Disclaimer: Characters contained within do not belong to me.
Author's Notes: If you haven't seen The Avengers yet, drop what you're doing and get to the movie theatre. I haven't written fan fic in months, but the movie totally inspired me.
by Kristen Elizabeth
"You and I remember Budapest very differently..." - Hawkeye
She barely touched her shawarma. In fact, she only took a few bites before she pushed it across the table to Thor who happily finished it for her. Although he said nothing...no one was really in a mood to talk...Clint Barton wasn't at all surprised by Natasha's lack of an appetite.
They had all been pushed to their limits and with the possible exception of the demi-god chowing down on Nat's sandwich, they had all entered a previously unknown realm of exhaustion.
Every muscle in Clint's body ached, to say nothing of the growing lump on his forehead where Nat had forcibly driven Loki out of his mind. He wanted to sleep for a week. Hell, he wanted Tony Stark to drop him off on his private island (he was pretty sure the man had to own at least one) and let him sleep on the beach for a week.
Yet, as great as sleep sounded, be it under the shade of a palm tree or just in his own bed in his very modest apartment, Clint instinctively knew that the last thing he needed or wanted was to be alone. He had just helped save the world, but before that he had been possessed by a vengeful god of chaos and forced to fight his friend and colleagues.
He either needed to get very drunk and work it out by himself or he needed to talk to someone who could help him deal with all of it.
Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at Natasha. There was a cut on her forehead, caked with dried blood. Her unblinking, blank stare was fixed on her empty plate. Clint was just about to reach out, to touch her arm, to bring her back from whatever horrible place her mind had wandered to, when Tony Stark broke the silence.
"So." The man glanced around the table. "What's the verdict?"
"On the shawarma?" Dr. Bruce Banner nodded mildly. "It was okay."
"Glorious meat," Thor said around a huge mouthful.
Captain Steven Rogers lifted one muscled shoulder. "Better than Army rations."
"I've had worse," Clint agreed.
Stark's gaze swung to Natasha. "Miss Romanoff?"
Still, she didn't look up, as if his question didn't warrant her full attention. "Were you only asking about the food?"
Stark leaned back in his chair with a grin. "I knew I hired you for a reason."
"You didn't hire me; I was placed at your company," Natasha reminded him. "You could never afford me."
Clint hid a proud smile as Stark pitched forward, putting his elbows on the table like a child eager to share an idea. "She's right, you know. I wasn't asking about the food; the food's great. Fantastic, even." He looked around again before continuing, "What's the verdict on us?"
"The Avenger Initiative?" Rogers clarified. "Seems to have worked out fairly well."
"In this one instance." Dr. Banner stabbed his fork through a loose shaving of meat. "But who's to say what will happen in the future."
"I must return to Asgard." All eyes turned to Thor as his focus shifted away from the meal and back to the lingering problem of Loki. "With the Tesseract...and my brother."
Banner nodded as he chewed. "See what I mean?"
"Will you come back?" Natasha asked in a soft tone that bothered Clint. He had no problem competing with another man, but he wasn't sure how he compared to a demi-god.
"That is my hope," Thor replied. "Yet it will take time to ensure that Loki will never again threaten the safety of our two worlds."
"When you do come back, and you will come back because I've seen the girl you left behind and you'd be an idiot not to see where that goes," Stark paused for a breath, "do you want to be a part of our super special secret club?"
Thor was quiet for a second. "I will fight with you again." He looked at each of them. "With all of you."
"We'll be here." Rogers held out his hand and waited for Thor to shake it.
Clint could feel Stark's curious gaze swing to him. "What about you two?"
"Count me in," Clint said, "but Nat speaks for herself."
Stark pointed back and forth between them. "I thought you two were a matching set."
"You thought wrong." Natasha's words were as sharp as daggers. With one fluid motion, she pushed her chair back and stood up. "Thank you for dinner, Mr. Stark. If you'll excuse me..."
The men watched her go; Clint didn't blame them. How many times had he enjoyed watching Nat walk away? But right then, knowing that four other men had their eyes glued to her shapely backside bothered the hell out of him.
Clint shot to his feet. "We'll be in touch," he told them as he raced to catch up with her.
"Well," Stark said once they were gone, "that explains a lot."
"Turned you down, did she?" Banner snorted.
"Officially, I never asked."
Rogers frowned. "Did I miss something?"
"Seventy years of something. But don't worry, Cap." Stark grinned. "We'll find someone to help you make up for lost time."
The night air was filled with concrete dust and smoke, but Natasha couldn't blame either factor for the moisture gathering in the corners of her eyes. The past few days had tested her, mind, body and soul. As much as she hated to admit it, Loki had gotten to her. Not with his words or his mind tricks, but in a much more personal way.
She could feel him following her through the ruined city streets even if she couldn't hear him or see him. Just knowing that he was there, that he knew her well enough to keep his distance until she was ready to talk, made the tears tumble down her cheeks. Although no one could see her in the dark, she quickly wiped them away, erasing all evidence that her emotions had gotten the better of her.
There was a single intact street lamp and Natasha stopped within its flickering circle of light. Turning around, she faced the shadows where she knew Clint was hiding.
"What did you mean earlier?" she asked, her voice echoing off the massive piles of twisted rubble that had once been soaring buildings.
Clint moved into the light, just enough so that she could see his face. "What are you talking about?"
She folded her arms over her chest. "Earlier. In the middle of the fight. I said it was like Budapest all over again, and you said..."
"I know what I said," he quietly cut her off. Natasha watched him take a few steps towards her. "It was nothing."
"It didn't seem like nothing."
With a rueful smile, Clint shook his head as he turned his head away. "Don't worry about it, Nat. I don't."
"Worry about what?" Her heart felt heavy, but she had no idea why. "Clint?" He looked back at her. "Budapest?"
"Budapest," he repeated. Another second passed. "Remember what happened there?"
She ignored the shiver that ran down her spine. "The mission? Of course I remember it."
"No. Not the mission." Clint stared at her in disbelief. "All this time I thought..." He paused. "But you really don't remember, do you?"
"If you've been hiding something that happened on that mission..." Natasha let the unspoken threat hang in the air between them. "You owe me the truth, Clint."
"Do I?" Another few steps and he was right in front of her, so close that she could smell his clean sweat scent. "And what if you're not ready to deal with that truth?"
"I closed a portal to another dimension today." Her eyes locked with his. "I can handle anything you've got."
The corner of his mouth turned up. "I hope so, Nat. I really do."
Before she could say anything else, Clint cupped her face in his strong hands and kissed her.