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Fearful Passage [2/3]

Title: Fearful Passage [2/3]
Authors: rayruz
Fandom: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Rating: PG-13 
Characters/Pairing:  Clint Barton/Natasha Romanoff, team!Shawarma
Summary: In the wake of Natasha's death, Clint struggles to cope with the loss. But as he tries to deal with her death, he finds that something doesn't quite add up. 
Length: ~4400 words (this chapter)
Warning: major character death
Notes: At this point, workerbee73 practically has co-author status guys. She's freaking amazing ya'll. 

Need to catch up? Read part 1 here




“Tempt not a desperate man.” - ‘Romeo and Juliet’ V. iii.


Clint’s first truly rational thought doesn’t come for a week. He isn’t exactly sure how he came to be sitting on a stool in the kitchen with a bowl of cereal in his hands that he’s not so much eating as poking. The past few days have passed in some sort of strange fog of distant voices and too-bright lights, sleepless nights and waking dreams of blood on his hands and her body in his arms. Somehow, as he watches the milk sloshing around, it occurs to him.

“She never had a funeral.”

Rogers looks up from where he’s scrambling eggs over on the stove.

“We didn’t--” he stops to take a breath. “She never had a funeral.” He sets his bowl down on the counter and scrubs a hand over his face. Nothing in Natasha’s life had remotely resembled normal, not that his did either. But she deserved this--she deserved something, he thinks. “We should do that,” he finally says.

“We should.” Rogers nods, looks at him with some mixture of pity and hope and a bunch of other all-American crap. “I think that’s a great idea, to have a real chance to say goodbye.”

Clint nods. “Right. Right. I’ll go talk to Fury about the arrangements.”

As he gets up from his seat, Rogers puts out a hand to stop him. “Finish your breakfast.”

“Are you serious?”

“You need to keep up your strength.”

“You’re not my mother.”

“I’m not letting you leave this kitchen until you’ve finished the entire bowl.”

He’s in no mood to tussle with Wonder Boy, knows he couldn’t take him in hand to hand. Hell, Rogers could probably just dangle him by the back of his own shirt if he wanted to. So, Clint shovels down the bland, soggy cereal and presents the empty bowl with a scowl on his face. Rogers looks stupidly pleased.

Clint retreats to his room and grabs the first remotely clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt he can find and then he’s gone--eager to get out of the tower where everyone’s watching him like he’s going to break into a million pieces at any given moment. Waiting for it, actually. He’s not ready to give them the satisfaction just yet.

Turns out, the base isn’t much better. He hasn’t set foot on S.H.I.E.L.D. property since... well, since. No one has said anything to him about it, and he more or less expected it, but when he comes back, they just stare. Too many people, some he doesn’t even know their names, come up to him and tell him how sorry they are and how they heard and is he okay? And he says thanks and yeah and fine because none of them really want to know the truth.

He sits outside the Director’s office for almost an hour before Fury calls him in.

“Barton,” he says, “it’s good to see you.” He sounds about as sincere as Clint’s ever heard him. “The loss of Agent Romanoff was a great shock for all of us, and I know you two were close. I’m sorry.”

Clint has been expecting platitudes, but he doesn’t quite expect the burning tightness in his chest when he hears them. Agent Romanoff, like she was a figure and not a person, an asset lost as opposed to a life. “Thank you, sir,” he manages, even though his throat is dry and tight and words are just too hard.

“She knew the risks of her job,” Fury continues in some kind of patronizing voice that Clint suspects is meant to be comforting but completely misses the mark. “As do you. No matter how good you are, whenever you go out into the field there’s always a chance you’re aren’t coming back.”

He knows that, always has--just always assumed that he was going to go long before she would. Ever since he couldn’t bring himself to kill her, some naive part of him has felt like nothing could. “Sir--” he cuts him off, “I want to discuss arrangements for services. For her.”

“Of course,” Fury says. “I was planning on holding a memorial service--”

No,” Clint says. It’s a simple enough word that he finally finds conviction in his voice and it gives Fury pause. “I want to make the arrangements. I want to request you release her body so that I can give her a proper burial.”

The Director’s eye narrows in a way that tells Clint he’s crossed a line. “I’m afraid I can’t authorize that.”

“Why not?”

Fury stands, circles his desk. “Agent Romanoff’s body is currently with our science division.”

At first, Clint honest-to-god thinks he heard wrong. “Excuse me?”

“I’m sure you’ll agree that Natasha was an extraordinary agent; her skills were beyond compare. But, she wasn’t born with those skills, Barton. They were a result of experimentation by an enemy force.”

His mind reels. “So,” he says slowly, “you’re just going to ... keep experimenting on her?”

“We need to understand how her body worked. Her reflexes, her capacity for healing, everything about her is unparalleled--”

Clint’s hands shake, the sound of Fury’s voice is drowned out by a howling din of rage. Natasha’s past had been hell--she had been used in every possible way, stripped of all humanity by people around her who wanted to turn her into a machine. They had taken everything from her, and now Fury was digging around in the remains for parts. Something inside him snaps, and before Clint can even consider the ramifications his fist lashes out, slamming hard into Fury’s jaw.

+

“You did what?” Stark balks.

“I punched Fury in the face,” Clint repeats, just as deadpan as the first time.

Tony lets the thought settle for a moment before he gives an approving nod. “You are my new hero.”

“Why?” Rogers asks, eyes wide, addressing the question to Clint and not to Stark.

“Because the son of a bitch wouldn’t let her have a funeral.”

Rogers looks at him carefully. “I’m surprised he let you walk out of there.”

“Believe me, he doesn’t want me anywhere near S.H.I.E.L.D. property,” Clint says. “I’m suspended until I can, in his words, ‘get my fucking head on straight’.”

“I suspect what he meant was ‘until you can curb the urge to tear the place apart with your bare hands’,” Tony says.

Clint gives him a grim smile.

“It’s probably not a bad idea to take some bereavement leave,” Banner says. “No one would blame you for wanting some time.”

“I don’t want fucking time.”

Time was the last goddamn thing he needed. He had a whole life full of it, just waiting to go on, stretch out over endless years of watching and waiting ... without her. An idea takes hold, and he springs up out of his chair.

He walks over to the other side of the room, to Stark’s bar, and begins tearing through the cabinets, tossing out whatever’s in the way until he finds six glass tumblers

“Uh, Barton...”

Clint ignores Banner, ignores all of them. Right now he’s on a mission. He attacks the rows of bottles on the shelves, sweeping one after another out of the way, searching. Glass breaks and a bottle smashes in the distance but he doesn’t really hear it.

“What the hell, Clint?” Tony asks.

“We need a toast,” he declares loudly. “No fucking funeral? She at least deserves a drink. We can do that much.”

The rest of the room is deadly quiet; they just watch. Clint goes through bottle after bottle, tossing each one aside because it’s not the one he’s looking for. He loses his temper and takes out an entire row, glass smashing against the tile floor and he just grips the edge of the bar, trying to find enough air to fill his lungs. Out of the edge of his vision he sees a small hand come up and reach out to cover his own.

“It’s this one,” Pepper says quietly, handing him an intricately crafted clear bottle with Cyrillic lettering. “Her favorite.”

Clint nods and takes it from her. “Thanks.”

He lines up the glasses on the bar and fills them, then looks around the round, silently daring anyone to object. “Well?”

The others approach slowly, each taking a glass in hand.

Clint takes his glass, staring at the clear liquid inside it. “To Natasha,” he says, and the smile on his face is brittle one, stretched too tightly.

“To Natasha,” the others echo.

Clint downs his drink in one hard swallow. If the others notice him pouring himself a second shot, no one says anything. He looks around, less in an invitation, more in a command.

Tony clears his throat. “The first time I met Natasha,” he says and the fact that his eyes are wet is probably just a trick of the light, “She nearly knocked out my driver with her thighs alone. It was the single scariest and sexiest thing I have ever seen in my life. And then I found out just how deadly she could be, being Black Widow and all that. She was something else; there’s never going to be another one like her.”

“Hear, hear!” Clint says and downs the second shot.

A faint smile plays on Bruce’s face. “She was something else. I think she was the first person to look me in the eye--knowing exactly who I was, what could happen--and not back away. She might have been scared to death of the Other Guy, but she didn’t back down. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know if I ever would have come out of hiding.”

“To Natasha--helluva brave woman,” Clint echoes, filling up the glasses around him but only really concentrating on his own. They rest stay quiet, just watching him.

“She was ... as fierce a warrior as I have ever known,” Thor says slowly, face noble and sad but also looking at Clint with something like wariness. “As great as any soldier of Asgard.”

“Yep,” Clint agrees too quickly. “That’s true. Kicked my ass more times than I could count.” He takes another shot.

Steve waits until things get quiet again. “She was one of the good guys. Despite her past, despite her training, Natasha had a clear sense of her own morality and she followed her heart. It was an honor to fight beside her.”

“To the good guys!” Clint shouts, and all he can see is Fury’s face and a army of white coats surrounding a cold metal lab table. He grips his glass so hard it nearly shatters and downs the rest of his drink before the thought has a chance to take hold. He pours another, bottle still in hand.

The rest of the room is dead quiet now--all eyes are fixed on him. He takes a swig from the bottle itself before beginning. “To Natasha,” he says, a little too loudly and way too brightly.

“To Natasha, the best mark I never killed--” he stops and shakes his head. Not even he can handle humor right now.

“To the best partner and goddamned friend I ever--” another pause; tries again.

“To the woman I--” he gasps for air and there is none. The smile breaks and so does he. He sets down his glass.

“It’s a waste,” he says, his voice no more than a whisper now. “Such a fucking waste. The way she died--”

“Don’t say that, Clint,” Steve says, “She died a hero, in the line of fire. For duty--”

“No!” Clint smashes the bottle of her beloved vodka into the floor and watches the liquid spread like a clear bloodstain across the tile. “She didn’t die in the line of duty,” he spits. “The bullet didn’t kill her. She was shot in the chest during a mission and she lived. She died because of a fucking compilation. A fucking blood clot! That is what killed her!”

“Clint,” Pepper starts, her hand reaching out to him but he wrenches away.

“No! I told them we shouldn’t have left Argentina! They shouldn’t have moved her!”

“We don’t know if that would have changed anything,” Bruce says. Clint’s amazed he can hear him over the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. “Sometimes these things just... happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

“It shouldn’t have happened!” Clint storms from the room, and no one is stupid enough to follow him.

The elevator doors open into darkness--his room empty and still. He manages to kick off one boot before the other is just too fucking difficult and he gives up, stumbling across the room before collapsing into the bed. He rolls onto his side, a familiar scent striking something deep and solid and burned into his memory. Cinnamon.

“Tasha...”

The word escapes like a curse, like a prayer. He clutches her pillow to his chest and waits for the world to fade.

+

Three months later

It’s late afternoon when Stark barges into Clint’s room like he owns the place. Well, he does but that’s beside the point.

“Sensors in my lab are indicating critical levels of soul-crushing depression. It could bring down the entire building.”

“Fuck off.”

Stark stands with his arms folded staring at the scene around him. Clint, leaning against the window with a guitar in his hand sitting among a veritable treasure trove of empty bottles, food wrappers, and unwashed clothes. “Really?” he says. “Could you be any more of a country song if you tried?”

Clint doesn’t answer, just resumes strumming where he left off at Stark’s intrusion.

“Okay, you’re going to have to stop that.” Tony wraps his hand around the neck of the guitar, stifling the sound. “Thor and his godlike hearing keeps asking me where the dying kittens are. It’s making him very distressed.”

“Go away,” Clint grits out, resisting the urge to do to Stark what he’s doing to the guitar. The only thing stopping him, more or less, is the fact that he’s pretty sure his feet won’t be able to hold him up.

“Tried that,” Tony says. It doesn’t take much effort to pry the guitar from Clint’s hands. “And this is what we ended up with. You can’t keep doing this, or at least you can’t keep drinking like this.”

Clint laughs like a fucking hyena. “‘t’s funny coming from an alcoholic.”

Tony pulls the guitar away, tucks an arm under Clint’s shoulders and hauls him to his feet. “Correction. I’m a functioning alcoholic. You might not be latter quite yet, but you definitely haven’t managed the former.” Stark suddenly pulls his arms away and Clint sways for a moment before he tumbles back to the floor, his head smacking against the window on the way down.

“That hurt, jackass!” Clint hisses.

Stark gives him a look that seems to say I’ve proved my point.

“God damn!” Clint rubs the back of his head and it’s just too fucking much for him right now. The pain in his head is throbbing and his chest hurts and he’s too drunk to deal with any of this. Clint leans his elbows on his knees and leans his head against his forearms.

“Look,” Tony says, “I didn’t know Natasha well. To be honest, she scared the crap out of me, and I didn’t want to risk getting my limbs torn off asking too many questions. But I’m pretty sure she’d want to kick your ass if she saw you like this.”

Clint doesn’t want to look up, half because the light is just way too much for him right now but also because the last thing he wants is for anyone to see him like this. The worst part is that Stark’s right. He pictures Natasha standing over him, her face twisting with disappointment; the image makes his gut churn. “Probably drunk enough that she could.”

“Hell, she could kick your ass sober, but right now she could do it with her pinky,” Tony says, leaning against the window. “At this point I don’t even want to know what your blood alcohol content is, mostly because there’s a slight chance you’ve broken my record.”

“Thanks for the concern.” It’s hard for Clint to sound sarcastic with his voice choked up, but he finally looks up to see Stark looking at him with what passes for sympathy in his world.

“I think I knew Natasha well enough to know that if it were reversed, if she was the survivor, she would single-handedly achieve world peace by taking out every evil dictator in existence,” Stark says. “Grief is a powerful motivator. Hell, it’s a cliche. Just look at every Christopher Nolan film. I’m not telling you to stop mourning her, just... do something more productive than being the poster child for every bad country song.”

Stark pushes away from the wall, gathers up the few bottles that still have some whiskey inside them. “Just so you know, I’m locking up the liquor cabinet and JARVIS knows not to let you in. Have fun sobering up.”

Stark flashes a smile and leaves with a sense of smug satisfaction because he’s right. It takes Clint almost an hour to finally haul himself to his feet and stumble down to the kitchen and make himself some coffee. Turns out, there’s a cup that’s been waiting for him on the counter so long it’s gone cold. He knows it’s for him because it has damn Tweety Bird on the mug. “Hilarious,” he mutters as he makes his way over to the microwave.

The coffee doesn’t make him any more sober, but it warms him up a bit--he hasn’t even realized how cold he was, that while he was making new calluses on his fingertips with his guitar strings, his nail beds had gone blue from cold. Bruce swings by the kitchen and makes small talk for a while as Clint fixes himself a second cup. For a few minutes, he almost feels okay.

When the room is no longer spinning, Clint makes a firm decision that he’s going to clean his room. It feels like a juvenile resolution but it’s something he can put his focus on, something to keep himself busy. But when he steps into the elevator, for some reason he can’t bring himself to push the button for his floor. Instead, he presses the button for Natasha’s.

The doors slide open and he steps out into the hall. He follows the familiar path to her bedroom and flicks the lights on. Everything is pristine, untouched, undisturbed, exactly the way Natasha left it. Except, somehow it feels like she was never here at all.

Over on her dresser, there is a line of various bottles of unscented lotion, so she would never compromise herself by triggering someone else’s sense memory. Her bed is immaculately made with plain white sheets—she rarely slept there anyways. He’s beginning to wonder if there really is anything here that ties her to this place.

Of course, that was the point. He’d often teased her that any space she occupied always managed to feel like a really nice hotel suite--and about as impersonal.

“No letters, no pictures, no stupid magnets on the fridge,” he snarked once as he walked around the spacious flat she kept in Veracruz. “I mean, how do you even know that you live here, Romanoff? Aren’t you afraid you might walk into the wrong place?”

She had just rolled her eyes. “I cover my tracks Barton. Rule number one--never expose a weakness.”

“I’m just saying that keeping something personal--something you care about--wouldn’t be completely out of line.”

“Maybe,” she shrugged. “But it wouldn’t be smart. We can’t afford to be sentimental,” she said, not quite meeting his eyes. “Sentiment gets you killed.”


“Or sometimes, Nat, it’s just dumb fucking luck,” he mutters to no one, focusing on the contents of her bookshelf.

It’s not much, but they’re her books, the ones she chose, the ones she read. Clint sits on his haunches as he studies the volumes in front of him. Most of them are old leather-bound editions in a foreign language—to Clint, it just looks like a recurring lit class nightmare. He reaches for the only one he recognizes, a collection of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and notices for the first time that there is something behind the row of books--a small, hand-carved wooden box. It’s plain and very simple, not really at all her taste, but the unvarnished wood has been worn smooth over time, and he can tell it’s been well-used.

Intrigued, he sits cross-legged on the floor in front of the bookcase and slides the box out. Inside is a strange collection--papers, ticket stubs, napkins, matchbooks, and other seemingly-random things. He takes out each one, examines it, and tries to make the connection. It’s not until he finds a small, strangely shaped rock with flecks of mica that he finally recognizes something. It was his--he found it on a solo mission in Sudan, bored out of his mind staring into the middle of the Bayuda Desert for 6 straight days. The sunlight had caught the stone and the glimmer caught his eye. He kept it and gave it to Natasha the next time he’d seen her.

He examines the items again, this time more carefully, and the pieces start to come together. The receipt from the restaurant they went to the week before Argentina. The first movie he took her to after she moved to New York. The matchbook from the hotel in Budapest. A grocery list she’d made when he’d taught her how to cook real, honest-to-god barbequed brisket. The ticket stubs from some ridiculous modern art exhibit she’d made him go to and ones from the Neil Young concert he’d dragged her to last year. The cleaning instructions for the Beretta PX4 Storm 9mm he’d given her for her twenty-third birthday.

There were dozens like this, one after another. Everything they’d ever done together, everything he’d bought her or she’d bought him. Every scrap of a mission they’d gone on together or something he’d brought back for her when they’d been apart. Stupid inside jokes and mundane pieces of paper--memories of him. Of them.

And she’d kept them all. Every goddamn thing.

All at once it feels impossible to breathe. Everything he’d ever wanted her to say, to feel, all the things he’d ever wanted to hear--they’d been right here all along. Hidden, kept safe, and kept close. His heart is broken and mended all at the same time, and he’s not sure he’s got the ability to feel so much all at once. So instead he closes the box and wipes away the tear that’s sliding down his cheek.

“Love you too, Nat,” he says quietly, and he’s swears it feels like she can somehow still hear him. “I love you too.”

He just sits there, not sure how long, until the sun fades behind the shades and leaves the room in a dim orange-red light. Finally, Clint places the box back on the shelf, but one last thing catches his eye. It’s Natasha’s computer, just sitting there on her desk. He wonders if she had any photographs saved on it. S.H.IE.L.D. has never been awash with candid photos of their agents, and he’d bet every dime in his pockets they’ve already destroyed all the ones that haven’t already been locked up somewhere and codeword classified, but he’d give anything just to see her face one more time. It’s a longshot, but he lowers himself into her desk chair and opens the laptop all the same. When he boots it up, the only thing available is the S.H.I.E.L.D. remote login screen.

Of course, he thinks. And he really should go, just close the laptop and leave. But he can’t stop himself. He’s never learned Natasha’s password, but did memorize the movement of her fingers as she typed it in. It’s easy enough to replicate. He doesn’t expect to find much. S.H.I.E.L.D. is damn good at wiping out what it no longer needs anymore, so the fact that her account is still intact is... well, fucking strange.

Stranger still, the activity log shows that the last time someone accessed the files was three days after Natasha died, all downloaded to a drive he can’t access.

Without hesitation, Clint closes the computer, tucks it under his arm, and strides out into the hall. When he reaches Stark’s lab, he’s clearly interrupting something that he and Banner are working on. Tough shit, they’re just going to have to wait. He places the laptop on the computer in front of Stark and fixes him with nothing short of a death-glare, because Stark is the one who told him to do something with his grief, and now he has a mission.

“I need your help.”

“I work better with ‘please’ and ‘thank you’,” Stark gripes, but reaches for the computer anyways.

“Someone downloaded something from Natasha’s files after she died,” Clint says. “Can you find out what they took?”

“Sure, I can look for some digital fingerprints.”

It takes a hell of a lot longer than crime shows make it look, but Stark finally comes up with an answer. “Looks like they were after the data on something called Red Room... whatever that is.”

Clint’s circles around to look at the screen. Spread across it are various documents and pictures, various files on Natasha’s past, her training, other files on the weapons’ ring they’d busted that could only be the stolen information Nat managed to bring back from Argentina. Clint points to one of the smaller thumbnails on the screen. “Pull that up.”

With a click of the mousepad, a lone face fills the screen. It’s one Clint only saw for a split second, but if he lives to be a hundred he’ll never forget it. “He worked for Red Room?”

“Looks like it,” Stark says. “You know him?”

“Yeah.” Clint swallows hard, a slow rage starting to burn through in his veins. “That’s the man who killed Natasha.”

--To Be Continued--

Comments

rayruz
Jul. 2nd, 2012 12:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Hope to have more up soon.