Learning to play the song in your heart; Clint and Natasha friendship leading to Clint/Natasha, rated M for adult themes.
Warnings: for unplanned pregnancy, pregnancy loss and canon - compliant abuse in the past.
Genre: introspection, romance, friendship - to - romance. This fic includes following themes: families of choice, thoughts on fatherhood and related worries, friendship.
Story summary: when Natasha decides to keep an unplanned pregnancy, Clint decides to help her (as a good friend should), but then he has to face certain emotions he was always trying to postpone for more appropriate time of their lives.
Author's notes: a huge thank you to my friends and writing buddies who held my hand while I was writing this story: shenshen77, ashen_key, sidhera, frea_o. Special thanks to shenshen77 and enigma731 for their efficient and incredibly helpful beta reading.
This isn't your typical fluff and happiness pregnancy fic where ideal things happen. It's a bit unusual, a not ideal scenario in which you try to make the best of it (as it often happens in life). I did my best to keep it grounded in reality and address all the emotions and concerns that can arise in a situation like this. What matters the most, what mattered to me as an author are the choices and the journey the main character made - namely, this is written from Clint's POV. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, please leave a review and let me know what you thought of it.
The first time he saw Natasha after two months and seventeen days, she was wearing a standard SHIELD uniform. She didn't look well, but Clint couldn't determine what was off about her appearance. She nodded at him briefly, as he was in the middle of a training session and she turned to leave sooner than she normally would. He watched as she left through the open gym door and then down the hall; she moved smoothly, efficiently, like she always did. Clint turned his attention back to Agent Markham and three junior agents. Natasha was unharmed, and she was back; everything else could wait.
He was free to look for her two hours later. He went to Coulson first, because he and Natasha were friends, so Clint guessed Coulson would know where she was. The older agent was alone in his office, organizing his file folders like he usually did after a briefing.
"She just left," Coulson said, not even looking up at Clint. Coulson could be like that sometimes, a silent observing creature who could almost read your mind. "She asked where you were."
"She was here?" Clint inquired.
"Yes, briefly. We were both in Fury's office before that," Coulson provided and closed a particularly big folder with tempered satisfaction. Clint guessed he'd had a long day.
"That looks like a lot of intel," Clint remarked, not intending to inquire about the mission itself – it wasn't his mission. Coulson nodded and put the folder away.
"It's very useful intel," Coulson said. Clint didn't doubt it. A two month long infiltration done by Natasha probably provided SHIELD with the mark's breakfast habits. Natasha was precise, competent and thorough, and most importantly, she didn't make mistakes.
"I told her that you'd be available after the training's over," he said. There were two days left, and Clint was looking forward to it being over, because it was physically exhausting and he wasn't getting any younger, but this particular group of tiny agents was fun. He and Markham had seen much worse.
"Great, thanks," Clint replied, and hesitated just for a moment.
"Yes?" Coulson asked, and Clint wasn't sure what to say. That he had a bad hunch?
"Uh, nothing. I'll go look her up," Clint said. He wasn't going to ask Coulson about the mission, or if he perhaps noticed something odd, but the prickly feeling running down his spine was refusing to go away. He just wanted to find Nat, look her in the eye and shake it off.
He walked quickly and crossed the distance from offices to living areas in precisely four minutes. He could find the way to Natasha's studio apartment with his eyes closed. They sometimes spent a day or two in their apartments on the base, especially after missions. He prefered his own apartment, but staying on the base during training sessions was more practical. Clint wondered if he'd gotten too worried over the last two months without any contact from her. He was aware that he that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but he couldn't talk himself out of it. He knocked at her door and heard her steps behind. His smile of anticipation fell off his face when he saw her expression. She definitely didn't look well.
He greeted her and came in. She closed the door as he tried to study her expression and her posture. She looked tired and worried and there was something he couldn't exactly put to words.
"Hey," he kept his voice lower than usual. "What's wrong?"
She looked at him but didn't provide an answer, so he stood there a bit awkwardly. He was going to say something else when she slowly came near and hugged him. He hugged her back and felt how tense she was.
"Hey," he offered, more as a comfort than anything else, "it's okay, I'm here."
Natasha normally wasn't like this. She rarely initiated contact in this way, and he assumed she was more distressed than usual. Her arms were strong around his middle and he matched her gesture, until she started to let him go.
"Something happened," Clint said.
Nat nodded. "We need to talk," she said, and he realized it was the first time he'd heard her speak in over two months.
One thing Clint admired was that Nat was able to turn unappealing personal quarters into something much better. She nestled in the corner of her L shaped sofa, surrounded with the colors and textures of her cushions, and put a pillow in her lap. It was something she usually did when she didn't feel well. Clint took a seat to her left. Close, but not too close, as he sensed she needed room to breathe. She was tense, taut muscles and distant eyes, avoiding looking at him.
"The mission went wrong," she started then without prompting on his part. He prepared himself for the usual, assuming that she had to fight her way out and left bloody footsteps in her wake, but she shook her head like she was able to read his mind. "Not in the way you think, though." She paused. "I'm pregnant."
He must have heard it wrong, because he heard himself ask you're what?. There was redness around her eyes when she looked at him.
"Pregnant. I had to -" she took a deep breath. Her hand covered her stomach and his throat and chest felt tight.
"Nat -" he managed and couldn't say anything else.
"It wasn't-" she started and paused, finally looking at him. "He wasn't a mark. Just a young... scientist whom I had to seduce to protect the cover." She talked like she needed justification, even though he would never make her give one to him. He was shaken; hell, he was shocked, and he couldn't even think. "It was risky, but entire mission could have -," Natasha looked vulnerable in a way that made him want to reach out. "He was younger than me," she added, like that bit was somehow worse than anything else.
Clint swallowed tightly. He couldn't say something like it wasn't your fault. Her work consisted of many things that weren't nice. They destroyed careers, they destroyed lives. They took lives. They both could have been blamed for a lot of bad things.
"Shit," he muttered. "That… really sucks," he said, tentatively moving a bit. "Are you okay?" It was possibly a stupid thing to ask, but he said it in a caring way, and she kept looking at him. It was unusual, seeing her shaken up like this.
"I don't know," she said.
He nodded. Structure, he thought, trying to sort out his thoughts. Structure was safety, it helped, it made things at least feel controllable. It sounded like an empty echo in his mind, but right then it was his best idea.
"How long have you been pregnant?"
"Seven weeks," she said quietly. He nodded again, as his eyes scanned her. She looked unchanged, and he wouldn't be able to guess on his own. It was an unsettling thought.
"Have you -" he begun, but it was a hard thing to ask. "Have you thought about -?"
"What I'm going to do about it?" she finished for him and he could see her trying to steel her face. "I had an appointment for tomorrow. For -," she paused. "I postponed it."
Clint nodded again as pain flared through his chest. He knew how much losing a pregnancy hurt. It was one of the things that broke him and Bobbi – she didn't know she was pregnant, and he worked too much, was away too often, and then suddenly they lost their chance before they even knew they had it. Nat's face was drawn when she took a deep breath. He could read her clearly now, as conflict was written all over her face.
"Nat? Is that what you want to do?" he asked. She looked torn.
"No," she said quietly.
The feeling of her back pressed against his front wasn't new. A movie was playing on the TV screen but neither was watching it. Nat had been curled in front of him when they settled in front of the TV, but now he felt less tension as he stroked her arm. She talked and he listened.
"I thought it wasn't even possible," she said. "Most of us couldn't get pregnant." She paused. He had noticed how she'd never mentioned having children. He knew enough about Red Room to assume that their girls didn't have a say in the choice.
"But some could," he said and she nodded.
"I always wondered if those were simply mistakes. If whatever they did to us didn't work out every time."
"Do you know what it was?"
She shook her head. "I'm not sure. But I know they avoided surgical procedures at any costs. Scars aren't very good for seduction." Then after a short silence, she added, "Neither are small children."
"I see," he said. He understood. She found his hand and wrapped her fingers around his, and he sensed it was his turn to talk.
"Life without choices is a fucked up thing," Clint continued. She made a sound of agreement and he leaned his face against her hair. "You got yourself out of that, though. Just for the record, though," he was choosing his words with care, "SHIELD works differently. Nobody would force a decision on you."
"I know that."
"Good," he said.
"I've been taught," she took a long breath, the way she did when she wanted to calm down, "not to consider it an option. It wasn't possible. I was told it was impossible," she paused. "Another thing they took, another thing I lacked. And suddenly… It's not true. It's not impossible. I don't want to write it off before real consideration."
He nodded again. "There are options. You have options."
"I keep thinking how it could be my only chance to –"
"Yeah, I know what you mean." He did. He felt often enough that he'd wasted his one chance.
"The agency would give you a maternity leave. And then desk jobs, translations, setting up teams and missions and coordinating –"
"Things get worked around. You have coworkers and friends. I'm here to help you if I can," he said, and he meant it. "Whatever you decide, I'll have your back."
"Thank you, Clint," she said after a short silence.
The feeling of chilly air against the skin of his bare arms wasn't able to pull Clint out of his head. His thoughts were trapped in a hamster wheel, spinning on without a goal. It was Natasha, it was about Natasha, it was so fucked up and unfair and he didn't know what to do or think or how to help her.
Clint turned around from his spot where he stood next to the railing on the roof of the SHIELD building. Kate Bishop entered his sanctuary of choice, and she did so loudly. Clint noticed that she looked distressed and furious, tugging viciously on her ponytail and displaying all of her usual help me fix this signs.
"What happened?" he asked. She took a breath and he could guess what was about to follow.
"That idiot Ford happened. He took me off the list for Paris mission, and that's another mission I have to sit out, and you know how much I worked on his precise and painfully detailed recommendations since my last evaluation -"
"Oh fuck you too, Barton," she said, but he knew she didn't mean it. "I'm pissed. How does an asshole like him get to be a senior agent? I feel like I'm a Gryffindor and he is Severus Snape." She shook her head and Clint laughed.
"I can see you're pissed," he observed and she rolled her eyes. He chuckled, because her antics usually did cheer him up.
"Just," Kate sighed heavily, oblivious to his trouble. He'd been there where she was right now, and she was completely entitled to a bit of newbie agent drama. "No. I can't even think after this briefing. I feel like someone took all my hard work and threw it away-"
"Okay, kiddo," he said and shoved rest of his thoughts away. "Videogames it is. Or something." He gently grabbed her forearm. Kate made a token protest, because it was an unwritten rule, and continued to bicker with him all the way to Langdon's. Clint took the route to the nearest pool table, leaving Kate to order their drinks.
Five rounds later it was easier to breathe, and Kate returned to her usual self. She insisted on paying for their drinks and they were on their way to Clint's car when he saw a woman crossing the street. She had long hair, the shade of chestnut that was Bobbi. She was pregnant and she was walking slowly. He stopped, which caused Kate to bump into him.
"Barton?" she looked at him and then at the woman crossing the street. "Someone you know?"
He shook his head. "No," he said. "Just -"
"Just what?" Kate's eyes narrowed, so he cracked a smile.
"Nothing. This old man is getting tired."
"Right," she said as they reached Clint's car. "Well, you can drive us back to HQ, old man. I'm sure Coulson is setting up a search party by now." She settled comfortably into passenger's seat.
Clint started the engine. He tried to shake away the image of brown haired woman, however the thoughts of Bobbi and Natasha kept coming back.
"Earth to Barton," Kate said five minutes later. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," he lied.
"Bullshit," she said. "Something's bothering you."
He knew her offer was honest and if it had been anything else, he would tell her.
"I'm fine," he replied instead.
He was fine, wasn't he? He wasn't the one pregnant by someone he'd never see again, he wasn't trying to decide if he'd have an unplanned baby or not. So, by all means he was just dandy.
"You're not fine," she countered.
He was quiet. She was quiet as well. He was supposed to help Natasha, he wanted to help her; he was her partner, and she was his best friend, but instead he had the feeling he was failing her somehow.
"Barton?" Kate's voice was softer around the edges.
Clint rubbed his eyes. He really felt like a tired old man.
"It's not my trouble to tell, Kate." He used her name and she noticed. "But I'm fine," he said. "Trust me, Kate."
"Okay," she agreed. "But you're definitely not fine."
Nat barely unlocked the door after Clint knocked. He had to let himself in as she practically ran back to bathroom.
"Nat?" he called but the only answer he got were the sounds she was making as she threw up.
Clint never saw Bobbi throwing up. He wished he did. If he had, maybe he would have suspected something. Maybe they could have done something, but that line of thought usually left him feeling miserable. He always reached the conclusion that parenthood wouldn't have fixed them. They would have ended up creating another sad human being. He was realizing now how much he tried not to think about this for the past five years.
Shit. Nat hated being around people when she wasn't feeling well. When he heard a faint oh God from the bathroom his feet decided to carry him there. She had let him in, after all.
"Came to share my misery?" she said, slowly getting up from the floor and leaning against the wall. She looked pale and tired, and he felt awkward, but he wanted to do something for her.
"Came to see how you were doing," he said. It wasn't normal for Nat to leave in the middle of working hours.
"I was going to eat but then -" She didn't get to finish the thought, because another bout of nausea hit her. Clint knelt next to her to hold her hair back.
"Fucking hell," she muttered a few moments later. "This is awful."
"I've heard," he said. "All done?"
"Wish I knew," she sighed. His shoulder was close and she leaned her face against it. "Crap. I'm sorry -"
"Nah, leave it," he hugged her lightly. "Not like you applied for throwing up."
"No," she rubbed her face. "I'd prefer to avoid this part. But -" She looked up at him and he could see it right then, on her face.
"You decided to keep the baby." It was more a statement than a question. She nodded and started to get up. He got to his feet as well. "I meant when I said I'd help you any way I can."
"Well… you obviously can handle puking."
He cracked a small grin. "Have seen worse. Puking is no big deal."
"Well, wait until the mood swings. You'll probably run like hell." Something about the way she said it made his chest feel tight.
"Keep telling that to yourself," he joked. "I could do with some self preservation skills improvement, though."
"Jerk." Her lip tilted up and she looked a bit more like the Natasha he was used to.
"You like it," he threw back.
"You keep telling that to yourself," She tried to walk, but when she swayed on her feet, he caught her elbow.
"Whoa. Easy there," he said, steadying her.
"I'm fine," she insisted but he didn't let her walk to her couch on her own. She really wasn't feeling okay, and that was an unusual thing. Nat could always rely on her body, and he could as well. "Fuck," she said when she settled down.
"Want me to get you something?" Clint asked. He didn't like the way she looked, weak and tired and very, very pale. "Do you want something to eat?"
Nat glared at him, which, frankly, made him feel relieved. If she had strength to glare, she'd eventually be okay. "That's not a very good idea right now, trust me," she said. "However tea would be nice. I have some on my kitchen counter, so if you'd just –"
"Tea it is, then," he said.
The couch in Natasha's apartment was considerably bigger than her SHIELD one. Clint was sitting and staring at the baseball game on TV, and she was sprawled along the other side of the couch, resting on a pillow she'd set against Clint's side.
"I informed Fury of my decision today," she said.
"What did he say?"
"There were no objections. Surprise, I guess, but he didn't let it show much. We talked about my working arrangements, and he offered to get me involved in training. I agreed." She drew her knees close to her chest. "I need to rearrange the study."
She pressed against the pillow and against him. He rubbed her shoulder. He liked to believe he helped her feel safer sometimes. She was still Natasha, she didn't need people to fix her. She did that all by herself.
"I have no idea what a baby needs," she continued.
"It's not that complicated. Mostly, they need what we need, only it's much smaller in size," he said. "You'll have enough time to figure it all out and do stuff like pick the paint for the walls."
"Right," she chuckled.
"I'm not kidding. Just wait. Paint is an important issue," he continued in falsely serious tone. Natasha laughed briefly.
"Clint," she said and her tone shifted toward serious again.
"I'm... going to be -" She paused and he was guessing what she was going to say. "I don't know how to do this."
"I think," he started, considering his words. He could say things like you'll be amazing, which he believed, but that wasn't what she needed. "Nobody really knows how to do that sort of thing until they do. And -" he took a breath along with her, "I think everyone keeps learning as they go. But I do know something."
"Oh yeah?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said. "I know one can learn it and you, you're great at that. You'll learn everything you need."
"If you say so, birdbrain," she said fondly and looked up at him.
"What?" he asked, looking at her and having trouble reading everything he saw on her face.
"Just... thank you for -" she started, and he squeezed her shoulder.
"Yeah," he said, "That's what friends are for."
There was an uneasy, nervous feeling just under his skin. It felt like an itch he wasn't able to scratch away. Clint decided to ignore it, along with the fact that it had gotten worse when his car reached the HQ building. It felt like he hadn't left at all. He didn't enjoy setting up security all the way in New Mexico. SHIELD liked its middle-of-nowhere locations, so he thanked God for Internet, no matter how crappy it had been for entire month he'd spent there. He got grainy video feed on its best days and cracking sound on the worst, but it helped him stay in touch.
Entering the HQ building should have helped him settle into the knowledge of being back. However, the elevator ride increased the weight of tension he'd been carrying.
Nat's office was next to his, and the doors were all made of heavy, slightly tinted glass. He was able to see through them as he passed. He stopped because Nat was there, standing in the middle of the room with her back to him.
He could tell from her mannerisms that she had been delegating tasks. She was probably setting up a mission, and she looked focused and sharp as she usually did. The way she was standing was different, because she was wearing flats, and when she finally turned around to face him, he saw why her movement and posture seemed off.
Her stomach had grown. The pregnancy was visible, even though it was just a slight bump on her figure, it made her look and move differently.
Clint swallowed. She had still looked like his partner when he had left, now she was moving like someone else. Something happened then, something inside his chest didn't feel right. It was tight and complicated and he didn't have a name for it. The tension only worsened when Nat looked up and he had to work on smiling back.
The day dragged on, so Clint decided to indulge in caffeine. He usually didn't take afternoon breaks inside the building, but today he didn't feel like going out. Three days had passed and he was still going over the security reports and improvement suggestions with Fury and Hill. It was fucking tedious, but he preferred being stuck in briefings in Fury's office for once in his life.
"There you are." Nat's voice made him look up from his pancakes. She was smiling at him, leaning her tray against her stomach. He tried not to stare, but he supposed he failed.
"Hey." He cracked a smile and his voice came out wrong. "Have a seat?" he offered, because it would have been rude not to offer. He felt uneasy as he watched her move, like she was maneuvering around the added weight. She was still all grace without wasted effort, but the differences were standing out, blunt and obvious.
She grinned at him when she sat down and pulled a bowl of pudding in front of her. She'd never liked pudding before.
"That's a lot of food," Clint said. The Natasha he knew treated food like a means to a goal; right now she was treating it like an emergency.
"What?" she asked, because he wasn't exactly subtle about the way he was looking at her.
"Nothing," he said, because he didn't really want to talk about it. He wasn't sure what exactly bothered him. The rational part of his mind knew she needed more food than usual.
"Want some?" Nat offered him her croissants and he didn't feel like having any. But just when he was about to refuse, something stopped him.
"I've barely seen you since you got back," she said.
"I've been stuck in briefings," he said, which wasn't exactly a lie.
"You could have stopped by." It was just a remark, there was no hurt in her voice, and therefore no real reason for him to feel any guilt in return. But he felt it nevertheless.
"Yeah," he said. He could have. She shifted in her seat and rubbed her back. He wondered if it hurt.
"How have you been?" he asked, knowing that he should. He'd prefer to avoid asking about her well being – about her pregnancy – which only reminded him that he should examine how he actually felt about it.
"Better, now that the nausea is finally over."
He noticed contentment when she rubbed her stomach. He realized she had settled into this, that she felt good about being pregnant, and he didn't know what do to with a pang of regret in his chest.
"That -," he started, "That is good to hear."
She was looking at him now with scrutiny in her expression. She did it because the Clint she knew would have asked her things like: if she had to run to bathroom every five minutes, if she was getting tired, if she had been sore. The Clint she knew would have offered her a back rub, in fact that guy had promised to help her in any way he could. He didn't know what to do with himself, or why he suddenly felt so uneasy and scared. He knew he shouldn't have, and it bothered him.
She smiled and changed the subject, and he felt his heart sink inside his chest.
Clint didn't pay attention to anything but the punching bag in front of him. He wasn't typically the punching bag type; he was the guy who went to shooting range to clear his head. Things felt wrong lately, so here he was. He had gloves on-he wasn't going to risk his hands-but the way the bag swayed around him almost guaranteed a hit in the head. Maybe he needed one.
"What the hell, Barton?" it was Kate, right behind him, but he didn't pause. He just kept hitting the bag. The pain felt nice.
"Hi, Bishop," he said. She grabbed the bag and he almost slipped when his fist landed in empty air.
"Are you insane?" she shouted, aiming to get his attention. He didn't spare her a glance, instead reaching for his bag.
"Is that a rhetorical question? Because you should know the answer."
He was pretty sure she rolled her eyes, but he didn't actually see it happen.
"Why are you hitting stuff?" she pressed on instead.
"Because I feel like it," he said.
"Barton," she grabbed the bag again, "you're going to hurt yourself ."
"For fuck's sake, Bishop -"
"What's wrong with you?" she insisted. "No, I'm not dropping this because something's wrong -"
"You know what? Fuck it all," he said, pushing the bag away and throwing his gloves on the floor. "I'm gonna grab a shower." He walked away in remarkably immature way. She didn't deserve that, and he'd just acted like an asshole, but he wasn't okay. Not that it was an excuse.
Something was wrong, just as she'd said.
Clint entered the men's locker room. He got rid of his clothes, went under the shower and let the water pour over his head. The water was somewhere between lukewarm and unpleasant, but he didn't bother adjusting it, hoping it would wash away everything that was wrong with his head.
Of course it didn't work that way, as he should have known.
Also, he should have been aware that Kate Bishop didn't tolerate being walked away from.
"Clint!" she yelled and her voice belied hurt.
"Go away, Bishop," he opened his eyes, suddenly aware of the fact that he was feeling tired.
"The fuck I will! You were rude to me," she shouted. "I didn't deserve that!"
True, he thought, but he didn't have mental power for what she was here to do.
"I expect an apology, and I also won't go away from here until you tell me what the fuck is wrong with you."
"I'm fine, Kate, leave it be," he tried, realizing that he sounded lifeless and washed out. "I'm sorry I was an ass," he added.
"Clint, either you'll tell me, or you'll have to walk out and show me your naked ass," she insisted. "Which Ireally have no desire of seeing."
He groaned and leaned with his back against the tiles and his face towards the shower spray. "Kiddo, you're so annoying," he said.
"I have the best teacher." She didn't miss a beat. "Spill, Barton. You're not yourself lately. What's bothering you?"
He swallowed and tried to wipe the water away from his face and eyes but that didn't work. He was facing the damn shower spray. He turned around, feeling drained and burdened, not sure how to put his emotions into words. It was ridiculous and right now he felt immature and raw in a way he really didn't like.
There was a short silence. Then Kate spoke again.
"Barton?" He knew Kate wasn't going to leave. "Okay, fine," she said like she'd decided to switch gears. "Is this about Romanoff? Is that the problem?"
And how was he supposed to answer that? Natasha wasn't his problem, Natasha wasn't a problem, she was his friend and she was -
His mind stopped. She was pregnant. It felt like a goddamned wall between them. It put him here and her… somewhere he didn't feel he belonged. Clint placed his forehead against the tiles and closed his eyes.
"Well?" Kate insisted. "Okay, I'll take your silence as an agreement. There's one thing you should know, though."There was something softer in her tone. "While you were gone she was having her tea at your desk." She left the words to settle. He lifted his head, feeling a jolt inside his chest. Clint told himself quickly that Natasha was probably just feeling lonely. She couldn't have felt –
"Every morning," Kate said then, and left. It felt like she'd pushed at the right place and cracked his defenses, leaving him to face the longing on his own.
Croissants were probably a poor peace offering, but at the moment Clint really couldn't come up with something better.
He knocked on the wooden wall separating Nat's cubicle from the rest of the room. She was rubbing her back again. This time he did want to offer her help for it, but first he had to apologize. She looked up and smiled when she saw him. Clint realized how much he'd missed it.
"Hi," he said. She was wearing nice trousers and a simple shirt stretching over her stomach. His eyes lingered on her face and her front as he noted all the changes. "You busy?"
"Yes, but not terribly," she answered. Clint produced a paper bag full of croissants from behind his back. Nat stood up slower than usual to peer inside. "Oh. What is the bribery for?"
"It's more like a temptation," he said, grinning tentatively.
"Hmmm," her sassy expression was a familiar thing. He felt like hooking his fingers around that feeling and holding onto it. "What are you tempting me to do?"
"It's a nice day," he said, feeling almost like a school boy asking a pretty girl out. "I thought I'd take a walk and -," he paused. "I wondered if you'd like to go as well." He wasn't doing anything unheard of. He just wanted her to to rely on him again. He wasn't sure she'd ever stopped. In his head everything started to crumble, but Natasha was looking at him steadily, without judgement.
"That sounds lovely," she said and grabbed her jacket from her chair.
"Nah, you just want the food," he teased, getting used to the fact that she was shorter than him in her flats.
"Have I ever been impractical?" she asked.
"Not that I'm aware of," he said as they strolled to the elevator. It struck him how easy this was. The last few days felt like some kind of parallel dimension. He was relieved to get out of there, but his initial elation wore off when they approached the park. They found a free bench and took a seat. Clint wanted to feel light inside his chest and contemplated what he should say as Nat ate her croissants.
He looked at her and she grinned. It was the kind of smile that softened her expression around the edges, trusting and happy. He grinned back and leaned forward, with his elbows on his knees, attempting to leave his thoughts behind. The day was nice and Nat was with him, and he couldn't think of anything better than that.
"I like this," he said.
"This," he straightened up and gestured around them. "It's a nice day and…. I like being with you here." He looked at her and she was looking back at him. He could see how she briefly looked down, and felt like he should reach out. So he did, and she didn't pull her hand away from his.
"I'm sorry, Nat. I was a jerk," he said. She was quiet.
"If I somehow –" she started.
He looked up, met her eyes and shook his head.
"No, no." He took her hand and realized how much softer it felt. Less field work, he thought. "It's me. I came back and you were –" Saying you were pregnant sounded stupid. "You changed."
"I'm still your friend," she said.
"I'm still me, Clint," she said a more firmly.
"I know that too."
"You're not losing me," she said, moving her hand through his hair and curving it around his cheek. He leaned in and closed his eyes. He felt somehow sad, realizing finally what this was. Rationally he knew he wouldn't lose her. She wasn't going anywhere. Yet, when his eyes slipped down to her stomach, he felt it all - the longing, loneliness, regret; they all came through loud and clear.
"I really want you to be here," Natasha continued.
"I'll be here," he promised, glancing down at her stomach again. She needed him to be there for her as a friend, and he was coming to terms with the mess inside of his chest. He'd always thought if he just kept his emotions quiet everything would be okay.
Now he realized he wished her baby was his.
"That was mine." Clint looked amusedly at Natasha as she grabbed yet another piece of fruit from his plate.
He grinned at her half offended look. They'd come a long way from the awkward stage, in fact she was comfortable enough with frequently stealing food from his plate, both in public and in private. Clint had gotten used to her new little quirks, her different needs and growing body. He certainly wasn't mourning his strawberries, but the opportunity to tease her was something he wasn't going to pass up.
"What do you mean –"
"My plate, you sneaky thing," Clint said. She was nearing her sixth month, and he'd watched as her stomach grew along with her appetite. "You stole my food."
"I did no such thing," she claimed, all innocent face and a fake glare.
"You did, because that's my plate," he insisted. Nat shifted in her seat, smoothing down the fabric of her tunic.
"That's still my strawberry," she argued calmly.
"How can that be your strawberry?"
"I decided earlier I was going to eat it. Hence, my strawberry."
"You're aware that's a pretty shameless logic?" he teased. "Not to mention a bit selfish."
She gave him another innocent face. "But the baby really likes strawberries."
That was always the winning argument, but also her way of asking to be cared for. He wasn't able to say no to that.
"Baby can have all the strawberries," he said, pushing the plate towards her, and they resumed eating.
He felt like he was too close and yet not close enough to her. She was pretty; she was attractive and sexy and soft, in a way he hadn't seen before. It made him want to touch her and want her, but he kept it to himself. She was his friend who had a life to manage and he was going to take what he could get.
"What are your plans today?" he asked. It was early and he'd come from the office to drop by some documents for translation. She worked part time now, and also worked a lot at home.
"Actually," she paused. He couldn't quite read her guarded expression but he sensed she needed something. "I have an appointment. For an ultrasound."
Clint didn't need any more explanation. Natasha never really ceased worrying about what could suddenly go wrong. What if Red Room had done something that would show up later, what if her body couldn't carry the pregnancy to term, what if the doctors had failed to notice something was wrong earlier, what if -? The list was endless and not unrealistic. It tended to reappear periodically, even though Natasha did her best to temper her mind and not give in to worrying.
"When is it?" he asked.
"In an hour." she said.
"Want me to take you?" he asked and she nodded slowly.
It took her fifteen minutes to get ready, and he waited in front of her apartment building until she came out. The set of Natasha's shoulders was wrong in a subtle, barely noticeable way. Clint was able to see it nevertheless. No matter how long they'd been partners, Natasha wasn't comfortable with letting go. She did when she'd been hurt, when she knew she had to let other people take care of her, but that didn't mean she enjoyed it. Negotiating with her pregnant body wasn't possible, though. Clint was there to see how she parted with bits of her independence and struggled with asking other people to do things for her.
"All comfy?" Clint asked lightly after he moved the passenger seat back to give her room.
"You know, an elephant would fit in here." Natasha made a show of gesturing around her.
"That was the plan," he teased when he took his seat. She poked him. From the corner of his eye he could see her doing her best to relax. "It's gonna be okay."
He nodded, keeping his eyes on the road and his thoughts on good things.
The waiting room at her doctor's office was something he wasn't entirely prepared for. Clint guessed he would have felt more comfortable in SHIELD medical, but Natasha wanted to add some normalcy to the experience. She used a cover, so she could be Natalie Brown, a married accountant who didn't have to think about saving the world. Clint understood that, but he still felt uneasy in his surroundings. It brought back the memories of a hospital five years ago, the yellow hallway and a petite doctor. He remembered her practiced compassion, and that moment when he'd learned that he was a father and at the same time wasn't anymore.
Clint breathed like his pain was physical and he could will it to go away. He sat down on a plastic chair next to Nat and gave her a smile that felt tight around the edges. If she noticed, she didn't mention anything. She settled to wait and patted his knee. Clint stared at her stomach and the way her hands rested on it, wondering if her baby could feel that.
A nurse appeared and called for Natalie Brown and Natasha got up.
"Mister Brown?" she said, and Clint looked up, realizing she was speaking to him. "You're welcome to join us if you want to."
Clint looked at Nat. Perhaps his expression was too open, perhaps it was pleading, but when he met her eyes she was like that as well, open and looking at him with something raw in her expression. He followed her inside and helped her settle on the examination table like he'd done it before. He watched her as she pulled up her tunic and tried not to stare. Right now he was playing the part of her husband and the father of her child and she was supposed to reach for his hand and hold it like she did. His heart was beating hard against his ribs as the doctor rubbed the transparent gel into Nat's skin, and then -
"Here we go," the doctor said. Clint's eyes detached themselves from the sight of Nat's bare stomach in favor of the screen. It was blurry at first, but then the image started moving, started making sense. The doctor said there and he could see it.
The baby. It looked like an actual baby, with a head and arms and legs. He held Nat's hand tighter and that she held onto him.
"Everything looks as it should," the doctor said, unaware of any concerns they had.
"It.. does?" Nat's voice was just slightly emotional. She held his hand a bit tighter.
"Your baby looks like it should, Mrs. Brown," the doctor said. "Do you want to know -?"
"You can tell if it's boy or girl?" Nat asked and the doctor nodded. Clint gave her a smile when she looked at him, even though it wasn't his call at all. Whatever she decided, he just wanted to convey the support, but still his heart was beating fast.
"Yes, please tell us," Nat said.
The doctor smiled. "She looks like a healthy baby."
"She?" Natasha repeated. Clint didn't think when she looked at him, hopeful and scared at the same time. He kissed her on the forehead, like he assumed any husband would. He didn't expect it, but she kissed him back, on the lips. The kiss was sweet and Natasha ended it slowly, looking at him even as the doctor talked. Then he heard a sound. It was a fast rythm and he knew it was the baby's heartbeat.
"Oh, God," Nat said. He added his other hand around hers and he saw how her lip trembled and said to himself that this was okay. That they were supposed to be like this, excited and happy; emotional and a little lost. He wanted to drown in everything he could see in her eyes.
Clint struggled with the leftover elation after they were done with the doctor's appointment. He felt like he had no right to it, because everything in there had been an act. Well, not everything. He was genuinely excited. He couldn't help it when Natasha looked at him and he smiled.
She stopped walking. She looked conflicted and uncertain.
"Clint," she began and he sensed that she was drawing a line. "People are talking."
"People are always talking, Nat," he said, trying not to let the fear into his voice. He would give her all the room she needed, just let him stay. Let him be a part of this in some capacity.
"Some people are saying that this baby is yours," she said with a tremor in her voice. "You're not correcting them."
He ducked his head and swallowed tightly. Then he looked straight at her. He didn't care what people would think.
"I'm aware of it," he said.
"Clint -" she was starting to shake her head and he felt that pang of loss.
"I love you," he blurted. He hadn't planned on telling her yet, but the words were struggling to get free for months. "I love you. It's nothing new, Nat. I've loved you for – for awhile now. I don't give a damn if someone thinks that little girl is mine. I'd be proud if -"
His words were cut off by her lips on his and the feeling of her stomach pressing into him. He didn't even manage to catch up properly, before she parted from him.
"Just shut up," she said, her voice emotional and shaky, and she stood on her toes, her palms warm on his cheeks.
"I – oh hell I will," he said, reaching for her. "I love you, you stubborn -"
She pulled his head down and kissed him again, hungry and desperate. He gave in, trying to catch up, to pour all the longing and desire he felt for her but it wasn't enough, he wanted more, and he pulled her closer, held her tighter - he was kissing Natasha.
He was kissing Natasha, and she was kissing him back. It was intense and heady and she clutched at him like she didn't want him to let her go.
He wasn't going to.
They parted, panting, and she still held his face, bowing her head just slightly.
"Clint," she said softly, "she's not yours-"
He shook his head. It was so simple, couldn't she see that?
"But she is yours," he said. "She is yours, she is a part of you and I can't not love her too."
He kissed her again and slipped his hands down to her stomach, to finally touch her there. She stood on her toes and he felt the tension leave her as they kissed.
"Clint," she whispered then.
"Yeah?" he asked, not caring who watched them. She was pregnant, they were kissing. People were passing and glancing at them, but he didn't give a damn. He was in love.
"Let's go home," she said.
For someone relatively short and pregnant, Natasha still had a lot of force in her. Clint didn't put up any protest when she pushed him against the bedroom door and pulled his head down.
"Tasha," he breathed between kisses and her attempts to pull his shirt up. "Okay, okay, I'm taking it off," he laughed.
Then her hands were on him, trailing across his chest, sliding up and down his arms as she kissed across his collarbone. Her hands went to front of his pants.
"Okay, you can have them too."
"I'd rather have you." She gave him a teasing smile. "Or my way with you." She kissed him with a hint of teeth and he liked that so much.
"You know what, I'm not gonna protest," he said. She stripped him to his underwear and pulled him to the bed. Her smile was excited and a tiny bit shaky. He grinned back enthusiastically, crawling over her and trying to contain his excitement. "Hi," he kissed her, maneuvering around her stomach.
"Hi handsome," she smiled into the kiss.
"Hey, greedy," he said when she started to push his underwear down his hips. "Slow down a bit."
"I want you," she said. "Do you have any idea how much?"
Her kiss and her impatience made him breathless, and he had to stop for just a second. Catch a breath, with his forehead against hers, just settle for a moment.
"Do you have any idea how much I want you? he said, his eyes closed. Then he looked at her and it was written on her face, in her tight swallow, in the way she looked at him as he undressed her.
She was soft and round, different than what he knew from their sparring sessions and missions, but he loved it, loved how she squirmed under his hands, how her breath turned short. How she watched him as his hands caressed her. He placed kisses down her neck, trailed his lips between her bared breasts, lingered on her stomach and paused when he reached her underwear.
"Nat?" he wanted to be sure.
"If you stop now, I will hurt you," she said breathlessly, and he laughed. He caressed her bare thighs, slipped her underwear down her legs and spread them carefully.
"This okay?" he asked when he pulled her to him and she nodded.
"Yes," she breathed, "Oh God, please, Clint. Just –"
He grinned a bit dirtily when she pleaded and cut her off when he put his mouth on her, kissed up her thigh and gently spread her folds open. She writhed and moaned and bucked to meet his mouth, and called his name when she broke apart.
He moved up to kiss her on the lips then and let her settle him against the headboard and ride him. He held her as close as possible and touched her everywhere he could reach; the smooth plane of her back, the round bump of her stomach that pressed into him, her full breasts, and her shiny hair. She held him close as he pushed up into her, her tiny broken moans filling his ears. She was soft and tight and amazing and he couldn't get enough; he wanted to crawl into her skin and just stay with her. It was tender and a bit clumsy and then just intense; but after, when he lay next to her, with her tucked into his side, he was spent and his chest was full. Her smile was drowsy and content and he felt younger, he felt happy and light like a feather.
Thank you for reading, part two will be up soon!