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Explosions in the Sky. (Clint/Bruce) [2/3]

Title: Explosions in the Sky. [2/3]
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: Clint Barton/Bruce Banner (& Steve Rogers/Tony Stark)
Other Characters: Natasha Romanoff, Thor.
Word Count: 2,632
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


When Bruce had walked through the door his clothes were soaked through. I remember it perfectly, the sight of him. He looked awful, half-drowned, his hair defeated and stuck haphazardly to this forehead, his damp skin glistening under the low lighting of our apartment. In fact, if I’m being completely honest, he looked about ten minutes away from pneumonia and a trip to the hospital.

Naturally, as soon as Cleo had heard the door open, she’d leapt up from her position on my lap and skipped straight over to her Daddy. Her eager arms outstretched and thrust upwards, asking to be picked up. Bruce had just frowned at her apologetically as he jutted out a hand to stop her half-way. She almost tripped over her feet, as she tried to stop mid-step, and Bruce and I had jerked forward instinctively, as if that alone would have been enough to catch her if she’d fallen. But she didn’t fall, instead she balanced herself out and stared up at Bruce in absolute disbelief, her face a picture of petulance, her little arms reaching out to him again.

“No, baby.” Bruce had said then, regret absolutely dripping from his voice, “You’ll get wet if I touch you. I wouldn’t want to do that, sweetheart.” He’d explained carefully and Cleo had just frowned up at him, her little brow furrowing tightly in confusion before she’d turned around to look at me, utterly astonished.

It didn’t take long for Bruce to follow suit and, suddenly, the two loves of my life were staring right at me, both of them completely helpless in their own ways. Both wide-eyed and lost. Both longing for the touch of the of the other. Both yearning. Bruce had always been physically affectionate, that little fact always seemed to shock people but it was true. He’d greet his friends with a tight, close hug - something that he still does to this day - and he’d leave in the same manner. And then there was Cleo, our little girl who was so used to been hugged and touched a patted on the head that she felt brushed aside when it didn‘t, or couldn’t, happen. The girl who’d throw herself bodily into the arms of Tony or Steve or Natasha or Thor without a second thought. So, anyway, I did the only thing I could in that situation, I tried to make them both feel better about it. At least that way, I figured, they’d stop staring at me like lost kittens.

“Cleo,” I’d ventured, “Daddy just needs to dry himself off and then you can hug him, okay?” She thought about it for a while and then she slowly nodded, still a little unhappy, her body swaying ever-so-slightly from side to side.

After that, she turned back to Bruce and there was no doubt about it, she was giving him the sad face. The face that could make your steely resolve spontaneously combust in a millisecond. I could tell by the way Bruce’s eyebrows raised sadly as he looked at her.

“I don’t want you to get sick, baby.” He’d confided then - just as I noticed a small puddle of water forming around his feet. He really was soaked through; it was awful and it’s not like he’d walked home, he’d come home in the car. This was just the result of him walking around the block from the car park. I can tell you now, the weather hadn’t been that bad for a long time. And, ultimately, what that really meant was a thunder storm. I looked down at Cleo and wondered if she‘d be wedged between us in our bed that night. Probably, I’d decided, and that was okay.

“Oh.” Cleo had said in reply to Bruce; looking down at the widening pool of water around her Daddy’s feet before she’d smiled brightly up at him and skipped away. And if I’d learnt anything as a parent, it was that children’s emotions are extremely changeable. They aren’t great at holding grudges, or keeping scores, they live entirely in the moment. They roll with the punches. They get on with it. There’s definitely something to be learned there. And, while I‘m on the subject, those people who think that children are inferior to adults are idiots, plain and simple. Our kids are clever in ways we can’t even dare to be.

“You look awful.” I’d said to Bruce, as soon as Cleo was out of earshot, and Bruce had just laughed - a deep, honest-to-God laugh - “Oh, thanks. It’s nice to see you too!”

“Seriously,” I’d replied with a smile, “Go and dry yourself off and be quick about it, I made your favourite for dinner.”

“You’re perfect.” Bruce had moaned, in quiet appreciation, and then - as if on cue - his stomach had started to grumble, loud and long.

“Jesus, Bruce, didn’t Tony feed you?” I’d said playfully, “You were gone for seven hours.”

“You and I both know that Tony doesn’t have a clue where his kitchen is.” He’d grinned back brightly; before his mouth fell into its usual, soft smile, “Steve was thoughtful enough to bring us trays of food, it looked delicious and the aroma was exquisite, but Tony and I were just so busy with all the -”

“Science.” Bruce and I said together and then he’d laughed again. The corners of his tired eyes creasing; his lips parting as he grinned. God, I remember thinking to myself, I really do love you, Bruce. No doubt about it.

“Yeah.” He’d reaffirmed then, before he inclined his head a fraction and slipped away into our bedroom - with a look that said ‘I’ll be right back’ - to dry himself off and put on some warm clothes.

I went and found Cleo in the kitchen, happily shooting plastic arrows at our cabinets, smiling away to herself. And I remember standing in that doorway, watching her play, and thinking to myself, that’s my daughter, that‘s my baby girl. And in that moment, I treasured my little family, really treasured it, I mean. My perfect family that, on paper, didn’t stand a chance. And I felt alive. I felt gifted. Every bad thing that had ever happened to me simply faded away into nothingness.

When Bruce emerged from our bedroom he was dressed in his warmest pyjamas and rubbing at his hair with a fluffy, white towel. His skin wasn’t quite as pale as it had been and he no longer looked on the verge of serious illness, so, that had definitely been something.

“That’s much better.” I’d offered, as he walked towards me, consequently grabbing Cleo’s attention. She threw her plastic bow to the floor and sprinted over to him. I could have been offended by that but I wasn’t, I’d choose Bruce over archery too. Every single time.

“Hey, beautiful.” Bruce had whispered then, dropping the towel that he held in his hands to the floor, getting down on his knees and wrapping Cleo up in his arms. In return, she wrapped her arms around his neck, kissed his cheek, and sighed, “Daddy!” Order was restored.

“I missed you and your Dad today,” Bruce had muttered into her dark hair, glancing up at me, “I hope you guys didn’t have too much fun without me?”

“No way,” I’d replied quickly, offering him an honest smile, “There’s no fun without Daddy, is there, angel?”

“Nuh-uh.” Cleo had said, shaking her head fiercely.

“Come on,” I’d smiled then, “Dinner’s ready and on the table in five.”


ooOoo



It must have been around midnight when Bruce and I finally managed to climb into our bed. Our heads had barely settled onto our pillows when a burst of thunder echoed through the sky. I’d shuffled closer to Bruce then, wrapped an arm securely around his body, and together we waited. Listening in the darkness.

It only took about two minutes before we heard it. The sound of tiny footsteps padding towards our door. I’d leant forwards then, pressed a lingering kiss to the back of Bruce’s neck, before doing the same to his shoulder. Breathing in his t-shirt as our bedroom door was pushed open by unmistakably tiny hands.

“Dad?” Cleo had whispered into the darkness, “Daddy?” It’s then that Bruce had reached out and flicked on our bedside lamp. A soft orange light flooding the room.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Bruce had said, sitting up a little, I did the same, “We’re right here.”

“Come on up, angel, there’s plenty of room.” I’d reassured her as she walked towards us, pushing our covers down a little to allow her entrance. Bruce hoisted her up and she climbed over him, settling herself down between us both. I pulled the covers back up, over her body, and Bruce brushed her hair away from her face as he said, as soft as always, “Go to sleep, sweetheart.”

It didn’t take long, it never did, and when she’d been asleep for a while Bruce turned the light off again and we settled back into our pillows. Our daughter’s breathing guiding us both into a sound sleep.

We’re all deep sleepers, we always have been, except for Cleo when the weather’s bad. So, the next time I open my eyes, I expect it to be morning. Except it’s not because it’s still way too dark outside. And, at first, I had absolute no idea why I was awake. Then it’d all kicked off.

A huge bang, like an explosion, had ripped through the air and Cleo had let out an almighty scream. My eye’s had flown open again, my heart pounding violently as adrenaline pumped through my veins. I scrambled upwards and reached out hastily, flicking the light on and spinning around to look at Cleo.

As I did, another burst of thunder boomed through the sky and Cleo screamed again. All of the hairs on my body stood to attention, like regimented soldiers on my skin, I remember shuddering, I remember the rush of it. And that’s when I realised, that’s when I realised that Bruce wasn’t in our bed.

It was seconds later, when I‘d heard it, an animalistic cry that resounded from the bottom of our bed. Bruce was down there. His skin tinged with green. His body hunched over our dresser. My heart had continued to pound and then, suddenly, Bruce wasn’t Bruce anymore. He was the Hulk. He let out a painful cry and I winced.

When I looked over at Cleo, her eyes were wide with wonder and fear, I’d shuffled over to her then, my legs half-trapped by the sheets. And, just as I’d touched her, another bought of thunder boomed through the sky. The Hulk growled and Cleo let out an ear-splitting cry. Her mouth open wide, just like her eyes.

“Shhh. Cleo, it’s okay.” I’d said urgently, “It’s okay, angel, I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” I continued to promise as the Hulk smashed our bedroom dresser to pieces. Heavy drawers falling to the floor as bits of broken wood hit the wall with a deep thud.

“Dad!” Cleo had wailed, and then, “Daddy!” And that’s when I’d realised that she was staring at the Hulk. I pressed her head to my chest.

“It’s just thunder, you’re okay, sweetheart.” I’d offered desperately but her screaming hadn’t stop because another clap of thunder had resounded around us. I held onto her, as tight as I could, and I could feel her whole body shaking. Her skin shuddering violently against mine. She was so scared that it scared me and, suddenly, the Hulk was staring at her in complete confusion. He’d never met Cleo and I was very aware of that little fact in that moment.

“Hey, big guy.” I’d said, frantically appealing to him, Cleo still sobbing against me, “We need Bruce back. He needs to help me here.”

“Daddy!” Cleo had screamed over at the Hulk, one of her hands reaching out to him. Then the thunder had struck again and she’d let out another ear-piercing scream. The Hulk recoiled violently and backed away. Heading towards the large, four-pane window of our room. I clung to Cleo, running a comforting hand up and down her shoulder.

“Please, don’t go. It’s okay.” I’d promised the Hulk, cradling little Cleo to my chest. She was still crying. I couldn’t leave her to go over to him, I couldn’t have done anything but stay exactly where I was and he wouldn’t stop staring at her.

As a finally burst of thunder had echoed through the sky, Cleo had cried out one last time, the Hulk had cried out too and then he’d hurtled himself towards the window. Flinging his huge, jade body through the thick glass. My heart had plummeted into my stomach then, but I’d registered the Hulk’s intent early enough to shield Cleo as glass flew around our bedroom. And then, I’d been left there, on our bed, surrounded by broken glass and cradling our terrified daughter.

“Cleo?” I’d whispered quickly, staring down at the little girl who was curled into me.

“Cleo, you need to let me know that you’re not hurt?” I’d urged. Cleo mumbled into my chest. I pulled away from her, just enough to hear her bruised voice.

“I peed.” She cried sadly up at me and I kissed her hair. Clinging to her in relief.

“It’s okay, angel. It’s okay. We can fix that. Are you hurt?” I’d asked again and she shook her head. The sky was finally silent. The explosions had finally stopped. Silence fell heavily around us.

“Good girl.” I’d said, “We’ll take you to the bathroom and fix you up. Okay?”

I’d stood carefully then, Cleo bundled easily in my arms, avoiding the scattered shards of glass as I carried our daughter away from the chaos.

When we reached the bathroom, after a quick stop in Cleo’s room for clean clothes, her tears had dried up. I sat our little girl next to the sink and started to clean her up, talking to her as I did.

“Are you still scared?” I’d asked first and she’d shook her head.

“Good girl. Can you tell me what scared you, sweetheart?” I’d enquired quietly.

“The sound.” Cleo had mumbled and I’d nodded.

“You mean the thunder, outside?” I’d tried.

“The sky.” Cleo had said miserably and I’d smiled down at her.

“That’s okay, it’s all over now. Did Daddy scare you, when he was the Hulk?” I’d asked carefully then, because I had to, didn‘t I?

“Nuh-Uh. It was just like the pictures.” Cleo had replied quickly, with her usual wide and curious eyes.

“Like in Uncle Steve’s pictures, you mean?” I‘d said, slipping her clean clothes on as she nodded.

“Is Daddy, okay?” Cleo had asked then and I picked her hands up in mine.

“He’ll be just fine, angel. Do you remember, in the drawings, it said that Daddy was good at climbing when he was green?” I reminded her and she’d nodded quickly.

“He just climbed away,” I’d explained to her, “He went to tell the thunder to keep it down.”

“He did?” Cleo had said in amazement.

“You bet he did. He’s probably shouting at the sky right now. Telling it that his little girl is trying to sleep.” I’d explained, as I brushed her dark hair away from her face.

“When is he coming back?” Cleo had asked then, as I picked her up.

“He’ll be back tomorrow morning, angel.” I’d promised her, just before I carried her into the living room and we fell asleep, curled up together on the sofa. Not knowing that it wasn’t going to be that straightforward. Not knowing that it wasn’t going to be that easy. Not this time.

ooOoo