Laura was Clint’s… whatever they were before he was SHIELD’s. (She’d been his since they were ten years old, since before she’d left the circus and gone to college and graduated with her bachelor’s degree and he’d left the same summer when she’d decided to go and joined the army and spent whatever time and calls and paper he had writing and visiting her.)
Then he doesn’t kill Natasha and he brings her in (eventually brings her home), and Laura thinks she sees a parallel in how Natasha follows him to the farm, follows him back, follows him out on a mission or checks in on him when she gets back from having to go alone. Maybe it should bother her, recognizing in her eyes what she’s seen in Clint’s, but instead of feeling jealous it makes her feel… safe. It reassures her to know that someone is watching his back out there just like he used to watch out for her, like she knows he still would if she needed it, if things had been different. She likes that he’s not out there saving the world alone.
The first inkling she has that something's gone wrong is Cooper running into the house a good three hours earlier than he should’ve been home from school, talking a mile a minute about aliens and monsters and school getting cancelled and New York City. She turns on the TV to the news and they watch the world fall apart, and she sinks onto the couch with Lila in her arms and Cooper close to her side.
She sees glimpses of people on the shaky footage, Iron Man is obvious, no one is sure what to call any of the others, but someone catches footage of a man and woman helping people off a bus while the aliens bear down on them and it's close enough she can make out Natasha’s hair and Clint’s bow and quiver across his back.
"Is that Dad?" Cooper asks when he sees the man, and Laura knows there's going to be a long, complicated talk in her future.
"Yeah, honey. That's... your dad."
"Is that mama?" Lila asks softly, having looked up from where she was curled into Laura's shoulder when she heard mention of her father. The scene on the screen's changed, but Natasha's hair is still in frame like a flag, bold and eye-catching.
"Yes. They're trying to help save the world."
"Will they be okay?" One, both, she's not sure which of the children asked the question first, but it doesn't matter.
"I hope so, baby. I sure hope so."
By the time it's all over, there's no cell service in the city, and she's not surprised, but she's scared.
Then she sees the news report from the park of the alien god being taken away, and she sees Natasha's very eye-catching yellow jacket and Clint standing next to her. Despite the sunglasses she'd know that stance anywhere. He stands like that, at parade rest but locked down, anytime he's trying to keep his shit together.
It's how he was standing at the altar when she walked down the aisle.
Natasha brings him home, like she always does.
"Why didn't you call me!" Laura hisses at her, and Natasha’s eyes widen and she’s never seen her so angry in the nearly ten years that they've known one another.
Natasha opens her mouth to apologize, starts to explain that "I didn't want you to worry until I had him back-"
But Laura interrupts her, eyes flashing.
"You were all alone. How many times do I have to keep telling you, you don’t have to be alone?"
She sees Natasha make the realization that she's more upset about Natasha having to handle it by herself, that she didn't - still hasn't - let herself lean on anyone else; Laura knows her, knows this, knows the hours and hours of bleeding out she was doing under her skin that she didn't call the one person she could've asked for comfort, who would’ve understood the weight she was working under.
That's what Laura's so angry about.
She thinks maybe a slap to the face would've shocked Natasha more and hurt her less and she sees the walls she's been holding around herself start to crack. Laura understands that she couldn't let go when she got him back, despite how relieved she must have been, because there had still been a world to save. She couldn't let go when they defeated Loki or when Thor spirited him away, because she still hadn’t been sure if Clint would be able to put himself back together again in the aftermath. She wasn't about to let him fall or fail him. Even when they got back, she took the children, kept up the facade and kept them blissfully unaware of what had happened to their father while Clint got his bearings back on familiar ground, but now?
She's crying and doesn’t even seem to realize it, only knows when Laura's fingers come away wet and then she touches her face and then Laura pulls her in, and she finally, finally lets herself break.
Laura knows she’s the only person who's ever been able to just let her cry. Clint always wants to fix things. And maybe, Laura realizes, that is why she didn't call. "I couldn't fall apart," Natasha whispers, burying her face in her hair and letting the smell of tea and flowers and sun-dried clothes comfort them both. "I was barely holding it together, and I had to, if I was going to bring him back."