This fic was spawned in an ATTF on be_compromised on LJ, way back in May or June. It took me forever to finish it, thanks to a nasty case of writer's block. But it's finally done and I like it!
Lots of love to my beta anuna_81 for helping me figure out how to make this fic better. And to crazy4orcas for being a sounding board, thank you!

Released

Clint winced when he stepped from the car in front of Natasha's building, leaning heavily on her arm. Coulson, who'd driven them, appeared on his other side, closing the door behind him. Together they shuffled the few feet to the front door. Well, Clint shuffled, Natasha limped and Coulson tried to keep both from falling. By the time they made it to the elevator Clint was wheezing and coughing, his lungs still fighting the last remnants of his pneumonia.

"I hate this, I feel like I'm a hundred fucking years old," he griped in between two coughing fits, holding his side.

He felt lightheaded when the elevator doors slid open to release them onto the penthouse floor. The doctors in SHIELD medical had finally sprung him today, glad to be rid of their belligerent patient. He was happy to get out, but he had wanted to go home, to his own apartment, to his books, his TV, his bed. Yet making it unaided to the bathroom in his hospital suite and back to his bed had still left him winded earlier that day, there was no chance in hell he'd make the four-story climb. It was the one time he could have slapped himself for choosing that apartment in a pre-war building without an elevator. But the roof more than made up for it. He missed his roof so damn much, it was quite insane. Hell, he'd even dreamed about his roof.

When Nat had taken pity on him and offered him to stay at her place until he could manage the stairs in his own, he had grudgingly agreed, not wanting to be a burden. But she had insisted, and he'd never been able to refuse her. Now her solid warmth next to him lent him strength, grounding him when his body betrayed him. He stroked her neck with his thumb, his hand heavy on her shoulder. She looked at him and smiled, just a slight quirk of her mouth, and he felt the tension drain from him as her hand gently squeezed his side.

She opened the door to her apartment and the familiar smell of jasmine and old books made Clint heave a sigh of relief. If his own apartment was out of the question, this was as close to home as he could be. He was utterly wiped now, the trip from the car to her apartment longer than any distance he had walked in the past two weeks. He was wheezing more and more, his injured side hurting with every step he took. He just wanted to be horizontal and aimed for the grey, deep-seated couch that he and Nat had spent quite a few evenings on, watching movies, drinking beer.

"Where do you think you're going, Clint?" she asked him as she gently adjusted his trajectory away from the couch and towards her bedroom.

"I just assumed… the couch?" he answered sheepishly as Coulson chuckled.

"Yeah, no. You'll be much more comfortable in my bed."

His ears burned as Coulson chuckled more loudly and he let himself be steered into Nat's bedroom. The only room in her apartment he'd never set foot in so far, there had never been a reason to before. He swallowed, wanting to take in everything, as was his nature, but he was too exhausted to notice much more than the dark hardwood floor and the large windows with dark grey drapes framing them. The stack of books on the bedside table made him smile, reminding him of the books on his own. His knees buckled as Coulson and Nat helped him sit down on the bed. It felt heavenly, the mattress soft, but not too soft, and his eyes closed of their own accord.

"You should take your painkillers before you sleep, Clint," Coulson said, concern lacing his voice.

He shook his head minutely, "I feel fine. Don't need 'em."

Which was a lie, because his side was hurting and he felt the pain settle over his body like a blanket. But he didn't like the feeling of helplessness they brought and he was exhausted enough to sleep without their aid at the moment. Someone removed his shoes and helped him lie down. Nat, it was Nat, her hands felt cool and soothing against the warm skin of his neck. He inhaled deeply as his head hit the pillow; the sheets were incredibly soft and smelled nice, just like Natasha. He sighed as her hand smoothed through his hair and draped the cover over him.

Her whispered, "Sleep well, my Hawk" in his ear and the feeling of her lips on his cheek sent him off to sleep.


Natasha kissed Clint on the cheek, stroking his hair, watching him drift off to sleep curled up on his side. It felt good to see the tension leave his body, watch his face soften, his breathing even out. Giving his neck one last squeeze, she turned to Coulson, who had made his way to the bedroom door.

"I'll let myself out. Get some rest too, if you can. And call me if you or Clint need anything."

"Thanks, Phil, I appreciate it," she answered with a small smile as she walked towards Coulson.

"I'll take good care of him. And me, yes," she added as an afterthought at the look she received from Coulson.

Coulson gave her one of his trademark smirks as he turned. "Hope you're all stocked on bird food," he said and left the apartment almost soundlessly.

Natasha sighed a breath of relief as she reset the intruder alert and changed into her sleepwear. She was tired; the last two weeks spent on hard hospital chairs or crammed into Clint's bed with him had been exhausting. Her body was still healing as well, although her ribs were much better already and her leg only hurt when she bent it for too long a time or had to climb a lot of stairs.

She crawled under the covers on the other side of the bed and lay on her side, facing Clint. She liked to watch him when he slept. His breathing was still uneven, too shallow and there was an odd wheezing noise in the back of his throat every time he inhaled. Taking his hand in hers, she let her eyes fall closed and welcomed the oblivion sleep brought.

She woke after what seemed only a heartbeat when her hand was squeezed tight. Clint. Her eyes flew open, not seeing much until she turned on her bedside lamp. He was shivering in the bed next to her, eyes slammed shut, his brow creased and his breathing shallow. She squeezed his hand back, stroking it with her thumb.

"I'm gonna get your painkillers."

She should've insisted on him taking his prescribed dose before they went to bed, but it couldn't be helped now, what was done was done. Extracting her hand from Clint's she shook out two pills, then helped him sit up and take them with a sip of water from the bottle she had put on her nightstand. He slouched against the soft white leather of her bed's headboard, still trembling, his head resting on her shoulder and she carded her fingers through his sweaty spikes soothingly. Her heart clenched at the pitiful sight and she reached to the end of the bed, where she always kept the big green blanket Clint had given her when she'd been in SHIELD medical for the first time. Its soft warmth always made her feel loved and cared for and she now wrapped it around Clint's shivering form and herself. They were enveloped in a cocoon of warmth and comfort and she just held him close, needing to feel him.

"This sucks so much," he said when they had sat like this for a few minutes and his breathing had somewhat normalized.

She could already feel his muscles relax, the medicine doing its job quickly and she pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

"I know," she said, remembering her first major injury and how she had cursed her body for not healing faster, the feeling of helplessness almost driving her mad.

They were both physical people, they had to be active to feel alive. The only time she had seen Clint be absolutely still of his own volition was when he was in his sniper's perch, his target in his sights. Yet his body demanded the reprieve, his recovery would only be hindered if he stopped taking his meds too soon. The doctors in SHIELD medical had been very adamant about this and neither one of them was reckless enough to risk their health going against doctor's orders.

"I know I should've taken the pills earlier, but I was so tired and I didn't think…" he trailed off.

"That's obvious, birdbrain," Natasha said with a smile, entwining their fingers.

His thumb stroked hers and when she ran her hand up his neck she could feel the sweat that had gathered there already drying. The pain must be down to a manageable level then.

"Thanks for -,"he yawned and scooted lower in bed, resting his head on her thigh now, his hand clutching her hip. "Thanks for being here."

She cupped his cheek and gently smoothed his sweaty hair away from his face. "It's okay, I've got you."

His breathing evened out and he went boneless beside her in sleep. The wheezing was still there, but he was taking deeper breaths now. She sat with him for a long time, her fingers running through his hair. When he'd been burning up with fever from the pneumonia he couldn't tolerate being touched and she had missed being close to him. He was breathing heavily, audibly, and it made her heart clench to feel the muscles in his back ripple and contract involuntarily whenever he took a too deep breath. Just two days ago he had still required an oxygen mask at night and had been running a low-grade fever, whereas now his skin felt normal when she placed a hand on his forehead to smooth the hair from his brow.

The repetitive motions were soothing her, calming and reassuring, and she felt her eyes grow heavy. Carefully extracting herself from Clint's embrace, she laid his head on the pillow, turned off the light and lay down beside him. He sighed as she pulled the blanket over his shoulder. She'd seen it on TV growing up, mothers and fathers tucking their children in when they were sleepy or sick and she'd wondered if there had ever been someone to do that for her. She couldn't remember, but had always sought out that feeling of home, never finding it no matter where they were sent. Suddenly her lips quirked up in the ghost of a smile as she realized that she'd been looking in the wrong place the whole time. Home was lying next to her, snoring gently and drooling into his pillow.

She tried for more sleep, but it wouldn't come, like so many other nights. Huffing a frustrated sigh, she scooted out from under the covers and grabbed the first book on her nightstand before noiselessly heading into her kitchen to make herself some tea. Ever since she'd left the Red Room she'd found that there was nothing that tea and a good book couldn't make better, so most of the few nights she was home would find her with a book and a cup on either her sofa or in her bed.

Natasha settled on her couch, a pillow beneath her twinging leg and wrapping a thin blanket around her shoulders as she opened her book. She faced her bedroom door, listening for sounds of distress from Clint but hearing nothing. She released a deep breath and immersed herself in her book, her tea soon forgotten next to her.


Clint woke slowly, feeling like he'd been packed in cotton wool, his thoughts and movements sluggish. He opened his eyes and blinked his surroundings into focus, frowning at the unfamiliar room. The sheet he was lying on was softer than any of his own and much nicer than the scratchy things SHIELD used in its infirmary, so he wasn't in either of those places. There was a subtle scent lingering on the pillow, jasmine with a touch of cinnamon and ginger. Natasha. Then he remembered last night, getting here, waking up in pain, falling asleep in her arms. But now he was alone.

He looked around, noticing that there was a sliver of light coming through the only door to the room, so he carefully unwrapped himself from the blankets covering him and swung his legs out of the bed. He shivered as his feet made contact with the hardwood floor. Draping the fluffy blanket he'd been sleeping under around his shoulders he got up and shuffled towards the light.

The door opened without a sound and he rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he stepped into the gently lit living room. Natasha was curled up on her sofa, a thick book in her lap and her eyes on the bedroom door, on him. She gave him a discreet once-over before settling on his face, a slight smile playing about her lips as she said, "Hello, sleepyhead."

Warmth spread through him and he smiled sheepishly as he scratched his scalp, his hand mussing his already sleep ruffled hair even more. He slowly crossed the short distance between the bedroom and the couch, utterly drained by the time he wiggled his way onto the couch next to Natasha, wedged between her and the soft back cushions. He flung his arm around her middle, then ducked into his blanket as he yawned widely, his body demanding more rest.

"Sorry," he said, his voice gravelly with sleep. "Woke up and you were gone."

"I couldn't sleep," she said with a slight shrug as she set her book aside and scooted lower until Clint's head rested on her shoulder.

Natasha lifted the blanket so it covered them both and carded her hand through his hair. Clint groaned contentedly, feeling the steady rise of her chest beneath his cheek.

"Do you remember this blanket?" she asked in a low voice.

He could feel her breath against his hair, his nostrils filled with her subtle perfume, the same he'd smelled earlier in her bedroom. He didn't really care about the blanket, exhaustion slowly pulling him under. But now that he looked at it more closely, it did seem familiar.

"You gave it to me," she went on.

And now he remembered. He remembered his worry when she had been injured all that time ago, the uncertainty, his elation when she finally woke. Her contented sigh when he exchanged the scratchy infirmary blanket for this one. How he'd never again seen her testing the blankets in one of their safe houses or hotel rooms.

"I did, yeah." He had wanted her to feel safe and cared for. Just like he had when his mom had wrapped him in a blanket when he was a kid. It was one of the only good memories he had of his childhood and he had wanted to share it with her.

"It's my favorite."

"Your favorite blanket?" he asked confusedly.

Clint could hear the smile in her voice when she said, "My favorite possession."

"But it's just a blanket," he stammered sleepily, blinking his eyes.

"It's more than that. It made me feel home." She pressed a kiss to the crown of his head.

His yawn tapered into a lopsided grin, his eyes refusing to open.

"Don't need no blanket to feel home, silly," he mumbled, his limbs too heavy to move. "Got me now."

And just as he drifted off to sleep, he heard her chuckle, "And you have me, stupid."