Surveying the chaos that was her front porch, Laura's sleep-deprived brain decided it was all Tony Stark's fault. It was four o'clock in the morning; the kids were ricocheting off the walls in feverish anticipation, Nate right on the border of a classic, too-tired-to-settle meltdown; Clint was in full drill-sergeant mode, snapping out orders left and right as he finished loading the Suburban; Wanda had that deer-in-the-headlights, tight-lipped, Americans-are-ridiculous expression all but carved into her face; and Laura's own head was threatening to explode from the thought that they hadn't even started this ridiculous vacation yet.
The only thing that was keeping her from screaming was Natasha actually having accepted the invitation to join them in despite Laura knowing perfectly well that she thought it was some kind of a test, a hoop she had to jump through to be allowed back into the family again, as if a perfectly valid choice of sides in a moronic argument somehow canceled out taking on a demi-god for Clint, much less the decade of partnering with him.
- - -
("But she made the tapes from the Raft disappear--" Laura had started to say when Clint had finally admitted why Natasha hadn't been to the farm once since everything had more-or-less righted itself. Laura knew this taking long was more than a little on her, too: she'd been doing everything she could not to think about the months and months Clint had been gone, and pretending to accept Natasha's excuses for not visiting had been easier than pressing for more details.
"Yup," Clint had answered.
"And it's not as though it was her fault they existed in the first place," Laura had continued, managing somehow to not grind her teeth together at the thought of how easily certain people could blithely betray the trust placed in them, all because they were 'upset'. Clint had been watching her with steady, calm eyes, so she probably hadn't kept all of her annoyance (ok, fine, her seething fury, but she'd been working on it) off her face, but a deep breath and a quick kiss to remind herself that they'd gotten through it had worked wonders.
"Right there with you," Clint had answered.
"Did you *tell* her that?" Laura's exasperation at that point had felt much more familiar and welcome.
"*Yes*." Clint had sounded so aggrieved at actually having to communicate emotions that Laura had almost laughed, so there had been a little bit of apologetic cuddling that had taken place. Life had been such an emotional roller coaster at that point that they'd gotten used to just owning up to the wild mood swings and letting go of them.
Clint had shrugged. "Got a couple vague promises to try to come out, which..."
Laura had sighed, because yes, that hadn't happened.
"All that shit she carries from the Red Room," Clint had said after a bit, "it's like flashbacks only worse. Takes her a while to get through them sometimes."
"Fuck them," Laura had answered. Clint had snorted in agreement, and that had been that. Later, though, he hadn't let Natasha put him off over the trip, so Laura had been more than happy with him, at least for that part of the plan.)
- - -
"All right," Clint finally
barked called. "Load up."
It was probably good that Natasha was (as Cooper liked to call it) riding shotgun so she and Clint could trade off driving, as that meant Laura didn't have to sit next to a husband in Full-Metal-Jacket mode. She was all for anything that would prolong her marriage. Wanda got the second seat in the middle with Laura, while Cooper and Lila scrambled into the very back and, interpreting Laura's expression correctly, did not whine even once about having Nate's car seat between them. Nate struggled and fought, but Laura didn't have a decade's worth of experience in buckling up unhappy toddlers for nothing. The kid never had a fighting chance. She still wasn't fast enough for Agent Power-Mad in the front seat.
"Are we good?" Clint snapped. Laura let it slide, but only because Natasha forgot herself long enough to roll her eyes at Laura.
"Should I give the double-tap All Clear on the roof?" Laura asked. "Is that the correct, Strike-Team-Delta-approved signal?" She faux-smiled at Clint in the rearview mirror. From how quickly he jerked his eyes away from hers, she figured he saw how that was masking her gritted teeth.
Possibly, she hadn't let it slide. Also, possibly, she was channeling the worst of her mother, the part that had ended up a passive-aggressive shrew. She sighed, and leaned forward enough that she could poke her head between the front seats and tuck her hand into the crook of Clint's arm. He slanted a look down at her, one side of his mouth quirking up in a rueful smile that was as much of an apology as anything. Laura smiled back an acceptance. He flexed his biceps a bit, she dug her nails into the muscle a little harder than necessary, and they were good.
"Okay," Clint said in a much more normal voice. He turned the Suburban out of the long, winding driveway and onto the two-lane blacktop that ran into town and the interstate. "We're officially on the way. Next stop…"
"Disney World!!!!!" Cooper and Lila yelled from the back seat. Nate roused from where he'd almost zonked out to add his ear-splitting screech to the answer.
"Well, more like breakfast," Clint said. "But yeah, Disney World. Eventually." He was trying to be cool, but Laura knew how to read the sneaky undercurrent of excitement in his voice even before he winked at her in the rearview mirror.
- - -
("What the hell is all this?" Clint had asked as the pile of brochures and stickers and promotional DVDs spilled off the kitchen counter and scattered across the floor. He'd stooped down to get them up, reading them as he gathered the mess together. "'Orlando: Where Memories Are Made'? Seriously?"
"Stark Industries invites us to make use of their corporate accommodations for a family vacation," Laura had answered. "Repeatedly." She'd mostly managed to keep her voice neutral, as all the team, including Clint, had been working on getting to a point where past events weren't hamstringing them in action. She understood, and even more, had a vested interest in making sure her non-super-powered husband had full coverage in the field, but she also definitely had a lot further to go in letting go of her irritation (it was much more than that, but she was working on it) with Tony Stark. Clint didn't need to juggle her issues on top of his own, though, so she'd been keeping her mouth shut as much as she could.
"What the hell?" Clint had muttered again, forgetting about the coffee he'd been making and heading back to his half-office/half-shop. Since Laura didn't think a bunch of shiny brochures were woodworking inspiration, she'd assumed he was heading for the secure communications lines. She'd been folding towels twenty minutes later when he'd stomped back into the kitchen muttering about how Stark was ducking his calls.
"Natasha?" Laura had suggested. "She usually knows what's going on." She'd gotten a thoughtful grunt in return, and then, another twenty minutes after that, had ended up starting dinner while Clint had stalked around the kitchen, unexpectedly (to Laura's mind) offended as he relayed Natasha's opinion that the offer was Stark's attempt at an apology.
"Fucking blood money," Clint had been muttering, "because it's easier to throw that at me than face me." It was perhaps unfortunate that Tony had returned Clint's calls at that moment. Nobody had raised their voice that Laura could tell, but she'd rarely heard Clint's voice get as cold as it had when he'd ended the call with a snarled, "I can take my own damn family to Disney World, Stark."
"Right?" he'd asked Laura as he dropped the phone onto the counter with a clatter.
"Damn straight," Laura had answered.)
- - -
With Strike Team Delta at the wheel, the trip that all sane mapmakers pegged at 21 hours of actual driving time (not counting the suggested overnight breaks) took just over 18 even including the many stops that traveling with small kids demanded, and they were pulling into the hotel right at 11 p.m. Eastern time. Laura gathered up her folder of notes, printed-out reservation confirmations and daily attack plans, and headed into the lobby to check everyone in. They weren't quite staying on the level of the house that Stark Industries maintained (Laura had looked that development up and house prices started at well over a million dollars--and she still didn't regret Clint throwing the offer back in Stark's face) but she'd splurged on suites rather than just rooms, rationalizing that the separate bedroom would help get Nate down at night.
The kids had pored over the pictures of the hotel on the internet, getting at least as much satisfaction out of the artfully staged photos as they did out of wrapped presents under the Christmas tree. The suites Laura had booked only had one proper bed (anything bigger was ridiculously priced), but Cooper had already called dibs on the bed that pulled down out of the wall in the living area, and Lila had fortunately enough decided that the fold-out couch was fine, so there was no sulking going on. They came with a mini kitchens, which was, well, fine (saving money was good, harassing kids to do dishes on vacation was less so) and an extra full bathroom, which was just short of nirvana in Laura's eyes.
Wanda trailed in with Laura, looking around at the lobby with slightly alarmed eyes. Since the walls were covered with backlit plastic panels, each one a glowing, stylized sketch of a Disney character, Laura couldn't blame her. There were apparently some less character-driven Disney hotels to choose from, but Laura had made the executive decision that if they were going all this way, they were going all the way. While Laura waited her turn at the front desk--because there was a robust line even this late hour, which probably did not bode well for the fun things during the day--Lila came running in and towed Wanda off to look at all the sketches. Wanda went willingly, which, of course, sent Lila over the moon and she, in turn, coaxed a laugh or two out of Wanda. It was all very sweet, but Laura had made it abundantly clear right from the start that Wanda wasn't there to cater to the kids' whims. She supposed it wouldn't hurt to reiterate that rule before things really got crazy.
- - -
("I think you should ask Wanda if she wants to come along," Clint had said. "She won't ask for herself, but otherwise, she's going to be up at the compound and--"
"That's not good," Laura had finished for him. Things were still very delicate between the different factions and while they were working well together in the field, too much down-time together had the potential for re-cracking the fragile, stitched-together peace. "Is it something she's going to want to do, though? It's not looking like it's going to be a quiet retreat, you know."
"She has a good time out here with us." Clint had shrugged. "She's at least used to this kind of crazy."
The spare bedroom at the back of the house, with the view over the herb garden and the rolling hills beyond, was already known as 'Wanda's room', so Clint had a point there.
Laura had considered how best to do the asking, but in the end just went for a straightforward conversation while she was folding laundry and Wanda had been trying out yet another recipe found on the internet in the quest for something close to her family's poppy seed cookies.
"It would be too big of an intrusion," Wanda had said immediately.
"If that's you being polite and not wanting to tell me the whole thing sounds horrible, that's fine, but if you really are worried about intruding, please don't be. We wouldn't be inviting you if we thought that."
"It is your family time. You spent a long time apart, while Clint was…"
"While you *both* were illegally jailed and then on the run from charges that collapsed as soon as the international courts weighed in on those so-called 'accords'?" Laura had suggested.
"Yes?" Wanda's smile had been hesitant.
"It wasn't fun. For anyone, I'm sure," Laura had said, nodding as Wanda had relaxed a bit. "But he's on my side on this one. We both would like it if you come along. Natasha is coming, too, you know."
"If you are sure I wouldn't be a bother," Wanda had said.
"You mean, more of a bother than my actual husband and children?" Laura had rolled her eyes. "You're not even going to be close.")
- - -
The check-in actually went smoothly, handled with ease by a cheerful (but not perky--Laura wasn't sure how she managed that, but she wouldn't be surprised if it was something in the water) woman. Laura had done everything online, and they technically could have gone straight to their rooms, but she wanted to make sure her varied requirements had been met. One by one, they went through the special (Laura had so far managed not to use the word 'Magic Band' but she could see it was a doomed effort already) wristbands for each person, verifying room keys and charging and park tickets. They ran through an explanation of how to align the Mickey icon on the wristband to the matching icon on various locks, turnstiles and payment pads before wrapping up with more cheer--directions to the best place to park for their rooms, the suggestion to make a late-night run for gelato at the food court, and a small, castle-decorated, plastic bag (the first of many, Laura suspected) which proved to be full of First Time! pins, a ridiculous number of Mickey stickers, and a small, non-activated wristband for Nate.
"The little ones love having one of their own," came the explanation. "Be sure you wear your pins so everyone knows to give you extra pixie dust magic!" Laura didn't know how exactly to answer that (laughing in disbelief seemed rude), but the next group had already stepped up to the front desk and all that cheeriness was now directed at someone new.
Laura had to admit it was something of a relief.
She collected Wanda and Lila, made no mention of gelato availability, and, back out in the parking lot, handed the map with the room building marked to Clint because they'd learned over the years to just let him deal with directional issues. Their brains worked too differently; translating from one to the other didn't do anything but waste time and patience. Nate and Cooper came running in from the darkness as soon as Clint whistled, and everybody piled back into the SUV for the surprisingly long drive around to their rooms. Apparently, they were not in a cozy little hotel.
"We're in the Finding Nemo section," Laura announced, consulting her paperwork.
"Oooo," Clint snarked. "Exciting."
"This was your idea, Hawkeye," Laura reminded him. "Get with the program."
"Ma'am, yes, ma'am," Clint answered. "Finding Nemo it is, ma'am."
"That never gets old," Laura heard Natasha tell Wanda.
Laura was perfectly happy to own up to how she didn't even try to rein in the smirk at that. Clint saw, too, but just rolled his eyes and pulled the SUV into a parking space. Everyone spilled out, dragging duffel bags and backpacks with them, setting off for the building entrance with almost no whining.
The outer walls of the buildings were decorated with the same kind of sketches as in the lobby, just on a building-size scale, and the interior hallways were all painted blue, so it wasn't until Laura touched her wristband to the electronic lock ("Mickey to Mickey!" chirped a voice in her head) and Clint shouldered the door to their suite open that they got the full effect of Laura's executive decision to go for broke on the Disney 'magic.'
"Wow," Clint said, stopping not two steps into the room and staring. "You weren't kidding about the 'all in,' were you?"
"Oh," Laura said, getting a good look herself. "My," she finished weakly.
Clint was grinning as he shrugged the bags off his shoulders, but she was saved from any immediate commenting by Lila darting in around them, all but shrieking with glee as she danced her way into the room.
"It's the fish school, Mom," Laura managed to decipher, as Lila twirled in excitement at the sight. "It'll be like sleeping under water!" The pull-out couch in the living area was, in fact, situated under a 3D piece of art of the school of fish from Finding Nemo, while the small stools around it looked like some sort of sea mushroom. The chairs at the dining table had coral-shaped backs, the floor lamps looked like some kind of wavy seaweed creature, and every piece of furniture in both rooms was painted with scenes inspired by the movie.
In the same color palette.
Even the carpeting.
Nate was squirming to get down, so Laura set him on his feet and let him wander around. He studied the solid brace of the painted dining table, the scene right on his eye-level, and then looked up at her and grinned. "Kush," he said happily, patting where the turtle was swimming along. "Kush."
"Duuude," Clint and Cooper said in unison.
Nate giggled. "Dooooooo," he echoed, raising his hands for high fives. "Dooooooooo."
Cooper whooped and smacked his little brother's palms. Lila came running over, insisting not to be left out. Clint beamed at his offspring proudly. Laura sighed. In what was looking like a tactical error, she could tell she was in for a long week of Crush and Squirt quotes.
On the other hand, she did love watching her guys goof off together. Everyone said there would be tension once Cooper got to be a teenager, so she was storing up funny memories to keep the aggravation at bay.
"Alright, my dudes, of all genders," she called. "Teeth brushed and lights out so we can go see Mickey and his pals in the morning."
The lure of face-time with the mouse in charge proved strong enough that no one complained as she herded them to the bathroom off the living room, settling Nate on the counter so she could take care of the actual teeth cleaning before she put him back on the floor with a toothbrush to wave around and chew on.
"Clint," she said, finding him flat on his back on the floor in the bedroom, stretching out the kinks from driving all day and half the night. "Can you go check and make sure Natasha and Wanda got into their room?"
He gave her the look that said he knew she was dodging the issue, which, well…. She was. She was tired, though, and frankly, running out of ways to say that Natasha was welcome and that she, Laura, was not holding any kind of a grudge. It was exhausting and she was already tired, all of which Clint knew, because they'd had this discussion at least three times.
"I know," Laura said, answering the unspoken question. "I'll be back in fighting trim in the morning, Coach. Swear." Clint sighed, but rolled up to a sitting position and let Laura pull him to his feet. "Besides," Laura added, going up on her toes to kiss him lightly, "you know you're dying to see the Widow's reaction to these rooms."
Clint did grin at that, but when he finally got back and flopped down next to where Laura was reading in bed, he grumbled, "We gave her too long to get her act together. All she said was she was sure the kids liked it." He stripped out of his t-shirt and jeans without even sitting up and squirmed his way under the sheet. (Laura didn't care how much the air conditioning was blasting, it was still close to 80 at midnight and Clint put out heat like a wood stove. She probably wouldn't even need the sheet, much less the comforter.)
"You can try again with the character breakfast in the morning," Laura consoled, closing her book and turning off the light. "They apparently come to the table and sign autographs. I bought princess autograph books for Nat and Wanda, too. I figure we'll get at least one good picture for the family blooper reel."
"Nice," Clint murmured as she settled against him. "Devious and thoughtful--I knew I popped the question for a reason."