Just one second okay. One second to catch my breath, he thinks.
Then he takes the breath and in the place of relief there is crimson scalpel shaped pain. It is somewhere to the right of his spine and then shooting upwards. It started belligerently and it doesn't seem content to stop anytime soon.
He feels his knees hit the ground.
His TAC vest specially designed so he could twist easily with a bow in his hands is far too tight in all the wrong places and that really shouldn't be possible, it was fine this morning wasn't it? Well how the fuck did this happen?
Hey there's Natasha, he thinks happily, a momentary distraction from wondering why he is so cold and why he's on the floor.
They were fighting weren't they? They'd been fighting this morning, or was it yesterday morning? She'd turned off her comms because he'd thought the best way to resolve the fight was to sing off key down their secure line. Maybe resolve was too strong a word. Win the fight was more correct, win the fight was more like Clint Barton. You learn a lot in circuses how to never miss, why you should never eat the first corn dogs of the day and that the smart kids hate clowns but emotional maturity ain't one of them.
Why is he on the floor? He should get up Nat's looking upset with him. Arggghh, fuck that hurts. Can't catch my breath, he thinks again. Tasha's got bloody nail scissors in her hands, blood that looks like her curls on tiny points of silver. Isn't he supposed to be on a roof in the snow right now? Isn't he supposed to be watching her back? Where's his bow? He can feel his arm guards press into the cold skin of his forearm caught beneath him, where's his bow?
There's a ringing in his ears but it's okay because it looks like Tasha's forgiven him for whatever they were fighting about. She's leaning over him the light separating each perfect bloodshot wave of her hair. Christ Tash you always find the worst possible places to push, don't you? Let go that hurts like a motherfucker! He arches his back trying to pull away from her grip.
Oh, he had been on the roof. He'd seen her through the window, her knives and that dress laid out on the bed, her perfectly deadly face through his sights. He was on the roof and now he was here and there was something important, some important reason he was in Natasha's hotel room. Not Natasha's room no it was Emilija's room. Emilija who was meeting their mark for drinks in an hour. Emilija who wasn't Natasha, not at all, not even a little bit. Emilija who Natasha had been putting on when he watched her through his sights and sang off key until finally she raised one elegant eyebrow and tapped her almost invisible ear piece off.
He'd been shitty with her for days, yeah he could admit it. When he got shitty he got sarcastic and nasty and Nat, well, she got cold and quiet. Oh and Clinton Francis Barton, the Amazing Hawkeye and the man with a hundred and one abandonment issues just couldn't let it go. No response is dangerous, no response means you could be gone in the morning, no response means he just keeps pushing until there's a reaction, any reaction. A reaction tells him what to do even if it's a bad reaction. Silence tells him nothing. That was what the singing was about. He could actually sing, they both knew it, but singing off key right into her ear piece rooftops away in the sound dampening snow that was a targeted kind of torture meant to push her as far as she would go.
It hadn't started there. That wasn't really why he was here now.
Natasha pulls her hand away from his back and it is red. There was so much damn red everywhere. She swears in Russian and then in English for good measure. Through the buzz he can hear her in an almost whisper "Where are you?" Still here, he wants to say but he has no voice. No, she wasn't talking to him he can hear her through the static of his own comm she is talking to SHEILD.
She hadn't finished dressing; she is still in a robe. That bastard had been early. That bastard had known something, he was early and he'd come with a purpose and back up. The greasy, black t-shirt and suit wearing bastard, the balding, gold chain wearing bastard had shown up early and he'd almost missed it. SHEILD definitely had missed it, he hoped Nat was going to tear them new Black Widow style asshole when they got back to the helicarrier.
Natasha is pushing the fabric of her robe into his right side with such force he wants to curse her name.
She'd shut off her comms because he was being a shit. He was being a shit because he couldn't stand her silence. She was silent because he'd been biting at her for days. He had been attacking her at every moment because…
Once a threadbare lion tamer had told him the lionesses could smell fear. He'd said that the key to working them was to be without fear. The key, he had found out not that much later, was to feed them, a lot and regularly. But he never forgot some creatures can smell fear on you and fear makes them attack. Natasha was and had always been a lioness. If the best defence was a good offence then Clint was playing to win.
The light in the hotel room is getting brighter. No, one spot is getting brighter above him and everything else seems to grow darker. It is his blood on her hands isn't it?
When she'd shut off her earpiece he'd smirked, stretching his neck for one tiny moment before returning to his visual. He saw them the douchebag and his steroid based cronies an hour early and throwing off body language that made warning bells sound off like klaxons in his brain.
Clint hadn't been scared much since he was a kid. Not since drunken adult fists and then strangers with hands in the night in homes that weren't really his, not since running away to join the circus. Sure there'd been times when things had gone wrong, when adrenalin had pumped its way through every blood vessel in his body and narrowed his vision and slowed down time. But truly scared, those moments when you knew you had no ability to change the outcome, that everything was out of your control, those had been few and far between since they'd put a bow in his hands and let him tear at his fingertips and strain muscles practicing day after day.
Natasha is crying, he is pretty sure Natasha is crying as he arches away from the pressure of her robe and the way she is pulling the buckles of his TAC vest apart. He catches her eyes, green and swimming. He wants to say, 'Don't cry Nat I've got no information to give up, none that you don't already have anyway. No need for the ticks of your trade.' That would have been a lie though wouldn't it.
Natasha Romanoff could look after herself. She was the most graceful weapon he had ever seen. She was an arrow brought to life. But they were early and she didn't know they were early because she had turned off her comms because he'd been being a shit. They knew she wasn't Emilija and they were looking to make a beautifully violent point. Her knives were on the bed and she was in a robe and she was every bit as fatal naked as she was armed and armoured but he couldn't take that chance.
She is talking but the swarm of the bees in his ears are making it hard to decode and he feels too tired to read her lips. He closes his eyes. Just need to rest my eyes Tasha.
"Barton!" he hears that, she all but screamed it. His eyes snap open but that light is too bright now, far too bright to look at. She is tilting his face back with fingers pressed into his carotid leaving red streaks across his jaw. It's blood, his blood on her hands. Yeah, that's right one of her knives, he hadn't seen tweedledum palm it from the bed and then while he was busy sending tweedledee back to the least fashionable end of hell… The Black Widow had broken the ugly bastard's neck but he'd got in one good thrust.
She was magnificent when she was pretending to be scared. She could raise her heart rate, widen her eyes and let the colour drain from her skin, alabaster against the dark red of her hair, the glitter of perspiration at her temples. Small and delicate she made you feel powerful and for a certain kind of man that was all it took. He'd always had to fight the instinct to protect her that's what it did to him. Little Natalia or Yelena or Marta or Eva so very scared and weak until the moment you realised you were about to die.
He is about to die. She is magnificent and he is about to die.
No. He hadn't told her yet. No. He couldn't go yet he had to tell her.
Tasha, you remember that op in Batman in Turkey. The op I spent talking like Michael Keaton's Batman 'cause I couldn't believe there really was a place called Batman and you gave me nothing. No quirk of the lips, no raise of the eyebrows and no kick in the shins. I didn't stop even when the cut on your forehead wouldn't stop bleeding. I was so sure you'd give up then and react. Coulson told me to knock it off when we got to the military base. I couldn't believe you'd let it go on for so long. You were impenetrable and awe inspiring. You had no fucking clue what I was doing. You thought I had a sore throat.
No not yet. I don't care how fucking cold it gets in here or how much I want to fall asleep. I've got to tell her.
I remember the first time we danced, really danced, not the dance that is every fight we've ever had. I remember how the silk at the small of your back felt and how you fit into my arms like you'd been designed that way and no amount of thinking about the blade strapped to your upper thigh or how often I'd seen you dance with other men just like this made it any less amazing. I hate dancing. I hate wearing those monkey suits and pretending to be something I'm not. I love dancing with you.
She is shaking her head but aw hell she looks furious. The kind of anger that shuts her down and make her face so carefully blank but if you knew where to look in her eyes you could see it the place where Natasha Romanoff calculated the myriad of ways to end your life. Clint knows where to look.
In Russian and then Hungarian and English and French she is telling him he is an idiot, a moron, questioning his genetic heritage. She presses harder on the robe damp with redness and he hears his own groan, weak and guttural. The room is going white like some asshole had turned on a damn dry ice machine. He can see her eyes though. Those eyes, such green eyes, you never saw eyes like that.
Tash, I've been wanting to kiss you for so long I'm not even sure when it began. You're too smart for me. You've probably noticed that I watch your lips when you talk or the way my pupils dilate or some shit. I bet you know already. You're the spy after all. I'm just the soldier. I wish I could ask if you're glad that I've controlled myself this long or disappointed without risking the rejection. We've kissed, it's not like we haven't kissed. Sometimes it's the best way to get out of a sticky situation and sometimes its cover. You remember Berlin though? Say you do Tasha. It would be a stab wound to the right side if you couldn't remember Berlin, laugh Tash that was a joke. Berlin, up against a wall in Alexanderplatz you kissed me because we were being tailed and I kissed back like I meant it. I meant it.
She's pushes her knee under his head and the hand that's not applying pressure to his back is over his heart. She'll leave a bloody hand print but then it isn't like she hasn't done that before. She's saying something, something that sounds like a prayer. Natasha doesn't pray. Natasha doesn't believe in a caring God or an ineffable plan. Natasha believes in ledgers and debts to be repaid. Natasha believes in imposing her own sense of order on a cruel and chaotic world. But Natasha's asking someone for forgiveness he can make out that much.
Nat, look at me again please baby. I know you'd kill me for calling you something demeaning like baby. I think I'm done. I need more time but I don't think I'm going to get it. But whatever happens next I'll wait for you. I'm not leaving you without a fight. I'm not as good as you at hand to hand and I don't know where my bow is but I'll fight whatever the fuck comes for me. You and me, I'm waiting because you and me, we work better together. We are better together. Tell me you saw that too. Tell me you knew all along I was pushing all your buttons because I was scared. Tell me you know I was in a foul mood because I hate losing you into the Emilijas and Nadias and Francoises. Tell me you know Tasha. I'm sorry.
He closes his eyes feeling everything start to grow numb but he feels her hand on his chest clench into a fist and her cry both angry and helpless. There are noises and movement and she is pulled away from him. A voice he thinks he recognised speaks, "Agent Barton it's time to go."
He swings out with a heavy arm and little strength; he is not leaving Tasha without a fight. But there is only silence and coldness as unconsciousness takes him