Thanks to EuphoricSound and brbshittoavenge for reading through this in the almost-finished stage and to elvestinkle for the (very) last minute beta. Love you guys!
A one-shot for the cottoncandy-bingo prompt "Writing for Someone".
"Show me again, Daddy."
He adjusted his daughter in his lap, picking back up the crayon he'd been using. It was purple by adamant request.
"Okay, Ev," he said, dropping a kiss to the top of her head. "Watch closely."
He pressed the crayon down on the paper, carefully tracing the letters out onto the page. Evie took his instruction literally and leaned close to his hand, peering at his grip on the crayon as he formed the letters. Her hair gleamed in the sunlight streaming in through the kitchen window, and for a moment, he forgot how to breathe. Even now, four years on, he was caught off guard by the sudden constriction in his heart, the surge of love that threatened to overwhelm him as she studied his movements.
"You're going too fast!" Evie complained with a shriek that pulled him out of his reverie. "Slower!"
He winced, glad she couldn't see his face. His daughter was curious, smart and inquisitive, sucking up all the knowledge in her path, but damn, she had a set of lungs on her.
He started over, slower this time. He wanted to teach her everything.
For his own part, he hadn't learned much beyond how to avoid his father's fists by the time he was Evelyn's age. He didn't even want to contemplate the lessons Evie's mother had learned as a child. Together, though, they were doing everything they could to make sure that their daughter had everything they hadn't even known to miss.
"You make the short angled line first like this, just like when you're writing your name," he narrated, smiling as she nodded, humming her understanding under her breath. "Then you start another line in the opposite direction, but instead of stopping and making a 'v', you keep going, like this."
He'd barely finished when she slapped his hand away impatiently.
"Lemme do it now!" she said, picking up her crayon, a shade of purple only just lighter than his own. He smiled down at her as she drew the letter, copied painstakingly from his, with the tail of her 'y' snaking off down the page.
She squirmed in his lap, craning to see his face, searching for his approval.
"Is it okay?" she asked.
He grinned and tousled her hair. "It's perfect, Ev." He reached out for a clean sheet of paper. "Now let's make the good version."
He helped her fold the paper in half, then held it still as she carefully traced out a heart shape on the front. He could only obey when she demanded that he color it in so that the card would be "from us both, Daddy!" She copied out the memorized words on the same page, then added her signature to the inside.
"You too, Daddy," she said in her little girl voice, the one that hit him in the gut every time he heard it.
"That's not your name!" she exclaimed after he'd signed. "That doesn't say Daddy!"
He chuckled, pleased that she could recognize that much. She couldn't read yet, not quite, but she was getting there.
"Well, baby, that's because this card isn't for you, it's for Mommy, and she calls me by my other name."
"Oh," she said. "Okay." She scooted down from his lap and straightened her shirt. "Can we go see Mommy now?" she asked.
He'd promised her yesterday that they would go to the hospital; he'd promised her mother, too. Evie hadn't seen her mother since the accident, had only spoken with her briefly on the phone, and both of them were anxious for the reunion. He glanced at the wall clock. They still could make it before visiting hours were over if they hurried.
The walk to the subway was short, but he bundled Evie up anyway, tugging a knit cap on over her braids and shoving mittens onto her hands.
They got to the Stark Enterprises medical facility (only the best for the members of Tony's team) quicker than he'd expected. Evie started to yawn on the subway, and normally he wouldn't pick her up, but today was different, out of the ordinary, so he caved and carried her for the last leg of their journey. Today was going to be rough enough without adding a cranky toddler to the mix (though, judging from the way she immediately perked back up when he took her in his arms, he got the feeling that she was playing him. Like mother, like daughter).
"Hey, Nora!" he said brightly to the silver haired nurse sitting at the reception desk. He'd been seeing a lot of her lately. "She up for visitors?"
Nora smiled at him. "Oh, hi, Mr. Barton! And who's this lovely young lady?"
He bounced Evie a little, until she let loose a tentative smile. "This is our daughter Evelyn. Can you say hi, Evie?"
The little girl shook her head, buried her face in his neck. He shrugged at Nora. "Sorry, she gets shy sometimes."
Nora waved it off. "Oh, no worries. I've got three of my own, and they were all the same way." She glanced down at a folder on her desk. "You can head on back to see her if you like."
"Thanks, Nora." He walked around the reception desk, then down the too-familiar corridor, putting Evie on her feet and holding her hand as they walked quietly into her mother's room.
Natasha was sitting up in bed and smiled when she saw them.
"Hey!" she said, her grin stretching from ear to ear. "How's my girl?"
In the manner of kids everywhere, Evelyn ran to Natasha and leapt up on the cot heedless of her mother's injuries. Natasha winced even as she clutched Evie to her chest, leaning in to smell her hair.
"Hey, baby girl, careful there," Clint said as he approached the bed, too, and he reached out to loosen Evelyn's death grip on her mother's torso. He knew that urge all too well, had wanted nothing more than to do the same when he'd first seen Natasha here, unconscious and covered in blood and bruises.
Natasha shook her head at him, her eyes telling him to leave well enough alone. He smiled while Evie prattled endlessly in the loose embrace of her mother's arms, telling her all of the things she'd been doing since they'd parted last.
He took a moment to enjoy the moment, to take in the sight of the two most important people in his life reconnecting. Natasha smiled fondly as Evie gesticulated widely through the story of the Evil Cricket in her Shoe, and he could see the color start to return to both of their cheeks. Natasha had been here for a week already, recovering from injuries sustained on a mission in Southeast Asia. She looked better today, brighter, and he was glad that he'd brought Evie to see her. He was no longer as worried that she was knocking on death's door, even if she had brushed too close to it for comfort. It was something they needed to talk about; after Evie was born, he'd willingly left field duty, took a desk job of sorts, training new recruits, reading intelligence reports, and running the occasional operation from a safe distance.
He wasn't certain he'd ever convince Natasha to do the same.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and rested his hand on Natasha's knee, returning her smile over their daughter's head, and the only thing messing up the moment was the residual bruising on her face.
"Hey Ev, don't you have something to show Mommy?" he asked, not wanting to dwell on Natasha's condition.
Evie turned her megawatt grin on him and let go of her mother to start patting him down for the card they'd made earlier.
"Here," he said, pulling the paper out of his inner coat pocket. Evelyn snatched it from him.
"We made this for you," she said with great solemnity.
Natasha smiled, the corners of her mouth turning up as she looked at her card. "Thank you, sweetheart," she said. "It's lovely."
"Daddy helped me a little," Evie conceded. "And he colored the heart, too."
Natasha smiled his favorite smile then, the one where she was obviously laughing on the inside, happy and amused by her life. It warmed his heart.
"Did he now?" she asked, and he could tell that she was imagining what he looked like, coloring under his daughter's direction. There was a peculiar gleam in her eye, one he'd seen before, most recently when he'd taught Evie to tie her shoelaces.
"I did," he said, suddenly wishing they were alone and circumstances were different.
Evie continued on, oblivious to the undercurrents of the conversation. "Yes, and he also signed his other name because he said that you don't call him daddy."
Natasha smirked and said, "Well, I sometimes do, but only if he asks nicely."
Clint turned his face to hide his chuckle. Only Natasha . . .
"It's beautiful, baby," Natasha continued without skipping a beat. "Thank you so much for bringing it to me."
"You're welcome," Evie said politely. Then, she asked, "When are you coming home?"
Natasha swallowed at that, the radiance of her smile dimming at the edges. "Soon," she said.
"Why not now?" the little girl asked, and if Natasha's insides felt anything like his, her heart was breaking. She'd been away before, had been injured since Evelyn was born, but this was the first time she'd been laid up in the hospital for recovery, the first time she'd almost not made it back to them. As good as her luck had always been, luck ran out for everyone, eventually.
When she didn't get an answer, Evelyn asked again.
"I just need to rest for a little while longer, Ev," Natasha said, but he knew as well as she did that Evie was getting older, smarter, and the easy platitudes of her infancy were rapidly losing their effectiveness. Evie frowned.
One of the doctors chose that moment to peek into the room. Her face was familiar; he definitely had spoken with her before, but he couldn't recall her name, probably because she'd helped him when Natasha was still in limbo and his mind was focused on other things. Van Dyne, he thought, Jaime or Jane or something like that.
The doctor smiled as she entered. "Hello! I'm just here to check in with Ms. Romanoff. How are you feeling this afternoon? Your appetite back?"
The doctor continued on, taking a few notes on a clipboard. "Any new pains? Sometimes as the stronger meds wear off . . ."
Natasha shook her head, trying to head off the conversation before it scared Evie, who'd been staring silently with big eyes at the intruder, her questions forgotten. She was a quiet girl, shy by nature, and isolated by necessity. She didn't interact with people outside of her parents or her classmates at daycare very often.
Dr. Van Dyne noticed the little girl then, and her smile somehow grew wider, sunnier. "Oh, hello there, young lady! What's your name?"
Emboldened by the presence of both her parents, Evie didn't try to hide, but instead looked at her father for confirmation that it was okay to talk to this particular stranger. He nodded.
She turned back to the doctor and said, very quietly, "Evie."
"Well, hello, Evie. I'm Janet. Nice to meet you," the doctor said, and she shook the little girl's hand. Janet made small talk for a few seconds with the child, then looked up at her parents. Obviously noticing the tension between the two adults, Janet offered, "If you wanted, I could watch her in the hall for a few minutes while you two talk."
He and Natasha exchanged a long glance. It had been hard to find a minute alone this past week, even though he'd been here every day, by her side. He'd been pulled in too many directions, shuttling Evelyn back and forth to daycare, going to work, and coming here in between. They just hadn't had the time to say the things that needed to be said, hadn't had the time to talk about what almost happened on the other side of the world. They needed to talk.
Natasha blinked her assent, leaving the final decision up to him, and he looked down at his daughter. "What do you say, Ev? You want to go out into the hall with Dr. Janet? You could show her the card you made Mommy."
The little girl's eyes lit up and she grabbed the card in question before jumping off the bed. "Okay, yes," she said. Sometimes Evelyn surprised him.
Janet took the girl's hand. "We'll stay right outside the door where you can see us," she said reassuringly. If she worked here, Dr. Van Dyne had been vetted by Stark and SHIELD both, and obviously understood who Clint and Natasha were and how important the safety of their child was. Evelyn would be fine with her.
Leaning low as they walked, Janet exclaimed, "Wow! Did you make that yourself?"
"Yup!" Evie said proudly as the door shut behind them. True to her word, the doctor remained visible through the glass window in the center of the door.
He sighed, and Natasha reached out to take his hand.
"She's gotten so big, Clint," Natasha said, and it was easy to forget that she hadn't seen her daughter in weeks, that she'd been away on a mission and then she'd been . . . here. He'd been with Evie for all that time, though, hadn't noticed the gradual changes, quick as they had come, but when he thought back, tried to see the situation through Natasha's eyes, he could see how she would be surprised at the sight of her daughter. He was glad that he'd waited, though, that he hadn't taken his little girl here before today because he didn't want her to have the kinds of memories he had of his own parents, still and lifeless after the car crash.
"She misses you," he said. "I miss you, too."
Natasha didn't have much to say to that, but she gripped his hand tighter.
"This has to end at some point, Nat," he said. "We can't keep doing this. You can't keep doing this."
"I know," she said, but he carried on anyway, unable to shake the images of her death from his head.
"I almost lost you this time. We almost did." He looked down at her, turned to face her, and she was pale and solemn, not at all like what he'd been expecting. They'd had this conversation before, just after Evie was born, and then he'd agreed with Natasha that as long as one of them stayed out of the field, as long as one of them was out of harm's way, everything would be okay.
He'd been wrong.
Natasha was already missing half of her daughter's life, and if something like this happened again, she could be missing the rest of it. He wasn't ready for that, Evie didn't deserve that, and Natasha most of all had earned the right to be part of her child's life.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, and her voice cracked. "It was a stupid mistake. The mark changed cars at the last minute, and I . . ."
"Stop," he said, more harshly than he'd intended. "I don't want to talk about that." Seeing the wounded look in her eyes, he said, more softly, "It's already done and over, and I'm just glad that you're here."
She nodded. "It won't happen again," she said, but he could tell that she found the statement just as flimsy as he did.
He sighed. "Look, sweetheart, I . . ." He considered his words for a moment. "I know you need to work, Nat. I get that, you know I do, but we have Evie to think of, and I don't want to do this alone." He glanced down, unable to meet her eyes, and stared at their entwined hands instead. "I'm not sure I can."
His voice broke on the last word, cracking with raw emotion.
"I know, Clint. Really, I've known for a while. I just . . . there's so much red . . ." she trailed off, but he knew what she wanted to say.
He looked back up to find her staring at Dr. Van Dyne through the window.
She spoke softly, as if she were afraid of what she was saying. "I don't know how to stop."
He exhaled, half-chuckling. "I know a thing or two about that. But maybe you can find a different way to pay back your debt? I know you'd go crazy with my job . . ."
"Hush," he said with a smile. "All I meant was, even if a desk job isn't your thing, maybe you could take different missions, ones that don't end with you in a hospital bed."
Natasha scrubbed a hand over her face. "I want that, Clint. You have to believe I do. I just don't know if I can repay my debts that way."
"Can't Evie do that for you? Can't she be the black in your ledger?" he said, hating himself for the whine in his voice.
She sighed. "She already is, you know that." She swallowed audibly. "I'm just not sure who I am without this part of my life."
He winced at how stupid he'd been, how he'd come at this all wrong, how he'd assumed that she was afraid of being a mother, when in reality she'd just been afraid that she didn't know how not to be an assassin, a spy.
He moved closer and pulled her into his arms. "I know who you are," he said against her hair. "Evie knows who you are. Do you think . . ." he paused, thought carefully about his next words, not wanting them to come out wrong. "Do you think that you would be willing to at least try something else?"
"Maybe," she said quietly, so quietly that he thought he'd misheard. "But do you think we can talk about this later? I'm kind of off my game right now."
He nodded. "Yeah, okay. I can live with that." He pulled back and met her eyes. "But we will talk about it."
She reached up and ran a finger down the side of his face. "Yes," she said without wavering. "We will."
Evie came rushing back into the room then, flying at her parents. She squeezed up between them, and suddenly the three of them were embracing, a family.
It wasn't perfect, but it was damned close.