It's dark when Natasha shows up in New Mexico, dark and dry and quiet like nothing of interest has happened on base. Clint’s given up on trying to wrap his head around it.
"Come on, then," she says, inclining her head.
"Who says I want to go anywhere?" Clint asks. She doesn't say anything. They’ve both had long weeks; she’s three days post-mission, he’s been off for one. It’s as good a time as any for whatever she’s got planned.
He's ready to go in five. It doesn't take much to gather your shit when you never unpacked in the first place.
They're close to Colorado, Clint thinks. It's been long enough, miles and miles of empty roads. Just the two of them and a getaway car, driving until they're called back in.
"Alive," Natasha says, like that's enough. It is, Clint supposes. That was half the battle of her mission. He closes his eyes, lets the hum of the radio lull him to sleep.
When he wakes up it's daylight; he can see snow-capped mountains in the distance.
"Colorado Springs," Natasha says without looking up from her paperback. Clint recognizes it as the same one she's been reading for three years. He guesses it's hard to make any real progress when you're always checking your blind spots, always listening for something or someone.
His stomach grumbles. "Do they have food in Colorado Springs?" He stretches as best he can, cracks his back and sighs.
Natasha looks pointedly through the windshield. Sally's, Clint reads, in giant blinking lights. World's Greatest Coffee.
"Doubtful," he says, already climbing out of the car. Natasha smirks and dogears her page.
"Can't be worse than Malabo."
Clint shudders at the memory. "You're driving to the nearest Starbucks if it is."
They're in Kansas before they stop for more than thirty minutes, for more than lukewarm coffee and breakfast foods.
"Nicer than the last one," Clint says, tossing his jacket onto a sad, understuffed chair. The last motel they stayed in had a mattress than sank in the middle and blood stains on the walls. Granted the blood had been his, but still.
He turns on the TV, turns the volume all the way up, lets the local news wash over him. Five o'clock and the biggest story is a mural unveiling in city hall. He falls asleep sitting up, wakes up with a crick in his neck and goosebumps along his arms, the air conditioner blasting.
The water pressure's shit and the towel's threadbare but Clint's still got New Mexico dust stuck to his skin so he stands under the spray until it runs cold. His body aches from sleeping in chairs and cars and catwalks. He can't remember the last time he used a pillow.
"Shove over," he mumbles, a hand under Natasha's ribs. Her whole body goes tense for a moment, her hand closing around his wrist tight, too tight, her free hand automatically reaching for the gun under her pillow, before he says, "Tasha, c'mon," and she relaxes, lets go, rolls to one side of the bed so Clint can slide in. The blankets are warm already. It doesn't take long for him to pass out.
They spend most of their time driving straight into the sun. He doesn't ask about Stark again, she doesn't ask about gods falling from the sky. Clint kicks his feet up onto the dash and chews on toothpicks from truckstop diners until they splinter. He throws the unchewed ones at Natasha's cheek during rush hour traffic, laughing when she catches them just before they make contact.
"Fuck," he yells when she jabs one into his hand. He sucks at the blood that wells up when he pulls the toothpick out, tries to look as pathetic as possible to garner sympathy.
Natasha rolls her eyes and tells him to stop being melodramatic. "You'll live."
Clint laughs. It never works.
She dyes her hair in a motel in St. Louis, leaves rings of red in the sink.
"I liked it long," Clint says, tugging on the uneven ends. He suspects she hacked it off with a hunting knife.
"I didn't." She doesn't pull away. There's a crash of thunder in the distance and he doesn't think of Thor or hammers, he's too focused on the way Natasha tastes like stale coffee and altoids and something familiar that he can't name but would recognize anywhere.
Her hair leaves streaks of red across the pillowcase when he fucks her. Her nails leave streaks of red across his shoulders.
Outside it starts raining, drops hitting the windowpane like gunshots, like enemy fire. He goes tense for a split second and Natasha sees an opening, takes advantage, digs her knees into his side and rolls. Her teeth are a flash of white when she grins, her hair a shock of red.
He knows he sounds crazed when he laughs, breathless and shaky, but she’s right there with him, laughing and gasping, matching him stride for stride, beat for beat. Just like always.
Clint's in the shower when the call comes.
"They need us back in New Mexico," Natasha says. He can tell by the way she says us that she means him, that he's going back to New Mexico while she gets shipped somewhere else.
"Two weeks paid vacation my ass," he mutters. It's not really a complaint, though; they got four whole days this time. Made it all the way to Ohio.
Natasha throws him his jeans and a shirt, doesn't look away while he tugs them on.
"We could quit," he says, letting her press him up against the wall. Her hands are cool but the rest of her is warm. "You and me and a picket fence, right here. I never minded Ohio."
She catches his lower lip between her teeth, her bite sharp before she pulls away, smirking. "I'd kill you within a week."
She wouldn't, he thinks. That’s just a lie they tell each other because there are some things you need to keep safe, some things you need to keep at a distance. But they could make it, just the two of them. They'd get restless before long, though, go out looking for trouble. Or not. Trouble always has its way of finding them. Either way, it wouldn't end well. With them there's always bloodshed. There always will be.
Maybe it’s not a lie after all.
Clint grins and slides his hand around her waist, until his palm's flat against her lower back, anchoring her to him. He can feel her sharp intake of breath when his stubble rasps against her cheek as he leans in and whispers, "Not if I killed you first."
"I hope you're happy, sir," Clint says, answering his phone with one hand while turning the radio down with the other. He keeps his knee tucked under the wheel to steer. "The radio was about to play Livin on a Prayer."
"I wanted to make sure Romanov hadn't killed you and dumped the body yet, Barton," says Coulson. “Sounds like I called just in time.”
"She would never."
"I might," Natasha says, opening one eye. Clint flips her off and she huffs, an almost-laugh, and swats his hand away. "Eyes on the road."
She shifts, curling into the seat, and slips back into sleep just as easily as she woke.
"We'll be in soon," he tells Coulson. They’re five hours out, give or take a truck stop diner. He can see the sun coming up in the rearview mirror, bleeding pink and orange over the horizon. Clint turns the radio back on and hums along, presses down on the gas and races the daylight to New Mexico.