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Title: You Can't Control an Accident
Author: [livejournal.com profile] telaryn
Word Count: 1443
Fandom: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Characters: Clint Barton/Laura Barton, Cooper Barton, Lila Barton
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Death of a family pet, childhood grief
Disclaimer: No ownership implied, no profit obtained.
Summary: Clint and Laura help their children cope with one of life's great truths.
Author's Note: Written for [livejournal.com profile] hc_bingo's Round 6, for the wild card prompt "accidents".


Clint had never had a father willing to do the ‘hard stuff’. When Laura was pregnant with Cooper, he’d promised himself and his unborn child that he would never shrink from doing all the difficult things that came with the job. He had no clear idea how well he’d managed over the years, trusting mostly in the fact that Laura very rarely disagreed with his choices and everybody said Coop and Lila were good kids.

Then one afternoon he’d been splitting logs in the front yard when Lila came racing into view, screaming hysterically about her kitten and a car and help Daddy, please!

Turning his daughter over to her mother with a kiss and a promise, Clint had immediately backtracked her route – quickly finding his son at the edge of their property, standing over a tiny furry body thrashing violently in the dust. One glance was enough to tell Clint what had happened

“Cooper,” he said sharply. His son flinched when he set a hand on the boy’s shoulder, but he looked up into Clint’s eyes. “Go wait for me by the lookout tree.” The big oak was where Cooper and Lila were allowed to watch for Clint coming home. It sat about fifty feet from the fence line, and would be out of view of what Clint was going to have to do.

It didn’t take long, but Cooper was already sitting at the base of the oak tree when Clint turned back to see to him – his grey eyes glassy with grief and shock. “I didn’t know what to do. She looked so scared and her eye was all big and bloody and wrong, and…” Cooper dashed angrily at his eyes with the back of one hand. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Closing his Leatherman and slipping it back into its sheath, Clint dropped to a crouch – reaching out to put a hand on his son’s arm. “It was an accident, Coop,” he said as gently as he could manage. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“She was looking at me!” the boy wailed, burying his face in his arms. “She wanted me to help her and I couldn’t!” His thin shoulders shook as he began to sob..

Putting the kitten out of its misery had largely been a symbolic gesture. It had been struck in the head – Clint couldn’t have sworn it was feeling anything, and he was reasonably certain it would have died in minutes without his help. And none of that was knowledge that would comfort his grieving child.

Shifting around until he was sitting next to Cooper, Clint put an arm around his son. The boy leaned into him, his sobs growing louder as he wrapped his arms around Clint’s waist. “I’m sorry.” Even with his face buried in Clint’s shirt, he could hear Cooper’s repeated apology.

“Shh…” Clint began stroking his son’s hair, trying to soothe him. “Buddy, come on. This isn’t your fault. It was an accident.” It wasn’t helping. He knew it wasn’t helping, but his only other choice was to spin the sort of pretty tale Laura was likely already telling their daughter. Cooper was nearly twelve. Clint didn’t want to go down that route with his son unless the boy asked him to.

“She looked so scared,” Cooper repeated. He drew a ragged breath, but the worst of his sobbing seemed to have passed.
.
Clint blew out a quiet breath, combing his fingers gently through his son’s hair. “She probably was,” he said gently. “Dying isn’t like in the movies, Coop. She didn’t have any time to figure out what was happening, and we didn’t have any way to help her with that.”

The boy raised his head again, looking up into Clint’s eyes. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said again,

Clint’s chest tightened with emotion. “Cooper, the best vet in the world couldn’t have fixed this. There just wasn’t time.” He helped his son sit up and took the boy’s hands in his. “I need you to understand that. Sometimes no matter how much we want it to be different, there’s nothing we can do.”

Cooper was quiet for a long moment, clearly processing. Clint didn’t push him – even if it was just his sister’s kitten, these were heavy concepts for someone of Cooper’s age to wrestle with. “How do you make it stop hurting?” he asked finally.

It was another moment where Clint would have given anything to be able to lie to his son. “I try to focus on the things I did right,” he said finally, seeing a way to get something positive through the boy’s grief. “Like today – you got Lila away from the situation. You sent for a grown-up. Those were both exactly the right thing to do.”

Once again Clint could see his son internalizing what he was saying, trying to make it fit in his own world view. He wasn’t surprised, though, when Cooper finally shook his head. “It isn’t working. I keep seeing her in my head.”

Clint yielded. “Sometimes it doesn’t work, bud. Those are the times where you try not to think about it, and eventually one day you wake up and it doesn’t hurt as bad.” He exhaled softly. “Eventually you wake up and it doesn’t hurt at all.”

“How long does that usually take?” Cooper asked.

“I wish I could tell you, Coop.” Clint was very careful to look his son directly in the eyes. “I wish I had some easy answer that made this all make sense. I don’t know if it feels like it, but you did some pretty major growing up today.”

“It sucks,” Cooper said immediately, dropping his gaze. Reaching out, Clint pulled his son back into a hug.

“You’re right about that,” he sighed. “And I wish I could change that too.”

The two of them sat together without speaking for a long time. To Clint’s surprise, it was Cooper who finally broke the silence. “We should bury her.”

“I can take care of it,” Clint offered, “if you want to go back up to the house?”

Cooper shook his head, getting to his feet. “I want to help.”

Not wanting to squash the boy’s willingness to help, Clint nevertheless assigned him the duty of digging a hole at the base of the tree. Going back to stand guard over the tiny corpse, he texted Laura and brought her up to speed. Ten minutes later, his wife came into view, carrying Lila on her hip. Their daughter’s eyes were red and swollen, and her face was half-buried against her mother’s shoulder. With a whispered word and a kiss on the cheek, Laura put her down next to her brother and continued on to stand next to Clint.

“Damn,” she breathed, looking down at the kitten. “How’s he doing?”

Clint shrugged. Taking the old dishcloth off her shoulder, he went down on his knees and began fashioning a makeshift shroud. “Is it weird that I’m happy he can still cry about something like this?” he asked, when she crouched next to him.

He saw her nod at the edge of his vision. “At his age, it’s a good sign he’s not trying to be tougher than he really is.”

Finishing his work, Clint sat back on his heels and looked at his wife. “How’s the monkey?”

Now it was her turn to shrug. “As far as I can tell, Cooper kept her away from actually seeing anything, so we’re probably not looking at too many nights with her in the bed with us.”

Cooper, on the other hand, Clint thought, looking back at his children. Cooper had his arm around his sister, and was talking to her in a voice too low for either of the adults to hear. “I want to lie to both of them so badly, Laura. I know it’s just a cat, but they shouldn’t have to be thinking about death at this age.”

“Unfortunately, that’s not a choice we get to make,” she said, laying a comforting hand on his arm. “We get to do the best we can with what we’re given.” He looked into her eyes and saw the same calm reassurance that had seen him through so much of the chaos of his life.

“Fifty-fifty chance of screwing them up for good, right?” he asked, recalling something she had said shortly after Cooper’s first birthday. ”Every decision we make has a fifty-fifty chance of screwing them up for life, so you just have to do your best.”

“I’ll give you sixty-forty,” Laura said, a small smile ghosting around her lips. “In our favor.”

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Telaryn

September 2015

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