that she could become someone worth fighting beside. He just had to wait to see what she did next.
(The rise of the Black Widow)
Reports of a new international espionage spy started to come in not long after [Clint] had a chat at a bar with the girl he was convinced he’d seen at the embassy ball disaster two years previously.
She called herself the Black Widow and was quickly becoming one of the most talked about spies at SHIELD. According to Fury, SHIELD wasn’t going to take her out yet, just let her do her thing and see how she evolved. [Clint] resolved to keep notes on her known escapades, to see if he could find a pattern, with an eye to connecting her to the girl.
(Between the rise of the Black Widow and the hunt)
In the years between [Natasha] leaving the Red Room and joining SHIELD, [Clint] and [Natasha] may have met multiple times, but they wouldn’t know for sure until they met with the Black Widow at the other end of Hawkeye’s scope.
Five years after the rise of the Black Widow, [Clint] was called into Fury’s office, where he found Fury and Coulson waiting for him.
“[Barton],” Fury said to him. “We have a new mission for you.”
[Clint] answered with military precision. “What is it, sir?”
“We’re concerned about the Black Widow. We fear that she’s becoming difficult, and we’re not sure if she’s in control anymore. We want you to learn about her and take her out.”
“Yes, sir,” [Clint] said.
“You’ll have a full debriefing in an hour. In the meantime, dismissed.”
[Clint] nodded his head and walked out of the room, heading towards his own quarters.
During the next few months, [Clint] became more and more convinced that the Black Widow was really the girl from the party several years before. It was a lot of little things that he connected to the girl he’d met previously along with his initial gut instinct, and he was willing to work with it to see where it got him.
He began to see more similarities running through the mission briefings on her. He was learning about her to the point that if you were to have him point her out, even if she looked completely different from previous times, he would still be able to tell her apart from any other woman on the street.
This proved to be very helpful the moment when he finally came face to face with the Black Widow and recognized her to be the same woman as the young girl he’d met before. [Clint Barton] gave her a choice, and then watched her closely. He saw her shift slightly from side to side, unheeding of the blood still dripping down her arm, which he had offered to patch up, but she’d refused. He knew there were only a few moments until more of the people who were after her came, and he was determined to get her to safety before then, if she would let him. He watched as she seemed to consider her choices very carefully, then slowly nodded her head.
He was relieved when she accepted his offer.
(At a SHIELD base in San Diego)
In an interrogation room in a SHIELD base in San Diego a red haired woman sits in handcuffs across the table from a blond man.
“I don’t think we’ve formally met,” the man says with a half-smile. “I’m Clint Barton.”
He watches as the woman seems to be debating with herself, possibly about how much information to give him or how much of the truth she wants to reveal.
“I’m Natasha Romanoff,” she eventually answers.
“Nice to meet you, finally.”
He smiles at her.
She smiles back.
It’s a beginning.