So, I didn't end up writing any smut. My desire for smut went to war with my desire for realistic character development, and character development won. If this disappoints you, never fear, I'm writing another Clintasha fic right now that is insanely smutty. Until then, enjoy the conclusion to my story.
"That wasn't Ivan Koslov. He was just a random civilian."
Clint stared at Natasha, thinking hard. He wanted to think she was lying now. That she'd decided after the fact to use this for—something. If she was telling the truth… he didn't want to think about what he'd done.
Finally, he pulled his phone out. It would take too long to go find Coulson, even though the building wasn't that big. They needed this settled now.
"Coulson. The man I shot tonight, what was his name?"
"Um…" There was a pause while he shuffled papers. "I was going to ask you about that tomorrow at your debriefing. We aren't sure."
"It wasn't Ivan Koslov?"
"Koslov? Definitely not. We keep close tabs on him; we'd have known. You killed someone you didn't know? That's not like you, Barton."
Clint closed the phone hard, clenched it in his fist. Natasha didn't even have the decency to look contrite.
"What. the fuck."
"You needed a reason not to trust me. Now you have one."
"You manipulated me—"
"You made it easy."
"Made me kill an innocent man to… what? Prove a point?"
"To teach you a lesson. I'm trying to keep you alive; I don't give a damn what you think of me."
"And that man? You don't care at all that that man is dead because of you?"
"Lots of men are dead because of me. He was collateral damage."
Clint took a few deep breaths. He was furious, but he still didn't want to get into an actual physical fight with her.
"Get out. Get out of this facility. If I ever see you again, I'm going to kill you myself."
"Is there a reason you aren't killing me now?" Her stance was defensive; she was really expecting him to attack her. When Clint noticed her body language, he was shocked by the realization that he was actually ready to kill her, and yet he still wanted to shove her against a wall and fuck her until she screamed. That wasn't particularly healthy.
"Sentiment," Natasha sneered. "Almost as big a weakness as trust. You're not incompetent, Barton, but unless you get over these childish notions—"
"I'll what? Retain some semblance of humanity? Unlike you? You're a monster. I thought there was something in there other than a weapon, but clearly I was wrong. Get the fuck out of my sight."
For a minute it looked like she was going to say something else. But then she wordlessly slipped out of his room. The sound of the door closing had an air of finality. This was the way she'd wanted it to begin with.
"Where has the Black Widow gone?"
It was first thing the next morning, at his scheduled debriefing, and Clint was in a foul mood.
"Don't know. Off a goddamn cliff, hopefully." Coulson raised his eyebrows a bit, but otherwise didn't react.
"Okay. Let's focus on your mission last night."
"Staked the party out, located Olga Lebedev. She met with an unknown male, his photo's on the camera, and told him that a shipment of girls would be arriving at the docks Thursday night, and she would deliver them on Friday."
"And the man you shot?"
"The Black Widow told me he was Ivan Koslov, the man who had kidnapped and abused countless children as a key member of the Red Room operation."
"He wasn't; we're sure of that. We're still investigating who he really was, but it appears at this point that he was an unrelated bystander." Anger filled Clint's chest again. Phil did his best to distract him. "Let's go back to Lebedev. The information about the trafficking shipment, how did you acquire it?"
"You read her lips?"
Clint felt a sinking feeling of guilt. "No. The Black Widow did. Her Russian is better than mine, obviously. Damn, I really fucked this one up, didn't I?"
Phil sat down across the table from him. "Actually, it's not nearly as bad as we were expecting."
"But you aren't. You were manipulated, Clint. You can't blame yourself."
"Watch me. What's ironic is, she did this to stop me trusting her. Because I didn't believe her when she told me I shouldn't trust her."
Coulson opened his mouth to answer, then stopped, a confused look on his face. He shook his head. Clint got up and turned to leave, when Phil stopped him. "Clint. When we find out who he was… do you want to know?"
He closed his eyes briefly against another wave of guilt. "Yes." It was right. He owed the stranger that at least. Maybe if he had a family Clint could give them part of his salary every month.
It was two days later, and Clint was still tracking Olga Lebedev. Alone. She hadn't done anything overtly criminal so far, just a lot of the waste that characterized rich, unemployed wives. Funnily enough, Mr. Lebedev seemed totally ignorant of his wife's business and the money she'd earned from it, which she kept far out of his reach.
Clint had bumped into her casually earlier that day and buried a microphone in the fur stole she wore, so now he was listening to her chatter on her cell phone about her latest decorating project. However, just when Clint was beginning to think that this woman never was involved in any crime and Natasha had set him up, a second phone rang in the middle of Olga's conversation. She bid an cheerful farewell to whomever she was talking to and answered the other phone with an irritable bark.
Clint heard the following, in Russian: "What?... Of course I had it taken care of… Smirnov… Fuck. Is he dead?... Fucking Americans. Okay, tell Red to meet me, I need someone to beat the shit out of Kowalski. I'll have the way cleared for the shipment by Monday."
She hung up the phone and walked through the house, calling for the help to tell her husband she was going shopping.
Clint immediately reached for his own phone to call Coulson.
"Coulson, something went wrong. Lebedev just pushed the shipment back to Monday."
"Yes, that makes sense. We have a Karl Smirnov in our custody that told us something along those lines would happen."
"That explains it. I'm about to follow her, I think she's going to lead us to another arm of the operation."
"Good. Barton, before you go, we found out who that man was."
"His name was Adelai Niska. And I have good news. We had such trouble tracking him down because he's changed his identity three times in the past two decades. He's a sadistic psychiatrist who's been involved in multiple criminal brainwashing operations, including the Red Room. And we're almost certain he was there at the same time as Romanov. She was telling the truth, for all the parts that mattered."
Clint shook his head and murmured, "That crazy bitch," but he couldn't stop a small smile and a huge wave of relief.
"Trust me, Clint, the world's better off without him."
"I need you to tell me where Romanov is."
"We really don't know, Barton. We weren't prepared to track her when she took off. She went out the west gate, that's all I know."
"Can you help me find her?"
"You know what I think about that woman."
"Phil, please. She may still be keeping tabs on me, but after the—oh. What day is it?"
"I know where she is."
Incredibly, he spotted her first. She was crouched in a tiny alley between two warehouses, and her attention was on the dock in front of her, not the archer overhead.
"Natasha Romanov," he called out to her, then ducked. He knew by now that she'd have a gun pointed at him before he could say another word. "I'm not here to kill you," he called over the ledge of the roof. "We found out about Niska. And also, nothing is happening here tonight." He couldn't say more when he was nearly shouting, at least by covert mission standards, and he was also starting to notice the silence. He had his back to the brick wall, and since he couldn't see her he was listening carefully for any sign of movement on her part.
And he was still listening hard when something flew over his head and hit the rooftop in front of him with a graceful roll. Natasha was on her feet with a 9 mil trained on his head in record time, a suspicious look in her eyes.
Well, best deal with business first, he thought. "We threw a wrench into Lebedev's plans; the shipment doesn't arrive until Monday." She continued to watch him silently. "You lied to me," he challenged.
"You trusted me."
"I still trust you."
Her expression made it clear that she would have given him an almighty eye-roll if she'd been willing to take her eyes off him for a split.
"I don't know what it is about you not wanting me to trust you, Romanov, but I'd bet money it isn't for the reason you say it is. And at this point I'm officially telling you to get over it."
Her response was to pull the trigger.
Clint dropped to the ground instinctually, but his rapid assessment of the situation led to the conclusion that she'd fired at something besides him. She was too close to miss, and he definitely couldn't dodge bullets.
He drew his bow, coming up in time to watch a man with a machine gun drop like a rock. Then the air was thick with flying bullets, and he and Natasha both ducked under the cover of the roof's ledge.
"Police or Lebedev's people?" she asked over the din.
"Got to be Lebedev's. The police make more noise."
She nodded. They both knew what that meant: shoot to kill. He gestured to a skylight a few yards away from them, and she fired two shots into the glass. He swung down first, eyes piercing the dark, searching for any threat. When she landed silently next to him, they moved toward the door together, covering each other seamlessly.
Clint shoved the door open while Natasha peered around it, fired three shots that were followed by three heavy thuds.
"My car's this way," said Clint, pointing down an alley. "About three blocks." She nodded curtly, and fired another shot over his shoulder.
Suddenly there were flashing lights and shouts of, "Politsiya!" Clint waved Natasha toward the car, then fired two arrows into ground at the feet of the police. The arrows immediately burst and released knockout gas, providing enough cover for both of them to slip away toward the S.H.I.E.L.D. jeep.
"Did you want me to drop you somewhere?"
"If I didn't intend to go back to the base with you, I wouldn't have gotten into this vehicle."
"Okay. So you're back to following me around, trying to save my life?"
"It would appear so."
"You saved me tonight. I had no idea that man was behind me."
She was silent a minute. "You saved me in Barcelona. And you wouldn't have been on that roof in the first place if not for me. We still aren't even."
At this point, Clint had completely resigned himself to the bizarreness that was his life. "No more shit like you pulled with Niska, okay? You want me to kill someone, fine, no need to lie about it."
"I'm perfectly capable of killing people on my own, thanks. And besides, I wouldn't want rob Coulson of the chance to be condescending."
Clint gave a startled laugh. "Oh, I like you," he said.
She turned her head to look at him for the first time. "Really?"
When she said it like, it made him think harder about what he'd just said. It'd been something let slip casually, without much thought, but when he really considered it, he found it was true.
"No one's ever said that to me before."
"I've had a dozen men tell me they love me. No one ever said they liked me before." She trailed off, and Clint was silent. His instincts were telling him something important was happening in Natasha's head right now. "I- I appreciate what you did. Killing Niska. I didn't think you would. I thought if you got back to base and realized I'd lied, that would have been enough. But I'm glad you did. I won't ask you to do something like that again."
As thank you/apologies went, it definitely left something to be desired, but it was a big step for someone like Natasha Romanov, and Clint would take what he could get. He pulled off the highway and glanced over at her.
"Be my partner," he said. Their gazes met for a second before they both looked out at the road again.
"Okay," she said softly, and as Clint pulled into the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, he wondered if he hadn't just been getting the wording wrong this whole time.