Disclaimer: Though I have a very shiny Avengers Blu-Ray, that's all I own.
Summary: In which an insignificant body part is temporarily Natasha's undoing.
Author's Note: I struggled mightily with this one. Messo Victor's review kind of pushed me into publishing this :)
Natasha would never say she wasn't feeling well, even to get out of a situation, but Clint knows something is up. For one thing, the words, "I don't feel like driving," have never before come out of her mouth. For another, she's curled up in the backseat, fast asleep.
Even Natasha can't control her body in sleep. Her pale face tightens every time the car hits a rough spot, and when he has to stop short, she lets out a strangled noise and wakes up cursing in Russian.
"Sorry," he says. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," she mutters. "You're a horrible driver."
"At least I'm not likely to get a speeding ticket," he retorts, and worries when she opts to call him very nasty things in Russian rather than argue.
When they return to the Tower, Natasha heads straight for her room and doesn't emerge until dinner. Clint suspects she only comes out because it's easier than saying no to all the people who would've knocked at her door otherwise. She doesn't eat anything, just sits there and pretends.
"Aren't you hungry, Natasha?" Bruce asks carefully.
"Are you feeling okay?"
Pepper tries. "Natasha, if something's wrong, you can tell us. Don't-"
"I'm fine," Natasha snaps, muttering some choice words about Pepper's mother under her breath.
"Stop," Clint mouths at the rest of them before they push Natasha into leaving the table in a huff. She's gotten better about sharing her emotions and past and many other things, but she will not share injury or illness unless she absolutely has to.
Not that he's any better.
If she stays at the table long enough, though, maybe someone can figure out what's going on, because he knows it's something. She's holding herself very carefully, like something hurts, but he knows she didn't get hurt on the mission. She seems pale but oddly flushed, and her eyes are a bit glassy.
Bruce seems thoughtful. "Here, Natasha. At least have some water." He passes the glass over to her; she takes it with her left hand, even though she's a righty.
"Thank you," she mutters, taking a few sips.
Needless to say, she skips the movie.
"What's going on?" Clint murmurs to Bruce once the movie's in full swing.
"How long has she been hurting?"
Clint frowns. "She slept most of the way home, and it was a 15-hour drive. I could tell she wasn't feeling well, which is bad."
"What about the fever?"
"Not too long, I don't think."
"Do you think she'd let me examine her?" Clint just looks at him. Bruce sighs. "Point taken. If she's worse tomorrow, I can always drug her."
Clint suspects she only comes out for breakfast because she's trying to prove she's fine. She's clearly not. Her face is flushed, and where it's not red, it's chalky white. She's shivering and has an arm pressed against the right side of her stomach.
"I'm fine," she mumbles. "I'm fine."
He puts a hand on her forehead and is bothered when she doesn't jerk away. "Natasha! You're boiling," he says, shocked. He hadn't realized she was that bad, and feels like a terrible partner. "Bruce. Let's go." She starts to protest, but he glares at her. "If you try to fight me on this one, I'll win."
She doesn't try.
She does duck into the nearest bathroom on their way to the elevator, and he can hear her throwing up.
When all sound stops and she doesn't reappear, he goes in, and is horrified to find her hunched over on the floor with tears streaming down her face.
"It hurts," she sobs, gasping for breath.
"It's okay, Tasha," he says soothingly despite his terror, lifting her fever-hot body as gently as he can. Her head lolls limply against his neck, and her tears dampen his shirt.
Bruce is already in the lab, having being alerted by JARVIS. "Damn it," he says when he sees them. "Put her over here."
Clint lays Natasha down and holds her hand while Bruce works. A thermometer placed in her mouth beeps furiously. Her pulse is fast and thready. Her red hair is soaked. Tears are still escaping.
Suddenly, Bruce touches the right side of her stomach, and she yells and hits him so hard he staggers back and his eyes flash green.
"No!" Clint says, getting right up in Bruce's face, more afraid of Natasha's condition than the possibility of the Hulk. "She needs you right now."
Bruce slowly relaxes, looking pained. He turns back to Natasha, who is cursing in a steady stream, and only stops to roll over on her side and throw up on the floor.
"What is it?"
"I think it's her appendix."
Clint just stares. Her appendix? She's been through hell and back, through the Red Room, though missions and gun wounds and knife slices and migraines and what makes her scream and cry is something in her own body?
"We need to get her to a hospital. She'll probably need surgery given that her temperature's so high and she's in so much pain. Can she handle morphine? Clint?"
Clint shakes out of his shock and nods. "She's been on it before."
Her body relaxes and her eyes slip closed after Bruce administers the drug. They bundle her up and bring her to the emergency room, where she's quickly whisked away and he and Bruce are left to fill out paperwork with fake names and wait. Gradually, everyone else trickles in. When people start whispering and taking pictures, they're shuffled into a private waiting room.
They're all on their feet in a second when the doctor comes in and addresses Clint as Mr. Matthews. "Mrs. Matthews is going to be fine. Her appendix did rupture, which is why surgery took a bit longer than usual. She's on morphine for the pain and strong intravenous antibiotics to combat sepsis, so she'll need to stay in the hospital for the next week."
"How long until we can see her?" Clint asks.
"She should be awake in a few hours, but you can see her as soon as she's in a room."
"A private room," Tony says. "I'll pay whatever the cost."
They follow the nurse that comes to get them half an hour later, and take up positions in the various seats around the room, appropriating furniture where they need more. Clint sits by her bed and holds her hand, watching her face. She's still warm, though nothing like the furnace she'd been when they'd entered the hospital. When her eyes do finally open, they're glassy and unfocused from the fever and morphine, and she clearly doesn't recognize him.
"Don't move," he warns the rest of them. "Natasha?"
"Where am I?" she asks hoarsely in Russian, and this is why he's learned the language. When she's hurt, confused, drugged, or otherwise not up to full capacity, she falls back on her mother tongue. "Who are you?"
"In the hospital," he says in the same language. "Your appendix ruptured because-" He bites off the reprimand; there will be time enough for that later. "I'm Clint Barton. Do you remember?"
"You are Hawkeye?"
"Clint," he stresses. "It's Clint, Tasha."
She sighs softly and closes her eyes. When she opens them and speaks, it's in English. "You don't all have to be here."
"We wanted to make sure you were okay," Bruce says softly. "You scared us."
The blatant honesty in his voice as well as the nods around the room make Clint's breath catch, and he can tell the concept is as foreign to Natasha as it is to him. They're assassins, and while they've always worried themselves sick about each other, it's strange to imagine anyone other than Phil so concerned about their lives.
"I-You don't-" Natasha's voice trails off and she's struggling to stay awake. She murmurs a question in slurred Russian, her eyes locked on his.
"It's okay," he whispers back. "We're not going anywhere. Sleep, Tasha." Her eyes finally drift closed.
Tony, to his credit, waits a full thirty seconds before demanding, "What did she say?"
Clint smiles. "She said that you're all idiots for sitting around here. And she wanted to know if we'd be here when she woke up."
"Well," says Tony like it's the most obvious thing in the world, "Where else would we be?"
(McBurney's Point, in case you were curious, is the rough location of the appendix)