Life with the Avengers ~Reader-Insert~

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5. November

November

(Y/N)'s soft plea had tugged at Clint in a way that he had not prepared for, and his first instinct was to back away, to reevaluate the situation. His injury helped him in his endeavors, since Tony had declared that (Y/N) shouldn't be overexposed to the sickroom and absconded to the labs with her.

Clint found, disturbingly, that he missed the little girl's silent presence. Shaking the thought from his head, he glanced up at the sense of movement in his periphery. Natasha had materialized in front of him, the girl clinging to her hand. He blinked twice at their state of dress, matching black leotards and gauzy skirts. Deliberately looking back down at the apple he was peeling, Clint raised a brow.

"What are you doing, Tiger?"

He could feel her frown at him, and when he flicked his gaze back up, her eyes were flashing at his barely retrained amusement. "The little serdce and I are going to dance, and we need an audience. Come."

He bit back a response at Natasha's nickname for the girl and simply hopped off the counter. He'd never been able to deny his partner anything, and this was no different. Snagging a jacket from the coat tree, he followed them up to the rooftop patio.

The evening was perfectly clear, the winter cold beginning to settle in, so they were thankful for the heating system Tony had installed on the roof. Clint stretched, favoring his healing side, and dropped to the ground, leaning comfortably back against the chimney. Natasha cleared a few furniture pieces from the center of the patio and taught (Y/N) a short dance. She hummed the melody as they moved and the little girl grinned with delight.

"Would you like to watch me dance?" Natasha asked after some time, when it looked like the child was tiring.

(Y/N) nodded, her eyelids beginning to droop.

"Come here," the older woman said, and picked her up. Natasha walked over to Clint and plopped (Y/N) in his lap with aplomb.

"JARVIS," she called as the two stared somewhat warily at each other. "Play me some Tchaikovsky please."

"Of course, Agent Romanoff," the AI responded and (Y/N) flinched a little.

"You still don't like JARVIS?" Clint asked, his voice low as the music began to play. (Y/N) shook her head vehemently. Clint chuckled, settling back against the wall. "Me either."

(Y/N) turned to him with questioning eyes, and Clint felt himself being sized up. For the first time in what felt like forever, he let his mask fall. (Y/N) seemed to find something redeemable in him, because when she faced Natasha again, she leaned back into Clint's chest, wiggling to find the perfect spot.

They watched Natasha dance until the sun dipped low in the horizon and the torches lit themselves. At some point, (Y/N) fell asleep in Clint's lap. Subtly, he covered her with his jacket and tucked the sleeves behind his back. He watched with contentment as Natasha struck her last pose and the music faded away. Smiling slightly at the tableau before her, she walked gracefully forward.

Clint smiled softly at her, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze. Natasha ducked her head as he rose, his grip on the sleeping girl never faltering.

There was a shift in Clint's relationship with (Y/N) after the impromptu dance recital, as Natasha intended. They hadn't yet formed as strong of a bond as the others had, and (Y/N) still preferred to spend her time with the rest of the team.

Natasha and Steve were still in the parental roles, always good for a cuddle or to soothe a tiny injury. Bruce was more of a softie than anyone would have guessed, and Tony ... Tony was the perfect playmate.

"Come on, pipsqueak," Tony called, putting the last adjustments on a gauntlet. (Y/N) dropped her crayons onto her little workbench and toddled over curiously. He smiled down at her. "We're going to head out to the range and play. But it's got to be a secret, okay?"

She nodded conspiratorially and Tony grinned at her immediate acceptance, taking her by the hand. He helped her into her obscenely pink coat and snuck out to the range, (Y/N) skipping happily next to him. Arriving and seeing that they were alone, Tony turned to the little girl, kneeling down to look her in the eyes.

"Want to fire the repulsor on the gauntlet?"

She nodded enthusiastically, and he fitted the glove onto her little hand with a grin. The gauntlet was so heavy that she couldn't lift it by herself, and Tony laughed a little as she struggled to bring her arm parallel to the ground. Holding it steady for her, he showed her how to fire the blast and helped her aim at the target at the other end of the range. It took her a few tries to hit it, but she squealed in excitement when she finally left a burn mark on the edge.

"What are you doing?"

Tony whirled at the sound of Clint's voice, relaxing when he saw that the archer was curious, rather than murderous.

"We're just having a little fun," he replied, turning back to (Y/N) and helping her hold her arm up. He glanced back at Clint's silence and sighed at the impassive look on his face. "Relax. She's fine."

Clint turned his gaze to (Y/N), who looked enthralled with the entire situation. He inclined his head at Tony, who grinned in response, and ruffled (Y/N)'s hair on his way past. Stationing himself at the other end of the range, Clint pulled the first arrow from his quiver.

Tony frowned at something on the gauntlet, murmuring platitudes at (Y/N) as he gently tugged it from her hand. Sitting down, he pulled a screwdriver from his back pocket and began adjusting. (Y/N) watched Clint shoot with interest.

Tony finished fixing the glove and repositioned it on her hand. (Y/N) continued to fire at the target, finally hitting the center with Tony's help, but between each shot, she was watching Clint. Tony noticed, and wisely let the matter slide. When (Y/N) started to shiver, he gently removed the gauntlet from her hand.

"We're heading inside, Katniss," he called down the range. "Don't be late for dinner, or Steve won't let us eat."

Clint waved a hand in acknowledgement and continued his practice. Nudging at (Y/N), Tony took her hand and led her back to the house, stashing the gauntlet in the bushes so as not to get caught. Steve met him at the door.

"Looks like we're in trouble," Tony murmured to (Y/N).

Steve rolled his eyes. "You're not in trouble. But at least leave a note the next time you sneak her away from the house."

"Worried, Mom?" Tony smirked on his way past. Steve narrowed his eyes.

"Natasha was." Tony froze. Steve looked particularly smug. "You forgot about her, didn't you?"

Tony opened his mouth to say, "no," when as soft voice hissed, "yes," in his ear. He barely restrained a yelp of surprise, controlling his reaction enough to turn slowly around rather than leap out of his skin.

"Agent Romanoff."

Natasha was looking particularly lethal, despite the fact that she was barefoot, wearing one of Clint's too-large shirts and a pair of raggedy sweatpants. He flinched when she twitched her arms, cursing his body's involuntary movements. Instead, she picked (Y/N) up, managing to maintain a furious gaze, which honestly impressed Tony when he stopped to think about it.

"Do that again," she threatened, holding (Y/N) close. "And you will eat your own entrails."

Spinning on her heel, she stalked up to the bedrooms. The desired effect of her dramatic exit was lessened by the little girl curled on her shoulder, waving to the two men. When Natasha was out of sight, Tony let out his breath in a whoosh, collapsing into a seat at the table.

"My life flashed before my eyes."

Steve huffed a laugh. "I'm sure you enjoyed the reminders."

Glaring, Tony propped his chin on his hand and accepted the proffered cup of coffee. "And here I thought there wasn't an unkind bone in your body."

"Your mistake."

Tony wrinkled his nose. "You need to stop hanging out with Clint. He's teaching you to say horrible things to me."

Steve laughed, pouring himself a cup of coffee and sitting across from Tony at the table. "It's clearly not your influence whatsoever."

"Agreed," the billionaire replied, and the conversation lapsed. They sat in companionable silence for few minutes, sipping at their coffee, when Tony spoke again. "Have you noticed how (Y/N) seems to be more interested in Clint these days?"

Steve's mug paused in mid-motion, hovering in the air, and continued. "Yes."

Tony's eyes narrowed in interest. "Anything you care to share with the class, Spangles?"

Steve sighed. "It's not really my place to tell," he muttered gently. Tony scoffed.

"There's no place for your wartime values here, Old Glory," he sniped. "What's going on?"

Steve shot him a look, reaching back for the coffee pot. "It's common courtesy, not wartime values," he admonished. "And nothing is really going on."

"Really?" Tony leaned forward as Steve refilled both cups. "Because I just had that little girl out on the range with one of my gauntlets, and she was more concerned with watching Barton shoot arrows at a target than she was with the gorgeous piece of equipment on her hand."

Steve reared back. "You were what?"

"Not. important," Tony ground out. "Focus, Rogers."

The disappearance of nicknames and subsequent emergence of surnames alerted Steve to the seriousness of the conversation. Rubbing a hand across his tired eyes, he acquiesced.

"(Y/N) had noticed Clint disengaging from the situation."

Tony snorted, crossing his arms. "Half the Eastern seaboard noticed. So?"

"Well, she said something to me about it, and that made me really take a look at the situation. I went to Natasha with it."

"Of course," Tony agreed. "What did Red have to say?"

Steve raked a hand through his hair. "She said that she'd get Clint to stop acting like a ghost, but she didn't know how far into (Y/N)'s life she'd be able to get him to go."

Tony regarded his cup for a moment, spinning it in circles on the table. "They're both willing to try," he murmured. "Based on her actions today and the conversation that I had with him a couple of weeks ago. But they don't really seem to understand how to get that going."

Steve peered at Tony, resisting the urge to poke at him. "How long has it been since you slept? Because you're making a remarkable amount of sense."

Tony glared at the soldier, nudging his cup across the table in a silent request for a refill. "Not long enough to tolerate this kind of behavior, Captain."

Steve suppressed a smile as he refilled the cup again. Sobering, he turned hopeful eyes to Tony. "So, they're getting there?"

Tony took a sip and nodded. "They're getting there."

Stepping into the mansion, Clint and Natasha began shucking layers of outerwear and training gear, leaving a haphazard trail from the front door to the kitchen. It had been a long day of training, and both were eager for a hot meal and some sleep.

The scent of marinara sauce permeated the foyer and Clint sighed happily at the indication that Steve was cooking something classic and homemade for dinner. Inhaling deeply, with a grin on his face, he strode into the kitchen. He was hoping to knick a quick taste of the night's meal, but he froze in the doorway.

(Y/N) sat happily on the counter next to Steve, little legs swinging while she chattered endlessly to the soldier. Steve made agreeing noises in the back of his throat as he stirred a pinch of something into the sauce, spooning up a taste for her. Clint crept closer, trying to hear what they were saying. Natasha, unbeknownst to him, watched with calm interest.

"What do you think, sweetheart?" Steve cocked his head at the little girl. "Taste okay?"

(Y/N) nodded furiously, her smile threatening to split her cheeks. Steve laughed at her enthusiasm, using his towel to wipe away a streak of sauce on her cheek. She must have seen movement from the corner of her eye, because the next thing Clint knew, she began waving enthusiastically at him. He glanced behind him, but Natasha had slipped out of sight. The little girl was excited to see him. Him. Steve turned at the sudden change in her behavior, and greeted them.

Clint didn't hear him. His heart clenched at the sight of the child on the counter, her hands now motionless, and he realized that he could feel the slightest swelling of pride that she was happy to see him. Admitting the fact to himself was akin to being stabbed, and he bit back a physical response.

There were, very suddenly, soft hands on his arms as Natasha pushed him from the room. Nudging him gently back through the foyer, she motioned him outside and quietly closed the door behind her. Clint raked a hand through his hair in agitation. Natasha simply stood in the doorway, her arms crossed against the cold air that Clint didn't seem to notice.

He paced for a few lengths along the front staircase, mumbling beneath his breath. Finally, he whirled on her, pointing at the mansion. "She was happy to see me."

Saying the words aloud pained him more than he'd thought it would, a dull throb above his heart that was both happy and sad and something that he refused to let her see. Natasha gazed impassively back at him.

"Have you just now noticed that?"

Clint walked away a few steps and turned back, not noticing the small pair of curious brown eyes peeping around the ajar front door. Clint continued to pace erratically, grumbling beneath his breath. Glancing up at the understanding look on Natasha's face, he let loose another tirade.

"Phil was a completely moron," he burst out. "He left a kid, with me. I mean, come on, Nat. Who in their right mind would leave me in charge of the life of a child, and a girl at that? He must have been on fucking drugs or something."

The little brown eyes disappeared.

Natasha's gaze softened towards Clint. "You and I both know that Coulson always had a plan. He was a lot like Fury that way."

"Then he should have told me the plan, since I seem to be integral to it," Clint roared. "How in the name of fuck could he leave me a child and not tell me?"

"No one plans to die, dumbass," Natasha snapped back, finally riled to a retaliation point.

Already geared for a fight, Clint accepted her irritation with relish. "He gave instructions to Fury years ago."

"Coulson knew you better than anyone on this planet, excluding me," she hissed. "So he knew how you'd react. I'd postpone that conversation as long as I could, too."

"He at least told me that I'd be taking care of his assets when he died," Clint countered, ignoring the less-than-subtle dig at his temper.

Natasha smirked outright at him, crossing her arms saucily and leaning back. Clint faltered, the reason for her smugness clicking. "And, what, precisely," she purred. "Do you think 'assets' includes?"

Clint glared at her. "Shut up."

"No," she retorted. "Your private pity party is over. Phil trusted you with her. Shape the hell up and act like you're worthy of that trust."

Spinning on her heel, she marched back up the stairs, leaving Clint to sulk outside.

"Do you want to know why?" She stilled in her retreat, arching a brow at him. Clint was standing perfectly still on the drive, his fingers clenching and unclenching at his sides.

He shifted his weight on his feet. "Why I'm acting like this."

After a pause, she stepped down one step waiting.

"I got Coulson drunk one night," he murmured, eyes distant, and she bit her tongue against a scathing comment. "After all those years of him drinking me under the table, I finally got him back. It was just after the kid was born, and he was so damned excited that he pulled out a wallet full of pictures to show me.

Clint shook his head, ruffling his hair again. "That kid was his whole world, Nat. She was the only family he had left and he left her with me."

"Of course he did," she soothed, but Clint dismissed her angrily.

"Bullshit," he snarled. "Phil is dead because of me. She is alone, because of me. I can't even take care of myself, let alone a kid. I've had a demi-god dicking around in my brain, as if I wasn't already fucked up eight ways to Sunday. I've got no right to put a kid through dealing with me."

Natasha rolled her eyes. "You have us, stupid," she retorted, exasperated. "You aren't alone."

Clint's eyes flashed with triumph and despair. "And he didn't know that was going to happen." She paused, taken aback. "For all Phil knew, it was just going to be me. He couldn't have even counted on you. There was no Tony to play with, no Bruce to fix teddy bears, no Captain fucking America to read her bedtime stories. There was me. And I'm not enough."

She was silent in her shock, and Clint shrugged, shaking his head. Quietly, he turned down the drive and disappeared into the woods that lined the road, but his words echoed in the air.

"I'm not enough."

Steve was hard at work when Tony walked into the kitchen, stopping short when he saw the soldier at the stove and surrounded by platters of food. The billionaire waved at (Y/N), who was happily sitting in the corner playing dolls with Bruce, and arched a brow at Steve.

"What's the occasion, Betsy Ross?"

Steve rolled his eyes, opening the oven and checking what was possibly the largest turkey Tony had ever seen. "Still not funny, Stark," he replied absently, checking the meat thermometer he placed in the bird. "And I'm making dinner."

Tony took a seat at the table, swiping a finger through the mashed potatoes. "Why?"

Steve turned to Tony, frowning. "What do you mean?"

Tony gestured helplessly at the vast array of dishes that littered the kitchen. "I mean, dinner isn't normally this big of an affair. So what's up?"

Steve stared at him. "Tony, do you know what day it is?"

"Thursday?" Tony shifted in his chair, uncomfortable with the incredulous look that Steve was giving him.

"It's Thanksgiving," the soldier replied, thoroughly exasperated. Clint walked into the kitchen at that moment, sniffing appreciatively.

"Sweet. What's the occasion?"

"Thank you," Tony exclaimed, as Steve rolled his eyes and huffed. (Y/N) quietly packed up her dolls and walked towards the labs, leading Bruce by the hand. Clint watched, an aggrieved expression carefully masked on his face. Steve watched with mild sympathy.

It had been the custom for the last few days. Clint would enter a room, and (Y/N) would promptly leave it, shooting tiny glares in the archer's direction. Clint seemed to be distraught at the visible loathing (Y/N) was beginning to present, but made no effort to reestablish a relationship. No amount of coaxing could pry a reason from (Y/N) as to this sudden break and the others had finally given up trying. Natasha simply watched the decline of their relationship with a sense of quiet despair.

Shaking the thoughts from his head, Steve pulled a tray of rolls from the oven and carried it to the table, placing them into a basket. He slapped Tony's hand away from the bread with a mild glare and returned to his original topic. "Has America changed so much in the last seventy years that we don't celebrate Thanksgiving anymore?"

Clint wrinkled his nose at Steve, swiftly thieving two rolls when the soldier turned his back and handed one to Tony. "Tasha and I are usually on missions over Thanksgiving."

"Bruce hasn't lived in the States in years and I don't do holidays," Tony replied around a mouthful of bread.

"Well, you'll start," Steve said firmly. When Tony visibly balked, Steve walked swiftly over to him, shooting a glance in the direction that (Y/N) had disappeared, one stern finger raised in admonishment.

"Look, that little girl has lost every biological family member she has before she's turned six and now she's living in a house full of superheroes, none of whom have really had a normal life. We owe it to her to give her the most normal childhood we can." Tony slammed his mouth shut and Steve looked slightly relieved. "So, we're faking our way through Thanksgiving and we're celebrating Christmas with all the trimmings. Got it?"

"You got it, Cap," Tony muttered, stuffing the last bit of roll into his mouth. Clint nodded silently, refusing to meet Steve's stern gaze.

"Now," Steve began, relaxing slightly. "If you're not going to help, get the hell out of my kitchen. I haven't even started making the pies."

Clint burst into laughter. Tony simply shook his head. "You sound like a nineteen fifties housewife, and that's sad."

"I'll make an apple pie just for you," Steve retorted, changing the oven temperature and plucking a bag of apples from the refrigerator.

"I take it all back."

Clint snorted. "You're easy to please, aren't you?"

Tony swiveled in his seat. "Have you tasted that man's apple pie? It's delicious."

As Tony and Clint delved into a detailed discussion of types of pie and perfect recipes, Natasha made her way into the kitchen. Sparing an indecipherable glance for Clint, she slipped past Tony to peek into the mixing bowl Steve was holding.

"Are you making cherry pie too?" she asked softly, the faintest hint of warning in her tone.

Steve thought for the scarcest second about Natasha's demeanor of late before he answered. "I can be if you want me to."

She looked up at him, her eyes narrowed faintly. "I want you to."

"Cherry it is," he affirmed. Natasha smiled in response.

Tony muttered, "wuss," beneath his breath, wincing at Natasha's resultant glare. Shooting one last glance in Clint's direction, she glided back upstairs. Clint eyed her departure with mild interest for a moment before hopping lightly down and following.

Steve and Tony exchanged interested glances. After a brief pause, they simultaneously shook their heads, silently washing their hands of the situation.

Natasha heard Clint's tread on the first stair and quietly suppressed the urge to slam the door in his face. Moving further down the hallway, into his room, she left the door cracked as a reluctant invitation. He peeked in for a moment and, judging the air of the room to be less dangerous than he'd expected, slipped in.

Natasha crossed her arms, staring out the window. "She heard you," she murmured softly, her voice heavy with reproach.

Clint inhaled sharply. "I didn't mean –,"

"Of course not," she continued, her tone never changing. "You would never mean for her to hear you vilify Phil like that. But she did."

He remained silent. Natasha turned around, finally facing him, and the censure in her gaze was crippling. "What are you going to do about it?"

Clint had reached his breaking point. "What the fuck do you want me to do, Natasha?"

"I don't know," she admitted with a snap, raising her voice to match his. "But you have to do something."

"Why?" His question was low and hissed, full of the frustration he felt. "She obviously hates me. There's no point in trying to salvage anything from that."

"I didn't tell you this so that you could just give up," she snarled. Eyeing his defeated posture for a moment, she sighed. "I read that letter too," she reminded him.

Clint shook his head, walking away a few paces. "Fuck Phil."

"You don't mean that," she reproached. Giving him a moment to gather himself, she pressed her advantage. "He knew that you'd have a rough acclimation period, but he thought you'd be a good father, when it all came down to it."

"He was wrong," Clint muttered, biting back the urge to punch a hole in the wall.

"Phil was never wrong."

Her soft response cut deeper than he'd anticipated, and Clint had to bite back a visceral response. He sighed, rubbing a hand across his brow. "There's no point, Babushka," he muttered somewhat fondly, dusting off his favorite old nickname. "Sometimes, things are too far gone."

"It took you a year to convince me that you weren't a complete idiot," she offered, feeling that he'd been beaten down enough. "You haven't been that patient with her. Bad form for a sniper."

He chuckled humorlessly. "Good effort," he admitted, heading for the door. "But I think you need to give this up for broke."

She caved, walking forward and laying a restraining hand on his arm. "And I think that you need to give this another chance. Give her a chance."

He smirked. "Because you'll nag me until I do?"

"Essentially," she replied, smiling.

Clint sobered, staring at his bare feet. "What if it doesn't work out, Nat? What if I ruin Phil's little girl?"

"For a romantic," she observed lightly. "You're a remarkable realist."

"It's all that time spent around Tony and Bruce," he responded. "You didn't answer my question."

"Treat this like a mission. Sometimes, you need to blindside them. Sometimes, you need assistance. And sometimes, you need a tactical retreat." At his skeptical look, she sighed. "Clint, you have to try. For Phil."

He pursed his lips, but nodded in understanding.

She watched him for a moment more as he reached the door and turned the knob. "Do you think you can forgive Phil, now?"

"No," he replied, shooting her a smile to show that he was teasing. She sighed softly in exasperation. He shrugged. "I'll start with dinner. I think Steve might actually kill me if I miss it."

"Dinner?" Natasha furrowed her brow. "What's so special about dinner?"

Clint simply grinned, shaking his head. Stepping out into the hallway, he was met face to face with (Y/N). Natasha hovered behind him. "Serdce?"

It was obvious that (Y/N) had been listening in on their conversation, from the empty glass sitting on the floor and the red ring around her ear. What she had heard and understood, however, was somewhat less clear. The only thing that was evident was that she was furious.

Scrunching up her little face into the angriest expression she could manage, (Y/N) let out a wordless wail and charged forward, kicking Clint in the shins as hard as she could. When he showed no visible signs of pain, she kicked him again, spurring Natasha to pick her up and restrain her.

As Natasha murmured platitudes to the little girl, Clint stepped back into the room, feeling physically sick. (Y/N) stilled in Natasha's arms, fat tears rolling down her cheeks.

"It was a good try, Babushka," he whispered as something cracked inside of him. "It was a good try."

Natasha stared at Clint's closed door, hopelessness swirling in her chest. (Y/N) sniffled in her grasp, burying her little face into Natasha's shoulder. Rubbing a calming hand along (Y/N)'s back, the assassin stepped back and slowly made her way down the stairs, looking as upset as the little girl.

Bruce had joined Steve and Tony in the kitchen, sitting at the table as Steve removed a pie from the oven. Natasha descended into the room, and the three of them immediately silenced. Tony rose swiftly, arms outstretched to take (Y/N), and Steve's brows lowered dangerously.

"What happened?" (Y/N) whimpered, leaning into Tony's hands, and Natasha pinched at the bridge of her nose in an uncharacteristic display of frustration.

"(Y/N) has learned to eavesdrop," she announced. Bruce and Steve immediately turned disapproving gazes towards Tony, who raised his free hand in surrender. "And it seems that she's been hearing all the wrong parts of the conversations I'm having with Clint."

Steve subtly positioned himself in front of (Y/N), who was currently being soothed by Tony and Bruce. "Natasha."

Her eyes were trained over his shoulder. "She's angry, not sad," she said quietly. "Clint is afraid that he'll hurt her and I've been pushing him to try anyway. The conversations we have are a little," she paused, searching for the right words. "Argumentative."

Steve raised his brow. "We've noticed," he replied dryly. She frowned at him and he stared back unapologetically. "You're not quiet."

She narrowed her eyes and pitched her voice so that Tony and Bruce could also hear. "You have no idea how loud I can be."

At Tony's involuntary snort of laughter, Steve's brain clicked with the realization of what her underlying meaning was, and he turned crimson with embarrassment. "So you and Clint are fighting," he said loudly, hoping to change the topic of conversation.

"The point is," she announced, raising her voice slightly to cover the sound of Tony's chuckles. "(Y/N) has been listening at the doors and she's not getting all of the information. So when Clint and I started down for dinner, she literally attacked him and now I think Clint has given up."

Steve paused. "Define 'given up'."

With a wordless glance at Bruce, Natasha moved with Steve further into the kitchen and away from the pair that Bruce was nudging towards the television. "It means that he's likely upstairs, right now, forming some sort of retreat."

Steve sighed. "Is there anything we should do?"

Natasha was shaking her head before he finished his sentence. "Clint has to figure this out on his own. I've done all that I can at this point. We let him sort this out in his own time, or we risk pushing him over the edge. Until then, we continue on as we have."

"That means food, right?" Tony queried from the couch. (Y/N) was curled into his side, cuddled between the billionaire and Bruce, and an absurdly pink princess show was playing quietly on the screen.

Natasha rolled her eyes in concert with Steve. "Yes, Tony, that means food," she answered. Bruce stood and flicked off the television, smoothing his hands down his pants legs.

"Good. It smells amazing, Steve."

"Well, then." The soldier blushed slightly at the genuine praise. "Let's have dinner."

Bruce quickly set the table while Natasha helped Steve lay the platters out. Steve had gone to great lengths to make Thanksgiving a true traditional meal. The turkey was perfectly cooked and accompanied by heaping dishes of fragrant stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and browned rolls.

While the food was delicious, the dinner itself was a somewhat strained affair. (Y/N) slowly warmed over the course of the meal, with continuous, gentle prodding from Tony and Natasha, so that she was back to normal by the time Steve began to dish out slices of pie.

Tony took her upstairs to tuck her in when her eyes began to droop after dinner. Bruce helped Steve clean the dishes while Natasha perched herself on the counter, watching quietly. Silence fell as the two fell into the routine of boxing up leftovers, washing, and drying the dishes, and the trio went to bed wordlessly, consumed with their own thoughts.

Clint picked up his single piece of luggage and slipped out of his room, the early morning sky still dark in the pre-dawn hour. He hefted his duffle more securely over his shoulder as he descended the stairs as quietly as he could. The kitchen was unusually dark, leading him to believe that Steve had slept in, for once.

"Must have been all that turkey," he muttered to himself, turning towards the front door.

"What?"

Clint, startled, dropped his bag and attacked. The ensuing scuffle lasted scant seconds and ended with Steve pinning him embarrassingly to the floor. Amusement threaded through the soldier's voice. "Are you finished?"

"Yes," Clint grunted, pushing up on his arms as Steve let up on his back. Clint shot to his feet, dusting himself off with a slight discomfiture.

Steve had locked eyes on his luggage and, when he spoke, his voice was dangerously quiet. "What is that for?"

Clint stiffened, narrowing his eyes at the accusatory tone. "I've been given a new mission."

"You were given a new mission, or you requested a new mission?" The archer's silence was all the answer Steve needed, and he sighed softly. Clint bit back a groan at Steve's insight, shifting his stance. Steve crossed his arms, looking terribly like Coulson when he had disapproved of Clint's plans. "You can't keep running away from whatever it is that's bothering you."

Clint let an easy grin slide onto his face. "I'm pretty good at cross country, Cap. I'll bet I can surprise you."

He moved towards his bag, but Steve shifted into his way. Clint stepped back slowly, his eyes hard. The soldier stared inexorably back at him. "Will you be back for Christmas?"

"With bells and whistles, sir yes sir," Clint mocked, skirting around Steve and hefting his duffle back onto his shoulder.

Steve sighed again, allowing Clint to head down to the garage. "Be careful," he called softly after the retreating archer. "And come home safe."

Clint stilled on his way, recognizing the sincerity in Steve's words. Sobering, he nodded once, and disappeared into the early morning light.

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