Laura knew she was being ridiculous. Clint was capable of handling his truck in any sort of weather--and he'd spent a fair amount of time over the years driving in terrain that made the rolling plains of their farm look like a child's playset--but it was legitimately a blizzard out there now, it was long since dark, and she was pregnant. She decided she was allowed to be emotional.
The sensible thing to do would be to go to bed. She knew that, too, but there was no way it was happening, no matter how tired weather-proofing the house and barn (and chasing after a kindergartener on her own) had left her. Clint had called her three times since he started off and every time she'd suggested he just hole up and ride out the storm he'd laughed and told her he wasn't waiting on the weather to get home. If she wasn't so jittery, she'd be all aglow at how much he missed her and home. (Pregnant, remember? She was crying at freaking Kleenex commercials. Having her husband still wanting to be with her was way too much for her to handle calmly.)
So, she paced from room to room, looking out through the curtains to the snow blowing sideways and trying not to imagine all the bad things that could have happened on an iced-over road. At least Cooper was asleep--she was pretty sure her twitchiness wouldn't translate to the type of energy it took to be patient. When she got really nuts, she turned to the double batch of bread dough she'd started. The pilot light on the stove (vintage was too kind of a word for its age--it was high on the hit list/project plan she used to sort out everything that needed to be done at the house) kept it warm enough to rise. Kneading that much dough to the proper elasticity ate up a fair amount of the jitters, enough that she decided she might be able to sit for a while and brewed a cup of the caffeine-free tea her midwife swore by.
Sitting didn't happen, but she kept her mug with her as she made one more round of the house, checking to make sure all the faucets were dripping (the last thing she needed was frozen and burst pipes) and that all the storm windows were holding up in the winds. She spent an extra bit of time standing in Cooper's doorway, watching him in the light thrown by the lamp at the top of the stairs. He had his warmest footie pajamas on, purple and fuzzy, and his hair was mashed up into an epic case of bedhead even with it only being halfway through the night. He was going to be very happy with the snow in the morning, and over-the-moon if Clint did out-stubborn the storm and make it to the farm. For all that Clint had worried about not knowing how to be a good father, she thought they were doing pretty goddamned well.
The snow was coming down heavily enough that she could barely see the floodlights on the corners of the house and barn, but they'd outfitted Clint's truck with off-road lights, and when he made the final turn toward the house, he held the angle long enough that they'd shine straight in through the front windows before he straightened out for the long, slow trip past the house and around to the barn. Laura wasn't terribly religious anymore, but she held onto the banister at the foot of the stairs and said a quick thank you to whoever might be listening and then headed for the back door and the mudroom.
"Honey," Clint called, as Laura came around the corner and into the kitchen. He had the inside door cracked, and she could hear him stamping the snow off his boots.
"You're home," Laura finished with him as he pushed open the door the rest of the way and stepped into the kitchen.
"Well," he answered, shifting off to one side so Laura could see the woman standing behind him, pure disbelief in her eyes, "more like, we're home."
x - x - x
"Hey, hey," Clint protested, raking his hand back through his hair in an attempt to get the last of the melted snow out of it. He only succeeded in making it stand straight up, even worse than Cooper's had been. "We talked about this. I told you--" he pointed his coffee mug at Laura-- "that I was going to tell Nat--"
"Yes," Laura sighed, making the rounds with the coffee pot. Surprise visitor or not, it was bitterly cold out there and even just the walk from the barn to the house was enough to chill a person to the bone. She'd had the coffee on for hours. "You did. Last month. In a text. While I was knee-deep in soil analyses."
"You told me you thought it was past time!" For an ex-Special Forces and current Black Ops international agency marksman, Clint was pretty cute when he was flustered, not that Laura was going to ever tell him that.
"I did, and I do--but this is where I point out the difference between theoretically telling and actually inviting," she said instead. "I think we skipped a part."
"I got the spare room ready, didn't I?" Clint said, nodding in satisfaction when Laura rolled her eyes at him, because of course he thought that was as good as carving the invitation in stone. "And it's not my fault that someone--" he turned around and did the coffee-mug-pointing at Natasha-- "didn't believe me for the entire eight hours we were in the truck on the way here."
"I still don't believe you," Natasha said pointedly, but then Cooper, who had the ears of a bat where his father was concerned, came tearing into the kitchen, skidding around the corner as his footie pj's lost traction before he launched himself at Clint, yelling, "DadDadDad," the whole way.
Clint dropped his mug, sidestepped the splashing coffee and caught Cooper with a laugh, and fine, yes, Laura was hopeless, but the two of them laughing together was not something she was ever going to take for granted. (See also: hormones.) She swallowed past the lump in her throat and turned to the sink to get a cloth to wipe up the coffee.
"Okay," Clint was saying to Natasha, "so, this is my main man here, Cooper. I didn't think you'd get to meet him until the morning, but sleep is not our biggest talent, right?"
"Right," Cooper agreed, high-fiving his father. They didn't actually look all that much alike, not in features (Cooper looked a lot like Laura's family) but their expressions were so identical it was easy to see they were related (not to mention their hair. People could fake expressions, but nobody would put up with hair like that just to pull a joke.)
Natasha looked from one grin to the other, and then turned to look at Laura. She was muttering in Russian, but Laura didn't need a translation. "Yes," she told Natasha, as she handed the dishcloth to Clint to clean up his mess, "two of them."
Natasha studied Clint as he shifted Cooper until he could get his arms around Clint's neck and cling to his back like a baby monkey while Clint mopped up the spilled coffee. Her eyes flicked around the kitchen and past Laura into the front room, taking in everything, Laura was sure. It was an old house and they'd been working on it constantly, but it still had a long way to go. Laura wasn't sure what Natasha was looking for but when she finally spoke, it was only to ask, "Who knows?"
Clint sat back on his heels, his eyes serious and intent. "Fury."
Clint gave that half-shrug, the one that meant he wasn't sure he had the words for what he wanted to say. "You."
There was a long few seconds of silence--even Cooper was quiet--before Natasha shook her head and muttered, "Unbelievable."
Clint smiled. "Kinda answers a lot of questions, though, doesn't it?"
Natasha shook her head again, but before she could say anything the lights flickered and went out.
"Well, that was predictable," Laura sighed. There was a battery powered lantern on the counter near the sink. She flicked it on and reached up into the cabinet for the flashlights. Clint had settled Cooper on the table and was already halfway across the living room to build up the fire in the the wood-burning stove in the corner. Laura kept it going all the time, but without the furnace, it was going to need a lot more fuel to pick up the slack even with both fireplaces going.
"All right, Mr. Cooper," Laura said, holding one arm out to scoop him up, "time for some indoor camping." He whooped, but it was faded and tired-sounding under the excitement, which at least meant that as soon as she got him settled in his sleeping bag, he'd be zonked again. He curled into her and put his head on her shoulder as she turned to Natasha.
"Welcome to the middle of nowhere," she said dryly. "It was only a matter of time before something happened to the power lines. It might take them a little while to get everything back up and running, but for sure--"
"Nothing's going to happen tonight," Natasha finished for her. "It's fine, really. I've spent the night in worse places."
"Yes, but I have generations of farm women screaming at me from beyond the grave at how poorly I'm welcoming you," Laura told her. "I have to at least pay lip service to them." She had no idea what Natasha might make of that, or really, why she even brought it up, but decided it was late, and she was tired, and it really didn't matter anyway. "Clint," she called over her shoulder as she showed Natasha the spare room. "Since someone really did not tell me he was bringing his partner home with him, I didn't lay a fire in the bedroom he so nicely finished off, so get on that, okay?"
"Ma'am, yes, ma'am," Clint called back and even in the low light from the lantern Laura could see the amusement in Natasha's eyes.
"Oh, my god, even if I could tell anyone, no one would believe a word," Natasha murmured.
"Hmm?" Laura asked, crossing the room to close the drapes and add a little bit more insulation to the glass. It was chilly already in the room; it hadn't been open to the rest of the house. Clint was going to have to really build up the fire.
"There are senior agents who might actually drop dead if he ever answered them like that," Natasha said.
"As much as he loved being Delta Force, there are some parts of the military he really did not mind leaving behind," Laura said with a smile. She was pleasantly surprised when Natasha returned it. "Now, when the power goes, we usually close off the upstairs and heat the first floor with the wood stove and fireplaces, so Mr. Cooper here will be bunking down in my office and we'll be in the living room." Cooper was heavy in her arms, but he rallied a little at his name. "There's the one bathroom downstairs--if you want a shower, now is the time to grab it, while the water is still hot."
While she was showing Natasha where the extra quilts and blankets were, and where she could put her clothes (Laura had her eye on a wardrobe out at one of the antique warehouses, but the price hadn't come down enough so they were still dealing with hooks on the wall), Clint came in with an armful of wood and more snow caught in his hair. Cooper tried valiantly to wake up again--I c'n help, he mumbled--but really was just about out, so Laura took him out and across the house to her little office area. His sleeping bag and air mattress were already laid out (the power co-op was notorious for not making it through the first night of a storm) and it was only a little awkward to crouch down and get him settled.
Laura sat back on her heels for a few seconds--it wasn't going to be much longer before she was going to have to stop lifting and carrying him--and then pushed herself to her feet with what felt like a ridiculous amount of effort. She really hadn't gained more than a few pounds, but the weirdnesses of pregnancy were clearly taking over.
"Babe," Clint said from across the room. "Don't push yourself so hard."
"I'm fine," she sighed, which was mostly the truth. "It's just been a long day."
"Okay, then, I'm calling it over," he said, coming up close and brushing his mouth across hers. "The couch is folded out and I've got fires everywhere; are we good here?"
"I think he's down for the count." Laura left a small, battery-powered candle on the table and made sure the threadbare stuffed owl was tucked in with Cooper. He was getting old enough where he didn't always want it with him, but waking up out of his regular bed might be enough to make him happy to have it.
The fire Clint had built up had caught well, the flames high and bright across the whole length of the hearth, enough that she didn't need any other light to settle onto the mattress. Clint came in from the bathroom and poked at the logs before dropping down next to her, propping himself up on all the pillows and dragging the quilts up over them.
"Hi," Laura said, settling in under the curve of his arms and tilting her head back for a proper kiss. His mouth was warm and familiar against hers, rough from where he'd been chewing his bottom lip, but still everything she wanted. "I'm glad you're home."
"Me, too," Clint answered, combing his fingers through her hair. Laura wasn't sure which one of them liked that the most, but it probably didn't matter. He snaked his other hand up under the fleece and camisole she was wearing and laid it flat on her abdomen. "How're you doing, really?"
"Pregnant, y'know?" Laura sighed, and then laughed. "I know, you were here two weeks ago." Clint's arm tightened around her, holding her closer, which was very nice. "The usual, I guess. Technicolor dreams every night, and if I never smell burned coffee again I will be a happy woman."
"Morning sickness?" Clint asked.
"Shhh, don't jinx it," Laura dropped her voice to a whisper. "But I haven't thrown up in a week."
"I'm cheering very quietly," Clint said, dropping a kiss on the top of her head.
"It's the little things," Laura agreed. He murmured wordlessly in answer, and while Laura could feel the tension easing out of his body, she wasn't all that surprised that he half-jumped off the mattress when one of the logs on the fire hissed and popped. He eased back almost immediately, but there wasn't any denying it had happened. "So, now would be my turn," she murmured. "How are you doing, really?"
"I haven't thrown up for a week either," Clint said, half-smiling down at her when she tipped her head back to give him her best not-amused eyebrow arch. He shrugged an apology and sighed. "I'm... okay. Had to take the shot on this one." He said it quietly, like he always did when that was the outcome.
"Bad guys?" Laura asked, pressing herself more tightly against him. He couldn't tell her anything, and he wouldn't even if he could, she thought, but even so, she could still be there with him.
"Bad, bad guys," Clint answered, his voice barely audible now. Laura covered the hand he still had laying on her abdomen with one of her own and watched the fire with him.
x - x - x
Clint got up every few hours to keep the fires going; Laura got out of bed every time he did, too. "Bathroom," she sighed when he gave her the I'm fine, go back to sleep frown. "Your kid is doing a number on my bladder," which was true enough. It also, however, provided excellent cover to make sure he came back to bed every time rather than wandering off and replaying the op in his head. He always leveled out more easily if he slept even a little after he got back, and it was even better if it didn't look like she was hovering while she waited for him.
Somewhere in there, the winds finally died down, and when the sky started lightening, it was easy to see that the clouds had gone with it. The sun rose with a crystalline brightness that was only multiplied by the snow. Cooper lasted until almost eight, but was up and crawling into bed with them not long after.
"C'mon, buddy," Clint said, rolling off the mattress and stretching hard. (Laura enjoyed the view, and he was enjoying her enjoying. The leaving always sucked, but that did mean there were lots of reunions. Laura was okay with taking the good wherever she found it.) "Let's let your mom sleep and us guys can go check on the barn."
Cooper nodded so hard Laura was a little worried he was going to knock himself off balance, but Clint scooped him up before there were tears. "Snowsuit ‘n boots in the mudroom," she mumbled and pulled the pillow over her head. She dozed for a little bit longer, but it was already hours past when she normally got up, so she was ahead of the game.
Along with keeping the fires going all night, Clint had managed to get the gas generator going, which was enough power for small appliances, because god forbid he not get his morning coffee. Since he'd taken the time to start some decaf for her, though, Laura wasn't even going to give him the slightest bit of a hard time about it.
Out the window over the sink, she could see Clint, with Cooper up on his shoulders, making the rounds of the outbuildings, knocking icicles off the eaves and clearing drifts from in front of doors. The snow from overnight had been the light, dry kind; when the wind kicked up, the top layer swirled up into the sunlight, sparkling and pretty and cold. Laura braved the freezing second floor and brought down a change of clothes for everyone, laying everything out near the fireplace to warm up. She'd just finished assessing the state of her refrigerator and pantry when the door to the spare room opened and Natasha came out to join her.
The potential for awkwardness was pretty much off the charts, but almost before Laura finished thinking that, Natasha crossed her arms across her chest and sighed. "He is never going to let me live this down." She walked through the kitchen, going right for the coffee, except that the real stuff was in the vacuum thermos, so Laura intercepted her. "I only came along because I wanted to see how far he'd go with--- this." She turned slowly, taking in the kitchen and Laura and everything else.
"Surprise?" Laura offered.
"You could say that," Natasha answered, cradling her coffee in both hands. Laura pushed sugar and milk across the counter, but Natasha shook her head, downing Clint's industrial strength coffee like it was water.
Laura debated briefly about where the line of too much emotion was, but finally said, "I'm glad you're here, whatever the catalyst." She looked past Natasha, out the window to where Clint had churned up the snow. "The thing that happened last year, in the spring--" she hesitated until Natasha nodded, clearly understanding the operation Laura was talking about, even if Laura herself knew only about the after-effects-- "I think telling you was only a matter of time after that. I'm glad he finally figured out how."
"I'm not sure he accomplished actual communication," Natasha said drily, "but he did get me here."
"That," Laura answered, and it was a little scary how much her tone matched Natasha's, "is as good of a description of him as any I've heard." Natasha's mouth quirked up into a half-smile, one that was so genuine that Laura realized how practiced all the previous ones had been. It was unexpectedly satisfying.
x - x - x
For a morning without power, it wasn't too terrible. Cooper stayed with Clint most of the time, which probably wasn't going to help with the aggravating habit he'd picked up of trying to play them off against each other whenever Clint came back from SHIELD, but also meant that Clint was paying close attention to how cold it was and wasn't staying out for extended periods of time. Laura was calling that one a draw. The pile of wet mittens and hats and snowsuits threatened to take over the mudroom, and the house smelled of the boots drying out in front of the woodstove, but it was a homey sort of smell, at least to Laura. Natasha didn't seem to mind it--at least she hadn't retreated to the spare room to hide, just sat across from Laura and read through files. Laura took that for a win in the Not Freaking Out The Partner column. Given Clint's idea of adequate explanations, Laura thought they were doing fairly well with the whole reveal. Plus, it was actually nice, having someone to sit with while she worked her way through the stack of paperwork that came with consulting and never seemed to go away.
The electricity came back in the early afternoon--it had only been a little storm by local standards--right as the boys headed out one last time, for fun this time, Cooper in his last round dry snow gear. There was no guarantee how long--or even if--the power was going to last, so Laura moved fast, shoving as much wet gear as she could into the dryer and checking her work email as quickly as possible. Clint and Cooper pounded on the door to get her attention, then pointed to a snowman twice as big as Cooper.
"Very nice," Laura told them as they came in, covered head-to-toe with a layer of snow stuck to their clothes. Cooper was so bundled up he could barely bend his arms and legs; under the hood of his snowsuit and the balaclava Clint had tugged down over his face, his face pink from exertion and his hair crackled with static electricity. "You, too, munchkin."
He let her strip off his boots and snowsuit and replace them with sweatpants and a turtleneck, but as soon as she said the word ‘nap,' he collapsed in a screaming, sobbing heap.
"Whoa, whoa," Clint said as Laura reached down to pick Cooper up. "I got him." Cooper was too far gone to even care that it was Clint who was carrying him off, but at least that meant Laura wasn't the only bad guy in the situation.
"Sorry about the noise," she said to Natasha, as Cooper hit a few really high notes. The bedrooms upstairs were still too cold, so Clint had them in her office and Cooper's wails were practically echoing off the walls. Clint's voice was low and calm under it all, but Laura could tell it was going to take a while to settle things down. "Mean Mommy strikes again."
Natasha glanced up from her files. "At least he has the excuse of age on his side. You should hear the whining over the duty rosters from some supposedly adult agents."
She smiled at Laura, and Laura hadn't actually realized she was waiting to hear how they were raising a spoiled brat until it didn't happen; her answering smile was probably pathetically grateful. To stave off any more embarrassing reactions, she busied herself with collecting the final round of wet and snowy outerwear and bundled them into the dryer. It was quiet when she came back out of the mudroom and she held her breath that they were done with the drama.
The silence stretched out to the point where Laura was sure they were well into actual nap time. She let it go a few more minutes, and then nudged Natasha to follow her. They made their way across the living room and around to Laura's little office corner and found Clint sprawled out on his back, Cooper spread out on top of him and the Transformers sleeping bag unzipped and tangled around the both of them. Laura stood and watched them for a long few moments, Clint's arm curled around Cooper, holding him safe, no sign of any frustration or lack of patience. She fixed the image in her memory for when Clint's footing in knowing that he was a good father ran into everything his own family had dumped on him. It wasn't much, but sometimes just knowing the good things existed could hold off the bad.
Unsurprisingly, Clint wasn't asleep enough to not have heard them--sometimes it took weeks after he came home for him to really sleep--but when he opened his eyes, Natasha nudged his foot with hers and said, "I've got it."
"Roger," he answered. He smiled a half-smile at Laura, the one that meant he was boggling a little at the normality of naps and babies and home, but then closed his eyes and settled himself a little more comfortably.
Back in the kitchen, Laura sat down with a sigh and propped her feet on another chair. Natasha looked at her sharply. "I'm fine," Laura told her. "Really not excited that my ankles are swelling, already," she glowered at the traitorous joints, "but there's not a lot I can do about that."
Natasha blinked at her, like she hadn't been expecting something so mundane as water retention, but didn't say anything. She didn't sit, either, pacing around the kitchen as though walking a perimeter. Laura recognized that restless energy, too, and let it pass, like she did with Clint.
"No one has the slightest idea," Natasha finally said. She gestured again to the house and Laura and all that it entailed. "No one."
"With Delta Force," Laura said slowly, choosing her words carefully because she still found it difficult to talk about the things Clint faced as a matter of routine. She accepted them and his reasons for dealing with them, but it didn't mean she liked them. "There's a level of security that's automatic."
Natasha nodded, because of course she knew how Spec Ops worked, the extraordinary lengths the Pentagon went to control access to the teams, how unit assignments were obfuscated, how no one wore insignia or any kind of identification in public.
"This is more than that," Laura said, "but it's what he and Fury worked out before he ever signed on."
Natasha nodded again, accepting it easily. Laura hadn't really expected anything else, but she still took a few seconds to acknowledge how much she'd wanted to hear that the secrecy had been overblown, unnecessary. Some of that must have shown on her face, because Natasha said, "If you've planned for the worst, you can focus on making sure it doesn't happen."
It was an unexpected comfort, one that Laura accepted gratefully, but before she could say anything, Natasha continued, "You should sleep, too."
"You were up every time he was and you need your rest now." Natasha met Laura's eyes evenly, not so much asking permission to include Laura and the baby in her circle, but letting her know it had happened.
"Fine," Laura sighed, dragging herself to her feet and bringing an extra afghan with her to the couch. Two could play at that game, though, so before she put her head down, she looked over the back cushions and said, "It's your turn when Clint wakes up."
"Your. Turn," Laura repeated, waiting in pointed silence until Natasha nodded. It wasn't exactly a surprise that any agent who could work with Clint was stubborn to point of craziness, but Laura had had years to hone her ways and methods for dealing with that. Adding one more to the family was not anything she had a problem with.