“A father is only capable of giving what he has, and what he knows. A good father gives all of himself that is good.”
“I don’t know if I can do this,” Wanda said quietly.
She looked at the floor as she said it, her hair falling around her face and obscuring her features from view, but the uncertainty in her voice came through clear. Clint turned his beer bottle between his hands, his fingers leaving smooth streaks through the condensation sweating against the glass. “Everybody thinks that,” he said, “when they’re gonna do something that scares them.”
Wanda lifted her head to look at him. The yellow warmth of the porch lights painted amber highlights on her skin, the shadows under her eyes deeper than they seemed in daylight, when she chased the kids and played with the baby and laughed without sounding hollow. “Everything that I do scares me now,” she whispered. “Every touch. I am always afraid.”
Clint watched her twist her fingers together. “What scares you?”
“That I’ll lose control,” she said. She spoke to her hands, not to him. “That something will happen and I’ll lash out, and I won’t be able to stop myself.”
He looked thoughtfully at her for a moment, and then, casually, pushed her off the porch steps. Wanda landed with a startled sound and looked up at him in confusion and hurt. “Why did you do that?” she demanded.
Clint cocked his head to one side. “You mad?”
“Yes,” she snapped.
“You in control?”
Wanda paused. She looked at her hands. She looked at him. Clint raised an eyebrow, waiting. “Oh,” she said, and he smiled.
Cooper’s yell takes him by surprise, and Clint snaps his head up, smacking his forehead into the bottom of the tractor. “Fu--udge,” he finishes, sitting up in time to see Cooper skid into the barn. Cooper gives him a you’re not fooling anyone look, which Clint elects to ignore. “What’s up, buddy?”
“Mom wants you,” Cooper says.
Clint frowns. “Everything okay?”
“I don’t know,” Cooper says. “She was watching the news and then she said to come get you.”
That’s never a good sign. Clint climbs to his feet, grabbing a rag off the top of the tractor to clean the worst of the grease off his hands as he follows Cooper back into the house.
Laura has her back to him when he comes into the living room, but the stiff set of her shoulders tells him in an instant that something is wrong. Dread, cold and heavy, pools in the bottom of his stomach. “Laura,” he begins to ask, and then stops, looking past her to the television, where the screen is full of smoke and fire and the sounds of panic. For a moment he’s not sure what he’s looking at it, and then he sees the sweep of Sam’s wings as he cuts through the shot. “Jesus,” he breathes.
Coming up beside him, Cooper draws in a sharp breath, and then tugs on Clint’s shirt. “Dad,” he says. “What’s going on?”
Clint’s mouth feels very, very dry, but he forces himself to swallow. “I’m not sure yet, bud,” he says, keeping his voice carefully calm. “Do me a favor and go play upstairs for a bit while Mom and I learn a little more, okay?”
Cooper narrows his eyes, gives Clint the expression he’s started using more and more often lately, the one that says I’m almost eleven, Dad, I can know stuff now. Clint takes a breath, steadies himself. “Now, please.”
Something in his tone gets through to him. Cooper shoots Laura an uncertain look, but picks up his tablet and leaves the room, his footsteps audible on the stairs a moment later. Clint turns back to the screen. “Where is that?”
“Nigeria,” Laura says, her voice very small. “Clint, they’re saying--They said it was Wanda.”
Clint drags his eyes away from the screen, stares at her. “What?” She gestures to the screen, but he shakes his head. “No.” It’s not denial. He takes in the chaos on the screen, playing and replaying a shot of an explosion from different angles. “Her powers don’t work like that. It’s manipulation and moving shit with her brain, not pyrotechnics. There must be something they’re not saying.”
The footage changes, paramedics carrying shrouded bodies from the building. Some of them are very, very small, and Laura makes a soft, pained sound. Clint moves forward, wrapping an arm around her and carefully taking the television remote from her trembling fingers. Without looking, he switches the screen off. “Laur,” he says. “It’s okay.”
“Nat was there,” she says, the words muffled into his chest.
“I’ll call her.” He strokes her hair. “But I’m sure she’s fine.”
She shudders. “It was almost the top floor,” she says.
Clint knows what she’s thinking, doesn’t need to hear it out loud. “I wasn’t there, Laura,” he says. “I got out. I came home.”
“Right.” Laura takes a shaking breath, and then another. “Right. I know. I’m going to…” She trails off, like she isn’t sure what she wants to do now. Clint leans down and kisses her forehead.
“”Go for a walk,” he suggests. “Clear your head. I’ll take care of dinner.”
Laura hesitates. “Yeah?”
He nudges her. “Go.”
She musters up a small smile, standing on tiptoe to kiss his jaw before padding out on the room, her sandals tapping quietly on the floor. Clint watches her go, and then looks back at the dark, silent screen. “Jesus, Wanda,” he mutters. “What the hell happened out there?”
“Dada,” Nate says from the floor, where he’s been contentedly patting Lucky’s fur while the dog naps in a sunbeam. Clint looks down at him, and Nate looks up, drooling happily before holding out his arms. “Up,” he says.
“Up,” Clint agrees, scooping him up and onto his hip. Lucky opens his eye, huffs at the absence of pats, and then goes back to sleep. Clint snorts. “Wish I had your attitude, buddy.”
“Wiss,” Nate says, and grabs at Clint’s nose.
Flight time from Lagos to New York means Clint has hours to make dinner, feed the kids, watch a movie with Cooper and Lila, give Nate a bath, supervise bedtime, and clean up, and still have plenty of time leftover to sit up and worry. Laura stays up with him, putting on a pot of coffee when her head starts to droop, fiddling anxiously with her necklace as she sits next to him on the couch.
In the small hours of the morning, bleary-eyed like she hasn’t been since the early weeks after Nate’s birth, and says, “Now?”
Clint checks his watch, does some mental calculations, and shrugs. “Worth a try,” he says, and makes the call.
To his surprise, Natasha picks up. “Hey.”
She sounds hoarse and exhausted, and Clint has to pry his heart out of his throat before he answers. “Hey. Nigeria’s all over the news. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m okay. A little banged up.” Her voice has the sort of rasp that only comes with smoke inhalation, but he doesn’t push her, just nods reassuringly to Laura. Her face collapses in relief. “What are they saying?”
Clint rubs his eyes. Laura soothes a hand over his back. “Nothing good,” he says. He doesn’t say what the fuck happened, but he wants to. He sighs. “Is Wanda alright?”
The line goes quiet, save for the distant hum of the quinjet’s engines. He wonders, briefly, who’s piloting, and then mentally kicks himself for it. Not his plane. Not his job.
“She’s fine,” Natasha says finally, and because Clint loves her, he doesn’t immediately call her on that absolute bullshit. “She’s sleeping. I’ll have her call you when we dock in.”
Clint looks at Laura, and gives a slight shake of his head. Her brow furrows, ut she gives a resigned nod. “Right,” he says. The baby monitor crackles into life on the coffee table, Nate giggling at something in his sleep, simple and sweet and delighted. Clint tries to remember the last time he slept like that, and can’t. “Fly safe, Nat.”
She disconnects the call. Clint puts his phone down and scrubs a hand over his face. Laura scratches the back of his neck gently. “Is she okay?”
He doesn’t ask who she means. It won’t change his answer. “She says she’s fine.”
Laura keeps her hand against his neck, a gentle, soothing touch. He leans back into it, and she runs her thumb over his pulse. “Did she tell you what happened?”
No.” Clint glances at her. “We could check the news again.”
Laura shakes her head. “Whatever they’re saying won’t be accurate.” Clint snorts. That’s for damn sure. He’s lost track of the number of times Laura’s ranted about whatever story her mother had heard on the news about the Avengers and then called Laura to complain about. “We should hear it from Wanda first.”
He nods tiredly. For all his nostalgia for his Avenging days, he doesn’t miss the media circus that had come with it. He’s lucky, he knows, that the media--mainstream and tabloid--hadn’t paid too much attention to him. He figures it made sense, though--why take interest in a normal guy with a bow when you could get a shot of Captain America?
“Hey,” Laura says, nudging him. “Where’s your head, Hawkeye?”
Clint pulls himself back to the present, focuses in on Laura’s face, tired and concerned and soft in the low lamplight. He wonders, not for the first time, how it is that she’s even more beautiful now than on the day they met more than twenty years ago. He reaches for her hand. “Right here,” he says. “I’m right where I want to be.”
Laura decides to stay up since it’s already nearly dawn, but Clint’s had time to learn from experience that his body functions better on half an hour of sleep than on none at all, so he crashes upstairs when they hang up with Nat. He passes out as soon as his head hits the bed, but sleeps badly, his dreams full of smoke and fire, and the sound of someone crying, but he can’t figure out who.
When his alarm goes off, he rolls out of bed with a groan--getting old, Barton--and drags himself down the hall to wake the kids up for school. Lila climbs over him with a sleepy yawn to go pull on the clothes she’d laid out the night before on her dresser, Cooper taking considerably more persuasion before rolling reluctantly out from under the blanket burrito he’d rolled himself into during the night. “You get that from me,” Clint tells him fondly, and Cooper makes a cranky face at him as he pushes his head through the neck of his t-shirt, his dark hair sticking up in every possible direction. Clint ruffles his hair, ostensibly to smooth it even though he knows Laura’ll comb it anyway, and then heads down to Nate’s room, finding the baby already standing in his crib, bouncing happily and waiting for him. “Glad you’ve got some energy,” he says, bending down to lift him out and give him a quick diaper change before settling him on his hip, reaching into the crib for the drool-damp Hawkeye plushie Natasha had bought him as a joke. (Joke’s on her, he thinks, it’s Nate’s absolute favorite.)
“Gad,” Nate says, making grabby hands for the toy. “Da-toh.”
Clint chuckles, handing it to him. It had taken awhile for them to figure out that Da-toh meant “Daddy toy” the same way that Cooper had said Mookey for “Monkey” and Lila had said Mi-woo for “Mister Wolf” (now just fondly known as “Wolfie,” the only one of their kids’ favorite toys to have gotten a new nickname later in life). “Come on,” he says. “Let’s go see Mommy.”
Nate’s face lights up. “Mama!” he exclaims.
Clint kisses his nose in confirmation, poking his head into Cooper’s room to confirm that he’d gone downstairs and not crawled back into bed, and then heads downstairs. Laura’s in the kitchen, mixing cereal and yogurt together for Lila while Cooper munches sleepily on a piece of toast slathered in peanut butter. She looks up at him when he enters, dark circles under her eyes. “Morning.”
“Morning.” He kisses her cheek and offers her the baby. “Trade you?”
She nods, holding out her arms for Nate and carrying him over to the table while Clint finishes Lila’s breakfast and pours a mug of coffee for Laura, bringing both to the table before going back for a mug of his own, dropping heavily into his chair.
Cooper looks up at him. “How come you two look so sleepy?”
“We stayed up past our bedtime,” Clint tells him.
He narrows his eyes. “How come?”
“Because we did not have a mom and dad there to enforce bedtime rules,” Laura says, taking the mug Clint hands her and inhaling the steam like it’s an elixir. “And look where it got us.”
Lila giggles into her cereal. Cooper frowns. “Does this have something to do with whatever Mom wouldn’t let us watch on the news?”
Clint looks at Laura. “He gets this from you, you know,” he says dryly. She gives him the look that says she would very much like to flip him the bird, but can’t because their children are watching.
“Gets what?” Cooper pokes Clint with his toes under the table when he doesn’t answer right away. “Dad, gets what?”
“Your brains,” Clint tells him. “It’s a good thing. Your mom is much smarter than me.”
“What did I get, Daddy?” Lila asks.
“My tumbling and Mommy’s hair,” Clint says. Laura snorts into her coffee. “Among other things.”
“Did Nate get anything?”
“Dad’s nose,” Cooper says. Clint resists the urge to take one of Nate’s cheerios and throw it at his head, because he’s The Parent. “Besides, Nate’s gonna get stuff from Aunt Nat, ‘cause he’s named after her.”
“I wanna get stuff from Auntie Nat,” Lila complains.
Clint sips his coffee. “Most of Auntie Nat’s stuff won’t help you till you’re older,” he says diplomatically. “What are you going to do at school today?”
“Dad,” Cooper says, “you’re changing the subject.”
Clint very deliberately does not turn his eyes toward the ceiling in prayer. “Kinda hoping you wouldn’t catch that, buddy.”
“I can’t help it,” Cooper says, reflecting Clint’s own shit-eating grin right back at him. “I’m smart.”
Laura snorts. Clint squints pointedly at her, then turns to Cooper. “It’s kind of a grown-up thing, Coop,” he says gently.
Cooper puts his toast down. “Is it Avengers stuff?” he asks, leaning forward in his chair.
Clint sighs. “Yes, it’s Avengers stuff.”
“Is Auntie Nat okay?” Lila asks, her voice very small.
Laura’s face softens. “Oh, sweetheart,” she says. “Yes, Auntie Nat is fine. We would tell you if something happened to her.”
“So then what is it?” Cooper presses.
Clint looks across the table at Laura, cocking his head to one side. She adjusts Nate on her lap and shrugs at him. “It’s a little complicated, buddy,” he says slowly. “The Avengers did some fighting yesterday, and some innocent people got hurt by accident. Mom and I were just...We’re a little worried about what might happen next.”
Lila furrows her brow. “Are the Avengers gonna get in trouble?”
“We hope not, baby,” Laura says, bouncing Nate gently on her knee as he puts a handful of banana into his mouth. “But we stayed up late because we wanted to hear from Auntie Nat that she was okay and everyone was coming home safe and sound.” She looks at Cooper. “Does that answer your question, honey?”
He chews his bite of toast thoughtfully, a slight furrow still visible between his eyebrows. “I guess so,” he says finally. He’s quiet for a moment, and then looks at Clint. “If the Avengers get in trouble, do you get in trouble?”
Clint hesitates at that, because he’s never really thought about it. Technically, he supposes, he’s still on the Avengers roster--Steve hasn’t called him in for active duty missions since Ultron, but he’s gone out to the compound to help with training simulations and tech consults. “I don’t know, Cooper,” he admits. “But I’ll let you know if I figure it out, okay?”
Cooper presses his lips together, clearly not totally satisfied, but he nods.
“Good,” Laura says, with more brightness in her tone than Clint feels capable of. “Now, let’s finish up breakfast, please. We’ve got school to get to.”
For a little while, at least, Clint thinks that’s the end of it. He cleans up the breakfast dishes while Laura goes upstairs to put on makeup and the older kids get their backpacks together, Nate watching the whole affair from his high chair through curious blue eyes that refuse to darken to Cooper and Lila’s brown. He babbles happily to Clint as Clint washes dishes, and Clint makes agreeable comments in response, half-pretending to carry on a conversation with him, because Laura insists that it’s good for his language development. “Really,” he says, after Nate says something that sounds vaguely like a scat solo on a Ella Fitzgerald album. “I don’t know, buddy. You sure you want to do that in this economy?”
“Really, Clint?” Laura says with a chuckle, coming back into the kitchen, fastening the back of her earring as she bends to kiss Nate’s head. “You’re talking stock options with our one-year-old?”
Clint shrugs, turning off the sink and drying his hands on a nearby towel. “Keeps him entertained,” he says. “Besides, what do I know about investing?”
Laura shakes her head in amusement. She’s dressed for work, managing to look simultaneously professional, comfortable, and approachable in a way that Clint would be absolutely incapable of replicating. She leans against the counter, toying with her wedding ring. “You’ll let me know if you hear from Wanda?”
“Of course,” he says. There are circles under her eyes, visible despite carefully applied makeup. It doesn’t make her any less beautiful. He leans over and kisses her forehead. “It’s gonna be fine, Laur.”
She nods slowly. “I know,” she says. “At least, I think I do. But I was thinking of what Lila said, about the Avengers getting in trouble…” She shakes her head. “I hadn’t worried about that before. But now I can’t stop thinking about it.”
Clint mirrors her posture, forearms on the counter. “I know,” he admits. “But for now, let’s...Let’s focus on the stuff we actually know, okay? We’ll figure out the rest when we have to.” He leaned forward, tucking a few strands of her hair behind her ear and brushing one fingertip against her earring, simple pearl, a gift from Natasha on their third anniversary. “One day at a time, right?”
Laura smiles softly, turning her head to kiss his palm. “Okay,” she says. “One day at a time.”
Wanda calls in the early afternoon, just as Clint finishes putting Nate down for his nap. He tiptoes down the stairs before he picks up, glancing at the caller ID display and catching his breath when he sees Wanda’s name. “Hey, kiddo,” he says carefully.
“Clint.” Her voice is small. “Did you see?”
Not a good start, he thinks. He goes into the kitchen, pinning the phone between his shoulder and ear as he puts up another pot of coffee. He’s pretty sure he’s going to need it. “Only a shot or two,” he says, which is true enough. He’d turned the television off. “News reporting isn’t always the best way to get the truth, especially about Avengers stuff.” She doesn’t respond, and Clint gives her a few minutes of silence before he tries again. “You want to tell me what happened, Wanda?”
“It was a mistake,” she says, so much guilt and shame in her voice that Clint has to close his eyes. “Rumlow...He had a bomb. Steve didn’t see it, but I did. I was trying to contain the explosion--there were so many people on the street.”
Clint closes his eyes. “Where did it go wrong?”
He asks it simply, like he’d ask any question on a mission debrief. It’s better than coddling her, and he hears the trembling relief in Wanda’s voice when she answers. “I couldn’t see the angle,” she says. “I could not see how close he was to the building. All I could think of was getting him away from the people on the ground. And then--” Her voice catches, and she swallows audibly. “I couldn’t stop it,” she whispers.
The coffee machine beeps. Clint pulls the carafe off the heating plate and pours a large mug. He’s starting to get the feeling he might find himself on a plane pretty soon. “Wanda,” he says quietly. “You did everything you could.”
“Maybe,” she says, bitterly. “But it does not matter. People are dead.” She’s quiet for a moment, and then, her voice small and hesitant, whispers, “Have you heard what they are saying about me?”
Clint sits down at the kitchen table. “I told you,” he says. “I turned off the news.”
“They’re saying I’m dangerous,” she says. “That I am not human anymore. That I do not care if people die.”
“None of that is true,” Clint says immediately, almost sharply. He wonders, vaguely, if Nat would help him fuck up some reporters. Probably not. And anyway, Laura would kill him. “Wanda, you know that’s not true, right?”
“It does not matter what is true,” Wanda says dully. “It is what they say. And soon everyone will believe it.”
“No. Not the people who matter.” Clint waits for her to argue, to say something back, but she doesn’t.
“People are dead because of me.”
“Yes,” Clint says, because it’s true. “But people are alive because of you, too.”
Wanda sniffles, pulls in a quivering breath, and then starts, quietly, to cry. Shit, Clint thinks, heart clenching. He’ll take being shot in the chest over listening to someone cry over the phone, too far away for him to do anything useful to help, any day of the week. “Wanda,” he says. He keeps his tone gentle, more like what he’d use with Cooper or Lila than with Laura or Nat. “Hey. Do you need a break? Want me to come get you?”
She sniffs wetly. “No,” she says. “You have the children to look after. I know you are busy.”
Clint rubs his forehead. They go through this every time, Wanda apparently stuck in the belief that she’s an afterthought or a burden and Clint attempting to convince her she’s not with a practiced combination of tough love and exasperated affection. “Okay,” he says. “Let’s try that again. Do you want me to come get you?”
Wet silence on the other end of the line, punctuated only by shaking breaths and damp sniffles. Clint waits, as patiently as he can manage, sipping his coffee to keep himself grounded.
“Please,” Wanda says finally, small and quiet.
Clint relaxes the fingers he's tightened around his mug. “Okay,” he says gently. “I'll be there soon.”
He can't exactly bring the baby with him to New York, so it takes a bit of negotiating before he can get on the road. He calls Laura on his way to pick Cooper up from baseball practice, Nate babbling cheerfully in the backseat, and she tells him to call her parents. That leads to a much longer conversation with his mother-in-law than he’s really hoping for, but she happily agrees to drive up in the morning to stay with Nate while he flies out to New York.
“And you should know, Clint,” she says before they hang up, her voice tinged with the maternal tenderness that Laura has absolutely inherited, “I don’t believe a thing they’re saying about that poor girl. Anyone can see that she was doing everything she could to save those people.”
Clint feels a sudden and surprising surge of affection towards her. He gets along pretty well with both of Laura’s parents, can never be anything but absurdly grateful to them for the fantastic daughter they raised, but they can be exhausting from time to time. Right now, though, Laura’s mom has just planted herself firmly on his good side. “I’ll tell her you said so,” he says. “It’ll mean a lot to her.”
“Good,” she says, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. “I can be at the house around ten tomorrow morning, does that work?”
He pulls up to the middle school baseball field, catching sight of Cooper perched on the bleachers and waving. Cooper gives a bright grin and hops down, picking up his backpack and jogging over to the car. “That’s perfect,” he says. “Thanks, Sarah. Listen, Coop just got in the car and we’ve gotta head home. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”
“Sure, honey. Give Laura and the kids my love.”
“Will do.” He hangs up. “Grandma says hi,” he tells Cooper.
Cooper buckles his seatbelt and looks curiously at him. “How come you were talking to Grandma?”
“She’s coming to visit tomorrow,” Clint says, checking his rearview mirror and pulling away from the curb. “How was practice?”
“It was good,” Cooper says. “I hit two home runs.”
“Nice, buddy!” Clint reaches his hand back, and Cooper gives him a high-five. “How’d that feel?”
“Pretty awesome. Why’s Grandma visiting?”
In his next life, Clint thinks, his kids will be less persistent. “I’m flying out to New York tomorrow, so she’s gonna watch Nate and then come pick you guys up.”
He catches Cooper’s frown in the mirror. “Why are you going to New York? I thought you didn’t do Avengers stuff anymore.”
“I’m not,” Clint says, glad that, for once, he has an answer for Cooper that won’t upset him. “I’m just picking up Wanda to bring her back for a visit.”
Predictably, Cooper’s face lights up. “Really?”
“Really,” Clint says. He glances back. “But she’s had a rough couple days, Coop, so let her take it easy when she’s out here, okay?”
Cooper nods. “Will you bring Aunt Nat back, too?”
Clint thinks about that. Natasha hasn’t been home in about a month; she does owe them a visit. “I’ll see what I can do,” he says. “I don’t know what she’s got going on on her end.” Privately, he doesn’t really care what she’s got going on, he’s totally willing to just grab her around the waist and haul her off to a quinjet, but Laura pushes the whole respect thing, and anyway, Nat can and would break his nose without a second thought. “Should I let you know, or do you want it to be a surprise?”
Cooper takes a moment to think about it. “If you tell me, can I keep it a secret from Lila?”
“Nope,” Clint says, partially because Cooper is terrible at keeping secrets, and partially because Lila will throw a fit.
“Aw, Dad,” Cooper complains.
“Ah, Dah,” Nate says.
“See?” Cooper says. “Nate thinks I should get to know.”
“Nate thinks the dog’s fur is food,” Clint says dryly. “No deal, kiddo.” He stops at a red light and glances over his shoulder to waggle his eyebrows at Nate, who squeals in delight and attempts to replicate his expression. Clint chuckles, turning back around.
Cooper sticks his tongue out at him in the rear view mirror. “How long are you gonna be gone?”
Clint shakes his head. “Not sure. Depends on if they have a spare plane I can snag.”
“Why can’t Wanda fly on a regular plane?”
“That’s...kind of complicated,” Clint says. He’s not really sure how to explain visas, passports, foreign nationals, and legal identification to his ten-year-old. “When grown-ups travel, they need to have documents that say who they are and that they’re allowed to fly on planes in our country. Wanda doesn’t have those.”
Cooper frowns. “How come?”
“Uh...also complicated.” Clint drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “To be honest, I’m not sure I really understand all of it. Mom might be a better person to ask, buddy.”
“Okay,” Cooper says agreeably, and Clint is very, very glad that he listened to all those times that Laura told him it’s better to tell a kid you don’t know than it is to make up a lie. “Hey, will you bring home bagels?”
Clint chuckles. “I don’t know,” he says. “That’s a lot of requests, dude. A Wanda, a Nat, and now bagels? What if you have to choose?”
He glances in the mirror, suppressing a grin at Cooper’s thoughtful expression. “Could they leave you there and fly back with bagels?” Cooper asks finally, giving Clint a slow grin.
“Ouch,” Clint says, putting a hand to his chest. “Just for that, you’re getting pumpernickel and pumpernickel only.”
“Gross,” Cooper says. “I take it back.”
“Too late. Pumpernickel forever.”
“Aw, Dad,” Cooper says. Nate shrieks an agreement, and Clint laughs the rest of the way home.
The kids always get antsy when Clint leaves, and apparently that’s true even when he’s not going Avenging. Lila spends breakfast pouting into her cereal, and Cooper looks grumpily at Nate every time he fusses, and even that seems more frequent than usual.
Laura raises her eyebrows at Clint from across the table as he attempts to get slightly more food into Nate’s mouth than on his face and hands and clothes. “How long did you say you’d be gone, dear?” she asks mildly.
Clint catches a glob of half-chewed oatmeal on a spoon and maneuvers it back into Nate’s mouth. Nate looks slightly put out at having his plan to get food everywhere foiled. “Depends on Wanda,” he says.
Nate spits the oatmeal out again and crows victoriously when Clint makes a face at him. “Try again,” Laura says dryly.
“Uh,” Clint says. “I’ll be home by tomorrow night?”
Laura smiles. “Much better.”
“With Wanda and Auntie Nat and bagels?” Lila asks, brightening.
“Yes to Wanda, probably to Aunt Nat,” Clint says. “Bagels only if Mom says you’ve been good.” He gives Cooper a pointed look. “Which means not antagonizing your brother and sister.”
Cooper sticks his tongue out, but salutes Clint with his spoon in acknowledgment. Clint snorts. “Good thing you’re cute, kid.”
“I take after mom,” Cooper says, all cheek.
Laura laughs, leaning over to kiss Cooper’s cheek. “That’s my boy.”
Cleaning Nate up from breakfast turns out to be more than their usual damp washcloth can handle. Clint brings him upstairs for an impromptu morning bath, and Laura follows him, leaning against the bathroom door as Clint strips Nate out of his pajamas and diaper and plops him into the laundry basket still sitting in the tub from last night’s bath. “When are you heading out?” she asks, one ear cocked toward the hallway to listen to Cooper and Lila, getting dressed in their rooms.
“A bit after ten, I hope,” Clint says, turning the water on and testing the temperature. “Got a twelve thirty flight.” He hands Nate a large rubber whale, and Nate makes a delighted sound, sticking the whale’s tail in his mouth. “At least you’re mom’s getting a clean kid to play with.”
Laura smiles, eyes tender as she watches them. “I don’t think she’d mind either way,” she says. “You told her where and when to pick up the kids?”
Clint nods, wiping oatmeal and fruit juice from Nate’s face, neck, and chest. Figures the only thing the kid got from him was an ability to be a huge mess. “Do you need her to pick Lila up from gymnastics, too, or just drop her off?”
“I can pick her up.” Laura’s shoulder brushes against his as she comes to crouch next to him. She tickles Nate under his chin with one finger, and he squeals happily, grabbing for it. She laughs softly and bumps Clint’s shoulder with hers. “For the record,” she says. “Have I mentioned how attractive I find your competent and loving parenting?”
Clint shoots her a leer. “Obviously. Why do you think I do it?” He waggles his eyebrows for extra emphasis. Laura laughs.
“Dork,” she says fondly, kissing his cheek. She runs her hand through his hair, sobering slightly. “You’ll call me tonight, right? To let me know how Wanda’s doing?”
“Of course.” He pauses in his soaping of Nate’s chest with the washcloth, holding Nate up with one hand and looking more closely at her. Her eyes are soft and worried, faintly tight at the corners, the way she does when she doesn’t like what’s going on. “Laura,” he says. “What is it?”
“I just…” She bites her lip. “I wish I could go with you. To be there for her.”
Clint pauses. Nate kicks his feet in the water. “Laur, you know you can’t,” he says carefully. “Only half a dozen people in that compound know you exist, and we need to keep it that way.”
“I know.” She runs a hand through her hair. “I know that. I just don’t like it.”
He leans over to kiss her cheek. “I know you don’t. Which is why I’m going to bring her back here, and you can mom the crap out of her, okay?”
Laura manages a small laugh. “Good enough, Hawkeye,” she says. She raises an eyebrow. “What do you tell people about where you take her off to, anyway?”
Clint snorts, rinsing Nate off with a cup of water. Nate giggles and attempts to take the cup from him. “I don’t tell them anything,” he says. “I give them the resting face and tell them it’s above their security clearance.”
“Anything but the resting face,” she teases. Clint fixes her with it, and she laughs.
Lila sticks her head into the bathroom. “Mommy, will you braid my hair for school?”
“Sure, honey.” Laura climbs to her feet, dipping down to kiss Clint’s head and Nate’s. “You’ll come down to say goodbye before we leave?” she asks.
Clint pulls the plug on the bathtub. The water starts to swirl down the drain, to Nate’s shrieks of delight. “I always do,” he says, and Laura smiles.
He flies commercial out to Albany, and rents a car at the airport for the drive out to the compound. The woman at the counter looks vaguely surprised when he just asks for a midsize sedan, and he can’t keep from quirking a small smile--in a worn leather jacket, faded jeans, and workboots, he knows he looks like the sort of guy to ask for a truck or an SUV, but what can he say? Months as a full-time dad have made him value practicality over flash.
(He is, however, very glad that Stark is in Malibu this week. There’s not a doubt in his mind that Tony will give him gleeful hours of shit for turning up in a Hyundai.)
The drive is easy and green, the car handling smoothly over the miles of country highway. It’s all farmland out here, planted and clean, and it reminds Clint of home. He rolls down the windows to breathe the smell of pastures and cows and soil, the sun warming his skin where he rests his arm against the open window.
Even though he’s spent time at the compound before, it still takes him by surprise as it looms out from the pastoral skyline, gleaming and new and chrome. The perimeter’s been extended, he notes, slowing down as he pulls up to a guardhouse that hadn’t been there at his last visit. A guard in a SHIELD uniform steps out as he approaches. “Hey,” Clint says, easily. “Here for a visit.”
The guard--young, Clint thinks, maybe early twenties, if that--frowns, consulting the tablet in his hands. “Name?”
Clint raises his eyebrows. “Barton.”
The kid frowns. “Barton?” No sign of recognition. Ouch, Clint thinks. Guess fame really is fleeting. The guard looks at his tablet again. “I’m sorry, sir, I don’t have you on my list.”
“Yeah, well, I usually don’t have to be on a list,” Clint says, dryly. “I used to work here, you know.”
“Uh,” the kid says. He looks nervous. Clint wonders if it’s his first day on the job, and wants to tell him to straighten up a bit. “I can’t let you in if you’re not on the access list, sir.”
Clint fixes him with a thoughtful look, and the kid shrinks slightly. “I see,” Clint drawls. He pulls his phone out of his jacket pocket and dials Natasha. “Hey, Nat,” he says, when she picks up. “I’m out front. Mind having a word with my friend here at the gate?”
He hands the phone through the window. “Black Widow on the line for you, kid.”
The kid reaches out a hand to take the phone--Jesus, Clint thinks, what the hell are they teaching agents these days?--and puts it to his ear. Over the next several seconds, he goes steadily paler, stammering out a “yes ma’am” and a “no ma’am” and then an “of course, ma’am” before handing the phone back to Clint. “Go right ahead in, Mr. Barton, sir.”
Clint grins at him, showing just enough teeth that he thinks Natasha would be proud. “Thanks, kid,” he says easily, and drives through.
Natasha meets him at the main building, a smirk firmly in place on her lips. “Not a damn word, Romanoff,” he says, climbing out of the car.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says serenely, but grins. “I can see why you wanted to have Avengers ID cards now.”
“That and discounts at Starbucks,” Clint says, bumping her shoulder. She doesn’t look too bad, all things considered--she’s favoring her right leg a bit and her voice still has a faint rasp, but no visible injuries. “You okay?”
Her grin softens. “I’m fine,” she says. She pauses as they walk back toward the door. “I assume you’re gonna check anyway?”
“Have to,” he says, nodding seriously. “Promised the wife.”
Natasha laughs. “Well, if you promised the wife.” The door slides open as she touches an ID card to a panel, then takes an identical card from the pocket of her jeans. “Here. Before I forget.”
He takes it. “All access pass?”
She shrugs. “Everything I’ve got, you’ve got.”
“Thanks,” he says dryly. He hopes that doesn’t mean he’s going to have to tag into team training. He’s kept himself in good shape, but he did not pack the right footwear for that kind of thing. “Is this the part where you show me to my lovely but impersonal guest room?”
Natasha shakes her head, auburn ponytail--it’s darker than he’s seen it for awhile, but it looks good, and he makes a note to tell her that later--swinging with the motion. “Figured you’d want to see Wanda,” she says, and then hesitates. “She’s not doing great.”
Clint frowns. “How not great?”
“She hasn’t come out of her room today,” Natasha says softly, hitting the call button as they reach the elevator bay. “Steve had to talk her out yesterday. She’s taking it really hard.”
The elevator dings, and they step in. “Can you blame her?” Clint asks.
Natasha presses the button for the Avengers residential floor, scanning her keycard again. “Things happen in battle,” she says, not unkindly, in that quiet, matter-of-fact way she has when she’s giving a harsh truth. “She made a call, and it went bad. It happens to all of us.”
“Yeah, but this was the first time it happened to her,” Clint counters.
She looks at him thoughtfully. “You know, Barton,” she says, “that’s almost a mature viewpoint.”
He shrugs. “Had to happen sometime.”
The elevator doors open, and they step out. Clint starts to turn down the hall he remembers leading to Wanda’s room, and then pauses when he realizes Natasha’s not following him. “You coming?”
“Not this time.” She smiles faintly. “I think right now she needs a little less mentoring pep-talk and more…” She arches one brow. “I’m looking for a word that isn’t parenting, but gets the point across.”
Clint snorts. “Let me know if you find one,” he says dryly. “I’ve been trying to think of one myself.”
“Will do.” She gives him a small nudge. “Go on, Hawkeye. Come find me when you’re done with her.”
He tilts his head to one side. “Come find you?”
“Well.” Natasha smiles, eyes flashing. “You did say something about checking me for injuries.”
Clint laughs, something loosening in his chest, and sweeps their current position for cameras before swatting briefly at her ass. Natasha snickers, twisting gracefully away from him and stepping back into the elevator, and Clint rolls his eyes, heading down the hall.
Wanda’s door is closed when he reaches it, and he raps his knuckles against it.
“Go away.” The words are slightly muffled by the door, but audible enough. Clint sighs.
“Wanda,” he says. “It’s Clint. Gonna be really cranky if I came all the way out here and you don’t let me in.”
There’s a beat of silence, and then a sigh. “You can come in.”
Relieved that he doesn’t have to kick the door down--not that he’s really sure he could; this place was designed by Stark--and tries the knob, surprised to find it unlocked. Carefully, he smoothes his expression to calm concern, and steps inside.
Wanda is a curled ball under her blankets, her only visible feature the tendrils of dark hair escaping from the apparent cocoon. Clint closes the door behind him, casting a look around the room. Despite the sadness and guilt that’s practically palpable in the air, the room is still fairly neat. It looks more and more lived-in each time he sees it, and Clint’s glad about that. Natasha had taken Wanda shopping to furnish the room, Laura giving her own input through a video call on Natasha’s phone, and he can see Laura’s softer influences in the styling of the room as well as Natasha’s sleeker tastes, but the room still has Wanda written all over it. He smiles faintly to see the guitar in its stand--that had been his birthday gift to her, months ago, along with a promise to teach her to play; they’ve had lessons over secured Skype lines and visits to the farm.
A photo of Nathaniel pinned to the bulletin board on her desk catches his eye, and he smiles. It’s a little out of date, and he makes a note to bring her a new one.
He crosses the room to the bed, studying the lump of blankets and then poking around to make sure he doesn’t sit on any of her limbs before he settles down in what seems like a safe place. “Hey, kiddo,” he says. There’s no response, and he pats at what he’s pretty sure is Wanda’s shoulder.
“That is my head,” she says, her voice muffled.
“Not my fault,” he says. “You covered it with blankets.” She doesn’t move, and he sighs quietly. “Wanda. Come out of there and talk to me, sweetheart.”
For a moment, she doesn’t move. And then the blankets shuffle, and her face emerges from the pile. She looks pale and drawn, her eyes red-rimmed and wet. He wonders how long she’s been crying. “Hey,” he says gently. “How are you feeling?”
Wanda gives a soft, bitter laugh, sitting up. She’s wearing a US Army t-shirt that Clint is pretty sure she took from Nat, who definitely took it from him. Regardless, it’s too big for her. “How do you think?”
“Like I didn’t really need to ask,” Clint admits. “But it seemed like I should.” He reaches out and brushes a few strands of hair off her forehead. “Nat says you’ve been in here all day. Have you eaten anything? Had anything to drink?”
She shakes her head. “I am not hungry,” she says, looking down. “Everything tastes like ashes.”
Clint winces in sympathy. He remembers that feeling. He’d barely been able to eat for a week after the Battle of New York. “Fair enough,” he says. “But you need to be drinking. What have I told you about crying without hydrating?”
“That it will give me a hangover,” Wanda recites. Something like faint humor comes into her eyes. “I thought Laura said that.”
He shrugs. “Could be,” he agrees. “So, here’s what I’m thinking. You can sit here and be sad for,” he glances at his watch, “fifteen more minutes. And then we’re gonna get up and go to the mess for something to eat. Something light,” he adds, when she opens her mouth to protest. “And some water. Then we can come back here and watch shitty movies, and tomorrow morning we’ll fly out to the farm and you can spend a few days not having to watch the news or dodge reporters or train.” He raises his eyebrows. “Okay?”
Wanda looks hesitant, but then, slowly, nods. “But I can sit here a little longer?” she asks in a small, uncertain voice.
“Yeah,” Clint says gently. “You can stay here a little longer.” He pauses. “You want me to stay with you?”
Her lower lip trembles, her eyes shining at the corners, and she swallows visibly, nodding. “Yes please,” she whispers.
He hates when her voice sounds like that--it reminds him of Lila so much that it breaks his heart. Clint pushes the association as far into the back corner of his mind as he can, and holds out his arms. “C’mere,” he says quietly.
Wanda’s face collapses in pain and relief, and she lets him fold her into a hug, her arms around his neck and her hands fisting into the back of his jacket. Her shoulders shake, and Clint strokes her hair gently, letting her cry.
It takes longer than fifteen minutes for her tears to stop, but he lets it go. Some things are more important than a timetable, and this is one of them.
Wanda falls asleep curled against his side, and Clint manages to extricate his arm out from under her with practice gained from years of navigating his sleeping children (and to a similar extent, his sleeping wife), slipping carefully out of her room and closing the door gently behind him. The brightness of the hallway after the darkened room makes him blink, and he rubs his eyes, stretching and wincing when his back pops. Old man Barton, he thinks with a wry smile, Natasha’s teasing nickname flickering into his head, and he shakes his head, setting off down the hall towards Natasha’s room.
He runs into Steve coming out of the elevator bay, and lifts one hand in a tired wave. “Hey, Cap,” he says. “You turning in?”
Steve shakes his head, motioning to the water bottle in his hand. “Heading down to the gym for a run.”
Clint stares at him. “Now?” He glances at his watch. “It’s midnight?”
Steve shrugs, gives half a sheepish smile. “My brain tends to stay wired,” he says. He looks over Clint’s shoulder, back toward Wanda’s room. “How’s she doing?”
“She’ll be alright. A few days out in the sun and dirt with the kids’ll do her good.” Clint pauses. “Also, I’m stealing one of your planes.”
Steve snorts. “Nat told me,” he says. “I think technically they’re Stark’s planes.” He grins wryly. “You stealing Nat, too?”
Clint narrows his eyes slightly. There’s a thoughtful note in Steve’s voice that seems to be pretending to be more innocent than it really is. Natasha’s made comments before about Steve’s occasional questions about her closeness with Clint and Laura, and Clint’s not dumb enough to think that Rogers is anywhere near as obliviously naive as he pretends to be when he thinks it serves an advantage. “If she’ll take a break,” he says, intentionally vague. “Sun and dirt would be good for her, too.” Still, he knows Steve is under more stress than he shows, so he takes a little pity. “You think you’ll need her for anything urgent? Press appearances or anything?”
“No.” Steve looks like he regrets the answer. “No, she probably needs the down time. How long were you thinking?”
As long as she’s willing to say, Clint thinks, but he shrugs one shoulder. “Probably not too long. She gets antsy when she doesn’t have anything to shoot.” He nods down the hallway. “Speaking of, I told her I’d check in with her.”
“Right. Have a good night, Clint.” Steve starts to turn toward the elevators, and then pauses. “Which guest room did you take?”
Shit. Clint pauses. “Uh,” he says. “Same one as last time?”
“Funny.” Steve cocks one brow. “Could’ve sworn we were remodeling that wing.”
Clint knows when he’s been outmatched. “Caught me, Cap,” he says. “Heading for a slumber party.” He waggles his eyebrows for effect. “Wanna come along? We’re gonna watch Mean Girls, maybe make some popcorn.”
Steve rolls his eyes, but his grin is fond. “Goodnight, Clint.”
Nat’s waiting for him when he keys into her room, sitting up in bed with a novel in her hands. She glances up as he closes the door behind him, arching one sculpted brow. “You’re later than I expected,” she comments, putting her book down on her bedside table.
“Wanted to stay until Wanda fell asleep, and then I ran into Steve in the hallway.” He kicks off his shoes and flops face-first down onto her bed with a huff. Natasha chuckles, ruffling his hair gently, and he turns his head to look up at her. “Told him we were having a slumber party.”
“That’s true enough.” Her face is scrubbed clean of makeup, her hair thrown up into a ponytail, and Clint looks up at her, unable to keep himself from smiling. He thinks she looks great all the time, but he loves her like this, soft and natural and comfortable in a way she rarely lets other people see. She catches his smile, and laughs softly. “You’re so transparent,” she says, poking his nose. He wrinkles it at her. “I can’t believe we let you be a spy.”
“To be fair, I didn’t spend all that much time spying. I mostly climbed on stuff and shot people.” He sits up. “We’re gonna fly out in the morning,” he says. “You think you might come?”
Natasha picks up his hand, toying with it gently. He’d left his wedding ring on a chain around Laura’s neck, and Natasha runs her forefinger lightly over the slightly lighter patch of skin where the ring usually sits. “You should cover this, if you’re going to wear a ring at home,” she says. “It won’t hide the indent, but it’ll make it less obvious.”
It’s an obvious deflection, and Clint doesn’t let her get away with it. “Nat,” he says. “Do you want to come home?”
“I don’t know if I should,” she says, looking at his hand, not his face. “It’s a little suspicious, isn’t it? Me going back with you? If we want to keep this quiet…”
“Say you’re going for Wanda,” he says. He doesn’t like to push her, but the kids haven’t seen her for a month, and he knows Laura’s getting antsy, too. “It’ll probably look better from a PR standpoint anyway, right? Black Widow taking Scarlet Witch on a girls’ relaxation weekend, that kind of thing?”
Natasha gives a startled laugh. “Is that what you think the press says?”
He shrugs. “Laura likes to pick up the Enquirer when she goes grocery shopping,” he says. “She says she’s gonna make you a scrapbook.”
“I bet.” The smile in Natasha’s voice is soft and amused. “Did she see the one about me apparently mourning your retirement by sleeping with Sam, who cheated on me with Steve?”
“You mean the one with the picture of you supposedly crying in Starbucks?” Clint cracks one eye open and looks up at her, grinning. “It’s Laura’s favorite.”
Natasha scowls. “I only made that face because I accidentally stabbed my straw into my eye,” she says. Clint barks out a laugh, and she snorts, poking his shoulder. “Like you’ve never done that.”
“I don’t have a reputation for being a totally chill super-spy,” he says. He rolls onto his back, shifting up onto the pillows and tugging her down until she rolls her eyes and curls up against him, her head on his chest. He strokes her hair, running his fingertips along the crown of her head until he hits the elastic of her ponytail and then starting again at her forehead. She sighs, a soft, content sound, relaxing against him. It takes a long time for the tension to go completely out of her, and Clint wonders how much she’s been carrying around on her shoulders. “You wanna talk to me?”
She doesn’t answer right away, her breathing slow and even. When she speaks, her voice is tinged with worry. “There’s going to be fallout from this,” she says. “We’ve caused damage before, but we’ve never directly caused casualties, not like this.There are going to be political consequences, and I don’t know what they are.”
Clint sits with that for a minute. “Are you worried because there are going to be consequences,” he asks slowly, “or because you don’t know what they’re going to be?”
Natasha huffs out a soft laugh. “You know me too well,” she says, and then she sighs. “Both, but more of the latter. I don’t like not knowing my variables.”
“I know.” Natasha has always liked control. Clint’s pretty sure it’s because she lived so long without any of it. He turns slightly onto his side, touching her chin until she tilts her head up to look at him. “Hey. Whatever comes next, we’ll deal with it, okay? We always do.”
“With or without blowing everything to hell?” she asks dryly.
He shrugs. “Not sure yet. That’s what makes it fun.” “So,” he says. “You’ll come home?”
Natasha’s quiet for a moment, and then she curls one hand into the fabric of his t-shirt. “Yes,” she says. “I’ll come home.”
They fly out in the early hours of the morning, Clint at the controls of their borrowed quinjet, while the rest of the base is still sleeping and quiet, dew glistening on the landscaped grass. Wanda dozes quietly in her seat, the circles beneath her eyes still too dark for Clint’s liking, but Natasha stays awake in the co-pilots seat, and Clint fills her in on everything she’s missed at the farm to keep himself awake, since Nat wouldn’t let him get a coffee from the mess before they leave.
“I told you, it’s shit coffee anyway,” she says as they’re flying over Michigan, when Clint complains for the eighth or ninth time.
“I know it’s shit coffee,” Clint says grumpily, adjusting their speed slightly to compensate for wind direction. “But shit coffee is better than no coffee, Natasha. What am I gonna do if Laura divorces me because I come back all under-caffeinated and cranky?”
“I doubt that’ll be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Natasha says dryly. “She’s stuck with you through worse.”
“Well, yeah, but only because I’m fucking adorable,” Clint mutters. He looks over his shoulder at Wanda, and sighs, taking one hand off the controls and pushing it through his hair. “Jesus. She even looks guilty asleep.”
Natasha glances back, and shakes her head. “She’s going to look guilty for a while, Clint,” she says. “You need to let her.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” he grumbles. He knows she’s right, though, and it won’t do Wanda any good for him to push her through her own process. He’d needed his own time to deal with Loki, and that was stuff that had happened without his control--Wanda was in an entirely different boat, and he knows she deserves her grieving time.
A thought occurs to him, then, and he swears. Natasha glances at him, concern flickering into her eyes. “What is it?”
“I forgot to get bagels,” Clint says, managing to refrain from slamming his face into the controls.
Natasha snorts. “Okay,” she says. “Laura might divorce you for that.”
Wanda wakes up a few minutes before they land, rubbing her eyes and peering out the window, and Clint feels a curl of warmth grow through his chest when she smiles as she recognizes the landscape outside. She doesn’t smile like that often, and he knows that it’s the comfort she gets at the farm with him and Laura and the kids that puts that look on her face. Go Team Barton, he thinks, flipping a few switches to prep the jet for descent. Even if it’s probably mostly Laura’s doing, he’ll give himself at least a little credit.
To his surprise, Laura and the kids are waiting for them on the porch as they make their way up the path to the house. Lila gives a shriek of glee when she spots them, launching herself off the stairs and setting off toward them at a sprint, Cooper quickly overtaking her. They bypass Clint completely--he gives them a wounded look, which they completely ignore--and divide and conquer, Lila leaping up into Wanda’s arms and Cooper flinging his around Natasha’s waist. Laura scoops Nate onto her hip and comes down the steps to meet them, her lips curved in amusement. “I don’t think the kids like me anymore,” he tells her mournfully.
“They’re not the only ones,” Laura says, but she kisses his cheek anyway. “Nat texted and said you didn’t bring bagels.”
Natasha grins at him over the top of Cooper’s head. Clint scowls at her. “Traitor.”
“Tway,” Nate says, and reaches for him.
Clint takes him from Laura’s arms with a grin. “This is why you’re my favorite,” he tells him, and blows a raspberry on Nate’s belly while Nate squeals with delight, grabbing Clint’s hair and yanking. “Ow, kid, cut it out.” He shifts Nate onto his hip, looking over at Wanda, who has her eyes closed as she hugs Lila tight, and smiles, resting his cheek against Nate’s.
“Alright, Miss Lila, share the love,” Laura says, and Lila giggles, squirming down from Wanda’s arms. Wanda turns to Laura, her expression hesitant, and Laura folds her into an embrace, wrapping her arms around her gently. A shudder goes through Wanda’s shoulders and she tucks her face against Laura’s neck the same way Nate did when he cried, and Laura stroked her hair gently, murmuring reassurances. “You’re alright, honey. You’re home now. We’ve got you.” She opens her eyes, and meets Clint’s gaze over Wanda’s shaking shoulders. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Wanda stays for just under a week, and Clint finds himself wishing it was longer. She gets up early and goes for runs with Clint and Natasha, spends the days outside--working in the garden, helping Clint with the random projects that crop up, holding Nate’s hands as he takes wobbly steps, barefoot on the grass. When the kids come home from school, she plays outside with them, her hair tied back to keep it off her face as she lets them pull her into whatever games they’ve thought up, and even Cooper comes out of the pre-adolescent moodiness that’s become his default. Her eyes lighten a little more each day, the heavy guilt slowly easing back from her shoulders, and Clint begins to think that maybe, if she stayed, it might eventually disappear entirely.
He tells Laura that while they’re brushing their teeth, waiting for Natasha to come back from saying goodnight to the kids.
“No,” she says around her toothbrush. Clint makes a face at her, and Laura rolls her eyes, spitting toothpaste into the sink. She leans her hip against the counter. “Clint, you’re the one who told me that she needs to fight her own battles.”
“I know that,” he says, even if he secretly thinks he might have been trying to convince himself of that more than he’d been trying to convince Laura. “I just...y’know, she seems so happy here, and everything is such a mess, and Nat thinks there’s gonna be some kind of fallout from Lagos, so maybe she’d be better off staying here til it all blows over.”
Laura raises her eyebrows. “Maybe she’d be better off?” She echoes. Clint nods. Laura snorts. “Clint Barton,” she says, “if you are actually saying that because you think she’d be better off, and not because you are everyone’s dad and just hate the idea of her out there fighting without you to watch her back, I will eat this toothbrush.”
Clint opens his mouth, stares at her for a moment, and then, guiltily, closes it.
“I thought so,” Laura says. She rinses her toothbrush and puts it back into the cup, then steps closer to him, taking his hands. “Clint, I love her as much as you do, but whatever we feel for her, she’s not our daughter. We don’t get to make her choices for her.”
He slumps back against the counter, but doesn’t pull his hands from hers. “I know that,” he says. “I just…”
“I know.” She tiptoes up to press a kiss to his jaw, then pats his cheek gently. “Come on. Bedtime. We have to get up early to see Nat and Wanda off.”
He lets her tug him out of the ensuite, just as Natasha comes into the bedroom, Lucky trotting happily at her heels. Despite being a major part of the reason Laura had caved to letting Clint and the kids bring Lucky home in the first place, Natasha has declared herself to be not a dog person. Lucky, in true dog fashion--and thereby endearing himself to Clint forever, even if just being a dog hadn’t done that already--had decided that she would be his favorite person in the entire family, and followed her around like an obedient shadow each time she was home. “All kids, biological and otherwise, are asleep,” she says, plopping down on the bed. Lucky leaps up next to her, planting his butt onto Clint’s pillow.
“Aw, dog,” Clint says, dropping down next to him and hauling him into his lap. Lucky, who’s gotten used to this sort of affection, gives Natasha a see what I have to put up with when you’re not here? look, but licks Clint’s chin, and then licks him again more enthusiastically when Clint starts rubbing his belly. He cocks an eyebrow at Natasha. “Biological and otherwise?”
“Like you haven’t adopted Wanda in your head,” she says.
Laura snickers. “Thank you,” she tells Natasha, and then gives Clint a pointed look. “See?”
“I’m sorry,” he says, “which one of us wanted to have about a million kids? At least you didn’t have to give birth to this one.”
“Three is not a million,” Laura says. He raises his eyebrows at her. He loves Laura with just about every fiber of his being, but she loves babies more than any person he has ever met, with the possible exception of her mother, and it had only been him putting his foot down that kept her from attempting to adopt every kid she’d ever taught with a rough home life. Laura slumps slightly. “Well, okay, fair.” All the same, she smacks Clint’s shoulder gently. “And that crack about people giving birth to other people have better have been because you know I’m far too youthful to have a child her age.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he says promptly, because he’s not a complete idiot.
Laura chuckles, kissing his shoulder where she’d smacked him, and sits down on the bed, taking hold of one of Lucky’s back paws and wiggling it slightly. He thumps his tail against the blankets at her, and she smiles, looking at Natasha. “You’re all set to head out tomorrow?”
“Bright and early,” she says. She gives Clint a sharp look. “And no, Clint, you’re not coming back with us.” They’ve been arguing quietly about it for the past two days, and Natasha had put the final nail in his coffin when she’d gotten Wanda onto her side. “You are terrible at retirement, you know that?”
He stretches across the bed and pokes her hip with his toe. “I am trying to stay active, fuck you very much,” he says. She rolls her eyes at him.
“Alright, you two, that’s enough.” Laura nudges gently at Lucky. He looks mournfully at her, but climbs obediently off the bed, curling up in his dog bed on the floor. Clint doesn’t know why she bothers; they’re going to be woken up at four a.m. when he hops back onto the bed anyway. “Some of us have to work a normal job tomorrow, which means getting a good night’s sleep without being snarked to death.” She pushes the blankets down, worming her way between Clint and Natasha, and Natasha laughs softly, fondly, laying down beside her and resting her head on Laura’s shoulder. Laura reaches up and tugs firmly on the sleeve of Clint’s t-shirt, and he flops down next to her, slinging an arm across her waist to curl his hand over the curve of Natasha’s hip. Laura makes a soft, contented sound, and Clint reaches back with his free hand to turn off the light.
A comfortable silence settles over the room, and Clint closes his eyes, listening to Laura and Natasha’s quiet breathing, already synchronized. Natasha rests one hand on Clint’s forearm where it drapes over Laura’s stomach, stroking her thumb over the back of his wrist, and he smiles despite himself. “You gonna leave your ring?” he mumbles.
“Mm,” Natasha says. It’s an affirmation, if a reluctant one. “Not until the morning.”
Clint runs his fingers along her arm and down to her hand, tracing the pad of his thumb over the slim band on her finger. She only wears it here, for short enough periods that it doesn’t leave an indent or a tan line. He knows she’d hesitated before wearing it around Wanda, and he’d been so shocked that she’d decided to throw her usually overwhelming caution to the wind and wear it anyway that he’d tugged her into the hall linen closet and kissed her until Laura had sent both of them a text of cranky emojis for ditching her with the kids while they made out.
He can’t blame her for leaving it here when she leaves, though--he still does the same. Even though the team knows about the farm, the rest of the compound doesn’t, and the last thing he needs after so many years of successfully keeping his family safe is for a rogue selfie to end up on Twitter and spark a flood of speculation and digging. They’d weathered that storm after Loki and again after the fall of SHIELD, and Clint doesn’t have any interest in doing it again.
Natasha’s hand curls around his wrist, and squeezes. “Clint,” she says. “Stop thinking so loud, and go to sleep.”
Natasha’s right. There’s fallout.
And it’s bad.
Clint’s at the pediatrician’s with Nate when he first hears about the Accords, bouncing him on his lap to quell the crying from what he and Laura are pretty sure is an ear infection and looking up at the TV in the waiting room. For once it’s playing CNN, not Sesame Street, but all gratitude at having grown-up television to watch goes out of him in a punch to the gut when he actually hears what they’re saying.
--international news, the United Nations has released a statement detailing the Sokovia Accords, an attempt at regulating super-powered teams such as the Avengers, which have operated without supervision since 2012. While many credit the Avengers with saving the world from extraterrestrial and terrorist threats, others have criticized these individuals for violating sovereign borders and causing massive damage to property and infrastructure, in addition to loss of life. Spearheaded by U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross and ratified by one hundred and seventeen countries, the Accords have come primarily in response to last month’s incident in Lagos, Nigeria, during which Wanda Maximoff, otherwise known as Scarlet Witch, caused the deaths of--
Clint snaps his head up. A nurse in pink scrubs, patterned with yellow teddy bears, is smiling pleasantly at him from the entrance to the hallways. “Hi,” she says. “Sorry. I’ve been calling you for a minute or so.”
“Sorry,” Clint says. He scoops Nate onto his hip and climbs to his feet, and the floor feels like it barely exists under his feet. “I’m coming.”
When he leaves the office forty minutes later, with a sleepily sedated baby and a prescription for an antibiotic tucked into his wallet, there are eight voicemails on his phone. They’re all from Laura, and she’s livid. He buckles Nate into his carseat, and calls her back.
“Have you seen this shit?” she says when she picks up, her voice high and furious.
“Only a bit, on the news,” he says. “How bad is it?”
“The Accords would require the Avengers to be controlled by the UN,” she says. “So they can call you in whenever they want, and any Avengers operations would have to be approved by a committee. And it practically classifies anyone with superpowers as a weapon to be deployed, not as an actual person, they’re talking about Wanda like she’s a time bomb, and you should hear what they’re saying about Banner and Thor--”
“Laura,” Clint interrupts. “Take a breath, baby.”
She does. It doesn’t sound very relaxing. When she speaks again, though, she does sound slightly calmer. “I talked to my father,” she says. “He knows Secretary Ross from West Point. He says there’s no way that these Accords just came together this quickly. Even with what happened in Lagos, these must have been in the works for years behind the scenes.”
Clint narrows his eyes. He’s come up against Ross a few times during his career, and shares Laura’s father’s opinion of him--namely, that he’s a grade-A asshole with too much power and not enough morals. “What happens if they don’t sign?”
“You mean if you don’t sign?”
He frowns. “What?”
“Yeah,” Laura says. “Your name’s on it.”
“I’m retired,” he says, half because it’s mostly true, and half just out of confusion.
“Yes, Clint, I’m aware, but someone clearly isn’t, because Christine Everhart just namedropped you on fucking CNN!”
“Mom!” Cooper’s surprised yell comes through the line. “You have to put a dollar in the swear jar!”
Despite his mounting alarm about the news, Clint snorts at that. Laura only swears like this when she’s seriously angry, and Clint’s put way more money in that stupid jar than she has.
Laura takes an audible breath. “You’re right, Coop,” she says, with clearly forced calm. “Go bring me my purse, okay?” She’s quiet for a moment, and then says, “We need to figure out what to do about this. People are going to come looking for you.”
Clint drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “They’ll send Nat,” he says slowly.
“How do you know?”
He shrugs. “It’s their only option. Not like I left them a forwarding address.” He glances in the rear-view mirror at Nate, still asleep, drooling around his pacifier. A pang of protectiveness shoots through him, and he flexes his fingers around the wheel. “What did they say would happen if we don’t sign?”
“Forced retirement,” Laura says bitterly.
“I’m hearing an ‘or else.’”
“Or else what?”
“They didn’t say. Not on the news, anyway.” She’s quiet for a moment. “What are you going to do?”
Clint wishes he wasn’t driving, so that he could close his eyes and think. Instead, he takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, rolls down the window so that the warm spring air brushes against his skin. “What do you want me to do?”
Laura doesn’t answer right away, and when she does, her voice is soft. “I trust you, Clint,” she says. She’s quiet, but calmer than she’s sounded since she picked up the phone. “I want you to do what you think is right.”
Natasha shows up a week later, grim-faced.
Some of the grimness fades when the kids spot her, because how could it not--she melts when Lila flings her arms around her, like she always does, and nuzzles her face into Nate’s belly when Laura plops the baby into her arms. She settles Nate onto her hip and wraps an arm around Cooper’s shoulders, tossing her duffel bag unceremoniously at Clint and letting the kids drag her back to the house, chattering non-stop.
“Told you she’d be here before the week was out,” Clint mutters to Laura, as they follow the rest of the family up the path. “You owe me five bucks.”
Laura makes a face at him, and Clint slings an arm around her shoulders, presses a kiss to her temple. “We’re okay,” he says quietly, and she sighs.
“I’m not here just to see you,” Natasha says later that night, when the kids are in bed and the three of them are sitting around the table. She looks calm, quiet, and to anyone who didn’t know her, she would seem utterly at ease. Clint does know her, maybe better than anyone, and so he knows that her grip around her mug is to hide the trembling in her fingers. He also knows that there’s bourbon spiking her lemon tea, and that she only combines those when she’s nervous.
“We know,” Laura says. Her eyes are soft with the calm that Natasha is trying to project, but hers is genuine, and Clint’s glad of it--one of them has to have their shit together, and Laura has always balanced them out. “It’s been all over the news.”
Natasha purses her lips, looking at Clint. He holds her gaze, flexing his hands around his own mug, which is more liquor than coffee. Natasha’s already made her position on the Accords public, he knows that she’ll be going to Vienna for the signing as the official Avengers representative, but if the look on her face is any indication, it’s not out of any great passion for the cause. She sighs. “You won’t sign,” she says. “Will you.”
Clint spreads his hands. “Did you really think I would?” He manages a wry smile. “You know how I feel about other people calling my shots, Nat.”
And the thing is, she does know; he knows she does. He’s hated having someone else telling him who to shoot since he was twelve and just learning to pull a bow and aim it at a person, and since everything that went down with Loki, the idea of somebody he doesn’t know inside and out giving him orders makes his skin crawl.
Natasha doesn’t drop her gaze. “You did it with SHIELD,” she says.
Clint’s blood goes cold. He curls his hands into fists, pushing himself half to his feet, not sure where he’s going from there, but Laura puts a firm hand on his wrist. He looks down at her, and she holds his gaze steadily until he sits down, exhaling heavily.
“Clint’s right,” Laura says quietly. They’d spent the last week talking about this, and the yelling and fury--very little of it, thankfully, directed at him--has finally given way to calm. “It would be one thing if they gave you a liaison of some kind, or gave you all a say in how this would go, but like this?” She presses her lips together, her fingers tightening around Clint’s wrist, and then she seems to force herself to relax, shaking her head. “It’s bad enough that the world turned you into weapons. No one else should be able to use you.”
Natasha scowls. “It’s the United Nations, Laura,” she says, frustration clear in her voice. “Not Hydra. You telling me you don’t trust the UN?”
This from the woman who dumped all of SHIELD’s secure files onto the internet because government bodies are fucking untrustworthy, Clint thinks. Out loud, he says, “Come on, Nat. You’re telling me you do?”
Natasha opens her mouth, and then closes it. Clint doesn’t say, ha, gotcha, because he’s trying to be the bigger man here, but it’s hard not to. Natasha shakes her head. “It’s the right thing to do, Clint. We need the oversight.”
“Seriously, Natasha?” He can’t keep the disbelief from his voice. No way in hell is she doing this because she believes in government oversight. That’s not who Natasha is. Doing whatever it takes to achieve a mission objective, though...He sighs. That’s exactly who she is. Natasha doesn’t believe in much, but she believes in the Avengers. “You really want to tell me you believe in this? That you’d sign this thing if there was any other way to keep the team together?”
“Yes,” she says. She holds his gaze, but there’s uncertainty in her eyes, and he finds himself narrowing his, suspicious. Her throat works as she swallows. “I do.” She bites her lips, then, and turns to Laura. “You’re okay with this? Him not signing?”
Laura looks almost surprised to have been asked. She shouldn’t, Clint thinks; if Laura had told him to sign, made it two against one, he would have. But she shakes her head, laces her fingers through Clint’s. “I know who I married,” she says. She’s holding Clint’s hand, but she’s looking at Natasha, a silent remember that she married them both, that she knows what to expect from them--and that she loves them anyway.
Natasha looks at her for a few moments more, her eyes softer than when she’d looked at Clint, and she sighs, a long, slow exhale. “What do you want me to tell Cap?”
“Your choice.” Clint rests one hand on the table, palm up, and Natasha threads her fingers through his. “I trust you. Tell him whatever you want.” She laughs softly, without humor, and he lifts her hand up, presses his lips to her knuckles. Her smile softens, and he looks up at her through his lashes. “Do you have to leave tonight?”
Natasha lifts her other hand, touches her fingertips to his cheek. “No,” she murmurs. “Tonight, I’ll stay.”
Three days later, Laura’s yelling his name from downstairs, and they’re back in front of the television, staring wide-eyed and horrified at the news.
This time, Clint doesn’t waste time thinking about time zones before he calls Natasha.
She picks up immediately. “I’m fine,” she says, without preamble.
“Thank God,” he says, and then, “Jesus fuck, Nat. The UN?”
“Yeah.” She gives an exhausted laugh. “God. It’s a mess, Clint. It’s such a mess.” She takes a shuddering breath. “They’re saying it’s Barnes.”
Clint sits heavily down on the couch. Laura gives him an alarmed look, sitting down next to him. “Bucky Barnes?”
“Yes.” There’s an audible swallow. “Steve’s going to go after him.”
Laura makes a frustrated gesture at the phone. “Nat, I’m putting you on speaker,” he says, and presses the button. “Say again?”
“Hi, Laura,” Natasha says, her voice a little gentler. “Steve’s going to try and get to Barnes before the authorities do.”
“Why would he do that?” Laura asks, frowning. “If Barnes attacked you…”
“Who knows why that idiot does anything?” Natasha huffs. She falls silent, and Clint can picture her taking slow, quiet breaths. “He’s going to make things worse,” she whispers. “Clint, this is what I was trying to avoid. If he’d signed, then him going after Barnes would be legit, but the way it is now…” She breathes out heavily. “It’s going to get so much worse.”
It gets worse. It gets worse fast. And thirty-six hours of constant news coverage and more lectures from his mother-in-law than he thinks are really reasonable, he gets a call from an encrypted line.
At this point, it’s either Steve or Tony. He picks up. “No,” he says, flatly.
“Clint.” Steve, then. He sounds exhausted.
“No, Cap,” Clint says. He closes the door to the office, starts pacing--he can’t sit still when he’s on the phone. “Whatever it is, I’m not getting involved in this shitshow. I’ve got kids to look after. Everything’s already on high alert.” He and Laura have spent the last day and a half planning to get the kids out of town, getting them away from the farm--not because he’s worried it’s not secure, but because at this point, he’s not ready to take any chances. They’ve found a lake resort out near Chicago. Cooper’s talking about learning how to water-ski. They’ve already stocked up on sunscreen. “I’m out. I’m retired.”
“Clint,” Steve says again. “It’s Wanda.”
Clint stills. “What about her?”
“Tony has her confined to the compound.” Steve’s voice is tight with barely-reined anger. “Ross’s orders, apparently--if she doesn’t sign, she’s too much of a threat to be out in the open. He’s got Vision ‘keeping her company.’”
Clint forces himself to relax his grip on his phone so that he doesn’t crack it. “Just Vision?”
“She doesn’t deserve to be a prisoner in her home,” Steve says.
He takes a breath. “Who’s your source on this?”
“Stark.” Steve’s quiet for a moment. “Clint, she’s at the compound now, but if Ross spooks--”
“He’ll take her,” Clint finishes. He doesn’t need to know where Ross’ll take her next. He doesn’t want to know. He rubs her forehead. “Laura’s gonna kill me,” he mutters. “She’s gonna kill me for this, Rogers. I was supposed to be out.”
“I know, Clint. I’m sorry.” To his credit, he sounds like he means it. “I can talk to her?”
Clint snorts. “Trust me, Cap,” he says. “That will not help.” He sighs. “Text me your coordinates,” he says. “I’ll let you know when I’m en route.”
He ends the call and closes his eyes, letting his hand drop to his side. “Shit,” he says. He hasn’t even packed his weapons, and he’s already exhausted.
He turns. Laura’s in the doorway, her expression caught somewhere between exasperation and concern. “Hey,” he says, weakly.
Laura narrows her eyes. “En route?” she says.
Clint swallows. “Laura,” he begins carefully. “I can explain.”
“No,” she says. She crosses her arms. “Clint, it’s bad enough that Natasha’s wrapped up in this crap, we can’t--”
“Laura, they’ve got Wanda.”
She stops mid-rant. Her arms drop, and her face changes, her eyes flooding with concern. “What?”
He pockets his phone, crosses the room to her. “Stark’s got her on house arrest, but Steve’s worried that Ross is gonna come for her.”
“He would.” Laura’s voice trembles. She exhales slowly. “I’ve met Ross before. He’d come for her, if he thought it would give him an advantage.” She closes her eyes for a moment, and then looks up at him, reaching both hands up to cup his face. “Clint,” she says. “You have to go get her.”
It’s not what he’s expecting, not even close. “Laur,” he says. Not a protest, just uncertain. He rests his hands on her hips. “If I do this--” He swallows. “It’s not Avenging. It’s not sanctioned.”
“I know.” She swallows visibly, stroking one thumb along his cheekbone. “But it’s Wanda.”
She says it softly, but he hears the same depth of emotion in her voice that he feels settling in his gut.
Wanda’s not supposed to be theirs, but she is--she’s been theirs since the first time Clint brought her back to the farm, a year ago, a wreck of grief and survivor’s guilt and pain. Clint can no more leave her behind bars--glass and chrome bars, but bars nonetheless--than he could Lila or Cooper or Nate.
“I’ll get her,” Clint says. He doesn’t mean for it to come out a promise, but it does. “I’ll bring her home safe.”
“Good.” Laura strokes his cheeks again, and then pulls him into a hug. Clint clings to her, burying his face in her shoulder, and she holds him tight.
They stand there for a long time, holding each other, fierce. Clint’s head is spinning, flight trajectories and weapons lists and frantic planning clashing together with the hotel reservations and highway maps he and Laura have been looking at for the last day, and he shudders, muffling an exhausted, half-panicked laugh into Laura’s shoulder.
She lifts her head, eyes damp, and looks at him. “What?”
Clint gives her a weak smile. “What the hell am I going to tell the kids?”
Laura’s lips part, worry flickering into her eyes, and she takes a deep breath. She leans forward, resting her forehead against his. “We’ll figure it out,” she promises. “Together.”
Clint pulls her back against him, closing his eyes. He inhales the scent of her hair, and tries to memorize it.
This is home, and he’s not supposed to have to leave it. He’s supposed to be done.
But he has work to do.