It’s pulsing through the back of her head like a jackhammer. She’s put up with it for five hours. Five hours of having her skull rattled, and her brain feels pulped like a kiwi in a blender. “Will you turn that shit off?” Natasha finally snaps, her voices rising sharp and authoritative above the blare of the radio, and Clint has the fucking bare-faced audacity to pout at road ahead.
“Fine,” he says, twisting the nob on the old fashioned car radio, the very curve of his wrist passive aggressive as he fixes his eyes on the headlights blaring uselessly into the infinite blackness stretching before them.
“Fine,” she replies, mouth set in a stony line. Five hours of AC/DC occasionally split by spits and snarls and ‘where-the-hell-are-we-anyway’s, and they didn’t seem any closer to the target, nor any closer to recovering from Budapest. Natasha glares out the window and curses S.H.I.E.L.D, and Coulson, and Fury, and their refusal to shy away from using their top secret intelligence for meddling. Clint was the last person she wanted to see after Budapest, and when she didn’t want to see someone she generally made herself pretty damn invisible. But she was also a professional, the best agent shield had to offer, and, unfortunately, he was the second best, and when it came to the gritty, possible-world-destruction cases, he was the only man she wanted watching her back. Yet when she agreed to this mission, their first together after returning from Hungary, she imagined more private jets, cold civility and the efficient brevity S.H.I.E.L.D was famed for - not a company car and a drive across the country. It was all too intimate, too low-key. “A jet’s too high-risk,” Fury had spat, straight-faced but with a nuance to his voice that suggested his covered eye was winking at her, “The less people that know about this the better. This is top priority, Romanoff. We’re keeping it small.”
And small meant nothing but her, Clint, and a world of lip-biting silences. The quiet was oppressive, punctuated by the steady beat of Clint’s rough fingertips against the steering wheel and the arrhythmic patter of rain against the roof. It shot down like slender bullets before the headlights, making the road glossy as an oil slick. Natasha stared resolutely out of the passenger window, and wished she was driving. For one, she was better at it - Barton could hit a bullseye at a hundred feet but couldn’t manoeuvre into a parking space for love nor money - for two, it was something to do with her hands. She felt claustrophobic in this car, with its expensive leather seats and stifling air conditioning. Her fingers were itching, and his every breath seemed to crawl down the back of her tshirt. She just wanted this job done. But first she’d settle for getting to the damn base, preferably with the merest wisp of camaraderie alive between them. She needed to say something without edges, ask anything without barbs. She didn’t believe that a social bond was necessary to work together, she wasn’t about to invite Clint for a sleepover and read him her diary while he plaited her hair, but they needed something, the tiniest degree of softness to make the next couple of weeks liveable. She opened her mouth to make an observation on the weather, a topic she felt could be appropriately void of malice or agenda, only to be flung violently against the dashboard, her hands slamming against the walnut and her neck snapping forward as her belt snapped tight against her chest, yanking her back as the car popped through the air only to land on its tyres with a bounce. She heard Clint curse, loudly, slapping the steering wheel and cutting the engine.
“Sounds like a puncture,” she says blandly, blowing her hair from her eyes where it had fallen across her face, clicking herself free from her belt and tossing the door open.
“Woah, wait, it’s pouring down out the -“
Clint’s voice is sweetly and mercilessly cut off as she hops out of the car and slams the door shut, and is immediately drenched to the bone. The rain slaps over her like a wet sheet, wrapping around her, ice cold and merciless, and she fights not to notice it as she slides a pocket torch from her jeans, squatting beside the steaming car to check tyre after tyre. She discovers the two front tyres are not just blown, but shredded, the rubber hanging limply from the hubs before Clint’s by her side, his face rumpled in a frown.
“We only have one spare,” he shouts over the roar of the storm, his tshirt already heavy with rain water. She clenches her jaw, “Of course we do. Because this is the mission of my life,” she replies, shoving her torch back in her pocket and shielding her eyes from the weather as she scouts the area, squinting against the bleak horizon. “We need somewhere to camp. No one’s going to get out to us out here.”
“There’s a woodland back half a mile, could provide some cover -” he replies, only to have her hand halt him, clamping on his slippery bicep.
“Is that —” she urges, raising her voice, “is that a fucking castle?”
He raises his eyebrow and follows her finger as she points high through the darkness, to a structure rising darker against the sky than everything else, jagged and sharp against the blur of the world. A pinprick of light shines through the panels of rain, minute and golden - a window. A castle.
“Oh come on,” he murmurs, “Since when did we turn onto a B Movie?”
“Junction three. Didn’t you see the sign post?” she replies, pausing for a moment before storming around the car.
“Nat! Natasha, you can’t be serious? You know the chick in the wet tshirt always dies first, right?” he calls out after her, hoping the slight will redirect her focus on killing him rather than the inhabitants of the creepy-ass castle, but it’s too late, she’s already shouting “Good luck with that, sweetheart,” over her shoulder and making her way to the side of the road, to the bank that climbs up towards the mountainous building. With every step she’s even more serious, mud caking to her ankles as she climbs the slippery path upwards. Clint’s by her side in moments, his shoulders steaming. “This is some Stoker-esque shit,” he sighs miserably, and she can’t help but smile.
“A bitten neck sounds a whole lot better than another five hours of Back in Black.”
“If it’s a bitten neck you want we don’t have —”
“I recommend you stop talking, Clint,” she says, and after that the silence is a whole lot easier.