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Let Me See You Through

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When Lorin is seven months old, he gets a bad fever.

Mrs. Webster calls Clint, and he has to excuse himself from work to go pick Lorin up from her house three hours early. By the time he gets Lorin home, his fever has spiked to 105. Clint spends half his paycheck on the doctor's appointment to confirm that it's nothing serious, and then requests personal days off to care for Lorin. Luckily Hal understands and gives him the time easily.

"We've all been there, Clint," he says. "Crew can get by without ya for a coupla days. Hope your kid feels better soon."

Clint is grateful, but in the big picture it doesn't do much to calm him down. Lorin sleeps very little, and what sleep he does get is restless and plagued by cries and wails. Clint is compelled to apologize to the Schumann couple who lives next door when he meets them in the hallway, the three of them with matching dark circles underneath their eyes. Lorin cries pathetically against Clint's chest, shivering lightly under the muslin blanket Clint's got him wrapped underneath, but Clint doesn't have a choice; he needs to get medicine, and he can't leave Lorin alone.

Infant Tylenol is $7 at CVS. The off-brand is a dollar cheaper, but Clint knows from experience that Lorin won't take it--something about the taste, he supposes--and he doesn't want to be out of the apartment for longer than necessary, so going all the way down to Target is out of the question. After the Tylenol, Clint will be left with about $34 and some change. He picks up some formula, because it doesn't ever hurt to have extra. The cashier looks at him when he pays in mostly singles and coins, but Clint can't quite meet her eyes, because Lorin is still making pitiful, sad sounds against his chest, and he's scared of what he'll see on her face.

On the fourth day, Clint's starting to run on empty. He's exhausted and sleep deprived in a way he hasn't ever been before, not even when Lorin was very little and needed to be fed every other hour. It leaves him dazed and unfocused. The world seems muddled around him, and he takes to power napping whenever he can, wherever he can.

The clock glares 4:17 a.m. at him when he lurches awake in his chair, Lorin crying again in his crib. Clint picks him up, cradles his body carefully, and rocks him. 4:17 a.m.--that means it's not yet time for more meds. He's not sure what Lorin's temperature is at, but he doesn't feel quite as overheated as before. Clint rocks him and tries to remember any nursery songs or rhymes, but nobody ever sang to him as a child, so he's coming up empty.

Lorin flails then, twists in his arms and screeches, a painful cry that cuts into something in Clint's chest, and he has to suck in a sharp breath to keep his calm.

Clint's a patient man--a hard man, even. He's earned his place in the world with sweat and blood, and carved his own life out of the mess left behind by his father, by Barney, by Trick Shot and the Swordsman, and even by Bobbi. Lorin? Is testing that patience.

He's not sure what to do; this is the first time he's experienced this side of his son. Crying and screaming, Lorin pushes against the skin of Clint's torso, and tears run down his chubby cheeks. His eyes blink miserably up at Clint, blank with fever, and Clint aches.

"Shhh," he tries, but it's barely audible through Lorin's wails.

The metalhead who lives on the other side of Clint's apartment bangs on the wall, and a muffled shout can be heard, asking Clint to shut that fucking brat up! Clint's got half a mind to scream back, but Lorin's doing enough screaming for the both of them, and he reminds himself that remaining calm is the best thing he can do for his son at the moment. Cautiously clinging to Lorin, Clint makes his way to the kitchen and makes up a bottle. His formula supply is dwindling, and the days off work hasn't done anything to improve that situation, so the despair that takes a hold of his heart when Lorin refuses the bottle, pinches his lips together, twists his head to the side and only cries harder? That despair hurts.

"Please," Clint mutters, internal mantra of stay calm, stay calm, gotta stay calm for Lorin running rapidly through his mind. "Please eat, buddy."

Lorin screams. Metalhead pounds on the wall again.

It's roaring at him now, stay calm for Lorin, stay calm for Lorin, until it morphs into the voice of every mentor he's ever had, and crying will not help the situation, man up, Clint, God, don't be so fucking soft, little brother.

Clint clings to Lorin, hugs him to his chest, puts his head down and prays into his son's neck, where Lorin's baby-soft skin folds softly in a roly poly way that usually makes Clint's heart skip a beat with love. He doesn't know if anyone's listening to this prayers; he's not the praying type, never has been, but he doesn't know what else to do.

"I miss your Mom," he confesses softly, because under the deafening screams of his son's distress, nobody can hear him. "I miss your Mom. She'd know what to do."

Clint takes Lorin and the bottle and walks to his bed. Pushing away the covers and lying down with Lorin by his side, between himself and the wall so there's no danger of rolling off, Clint squeezes his eyes shut and strokes Lorin's arms, his side, the small tufts of hair on his head. No nursery songs or rhymes are forthcoming, but eventually Clint's brain supplies him with a song, and it's not perfect, but it's something, so he puts his head down and sings softly into Lorin's ear.

Lorin does finally calm down then, loud screams changing and quieting into sad, little sniffles and the occasional whimper. And while "Fade To Black" might not be the most appropriate lullaby ever sung to a seven-month-old, Clint will go with whatever works.

It only takes another couple of minutes after that before Lorin's sucking sleepily on his bottle, and Clint closes his eyes for a moment--just for a moment.

When Clint opens his eyes again, it's somehow daylight. He's not sure what time it is, but it's past morning, that's for sure. Lorin's sitting up next to him in bed, looking at him with his head slightly tilted to the side, and Clint doesn't dare breathe for a second, because Lorin's sitting up. Back straight and stubby legs bent slightly at the knee in front of him, Lorin's sitting next to his father, leaning forward on one hand while the other is moving slightly in nonsensical patterns against Clint's side.

There's a very slight sheen to Lorin's skin, as if he's a little clammy still, but his eyes look clear and fever free for the first time in days. Pointing at nothing, Lorin gapes and says with great emphasis, "Aaaa," and it's as close to a request for a meal as he gets these days.

It almost runs over within him then, Clint's emotions and his exhaustion and his relief, and he has to sit up himself and hug Lorin to him and breathe deeply and evenly--one, two, three--not to cry.

"I'm glad you're feeling better, buddy," Clint says quietly, and his voice only trembles a little.

"Aaa," says Lorin, and Clint smiles, involuntarily and reflexively, as he carries Lorin into the kitchen to make another bottle for him.

Two days later, Lorin is back in Mrs. Webster's care while Clint works, and he's once again tentatively eating mashed carrots and peas, and refusing potatoes and apple.

Hal greets him with a handshake and a slap on his shoulder, and says, "Glad your kid's okay, Barton."

"Me too," Clint says, and doesn't even think he can truly convey how much he really means that. Then he gestures for Hal to hang back a second. "Hey, I was wondering if you had any extra work for me? Could use the money, especially after the last few days."

Hal strokes the meager patches of hair he likes to pretend is a full beard, and narrows his eyes at Clint. Clint frowns. "You know, there's a thing," Hal says, "that me and some buddies like to do. Was thinking maybe you'd want in on that?"

Clint's wary. "I'm not doing anything sketchy," he says, because he's not Barney and he never will be.

"Don't worry, nothing like that," Hal laughs. "No, we buy houses, run-down properties and shit, and then we--well, we do this," he says, gesturing around the construction site. "And then we sell them at a profit. I mean, profit margins are much smaller now than they used to be, the economy being what it is, but we're still able to make a profit, yeah."

That does sound good to Clint, but he shakes his head mournfully. Before he can speak though, Hal cuts in, already knowing what he was going to say. "I can front ya the startup cash, if you want. It's a loan. I won't charge you no interest, but I'll fucking beat your ass, kid or no, if you stiff me."

Clint blinks. "You'd do that for me?" He's not used to this type of kindness being shown to him, and he thinks of paying for Tylenol with change and how he had to skip meals to afford Lorin's last batch of formula.

Hal shrugs easily. "You're good people, Clint. Good people deserve a break now and then. And you're a good father to your little boy. Anyone can see that."

Clint nods and pretends his eyes didn't almost water just then. "Thanks, Hal," he says, because he's not sure how else to make all his emotion and gratitude come out into words.

Clint flips his first house just after Lorin's first birthday. It sells faster than he thought it would, and Hal claps his shoulder as he stares at his bank account statement in marvel. He makes a down payment to Hal, then sets aside what he'd like to invest for the next house flip, because Hal's already eyeing up another property. Afterwards, Clint goes out and buys Lorin a book; a brand new one from Barnes & Noble, without chewed up corners or minor tears in any pages.

After he tucks Lorin in that night, he sits on the floor next to Lorin's crib and reads "Guess How Much I Love You," and feels hope, clear and strong into the very core of his being, for the first time in months.

END