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All this distance (keeps us up at night)

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Natalie Rushman was getting on Clint’s nerves.

This was the fourth time Natasha had picked that cover and okay, yeah, he understood why she liked Natalie so much but he was getting tired of her.

After their last mission together had gone south, Coulson decided he’d had enough of their shit and told them he was grounding them. As if they were naughty children. And since he thought he knew everything and he was always right, he’d gotten the impression that it was their dancing around each other that kept getting in the way. In reality, it was the shit information they kept receiving that got them into sticky situations they had to find their way out of by themselves, almost as if someone was setting them up. If anything, it was their “dancing around each other” that got them out of said situations. It was the way they thought as one and knew each other’s every muscle and movement. If they’d been paired with someone else, the outcome was bound to be much more dreadful.

And so, for the past two months, because of Coulson, who hated them, they had been consistently sent out on assignments in different ends of the world at the same time as to not screw anything up. Out of spite (and habit), they shared everything with each other whenever they were back on base at the same time.

For the first time in these two months, Clint was base-bound in preparation for his next mission while Nat was working. The best part of it all was that they were both in LA. In the flashiest building in the entire city. Employed by the most arrogant and popular billionaire in the world. He would have laughed if he wasn’t bitter over the fact that he couldn’t be there with her.

He knew the basics. She was Stark’s private assistant, she was monitoring him and was to deliver an evaluation for one of Fury’s shrouded in darkness projects. He was aware that she’d most probably have to woo Stark into cooperating but that didn’t mean he particularly enjoyed the idea.

Natasha was good at her job. She was more than good. It was as if she was born for this, except, Clint noted, without all the torture she’d been through. He liked imagining a world where they weren’t what they were. An alternative universe where they were just normal people, living normal lives, having met under normal circumstances. Too bad nothing about them was normal.

Not their job, not their friends, as little of those as they had, not their lives and not their partnership. Everything was tangled up in a ball of complicated connections and loopholes, small text. There was nothing normal about what they did and the way they did it. Clint preferred a bow and arrows over guns every day.

Ever since Coulson had grounded them from working together, they’d found a dozen ways to go behind his back and test his patience and his rules. (He had a soft spot for them anyways.)

In Istanbul, Clint had showed up as a limo driver to take the rich Russian heiress to a gala fundraiser which was a front for selling girls to wealthy old men with nothing better to waste their money on. Natasha had ignored him for the entirety of the ride, regardless of the fact that the limo was completely clean and empty aside from them. On her way out, she’d muttered a single “asshole” in her mother tongue.

Two weeks later, she showed up in Innsbruck posing as an Interpol agent assigned to the same case for which Clint was pretending to be a short-tempered German detective who’d went through numerous other precincts throughout the country. The guy was actually a petty pick-pocketer targeting tourists and neither of them really had any interest in him. Clint was there to dig deeper into the dirty laundry of a senior detective who was rumoured to be corrupted enough to trade information with HYDRA, and Natasha was there to annoy Clint.

He didn’t acknowledge her more than someone would acknowledge a pesky fly and played his part. When she was leaving his hotel room a three days later, he told her she was being unfair. He’d only showed up for a few minutes after all. She told him to suck it up and promptly slammed the door.

It turned into a game after that. They were constantly trying to one up each other, affect the other one more, complicate the mission as much as possible for the little time they had together. And it worked, partly because they straight up lied to their handler, partly because they didn’t technically break any rules, only bent them as far as they would go.

The week before, Tasha had shown up in Tokyo as Natalie, all but posing naked for a photographer known for sexual assault and drug trafficking. She’d almost sent Clint into a panic attack. He was only meant to be monitoring the creep, report any unusual activity and bring him in, not take him down, Barton, the second he caught him red-handed. His partner was coming back from a mission in Singapore, as he would later find out, when their handler had informed her that she might as well expand her favourite alias’s resume. Nat would tell him four days later as they hastily put their clothes back on to clear out the hotel room that she’d only had to call Kate to find out where he’d been assigned.

And now, the archer thought, was about damn time to pay her back for her little cameos.

The mission wasn’t high-stake or Level Seven priority, it wasn’t even as exciting as the Tokyo job, and that had been boring as hell. He was pretty sure Coulson was messing with them in his own kind of little game, in answer to their cheeky free-interpretation.

The ops had been getting lamer and lamer, but as dull as they seemed, the Strike Team didn’t seem to mind or even notice with the anticipation of meeting each other out there somewhere, in any and every ridiculous situation. It kept them on their toes and made everything just a bit easier to bear.

So as Clint was pouring another cup of crappy motel coffee, he turned over in his head all possibilities to throw Natasha off her balance. He tried to think the way she did, to predict where she might expect him to turn up, but the mere notion of getting wrapped up in the mess that was Stark Industries sounded repulsive enough for him to reevaluate his approach to the task at hand.

It was one thing to try and push his partner on the ice, and another altogether to just… enjoy messing around with her. Who cared that she’d almost blown both of his previous missions. He missed her. He missed seeing her for more than a few minutes or hours every few days or even longer. He missed having a partner, if he was honest with himself. He was always honest with himself when it concerned her. (Excluding that time he tried to fool himself that everything between them was purely platonic.) And after the call he’d gotten earlier that day from Coulson, he knew that might be his last chance to catch her before he left in fourteen hours.

That’s how he found himself standing in front of the main entrance of Stark Industries, leather jacket on top of a grey shirt and combat boots on, despite the constant heat, a bouquet of fresh red flowers tightly gripped in one hand. He’d heard about a flower shop that could translate words into flowers and he’d made his way to the Flower Market, which had been conveniently situated halfway to his final destination. He’d waited in a line to even get inside the damn shop and then he’d taken one look at the arrangement perched in a vase behind the counter and just asked what it meant. Luckily enough, it had turned out that was exactly what he’d needed.

Los Angeles flower shops were fucking expensive, Clint decided in retrospect, but he didn’t regret it, not really. On his way out, he’d seen a bunch of wispy purplish flowers with a tag below them reading Spider Flowers and Clint had made a 180 back to the counter with one last request. The owner had smiled mischievously but hadn’t said anything.

And now, with a handful of all red chrysanthemums, carnations and gardenias, he’d remembered them all, and one single spider flower tucked in the middle, he wondered how to approach the entire situation.

There was a possibility that security might let him in, and crawling through the vents in these clothes and with a stack of flowers was just out of the question. He wanted to keep it a surprise, so he couldn’t call her and ask her to come outside either. Besides, he could have some fun with the whole thing. With a sigh, he decided to go with option number one and try his luck with security. He was a damn spy. If he couldn’t lie his way at least through the front door, what was he even doing with his life?

Luckily for him, all he had to say at the front desk was that he was looking for Natalie Rushman and the blonde woman standing right next to him going through a pile of files turned in surprise and told the receptionist she would take it from there. O...kay?

The woman scanned him head to toe, a critical glint shining in her eyes. Clint did his best to not raise his eyebrows.

“May I know why you’re looking for my personal assistant,” she asked, hands crossing in front of her chest.

“Uhhh...” was his clever response. He was confused and his brain needed a minute to recalibrate, so he did the next best thing to talking. He raised the flowers in front of him, as if that was the only explanation needed. It wasn’t. The woman just narrowed her eyes at him with a frown. “I’m… her boyfriend?”

“You do’t sound so sure about that.”

“You’re making me doubt myself.” You weren’t supposed to find out.

“Right, and you’re sure you’re not just a random stalker?”

“Wah…?” Clint found himself gaping at the blonde. She stood slightly taller than him on her heels and wore a sharp grey dress. Her hair was coiled tightly in an up-do and her expression seemed to be frozen in an assertive glare. Crap, his plan was going south real fast. “Ma’am, I can assure you, I am no stalker. And I know it’s probably against your company’s rules, but I needed to at least tell her goodbye before I left for work.”

She stood there, staring at him, as if not believing a word he said. Well, that was a blast, considering not a single lie had left his mouth. In the end, she seemed to come to a conclusion and passed him with a “Come with me”.

The archer decided not to make his case any harder than it already was, and he knew an authoritative figure when he saw one, so he did what was best for him and complied.

She took him to the top of the building, then down an elevator and into a spacious office, and Clint actually considered his chances in case he’d gotten himself in some kind of sticky situation. He’d gotten the correct building, right? And that woman knew Natalie Rushman? Shit, had Nat fucked up the mission without telling him? Aww, Tasha.

The door to the office read “Pepper Potts, CEO” and Clint made a mental note to start checking the news every once in a while, damn it. With the new knowledge of the woman’s name, he felt only slightly more prepared for a conversation with her.

“Please, have a seat,” she gestured as she made herself comfortable behind her desk. “We can wait for Natalie here, I’m afraid she’s running some errands for me.” For some reason, Clint felt like he’d been sent to the principal’s office and wasmeeting his girlfriend’s parents all at once. It was definitely not a nice feeling, he decided, made him all nervous and sweaty. He took off his jacket. “So, Mr...”

“Uh, Bishop. Clint Bishop.” Crap. Why wasn’t he better prepared. He wouldn’t hear the end of it if Kate ever found out. “Call me Clint, please.” She nodded and smiled. Clint was only slightly worried about the suspicious look she was trying to hide (unsuccessfully).

“Clint… How long have you and Natalie been together?” He couldn’t see any assessment in her eyes, just pure curiosity, if not a little confusion. He could have played it defensive if that hadn’t been a perfect opportunity to get back into their little game. So instead, he smiled and made sure to plaster the goofy look on his face Natasha always teased him about.

“About half a year,” he answered truthfully. “But we danced around each other quite a while. We’ve been friends for so long and I guess it just… snuck up on us.” The CEO of Stark Industries hummed.

“That’s sweet. And you’d say your relationship is… going strong?” Clint furrowed his eyebrows. Was she trying to hit on him or was she insinuating something about Nat? He hoped it was the second one, he really wasn’t up for a scene.

“Yeah, I’d say so.” He could hear his voice hardening and winced inwardly. The woman cleared her throat and seemed to be preparing herself for what would come next, like getting ready to pull off a bandaid.

“Natalie’s never mentioned a boyfriend before.” She was beating around the bush.

“Yeah, we don’t really like mixing our work lives and our personal lives. It tends to get messy. Miss Potts, are you trying to tell me something,” he couldn’t help but ask. At this rate, Natasha would get there before the woman said what she so obviously wanted to. She took a deep breath and cringed as if in pain.

“Gosh, I hate doing this but I feel like you have the right to know. I feel like… Natalie has been flirting with other men while she’s been with us. Um, Tony Stark specifically.”

Ah, there it was. The truth, out, finally. Yeah, no, Clint wasn’t surprised to hear that but he had a part to play, so he furrowed his eyebrows and looked down to his lap where the crimson flowers were laying gently. He shook his head.

“Maybe you misunderstood, Ma’am. Nat can be a bit intense sometimes and it can be mistaken for something it’s not. I trust her. She would never go behind my back like that, I know it.” It took a lot of him not to laugh right then and there. Yes, it was very possible that she was flirting with the arrogant twat but none of it was genuine for sure. It never was, not with any mark. Natasha’s real flirting was much more subtle and he’d barely picked up on it.

“Of course,” the woman rushed to agree. “I’m sure I don’t know her the way you do. I just wanted to let you know what I’ve seen. I’d hate for anyone to end up in a relationship where they’re being deceived. But if you’re certain that’s not the case, then I have--”

A knock interrupted her and a second later the door opened. Clint didn’t turn around, instead opting to keep looking at the woman with a small smile.

“I’m sorry, Miss Potts,” he heard Natasha say. “I didn’t know you were in a meeting. I’ll come back when you’re done.”

“Nonsense, Natalie, please. I believe Clint is here for you, actually.” Clint didn’t need to see her to know she had tensed. He stood and faced her, flowers gripped in his hand and a cheshire grin stretching out his face.

“Hey, Nat.” She stared at him, a stack of papers held safely to her chest. Her eyes widened and her lips parted in surprise. That’s it, Clint thought. If she hadn’t been a spy, she could have been one of the best actresses to have ever walked the earth.

“What are you doing here,” she asked barely audibly but he could see the glint in her eyes. He stretched out the arm holding the bouquet and rubbed his neck sheepishly. “I got you flowers.”

“That doesn’t explain why you’re here, though,” she said but took the flowers nonetheless. Pepper made her way to the door.

“I have some stuff to do, you two can stay here.” Natasha thanked her with a carefully calculated smile. When the door clicked shut after her boss, her attention snapped back to her partner.

“What--” she started repeating the question again but Clint cut her off.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. I’m leaving for New Mexico tomorrow and since there would be no way to see you before that I decided to try my chances with this place,” he waved his hand around with a grimace and Natasha scoffed, then frowned.

“Already? But you just got back from Taipei two days ago.”

“Yeah, I know, I don’t like it either. Boss man said they needed my eyes on the site, though.” She narrowed her eyes.

“I’m gonna need to have a word with Phil.”

“You know that’s not gonna help,” Clint laughed. “Anyway, he’s coming with this time, so you won’t have to worry that much this time.” She levelled him with a flat look.

“Clint, if anything, that’s a reason to worry even more.” He smiled and wrapped his arms around her, leaning in to kiss her.

Natasha allowed him to do so for barely a few seconds, not nearly enough to satiate the hunger for her he’d been feeling recently. She leaned her forehead on his and closed her eyes, letting out a deep, tired sigh.

“I have to get back to work,” she informed him regretfully. “Tell me about the flowers,” she whispered as she pressed their noses together, so close yet so far away.

It wasn’t that he’d never gotten her flowers. He had, especially while they were posing as a couple. It was simply that he’d gone with his real name, found her while they weren’t playing a part together and he’d obviously put in quite some effort in the gesture.

She appreciated the flowers, but found herself at a loss of what to do with them. She’d never needed him to prove himself to her, not in a way like that. The trust he put in her and offered at the same time was enough. The gentle touches in the small hours of the night and the smirks in the middle of a briefing were enough. His unyielding presence by her side, no matter the circumstances, from the very beginning, despite her ledger, was enough.

It was nice, though. It brought a smile across her face as she looked down at them and waited for his explanation.

“They made me think of you,” he shrugged. While it wasn’t necessarily a lie, she knew him better than that. She recognised his half-truths, knew when he wasn’t telling her everything. One look was all it took from him to grin and spill the beans. “Okay, well. I just really missed you. I wanted to do something nice. Who knows when the next time I see you is gonna be, so… I know, I know, it’s terribly sentimental, but--”

She cut him off with her lips on his, breathing in his next words, tangling the fingers of her free hand in the hair at the nape of his neck. Her palm slid down his arm to the back of it, and she pinched. He broke off the kiss with a hiss.

“Ow, Tasha, what the--”

“You are so lucky I no longer have to lie to Stark. Can you imagine the shit show if word got out that I’d been flirting with the owner while in a relationship? It would have ruined the entire mission.”

“Uhhh… I’m sorry?” He wasn’t really. She scoffed at him and stepped back, a glare nestling in her eyes.

“I have to get back to work. And find a place for the flowers. Get out of here.” The last part was said with a hint of amusement and he pouted playfully.

“Aw, come on, Nat.” He spread out his arms. “I’ll be so far away for who knows how long. You really want me to go already?”

“You’re distracting me.”

“Good,” he said with another smirk and leaned in to kiss her again. She didn’t pull back immediately and he took it as a win. She sighed in his mouth, allowing herself to stay in that moment, in that office, just a bit longer. If only it could last forever.

She put a hand to his cheek, running a thumb over the stubble, and detached their lips. It almost pained her to do so.

“I really have to go,” she whispered. He nodded in resignation and planted a kiss to her forehead.

“Okay… okay.”

He went back to the desk to grab his jacket and grinned at her.

“Chrysanthemums, carnations and gardenias, look them up, these colours specifically.” When he was at the door, he turned around and winked at her. “That’s a spider flower in the middle, by the way.”

And then he was gone, and she was alone in Miss Potts’ office. Natasha sighed and looked down at the flowers, committing each of them, each of their names, to memory. Chrysanthemums, carnations and gardenias. And spider flower.

When Clint got off the plane the next morning, there were two texts demanding his attention. One from Coulson, containing coordinates, and one from Natasha.

Clint, what the fuck?