A/N: I don't write lemons, but there is some frank talk about sex in this chapter (not explicit, just very honest and open thoughts about it.) Trigger warning: infertility. Thank you so much to everyone who has favorited, followed and reviewed. It's been a blast writing this – I hope you enjoy!

They arrived at the cabin and immediately set about putting the small dwelling in working order. Inside the rustic yet air conditioned home, they put away the groceries they had picked up, dusted the furniture and changed the linens, sharing the duties equally. Outside, they checked the defenses, set up the archery range and the obstacle course (which they both had fun with) and generally made sure the place was again in working order. Then Natasha left Clint to his target practice while she went inside for a quick shower.

As she opened her new personal products, Natasha thought back over the drive up. They had laughed with each other the rest of the drive after their unexpected stop on the shoulder of the highway. During that time, Natasha never let on her undercurrent of concern. Recovering from intense mind manipulation was complex and difficult. Their side-of-the-road giggle fit had provided a welcome and necessary release of tension. For every action, though, there was an equal and opposite reaction, and Natasha knew from experience that the emotional opposite of Clint's recovery would be as proportionately low as the high had been high. The question was what form it would take. Natasha wasn't looking forward to the man she loved going through that.

Feeling clean and refreshed, Natasha fluffed her hair as she walked outside to see how Clint was doing. As it turned out, her musings had been prescient. Things were not good.

At first glance, nothing was amiss. Clint was shooting arrows at a target ridiculously far away – standard for him. Only someone who knew him as well as Natasha did – which meant that ONLY Natasha – would be able to see that something was wrong. She could see that he was firing his arrows in what was almost a frenzy, one immediately after another with a fierceness that wasn't in any way routine. It was...animalistic, raw, desperate.

She crossed slowly to where he was, giving him time to register her presence, thinking about how she could address the situation before her. As she got closer, she could see the sheen of sweat covering him, even though the day was mild.

"I can't think about it," he ground out through clenched teeth, not stopping in his obsessive shooting for an instant. In the distance, she could see that the target already had what looked like dozens of arrows clustered in the middle. "If I stop, that's all I'll think about – the men I killed, being trapped, hurting you."

Grab, shoot, grab, shoot.

"I can't. I just can't."

She slowly moved into his personal space, causing his rhythm to falter for the first time. She took that as her opening, reaching her arms around him and placing her head on his chest. His arms fell exhausted against her sides, and she had to wonder how long he had been shooting like that.

"I can't do this, Tasha. I can't live like this. What do I do?"

Natasha tightened her grip on him. "We take it one day at a time, Clint. You get up every day and you keep going. And I'll be there with you."

Clint didn't respond, he just tightened his own arms around her.

THE AVENGERS

Natasha Romanoff had never made love. She'd had sex, to be sure, most often in a professional capacity. Twice she had slept with men in non-professional situations to prove a point to herself, but that was as close as she had come to engaging in sexual relations for purposes of a, pleasure, or b, expressing love. As a result, the great and terrible Black Widow was actually a little nervous about the prospect of making love with Clint Barton.

One of her non-professional encounters was with a fellow Russian operative-in-training who had a huge crush on her and to whom she had been attracted in return. Young Comrade Romanoff had desired to prove to herself that she could distance herself from her emotions, so she slept with Natoly, dumped him, then worked to make sure that she didn't have an emotional reaction to his devastation or to her own actions. The other encounter was with Clint.

This time with Clint, though, she didn't want it to be a one-time thing. She wasn't trying to convince herself that her feelings were really just hormones. She didn't want to get it over with so they could concentrate on being partners. She also didn't want hearts and flowers or a white picket fence, children weren't even a possibility. She and Clint both knew, Clint because she had told him, that Natasha couldn't have children – the Russians had seen to that. She also knew that Clint was more than okay with this because he had long ago told her that the very worst thing agents of their caliber could do was to bring children into the world, as he felt that they would then exist solely to be used as pawns against their parents.

What Natasha did want...well, that was a good question. And she figured she and Clint were going to have to talk about it. But later. When he wasn't busy hating himself for what Loki had done to him.

Clint, on the other hand, was afraid that the blue wall was going to shoot up as he slept and he would come out of it to find himself hurting Natasha. Again. More than any other image, scenes from his fight with Tasha on the helicarrier were what kept going through his mind. He had a thorough understanding of every thought that went through what passed for his body's mind during his imprisonment, and he knew for a fact that if he had been able to, he would have killed his partner. The fear of repeating the event was working really hard to overshadow his excitement at the prospect of finally making love to Natasha, and that just pissed him off on top of everything else.

Natasha was the one who finally broke the tension by talking about it. She spoke up as they ate dinner at the small table in the kitchen that evening.

"Do we really have to be this tense about it?"

Clint looked up at her.

"It's not even the first time."

Clint gave her a look. She hadn't been the only one proving a point their first go-around.

"Okay, it's very different circumstances. We don't want it to happen once, you're recovering from mind control, we just fought flying alien worm lizards –"

"With the help of a god," he cut her off and they both smiled.

"I love you, you love me –"

He cut her off again, this time breaking into song. "We're a happy family, with a great big hug –" He stopped when he saw the completely lost expression on her face.

"Not a lot of Barney in Siberia. Right."

"Barney?"

"Story for another time. There's been enough death and destruction for now."

"Right. Getting back on track, then."

Clint managed to look sheepish.

"What are you most worried about?"

The question surprised him and caused him to answer bluntly.

"Killing you in my sleep."

She pondered this.

"Did you sleep when you were with Loki?"

He thought for a moment. "I don't think so...I hadn't thought about it, but... No...I don't think I did."

"You said last night it was like a blue wall caging you off from your body, right?" He nodded and she continued. "Maybe if Loki didn't have control of your conscious mind, the wall would have come down. Things like that aren't uncommon when it comes to mind control – they're the weakest when the brain is at rest. So it may be that you're actually safest when you're asleep."

"It's still a maybe."

"And so is the fact that we'll both be alive in a week given the lives that we lead. If nothing else, be glad that it's me here because I'm better equipped than just about any other women you know to handle it if something were to happen, no matter when it was."

That he couldn't argue with. So now it was his turn.

"What are you most worried about?"

She sighed. "The obvious. This is the best partnership I've ever had and you're the most important person in my life. If we try this and it blows up in our faces, I don't think I would survive losing my partner and best friend. I mean, come on, I've never been in a relationship. What if I screw it up six ways to Sunday? I just – I can't lose you."

Clint looked at Natasha for a moment, then put down his fork and walked around to her, pulling her up to stand in front of him. He put his hands on either side of her face and pressed his lips against hers. What started out gentle quickly turned fierce as the two of them found themselves instinctively letting loose with years of pent-up sexual frustration and emotion.

When they finally pulled away from each in order to breathe, Clint rested his forehead against hers and closed his eyes, his hands now wrapped through her hair, his thumbs massaging her temples.

"I will always be there for you. I will always have your back. I will always be faithful to you and you will never have to wonder if you can trust me." He leaned back and she looked up at him, allowing genuine emotion to shine openly to a man for the first time in her adult life.

"I have no idea what is going to happen when we leave here," he continued. "Are we going to work more with The Avengers, or will we spend more time with S.H.I.E.L.D.? Will we do both? Where will we live? How long will it take Tony to figure out that we're in a relationship and how embarrassed is Steve going to be when he figures it out?" She smiled at him in agreement to all of this. "I don't have the answers to those things, Tasha, and I am so afraid that I will end up back in that box Loki put me in." She opened her mouth, but he kept going.

"But you know what? It took an alien invasion to get us to admit how we feel about each other. Let's not waste it."

This time it was Natasha that initiated the kiss. And this time they didn't come up for air.

In the wee hours of the morning, in that moment between sleep and wakefulness when the mind is most unguarded, Natasha realized why the people who trained her all those years ago had worked so hard to make their agents believe that love was to be avoided. It was because it was actually the strongest, most powerful force in the universe and against it the state – and anyone else – would always be powerless. And now that she knew that, she could never look at the world in the same way again.

She pulled Clint tighter and slept.

/fin

As a note, I don't think one night is going to transport them to instant and permanent bliss, but I do believe that this pair would and will work together to approach their problems together. I'd love to hear your response. I hope you enjoyed this and have a great week!