A/N: Thank you all for your patience, and for your wonderful responses last time! This is the final chapter, ta da! It was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever written. I love romance—slowing it down is the trick for me. Hopefully this was slow enough that you guys can enjoy it as much as I did :D
See y'all next time!
Bree Colbern: OMG I'm so excited that you liked that chapter! I just love all the craziness that happens in the Matt Fraction world! Hopefully Clint's life is taking a turn for the better though, now that Laura's here to stay :D Thank you so, so much for your sweet review!
Black' Victor Cachat: Haha, thank you! poor Clint, he really is totally freaking out. I'm super glad you enjoyed it! :D
JanelleGimbus.8: Yay, thank you so much! It's such a pleasure to have you as a reader! :D Kate is the best, isn't she? Haha. She and Clint complement each other's personalities so well. I hope you enjoy this chapter!
Guest: Sorry, not sorry :P I like Natasha with Clint in some scenarios, but I haven't written much along those lines. I hope you can maybe still enjoy this story? Probably not, given the romance is super amped-up with this chapter, but either way, thanks for reading up till now!
The door still remained unopened and Clint was trying his best not to break into a hissy-fit right then and there. He pulled out his phone a second time and tried again.
It came up just as dead as before.
He got back in Kate's beetle, turning the key just far enough that the clock display came up and said it was already 8:13. Their reservation was at 8:30—they'd basically already missed it.
Clint slammed the door shut and leaned the seat all the way back, folding his arms across his chest and just allowing his insides to crumble a little bit. All this effort he'd put into making this night a decent one—it wasn't half of what Laura deserved, obviously, but it was far more than he'd done for anyone, ever, since he was dating Bobbi.
How come other guys found it so easy to plan crap like this? How come they always seem to have that extra time, that energy to pour into things like clothes and cars and gifts and plans that Clint never seemed to have?
A little voice in the back of his head told him it just happened this way because he was out of practice.
He wasn't sure he wanted practice, though. This wasn't him.
Of course, he always seemed to suck at dating in general, anyway.
He figured, turning over the engine and pulling up his seat a little further, that he should probably head back to the apartment to see if Laura had gone there, somehow.
He took the long way there, with a perhaps longer-than-necessary detour along the edges of the district to nurse his wounded feelings, before finally pulling up in front of his building and trudging up the stairway with an air of defeat.
Suddenly, several floors above him, he heard a rattle of feet and voices on the stairs. "Clint!" Laura was there, dressed in sweats and a T-shirt, barreling down the stairs and straight toward him.
Following her were Hobby, Kate, and Natasha, all huffing and out of breath.
Laura threw her arms around him, and Clint found his mouth hanging open in disbelief—had he even forgotten to tell her what to wear? He was such an idiot…
"How—" he began, trying very hard not to sound accusing, "did you get here?"
Laura pulled away and started laughing, embarrassed. "I am so sorry," she exclaimed, "I saw Kate's car drive by as she was coming here and thought something had happened to our plan, so I got a cab and thought I would meet you here. We've been trying to call you all this time; I think you're phone's dead."
"Yeah—" Clint frowned, turning it over in his pocket, "yeah, it kind of is."
"Is something wrong?" he turned and found Laura looking at him concernedly.
He didn't answer that. He wasn't sure how to without giving way to a whole slough of ridiculous over-exaggerated emotions that were trying to explode out of him. He turned away a bit, leaning his arm against the wall of the stairwell above his head, trying to contain everything for a moment before he decided how to respond.
"I'm really sorry, Honey," Laura babbled on, her tone incredibly sincere, "I hope I didn't ruin your plans—I didn't think we really had plans, but you're dressed up, and—" realization suddenly hit her like a falling meteor, her eyes grew big and her mouth fell open, "Oh my gosh, Clint—did we have—like, plans-plans?"
"Well, they're cancelled by now, so it's fine, it's really just fine," he groaned, still trying to pull himself together and hating how upset his tone still sounded.
"Oh my gosh," she repeated again, running a hand through her hair, "I thought we just had, like, burger joint and a movie-type plans; oh, Clint, you spend an awful long time planning all this, didn't you?" she sounded so sorrowful Clint felt better about turning around and facing her.
He sighed, looking up at Kate and the kids. "Why are you all still standing there?"
"Oh, don't mind us, we were just leaving," Kate declared a little too loudly. "Come on, guys, back up the stairs! We wouldn't want to miss that second episode of Dog Cops, now, would we?"
Natasha lingered by the stairs, not wanting to follow as she looked back and forth between Clint and Laura.
"Nat!" Kate hollered back.
"Kate! I'm not a child!" the teen assassin huffed angrily, reluctantly tearing away and stomping back up the staircase.
Finally, the two of them were left alone.
"I'm really sorry—" Laura started again.
"No, you've said that like, five times," Clint protested, shaking his head, "and I'm the one who's supposed to say I'm sorry, 'cause I screwed the whole thing up, and—this has just been a horrible night, and I'm sorry that I couldn't do better for you—I literally just drove around for an extra twenty minutes because I was so mad nothing's been working out the way I tried to make them, and I'm sorry because I could probably find a way to fix this for you even now, but I've been stewing in my own problems like a freaking kid 'cause it feels like I can't do anything right all of a sudden." He huffed out a ridiculously shaky breath, gazing across at her with his own miserable, drooping eyes filled with all kinds of turmoil of emotion.
"Oh, baby," Laura leaned over and wrapped her arms around him, giving him a lingering, comforting squeeze.
Clint found himself wanting to roll his eyes—he wasn't a two year old who needed to be comforted because he'd had a bad day—but her hugs felt so good he just returned it anyway, soaking up touch and affection and her brown-sugar cinnamon scent like he'd been starved of that kind of familiarity most of his life, because honestly, he had.
"You wanna go up in Katie's apartment?" she suggested after a while, pulling away just enough to speak. "You can cook for me."
"What, she taken over mine with all her kids?" Clint found he had an easy laugh, even after all the ridiculousness of the past few hours. It felt good in his chest. Funny how laughing and hugging were far more than going through the physical motions.
Laura smirked. "I think so. Last I checked, Dog Cops had only just started a four-hour back to back special airing."
"You know, I actually liked that show before Hobby came along and started watching every episode over and over and over again," Clint rolled his eyes, heading up the stairs more slowly with Laura's hand in his.
"Well, she's got to keep him out of trouble somehow," Laura chuckled, gently stroking his arm and shoulder as they climbed the rest of the way to his and Katie's apartments together.
Clint's jacket came off first, and then his tie.
Laura taught him how to make chicken parmesan, so his sleeves ended up being rolled up as well. By the time everything was laid out on the table, they were both laughing and covered in tomato juice anyway, so it no longer mattered, along with the coffee stain.
They finished up in no hurry, lingering and talking in low voices, about everything and nothing. Clint leaned across the table, just looking at her, smiling without even realizing it. "You wanna go cuddle on the sofa?" he tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear.
It was the first time he'd directly asked her something like that—not that they hadn't done it before, but it seemed to flow so naturally off his tongue, as if he no longer had to worry about everything he said to her, or try to make things happen without saying them out loud.
They wound up with her stretched up against his chest, leaning her head just below his shoulder with her feet tucked up underneath of her, his head resting just above hers, one of his arms around her shoulders and the other just above her waist.
"Are you happy?" one of them asked, and the other affirmed it with a nod.
"When do you think Hobby'll go to bed?"
"Probably never. "
"Katie'll be mad if we don't leave at some point."
"Y'know, I can hardly bring myself to care."
She started running her fingers across the scars on his face and chin, for once visible without his overgrown whiskers covering them up. "Where'd this one come from?"
"Morocco with the Tridelite?"
"When you say it like that, it sounds like toothpaste, not a drug ring."
She snickered. "Or a beetle."
"Hey," Clint shifted a little, so he could look in her eyes just a little bit better.
Everything was so quiet, it felt like the moment shouldn't be disturbed.
He bit his lip for a moment before he said it. "I got you somethin'."
"You got me something?" she smiled, looking puzzled. Her fingers ghosted across his arm, playing lazily against his skin.
"Yeah, uh—" he lost his nerve for half a moment, and grinned sheepishly, causing her to laugh with him. He knew it was time, yet he was calmer than he'd ever thought he'd be. He swallowed hard, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the box.
Laura's hand went to her mouth.
Either she was really surprised or she just loved him that much—Clint was willing to bet with the latter.
"Look, I—" he took a deep breath, fingering it slowly in his hand. "I've been meaning to do this for a long time, but—I'm a loser," he gave a short, breathy laugh, at which she placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.
He'd couldn't remember the first words of what he'd wanted to say. It didn't matter, because what he needed to say, what he had to say, came to him in a moment.
He slid from the couch and pressed against the side of it, all the way down on his knees and leaning in toward her. "Thing is, when I'm with you I don't feel like that anymore. I feel like, maybe, I can be—just as good as any other guy. Which may not seem like a huge deal, but—to me, that is a huge deal. I have been—treated like I was made of dirt—by almost everyone I've ever met, but you came with me anyway, and—"
He lost his voice. How could anyone say what he saw before him? Laura—the woman in front of him was so much more than words could say.
"You're—" he breathed, voice barely above a whisper. Her soft hand caught him just to the side of his ear, stroking the side of his face gently. "You're so—" Beautiful. Wonderful. You're the most beautiful woman in the world.
The ring box fell by the wayside, as his hand went to her face as well, cupping it with shaking fingers, and her other hand took him between both of hers.
"Please," he whispered, gazing breathlessly into perfect, imperfect eyes. "Please marry me."
The silence was so full it stretched out endlessly yet couldn't be rushed. "Yes," she finally breathed.
The breath escaped his lungs, then hers. He took her with his other hand, both of them with their faces cradled on either side by the other's gentle, trembling fingers. They kissed each other at the same time, gently, deeply. It seemed like it went on forever.
"Woohoooo!" came loud, obnoxious cheering from the doorway, completely ruining the moment.
Kate was there, waving her camera as she jumped up and down and squealing with delight. Natasha was doing a little happy-dance with her, Lucky bounding over the two of them and through the doorframe "woof!" ing with delight.
Clint and Laura both blushed crimson red, scrambling to their feet as they unconsciously wound their arms around each other as tightly as rubber bands.
"Picture time!" Kate announced, loudly enough that at least three other renters began shouting and pounding from the room above them to pipe down and let somebody get some sleep.
Clint sniffed, realizing to his utter dismay that he was crying, leaving water everywhere; on his face, on Laura, on his shirt—she was crying too, but still, it was a problem—and Kate was still trying to take pictures.
"Really?" he exclaimed, attempting to shoot her a heated glare, his voice only halfway present when he tried to use it. They had been interrupted at a vulnerable moment, and Clint wasn't all too sure he was happy about that.
Kate snapped a picture anyway, but wasn't happy either, because she grimaced horribly when she looked through the viewfinder. "Ugh, stop crying already," she scolded both of them. "Kiss each other or something instead."
Clint scowled and Laura tightened her grip around his waist, the two of them clinging all the more closely to one another. "We don't kiss on command."
"Well, we've got to do something to lighten up! You just got engaged! We're supposed to celebrate!" Kate rolled her eyes, putting her camera away. "Come on, let's raise a toast. You too, Nat. Hobby's asleep, so we're good on all fronts, here."
She bounded over to the fridge, pulling out a bottle of Grenache and four glasses and pouring them each a drink so quickly nobody had time to protest.
"To Clint and Laura," she raised her own, grinning affectionately at each of them, "and to our family. May we spend the rest of our lives together, just as we are now."
"To Clint and Laura Barton," Natasha exclaimed happily, beaming from cheek to cheek. "Or almost. Something like that."
Both Clint and Laura sighed almost simultaneously, giving in. Clint wrapped an arm around her back.
"To my baby," he smiled into her eyes. "The most wonderful woman on earth."
"You stole that from me," Laura teased, leaning her forehead against his as they held up their glasses. "I was going to say to mine."
"To that, then," Clint touched his lips with hers one more time, before they all drank. "I answer to you."
Her breath ghosted against his. "You sure about that, Hawkeye?"
A smile tugged at Clint's lips, and he leaned in to kiss her again. "Yes, Ma'am."