A/N: This takes place about 3 months after the movie ends. Thor is either still in Asgaard, or off visiting Jane, whichever you prefer. The others are now living in Avengers Towers, and Thor lives there when he's on Earth. Ton'y spend the time rebuilding the tower, and with Pepper and his new Science Bro, so he's just now looking through some of the files he 'acquired' when he hacked into the SHIELD computers in the movie. Including some files on BlackHawk missions…
Refers to torture, but no details.
It was just after midnight when Tony entered the main living area. Steve sat in one recliner, Bruce in another. Natasha and Clint were on the couch. They all looked up as Tony entered. And stopped next to the recliner Bruce was in. Bruce tensed, seeing Tony's expression, and the tension in his body. Something had seriously upset his best friend and 'Science Bro'.
"Good. You're all still up. I have a bed time story for everyone." He focused at Clint and continued, "Stop me if you've heard this one… Once upon a time there was a SHIELD Agent who watched his partner be tortured for twelve hours, rather than give up a few SHIELD secrets…"
Natasha shifted closer to Clint, who'd turned ghost white. "Don't talk about things you don't understand, Stark," Tasha warned, her hand now resting on Clint's leg.
"Oh, this medical report on you is pretty hard to misunderstand," Tony said, handing the tablet computer he held over to Bruce.
Steve watched Bruce turn as white as Clint as he read the information on the screen. Bruce's eyes flashed to green, and his skin began to tint green. Hulk didn't understand the medical terms as Bruce did, but certainly understood Bruce's disgust and rage at the men who'd so abused Natasha. He understood Natasha had almost been killed. She gave him a reassuring smile, and spoke softly. They'd learned that Hulk seemed like it when they spoke directly to him, even if he hadn't fully taken over, so she did. "I'm fine, Big Guy. No need for you to smash anyone. There's no one to smash. They're all dead. I'm fine."
Bruce took some deep breaths, and the green faded. Despite the situation, he gave a small smile. He was still astonished by the influence his new 'family' had on The Other Guy; especially to help calm him and let Bruce have a bit more control. "He really wanted to smash them for hurting you, Tasha," Bruce relayed. He was the only one, other than Clint, who could get away with 'Tasha'; he hadn't tried 'Tash' or 'Nat', and didn't plan to.
With Bruce calm again, Tony looked to Natasha. "You're fine? So you don't still have nightmares about those twelve hours?"
"I have nightmares about many things," she answered. She didn't add that the nightmares were always much worse when she was away from Clint, such as when she'd been undercover with Stark, or when she was in Russia and he was in New Mexico. Just knowing they were both on the helicarrier, or in adjoining hotel rooms on a joint mission, seemed to help. The only time she was free of nightmares was when she slept in Clint's arms. She knew it was the same for him.
Clint was sure the others didn't fully appreciated what had just happened. Natasha had just admitted to something that she'd only ever told him and Coulson. It meant she'd begun to trust them – truly trust them. He doubted they understood how rare that was, though from the look Bruce was giving her, perhaps he did.
Tony turned his attention back to Clint. "What I don't understand is how you could watch them to those things to her and not say a word… for twelve fucking hours!"
A bit of the color came back to Clint's face as he replied, his tone soft and intense. "For a supposed genius, you can be really stupid, Stark. If I'd told them what they wanted to know, they'd have had no reason to keep either of us alive. They'd have killed Tasha, and me. So, yes, I watched them torture her until we could be rescued, rather than get her, and myself, killed."
"And that isn't all of it," Natasha said. "Even knowing that the second he was done talking they'd have killed him, Clint would have told them what they wanted to know if I'd given the word. He would have betrayed SHIELD, and sacrificed himself, to give me a quick and painless death, and save me that torture. And if you think I was the only one in that room being tortured, or who still has nightmares about it, you understand nothing."
The room was silent for long moments as everyone considered what had been said. Having seen Clint go white, and knowing how close the partners were, they realized that while Natasha had received the physical torture, it would have been twelve hours of emotional and mental torture for Clint.
Steve suspected that Clint considered that the worst day of his life, or at least in the top five worst days. He couldn't imagine twelve hours of watching someone torture Peggy. He decided he didn't want to see that medical report, and know what had happened to Natasha. His imagination was bad enough, and he was sure the truth was a great deal worse than anything he imagined. "How can you be so sure of that, Natasha?" He was sure it wasn't something they'd talked about. Wasn't something they'd needed to talk about.
Natasha looked at him. "How can you be sure your heart will beat one more time? How can you be sure your lungs will take one more breath? It's Clint. I'm sure."
Tony looked at Clint, and when he spoke his voice was quiet, and sincere. "I'm sorry. I saw what the report of Natasha's injuries and just… reacted. I didn't consider…"
Clint gave a slow nod. He was actually pleased that Tony, and Bruce, had such protective responses towards Natasha. He guessed the only reason Steve hadn't was he hadn't seen the medical report – didn't know what had been done to Natasha. "Look, if you want to hack into SHIELD and look up things like Phase 2, that's Fury's problem… Depending on what you're after, I might even help you with access codes so you don't have to hack in… But stay out of my file, and stay out of Nat's file."
"And anything you already have from our files gets deleted," Natasha added.
"Okay," Tony reluctantly agreed. He felt he owed them that much.
"Let's all get some sleep," Steve suggested, standing up and stretching. They all agreed, and headed to their rooms.
Clint pulled Tony aside. "Intentionally reopen Tasha's old wounds like that again, and you won't like the consequences," he said, his voice low and deadly.
"It wasn't intentional," Tony defended himself.
"Oh, so you didn't think that incident being dragged out in front of everyone would hurt her?"
"I… I didn't think…"
Clint sighed, and his expression softened slightly. "If it hadn't hurt Nat, I'd take that as a good thing." He saw Tony's questioning look and continued. "You reacted with your heart instead of thinking with that genius brain. It makes you human. That heart is what makes you a good guy. A really annoying good guy, but a good guy."
"And makes me hurt my friends," Tony said, his usual façade gone. "I am sorry, Clint. For reopening her old wounds, and yours. I should have realized there was more to the story. I know you love her. That's why I was so mad at you – you love her, but let that happen. Now I understand why. I should have asked you about it in private, not in front of everyone. I'm just used to… the big showy performances. The drama."
"No kidding. And, for the record, we aren't in love."
"I know. I said you love her, not that you're in love. People fall in and out of being 'in love'. What you two have goes a lot deeper than that. And, Clint… even if she won't admit it, she loves you to."
"What makes you say that? Nat thinks love is for children."
"There's a line in a song: Love is just another word for trust. She trusts you. And there's a quote that applies to Natasha more than anyone else I know: To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved."
"She trusts you guys too," Clint said. "If she didn't, she wouldn't have admitted to the nightmares."
"Maybe. But not like she trusts you, Clint. It's semantics. She was taught love is a weakness, for children, so she won't say she loves you. But when she says she trusts you, she's also saying she loves you. Trust me, I'm a genius…" Stark said, and gave a smile, the façade returning.
"Night, Clint… I'll be more careful about Natasha's old wounds… and yours."
When Natasha finished her shower and walked out of the bathroom, she found Clint lying on her bed.
Neither said a word as she got in, and nestled close into him. Her head rested over his heart, and his arm wrapped around her. The soothing sound of his heartbeat quickly put Natasha to sleep, and Clint followed soon after; each knowing the other's presence would hold the nightmares at bay.