The second chapter and the conclusion.
Thank you everyone who read and everyone who was kind to leave a comment. It's appreciated more than you imagine.
"This is different," Clint said. He was cozy and warm, surrounded with Nat's pillows and wrapped around her. His hand skimmed under her shirt to stroke her stomach.
"How is that different?" Her smile was content and amused.
"It's gotten bigger," he said.
"No, no, let me explain." He shifted closer, his face against her bare shoulder. "Your shirt strains more. I know because of the letters on it." He kissed her chin.
"You're a silly idiot," she said fondly. "It's been nearly seven months, of course it's bigger."
"It's bigger since last week," he said quietly and when her eyes widened he continued. "I notice things." He shrugged and grinned. "And I like watching you."
"Hmmm." She stretched next to him and trailed her fingers under his shirt. "I think I noticed that."
"I just don't wanna miss something," he said. "Just –" He looked at her and tried to smile, but he somehow wasn't able to.
"What's wrong?" she asked. As much as he loved doing this, spending time in bed with her just touching her, there were things he wanted to tell her.
"I –" he started, his hand stroking the curve of her stomach. In past two months he touched her like this countless times, and he still didn't get enough. "Bobbi and I lost a baby. We didn't know." He settled on his pillow, rubbing his face. "I was…. away. I didn't notice, I didn't even look. We both worked too much and stopped paying attention to things that were really important." He looked at her again and wondered if things like that could be forgiven. Perhaps there could be something, maybe not forgiveness, but a second chance. "I was…. I'd look in the mirror and the person I was seeing there -" he paused.. "I didn't like what I was becoming."
Nat watched him like she was certain about something. "You didn't become that," she said then, her palm curving soft and warm around his cheek.
"I just –" he took a deep breath. "Don't want to miss something. I want to – hey, what are you -?"
Nat smiled and moved his hand from the top of her stomach lower, near her right hip.
"Oh," he said when he felt the flutters under his palm. "Oh, wow."
"Clint, look at me," she said. It was hard and he was scared; he didn't want to let her down, didn't want to turn into someone she wouldn't recognize. But she seemed determined, completely sure of herself as she looked at him. "It won't happen. I won't let you."
He nodded, lowering his eyes, but she lifted his chin and kissed his lips.
"You're not alone," she said.
"Seriously, Nat," Clint gritted his teeth because his entire side hurt. Luckily he was in the car all by himself when the other car hit him. He would probably end up with a collection of bruises after the car crash, which, all things considered, was a good thing. It could have been much worse, but he still had to spend couple of hours in the hospital. He texted Nat, telling her that he was bruised, but otherwise okay. Before, Nat would have waited for him at home, or someplace else. Before he thought."You shouldn't have waited for so long –"
"Really? What should have I done, then? Go back home and wait to hear what happened to you?" Natasha sat on the bed next to him, as Clint tried to get his shirt off. "Wait," she sighed. "Let me help you."
He sat down on the edge of the bed, and she got his shirt out of the way and frowned.
"You should see the other guy." He crooked a smile for her comfort and his own. The medication they'd given him at the hospital was starting to wear off, but his brain was still working slower than normal. Her expression turned into a fond one, however the worry hadn't left. "Good thing, though, it's just bruises. Nothing broken."
She studied him silently as she stood in front of him, crossing her arms on top of her stomach, looking like she was thinking about something else.
"What's on your mind?" Clint asked.
She started to rub her back. "I'm thinking about the lack of your next-of-kin. You need more people listed as your contacts."
Clint sighed. He'd had Coulson listed as his contact for years now, because it was practical and because Phil was his friend before he met Natasha. She had Coulson listed as well, as she and Clint were at the same side of the trouble most of the time. They usually didn't visit each other in hospital; instead they often shared a room in SHIELD's med bay. She seemed to notice a change in his expression, and gave him a smile. He pressed his face against her stomach and closed his eyes.
"Still," he said, "you shouldn't have been waiting for me for hours." He wound his arms around her to rub her back.
"It's okay." She sounded calm and continued to stroke his hair. "They had amazing apple pie in the cafeteria."
"Apple pie," he said and opened his eyes to look at her. "My mom made awesome apple pie."
It was a good memory. He could feel Nat's stomach rise and fall along with the rhythm of her breathing, could feel her warmth at their points of contact, and he thought about her and apple pie and a little red haired girl (always red haired in his daydreams) running through a field of daisies. He wasn't sure how realistic that imagery was, but in his opinion every little girl deserved a field of daisies. He moved, settling his chin on top of Nat's bump and looked up at her.
"I can make awesome apple pie," he said.
She gave him an amused smile. "Really?"
There was something about that entire moment. About the fact that he wanted to have next of kin and the way he was pressed up against her stomach, and the fact that he had both her and her daughter in his arms. It seemed like a good place to settle into.
"Marry me," he said before he lost the courage.
"What?" she asked.
"Marry me." He put more conviction into his voice. It made sense, it was right; it was what he wanted. It was slowly building inside of him for months, or perhaps even years he'd spent as her partner and her friend, and he was slowly getting ready for these words to cross his lips. "I mean it. You would be my next of kin then, and then these things wouldn't be a problem, and you know that the agency actually likes when people get married and then there are tax bonuses and better health insurance plan -" He paused.. "And she -" He looked at her stomach. "She would be my daughter. Nobody would be able to show up ten years later and give you any trouble. And –" He paused again because his voice was cracking. "I'd be her dad."
Nat's hands were on his face, and she was biting her lip. There was a hint of pink on her cheeks, and her breathing seemed quicker.
"It's all practical." She smiled shakily and sounded that way as well. "But where's the romance?"
"I want to marry you," he breathed. "How's that for romantic?"
"I… I think that works," she said. They stared at each other, her hands on his face, touching his cheeks, his lips, his nose. He put his hands on her stomach, kissed it and slowly got up.
"So?" he asked. She looked at him, blinking rapidly.
"Yes," she said, smiling up at him.
"Stop fidgeting, Barton." Kate attacked his necktie. "And for God's sake, breathe. You've turned blue in the face."
"No, I haven't," Clint countered. "It's the lighting."
"Right," Kate stated. "You'll faint. I'm sure Romanoff won't be amused."
"I won't faint," Clint complained.
"No, you'll lose consciousness in a manly way and Coulson will take photos." She grinned. "Okay. I think you may be ready."
Kate grabbed him by the shoulders and steered him around to face his reflection in a mirror. He didn't like suits, but he could deal with them when he had to.
"Dashing," Kate poked him in the ribs. He thought he looked awkward. Good side of awkward, but still. "Come on, Clint, you look like you swallowed a broomstick. Breathe, for God's sake."
He was fiddling with the buttons, rough fingers over the smooth material of his jacket. "The color is all wrong," he decided and made a face. He looked polished and shiny, almost like he was someone else. Someone unscarred and whole.
"Ah yes, it's the color," Kate said. "It has to be the color."
"Told you," Clint smoothed down his tie. Kate swatted his hand away from it.
"It sucks, I agree," she said, moving in front of him. She blocked both his view and his thoughts. "Too bad, though. You've got a job to do."
Her face was soft, her expression fond. She looked different in her dress, with her hair pinned up. Clint smiled.
"You're pretty, though," he said.
"I know," Kate answered. "But I also know a prettier lady, and guess what?" She smoothed his jacket lapels and tucked a white rosebud in his front pocket. "She's waiting for you." She did something with his hair as well. "Come on, Mr. Bride. I need to deliver you to your future wife, and then you can faint all you want."
"Who tied this?" Nat was trying to undo Clint's tie while kissing her way up his chin. It was late and her bed (their bed) looked absolutely inviting.
"That would be Kate," he said. The tie finally went loose. Natasha raised an eyebrow at him.
"Remind me to call her next time when I need to tie someone up," she said. Her face was completely flat but her voice was amused. Clint allowed her to throw away his silky tie, take off his vest and his shirt, leaving him in his pants.
"You remind me to stay away when you and Kate decide to prank people," he said. Natasha turned around and lifted her hair so Clint could undo the zipper on her dress. It was a pretty dress, made of silk and lace, showing off her breasts and gently hugging the rest of her. She just gave him a meaningful look over her shoulder and let the dress pool around her legs. He didn't like his suit all that much, but he loved the fact that she'd dressed up to marry him.
"Well, hello," he said when she turned around and he looked her over. She had satin underwear and matching stockings.
"Hi," she smiled, "husband."
"Hi wife," he kissed her lightly, but she pulled him closer and deepened the kiss. "Are you tired?"
"Yes," she said and ran her hands up his chest. "Very."
"Sleep?" he suggested, even though the way she looked was rather inspiring. She raised an eyebrow at him.
"On my wedding night?" she asked, falsely scandalized and unzipped his pants. "I'm not that tired."
"Oh," he grinned. She smiled and pushed her hand inside his underwear. "Oh."
"Did I just make you speechless, Barton?" She took his hand and pulled him towards the bed.
"Not at all, Mrs. Barton," he answered. Damn, he liked saying that. "Just very pleased." She answered by raising her eyebrow and pushing him down on the bed. He plopped down and grinned up at her.
"In a moment," she said and undid her bra, carelessly tossing it aside.
"Oh, no, no," he said, sitting up and pulling her to him. "I wanna do that."
Nat's lips tilted up in a smile as his hands stroked up her sides, over her stomach and cupped her breasts. "Really? What are you waiting for?"
He wasn't planning on it, anyway, but he paused when a gleam of the ring on his finger caught his eye. There was a matching one on Natasha's hand, and he took it and kissed her palm, once, twice; he kissed her fingers and knuckles and a tiny scar running along the back of her thumb. He bowed his head to kiss her stomach; he kissed her everywhere he could reach.
He looked up at her and smiled.
"You're mine," he said. He hadn't planned that either, but there were tiny kicks under his hand and there was hope inside his chest. He wound his arms around her and pulled her closer, overwhelmed by the sudden notion of not alone.
"Oh yeah?" she said, mostly teasing. She wouldn't allow anyone else to say that. She wasn't his possession, and that wasn't what he meant. He rubbed the gold band on her finger between two of his and kissed her stomach again.
"Yeah. You're both mine now."
It was a bit ironic and somehow fitting, how life started with a scream. To Clint it sounded a lot like a protest as well. Natasha's daughter complained, quite loudly for a small creature, until the nurse wrapped her up and placed her in her mother's arms.
Clint's first thought was oh my God, and then he was asked to go out because people had to take care of Natasha. When he was allowed back, into Nat's room this time, she was breastfeeding.
"Oh, hey," he said and stood at the door not sure what to do with himself. It wasn't an unexpected sight, but he was still thoroughly unprepared for it. Nat smiled. She looked tired, but happy. "Should I -?" he gestured with his thumb over his shoulder. She shook her head.
"No need to," she said. "Come here."
Clint neared them slowly. Nat and the baby seemed to work well together right now.
"It's harder than it looks," Nat said, looking briefly at him and then back at the baby. "I wasn't sure how to explain to her what to do at first, but luckily she figured it out."
"Looks like she did," Clint said, settling himself on the edge of the bed and just … observing. Natasha ran her finger across baby's cheek and he just held his breath. He wondered what it felt like, he wondered how Nat was feeling, because he'd never seen an expression like that on her face. The two of them seemed fine in their little moment, and he wondered briefly if he'd ever be a part of that. Then he reminded himself that Natasha would need him, that the baby – his daughter - would need him.
It seemed that the baby girl was done eating. All Natasha's movements looked so natural, like she'd done this a thousand times over - how she lifted the baby and managed to tuck her breast back into her nightgown, and how she held her daughter. (Their daughter, he reminded himself. Not because she wasn't his blood, but because it was all so… sudden and new. He just had to adjust to the notion of being someone's father, of being responsible for someone so small and seemingly powerless.)
"Do you want to hold her?"
"… Sure?" he said. Nat shifted and he moved closer and then she was placing the baby into his hands – which felt too big for someone who looked so tiny and fragile. And she looked red, wrinkled and completely strange; a whole little person who blinked at him with an expression he had yet to learn.
Clint wasn't sure what he felt. It was very hard to explain.
"You okay?" Natasha asked. Considering that she was the one who'd been through six hours of labor and a painful delivery, it was ironic how unsettled he felt.
"Ah… yeah," he said, too busy studying the way the baby moved her hand, like she was testing the world around her. He wanted to touch her, but at the moment the only thing he dared to do was hold her. The emotions in his chest were like a flood and he could do nothing to stop them. Scratch that notion about his baby girl being powerless. She had complete power over him. He was absolutely certain that there was nothing, nothing he wouldn't do for her, and she was barely two hours old."She's just so… tiny." He looked at Nat. He was supposed to say something better, but nothing came. Instead he could only smile. Nat smiled back at him.
"She needs a name," she said, shifting carefully to sit closer to him. They peered down at the newborn baby girl together. She was finally here, finally with them. Natasha was reluctant to pick a name before she was born, afraid until the end that something could go wrong. "We have to pick one now. What do you think?" Natasha asked. They had to make a good choice, because life started with a name. Everyone you know, everyone you get to know starts with a name.
"How about Marie?" he said. They'd managed to narrow down Natasha's endless list of names and while he didn't have a preference, it was the first name from the list that came to his mind."It's…. nice."
"It is," Natasha said. "Do you think we should keep it?"
"I think we should," he said. He smiled brighter, because he'd picked a name for his daughter (a daughter he wanted, a daughter he chose to call his), and because Natasha had allowed him to. As he watched her sleep in his hands he was already feeling more like a father than just few moments ago.
"Hey," Clint said, quietly entering the room. It used to be Natasha's study, containing all of her precious books. Now it was painted in soft green, filled with lovely wooden furniture and a crib which could rock. Natasha looked at him from where she stood near the window and he guessed she was about to fall asleep on her feet. "Let me?" he suggested as she adjusted her hold on Marie. The baby still protested, making upset little sounds, although not as loudly as half an hour earlier.
"I just managed to calm her down a bit," Natasha said. "If I hand her to you -"
He came closer. "You're about to collapse," he noted carefully. "And if you do, I doubt that will be good for either of you. You can't do this for another night, Nat."
"I won't be able to sleep if she keeps crying," Nat insisted, and he could understand that because he couldn't sleep either. It wasn't just the noise – Marie wasn't particularly loud; what bothered him was knowing that both of them were suffering.
"At least you'll get to rest a little." He stroked Nat's hair, wishing he could will her into relaxing. If Marie was awake she wanted to be in her mother's arms, and Clint could see what that did to Natasha. He wondered if she was thinking about little Natasha, who was robbed of her parents, the safety, the memories and knowledge of belonging to someone who loved her.
"She's safe with me, you know that," he said.
"Come on, Nat," he prompted when she didn't answer. He was close and she reluctantly passed the baby to him, made sure his hands were holding Marie the right way and he smiled to assure her that he could handle this. "Hey baby girl," he said gently as she started to protest. Natasha swallowed and he could tell she was about to take her back. "Go to our room and close the door."
"Is that -" Nat yawned against her best attempt not to, "an order?"
"I'm still a senior agent, I'll make it an order if I have to." He smiled, rocking gently back and forth. Marie was still protesting, but it seemed even she was getting tired. Clint knew to use a chance when he found one. "There, she likes being with me. Don't you?"
Nat managed a smile, amused and tired at the same time. Her expression was still torn, and Clint assumed he would never feel exactly like Nat did. "Go," he said quietly and she went.
It took twenty minutes for Marie to fall asleep. Perhaps his calm helped, as Nat had been doing this for days now. Their new dynamic was shaky and filled with nights spent awake. For Nat it was like a language which she, in some instances, didn't need to learn. For him these were new patterns yet again, but one thing stood as true. He was good with patterns.
Marie's breathing evened out under his hand. She was small, small enough to fit into both his hands and he stood in the same spot where Nat had been standing not long ago, watching as the rain beat against the window and examining how he felt.
"Don't worry, little bird," he said. Rationally, he knew she was Natasha's, but he felt that everything that mattered made her his daughter. Some day she'd grow to be amazing and smart and she'd pick what she wanted to be. (Something better than both him and Nat, he hoped.) But for now, she was his little bird. He took a seat in Nat's comfy rocking chair. He settled, relaxed and held Marie against the sound of his heartbeat and closed his eyes.
He felt like he caught a small nap, but when Nat gently shook him awake, he could see it was dawning.
"Oh," he said, realizing that Marie was still peaceful, contently drooling all over his shirt, and Nat was standing there, looking at him with an expression he couldn't name. There was a light smile and wonder and –
She looked rested, he realized.
"Good morning," she said, and God, was that a cup of coffee in her hand?
"You made me coffee," he said, moving carefully, so Marie would, hopefully, stay asleep. His careful moving paid off, as Marie made a tiny sigh and continued sleeping. Nat looked content, standing there with clean shirt and yoga pants and freshly washed hair.
"I made you coffee," she agreed, smiling. "Did you sleep?"
"We both did," he said, taking the cup from her. "You look good."
"I slept and showered. It was pretty fantastic." She looked at Marie. "Actually, I'm coming to realize just how fantastic sleeping can be."
He sipped his coffee and rubbed his face. She was right. Sleeping was completely and horribly underrated when you didn't have a baby. He'd been told their life would turn upside down, but even his best (or worst) imagination was a far cry from reality. It was also better than most things in his life had been. In fact, it was the best. "I could use a shower too," he said, looking at her.
"Mhmmm, go," she waved her hand at him. "I'll keep watch, but I think she's got another hour of sleep in her."
"An hour," he grinned, "that's a shower, getting dressed and a breakfast. A holiday."
"Don't waste it." Nat's smile was bright and perfect. "I'll be here."