Clint has no idea how Tasha does it, but if he closed his eyes, he wouldn’t know she’s there. The air currents that swirl and break around every other human being don’t acknowledge her presence, and her body seems to absorb any wave that could communicate sound. And smell! He should be able to smell her, right? Her mint shampoo, the wine on her breath, the garlic from lunch seeping through her pores, her farts for godssake—but nothing. She has no scent, makes no sound, disturbs no air.
Tasha leans on his arm to let him know she’s there.
And that’s when he hears it: a quick exhalation, followed by a major fourth beginning on G3. Two taps of someone’s right foot. Clint looks up and sees Garrob ten feet away in some truly noxious coveralls, seemingly completely absorbed in cleaning the bugs out of the hotel’s pendant lamps.
He can feel Tasha begin to slip her hand from where it rests in the crook of his elbow, and he narrows the angle between his forearm and bicep fast enough to keep her there, keep her eyes on him. He smiles at her besottedly, drawls out, “Well…” on the major third, clucks his tongue, and says, “You look lovely tonight, by the way.”
They’re down the stairs and out the door and on the street before Tasha steers him to an alley and begins smearing her lipstick all over his ear. “I am going to shove my earring posts through your eyes and leave you in the dumpster if you don’t tell me why you just lied to a fellow agent in the field.”
Clint stares into her eyes, not entirely sure where he just went wrong. “What? What’s wrong with not letting everyone on a mission know about our personal lives?”
She slides her hands along his torso to rest at the back of his neck. “Are you ashamed of me, Clint? Don’t want to be seen fraternizing with the Widow? Want to keep your options open back at base?”
“Ow! Jesus, Tasha, of course not!”
She drops the seduction act and stands square with her hands on her hips. “Then why did you tell him we’re undercover when he said hello?”
Clint bites his lip and looks down, keeping Natasha’s face out of his field of vision. He can see her fresh satin pumps and nude fishnets, and the perfect break of his own pinstripe trousers. “I just…”
“You just what, Clint? Goddamnit, look at me, don’t stare at your sh—Oh. Oh my god. Oh my god, really?”
Clint risks looking at her face, where unmitigated amusement has replaced baffled hurt. She’s covered her mouth with her hands, but her cheeks are so hard and high that she’s got to be smiling fit to burst. “You didn’t want him to think this is how you dress on your day off,” she says through her fingers. “What is the matter with you, Barton?”
“Stop it, Tasha, it’s not funny.”
“You’re right, it’s not. It’s hilarious. What’s wrong with the way you look?” She puts her hands on his arms and squeezes them lightly. “You’re perfect. You’re gorgeous. You’re a hunka hunka burning beefcake. And one of these days, Clint, you’re going to have get used to the fact that this is not the circus. No one you’re working with is judging you anymore. They don’t care that you spent a couple thousand on a suit. They don’t care that you’re got all dolled up to take your best gal out on the town. They’re not going to knock you down and rough you up tomorrow because you’re wearing a stupid hat.”
Clint glares. “My hat is not stupid.”
She smiles and traces its brim with one red fingernail. “I know.”
He ducks his head with a wry grin. “Are you really the one telling me that I’ve got to get over my past, be happy with who I am, and just enjoy the present?”
She shrugs, and the heavy chiffon of her gown shifts silently. “No one knows better than I do.”
“Okay.” He holds out a handkerchief, and she pulls out a mirror to redo her lipstick. She hands back the soiled white square, and he tucks it away carefully and kisses her on the forehead. “Does my best gal want to go crash that premier and get us splashed all over the society columns?”
She squeezes his hand, then tucks her own back in his elbow. “Coulson’ll have a conniption fit.”
Clint shrugs with his trademark devil-may-carelessness. “Gives him something to do. Been a bit boring back home, don’t you think?”
She holds on tight, and they saunter off into the night.