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"Dad? Dad, dinner's ready." Lila tugged at the back of the archer's shirt as he stared out of the window.

That was where he and Nat trained. That was where he taught Lila how to fire arrows and Nat taught her how to shoot. That was where they'd gotten Laura involved and started to teach her how to fight. That was where they'd spent their first anniversary, under the trees, with just them, some good food and more than a bottle of wine. That was roundabout where Laura and the kids disappeared. Where Clint and Natasha had found small spots of ash after they'd raced home from Wakanda. That was where they'd both collapsed on the grass, holding each other tight, sobbing and screaming like their lives depended on it. That was where the jet had picked them up and they'd left the farm, unable to stay there, the memories and grief too overwhelming.

"Dad?"

Clint blinked abruptly, looking down from the glass. "Sorry, sweetheart, what it is it?"

Lila frowned, teeth biting into her lip in a move that was so Natasha, Clint's heart hurt even more.

"Dinner's ready." She said quietly, holding out her hand.

"Well we better hurry or the boy's will've left us with nothing." He offered a smile and Lila, still clearly not convinced, nodded and pulled him towards the kitchen.

It had been a week since the funeral and they still hadn't sat down at the kitchen table to eat. They couldn't. Not when the sixth seat was always going to be empty.

Clint collected his tray from the kitchen counter and moved towards the living room.

The boys were in their usual seats and Lila liked to sit on the floor, another thing that reminded him terribly of the missing part of their family.

Laura was sitting on the couch, her eyes sad as she watched Clint stumble over where to sit. The three of them had always mixed it up with who sat where and who went in the middle. Usually it was the person who needed a little extra loving and Clint didn't think he'd ever been as empty as coming to realize there would never be a middle spot again.

There would always be something, someone, missing.

Agony clear on his face, he sat down quickly for the sake of the kids. He took Laura's left side, trying to ignore the empty spot beside him.

The kids were watching something cartoon-y on the TV screen so Clint didn't feel too guilty about closing his eyes for a moment, willing the assault of memories to just stop for one goddamn minute please.

Laura's tray remained untouched, the way it had all week.

Clint opened his eyes and wrapped his arm around the brunette's shoulders. "Please try to eat something." He said lowly. "Nat would hate if you got sick."

Laura inhaled shakily at the mention of the redhead, hastily rubbing a hand over her eyes. She said nothing but nodded, stabbing a green bean like it was the worst thing in the world, lifting it to her mouth and forcing herself to chew.

Clint squeezed her shoulder and withdrew his arm.

He certainly didn't feel like eating but he had to set an example so he began to eat the dinner Laura had still lovingly prepared.

They hadn't gone anywhere near Nat's favourite foods or any foods that reminded them of her. No pizza, no carrot sticks, no strawberry anything, no apples picked fresh from the trees, no family size bags of flaming hot Cheetos.

The pair hadn't even been able to sleep in their own room, so overwhelming were the pictures, the trinkets, the strands of hair still resting in their bed.

Clint had been here before. For five long years, he and Nat had been alone. No Laura, no Lila, no Cooper, no Nate. They'd lost two thirds of their family in mere seconds.

The agony was crushing, leaving them unable to breathe through the pain, leaving them unable to function for months straight.

The only thing keeping them going was their purpose. For Nat that was to hold the team together, to take on the leadership role and to ensure things ran as smoothly as possible. For Clint, it was missions, it was training, it was travelling the world for information, for anything, for any tiny spark of hope left.

The distance killed the pair even more but each job they were doing was necessary, it was needed. Without the jobs, they would have fallen apart and never recovered.

One time, Clint had come back to the compound to find Natasha having an absolute breakdown over a pb+j. Over the years, Natasha had never once made a pb+j with strawberry jam. Laura used to make it from scratch and it was her favourite thing in the world. But Rhodey had been around and with barely any groceries in, he'd made whoever was there sandwiches. He didn't know that Natasha absolutely had to have grape jelly and had given her strawberry. Nat had taken a bite and nearly thrown up with the overwhelming surge of emotions.

Clint pushed the door open, muscles aching as he dropped his bow onto the table. So exhausted as he was, he didn’t notice the chaos for a few seconds. Then a soft sobbing caught his attention  and Clint realized that the office was in absolute ruin. The remains of a plate sat at the woman’s feet as the archer moved towards her, dropping to his knees, hands touching her cheek, her hair. “Nat? Nat, love, it’s just me. Hey, what’s going on?” He whispered, taking in the fact that not only had Natasha trashed everything in sight, that she was also nearly sitting on a trampled up sandwich. Clint grabbed the remains of it, frowning as he made to move it out the way so Nat wouldn’t get covered in jelly. Maybe the woman had had a flashback, maybe she just fucking missed everyone, maybe- Oh. Oh. As he dropped the bread off to the side of them, he caught the colour of the inside. It wasn’t her usual purple, but red. Fuck. “Sweetheart?” He murmured, trying to catch her gaze, though her eyes looked right through him, clearly seeing something else, remembering something else. “Okay, okay, you’re okay. I’m just gonna pick you up and we’ll go to bed, lyubit’.” Clint swallowed the lump in his throat and lifted Natasha up into arms, carrying her carefully to their room.

She hadn't been able to speak for two days straight after the incident and no one ever made her food without asking what she wanted again.

They'd broken down more times than Clint could count.

When it reached Lila's birthday, when Natasha made the mistake of looking through old pictures, when Clint walked past a train set in the store, when they'd heard someone calling for a Cooper.

Sometimes all it took was watching the leaves change from green to red. Sometimes it was accidentally using a nickname Laura had coined. Sometimes it was nothing at all, sometimes it just came from nowhere, it just happened.

And then they'd found that spark of hope and thrown themselves into head first.

Clint had volunteered to test the machine, had seen just a glimpse of the farm house and a flash of brown hair before he'd come back. He'd seen Lila. He knew then, no matter what it took, they had to get them back.

Preparation flew by and soon enough, Clint and Natasha were in goddamn space and they had hope in their eyes and lightness instead of darkness.

They smiled, joked, held hands and touched, knowing that if everything went right, they would have their family back.

Then Vormir had happened.

Clint had been convinced that he should be the one to do and Natasha had been convinced that she had to do it.

They'd kissed and then fought like they never had before. The greatest fight of their lives, over in thirty seconds.

Clint jumped and he knew, he knew this would reunite Nat with their family.

And then the redhead had followed him, always one step ahead and he'd been left frantically clutching her hand, begging her, pleading. She couldn't. She couldn't.

"It's okay," she'd said, "you'll get to be with them again. I love you. Tell them I love them too."

Clint had been too broken to talk, to speak, to say those three words back but he didn't have to, Nat knew. She always knew.

And then she'd pushed away from the wall and she'd slid from his grasp and all there was left to do was watch her fall.

He'd always thought her hair looked like fire, had even nicknamed her Firebird, but now all he saw when he closed his eyes was blood.

So much blood.

It wasn't fair. None of it was fair. He was the lucky one. He'd gotten five years with Natasha, had been there to say goodbye. Laura hadn't gotten any of that. And now he had Laura for the rest of their lives and neither Laura nor Natasha had gotten to see the other again.

Blinking, Clint found that a little time had passed. His plate was empty and Laura's was mostly so. The kids were still watching TV but it was beginning to get darker outside.

"Who's turn is it for dishes?" Clint cleared his throat.

Lila sighed and rolled from her stomach and onto her back. "Mine." She murmured, clambering up to her feet.

Clint stacked the trays and plates and carried them through to the kitchen so Lila wouldn't have to.

He heard Laura clap her hands and announce that it was bath time.

Nate was the only kid left who needed help with his bath and the never ending ache in Clint's chest grew.

Natasha loved bath time.

Clint leaned against the door, heart bursting with love as he watched Laura and Natasha bath baby Nate. Laura was busy splashing around with a multitude of bath toys, trying to engage to boy so he wouldn’t freak out. It was his first time in the big boy’s tub and he was a little uncertain to say the least. As Laura entertained him, Natasha washed the little tufts of hair on Nate’s head, “You’re going to look just like your daddy when you get older, huh malyshka? A real heart-breaker, that’s for sure.” She grinned, carefully and tenderly wiping the shampoo from the boy’s head. Nate babbled softly, splashing his yellow duck around in the water, sometimes craning his head back to look at Natasha, who would grin and poke his little nose. For the most part, Nat watched the boy play, the occasional tear in her eyes at every ‘mama, mama, mama!’ the boy would utter. When it was time to get out of the bath, Natasha wrapped Nate up in a soft towel, lifting him to her chest, unable to stop herself kissing his forehead. “Our little malyshka.” She whispered, slightly choked up, as Laura with her hair as Clint watched from the doorway. Natasha looked up at him, grin wide and real and amazing and utterly beautiful.

Blinking back tears, Clint placed the trays on the counter. "You wash and I'll dry." He told Lila quietly.

The girl nodded, filling up the sink, shuffling quietly from one foot to the other.

Half way through the dishes, Lila paused, biting her lip again. "Dad?"

"Yeah, love?" Clint looked over at her, placing the dry dishes on the counter.

"I...I know I'm too old and...and it's probably really sad and lame of me to ask but..." She trailed off, looking uncertain.

"Lila, nothing you could ever ask for is ever too much or lame." Clint frowned, throwing the towel over his shoulder and leaning against the cupboard. "What do you need?"

Lila, shuffling her feet still, looked down at the floor as she spoke. "Can I stay with you and mom tonight?" She asked weakly. "I...just once, just for one night. I...I keep having nightmares about...about..."

About Natasha.

"About your mama?" Clint asked quietly, voice strained.

Lila nodded miserably, rubbing at her eyes, tears on her cheeks. She hiccuped weakly, face screwing up as she began to cry.

Clint was in front of her in an instant, arms encasing her, pulling her to his chest. He brushed a hand over her hair, rocking them from side to side. "I've got you. I've got you. I know it's hurts. I know it feels like the end of the world." He breathed against her hair, squeezing his eyes shut as his baby girl sobbed against his chest.

"And of course you can stay with us, sweetheart." Clint kissed her temple. "You can stay with us for as long as you need."

Lila sniffled, fingers clutching at his shirt. "I miss her so much, dad.'' She whispered.

"I know, baby," Clint's voice broke a little, "me too."

He couldn't say it would be okay, that it would get easier. It was going to be rough and the agony would stay with them. The best he could do was share in his daughter's pain, and let her know she wasn't alone.

"Here, why don't we break into mom's ice cream stash?" Clint suggested, squeezing Lila tightly.

The girl nodded, wiping her hands over her eyes, her smile watery. "Yeah."

"Yeah? Okay, you pick out some ice cream and I'll finish off these dishes." Clint smiled as he returned to the sink.

Lila clattered around him, pulling out ice cream and bowls and various toppings.

Clint joined her at the breakfast island, scooping a very generous amount of Moose Tracks ice cream into his bowl. Lila was going crazy with the toppings so it was only right that Clint did too.

He threw on mini marshmallows, caramel sauce and a shit ton of sprinkles.

He could hear splashing from upstairs that meant Nate was clearly enjoying himself in the bath. He did feel guilty for leaving Laura to do bath time but he would take the next one and it seemed like Lila needed at least one of her parents right then.

Digging into his ice cream, Clint watched Lila do the same, her eyes still filled with tears, though she was smiling as she enjoyed the dessert.

It made Clint both ache and warm as he watched the girl. She had always reminded him of Nat, but now that the redhead was gone, it was like he was noticing even more.

The furrow of her brows, the flick of her wrist, the toppings she chose, the way her eyes glanced around at her surroundings.

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Clint continued to eat, just trying to hold it together until the kids went to sleep.

Just hold it together.

...

Later that night, with the boy's tucked up in their beds and Lila asleep in the guest room where Clint and Laura had been staying, the archer felt himself losing control.

Laura was reading the boys their story and Clint, without recollection of getting there, stood in front of their bedroom door.

He hadn't set foot in there for years. Natasha and Clint had locked the house up after the snap, they'd only collected the essentials and a few personal items and had left.

When most of their family had returned, despite the memories of Natasha lingering, the kids needed to be home. They'd spent a week straight cleaning the place up, sorting out the gardens, everything covered in dust.

The animals had been looked after by the old man who lived closest to the farm. He'd lost his wife and nearly all of his own animals during the snap and had greatly needed something to do. He hadn't even wanted any money, though Clint still sent some every single month.

They'd been home for nearly two weeks, not counting the day they spent with everyone for the funerals. But they still hadn't gone inside their room. But Laura was running out of clean clothes, since she hadn't had five years to accumulate new ones. And sooner or later, they would have to go inside. They couldn't spend their lives in the guest room.

Clint found himself pushing the door open without even remembering gripping the handle. As he pushed the door, dust floated up from everywhere, tickling at his nose.

Despite the dust, everything looked the same.

Clint took a few steps towards the big bed they'd had custom made, fingers brushing over the pastel yellow covers.

He knew it wouldn't smell like Natasha, five years was a long time, but he couldn't stop his hands from reaching out for the cushion she used the most. He lifted it up to his face and all he could smell was must. Overwhelmingly disappointed, he dropped the cushion, frustrated tears welling up in his eyes.

That was when he saw the note that had been underneath the cushion.

The last note, the note the morning everything went terribly wrong.

Clint rolled over to find their middle partner missing, not that that was unusual, Nat was the early riser of the house and if she felt up to it, she loved to cook breakfast for everyone. So Clint just shuffled over, draping his arm over Laura’s waist, the brunette humming and rolling over into his touch. They lay there for a little while longer, until Clint’s super sense of smell picked up that Nat was most definitely making breakfast. With a grin, the pair sat up, exchanging a good morning kiss. As Clint shuffled up the bed, something crinkled under his hand. Grinning, used to the notes since all three of them wrote constant notes for one another, for the kids too, he flicked the paper open and leaned in so Laura could read too.

‘You two are fucking beautiful and I am so lucky to have you both, to have this whole family. I love you. Now get your asses up before Cooper steals all the pancakes :)’

Laura laughed, shaking her head. “Well then, we better hurry up because I am starving.”

Clint, grinning just as wide, eagerly hopped up and out of bed to start the morning with his family.

Clint came back to the present to find that he was on his knees and there were hands on his shoulder and in his hair.

It was clear that Laura had been trying to his attention for a little while, her face etched with worry.

Clearing his throat, Clint shuffled and shifted so his legs were in front of him. Laura sat beside him, sliding her fingers into his, leaning her head on his shoulder. Waiting.

Slowly, Clint un-clenched his left hand, holding out the square of paper.

"Oh," Laura said weakly, a tremble in her voice as she reached for the note.

Unable to open it, Laura shook her head and looked up at the ceiling. "I can't believe she's gone." She whispered. "We've been separated for longer than this with missions so it...it still feels like she's going to walk through that door. She's just...going to kick off her shoes, drop her bag next to it and raid the fridge for snacks."

Clint nodded, absently brushing his fingers through her hair. “I know what you mean.” He murmured. “I’m just waiting. Just waiting for her.” He closed his eyes and dropped his head to rest against hers.

Both of them tangled together, arms around each other, faces both hot with tears, sitting in the room that would always feel empty.

Neither of them new how long they sat there, thinking, remembering, holding one another.

The next thing the pair were aware of was a rough, husky, unmistakable voice behind them.

“Did you miss me?”

Chapter Text

When Laura and Clint turned around, with wide eyes, they found Natasha leaning heavily against the door frame.

For a long moment, neither of them could move, speak, breathe.

They just stared at the third part of their family, unable to believe their own eyes, unable to trust their own minds.

The thing that finally got them to move was Natasha falling.

She'd gone quickly from leaning against the door frame to sliding down it, eyes rolling back into her head as she landed with a thump on the floor.

That got Clint out of the dazed spell, clambering to his feet and rushing over to Natasha.

As his fingers ghosted over her shoulder, Clint felt the urge to pass out himself.

She was real. He was touching her. She was real.

And hurt.

The agent part of his brain took over and he was quickly measuring her pulse and scanning her body for signs of what was wrong with her.

She'd lost weight. Not that she'd had any to lose in the first place, but she was thinner still. Her skin was pale and clammy and as he brushed his thumb over a no longer round cheek, he noticed the bruises under eyes and the cracks in her lips.

All the pieces clicked into his mind.

It had been just over two weeks since he'd watched Natasha fall. Was it possible she'd been there, on an alien planet, that whole time?

Shit, no wonder she was sick. There was nothing on that damned planet. No animals, plants, no water source.

She was starving, dehydrated, exhausted.

Clint looked over his shoulder. "Laura. Laura, babe, I need help."

The brunette just blinked at him, trembling.

"Natasha needs help."

That got Laura's head to snap up and for her to start moving.

"What do you need?"

"I'm going to get her down to the sofa, I need the med kit and I need the kids to...to not be any where near this until we know for sure..." he trailed off, closing his eyes.

"Until we know she's able to stay." Laura nodded, eyes burning with tears.

"Can you do that, love?" Clint asked roughly, moving to cradle Natasha in the softest of grips.

Looking pale but determined, the brunette nodded. "Got it."

Underneath the barely concealed panic and shock in both their features, sat hope. Hope they didn't dare let escape. Because like Clint had been unable to say, they didn't know the circumstances of Natasha being back. They didn't know if she could stay.

Clint attempted a smile, arms lifting Natasha up and holding her against his chest.

He couldn't believe it.

Despite being thinner and lighter, she felt the same. As her hair brushed over his arm, he could notice that she smelled the same. She looked almost the same.

But was she the same?

Trying to push those thoughts from his mind, he carried the redhead very carefully down the stairs, taking extra care to be as quiet as possible. They couldn't dare wake any of the kids.

Laying Natasha down on the couch, he was almost overwhelmed with images.

The three of them stumbled in through the front door, tipsy but not drunk. They'd abandoned the outdoor picnic when it got chilly, favoring the fire inside. Even though two thirds of them were spies, they were not always coordinated. In particular, Clint was a hot mess. He'd gotten two feet over the door-jam and had tripped over something, possibly thin air, and landed on the floor. Natasha, who had been right behind him, cursed and managed to skirt around him, but calloused fingers grabbed her ankle and then she was falling too. Clint, grinning, turned to Laura, watching them with a smirk.

"Get down here." Natasha hummed, holding out a hand. "Or this jackass is just going to drag you down so you may as well give in."

Laura rolled her eyes and stepped closer, rather abruptly flopping down over the pair of them.

Arms and elbows and knees dug in everywhere as they rolled to get closer to each other, lips pressing against any available space they could reach. Hot breaths ghosted across cheeks and jaws, kisses trailing over skin. Clothes began to come off and as Clint whispered that, "maybe we should start on that family," the girls were goners.

They fell asleep on the couch that night, somehow. Piled on top and smushed against the back of the cushions, warm and sated and so happy that it made the aching muscles and hangovers the next morning seem like nothing.

Brushing his fingers over Natasha's hair, Clint inhaled shakily as he waited for Laura.

He took a slim hand in his, wincing at the scratches and cuts marring her pale skin.

"Nat, god, I'm so fucking sorry." He whispered, dropping his forehead to rest against their joined hands.

He'd left her. He'd left her there. He'd failed her.

"It wasn't your fault, Clint." Laura said quietly from behind him. "She made her choice. Just like you did. She did it for us, for everybody. She wouldn't regret that and you know she wouldn't change a damn thing."

"I know but...but, I left her Laura." His voice cracked on her name. "I left her there. Alone. I was...I was waiting for Bruce to...to sort out the machine and...and I was gonna go back and get her body but it...I left her.'' He whispered, hot tears in his eyes, starting to roll down his cheeks.

Laura set the med bag down and crouched behind Clint, wrapping her arms around his neck, tucking her face against his shoulder. "Not your fault." She murmured. "You had to leave. She knew you had to leave. She's not alone. We can help her. So help her." She pressed a kiss to his jaw and moved back to open the med bag.

"What first?" She asked him.

"Um..." Clint hastily rubbed at his eyes. "She needs an IV. With nutrients and saline and stuff. Some nausea meds in case." He nodded, more to himself. "Yeah, easy, we've got this."

"We've got this." Laura reiterated, squeezing his shoulder before rummaging in the med kit.

She handed the stuff over to Clint, the man still forcing his mind into agent Barton, into Hawkeye, not Clint. He couldn't be Clint or he would crack. Even though he felt pretty sure he was going to break anyway.

With a precision that came from doing something countless times, the archer carefully found a vein in the back of Natasha's hand, sliding the needle into place.

They had possibly way too much equipment locked away in their home but it had come in useful more than once and was proving useful now. Sure, no normal family needed IV's and bags of blood and oxygen tanks, but their family had never been normal and they didn't really want to be.

Once the IV was set up, Clint attached the bag and hung it up over one of the nearby lamps. After adding the extra nausea meds, he sat back on his heels, Laura rubbing at the nape of his neck.

Other than still being unconscious and undeniably thin and sick looking, he couldn't see anything else obviously wrong. Her breathing was a little off, a little strained though. He barely remembered the blur that was getting the stone and travelling back. He'd been breathless, sure, dizzy too, but he'd put it down to what had just happened. He wasn't a stranger to panic attacks and if someone wasn't allowed to freak out after their partner just...died, he wasn't sure when they could.

But maybe it hadn't just been that. The planet had been alien after all and yeah, they'd been able to breathe but maybe the air quality had been just a little different. And Nat had been there long enough for her body to adjust, so much so that the air back at home seemed like the alien atmosphere.

Making the decision easily enough, Clint rummaged in the bags until he could find the oxygen mask and tank, carefully setting it up and with Laura's help, getting the straps firmly around Nat's face.

He couldn't help but skim his fingers over the back of her head, breath catch in his throat as his fingers slid over nothing but skin and hair.

He remembered her broken body- the twist of her neck, blood fanning out, spilling from her head, trailing through every crevice in the rock underneath her.

But now there was nothing there. Nothing but red hair. No dip in her skull, no broken, shattered bone, no hint of blood.

It hadn't been Natasha turning up that caused him to spiral in the end. It was the fact every sign of her wounds were gone. Every injury she would have sustained from the fall, wiped away.

Retracting his hand, Clint held the digits to his chest like they'd burned, breaths stuttering and catching on his throat.

Hands carefully pulled him onto his ass, fingers carding through his hair, rubbing the back of his neck, pushing his head down to his knees. A soft voice got him through the worst of the attack, kind words in his ear, breaths against his cheek.

"You've got this, you're okay. You're okay, nice and slow, breathe in and hold. Good job, baby, now again. There we go."

Trembling, Clint blinked through bleary, suddenly tear filled eyes, whatever resolve he had left crumbling when he saw Laura's face.

She was already crying, but there was something in her eyes, something that had first pulled Clint and Natasha to her. That light. That hope. Even in the face of everything they'd been through.

With a soft choke, Laura pulled Clint to her, both of them clinging to the other, nails digging in, fingers wrapped around clothes, tears wet against skin and material.

Were they crying from relief? From happiness? From fear?

They didn't know the answer to the question. They wouldn't know until they knew if Natasha could stay.

But for now, she was there. She was alive. She was back. The missing part of their family.

But what was the cost?

Chapter Text

Clint and Laura stuck by their Firebird's side for hours. As dawn crept closer and closer, Laura began to worry about the kids waking up.

They didn't know if she could stay. They just didn't know and even though hope was often a beautiful thing, they couldn't give that hope to their kids. Not about this. Not about their mama.

Clint sighed softly as his gaze looked out of the nearest window as the beginnings of morning began to flood into their home.

The pair watched the sky for a few moments before Laura moved to stand up. "I'm going to go check in on the kids."

Clint knew she was getting antsy, anxious, that she needed to feel like she had a job to do. 

''Alright, love." The archer squeezed Laura's hand as she stepped away to go back upstairs.

His gaze moved back outside the window, watching the colours spread across the sky like a painting.

Clint looked over at Natasha and Laura, curled up on the couch, the former's arm wrapped around the latter. He couldn't help but smile as he reached the bottom stair, unable to stop watching the women. They weren't doing anything special or out of the ordinary, just watching the sunrise, but with the morning light highlighting their faces, Clint felt like the luckiest person alive. Silently, he settled in beside Laura, the blonde immediately sliding her fingers into his. The three of them sat watching the sun crest over their land, revelling in the feeling of being together, of being alive to see such things. It was magical.

"It's beautiful. The sunsets on Vormir don't compare." A gruff, hoarse voice sounded from behind his shoulder and Clint was sure his heart hammered to a stop.

"Nat." He breathed, turning immediately, eyes frantically taking in everything.

She'd pulled the mask off and had attempted to half sit up. Red locks of hair were falling across her face and she had that smile on her face. That damn quirk of her lips, half smirk, the kind of smile that held secrets. Secrets that Clint could never wait to learn.

Her shirt had slid down one shoulder, exposing a collarbone too prominent to be okay and that was what snapped Clint away from his head.

"Nat." Clint said again, reverently, fingers trembling as he pushed back hair from her face, unable to stop himself resting the palm of his hand against her cheek.

"Clint." Natasha said softly, lifting her hand to cover his. "You're alive."

"I'm alive? Of course I'm alive. You're alive." Clint shook his head, feeling those damn tears well up again.

"Did we win?" Natasha's voice had grown huskier and Clint knew that her tone wasn't from disuse or being ill, it was emotion.

Hearing soft footfalls on the stairs, Clint smiled. "Why don't you ask Laura?"

Natasha's eyes widened, gaze frantic as she looked towards the stairs. Her breath caught, tears filling her eyes. "Laura?" She whispered, choked. "Laura, oh my god.'' It was clear the woman didn't remember seeing them in their bedroom earlier, which was concerning for sure.

The blonde was almost flying over to them then, dropping to her knees, wrapping her arms around Natasha. "Hi, baby." She whispered as Natasha clung to her, face buried against her neck.

Clint swallowed, exhaling shakily. He remembered his own reunion with Laura after those five long years. The reunion with his kids. He wasn't sure if he believed in God but damn had the reunion felt divine.

It must have been even more so for Natasha. She'd died. She wasn't going to be coming home again. Her death meant her family could come back, but that she would never see them again.

Now, after five years, a death, a battle, weeks of mourning, Natasha was back. It was no wonder both of the women were crying.

"You're here. You're here." Natasha whispered. "Five fucking years you kept us waiting, Laura." 

Laura snorted softly, laughing wetly. "And you let me think you were dead so, I think we're even."

"You're right. You're always right." Natasha murmured, reverently cupping Laura's face.

Her gaze slid to the side, to Clint, her eyes shining. "We did it." 

"We did it. You did it." Clint nodded, shuffling over. Being able to run his fingers through her hair felt...incredible.

But there was something Natasha needed to know sooner rather than later. "But Nat...not all of us made it." He said quietly.

The woman's face fell. "Who?" She asked, voice barely there. "Clint, who didn't make it?"

Clint opened his mouth to tell her about Tony when there was a small sob from the bottom of the stairs, followed by a choked, tearful word.

"Mama?"

Chapter Text

Natasha's head immediately snapped towards the source of the voice, her eyes widening and filling with yet more tears. "Lila." She breathed, her voice barely there and filled with wonder.

In seconds Natasha had her arms full as Lila clambered straight into her lap, crying softly as she pressed her face to the redhead's neck.

"Mama." She whispered, voice hitching as her fingers curled into the mission suit Natasha still wore. "Mama, you're back." It was with those two words that the girl began to sob in earnest, gasping and shaking as she clutched tightly to Natasha as if she were about to disappear.

"I'm back." Natasha murmured, arms wrapping tightly around her daughter as she half rocked them in place. "I'm back, malyshka, and you're back." She closed her eyes, tears streaming down her face.

As her and Clint traveled to that damned planet, they had been filled with such hope. And then as Red Skull spoke, Natasha had known with absolute certainty that she was never going to see her family again. But Clint would.

And now, she was with them. She was alive and with them and everything felt so overwhelming that even with her eyes closed, the world span around her.

Letting out a shuddering breath, Natasha pulled her fingers through the sobbing girl's hair. It was then she realised Lila had changed her hair and how it had been made to look.

"You dyed your hair." She choked out, eyes moving over the red at the top and the blonde towards the end. How hers had been at the time of her death. She didn't think there were any pictures of her from those five years so Clint must have told her what it had looked like.

Lila sniffled and nodded. "To be like you, mama." She whispered, slowly pulling her face back to marvel at Natasha.

Laura smiled from her position on the floor. "She gave us quite the surprise when she came down one morning with her hair like that."

Clint's smile was pained. For one fleeting moment as their daughter had come through the door for breakfast, he'd thought Natasha was back.

"The red suits you, milaya." Natasha said softly, her fingers twirling strands of blonde around her fingers.

So enthralled with the fact she was home, Natasha didn't notice the soft gasp of her daughter until Lila was clutching her hand in both of hers. "Mama," she whispered, "your fingers."

Natasha blinked and slowly pulled her gaze down to her hand before moving the other beside it. A small frown etched itself on her features as she examined her fingers. Her hands were bloody and her nails were broken and chipped and ragged, more blood pooling beneath each little nail. Bruises wrapped their way around her knuckles and up the backs of her hands and at least one finger on each hand was bent unnaturally.

Natasha said nothing, confusion and the panic at not remembering how her hands came to look like that settling deep into her bones. She pulled in a frantic breath as she turned her hands over and over, just now noticing how much they ached. "I don't-" she choked out, scared eyes lifting to find her loves.

"Okay, Lila honey, get off mama so she can breathe. I need you to do a big job and go entertain your siblings. We need to clean mama up so the boys don't get worried. Okay?" Laura spoke, offering her hand to help Lila off of Natasha, who was staring at her hands with a blank gaze as she shuddered through panicked breaths.

"Is she okay?" Lila whispered, not taking her eyes off Natasha.

"Mama's been through a lot and she needs to rest. Do you think you can look after the boys? It would be such a big help to mama." Clint murmured.

Looking extremely dubious and very much like Natasha, Lila slowly nodded. "Okay. I won't tell them until mama's feeling a little better." She said softly, taking a step towards the sofa where she bent over and pressed a kiss to Natasha's temple. "I'll help." She said firmly.

Once Lila had gotten to the top of the stairs, Clint and Laura moved quickly to Natasha's side. The archer cursed himself for only noticing the bruises and not the nails when he'd put in the IV.

"Baby, baby hey," Laura murmured, cupping one of the redhead's cheeks, "take a breath for us. You've got this."

Clint crouched beside Laura, hand resting on Natasha's thigh. "You're okay, Tash, you're not there anymore. You're here with us and our family. You're safe."

Tear filled green eyes as she slowly lifted from her hands, her expression one of both panic and horror. "I climbed." She whispered.

Clint's veins filled with ice at those words. He looked from her bloody and broken hands to her face.

"You climbed?" Laura breathed, brows furrowed.

"The cliff. She...she climbed back up from the bottom." Clint shuddered, pressing a hand to his mouth as he forced himself to take a breath.

"I...I remember waking up. Cold. It was so cold-" Natasha spoke, her voice chilling and detached as her eyes wandered far away. "There was blood everywhere. I fell. I know I fell but then I...I don't remember-" she shook her head, fingers pressing to her forehead. "I couldn't...I didn't want to be there anymore. It was cold and I...I was alone and there was nowhere else to go but up. I had to...I had to get back up. I couldn't stay, I had to get back up. I had to-"

Laura and Clint exchanged equally horrified glances as Natasha stammered to a stop, pulling in a desperate breath.

"Baby, try and look at me, you're not there anymore." Laura whispered, moving as much into the woman's line of sight as possible.

"Breathe, love, we've got you." Clint murmured, squeezing her thigh. "You know how to do this, you can. Take a breath and hold it and then let it go. You're safe. You're safe, Nat."

Eyes still distant, Natasha fought to pull her breathing under control, her entire body shaking. "I had to." She whispered brokenly, her watery gaze finally pulling to the other two.

"I had to get home."

Chapter Text

Natasha sat there quietly, eyes not at all present, her expression blank and empty. Laura and Clint did the best they could in regards to cleaning the woman up.

Laura wiped away blood and grime and Clint carefully, gently, set the broken fingers and wrapped bandages around them.

She didn't seem to be hurt anywhere else, not that they could visibly see, even with a now clean face and hands, she was still wearing the catsuit so Clint wasn't ruling out other injuries just yet.

A shower would have been good. There may not have been a wound on Natasha's head but patches of her hair were dry and stuck together and Clint was certain it was because she'd been laying in her blood.

However, a shower at that moment seemed way out if the realm of possibility. In fact, Clint was so concerned about Natasha's state of mind, that he was worried any more movement than what they were currently doing would startle her. And startling Natasha had never been a very good idea.

However, there was a chance the boy's would note the blood and marks on the upper half of the cat suit and whilst Lila had been okay with seeing that, they probably would not be.

Looking over at Laura, Clint swallowed the lump in his throat. "Maybe a sweater?" He asked quietly.

"I think that's the best idea." She nodded, moving to the basket they stored spare sweaters and jackets in.

They didn't have an awful lot of time, the kids did have two spy parents after all, and soon they would wonder why the day wasn't starting as normal. Why there wasn't any breakfast or why none of the parents had been up to check they were getting up, why there had been no morning kisses or soft shakes to wake them up. Lila would only be able to keep them entertained for so long and there was no chance the boy's could be reunited with their mama when she was so lost and non-verbal. They had to bring her back to the present and away from where she was stuck in her head.

Between the two of them, they pulled the soft red sweater over Natasha's head, carefully pulling her arms through the sleeves and tugging it down.

Other than the sticky hair and prominent cheekbones, Natasha didn't look any different. Hopefully the boy's would be too happy to see her to notice the other things.

Now to bring her back to them.

Clint had had quite a lot of practice. Since he'd first picked her up in Russia all that time ago, Natasha had always retreated into her head. He supposed it was her bodies defense mechanism, it's way of trying to protect her.

Those first few years, it had happened often and Clint had grown adept at pulling her back. He could tell when it was best to let her wander and when it was best she come back as soon as possible.

Laura too, had it down. One day into Natasha's first year in America, a mission had gone horribly wrong and Natasha had retreated. Home had been closer than Shield and it had been a no brainer, he'd took Natasha back to the farm. The girl's had met before, of course, but never in his time at Shield had he bought anyone home.

Laura had proven herself to be rather excellent with Natasha, able to gently coax her back in time for dinner. The redhead had stayed there for a week straight after that and all their lives had changed forever.

Now Laura and Clint worked together; the former with her soft words, gentle reminders, assurances never stopping and the latter with his touches, gentle but firm, poking against her pressure points, stroking through her hair, trying to ground her.

As time moved on, Natasha went from non-verbal to muttering under her breath. Some words were indecipherable but others Clint almost wished were. She murmured about how cold it was, how lonely it was, how she hurt and felt scared, how she wondered if she would be alone forever, if that was her curse.

As painful as it was to hear those things, it was good that she was talking. They were closer to pulling her back so the pair continued in with their ministrations.

And then, finally, Natasha's shuddered, blinking rapidly and turning her head to the pair. Her brows pulled together, lips parting. "I-"

Clint smiled reassuringly as Laura caught the woman's hand in her own. "Hi there, love." The woman murmured.

"I...sorry?" Natasha breathed, rubbing at her forehead.

"Nothing to be sorry for, Tash, you're okay." Clint shook his head. "Are you feeling okay?"

Natasha swallowed and shrugged, "no idea. But if you're asking if I'm okay with seeing the boy's..." She closed her eyes for a second, the emotion clear in her tone, "yes. Of course. I...god, I missed everyone so much."

Just in time too because not a minute later there were sets of thunderous steps from the rooms above and then excited chatter as the footsteps reached the stairs.

"Slow down!" Lila exclaimed from behind them, sounding so much like Laura that Natasha couldn't help but laugh.

The footsteps froze at the sound and then doubled in intensity as the boy's raced down the stairs, two pairs of astonished eyes coming to rest on Natasha.

"Mama?" Cooper blinked, mouth wide open, "what?"

"Mama's back!" Nate squealed, running right over to the couch, hopping up and crawling his way to Natasha's waiting embrace.

"Hello, little love." The redhead whispered, closing her eyes as she rested her chin atop the boy's head.

"Hi, Mama!" Nate giggled, "mommy and daddy said you were gone but I knew you wasn't." He proclaimed.

Cooper stood still in the same spot, even when Lila came up and nudged his shoulder. "What're you standing there for? Mama's over there."

The boy looked both confused and upset, brows pulled together. "Is it really her?" He asked after a moment.

"What d'you mean? Of course it is." Lila frowned.

"Is she staying?" He directed this question at Clint and Laura.

"What do you keep going on about?" Lila seemed to be growing frustrated. "Of course she's staying, why are you ruining this?"

"Lila." Laura said pointedly, one eyebrow raised. "Your brother's just worried, okay? He's not ruining anything."

"Mama's right there, she's come back and Cooper won't even go up to her!" The girl explained.

"I don't want to hug her if she can't stay!" Cooper almost shouted, arms crossed over his chest. "So, can she?"

"I can." Natasha said quietly from the couch, looking over Nate's head at the boy. "I know you're confused and worried, Coop, but it's me and I'm here and nothing is going to pull me away."

Both Cooper and Lila's anger dissipated as the boy took slightly nervous steps over to the woman.

"Really?" He whispered as he reached her.

"Really." Natasha promised, holding out her free arm.

In seconds, Cooper was wrapped up against her, fingers curling around her neck. "You're back." He whispered tearfully. "You're back."

"She's back." Lila said firmly as she sat on the floor, shifting to rest her head against Natasha's shoulder.

"Mama's home."

Chapter Text

2 weeks later

Natasha woke up screaming again. 

Those first few nights, she had been so exhausted that she'd slept through the night but now that she was physically all better, it was clear to everyone that mentally, she was definitely not doing so good.

At least once a night she woke up screaming, breathless and on the verge of a panic attack.

She'd tried to save her partners from it, secluding herself in the guest room, where Clint had hastily thrown up as much sound proofing as he could.

However, those three nights she'd slept away from Laura and Clint had been even worse. She had either woken up from a nightmare every hour or so or she had just not slept at all.

They'd all rather quickly discovered that being in bed with the other two, waking to bodies and soothing voices beside her was better for Natasha. And the pair really didn't mind.

The nights without her had been awful. They'd slept poorly, worried they'd wake to find her completely gone from their lives. Knowing that she was struggling and screaming and panicking by herself had been pure torture.

Now, on the fourteenth night of Natasha's return, they'd fallen into a semi comfortable routine. It wasn't quite like it had been pre-snap, it couldn't be anymore, so they were figuring out their new normal.

Whereas before they tended to not get into bed at the same time, since Laura liked to get under the covers earlier and Natasha was a night owl and Clint's time just depended on tiredness, they had built up the habit of getting ready at the same time.

They would put the kids to bed, watch a film or a show and then do the usual night time stuff before getting into bed together. They would sit and talk until Laura drifted off and then Natasha and Clint would lay there and curl together, maybe read or chat in whispers until they fell asleep too.

It seemed to help Natasha, knowing she was going to sleep surrounded by her two loves.

The nightmares were awful but Clint and Laura would go through hell for the privilege of having Natasha back so a few nightmares a night were really no issue.

Natasha sometimes spoke of the nightmares. Most were about falling, some were about Tony, some were about losing her family. All understandable, all heartbreaking.

That night, as Natasha woke up in tears, gasping and reaching immediately for her partners, it was clear which dream it had been.

"You're okay, Firebird, we're here and we're not going anywhere." Clint murmured as Laura rubbed soothing circles in between the woman's shoulder blades. 

"We're not going anywhere." Laura assured, pressing a kiss to Natasha's cheek, brushing back sweaty strands of hair. "We've got you."

After another ten minutes of soft words and gentle touches, Natasha wiped the wet from her face and untangled herself from the covers.

Another new development; after the nightmares involving the family disappearing, Natasha would get out of bed and go and check on every single kid, often leaning against the door for up to ten minutes a time. Just to make sure.

That night, Natasha spent almost an hour looking in on the kids before returning to their room. 

"I'm going to go watch TV." She said quietly, voice scratchy from the screaming. "I...I can't go back to sleep right now."

Clint and Laura were immediately climbing out of bed too. "Then let's go." The archer hummed.

Natasha frowned, rubbing at her forehead. "No, you don't have to. You need to sleep."

"Baby, there's literally nothing you could say that would convince us to not come down with you." Laura raised an eyebrow.

With a sigh, Natasha threw her hands up in defeat and the three headed down the stairs so they could curl up on the couch and put something mind-numbing on the TV.

A few hours later as Natasha curled up asleep with a slumbering Laura, Clint looked over the pair, a sad smile on his face. "We can do this." He murmured to no one in particular. "We've got this."

...

The next morning, life continued as normal.

They got the kids up, made breakfast, practiced archery in the field, did chores.

Natasha was helping Laura make lunch when another new development happened.

No one could really explain what happened other than Natasha was reliving her death.

Out of nowhere, she would get breathless, confused, would stumble to the floor, usually falling right on her back. After landing, she would crawl onto her knees, hands clutching the back of her head, unable to speak, fighting for air as she groaned and whimpered, crying with the pain.

They'd gotten her checked out by numerous doctors, had blood tests, all the scans available. Everything came back clear. Physically, again, there was nothing wrong.

It didn't make it any less terrifying or painful for Natasha.

One minute she'd been chopping up cucumbers from their garden and the next she was slumped on the floor, hitching sobs escaping her lips as she clawed at the back of her head.

She was as white as a sheet, shuddering desperately, moaning in agony, completely and utterly feeling the pain of her skull smashing all over again.

Laura immediately got down on her knees, pulling the woman to her chest, trying to capture her hands so she wouldn't pull out more hair or leave more gouges in her head.

"I've got you, I've got you." Laura whispered, struggling to contain Natasha with how violently she was shaking. "You're okay. I know it hurts, I know." She shushed softly, eyes filling with tears as her wife howled and sobbed, unable to speak or comprehend anything over the agony coursing through her.

Sometimes, the attacks came with seizures. Something that had fucking terrified Clint and Laura the first time it had happened. Sometimes they came with such an awful pain in the woman's back that all she could do was lay on the floor for hours until it passed.

Clint thought it was because she had probably broken her spine as she'd slammed into that rock.  

They had no idea how long it would last, if the attacks would ever go away.

They couldn't give her anything for it, it wasn't a real pain so all they could do was talk and soothe and hold her until it lessened enough that her limbs would unlock and she could at least move to the couch. 

She was laid up for hours after, migraine pounding at her temples, limbs stiff and aching, her voice gone. 

Natasha let out another desperate sob, managing to get one of her hands out of Laura's grip, nails tearing into the flesh at the back of her head so hard her nails were bloodied.

Laura pulled the woman's hand away, laying her palm across where the pain seemed to come from, protecting her skin from more damage. "I know. I know, baby, I know." Laura whispered.

A soft voice sounded from the doorway- Cooper holding a bowl of fresh lettuce. "Mama?" He whispered.

The two older kids knew of the attacks but had somehow managed to avoid seeing one in full force, until now.

Laura swallowed and tried to smile in what she hoped was a reassuring way, but the boy's panicked features never left his sobbing mother, moaning softly, curled up on the floor.

"Baby, can you do me such a huge favour to help your Mama?" Laura asked quietly. 

Cooper nodded immediately, shoving the bowl of lettuce on the side, taking a step towards the women. "Anything."

"Grab a wash towel from the cupboard and run it under warm water for me." Laura instructed softly.

The boy around doing just that, dropping to his knees in front of them. He handed Laura the cloth and she carefully placed it against the back of Natasha's head.

The woman shuddered and let out a soft whimper, nails digging into the flesh of her thigh.

Cooper, eyes wide, reached for that hand, holding it in his until her fingers straightened out. "I've got you, mama." He said firmly, shifting so he was laying on the floor, head on Natasha's knee, hand in his, curled protectively against his chest.

Laura sniffled, closing her eyes for just a few seconds as her and Cooper settled in for the wait.

It was a long attack. But there had been no seizure, so Laura was taking that as a win. 

Slowly, the moaning and whimpers died down and Natasha lifted her head, bleary eyed and dazed.

"Alright love, let's get you to the couch so you can rest." Laura said softly, wrapping an arm around her waist so she could get the woman up.

After getting to the couch, Laura positioned Nat in as comfortable a way as possible, laying the cloth over her forehead and pulling a blanket up around her.

Cooper disappeared and came back with his special stuffie, a super soft black bear, tucking it gently under the blanket.

Natasha absently curled her arm around it, tiredly closing her eyes. She was asleep in seconds.

Tenderly brushing a strand of hair from Natasha's forehead, Laura wrapped an arm around Cooper, pulling him gently to her.

Cooper dug his fingers into the material of Laura's shirt, sniffling and hiccuping.

"I know, baby." She whispered, stroking the boy's hair. "I know."

Chapter Text

Later that day and Natasha was still sleeping.

Sometime during those few hours, Nate had clambered up onto the couch and pressed himself in the hollow behind Natasha's bent knees.

He had laid his head down on his mama's hip, small hands tangled in her shirt.

It was about the time they would usually put him down for a nap anyway and Nate seemed to want to be beside Natasha so Laura left him nap there with the other woman.

Before Laura had let the other kids into the house though, she'd had to quickly tidy up.

She'd scrubbed at her hands until the blood stains were gone, next doing the same to the splattered tile floor.

Natasha hadn't even moved as Laura had tilted her onto her side so she could patch up the back of her head.

She'd gotten in a couple of scratches but nothing too bad, not like that first time, so Laura just gently cleaned the wounds and taped some gauze over it.

Natasha was going to have scars there now and she was already missing a few chunks of hair.

Laura wished they could understand what was happening. Wished she knew if this was going to continue for the rest of Natasha's life. Hadn't she suffered enough? Been through enough?

Watching Nate slumber with his mother, Laura prayed for things to get easier for her love.

If anyone deserved their happy ending, it was Natasha.

She'd seen so much, been through so so much and had survived so much.

It just didn't seem fair at all.

Arms wrapping around her waist pulled her from her thoughts and she turned from staring at Natasha to face Clint.

"Cooper told me what happened." He said roughly, dropping his head to press a kiss to Laura's forehead. "You did real good."

Laura sniffled and shook her head. "Our boy was amazing. Got her to stop clawing at herself. I think he relaxed her a little." Laura murmured. "And now Nate won't leave her side."

"We have good kids." Clint said quietly, rubbing a hand up to rest between her shoulder blades.

"I know it's selfish but...I don't know how many more times I can see that happen." Laura whispered, closing her eyes and dropping her head to his chest.

"Not selfish." Clint said firmly, shaking his head. "Never selfish. Because I feel it too. It's not fair."

No, it definitely wasn't.

...

The pair managed to rouse Natasha come evening time.

Dinner had come and gone and once all kids were fed and entertaining themselves, it was time to help Natasha eat.

"I know." Clint said kindly as Natasha struggled to sit up, holding her head as if it was too heavy to lift.

The migraine they could give her something for.

So after a few meds, Laura bought Natasha some soup and sat beside her in case her hands shook took badly for her to eat it.

Natasha looked wrecked, honestly. She was pale and still trembling, dark bruises under her eyes.

Laura was struck with the thought that the recovery of each attack seemed to take longer every time and that scared the shit out of her.

She couldn't help but feel like something more sinister was going on.

Natasha still hadn't been able to remember how she'd even gotten home. She didn't know anything after the fall until she woke up on the couch.

And it wasn't like they could just travel to the alien planet to see if they could make sense of any of it.

They were all in the dark and whilst Laura was scared by that, she knew how deeply terrified Natasha was by it.

She felt like she'd lost control of her life completely. She'd lost her memory, she'd lost the control of her body and her mind.

Laura couldn't stop thinking that there had to be a reason Natasha had come home to them. That something had to have happened to allow her this time and it scared her right down to her bones when she got the abrupt feeling that they were running out of time.

She hadn't mentioned anything to anyone about the feeling, sure at first that it was understandable anxiety. Now, she wasn't so sure.

She craved answers. Needed them.

Natasha had told Cooper that she wasn't leaving ever again but what if she'd lost control over that too?

Clint brought her back to the present with a gentle hand on her knee.

Natasha was watching her critically, an eyebrow raised. "What're you thinking so hard about?"

Laura shook her head. "Later, Nat." Or preferably never because she didn't want to voice the thoughts in her head...ever, really.

What was that thing about speaking things into existence? Manifestation? Sure, it was usually for stuff like cars or money but they'd had enough magic in their lives to make Laura superstitious. Also, she was very guilty of being too afraid to speak her mind.

Not about this.

She offered Natasha a weak smile and the redhead's answering look was only a little less threatening because she was hunched over a bowl of noodle soup with a napkin resting on her chest.

But Natasha dropped it and returned to her food, giving Laura more time with the thoughts she wanted to ignore. Laura might have been able to hold Clint off but with Natasha, it was inevitable that she would get the truth out of her.

But not yet. If these fears were indeed just fears and anxiety, Natasha didn't need to be full of that doubt too.

Laura sat back, slipping an arm around Natasha's shoulders as she tried to focus on whatever movie Clint had put on for background noise.

She tried to believe that this was all just a miracle. The universe giving them a break after all the awful things that happened.

Wishful thinking, for sure, but not something Laura was willing to give up on just yet.

They had Natasha back. Their family was whole.

That was enough for now.

Right?

Chapter Text

When Natasha woke up screaming that night, it seemed completely different. Like none of the other nightmares had meant as much, like they had been mere child's dreams in comparison.

Whereas Natasha usually needed a little calming down and then was okay, the woman kept screaming even after she'd woken up.

She sat bolt upright, as if she was frozen to the spot, her breaths coming fast and ragged and so desperate Laura, moving to sit in front of her, had the unnerving feeling that her breathing would never calm down.

"Nat, baby, hey-" Laura tried to get the woman's attention but those green eyes she loved looking into were absolutely not there at all.

A chill ran down Laura's spine and her heart beat faster at the absolutely terrifying look on her partner's face.

Clint had had to leave the room to go help settle Lila back into bed, who had been passing the room to go to the bathroom when Natasha had woken up screaming.

"Natasha-" Laura slowly took the woman's hands in hers, squeezing tightly to try and bring her wife back. "Baby, please." The brunette didn't know quite how scared she was until her voice broke and she felt tears escaping her eyes.

But Natasha remained blank, her gaze seemingly focused on the door but Laura just knew the redhead wasn't seeing that door, that room, her. She was somewhere else, seeing something else, feeling something else.

Laura wanted to curl up and let herself spiral at how everything had been getting worse and worse and at how terrified she was that their time together was almost over.

Clint returned, pressing a hand to Laura's back as he sat beside her.

Laura turned to face him, more tears spilling down her cheeks. "Clint." Her voice trembled.

The archer immediately pulled the woman close, hand stroking over her hair. Laura could feel that he was trembling and as her head buried against his chest, she could feel how his own heart pounded frantically.

She wasn't alone in her fears, was she?

"Clint." Laura whispered again, fingers tangling into the front of his shirt.

"I know." He said gruffly, "I know, baby."

Laura wanted to break down. It was clear that they needed to talk about everything that had been happening. But first, Natasha was the priority.

So Laura pulled away from the hug, despite never wanting to move from that position, and dried her eyes.

"What do we do?" She asked, putting on her big girl panties so they could deal with the situation at hand.

"We'll put her in the middle of us, lots of contact, talking. It's just a waiting game, I think." Clint murmured.

And no, that wasn't reassuring at all, but it was good to have something to do.

So between the two of them, they got their third sitting in the middle of the bed.

Laura and Clint wrapped limbs around Natasha. The woman leaned her head against a shoulder and Clint pressed a hand to her back and one to her knee.

Clint started off the talking, re-telling a story they'd all heard multiple times as Laura busied herself stroking through sweaty red strands of hair.

She had no idea how long they sat there, talking and touching and trying to bring Natasha back. It felt like hours and quite possibly had been.

And then Natasha blinked and blinked and blinked. Her fingers twitched and she slowly moved her head.

Her gaze was still not entirely there but she actually seemed to register their presence, not look straight through them instead.

"Nat?" Clint asked softly, fingers ghosting over her cheek. "You with us?"

Natasha opened and closed her mouth a few times, brows furrowing and her eyes growing misty. She struggled for words for a good minute before her face smoothed out and a single tear dripped down a pale cheek.

"He's coming." She whispered, her voice hoarse from the screaming and so quiet that Clint, without his hearing aids, couldn't hear.

Laura had. And her veins turned to ice at the two simple words. Her stomach felt full of lead and she actually felt bile rising in her throat.

"Who?" Laura managed to choke out, looking over at Clint. "She said he's coming."

Clint frowned, eyes widening as he turned his gaze to Natasha. "Nat? Who's coming? What's happening?"

Natasha shuddered, a full body shiver that didn't seem to end. "He's coming." She said again, shaky hands lifting to cover her eyes.

Her breaths were quick, so close to hyperventilation. She didn't stop shuddering, her teeth tearing into the skin of her lower lip. She choked on a sob, a low keening wail escaping her lips.

Laura felt like she couldn't breathe. "Who's coming, Nat? Who is it?"

"Death." Natasha whispered, barely able to get the word out before she was breaking down.

She was sobbing so hard she couldn't even breathe properly, her nails digging into her face where her hands covered her eyes.

Death.

Death was coming.

What the hell was thay supposed to mean?

Laura looked to Clint for guidance and at the look on his face, she knew he understood.

She couldn't even say his name, so afraid of the answer she didn't dare ask.

"You saw him?" Clint asked and suddenly he was pulling at Natasha's hands and his eyes were frenzied as he tried to pull them from her face. "Is he coming? Natasha, is he coming?"

"Who? Who's coming? Wasn't it just a nightmare?" Laura whispered. Nightmares always felt real. It had to have just been a dream, it had to, death wasn't coming. No one was coming to take Natasha away, they couldn't. They fucking couldn't.

Natasha whimpered low in her throat. "Wasn't a nightmare. I saw him. He's coming. It...it's him, Clint. I left and he's coming."

"Who?!" Laura asked, voice tinged with desperation.

Clint's broken gaze slid to Laura's face and Laura was quite sure she'd never been so terrified.

"The Red Skull. He's coming to collect the debt."

Chapter Text

Natasha didn't sleep for the rest of the night. Then again, Clint and Laura didn't dare close their eyes for more than a minute, lest she be gone. 

The room was warm but Natasha remained freezing cold the entire night. Even with multiple blankets covering her, with her two lovers curled around her, the goosebumps refused to leave as she shivered and shuddered.

She didn't have a temperature and physically Clint couldn't see a thing wrong with her but Natasha could barely speak, her teeth were chattering so badly.

Somehow, for some reason, the coldness seeping into Natasha's being scared Clint more than the reliving her death, more than the seizures and the screams.

It seemed like a threat, a reminder, a pull back to where she had been. If she had been reliving the moments of her death and the few seconds after...was it possible she was now reliving the aftermath?

How long had she been on that rock, cold, alone, lost, before she had come back and clawed her way back to them?

They didn't know. No one had any answers and Natasha had no memories. Knowing she had climbed the cliff had been more her recognizing the feeling and muscle memory than a true memory.

Now, as light began to filter through the curtains, the three inhabitants of the room still had no idea what was coming.

Light usually brought hope, a cleansing of the awful things of the night. This time it brought only dread. 

They were running out of time and every sunrise was a day closer to...the end.

...

So troubled were the three that waking up time for the kids came and went.

Eventually it was Lila who finally took their attention away from the dreaded inevitable.

She knocked at the door and poked her head around. Brows furrowing as she took in the three clinging to one another and her mama shuddering.

Lila looked worried. It wasn't just normal worry, it was more terror. Terror and fear and all things a young girl should never feel. Her eyes flashed with something Clint couldn't understand and wasn't sure he wanted to.

"Uh...I...so I got the boys up. Nate's dressed and...I was going to make breakfast. Are...are you coming down?" Her voice trailed off, teeth biting at her lower lip.

Laura, guilty at leaving Lila to look after the kids, said something first. "Mhm, of course. How about I come help you?" The brunette slowly pulled herself away and off the bed. She gave one lingering look at the remaining pair.

Clint gave a little nod and a weak smile. As the door closed softly and the women's footsteps faded down the stairs, the archer slowly slid from Natasha's side too. 

"Why don't we have a shower? Or a bath, if you're shaky." He fought to keep his voice even, to act like it was any normal day and that death wasn't hunting them down. Who knew, maybe it had been a nightmare, maybe the dread they felt was just understandable after everything. Maybe. But probably not.

Natasha shook her head, wincing and pressing a hand to her temple. 

Clint immediately reached to take her hand, thinking it was one of the attacks but though the redhead seemed to be in pain, it wasn't as bad as one of those.

He instead settled for brushing red hair behind her ear. "No bath then." He pitched his voice lower, not willing to make her headache any worse. "Breakfast? So we can get you some pain meds?''

Another weak shake of the head before Natasha slid down the bed from her upright position, laying curled up on her side, covered in so many blankets Clint could barely see her. 

"Okay." He said quietly, chest hurting and eyes burning. He didn't let it show as he bent and pressed a soft kiss to Natasha's cheek. "Okay, malyshka, you can sleep." He murmured, lovingly tucking her all up properly. "Yell if you need us, I won't be long."

Natasha had already closed her eyes.

Clint calmly headed to the door, opening it, stepping out, and closing it.

Instead of heading to the kitchen, he moved to the bathroom. It was only then, once the door was closed, Clint let out the sobs he'd been holding for God knows how long.

He cried so hard his body shook, hands covering his eyes. How could this happen? How? They were finally back together, didn't they deserve that? And now-

A soft keening whimper left Clint's throat as he pressed his face to his knees and wrapped his arms around himself.

He couldn't lose her again. He couldn’t.

They couldn't.

...

Natasha didn't sleep. As soon as Clint had gone, she'd forced her tired eyes open.

If he had found her whilst asleep, when her barriers were down, then she would not give him that satisfaction again, not any time soon. 

However moving seemed like too much effort so she stayed laying down, eyes staring at the wall and the chipped paint from a stray arrow.

Her head throbbed in tandem with her heart, still racing and panicked. She felt sick.

She shouldn't have come home. Shouldn't have given them hope, shouldn't have made them believe she could stay.

Cooper's 'I don't want to hug her if she can't stay.' echoed in her head.

She never should have told him she could.

She shouldn't have come home.

A few minutes into her staring at the wall, Natasha was hit with such a blinding pain in both her head and neck that she stopped breathing. Her lungs constricted, hands immediately pressing to her face. It was over in a second, a red light flashing behind her eyes.

Trying to take slow breaths, scared and confused, Natasha realised that she could taste metal in her throat.

Disorientated and dizzy, Natasha lifted her hand to her lips. When she pulled her fingers down, blood was smeared across her skin.

Had she bitten into her lips? It wouldn't have been-

It was her nose. Her nose was bleeding, she realised almost absently as red began to drip down onto the pillow beneath her head.

She sat bolt upright now, tripping and stumbling as she climbed out of the pile of blankets.

In front of the mirror, Natasha forced herself to look at the reflection.

Blood was dripping so quickly she had to cup her hand at her lips to try and stop it getting everywhere. She pulled in a shuddering breath.

Please no.

As she stared at the mirror, that flash of pain came again and this time the woman was pulled to her knees by the force of it, breaths catching in her throat.

Natasha knew something was horribly wrong as she lifted her almost blood free hand, touched the back of her head, and found her palm coated in red.

I'm not ready.

Her ears rang, heart racing as she crawled towards the door. She was panicking. Not for herself, she had already died once, but for her family.

Natasha forced her hand up to grip the door handle, vision swimming. She tried to talk but she had no voice left.

Her bloodied hand slipped from the handle and through the roaring filling her head she heard from downstairs, a child's scream and a panicked word filling the air.

"Lila?!"

Natasha shuddered, static filling her thoughts. A moment later, she slumped on the floor, everything going dark.

...

She woke up somewhere different, somewhere she had never wanted to see again.

She was back on Vormir.

Chapter Text

Natasha walked a few steps forward, skin crawling and goosebumps covering every part of her body.

Was this it?

Had she died, back at home, leaving her family to find her?

That dread still filled her stomach and something in her recognized that no, she wasn't dead, not quite yet.

On top of that fucking cliff once more, Natasha moved towards the edge. She didn't want to. Wanted to run far far away from it but something urged her to the edge of that rock. Compelled her.

Deja vu overwhelmed her as she reached her destination. Sick to her stomach, heartbeat thudding in her ears, Natasha looked down.

She immediately dropped to her knees, stomach clenching, bile rising in her throat, dizzy and off balance and terrified.

She couldn't look away. Someone wanted her to see that. Needed her to.

She was frozen to the spot, gasping raggedly, looking down at her own broken body.

Her dead body.

Natasha had no idea how long she was there, staring and staring and staring.

She'd been close to death her whole life, had almost died so many times she couldn't even count them. Knowing she had been close to death before was nothing in comparison to being forced to watch herself, dead, still, gone.

And then she wasn't alone.

Natasha knew without turning around who was lurking in the shadows watching her.

She pulled in a breath, closed her eyes for a second and got to her feet. She stood with her back to him as she lifted her head from the blood stained body. "Is it time?" She asked, her voice tinny and strange sounding.

He had been behind her and then he was suddenly in front of her..

The Red Skull looked down at her, saying only one word. 

"Watch."

Natasha was at once compelled again to do something she didn't want. She turned around to find someone else approaching.

Someone smaller, a red hooded jacket pulled low over their face, steps unsure but determined, stalking towards the quiet once-a-man.

As hazy as she was, Natasha recognized the sweatshirt before she recognized the newcomer.

It was hers

A second later, Natasha had her answer.

She wished she'd never asked herself how she'd come back. Wished she'd stayed gone and never had to witness the scene unfolding.

The girl lowered the hood and lifted her chin in the way Natasha herself did when she was being defiant.

All the breath left Natasha's body and if she hadn't already been unconscious, she would have passed out.

Natasha wasn't really there, just like this person wasn't. She wasn't there. It wasn't the present. She was watching the past. 

She was watching how she came back to life.

"No." The broken word slipped out of Natasha's mouth, her voice rising as the figure stopped in front of Red Skull. "No!"

Neither person made any notice of her and at that moment, Natasha knew that the new figure couldn't see or hear her.

Their voices were muffled as Natasha ran the few feet to them, breaths so frantic she struggled to get the words out. "No. You're not taking her. Take me. I'm already dead, take me back!" Natasha sobbed, trying to get in between the two figures.

Something invisible and hard slammed into her and she was quickly flying backwards towards the end of the cliff once more.

She sank to her knees, the unseen barrier keeping her there, forcing her to watch the exchange unfold.

They talked for no longer than a minute and then the figure headed back the way she had come.

Natasha had to watch as her daughter bargained away her life.

Lila disappeared, the body below on the rocks twitched, Red Skull turned to look at her.

Natasha woke up.


Things went to shit quickly after Clint went downstairs to make coffee.

The kids were chattering away, Lila at the stove, Laura setting the table.

It wasn't Clint who realized something was happening. It was Nate. 

One second Clint had been sipping at his coffee, rubbing sleep from his eyes, and the next their youngest was screaming.

Clint and Laura looked up at the same time, to find Lila clutching her nose, blood spilling over her hands and onto the floor.

Nate was still screaming.

Both adults rushed to their daughter, knowing immediately that it wasn't just a nosebleed. Something was desperately wrong.

Clint got there in time to catch the girl as her eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed.

"Lila?!"

At the same moment Lila fell, a loud thump came from upstairs.

Clint's heart was in his throat. He couldn't breathe.

"Lila-" Laura gasped, cupping the girl's cheek, blood smearing across the woman too.

Clint pressed his fingers to her neck, letting out a shaky exhale as the answering pulse thudded against his fingers.

"Lila, baby-" he choked out, pushing hair from the girl's forehead, "sweetheart wake up. Open your eyes for us, please-"

Nate tried to get closer, choking on his tears. Cooper grabbed his hand and pulled him close. "Let them help her."

The girl remained unresponsive, the blood dripping down her pale face to make pools on the floor.

Clint moved to his knees to lift the girl so they could move to the couch, when something even worse began to happen.

Lila began to seize.

Her body went rigid, head snapping back, a soft gurgle leaving her lips.

At the same time, banging and crashing came from upstairs and it finally registered that the noises were Natasha.

Whatever was happening was happening to both of them.

Clint grabbed their daughter, ever so carefully pushing her onto her side, using his palm to cushion her head.

"Natasha-" he choked out, eyes lifting to Laura's panicked and tear stricken face.

Not wanting to leave Lila but knowing how bad seizures could be if no one was there to help, Laura forced herself to her feet.

She listened to Clint try to rouse Lila, to Cooper and Nate's sobs, as she raced up the stairs.

She found her wife in a pool of blood, seizing just as Lila was.

Laura dropped to her knees, close to hyperventilating as she struggled to roll Natasha over with how badly she was shaking.

She grabbed a blanket from the floor and shoved it under the woman's head, tears on her face as she took Natasha's hand. "Baby-" she whispered.

As Natasha shuddered, Laura was stricken by the amount of blood. It covered the woman's face and stuck in her hair like glue. 

Laura felt bile rise as she realised it was how she must have looked on that cliff.

Abruptly, Natasha came to a stop, stilling completely.

Dread in her stomach, Laura reached for her pulse. 

As she did that, another scream came from downstairs. But this time it was female. 

Lila was screaming, over and over again, "mama!" 

For a few seconds there was nothing against Laura's fingers, no signs of life at all, no pulse. 

Lila kept screaming.

More seconds passed as Laura, frozen to the spot, grew desperate.

Just as abruptly as the seizure had ended, Natasha was gasping. 

It was desperate and frenzied, she gulped down air like she was starved of it.

Laura let out a sob and gathered Natasha into her arms, crying as the redhead gasped into the other woman's chest.

"No." Natasha whispered, gasped really, voice broken. "No you can't have her. You can't." Natasha was sobbing now, clinging to Laura's shirt.

Laura had a feeling she knew already but it didn't stop her from asking, "who does he want?" She whispered.

Natasha choked on her own tears, hands sliding into her hair and grasping tightly.

"Lila." She gasped, a wail escaping her lips. "Lila made a bargain to bring me back."

All of a sudden, Natasha was jerking to her feet, eyes frenzied as she rushed to the door.

Laura was too slow to even try to stop her, Natasha had always been faster.

The women raced down the stairs and without halting, Natasha was ripping the front door open and running outside.

He was coming for Lila. But he wouldn't get her. He would never get her. He would take her back instead. 

He had to take her back.