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Explosions in the Sky. (Clint/Bruce) [1/3]

Title: Explosions in the Sky. [1/3]
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: Clint Barton/Bruce Banner (& Steve Rogers/Tony Stark)
Other Characters: Natasha Romanoff, Thor.
Word Count: 3,267
Summary: Clint and Bruce live in near-perfect harmony. At least, they did, until Bruce Hulks out in front of their young daughter and consequently vanishes.



ooOoo


Despite our unsteady temperaments, Bruce and I had settled down with remarkable ease. No one would have believed it, not to begin with, not with who we are as people and not with the lives that we lead as Avengers. But it had happened and, by rights, it should have been a complete disaster.

On paper, an intimate relationship between an angry-at-the-world archer and an outstanding scientist, in a permanent rage-control quandary, should have exploded as soon as it began. Except, it didn’t. You see, there’s something special, something unique, about two wildcards getting together, something which most people overlook, and that’s the simple fact that it doesn’t always end in a violent explosion. Sometimes it works perfectly and the people involved find a new kind of serenity to placate their personal turmoil.

A man who knew all to well about that little detail was the self-proclaimed brilliance, Tony Stark. In fact, he’d gotten the ball rolling for us in the first place. Something that makes it infinitely harder for me to hate him, if we’re being perfectly honest. He’d done it in an archetypal ‘Tony’ way, by announcing, in his typically loud and obnoxious way, in front of everyone, that Bruce and I should just, ‘Go upstairs and fuck each other, already.’

Having grown up in a children’s home for a while, I was used to the crude remarks of others, I’d lived with a hundred little Tonys, so, I had it covered. In fact, honestly, I barely heard it, but that didn‘t stop me throwing a coaster at his face for good measure anyway. And Bruce, well, he took it much worse - his face blushed furiously, he kept his eyes trained firmly on the floor, and he scampered away, like a startled animal, as soon as he could.

I could have killed Tony then, except I didn’t, because I realised that the whole situation gave me the perfect excuse to follow Bruce out of the room, to make sure that he was okay. Tony had realised that too, judging by the smirk on his scheming face, and I left to find Bruce.

When I found him, tucked away in his lab, he was fine, of course he was, but he was still embarrassed. Really embarrassed. He could hardly look up at me and it made me feel awful, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. I told him not to worry about it, that he knew what Tony was like, that he could give me his embarrassment because I probably didn’t feel it enough, while he clearly felt too much. We got talking then, one thing lead to another, and after the awkward that finally settled down, he left me take him out for coffee. Then, a few weeks later, we started dating. Not that either of us had much experience in that field.

What we had, Bruce and I, and what we continue to have to this day, wasn’t normal. In fact, it’s all about a million miles away from straightforward but it works for us. It’s always worked for us; we just aren’t explosive together. Not in the bad way, at least, and that much was obvious from the start. So, once we’d been ‘going steady’ for a couple of months, we decided to take the plunge and buy an apartment together, right in the heart of the city. We were so excited about it; we didn’t even care that we’d have to pay an extortionate rent. SHIELD had just backed away, held up their hands, and said: ‘You pay for it yourselves. There’s nothing wrong with the mansion.’ And we’d both just laughed and supposed that they’d never tried to find a moments privacy in a full house.

A few weeks later, we were packing up our belongings. Everyone helped out and did what they could, except for Tony, who just stood by the door, smirking like that cat that not only got his cream but everyone else’s too. But, in retrospect, we did exactly the same, less than a year later, when we got the ball rolling between him and a certain Captain, so, no hard feelings. Anyway, I had my boxes packed in less than ten minutes. I’d never been the guy with a huge wardrobe or a sprawling action-figure collection. It just wasn’t me. Bruce, on the other hand, had too many boxes to count. There must have been at least twenty boxes filled with books alone. No to mention the dozens that were crammed full with his sciencey stuff. But, somehow, that seemed to work for us too. And I remember thinking, if we mixed all of our boxes together, we’d probably have the usual amount of boxes that a normal, non-Avenging, couple had. It was a simple thought, but it made me smile anyway.

But, the fact was, we weren’t a non-Avenging couple, were we? So, we had other baggage to consider - Hulk-sized baggage, if we’re being specific in labelling things. Bruce and I had had ‘The Talk’ at least a hundred times by this point. And he was, finally, starting to believe that I wasn’t afraid of him. Which was, and remains to be, the absolute truth. One hundred percent. Without a shadow of a doubt. Sure, I’m not going to lie to you, the first few times that he’d hulked out on the job it was a little unnerving to witness. However, and I can’t stress this enough, with time came the realisation that the Hulk had saved Hawkeye’s ass more times than I could count. And I believed that there was something in that - something honest, something good, something true. The Hulk wasn’t the thoughtless monster that SHIELD had branded him, I’d seen that early on, with my own eyes.

We’d been a team for just under two weeks when Bruce had accidentally hulked out in his lab. And, as we know, people fear what they don’t understand, so, panic broke out in seconds. I’m talking: sirens, alarms, screaming, shouting, praying, crying, the lot. These people were trained agents for God‘s sake, it was a mess. And all I could think, as I stood opposite a newly transformed Bruce was, ‘I hope to God that it doesn’t hurt you.’ And then, ‘They really do think you’re a monster, don’t they?’ And, as terrified people fled the scene, heavily armed agents burst in and surrounded the both of us, urging me to run for my life. It was then that the most powerful protective urge I‘d ever experienced surged straight through me.

The Big Guy had just stood there, confusion filling up his wide eyes, as he looked at the guns they’d aimed at him. He looked so helpless and I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing. We were a team now. Bruce seemed nice enough, not that I really knew him then, and I wasn’t about to just leave him there. So, without moving, I calmly told the agents to back the fuck up, unless they wanted me to shatter all of the bones in their stupid little bodies, one by one. It took them about ten minutes to move, they didn’t have permission to fire at him if I was in the way and I wasn’t going anywhere, so, they had no choice really. Nevertheless, they went out of the door muttering about ‘death wishes’ and ‘suicidal tendencies’ and, who knows, maybe they were right, I had no one to balance me out back then.

But anyway, I was a realist, so, I could see that, for overall peace of mind, I needed to move him away from the communal areas. So, I tried to talk him into the glass containment unit - by the way, those are just fancy words for a cage - not knowing if he could even understand me. The cage was something that SHIELD had built for him and it was something that the whole team had strong opinions on. Even everything’s-for-the-greater-good Steve Rogers had complained about it repeatedly - ‘How is building a cage going to convince Bruce that he’s not a monster? Or that he’s a part of the team? Did you even think about that? Do you even care?’

Anyway, my coaxing didn’t go well at first. Though, as soon as I climbed onto a table and looked The Bug Guy square in the eye I had his full attention. And as I stood there, with my hands stretched out in a way which showed him I meant no harm, I promised him that I wouldn’t leave him alone in that stupid cage. I told him how the how the whole team hated it, how him hating it too was more than fair, and I told him that I wouldn’t leave him until he was okay and Bruce was back with us. After that, well, he’d just followed me out the door. I felt like the pied piper - except, the Hulk wasn’t a rat and I had no musical talent to speak of. He knew that I was telling him the truth. Anyone who thinks that the Hulk is brainless is dumber than they think he is. He’s different, that’s all he is, and aren’t we all different, in some way or another? Last time I checked, variety wasn’t a crime.

So, what I’m really saying is, the Hulk wasn’t a problem, not for me, and before we knew it, Bruce and I had moved into our new apartment. It wasn’t a fantastic place - Tony had seen it and said, ‘Oh, okay.’ It wasn’t a huge space - Steve had seen it and called it ‘beautifully quaint’. But it was ours, that’s what really mattered, and we spent almost every moment that we had decorating and rearranging furniture until we were one hundred percent happy with it. And after that? Well, we just.. settled. It was that simple; it was that easy.

Then, when you add a couple of happy years into the mix, naturally, you start asking each other questions. Really important questions. Questions about marriage. Questions about children. So, that became our next step. We decided against marriage, it wasn’t really our thing, but having children was a different matter altogether. It was something we both considered to be much bigger and infinitely more challenging. And once we’d talked about it, really talked about it, I mean, we wanted it. Even Bruce did, despite his initial fear that he’d be an unsafe father. And I don’t know if it’s even possible for men to feel broody, but we both did.

So, together, we called the local adoption agency. We’d read about surrogacy, about finding a kind-hearted woman to carry our child to term but I felt, and still feel, so strongly about adoption. Having lived in an orphanage, I couldn’t overlook the possibility and neither could Bruce. I’d talked to him frankly, about the good kids that were victims of circumstance and deserved a good life too. About the children who got lost in the system and about those who developed and matured without ever having had consistent love from an adult-figure. And, so, we agreed, almost instantly, that we wanted to adopt.

We didn’t tell anyone about our plans, not even our closest friends; we knew how disappointing the process could be and how long it took the agencies to find the perfect parents for a child and their own needs. It was a waiting game. So, we waited, and time slipped right by - month, after month, after month. Though, we never forgot, it was always there, both between us and in the pits of our stomachs.

Then, one day, we received a call. It was the agency, asking us if we’d like to read the file of a little girl whose parents had just died in a car crash. Her name was Cleo, she was three years old, and she was residing in emergency foster care. Of course, we said yes, that we’d read the file as soon as it could be given to us and that’s how we ended up with our beautiful daughter.



ooOoo




For a six year old, Cleo was smart and she was only getting smarter. Bruce and I weren’t sure whether it was because she was naturally curious and precocious, or whether it has something to do with the fact that her head was constantly being filled up with waves of complex information.

It wasn’t unusual for her to come home from Tony and Steve’s place babbling about renewable energy and particles, while clutching a painting that looked more like the work of Georges Seurat than your average child’s finger-painting. She could talk to Natasha is Russian, just as easily as she could talk to the rest of us in English, and she was teaching her old dads a thing or two about languages, no doubt about it. Cleo also had an enviable imagination, something that was constantly being fed by the stories that Thor told her about eight-legged horses, frost giant and great, golden halls. And it wasn’t unusual to find her helping Bruce out with his simple, non-dangerous, experiments. Or to find her running around the apartment with her plastic bow and arrows in hand. And, in a way, I supposed that she’s the best parts of all of us.

Her only downfall, if you could even call it that, was her fear of thunder. Thor had tried to explain in to her once and Bruce and Tony had backed his claims up with science, but it still upset her. Science wasn’t going to prevent the sky from cracking and exploding, was it? But we dealt with it, it’s not like it rained all the time. And, when it did, she’d just climb up into our bed, squeeze herself between us, and fall asleep again. Thunder was only half as scary when she had her Daddy and her Dad beside her.

Nevertheless, in a bid to make her understand that fearing something was perfectly normal and okay, we’d all shared one of our fears with her. Mostly, we went with simple things, because, yes, it was a valuable lesson for her to learn but, at the end of the day, she was still a child. She didn’t need to be exposed to a world of horror and adult fears. Saying things like ‘clowns’ and ‘the dark’ was more than enough for her. She didn’t need to know that I feared clowns because of my time in the circus, just like she didn’t need to know that Tony feared the dark because he’d been kidnapped by terrorists and kept in a dark cave, for months on end. And Bruce, unsurprisingly, had gone with ‘really big animals’, because it wasn’t as if he was going to say, ‘turning into the Hulk and hurting you and your Dad’, to his baby girl, was it? And, technically, Cleo didn’t know anything about the Hulk. Not a thing. Except she did. She knew almost everything.

Unafraid of the Hulk I may have been, but I was, and remain, a strident realist. It was very likely that, during the course of her life, Cleo would catch sight of her Daddy turning into The Big Guy. And I just wanted her to be prepared for the possibility, you know? I didn’t want it to scare her half to death when it happened. And I didn’t tell Bruce about it because, well, I didn’t want him to think that I didn’t trust him, or understand him, because I did and I still do. I really, really do and the whole thing had nothing to do with that. The Hulk was just something that happened to Cleo’s Daddy occasionally and, just in case she caught sight of it happening in person, I wanted her to have a good understanding of it. But, above all else, I didn’t want her thinking that her Daddy was a monster. He wasn’t. He was, and continues to be, the best part of our lives.

So, with the help of Steve - who created a number of beautifully rendered drawings and diagrams for me - I explained the Hulk to our daughter. No one knew about our little lessons. No one but me and Cleo and Steve, that is. And we’d just go over the information together, again and again. Usually once a month, just like we did with the fire drill, just to make sure that she still understood and that she was still happy.

As chance would have it, we’d been going over the information on the day that it had happened. Bruce had gone out, in the midst of a heavy downpour, to help Tony with a complicated science crisis. And I found myself home alone, making dinner, with Cleo perched on top of the counter, right next to me, Steve’s drawings clasped tightly in her little hands. Her pink knuckles turning a ghostly white.

“So,” I‘d started, “Sometimes your Daddy is which colour?”

“Green!” Cleo had laughed brightly. Her deep brown eyes shining up at me hopefully, as her wide smile tugged warmly at the corners of her expressive mouth.

“That’s my girl.” I’d said, smiling at her in return, “That’s exactly right.”

“And is Daddy small when he’s green or is he big?” I’d asked then and I could see her out of the corner of my eye, looking carefully at the pictures in her hands.

“Daddy is BIG.” She’d confirmed conclusively, her feet swinging as she talked.

“How big is he, sweetheart?” I’d enquired then, grabbing a fist full of basil and stirring it into the saucepan.

“As big as the ceiling!” She’d said easily.

“That’s right.” I’d confirmed, “You’re so clever, aren’t you, angel?”

“Uh-huh.” She’d nodded, unabashed, her laughter fluttering through the air.

“And you’re modest too, just like your old man.” I’d said, with a proud smile.

“And,” I’d continued then, “What is Daddy?”

I watched her then, as she looked at another of Steve’s cards and then another.

“Daddy is a science man and a superhero!” Cleo had gushed, after a beat, and wonder had filled up her little face.

“That’s right, angel. Your Daddy is a scientist and he’s a hero. And what isn’t Daddy?” I’d prompted, after turning the cooker down to a low heat and giving her my full attention.

“Daddy isn’t a bad man.” Cleo had said then, with an absolute finality that made me proud and my heart pound.

“That’s right. And why don’t we talk to Daddy about this?” I‘d asked, pointing to the drawings and then gently cupping one of my daughter’s cheeks.

“Because he thinks it‘s bad.” Cleo had said seriously and I smiled, “That’s right.”

“Is the Hulk a bad man?” I asked finally, leaning back into the counter, next to my little girl, an arm around her waist.

“No.” Cleo had stated quickly, recognition sparking in her eyes before she looked up at me and, together, we repeated our little mantra: “It’s not bad to be different.”

After that, I’d kissed her cheek, ruffled her dark, unruly hair and picked her up. Hugging her tightly and swaying with her in my arms before I set her back down, onto the floor.

“Listen, I’ll make you a deal. If you go and put Uncle Steve’s pictures away, in the secret drawer, I’ll get you some ice cream. Deal?” I offered and Cleo had happily skipped out of the kitchen and towards her room. She’s was, and continues to be, a good little girl. And that was about to show more than ever.

ooOoo


Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
ladyblkrose
Aug. 7th, 2012 02:11 am (UTC)
Well this is a hero I never thought I'd ever see, but, you make it work. I like the quite way you slip them together, how Clint just "gets" Bruce and how they "make" a life with and for one another. Cleo is a suprize and a joy to read about in their life. I really hope that you continue withthis "series" as I really, really am into it.
Thank you for sharing this with us baby.
lilacs_roses
Aug. 7th, 2012 03:02 am (UTC)
This is beautiful! I am eagerly awaiting the next part.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )