This is for all of you that reviewed and requested I continue. Thank you for all the love and encouragement.
As always I apologize for any spelling and grammar mistakes as I do not have a beta.
Please review, it gives me the inspiration to finish all of my other half formed ideas.
The In Between (Aftermath)
"All right kiddies, off to bed!"
Natasha's teeth grated together listening to Tony's voice sing-song down the hall. His standard shit eating grin plastered across his heavily bruised face only adding fuel to the fire.
At the moment she wanted nothing more than to deck the smug billionaire but he wasn't worth the effort. Besides, she was almost positive if she let go of Clint now, one or both was going to topple over considering she had supported him for the better part of the last few hours.
Once Loki had been detained their rag tag group had obliged Stark with a trip to his Shwarma joint. The food hadn't been as bad as she'd been expecting but honestly she had been more worried about her partner than what they were eating at the time.
Clint had been hiding it well but she could tell from the subtle favoring of his left leg that he had done something monumentally stupid getting off the roof. Knowing her stubborn ass partner as she did, Natasha knew that Clint would rather suffer in silence then show weakness in front of their new teammates. Even if that meant walking down several flights of steps and four blocks on a fractured tibia and a possible dislocated knee.
Men, she thought with a roll of her eyes, but she understood the desire to remain strong no matter the cost better than most. Casually, she had sat facing her partner at the half demolished restaurant leaving enough room for Clint to prop his leg up on her chair.
He offered her a silent thank you, before they both went about picking at their food for the next hour. The group ate in silence; each too lost in their own thoughts or just too damn tiered to muster up the energy to talk.
Natasha and Clint exchanged glances every few minuets, speaking volumes with out a single word passing between them.
This was their way, their language.
It hit her mid swallow just how close she had come to losing this, losing him. Bile rose in her throat with the realization that his demise had almost come by a stroke of her own hand. A well executed cough covered her miss-swallow, but Clint caught her alarm and furrowed his brow in concern.
Later, she pleaded with her eyes. She didn't want to do this here, not with Tony watching their every move. He continued studying her for a second longer before nodding his agreement.
Unfortunately, due to all the destruction and alien bodies littering the streets of Manhattan they were forced to walk another two blocks to get to the carrier sent to take them back to base. Clint made it a block and a half before his knee started to give out on him. Natasha admitted begrudgingly that she was impressed that he made it so far.
With a purposeful stumble, Natasha caught herself with a strategic arm around Clint's waist. From there on out, they walked/limped their way back to the shuttle with Clint's arm wrapped securely around her shoulder. If the others noticed, they didn't comment on the two agent's support of one another.
They had arrived back at base and after the medics confirmed her suspicions about Clint's leg, they wrapped his knee up tight, gave him a hefty dose of a rapid healing serum and sent them packing. Surreptitiously, Natasha swiped a bottle of pain medications for when the adrenalin high wore off and the pain set in.
With all the wounded civilians and agents from the Helli-carrier the base had been packed beyond capacity. Tony offered up the lower levels of what remained of Stark Tower as temporary housing for his fellow teammates. Thor opted to stay behind and keep an eye on Loki, lest he try to escape again, but the rest of the team took Stark up on his offer. Bruce was given his own floor as a precaution, while Steve, Clint and Natasha took the next floor up.
"Cap, your room is to the right, and that leaves Robin Hood and Maid Marianne down the hall, last two rooms to your left." Brown eyes sparkled with mischief as Tony watched the two agents hobble down the hall, his comment earning a one fingered salute from the wounded Hawk.
Tony had ample time to observe the spy's while they enjoyed their Shwarma. It hadn't escaped his notice over the past two days that his old friend, the delectable Black Widow had been more concerned with finding her wayward partner then saving all man kind. A tidbit of information that piqued his interest, especially considering what he knew of the little vixen from their first encounter. Tony had pegged her as a man-eater but perhaps he had been too hasty with his initial evaluation. The newest member of their little group seemed to have the ability to tame the wild red-head, a curious and admirable skill in deed.
Yep, they were defiantly sleeping together he deduced when the two disappeared into one of the rooms and the lock clinked in place behind them.
Oh this was going to be fun, Tony schemed rubbing his hands together in anticipation but in the mean time he had a date to keep with his own strawberry blond.
Locked safely in their room, Natasha helped Clint over to the lavish bed set in the middle of the room before allowing her self to sag against the far wall.
Breathe, just breathe.
They were going to pay for that in the morning. She could already hear Tony rattling on about their sleeping arrangements, but one glance over at her now shirtless partner she really didn't care. Besides, it would be fun to see Tony's face when Clint cut him down to size with his famous biting whit, they were well matched.
Clint; for his part was just glad to be himself again, screw Stark and his jokes, he was alive, approaching sanity and with the only person in the world that mattered to him. Looking at his partner he could see the far away look in her eyes as she stared at the patch work bruising marring his chest and shoulders. This was a look he recognized all too well.
"Hey, come back to me Tasha." He called softly, not wanting to startle her as he limped his way to her position. She was prone to striking out with deadly force when startled; she was very much like a skittish colt in that respect. Thankfully the call of his voice was enough to break her out of her thoughts.
Red rimmed eyes turned to him. "You shouldn't be up." She led him back to the bed, pushed him down with gentle pressure, before kneeling to remove his heavy boots. All the while Clint watched her, growing more concerned by the minute.
"What was that back in the restaurant?" He probed when she continued to avoid his eyes.
"It was nothing."
She stood from her kneeling position, needing the distance standing provided to gather her thoughts, but he wasn't having any of it.
"I didn't believe that line when I questioned you about Loki and I don't believe it now. I know you Tosh, something rattled you back there. What was it?" Catching her shaking hands he pulled her down to kneel in front of him once again. When he was sure he had her full attention he gently turned her face until her eyes met his unblinking gaze.
"I realized how close I came to losing you." Natasha hated the way her voice shook, the quiver in her abdomen, but the words forced them selves out against her will. She couldn't keep it in any longer, not with him so close and so very alive.
"Not going to happen Nat."
Twisting out of his hold she turned her back on him. "How can you say that?"
She needed to run, escape before she unraveled at the seams, before every secret she had fought to keep was laid bare before him. A small part of her wondered if it would really be so wrong to let him see her.
"Look at what we do Clint, sooner or later this is going to end. Everything ends!" There were no tears in her voice, just a bitter resignation to a long-held truth.
Natasha had been forged in a world were lies were whispered like prayers and the truth was guarded with the steel of a thousand swords. An early acquaintance with the laws of uncertainty had left her numb until Clint came into her life, slowly injecting trust back into her withered veins, but old lessons were hard to forget.
"All right, no promises. I know that nothing lasts forever as well as you do, but this," he motioned between the two of them. "This is worth fighting for Nat."
He could see her eyes softening; feel the pull that had led him to spare her so long ago, that same pull that kicked his heart into over drive every time he touched her skin. "After everything we've been through. Your history, my history, mind control, a psychotic demigod and an entire army of alien super soldiers couldn't stop us Tasha. You can't tell me that doesn't mean something?"
Green eyes locked with blue, searching but like so many times before she shut down before a decision could be made.
"It means that you're a sap, Barton." She joked shoving him lightly. Pain creased his brow when her hand-made contact with a particularly tender bruise. Natasha was up and across the room retrieving the pain pills she had absconded with in an instant.
He mentally cursed his injures for the millionth time that night. Knowing the moment had passed, he allowed her to help him step out of the remains of his tattered uniform and lay back on the bed.
Clint fell back on the sheets with a contented moan, Tony's set up sure beat his bunk back on the Hellicarrier.
"I could sleep for a year."
"I'm too wired to sleep." She paced the length of the room before settling against the wall of windows over looking the city.
Looking down of the glittering lights she could almost believe that the last few hours had been a dream, but her mind reared to life offering her images of Clint's battered unconscious form being dragged away. Not a dream, more like a waking nightmare.
"Well that's too bad," he called from the bed, drawing her ever wondering mind back to him once more. "Because this has been a very long 48 hours and before that I spent 3 months living on a few hours of sleep because my favorite body pillow was off freezing her ass off in Russia."
"I was not freezing my ass off, it was summer." A ghost of a pouty smile pulled at her lips, and his heart lightened knowing he could still get her to smile even after trying to kill her. He shivered at the thought but he pushed them back and locked the cage behind them, if only for tonight.
"Semantics, now get over here."
Natasha turned to him with a scowl firmly set in place but he simply returned her look with a self satisfied smirk and a crooked finger in her direction. This was a familiar game for them.
Eyes locked in a silent battle of wills; it was Natasha that backed down first. Years of experience had taught her what was worth fighting for and when to just give in.
Stripping down to her camisole and underwear she padded over to the bed; they had long ago given up on modesty around one another. He had seen her in far less and she had fished a bullet out of his ass, so really what was a little skin between partners?
Sinking down into the mattress he wrapped his arms around her comfortably.
Natasha felt weightless in his arms, the unbearable burden of a lifetime of sins melt to the background in the cocoon of his embrace. If asked why she returned time and time again to his side, this would be her answer.
There was a deeper truth lurking below the choppy waters of her mind, hidden in places she dare not examine too closely. There is risk in his eyes, the muted silver depths whispered of dreams beaten out of her long ago.
Still, she dreamed in silver sometimes. When near constant fatigue claimed her against her will, offering a few precious hours of restful sleep. In those hours she dreamed of far off places, still nights spent wrapped in bands of comforting steel, a home she could call her own, and green eyes flecked with silver staring up at her with such wonder and innocence. A pure love that had no place in her waking existence.
These were the nights she woke with the sting of tears burning a trail down her cheeks, staining porcelain skin with their invisible brand that tainted her reflection. Gasping for breath, she would be left to grieve for a life that would never be hers.
She had always believed it was better this way, to live between the lines. Only after recent events she was beginning to reevaluate her earlier position on what could and could not be.
Possibilities ran wild circles through her head and the adrenalin coursed through her veins leaving her feeling restless.
"I'm never going to fall asleep." She grumbled unhappily. Her legs stretched and kicked at the sheets agitating Clint's injured knee.
"Then I'll just have to make you, now shut up and listen." He commanded playfully.
"The itsy, bitsy spider…"
"Clint!" She grabbed for one of the many pillows littering the bed and whopped him for emphasis but they were both laughing merrily. A welcome sound after the horrors they had endured recently.
"What, not appropriate? Alright, close your eyes Nat." The smile in his voice lightened her heart, offering her hope that he may come out of this nightmare alright.
Softly he began to sing. The pitch of his rich voice and the feel of it vibrating through his chest lulled her mind into relaxation. After a few minutes Clint felt her breathing even out and thew steady beat of her heat against his chest slow.
"Feeling better?" He breathed into the night.
"Hum, much better." They lay in silence for what could have been hours but in reality was only a matter of minutes, just long enough for Clint to begin to doze off.
"Clint?" Natasha called into the darkness, a grunt was her only reply.
"Do you ever think about what it would be like to leave it all behind?" She didn't need to elaborate; he knew what she was thinking. He usually did.
Flickering his eyes open, he watched the play of lights dance across the ceiling in a careless ballet. "Sometimes."
A simple request, almost childlike, and one that could not be ignored.
Natasha listened as he weaved beautiful dreams of a life away from SHIELD, away from their pasts and all the hell that came with. A life where they could build something real and something entirely of their own making; a life that mirrored her own dreams. A single tear slipped past her defenses and although instinct demanded that she wipe it away with force, she let it fall, mark her skin in an invisible tattoo so that she would remember this moment.
He trailed off after a time as sleep claimed him. She didn't mind though, Clint had given her what she needed to ease her mind and now it was her turn to offer the same to him.
Soon the demons would come to play, each demanding their pound of flesh from her sleeping partner. There was nothing she could do to change that, but she could be there to ease his mind, hold him while he made sense of the chaos Loki left behind.
Everything was about to change, but in the mean time she would stay where she was, curled in his arms, resting in the in between.
The end for now.
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