Originally written for the be_compromised Secret Santa 2013 as a present for bluflamingo and the prompt Clint taking care of Natasha after the movie - she must have had some serious bruising, not to mention nearly being flattened by the Hulk. I had to adapt it a bit, as I don't think Clint left the fray unscathed either. So it's both of them taking care of each other, as they always do.
Thanks to crazy4orcas, anuna and frea_o for your input while creating this, I loved our brainstorming sessions and that you shared your thoughts with me. I couldn't have done it without you, you are amazing!
Frea absolutely deserves co-author honors (I hope it's an honor, hehehe), as she really helped me out by finishing a scene when I got stuck and couldn't find my way out. Thank you!
An extra-special thanks to my betas alphaflyer and hufflepuffsneak, you are awesome, thank you for always being thoughtful and encouraging!
Clint stowed his bow and quiver in their usual spot under the bed, out of sight but easily reachable should he need them. Though from the way he held himself, Natasha was pretty sure that he wouldn't be able to pull the string any more tonight.
She was hardly in better shape, wincing as she limped the short distance through the bedroom to sit on the en-suite's tub. Her boots had kept the sprain stabilized, but now that they were off she felt it with renewed vigor—a jarring pain running through her every time she set the foot down, but she had fought with worse before. Her right side throbbed where the Hulk had punched her and thrown her into the bulkhead. If she had to be honest, she would admit she was exhausted. Not even the satisfaction of having saved the World was enough to counteract the fact that she had hardly slept since Coulson had told her "Barton's been compromised." Short lulls on the planes from Russia and India had not been enough to prepare her for the battle they had just fought.
One look at Clint told her that he wasn't faring any better. The shadows under his eyes were nearly black and he was ghostly pale. He had hardly eaten anything at the shawarma place, chewing mechanically but swallowing next to nothing. He needed rest, that much she knew for certain as she watched him struggle with the buckles of his vest.
She stretched her hand out to him in an unspoken offer of help. He limped over to her until she could close her fingers around his and tug him down beside her. He sank onto the edge of the empty tub with a sigh and stretched out his leg.
His voice rasped when he asked, "You okay?"
She inclined her head in the affirmative. "I will be. I could use a hand taking the suit off, though."
A smirk curled his lip as he nodded, "I can do that."
There he was, her Hawk. It had all been worth it.
"We'll see," she smiled and turned towards him, reaching for the top buckle of his vest. Her ribs twinged with the dull pain of a deep bruise and she inhaled audibly.
Clint's brow shot up in question and he reached out to her.
"Just a bruise," she said.
Clint sighed, "Of course."
He fumbled slightly as he undid the clasps of his vest himself while Natasha tugged down the zipper of her catsuit. He stood and pulled her up with him, before he slipped his big, warm hands beneath the fabric of her suit and gently peeled it off. His fingers tenderly traced the bruise on her ribs and her skin prickled as goosebumps rose all over her.
"Tell me what happened?" Clint asked.
"Later," she said, wrapping her hand around his wrist carefully, pushing it away. She didn't want to think, much less talk about the attack on the Helicarrier and the Hulk chasing her, not just yet.
She helped him shuck his vest, Clint swearing under his breath as he pulled his shoulders back.
"Your quiver?" Natasha asked, knowing the answer even before he nodded.
"I really have to make it softer," Clint groaned as he had to raise his arms when she wrestled his undershirt off.
"You said that after Bogota," Natasha winced at her first glimpse of his blue and green back.
"I forgot how much it hurt then, thanks to that concussion."
"Well, you don't have one this time."
"True, got a nice goose egg though," Clint conceded as he stepped out of his pants.
Natasha shrugged, but gently brushed over the lump on his hairline. "Big baby."
"Maybe Stark can work on a new quiver with you," she suggested while Clint tugged her catsuit the rest of the way off.
Clint started the shower while Natasha undressed fully and the small room filled with warm fog. His remaining clothes flew neatly into the hamper and he held out his hand to help her into the stall. His fingers were ice cold and she could feel shivers run through him.
The water scalded her skin, but Clint needed the heat; sleep deprivation always wreaked havoc on his body. She stood on the edge of the spray, letting Clint soak in the warmth for a moment before she reached for the soap.
He startled at her touch, but the feel of his skin under her fingers made her smile as she traced
his knotted muscles, the old scars from missions past. She felt the tension drain as she lathered his back, reacquainting herself with his physique.
"I remember how you got that scar," she said, lingering on the mark she had given him at their first meeting, when her bullet had lodged in his side. Stubborn mule, she thought, remembering how he had still chased her halfway through Dublin before he cornered her in a little alley off Drumcondra Road.
"You were a hellcat even then," he replied with a smirk as he turned around and pressed a kiss to her forehead.
He reached behind her for her shampoo and gently worked it through her red tresses. She sighed as his fingers massaged her scalp, contented shivers running up and down her spine.
"And you had good hands even then," she replied.
She rinsed her hair while Clint lathered his own. The weight of the day seemed to leave her with the water circling down the drain. She let her hands fall to her sides, letting the blisteringly hot water do its work to wash away the pains and the paranoia, the myriad of emotions she'd repressed time and again throughout the day.
They didn't speak of monsters and magic. Perhaps they didn't need to: when the people shooting at you could kill you, it didn't much matter whether they had spears, anti-aircraft missiles, or alien guns. After a moment of keeping her eyes closed in the quiet, she felt Clint's fingers run up her side, gently moving around the bruise.
"Hmm," was all he said.
"You've had worse," Natasha said since she could hear what he wasn't saying, all of the worry they hadn't allowed themselves to feel in the middle of battle suddenly coming to the fore. She opened her eyes to look into his. "And we'll both have worse again."
Clint shook his head. Since they were standing close enough to both be under the spray, the tip of his nose brushed up against her hairline.
"We picked a hell of a life, 'Tash."
"Did we pick it, though? And would you trade it?" She was surprised at the honesty in her voice, though she shouldn't have been. With everybody else, she would choose to be Natasha Romanoff, Secret Agent, or Natalie Rushman from Legal. Whatever they expected her to be, she would be. Clint, however, had been too clear-eyed, too far-sighted from the first day – to him she'd always been and always would be Nat or Tasha, his partner and later, something more. He let her shed the deceptions of her everyday life. And even more importantly, he genuinely seemed to like and respect whatever was left, whatever the real her was. "Would you?"
"Some days I wouldn't mind—" He broke off to wince and rubbed at his flank, where he must have hit when he'd crashed into the glass of the building. Though Natasha reached for him, he grabbed her wrist and held a hand up: it's okay.
"Some days," he began again, "maybe I wouldn't mind finding an old cabin somewhere with a dock where I could drop a line and drink my way through a six-pack for breakfast."
Natasha reached around him for the soap again, figuring it was the best way to get to touch him and see how badly he was injured. The amused tilt of his eyebrow told her he knew exactly what she was doing.
"I'd get bored." Clint let her lather up his chest and shoulders. "'Less you were there, of course."
"You'd probably get bored faster."
Natasha rubbed her fingers over an old scar from Belize, as familiar to her as her own, which the Red Room had always faded away. Any scars she had came from her time at SHIELD, and for most of them, Clint could tell the story because he'd been there, right alongside her.
"You know you like to show off and—"
"And you're never impressed." Clint took the soap from her. "Here, let me help you."
Let me help you. They were words that had never been extended to her before SHIELD and before Clint. The Red Room hadn't believed in pampering or coddling. Everything had been hard discipline, hard mistakes and harder punishments. On her own, she'd had nothing but her own wits. But ever since she took his offer, that different call she had confessed to Loki, he'd always been there. Let me carry that for you, or Do you need some help navigating? This place is huge but I think I've got it down, or even, Want me to grab you a coffee while I'm out?
He'd never thought her helpless or weak or in distress. He'd just always genuinely wanted to help.
Natasha handed him the loofah.
"If you don't mind."
The loofah felt a bit like torture against her skin, rubbed raw from the stress and tension of the day. A couple of Chitauri had gotten in lucky hits; her right arm felt like it was ablaze every time she forgot and moved the wrong way. She gritted her teeth while she let Clint soap her up, her jaw clenching whenever he ran the loofah over a sore spot. The torture soon stopped and the loofah sailed past her to land perfectly in the soap dish.
She smiled tiredly as she stepped fully under the scalding spray to let it wash off the suds.
"Are you impressed?"
He grinned impishly at her and her heart leaped at the glimpse of her old Hawk.
She raised her eyebrow, arranging her face in a perfectly unimpressed mask.
"You really have to ask?"
He chuckled and thumbed her nose, stepping close again to carefully probe the painful spots. His fingers gently examined her, smoothing over the affected areas once he was done, taking some of the pain with him.
"I think I got all the alien guts off. We should ice that arm. And your ribs. Do you want me to wrap them?"
She shook her head. Her ribs weren't broken, just bruised. But a nice soak in some Epsom salt would help Clint warm up and relax her muscles so she could sleep. "No, but you know what I'd like?"
"A hot bath with Epsom salt and some of that frou-frou bath oil we got in Egypt?" His answer was immediate and delivered with an air of nonchalance.
She smiled. "Now I'm impressed."
His tired eyes sparkled for a moment as he grinned. "I'll run the water."
He limped from the shower stall and Natasha shut off the water.
The room was warm and foggy, the air heavy with humidity and she could faintly taste soap on the back of her tongue. It was quickly replaced by the scent of the jasmine bath oil Clint had bought for her in the market in Cairo. It had been right before they'd had to make a hasty retreat when their cover was blown. How the oil flask had survived unscathed when Clint got clipped on the wing and took a tumble off a roof – she didn't even question those things anymore. Her ankle prickled as she crossed the short distance to her partner. He would have to wrap that, no doubt. She was already looking forward to a few days spent on the couch, wrapped in blankets and Clint, watching movies and reading books.
"Almost ready," Clint said, flinching as she reached out and traced the bruise on his back. He let out a deep breath as she ran her hands over his broad shoulders, traced the faint scars from a lifetime past, hiding behind recent hurt.
She pressed a kiss between his shoulder blades before she lowered herself into the steaming tub. She breathed a deep sigh as the water enveloped her like a warm blanket.
"Oh god, this is great."
Clint grinned tiredly at her from his seat on the rim, watching her wiggle around and making herself comfortable.
"Oh yeah? Make room for me then."
He gingerly lowered himself into the tub, hissing and holding his flank as he stretched out between her legs. Natasha wrapped her arms around his chest as he settled against her and turned off the water. For a moment they just existed, wrapped in a cocoon of water, sheltered from the world. His head rested against her collarbone, and he exhaled deeply as he weaved his fingers through hers. A comfortable silence enveloped them, a silence Natasha welcomed after the havoc of the day.
Memories of aliens, leviathans and the eerie blue light of the Tesseract danced behind her lids. Necessity had made her a soldier today, and it had been quite liberating. No deception, no con, just a fight for survival. If she really believed in ledgers and debts, she must have wiped out plenty of red today.
The reason she had fought so hard grew slack against her, his head lolling against her chin as his breathing evened out. She felt herself follow suit as the water and the gentle weight on her chest lulled her to sleep. Prying her eyes open, she rubbed her knuckles across Clint's chest.
"Clint, wake up."
He slowly blinked awake, grunting as he took a deep breath and rubbed at his eyes.
"Time for bed."
"Awesome," he slurred and carefully levered himself out of the tub.
He held out his hand to her and she took it, easing her way up. Her muscles ached less, the bone-crushing weariness replaced by a comfortable fatigue. She yawned as Clint draped a towel across her shoulders and dried her back. She snatched it from him to finish what he started, wincing when her right arm protested.
"Let me help." His voice was low and heavy with exhaustion, but his offer was no less genuine. "You should let someone have a look at that." He indicated her arm as he gingerly patted her dry.
"I will. When you'll have someone check your flank and back."
He rolled his eyes, and she smiled smugly at him. Master spy strikes again. She'd use whatever arsenal she had at her disposal to make sure the people she cared about did what was best for them. And she wasn't stupid; she needed to be healthy to do her job, so she'd see a doctor when necessary.
"Yeah, fine," he griped, throwing her towel in the hamper and drying himself off with his own. She watched him, noting with satisfaction that he moved a little easier. Grabbing their generously stocked First Aid Kit she limped back into the bedroom. The early summer air was cool compared to the tropical temperature of the bathroom and she shivered. Russia, India, New York, three different climates in as many days. She put on a fresh pair of panties before she donned one of Clint's old threadbare band shirts. He neatly caught the boxer shorts she threw at him as he shuffled out of the bathroom towards the living room with the small kitchen.
He returned with several flat ice packs wrapped in kitchen towels.
"Put that on your ribs," he said as he handed her one. "Let me see your foot." His hands were warm and gentle as he carefully manipulated the joint, but still Natasha tensed as he tested her range of motion, pain lancing through her leg whenever he moved it the wrong way.
"Stop," she pleaded and he immediately did. "It's sprained, nothing more."
He nodded, then spread a generous helping of Voltarol on her ankle and wrapped it in a bright red ACE bandage. "There you go, Red," he grinned at her.
"Thank you," she smiled, taking one of the icepacks and held it to the goose egg on his forehead.
He dabbed more of the anti-inflammatory on her aching right arm, and she swore under her breath as he deftly massaged it into the slightly swollen tissue.
"Sorry," he mumbled as he held one of the ice packs to her arm, and she knew he wasn't just talking about her arm (or her ankle, or the bruise on her ribs).
"It's okay," she ran her thumb across his creased forehead. The lines felt deeper, his eyes heavy with exhaustion. She gently pushed against his chest and reached for the salve. "Lie down and give me that."
The gel was cold against her hand, quickly heating up as she rubbed it onto Clint's thigh. The muscles trembled slightly under her touch, if from pain or fatigue she couldn't tell. "Let me do your back."
Clint stiffened as she touched his back, which was warm, swollen and discolored. She carefully worked the ointment onto the broad bruise left by his quiver, ascertaining for herself that nothing was broken. The tension slowly drained from his shoulders as the gel numbed his pain slightly and she could almost see him sink into the mattress.
"You'll talk to Stark about helping you with a redesign." It wasn't a question.
He murmured something unintelligible into the pillow, then nodded as he rolled onto his side and pulled her down beside him. Her eyes fell shut the moment her head met the pillow, suddenly too tired to even switch off the lights. His hand was warm and dry around hers, his fingers sneaking between hers, plaiting them together as they lay facing each other in the dim light of the bedside lamps.
His voice was sleepy and quiet, but he sounded relaxed and content, all of the traces of the earlier tension gone. It took her a moment to find the energy to lift her head, though she didn't precisely open her eyes. "Hmm?"
"I hope it's a long time before we see worse again."
"Me too." She nuzzled in closer, letting out a soft sigh when his hand stroked down her shoulder.
"But in the event that we do..."
"Clint, get some sleep, you're talking nonsense."
She could practically feel his smile, the tired lines of it, the way it didn't always sit naturally on his hypervigilant face. "In the event that we do," he said again, his eyes closed and that smile still on his face, "I hope you're there with me, too. Even the worse is better with you."
"Oh, you sap," Natasha said, and gave him a kiss on the cheek, snuggling in. "Go to sleep, you're getting sentimental."
She didn't have to tell him that she felt the same. He already knew.