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Spring Cleaning 2015: Panic Buttons and Pick-Up Sticks (Kid fic selections)

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When he got back on base, to their quarters in family housing, he found the lights off and the curtains drawn against the bright midday sunshine.

"Nat?" he called hesitantly, not wanting to wake the baby if she was napping.

"In here," she called, but her voice sounded unnaturally weak and reedy, and his heart rate kicked up just a little bit.

"Nat, what..." he froze in the doorway, taking in the sight before him. She was in the bed, braced against the wall and a mound of pillows to help support both herself and Lina, who was curled into her side like she'd just been nursing and fallen asleep. Natasha had a protective hand on Lina's side - he could see it rising and falling along with his daughter's breathing. All around them were discarded tissues and he could see the beads of sweat along her hairline. Both of their faces - their skin was the same - were flushed with a too-bright pink that he knew on Natasha meant she was running a fever.

"We've got the flu." She did sound rough, hoarse and faded, which worried him. Natasha was so rarely sick - he couldn't remember, in fact, a time that she had gotten sick from natural causes rather than injury.

He left his duffel and weapons case by the doorway and cleared a space so he could sit next to her on the edge of the bed. She looked exhausted. "Have you been able to get any sleep? If I'd known, I could've-"

"You couldn't have. You can't make the flu disappear, and you can't just up and leave whatever Fury had you doing because we're sick."

"You haven't slept, have you." He made it a statement, not a question.

"No. She's been so congested, I was afraid..." she trailed off, looking down at Lina.

Before he'd walked in the door, all he'd wanted was a hot shower and a solid eight hours sleep, preferably with one or both of them curled up next to him, but he could see that would have to wait. Natasha didn't have a lot of fears, but something happening to their daughter had rocketed to the top of the list. She wouldn't let herself sleep, he realized, unless she knew someone she could trust was making sure that everything was alright. Which meant him.

Leaning down, he carefully extricated the 14 month old, balancing her warm, sleepy weight with one arm while gently pushing Natasha back down with his other hand. "You, get some sleep," he whispered and brushed a kiss across her hair. "I've got her until you wake up, okay? She'll be fine, I'll keep her close."

Natasha nodded, and was already out before he could straighten all the way back up. He pressed Lina's face against his for just a minute and flinched at how warm she was. Not dangerously so (long years of dealing with field injuries in the middle of nowhere had given him a fairly accurate thermometer) but warm enough he knew she was still sick. Natasha's felt higher, and he made a mental note to check on her again and make her take something if it wasn't down by the time she woke up.

The bathroom yielded mixed results, he was able to find a wash cloth and soaked it with cool water before tucking it against Lina's face and neck, but the bottle of children's pain killer was overturned and there was a sticky pink puddle streaked across the bathroom counter.

"You wore your momma out, didn't you, darlin'?" he whispered, soft enough she didn't even stir in his arms.

He ended up in the arm chair with her sprawled across his chest and her face against his neck so he could feel the rise and fall of her chest between his and his hand and the soft rhythm of her breath against his throat. He didn't sleep, but closed his eyes and let himself drift, confident he'd know the moment either changed. He opened his eyes occasionally to check the light level in the room and the red digital readout of the clock on the bookcase.

******

 

A small whimpering and restless shifting brought him fully back to the present and when he looked down Lina's eyes were open and staring back up at him.

"Dadda?" she asked, a smile crossing her face.

"Hey, little bird. You feeling any better?" He set the back of his hand against her face and was pleased to find she was cooler to the touch. "Yeah, I bet you are."

She patted his face in return, and giggled, but it broke off in a cough.

"You probably need more medicine. And dinner. We can't do much about that first one until Momma's awake, but I can help you out with some food, alright? You want some banana?"

Banana was one of the very first words she'd learned, and her eyes lit up at the mention. "Binna!" she crowed and he shared her grin.

 

******

Lina was well and truly sticky and covered in a combination of banana paste and cheerios when Natasha stumbled blearily into the kitchen and leaned against the doorway.

"Mama!" her fever had broken not long after she'd woken up, and with it receding her general cheerfulness had returned. Some days Clint wondered if this is what Natasha had been like, or might've been like if things had been different for her.

Now though, she still seemed more the worse for wear than not, but her color was down and he guessed that her fever was on it's way to breaking too. Thank god for super-soldier regeneration sometimes.

"How long have you been back?" she asked in a stronger voice than she'd had before.

"Eight or nine hours," he admitted. "You needed the sleep."

"I got sick."

He nodded. "Pretty unusual. How long did you go without sleep?"

Their eyes met and he watched her consider what she could get away with saying, saw the moment when she gave up and just went with the truth. "Three days."

"Nat-"

"The first night she cried. She didn't have a fever, but you could tell her head hurt. And she cried and wouldn't sleep for more than about twenty minutes at a time. So I walked the floor with her to calm her down."

"And?"

"She got more and more congested. I got her to sleep once, and tried to set her down, but she started coughing and couldn't really seem to stop. She could breathe better up on my shoulder, so I just... stayed up."

"Nat," he started, stepping in front of her and pulling her against his chest. Yes, she was definitely cooler, back to something like Natasha-normal, and he threaded his fingers through her sweaty hair. "Why didn't you call? They could've gotten me if you needed me."

"I managed, Clint. I can manage, and we were fine. I'm just really, really glad you're home."

They stood like that for a long handful of minutes until the clatter of a bowl and spoon redirected their attention. "She looks much better."

"Yeah, her fever's gone, and she hasn't coughed in an hour or two. We were just having breakfast."

"It's two a.m."

"She woke up hungry. So was I."

Natasha smiled and rolled her eyes. They were both too nocturnal themselves to do much good trying to fake a regular schedule. Lina didn't really seem to mind. Then Natasha pulled away, was still a little unsteady on her feet, but he could see how rapidly she was fighting off whatever the bug had been now that she'd had some proper sleep.

"So, cheerios and bananas?"

*****

"When do you leave for Malibu?" Clint's fingers were back to playing with her hair, damp now from their shower.

"Monday. I need a few days to get set up, get some proper clothes and familiarize myself with her things." She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder and pressed herself closer to his side.

"He give you any idea how long it would take?"

"No. Stark's dying, but it's slow. He's trying to kill himself quickly. And god only knows how long it'll take him to crack the damn science code. If there's really one to crack, and if it really has anything at all to do with saving his life."