Louder Than Words

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Story Notes:
Originally written June/July 2012
The book is reaching the final reveal. Clint’s leaning forward slightly as he turns the page, waiting to find out if he’s right about the identity of the suspect or if it’s going to actually surprise him for once. He has to resist the urge to skip to the end of what seems to be a one-hundred page monologue from the detective to see the name of the bad guy, though. Or girl. He actually thinks it’s the sister who did it, so he’s hoping for it to not be a bad guy because he really hates being wrong. He’s almost there, hunching forward more over the book as he tugs it closer and reads the words leading up to the denouement.

And then he feels an elbow hit his ribs, hard. He glances to his right and scowls when he sees Natasha sitting beside him. She knows better than to interrupt him when he’s got a new mystery novel. Since she’s sitting around calmly looking perfectly at ease, he knows the world isn’t ending, so there better be a damn good explanation for this. “What?”

“You’re ignoring me.” She arches a brow before glancing at the book he’s holding. Before he can bitch at her, she cuts him off. “This is important,” she said, her tone a mixture of curiosity, amusement, and suspicion.

It’s the last emotion that he detects in her voice that wins the battle between ‘being pissy’ or ‘letting it go’. “What’s important?”

“He’s staring again.” Her eyes shift to stare at a point of his shoulder before focusing on him again. The action happens so fast that he knows no one else would have noticed.

If Clint needed any proof that they’d had too much down time since this whole Avengers thing had been put together, he’s got it now. Natasha is becoming paranoid. Well, more paranoid than she usually is, at least. He doesn’t even need to look over to know who she’s talking about. It’s Steve. It’s always Steve. She seems to be convinced that Captain America himself is plotting something involving Clint, which is a pretty ridiculous idea.

The thing is, Clint trusts her more than anyone in his life. It used to be an honor shared by Coulson, but, well, he tries not to think about the huge empty place that’s been gaping in his heart for months. That’s the problem with letting people get close, with creating his own family over the years. Losing one hurts more than being tortured for twenty-four days by a half dozen guys who aren’t amateurs, which is something he can actually say from experience. When he sees her eyes narrow, he realizes he’s drifting into that weird sad grieving place that makes them both uncomfortable because neither of them knows how to deal with losing someone they love.

“Maybe we can ask Fury for an assignment.” Clint knows the suggestion is pointless, since it seems that being Avengers means a lot of stupid publicity and blogs devoted to loving or hating or wanting to fuck them. Sometimes all together. Which, well, he can understand, he guesses, but it’s still weird. It’s also made the whole ‘undercover’ part of their job with S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty much impossible. Hence the twitchiness that Nat’s experiencing, which leads to paranoid delusions about their teammate plotting something against Clint.

And of all the teammates to distrust, she had to choose Steve for some reason. Steve who has become a good friend over the last few months. Steve who is definitely Clint’s favorite since he doesn’t count Nat in that competition. Not that they’re supposed to have favorites, being a team and everything, but they all do. Even if no one actually discusses it, except Tony who changes favorites like he changes socks, they all know there are preferences. Six people who aren’t alike means there’s always going to be clicking and different ways of getting along. Clint likes all of them, sure, but he likes hanging out with Steve the most. So Nat’s whole ‘he’s obviously plotting something evil because he stares at you’ thing is frustrating since he’d hoped maybe they’d get along now that she’s staying in one place for more than a couple of days at a time.

It’s too bad, really, that she can only be distracted with sparring, eating out, looking after him, and watching him read for so long because that would make things easier. It’s also too bad that Pepper’s been in California because she’s always good at distracting Nat, though Clint isn’t sure what her techniques are nor does he really want to ask because it might involve nudity, which is one of the best distractions for Nat and not something he can use since, well, she’s become like his sister and, yeah. Not going there. Besides, they tried that once, early on, and it seemed to confirm they were too much alike in too many ways for it to ever work. He’s glad, since sex is sex and family is forever. Not even death changes it.

The feel of soft fingers against his cheek pulls him out of the mood before he even realizes he’s drifted back into it. Nat just shakes her head once before stroking the curve of his jaw. “Don’t.” One word spoken with a firmness that shouldn’t even be possible in a whisper, but it grounds him and anchors him here. He reaches out to tug on a stray curl and smiles slightly, knowing that she understands everything he’s saying.

The sound of a chair scraping against the floor is startling. It’s particularly loud in the silence that’s surrounded them. He drops his hand and turns his head, catching the sight of Steve’s back as he leaves the room. The chair is against the wall, and Clint wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t leave a mark since it sounded like Steve had shoved it back with more force than necessary. His sketchbook isn’t on the table, which means he isn’t planning on coming back soon. If he’d just remembered something urgent or had to make a run for the bathroom, he’d have left his pencils and sketchbook because that’s his favorite window on this floor to look out to draw whatever it is he’s always sketching. Clint frowns as he tries to figure out if he should follow Steve or if it’s a ‘needs time alone’ type of thing.

“What the hell?” he mutters, turning to look at Nat. She’s staring at the empty doorway with an odd expression on her face, and he frowns because it isn’t familiar to him. He can’t read it, not even when she looks at him and stares him like he’s a bug on one of Bruce’s microscopes.

Suddenly, she barks out a laugh. It’s short but spontaneous, and he suspects there might have been a snort coming if she hadn’t caught herself in time. “Finish your book.”

“Nat.” He doesn’t bother asking her what she’s got going on in her head right now. She wouldn’t tell him, and he’s annoyed that he’d even have to ask. “Nineteen-hundred hours? I’m in the mood for asa kitfo.”

Nat tilts her head slightly, considering his request, before she shrugs a shoulder. “There’s a place in Brooklyn.” Her lips twist into a brief smile before she’s off the couch and out of the room without giving him time to agree.

“Fury has got to find her something to do,” Clint grumbles before opening his book and finding his place again. He doesn’t even bother to hide his triumphant ‘a-ha’ when he reads the culprit’s identity.