Title: Before, then and after.
Characters-Pairings: Marvel Cinematic Universe (also mentions & appearances of other MCU TV based characters - Clint/Natasha
Summary: “Valentines Day the year before they met, the year they met, and the year after they met”
Disclaimer: I obviously DO NOT own anything... I’m just a fan expressing some love.
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 Valentines mini promptathon, in response to this comment.
Natasha comes to the realisation that long cons suck. It’s not that she minds that much having spent the last ten months playing poolside bimbo for Cruzchenko’s son. It’s worth the sacrifice to get close to the family and the operation. Plus Mattieu’s is your average playboy (it’s what made him an easy mark after all), so he’s not entirely unattractive or that bad in bed. And in all honesty, unlike your average playboy, he’s actually quite a decent guy.
To be roped into a big Valentine’s getaway, however, was not something she signed up for. The ring Mattieu brought along with him to Paris (a family heirloom for which he had to ask his grandmother’s blessing and his father’s permission to get out of the vault) was something she had definitely not anticipated.
So he’s in love. And that’s not entirely surprising, but as much as she might not dislike the guy, this is pointless.
She intends to declare a super excited "YES!” tonight at dinner, of course, but now she needs to expedite her endgame.
However she is certain about one thing: when she bails she won’t keep the ring. She'll consider that to be her belated Valentine’s gift to him.
Clint hits another bulls eye with the dart, which motivates him to chug yet another beer.
Coulson sits on a stool at the bar table right behind him, being very quiet.
Unlike Clint, he’s barely touched his own drink. He simply toys with his glass making sure the contents don’t spill on the manila envelope resting on their table.
Clint walks over to him, gesturing to the waitress for a refill.
“You sure you want another? What’s that, number…?”
“Not really counting boss.”
“Seven. I believe it’s your seventh. Maybe call it a night Barton.”
“Maybe you should go on your date Coulson.”
“Don’t have a date.”
“Huh… someone should have told May… Oh, see… backup…” he says as he notices Bobbi, walking in right behind her.
“I just thought having mediation on both sides was more prudent,” Coulson tries to explain himself.
“I had no intention of causing any trouble.” He thought he’d be more defensive. That he’s sounding defeated takes him by surprise. He guesses it’s another thing he’ll blame on the alcohol besides the scheduled morning hangover.
“I know. I also know that’s usually out of your control. So, yeah… backup. I probably should have told you.”
“Nah. It’s fine.” And it is, because really, all he wants right now is to finally put an end to this.
Bobbi and May spot them. They reach their table, just as the waitress brings him his ninth beer for the evening (He now knows for a fact, that Coulson is not aware there were pre-drinks in the locker room before they left headquarters).
“Can I get you anything ladies?” the girl asks all gusto and smiles. “Just letting you know gentlemen, we have special offers for couples pitchers for the evening! And of course Valentine cocktails galore if your dates here want something a bit more festive.”
June -according to her name tag- is nothing more than a college kid trying to make rent, stuck with serving a dingy pub on Valentines day, banking to make as much as possible on tips, and doesn’t know better. Still, the assumption bothers him more than it should.
“Oh, hun, this is the opposite of a double date.” Clearly Bobbi has the same reaction, but she has to actually correct the girl, and be petty about it.
“Whatever the ladies have, put it on my tab anyway,” he tells her while he shoots her a wink and slips her a five.
“Nothing for me then,” Bobbi is quick to jump in.
“I’ll take a beer,” May offers as a way to deflate the situation. “Whatever he’s having,” she says nodding towards his pint. She sits on the stool next to Coulson and June walks away.
“I won’t stay long,” Bobbi says curtly and remains standing. She seems ready to go on the offense if she finds an opening. He’s quite unwilling to give her the satisfaction.
“Alrighty then. Here you go Agent Morse,” he says and slides the manila envelope towards her. “Signed, sealed, delivered, divorced,” he sings along the words to the tune of Stevie Wonder’s Sign, sealed, delivered.
“Don’t be like this,” she warns him.
“I’m not like anything.”
“Your tone Clint…”
“Oh come on!!!”
“If you can’t handle…”
“Bobbi, please…” it’s May who jumps on his defense.
“You heard him, Melinda.”
“I wasn’t picking a… You know what? It is in my control and I’m not gonna bother. Not worth it.”
He stands up and drowns his beer. He turns to Phil and May, ignoring his shocked, now officially, ex-wife.
“Happy Valentine’s Day you two. Enjoy this -and feel free to now consider it a- date. On me,” he says and throws a couple of fifties on the table to cover his bill, Coulson’s drink and May’s beer. He puts down another twenty as June’s tip, for good measure and storms out.
~ * ~
Natasha opens the door to the shooting range and finds Clint in the middle of a peculiar situation.
Firstly he’s drinking. And judging by the extra bottle of bourbon he has in his gear bag, he doesn’t intend to stop anytime soon.
Second weird thing: The targets have been modified with props. Hay wigs have been placed on top of a few of the moving dummies. The rest have Union Jacks sticking out of their heads. The paper targets at the far end of the hall seem to have photographs pinned on them.
She realises this is probably personal, and she’s decided she will not be interested in his personal life. So she tries to step away quietly, before he notices her and...
“Mizzzzz Black Widow!”
He twirls around towards her and takes a bow. “Please do join me.”
“I’d rather not.”
“Come on now, Nat. Don’t be a spoil sport!” he pouts. His words are a bit slurred but he’s not very drunk yet.
“Just being cautious.” He looks confused so she elaborates. “You’re inebriated; and manning a deadly weapon. How is that safe?”
“Because it’s me!”
“I need a better reason. Goodnight Barton.” She’s halfway out the door when she barely hears him say it.
His question is genuine and a bit self inquisitive too, because he’s not sure if he wants her there. What he does know is he’s not too keen on being alone right now; so if she’s all he gets then fine.
“I’ll stay if you explain this,” she indicates at the mess around the range.
“Just taking advantage of an empty practice field.”
“You always do that.”
It’s been four months since he brought her in and their interactions so far have been somewhat professional, but mostly curt. The first few weeks actually they were hardly pleasant, but at least lately they come close to being civil.
Right now however they are actually being nice to each other. Snarky, but definitely nice; and it registers to both of them that he might even be flirting. They find themselves a bit taken aback by the prospect, even if neither shows it. They silently agree to not look further into it.
He clears his throat and presses on.
“Well… yes I do always do that… nothing out of the ordinary then. What are you up to?”
“Just taking advantage of the nearly empty building and my all clear status.” She pulls out to show him the lanyard one of the Koenigs gave her yesterday. “Not having to worry about bumping into agents left and right is a good way to get a proper lay of the HQ land. Or, a less restricted one, at the very least,” she says as she finally walks over where he’s standing and leans on his prep bench.
Somehow he clocks her.
“You’re ditching the V-day party aren’t you?”
“That’s juvenile. I have no reason to…”
“Oh, I was totally looking for an excuse to skip it,” he confesses without hesitation, and she feels she can finally vent over the absurdity.
“Explain to me how and why would the most sophisticated, international, super spy agency in the world actually spend time and effort to throw a ball over the most redundant and commercially fabricated holiday on the calendar?!”
“Ha! Nice! They should put that on actual Valentines Day cards.”
“It’s just ridiculous,” she scoffs with indignance.
He offers her a sip from the open bourbon that’s on the bench. She accepts the bottle and swallows a good gulp of the amber liquor.
“I think it’s a tradition at this point. Something about Director Carter and her husband starting this as a thing back in the 60s… Coulson probably knows. You can ask him.”
She eyes him curiously while he begins balancing his weapon with care and precision, tipsyness aside.
She goes against every instinct in her body, but this guy risked his neck to give her a second chance, so what the hell.
“My turn what?”
“This is too elaborate an effort of redecorating the range, and quite specific.” She picks up one of the cheap British flags to prove her point. “Whatever it is you’re doing is the result of you playing hooky, not the actual reason.”
He avoids her eyes and raises his bow, picks up an arrow, and shoots at one of the pictures pinned at the far end of the wall on one of the paper targets. The photograph features him and Bobbi smiling at the camera, with Lima hanging in their background.
He tries to control his exhale so that it won’t sound like a sigh, and fails miserably.
“My ex wife is here with her new husband… the guy for which she dumped me… And the cherry on top of it all: it’s the anniversary of our divorce.”
The turns to face her, with a bitter and sad smile etched on his lips.
Wordlessly she hands him back the bottle, and he takes one good long swig.
~ * ~
When he hears the commotion outside the door, Clint makes an attempt to sit up straighter on the bed. He feels pangs of pain all over his sore body and sucks in a tight breath through his teeth. This too doesn’t sit great with his broken ribcage; so another sting attacks the left side of his torso.
He resigns in his attempt, and instead just grabs the gun from the side table and points it to the door.
It’s Natasha who walks in, holding a take out paper bag and a plastic shopping bag with a pharmacy logo on it. He lowers the gun and she rolls her eyes when she notices he has tried to move.
“You shouldn’t be up.”
“This is hardly ‘up’, Nat.”
She refuses to argue with him. She just puts down her shopping bags, and walks over to the bed.
She leans over him and wraps her arms around his waist and begins to readjust him back into a laying position. He stills her movements with his hands and slightly tilts up his head towards hers. Her face is dangerously close, but she is determinately avoiding to actually look at him.
He whispers “Natasha” softly enough, in that voice he rarely uses, which compels her eyes to meet his. The request is simple even he doesn’t actually say anything.
She complies by helping him to a semi-sitting position, repositioning the pillows to rest his back comfortably on the headboard.
He nods and says a simple “thanks” in that exact same voice again, and makes her smile.
“I brought food,” she declares and moves back to where she’s dumped the bags.
“I’m not hungry. Did you manage to get hold of Coulson?”
“I did. Extraction is underway.”
“What’s the game plan?”
“Two man operation. Very covert. Just him and May.”
“May? That’s weird…”
“You’ve said she used to be a good field operative.”
“I mean ‘weird’ in that out of the whole agency, the retired Calvary is the only one who was available.”
“May is The Calvary?” she is genuinely impressed by this information.
“You know about the Calvary?”
“I can’t share a table at the cafeteria with agents Levels 1 through 4, without hearing about the Calvary.”
“Fair enough. Still weird though.”
“He said -and I quote- he couldn’t find it in his heart to pull people out for a mission on the 14th, when everyone has already RSVP’d for the party. He is a ‘romantic’ after all.”
He chuckles when she air quotes the word “romantic” but his lungs translate it into a series of coughs.
She hands him a glass of water and an aspirin when his fit subsides.
“For the record, he is a romantic,” Clint makes it a point to defend Coulson on the matter.
“Is that right?” She settles herself on the bed, to change his bandages again.
“Absolutely. Getting May out on a mission is the closest he would ever come to ask her out on a date.”
“I can see that.”
“Huh… do share your evaluation Agent Romanoff.”
“They went to the Academy together. Were teamed up right out of training. They have an interpersonal relationship…”
“… I think normal people call that ‘being friends’…”
“… and they compliment each other professionally. Getting romantically involved is not worth the risk.”
“It’s not?” He is not entirely confident he doesn’t come off sounding just a tiny bit desperate.
“No it isn’t.” She’s short enough in her response to know her disappointment over that fact doesn’t register in her voice.
The silence as she finishes re-bandaging his arm lingers heavy between them.
She gathers up the medical supplies and walks over to the dresser. She disposes of the used bandages and fusses with putting everything else away.
“I’m surprised I had to spell that out for you,” she picks up where she left off as if the awkward pause didn’t occur.
However, unlike her, he’s not really in the mood act like nothing just happened.
The mission was almost a failure, which resulted to it being a crappy week at the end of which he almost died. And to be fair he’s too banged up and in pain, to be able to process this information rationally and pretend that unspoken, buried deep inside, little flicker of hope didn’t get crushed.
Still she tries to be conversational. “I mean just look at how you and Morse ended up,” which unfortunately is the worst example she could bring up right now.
“Bobbi and I weren’t assigned together,” he argues quite a bit more defensively than he intends to.
“No, but you were her S.O., which actually is even messier,” she points out.
“And god forbid ‘interpersonal relationships’, don’t end up being messy,” he mutters heatedly while he shoves away the covers and begins to get up from the bed.
“Where do you think you’re going!?” She sounds mad, but mostly she’s just worried he’ll blow the stitches again.
“I’m allowed to use the john, right?” he spits out like a petulant child.
“Yeah… yes… of course…”
His outburst is not something she expected. It affecting her so much hadn’t even registered as a probability.
“Awesome.” He stands faster than he’s able to handle, and clutches his side in pain as he stretches his other arm to steady himself on the wall.
Instinctively she takes a step towards him. “Let me…”
“I got this,” he cuts her off. It’s his tone that roots her to her spot.
He stumbles to the bathroom, all along glaring at the door deciding to be angry at the inanimate object for not being closer to his vicinity. Natasha is just happy she’s not at the receiving end. Clint slams the door behind him.
When she hears the faucet being turned on, she walks over and stands in front of the bathroom door. She rests her forehead and places the flat of her hand on the door.
“Happy Valentine’s day,” she breathes apologetically, hoping the sound of the running water drowns her words.
He stands leaning his back at the other side of the door. He swallows hard and arches his neck further backwards. “Happy Valentine’s to you too” he whispers.