Author's Note: I loved "The Avengers"! It was such a wonderful movie for so many reasons. One of those reasons was the chemistry between Black Widow and Hawkeye. I mean, how cute were they? So, I decided to put my own spin on that fateful day Hawkeye spared her life instead of killing her. Please enjoy!

There was a time when Clint Barton worked alone.

Back then, SHIELD knew nothing about people like Thor and Tony Stark was simply a weapons dealer with a narcissist attitude. There was no "Avengers Initiative", no talk about the Tesseract, no fear of attacks from any other universes but their own. Fury had only recently lost his eye, though the story was different than then it was now. Maria Hill had only recently been hired and the heli-carrier was brand-new and required 200 technicians just to keep it running in the air.

Clint had only been working for SHIELD for a few years and had easily worked his way up the ranks. He was the best archer there was and he was one of the most skilled assassins that worked for the secret government agency. This came with perks of course, one of which was the fact that he got a say in which missions he chose to accept.

Except for this mission—this one had come from Director Fury's hand himself, leaving Clint with no other option, but to accept it.

Which was why he was called to bridge at midnight—alone. He could only accomplish this mission by himself; a partner would slow him down and it wasn't like anyone could keep up with him anyway. All of Fury's candidates had failed miserably when Clint had been through with them and finally, the Director had decided to give up on his quest to find him a partner. Sure, there were the few threats when Clint had somehow managed to mess up something on a mission, but Fury had never followed through, leaving Clint worry-free. Partners were just hassles anyway.

"Agent Barton," Nick Fury greeted as Clint stepped onto the bridge. Numerous workers furiously typed at computers while Maria Hill anxiously eyed some surveillance footage. Something was up—something so serious that even Miss-I'm-too-serious-Hill allowed some fear to grace her normally stoic features. "I have a job for you."

Music to his ears.

Clint smirked as he sat down in one of the chairs and observed the busy bees of SHIELD going about their work. It amazed him just how many people worked for SHIELD—how many people gave up their lives to work for some agency that didn't officially exist yet. Clint had already lost everything when SHIELD had recruited him—was that the same for these people? Or did they trade in their chance for a normal life to play a part in Fury's larger schemes?

"Sir?" Clint inquired as a computer panel lit up from the table and played the same footage that Hill was fretting over. From what Clint could make out of the footage—which was difficult considering the huge amount of smoke obscuring his view—it seemed that a lab was under attack. A closer inspection revealed the telltale SHIELD logo and instantly, Clint tensed and forced his eyes to take in every detail. The lab contained some of the most important data on the Super Soldier Serum, not to mention countless weapon prototypes that could spell disaster if they fell into the wrong hands. In the center of the chaos of the explosions was one woman—young, early 20's, and bright red hair—and Clint could only watch with amazement as she took down countless SHIELD agents without breaking a sweat. She was well trained and obviously dangerous.

"Natasha Romanoff," Fury explained, not even glancing in Barton's direction. "Your latest target." If the situation weren't so serious, Clint would've rolled his eyes due to Fury's lack of details. That was Fury though, only telling the bare minimum and leaving the rest up to chance or fate or whatever it was he believed in.

"Who is she working for?" Clint pressed, as Natasha took down her tenth guard. Poor guy hadn't even managed to get a punch in before he had been brutally knocked unconscious.

"None of your concern," Fury replied, his tone clipped. "She started this attack about ten minutes ago."

"Ten minutes?" Clint echoed, astonishment seeping into his tone. She wasn't just good; she was shaping up to be the most skilled target he had ever seen. With the high level of security at the lab, it was impressive that she had managed to cause this much chaos in such a small amount of time.

"Just stop the attack." Fury ordered and Clint nodded as he rose from the chair and began to head to the jet. "Oh, and Barton?" He froze.


"Kill her." The order was given with such indifference that he might've as well been saying "and don't forget to pick up my dry cleaning."

"Yes, sir."

He was at the lab in about ten minutes—a perk of working for SHIELD were the amazing jets they got to drive. He slipped into the chaotic fray undetected by Natasha and had managed to observe the situation and gain a grasp on what going on in less than five minutes. Natasha was the one clearly in-charge and if she got taken out, it would be easy to stop the others.

All he needed was a clear shot.

He positioned himself on a railway above the action and yet, not completely removed from it. From his vantage point—his "nest" as Coulson liked to call it—he waited for his moment. He watched and refused to let his eyes slip from his target. An arrow was already at home in the bow, waiting for its chance to fly and meet its mark and Clint was eager to have yet another successful mission under his belt.

He just needed to wait for his moment.

Below him, Natasha's underlings seemed to be searching for something specific and Clint was relieved to see that none of them had their hands on SHIELD's notes on the Super Soldier Serum. Natasha barked out orders in both English and Russian and Clint smirked as he watched her easily outclass the SHIELD guards, making them appear as weak as civilians. It was a shame she had to die, he mused, because she would've made a good partner. He waited and finally Natasha took a few steps into the middle of the ruined lab, her defenses lowered and not an ally around her.

This was it. His grip tightened on the bow and he aimed for her heart. In a few seconds, this would all be over and he would return back to base triumphantly. Maybe he could even talk Fury into letting him take out the newest super sonic jet for a test flight.

"Get down!" A lab worker shouted to a young woman who looked utterly lost on the battlefield. She had managed to somehow wander into the middle of the action and Clint could see a grenade beside her, the pin missing. Cursing, he glanced around to see if he could somehow help her, but there was no way he could get to her in time!

He needn't have worried, much to his surprise.

He watched with utter amazement as Natasha spun around and roughly pulled the girl down and protected her from the blast. Then, she released the girl without injuring her, mentally or physically.

"What?" Clint mumbled. He had never seen a target do this before.

"T-thank you!" The lab tech muttered before sprinting away to safety. Natasha said nothing and then punched a worker that dared tried to attack her. Barton's grip on the bow loosened completely as he processed what he had just seen—a target had just saved someone, an innocent person? That didn't make any sense! His eyes followed Natasha as she fought and disabled all those that came at her and he couldn't take the shot. His directive was on repeat in his head—kill her—and yet, Clint could only watch her and feel his arm slide down to his side uselessly. It was clear that he wouldn't be fulfilling his mission from up here today and with a small smirk, he quickly changed tactics.

It took him about 15 seconds to get down onto the battlefield and about five seconds to get Natasha's attention. She froze as he took a few steps closer to her, almost as if she knew that taking him down wouldn't be as easy as taking down the others had been. He had never done something this reckless before—taking a target headfirst went against Fury's rules—and yet, he somehow knew that everything was going to work out.

She flew at him and he barely dodged her roundhouse kick. As she spun around, he caught her punch and then cursed when her gloved hand sent an electric current through him. Recovering quickly, he threw some punches of his own, only to have her dodge them all. Changing tactics, he reached for his bow and quickly let a few arrows loose. One pierced her shoulder, but she bit down on her lip and removed the offending object. A trail of blood darkened her blue suit, but she didn't let it faze her as fired a few rounds at Clint.

"What in the hell are you doing, Barton?" Fury barked over his intercom as Clint quickly rolled for cover. He noted that Natasha had nearly perfect aim.

"A little busy here, sir." Clint mumbled into his intercom as he fired off another few arrows.

"I said kill her," Fury hissed. "Not to engage her! Finish this mission, Barton!" The line went dead and a smirk tugged on Clint's lips.

"Yes, sir." He tossed down a smoke pellet and used it to his advantage as he fired off exploding arrows. As the smoke cleared, it soon became clear that while Natasha had been battered—her uniform was covered with patches of blood, dirt, and had numerous cuts in it—she refused to be beaten. She was on the floor, her legs trapped under some debris that Clint had caused to fall, and yet, she still tried to fight.

To no avail, of course, because Clint had won this fight. He needed to end this mission now. Fury had been right—this was no time to waste battling his target. He loaded another arrow and aimed for her heart as she struggled with all her weight to get free, to escape, to live.

He had his shot.

He was about to let the arrow sail when she met his gaze. Those eyes seemed to pierce him with their haunting look—a mixture of anger, hatred, and fear. She was about to die—he knew that she knew that—and yet, she refused to look away. All his other targets had refused to acknowledge their deaths, always avoiding Clint's gaze, always begging for their lives. She said nothing; just stared at him. A lone tear snaked its way down her cheek and she was getting paler from all the blood she had lost and still, she looked on. Natasha refused to look away.

She waited for him to deliver her death.

He never did.

With a mirthless laugh, he put the bow and arrow away and then he rushed to her side, moving fallen debris off of her. She hissed in pain and Clint could see that both her legs were fractured. He managed to free her finally, though she appeared to be on the verge of losing consciousness, her eyes drooping.

"Hey," He called to her, placing a hand on her face. She couldn't die now, not when he was so intrigued by her, not when he had just blown the mission to save her. "Stay with me, okay Natasha?" Her eyes snapped open and he shot her a small smile. "Can you stand?" He wasn't worried about the battle now—he had heard the choppers descend and reinforcements soon quickly turned the tide of the battle. Natasha's allies, whomever they were, would lose without her to guide them. Her eyes scanned his, as if she were searching for some clue that would reveal what his true motives were, but she finally just shook her head "no" and that seemed to exhaust her completely as her eyes slid shut.

He swore as he quickly snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her up. Glancing at her head, he could see blood dying her already red hair an even darker crimson. She needed medical aid soon or she wasn't going to make it.

"Coulson!" Clint shouted, half in surprise and half in relief when he spotted the slightly older agent standing near the medical response team jet.

"Agent Barton, what—?" Clint gently placed Natasha down the gurney that Coulson was guarding.

"I need a medical team!" Clint shouted over the din of the fight. Coulson's face lit up with shock and sheer confusion.

"What are you doing?" Coulson questioned. "Fury wanted her dead—"

"Yeah, well," Barton muttered as the medical team converged and began to work on Natasha. Another perk about being so high up in SHIELD's rank, people tended to do whatever you wanted them to do, even if that included saving the enemy's life. "Fury can't always get what he wants." He listened as the head doctor listed what was wrong with Natasha—the word blood loss and shock were repeated over and over again—before finally boarding the jet to bring her back to base for more intensive treatment.

"Are you coming, Agent Barton?" The head doctor shouted to him and before Clint could even re-act, Coulson gently nudged him towards the jet.


"Director Fury is coming to survey the damage," Coulson informed Clint. "He plans to remain here for the next two hours. He won't be able to inquire about your mission until those two hours have passed." Barton shot him a grateful smile before boarding the jet—he knew Fury was going to kill him for this, but somehow, Clint didn't really care.

He had made the right call—Natasha wasn't an ordinary target. There was something special about her. If she survived, maybe she'd be able to get them information on who had helped her attack the lab today and what they were looking for. If she survived, maybe he could talk her into joining SHIELD, providing Fury didn't kill him first.

She just had to survive first.

He knew that Fury had returned when Coulson had personally shown up to escort him to the bridge. Coulson smiled ruefully at him and Clint rose from the chair that he had been sitting on for the past two hours with a sigh. Natasha had been surgery ever since they had touched down and Clint had only gotten one status update that didn't exactly sound promising. Still, he had come to the realization that Natasha was a determined fighter and he held hope that she would managed to somehow survive this.

"That bad, huh?" Clint questioned as he glanced once more towards the doors that led into the operating room. Coulson didn't reply and the two slowly began the trek to the bridge. Fury stood over his numerous control panels and seemed to be semi-calm, which usually meant that he had been storing up his anger for the poor unfortunate soul that had managed to incur his wrath—today, that meant Clint.

"Sir?" Coulson greeted. "I've brought Agent Barton."

"Leave us." Coulson nodded his head respectfully before exchanging a worried glance with Clint. The bridge was unusually silent, with only the calm typing of the night technicians keeping the systems running.

"Director Fury—"

"What mission did I give you, Barton?" Fury hissed, but refused to meet his eyes. "Did I somehow give you the impression that I wanted Romanoff alive? Because, and correct me if I'm wrong, I'm pretty sure I ordered you to kill her!" His voice echoed in the room and Clint's lips drew in a tight line.

"You did sir," Clint answered respectfully. "But I made another call."

"Yes, I'm aware of that," Fury spat, finally facing him. "Explain to me why that is." Fury was offering him one chance, a chance to either redeem himself or damn himself. His whole life at SHIELD was on the line here and Barton had to make sure he somehow got Fury to see how valuable Natasha was alive.

"She saved a lab technician sir," Barton answered. "She saved her from an explosion and let her go without so much as a scratch."

"So, you think that just because she saved an innocent means that we should let all targets who do that live?" It was a trap and Clint had no choice but to fall into it.

"No, sir," He replied. "However, I noticed that Miss Romanoff—"

"Miss?" Fury's tone was incredulous, but Clint refused to back down now. He was going to finish what he started.

"Miss Romanoff is more valuable alive than dead. She could give us information on the group she worked for and I believe she would be an asset to SHIELD."

"Have you lost your mind?" Fury barked. "What makes you think she would even hand over any information to us?" It was a valid question and Clint honestly wasn't sure how to answer it. Just because he had saved Natasha's life didn't mean that she would be inclined to tell SHIELD anything about who she worked for and what their overall goal was. Natasha, for all he knew, might not even survive the surgery and if that were a case, he had wasted valuable resources for nothing.

"I trust her, sir." It was an honest answer and one that caught Fury off-guard. As he said it, Clint realized that he did believe it. There had been something in Natasha's eyes, something that had spoken to him subconsciously. Something that had told him that she was worth wore alive than dead and that he had to keep her alive.

Fury said nothing and for a few minutes an uneasy silence filled the room. Finally, with a small sigh, Fury faced away back to his monitors. Clint tensed, waiting for the final judgment to be passed down.

"She's your responsibility now, Barton," Fury informed him. "And if I so much as hear anything even remotely bad about her, you will be the one who'll pay the price." A small smile lit up Clint's face—he was off the hook.

"Thank you, sir."

He practically ran out of the bridge and back to the medical wing. He noticed the medical team had just emerged from the operating room. The head doctor walked up to him and quickly explained that the surgery had been a success and Natasha was now resting in one of the infirmary rooms.

That was all that he needed to hear. He rushed into the room and took a place sitting beside her bed. She seemed almost peaceful in her sleep, and despite the fact that her arms and legs were strapped down to the bed—a security precaution—she didn't seem to be in any pain.

He prepared himself for the long haul because he wasn't leaving her side, though; he wasn't sure why that was. He told himself it was for her own protection—she did have a lot of enemies at SHIELD—but some part of him acknowledged that that was a lie.

Regardless, he waited.

She awoke six hours later to see him sitting beside her.

"I'm Agent Barton," He introduced himself. "I work with SHIELD—"

"I know," Her voice was quiet and had a touch of fear in it. She let her eyes scan her surroundings and he wondered if she was scanning for some weaknesses that she could exploit in order to escape, but her eyes soon came back to rest on his. "Why am I here?"

Fair question and it wasn't like he could just say, "Well, I decided not to kill you so do you want to join SHIELD?" Yeah, he could imagine how that would go over. He couldn't settle on the truth, but he didn't want to lie to her either. His mind raced as he tried to come up with possibilities, but he was saved when she spoke once more.

"You saved me."

"Yeah." He answered.

"Why?" Her eyes flashed with confusion and her tone was laced with concern, as if she wasn't clear as to what his motives were. Before he could respond; however, he heard Fury's unmistakable footsteps thundering down the hall and with a small smirk, he rose from his seat.

"I'll see you soon." He left the room and went to one of the training arenas, prepared to wait until he heard what had transpired between her and Fury.

He hadn't had too many chances to visit her since that first day. While Fury claimed that he wasn't getting an "official" punishment, Clint found himself working twice as hard to complete twice as many missions as he had before he had saved her. By the time he did have a free moment two weeks later, Natasha had been moved to a more permanent room and had begun to walk around—a good sign considering all the trauma she had endured.

"Hey." Her eyes met his again, though they held no surprise in them. She was currently leaning against a small desk that was placed in front of the window. Her head wasn't bandaged, though she winced as she turned her head to face him.

"Agent Barton." She greeted, her voice full of exhaustion. He knew what a toll head injuries and blood loss could have on a person—he had been there before.

"My name is Clint." Her head titled to the side as a confused expression filled her face.


"Thought you should know," He said with a shrug as he sat on the bed across from her. A few moments of silence passed, as Natasha seemed to debate internally about what she should say to him. "How do you feel?"

"Like I almost died." He smirked, recognizing an attempt at humor when he saw one.

"The doctor told me you're gong to be fine." He informed her with a small smile.

"Why did you save me?" Again, the same question that she had asked when she had first woken up. Again, he didn't have an answer. "Fury told me that you were sent to kill me. Why didn't you?"

"What else did Fury tell you?" Clint pressed, trying to see whether Natasha was going to make it in SHIELD.

"Why do you want to know?" Her eyes held a challenge within them as if she was almost daring him to try and figure out who she really was. He rose from the bed and walked towards the door, pausing as his hand hit the handle.

"Why did you save that lab technician?" It was that action that had started this all and it was the question that he had wanted to know the answer too most.

"She had nothing to do with what I wanted." Natasha told him, quietly. He faced her once more.

"That's why." Clint replied.

Then, he left the room, without seeing the small grin that lit up her features.

"A what?" Clint questioned again, unsure if he had heard it correctly the first time.

"A micro-chip," Fury explained as he folded his arms across his chest. "Doctors picked it up this morning on the X-ray when she started complaining about intense pain in her head."

"What does this chip have to do with—?"

"Coulson!" Fury barked and instantly, Coulson handed Clint some papers, which he recognized as test results. He skimmed the pages, absorbing the key words: radiation, mind control, loss of self-will, and possible death. Clint met Fury's gaze, panic trying to claw its way up past his sanity. "Whoever Miss Romanoff was working for implanted this into her to get her to follow orders."

"Meaning that the attack at the lab—" Clint began, hope beginning to creep into his tone.

"As far as I can tell, she had no control over her actions then," Fury relented, sighing a bit. "She was being controlled by someone else. The chip must've been damaged sometime during the fight which is why she saved that lab technician."

"Unfortunately," Coulson started, a frown tugging on his lips. "There's a fail safe in the chip. Whomever Natasha worked for is using the chip to fry her mind, thus preventing her from telling us anything."

"Can they remove it?" Clint asked, worry seeping into his system. This couldn't be happening—he had not saved her just for her to be killed by someone else.

"Surgery is in an hour," Fury answered. "But they said her chances aren't looking good." Clint nodded before heading out of the room and running towards Natasha's room. She was lying on the bed, eyes shut, face contorted in pain. As he walked in, he felt as if he had been punched. It wasn't fair. She had another chance! She shouldn't be dying like this. It wasn't right.

"Natasha?" Her eyes opened slowly, but were glazed over with pain. Her breath was coming in fits and her fists were clenched into the sheets. Silently, he grabbed a nearby wash towel and dampened it by the sink. He gently dabbed her forehead and he was relieved to see some of the pain vanish from her expression.

"Barton?" Her voice was raspy, but he was still relieved to hear her talking.

"I'm here," He told her, trying to sooth her though he wasn't sure why he was doing so. She wasn't a child, he didn't need to comfort her and yet, there was something about seeing her in so much pain that stirred something protective within him. "You're going to be okay." It was probably a lie—her chances weren't good—but he didn't have the heart to tell her the truth.

"M' dying . . ." Her breath hitched and Clint felt his own oxygen supply cut off. Finally, the spasm seemed to pass and she relaxed onto the bed once more.

"You're going to be fine." He repeated, wishing that she would believe it. Clint dabbed at her forehead again with the cool cloth, wondering why he was doing this. It wasn't like he knew much about Natasha nor were they friends.

It just felt like his place was besides her, lying to her about his condition while wishing that he could somehow make it true.

They stayed like that until they finally rolled her into surgery.

Three hours, 42 minutes, and 38 seconds after they rolled Natasha into the operating room, Coulson appeared in the shooting gallery and Clint quickly put his arrow away. Targets were strewn about, each with a perfect shot in the heart. He had left the waiting room after one of the young nurses had kicked him due to his incessant pacing and he had immediately come here. There was something about shooting targets that made him feel like he had control over the situation. Coulson's face was impassive, giving Clint no indication about how Natasha was or whether she was even alive.

"Agent Barton?"

"She make it?" He needed to know, for some reason. Some part of him felt connected to Natasha and not just because he had saved her and brought her into SHIELD. There was something about her—something that he felt like he had to protect. He wanted to get to know her better, to find out what made her tick, to get her to smile at him.

But if she was dead . . .

"She's resting now," Coulson explained, a small smile on his usually impassive face. "The doctors have to monitor her to see if there is any long lasting effects, but for now, it looks like she's going to be okay." Clint released the breath that he had been holding ever since he watched Natasha vanish into the operating room. He ran a hand through his hair and chuckled dryly.

"I'll be damned," Clint mumbled. "She just won't give up."

"You didn't give up on her," Coulson observed and Clint nodded. "You know, you made the right call." With that small remark, Coulson returned to his post on the bridge and Clint grinned fully before sprinting down the halls to the recovery rooms.

She was lying there on the bed, an IV in her arm and a heart monitor beeping beside her, reminding him that she was still alive. Her head was bandaged and she seemed pale, but her face was no longer contorted in pain, which was a relief to him. He sat down in the chair beside her bed and watched her, afraid that this was but a dream and she had actually died.

"Creepy," She wheezed and he stiffened. "Not even able to defend myself." He smirked.

"You really think I would take advantage of you?" He teased, though his undercurrent was serious.

"Nope," Her eyes remained closed and her voice was laced with sheer exhaustion. "M' gonna join SHIELD."

"Yeah?" He pressed.

"Yep," She muttered, managing to open her eyes a bit. He smiled a bit and she returned the sentiment with a tired grin of her own. "Tired." Her eyes drifted closed again.

"Go back to sleep." He ordered her gently.

"Be here when I wake up?" She forced her eyes open once more and her expression was grim. He knew what she was really asking—you won't abandon me? —and he nodded his head slowly, making sure she understood his intentions.

"I'm not going anywhere."

It was a promise.

Time passed.

She recovered from the surgery beautifully and Fury officially made her an agent two weeks after the doctor allowed her to start basic training. She wasn't able to tell Fury much about the group she had used to work for—just that her thoughts weren't her own and the details were fuzzy. She would later tell Clint that the chip had seemingly taken her personality out and made her act like a zombie of sorts. Fury assigned her to be Clint's partner, something that Clint full-heartedly agreed with. She had made quick friends with Coulson and some of the other agents and about a month after she had arrived, she had proven herself to be a competent, trustworthy agent.

It was when they were waiting for Fury to come with details on their latest mission—something big was happening in Budapest—that she spoke about it for the first time.

"Thank you." She told him as they sat side by side at the briefing table on the bridge.

"For what, Nat?" Only he had been able to get away with the nicknaming—Coulson had tried once and then got punched because of it—and he suspected this was because of their close bond they shared. He understood her in levels that not many people could even begin to comprehend and he knew that she could now read him as easily as a book.

"For saving me that day," He didn't need to press fore more—they both knew what day she was talking about. "I owe you one."

"Well, you can make it up to me." She grinned.

The truth was that she owed him nothing. Saving her that day had helped him out just as much as it had helped her. He had gained a partner and an ally. He had somehow, finally, who understood who he was and why he did what he did.

It wasn't her that he had saved that day.

She had been his saving grace and she owed him nothing.

Not now, not ever.

Author's Note: This is my longest one-shot ever and it took me forever to write, but I love how it turned out. I hope you enjoyed it! Please review!