A New Beginning

Author's Note: My take on the line that spawned a thousand fics... Intended to be almost purely smut, it took a bit of a different, more wordy turn. I beg your forgiveness. 🙂

"Ms. Romanova. I'd like you to come in with me."

The fact alone that she had had no warning, no sense of his presence, before the man in the shadows above her spoke, was enough to make Natasha freeze. She had been in many tight spots, both before and after she went independent, and yet she had never felt quite so vulnerable, not since the Red Room.

She turned slowly, her eyes scanning the ceiling of the warehouse, trying to pinpoint his location without success. Still, she pretended, let her lips form into a smile while carefully keeping her hands away from her body. After all, she was almost better at pretending than at killing - and she was pretty damn good at that, too, especially when cornered.

"And what would you do to me, if I were to 'come in' with you?"

Her voice was controlled, a hint of flirtation to it while making her seem vulnerable. It was a strategy that worked on many, even most men. She still could not see him and it was making her feel exposed not to know what kind of weapons were trained on her or even if he was alone - although her intuition told her that this spy - or assassin - who managed to sneak up on the Black Widow, worked best on his own, just like she did. Too many variables otherwise, too many things that could go wrong. Other people made mistakes.

"Oh, Natasha - do you mind if I call you Natasha? Ms. Romanova sounds horribly formal after all those days I've spent tracking you… Don't play coy. It really doesn't suit you."

A job offer, then. Natasha considered. His speech, with its edge of laughter as well as its veiled threat, had at least narrowed down his location to somewhere on the upper left side of where she stood, making her an excellent target, the light from the roof window falling straight onto her. He had definitely chosen his moment well.

"Who sent you, then? Because I don't think you need anyone else to do your dirty work for you… Just an errand boy, then?" She had dialed back on the flirtation, keeping her voice light and business-like. Despite herself she realized she was beginning to enjoy this game they were playing. Yes, she was at a disadvantage right now - but he had not killed her despite doubtlessly having had many opportunities, so she figured her chances were pretty good. He wanted something from her, and that made him weak - all she had to do was bide her time and strike at the right moment.

"Well, I'm flattered you think I'm good enough not to need your formidable skills, but you have me there - I am indeed an errand boy. Although right now, I'm definitely exceeding my mission parameters." He laughed, as if sharing a joke with her, his voice echoing around the empty space of the Johannesburg warehouse, and she was suddenly certain that, somehow, he had managed to move his position without her noticing. Damn, he really was good!

Now Natasha really wanted to know who this guy was and her mind started putting together what she knew, even as she spoke: "People like us really should not do that - bad for our reputation and employability."

Who would hire a spy who disregarded his mission in favor of talking to his target? American, that much she could tell from his English, probably a bit older than she was, working for someone who had sent him after the Black Widow - not for talking, though. She had made many enemies in her life, but even if she still had no idea who he was, she thought she could at least guess at his mission. And his employer.

She kept her face and voice calm, friendly even, but prepared herself to jump to safety should he change his mind about disobeying his orders: "Even at SHIELD they are bound to frown on one of their operatives ignoring a kill order."

"Oh, they don't like it at all. Especially my boss, he'll be very cross with me, and he's really kind of scary in a one-eyed sort of way." Again he laughed, again from yet somewhere else, although still somewhere high above her head. He seemed to like heights - and he seemed delighted in her deductions. "Unless my little idea works and you do decide to come in with me. He might forgive me then."

Now Natasha was the one laughing, although it was more of a snort: "So that's your brilliant plan? Instead of killing me while you can, like a good little errand boy, you want me to come with you, join SHIELD, yet another big organization that thinks it can take away my freedom. Really? You must not have done your research. Do you know what I had to do in order to be who I am today?"

Well, so maybe antagonizing an as-yet unlocated opponent armed with unknown weaponry was not the smartest move in most people's eyes, but sometimes making people lose their temper was good strategy. Except that she was obviously not succeeding because she could hear the smile in his voice: "Oh, but I do, Natasha. Our files on you are rather extensive, and I got to study them in depth before they sent me after you. And so, here I am. Talking. Not killing."

Natasha knew liars, being one of the best ones herself, and he was not lying. She was pretty sure she knew where he was now - still in the rafters, now on her right, but instead of using this somehow, she fought the urge to wrap her arms around herself, a contemptibly protective gesture. "So what makes you think I'll accept your offer, SHIELD agent?"

"Well, thing is, my gut is usually pretty reliable - and I think, Ms. Romanova, that while you might be free, you're also bored. Bored of running around doing unimportant little jobs for unimportant little people. People who think they own you because they pay you and give you your kill orders."

Suddenly he dropped down from the ceiling in one smooth movement, his perch having been pretty much where she had located him, but for possibly the first time in her life fight was not the first thing on Natasha's mind as she looked into her opponent's face for the first time. He was still smiling, nonchalant even after having given up his main advantage: "Am I right or am I right, Natasha?"

Her mystery spy was all in black - of course - and carrying a bow and a quiver full of arrows, of all things, although she could also make out at least 3 firearms and 6 blades on his person. Natasha was starting to feel irritated with herself. When had this stranger become "hers" in any way, and even more confusingly, why was she still standing there staring at his smugly grinning face instead of wiping said grin off it and getting away. He wasn't even conventionally handsome, even if the relaxed way he held his muscled body, despite undoubtedly knowing all about herself and her abilities, was undeniably attractive.

"Since you know so much, why don't you at least tell me your name?" she finally settled on as the most neutral response. It felt as if a long time had passed, but in reality she knew their whole exchange had only taken up a couple of minutes, and she could still get away - with or without killing him. Although the fact that she even considered letting him live gave her enough pause to start realizing that possibly, just possibly a part of her was starting to take his offer seriously.

He shrugged, not coming any closer but lowering his bow just a fraction. "Seems fair - my name's Clint. Clint Barton. At SHIELD they call me Hawkeye."

Sometimes Natasha wondered how she had ended up living in a world where ridiculous code names were part of introductions - but then she remembered the answer to that question was "thanks to the Red Room", which pretty much sucked the humor out of anything.

"Hawkeye, hm? I can see that," she said consideringly. "You probably should have stayed up there in your hawk's nest, though, because a bow really isn't all that useful in close combat."

He lifted an eyebrow: "Close combat? You've decided to fight me, then? I mean, I'm good, but I'm under no delusion that you could take me out right now, even with your widow's bite still in its hiding place."

She had to force herself not to let her eyes flick to said hiding place, which was the reason she was in this godforsaken warehouse in the first place. "Honestly, I'm not sure yet."

"Not sure you could take me or not sure you want to fight me?" he inquired, his voice still deceptively calm, although she noticed that he had touched his quiver to unobtrusively move a specific arrow into place. Poison? Possibly not, not after all his talk.

She managed a believably-sounding snort: "Clint Barton, I'm definitely not worried about taking you in a fight - so you might want to wait with tranquing me and taking me in without my assent. After all, what would you do with me then? Your boss will just have me killed as an enemy agent if I don't come willingly. You know at least some of the things I've done, after all."

This time his smile was gentle, understanding, telling her that, indeed, he did know of the acts of violence she had committed but for some reason did not judge her for them. Instead of finding this patronizing, Natasha had to fight to keep a smile off her face when he finally replied calmly: "Oh, you are good. I mean, I knew that, theoretically and from observation; but the more I learn, the more I really hope you'll decide to come with me." He paused and his expression became mischievous again: "Come on, Natasha, join me at SHIELD and you can wipe the floor with me in the training room any time you want… And we get all the best toys for our missions."

He almost sing-songed the last part, as if he knew exactly that this would draw her much more than any ideological arguments about taking on evil or other such nonsense. He - Clint - was watching her now without moving a muscle, his blue eyes alert but calm. He really must have been watching her for a long time, in addition to being just good at his job - she hadn't thought anyone still alive could read her that well.

The thought should have frightened her out of her wits after the years she'd spent running and working on being invisible, but instead she felt her lips twitch and realized she'd made her decision. So apparently did he, because his shoulders visibly relaxed and he gave her a dazzling smile: "Welcome to SHIELD, Natasha!"

She did not contradict him, figuring that was answer enough, and instead simply asked: "So what happens now? Or did your brilliant plan not go any further than convincing me?"

At this he looked just a bit embarrassed, giving her the satisfaction of knowing that she was at least starting to have a read on him as well, and shrugged: "Umm, possibly?" But he quickly recovered, as seemed to be his habit: "I do hope they'll partner us at least sometimes once you've been vetted - I usually work alone, but I can tell having you along would make things so much more fun…"

There was a flirtatious edge to his words, and Natasha allowed herself a proper smile in return. She had no idea what would come next - but this, this she could handle. Clint Barton might not know it yet, but she had every intention of having him in her bed before he brought her to SHIELD. And, somewhat surprisingly, as until now sex had almost always been business for her, she found that she was actually looking forward to it. This was someone definitely worth getting to know better - and that talented tongue could surely be put to good use in other areas than talking... If it made him trust her, all the better, just in case she ever needed an out. Natasha let her smile turn feral around the edges: "Well, I guess all of this depends on where we go from here - Clint. But fun is a definite possibility."

Clint actually blushed rather adorably at the blatant innuendo, but his eyes met hers with a fire that matched her own. A part of her might be playing him, but even if Natasha was rarely honest with other people, she had to admit to herself that this man was already well on his way to getting under her skin. And she was almost prepared to let him.

Again this should have set off all sorts of alarms in her head. Instead, when they had reached Natasha's luxurious hotel room - after she had point blank refused to set foot into the dive he'd been living in - she let him make his call to his handler, a man named Coulson, and then planted herself in his lap and smiled down into those pretty blue eyes: "So it seems they won't come and get us until tomorrow morning. Any ideas what to do until then, agent Barton?"

His strong arms came up to embrace her almost immediately, not trapping her but sending shivers of anticipation down her spine as he regarded her mock-seriously: "Oh, plenty, all of them highly unprofessional. Why don't we start right - here…"

Heat coiled deep in her belly even before he closed the gap between their faces and kissed her. She'd been right about the fire between them - they sparked off each other, and what had started as an almost-careful exploration turned hungry in a matter of seconds. Natasha ground down onto his growing hardness and swallowed his gasp, while nimble archer's hands divested her of her top and bra. Natasha broke their kiss to whisper hotly into Clint's ear: "Somehow I think we'll find each other, even if they don't partner us."

"Fuck, I'm pretty sure I'd break into SHIELD's database to find you, regulations be damned!" Clint's voice was gravelly before he captured her lips in another deep kiss, his hands cupping her breasts almost reverently, fitting them into his palms, calloused thumbs against her nipples, as if they were made for them. This was when Natasha stopped thinking altogether in order to simply feel - another thing that should have scared her but did not, as she wormed a hand between them to slide open his zipper.

Life had taught her to scorn cheap sentiment, but her last clear thought was as trite as a greeting card: This was the first day of the rest of her life - and Natasha Romanova would do her damnedest to make sure this strange, irresistible man would be a part of it.

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