Laura would sometimes just sit and watch the hungry look in Clint's eyes when he looked at kids with parents that clearly loved them. She always figured he wanted family so much because he hadn't had one.
She tucked her hand into his, and he smiled at her, shaking off his thoughts as though he could make them disappear.
"Cotton candy?" he asked.
She leaned against him and let him pull her gently toward the stand and fork over the right amount of cash, then tuck her under his arm as they went on again.
She liked it when they went to a carnival or circus and wandered around, him lost in memory, her lost in watching who he was and had once been flickering over his face. The military had changed him a bit and losing his brother had changed him more. He had gotten quieter after that and a little more reckless. He looked at her sometimes as if he wondered why she stuck around and how he could make this last.
"You ever think about kids?" Laura finally broke the topic, hoping he'd realize she wasn't going anywhere.
But he shrugged. "I'd make a terrible father."
She paused, dragging them to a halt.
Clint looked at her, puzzled.
"Why?" she asked. "You're not—" It hit her then, and she reached up and took his face in her hands. "You are not your father."
She didn't know what to make of the pained expression in his eyes. He shook his head and leaned his forehead against hers, breathing her in for a moment before kissing her. She loved the way he kissed her, loved the way his fingers twined with hers. But it wasn't an answer.
"I think the show's about to start," Clint said as he pulled away, breath brushing her cheek.
Laura shot him a look that promised she'd ambush him later.
She ambushed him later, climbing into his lap and straddling him as she kissed him and pinned him to the bed with her body. He could throw her off if he wanted to, but she did an excellent job of making sure he didn't want to.
When they pulled apart a few inches to breathe, she asked him, "Marry me."
Clint stared at her, and Laura felt a shot of smug pleasure that she'd finally caught him flatfooted for once in his life.
She kissed him again, rocked her body against his, and swallowed his low moan. "Please," she whispered.
He hissed out a curse at what she was doing to him but managed to get out, "Yes."
Clint didn't have family. Clint had a father who beat him, a mother who loved him but let his father beat him, and a brother who taught him to fight and survive at the expense of his conscience before finally leaving him when his conscience won.
She had been with Clint through the nightmare of everything that had gone down with his brother and held him through that feeling that everything he'd come from meant he couldn't be a good person. He didn't have any good materials to build with.
"Clint. You have family now," she told him, tracing over his face with her hands and holding onto him until he believed her. "You're my family, and I love you."
It wasn't enough, but it was a start.
Clint's idea of family was... different. Laura didn't know how else to define this stoic woman staring at Laura like she was a threat she wanted nothing to do with.
Natasha Romanoff. A world-reknowned spy and assassin Clint had ostensibly been sent to kill.
Instead, "She had no one, Laura," he murmured into her ear at night, his arms warm and comforting around her. "Her family died in a fire when she was a baby, and her childhood was worse than mine."
Considering his lingering hearing issues came straight from Harold Barton's fists, that was saying something.
"Clint," she said softly, hesitantly.
"She wants a family," he persisted. "She needs this."
He'd offered Natasha their family, and Laura knew how much Clint understood that hunger for connection.
"All right," and here was the stray redheaded assassin now, standing in her kitchen and looking as out of place as a feral cat.
"You're Laura." Natasha tilted her head, unfeigned interest from what Laura could read. So this was Clint's family she'd been promised.
Laura smiled warmly and offered her a cup of tea.
It was Natasha that finally tipped Clint over the edge. She fussed with the baby blankets she bought for Laura and Clint like unsubtle hints, and both of them could see the hunger in Natasha's eyes when the baby pictures from various coworkers and friends made the rounds.
"You could always adopt, you know," Clint suggested while cooking breakfast in the farmhouse kitchen.
All three of them liked to escape the craziness of life outside sometimes and come home to the fields and breezes and starry nights.
Natasha jerked her head up from the report she'd been writing, a rather creative embellishment of Strike Team Delta's delivery of office valentines. Laura figured she'd sneak the report out of Natasha's things later and read it before it went to Coulson.
"I couldn't raise a child," Natasha said abruptly.
That brought Laura in from where she'd been setting the table in case she needed to referee and Clint cursed expressively and set the skillet off the hot burner.
"You want kids, Nat."
"You want kids. I just want to share them."
But Natasha's eyes were snapping fire as she cut him off. "I have enemies, Clint. Entire nations. I don't know how to be soft. I couldn't raise children."
He just looked at her and breathed for a moment, then looked at Laura.
Laura could only answer truthfully, "I want kids."
It was the wrong thing to say maybe, but though he cursed again and turned away, he finished the pancakes and eggs and stayed for breakfast.
He brought home a dog for Thanksgiving and Nick Fury for Christmas and promised Fury he'd get to be a godfather if they ever got around to reproducing.
"Clint," Laura said gingerly as she settled into bed beside him.
He'd left the lamp on his side on, a fairly certain indication he had something to say.
"I don't know how to be a father."
Laura shook her head and tucked herself around him, chin on his shoulder, arms around his upper body. "Remember Kate."
"Is she here now?" he asked roughly.
"Of course not," Laura said quietly. "She's off saving what part of the world she can and calling home from time to time."
She waited a long moment and when he didn't answer, settled in against him. "You can do this, Clint. You're patient and gentle and loyal and strong and my husband. You are not your father."
"I kill people for a living," he reminded her, faint bitterness in his tone.
Laura shook her head. "So does our armed forces. I was military," she reminded him.
And there was one argument he couldn't actually assail because he'd as much as said she'd be a wonderful mother.
They had a baby and Natasha cooed over every milestone and just about smothered Laura in baby gifts.
"I won't need a baby shower," she commented dryly at the end of her first trimester.
Clint groaned as he flopped out on the bed. He'd been tearing apart the nursery to be and she wasn't surprised he was wore out now. "Just don't tell her there's a shower or we'll drown in every cute thing she thinks a baby Barton needs."
Laura smiled ruefully. "I figured it out for myself."
"So Nick asked if we intended to adopt a grandfather." Clint dropped the bombshell over the phone on one of his check-ins before going to recklessly risk his life and responsibly cover Natasha's back as she recklessly risked hers. "He put himself in the running."
Laura groaned. "Him too?"
"He hasn't exactly made getting married a priority, and he claims the grandkids are slowing down too much at SHIELD in general." Something explosive went off in the background.
Laura tried to stay calm as she muttered, "Family hog. If he lets you have a decent paternity leave, he can be our adopted grandfather."
"I'll let him know." She could hear the grin in Clint's voice. "Love you."
And that phrase from that man could still make her go warm and gooey inside. "I love you too," she breathed. "Come home safe."
"Natasha told me I'm not allowed to leave you widowed and pregnant. I pity the enemy that gets between Natasha and her happy auntie plans."
Laura just shook her head. Making light of the dangers in his life came natural. As far as he was concerned, he'd already survived worse.
"Clint," Laura hissed at her oblivious husband, who to be fair was half asleep on his feet.
Late night feedings didn't really agree with him any more than they did with her.
"What?" He pulled himself away from cleaning up the nursery to stand beside her and follow her worried gaze to Phil ensconced in the rocking chair with their baby.
"He hasn't given Cooper up for three hours," she pointed out. "What is he even doing here?"
"Oh. He came for the baby?" Clint rubbed the back of his neck. His hair was standing every which way, and Laura realized with some resignation that he'd passed the point of usefulness a few hours ago.
"Never mind." She pointed him in the right direction and gently shoved. "Go to bed. I'll rescue our son."
"Wait, wait." Clint managed to slow down and wake up a little. "He almost never gets to see his family, and he loves kids."
Laura just looked at Clint.
He shrugged, head down and those puppy dog eyes not a woman alive could probably resist. "He was always there for me when I needed him. He's..."
"He's family," she said.
They always said when you married a man, you married his family. They didn't mention that the definition of who was family might be a little bit in flux.
"They're a mess."
"But I guess they're my mess."
Clint was always a little unsure of himself with the Avengers, not of whether he wanted to do it or was up to it or whether he believed in the cause, but of how deep the trust ran and whether they would really always be there for each other when push came to shove and they were on the wrong side of each other's convictions.
Looking at them now, Laura understood that concern, why he'd held them just a little tiny bit at arm's length before letting them in this close.
"I think they do need you, and that's scary."
They all needed family and trust and something that went deeper than just a professional team. They were all hurting and broken with the hunger in their eyes. She knew that need. She'd seen it in a man afraid to have children, an assassin afraid to trust, a man who desperately wanted grandchildren while married only to his job, and a man who poured his soul into mentoring and caring for every agent he'd ever trained or supervised. She saw it now in the demigods, the geniuses, and the supersoldiers.
She kissed her husband and let him do what he could.
Clint came home, then went out again to his second home with the new Avengers team to tease Nat and support Steve and trade war stories with Rhodey and mourn with Sam. Then he came home and brought a young, reserved woman with sad eyes and a stoic face that reminded Laura of Natasha so long ago.
She smiled warmly and shifted Nate in her arms as she said hello. "You must be Wanda."
"Yes," the young woman said. "I am."