Welcome to Part III of my Compromised series! This story follows what Clint and Natasha do after the fall of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and I think I'll be doing a different take on what I think happens. I haven't seen anyone else write anything similar to what I'm planning, so that's a good thing!
If you're a returning reader sticking along for the ride, yay! If you're a brand new reader jumping on, the first two stories are Girl, Compromised and Hawkeye, Compromised. Technically, you probably wouldn't have to read them in order to read this, but it'd definitely help.
For extra emotions, listen to "Welcome Home" - Radical Face. As an important side note, the theme for this entire fic is the song, "Stubborn Love" - The Lumineers, so keep that in mind as you read.
Alright. Let me know what you think of this very first chapter! Reviews keep me motivated!
(Mad shoutout to blizzardphoenix on Tumblr for creating the icon for this fic!)
Clint was perched on a fire escape with his bow and a nocked arrow in his hands when he got the call. At first, he thought about ignoring his vibrating phone because, well, he was working a goddamn mission, and his mark was about to pass by at any second. If he didn't take this guy down, that meant another two weeks of trying to weasel out new information about him and where he was headed next. But when Clint checked his phone and saw RESTRICTED flash across the screen, he decided to take the call. Only one person would show up as RESTRICTED, and it would only be for one reason.
"I'm working a mission," he said into the phone, careful to keep his voice low.
"The weather's overwhelming," Natasha said back. Clint froze as he heard her say established code words he never thought he'd hear.
"What?" he asked quietly.
"I'm guessing you haven't seen the news over the past few days. It's bad," Natasha said. Clint looked down at the bow in his hand and processed her words.
"I'll be at the Dallas airport by 3:00," he finally said.
"Don't bother calling for a taxi," Natasha replied. Again, Clint was quiet.
"Alright." Without waiting for a response, he hung up. He didn't need Natasha to confirm that she would be at the Dallas airport—he just knew she would be. The thought crossed his mind to wait just a few more minutes to take out his mark, but Natasha had said the code words—she'd said the words they'd agreed upon years ago for, "This is the biggest possible emergency. Drop everything, and get safe."
Furthermore, she'd told him through their cryptic speech not to call for SHIELD transportation to the airport. Something was wrong, and he had no idea what it was. Even though he wanted to stay and complete his mission, he turned and left to go back to his hotel and pack up what little stuff he'd brought with him. Thankfully, the archer hadn't brought much with him. The mission had only required for about four days' worth of clothes, and that was exactly what he'd brought, being the light traveler that he was.
As he silently walked away from the fire escape and started on his way to the hotel, he wondered what the hell had actually happened.
It didn't take him long to find out. As soon as he entered the lobby of the hotel, the footage was everywhere. He didn't stay to take in too much of everything since he had a plane to catch, and he had a cover to maintain, but what he learned in those few short minutes in the lobby was enough. SHIELD was gone, Captain America was missing, and Black Widow had mouthed off to some high profile senators. Clint wished that he could find it in himself to be annoyed with Natasha for being such a smartass, but if anything, he just felt proud.
The journey from taxi to airport to ticket booth was simple and easy, and despite the fact that Clint's cover's credit card was now out by $1,000 due to the last minute plane ticket purchase, everything was ok. Clint feigned patience as he waited in the airport security line, and then he put on a good show of detached disinterest when he walked to his gate and stared up at the news station blaring on the TV.
"—about superheroes? Who are they going to answer to? What are the implications of them running free now? All this time we thought SHIELD was here to protect us, but it turns out that there was a Nazi group growing inside them," one of the anchors said, a passionately patriotic expression on her face. "I think it's time that we demand answers. Two of the Avengers were involved in this event, and I don't think that they should get away with it."
Natasha, Clint thought.
"But Captain Rogers and Black Widow are to be thanked," another anchor argued with annoyance. "They revealed the truth about HYDRA and warned the people about them. Black Widow and Captain Rogers were looking out for us, so we could know the truth."
"But the cost of everything," a third anchor jumped in. "The cost of trying to clean up the Potomac and the Triskelion is going to be astronomical. Also, who do you think paid for those to be built? The civilians. Our tax money went to waste when Captain America destroyed those helicarriers. Billions of dollars—maybe even trillions if they got Stark involved—just gone. For nothing."
"But are we forgetting the fact that they literally saved the world again?" the middle anchor argued back, frowning. "Without them, HYDRA would still be growing, and we could be dead. Look at all of the information Black Widow spilled. That's the truth, guys. That's what HYDRA was planning on doing this entire time, and she and Captain Rogers stopped it. You can hold them accountable all you want, but they saved us."
Clint closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he breathed deeply and slowly. So that was what had happened. He knew that there was probably more to the story, more than the news understood or had had time to process, but Natasha would be able to tell him. From what he was able to gather just then, she had leaked everything online. Everything.
He took another deep breath and tried to make sense of it all with no luck. Basically everything he'd worked for had been for nothing. His entire conversion to SHIELD had been a sham, and his missions had all just been part of an elaborate practical joke. God, he'd practically wooed Natasha to SHIELD with the slogan, "Be SHIELD. We're the good guys." He couldn't have been more wrong, he realized.
He numbly boarded the plane and chose a seat, spending the short flight in silence, even after the young college student whose hair smelled like coconut chose to sit next to him and smile nonstop in his direction. He looked out the window and watched the sky rush by, and he counted down the minutes until he was with what was apparently the one reliable thing in his life just then.
When Clint stepped off the plane, he wasn't surprised to see Natasha already waiting at his gate. She was dressed in black jeans, a smart denim button down, black riding boots, and a black baseball cap with her red hair in a ponytail. She looked casual and comfortable, so very Natasha but so not all at the same time. Clint should have felt happy to see her, excited at being reunited with her, but he just felt grim. Right there in front of everyone, he crossed directly towards her and hugged her. He wanted to hug her and hug her and hug her until he couldn't hug her enough, but they were in a vulnerable position with where they were, so he just kissed her on the top of her head and pulled back.
"Hey," she greeted. "So we're in Dallas. How you liking being back in Texas?"
"Oh, stop," Clint snorted, but he gave her a smile. Natasha's eyes darted away from his face with that rapid fluidity they had only whenever she was being overly alert about the prospect of being caught. He noticed that she was holding a large duffel bag in her hand, and he lifted his eyebrows as he realized that it was a cat carrier, and Noelle, the cat he and Natasha had had for several years now, was inside. "Noelle. You have Noelle."
"Yeah," she said nonchalantly. "Walk with me. Our flight leaves in an hour, and we have to get to our gate."
Leave it to Natasha to have a plan, he thought with a second glance towards the stressed out cat, who was staring pitifully at him from inside her carrier.
"Ok," he said. As he started walking beside her, letting her lead the way, he glanced over her. "You ok? You good?"
"Yeah," she replied without looking back. "You?"
"Yeah," he said. "So where are we going?"
"The only place we can." She looked up at him with questioning green eyes as if she were waiting for him to veto the idea. Clint knew exactly where she was talking about, and he would have been lying had he said that he hadn't been thinking about suggesting it. So when she gave him the look that showed she was waiting for some kind of response, he gave a short nod in return.
"Transportation from the airport?"
"Taxi. We can take care of getting a car while we're there in the state," Natasha answered without hesitation. He wasn't surprised that she had this all figured out; she was Natasha. She corrected Fury's plans when she thought that her way was better, and usually, she was right. "Here."
She shifted Noelle's carrier over her shoulder as reached into her large shoulder bag to pull out a burgundy baseball cap. When she turned back to face him, Clint went ahead and ducked his head down far enough for her to set it over his dark blond hair. Yep. She always thought of everything, he thought.
"Thanks," he said. "But isn't this undercover stuff kind of pointless? Since everyone knows who we are now?"
"If airport officials know we're here, we're going to be detained by hours of questioning," she said. "Might as well try to blend in as much as possible and get away while we can."
"Who are you today?" Clint asked curiously. When Natasha didn't answer right away, he looked over at her and found her staring straight ahead as she walked, her face drawn together in a tight, worrisome frown. She pressed her lips together and then looked at him with that same expression pasted over her features.
"I don't know," she murmured, and he knew she wasn't talking about her cover.
Clint had about 900 different questions for her but not the correct timing or setting, so he had to force himself to be patient as he waited through the flight, the taxi ride, the car purchase—which was a nightmare in and of itself—and then the start of the GPS directions before it was ok to talk. Clint knew how to get where he was going from here without the GPS, but there was something about having that extra sound in the car that he needed. Noelle was in the backseat, and Natasha was in the front seat, but between the three of them, no one was making much sound.
"Alright," Natasha said finally after Clint eased out and onto the highway. "So. I know you have a lot of questions."
"Understatement," Clint agreed.
"I know you have a lot of statements."
"Not quite yet but getting there."
"How much do you know about what's happened?"
"SHIELD is actually HYDRA, Alexander Pierce is dead, Fury is dead, Rogers is missing, flying man is a new possible ally, all of SHIELD's secrets have been spilled to the world courtesy of Black Widow, and Congress is pretty annoyed with you right now," Clint said. She lifted her eyebrows, and he shot her a smirk from behind the steering wheel as he drove down the straight highway. "I had about an hour before my flight to Dallas. I got to watch the news. They had the captions on."
"Well, buckle up, Barton, because this is going to be one hell of a story." Natasha pulled her feet out of her shoes and shoved her feet up onto the dash as she slouched down into the passenger's seat. Steve Rogers might have told her to take her feet of the dash, but Clint Barton never did.
"No questions until the story's over?"
"Them's the rules."
She told the story quick and to the point, never glossing over any details or trying to be sensitive about anything. She talked, and he listened and tried to stay focused on not running them off the road while she spoke each deliberate word. He listened to her talk about how Sam Wilson had gone from stranger to friend. He listened to Fury's death and subsequent "resurrection." He listened to the reveal about the Winter Soldier, remembering the mission Natasha had been shot on, and she'd insisted that it had been the Winter Soldier. He'd believed her, but not many others had. But he listened, and she talked until there were no more stories left to tell. When she was done, and he could speak, he let out a slow breath, makinga hissing sound with his mouth.
"Jesus," he murmured in shock. "Well. I guess it's the biggest understatement of the century to say that we're fucked."
"I'm sorry I had to compromise you, by the way," she added with a glance in his direction. "All your covers…everything."
"No, you did the right thing." Out of his peripherals, Clint could see her studying him, a quiet frown ghosting over her sharp, angled features.
"The right thing," she repeated, her voice soft and thoughtful. "What does that even mean anymore?"
"Good question." Clint felt the corners of his own mouth start to fall down. "Shit. So what does this mean for us? Who else knows about Fury?"
"Well, no one knows about Fury. Rogers, Wilson, and me. And now you. But I suspect that if Fury had a problem with you knowing, he wouldn't have let me know. As for what all of this means for us…I don't know. We're not exactly SHIELD agents anymore, but there's no way we're HYDRA agents. Not technically." She looked away on the last part of her statement, studying the windows and the world that lay out past them.
She'd felt homeless plenty of times in her younger years, but she hadn't felt that deep, lonesome ache in her chest in years. As she looked out the window, she found herself feeling, well, homeless. Not attached to anything. She felt as though she were a buoy, completely ungrounded and free and not in a good way. What if a wave came, and she were to drown? There was nothing for her to hang onto.
"So we're free agents for now, I guess," Clint said carefully, sounding as unsure of himself as she felt.
"Have you gotten a chance to look over the stuff I leaked?" she asked.
"No, not yet. I figured I'd do that once we were safe and secure," Clint replied. "Sounds like that's weeks' worth of stuff to sort through, if not months'."
"I've had some time to scroll through a few of the important files," Natasha said. She could tell by the way Clint looked away from the road in front of them to look at her that she'd grabbed his attention with her tone the way she'd wanted to. "There's something I think you'll want to know. Well, there are a lot of things I think you'll want to know. But some in particular."
"Nat?" Clint's frowned deepened. Natasha propped her elbow up on the edge in front of the window and leaned her head into the heel of her palm to avoid looking at him.
"Coulson's alive," she said. Without waiting another second, Clint swerved over to the side of the road and slammed his hand against the hazards. The only sound that filled the small car was the sound of the lights flashing on and off. "I thought you'd want to know."
"How the—what?" Clint turned his entire body in his seat to face her. "He's—Nat, we went to his funeral."
"Well, he's alive," Natasha said. She kept her voice steady and level, and she only took small glances at him. "I know. I'm angry, too."
"Whose idea was it that we weren't supposed to know? Dammit." Clint slammed his hand against the steering wheel and let out a frustrated sigh.
"Fury." Natasha said, her voice a dull monotone. She watched him rub his eyes with the back of his hand. "He kept it top secret. Basically only three people knew that it was happening, but now he's running his own team. SHIELD was just damn good at keeping us out of the loop."
"How long?" Clint asked, his voice tense and tight.
"Since New York, I guess. I don't know. Just from what I was able to skim over. But it makes sense with everything we've had going on for the past few years. Have you noticed we haven't had any in-country missions since New York? Not a single one. Strict orders to talk to our handlers only. Wouldn't surprise me if we were monitored." She sounded as if she were speaking with someone else's voice, but Clint didn't seem to notice as he processed the information she'd just told him.
"What the hell," he hissed. He ran a hand over his face and gritted his teeth, the anger and frustration etched deep into the worry lines of his face.
"Doesn't it make sense?" Natasha asked. "Even on our solo missions, we've always been out of the country. I bet if I track where Coulson's been taking his team, I'll find that we were assigned somewhere on the opposite side of the globe. Ten bucks says SHIELD sent us somewhere we wouldn't hear about it."
"Why would they do that?" Clint asked. "I'm sorry, but we're a damn good team, and we weren't just—just Coulson's agents. For Christ's sake, he was—he was our friend."
"I know." Natasha took her feet off the dash and curled them up under her, suddenly wanting to feel as small and compact as possible. She wrapped her arms around her knees and looked across at Clint. "I thought you'd want to know as soon as there was an opportunity to tell you."
Clint was quiet for a few seconds, and then he took a deep breath. "I don't think I can handle any more bombshells like that until we're stationary."
"I'll keep that in mind," Natasha said, recognizing the dry, very slight sense of humor in Clint's words. She watched him take in another deep breath before composing him, switching off the hazards, and easing back onto the virtually empty highway. "But yeah. That's where we are with all of this…whatever it is that's happening."
"I'm still trying to get past the fact that HYDRA wasn't destroyed with the Red Skull," Clint murmured. "This is…a lot. There's way too much going on. Hey, what about Rogers? Where'd he go?"
"If I know him, he's off to find Barnes. Wilson probably went with him." Natasha didn't release her arms from around her knees. "Other than that, I don't know anything. I figured if he needed anything, he'd call. But he won't."
"He won't," Clint agreed. "I don't think Rogers is the call-for-help kind of guy."
"And I think he found a much-needed friend in Wilson," Natasha said. She paused and then blinked. "Oh, yeah, I kissed him."
"Wilson?" Clint asked casually as if they were discussing what to have for dinner later. Natasha felt his sharp, curious blue eyes on her face, and she shook her head.
"No. Steve. That jackass Rumlow was about to pass by us when he was trying to hunt us down, and you know how PDA makes people uncomfortable, so I kissed Steve to keep our cover," she said, her voice nonchalant. Clint considered this, and then he shrugged.
"Huh. Was he good?" he asked. He shot another genuinely curious glance in Natasha's direction and watched her half-nod, half-shrug.
"Not bad for a 95 year old," Natasha said with a serious face. "He'd be very good if he had someone to actually practice with, though."
"So I'm a better kisser," Clint concluded. He was rewarded by a genuine smile from the redheaded spy, and he watched her mouth melt into a soft, warm smile.
"Keep telling yourself that," she scoffed with an eye roll.
"Hey, come on. Can you blame me if I want to be better at something than Captain America? The guy's golden boy. You've said it yourself," Clint said, smirking. Natasha pressed her lips together, suddenly becoming serious, and she shook her head slightly.
"Not anymore," she said. "People aren't sure if he's a good guy or a bad guy right now with the destruction of those expensive helicarriers and the Triskelion. They're blaming it on him instead of HYDRA."
"And you," Clint added. Natasha let out a groan and leaned her head back against the headrest.
"Don't remind me. You saw the clip from my hearing?" she asked. Clint chuckled quietly.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "That was playing all over the airport TV, and all I could think was of how fucking proud I am of you." Natasha went still at his words and redirected her gaze towards him, watching him drive. He noticed her silence and took another glance at her, only to find her looking at him with those quiet, green eyes of hers. "What?"
"I love you," she said. The moment was gentle and unforced as they sat together in the car, Clint driving and Natasha going along with the flow because that was the only thing she could do at that time. Clint reached out and put a hand on her bent knee. "I've missed you."
"Feels like I haven't seen you in a month," Clint softly added.
"Well, that's kind of what it's been. A few hours passing each other and switching out dirty clothes for clean clothes between missions doesn't exactly count as spending time together." Natasha ran her fingers over his, looking down at his large hand spread over her knee. He never touched her possessively or as if he were claiming her—instead, he touched her as if it were a privilege for him. She couldn't ever remember a time when he'd touched her differently, and that probably said more about him and their relationship than it did about any lack of feelings or passion for her.
Clint was respectful. Even after close to a decade of being together, he was respectful in everything he did. He always knocked and waited for permission before charging into the bathroom if she was in there. He never touched her whenever he thought that she might not want it, and he never tried anything that he even suspected she'd be uncomfortable with. He always waited for a cue from her before proceeding with anything. He just respected her in everything he did, and she never knew how to thank him enough.
"Well, now that we're here more or less, there's nothing but you and me," he said reassuringly as he gave her knee a light, comforting squeeze. "At least there's that."
Natasha wrapped her fingers around his a little tighter and tried not to feel as though she were clinging onto him as the one steady thing in her life. "Yeah. At least there's that."