Disclaimer: Characters contained within do not belong to me.

Author's Notes: Thank you so much for all of your enthusiasm about the first chapter! I am very, very relieved to see I wasn't the only one who walked out of the movie with this pairing on my mind;)

Remembering Budapest

by Kristen Elizabeth

Budapest, Hungary

March 2010

Although the breeze coming off the Danube River was chilly, the Promenade was crowded with tourists and the local population. The woman sitting alone at the cafe was neither. Although she had a cup of coffee and a piece of kifli in front of her, she wasn't eating or drinking. At the moment, she was just waiting.

"If you're not going to eat that, I will."

From his perch on top of the spires of St. Stephen's Basilica, Clint couldn't help but grin as he watched Natasha reach up to touch her ear and the tiny communication device hidden within it. He had startled her after such a long period of radio silence, but like a true agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., she didn't let it show on her beautiful face.

His smile turned into a laugh as she picked up her sugar-dusted treat and took a big bite.

"Better," he said, still chuckling. "How is it?"

"Annoyingly sweet," she replied after she'd swallowed, barely moving her lips to avoid drawing any attention. "How's the view?"

"Unparalleled. Want to join me?"

She ignored the request. "You'll only have one shot at him, Hawk. Eye on the prize."

Although it was necessary over the radio, Clint never liked it when she used his code name. He much preferred the rare times when his real name was on her lips. "Always, Widow."

Suddenly, the wind picked up, rushing across his earpiece with such a force that it drowned out her reply. It was only when the breeze died down that he heard her. "...repeat, the package is in the open."

On pure instinct, honed after so many years of training and service, Clint grabbed the appropriate arrow from his sling, loaded it up and aimed.

The package...a Hungarian arms dealer who had recently started dabbling in bio-toxins...had emerged from his hours-long luncheon at a restaurant across the promenade from Natasha's position. Surrounded by his flunkies, he walked towards a waiting town car. The door was already open for him...he was seconds away from being out of their reach forever.

Clint let the arrow fly. It should have gone straight through the man's black heart as he crawled into his car, but at the last second, the target shifted his massive body to the right in order to dig something out of his pocket...and the arrow landed in his meaty shoulder instead.

"Shit," Clint cursed as the man crumpled to the ground. All around him, his flunkies drew their weapons, frantically searching for the source of the arrow as people scattered in every direction, scrambling for safety. Only the lone woman at the cafe remained in her seat, cool and calm amidst the chaos. "Nat..."

"I'm on it," was all she said as she stood up. Reaching underneath her tight linen skirt, she withdrew a wicked semi-automatic from the holster strapped to her inner thigh. The last thing he saw before he started making his way down the side of the building was Natasha walking towards a group of armed men.

They weren't people; they were enemies. They had chosen to serve a man who valued money over human lives and were, therefore, just as guilty as him. As Natasha fired at the bodyguards surrounding the wounded arms dealer, she didn't even have to run these thoughts through the back of her mind. They were simply the truths she had come to accept in order to do her job.

Dodging bullets wasn't easy in a spandex suit, much less in a skirt and heels, but she managed avoid getting hit by seeking cover behind a nearby car. Truthfully, she felt worse about damaging an Aston Martin than she did about killing any of the dealer's guards.

When she ran out of bullets, but not out of targets, Natasha reached inside her silk blouse for another magazine. As she was loading it, she heard a scream of pain. Peeking out over the top of the car, she saw Clint take out a guard who had been creeping towards her position.

"The package?" he asked her, ducking behind the car as the guard's friends continued their assault.

Natasha cocked her freshly-loaded gun. "I said I was on it."

"Nat, wait!" But he was too late. She had already leaped to her feet and started firing. When it seemed like she had taken out everyone standing in her way, she slid across the ruined hood of the car and started towards the original target.

Natasha didn't see the gun in his hand until it was too late. He fired wildly, not even bothering to aim, but one of his bullets managed to find her. Before she could twist out of its path, it slammed into her chest.

Burning, ripping pain. She'd been shot before, but the bullets had only ever grazed her. Nothing like this. She didn't feel herself falling; the ground rushed up to meet her and she landed without any of the grace or dignity that had been bred into her since she was a child.

She heard Clint scream her name, not her code name, but her real name. Or...at least what he thought was her real name. Did it really matter? She had been Natasha for longer than she'd been anything else. Besides, she liked the way he said it. Nat. Short and sweet. Intimate.

Seconds passed like hours as she lay on the sidewalk. The blood blossoming over her breast spilling down to the concrete was warm. She tried to press her fingers to the wound to stop the flow, but it hurt to touch it. Shock was settling in and she had no energy to fight it off.

"Nat? Nat!" Blinking, Natasha saw his face suddenly appear over her. Dotted with sweat, spattered with blood...he looked frightened. For a master assassin with a body count even higher than hers, that was saying a lot. "Help is coming, Nat. I just need you to stay focused, all right? Look at me," he demanded. "Don't close your eyes, all right?"

"Package?" she whispered.

"Eliminated." He looked down at her wound, but quickly averted his eyes, like it was too much to comprehend. "We got him."

"Good." She closed her eyes for just a second. "You missed, you know."

"Yeah. Won't happen again, I promise." Natasha could see his Adam's apple bobbing above the black collar of his sleeveless uniform. "Nat...I'm so sorry."

She slowly shook her head against the concrete street. "Don't," she ordered. Her voice sounded weak, even to her own ears. "Don't do that."

Sirens. They wailed in the background, but she knew they weren't for her. To avoid risking their secrets, S.H.I.E.L.D. would be sending their own medical unit.

But where they hell were they?

"Stick around and make me," he told her.

Natasha looked up at her partner, the man she knew so well. The man who, once upon a time, had chosen to save her rather than kill her. If she was going to die, there was something she needed to know before she went.

"Clint..." She reached up to touch the sandy-brown hair at his temple. "Why didn't you kill me?"

He captured her hand, entwining his fingers with hers, like he could keep her warm. "You've never figured that out?" She only had enough energy to slightly move her head. "How about this? I'll tell you when you're back on your feet."

"Now," she murmured, her lashes fluttering as she tried to keep her eyes open. "No guarantees."

Clint's chest rose and fell rapidly as looked down at her, like he was struggling with a decision. After a moment, he sighed. "Nat, the answer is so much bigger than I can say, but you have to know one thing..." As the bliss of unconsciousness started to wash over her, she felt him lift her fingers to his lips for a kiss.

She was already lost to the dark when he whispered, "I fell in love with you."