#1 – Coulson
Phil Coulson knew as soon as his agents starting sleeping together, because, well, he was Phil Coulson.
He decided not to say anything until he saw how it affected the couple's work in the field. Accordingly, he made their next assignment a bit of a milk run and then watched them intently. After their official debriefing with Fury, their handler brought Barton and Romanoff into his office where he got right to the point.
"It doesn't look like your sexual relationship has affected your work. At least not so far."
Natasha raised an eyebrow; Clint's lip twitched as though he was contemplating a smile.
"As you know," Phil continued, "interagency dating is a fact of life. Who else are we gonna date, right?" He didn't pause to give his charges time to respond. "As neither of you is in a direct position of authority over the other, you are not in violation of the letter of the law. It is recommended, however, that field partners refrain from sexual relationships due to the layers of complications such activities can add to mission operations. It is generally left in the hands of the agents' handler to decide how to proceed when such relationships develop." Now he paused.
Clint and Natasha continued to look at him without comment.
"I see no reason to break up your partnership, but I wanted to get your take on it. Anything to say?"
Clint gave a brief shake of his head. Natasha didn't move.
"Hopefully it will continue to be a non-issue. Dismissed."
#2 – Maria Hill
Maria Hill looked at the transfer papers in front of her. If she filed them, she would unofficially but effectively end the partnership of Hawkeye and the Black Widow. As Deputy Director, it was her job to oversee personnel assignments and, while she didn't want to break up the most successful partnership in the history of S.H.I.E.L.D., she didn't see what choice she had.
The Belarus mission had been horrifying to everyone involved – the kind of op that stuck with agents for the rest of their lives. A terrorist organization had taken to funding their activities with child sex trafficking. The group got on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s radar when they started planting bombs at military bases around the world. They weren't picky – as long as the military in question held allegiance to a member of NATO, they were a target. That foolhardy logic was enough to make S.H.I.E.L.D. head to the former Soviet bloc to take them out.
What the team found was the stuff of nightmares, and while the completion of the actual op was straightforward by S.H.I.E.L.D.'s standards, the mental images were nothing of the sort. The plane ride back was characterized by silence – shell-shocked agents pretending not to be shell-shocked. They read, worked on their computers, stared into space; everyone was locked in their own worlds. Utter quiet prevailed except for the drone of the plane's engines – and the laughter coming from the back room.
The C-130 the S.H.I.E.L.D. team used to get back and forth from the remote terrorist cell location had a small room at the rear of the plane. In deference to the two agents who led the raid and were privy to the worst of what was found there, the other members of the team gave that room up to Barton and Romanoff so they could have a little privacy. They hadn't expected to hear laughter coming from the room.
Maria sighed. It had been…disturbing.
Hill considered all of this as she tapped her index finger on the transfer papers in front of her. Barton and Romanoff were a bad influence on each other. That much was clear. If that influence progressed to something more serious than making a plane full of hardened agents uncomfortable, who exactly was S.H.I.E.L.D. supposed to find to take out two of the best agents they had? The only sure-fire people to do it would be each other, and somehow Maria didn't think that was going to go over very well. Best to nip the psychopathic bonding while she could, after which she would have both agents closely watched moving forward.
Before signing the papers, she decided to do one more thing. While the helicarrier was full of incredibly paranoid and observant individuals, most of them were unaware that when the facility was built, listening devices were built into the very foundation. Surprisingly, S.H.I.E.L.D. usually respected the privacy of its employees and many of the devices had never been used. That wasn't to say that the listening devices couldn't be turned on at press of a button, just that it was usually done for what the listener considered a good reason. It helped that the only people who knew about the auditory infrastructure were Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and Phil Coulson, none of whom were the type to listen in on others for prurient reasons.
Maria knew that rather than go back to their quarters, the psychopaths in question were more likely to take refuge in one of Barton's high hidey-holes. He liked to have a bird's-eye view of what was going on and Romanoff liked to be with her partner. The deputy director opened up the listening software and walked through the listening devices in their likely locations until at last she heard Barton's voice. The sheer number of microphones made it unfeasible to automatically record everything on the ship, so she couldn't back up and listen to what she had missed. Mid-conversation would have to do.
"Think they'll recover?" asked Clint.
"From Belarus or us laughing?"
"Like they have a choice," Natasha answered with a snort.
"Hey, at least we didn't cry."
"Yeah, well, that they would have understood. Did you see their faces when we landed? They think we're psychos."
"They thought that before."
"Now they think they have proof. Including Hill."
"I don't see what the big deal is. People laugh at funerals – okay, not all the time, but there was a whole Mary Tyler Moore episode about it." There was a pause before Barton continued. "American pop culture reference – I'll YouTube it for you. Anyway, the point is it's not unheard of. What did they want us to do – cry and scream? Wear sack cloth and ashes? Why is laughing so hard to understand? Just because everyone else didn't react that way?"
"It's not like they were there when those men–" Natasha cut herself off.
There was a pause.
"You figured out what lie you're gonna tell Psych yet?"
Natasha snorted. "Same thing I always tell them." Her voice became saccharin, clearly false. "I've had a few nightmares, Dr. Khan. I see their faces when I close my eyes. It was nervous laughter on the plane." Her voice returned to normal. "See? I'll even inject some truth into it."
Clint sighed. "I hate it when sleeping is worse than being awake."
"I hate when being awake means I have to picture those children every minute of the day."
"Yeah," Clint sighed.
Maria turned off the audio. She had heard enough. Sociopathic, able to compartmentalize and capable of doing their jobs, yes. So was every other S.H.I.E.L.D. assassin. Psychopathic – apparently not.
The Deputy Director fed the transfer papers into the shredder under her desk. Good to know she didn't have to break up the team.
#3 – Pepper
Pepper Potts was pretty tired. She loved every aspect of her life – her job, her makeshift Avengers family, Tony. But her life was insanely exhausting. Even so, it wasn't like she was going to quit work, leave Tony, or stop loving these crazy people.
It was one of those crazy people who brought her to lunch today. Natasha Romanoff was one of the few people that intimidated Pepper, but even that wasn't enough to stop her from trying to help the woman. Scary or not, Pepper considered the former Natalie Rushman to be her friend, and Pepper didn't want to see her friend get hurt.
After last night, she had to say something.
Everyone was sitting in the communal living room watching a movie (Tony insisted that he couldn't live amongst people who hadn't seen the latest Star Trek films) when a very angry Natasha appeared out of what seemed like thin air.
"Clinton Francis Barton!"
Heads popped up to stare at the pack of cigarettes the redhead held in front of her.
"Tasha, I –" Clint began as he stood up.
"Don't even." Natasha cut him off.
With that, she turned around and left. Clint glanced sheepishly at the group, then with no further explanation followed after Natasha.
"Francis?" asked Stark with a smirk.
The next morning Pepper asked Natasha to lunch.
Natasha slid into her seat with a soft smile for the CEO.
"Natasha. Thank you so much for joining me."
"I appreciate the invitation."
A waiter arrived instantly with water, menus and requests for drink orders.
After they progressed past the standard pleasantries and turned in their food orders, Pepper forced herself to get to the point.
"I know you love Clint."
Natasha furrowed her brow.
"I loved Tony for years, and I almost lost him before I had the chance to tell him. You and Clint live such dangerous lives. Don't wait until it's too late."
"Go back to where you said you know I love him. How do you know that exactly?"
Pepper smiled knowingly.
"I'm not a spy, but I have worked for Tony Stark for over a decade. If I hadn't learned how to read people, I wouldn't have lasted more than a week, and I've had several months to watch you and Clint. I know how you feel about each other. What I don't know is whether or not you've done anything about it."
"So you thought you would?"
Pepper smiled even bigger.
"It's me or no one. Everyone else is much too afraid of you."
Natasha finally cracked a small smile of her own.
"But you're not?"
"Oh, I am, but I value your friendship more than my fear, and I just want you to be happy."
Natasha's smile turned into a grin.
"Being with Clint would make me happy?"
"Him being with some superhero groupie would make you pretty miserable."
"Thank you, Pepper. You're a good friend."
The waiter arrived with their food, and the spy waited until he left to resume their conversation.
"How about we enjoy this wonderful meal and you tell me about the most fun you've had proving Tony wrong."
Secure in the knowledge that she had made her point, Pepper picked up her fork and let the conversation move in a new direction.
#4 – Tony Stark
Clint looked up from his Frosted Flakes. Tony had that grungy I-haven't-left-my-lab-in-48-hours look.
"Pull another all-nighter?"
"I guess," Tony said as he crossed to the refrigerator and pulled out some orange juice. "Hey, we're doing some remodeling on a couple of floors. Want me to knock down the wall between your and Natasha's apartments?"
Clint looked up in disbelief.
"Stark, are you actually trying to play matchmaker? How long have you been up?"
Stark froze, orange juice still in hand.
"Did I just – no way. I did not just do that. Crap on a cracker, I am so ashamed. I'm going to bed. Don't let anyone know where I am or I might – I don't know – give away what I made last night. And that would be, you know, bad. Yeah, I'm gonna go now."
Tony put the juice on the counter and walked out of the kitchen at a quick pace, followed by the sound of Clint's laughter.
#5 – Darcy Lewis
Darcy Lewis was both a romantic and not at all scared of either Clint or Natasha. Well, not unreasonably so. She figured as long as she didn't start working for AIM or something stupid like that, the pair wouldn't kill her.
She was also the direct type.
It was just the two of them in the kitchen, the most common place for Avengers and entourage members such as Darcy to run into each other, when she struck.
"So Clint, are you and Natasha going at it like rabbits up there on your floor or what?"
Clint stared at the younger woman in disbelief.
"It's the subject of much discussion amongst your peers. Well, as close to peers as you two have."
"I don't even expect a reply, I guess, but come on. You two act like a married couple! You live in neighboring apartments with a connecting door. It's like Three's Company up there but with only two people! And we all know what Jack was really doing with those girls, right?"
Clint raised an eyebrow.
"Don't get me started," Darcy held up her hand. "Anywho, seriously, though, what's the deal with you two? I'm about to start writing fanfiction I'm so invested. Have you read any of your fanfiction, by the way? There's a ton of it out there for you and Natasha. People call you Clintasha. No? Dude, I need to send you some links! You might even get some ideas. I'll find something with lots of favorites or kudos. AO3 is probably better, though, so I'm guessing it'll be kudos." She paused to note the glazed-over expression on Clint's face. "I digress. Nothin', huh? You're not gonna throw me a crumb? Damn, dude. I thought Natasha was supposed to be the inscrutable one. What? I have a degree! I know some SAT words! Fine. I'm gonna go find you some fanfiction."
And she left, leaving Clint to stare at her retreating figure with something close to awe, because damn, that had been fairly impressive.
How the Attempted Interference Went Over
#1 – Phil Coulson
Clint and Natasha were silent as they walked back to his quarters.
Once there, they showered, changed into sleep clothes and got into bed. Clint lay on his back, arm behind his head, and Natasha curled herself over him and let him put his free arm around her.
"Well," Clint said softly, "that explains the milk run."
Natasha chuckled silently against her partner and the two of them fell asleep.
#2 – Maria Hill
Barton and Romanoff had known about the listening devices since their second hour onboard the helicarrier. They could hardly lay claim to being the best in the business if they hadn't. Additionally, they determined that in non-critical areas surveillance was limited to audio and did not record automatically. Even S.H.I.E.L.D. had to take costs into consideration at some point.
They also knew what the look on Maria Hill's face meant. Fortunately other precautions taken in less desperate times were now able to be put to good use. As more proof that he was frighteningly good at his job, Clint Barton had placed a camera in the ceiling vent behind Maria Hill's desk months ago. Like most of its kind, S.H.I.E.L.D. detection equipment only detected active surveillance equipment, so only a visual inspection would uncover it.
As soon as they got up to their lofty perch, Natasha turned on the camera in Maria's office and pulled up the visual on her tablet. She and Clint watched as Maria came in and heavily sat down, as she filled out the mission report, and as she completed the transfer papers that would end their partnership. Then they watched her call up the audio surveillance and only then did they begin speaking, knowing they would be caught mid-conversation.
As it so happened, the two of them did not lie during their little talk. They didn't have to. They did laugh to avoid falling apart. Sleeping was worse than waking. And they did lie their asses off to each and every member of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s psychology department. Clint and Natasha simply made sure that they held a conversation they otherwise would not have needed to hold, and they held it when useful ears were listening.
That being said, being that the two of them were (again) good at their jobs, before they went back to their quarters to avoid sleep, Clint climbed back into the helicarrier ductwork to remove the audio equipment. Hill, like the rest of the team, was a bit shaken by the mission, but sooner or later she would come to wonder how she had heard their conversation quite so conveniently. There might even be a visual inspection.
#3 – Pepper Potts
When Natasha got back to Stark Tower, Clint was sitting on the couch in her apartment watching a car show. He looked up as she took off her shoes and went to the kitchen to get a drink.
"Have a good time with Pepper?"
"She wanted to warn me that I need to have my way with you before another woman steals you out from under me."
"What? She wanted to help. She was being a good friend, Clinton."
Clint loved that tone in Natasha voice. His woman was nothing if not snarky.
"Pepper Potts told you to have your way with me? Stark Industries expanding into prostitution? Or is it porn? I forget."
As she came back into the living room, Natasha answered, "So she didn't use those exact words. She thinks we make a good couple and she doesn't want me to miss the chance to be with you."
"I really wish I had been across the street watching through a scope because that is a conversation that would be worth paying admission to see."
"It is beyond me why a woman as intelligent as Pepper Potts thinks I should be with you."
"Pepper Potts ain't got nothing on you, gorgeous, and you're the one that's actually with me, so I wouldn't go casting stones."
Natasha snorted as she moved to stand in front of him. "Uh-huh, you just want me to forgive you."
Clint laughed and pulled Natasha down onto his lap. He knew perfectly well that she wasn't really mad at him. She had been irritated, but she more than got even with him.
"That was quite the show you put on. I'm not surprised Pepper figured she had to say something."
His girlfriend smiled and moved to straddle him.
"I could have been subtle, but what fun would that have been?"
"You have a strange sense of fun, Nat."
"It's been said."
"If anyone should be mad, it's me."
"Oh, yeah, and why is that?"
"Do you know how difficult my life is gonna be now that Stark knows my middle name?"
Natasha smiled. That had indeed been the point.
"I suppose I could be persuaded to let it go. Got any military secrets you want to give me in exchange?"
Clint laughed as Natasha's mouth descended to his.
#4 – Tony Stark
"No way. He seriously said that?"
"I couldn't make it up if I tried."
"Hey! I've done undercover."
"And I have the scars to prove it."
"Once! I got you shot once! You ever gonna forgive me?"
"Undecided. Back to Tony's insanity. How do these people still wonder if we're a couple? I mean, seriously. Either one of us is gay or we're having sex on a regular basis. I observe people for a living, and that's what I would conclude. Now anyone who's seen you check out Darcy's cleavage knows you're not gay. Me they could wonder."
Clint scowled at Natasha's recitation.
"Is it my fault girl has an impressive rack and knows how to show it off?"
"I didn't say I blamed you. Just said it meant you weren't gay. Bisexual maybe, but not gay."
"If you checked her out, would that mean that you were gay?"
"No. It would mean I have an appreciation for the female form."
"Nice double-standard, Nat."
"Don't hate the player, hate the game," answered Natasha with a smile.
"I never should have introduced you to "Friends"."
"That is probably true."
#5 – Darcy Lewis
"Hey! She really sent it to me!"
"Fanfiction. Darcy said it's out there for you and me. You know, when she tried to get me to tell her if you and I are a couple."
"I love how they think that's gonna work."
"Oh, wow, Nat. You gotta see this."
"Clint, what's Stony?"
"And how come we're in the same story?"
"Whoa! Is that…"
"Yes, it is."
"And are they?"
"Yes, they are."
"I want some brain bleach. Did Darcy include a link to the brain bleach?"
"I'm gonna put an arrow through that iPod of hers."
"Only if I don't use my Bite on it first."
+1 – The One Time Someone Didn't Try to Interfere, but It Worked Anyway
"Natasha, will you – would you mind…" Steve's voice trailed off and Natasha waited calmly for the man to pick the thread of his thought back up.
"Would you mind coming with me tomorrow afternoon? I need to visit a friend, and I – well, I guess it'd be nice to have someone there with me."
Natasha had a great deal of experience hiding her emotions, so she hid her intense curiosity skillfully as she replied, "Of course, Steve. Whatever you need."
She knew Steve wouldn't ask something like that lightly and the fact that he asked said he truly did need someone with him wherever it was he intended to go.
"Should I dress for a fight?" she asked.
Steve smiled sadly. "Not at all. I'm going to visit a friend, and I would – well, it's the trip home that's hard, I guess. I was just hoping to not be alone."
"Name the time and place," she said simply.
Later, she and Clint discussed where it might be that Steve wanted her to go with him. As it turned out, one of their guesses, that he was going to visit an Army buddy, wasn't completely off the mark.
"Natasha, this is Peggy Carter. Peggy, this is Natasha."
"Hello, Agent Carter," said Natasha respectfully. This woman's legend lived on at S.H.I.E.L.D. even though the elderly woman had been retired for over 20 years. Long before Natasha came along, Peggy Carter's name was the one used to frighten baby agents into eating all of their vegetables.
"Get me Nick Fury on the phone!" barked the elderly former agent. "You! The one that looks like Captain America! Tell him that redheaded KGB assassin just did herself a walk-in. We need to debrief her and find out what her motives are for coming in! Get that Coulson kid in there with her. He's got a natural talent for ferreting out rogue agents. Don't tell him I said that, though."
Natasha drew a sharp breath. Steve hadn't explained much to her in the helicopter. He said the chopper was because his friend lived at a care center in Connecticut with limited access. He hadn't mentioned that the center had limited access because both its existence and its location were classified to the point that you had to be Level 6 to get both onto and off of the helicopter. You then had to show credentials iagain /iat the front door of the large manor home before you could go inside.
He had also not mentioned that the woman he loved before he went into the water now had Alzheimer's, which was why she lived in a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. care center.
"No, Peggy. Natasha defected six years ago, remember? I told you about her the last time I visited."
"Are you sure, young man? Have I told you how much you look like Steve? We searched for him for years, you know. Howard and I – we both kept looking. Even when it wasn't official anymore. Neither of us ever really gave up on him."
Natasha could see the unshed tears in Steve's eyes.
"I know, Peggy," he said quietly as he took her hands in his. "I know."
Natasha didn't say much as Steve tried to connect with Peggy over the next hour. She witnessed his patience as he spoke with his love, not just at her. She watched his heart break over and over again as Peggy's mind hopscotched from topic to topic and time to time, never settling anywhere for long. She saw that this time it was Steve not giving up on Peggy.
At the end of their visit, a nurse came in and said it was time for Peggy to return to her quarters. Steve and Natasha made their goodbyes and Peggy left with a parting pat of Steve's hand.
"You look just like Steve, young man. Just like him."
And she was gone.
Neither Avenger said anything as they walked out to the helicopter, and neither of them wanted to talk via headset during the flight where anyone on comm could hear them. Instead Natasha simply held Steve's hand as tears silently streaked down his face.
When they landed, Steve took back his hand and rubbed his face. Inside Stark Tower, he turned to Natasha before she got off the elevator on her floor and said simply, "Thank you. The ride home is always the hardest."
Then the doors closed between them.
Natasha walked slowly into the living room of her apartment to find Clint fletching arrows at the kitchen table while Led Zeppelin played in the background. One look at his partner's face and Clint asked Jarvis to mute the music. The resulting silence was deafening.
Clint put down his arrow as Natasha sat down next to him. He waited, knowing that she would tell him what was wrong.
"You are my everything," she said, and Clint blinked.
Well, that wasn't what he expected.
He waited and after another minute, Natasha continued.
"Steve visits Peggy Carter every Sunday he isn't on a mission," she explained. The guard at the care center made references to that effect both when she and Steve arrived and when they left.
Clint quirked an eyebrow. He had recalled to Natasha years ago his one and only encounter with the legendary co-founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fourteen years ago, right after he joined the agency, retired Director Carter came in to consult on a case, and the memory was as clear as though it happened yesterday. Woman made a serious impression.
"She has Alzheimer's."
Clint let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding and his shoulders sagged.
"Steve never got to tell her he loved her. He never got to explore a life with her. And now it's too late. It will always be too late."
Clint remained silent. Not many people in their business ever made it to retirement homes, much less in such a fragile state. He didn't know which would be harder – dying or forgetting, especially for someone as vital as Peggy Carter. Even more, he couldn't imagine what this was doing to Steve.
"Steve didn't get to tell her, but I can tell you, so I am. You're my everything. We don't talk about love. Love is stupid and childish and the word gets thrown around like it's confetti. What you are is why I get up in the morning, why I go to work, and why I work to keep the world safe in the first place. You. And I don't want to look back on my life someday and regret not telling you that." She paused. "So I am."
Clint reached over and took her hand in his, lacing their fingers together.
He looked down at their entwined fingers and said, "This. This is my life – you and me. Always."
Natasha pulled their hands over to her and placed her other hand on top of their combined ones.
"Come on," she said softly. "Let's go downstairs like this so that everyone will stop trying to interfere. It's getting old."
As they stood, Clint placed a kiss on their overlapping knuckles.
"Sounds like a plan."
Hand in hand, they got on the elevator.