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Gang Aft Agley

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Ellie laughs so hard she starts coughing, then coughs so hard through the laughing she pukes.

Bruce white-knuckles his tablet, watching a corner of her apartment ceiling while listening to his firstborn choking and barfing into her desk trashcan. She’s still breathing, after a fashion, and slowly getting herself under control. It’s unnerving, but he waits.

When she comes back into view her eyes are bloodshot and there are teeth marks on her lower lip. She’s still fighting a grin, gasping around another laughing fit like skirting a landmine. “Are you okay with this? Is she?”

“I was going to ask you that.”

~*~

Clint goes completely blank, dropping right into his resting murder face.

After a beat Nat realizes it’s a type of freeze response, so she reaches out slowly to lay a hand on his arm. He’s joined an archery and axe-throwing league, it gets him out of the house a couple nights a week now that Laura’s working again, and he practices to relax in the evenings. Combined with regular food and sleep, if anything he’s bigger and more solid since retiring.

He doesn’t blink, just asks, “And your decision?”

Nat rolls her eyes, “I’m telling you, aren’t I?”

He does swallow and blink at that; they’ve always been exceedingly good at implication and inference, the way an old married couple are good at charades, the way some twins are good at whole conversations held with expression alone. He gets without being told that maybe she’d previously dealt with something similar, something completely different, all on her own.

“I would have been there for you,” he says, “whatever.”

“Yeah, I know.” She pats his arm and gives it a squeeze. “That wasn’t the point.”

“So there’s that.”

She shrugs.

“Tell me what I can do, how to help.” Clint catches himself, something he started doing when he became a parent. His face breaks open into a real expression, carefully unguarded in the way he learned from Laura, and that will never be natural for all that it’s real. He wraps his hands around the tops of her shoulders and studies her with a fondness almost painful.

“You’ve been hanging out with Laura too damned much.” She bites the inside of her cheek, wills herself to swallow down the rising tide of panic. She can do this. They can do this. “Be happy for us?”

Clint sweeps her into a hug that twirls her around, his arms circling but not tight, his laugh shaking out from his chest and bringing her along with it.

No really, they can do this.

~*~

David skypes Bruce when he’s halfway through a cup of tea, hands still a bit unsteady from the first call to Ellie. Bruce levers out a deep sigh and props the tablet against the kitchen canisters, sweeping the connection open.

David is slowly clapping, smug.

Bruce closes his eyes. No one told him the downside of raising intelligent capable adults was the sheer volume of shit they would feel completely fine with dishing out to him once they felt he was an equal.

“Well done, dad. Good job.”

“David--”

“Remind me again, what was your biggest concern when I was dating Daisy Johnson?”

Bruce has gone from rubbing his forehead to clenching his frontal bone hard.

“You made a big to-do about responsibility, and communication, and there was a third thing...something about biology--oh, I remember!” He pitches his voice low and thready, “‘You get that girl in trouble I will make your life hell, son.’ That was it. I knew it was something really fucking simple that didn’t even need to be said.” David laughs, “Guess I was wrong, huh?”

Bruce at this point is just nodding and rolling his hand, “Yes, yes, get it all out now.”

“Oh, I’m gonna razz you about this for years, dad,” David is consulting his phone, “I’m gonna razz your kid about this.” He flicks the information onto the screen just under his fuzzy chin, “Says here the failure rate for vasectomy is roughly 1%, but that it happens in the first year after. So the prurient question is, did you get lucky in the decade plus after the surgery when you really weren’t shooting blanks; or did you not get lucky at all, so it was a moot point?”

“I will hang up, I swear to god, David.” Bruce lays his palms flat on the counter and studies what he’d thought was patchy stubble and now sees is purposeful. “Is that supposed to be a goatee or a crop circle?”

~*~

Laura is visiting, not even pretending that she isn’t spending the long weekend checking up on things while Bruce is in London for a residency.

“I don’t need a nanny. I hire nannies.”

“Yes you do, baby. Which is why you’re my designated driver.” Laura pours another glass, setting the empty back on the deck. “Besides, someone has to drink your wine, since you can’t. I’m a great team player that way.”

“I can drink if I want. I just choose not to.” Technically, Natasha doesn’t think she could on a dare, pressing her thumb into an anti-nausea pressure point that, even if it worked, is making as much difference as spitting in the water would change the lake level.

Laura offers another piece of candied ginger, which Nat takes and nibbles halfheartedly. “It sucks, baby, I know.”

Nat smiles ruefully at the callback. Laura had gone with her when she was nineteen, all the infuriating paperwork and hoops to jump through, going back after the waiting period. Then the cramping and the heavy period later when her cycle returned. They didn’t have a heating pad, so Laura had microwaved an old sock filled with rice, and given her soup and crackers and the rest of the pain meds she had from getting her wisdom teeth out.

“You know, that was the reason I got rid of the IUD in the first place. Bad cramps, and it was starting to get like The Shining every month, just elevators of blood, and since it was redundant…” She laughs, “So I don’t have to worry about that for a while.”

“There you go, bright side that fucker. Seriously, you’ve wanted to do scarier things, with a lot less backup, and nailed them. You guys will be fine.” Laura raises her glass but gets distracted, “Hey, you have another package.”

Nat rolls gently to her feet to meet Erik down by his truck.

She lives in this small town, tucked away, but it’s the center of a web of people who care about her, people she’s taken care of, who now see a chance to pay it back, pay it forward. Community, partnership, family.

In the last week she’s gotten a book illustrating all the ways dogs are better than babies, from Maria, bookmarked with a savings bond of all things. A Captain America onesie, from Steve, complete with a stuffed shield that squeaks when you squeeze it. Laura had brought up a big box of hand-knit baby items that Clint’s been working on since he found out, including a double-sided blanket in violet and leek green. Stark had sent an upgrade kit for the dawn simulator with a full suite of nursery settings.

Laura told her when she stopped by Tangled Web, Rear Admiral Nick Fury (retired) had pulled her aside to categorically deny any and all rumors about a baby shower.

Nat signs for the package and ducks into the cool space of the workshop garage. She wants to open it up here, this package from London with familiar handwriting. She grabs a chisel from the bench, slicing through the packing tape.

Nestled inside tissue paper is a hardbound cloth-covered copy of Charlotte’s Web, inscribed simply: Love to Nat, from Bruce.