SUMMARY: Clint and Natasha remember Budapest very differently.
RATING: PG-13 for violence and swears
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Written for avengers_land's Deep Cover challenge and includes a matching photoset. This story follows on the backstory I set up my previous Clint/Natasha fic, "Clemency," but it's not strictly necessary to read that one first.
Clint plunged into the cold afternoon air, hunching his shoulders against the wind. He needed to walk. Needed to be alone. Needed to not be confined indoors. Flipping up the collar of his jacket, he let his footsteps carry him away from the office park that suddenly felt too small.
He hated that Natasha could make him feel this way. But then, that was she’d been trained to do: ferret out your weaknesses and use them against you. It was her particular skill. That was the problem with a loaded weapon: sometimes you ended up in the line of fire just by being in proximity.
It wasn’t like he even blamed her, really. He knew what had been done to her. Or at least he knew what he’d read in her file, because it wasn’t like she’d ever talked to him about it. It made him sick to think about it, how they’d warped and twisted her into the person she was.
Most people believed Natasha was fearless. They were wrong. It was something that had taken Clint a while to figure out, but once he had, a lot of things about her started to make more sense. The truth Natasha tried so hard to keep hidden was that she felt fear more keenly than anyone else. She was never not afraid, no matter where she went or what she was doing. She’d just learned to live with it, to take the fear and use it make herself stronger.
It wasn’t the Black Widow’s strength that made her so deadly (although there was no denying she was crazy fucking strong). It was her fierceness. She simply needed to win more desperately than everyone she went up against, because she had so much fear driving her.
Ever since she’d awakened this morning she’d been even more afraid than usual. He knew her well enough by now that he’d seen it in the flare of her nostrils, the quickening of her breath, the cast of her skin. He assumed it was because of the head trauma. He’d seen her like this a couple of times before, always after some kind of injury that would have killed or incapacitated anyone else. However it was that her body managed to heal itself, it took a lot out of her. She was always off for a while afterwards. Unpredictable. Emotional. Weaker. Natasha hated being weak. It terrified her more than anything.
He’d sensed her fear today and let it infect him and then he’d thrown it back at her. Which was the absolute last thing she’d needed.
He wasn’t really surprised she’d gone into defensive mode, he was mostly just disappointed. He’d thought maybe they were past that. That he’d earned enough trust that she could let her guard down a little. Obviously, he was wrong.
Clint kept walking.
Natasha had screwed up. She knew this. She also knew Clint would come back after he’d cooled off. He was too good at what he did, too professional to do anything that would put either of them in danger just because he’d gotten his feelings hurt.
She had hurt him, though, and she was ashamed of herself for it.
He might act gruff and unfeeling on the surface, but she knew it was just an act to hide his soft underbelly. She’d recognized almost immediately that his greatest weakness was that he let himself care too much, no matter how hard he tried to keep people at a distance. It was the only reason she hadn’t died in an alley in Omsk with an arrow through her heart.
Clint Barton was a man who followed his heart rather than his head. He tried to see the good in everyone, let people get under his skin, was loyal almost to a fault. It made him vulnerable. But that empathy could also be an asset. It made him acutely observant. It was how he seemed to know what people needed before they knew they needed it, why he always came through when a job started to get messy, and why she’d actually allowed herself to trust him to certain degree. It made them a good team, too. His personality balanced hers in a kind of Taoist yin yang way that Natasha didn’t really believe in, except when she did.
But she had known for a while now that his feelings for her went far deeper than just a working partnership. He tried to hide it, but he wasn’t as good at concealing his feelings as she was. He wasn’t as good at not having feelings as she was.
Which was exactly why she’d instinctively tried to use those feelings to her advantage.
It had been an unforgivable miscalculation on her part. This wasn’t some unsuspecting target, easy prey, ripe for the picking. This was a man who’d spent countless hours observing her, who knew exactly how she lied and manipulated to get what she wanted. Arguably, he knew her better than anyone else alive, except possibly Coulson, who’d spent almost as much time studying her, and whose job it was to understand what made every member of his team tick.
If she’d been fully in control she never would have made such a mistake. But then Clint knew that. He knew her so well he must have guessed exactly what had driven her lash out. He’d probably even known that she sometimes manipulated him to get her way, and just chosen to forgive her for it. It was only when she’d tread too close to the truth about his feelings for her, the feelings he’d tried to keep secret, that he’d gotten upset. But she knew he’d even forgive her for that, given time.
It was one of the things that was so infuriating about him.
It was nearing sunset before Clint went back to Natasha. She looked up when he rolled in, but didn’t say anything. She’d been busy in his absence. Some of the debris had been cleared away and the floors swept relatively clean. The window had been covered with a piece of plywood and she’d spread out the sleeping bag and set out a candlelight picnic dinner for two by dividing up one of the MREs between them. He had no idea where she’d found the mismatched collection of candles lighting the room, but the effect was almost absurdly romantic.
“Still trying to seduce me into not being mad?” he remarked, only half jokingly.
“Trying to apologize,” she corrected. “I didn’t mean—”
“Accepted,” he said, cutting her off. “We don’t need to talk about it.” He didn’t want to hear what she was going to say because it would have been a lie. Because she had meant everything she’d said. She just hadn’t meant to say it out loud. He could learn to be okay with that, as long as he didn’t have to dwell on it.
She flashed him a smile that was bright and chipper and patently false. “Fine.”
He sank down on the floor and surveyed his share of the food she’d set out: beef ravioli, canned peaches, a couple of peanut butter crackers, and half of a petrified-looking fudge brownie. Not exactly a meal fit for a king, but better fare than he’d had on a lot of missions.
They ate in silence and when they were done they cleaned up in silence. Clint opened up the pálinka and they passed it back and forth wordlessly, staring at the candles instead of each other. The silence between them felt heavy, like it was bloated with all the things neither of them wanted to say or wanted to hear.
Clint didn’t know what to do to fix it, how to get past this part. He’d never been very good with people. Or talking. To people. There was a reason he largely worked alone, removed at a distance. Natasha was the people person. Or at least the one who was good at pretending to be a people person.
“Just say it,” she said finally. “Whatever it is you want to say to me, just say it.”
He stared at the floor, trying to choose his words carefully. Inhaled a long breath and said, “You’re the strongest person I know, Natasha.”
“But?” she prompted, her voice clipped and impatient.
He looked over at her. “But you have to let me see your weak spots so I know which flank to protect. That’s the only way this works.”
She pursed her lips and he braced himself, expecting her to lash out again. She didn’t. Instead she said, quietly, “It’s not easy for me.”
“I know that,” he said, as gently as he could. “You think it’s easy for me?”
“It’s not,” he told her. “It’s really not.”
She stared at him for a long moment, like she was letting that digest. Then she said, “My favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla, I hate it when you pull out that fucking guitar of yours, and I once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”
Clint half-smiled. A couple of years ago Coulson had sent them to a series of counseling sessions supposedly designed to facilitate team building. Trust exercises, “if you were a tree what kind of tree would you be be,” all that bullshit. He and Natasha had bitched and moaned about it the whole time, but he supposed in a twisted way it had worked, because they’d ended up bonding over the stupidity of the entire enterprise. Which had probably been Coulson’s plan all along, the crafty son-of-a-bitch.
One of the exercises the shrink had made them do was two truths and lie, and they’d actually had some fun with that one, coming up with ridiculous, trivial shit just to stump one another. Every once in a while one of them would start it up again when things got boring on a mission. Something to pass the time between killing and trying not to be killed.
“What’s with the softballs?” he said, smirking. “Reno. Obviously.”
She smiled smugly. “Wrong.”
He eyed her skeptically. “You shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?”
She shrugged. “Also because he was trying to kill me. But I did shoot a man in Reno and then take pleasure in watching him die. It counts.”
“Okay, so the ice cream?”
“Wow, you suck at this. It was the guitar.”
“Seriously?” He’d never have pegged her for a music enthusiast, and as mercilessly as she mocked him whenever she saw him with his guitar he’d never even considered the possibility she might actually enjoy it.
He lowered his chin to his chest, leaned back on his elbows, and stretched his legs out in front of him. Then he said, “I can recite the entire Declaration of Independence, I’ve never known the love of a good woman, and I’ve only got half a spleen.”
“I’ve seen the kind of women you date,” she quipped, “so I’m going with the first one.”
“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary—”
She shook her head. “Everyone can do the beginning.”
“In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only—”
“Fine,” she said, scowling. “You win that one.”
“Can’t believe you fell for that spleen thing.”
“What’s that scar on your abdomen from, then?”
Even though he knew he ought to be desensitized to it by now, his mouth went dry. He reached for the bottle of pálinka, wishing they had something that burned a little more.
Natasha must have noticed (she always noticed) because she waved her hand apologetically and said, “Never mind, it’s my turn.”
“No, it’s okay.” He swiped the back of his hand across his mouth to wipe away the traces of sticky liquor. “It’s a souvenir from when my old man stabbed me with a kitchen knife.”
She pressed her lips together. Her eyes flashed dark and murderous in the flickering candlelight. “Is he still alive?” she asked.
Clint snorted. “Why? You gonna kill him for me?”
Natasha didn’t smile. “If you want me to.”
He had no doubt she meant it. No doubt at all. It was both chilling and oddly touching.
“It so happens he beat us both to the job a long time ago,” Clint said flatly. “But I appreciate the offer.”
Natasha nodded. They were both silent for a moment. When she finally spoke her tone was detached, almost casual, but there was nothing casual about the words that came out. “My earliest true memory is of the fire that killed my parents. The first time I took a human life I was fourteen.” She paused. “And I know all the words to ‘American Pie.’”
“Jesus,” Clint breathed.
“That one was probably too easy,” she added ruefully. “I mean, why the fuck would I know the words to ‘American Pie’?”
“Natasha—” He didn’t know what to say. She’d never spoken to him about her childhood before. This was gift she was giving him, and he was afraid to screw it up by saying or doing the wrong thing. She looked almost doll-like in the dim light, with her full red lips and her wide, uncharacteristically vulnerable eyes. He wanted to reach out to her, to pull her into a hug or even just touch her hand, but he knew she wouldn’t welcome it.
“I’m tired of this game,” she said abruptly. “In fact, I’m just tired.”
Clint nodded. Not for all the plastic toys in China would he push her to talk more after that. He took up a position by the door with his back against the wall and hugged his knees to his chest.
Natasha blew out half the candles and curled up in the sleeping bag with her back to him. Her hair spread out like a bell behind her, glowing copper where it reflected the candlelight. She didn’t move, but he knew she was awake. Would be awake for some time.
“Want me to sing you a lullaby?” he asked after a minute.
“You’re going to make me regret admitting that, aren’t you?” He couldn’t see her face, but he was pretty sure she was smiling.
He chuckled. “You bet your ass I am.”
Natasha lay on the floor, eyes wide open, listening for the sound of Clint’s breathing. He was too quiet, too far away, but she could hear the soft rustle of his clothing whenever he shifted position. There was something intensely comforting about it.
Gradually, inch by inch, she began to relax, for the first time that day.
The wind howled outside. A rat scrabbled around inside a wall nearby. She heard Clint rubbing his hands together for warmth, callouses rasping against callouses.
She closed her eyes.
Sleep now, my dear little child. Bayushki bayu.
Her mother’s voice called out to her, panicked. Russian soldiers marched past in long coats and tall black boots. A dark, damp space, the acrid stench of human waste. A little girl crying. The taste of blood, hot and coppery.
“Natasha,” a voice said gently. “Natasha, wake up.”
Her eyes flew open, heart pounding.
“You were having a bad dream,” Clint said. He bent over her, his forehead creased with concern.
She couldn’t seem to catch her breath. She’d thought the nightmares were finally over. It had been years since the last one. Since before Omsk. Before S.H.I.E.L.D. Before Clint.
This was why she never used to let herself fall asleep around anyone, because she never knew when the nightmares were going to come. But then they’d stopped and she’d let down her guard, let herself be lulled into a false sense of security, and now here she was, falling to pieces in front of Clint. She tried to get a hold of herself, because she couldn’t let him see her like this, but she felt paralyzed with terror, like there was a weight on her chest and she couldn’t breathe.
Something deep down inside her wanted to ask him to hold her, but she didn’t know how to ask for something like that. Didn’t dare let herself need something like that. Her hand twitched, almost as if it was trying to reach out for him on its own, and her fingers brushed against his leg. His hand found hers and clamped down, firm and reassuring.
“Move over,” he ordered. And then he was unzipping the sleeping bag and crawling in beside her. His arms encircled her, pulling her into his chest. “You’re freezing.”
She didn’t feel cold, she felt like she was burning up from the inside out. His touch was cool and soothing, like a balm on her fevered skin. She pressed her face against his chest and the sound of his heartbeat filled up her senses. Thump thump. Thump thump. Solid. Steady. Unbroken.
And just like that she could breathe again.
She inhaled a slow, tentative breath. He smelled like dust and sweat and burning metal. And something else that smelled like safety, something so familiar her brain wanted to label it home.
She pulled away slightly, enough that she could look up at him.
“Better?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.
She nodded stiffly, not trusting herself to speak yet. Her hands were tightly clenched in the front of his shirt and she didn’t even know when that had happened. She uncurled her fists and laid her hands flat against his chest. His heartbeat thrummed against her palm. Thump thump. Thump thump.
“Want me to let go now?” His tone was tentative, uncertain.
No, she thought, desperately. “Yes,” was what came out of her mouth.
He unwrapped his arms from around her and scooted back a few inches, but he didn’t get up. “That happen a lot?” he asked.
“Used to,” she said. “Not so much anymore. Not in a long time.”
He nodded. “My brother used to get them all the time. Night terrors. Woke up sweating and screaming, couldn’t catch his breath.” He sounded faraway, like he was lost in a memory long forgotten. Or long buried.
“You’re a good man in a storm,” she told him.
The corner of his mouth twitched in a way that was both cocky and endearing. “Honestly, I’ve been freezing to fucking death for the last two hours. I was just looking for an excuse to get in this sleeping bag with you.”
She laughed weakly. “Maybe you should stay here, then. I wouldn’t want your pitiful American blood to get too chilly.”
“I’ll have you know it gets seriously damn cold in Iowa.”
“Have you been to Siberia?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“Then don’t talk to me about cold.”
“Fine,” he said. “You win. Your homeland’s the coldest, most miserable fucking place on the planet. You happy?”
She was, actually. So happy it scared her. She wasn’t supposed to be having these kind of feelings. And she certainly wasn’t supposed to be giving in to them. And yet …
He frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she said.
She pulled him towards her and kissed him. His lips were soft and cool, frozen against hers.
He jerked away as if he’d been burned. “What are you doing?” he demanded, anger and confusion warring on his face.
“Please, Clint.” She was prepared to beg if she had to, if that’s what it took. “I want this. I want you.”
“You don’t want me,” he said. “You’re not yourself … you’re not thinking clearly.” She honestly couldn’t tell which of them he was trying to convince more.
She reached for him again, curling her fingers in his shirt. “You’re wrong.”
The anger on his face began to bleed into something else. “Natasha—”
His eyes were wide and wary, but also sparking with desire. “You know I’d do anything for you.”
She kissed him again. His lips parted hesitantly, allowing her tongue to slide into his mouth. And then suddenly his hands were sliding through her hair and grasping at the back of her neck, pulling her towards him.
“Fuck, Tasha,” he breathed. “Thank god. Fuck.”
Making love to Natasha was like flying into the eye of a hurricane; it was simultaneously more and less terrifying than Clint had imagined. And he had spent a truly embarrassing amount of time imagining it over the last year or so.
She let him take the lead, only giving him an occasional nudge, whispering her desire into his chest, the skin at the base of his throat, the spot behind his ear that made him tingle all over. He wouldn’t have expected her to surrender control so easily, especially here, but he was gratified that she had. He didn’t want to be yet another man she had to work to please; he was happy to be the one to do all the pleasing for once.
It was a tremendous amount of pressure, though. He was keenly aware of how many and varied her experiences of men (and women, for that matter) had been over the years. And how many of those experiences must have been distasteful.
Fortunately, this happened to be an area in which he was not without some skill. Years of intense research had taught him a hundred ways to make a woman shiver and melt under his touch. Taking his time, savoring every second, he began working his way through the top twenty. He’d gotten all the way to fifteen when he sensed she was approaching the edge. He opened his eyes so he could watch her fall apart and then he fell right along with her.
After, they lay in a tangle of limbs beneath the sleeping bag, his face pressed against the back of her neck, her fingers intertwined with his. She exhaled contentedly, still a little out of breath. “That was ...”
“Unforgettable?” he supplied. “Mind-blowing? The best sex you’ve ever had?”
“Impressive,” she finished with a smile in her voice.
“Hey, don’t sound so surprised,” he said. “I can do stuff.”
Her laugh hummed through his chest and he nuzzled into her hair, inhaling deeply. He’d never seen her like this, so content, so open to him. He knew it wouldn’t last, so he tried to burn this image of her into his brain so that he could carry it forever. Her skin radiated warmth, as if she’d been soaking in the sun, and he dropped off to sleep to visions of sandy white beaches and crystal blue water.
Natasha woke in Clint’s arms shortly before dawn. He was still curled around her, his arm slung protectively across her body, and she felt a fleeting moment of absolute contentment before she tasted bile in the back of her throat and she knew she had to get away.
She slipped out of his arms, being careful not to wake him, and quietly pulled on her (his) clothes. A minute later she’d found a hiding place far enough away that she could have her breakdown in private. She sank to the floor, eyeballs pressed to her knees, and tried to breathe around the lump in her throat.
She’d slept with a truly staggering number of men in her life, but until last night there’d only been two who’d actually meant anything to her, and both of them were long dead. Now she’d done it a third time, and there was a very good chance she’d just made the biggest mistake of her life.
With any other man she could have enjoyed the attentions for a night and then politely sent him on his way. This wasn’t any other man, though, this was a man who loved her. Who had loved her for a long time, silently, faithfully, absolutely.
They could never go back to the way things were. They’d probably still be able to work together—he was a pro, he’d never consciously let something like this affect his performance—but it would never be the same. He would never look at her the same way again, never fully trust her. There would always be a sense of betrayal, a need to hold back, to protect himself. Because if she could hurt him once, she could do it again.
And it wasn’t just that it would disturb their professional dynamic, make their time together awkward and unpleasant. It was that the thought of hurting him like that, of accepting his love and then throwing it away, made her feel sick. She didn’t want to be the kind of person who could do that to him.
The problem, she realized, wasn’t that he loved her, it was that she’d allowed herself to love him back.
Clint woke the moment Natasha slipped away from him. He waited until the sound of her footsteps had faded away before he sat up and rubbed his eyes. He got up and brushed his teeth, washed his mouth out with water from the canteen. Waited five minutes, then ten. After twenty he got up and wandered downstairs to take a piss.
There was no sign of her, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t around somewhere, keeping out of sight. He tried not to let it bother him. She needed space sometimes, he got that. He wouldn’t go looking for her, he wasn’t that guy, but as he made his way back upstairs he couldn’t stop thinking about the way she’d felt in his arms. Couldn’t stop smelling her on his skin.
He laid out all his firearms from smallest to largest and unpacked his gun cleaning kit, because he needed to do something with his hands. She didn’t come back until over an hour later, when he was finishing up with his rifle.
As soon as he saw her face he knew everything was all wrong. Not that it was a surprise, really. He’d known there was a chance this would happen. Hell, a probability, even. He carried no illusions of a future filled with adorable rom-com misadventures for the two of them. He’d known the risks going in and he’d made his choice. He could live with that, if it came to it.
“Everything okay?” he asked, as neutrally as possible.
“Fine,” she said, turning away.
Natasha had at least dozen different fines—very few of which actually meant anything resembling fine—and he could translate each and every one of them. This one meant I’ve screwed up, meant I don’t know what to do, meant I don’t want to talk about it.
“Great,” he said, trying to keep the sourness out of his voice. “That’s just great.”
He must not have been very effective because he saw her spine go rigid. “Clint—” she began, not turning around.
Four descending electronic trills sounded from the phone in his knapsack, signaling a new text message. Instructions from command.
He rooted around in the bag until he came up with the burner phone he’d been given for this mission and flipped it open. A sequence of numbers and letters filled the screen, GPS coordinates and a time, coded so that only a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent could decipher them. He responded with a combination of letters that translated to message received, will comply.
“Well?” Natasha had come over to stand next to him.
He passed her the phone without comment and went back to cleaning his rifle.
“Tonight,” she said. “That’s good, that’s sooner than we thought.”
“Yep,” he agreed. “One less night in this shithole is definitely okay by me.”
“Clint—” she started again, then fell silent.
He looked at her. “So help me, if the next words out of your mouth are ‘We need to talk,’ I will put this rifle in my own mouth. At least do me the courtesy of not treating me like a cliché.”
She came over and sat down next to him on the floor. He turned his attention back to reassembling the rifle’s magazine. Anything to keep from looking at her, to see the pity etched on her face.
“That’s not—I wouldn’t do that to you,” she said. Then hesitated before adding, “But I guess maybe we do need to talk.”
He snorted bitterly. “What’s to talk about? You’re fine, remember.”
“Okay, so that was a lie,” she admitted.
“Natasha Romanoff told a lie? What are the odds?”
“Now you’re just being hurtful.”
“You’re right.” He set down the rifle. “I think we should just be honest with each other. Last night happened, and now you regret it. I get that. I don’t regret it, but I’m willing to go back to the way things were, if that’s what you want. You need reset button? You got it.”
“You’re an idiot,” she said.
He blinked. That was not even remotely what he’d expected her to say. “Um—” he said. “What?”
“First of all, if you think we can just pretend like nothing’s changed, you’re delusional. Second of all, who says that’s what I want to do?”
“You do?” he said uncertainly. “I mean, that’s sure how it seems from where I’m sitting.”
She shook her head. “Sometimes it’s like you can’t read me at all, Barton.”
“No shit, woman! You’ve got issues wrapped up in your issues. How the hell am I supposed to—”
Natasha pulled him into a long, deep kiss that left him light-headed and gasping for air, then followed up by shoving him to the floor and crawling on top of him.
“So, wait,” he said, because his head was spinning so fast he felt like he needed clarification. “This means you think last night was a good thing?”
The smile she gave him was sensual and intoxicating and sent a shiver running down his spine. She lowered her mouth onto his and he met it hungrily, his hands reaching up to cradle her face.
“That clear enough for you?” she asked, her mouth moving over to nip at his ear.
“Crystal,” he gasped.
Her hands trailed over his chest and then pushed up under his shirt, exposing the bare skin. “How long before we have to leave for the rendezvous?” she asked, pressing a line of kisses down his chest and abs.
He had to do the math three times because it was really fucking hard to concentrate with Natasha’s mouth working its way slowly down his torso. “Five hours,” he finally managed.
“Good,” she said as her hands found the button of his pants. “That gives us plenty of time.” And then she proceeded to do things with her tongue that were probably illegal in most of the red states back home.
Natasha lay on her stomach with her head resting on Clint’s chest, listening to the steady beat of his heart. Trying to convince herself she could make this work.
“So how was the second time?” Clint asked. “We hit mind-blowing yet?”
She laughed despite herself. “Your constant need for praise is not nearly as sexy as you think it is.”
“Come on, baby, how am I supposed to improve without feedback?”
“It was very nice,” she told him.
“Nice?” He groaned. “You’re killing me, Romanoff.”
“Nice is underrated,” she said, suddenly serious. “There hasn’t exactly been an abundance of nice in my life, so yes, it was nice.”
He pressed a kiss into the top of her head and his arms encircled her, pulling her tightly to his chest. “I guess that’s okay, then.”
She felt a momentary flash of doubt and wondered what the hell she was doing. Who did she think she was fooling, she didn’t get to have this. She closed her eyes and focused on the sound of his heartbeat … and it just … passed.
“I think we should go for Bosnian,” Clint was saying. “When we get back, I mean. I know this great place … you like cevapi, don’t you?”
“Sure,” she said. “They’re great.” Her fingers toyed with a tuft of his chest hair. “You know Coulson’s going to shit a brick when he finds out, right?”
Clint snorted. “That I’d like to see. On the other hand, since I don’t want to spend the rest of my life attending human resources seminars, I vote he doesn’t find out.”
Natasha smiled against his chest. “It’s cute how you think that’s even an option.”
Just after dark they stood side-by-side at the rendezvous point, armed to the teeth, waiting stiffly for their S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison to show. There was no way not to feel anxious and vulnerable at this part of the mission. This was where everything could either go suddenly, desperately wrong, or come to a swift end.
“Still good?” Clint asked, shooting Natasha a sideways glance. He’d decided he was going to check in with her as often as possible, short of actually driving her to murder him.
“Still good,” she echoed, only mildly annoyed.
A black Humvee turned onto the street and drove slowly towards them. Clint felt himself tense, ready to react if necessary. Beside him, he sensed Natasha do the same. The vehicle came to a smooth stop in front of them. The door opened and Agent Coulson stepped out.
Clint relaxed, nodding a greeting. “Wow, came to pick us up yourself. You worried about us, boss?”
“I was in the neighborhood,” Coulson said, dry as the Mohave. He took in Natasha’s makeshift wardrobe. “Enjoy your stay in Budapest?”
“Actually, yes,” Natasha said, smiling brightly as she climbed into the Humvee. “It was very nice.”
“Absolutely,” Clint agreed, smirking. “Lovely city.”
Coulson raised an eyebrow in a way that meant there were probably going to be a lot of human resources seminars in Clint’s future.
And yet somehow, Clint didn’t actually seem to care.