Author: Lea Benoit PM
CURRENTLY ON HIATUS. Natalie Rushman arrives late for the term. Clint thinks she's interesting, with how she fights hard to stay hidden, wearing a scarf no matter how warm it happens to be. It's three months when abruptly, injuries begin to appear, marring her skin, burdening her with enough pain that Clint begins to notice. And then people start turning up dead.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Black Widow/Natasha R. & Hawkeye/Clint B. - Chapters: 8 - Words: 17,801 - Reviews: 18 - Favs: 15 - Follows: 44 - Updated: 12-13-12 - Published: 09-06-12 - id: 8501601
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"It's lunch," Clint says dryly, standing with Tony and Pepper for just a bit – he'd meant to return Bruce his notes, and he had come across them instead. Brilliant, too, that Tony had managed to get news of his plans.
"It's one step for mankind, lunch with Rushman," Tony insists. "Plus, I've got a bet with Rogers that she only keeps our company because you introduced us. Think I'm winning."
Clint rolls his eyes but doesn't protest, and he adjusts his bag strap as he looks to the clock. "Whatever. Don't wait for me," he says quickly, realising the time, giving Pepper a quick kiss to the cheek as he moves past her.
Tony gives a shout about touching his girlfriend, but it's lost in the crowd as Clint makes his way to the staircase. Without really talking about it, they'd decided on the nest, and he lets his lips quirk into a smile as he climbs up to meet her.
It's the second of the lunches she'd offered, and she had made it a point to come out to talk to him – but he doesn't tell Tony that, Lord knows she's got enough attention from him as it is. Natalie would seek him out, though, like she needed his company, like she didn't have anyone else.
He doesn't complain much – it isn't like he has many others, either. It's a relief to have someone around, he knows that well enough.
He looks around for her as soon as he pushes through the door – Natalie wasn't ever in plain sight, not if he knew anything about her. So he looks down to see if she's hidden herself on the ledge below, the place she usually sought refuge in – but it's empty. With a smirk, he rolls his eyes and turns, checking if she's tucked up on the top of the staircase, like the first time he'd seen her; The second of the hiding places he'd had to catalogue.
It takes some effort to climb, but when he gets up, it's empty and she's not there, either. He pauses a bit then, and he takes a look from the vantage point that he's given himself. It doesn't seem quite right, because she doesn't seem to be in sight, and it's starting to feel like a hide-and-seek – but once he's checked every place on the roof in minutes, he's pretty sure that he's completely alone.
He frowns, and he pulls his phone out –
Where are you?
And he waits for a reply, because she's rather quick with those – she'd already proven that, the night before. It's possible that she's been held up by a teacher, that she's chatting with a friend and forgotten the time, but he allows a few minutes of silence before he starts to get a tad worried. Perfectly normal, perfectly fine.
Three, four –
And then it's about five minutes when he gets up to go looking, an odd sense of mistrust settling in his stomach. He slings his bag over his shoulder, the coffee tumbler empty now, and he pushes the door open to the staircase again. She isn't usually late to anything, unless she's crashed a car or broken something on her way to school – so where is she?
And as he tries to search, it occurs to him how little he actually knows – where she would be if she wasn't on the roof, and where she would go. Whose company she would keep. But he looks anyway, just in case, see if he's been forgotten. Doesn't seem like her either, forgetting. She's good with time, and better still with appointments. Or that's what she'd said.
Classroom first, but he isn't sure which. French is the closest, he supposes, but that's empty, and then there's English. But he still see any hint of red hair hiding in a corner, keeping out of sight, and he takes quicker steps toward the yard. Must be somewhere there, she can't exactly be anywhere else unless he's missed her in the corridor–
"You think you're a hero, Rushman?" Someone says suddenly, vague and distant, but it's enough to catch his attention and still his thoughts. "Think you can walk into our school and save a worm like this?"
"I think I'm better than a fool like you." That voice, Natalie's, instantly recognisable. It doesn't sound right, though, slightly choked, and that sets him running.
"You think you're better?" The other asks incredulously, and he can hear Loki, too, protesting. His brain slowly clicks pieces together, fitting in Evans' voice – Loki must have gone for another fight, and Natalie'd been pulled into it.
"Better than you," she says simply, and then a sound that sounds like a strangled yelp escapes her as he hears a body collide with the wall.
"Yeah? What, got some skills on the mattress, something like that–" He pauses, and Clint stills as he holds his breath. Something's wrong something's wrong– "Ah, that's why you save him. Boyfriend of yours?"
Clint sets his jaw hard, pushing himself faster. Just a bit, the voices still echoing just enough in the corridor for him to pick up on.
"Twenty-six ways to kill you with that bag strap, don't push me," she snarls, and there's a distinct sound of a foot colliding with someone's unfortunate shin. "Leave him alone."
"He came after us, sweetheart," he says, and Natalie makes another odd noise – like she can't breathe. Loki's silent, and that could mean anything from unconsciousness to terror, Clint can't tell, not until he gets sights on them.
It's quite a scene, when he gets there. Natalie, pressed against the wall, almost suspended, her toes barely touching the ground, her hands tight on Evans' wrist. Loki, lying on the ground, hilariously outgunned as he usually was – but Natalie, still fighting back.
She pulls her legs up suddenly, pushing her weight against Evans chest, and he's forced to drop her. She gasps hard for breath, rubbing at her neck, and Clint's getting to her side as he helps her up. "Oy, Nat," he says, letting Evans get his breath back. "Nat, are you alright?"
He tries to pull her up, and she lashes out – she shoves him back, fully expecting him to fall, and her head snaps up to focus her eyes on him. He lets her push, despite his instincts, and he takes a step back. "Natalie, it's me."
She steadies, and she gets her breath back. "God, it's you," she mutters under her breath, and she looks back down as she continues to pant a bit. "What're you doing here?"
"One of us didn't forget lunch," he says dryly, looking at Evans slowly trying to pick himself off the ground. Clint turns around, and he sticks his hands in his pockets. "Big enough an ass to pick on the girls now, are y–"
"Thought you'd have gone back to your friends, when I didn't show," she says from behind him, cutting him off, and she dusts herself as she gets to her feet. "I've got this."
Evans grunts a bit as he looks straight to Natalie – she narrows her eyes, and she takes a step to position herself defensively. Clint steps between them, and he drops his voice into a threatening growl. "Leave her alone," he says.
"Barton," she warns from behind him, and she gives him a look that clearly tells him to get out of the way. Clint stays stubborn, though, and he holds his ground as he looks between them. "We've been through this. Don't need a hero."
"Christ, Nat, this isn't about heroes," he says exasperatedly, keeping his eye on Evans. "No one needs to lie down and take a beating–"
"I wasn't lying down and taking it!" She cuts him off, sharp as she takes steps forward toward her 'attacker'. "Evans, take it from me. If you're round here again with him–" she gestures to Loki, lying on the ground, stepping past Clint abruptly when the kid behind him makes to run. "I'll show you 'better'."
It's such a change in her demeanour, completely out from what he's used to, and he's forced to step aside as she sneers at him. Natalie lets him go, then, and she sighs as she bends to check on Loki. It's obvious now to him (and he feels the slightest hint of wanting to kick himself) that she knows exactly what she's doing.
She clears her throat, and she chokes a bit before she can speak – it's still hoarse, but she's largely unscathed. "Sorry that m'late," she says vaguely after a pause, rubbing at her neck. Her tone's softened again, and she looks up at him. "Lost my phone..."
He shrugs with a slight delay, folding his arms. "No worries," he says quietly, and rests a hand on her back. She doesn't shrug it off, and she sighs as she crosses her arms, too. Looking down at the brunette.
He notices that her scarf is missing – her hair covers most of it, sure, but the fabric is lying a bit of a distance away, roughly chucked aside. He goes off to pick it off the ground, and he's a bit slower as he returns to her side.
When she finally looks up, and he can see the barest hint of a burn scar as she takes it. "Thanks," she says softly, pulling it back around her neck, rolling her head around. "Sorry, again. Lunch, tomorrow?"
Clint shakes his head. "Don't worry about it. Not your fault."
She snorts, and she combs her fingers through her hair. "Yeah, funny you should say that," she says, and she pushes herself to her feet. "Started it, if I'm right. Told him to stop picking on Loki, ended badly for him."
"Still. Impressive that you managed to take him," he says lightly, ignoring how bad the burn seemed to have been. He'd wondered about it, and he wouldn't be asking her about the scarf anytime soon. "Usually don't get out easy."
"Experienced," she says dryly, shoving a hand in her pocket. "I've been knocked around – told you I didn't need a hero–"
"Why d'you keep saying that? Heroes, Avengers are heroes, blah blah blah," he says, waving his hands about as he gestures. He doesn't understand that, not the way she keeps talking about them.
Natalie smiles a bit, vague, and she crouches beside Loki. "Mean your consciences would suffer if you saw a kitten in a tree and didn't save it," she says, folding her arms to rest on her knees. "Plus, you can't leave a girl alone when she's got a fight under control."
Clint has the decency to look a tad sheepish as he looks down at her, and he waits a moment before he speaks up again. "Think it's decency, really. Should help if you can."
"Well, yeah, but I mean – think hard about it, Barton, it's like... When you need any kind of help, everyone goes to you. Like they've got no backbone," she says quietly, straightening up suddenly as she goes to pick her bag up, looking for her phone. "Can't save their own asses."
"There's homework from Bruce, and there's tech support from Tony – even if he's a dick about it," she continues, pulling her scarf tighter. "Football team – every sports team that can get him's dependent on Steve, and Pepper's everyone's bloody listening ear."
She sighs, and she comes to a stop. "And then there's you. Picking stray kittens and trying to give them boxes," she says quietly, looking at him. "And I don't need that."
He frowns at her, trying to listen patiently, but her argument's messed up in all the wrong ways. "Wasn't trying to–"
"Isn't about you trying to, no," she holds up a hand to stop him, and she lowers his guard carefully with a smile – rueful, but a smile nonetheless. "Suppose I get used to it, but you're bloody annoying."
He ends up smiling at that, a chuckle escaping him. "Thanks," he says. "You're very kind."
"I do try," she quips dryly, but she rolls her eyes and nudges him. A little sign that they're alright, that she's sorry for ditching him, and that she's not too mad. "So. Started my first fight, proud of me yet?"
The laugh that comes through Clint's lips is surprised, and he cuffs Natalie at her shoulder. "Stop that," he says warningly. "You're going to make me endorse it."
She pouts at him. "It can't be that bad," she insists, and she crosses her arms. "You said it was impressive, after all."
He pauses a bit, and then he eyes her with an exasperated smile on his lips. He opens his mouth to say something else, yeah, but before that –
"Rushman, I got your message," Tony calls from behind her, and he looks between them. "Said Loki got caught u... Right, I see the carnage."
Natalie grimaces, and she turns away from Clint to look to Tony. "Got himself pretty smashed before I got here," she lies smoothly, sporting no wounds to prove otherwise. "Clint showed up, saved our asses, hero drags the heroine into the sunset."
Stark cracks a proper grin at that, and he steps forward. Crouching down and taking his pulse, checking up on the bruising, Tony nods. "Think you can go. I've got this," he says offhandedly, not even looking up – Natalie nods without question, and she turns to leave.
Clint hesitates. They're friends, they should be waiting, but Loki doesn't look like he'll be stirring anytime soon. Natalie nudges him quietly, looking at Tony working, and she gently tugs him away.
"You lied to him," he says after a pause, and Natalie misses a beat in her step. Enough for Clint to know she hadn't completely meant to.
"Which part?" She says delicately, and she looks at him.
"'Before I got here'," he quoted after her, and he sticks his hands in his pockets. "You were there the whole time, weren't you?"
Natalie's face twists into a strange sort of smile, and she shakes her head. "Wasn't lying about that," she says quietly, and she shrugs. "Was playing hero. Like you do. Like you did, just now."
Clint raises an incredulous brow, and he rolls his eyes. "Of course you did," he says slowly. "When you said you didn't need it – hypocrite, aren't we?"
"Not saying I'm not. Also, not saying I'm honest, Barton," she replies sharply, her voice smoothly crafted. "You shouldn't associate with me, like I've said."
"Pull the other one," he snorts, and he walks with her still. "Can't shake me, I don't think."
"Yeah. Koala, you are," she grumbles quietly, and she looks at him with a bit of resignation. "You planning to ditch me sometime?"
He waits for a moment as he considers it, but they both know that he can't leave a case like hers alone. "Nope," he finally replies, popping the 'p' obscenely.
She pokes her tongue out, arms crossed again, and she runs a hand through her hair.
He returns the gesture.
"Mature, Barton," she says dryly.
A/N: Reviews would be lovely, any constructive criticism you'd like to give!