The final chapter! I hope you enjoyed this :) All comments and thoughts are very much appreciated, (especially considering this was my first Avengers fic, and it's one of my own favorite works to date. if not the favorite one) so don't be shy. Let me know what you think, it means a lot to me :)
"I am simply saying you can't compare Starfleet to the Empire," Bruce speaks in the very same manner he uses to discuss science, and doesn't even turn around to face Tony who is standing behind the kitchen counter, and making what has to be the world's spiciest pizza ever.
"Of course you can't. Starfleet is vastly superior, not to mention has cooler looking ships," claims Tony. Bruce does turn around at this, pulls his glasses down his nose a little and gives Tony that not – amused – teacher look.
"There isn't a ship that's cooler than The Millennium Falcon," Bruce says. Natasha looks sideways at Clint, notices the smirk he's keeping contained while he's handing her clean dishes to dry. Every so often her hands brush the bump of her stomach. It's round and hard and it's an added weight. It's getting harder to stand for a longer period of time. Her body grows, becoming more demanding and she has to adjust and readjust and it's just not something she enjoys, while her emotions are harder to contain. She doesn't like the unpredictability. She is used to have every bit and aspect of herself under control, and now she just cannot do it in the same way. She is not good with being in control of hormonal and other processes raging through her, and she knows she cannot battle them, so she's trying to live along with them.
"The Millenium Falcon looks like something put together in scrapyard," says Tony and Natasha chuckles a little – because of his tone, his attitude, the way he's holding himself in these unimportant discussions. "The Enterprise is faster, and Flacon would be massively outgunned. Not to mention Falcon would just flat out die due to sheer envy."
"But Falcon can run away," Bruce lifts a finger. At this point Cap and Thor are watching the back and forth between the two scientists with a curious confusion on their faces. "In an awesome, sneaky way."
"It's the only thing it can do," Tony says.
"And lures The Enterprise straight into the hands of the Empire," Clint interrupts suddenly and winks at Natasha. Tony turns around and looks outraged.
"I'm sensing a traitor among my ranks," he says.
"You assumed I was among your ranks, which is not a problem of mine," Clint is joking, but his face is dead serious. At this point Steve and Thor are grinning in their chairs and the movie is forgotten. The mood is rubbing off Natasha as well, and she is wearing a mild grin on her own face.
"So, a Warsie?" Tony asks and Clint crosses his arms on his chest.
"I have the Force on my side, Commander Data," Clint says, and Bruce laughs briefly.
"Not funny, because it's not nearly accurate, but I am impressed with your attempt anyway," Tony turns around and resumes his work on the pizza. Or tries to, at least.
"Funny or not, Starfleet doesn't stand a chance against Empire," Bruce says.
"Agreed," Clint says. "Murder by the numbers. Incredibly big numbers of Empire's forces. The Starfleet is a tiny little bug compared to it."
That earns him one of Tony's finest glares.
"Starfleet is technologically superior and capable of applying a strategy that would lead into Empire's demise." Tony is stubborn. Natasha leaves the dishes and joins him over at the kitchen counter, because Tony is too busy with the nerd debate to put enough attention into pizza he's making.
"The only demise that would happen would be the one of Starfleet's redshirts, who are completely useless," Bruce says and Cling sniggers out loud.
"What is this thing you are discussing?" Thor finally asks.
"Two movies with two different, imaginary armies," Steve offers and it's not a wrong answer, yet it's not the complete and accurate answer, but it would be difficult to explain correctly why this is one of the greatest nerd debates existing.
"A numerous army always has an advantage," Thor observes seriously. For some reason this makes Natasha chuckle, and she knows it doesn't go unnoticed. She's aware that Tony is organizing these dinner and movie nights for months now so they could all be around her, because they know they're not allowed to actually keep an eye on her. She assumes it's sweet and she learns to accept it, and sometimes they're fun. It's better than being alone, and it's better than long, anxious conversations between her and Clint.
It's better than the nightmares.
"Point there," Steve says. "There's a reason why Germans couldn't conquer Russia," he adds.
"Yes, they froze to death, Captain Genius," Tony replies.
"Technologically advanced, but underestimated their enemy they have," Clint actually does a good impression of Yoda, and Bruce starts laughing. A real, loud, hearty laugh, which in turn makes Natasha laugh as well. It's quieter and shorter, but it's a real laugh as well.
"Why are you speaking like that?" Thor asks, confused and it only serves to make Bruce laugh harder, and Natasha as well, and Clint is laughing too.
"Doc, just don't get too excited," Steve says mildly, and Bruce shakes his head, says through laughter that everything is okay.
"Yes, yes, let's not tickle the other guy," Tony says.
"Don't be such a sore loser, Stark. Empire just handed you your iron ass on a platter with Satfleet's insignia," Clint walks over with his chin held high. Natasha lets the laughter sink into her chest, with a good, quiet feeling of contentment. The boys aren't only watching over her, or simply being with her. They're trying to tell her in action, not in words, that there's a safety net to catch her. The thought gives her an ambivalent sentiment, because she knows everything can be taken away. Several months ago they were a team but the mutual boundaries were further apart. Now Tony is being their Mama Bear and Bruce enjoys jokes and the feeling of being included, Thor still asks questions that amuse the rest of them and Steve is getting better at various cultural references. He still has several decades to catch up on, but Natasha feels what she has to catch up on is impossibly more than everything Steve has to learn. Even Clint knows how to do this, how to be a part of something that resembles a family, but she is still adjusting, because she has to. In four months her stomach will be done growing and she wants to have a clue what to do with a baby, once it's there and needing her.
"We have Q," Tony starts the debate again.
"Q versus Master Yoda? A chance has he not," Clint smiles a little evily.
"Borg," Tony crosses his arms and mirrors Clint's stance.
"Obliterated into nothingness by Death Star," Bruce offers helpfully, his finger in air.
"Thanks Doc," Clint says.
"Any time, my young Padawan," Bruce winks.
"Fine," Tony wears his pout remarkably well. "You do win. At crappy prequels," he points out.
Everyone but Thor cracks up, but even Thor is benevolently smiling.
"You know, as long as my commander doesn't end up with a torn shirt every time he's in a -oh," Natasha doesn't finish the thought because she feels something. Something completely new and foreign and her hand lands on top of her stomach, then slides down, seeking that sensation. She looks at it and everyone else looks at her, and Clint is in front of her instantly, worry written all over his face.
"Nat? Are you -"
"Oh," she says again when she feels it. It's a soft ripple inside of her stomach, down on the left side, like a butterfly's touch. She covers the spot with her hand, looks at her splayed fingers, at Clint, at the rest of the men who are now all on their feet ready to do something, anything.
She feels it again and this time, it's a purposeful brush against her hand. She grabs Clint's hand and presses it against her stomach and in that moment realization covers Bruce's face.
"Oh my God -"
"Can you feel it?" she asks. Her voice doesn't sound like hers. Clint swallows, nods. "It's -" she looks at Tony, whose face is uncharacteristically soft, at Steve who is actually teary eyed, and Bruce and Thor are smiling behind them, and they're all here. "It's -"
"The baby," Clint finds the words when she can't. "Baby's moving," he says, smiles, oh how he smiles, and she just nods, speechless and overwhelmed. She holds onto his hand while her world shifts out of its orbit and goes someplace new. /i
This time she doesn't resist. She just can't.
"Nat," he whispers into darkness. "Sleep."
She waits a little. "I can't," she admits finally. Ever since she felt it, she is waiting for it, she wants to feel it again. Natasha operates with facts, things she can determine and analyze, and her mind is craving for more. She wants a proof that this is real – and 'this', she can't explain what it is, or maybe she doesn't want to face it just yet. It's not just the baby, her stomach is proof enough that there is something growing inside of her.
Clint moves towards her. His arms are steady, sure of themselves, like he knows how he's supposed to touch her, and she melts into his side. She notices how she stopped thinking of it as a luxury, how she's not hiding any more that her every night is spent here.
"You'll feel it again. With time you'll feel it more often. I've read it becomes pretty unpleasant by the end," he says.
"Oh, you've read it?" she lets the smile into her voice.
"Yeah," he answers softly.
"You've been reading pregnancy books?"
"I'm an agent, Nat. I come prepared," he says, and he's surprised her again, because she didn't really imagine him doing it. "I'm someone's dad now," he says and touches her stomach.
This is her change in a nutshell - she is used to taking new roles, borrowing her face and her body to made up personalities for the sake of the mission. She became a new person so many times, because it was the task she had. She was paid to play a role. It wasn't her choice; nothing was her choice.
Ever since she joined SHIELD, there was no sketch of who she should be, no instructions, no roles. This time she had to find herself on her own. It begun years ago, and she was still not done; like building a never ending wall that draw a line between who she was and who she didn't want to be.
Clint was always the other way around, the man with the solid footing and certain aim. He still is, most of the time, even though he had a bitter taste of chaos and loss. They started as opposites, ending as similarities, entwining everywhere. He isn't stronger than her, and she isn't stronger than him, they are equals, and they face everything like that.
In the beginning, she didn't have anyone. Not even herself. Now she has multitudes.
"Bruce gave me some books," he whispers into her neck. This is so out of character, so insanely, impossibly far from everything they are and should be.
"We can read books together," she says slowly. Most of the time she doesn't know what to do with moments like this; with Tony's movie evenings and picnics and beach – going. She only knows how to be with Clint. She had raised her walls, strong and tall, defined her own space within them, only to learn how let other people in. What she has now is different than partnership, and even love; but she and Clint have never been defined solely by love. This is stronger and violently dangerous in its potential to break her into pieces.
Beside her Clint starts to hum, something mellow and familiar. She begins to relax.
First time she met him, he told her he knew the way out – at that time it meant out of the crossfire, and she followed him; the man who spared her existence and gave her a chance of life.
She trusts that he knows the way now as well.
Natasha isn't the only one with nightmares.
She is the one who has them more often, but Clint's nightmares are worse.
She is seven months along and she moves much slower than she would like to. Clint is in the living room, sitting in front of large, wide windows, observing the blinking lights of the city. They both do this after nightmares hit, sit and stare, like they're confessing sins and fears to distant lights.
She can tell it's bad. There's something about the way he's sitting as if he's crumbling into himself. He looks smaller like this and she is guessing what kind of look will be on his face when she finally reaches him.
He must have heard her by now; it's hard not to, with the way she moves, but he doesn't acknowledge her presence. She knows this Clint, the withdrawn, dark creature sitting in the corner of his echoing mind, watching out for monsters. She used to fight this Clint, and make him fight through this, but she cannot do that anymore.
Natasha walks in his direction, but halfway there she changes her mind. She goes to his stereo instead and picks a random recording. They're all mellow to some extent, and that's exactly what she needs. What he needs as well. The music spreads through the space of the room and he finally reacts. He watches her coming closer, to him. When she's there she can see the echoes of the damage in his eyes. She knows what it is about, and since she can't fix him like she thinks she should, there's only this. When she reaches for his hand and pulls, he follows. It's never good when he's like this, powerless and almost limp in her arms. Soothing him with a hand on his back feels strange, but she does it anyway, and they move slowly. It's easier when he's the one leading the dance, when it's his hand on her back. He does relax eventually, she feels it along her arms, in her fingertips; and she relaxes along with him.
Perhaps it's not her kind of music, and her body is heavy and doesn't feel like her own any more, but she still can do this. She still can pick him up and help him put the pieces back together.
"It's getting harder to dance with you," he says then, and she pokes him lightly in the side. "Ow," he protests, but she knows it's okay to do this now.
"Look who's complaining," she says. "This is your fault."
"Are you saying I did this all by myself?" he asks and she looks up at him.
"I might have helped a little," she says and returns to his embrace. It's a bit more comfortable now when the tension is gone from his body. His cheek is against her forehead, her stomach is pushing into his front and he is trying to morph himself around her to best of his abilities. The nightmare issue is pushed aside, he is concentrating on things he can feel under his fingertips. She wants a stronger impact, though, something to replace the punches. So she says, "It's a girl."
That makes him react momentarily.
"What? How -"
"Ultrasound was yesterday, while you were -"
"Nat!" his face is covered with surprise and hurt. She feels brief guilt over it, but smothers it. She has her reasons. "I wasted my afternoon with Stark instead of going with you! Why didn't you -"
She places a hand on his lips, then onto his cheek and smiles. It's a little selfish of her, she thinks, but ultrasounds are still something she wants to do on her own. She can't explain it better than having just one thing to be only her own.
"Since I can't kick your ass at the moment, I need something for my tactical advantage -" he's not happy, but that is better than hiding away in darkness.
"I can't believe you've just said that!"
"You can be there when she's born," she says then, and by now she is starting to smile. "Do I need to repeat myself?" His protests are slowly getting ruined by the smile tugging the corners of his lips.
"She. A baby girl," he says, and they shift from the world of nightmares and monsters into that parallel reality that resides here, with city lights and his music. Sometimes she thinks this thing they have here wouldn't survive if they ever tired to take it someplace else, and how on the outside they're just pretending. She knows that there will always be nightmares, his and hers, but as long as there's a way to fight them, they might struggle through.
Tony won't say it aloud, but this is pretty awesome. Not the bunch – of – guys- handbuilding – baby – furniture part, but that subtle thing underneath. Like, there's Banner, laughing. He looks relaxed. Tony won't tell, but he lets them poke their fun at him, because- well, because. Because Barton now has one fully equipped nursery in his apartment, down to yellow painted walls; superheroes hand – made. And he's bringing the beer from the fridge and Captain nudges Thor. They're so ridiculous, covered in paint and wood dust; it's almost poetry.
Then she comes home. Is it her home? She does spend most of her time here; Barton does have better furniture and music and DVDs and stuff like that. They all set their beer bottles on available surfaces and Barton goes to seek her out. She has her hands full of files. She's been to Bunker One, as they call the first super secure facility they've been working on for last couple of months. Tony never thought Natasha would spend her pregnancy knitting on her couch, but there's more to her never ending work than just her need to do something.
She and Barton don't exchange cheek kisses, like most people do, but they do exchange looks. She allows a tender squeeze of the shoulder to Steve, Banner says stuff that makes her smile a little, and Thor goes on about the heroic undertaking of the day. Which leads her to the nursery, and her face lets on more than she would like to, but only for a moment. She takes a quick tour, rubbing her quite big stomach, gives Barton this look only two of them can translate, and goes to the living room. She says she likes it, and she does.
Tony gets his moment an hour later. Rest of the guys are watching football – one among rare things all of them can agree on – while Natasha goes to hide inside the freshly painted nursery. Tony knows it's not cool to stalk upon her like this. Unlike most people think, he does have a concept of privacy, he just chooses to ignore that such thing exists when higher purposes ought to be achieved.
"Romanoff," he greets, and she doesn't bother hiding that thing she has in her hands. Little white slippers. She just holds it and stares ahead.
"Stark," she controls her voice.
"Feeling okay?" he asks.
"Just fine," she responds and puts the slippers into a bag. Topic out of limits, he thinks.
"You've been working a lot lately," he proceeds, walking to her. They stand over the crib – gorgeous cherry wood, put together by hand. Barton and Banner did it, and had a good laugh while misreading the instructions.
"I need to finish my assessment of security protocols," she says.
He plays along. "How does that go?" She gives him a side glance.
"What do you want?" she asks, studying a model of Solar system hanging above the crib. Cap got that.
Okay, so he'll cut the chase. He and Romanoff have this no bullshit, straightforward policy. "Kobayashi Maru. That's your answer," he says. Tony mentally highfives himself when she gives him a look telling him she has no idea what he's talking about. That was his goal after all. "Haven't you seen The Wrath of Khan?"
"It's a bad movie," she states.
"It's an epic movie. I'm disappointed by your sense of pop culture-"
"I thought it was called personal taste?" she lifts an eyebrow.
"Whatever. Kobayashi Maru is what makes Kirk awesome, and better than Han Solo and Obi Van combined, and don't you snort at my arguments."
"Do you have a point?" she asks. He shifts to the side and different light falls on her through the windows. The setting sun makes her look different, softer, and no matter how cliché it sounds, she glows. Only, she doesn't glow in that content way a pregnant woman certainly could.
"The mission is a routine thing," Tony starts. It's a guess good as any – not that he can really read her mind like Barton can, but he can give it a try. "I won't give you the we'll-look-out-for-him crap, but we will. He will look out for us, that's what a team does. Also, I want to get back home in one piece, and I think rest of them want as well, so there's that. You can rest assured we'll do all necessary precaution and all that jazz. My point is this. Best thing you can do is cheat," he slips in the semi serious tone as he admires the windows. Those are technically his windows, but technicalities be damned. Real life is always messier. "In a no win scenario you change the rules so you can win. That's Kobayashi Maru. That's why I like Trek," he looks at her briefly. "It's not afraid to be messy. Possibilities upon possibilities."
"Is there some kind of poetic message in your little talk?" she asks, but her irony isn't really at its best. She's not immune to all those hormones after all, and Tony knows he's hit close to home.
"Of course there is. This thing we do will never be easy. It will never be safe, you will never have a normal life. But you don't have to walk down the path, you can kind of... cheat your way through it," he says and shrugs, because this thing does hit a little close to home. It's not like he's made of bravado, even though he wears it well. Like a damn fine classy suit. She looks at him and regards him thoughtfully. It's a rare thing when he has a feeling that she's approachable. "Anyway. Nice slippers."
"Thanks. Pepper got them."
"She has a good taste," he says and puffs his chest a little. She rolls her eyes at him, but a smile escapes.
"Thanks," she says.
"It's not all bad, Romoanoff. Besides, that kid will have freaking amazing uncles," he pats her on the shoulder and leaves.
She screams and her body feels like it's splitting. The pain lasts too long to count, and as she tries to concentrate on her berating, as Bruce's voice comes to her – breathe, yes, you're doing okay, breathe. But it's hard, and it hurts, and it feels like a physical manifestation of everything that's been bottled up inside her for past nine months. She slumps against Steve, who is sitting behind her, serving as a human pillow, so she wouldn't be against the wall.
They're locked out. Simple as that. They're locked out at the worst time possible, in this fortress that she and Tony have built, and somewhere, five or six stores above, Tony is trying to break through the security protocols gone insane, and Clint and Thor are with him. Everyone save Tony is useless now, even she is, because she is doing this. She is apparently having a baby now.
"I need to take a look," Bruce says, and she nods. At this point she is way past the embarrassment, she is just glad to have him here, but she wants Clint. It's just not fair, and she's terrified, completely terrified because she doesn't have any control over this. Bruce is gentle, gentler than she imagined he could be, and he gives her a steady look when he looks up at her.
"No," she says, because inevitability is written all over his face.
"You're fully dilated," he says. "This is happening now."
"No," she whimpers, not really certain why she's so scared and sad.
"We're here," Steve soothes from behind her back, his hands completely steady. "We've got you, right, Banner?"
"We sure do. You can do this," Bruce says when another contraction starts. Her body feels like a knot of pain, like a string stretched too far, and yet all that pain feels so futile, because once it stops she slumps against Steve again. She had never felt powerless quite like this. "You got this, Natasha," he assures.
She has to do this. She knows this, and she breathes and growls through pain and holds onto Steve's hands and listens so Bruce's voice. She thinks of Clint, his hands, arms, concentrates until she relives every piece and every detail of him in her mind, and Bruce is now telling her to push. It feels like all of her strength is gone, and she thinks she can't, she tries, puts her every single thought, all of her power into this. Steve leans forward by Bruce's instructions, pulls her up, and Bruce is saying things, but she can't distinguish the words. Her body feels like a raw wound, and the pain isn't stopping, it's ripping through her, hot and white. It's not going anywhere , and she just wants -
"Yes, just a little bit more, push Tasha, -" Bruce says, and she almost doesn't realize what's happening, and she pushes, because that's all she can do, when it happens. That sound. That cry, so soft and so loud at the same time. It feels like a hit in the chest, and she's completely spent and exhausted, so she just collapses against Steve.
"Oh, God," Steve says, and she can feel his chest move behind her back, and Bruce is saying something, and he's looking at her, smiling, and -
She blinks. Breathes, swallows, looks as Bruce's hands move as he's works. He finally wraps the baby in the shirt he had taken off earlier, leaving him in an undershirt. He's smiling like she's never seen him smile when he leans forward with her baby in his arms.
"Here's your daughter," he says, and she swallows through her dry throat. She's not ready for this, but her hands move on their own and they're shaking and Bruce helps her. She feels shattered and rebuilt and so bare boned it hurts.
"Oh, Tasha. She's beautiful," Steve says, still behind her like a wall of support. Natasha holds her daughter close, small and wrinkled, looking nothing like babies do on pictures; but this sight is so much better. So fitting. They're both so raw and new in this world, Natasha and the little girl she's holding. When the baby opens her eyes Natasha's heart almost pauses and everything goes still.
Everything just stops. She can't even name things she is feeling, but it's the single most powerful thing she remembers; how her world narrows and smooths over and how fierce this emotion is. It's almost unbearable, because just a moment ago her daughter was a part of her and holding her feels like holding her heart out in her palm, where anyone can see it. Natasha's hand shakes when she touches the baby's face, and she makes a tiny sound and Natasha holds her against her chest – against her heart- nobody tells her to, it just feels right to do it that way.
"Congratulations," Bruce says softly.
"Thank you," she answers and shifts against Steve.
"I think she looks like her dad," Steve says, adjusting, so she'd feel more comfortable.
"I – you may be right," Natasha says, and her voice sounds emotional and weepy, a thousand miles from her other selves, her masks and covers and her control. It finally makes sense, what Steve told her months ago.
Suddenly the comm link on a console at the rear wall comes to life.
"Banner? What is going on there?"
It's Tony, sounding nervous as hell and she just wants to cry and laugh and all of it makes her throat so tight. Bruce gets up and walks to the comm.
"Uh, we-" he looks back to Natasha and smiles, "we have another team member here now-"
"Oh my God! Is everything okay?!"
"Calm down, Tony, we're all okay,we just need to get out of here -"
They both sound so emotional. Natasha usually doesn't like overwhelming emotions, and she definitely doesn't like to be at the center of it, but now everything just rolls over and settles down and she looks into her daughter's face and everything fades. Just fades, because her world has gained a new frame of reference.
"Well, um, that's why I'm calling. Try the door now -"
"Steve? Can you -?"
Steve gently settles Natasha against the wall and goes for the door, then opens it.
"Good work, Stark," says Bruce.
"You guys head up to the Tower, we'll be right behind. I need to crack few more codes before we can get out -"
"Nat? Are you okay?"
It's Clint, worried and anxious and her heart wants to burst through her chest.
"She's okay, Barton, they, uh, they both are -" Bruce says.
"The baby?" Clint asks.
"She's okay. She looks like you," Bruce says, smile stuck to his face.
"Oh. Oh. Oh God," Natasha nearly laughs, because blubbering Clint isn't a common occurrence. "Okay, Just – make sure they're safe, Banner."
"Will do," Bruce says. The comm link goes silent and Steve is there, helping Natasha get to her feet. She manages, and he still has to support her. She tries walking and discovers it's best if Steve carries her, but that's okay. That's what they're here for; in her life, in all of this, and everything they're doing together. Just like in Clint's sappy songs, they carry each other.
It's the longest two fucking hours in Clint's life and frankly, Tony Stark is lucky to keep his limbs and the head on his shoulders, but he finally does fix the damn lockup and they can go. Clint is in a pretty insane state of mind, which means Tony gets to drive them, even though Clint would run all the way to Stark tower. He doesn't though, he sits in the backseat, a tense knot of nerves as Tony drives. Thor is quiet and one could just slice through the air in the car and get themselves cut on shrapnels.
Once in the Tower they bolt for the elevator and head to the infirmary area, and nobody can stop Clint any more. He half runs, and bumps into people and someone tells him "that way", someone else tells him "room twenty – four" and five minutes later he's there. He opens the door and there they are, finally. Natasha sleeps, and there's a small bassinet to her right, Bruce is sitting on her left, and Cap is behind him, standing by the window.
"You're here," Bruce says, and Clint walks in, quietly, holds his breath and comes closer. He stands between the bed and the bassinet and doesn't know where to look or what to do, what to think. He's rooted to the spot, his heart beating in his throat.
Clint nears Natasha first. Her hair is still sweaty, and exhaustion is written all over her face as she sleeps. Still, if there is one thing in this world that's absolutely beautiful, then it's her. He leans in close, kisses her forehead and whispers thank you, before he turns to the other side.
And that's when his heart swells and fills up completely. It feels like million perfect songs wrapped into one and pushed straight into his soul. He stands still, his hands hovering slightly above the bassinet. She is so small, so tiny, and he doesn't dare picking her up.
"Let me help you," Bruce says. He becomes this completely different person when he is a doctor, and this is the gentlest that Clint had seen him yet. He picks up the baby and shows Clint how to properly hold her.
She is light in his arms, and yet the responsibility he feels is tremendous. Clint isn't used to hold something this precious and fragile. He basks in this new feeling and doesn't even notice that he paces around the room, his eyes on her and nothing else. Finally, when he looks up Bruce and Steve are smiling, and Thor and Tony are there; everyone just caught in this moment. Everyone. All of them.
"Well. Look at you," Tony says as a grin splits his face. Clint can't be angry at him anymore, there's just not enough room for that in his chest. Tony comes closer, looking at the wrapped little bundle in Clint's arms. "And look at her," he says, and it's a rare thing when Tony Stark isn't a sarcastic smartass. His smile is honest. "She's gorgeous," he says.
"She is," Clint agrees, because to him, she is perfect. She doesn't even have a name yet, but right now she is everything to him.
"She's strong," Thor says, and perhaps that's a ridiculous thing to say about a baby, but his child, Natasha's child, can be nothing if not strong.
"She's gonna make us all softer, you realize that?" Tony says.
"Somehow I can't disagree," Clint murmurs, still looking at her.
"You always were a softie," Natasha's voice sounds tired, and Clint finally looks up. "You're here," she says.
"I'm here," he says, and he's there with her. Natasha takes the baby in her arms like she's been doing it for thousand years. Every fear of not doing this right fades, and right here, right now something inside of him finally clicks into place. He shouldn't feel this optimistic, because nothing in life is easy or simple, yet right now he just can't help it. Everything, his every step, his every different call has led him here.
"You weren't there when -"
He knows what she means. Knows what she wants to say, what she wants to apologize for, and he isn't going to let her, because he loves her the way she is. Exactly the way she is.
"I am here now," he says.
The team silently leaves, while three of them remain, Clint's entire world wrapped in his arms.
Natasha learns that one can be exhausted and still have trouble sleeping.
There's soreness all around. Her breasts constantly get in the way. Each time Amy moves in her bed, Natasha wakes up, which means she spends more time awake during the night than Amy does. Sometimes Amy just refuses to be put into her crib, and Natasha has to keep her in her arms, close to her chest, and it's draining in more ways she could count.
Sometimes Natasha falls asleep on her feet. This isn't just exhaustion, this is a mission consisting of constant sleepwalking.
Right now she can't fall asleep. She curls under the covers – it's nice to be able to sleep on her side again – and she forces her eyes closed, but her mind just won't calm down. Clint is being sweet, he's got Amy with him, and the music is quiet, but she can still hear it. She's annoyed at herself, because he is calming down a fussy baby so she could sleep. And she can't sleep – part of her brain wants to check and see if Amy is really calm, because when she is like this, she wouldn't calm down for anyone, save her mother.
The other thing is, she simply wants to see them.
She can sneak onto them, finally. Clint picked Alison and her band, and he sways slowly in the middle of the room, with Amy against left side of his chest. Natasha smiles. Good boy. That's how it's done. That smile of his keeps her rooted on the spot.
Then, of course, he squints at her and grins, because this is the first time in two months he managed to calm Amy on his own. She assumes he's entitled to feel proud when she walks to them.
"Look who's up," he says quietly.
"I'm exhausted and can't sleep," she rubs her eyes.
"I have on good authority music is good for helping with that," he says. Amy is awake, but she is contently drooling all over Clint's shirt. She looks like a little cat in his arms, still so small and precious. They make a curious contrast which causes things to shift inside Natasha's chest. She's used to smoothing things over, dealing with them, living through them, no matter what they were. This is difficult to deal with, because as much as she doesn't want it to happen, it overwhelms her. All that longing and protectiveness and love.
"Except it's keeping me awake," she complains. He opens one eye.
"You gotta mix it with cuddling to work properly," he says. Only then she notices PacMan boxers and bites the inside of her cheek to contain a laugh. She isn't like him, she can't just flow with the moment. She's doing this, and God, she loves this baby, and she loves him, and it /iis/i for children, because children don't regret loving. But at the same time she's constantly looking over her shoulder. Anyone who would even think of hurting them would pay. Bitterly so. That is how she cheats her way through the impossible scenario – she takes both; love and pain, fiercely holds onto one and watches out for the other.
"I don't really see any cuddling partners around here," she says. His eyes are soft, with a teasing glint to them.
"No?" he asks.
She shakes her head and observes them as Clint keeps swaying.
"You got yourself the prettiest girl in the room," she says and this time she does smile. "You're taken."
"Seems correct," he says. He's just as tired as she is, because they're both light sleepers. "I do have another shoulder," he offers.
Steve was right. She had become so soft in some aspects that she doesn't even bat an eye. Clint's arm waits as an invitation and in a moment or so, she's against his chest, and his arm is wrapping around her.
"You think this will work for you?" he asks.
"This?" she opens her eyes to share a look at him. His eyes are a safe place to fall; and he is all good things, solid things she shouldn't afford, but she chooses to have them in her life. She touches Amy's little hand and watches their daughter – their daughter - fall asleep against his chest. No matter how fragile this bond may seem to her, it's possibly, probably, pretty damn unbreakable. She doesn't answer his question, she just smiles and he kisses her.