She'd been watching at him in the little shawarma restaurant the whole time they'd been eating. Didn't even try to hide it, just kept her eyes locked on him, even when she half-heartedly shoved pieces of pita bread in her mouth.
S.H.I.E.L.D. had sent a car to bring them back to base, although of course Tony and Bruce had taken off to play in Tony's labs, and with Thor gone as well, it was just them. Well, them and the Cap, but Steve fell asleep almost immediately with his head against the window, so really just the two of them crammed into the backseat with a soundtrack of light snoring.
"I knew we had it the whole time," Natasha remarked, voice rough with exhaustion.
Clint bit back a snicker. "Me too," he said, straightfaced. "All in a day's work. You know how it is."
Natasha slid a sideways look that was half-exasperated, half-amused. "I'm glad you're being funny again," she said dryly. "I was half afraid I'd knocked it out of you."
"Aw," he said, pushing his shoulder into hers, "you'll have to try harder than that." He paused thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "Actually, please don't try harder than that. You pack a hell of a punch."
That got a half-smile out of her, at least, and she pushed back gently. "I'd do it again tomorrow if I had to, hotshot."
"I know," Clint replied softly as the teasing mood evaporated. "And you know I – thanks, Tash."
Natasha kept her eyes fixed instead on the black glass that separated them from the driver instead of looking at him. "I wasn't sure it would work," she said finally. "I was afraid I was gonna have to kill you."
He didn't ask the question most people would have asked, which was Could you have done it? They both knew she could, and would if it was the only solution, and that he would, too. "I wouldn't have blamed you for it," he said instead, honestly, voice soft.
Apparently that was what she'd needed to hear, because she sighed a little and leaned her head against his shoulder in a rare gesture of physical affection. Clint rested his head against hers in return, and that was how Director Fury found them twenty minutes later – the world's deadliest assassins, fast asleep, and the illustrious Captain America snoring and drooling slightly on the upholstery.
Fury shook his head and mumbled something about like children, seriously, and instructed S.H.I.E.L.D. staff to get them into sleeping quarters, and while they were at it, send a message to Stark and Banner to get out of Candyland and report for debriefing immediately. He didn't expect either of them to actually show up, but it was the principle of the thing that mattered.
The aides followed all the instructions to a tee, except that instead of bunking Steve and Clint in one room and Natasha in another, Steve ended up alone because Natasha had narrowed her eyes and said flatly, "I'll sleep where I want to, thank you very much," and after that no one felt like arguing.
"I hate bureaucrats," she muttered as the door hissed shut behind them. The sleeping quarters were nothing fancy – narrow little metal rooms with two beds bolted to the walls and a sink in the corner, designed for agents who worked twenty-hour days to catch a few hours of sleep.
Clint laughed a little and settled into one of the beds with a wince. "You were speaking German," he told her. "I don't think they even knew what you said."
Natasha's eyes ran over him sharply. "You hurt?"
He shrugged and stretched a little. The beds weren't particularly comfortable – not the worst he'd ever slept in, by a long shot, but definitely not the best either. "I got the shit beat out of me by a demigod, you, and like six hundred aliens. Also jumped off a building and fell through a plate glass window. You?"
"I'm a little sore," she admitted. Then, briskly, "Shirt off."
"Ooh," he drawled, batting his eyes at her, "are we gonna play doctor and nurse?"
Natasha just rolled her eyes. "Take your shirt off, Barton."
"Yes, ma'am." Clint stripped his shirt off obligingly, noting with regret that his shoulders protested when he raised them past a certain angle. That was going to hurt tomorrow. Then he looked down at himself and his eyebrows raised of their own accord. "Wow," he heard himself say.
His chest was a patchwork of cuts and bruises, and now that he was looking at it, he suddenly found that it hurt a lot more.
Natasha pulled a med kit out from under the bed and opened it before running over the worst of it with clinical fingers. "Anything broken?" she asked, pressing down on his ribs.
He hissed but shook his head. "Just bruised. Where'd you get that?"
"Stole it on the way in. You have glass in your shoulder."
Painstakingly, with a pair of flimsy blue plastic tweezers, Natasha pulled tiny shards of glass out of his right shoulder and dropped them into her hand. When she was done, she held it out to show him a sparkling, bloody handful, before dropping it into the metal sink in the corner. "Disinfect that," she instructed, washing her hands, and Clint obediently tore open an alcohol wipe and swiped it over the mess of tiny cuts.
"Ouch," he said with feeling as it came away red.
"Baby," Natasha accused, rummaging around in the kit. "Wait 'til I stitch your other side."
Clint glanced down at his waist on the left side – he'd almost dodged a Chitauri shot but not quite, and the blue-edged weapon had sliced through his suit and into skin. A graze, he'd thought at the time, bursting at the seams with adrenaline, and plastered a piece of fabric over it as a quick fix. Now, looking at it, that piece of fabric was black and adhered to his skin with an unpleasant mixture of blood and several other things. He didn't really want to know what was under it but Natasha knelt by the bed and peeled it off with cool fingers. They both sucked in a breath when they saw the damage.
The cut was almost four inches long, a deep, messy gash rather than a clean slice, and the Tesseract energy had half-cauterized the edges, enough to make it ugly but not enough to make it stop bleeding.
The way Natasha met his gaze – a little wide-eyed – was not particularly reassuring. "Grit your teeth, Waverly," she murmured. "This'll hurt."
"If I had a nickel for every-" Clint started to say, but changed it to a string of creative cursing when she poured a thin stream of rubbing alcohol over the wound. "Fuck." Then, "Fuck," again, because Natasha had set the first stitch while his side was still on fire.
"Sorry," she said, concentrating and not sounding sorry at all. "I thought it'd be better to get it done all at once."
"Who puts a med kit together without a local anaesthetic?" he forced out through his teeth, staring fixedly at the ceiling.
"Well, goddamn." He set his jaw and waited.
"You're done." Natasha tied off the last stitch with a practiced snip of the scissors. "But you should get med staff to check it out anyway."
"No need," Clint said, glancing down at the top of her scarlet hair as she taped a bandage over his new stitches. "You've patched me up fine a hundred times." If her fingers smoothed the tape down a little longer than was necessary, neither of the commented on it.
She moved away from him to sit on the other bed, saying, "Told you it was just like Budapest."
"I patched you up in Budapest," he reminded her. "And speaking of which, don't think I didn't see you favoring that leg."
Natasha crossed her ankles, with the leg in question behind the other. "It's fine."
Clint grinned at her. "Liar. Let me see it." When she didn't move, he raised one eyebrow. "Don't make me pull rank."
"You wouldn't dare," she replied with a snort, but lifted one leg into his lap anyway.
"We gotta get us some Iron Man suits, you know?" he said conversationally as he unzipped her boot and pulled it off slowly. "I mean, if we're gonna keep playing–" He stopped midsentence when he peeled off her sock and was greeted with a swollen, black-and-blue mess of an ankle. "Yeah. You're right, it looks fine." He paused to give her a sarcastic look. "You were fighting on this?"
"Maybe," Natasha mumbled, sliding her eyes away from him.
He stared at her accusingly. "You were fighting on this the whole time, weren't you?"
"Maybe," she said again.
Clint fixed her with a glare and held out his hand for the roll of gauze, which she tossed to him and he caught one-handed. "How'd you get it by Fury?"
"Asked med bay for a back-in-action shot," she admitted, wincing as he tested the ankle with probing fingers. "Threatened to kill them and make it look like an accident if they told anyone."
Clint snorted. "You got lucky – it's not broken. You'll be benched for a while, though." She let out an irritated puff of air which he ignored in favor of wrapping the gauze around her ankle. He didn't say the obvious – that back-in-action shots were a hardcore chemical concoction that were meant to be administered with the Director's approval and only in emergencies. They had the emergency part down, anyway. Once he taped the gauze down, a thought occurred to him and he squinted at her. "Did you mess it up before or after you fought me?"
The little smirk on her face gave him her answer before she spoke. "Before," she said, not bothering to erase all of the smugness from her voice.
"Jerk," Clint said with a crooked smile, setting the neatly-wrapped ankle back on the floor and gesturing for her other leg. She obliged and he pulled her other boot off for her before pushing her leg off his lap.
"You probably weren't up to full capacity," Natasha said, straight-faced as she laid back in the narrow bed. "Mind control and all that."
Clint's only answer was a pillow that hit her in the face and made her laugh. She only laughed more when he said in a small voice, "Actually, can I have that back? It's the only one I had."
She gave it back to him and as soon as they were both laying down, exhaustion overcame them in a black wave, dragging them into sudden sleep.
He'd always been a light sleeper – it didn't pay for assassins to sleep too soundly – and when Natasha awoke several hours later with a soft gasp, it was enough to wake him too.
As his eyes focused in the dark, windowless room, he could see her sit up in bed and draw her knees to her chest as quietly as possible. She didn't know he was awake yet. The red readout on the digital wall clock said it was 2:02. He didn't know whether that meant AM or PM.
"Trouble sleeping?" he asked softly, and was rewarded as her silhouette snapped its head in his direction.
"No," she replied immediately, and then because the lie was so obvious, paused and said, "Yes."
"Aliens?" he asked, voice overly casual. "Gods?"
Natasha only shook her head, a shadow against the wall.
"Hey," he said, sitting up to peer at her. "Look at me."
Her eyes were a gleam in the dark.
"What was it?"
Natasha turned away from him in profile again without answering. Sometimes it drove him crazy, how internalized she was. But she was shaking slightly, and Clint sighed and climbed out of his bed to sit in hers and pull her against him. She let him, which wasn't a good sign in and of itself.
"It was Banner," she said after a long, patient silence. "The Helicarrier deck blew-" Clint's arms tightened around her, because he'd been the one to blow it up, oh God "-and we fell into one of the maintenance decks. Got my ankle stuck under a pipe and Bruce – well, you saw what happened."
That was the most explanation he was going to get out of her, he knew, but she wasn't shaking so much anymore, so he took it as a good sign. "How'd you get out?" he asked instead.
Natasha shrugged against him. "Thor," was the simple answer. There was a pause before she said, "We're not – are we sure we're cut out for this, Clint?"
"Seemed like we did okay," he answered dryly. "You know, there was that whole 'saving the world' thing."
"I'm serious." She picked up one of his hands in both of hers and examined it by touch, going over calluses and scrapes and cuts and the faintly-sticky places where his finger tabs had been. "We're not gods," she said softly. "Or supersoldiers, or lab experiments. We're not even Tony Stark. We're just people."
"People with very high skill sets," Clint reminded her.
"We're cannon fodder," she said flatly, dropping his hand.
She turned at that, out of his hold, moving to her knees to face him. His eyes had adjusted better now – he could see her face, which was both surprised and a little pissed off. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me." God, he was tired. "So you almost got killed – just another day at the office, right? What does it matter if it was spies or gangsters or a big green guy?"
"I can fight spies and gangsters," she said hotly, and Clint congratulated himself for forcing something real out of her. "I can kill them if I have to. I can't – I can't kill the Hulk. I can't even fight him off. All I could do was run."
"You're feeling sorry for yourself, Tash." To anyone else, it would have sounded heartless, but Natasha didn't want pity or sympathy and he knew it. "You gonna tell me they could've won without us?"
She hesitated. "No."
"You gonna tell me you didn't want in, Miss Back-in-Action Shot?"
"No." Her response was quicker that time, more defensive.
"Good," Clint said with a yawn. "Now go back to sleep before Fury bursts in here to debrief us." He pushed himself off her bed and fell back into his own in almost the same motion, scooting back until his back was against the wall, glass shoulder down, stitches side up. He'd just closed his eyes when the edge of his bed dipped with the weight of a second body.
He smiled into the dark as Natasha slid into his bed and tucked herself against him, drawing his good arm over her like a security blanket. "You were right," he said without opening his eyes as she sighed, and he felt the tension leave her body. "This is just like Budapest."