The glass surface of the bar was hard and cold under Clint's back, chilling him through both shirt and jacket, a little rubbing chill that didn't quite reach the muscles of his side where he'd taken a repulsor ray (or whatever the hell it was; one of the geeks would probably get on his case if he called it a laser). His arms were folded neatly into a tent of fingers over his belly; he could feel one forearm folded against his side, and part of the other. In the gap where he should've felt his wrist, there was almost a tingling sensation. He wanted to compare it to when his foot fell asleep, but this was that turned inside-out. Maybe if Maya Angelou had taken the laser (don't call it that out loud or they'll give you the Steve treatment), she could've called it.

Natasha was behind the bar, doing a stern-faced impression of an Old West saloon keeper, polishing her glass pitcher. Her being unbelievably glamorous, well-heeled, fashionable, gorgeous, and so on made it a somewhat poor impression. She reached out with the thoroughly cleaned pitcher, dinging his head with the bottom of it.

"Our companionable silence is drifting toward awkwardness," she told him. "I do believe Avengers bylaws states here's where you banter with me."

"Don't you have enough boys to pull your pigtails?" he shot back, not unkindly.

Her return fire was a smile. "Nothing like your first, though."

"Alright. Just remember, you offered the penny for your thoughts."

"I offered no such thing-capitalist swine." Natasha fetched a glass from behind the bar, began preparing a melting pot of mixers to dilute the triple-X vodka that would supposedly be the base of her cocktail. The investigation of Natasha using her SHIELD security clearance to smuggle said vodka into the country, in defiance of all known governances of alcoholic proofs, had been ended by Fury himself.

Clint inclined his head away as she poured it. The bottle's glass looked thick enough to be radiation shielding. "Okay—I've been wondering—if I had died back there, would you've cried bitter tears? Even just one, solitary bitter tear?"

"Da," Natasha replied crisply. "The bitterest."

"While clutching me to your chest and screaming to the skies?"

"Screaming what, exactly?" she asked, very coyly for someone holding a liquid thermonuclear bomb.

"Oh, you know—something about the unfairness of it all… a good man taken so young from this cruel world…"


"Young at heart."

"Oh." Natasha nodded as if she got it. "Star Wars toys?"

"I don't have any, I just thought it was cool that Tony—"

Natasha tossed back her drink. Somehow resisted spontaneous human combustion.

"That Tony had a complete set. Even the Boba Fett with the rocket that can choke you if you fire it down your throat, some kid died…"

"American kids. Pah."

"I know, I know. In Soviet Russia, kids have to wait in line nine weeks to choke to death…"

"Also, line waits on you."

"Mmm." Clint nodded seriously. "Say, forgive me for not noticing while I was looking for a chunk of my midsection, but how'd the new girl do?"

Natasha glanced over unerringly to where Betty Ross had found herself, Clint following her gaze to discover she'd cornered Thor and was grilling him for answers to how apparently normal flesh could sustain your average Chitauri gangbang without a whiff of Gamma radiation. The word 'nanotech' drifted out of the conversation.

"Well, her guy didn't go and get himself brainwashed by Loki—just needed to be put to bed."

"Oh, that's the way it is?"

Natasha passed him a threatening shot of vodka. "That's the way it is."

"That was a one-time deal. I've rescued you plenty of times. More times."

"Conversations like these are why we don't keep track of that sort of thing. Because if we did, I'd be ahead by two."

"One, maybe."

"Shutting the portal to Chitauri-land? Saving the Earth? You live on the Earth."

Clint paused. "Steve told you to do that."

"You want to be wearing the next shot instead of drinking it?"

"Is that an option?" Clint regarded the shotglass in his hand dubiously. "Or would it eat through my flesh like the blood in an Alien movie?"

"Drink. Big малыш."

Clint knocked it back. He was no social drinker, but he was pretty sure Nat's vodka hurt worse than HYDRA misplacing one of his ribs for him. "Okay… okay… this is why I'm lying down…"

"Lightweight. And I helped stop Project Insight. Three times I've saved you."

"That's if HYDRA would've targeted me. I'm a pretty easy guy to get along with. They wouldn't necessarily—"

"Clint," Natasha said warningly.

"Okay. But I helped Thor with the Dark Elves."

"You did not!"

"Can you prove that?"

Natasha looked back up to Betsy. Bruce had joined her and Thor, was trying to translate some of Thor's so-advanced-it-was-old-timey speech into formulas and equations. Betsy had her elbow up, leaning on Bruce's shoulder as she listened to how Thor's hammer was a fixed quantum point—or something. "She really loves him."

"Kinda think that ship has sailed. Didn't SHIELD's files say she'd shacked up with some guy who looks like he lives in a sitcom?"

"SHIELD files." Natasha tsked. "You don't drop everything to become a walking tranquilizer, even for the Avengers. Not unless you really care about the guy. And the Hulk wouldn't listen to her about it being bedtime if it didn't go both ways."

"C'mon," Clint insisted. "She had that whole thing about—working with Tony and Jane and Cho, all the top minds, being at the forefront of building the next Delorean or whatever these eggheads get up to…"

"Excuses, excuses. It's biology. A couple years ago, he was on the run, she was engaged to another man. Now they live next door to each other in the penthouse suite of a private skyscraper. Sometimes, things just end up getting out of the way."

"Maybe they shouldn't." Clint looked up until he found Natasha's eyes. They were distant planets—pale green moons in a dark sky. "C'mon, Nat—everything that got between those two still goes. She could still get hurt—"

"Some things are worth getting hurt for."

Clint was thinking about the shotglass in his hand: the empty glass cold in an alive sort of a way, a reptile sort of way, while he could still feel the liquor burning at the back of his throat. He was thinking about it—a momentary little diversion of a thought—while Natasha's hand was in his hair. Then, as she kissed him, he was thinking of nothing at all.

She withdrew then. Had pickpocketed his shotglass, wiped it down like the sheriff or the blacksmith was going to need it.

"What was that for?" Clint asked.

"No one was watching." She nodded to the living room set-up. The assembling was avenged, or something like that. Tony wanted to make a toast. "C'mon. Let's go see if we can lift Mjolnir."

Only woman he knew who could pronounce that like other people said C-A-T. "Thought you already tried that."

"They don't know that."

Woozily, Clint pushed himself up to a sitting position, so the bar was cooling his butt instead of his back. Already, the kiss felt like a fever dream, but was too vivid, too raw to be any sort of daydream. They'd kissed before—done more than that—but always on the job, part of the con. This had been different. There'd been something unrestrained in Natasha that was never unrestrained.

"And since when do you give away operational intelligence, Agent Romanov?" he asked her in that good clipped voice all the upper-echelon SHIELD guys got.

"When it's an open secret." She licked her lips. The trip her tongue took was quick, but eventful. "I wanna see if you can lift it."

Clint bit back a quip about getting it up—spend too much time with Tony—and slid off the bar to join her, surprising himself by being able to walk without assistant, surprised in general by how Natasha had her arm out in offering. She rotated it, cracking her shoulder, like that was all she'd meant to be doing.

He didn't lift Mjolnir, but after his abject failure, Natasha patted him on the back, circled her hand between his shoulder blades. It felt like being a kid again, that mean old barn cat deciding it wanted to be petted, butting its head against his leg, getting some scritches in, then flopping over to have him pet its belly just so it could dig into his hand with teeth and all its claws.

Natasha, he thought, wouldn't bare her stomach in the first place. Not unless she really wanted to bite you.