It's one of those nights.
The moment Natasha hears the familiar signs, she moves into Clint's room swiftly and climbs into the bed with him. She shifts her weight so he can feel all of her. One arm lays over his, a safety net.
She's not worried he'll strike out at her, but he is and she knows it. So she rests her arm on his so he has the reassurance she can put him down if the need arises.
It's more than that, too, though. Her weight reminds him what is real.
She is real and she is not leaving.
These are the worst nights.
These are the nights when Clint wakes up in a cold sweat, gasping, eyes darkened by a nightmare as voices he can't place scream at him in his mind, and the night engulfs him until he can't tell what's real and what's in his head.
He sees Natasha, he does, she's there, holding his hand and pressing her weight against him. But then she's there, under him as his fingers wrap around her neck and he chokes her, as he finds the pressure points on her neck and Natasha struggles beneath him, claws at his hands in desperation, eyes wide.
Slowly, intimately, in every way you fear most.
"Clint, you're alright, you're not there." Natasha's rough voice grounds him, reminds him where they are.
But then she flashes before his eyes as he closes them again, her eyes staring and glassy and her body limp.
She's there, alive with him and then she's not, she's cold and dead with wide, empty eyes.
"Tash—" his voice trembles and he rolls off the bed, hitting the floor and back against the wall. "Tasha, Tash, Jesus, I can't— I can't—" his voice cracks as he lifts his shaking hands to his forehead as he falls apart again.
Natasha rolls off the bed with all of the grace of a feline and gets up in his face. She grips either side of his head and forces him to look at her, really look, as Clint inhales deep, gasping breaths.
"Clint, Clint look at me. I'm alive. I'm here. You never touched me."
Clint rolls his head back and lets it hit the wall with a thud. "How many, Tash?" he mutters.
How many people did I kill?
He doesn't have to clarify, because he's been asking that question since he first woke up from Loki's control nineteen days ago.
But just because Loki's control is gone doesn't mean he's not still haunting them in other ways.
Clint's crying now, without seeming to realise he's doing it.
"Doesn't matter," Natasha says convincingly. But it's irrelevant how well she's able to lie, because yes, it so clearly does matter.
"Don't lie to me, Tash," he grits through clenched teeth, voice low; dangerous.
"Stop it!" He strikes out wildly, not at her but away from himself, and Natasha takes full advantage. She grabs the arm and pulls him, twisting him until she's crouched over him, one leg on either side of his body and her face pressed against him. He's crying against the hardwood floor now, figure shaking under his partner as the warm dry air of the desert drifts in through the window.
Neither know how long they stay like that. Clint stops crying at some point, and eventually Natasha climbs off him. She stands and after a moment he does, too. He can't look her in the eyes, hasn't been able to since the nameless voices started screaming in his ears nineteen days ago, even when he knows he'll find no judgement there.
So this is what it's like to be remade.
Those are the worst nights. They don't happen every night, but they happen often enough. During the day he's better.
The next morning marks their thirteenth day at Natasha's safehouse. It's the only one Clint didn't know about before Loki, the one they'd mutually agreed each of them should have, if the other were ever compromised.
Natasha knows Clint will want all new safehouses. They'll have to get their things, sell the places.
But this one's still safe. She knows this will become their primary, out in the middle of the Arizona heat.
Clint comes down the stairs looking for all the world like the rugged cowboy he is at heart. He takes the coffee she offers wordlessly, and sits at the table. He hasn't kept track of the time they've been here, Natasha knows.
During the day, Loki is nothing more than a distant nightmare. Natasha can still see he's not getting enough sleep, can see the lines that make him look every bit his age, but during the day Loki is easy to fight.
"I'm going to work on that truck out front," he says gruffly, finishing off his coffee, and Natasha doesn't speculate on the idea it's a way to escape.
She's never been much good at psychoanalysis, anyway.
All she knows is it's good for him to have something to distract him.
The woman joins him outside, reading on the porch as he works out in the heat of the sun. He'll have a sunburn on the back of his neck by the end of it all.
It's almost domestic in its own way, and Natasha can just picture of bottle of beer in his hand (something he would have at his safehouse, no doubt, but most definitely not here. Here, she has only good vodka, and she's not letting Clint within five feet of it).
When the dog approaches, they both spot it nearly a half-mile off. Neither of them deem it a threat once they determine it's a pet as the animal grows closer. Both go back to what they were previously doing, but Natasha nearly smiles when it comes up and lick's Clint's free hand which is hanging off the side of the truck.
It's panting heavily, and in a moment of compassion Natasha goes inside the house and fetches a bowl of water for the animal. It joins her on the porch and Natasha scratches absently behind its ears.
As the sun begins to set that evening, Clint joins the unlikely pair on the porch, taking a seat on the second step.
Together, he and Natasha map out their new safehouses.
"Budapest," Natasha suggests with a smile.
"London," he counters.
"Dubai," she insists.
Finally, they decide on seventeen places. Seventeen cities, not counting this one.
Natasha will also have one in a small town in Germany Clint won't know about. Clint will have one in Chicago.
As they quietly talk into the night, they take turns scratching the dog.
They stay out there late into the night, late enough for the crickets to come out and the metal of the truck to cool.
"I want to go shooting, tomorrow," Clint says after silence has fallen. Their list of safe cities lies between them as Clint stares out into the night.
Natasha doesn't ask whether he thinks he's ready. She trusts him.
When they finally head inside to sleep, they let the dog follow them. Clint prowls the house because it makes him feel better, and when Natasha moves to the room she's been staying in, Clint reaches out to grab her wrist.
"Stay," he requests, and so she does.
They take a shower together. It's certainly not the first time, but it's the first time since Loki, and Clint stares at the wall as Natasha gently washes his back. As she lets the water rinse the soap from his shoulder blades, she turns around patiently.
Hesitantly, Clint picks up the plain bar of soap. He brings his fingers to her back, not trusting himself even as she trusts him.
The water moves in rivulets down her back, pooling at their feet and rushing to the drain.
Clint can't seem to take his eyes off the movement of the water. His thoughts circle in his mind, each one moving quicker than he can grasp at them. Clint's fingers stop tracing patterns on Natasha's back as she begins to turn around.
"Clint," she murmurs.
Clint looks up from the water, but he can't meet her gaze. "Nat," he whispers. The redhead reaches out to touch him, but Clint flinches away before their skin meets. Quickly, Clint climbs out of the shower stall and wraps a towel around his waist. Natasha follows soon after.
He's already in his bed when she gets out. Silently, the woman slips one of Clint's shirts on and slides into bed beside him.
Clint closes his eyes when he feels her beside him. There are no nightmares that night.
The days blur together in a pattern. Now that Clint has already hit his lowest point, it seems to get easier each day. The heat is ever present, nearly as bad as that job in Cairo two years back, but they ignore it as Clint continues work on the old truck and Natasha reads through the books she has there.
A drought, the people in the closest town (five miles out) say when they go to get supplies. It'll be over soon, the old man says in passing as they're leaving.
They start training again; sometimes they go for a run, or spar. Sometimes he practices archery (and on one particular occasion, Natasha lets Clint teach her the basics of archery; or maybe Clint lets Natasha close enough to learn).
The dog stays around. It appears its owners have abandoned it, because no one has come looking for it. After three days of feeding her scraps, Clint names her Bluebell and that's the end of that (he whispers in the dark later that night that it was the name of his family dog, when he was a kid).
Sometimes they shower together. Sometimes they don't. But Natasha starts sleeping in his room again, and it's familiar, something she missed while Clint was in New Mexico.
Sometimes he wakes up and he's hard. He knows she knows; he knows she wants him as much as he wants her, but he doesn't trust himself. Whenever it happens he disappears and doesn't come back to bed.
Natasha has learned to let him be. And when she gets up the next morning he's always sitting at the table, a cup of coffee in his hands. There is always another steaming cup across from him.
They fall into a pattern as they move around each other. They've been partners for years, they know the other's moves.
Clint knows he loves Natasha. Clint knows he loves Natasha, and he knows Natasha loves him in return. He knows Natasha knows all this, too.
They've been there twenty-eight days when it finally rains.
They're out for a run when the clouds start rolling in from the east. Natasha looks up in interest to watch the clouds engulf the sky, but Clint pays them no mind, pushing himself to keep running, harder, faster, and never stop.
Natasha sees the burst of speed and matches it. Soon, they're not just running; they're racing, like children in the schoolyard.
The safehouse is in the east, the direction the storm is coming from, and so that is the direction they run towards.
They're on the old dirt path and the house is in sight when it starts pouring. It does not come upon them slowly, but strikes with precision, emptying down on them in torrents.
The dry, cracked earth soaks it up, opens itself to the rain to be replenished.
And Clint doesn't know what possesses him to do it, but he stops running then.
Natasha senses it when he's no longer beside her, and she stops and turns. He is looking at her (she's always loved summer storms). "Tash." Her name is on his lips, the name she's had since he found her and remade her. The name she's made for herself.
He looks at her without flinching, now. In this one instant he looks at her and doesn't think of the red in his ledger and the blood on his hands. All he thinks about is her.
And then suddenly they're kissing. It's not like those classic movies he knows she watches (the ones only Clint knows about; only ever Clint). It's not soft, or sweet.
It's rough and passion and life or death. It's so very Clint, and so very Natasha.
They're soaked when they finally break away. They look at each other and they say a million things without saying a word. But most importantly is this:
They walk back up the old dirt path together, to the old house hidden in a mountain range forgotten by the rest of the world.
When they're standing on the porch, Clint spins Natasha and kisses her again because he can, before they move inside the house. It's still pouring outside as they slip off their clothes. Thunder rattles the windows as Clint's lips leave a burning trail down her stomach.
He murmurs her name as the storm builds, leaves his touch everywhere.
Their hair is wet. Natasha's fingers curl in his hair and scrape at his back as rain pounds the roof, building in strength, pouring and never ceasing.
It's everywhere and nowhere, engulfing them, taking them closer to the edge than either have ever been before.
He breathes her name as they press together, blending into one. Lightning flashes across the sky as Natasha cries his name, and then suddenly there is thunder as they tremble and the whole world trembles with them.
As the storm begins to quiet, they lay in bed together. Once it's stopped they shower, and for once, everything is finally silent.
After they shower they dress, and no words are necessary between them. When they step outside, it's as if everything has been given a breath of life.
The few plants there are are already perking up after the downpour. The air is sharp and the old truck has been washed clean, its coating of dust gone with the rain as the storm clouds begin to drift away.
The sun joins them and the two know they will call Director Fury tomorrow. It's time for their next assignment. They're ready for the next job; the next city.
But not quite yet. Today will be theirs.
I could go on about the symbolism rife in this, the direction the storm came from (east), to how many days they were there (twenty-eight), to the importance of the drought and rain, but I'll leave you be. I think the full effect of my story can be understood even without that knowledge. If anyone's really interested you can ask.
Obviously, I don't own the Avengers and, as always, constructive criticism is much appreciated.