A/N: Aw yiss, chapter sixteen.
I think the main reason I disliked the last chapter so much was because it was pretty much a filler and I felt bad because it had taken me a month to get it posted.
and then you can all start with some Clintasha.
because for NaNoWriMo I'm going to attempt that Clint/Natasha story I've been plotting. Even though now I feel like I can't write them as fluidly as I'd like to.
but still. have another pairing.
oh my god my notes make no sense. Like someone should punch me in the head and tell me not to spend so much time on tumblr even though I probably won't listen to you anyway because oh my gosh guys all of the feels.
ALSO GUYS PLEASE, please go check out FishyIcon for me, okay. She wrote a story as a birthday present and it's set between chapters 11 and 12 of this story and oh my god I was crying. because all of the feelings and mother of god you people are too good to me. How do I have friends. But guys she wrote 'Strawberries & Shawarma Coda: Motrin' and and I can't. ;-;
And can I just say that it's almost unnerving how many of you are reading this. I mean, you guys have no idea how much I appreciate it and your kind words always manage to make my day but really! I'm always afraid that I'm going to end up screwing something up down along the line and let you guys down. Hopefully that won't happen and we can all continue to get along and stuff like that. Really though, I want to say thank you. To each and everyone of you. Even if we've never got a chance to talk to one another, I want to say thank you.
Annnnnnd yet another incoherent note. Let's move onto the chapter. Thanks, guys!
Okay, have fun.
Strawberries & Shawarma
"You put those people together, you can't expect what's going to happen. . ."
Clint's head snapped to the side just as Natasha's fist brushed past his nose. He muttered a quick curse before ducking under her arm, grasping her wrist with one hand and lightly pressing against the back of her elbow with his other.
"And pop," he chuckled, fully aware of her eye-roll she was giving as she twisted out of his grip, making sure to give him a firm smack to the gut for his efforts. Clint maintained his smirk as he slid back into a fighting stance and waited for his partner to assume the same pose. Natasha whirled around in front of him, lithe body bent just so and fists clenched tightly at her sides, mirroring his expression. She rolled her shoulders as he cracked his knuckles with a certain degree of exaggeration.
"Best two out of three?"
The archer winked, tongue darting out to wet his lips as he centered himself. "It's like you read my mind, sugar."
"When we were first partnered together it was kind of cute," Natasha rolled her eyes before narrowing at them with an amused shake of her head. "Now it's just weird."
Gasping theatrically the man's stance wavered as a giant grin broke out across his features. The woman opposite him let out a long-suffering sigh as he carried on, all the while keeping a sharp eye on the way his footing shifted and he looked all the world like a child whose mother had just promised him a puppy for Christmas (or, in Clint's case, a whole new quiver of countless arrows that he could customize. Or an uncut version of The Godfather. The man wasn't really that hard to buy gifts for. She could have just given him a brick with a face painted on it and he'd be happy.)
"I'm cute, I'm cute! She said I'm cu—yoowt."
His back slammed against the padded floor of the recreation room and he grunted, closing his eyes in order to combat the nasty feeling of having had the wind knocked out of him. Natasha chuckled from somewhere above him, her shoulder digging into his solar plexus she pressed her forehead into the hollow in his collarbone.
"Pinned ya," she laughed before pulling away. Barton opened his eyes in time to meet her bemused gaze from where she sat straddling him and smirking about it. "I thought rule number one was to not let your opponent distract you."
Clint's face was still contorted into a grimace as he stared at her. "And I thought rule number two was to not knee me in the nuts."
Her brow quirked as she rolled off of him, reaching down to help yank him off the floor. It took him a moment before he reached up to take it and he gave a slight tug in attempt to pull her onto the ground with him, and in response she gave a startled gasp as she nearly toppled off.
Of course, Natasha waited until Clint had gotten onto the balls of his feet and then into a standing position before she tripped him and knocked him onto his butt once more.
"Pinned ya again," she said with something akin to a playful snarl.
Hawkeye wheezed a snicker at her intentional Disney reference, arm winding loosely around her waist. He waited until Natasha had her hands braced on his shoulders and was starting to sit up again that he made his move. Noting the familiar mischievous glint in his eyes her own narrowed into a wary glare and in the back of her mind told herself that she'd best brace for impact.
"Clint, what do you think you're—"
The remainder of her question was cut off by the sharp intake of breath that she took when her partner suddenly flipped them, shifting his weight just enough to pin her down without crushing her. Taking advantage at her initial shock, Clint quickly snatched one of her wrists, holding it above her head and planting her free one between her hip and his knee.
Natasha glowered at her wall opposite her, carefully plotting her next move as the padded floor mashed into the side of her face. She could feel Barton's breath on her cheek as he snorted at their positions and her brief struggles in an attempt to get him off of her. He simply continued to laugh and hold her wrist a bit higher, stretching out her arm and leaning in a bit closer, shifting his other hand so that it was planting firmly beside her face and giving her a nice view of his wrist and the scar running alongside it. He'd been about to say something when she suddenly jerked her head and wrenched her other arm out from where it had been trapped against her side.
It wasn't really a kiss so much as it was them bashing their faces together.
She placed her hand against his shoulder in preparation to shove him—kneeing him in between the legs was only a last resort and even then she highly doubted she'd actually be able to do it, even though sometimes she liked to hold that threat over him—but instead she found herself grabbing a fistful on the grey tee shirt that was slightly dampened with perspiration and holding him where he was, both S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives posed in momentary paralysis as kissed her back.
And so they remained where they were for the next twelve seconds (he'd been counting and wow that felt like a really long time) before Barton suddenly jerked away, releasing his grip on Natasha and hurrying to his feet in a manner that wasn't short of ungraceful. He averted his gaze as he offered his hand to help her stand similar to the way she had not even five minutes ago, even as the back of his neck burned with a light dusting of pink.
"Well," he choked out once Natasha was upright and beside him. "That, ah, escalated quickly."
There was a pause while she swallowed and tried to think of something to say. "Right."
He nodded, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye and forcing a chuckle.
"So this is. . ."
". . .Awkward?" she shifted her stance briefly, gauging his reaction and waiting to see what he'd do next.
"Uh, yeah," he heaved a breath, reaching up to scratch the back of his head and generally keeping his eyes focused on anything that wasn't her own. "I, uh, I guess. Yeah."
Realizing that Clint wasn't about to take the initiative here and that mentioning that this instance perhaps wasn't all that different than certain things that had transpired in Budapest presumably wasn't the best plan of attack, Natasha simply steeled her resolve, gave an audible exhale and tried in vain to focus on something else.
"I'm going to go hit the showers."
It took a second for her statement to register and when it finally did she'd already made it to the door. He gave a meek grunt in response as the door shut behind her and was left alone with the imprint of her hand on his shoulder.
"Tasha, I didn't mean. . ." he let out a puff of air, running a hand through his short hair and honestly unsure of how to proceed. "Four for you, Clint Barton. You go, Clint Barton."
To put it mildly, the people he'd found himself rooming with for the past couple of days amused Bruce Banner.
While he may not exactly have been one to seek out large gatherings of people, he wasn't so much of a loner that he went out of his way to avoid said people at any cost. If he could help it. If anything, he found himself rather content and comfortable with the sudden companionship that the Avengers brought and as such had yet to fully consider attempting to slip away in the dead of night, though he had been weighing his options along with the pros and cons of doing so.
It wasn't that he didn't like these people by any means, but rather he'd grown accustomed to having been on his own for so long that abruptly being surrounded by half a dozen people who didn't have guns trained on him had seriously thrown him for a loop at first. Then again, the S.H.E.I.L.D. Helicarrier and its patented Hulk containment unit (that would only be used if necessary, mind you) along with its wary staff hadn't exactly made the best first impression, in his humble opinion.
In all honesty, the only person on the entire craft that he'd been vaguely at ease with had been Tony, and even then he'd held him at army's length, not too fond of how much the other man had been a bit too interested in what Bruce had deemed a curse and intent on provoking it.
That said, it didn't really help matters much that Dr. Banner was currently staring down at Stark, the latter stretched out in one of the many God of Mischief-shaped indentations on his floor, courtesy of Bruce's so-called 'gift.'
"Huh," was all the other man said, laying on the floor with his arms crossed at the ankles and hands clasped atop his arc reactor. Thor would have initially mistaken him for a recently deceased man had it not been for the constant shifting of his body as he moved about in the rubble.
Steve shot a glance at the Thunderer before kicking at a small hunk of marble and sending it skittering toward the pile that the clean-up crew that had consisted of Bruce and Natasha had been putting together. Bruce simply stood ideally off to the side and hardly fought against the small smirk tugging at his lips as Clint sauntered back over to them after he'd had his fill of studying one of the other Loki impressions on the floor.
If Bruce wasn't mistaken, the man had been acting strangely ever since he'd rejoined them after his workout session with Agent Romanoff. When questioned as to her whereabouts he'd been rather vague, simply saying that she'd gone off to take a shower and Tony had clearly lacked the self-restraint to keep from asking him why he'd hadn't joined her. (Steve had promptly glared at him and said glare threatened to smack Tony upside the head.)
The Hawk was already treading on marginally thinning ice with Stark at the moment as a result of almost having nailed Pepper in the head with one of his signature arrows and those stupid strawberries, and as a result made sure to stand a few feet away before he made his jest.
"You vertically challenged, Stark?"
Bruce managed a quiet chortle when Tony managed to force himself into an upright position to glower at the other man. Steve bit the inside of his lip to muffle his laugh as well.
One could say and do a lot of things while in the presence of Anthony Stark, but damn whoever made any height jokes. He wasn't necessarily short, per say, Captain America and the Prince of Thunder weren't exactly making things easy on him.
"Wanna see just how well the Hawk can fly?"
Barton would have made some snappy comeback but decided against it at the look Rogers shot him and tried and failed miserably not to think of what had transpired between him and Natasha back in the training room. He just mumbled something in response, choosing to be nosy instead and wander over to the bar to see what Stark had to offer while Thor bent forward and extended a hand toward his comrade.
Steve had just about two seconds to move before Tony went skidding by, stumbling past with him with an "oh, Jesus" as the god gave a bit too hard of a tug and nearly sent the man that had previously been on the floor into the far wall.
With a sigh Bruce decided that it was time for him to step in before someone either broke something else, died, or fell out a window (most of which were still broken)—not necessarily in that order. Ignoring whatever remark Tony was making about Point Break having a mean swing, the good doctor instead strolled over to where Clint was comparing two different bottles of Scotch, Steve following obediently on his heels for lack of anything better to do.
It was Barton's sudden outburst that had him pausing mid-stride as Captain America skirted by him, the former offering a brief apology for stopping short while Thor and Stark got into some discussion about to comparison of Asgardian mead and Midgardian alcohol.
"Oh man, this is the good stuff," Clint's interruption came none too soon, pulling the attention two men on the other side of the room back to the bar.
Steve was giving Hawkeye a disparaging look as the latter showed off his latest find, either uncomfortable with the memory of a different bar and what felt like only a short while rather than decades ago, or because he simply had no desire to see any one of the men he was with knock back a few too many and destroy the Tower any further.
If from what Pepper had told him during their brief adventure before lunch the other day was any indication, alcohol was probably one of the last things Tony needed in his system.
And so while he zoned out and recalled the few hours someone had actually bothered to try to make him comfortable with this new lifestyle Steve completely missed the segue in the conversation that had gone from Thor investigating what sorts of said 'mead and ale' that the Man of Iron had to offer and:
"I will throw you out the window," Tony ground out, practically forcing each syllable through his teeth. Thor looked amused, Bruce was rolling in his with a similar expression as he found himself standing in a broken room full of idiots and in the meantime Barton had taken the opportunity to hop up onto the bar and drop into a crouch on top of it with his arms tucked into his sides.
Steve wasn't sure how to interpret the situation and instead chose to take note of the footsteps he could hear hurrying down the hallway. He may not have been aware of what was going on, but the owner of the feet (Natasha, he could tell. . . .well that, and she was also the only one not in the room) seemed none too thrilled at the moment and he figured he might as well offer them all a warning. "Ah, guys—"
"Oh yeah?" Clint cut in, a grin yanking at the corner of his mouth as he appeared to have relaxed back into the state he'd been in before his sparring session with Natasha. "Caw caw motherfu—"
The rest of Hawkeye's expletive was interrupted by the sudden appearance of Natasha and Tony's back went rigged at her angry use of his surname. The other three men in the room were staring at Romanoff with muted shock and driven by curiosity as to why the lot of them were so speechless Clint turned to face her, chuckling.
"Ho ho ho-ly shit,"
To her credit Natasha was doing what she could to keep her breathing even as her nostrils flared and she looked just about ready to kill someone—that someone presumably being Tony, judging from the way she was glaring daggers at him and was striding toward him. She was carefully calculating ways to go about causing him immense amounts of pain without actually killing him because the last thing Pepper needed was to come home to find her boyfriend dead on the floor because he was a moronic ass.
She stopped just in front him and even Steve found himself taking a few steps back form the deadly assassin. Clint was busy making a quiet keening noise from where he sat atop the bar.
Tony was the first to say something.
"Your hair is pink."
"You think?" Natasha hissed, her voice practically dripping venom. Iron Man was about to say something in defense, but he never got the chance to when her arm suddenly decided to wrap itself around his throat and hold him in a choke hold. Clint was still making an inhuman noise while Tony joined him. His assailant was muttering in Russian—a whole string of curses that Barton had learned from her over the years and for the life of him would not repeat unless he felt like swapping out toothpaste for soap—and was busy making choking sounds as she constricted his windpipe.
Steve shot a glance at Bruce, who mirrored his anxious look of um, should we do something? Clint remained on his perch and Thor took it upon himself to wrench the Black Widow off of Tony, hoisting her up into the air even as struggled and kicked, her would-be victim falling to the floor and hacking, muttering how women were going to be the death of him and wheezing out—
"What the hell did I do?"
With an annoyed huff, Romanoff blew a stray lock of recently dyed hair out of her eyes in order to reward him with a heated glare. Thankfully it wasn't too gaudy a shade—it wasn't like it was hot pink or anything like that but her hair was still damp, making it difficult to make out the extent of the damage. Clint gnawed his lip under the sidelong glance from Bruce as he attempted prank started to come around and bite him in the butt.
Tony held a hand against his neck and inched away from the angry former redhead. Steve was the one to help hoist him back to his feet while Bruce kept an eyed white-faced, deer-caught-in-the-headlights Clint who looked about ready to fall off the bar. Their host put a stool between him, the God of Thunder and the murderous Black Widow.
"Wait a minute, you think I did this?" he asked not without sounding indignant and perhaps more than just a little insulted. "You think I have a death wish, Romanoff?"
Her response was to stop flailing in Thor's grip and clench her jaw, hiding her growing annoyance behind an impassive mask and an icy voice full of venom.
"Thor, please put me down."
There was a moment of silence as the men in the exchanged what might as well have been seen as a fearful look before the Asgardian slowly set her back onto her own two feet. Tony and Thor made sure to take a few steps back least she lash out toward one of them. Instead, she simply stood up straight, tucked a few strands of discolored hair behind her ear and carefully made eye contact with each one of them in order to find the culprit. Her gaze lingered on Clint for a moment longer than the others and he did his damnedest not to betray anything.
"Excuse me," with that, she strode out of the battered room, presumably back from whence she came to plot her revenge.
Stark waited until he was sure she was out of hearing range to whirl around and face Barton.
"You son of a bitch."
Clint made a whining noise before sliding onto the floor.
"Let me get this straight," Steve sighed in exasperation, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. "You went out in the middle of the night, bought hair dye, mixed it into shampoo, planned on pranking Stark with it and ended up getting Agent Romanoff instead."
"Yes," the archer hissed, crossing his arms across the counter top and resting his chin on them.
Rogers closed his eyes, rubbing at the corners, muttering, "How does that even work. . ."
"I don't know!" Clint shot back, suddenly sitting upright. "It was three in the morning, it's not like I really thought it through all that much!" He sniffed, settling his chin back on his arms. "I mean, I thought it'd be funny. Now I just hope I don't die."
The man across from him was about to offer some sort of reassuring reply when another voice cut in, and he turned on his stool and his comrade glanced up to find Tony Stark strolling into the kitchen looking rather amused. Clint found himself wary (and rightfully so) as to what that implied, but he just grimaced at the man's comment:
"Welcome to the club, we're placing orders for t-shirts next week." He snickered, hopping up onto the stool next to Captain America and entertained himself by snatching the man's water bottle and passing it between his formerly idle hands. "Trying not to die seems like a pretty good goal, if you ask me."
"Didn't ask you," Steve muttered, reaching out to steal back his drink before Stark had time to grab it again. The latter frowned when his plaything went missing and he then occupied himself with drumming his hands on the counter. "And if you're not going to help, why don't you just go. . .tinker in your lab or something?"
Tony pulled a look of mock hurt and placed a hand above his heart, right next to the arc reactor glowing through the material of his shirt that the other two men were still rather curious about but hadn't worked up the nerve to question. "But Cap! You hurt me. Do you dislike me so much you're trying to get rid of me? And in my own house too. This is pretty insulting." Not giving the men a chance to respond he stood, keeping his guest appearance brief and giving them both a mock salute. "I can see where I'm not wanted. Enough of your little pity party or what-have-you. I'll be off sciencing it up in the workshop and not dyeing an assassin's hair."
"'Sciencing' isn't a word. . ." Rogers muttered just as Barton mumbled something under his breath about why don't you just call your girlfriend and ask her to arrange some funerals when a strange, almost wet sound came from above them and Tony glanced up just in time to get hit in the face with bacon.
He looked back at his teammates while the strip of meat slid from his face and onto the counter.
"My ceiling gives free bacon now," he said slowly in disbelief, unaware of Thor's earlier cooking fiasco. "Sweet."
Steve watched with a frown as the man with a neatly trimmed goatee picked up the cold bacon, took a bite and left the room with an absent wave of his hand.
Clint just held up his and waited for free food to fall along with some sort of sign.
"It doesn't really look that bad," Bruce offered, having bumped into a still steaming Natasha in the hallway as she ran her hand through her still damp hair for the umpteenth time. For the past five minutes he'd been attempting to placate her least she go off and defeather the Hawk. She paused in her ministrations and he merely shrugged.
She resumed her pace and he watched her for a moment, folding his arms and leaning against the wall as she did so. "Agent Romanoff, did something happen between you and Clint earlier?"
Natasha pulled a face, but whether it was one of pain or no he couldn't tell. What he could tell, if anything, was that it was clearly something that she wasn't exactly up for discussing. As such, he let it go and she carried on with her annoyed motions, leaving Bruce to watch as something akin to a mischievous, vengeful grin tugged at the corner of her lips.
"Dr. Banner. . .Bruce, would you mind helping with something?" The former Russian turned to face him and he momentarily froze at the look she had.
"I'm not going to regret this, am I?" he said after a beat and she shook her head.
"Of course not,"
"Famous last words as I've heard," the physicist muttered, his shoulders slumping marginally before he pulled away from the wall. "What do you want me to do, dare I ask?"
Natasha let out a humorless laugh, personally amused by the many different ideas running their head right then. "They want to play a game? Then let's play a game. . ."
Bruce let a frown mar his features before he pulled his expression back into one of tired indifference at her words. He shook his head, slightly bemused but not entirely sure how to deal with the situation and a plotting Black Widow. "I've got a bad feeling about this. . ."
Their conversation pretty much went nowhere after that, and Banner found himself thankful when Tony came wandering down the hallway chowing down on cold bacon of all things and practically dragged Bruce off with him to the lab. He made sure to keep his friend between himself and the woman before he animatedly began chattering about this idea he had for a robotic dinosaur and the other didn't bother enough to question the strange inner workings of Stark's mind.
Agent Romanoff waited until they'd wandered off around the corner—Bruce glanced at her over his shoulder, offering a look that she was sure was supposed to be helpful (it wasn't, but at least he'd tried)—and were asking each other about Thor's whereabouts before she let herself sigh. She leaned back against the wall, sliding down it until she was seated on the floor and placed a hand to her forehead in mild irritation and what could also be noted as confusion. Perturbed confusion, but confusion all the same.
"It's Budapest all over again."