Rating: T (language)
Fandom: Avengers (movieverse)
Characters: Clint, Phil, Natasha
Spoilers: Spoilers for movie
Summary: It wasn't because she was pretty, although that didn't hurt...
Notes:If you haven't guessed, I really love writing these things. Also, although I didn't mean it, these are kind of building one on the next. Thanks again for all the reviews, favorites, and to everyone for reading these things! It's very motivating. That's it.
Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable. - Sydney Harris
Russia - September 2004
Clint nodded tersely, clasping his hands in front of him.
"The drop point is coming up," Phil continued, his eyes still fixed firmly on Clint. "The plan... repeat it back."
"Go in. Find a spot and hang out. Watch. Listen. Wait. If I get a shot -"
"No," Phil interrupted. "Wait. Just wait. Agent O'Donnell will give the strike order." Seeing Clint roll his eyes, he continued. "I know you don't like him, but this is his mission. He's leading the raid. His team will flush out the operatives and then..."
"Take the shot," Clint finished.
"Good," Phil said. "I'll be listening in and part of the pickup crew. You've read the file. You know what these people are up to; how bad it is. Stay out of sight. If they catch you -"
"I know what will happen if they catch me."
"Then don't let them," Phil urged. "Don't do anything stupid, just watch and wait."
"Agent Coulson," a voice over the PA system called out, "we're five minutes from the drop point."
Clint stood up and rechecked the straps on his backpack before shuffling his feet nervously.
"You sure you're up to this?"
"I am," Clint said, making himself meet the other man's eyes.
"Okay," Phil sighed, reaching out and clasping his hand. "Good luck, Agent Barton."
The drop went smoothly and Clint had little trouble finding his way to the isolated camp. He'd studied the satellite surveillance photos and went directly to the predetermined stakeout location. It was good a spot, one he'd picked out himself, nestled high in a tree that provided enough shelter but still allowed him a good visual range.
The plan really was simple. Clint was to hang out and wait for the raid to begin. SHIELD had been working for months with a double agent inside the compound, a man named Petrov. What was so unique about this man turning is that he happened to be the one running the organization. Honestly, that didn't sit well with Clint, but that wasn't his call to make. However, it didn't feel right that the man who started this could essentially walk away unscathed.
When O'Donnell initiated the raid, that's when Clint's work was to begin. He'd memorized a list of names and faces and knew who needed to be taken out and in what order. Another thing Clint didn't like was that O'Donnell had admitted that Petrov had helped create the list and that didn't feel exactly right. However, facts were facts, and no one on that list were what you would call good people. They were all straight up killers, people that if left alive would simply restart the operation and put themselves in charge. They were his primary mission. His secondary mission was to assist in keeping Petrov safe and getting him onto the plane and out of the country.
For three days he sat, literally up a tree, and watched how the compound moved. They knew a lot already, but seeing it for himself was a different experience. As he sat and watched, he got a good look at Petrov who, to his untrained eye, looked nervous, but that could be Clint projecting. A few others on his main list had left the compound while he'd watched and Clint considered them no longer his problem. After awhile, it got a little dull. Everyone obviously had a very rigid routine, and they stuck to it. It didn't make for an exciting watch, but it would make things easier on him and the raiding team.
On the fourth morning he got the signal.
They'd maintained a steady radio silence, but not long after midnight he heard three clear beeps in his left ear.
Clint knew what that meant; the countdown had begun.
Exactly three hours later, SHIELD was extremely punctual, it began.
Clint had already readied himself. He'd repacked his bag and prepared a zip line to make a quick escape. Most importantly, he'd readied his bow.
The courtyard was chaotic. A series of explosions had drawn out a number of lower level men, all of which Clint ignored. People began to shout and race around, but no one seemed to be in charge. Their well ordered routine was falling apart, probably because their leader, Petrov, had already defected.
Then, as Clint was beginning to think no one on his list would show, Petrov himself finally came out the exact door Clint had suspected he would. Three days watch having actually paid off some. He seemed unconcerned by the events around him, and why should he be, but not so the others. With him was a young girl, whom he held firmly by the arm, and then there was her.
Clint had begun to doubt she'd even been there, it was the first time he'd seen her in person. But there she was, right at his side and escorting him out to safety. Petrov's number two. And, on Clint's list, she was number one.
"Romanoff," Clint said into his mic, as he'd been instructed to when identifying a potential hit. O'Donnell wanted to personally confirm each take down before it was made.
He'd lined up the shot, it was perfect, and was just about to let it fly when Petrov began to yell. Clint didn't know Russian, he actually wasn't even sure it was Russian Petrov was yelling in, but whatever he said had caught Romanoff's attention. The grip Clint had on his bow slackened as he watched the scene unfold.
Romanoff looked confused. Up until this point she'd been providing cover fire and helping Petrov however possible, but when he'd shouted she'd stopped and turned.
"Take the shot, Barton," O'Donnell snapped in his ear, but Clint ignored him.
Petrov and Romanoff were having some kind of heated exchange, but she didn't draw her weapon on him. Clint watched as she shook her head and waved for him to move. She was still trying to help him but then...
Petrov looked up.
"Go, Barton. Now."
Petrov looked up, looked right at Clint and smiled. Then, in perfect English, he turned to Romanoff and said, "It's over for you."
And it was.
"Barton, can you hear me?" O'Donnell barked, practically screaming in his ear now. "Take the shot. Take the damn shot."
Clint had never even seen the gun, but he heard it. He heard the shot and he saw the girl Petrov had been holding on to so tightly crumple in a heap on the ground. He heard the scream that ripped through Romanoff, the absolute terror of it, as she forgot everything around her and ran to the girl's side. And then there was the laugh.
Petrov had shot this girl and then laughed. It was a game for him. Killing this girl. Breaking this woman. It didn't matter to him at all. SHIELD was there because he wanted us there. He wanted us to clean up his mess.
It was a joke.
"Do it," O'Donnell said angrily in his ear.
Romanoff sat in the dirt with the dead girl's head in her lap. Tears were flowing from her eyes when she finally saw Clint for herself. She was still armed. She could have defended herself. She could have fired on Petrov. Hell, she probably could have shot him out of the damn tree entirely, but she didn't. She just glared at him for a moment and then turned her eyes back to the girl and continued to sob as if it just didn't matter anymore.
"Do it," Petrov repeated, staring up at him from the courtyard.
So he did.
"What in the fuck are you doing, Barton? Have you lost your mind?"
Clint ripped the earpiece out and slid down the zip line as fast as it would take him. He slung his bow over one shoulder and ran, gun drawn, to where Romanoff still sat clutching the girl to her.
If she knew that Petrov was dead, she didn't let on. Clint doubted she'd even seen him approach.
"Let's go," he snapped.
Romanoff spat out something in Russian back at him, but didn't move.
"Now," Clint yelled, louder than before. SHIELD agents were starting to pour into the courtyard and he was pretty sure that one of them would have orders to take her out, O'Donnell would see to that. Hell, they'd probably been told to take them both out. His only chance was to get to that plane, back to Agent Coulson, immediately. "They're going to kill you if we don't get out of here. Right now."
"I won't leave her," Romanoff said in English, her accent muted.
Clint didn't have time to stop and weigh his options.
"Fine," he agreed. "We'll bring her with us. I'll..." He didn't know how to finish that sentence. As gently as he could considering the time crunch, he pushed Romanoff out of the way and picked the girl up.
Just as he'd bent over, Romanoff leaned up, and the next thing he knew he was staring at the barrel of his secondary gun; she'd pulled it right from its holster and he'd hardly felt it.
For what felt like the longest second of his life, she'd paused. The look in her eye was more sad than angry, but even that lasted only an instant. Clint could hear his heartbeat and had just enough time to think, 'this is it'.
But it wasn't.
Romanoff got up, turned, and shot two of what had just been her own men.
"Which way?" she asked as he got to his feet, the girl firmly in his arms.
Clint motioned towards the side gate and Romanoff took the lead. It took about fifteen minutes at a steady run, but they reached the rendezvous point. They were greeted with silence and accusing looks, but Clint didn't care.
"This way," Clint said, moving up the ramp and into one of the smaller, secure, cargo bays. He then gently laid the girl down on the nearest bench and stood back, allowing the other woman to take his spot.
Clint took a few steps backwards and watched in stunned disbelief. This woman he knew only as a killer was a wreck before him. He felt that way himself, but he had to snap out of it. Any minute now he was going to have to answer some hard questions, and if he was going to keep any semblance of control, over this situation or himself, he needed to act.
"I'll need to search you for weapons."
"What?" she snapped, not even looking his way.
"You have my gun."
Romanoff looked down at her hand as if she hadn't even realized the weapon was still there. Slowly she got to her feet and faced him, and then waited a moment, perhaps weighing her options, before finally offering the gun back to him.
Clint holstered the weapon quickly but didn't relax.
Romanoff complied, even going so far as to put her hands on her head without being asked, and Clint patted her down as quickly as he could.
"You were supposed to kill me. Why didn't you?"
"Change of plans," Clint answered as he removed two small knives from the inside of her jacket.
"Careful," she said. "The one with the red handle is poisoned."
Clint didn't reply, but he heeded her advice.
"You were working with Petrov?" she asked.
"You were working with the men working with him then? Yes?"
"What will they do to you?"
Clint again chose not to reply. In reality, he didn't know.
"Are you done?" she asked.
"Yeah," Clint answered, and as he did, Romanoff dropped her hands and turned to face him, staring him down.
She had short black hair with piercing green eyes, and it was only then that Clint first allowed himself to admit she was pretty, beautiful even. Before she'd been a picture in a file, he'd expected to assassinate a picture from a file, but what he'd seen...
"Jesus, Barton," Phil said as he burst into the room. "This is a mess."
With that, Romanoff returned to the girl's side and Clint took a seat near the door.
"Ma'am," Phil said, holding out a blanket, "when you're ready."
"Thank you," she muttered, taking it and went about carefully covering the body.
"I need your things," Phil said, turning back to Clint and motioning for him to get back on his feet. "Bow, bag, guns. Let's go." Clint handed off the items and then, after Phil passed them out the door to another agent who had been standing by expressly for that purpose, he shook his head. "I've got to search you. Turn."
Clint shook his head, but didn't object and Phil found nothing further.
"You going to handcuff me? What -"
"Not here," Phil interrupted, ushering Clint out the door. After issuing orders to the other agent that no one was to enter that area except for himself, he walked Clint a few doors down and into a separate cargo hold.
"We can't talk now," Phil again interrupted. "We will, but not right now. "
Phil left him there, alone, for the remainder of the flight. When they landed, Phil was back to escort him into the building and, as Clint had assumed, into a cell.
"We need you to file a report," were the first words Phil said to him, indicating the pad and paper that'd been left there with that obvious intent.
Clint nodded and half an hour later Phil was back with a tray of food.
"Thought you might be hungry."
"With your report? Already?"
Clint handed him the single piece of paper he'd used in his own defense, because that's what it was. Phil could call it a report, but Clint knew better.
Phil scanned the sheet and nodded, leaving without another word.
Two days later Director Fury was at the door.
"Barton," he said, his tone always brisk, as he entered the room. He had the report in hand and he didn't look happy.
"Sir," Clint returned, not bothering to stand.
"Care to explain this?"
"You have my report."
"That's what I meant."
"I think it's pretty clear," Clint said evenly.
Fury held up the paper and read, "Petrov shot an innocent girl in the back of the head and laughed."
"Like I said," Clint repeated, "it's pretty clear."
For a long time, neither of them spoke. Fury continued to stare down at Clint, but he was too worn down to care.
"Romanoff is a killer, too," Fury finally said.
"She is," Clint agreed. "She's killed terrorists and traffickers and dealers and anyone her boss, Petrov, told her to kill."
"And that makes it excusable to you?"
"Wouldn't it have to, considering what I do?"
"Still," Fury said with a nod, "she's got a lot of blood on her hands."
"Not like Petrov."
"But you didn't have to bring her."
"We needed an inside source," Clint reasoned. "Petrov was no longer available so I brought the next best thing."
"Come with me," Fury commanded, opening the door and with quick steps, marched down the long corridor to a new room where Phil was waiting, watching Romanoff from the other side of a two-way mirror.
Phil nodded and resumed his watch.
"She's on something," Fury said as he shut the door. "They'd drugged her with, well honestly, we're not sure what, but she's coming down now. She understands what has happened and she wants to talk to you."
"O'Donnell's been... reassigned," Fury continued as if Clint hadn't spoken. "He should have never made a deal with Petrov. We think Romanoff will cooperate, but she wants to talk to you first. Tell her what she wants to hear. Lie if you have to. Barton, we need her. We didn't before, but now... she's all that's left."
"I'm not an interrogator."
"You don't have to be," Phil assured him. "Just...talk. You'll know what to say."
Clint didn't believe that was true, but he knew he had to give it a shot.
When he walked in the room, her demeanor changed. She sat up straight and stared at him for a moment before muttering, "Huh."
"I thought they'd killed you."
Clint sat down opposite her and shook his head, "No."
"If I was running this operation, I'd have killed you."
"I guess I should be glad you're not running this operation."
Clint smiled and was surprised when she mirrored the gesture. He'd done all the training but had next to no real world experience. His job was usually handled from a distance. This was too intimate for his tastes. "So, I'm alive," he continued, already feeling in over his head.
"We've established that."
"That all you wanted?"
"What I want is to know why you changed the deal? Your director wants me to swtich sides but... I don't know. Can I trust your man? He wanted me dead."
"Petrov wanted you dead. We needed him so..."
"You were prepared to do his dirty work?"
"Oh," she said with a coy look in her eyes. "I see. You saw me as, what? Helpless? Weak? And you couldn't do it. You couldn't kill a poor, defenseless..."
"You aren't what I'd call defenseless."
"...woman?" she finished, as if he'd never spoken. "I thought so. Men are predictable that way."
"You want the truth?"
"Why would I want that?" she asked in return, and he knew he was being toyed with. "The truth is useless to people like us."
"The truth is," he plowed on regardless, "yes, I saw you and I couldn't do it. You were crying and -"
"Whoever taught you to lie should be shot," she interrupted. "You're horrible. Horrible."
"I thought if Petrov really wanted you dead he could have done it himself," he tried instead, it was at least partially true.
"Is that what you thought?" she asked in a near-perfect imitation of a mid-western accent. His accent in fact.
For the past two years SHIELD trainers had been tried everything short of beating it out of him, but without success. It wasn't as pronounced as it had been, but it was there. And she'd caught it. Easily.
"Where are you from?" she asked. "Illinois? Nebraska?"
"Exactly what -"
"Iowa," she nodded. "You're from Iowa."
"What's this have to do with anything?"
She shrugged and put on her best angelic expression.
"We'd like your cooperation."
"You can't even tell me the truth. You can't even tell me a convincing lie. It's sad, really. Why should I help you?"
"I saved your life."
"You choose not to kill me," she countered. "That's hardly the same thing."
There was a tap at the window and Clint knew he'd blown it. This had been a disaster. He wasn't qualified for this; he hated this.
Still, he had one last resort.
"Listen," he said, forcing himself to look her in the eyes, and waiting until he was certain he had her complete attention. "I don't know who she was to you, but I'm sorry. That shouldn't have happened."
"Save your apologies."
"And the reason I didn't do my job," he continued, "was because, when I saw you there, it was like looking in a mirror. My brother... he died and I couldn't... I couldn't help. I'd caused..." Clint dropped his head and took a deep breath. "I'd made a mistake. I'd fired on him without knowing who he really was and... I couldn't take it back. I didn't get a goodbye. I didn't get a chance to ask for forgiveness or do anything, really, because before I could, someone else took me down and left me there. They didn't kill me, they weren't even trying to kill me, but I wished they had."
Clint ignored her words and continued to stare into her eyes. "When I saw you, that's how you looked. Like you wanted me to kill you because you couldn't do it yourself. But I couldn't. I wouldn't, because I swore that I'd never fire on someone without knowing who they were. Without really meaning it."
"You know what I've done," she said flatly. "You know -"
"I know what I saw."
Romanoff opened her mouth, ready to retort, but stopped. For a long time they sat there, just staring at one another until finally Phil came to the door to take Clint out of the room.
"Agent Barton," she called, just as he was about to leave. "You're going to regret this one day. I don't know what you think you saw, but it wasn't me. It wasn't the real me. What you saw was a moment of weakness. The real me isn't weak. I hope you remember this and remember that I warned you."
"I'll remember," he replied. "And yeah, I may regret this. But I can live with a little regret. If I'd have done it, well, then I'd know that the person I've tried to become is a lie. I'm not sure I could've lived with that."
"With yourself you mean."
"Only thing I've got left."
She continued to stare at him until, finally, she cracked the faintest of smiles and, strange as it might be, Clint took it as a kind of goodbye.
"Agent Coulson," Romanoff called out, just as Clint left the room. "I think I'd like to talk to your director about this offer of his."