Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and All that Jazz

I've Always Got Your Back

Natasha wasn't at the gym that morning.

That was Clint's first warning that something was up.

He took his time going through his own workout and training regime, waiting for her. Even went through countless sessions in the "Kill Box", as Natasha and he had dubbed the large box-like firing range where holographic human forms would appear at random times and places, all trying to "kill" whoever was in the simulation.

It had five different difficulty levels, and was a grueling training exercise that kept you constantly on your toes and on the defensive, thereby both his and Natasha's favorite.

If either one of them ever was hit by one of the "holo's" trying to kill them, they would feel an incredibly painful burning sensation in that area, the effects often lasting for upwards of two hours.

It was in this simulation that Clint spent his time, still waiting for Natasha to show.

Three empty quivers later on difficulty level 4, (as it took both of them as a team to even have a chance to come out of level 5 untouched), Clint had finally had enough, and packed up to go see what the problem was.

On the dormitory level, he listened outside her door for a time and heard the telltale sound of the bathwater running.

That was wrong.

Natasha never took baths, and he was on the point of breaking down her door, when a thought struck him. Natasha never took baths, unless...

A quick check on his personal calendar back at his flat, confirmed his fears.

"Oh no, its today." Clint groaned, resting his head against the wall and muttering a curse.

Time to get to work.

Moving to his bookshelf, his slid back one of his numerous hidden panels in his room and took out a small black box. After peering inside to confirm its contents, he replaced the panel back on the wall and snagged a well-read Russian novel from off the bookshelf, before making his way back to Natasha's room two doors down from his own.

Setting the box and novel on the floor outside her door, he knocked twice before speedily disappearing up into the ventilation shaft directly above the hallway, slowing his breathing so that he didn't make a sound as he peered through the grating.

After a couple seconds the door opened, and a robed Natasha poked her head out. She noticed the items on the floor, and stooping, she picked them up, her eyes lighting up as she read the Cyrillic title on the novel that she quickly recognized as a favorite.

She opened the box, and a small delighted gasp escaped her as she unearthed its contents, weighing them in the flat of her palm.

She held two large bars of traditional Russian "Alenka" chocolate, imported all the way from Mother Russia herself.

Natasha quickly scanned the hallways for traces of who might have left the gift, but she already knew who was behind it.

"How the hell does he know it's today?" she said out loud to herself.

Ripping open a corner of one of the bars, she smelled the chocolate inside and closed her eyes with happy sigh.

"Oh, thank you Clint," she whispered, with a faint smile, that made the man watching in the ventilation shaft feel like he finally could beat that Kill Box level 5 all by himself.

With one last glance down the hallways, Natasha took her gifts and went back inside her room, closing the door softly behind her.

As soon as she was gone, Clint dropped noiselessly to the floor and stood for a few moments outside her door.

"You're welcome, Tasha," he whispered to the empty hallway, before running soundlessly away.

Clint showed up in the kitchen at 8:30 exactly, and joined Pepper who was preparing a Dutch Puff for herself and Tony.

Fend-For-Yourself day.

"Where's Natasha?" Pepper asked, as she set the oven temperature, for Clint and Natasha usually arrived together after their hours spent in the gym.

"Oh, she's washing up." Clint said casually, telling only part of the truth, as he began on two gourmet omelets, being sure to add lots of dill in one.

That was another Russian thing: they put dill in everything.

Pepper nodded unsuspectingly, and slipped her baking pan full of Dutch Puff batter into the oven.

Tony and Steve soon joined them in the kitchen and also began doing their share of the cooking, Tony mounting his iPod on the speaker and giving the room a party-like aspect.

Thor and Bruce came next, and lastly Natasha, wearing comfy looking black skinny jeans and a loose white tunic, her still damp hair pulled back in a perfect Dutch braid.

The same style, Clint noticed, that Lily had done for her the night before.

While everyone chatted, talked, and laughed, Natasha was strangely quiet. Not that she was much of a talker to begin with, but Clint noticed the difference.

"Here," he said, passing the dill infused omelet to Natasha.

Their fingers brushed as she took it, and she was sure to make eye contact with him, her eyes looking at him questioningly, trying to gage his reaction and read his thoughts.

He tried to keep to keep a straight face, to not give her any clues, but Natasha was the one person he had ever met who could look past the best of his masks and see the truth.

"Thank you," she whispered in a voice so low that only he could hear, her lips barely moving and her eyes straight ahead as she passed by him, bumping into him slightly.

Clint smiled to himself, as he turned back to the stove to serve up his own omelet.

The first time he left chocolate and other things on her doorstep, Natasha had pinned him to the wall with a knife against his throat ordering him to tell her how he knew.

If she knew about that calendar in his flat she would kill him...

"Christmas is coming up," Pepper began conversationally. "Two weeks, actually. Do any of you have any plans? Anyone you want to invite? I was thinking about having a Christmas dinner here."

"I don't have any plans," Bruce said lightly, looking around at the others.

"Nor I," cried Thor, "Though Jane and I wanted spend time together."

"Invite her here!" Pepper exclaimed, smiling.

"Thank you, I think I might."


Steve shrugged, "I don't got any plans. Would you mind if I invited Sharon?"

"Not at all! You could even have some of those kids come too, if you want." Pepper had loved last nights party surprise, and couldn't remember a party where she had had a better time, as she later told Tony.

Steve smiled. "We'll see..." he answered vaguely.

"I've got nothing," Clint said, joining the group at the table with his omelet, taking the available seat next to Tony. Then turning to Pepper. "I can help cook the Christmas dinner if you want."

Pepper smiled at the offer. "Thank you! I haven't yet decided if I'll just have the kitchen staff do the bulk of it, and maybe just make a dessert or something, but I'll let you know."

Clint nodded, and took a bite of his breakfast.

"What about you, Widow?" Tony said, leaning back in his chair with a mischievous look that Clint didn't like.

"You gonna invite your parents?" He laughed at his own joke, oblivious to the sudden silence and the way Natasha froze. "Or maybe a few friends from the Red Room?"

Oh no.

Natasha's eyes steeled, and with a sudden movement, she flipped a knife out from her person and sent it flying towards Stark. Fortunately for Tony, Clint had been warned that something like this would happen from Stark's first "joke".

That and years of being on the other end.

His hand was already feeling for the frying pan behind him, when Natasha first produced her knife, and when she threw it, Clint put the frying pan between the blade and Stark's face like a shield.

The knife hit the pan with a loud clang and clattered on the tabletop, its reverberations echoing through the deathly silent room.

Natasha stood so fast that her chair fell over, but she stalked out of the room without a word or a glance at anyone.

"What is wrong with you?!" Clint shouted at Tony when she was gone, who blinked, shocked that she would take what he genuinely thought was a funny joke so seriously.

Clint could see by his face that he had meant no harm, but that still didn't make up for the fact that he had fired such a barb at Natasha. The problem was that he didn't think before he spoke.

"What's wrong with me?" Tony cried. "What's wrong with her! She tried to kill me!"

"You mocked her dead parents and her childhood!"

"I didn't know it was such a nerve!" Tony shouted defensively. "Why cant she just brush it off like the rest of us?"

"Hello! She's PMS-ing!" Clint cried heatedly, snapping his fingers under Stark's nose as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Before Tony could come up with a reply, Clint slammed the dented frying pan on the table and walked out of the room.

Out in the hallway, he stopped and took a breath, forcing himself to calm down.

Tony really couldn't have picked a worst time to pull a stunt like that.

An angry Natasha was scary. A PMS-ing Natasha was terrifying. But an angry PMS-ing Natasha?

You might as well shoot yourself now.

And after having to deal with it first hand on a reoccurring basis in a partnership like theirs, Clint finally started to do the smart thing and keep track of them.

Hence the hidden calendar back at his flat.

He made it his personal mission, when it came around to that time of month, to keep Natasha as happy as possible—the less chance that you'll end up with a knife in your throat like Stark here almost did—and to do damage control whenever somebody did have the misfortune to piss her off.

Like now.

He really did need to find her, and had a good guess where she would be.

Taking the elevator down to the training center, he walked into the gym and heard, as he had suspected, the loud hum the Kill Box made when it was in use.

Walking over by the entrance, he pressed a few buttons on a large panel, and in a few seconds the panel opened to reveal his bow and quiver, retrieved all the way from his flat where they were stored on a wall that could be transferred to this room just for this purpose.

Slipping on his quiver and armguards before grabbing his bow, Clint glanced at the Kill Box control panel before he entered.

The crazy woman was trying to survive level 5 all by herself.

With a press of a button, the soundproof door slid open, and Clint was suddenly barraged with the sounds of a literal warzone—the sight of Natasha standing in the center circle greeting his eyes, firing off a constant stream of bullets from her two Glocks at the overwhelming number of holo's trying to take her down with an assortment of virtual weapons.

A particular holo was about to bring its axe down on Natasha's head, unseen by her as it was in her blindside, but in the blink of an eye Clint had put an arrow through its throat, the form shattering into a thousand pixels upon contact.

Loosing another arrow at an approaching holo, Clint ran to the center circle where he joined Natasha and began fighting alongside her.

She didn't say a word at his sudden appearance, but she pressed her back against his, switching her tactics to their familiar partnership where they both moved as one, each of them watching the others back as they slowly rotated in a circle.

The fight was hard and insane, and when Natasha had finally stabbed the last holo with one of Clint's arrows after she ran out of bullets, they both had perspiration on their faces and were breathing hard.

They stood with their backs still pressed together for a moment as they caught their breath, before Natasha broke away and turned to him, slipping her empty cartridges in her belt to reload.

She didn't say anything, only looked at him.

"I've always got your back, Nat." Clint whispered, as he looked into her eyes.

She stared at him for a moment, her face a careful mask, before nodding, handing him back his arrow, and walking away.

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