Disclaimer: I do not own The Avengers or any other works from the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Marvel Comics. All rights are reserved to Warner Bros., Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, and any other entitled parties.
Author's Note: I'm not a hundred percent sold on how I ended this, so I plan to touch it up eventually. However I think the majority is there.
Also, I'm unable to access the blueprint at this time, but the layout of Clint's temporary room is the same as the room Tony is preparing for Captain America at the end of The Avengers.
She knows something is wrong when he barely touches his shawarma. All he does is look around the restaurant, then at her, then at his book, then back at the rubble again.
He knows something is wrong when she doesn't glare at him for putting his leg up on her chair. She doesn't mind it when they are alone, but there is an unspoken rule when they are in company. Perhaps she realizes it's injured by the way he is still carrying the weight, or by the way he limped into the restaurant. He notices her left foot isn't entirely set on the ground.
Dinner is quiet. Or is it lunch? Clint really isn't quite sure. He hasn't really eaten in awhile. He guesses dinner because the sun is setting when they leave.
No one talks; it's actually nice, a bit mundane and entirely un-superhero-like. And that's the best part.
Tony's the one who wraps up dinner. Clint and Tony have been finished for awhile, Natasha wrapped her dinner up several minutes ago, Cap's half asleep, and even Thor and Bruce have stopped eating so vigorously.
His exit is nothing quite as extravagant as normal.
"Considering Spangles over there is about to face plant into his shawarma, and those two have been eye-fucking the whole time, I think we should head back." Tony stands up abruptly, tosses a stack of hundreds on the counter, and heads out the door.
They all make their ways back to Stark Tower. No one talks but Stark, who is trying to soothe a frantic Pepper over the phone. Natasha imagines Pepper is probably trying to fly back here to Tony.
They all filter into Tony's private floor. Clint looks around to survey his surroundings even though this is the second time he has been here.
They had turned Loki over to S.H.I.E.L.D. before grabbing shawarma. Clint would have been displeased Loki hadn't suffered more, had he actually had the energy to care.
Tony stood in the middle of the room, admiring the demigod-size dents in his floor. "JARVIS?" he asked.
"All structural damage is non-critical sir," JARVIS responds.
The corners of Natasha's mouth twitch when she sees Clint's eyes whip around the room to determine the source of the voice. It's quite entertaining to her; having already been exposed to Tony's inventions while undercover in Malibu.
"AI system," she whispers to Clint. He nods in clarification.
Tony points nonchalantly to his left and tucks his phone away. "Rooms are downstairs; don't touch my stuff." He before deciding to go make a drink.
They all disperse their separate ways.
Steve immediately heads towards the closest room, one arm still clutched over his side. He disappears for the night.
Thor doesn't even bother to ask permission to raid the fridge. He retreats into another room with an armful of boxed products, and a PopTart hanging out of his mouth.
"How can he still be hungry?" Clint wonders. He doesn't voice his curiosity though, Clint's always followed a speak-when-spoken-to code.
He would never admit it, but his leg is getting quite painful and the glass shards in his shoulder are beginning to ache. So Clint resigns himself and plops down in one of Stark's weird looking chairs.
Clint doesn't understand why there is a pit of carpet around the area, or why the table is like a stone slab, but maybe that's just him.
Tony, drink now in hand, poses in front of the elevator. "Coming, Doctor?"
Bruce doesn't respond. He is too busy snoring in the chair across from Clint, sitting comfortably in Tony's borrowed clothes. Tony simply waves his hand behind his body halfheartedly and steps into the elevator. The doors close as he sips his drink.
Natasha guesses he is off to the lab, at least until Pepper gets home. Work off some demons. She can tell by Stark's eyes he is afraid of the nightmares that will come when he sleeps. She knows that look.
Clint sighs back into the chair while Natasha makes some tea in the kitchen. Enough for two, of course. On nights like these, after a big mission, they had found tea to be a soothing luxury.
Clint watches her as she makes it. It's a good thing no one else is near, because they would probably question the affection in his eyes.
She tends to reach for things out of her grasp instead of walking, confirming Clint's suspicions her leg is injured. Her catsuit is torn and dirty and bloody, and its not a strange sight to him, but he's never been particularity fond of it.
There are two clinks as she puts ice into his mug. Clint prefers his things on the cold side.
Natasha hands him his mug without ceremony.
"Thank you," he mumbles. She gives him an accepting look, lips pursed shut.
He briefly breaks their eye contact to take a sip.
"What is this?"
"Earl Grey," she responds. She knows he likes his tea bitter. She didn't care for it originally, but the unusual taste grew on her.
Clint smiles at her over his cup. She knows he's remembering the first time he made her tea. She had almost spit it out, caught unaware by the bitterness. He didn't stop laughing at her until she put him in a choke hold.
His mind fades back to the present; where Natasha's eyes a flickering up and down his body. She's checking for injuries; he knows the look well, but he's used to it the other way around.
"I'm going to bed," she announces. He takes the silent invitation and stands up, leaving his empty tea mug behind. She loops an arm around his waist, he tosses an arm over her shoulders, and they hold each other up.
Natasha leads them to the end of the corridor of bedrooms. There are several open doors to choose from. So she lets go of Clint and sets her hand on the doorknob of the bedroom to their right.
It's barely a whisper really. But it's desperate and curious. He wants to know where she's really going to be sleeping tonight.
She doesn't move her hand off the doorknob, but turns her head in a wave of red, and gives him a confirming look. So without another word, they each head to their respective rooms.
Clint hobbles in, not bothering to turn on the light. It's smaller than he expected. There is a bed along the right wall and a bathroom to the left, with a closet straight ahead. Everything is sort of greyish-blue. The bedroom is basic but modern, and that'll work perfectly fine for Clint. He's never really cared for extravagant things.
"Agent Barton, I have taken the liberty of preparing a pair of clothes for you to wear tonight, if you wish," JARVIS informs him.
"Thanks," Clint responds hesitantly, looking warily at the ceiling. He leaves his boots at the door to prevent dirt from getting everywhere. "Mmh, make sure there's a tank top."
"Yes, sir. Shall I prep your shower, sir?" JARVIS offers.
"No, that'll be all," Clint declines.
"Very well," JARVIS responds politely.
Clint limps into the bathroom and the pain in his leg has gone from a dull ache to a fiery sensation. There are knives in his back and his head feels ... destroyed.
It takes him a minute to figure out how to use the touchscreen console, but he gets it, and a rush of warm water pours directly from a metal shower head in the ceiling.
"Damn," Clint chuckles to himself. Stark and his money.
Clint hobbles out to the main room. He opens the closet, which is just a bunch of empty shelves behind doors. The only clothing there is a pair of dark grey sweatpants, boxers, and a black tank top, as ordered.
JARVIS folded them nicely, so Clint decides to leave them be for now. There is blood on his hands; judging by the black hue, he's pretty sure it's from a chitauri. No need to get the clean clothes dirty.
He hobbles back to the bathroom, which is as dark as the bedroom. It's too dark to see his reflection in the mirror, so Clint begrudgingly decides to turn on the light.
Clint doesn't bother looking at his face. He doesn't want to see it.
Instead he strips off his shirt, which is not an easy feat. The material is tight enough as is; glass shards make it even more challenging. But Clint doesn't mind because he likes a good challenge.
There is an echo of a click. Clint perks his head up at the noise, courtesy of his carefully trained senses.
"Nat?" he quips.
She steps carefully through the dark room. He is expecting her, but she can tell he is just the slightest bit cautious.
Natasha rounds the corner with a metal box in her hands.
"Medical supplies," she explains, before the question leaves Clint's mouth.
"What about JARVIS?" Clint asks. He finds it still feels weird on his tongue; calling the AI system like a common butler.
"Disabled," Natasha replies curtly.
Clint gives her a small smile. He loves the way she can hack into a computer system in a minute flat. He's never told her how impressive he thinks it is, but she knows by the way he watches her as she breaks through a firewall.
He finishes stripping without the slightest hesitation. By the time he hops in the shower, she's finished sorting through the tub of medical supplies.
"Coming?" he taunts. He picks up a bar of soap off the ledge indented in the wall and begins to rub it between his hands.
Natasha shoots him a tired look, but it's not unfriendly. She unzips her suit and walks out of it and into the shower.
Clint's seen her naked dozens of time, so it's nothing new. She's seen him naked plenty of times too. There was no barrier of decency between them; it was all simply business in their minds. Not that it really matters; they are both so covered in rubble it's hard to see what is a bruise and what was part of a building.
As she steps in the shower, Natasha places a small handgun next to the shampoos.
Clint looks incrediouly at her.
Natasha just shrugs. "Privychka — vtoraya natura." She feels free to speak Russian around Clint, knowing he doesn't mind in the slightest.
"Old habits die hard?" Clint asks after a few seconds. He's no expert in Russian, but being around Natasha for so long has caused him to pick up a few idioms.
She nods in response. "Not bad."
Clint examines her body for injuries. He knows not to linger his gaze on one place for very long. Not many people see the Black Widow naked and live to tell it. Almost learned that one the hard way.
Not that it matters; she's lathered the soap up pretty well. There's only the slightest tinge of disappointment deep in his stomach.
"You're limping," he notices. She stands so only the toes of her left foot rest on the shower tiles.
"Yes," she confirms, knowing it annoys him. She plucks the soap out of his hands.
Natasha purses her lips shut at first. She moves for the water, so Clint shifts to wear she was previously standing. He is patient.
"Tasha..." he coaxes. She already knows why he's limping, he told her back at shawarma. So it's only fair.
"When Banner transformed on the Helicarrier, I got my foot stuck under a metal bar," Natasha states very matter-of-factly.
Clint steps back into the shower water to rinse off his body. It always irritated Natasha that he would wash his body first and then his hair. So naturally, he kept making a point of doing it.
"You fought me with that?" Clint questions.
Natasha just shrugs and they trade spots under the water. "Yes."
It was always like this. They would examine each others wounds after narrow scrapes. Most times it would be in the shower; the water cleaned the cuts and dirt off. There was nothing to be shy about.
Clint would sometimes wonder if this is what old married couples are like. Quiet nights together, no romance, but more like co-existance. Two people existing the space of one. Simply understanding the other person.
Clint never tells Natasha about it, simply because there are some things that can't be retracted once they are said. And that's a whole different issue in itself.
"How's your head?" Natasha breaks his train of thought.
Clint pauses for a moment to consider her question. "Re-calibrated," he decides.
Natasha sees right through his devil-may-care attitude. "Hurts like a bitch?"
Clint decides to give up the act. "Yeah."
"Have medical check for a concussion tomorrow."
Clint doesn't respond, so Natasha guesses there probably a 50/50 chance he'll actually do what she said. "What's this?" he counters, his fingers ghosting over a horizontal bruise on her lower back.
Natasha ignores the shiver up her spine and responds. "You slammed me into a railing," Natasha states without hesitation. No use in lying.
"Sorry," comes the gruff response.
"I didn't ask for an apology," Natasha rebuffs.
Clint decides he's needs to get out of the hot water; his temper is rising. (Not at her, at himself, at Loki, at everything but her.)
He steps out of the shower and grabs one of the pristine white towels off the rack. He grabs the other and tosses it over his shoulder with amazing accuracy, where he knows Natasha is emerging from the shower after him.
Natasha knows his head must be hurting rather severely. When Clint gets wet, he often shakes his hair dry like a dog. Instead he's slowly rubbing the towel over his scalp.
"That bad, huh?" she comments.
"Well you could've used a softer pole," he rasps in response, giving her a small smile even though she won't return it most of it.
Natasha wraps the towel around her torso, tucking the corner in neatly.
"Sit," she orders, pointing to the toilet with one hand, and grabbing tweezers out of the medical kit with the other hand.
Clint complies, draping his towel over the seat section to make it more comfortable. Natasha hops up behind him, sitting on the top of the toilet itself.
This position gives her a good angle to see the wounds on his shoulder. Clint just sits there as she pokes and prods him.
"Ow," Clint mumbles as she finds a piece of glass still in his back.
"Hold still," she orders. He doesn't speak a word as she uses the tweezers to pull out the shard. It's not that it doesn't hurt, despite Natasha's years pulling bullets out of herself and him for that matter, but Clint follows her commands.
It's only an inch or so long, but once it's out Clint breathes a sigh of relief.
"Better?" Natasha asks. She holds a piece of gauze over the wound to catch the blood.
"Better," Clint confirms.
They sit there for awhile in silence, Natasha straddling Clint's back, digging out glass.
"I need more gauze," she orders, and he complies.
There ends up being eight shards, two in his shoulder, two in his lower back, three in his leg, and one in his arm. Each area is carefully closed using a combination of butterfly bandages and medical glue. It just as effective or stitches or bandages, but a lot harder to rip off mid-sleep.
Clint resists the urge to let out a childish laugh when the glue brush bristles tickle his skin. But then the glue starts to cover the wound itself and Clint is left groveling in pain.
"Son of a bitch," he moans.
"Quiet. You'll wake everyone," she snips. A nosy Tony Stark is the last thing she needs.
Clint says nothing but gives her a challenging look.
Natasha bites the inside of her cheek to prevent her from giving him a snappy retort. She is well aware of all the bloody scrapes covering her body, and knows Clint will offer her no mercy with the glue.
"What?" he taunts, knowing she want to say something.
Natasha gives him the smallest of smiles, but shake her head. "Nothing."
Clint has learned that there are some things to push Natasha to answer, but there are other things which aren't worth it to do so. This is one of them. Plus, he already knows exactly what was going through her mind.
"Your turn," Clint orders, standing up and re-wrapping himself in his towel. "Towel off."
Natasha's immediate response is to decline. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not," Clint denied. He tugs at her towel, knowing it could go three ways; she gets up with the towel, the towel comes off and he can examine her wounds, or Clint ends up flat on his ass. Counting on Natasha to be too tired for option three, Clint decides to press his luck.
Natasha ends up moving forward with the towel, so she's now standing with Clint in the middle of the room. Well, its more like leaning on him, since her ankle is getting progressively worse.
Clint just waits patiently for her to relent. "Tasha..." he pleads.
Natasha lets out a sigh of defeat, and sits back down on the toilet; sitting on the lower section where Clint was previously. She keeps the towel on. "Ankle first," she requests.
Clint struts over to the medical kit and pulls out a roll of ACE wrap, then kneels in front of her. Her ankle is swollen, with bruises along the top and outer side. It looks quite painful to stand on.
"Damn, Nat. What did you do?" he wonders aloud. She already told him, so he's not actually expecting a response. "What part?" he asks how it hurts.
"Outside," she responds. She probably sprained her ankle.
Clint begins to wrap from the top of the ankle to the bottom, making it thin enough so she could walk on it. When he's done it looks better than how it started; Clint's no doctor, but there's something to be said for practical experience.
She stands up to test the binding. "Yeah," Natasha quips. She places a hand on his left shoulder to steady herself.
"What else?" Clint presses. He can see the cut on her lip and the wound on her temple, but he's not sure about the rest of her.
"Just this," Natasha replies, pointing to her face. "The rest are bruises; nothing bad."
Her lip will heal well enough on its own, but her head wound requires some attention. Clint reaches over to the counter where the vial of medical glue is luckily in reach.
He looks over his shoulder, and catches a glimpse of her cradling her side. He turns his head back forward, slowly as to not attract her attention with the movement.
"So," Clint says, unscrewing the cap and pulling out the brush with it. He steadies his hand, placing it delicately on the side of her face. "What's wrong with your side?" he asks in a knowing tone.
Natasha curses inwardly. She slipped up and he had seen her favor her weight to one side. "Nothing."
"You're lying." Clint keeps a conversational tone so he doesn't come across as accusatory. It's not that his feelings are hurt; they lost track of all her lies a long time ago.
"There's nothing you can do," Natasha states, very matter-of-fact. She stops to grit her teeth as the glue stings her cut.
"Tasha..." Clint's voice is low but steady. "It's just you and me," he reminds her.
And maybe she needs that reminder, but after the words leave his mouth, her shoulders droop and her body relaxes. "Banner transformed on the ship. He and I fell through the floor, so we were alone. I ran, but he got me."
Clint watches her carefully as she speaks, her voice quivering slightly.
"Natasha..." Clint whispers in her ear. His keeps his voice firm, but he's watching her face and it's worrying him.
She pushes a lock of hair out of her eyes, letting the towel drop. Up and down her right side is a massive black and blue bruise. There are four large black lines, with splotches of red throughout the skin.
The first thing that passes through Clint's mind is horror. Did he do that?
No. The Hulk did, Clint reminds himself.
The second of Clint's thoughts is much less eloquent. Does it hurt? Of course does, dumbass.
The third is actually somewhat near Clint's regular cognitive function. It makes sense, why she wouldn't give up the towel, how heavily soaped up she was in the shower.
However he still can't figure out how he missed it when she was taking off her catsuit. And he feels hurt, that he somehow betrayed her.
Clint looks at Natasha's expecting face, realizing he hasn't actually said anything out loud. She can see hurt and guilt in his eyes, but so much has happened today it's a mute point to try and find the cause.
"Ouch," Clint determines.
"No shit," comes the snappy response.
Clint puts the glue back into the box and pulls out several rolls of fabric; pre-wrap foam, medical tape, and ACE wrap.
"Any broken ribs?" he verifies.
"I think so. Nothing serious, no organs," Natasha rattles off. "Most of the damage is to the skin."
Clint approaches her very delicately, placing two fingers to her side. The tips barely graze her skin, but she still jumps slightly.
He places the edge of the ACE wrap under her chest, fighting an internal battle to keep his eyes down and focused. She grits her teeth as the fabric slides over and over her skin. When he's done, he inserts the clips and gently tapes over them.
"That alright?" he asks worriedly, look up at her eyes from his crouched position.
"It's fine," Natasha dismisses. "Hold still," she orders, grabbing his forearm.
Clint looks down to see that his forearm is bruised and bloodied from where Natasha bit him while he was under Loki's influence.
"Well shit, Nat," Clint teases as she tapes gauze around his arm. "Did you have to bite me so hard?"
She gives him a teasing look. "I can try harder, if you want."
Clint smirks in response. It hard to tell sometimes if her comments are suggestive or threatening. Probably both.
"Anything else?" he asks. They probably look like mummies, all bandaged up.
"No," Natasha answers. "You?"
"Just a few bruises," Clint says, looking down at his chest. There's a fist-shaped bruise on his left ribcage, and it's easily identifiable as Natasha's. He's seen it plenty of times from just sparring.
"Clint," a voice says, right before a piece of fabric is thrown in his face. He reaches up to pull it away, revealing the offending item to be a sling.
"You've been favoring your right arm all night," Natasha explains when he gives her a questionable glare.
"I'm left-handed," Clint objected.
"Just put it on, take it off in the morning," Natasha ordered. "I need to tape your hip."
Sure enough, Clint felt his towel get yanked down without hesitation as Natasha carefully placed a strip of therapeutic KT tape across it. He could feel her make a large V shape going down his leg, and another V shape perpendicular to the first.
He had most likely dislocated his hip when he had burst through the glass pane of that window, and tape was their only current solution.
" 'think I dislocated it," Clint tells her.
Natasha nods in response, acknowledging his comment. "Sling," she persists.
Grumbling, Clint surrendered and slid his arm into the supporting part of the sling.
"Tasha?" Clint requests, fumbling to fasten the sling straps on his back.
She doesn't say anything in response, but he can feel the gust of air on the back of his legs as she stands up. Her fingers are warm but coarse as she fastens the straps together. He doesn't quite know why, but he prefers her hands all battle-worn opposed to when they're all done-up for undercover missions.
It hits like a wave.
Clint's eyelids are drooping, and he imagines Natasha's are too. "Bed," he suggests unceremoniously. The adrenaline wore off hours ago, but the survival instinct just ran out, leaving only fatigue.
She agrees without a second thought, because the warmth against his back is gone as she moves to retrieve her suit from off the floor.
Clint grabs his suit as well, and flicks off the light behind him as they both wearily shuffle out towards the bed. He heads to retrieve the clothes Jarvis prepared for him, while Natasha heads back to use the bathroom.
He only pulls on the sweatpants, gathering the tank and boxers in one hand. It's a bit of a challenge, considering he's down an arm.
"Nat," he calls, strutting back to the bathroom. She left the door open as the sign he was free to enter.
"Yeah?" comes the raspy voice. He can hear the fatigue in her voice.
When he rounds the corner of the bathroom, she's standing tiredly in front of the mirror, running a comb through her hair. The comb moves slowly and jerkily, chopping up hair previously knotted together by blood.
"Clothes," he informs her, holding up his hand weakly. She gives him a grateful nod and returns to her hair. He gets them on the countertop.
"Gotta piss," Clint mumbles, staggering to the toilet. Natasha doesn't object, so he goes ahead.
Once finished with her hair, Natasha slides on the clothes Clint brought her. The tank top is too big for her lithe frame, but a few rips and it's comfortable enough. She can't help but wonder if he got a tank top knowing it's her shirt of preference.
Natasha slides into the bed first, feeling the cool sheets against her frame. Clint's only a moment behind her. He tucks his survival knife under his pillow, while she tucks her Glock under her own.
They both lay shoulder to shoulder, but Natasha is on her stomach while Clint lies on his back.
"How'd I miss it?" Clint lolls his head to the left to look at her face. She can see the hurt in his eyes; he's blaming himself for something.
"Miss what?" Natasha props up on her forearms to be able to meet his gaze.
"Your side," Clint elaborates.
"I covered it with makeup I found in Stark's suite," Natasha explains.
"Stark uses makeup?" Clint shot her a questioning look.
"His CEO does," Natasha clarifies.
"Ah," Clint exhales, not breaking their eye contact.
"How are you doing?" Natasha asks after a minute of silence.
Clint pauses to consider the question. " 'll see you later," Clint answers, his voice getting raspier as he sinks into the bed.
It's a code between them, for the nightmares. There is no use talking about the horrors of the day now, when falling asleep is eminent, and they're just going to wake up at some ungodly hour in the morning pouring in sweat and guilt anyways. So they wait until then to have a heart-to-heart, using the phrase 'I'll see you later' as a temporary explanation. Besides, they're used to waking up in the middle of the night anyways.
"Clint," Natasha calls. He knows she's not going to push him farther into explaining, not when he's so blissfully close to sleep, so he feels free to answer.
So he decides to look over out of curiosity. "Yeah?" He can hear the sleep in his voice; she's got it too, it's all over her face.
She just wants to see his eyes one last time before he closes his eyelids for the next few hours.
"Your eyes are grey," she reminds him. He pushes a lock of hair out if her face in response. It's slow and gentle, but not too much so that it would make Natasha put her guard up.
"How would you describe us, Nat?" Clint asks, searching her eyes desperately.
"Partners," Natasha responds in her usual emotionless way. But Clint knows exactly what she means; there are so many deeper layers to that term. But it's not the time to go there tonight.
But there is one last thing she has to say before they can sleep.
"Clint?" It's more of a mumble than anything else.
"Brainwashed or not, if you ever pull my hair again, I will kill you. Understood?" Even in sleepy haze, Natasha's tone is able to drive her point home.
Clint chuckles into the pillow, knowing she would never follow through.
"Goodnight Tasha," he mumbles, taking in one last look of her emerald eyes before closing his own.
"Spokoynoy nochi," Natasha whispers into his shoulder, resting her head against his arm in an unusual display of affection.
It's barely a whisper, but it's there. It's there, and so is he.
Natasha wakes up in a cold sweat.
Her hair is plastered to her forehead. Her hands are shaking. She's cold.
It only takes a millisecond for her to realize she is alone, despite falling asleep with company. Natasha stirs, and her heart rate begins to calm. There are telltale signs in which Natasha will use to determine where her partner has gone.
She gently slides her hand under his pillow, in case the knife is still there. It is; which means Clint left without a struggle. Not that there would be any chance of one tonight, safe in Stark's modern-day castle.
Natasha slings her legs out of bed, feeling the cotton boxer slide loosely with her. She walks over to Clint's side of the bed, where his boots are gone from their usual vigil on the floor. He always places them there, in case they have to move quickly upon awaking. The absence of the boots simply mean he's no longer on the residential floor of Stark Tower.
His sling, however, is there, tossed across the floor. Damn it, Barton. Don't be so fucking stubborn.
So Natasha continues over to his suit, which is draped over the desk chair. Her hand slides into one of the cargo pockets, and pulls out his standard S.H.I.E.L.D. wallet, along with his book of fake ID's. There is a secret pocket along the right-side seam of the wallet; that is where Natasha immediately checks.
She pulls out the neatly folded wad of bills. There is one twenty-dollar bill, two five-dollar bills, and seven one-dollar bills.
It's a code, only shared between Natasha and Clint. The money represents a time; 1:27. That's when Clint left the room.
Natasha slides the money back into its normal pocket, and files Clint's wallet back in its rightful place in his pants. She then glances at the clock on the desk. 3:06.
Natasha lets out a small sigh for her partner, who is busy beating himself up for the crimes of the past few days. She stands up and walks over to her end table, tying her hair up in a messy bun. Even though there really is no need to, she straps her Glock onto her right leg. The weight is oddly comforting.
With one last glance around the moonlight-lit room, Natasha grabs the last thing she needs and sets off to go get her partner.
Tiptoeing around Stark Tower is a breeze for her. Even so, she still pauses for a moment when a half-asleep Banner pops out of the elevator and heads to a bedroom.
They make eye contact for a brief second. Natasha raises a single finger to her lips, and Bruce nods in understanding. The moonlight stops glinting off his glasses as he disappears into a room; Natasha continues on her way.
Clint is on the roof.
He's crouching like a bird on the edge of the building. His legs are folded and out to each side, and his back is bent over protectively. The way the night lights are hitting him, Natasha can't help but imagine him about to fly away.
He's still shirtless, not including bandages. His boots are on, and his hair is spiked up in a way that suggests he was running his hand though it.
Her partner's been mulling over something.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
His voice is cold, like anger that's been frozen, lest the holder lose control. Yep. Mulling.
"Why didn't you fucking tell me?"
He makes no movements to turn around, but Clint knows Natasha is there, standing behind him. She's probably a good twenty feet away, but the night it silent. She can hear him clearly.
"Tell you what?" Natasha speaks finally.
There is so much malice in his voice. Anger. Hurt.
Natasha takes a deep breath to steel herself. "To protect you."
Clint lets out a hollow laugh. "From what?" he sneers.
Natasha answers after a moment's pause. "Yourself." She remains passive, calculating and unfeeling.
Clint still hasn't turned around to look at her. His head is still directed down towards the ground. Natasha didn't realize it until now, but there is something in his hands. It's Stark's phone, with all of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s security footage downloaded on. Clint saw.
"You didn't tell me," Clint mumbles, getting progressively louder. "You didn't tell me."
It's no longer a question, it's an accusation. Natasha knows not to speak. Clint needs to get it out.
"All that time ... the battle ... you knew."
"Twenty-six..." Clint continues. "I killed twenty-six agents. Twenty-six agents and twelve guards. And you didn't tell me."
"Don't do this Clint," Natasha tries to stop him.
"No!" Clint yells, and it echoes over-top the city. He stand up and whips around to face her. "Coulson's dead! And my own fucking partner - the one who is supposed to have my back - didn't even give a shit long enough to tell me!"
"What was I supposed to do?" Natasha shouts back. "We had a war to fight."
"That wasn't our fight!"
"It was, and you know it!"
"So what? You didn't care enough about Coulson - about me - to tell me he was dead!"
"You know I did. I do."
"Then. Why. Didn't. You. Tell. Me?" Clint hisses at her.
For a moment the lights coming off the building make Clint's eyes flicker blue, and Natasha takes a step back.
"Traitor." The word tumbles out of Clint's mouth just as his partner speaks.
"Because I couldn't say it," Natasha's voice breaks.
But the damage is already done. He called her the one thing that would actually hurt her. Her walls have shot back up, and the real Natasha is hidden behind a mask. He hurt her.
Something in the terrified look on his partner's face make Clint snap back to reality.
"I'm so sorry," he mumbles, staggering closer to Natasha. "It's all my fault."
And with that he sinks to his knees, but she catches him just in time.
"I'm so sorry, Tasha." His face is buried in her neck, and the second the droplet hits her skin she realizes Clint is crying.
"It's not your fault, Clint," Natasha whispers soothingly in his ear. "You didn't know."
It takes a minute for Clint to find his voice again. "Coulson's dead because of me," Clint laments.
"No," Natasha cuts him off with a stern glare. Even though he can't see it, he can sure as hell feel it.
"If I hadn't attacked the Helicarrier, none of it would've happened," Clint tries to argue. "Loki would have never been able to escape."
"Clint..." Natasha croons. "Clint, if you hadn't been assigned to overseeing the Tessaract, Loki would never have gotten control over you."
Clint's stopped crying by now, and his partner's point is actually sinking in.
"Come on," Natasha orders, pulling him over to the large air conditioner box on the roof. She leans her back against it, so she can hold him better.
"Nat, all I wanted to do was kill ... " Clint's voice is riddled with pain. "And I did."
"I know," Natasha simply states. She speaks in a certain voice, with sympathy only a person who had experienced the same thing could understand.
"Natasha..." Clint mumbles into his partner's neck. "Thank you."
They haven't fought like that, not in years. They used to fight all the time at the beginning of their partnership, but never to the point it became crippling to their ability to complete missions. However, they grew closer, and fights became much less frequent, but they sure as hell did a lot more damage.
She is still stiff under him, and he knows calling her a traitor is something he won't come back from. His only hope is to keep pushing forward.
"Natasha, I - " Clint begins, pulling his head back to look at her face.
" - No." She cuts him off sharply. "You made your point."
She pushes him back a step, and starts to walk away.
Clint's hand is firmly on her shoulder, preventing her from walking any farther away.
"I saw the interrogation."
Natasha is still as stone.
"You shouldn't have," is all she mumbles darkly.
She really hates it when he uses that voice on her. It's begging and pleading, but it's just the right amount of broken she has no choice but to oblige him.
"Tasha, I'm compromised."
The words echo out through her ears. Shit. Shit. Shit.
"Tasha..." He's just mumbling her name over and over, using it to soothe her. Natasha's not entirely sure when his grip on her shoulder became softer, and when the hell she ended up in his arms. But she refuses to talk to him.
They lean against the metal box in silence, taking comfort in each other's presence. After awhile, Clint speaks in the hope she'll do the same.
"Tasha, forgive me."
Now if there is one thing to know about Clint Barton, it's that he never apologizes. Under any circumstances. Nothing.
"My nightmare. I dreamt I killed you. Loki, he - I ..." Clint struggles to find the words.
It's a simple request. To stop talking, to make this another one of their many secrets. She but she spoke to him again, and that's all that matters. So he pushes the memory of the interrogation away, to the back of his mind where he keeps everything else of hers.
They don't talk for awhile, even though they could.
Clint's slowly piecing together the various parts of the puzzle he's been presented with. Something is off with Natasha. The hair up in a bun, clammy skin, her cold touch. Her presence on the roof. And then it all clicks.
"Your nightmare, what was it?"
She doesn't react for a moment, choosing to continue staring at the skyline. "The Other Guy... the Hulk..." Natasha trembles slightly. "I've never faced anything I couldn't kill."
There really isn't anything to say, so Clint just pulls his arms tighter against her.
There is no overwhelming sense of closure.
Coulson's still dead. Natasha's still afraid of the Hulk. Clint's still afraid one day someone will take over his mind and force him to kill his partner.
Some problems can be fixed. But theirs' can't.
They're both afraid.
They're both scarred - mentally, something only the other can see.
They're both compromised.
In their line of work, being compromised is the equivalent of a death wish. But they're kind of dead already, aren't they?
In time, all of these wounds will be rehashed, and readdressed. But for now, they know each other's weakness, their fears, so that they can better protect the other.
But they're not alone. They have each other.
"Did you bring a pillow up?" Clint chuckles, wondering how exactly the lumpy grey thing found its way onto the roof. It's resting on the ground, several feet away.
"I figured we could use it," Natasha explains.
"Nnn," Clint agrees, retrieving the pillow and plopping down alongside it.
The gravel on top the roof isn't quite as uncomfortable as one would expect. In fact, the small stones seem to part with the weight, molding to the shape of Clint's body. The pillow separates Clint's head from his bent arm, providing a comfortable sleeping position.
Natasha wordlessly slinks over and lies down, using Clint's abdomen her own pillow. They both look up and stare at the stars in the sky, waiting for sleep to come again.
"Do you believe in magic, Tasha?" Clint mumbles.
"I think I have to," Natasha answers, recalling the events of the past few days.
"I s'pose so," Clint agrees.
Sleep comes quicker than one might expect. And lying on the top of Stark Tower, under the sky, amongst the rubble of the fallen city ... one can't help but feel it's a fitting sleeping place for heroes.
But they aren't heroes. Right?
They're just two master assassins. Who have each other.