He drove Phil home in a rental car, the miles melting away under tires that weren't his. He hadn't owned a single car in his entire life. There was no point; between the circus and SHIELD there were always people willing to get him where he needed to go. This wasn't about him, though.
Phil was curled up in the back seat, head propped on a pillow, blanket pulled up around his shoulders. He'd been asleep for the entire trip. It might have been the pain killers. It might have been the gentle jouncing and soft hum of the open road. Clint had caught himself nodding a few times, lulled into a state of peaceful mindlessness by the sameness of it all.
The radio was off. He'd had it on at the beginning of the trip, but it had seemed wrong somehow. Three hours in, it had rained for a bit. That was the last thing Clint could recall hearing that wasn't car or road or Phil, breathing softly in the backseat. He sang softly to himself now, CCR under his breath in between sips of Red Bull.
The timbre of Phil's breathing changed marginally. Clint fell silent. There was a rustle, a weak cough.
"Where am I?" Phil's voice was barely a croak. Clint fished a bottle of water out of the passenger seat and handed it back. When Phil spoke again, he sounded slightly stronger. "Barton?"
"Yes, sir," Clint answered. "You're in a car, sir. We're on a road trip."
"Thought it would be nice, sir."
"Quit calling me that, Barton." There was a long pause, punctuated by the pained rasp of Phil's breath as he struggled into a seated position. "Where are we going?"
"Nowhere in particular," Clint answered. Phil's seatbelt clicked softly.
"Sounds nice," he murmured.
They stopped at a rest area in Virginia and Phil managed to walk a few paces away from the car, stretching his legs gingerly. Clint hit the vending machines, deposited his haul in the passenger seat.
"Let me see your bandage," he ordered, helping Phil pull his arm through the sleeve of his soft cotton t-shirt.
"No blood," Phil observed wryly.
"Nope," Clint said. "Looks good. Does it hurt real bad?"
"Yeah," Phil sighed.
"Take this." Clint produced a bottle of pills and a Sun Drop from the car. "You'll feel better."
"Yes, doctor," Phil muttered.
He slept the rest of the way through the state.
It was dark when Clint stopped the car again. His legs were stiff. His back ached. His head pounded so hard he was sure he could hear it thundering. A groan escaped his lips as he poured himself out of the car. Cool air surrounded him like an embrace and he lifted his face to the sky. Behind him, Phil straggled out of the car, clutching his shoulder.
"Where are we?" he asked.
"North Carolina," Clint answered. He hopped up on the trunk, helped Phil up to sit next to him. Their feet dangled against the fender, drumming heels the only sound in the velvet night.
"I'm from North Carolina," Phil said softly.
"Yep," Clint agreed. "I know."
The stars spread across the sky above them like diamonds, thick and glittering. There was no light up here in the mountains but the soft, buttery glow of the moon and the icy glimmer of the Milky Way. Clint could just barely make out Phil's profile, all of its sharpness blurred and faded by the night. Fireflies winked on and off around them, luminous green dancers weaving back and forth in unknowable patterns.
"Why?" Phil asked, a second time.
Because he deserved it. Because he needed a vacation. Because they all thought he was dead. Because Fury had buried him in a hospital across town. Because Clint had refused to believe that he was dead. Because he'd torn through the lies and misdirection and had sprung Phil from the recovery ward. Because he needed this, needed Phil to know that there were more things in life than dying for the cause. Because Phil should know that there was one person, at least, who would rather have him than the world.
"Thought it would be nice, sir," he said stolidly. Silence drew out between them as Phil parsed everything Clint hadn't said. His hand crept across the trunk of the car, curled gently around Clint's.
"It is," he said simply. "Thanks."