Tony leaned against the hood of his car as he watched his plane descend from the sky. Clint and Natasha were on board, returning from a mission in Russia. Nobody knew what had happened while they were there, but they had gone dark two hours after their arrival up until they boarded the plane to come home. It had only been an hour since Natasha had called Tony and asked him to bring a car for her to the air strip.
Tony was no idiot, he knew something was wrong the minute he answered the phone, he could tell by her voice. Anyone who didn't know her wouldn't have noticed the difference, but he had, and for once, he was worried. It had him wondering just what exactly had happened.
As soon as the plane landed and the stewardess opened the door Natasha was off the jet so fast one would have thought that it was on fire. She walked up to Tony and he took note of the heavy shadows under her eyes, the faint bruises on her jaw, her split lip, and a cut that sliced diagonally through her left eyebrow. Without so much as a thank you she ripped the keys from Tony's hand so violently he was afraid that some of his fingers might have come off as well. She turned on her heel and walked to the driver's side, wrenched the door open, and threw herself inside. The engine roared to life and Tony barely had time to move before she was racing down the air strip and out the gate, tires squealing and smoking behind her.
Two minutes later, Clint ran off the plane, two duffel bags in tow and a pair of handcuffs dangling off his right wrist.
Tony raised his eyebrow and looked pointedly at the handcuffed wrist. "Do I even want to know what happened on my plane?" Clint turned his attention to Tony and glared at him.
"Get your mind out of the gutter, Stark, it's not what you think. She handcuffed me to the towel rack in the bathroom to prevent me from following her."
Tony assessed the archer with scrutiny. He was in civilian clothing, as Natasha had been, but he had about two days worth of scruff on his face, a black eye and his arms were covered in dirt and scrapes, suggesting that he and Natasha had boarded the plane immediately after their mission had ended. Tony also noticed that Clint was moving cautiously, as though he had a broken rib, which is probably the only reason Natasha had been able to get the drop on him to handcuff him in the first place; the pair were usually evenly matched.
"Barton, what the hell happened?"
Natasha gripped the steering wheel, ignoring the shade of white her knuckles were turning. She pushed the gas pedal into the floor and the car roared and she watched as the speedometer climbed over 100. She kept her eyes trained on the road, pushing down the sobs that were choking her throat.
"TASHA!" Clint yelled. He was behind her somewhere. She tried to see around the man holding her but she couldn't. Her heart beat faster in her chest and she could feel panic seizing her. Clint sounded desperate. Clint never sounded desperate.
Natasha let out a choked scream and yanked the steering wheel to the right, pulling the car off the road so abruptly that the tires on the left briefly lost contact with the road. She slammed the gearshift into park and gripped the steering wheel with both hands, her breathing choked and heavy. She could feel her chest tightening; a panic attack. She hadn't had one in year and the thought of having one now caused her even more panic.
Clint looked at Tony, his question ringing in his ears.
"It's long and complicated and I'll tell you later, but right now we need to go after her. Can you track her?"
Tony scoffed. "Can I track her… of course I can track her! It's my car!" Tony said before pulling out his phone, muttering to himself as he did. Clint rolled his eyes as he went to stuff the two duffel bags he was holding in the truck of the Rolls. He winced as pain lanced out across his ribs but he ignored it. "Got her!" Tony yelled as he got into the car. Clint slammed the trunk down and climbed into the car after Tony. Happy was at the wheel and Tony was showing him something on his phone screen.
The three men were silent as they drove. Tony was desperate to find out what had happened and what had unhinged Natasha but he knew that Clint was liable to lash out at him for asking, so he restrained himself. He would hold Clint to his promise of "later."
"There!" Clint yelled suddenly, pointing to a car that was on the side of the road. Sure enough it was Tony's. Happy pulled over behind it and Clint got out of the car. Tony made a motion to follow him, but Clint held up his hand. "Just…" was all he said, and Tony understood and he stayed in the car, watching Clint as he walked.
Natasha jumped at the sound of knock at her widow. She looked over and saw Clint standing there.
"Go away," she yelled. She didn't need him to see her like this. Clint ignored her and shook his head.
"Tasha, open the damn door." She drew a shaky breath, considering her options as she did, but then gave in and unlocked the door. He opened it and she crawled across the car into the passenger seat and Clint slid into the driver's seat. They sat in silence. Clint looked in the rearview mirror and saw that Tony and Happy were still parked behind them. He turned to look at Natasha. Her face was pale and her eyes had a wild and crazed look that he hadn't seen since the day he convinced her to join S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Nat, we need to talk about it," he said, reaching across the console slowly and gently taking her hand in his. She flinched at the contact and now that he was touching her, he could feel her shaking.
"I just, I just couldn't get free. I couldn't…" Nat said quietly, trailing off. Clint squeezed her hand softly.
"Don't fucking 'Tasha' me, Clint. It shouldn't have happened. I'm better than that. It's what I was trained for, what I was born for, even. It should have never happened, he shouldn't have gotten the drop on me and I don't know why…" Natasha stopped speaking, sobs replacing her voice. Clint put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her into him, his chin coming to rest on the top of her head, the events of Russia replaying in his mind.
The mission had been simple; go into Russia with the cover of a married couple, get the intel that S.H.I.E.L.D. needed and get out. Their "in" had been a party; high class, a ball gown and tuxedo affair. They spent the night sipping cocktails, Natasha chattering in Russian to various people while he stood next to her, smiled, and sipped his bourbon.
It was the end of the night, they were so close to completing their mission, they had almost all the information they needed. It was amazing what neglected wives would talk about under the influence of champagne. Clint had his arm wrapped around Natasha's waist; a pretense only. She wasn't as drunk as she was acting, and he knew. A man came up to them, and spoke English, although it was broken and harsh. He complimented Clint on his luck at catching such a beautiful wife and Natasha smirked. Their attention was on the man; they didn't notice his guards.
There were guns at their back then, and the man talking switched from broken English to even worse German, trying to avoid capturing the attention of the other guest. Both Clint and Natasha spoke German and understood what he said.
"You will come with me, you will not fight, Hawkeye and Black Widow. We know who you are; we know who you work for."
Clint and Natasha had exchanged glances and then followed the man down a hallway and away from the guests.
The man was their main mark, the one they were attempting to take down with their collection of information. Without warning, Clint was yanked from Natasha's side and one of the men grabbed her arm, yanking and twisting it up behind her. She gasped sharply with pain. She struggled against him, trying to gain the upper hand, but it seemed that he was always one step ahead of her.
They had known that they were coming. They had been made even before they stepped into the ballroom, and their mark didn't intend to allow them to leave alive.
"TASHA!" Clint yelled. He was behind her somewhere. She tried to see around the man holding her but she couldn't. Her heart beat faster in her chest and she could feel panic seizing her. Clint sounded desperate. Clint never sounded desperate. Perhaps he even feared for their lives. Natasha squeezed her eyes closed, trying to assess the situation. She needed to regain control over the situation.
Natasha screamed. It was loud and piercing and it startled the guard that was holding her. He let go of her arm and she used the opportunity to spin around, grab his face between her hands and snap his neck. This distracted the guard holding Clint and Clint took the opportunity to disarm hum. There were more then, and Clint and Natasha fell into their usual close-combat pattern; back-to-back with occasional glances over their shoulder to check on the other.
The fighting was almost evenly matched, but Clint and Natasha seemed to have a light upper hand. That was, until Natasha heard a sickening thud and Clint groan. She whipped around to see Clint double over, his arm protecting his ribs. There was a guard standing over him with an assault rifle, poised to strike Clint again. Natasha was sure her heart stopped beating for a moment and her entire brain went blank. This had never happened before, she was always focused.
Her momentary distraction cost them dearly because the guard that she had been fighting took the opportunity to stick her in the neck with a needle.
The last thing she remembered before the world went black was Clint screaming her name.
Natasha was brought back to consciousness by a punch to the face. She winced as she felt her lip split open. She opened her eyes to stare at her attacker; their mark. She tried to look around the room and she caught a glimpse of Clint in a corner before their mark punched her again. She felt the sting where one of his rings sliced her skin open above her left eye and she could feel the blood trickle down her face.
"You are Natasha Romanoff, trained in the Red Room, by the Winter Soldier, are you not?' he asked in Russian. Natasha didn't answer him; she was considering her options. She could go ahead and confirm what he had said or she could feign ignorance and try to keep their cover. However, she was sure the latter wouldn't work; he had known their code names. She replied to the man in English so Clint would know what was going on; his Russian was conversational at best.
"I am Natasha Romanoff."
The man backhanded her across the face. "Russian only. I know your partner cannot speak it. I haven't killed him yet, but I can in seconds. There will be no games here. I know you were sent to collect information about me, possibly to kill me. We'll never know. However, I will be the one collecting the information from you." Natasha raised her eyebrow at him.
"I don't think so."
The man turned and signaled to one of his guards and Natasha heard Clint groan as the guard delivered a kidney punch. Anger welled up in Natasha's gut. The man leaned closer to her, as if to become more intimidating and spoke quietly into her ear.
"Every time you are insolent your partner will pay the price. Now…"
He never got a chance to finish his sentence because it was at that point Natasha decided she had had enough. She thrust her head forward into his, delivering a headbutt that knocked him onto his ass.
The fighting began then, and it last all of five minutes before Natasha had snapped every guard's neck. Their mark looked on in fear. Natasha smirked; she had regained control. She pulled a gun out of the holster of the guard that had punched Clint and turned it on the man.
"I bet when you planned this you didn't think we'd be walking out alive while you lay dead on the floor," Natasha said before squeezing the trigger. Red blossomed from the man's head and pooled on the floor underneath him. Natasha stood there for a second longer before allowing the gun to fall to the floor.
"Nat," Clint said gently and she remembered that he was there. She shook her head, as if that could help her clear it out and then went over to Clint and untied him. He stood up, wobbling a bit as he did, causing Natasha to put his arm around her shoulder and take his weight. "I'm fine," he mumbled.
"Don't lie to me, I know at least your ribs are broken," Natasha retorted as they walked out of the room they had been held in and down the hallway.
"Let's just go home, Tasha."
Clint didn't know how long they sat there, in Tony's car. It could have been twenty minutes, or it could have been two hours. He didn't let go of Natasha until she stopped shaking. When he looked down at her, he discovered that she had actually fallen asleep. He smiled and brushed a piece of hair off her face. She was so peaceful when she was sleeping. She looked young and innocent. It was his favorite part about her.
Slowly, so as not to disturb her, Clint eased his arm out from around her and started the car. He pulled out into traffic, and watched in his rearview mirror as Happy followed him. When they arrived at Stark Tower Natasha continued to sleep so Clint maneuvered her out of the car and carried her to elevator, ignoring the burning pain spreading from his broken ribs.
Tony came running up, probably expecting to join them in the elevator, but Clint had pushed the door closed button, so before Tony could get there, Clint and Natasha were speeding up to Clint's floor. When they arrived Clint laid Natasha down gently on the bed and removed her boots, before crawling into bed next to her. He knew that she wouldn't mind; it was a frequent occurrence between them.
In her sleep she repositioned herself so she was curled up against him, her head on his chest. He put his arm around her and closed his own eyes with a tired sigh. He knew that they should have gone to see Bruce first, but he couldn't be assed, pain or no pain.
Clint woke up a few hours later to Natasha poking him in the chest; painfully.
"Nat, cut that out," Clint groaned. He would have rolled away, but his ribs were throbbing dully and he didn't feel like it.
"Listen, about what I said earlier," Natasha began. Clint held up his hand. She didn't owe anyone, least of all him, and explanation. Natasha ignored him and continued talking. "No, I need to say this. About earlier; you realize, this was our first mission together after New York. Our first solo mission. And what I said on the helicarrier, about being compromised? You asked me what Loki did to me, and I told you nothing, but I lied. He told me that he was going to make you kill me," her voice trailed off and when she continued talking, her voice was quieter. "He said he would make you kill me in every way I fear, and then he would kill you when he was done. And that affected me, but it shouldn't have."
"Is there a point to this, Tasha?" Clint asked, his voice mildly amused, but gentle.
"We're more than just partners, aren't we, Clint?"
"I thought love was for children."
"But what we have, it's not love; it's more than that, something deeper. Clint, you're the only person that I would trust completely with my life. Don't you feel the same way?" Clint didn't answer but felt for her hand in the darkness and grasped it tightly.
"You know that I do," he finally whispered before pressing his lips to Natasha's forehead.
"I just, I just don't know what I would do if something happened to you, Clint, you're the one thing I'm sure of in this world, you're my constant, my touchstone. You're the only person that's ever really been there for, and followed through on the promises you made. Now that I realize that, I feel like it's going to put us in jeopardy."
"Tasha, whether we're together or not, you're never going to not worry. I think it just got to you more this time because of what happened with Loki. You need to get your head on straight, level out," Clint said, squeezing her hand. She snuggled in closer to him.
"I guess you're right," she said, yawning as she did. He kissed her forehead again as her eyes closed and her breathing evened out.
"We were born for war, babe, and that'll never change," he whispered into her hair as he allowed his own eyes to close.