Disclaimer: Characters contained within do not belong to me.
Author's Notes: I really can't say enough how much I appreciate the response to this story. Thank you a million times over:)
by Kristen Elizabeth
The guards who dragged Clint into the empty medical exam room insisted on putting him in restraints.
"It's for your own protection, ma'am," one of them told her. The kid very nearly found out what her boot felt like slamming into his groin. "Do you want us to stay outside?"
"No," she dismissed them with a jerk of her head towards the door. "Leave us alone."
Clint was still unconscious from the tremendous blow she'd delivered to his head via railing. In the small bathroom, she soaked a washcloth in cool water and brought it back to him.
His forehead, his cheeks, his neck, his arms...she bathed them all while he lay still. It was only when she set the cloth aside that he started moving.
At first it was just muscle spasms. His leg would jerk or his mouth would twitch. She stood over him, watching, waiting for the moment when his eyes would open. She needed to see them, to make sure the ice-blue of Loki's influence was gone.
She blinked when he groaned her name. "Clint?" His head lolled to one side, but his eyes stayed closed. "Can you hear me?"
"Don't do it." Fresh sweat dotted his forehead. "Don't do it, Nat...please."
She reached out to touch his cheek, but stopped herself just before she made contact. "Clint, wake up," she ordered him. "I need you to wake up."
But instead, he tried to sit up. His chin touched his chest as he heaved the upper half of his body off the elevated exam table. He fought against the restraints around his wrists for several long, painful seconds before he slumped back down.
"Don't do it," he repeated, panting for breath. "Don't die, Nat...please..." His pale face crumpled. "Don't leave me."
"Clint," she whispered. "Where are you?" All of a sudden, her chest began to ache with a two year-old memory. "Budapest?"
"Don't forget. I don't want you to forget!"
She actually gasped when his eyes flew open. Stormy blue, almost grey...the same eyes she always saw when she thought about the time she'd nearly died. Her shoulders relaxed.
He was Clint again.
She frowned. Yes, he was her Clint. He'd always been her Clint. Why was she still fighting that?
He looked around as much as he could. "Nat?"
"Yeah." She smiled before she could stop herself. "It's me."
She watched him watching her, like he was afraid she was just another trick of Loki's.
"Your hair..." He tried to reach for a strand, but the restraints stopped him. "You cut it." When she couldn't think of anything to say, Clint looked up at the ceiling. "What happened?"
She wanted to ask him the same thing. What had happened two years earlier? What did he want her to remember?
What had she forgotten?
But she just started to fill him in on the events of the past few days. There would be time, she told herself. One way or another, she would get him to talk about Budapest.
Although the nights she dreamed about the past were becoming few and far between, there were still days when Natasha emerged from sleep, gasping for breath.
On that particular morning, the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes was the sleek muscles of her lover's back. Usually, she slept in the safety of his arms, but sometime during the night, she'd spooned up against him, and it was her arm that was draped over his waist.
They'd forgotten to close the curtains the night before; sunlight filtered into the massive studio loft that took up almost the entire 51st floor of Tony Stark's monument to himself that had, in the past six months, somehow become a second home to their small group of super-human misfits.
Even though Stark had given her a similar apartment on the 53rd floor, Natasha barely ever used it. She suspected Stark knew that. Probably Bruce did, too. The Cap, however, was either blissfully naive or blessedly discreet, for as he lived on the 52nd floor, it was highly likely that he'd seen her climbing up and down the side of the building at least once, as she didn't use the elevator in case Stark went over the surveillance logs. Thor was never around enough to notice anything.
Natasha was quiet for a few minutes after waking as she enjoyed feeling the rhythmic rise and fall of her boyfriend's back against her cheek. Eventually, though, the lingering memories of her dreams compelled her to press a kiss against his warm skin.
"Clint?" she murmured.
"Hmm," was all the reply she got.
She scooted up the bed a few inches in order to kiss the back of his neck. "Do you ever wonder if Stark has this whole place rigged with hidden cameras?"
A second passed. "Well, I sure as hell do now." She laughed as Clint turned himself around onto his other side to face her. "If you wanted to wake me up, Nat, there are better ways."
"You aren't bored with my usual methods?" He answered her with a long, slow kiss. "Good to know," she said when they broke apart.
Clint pushed himself up onto his elbow at the same moment she half-rolled onto her back. Looking down at her, he combed his fingers through her tangle of red curls before kissing her again. "Did you sleep?"
"A little." He gave her a look. "Not much," she confessed. Without even thinking about it, her fingers found the round scar below her right collarbone. "I wish I dreamed about...I don't know...stupid things. Dancing cows or...talking flowers or something. Whatever normal people dream about." She shook her head. "Not things that actually happened."
"Nat, honey." Clint moved her fingers out of the way in order to touch his lips to the scar. "We aren't normal. The things we see on an average day are the things other people see in their nightmares."
Natasha drew in a breath when his mouth moved lower and found the center of her breast. "What did you dream about?"
"This," he replied with a grin.
She pushed her hands into his hair, guiding his head so that he had to look back up at her. "Honest answer," she told him.
"Honest answer?" Clint cleared his throat he straightened back up. "I don't remember my dreams when you're here with me."
Natasha frowned. "Don't be adorable. I'm really asking."
"And I'm really answering." He gave her another soft kiss. "When I have you here and I can touch you and I know that you're alive and safe...that's when I sleep without nightmares."
Her throat closed up. "And...when did you figure that out?"
"Six months ago." Clint traced her full lower lip with the calloused tip of his finger. "The night after the battle, I figured I'd never get Loki out of my dreams. But then I woke up and it was morning..." He kissed her. "And you were lying in my arms. Didn't take a genius to figure that one out."
The words that had so often been on the tip of her tongue, but that she had never been able to vocalize, suddenly came tumbling out.
"I love you, Clint."
He stared at her for several long seconds, enough time so that she started to wonder if maybe she'd sent him into shock, but not long enough so that she regretted saying it.
She would never, could never regret that. It was the truth. It had been the truth for a lot longer than she would ever admit, not because she didn't want it to be true, but because she was ashamed that it had taken her head so long to catch up with her heart.
"You don't know how long I've wanted to hear you say that."
Natasha smiled. "Since Budapest?"
Instead of replying, Clint kissed her again, only this time it wasn't short and sweet. As they kissed, she raised her knee beneath the sheets, silently offering him what they both desperately wanted.
He chuckled against her lips as he stroked her inner thigh. "Aren't you worried about hidden cameras?"
She shook her head against the pillows. "I sweep the whole place for foreign electronics every..." She gasped in pleasure as his fingers dipped into the center of her body. "...every couple of weeks."
Clint's chuckle turned into a laugh and a warm shiver ran down her spine. "That's my girl."
A/N: Clint and Natasha will return in an as-yet-unnamed Captain America fic. Hope you'll keep an eye out for it;)