Please see the first chapter for disclaimers and warnings.

I want to thank everyone for reading and reviewing.

I am so sorry for the YEAR long wait for an update. Totally not acceptable. Again...apologies.


In a Winter Month

Chapter 3

by justreading4fun


Natasha and Clint had two meets to do in Vilnius this week and the first one should have been a milk run.

That first meet was in a building being rehabbed, an old factory in the business district on the north side of the Neris river. The meeting was set up for early morning dawn, because Clint was never a big fan of blind night meets and nobody wanted any daytime business traffic around.

Dawn seemed like the perfect time.

There was only supposed to be four of them. Tola Sunza, his body guard, Clint, and Natasha.

Tola was a twenty-nine year old who grew up in Vilnius and was straight up connected to everyone that Clint and Natasha, or rather their covers, John and Victoria Fletcher, needed to be introduced to in Lithuania. Tola was third tier in the gun running world, still distributing other people's product and no freelance.

He was only supposed to be the middle man who was hired by Pavel Novikov to confirm the identities of each of the second tier dealers and then give them the location and time of the meet with Novikov later in the week.

S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't interested in Tola Sunza. He was the local authorities' problem.

A nobody.

Christ, Natasha kept forgetting his name, the guy was that disposable.

But evidently Tola had a grand idea.

He was going to leap-frog the international weapons distributors' infrastructure by simply assuming John and Victoria Fletcher's position. He would kill the married couple, tell Novikov that something seemed off about them, they couldn't be trusted, and with them dead, Tola would offer to fill the void. He had an American girlfriend he was friendly with that he met on a dating website. He'd sucker her into marrying him so he could move to the United States and take over the Fletcher's North American territory. It all made perfect sense in Tola's over-ambitious mind.

It never would have worked, of course, and it didn't.

John and Victoria Fletcher were a little more skilled at killing people than Tola or his bodyguard. By the time the bodyguard had gotten one shot off at Natasha, Clint had already taken care of Tola with a kill shot to the head.

But a security guard for the factory, on routine patrol, had stumbled in on the meeting and entered the fray after Natasha had managed to hit the bodyguard in his thigh. The poor kid just stepped right into the line of fire and was shot in the neck by Tola's bodyguard a few seconds before Natasha put Tola's bodyguard out of his misery.

"Shit!" Clint had yelled, flying over to the security guard and clamping his fingers on the spurting artery.

There was too much damage. No amount of pressure could hold the blood back.

It was hopeless. The security guard was doomed.

Natasha tried to block out the noise of the kid choking on blood and crying.

He couldn't have been more than twenty-two years old.

"It's okay, it's okay. You're not going to die."

Clint was lying, because there is no way someone with Clint's experience didn't know that it was a mortal wound. "We called an ambulance and it's on the way and you might get tired, but that's all. You'll wake up in the hospital, I promise. It's okay to go to sleep."

No ambulance had been called.

"He probably can't understand you," Natasha said quietly. "Too much English."

"Do you understand?" she heard Clint say louder. "Migeo. Jums bus po ligonineje."

Sleep. You will wake in hospital.

Natasha didn't know Clint could string together that much Lithuanian and certainly not as fast as he did.

"Jums bus gyventi," Clint said to the kid, his voice a little lower because his face was so close now to the security guard's, hovering right over him and Clint had the security guard looking directly at him. Eye to eye.

There was blood everywhere.

"Jums bus gyventi," Clint repeated.

You will live.

Maybe the kid bought it. He seemed to calm down.

In less than ninety seconds he was dead.

Clint sat back on his heels and dropped his head and she heard him mutter forcefully, "Fuck!"

"We need to go," Natasha said.

Calmly. Steady.

She wasn't trying to be without humanity. She was simply stating the obvious. The boy was dead. Nothing more could be done. It was time to leave this mess behind and make some calls and do damage control with both Pavel Novikov's people and S.H.I.E.L.D.

Clint nodded and stood up.

Natasha looked away for just a few seconds, something caught her ear.

And when she looked back, Clint was falling backwards, because the another warehouse security guard had showed up, searching for the first one, and saw an armed John Fletcher next to his dead partner, and the second security guard put a bullet in Clint's chest.



December 20, 2012

7:00 p.m.


"Ummmmm, hello?"

Still wearing his icy Iron Man suit, Tony stands at the open front door of the small cottage and calls in after the old woman who is running away from him.

Who would have thought that such a decrepit bag of bones could move so fast?

Damn! The elderly of Lithuania are spry.

"Hello?" he calls again. "Insane old lady? Come back please."

No one responds so he takes a cautious step in, closes the front door, places the compact insulated medical bag he's been carrying on the floor, and walks a little further in. He doesn't get shot by a gun or an exploding arrow, so he takes another clunky step and another step and another until soon he is past the front entrance and past the kitchen and into the living room.

What he sees is not what he expected to.

Romanoff is sitting on an old saggy couch, her head dipped down, holding Barton's head in her lap.

Tony has seen them in similar positions, once in a great while, when they are completely unguarded, like after exhausting missions or if one or both of them have had too much to drink. But it's still not a sight that he sees that often, this level of closeness between the two assassins. There's no doubt in Tony's mind that the two of them are sleeping together and carrying on some sort of relationship, but they tend to keep any sort of physical affection behind closed doors.

But here, now, they don't appear to care who sees them.

Tony takes another step into the room.

He assumes by their bodies positions that Romanoff must be asleep and so must Barton. The room is relatively dark, just a small old-fashioned lamp in a corner, so with the lack of light, it's a little difficult to ascertain everyone's consciousness levels.

Tony takes a few more steps forward before he hears a gun cock and sees Natasha raise her head.

Of course.

The Widow never sleeps.

He wonders where she has the gun hidden.

Maybe she's killed Barton herself and has hollowed out his body and is using it as the ultimate purse for hand gun camouflage.

"Stark?" he hears her ask. Groggy, confused. Then an angry, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"Can you stop pointing the gun at me?" he asks her, even though he still has no idea where she has it stashed.

He hears the safety snap on and Tony relaxes and looks around a little more at his new surroundings.

He's quite sure that this room must be where all ugly furniture from the last seven decades has gone to die.

"I LOVE your new vacation home," he fake-enthuses, fanning his arms open wide. "Seriously, you crazy kids, running off and getting fake married and not bothering to tell anyone that Barton has been shot and the entire Lithuanian police force is looking for you. Is this a first for you guys? You have an entire population of people living in a modern parliamentary republic that want you dead."

Natasha glares at him.

"Well, I don't suppose they want YOU-you dead, like Black Widow you, but, John and Victoria Fletcher…" he stops talking long enough to make an exaggerated face, "Wow, let's just say I'd hold off going for a pedicure anytime soon. At least in Lithuania."

Clint is sleeping through Stark's theatrics so out of respect for her partner, Natasha keeps her voice low but she's pissed and that's pretty obvious when she hisses at him, "Who the hell sent you?"

"See, that's the beauty of all this," Tony tells her. "Nobody sent me. I made up my own plan. I'm back-up Plan D. Yep. Just me. Good old Back-up Plan D. A through C were taken, so, you know, that explains the D. You really wouldn't have like Plan C. You died in it."


Natasha opens her mouth to say something, but no words come to her. Sometimes Stark talks so fast and in sentences of such triviality, that his excess verbiage is capable of simply extinguishing her replies.

Finally she says to him, "Are you telling me that you don't have S.H.I.E.L.D. clearance to be here? How the hell did you know where we were?"

"Uh, well, no to the first question and I hired a computer hacker to the second," he answers and steps a little closer and adds, "I do realize that when I say that out loud, it sounds bad. Maybe illegal."

"Maybe?" she scoffs.

Stark is going to ruin everything by being here and for that, she should shoot him but….if everything is ruined….they will have to call off the mission and that…will result in Clint giving up trying to salvage the job and he'll go get medical treatment.

Clint getting medical treatment would be a good thing, so, she's gonna' spend a little time deciding whether or not to shoot Tony.

Stark might yet live.

"Aren't you suppose to be blond?" he asks her and dear God, the man does not shut up. "I'm sure the file said Victoria Fletcher was blond."

"Wig," she mutters and she hears him say, "Well, that's disappointing. I did come all this way..."

Tony presses a button on the Iron Man suit and it peels off him like a can-opener, condensing itself into a shiny briefcase.

Now in just a black T-shirt and jeans, he continues to make his way closer to the couch.

"Barton has his earring in, right?" Tony continues to ramble on about their disguises. "Jesus, don't tease me with these cartoonish descriptions on paper and then break my heart in person."

Natasha shakes her head, 'no'. "He hates it. Only puts it in before we walk into meet ups with the bad guys."

'Shut-up Natasha,' she chastises herself.

How the hell does Stark know about their covers and why is she even answering his silly questions? It's like the fluidity of his nonsense somehow justifies it as acceptable conversation.

"Dammit," Stark side-swipes his palms together. "No earring? This is really disheartening. I cannot share with you the full spectrum of my feelings right now. You two could never go undercover in the mob. You have no appreciation for your seedy alter egos."

Natasha is losing patience.

"I don't understand what in the hell you are doing here, Stark," she snaps.

She's angry and needs to stand up and stop talking to him from a sitting position. It makes her feel vulnerable.

No one has ever interrupted her and Clint mid-mission before and she wants answers, not meaningless banter.

Strike that, only Coulson has interrupted them. And Tony is no Phil.

Stark is at her side now and he peers down at Barton, mentioning something about how he better be able to see the fake tattoos but then he stops talking and squats down and spends a second studying Clint's half-obscured face.

Natasha takes advantage of the silence and slowly eases Clint's head off her lap, onto a pillow on the couch, and then stands up.

Tony squats down. He reaches over and gently tugs the blanket past Clint's shoulders and then past his chest and Natasha knows what Tony is seeing and thinking.

The smell of sickness and heat.

It's rolling off Clint in invisible waves.

Stark must see Clint's washed out features and the subtle fever-wracked tremors.

"Holy crap!" Tony exclaims, standing upright in one quick, fluid movement, his entire demeanor light-switching from flippant to borderline panicky. "He really has been shot."

Natasha stares at Tony.

What the fuck? Seriously.

She slaps Stark hard on the side of his arm.

Translation: If you knew he was shot, you dumb ass, then what did you expect?

"You just said you knew he had been shot," she says to him. "What the hell did you think he would look like?"

"I figured…I just…I assumed it was a scratch because you guys are still out in the field," Tony stammers and then asks forcefully, "Why the hell is he not in a hospital?"


Clint was down, motionless, and the panicked second security guard turned his attention to Natasha, wildly shooting in her general direction. She aimed and shot. Her bullet went through the meaty part of the guard's shooting hand, right above his palm, knocking his gun a clear distance.

He would certainly live.

No permanent damage had been done.

Looking back, Natasha will be thankful for this moment when her training, instead of her instincts, overtook her reflexes.

Her training said, 'Disable the civilian. Eliminate the threat but not the person.'

Her instincts screamed, 'Kill the fucker who has just killed Clint. Put a bullet in his brain.'

She did the right thing, what she had been trained to do, the honorable thing, at a horrible time and she did it because she was the product of the two of them, Phil and Clint, and what they had taught her and now they were both gone. They were both dead.

The security guard was yelling for help, calling into his radio and Natasha ran over to him, kicking his gun even further away. She ripped the radio from his jacket's shoulder and stepped on the damn thing.

"Shut-up!" She yelled at him. "Negali kalbeti!"

Do not speak!

The guard leaned over, pressing his good hand on his bloody one.

"Kal!," he verbally spat at her.


Then he sunk to his knees and looked over at his fellow security guard and tentatively called out, "Andrius?"


He was calling for his friend.

"Negali kalbeti!" Natasha repeated, flashing the gun at him.

She forced him to lie on his stomach and used his own handcuffs to keep him from moving.

"Atsiprašau. Jis mirλ," she said to the guard as she finished securing the cuffs.

I am sorry. Your friend is dead.

And she was genuinely sorry.

The only truly guilty ones in this room were Tola and the bodyguard. No one else should have died.

Stripped the man of his jacket and used it as improvised rope. Once the guard was secured and no longer posed a threat, only then did Natasha take a deep breath and checked on Clint.

She walked over to him very fast.

It must have been fast.

Everything she did that morning was done in haste.

But as she walked over to her fallen partner, it felt slow at the moment, so slow, like a child peeking through her closed hands, methodically opening her fingers, to see if a monster was really hiding in the closet.

When she got to him, Clint was flat on his back and still not moving.

He had a waist-high winter jacket on, a black leather one, and there was just a little hole on the right side of his chest, a few inches below his collarbone. No real blood to be seen and Natasha thought, certainly this is not possible, that such a small hole would kill him.

Not Clint Barton.

Clint wouldn't die like this, not a bullet shot from an untrained security guard.

She got on her knees and reached for his neck, put her other hand on his chest.

He was alive.

He was breathing.

"Clint?" she said softly so the guard would not hear his real name and she would like to believe she said his name with nothing but strong reserve, but looking back, she will remember that her voice was wavering the first time she tried to get him to wake up.

She had been so sure he was dead.

Then she heard distant sirens and her training overtook all emotions.

"Wake up!" She yelled at him. She couldn't afford to say his name any louder, so she chose alternatives that might get his attention, "Wake up, idiot," and "Get up now, you stupid fuck."

The sirens were getting closer.

She had to resort to pain.

She kicked his left arm, not hard enough to cause damage, but with enough strength to make a dent in his unresponsiveness. His eyes flashed open.

Coughing and confused, he tried to roll over to protect his right side, but they had no time for him to find comfort from his pain and she reached for his left arm and yanked Clint up, screaming at him, "RUN!"

And he did, because long before Natasha met Phil, Clint had been trained by Coulson and when Clint heard the word RUN, dammit, he ran.

He stumbled after Natasha. She continued to drag him along by his left arm, down four flights of stairs, under an overhang that supported scaffolding, across the street, into another abandoned building, through that building into a long alley, and down the alley until it ended at the door of a warehouse.

Clint was struggling to stay standing. "Tasha, just…just stop for a second. I can't catch my breath."

He leaned against the building wall.

Natasha looked down the alley and when she saw no one, she took a minute to get out her knife, tear a strip from the bottom of her shirt, and press it inside Clint's jacket, right over the bullet hole. She took his good hand and replaced her hand with his and told him, "Try and keep pressure on it. Do your best."

The blood that was invisible when she first checked him was evident now. Her hand, the one she had stuck under his jacket, was bright red and now blood was dripping out from underneath his shirt, onto his jeans.

She used the inside of her jacket to wipe her hand as clean as possible.

"We should go high," he said, coughing and still struggling to breathe evenly. "Where we have an advantage."

Of course he would say that.

"No," she shook her head. "I need to get to the car before it's too late."

They compromised.

Clint went into the warehouse, Natasha kicking at the lock until it gave, and she stashed him on the third floor, by a window that eavesdropped into the alleyway, and told him, "Do not die while I am gone," then she ran for the car.

She left her blonde wig with him and her purse and coat and switched into his boots, because they would be looking for a blond with high heels and a long coat, not a woman with red hair in a brown sweater and faded boots.


"You don't understand," Natasha says to Tony.

She realizes what he must be thinking because hell, she's thinking the same thing.

There is no sane reason that Clint should still be in this isolated safe house and not in a hospital.

But then again, she and Clint have never known sane lives, certainly not since they were both very young children. The very definition of their livelihood is insane.

"I don't understand what it is that I don't understand," Tony defends himself. He points to Clint, "Because it looks to me like he should be in a hospital and not lying around here with you playing Spy versus Spy. Is his life seriously valued this little by Fury?"

"I can't be discussing any of this with you," Natasha barks back. "You need to leave."

Tony stubbornly crosses his arms.


Natasha glares at him.

"You're putting years of undercover work at risk, flying in here as Iron Man! What the hell is wrong with you? "

Tony shifts he weight but keeps his arms crossed. "How many fucks does it look like I really give right now?" he asks her.

To be honest, she has to admit that he looks as though he gives not a single one.

"Okay, you know what?" he says. "Calm down. It's a miserable night. There is no one out. I flew in as dark as possible. No one knows I'm here. Not S.H.I.E.L.D. not your bad guys, and not the Lithuanian government or their police force. So why don't we just chill out, and talk for a few minutes, and you can explain to me why we shouldn't put Barton on my jet as soon as possible and fly his ass the hell out of here."

"I just told you," Natasha tells him, enunciating her words very slowly and methodically, "It is none of your damn businesses what we are doing here and you are in violation of multiple federal and international laws simply by standing in this room."

Tony pinches the bridge of his nose and scratches the back of his ear and says, "Tell you what. Let's start with something a little simpler. Who's the crazy old lady?"


Natasha was cold. It seemed to take forever to get back to the rent-a-car and with no coat on, the winter weather was slicing through her sweater as if it was nothing more than a thin T-shirt. There were chaotic sounds all around, lots of sirens, but surprisingly few police cars, maybe ten at the most. And the ones that were there were all cluttered around the warehouse and therefore blocks away from Clint's current position.

Maybe they would get lucky.

As a trained precaution, they had parked the rent-a-car a quarter mile away from the building the meet was in and when Natasha finally made it to the vehicle, she was relieved to see that the street was still quiet. No police cars had ventured that far out. She suspected that most of the streets' residents were still sleeping. She had no problem starting the vehicle and driving to where she had left Clint.

The real fun, she suspected, would be getting Clint out of the warehouse she had left him in and then out of the city. If he lost consciousness and she couldn't move him, she'd have to call off the mission. They couldn't risk being arrested on foreign soil. They'd have to hole up in the warehouse until recon could be sent in.

Natasha was careful.

She drove the speed limit, even though it was killing her, and obeyed every single traffic law and fifteen minutes later, she finally got back to Clint. She parked the car in a café' lot, because leaving it in the alley would be stupid as all hell.

She slipped into the building and then up the three flights of stairs.

Clint was not by the window where she had left him.

She glanced up at the maze of duct work and other assorted pipes that took up space in the ceiling.

"Where are you?" she asked, looking upwards, a hint of an amused smile on her face. "I can't believe you would climb with a bullet in your chest."

"Nat," she heard him call for her, his voice barely more than a whisper.

She followed the sound.

He wasn't in the ceiling. He was huddled behind some old crates in a far corner of the room surrounded by blood and what appeared to be the semi-digested remains of a roll and coffee he had for breakfast an hour earlier.

She went over to him and suppressed a gasp when she saw how much blood had accumulated around him. His shirt was soaked with blood. A small puddle of red at his side.

"I can't climb," he told her, still sounding winded. "Fuck, I'm not sure I can even walk."

She leaned down and touched his chest and then looked up at him.

His exhausted eyes said it all.

What were they going to do?

"There's no exit wound," he told her. "The bullet needs to come out. I can't risk it moving around, doing more damage. Just cut the damn thing out of me and let's get the hell out of here."

His words left him breathless and panting.

"Nat. It's too close to my lung. It needs to come out."

Natasha bit her bottom lip.

Then she nodded and reached for her coat.

Lucky for them, she had a small bottle of perfume and her knife.


"YAD vee guh," Natasha says, pronouncing Jadvyga's name slow enough for Tony to repeat the syllables correctly.

"That's a mouthful. Can we give her a nickname?" he asks. "Or code name or acronym? I'm thinkin', 'Crazy Old Lady. COL."

"No!" Natasha bristles. "There, now you know her name. You can go home now."

"Yeah, that's not going to happen," Tony answers.

Clint halts the argument when he makes a noise, a combination of a moan and yawn. His left hand emerges from the blanket, reaching out, and he says softly, "Tasha?"

Natasha abandons Tony and immediately goes to Clint. She kneels down, takes his hand and asks him, "Hey, how are you feeling?"

"I heard a man's voice," Clint says, either ignoring her question or perhaps not processing it.

He struggles to sit up and Natasha has to help him. Tony joins them, assisting with heaving Clint to an upright position.

"Stark?" Clint asks groggily, his head rolling in Tony's direction.

"The one and only," Tony answers, keeping a supporting hand on Clint's back.

"I thought I was dreaming," Clint says, and he doesn't sound particularly angry that Tony is inexplicably at the safe house, he just sounds tired and sleepy.

"You wouldn't be the first person to dream about me," Tony smiles, trying to inject a little levity into the situation. "You, on the other hand my friend, look like a nightmare."

"You're just jealous," Clint says, then immediately coughs a few dry hacks.

"Hardly," Tony responds, glancing worriedly at Natasha.

"Do you have him?" she asks Stark, slowly shifting the weight of Clint's she's been sharing solely onto Tony.

When Tony nods, Natasha tells Clint, "I'll be right back with some cold water."

Clint doesn't answer her. Instead he coughs a few more times.

Tony waits for Barton to ask him what in the hell he's doing in Lithuania, but the man doesn't seem particularly interested in the subject.

Perhaps that's because he appears to look and sound like he's dying.

Tony grimaces at the sight of the blood on the right side of Barton's shirt. The guy is as pale as a ghost, an unhealthy skin tone, his lips are chapped and dark circles are under his eyes, so much so that he could easily be mistaken for having two fading black eyes.

Stark's never been one to necessarily give physical contact of another man much thought. Hell, his formal social life calls for kissing greetings and he's always had a thing for a good hug when it comes to close friends male or female, so he doesn't hesitate to put a hand to Barton's forehead to test for fever.

Clint doesn't attempt to bat him away or anything, so Tony keeps his hand on his teammate's forehead long enough to determine, without any doubt, that they guy is absolutely burning up.

"You're barely sweating," he says to Barton. As an after-though he mutters to himself, "Dehydration."

"Barton," he says softly, "I'm going to hold your hand a second. Don't get excited. This doesn't mean we're dating. Don't expect flowers."

It's dark in the room, but there's enough light that Tony is able to see that when he presses down on the nail bed of Barton's left index finger, no color rushes back into it and that seals Tony's diagnosis of dehydration. Surprisingly, Barton's hand is actually cold, which makes no sense either, unless on top of the dehydration and fever the man is dealing with significant blood loss which would explain why his furthermost extremities have less circulation.

And why the fuck is he not in the hospital again?

Tony's gonna' need an answer to that question pronto.


Natasha is back in the room, carrying a half full glass of water.

She glances at Tony holding Barton's finger in his hand but doesn't offer a comment. She kneels back down and lifts the glass to Clint's lips.

"Small sips," she says, "But drink all of it."

"Can I talk to you a minute?" Tony asks her, nodding towards the kitchen, but they both know it isn't a question so much as an indirect way to continue their previous argument away from Clint. He releases Barton's left hand and arranges the pillows around him to support the man's weight so he doesn't fall over.

"Finish this, all of it." Natasha tells Clint, transferring the glass to his left hand. "I'll be right back."

Clint's hand is shaky, but he manages to hold the glass. "Nat, I don't…I'm not sure…"

He looks at her, totally bewildered, and she can tell from his face and the uneven tone of his voice, that he's completely confused as to what is happening.

"Shhhh," she says, running a finger through his hair. "We're safe. Everything's alright. Let me talk to Stark and I'll be right back to explain everything. Drink the water."

Clint appears to accept what she tells him and takes a tentative sip of the water.

Natasha gives him a quick kiss on the forehead, stands up, and joins Stark in the kitchen.

Tony doesn't waste time with pleasantries. He keeps his voice low but he sounds pissed and to be honest, slightly dangerous. Natasha has only heard Stark sound like this when he's furious with either Fury, the media, or the villain of the month and he's certainly never spoken to her with the same tone.

"That man," he says, pointing in Clint's direction, "belongs in a hospital. And when I say belongs in a hospital, what I really mean is, tell crazy lady goodbye, pack up your shit, call for an extraction team, and get Barton some fucking medical assistance. Right. Fucking. Now."

Natasha sighs and rubs her temples.

She's tired. She's barely slept and has been constantly on edge for two days.

And she lacks conviction to fight with Stark because, quite frankly, deep down she thinks he's right.

"Are you going to do this? Or do I need to?" Tony asks impatiently. "Because I have no ridiculous secret assassin code I live by or whatever the fuck loyalty you and Barton have to S.H.I.E.L.D. that would somehow make you hesitant in any way to do the obvious."

"Stark," Natasha says, also keeping her voice low, "you don't understand what's going on. It's more complicated than it seems. Clint…"

"Fine," Tony says abruptly, interrupting her. "I'll do it myself."

He digs a cell phone out of his pocket and punches a single digit before hitting the send button.

"Are you clear for take-off?" Stark asks whoever is on the other end of the phone. "Good. Do it. Same coordinates as before. How long? Not good enough. I need you to haul ass."

He hangs up the cell, returns it to his pocket, and tells Natasha with his utmost Tony Stark superiority complex, "My jet is on the way. I had to ditch it in Denmark because of the weather but, that's not a problem anymore, so, I'm leaving in about an hour or so, with Barton, and if you'd like to join us, there's plenty of room on the jet. "

Natasha starts to argue again, attempts to try and compose a coherent counter-argument as to why Stark should just mind his own business and fly away, leave her and Clint alone, but a noise coming from the living room, precisely a 'thud' followed by Clint vomiting, sends both her and Tony running.



Natasha banged on Jadvyga's door with one hand while she struggled to keep Clint upright with the other.

Her arm was wrapped around his waist, her hand striving to keep both their jackets on his shoulders to protect him from the frigid temperature, and it was difficult to keep him upright because he was taller than her by five inches and outweighed her by at least sixty pounds. The practically dead-weight version of Clint felt like a hundred pounds more.

Maybe she should have given him more time in the car to wake up.

But he was dizzy, not incoherent, and they both knew this balancing act they were doing was because of blood loss and not a lack of sleep.


One more pound against the door and Natasha asked, "Should we break in?"

Clint didn't get a chance to answer. The door swung open and there stood the old woman. She took one look at Clint, realization dawning on her face as she saw his exposed chest and bloody bandages peeking out from beneath the jackets, and she opened the door wide, urging Natasha, "Kaip ir, kaip ir."

Come in, come in.

They stumbled in the house and into the living room and flopped on the couch, Natasha falling along with Clint, her body tripping onto his.

He moaned when she accidentally leaned against the bullet wound before righting herself.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she apologized, before she carefully removed the jackets to take a look at just how bad things had degraded since she first hastily put the bandages on hours ago.

The white of the gauze was soaked through with red and all it took was a slight push on the bandage with her finger to cause the leaking to start, blood oozing out from the sides and thin tracks sliding down Clint's chest.

Jadvyga's loomed behind them.

"Vandens?" she asked Natasha.


"Ne," Natasha answered. No. They needed the entire bathroom, not just some water.

She glanced at Clint.

He was shaking from the exertion of walking from the car, his eyes were already closed, body molded into the couch cushions like he'd been there a week and not thirty seconds. His forehead was shiny with a sheen of sweat but he felt clammy when she touched his cheek checking for fever. He was still pale and she was concerned that he hadn't regained any color during the drive from Vilnius.

"We need to clean this," she told Clint, gently pulling his good arm in an effort to get him back on his feet. "Just a few minutes, then you can sit down again, I promise."

He wasn't interested in that plan, suggesting instead, "Can't you just do it here?"

"No," she said, pulling harder on his arm. "There's too much blood and I want to clean it with fresh, running water."

He nodded, acquiescing, "Okay. Got it. Stand up."

It took longer than it should of to reach the cramped bathroom. Natasha sat Clint down on the toilet seat and cautiously removed the bandage, careful not to spill any more blood than possible on either Clint's jeans or Jadvyga's floor.

The bandage made a sickening wet sound as it suction cupped off his chest, causing a fresh stream of blood.

Natasha deposited it into the small trash can next to the toilet and used one of the many small towels Jadvyga gave her to wipe up the existing blood on Clint's chest before she pressed another clean towel against the bullet wound in an attempt to stop the new blood flow.

Clint muttered under his breath, "Fuck," closed his eyes tight, and clenched his fists.

He'd been so stoic the other time she cleaned the wound, hardly reacting to her ministrations that Natasha worried that this current show of pain on his part was an indicator that the bullet might have done even more damage than they first thought.

What if his lung had been affected by the bullet after all? What if there was blood pooling internally. She gently probed along his chest, asking Clint, "Does it hurt to breathe?"

He opened his eyes, raised his eyebrows, and asked skeptically, "As opposed to having not been shot in the chest?"

She smiled, "No, smartass, as in, are you having sharp pains when you breathe and do you think your lung is punctured."

He'd suffered a punctured and collapsed lung several years ago from a nasty beating. Concerning that particular injury, he was the expert in the room.

"Nope," he shook his head. "It didn't hit the lung. It just fucking aches like a son of a bitch."

"I know, I'm sorry," she commiserated, relieved that at least they didn't have to worry about his breathing being compromised.

"I'm being a wus," he said, returning the smile.

No, not a smile. It was a cheesy grin, a typical Clint Barton 'Fuck It. What Are You Gonna' Do?' smirk.

In the warehouse, she had thought he was dead.

And now here he was, making her smile, even though he was actively bleeding and had a hole in him.

She was just so grateful he was alive.

She stopped for a second, stopped her probing and prodding and cleaning, offering him a few seconds of reprieve from the pain she was inflicting, and she leaned over and kissed him, the full-meal deal, lips and teeth and tongue.

For an injured man, he kept up with her fine, threading his fingers into her hair and pulling her even closer.

"Let's go have sex," he whispered. "Steamy, bloody, sweaty, post-shooting Lithuanian kitchen table sex. You're so hot in nurse mode."

She laughed at the notion, although she was fairly sure he might be serious.

At least about the sex part.

Probably the nurse thing.

Maybe not about the kitchen table.

It wasn't sturdy enough for them.

"Or…" she said, pulling away from him, "we could finish bandaging you up and you get another lollipop."

"That's not nearly as fun," he grimaced, as she returned to cleaning the wound.

Twenty minutes, one bottle of rubbing alcohol, a mass of gauze, and ten towels later, she was done and Clint was silent and shaky from the experience. She had to help him every step of the way back to the couch, any signs of his former playfulness extinguished by constant pain, blood loss, and fatigue.


All around outside, the wind howled and shook the shack's walls.

Jadvyga kept busy, brewing tea, preparing a dinner, stacking more wood on the fire, and casting worried glances at Clint but didn't venture near him except one time when she placed another blanket on top of him.

Natasha contacted S.H.I.E.L.D. and updated their latest handler, Agent Carsons, on Clint's injury.

She omitted the severity of the wound, saying that the bullet had been close to the surface and easy to dig out. Clint was fine. The mission could be easily salvaged. They had a plan.

"Keep off the streets," Carsons told her. "Your descriptions are being broadcast non-stop on all major Lithuanian television channels. The police think that in addition to Sunza and the bodyguard, you and Barton killed the security guard. The kid was recently out of the military, a hero, newly married, a baby on the way, the whole damn country is on the lookout for you."

Natasha assured Carsons that they were laying low for a few days to give Clint plenty of time to recover before the big meeting with Pavel Novikov.

Carsons , to his credit, did insist on talking to Clint, and Clint did a marvelous job of trying to sound healthy but Natasha guessed that Carsons must have had some doubts because after a minute or so of Clint telling their handler he was fine, he simply groused into the phone, "Enough about the damn bullet wound. We're finishing the operation."

Then Clint hung up.

Carsons never called back.

An hour later, Natasha ate her dinner.

Clint, curled up into her, his head on her lap, refused to eat.

For the rest of the evening, he fell into a pattern of intermittent sleep followed by jolting awake.

Around midnight he developed the fever.


Clint is on all fours in the living room, dry heaving, a small amount of liquid on the floor.

So much for the half glass of water.

Tony reaches him first and guides Barton away from the watery vomit, into a sitting position against the base of the couch.

The dry heaving takes an ominous turn, sounding more like hyperventilating. Clint is grabbing at Tony's shoulder, a fistful of Stark's T-shirt in his hand, gulping for air.

"Jesus, okay, we need to, ummm…" Tony's not the best at medical emergencies. He'd rather deal with aliens. "Help?"

"Clint," Natasha is on the floor beside them now. "Shhh, shhh, shhh, slow down."

Tony nods furiously up and down. "Yeah, that's good. Do what she said." He approves of Romanoff's medical advice.

"Shhh," Natasha continues, leaning into Barton so she can pull him closer. "Sulėtinti meilė."

Tony feels Barton's grip loosen and then his hand falls away from Tony's shirt until Clint is supported only by Romanoff, his head against her shoulder, arms lax at his side. His breathing evens out slightly, but he's still gulping in air, breathing in short bursts. His eyes are closed and yet again, Tony notices a lack of sweating despite how hot Clint's skin is. His lips are lacking completely in color and are chapped.

This is bad. Tony's no doctor, but…Barton's current health condition is for shit, that's for damn sure. Dehydration, fever, respiratory distress, probably significant blood loss. He'd fly Clint out of here himself as Iron Man, but it's freezing outside. Barton would be dead from hypothermia long before they reached a hospital. They have to wait for the jet and Stark assumes given this latest turn of events, that when the jet does come, Romanoff will agree to putting Barton on it. No more bullshit excuses.

Wait…dehydration. He can do something about that.

"I brought stuff," he says suddenly to Natasha. "As a joke, maybe not, maybe I was being paranoid, but actually it was a joke, I was being a smartass, but anyway, I have stuff."

Romanoff rubs Barton's back, whispers something into his ear, and looks over his head at Tony.

"Stuff?" she asks, one eyebrow arched.

"Yes!" Tony says quickly, "Party favors. I got, uh, some whole blood, and plasma, and generic IV fluids, and I think a bag of antibiotics. I think. I might have left those in the jet, though. But I definitely have fluids and blood."

Romanoff nods. If she seems concerned or confused about him carrying around medical supplies, it doesn't register on her face.

But...then again...little does.


She asks Tony to help her reposition Clint on the couch before searching for something to act as an IV stand.

A tall, old, unsteady coat rack does the trick.

Clint bitches something about a malpractice suit as she slides the first IV of fluids into the crux of his left elbow, but a faint smile on his lips voids the threat. She apologizes for any pain she might be causing as she slides a second needle into the back the same hand. Whole blood this time. Stark did indeed leave the antibiotics on the jet but he remembered the blood and fluids and for that, Natasha is very grateful.

Stark can act like an idiot, but he's a very smart man. Good instincts. With discipline, he could make a decent agent.

"Are you comfortable?" she asks Clint as she finishes with the IVs, taping the last one in place.

"Any more blankets?" he requests. His voice is barely above a whisper and his question is accompanied with a yawn.

She tells him yes, of course, and when she returns with several more intricately knit but worn throws, she isn't sure if he is still even awake.

He is.

"Tell Stark," Clint says sluggishly, eyes closed. "Tell him why we need to stay."

Natasha sits down on the floor, close enough to him so she can return her fingers to carding through his sweaty hair.

"He won't listen,Clint," she answers. "He's convinced you need a hospital. I think he might think we're brainwashed by S.H.I.E.D. He's already ordered his jet here."

"Just tell him, Tasha," Clint insists. "He'll listen."

Natasha stares down at him. The IVs just started. They haven't yet made a dent in his awful appearance. He still looks sick as hell. Pale, shaky.

"What if I think you need a hospital?" she asks him quietly. "What then?"

"Then I'll finish this on my own," he says. "Go with Stark."

That's a ridiculous thing for him to say to her. He's being a fucking ass with that answer.

He knows she won't leave him.

A second later he must regret his words.

"I'm sorry," Clint tells her, opening his eyes. "I'm sorry for saying that. I just... I...we...need to shut this door. I don't want to go back without finishing this mission. I can do this. Just give me a couple of days to get back on my feet. Go. Talk to Stark."

He closes his eyes, reaches up with his IV'd hand and gives Natasha's hand a small squeeze.

A minute later, he's asleep.

Natasha glances up at the IV bags to make sure that they aren't flowing too quickly or slowly, then stands up.

She finds Stark at Jadvyga's closed bedroom door, offering up explanations of who he is and why it's safe for her to come out. He slides a hundred dollar bill under the small space between the door and the floor.

Natasha raises a skeptical eyebrow to him and asks, "Really?"

"Money is the universal language," Tony explains, peeling another hundred dollar bill from the slim stack he's holding in his hand. He slides a second bill under the bedroom door and shrugs. "It can't hurt."

"How far out is your jet?" Natasha asks.

"Maybe an hour, give or take fifteen minutes." He points to the living room. "How's he doing?"

"I need you to cancel the jet," she answers, ignoring Tony's question about Clint's condition. "Thank you for the help. We both appreciate it. But you need to leave, now. Please."

"Not gonna' happen," Stark says, shaking his head. "Sorry. But I'd preferred a pissed off Barton to a dead one. I'm a little disappointed that you don't feel the same way."

Natasha is tired. Her nerves are fried. The last few days have exhausted her mentally and physically. A refreshed Black Widow might slam Stark to the ground to get his attention, to make him understand that his leaving is nonnegotiable. But the current version of Natasha lacks the motivation for a physical attack.

Instead she heads towards the kitchen to make some tea.

"Let's talk," she says, looking back towards Stark. She locks eyes with him. "I need you to understand why Clint and I can't leave."

"Yes, let's talk," Stark agrees.

He slips a third hundred dollar bill underneath the door before abandoning all hope of coaxing Jadvyga out of the bedroom.

Then he skirts past Natasha, entering the kitchen first and muttering loud enough for her to hear, "Communication. What an amazingly unique idea."


To be continued...I promise. Thanks so much for reading!