Spoilers: General spoilers for the movie.
Disclaimer: It's still not mine, though I sure am having a great deal of fun playing with these characters.
A/N: This was written for the "hometown" prompt in the be_compromised community on Live Journal. :) Though I decided not to use the name of my hometown - I'm admittedly a little paranoid - the Colorado town described in the fic is the town I still call home.
As always, I thank my Lord Jesus Christ for his incredible mercy and grace.
I hope you enjoy this, and please let me know what you think!
It had been two months since Manhattan. Since Loki.
A little less than three weeks of that time had been spent on leave. They'd driven from New York state with no particular destination in mind, wandered through quiet back roads and out-of-the-way towns until they'd found themselves somewhere north of the Canadian border.
The cabin they'd rented there had been more Clint's taste than hers, but it had been isolated and easily defensible, and it had separate bedrooms, something Natasha had known Clint would need. They'd shared countless rooms on missions before, and occasionally when they'd taken time off together, but Clint preferred solitude when he had something to work through and Natasha had been willing to give him that space, even if she hadn't intended to leave him entirely alone.
She knew intimately what it was like to be unmade - knew how difficult it was to try to remake yourself afterwards. The Red Room had broken her over and over again and created something different from the pieces each time. Even now, some days it felt like Natasha Romanoff consisted of a thousand brittle shards that didn't quite fit together.
She hated knowing that Clint had experienced something so similar, that he'd been unmade, and she wasn't able to offer him anything more than her presence. He'd understood, though, the same way he seemed to understand so much of what she couldn't say, and when she'd invited herself to join him on the roof or to watch him practice on the makeshift archery range he'd set up in a nearby field, he'd given her a silent nod of thanks.
Is this love, Agent Romanoff?
As the weeks had passed, Natasha had seen some of the shadows retreat in Clint's gaze, and gradually, Natasha had begun to notice the same signs of restlessness in him that she saw in herself. They were both too used to keeping on the move, to always having another mission, a new objective, and inactivity began to feel stifling in its own right.
Fury had welcomed them back without any fanfare, but naturally, a return to S.H.I.E.L.D. hadn't meant an automatic return to duty. First came a seemingly endless line of debriefings and assessments, standard procedures that hadn't felt standard at all because trickster demigods and invading alien armies were hardly routine.
You lie and you kill in the service of liars and killers...
S.H.I.E.L.D. monitored the mental health of its personnel carefully, both for security reasons and the agents' own well-being, and Clint had been ordered to attend a month of mandatory sessions with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s resident psychologists. Natasha had been sent to counseling of her own, with the assumption that events had shaken her too. They weren't wrong, and she could admit to herself, if no one else, that it would be a while before she stopped hearing Loki's voice as he'd taunted her. But she'd learned years earlier how to deal with mission fallout, how to process events and move on - she'd had to, or she wouldn't have been able to do her job. Still, she'd known that appearing "defensive" would only make them more sure that she needed the intervention, so she'd cooperated.
Finally, almost exactly two months to the day of Loki's initial attack, S.H.I.E.L.D. had been satisfied, and she and Clint had both been cleared once again.
Their first mission was to escort an asset to a safe-house in Colorado.
It was an assignment that any first year agent could have handled and it was difficult not to be irritated by that, even if Natasha knew it served a duel purpose, easing them back into the field, as well as testing their willingness to obey S.H.I.E.L.D.'s orders after having effectively "gone rogue" to fight Loki's army.
The asset, a Dr. Griffin, was a star witness in an upcoming federal trial concerning an illegal - and extremely lucrative - prescription drug ring. The ring itself had been dismantled, but it had ties to some of Mexico's most powerful cartels, and several threats had been made against Griffin's life. S.H.I.E.L.D. had determined that he - and the information he could provide - was significant enough to warrant protection.
Griffin was a slight man, and considering the deal he was cutting in return for his testimony, he wasn't a flight risk, but what he lacked in physical prowess he made up for in sheer egotism. He was haughty and demanding, and complained endlessly about the "feeble" security he was being afforded.
Natasha had found his comments rather amusing, and let the doctor's complaints wash over her until he'd muttered something about "skulking in shadows," and she saw Clint flinch almost imperceptibly.
Clint been quiet after that, barely saying a word when they handed Griffin off to the team who would be watching him during his stay. As they left the safe-house that afternoon, she hadn't been surprised when he'd taken the passenger seat instead, leaving her to drive.
She waited until they were back on the road to question him.
He didn't meet her gaze, just continued to watch the passing scenery, and long moments stretched on in silence. Eventually, though, he spoke.
"Loki said the same thing - that he was tired of hiding in the shadows."
The pieces snapped together suddenly, neatly, in Natasha's mind. "That's why you suggested he use himself as bait."
It wasn't a question, but Clint gave a nod in answer nonetheless.
She knew how her partner's mind worked, and it didn't come as a shock that the plan to draw S.H.I.E.L.D.'s attention had been Clint's. Still, she wanted to say that it hadn't been him, not really, but it had, at least a part of him. His knowledge, his tactics, his plan, his bow. Used against his will, yes, but she knew that seemed like a small distinction when your own hands had done the work.
Clint lapsed into silence once more, and Natasha watched his profile out of the corner of her eye, seeing the tension there. It was same kind of tension that always seemed to send him to the highest roof he could find, but the city they were staying in was small, and it only boasted two buildings taller than five stories.
But, maybe there was something better.
Clint didn't ask questions when she stayed on the highway, driving through the city instead of returning to their hotel. Eventually, the highway came to a deep bend, curving around the base of one of the mountains bordering the town.
A small road led away from the highway and up the mountain itself, and Natasha took the turn-off, heading up the narrow, winding path. The landscape there was arid and rough, littered with small brush and cactus, lacking the thick forests of the Rockies just beyond it, but it still had its own beauty. Shale, granite, and the red rocks Colorado was named for formed layers of the earth that had been upended and exposed, interrupted only by dried shrubs and small wildflowers that had managed to find a home there. A few large boulders lined road, adding to the weather-hewn landscape. As they traveled farther, the noise from highway and the city below disappeared, leaving behind only the sound of the wind, and the rest of the world gradually seemed to fade away.
The road wasn't a terribly long one, and soon, they reached the top. It was relatively flat, and a handful of gravel areas offered room to park and step outside to enjoy the view. Natasha stopped at the nearest one, shutting down the engine and opening her door, and Clint followed soon after, his gaze sweeping the skyline.
Natasha had to admit, the view was beautiful. The city stretched out below them, almost impossibly small from this height, buildings little more than blocks of color against the green sea of the city's trees. Other mountain ranges rose up around them, hugging the valley in which the city sat, and overhead, a hawk soared, riding the thermals, its distinctive silhouette visible against the seemingly endless backdrop of blue.
Clint watched his namesake for a moment, his lips quirking faintly, then he moved away from the car and stepped right to the edge of the fenceless road. He sat down there, his elbows resting on his knees, his eyes focused intently on something in the distance only he could see, and slowly, the stiff line of his shoulders eased, as if an invisible weight had lifted. That weight wasn't gone, Natasha knew - it would never be, but Clint would learn how to carry it.
Until then, there was this.
Natasha moved to sit next to him, close, but not quite touching, and he gave her the smallest of smiles in welcome.
Your world in the balance, and you bargain for one man?
Yes, Natasha thought, feeling something settle in her chest as she turned to stare out at the horizon with Clint. Yes.
A/N: The scenic drive is a real place, and one of my favorite places in the town where I live. The view is amazing, and I really have seen hawks flying there. :)
I hope you enjoyed it, and please let me know what you think!