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And Baby Makes Eight

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It’s Steve who finds Lieutenant Hill with her back pressed against the SHIELD communications van and her arms wrapped around her waist.

“Lieutenant?” He thought she was looking wan before, but this looks dire.

“Go away, Captain. I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine,” he says, frank and unapologetic. Some sixth sense gets him out of the way before she bends over and vomits into the gutter. But he gets an arm around her waist. “I need a medic out here, Hill—”

“Is fine,” she snaps over the communications channel. “No need for a medic.”

“You know, I outrank you.”

“And I don’t need to be infantilised,” she tells him bluntly as the support agents emerge from the communications van, their expressions anxious. “I’m fine – it was just a momentary nausea. Let’s get back to the job at hand.”

And without so much as a thank you, she goes back to work.

Steve still keeps an eye on her for the rest of the mission – she does look a bit peaky. But other than that, Lieutenant Hill discharges her duty with the precision and stern resolve that brought her to the notice of the Director of SHIELD at a relatively tender age.

Right up until the point where she’s emerging from the van several hours later and has to grab hold of the door to stay upright.

Steve’s across the street and scooping her up before she has time to protest. “This time, you’re going to see a medic.”

--

Clint walks into Maria’s office at a time when he knows she’ll be there and alone. He’d like a time when he can count on not being interrupted, but this is Hill. Her hands pause over her keyboard he comes in, and the query in her eyes turns wary as he shuts the door behind him.

“Okay,” he says, leaning back against the door and folding his arms. “Is there a guy I have to kill for this? Because you broke up with the Black Ops guy three years ago, and I hadn’t heard that there was anyone else since.”

She’s not going to like it, Natasha warned him. You don’t have the right to dictate to her.

Clint doesn’t plan to do any dictating. But he does need to know if there’s a man who needs burying.

Maria tilts her head at him, exasperated. “What makes you think I want him dead?”

“You haven't mentioned a father.”

“And if the father was in the picture, I'm quite capable of dealing with him.”

“This is true.” Clint cracks his knuckles and smirks. “But if so, I figured you might want assistance in hiding the body.”

The smile is faint and rueful – and slightly bitter. “I don't need to hide his body. He died in the New York attack.”

Oh. Guilt slashes across his gut, sharp as a knife. “Sorry.” Intellectually he knows that, if not him, then someone else would have provided Loki with the information he needed to disable SHIELD and let the Chitauri in. But that doesn't absolve him.

Maria sighs. “If you start self-flagellating, Barton, I'm going to have to kick your ass.” She would, too, pregnant or not. And Clint would let her.

He squares his shoulders. He can't make it up to everyone who lost someone in the Chitauri invasion, and he can't apologise to Phil or bring him back, but he can do this. “So, since he's not here and I am, what do you need me to do?”

The blue stare studies him for a moment before she hunches, just a fraction. “You're not allowed to laugh.”

Clint makes a cross over his heart, then puts his right hand up in the scouts' oath.

“I want a Bloomin' Onion and Chicken Quesadillas from the Outback Steakhouse. There's only stroganoff in the mess hall today.”

One Steakhouse run, coming right up.”

One day he’s a world-saving superhero, the next he’s a glorified delivery boy. Clint reflects that this was never in the job description.

--

Maria isn't sure what to make of the interest the Avengers are taking in her pregnancy.

Clint is working out his guilt; but Maria thinks that anything which anchors him in the now is a good thing. The Avengers do a good job of that professionally, and Natasha is there for him personally. But Clint needs to be pointed at a target, or given a direction, a focus.

If that focus is going to be her child, then Maria figures she can live with that.

Natasha is concerned - curious, even. Maria avoids asking the expected question of Natasha, but makes sure that she’s informed about all the stages of the pregnancy. It may not be in the Black Widow's plan for her life, but a baby was never in Maria’s plans either.

But Clint and Natasha are SHIELD and worked with her before.

The others are more problematic.

“What is this?” Maria stares at the dark pink soup that Rogers places in front of her.

“Borscht.” Rogers puts another bowl down next to Miss Potts who glances up from her computer and smiles in thanks before going back to her reports. “Beetroot soup. At least try it.”

Rogers has taken to modern cookery like a duck to water – he has a particular fondness for the farmers' markets, and when he's in residence at the Tower and not in training and re-skilling elsewhere, the communal fridge is overflowing with fresh produce.

Maria stares at it hungrily. It smells delicious, and she's had a near-constant nausea that makes it hard to eat anything. She can eat and keep it down, she’s just not hungry. Which is a problem when she’s supposed to be eating for two.

“I haven't poisoned it,” Rogers says with a touch of asperity.

She glares at him but tries it.

Five minutes later, Rogers slides a second bowl under her nose with something that, in any other man, would be a smirk.

Thor is fascinated by human pregnancy - and all the more by the clash of roles that he perceives in Maria: fighter and Valkyrie (his word, not Maria’s), and mother and nurturer. Asgardian women are most usually the latter, although Sif is quite definitely the former, which may cause interesting conflicts if she decides to take a husband or lover later in life and chooses to bear children.

Jane Foster reminds Thor that Maria isn’t pregnant just so he can ask questions, and Thor is suitably apologetic at the intrusion, but he’s still curious. And speculative when his gaze rests on Jane.

Maria makes a mental note to consult with the SHIELD geneticists about whether a half-Asgardian child is even possible. In purely pragmatic terms, such a child could be of great benefit to Earth.

She may be pregnant, but she’s still an agent of SHIELD.

The copy of 'What To Expect When You're Expecting' in Banner's lab is more worrying.

“Natasha left it in the reading room,” is the excuse the scientist gives when Maria picks it up. He hunches a little as she flips through the pages, pausing where a clipped article about Dr. Betty Ross has been inserted as a bookmark in chapter three.

“Just as well I’m only up to chapter three in the pregnancy, too,” she says dryly.

Banner blushes, but it gets him to sit down in the chair to discuss his plans for staying in New York when he’s carrying the Hulk around in his mental back pocket. Fury isn’t happy about this, and, honestly, neither is Maria. But she’s not happy about the Avengers generally and they’re her job.

So she sits down and discusses the options with Banner, pushing a little because someone needs to, and Fury does orders and interventions; he doesn’t do people. And Banner doesn’t lose his temper, although he gives her more than a few hard looks, and Maria doesn’t like the hard looks much, but she likes it better than facing the Hulk.

When Stark starts suggesting baby names, though, Maria has this urge to look outside and check if it's raining donuts.

Of course, he is asking her to name the child after him, which is exactly what she’d expect of Stark.

“So having Anthony become the most popular boy’s name in the US in the last year isn’t enough for you?”

“I don’t know all those babies,” Stark says, looking very reasonable, “Although I’ve kissed a few. I’m just suggesting that, as names go, you could do worse than ‘Anthony.’”

“Stark, I’m not going to saddle my child with the name Anthony Hill.” At his blank look, Maria sighs. “Ant Hill?”

--

Maria wakes in darkness and dust and an odd musky smell.

Her hand is already on the shirt stretched tight over the bump of her child, instinctive terror and protectiveness rising in her. She feels the baby nudge against her hand and presses lightly back - reassurance for both of them.

Her last memory is heading back to the utility she commandeered to drive into the underground parking space and break open an emergency exit door so the people trapped inside could get out. Stark was yelling something about the building stability because the Hulk was holding it up, but there was nobody else free to get those people out.

Something is breathing in the closed space with her, rough rasping through large lungs.

Her heart starts pounding. “Banner?”

“Ceiling fall. Hulk stop.”

Maria swallows, her mouth dry as she tells herself to stay calm. She’s buried under a building with the Hulk; panicking is not going to make things better. Still, it takes her two tries to get her voice working. “Thank you, Hulk.”

“Baby good?”

“It’s not going anywhere,” Maria says wryly.

She feels the careful movement in the shifting currents of the air in their pocket and so doesn’t flinch when a giant hand brushes her distended belly with what must be the most delicate of touches for the Hulk.

“Hulk protect,” he announces with satisfaction.

It’s at that moment, fighting horror and the desire to laugh hysterically, that Maria realises she and her child have been adopted by the Avengers - all of them.

--

Clint goes pale, his eyes suddenly hunted. “You want me to be your partner in the birth classes?”

“It’s you or Fury,” Maria tells him, and lets that thought settle in his brain before she smiles pleasantly. “So?”

--

Philippa Carmelita Hill is born at five minutes past midnight on January 3rd, while the Avengers are attending to a crisis in San Francisco. To say the midwife is somewhat surprised to emerge from the delivery room to a waiting room full of superheroes is an understatement.

“A worthy name,” Thor rumbles when they’re told the baby’s name.

“Philippa...” Clint sounds like he’s tasting the name. “I guess Pippa works for short.”

Stark beams, slightly exhausted from the San Francisco crisis and more than a little punch-drunk. “I think we should drink to that.”

“You just want an excuse to have a drink,” Banner remarks, rebuttoning his shirt so the buttons go in the right holes this time.

“I need an excuse?”

Steve addresses the nurse. “How’s Maria-- Agent-- Ms. Hill doing?”

Natasha doesn’t bother waiting, she slips past the stunned crowd of hospital staff and into the delivery room where the curtains are drawn around the bed, and Fury is massaging his hand back to life. “Agent Romanoff.”

“Director.” She doesn’t betray her surprise at finding him here. Granted, Clint wasn’t able to make it - and he’s both relieved and cursing himself for missing it - but Director Fury? “How are they?”

Fury indicates the curtain and she pauses outside it.

“Maria?”

“Oh God. Tell me they’re not all here.”

Natasha ducks in. “They’re out in the waiting room. It’s just me.”

Birth is always a bloody, messy thing – as compared to death, which can be quiet, noisy, neat, chaotic, and every adjective in between. But at the end of the process of birthing, there’s usually life – a new beginning, a new hope.

Maria looks exhausted but triumphal as the little, scrunched up thing beats at her breast and sucks for all she’s worth.

“San Francisco still standing?”

“Most of it.”

Usually Natasha would use this moment to give a more detailed report. Of course, she doesn’t usually give reports at hospital bedsides to nursing mothers.

There’s nothing ‘usual’ about this at all.

Except for everything that is.

Natasha doesn’t know much about babies, but this one looks healthy enough. She hesitates with one finger above the tiny cheek and wonders  that it’s so small. And beautiful. Somehow, she didn't think it – she – would be beautiful. Which is...stupid? Naïve? Foolish?

“She’s lovely.”

“Everything’s where it should be according to the doctors.”

Natasha’s mouth twitches. The response is so very Maria. She strokes a finger across the baby's downy cheek.

“Philippa.”

Maria half-smiles. “Maudlin, isn’t it?”

“No, no, it’s good. It’s right.” The sigh gusts out of her, thinking of the man Philippa was named for. “Phil would be honoured.”

--

Sometime after midday on the 3rd, Fury regains the feeling in his right hand.