I glanced at Clint as his head leaned against the car window. His expression was neutral, seemingly taking in the changing landscape as mountains turned into rolling hills. I forced my eyes forward, focusing back on the curving road. I let the soft folk music, Clint's favorite, relax me. As we rounded another corner Ellensburg came into our vision, still about fifteen miles in the distance. The hills were flattening out, leaving the valley in complete view. The clouds from the mountain pass had dissipated as we reached the interior of Washington, leaving behind the rain for the clear blue skies of Eastern Washington. The "rainy" state known for coffee and Nirvana was actually only half the story. There was a whole other half of the state full of small towns, much like Ellensburg, supported by small farming communities. This was the place that Clint and I had claimed as our safe haven.
After New York we were due a much needed vacation, Clint more than anyone. I didn't have to look at him to know that his eyes were currently smudged with dark circles from lack of sleep, apparently that wasn't a concern when under Loki's mind control. His face was pale and he still hadn't bothered shaving in the last two days. After SHIELD and every other government agency descended upon New York to aid in the recovery of the city, I had gone to Fury and basically demanded a vacation with no end date attached. He must have seen something in my eyes that belied the seriousness of the situation because he granted my request without further comment. It took some wrangling to finally get a flight to the Seattle, but it had been done and I was glad for it. Coming to the West Coast instantly made the images of New York recede and as I drove our rental car further out of the city, that feeling of disconnect to what happened grew stronger in me. I could only hope that the same was happening for Clint, although I didn't hold much hope in that.
Between the two of us we had at least a dozen hideouts scattered across the globe, but that's all they were, small hidey-holes that had stashes of cash and weapons. We only counted one place as home and that was Ellensburg. Clint had known the place because of the world famous rodeo that occurred there once a year. He remembered the town and said that for some reason in his three day stay back in his circus days he had felt a bit of peace that had been foreign to him until that point. After we had finally gotten married, with only Coulson and Hill as witnesses, we discussed creating a safe house, an actual home. Clint told me about Ellensburg and we visited on some time off. We bought a house on that visit. I saw the charm that Clint had described. Ellensburg was a small college town that had thriving local businesses, quaint tree-lined neighborhoods, and was surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains on all sides. It was our escape from the real world. We didn't get out there often, maybe a couple times a year, but it always served as a place where we could shed all of the baggage that came from being spies. We slipped out of our various layers and were just Clint and Natasha.
I eased off the accelerator as we exited I-90, following the road as it led into the town. Farm supply stores and used car lots transitioned into restaurants and small businesses. I felt the familiar itch as I forced the car to the 20 mph speed limit on University Way as it passed through Central Washington University's campus. Normally I did not let small things like speed limits impede me, but Ellensburg had a ridiculous amount of police officers and their main job was cracking down on underage drinking and enforcing the speed limits of the town. Considering that Clint and I tried to keep a low profile in the town, we made it a point to abide by the laws.
After passing the brick buildings of campus I turned right and then left again, finally arriving home. I breathed a sigh of relief as I parked the car, taking in the leafy green trees that surrounded our two-story home. The chipped blue paint reminded me that Clint had said he would repaint the house next time we were in town. I had told him I liked it the way it was; the paint job fit the old style of the house. The imperfections made me happy for some reason.
I opened the door to the car and climbed out, the warm air hitting me instantly. June was my favorite time to visit Ellensburg. School had let out for the summer which meant all of the college students were gone. There was near constant sunshine and hot weather, the exact opposite of Russia.
I walked up the steps to the house, hearing Clint's footsteps following me. I unlocked the door and stepped into our home. The last time we had been here was three months ago; we had been called in on an emergency mission and had left in a haste. I took note of my mug of tea still sitting on the coffee table next to the book I had been reading, a biography of Dorothy Parker. Clint's running shoes were left abandoned in the hallway. I took a deep breath, the smell of vanilla filling my nose. My body instantly relaxed in recognition that I was safe and I was home.
I glanced over at Clint, who also appeared to be taking in the same details I had. Instead of relaxing, though, his face contorted and he crumpled, falling to his knees. His body folded in on itself so he was crouched towards the floor. His body started to tremble uncontrollably and I heard the sounds of Clint's shallow gasps for air. I had only seen him like this at one other point in our shared history, the day after he had to kill his brother. I crouched down next to him, placing a hand on his back, rubbing soothing circles to try to calm him. It was like his body gave up on controlling the physical and emotional stress he had been under and it needed to expel it from his system.
I considered briefly trying to comfort Clint by reminding him that what had happened on the helicarrier and in New York was not his fault. But I knew my words would seem empty to him, just as similar platitudes had fallen on deaf ears when said to me. I knew the crushing guilt and regret that was currently assaulting Clint and there was nothing to be said that could ease it. So I told him the only thing I could, the truth.
"Shhh, I'm here Clint. I'm here. We're home. We're alive."
It took a while but eventually Clint's breaths evened out and the shaking subsided. Slowly he uncurled his body and stood up. He wavered briefly before reaching a hand down to help me up. I took it and hoisted myself off the floor.
I appraised Clint and felt my chest tighten at seeing the pure desolation on his face. I wanted to wrap him back in my arms and sap all of the sadness out of him. I always associated Clint with happiness, a joke or smile not always far under the surface. But that was gone in that moment.
"Why don't you go upstairs and take a shower and I'll scrounge us up some food," I offered.
Clint nodded his head silently before turning to go up the stairs.
I turned towards the kitchen and started to search the cupboards to see what had been left from our last stay here. I didn't find much. I turned towards the freezer and opened it up. Jackpot. I found a frozen pizza and some Winegar's ice cream. Another perk of living in a small town, locally made ice cream with funny names like Garry Dough (cookie dough) and Jacaboo (caramel chocolate). I grabbed the pint of Regal Royale (peanut butter swirls in chocolate ice cream) and set it on the counter before throwing the peperoni pizza in the oven, not bothering to preheat it.
I leaned against the counter, waiting for the pizza to cook, while I listened to the familiar sounds of Clint starting his shower upstairs. Not for the first or probably the last time I cursed Loki and his overblown daddy issues. I hated this feeling of not being able to tangibly do anything to help. Too many times we had each been in this position, a mission gone bad or triggers to our not so happy childhoods. We had both learned there was nothing really to be done in these situations but be there for each other and that's what I planned to do.
I pulled the hot pizza out from the oven, slicing it up with a pizza cutter and stacking all of the pieces onto a large plate. I grabbed the ice cream and took the food into the living room, placing it on the coffee table. I went back into the kitchen, filling two glasses of water before snatching two spoons for the ice cream. I collapsed on the couch, grabbing the remote to start channel surfing. I stopped on a station playing Star Wars. I dropped the remote and grabbed a slice of pizza as I heard the shower turn off upstairs. A few minutes later Clint padded down the stairs in sweats and a t-shirt before joining me on the couch. He dug into the food without comment.
We sat in silence, eating and watching the movie. The air was heavy with unspoken words, but I didn't press the issue. I just continued to eat my food as I watched cheesy fight sequences and even cheesier dialogue.
After eating I stood up and stretched. "I'm going to take a shower and change," I told Clint before leaning down to kiss him briefly on the forehead. His nod was the only acknowledgement of my words.
I climbed the stairs and entered our bedroom. I opened the windows, letting in the warm air to rid the house of the stale air that had been circulating for three months. I grabbed flannel pajama pants and a tank top from one of my drawers before entering the bathroom attached to the bedroom. The room was still steamy from Clint's shower. I turned the water on to the highest temperature I could stand before ridding myself of my clothes and stepping in.
When I exited the bathroom, feeling physically much better, I found Clint laying on the bed on his back, his arms behind his head. At first glance he would seem to be relaxing in the fading light of the sunset. His taut muscles and grim expression contradicted his pose. I joined him on the bed, curling up on my side, leaving some space between us. I reached a hand out and placed it on his stomach, a reminder that I was there.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
I didn't push, instead running my hand across his stomach and closing my eyes. I listened to the sounds of the cars driving by the house and the conversation of a group of kids as they walked by.
"I remember everything. Every sight, every smell, every bit of the whole experience. Just because I didn't have control, did not mean that I didn't have front row tickets to the whole thing. What was worse, it didn't feel like something foreign had invaded me. I felt like Loki had tapped into a part of me that had lain dormant and awakened it. I didn't feel like there was someone else in me. I thought it was me, just a part that I had never let take control. I enjoyed it, the planning, the destruction, the killing. I can't shake that. The person I want to talk to the most, the voice I want to hear, is gone. The actions that I physically executed led to the death of my best friend.
"And I could have so easily lost you as well. I fought you with every intention of killing you. I remember desiring your blood on my hands and I can't shake that feeling. Every time I close my eyes I feel the echoes of those thoughts rattling around in my head. If I lost you too, I feel like I would float away. You two are my tethers that keep me grounded. Losing Phil made me realize that I might have to deal with losing you one day and I can't face that. All I want is to stay in our home for the rest of eternity, locking out the rest of the world."
I wanted to tell him that it would all be alright, but that wasn't true. We would carry the scars of New York with us the rest of our lives. I wanted to tell him that I wasn't going anywhere, but that was a promise that could not be guaranteed in our line of work. I wanted to tell him that we never had to leave this town and that we could quit SHIELD and The Avengers, but we both knew that there was too much red in our ledgers to quit now.
"I'm just so tired," Clint whispered, his voice shaky and desperate.
I did the only thing I could. I curled up closer to Clint, wrapping my body around him. I laced my fingers through his hair, running them along his scalp. I started to sing softly, a song I knew Clint enjoyed. I felt his body slowly relax as he curled into me, his face tucking into my neck. His breathing evened and eventually my voice lulled him to sleep. I may not have been able to take the pain away or give him false comfort. I could be there for him and be the home he always took refuge in.
A/N: So this was a weird writing exercise that I kind took on. Obviously inspired by the prompt of including your hometown, it kind of morphed into this weird hurt/comfort story. I wrote this in one sitting, unusual for me, and also without any pre-planning, also unusual. I decided to just post this going along with the spontaneity of writing the story. I have never written anything with so little dialogue before so I would love feedback on this. This is definitely a different kind of story than I normally write.