Tony wasn't used to doing missions. Not as a team. There'd been that one time with Loki, and that had been fun, but he wasn't sure how he felt about running off into the field at the whim of a mad man with an eye patch and a bunch of people he was still trying to get to know. He wanted to get to know them better, but they'd scattered to the winds, brought together only when that mad men called on his big red phone. Well, metaphorical big red phone; in his case anyway. Tony could fix that; needed to fix that. If they were going to be a team, they'd have to mean it. Breathe it, eat it, live it. All or nothing.
He dropped into the seat of the S.H.I.E.L.D. issued jet. It was hard and uncomfortable, ensuring he'd be awake for the entire four hour ride home. He was dirty. He was tired. He was sore. About the same as the others, and they were all stuck in a tin can with a potentially volatile box of… something alien-y that Fury had told them to get while failing to mention the thousand robots they'd have to plow through. Robots were hard. Tin cans were worse. This was just how he wanted to spend his afternoon.
They were lined up comically all along one side in height order like little nesting dolls. Steve stood at the front, between the seats and the cockpit. Bruce teetered on the edge, afraid to get too close, afraid to stay too far away, ramrod straight. Tony slumped and slouched and slid as close to comfortable as he could get, which wasn't very close at all. He took up more space than he should have, always. Natasha looked as if sitting sweaty and broken in a flying bucket was the most normal thing a person could do. She was still as a statue, staring straight ahead. At Barton. Clint, the lone soul on the other row of seats not five feet away from them. He rested his bow arm across the top of the seat and stretched his legs out in front of him, sliding down a little. Clint stared back at Natasha and it was like nobody else was there. Neither blinked, neither spoke, and yet an entire conversation seemed to be taking place. He hated when they did that. It was like the schwarma shop all over again. He was too tired to deal with the weird.
"Любовь моя, приди ко мне," Clint spoke softly. Tony's head shot up. No way could somebody say something like that to Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, and keep his testicles. A bloodbath was sure to ensue. He didn't want to miss a minute of it.
Natasha moved in one fluid motion over to Clint's side. They didn't speak another word to each other, but Natasha curled into a small ball next to him, head on his shoulder, knees to her chest, and closed her eyes. Clint moved his arm off the back of the seat and wrapped it around her to hold her close. His eyes slid shut and within seconds, Natasha was snoring and Clint's breathing evened out. Tony looked at the others in turn and then back to the now sleeping couple.
"What just happened?" he asked. Steve shrugged and slowly dropped into the spot Natasha had occupied moments before.
"Looks like naptime. I could use a rest, too."
"Did you hear what he said?" The others shrugged and Tony sputtered, looking for backup from any place he could get it. Even the pilots were no help.
"They sleep like that after every mission, Sir. You'll start sleeping too, after you get used to it," the co-pilot called back from the cockpit. Tony hated tin cans. Next mission he was using his own jet. Tony looked from Steve to Bruce and back again and sighed in defeat.
"Not what they're doing. What he said. He said 'come to me, my love'. And she just… went. Are they…?" a thought crossed Tony's mind. It was all falling into place. "They are. They're sleeping together."
"Uh-uh." Steve insisted. Tony nodded emphatically.
"They must be. She doesn't do what anybody tells her, not even when she's under cover and I'm her boss." Steve cocked an eyebrow. Tony didn't particularly want to tell that story.
"Not really our business. What they do on their own time is their own concern." Steve pillowed a bag under his head and attempted to sleep sitting up.
"Sure, they're sleeping together." Bruce said. Every head whipped around and Tony sat up triumphantly. "Quite literally. They're both asleep. Together. I'm all for joining them. Team naptime. Might be nice. As for anything more, well, I'm with Steve. I don't really want to know." Tony's face fell and he slumped back into the seat, pouting. He hated not knowing things.
And he hated being uncomfortable. He wasn't sure how anybody could sleep on these seats and yet there they were, Clint and Natasha, full of secrets and sleeping curled around each other like children. Deadly, terrifying children, he reminded himself.
He pouted the entire four hour flight home.
Clint chose the empty seat next to Tony in the briefing room of the larger tin can S.H.I.E.L.D. called base. Tony glanced down the row at the empty seat next to Natasha. Her eyes were narrowed, studying him in her confusion, and he just shrugged. He was as lost as she was.
"I heard what you said." Clint said quietly, eyes on the table, showing no sign he was even engaged in any kind of conversation. Tony had no idea Clint had still been awake, but he wasn't going to show that the revelation rattled him a little. He couldn't get a read on the guy. He had no clue if he was about to get punched or told off or cried on like a little girl.
"We aren't sleeping together. We've got a history, but we're just friends." Tony stared at him blankly. The kid was delusional. Just friends. Really? If he thought that was being just friends, Tony would hate to see what he considered romance.
"If you say so, Legolas."
"It's really not like that…" Clint started but Tony ran out of time for children and cut him off with the wave of a hand. Nick Fury had walked into the room and Tony had a proposition to throw his way.
Steve was normally more perceptive. He couldn't believe it took him three weeks of living in the Avengers Tower, formally Stark Tower, to figure out what was going on.
Tony was once again on the floor of the kitchen with Natasha's boot on his back and his hands clamped behind him. Tony had tried to call her 'Nat' again and really, he should have figured out after the first two times that Clint was the only one who got to use nicknames.
"Ihn gehen lassen." Clint said from behind the morning paper. He didn't even look up.
"Yes, do as the kindly elf says and let me go." Tony squirmed beneath Natasha's tight grip. She grudgingly let him up and that's when it clicked with Steve. When Tony had tried it last time, it had been "lasciato andare" and Tony had known what it meant. The time before that it was "pozwol mu odejsc" and Tony had known that one, too. This time it was German and Steve knew that right off. Same words; different languages.
"You should stop taunting her." Clint suggested, turning the page.
"Maybe I like being thrown to the ground by an exceptionally beautiful woman." Tony sat down to his eggs and rubbed his shoulder.
"You're going to get hurt one day and I won't be there to stop her."
"As if you could stop me, Barton." Natasha picked up Clint's toast and took a bite. He looked to his plate, up to her, and back again. With a small smile, he folded the paper and shoved it towards Steve.
"She's right. Quit while you're ahead, Stark," he said. Natasha smiled while she chewed and leaned back, waggling her eyebrows at Tony.
"Pretty sure Natasha could best us all at this point. Even together we wouldn't stand a chance." Bruce spoke up, sitting down with a bowl of cereal. She smiled at him, a real genuine smile that creased the corners of her eyes, and Steve nearly dropped his fork. He'd never seen that from her, ever, not even once. And she flashed it at Bruce as if she did it every day.
"What a gentleman, Bruce." Bruce blushed and suddenly found his Cheerios incredibly interesting. Steve noticed Clint shift in his seat with an absolutely predatory feel to his posture.
"I'd let the Widow best me any day." Tony started. Natasha's eyes narrowed and Clint reached out to grab the butter knife before it even left her hand. He drew her attention and she forgot all about Tony Stark. They were doing that weird conversation without talking thing again. Steve thought it was kind of creepy.
He wasn't entirely sure why they wanted a language of their own, what they were trying to find or prove, but with the effort they were going to he knew it must be important to them. They might move around each other with an ease that spoke of years of companionship, and they seemed to intuitively know what the other was thinking, but that didn't mean everything could go unspoken. After all, they had to talk sometimes.
Clint and Natasha finished whatever conversation they were having and rose in unison. Clint left by one door, Natasha another, and Steve knew without question they were meeting up again somewhere else. To do what, he wasn't sure, and he probably didn't need to know. But maybe they did. And maybe he could help with that.
Two days later, Steve cornered Clint in one of the training rooms. He shoved a piece of paper in Clint's hands.
"It's a list." Clint said, trying to figure out what was going on. Clint read on and Steve waited as patiently as he could for realization to dawn on the young man. "A list of languages. Languages all of you speak?" he asked. Steve nodded. "You did this for me?" He folded the paper small and slipped it under his wrist guard.
"A captain should always look out for his men, on or off the field." Steve said. Clint nodded once in acknowledgement.
"Tony will pout. He hates to be left out of things. He already thinks you two are an item and this won't help." Steve warned him.
"It's not like that…" Clint started. Steve held up a hand.
"None of my business, okay? You need the privacy. I don't need to know why." Clint stood fiddling with his bow for a minute and Steve began to walk away. He paused in the doorway when Clint spoke, just loud enough to be heard.
Thor greatly missed his friends. He'd only just started to get to know them, but being stranded on Asgard was ailing him. He loved being with his father, his mother, Sif and the Warriors Three. But they weren't Jane. And they weren't the Avengers either. He longed for Midgard.
"Heimdall, what news of Midgard?" he asked, approaching the guardian at the edge of the Bifrost. It was slowly being rebuilt and Thor took great joy at seeing how far it had come. One day soon he would be able to return and fight with his friends again. Heimdall smiled but did not turn.
"The lady Jane is well. She works hard and has made great progress with her research. She searches the sky for you every night." Thor's heart skipped a beat. He would return soon and she could stop searching.
"And my friends? The other hero Avengers?" he asked. Heimdall was quiet a moment.
"They are finding their peace with each other. The Man of Iron tests the boundaries, but it is he that knits together the team. He hides behind his words, but his ministrations are building the trust they will all need to rely upon. Your Captain Steve is still uncertain, still out of time and place. He will adjust. He is eager to learn. The Troubled Green One, Bruce, works endlessly. He will not find a cure, but he is relentless in his research despite. He and Tony have an understanding the others lack. They are fast friends. The rest will fall in line soon enough." Good tidings from Midgard. Thor felt both great happiness and sadness at the same time. His friends were getting on without him. He wished he could be there.
"And Natasha and Clinton? What of them?" he asked. Heimdall chuckled.
"The children continue their intricate dance of avoidance, Thor Odinson. The Black Widow grows fond of Bruce. She will trust him soon enough and that thread will become strong. The Hawk is distant, though Steve has given him a gift and he will grow to follow the man that leads, but it will be some time before he trusts the others." Thor sighed. If only he were there. It would be eaiser.
"There was a third attempt at familiarity between Tony and Natasha." Heimdall reported. Thor looked into the expanse of stars and wished he could see as his old friend did.
"Tell me, Heimdall."
"Tony called her a name she allows only Clinton to speak. She threw him to the ground and held him until he relented."
"Just like last time?"
"Yes, just like last time."
"Will he never learn, Heimdall?" Thor asked, laughing heartily. He could just imagine it.
"He is not doing this for him. He does it to draw them closer to each other. It's working. The team is coming together." Thor sobered immediately. He should be there. He turned to walk away.
"One more thing, Thor Odinson." Heimdall stopped him. Thor did not turn, but listened closely. "Clinton sings in the water shower. He has the voice of a god, worthy of these halls. When you return to them, teach him our language. He knows many already; it will not be difficult to learn. He shall sing the traditional songs of Asgard in the language they were meant to be sung. His voice will please your mother." Thor nodded in thought. Perhaps he could help his friends in more ways than teaching him the language of the gods. If his voice was as beautiful as Heimdall said, and Heimdall always told the truth, Clinton could easily woo Natasha with but a song. He would teach him. And all the others as well. Once the Bifrost was complete and he could return to them. Soon, he hoped.
Bruce was surprised at how easy it was to fit in with this motley crew. He wouldn't have expected to have a part anywhere, in anything, but he did here. These people didn't fear him, despite his protests that they should, and he was alarmingly relieved.
They even forgot about him sometimes. He was so quiet, intentionally unobtrusive, a direct opposite to "the other guy", that they would forget he was even there watching and listening. So it was with great delight that he discovered the breakfast nook was secluded enough to keep him hidden, but open enough to get a full view of the kitchen. He often just sat with a book and listened to the people around him.
"So show me the list." Natasha's voice echoed around the kitchen, shattering the quiet he'd so blissfully been enjoying. They were huddled in the mostly dark kitchen as if they'd just materialized there.
"Steve gave it to me. This is all the languages they know so we can figure out ones they don't and use them. Y'think JARVIS can keep it secret?" Clint looked up at the ceiling as if JARVIS was up there somewhere and had the answers.
"Maybe if you ask nicely." Natasha goaded. Clint smirked and looked down at the paper.
"So Steve only speaks German. That makes that easy. Bruce speaks a few, including Portuguese." Bruce stifled a laugh. Sure he did, but very badly. Natasha hoisted herself onto the counter and looked over Clint's shoulder.
"I don't speak Portuguese anyway," she said. Clint leaned against the counter, chin in his hands, every muscle taut.
"Thor has all the Nordic languages covered. Guess that rules out Icelandic. At least once he gets back. We'd be in the clear up to that point."
"My Icelandic is rusty. And doesn't he actually speak something completely different? Some kind of… everything language. He understands all Earth languages and we understand his… wherever he's from?" Natasha replied.
"Asgard. So… Asgardian? Whatever. Doesn't matter, he's not here now. We can worry about it when he is. Tony has a lot. There's a good half dozen here, and that's just what we know about."
"We could speak Latin. I know he doesn't speak Latin." Natasha responded.
"Nobody speaks Latin, Nat."
"It's a dead language."
"We could revive it. Bring it out of the ashes like a phoenix." Bruce rolled his eyes as Clint just leveled her with a blank gaze, blinking slowly.
"Bruce knows it," he finally settled on an excuse. Clint was right; he knew it, sort of. Enough of it to get by in school, at least. He couldn't properly speak it. It'd be odd, but they'd be safe with it.
"He won't tell." She had such trust in him already. He really hoped that trust wasn't misplaced. He wasn't safe.
"Want to risk it?" Clint pushed off the counter with his hands, leaning back without letting go. He wasn't surprised Clint was willing to try. He may not like Bruce, spent most of his time glaring at him in fact, but he seemed willing to try anything for Natasha.
"No," she finally answered. "I could teach you Yiddish. None of them speak it."
"Too close to German. They'd figure it out." Bruce was glad Clint shot that one down. Yiddish was not something he could imagine anybody under the age of seventy speaking seriously and it'd be too hard not to laugh.
"JARVIS will figure them all out anyway." Natasha had a point. JARVIS knew them all. And Tony could learn quickly. They probably weren't safe with anything.
"Hebrew." Clint's suggestion actually surprised Bruce. Again. Clint was good at that.
"Too guttural." It took all he had not to snicker. Only Natasha, who grew up speaking Russian, would find Hebrew too rough a language.
"It's not; you just speak it that way. The language is melodic. Lyrical." Bruce suddenly wished Clint would do more than just glower at him. They could be great friends, given half the chance and a little personal detail, which nobody ever received from either agent. Hebrew flowed to him the way science did, like a song, and he would have liked to share that with Clint. But if they were considering it, they didn't know he spoke it. Fluently.
"Your voice is lyrical, not the language." Natasha was smiling; he could hear it in her voice and her eyes shone in the scant light.
"Your face is lyrical." Clint either didn't believe she had been serious or he was skirting around it.
"Your face, dumbass," she replied, nudging his shoulder. Now they were really laughing. He'd heard the 'your face' comments before. This is what he liked to overhear. They were just two ordinary people, having a normal conversation. No death, no guns, no plots or schemes or terrifying days at work. Just friends making stupid jokes.
"It's the only one, though, isn't it?" she said after the laughter had died down.
"Unless we make up our own or learn something new? Yes."
"Hebrew it is," she sighed. Bruce wasn't sure he wanted to know what they covertly wanted to discuss, but he also wasn't about to tell them he spoke Hebrew. He couldn't think of a way to slip it into conversation without letting them know he'd overheard. Silence fell as they slipped into a locked gaze, no sound, just each other.
"You like Bruce." From Clint it was a statement of fact, not a question, and it shattered the silence like a hammer to a window.
"He's a nice guy. Smart, too." He wasn't a nice guy, actually. He still wasn't sure why Natasha believed him to be.
"He's a little scary."
"I like scary." Natasha was taunting now. She didn't really like scary and he could hear it in her voice. If it was his guess, she thought she was scary enough on her own. She wanted somebody that made her feel safe, somebody calm and solid and reliable. A rock to anchor her. Bruce was none of the above and they all knew it.
Clint looked down at the counter and wouldn't look back up at her. The silence stretched on, grew intense. Bruce leaned farther out in his chair to get a better view.
"Jealous?" She turned serious when he wouldn't speak. She glared at the side of his head as he began to shift from foot to foot. He still wouldn't look at her.
"No." He answered and the silence wrapped around them, tighter and tighter with each passing second. She was waiting for the truth he didn't want to admit.
"Yes." More silence. "He made you smile. A real smile."
And just like that, Bruce understood everything. He understood Natasha. He understood Clint. And he understood where he fit in the whole picture. It wasn't that Clint didn't like him. It was that he was afraid of losing her to Bruce, that he thought he was insignificant, couldn't measure up. He couldn't be more wrong.
"Yes, he did."
"Do you trust him?" Clint asked, finally looking up, fear written all over his face. It was all there, everything he felt, everything he thought. Bruce had never seen him so honest. He wondered if this was what Clint always showed Natasha, if this is what she saw when she looked at him. Bruce wanted to see it again.
Natasha tugged on Clint's sleeve and he pushed off the counter, stepping around her to stand between her legs. She wrapped him in a hug and he buried his face in her neck. They clung to each other like the lifelines he knew they were, the only thing keeping the other from spiraling into oblivion.
"Yes," she answered, "but never like you."
Bruce was last to the table the following morning, as usual. Clint was buried in the paper and Natasha was absently chewing, staring at the foot she rested behind Clint on his chair. Steve was chatting quietly with Tony over what appeared to be some kind of French pastries. Bruce just grabbed a bowl of cereal and waited patiently for the newspaper.
"Steve, want to spar with me this afternoon? I could use a new partner, maybe learn some new moves." Clint asked after folding up the paper. It was the first olive branch of friendship he'd extended to anybody since moving in. Bruce reached out for the paper and Clint pushed it over without even looking. Bruce sipped his coffee and hid behind the comics section while Natasha practically growled at Clint.
"I could use the hand to hand practice. Sure." Steve nodded and looked around the table. "Bruce, would you like to join us?"
"Ah… no thanks. I'm not a fighter. When I'm not the other guy, I mean."
"Tony?" Clint asked. If looks could kill, and when it came to the Black Widow he wasn't entirely sure they couldn't, Natasha would have had Clint face down in his breakfast.
"I'm the tech guy; a lover, not a fighter, if you will. And I bruise easily. Don't want to mess up my pretty face." Clint nodded.
"Well if we're going to make this a team training initiative, Bruce, you could teach us about control. How you channel your anger. We could use that. Make it a real group effort." Bruce blinked up from the paper. He wasn't sure if Natasha was serious or just trying to snap at Clint.
"It's… complicated. It's not just controlling the anger. It's compassion, empathy, a particular self-awareness. Took a long time, a lot of running, a lot of hiding. I mean, I still don't really know what I'm doing most of the time. All I can tell you is that love is about the only thing that works. Without love, everything else I've learned means nothing." Natasha slumped in her seat, knee bent and turned outward. Clint still had her foot trapped by his backside.
"Love is for children," she pouted and rubbed a finger into the table. Clint shifted almost imperceptibly in his seat and lightly rested a hand on her knee, in comfort or stability or a little bit of both, Bruce wasn't sure.
He sucked in a deep breath. He was going to take a big risk, but maybe it would pull her out just that little bit more. He braced himself for the inevitable fallout.
"What they told you there, in Russia, when you were a little girl, it was wrong. Love is for everybody, the strongest emotion. It can conquer everything, even the other guy." He locked onto her eyes and just held it, letting the rest of the room fade to black around them. In his gaze, it was just her and him. He'd cracked her shell, just a little, and she let him in. She was wide open and he quickly learned with Natasha, it was all or nothing. And it went both ways. He saw to the very core of her, but she saw the same in him.
She shut him out with the blink of an eye, the door to her soul slammed right in his face, and turned her attention to Clint. There was fire in her eyes briefly before the mask slipped into place and she began rattling off rapid Hebrew.
"Did you tell?" They were calm, quiet, faces suddenly blank and emotionless. To anybody else it looked like a normal conversation, but Bruce knew better. It was an argument.
"You know me better than that."
"How does he know?" she accused.
"I don't talk to him. You do. You ask him."
"Don't be stupid. Somebody told him. You've been all chummy with the boys and you're the only one who knows my past."
"We live with an omniscient computer. Red Room isn't above their intel." Clint had a point. Nothing escaped JARVIS. He was a little scary like that.
"Point." Natasha finally conceded. They were quiet for a minute, words failing them, before Clint inhaled slowly and Bruce could see him brace himself for whatever he was about to say. Bruce really really didn't want to understand what he thought might be coming.
"He's right. About love."
"Love is a liability for spies."
"Not for superheroes."
"We aren't superheros."
"No, and we aren't spies anymore either. But that doesn't rule out love. Love isn't just for children." Clint was trying so hard.
"Your face isn't for children." She wouldn't budge. Conversation over.
"Your face," he sighed.
Bruce couldn't help snorting into his coffee. They looked at him suspiciously.
"Boy, that Garfield. He's… something else." He knew it wasn't even close to being believable. Clint's hand had never left her knee. Tony pouted and demanded the attention of the room.
"No fair, kiddies. No secret conversations in a language Daddy can't understand." Clint locked eyes with Natasha again and a silent battle ensued. Natasha apparently won, because Clint sighed and rose in the same moment she slid out of her chair.
"You aren't my father." Clint spoke softly, neither angry nor amused. As with all things related to Clint, nobody could get a read on what he meant by it.
"No, clearly not. I'm far too young and handsome." They left the room without another word spoken and Bruce heaved a sigh into the newspaper. He didn't want to know.
Clint eased himself onto the couch, the muscles in his back and upper arms screaming in protest. Natasha slid in behind him with a jar of salve and some bandages. She nudged his shirt up and he winced as she pulled it over his head.
"Are you a fucking idiot?" she whispered. He must be worse than he thought.
"We were just sparring." She began to rub his mottled bruises with the salve and he quickly relaxed under her gentle ministrations.
"With who? The Hulk?" She was angry with him. Part of him liked making her angry. He was the only one who really could.
"Just Steve. For the past week." She smacked him on the back of the head.
"Super soldier, dumbass. He's a lot stronger than we are."
"I can handle it." That earned him another smack.
"Obviously not. Maybe we should get Bruce to take a look at this."
"It's not that bad, Nat. I've had worse." He stared down at his hands. She knew his past. She could see the scars, stretched and warped with time. She knew very well a few bruises were nothing to him anymore.
"You don't have to prove anything to them," she whispered, gently rubbing the stiffness from his shoulders and neck. He sighed in resignation and closed his eyes, let the feel of her fingers take over any conscious thought he had.
"What am I taking a look a… ay dios mios!" Bruce exclaimed, startling Clint out of his reverie. He mentally cursed himself for relaxing too much. He should have noticed when Bruce came into the living room. Hell, he should have known before.
Bruce shoved Natasha none too gently and she moved over the back of the couch without comment. He leaned in behind, taking Natasha's place, and Clint was suddenly a little too aware of everything Bruce Banner. It was only slightly less awkward than it must have looked because Bruce was pressing hard fingertips into his rib cage and along his spine as opposed to the gentle rubbing Natasha had been doing.
"Ow. Ow. OW!" he exclaimed, tensing to one side and then the other. Bruce didn't stop his prodding and blatantly ignored the cries of discomfort.
"Your bedside manner is shit, Doc." Clint grumbled. Bruce pushed his head down so he could run his fingers up Clint's spine before testing each rib on the way back down.
"Shut up. Hairline fracture, third rib. And fifth. Subcutaneous bruising, mild, here, here, and severe here and here. You'll live." Clint could sense Natasha behind them just as tense and nervous as he was. Bruce would figure out those scars, given enough time. Clint shifted forward and began to pull his shirt over his head.
"I'm fine. Really."
"At least let me tape up those ribs." He sounded so worried. Clint turned and attempted to gage Bruce's true intentions. He was surprised to see concern and understanding, not frustration and pity as he expected. Clint lifted his shirt back up at the same moment Natasha threw a roll of medical tape into Bruce's lap.
"You two are a little creepy sometimes." Bruce was cautious when he spoke, but there was a teasing familiarity there that made Clint's breath catch in his throat. It had been a long time since he'd had anybody but Natasha. The thought of trusting anybody else was, frankly, terrifying.
Bruce tore the first piece of tape from the roll and Clint winced as the pain radiated up his side. He exhaled heavily as Bruce deftly stretched a few pieces of tape above and below his ribs. Natasha came around and sat lightly on the arm of the couch. He reached up and squeezed her hand the next time Bruce told him to exhale as hard as he could and she squeezed back, silent comfort for the pain she knew he was feeling.
"I'm putting you on medical leave. Three, four days at a minimum." Bruce said not five minutes later. Clint began to protest, but Natasha stopped him before he could even get a word out.
"Neshama sheli," she started. Clint never found out what she was going to say, but she'd been surprisingly gentle. She was never gentle. Instead, Tony burst into the room, Steve hot on his heels. When Tony charged into a room like that, all conversation stopped. His mere presence demanded attention. Clint sighed inwardly. Tony would have made a terrible spy.
"I tried to stop him, I did. I'm sorry." Steve apologized. Tony ignored him.
"Captain Tight Pants is such a party pooper. Gather 'round, children. Let's try out Daddy's new toy, shall we?" Tony sauntered over to the couch and sat on the arm opposite them. Clint clutched tightly to Natasha's hand, willing her to stay put, and scooted away from Bruce. It was a compromising position and there were enough rumors that he was sleeping with Natasha. He didn't need everybody thinking he was sleeping with Bruce as well.
"Go ahead and say whatever it is you were about to say to dear Legolas there. Oh, and use whatever language you were going to use, because I know that wasn't about to be English." Tony pulled a small device from his pocket and held it out. It was thin, unobtrusive, unremarkable. He activated the screen and waited. Silence filled the room. "Anytime now. I want to test my precious."
"слушайте врача." Natasha ordered Clint in Russian. He was pretty sure she was initially going with something else, seeing as she'd started with the equivalent of 'soulmate' in Hebrew, but they had an audience now. An audience other than Bruce, anyway.
A soothing female voice emanated from the device and monotonously repeated what she'd just said. In English.
"Listen to your doctor." It echoed around the room.
"What is that?" Natasha asked sharply. She immediately dropped Clint's hand. Clint sucked in a breath, his chest protesting against the tape, but it didn't hurt as much as he expected it to. Bruce was good.
"I'm sorry, what was that? Could you, perhaps, try a different language? My English may not be so good." Tony was smiling like the cat that caught the canary and Clint sharply turned, catching Natasha's eye.
"Was ist das?" Clint tried with German.
"What is that?" the little device repeated, switching to a more masculine voice, deep and throaty.
"Da dove proviene?" Natasha asked in Italian.
"Where did it come from?" the device translated, back to soft and feminine. Tony literally jumped for joy, arms flailing as he danced around the room.
"I invented it, duh. Come on, kids, try some more! Give it something really hard!" he exclaimed. He held it triumphantly above his head as Clint fumed. Natasha tried Hungarian and Hindi. Clint threw out Icelandic, Portuguese, and even Welsh. The device knew them all.
"You invented the universal translator." Natasha deadpanned, arms crossed on her chest and a look that would make any normal man shudder. Tony merely stepped into her personal space and grinned.
"Straight out of Star Trek, baby."
"Star Trek?" Steve mouthed. Clint shushed him. He didn't want to get Tony started on that particular subject. There would be time for that rant later.
"Now if only I could make it smaller. Like a permanent implant. Bruce, want to help me with that?" Tony asked, sliding onto the couch next to them. Bruce opened his mouth and Tony shoved the device in his face. "C'mon, you try it. Something new; something you speak moderately well." Bruce briefly met Clint's eyes and offered up a silent apology, but Clint didn't really care why. Based on how little his ribs currently hurt, he was willing to forgive the man almost anything.
"Lo," he whispered, the Hebrew sliding off his tongue like he was a native speaker. It was the only other language he spoke that hadn't been tested.
"No." The device translated in the same masculine voice it used for Clint. Clint jumped off the couch and nearly doubled over from the pain before he could punch somebody.
"You speak Hebrew? This whole time?" he accused, breathless and wheezing. Bruce had the decency to look sheepish as he attempted to help Clint stand up straight.
"I told you he wouldn't tell." Natasha directed him back down to the couch and he sat heavily, trying to regulate his breathing.
"How long have you known?" Bruce asked. She smiled, another of those rare smiles that crinkled at her eyes, and Clint melted to a pile of goo. At least he didn't feel that surge of jealousy this time.
"Since Garfield," she answered. Clint was suddenly feeling very left out. He hadn't picked up on it at all.
"Spoilsport. So. No more secrets? No more languages we don't all know, right?" Tony asked, shutting off and pocketing the device. Clint sighed.
"Sometimes people need privacy, Tony." Natasha pinched the bridge of her nose as if tired of dealing with a small child.
"Yes, that's what bedrooms are for." Clint very strongly doubted they had any privacy in their bedrooms either. "But here, in this home, at this time, we're a team. You need to trust us, and we need to trust you. No secrets. No favorites. We're all in this together or we're not in this at all. Understand?" Clint looked over to Natasha. She stared back at him. He was suddenly unsure of what he'd signed onto. They'd only had each other for so long.
She let him in and he knew. They'd be okay, she'd make sure of it. They still had each other and they weren't losing that, they were just gaining four more people to rely on, four more people to call family. He wasn't used to her being the trusting one, but he would follow her lead. He always did.
"No more secrets," he said. Tony looked up at Natasha.
"No more secrets," she said. Tony looked back at Bruce.
"They were really very boring secrets anyway. But I'm in." They all looked to Steve.
"I was in from the start." Tony smiled and clapped his hands together.
"Good. Now we just need one demi-god and we can be the miserable dysfunctional family I always knew we could be."
They cooked dinner together, as a team. Steve was the best of them all, but he didn't know how to use the kitchen equipment. Honestly, neither did anybody else, even Tony, so they muddled through with what they could figure out.
They ate in companionable silence. They cleaned up in pairs. It was becoming nauseatingly domestic. Comfortable, even. Clint didn't even complain when Bruce slid him a painkiller with a tall glass of water and an order to take it.
"Movie?" Natasha asked. He let her pick, his head too foggy to focus on much of anything, and when she stretched out on the couch, he dove down to her side. She was warm and she was soft in all the right places. Her arm fell across his shoulders, his head pillowed on her chest, and he stared at her hand while she stared at the tv.
He hadn't expected the others to follow, but they did. Slowly, one after the other. Steve wandered in at the opening credits and stretched on the floor with some pillows Clint tossed him off the couch.
Bruce slid, almost imperceptivity, onto the other end of the couch. He huddled there as Dr. Grant terrorized the kid at the velociraptor dig. He took up as little space as possible, curling into himself as if he were closing off the world. Clint watched him fade in and out of focus before deciding he was never going to take a pain pill from Bruce Banner again. Instead, he scooted down into Natasha's lap, dragging her hand with him, and stretched his legs to rest across Bruce's lap. The man practically jumped out of his skin, but he didn't push Clint away, so he took that as a good sign.
Tony walked in halfway through, just when the gallimimus were flocking towards the kids. By that time Steve was snoring and Bruce and Natasha were sprawled on the couch, bookending Clint as he relaxed into a puddle in their laps. Bruce was rubbing or clutching at Clint's ankles in turn. Clint had one of Natasha's hands grasped tightly in his and her free hand was absently running through his hair. Tony, silent for once, gave up on the couch and settled for what Clint supposed passed as a chair.
No more secrets, Clint thought. They were a makeshift family, loners the whole lot, but they'd do.
His pain pill had worn off by the time the credits rolled. He just wanted to sleep, the dull throb of his ribs slowly coming back. He rolled off the couch and slowly stood, attempting to make his way to the elevator that would take him up to his bedroom.
"Bedtime already?" Tony asked. Clint mumbled something that he hoped resembled 'fuck off', but he wasn't sure he was all that coherent. Or even speaking English for that matter.
"Shall we pretend Natasha won't be joining you or would you rather keep up the false pretense?" Clint would have glared if he were capable, but right now he mostly just didn't care what Tony thought. Natasha, however, just looked at Tony and he backed down.
"Need Daddy to come tuck you in?" he teased instead. Clint was too tired to deal with the joke.
"You're not my father," he said, turning to look at Tony. Natasha got up and began to walk towards him, apparently done with pretending they had their own bedrooms. She stopped abruptly by Tony's chair and Clint had to blink twice before he could confirm what he was seeing as real. It was a credit to how close they were getting as a team, because Tony had her by the wrist and she hadn't killed him at the first touch.
"He does know I'm joking right?" He kind of liked that he'd confused the hell out of Tony Stark, smartest man in the world. Natasha looked at him and he nodded his permission. No more secrets.
"He knows. He's giving you the highest compliment he can, in the only way he knows how." Tony released her wrist and his eyes followed her as she sauntered to Clint's side. No more false pretense. She was going with him. Clint met Tony's eyes and held as long as he dared. Tony looked away first. Clint allowed himself that small victory.
"Daddy issues? We can work with that. Team bonding. Could be fun."
Natasha was getting tired of living with other people. It was great to have a team, and she was even starting to feel like they were something of a family. A broken, messed up, non-functional family, but a family nonetheless. She didn't remember her real family so she was grateful for what they were becoming, technically. But family meant up close and personal. And Tony Stark either didn't know or happily ignored personal boundaries. She was leaning heavily to the latter.
Night fell and she listened to the sounds of the house. Bruce was in the shower, she could hear the water in the pipes. Steve was crying in his sleep next door. If she were a better friend, she'd go comfort him. She didn't. They all had their own demons and he'd have to find a way through his. The walls rumbled every so often and she assumed it meant Tony was in the basement testing out new Iron Man gear. He slept even less than she did. And sleep was not coming to her tonight.
She heard Steve wake and head down the hall to the elevators. Whether he was going to Tony or the kitchens she didn't know and didn't really care. He was finding his way. Once he was gone, she slipped quietly through her bedroom door. Clinging to the shadows, she took the long way across the hall and crept straight into Clint's room. She wasn't entirely sure why she kept hiding it. Everybody knew they spent most of their nights together, in one room or the other. Keeping the front of the secret made her feel better, more secure about it somehow. She'd go with it until she couldn't any longer.
He was lying on his bed, arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling. He didn't move when she came in.
"I can't sleep either," he said. He hadn't even had to look to know it was her.
"What if I was somebody coming to kill you?" she asked crossly.
"Then I'd be dead right now." He could be so exasperating. "Relax, Nat, I know your sound and your smell. I knew it was safe before you even opened the door." Natasha hesitantly walked across the room and hovered at the edge of the bed. He glanced over and she saw his eyes roam, subconsciously, over her sleepwear. Or rather, her lack thereof. She hadn't thought to grab a robe. It's not like he hadn't seen her in less than a t-shirt, but she was cold and his gaze made her suddenly self-conscious in ways it never had before this stupid team. Before they were more than just spies.
"Waiting for something?" he asked. She slid underneath the covers and huddled herself as close to him as she could get. He was only wearing his boxers and under the comforter he was radiating heat like an oven. She wrapped her arms around his chest and slid one leg up and over his until every inch of skin was being warmed by him.
She felt him relax against her almost immediately and an arm came down to hold her close. She used his chest as a pillow and let the thump thump of his heart calm her frazzled nerves. His fingers ghosted up her side, across her arm, and back down to her hip. The lightest of touches and she melted into it, just like always.
"They think we're sleeping together," she said. He chuckled beneath her.
"Technically, we are. Might as well just move all your stuff in here with me." She smacked his chest and he laughed, shaking her hard enough that she slid off and pulled herself up to a pillow.
"You know what I meant." He turned to his side and she was suddenly cold with the rush of air into the space he had moments ago occupied. She shivered, but he didn't move closer.
"Does it bother you?" he asked. He rested his head in his hand and she didn't want to meet his eyes. It was going to be one of those conversations. She reached forward and started twirling her fingers in his chest hair.
"No. And that is what bothers me." No more secrets. She'd agreed. He sighed and grasped her hand firmly in his, pushing it flat against his chest so she could feel his heartbeat. He was quiet, waiting for her to come to it on her own.
"Love is for children," she whispered.
"You keep saying that, but I don't think you believe it anymore."
"No." She counted ten beats of his heart before she could work up her voice to speak again. "We could. Sleep together, I mean."
"Are you ready for that?"
"It's crossed my mind before."
"But are you ready?" He wasn't asking if she wanted to, he knew she did. He was asking the question she needed to answer and not just bury, because he knew that's exactly what she would do. She'd never had sex with a man she wasn't later going to kill. It had always been about the job.
"No." She wouldn't look at him. Couldn't look at him.
"Nat…" he started and she looked up, but he didn't finish.
"How long have you been in love with me, Clint?"
"A long time."
"And how long have you known I'm in love with you?"
"A little while."
"You didn't say anything."
"You weren't ready." She wasn't used to this, didn't want to confront it and deal with it. It would come in time, but not tonight.
"Your face wasn't ready," she teased.
"Your face," he answered. The smartass she was used to. The smartass she could handle. He sighed and pulled her to him. He was smiling when he kissed her, soft and gentle and just barely there. She pushed back, just a little, and he opened to her, let his lips part against hers and she fell right in. He was steady and she was out of control. He was calm and she was chaos. He was solid, centered. She was dangerous. He was ready. She wasn't.
He tasted like home.
Natasha curled into the heat that radiated off his body, drifting slowly into a state just between sleep and awake. She had always loved sleeping next to Clint. He ran hot to her cold; her own personal space heater.
She heard the near silent whir of a camera changing position and was instantly awake. It took a fraction of a second to take in her surroundings and figure out where the sound was coming from. There was a tiny movement in one of the screws on the vent. The rest of the house was quiet. No more water in the pipes, no more cries from a bedroom next door, and no rumblings from the basement.
She was sure of it. Tony was watching them.
She always kept at least a dagger under her pillow, but this was Clint's room. He had a gun beside him, she knew he did, and his bow was never far away, but she didn't want to be so loud and she definitely didn't want to wake him up. She trailed her right hand along his arm, down her waist, and then slid it up and under her pillow. Her fingers ghosted over the cold steel. She'd have to ask if he always kept a knife there for her or if he'd just been really hopeful about that night.
Smiling, she quickly flicked her wrist and sent the knife hurtling to the camera. There was a spark and a brief flash when it obliterated on contact. The knife remained embedded in the vent. She yawned and stretched into Clint as he pulled her closer in his sleep. She could just picture the epic pout Tony would be having right about now. It was almost enough to get her out of bed just to see. Almost. But Clint was warm and the bed was soft. This, right here, was enough.
Notes: I do not speak most of the languages referenced above. I apologize for any mistakes I may have made.