This is intended to be a three-part story. I wanted to explore a few of the moments in the film a little further – this is the result. I've read a lot about these characters in the past few weeks, so I incorporated a few things from comic lore that I've learned, but I met these characters in the film and that is the basis for this story.

It wasn't like they'd never slept together – literally or in the Biblical sense. They had. Because, well, each of them needed to prove to themselves that they could, because if they could have sex and still be good friends and partners, then it meant that they weren't in love, right? That's what they told themselves. That and the fact that neither of them was willing to let the insane sexual tension between them rule their partnership. After all, they were the best in their field – nothing as weak as emotions or hormones could rule them.

Until Loki.

Losing a partner to death was one thing – it came with the territory. They avoided talking or thinking about it because the thought of losing each other was too painful, but at least it was an expected hazard in their line or work. Magical mind possession? That was new, even to a couple of battle-tested, seen-it-all, emotionally-guarded super-assassins.

Clint was trapped in his mind, forced to watch as his physical shell did whatever the hell Loki wanted it to, and it was then that he finally acknowledged how he really felt about Natasha. Because, really, what's the point of lying to yourself when a mythical god from another planet traps you inside your head and makes your body attack your partner. It's one thing to avoid admitting you love a woman because you don't want to lose your best friend. It's acceptable to choose not to follow the scorching hot path of desire (again, that is, and as frequently as possible) because you just know it will wreck the best partnership you've ever had. Yes, when you're in control of yourself and your surroundings, you can allow yourself to ignore what you're really feeling, what you really want, what you really desire. But that just doesn't work when you have control over nothing. Because then the only thing you can control is what you feel.

As Clint watched his body fight its way through the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, he finally acknowledged, if only to himself, that he was in love with Natasha Romanoff and had been for years, that he wanted more than just friendship, more than a professional partnership, a hell of a lot more than transitory sex. He wanted everything that Natasha was – the stolen childhood, the emotional walls, the brilliant mind, the passionate observer of the world, the fighter who could absolutely kick his ass – all of her. And he wanted her to have him in the same way. And if he ever got the chance, he was going to tell her the first chance he got.

Natasha Romanoff could confidently take on men twice her size. In fact, she would rather go against huge guys than those her own size – big men were used to getting by on physical intimidation, usually sacrificing skill in the process. Natasha was very good at exploiting that lack of skill to her advantage. Her ability to do this was not an accident or luck – the comely assassin had worked tirelessly most of her life to get to the point where her diminutive size was very rarely a hindrance when facing an opponent.

Most people familiar with Natasha's skill set assumed her high level of readiness was simply who she was, that it was part of who she had worked to become. Clint Barton knew differently. Part of the Russian conditioning program for Black Widow operatives required their constantly being pitted against opponents considerably bigger than themselves, starting when they were recruited, often as young as age four. Agents-in-training either got good enough to overcome sheer size or they died. Natasha became very, very good.

It didn't matter how good or skilled or fast an operative became, though – no one could beat The Hulk, and everyone knew it. While neither she nor Clint had ever fought the green monster face-to-face, Natasha didn't have to know that she didn't stand a chance against him. Facing The Hulk took her back to being the helpless little girl forced to defend herself against grown men who beat the crap out of her. The monster brought back all of her feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. And unlike that long ago time, there was nothing she could do to better prepare herself to face this threat. She truly was at his mercy.

As Natasha sat slumped on the floor against a bulkhead, she missed Clint Barton with all of her heart, and for once in her life she didn't try to kid herself about how she felt. She wanted Clint – she wanted him here sitting beside her with his arm around her shoulders, not saying a word but reassuring her simply through his presence that it would be all right, that she would get through this.

As she slouched, defeated, she could do nothing about the helplessness she felt in the face of The Hulk, so instead she grabbed on to the huge truth she had been avoiding for years. She loved Clint Barton and she wanted him in every way. And if she ever got the chance, she was going to tell him the first chance she got.

"It's Barton. He took out our systems. He's headed for the detention level!" Fury's voice came over her earpiece. "Does anybody copy?"

She was Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. She did not cower in corners. Her partner needed her.

"This is Agent Romanoff," Natasha says. "I copy."

As Clint Barton watched his body attack the woman he loved, he beat against the magical barrier that Loki had erected in his mind. From Clint's point of view, he beat at it physically, although that was really just the way his mind chose to deal with the unthinkable. Yes, in his mind, and in the nightmares that came later, Clint beat against a softly glowing blue wall that stood between his mind and his body. He battered it with his fists and his raised voice and all of his willpower. He shouted that he was sorry, that he loved her, that he didn't mean to do this. He hit the wall as hard as his body hit Tasha. He willed his body to stop. Not that any of it did any good. No, the wall stayed in place and his body's fists continued to go after his partner.

Natasha didn't have time to think about the horror of fighting Clint's body when his mind wasn't running it. She didn't have time to hate Loki for doing this to her partner. It took all of her concentration to battle Clint full-out without killing him. Avoiding deadly force was not usually part of Natasha Romanoff's fighting style.


Had the hit against the bar actually freed his mind? She had to make sure. Natasha dropped him.

The moment he was hit was the first moment the barrier wavered, and Clint clawed his way out of it just long enough to let Tasha know he was there. He had felt the wall slipping back up when she clocked him again, knocking him out. Now that he was awake again, Clint struggled to stay out of the box. The world warped and wavered in front of him as he and blue wall fought to see which would win.

It was Natasha's presence that helped Clint destroy the psychic wall in his head, but he couldn't tell her he loved her until he knew that he wasn't going to slip away again, until he knew Loki's mental trap was permanently gone. He wished he could tell her, though. He wished it with the same strength of character he had used to fight to free himself from Loki's cage. And when he was ready, when he was certain that he was no longer a threat to her, he was going to tell Natasha how he felt about her. Of that he was certain.

As he woke up, Natasha worked to help Clint find his way back. She knew, though, better than anyone else, that accomplishing this would take more than a few minutes in the infirmary. She loved him, though, and she wasn't going to lie to herself about it anymore. She also wasn't going to rush Clint into that knowledge. When he was ready for it – when it might actually help him – she would tell him. She promised both herself and the man she loved, even if she didn't tell him aloud, that she would do whatever it took to help him heal. Of that she had no doubt.

To be continued...

I hope you enjoyed this and I hope you want to read more. I'd love to hear your thoughts!