Author's Note: So I don't entirely know where this came from, but I've been reading a lot of fabulous Clint/Natasha fics and grabbed the "reunion" off my Trope Bingo Round Three card, and just went for it. This happened.
Shall We Dance?
It's been cold without him.
Natasha is waiting in a safehouse in Russia. This one is hers, no one else's. Even James had never known anything about it. She had dragged herself in here once, bleeding after Lithuania and the job gone bad, her mission success rate unblemished only because the target was dead.
She breathes in harsh winter air, breathes out choking thick fear. She has betrayed regimes and handlers, friends and enemies, but she has never been betrayed so thoroughly, nor has she ever turned her back to the Red Room before. Even the Black Widow knows certain plans end in death.
Her fingernails bite into her arms. Warm exhalations create clouds of whiteness in the chill of the barely heated house. She is Russian. She does not allow herself to shiver. Instead, she makes herself cross the room and unearth the highly secured laptop she keeps secreted near her weapons cache and set it up on a network the Red Room never knew she had.
Two years ago in Lithuania, she discovered her targets were after her. She was their objective and the Red Room sent her in to have her killed as punishment for loving the Winter Soldier. Two years ago, a foreign national with a separate mission took down the ring as part of his own assignment and saved her life. He gave her credit for the one kill she'd been ordered to make.
How many professional assassins fought with bow and arrows?
She'll find him if she digs hard enough, find his organization, get herself on their radar, and they will send the one agent who has experience with her and has seen her fight. He will kill her or he will save her, but she will be out of Russia's reach, and that is all that matters.
The first time Clint sees the red-haired woman, he doesn't know who she is. He knows she's working the room, she has a target, her accent is flawless, and that for some reason she doesn't know there's a member of the security detail positioned to snipe her when she reaches Adomas Kairelis.
She's not in his mission brief. He memorizes her, not really sure one way or the other what her status is in relation to SHIELD, but he lets her live. Enemy of my enemy and all that.
Something sets off security. She's unsheathed a knife, and she's fast, she's fast d— it, but not fast enough to deal with a ballroom exploding with men who know what she's after.
One arrow in the sniper. One arrow in the target. He sees her work and it is beautiful and deadly. She fights like she's dancing and he's putting arrows in every body she doesn't have under control. For a brief moment, standing in the bloody ballroom, she looks up, directly where he's perched, a deep furrow between her brows.
He doesn't retrieve his arrows. He gets out before she can see him.
Somebody desperately wanted the organization's initials to spell SHIELD, and something about that stirs histories she studied or had implanted before they were wiped away. Memory is not something she fights for often. Natasha is nothing if not efficient. She does not care to involve herself in lost causes.
Naturally, SHIELD's work is not directly in line with hers. They specialize in anti-terrorism and bring down the worst of bad regimes. She is Russian. She will not cry over regimes. She will need negotiation material if he has been compromised. She accepts that he might not kill her and so she does what she must, collecting enough documentation and documenting enough memory that the Red Room will regret ever motivating her to defect.
Natasha has been many things and many people. She pulls up her hair and makes up her face and changes her clothes and becomes a mercenary assassin on hire to terrorists. A few calls here and there and her networks turn over. The Black Widow is available. She lands her first job and one target leads to another.
Clint still doesn't know her name when he finds her pressed against a wall outside the building, arm bloody red from covering her stomach wound. It is not a small thing, and he nocks an arrow with what can only be called chivalry in their line of work. He supposes that's why he can never keep a girlfriend that doesn't work somewhere in the defense industry as well.
Green eyes flicker up to meet his gaze. She sees the arrow. Perhaps she thinks he has come to kill her. Clint doesn't much believe in killing the already dead.
"I have a safehouse," he offers with a small shrug. "If the bullet exited, we can get you fixed up."
She looks at him with intensity in her eyes and absolutely no expression on her face. It would be unnerving, except it isn't. He knows she is weighing him and her face is the same as his arrow, prudent wariness. Finally, she nods once, curtly. Perhaps she has also weighed her own odds and knows she'll lose too much blood if she doesn't do better than a brief field dressing soon.
He leads her comfortably through the streets, his bow collapsed and put away but with no shortage of weapons in easy reach. He is extracting himself after he calls the cleaners, so there is no reason now for him to rush, so he doesn't.
Just inside the door, he pauses. "You want to check it?"
She glances around, bright, keen eyes, then shakes her head. They get to it. She settles gingerly on the bed and he breaks out the medical kit. They don't exchange names. They're not stupid.
He still doesn't know who she is.
Natasha picks up her first tail in Lisbon. She leads the man in circles around her target for two days before she drops him hard in the middle of the snake nest surrounding said target. He isn't the one she's looking for. It's not personal, just thanks, but no thanks.
It's touch and go at first. She's lost more blood than either realized and his mouth is grim when he tells her he'll be back.
Her fingernails dig tightly into his arm and he sees the first flickering of distrust in those eyes. He could go anywhere, bring anyone. He could try to kill her while she's down.
Clint lets her stop him, goes back to the wary stillness they used the first time outside the building and meets her gaze directly. Telegraphing every movement, he raises his hands so she can see them. "I'm going to raid another cache, find you some O negative blood for the transfusion kit." He says it in English but he sees that she understands.
Finally, she lets him go, sharply, and his breath catches as sharply.
He turns the security system on when he leaves, not for his safety but for hers.
The next three tails are a woman, a team, then a man, but none of them are with SHIELD and none of them sight her out along bows and arrows. They aren't SHIELD's and they aren't hers, so she shakes off the woman, takes down two members of the team, and sends the man back with a message for his employer. Natasha wonders how they'll feel opening that particular oversized package in the mail.
He's alive at least. He should be grateful.
Coulson's going to kill him before accounting gets a hold of him, and the debrief— Clint decides to simply not think about that. He still doesn't even know who the woman is, just that he does clean kills, no collateral damage and he isn't about to blemish that track record now. (Or maybe he's just not admitting that it's the collateral damage and not the track record he cares about.)
He does what he has to. He gets the blood and gets back. He assumes she's awake, though she lies still, fiery red curls spread across the pillow and body tucked into a protective curl on the bed. Her breath is even with sleep. Her eyes are shut. She's a professional and Clint's not about to underestimate her.
"Hey," he murmurs, close enough to get her attention and just distant enough to not threaten.
She lifts her head and looks at him.
He holds up the blood. "Ready?"
Natasha's next tail is harder to lose. The cover goes deep and she's not sure if this guy is SHIELD or not, so she handles him with kid gloves. If she's going to defect, she refuses to put an even bigger stumblingblock than her history in the way.
And this one is good. He tracks down her contracts and shadows her that way.
She can play that game, she decides. She becomes Natalia Romanova being someone else and takes contracts under aliases besides the Black Widow. She loses him somewhere in Morrocco and changes her cover three more times before taking a job for HYDRA as the Black Widow.
Clint checks in on time over the phone, but he spends two days in the safehouse until they are both certain she's stable. It's easier between them than it ought to be. He is watching the aftermath in the local news and drinking coffee when she appears in the doorway to the kitchen. She's wearing a man's flannel shirt out of the safehouse closet as her dress would never be wearable again.
"What are you doing?" she asks.
It's almost like they're lovers or an old married couple as he tells her, "Breakfast," and offers her pancakes, which she accepts and then settles in beside him to watch the aftermath with him. He assumes she's not on quite as tight a leash when it comes to check-ins, but for all he knows, she checked in before he found her.
"Do you need to call anyone?" He manages to keep his tone and expression casual, but he doesn't miss the way what tiny amount of pleasure the pancakes gave her disappears abruptly from her face.
She shakes her head. "I'll be fine tomorrow." Which is as good as telling him her check-in timeline.
Clint just nods and offers her coffee.
It's been cold without him.
James is gone, and the archer was only a brief encounter anyway, but Natasha has not forgotten that he saved her or that they shared a safehouse, standing side by side in the chilly morning air, watching their mingled breaths frost the glass. She has not forgotten he made her laugh.
She is cold when he finally finds her in Ukraine. If she had realized immediately it was him— But she doesn't realize, and he is good, but so is she and she knows when she slips outside his target window and hurls terrorist bodies between herself and the sniper. But it's not a bullet that takes the first body down; it's an arrow.
She has finally drawn him.
Natasha has spent the last few months studying enough about archery and sniping to find his perch with her eyes and to know that he sees her staring straight at him. Then, she turns and melts into the night.
Clint Barton is the sort of agent that only Coulson actually wants to handle most days. He is reliable and steady, but he's also a loose cannon, in that sometimes he goes outside the mission parameters. But even Clint knows he has to account for the redhead.
He includes her in his after-report, then does the research to fill in the blanks. He starts in the morning and by afternoon, he's ready to go shoot arrows until his hands bleed. Stress relief and all that.
The woman's a ghost. She is no one. Facial recognition can't find her. Counter-espionage has nothing. Intelligence finds no operative with her level of hand-to-hand combat skills inside of a female body with natural red hair and natural green eyes with fair skin and a Russian accent when she speaks English.
It takes three more days of hard searching, browsing—browsing, for G— sake—through old mission files until he finds the first solid thing that sounds like it might be her. He connects the dots, taking any lead he can get and by the end of the week, she has a name.
Natalia Romanova. The Black Widow.
Fury drops Clint a hint that it would've been convenient if he'd let her die.
Natasha isn't entirely certain what this is. She has a feeling the archer may not be entirely certain either. They are… playing with each other. He hunts her down and she lets him come close to catching her, but not at a distance, never at a distance, and distance is what Hawkeye does best.
Once there was an arrow embedded in the man who held a knife to her throat. Once there was an arrow pointed at her throat, but behind the arrow was an easy stance, a tilted head in question. "I have a safehouse."
She wants him close and she will not let him have a shot until he is.
It's another two years before she crops up on SHIELD's radar again.
Clint is in Afghanistan when the mission first comes in. Sitwell botches it and ends up a distraction for the Black Widow as she finishes her job.
He's down in Peru, tracking down a rogue HYDRA cell before it starts metastasizing, when Garrett loses her in Morocco.
When he gets back to SHIELD, he gets the job. Coulson says offhand (which means it isn't) that she's playing with them. "I think she's inviting you to a dance, Agent Barton."
Clint has seen her dance. It was beautiful and deadly in a ballroom, as if she knew where every arrow would strike, as if she could have killed them all herself without him. He thumbs over her picture and thinks of coffee and wary eyes as he bandaged her up.
"You want her dead, sir."
It's not really a question, so perhaps that's why Coulson doesn't really give an answer.
"I believe that's what is written on the order."
Finally, Clint looks up and grins.
She leans back against the outside wall of her safehouse. He is close, standing not twenty feet away, arrow nocked, and she will die if he decides to shoot.
"What are you doing?" he asks, casually, as if they are lovers, or an old married couple.
"I have a safehouse," she says—and smiles.