Title: The City That Never Sleeps
Author: Mir
Date: 5 June 2012

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Author's Note: I've had no time to write lately: or rather, I've been too tired to bother figuring out where I left off on all the unfinished fragments cluttering up my author's page. It's an embarrassing graveyard of good intentions. So instead I've decided to pursue an itch that's been nagging at the back of my mind since seeing "Avengers" in the theater the other day and reading through some of the existing pieces here on FFnet.

This one is movieverse, and I admit that I haven't seen all the Marvel movies... And actually, I'd meant to write from Hawkeye's perspective, but when I went to put pen to paper, the Black Widow came seeping out.

This story explores how the two might have come together after the events if the movie... and found a new equilibrium together. They're both strong, potentially complex characters who I don't see wallowing in self-pity or depression... But who would likely find it difficult to simply admit their feelings to each other.

Not much action. Probably two or three parts total.

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Part One

He came to me one night not too long after everything had settled down, after the Avengers had drifted apart along their separate paths and after the daily newsreels had found new celebrities to replace yesterday's vanished heroes.

By then, I'd almost learned to ignore the inconveniences of living in the middle of a construction site - hardly noticed the scattered piles of debris cluttering the halls of the helicarrier that steadily disappeared into the controlled chaos of temporary duct-work, new circuitry, and freshly-painted walls. The raw edges of gaping holes and sparking wires were tamed into corridors that traced along familiar routes and hid the shifting insecurity of wandering thoughts like pavement over sand.

I'd rarely spent so long in one place... just waiting for something, for an order, a command, a mission. For a sign that indeed nothing had changed, and the world would once again be desaturated into the muted grays of action without feeling. Grays drenched in indelible red.

In truth, I'd seen little of him since we'd been recalled to the helicarrier. He'd taken several days to clear medical and several more to navigate the bureaucracy and red tape to clear his name... after what had happened. Even though we all knew that he was innocent of the actions his body had performed. Of course people stared, stared in wonder or in fear, in revulsion or in awe. It hardly mattered for either of us - we'd been in too much video footage, splashed across the pages of too many magazines. Nothing jeopardizes an assassin's career like publicity.

I stiffened at the soft cadence of taps on my door, a distinctive pattern that only he used, and held my breath as I listened for the rapped code of a message or warning to follow. But eventually, as my breath escaped softly into the empty room, the only sound was the silence of waiting. Patient, persistent, focused, unbothered waiting... it's foolish to think you can out-wait a sniper, so I didn't try.

"Romanoff," he said simply at the door as I pulled it open just enough to stare into the narrow hallway. He squinted into thin sliver of light, and in return, I nodded and stepped back, giving him space to enter, or not, as he wished.

"I'm sorry." The unforgiving industrial glow of onboard overheads bleached the color from his skin and bruised his eyes dark with stress or fatigue. But his words were firm and brusque.

"You already said that," I replied, carefully mirroring his tone. "And there's nothing to be sorry for."

He nodded, eyes effortlessly holding mine in a way that I'd learned only his do. There was a faint tremor to his gaze, a hint of uncertainty that hadn't been there before... before all this. But few would notice, and fewer still would comment.

"So, you looking for a sparing partner or something?" I asked with forced casualness. He'd see through it, of course, know it for the ruse it was. We'd hidden behind excuses for long enough to know each other's tactics.

He ignored the comment, taking it for what it was - just words to fill empty space. "Have you thought about where we go from here, Nat?" His eyes left mine and traced around the empty walls of my assigned quarters. There was nothing besides the rumpled bed to suggest that the room was occupied. But his would look much the same, just hollow spaces and recirculated air between the walls.

"Isn't that Fury's job?" I retorted, stubbornly not reading anything into his words beyond curiosity about our professional future.

He leaned back again my locker, his shoulders sagging in what could have been comfortable familiarity or simply raw fatigue. And from somewhere, a trace of a smile began to twitch at the corner of his mouth - not the disdainful sneer I'd seen him turn on wet-behind-the-ears recruits or the brief twist of self-satisfaction that sometimes flashed across his face as an arrow met its mark. But something more genuine, more real.

"Since when did you start listening to Fury?" he countered with a hint of levity in his words for the first time that night.

The Black Widow would have flicked a glib reply back across the room without a thought, could have fired a barrage of verbal volleys without breaking a sweat (the better you know someone, the easier it is to get under their skin). But there are times to fight, times to run, and times to simply take what you're given and look it squarely in the eye.

"It was never about Fury..." I murmured. That much at least we both knew was true. I couldn't bring myself to say the rest '...but rather, it's always been you.'

In two short strides he crossed the cramped room and reached a hand out to grab my arm. It was a move that would have landed anyone else in a choke-hold on the ground. I'm not known for patience with intruders in my personal space.

"Let's go." A slight tug, a jerk of his head, and for the first time, that hint of a smile reached his eyes. Almost belatedly he remembered to step back and reestablish that unspoken buffer of space between us.

I could have stalled, could have detoured, could have rattled off innumerable excuses why we shouldn't be seen together. But the moment felt right, and portent hung thick around us... like somehow events had been building slowly but steadily toward an opportunity such as this. So I let him lead us from hallway to hallway, two shadows against the half-constructed walls.

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I'm determined to finish this one (and to keep it short).

Just a little writing to get my feet wet again. [m]