Clint Barton does not get colds. But when he does get colds, Natasha wants to put a bullet in her own skull.
It had started out as a cold. In fact, it still was a cold, it had just been blown vastly out of proportion. The dubbed disease of "man flu" had been an urban legend. Pepper had started coughing a day after a meeting with a sick employee, and the next day Tony was spluttering down in his lab. Four days later Bruce was caught guilty wiping a runny nose on the sleeve of his lab coat when he thought no one was watching - lesson learned: J.A.R.V.I.S is always watching, and recording, and when Tony asks/orders him nicely, uploading directly to the internet. After that, even the super-soldier himself was caught sneezing, though his enhanced form was free from the sickness after only a day.
Natasha did not get sick. Ever. Occassionally she ran a fever, but that usually accompanied a gunshot wound and a new scar and she burnt it off in a few days. She didn't cough unless she was in burning building, she didn't sweat unless she was exercising, she didn't sneeze unless someone passed cinnamon under her noise, the only thing she was allergic to, and her nose didn't run. Ever. SHIELD stopped offering her sick days, and she's pretty sure that on her file it's listed as "injury leave" instead of "sick leave". Even those days are forced.
But, as stated before, Clint does not get colds. It's why they work so well together, because they never have to compensate for their partner functioning at anything less than perfect performances. He doesn't get the colds, he doesn't get fevers, he doesn't get the flu.
Well, he didn't before. But since they all made the suddenly maddening decision to all live together in the upper floors of Stark Tower, apparently he did.
It seemed expected really, because even the Hawkeye couldn't be immune to the common cold after weeks of being surrounded by other stuffy-sniffling-snotty superheroes. Every time he entered a room someone was disgarding a used tissue (correctly, because Tony learned that Pepper would actually cause him physical harm if he tried to shove it down the side of the couch again) and though Steve had only been sick for a short time, he didn't seem up to speed with the modern methods of "catch it, bin it, kill it".
She thought that it might be karma, because Clint had spent the past few weeks initiating small amounts of torture on his sick team mates. And now she was tasked with making sure that they didn't get their revenge. Because she was his wife. Apparently that was the rule even though none of the other team members knew about their somewhat unconventional marriage. She disagreed, of course, on the grounds that there were no vows in their wedding, and therefore no pledge of "in sickness and in health".
But he looked at her with glassy, puppy-dog eyes and so she was stuck in his room - their bedroom, really, as they're still waiting for anyone to realise that they're just using her designated bedroom to store weapons - trying to catch up on her reading while her partner lay face down in a pillow - for a lack of a better word - dying.
Because Clint Barton does not get colds. Clint Barton gets man flu.
Had he the ability to communicate with actual words and not just pained groans, he'd have been able to voice his debate of suicide. He hadn't done anything to deserve anything for such an illness, surely? He'd only hidden the aloe balm tissues from Stark because it was funny, nothing spiteful. But now he had a second heartbeat radiating somewhere in his head - either that or his brain was about to explode, but death seemed like a good option right now. Death was easy, peaceful, and if he had the strength he'd have put an arrow in his own head.
Occassionally his head lifted from the pillow to look around, but his eyes were having trouble focusing, so he would just mumble something that sounded more like "Tessa" than "Tasha" thanks to his blocked sinuses and hid beneath the covers again. His mouth was dry, his throat even more so. He might even be tempted to cry, but that might have used the last of the moisture left in his body and he really, really didn't want Natasha to hit him right now. Talking wasn't an option right now. Moving wasn't an option either. In fact, all he could manage to do was breathe...very gently...
It had started that morning, when Natasha had opened up the new book she planned on starting while the living room area was quiet and Clint had shuffled out of the bathroom, she wasn't sure if he was already sweating again or if he just hadn't dried off properly because his face and neck were still shining. She watched him as he shuffled into the kitchen area across the room, and she couldn't even see how he had managed to get out of bed, let alone stand in the shower.
He paid no attention to her as she read on the couch, and she returned her eyes to the words on the page as she heard the clinking of glasses in the cabinet and then the tap running. The rushing water stopped soon after and then she heard a sneeze, followed immediately by a loud bang and a pathetic, high-pitched "Oww..." that sounded like someone who was in a great deal of pain, but didn't actually have the energy to make a big fuss of it.
"Clint?" she asked, softly but curiously, looking up to see him leaning his head against the cabinet directly above the sink, the glass of water untouched in his hand. "What was that bang?"
"I sneezed," he explained, his voice scratchy and weak, "and I hit my head at the same time..." he straightened up and revealed a deep frown. "It was...confusing..."
As he turned to her, she could also see the pale cheeks and the unfocused, glassy eyes. He finished his water as quickly as he could, somewhat steadying himself when it only made him feel worse and then turned back to head out of the room. She put down her book, stopping him at the door when she realised what he was wearing: his training clothes.
"And where do you think you're going?" she asked him, blocking his exit with her arm.
"Trainin'" he mumbled.
He didn't quite stop himself from walking as quickly as she had blocked his way and had ended up walking right into her. Rather than bounce back with their usual respect for personal space and displays of affection in the public areas of the house, he just sighed against her, curling his neck and burying his face into her shoulder - it wasn't much of a stoop for him as they were pretty much the same height.
Natasha, however, felt the brush of his forehead against the side of her neck and almost swore - she would have, if her impulse control wasn't as good as it was. She could feel from that simple graze of skin that he was burning up and she danced her fingers across the back of his neck to feel a similar heat radiating there. She used two hands to drag his tired head from her shoulder, putting her hand on his forehead, confirming the initial suspicion of a fever.
A bad one.
"Bedtime now?" he asked in a small voice.
"Yeah, bedtime," she sighed, keeping the worry away. She put her hands on his shoulders and guided him back to the bedroom.
Clint wasn't really aware of anything until several hours after that, basked in the comfort of his bed which he knew only from that mingled scent of his and Natasha's shampoo on the pillow, although it smelt somewhat of his sweat when the fever had started in the middle of the night. He hadn't known it was a fever then though, he just thought it was a hot night, but still...as comfortable as his bed was, it wasn't enough to stop the feeling of oncoming death.
He groaned into the pillow, prompting a cool sensation on his forehead. It was cold, soothing, but he didn't shiver any more than he already was - perhaps because he was shivering enough already - and he blearily opened his eyes. Everything had started spinning again and he closed his eyes again, willing his vision to still before he tried any kind of movement again. Now, the thud in his head was more unbearable, throbbing in time to his quick, unregular breathing.
He tried to open his eyes again, this time getting past the spinning when a flash of red appeared in his line of sight. "About time you woke up," Natasha said quietly, not quite a whisper but more intimate than she might have allowed him in any other room in the building - further proof that he was definitely in his bed - well, his mattress, her duvet, by their usual sleeping habits. Hawks were supposed to have nests. Spiders were not supposed to steal the covers from those nests. But it was hard to argue that fact without it leading to something more.
"Tash-" he said, stopping halfway through the scratching pronounciation of her name because of the sharp pain it sent down his throat.
"Your fever knocked you out for a while," she explained from her seat on the edge of the bed. Bruce might have avoided him, afraid of contracting the germs again because no one enjoyed it when the Hulk sneezed, but Natasha wasn't afraid of something silly like germs. No matter how disorientated he was, he couldn't miss the concern in her eyes. "How do you feel?"
"Shitty," he murmured, discovering that the quieter he made his voice, the less it hurt to speak.
"Clint, come on. Get up."
"This is ridiculous."
"Yes, you can."
"I can't, I'm dying."
Dying was the theme of the day, and dying was something that Clint clearly was not going to survive. At one o'clocl he was curled up on the bathroom floor, his head plastered to the tiled floor because it was cooler than anything else he'd touched in the last twenty four hours. His skin was so warm he couldn't even feel the air conditioning that was on full capacity in the room, the only visible sign that it had been put on was that Natasha was wearing a thick sweater he was pretty sure belonged to him.
He'd wanted to stay in bed, but Natasha had become quite the forceful nurse and "gently" encouraged him/demanded him to drink his weight in water, so it felt, and now he had no choice but to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, going to the bathroom meant that he had to leave the bed and cross the bedroom to the en-suite bathroom, something he considered akin to running a marathon right now.
Now he was laying out on every available inch of tiled floor, trying to let it cool as much of his body as possible. He'd already been stripped down to his underwear to sleep in but having lost it when he went to the bathroom, he simply couldn't find the strength to do anything other than kick the offending garmet of his feet and sprawl out on the ground. Natasha watched from the doorway, as he groaned, his underwear still hooked around one toe, wondering if there was anything sadder than a sick, naked man lying on his bathroom floor.
"You're not dying," she told him tiredly.
"I am," he insisted, his voice thick and filled with the scratchy phlegm he alternated between half-choking on and coughing up with a grimace on his face.
"People don't die from colds."
He rolled his neck so his cheek was pressed to the floor, enabling him to look at her without actually getting up, stretching a hand out towards her and slapping it down on the floor. "Can I have the blanket?"
She arched an eyebrow at him. "You want me to bring the bedsheets into the bathroom?"
"Yeah," he croaks out.
"There is a zero percent chance of that happening."
"You're not sleeping in the bathroom," she told him.
"You made me sleep here last week," he reminded her.
"Because you were drunk and vomitted on the bed. That was different. This time you're just too lazy to get up and walk to the bed."
He groaned and rubbed his too-hot forehead on the floor to try and cool it down. "Not lazy...dying..."
She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Clint, you are going to be dying of a bullet wound in a minute if you don't get up."
"I choose death."
"Get up," she invited him, one last time. "Please."
He shook his head. "Don't wanna."
There was only one more trick she could pull that would get him to move. It was cruel to do this to him, the one level of depravity that he despised when it came to living at Stark Tower, but it really was the ultimate level of blackmail and it might just work, even if it did make him angry - how angry could he get when he was plastered naked to the bathroom floor convinced that he was dying.
"Clint, you have thirty seconds to move before I take a photo of your bare naked ass and send it to Stark to do whatever he so wishes with it."
"You're the worst wife ever," he grumbled with as much of a scowl as he could manage.
"I did warn you of that," she reminded him. "Now, move."
He kicks a leg out to the side. "I moved. Are you happy?"
"I could be happier," she told him. "I should have been more specific. By "move", I meant you need to get your naked ass into the bed right now."
He dropped the scowl for a pathetic whine. "Tasha..."
She took her cell phone from her pocket and waved it somewhat playfully. "Now is not the time to argue with me."
"You can't argue with a dying man," he told her.
"I'm an assassin," she reminded him. "I can do whatever I want with dying men."
There was some more grumbling, some more whining, and finally he pulled himself from the bathroom floor - she refused to help since he wasn't really dying - and he shuffled back to bed with no dignity left to spare.
By three o'clock, Natasha could hear his aching stomach rumbling and wondered when he'd last ate. Last night she'd seen him take a slice of pizza from the load that Stark ordered the night before but she hadn't really remembered him eating it, and she certainly hadn't tasted it on his lips when he kissed her that night. And he'd trained most of the day, so he wouldn't have eaten lunch since taking breaks wasn't something he did usually. She made a habit of forcing him for food if necessary, or if she wasn't training with him to sneak up and leave a bag of food beside him, usually stolen from a rookie, and she definitely hadn't done that, meaning it had been over a day since he'd eaten anything.
Having picked up her book again now, she turned a page and casually asked "hungry?" to which he replied with a shake of his head into the pillow.
"You should eat," she told him.
"Yes, you can, she sighed. "You just won't eat. Can't and won't are different words."
He grumbled along with his stomach. "Can't eat, I'll be sick."
"You will not!" she insisted. "I already changed these sheets once this morning because you sweat all over them last night, I'm not changing them again today."
"Then don't give me food," he mumbled, rubbing his face in the pillow in a way which achieved nothing but to show he had already sweat his way through the sheets again. Her fingers reached out and brushed against his forehead again, it felt a little cooler, so she hoped that he was sweating it out.
"Clint, you've got to eat," she tells him, softer this time.
"Well, I'm going to eat something."
He coughed before answering this time, it was still racking through his chest as though he had something unnatural rattling around in there. "Good for you."
She watches him for a moment, until hunger wins out and she goes to get herself a sandwich and an afterthought reminds her that there's a tin of chicken soup still in the kitchen. She comes back some time later and he would look asleep to the untrained eye, to someone who didn't know him quite so well, but she climbs into the bed beside him and nudges him.
"Sit up," she encouraged him, holding the bowl.
He made a noise into the pillow which might have meant anything, but probably meant 'no'. She waved the soup, which she'd poured into a mug for him, close to where his face was on the pillow and waited for the scene to hit him. It took a few seconds of watching the tendrils of steam float into the ear, but there was a stirring in the pillow, a snotty inhale and then slowly he lifted his head, blinking madly as if the action alone was agony.
"Chicken?" he asked.
"Of course," she nodded, as he dragged himself as upright as he could. "The worst wife ever made you soup."
He leant back against the headboard, bringing the duvet up with him so his arms were barely peeking out. It fell down lower on the side she sat on, since she wasn't under the covers like he was, and she passed him the soup. He grasped the mug with both hands, his fingers gripping the warm ceramic as he inhaled the scent before sipping at it and making a sound like a dehydrated man finding water.
"Thought you weren't hungry," she teased.
"Shut up," he mumbled, with no malicious intent to the words.
"You can say it, you know."
He closed his eyes, enjoying the taste of the chicken soup as he poured it down his scratchy throat, dragging out the sigh that followed. "Say what?"
"'Natasha, you're a totally awesome wife'. You can say it, it's okay."
She smirked to herself when he said something but he did finish his soup and thankfully, he did not vomit onto the bedsheets after. He drifted off to sleep for the afternoon after she managed to wrestle some painkillers into his system, ignoring his complaints that he didn't need them. A sick man claims to have been dying on the floor hours before, but when offered painkillers he insists he's not sick enough to need them. She doesn't want to deal with the naked-on-the-bathroom-floor-possibly-but-not-really-dying Clint so she dissolves the painkillers into his water and ignores his grumbles that it makes the water taste funny. Of course it does, it's laced with cold medicine.
Once he's asleep, she goes back to her book, but never fully concentrates on it. The words on the page don't bring her the usual relaxation or escape into the world of fiction, not when she's so atuned to the sound of each ragged breath he's drawing. She didn't voice it, but she made him sleep on his back this time so that the fear of him suffocating himself with his pillow wasn't a real one. She didn't want to be the one to tell Fury that one of his prized agents had stopped breathing with his face pressed in a pillow while she was sat right next to him. So she turns the pages, tries to take in the words, and balances a hand on the top of his pillow, letting her fingers trace random patterns into his scalp.
The sun has long since set by the time he's stirring again but for a moment she is lost in this particular chapter that she doesn't notice until he physically takes the book from her hands and tosses it onto the ground. The pages will be bent and the spine damaged, but he's trying, weakly, to tug her further down the bed.
"Come'ere..." he tempts, his voice soft but still scratchy.
"I was reading that," she says with a teasing smile.
"Don't care," he mumbles, as she relents and puts herself beneath the duvet beside him. His skin is cooler to the touch now, and the shivers are from general cold rather than the fever he stopped sweating out around an hour ago. He's still covered in dried sweat and it's far from nice smelling because of it beneath the duvet, but she allows him to draw her to him all the same. They've spent nights together in horrifically unsanitary locations and she's not going to push him away just because she's sick - even if she does catch the sickness from him she'll certainly deal with it better than he has.
They face each other in the bed, one of his arms thrown over her side and moulding along the length of her spine, his fingers buried into the edge of the curls which have just started to grow in further past her shoulders again. His face finds a home in the crevice of her neck and shoulder, inhaling deeply, coughing once, then settling again as the chest irritating subsided. She resumes her earlier action of tracing through his hair, now and again trailing her fingertips down the back of his neck.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, her voice softer than it's been all day, because before he was sick, he was protesting and fighting help because he was angry at himself for getting sick in the first place, but now it was different. Now it was night, the sun had gone down, they were alone in their room and everything was calmer and peaceful.
"Better now," he mumbles, moving his head so slightly that it could have been a kiss against her neck, but it was more of a reassurance for them both. A sorry-I've-been-grumpy to compensate a sorry-I'm-such-a-bad-nurse. "M'sorry."
"You don't have to apologise for getting sick," she whispers. "People get sick, Clint, even superheroes."
"No..." he groaned, lifting his head and letting it fall onto the pillow to meet her eyes. His were clearer now that the fever had gone and he was relatively awake, something she was pleased to see. "Sorry I said you were a bad wife."
"You didn't say I was a bad wife," she smirked. "You called me the worst wife ever."
"Whatever," he sighed, shaking his head a little and nudging the tip of his nose against hers. "I didn't mean it."
Her smirk softens into more of a smile and she nuzzles back against him. There's a reason she's programmed J.A.R.V.I.S to stop recording what happens in this room, and it's so that they can have moments like this without being spied on. "I know," she acknowledges.
"And you are a totally awesome wife," he admits.
She smiles a little more. "I know," she repeats. "But I would have sent that photograph of your ass to Stark."
He tries to glare, but he's too tired to do anything other than look at her as unamused as possible. "I take it back, you're not awesome."
"I am awesome, and you can't deny that," she tells him. "If I wanted to show you a picture of your ass, I could have showed him that one of you in the shower."
"That's mean," he mumbled.
"It's my favourite screensaver," she teases.
With no more words, they fall back into each other and into the silence of the bed. He's fighting sleep now, but she leans close to him and presses a single, soft kiss to his temple, leaving her lips there after. "Sleep, birdy."
"You need to sleep or the fever will come back," she warns him.
"So, I don't want to watch your ass moaning on the bathroom floor again."
This time he has a smile for her. "Oh, but it's okay when it's the bathroom wall?" She swats at his shoulder lightly, and he catches hand afterwards, holding it between them on the mattress. "Tired, he mumbled.
"Go to sleep," she says quietly.
But he's already snoring on her shoulder.
Clint Barton does not get colds. But when he does get colds, he's the most adorable, frustrating man you could possibly be around.