Fandom: The Avengers
Rating: PG-13, for language
A/N: They circle each other for years. It's not inevitable, but it might as well be. (This was supposed to be angsty, it came out as fluff in which all participants are a bit screwed in the head. This is how I unwind before my thesis defense tomorrow, omg.)
Phil wakes up to a feeling he’s being watched. It’s not the best awakening imaginable, especially since when he closed his eyes he expected not to wake up at all, and since his chest still aches like all fuck.
He stares into Natasha’s narrowed eyes and winces inwardly, half expecting a punch. She hit him the last time he allowed her to think he was dead, it could be a standard reaction.
“It would serve you right,” she tells him. She’s either reading his thoughts or he’s saying things out loud, hardly uncommon while hopped up on meds like he knows he is. The room is fuzzy and spinning lightly.
“Tasha,” he acknowledges, or tries to. What comes out is something more of a croak, followed by a coughing fit that makes everything hurt.
Natasha moves soundlessly, picking up a pitcher from the bedside table and filling up a glass. She helps him up enough that he’s able to drink from the glass she holds to his lips, steadying hand on the back of his head. There’s gentleness in her touch not many people would expect, but Phil is not exactly surprised.
Touched, yes. Surprised, no.
She steps away when he’s done, uncomfortable with the display of care once it’s not immediately needed and he nods his thanks, falling back into the pillows. She folds herself back into the armchair, extending her right leg to rest her foot on the edge of the bed, almost touching Phil’s thigh.
The hospital tv is on, sound off, the images shifting between the destroyed Midtown and people giving statements. It cuts back to a reporter talking to a police officer, his lips forming words “Captain America” and “heroes.”
“We won, I gather,” he says and Natasha nods. “Barton?”
“He’s fine,” she says, followed by a shrug of admission that it’s not quite true. “He’s himself and mostly uninjured.”
“I hit him hard in the head.” There’s a smile in the corner of her lips, like it’s a joke she’s shared before, but her eyes stay serious. He’s about to ask when she shakes her head at him. “Later,” she says firmly.
It’s usually a smart thing to listen to Natasha, even when nominally he’s the one giving orders, and really, in his current state, he’s not in the position to even try.
“Everyone else alright?”
“Alive. Nothing that won’t heal,” she clarifies at his look. “Fury might not get out intact when everyone learns he lied about your demise.”
“I might have told him to,” he says and she doesn’t look surprised. “In my defense, I thought I was dying.”
“Technically, you were dead for over three minutes. Officially, I think you still might be,” she shrugs. “I only know because Hill was the one to debrief me, and she is kind of pissed at Fury for the lie. Maybe don’t tell her it was all your brilliant idea.”
Phil nods again. He thinks he might be a little more disturbed by the whole thing but mostly, mostly he’s really fucking tired, his lids heavy and his head pounding, but not as much as his chest hurts. He doesn’t even mind the world thinking him dead for a while. He closes his eyes and then opens them again, because there’s one thing that he might mind.
“Barton?” he asks again and Natasha’s mouth moves before she forms the words.
“I told him,” she finally says. “I wouldn’t expect a visit soon, though.”
“How is he, really?” he asks and when she doesn’t answer, he prompts. “Tasha?”
“He’s fine. Or he will be,” she says, firm, like she’s making the decision now, that whatever it takes, Barton will be fine. That, as much as the pain, makes Phil finally relax and let himself drift a little, knowing that Natasha keeps her promises.
“Dying is exhausting, who knew,” he muses, aiming for a smile from her, but she only nods and stands up. He watches her movement as she leans down over him. “Don’t think you don’t have the punch coming,” she warns fondly. He expects a kiss on the cheek, but her lips brush his instead, gentle and soft.
It has been known to happen before, to seal a promise, to express trust or thanks, to say goodbye just in case, but it’s rare enough to still be surprising. Her fingers brush across the side of his neck and that is new, if not unwelcome.
She moves away and sinks back into the chair, kicking the shoes off and propping both of her feet up on the bed, tucked under the cover and pressing against his leg. “Get some rest, Coulson,” she tells him and settles in, chin propped on her hand.
He falls asleep to her steady presence and quiet breathing, almost inaudible under the beep of the machines but still there.
Sometimes Natasha feels the need to point out that she made Clint before he made her, could tell pretty easily he was there to take her down.
The thing is, she saw him coming from miles away and yet didn’t, not at all.
She’s better at hand-to-hand, always has been and probably always will be, even when he learns most of her dirty tricks, but that didn’t matter at the time. He’d been watching her for weeks, she knew, and she had other pressing concerns, other things and people to deal with.
She was exhausted and she knew that, and he knew that too, she cursed him in her head for choosing this moment and didn’t bother to curse him out loud, as that would only be wasting her breath and energy she could use by kicking him in the head.
Killing him would be an option, but not a great help. He’d have back-up, she knew, the comm in his ear and the way he spoke softly before engaging were telling enough. Outrunning him was unlikely. Her only option was running far enough to get him away from... Away.
She had managed to lead him on a merry chase and then kick him off a rooftop before he pulled out the miniature bow from somewhere, put it together in two fast moves and shot before she had a chance to jump down to the other side. Whatever drugs the arrow packed, they were strong enough her legs gave in immediately but not enough to knock her out. She could hear him speak to someone on the other side of the comm line.
“You’re going to hate it,” he said, something like a smile in his voice. She couldn’t speak for the other guy, but she hated him in that moment, so. “But I think we should bring her in.”
He knelt down by her, right hand holding the little crossbow, finger on the trigger. He needn’t have bothered, she couldn’t move at all, just blink and stare daggers at him.
“My name is Clint,” he says conversationally, like they’re on a playground and he’s just finished pulling her pigtails. She just looks at him. “That’s okay, I already know yours,” he assures her.
She thinks this is the first time she passes out mid-eyeroll.
When she came to, it was still to Clint’s voice, coming from behind a wall, or a door. “...face, sir.”
“I’m not pissed,” someone else said flatly. “Moving into livid territory now,” he continued, his voice perfectly calm. Natasha was (is) no stranger to signs of anger, especially the hidden one, the one that bubbles under the surface to erupt in violent outbursts, she knows what to look for, and despite the assurance of fury, there was none under the flat tone. He sounded fond instead.
Her hands were tied with zip ties, which was an amateur and, frankly, stupid move, but she waited with escape attempts. There was a hum of engines underneath the floor, and the unmistakable edge of a weightless feeling. Breaking out now would just lead to problems down the line with landing the damn thing.
“This looks more like annoyed to me,” Clint offers.
“Annoyed is the default setting with you. I passed annoyed when you decided to engage instead of just taking the shot,” the other guy said easily, then paused, the silence full of consideration, then filled with decisive steps nearing Natasha. “Haven’t broken up yet?” he asked, standing in the doorway, all immaculate suit and polite expression.
She shrugged. “Easier to kill you after we land.”
He nodded, like he was seeing her logic. “How about we talk,” he said and she gave him an amiable smile that was as fake as the sweetness she laced her voice with.
“You mean, the talk where you give me a lengthy spiel and I listen?”
“Feel free to express any doubts or ask any questions relevant to the subject, Miss Romanov. There’ll be a short quiz later.”
It wasn’t even a good joke, as interrogation humor went, but there was something about the delivery she appreciated, the wryness and the long-suffering look, and the fact that he sat down in the chair well within her reach.
He nodded at her pleasantly, like he could follow her train of thought to the point where she envisioned snapping his spine, and he didn’t care much. Not like he thought her incapable of doing that, or himself capable of fighting her off, but like he trusted her to listen, even if for a while.
And the thing was, she did.
“It’s like he thinks you’re better than you know you are,” Clint says at some point. “It’s hard to argue with that.”
“How he pulls that off with being one of the most cynical bastards I know, I can’t fathom,” she mutters in response.
“Excuse me, are you complaining about cynicism?”
Coulson is the kind of a person who believes gods and monsters and supersoldiers and Tony fucking Stark can put their differences aside and work together, but he’s also the kind of a person who’ll tell Fury to use his death to make sure they do.
It’s hard to argue with that.
Clint goes through seventeen briefings after the Loki incident.
They’re not all called briefings, of course. Some are more like interrogations and some are nice meetings with a shrink where he sits on a comfy chair and tries not to wish for a bow to shoot the fucking creepy clock on the wall.
The eighteenth one he doesn’t count. It was a bit after the shawarma trip but before they all went their own ways, meaning everyone going and he and Natasha staying for a lovely round of Let’s Discuss Where It All Went Fubared, Hint, It Was At The Beginning.
At the Avengers meeting, because apparently they’re going with the dumb codename after all, they sort of discuss what happens with Loki, which is Thor posing his idea and no one having anything better to propose. Clint bites his tongue. Then it’s about establishing channels of contact, just in case, and then Steve Rogers asks about the memorial and Stark mutters something about flying the cellist in from Portland and Clint stares at them for a very long time.
It’s pretty ridiculous, how long it takes him to connect the dots, and by the time he does, by the time his guts turns and he feels like puking again, Natasha is already squeezing his hand hard before her fingers tap the inside of his wrist, three fingers, fast, again and again. Lie, she’s saying. Lie.
He looks at her, half-listening to Fury explain there’s SHIELD procedures to agents’ funerals and cleaning up Midtown takes precedence. Natasha shrugs with one shoulder and he can’t tell if she knows or thinks or suspects or hopes but it sort of makes him hope anyway.
Hill tells him for sure two days later, her brow furrowed with disapproval, and it’s clear Fury isn’t her favourite person right now. Neither is Clint, for that matter, but what’s a few bullets between friends and co-workers, eh?
“I’m pretty sure he’s happy he missed running the damage control on this one,” Natasha says and they conveniently not mention the part where Phil apparently was dead for a while and the part where he didn’t wake up for longer than the doctors were comfortable with, and let Clint tell you, the doctors at SHIELD are comfortable with great many things.
Natasha goes and visits while Clint is stuck in a briefing with newly qualified “Expert on Chitauri” who is clearly creaming himself at the thought of writing a dissertation on real live actual aliens. Such fucking fun.
And then he’s blissfully free, with no meetings and no evaluations and no briefings of any kind. The doctors advise him to rest and relax, and notify them of anything suspicious. Clint isn’t quite sure what they mean by suspicious: his eyes going icy blue, his mind being thoroughly fucked, or maybe the stomach issues after eating too much shawarma.
Or maybe the part where it seems to be physically impossible for him to go to the recuperation wing of the sickbay.
“At least go home and rest,” Natasha tells him, her voice flat and reasonable, and she kind of sounds like Phil, it’s uncanny. He shrugs and asks if she’s too chickenshit to spar now that he has all his brains back. She proceeds to kick his ass and tells him he’s an idiot.
That kind of sounds like Phil too, except that it sounds completely like Tasha.
The first time they kissed, both of them had Coulson in their head. Ear. Head. With Coulson it was kind of the same thing, he had a tendency to get to you.
“Would you like to review the SHIELD policy on dating your fellow agents?”
Natasha snorts against Clint’s neck, and the moment is just that little bit broken.
It’s pretty textbook, to be honest. Mostly adrenaline and some dizziness from blood loss and a great fucking relief at getting out alive. And then Natasha was checking his head for injury because she apparently didn’t believe the bullet went through his hair only and then there were her eyes and lips and, well, have you seen Tasha? Clint has, up close.
“What’s the SHIELD policy on dating your fellow agents, Coulson?” Clint asks obligingly and Coulson’s voice is almost gleeful when he answers.
Except it’s dry and emotionless, but there’s glee, Clint can tell.
“Rule number one, don’t let your handler find out. Fucked this up.”
“Well, I’ve been trying, but you had to step in and cockblock,” Clint complains and smirks at the click of the comm disconnecting.
Then Coulson comes on the line again, because bastard needs to have the last word. “Tasha, get him to the checkpoint, I have a medical crew waiting.”
Fucking mother hens, the lot of them.
Coulson’s not there for the first real kiss. Not that the previous one wasn’t, or the cliche gone-with-the-wind display when they needed to get into that place that one time, or the one where Clint got shot (again) in the leg (again) and this time it was actually serious (despite what some people might tell you, doesn’t happen that often) and Natasha came to visit him in the medical and threatened to shoot him in the other leg. All of those were real, they just weren’t... this.
The reason Coulson isn’t there is because he’s on his way with the extraction team. They’re in Pakistan, probably, still, unless they’re not. It was dark.
The mission came too soon after Budapest and everyone is a little... tired. Fucking exhausted. But when the orders came Coulson placed the files on the table and asked them if they were up for it, ready and prepared to argue on their behalf.
Natasha rolled her eyes and reached for the files with a “Don’t be ridiculous, of course we’re taking this,” Clint chiming in with “We’ll be fine.”
And they were, and so was the mission, even if there’s this slight hitch at the end of not knowing which country they ended up in. Happens.
And besides, it’s right after Budapest.
They lie a few inches away from each other and it’s dark enough that Clint can’t make out her features. He could just close his eyes and it wouldn’t make much of a difference, but he stares into the darkness anyway and listens to her breathing.
“You almost left,” he says before he can stop himself. It’s the silence coupled with darkness, it fucks with his head.
There’s a pause in which she probably considers feigning sleep before she speaks. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. I half-carried you here.”
“In Budapest,” he clarifies, even though she doesn’t need it, no matter what she says.
He hears, rather than sees, her shrug.
The thing with Natasha is, she lies a lot, but not to him. Not never, there’s been instances when she was less than truthful, like that time in Croatia when she told him the wound was just a scratch, or that one time in Monaco when she went off the radar for two days and told him and Phil she needed to do some shopping.
But she doesn’t lie about the important things, and this is pretty fucking important.
She shifts closer and kisses him instead, and it’s not an apology and it’s not a promise and it’s definitely not a lie.
The thing about Clint, the one thing Natasha finds endearing and infuriating, is that he thinks she wanted, needed, to come in. That she was ready to. That she had that one big breakdown and wanted to repent and fight the good fight and all that.
All he had going on was one moment of weakness, the kind of a New Year’s resolution moment she had from time to time, of doing something not entirely selfish, trying to make a difference for one person, just in case it counted somewhere.
New Year’s resolutions never stick.
She came in... she came in because they dragged her there, unconscious.
She stayed because Fury didn’t make her skin crawl like other people she worked for in the past did. She stayed because Coulson’s been promised to her as her handler and that was the guy who voluntarily took off her zip tie and almost smiled when she asked him whether he’d preferred his neck broken or his balls kicked in.
She stayed because even though it was April it felt like New Year’s Day and she couldn’t quite shake the resolution off.
Maybe she stayed because she was tired of running, and if she wanted to pick up again, Clint wouldn’t be the worst partner to take on.
Somehow she stayed.
Being dead might have been preferable to having his not-dead status celebrated by Tony Stark with what he calls an informal gathering of friends and Phil calls a disaster waiting to happen.
He doesn’t even want to ask how Stark got ten people into the hospital room, despite the one-visitor-at-a-time rule, but he has a good working idea and it involves making Captain America asks good doctor Wells, who has a serious crush on Rogers.
They commiserate about losing vintage collectible cards; hers were drawn over by her three year old.
It’s the Avengers sans Thor, who is still in Asgard, but with Rogers, who, Tony informs him, made his way back from his great US road trip just for this. Phil tries very hard not to show how touched he is, because really, decades worth of mocking material for Stark, but he fails miserably and it doesn’t seem to matter, Stark is busy offering, again, to fly “that cellist of yours” in from Portland. Phil will need to wait until he’s not on good meds to talk himself out of this.
Then it’s Selvig, and Jane Foster, back from the conference, and Darcy Lewis who apparently wasn’t invited but joined them anyway, much to Stark’s delight. She joins him in insisting Banner eats more cake because “he’s a growing boy.”
Pepper, of course, who hugs him tightly, wary of the IV in his arm, and sits on the edge of the bed, shoes off and legs swinging, making sure that no one really disturbs him beyond the noise and the crowd and the Stark of it all. She is coordinating with Natasha, who acts as distraction whenever things look overwhelming.
Beyond that, Hill comes by and leaves quickly, but not without a pat on Phil’s shoulder and a card pressed into his hand with a half smile. It’s not mint but it’ll do as a start. Sitwell stays for cake and is conned by Stark and Banner, who has more of a mischievous streak than expected, into thinking he’s going to take over liaising with the Avengers. He keeps shooting panicked look at Phil, who can’t help it, just shrugs at him and keeps his face straight.
The nurses come by too, apparently mostly to eat cake and assure Captain America they’re taking good care of Phil. No, Phil doesn’t know what the fuck either, they’re no-nonsense, matter-of-fact creatures, who don’t give in even to the most obvious flirting from Stark or Barton. Usually. But then, this is Captain America.
Clint sits in the corner, or, more accurately, sprawls in the corner, legs stretched out and head rolling back as he demonstrates his utter relaxation that is as fake as Phil's assurances that his chest doesn't hurt at all, and let him tell you, those are very fake. Clint’s eating cake from a plastic plate and somehow managing to look like it’s his last meal. Nobody seems to notice.
Phil catches Natasha’s eye and she shrugs with one shoulder. She says something to Steve to send him over to Phil, then makes her way across the room, joking with Banner and saying something that really freaks out Sitwell, and then she slides into the seat next to Clint, hooking her leg over his. She steals bits of his cake and sets out to make sure he doesn’t sneak away once everyone starts leaving.
And they start leaving the moment Phil mentions to Pepper that he’s getting sleepy. Clint starts inching towards the doorway as well, but with Natasha maneuvering, they’re the last two.
“Barton, if you have a moment,” Phil says and it’s not playing fair, he realises, but Clint moves towards the bed before he can question the field-honed instinct of following Phil’s orders (unless he really, really disagrees with them). “So eager to leave me?” he asks in response to Clint’s reluctance and Natasha snorts, leaning against the doorway.
“I think it’s because he thinks he’s the one who got you killed,” Natasha says flatly, and Clint’s head spins fast to glare at her, not unlike a boy whose friend just told on him to the teacher.
Except then he shrugs and bows his head at the same time, avoiding Phil’s gaze, and yeah, that’s it. Natasha might have been blunt, but she’s right and that should be dealt with.
“Come on here,” he says, then waves impatiently when Clint doesn’t move immediately. “Don’t have all day, I’m sure they’re just waiting to hop me up on sleeping pills.” The moment Clint is within reach, he smacks him on the head as hard as possible while he still has the IV hooked up.
“What was that for?”
“New SHIELD policy, you’re going to get hit on the head every time you act in a stupid or dangerous way.”
“That’s a lot of times,” Natasha mutters.
Clint rolls his eyes at both of them and reaches to rub his head. “How come I get hit and Natasha gets kissed?” he asks, his voice petulant and clearly aimed at changing the subject, but the thing is, there’s only few ways he could know, and Natasha wouldn’t have told him.
Phil wants to say he should have come by, if he had enough time to hang out in the vents. And the thing is, Clint might hate hospitals, but that’s when he’s being dragged into medical care because of an injury he considers minor (it rarely is minor), not when he’s visiting. Natasha’s more than right.
But that’s not what you say to Clint. What he does say, because there was a clear dare in Clint’s voice, is: “I wouldn’t want to play favourites and make you jealous. Come on, then,” he says, trying for long-suffering and slightly overshooting. He comes off annoyed. Which might be even better.
Clint gives him a look and then leans down, clearly treating this like a challenge. He seems to fully expect Phil to back out, which is exactly why Phil doesn’t (fine, part of exactly why). Clint’s actually surprised when their lips touch, if the sharp intake of breath is anything to go on, and it throws the whole kiss off from the very beginning, too soft and too hesitant. Clint is leaning in at an awkward angle, and when Phil raises his hand to place it on the back of Clint’s neck, he pulls at the IV in an unpleasant way, but it doesn’t matter at all.
“Hey, Clint,” he whispers when he does pull back, less than an inch, hand still on the back of Clint’s neck, holding him in place, making him look into Phil’s eyes. “I’m fine. So are you, and so are we. Alright?”
“Alright,” Clint says, his tone flat, like he’s too dazed to argue. Phil nods and leans in, resting his forehead against Clint’s.
Clint might still not believe him, but they can work from this.
She can’t say if she loves Clint.
She trusts him, she owes him, and she knows this is mutual, and she doesn’t resent the debt, not really. She’s more herself with him than with anyone else, and some people might consider it love.
Maybe. She doesn’t have a great frame of reference.
Neither of them knows how to have a relationship, especially one that doesn’t end in disaster. Clint grew up in a circus and Natasha grew up... well, she grew up fast. They have this on and off thing that’s never really off and never quite on, and if they need to have sex, or if they need to curl up and not talk, or if Clint needs to destroy targets for hours and Natasha needs to disappear for days, that’s fine.
One of the junior agents, possibly on a dare, asked her once if she and Hawkeye were dating. She glared and left it to the interpretation of the knitting circle, but the thing is, she doesn’t quite know. She wouldn’t know how to date if she had a briefing on it.
And she had one. In the early days she was playing Karen, who had this date thing scheduled with a drug lord, and she had to go through the whole evening, to buy everyone some time. During the briefing Phil sighed at her a lot.
Karen and Natalie and Sonia and others, they date. Natasha doesn’t. Clint doesn’t either, at least not much and not past the first “date.”
Phil, now, Phil does date. He’s had three semi-serious relationships in the time Natasha has known him, and they were going well up until the inevitable crash related to what Phil does for the living. The cover story only goes as far, and the excuses don’t make up for few days trips to remote countries from which he comes back exhausted and bruised, and sometimes comes back just to be checked into the hospital, and sometimes comes back just to bury himself for days in paperwork.
It was an issue even with the FBI agent, whom Phil met sort of on the job, and who had at least a rudimentary idea of what it was SHIELD did. But even he couldn’t quite get over Black Widow and Hawkeye crashing their something-something-month-anniversary dinner because the op went badly and Clint wanted to demand that Coulson never leaves them with junior agents again.
Natasha shouldn’t have let him break into Phil’s place, but she has a good working idea of why she might have.
When she ventured an apology later, Phil just looked at her and shook his head. “This is important,” he said, and the “and if he doesn’t understand that, it wouldn’t have worked anyway” was unspoken but clear enough.
She doesn’t know if she loves Phil.
She trusts him, but it’s different than her unequivocal trust in Clint. She knows Phil will lie to her, but she also knows it will be only if he has no other choice. Knowing that and accepting that is something like trust, more than she has in other people.
She once took a bullet for him, she finds his Captain America crush endearing and amusing, and sometimes she smiles when she says his name. Some people might consider it love, she’s not certain.
There are at least seven versions of the “How Coulson met Clint” tale circulating around SHIELD.
Clint should know, he made most of them up.
The constant detail is the one about Phil shooting him in the leg. Partially because it’s funny, partially because it freaks the junior agents out and impresses the hell out of them, and partially because it’s true and Clint had been a bit impressed with that himself.
The one true version that not many people bother to check on is actually filed in Clint’s record. Well, fine, maybe some people try to check it and hit the clearance level and have no skills or imagination to break in. Amateurs.
The true account goes something like this:
Clint was a punk kid who did a bunch of stupid stuff. Then he grew out of being a kid and into being even more of a punk and did a further bunch of fucking stupid stuff. Then the tale goes cautionary and is mostly about bad crowds, poor life choices, and some people ending up dead. Yadda yadda, he won’t bore you, read the report.
And then it seemed like there were not many choices left, and all of those available were poor indeed, and he was tired of running and tired of everything. Didn’t mean he wanted to talk to SHIELD, of all people, and when Coulson approached him with the spiel he reiterated with an arrow to the tires and the arrow was explosive.
Phil called in for the cleaning crew and went to get dinner and catch up on property damage reports.
No, Clint couldn’t tell what the fuck either, which is why stayed around for longer than he should have. But it seemed like Coulson wanted him to try and run before he set out to find him and shoot him in the leg to slow him down.
Nice clean shot, too, through and through, perfect to patch up, which Phil actually did, despite Clint’s protests.
“Let’s make a deal,” Coulson said, unpacking his first aid kit methodically. “I’ll make the pitch while I do this. You’re not interested, you can walk, well, limp away.”
“Just like that,” Clint asked him. He knew it couldn’t be that easy and just wanted to hear the lie Coulson would offer.
Phil met his eyes when he spoke. “I’ll give you two hours headstart before I call in the reinforcements.”
Yeah. And the thing is, Clint did believe him, every word of it. He could do a lot with two hours, but the thing was, if SHIELD wanted him, they wouldn’t give up. He could run for a long time, but he’d have to be running forever.
“What if I am interested?”
“Now, don’t be so cheap, Barton, I hadn’t even started with the sell,” Coulson said, his lips twitching, and something strange and indescribable unfurled in Clint’s gut.
“Start talking, then.”
Something around three months into Natasha’s work with SHIELD, one of their missions went spectacularly wrong.
Not just bad. Not just ‘let’s do damage control and move on’. Spectacularly, amazingly, fucked up. Details are in the reports, if you must know, she’d rather not talk about it at all.
But the thing with all missions is, you do have to talk about it. You have to write the report, go through the post-mortem, sit through the debriefings and sometimes run drills afterwards that recreate all the fucked up little things that went wrong and then discuss why.
She’s not sure if it’s supposed to be a learning experience, a cautionary tale, a therapy, or a torture session, but the point is, no one likes the post mortem. If someone tells you different, then they’re a liar or a psychopath.
No, not even Coulson likes the post-mortem. There are some junior agents who seem to believe otherwise, Natasha heard that one, but those are the junior agents who either won’t last long or are in for some rude awakening.
Phil hates the post mortem as much as anyone does, maybe, possibly, more. After everyone is done with their reports he’s the one to compile them and write his own, the one to go over the events over and over and think what could have been done better, and then design the drills to revise the history. And then he gets to go and report to Fury, rehashing the whole thing once again.
So that first mission that gets really fucked beyond any recognition, the aftermath is a bit different than usual. Natasha actually expects the debriefing immediately after, to get the ball rolling and get the worst part over. She thinks she’d rather hammer nails through her skull than rehash the whole thing, but she’s prepared for it anyway.
So when the car pulls up in front of an unfamiliar building rather than the HQ, she throws Clint a confused look. “What about,” she starts and Clint nods.
“Yeah,” he says with a shallow bow of his head in Coulson’s direction. “We’re not doing that now.”
“I think it’s take-out night,” Phil chimes in, his tone perfectly dry and flat, like he hadn’t said just about the least expected thing she thought would come from him. Including that bit where he suggested she kept the “Black Widow” moniker because Fury bet him twenty bucks she wouldn’t.
“Unfortunately, it’s Clint’s turn to choose, so it’s probably going to be terrible.”
Phil shrugs and picks up his duffel bag from the back seat. “Coming, Agent Romanov?”
She’s still not sure if it isn’t an elaborate prank, but she follows them anyway, figuring she probably can kick and punch them later if it is. This is roughly how she ends up on Coulson’s couch, her feet tucked up under Clint’s thigh, playing rock paper scissors with Coulson for the last egg roll.
Not that she really wants it, because Clint does choose the most disgusting Chinese take-out she had ever eaten, but it’s playing rock paper scissors with Coulson. There’s something amazing about that.
They watch a truly atrocious reality show with people screaming and little kids screaming and then people screaming some more. Natasha doesn’t follow the plot and isn’t quite sure there is a plot to be followed in the first place. Phil seems to know the names of all the people, which is a thing she probably didn’t want to know about him but somehow she likes. He makes weak attempts at explaining the whole thing until Clint throws a pillow at him that Phil clearly doesn’t dodge or catch on purpose.
At some point Phil breaks out some whiskey, and beer he seems to keep for Clint, and some asks Natasha if she goes for or against the vodka stereotype. She takes the bottle of whiskey from his hand and takes a swig instead of answering.
“So that’s what we do,” she says, realising when she speaks that she really started to think of them as them. “Bad tv and worse take-out.”
“When it’s bad,” Clint shrugs. “When it’s good, Coulson takes us to the zoo and buys us ice cream.”
Phil nods matter-of-factly, even though they’re clearly bullshitting. “It was that or the circus and I hate clowns.”
“I got my first handjob from a clown,” Clint offers casually and Natasha rolls her eyes, but it has the effect of making Phil snort, which, judging by Clint’s self-satisfied expression, was exactly what he has been aiming for.
Few hours later, they argue about who takes the couch, and Phil vehemently forbids them from going home in their drunk state, despite the fact that Clint can still switch off the light by throwing a pen at it from the wall and Natasha can balance on one leg for full five minutes without as much as swaying.
Natasha and Clint end up playing rock paper scissors after they exclude Phil from playing by arguing they’re not kicking him out of his own bed. Technically Natasha wins and Clint gets the couch, but then instead of getting the blankets and pillows Phil and making a bed on the living room floor, she strips off her jeans and crawls onto the bed. She lies on the cover, because she half-expects Coulson freaking out or proposing he takes the floor instead, but he just raises his eyebrow at her and then gets under the cover without a word.
“It’s more comfortable than mine, to be honest,” she says, closing her eyes. She thinks she can actually hear Phil smile a little.
“You’re welcome to it anytime,” he says, and it’s not a come on some people would make it (Clint, but also, most everyone), but like he doesn’t mind her at his house whenever she might need something.
She supposes he might trust her a bit too.
Phil looks ready to murder someone two weeks into his hospital stay.
They’re letting him walk the corridors, or sit in the armchair and read, or go outside for limited periods of time. They’re not letting him do any paperwork, make calls, or otherwise work, which to normal people would be logical and acceptable and it makes Phil insane.
Natasha sneaks him bits of reports, the ones that say everything is fine. It’s probably enabling, but going cold turkey would be more detrimental.
The most entertaining thing is watching him talk himself out of checking himself out AMA, because if he does, he loses all the high ground with Clint, when Clint inevitably wants to do the same thing next time he is in a hospital, and let’s not fool ourselves, that will be soon.
“Here,” she says, tossing a duffel bag on the bed. She went through Phil’s closet with the intention of finding something that wasn’t a designer suit, and surprisingly, it wasn’t a difficult quest. The jeans are faded but decent and the t-shirt has a nice, worn quality. She kind of wishes she saw this side of Phil more often.
Then there’s the side of Phil that apparently has old Captain America pajamas folded in the bottom drawer, and let her tell you, this one will see some mocking time at a later date.
“Tasha,” he says and she shrugs.
“I convinced the doctors that Clint and I are responsible adults who will make sure you take your pills on time and don’t kill yourself with a papercut.”
“Fine, I didn’t mention Clint,” she smirks. “I did say Captain Rogers promised to visit and check on you. That one seemed to sell the whole thing.”
And really, she likes Rogers. He’s decent at tactics, inspires trust and obedience in field, and seems like an all around nice guy, sure. Easy on the eyes, sure. But she doesn’t get the whole Captain America thing, she’s Russian. Or, well, used to be. Still.
Phil doesn’t just get the whole Captain America thing, he seems to breathe it. So the sparkle in his eye is probably a lot due to that, not only the part where he’s being released.
“Come on, we don’t have whole day, and Clint’s cooking.”
“Jesus,” Phil says, digging into the duffel bag. He glances at her, apparently waiting for something. Natasha crosses her arms on her chest and Phil rolls his eyes at her and starts taking off the flannel pajama shirt someone blind picked up for him.
Hey, he saw her without her bra at least twice, she’s not turning away.
Especially not since... but that’s just an idea for now. It’s not the time yet, not when Phil’s healing and when Clint’s healing from a whole other thing.
“Hurry up,” she waves her hand impatiently. “No need to put on the whole show.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Natasha figures out within a week of joining SHIELD that Clint is in love with Coulson, only apparently doesn’t know it yet.
It takes her a few months to realise Coulson isn’t in love with Clint, but it’s just a matter of time, because he doesn’t seem to stop himself from falling, no matter how hard he tries.
He gives up and gives in sometime after the FBI agent and before the cellist, somewhere before or after New Mexico. She’s too busy with Stark assignment and then with the Russian mission to pinpoint the exact moment, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter.
The realisation dawns for Clint, she thinks, some three months before that, when she calls him from Paris and tells him Coulson is in hospital but he’ll be fine. Clint berates her for not calling earlier, except he doesn’t sound angry at all, he sounds terrified, even when she repeats that everything’s fine.
It doesn’t help matters when she tells him that if she called earlier, she would be calling to tell him Phil was dead, because the fucker made her think that for an hour.
She punched him before dragging him to the hospital. Not her finest moment, but, fuck.
Clint actually goes semi-awol from his own mission (and only semi- because Phil takes her phone and calls Fury to say they absolutely need Clint there. And either Fury trusts Coulson even more than she thought he did, or he realises arguing in this particular case is pointless, or both) and calls in a few favours to get to Paris the next day.
She watches them go through the whole old married couple routine, the one that usually goes the other way, as this time it’s Clint berating Phil about doing idiotic and reckless stuff, and she thinks she should feel like the third wheel, despite the fact that she is the one to occasionally sleeps with Clint.
Instead she steals the green jello from Phil’s food tray and settles in in the foot of the bed, legs stretched along the line of Phil’s body. At some point he places a hand on her ankle, still arguing with Clint, and leaves it there for a long while.
Before the mission in Paris gets interesting (read: fucked up), before the explosion and definitely before the car chase, it’s mostly them and the hotel room, and sometimes Vincent checking in, but mostly not.
Clint’s somewhere in the Middle East and that’s need to know and she doesn’t need to, or particularly want to.
The hotel room has a nice view and a shitty air conditioning and an even shittier room service. French cuisine her ass.
They play cards to pass some of the time, when Coulson is not busy trying to get through to one of his contacts and Natasha isn’t trying to pretend she doesn’t know anyone in Paris at all. Surprisingly, poker is Phil’s idea.
He has a decent poker face, but not enough to fool her every time. He is frighteningly good at calling her bluff, and by frighteningly she means he manages it third of the time. That’s still too close for comfort. He also counts cards, which she’d call him on, if she wasn’t doing the same. When Vincent comes around and they talk him into playing a round he calls both of them dirty cheaters.
At night she ignores Phil’s weak attempts at convincing her one of them should sleep on the couch and that it should be him and points out they’re paying for a King sized bed and it would be a shame to waste it.
She idly wonders how would he react if she pushed him onto that bed and kissed him. She doesn’t do it, of course, but not for the reasons you might imagine.
Clint’s in Middle East, somewhere. Not here. And it’s not that she’s kind of sleeping with him and maybe a bit in a relationship with him, to the extent that any of them is capable to have a relationship with the other. And it’s not that he’s in love with Phil even if he hasn’t admitted it to her, or himself.
It’s because he should be there. When she kisses Phil, he should be there.
Yeah, that could sound strange. It doesn’t. None of them is for doing things the regular way, to be honest.
It’s the bed argument again. They somehow always end up at this.
Phil has no leg to stand on, what with the whole nearly dying thing. He tries to point out that Natasha’s leg was injured too, and that Clint had to have at least a concussion, but neither of those arguments would lead to things they’re comfortable discussing, so he stops while he’s ahead.
He could say that he’ll be fine on his own, that they can just leave and he promises to take his meds and eat his greens and let them lock all the work stuff in the safe and take the key (not that it would stop him for long), but the thing is, he wants them to stay.
More than he wanted anything in a long while and after the whole dying thing he’s temporarily selfish enough to allow himself this.
So he sits on the edge of the bed and tries not to roll his eyes as Natasha and Clint accuse each other of cheating at rock paper scissors.
He wasn’t even aware there was a way to cheat at rock paper scissors.
Then again, if there is, those two would surely be the ones to find it.
“Hey, how about this,” Natasha mutters finally and aims a kick at Clint’s ankles.
That’s one way to end an argument, Phil supposes.
Clint topples onto the bed and Natasha lets him pull her along with him. Then she proceeds to kick him lightly until he settles in the middle and she plasters herself over his back, effectively keeping him in place.
“I think Tasha is having that mental breakdown we’ve been waiting for,” Clint tells him and Phil shrugs before locking his eyes on Natasha’s.
She seems entirely self-satisfied, but there’s something soft in there too, expectant, even hesitant. Phil slides down the covers and turns, facing them both. Natasha breaths out slowly, warm air tickling Clint’s neck and he reaches up to scratch it before he aims his index finger at her nose somehow pointedly but fondly.
He lets Natasha maneuver him closer to Phil, but when he looks up, his eyes are worried and uncertain.
Phil knows he’d be lying if he said he didn’t expect that. Since he kissed Clint. Since he woke up and Natasha was there. Maybe since Paris. Maybe since that time Clint brought Natasha in and looked like he expected Phil to argue, so Phil did, despite hoping Natasha would stay.
He just hadn’t thought it’d be now.
Especially since he has a hole in his chest and the doctors made Natasha promise she would keep him from doing anything even remotely exciting.
“We’re going to need a bigger bed,” he tells her flatly and she nods, a smile tugging at her lips.
“This isn’t...” Clint starts and shuts up when Natasha hits him over the head and Phil leans in to kiss him.
“It’ll do for now,” she says, reaching over Clint, her fingers brushing down the side of Phil’s face.
It has to do for now. But the thing is, now is just the beginning.