Warning: Character death

Word count: Approximately 690 words

Summary: Natasha went on a mission everyone knew she probably wouldn't come back from-including Clint.

Clint had been angry when she told him.

I'm going on a solo mission, she'd said. SHIELD needs information about my old agency. It will last two months. No contact.

It was a suicide mission. Everyone knew it, even her. He'd not just been angry about it-he'd been furious. He'd pleaded with her not to take it, ordered her not to take it, even tried to demand Fury take her off the mission himself, but it was no use. Finally, days after she'd told him initially, he sat down next to her, wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and tried for a smile.

You'd sure as hell better come back to me after all this is over.

She promised.

He wasn't exactly the best at coping. When she was gone, he threw himself into his work-it was all easy jobs, quick takedowns and targets that could barely defend themselves, but he threw himself into them all the same-trying to forget how she could be dead, how no one would know if she had made it until the day she was meant to return.

As the day grew closer that he would find out, he grew more anxious, which only made him work harder. He was sleep deprived, and dehydrated more often than not, and he was destroying himself because he knew that in all likelihood, she would break her promise.

It happened during a routine procedure.

It was a week before she was slated to return, and he was practically out of his mind. He must have mixed up his arrow tips, he must not have checked his quiver properly, or else there had been a defect in one of his arrows. Something went wrong, though, and an explosive tip went off with much more punch than it was designed for, and it brought the building down on top of him.

He hadn't died immediately. There was proof of that on Natasha's phone in the form of a single voicemail message.

They couldn't recover his body-it was too mangled, even with DNA testing and dental records- to identify. All they could recover was a cell phone-snapped in half, with a crack on the screen and dried blood in between the buttons. They'd had to pry it out from what they had to assume was the burned, crushed remains of his hand.

She kept her promise, though. She came back to him. She was paler than usual, and thin, and she had injuries still healing, but she came back alive just in time to see his funeral.

Her phone had been lost some time within the first two weeks of the mission-she wasn't using it, though, and she'd managed to salvage the SIM card, so how important could it have been that she needed to get a new one right then?

It wasn't until two weeks after she'd returned that she replaced her phone finally, not allowing herself to let her mourning crush her anymore. When she turned on the new one for the first time, her brow furrowed in confusion when she saw she had a voicemail.

...It was probably from a telemarketer, she supposed, and almost deleted it without listening, but something nagged at her when she tried to press the button, and she played it anyway.

Hey, Nat. I know it's no contact, but…just wanted to say that I can't wait to see you again. I'm sorry, and…I love you. I know I'm not supposed to say that. Love is for children, right? Still, I do. And I'm so proud of you. You're so much better than you think you are, I… His voice broke off for a few seconds at that point. You sure as hell better come back to me when this is all over.

The line went dead after that.