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Explosions in the Sky. [3/3]

Title: Explosions in the Sky. [3/3]
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: Clint Barton/Bruce Banner (& Steve Rogers/Tony Stark)
Other Characters: Natasha Romanoff, Thor.
Word Count: 5,773
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


The next morning, nothing felt different, in fact, everything felt exactly the same. I didn’t wake with a start or a funny feeling deep inside my belly. The were no bad omens waiting for me in the cutlery drawer. There wasn’t a misfortunate number of birds gathered outside our window. Bruce’s picture hadn’t ominously fallen from the wall with a foreboding crash. The huge mirror in our bedroom was completely, miraculously, undamaged. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that anything was wrong. Not one of those fabled warning signs - spun by those antediluvian spinsters - had seemed applicable. It wasn’t even raining outside.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I’d thought it too, so much for the karmic cautioning system of the mystic universe, right? Well, that would really bother me later. When I had a moment alone; when I had time to really think about it. When everything was restored. When Cleo was tucked up in bed. When Bruce was back home and soundly asleep beside me, the soft rise and fall of his chest subsiding the irrational, childlike fear that rose up in me sometimes. It would bother me because I hadn’t felt it coming and there wasn’t a tangible sign for me to see. And I couldn’t understand that. How I could love someone, so completely, and still not be connected to them intuitively, spiritually, mystically? After that, I worried that I might have missed something, maybe a crucial - though seemingly insignificant - detail. Which was somehow worse, because I am the details, details are my job. The notion that something could have been drastically wrong with Bruce and I’d just gone about my day, completely unaware, was horrifying to me. But, as it turned out, that’s exactly the way that it had happened.

As soon as I’d opened my eyes, I’d slid from beneath Cleo, stretched the knotted-ache out of my muscles and headed for our bedroom. I managed to get dressed, wash my face and brush my teeth before Cleo appeared at the bathroom door. Her messy hair jutting out at odd angles; making her look like a sleepy child-medusa. She had her arms outstretched when I‘d turned around. So, I’d picked her up and carried her into the kitchen. Sure, she could have walked but I’m her Dad and her Daddy was out and the night before she’d been so scared that she’s had an accident, so, I cut the kid some slack. I made her breakfast, brushed her hair and settled her down, at the coffee table, with a fist full of wax crayons. It kept her busy, it always did, and it gave me enough time to clean up the mess that the Hulk had made of our bedroom.

Between carefully wrapping shards of broken glass in old newspaper, boarding up empty window frames and playing with Cleo as often as I could, the time soon ticked away. Before I even realised it, the central hours of the day were gone; faded into obscurity. And it was only when my phone had beeped, to tell me that it was time to make a start on dinner, that I realised it was almost five o’clock.

It was almost five o’clock, in the evening, and Bruce still hadn’t come home. He hadn’t even called. Now, I’m not going to lie to you, I started to panic. Really panic, I mean. I remember feeling like a bucket of ice-cold water had been tipped over my head. Like the waves of a choppy sea had pulled me under and I could barely keep my thoughts afloat and in order. Bruce had never been gone for so long without calling me. Even on the job. Even when he’d been kidnapped. He was thoughtful and selfless; he didn’t like to worry others or be a ‘nuisance’.

So, where was Bruce? Was there something wrong with him? Had something happened to him? Why hadn’t I felt it in my bones? Was he hurt? Was he out there hurting while I carried on in our apartment like everything was fine?

I think I managed to hold myself together for just over fifteen minutes. Then I’d caved and called Tony and Steve. I probably didn’t sound half as composed as I’d tried to be while I spoke to Tony. And I’m sure that the tremble of my fingertips wasn’t unnoticed either - as the plastic of the phone knocked loudly against my face again and again. And Tony was quiet, quieter than he’d ever been, when I told him that there’d been an incident and that Bruce hadn’t come home. He didn’t have a sarcastic thing to say to me when I’d said, with a stutter, that I didn’t know what to do and that I didn’t know what I was doing. He’d just told me to hold tight, he’d told me that they were already on their way. And they must have been because, just before I hung up the phone, I heard the jingle of keys and a car start.

Within ten minutes, Tony and Steve were stood at the door of our apartment. The first thing I noticed, was the fact that Steve’s hair was damp and his skin seemed almost wet, like he’d jumped out of the shower. The second thing I noticed, was the fact that Tony’s fingers were covered in dark ink. I’d obviously interrupted them and suddenly I felt bad. What if I was simply overreacting? They were both busy people and I’d dragged them away from their downtime. I remember feeling my face fall a little then, before Steve had cleared his throat and said, “Clint, we weren’t doing anything that we can’t do later. You come first. So does Bruce; so does Cleo.”

I’d ushered them both inside then and five minutes later Tony was pacing up and down our hallway, talking hurriedly into his phone about security cameras and visual tracking. I wanted to make a joke about him wearing the floor away but I couldn’t fit it together right. While Steve - thank God for Steve - had little Cleo on his lap. I remember watching him as he bounced her up and down with undeniable ease, a cascade of untainted laughter tumbling past her parted lips. I remember wondering how worried I looked because Steve was offering me the smile as he held my daughter and made her laugh. It was a smile that said a thousand different things in a thousand different ways, depending on what an individual needed from it. And, in that moment, I’d needed it to promise me that everything was going to be okay and that’s exactly what it did. Magnanimous bastard.

Sometime after that, I remember walking towards the window. My feet felt heavy, unusual and unused. I remember staring out at the sprawling city and the jagged skyline. The buildings looked like broken, crooked teeth. I remember wondering if Bruce was out there somewhere, lost in the jaws of city. I’m not sure how long I stood there, gazing blankly at the horizon, and I don’t remember the moment Tony’s voice stopped ghosting through the air around me but by the time Steve had pulled me out of my stillness, with a firm but gentle hand to the shoulder, the sun was gone.

But I could heard Tony’s voice again then; he was asking Cleo if she wanted to help him with an experiment. She let out an enthusiastic ‘uh-huh’ and off they went. As soon as they were both in the kitchen, and safely out of earshot, Steve had squeezed my shoulder in support and said, “He’ll come home, Clint. He’ll be back.” And, suddenly, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering how many times he must have said that to himself back in the war.. and how many times he must have been wrong.

I wanted to say something to him then, I wanted to let him know that I hoped so too, but my throat was dry, too dry, dry enough that it hurt to swallow, dry enough that it hurt to whisper, “But what if he doesn’t?” And Steve had looked at me then, in the way a child looks at a puzzle, before he let his brow furrow.

“Nothing hurts the Hulk. He’ll be okay. He’ll be safe.” Steve had tried hopefully and I’d turned to glance at him then, at the resolute conviction that danced in his eyes. Eyes that were framed oh-so-carefully by slanted brows and delicate creases. Eyes that had probably seen more horror than anyone else’s. Yet, somehow, despite that, he’d remained so moral, so good and so true. Somehow, those eyes of his could still hold such compassion and empathy and, well, I’d wondered then what they might have looked like before Steve had seen things he shouldn’t have. When he was nothing but a hopeful little brat running around Brooklyn. When he was nothing more than the little kid who liked to draw and who hated bullies. Were his eyes even brighter back then? Was that even possible? Or were they a reaction? The product of what they had seen?

“Oh, sure,” I’d said eventually, slowly. Gaining a little more control over my own voice, “The Hulk will be fine. But what if Bruce doesn’t want to come home?”

“Why wouldn’t he want to come home?” Steve had asked then, noticeably confused, “He’s got you and Cleo. He’s got a good life here, a happy life.”

“But…” I’d started nervously, muttering my words like a hot confession, “She was screaming at him. Kind of.”

“Who? Cleo?” Steve had asked then, his face contorting a little.

“She was so scared.” I’d remembered sadly.

“She was scared of the Hulk?” Steve had asked carefully, evenly, in a way that only he could. In a way that said: I can fix it either way, don’t worry.

“No,” I’d said then, “No. She was scared of the thunder. But the Hulk isn’t going to notice the difference, is he? He’s going to think he’s scared her and then it‘ll filter through in parts to Bruce and suddenly it’s a reality, isn’t it? The one thing that he fears most in the world. That he’s a monster. That he’s dangerous. That he’s a danger to us all.” I‘d finished heavily, my heart pounding violently beneath my ribs. And before Steve could even interject, and say something perfectly heroic, from behind us, a little voice said, “It’s not bad to be different.”

And you have to remember that I was already feeling emotional, way too emotional, in fact, I was so over over-emotional that my eyes had filled to the brim within seconds. Steve must have seen it too, in my body somehow, even as I stared away from him and out of the window, because he turned me around then and he wrapped his arms firmly around my body.

“She.. wanted to get her notebook.” Tony had offered then, apologetically, my face still pressed firmly into Steve’s chest.

“It’s okay.” Steve had said reassuringly, his mellifluous voice filling up the empty spaces in the room. I’m not sure who those words were directed at but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was all of us.

“You’re a smart girl, those are very wise words.” I‘d heard Tony say then, no doubt bending down to pick Cleo up, if the click of his knees was anything to go by, “Who taught you that?”

“Dad, he says it all the time.” Cleo had offered then and Tony had paused, just for a moment, before he said, “Shall we go and make something nice to cheer your old man up?” And then he’d lead her back out of the room.

“Cleo’s right.” I’d whispered into Steve’s shoulder then, “Everyone is so damn scared of him but he’s not a monster, Cap. He’s not. He’s so gentle. He’s so loving and I- I just-”

“Hey, what did we write on those cards for Cleo, huh? We wrote that he’s a hero. He is a hero. And he will come back. Natasha is out there looking for him right now. She’ll bring him home. She‘ll bring him back.” Steve had said then as he ran a large, soothing hand up and down my back.

“I miss him.” I’d offered quietly in return, hoping to somehow explain the reason why I was half-pressed against him, “It’s stupid, but I miss him. It’s… I’ve never not known where he was before, you know?”

“I know and it’s okay, it’s not stupid. You know that I know how it feels. You know what Tony’s like. For a man who’s so entwined with technology it’s amazing how often he can’t seem to pick up the damn phone.” Steve had said then and I’d laughed a little. Eventually pulling back to exhale and rub at my eyes. Steve let me go, but he kept a warm palm pressed against the curve of my back. Making sure I didn’t move too far away from him. And it’s those little things that make him a leader.

“What am I supposed to do?” I’d asked him then, almost helplessly, and Steve had smiled, “You go and play with your daughter and, before you know it, Bruce will be back home.”

“Is that an order, Cap?” I’d said quietly, giving him a look that I hoped he understood, my head pounding along with my heart, and he must have because the next thing he said was, “You’ve got it. That’s an order, Barton.”

ooOoo


It was three minutes after eight when Tony received the call. I know that’s the time that it happened because I’d been watching the clock when Black Sabbath’s Iron Man had echoed around us. Tony had stood quickly, excused himself from the room and answered the call two rings later. Leaving Steve and I behind to stare at the doorway, while Cleo finished the painting she’d been working in with Steve. I hadn’t done much, other than sit around and catalogue all the awful things that might have happened to the love of my life.

Tony was gone for the longest three minutes of my life before he had re-emerged, stuffing his phone into the pocket of his jeans. When he looked up, he was hard to read, he wore an odd mixture of emotions and body language. He wasn’t giving anything away. I supposed that that’s what happens when you spend your life in the spotlight.

“Has she found him?” I’d asked quickly, my voice barely a second from cracking.

“Yes.” He’d said, though his hesitation spoke volumes.

“But?” I’d said, as a pang of fear hit me square in the face.

“But he’s refusing to see anyone.” Tony had said evenly, though his eyes weren’t as calm as his posture seemed. They were expressive, his eyes, just like Steve’s, only they were much different in what they were saying and equally compassionate.

“Where is he?” I’d asked then, hoping to God he was somewhere safe. I could deal with the rest as long as I knew he was okay.

“SHIELD headquarters.” Tony had offered.

“What? Why?” I’d said in genuine confusion. Steve made a noise, like he was two steps ahead of the game and had seen Bruce make a move he didn’t like.

“Because the only way he’d leave with Natasha was if she promised to lock him in a cell.” Tony had said, his mouth straightening into a sour expression.

“Can I see him?” I’s asked then.

“Of course you can see him. He’s not a criminal, Clint.” Steve had said from next to me.

“Cleo, go and put your coat on.” I’d said then, moving to stand.

“Clint.” Tony had interrupted.

“What?” I’d said.

“I’ll look after Cleo.” He’d offered.

“No. No, we’ll be-” I’d started.

“SHIELD’s no place for a child and it’s getting late anyway.” Tony had continued and he had a point. Two of them, actually. I didn’t like the idea of Cleo being in that place anyway. It didn’t settle right.

“Are.. you sure?” I’d asked.

“Sure, I’m sure. Steve will drive you there.” Tony had said then. I glanced over at Steve who nodded his head.

“I can drive myself there.” I’d countered, I wasn’t completely useless, that‘s what I’d told myself.

“Let him.” Tony had said then, “He loves to protect and serve. It’s what he does best, plus, he’ll get you there in one piece. Guaranteed. Just in case you zone out again. Alright?” And I’d just nodded. He had a point, I hadn’t been having a great day concentration wise.

“Cleo, will you stay here with your Uncle Tony? I’m going to pick Daddy up with Uncle Steve.” I’d said, walking over to Cleo and cupping her cheek against my palm.

“Daddy’s coming home now?” She’d said, her wide eyes staring up at me hopefully.

“You bet he is, angel. Just like I promised.” I’d said, bending down and moving my hands to her thighs.

“But it’s not morning.” She’d said in confusion. Because I’d promised her he’d be back by morning, hadn’t I?

“I know, sweetheart.” I’d said, “See, your Daddy didn’t take the car-”

“Because the Hulk is as big as the ceiling!” She’s said loudly, like she’d suddenly remembered something important, like she finally understood what was happening.

“That’s right, angel.” I’d smiled, “And when Daddy got to the bus stop he remembered that he had no money to get on.”

“Ohhhh! Silly Daddy!” She’d laughed.

“Yeah, silly Daddy, huh? So, I’ll see you later, okay?” I’d said, waiting for her to nod before I’d stood, leaving a lingering kiss in her hair.

“We’ll be fine, won’t we?” Tony had asked.

“Uh-huh.” Cleo had smiled in affirmation.

“Thank you, I don’t know what I would have done if I-” I’d started to explain before Tony had cut me off with the wave of his hand.

“It’s fine. Get out of here. You’re cramping our style.” He’d said then.

“Can we play dress-up again, Uncle Tony?” Cleo had asked. Leaping off her chair and running over to him.

“Sure thing, kid.” Tony had said, patting her on the head, “My pedicure’s flaking off anyway. I’ll do yours if you do mine?” Cleo had nodded enthusiastically in reply and Steve had laughed.

“Come on.” he’d said to me then, a peculiar smile plastered on his face, “Let’s go.”


ooOoo


When we arrived, SHIELD HQ was it’s usual welcoming self. By which I mean it was full of dark suits, big guns and scientists wielding clipboards - not to mention the distant, but ever present, reverberation of tortured moaning. It made me glad that I‘d been keeping my distance. Being a full-time Avenger weighed a lot easier on my conscience, that’s for sure.

No one questioned us as we walked through the building, no doubt they’d been expecting us and it’s not like we were strangers anyway. When Steve used his ID to open the main door, which lead rather conveniently to the cells, it had verbally welcomed him and popped open just in time for us to witness four agents dragging a handcuffed man towards a cell. Steve’s shoulders tensed for a moment before they relaxed again and he shook his head. And I remember feeling so relieved then. Relieved that Cleo was safe at home painting Tony’s toe nails.

Steve had decided that he was going into Bruce’s cell first, he was convinced that it was the best idea and I wasn’t about to disagree with him. I just wanted to do whatever it was that meant Bruce would be home soon. I just wanted him back and if that meant sending Steve in first, so be it. This idea, he’d explained as we walked through corridors of tightly locked doors, came from his theory that if he went in first he’d get the brunt of Bruce’s anger or fear or confusion. If Bruce said something stupid out of panic he could deal with it, brush it under the carpet and walk away. He was right when he suggested it’d be harder for me to do the same.

Eventually, we arrived at the cell marked G281. ‘G’ as in general threat. Next to the door there was a little whiteboard. On it, underneath the word ‘inmate’ it read ‘Dr. Bruce Banner’ and under the word ‘crime’ it read ‘Self-proclaimed threat to humanity’. Steve had spotted it just before I had, so, when my face had started falling into a heavy frown Steve was already using his cuff to rub the last part away.

“I hate this place.” Steve had said then, “Will you be okay waiting out here?”

“Yeah.” I’d said, wondering what Bruce had been saying to get himself shut away.

Steve unlocked the cell then - by entering a seven digit code into the keypad that was fixed on the wall and, as a green light flashed, the door clicked open. Steve pushed it an inch, knocked politely and stepped inside. Leaving it open just a fraction, so I could hear, but not see them.

“Bruce.” Steve had started, as I lent against the wall. Angling my head in a way that meant I’d be able to hear them talk.

“Bruce.” Steve had said again, his voice a little more commanding, “Bruce, look at me. Clint is outside and-”

“Tell him to go home.” Bruce had whispered then, in a stranger’s voice. He sounded awful, like a man who had given up, his tone was all wrong, he sounded hollow. He sounded nothing like the man who’d climbed into bed with me the night before. He sounded like I’d always imagined he must have, just before he’d shot himself in the face. Not knowing that the Hulk would save his life. Not realising that he couldn’t even control his own death.

“He’s not going to go away.” Steve had said then, dragging my thoughts back into the cell that contained my partner, “It’s time to put your shoes on and go home.”

“I don’t have a home.” Bruce had said then, so easily that my heart plummeted.

There was a pause then, a little gap where Steve just let the silence expand and suffocate us all. He was probably highly offended, on my behalf, of course. I could picture his face in my head, the way his jaw set when he disagreed with something. His words seemed to confirm my theory, “I’ve just come from your apartment. Clint is worried sick, your daughter-”

“Clint’s daughter.” Bruce had said then, his hoarse voice rushing over me like a ton of gravel. And I don’t know what happened next, I don’t remember moving or using my feet but suddenly Bruce was in front of me, hunched on the end of a flimsy bed and I was saying, “Our daughter. Bruce she’s our daughter.”

“Clint.” Bruce had whispered painfully, like it hurt him to say my name, like it distressed him to draw the syllables together.

“I’ll be outside.” Steve had said then, leaving the cell and closing the door behind him, giving us privacy, giving us space to talk.

“Bruce,” I’d started, “I need you to come home.”

“I- I can’t.” He’d said then, his shoulders trembling. And I took him in, the way his body sagged, the way he kept his eyes down, the way he seemed to stutter over his own thoughts. The way he’d taken his shoes off and left them by the door. How the clothes that he was wearing were at least three sizes too big and made him look small. Too small. The way his fists were clenched - not in anger but in pain.

“Why not?” I’d said then, sitting next to him on the wafer-thin mattress.

“You know why not.” He’s responded sadly, almost looking over at me before he remembered that he wasn’t doing that and stopped himself.

“Bruce, whatever you think you did? It didn’t happen.” I’d tried to reassure him, reaching a hand out to his thigh. He flinched when I touched him. I could hear my own heartbeat.

“Oh.” He’d said then, bitterly, jerking away from me, standing up quickly and pacing erratically around the small cell, “So, so, I didn’t turn into a monster? In front of Cleo? Inside our home? Home is meant to be our safe place, Clint. It’s meant to be safe!” He’d shouted sadly, turning to look at me for the first time, his arms jutting out in distress. His eyes wide and wild - not like those of a monster but those of a child.

“Okay.” I’d said, reaching out a placating hand towards him, “Maybe some of that happened but it’s not as bad as you think it is. You don’t have to lock yourself away.”

“I’m a monster, Clint! Why can‘t- why can‘t you see that?” Bruce had shouted and then I’d stood up too, shaking my head.

“No, you’re not!” I’d promised.

“God, you’re so wrong! I’m-- I’m disgusted with myself, Clint. With the-- with the fact that I live and breathe.” He pounded a heavy fist against his chest, “If I-- if I could finish it then I would. I would.” He’d concluded darkly and my eyes had filled up as my life started to fall apart. As Bruce fell apart; as I watched him unravel.

“Jesus, Bruce, do you even remember that I love you? That Cleo loves you? Do you even realise that you’re talking about leaving us alone?” I’d ground out then, as hot tears threatened to spill over my eyelids.

“I-- I can see her.. her beautiful little face. Every time I close my eyes it‘s there.” Bruce had said.

“Cleo?” I’d whispered as a stray tear slipped down my cheek.

“She was so scared. I can see her crying and-- and screaming. She was shaking, Clint. And I-- I did that. I did that to our beautiful little girl. I did that.” He’d cried then, sadness dripping from his voice as he’d slid down onto the cold floor.

“Bruce, I swear to God, she’s okay.” I’d tried, rubbing the back of my hand pointlessly across my face.

“Why are you doing this?” He’d whispered then, his voice straining, “Why are you lying to me?”

“I’m not lying to you. Bruce, I’m not. She’s at home right now, playing with Tony and wondering where her Daddy is.” I’d said sincerely.

“She’s probably still in shock.” Bruce had whispered then, as his cheeks started to glisten under the bright, artificial light.

“She was crying because of the thunder. Everything you saw, everything The Big Guy saw, it was the thunder. She wasn’t scared of him, just like I’m not scared of him.. because he’s a part of you.” I’d said tearfully.

“Right.” Bruce had said bitterly, “You want me to believe that she witnessed her-- her--”

Daddy.” I’d said, “That’s the word you’re looking for, Bruce.”

“She sees her-- her Daddy-- turn into something she has no idea about and you expect me to believe that she’s just peachy?” He’d said forlornly.

“That’s exactly what I expect you to believe.” I’d said as Bruce’s gaze lingered on me, “And she knows, all right? She knows about The Big Guy. She doesn’t care, she just wants you back. We need you. I need you.”

“You-- y-you told her about me?” Bruce had said in astonishment, his body stiffening. An for a moment I’d swear his skin was tinged with green.

“Of course I told her. You weren’t going to and I wanted her to understand. And you can hate me for that. You can despise me for it but I just wanted her-- I just-- I wanted her to understand. She’s at school now, one of the kids would have said something eventually. I‘d rather we told her first. I‘d rather she learned the truth at home than in the playground via some rumour.” I’d tried to explain.

“But why would you-- he‘s killed people.” Bruce had said in disgust.

I’ve killed people, Bruce. And I had complete control over my mind and my body while I did it. Look, you’re not a monster, you’re a hero and I just-- I wanted her to be proud, okay? I just.. I wanted her to be proud of our family. I wanted her to know who she is. I wanted her to be Cleo Banner-Barton, age six, with two dads who save the world. Not that one girl who doesn’t even know who her own family is.” I’d explained and Bruce had listened, staring up at me. I sat back down on the bed and put my head in my hands.

There was silence for a moment and then, like a beacon of fucking hope, he’d said, “Promise me, Clint.” And I’d looked at him and held his gaze, for what must have been a full minute, before I’d said, “I promise, it’s okay.”

“Please, don’t be lying.” He’d begged.

“I’m not lying.” I’d promised.

“I’m sorry.” He’d cried then, as fresh tears slipped down his face, “I’m so sorry.”

“Just come home. Just come home to us.” I’d said then, as he’d pulled himself to his feet and moved to take a seat next to me, picking my hand up in his and pressing it against his lips.

“I was so scared.” He’d whispered against my knuckles.

“When you didn’t come home. I thought.. I thought--” I’d started miserably.

“Shh.” He’d pleaded then, “Please, just.. just hold me?”

And I’d pulled him against my chest then and I’d clung to him like I’d found something that I hadn’t even realised I’d misplaced. Because sometimes I see better from a distance and even though I know what I have, and how lucky I am, I can’t comprehend all that it is. That night, in that cell, everything was reaffirmed for me. Everything was right there for me to see. Everything that I felt.

We stayed pressed together for a while before I’d pulled away and suggested we go home and he’d just nodded in agreement. He looked exhausted. He walked over to his borrowed shoes and slipped them on before he turned back to me and held out his hand. I reached out and let our fingers entwine and when I pulled the door open Steve stood there with that soft smile on his face.

“I’m sorry.” Bruce had said to Steve then. Steve who had just shrugged like it was nothing and said, “Not necessary. I’m just glad you’re going home.”

The drive was quiet, peaceful even, but by the time we got to our apartment Bruce was gripping my hand like a vice.

“I’m nervous.” he’d said as we’d approached our door.

“You don’t have to be. Not here.” I’d reassured him and he’d smiled over at me. With a look that had said: I’m trying.

When we walked inside it was quiet, really quiet, but there was a soft hint of music coming from the living room. It lead us straight to a sleeping Tony and Cleo. Tony was sprawled out across the sofa, his newly painted toes hanging over the arm of the chair, Cleo was tucked at his side. Then, as if on cue, Tony had started to stir. Steve walked over to him and smiled down at his partner, “Come on, Tony, it’s time to get you to bed.”

“Mm. That does sounds nice.” Tony had muttered then.

“Get your head out of the gutter, Stark.” Steve had laughed quietly, rolling his eyes for good measure.

“Sorry.” Tony had grinned then, before he’d looked down at Cleo and combed one of his hands through her hair. He looked around himself then, as if trying to work out how to move her without waking her.

“It’s okay.” Bruce had said, moving towards the sofa, “I’ve got her.”

And as he leant down to pick Cleo up Tony had reached out and placed a friendly hand on his forearm, “Glad to have you home.”

“I’m glad to be home.” Bruce had replied, as a blush flooded his face.

“Come on, find your shoes.” Steve had interrupted, fussing over Tony; half-leading him around the apartment.

“I’ll put her to bed.” Bruce had said, to no one in particular, cradling Cleo close to his chest.

“Okay. I’ll be in in a minute.” I’d said, as I’d followed Steve and Tony towards the door.

“We can see ourselves out. Go and be with your family. I‘ll call you tomorrow.” Steve had said then, smiling over at me. I didn’t know what to say, so I’d just nodded as they slipped out of our apartment.

When I got to Cleo’s room it was empty, it didn’t take much for me to realise where they were. And when I’d walked into our bedroom, Cleo was lying in the centre of our bed. Bruce was covering her up and kissing her forehead. There was something so pure about it. Watching his love for her. When he noticed me watching him though, he’d frowned and self-consciously looked over at the boarded windows.

“We can fix it tomorrow. Let’s just sleep.” I’d said then and he’d nodded, slipping on his pyjamas and slipping into bed. A soft sigh of satisfaction slipping past his lips as he settled. I changed my clothes too, before I’d walked over to Bruce’s side of the bed and pressed my lips against his, “I love you.” I’d said then and I could feel him smiling beneath me.

“I love you too.” He’d replied, fighting off a yawn, before he’d reached out and brought my hand to his lips. Then, when he’d let my hand go, I walked around the bed and climbed in. Wriggling downwards until my head sunk comfortably into my pillow. Then I’d reached out, under the covers and found Bruce’s hand. Covering it with mine. And then I’d waited, I’d waited until Bruce was asleep, his chest rising and falling steadily, before I let myself fall asleep too.

And do you know how I felt as my eyes began to close? I felt lucky. I felt like the man who had it all. Because I did. Because I do. I have everything in the world that a man could ever want. And no misunderstanding was ever taking that away from me again. Not ever. Because I believe in heroes and I believe in love and my life is full of them both. And a man can’t ask for more than that. Can he?

ooOoo


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