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Friends and Benefits

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“Hey Tasha,” Clint said, walking into the common kitchen, where the redheaded assassin was drinking coffee at four thirty in the afternoon.

She lifted an eyebrow at him. “You’re using the floor. How conventional.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t want these to get crushed in the vents.” He held up an unusual bouquet: a single tall stem of purple flowers rose from the middle, surrounded by spherical blooms of small white ones with shorter orange flowers tucked in between. “I wanted to give them to you before you left.”

Natasha took them and after a brief inspection, declared, “You know far too much,” though it was accompanied by the small smirk of one who was also accustomed to knowing more than anyone else was strictly comfortable with.

Clint just winked at her.

“That aside, what am I supposed to do with these? They’ll be wilted before I’m back, durok.” The insult was said softly, fondly, as Natasha was getting up to put the flowers in a vase with water anyway.

Clint shrugged as she placed them in the center of the breakfast bar, sliding onto the stool next to hers. “Leave them for the rest of us to enjoy?” he suggested.

Natasha snorted, finishing her coffee. “Your strange arrangements?” She deposited her mug in the sink and grabbed her go bag from the floor.

“Seriously, though, Tasha,” Clint called before she could walk out of the room, and the assassin turned back to pluck an orange flower from the vase and pop it in her mouth with a slight smile. She ruffled Clint’s hair on her way out.

Bruce chose that moment to emerge from the corner he’d been loitering in, making himself tea for lack of a better excuse to stay in the kitchen after he’d wandered in behind Clint. He sat himself across from the archer and couldn’t help but notice the fond expression on the other man’s face where he watched the doorway Natasha had disappeared through. The scene wasn’t exactly an uncommon one since they’d all moved into the Tower, and Bruce wasn’t sure he should continue to let it slide. “Clint…” he started, but didn’t get much farther, unsure how to continue.

“Yeah? What’s up?” Clint’s smile transitioned into something altogether more open and friendly as he shifted his focus to the scientist across from him.

Bruce dithered for a moment before he just decided to go ahead. “It’s probably not my place to ask, but…why did you give these flowers to Natasha?”

“Oh, well, I happen to know some things about the target she’s got on this mission.” Clint’s expression flickered momentarily. “He’s definitely more than meets the eye. So the flowers are a warning, and a way of saying good luck. That’s why I asked you specifically for these.”

Bruce had set up a small garden of potted herbs in a particularly sunny room on his floor for lack of better ways to use up all the space he suddenly found himself given. He’d found he liked taking care of plants; it was hardly playing doctor, but he liked the act of nurturing, helping things to grow. Besides, his little conservatory was peaceful, and most of what he grew was edible, or medicinal. He was happy to let the other Avengers make use of his little garden when it was their turn to cook for the whole team, but he’d been a bit bemused when Clint had shown up with a single stem from the flower shop asking if his garlic had bloomed and whether or not he had any edible flowers.

As if reading his thoughts, the archer said, “It’s flower language.” He reached out to trace the edge of a purple petal, then dropped his fingers along the bouquet, explaining each flower as he went. “The monkshood means a deadly foe is near, garlic is for courage and strength, and the nasturtium is for victory in battle.”

“Alright, but why not just tell her that?” Bruce pressed. “Why give her flowers at all? I’ve seen the two of you—you notice her hairstyles, and bring her favorite take out when she gets back from missions. You give her presents, and now flowers. Natasha never does any of that for you.” More gently, he said, “From where I’m standing, it doesn’t seem like she returns your feelings.”

To his surprise, Clint laughed. “Oh, I know.”

Bruce paused, caught off guard. “I…you know?”

“Yeah. Nat’s not interested in anything like a romantic relationship. She humors me, though, because she’s awesome like that.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“Sure. I don’t really want one either. I just like the idea of the thing.”

 


 

 

Natasha had walked up to Clint while he was eating lunch in the cafeteria at HQ, and instantly the archer was on high alert. Outwardly, the redhead was calm, but Clint had known her for long enough at this point to recognize that that particular brand of serenity was nothing more than a façade. It was an impressive and impenetrable façade, to be sure, but it was a front nonetheless. Wordlessly, he got up and bussed his tray, following behind her when she made her way back out of the mess.

She led him down several hallways and into an abandoned break room, locking the door behind her. Then she whirled on him. “Clint,” she hissed, “do you have a crush on me?”

Clint blinked several times, mouth falling open in shock. Whatever he had expected Natasha to spring on him, it was not this. An international incident, maybe, or a traitor in their midst. Disturbing developments in regards to that mission nearly all of SHIELD was gearing up to run in Colombia. Certainly not whatever feelings he may or may not have been developing for his partner in the field. “Uh…” he said intelligently.

“And don’t lie. I will know if you do,” Natasha added fiercely, and abruptly Clint noticed that around the edges of her pointed stare, she was scared. There weren’t many things that could do that, and so he found himself being truthful, even if it might cost him a limb.

“Yeees…?” The word wavered at the end as he cringed a bit. He really honestly hadn’t planned to tell her.

Natasha dropped her head and when she looked back up, her expression was pained, and shockingly open. “Clint… You’re my friend, and a very good one. I owe you more than I can ever repay, but I can’t…I can’t do that.” She took a breath. “Not with you, not…not with anyone. When I say love is for children, I mean that more than you realize. I cannot imagine ever needing another person, but at the same time I’d rather not lose what we have now.”

Recovering from the surprise of that much emotion from Natasha all at once, Clint mulled that over. “Actually, I’m okay with that.” Natasha’s barriers were still down, so he could clearly read the confusion on her face. “I wasn’t going to tell you, and not just because I was afraid you’d rip my arm off. Uh, please don’t, by the way. But my last…several…relationships haven’t really gone so well. Mostly because as soon as there’s any sort of reciprocation I lose all interest. It’s become enough of a pattern that I’m thinking maybe it’s me.”

They stared at each other in mutual contemplation for some minutes. Clint hoped vaguely that Natasha would be the one to break the silence, since he really had no clue where to go from here. Thankfully, she did.

“To be clear, I will never, ever reciprocate.”

Clint took a breath, vocalizing what he’d sort of implicitly come to realize about himself. “I guess I don’t want you to.”

Natasha grinned then, bright and sincere. “Well, I won’t object to a little attention.” She punched him in the shoulder on her way out, and Clint found himself grinning down the hall after her.

 


 

 

In the kitchen, Bruce’s brow was furrowed. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“We’re friends,” Clint said simply. “On an emotional level, we won’t ever be more than friends, and both of us know it. I happen to like the idea of something more—hence the flowers and the noticing how her hair looks—but I don’t actually want it to be something more.”

“Huh.” Bruce sipped his tea, which had gone slightly tepid, in the hopes that it would help him wrap his mind around this. It didn’t, much.

“There’re labels for this now, if that’ll make it make more sense,” Clint offered. “Nat’s aromantic, and I’m lithromantic.” He’d found the terms on the internet one day and shown them to Natasha. Both of them had had a quiet sort of revelation.

A scientist to the very core, Bruce did like terms and labels. If there was a word for something, it could be defined and thus explained. “That does actually—”

“Of course,” Clint continued, grinning in a way that said he was doing it just to mess with the other man, “that doesn’t mean that we haven’t slept together a couple of times. As friends. In an entirely platonic way.”

Bruce shut his mouth on the rest of his sentence, then opened it. “And you’ve lost me again.”

Clint sniggered, but only a little bit. “Look, just know that both Nat and I are happy with the arrangement we’ve got.” He hopped off his stool and clapped the scientist on the shoulder on his way past, leaving Bruce to contemplate the baffling nature of human relationships and whether it was worth reheating the rest of his tea.