Natasha stood with her arms folded outside of the small grey room. Her uniform was torn on the arms and blushed with blood but her mind was not on the aching in her arms, or the bleeding that ran in a scratch down her thigh.
Her attention was solely on the grey room.
And the man in it.
Her fingers gripped the opposite arms muscle, tight. The pain was a reminder…
A reminder of what she needed to remember.
As nurses came and went and Doctors were flanked by SHIELD agents as they entered the busy grey, private room, Natasha remained a stoic constant.
Stood on guard, just staring, not seeing through the blinded glass windows at the man who was on the bed.
The unconscious man.
The man who had lost consciousness in her arms.
The man who had bled out in her arms
The man who had admitted he was afraid in her arms.
They had been on a mission together. Columbia, at the bequest of SHIELD to monitor the activities of a drug ring that had been shipping to America using a disused dock in Miami.
SHIELD had wanted Intel…
And it was going so well…
Coulson came out of the room; he was wiping his forehead on a neat white handkerchief as he caught sight of her.
"…Agent Romanov." he began, a formal, final respectful tone in his voice.
"…Coulson." she replied, resolutely, her gaze firmly on the window.
"Look…" he began, dropping all pretence of formality. "We are sorry that-"
"Look." she repeated, looking at him, breaking contact with the glass. "Sometimes missions get messed up. Sometimes people get hurt. Sometimes there are casualties. You don't have to tell me that."
Coulson swallowed back what he was going to say and hung his head slightly before looking to the window.
"…He's responding well to the treatment."
"I know." she replied immediately. "I know."
Coulson looked to her.
"…You should get changed. Cleaned up. He'll be asking after you…"
She did not respond, but returned her hard gaze at the window. Her cheeks blazing.
"…Goodbye Coulson." she replied.
Coulson sighed and walked off down the corridor.
A simple reconnaissance mission, a simple mission to get Intel on the Rojas drug ring.
How had it gone so wrong, so quickly…?
When they had rushed him into ER, she had remembered two things…
The blood…and the way his left foot twitched in its boot as the medics worked on him.
Tears had threatened to obscure the sight but she had swallowed them down as he had been rushed into the resus.
Widows did not cry.
Agents arrived not too long after and demanded a full explanation.
It came out of her as if it had been recorded on a tape recorder and she had pressed play.
"We were spying. They found us. They shot him. I was too slow."
The details were etched in a little later and the stray bullet that had been lodged in his stomach was reported to have hit the stomach wall and missed vital organs.
They called it a blessing.
Natasha had called it a mistake.
That bullet was not intended for him.
If only he hadn't been so fucking brave.
Clint Barton. Agent Barton, the eternal Hero.
Surgery followed and Natasha was debriefed by an Agent of SHIELD and told to take some private time.
She declined, sipping her coffee in an attempt to stay alert as she waited outside theatre. She had no intention of leaving.
An Agent did not leave their partners side. Not even in injury.
Then they had moved him. The Surgeon followed, his scrubs covered in Iodine, his forehead furrowed, his eyes lined with fatigue.
He admitted the bullet had been in deeper than they had hoped and that they had difficulty locating and removing it.
Natasha did not have time to hear him say the word 'Critical'.
She knew just how sick Clint was.
A stray bullet in a firefight had put down the man that had shrugged off concussion and claimed a broken knee was just a bruise.
She had emptied her mag into the man who had done it, but he was dead long before she had stopped.
As the empty click of her glock told her that she had run out, she dropped to her knees and to the side of her partner who was on his back, his hand trying to stem a bleed that seemed to regard his hand nothing more than an inconvenience.
She had covered his hand with hers; pressing on the wound and repeated the words that she had told countless others.
"Stay with me, you aren't through yet."
Why did he have to be so flippant?
A weak grin, a pale, weak grin, a tinge of blood at the edge of his lips.
"Come on Barton, fucking hold it together." She had reached for her com and called for back up immediately from the unit stationed just off the coast.
He had swallowed, and the wound in his side had sucked against her hand and that stupid smile had faded into a grave contortion.
"…'Tasha…I…I feel cold."
"Forget it Barton, you're not done. They're on their way. Don't you dare be a fucking statistic on Fury's books!"
He had looked into her eyes, his forehead pale, and sweaty. Cold and damp.
"…I'm dying, Nat…"
She had shook her head, biting the inside of her lip as he weakened before her eyes.
"Don't you dare die. Don't you DARE."
His eyes had grown heavy so slowly that they closed before she had realized and as SHIELD boots hit the warehouse floor, he was unconscious.
She had barked orders as the unit medic had pressed a clean pad to the wound, got him on a small tank of oxygen and organized a helicopter to land on the barren field just outside.
Her hand that was tainted with his blood clung to the colder, frailer hand that bore the same blood all the way back to American soil. The overpowering sound of the helicopter that drowned out the words of the various Unit members had masked her oaths of protection to him as she whispered and hissed promises that she would 'fix this' into Barton's unhearing ear.
And then to the hospital…
And then to the theatre…
And then here…
As he recovered from major surgery.
She stood, bloodied, battle worn, tired, but resolute. She would protect him.
Finally the last Doctor in the room came out and she reached out to hold his arm, stopping him.
"…How is he?"
The doctor put his pen away and tucked his clipboard under his arm before looking to her.
"…Can I see him?"
The Doctor looked back at the room and to her before nodding.
"I can't see the harm."
Coulson must have told him who she was.
With a nod of thanks, she released his arm and walked past him to go back into the private room.
The soft beeping of the heart monitor was the first thing that assaulted her senses after the stench of iodine.
She looked swiftly to the bed to survey Barton.
His hair was scruffy and mussed up, his skin pale but retaining some vestiges of healthiness.
He wore a hospital patient gown, the pale, almost pastel green colour making him seem even paler.
He had an oxygen feed going to his nose and his lips were parted slightly.
He seemed to be breathing fairly steadily.
There was a slight padding up on his left side where the site of his operation had been and his hands were sat plainly by his side. A white tag on his right wrist.
Natasha closed the door quietly behind her and walked over slowly before leaning over Barton and pressing a kiss to his forehead.
"…Goddamn it Barton…"
She brushed back his wayward hair and stroked it tenderly, knowing that he couldn't feel a thing…perhaps it was for her benefit more than his.
"…You dare take a bullet for me again…"she warned, her whisper of a voice shaky.
His blonde-brown eyelashes lay calmly against his cheeks as he breathed softly on the blue tinted plastic tube.
She turned around and saw Barton's hearing aids sat side by side on the counter. She picked them up and carefully looped them around his ears ready for when he would wake.
He had to wake.
He would wake.
She had to make sure he would wake…
She pulled down the bed's railings with a gentle, metallic click and did not hesitate to pick up his hand and ease herself onto the bed beside him, threading her own hand in with his.
The cold, clean, lapse fingers interlaced with her warm, red, strong ones.
He could not feel this.
He would not remember this.
But she had to feel close to him. She had to remind him that he was going to be alright.
Curling up as small as she could on the thinnest edge of the bed, she rested her head on the pillow beside him, her nose inches from his cheek, her hair tickling his face.
…and felt quickly asleep.
The sound of blinds being pulled up was the next thing she recalled and her head shot up rapidly. Her hand going to her side for her gun before realizing she had emptied it…
A nurse was opening the blinds.
Night had turned to day.
She sat up and held her head, it ached, and her bones ached. She had spent the night somewhere uncomfortable…
She looked around and found Barton by her side, looking a shade healthier; he had rolled his head to the other side.
"…It's okay Miss. Romanov." the nurse replied to her worried looks. "You're okay to stay. Colonel Fury approved you as a visitor."
"…How is he?" she murmured.
"…He's doing well. Responding well. His vitals have improved and we're starting to see his fluid levels evening out."
She nodded in thanks and rubbed her eyes before sliding off the bed as gently as she could and walking towards the door to see if she could find a clock somewhere.
She turned around slowly, her lips parted in anticipation as she saw Clint laying there, his eyes open vaguely, a weak, cheeky, smile on his badly shaven, pale face.
"…Welcome back…" she smiled and walked to his side, her hands curled up in balls at her sides. Anything to stop her from reaching for his face and caressing it, happy he was still alive, and still Clint.
"…Good to…be…back…" he coughed dryly and looked around. "…did you….get him?"
"…I got him, Clint." she smiled and without thinking, reached for his hand. "You okay?"
He closed his eyes and with a deep sigh murmured.
"…Top of the world, Nat…Top of the world…"