A/N: I have no idea what this is. A tiny piece of my personal headcanon, maybe. I wrote it one night at 3.30am on my phone when I had to be awake at 8am... I guess this is a drabble of how Clint and Natasha finally, actually, properly get together.
Disclaimer: Marvel and Joss Whedon own everything, including my soul.
Everybody has their own way of relieving the stress of saving the world. Tony works in his lab, cooking up new technology. Steve goes to work on his long line of punching bags. Natasha makes up false identities and occasionally teaches yoga or Tai Chi in the city. Thor eats poptarts by the box and star gazes. Bruce still won't tell them his secret. Clint paints.
He paints scenes from the missions. He paints battlefields and interrogation rooms and alleyways. He paints the views from his many roosts, a different view for each op. He paints blood washing away in the rain. He paints the destruction he and Natasha leave in their wake. He paints faces of people they work with, people they work for, people they kill, people they save. He paints places where people died, places where people lived. He paints the view from the hotel room in Budapest.
Tony asks him one day why he doesn't paint anything that isn't classified. "You're good," he says. "We could sell these and make piles of money. Heaps. People other than us could see your work, could admire it and love it as much as we do. You could show people what it really means to do what we do, just by sharing your art with them. But all the stuff in your paintings is super top secret or classified or whatever, so we can't do anything with them. Which sucks, man. You gotta get on that." Bruce shrugs from across the room and Tasha raises her eyebrows, but no one actually contradicts Tony.
Clint just sighs. That's not the point of his art. He doesn't paint so that other people can see the images. He paints so that he can stop seeing them. Once a scene is finished, he can stop dreaming about it. It's the only way he can manage the nightmares.
He's never asked the others if they have nightmares. He knows Steve does, but any World War II vet would, especially one only a month or so removed from that war. Clint respects Steve above all the others because he has an inkling of what Steve has suffered and how hard it is for him to wake up in the morning, let alone continue being a hero. War is hell, and no one comes through it whole.
He thinks Tasha has nightmares—that's what all the yoga and Tai Chi are for. She breathes out the bad dreams, purges it from her system. Clint wishes he could just rinse the dreams away like that, but he is too good at holding on. He never learned how to let go.
Hence the paintings. Seeing the scenes of his sins before him again, watching them unfold layer by layer, color after color, brush stroke by brush stroke, he is reminded of the red in his ledger and the work he is doing now to wipe it out. And he has found that once he paints a sin, he never has the nightmares about it again.
Tony keeps badgering him, though, and Steve surprisingly joins in. They want to see if he can paint something that isn't depressing, something that isn't violent, something that isn't classified. They are curious, and slowly, Clint becomes curious, too.
The next time he sits down in front of a blank canvas, he pauses. He looks at the paper plate he has been using as a pallet, the same plate he has been using for months, adding layers and layers of paint with each new painting. There is so much red on that plate. He begins to peel the layers of dried paint off, but under each red layer, there is only more red. He closes his eyes and blindly throws the plate away from himself. He goes to the kitchen and digs up a new plate, clean, empty, white. Waiting.
Without thinking, he lifts his brush and begins to paint Natasha. He paints the hook of her smile, the curve of her hips, the spark of mischief buried deep in her eyes. He paints her slender fingers, her long legs, her full breasts. He paints her leather jacket, her high heeled boots, her favorite gun. He paints her as he remembers her, as each detail that surfaces in his mind, as bits and pieces. He uses several canvases, never actually painting her in full. The hint of a curve here, the outline of her face in profile there…never quite the full picture, not until he knows he has every piece of her captured perfectly. Only then does he put them all together on one canvas, in one portrait. The only red he uses in the entire process is for her hair.
He doesn't mean to show anyone. It is meant to be his secret, that old canvas he keeps in his closet and never looks at, that no one knows what it is if they even know it exists. But Tony wanders into the studio while it is still drying on the easel, and he would not rest until everyone has seen it.
"You realize that this is your masterpiece, right?" Tony asks, grinning at the stunned looks on the teams' faces and the embarrassed blush creeping up Clint's neck. "You realize that this is your Mona Lisa and nothing you do after this will ever come close?"
"It is beautiful," Steve agrees, succinct as always. Bruce just nods appreciatively.
"I don't normally have time for admiring artwork," Thor says, a hint of wonder in his voice, "but this is truly magnificent." Clint wants to sink into the floor.
"What's going on?" Natasha's voice drifts in from the doorway as she comes into the studio. She sees the brushes standing in water waiting to be cleaned. "What mission did you paint this ti-oh." She breaks off and her breath catches in her throat as she notices the painting. Clint aggressively keeps his eyes on the floor and tries to ignore the sensation that his stomach is twisting itself into every type of knot he knows how to tie.
"Is this really how you see me?" Natasha asks quietly. He still refuses to meet her eye.
"Sorry, Nat," he says, "I'll get rid of it as soon as I can. It's stupid, I don't know what I was thinking."
"No, you idiot," she says, and he finally looks up to see her smiling at him, ginning like she hasn't since Budapest. "It's amazing."
"It's you," he says simply. She steps forward and kisses him spontaneously. He never expected this after Budapest, but he responds by kissing her back. Tony catcalls behind them. Neither breaks the kiss as they both raise their middle fingers to him. Everyone laughs.
"If I'd known all it would take was a painting, I'd have done it as soon as we got back," he mutters as they break apart. She laughs.
"You know it was more complicated than that."
"It really wasn't." But he smiles to show her that he forgives her. She smiles back, apologizing.
"Just one concern," she says, tilting her head to the side to contemplate the painting over his shoulder. "Does this mean you're going to stop dreaming about me?"
He shakes his head. "I think this just means I'm going to stop having nightmares."
"Why? You haven't painted all the missions."
"No, but I'm going to be too busy having good dreams about you."
A/N: Budapest, in my personal headcanon, is hot and angry and passionate and tender and unexpected. When they come back from that mission, Clint wants more, wants a relationship, but Tasha just wants everything to go back to how it was before Budapest. She won't talk to him about it, and he eventually gives up the hope that they could be together. It takes them a long time to work through it all, but this little fic is one step on the way.
I hope no one is too tragically out of character. And I'll eventually get around to writing Budapest. :)