Chapter 6: Peace
They checked into a Motel 6, the sky starting to redden as dusk approached. The high volume of people flocking to the Big Apple meant that most hotels and motels were completely booked out. They had visited a dozen before reaching this motel. Natasha was all for sleeping in the car, but Clint wouldn't hear of it. No matter how many times she insisted she had all the rest she needed, Clint would refuse to listen. He could be damn stubborn when his mind was set on something, especially when that something had to do with her health or safety. It was actually almost sweet.
The girl behind the counter was all of twenty-one. Her long blond hair streamed down her back in a messy ponytail, and her odd colored eyes regarded Clint with interest. The one blue eye and the one brown eye glowed when Clint approached the counter. She tossed her head and straightened her back to make her breasts stand out. She pouted her lips, and fluttered her eyelashes. Natasha groaned inwardly, trying not to roll her eyes at the girl's clumsy seduction techniques. Clint gave her half a weak smile for a microsecond. The girl's sexy pout vanished instantly.
"Do you have any rooms available?" Clint enquired.
The girl, who's nametag read Charlene, looked quite put out at Clint's lack of interest. "Just one," she answered, huffily. "A single room with double beds. Room twelve"
"We'll take it," Clint replied, while he pulled out a wad of cash. Charlene gave Natasha a cold look. Natasha shot the girl her most piercing glare. The girl blanched and looked away quickly. Clint had been nearly silent since they had left Central Park, Natasha didn't know why. She thought it had something to do with what she had said to Thor, but the question remained poised in her mind.
"Thank you for choosing Motel 6," Charlene all but spat, once Clint and Natasha turned their backs on the counter. "And have a nice day."
Natasha smiled dangerously sweet over her shoulder, fixing the girl with a level gaze. "Thank you," she replied. The girl obviously wasn't so dim that she missed the acidic undertone in Natasha's voice. She hurriedly hid her face, and went back to her work. Natasha knew it was puerile of her, but it also gave her sense of self-satisfaction. There was nothing like taking arrogance down a peg to make one feel better in a time of melancholy and confusion.
When they reached room twelve, Clint opened the door with the keys, and stood aside to let Natasha in first. It was a closely packed room; there was not a whole lot of space to move in, but it was comfortable enough. Clint excused himself, and left the room again, giving Natasha free rein to explore the room. The bathroom was small, and while not as clean or fancy as the one in Stark Tower, it was well lit, with a glass-encased shower. The beds were very soft, the mattress sagged heavily when she sat down upon it, and the sheets were clean and a crisp white. The air was fresh and lightly perfumed with a lemon fragrance. Natasha flopped back on the bed, her head on the crescent shaped pillow. A lassitude was starting to seep through her to her very bones. The day's events had proved draining after all.
Clint came back into the room, two heavy bags in either hand. Natasha sat up as he held one out to her. "What's this?"
"I packed a bag for you," Clint explained, sitting down on the opposite bed with an exhausted groan. "I retrieved it from the Quinjet before S.H.I.E.L.D came by to cart the wreckage away."
Natasha smiled, touched by Clint's foresight, and his thoughtfulness. Of course, S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn't want any civilians getting their hands on, or exploring, any of the alien craft. The question must have been in her eyes for Clint continued to speak. "I called S.H.I.E.L.D. after Loki was taken away, and after I'd taken care of… well, you. They came immediately, before any civilians could come back to scrounge amongst the rubble."
Natasha nodded, pawing through her bulging black duffle bag. Clint really had thought ahead. He'd packed most of everything she needed: Fresh clothes, hosiery, lingerie, toiletries, several pairs of shoes, and, buried right at the bottom, her guns. "Thanks, Clint," she murmured.
"No problem." Clint's voice was flat. He crossed to the window, staring out at the gradually darkening sky. "You can have the first shower."
Natasha opened her mouth to say something, anything, but decided against it. She'd have a much-needed shower first, and then get down to business with finding out what was going on with Clint. She pulled out her toiletries bag, some lingerie, and the black crop top and shorts combo she slept in. Of course her sleeping gear had to be black, that was her signature shade.
She put her clothes in the cupboard beneath the sink, to avoid them getting wet with stray drops from the shower. Her toiletries bag she opened, tipping the contents on the counter. A toothbrush, a minute tube of toothpaste, and a matching bottle of mouthwash were normal enough. She was surprised though to see a bottle of French vanilla perfume and a bottle of fruit scented shampoo. She pulled off her clothes, stepping into the glass-encased shower. The scalding hot water felt terrific against her skin. She tipped her head back, letting the water rush down her face and cleanse her skin of all her makeup. The fruit scented shampoo Clint had packed was delightful. The smell invigorated her, and made her stomach growl with hunger. The complimentary soap didn't have a noticeable smell, but it felt wonderful to lather up against her skin. There was little better than the feeling of being clean again after a particularly bad day.
The room was filled with steam by the time Natasha stepped out of the shower. She enclosed her curvaceous body in one of the small white motel towels. A delicious smell of hot food made her stomach rumble and growl loudly. She dressed quickly, spraying her neck, breasts, wrists and armpits with perfume to fully complete her feeling of cleanliness. She ruffled her hair with the towel to dry it somewhat, before tossing the sodden towel over the shower door.
Clint was sitting on her bed, several pizza boxes piled up beside him. "I didn't want to start without you," he said, seeing her raise an eyebrow.
She smiled her thanks, accepting the bottle of cola he handed her, before diving fervently into the top pizza box. The simple cheese pizza looked heavenly. She hadn't realized she was so damn hungry. She ate slowly, knowing that she'd regret it if she scoffed the pizza down. She washed the food down with the soft drink. The cola left a tingle on her taste buds. Clint took the pepperoni pizza, occasionally offering her a slice, or taking a slice of her pizza. It was very comfortable, just sitting here eating with Clint beside her. They were free to go on their way now. Natasha didn't know if they would return to S.H.I.E.L.D., or continue on their own way until the Avengers were needed again. 'A holiday would be welcome,' she thought as she ate. 'It's been such a long time.' She'd truly never cared about taking time off before. She was completely dedicated to her job, but the prospect of spending uninterrupted time with Clint did thrill her. She cursed inside. 'I'm going to have to address that sooner rather than later.'
They both managed to consume all but one of the pizzas. Natasha reclined against the bed, feeling full and content. Clint packed them on a chest beside the door, before turning to face her. Her heart lurched, but Clint simply walked past her, gathered up some items from his bag, and went into the bathroom. Natasha exhaled heavily, slapping her face into her hands. Now she was alone with her feelings. She hated that. 'Does Clint feel this way?' She pondered that. He'd never indicated that he felt any romantic feelings towards her. That would make things all the more complex if he harbored no love for her. 'Love. Oh, hell. Is that really how I feel?'
"Love is for children," she had told Loki. Now, she wondered if she'd been lying to him, or herself. Or both. She couldn't do her job efficiently if she was in love. Or could she? A good spy was never a slave to their emotions. Natasha sure had that down pat. Perhaps she'd been too harsh on herself. Love was a natural emotion after all. It sure complicated things, as she had discovered when Clint had been taken. 'So why can't you admit it?' a little voice hissed in her mind. It might be because Clint might not return her feelings. How could she possibly work alongside him if she told him she loved him and he didn't return her feelings? How could she possibly look him in the eye?
She let out a growl of frustration. She leapt to her feet and started to pace across the room, back and forth. Thins was why she hated feelings. They complicated absolutely everything. 'Or do they?' the voice cooed again. 'Perhaps feelings are simple, it's just you setting hurdles for yourself.' She stopped dead in her tracks. There was something about that train of thought that virtually lifted a great weight from her. Or maybe she just sought comfort there because thinking like that was the easy way out. Damn, she hated this! Her fist lashed out and smashed into a corner of the wall. Pain bloomed across her hand. She grunted at the pain, a sensation of deep satisfaction at the pain was a more familiar friend.
Natasha spun towards the bathroom, cursing. She hadn't heard the shower stop, let alone Clint open the door. His gray eyes were widened and filled with questions. She held her aching hand by her side, balling it to increase the pain. "I didn't hear you," she answered, lamely. She grimaced as soon as the words left her tongue, wishing she had held her silence.
"What are you doing?" Clint's hair was disheveled, and damp. He was clad only in a pair of black shorts. Natasha tried not to stare at his bare chest, or the myriad of scars that puckered his flesh.
"Nothing," she replied, gritting her teeth. "What is going on with you, Clint? Since we left Central Park you haven't said more than ten words to me. You act like you don't even want to be in the same vicinity as me."
Clint's eyes narrowed. He approached her, carefully taking her hand in his, examining the red flush across her knuckles. He held her hand between his. Natasha pulled away, crossing back to her bed and sitting down. Her head was swimming with confusion, and she wasn't happy at all. Clint followed, sitting down beside her. His leg brushed hers, and her skin promptly erupted into goose bumps. She fought the urge to rub her skin, not wanting to draw Clint's attention to the obvious effect he had on her.
"I don't understand why you said you wanted him to find redemption."
'Ah, so I was right.' She found no satisfaction in that now. "I said it for Thor."
Clint looked surprised. "For Thor?"
Natasha kept her gaze on the pattered carpet. She didn't want Clint to detect anything in her eyes. "Yes, I remembered how I felt when you were taken by Loki. Thor looked the same way: lost… and… lonely."
She heard Clint's breath stop, and she couldn't stop herself from stiffening. She plowed on, determined now. "I felt sorry for him. I knew how he felt. I said what I said to mollify him. Maybe Loki can be redeemed, maybe not."
Clint snorted. "He doesn't deserve it."
Natasha didn't answer. She couldn't find a way to voice how she truly felt on the matter. Clint's fingers curled into a fist. Finally, she whispered, "That isn't for us to decide."
"After everything that bastard did to us. He killed Phil! He killed thousands of people. He tried to take over the world, and he... he…" Clint shook his head, unable to summon the words from his throat. He didn't need to; Natasha knew exactly what he meant. She could hear the pain in Clint's voice.
"I understand. I know what he did. I remember, and I will never forget. But I'm not going to cry about it. That's what Loki would have wanted: to break me. To know that he could bend me to his whim and will." She touched Clint's bare leg. "What has happened has happened. We can't change that, Clint. We just have to keep moving, and doing what we do. When the Avengers are recalled we will be there. That's our job."
Clint's hand joined hers. He squeezed her fingers lightly. Natasha bent her head to his shoulder. "You wanted to kill him."
"Of course." He raised her head slightly so he could look her in the eyes. "Did you think I was going to snap at the park and try to do him harm?"
Natasha smiled. "No, I knew you weren't that reckless."
Clint's smile emulated her own. "Damn right. I would have had to get past Thor, Steve, Tony and Bruce. And you. And if I had managed to slip past the five of you, S.H.I.E.L.D. would've taken me down." A soft chuckle rumbled up from his chest. Natasha felt the tremor of it against her skin.
"You wouldn't have made it past Thor," she teased.
Clint grinned at her. "Hey! Give me a little credit here. I doubt that hammer of his would have improved my health and well-being, though."
They both fell silent, the only sounds coming from the traffic outside. It was comforting here, Natasha's hand on Clint's leg. She tucked her head under his, their bodies pressed up in close contact. Clint's breath stirred her still slightly damp russet hair. She felt herself shiver, her skin breaking out into goose pimples again. Clint's hands released hers, and he wrapped his arms around her. "Nat?"
She shifted her head so she could meet his eyes. "Yes, Clint?"
"You woke on the roof of Stark Tower, just for a minute. You said something, but I didn't catch what it was. Do you remember?"
She inhaled deeply. She was about to venture into deep water here, from which she couldn't turn back. 'No more, no longer, I'm done with this evasiveness.' "Yes." She paused for a second, meeting his gray eyes dead on. "I said your name, Clint. I remember seeing you, but I didn't know if you were really there or not. Clint," She spoke his name again; savoring how easily it slipped from her tongue.
Clint's arms tightened around her, his eyes never leaving hers. He leaned in and gently placed a chaste kiss on her lips. Natasha's hands rose to wrap around his neck. They broke apart after a few seconds. Natasha could feel the slight tingle of Clint's lips on hers. It had been such an innocent, almost virginal, kiss, but it was the finest she'd ever received. He smiled tenderly, placing another kiss on her forehead. "Welcome back, Nat."
He fell back, lying flat on his back. Natasha curled up beside him, her head on his chest, her index finger skating around on his muscled chest, brushing over the puckers of scars. She felt Clint seize up for a moment, before he relaxed. She could feel the tight coils of muscle beneath his skin. It was very peaceful. Her head rose and fell every time Clint breathed, she could hear the tranquil beating of his heart. His fingers ran through her hair. After everything that had happened, this was a welcome interlude. Their bodies fit perfectly together.
"What are we going to do now?" Natasha asked. A roguish smile lit up Clint's face, completed by a quizzically raised eyebrow. Natasha laughed and slapped a hand down on his bare chest. "I meant, are we going to go back to S.H.I.E.L.D. or are we going to take some time off."
Clint closed his eyes, still stroking her hair. He sighed deeply in contentment. "After all that we've been through we deserve some time off." He opened his eyes and sat up, bringing Natasha up with him. "Don't you want some time off?"
Her eyes flickered to the window. Night had fallen, and bathed the room in its darkness. Only the sickly orange glow of a streetlight kept the room from being plunged into total darkness. She looked back to Clint, who was watching her patiently. "I love what I do, but…"
"… I love what we do, too," Clint interjected, "but I feel we deserve some time off. We can go back, but I…"
"I… I just want some time alone with you." Anyone else would have blushed and dropped their eyes; Clint's gaze never wavered.
'There it is.' Clint didn't need to expand on that. Natasha knew what he meant, and she felt a surge of relief. And frustration. She didn't know how to voice her thoughts, or how to articulate how she truly felt. The words stuck to her throat like caramel. She swung her legs over to straddle him, her knees pressing against his hipbones. She set her hands on his shoulders, her position giving her a tad more height. She worried at the inside of the bottom lip with her teeth. "Clint, I don't know… God, I don't know how to…"
Clint kissed her throat, so very gently nipping at her skin. She shivered violently. "You don't know how to put it into words. You can't voice your feelings in a coherent way. No matter how deeply, and genuinely, you feel, there just aren't the right words to communicate those thoughts."
She chuckled. "Exactly."
Clint's hands gripped her hips, the ball of the thumbs circling her hipbones. "I understand, Natasha. Believe me, I do. How do you voice something that has been troubling you for so long? Especially when you have learned to completely mask your feelings. It's part of our job. You can't make it if you're a slave to your emotions, so we bury ours. Then, once we find we need to give voice to them, we stumble over our words, and our minds can't summon the perfect words."
He said it all so well. Natasha had never heard Clint speak in such an eloquent fashion. She really was seeing a whole other side to him, a more sensitive side. She had always felt completely herself around Clint. She didn't need to hide anything around him. He understood her well. His mind was as sharp as his eyes, and he was right. In their line on work, it wasn't safe or smart to be such an emotional person. Emotions ate you alive, and destroyed you, leaving you an empty, ruined shell. They witnessed too much, and did too much, to allow their emotions free rein. Now, though, they weren't with S.H.I.E.L.D., they were alone together, for how long neither of them knew. Their body language was already betraying their inner most thoughts. Their minds and mouths were just too slow to catch up.
Clint spoke not a word during Natasha's silence. For that she was grateful. Her mind needed the time to sort itself out. Her thoughts were all in a jumble, and she didn't know how to work through that. She'd always considered herself a sharp woman, and it was alarming how something so basic could prove to be so problematic, and thought consuming. All her hard years of training and work had left her taciturn to matters such as these at hand. Still, she was here now, and Clint was in the very same position as she. She wasn't going to turn back now.
Slowly, she bent her mouth to Clint's. This kiss was filled with more passion. Their mouths joined, their hands cradling each other. Their tongues met, dancing around each other. Their breathing grew heavier. Clint lay back down, dragging Natasha with him. She loomed over him, propping herself up on her forearms. Clint moved fluidly, flipping her onto her back, his hands gripping her narrow waist hard. When they broke apart both were breathing hard. Clint bent so close to her that the tip of their noses touched.
"You're a fine kisser, Clint," Natasha whispered.
Clint smiled, kissing the tip of her nose. He kissed down her jaw line to her neck. He paused once he got there, breathing in the smell of her perfume. "You too. A damn fine kisser." He buried his head in the curve of her neck again, inhaling loudly. "You smell divine."
She chuckled breathlessly. "I wish I could say the same about my breath." She gazed up at him, rubbing the small of his back. He stopped nuzzling her neck and went back in for another kiss.
"Your breath smells fine," he commented, once he had pulled away.
"It doesn't," Natasha replied, stifling a yawn with the back of her hand. Ah, hell. Her weariness was starting to show. Clint heaved himself off her, offering her a hand and pulling her to her feet.
They brushed their teeth together, Clint holding Natasha against him. It was so close to being a domestic scene. They stared at their reflections once they were finished. Clint's hands held Natasha's. He was only an inch or two taller than her, so it was easy for her to recline against his body, her hip curling into his. His hand went to her lower back, gently sweeping in calming circles. "This is nice," she said. She surprised herself with her words. Without thinking about it she had just voiced something she had been stressing about. 'And perhaps that's the key. I've been over-thinking all of this. We both have.'
"Yeah," Clint's voice was brimming with affection. He lifted her up, supporting her buttocks with his hands. She wrapped her legs tightly around him as he carried her back to the bed. He set her back down against the blankets, before crossing to the curtains and pulling them closed, plunging the room into total darkness. Natasha fumbled with a bedside lamp, switching it on, and throwing the room back into view again. Clint stood over the bed, looking down at her.
She almost felt shy under his watchful gaze. It was a day made for strangeness apparently. "What?"
He sat down carefully beside her, running his fingers through her hair, down her face and down her torso. It wasn't a lecherous gesture. His fingers were feather light, barely touching her. "You're beautiful," he told her quietly.
She had been told many times over that she was a beautiful woman. Most modern day men didn't use such fine terminology. They seemed to think that the rougher and dirtier their words, the more she'd be flattered. She had never felt so flattered, or touched, by any man before. Those two words from Clint's mouth warmed her inside, and brought a smile to her face that she had never worn previously. "Thank you, Clint." She spoke from the depths of her heart. She took his hand and kissed his knuckles. She braced herself, one more step and she would fall in the precipice. It was a step she was finally ready to make. "I love you."
Instead of looking joyful, Clint looked anguished. His reaction startled Natasha. "You shouldn't. God," he twisted his hands together, "I should have fought harder. I let him take me. I tried to hurt you. I let him take you." He brushed the bruises on her collarbone. "That's my fault. I..." The agony on his face ripped at her.
Natasha silenced him with a tender kiss, rising up on her knees to reach his face. "Hush. Let's not talk about that. There's nothing to talk of. What happened is in the past. Loki is gone, and I'm here now with you, Clint. I love you." She said each word loudly and carefully. She kissed him again. "I love you."
Clint allowed himself to smile. "I love you too, Nat."
A smile spread across her lips. 'And that is that.' "I think that receptionist girl would have liked to hear those words from you."
Clint grinned, shaking his head. "Who would choose a girl over you?"
Natasha lowered herself back onto the mattress, feeling it sink under her weight. Clint lay down beside her, and she tucked her head against his neck. She threw one of her legs over his, and wrapped him in an embrace. Clint kissed her head, his hands stroking her hair again. Three simple little words, so easily spoken had been the subject of so much anxiety. Natasha laughed, feeling so absurd at having been so concerned by something so small. Truly, people did complicate feelings a great deal. They made such a simple thing so difficult for themselves.
She reached up and switched off the lamp. She couldn't see Clint at all, but she could feel the steady rise and fall of his throat. She found his free hand and held it against her. "Good night, Nat."
"Good night, Clint," she spoke into the blackness. She felt at peace, something she hadn't felt for so very long. What would happen to her and Clint tomorrow, or in the future, she didn't know, nor did she care. The sense of peace she felt now was all she cared about, that and Clint. She felt safe and secure.
She wondered briefly how the rest of the Avengers were faring. She hoped they were well. She wondered again whether she and Clint would return to S.H.I.E.L.D., or whether they would stay on their own until the Avengers were called again. It didn't matter. She had Clint back at her side. She'd told him how she truly felt, and the weight of it had been taken from her. She felt like she could breathe freely again. She didn't need to worry. What happened in the past was over, and she wouldn't concern herself with the future.
Clint fumbled for her in the dark, laughing, and sweeping her lips to his. Natasha laughed too, wrestling with him. They kissed in the dark, their arms tight around one another. She wasn't the Black Widow here. Here and now she was Natasha. Just Natasha. Here she could drop her tough exterior and enjoy the moment, if only for that night. She was in Clint's safe hands, his body and lips warm against her own. It was peaceful in the dark. The night was theirs, and nothing could take it from them.
A/N: Well, we have come to the end. Thank you, thank you, to absolutely each and every person who reviewed, put this story on your favorites/alerts list, or put me on your favorite authors/alerts list. I truly appreciate the support, especially since this is the first multi-chaptered story I have written in roughly six years. I had concerns about being rusty, and not being able to finish this, but your continued support encouraged me to keep writing. I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I did writing.