Hiding In Suburbia
The truck broke down barely one hundred miles after they left their start point, just a small fraction in their long journey back to New York with their delivery in tow. They'd been sent to the middle of nowhere to collect an unknown package for Fury, so top secret that this time he hadn't even told them just in case something happened and at least then they would have no knowledge of what they were carrying. They'd argued against it, but they were told repeatedly that this was need to know only, and they were acting as escorts in this mission, nothing more. But now, in the middle of the night on an empty stretch of road along the coast, they were stood beside the broken down truck with cellphones in the air trying to get better reception. They'd managed to get through to the main base in New York to request back up transport, but it would be hours, almost dawn, before they reached them. Now, they were trying to get hold of Stark, Rogers, Banner...anyone with a form of transport that could get them up and running sooner. They had food and drink for the journey, but it was more boredom that they didn't want to suffer. It wasn't as if it was the same as a stakeout because at least surveillance had a purpose instead of waiting around for nothing.
They'd managed to push the truck off the road into a lay-by parking area along the top stretch of the beach that way they weren't blocking any part of the stretch of road. In lieu of wanting to spent the night in the truck they had sat down on the beach itself, leaning up against the tyres. Clint had moved a bit further down, only about ten feet away from the truck but just close enough that there were no obstacles between them and the moonlight on the flat surface of the ocean. Natasha hadn't wanted to join him at first because of the unknown cargo in the truck, convinced that they were better placed to stay next to the truck if not inside it. But as he reminded her, they had chosen this stretch of road for the journey because it was secluded at night and in the place they had broken down they'd hear any other people around a mile of. It may not have been the fastest route back but it was definitely the safest.
Eventually she'd shuffled down the beach to sit beside him, their shoulders brushing together as they sat with legs pulled up to their chests. Still, while they kept glancing back just to check the skies for lights or the truck for watchers, Natasha was looking three times more often than he was. She would pause each time, her entire body falling still as she tried to hear something above the crashing waves in the distance but there was nothing but a few stray gulls further down the beach.
"You can relax, you know," he told her lightly.
"We're working," she said firmly.
"I know," he acknowledged. "But the working involved driving back to New York, which we now can't do until the back up arrives."
"We still have to protect it," she reminded him.
"Natasha, no one knows we're here," he pointed out.
She glanced across to meet his eyes, sighing in resignation. "Fine, but if it comes to it we're sleeping in shifts." Any other style of mission they would have skipped sleep all together but there was still a chance of having to make the long drive back and someone needed to be alert enough to start off the journey while the other caught up.
"I know the drill," he nodded. They fell into a silence which lasted about ten minutes until Clint broke it. He'd never been good at keeping quiet unless there was an absolute life-or-death need for it. Even on the trip down the entire trip had been filled with him singing along to the radio or them squabbling over snacks. They certainly fell into their original cover of a couple on vacation well. No one had given them a second look, even when they were both singing along to a Guns N Roses track. "You know a lot of girls would consider this romantic."
She arched an eyebrow at him. "A broken down truck on the job?"
"Being stranded on an empty beach in the moonlight," he corrected, gesturing around them. "You've got the calm water, the moonlight reflecting off it, sand, secrecy..."
She actually laughed at him a little. "Sounds like you're one of those girls," she teased him.
He pulled a face back at her. "I may not be a dinner-by-candlelight guy, but I can appreciate a need for a certain level of romance in a relationship."
He realised that he'd put some bait there for her to continue the conversation, and her curiosity wouldn't have kept her away from that. "What's got you thinking about relationships all of a sudden?" she asked him.
He shrugged. "I love my job," he said, "but I don't want to be married to it forever."
Her eyebrow raised again. "One sentence just leapt from talking about relationships to talking about marrage," she pointed out. "What's going on?"
He didn't answer her question and instead posed one of his own. "You think you'll stay in S.H.I.E.L.D. for life?" he asked her.
"Depends if the work kills me or not," she said bluntly.
He rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean."
"Retirement," she nodded. "I haven't thought about it."
"Come on," he tempted. "We all have at some point."
"I don't see why it matters," she said, turning out to face the water. "There's nothing waiting outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. for us. Why think about walking away when we're doing good work?"
"But maybe that's what we need?" he suggested. "A blank slate to start fresh. New lives, friendships, families..."
"I thought S.H.I.E.L.D. was meant to be the blank slate," she said.
"It was," he nodded. "But..."
"But now you want more," she understood.
"I guess so," he mumbled.
She observed him for a moment and then looked back at the water. "You're missing your brother, aren't you?" she asked him.
He looked at her, but she'd already turned away so he found himself looking at the side of her head. "It's not about him," he insisted gruffly. Natasha was the only one who knew the truth about what had happened with Barney, she was the only one he'd trusted with the information to tell her firsthand, but it still got his back up when he was mentioned even when it was coming from her.
"It's okay to miss him," she told him. "He's your brother."
"It's not about him," he repeated, firmer this time. "It's about family in general."
She was silent and nodded. She didn't say anything for a while, but her finger started tracing a jumbled pattern in the sand at their side. "This is about the family we passed further up the coast."
Those words hung in the air and he didn't answer for some time. She didn't push him to further it, to be fair. They both thought about that moment in silence, and they hadn't mentioned it at the time either. While stuck in traffic they'd found their gaze falling upon a woman and her two children, both under ten from the size of them, scattering handfuls of ashes into the water. It must have been their father, from the secluded moment that in no way featured the traffic jam piling up away from the sand where they placed their fallen family member. They'd watched as the elder child stood strongly beside the younger, holding their hand while their mother did what was needed and then it was the mothers turn to be strong as they all sat together in a bundle on the ground and embraced each other.
"Some guy died, and they had to lose him," he mumbled. "You don't wish that upon a family, not with kids that young. But they would remember him, you know? Doesn't matter what he did for a living, whether he was an accoutant or a cop, they'll remember him for taking them to school, tucking them in at night."
"You're worried about being forgotten," she whispered.
"When I die, I'll be remembered for always hitting the mark. There won't be a family to remember, there won't be kids or a wife to miss me, wish I was there still, no kids wanting to be just like thier dad." He shrugged himself and looked away again. "Maybe it's better that way though."
She kept her eyes on him. "I wouldn't forget you," she assured him.
He smirked at that, and when he turned back to her his eyes were shining again. "We'll probably go out in the same blaze of glory," he told her.
But her own face didn't mirror his humour at the situation. He was a prankster but she didn't buy it when he turned it on that fast. "This is a big deal for you, isn't it?"
He nodded slowly. "I hadn't thought about it until today, but yeah, I guess it is."
She was nodding along with him, something that he wasn't expecting from this turn in the conversation. "It must be nice," she agreed, "having something to go home to at the end of the day."
"Yeah," he mumbled. "Even with what we do, I think it'd be easier havingn something to go home to that wasn't just a military bunk and S.H.I.E.L.D. issued stuff."
"A kiss when you walk in through the door," she said with a gentle smile, as if she were starting to imagine the life that she might hope for outside of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Whole bunch of kids jumping all over you, happy that you're home," he suggested.
"Someone to curl up with at night," she agreed.
He nodded with a 'mmm'. "You can't get much further away from S.H.I.E.L.D. than that," he grinned. "It would have to be someone who could just make you forget about everything."
"Someone who could take away the bad parts," she added.
"And someone who could cook, that'd be nice," he thought.
She answered with a laugh. "Oh, and a back rub or two," she listed.
"God, that's a fantasic idea," he sighed, suddenly thinking of the tense muscles in his shoulders from having done the last four hours of the drive.
Natasha nodded, deep in thought. "I think I could even live without the good cooking if I could get someone who was capable of a decent shoulder massage," she considered.
"That's good to know, I can't cook to save my life," he told her, but coughed when he realised what the words implied.
Again, she laughed softly. "Offering your services, Barton?"
He shrugged to cover it up. "Just admitting culinary disasters," he said simply.
She watched him for a moment then leaned her head against his shoulder. He turned his head in surprise at this, but recovered quickly. "I know what you were saying," she said gently.
He sighed at this. "At least one of us does," he mumbled.
She nodded against him as he used one of his dangling hands to play awkwardly with one of her own. "It breaks about a thousand S.H.I.E.L.D. policies, but I know."
"We could run away," he suggested lightly. "Suburbia is probably the last place they'd try to look for us."
"Hmm," she mumbled in a laugh. "We could just stay here, hide by the truck and live by the ocean."
He jumped his shoulder a little as a subsitute for a jibe. "Thought this wasn't your idea of romance?" he teased.
"It's not," she insisted. "I'm too practical for romance. To come home from a mission and have someone who was relieved to see me home, someone just to hold me without caring about the blood on my hands, that's my idea of romance."
It was perhaps the most honest she had ever been with him, and whether it was that admission or the growing chill in the midnight air that caused her to shiver he wasn't sure, but either way he shuffled around in the sand until he was sitting behind her. Opening up his jacket, he drew his legs up either side of her and wrapped the jacket around the two of them. To an onlooker, they'd definitely look like a couple the way they were leaning against each other now. Moments like this she didn't fight against when it was just the two of them; sometimes he wasn't sure what to make of that but other times, like this, he was glad for it. His arms wrapped around her to settle over her stomach. "I'm always relieved to see you," he offered. "You're the reason I don't pack up and leave ever night. Honestly, I think leaving you would be harder than leaving S.H.I.E.L.D."
She bought her arms up to entwine with his, no longer shuddering from the cold now that he was blocking it on all sides. "We make a good team."
"We'd be a good team at home too," he told her boldly. "We'd be a disaster in the kitchen, obviously, but it'd be okay."
She laughed. "What are you talking about?"
He sighed a little and shifted about in his sandy seat. "We might not ever leave S.H.I.E.L.D.," he reasoned, "but I still want you to know what it could be like if we did."
She thought this over and then lay back against him completely, her head falling against his shoulder. "Okay," she said softly.
He took a deep breath and carried on. This was certainly easier when she was facing the same direction as she was and she wasn't turning to look at him every few seconds. "We'll fight over what colour we're going to paint the den, but we'll agree on yellow and then you'll go out and pick blue anyway," she laughed at this. "The kitchen will always be tidy but only because we'll secretly be too afraid it. We'll have all these utensils that we could use in fifty ways to kill a man, but god knows how they're supposed to help us cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. We'll try to cook together, though, even though its easier to call take out and we'll manage the easy stuff, chicken, spaghetti...simple, but homely."
She was nodding along with his words. In all honesty, it was easy to picture them in a kitchen causing a mess because they did it the majority of the time when they prepared food in the S.H.I.E.L.D. dining areas. Sometimes there wasn't anyone else around and they'd try to feed themselves and it would look more like they were trying to feed the walls. Banner once came in and remarked that it was like leaving kids alone with a blender.
"We'll have a big garden, too," he told her. "One with real space, not the kind with a fence where the neighbours are looking in every ten minutes. There will be lots of trees and plants, but not many flowers. And at the end of it we'll have a bench where we'll sit and watch the kids running around."
"Kids?" she questioned.
"Oh yeah," he nodded. "Three of them. Two boys and little girl. The boys both have my hair and dashing smile but the girl looks so much like you, and they'll all have your eyes because...well, because I want them to," he decided. "In the summer, we'll spend the whole day outside. The kids will be playing and you'll be reading all those books that you wanted to get around to reading, your head in my lap. I won't keep up with the Dostoyevsky but I'll stroke your hair while you read, and you'll probably doze off for a while but you'll wake up when a football gets thrown in your lap. We'll end up joining in at that point because ever after all the years we won't be able to back down from a challenge. You'll challenge the kids too, you won't let them win for the sake of it, you'll let them earn the victory. It's what makes you brilliant."
She made a small noise as if she didn't quite agree with that, but he ignored it.
"And when they're too tired to run around anymore we'll take them indoors and carry them up to bed. We'll tuck them in, kiss them goodnight, and then its our time. A beer or two, because we never do grow to enjoy wine properly, and we'll go off to bed too. The sex is amazing, of course," at this she burst out with a laugh and he joined her for a few seconds. "But its more than that. It's the opportunity to lie together and not be disturbed by anything other than 'mom, I had a bad dream' or 'dad, I want a glass of water'. And we'll be really good at the mom and dad part, because even though we didn't have a normal childhood or a great deal of parenting, we wouldn't let a single bad thing happen to those kids."
"Wow," she smiled softly.
He shrugged. "Or something like that."
"Kinda makes me want to hand in my resignation," she said casually.
He tilted his head a little to see her face. "Based on the fact that the sex would be amazing?" he asked.
She swatted his shoulder blindly behind her but she got him right on target anyway. He caught her hand in his afterwards. "Based on the fact that I don't think I could picture that with anyone else," she corrected him.
He nodded at this, still watching her face, only now she was watching him back. "We'd be married too, I left that part out."
"Yeah, but I'll have to ask you four times before you say yes," he told her. "Once in a restaurant, once in the middle of a mission, which pisses you off about priorities, and once over breakfast...and..." he trailed off.
"Forgotten already?" she teased him.
He shrugged again. "I haven't decided on it yet. I guess that must be the one you say yes to," he smirked.
"Guess so," she agreed quietly.
"But that's not the point," he brushed aside. "The marriage will be a secret, just us and some witnesses. More classy than Vegas though. Fury's pissed when he finds out what we really did with our weekend off, and Coulson nearly has an anerysm, but in the end they accept it. We get to walk away from S.H.I.E.L.D. when we find out that you're pregnant though."
"They wouldn't be heartless enough to make us stay," she agrees.
"Exactly," he said quietly.
"Completely the wrong reason to have a child though," she said quickly, as if it was something they both briefly considered.
"Oh, of course," he agreed, just as quickly. "We weren't planning on it, but as we've already covered; the sex is amazing."
"So you keep saying," she grinned.
He gave a confident smirk. "I'd prove it to you, but you know, working and all."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "You said that we weren't working," she reminded him.
"I know, but with backup on the way we're a time limit, and I wouldn't want to rush anything and leave you disappointed."
At this, she just laughed more and settled down further inside his jacket. "Good luck with that, Barton."