Author's Note: Ambiguous 'verse. Inspired by the comics and movies and a whole lot of AU fanfic reading. For my locked in square for Trope Bingo.
To Cage a Spider
Natasha Romanoff knows how this works. She knows how to fight down twenty assailants, take bullets where her organs should not be able to sustain the damage, and keep on fighting, blood between her teeth, because the Red Room didn't just train her, they made her. She knows that given time, her body will heal from even mortal injuries.
That's why she doesn't need backup and is very surprised when it arrives.
She can't say the job went bad because Natasha knows what she's doing and the job is done, but she does get twenty hostiles fighting her in the street before she reaches her car, and there's a prickle in the back of her neck from what feels like multiple snipers. The first takes a shot at her and she flips herself over his friendly, thighs twisting around the head, which snaps with a sickening crunch, and the bullet takes down one of her assailants instead of her.
Red is flying. It's blood and knives and her sharp grin and shallow breath, ribs and muscles screaming in pain as she pushes them harder. Twelve down, eight to go. Then an arrow sticks out of the hostile on her back, and another in the one diving after her kneecap. They rain down quickly with an almost frightening and impeccable accuracy. This archer is on her side. She's never met an archer in her life.
She dodges the sniper's last rain of bullets, snaps the last hostile's neck, then scans the heights for that archer. She finds him by noting the falling body from a nearby building—the sniper—and the direction the arrow had flown from. He's definitely in his early twenties, uncannily steady but not a spy or an agent. There is something in his stance and appearance that tells her he just got into something way over his head and doesn't even realize it—or care.
Another flood of hostiles are coming in from the southern thoroughfare, and Natasha calculates perhaps five minutes to escape. She could just leave, but she sees the archer and he's so young. She knows better. She was young once, but never naïve. She did as expected of her and became the strongest Black Widow turned out by her program. He's not a child, but something in her whispers that she was never a child either. She wasn't young and he is, and he saw her in trouble and saved her life.
Hesitance gone, she drives under the perch he is rapidly descending from, throws open the door, and orders him in. "If you want to live."
If he finds it odd, he gives no indication, just shifts his quiver off his back and slides into the car in a single motion. She drives.
In Lisbon, she asks him why she finds him again halfway around the world. "Who do you work for?" she asks, idly tapping fingers against his chest.
He shrugs. "The good guys."
She laughs, letting her whole body move with it, then settles back into his side comfortably. Her amusement is genuine even if she can never be sure if the laughter is. There are no good guys.
They haven't really exchanged names. He's Hawkeye and making a name for himself as a vigilante stopping robberies and underground lowlifes. She figures out quickly that is because he grew up among them and knows how and where they operate. She is… without a name. Nothing feels right to give him because whatever this is when they brush into each other, it's genuine, and nothing about Natasha or Natalia or the Black Widow is genuine.
"Family business," he finally admits on a sigh. Where it goes, he follows.
She considers. She can understand that, intellectually at least. "Hawkeye…" It is the first she actually called him that to him, and it makes her voice trail off, uncertain whether she should have led with that.
But he rubs her arm and sits up on his to give her his full attention. As if he ever gives her less than that when they share a bed, regardless of where he's looking.
She rolls her eyes and says it before she can change her mind—again. "I'm thinking about defecting."
His hand stops rubbing. His eyes become more serious. "You sure about that?"
"Can you tell me I'm working for 'the good guys'?" she asks coolly. It's the closest she has come in a while to fully masking her expression around him. They have an understanding that revolves around her willingness to let him in a little to see the person she is without the Red Room, truth being that she wonders if there is anyone in her without the Red Room. "You should be happy for me."
The deflection doesn't work. It never does, but he usually lets her pretend, and this time he keeps staring at her with that famous eye that never fails him.
His hand moves again, small comfort, and he drops his weight off of the other arm to wrap it around her and pull her against him. "These people trained you," he says, voice crackling with tension she's never heard in it before. "They can kill you."
Maybe they can. Maybe they can't. She shrugs out of his arms and the bed to pull on her clothes. He has never underestimated her before, and he has seen her take down more than a dozen hostiles, smiling through the blood.
Natasha Romanoff knows how this works.
They take him. She thought she had kept him secret enough from her handlers and watchmen and the Russian boots and suits clicking down the Red Room halls, but they find Hawkeye and take him. He is the problem, the reason she is willing to leave, and they will kill him to make her stay.
"Leave him alive," she barters, "and I will never defect."
They scoff at her. "So you can rescue him?"
Love is for children, Natalya Romanova. You are not a child. You were never a child. You were not young.
They are locked in a cell so she can see their bloody work upon him, so she can be tortured by the shuddering breaths he can barely take. She knows how this works. She has seen when organs cannot sustain the damage and heard the rasp of blood between a man's teeth.
She does not touch him because it would hurt him, but it is agony not to touch him.
Love is for children. You cannot save him. Let this be a lesson to you.
They excel at giving her lessons. They had punished her trainer who loved her, the Winter Soldier, and demonstrated her worth to them that they would reset him for so little as that. They had forced her to execute the stray cat she once fed scraps of food to as a girl. You need your strength, Natalya. That food is for you and the glory of Russia. They took Hawkeye and let him shudder out a few last breaths in her presence so she would know that she should never ever care about anyone.
She decides to give them a lesson they will not soon forget.
Natasha Romanoff knows how this works. She knows how to fight down innumerable assailants, take bullets and knives where her organs should not be able to sustain them, and keep on fighting through the blood between her teeth. Given time, her body will heal.
She touches him gently and he does not know what she's doing. He doesn't even have the strength to flinch, though she hears the low moans as she covers his body in fire retardant while seemingly saying goodbye to her lover. She whispers Russian endearments. She murmurs sweet nothings that bolster the cover she has given herself.
Certain he is safe, certain he will survive, she burns the Red Room down.