When Agent Clint Barton was instructed to kill the Black Widow, he was suicidal. He was a twenty one year old kid who had more kills to his name than a seasoned hunter. He’d been with SHIELD for about a year now, and it seemed he might experience the same fate as many another assassin: just one more name on his List.
He trails her at first, but he is lost in the busy streets of Russia where people take his American accent as an insult. He is lost and he is lonely, and when he sees little children alone, he thinks of his own parents crashing through a wind shield. When he sees them embrace a mother or father, he sees the faces of his targets, he remembers killing a man in view of his young children.
He dares not use his bow for this act. He takes a gun that he can’t identify the name of -he’d never cared about that sort of weaponry- and places it to his temple. He’s shaking as he stands in a dark hotel room, on the brink of death.
His sharp eyes, his hawk eyes (as his code name references) see a shadow move though and he drops the gun, grabbing his bow, still showing some semblance of self-preservation.
It’s the Widow. She walks out of the shadows to him, and he nocks an arrow back but she is fearless as she approaches him. There is less than a centimeter between her chest and the arrow tip. Carefully, she pushes the bow to the side and he is too stunned to disagree. The Black Widow wipes away a tear from his cheek-he hadn’t realized he was crying.
Their eyes meet, they know that he was sent here to kill her. She knows she should kill him first. And they both know what he was doing before he saw her. The Widow doesn’t speak at first as her hand trails down his face and over his chest. She plays her palm over top of his heart, and they can both feel the distinct beat. “This” she speaks in English, “This means you are worth something”.
He stares at her for a few moments before she retreats out the door of his hotel room. Clint doesn’t call after her, doesn’t say a thing. He remembers to breathe after a moment and eventually disarms himself before crawling into the bed that SHIELD has paid for. His eyes shut but he cannot sleep, he fears the nightmares to come. After an eternity it seems, a weight comes over the other half of the bed. He can picture her, spine against the headboard and her legs bent at the knees.
She begins to speak, lowly, in Russian. He imagines she must not know that he speaks it as well. She talks about the infamous Red Room, about little girls with hate in their eyes, about loneliness, and silence and how empty she feels. She talks about how at times she doesn’t feel as if she is alive, just playing a part. She’s trained to be a robot, she says, to follow commands without a second thought. But she wishes sometimes, that she were human, and she wonders if that means there’s a glitch in her programming.
He dreams that night of his childhood, of his brother and of a little girl with red hair. He dreams of white fences and suburbia. He dreams of another life, if he and this woman were both innocent. He dreams of home and family and of love.
When he wakes in the morning, she is still there. She seems defeated.
He stammers out “You know I’m supposed to kill you, right?” he asks. And she nods, but makes no move to defend herself.
He reaches for his bow but she still does not cringe or flinch or sigh. He touches it for a moment. Then he looks up. She’s still there, he still hears her voice ringing in his ears.
“Come with me” he murmurs, knowing how desperate he sounds. Who would’ve thought that he would ever have been pitied by the Black Widow. She looks shocked and shakes her head, “Agent Barton, I am not the sort of person that your agency wants on their team. I am not a good girl” she nearly spats that last sentence.
He shakes his head, approaches her and takes her hand. She is soft and delicate compared to the calloused coarseness of his own palm, but he nearly smirks because he still knows she could kill him with those hands without even blinking. He places her palm over his heart as she had done the night before. Her words ring back in both of their heads. “No, Natalya” he speaks her name, cautiously, “You aren’t the sort of person that SHIELD wants on their team, but this, this, is the reason I want you on my team.”
The Widow does not respond, seeming at a loss for words but when he calls on him comm for an extraction for two, she does not argue. While she seems alarmed when he handcuffs her, and tells her its just for precautionary purposes, she trusts him.
When they are being flown back to SHIELD headquarters, he sits next to her as she silently pretends no one on the quinjet exists. He whispers, so quietly that he doubts he did more than mouth it, “I do think I see some shred of goodness in us. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from the dogs”
Dark circles bruise beneath his eyes. Her presence comforts him despite the obvious danger of her existence. He rests his head on the Black Widow’s shoulder, almost affectionately.
She bears an expression of utter shock on her face as he treats her so humanly. For the rest of the flight he sleeps on her shoulder, as she chews on her lower lip anxiously. When the quinjet is silent she murmurs in her soft accent, “God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together”.
The Black Widow saves Clint Barton’s life that night. But it is him who saves her spirit.