A fill for the cottoncandy-bingo prompt, "Cheesy/Absurd". Please take this under consideration - cheesy fluff ahead!
Thanks as always to my reviewers - you guys keep me going!
In retrospect, she should have figured it out much sooner. He'd been acting a bit off, but she'd dismissed it as the residual good mood leftover from such a resounding victory the day before.
Leftover from that and all the celebratory sex, of course.
Sometime in the middle of his third attempt to cook her breakfast and asking her to marry him, it dawned on her that something was up.
"Hey," she said, leaning over him. He glanced around the room to get his bearings.
"What happened?" he asked. "I feel like I've been hit by a truck."
"Remember that mist Doom sprayed all over you?" she asked. She shifted to help him struggle upright.
He frowned. He did, but what did that have to do with anything?
The question must have showed on his face because she continued, "Well, apparently it wasn't as inert as Banner thought."
That did not sound good. He sighed, took a deep breath and asked, already bracing himself, "So what was it?"
Natasha didn't meet his eyes when she said, "He described it as an 'emotional disinhibitor.'"
Never one to put off the inevitable, he asked, "What did I do?"
Whatever it was, it couldn't have been too bad, he thought. She was still here, at least; she was still willing to wait around for him to wake up.
"Well, for starters, you kept trying to feed me," she said. "It took me an hour and a half to convince you that one sandwich was enough."
That wasn't so bad, but from the look on her face, he got the impression that there was more she hadn't told him.
"You asked Thor if his father was mad that SHIELD stole one of his goddesses." She smirked. "Personally, I thought that part was kind of sweet. Even if you proceeded to write an ode to my beauty."
"Oh god," he groaned, dropping his head into his palms with an audible smack. "Please tell me Stark wasn't there."
Natasha patted the back of his head. "The whole team was there."
He could feel the blood rush out of his head at that. "What else?" he dared.
"Well," she said. "Everyone now knows you have a great singing voice."
That wasn't so bad, at least. He breathed deeply, then reached for the cup of water that was next to the bed.
"How did I end up here?" he asked, taking a sip.
"You passed out in the middle of listing all of the things you like about me."
He sighed. "Please tell me I didn't do anything really embarrassing."
When she didn't respond, he prompted, "Nat."
She looked at him guiltily, as if she'd been holding back whatever it was on purpose. She held his gaze for a long moment, and he could see the internal debate raging there.
"Something worse than those cheesy lines, I take it?" he prompted, and she nodded carefully, a tiny bob of her head.
"Yeah, you, um …" she trailed off, rubbing the back of her neck in discomfort. "Just before you passed out, you, uh, told me you loved me," she said with a nervous chuckle.
Emotional disinhibitor indeed.
"Right," he said. "Well, I guess …"
"Did you mean it?" she asked suddenly, quickly, like she was afraid she might not ask if she didn't get it all out at once. Her voice was sharp, higher pitched than normal, some unnamed emotion running through it.
"Um," was all he managed in reply. He had been sitting on that particular foolish emotion for months now, if not years, and he frantically tried to come up with a response. He could feel a headache start to form at the base of his neck, and he wondered if he could get whiplash from sudden changes of emotion.
"Did you mean it?" she asked again, more desperate this time.
He had to options, both of which were equally nerve wracking. But what the hell, he might as well go with the truth. It was a miracle she'd stuck around this long anyway.
"Yes," he said, sounding a hell of a lot more unconcerned than he felt.
Natasha got up and left.
She knew she shouldn't have run away from him, that it was petty and childish of her, but why did he have to say it? Why couldn't he have shrugged it off? He was supposed to laugh, he was supposed to say something to the effect of, "I was drugged."
Instead, he'd just said, "Yes."
She still couldn't breathe.
You were the one who brought it up, the little voice in her brain said accusingly. You were the one who wanted to know if he meant it.
She could deal with it when it was just an after effect of the drug, when she could blame his admission on the chemicals coursing through his body. She could handle it because it wasn't him, not really, it was just the natural, fleeting emotional response that everyone had when they were around the person they were sleeping with. She'd felt it herself, from time to time.
But never around anyone else. Just him, her brain said. And you feel it constantly.
She told her brain to shut the fuck up.
It was two days before he saw her again, and when he did, it took him by surprise. He hadn't been expecting it, honestly, hadn't thought that she would want to see him for a while after what he'd told her. He figured she'd taken off, gone back to SHIELD and requested long term assignment. The assumption wasn't outside the realm of possibility.
She was sitting in the common area, sipping coffee on a barstool when he walked in looking for his own morning jolt of caffeine.
"Hey," he said, noting that she looked as haggard as he felt.
"Hi," she replied, studying him over the rim of her mug. He felt the weight of her gaze as he reached for the half-full press pot on the counter.
He paused. "Can I … ?" he asked, suddenly uncertain. Before, he wouldn't have hesitated. He would have poured a cup without a passing thought, knowing that if she wanted more, she would have made it herself or asked him to do it. Now, though, things were different. He wasn't sure where he stood, much less what his coffee privileges were.
She nodded. "Yeah, I made enough for you," she said, and he relaxed a little. Maybe this was her peace offering. Maybe they could go back to how it had been, after all. Yeah, it would take some time before things were easy, but if she'd made him coffee, there was hope.
He was pouring when she said, "I'm sorry."
He blinked at her. "For what?" He was the one who should be doing the apologizing.
She raised an eyebrow at him, as if to ask him if he were serious, but what she said was, "I shouldn't have run off like that."
He took a sip of his coffee. It was good, the way he liked it (stronger than she did, which meant she really did brew it with him in mind).
"It's okay, Nat," he said quietly. "I shouldn't have …"
She cut him off with a wave. "No, don't. Don't do that." She took a deep breath. "Me, too."
All the breath in his body whooshed out of his lungs. He felt dizzy.
She put her cup down on the countertop, then she looked up, looked at him, holding his gaze as she said, "I love you, too."
He sat heavily on one of the stools.
Stark, of course, chose that moment to come wandering into the room.
"How are my favorite assassins this morning?" Tony asked as he walked over, obviously intent on coffee, the same as they had been. "Kill anything interesting lately?"
He picked up the empty coffee pot. "Didn't save any for me, then?" he asked, just a touch petulantly.
"Wasn't going to waste the good stuff on you, Stark. That green shit you guzzle has fried your taste buds," she said, never taking her eyes away from Clint.
Tony snorted. "Don't mock my antioxidant rich, high protein green superfood. It's the beverage of the gods. Literally. Thor loves it." he said. He narrowed his eyes then, suddenly picking up on the undercurrent in the room. "What'd I miss? Did Everdeen short sheet you or something?"
Natasha flicked her gaze over toward Stark, and Clint felt like he could breathe again now that he was out from under her direct scrutiny. He still felt winded, though.
"I know where you sleep, Stark," Natasha threatened.
"Promises, promises," Tony replied, ignoring the daggers Natasha was shooting at him. He turned around and busied himself with figuring out how to use the coffee maker on the counter, the one with too many buttons and no instructions.
Clint might feel inclined to help him, put him out of his misery as he poked and prodded at the buttons, except that it was kind of hilarious to watch the industrialist try to figure out how to use a coffee maker he'd once sworn "practically brewed the coffee for you."
Natasha tapped one finger to the back of his hand to grab his attention. She motioned over her shoulder with her head. "Can we talk?" she mouthed.
Clint nodded, downing the last of his coffee in a gulp. He stood and followed her out of the room.
"Where do I put the water?" he heard Tony ask behind them.
She felt nervous, more nervous than she could ever remember feeling. Her palms were sweating, and her heart was racing so fast she felt like she had run a marathon.
She didn't like it.
They went back to his rooms, for which she was glad. There was something to be said about facing her problem on familiar grounds, and she'd spent so much time here that it was almost as good as being in her own room. It was certainly better than one of the common areas.
"What are we supposed to do about this?" he asked when they were alone. He sat close to her on the edge of the couch, body close enough that she could feel his heat, though they weren't touching. She didn't dare look at him because it would be too much, would overload her already strained senses.
"I'm not sure," she said, clasping her hands loosely between her knees. "It doesn't have to mean anything," she said to the carpet. "We can just go back to how things were …"
He reached out and laid his hand on her knee at that. His touch burned through the fabric of her jeans. Shit, she was fucked for him.
"Is that what you want?" he asked her quietly. She shook her head.
"I love you," he said. "Just in case you were still doubting that."
She felt her heart swell, full near to bursting and all she wanted to do was fling herself at him, curl into him and cling to his side.
Instead, she finally looked up at him, met his eyes, saw the truth of his words reflected there, felt them deep inside of her, in the pit of her stomach and the bottom of her heart. She grinned at him and he returned it, a slightly idiotic, goofy grin, one she'd only seen from him a handful of times.
"Yeah, I know," she said, her cheeks hurting. She sobered for a moment. "I'm sorry it took me so long, and I'm sorry I ran away, but I had to think …"
He touched his forefinger to her lips. "I don't want to talk about that. I don't care about any of that." A curious look came into his eyes, one she didn't recognize. If she didn't know better, she'd say it was shyness.
"What?" she asked softly, pulling away slightly from his finger.
"Would you …" he started, then cut himself off with a laugh. He tried again. "Tell me again?"
She knew what he meant, knew what he wanted, but for a brief moment, she thought about teasing, thought about saying something else, pretending like she didn't understand what he wanted. She didn't though because they'd waited too long for this, and now that it was all out in the open, well, what was the point in even pretending?
Taking a deep breath, she said, "I love you, Clint."
He grinned impossibly wider, drew her into his arms, and kissed her until she couldn't breathe.
It was stupid, yes. It was absurd, insane, and cheesy as hell. It was first on her long standing list of things that she swore she would never do.
But she loved him anyway.