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professionalism is... hard

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Clint Barton, by all accounts, was having a fairly good day.

 

(Though, to be fair, every day since Budapest could probably be qualified as ‘good’ in comparison, since nothing, not even the alien invasion on New York, had managed to come even remotely close to the complete and utter clusterfuck that was his and Tasha’s mission during those fateful weeks in the north of Hungary.

 

But still—a good day, nonetheless.)

 

He’d gone down to the gun range (which Stark had so kindly retrofitted to include a small zone for archery, encouraging him to “Have a ball, Legolas!” once it was finished and snickering loudly at his own quip, because the tech genius thought he was about three times funnier than he actually was) and shot up countless targets with devastating accuracy, including a few trick shots for his own personal enjoyment.

 

(Tasha would always roll her eyes at him whenever he showed her his newest sleight of hand—or arrow, as it were.

 

She’d insist they were ‘pointless’ and ‘childish,’ even as her lips quirked with telltale amusement—he always argued back saying you never quite knew when you’d find yourself in need of an upside-down trick shot, or a scissor-kick-arrow-through-the-skull combo, or even a no-hands-only-teeth draw on his beloved recurve bow, so really, he was the responsible one here, and she was the one that was slacking.

 

In response, she’d just let out an amused huff of breath every time, rolling her eyes once more before returning her focus to the perfect cluster of bullet holes on her target.)

 

Then he’d gone to the kitchen for lunch, where Steve was preparing burgers and hot dogs in his star-spangled apron, like the red-blooded all-American Brooklyn-raised boy he was.

 

(For all his and Tasha’s teasing, he had to admit that Steve’s cooking was nothing short of heavenly.)

 

After gorging himself on three cheeseburgers and two-and-a-half hot dogs (he’d begrudgingly offered Bruce the other half, dying quietly inside when the man happily accepted), he padded up to his quarters on the 8th level of Avengers Tower, more than ready to slip into a blissful food coma for the rest of the afternoon.

 

Now, Clint liked to think that he was very attuned with each of his senses, even with the hearing aids he only ever took out to sleep—so maybe he should’ve realized right away when he entered his quarters that something was wrong, that there was someone there, but give him a break, alright?

 

As it was, he’d poured himself his daily glass of OJ, unwrapped a grape-juice popsicle (his favorite) to suck on, and was well on his way to bed when the hairs on the back of his neck abruptly stood up, and he was whirling instantly around, freezing purple popsicle still shoved far into his mouth and glass of OJ steadfastly in hand, wide blue eyes landing on none other than an amused Natasha crouched delicately upon the arm of his (Stark’s) sleek leather sofa, her green eyes glinting in that ominous way that seemed to say ‘I know something you don’t’ as she fixed him with her toothy Cheshire-cat-grin, the kind that might arouse a stupid man, but just made Clint feel as if he might shit his pants from fear.

 

(He prided himself on never having been idiotic enough to think that that terrifying expression meant anything except serious fucking trouble for whoever was unlucky enough to find themselves on its receiving end.)

 

Trying to speak but finding himself unable (what with the grape popsicle so ungracefully jammed halfway down his throat), Natasha quirked a brow as Clint scrambled to extract the unnaturally-sweet iced obstruction from his mouth, barely managing to sputter a weak “Hey, gorgeous” while he attempted to recover from his shock with deep gasping breaths of air (which only seemed to entertain the redhead even further—so not helpful).

 

“You’re lucky I’m not here to kill you,” she said after a minute, her head tilted as she smirked at him.

 

“You know, people knock in this country,” he retorted, his voice a tad gravelly and hoarse. “It’s common courtesy.”

 

She rolled her eyes. “And you’re lucky I haven’t broken all your bones and marooned you in Madagascar for being a loose-lipped jackass—see? I can do common courtesies.”

 

Clint took another generous lick of his popsicle, making a show of squinting his eyes in a skeptical expression. “Somehow, I don’t think we’re talking bout the same thing here.”

 

“Would you prefer the Madagascar option?”

 

“I was more referring to the ‘loose-lipped jackass’ part, but while we’re on the topic, I’d definitely rather you didn’t.”

 

Natasha pouted. “Buzzkill.”

 

“So?” Clint prompted, eyeing Natasha warily. “‘Loose-lipped jackass’?”

 

Her gaze narrowed. “I talked to Phil about getting a new mission. He said no.”

 

Clint hummed, drawing a tangy gulp of OJ from his glass. “So why aren’t you scaring the cheese out of him right now?”

 

Natasha’s brow furrowed. “Cheese?”

 

“It’s an expression,” Clint said dismissively.

 

“It’s not.”

 

“It is.”

 

“Not.”

 

“Is?”

 

“Is that a question?”

 

“No…"

 

“Hey, FRIDAY? Is—"

 

“Alright, alright!” Clint conceded. “Fine—I just made it up. But seriously, Tash… why am I getting the Babadook Treatment?”

 

Natasha wrinkled her nose. “I’m not even gonna ask about this… Babadook. But Phil said he wouldn’t give me a mission until I figured out my ‘personal issues.’”

 

Ah. Clint was starting to form an idea as to what this was all about.

 

“Maybe he wants you to get a date,” Clint mused thoughtfully, licking his ice pop absentmindedly. “It’s been a while since you’ve had one of those."

 

Natasha glared. “I don’t need a date.”

 

“Why don’t you ask Wanda?” he asked, completely ignoring her rebuttal. "I’m sure she’d be more than happy to accompany you.”

 

“Wanda’s not interested.”

 

“Isn’t she?”

 

Natasha pursed her lips (though Clint knew very well that every readable emotion on her face was meticulously planned, that Natasha was only allowing him to see what she wanted him to see—but years of partnership didn’t amount to nothing, because Clint had grown adept enough to occasionally extract the the words she refused to say, to make sense here and there of the cracks in her iron-clad facade). “You told him that, didn’t you?”

 

Clint blinked, feigning innocence. “Told him what?”

 

“About Wanda.”

 

“I may have mentioned it.”

 

“I’m gonna kill you. And your boyfriend.”

 

“That's cute.”

 

Natasha didn’t move a muscle, just stared him down with an intense green-eyed gaze. “Tell him I’m fine.”

 

“Tell him that yourself.”

 

“He won’t believe it, not if it comes from me.”

 

“Maybe he shouldn’t.”

 

“I don’t need a date, Clint.”

 

“But you like Wanda,” he stated. It wasn’t a question.

 

“I like a lot of people.”

 

“Funny.”

 

“Fine.” Natasha let out a small and almost imperceptible sigh. “So what if I did?”

 

“Then you should ask her out.”

 

“Now you’re the one being funny.”

 

Clint fought the urge to roll his eyes. “I’m being serious.”

 

“Hi, Being Serious! I’m Dad.”

 

"That was awful,” he grumbled, even as an affectionate grin tugged at his lips. “Since when do you make Dad jokes?"

 

The ghost of a smirk flickered across Natasha’s bare-faced features, but she didn’t offer up a response.

 

There was silence for a moment, then—comfortable, companionable quiet that Clint had grown to cherish throughout the many years of their partnership as he lapped eagerly at his popsicle.

 

Eventually, though, Natasha spoke: “Your boyfriend’s a meddling jackass.”

 

“Yeah,” Clint replied in an intentionally dreamy tone, sipping his OJ contentedly. “He is, isn’t he?”

 

“I’m gonna barf.”

 

“You know, this whole thing is quite fixable.”

 

“I’m not going to ask out Wanda.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because I’ll fuck it up,” Natasha murmured with a sigh, the woman allowing an exceptionally rare kind of sincerity to seep into her words.

 

Clint approached her slowly then, sadness in his eyes. “Tash, how can you possibly know that?”

 

She didn’t reply, just breathed evenly with both bare knees tucked tightly against her chest, looking wholly unbothered and perfectly relaxed as she sat—but Clint knew better.

 

He also knew she’d clam up if he tried pushing any further.

 

“Wanna take a nap?” he asked instead, having taken notice of the tired look beneath her eyes from the start—she hadn’t been sleeping lately, he knew, not since the shipyard with Ultron and Wanda (before they’d convinced the powerful but inexperienced Sokovian to fight with them rather than against them) where the young witch had delved forcibly into her bloodied past, the one she’d been running from since long before Clint defied orders and un-nocked his arrow on that fateful night in Vladivostok.

 

He suspected something similar had happened in the past week or so, because Natasha’s sleep cycle (or lack thereof), which, to be fair was rather fucked to begin with (just like his), had taken something of a nosedive recently—and that was just the part that he could see.

 

(He’d have like to think he knew Natasha well by then, and, to a certain extent, he thought it was reasonable to say that he did.

 

But still, he saw only what she allowed him to see, and precious little more than that—that’s how it had always been.)

 

To his relief, she nodded slowly, then began a graceful dismount from her crouched position upon the arm of his couch.

 

He smiled. “Want some OJ first?"