After the overwhelming happiness of seeing his family again and a day spent together, retelling (without details) what had happened, what they had missed, and how they had succeeded in getting everybody back, trying to console his family, while simultaneously trying not to break down after finally having come to rest, finally being able to really come to terms with what had happened.
They had won. He had his family back. His best friend was gone.
The things he had done in the years after the snap felt like a blur, but at the same time, they weighted heavily on his mind. Nobody had indicated that he would be punished, because, for one, nobody knew that it was him who had committed all those atrocities, but also because nobody cared, now that they had restored the world to the way it had been before.
Or at least, almost to the way it had been. The whole day he had felt as if her ghost was watching him and his family, as they were reunited, finally together again. He knew that she wouldn’t regret her choice and she had practically forbidden him from doing it either. But a small part of him worried if it was the right one. She had done so much in these last years, holding together what was left of the Avengers, coordinating their efforts to help all over the universe. And what had he done, except spending all of his time alternating feeling lost and running around in a murderous haze?
Of course, she would argue that that had been her MO for more than a few years, but he knew better. She had been a good person for so long, it was easy to argue that the original Black Widow was a completely different person from his friend Natasha. The woman who had spent days looking after his pregnant wife while he was away on missions, who had spent dozens of evenings reading to his children, watching over them, so he could have some time with Laura. Who had come to piano recitals and baseball games, always sitting in the back, afraid somebody would recognize her and bring his family in the spotlight, but still, always present.
His heart ached, thinking of never seeing her again, perched over the couch, spinning her throwing knives between her fingers (he had forbidden her from using them in the house, but she never listened anyway), telling his daughter some silly story or another, about a mission the two of them had gone on (heavily censored of course), making him look like a complete fool (which, objectively speaking, he sometimes was, but did she really have to tell his children?).
She had been a part of them and the moment he told them that she wouldn’t come back, that she was gone forever, he realized what that meant. Seeing his children cry like that, Lila completely inconsolable, crying out for her auntie Nat, Cooper sitting on the floor silent tears streaming down his cheeks, Nathaniel too young to really understand what was going on, but still feeling that something was missing, he felt as if even after getting back together, they were still broken somehow.
The air around him was getting chilly and after another minute or two, he started to slowly get up. He wanted to say goodnight to his children anyway and fall asleep in Laura’s arms, but when he started to move a blanket was put over him.
“Stay”, he turned his face to look at his wife and with a small, knowing smile she sat down beside him, looking up at the stars as he had a moment ago.
“You miss her already.” He could only nod. Of course, she would know what he was thinking about, he had always been an open book to her.
“We do too. She would be so happy for us though. She always was, when we were all together.” Clint could feel the tears build up in his eyes. He had known, of course, that Nat had valued his family over pretty much everything, but he didn’t think she ever realized that it was her family too. That she had always been a part of it. A part that was now missing.
“I just can’t imagine not seeing her again. Like, she even has a room here, and of course, we could turn it into a guestroom, but I don’t want guests….”
“You just want Nat, I know. Believe me, I do too. But you know what she would tell you?”
“Course I know, she would tell me to keep it together and to continue teaching my children all the invaluable skills she would have taught them, like ‘how to throw knives’, which I have banned her from doing by the way, but she never listened. She would also tell me that I am an idiot for sitting out here, crying for her when I could go inside and cuddle up with my family. But you know, she was part of that family and I just wish that we would have told her that more often”
“Me too.” He looked at Laura, smiling, and after a second she added: “Come back inside when you’re ready. But take your time. We love you and I think after five years of waiting for us, we can wait for you a little bit too.” With that, she went up and started moving towards the door but turned around before going inside.
“You know what else she would have told you? She would have told you that missing her and being happy doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can learn to do both.” Turning around and closing the door behind her, Clint was left alone again. But now, he had a feeling of warmth inside him. Like the hole his best friend’s death had left was still there, but the love from his family could help keep the wound from bleeding so much.
Because some pieces would always be broken and missing. But they would make it work. He could feel Natasha smile down on him and gazing up at the stars the only thing he could think to say was: