Hello my darlings! This story came from the adorable prompt by LEMarauder who requested some Clint h/c goodness :D I think it turned into more mental anguish than anything O.o This pairing is so freakin' cute and I couldn't resist writing it! Hope you all like it!
Disclaimer: I own nothing =/
Clint couldn't sleep. He sat silently at the top of the staircase, shoulder leaned against the railing and legs stretched down over the steps. It was late, close to 2 am, and hardly anyone other than the night crew was up and about. The few people who were awake were staring listlessly at their monitors, documenting the readouts, and generally trying to stay awake. It was the first time since their run in with Loki that there wasn't a crisis aboard the ship and while the break was more than welcome, the fatigue and weariness over the past few days was beginning to be felt by all the members of S.H.I.E.L.D.
He turned his attention to the window, gazing out at the night-black ocean that churned beneath the ship. The water was glassy and smooth, silver-tipped waves cresting every once in a while as the current rose and fell. The moon was high above them, bright and crescent-shaped in the star speckled sky, and it was almost hard to believe the world had nearly been destroyed only a few days prior. It was so quiet and still, peaceful in a way, and by all rights Clint should be asleep in his room, exhausted from the events of the past few days. He couldn't though, his mind was wide awake and alert like a live wire.
Despite being cleared by the physicians and psychologists onboard, Clint still felt like his mind was muddled and fogged over by Loki. Every move, every thought, every emotion felt halted and measured like it was being sifted through a filter before it finally reached the surface. He didn't remember much of his time as Loki's puppet, it had been a blacked out blur more than anything, but what he did remember didn't sit well with him. The memories were murky and frayed around the edges, like puzzle pieces that had been dropped into a bucket of water. He remembered words and faces, snippets of conversations and places he'd been but it was all such a mess that even thinking about it made his head hurt. He did know that he'd killed innocent men, members of S.H.I.E.L.D that he'd at least spoken to once before, and that he was part of the reason Loki escaped in the first place. True, he hadn't been the one to release him but the turmoil in the ship caused by his arrow had caused enough chaos to allow a weakening of security that enabled Loki to escape. Clint grit his teeth every time he thought about it. If he'd been on the ship at the time, able to help the crew and his teammates, maybe Loki wouldn't have escaped and the whole thing could have been prevented. Maybe half of Manhattan wouldn't have been leveled and the ship wouldn't be running at half capacity. Maybe Coulson would still be alive…
The man in question looked up, pulled from his reverie by the voice behind him. He turned his head to the side, catching sight of Natasha as she approached from the hallway. Her sleek leather outfit had been traded for an old black t-shirt and a pair of grey sweatpants that hung loosely around her hips. She was barefoot, hair pulled back in a half ponytail, and she looked like she hadn't gotten anymore sleep than he had. "What are you doing?"
Clint shrugged one shoulder and glanced back out at the skeleton crew on the floor below them. "Sitting…thinking."
Natasha stepped to his side quietly and crouched down beside him on the stairs. "Are you okay?" She asked softly, her voice carefully neutral without revealing too much concern.
Clint nodded slightly and glanced at her from the corner of his eye. "Couldn't sleep."
Natasha nodded like she understood and followed his gaze down below. They sat in companionable silence for a few seconds, neither saying anything and just content to relish the silence of the moment. Finally, Natasha spoke, her words still soft and quiet. "I was going to make some tea. Would you like some?"
Clint smiled a bit and nodded. "Sure." He stood slowly, offering her his hand to her as he straightened. Natasha took his hand and stood with him, turning in the direction of the kitchen and walking silently down the hall with Clint following along behind her. The good thing about this ship was its enormous size; on a slow night like tonight you could walk for a half mile before ever encountering another soul. The kitchen was nearly empty save for two crew members who were talking softly over coffee in the corner of the room.
Natasha walked over to one of the cabinets and pulled out a small pot, filling it with water and setting it on the stove. She pulled a few bottles of spices from another cabinet and walked over to the refrigerator, plucking an orange from the produce drawer and setting it on the counter top. Clint sat at the table behind her, watching with a sort of detached fascination. For being one of the deadliest women he'd ever met, Natasha made the best tea in the world. He'd long since gotten over the notion that she might try to poison him when he wasn't looking and was instead watching because he found the preparation fascinating. He never asked her how she learned to make tea, it probably had something to do with her childhood and he knew that was a touchy subject. Still, it was interesting to watch and he never complained when she offered to make it.
Natasha seemed oblivious to his scrutiny and went on with her preparations. She sliced the orange and pared out the seeds with the knife, stripping off the peeling and slicing it into small pieces. She scooped the sliced orange peel onto the blade and dropped it into the water, swirling it absently with the tip of the knife before turning back to the cutting board. She sliced the remaining orange and pushed it to the side, reaching for one of the bottles of spices and pouring a handful of the contents into one hand. She dropped the contents onto the cutting board and took the knife to them, the room instantly beginning to smell like cloves. Once she was satisfied with the way they were chopped, she dumped both the cloves and the orange pieces into the water, stirring it slowly as the water began to boil.
Clint watched quietly, not wanting to ruin the moment with frivolous words. There was a lot he wanted to talk to her about, things he wanted to ask her about what happened when he was gone, but he doesn't want to bring it up just yet. Hearing it from someone else would make everything real and having the disjointed memories in his head was bad enough already. He knows there are things she's not telling him too, things she's keeping to herself, but he knows better than to pry if she doesn't want to tell him. He'd gotten a black eye for that once before, he's not too keen on repeating that mistake.
Natasha kept her back to him for a few minutes more, adding a bit of cinnamon to the water and stirring it into the rest of the ingredients. She turned off the stove and let everything sit and steep while she walked over to the cabinet to grab two mugs. She set them on the counter next to the stove and dug a bottle of honey out of the cabinet, scooping a spoonful into each mug and letting it settle into the bottom. She strained the free floating ingredients from the pot and put them to the side, carefully pouring the hot water into each of the mugs and stirring them slowly to mix the honey in with the other ingredients. She picked up the mugs and walked over to where Clint was sitting, setting one in front of him and putting the other on the table in front of the chair beside him. She walked back over to the stove, swiping the used ingredients into the pot and carrying them over to the trashcan, dumping them out with a shake of her hand. She walked back across the kitchen to the sink and rinsed the pot out before tucking it into the dishwasher and joining him at the table.
Clint sipped the tea carefully, wincing a bit at the heat but relishing the flavor. It reminded him of autumn, oranges and cinnamon and leaves falling from the trees. It warmed him from the inside in a way he hadn't felt in a long time.
"How is it?" Natasha asked beside him, glancing at him over the top of her mug as she took a sip of her own tea.
"Perfect as always," Clint responded with a warm smile, happy to see her smile in return. He really wanted to get her recipes one day but he was content to just enjoy the tea for now. It surprised him that she always asked his opinion when she made it, seeking his approval in a way she would never admit to. With anyone else, he was pretty sure she would adopt the shut-up-and-drink-it-before-I-snap-your-wrist-like-a-twig attitude but with him she always asked if it was alright. He never once had a complaint.
"So you wanna tell me what's been bothering you?" She asked suddenly, her voice still quiet as a whisper but it seemed to shake him to the core.
Clint sighed into his mug and leaned back against the chair, staring at the table silently for a minute. He knew he couldn't lie to her, that had been one of the rules they'd established when they first started working together: no lies. Half truths were acceptable, even evasive truths, but lying wouldn't cut it. "I can't get him out of my head," he said simply, knowing he didn't have to emphasize who "he" was. "I can still hear his voice, his laugh, it's like he's mocking me." Loki's voice had filled every crevice of his mind for days, delving into his innermost fears and insecurities, and now that it was gone he felt like his mental security had been taken with it.
"Do you remember anything else?" Natasha pressed, keeping her distance but her eyes never leaving his face.
"Not much, little snippets here and there like a film strip that's gotten knocked off the reel. I can see faces and buildings, names and bits of conversation but it's all a blur. It's like trying to remember a dream three days after waking up," Clint sighed and set his mug down, running a hand through his short hair irritably. "I know I wasn't myself when he had control of me…I know I was little more than a puppet for him…but I was the one who killed those men, I was the one who damaged this ship, I was part of the reason Coulson-"
"Clint, stop it," Natasha snapped suddenly, her eyes going dark and sharp as steel in a split second. She wasn't his friend at that moment, she was speaking like the world renowned assassin who would have no problem punching him in the mouth to keep him from opening it again. "I'm not going to sit here and listen you drag yourself through the mud for something you had no control over. What happened happened and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it." She shot him a look that could cut glass when he opened his mouth to protest. "You could spend your entire life playing the "I shouldn't have done this" and "I should have done that" game and it won't change anything. Loki used you, Clint, he used you as a tool for his plans and he controlled you from the moment he got here. You weren't in control of your actions and everyone knows that. They don't blame you for it and neither do I."
"Why?" Clint challenged, looking at her across the table with narrowed eyes. "Why don't you blame me? I could have killed you, Natasha. I could have killed everyone on this ship while he had control of me and I never would have known the difference until it was too late."
"You could have but you didn't," Natasha said simply.
"That's not the point!" Clint growled, suddenly frustrated and angry at her and everyone else who babied him on the ship after he regained control of himself. In a way he wanted them to blame him, he wanted them to be angry and feel betrayed and shoot him cautious, accusatory looks from the corners of their eyes as he passed. He wanted them to be angry so he could feel that his own self loathing was justified. "He had absolute control over me, he played me like a harp, and I had no idea! When I ran into you in that corridor, I didn't see you, I didn't remember you, I didn't know who you were. All I saw was a threat and I wanted to kill you. I wanted to feel your blood on my hands, I wanted to see you fall, I wanted…" He shook his head, falling back against the chair like the air had been drawn out of him. He was suddenly exhausted, bone-weary and stretched too thin like spindles of cotton being tightened over a loom. Everything came flooding to the surface at once and he realized that what bothered him the most about his time as Loki's puppet was that he was willing to kill anyone who got in his way, anyone including Natasha.
Natasha watched him with careful eyes, silent and contemplative like she was carved of stone. She didn't say anything for a long minute, didn't move, didn't look at him in disgust and horror like he thought she would. When she finally did speak, her voice was quiet and measured like she was trying to find the best way of telling him this. "You asked me what Loki had done to me, what he did to turn me from a spy into a soldier. He took you, Clint. That's what he did. He took you and I vowed from that moment on that I wouldn't rest until I got you back and made sure Loki paid for what he had done." She sat back against her hair, short nails tapping lightly against the edges of her mug. "He told me he was going to have you kill me, he was going to release his control over you just in time for you to watch me die, and I knew he would do it if given the chance." She ignored Clint's horrified expression and continued. "When he told me that, I wasn't thinking about my death, it barely even crossed my mind; I've had people threaten to kill me in more ways than I can count, that certainly wasn't a first. What I did think about was you, how that would affect you, how that would destroy you mentally. I thought about what would happen if I was in the same position and I was forced to kill you…I couldn't bare it."
She cleared her throat and sat back up, her gaze shifting between the table and Clint. "When I ran into you in that corridor, I wasn't thinking about myself or if I would be killed in the altercation. I thought about you, about how Loki used you and how much I hated him for that. All I thought about was you."
A heavy silence filled the space between them, broken only by the soft hum and grind of machinery below them. Finally, Clint shook his head, letting his gaze fall back to the table. "'Tasha, if anything ever happened to you…if I ever did anything to you…I could never forgive myself for it. I'd rather die than hurt you…I could never kill you…."
"I know," Natasha said softly, looking at him earnestly. "I'd kill you if you tried." She offered him a small smile and Clint felt himself smile back. Things weren't back to normal yet, they wouldn't be for a long time, but they were getting there and that's what mattered. "Finish your tea," Natasha said, nodding toward his half-full mug still sitting on the table. "It'll get cold."
Clint obeyed wordlessly, downing the rest of the cooling tea in one gulp and setting the mug back on the table. Natasha followed his example and gathered both mugs in her hands, carrying them to the dishwasher and tucking them inside with the pot. "Come on, let's go back to bed."
Clint got up from the table and followed her out of the kitchen, walking down the quiet hallway toward the sleeping quarters on the lower floors. Natasha reached her door first and had barely touched her fingers to the handle when Clint stopped her. "Hey…uh…do you maybe want to-?" He didn't need to finish the sentence for her to understand what he meant. She simply smiled and nodded following him down the hall to his own room, waiting patiently as he opened the door. Clint tried his best to suppress the sigh of relief when Natasha agreed to follow him and quickly opened the door, stepping to the side as she entered.
The rooms were small, big enough for a bed and a small bathroom as well as a single dresser to put clothes in. The lights were off, a failed attempt at sleep, and the TV on the dresser was flickering black and white from some old movie from the 50's. The bed was a rumpled mess of sheets and blankets, another failed attempt at sleep, and the clock next to the bed read out that it was 3:17 am.
Natasha walked over to the unmade bed and sat down on one side, patting the mattress with one hand for him to join her. Clint locked the door behind him and walked over to the bed, sliding back across the mattress and gathering Natasha in his arms. She wiggled a bit to get more comfortable and settled her head on his chest, wrapping one arm around his waist and letting out a long, slow sigh. Clint wrapped his arms around her, the fingers of one hand carding through her hair slowly and the other wrapping around her side and back. He pressed his lips to her hair, inhaling the scent of her rosemary shampoo and relaxing into the mattress. Natasha was solid and warm in his arms and most importantly, she was real. She felt like an anchor after the dreamlike haze he'd been stuck in for the past few days.
One hand fumbled across his waist and located the remote for the TV, turning it off with a soft click. The room was enveloped in darkness, inky and black like a moonless night, and Clint sighed softly. "Go to sleep," Natasha whispered against his chest, her arms wrapping around him tightly in the darkness. "I'm right here."
Clint smiled and pressed another kiss to the top of her head, tightening his arms around her a little bit before closing his eyes and falling into the first peaceful, dreamless sleep he'd had in days.
Hope you all liked it! :D