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the Accidental Family

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Chapter 1

“We could stay out here with you tonight, if you needed us too,” Tony Stark said to Natasha Romanoff in hushed tones.

Pepper Potts nodded her head in agreement.

“We’ll be fine,” Natasha answered, looking into the living room where Clint Barton was sitting in his plaid La-Z-Boy recliner and staring into space, a half-empty bottle of something alcoholic in his hand. “I can handle him; we’ve been friends for a long time.”

“If you’re sure. . .” Pepper whispered.

“It’ll be fine,” Natasha assured them. “You two go on home, you have a long drive into the city and it’s already late as it is.”

“Okay,” Tony said. “Listen, you call us if you need anything and I mean anything.”

“Thank you,” Natasha said.

“Auntie Nat?” Nicole Barton called from the top of the stairs. “Nate is crying again!”

“I’ll be right there sweetie!” Natasha answered; she looked back at Pepper and Tony. “I’ll see you guys later.”

Pepper took this as their cue to leave and steered Tony out the door, while he tried to call goodbye to Clint. Natasha closed the door behind them, relieved that the last of the funeral guests were gone for the night.

“Auntie Nat?” Nicole called again.

“Coming!” Natasha answered, glancing into the living room before deciding to deal with Clint later because she could hear Nathaniel crying all the way from downstairs. She took off her black stilettos and kicked them away from incoming foot traffic before taking the stairs two at a time.

Nicole was standing in front of the nursery, watching Nate. She turned when she saw Natasha coming and shrugged. “I think he misses mommy.”

Natasha nodded as she went into the nursery and picked Nate up, trying to soothe him by swaying him back and forth in her arms. “Shhh, it’s okay Nate,” she cooed. “Auntie Natasha’s here, she’s going to take good care of you. Come on Nick, we’ll go and make him a bottle. I think he’s just hungry.”

“I’m hungry too,” Nicole told her as they started down the stairs.

“Oh you are, are you? Well, we’ll see if there’s anything leftover from today for you to eat,” Natasha said.

As she heated up the bottle, she rummaged through the fridge and rustled up two leftover, pathetic looking ham and cheese sandwiches from the deli platter Thor and Jane had provided for the reception. Nicole wolfed them down and Natasha realized in the midst of all the chaos, she probably hadn’t been fed.

Natasha felt a stab of regret, she knew if the roles had been reversed and it had been her funeral, Laura would have made sure Lewis, Nicole and Nathaniel had plenty to eat.

“I’m sorry I forgot about you today, sweetie,” Natasha said, retrieving the bottle from the microwave and screwing the nipple on it. She put it into Nathaniel’s mouth, buying them blessed silence.

“‘S okay,” Nicole assured her. “Tony gave us candy bars.”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Of course he did. I’m going to check on your dad, why don’t you get Lewis and then we can all eat together.”

“Okay!” Nicole answered, scampering out of the kitchen while Natasha followed her out, going to the living room to look in on Clint.

He was still unmoving, frozen with a mixture of grief and disbelief that his wife was gone, just like that. There was no explanations, no chance to say goodbye. He’d worked so hard to keep them all safe, only to lose Laura in a car accident while she had been picking up groceries. It wasn’t even her fault; the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, exhausted from driving all night to make it home for his grandmother’s funeral.

It had been ironically tragic.

“Clint?” Natasha asked, shifting Nathaniel in her arms and reaching out to touch him with her toe.

“Gone,” Clint repeated as he slumped back into his chair wearily. “Everybody’s gone now except for you. Why are you still here Nat?”

“You need my help, that’s why,” Natasha answered. “Come on, get up and come have dinner with me and the kids. They need you more than ever now Clint.”

“I’m not hungry,” Clint told her.

“Well, will you at least come and sit at the table with us while we eat,” Natasha pleaded, setting the bottle down on the coffee table and putting Nathaniel over her shoulder to burp him.

She grasped at straws, not wanting to hit him below the belt and play the Laura card when he was grieving but she didn’t know what else to do. So, she decided not to say anything because it wouldn’t be fruitless and unfair to him.

Natasha turned away and left him alone again, climbing the stairs to put a sleeping Nathaniel back to bed. When she went back to the kitchen, Lewis and Nicole were waiting for her, looking completely exhausted.

“Fluff and Nutella sandwiches?” Natasha asked, as she rummaged through the cabinets.

“Sure,” Lewis answered, giving Nicole a look when she was about to start protesting. “That sounds good Auntie Nat, thank you.”

“After dinner, we have to go to bed,” Natasha told them. “It’s been a long day for all of us and you two need your rest.”

“Is daddy coming to eat with us?” Nicole asked.

“Um, daddy’s tired and decided to go to bed early tonight,” Natasha lied.

“You don’t have to lie to us, Aunt Nat. I know dad just can’t deal right now,” Lewis said, grabbing two slices of the ciabatta bread she had cut and slathering it with Nutella with the handful of knives she had thrown on the counter.

Natasha nodded. “Okay, no more lies from here on out.”

“You have to swear,” Lewis said seriously.

“I swear,” Natasha replied, licking Fluff off her knuckle and handing Nicole her sandwich, trying to smile at him but failing miserably. The situation they all were in was no smiling matter and she couldn’t muster one, not even if it was going to make the kids feel better but they weren’t smiling either.

She didn’t know if any of them would ever smile again.

She was suddenly overwhelmed with how daunting a task taking care of a grieving family was going to be. It seemed even harder than being an Avenger ever was. She didn’t know if she was the right girl for the job.

TBC. . .

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Chapter Text

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Chapter 2

Natasha was making Nutella and fluff on toast when Lila came into the kitchen, wearing her Frozen nightgown.

“Daddy’s gone!” She announced.

“What?” Natasha asked, the butter knife slipping from her fingers and onto the counter with a distinct clang.

“Daddy’s not here anymore,” Lila answered slowly.

“He has to be Li,” Natasha said, trying to tamp down the panic that was rising in her throat. “Have you checked the barn? Maybe he’s in there.”

Lila shook her head. “I don’t think so, the barn is always open when he’s in there and it’s closed.”

“Well, why don’t you go and check just to make sure,” Natasha suggested.

“Well. . . I guess I could go and check,” Lila answered uncertainly.

“Thank you sweetheart,” Natasha replied. “When you get back, I’ll have your breakfast ready.”

Lila nodded and dragged her feet out to the barn. Natasha continued to make toast and put the Nutella and fluff on it, a sick feeling was forming in the pit of her stomach. Everything in her didn’t want to believe the man she knew would leave his family in the midst of tragedy, but at the same time she wasn’t sure.

Grief always made people do unpredictable things.

She knew this for a fact.

Lila came back in, shaking her head. “He wasn’t in the barn, Auntie Nat. I really think he’s gone.”

“Why don’t you go and get dressed and see if Cooper’s awake?” Natasha suggested. “I’m going to finish up here and then we’ll eat breakfast.”

“But daddy’s gone!” Lila said like Natasha wasn’t getting it.

“I know,” Natasha answered. “I’ll call him and see where he is and when he’s coming home, okay? Now go and do as you’re told, Lila.”

Lila looked like she was about to object some more but when she saw the look Natasha was giving her, she changed her mind and went to get dressed.

When she was gone, Natasha picked up her phone and with a few strokes on the touch screen, she had pulled Clint’s number up. It went straight to voicemail; she left him a message and then went to her contacts to get Tony’s number.

Tony answered on the first ring, his voice groggy with sleep. “What is it Nat?”

“It’s Clint, he’s gone. . . he isn’t answering his phone,” Natasha answered.

“Where do you think he went?” Tony asked, fully alert now.

Natasha could hear him getting out of bed and shuffling around his bedroom while he talked to Pepper in hushed tones.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“I’m going to check the Avengers Tower right now,” Tony said. “I’ll call you if I find anything.”

“Okay, I have to go now. Lila’s back. I’ll talk to you later, goodbye.”

“Who was that?” Lila demanded.

“Tony,” Natasha answered.

“Why were you talking to him?”

“Because he’s going to help us look for your father,” Natasha said, pushing a plate towards her. “Where’s Cooper?”

“Still sleeping,” Lila replied, looking at the plate and frowning. “Auntie Nat, why are we having Nutella and fluff again?”

“Because there isn’t a lot of food left in the cabinets, Lila. We’ll go to the grocery store later, I promise.”

Lila raised an eyebrow and looked at her skeptically. “Can you even cook?”

“Yes!” Natasha answered, giving her a goofy smile. “I know how to cook, Lila.”
“Do you know how to make macaroni and sauce?” Lila asked.

“Yes, your mom showed me how a long time ago. So I could do it for your father when we were away on business trips together.”

“Mommy made the best macaroni and sauce,” Lila said, her face falling a little bit.

Natasha came around the counter and wrapped her arms around Lila, who buried her head in her chest, and sighed heavily.

“It’ll be okay Li,” Natasha whispered.

“When?” Natasha asked in a muffled voice. “Mommy’s never coming back and daddy isn’t here anymore either.”

“Daddy will come back,” Natasha assured her. “There are lots of people who care about him who will make sure he comes back. He’s just a little sad right now; he needs some time by himself.”

She didn’t let Lila know how angry she was with Clint, how she wanted to find him and give him a piece of her mind. You didn’t just leave your family when they had just lost their mother. Especially not without saying anything.

She rubbed comforting circles into Lila’s back and hummed a Russian lullaby until she heard Nathaniel crying, in need of another bottle. Natasha set Lila up with the Disney Channel and went to get the baby.

She changed his diaper and went back to the kitchen to prepare his bottle. There was a knock on the door and she wished that Cooper would get up soon because she was starting to feel overwhelmed.

Salvation had come in form of Steve Rogers. He had an armful of groceries and a comforting smile. “Hey Nat, Tony called and told me that you might need some help out here.”

“We were doing just fine by ourselves thank you very much!” Natasha answered, opening the door for him. “But since you came with food, I guess I’ll let you in.”

“I’m not going to stay long though,” Steve said. “Tony is trying to figure out where Clint might have gone and then he’s going to split up the list between me, Thor and himself and have us all gone out to look for him.”

Natasha nodded as they made their way back to the kitchen. “So, he wasn’t at the Avengers Tower then?”

“Not a trace,” Steve answered. “Here, I’ll feed the baby while you put the food away. You probably know where everything goes where as I don’t.”

Natasha handed Nathaniel over to Steve and then started to unpack the groceries. They made stilted small talk. But it didn’t distract from the issue at hand that their friend was missing and they didn’t know where to find him but they couldn’t bring themselves to really talk about it even though they actually wanted to.

When the food was put away and Nathaniel had been fed and burped, Steve said goodbye to her and went off to help Thor and Tony with their search. Natasha wanted to help but she knew that she couldn’t leave the kids by themselves or even round them up to go with her.

So, she waited.

TBC. . .

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Chapter Text

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Chapter 3

“Auntie Nat, we really need to go to school again,” Cooper said. “We’re already behind in our classes.”

Natasha groaned as she sat up and rubbed her eyes. Nathaniel had kept her up all night, crying. Nothing she did had helped soothe him. They’d both finally given in to complete exhaustion an hour earlier.

“Is Lila awake?” She asked, stifling a yawn.

“Yes,” Cooper answered. “We just need somebody to drive us to school since the bus driver doesn’t know where coming back. You’ll have to deal with that too.”

Natasha forced herself to smile. “Great. I need to throw some clothes on and then we’ll get going. Would you mind putting Nate in the van?”

“Nope,” Cooper said.

Natasha succumbed to a large yawn and nodded. “Thank you.”

Cooper left to retrieve Nate from the nursery and Natasha scurried around the room, pulling out skinny jeans and an oversized sweatshirt from her suitcase. She got dressed quickly, slipped her feet into a pair of flats and stumbled out of the guest room. She would bother with makeup and brushing her teeth later.

She didn’t have time to make coffee, so she made a quick decision to forgo her daily caffeine buzz for the time being even though she had the startings of a headache that only coffee could cure. There was a Dunkin Donuts on the way to Cooper’s school, she knew this from one of the times he had been sent home early and she had picked him up because Laura and Clint had been too busy.

Cooper wouldn’t care if she stopped for a quick pick me-up, especially if she bribed him with a coffee of his own. She wasn’t proud of manipulating her surrogate niece and nephews but sometimes it just had to be done.

She stopped and looked at herself in the mirror hanging in the hallway. She shook her head and groaned. “Natasha Romanoff you look like a fright.”

Lila poked her head in the doorway. “Auntie Nat, are you ready to go yet?”

“I’m just coming,” Natasha answered, running her hands through her hair again and shaking her head.

They had just pulled out onto the main road when her cell phone rang with the ringtone she had assigned Steve. She picked it up despite the protests from Cooper about talking and driving.

“Steve?” Natasha asked. “You have to make it quick, we’re on our way to school.”

“Hello yourself,” Steve said.

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Hello Steve. I hope you have some good news for me.”

“No, I’m sorry. We couldn’t find him,” Steve answered. “Tony’s currently making a list of all the places he could be in Europe. Thor and I are going to fly out this afternoon and start our search there. Before I go is there anything I can do for you?”

“No, we’re good for now,” Natasha said. “Thank you though.”

“Tony’s staying here to continue the search on the homefront,” Steve told her. “So, if you need anything I am sure you could call him or Pepper.”

“I know,” Natasha answered as her phone beeped, signaling somebody else was calling her. She glanced at the screen quickly and saw Tony’s name flashing on the banner above Steve’s call information. “Hey, I have to go Cap. Thank you for calling me. Have a safe trip.”

“I’ll talk to you later Nat.”

Natasha clicked over. “Hello? Tony?”

“Natasha, I was wondering if you know of any places in Europe where Barton could have run away to?” Tony said.

“Um. . .” Natasha trailed off and mentally scrolled through all the countries or places he could have gone. She said the first name that came to her mind. “Budapest, maybe. Or Amsterdam, that’s where he took Laura for their honeymoon.”

“Anywhere else?” Tony asked.

“Nowhere I can think of off the top of my head,” Natasha admitted. “Haven’t you tried to track him with his credit cards or something?”

“Of course!” Tony answered. “Who do you think I am? Barton just doesn’t want to be found, he’s probably paid for everything in cash. If he’s left the country, he probably used a false passport. He doesn’t want to be found. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to try but he definitely doesn’t want to be found.”

“Yeah. . . I have to go, Cooper’s giving me a dirty look. I’ll talk to you later, Tony.”

“Okay. Call me if you think of anywhere else he might be,” Tony requested.

“I will,” Natasha promised. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“What’s going on?” Cooper asked.

“The guys are trying to find your father,” Natasha replied. “Nothing you have to worry about.”

“Yeah,” Cooper said, looking out the window at the passing scenery.

“If anybody can do it, it’s them!” Lila offered from the backseat.

 

Cooper looked skeptical but he didn’t say anything, he knew Lila needed to believe that their father would come back to them eventually because they had just lost their mother and they needed him. He also knew that Auntie Nat, despite her practical and no-nonsense manner, believed it too. He wasn’t going to be the one to cause arguments or tension especially during the time they were all reeling and mourning the loss of Laura.

Besides, the Avengers had done the impossible before, he had seen it with his own eyes on CNN and Fox News. Part of him wanted to believe they could work another miracle even though it was on a much smaller scale.

But he wasn’t going to get his hopes up.

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Natasha sucked down the rest of her iced coffee and pushed her sunglasses up on her head as she stumbled back into the Barton house and made her way to the living room, Nathaniel nestled in the crook of her arm. She grabbed the remote control and turned on a trashy Lifetime movie, she was barely five minutes into it when she fell fast asleep, the people on screen seemed like they were in her dreams.

She didn’t wake up until she heard tiny whimpers coming from Nathaniel, telling her it was time for his afternoon feeding. Her stomach grumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since the night before.

Natasha sat up, careful not to jostle Nathaniel too much and rolled her neck a couple of times. She’d worry about eating after she had fed and changed the baby. He fed quickly and she remembered in the rush to get the kids to school, she had skipped his morning feeding.

Laura would have never forgotten and Natasha once again felt the enormity of the task she was taking on.

No. Don’t put me up on a pedestal, Nat. I’m not the perfect mother. No woman really is, you have to be a Stepford Wife to be the perfect wife and mother.

It had been one of the last conversations they had shared and up until this very moment Natasha had completely forgotten about it. Remembering this, she was encouraged to go on. She put the bottle in the sink and changed Nathaniel’s diaper.

He was asleep by the time she was finished taking care of him. So, she put him in his crib and went to find her own long overdue meal.

TBC. . .

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