Hit Me With Your Best Shot
It had all started with a sigh on a night where no one had required to their private quarters. It had been late, and they had volunteered to watch over some security footage but after two days of no sleep it hadn't taken long for their eyelids to droop and for them to fall asleep. She never would have done before, she was too professional, too dedicated to her job, but then there was the severe lack of sleep and the warmth of the room and something else entirely and she had fallen asleep right after he did. The something else entirely? Something to do with the fact she had leaned against him and placed her head against his shoulder. He didn't mind, of course - how could he? - but it meant that they awoke to a sharp cough from Fury himself standing over them as they slept in their chairs before the monitors. Just before he realised the situation though, he had a moment to appreciate what it felt like to have her face pressed against his neck with her breath hitting his collarbone, and yes, she had moved into him for a second before pulling away. She never struck him as a cuddler.
All day long, he hadn't stopped thinking about that moment. Despite wanting to push it from his mind and get on with his job, he found that remembering that moment was the only thing he did all day. He even asked Fury to send him on a different mission than her that morning. He'd earned an overly generous helping of curious glances from Rogers, and had even manage to spill the coffee that Banner had passed him in the afternoon when his hand was actually three inches away from the mug and not in his hand as he imagined. He couldn't get the feel of that tiny release of breath against his skin out of his mind. Was this what he had been reduced to? So dedicated to the job that he was falling for a part of it? He'd worked with Natasha Romanoff for so long that she had become the very heart of S.H.I.E.L.D as his partner, even though until recently they had rarely been put on missions together. Now, they were sent off together more often, perhaps to team up the only two members of the new Avengers Initiative who didn't have any cosmic/technological/mutational powers to enhance them. And now, apparently, he was crazy about her.
A few of them ate together when Stark arranged for fifteen pizzas to be delivered to the base. As usual, he'd warned nobody in advance and Agent Hill had been taken off guard by the request from the Agents covering the entry points that she come and authorise a pizza delivery in Clint's. Stark would get another reprimand for this, of course, but it would fly out of his mind the next time he was hungry. Stark, Banner, Rogers and Natasha herself were seated around the circular table in the communications room they were using to try and track down Thor. He watched as the three men started on their usual bickering as they each took a pizza box each, and Natasha had rolled her eyes, deciding that it would be better for her sanity if she retire to the side of the table that he was on. Yes, perfect. That would distract him from thinking about how it felt to wake up beside her. Sitting right next to him. Yes. Thank you, Natasha.
But the words in his head never reached her ears as she sat down next to him. He gave her a quick glance as he reached into her chosen box of pizza and stole one of the slices for himself, dodging the hand that she used to attempt to bat him away. Her eyes were still as exhausted as they had been last night, but much different than he'd seen them this morning. Perhaps sleeping on his shoulder for four hours had done more good to her than just a pillow. He should patent it. Sleeping on Clint Barton's shoulder: good for the soul. Usually, he'd have a small participation in the bickering but today he thought of nothing but that oh-so-distracting woman beside him. She kept giving him looks in return, knowing that something was on his mind but not wanting to bring it up in front of the others - who were quickly starting to realise that they weren't getting their usual rise out of the marksman.
His obvious distraction was unsettling her as much as it was himself. Their united focus on any task at hand was what made them a good team. They didn't have distractions, nothing phased them, and that is what had made them good enough to be first picks for Fury's Avengers Initiative. They knew the system, they knew their jobs, and they damn sure knew how to do them properly. He wanted to concentrate and keep up the pretense but then she would let out a breathy impression of a laugh as she shook her head at the bickering of the other men and he was reminded of that release of breath against his collarbone again and it all went to hell. Did he really think about her that way? He'd never imagined it before. They'd played the faithful husband and wife when undercover before, and they'd certainly behaved on parr then, but he'd never woken up beside her as Clint and Natasha before, even if it was just in chairs in the comms room. She was his partner, and what he would consider to be his best friend, if he was thinking about it like a teenage girl. He'd heard Stark talking about his assistant last week as Rogers asked him how on Earth they survived as a couple, and he said that it worked because she was his best friend, and that always came first. He supposed that was what Natasha was for him. But he could ruin that and their careers by acting upon this assumption.
"Something wrong?" she asked, way too casually, he felt, once the others were distracted again.
"No," he mumbled, shoving pizza into his mouth to block further conversation.
"Seems like it," she pressed. "You're quieter than usual."
"Just tired," he shrugged, speaking around a mouthful of pizza.
She stared at him and he attempted to stare her down. It was was usually an impossible task but this time she was first to drop the matter. She finished her meal in silence and then left his side. She had never stood down from him before. If she thought there was a problem she had no issues with calling him out on it. It was part of being a team - a good team - to be able to recognise and rectify potential weaknesses. He sighed heavily when she left and stared down at his hands. He was pushing her away because of last night/this morning, and he shouldn't be. She was the only one in S.H.I.E.L.D. who actually knew something about his life beyond what skills he had. She knew about his brother, about his parents dying, and in turn he knew about hers. No secrets, they'd decided, that way they couldn't be surprised. They each shared their hidden childhood fears, their unspeakable acts at the start of their careers and it didn't phase them. It made them stronger.
"Smooth," Stark remarked as the door to the room closed behind her. "How'd you piss her off?"
"I didn't," he said simply.
"She seems mad at you."
"She looks mad."
He closed the pizza box, feeling the exhaustion more than he had the entire day. "I know her better than you do," he stated simply, and then left the room just as Natasha had done.
She came across him around an hour later in the training room. He was sat on one of the benches, staring forward at the empty room with his hands hanging loose between his legs. He looked deep in thought, serious as usual but too serious for a Clint who wasn't on a mission. He was always serious on some level, but she'd known him long enough to see the prankster side come out in him when there was too long a dip between missions. She moved to stand in front of him, between him and whichever view he was admiring, and waited to see if he snapped out of the daze. When he didn't, she folded her arms over her chest.
"Are you going to do this all day?" she asked him impatiently.
He looked up, shaking himself a little as he realised he wasn't alone. "Do what?"
"This," she gestured to him. "You're ignoring everyone, everything, you're all quiet and brooding. This isn't you, Clint."
"Yeah, you are," she cut him off. "You've been awake for nearly seventy two hours, and we're on downtime. Why aren't you sleeping? You're exhausted."
He sighed, rubbing his eyes. "I'm just thinking some things through," he explained.
"Well, I hope it's important, because even Fury seems to have noticed," she told him. "He's going on about extended focus training once we're off downtime."
He looked up at that and nodded slowly. "Yeah, it is important."
She heard the underlying tone in his voice and sat down beside him. "Clint?" she asked, the question dying on her tongue.
He shrugged. "Don't worry, it doesn't matter," he said, attempting to throw her off the subject with a smile.
It didn't work. "You just told me it was important."
"I've just got a lot going round my mind at the moment," he said. "I want to clear my head before I go lie down or I'll never get to sleep."
She smirked. "Seriously? You manage to sleep through a helicoptor ride pretty easily."
"The voices in my head must be louder," he smirked back. "Don't worry, Tasha, I'm okay. You go get some rest."
"Stop it," she snapped suddenly, her voice firmer than before. "Don't lie to me, and don't try to get rid of me."
"No," she repeated, steady and clear. "Do not lie to me, Clint."
He was trying to lie to her, he was trying to convince her that nothing was going on that she needed to be concerned about. Once again, they stared each other down, but he should have known better now that he had raised her suspicions and bought out the challenge and determination that her eyes alone were offering. It was no surprise that this time he was the first to look away.
"We're partners, Clint. Partners don't request different assignments." Shit, she knew? "What changed since the last mission?"
What happened? You fell asleep on my shoulder with your breath against my skin and it felt so-
"Clint?" she asked again, this time, her hand fell onto his in an attempt at comfort, but it had the opposite effect. He swore, tugging his hand away from hers. "What?" she asked.
He got up on his feet, an action she quickly followed. "You! Would you stop doing that?"
She frowned. "Stop what?"
She looked at him curiously. "Clint, what's going on with you today?"
"I need you to stop being so..." he broke off, taking a sharp breath. "...just stop doing..." he closed his eyes tight for a second before opening them again. "...you are so..." he gestured to the air around him wildly. "...and every time you...I just..." he ground loudly. "I can't hide from it anymore!" he burst out.
"What are you trying to hide from?" she asked, calm in retaliation to his outburst.
"You!" he shouted again, his words quickly dropping in volume when he realised that he was screaming in her face and she was likely to hurt him for doing so, whatever his reasons. "We've been partners for years, together most days of the year. I've seen you in ways that no one ever has, and I know you better than anyone. But this morning was the first time I woke up beside you. You had your face here," he said, gesturing to the gap between his neck and shoulder. "And I could feel your breath here..." he moved his finger to his collarbone. "...and for a few seconds before Fury was there it was just..." He wasn't sure how to explain it exactly, but she waited patiently for the words to come to him. "You know, I've been thinking over the last few years that there has to be more than this life. I've been waiting to come across something besides putting a bow in my hands that feels...right. And that was it," he said taking a closer step to her. "You were there, beside me, against me, and I got to hold you in my arms, not in the arms of whoever we were pretending to be for a cover, and that felt more right, more real, than anything else."
He'd done it. He'd admitted it. And in the process, from the look on her face, he'd actually managed to stun her. The cool and collected under any situation Black Widow had gone, and in her place was just Natasha. "Clint, it's-"
"Don't," he cut her off. "I said it, we can forget about it. You don't have to tell me that it's complicated and everything."
"It is, Clint, you know that," she replied quietly.
"I know," he murmured.
"We're partners," she reminded him. "As soon as we forget about that we compromise ourselves and our team." He said nothing, but his sigh told her everything - he was backtracking after laying his heart on the line for the very first time. It was bad enough that every room in the base had heavy surveillance, and Fury had probably already been alerted to fraternising agents and was on his way to them to prevent it, but this was Clint, and she owed him the truth beyond anything else. "We couldn't guarantee that things would work," she told him.
"They would," he insisted quickly.
"But if it didn't, it would affect how we work together," she told him.
Once again, he sighed. He'd done so much of that tonight that it was starting to become a sound she hated. "I spent my entire life putting the job first. My job is the biggest part of my life." He found the urge to touch her becoming overwhelming. He shouldn't have mentioned holding her in his arms, it seemed to be all he wanted to do now. "But why can't I consider thinking about myself and what I want?"
"And what is it, exactly, that you want?" she asked him.
He stared at her for the longest time, torn between words and the overwhelming desire to kiss her. Neither option seemed appropriate. He couldn't put his arms around her becuase he'd never let her go. He couldn't speak because he didn't know what to say. He hadn't planned on things progressing this far. He hadn't planned on having feelings for her either. He just thought he'd brood for a few days, push the incident out of his mind and continue working with her as usual. She was his partner, what was he doing? He was ruining years of flawless teamwork. If they carried this conversation on they'd reach a turning point that they'd never come back from.
He looked down, breaking their gaze and closing his eyes. He took a step away from her, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I want to get some sleep," he mumbled.
"Clint," she started, having expected many answers but that was not one of them.
"You should get some rest too," he interrupted her softly, as he walked over to the wall and slid down it to sit on the ground.
He kept his eyes closed and when he heard footsteps he though she had taken the invitation to leave. The foosteps got louder, though, and the touch of a hand against his cheek showed him that she hadn't left, she'd just come to kneel at his side. Her skin was cool and soft against his own, and yet the warmth that came from it made it hard for him not to lean into it and seek more of that same warmth. It was calming, peaceful, right. He hadn't been wrong that morning, something about her skin against his was definitely right. Her thumb trailed his cheek for a moment and then he felt more of her, closer, and was she...? Yes, she was. Shit, why was she doing this? Hadn't he just told her how distracting that was? But she was doing it anyway. Her face gently pressed into that space he now considered to be exclusively hers, and her exhale dusted air against the part of his collarbone that his shirt exposed. Why would she do that?
Before he had time to consider whether it would be a good time to reach out, his hands were already at her shoulders, trailing down slowly until they reached her elbows. He wrapped his hands around the tiny points and gave a sigh which fell into her hair, the brown-red curls muffling the sound but enough to hide it from her. "Tasha," he whispered, not sure himself what the rest of that sentence was going to be because he was interrupted with a new sensation of touch against his collarbone - her lips. It was a fleeting brush, but an action that secured the fact that they were never going back from this moment.
He moved a hand away from her elbow to lift her chin away from his shoulder so that he could see her face. There were words that needed to be said, but neither of them spoke. He'd imagined her lips against him many times that day, by no intention of his own, but he'd always imagined a furious clash of lips, rushed, heated, passionate, but he hadn't imagined what would come next, so when they leaned towards one another slowly it felt brand new even to his mind. They moved so slowly, faced brushing together, that for a moment they merely shared the same air, then closed their eyes as lips finally brushed against each others. Content sighs escaped them both and the same word kept repeating in his head...right, right, right...this was so right. He'd have stayed there on the floor all night, finally being this close to her, her lips and hands against his own, her breath filling his mouth and knowing that she wanted this too. But if all of their lives, their gains and losses, their partnership, their work...if it was all leading up to this moment in some twisted dance, then now wasn't the moment to remain still, it was time to press forward, just for a moment.
It was Natasha that moved first, bringing her hands to the back of his neck and entwining them in the strands of hair at the base of his skull. His own hands travelled up, running through the entire length of her hair; he left one of them entangled in the curls but the other returned to her cheek. He wanted to feel her hair and her skin, to remember exactly what it was like at the exact moment when he got what he wanted, but he was unable to focus on anything other than the feel of her lips.
The full intensity of the moment hit them, and they parted for a brief moment to meet one anothers eyes. The reciprocated look of 'I want this' shimmed off their eyes, matched for the first time in something other than focus. With this, something snapped and Clint leaned in, claiming her lips full with his own. It took a staggering few moments for her to react, moving into the kiss as he realised with amusement that he'd never have imagined her to allow him to take control. He always thought that she would have demanded control even in this situation, but here she was, letting him lead the kiss at his determination. He thought for a brief moment that she might just be going along with this to make him feel better, but that wasn't her style so he preferred to believe that she trusted him enough to surrender her control, to release all inhibitions in relax in his arms.
They'd kissed before when they were undercover. They'd posed as married couples, and they'd done the peck on the check, the quick brush of lips, the typical married-for-ten years appearance in public, a mutual need to prove just how dedicated they were to their jobs. It wasn't how a first kiss should be, but they weren't their first kisses. That had been Mr. and Mrs. Saunders kissing, it had been Mr. Perrault and his mistress, it had been Mr. and Mrs. Zietsef. Now, they were themselves. Barton and Romanoff. Clint and Natasha. He much preferred them that way. In the absense of professionalism and focus there was only a mutual need, and one they were in no hurry to rush. This kiss was slow, neither daring to speed it up in case they lost this precious contact before due time. As lips brushed over each other, gently lingering as they pressed together and parting momentarily only to return to their former resting place, a warmth spread through them. Clint's arms linked around her, adjusting so that he was holding her in his arms. In response, she moved closer to him, throwing one leg over his so that she was all but sitting in his lap.
Her hands, already clasped around his neck to hold herself to him, begun to stroke the skin below his hair, in what turned out to be a very sensitive area where his hairline faded into soft strands. This sensastion sent a shudder echoing down his spine and he deepened the kiss, opening his lips further and tracing the edge of hers with his tongue, begging for entrance. All other thoughts were left aside when she relented and knotted her tongue around his. Their mouths danced together slowly at first, but then she let out a tiny sound against him, so feminine, so passionate, so delightful that it was so very un-Natasha. He was driven forward with the need to hear that sound again that he pressed her closely against his chest. He feared for a moment that she might try to break away, force reality upon them, but instead she shifted with him, closing all gaps between them. The kiss deepened even more and he found himself delving past her lips repeatedly, her breath growing ragged in her chest and yes, even a smile on her lips.
Eventually, however, the need to breathe became too great and they had to part to ensure no one passed out from oxygen deprivation. All that parted, however, was their lips. Their foreheads remained pressed together, his arms never releasing his hold on her and he felt all the stress in his body vanish as he felt her arms link surely behind his head.
"Tasha," he mumbled against her lips. "I..."
"You're the only one who's ever called me that," she told him.
"Good," he whispered as he returned his lips to hers for just a moment.
She looked around them quickly before returning her focus to him. "We need to leave," she said. "Rogers comes down to train at night."
He shook his head silently, slowly leaning forward to place his lips ever so gently against the base of her throat. She sighed softly and leaned into his touch. "No, stay right here," he tempted. "We don't need to go anywhere."
She smiled at him, a real smile. "Well, we can't stay in the training room."
"But you will stay with me?" he checked.
Her smiled turned into a smirk. "Are you asking me or telling me, Agent Barton?"
"Asking," he said quickly, his hands dropping to her hips, sliding down along the sides of her torso as he did so. "Partners don't give orders," he said, holding her gaze in a way that he never had before. "I wouldn't expect you to take any orders from me outside of the field." He leaned in again to kiss her, but held away at the last moment, his lips barely ghosting hers. "So which is it? Go or stay?" he asked her. "It's your call, you know where I stand. But I have to know if we're going or staying."
"We're going," she told him. Going. He couldn't stop the slight dip in his head as regret already started to set in. He shouldn't have done anything. He shouldn't have kissed her. He just ruined S.H.I.E.L.D.'s best partnership for what? For a weird day where they were both exhausted and just needed to sleep. "We're going because we're both exhausted and we need to sleep before anything else," she told him. That's it, continue shooting me down. "But I'm staying."
What now? He lifted his head.
"I'm staying," she repeated. "We're going, but we're going together, okay?"
He nodded, and her lips moved to meet his for the briefest second. But then there was the urgency again and the timing issue and they had to to leave - seperately - but there was no discussion about what happened next. She left, and he waited a few minutes to avoid any suspicion, although they often trained together so really they were making it more awkward for themselves, but when he did leave the training room he did walk right into Rogers who was just started up for a training round. Natasha was nowhere in sight but he started the trek to the private quarters and entered his own.
He went straight into the bathroom where he stepped into the shower and washed away the grime of the day, but he couldn't feel the water hitting his skin. He could only feel her arms around his neck, her hands running through his face, her nose against his, her lips against his lips. He shut the shower off and dressed in his S.H.I.E.L.D. issue sweat pants and picked up a t-shirt. The shirt hung limp in his hands as he returned to the private room which contained nothing more than his bed, a place to keep his clothes, his personal backup weapons and his living essentials. It wasn't no more personal than a hotel room. It had a strange shaped bed that wasn't quite small enough to be a single, but wasn't large enough to be a double, but that didn't bother him much. After all, it was his room, and the bed was large enough for him to collapse into for a short sleep at the end of each mission.
Well, until now.
As the steam of the shower dissipated into the room behind him, the shirt he was swinging in his hands fell to his side. Natasha had joined him once again, sitting cross-legged in the centre of his bed in the same sweat pants he'd been issued, only she had remembered to put her shirt on before joining him. She was stronger in wills than he was, as while she managed to meet his eyes and keep his gaze without dropping her eyes to his bare chest, he was only able to hold her gaze for a moment before the tight-fitting v-neck shirt she wore distracted his attention to the most obvious place. She smirked at him and he approached the bed, not bothering to pick up the shirt that he had dropped to the ground. The warmth of the shower had left him more drained than ever, and he could see the extra weight on her shoulders as well. He crawled over to the far side of the bed and lay down, watching her to see if she would move or stay seated. Unsurprisingly, she lay down beside him, a gap of about an inch provided if they lay on their sides.
When he moved a curl of red-brown hair from her forehead, she let out a jagged sigh. "This is insane, Clint," she told him.
"Is it?" he asked. "We serve the world pretty well. I think we deserve something for ourselves in between."
"What if we compromise ourselves in the middle of a mission? Being together throws new obstacles..."
"I heard Fury's lecture the same as you did," he reminded her, before she could list all the reasons that they shouldn't be lying an inch away from one another. "We're the best team they have. No partnership here is better than ours. Being able to lie here like this with you at night isn't going to change that. Not for me, at least. If Fury's worried about us doing something stupid to protect each other while we're working then he should have thought about that a while ago. I'm not going to want to see you get hurt any more or any less than I did yesterday. We watch each others backs, we get hurt, we survive. Business as usual." He leaned closer, throwing an arm over her as she settled one around his waist. "But this? This is us, Tasha. They can't take that away. And if we have to fight for that, we will."
She nodded, and moved into him even more. They embraced each other tightly in the centre of the bed and held close for a long time. Eventually, he reached above where they lay and hit the lightswitch to douse the room in darkness. When he lay back down he was on his back, and lifted an arm for her to shuffle against him. She settled with her head on his shoulder, her face turned towards his neck and he smiled. "At the risk of sounding like a teenage girl, I've been imagining this all day," he admitted.
She smirked in the darkness, but he felt the movement across his bare shoulder. "You've been picturing us in bed together all day, and your imagination kept us fully clothed," she teased him.
"In my defence, I'm not fully clothed, I'm half clothed. You're fully clothed," he pointed out. "And I've had my share of one night encounters, but you're not one of them. I know how capable you are of kicking my ass."
She laughed at him softly. "And don't you forget it."
"Besides, you're right. We're exhausted. We should be making the most of the downtime before Fury has us marching off again. If he doesn't, I'm sure Hill will find something for us to do," he told her.
"Do you remember the last time you slept for an entire day?" she asked.
"Not really, I think I was ten," he deadpanned.
"Well, I ran into Stark on the way out, and he owes me four hundred and twelve favours," she told him. "He may be covering for us to have some real downtime tomorrow. According to all S.H.I.E.L.D. records, you'll be in Sacramento with Banner and I'll be at Stark Industries with Potts keeping up the protection detail. No Fury, no Hill, no work," she announced proudly.
He approved greatly of her plan, but found himself more curious about another thing. "How does Stark owe you that many favours?" he asked.
"Do you want to guess how many he owes Potts?" she asked. "She was the one who told me to start keeping count."
"Well, in that case..." he started, but he didn't finish the sentence because he manouvered himself from under her and leaned over to kiss her like he had in the training room. He left it slow and lingering, and when he left her lips, she had a playful look in her eyes. There's my Tasha...
"I thought we were making the most of the downtime?" she reminded him.
"We are," he told her, his hand sliding down her waist until it had gone dangerously past her hip to settle elsewhere. "If I know I don't have to get up in the morning, I'm not against staying up late."
He knew he started falling for her when he woke up beside her that morning, but he fell and hit the bottom when she released herself from his kiss and bought her lips to his ear, speaking the words that made him torn between marrying the woman and never letting her leave the bed again.
"Hit me with your best shot, Barton."