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recovery is a process

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Tony was dead.
It’s quite a shock, when people die. Clint thought his years re-enacting his younger career path as an assassin would desensitize him.
It didn’t.
It wasn’t a shock when other people died, no. It was a shock when the unflappable figurines flapped. And Clint would never peep to a soul, not even Laura, but Stark was a figurehead. Iron Man was a statue that could never fall, no matter how many rocks were chucked at the base. He-like the rest of the world-took that for granted, and forgot that Tony Stark wasn’t invincible.
Big Man in a suit of armor, take that off and what are you?
Tony replied genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.
When Tony took off the suit, he was Tony Stark, for better or worse.
So that was it, he could go home.
Live in retirement like he always dreamed of! The farm life he’s wanted, stay at home DIY super dad who just happened to be a trained assassin.
Like Nat.
Who died. For him.
Natasha Romanoff died for Hawkeye, so she could clear the ‘red on her ledger’, her lifelong obsession with being a Good Guy. He wished he could save her from herself, from this feverish guilt that plagued her.
He wished he died instead of her. (no he didn’t)
The roles were reversed, the empathic government agent saving the heinous assassin. Maybe it’s just a phase, because it sure seemed to happen a lot to the Avengers.
Clint had waved to the remaining, and the added, and then the dead.
Waving at a memorial is different than waving at a person.
And he went home, without Nat.

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He hadn’t seen his family in five years.
If the big purple ball sac just let the universe do its thing, Lila would be eighteen.
Hell, he shouldn’t look and feel as young as he is, but according to the Potter wannabe, the time stone “can mess with the normal aging process when first in contact” and “he shouldn’t worry.”
He was supposed to go in for testing soon, because he held the gauntlet. Clint hoped there was nothing wrong.
He already lost his family once, his partner once, his boss once, his friends once, himself once, so why couldn’t Thanos just leave him alone?
Clint called Laura.
“Honey? Where are you, what’s going on?” His rock, his wife, Laura asked, her voice vibrating through the receiver.
“Honey?” He whispered.
“Yeah Clint, it’s me. What was that loud crashing noise on my first call?”
“Oh God, honey.” His voice broke, overflowing with emotion.
“Clint, sweetheart, are you okay?” She was quiet, probably because the kids were listening in.
“I’m coming home honey. I’m coming home.”
“Clint, when did you leave?”
“I’m coming home, I’m coming home. Laura, I’m coming home.” He repeated it to himself, over and over. I’m coming home, as if he was carving the promise into his heart
“Yeah, honey. You’re coming home.” There was silence, Clint knew he would have to explain what the fuck just happened, but he content with the silence. The silence and his wife.
“Hey honey?” He muttered.
“Hmm?”
“I love you.”
“I love you too sweetie.”

----------------------------

Clint could barely breathe on the plane ride home.
It shouldn’t be that hard, breathing. But today, his lungs were being rather pesky and not doing their jobs correctly.
In for three, out for four. That was his plane ride.
He didn’t want some more overwhelming anxiety to join the list of Problems Clint Has Currently, but he may have to update it to aquaphobia and significant claustrophobia, especially when put together. And high up, which is another swell addition, actually.
Some great, great water like the water that flooded the compound and almost killed everyone. Like the water in the stupid soul realm with the motherfucking soul stone in his hand instead of Nat’s.
Breathing was overrated anyway. So was feeling his face, which was becoming hot and tingly and he didn’t know how to stop it. In for three, out for four.
It wasn’t working.
The walls were closing in, the plane was compacting. Clint was imploding. He wanted to scream, but he didn’t He might be crying, Clint wasn’t sure. He couldn’t feel his face over the overwhelming tingles. It was all too much.
The plane still flew.

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The plane landed.
Clint didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing. The last time he even heard the kids voices was when he went to the past, but was yanked back to the future.
One with his kids. One without Nat.
Steve told them once that we wouldn’t sacrifice lives, back in Germany. Back when Germany was their biggest problem and there was a reason to trade lives.
Nat did.
Clint didn’t know if it was worse that she did it for a reason.
He got out of his seat. Stood up. In for three, out for four. One, two, three. One, two, three, four.
He grabbed his bag, his only bag, where in it’s guns clothes and shoes shoes lay a picture of him and his kids. A picture of him and his kids and Nat.
He stepped out of the plane. In for three, out for four.
There was Lila.
Lila, beautiful, creative Lila who always had a witty comeback and wanted to be just like Clint. He wondered if she would still want to.
And Cooper.
His son, his oldest. Cooper. Cooper James Barton, his flesh and blood. He named his son, because Laura told him to. Cooper was born in the middle of a jungle when Laura got caught up in some of SHIELD’s shit. Cooper, his son. Cooper is his son and Lila is his daughter.
Cooper is his son and Lila is his daughter and they are safe, with their arms around him.
In for three, out for four.
And Nate, his little boy. If things would have gone right in the world for once, Nate would nine. Nate would be nine and Lila would be eighteen and Cooper would be twenty.
Clint would forty. Laura would be forty-three.
If things had gone right in the world, Natasha Romanoff would reach one-hundred.
In for three, out for four.
And Laura. Laura, his joy, his happiness, his good. Laura Barton, his wife.
He broke out of his children's embrace. He needed Laura.
They collided, like stars. Clint could only see Laura, because she was alive and not dust in the wind. Laura was alive and Clint was with her. That's how the world works.
Even after five years, even after dying, her hair still smelled of strawberry shampoo. His head was near hers, their foreheads touching.
Like his and Nat’s.
His head jerked back, a couple of centimeters at most. Laura noticed. She always noticed. She noticed the tears in his eyes, he noticed his lip quivering, she noticed his hot face. The only reason Clint knew her hands were on his face was because his were on her wrists. The tingles were back, his face was on fire.
Breathing was hard.
“Hey,” Laura whispered in his ear. “In for three, out for four.”
He tried. One, two, three. One, two, three, four.
“Good job honey. Just breathe with me, okay?”
“Okay?” Clint murmured. In for three, out for four.
“Honey, I’m going to talk to the kids now, so I need to move my head. Is that okay?” It wasn’t, it really wasn’t.
“Yeah, honey.”
“Cooper!” She shouted. Clint could feel his son’s eyes on his back.
“Yeah mom?”
“Take your siblings and go clean up the barn.”
“But, dad just got home!”
“And he’ll be here when you come back! Now, Cooper.”
“Fine.” Clint heard footsteps, Laura’s head was back in his field of vision. In the distance, Clint swore he could hear Lila muttering about him and Laura having “reunion sex.”
“Honey, you’re crying.” He was? He didn’t notice, his face was still too hot and it was becoming hard to breathe. His throat was closing. Clint was starting to gasp again.
“Honey, we’re going to go inside, okay?” Okay, Clint wanted to say, but his mouth was sore and there was a rock in his throat. He nodded.
Laura’s hand was on his back, leading him to the house. In through the door, through the living room. Past the kitchen and up the stairs. He turned, he forgot the direction. His head hurt, his eyes hurt, he hurt.
Clint was sure he was bleeding, he bailed medical after they stitched him up. He was sure he tore something.
Laura nudged him onto the bed. She came up in front of him, her eyes never leaving his. Clint just sat there, useless.
“I’m going to take off your shirt now, is that okay Clint?” He nodded, and Laura went to work on the dirty, sweaty, wet leather.
The tingles were spreading. He couldn’t feel the upper part of his chest very well, his eyes still hurt. His head wanted to explode and he felt like he swallowed a toad. There were hands on his shoulders, hands on his head.
In for three, out for four.
Her cool fingers were on his hot shoulders. Laura was with Clint and the world was spinning.
“Hey honey?” She breathed into his ear. “I’m going to start a bath, okay.”
Okay.
She started towards the bath. Started towards another room where the door was closed and Cling couldn’t see her.
His hand was clamped around her wrist. Clint hoped he didn’t leave bruises, Laura doesn’t deserve that. She turned back towards him.
“You wanna come with me?”
Yeah.
He did. He never wanted to leave Laura or his kids ever again. Last time he turned around he saw dust. Never again.
Clint stood up shakily, he loosened his grip on his wife’s wrists.
“Come on honey.” Said Laura.
In for three, out for four. He could do this. One foot in front of another. He was following Laura, the fighting was over.
He was safe.
Laura sat him down on the edge of the tub, gently rubbing his shoulders.
“That’s nice, honey.” Laura just responded with a ‘mmmh.’
She took her hands off him, and started the water.
“Hey Clint?”
“Yeah?’
“I need you to get undressed, okay honey?”
“Okay.” he started working on his leather pants, still glued to his thighs. Blood, his mind supported. He was naked, full and glorious. Laura helped him into the tub, and Clint would have snapped his fingers and the water turned pink.
That’s a bad analogy. Clint was done with snaps.
Clint was done with a lot of things.

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The kids came back into the house, and Laura made them wash up for dinner.
Clint was shaking. He hasn’t had a proper dinner in years. Much less one made by Laura.
In for three, out for four.
Clint could do this. They were his kids. His flesh and blood. It won’t be different than all the other times he came home from a mission. It would be the exact same, the last five years were just a mission. His targets were only targets, his old lifestyle wasn’t him. Clint could be on a mission and all would be fine.
He wasn’t sure about that.
Laura came up to their room, to him, to tell him it was time for dinner. She had told him to get dressed, that she was going to make dinner. She had asked him if he was alright. He said he was.
He wasn’t, he really wasn’t.
Clint was still naked, sitting on their bed, shaking. He was wrapped up in a towel, in a cocoon, and he stared into space.
That was a weird analogy, now that he’s been to space. Space wasn’t some thing you could just stare off into. Space was a magnificent beast, an entity paint purple. It was anything but nothing. Space was staring into everything.
But there he was, Clint Barton, world-class assassin and spy, Hawkeye, sitting on his and Laura’s bed swathed like a toddler, staring into space.
It was pathetic. But he couldn’t move, he couldn’t leave. His muscles were jello, his emotional capacity was stuck at zero.
He just, couldn’t get up.
Laura found him like that. She walked into the room and he burst into tears like a baby.
“Oh, Honey.” she had said, as she walked towards him. She wrapped her arms around him and his towel. “Oh, Honey.” She repeated.
Clint wanted to stay like that, forever. Just him in Laura’s arms, touching her. But he couldn’t. Laura got up, grabbed another towel, and dried off his hair. She was holding a black long sleeve, and helped him slip it over his head. Laura pulled out his Black Widow sweatpants-made after the Avengers became The Avengers, that he bought as joke. Nat always used to steal those sweatpants. They were covered in stains of when they would sneak off like children and raid Clint’s freezer.
He started to choke again.
“Not those.” He said, the words being blocked by his closing throat.”Please, not those.”
“Okay.” Laura understood, Laura always understood because she was Laura and she could put up with his shit.
She grabbed another pair of pants, and helped him slip it over his hips.
“Okay.’

-------------------
The table was silent as they ate.
It must’ve been weird for his kids, Clint was usually cracking jokes and teasing Laura, and she gave as good as she got. Instead, their table was covered in heavy silence.
Clint wasn’t sure what they were having, everything tasted like mush. His arms moved robotically, his mouth was automatic. He was a machine working on overdrive.
Lila broke the silence.
“Uhh, hey dad?” He looked over at her, his system was interrupted. “Are you ever going to finishing teaching me how to shoot?”
Like before she dusted?
Yeah, we was teaching her to shoot, wasn’t he? That was centuries ago, millenia. Before his bow was tainted with blood, before his aim was more murder instead of missions.
He wasn’t on a mission when he killed all those people.
It was just Clint and a bow. A murderer.
He still hadn’t answered.
“Hey dad, Uhh… you’re lookin kinda shaky.”
He was? Clint looked down, his fork was vibrating, along with the entirety of his arm.
It fell. His fork fell. It dropped with a loud clang that made him jump.
“I dropped the fork.” Laura was looking at him, worried.
“Honey, why don’t we-“
“I dropped the fucking fork.” His throat was closing again. In for three, out for four. In for three, out for four.
It was working.
“Laura,” his voice broke. “Laura, I dropped the fork.” He was hot and shaky. He had dropped the fork.
“Lila, go get a washcloth.”
“But-”
“Now.” Laura barked. She sounded like Nat. Nat was dead. He dropped Nat.
He dropped the spoon.
“Oh, fuck. I dropped it Laura, I dropped it.” He had tried his best to hold on.
“I tried Laura, I fucking tried. Oh God. I dropped it.”
He was hanging, suspending above his demise.
“Oh-I dropped it.”
“Hey Clint!” There was a voice, there weren’t voices at the cliff. “Clint, honey. It’s okay.”
Laura.
Laura Barton. Laura Jane Barton who he married and who is still alive. She is okay.
Clint was breaking, crumbling.
All because he dropped the Goddamned spoon.

--------------------

Three weeks later, he got a call from Bruce.
“Hey Clint.”
“Hey.’
“How’s the farm doing?”
“Fine.”
“Laura and the kids?”
“They’re good.” Bruce was skirting around the real topic he was calling about. Clint was okay with it.
“So uhh, Clint?”
“Yeah?”
“They uh-Pepper booked a date for Tony’s funeral.” Clint didn’t like the word funeral. Nat doesn’t like it. Nat doesn’t like change much.
Didn’t.
Nat didn’t like it. Nat didn’t like change much.
She wouldn’t like it very much right now.
“It’s in a week.”
“I haven’t told them.”
“Who? What?”
“My kids, that they’re gone. God Bruce, how am I going to tell the this? How Bruce!?”
“Oh Clint.”
“We’ll be there.”
Clint hung up the phone.
Tony Stark was dead.
It was a weird concept. That Tony Stark could die. That someone larger than life could be gone, all within a snap.
Stark was like a star, bright and huge and massive. The talking point of every conversation, the thing that the world orbited around. Earth surrounded Stark.
When he died he left a black hole, the bastard. He left a black hole that sucks up everything in existence.
Tony Stark was dead. Clint wished he wouldn’t have to say it.

------------------------------------

He doesn’t remember how his kids reacted. He told them and then went upstairs.
He did that a lot these days.

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The funeral came.
Tony left a beautiful note to his daughter, even Stark had some nice moments.
They brought out Iron Man in a casket, and it felt so wrong. This wasn’t Tony Stark at all. Tony Stark is blasting AC/DC while he and Clint drank cheap Walmart beer despite the fact that Tony could afford so much better. Tony was lights, camera, action pizazz. Tony was glitter and metal and motor oil.
Tony was Iron Man.
Iron Man in a casket, the universe was silent.
--------------------------------

Iron Man had a kid.
Three actually, Morgan Stark, Peter Parker, and Harley Keener.
His kids didn’t think he noticed, but he saw them freaking out over Spider-Man out of the corner of his eye. They forget he’s a trained assassin. He watched his kids in the saddest of times, suddenly find joy.
It was then he realized something.
The Black Widow had a kid.
Three actually, Cooper Barton, Lila Barton, and Nathaniel Barton.
The hand gripping his heart loosened a little.
He was recovering.

---------------------------------

At the funeral, Bruce approached him.
“They’re holding a memorial. For her.”
“Oh.”
“They want you to speak. It’s a public memorial for her and Tony.”
“Huh.”
Clint walked away, back to Laura.
To his safety net.

-------------------------------

Nat always said he looked good in a suit. Laura agreed.
Clint was at a podium, he was about to speak. To camera’s, to billions, about his best friend.
He froze.
He prepared for this, he knew what he was supposed to say.
He didn’t say any of if. Instead, he said:
“She was the best man at my wedding.” And the floodgates opened. Outpoured the stories. The memories. The ones of him and Nat sharing ice cream in Venice, of when she dislocated his pinky. Of when Clint gave her a cut that needed stitches. Little things.
Those turned into big things.
Of how him and her were undercover as romanian sheep farmers for three and a half weeks. Of when they saved each others lives. Of when Nat introduced him to Laura. He told them about Budapest, about Loki, Ultron, The Sokovia Accords.
He told them about how she always seemed to have red on her ledger.
“Natasha, she carried the weight of the world. Her only flaw would be that she could never put it down.” That’s what killed her.
Clint talked for way to long.
He kept talking.
“Oh, and she loved emoticons-yeah. She loved emoticons.” There were tears on his cheeks. If Nat were still here, she’d say ‘love is for children,’ and flick off the tears like the offending invaders they were. She can’t do that anymore.
He flicked them off himself.