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Title: Heavy in Your Arms (11/15)
Author/Artist: Koren M. (cybermathwitch)
Disclaimer: Not mine. If they were, there'd already be a Black Widow/Hawkeye movie.
Pairing: Clint/Natasha, Coulson/The Cellist
Rating: Adult 17+
Warnings: language, violence, eventually sexual content, dub-con if you feel that mystical/destiny sorts of compulsions qualify as dubious consent (Natasha might agree with you)
Spoilers: None
Word Count: 3,256
Summary: Paths diverge and plans are put in motion.

Author's Notes: See Chapter 1 for more notes.

kadollan and sweetwatersong are both amazing betas (otherwise known as word goddesses) who I'm very blessed to have in my corner. (They are also super fast and on the ball and full of Very Good Ideas.)

So... the draft is finished. We're still working it over with a fine-toothed comb (because apparently when you write while recovering from a root canal you make really stupid grammar and spelling errors, I don't even know) but the last four chapters, the fifth interlude, and the epilogue, are all done. I'll post a chapter every four or five days (depending on how long it takes them to be beta-read. I would really love my betas to continue to speak to me for the foreseeable future and so I'm not expecting them to go through 18,000+ words in a couple days.) I'm hugely, hugely grateful for everyone who has stuck with this, cheered me up and on, and basically kicked my ass until I completed the damn thing. :)




Previous Chapter


Getting out on his own had helped Clint to soothe some of the antsy need to do something that had been gnawing at him all morning. Give him a mission and he could sit and wait for days on end, but just waiting... he didn't do that well. He didn't notice the voicemail until after he'd put the rest of the food away, and cursed at himself for leaving it in the pocket of his jacket instead of his jeans. The number wasn't familiar, but it could only be Natasha trying to call him and he fought off the urge to just dial the same number back so he could talk to her. He didn't have the same sense of need to be near her anymore, but he'd missed her even while he'd been relieved to be alone for the first time in days.

He listened to the recording and felt his heart sink. She wouldn't be coming home tonight. She might not be back for awhile, at least a week based on what she'd said, and he thought back to their conversation that morning and knew it would probably be a lot longer. His first instinct was to go after her, but she'd given no hint of where she might be going. SHIELD had been looking for the headquarters of the Red Room for years with no real success, at least not that he'd heard of.

The pain in his chest was something he was all too familiar with. He'd known she was going to go, had begun to brace himself for it, but he hadn't thought it would be this soon. He thought he'd get at least one more day with her. All of that coupled with the underlying threat that accompanied her returning to the Red Room, and the things they might do to her - he had incomplete information, a handful of rumors from files and a few things that he'd been able to interpret from what she'd said and done in the last few days. Then there was her dream, which he knew was a childhood memory. The thought of her out there with them, where he couldn't guard her blind-side made it hard to breathe.

He paced the kitchen while his thoughts ran in those circles, then forced himself to sit down and take stock of his situation. As places to be stranded went, this house and the area certainly weren't bad. He still had a lot of the cash left, enough to get by for a long time if he was conservative about what he used it for. He'd already proven today that he could get back and forth to the city itself without trouble or the need for his own transportation. That was good, too. He could hang out here indefinitely as long as SHIELD didn't manage to track them, and she would know where to look when she could get away.

If push came to shove, he could probably even find a job somewhere nearby thanks to the paperwork she'd gotten for them. The first passport he'd used had been Canadian, but the backup was for a naturalized Swiss citizen.

The sun was only just starting to set outside, and he realized he wasn't hungry enough to try to cook anything yet. Instead, he got up and made his way back through the house to the study to look over the books. He picked something at random and made himself sit down to read, wondering the whole time if this was one she'd read yet, if she'd liked it, or if she'd ever be back.

*****

The trip back to base took several hours, but Alexei was blessedly quiet. For all that Natasha disliked him, at least he'd always known how to keep his mouth shut. Mikhail or Tatiana would have insisted on talking to her, or at least at her rather than simply accepting the silence. She thought about how familiar they all were to her, and compared that to how it felt to be around Clint. Most of her fellow operatives in the Red Room had been in her life since she was a teenager. She'd trained with them, lived with them and worked with them, but had never felt any inclination to call them friends. She already missed Clint, even though she wasn't sure how that was possible, and thought she ought to be relieved to have her own space again.

The road narrowed before them and Alexei slowed the car as they approached the main gates. The guards waved them in after a cursory look at his ID and a check of the car, and they headed up the gravel drive that led to the complex of buildings that made up the headquarters and main training facility for the Red Room.

*****

Mikhail was waiting for them when passed through the main foyer. "The Overseer said she wanted to see you as soon as you arrived, Natalia," he said, and she didn't like the smile on his face.

"I will speak with her whenever she wishes," she responded, but her tone was icy. She didn't like Alexei, but Mikhail could be a violent and crude man who enjoyed the darker aspects of their work more than even she was comfortable with. As they'd become older, he'd been singled out less and less for covert work and mostly kept in reserve as additional muscle and incentive to uncooperative prisoners. It rankled him, being passed over, and he wasn't shy about taking out that anger on the rest of them when given the chance.

He gave her a mocking half bow, and a weak salute to Alexei before gesturing that she should precede him down the hall. That suited her just as well, she knew exactly where the Overseer would be, and she trusted her reflexes well enough not to flinch at him being at her back. If he'd been hoping for hesitation or some kind of show of discomfort, he was going to be disappointed.

General Pogdorni's office was, predictably, at the end of the long hall, behind an industrial strength door that was meant to seem imposing. She was nadsmotrshchik, the Overseer, the one who ran the Red Room. Natasha had spent far more time in her company than she would have preferred, both as a child under her tutelage, and as an adult once she had graduated to a full-fledged operative. The General herself was actually rather small in stature, but she made up for it by an imposing personality and immovable will. Memory made her seem larger than life, and it was always a little bit of a shock to see her face to face and remember that they were almost the same height and build.

"Natalia." The General's voice was warm, pleasant, and entirely staged. She liked keeping her agents on edge and was a master at knowing exactly how to manipulate each and every one of them. "Please. Sit down."

Natasha sat, and forced herself to relax and even to look vaguely pleased with herself for a job well done.

"How was Brussels?"

"It went very well. I spoke with Dr. Marchan at length. He's closer than we thought to replicating the original research, but hasn't begun any human trials."

"You read his research?"

"Of course. I committed it to memory. I can brief the science team in the morning."

"And Dr. Marchan?"

"He doesn't remember meeting me. He doesn't remember much of anything for the past two weeks. The serum Prokhorov developed worked admirably and mimicked the effects of a stroke."

"Very good." The General folded her hands over the folder on her desk, and just like that her expression changed. "Tell me about SHIELD, Natalia."

"A SHIELD operative was sent to kill me. I believe it was in response to the unfortunate incident in Prague last month. Like most men, he faltered at the idea of killing a beautiful woman, and took me into custody instead."

"You could not get away from him?"

"I wanted to see how much they knew. He came after me as I was leaving the banquet, and I wasn't sure if he was aware of our true reason for being in Brussels."

"And were they?"

"They were not. I don't believe they connected me to Marchan at all."

"What happened next?"

Natasha continued to keep her body language relaxed and even, as if it was all business as usual.

"They place too much stock in their mobility as a defense mechanism. It was relatively easy to entice a guard and then break free from their ship. I decided to lay low for a few days before returning, and had to adjust my travel route. I'd lost them well before I reached Geneva and called in."

"Excellent. That will be all tonight, Natalia. Make sure to meet with the science team first thing in the morning, yes?"

"Of course, General. Thank you."

She waited until Pogdorni seemed to turn her attention to her paperwork, then rose and left the room. She was able to feel the General's eyes on her but resisted the urge to turn back around.

"Am I in my usual room?" she asked Mikhail, who still waited by the door, and he nodded. At the foot of the stairs, he headed off in the direction of the training facilities and she made the rest of the journey alone. The corridors looked familiar but somehow felt alien to her; she had changed but they had not. Her perception of them had changed, she realized. Seeing herself through Clint's eyes (after a fashion) and spending time with him, had thrown a glaring light on many things she'd taken for granted about her circumstances and upbringing. It was comfortable, and it had been easier, before.

In her room she stripped almost mechanically and changed into clothes she could sleep in while she let thoughts tumble through her head. She tried to recall memories, tried to sort out what she thought had actually happened versus echoes of memories that she knew logically were false. As often happened just after a mission, she felt confident about only the most recent events. She knew that once she'd slept, even if she woke up in her own bed, some of that certainty would recede. She often struggled to find sleep once she'd returned to the facility, and tonight was no exception.

*****

It wasn't unusual for Maria to return to the carrier late at night. She'd always preferred to get paperwork taken care of when it was relatively quiet, and the rhythms of the cleaning and maintenance routines was soothing. It was just a skeleton crew, and a handful of agents working remote ops in other times zones. No one questioned why she was there, or why she'd called in two other Agents that weren't technically on the duty roster for the evening. Maria had chosen Williams and Murphy to be her backup against Fury, because she'd known Williams since basic training in the Marines, and she knew that Murphy would follow him into hell and back (and had done so once in Beijing). They were an excellent team, and she trusted them both to have a sense of duty that went beyond just the official chain of command.

If they thought it was odd she'd chosen an abandoned arms locker to meet with her, they didn't give her any indication of it.

She steeled herself as she shut the door and dogged the hatch, then turned around to face them.

"Agent Williams."

"Ma'am?" he replied dutifully, because despite how far they went back he was the picture of decorum while on duty and she'd ranked him for years.

"Do you trust me?"

That cracked his stoic exterior, just a little bit - and Murphy's eyes widened ever so slightly.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Do you trust that I have the best interests of this organization and everything we're sworn to protect at the forefront of my actions?"

"Everyday, ma'am."

"Are you familiar with Article 619, Subsection B of SHIELD's Revised Code of Conduct and Procedures?"

He thought about it for a minute, and she saw on both their faces when they placed it.

"Hill..."

"Agent," she said with a warning tone. Now more than ever they had to be professionals to the core.

"Deputy Director, ma'am."

"Exactly," she replied, knowing he'd understood her meaning. Article 619 dealt with the proper transition of command within SHIELD, and in subsection B it was clearly stated:

In the event that the Director of SHIELD has been compromised or poses a clear and present danger to the workings and integrity of the organization or the general public, it is the right and responsibility of the Deputy Director to relieve him or her of his or her duties and assume the position of Acting Director until such time as a hearing can be established to determine the efficacy and fitness of the previous Director and what further action should be taken. Such further determinations are made at the discretion of the World Security Council as the ultimate governing body responsible for SHIELD actions and orders.

She waited until Williams looked her in the eye and nodded his head slightly, the barest hint but it was enough. Maria turned her attention to Murphy who swallowed hard but met her stare and nodded too.

"I have a meeting with Director Fury first thing in the morning. You will accompany me to that meeting and you will wait outside the door. I will present my case to the Director and request that he stand down. If he refuses, and cannot present me with adequate evidence to disprove that he's been compromised, I'll need your assistance to take him into custody and transport him to the brig."

"Ma'am, yes ma'am," Williams repeated, and they both snapped to attention and saluted.

*****

Clint had finally gone to bed around eleven, not because he was actually tired, but because he hoped that the night before hadn't been a one-time result of bonding. He didn't relish the thought of more nightmares, but the idea of being able to go to sleep and connect with Natasha again on some level was intensely appealing. If that was even how all this worked, and really, he had no idea. There wasn't a manual for bonds and bonding, he realized. At least he didn't think there was.

And wasn't that odd? he reasoned. As popular as the idea was, shouldn't there be shelves of books about how to find a bond mate, what that would entail, and what would happen? People wrote and talked about everything, and okay, he didn't spend a lot of time browsing regular bookstores in his line of work, but he couldn't remember ever seeing any. Maybe fiction, maybe some historical accountings, but manuals? Not really.

It was the thing that everyone talked about but no one really talked about.

Thinking about it, he could understand why. He'd have been perfectly comfortable (if he'd had any interest in the idea) concocting numerous scenarios about what it might be like to be bonded before he'd actually done it. The reality though was an intensely personal experience, and not one that he would feel comfortable describing to someone else, even if he could find the words to do so.

He drifted off finally, with thoughts of her following him as he slipped into a dream.

*****

The ballroom was exquisite, and vaguely familiar. She'd been in hundreds like it before, sometimes to charm, sometimes to kill. The people that ebbed and flowed around her were colorful but indistinct. They brushed by her and she barely felt it. She wondered if she would be able to walk right through them. Then firm, familiar hands settled on her waist from behind her. If she'd been awake, she would've reacted before thinking, striking out to disable and taking him to the ground with her knife at his throat but here she recognized him instantly. Unlike the ghostly figures all around them, he was solid and real.

Natasha leaned back against him, and he wrapped his arms around her waist.

"I miss you," he murmured in her ear, and she felt herself relax further at the sound of his voice and the feel of his breath against her neck. There was a sense of safety and warmth in the space between their dreams that caused her to lower her guard and she found herself tracing his hands with her fingers, mapping the play of muscles under his skin.

"I'm sorry I had to leave. I wanted to come back," she admitted quietly. "But I couldn't tell them 'no'."

"I know. It's okay," he reassured her, and turned her around to face him. "Are you okay?"

"Yes." His grip tightened momentarily and the look he gave her was full of concern. "They debriefed me, they'll want to talk more tomorrow, but I'm fine, really."

"When will you be back?"

"I don't know. I won't know until they give me my next mission."

"Then we'll just have to make do with right now," he said and ran his hands up and down her arms. They were bare in her evening dress and she felt heat coil low in her stomach. She pressed closer against him in response, and he leaned down to kiss her, long and slow.

"It's just a dream." She sounded surprisingly wistful.

"That doesn't make it any less real. Does this feel unreal to you?" He tangled his hands in her hair like he'd done the previous morning and tugged playfully.

She couldn't help the laugh that escaped. "Of course it does. The entire situation-"

"Feels more real than anything else ever has," he finished and pinned her with a look. And she knew that he was right.

"Fine. Yes, it does. It's unsettling."

"Did you think that when you went back, everything would go back to normal and the last few days would just fade away?"

Natasha wanted to protest, but of course she had expected that. "Maybe," she relented.

He grinned. "Not gonna happen. Like you said, in your own way, we're stuck with one another now. Even if we can't actually be together," and he could still feel her reluctance even under how relieved she was to see him again, "then this isn't so bad, is it?"

She made a small humming noise that he decided was an affirmative, because she moved closer to him and ran her hands up his chest until they met behind his neck. He kissed her again, more thoroughly this time, and despite how hard he was getting, he was surprisingly content with it.

"It's a nice ballroom," he finally said after they'd broken apart for air and she'd rested her head on his shoulder. She'd just opened her mouth to answer him when suddenly he was gone.

*****

Hands drug Clint up out of the dream and he came awake swinging. He felt his fist make contact with what felt like someone's shoulder, but there were too many hands pinning him roughly in place. Then he felt a needle in his arm and someone roughly pulled some kind of a hood over his head. The effects were nearly instantaneous - he didn't completely lose consciousness, but his body turned distant and uncooperative. Someone fastened handcuffs around his wrists and then he was pulled up and dragged from the room.


Chapter 12

Comments

( 8 comments — Feedback is an Act of Love )
sweetwatersong
Jul. 3rd, 2013 12:44 pm (UTC)
\o/ As always, love it! :) I'm so glad you're back to writing and working on this.
cybermathwitch
Jul. 4th, 2013 06:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you, hon! :D ::HUGS YOU::
hufflepuffsneak
Jul. 3rd, 2013 10:40 pm (UTC)
Cliffhanger! Now I really want the next installment.

And you've finished the draft :) *happy squealing*



cybermathwitch
Jul. 4th, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
Soon! :D

I am so relieved to have the draft done. ::dances::
alphaflyer
Jul. 5th, 2013 06:09 am (UTC)
In a word: gripping. Glad you're back on track! :-)
cybermathwitch
Jul. 5th, 2013 07:49 am (UTC)
:D Thank you!
crazy4orcas
Jul. 8th, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC)
Great cliffhanger!

I love the whole scene where they're together in the dream.

There was a sense of safety and warmth in the space between their dreams that caused her to lower her guard ... -- I hope they eventually find that safety and warmth in more than just the their dreams!

And your Maria is pretty kickass!
cybermathwitch
Jul. 9th, 2013 12:23 am (UTC)
Thanks! :D

I really <3 this Maria to pieces.
( 8 comments — Feedback is an Act of Love )

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