Hopefully this is up to par with the Marvel universe. Not sure if OOC. Would write more for a foreword but it's 2 am and I'm knackered.

Disclaimer: Don't make me do this when I'm tired...

your blood is my blood

She is young and fiery, rebellious even as she stands opposite the older and experienced man. "I work alone," she says with a defiant lift of her chin, red curls falling to her shoulder. "I need no partner where I go."

He smirks even as he adjusts his bow. "You need no partner, but S.H.I.E.L.D wants eyes on you still."

"They do not trust my loyalty?"

He shrugs. "You turned on your former government. Maybe they want your protection."

"So they send a sharp-shooter to watch my back while I go into action," she says snidely.

He clicks his tongue as he fingers an arrow. "You laugh now, but this sharp-shooter is fairly good at taking down people before they see him coming." He pretends that he doesn't notice her hand drift casually to her concealed gun when he makes to pull the arrow out of the bag.

"What does S.H.I.E.L.D want my protection for anyway?" she throws at him even as she saunters over to the window of the helicarrier. "I'm a liability if they cannot trust me."

"You want me to take you out, sweetheart?" he drawls, and isn't surprised when she's on him the next moment, knife at his throat.

"Don't call me sweetheart," she growls in his face. "My name is Natasha Romanov, and I am capable of killing you in a heartbeat."

He doesn't blink an eye. "Then get off me, Agent Romanov. Before I accidentally let my arrow fly in the wrong direction."

He doesn't mean it, of course- S.H.I.E.L.D would have his head in a heartbeat if they ever found out that he was negligent in keeping his partner safe- but she doesn't have to know that.

So this is how they begin- with them keeping on opposite sides of the room and blood boiling over.

She is lethal and even the new S.H.I.E.L.D members know that. Nobody messes with Romanov: not Fury, not Hill, not Coulson, and certainly not Clint Barton (a couple bruised wrists, a twisted ankle, and a throbbing headache where she roundhouse kicked him proves his point). Natasha Romanov is more than capable of taking care of herself.

Which does not explain why they are still partners.

He is in the control room one day when Fury comes striding into the room. "Where's Agent Romanov?" he all but bellows into Clint's face.

Clint straightens, resisting the urge to pull out his bow and arrow in the face of a threat like a furious Nick Fury. "Sir, she got the orders to undertake the mission an hour ago-"

"And you didn't check with me?" Fury is seething.

Clint doesn't blink. "No, sir. I assumed you had sent her an official transmission." He's lying through his teeth. Natasha had told him where she was going and he had known that she was lying to him but he let her go anyway, because he knew she was going to do a better job than what Fury was going to tell her to do.

Plus, Natasha never listened to anyone, let alone Clint, so what was the point of trying to stop her.

Fury is yelling at him, something about letting his partner go off alone and what was he thinking and had he even checked in on her lately because all hell would break loose if Fury discovered any secret transmission from their latest acquisition and come hell or high water if Agent Romanov got herself killed in the process Clint would have the entire Council to answer to and- Clint tunes out as he always does, wondering how on earth he's going to make Natasha pay for this.

She comes back later, a triumphant grin on her face and a disc in her hand. He looks up from the room and rolls his eyes when she puts the disc down in front of him. "Have a good time?" he asks sarcastically. "Because I've had Fury on my tail all day."

"I know, Coulson said something along those lines," she says, though not with the slightest tinge of apology. "But easy in and easy out like we planned, right?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he says blandly, his poker face still intact. "But best run that disc along to Tech so they can analyze it."

She's about to leave when he notices it. "Romanov, come back here," he says sharply.

Natasha stops, still not used to having someone be able to tell her what to do, but reluctantly backtracks. "What?"

He reaches out to smooth away the hair covering the gash on her forehead. "You're bleeding."

"Yes," she says impatiently, "what of it?"

"We'd best get that checked out." He dislodges a piece of glass from her forehead. "What did you do, get thrown through a window?"

"If you think this is bad, you should see the other guy," she mutters, wincing as his fingers find another shard. "Fighting in a ball gown is difficult."

Yes, Natasha Romanov is more than capable of taking care of herself, which doesn't really explain why they're still partners- but the day that they trust each other is the day he bothers to clean her blood off herself.

"Watch it- ow."

"Quit being such a baby," she orders, though not without a smirk at his pain.

"How about I try making the tourniquet and applying it to you and seeing if you wince at how tightly it's wound-" Clint breaks off, wincing again. "Ow! Romanov-"

"Natasha," she says serenely even as she winds a bandage around his arm.

"I'm sorry?"

"Call me Natasha," she says plainly. "We've been partners for a year now, we can afford to call each other by first name."

"Right…" He rolls his eyes but winces when she tightens it more. "You won't have a partner if you keep on cutting off circulation to my arm!"

"Maybe if you hadn't been smashed into that glass window, we wouldn't have that problem," she retorts.

"Nobody told me I had a big guy sneaking up on me," he says indignantly.

"That's right," she acknowledges, "because you were too busy 'watching my back', weren't you."

"You're welcome," he says sardonically before turning his attention to her hands. "I can't tell if this is your blood or mine."

"It's probably both at this point, I have wounds all over my hands," she sighs. "As long as you're not contagious with anything I should be okay."

The sounds of Colombia rush by their hotel room and they sit in silence as they contemplate their next move. "Well," Clint says at last, "I suppose we should get some rest. We have a long day tomorrow." He winces as he gingerly moves his arm. "Will this be better by morning?"

"You trust me?" she asks flippantly as she rises to return to the adjoining room.

"You didn't tell me there was someone sneaking up behind me, so no." He grins after his statement so she knows he's joking.

It's Natasha's turn to roll her eyes. "Oh, aren't you a joker, Agent Barton."

"Clint," he says as she turns around to go back to her room.

"That doesn't make you any more of a joker…Clint." She smiles at him to let him know that she's joking.

So this is how their friendship really begins- with them fixing each other up and stopping the blood from flowing.

"Tasha," she can hear him screaming.

"Tasha," is all she can hear in the seconds before something searing ripples up her side. People told her that gunshot wounds were quick and painful. The pain came quick and stayed with you, but they were clearly wrong. This gunshot wound ripples and pulses as it creeps up her body, and Natasha Romanov feels paralyzed even as she whirls to finish picking off two more men.

This is supposed to be an easy job, is her last thought.

Then she is down, and can see only blue sky clouded by brown dust.

There is what seems like an explosion from far away- oh from very so far away- and Natasha can feel herself slipping in and out of consciousness. Weary, she opens her eyes and tries to stay alive- and then she sees Clint leaning over her, worry lining his features. His lips are moving but no sounds come out. Or maybe she cannot hear. Natasha is so tired, so very tired.

When she next opens her eyes, she sees dark roofs and boxes piled high. Clint's face is still hovering over hers, dried blood running down from the side of his head and she tries to say that he should get that fixed, he really should, but every move she makes sends pain rushing up her side.

She can hear again, so she hears Clint's voice saying, "Don't move, Tasha. Help is on its way. You just need to hang in there."

He is warm, she notices as she tries to stop herself from shivering. It's a hundred degrees out in the Budapest heat, but she is freezing. As if he notices, Clint pulls her closer and wraps his arms around her and he can almost smell the musk that hangs around him. She knows this smell- it's the smell of the body soap she playfully tossed at him for his birthday three months ago. She closes her eyes, wondering if that's the last smell she'll take with her.

Clint shakes her awake, though. "Stay with me," he pleads. "You can't leave. You're my partner, Tasha."

He tells her stories, secrets she's not even sure S.H.I.E.L.D knows. He tells her about his parents, and his brother. He tells her stories about his childhood, where he grew up, why purple is his favorite color. He tells her why he thinks she is different, why he didn't kill her, why he doesn't regret the decision. He tells her that he's not sure he could work without her. He tells her that he loves her, that he needs her, that he would do anything to protect her.

When she next wakes up, she is in the S.H.I.E.L.D hospital onboard the helicarrier. Clint is beside her in the next bed, face gray with worry and weariness, and he is fast asleep while holding her hand. Natasha squeezes his hand gently, but he never wakes.

She finds out later that he saved her life by giving her part of his; his blood now runs in her veins. She's still not quite sure how much debt she could possibly owe one man.

"Clint," she says, her forehead leaning against the bathroom door of his hotel room. "Clint." She knocks again, more insistently. "Open the door."

"I'm fine. Go away."

"You've been in there for the last hour, and I am about to break down the door," she says in return. "Clint…"

There is only silence, and then her partner opens the door. Natasha looks him up and down quickly- he looks fine, save for the bruise near his temple where she KO-ed him, the multiple scrapes and bruises along his arm from the skirmishes and the haunted look in his eyes. "I told you not to think about it," she says half-accusingly.

He doesn't even bother to deny that she's right- Natasha does know him better than he does himself, after all. "I can't… Tasha. I can't get them out of my mind."


"Everyone. Coulson. The agents. You. The people I hurt." He sinks onto the bed and buries his head in his hands. "I keep seeing them in my head. I keep seeing them scream, I keep seeing them collapse in front of me."

She reaches for his hand, but he turns away. "It wasn't you," she says gently.

"I shot the arrow."

"Loki shot the arrow," she insists.

"But I-"

"No." She gets his hand to stop moving and takes it in hers. His hand is bigger than hers but she does her best to wrap them within her fist. "No, I don't want you to think like that, Clint. You didn't kill these people. You didn't kill Coulson. You didn't kill me. You…" She tries to put it in words, anything to take the look of defeat off Clint's face. "Clint, none of this is your fault. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

He shakes his head.

"We won," she says, still trying to keep him afloat.

"Not all of us."

"All of us." She lets go of his hand and moves closer so she can inspect the minor cut on his cheek.

"You know, he almost got me again when I was about to shoot him?" Clint says it quietly into the air in front of him, and Natasha's fingers still. "The only thing holding me back from giving in was you screaming into my ear for help. That was the only thing."

"Just like Budapest," she says wryly.

"Nothing like Budapest," he answers. "I couldn't protect you then and I almost failed today. I wasn't gonna let that happen again."

She sighs and turns his face so she's looking directly at him. "Enough. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Clint. None of this is your fault. We all won today, and today, that's enough." She takes his hand in hers again. "Promise me that you won't think too much about it today."

"It won't make it any better, what I did," Clint says.

"No, of course it won't," she agrees immediately. "Of course not. But we will deal with it in the future. We will deal with what comes next- together. Like good partners."

He nods, and Natasha gives him a light kiss on the cheek. "Good. Now let's go. Stark said he knew a shawarma place and I'm starving."

This is how she saves him. This is how she tries to repay the debt- by keeping her partner and best friend from falling into disarray. She decides there and then that she will not let this end with him thinking that the blood on his hands is his fault.

It is how they operate. This is how they keep each other alive. They fight, they heal, they patch one another up, they keep each other from falling. This is how they operate- with red on both their ledgers, with debts owed to one another.

This is how they are- with each other's blood flowing through their veins.

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