Title: 21 shots
Characters-Pairings: Clint, Natasha, Phil and other characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Also mentions of Marvel Comic Verse characters - Clint/Natasha
Summary: They track their history in shots.
Words: about 10650
Authors Note: This is completely un-beta’d so all mistakes (humongous and/or minor) just credit them to that.
Authors Note #2: For the promptathon, in response to this comment.
Authors Note #3: In my headcanon, Movie!Verse Clint/Hawkeye’s marriage & divorce to Bobbi/Mockingbird was pre-Natasha. And until proven otherwise I shall be adamant about this! And yes the age difference, plus the fact that Clint seems to have been with the agency for quite some time before he met Natasha has a lot to do with me coming to this conclusion.
Disclaimer: I obviously DO NOT own anything...
She screws on the silencer discreetly while she pretends to pour them another round of drinks.
She turns around smoothly and shoots him right between the eyes freezing the surprised look on his face. The outstretched hand that was expecting a glass of whiskey, instead of a gun barrel, falls between his legs. The rest of his body follows it down hitting the marble coffee table and then dropping to the carpeted floor with a thud. She does hate it when jobs turn out to be this easy.
~ * ~
He knows the man’s death was no big loss for humanity. He was dirty politician who had absolutely zero problems socialising with the mob until ‘they’ offered him a bigger leather chair, in a bigger office, on a higher floor, with a prettier assistant, if he kept in line the local ‘troublemakers’. So he flipped and well, clearly, you don’t just change the status quo of the Ukrainian mob operations and not expect some kind of retaliation. Still, amoral, unethical, opportunistic scumbag aside, he was considered a political asset in the region so him biting the dust? Quite the whammy in that whole power-play-who-has-the-upper-hand-in-ord
He’s been tracking her for two days, hasn’t caught up yet. But if he’s at all good at his job (and he is) this is the point where he will get the drop on her.
He never would have assumed Greece would be the place to chose and see a ballet. But this was her pick, so he’s closely behind and, really, he doesn’t mind. After all, there are worst places to be, than waiting on a rooftop opposite the Greek National Opera building, in downtown Athens, on a pleasant spring evening. It was about this time of the year when he was fucking freezing his balls off, perched on a window seal, while on detail for a UN party in New York, a couple of years ago. And let’s not even mention Glasgow in January of ’99. And that’s just off the top of his head.
It’s almost eleven o’clock at night when he picks up on the change in the atmosphere. The street’s pretty lively to begin with, but the volume of the mumbling and chatter rises and the clamour, of shoes on the pavement, intensifies so the show is obviously over. “About damn time too!”
He picks up the Remington riffle, loads a round (one is all he needs), and settles himself, on the ledge of the roof, to get a clear view of the theatre’s entrance. He spots her pretty easily. She does stand out in this crowd (only if you are really looking of course, and he is): Auburn hair shoulder length, in a sea of white, greying, brown, bolding and not very well dyed blond. There is an elegance and air in her walk and posture that seems out of place. And more importantly, she is the only one who is alone and under thirty. She stands in front of the double, glass, gold trimmed doors and takes in a few deep breaths, with her eyes closed, while everyone around her is chattering about the show and scattering away from the theatre.
It’s a clean, easy shot. The crowd has thinned and she’s basically not more than those paper targets back at the shooting range.
He convinces himself he doesn’t pull the trigger because the difficulty level of a hit on anyone (let alone the Black Widow) like this is beneath him. A rookie with a half decent aim could make it a kill; especially at this distance.
The real reason, however, is the look in her eyes, before she closed them. The lines in her face now, with her eyes closed. The way she’s clutching the program in her hand and close to her chest, hanging on for dear life. How she’s slightly pulled her shoulders up, trying to fight down a shiver.
He’s killed a lot of people in his life and he is aware this is the moment any master assassin worth their salt waits for. That fragment of a second when the mark is off their guard. When then they’re exposed and they aren’t prepared and then... the end.
He is also aware that all the people he’s killed had it coming. It’s not a righteous, snobby stance of his. He’s been around enough of the shits of the earth to be able to tell them apart. He knows lost causes, and soulless scum, and people so far off the reserve that don’t deserve to be called people anymore (and the reason he knows is because he was on the fast track to be one himself and he’s fought tooth and nail - mostly with himself - to NOT end up like that). He can read people, and so in his gut he knows when he pulls the trigger or releases the arrow and gets the kill, one way or the other, it’s well deserved.
Back in his hotel room he has a huge file on this young woman, filled with facts that proves to him exactly that: she’s earned a spot in his kill list, because she is a soulless, lost cause scum, so far off the reserve and has been scientifically and psychologically rebuilt to not be considered ‘people’ anymore.
But what he sees is different. This is a soul, consciously, fighting its way down into the abyss, even though it doesn’t want to. Facts can kiss his ass. This death is not earned.
She snaps her eyes open, after what feels like hours (when it’s really only been barely a few seconds), and walks briskly to the newspaper stand at the end of the block. His Greek is rusty (languages were never really his thing and he was even worse than usual with the less popular ones) but he gathers, as he tries to read her lips through the scope, that she asks for a packet of cigarettes.
He watches her as she takes the packet and walks one, two, three, four steps away from the stand before she opens it. It takes the span of those two minutes, of her buying a pack of smokes, for him to make up his mind.
She takes out a cigarette and places it between her lips. He puts down the gun and picks up his bow and an arrow.
She crumbles and shoves the wrapping of the packet in her bag, with her right hand, and fishes out a lighter, on its way out. He pulls the string.
She lights up, covering the tip of the cig with the left palm, the box being held loosely between her fingers. He aims.
She takes a deep drag as she absentmindedly buries her hand, holding the packet, in her jacket’s left side pocket, and puts back the lighter in her bag, which is hanging over her right shoulder. He waits.
She begins to pull her hand back up from the bag, to clutch the cig between her index and middle finger.
The arrow wheezes, at a very steep angle, from the top of the building, down to the street and impales the cigarette to the pavement about a foot to her left. Her fingers are still a few inches away from her lips, which are left slightly parted, as she quickly glances down to see what the fuck just happened.
He assumes this is as undignified and surprised as she allows herself to look, but he grins when he does realise he’s actually stunned her. He doesn’t stick around for the rest of the show, instead quickly packs up his gear and swiftly makes way to the nearest exit.
They pass by each other at the pedestrian crossing. He is on his way to the subway station, but she, barely spares anyone a glance, going back the opposite direction. She’s too focused on the spot he was occupying not a minute ago, making her way to the entrance of the building he just vacated.
~ * ~
It is unusual to have this much rain in Barcelona even in April. She’s been here three days and it hasn’t let up. There’s an odd hour or two where it’s not pouring (and if you’ve been really lucky barely drizzling), but the air is still thick with humidity and the sky’s colour has been interchanging between various shades of grey.
Even now, in the dead of the night, the thick black clouds are visible up high as the rain just falls and falls.
She’s still on the lookout because, she knows, she hasn’t managed to shake him off (he’s been hot on her trail since Athens).
The good thing about this weather is it clears out the people, especially at night, even walking down La Rambla. So anyone who might be willing to seek her out, well, they’ll be fairly easy to notice, when there is nobody else around. If she can spot him she can kill him, and be done with it.
She takes a swift turn to one of the roads that leads her straight through Barri Gotic, wanting to take a shortcut to her apartment, and also get her out of the exposed main street. She’s been walking, for less than ten minutes, through the empty old rustic neighbourhood, when she notices some commotion at the end of the next block.
A door opens and some music and chatter fills the alley as three people, two men and a woman, walk out. The door closes behind them silencing the street again. They’re having a lively and seemingly friendly chat. The woman - a blond - hugs one of the men tightly. He reciprocates patting her back, as they loosen their hold on each other, and smiles down at her when she’s let go. She loops both her arms around the other guy and leans into him, as he gives her a half hug and snuggles her closer to shelter her under the umbrella he’s just opened. The men shake hands and smile at each other.
She’s close enough to make some of what they’re saying now, though not too clearly through the rain. All of them are speaking English, in various American accents. She hears the guy who’s not a part of the couple say, in a friendly warning voice to the other man “...and don’t be an idiot like me and let this one go.” Sly and shy smiles are shared, and then the woman asks if he’ll be okay to get back to alone or something in that vein, because he answers, “I’ll be fine.”
She’s a few feet away from them now when “we should do this again before you leave” and “yes, absolutely” and “I’ll call you” and all sort of pleasantries of that kind are exchanged as the couple begins to walk away, leaving the apparent ex behind. He’s got his back to her, but she notices, when the couple is far away enough, his shoulders drop just a little bit, in what could be considered defeat and resignation. She wouldn’t be surprised if a sigh was involved.
She’s nearly up to him when he starts patting down his leather jacket and moving his hands frantically in front of him, but she can’t see what he’s actually doing. She bypasses him from his right and as she glances over, she sees he’s pulled out a cigarette and placed it between his lips. He still seems to be looking for something though.
She takes one, two, three, four steps away from him, when she hears from behind, “Um, oh man... What is it?” She keeps on walking. “Uh... Oh right. Hey Señorita!! Um! Hey! Perdón!!” She notices he’s trying to speak Spanish (and if she really wants to be technical about it, with the accent he’s going for, what would be considered Mexican) in an American accent, and since she’s the only other person left on the street right now she also assumes he’s talking to her, so she turns around.
She’s moved about ten feet away from the bar he exited a few minutes ago. He is now holding the cigarette between his thumb, his index and middle finger, as he takes a few good long strides to reach her, with his arm outstretched. He’s desperately waving the cig around as rain drops cling to his face. She pretends she doesn’t understand what he wants, because she has no good reason to stick around. She fakes a smile, gives him an apologetic shrug and tries to move away. He says “uh” and “um” a few more times, as he stumbles to block her way and she lets him.
He puts the offending, little roll of paper in his mouth again, and mimics the motions of lighting a lighter. Then he grabs it between his three fingers, like before, and holds it in front of her face, grinning like a 12 year old boy. She really sees him for the first time. She notes that he’s well past the age of thirty, but his features could easily pass for a 12 year old boy.
“Oh, sorry I don’t smoke,” she says in fluent Catalan, with an impeccable accent to match.
“Well you might have quit smoking since last week, but I know for a fact you haven’t used that lighter once since then either. So, if you would be so kind? I believe it’s still in the front pocket. And if I may, in my professional opinion, you should have really ditched the purse by now.”
It’s really his cocky grin which spins her into action.
She grabs his hand and twists his arm hard (and he drops the cig as she throws her bag aside), uses it for leverage, flips herself over, interlocks his neck between her thighs and drags him down along on her landing.
He’s a sniper, even more so, he’s an archer, so she’s aware his upper body strength is pretty much where the whole game is played. Thus she honestly doesn’t expect to break his neck or damage his spine, like she does 87% of the time. Still, his reaction to her attack is even more impressive than what she was ever expecting.
He doesn’t land flat on his face. Instead he breaks the fall with his hands and uses the momentum of her flip, for one of his own.
They’ve landed a few feet apart, panting slightly with the rain falling all around them on the stone covered alley. She’s standing (her legs slightly apart, her fists clenched: she’s uptight ready to pounce) and he’s crouching (one leg is a bit outstretched for balance, his arms folded and resting on his fully bent knee: he’s perfectly composed and relaxed). She’s glaring and he’s grinning.
“We don’t have to do this you know,” he says.
“You’re here to kill me, so actually, yes, we do,” she answers him without missing a beat.
He shrugs. “Well, that’s debateable...”
She hears him but it doesn’t register, as she’s going in for another attack.
She aims the kick at his head, but he ducks lower and twists himself away from her reach, nearly crawling. He twists again, lifting his body up as turns to face her. She’s taken a few twirls herself, in the process, to accelerate, and raises her leg again. Her shin makes contact with his chest, and his lungs empty when the hit lands, but he grabs her ankle anyway. She uses his grip for support and brings up her other leg behind his back in an attempt to flip him again. He figures that’s her play and instead opts to drop the both of them to the ground, the slippery stone under his feet messing a little with his control over the fall.
She hits the stone hard and thinks she might have cracked her cheekbone, maybe broken a tooth as she tastes blood in her mouth. One leg is trapped under his whole weight but he’s loosened his grip on her ankle. Her kick and the fall combined, haven’t given him enough time to take a proper breath. She finds her opening. She bends her, relatively, free leg and drags her knee all the way up his chest and under his chin, and presses down choking him.
The grip on her ankle tightens again and he starts tugging at her leg, his other hand trying to get a good hold around her thigh, to push it away.
“Any... time... now... Bobbi,” he gasps.
She feels the sting of the needle that prickles her neck. The drugs begin to take affect quickly, because she’s already relieved the pressure on his throat, as she’s reaching out behind her ear to find the dart. She looks over at him, as he tries to regulate his breathing, and she notices he’s coming in and out of focus, in her vision.
She turns her head to see who’s manning the tranquiliser-gun and, to his credit, she wasn’t expecting that.
It’s the blond. Her current ‘boyfriend’ is also there for back up, aiming an actual gun at her.
Bobbi, she assumes as she begins to doze off, runs briskly towards him.
“Are you okay?”
“Yup. Dandy.” Even in her state she can tell his voice is way too hoarse and he has trouble getting himself off the ground. She foggily deducts he is being sarcastic.
“I told you this was stupid... and crazy.”
“Yes dear, I heard you the first time.”
“Fury is going to kill you.”
“As I just said, I remember this conversation when we first had it. I wasn’t deprived of oxygen for that long.”
“And I will not back you up on this.”
“Seeing as we’re not married anymore, I wasn’t expecting you to. Nor did I ask.”
They’re both standing over her now. Bobbi gives her the once over, as her body has finally gone limb, and says, “This is a disaster waiting to happen, Clint.”
Rolling his eyes and bending down over her is the last thing she sees, before her eyes flutter and close.
“Hey Jake?” She feels him lift her up in his arms and begins walking towards the new boyfriend, carrying her along with ease. “Just an FYI, these redundant conversations, where she keeps on saying ‘I told you so’ in different variations, are very common.”
As she drifts into unconsciousness, she at least appreciates that the whole of that charade wasn’t a lie.
~ * ~
“She’s been cleared, for training,” is how Coulson greeted him this morning, instead of his usual, curt yet somehow chipper “Good morning Agent Barton.”
He is fluent in ‘Coulson’, so he took that as code for you-can-see-and-interact-with-her-but-no-f
This is why he’s making his way to the range now, with his gear bag over his shoulder, at what is considered to be a very busy and popular hour for shooting practise. When he crosses the gate however, he’s surprised to find only her. (Not that he’s complaining. One of the reasons he avoids the range, at this time of the day, is because of the crowd).
Up at the gallery, he sees Hill and Coulson are observing her, and taking notes. He gives Phil and inquisitive look and spreads his arms open, indicating the empty field. Phil bobs his head towards her, letting him know, whatever the reason, it’s her fault. Whether it was because Fury wanted her isolated, or because nobody wanted to train with her anyway, or because she wasn’t playing nice, or because she was simply making everybody else around her look bad is something he’ll have to ask about later.
He turns to see how she’s doing. He notices the spread, of clips and guns, on the bench in front of her, and then looks over to the target. He approves of the distance, and also of her clean, calculated shots. She takes a break, and she pushes a button on the bench to discard of the, shot at, piece of cardboard, as she unloads and reloads her gun.
“Huh... Not bad,” he comments, as he begins making his way to the slot on her right.
She doesn’t say anything, so he assumes she either didn’t hear him, or she is actively ignoring him. Her indifference is too determined; therefore his money is on the later.
He sets his bag on the bench space, in front of him, and gives a nod to the small armoury she’s set up in front of her.
“Trying out our whole collection, I see. Good call. It’s very useful to know what you’re comfortable with.”
“I’m comfortable with everything,” she says curtly, still looking intently ahead.
“Good to know,” he nods and opens his bag, but she has started shooting before he’s even finished the sentence. He digs inside and produces a metal box casing. He sets it on the surface, by his bag, and when she takes a break again, he slides it towards her. “You won’t have a problem with this then,” he says, as if she didn’t essentially end their conversation with a rain of gunshots.
She eyes the offering curiously, and then acknowledges his presence for the first time by actually looking at him.
“What is this?”
“Open it and see,” he grins at her.
“I mean, what is it for?” Her tone is reserved and a bit accusatory.
“Originally, it was intended as a welcoming present. You know, when you actually got called for field work. But ‘cleared for training’?! That’s a big, present worthy, day too,” he tells her brightly.
She looks down at his gift with distaste, picks up another gun from in front of her, and resumes with her shooting.
He gets her play. She is trying to insult him. Well, seeing as he’s the master ball-buster in this agency (and he has Coulson to remind him of that at any given chance), she’ll need to put a little more effort into it. Plus, two can play this game.
“Yeah... you’re probably right. You’ll want to open that when you’re alone. Wouldn’t want Hill to see and get all jealous,” he teases, as he begins taking out his bow and quiver. She makes a sound that he would, most accurately, describe as a dignified scoff.
“You really think you’re being cute?” she finally turns to fully look at him.
“I know I am adorable,” he says, as he gives her toothy smile and hangs his quiver behind his back.
The composed, master seductress, spy assassin gives him an, honest to God, complete without any reservations, eye roll, as she turns back to face her target.
As he begins to balance his bow, she shoots a couple of rounds then stops again.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks, without turning.
“I’m tightening the...”
“No,” she cuts him off. “What are you doing, really, I mean. With this?” she asks him fairly genuinely.
“I’m being nice,” he answers her honestly.
She hasn’t taken her eyes of her own target, but she’s landed a perfect shot at the centre of his target’s chest area. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t impressed.
Now that she has made her point, she turns to him again.
“Let’s be clear, Barton right?”
“Barton it is. I don’t need people to be nice to me.”
“Everyone likes to be treated nicely, Nat.”
“My name is Natasha. And I think it better if we kept things formal. So, Romanoff would, actually, be better. Now, for the last time I don’t need ‘nice’. I can take care of myself and I’m in no need of saving. This whole, I’ll-be-your-knight-in-shining-armour, act, you can drop it.”
He gets it then, why she’s being a bitch to him. She thinks he’s out to be this chivalrous prince charming, trying to save the damsel in distress; like she’s this little helpless girl incapable of taking care of herself.
“Alright, okay, I think we’ve mixed up our signals here. Things have clearly been lost in translation, somewhere between all the Ukrainian and the Greek and the Spanish...” he starts, waving his hand and shaking his head, as he turns to her, but she dismisses him.
“Just leave me alone. You did your good deed for the year; you can feel better for making a living out of trying to kill people.”
Something about that statement rubs him the wrong way. Still, he tries to maintain the levity on his side of the conversation; lord knows she’s being serious (and mean) enough for both of them.
“I’ll have you know, I’m fairly excellent at my job.”
She makes that scoffing sound again, as she examines which gun to try out next.
“If I recall, I did pretty well for myself in Barcelona,” he says in mock defence... with less ‘mock’ and more ‘defence’.
“Please,” she says, exasperated. “If your wife wasn’t there to save your sorry ass, you’d be dead.”
“I know,” he admits, and the fact, that it was so easy, seems to take her aback. “And she’s my ex-wife, by the way. The thing is, Tasha...”
“Natasha,” she corrects him again.
“...what needs to be taken into consideration is that, I was at a disadvantage, seeing as, unlike some people, I wasn’t actually trying to kill anybody. If I were, you would have been dead, a week before.” He is aware, that as he speaks the jest in his voice drifts further away, with every word that comes out of his mouth.
“In Athens you mean? Yes, I did see how well that went.” She sounds way too dismissive, and he doesn’t really like what she’s insinuating.
“You thought that was a random shot?”
She shrugs, and now he is insulted.
Without even taking his eyes off her, he picks up an arrow from behind his back and raises his bow.
He shoots, while still looking right at her, and that seems to grab her attention. She looks over at the target and sees what he knows for a fact: he’s hit dead centre.
Still facing her, and without saying a word, he presses a button on the bench, and the target starts reeling towards them. When it finally reaches up to the bench, he makes no other movements, except for motioning with his eyes towards the man-shaped paper. She takes the cue and picks it up. He has aimed, and hit, straight through her bullet hole. She looks up at him in, what he will permit his ego to recognise as, disbelief and awe.
“I don’t do random shots, sweetheart,” he declares, all traces of pleasantry, effectively, gone.
The way she eyes him, makes him realise it is the first time she’s heard him be dead serious.
“I never said you needed nice. People like us learn to live without, believe me, I’m aware. However, I also know that it’s nice, to be treated nicely, anyway.”
He picks up the case, and shoves it back in his gear bag along with his bow.
“I’ll leave you at it. You need the practice,” he says, somewhat bitterly, as he turns around, picks up his bag and walks away, towards the exit, without sparing her a glance.
~ * ~
If he weren’t as professional as he is, he would probably feel very self-conscious as they walked into the bar. Barton, with all his Midwest charm and on-the-road upbringing, is built for this environment, so no problem for him. Natasha is the Black Widow: she adapts or she dies. Which means, even though this is definitely not her scene, she can blend. But he is wearing his suit and tie, and still looks like a “bureaucratic narc”, as Clint would say. He’s learnt to not mind though, because he is a professional, so he takes the whole thing in stride.
They still elicit some odd looks, here and there, because they are quite a trio. A guy just like any other guy in this place, a suit and a hot babe must be quite the sight. He gets it, and decides to not mind that either.
“I still don’t understand what it is we’re doing here,” Romanoff asks Barton again as he starts leading both of them towards the bar.
“We are having victory drinks! This was your first mission, and it went awesome!” he declares.
“It wasn’t my first mission,” she corrects him.
“Those recon bits, and back-up for the back-up things, they had us doing, were beneath us,” he points out, and indicates all three of them. “This was the real deal. It’s good to be back baby!” he says with gleeful relief and satisfaction, as they’re pushing their way further in and closer to their destination.
He’s not surprised to see that’s how he feels; after all, they had been benched for quite a while. Clint had been placed on probation for as long as she was. Her defection and incorporation in the agency was his little project. As such, the Boss made sure Barton would follow through with it to the end, or burn down with it. And he had taken the fall too, not only because he is Hawkeye’s handler, but also because he had actively backed him up on this.
They’ve worked together long enough for him to know, Barton’s gut is a good meter. He still held on to some reservations though, because he is a logical, objective and sensible agent. But he had seen Clint’s determination, and how adamant he was about this whole ordeal, so he stuck by him.
In truth, so far at least, he hasn’t regretted it. She’s been keeping Clint in check and he, finally, has someone who can keep up with him. Neither is a small task.
On a personal level, he’s just happy that it’s not just the two of them anymore. Barton is a lot of work, to take on your own.
“It still wasn’t my first mission, and I really don’t see any reason to celebrate it,” she says, as they finally reach the bar.
“What are you talking about? We kicked ass!” he defends in disbelief.
“The mission ended with us blowing up a building,” she deadpans.
“An old abandoned warehouse, in the middle of nowhere, that was being used as a drop point by a major, international, all utilities smuggling ring...”
“A building, which blowing it up, wasn’t part of the objective of the mission.”
“...including but not limited to: guns, drugs, human organs, child trafficking...”
“The point was to run interference with the current convoy, not bring down the walls.” (He hates to admit that he can hear Fury’s voice saying those exact same words, during the evaluation.)
“Did I mention the child trafficking?”
“We! Blew! Up! A! Building!”
“You know, you sound like my ex right now.” He can’t tell if the comparison bothered her, but she doesn’t seem to have a retort for that one. “Boss, back me up here.” Barton is nearly begging, so he takes pity on him.
“They were acceptable loses, well within the margin of error and, trust me, with his track record, not the worst clean up I’ve had to deal with.”
“Which translates to...?” Clint urges.
“We kicked ass,” he agrees (and really, they did!).
“Thank you! Now, can we have those drinks? Yes? Great!”
Natasha still seems a tad unsure, but she’s also trying to fight back a grin. He notices this only makes Barton more animated, as he’s leaning over the counter, waving a few twenties around.
“Barkeep! Three shots of bourbon right here, please! Rack ‘em up!”
The bartender walks over unenthusiastically, sets up three shot glasses and fills them with bourbon.
*SIX SEVEN EIGHT*
They each take one, clink them together and drink.
“Okay, sweetheart,” Barton says. “Next round is on you!”
She gives him a half smirk that means business.
“Barkeep! Three shots of vodka right here, please! Rack ‘em up!” She imitates him.
“No no! We drink bourdon. It’s the victory drink,” he objects.
“It is battery acid. Besides, this is my round, so I get to pick the alcohol,” she states, as the bartender pours three shots of vodka.
“You really don’t want those to be the rules,” Barton warns her, but she wants to hear none of it. He on the other hand grins to himself, thinking this might work out quite nicely.
They both take the small glasses she offers them.
*NINE TEN ELEVEN*
“Nasdrovie,” she says before they drown their shots.
“Coulson, I’m assuming it’s your turn,” she smiles brightly at him.
“Why yes, Natasha, I believe it is,” he says, quite pleased with himself, and flashes Barton a sardonic smile that absolutely reflects it. The look on his face is priceless.
“Bartender, could I, please, have three shots of cointreau,” he orders.
As he waits for the drinks to be served, he has to try very hard to maintain his stoic composure while facing her, genuinely, shocked and, somewhat, disgusted expression.
“This is your fault,” Barton accuses her matter of fact, as they pick up the offending glasses he hands them.
“I am truly, honestly, very, very sorry,” she admits.
He drowns his shot without hesitation, sets it back to the bar and says, “I think I’ll go put something on the jukebox. I won’t be long.”
Her eyes shoot up and there is anxiety and worry written all over them as she looks to Barton.
“Don’t worry. He’s better with music,” Clint assures her.
He leaves them both standing there, with their still full glasses in their hands, staring down at the liquid as if it is poison. At that moment he decides from now on he’ll never, under any circumstances, even question Barton’s gut... ever!
~ * ~
They come off the staircase to the second floor main corridor, and start running as fast as their feet can take them. They’re bruised and battered and have been shot at more than either of them is comfortable with, for such a short period of time (and that says a lot about how much they’ve been shot at).
She rounds up the corner first and he’s a few feet behind. Before she has even stepped a foot in the next hallway, he reads her reaction, fast enough, to not move past the cover of the wall, and pulls back the string of the bow to take aim. She ducks, tumbles over her head and takes cover on the opposite wall, gun still in hand.
As her shoulder hits the vertical concrete, for stability, they begin shooting in complete synchronisation.
“I’m out” she says after a while.
He tosses her a clip, then another and a third one, from his position across the hallway. He lifts his back up gun, but she half shakes her head, so he puts it back in the holster.
That’s where they’re at now: Half sentences, single words, body language or a look and they’re having full blown conversations.
“Remind me again, whose intel was it, that claimed this was just an easy, smash and grab job?” she enquires, as she loads a clip and resumes shooting.
“Hill’s. Why?” he asks, after he releases an explosive arrow towards the other end of the corridor.
“I just want to know who I’ll have to kill, when we get back,” she deadpans.
He laughs inadvertently. It’s just a short breathy “HA!” but it is still a laugh and he can’t help himself. They’re smack in the middle of hell, with shit raining down all over them and she’s making a joke. He does feel quite proud of how he’s rubbing off on her. Granted her sense of humour is closer to Coulson’s, than his own, but it’s still a joke and it is a good one.
“...eye. Black Wid... Barton... Roma... ff... Do you... c... py?” Coulson’s voice tries to make its way through their coms. Whatever was jamming their frequency, tech seems to be well on their way of fixing it.
“Almost, boss. Do you copy?” he says to check how things are on their end.
“Yes, I copy,” Phil’s voice comes loud and clear, and she looks just as relieved as he feels. “Backup’s on the way,” he assures them. “And Natasha?”
“I’ll keep Hill detained for you, until you guys get back.”
“Thanks boss,” she says and he grins over at her.
Bobbi’s voice is heard over the com, asking for extraction details.
“Tell me it’s not just you, dear?”
“Cage, Danvers and Wilson. Now, stop fucking around Clint, where are you?”
“Second floor. We’re pinned down at the first crossing to the south side, coming of north-west,” Natasha takes over the conversation and eyes him curiously. “Mockingbird, do you copy?” She is still giving him that look but, unlike usually, he has no idea what it means.
“Copy, Black Widow. Hold tight.”
He decides to switch to a gun himself, wanting to save the four arrows just in case.
They hold their position until Natasha is well into the third magazine he tossed her, when the first explosion is heard, followed by a continuous sound of gunshots.
They both sigh loudly, and swiftly turn to glare at each other, accusingly.
“How many?” he demands to know.
“Three.” She arches a brow at him, asking the same question.
“Two, but...” he points his thumb to his quiver, indicating he has four extra shots and he can totally make them count. (And yes, they are talking about ammo, without talking about ammo again.)
Another explosion is heard, and the fact that their opposition begins shooting towards another direction, assures them back up is finally here.
“Nat!” he yells and, before she even looks up, he’s tossed her his gun. He has four arrows and now she has five bullets. Seems more evenly spread out this way. She catches the gun midair and barely nods. They’re in agreement over this.
She shoots down two guys that have managed to make it halfway down the corridor, towards them.
He pins the sleeve of a guard who’s holding a grenade, and believes is about to toss it towards their backup. (The “good catch Hawkeye,” by Cage, after it blows, validates his assumption.) Wilson appears at the opening at the end of the hallway, deep in hand-to-hand combat with another one of the guards. Natasha helps him out by shooting the other guy in the knee.
In his ear, Bobbi asks him for a distraction, and he opts for a gas-bomb arrow, that he bounces off the wall and into the parallel hallway.
He senses the commotion too, but it is Natasha who, first, turns her attention, away from the corridor, behind him. He realises, the security detail that was chasing them from the top floor, has finally caught up, as he turns and aims an arrow towards the lock pad of the door, so he can at least hold the rest of them off. She has already wasted her last two shots on two guards, and runs by him, swiftly, to give her thigh grip to the first person who crosses her path.
He takes down two more guards, by having his last arrow slash one’s carotid artery and then impale itself in another’s shoulder.
Nat, in the meantime, has taken out three of them and is going for the fourth one, as he engages the last one left standing with a right hook and then a knee to the gut. As he’s got him bend over, he grabs his hair, smashes the guy’s face on his knee, again, and has effectively knocked him out. As he straightens up, she’s done flattening her latest opponent and makes to stand up herself. He notices the guy with the arrow in his shoulder, toss around a bit, and he more senses a gun is being drawn, than he actually sees it.
He feels something piercing his side, and it’s hot and cold at the same time, as he slams her under him and onto the wall. He thinks he might have yelled “Tasha!” He’s not too sure about that though.
Something warm and liquid starts flowing between them, as they begin sliding to floor.
“Hawkeye? Black Widow? What’s your status?” Coulson demands an update.
He’s lying down, full on his back, and she’s leaning over him, one arm cradling his head, and her other hand over both of his, clutching the left side of his abdomen. The guard shoots at them again, but as he sees the bullets land quite high on the wall, above her head, he guesses they are well out of his range.
“Barton?! Romanoff?! Do you copy?” Phil’s frantic voice filters through his ears.
He searches for her eyes, and the look on her face is one of pure horror and fear. He’s never seen that on her before.
“Did we lose our signal again? NATASHA?! CLINT?! I SWEAR IF ONE OF YOU DOESN’T REPORT RIGHT NOW...!” Always observant, he notes Coulson is in full panic mode, and also notices some movement from the entrance of the hall.
“No...” is Bobbi’s reaction, and finds herself rooted in her spot, the minute she sees them. Wilson shoots down the guard with the gun, and Cage is running towards them, giving Coulson the update he asked for.
“Agent down. I repeat: Hawkeye has been shot.”
He realises Phil is not responding to the news. He hopes he hasn’t gone off to kill Hill himself. Judging by the way Tasha is looking at him, he thinks there is a good chance she would never forgive Coulson, if he took that away from her.
“Danvers change of plans. Come pick us up from the north side,” Cage orders.
Carol says something, but he’s lost too much blood now, and he can barely pay attention to what is happening around him anymore, let alone anything that is said through the coms.
“I know. Just blast the wall,” Cage answers her.
She hasn’t said anything. She’s just leaning over him, still applying pressure to his wound, with the fear still visibly present. He wants to reassure her, make a joke, and let her know everything will be fine. He’s had worse. This? This is nothing! Barely registers as a flesh wound.
Instead he lifts a bloody, lightly fisted, hand to her face, and touches her cheek delicately with the back of his fingers.
“Natasha...” he breathes out, and his world goes black.
~ * ~
She feels as if she’s lost time, so she tries to gather up her mind and re-track her steps.
It took eighteen minutes for Carol and Sam to get them to the closest on-land base, with Morse and Cage applying first aid, his head on her lap for the duration of the flight. It was about two hours before the first update from the doctor (He’s lost too much blood. The bullet nicked his lung. It’s lodged close to the kidney. If it moves, anymore, it could rupture the liver). It was a bit over another hour when Coulson came, breathless and looking terribly worried. Another, maybe fifteen minutes, after that, when Fury showed up, with Hill close behind, and then things get fuzzy.
She’s pretty sure she did land a decent punch in, if her hand, still throbbing, is any indication. The kick, however, she is certain, never made contact, because Wilson and Cage did manage to pull her away pretty fast, as Carol put herself between them. She recalls Phil trying to hold her back. She vaguely remembers Hill’s expression going from surprised, to angry, to something else (maybe remorseful), after the way Danvers squared her shoulders. She did hear Fury ordering her to “take a breather Agent Romanoff. You are of no use here. Not in this state.” She knows Bobbi was holding on to the bow, so she probably snatched it out of her hands, as she walked furiously and fuming out of the medical bay. She has no actual memory of doing so, but seeing as it is being held tightly in her aching hand, she’ll just take that for granted.
She made head way for the range, straight out of medical. However, how long the altercation and the walk took, and how long she’s just been standing here, staring at the empty field, trying to breathe, she can’t really calculate. She decides she doesn’t care... it doesn’t matter anyway.
She clenches her fist, tightens her grip on the bow, and another shock of pain travels through her fingers. As the pain starts to dissolve to a tingle, she begins walking further into the shooting range. Her moves are mechanical, as she heads to the on-site armoury and picks up a few arrows they have stocked.
She takes up a slot and, carelessly, throws the arrows, on the bench in front of her. She begins to imitate his routine of prepping the bow (though it is unnecessary seeing as even though she might know the theory of it, she has never actively used a bow and arrow). After she’s done (or at least after she believes she might be done) she picks up an arrow from in front of her. She takes position, pulls on the string and aims.
Her fingers let go and the arrow shoots across the range. However, it lacks the force to reach the target she was aiming at. Instead, it gets limply impaled a few feet before it, and after a few swings, left and right, it falls to the ground.
She feels like she is drowning in a sea of emotions. She wants to at least have the satisfaction of pealing the skin of the dead guard that shot him, since she wasn’t the one who got to kill him. She hates Hill for sending them into that situation with lousy intel and no backup. She resents Phil, Luke, Carol and Sam for stopping her, from kicking the Lieutenant’s ass. She is in disbelief Fury dismissed her like that, after her outburst, when he was the one who should have known better, and kept Hill well away from her. She is annoyed with Morse, for having the nerve to claim she is Clint’s next of kin, when it was she who asked for the divorce five years ago. She’s disappointed in herself, for having become so reliant on Clint, and their partnership, that she didn’t see the gun first. More than anything she is angry with him, for getting shot at, to protect her.
“Careless, stupid, idiotic, chauvinistic... as if I can’t handle a gunshot wound” she mutters to herself as she picks up another arrow.
This time, the force is too strong and her aim is not great, seeing as the arrow flies quite a few inches over the target and lands a few feet before the wall, which tracks the perimeter of the range.
‘How does he even do this?’ she thinks, as she looks over the bow in her hand.
“I wouldn’t take it too personally. He’s been using that thing since he was thirteen. It takes twenty plus years of practice, to get as good as he is,” a voice from behind answers her question, even though she never spoke it. This is Agent Phillip T. Coulson we’re talking about, though, so she knows better than to be surprised. She glances over her shoulder, at him. He’s standing by the gate, hands clasped behind his back.
“He’s been shooting since he was nine. They let him join the act at thirteen,” she clarifies as she turns her head back towards her target.
It is an unimportant piece of information, and doesn’t really have any affect over his argument, but she has a petty need to point it out anyway.
“I stand corrected.” She hates him a little for not helping her pick a fight.
“He’s awake, and he’s asking for you,” he informs her.
“Isn’t Morse with him?”
“Yes, she is. But it’s you he’s...”
“Then he doesn’t need me,” she cuts him off and raises the bow again.
She shoots mostly to stop him from talking, and it works. If it were Clint, instead of Coulson, he would have babbled on anyway.
The arrow lands on the target this time, but it’s a lousy shot, and doesn’t even hit the mark. She looks around at the other two, which are scattered across the field, and then back to the randomly impaled one, in the target in front of her. Something in her chest hurts, as she can hear Clint’s voice in her head, commenting on her failed attempts in archery. If she closes her eyes, she’ll be able to see his face, and the grin he would flash her, after Mr. Show-off would demonstrate “how the professionals do it, sweetheart.”
“He shouldn’t have done that,” she says after a beat.
“Taken a bullet for you?”
“Yes. I didn’t need him to do that.”
Phil sighs and shakes his head. His reaction is filled with exasperation and disappointment. “It’s been over two years now, and you still don’t understand.” She doesn’t. It is true.
They’ve been through a lot together, and she knows who Clint is now. She has given him permission to get to know her, the real her, some too; more than she has anyone, ever in her whole life. But why he even bothered with sparing her, helping her, befriending and caring for her, in the first place, is something she still can’t wrap her head around.
Phil seems to be at the verge of, finally, solving that mystery, so she lets him. The question has been bothering her for far too long.
“It’s not about what you need. It’s about what you deserve,” he states simply and she just stares at him blankly. The answer isn’t as enlightening as she hoped.
Phil studies her curiously and realises that she still doesn’t get it. He walks closer to her and, as he brings his hands in front of him, she notices he’s holding a familiar metal box casing.
“He gave me this, the day you were cleared for training...”
“... Our first time on the range,” she talks over him, and he smiles a bit sadly at the memory.
“Yes. He told me to donate it to the agency. I never got around to it, though. Must have slipped my mind.” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out Coulson never intended to give it away.
He sets the box in front of her, and places his palm, flat, on top of it, patting it caringly, and gives her the most comforting look he owns.
“He’s great with presents, you know. You’ve seen that vintage Captain America USO poster in my office?” She nods. “He got me that, for my last promotion.” He pulls his hand away from the case and takes a step back. “You should open it.”
Reluctantly, she does. Inside is a pair of Glocks 26s, with two loaded magazines and two empty backup clips. Underneath the cushioned placing of the guns and the clips, she can make out what looks like a carton box. She assumes it’s filled with the tiny 9mm bullets required.
Semi automatic, sub compact and small calibre, it has just the type of finesse that defines her and fits her hand like a glove. And it’s two for one.
She has never really had a preferred weapon, but as she’s looking down at these guns, she comes to the conclusion, if she was ever given a choice, she probably would have opted for something like this, and suddenly everything falls into place.
Despite all his seemingly carefree attitude, mischievous charm and upbeat sarcastic sense of humour, Clint is, in reality, all about absolute calculation and precision. He never does anything lightly or off the cuff. His heart, his brain and his gut filter through everything. He weighs his options and makes well informed choices. He is able to do so in split seconds, so perhaps it appears to be rushed, but it never is. It is what makes him an excellent marksman, but he also applies this to everything in his life. Every decision he has ever made he has stubbornly stuck by, exactly because no decision has ever been made just for the sake of doing so.
‘It’s nice to be treated nicely anyway’ he had told her that same day, when he had tried to give these guns to her himself. He picked them out just for her, at a time when he barely even knew her. And they are perfect in every possible way. But this is a man who figured everything there was to know about her, the second he took his finger off the trigger, so this must have been very easy in comparison. She gets it now.
Before, she existed, sure. She woke up and went to bed and people told her to kill other people in between. And she was good at it, and saw no reason to question any of it. They never asked her anyway. Her file spells this out fairly eloquently in big red font. What it doesn’t say is that she never really ever lived.
Clint is of the belief that it’s not fair to condemn someone for never having lived – this she knows for a fact. And, when he tracked her, he found someone who fell exactly in that category. So instead of taking her life he tried to give her one. And he succeeded. He gave her a job and a purpose and Phil and, more than anything, he offered her himself, fully and unconditionally.
And she knows, without a doubt, at that moment, he will put himself between her and a thousand other bullets; because, he has made up his mind: no matter what she has done, her dying like that is not something she has earned.
“Are visiting hours over?” She honestly can’t believe how weak and small she sounds, but it is Phil, so she doesn’t care.
“I’m sure they can make an exception. And if they don’t, it’s not like we can’t sneak in,” he winks at her.
She smiles at him, softly, thanking him, silently, for being nothing more than himself.
He begins to walk towards the exit, as she picks up one of the guns and loads it. She secures it on her thigh holster. She loads the second one, and examines it closely.
“Natasha, are you coming?” Phil asks while holding the gate door open.
As she christens her gun, by hitting a bull’s-eye, she promises to herself, she will always have his back, she will never let him down and she will never give up on him. She owes him her everything, and she will gladly spend the rest of her life paying him back. The only reason she has one, is because of him, after all.
~ * ~
He’s not aware of her, she’s sure. She’s almost sure. Maybe... big fat ‘maybe’ on the ‘he’s not aware of her’. If she can at least sneak up on him, and hopefully get close enough to...
Turn, aim (when did he even...?!), release.
His movements are methodical, precise, swift and quick. She thanks the heavens she didn’t allow herself to underestimate the situation, simply because it’s Clint, as she grabs the bow just in time for the arrow to barely graze her cheek.
Twist, shove, punch, kick, evade and another arrow.
They haven’t fought this hard and this aggressively with actual intent to harm hurt and kill since Barcelona. Only the roles were reversed, and she hopes beyond hope he’s not out to kill her as much as she was willing to back then. (She knows it’s in vain but she does anyway, because it’s Clint and it’s her, and it’s them and he just can’t. If he is -which he is- then she will have to, and she just won’t. Not him and not like this).
If she can snatch the bow away from him then maybe... she gets a hold of it at the first opportunity and doesn’t let go until it’s out of his reach... so then of course he’ll pull out the knife... Damn!
Block, kick, grab, twist, evade and grab... hold... just hold... BITE!
His yelp and losing the threat of the knife clears her head enough for her to try the only thing she hasn’t. She uses his arm for leverage, flips herself over and drags him down along on her landing. She’s right: this is like Barcelona all over again (...almost).
The clanging sound of his head hitting the railing comes as a relief. She breathes as he groans in pain.
The sound of full her name on his lips always reminds her of him bleeding in her arms, as he reaches out to touch her face, with his bloody knuckles. She can’t control the flash of anger that goes through her, of having that memory mixed up in this mess.
She’s hit him across the head again - hard. Really, really hard - before she can even realise she’s done it.
~ * ~
The bartender is side eyeing him again, and if he hadn’t spent the last two hours and nine minutes occupying his barstool, without yet having ordered a drink, he’d have climbed over the bar and smashed the guy’s face in the large mirror behind him. As is, the fact that he hasn’t thrown him out until now, shows that the man has taken some pity on him, so he’s keeping himself in check. If his reflection in the mirror is any indication, he does look miserable enough to entice pity, so he’s not too surprised he’s being let off the hook, even if it’s done begrudgingly.
He spots her through the mirror, as she is walking to the bar and passes by the big window on the wall facing the street. Her fiery red hair just makes it an easy task. The bell, above the door rings, as it opens and closes behind her, and she makes her way to where he’s sitting.
“Missed you at the memorial,” she says when she’s close enough. “Fury is quite pissed with you. He was expecting you might have said some words.” He doesn’t say anything so she continues, “Rogers ended up giving a speech. It was inspiring and patriotic and very impersonal.” She sits on the stool next to him. “Just letting you know that is why I’m pissed at you: For letting Phil’s memorial be impersonal.”
They sit there for a while with him facing straight ahead, looking at the reflections on the mirror, and her body turned towards him, looking intently, nowhere else, but at him.
“It’s not enough,” he finally says.
“A memorial,” he clarifies.
“What were you expecting, a parade?”
He just shakes his head once in response.
“I’m going to the funeral,” he informs her. “The actual funeral they’ll have in Chicago. The one with his family. That’s the sort of goodbye I owe him.”
“I’m driving, but, fine, we can listen to your crap music,” she concedes, as if that was his argument.
The bartender has made his way towards them, and eyes Natasha sceptically as he asks, “Can I get you anything, miss?”
He’s about to send him away again, when Natasha places her order.
“Could I, please, have three shots of cointreau,” and the fact that she ordered it, exactly the same way Coulson always did, is enough for him to tear his face off the mirror and look at her. Her eyes haven’t left him for a second.
The bartender gives her an odd look, but seeing as he’s finally getting an order out of him, he just sets three shot glasses in a line, fills them up and walks away.
They each take the glasses on the ends and leave the middle one on the bar. They raise them to a toast.
“To Phil...” she says, “... For putting up with all our crap...” he continues, “... Even us never drinking his victory round...” she adds, “... And for dying like the hero he was,” he ends.
They lower their hands and clink their glasses with the one still sitting on the bar.
They drown the colourless liquid in one go, and slam their glasses hard on the hardwood surface, sucking deep breaths through their teeth as they swallow.
She leans her head delicately on his shoulder, as he turns to face forwards again. They’re both staring at the untouched glass, while playing with their empty ones. He is trailing circles with his on the bar, and she runs her finger around the rim of hers.
“Still think bourbon is the battery acid?”
“Nope,” she answers and orders two shots of jack, so they can wash the taste down, her head still on his shoulder.
~ * ~
Right before dawn is his favourite time at the range. Nobody else really wants to practise at this time of the day, so points for privacy. The temperature tends to always be good, no matter what season. Also the light is just right, not pitch black, or too bright. The most important thing is that it is quiet and peaceful... except for today.
Today it is not quiet because she hasn’t really stopped nagging, and with her nerves you can’t really claim it’s peaceful. But it is his fault, because he is the one who dragged her out here, so he’ll just shut up about that.
“Will you stop fussing? I know how to do this,” she says as she wiggles her shoulders out of his grasp.
“In theory, maybe... But your actual shot is for shit.” He places one hand back on her left shoulder blade, and the other on the small of her back to position her properly.
“My aim is excellent, and you know it,” she claims indignantly.
“Not with a bow and arrow it isn’t.” She gives him a glare that would scare the crap out of anyone else in the world. It’s a good thing he’s not just ‘anyone’.
“Look,” he tries to explain why he insisted on these archery lessons, “all I want is, next time you have to disarm me, for you to be able to use it to your full advantage.”
Her mood changes, her eyes go dark and her back goes rigid. She takes a step back and looks him straight in the eye.
“Let’s try to avoid a ‘next time’ altogether.” Even thought she voices it as an order, he notices the hint of sadness. It’s about as vulnerable as she allows herself to be and he’s the only one who can, and will, see it.
“I promise I’ll do my best.” And he means it. (He truly honestly does). “But we both know that’s not enough.” He tries to be stern, and might be able to fool anyone else, but he knows she can tell there is helplessness in his voice.
The despair of knowing that is the truth, and the awareness that there is nothing neither of them can do, hangs in the air between them. They stand there for a while, looking at each other, saying a thousand things without really saying anything.
“Natasha...?” he pleads in the end.
She lowers her eyes in resign, and takes her place on the mark. He stands closely behind her placing his hand on her shoulders, and she raises the bow.
As she takes position and pulls on the string, he traces his hands over her arms, her back, her neck, all over her body, tugging her gently and pulling her softly.
When she’s standing just right, he leans in, near her ear, and whispers.