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Title: Sickness of the Mind and Heart
Author: [ profile] telaryn
Word Count: 1522
Fandom: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Characters: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff, Laura Barton, Cooper Barton, Lila Barton
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Nat has a disturbing flashback/hallucination as a result of Wanda Maximoff messing with her head.
Disclaimer: No ownership implied, no profit obtained.
Summary: Still nursing his hurt from Stick walking out on him, eleven year old Matt is drawn to a new girl at St. Agnes.
Author's Note: Written for [ profile] hc_bingo's Round 6, for the prompt "post-traumatic stress disorder". This was originally intended as a fill for "hallucinations", as requested by [ profile] hannasus, but once the kids got involved it was just more appropriate for the PTSD square.

Natasha slipped out of the farmhouse the moment she was certain she wouldn’t be missed. She understood why Clint had made the choice he had, but there was too much life here – too much of the world she was supposed to hold herself apart from.

Laura’s mare, Arrow, was grazing in the paddock. Cooper’s colt and Lila’s filly were further down the enclosure. Natasha continued down the gentle grassy slope to the fence, resting her elbows on the top rail and turning her face up towards the afternoon sun. Everything was always so dark in the Red Room. It wasn’t a metaphor. The only places in her childhood that were brightly lit were the different rooms of the medical wing. You couldn’t hide there. Starting with the drugs that broke down her will and ending with her graduation ceremony, she’d learned well to fear the light.

“Lila called the filly Spider.” Clint’s son Cooper climbed up on the bottom rail of the fence. Dark haired and grey eyed, at twelve Cooper was finally starting to show hints of the man he would someday become. “She wanted to come out and show you, but Mom said you weren’t feeling well.” The question was more in his eyes than his voice.

The vertigo had been the worst she’d ever known. And the visions – the timeline had been muddled in her head, but there had been that one horrible week shortly after she’d been moved to the master class. They’d been allowed a night of freedom; Natasha hadn’t realized at the time it was so their teachers could judge what bonds might still linger between them and the outside world.

She’d gone to a children’s performance at the local ballet. It was a night of ‘what could have been’ – the one thing she remembered from ‘before’, even more clearly than the hazy images of her parents, was her love of dancing. She’d enjoyed the show very much, and Madame had made her suffer for it.

“They are beneath you!” She flinched at the sharp rap of Madame’s stick on the floor behind her. “You are the jewel of our program, Natashka. You will be feared and respected ages after the greatest of those yagnyat are forgotten!”

She’d tried to rally. Madame’s opinion was everything in the Red Room. Her heart hadn’t been in the work though, and everybody knew it. Then had come that fateful combat class; she’d been maneuvered into a choke hold by the instructor and tapped out before she consciously realized what she was doing. The move would have resulted in death for nearly every other girl in the program.

Natasha had been spared, but only so she could spend the next month in Medical, having what was left of her soul stripped out by the drugs whose use the Red Room had refined to pinpoint accuracy. When next she stood before Madame, her assignment had been a dark-haired boy just beginning to show the promise of manhood. He’d been gagged, so none of the observers would be bothered by his screams, but he’d been denied the traditional hood and he hadn’t been sedated.

That had been for her. Tear-filled grey eyes met hers over the white cloth sealing his mouth as she raised her Glock. His gaze was intelligent beyond his years…familiar…Cooper?

“Nat! Nat – look at me. It’s Clint.”

Panicked almost beyond reason, Natasha came back to herself. “Cooper?” she whimpered, frantically searching the area around her before focusing on Clint.

“He’s fine. He’s in the house. You didn’t hurt him.” Relief washed over her like a bucketful of icy water, making her gasp and sob for breath. “It’s okay,” Clint said, his voice low and soothing. “You didn’t hurt him.” He had her by the wrists though, and somewhere in the midst of her flashback she’d ended up on her backside in the dirt.

She forced herself to relax. Clint wouldn’t let her hurt his children. Even if she couldn’t trust anything else in her life right now, she could trust that. “The farm?” she asked, looking up at him through her lashes.

He nodded, and she felt his grip on her wrists loosen slightly. Exhaling softly, Natasha raised her head. “Flashback?”

Clint nodded again, his calloused hands sliding away from her wrists to loosely clasp her hands. “Looks like. All Coop said was that you looked upset and you wouldn’t answer him when he tried to get your attention.”

She shuddered again, an image of the young boy from her vision rising in her mind. “That girl,” she said, searching Clint’s calm gaze to anchor herself. “She got in deep; stuff I haven’t told Fury or SHIELD.”

“The stuff before you graduated the program?” he asked, twigging immediately to what she was trying to tell him without actually having to hear herself say the words. Natasha nodded, vision blurring finally with the tears she’d been trying so hard not to show. Clint’s expression softened immediately. “C’mere,” he murmured, pulling her into his lap and hugging her to his chest as tightly as he could.

Ground… She had to get her bearings, otherwise Laura, the kids, hell the entire team would be at risk. Make a soft sound low in her throat, Natasha curled in even closer to her partner, pressing her ear to his chest. Clint raised his head slightly to give her better access. His heart rate was slow, steady…comforting. “I should go,” she said quietly, once she could trust herself to speak again. “I shouldn’t be here.”

She felt more than heard the rumble of his disapproval. “You need to be where I can watch your back,” he said. “You’re safe here, Nat. You know that.”

Natasha pulled free of his hold far enough to be able to look him directly in the eyes. “You know what I could have done just now,” she said – hating herself for the truth of it, but knowing that she couldn’t ignore the danger. “I won’t be able to live with myself if something happens to your family.”

His hand cupped her head, urging her back against his chest. “Please. My family knows more than they should about PTSD and how to deal with it. Cooper did everything he was supposed to do when he realized you were in trouble. Laura and I will make sure you’re not alone with Lila until this passes.” He began to gently stroke her hair, urging more calm on her.

“Ultron wants to split us up,” he went on, settling both of them into a more comfortable position. “Everything that girl did was designed to make us doubt ourselves.” His arms tightened briefly around her, and she nearly started crying for real this time. “I don’t know what’s coming, but I do know the only chance we’ve got of beating it’s together.”

Silence fell between them; Nat knew she should be fighting harder to leave, to push even Clint away before the unthinkable happened. ”You are beyond the world outside these walls. The concerns of the unwashed masses are not yours.” Madame’s voice was in her head again, but she was so tired, and Clint’s way made so much sense…

“Auntie Nat?”

She stiffened, just as Clint’s arms tightened around her. “Not now, Lila,” he said firmly, his voice very nearly a growl. “Go back to the house.”

A beat later Natasha heard another woman’s voice. Laura. “It’s okay, Clint. She was worried, and she did ask.”

Clint’s hold on her loosened enough for Natasha to sit up and see a worried little girl hovering around her mother’s legs. “What is it prokaznik?” she asked as gently as she could manage.

Lila looked up at her mother for reassurance. Laura nodded, and the girl turned her attention back to Natasha. “Mommy says you’re sick like Daddy gets sometimes.” It was somewhere between a question and a statement, and Natasha glanced at her partner.

“Sometimes fighting hurts us in ways that don’t show,” he said carefully. The words carried the weight of a well and hard learned lesson. “When that happens we need to be careful about noise and touch and remember that the sickness can make people say strange things they don’t mean.”

Nodding, Natasha faced Lila again. The girl had taken another hesitant step in her direction, and her expression was stricken. “Did I do bad when I hugged you before?”

Memory of the small, laughing, wriggling body in her arms broke over her again, and Natasha felt her heart break. “Oh Lila, no.” Tears spilled down her cheeks in a veritable flood of emotion. “I told you to, dear one, remember? You were fine.”

“It’s okay Lila,” Clint added. “You didn’t hurt anyone.”

The little girl started forward, then pulled up sharply – remembering her instructions just in time. “Can I give you another hug?” she asked Natasha. Nat glanced up at Laura this time, receiving a warm smile and an encouraging nod in turn.

Drawing a deep, steadying breath, Natasha smiled at the closest thing to a child of her own she would ever have. “I think I would like that very much.”


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September 2015

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