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A Little to the Left

Chapter Text

It started with a giant crash in Clint’s front yard.

He was in the barn, cleaning and maintaining one of Lila’s bows when he heard the explosion. He took it with him as he ran out into the yard, string drawn and arrow knocked before he could even think that he had one of Lila’s tiny bows that he’d overshoot in a second.

It was a ship, it looked almost like one of Stark’s, one of the old ones. A dark figure tumbled out of the door, fire extinguisher in hand, spraying the foam up and onto the flames that had formed. The dark figure threw the extinguisher onto the ground as soon as the flames were gone and ripped a helmet off their head. A long red braid fell down her back.

Clint knew that red hair anywhere.

“Natasha!” he found himself yelling, Lila’s bow falling forgotten on the ground. She turned towards him and froze, her mouth forming his name soundlessly as he threw himself at her.

She was in his arms before he had even processed the thought, before he could think that this might be a trick, a dream, a hallucination. Dimly he heard behind him the sound of the front door slamming open, Laura’s sudden scream, the kids shrieking out “Auntie Nat!” It was at the last sound that Natasha tore herself out of his embrace and stared white faced at his family, her voice trembling.

“Oh my God, oh my God,” she said.

Clint couldn’t help himself, he reached for her again. “You were dead, I thought you were dead,” he babbled.

“No,” Natasha said, tears streaking down her face, “You are.”

 

It became apparent very quickly that this was not their Natasha.

For one, her hair didn’t have the white blonde tips that his Natasha had in the end. It was all one uniform color, a rich vibrant red. For another, what he could see of her hands and arms were covered with tattoos of thorny vines and close budded roses.

They’d sat themselves down on the front porch steps, Nate immediately climbing into Natasha’s lap and wrapping his little arms around her. Laura kept touching Natasha with frantic jerky movements, her face, her hair, her hands. Lila had pressed herself into Natasha’s other side and Cooper and Clint had found themselves sitting on the grass below them all, no room left on the steps.

Natasha buried her head in Nate’s curls and breathed him in for a long moment. Then she pressed kisses to each of his cheeks and looked up into Laura’s eyes. “What year is it?” she asked faintly.

“2023,” Laura answered.

Nat’s hands spasmed on Nate’s back.  “2023?” she echoed.

“2023,” Clint said firmly, “What year did you think it was?”

“2018,” Natasha said, “I was afraid it was 2018.” Impulsively she pressed a kiss to Lila’s head.

“It’s not,” Laura said, “It’s 2023. Thanos was defeated and the Avengers reversed the snap.”

“How?” Natasha asked, “How did they? Without-“

“Without what?” Laura asked. Clint felt a horrible sinking feeling. Natasha stared at him like a deer in the headlights, then turned over to Lila and urged her up. “Go take your brother and go inside,” she said.

“No,” Lila said, firm, “I don’t want you to disappear.”

Natasha’s mouth opened and then closed. “I’m not going to disappear.”

“You don’t know that,” Cooper said, accusingly, “You could just wink out and we might never see you again.”

Nate whined in agreement and buried himself further into her chest.

“Natasha,” Clint said carefully, “You said I didn’t make it.”

“I-“ Natasha licked her lips. “I. We went to Vormir together.”

Clint’s sinking feeling got worse. “We fought, didn’t we?” he said.

“Yes,” Natasha said. Laura reached out for her again and ran her hand over Natasha’s head. “Did she-Did I?”

“You beat me,” Clint said, “You made me let you go.”

“Oh,” Natasha said, “Oh.” She licked her lips again. “I, when I went to Vormir, you and I, we,” she began crying again in earnest. “You, um.”

The kids stared at her, dawning horror on Cooper and Lila’s faces. Laura pulled Natasha into her arms as best as she could, with Nate taking up all of Natasha’s. “We’re here,” she said, “We’re all here now. We made it.”

Nothing more was said and the only sound was Natasha’s sobs.

 

An hour later, when Natasha was still curled up on their sofa with the kids all piled on top of her and the wreckage of her Starkjet still littered the front yard, Clint called Wanda.

“Nat’s back,” he said as soon as she picked up the phone.

“Wha-Clint?”

“Nat’s back, she landed on the front yard this morning, she’s sitting on my couch right now.”

There was a long pause. “Clint, put Laura on the phone.”

Clint handed the phone over to Laura without even questioning.

“Hello, Wanda.” A pause. “No, she’s here.” Laura gave a laugh that cracked in the middle. “She’s here, she has Nate in her lap and I touched her and she’s solid, she’s here.”  Another pause. “No, she’s not the same. She looks different.”  Wanda’s voice raised in pitch over the phone, but not to the point that Clint could make out any of her words. “No,” Laura said, “Like, she has tattoos now and I know she didn’t get any during the snap. Not like someone I know.” She gave Clint a raised eyebrow. He gave her a cheeky grin back. The pitch in Wanda’s voice settled and Clint wasn’t able to hear her any longer. Laura gave a sigh. “Just-why don’t you come over? We’d be happy to see you. All of us.”

Natasha had noticed the phone call now and was peering at them over the back of the couch. Laura was nodding to whatever Wanda was saying. “Yes, ok. Bring who you need to. Text me when you’re on the way with an ETA. We love you sweetheart, see you soon.” She hung up and passed the phone back to Clint. “Wanda will be here as soon as she can get everything together and fly over. She might bring some others.”

“Good,” he said, “It’ll be good for them to see Nat.” He chuckled a little. “I’ll feel less crazy if other people are able to see Nat.”

His phone dinged with an incoming text. “She’s bringing Sam and Bruce,” he said, “They’ll be here in a few hours.”

“Ok,” Laura said, “I’ll….finish lunch, I guess?”

“I’ll come help.” He glanced over at the mostly silent children piled on top of Natasha. It was a little weird to see Cooper being this clingy, he couldn’t remember the last time he’s seen the teenager like this. “It’ll give the kids some alone time with Nat.”

 

It took a couple of hours, but soon the roar of the quinjet engines could be heard from the outside the house. From the kitchen window Clint looked out and see the ship land and people disembark. He set down the dishes he was cleaning and strode out the front door. He didn’t even bother with the porch steps and leapt down to the ground.

Sam, Wanda, and Bruce all clustered together as they approached the house. They looked like they were trying to seem friendly, but there was a glow of red power around Wanda’s fingers and Sam had his shield. The three of them hesitated at the crashed wreckage of Natasha’s ship before they saw Clint.

“Hey,” he called, “Good to see you all.”

“Clint,” Wanda said and the power dissipated from her fingers, “It’s good to see you.” Without thinking Clint opened his arms to her and she stepped into them, giving him a tight hug. “Is she still here?”

“I would have called if she wasn’t,” he said, “Come inside.”

The four of them entered the house and stopped short at the sight of Laura and Natasha sitting on the living room couch. They were posed to look as casual as possible, but Laura had one protective arm wrapped around Natasha. Nate, sprawled on the floor with legos, looked up and his little face lit up at the sight of Wanda.

“Auntie Wanda,” he said joyfully, scrambling to his feet and launching himself at her legs, “Auntie Nat is back!”

Natasha gave a small smile at that. “Hello all,” she said. Her eyes flicked over the new arrivals. “It’s good to see you.”

“Hey Nat,” Bruce said. “You’re, uh, alive.”

Nat raised her hand and wiggled her fingers. “Seems that way, doesn’t it?”

Wanda gave Nate a proper hug, then gently shook him off. “Go find your brother and sister. I’ll come play with you later.”

He nodded eagerly and ran out. Laura stood up, her eyes darting over the group. “I’ll go…keep him occupied,” she said. She left the room like she was going to ascend the staircase to the second floor, but Clint knew she had probably just tucked herself into the corner to eavesdrop.

Bruce started unpacking the bag he’d brought, pulling out a whole manner of gadgets. Natasha cleared her throat. “I can assure you,” she said, “I am Natasha. Just-“

“That’s what any sort of shape shifter would say,” Bruce said mildly.

Natasha paused. “What?” she said, startled.

“We called Carol on the way in,” Sam said, “She theorized that you could be a skrull.”

“Ah.”

“She said they could copy anyone, dead or alive, down to the dna,” Wanda said.

“Ah,” Natasha said again.

“Would a skrull invent the tattoos though?” Clint demanded, “Or change her hair.”

Sam and Bruce glanced at one another. “Well, they’re shapeshifters right?” Sam said, “They could do anything they wanted to probably? I don’t, uh, actually know anything about these Skrull creatures.”

“And Carol said that the skrull relations have been good for the past twenty or so years, one would have to go rogue-“

Wanda, red power glowing again at her fingertips, shouldered past Bruce and placed her hands on either side of Natasha’s head. Everyone in the room froze. Wanda’s eyes glowed red for what felt like forever, before she took her hands off the sides of Natasha’s head. “She’s Nat,” she declared, “She’s different, but she’s Nat.”

Clint sighed in relief.

“Different how?” Bruce asked.

“Different events, different people, different deaths,” Wanda glanced at Clint at that, biting her lip. “The timeline diverged somewhere.”

“Probably when we were on the time heist somewhere,” Clint said.

“All of the stones were returned,” Bruce said, “Or at least they were supposed to be.”

“Maybe something else happened during the heist that caused the timelines to change,” Clint said, “No way for us to know now.”

“We could compare notes,” Natasha said. Her mouth twitched like she was trying not to smile. “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.” She flicked her fingers at Bruce. “Science away if you have to.”

Sam snorted. Bruce unpacked a couple of the gadgets and began to fiddle with them, muttering to himself. Clint ran a hand over his face. “I’ll be back,” he said to no one in particular and he headed to the kitchen.

As suspected, Laura was tucked into the corner that couldn’t be seen from the living room and was clearly listening. “Well?” she said, not a hint of guilt on her face.

“Wanda cleared her, that’s Nat in there. At least, a Nat, if not our Nat.” He opened the refrigerator door and stared in aimlessly.

“That’s good,” Laura said, brightly, “She’s Nat, she knows us, she knows the kids.”

“What if she wants to return to her own timeline or…wherever she’s from?” Clint asked.

“Then we’ll do whatever we can to convince her to stay. You’re here, that’s got to count for something. Close the door, you’re letting all the cold air out.”

“Yes ma’am,” Clint said. He stared at the door, decorated with magnets and pictures. One with Natasha holding Cooper and Lila’s hands in front of the Disney castle had been moved front and center once they’d all returned home. “What if she’s different, though? What if she’s a different Nat?”

“Then we’ll learn the new Nat until we love her just as much as the old one,” Laura said, “Now come on Hawkeye, are you just going to stand there all day or are you going to help me get our guests something to drink?”

 

Chapter Text

A week passed, then two, and Natasha was still there. Every morning Clint came downstairs and she’d be assembling lunches for the kids and making coffee for him and Laura. She taught Cooper martial arts moves in the backyard, helped Lila with her homework, and every night volunteered to put Nate to bed. At times it felt like she’d never been gone. Other times, Clint would wake up in the morning with a foreboding feeling and would hurry downstairs to make sure she was still with them.

As much as she played with the kids and helped Laura with meals and still sparred with Clint, Natasha wasn’t talking. She hadn’t said anything about the place she was from since her first day there and had refused all of Bruce’s attempts to study what had brought her to them. She also didn’t seem to be immune to the same sense of foreboding Clint had. More than once, he caught her staring at them all like she too expected them to be snatched from her at any second.

“You know I’m a worrywart,” Laura said one night while they were getting ready for bed, “But I’m worried more than usual about Nat.”

“How so?” Clint asked. “I mean, I agree that she seems off. But it’s to be expected since she’s…different.”

“I don’t mean in that way,” Laura said. She struggled for a long moment, seemingly unable to put the words together. “It’s not…it’s not something that’s off per say, it’s more…” She trailed off.

Clint waited for her to put it together for him. Laura tended to be more perceptive when it came to people than he was, it was like her to catch a behavior or emotion before he did.

“I expected the guilt when she looks at you,” Laura said slowly, “because she would feel guilty that you died in her world and she didn’t. I wasn’t expecting the guilt when she looks at me and the kids.”

“Guilty?” Clint said, thinking back, trying to parse his interactions with Natasha over the day in his head.

“She looks at us the same way she looks at you,” Laura said, “One part terrified we’ll be taken from her and one part guilty as all hell.”

Clint pondered on that for a long moment. Natasha’s actions since her return, now that he was thinking about them, reminded him a little uncannily of his own when his family had returned once the snap was reversed. He too had been clingy and unwilling to let his family out of his sight, though they’d had less patience for him, since their absence had only seemed like mere seconds to them. Maybe in her universe the snap hadn’t been reversed or maybe she hadn’t been able to see the family return before she was flung over to theirs.

“I’ll try talking to her,” Clint said finally, though he didn’t have much hope. Natasha was closed up tight, she wouldn’t talk about anything until she wanted to. “And if that doesn’t work, I guess you can give it a try.”

“All we can do is try,” Laura said, kissing him gently on the cheek.

An opportunity didn’t arise until the next night, when Laura interrupted him cleaning up the remnants of dinner. “She’s outside,” she hissed, transferring a half asleep Nate from one of her arms to the other, “Go talk to her.”

“Yes ma’am,” Clint said. Laura smiled at him and he soaked up the warmth of it for a moment before turning to the fridge to grab him and Nat some drinks. Beer bottles in hand, he headed out to the front porch where Natasha sat on the steps. She turned when he heard him approach and shot him a grin.

“You didn’t put Nate down?” Clint asked.

“Laura said she had it.” Clint sent a grateful thought to his wife, who had clearly seen a chance to give him and Natasha space to speak. He held out the second beer bottle to her and she took it gladly. He settled on the porch steps next to her and looked up at the sky. The stars were glowing bright without any light pollution to keep them away.

“Hey,” he said, without thinking, “Remember when we went to space?” There was a pause and then he turned to Natasha, realizing, “Oh, uh, is that something I shouldn’t talk about?”

Natasha laughed. “No, no, it’s fine.” She took a long sip from her bottle. “I remember your face lighting up like a little kid’s when we made the jump.” Her tone was fond. “It was so beautiful.”

“Are you talking about my face or space?”

Natasha just chuckled and looked away from him. Her gaze drifted back to the stars. “The view here is pretty good,” she said, “I think I might like it better than the old house.”

“Liar,” Clint said.

“No it’s true! I like Missouri better. You all seem happier here, Laura seems more relaxed.”

“It’s because you’re here now,” Clint said, “That’s all you.”

“Oh,” Natasha said. Her face went a little pink. “She’s got you home too, since you aren’t out on Avengers missions all the time.”

“Oh, she’s used to me being around underfoot. She got used to that when I was on house arrest.”

“The fuck?” Natasha said. Her beer bottle about fell out of her hands and she scrambled to catch it. “What do you mean you were on house arrest?”

He blinked at her. “After the fight at the airport?” he said “Between Steve and Tony? Because Steve opposed the Sokovia Accords and also he had Bucky?”

“I’m-what?” Natasha said, “What-there was a fight at an airport? You mean an argument right? Not an actual all out brawl? Right?”

“No, like. There was a fight on the tarmac.” Natasha just stared at him, blinking rapidly. “I can find news articles, it was everywhere at the time.”

“I. Jesus.” Nat scrubbed her free hand over her face. “How did that happen? Why were Steve and Tony fighting?”

“The Sokovia Accords,” Clint said, “Requiring the superheroes to register. Tony was for them and Steve was against and it turned into a whole thing.”

“We had that,” Natasha said, “but it didn’t end in a battle in the airport. What the hell were you guys doing?”

“God,” Clint rubbed the back of his neck, “There was like... god this was forever ago. There was some fight in South Africa and Wanda destroyed a building so people were after her and Tony locked her up for her own safety and I had to let her out...Seriously, none of this happened? None of it?”

“No,” Natasha said, shaking her head.

“Well, that was because they thought Bucky had blown up the UN, but it was actually this guy from Sokovia-”

“Zemo?” Natasha asked. Clint glanced over at her and saw her face was as pale as the day she landed in their front yard. “Was his name Zemo?”

“Maybe? This was a long time ago. And I was in prison for awhile when a lot of it was going down.”

Natasha starred out across the yard, her face blank. Finally, she spoke and her voice was unsteady. “Why did they think Bucky blew up the UN? Wasn’t he with you guys?”

“What do you mean?”

“He wasn’t with the Avengers? When did he join up?”

“Oh. Well, he never really joined up. He was on the run for a long time after SHIELD fell and the Sokovian guy disguised himself as Bucky when he blew up the UN. So we weren’t sure for a bit if it was actually him or not. I mean, Steve was convinced it wasn’t, but they had to track him down.” He shrugged. “I wasn’t there for most of it, but I broke Wanda out.”

“Good,” Natasha said.

Clint gave her a side look. “You weren’t very happy that I broke Wanda out. You called me an idiot.”

“Were we...on different sides?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said, “You were pro registration and I wasn’t. You went with Tony and I went with Cap. We fought on the tarmac and it was fun. Best part of the whole thing. You helped Cap break us out and then you went on the run with him, but you visited whenever you could. We weren’t supposed to keep in contact, but the government didn’t pay much attention to Laura and I’s new marriage counselor.” He grinned at her, but Nat didn’t return it. “It was fine Nat, really. No hard feelings or anything. All that happened was I was on house arrest until Thanos…you know.”

Nat had finished her beer and set the empty bottle on the step next to her. She ran her hands nervously down her legs. Clint had hardly drunk any of his, he’d been talking so much. He set his bottle down as well.

“I take it this all went really differently for you,” he said.

Natasha gave a small laugh. “You could say that.” She was staring out over the yard again. Clint realized she’d hardly looked at him this entire conversation. “God, everything went completely different after Sokovia, it sounds like.”

“Tell me about it?” Clint asked.

Natasha took a deep breath. “Bucky joined the Avengers officially after Sokovia,” she said, “We’d broken his brainwashing before Ultron and he helped with that, so Steve and Tony decided it was time for him to be brought on.”

“When did you find him? Did Hydra have him?”

“Yeah, Hydra had him. We rescued him during the fall of SHIELD, we were trying to find him and found Hydra along the way. The brainwashing took a long time to break, the better part of a year. It was rough.”

“I’m assuming that’s an understatement.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Nat chuckled. “But he started helping us with Hydra clean up after that. It was good, we were all good, but then Ultron happened. After that, there was a lot of talk about superheroes and our impact. Bucky, well the Winter Soldier, went on trial for his crimes and he was cleared, but public opinion on him was mixed to say the least. Tony understandably had some issues with him and there was…a lot of fighting internally, but we were a united front for the public. Then the UN threw out the idea of the accords, there was some stuff that happened on a couple missions that caused that, but it wasn’t really a thing? We all had our opinions on it and Steve and Tony publicly said stuff on it, but it was something that kept getting stalled and didn’t seem it would ever get off the ground. And then…Zemo’s attack made it all come to a stop. And after Thanos no one cared.”

“Did he attack the UN too?”

“No, no, it was so much worse than that. He wanted to break the Avengers he said. He wanted to inflict as much pain on us as we’d caused him.” Nat was still refusing to look at him. She’d scooted away from him on the step, her body pressed up against the railing on the side. “His family died in Sokovia, so he wanted to destroy our family.”

“What did he do?” Clint asked.

Natasha shook her head mutely.

“Natasha, it can’t be that much worse than blowing up the fucking UN.”

“Clint. Don’t make me say it.”

“Nat, tell me,” he urged. The sense of horror and dread he’d felt that first day, when she’d struggled to say he’d died on Vormir was back and rising. “What did he do?”

“It was the worst day of my life,” she said in a whisper, “when I came to the house and saw what he’d done.”

It was like a weight had hit his stomach. “The house?” he repeated.

Natasha was crying, but it wasn’t harsh breaking sobs. The tears slipped out of her eyes, even as she squeezed them shut to stop them. “He hacked into Stark’s computers and found out about Laura and the kids.”

Fuck,” he said, “Was I there? With you?”

She nodded.

Fuck, Natasha. I don’t even. Fuck. I can’t imagine.” He’d had to watch them all disappear and had thought they were dead and gone for so long. To have actually seen their bodies would have been….he can’t even comprehend the horror.

“It was the worst day of my life,” she said again. “I thought that I would lose you too, with the way you were acting. You threw yourself whole heartedly into finding Zemo and I followed you.”

“We found him?” he asked.

“We didn’t, he was brought in by someone else.” She frowned a little. “I honestly don’t remember who, those days are all such a blur. It might have been Sharon. I begged Cap to let me interrogate him, told him I would keep it professional. He didn’t want me to, but eventually he relented. A lot of people cared at that point, they wanted there to be a public trial. That was the big reason the accords didn’t get bigger, Tony announced that we were no longer supporting them due to safety concerns.”

“What did you do?” Clint asked. “When you interrogated him?”

She gave a bitter smile. “I snuck you in and we murdered that fucker in cold blood.”

“Good,” Clint said fervently. “Good for us.”

Natasha smiled at him, less bitter. “We went on the run after that. We wanted to take care of the rest of his team. And we stayed on the run until we were called to help with the fight in Wakanda. And then Thanos happened.”

“Same as here,” Clint said.

“More or less, as far as I can tell,” Natasha said. “Except you know. You died.” Her gaze turned back to the stars.

Impulsively, Clint reached over and grabbed her hand. Natasha’s gazed snapped down from the sky to stare at their joined hands. “We’re all here, though,” he said. “Natasha, we’re all here and we’re all alive. I’m alive, the kids are alive, Laura is alive. They didn’t die here.”

“I know, Clint,” Nat said. Clint didn’t let go of her hand. If anything, he squeezed it harder.

“I know,” he said, “but I wanted to say it.”

Her face softened a little. “It’s good to hear.” She still hadn’t taken her eyes off of their hands. “It was…the biggest moment of joy and terror when I heard them yelling my name.”

“You thought you’d traveled back to before they died.”

“Yes,” she said, “I thought I’d have to watch them die all over again.”

Clint let go of her hand so he could wrap his arms around her. She froze up and didn’t return the embrace. Clint pulled back, not sure if he’d somehow overstepped. 

Natasha stood and brushed herself off. “I need to take a walk,” she said abruptly. “I don’t want you to follow me.” She strode off across the field and Clint watched her go until she was just a speck he could barely see in the darkness.

Chapter Text

Clint and Natasha had been talking a long time. Laura had gotten Nate to bed, had finished the dishes, and had checked in on Lila and Cooper and the two of them were still sitting outside. She considered joining them, but decided against it. She didn’t want Natasha to close down if she was finally opening up.

With the kids in bed, if not asleep just yet, and the nightly chores done, Laura felt it was time for her to move herself towards bed. She gave a great yawn and headed upstairs to begin her nightly routine.

Clint finally came upstairs when she was halfway through washing her face.

“How’d it go?” she asked.

Clint didn’t respond and instead wrapped her in a tight embrace. “Oh,” Laura said, surprised, but returned it. It was a fierce hug and he gave no sign of letting go. “Honey,” she said finally, “I can’t breathe.”

He released her quickly and she regretted forcing the hug to end. “Was the talk that bad?” she asked.

Clint exhaled heavily. “In her timeline, you and the kids died,” he said.

“Yeah?” Laura asked. “Like here?” It was clear whatever had been discussed was bothering him and so she pressed close to him again, planting a kiss on his shoulder, the first spot she could reach.

“No. Like you were murdered.”

Laura pulled back from him. “Are you serious?” she asked.

Clint nodded.

“Oh my God,” Laura said. “I’m-Holy shit. Was she there? Did she see what happened?”

“She apparently found you and the kids bodies with me.”

“Shit,” Laura said,”I can’t even…Poor Nat.” Her heart went out to her and she felt an almost desperate urge to hold her. “Where is she? Is she downstairs?”

“No, she went for a walk,” Clint said. “She said she wanted some space and told me not to follow her.”

“It’s pitch black out there,” Laura said, worriedly. “Do you think she’ll be ok?”

“Nat can take care of herself. But I’ll stay up until she gets back in, just to be sure.”

“I’ll stay up too,” Laura said. “Then maybe she and I will have a chance to talk.” She yawned then, a big one that cracked her jaw.

Clint looked at her bemusedly. “You sure about staying up?”

“I’ll keep the light on, I have a book, I’ll keep myself up.”

She only lasted twenty minutes before her eyes were drooping and the words on the page began to run together. She barely remember Clint taking the book from her and kissing her gently before she dropped off to sleep.

 

 

When Laura woke up in the morning, Clint was fast asleep beside her, but she could hear Natasha downstairs, hustling the kids through their morning routine. She barely had time to say good morning to Natasha in between finding Lila’s misplaced homework, Cooper’s cleats for soccer practice, and making sure that Nate actually had his backpack before they left the house. Natasha gently, but firmly, took the keys from Laura’s hands and said she’d drive the kids to school and they left the house in a whirlwind of noise. The house’s silence after they left was deafening.

She decided that cleaning up after breakfast could wait and booted up her laptop to see if there was any messages from SHIELD. She’d done translations for them for years, but had received hardly any requests in the past few months, which really wasn’t surprising. She was sure they were just as busy cleaning up as the rest of the world was.

There was one small missive in French, which would be a breeze and Laura had finished typing up the first paragraph when Natasha came back in.

“Hey,” Laura said, closing the laptop and setting it aside. “Drop off go ok?”

“Yeah,” Nat said. “It was fine.”

“Good,” Laura said. “Let me make some fresh coffee and we can have a lazy morning.”

Natasha looked hesitant. “Ok,” she said. “Is Clint still asleep?”

“He is,” Laura confirmed. “How late were the two of you up? He said he would stay up until you got in from your walk.”

“Oh,” Natasha said. “It was late. I was surprised he was still up when I came back. Maybe around three a.m.?”

“You must’ve had a lot on your mind,” Laura said.

“I did,” Natasha said.

They lapsed into silence. The coffee finished and Laura passed Nat a cup. They drank their coffee slowly as the morning sunlight drifted in through the morning window, setting Natasha’s hair ablaze. Laura studied her over her cup. She’d always treasured the moments that she’d gotten with Natasha, not the Black Widow, not Agent Romanoff. Just Natasha, her hair in a messy bun, enjoying her coffee and contemplating where her day would go. The thought that Natasha was relaxed enough for this gave Laura a happy glow in her chest.

“What are your plans for the day?” Laura asked.

“Nothing in particular,” Natasha said with a shrug. “I’ll tag along with whatever you have planned, if you don’t mind.”

The warm glow in Laura’s chest spread. “I’d like that,” she said. “It’d give us a chance to talk.”

“Oh,” Natasha said. She took a large swallow of her coffee. “I guess it’s too much to hope that Clint didn’t tell you about our talk last night.”

“He didn’t go into details, but yes he told me.” Laura set down her coffee cup and reached for Natasha’s hand. Natasha hesitated a little at the touch, but allowed it. “Natasha, I’m so so sorry. I can imagine how much that would have destroyed you.”

“To say it was the worst day of my life would be an understatement,” Natasha said. She was clearly trying to keep her voice light, but her lip wobbled. Laura squeezed her hand. There was that moment of hesitation again, but then Natasha squeezed her hand back.

“I think the worst day of mine,” Laura said, “was when we snapped back and Clint said you weren’t coming back.”

They sat in silence for a long moment. “It doesn’t...freak you out?” Nat said. “To find out that you died?”

“It didn’t freak you out,” Laura said, bemused.

“Well, no. Makes sense that I end up in the one universe where I’m dead and you’re all alive.”

“Do you want to go back to your...universe or timeline or whatever?” Laura asked hesitantly.

“No! Why would I?” Natasha said, stunned.

Laura shrugged. “I don’t know...there’s all the others that you left behind.”

“Almost all of you are here,” Natasha said. “There’s no reason for me to try to go back when my family is here. I thought you knew that.”

“I did,” Laura said, the warmth filling her entire chest now, “but I didn’t want to assume.” She let go of Natasha’s hand so that she could drink her coffee easier. “Well, now the air is clear. No more secrets, right?” Laura chuckled.

Natasha flinched. She opened her mouth and closed it again. Suspicious, Laura thought.

“Unless there is something?” she asked.

“No,” Natasha said, but she suddenly couldn’t seem to look at Laura. She visibly swallowed. “No,” she said again.

“You’re sitting on something,” Laura observed. “Something you didn’t tell Clint last night.”

Natasha opened her mouth, then closed it. “No, I’m not,” she said. Her voice sounded normal, but Laura could see how her hands shook. She reached for Natasha’s hand again, but as soon as their hands caressed, Natasha pulled hers back like Laura had burned her. Laura had to school her face hard to keep her concern from showing through. “Nat,” she coaxed again. “You know that you can tell me anything. I love you, nothing you can tell me will scare me away. You’re one of my best friends.”

“I slept with Clint,” Natasha blurted out.

Laura fell silent. It was so quiet that she could hear a bird singing loudly outside the window. Natasha couldn’t look her in the eye.

“When,” Laura said, “did you have the time?”

‘What?” Natasha said, taken aback.

“I’ve either been with you or the kids have been with you or….I can’t remember a time you and Clint were alone. I mean, besides the talk last night.” Laura licked her lips. “And I know what Clint looks like post coital and that was not how he looked last night.”

“No, it was...it wasn’t your Clint,” Natasha winced. “It was in my timeline. After you-”

“Ohhhhhh,” Laura said. “And you feel guilty about that?”

“Yes,” Natasha said, looking at Laura like she was crazy.

“You shouldn’t,” Laura said. “I was dead. You two were taking comfort in each other. That’s ok.”

“But you’re one of my best friends!” Natasha burst out. “And it was wrong for me to do that!”

“Sounds to me like Clint also had something to do with it.”

“He was grieving! I took advantage of that!”

“Oh my God,” Laura said, losing patience. “You are allowed to want things, Natasha!”

Natasha’s mouth snapped shut. The floorboards above them shifted and both women’s gaze snapped to the ceiling. The bedroom door opened and closed and the sounds of Clint heading downstairs were clear.

Natasha bolted out of the front door before Laura could even move to intercept her. The door banged and seemed to rattle the whole house. Laura sighed and rubbed her temples. It was much too early to have a glass of wine, but she wanted one.

“Hey,” Clint said groggily. “How late did I sleep? Was that Nat?”

Tiredly, Laura gestured to the coffee maker. “Get some coffee,” she said. “We have a lot to talk about.”

Chapter Text

Laura waited until Clint had taken a giant swig of coffee to say, “So, Nat says she slept with the other you.”

She was glad she waited. Clint’s spit take was glorious. .  

“Jesus. Really ?”

“Yeah,” Laura said, “Clearly she didn’t mention it last night.”

“I mean, that’s not something that I would’ve kept from you.” He rubbed the back of his neck, gaze in the distance. 

“I know,” Laura said, “I know you wouldn’t have.” Even if they didn’t have a long standing “no secrets” policy, this wasn’t something you’d keep from your spouse. “I don’t think she planned on telling either of us, I had to coax it out of her.”

“Hell,” Clint said. He took another sip of his coffee, his gaze drifting to the distance. “And then she ran out?”

“Once she heard you coming down here, yeah.” Laura finished her coffee and moved to the sink to wash out her cup. She glanced at Clint. He was drinking his coffee, looking thoughtful. She put her cup on the drying rack and went to grab Nat’s. 

“Talk to me,” she said, when she’d finished washing Nat’s cup and he still hadn’t said anything.

“There’s nothing to say,” he said, “I mean, it makes a weird sort of sense if you think about it?”

“Or perfect sense,” Laura said, “You and Natasha are so close...if something happened to me I don’t think anyone would be shocked if you guys got together.” 

“Nothing happened while you were snapped,” he pointed out.

“No,” Laura said, “Because you were busy getting your angst out by being a serial killer.”

He glared at her and she raised her eyebrow in return. “I’m not wrong,” she said. 

“No,” he said, begrudgingly. 

“I don’t judge,” she said. At his own raised eyebrow, she amended, “Ok, I judge a little. But I don’t know how I would have handled half the world disappearing on me either.”

“Not by becoming a serial killer,” Clint muttered into his cup.

“Probably not, no,” Laura said, “Maybe I would have dealt with it by hooking up with Nat.”

Clint snorted. “Maybe,” he stated. 

Laura swallowed. “You know my feelings for Nat,” she said. 

“I know,” he said, “They’re-”

“Complicated,” she finished for him. 

“Yeah,” he said. “Mine too.”

The silence stretched out between them until Clint finished his coffee. 

“Think we should go find her?” he said, finally breaking the silence. 

“Yeah,” Laura said, “ I think she’s been on her own long enough.”



Maybe she should’ve chased after Natasha when she’d run out, Laura reflected, because now she was looking at the prospect of trying to track a super spy across three acres of land. And that super spy had had a head start. 

Clint squinted out across the field in front of them. “I might see her,” he said, “What was she wearing?”

“A gray hoodie,” Laura said. 

“Right,” Clint said, squinting harder, “I think I see her. Leave the door unlocked in case I’m wrong though.”

Laura gently pulled the door closed and the two of them set off across the field. It was still cool, the sun not quite burning hot yet, though the morning dew had been baked off the grass. Laura squinted into the distance, but couldn’t quite see whatever had lead Clint in this direction. Gradually though, a figure formed in her vision of Natasha, pacing the fence line like a caged animal.

Natasha heard them coming and turned to face them. She’d removed her hoodie and tied it around her waist and for the first time Laura could see the rose tattoo that wound it’s way up her arm. The thorny vines and close budded roses ran up to her shoulder where they bloomed. Laura counted silently. There were three little and one large. 

“I didn’t think you’d follow me,” Nat said. Her eyes darted between Clint and Laura, like she was considering running again. 

Laura stepped close to her and wrapped her arms around Natasha before the other woman could bolt. “You’re not getting away from me this time, Natasha Romanoff,” she said, “The three of us are going to talk.”

Natasha huffed, but didn’t pull out of Laura’s arms. “What is with you and wanting to talk all the time?” she said.

“Communication is important to healthy relationships.” Laura rubbed Natasha’s bare arms, which had started to goose pimple. “Come on,” she coaxed, “Let’s head back to the house.” She let her fingers linger over the largest rose, the one she was sure was for her. Natasha shivered. ”You barely slept last night, Nat. You must be exhausted.”

Nat shook her head. “I can manage,” she said and Laura remembered Clint’s stories of Nat and him spending eighteen hours in a sniper’s nest. “We probably need to talk. The three of us.”

“Ok,” Laura said, “Ok.” She curled her arm around Natasha’s shoulders. “Let’s head back to the house.”



When they came up to the house, they didn’t go inside. Natasha sat on the porch and hesitantly, Clint and Laura sat next to her, one on either side. 

“You told him?” Natasha asked Laura. At Laura’s nod she swallowed nervously. “I understand if you don’t want me to stay, after that,” she said, gazing out over the fields and not meeting anyones’ eyes. 

“I don’t want you gone,” Laura said, “Clint?”

“We just got you back,” he said, in a pained voice. “I’m not going to send you away.”

“Ok,” Nat said, “I just thought I’d say that I’d understand if you needed to.” 

“You are always welcome here, Nat,” Laura said, firmly, “This is your home . You’re our family .”

“I know,” Natasha said. She looked between Laura and Clint. “Do you want me to tell you what happened?” she asked. 

“Only if you want to,” Clint said, “We don’t have to talk about it.”

“I think Laura will have a problem if we don’t talk about it.”

“I just know everyone feels better if they talk about their problems,” Laura said. She was quiet for a moment. “But, if you really don’t want to talk about it, I guess I’ll have to respect that.”

“No, it’s fine, it’s just hard to talk about. Especially with you guys.” Nat silent, clearly gathering her thoughts. She turned to Clint. “You remember, I told you we went hunting the people who killed...who killed Laura and the kids, yeah?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“It happened after we found the last one. We went back to where we were staying and it was just like...the rage and grief were still there, even though they were all dead. And we didn’t want to talk about it so we just sort of... took it out on each other.” 

“Ah,” Clint said.

“And then it just… continued. We went back to the Avengers and tried to hold things together there and just...kept at it. We never really talked about it. Once I got really drunk and told him I felt guilty about the whole thing and he told me not to, so.” Nat shrugged. 

“Were you in love with him?” Laura asked, gently.

Nat didn’t answer. The question loomed large between them. 

“I guess that’s a yes, then,” Clint said. 

“No,” Nat denied. Then she stopped. “Yes, maybe, I don’t know.” She pulled her knees up to her chest. “I just wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.”

“Oh, Nat.” Laura said, her heart breaking.

“What do you want now?” Clint asked. 

“Hell if I know,” Nat said.

“I think you do,” Laura said quietly, “You just don’t want to say it.”

“I don’t have words for it.”

“Ok,” Clint said, “What words do you have?”

Natasha seemed to be trying to gather her thoughts. “I slept with Clint,” she said, “And we had a relationship of some sort. But I felt guilty every day because I missed Laura and I felt like I was betraying her in some way. And we probably should have talked about it, but we never did.”

“Yeah,” Clint said, “I can see that. I can see myself feeling guilty too.”

Laura snorted. “You two are such martyrs,” she said. “You are!” she exclaimed when Nat and Clint turned simultaneously to glare at her. “Do you really think I’d want you to be miserable forever because I was dead? I love you both too much for that.” 

Natasha stared at the ground. Clint stared at Laura. 

“I love you both,” she repeated, softer. 

Natasha visibly swallowed. Laura reached over and took her hand. Clint took her other one. 

“I love you both too,” Natasha whispered. Clint kissed the side of her head and she stared up at him, eyes wide in surprise. 

“What?” he said, “I also love you. Don’t look so surprised.” 

“He has,” Laura cut in, “for a long time. And not just in a friend way.”

Natasha’s face seemed frozen in the same surprised expression. 

Clint raised an eyebrow at her. “You were the one who once said to me that anyone with even the faintest attraction for women would be attracted to Natasha.”

Laura felt her cheeks coloring, but was determined to keep his gaze. “Yes,” she said, “And what of it?”

Clint chuckled. “So maybe, we could try something.”

“Like a sister wives thing?” Natasha asked, a little smirk on her face. 

“No, like, I don’t know, a throuple? Is that what the kids call it?”

“That’s a terrible word,” Laura said, “Triad is much better.”

“You’ve...thought about this before,” Natasha said. 

“Yeah,” Clint said, exchanging a glance with Laura over Nat’s head, “We’ve discussed it.”

“Not recently though,” Laura said, knocking her foot against Nat’s, “but I think we’re still on the same page.”

“Ok,” Nat said. She took a deep breath. “How will things be different?”

“Not by too much,” Clint said. 

“Probably just more kissing,” pointed out Laura. 

“That’s a bonus,” Nat said dryly and Laura and Clint laughed. 

“We don’t have to set anything in stone now,” Clint said.

“I know.” Nat leaned into him more and tugged Laura over so that she was draped along Nat’s side. Laura nuzzled her cheek into Nat’s shoulder. “We’ve got lots of time to figure it all out.”



The rest of the day seemed to float by like a dream. Laura finished her translation, Clint shot arrows in the backyard, and Natasha took a nap on the sofa, the sunlight setting her hair alight and making Laura’s breath catch every time she glanced over. The kids were dropped off and the chaos that ensued broke the dream a little bit, Laura getting drawn into the hurricane of homework, dinner, and bedtime routines. 

She checked in on all of the kids one last time to make sure that they were all in bed and all devices had been put away (Cooper reading a book for a few more minutes was acceptable), then headed downstairs to the living room where she’d last left Clint and Nat. 

Clint had his arm around Nat as she curled into his side and they both turned to look at her and she came and sat on the other side of Clint. 

“Are the kids all in bed?” he asked. 

“Yes. We might have to go up in thirty minutes to stop Cooper from reading, though.” She leaned into Clint’s side and tucked her head against his shoulder. “He promised me he’d go to sleep after this chapter and he looked like he was almost done.”

“We can give him a bit,” Clint said, stroking her arm. 

Natasha yawned. 

“You ready for bed Nat?” Clint asked with a chuckle. 

“Soon,” Nat said, nodding sleepily against his shoulder. 

“Will you be joining us in bed tonight?” Laura asked, without thinking. 

Clint raised an eyebrow at her. “Don’t you think that’s moving a little fast?” he asked. 

Laura flushed. “Maybe,” she said, “Just...open invitation to you, Nat. Don’t feel pressured.”

Nat reached over a gestured for Laura to take her hand. “Let me think about it,” she said, “But for now can we just sit here for a bit?”

Clint kissed the top of her head. “We can stay here as long as you like.”

“Thank you,” Nat said. She paused, then said softly, “I love you both so much.”

Laura squeezed her hand. “We love you too. It was the best day of my life when you came back to us.”