A/N First time writing for the Avengers outside of crossovers, woot! Excuse any obvious inconsistencies in characterization or whatnot, I admit to being an absolute noob whose knowledge of the Marvel universe comes solely from the movies. Anyhoo, I hope that you'll enjoy this anyways. I've had the plot bunny since I first saw the movie in theatres, and I know a couple of other people have done versions of this scene, as well. Hopefully I played the idea out alright.

Rated T for character death

Disclaimer I don't own The Avengers or any associated characters, events, etc.

No time for goodbyes, he said, as he faded away
Don't put your life in someone's hands, they're bound to steal it away
Don't hide your mistakes, 'cause they'll find you, burn you


It's going to be done with the bow.

She knows that. Accepts it, in some deeper layer of her consciousness, though the surface is still rapidly spinning right now, its gears running in desperate circles as she tries futilely to find a way out.

There is no way out. It's a perfect trap.

The ropes are silk, the gag soft on her tongue but the bonds around her wrists and legs tight enough to burn with cool fire. She'd be able to rip through, normally. In an instant. And she's tried, even though she knows it's impossible this time—oh, she's tried. And surely it's the worst torture of all to know that she should be able to escape, but she's weighted down by her own weakness—they had to fight to get her in here, and they fought well. No one overcomes a woman like her without inflicting considerable damage. And so such considerable damage was applied, so that there's already blood running down her arms from a gash along her collarbone, tickling her neck from a split in the skin of her pale cheek. She can feel the rise of bruises around both eyes, too. Twin black eyes.

If we ever had a kid, d'you think he'd take on a hero role, Nat?

He or she. You should know better than to be sexist at this point. Not bothering to comment on the first part of his question. They both know that children are out of the question.

Yeah, alright. I'm thinking he—or she, fine—would have a sort of combination of talents, you know? Super-agile archer? Hawk Widow, or something. Blackeye.

Blackeye? Please, that's practically offensive.

The memory of his laughter stings like salt in her raw-scraped skin, and she forces her lungs to work like a bellows, shoveling oxygen in and out, moving tirelessly and thoughtlessly. Calming. Calming.

You're going to die.

He's going to kill you.

She can't. She won't let him. He won't let himself. There's got to be a way out.

There's no way out.

The perfect trap.

She wishes that all of it had never even begun, now, more so than ever—that Loki had never come back to Earth, that all of the pathetically named Avengers had stayed on their own. For a while, she'd thought that—just maybe—they really were stronger together. The tiniest, weakest team spirit, it could be called; childish excitement in the power that they held in their hands.


Love is for children; I owe him a debt.

It had been acting, then. Her choked voice, her turned head. Well-placed signals that communicated a false sense of fear.


If only Loki had been pretending, as well.

She can still hear his voice now, in her ears, overcoming the deafening silence. Snarling. Delightful in its pure cruelness. She'll never understand how Thor could defend him. He's wicked. The most twisted creature she's ever confronted, if he could do this, the single thing in the world that could tear her apart so completely.

She doesn't want to admit that she loves Clint Barton, and she won't, not even at the end. She's stronger than that; won't let sentiment get the best of her, stop her from fighting right up through the finale. No tearful goodbyes. It's going to be bloody, and it's going to be harsh, but it's also going to be about skill and resistance. Not emotions. Never emotions.

God damn it, Clint.

Don't let them do this to you.

Don't let them do this to us.

Her senses pick up the noises long before the average human's would, and her heart unwillingly accelerates, thrumming against her fierce attempts to keep it grounded. The blood in her veins is heavy, thick, and she keeps her teeth clamped down together, dragging inhalation after inhalation through her nose. Footsteps. Heavy, uneven, one after another, steadily approaching the entrance to the small, clean white room that she's strapped down inside of.

The door opens, and she stares right through him, refusing to take in any of it—least of all the eyes, which are alight with gemstone blue, vivid and neon and unnatural. Alien. Instead, she chooses to fixate her stare on the doorway itself, on the security surrounding it. She gets a glimpse of powerful, possibly magnetic clamps and heavy chains, and a sigh runs through her whole body, a slow surrender. Her bonds to this small, dark wooden chair may be weak, but that doesn't mean Loki is going to let her escape.

"I came for you, Tasha." His voice is lilting. Soft, breath whispering along the walls of his throat.

"Don't call me that," she responds steadily, making sure not to focus on him. Her fingers curl tighter than ever into the arms of the chair, so that the hard edges of the wood press into her skin and cut off the blood circulating to her fingertips.

"I'll call you what I like…" He kneels down swiftly before her, and then his fingers are on her jaw, wrenching it over so that she has no choice but to stare him in the flaming, icy eyes. She shudders at his touch, for it's warm, far too alive for the mechanical being that he's become. And her chest stirs briefly, deep under all the defensive layers she's put up, at the thought that the real Clint is still down there, somewhere, hidden beneath the trappings that Loki has spun over him. And the last part of the Frost Giant's promise still rings clearly in her mind—

And when he screams, I'll split his skull.

When he screams…

She clenches her teeth tight enough to send a surge of pain through her jaw and jerks her head away, breath heavy. The image of his face is shining behind her eyelids, and she stares determinedly at the pale flooring, willing its blank whiteness to drown out her memories, her emotions, her existence.

It wouldn't be so bad, she theorizes, if he was just going to kill her. Or if it wasn't him at all. If some random, mindless drone of Loki's was the one to tie her up and cut her apart… she wouldn't give a damn, she thinks. She'd roll her eyes even as they were being carved out of her skull.

But, no. There isn't going to be any primitive eye-carving, any classic torture. Clint's going to murder her in the way that he knows her to dread. Not Loki—him.

He knows her better than anyone on the planet.

She's told him about her fears. Whispered them over the silken pillow of an exquisite hotel that they infiltrated together, then repeated them under her breath, over and over in a desperate curse as they crouched in the musty bowels of the same building hours later, their lives at stake and only each other to hold onto. Because she trusted him, more than anyone else. She knew then what a mistake it was, and she knows now, more than ever.

Stupid. You were stupid. You were stupid enough that, in the end, you failed.

A slap stings across her face, and her head jerks to the side as she half-gasps, her stomach twisting at the impact. He grips her chin once more, and then he's right up next to her, so that all she can see are his eyes—those awful eyes, twisted by Loki's possession, swirling blue and entirely unnatural. "Pay attention to me," he snarls. "You need to listen when I talk."

"Clint…" She might as well try. If she's going to die, then she might as well go out fighting, instead of putting on some sort of stoic face, sitting like a statue in this chair as he cuts her apart from the inside out. "This isn't you. You're stronger than this, I know you are."

"This is my strength," he whispers, and she can taste him on her lips, even though she's still centimeters away from him. It's the same—his breath should be sour, rotten, twisted by what he's become. But things don't work that way. He's exactly the same, the same indescribable flavor that she can remember so vividly from all those times before—the times, more frequent than she always tells herself, when she let herself give into him, gave up and allowed a tiny, desperate moment of emotion.

Needless to say, she regrets that all now.

"This," he continues, "being able to do this to you… is more powerful than any sort of weakness that feelings would induce." He steps back and rises back to his full height. She knows that she's supposed to have to tilt her head up to see him, moving into a symbolically submissive position, but she doesn't. And she doesn't duck her head, either—she stares straight ahead, through him, past him.

"It's not about feelings. It's about being able to see what's right and what's wrong, and I suppose I misjudged you on that."

"You misjudged me on many things, Tasha."

The nickname.

And then her heart is paralyzed, and she knows that she can't do this anymore. At his voice saying her name, something breaks—something deep, deep inside of her shatters into a thousand pieces, flying every which way like shards of glass, embedding themselves in her lungs and heart and every vital organ, everything that hurts. Her throat catches, a swell of heat rising behind her eyes, and her head tilts downwards, ginger locks of hair falling over her face and hiding it as the first tear slips out from under her long eyelashes, creeping down her cheek.

"I don't even have to try. Don't need to so much as touch you before you burst into tears. The great Black Widow. There's nothing strong about you, Natasha. You're the embodiment of weakness. You, not me."

"This isn't you."

"Of course this is me."

And then, like he needs to establish the fact more fully, he crouches down and raises both of his hands—almost tenderly, his fingers tracing along her jaw as he tilts his head and brings his lips to hers. Even knowing that she's only digging herself deeper into this torture, she returns the kiss, everything in her chest pulsing and twisting and straining, the most beautiful ache. For a long moment, a long, long moment, she pretends that the rest of it is gone, that nothing exists but the two of them. It's her last chance—she might as well make the best of it. She carefully memorizes every detail of what it feels like to kiss Clint Barton—how he uses his teeth more than his tongue, insistent but not aggressive. The way that he fits his thumbs under her chin and tilts it up like she's a fairytale princess and he's her prince. The tickle of his eyelashes ghosting over her cheekbones, etching through the half-dried tear trails streaked over them.

He pulls back all at once, and considers her in an almost appraising manner. She gasps in air, and it's like she hits a solid wall of shame. Go out fighting. Weren't you going to do that? Instead, she's playing right into Loki's game. This is exactly what he's trying to do. Dragging all of her well-hidden emotions to the surface, swirling them about in a tantalizing manner, looking for the best place to stab down.

"Love," he says plainly. "That's the first step. The first bit of your worst fear, Tasha. You told me, remember? And you said that you'd never told anyone else."

"I told Clint Barton," she breathes. "And you aren't him."

He's different. He's strong but not invulnerable, he has an immature sense of humor and a stupid fondness for just a tiny bit of caramel in his coffee, he loves books more than he lets anyone know, his childhood dream was to be a bird, learn how to fly, and he got as close as he could.

And there are the tears again. The stupid, weak, exposing, humiliating tears. She hates them—no, more than that; she hates herself. For the vulnerability. For the idiocy. For everything.

"Regardless, I know everything I need to now." He rocks back on his heels for a moment, extending to his full height, and reaches up to run his fingers along the edge of the bow hitched over his shoulder. It's sleek and black, upgraded since she last saw it, or otherwise an entirely new model. She can remember him showing his other one off to her—it's amazing, Tasha, look at it—customized, so it's my perfect draw weight, and see how it fits along my hand right here—pulling her fingers over his own, and she laughed, shaking him off and reminding him how she could never understand his enthusiasm for archery, anyways, how guns were so much more practical and he ought to switch over sooner or later.

All at once, he slips the bow off his back, and then an arrow is nocked and aimed straight at her. Her breath freezes in her throat, and she watches him warily, her fingers curled into her palms. The residual taste of his kiss is still far too clear on her lips, and she swipes the tip of her tongue along them, fighting to erase it.

"Step one is love," he repeats, hefting the bow. "Step two is betrayal."

The truth strikes like an iron cannonball, and her lungs hiss themselves empty. He tilts his head and lowers the tip of the arrow, that poison laughter leaking through the air once more. "Betrayal by the one you dare to love. The one who's stupid enough to love you." The way he says it twists her core more effectively than any electric shocks or thumbscrews, and every muscle in her body tightens. Stupid enough to love you. Had he loved her? Back when he was Clint Barton, before Loki, before everything. Through it all, through the chaos and crime and death that wound the tapestry of their lives, had he found the strength, the idiocy to push it all aside and love her anyways?

I didn't love him. Not ever. It was a stupid infatuation, nothing more than that.

For all her spy's expertise at identifying lies, it's a wonder that she can fake her own thoughts so convincingly.

Nevertheless—nevertheless, the fact still remains that she was close to him, that she relied on him, and she acknowledges that mistake. It was stupid. Beyond stupid. It was utterly idiotic, and she knows that now, knows it as she firmly locks eyes with him, stares straight into the wavering curtains of electric blue. She can't even feel the tears anymore. Everything about her is empty.

"I think I've betrayed you nice and thoroughly, wouldn't you say?" he murmurs. "After all, I am going to kill you, Natasha Romanoff. I'm going to cut you apart."

"No, you aren't." This is one thing that she's fully confident of. She knows him better than that—no, she knows herself better than that, and she's not afraid of torture, or at least the traditional sort. Not in the very least. It's the sudden type of death that she dreads. The kind that doesn't give her a chance to resist.

Death. She's going to die. It's all going to be over—no, more than over; it's going to be like it never existed in the first place, because she won't be there, anymore. Not a ghost, not a memory, not an echo. She's no fool. She knows not to put any faith in Heaven, or in Hell. It's just going to be over.

All over. Nothing beyond.

"Oh, aren't I?" His lip curls into a sneer, vaguely irritated. "Tell me, then. What will I do?"

"You are going to point that arrow at me again." Each word is individual, precise, carefully dropping into the air between them. "And then you are going to shoot me."

"Damn straight I am." His teeth cut into his lower lip. "There's no one to save you now, Natasha. None of your precious SHIELD. Not Iron Man, or Captain America, or any of your stupid, pathetic, child's play heroes."

She wants to close her eyes, to not be able to see him anymore, but it's impossible, impossible to so much as blink.

"You've never believed in heroes, have you? Not really. You've believed in winners, and in losers. The victorious and the dead. The world is a mess of madmen, and it doesn't have any room for heroes."

All she can see is the arrow as he ever so slowly tips it back up, positions it carefully so that its point is aimed at her throat. It's a dart of silver in the room, which suddenly seems filled with shadows that she knows don't stretch beyond her imagination. Her blood begins to pump more heavily, coursing through her veins like molasses, wrapping around her lungs and suffocating her.

She is going to die.

Clint's fingers tighten, and his unnaturally blue eyes narrow to slits. "Step three," he whispers, and his breath stirs the faux feathers lined along the shaft of the arrow. "Defeat."

Love, betrayal, defeat.

The bow's release is noiseless.