A/N: I LOVE all the stories where Natasha is loud, angry, and quick-tempered, but—heads up—this Natasha isn't like that. It's early in her career, early in her partnership, and even Iron Man2/Avengers-Natasha seemed quiet, formal, sad, and bottled-up (though still deadly) to me. So if this Natasha seems OOC, it may be that my perception of her is different from that of many others.
6 months after Agent Romanoff joined SHIELD
He finished his mile sweating and aching, but he was pleased the gash on his leg didn't slow him down. 5:25 meant the assignment was a piece of cake.
His post-mission PR was 4:40, but Agent Barton considered the 2 h 10 m 12 s after-the-debacle-in-Lisbon his proudest four laps on SHIELD's indoor track. Crutches were for amateurs.
Coulson always gave him shit about 'going the extra mile' but often peeked in, showing he was indeed supportive of his friend and colleague. Better than visiting him in the infirmary, he often said. Phil had night terrors about the days Barton couldn't run.
Clint loved blowing off steam after a long flight and a seemingly longer debrief by pushing his body. His partner also mocked his ritual at first, but then Natasha's competitive streak got the better of her.
Her PR was 4:37.
'Where is she?' Clint thought as he toweled off his face and moved toward the room he kept on base. She had looked beyond tired on the plane—Natasha couldn't sleep in moving vehicles like he could—but surely she hadn't already crashed for the night. Usually they met in the gym after their solo debriefs and compared track times as well as the reaction of the brass to their individual stories.
He wondered if she was arguing with Fury. If so, Barton knew it was his fault. Maybe he should go back and explain himself better? Maybe Fury needed backup.
Instead, he took a shower.
After gathering his things, Clint walked toward the infirmary wearing athletic shorts. He still had his perfunctory physical before he could sign out for the night. He thought back over her injuries. 'Sprained ankle, facial bruises, back strain. No, nothing she would have skipped her mile for.' Still, he hoped he would catch her in the infirmary. Hearing him brag to the doctor on her behalf about his 14 perfect stitches was bound to soften the blow of him meddling in her SHIELD affairs, right?
Who was he kidding? His days were numbered.
The exam finished, Clint changed into jeans and a long sleeved shirt.
"Hey Doc? Has Agent Romanoff checked in with you?" Clint asked as he slung on a black leather jacket and draped a gym bag over his shoulder.
"Yeah, maybe two hours ago. Fresh off the boat, by the looks of her." Replied the physician as he dutifully uploaded pictures of Agent Barton's latest injuries into his computer. What a catalog that must be.
'Right after our team debrief,' Clint thought looking at his watch. Almost 9pm now. He stalled by arranging the quiver and arrows in his bag.
With a sigh, Clint moved toward her living quarters. As he approached Natasha's hallway, a stunning silhouette emerged from her room. High heels, a calf length fitted black coat with a high collar, her red hair tied up off her neck and tucked beneath an elegant black hat.
Clint whistled appreciatively as he approached.
"Bustin' outta this joint, darlin'?" Looks like his plan worked, at least.
"No, I'm going to the mess like this," she replied dryly. Eyesight good enough to see her hiding a smirk from a distance was definitely a perk.
"What's the word?" Clint asked as he approached her. He tried not to use 'sit rep?' outside of office hours.
"Jaw's not broken. Ankle is only a grade I. Pills for my back—"
"Which you're not going to take."
"Which I'm not going to take," she agreed holding in a smile. "They thought killing the three guards was a bit flashy—"
"Flashy! You were cornered!"
"I know. I was there, Barton. Apparently it was a bit more clean-up than desired. Oh, and 5:40 and I'm a free woman."
Clint looked her in the eye. She didn't look upset with him; his tense shoulder muscles relaxed slightly.
"Doc thought your stitches were beautiful. I got my third gold-star for going three missions without a concussion. Same old cream for my wrists. My take off was too conspicuous. And 5:25!"
His look said, 'I love when you swear in English,' so he didn't need to say it. He wanted to tell her the slower time was due to her ankle, but Clint knew that would buy him another trip to the infirmary. They both knew she ran faster next to him, no matter the injuries.
"Heard you went to the mat for me," she said innocently. Clint instantly assessed she had a pistol in her pocket and at least 3 knives under that coat—the docile voice alone caused his hackles to spike.
"You mad?" he asked warily.
She paused and looked him fully in the face. He noted thick make-up did a wonder covering her bruises and the dark circles under her eyes she'd been sporting lately. He tried not to let his fondness for her lessen his readiness to defend himself.
"No. Clint, I heard you go to the mat for me. I heard you tell Fury it was wrong of them to have me locked up here for the last 6 months. That letting me roam free in other countries with you on missions but not letting me leaving base at home told me—told everyone here—SHIELD still didn't trust me."
Her voice told him he was in no danger. He fully relaxed now. More than he had since leaving for this mission to Caracas 8 days ago. Clint leaned on the wall of the poorly lit hallway and asked, "And?"
"And he said you were right. 3 months of successful field missions was more than enough to earn some trust."
"So you're going out?" Clint said with a smile nodding to her outfit.
"I am," she replied. "Thank you. We hadn't talked about it, but I guess you saw it was driving me crazy."
"We didn't talk about it because you would have told me not to bring it up."
"Look Nat, I know you don't need me fighting your battles, okay? But I think you and Fury were playing a game of chicken with the trust thing and it was starting to piss me off. You, me, we shouldn't have had to make the first move. You've been trustworthy since Calgary. And he was a dick for not offering to take you off restrictions sooner."
"How do you know I'm trustworthy, Barton?" She was formal with his name again, not wanting their growing camaraderie to color his answer.
"I don't know," he answers quickly and he sees her stiffen wondering if he thinks it's all a long con, "but I know you are."
"Maybe that makes you a fool."
"Maybe. But you've saved me enough to earn some of my foolish trust."
"Since Calgary, you've saved me 24 times, I've only saved you 18. I still owe you for those. And I don't know how I'll ever make it even for Paris," she ended quietly. Paris, where he kidnapped/rescued her.
"Damn it Natasha!" Clint said pounding the wall beside her causing her to start uncharacteristically. "We're partners! It's my job to cover you! If I ever hear that you're keeping a tally of rescues again—THIS IS OVER! Do you understand?"
"Are you finished?" she asks with an annoyed look, though she's actually touched by his outburst.
Clint takes a deep breath, then says "Yep. Think so," and gives her a rakish smile.
"Good," Natasha replied and began walking down the hallway toward the exit. Her heels clack-clack-clacking on the dingy floor. "There's only room for one drama queen in this partnership, and the position has been filled."
He laughed, always surprised when she joked. They both knew she was the better actor, but she was only a drama queen when the situation called for it. Catching up to her, he asked, "So where are you headed on your first night of freedom in the great US of A? Dinner out? You're lookin' fancy—the ballet? A play?"
"There is something I want desperately…" she trailed off. In the few short months of knowing her, Clint had never heard her say the word 'want.' Truth be told, hearing 'desperately' from her lips made him a little weak in the knees.
Natasha righted herself and continued as though the moment hadn't happened. "For starters, I'm just going to walk the city."
"Want some company?" Clint asked as forced-casual as he could as they climbed the many steps to street level.
"No thanks. I'd like a clear head. I'm doing some recon too."
She raised an eyebrow at his slip up. Clint just shrugged.
"Didn't you get 48 hours?"
"Then what's the recon about?"
She stopped as he opened the door and let her pass through. The night sky, honking horns, and bright lights greeted them. "I've lived here for 6 months and this is my first time breathing the air of the city. I've felt buried. I need to learn this town."
He knew what she meant. How frustrating it must have been for her—not to know escape routes and hideaways, much less seeing green-growing things, non-SHIELD civies, shopping or restaurants.
"I get it. Call, okay Tosh?" The 'if you need anything' was implied as he squeezed her arm. Touch was rare but meaningful between them.
"Okay," she conceded. "Hawk," she said slipping into his above-ground name, "It's a penthouse, right?"
He laughed at her curiosity. "Sure is. Want to come by for a drink? It's only a few blocks from here."
All casualness left his body when he realized she'd stopped walking. And there it was. He'd just invited a beautiful super-spy assassin to his home. At night. And she got weird.
"Sorry," he said doubling back to her. "Nat, I didn't mean to cross any lines—"
"That's just it," she said and his eyes got wide. She made a note of this but continued in low tones, "I'm twenty-two years old and you're the first person who's ever invited me…anywhere…without the intention of crossing any lines."
Clint was awash with feelings of anger and pity for the life his partner had led, though he wouldn't let it show. Natasha didn't want his pity. That's almost what his life had been like before Coulson asked him to join SHIELD, though he had made the occasional friend. Though he knew it didn't compare toe the horrors she had endured.
He honored her with a subject change. "So, sparring at 1000?"
"Why so late? Do you have plans tonight?"
"I thought you may want to sleep in after your first night of exploring."
Her mouth twitched and Natasha couldn't believe how lax she was with him sometimes. "No, let's stick to 0800."
"Want to get some dinner?" Clint said. "I go to this great place on my way home. After, uh" he looked around at the busy street and smirked, "being abroad."
Another ritual. "No, thank you. Some other time. I really want to walk."
He nodded in understanding. "Stay sharp," he said departing.
"Eyes up," she replied automatically. Both chuckled that they reverted to mission speak instead of goodbye as they went their separate ways.
Or so he thought.
4 blocks away, Clint placed his order at his favorite hot-dog stand. He'd felt her eyes on him since they parted. Never saw her, but never felt free of her either. It was only natural, he thought. If their roles had been reversed, he knew he'd want to see where she lived and who she interacted with.
"Lenny, do me a favor," Clint said to the hot-dog vendor slipping him a twenty.
"In the next 10 minutes the most beautiful woman you've ever seen is going to walk by here wearing a black hat."
Lenny gave a greedy, yellow-toothed smile at this prospect.
"Give her a message for me, okay?"
"Let her know she needs to back off. I can still smell her perfume," Clint said with a smile.
"I'm supposed to tell the most beautiful woman to back off from you?" Lenny clarified. "If you don't want her, can I ask her out?"
"Ooohhh, Lenny, I really wouldn't advise it."
An alarm flashed by Clint's bed. He shot up and immediately checked the bank of video feeds at his desk. He wanted to relax when he saw it was just Natasha in the stairwell, but a 2:18am visit by one of most lethal people on the planet didn't do much to assuage the adrenaline.
He threw on some clothes then double checked the video feed. "Shit," he muttered as he tucked a handgun into the back of his waist band.
Clint turned off the alarms in the hallway and his apartment, turned off the electroshock door tiles, disengaged the flash bangs and gas in the hallway, and unbolted the door.
"Good evening," he said leisurely as he opened the door before she knocked. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
If she was surprised at his greeting, Natasha didn't let it show. "How about that drink?" she said coyly as he welcomed her inside.
"My second favorite doorman isn't dead, is he?" Clint asked as he shut, but didn't lock, the door behind her. He made his way to the liquor cabinet.
"Who? Charlie?" Natasha said as though they were old friends. "No, no. Just a little knock out gas."
He brought her the drink he'd seen her order hundreds of times.
" Спасибо," (Thank you) she says raising her vodka to him.
"Не за что," (It's nothing) he replies, not letting her drink alone."May I take your coat?"
"No you may not."
They were eyeing each other; their chemistry was off.
"Why are you armed, Barton?" Natasha asks him.
"Why are you, Romanoff?"
To placate him, she placed her handgun and her unused KO gas on the table by his entryway.
Clint's apartment was large, 3 stories at least, but it was essentially a studio. The far wall was made entirely of glass, a huge one way mirror which she predicted correctly from the street. A king sized bed and bathroom were to her right, an open kitchen to her left. Above the kitchen was a spiral staircase to an open loft. A large living room occupied the far half of the apartment. A similar staircase, this one to the ceiling, was in the farthest right corner of the room against the glass. Ropes of varying lengths fell from the rafters throughout.
Natasha wants to see more of the place, but Clint is still scrutinizing her.
She reaches inside a pocket and pulls out a foot long machete. He scoffs as he realizes this must have been secured within the lining of her coat.
She places the machete on his kitchen counter and proceeds to flit through his home.
At the spiral staircase, Natasha props her leg on a step and hikes her coat up revealing a long knife, her favorite, strapped to her thigh.
Clint wants to turn away out of propriety as he always does, but she's the one who barged into his house armed to the teeth at 2am so this time he watches his fill of her.
She's slow. Calculating. Somewhere between the leather strap housing the cold metal, the black garter tight around her leg, and the way she bites her lower lip as his eyes finally travel up to hers, he gets it.
He's her mark.
Clint Barton has never been more terrified.
Natasha almost smiles.
She flattens her coat and walks around his couch. As she strokes the supple leather, she kicks off her shoes gently. He sees that her right ankle is much larger than her left.
Natasha turns to face him and pulls a short dagger from somewhere near her left shoulder; she places this on an end table.
As she walks to the farthest staircase, Clint sees her reach between her breasts beneath the coat. Natasha places a vial of who-knows-what on this staircase and turns back to him.
"That's everything. Care to make it even?" she lilts.
He hopes she doesn't sense his reluctance as he places his gun on the nightstand closest to the door. Natasha has never required weapons to do damage.
She's the best partner he's ever had—he knows he'll work alone forever if this ends. (Though it wouldn't matter much if he's dead.) But he goes ahead and says it, "I don't have any information you don't. I don't know any more than you do. Whatever this is—it's gotta' end, Nat. Stop working me. I don't have anything of value to you."
"That's where you're wrong," she says as she struts back to him. She retrieves her drink and downs all of it, eyes locked on him for the duration.
She reaches to the back of her hat—Death by hairpin, he thinks, as he wonders what this scene would look like from a rooftop across the street.—and unsheathes her long red waves.
Natasha tosses her hat onto his bed and shakes out her hair. Two more strides and she's in. his. space.
"Have you ever thought about me?" she whispers, leaning up to him.
He's watched her do this countless time, so Clint's more than frustrated he doesn't know how to extricate himself. Think, man. Think!
But the slight press of her body against his, the smell of her hair all gum up the works of his brain.
"I mean, I know you've watched me, but have you ever thought about me? Wanted me?" she asks trailing a finger behind his ear and down his neck. It takes every ounce of resolve in him not to A: shiver, B: attack her, and C: pin her to the bed.
"Nat," he says the word like a warning.
"Hmm?" she asks in a voice a million miles away. One he's heard over his comm that belies how intensely focused she is on this moment.
He's racking his brain. What is her angle? What could she want? An errant thought runs through his brain: What if she's not conning you? What if she does want you. Like you want her. No. That's what she wants you to think.
"Don't be mad, Clint." Hearing his name feels like a betrayal. Her hands on his chest feel like bliss. "I've thought of you…watching from above. Dancing in Barcelona. That kiss in Prague."
"Fuck it. Nat, I need you to hit me or kiss me, but God help you if you try to do both."
She had the decency/audacity to snicker at this, but licked her lips and rose to her toes to meet his.
Hawkeye exhaled in relief, but caught her arms at her elbows and lifted her off the ground before her mouth got any purchase.
At this, she kicked at him, but he wrapped his arms around her waist tighter.
"Romanoff, what the hell are you playing at!"
She answered him with a head-butt. Clint dropped her as his vision whited-out. He came to in time to see Natasha swinging from the staircase and a foot coming toward his face. Lightning fast he made a decision to win. He dodged her left foot but caught her trailing, swollen right foot in his hand. Her scream of pain accompanied her release of the rail and Barton caught her.
Five minutes later, Natasha was zip-tied to the staircase while Clint was rummaging in the kitchen.
"It was a dick move."
"Me! What about you? Dancing! That kiss in Prauge!"
"How do you know I wasn't serious?" she yells back.
"Because I saw you in the stairwell."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"90 seconds before you walked through my door, you had your game face on."
"My game face?"
"Yes. The look you get in your eyes before you go to work on some tyrant or rube. You had that look in your eyes before you came to see me. Your partner."
"Maybe that's just how I look when I'm nervous."
"I've seen you nervous, sweetheart." They both thought of Paris.
"You're an asshole, Barton."
"Yeah, well you're a tease. I'll ask you again. Why are you here? What do you want at 2 in the morning, Natasha."
She sighed heavily and put her head down as she said, "I just want to sleep, Clint."
"What?" he put down the ice and the hot water bottle and his eyes shot to hers.
"I haven't slept well….ever. My whole life. I've basically lived as a zombie. In the Red Room, on my own, those first 4 months with SHIELD."
"And you thought what? A good shag would help with that?"
Natasha laughed. "If necessary. I thought you would help with that. My body didn't know how to shut down until I met you. Until I….trusted someone. I've slept more in the last 2 months of missions-"
"Since that first month with me you were too stubborn to sleep."
"Than I have in my whole life. I didn't know how tired I was. Still am, actually."
"Tosh," he said softer now. "We only sleep in 3 hour shifts in the field. That was better?"
"Leaps and bounds. What kind of security do you have here?"
Clint frowned. "Enough."
"That's what I was hoping for," Natasha said with a demure smile. "Please let me stay."
"What?" Right there?" He asked nodding to the stairs even as he approached her with wire cutters.
"I would, if I really messed us up. I'm sorry. Would me tied up to your rickety staircase make it up to you?"
"No Natasha. You can have my bed. I've got a favorite couch in my workshop."
"Your workshop?" she questions as he snips her restraints.
"Up the stairs. Want to see? Here take these." He hands her another vodka and a beer.
As she climbs the stairs, Clint retrieves some items from the kitchen. He finds her in looking in awe at the hundreds of arrows he has stored around his lofty workshop.
"So this is where the magic happens," she muses fingering his stool and workbench.
"Something like that. Wait, before you sit down—show me the dress."
"Your dress," he says plopping onto the significantly older couch and taking the beer from her hands. "You obviously think I'm an easy mark. What did you wear to seduce me?"
"I—I don't think that's a good idea," she said sitting beside him sipping her drink.
"The purple one from Berlin? I know you know I like that one," he said taking her right foot into his lap. This delicate touch, the one that is so familiar to the both of them, the after-battle-care is—tonight—so much more electric.
He places the ice gingerly on her ankle and tosses her a hot water bag with his other hand. "For your back."
She arranges it and sighs, finally at rest for the day. "I checked into a hotel."
"Soon after I talked to your hot-dog man," she said holding down a smile. No one else made her smile.
"You told me you liked that perfume," she said elbowing him.
"I do. I just wanted you to know you're not a sly as you think you are, hotsauce."
"I couldn't sleep at the hotel either. I thought it was just SHIELD. Being underground. But it's me."
"We'll get through it," he said understanding how scared she must feel in her own skin. Finding out that your hypothesis of 'if I could just get out of here' was wrong. "Maybe 48 hours in bed and a new mission later you'll be good as new."
"Um hmm," she agreed absently. He knew that meant she didn't agree.
"Or you could just move in, Tosh."
Slowly she let her eyes rise to his. "I don't want to intrude on your life, Clint."
"Oh, no, sure you don't," he said gesturing to the both of them sprawled out on his couch but giving her a grin.
"I actually thought you'd have someone here tonight."
"I do. She's hiding in the jacuzzi. I told her you were a master assassin and she shouldn't make a sound if she knew what's good for her."
Natasha strained her head back to look down at the entrance to the bathroom when Clint lightly pushed her knees back to the couch. "I'm joking. No one's here. The job is my life. You're my life. You should stay."
"Let's see how the next couple of days go," she said. "But thank you. Especially after tonight."
"Yeah," he said taking a long swig, "we've gotta' talk about that. Don't do that again."
"What? Try to seduce you? You seemed to be immune to my charms, Agent Barton."
"I'm not at all immune, and you know it. You exploited it. Me."
They were quiet for a solid minute until she squeezed his hand. "Okay."
"It's just—Nat, what did you think would happen? How far were you willing to let it go?"
"Too far. My only remaining bridge burned far."
"So what? We'd fuck, you'd sleep, I'd think we started a relationship, but it'd all be a lie? How long would it have gone on? Months? Years? Until I figured it out? Until you got a prescription for Ambien? Then what?"
He looked over and saw she was crying. Not sobbing, just silent tears rolling down her face. Though her expression turned violent when she saw shock and compassion in his face.
"Don't look at me," she growled. She paused before saying, "I'm sorry, Clint. You're the only person who's ever been selfless and good to me. I can't pay you back for saving me, in Paris and all the other times and the stress of that is killing me. It's part of what's keeping me up at night. You've given me my life back. A life. Yes, I was planning to use you for comfort, for sleep, but I thought maybe this would help wipe out some of my red."
"What would?" he bellowed jumping off the couch dropping her foot with a thud. "Sex? That is not a currency I deal in, Natasha."
She nodded showing she agreed. "I didn't mean I thought you did. I, uh, I'll just go," she said starting to rise.
"No! We are going to settle this now. There can be no more score keeping, Nat. 24 saves, 18 saves. How much are your stitches worth? How do calculate the heads up you gave me about the 2 guys on the roof? What do I win for evasive flying? How many points for a blow job? This has to stop. We're a TEAM. Our good cancels out our bad, end of story. The fact you grew up in a shitty hell-hole where sex was a terrifying punishment and you always knew your kill score makes me want to kill those Red Room bastards again, but it's not going to affect you and me anymore. You got that?"
"Yes," she said moving in to kiss his cheek. "Loud and clear."
He closed his eyes, savoring it. "If I thought we could have survived it, I would have let you kiss me downstairs. Then I would have kissed you back. And good. You know that, right?"
"I do. And Clint, I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't at least a little curious. You know that, right?"
"I did not know that," he said with a smirk. "I also don't know about your dress. C'mon, gimme a peak. Was it the nearly naked color one with the black lace thing over it?"
"Did you say you have a Jacuzzi?" Natasha asked as she made her way to the spiral staircase.
"It's yours as soon as you show me that dress."
"I thought we weren't keeping score anymore?"
"Fine. Request retracted. See how comfy it is sleeping in that coat."
"Oh, I won't be sleeping in this," she said as she took off the coat to reveal only lingerie. No dress. No more weapons. Just silk and lace and string and her.
Clint watched her curvy, barely covered figure disappear down the steps.
"Here, you may need this," called Natasha as Clint picked his jaw up off the floor and caught the ice pack she tossed.
"Night roomie," he called back as he collapsed onto the couch.
Thanks for reading! It was fun playing in this universe-maybe I'll be back someday!