Author's Note:

Inspired by dictator_duck's challenge over on be_compromised to write fics set in our hometowns. This is my first Clintasha fic and the first fic over 600 words that gets posted anywhere, so yay :D It also features a plot bunny I had running around my head since September, I think... There might be a second part in the works, because after UST comes RST and apparently I write smut now… Feedback is highly appreciated!

An extra special thanks to alphaflyer, who took the time to read this over not once but twice, all while preparing a New Year's Eve feast for 20 people. You rock, my friend!

Art Nouveau

It was December 2007; Nat and I had been partnered for a few months when this mission in Germany had come up. A HYDRA cell was setting up shop in the brick vault underneath the 'Hochzeitsturm' (Wedding tower) in Darmstadt. The city was well known as a center for the arts and especially Art Nouveau, as well as for its leading role in technical advances. It not only featured a world-class technical university, but also one of the leading heavy ions research facilities. And it was the latter that HYDRA had its sights upon and it was our mission as part of Strike Team Delta to destroy the cell while it was still in the early stages of its development.

I had been to Darmstadt before, when I was still with the Army. The city played host to the Cambrai Fritsch Barracks and I had been stationed there shortly before being shipped off to Iraq. I had liked the city back then, it was lively and because of the students there was an abundance of nightlife. I clearly remembered this one Irish Pub, the guys and I had often been the last ones to leave, ending the evening with the wait staff at a table, them tossing back shots. I never drank, too many bad memories, but the pub gave out free soft drinks for the designated drivers, so I didn't mind taking on that role. And the German girls were a sight for sore eyes as well, no doubt. But that had been years ago, in another lifetime.

Now I only had eyes for one woman, my partner. From the moment I first had laid eyes on her, I knew there was something between us. I saw a lot of my past reflected in hers, but she was hard to read. I knew she was feeling things deeply, I could read her just fine in that regard. Most of the others at SHIELD believed her incapable of emotions; they couldn't have been more wrong. Her life before SHIELD had pretty much sucked, same as mine. This partnership was shaping up to be the most stable relationship I had ever had with another person, apart from Coulson. My feelings for her had grown the more time we spent together, but I couldn't really put them into words; I'm not what you'd call eloquent. I think I was falling in love with her, but was she feeling the same?

All these thoughts were running through my head while I was lying in my sniper's perch atop the 'Ernst-Ludwig-Haus', the Art Nouveau museum, one of the main sights in Darmstadt. I appreciated the architecture; it was something quite unique, as was the whole park around the 'Wedding tower'. It would have been a sniper's dream, had I got to set up my perch atop the tower. It was shaped like a stylized hand, with windows standing in for fingernails. From the topmost one you had an unobscured view over the whole city as the park was on top of a small hill and mainly consisted of gravel walkways, winding around lawns and a wide water basin in front of a Russian chapel. Nat had scoffed when she read that it had been built by the last Grand-Duke for his brother in law, Tsar Nicholas II. But its quirky Russian style was a nice counterpoint to the stylish, sparsely ornamental Art Nouveau buildings surrounding and making up the rest of the park. Ok, so I'm into architecture, sue me!

Anyway, Nat and her team were getting ready to take out the HYDRA compound, waiting in position on the front and rear entrances. I had my sights on the rear exit; another sniper was perched on the roof of the Polish house, at the other end of the park with clear sight of the front entrance. Coulson gave the go ahead and the ground teams breached the entrances. I hate being relegated to following the comms to know what happens inside, especially when Nat's one of the agents involved. Soon, gunshots could be heard through the comms, yet the thick brick the vault was made of didn't allow any sound to travel on the night air outside. The only thing heard in the park were the usual nighttime sounds of any industrial city, cars, barking dogs, as well as the occasional airplane from nearby Frankfurt airport and the critters living in the area.

Agents were constantly giving status updates via the comms, reporting shots fired, enemies engaged and neutralized. Keeping the backdoor fixed in my sights, I tuned out all sounds, concentrating on Nat's voice, trying to keep tabs on her. I wasn't worried, I knew her to be the most capable agent within the team, her close quarter combat skills unmatched by anyone on our side. But still, I wanted, no, I needed to know that she was alright. My gut churned, yet my aim did not waver, my hands remaining still.

And then it was over almost before it had really begun, the HYDRA agents posing no match for our guys. "Situation under control, all enemy forces detained", I heard through the comms and allowed myself to breathe deeply again. What the Hell, had I been holding my breath?! "Coming out now through the front" was the next info conveyed by the team leader, before the back doors were opened from the inside. The HYDRA agents were lead outside in shackles, well, zip ties, but that was mainly the same thing, right? Oh great, now I was babbling, even if it was only in my own head, but still.

I caught sight of her when she stepped across the threshold from the underground vault and she raised her eyes to my position, seeming to catch my eyes even though I was hidden in the shadows. She kept her gaze locked on my position, slowly turning a full circle, allowing me to inconspicuously assess her for injuries. She did know me too well already at that point of our partnership, knew that I would be restless until I'd made sure she was ok. Coulson came through the comm, "Hawkeye, Stinger, stand down; extraction in 5." "Roger that", I replied as I gathered my gear and made to get down from my perch.

All of a sudden I caught movement from the back entrance; apparently not all HYDRA goons had been detained. The guy was brandishing a machine gun and trying to sneak up on the group. I had my bow unfolded and an arrow nocked before he even made it around the building's corner. I let it fly and it hit him right in the center mass; he toppled without getting off even one shot. All faces turned to the fallen form, and the team leader began shouting for someone to check the back entrance and to make sure this time, that really all enemy personnel was detained. I could hear Coulson quietly inquiring about the status; he was much scarier when quiet than most other people would be yelling. And sure enough, when I had made it to the group, after it had been ascertained that really all enemy forces were subdued, the team leader was sporting a look of quiet terror on his face. It was no fun being on Coulson's bad side, I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

"We have some injured, but nothing major. We'll stay in town at the Army base for the night, have them looked at", the team leader informed when I got there. Catching Natasha's eyes, I knew we wouldn't be staying at the base, she was still riding an Adrenaline high and I was too keyed up to sleep as well. Sneaking off the base would be fun, though, then I would show her the town. And maybe do something about those feelings that were wreaking havoc on my concentration.

Sneaking off base was almost laughably easy, but then we were considered master assassins and spies; it was part of our skillset. It was a Thursday night, shortly after eleven and we were in civilian clothing, making our way to the city center. I wanted to see if that pub still existed, show Nat a part of my past. We didn't talk much, but then we never really did, not back then. And I was nervous, that didn't really help with the eloquence either. I knew I had to do something about all the UST between us and I hoped that the pub would offer me a way to do so.

Well, you see, when I was here for the first time, they always had karaoke there on Thursdays. And for some odd reason, singing calmed me right down, and maybe by choosing the right song, I could let Nat know how I felt without having to say it outright… Oh and making that declaration in public might also spare me from being killed on the spot, at least that was my hope, I had no idea how she would react. So as we wound through the mostly empty city streets past ugly, utilitarian postwar architecture - most of the city had been destroyed by Allied bombs - my thoughts were going in circles, revolving around the woman walking beside me. She seemed relaxed, content with how the op had gone. We crossed the cobblestoned market place, the former Grand-Duke's castle to our left. It now housed the police headquarters, quite fitting, I thought. We were getting close, the pub was actually not that far from the park where we had taken out the HYDRA cell earlier.

I finally laid eyes on the sign, 'An Sibin', there it was, and apparently still open. A sandwich sign outside proclaimed 'Table Quiz – Tuesdays, Open Mike – Wednesdays, Karaoke - Thursdays'. I had to stifle a laugh. Nat eyed the entrance skeptically; the pub was located in the basement of the building, a steep set of stairs leading down. Music was wafting up to us and there were quite a few people lounging outside, catching some air. The staircase-walls were painted black, with Celtic crosses standing out in creams and white, band posters adorning every free spot. It smelled strongly of cigarettes, as smoking wasn't banned in public places yet. Once we had braved the stairs and the small corridor, we emerged into the main pub, getting a very good view of the stage. Some kid was caterwauling to a song I recognized only by reading the lyrics, which were displayed on the giant canvas at the back of the stage, so the audience could sing along. Ah well, not everyone's an artist, right? And karaoke is all about fun, not being signed by a record company after all.

Scanning the floor, we managed to make out a tiny unoccupied table in the corner and purposefully made our way to it and sat. Pretty soon, a waiter came over and slapped down some menus and the karaoke song list along with some paper and a pen. We ordered our drinks and Nat excused herself to the ladies room. I immediately went to the letter R in the artists' section of the list. Yes, there it was! I made my selection and handed the paper to our waiter when he brought our drinks. I paid for them and he delivered my selection to the DJ and now it was down to waiting for my turn.

When Nat got back from the ladies room, she asked why I liked this place so much. The bathrooms were tiny, the whole place was kinda shabby and, being underground, it was a bit claustrophobic. But I remembered the bar staff, most of them foreigners, some really Irish, like Eoin, who manned the bar back then. And there were so many Americans there, when you were a kid without a home and about to be sent off to war, it really gave you a sense of home. I tried to convey all this to her and she started to nod as I explained about the place. One of her rare smiles spread slowly across her face the more I got to talking. "Thank you for sharing this with me, Clint", she said, while some blonde girl was doing a really good rendition of "You're so vain" on stage. We both relaxed into our seats, enjoying the atmosphere, commenting on the performances.

Then the DJ announced that next up would be Francis with REO Speedwagon. I rose and Natasha's eyebrow shot up. "Couldn't resist", I said with a nervous smile, turning and walking over to collect the mike from the DJ. The monitor in front of me displayed the song title and the first notes came on. My gaze was settled firmly on Nat and I started to sing.

I can't fight this feeling any longer. And yet I'm still afraid to let it flow.

I could see all color draining from her face, her eyes getting bigger and she swallowed hard. Nat was sitting ramrod straight in her chair, her breathing had picked up, yet she didn't look like she would bolt any second. I was grateful for that much, it gave me hope.

You give my life direction, You make everything so clear.

And it was true too, ever since I'd met her, my life had taken on new meaning. I had brought her in, I felt responsible for her, yet I knew I had the most capable partner in the world; she did neither need nor want coddling. She could and would kick anyone's ass who threatened her or me, that I was sure of. I knew I had found my guiding light in her, someone to come home to, and someone who would not betray me.

And I can't fight this feeling anymore. I've forgotten what I started fighting for.

What was the point of fighting it, really? We were better together than apart. My life so far had taught me that happiness was fleeting and life itself was fragile. I didn't want to waste any more time.

And it always seems that I'm following you, girl, Cause you take me to the places, That alone I'd never find.

And wasn't that the truth. I had followed her even before I had ever laid eyes on her, when I was still following the Black Widow. And now she had taken me to the place I alone really never would have found, happiness. With every chorus, I could see Nat relaxing more. Her breathing calmed and her shoulders fell slightly. When the final note faded the audience applauded, I returned the mike to the DJ and left the stage, all the time keeping Nat's gaze with mine. I walked over to our table, nervous, but not as much as I used to be. As before, we did not really need words to communicate, I had read her body language and knew that she understood and that she shared my feelings.

"So", I said while sitting down, giving her a lopsided grin.

"So", she replied with a grin of her own, "REO Speedwagon, really?"

"Yeah well, he sings it from the heart."

"No, he sings it from the hair."

"Damn, I knew it was a mistake to introduce you to 'Supernatural'."

She smiled mischievously. "So, that was on your mind this whole time?"

I nodded.

"And you were too chicken shit to just open your mouth and tell me about it?"

"Yep, pretty much."

"Wanna get out of this joint?"

"I thought you'd never ask", I said, holding my hand out to her. She took it and smiled at me, one of those rare, genuine, megawatt smiles that could light the room.

No sooner were we outside in the cool night, than I had her in my arms and she put her hand on the back of my neck, pulling me to her. Our lips met, and it was everything I had known it would be all along. She tasted like life, and when she opened her mouth to allow my searching tongue access, I knew I never wanted anyone else ever again. I can't really recall how we got back to the base; I just know it took a lot longer than the way to the pub had taken. There were frequent stops to shove our tongues down each other's throat and get as much physical contact as possible, that much I'm certain about. But specifics? Not a chance.