Disclaimer: I don't own Marvel comics or characters or movies, and am making no money off of this fic.
AN: Written for the January 11th Winterhawk Mandatory Fun Day prompt: Write a previous prompt from last year that you missed. I wrote them all last year, so I decided to write a sequel to my fic, "Fear Response", that was written for the October 11th, 2019 prompt: Winter Soldier!Clint Barton.
Belonging by luvsanime02
Natasha has two guards to take down, and that should be no problem. It is no problem, she thinks, even though she really didn't expect the second guard to run away from her for just long enough to speak into his communicator before she can take him out.
Competent people can be so annoying when they're not on her side.
So, Natasha now has more guards to take out. Several more. She hasn't even entered the building yet. Sighing, she gets ready to pull out some more knives when a guard ten yards away from her goes down. And then another. And another.
Natasha smiles. She had no idea that James was going to shadow her on this mission, but she's not complaining. Trusting him at her back, Natasha moves through the guards and only bothers to take out the ones who get directly in her way before she finally enters the building.
She sneaks her way through the hallways, which is actually not all that easy when everyone's already on the lookout for her, but Natasha isn't one of the best (possibly THE best) spies in the world for nothing. She gets to the IT department unnoticed and enters a random office.
She'd feel bad for scaring the man inside the office if she didn't know that this building is HYDRA-employed. As it is, he should count himself extremely lucky that she only knocks him out. It only takes Natasha a few minutes to copy the information that she needs after she breaks through the system's security to the higher-levels that this particular employee doesn't have access to.
Information now copied, Natasha exits the building again, not surprised to see nothing outside except for scattered bodies. She even has time to hotwire someone's car and drive away. Nice. It beats hiking her way back down the mountain, which is how she got up there in the first place.
While driving, Natasha sends a quick text thanking James for his assistance. He doesn't often help out on missions, especially those that don't involve Steve, but he makes an occasional exception for her.
She's not expecting to get back a reply right away. Natasha assumed that James would be busy getting away himself. When she pulls her phone back out and reads his message, though, Natasha's heart stops.
? Not me. In India.
With Steve. And Natasha is in Cancun. She slams on the brakes and pulls the car into a really inadvisable u-turn when she's speeding down a windy mountain road, but like hell if she cares about crashing the car right now.
That wasn't James helping her, and that means it could only have been one other person.
Natasha's knuckles tighten on the steering wheel, and she barely lets the car come to a stop a hundred yards from the facility before she jumps out and starts running. She won't make it in time, she knows. He's had plenty of time to get away, after all. But she can't stop herself from hoping that he'll still be there, anyway.
The Winter Soldier. Clint Barton. Her best friend, and the one person she wants to see more than anyone else. The person she's failed more than anyone else.
Natasha hasn't looked for him. She wants to, every single day, but she knows him. Both the legend of the Winter Soldier and Clint Barton as he used to be as a person. Who he maybe, hopefully, is again, or will be soon.
Point is, Clint runs. The Winter Soldier is a ghost. Natasha would be wasting her time if she tried to chase him around the world. It doesn't mean that she doesn't want to, though. That she doesn't ache to see him again, to laugh with him, to just make sure that he's alright.
Panting, more from fear of missing her chance than from physical exertion, Natasha combs through the woods around where the sniper must have been set up. She looks thoroughly for clues on the ground and scuff marks on the trees, and she knows that she won't find anything but she just can't help herself. She has to try.
There's a splash of color, and Natasha doesn't freeze this time. She moves forward cautiously, her eyes looking everywhere, until she spots the item that caught her attention. Something in a familiar shade of purple that she hasn't seen in years is sitting up in a tree, and Natasha's throat hurts when she exhales. Inhales. Exhales again. One more inhale, and then, still keeping a careful watch on her surroundings, Natasha climbs the tree.
She reaches a wide, flat branch that could have easily been a perch for a sniper, and nestled against the tree is a bundle of cloth. Natasha picks it up with fingers that aren't trembling in the least, and she slowly unfolds the fabric.
It's a scarf, soft and silky to the touch, and Natasha holds it to her nose for a moment. Almost, she imagines that she can smell something, but no. There's no note, but it's enough. The gesture and the color are more than enough to tell Natasha everything that she needs to know.
Clint's out there somewhere, and it is Clint now, not the Winter Soldier. Or, at least, not entirely. He remembers her, and himself, and he's doing fine.
Natasha doesn't bother with brushing away her tears, her fingers stroking over the fabric of the scarf almost obsessively before she forces herself to stop. She wraps the scarf around her neck and quickly descends the tree, jogging back down to her getaway car and almost expecting Clint to be there, but no, there's nothing.
It doesn't matter, she tells herself.
Natasha touches the scarf again and starts up the car, and she thinks about the long road she still has to travel before she's finally home again. She'll get there. Clint will get there too, eventually. Natasha holds onto that thought as she drives away.
She also texts James to tell him that she ran into his boyfriend, because she's never going to let that go and she thinks it's hilarious that James slept with Clint without knowing that he was the Winter Soldier, and then Natasha focuses on the road ahead of her. Time to get back to where she belongs now.