This is a post-movie fic about decompressing and taking the time to figure yourself out. Written for the cottoncandy_bingo prompt: ordinary day in the life.
Thanks to EuphoricSound and brbshittoavenge for taking a look at this beast at various times throughout the writing process, for cheerleading, for telling me where to fix things, for listening to me gripe about NaNo, and for generally being awesome people. Much love!
If you've got a moment, I'd love to hear what you think!
Whenever they could, they spent their time off together. Sometimes at his apartment in the city, sometimes at hers, once at a series of increasingly abysmal roadside motels - that part didn't really matter, as long as they got to spend it in the same place.
They did silly things in their down time, frivolous stuff that others wouldn't get, activities seemingly incongruous with their personalities. They kept it between the two of them – Clint's love of trivia games, for example ("There were no such people as the 'Moops', Barton." "Oh yeah? Prove it.") or Natasha's penchant for macramé ("I can think of at least sixteen other ways to practice tying knots, Nat." "I am making you a bird, and you are going to like it."), neither of which could be easily explained to their superiors.
It also helped that neither one of them had any friends outside each other. Sure, Coulson might count in a pinch, but he was their handler, their boss, when it came down to it, and they both had trouble imagining that the man ever wore something other than a suit (when they were on their own time, Clint and Natasha liked to spend as little time clothed as possible).
It was not so much that they liked having secrets; they both had their fair share of those in their lives, but SHIELD had fairly strict frat regs and no amount of paperwork on Earth would result in Nick Fury okaying a relationship between partners, no matter how effective they might be.
So, yeah, there were a lot of reasons that they didn't discuss what they did on their time off, but most of all, they kept it secret because they had so few good things just for themselves, things they didn't have to share unless they wanted to.
Which they didn't.
They didn't breathe a word of what they did together on their days off, not to anyone. She knew that half of SHIELD probably believed they spent their time violently fucking each other (and the other half most likely believed the same, only that they probably beat each other up first), but she figured that was easier to bear than everyone knowing she and Clint were much more likely to invent new muffin recipes than sex positions (he'd been on a dried fruit kick lately, much to her delight. She still had pleasant memories of the cranberry-walnut bars he'd made the last time they had a day off).
So after New York, after the gods had been packed up and shipped home, after all the leftover Chitauri technology had been collected, after people started to resume their lives, Natasha grabbed Clint by the scruff of his neck and skipped town to head out to the cabin he'd bought off the books a few years ago (Coulson had helped keep it that way, and fuck, it hurt to think about that).
They drove most of the way in silence, counter to Clint's usual habit of blasting his terrible music and singing along at the top of his lungs. She'd never thought before that she'd miss it, but she did. With luck, though, and a lot of patience, she hoped that maybe their drive back to the city would be to the dulcet tones of Foreigner (hell, she'd even put up with the Eagles this once).
He hadn't shut down entirely though; he was still smiling when she made the occasional joke, so there was still hope. She could do this. They could do this.
But that didn't mean she wasn't waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The cabin was quintessentially Clint's – built out of rough hewn wood, small, out of the way – but the seclusion of the dwelling appealed to her too, and maybe that was part of the reason they worked so well together.
She'd long since made the place her own, too, stuffed herself into the nooks and crannies of his house like he'd done with her life. Over time, she'd added touches of her personality to the plaids and the flannel and the dark wood – soft blankets and overstuffed pillows, black tea and trashy Russian novels shoved in amongst his pre-ground coffee and Westerns. And if Clint reaped the benefit of her additions to the secret arsenal under the floorboards, well, that was just icing on the cake.
Whereas at first she'd been shocked at just how much she liked staying up there with him, she thought of the place as her home now, too, and even the idea that it was so very nearly a place she would have to visit (and, more than likely, sell) on her own was too painful to bear.
She'd told him that last night in the hotel room Stark had paid for, listed all of her deepest secret fears, the ones that had been running on repeat through her head these past few days. She spoke quietly enough that Clint had to lean close to make out her words, and when she was done, he'd smiled sadly and grown serious eyed, told her that he'd never leave her of his own free will, promised her that he'd stick by her for as long as he was able. Then he proceeded to kiss her until she didn't remember her name, distracting her from what he couldn't promise.
So, no, she didn't want to share that with anyone else because her heart was already so full of Clint and there wasn't room in there for anything more. She was selfish, greedy about this one thing, and whatever time she had with him, however long it might be, it was hers.
They left the city very late at night (or very early in the morning, depending on how you looked at it), arriving as dawn's rosy fingertips were stretching along the horizon. Just as silent as he'd been for their journey there, he carried their bags inside and tossed them onto the bed while she boiled water for breakfast on the little stove.
They watched the sun rise on the back porch, mugs of her favorite tea warming them, and she leaned into his side, smiling when he laid his arm across her shoulders and held her tight. It was as if a switch had been flipped when they crossed the threshold, and they slowly let themselves slip into the roles they never got to play anywhere else.
Here, they were not Black Widow and Hawkeye, Romanoff and Barton, or anything like it. She was just Nat (or Tash or sweetheart) and he was just Clint (or jackass or, if the mood struck, baby). If anybody asked (but no one did), they were two people with busy jobs trying to get away for a while. After the events of the past week, who could blame them?
They needed to clear their heads, both of them. They needed to get out of the city and away before something snapped. Yes, it helped that they had won the battle, it helped that there was a New York left to go back to, and it helped that they had a few more people they would trust in a firefight. But at the end of the day, they needed to run away for a while, forget about who they were supposed to be, forget the masks and the layers of lies they wore every day, and remember who they actually were. They were both feeling thin, weary, stretched around the edges, and they needed some normalcy, or whatever passed for it in their lives.
After breakfast (quick oats shared out of the pot), they headed into town for supplies.
After the bookstore cum sporting goods shop, they headed over to the town's sole grocery store, the small, locally owned kind where the clerk not only knew your name and what you bought every week, but had the same information on your grandparents. Even though they made it out here less than once a year, the old man who ran the store knew them at sight, recognized them from their previous trips. Thankfully, it was that and not their grainy portraits splashed all over the news lately that he recognized (either that, or he was content to let them have their secrets), and he greeted them with a smile and a wave when they entered.
This was another thing that had taken some getting used to - shopping.
She'd been raised by a shadowy government agency, had freelanced for a few years before defecting to SHIELD, and none of those situations particularly lent themselves to the skill. She could kill a man in 200 different ways and shoot her way out of impossible situations, but when Clint had taken her here the first time, she'd gotten lost in the bread aisle.
She was debating the merits of two different types of flour (Clint wanted banana bread, and she didn't see the need to argue that point), carefully reading the labels, when she heard a shuffling behind her.
Without bothering to look over her shoulder, she asked, "Hey, what do you think about white whole wheat? I know it's kind of esoteric, but I think . . ."
She trailed off when she looked up, finding a much taller man behind her than she expected.
"Oh!" she said, a little surprised that she'd let her guard down that much, but then, that was half the point of spending their time out here. She was so relaxed, so into the role of being no one in particular, that she was only carrying one of her guns and three of her favorite knives.
"Sorry," she started to apologize to the man behind her. "I thought you were my . . . Steve?"
The tall blond man turned around at her voice, and he sounded just as surprised as she was when he asked, "Natasha?"
She put both bags of flour in the cart (they'd probably use all of it anyway), dusting her hands off on her jeans as an excuse to buy time to figure out what she was going to say.
"So, um, what brings you here?" she asked at the same time Rogers said, "I didn't expect to see you up here."
They both laughed a little, then she started again. "Decompression," she said, looking around for Clint. This was going to be interesting. "You?"
Steve nodded at her, grabbed a box of cereal and added it to his hand basket.
"Yeah, I uh, needed some time away from the city after all of . . . that," he finished lamely. "Stark has a cabin up here, said I could use it for a week." He peered again at the row of cereal in front of him, then grabbed a second box.
She hadn't known that about Stark, but neither did it really surprise her. Tony had a lot of things in a lot of places.
Steve glanced up and down the empty aisle. "So, you here alone?"
She could hear the obvious question in his voice. It was the same one she saw in his eyes back on the helicarrier before the Battle of Midtown, the same one he leveled at her at the shawarma restaurant afterward, when he'd spied Clint's bad leg propped on the chair behind her. He hadn't pressed the issue either time, but somehow she didn't think she was going to be able to shrug it off so easily now.
Like clockwork, Clint rounded the corner with a plastic carton in his hand. "Hey, babe," he called out, and well, the cat was well and truly out of the bag now, wasn't it? "They only have 2% left. You okay with that?"
Steve raised his eyebrows at her, and she looked at him sheepishly, then shrugged a little. In for a penny . . .
"That's fine," she said. "Uh, look who I ran into."
Clint seemed a little taken aback, but he recovered well, putting the milk into the cart and standing close to her. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes or elbow him. He was kind of fragile right now, after all, and she would put up with a little bit of male posturing for his sake.
"Rogers," he said, nodding. "Fancy meeting you here."
Steve scratched at the back of his head, and Natasha half expected him to blush.
"I was just telling Natasha that Tony gave me the keys to his cabin for a couple days," he said, looking desperately uncomfortable, awkward, and it was then that she was reminded just how young the man really was. Jesus, despite being technically older than both of them combined, he was essentially a kid. No wonder he looked so damned out of place all the time. She wondered if he'd ever even been on a date.
She wanted to say something, but Clint was so much better at small talk than her. Or, at least he was outside of missions, when they weren't supposed to be other people. When she was the Black Widow, there was nothing she couldn't accomplish, but she left that part of her behind in the city alongside her leathers.
She let Clint take over (she forcibly stopped herself from thinking "let him take point" because this wasn't a mission, this was their life, and she needed everything to be normal, dammit) while she tossed other miscellaneous things into their cart. Baking powder, a few packets of yeast, and hopefully, real vanilla . . .
She realized they were still missing a few essentials, so she touched Clint on the arm to let him know where she was headed, then slunk off toward the cold case. By the time she got back with eggs and orange juice, Clint and Steve were laughing together. It looked natural. It looked . . . good. She hadn't seen Clint laugh like that since . . . before, and even if it wasn't with the same reckless abandon she'd come to associate with him, neither was it the stoic shell of his former self he'd been wearing lately.
She came up behind him, suddenly a hell of a lot happier about the interruption.
"We need anything else?" she asked, letting him put his arm around her shoulders this time. Maybe in another place, at another time, she'd berate him for it, never let him get so comfortable with her in public, but here, even in the presence of Rogers, well, it didn't seem so bad.
He shook his head, quickly surveying the contents of the cart. "Nah, should be fine for a couple days at least."
Natasha snorted fondly at him and shoved him with her hip. "Days? Really? I've seen you eat, Barton."
Clint smiled down at her, and she rather thought he would have kissed her right then except that Rogers cleared his throat uncomfortably and asked, "Speaking of food, you guys know where a guy can get a decent meal around here? Not that I don't love cold cereal and coffee."
They took the hint and stepped away from each other, and after exchanging a shrug with Clint, she said, "Hey, you know, if you wanted to, you could come by ours for dinner. It doesn't seem like it, I know, but Barton here cooks a mean steak." She nudged Clint as she spoke, knowing he wouldn't mind her inviting Rogers up to the cabin.
Steve smiled. "I'm not sure . . ." he swallowed, his eyes darting back and forth between them. "I wouldn't want to intrude," he said at last.
Natasha smirked. "You wouldn't be," she said, surprised to find that she really meant it. "Clint's always desperate for another player for Trivial Pursuit."
Clint clapped his hand on Steve's shoulder and grinned widely, already sensing he had a fish on the line. "Oh, you'll love it . . ."
As it turned out, they were universally horrible at Trivial Pursuit.
Clint had never in his life paid attention to anything outside of sports, Natasha had been raised as a lab experiment in Russia, and Steve, well, Steve was just too damn old.
None of this stopped them from trying.
Steve had shown up on his motorcycle an hour or so after dark, a six pack in tow ("Doesn't do much for me, but I thought you'd appreciate it just the same"), and Clint had served the promised steaks alongside baked potatoes ("Meat and potatoes? Really?" "Trust me on this one, Tash. He'll like it."). They'd approached him warily at first, and Natasha had half expected Rogers to start quoting frat regs at them.
But as the night wore on and he didn't say a word, not about their sleeping arrangements anyway, she started to relax, drank a little deeper from her bottle, and even put in the effort to keep up with the idle conversation. By the time Clint gleefully spread out the game on the table, she was starting to feel pleasantly buzzed from the drink and the company both.
" . . . I just don't see how I'm supposed to know who Vito Corleone is," Steve protested loudly.
Clint tilted his beer bottle at him. "You're just mad because you missed the macaroni and cheese question."
"The captain has been stuck in an iceberg for 70 years, Barton, cut him some slack," she said, sipping from her own bottle. "Not everyone grew up privy to the finest in classic American cuisine," she sniffed
Clint snorted back, reaching for the die. "If you recall, Natalia, you didn't know what it was either until I made you try it."
She scoffed. "I stand by my assertion that anything that orange cannot be natural."
"Stop denying its cheesy perfection and read me my question already."
She rolled her eyes, glanced down at the card she drew. She swallowed, then nonchalantly shuffled it back into the deck and grabbed another.
"Hey! No cheating!" Steve admonished, reaching for the card she tucked in the back of the box. "If I had to try and answer the one about Tom Hanks, bird boy has to answer his question, too!"
Natasha briefly hoped that Steve had grabbed the wrong card, that he would read something else aloud, but that was never how her luck worked.
"What Iraqi weapon killed twenty eight U.S. soldiers in their Saudi Arabian barracks in 1991?" he read, unaware of the undercurrent to the conversation, not picking up on the slight shake of the head that she'd directed at him.
Clint stilled at the question, his beer paused midair on the way to his mouth. The hesitation only lasted a fraction of a second, but it was noticeable, and Natasha forced herself not to wince. He shrugged, took a long pull from his drink, then with a strained laugh, he answered, "Scud missile."
She reached across the table to Clint as he spoke, and she tried to put her hand on his forearm, but he stood up and abruptly headed out of the room.
Steve looked pained, confused. "I'm sorry, I . . ."
She waved him off. "No, it's okay. We, uh, kind of have a standing rule to avoid certain topics. You couldn't have known."
Steve nodded grimly. "He was there?" he asked.
She nodded, then stood to follow Clint. "Give me a sec?"
She found Clint hunched against the counter in the kitchen.
"Hey," she said quietly.
He didn't look up, just sighed and said, "Sorry. Didn't mean to freak out."
She walked over to him, put her arms around him and rested her head against his shoulder. "You didn't, sweetheart."
He looked up at the unexpected endearment, smiled at her in that terribly pained way of his, the expression on his face saying all the things that neither one of them had the words for, and she just knew what he meant without having to hear it because she loved him, too.
He tugged her over to him, held her in his arms and clasped her tightly for a minute. At last, he pulled back to look at her. "Not to be a dick, but . . ."
She leaned up and kissed him quiet. He was different, off his game, and even though he'd been so much like the old Clint tonight, the carefree, laughing archer who'd try and fail to drink her under the table, he still wasn't that Clint, not yet, maybe not for a long while more. She touched his brow when they parted, leaned in and whispered, "You want to call it a night?"
He shook his head. "Nah, I just had to get out of there for a second. I'll be fine."
He was lying. He knew it, she knew it, and she was damned sure that he knew she could tell. But because she knew what it meant to forget how to breathe, she just nodded, waited until he pushed away from the counter, then followed him out into the other room.
It turned out that they didn't need to come up with pleasant excuses because Steve already had his coat on.
"I'm going to head out. It's getting late," he said, standing near the door.
"Sorry to ruin your night," Clint said, but Steve waved him off.
"No, not at all, I, uh . . ." Steve shook his head. He grinned, genuinely. "I haven't had that much fun in a long time. I'm sorry if I . . ."
"I don't get to say it, you don't either," Clint interrupted.
Steve chuckled, then asked, "Maybe next time we try something a little safer, like poker?"
Clint chuckled. "You're on. But, uh, give me a couple days?"
Steve returned his laugh, reached out to shake his hand. "No problem." With a curt nod to Natasha and thanks for dinner, Steve was gone, and they were alone.
He sagged then, and she could see him deflate, as if he'd been holding himself together with the barest amount of string, one that had untied the moment they were alone. He sat down hard in one of the chairs at the table, cursing.
"Clint?" she asked, not daring to move closer, not sure if he needed the physical comfort or not. She'd been ready for this all along, ready for him to sag and sob and scream, waiting for him to break down. She'd been waiting and watching because she wanted to be there to put him back together again, just like he'd done for her a dozen times before. He wasn't red in her ledger, but he was awfully damn close.
He dropped his head down into his palms. "I'm so . . ." He turned toward her, eyes closed. "I'm so fucking lost, Nat."
He opened his eyes then, and the look in them twisted in her heart. He was so very clearly lost, so desperate for something, anything to take the pain and the guilt away, and she ached to be there for him.
Moving slowly, she approached him. She didn't reach out to touch him though, biding her time, waiting for him to loosen up.
"Let me help you," she begged quietly.
He shook his head and sat back in his seat. "I'm not sure there's any of that for me."
She did reach out to him then, couldn't stop herself from puting her hand on his shoulder and squeezing. When he didn't shake her off, she said, "There is if I want to give it. I'm always here for you."
He looked at her grimly, gratefully, a glimmer of hope burning somewhere behind his eyes. "I don't know how . . ."
She moved closer, pressed her finger against his lips, then carefully climbed into his lap, testing his willingness at every step of the way, with every tiny movement.
"I do," she said, and then she kissed him.
It was tentative at first, and it almost feeling like cheating that she would try to distract him this way. She knew that he needed it, though, that he needed to stop feeling sorry for himself and just start feeling human again, like he deserved to be walking around when so many others weren't.
They'd been doing so well up until now, driving and shopping, playing trivial games and eating in good company, so well that she'd almost started to let herself hope that they were in the clear. None of that really distracted, though, not from the kinds of things that he'd done, and she knew that from long experience. He needed to shut off his brain for a while, to stop the thought processes that made him feel like the lowest form of life on the planet.
So she pressed her body more firmly against his, straddled him on the chair and gently encouraged him to respond, tugging on his hands and putting them on her body, moaning and sighing at all the right moments, going through the motions until he joined her.
She felt the moment that he shifted, the moment that he stopped thinking and started feeling, felt it in the way that he actively pulled her closer, dug his fingers into the rounded flesh of her ass and grew hard below her.
"Tash," he groaned mindlessly against her lips, and this, at last, was right where she needed him to be.
"I want you," she said back to him, and he twitched, gripped her more tightly in reply. "I need you."
"Oh, Tash," was all he could manage.
It wasn't frantic or quick, but neither was it slow and sensual the way she fucked him on that chair. She stood only briefly to divest herself of her jeans and underwear, paused to pull his pants down as well, and then she sunk back down onto his lap, onto him, and it felt like they were fitted together like two halves of the same whole, graceless as it was.
She rode him as hard as she dared, bracing her feet on the rungs of the chair, feeling herself get a splinter, but not caring, and she had to moan theatrically and nip at the sensitive spot underneath his earlobe before he really managed to loosen up.
It was frantic then, as if she'd touched off a ticking time bomb. He stood, still firmly fixed inside of her, brushed the remnants of their failed game aside, and laid her down on the table. He couldn't keep his hands still as he thrust, grabbing her, latching on at her breasts, her face, her thighs. It didn't take much then, she felt him start to come without warning after a particularly delightful twist of her nipple, and he cursed loud and long as he erupted, spilling himself out inside of her.
"Fuck, I'm sorry, Nat," he said at last, collapsed on top of her and still breathing hard from the exertion.
"Nothing to be sorry about," she said, because it was true.
He pulled out instead of answering right away, tucked himself back inside his pants and reached around on the ground for hers to avoid saying whatever it was that he was going to say.
He grabbed her hand at last, and without meeting her eyes, he said, "I don't know what I'm doing."
She refrained from laughing because, really, who did? "It's not your fault," she said instead.
He scoffed, turned away from her and started walking back toward the bedroom. Because he didn't tell her to go away, because he'd invited her along with him in the first place, and because she wasn't a coward, she followed.
He sat down on the edge of the bed (their bed, dammit), still caught up inside of his own memories.
"It's not your fault," she repeated.
He got mad then, looked at her with blazing eyes. "What's not my fault? That all those people are dead? That . . . that Coulson is fucking dead?" He ineffectually punched the bed beside him.
She swallowed. "It isn't."
"How can you say that? How can you say that after you had to fight me? After I nearly . . ."
She sat down beside him, but didn't touch him. She had been here before, too many times to count, needing but afraid of what might happen when someone touched your skin.
"But you didn't," she whispered softly, earnestly.
He looked at her, and she could see the tears threatening on the rims of his eyes. "That doesn't matter."
She did let out a laugh at that, a rueful bark that echoed in the bare room. "Oh, I think it matters very much."
Her amusement wasn't catching, though, and he turned his face downward once more. When he spoke again, it was in the smallest of voices, so tiny he sounded like a child. "How can I go back, Nat? How can I ever look at any of those people again?"
She took a deep breath while she pondered her next approach. At last, she settled on, "I seem to remember a young, American moron who once told me that it's what we do with our present that counts. That we can't change the past, but we can atone for it. That we have to try to wipe the red out of our ledgers."
He shook his head, and she wasn't sure how much was getting through to him, but she continued anyway.
"I was never more scared, not in my entire life, than when I fought you on the carrier."
He did look up at that, anger gone, but replaced with hopelessness. "See? I . . ."
She cut him off. "Shut up, Barton, it's my turn to talk." He quieted, and she continued.
"I thought I would never see you again. I thought you were already dead. I thought I'd lost you to some piece of shit monster, and it wasn't fucking fair because I hadn't even gotten to see you in months, and there you were, finally, right in front of my face, but you might have been a walking corpse for all I knew."
She swallowed, breathing hard. She hadn't thought about this, any of it because there had been far more important things to worry about than herself and her feelings, but now they were here, alone, with all the time in the world, and her brain was erupting. All of it was pouring out of her half-formed, but she never knew when to stop around him, never knew how to stop the rush of words when it came to him.
"I wasn't even sure you were going to be okay until you woke up in the infirmary, you know? I thought that maybe it was just a fluke that you recognized me and that I'd damaged your brain or something."
He looked so damn guilty at that, and this reaction wasn't what she wanted, not at all. "Tash, I'm . . ."
"Don't you dare fucking say it," she said, and his former anger started to affect her. "Don't you dare apologize to me for what Loki did to you, for what he did to us. I am not living through that again. I need my partner back, Clint, I need you. Here, with me. I'd prefer willingly, but I'm not above coercion."
He smiled at that, finally, and when he met her eyes this time, they weren't as sad. "You got a plan?" he asked at last. It wasn't a cure, and he wasn't better, she knew, but it was enough for now that he was playing along, that he was willing to go through the motions. The rest of it would come in time.
She returned his smile, cupped his palm in hers. "Well, for starters," she said. "You're going to start a fire in the fireplace because I'm really fucking cold."
He chuckled, and the sound was a little easier. "Okay. Then?"
She grinned. "And then we're going to sit in this bedroom and get properly naked."
"I like where this is headed. Continue," he ordered, turning his body toward hers.
"And then we're going to spend a week doing nothing except fucking each other until we can't walk straight. And we aren't going to leave until I run out of tea or you run out of that nasty Folgers shit you call coffee."
"What about after that?" he asked and she knew he meant what about when we have to go back to New York?
"After that? Well, we'll see." She pulled her shirt off over her head. "Now, come here and kiss me."