Fandom: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Rating: R (to be safe)
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: ~5500 words (this chapter)
Notes: workerbee73 is freaking amazing ya'll. She let me pester her to frickin' death over this thing and she didn't kill me. She's a hero.
Need to catch up? Read part 1 here and part 2 here.
To make confession and to be absolved. - ‘Romeo and Juliet’ III. v.
Just after three in the morning, Tony kicks Clint out of the lab.
“Make me,” Clint snaps, despite the fact that it’s taking most of his focus just to keep his eyes open.
Tony all but pushes him out the door. “You’re hovering, you’re not helping, you’re stressing Bruce out, and you honestly reek. Out.” He threatens to drag Steve out of bed and have the super soldier remove him personally before Clint voluntarily removes himself.
It isn’t until Clint’s in the shower, warm water washing over his back, that he can actually admit to himself that he really doesn’t have any energy left. He slides down the tiled wall until he’s sitting underneath the spray. His head throbs and he’s sick to his stomach and he can’t tell if it’s the lack of alcohol or because he now knows the that people who’d spent Natasha’s life destroying her finally succeeded. It’s probably both.
Clint hauls himself back to his feet, washes quickly, and puts on a fresh pair of clothes. Stark’s lab is locked so he wanders over to Tony’s bar thinking a little hair of the dog might take care of his headache, but as promised JARVIS has him locked out and when Clint attempts to override the system, a pre-recorded message with Stark’s smug face pops up on the screen.
Cursing under his breath, Clint collapses on a couch and sleep hits him hard.
He’s awoken several hours later with daylight pouring in and Stark standing over him. “Merry Christmas,” he says, dropping his tablet onto Clint’s stomach. “That’s everything I could pull from S.H.I.E.L.D. and then some. The next time I have to look at that much Russian it better come with a year’s supply of vodka.”
“Russian?” Clint slings his legs over the edge of the couch, as Banner sits down beside him and Stark stares intently from over Clint’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” Tony says. “The person who was digging around in Natasha’s files was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Yulia Kapustova. Except there is no such person as Yulia Kapustova. The alias was created three years ago, and there’s absolutely zero information on who she is. Everything’s been completely redacted. All I could pull up was information on something called the Red Room, and ... from the look on your face you seem to know exactly what that is.”
Clint scrubs a hand over his face, forces his breathing under control. “It’s the KGB special ops division who ... trained Natasha.” The words feel like bile in his mouth, but he makes himself continue. “They went underground after the fall of Soviet Russia and we thought they’d disbanded when she defected to S.H.I.E.L.D. After their best operative turned, the project was considered to be a failure.”
“Except they didn’t disband,” Stark says, reaching over Clint’s shoulder to pull up a new document, files upon files of Red Room operatives, page after page detailing the atrocities they been continuing over the past decade. “A few years ago, looks like some of the die-hard agents took their operation off-shore. S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to track them, tried to link them to a few missing persons cases, abductions of young girls, but they could never prove it was them.”
“And Natasha,” Clint says, looking back down at the screen, “she’d been keeping track of this?”
Banner nods. “From her files, it looks like she never stopped.”
“Makes sense. She never talked about it much, but when she did...” his voice trails off, it was like she was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“And with good reason,” Bruce says. “S.H.I.E.L.D. got it’s proof when...” he pauses for a moment, considers his words carefully. Clint nods for him to go on. “The weapons ring in Argentina proved to be the link they were looking for. Red Room is still in business, and since they can’t get government sanctioned weaponry for their operatives, they’ve turned to black market dealings.”
“And that is when Fury probably gave Kapustova access to Natasha’s files. And then, about six weeks ago,” Stark pulls up another screen, a list of coordinates. “She starts sending these to Fury.”
“For every one of those, we were able to find the existence of a mission report for that location, at that date and time,” Banner says. “Except these last two here. S.H.I.E.L.D. showed up at those locations at that time, but there was nothing.”
“It’s bait,” Clint murmurs. “They fed her false information and she bought it. That’s what those last two are.” Clint says. “It means they know someone is feeding their information to S.H.I.E.L.D. They’re going to be looking for her.”
“They already are,” Stark says. “I found a dubious IP address doing some hacking activity around Tierra del Fuego. No idea what they pulled just yet, but I’m willing to bet it’s Red Room looking for her, and I doubt it’s to invite her over for tea and cake.”
Clint studies the utterly empty personnel file on Yulia Kapustova. He has no idea she is, never heard of her, never seen her face. He doesn’t know a damn thing about her except she’s working to bring down the same people who killed Natasha and for that she already has his gratitude. Now she’s in danger and in need of assistance, and Clint can’t think of anything he’d rather do than get a piece of this action. “Maybe she could use a little help.” He glances from Tony to Bruce and then back again.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves; we don’t even know where this person is,” Banner says. “Even if we assume she’s in Ushuaia, it’s not like we can go knocking on doors asking for an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.”
As if on cue, Pepper Potts strides into the room, heels clicking briskly against the wood floor.
“Oh, good,” Stark says, beaming. “Did you get it?”
“Got it,” she says, holding out a stack of papers to him.
“You know I don’t like being handed things. Hand them to him.” Tony nods to Clint.
Pepper shakes her head, a tolerant smile on her face as she hands them to Clint.
“What’s that?” Banner asks.
“I outsourced,” Stark replies.
“There were pulled from a bank camera in Ushuaia. She does a good job of hiding her face, but our mysterious IP address trying to get ahold of these pictures,” Pepper explains. Clint studies the papers in front of him-- several blurry, enlarged photographs of a blonde woman. Pepper glances back at Tony. “Never refer to me as outsourcing again.”
“Yes, dear.” Stark rolls his eyes but grins.
Clint pushes himself to his feet. “This is a start. I’m catching the next flight down to Argentina, I’m going to find this Agent Kapustova. You guys keep looking and let me know what you find.”
If anyone has the key to taking out Red Room for good, it’s Kapustova, and if she does, he sure as hell isn’t going to miss this show.
It’s time to finish what Nat started.
Clint is in his element out here. Perched high in the tree, twilight settling over the forest. In the distance, a helicopter’s blades cut through the night air. Red Room. Witnesses in the town tell him that the choppers have been spotted over the woods for the past week, so he’s moved his search for the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent where Occam’s Razor dictates.
It isn’t long after sunset, when Clint spots something out of the ordinary. He sees a dark figure moving along the forest floor. By the length of hair, he guesses female and the coloring is too dark to be Kapustova; by the outfit and the way she moves, he knows she isn’t a villager. He tracks her for almost an hour as she cases the woods before doubling back on herself. The woman is looking for something, and Clint really wants to know what that is.
He slides down to a lower branch, only ten feet off the ground now, trying to get a better look at the woman. In an instant, she vanishes into the cover of the trees. Damn. He scans the woods below for any rustle of movement to give her away, but there is none. He only narrowly misses the dark figure leaping out at him. He’s forced to make a retreat to a branch even further down.
The high ground would be ideal, but at this point he doesn’t want to risk being seen from above. He draws an arrow from his quiver and quickly has to adjust his position again. The attacker is too close to make a good shot, he withdraws again, but every move he makes the figure is fast on his heels.
Clint is on the ground way before he feels comfortable. He turns quickly back, taking aim at the figure, now perched exactly where he was moments before. In the moonlight, he can see her face--dark eyes, narrow features, danger etched in every muscle in her body--but god, she is young. There is no chance that she’s much over seventeen.
He switches out his arrow for one with a chamber of knockout gas embedded within it. He knocks it and lets it fly and the arrow embeds itself in the branch at her feet. Before the gas releases, the woman is on the move again. She lunges for him, jumping down with absurd strength and grace. He’s only seen one other person move like this before. He has no choice to to switch to hand-to-hand, and he’s got a suspicion he just might know her next move.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” he says, putting his hands up to guard himself. But she either doesn’t understand English or she doesn’t particularly care. Her moves are good. Technically great, even. She’s been trained in the same fighting styles as Natasha, but she lacks the years of practice and experience to hone those skills. This girl moves like a textbook, which means that Clint is able to take her out with one unexpected sweep of the leg.
He has her pinned to the ground, the girl snarling and thrashing, and him about to try to make the ‘I’m the good guy’ speech when impossibly he hears a voice call his name.
It can’t be. It just can’t.
Everything seems to happen in slow motion. Clint rises to his feet, turns, and there’s a woman standing not ten feet from him. A blur of blonde rushes towards him and some part of his brain realizes this is Yulia Kapustova, but it isn’t because it’s Natasha. Then she’s kissing him, her hands clasping his face. Her lips are warm and her skin is soft and her hair smells like...
His body snaps into action, hands closing over her forearms, pulling her body flush against his. He tilts his head just so and his mouth fuses to hers. His senses are on fire, relief flooding his body like a dying man finding an oasis in the desert. She threads fingers through his hair, anchoring him to her, kissing him until she steals his very breath away, until he’s seeing stars.
Reality strikes like a lightning bolt. Clint wrenches away, his body suddenly gone rigid as he stares at the image in front of him.
Natasha Romanoff. Flushed and breathless and beautiful and alive.
Natasha is alive.
From behind him, in heavily accented English, the teenage girl huffs, “What the hell is going on here?”
Natasha cracks open her eyes at the sound of Director Fury’s voice. The light in the hospital room is near-blinding and the ache in her chest radiates through her body, but she has declined all pain medication so far. The drugs will cloud her mind, and what she needs right now is focus.
“I got your message,” he says.
“Did you bring it?”
Fury draws a capped syringe filled with clear liquid from his pocket and holds it up to show her before putting it away again. “Are you absolutely sure that you’ve found them?”
“Positive.” She’s laying there with a hole in her chest, put there by one of the men who’d tried so long ago to make her a wind-up toy, a weapon, a plaything. “The facility hidden in the mountains is the Red Room training facility, all the contacts for the ring in Ushuaia are ex-KGB. The files I pulled showed that not only were they moving weapons to that facility but surgical supplies and strong psychotropic drugs as well. It’s them.”
Fury nods grimly. S.H.I.E.L.D. has known for years that the Red Room program never fully disbanded. The most radical of the leaders fled Russia for parts unknown, until now, continuing to ‘train’ young girls--crimes against humanity that can’t even be thinly veiled under the guise of government work anymore. But Red Room has yet to make a move, will not make a move--not as long as she is alive. Black Widow may have been the program’s greatest failure, but she is also their greatest success. They will not put their program into full operation so long as they believe she is alive and able to take them out.
“Everything is in place,” Fury tells her, taking the syringe out again. “You’re going to wake up in a safe-house just outside of the city with three other SHIELD agents. They’ve been told you’re an asset in the Red Room project and your alias is Yulia Kapustova. Once you’re back on your feet we’ll see about getting you back to Tierra del Fuego.”
“How long does it take?” she asks, watching out of the corner of her eye as Fury injects the solution into her IV line.
“With your metabolism? Maybe ten, fifteen minutes tops.”
Natasha nods firmly. This is her mission. She’s been waiting for this chance, been hoping for it. They can’t keep doing to others what they did to her, and she’s the best choice, the obvious choice, to end it. It’s a wish come true--a dark wish, covered in blood. And despite the relief, despite the determination and everything else, there is a dark pit sitting in her stomach. “Is Clint here?”
Fury is about to lie, she can see it on his face.
“I want to see him,” she says.
“I don’t think that’s the best idea.”
Natasha looks over at her IV line, then back to Fury. “There’s no going back now.”
Grudgingly, Fury calls for a doctor to bring in Clint. The Director leaves just moment before Clint appears in the doorway. He grins like an idiot, practically floating towards her before sitting down on the edge of her bed, hand clasping hers as he asks her how she’s feeling.
He looks so damn happy, and her heart aches a little bit. In a few minutes, he’s going to be shattered. She presses a smile onto her face and tells him she’s fine because what else can she say?
“Really?” His voice is thick, choked with more emotion than she’s seen from him. And he laughs beautifully despite the tears shining in his eyes. “Because you look like hell.”
He looks worse. Despite the brightness in his smile, his eyes are bloodshot and rimmed with dark circles. He clearly hasn’t been sleeping, possibly for days, possibly since she got shot. If just the waiting to know if she is all right has worn him this much, then what happens next will destroy him.
She can’t tell him what is going to happen. She can’t tell him that in a few hours time she will rise. She can’t compromise the mission. So she does the only thing she can do for him and tells him he can’t worry like this. But he’s Clint, so of course he protests.
“What about you? If it was switched. If it was me lying in that hospital bed, would you have slept?”
In the face of the greatest lie she’s ever told, all she can do is giving him some truth. He deserves that much. “I... I don’t think I would. I don’t sleep well when you’re not around.”
“Oh yeah?” He grins and he’s beautiful. “Why’s that?”
“It’s ... comforting,” she says, leaning her head on his chest, “knowing that I have someone watching my back.”
“I always will.”
She can’t bear the sound of promises, not now. She doesn’t want to hear him talk about a future because there very well might not be one. She burns the contours of his face into her memory, just in case. In case this is the last time, in case she doesn’t come back. And, so he can’t say anything else that might break her damn heart, she presses her lips to his and hopes that maybe someday he’ll be able to forgive her.
Clint sits with his hands clasped in front of him, paralyzed and afraid to move; because if he got near her he isn’t sure if he would hold her or hit her.
Natasha sits across from him in the cave she and the other girl have taken shelter in. Her hands are folded in her lap, a perfect study in calm patience; everything about her the complete opposite of him. “I had to it, Clint,” she says, her voice steady and even. “The Red Room needs to be destroyed.”
Clint nods slowly; it’s the only piece of this that makes sense. The mission is the only thing his mind can handle right now. “That’s why I’m here. Stark discovered what Agent Kapustova was working on. I came down here to offer the help of the Avengers.”
“It’s too big a risk,” Natasha says. “The facility has a self-destruct protocol in the face of brute force. There are still fifteen girls inside and they are not afraid to kill them.”
“Well, you need to make a choice!” Clint says, pushing himself to his feet. “They’ve got you on the run, hiding in the woods with a teenager for a body guard!” He gestures towards the dark haired girl--Faina, Natasha’s explained, a Red Room operative sent after Kapustova; she killed her own handler and has been hiding with Natasha ever since--sitting with her back against the cave wall meters away and watching the exchange with an unsettling, blank expression. “You don’t have to do everything on your own, Natasha. No, you can’t do everything on your own. I’m your partner, you’re supposed to count on me to be there for you and watch your back and keep your secrets--”
He quickly cuts himself off, Natasha watching him with wary, almost sad eyes. He’s tiptoeing too close to a line that they just don’t have time to deal with right now. He steels himself with a sharp breath.
Without moving, Faina calls out to Natasha, rattling off something in Russian. The two talk back and forth for a moment, and Natasha turns back to Clint. “There’s a way to disable the self-destruct. An alternate entrance. If the Avengers can provide a distraction, we can go in and eliminate the system.”
“I’ll call it in,” he says, turning his back to her.
As he starts to walk away--trying to find space--find anything that will clear his head, he hears Natasha rising to her feet. “Clint...”
He pauses but doesn’t look back. “Yeah?”
“I’m sorry.” She says it simply and honestly and those aren’t words Natasha ever says, and it catches him off guard.
Clint nods. “I know.”
They barely speak for the next twenty-four hours and when they do it’s only to make plans and confirm the location of the rest of the Avengers as they make their way towards the facility hidden in the mountains. Natasha spends the day cleaning her weapons, Clint gathers his arrows from the fight with Faina, who spends the day sparring with an invisible partner towards the back of the cave.
When the sun sets, and Stark confirms that they’re twenty minutes out, Faina leads them to the entrance hidden in the side of the mountains. She shows them the censors and cameras that need to be avoided, with Natasha translating for her. Clint nods in response, but doesn’t say anything because he knows if he starts to talk, he’s never going to stop. There’s too much to be said and there’s no time for it now.
Entry goes smooth enough, but things get complicated when Stark’s definition of twenty minutes is actually more like ten, and the Avenger’s quinjet sets off some sensors and suddenly the control room is flooded with Red Room’s security force. At the sight of the guards, Faina takes off like a bullet, leaping like a cat up and out of sight, leaving him and Natasha abandoned and he hopes like hell this hasn’t been a set up.
“Good to have back up?” he drawls, quickly dispatching two of the attackers with one draw. If he sounds a bit bitter, maybe it’s because he is. He’s also too distracted with another set of guards to really focus on his tone of voice. She fires off four bullets, each one followed by the thud of a body hitting the ground.
With the first wave dispatched, Natasha turns, opening her mouth to say--
Well, he never finds out. An alarm blares overhead and a computerized voice announces something in Russian, that Clint’s pretty damn sure means the self-destruct has been remotely triggered.
“Cover me,” Natasha says, her voice ticking higher at the end and it almost, almost sounds like a question.
She doesn’t wait for an answer, just heads for the computer and sets to work disabling the sequence. He gives her one anyway. “Always do.”
Clint takes up position readying himself for a second wave when a Hulk-sized shockwave rattles the ground. “Sounds like the cavalry’s arrived,” he says. “How’s it going over there?”
Three more guards enter, and he takes them out with a minor explosive.
“Ten more seconds,” she says sharply.
It takes him half a second to see the fourth guard appear at the other entrance, just enough of a delay for him to fire off a shot at Clint. He rolls out of the way, protecting his vitals, but the bullet grazes his left hand and it’s too hard to keep a grip on the bow. He abandons it in favor of the pistol in his ankle holster, and takes aim at the guard as the guard takes aim at Natasha.
Clint fires off six shots. The guard crumples to the ground.
The alarm goes silent.
The next moment, Natasha is beside him. She takes his hand in hers, running her finger tips just beneath the gash crossing his knuckles. She looks up meeting his gaze and never lets go of him. “I think you’ll live.” Her voice is wry and so is her smile and he can’t stop himself from smiling back.
Of course, that’s the moment Rogers and all his star-spangled suitedness appear in the doorway. “Ready to move?” he asks.
“Let’s go,” Natasha confirms.
When the dust finally clears, so to speak, they make their escape. Outside, Faina’s working with Carmichael--because apparently Stark had made a not-so-subtle exit from the States, dragging S.H.I.E.L.D.’s attention along with him--trying to convince the other Red Room operatives to board the helicopter that is waiting for them.
Operatives. Hell, they’re children. Faina appears to be one of the oldest, some of the others around her age listen to her with closed-off stances and suspicious glances. Some of them have even been subdued, unwilling to leave on their own. He remembers when he first met Natasha--Natalia, a few years older than them, but dangerous and reckless and without any hope for a future.
Some of these girls can’t be older than seven or eight; Clint’s heart breaks just a little bit, thinking about a young Natasha, eyes dark with anger, fear, and mistrust. Those girls are young enough still that maybe they can have what Natasha never could--a chance at a normal life.
But there is no such thing as a normal life, and Natasha is standing here beside him, and Clint fleetingly thinks that maybe there are such things as second chances.
Natasha leaves Fury’s office hours after she arrives; he’s insisted on dragging every single detail of the last four months in more detail than she believed to be necessary and giving a long-winded monologue about placing her trust in an operative sent to kill her.
It isn’t the first time.
As soon as she’s dismissed, she sets out determinedly towards Clint’s quarters. When she arrives, he’s sitting cross-legged on the bed, sterilizing the freshly-stitched gash in his hand with a bottle of whiskey. Natasha leans against the doorway, unable to just stride into his space like she belongs there. She gave up that privilege long ago.
“Clint?” she says softly.
He looks up at her and for a moment his face is hard and she’s sure he’s going to send her away. She won’t blame him if he does. The silence seems to stretch on forever before he nods, giving his tacit permission for her to enter.
“How is your hand?” she asks as she pads across the metal floor, coming to a stop at the foot of his bed.
Clint flexes his fingers. “Sore as fuck, but I’ve had worse.”
“Good.” She folds her arms across herself, feeling strangely uncomfortable in his presence. Clint’s been a challenge, a surprise, a rock, or he was... before. What he’s never been is a stranger. “Are you okay?”
Clint stares at her, weighing his choices and options and carefully calculating what he’s going to say. “I don’t know, Tasha.”
As small is it is, the nickname is a gift, an olive branch. Maybe there is a chance that she hasn’t ruined their partnership for good. Slowly, she lowers herself down onto the edge of the bed. She wants to lie next to him curl into his arms, but instead she tucks her knees into her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs to keep from being tempted to do anything else.
After a long moment, Clint finally speaks, his voice measured and even. “I wanted to have a funeral for you. I wanted... I wanted you to finally have some peace.”
“I know,” she says. “Fury told me. He also told me you hit him in the face.”
Clint let out a self-deprecating snort. “Yeah, well, he deserved it.”
“It was part of the plan.” Her gaze drops to the floor. “He didn’t want you poking around, finding out that I was still alive. It would have jeopardized the mission.” The words taste disgusting in her mouth--a bitter lie. He deserves so much better than that. She looked back up, her eyes locking onto his. “I wanted to tell you, Clint. So badly.”
“Why didn’t you?” he asks, accusation slipping into his voice.
“I didn’t know if I was going to come back; there was a very good chance I wouldn’t. I didn’t know--” she takes a deep breath, searching for the words “--didn’t think I was ever going to see you again,” Her eyes sting and she isn’t going to cry, she is absolutely not going to cry. She has no right to after the pain she’s inflicted on him. “I thought it would be ... easier for you. You could move on, forget me.”
He looks at her like she’s suddenly grown two extra heads. “Move on?” he echoes. “Are you serious?”
She doesn’t know how to respond, just looks at the floor instead.
“We could have done it together, you know,” he says, and now the anger has faded, replaced with sadness. “I thought we were partners, Tasha. I thought...” his voice trails off but he holds her gaze. “I don’t know what I thought.”
“We are,” says instinctively. It comes out sounding more desperate than she intended. She used to only operate solo, she was trained to operate solo. But this mission has left her worn to the bone, lying in bed alone at night, staring at the ceiling, unable to find rest or sleep or peace. “Or we were. I don’t know. I just know that when I saw you again, I felt like I could breathe for the first time, and I don’t want to lose you and I ... I know it’s stupid and I don’t have any right to say it but I just want-- I just want to ... go home. With you,” she finishes quietly, shocked that she’d actually said the words out loud.
It’s hard to surprise someone as observant as Hawkeye, but the way Clint’s looking at her, she seems to have thrown him something he wasn’t expecting. He opens his mouth to say something, shuts it, then tries again. Eventually he gives up and a slow smile spreads across his face.
“I thought people like us couldn’t have a home,” he says.
The corner of her lip twitches slightly, curving upward. “I think I might have been wrong.”
Clint reaches out, rests his hand on her knee. “Yeah, well I could have told you that,” he drawls and smiles and some knot in her chest finally breaks loose. She slides up the bed, settling against the pillows. Clint slips his arms around her waist and all at once she starts to feel the exhaustion weighing on her body and soul settle in as she relaxes against his body.
Clint is warm and solid and she didn’t know if she would ever be able to lie next to him like this again. Natasha tilts her head up, placing a poorly-aimed kiss against the corner of his mouth before tucking her head under his chin. It has been so long since she’s had a good night’s sleep; she doesn’t mean to doze off in his bed, but her body seems to have other ideas. With her head pillowed against his arm, she drops quickly off to sleep.
She sleeps for twelve straight hours and when she wakes, Clint is asleep with his arms holding her like she is something precious and irreplaceable. His eyes slowly flutter open with a look akin to wonder. “It’s not a dream...”
“No,” she says, barely above a whisper. She wonders how many times he’s dreamt of her only to wake to an empty bed. Her heart aches at the thought. “It’s not.”
Before she knows what’s happening, Clint swoops down over her, his lips sealing hard against hers as he presses her back into the thin mattress. Her fingers curl into the thin cotton of his t-shirt and she pulls his body flush against her own.
They break apart, panting and breathless, and he’s staring down at her with dark, half-lidded eyes. “Just making sure,” he murmurs before lowering his mouth to kiss her again. Her lips, her jaw, her neck. His mouth is hot against her, licking gently at her breasts, and then as suddenly as it started, it stops.
Clint presses a single open-mouthed kiss to the puckered scar where the bullet barely missed her heart. She knows he has a scar there too, hidden and internal and given by her hand, but hopefully his will heal in time, the same as hers.
Then his mouth is on her again, nipping and suckling at her skin. He leaves an almost-possessive trail of dark red marks along her abdomen, before he slides lower still. It is sudden and bright and oh...
She swears in Russian, crying out and arching against him before sagging back into the mattress. “Nope,” he says, crawling back up her body and his grinning like the beautiful fool that he is. He brushes a lock of bleached hair back from her face. “Definitely not a dream. You’re never a blonde in my dreams.”
A week later, they are back in New York. Her roots are coming in red again, and she sees Stark grumpily hand a ten dollar bill over to Rogers. If she notices things in her room are not quite the same as how she left them, she decides it’s a subject that needs no discussion. Fury has Clint reinstated, but it’s Natasha who spends most of her time at the New York base.
She’s been told she’s the best one to help these girls, that she’s a model of what they could have someday.
Natasha’s no role model. There are times when Clint holds her too close, like he’s afraid he’ll wake up alone again, and there are nights when he cries her name in his sleep; and even though he says he forgives her, she’s not sure she’s forgiven herself. She curls her arms around him and strokes her fingers through his hair and reminds him that she’s not going anywhere -- she is home.