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A Safe Place

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After Afghanistan Toni Stark became a hermit.

 

Actually, it had already been underway for years before that. See, somewhere along the way, Toni went from a slutty genius billionaire, to a married woman expecting her first child. The public didn’t know about the married part. Even she didn’t know about the baby.

 

When she started throwing up in the cave, both she and Yinsen thought it might be the questionable food they got, or perhaps the stress of getting the electromagnet installed. But then they started to notice that she was gaining weight, especially around the waist, despite throwing up almost everything she ate. And Toni recalled getting airsick on the way to Afghanistan, though she had never had motion sickness in her life.

 

Yinsen diagnosed her as pregnant. And somehow, miraculously, the baby survived. When Rhodey picked her up in the desert after the explosions and the fighting and the falling through the sky, she was still pregnant. So soon after the press conference where she announced that Stark Industries would no longer make weapons, and after making Pepper Potts the new CEO, Toni Stark completely withdrew from the public, together with her husband and their miracle baby.

 

She still built the Iron Man suit. PTSD or whatever, she didn’t feel safe. And lucky she did, because Obie betrayed her, and her only option was putting on the suit. Agent yelled at her afterwards. And Pepper found out about the pregnancy and yelled even more. And when her husband got home from his work related trip to Romania, they had their biggest fight yet.

 

But the baby survived. Toni and her new family moved away from the city and the nosy reporters. Iron Man was announced to be Toni’s bodyguard. Over the years he sometimes showed up on the radar, destroying old Stark Industries’ weapon caches and saving innocent people. And when Loki and the Chitauri attacked New York, Iron Man fought alongside the Avengers and ended up taking a short trip to outer space. Her husband yelled at her for that too.

 

***

 

”We could really have used Iron Man for this fight”, said Steve while watching Helen Cho and her machine repairing the hole in Clint’s side. Clint looked up at him, pale and barely conscious.

 

”You know that he first and foremost is loyal to miss Stark.”

 

”Miss Stark is a hermit”, muttered Steve. ”Does she really need a bodyguard?”

 

”Miss Stark is still among the ten celebrities with the most death threats and kidnapping attempts each year”, commented Clint, perhaps a bit sharply.

 

”How do you even know that?”

 

Clint didn’t answer, asleep or unconscious. Steve couldn’t tell.

 

***

 

Then there was Ultron. Natasha blamed Reed for that. It was obviously not Bruce’s idea, but somehow Bruce ended up taking the blame, because the Fantastic Four had some sort of intergalactic crisis and were suddenly nowhere to be found. They were on their own.

 

She watched her team, exhausted and beat down, in desperate need of a brake, some hope. Clint met her eyes for a moment, before taking a steadying breath.

 

”I know a safe place.”

 

***

 

It was a farm.

 

Somehow, Steve never expected a farm to be Clint’s safe place. It looked cozy, kind of small. But surprisingly, it also felt safe.

 

He also didn’t expect Clint to open the door and yell ”Honey, I’m home!”

 

A pregnant woman, who for some reason looked very familiar, waddled in from the kitchen. She greeted Clint with a kiss that had just a bit too much tongue for being outside the bedroom.

 

”That’s Toni Stark”, said Bruce, voice a bit too high. ”Guys, that’s Toni Stark.”

 

”And that’s Bruce Starstruck”, Clint countered, giving the woman who was supposedly Toni Stark another peck on the lips. ”Gentlemen, this is Toni Stark-Barton.”

 

”I know all your names.”

 

Toni had a dazzling smile, that reminded Steve very much of Howard.

 

”Ooh, incoming.” Clint crouched down to greet two small kids who ran straight into his arms.

 

Steve sneaked a glance at Thor and Bruce, who looked just as confused as he felt.

 

”Did you bring Auntie Nat?” asked the little girl and suddenly Natasha stepped forward for a hug. Steve decided to pick his chin up from the floor and remember his manners.

 

”Sorry for barging in on you.”

 

”We had no idea”, added Bruce.

 

Clint wrapped an arm around Toni’s shoulders as the kids went back to playing something that involved a lot of running around. ”Yeah, well Fury helped me set this up when we got married. He kept it off SHIELD’s files, I’d like to keep it that way. Keep them safe. I figured it’s a good place to lay low for awhile.”

 

Natasha left the kids to their game and walked over to greet Toni.

 

”How’s little Natasha doing?”

 

”She’s… Nathaniel”, said Toni with an apologetic grimace.

Natasha bent closer to whisper ”traitor” to Toni’s belly.

 

Steve was really not expecting any of this.

 

***

 

Thor left to seek answers soon after, leaving Bruce and Steve the only Avengers still feeling awkward about invading a home like this. Even more awkward was how Bruce couldn’t seem to stop staring at Toni, who was obviously having an intimate moment with her husband. Who was an Avenger. Who didn’t tell Bruce that he was married to Toni Stark.

 

”I can feel the difference”, he heard Toni say, her hand over Clint’s scar. She kissed him on the chin, before hugging him almost desperately. Bruce finally averted his eyes.

 

”So, I hear you could use some backup”, said Toni, walking back into the room with a speed and an energy that shouldn’t be possible at her advanced state of pregnancy.

 

”Toni, don’t…” begged Clint, sounding very uneasy.

 

”Hush, you know I won’t actually be in danger. I’ll stay with SHIELD or wherever. Pepper’ll watch Lila and Cooper.”

 

Clint grabbed her arm. ”Toni…”

 

”I won’t be in the suit, Clint. Hell, I can’t fit in the suit.”

 

”I know, I just… I just worry.”

 

She searched his eyes for a moment. ”You know I worry too.”

 

Then she turned to Bruce, complimenting him on his work and on the Hulk, using almost exactly the same words Iron Man had used back at the Helicarrier. Realization washed over him and his admiration for Toni Stark went up another notch.

 

”You’re Iron Man.”

 

Toni met his eyes with a wolfish grin. ”I am Iron Man. I hear you need backup.”

 

***

 

Clint had to hold back a chuckle, when Toni led them down to the workshop. Steve and Bruce were staring in awe at everything around them, Steve probably itching to draw it, Bruce wanting to try out the equipment. Then three familiar robots rushed over, spinning circles around Clint as he laughed and greeted them.

 

”Hey, guys. You been good for mama?”

 

He supposed the twirling and enthusiastic beeping meant ”yes”.

 

”Lady and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?” Toni stood near the far wall, arms outstretched to her sides. ”Avengers, meet the Iron Legion.”

 

At those words a part of the wall opened up, revealing close to fifty armors powering up to hover a couple of feet over the ground.

 

Even Natasha looked impressed.

 

When the others moved to get a closer look at the suits, Clint sneaked his arms around Toni from behind, hands softly cupping her belly.

 

”Drama Queen”, he whispered into her hair.

 

”Says the hawk-ass who married me.”

 

***

 

Iron Man joined the Avengers in the fight against Ultron. The suit was empty, of course, Toni controlled it with a set up that worked a bit like Wii, only far more complicated. JARVIS had gotten pretty good at flying the suit for her, but JARVIS had the Iron Legion to deal with. So Toni decided to do most of the work herself when it came to Iron Man and let JARVIS focus on the other forty something suits.

 

Her belly was in the way.

 

She spent the battle of Sokovia in one of the Helicarrier labs, remotely controlling the suit and wishing that she wasn’t eight months pregnant. She’d just gotten a family out of a collapsing house and was turning in the air, trying to get eyes on Clint, when it happened. Her belly tightened, a sharp pain running trough her core, making her hunch over and loose control of the suit.

 

”JARVIS, take over”, she gritted out, but her muscles were already starting to relax again. She rubbed her belly in an attempt to make baby-hawk calm down. She froze. Her belly was low. Was it that low this morning? It was like the baby had taken up residens between her hips.  ”Shit”, she murmured, because she’d been here before and the baby had dropped and that was not how a Braxton Hicks-contraction felt.

 

But her husband, and about seven billion other people needed her right now, because if the city dropped it could destroy the planet. So she ignored any and all signs of labor, focusing on saving the world in stead.

 

***

 

Clint was lying in a lifeboat, staring at the dead eyes of Pietro Maximoff when a voice called his name over the Avengers comm. Toni’s voice.

 

”Clint? Clint, I… Could you…”

 

The words were replaced by a groan of pain. It was guttural and low and Clint had heard it before on no more than two separate occasions. Both times he’d gotten to hold a newborn just a couple of hours later. He sat up, apathy replaced by adrenaline.

 

”You’re in labor?”

 

Other Avengers made noise on the com, inquiries maybe, but Clint was only listening for one voice.

 

”Toni, breathe. Come on, try to relax. Where are you?”

 

”Helicarrier”, she answered, sounding breathless after the contraction, but not currently in pain. ”Labs. Baby’s early.”

 

”Baby will be just fine, Toni. 35 weeks, that’s almost full term. He will be fine. Now, I’m on my way, just hold on.”

 

”How far along are you?” That was Natasha’s voice, but the only answer she got was that same guttural groan, louder this time.

 

”Pretty damn far along”, Clint answered. ”Last time she made that sound, she was pushing within the hour.”

 

Clint was the first one off the lifeboat as it boarded the Helicarrier. He met Natasha, Steve and Thor on the deck.

 

”Where’s Bruce? Vision and the Maximoff twins?”

 

It was Steve who asked, and maybe Natasha answered. Clint’s only focus was Toni.

 

”Okay, we’re on the Helicarrier now, Steve’s gonna find a doctor and…”

 

”No!”

 

”Toni…”

 

”A city just blew up. The doctors are more needed… elsewhere. Just… get here…” She was groaning again. The contractions seemed really close together.

 

”Don’t fight it, Toni. Let it wash over you. Deep, slow breaths. You’re okay. I’m almost there.”

 

And then he was in the lab, where Tony stood hunched over a worktable, trying to breath through the latest contraction. He was at her side in an instant, grabbing the hand she stretched out towards him, his other hand immediately going to rub tight circles into the muscles of her lower back.

 

”Don’t stop”, she groaned, releasing his hand to grab her lower stomach, groan turning into a shriek.

 

He moved behind her, digging both thumbs into her back, keeping up a litany of encouraging words as she worked through the peak of the contraction. When it was over, she turned to bury her face into his chest while working on getting her breathing back under control.

 

”Did your water break?”

 

She nodded into his chest.

 

”Feeling the urge to push?”

 

”A bit. More with every contraction.”

 

”Okay.”

 

He was stroking her hair, his other arm around her back to keep her steady.

 

”What can we do?”

 

Clint had honestly forgotten the others were there. Toni had probably never realized in the first place. She turned her head to see the others, pointing to Steve and Thor.

 

”You two. Out.”

 

They looked confused and slightly hurt.

 

”Use your strength, work rescue. It won’t be any help with getting this… this baby… out of… me-eeaaaargh!”

 

Toni looped her arms around his neck and pressed her forehead against his chest, rocking her hips from side to side. Clint focused on rubbing her back and whispering encouragements in her ear. When Toni was hurting, his normal jokes and wisecracks always were the furthest thing from his mind.

 

When Toni came down from the contraction Natasha was there with a glass of water and Steve and Thor were nowhere to be seen.

 

”How are you holding up, котенок?”

 

Toni’s breath hitched and she gave a soft whine, reaching out a shaking hand for the water.

 

”It’s okay, let me”, murmured Natasha, holding the glass to Toni’s lips.

 

The next contraction hit and Toni groaned, spreading her legs a bit before suddenly scrambling for the waistband of her pants.

 

”Need to push, need to… Fuck. Clint. The pressure.”

 

Clint and Natasha didn’t waste any time helping her get her pants off and then she tensed up in his arms, holding her breath and bearing down.

 

He was pretty sure he was the only thing holding her up. She was a shuddering, sweating mess in his arms as she worked to bring their child closer. Then the groans turned inte high-pitched wails and he knew she was crowning.

 

Natasha moved closer with the softest towel she’d been able to find at the ready. Toni screamed. And pushed. And the baby was still crowning, still pressing down, without the room to fully come out.

 

One last yell delivered the head, and the baby followed soon after, leaving her body in a rush and landing in Natashas waiting hands. The baby scrunched up his face kicked with his feet and let out a high-pitched cry.

 

And so Nathaniel Pietro Barton was born.

 

***

 

After Ultron was defeated, Hawkeye and Iron Man retired from active duty with the Avengers. Well, Iron Man had never really been on active duty, and Hawkeye had always spent a lot of time on a farm no one knew existed. But with three kids, on top of actually running the farm, they needed to step back from the fight, be a family. The others understood.

 

The Avengers had gained some new members along the way, so it wasn’t like the Stark-Bartons were desperately needed. Not to fight Doom Bots and not to clean up the Fantastic Four’s messes. And if the world needed saving from some intergalactic threat, well, it wasn’t like Pepper would ever stand up a chance to babysit.

 

Toni smiled softly as she looked down at the baby sleeping on her chest. It was a pretty big boy, ”fat” Natasha had said. Nathaniel moved a bit in his sleep, fingers catching in her hair. She kissed his forehead, breathing in the scent of milk and baby powder, before looking over to where Clint was helping Lila and Cooper build a kite. A warm feeling stirred in her chest and spread through her entire body. It felt like laughter and sunshine and Clint’s eyes. Like Cooper and Lila playing. Like Nathaniels soft skin and JARVIS’ voice and DUM-E’s poison smoothies and home.

 

”Huh”, thought Toni Stark. ”So that's what it feels like to be happy.”

 

***