It was that time of year again. The time when families gathered to celebrate another year, to enjoy each other's company no matter how bad it might be and all Clint felt was grumpy. He would normally spend Christmas with Natasha doing shots of whatever, usually vodka, until they passed out. And every year they would share secrets while inebriated. But this year was different. Natasha wasn't there. This year he didn't have anyone to spend Christmas with. Well, technically he had people to spend it with, but those people expected him to be his usual good natured self and it just wasn't going to happen this year. He pulled out the bottle of Russian Vodka, unwilling to let go of the only holiday tradition he had.
"Hey Legolas, we're getting ready to exchange gifts. Let's go!" Tony hollered at him from the common living room. Clint just shook his head and poured himself a shot. Something about it didn't feel right. He shouldn't be drinking alone. There should be a fiery red head there to threaten him about puking up her good vodka that she had to smuggle out of Russia. With hopes that it would make him feel better he pulled another shot glass from the cabinet and poured one to sit untouched in Natasha's usual place.
She'd been gone a long time. Hell anytime that she was gone was too long in Clint's mind but this was torture for him. He had gone too long without hearing her voice, without seeing her in the gym, without waking up next to her. He quickly downed three more shots and picked up his phone. He just needed to hear her voice, to know that she was alright. Her phone went straight to voicemail and he listened to the bubbly greeting that was just for him and was so unlike the Natasha that everyone knew. He called her voicemail three more times, feeling the ache in his chest grow with each call.
"Clint," Pepper's soft voice from the doorway pulled him from his thoughts. He smiled at her sadly in acknowledgement. "You miss her a lot don't you?" It was a given fact that he missed Natasha, she knew this, but the sight of him sitting on the couch a bottle of vodka sitting in front of him, holding his phone with his eyes closed let her know just how much. They were always private about their relationship; even now Pepper wasn't real sure what they were to each other. He nodded and downed another shot. "How much have you had?" The mostly empty bottle sat in front of him. He leaned forward stroking his thumb across the label.
"It was full when I started." He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. "Tasha and I…" he trailed off. He looked down to hide the emotion he knew was written all over his face. He'd had enough vodka to not be able to hide completely anymore. Pepper watched him. She was uncertain of what to do. Should she pressure him into joining them or just leave him to his bottle? Clint shook his head as if he could hear her internal war, stood up and walked out to the common room.
The place looked as though a hallmark card had thrown up. There were decorations everywhere. To anyone else it would be warm and inviting. Full of the holiday cheer that most people felt this time of year, but to him it was horrible. It had nothing to do with their version of celebrating Christmas. Then again they never really did much in the way of decorating. The last couple of years they had finally caved in and bought a tree, which they did not decorate, but occasionally would put presents under. Clint stood watching everyone and how they arranged themselves around the room. Pepper and Tony leaned against each other. Steve and Bruce sat with their feet up on the coffee table, while Jane perched herself on Thor's leg. Normally, he and Natasha would be on the love seat. Just far enough away from each other to not raise eyebrows but close enough to accidently bump into each as often as they pleased. They kept everything about themselves hidden from the group. There was only speculation about the pair. The tree had been placed in front of the sofas. Clint made his way to stand beside the tree.
"The first Christmas we ever spent together we didn't have a tree. We were holed up in a shitty apartment in Budapest. That is the year we started our tradition. We would get drunk and usually share at least one secret about ourselves with each other. It all started when a mission, in Budapest, went south. We got drunk because we were shot to hell and not entirely sure we were going to make it out alive. The secret thing just sort of happened. I drank so much that I told her that I loved her." He looked around the room. "To my surprise she told me she loved me too. That was her secret. When we talked about Budapest, I remembered this and she focused more on what happened at our evac. We were ambushed. I don't remember anything after that except waking up in the med bay on the hellicarrier. Every Christmas after that we made it a point to be together at some point during the season. Just so we could drink good Russian vodka and let things slip. On our fifth Christmas, my secret was that I wanted to marry her." He laughed a little to himself. "She said no that year. I spent the next year nursing a broken heart. But I couldn't bring myself to break the only tradition that I had. Her secret that year was that she had wanted to say yes. That she was terrified that we couldn't have any kind of life together, both because of our professions and what the Red Room had done to her."
Clint stopped talking and looked down. He pulled a chain from around his neck, slipped off the wedding band and placed it on his finger. He said, "That is our secret that we kept from you. We've been married for four years. We didn't want to tell you because we didn't want to compromise our situation, or have anyone think that things would be different in the field because they wouldn't have been. That is the only thing that we kept from you. My admission this year is I don't know how to go on without her. I loved her more than anything and I feel lost without her. And I miss her more than anything in the world." He looked down at the bottle again and then held it up for everyone to see. "This is her favorite vodka. Every year before Christmas she would smuggle at least one bottle out of Russia. And every Christmas we would sit and drink it. This is my last bottle I have to continue our tradition." He stopped, wiped a tear from his eye. Everyone just sat stunned. They couldn't believe all the revelations of this night. Clint pulled out his phone. "Today I'm going to share my Natasha with you. She deserves to be remember how I will always remember her and not as a good assassin or a skilled warrior. She was just like any other woman out there. She just wanted to be loved and love someone in return. Before she left on that last mission we set up personal phones that way we could talk without someone really noticing. She left a voicemail greeting just for me on it. She was way she was when it was just us on it. She would drop her façade, no longer being the Black Widow or even Natasha Romanoff. She was the girl she was always supposed to be. Natalia. My Natalia. You probably won't believe it but it really is my Tasha on here." He played the message for all to hear. Natasha Romanoff was bubbly, with a slight accent; she was everything that no one would have ever expected her to be. When the message ended he looked at his friends again. "I know that ya'll want me to join in a gift exchange but I can't. The only tradition I have ever had in my life was spent with the one person that can't be with us anymore. I'm sorry."
He walked out of the room and shut the door behind him. He walked to the tree and looked at the two boxes underneath it. They knew that she was going to get sent out on a mission around Christmas and had decided to do their own gift exchange when she got back. He looked at the small box that he had carefully wrapped for her. He wished he had seen the handmade bracelet on her just once. He was at war with himself. Should he go ahead and open the gift that she had gotten him? Could he handle the knowledge that this was the last thing he would ever get from her? With shaky hands he reached for the box. He carried over to the sofa. He downed the rest of the vodka and lifted the lid of the cheesy gold box. He couldn't stop the sob that ripped from his chest as he looked down on two pink lines. She had told him before she left that she had the perfect secret that she couldn't wait to tell him about on their traditional night. But she didn't come home. The simple mission turned out to not be so simple. She had hinted on her greeting that she had something big to tell him and now he knew her secret.