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there’s just no telling how far i’ll go

Chapter Text

When Lila Barton is five years old, she watches her dad walk out the door with a bow strapped to his back and a uniform that looks like it’s made of leather.

“I’ll be home soon, baby.” He kisses her on the nose and she nods, because she doesn’t cry anymore. Mommy has told her not to cry when daddy left, because it makes her sad. And mommy doesn't cry, and Cooper doesn't cry, so Lila doesn’t cry even though she wants to.

When Lila Barton is six years old, she watches her dad put down his bow and arrow and watches him look at her mom and say the words, “last project.” Lila doesn’t understand what that means, because daddy is supposed to finish painting her new room and making her Halloween costume. He always has projects. Mommy complains about them because sometimes she trips over tools or things break and then she yells at daddy when she thinks no one is listening through the walls.

When Lila Barton is eight years old, her teacher asks her to write a short story for class. Lila spends the entire night working on her homework and writes a long story about her superhero father who fights aliens and her second mommy, Auntie Nat, who plays pretend with her using fake guns. Lila’s teacher calls Clint and Laura in for a conference based on the disturbingly accurate storytelling and when they come home, Lila looks up from her book, feeling nervous, even though Auntie Nat has come to stay with her and has told her not to be nervous.

“I know you love your daddy,” Laura says gently, sitting down next to her. “And we’re very proud of the fact that you’re so smart and love school so much. But you can’t write things like this. Your teachers don’t understand.”

(What Lila doesn’t understand is why her dad disappeared on and off for so many years but she’s not allowed to talk to other people about the cool things he did.)

When Lila Barton is eleven years old, she snoops through Clint’s old SHIELD files on a day when Clint and Laura are out running errands. She puts everything away without leaving a trace, just like Natasha has taught her, but when her parents come home, she watches them with narrowed eyes.

“How come you never told me dad was in Afghanistan during the big wars?”

Laura pauses with a fork halfway to her mouth, and then puts it down carefully. “Dad’s been a lot of places, Lila.”

“I know.” She looks at Clint. “But how come you never told me how you almost died in Bucharest? From that gunshot wound?”

Clint exchanges a look with Laura that Lila’s learned means a combination of shit and I guess we have to talk about this and takes a deep breath. “Because you were too young to know about all the dangerous things I did. I’m home, and I’m alive, and I’m not fighting anymore. Isn’t that what’s important?”

What’s important is that you apologize for lying to me Lila thinks sullenly, but it’s dinnertime and Coop has already annoyed them by staying out late to use the skater park in town, and Nate has been incredibly temperamental lately, and Lila’s supposed to not aggravate anyone. “Yes,” she says quietly, continuing to eat her dinner. She doesn’t ask anymore questions, but she does take Clint’s files to her room and hides them under her bed. (Her dad doesn’t use them anyway; he isn’t working and the records haven’t been touched since SHIELD fell.)

When Lila Barton is thirteen, Laura gives her a necklace made from one of her dad’s old arrowheads. Clint’s spent late nights molding it into the shape of a heart, and he fastens it around her neck before kissing her on the cheek. “Now you have a part of me, even if I go away again,” he says, even though he hasn’t been away in five years. Nick Fury has stopped calling. The bow hasn’t been taken out of the closet in months. Lila doesn’t even recognize some of the new “superheroes” that the news talks about, because they’re not her dad or her dad’s friends or Natasha.

When Lila Barton is fifteen, she walks in on her mom talking in hushed tones to her dad. When she realizes they’re talking over a spread of college brochures on the covers, she furrows her brow.

“I’m fifteen. No one’s talking about college yet, mom.”

“They will be,” says Laura in a no-nonsense voice. Lila knows she shouldn’t be surprised, because Laura got a scholarship to college and took the SATs at thirteen. “And you need to be prepared. Just in case dad –-”

“Just in case dad what? In case he goes away again randomly and leaves me?” Lila asks bluntly, trying not to cry, because she’s just gotten her period and is still getting used to raging hormones. “You talk about him like we’re supposed to prepare for a death or something!”

“Lila.” Clint’s voice sounds tired, and his weary tone matches the creases on his face. “That’s not what this is about.”

“Yes it is!” Lila folds her arms over her chest. “I don’t remember you talking to Cooper about college.” Her brother is a few months away from graduation, and is planning to go to the local state college a few hours away from the farm.

“Your brother knew where he wanted to go to school,” Laura says. “He wanted to stay close to home. And we had those conversations, you just weren’t a part of them because –”

“Because I was too little?” Lila’s sick of being told to hold in her feelings. She’s sick of being told she has to be mature and responsible. Lila’s been mature and responsible since before she could finish a full book.

“Come here,” says Laura, and Lila hates that she’s still so much of a little girl when it comes to her parents, but she walks to the bed and folds into her mother’s arms. Clint kisses her and strokes her long curly hair and whispers that she’s his baby girl and she always will be, that nothing will ever change that and she’ll always be loved.

When Lila Barton is seventeen, she sits on the front porch with Natasha. Natasha’s hair is long and no longer the fire-engine red that Lila has always known it to be, but a conglomeration of muted browns and auburn shades.

“Have you thought about where you want to go to college yet?” Auntie Nat asks, because Lila maybe be almost eighteen but she’ll never stop calling Natasha “Auntie Nat.”

“No.” Lila shakes her head. “Mom and dad are making such a big deal about this. I’m sick of being responsible for my future. I want to make a decision without someone breathing down my neck or lying to me about things.”

Natasha’s quiet for a long time. “Your mom and dad love you very much,” she says finally. “They’re just trying to protect you.”

“And what about you?” Lila asks sarcastically, because Auntie Nat has always been the exception. Auntie Nat showed her how to fight with weapons when no one else would; she told her stories that her dad refused to open up about, and she helped Lila sneak out of her room when she wanted to go to the fair with a boy from school.

“I want to protect you, too,” Natasha says, reaching out to stroke her hair the same way her dad does. “But I know how it feels to be pressured into making decisions, and I don’t want you to be upset.”

When Lila Barton is eighteen, she looks at the calendar and finds a weekend where Clint and Laura are going out of town for some college reunion thing in California. Cooper’s not going to come home for the weekend because of college exams and Nate is spending the weekend with a friend because her parents know better than to confine Lila to the house for a weekend of babysitting. She takes a cab to the nearest Greyhound station and buys a bus ticket with cash and arrives in New York at four in the morning, just as the city is still waking up and yawning it’s way into a new day.

She gets off the bus and realizes she has no idea where to go, so she ends up at the only place she knows -– Stark Tower. She knocks on the door timidly and then a little more confidently, and is greeted by not Tony Stark, but by a woman with strawberry-blonde hair and a confused look.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“Um.” Lila swallows and draws herself up. “Sorry for showing up here without telling anyone. I’m Lila Barton. I’m –- I’m Clint Barton’s daughter, and I just came here and I didn’t know where to go, so –- I was just wondering if I could come in?”

The woman smiles and nods. She introduces herself as Pepper Potts and offers to make Lila coffee and breakfast, and afterwards, Lila settles in on the outside balcony, overlooking a spread of Manhattan. She isn’t surprised when a familiar body sits down next to her without comment.

“Did you come to take me home?” Lila asks sullenly, feeling only a little embarrassed. 

“No,” Natasha says. “I came to sit. Can I sit with you, Lila?”

When Lila Barton is eighteen years old, she sits with Auntie Nat in Avengers Tower and finally says, “I don’t know who I want to be,” because mom always told her to be strong and dad always told her she was smart and Lila’s not sure if she’s ever been any of those things, and she doesn’t know if she ever will be, because she feels like she was never given a chance to find out.

“You don’t have to know,” Natasha says gently. “I’ve known you your entire life, Lila. And if you want to know who you are without your mom and dad, I’ll be happy to sit here and tell you. Even if it takes all night.”

Lila looks at Natasha and thinks of the college acceptance letters and brochures she left behind on her bed.

“Do you think…are they going to be mad if they find out I’m in New York?”

Natasha purses her lips. “Not if you’re with me,” she says after a pause.

Lila smiles hesitantly. “Can I…can you ask Pepper if I can use the phone?”

Natasha nods and gets up, bringing a spare cell phone out to Lila, who dials with shaking fingers. Her breath hitches in her chest when her dad picks up and innocently asks why she’s calling, then tells her he misses her.

“Hi, dad. Yeah, I know you’re with your other friends. Um. I’m actually in New York. I think I’m going to stay here for awhile, with Natasha. Can you tell mom I’m okay?”

Chapter Text

When Lila is seven years old, her friends throw a surprise birthday sleepover. Lila stays up all night with a girl named Sarah, helping to braid her hair.

She likes Sarah’s hair. It’s soft, the same way Sarah’s skin is soft, when Lila’s hand brushes against the back of her neck. It’s thick, the same way Lila’s hair is thick, but it's less frizzy and it curls in all the right places, like an elegant princess.

She doesn’t think anything of it -– Lila is young, and girls have sleepovers all the time, the kind where they hug and kiss and sleep in the same bed. Lila doesn’t even think of Sarah as anything other than a close friend, and she doesn’t ever wonder why she doesn’t really find guys attractive. She has plenty of guy friends, anyway –- she takes boys to dances and plays softball and never once thinks anything is different.

She doesn’t think of it until she attends another birthday party years later -– a pool party for the same friend since elementary school –- and realizes she can’t stop looking at Sarah in a string bikini.

Sarah looks pretty. No, Sarah looks gorgeous. Sarah looks like someone you’d want to admire, all legs and long dark hair and newly tanned skin from summer camp, and she makes Lila feel self-conscious in her pink bathing suit that Laura has bought her at Target. Lila sits at the edge of the pool while the other kids play and her mind wanders, and she thinks about what it would be like to sit next to Sarah and play with her hair again and maybe cuddle with her again, like they used to do when they were younger. This time, though, they’d be able to talk like adults and share secrets about their bodies and about school, and -–

Lila stops thinking when she realizes her skin is burning, and she quickly slides into the water and tries to forget about her thoughts.

Laura picks her up later that day, and Lila climbs into the back of the minivan with little conversation. She says all the right things –- the party was fun, the girls were nice, the food was good, yes, she gave her gifts and said thank you like she was supposed to -– but when they get home, she runs upstairs and closes the door to her room, craving alone time.

“Lila?”

Laura opens the door five minutes later and Lila shoves the picture she’s been staring at under her legs, trying to hide it from view.

“Is everything okay?”

The thing is, Lila can never lie to her mom. Lila has a daddy’s girl bond with her father that she’s had since she was a baby; Clint would bring her outside to the small garden and sit in the flowers with her while she curled into his lap, and he sang her to sleep every night until she felt tired enough not to cry from being scared of the dark. But Laura has an instinct that allows her to know when any of her children are quietly suffering –- Cooper hates it, Lila tolerates it, and Nate’s too little to get it.

So she takes a deep breath, stares at the ceiling to avoid her mom’s gentle eyes, and says, “you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh, no?” Laura closes the door. “What wouldn’t I understand, Looloo?”

Lila’s stomach clenches at the use of her baby name. “It’s not…I can’t talk about it, okay?” She gets up from her bed and forgets about the photo that she’s trying to hide. It flutters to the ground and she grabs for it once she realizes her mistake, but she knows by her mom’s look that she’s already seen it.

“Is this about Sarah?”

“It’s not about Sarah,” Lila says quickly. “The party was fine, okay? It was fine.”

Laura raises an eyebrow and nods slowly. “Okay,” she says, turning around. Lila watches her walk towards the door, and she’s so close to being alone, and then –-

“You know, if you ever want to talk about things, we could talk about me and Aunt Nat.”

Something about the way Laura says the sentence makes Lila curious, and she looks at her mom.

“Why would that help?”

“Well,” Laura begins carefully. “I think Aunt Nat and I have the same feelings about each other that you have for Sarah. But if I’m wrong, we don’t have to discuss it.”

Lila bites down on her lower lip, smearing gloss. “I’ve...never seen you and Aunt Nat, like…”

“Kiss?” Laura asks bluntly, and Lila sucks in a breath.

Mom!”

Laura looks unaffected by her daughter’s outburst. “You wouldn’t have seen us do anything that showed we liked each other in that way. We tried to keep a lot of things from you when you were younger, because we didn’t want you to feel like you were different.”

“So…” Lila sits back down on the bed, trying to work through her thoughts. “So it’s okay if I, like…think about kissing Sarah?”

Laura’s smile softens and she walks across the room, sitting down next to her daughter. “Of course.”

Lila makes a face. “And I’m not weird?”

“Oh, you’re weird,” Laura says lightly. “You’re the daughter of a SHIELD agent and your mom just told you she likes your dad’s best friend. That totally qualifies as being weird.”

Lila can’t help but giggle as her mom smirks through her response, then immediately sobers.

“Did you tell Aunt Nat that you liked her?”

Laura’s face takes on a pensive look. “Eventually. Not at first. It took a long time to figure out what my feelings were. And I’m a lot older than you are.”

Lila tucks hair behind her ear. “So you’re saying that I shouldn’t say anything?”

Laura circles an arm around her shoulders. “I don’t think now is the right time to tell Sarah anything you’re feeling,” she says gently. “But how about this? You know about me and Aunt Nat now. You can come to us and talk to us about anything, and you can be open and honest, and we’ll give you advice and talk you through it. You can talk to dad, too.”

Lila arches an eyebrow. “Dad knows?”

“Yes,” Laura says, kissing her on the head. “Dad knows.”

Lila lets her eyes fall to the floor, where the picture of Sarah is still lying, half-hidden under a chair leg. She stares at it for a long time and then smiles, feeling a little calmer.

“I like my family,” she says finally, and Laura laughs quietly.

“You know what, Looloo? I like my family, too.”

Chapter Text

I. Maria

 

Lila waits until the door has closed, indicating that Laura has left the house.

She won’t be alone for long, she knows -- her mom and dad still didn’t like to leave her by herself for long periods of time, and it’s honestly kind of annoying; it’s not Lila’s fault that her older brother has a penchant for breaking things in the house. She creeps into Clint and Laura’s bedroom, opening the door slowly and going straight for the box hidden under the loose floorboard next to the bent corner of the rug, where she knows her dad keeps his secret work phone. She’s not supposed to know, but, well...Auntie Nat is good at talking loudly about things when she’s had a lot of what mom calls “grown-up grape juice,” and Lila has a very good memory.

Stopping to make sure that no one is going to interrupt her, she gives herself ten short seconds before she opens the phone and scrolls through the numbers listed, pressing the one she needs when she finds it.

“Hello,” she says, speaking primly and properly like her mom has taught her. She’s listened to her mom a lot on the phone and tried to practice when she plays with her dolls. “I would like to speak to Maria Hill, please.”

“This is Maria.” The voice on the other end sounds amused, and Lila wonders if she’s supposed to be eliciting this response.

“Okay. Well, hi. This is Lila. Lila Barton.”

“Yes...hi, Lila,” Maria responds. “Do your parents know you’re calling me?”

Lila shakes her head and then remembers that Maria can’t see her. “No. But, um, I’m okay,” she adds because she knows that she probably has to make that qualification if she’s calling on her own. “I need help.”

“What kind of help?” Maria asks. Lila stares at the floor, tracing the bent part of the rug with her thumb.

“I heard dad talking about going away and I’m scared for dad to go away again,” she says slowly. “Sometimes mom calls you to talk about dad going away. So maybe you could tell me how to not be scared?”

There’s a long pause on the other end of the line and when Maria speaks again, her voice is soft. “Do you know why you’re scared about your dad going away?”

Lila nods to herself. “Last time he went away for awhile he got really sick and he didn’t come home,” she says, trying to keep her voice from shaking too much. “I don’t want that to happen again.”

“Lila, your dad has a very special job. He helps people all over the world and he’s very, very good at what he does. But you know what?” Maria pauses and Lila furrows her brow.

“What?”

“Well, he also gets scared,” Maria continues.

Lila’s eyes widen at her words. “Really?”

“Yes,” Maria says solemnly. “And you know what he does when he’s scared? He comes to me or he comes to your mom, or he comes to Natasha, and he talks about it. So maybe it would help you to talk to your mom or dad.”

Lila’s head snaps up suddenly as soft voices and the sound of a door opening and closing downstairs catches her attention.

“Okay,” she says abruptly. “Thank you.” She hangs up the phone and shoves it back into the box hurriedly, hiding it under the floorboard again. She’s hidden all evidence of her snooping and is pretending to look at one of Laura’s books by the time her mom walks in the room.

“Lila?” Laura gives her a quizzical look as she removes her sweatshirt. “Why are you up here?”

Lila takes a deep breath. “Um. Can we talk about dad’s trip?”

 

II. Sharon

 

It’s hard to find Sharon Carter. She’s not in Clint’s contacts or in Natasha’s contacts under a code name. She’s not in Clint’s files or hidden computer documents. She’s not even in Laura’s phone book, and Lila’s annoyed about that because she knows Laura sees Sharon pretty regularly.

It takes overhearing a conversation about her dad’s work for her to figure out that Sharon is coming to the farm to meet with Clint and Natasha about an upcoming trip. It’s not ideal, because Lila would rather not wait two weeks to get the advice that she needs, but she wants to ask Sharon and doesn’t want to ask anyone else.

Sharon grew up liking guy things. Sharon had to probably be tough sometimes. Sharon might understand that she cried in school last week.

When Sharon shows up on the doorstep, blonde hair tied into a messy ponytail, Lila keeps out of the way as much as possible. She lets her dad and Natasha talk about the important things they need to talk about and goes to bed without protest when her mom decides it’s time to tuck her in, but she only pretends to sleep. She lies awake listening, and when she hears Sharon start to walk upstairs, Lila gets out of bed and stops her halfway to the bathroom.

“Lila,” Sharon says with a smile, eyeing her pajamas and messy hair. “What are you doing up?”

“Can I talk?” Lila asks, trying to keep her voice quiet. Sharon raises an eyebrow and kneels down.

“Spy talk, right?” she whispers. Lila nods and Sharon cups her hand over her ear.

“Tell me what you want to tell me.”

Lila leans forward. “I cried in school and everyone made fun of me.”

“Oh, Lila,” Sharon says, pulling back with a comforting look. “It’s okay to cry.”

“No, it’s not okay,” Lila says impatiently. “I’m not supposed to do that.”

“Can I tell you a secret?” Sharon asks, waiting for Lila to nod before continuing. “I cried in school, too. But I was much older than you,” she adds, poking Lila on the nose. “I had a very tough assignment and I didn’t do it well and so everyone made fun of me. I was upset, so I cried.”

“What did you do when people made fun of you?”

“Well,” Sharon says slowly. “I ignored them. I knew I was much stronger than they would ever be.”

Lila makes a face. “So...you did nothing?”

Sharon shakes her head. “Not nothing,” she corrects. “I believed that I was better, and now I’m working with your dad. And what do you think they’re doing?”

Lila smiles as she starts to understand what Sharon means, and Sharon smiles back.

 

III. Natasha

 

“You’re mad.”

Lila ignores Natasha and she hears the telltale soft breath of a sigh that she knows means Natasha is annoyed.

“Lila. Come on. Talk to me.”

“I don’t want to talk,” Lila snaps, gripping her crayon more tightly. “I want you to go away.”

She knows better -- Natasha won’t go away. Lila has seen too many instances where her dad snaps at Natasha or her mom yells at Natasha, and she’s been scared during those situations because her dad’s anger is a lot more intense than usual. Natasha never leaves, though. She just stays and yells back.

“I’m not going away,” Natasha says levelly. “I’m going to stay here until you’re ready to talk.”

Lila ignores her, wishing they weren’t alone. Mom and dad left for the grocery store hours ago, Cooper's with a friend, and she’s got nothing to distract her from this conversation. She finally throws down her crayon, unable to take the tension anymore.

“He doesn’t understand!” Lila finally bursts out. “ No one understands! I don’t want to go a stupid special school.”

“Special schools aren’t bad,” Natasha says. “I went to a special school.”

“A special spy school,” Lila replies scathingly, because she’s heard about something called The Red Room and she knows it’s probably the same kind of thing. “That’s different.”

“No,” Natasha says. “I went to a special school before spy school. Like the one your mom and dad have talked about for you.”

Lila looks up, trying to stay mad but unable to keep the curiosity at bay. “Really?”

“Yes,” Natasha says with a nod. “My parents didn’t want me to go to the same school that a lot of other girls went to. They wanted me to go someplace better.”

Lila looks down at the table, feeling defeated. “My friends are all at my school,” she says morosely. “I don’t wanna leave them. They’ll forget about me.”

“If they’re your friends, they won’t forget about you just because you don’t see them every day,” Natasha says. “I don’t see your mom every day, but we’re still friends, right?”

Lila nods and picks up her crayon again. “Best friends.”

“Yes,” Natasha agrees. “Best friends.” She puts her hand around Lila’s shoulders and pulls her close, and Lila immediately feels safe again.

 

IV. Hope

 

Lila meets Hope van Dyne during her school lunch break, behind the science building. She expects her dad’s friend to arrive all decked out in superhero gear, maybe surprise her by landing on her arm and then embiggening the way she used to do when Lila was little, so she’s surprised when Hope arrives dressed in regular clothes, walking up to her like she’s a normal person.

“Been a long time,” Hope says with a smile and a hug. “You’ve grown.”

“A little,” Lila says proudly but also self-deprecatingly, because she’s still the smallest person in her class.

“And you’ve been okay?”

Lila nods, tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “Yeah,” she says. “Dad’s working a lot.”

“I know,” Hope says. “We’re keeping him busy. But that’s not why you asked me to come talk to you, right?”

She shakes her head; she’d gone through a lot of trouble to convince Natasha to talk to Hope for her since she didn’t want to ask her mom, but she hadn’t told her why and Natasha hadn’t asked to know.

“I, uh. I want to talk to dad about something. And I don’t know how.”

“What do you want to talk to him about?” Hope asks, leaning against the building. Lila follows her lead.

“I wanna be a superhero. Like you.”

Hope’s silent, fiddling with the hem of her shirt, and Lila presses on.

“I heard mom talking. She said you wanted the same thing when you were little and I wanna know how you became a superhero so I can do it, too.”

Hope exhales slowly. “Lila, being a superhero isn’t the best life. Sometimes it’s a lonely life. And it’s not an easy one.”

“But you save people. And you have friends,” Lila points out, because she knows her dad has a ton of friends. “That seems like the best kind of life.”

“It’s more than saving people and wearing cool clothes,” Hope says. “It’s sometimes getting hurt and hiding secrets from people you love.”

Lila looks down at the ground, trying to hide her disappointment. “So you’re gonna tell me that I’m too little to understand things?”

Hope puts a hand on her shoulder. “No,” she says, squeezing gently. “I don’t think you’re too little to understand. But I don’t think this is something you should think about right now. Not when you are still a kid.” She nudges Lila’s foot with her own, causing her to look up. “Hey, how about once a month, I’ll come visit and we’ll go to the barn at your house, and I’ll teach you some cool superhero stuff. I’ll even tell you stories from missions. We’ll learn about things safely, but you can see if this is something you really do want to do sometime. Deal?”

Lila stares into Hope’s eyes, finding the genuine truth in her offer, and then smiles.

“Deal.”

 

V. Wanda

 

Aside from Natasha, Lila knows Wanda the best.

It’s who her dad spends the most time with and who he talks to the most. Lila understands, because she knows what happened to Wanda’s brother. Lila’s grown up with Wanda’s stories of Pietro; she knows why her younger brother is named after him and whereas she thinks of Natasha as another mom, she thinks of Wanda as her older sister. She wasn’t really that much older than her, anyway.

Wanda’s reading in the living room when Lila walks downstairs in an oversized shirt, hair still in a towel from her recent shower. She looks up with a welcoming smile.

“Hi, Lila.”

“Hi,” Lila says, sitting down next to her. “Whatcha reading?”

“One of your mom’s many stories,” Wanda says, closing the book over one finger. “What’s up?”

Lila’s caught off guard by the question. “How did you know I wanted to talk?”

Wanda laughs quietly. “I was a sibling once, remember? And I know you pretty well.”

Lila moves her mouth back and forth, thinking about what to to say. “Mom said I should ask you about...about something.”

“Oh? And what’s that?”

Lila takes a deep breath. “Okay. How do you know if you like someone?”

Wanda looks surprised and pulls her legs up until her elbows can rest on her knees. “Well, it depends. Sometimes it’s a feeling, just for you. Sometimes it’s other people seeing things you don’t see, because you’re not paying attention. Sometimes, they do things for you that are very grand, just to get your attention.”

Lila nods. “Okay,” she says. “And how do you...you know...tell someone that you like them?”

Wanda stops and thinks, scrunching up her face. “Is there something you feel comfortable with? A skill you know you’re good at, like writing or art?”

“I like art,” Lila says slowly, thinking of the elective class she just enrolled in. “Mom said I’m good at it.”

“Maybe you could draw this special person a picture...of yourself, or of something that you want to do together, or your favorite animal -- use your art as a way to express yourself to show that you care about the person,” Wanda suggests. “And let those words speak for themselves.”

“Is that what you do?” Lila asks.

“Sort of,” Wanda answers, using her fingers to draw red hearts in the air. Lila stares in awe as the bright fire lights up and then fades in front of her; Wanda’s been doing the same tricks with her powers since she was little but they haven’t lost their magic.

“Cool,” she decides.

Wanda laughs and opens her book again.

 

+ I. Auntie Nat

 

Lila’s settled into bed with her book when a soft knock catches her attention. Two seconds later, Natasha walks in the door.

“Hi,” she says softly, her usual rasp sounding pronounced, as if she can’t talk any louder for some reason. Lila waves from bed.

“Hi,” she says, because she hasn’t expected to see Natasha today. She was supposed to come tomorrow, when Lila’s dad also came home from work.

“Did I wake you up?”

Lila shakes her head as Natasha walks into the room. “I was going to read. I didn’t know you were coming.”

“It’s a surprise, then,” Natasha says. She sits down on the bed and reaches out, stroking Lila’s hair. “You’ve grown.”

“Everyone’s saying that,” Lila grumbles, sitting up straighter. Natasha laughs, and Lila frowns.

“Why are you here and not with mom or dad?”

“Your dad’s still working,” she says, her voice cautious, as if it’s trying to hide something. Lila wants to push but she knows that she shouldn’t, so she tries to ignore the warning bells in her head that come with the things that she’s starting to put together -- Natasha showing up randomly and secretively, her dad not being with her, the lateness of the hour. “I came here to talk to your mom, but I wanted to see you first.”

“Because you like me the best?” Lila asks hopefully. Natasha leans forward and kisses her head.

“Yes,” she says. “Because Auntie Nat likes you best.”

Lila grins. “I can read to you if you want. I’m reading my favorite book. See?” She points to the cover of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. “It’s really good.”

“If you don’t mind, I’d love a story right now,” Natasha says. Lila determinedly ignores the sadness she thinks she hears in Natasha’s response, and scoots over.

“K. Come read.”

Natasha adjusts herself next to Lila until she’s lying next to her comfortably and Lila starts reading, slow and steady like she’s been taught.

She doesn't know what Natasha’s going to tell her mom. She knows her dad is probably in trouble. She’s not immune to the warning signs at this point in her life.

But she knows someone she loves needs her, so she’s going to do the best that she can to help.

Chapter Text

There are perks to her dad being home all the time -- like the fact that she can call on him if she needs help with a homework question or advice with a problem.

There are also downsides to her dad being home all the time -- like the fact that she can’t hide when she’s upset, which means he bugs her about it until she doesn’t want to be bothered anymore.

“You can’t hide from me forever,” Clint calls from the other side of the bedroom door. Lila groans and shoves her face into her pillow.

“Yes, I can!”

She waits to see if her dad will pick the lock, because he doesn’t do it often, but on occasion, he will use his work skills in the name of his family. When he doesn’t, she considers maybe she should just have it out after all, and flings open the door to reveal him sitting on the floor.

“I want to shoot something.”

Clint looks up and furrows his brow. “That’s generally not what I want to hear when I know my daughter is mad at me.”

Lila rolls her eyes, because dad jokes. “No, dad. I mean, you don’t take me shooting. You tell Cooper about all your work and help him learn spy stuff. You even tell Nate stories sometimes and he doesn’t even understand them. And you tell mom and Natasha everything. But you’ve never asked me if I want to learn how to shoot, and I don’t know why!”

“Because your mother and I have had our own discussions and thoughts about what we think you should be exposed to and the time it should happen,” Clint replies, standing up and looking his daughter in the eye. “Do you want to learn how to shoot, Lila?”

“Yes,” Lila replies without hesitation.

Clint sighs, and runs a hand through his hair. “Alright,” he says after a moment. “Get dressed in better clothes and meet me in the yard.”

Lila’s momentarily shocked by this response; she’d expected her dad to push back and just tell her that it wasn’t the right time or to throw the question to her mom, like he normally did when it came to work stuff. She nods, pushing the door closed, and quickly changes out of her jeans into a pair of yoga pants, throwing a faded flannel over her white t-shirt. Pulling on old sneakers, she races down the steps and out the door at a breakneck speed, stopping short when she gets halfway across the front lawn.

Her dad is waiting for her, but he looks different. He’s standing rigid with his legs spread apart, his bow gripped in one arm, a quiver of arrows slung across his back. Lila’s seen her dad go off to work dozens of times, and she even remembers her dad taking her outside to watch as he shot arrows at the sky, but every time she saw him with his bow he always looked happy, easygoing, and welcome. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen her dad like this -- stoic, firm, emotionless.

“Dad?” she asks tentatively as she walks up, half-wondering if he’s still mad.

“Yeah,” Clint says, relaxing as she approaches. He gives her a small smile. “Just wanted to make sure you were ready.”

Lila’s not sure what he means by that, but she squares her shoulders. She’s actually not sure if she is ready, but she’s never done anything halfway, and she’s certainly not going to change that now.

“Okay,” Clint says, nodding at her. “Pick somewhere you want to shoot.”

Lila’s confused about what he means, because she figured they would just use the barn, or one of the trees in the woods behind the house. She shields her eyes against the bright summer sun and looks around the yard, her gaze coming to rest on a large oak tree in the distance, just off the farm’s property.

“There.”

Clint looks at where she’s pointing to, squinting into the distance. “Okay, then.” He starts to walk and it’s only when Lila follows that she realizes he’s been standing next to a large bullseye, which he picks up and carries along with his bow. Lila marvels at how effortless her dad makes everything look; it’s a feeling that she’s been smitten with her whole life and one that’s never quite gone away.

“So why do you want to learn how to shoot?”

Lila glances up at her dad as they walk, feeling like she’s going to step into a trap of feelings either way, even though the question is innocent.

“Because you do it.”

“Is that all?” Clint asks mildly, adjusting his hold on the bow.

Lila shakes her head. “No.” She pauses, trying to figure out how to say the words without hurting his feelings more than she knows she already has by being angry over something seemingly trivial as her not being allowed to shoot a dangerous weapon, just because she was feeling left out that Cooper was getting some of her dad’s old spy files to look at for school. “You’re here, and you haven’t been here like this for a long time. And I’m scared I’m going to lose you again, because I’ve never had you back for this long without you going away. If I don’t learn now…” She trails off, trying not to let her dad see the tears springing to her eyes, walking ahead quickly. She makes it to the tree first and leans against it, taking deep breaths and trying to control her emotions.

“Lila.” Her dad’s voice is soft in her ear, and he puts his arm around her. “I’m sorry.” He pulls her in for a hug, dropping his bow, putting the target and quiver on the ground. “I know it’s been really hard over the years. I know I’ve made mistakes -- to you, to mom, to Coop, even to Nat -- and I know why you’re mad at me. But you’re the reason I do what I do.”

Lila looks up, pushing the sleeve of her flannel across her eyes. “Not Natasha or mom?”

“I work with Natasha and think of mom every time I go away,” Clint says. “But when I’m helping someone or keeping the world safe, I’m thinking of you. I’m thinking of how you’re growing up to be so smart, and how you’re reading all the books, and how your brother is being such a big help to mom while I’m away, and how you’re gonna need a good future and a good world.” He smiles sadly. “I’ve always done it for you.”

Lila’s not sure if that makes anything better, because there’s still been so many years of built up frustration and sadness. But it does make her emotions feel a little more valid, and she grabs for him, hugging him tightly, not afraid to let him see how vulnerable she is.

“You always say that you can’t let your emotions get in the way of work,” Lila says as she steps back after a long moment, looking at him with a wince. “Does that mean I don’t get to shoot?”

Clint raises his hand, inviting their palms to connect. “No,” he says, shaking his head resolutely. “Because you can use those emotions to drive you. And I’m going to teach you to be the best damn archer you can be. Can you promise me you’ll live up to that?”

“Yeah,” Lila decides with a smile as she reaches up and gives him a high five. She grabs the bow he’s placed on the ground and pulls back the string, feeling natural and calm and ready, a hint of adrenaline bursting through her bones and into her bloodstream, signaling the start of something new and exciting. “Yeah, dad. I can.”