This was inspired by a ficlet I read forever ago in which something similar happened at a party. I have absolutely no idea where I read it or who wrote it. I've never forgotten it, though, and it led to this. If you know what/where it is, please let me know as I would love to credit the author. :D I expect this to have three chapters, and it is my goal to update regularly.
"It's like watching a train wreck. You can see it coming, but you can't do a thing to stop it."
Natasha made no sign that she had heard Coulson as he sat down next to her and set his drink on the tall table. She simply continued to observe the train wreck in question.
Bobbi Morse trailed her finger down Clint's face, eliciting a sexy-as-hell grin from Natasha's partner. The noise from the S.H.I.E.L.D. New Year's Eve party made it impossible to hear what was being said, but the general idea was clear even from the other side of the room.
"He will see it, Natasha. He will see her for what she is."
"He hasn't so far."
"It was the most committed relationship he's ever had, Natasha. He's very loyal. You know that."
"Yeah, well, the first time she left him, you had to scrape him off the floor. The second time, I was here to do the honors. Should we tag team this round?"
"Don't give him up on him, Natasha. He needs you."
"I'm his partner, Phil. Of course he needs me."
"You know what I mean."
Natasha shot Coulson a look that would have paralyzed a lesser man, but the handler just leaned back in that casual way he had.
"Clint is clearly an idiot, and you can pretend to yourself, but don't fool yourself that I don't know, Natasha."
Natasha turned her gaze back to the happy couple who looked to be about five minutes from heading to a more private location.
"He's my partner, Phil. That's who we are."
Phil sighed as Bobbi and Clint headed hand in hand for the door.
"It's a good thing, because he will no doubt need you very soon."
As it so happened, Clint Barton was aware that Bobbi was using him to stroke her ego, that having a guy who would fall into bed with her every time she turned up made her feel strong, good about herself. He had progressed to the point, though, where he was okay with that. The sex really was that good. That, and...if he turned her down, it would really and truly be over.
"So, Clint." Bobbi made her statement an introduction as she trailed her fingers down his chest.
"Yeah?" he asked with a smile. He knew Bobbi didn't love him, certainly not like he had loved her, but his job was stressful and it was nice to pretend sometimes, for a little while.
"I'm thinking about moving back to New York, taking my name out of the deep cover pool."
"Seriously?" Clint's brow furrowed. "But you love undercover. It's why you left me – both times, actually." He raised his head a little to look down at her.
The curvy blonde sat up to lean on her elbows as she tilted her head at him.
"A girl has to grow up at some point, settle down, plant some roots."
"You've made it pretty clear how you feel about settling down, Bobbi. I got the message, okay? You don't need to do...whatever it is you're doing to get me to stay with you while you're around. I accept this for what it is."
Bobbi sat up, pulling the sheet with her and crossing her legs Indian-style.
"I want something permanent, Clint. I want, I don't know, I want something that lasts more than the length of a mission, something real, something I can trust. And I realized that the only time I had that was when I was with you." She looked down and pulled her knees up to her chest, clasping her arms around them. "I understand if it's too late, but...I wanted to let you know where my head was at. And see if, maybe, we could try again."
Clint sighed, fighting with himself. There had been a time when he would have given anything to hear Bobbi say this, but now... He wasn't sure he could ever trust her like that again. At the same time, had he ever really gotten over her? He honestly couldn't say.
"What about next time you get antsy? Next time you want to pull up those roots and try something new? What's to stop you? Clearly I'm not enough." And that was the crux of the matter – Bobbi had already shown that Clint wasn't enough to keep her around.
"Let's get married," she stated.
Clint's mouth fell open.
"What?" He recovered and sat up straight.
"I mean it, Clint. Marriage is permanent. It's commitment. It would be me committing to you – permanently."
There was a very loud silence as Clint looked intently at the blonde in front of him.
"You mean it."
"Yes. I mean it." Her smile blinded him.
"You would stay here. With me. Permanently. Give up deep undercover."
Bobbi cupped her hand to Clint's cheek.
"Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes."
Clint pulled her in for a searing kiss.
Some time later, the couple lay in the bed so tangled that it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. Clint's fingers trailed up and down Bobbi's arm and he gently kissed her temple.
Bobbi took a breath as though she were about to speak, but then let it out, wordless.
"What?" Clint asked, and he brushed his lips over her temple again.
"There is one thing."
Bobby leaned up on one elbow, her other hand on Clint's chest.
"You do know that your partner is in love with you, right?"
Clint stared at Bobbi, dumbfounded.
At his lack of response, Bobbi made a face and sat up.
"You really don't know, do you?"
Clint scooted up, his back resting against the headboard, now bearing a few more dents and scratches than it had at the beginning of the night.
"Natasha's my partner. We'd take a bullet for each other – we have, actually – but men and women can be partners without falling in love with each other."
"I'm sure they can," Bobbi sighed, "but this isn't one of those cases. Natasha Romanoff is in love with you, Clint. I don't know if anyone else knows it, and I don't care. Coulson probably does – he's Coulson. Everyone else is so afraid of the Black Widow, they probably don't know what to think. But trust me – I know. She loves you."
Clint grimaced, starting to get irritated.
"And what if she does? She's the best partner I've ever had – or could ever ask for. She's never made a pass at me. What difference does it make?"
Bobbi gripped the sheets in her fists.
"I'm sorry. Maybe I'm being insecure or something, but I can't have my husband going off to work every day to be with a woman who loves him."
Clint threw off the covers and got out of bed, reaching for his boxers and pulling them on.
"So what? You want me to stop being partners with Natasha?"
Bobbi's voice reflected the growing irritation in Clint's.
"If we're going to get married and I'm going to completely up-end my career, then yeah. I want you to find a new partner."
"Who, you?" Clint snapped, pulling a t-shirt on.
Bobbi sat up straighter, pulling the sheet tighter around her.
"What would be wrong with that? I'm a good agent."
"We tried that, Bobbi. You and I don't communicate well in the field."
That was true. On the two occasions they worked ops together, Bobbi had constantly demanded more information from Clint, second-guessing his observations. They agreed that for the good of their relationship, field work together wasn't an option, and they were both field agents.
"We could work on it. I could work on it! Come on, Clint. It's not that much to ask."
"The hell it's not!" Clint yelled, finally turning to fully face the woman in his bed. "You come home after breaking it off with me twice, ask me to marry you, and demand that I dump my partner, just because you snap your fingers?!"
Bobbi jumped out of bed, sheet swirling around her.
"Are you in love with her, too?"
"I've never thought about it, Bobbi! We're partners, not lovers! And for the record, she's never let me down. Never. Not when I brought her in, not when she up-ended her entire life, not in the field. Never."
"And I have let you down, is that it? Because I needed space, because I wasn't ready to settle down?"
"Yeah, you have. The only thing I've ever been able to depend on you for is to have my heart broken, my life ripped apart. Why would I give up the one thing in my life that works just because you don't like it?"
Bobbi froze, her locked with his.
"Well. If that's how you feel –"
There was a pause.
"I should go."
"Yeah. I think you should."
Clint went into the bathroom and slammed the door, leaving Bobbi to dress and exit his apartment alone. He didn't come out until she was gone.
To be continued