Happy belated Valentine's Day! Sorry for the long wait, but here be porn to make up for it.

Getting smacked in the face is getting old, fast. Natasha can't tell if her team is hearing any of what Rodriguez is spilling, but she's ready to call it a wrap and kick him in the throat anyway.

And then the ceiling crashes down on them all.

Oh, good, she thinks, ducking against the avalanche of plaster chunks and splintered wood. That must be Barton.

It is indeed Barton, bursting out of the sky to the rescue like an avenging angel.

She doesn't actually need rescuing, but try telling him that.

She slumps down in the chair she's bound to, to give herself enough slack to get a leg raised and kick the gun out of Pinto's hand. But before she can strike, the gunman turns, shifting his aim from her ankle to the figure rolling to his feet and snapping his bow to readiness, over against the far wall.

Barton's fast, but Pinto doesn't have the disadvantage of recovering from a 12-foot drop.

He shoots Barton square in the chest.

Natasha's mind recedes to a cold, narrow focus. A part of her hears Clint's startled grunt at the impact, sees his body fold in on itself and crumple to the floor, but she shunts aside any emotion just as ruthlessly as she earlier put aside her own pain and thirst and fear.

One. Highest immediate threat: Pinto, the goon with the gun previously pointed at her, currently trained on Barton. Natasha flexes her shoulders and back, straining her arms against their restraints and propelling herself into a serpentine motion that allows her to hitch her chair forward. That brings her within kicking range of Pinto; normally she'd kick him in the balls, but he's angled away just enough to make that a less-than-debilitating strike.

She drives her foot into his kidney instead.

His breath explodes out in a harsh bark of pain, and he lurches forward, gun swinging off its target of Barton's head. Natasha hitches the chair closer again and kicks out, sweeping the gunman's feet from under him. She moves even as he's still falling, pushing to her feet with the chair still anchored to her. She kicks Pinto's shoulder with all the force she can muster; his gun arm jerks in reflex, sending his weapon clattering away across the floor.

Barton hasn't twitched. Natasha stomps down on Pinto's throat, feels him convulse beneath her bare heel, and stomps down again for good measure. She spins to face the remaining men.

Two. Hector's just a glorified bouncer, but he's a deadly bouncer. At the moment, he's shielding his boss who's crouched by the hearth, and pulling a handgun from the back of his waistband.

Natasha takes a running start, bending forward to keep the chair legs from scraping the floor. She slams into Hector, leading with her shoulder so the weight of the chair is added to her momentum. He's driven into the fireplace with a satisfying crack of skull against stone.

He keeps his feet though, and fumbles his gun out and around. From the corner of her eye Natasha glimpses Rodriguez starting to turn from a square dark hole opened in the fireplace surround, a pistol in his hand. Need to hurry…

She draws back to ram Hector again, dropping her shoulder a little lower to catch him in the ribcage. His breath huffs out with explosive force in tandem with the crunching give of bones caving in. She whirls, driving one chair leg viciously into his near knee, tearing a shriek from him. It has a strangely breathless quality to it and she body-slams him again, hard, targeting lungs she hopes have been punctured by broken ribs.

Hector rebounds off the fireplace and collapses. Natasha's spinning with exquisite timing as he falls, so that just before his puny-bearded chin smacks the floor, her heel is there to meet it, connecting with a crack that snaps his head back and flips him to land on his back.

She leaves him leaking red foam down his jaws and turns to Rodriguez.

Three and done. The meaty hand lifting the hold-out gun toward her is adorned with thick silver rings sunk into the flesh of his fingers. The marks of those rings still burn on Natasha's face. She ducks low to charge Rodriguez, to get in under his gun before he can fire. One-two-three swift hard steps, and on the last, she plants her foot and pivots so she hits him chair legs first.

He's a bulky man, with a mound of belly that's packed dense and tight, not flabby and loose. The chair feet land, two high, on his chest, two low, at his gut, and the solid flesh bounces Natasha back like a trampoline. She stops her rebound with a foot wedged in the narrow crack between floor and hearth and puts every ounce of strength into pushing back into Rodriguez.

"Puta!" He swipes the gun at her head and Natasha ducks, still pushing as he punches at the seat of the chair with his other hand, trying to dislodge her. Spittle sprays the side of her face, neck, and arm, and Natasha has had enough of this shit.

Barton's in an unmoving heap on the floor; Natasha's chilled from being locked in the wine cellar all day, hungry, and aching; Lind not listening to her got them into this mess to begin with, and getting himself killed is just the icing on the whole Gone-To-Hell cake.

Natasha is done.

White heat is seeping back into the coldness driving her; she digs her feet against the crack in the floor, using that slight leverage to force the chair deeper into the man's belly. A hard shove gets the chair feet indenting the loose white shirt covering his torso; another, harder one finally pierces cloth and skin and Natasha drives backward.

Rodriguez is just leveling the gun at her temple when his skin splits beneath the chair feet. His body seizes; and then his gun clatters to the floor as he grips the chair legs in both hands and screams.

Natasha pushes, feeling the chair sink slowly deeper. Her eyes are on Barton, crumpled across the room; she thinks she sees his booted feet stir sluggishly. There's a crash from the front of the villa and an answering one from the rear and she pushes backward one last time as Mackie's recovery teams smash down the doors and pour into the room in a flood of riot gear and weapons.

"Down, down, down!" the leader is screaming, and Natasha wrenches forward off Rodriguez's body and drops to her knees; behind her, the drug lord is still shrieking thinly. She lifts her face so the team can ID her as they spread through the room, jerking their weapons to cover the bodies she's left strewn about and the fireplace and gaping hole in the ceiling.

"Agent Romanov?" the leader asks, and Natasha nods once.

"Yes." She bends forward. "Cut me loose, now."

One slash of a blade severs the zip ties securing her. The chair falls from her back and clatters to the floor in front of a writhing Rodriguez, but she doesn't spare it, or him, a glance. She's across the room in a blink, dropping to her knees once more beside Barton.

His feet scrabble ineffectually against the floor and the noise he's making sounds like someone is strangling a drowning warthog. Natasha pulls the bow from his convulsive grasp and slips a hand behind his neck.

"Barton, breathe. Slow, slow. Sip the air like it's boiling coffee. Slow down, I won't let you choke. Good—again. Slowly. Little sips. Good."

She rocks the back of his neck with her hand, her thumb laid lightly against his racing pulse. He arches against the floor, hands rising to claw at his chest, and she pushes them back down. "Easy. You're okay, I promise. Just one breath; good. Now another; good." She rocks his neck again, giving him a contact point as a distraction against panic.

"Is that Barton?" One of the team—Bravo One, she notes absently—leans in for a look. Natasha nods, her free hand moving down the front of Barton's vest, unfastening it so she can part the sides and expose the body armor beneath. She pinches the flattened bullet out of the meshed fibers and holds it up.

"Get a medic in here ASAP. I think he's okay, just got the wind knocked out of him, but I want him checked out anyway."

"Will do." The man ducks his head, relaying the request into his comm, and Natasha turns back to Barton.

His chest is rising and falling more evenly now, a little shuddery hitch to each inhale but otherwise fairly steady, and his eyes are open to glassy slits. She pulls her hand from behind his neck and lays it on his upper chest to keep him pinned in place, because sure enough, he's struggling to sit up as soon as he starts getting his breath back. "Stay down, you jackass."


"I'm good." She frowns. "Did you come busting in here ahead of signal?"

Clint draws in a careful breath. His eyes clear a little and his gaze travels slowly down from the top of Natasha's tousled head to her knees pressed to the floor. Natasha swipes at her split lip with the back of one hand, annoyed with herself for the self-conscious gesture.

"Had to. He was gonna… shoot your feet off."

"He was not." Natasha shifts from her knees—the tile floor is hard beneath them—to her seat, keeping her hand planted firmly on Barton's chest in case he gets any ideas about moving. "I was about to kick the shit out of his gun hand when you crashed in and spoiled my strike."

Clint's mouth thins like he's biting back sharp words. "Wasn't going… to take that chance," he rasps out finally.

A swirl of anger sparks in Natasha's middle, anger at her competence and proficiency are being questioned. There's a clatter at the door, and a corpsman hustles in, hauling a boxy med kit with him. Natasha takes the opportunity to withdraw from Barton's stubbornly concerned gaze and she rises, nodding down at the sprawled archer.

"This one here needs a once-over. Bullet to the armor over his sternum, had the wind knocked out of him. Hit his head on the way down with momentary loss of consciousness."

Hit his bull head, she wants to say, but manages to restrain herself. She steps aside as the medic takes her place, unfolding his kit and barking at Barton to "Stay put and let me do my job!" and Barton subsides with a resigned look on his face.

A moment later Mackie strides through the door; Natasha leaves them to it and goes over to report in.

That was a rough one, Clint thinks wearily as he shoves the door to his quarters closed and slumps against it. The solid snick of the door latching seals out all ambient noise from the building and he tilts his head back and closes his eyes, simply reveling in the quiet for a moment.

His head is still ringing from his session in the Director's office.

After another minute he pushes upright and shuffles down the short hallway, hooking his keycard onto the holder hanging just inside the door. The hall opens out into a small living area, a kitchenette to the left and doors to the tiny bedroom and even tinier bathroom straight ahead. Sparse, Division-issue furniture crowds the space; Clint drops onto the metal-framed couch and lets his head sag, contemplating his boots. After another moment he decides unlacing them is too much effort, and he leans back, swinging his feet up onto the thin cushions.

Reporting to Medical is never fun; and it's even less fun when their scans and evaluations are followed by a reaming out in the Operational Director's office. Clint closes his eyes and presses his knuckles into his eyes.

He can't even commiserate with Natasha, mocking both himself for getting in hot water and the Director's nostril-flaring annoyance until he's teased a full-fledged laugh from her.

Natasha's been cool towards him ever since the villa.

He knows he's not imagining it; she only called him 'jackass' once, and on the plane ride home she didn't back him up when he wanted to sit in a seat and the medic wanted him strapped to a gurney. "He hit his head—he might still be woozy!" she'd exclaimed, with overly-solicitous worry in her widened eyes, and flat on his back he'd gone, tough webbing straps buckled around his hips and under his arms.

Even better was that he'd had to pee halfway home, and after Natasha had blinked innocently at him and asked "Are you still wobbly, Clint?", the medic had followed him to the lavatory and waited outside, which, c'mon—he's not five, and he's not an invalid.


Clint gingerly rubs his chest—the impact point is sore as hell though he won't admit it, and has already turned a deep purple-black. No broken ribs, luckily, and no cracked sternum. Drawing his bow hurts like a sonuvabitch though; Medical has banned him from the shooting range, but he'd found an empty hallway and tried a few practice shots there, and, umm: not a good idea.

He'd vent at Natasha, but… Yeah. She's being cool to him and he doesn't even know why.

It's not like blindly following bullshit orders is a high priority to her. And it's not like she gets ticked off at him for getting a little banged up on a mission. So, what the hell?

Clint opens his eyes and stares out the room's single window, at the bleak winter sky slowly shading into darkness; he tries to track back to the exact moment she went all stiff and weird on him. He's gotten as far as the hazy moment of waking up half-suffocated on the floor of a villa with the warmth of her hand grounding him, when his door chimes.

He automatically checks his phone. No -0- (zero, a nought, Nat) appears on the text screen, which is her private signal to him.

Shit, what now? Clint heaves himself to his feet.

It's Krippand at the door, and Clint's spirits lift a fraction, because if he were being formally reprimanded they'd send a intern to fetch him back down to Administrative and then they'd lay the riot act on him.

Krippand's just going to slap him on the wrist, it seems.

The handler has a sealed folder tucked under one arm, and is giving him a sour look with his beady little eyes. "You're on medical leave for two weeks, Barton," he says without preamble. "You'll need to report for a physical re-eval at that the end of that time, and until then you're barred from the shooting range. If you're observed using the corridors, courtyard, or roof as a substitute, your weapons will be confiscated and placed in lock-up. Is that understood?"

It could be worse; he could have yanked your bow just for giggles, Clint tells himself. "Yes, sir," he answers.

"Following medical leave, officially you'll be on suspension for an additional two weeks for failure to follow orders in a combat situation." Krippand whips the folder from beneath his arm and holds it out to Clint. "Unofficially, you'll be dealing with this."

Clint takes the folder with a sudden jolt of excitement. Not even a slap on the wrist, then—just a mission with an extra layer of delicacy and subterfuge. "Who's my team?" he asks as he toggles the sealing mechanism and opens the folder.

Krippand stares at him without expression. "No team. This is on you alone, Barton."

"Sir?" Clint starts—no one ever operates alone, it's completely unsanctioned—and then further words die in his mouth as he gets a look at the folder's contents.

The left-hand pocket holds a plane ticket; he can see at a glance it's a standard-issue open-ended Division ticket. The ticket and a Division swipe card presented at any airline counter on the continent will get him on the next flight to any destination of his, or Division's, choosing.

Clipped to the right-hand side of the folder is a stack of glossy colored sheets. The top one shows a row of women's headshots, each tagged with a personal identification number. Clint gives the rest of the stack a quick flip and finds it to be stats on each of the women: their vitals, their interests, their particular areas of talent and expertise. He lets the sheets riffle through his fingers as his stomach drops in an icy landslide to his boots.

Each of the women is red-haired, and bears a passing resemblance to Natasha.

He raises his eyes and finds the handler gazing at him with the studied blandness of a career bureaucrat. "Read through the file; there's a voice mailbox listed at the end, and entering the PINs will let you listen to their voices to help you choose. Then when Medical clears you, you pick one of the subjects, and you pick a destination—I recommend somewhere warm, and tropical, to get a break from this cold weather. Behind your ticket is a selection of various locations where we maintain luxury suites. You and your chosen… companion… will spend two weeks of downtime." Krippand gives him a chilling smile. "Getting Romanov fucked out of your system."

Clint jerks back as if he's been struck.

"You heard me," Krippand says. "She's on your radar too much and I can't have you distracted. You're both professionals. She seems to have accepted that, but I'm not sure you have. So know this: You can never have her. I can, however, provide some quite reasonable substitutes. You pick one, you pretend she's Romanov, and you fuck her, and then you come back to work with her out of your system." He reaches over and taps the folder sharply with one finger. "Got it?"

Clint stands frozen until the handler turns and walks away down the corridor. Only after the elevator has closed behind him with a quiet ping does Clint back up and close his door.

His head is buzzing and the edges of his vision have gone dark and fuzzy. Clint stares down at the folder still clutched in his hand—slivers of luxurious private resorts peek out from behind the airplane ticket, and the eyes of the red-haired women are glaring up at him accusingly.

Fuck her out of your system. Jesus.

The folder slips from his nerveless fingers and splays across the entry hall. Clint stares at it for another long moment, stomach churning, and then very carefully steps over it, stretching so not even an edge of the vile papers touch his boot soles. He opens the closet door and pulls out a coat, not his Division-issued flak jacket, but the plain, heavy-duty one from the far back of the closet.

There are gloves in the outer pockets, and tucked in an inner one is his slingshot and a small, heavy tube of Stark's lethal little pellets. There's some spare cash pinned to the inner lining, an extra ID and keycard, and that's all he needs.

Clint shrugs on the jacket as he exits the residential block. Jogging sends painful jolts through his bones to his sore chest, but Clint's been through basic training twice—once with Stark Industries Security, and once with Division—so a strong, ground-eating stride is second nature to him.

Moving at a steady clip, he heads out into the darkening winter chill.

Enough is enough, Natasha fumes, glaring at her phone's screen. It shows three unanswered texts to Barton, and two calls that have gone to his voicemail. She knows Medical released him, and she knows he's been and gone to the Director's office already.

If he's avoiding me…

She jams the phone into the pocket of her jeans and yanks open the door that leads down from the roof. She hasn't seen him since they landed yesterday, and Barton hasn't turned up in any of his usual hidey-holes.

He'd pissed her off, and on the flight back he seemed to pick up on that fact. Now he's had all night to figure out why she's annoyed, and she's had time to simmer down. As Natasha trots down the stairs to the residential wing, she's determined to have it out with him.

They are friends (close ones) and partners (when they're permitted), after all.

That doesn't mean he can start mother-henning her the minute a mission goes sideways, though.

As soon as she finds him, they can clear the air. Set up a code for 'I need your help' if it makes him feel better, as long as he gives her free rein when she doesn't.

Natasha's not a child, she's not a damsel in distress, and the quicker Barton clues in to that, the better they'll work together.

She figures she'll try his quarters again. He hadn't answered the door earlier, but maybe he was brooding. She exits the stairwell at his floor, pulling out her phone to send the quick coded text so he'll know it's her before pressing his door chime.

Still no answer.

She leans on the door jamb and scrolls through her staff programs. Barton's on medical leave, so his name doesn't come up on the active roster. His locator places him in his quarters, but Natasha knows he has no problem with synching up his Division-issue phone to a private, untagged one and going off the grid for a few hours. His tagged phone could be sitting innocently on his couch while Barton's out perched in a tree or clinging to a rooftop somewhere.

She presses his door chime once more for good measure. When that brings no response, she brings out her lockpicks from an inner pocket.

The extra layers of security in the building make popping the door lock a fiddly business. Natasha's still easing a third pick into the keycard slot, holding and twisting the other two with the pinkie and knuckle of her other hand, when the door is suddenly yanked open beneath her.

She straightens quickly, not letting it throw her off balance. Barton stares at her dully.

"You heard me?" Natasha asks.

Clint nods. "The picks were clicking," he says in a voice as flat as his expression, and Natasha narrows her eyes at him. His hair is damp from a shower and he's wearing fresh clothes, as if he's just woken up, but he looks tired and pained—not physically pained, he'd whipped open the door easily enough—but as if something's weighing on him.

He's still standing in the doorway, blocking it. "Can I come in?" Natasha asks, and after a hesitation so slight it's barely noticeable, Clint steps back, swinging the door wider in silent assent.

She pauses to retrieve her picks from the door latch and by the time she follows him inside, Barton's retreated to the living room.

There's a folder spilled on the floor just inside the door that he's ignoring. Natasha scoops it up; it's an official mission briefing, unsealed, and she can't help glancing at it out of curiosity.


She halts just at the living room threshold, staring at the top sheet. And then she flicks through the rest of the contents—photos, profiles, leaflets of tropical locations, a ticket—with disbelief.

When she raises her eyes, Clint's watching her dispassionately. He shrugs. "Yeah. That's what Krippand… recommends."

Somehow Natasha finds her voice. "You've been ordered to…?"

"Ordered? No. Advised."

Her head is spinning, hell, her whole self is being whirlpooled down into a great, black vortex. "He wants you to… to..." She can't make herself say the words.

Clint does it for her, deliberately, crudely. "Get laid, yeah. Krippand says I've been 'distracted', I need to 'get it out of my system'." He laughs, a harsh bark of sound. "That's the Division for you—they've got a solution to whatever ails you."

The file burns like acid—Natasha takes a jerky step forward and drops it onto the coffee table. She has to fight back the nearly overwhelming urge to scream at Clint that he can't, she doesn't want him to do something so intimate… with someone else.

The only thing that stills her tongue is that she doesn't have the right.

Being friends, being partners, doesn't let her say who he can or cannot sleep with.

Finally she manages to clamp down on her rapidly fraying emotions. A quick shallow breath to steady her voice, and she's able to ask, with apparent mild interest, "Do you want to?"

He wrenches aside to stare out the single window at the dirty grey sky, but not before she catches the bitter twist to his mouth. He jams his hands in his pockets, shoulders hunching, and Natasha can see his jaw clenching. "Not particularly," he says.

There's broken glass in his voice. Natasha's anguish eases a degree—Not with them, he doesn't! She takes a deep breath, releases it along with the stunning hurt that's been pooling in her chest. "You still have your go-bag?"

Clint whips back around, his eyes startled. "Yeah, I do."

She nods decisively. "Meet me at the place with the popcorn in ten. No, make it fifteen, I have to pick something up."

Clint's sitting on the rim of the empty fountain when she pulls up, motionless except for his left hand, which is flicking something—pebbles, acorns, Natasha can't see what—at the center sculpture of dancing children that spouts water in warmer weather. A few intrepid kids in heavy winter coats are running around the playground, and there's a small huddle of caretakers sheltering by the stand of evergreens near the picnic tables, but otherwise he has the place to himself. The snack stand where they buy popcorn for Clint to throw at the squirrels is closed for the season, a broad wooden shutter padlocked over the counter. The whole park looks bleak and frozen and grey.

Natasha brakes just outside the gate and taps the horn. Clint tosses one last projectile, snags the strap of his bag as he rises, and strides down the path to meet her.

He brings a wave of bitterly cold air into the car with him, slinging his bag into the back and then sliding into the passenger seat. "Nice car," he says as she pulls back onto the street.

"It's not Division, don't worry. I borrowed it."

He knows her well enough not to ask. Natasha can still hotwire a car in under a minute, and she practices regularly to keep her hand in, but only with the vehicles of people who have annoyed her. She keeps track of where they park, in case she ever needs a discreet ride.

As she heads out of the city to the interstate, Clint bumps the seat back a notch and settles in, head tipped back to stare at the sky. He doesn't want to talk, then. Okay, Natasha thinks, accelerating to merge onto the highway, we have plenty of time, once we get there.

They spend the trip north in silence. Clint drifts off a couple of times—from the corner of her eye, Natasha can see his hands go slack in his lap before tensing awake again. She figures he must have been up all night; she leaves the radio off, keeps her thoughts to herself.

She exits the interstate to a secondary road under a lowering sky. A gusty wind has kicked up, and the trees thickly lining the roadside twist and thrash in it.

She pulls up at last to a driveway bracketed by tall stone gateposts and barricaded by a swaybacked wooden gate. Clint stirs as she opens her door, rolling his head around to watch her get out. There's a tarnished metal plate about waist-high on the left-hand gatepost, and she presses her palm to it. The plate flips open, revealing a touchpad; Natasha taps in a code and presses her thumb to its small screen. The gate, despite its appearance as an old hinged farm gate that needs to be manually lifted aside, instead slides smoothly and silently into the right-hand pillar.

Natasha drives slowly up the long, rutted driveway. At the end is a small, two-story farmhouse, its white paint chipped and faded to a dingy grey. A cracked brick walkway leads through matted, overgrown grass to the front porch; the windows are blank and dark, with a straggling, thorny bush growing beneath each one on the first floor. The whole place looks as if it had been abandoned years before and left to quietly deteriorate ever since.

The driveway widens to a surprisingly well-graveled area at the back of the house, sheltered by a thick line of pine trees on two sides and by an arbor draped in bare vines on the third. "We're here."

The back door opens not with a key but with another code entered into a pad that folds out of the doorframe. Clint looks around at the snug little mudroom within, a laundry tucked in one corner and shelves full of outdoor equipment lining the walls. A second door leads to a quietly opulent kitchen; an archway beyond that reveals a glimpse of a room with plush furniture arranged in front of a woodstove. "Whose house is this?"

Natasha taps at the touchpad on the wall; a quiet ting and a diode lighting to green indicates a security system has been activated. "Carter's. She invited me after that clusterfuck in Helmand."

"The thing with the girl?"

"Yeah," Natasha says tightly. She doesn't like to remember that op, how it had blown up so spectacularly and hurt some very innocent people. "Carter said if I ever needed to recoup again, I was welcome to stay."

Clint wanders through the kitchen and then the living room while she's peeling off her coat, opening doors (a pantry, a utility room, a front door of reinforced steel behind the aged wood panels) and checking windows (bullet-proof glass, lined with blackout shades). Everything is clean and modern, belying outside appearances. He glances at the staircase at the back of the living room. "What's up there?"

"Bedrooms. A bathroom. Trapdoor to the roof." Natasha is opening kitchen cupboards, pulling out mugs, a can of coffee, and a sealed plastic container of sugar. "I should have stopped for milk."

"Black is fine. I'm gonna check upstairs."

The rich scent of coffee is filling the downstairs when Clint returns, his steps silent despite his combat boots. Natasha glances up as he parks himself in the archway, one ankle crossed over the other, shoulder propped on the wall. "I found soup, chili, and tuna in the pantry; there's bread in the deep freeze, and burgers and fish."

"Not really hungry."

"Okay." She pours herself a mug of coffee, nods at the pot for him to help himself. "I'm going to get a fire going."

Flames lick up from the kindling to the chunks of wood arranged in the firebox. Natasha watches for a moment to makes sure it's caught, then swings the woodstove door shut with a clang and sits back on her heels. When she glances up, Barton's skulking in the doorway again, same pose, just with a mug gripped in his hands. Natasha pushes up from the floor and slides into the nearest chair. She points to an adjacent one. "C'mere. Sit."

He does, but reluctantly, that old shuttered look on his face. "Tasha…"

"Time to talk to me. I'm your partner, right? I'll listen, no judgment." When he just stares down into his coffee, she leans forward. "Barton." It's going to kill her to say it, but, "No judgment, no guilt. If you want a no-strings hookup with one of those girls, you can tell me…"

"No!" His coffee sloshes, and he bends, thumping the mug onto the floor. When he straightens, his ears are bright red. "No, okay? I don't want to with a… an arranged companion," he spits out.

"So why does Krippand think you need to? I mean, why now? What changed to make him give you that kind of list?" His ears turn even redder and he stares at the floor, stubbornly not meeting her eyes. Pieces start tumbling into place in her mind, and Natasha frowns. "Barton? Does it have anything to do with Central America? The way you disobeyed orders, went against mission parameters, to bust me out?"

Clint throws his hands in the air, his chair scraping backward as he lunges to his feet. Natasha spins to keep him in sight as he strides across the room.

"Is that it? He thinks, what? You're being too protective of me? Because Krippand isn't the only one annoyed by that, you know. I do not need you patronizing me, charging to my rescue the minute things get rough. I'm trained for rough."

"I can't help it, okay?" Clint wheels and stomps back. "I'm supposed to listen to you being hurt and do nothing?"

"If it's part of your job, yes! You work long-range, I work close-up. Sometimes you have to hang back while I take a hit."

"That part of the job sucks!"

"Maybe so, but I can handle it! I thought you could, too!" Natasha finds herself on her feet, hands clenched.

"I thought I could!" He's yelling now too, eyes blazing. "It's harder than I thought, listening while some asshole hurts someone I lo…"

He breaks off, the anger abruptly wiped away by an appalled expression.

Natasha falls back a step, one hand groping for the chair back to steady herself. All her breath leaves her in a rush.

Clint looks wildly around the room—Natasha's between him and his avenues of escape, the kitchen door and the staircase. He spins and strides to the front door, giving the doorknob a vicious twist. It's locked; for a second he stares at the security touchpad and then his shoulders slump and he drops his head to rest on the door. "Jesus."

Behind him, Natasha has worked air into her lungs. She wets her lips. "Clint?"

"Don't, okay?"

"But you…"

"Don't!" He pounds one fist into the door. "I already know, okay? I know I can't, and I know you don't feel that way. Krippand knows it too, that's why the girls… why they kind of looked like you. But even though I can never, with you… I don't want them."

She lets go of the chair, takes a step forward. "What are you talking about?"

He still has his forehead pressed to the door. "I never made a move. You needed time, I know that, once Division recruited you. All that training, and field testing, and then the missions… and we were friends, you always said so, and partners… and I thought it would be enough. You're a professional, Krippand says. So I respected that, and I let it go… except I can't, always, when you're being hurt. I can't be as professional as you. I'm sorry, Tasha."

"Oh my god." Natasha takes another step. "You're a jackass."

"I know, and I'm sorry. I'll do my best not to ever go all knight-in-shining-armor on you again, but if it's too weird, I understand. If you don't want to work with me anymore, just say..."

"And I'm a jackass, too." Natasha's across the room then, and she reaches up, takes his shoulders in her hands, and turns him around. She gets the briefest glimpse of his eyes gone wide, alarm flaring…

And then she draws his head down, brings their lips together, and kisses him.

She kisses him for all she's worth, with years of pent-up longing, and denial, and the distance of misunderstanding. Her split lip cracks open again but she ignores it for the utter pleasure of his mouth on hers. Clint makes a startled noise in the back of his throat, and the air moves around her, as if he's flailing helplessly.

And then his hand lights on her head, fingers curving around and threading into her bright red hair and he's kissing her back, kissing her at last. His mouth slides sweet against hers and Natasha rises up on her toes, to press against the warm solidity of him. She wraps her arms around him and holds fast.

Clint pulls his mouth free with a muffled groan, and she loosens her grip instantly. "Sorry! I forgot—is it bad, your chest?"

"No, no, s'fine." The tip of his tongue skims over his lips and Natasha sees blood on his mouth. He brushes her lips gently with the pad of his thumb, fingers curling softly against her bruised jaw. "You, where he hit you—I shouldn't be pressing on your mouth."

"Oh, yes, you should." Natasha slides her hand over his, drawing it to her mouth for a quick kiss on the back of his knuckles before placing his hand back on her shoulder so she can sink into his embrace again. "To hell with my split lip—I've waited years for this."

She rocks him back against the door so every possible inch of their bodies are touching. His mouth is warm and firm under hers, and she barely feels the sting of her split lip, even when she nudges his mouth open and oh dear gods, his tongue slips in and she nearly melts with the sweet heat of it. Clint gives a soft growl, one hand in her hair again, the other heavy in the small of her back, pulling her closer, tighter.

Natasha slides her mouth on his and leans in to the heat of him and Clint shifts, a drag of his jeans against hers, friction that nearly makes her whimper, shifts so one thigh settles neatly between her legs and presses there. A little tug at her lower back, a little push at their mouths to deepen the kiss, and she does whimper then, broken off in the back of her throat.

Clint pulls away, breathing hard. "Hurting you?"

"No. Stop talking."

She dives in again, drinking him in, one hand gripping the short hair at the back of his neck to keep him from lifting away from her. He starts a slow, rolling motion with his hips and Natasha nearly ignites. She raises one leg and hooks her ankle behind him so she can crowd ever closer to the hard shift of his muscles.

He rolls to the right just as she presses close, and she feels him then, settling hard and hot in the aching softness between her legs. His hands drop to her hips and drag her against him, arching up against her as she bears down. They move together once, twice… and then Clint wrenches his mouth away once more with a harsh gasp.

"Tasha, Tasha…"

"You keep talking," she moans, reaching to pull his mouth back to hers, but Clint throws one hand up.

"I'm not gonna want to stop. In a minute, I am not going to want to stop. So if you don't want to, with me…"

She shivers to hear the thin edge of desperation in his voice, shivers as her breath hitches, trying to catch up to the frantic racing of her heart. She untwists her ankle from where it's tangled with his legs and reluctantly, with a wince, straightens from where their lower bodies are jammed together. His hand has come to rest against her neck, and she turns and rubs her cheek against it.

"Once upon a time…" She almost smiles at his sudden frown, almost but for how imperative it is to say this. "Once upon a time, there was a girl, who was lost. And then there was a boy, who came and found her, and after that they were friends. And one night when they had been friends for a while, the boy came out to meet the girl, and he was dressed all in black, because when he sat in the theater's catwalks he needed to be inconspicuous, and also it looks way cool.

"And the girl looked at him," and Natasha curls her fingers around Clint's hand, "and suddenly her world had tilted," and she steps backward, their hands linked, "and the girl fell, and fell so far and so deep that there was never any chance," she takes another step, back toward the staircase and drawing him with her, "that anyone else would ever do."

Clint looks at her, and then his eyes fall shut for a second. When he opens them again, they're bright, and filled with the unspoken. "You're sure."

"Hell, yeah." She rises on tiptoe, rests her forehead on his. "Come upstairs with me?" she whispers.

He squeezes her fingers and they turn and climb the staircase together.

An LED nightlight blinks on as they reach the second floor. It casts a cool blue glow over the upper hallway and the three doors spaced along it; Natasha practically drags them into the room she'd stayed in once before.

The bed is just visible in the ambient light spilling from the hallway; Natasha shoves Clint towards it. "Sit. Boots off."

She kicks off her own boots—steel-toed, with sheaths for knives at the ankles, despite appearing to be merely fashionable footwear—and reaches for the top button on her shirt.

"Wait." Clint is before her again at once, brushing aside her hands so he can undo the button at her throat himself. It slides free; he slips the next one open and folds back her shirt collar, pressing a kiss to the side of her neck. A soft brush of lips and a rough scrape of evening beard and Natasha shivers, letting her head fall back. His fingers trail down, loosening more buttons until he can draw the shirt from her shoulders.

Another soft-scrape of a kiss, this time to her bared shoulder; Natasha sucks in a shallow breath as Clint nudges the thin strap of her camisole down her arm so he can kiss his way back up to her neck- there, that spot there, beneath her ear- where his touch rattles a hard shiver down her back.

He slides his hands down her sides to tug at her hem; "Can I?" he whispers against her ear, and Natasha steps back, raises her arms. Clint peels her camisole over her head and tosses it into the dark.

Natasha turns, letting the dim light brush her skin, and Clint makes a noise like he's been punched in the chest again. He reaches out; calloused fingertips graze her breasts, tracing almost reverently up their rounded sides. Natasha sighs with pleasure, arching so her breasts settle neatly into the curve of his palms. His thumbs stroke, circling pebbled-tight peaks while his breath rasps, harsh in the quiet dark room.

It's not enough; Natasha fumbles for the bottom of his shirt, needing skin beneath her fingers rather than cloth. "Off. Now." She pulls, and he ducks, and the shirt drags up over his head and is gone.

Oh. Her hands fall to the sharp curves of his shoulders, smoothing across their breadth and down the sinewy length of his arms. His muscles tense under her hands when she slides them back up once more, his chest rising on a sharply-indrawn breath. She pushes at one shoulder, turning him toward the faint hallway light, and curses quietly in Russian.

The bruise spans nearly his entire chest, a dark mottling centered around an ugly deep red spot over his breastbone where the bullet smacked his vest. Natasha's hands hover, not quite daring to touch, even lightly. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

He catches her hand, bringing it to his chest and covering it with his. His heart is pounding as rapidly as if he's been running. "It's an excellent idea. Long as you don't knock me with an elbow, I'll be fine," he says hoarsely.

She curls in to him then, soft bare breast to rough bare chest, their arms circling each other. He nudges her chin up, takes her mouth in another deep, drowning kiss.

Natasha rolls her hips, and that deliciously hard ridge finds the cleft of her thighs again; she rocks subtly back and forth on him until Clint groans. She smiles into the sound, sliding her hands around from his back.

The tight planes of his belly quiver as she burrows her hands between their bodies, zeroing in on the button of his jeans. Clint drags his mouth from hers, to mutter against her hair, "Oh god, oh god..."

"Hold on..."

"I'm trying to..."

"We should at least get our pants off," Natasha tells him breathlessly, and wrenches open the front of his jeans.

He gasps at the release of pressure, surging up into her hand as she dips it to his waistband. She strokes him through the damp cotton of his shorts, reveling in the soft frantic noise he makes as her fingers tighten and squeeze. He shoves one-handed at his jeans, wresting one side down his hip while his other grips at her shoulder, rocking her. "Don't stop!"

"Are you going to?"

"Soon." Clint twists his arm, still working desperately at his jeans. "Not for another minute."

Natasha thinks hazily that she has about half that before he explodes. Clint is shaking under the rhythm of her hand, nearly vibrating. She strokes him, a firm tug from base to tip, and his face falls to the crook of her neck, his breath a hot gust against her skin. He bites down, lightly, and Natasha's eyes roll back in her head.

Breathing hard, she steps back; Clint reaches for her, impeded by the denim tangled around his kness. Natasha fends him off with a warning hand. "I need my clothes off," she says shortly.

She bends and sweeps jeans and and underwear down her legs. The bed is waiting when she steps free, a wide expanse of smooth cotton with the coverlet flung back. Natasha slides bare into the bed and stretches luxuriously on sheets cool against her overheated skin. She holds out one arm. "C'mere."

"Just a sec... I got... somewhere..." Clint's rummaging madly through his bag on the floor, his back a pale curve in the dim light.

"What are you looking for?"

"Condoms." He's too focused on his search for embarrassment. There's a zipping noise of another pocket opening and the metallic clatter of weapons being shifted.

Natasha pushes up on one elbow. "I'm on two different kinds of Division birth control, and the post-mission bloodwork would catch anything if we ever had the opportunity to pick up something. C'mere, Clint." When he pauses and looks back over his shoulder at her, she smiles. "I want to feel you, just you. Will you please just come to bed?"

He needs no further urging. Before she can blink, he's launched onto the bed, pulling her into his arms. Their legs tangle; he shoves, hard and damp and urgent, against her thigh, rocking while their mouths meet in another deep kiss. Natasha squirms to work his thigh between her legs, gasping at the friction, even sweeter without the barrier of cloth.

Clint slides down, scratching his rough cheek against the sensitive skin of her breast, and then tugging one tight peak between his lips. His tongue swirls and Natasha clasps his head, holding him to her as he sucks gently. "That feels so good," she manages to moan.

The wrecked sound of her voice nearly shatters Clint's fraying hold on his control. His mouth pulls wetly from her breast and he pushes up on his arms, hips shoving convulsively against her leg. "I'm really close..."

"Here!" Natasha twists lithely, centering her hips beneath his so that he's cradled by her thighs. He bumps clumsily at her, pushing futilely as he poises, shaking, overtop her, so Natasha reaches between them, takes him in hand, and guides him to her. His hips jerk, and she presses him, tip sliding in wetness, to her entrance. "Push! Don't hold back, just..."

He surges forward and steals every last ounce of breath from her. One deep, powerful thrust has him buried in her, seated to the root. Natasha arches up in a soundless gasp and Clint freezes, arms trembling with strain. After a second, the sting ebbs and Natasha subsides on the bed; her motion makes Clint slide in her, withdrawing a bit, and he gives a strangled cry. "Don't move! I'm gonna!"

She reaches up, strokes his damp cheek. "Go ahead," she says hoarsely. "Don't wait for me." When he still hesitates, tremors racking him, she licks her swollen lip. "I want to watch you," she murmurs.

He breaks then. He pulls back, drives forward... and then he's moving, hard, angling his hips for an urgent, upward stride. Natasha gives herself up to it, the sweet, aching friction and pounding rhythm and the push and slide of him. She flings one leg up around his waist, feeling the strength in the shift and flex of his muscles.

Her eyes fall closed under the delicious weight of him, heat building. She's coiling up, tensing, nerves singing...

Clint's coiled tight, too; she feels his body clench, his driving rhythm falter into a fast stutter. Her eyes fly open, and he gasps, hard.

She watches him shatter as he spills himself into her.

His hands are bruising her shoulders, his neck and back straining; after a long, tense moment he moans, and shudders one last time, and collapses bonelessly half on top of her.

Natasha nearly moans too, in frustration.

Instead she lifts a shaky hand, runs it through the damp spikes of his hair. He's panting, hot against her skin, and he's still shaking, little tremors that chase up and down his body.

After another long moment, he twitches, and mouths a kiss onto her breast that's pressed beneath his cheek. "Wow."

Natasha's eyes fall closed on a shiver at the roughness in his voice. "Wow indeed," she says tightly.

"That was... that was..." Clint leans forward, brushes her lips with his. "Better than anything," he whispers.

He's sinking down again, muscles going slack and loose. Natasha arches her hips up before he can crash into sleep. "Can you... for me?"

"Oh!" He starts, abashed. "Sorry! It was too quick?"

"Kinda." Her hips arch again, imploring. "It's okay, I told you to... but can you do for me now?"

Clint looks down at her helplessly. "I think it'll take a few minutes before I can go again."

"Like this, then." Natasha fumbles for his hand, draws it down to her center.

"I have no idea what I'm doing," Clint confesses as his fingers nudge against her.

Natasha's breathing is already quickening again. "I'll show you."

She arranges his fingers, whispering guidance, Press here, rock your hand like this, rub here, harder. Clint shifts higher on the bed as his hand starts to move, hers overtop it to guide his motions. He alternates pressing kisses to the shivery spot on her neck, and nipping at her breasts. And while she spirals back into hot, hurting pleasure, he whispers rough precious words against her hair.

As she teeters on the brink, Natasha throws her head back and cries out, both hands flying to the sides and clenching the sheets.

And so Clint finishes her by himself, his agile fingers working her with calloused friction.

He always was a fast learner.

After, Natasha comes down from her high cradled in his arms. Her bruised mouth rests against his bruised chest and his hand strokes slowly through her hair.

She thinks sleepily about speaking the words tumbling around inside her.

But then she turns her head and his gaze meets hers. And everything they need to say or hear is in their eyes.

In the deep of the night, Clint stirs, brought to wakefulness by Natasha's absence from his side.

He lies quietly, assessing. The room is still dim, but the scant light has changed; there are no sounds to indicate she's simply gone to the bathroom, or is roaming the house.

He sits up and sees her, a paler silhouette against the dark panes of the window. She's turned off the nightlight and raised the blackout curtain, and stands looking out at the night. "What's wrong?" he croaks.

"Nothing," she answers softly, without turning. And then, "It's snowing."

Clint slides out of bed, wincing, and pads over to stand at her back. His breath catches.

Snow has already covered the ground, icing the trees and shrubs in fantastical shapes. More is falling in thick flakes, swirling past the glass.

Natasha leans back against him. Her bare skin feels chilled after the warmth of the bed, and Clint draws her close, his arms beneath her breasts, the curve of her bottom snug against his front. He laces one hand with hers.

Outside, the snowflakes dance in the wind.

"I won't give you up," Natasha whispers fiercely. She bends her elbow to press their hands over her heart. "The rules about fraternization, though- I can't think Krippand will ignore them."

"I don't care what Division's rules are," Clint murmurs.

"I don't care either. But if they try to force us apart..."

"We'll be discreet," Clint interrupts. "And if that's not enough, well... we'll skip. We have skills that can take us anywhere." He gazes out at the mesmerizing swirl of snowfall. "We'll disappear, just the two of us."

Her heartbeat is strong and steady beneath their entwined hands. Natasha tilts her head back against his shoulder, and he feels her smile. "They don't stand a chance," she agrees. "We'll be a force to be reckoned with."


Thank you for reading! Clint and Natasha go on to have epic adventures together, and maybe someday do have to strike out on their own, when they get tired of the government jerking them around. I think I've come to the end of this particular 'verse, though.

I do have a couple of different things brewing in my head- a non-AU, post-Avengers-movie let's-beat-up-on-Clint thing, and also I've been messing with a post-Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol team!fic idea, where Brandt gets the stuffing kicked out of him. Renner just looks so pretty battered and bloody that I can't help myself.

Not sure which one will see daylight, I have to decide which to work on next. Until then, thank you again.